Gail Carson Levine, author of the insanely awesome novel "Ella Enchanted," always thought that Wendy was crazy for going home when she could have stay...moreGail Carson Levine, author of the insanely awesome novel "Ella Enchanted," always thought that Wendy was crazy for going home when she could have stayed with Peter Pan in Neverland. At least that's what her mini-bio on the dust jacket of her new novel says. Levine also dedicates the book to her first boyfriend, Peter Pan.
One of Disney's newest marketing ventures is Disney Fairies, which is promoting Tinker Bell and the other characters found in Levine's novel among other fairies. (There's also a series of Fairy books for younger readers and a CGI film, not directly related to the events relayed in "Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg," which is due out this fall on Disney DVD. If you want to learn more, the Disney Fairies have their own website--but be advised it might take a bit to load on slower computers.) When I first heard about this new project, I was intrigued since I am a fan of fairies. At the same time, I was a bit worried. There's something very commercial, and even counterintuitive, about a writer creating a story with characters that have already been dealt with by other authors (and a lot of movies!). Still, I decided to give it a try.
Before even getting into the story, though, I have to say that this novel is quite beautiful. The actual book is made of high quality paper to accommodate the illustrations that often feature as tw-page spreads throughout the novel. These pictures, watercolors painted by David Christiana, are stunning. The colors are subtle and really the skill is just so obvious in all of the drawings that viewing them is a joy. Christiana manages to stay true to the original Disney vision for Tinker Bell while making her "look" slightly new and different to better fit in with the other fairies.
Unfortunately, it takes more than great illustrations to sustain a good book. The basic plot stays pretty true to some of the elements found in the original story of Peter Pan. The book starts when a baby laughs (every time a baby laughs for the first time, a fairy is born). This fairy, named Prilla, is special. Not only is she going to be a Never Fairy in Neverland, she is also unlike any fairy the island has seen before. Prilla says "please" and "thank you" like humans (called "Clumsies" by fairies). She even curtsies and apologizes. Stranger still, Prilla is able to move between Neverland and the dreams of Clumsy children.
Every Fairy in Neverland has a special talent (water, baking, pots and pans, etc.)--every fairy except for Prilla. However, when a storm strikes the island injuring Mother Dove (the source of the Fairy Dust that allows Never Fairies to work their magic) Prilla doesn't have much time to worry about not having a talent as she and two other fairies are sent out to try and find a way to heal Mother Dove.
I had several problems with the story. The idea of each fairy having a talent, while superficially cute, has deeper problems upon further investigation. It just feels too much like each fairy having a clique and, even worse, the story spends a lot of time focusing on Prilla being special in a bad way for not having a talent. This issue is resolved by the end of the story, but it just seems like a bad message to send to children. (And what's up with the name Prilla? Seriously.)
The narrative of the story also started to grate very near the beginning of the book. I haven't read J. M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" so I don't know if Levine was trying emulate his style or not--I think she was but need to investigate further--but it just didn't work. Frankly, it sounded like Levine was writing in a style that was not her own and with which she was not entirely comfortable.
"Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg" also seemed to be having an identity crisis. The book looks like a novel for older children. The print is small and there is a lot of it. But the story sometimes sounds like it was written for much younger children with prose that lacks the dimension and depth of books for an older audience. At the same time, though, the events of the novel (a fairy cutting off her own wings, a dying dove, among other problematic events) suggest that it's more appropriate for an older audience.
The best parts of this novel were when Levine was looking at the characters originally found in "Peter Pan." Her descriptions of the mermaids, and of Tinker Bell's relationship with Peter were really enjoyable. Captain Hook also features in the plot and was awesome. Unfortunately all of these events take only about ten pages combined(the book is 208).
This book has a lot going for it and I wanted to like it more than I did, but all of the great pieces never come together (with the mediocre ones) to create a solid, enjoyable whole.(less)
Stanley Yelnats IV is not a bad kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time which happened to lead to him getting arrested. In fact, all of...moreStanley Yelnats IV is not a bad kid. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time which happened to lead to him getting arrested. In fact, all of the Stanley Yelnats right back to the first had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just being all around unlucky. Each Stanley Yelnats knows exactly where that unfortunate knack comes from. It comes directly from Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.
But most people don't believe too much in curses that stem from stolen pigs. They also don't believe Stanley when he proclaims his innocence. Arrested and found guilty, Stanley is given a choice: go to jail or go to Camp Green Lake. Stanley had never been to camp before.
But Camp Green Lake isn't like a regular camp. This isn't a girl scout camp. Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys. There used to be a lake and a town by the camp, but they disappeared long ago. Now there are only yellow-spotted lizards and heat. And holes.
The theory is that if you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy. So Stanley and the other campers dig.
But the more Stanley digs, the more he starts to wonder. What are the holes for? What could be buried by the non-existent lake? What starts as a search for answers might lead to a journey that will break the Yelnats curse once and for all in Holes (1998) by Louis Sachar.
Holes was the 1998 Newbery medal winner for its "distinguished contribution to American literature for children." It is also, it must be said, strikingly similar in style and theme to Maniac Magee, the 1991 Newbery winner.
Sachar takes what could potentially be a bleak, mirthless story and instead delivers a darkly funny, intensely exciting story. It may seem that a story about boys digging holes would have little in the way of action. Far from it, Holes is filled with entwined storylines, witty dialogue, intrigue, and even some near death experiences and commentary on discrimination.
If you enjoy Holes (as I'm sure you will), be sure to check out the movie adaptation (Spinelli had a hand in the screenplay and Shia Labeouf played Stanley) and the sequel Small Steps (featuring Armpit and Xray).
Possible Pairings: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Count Karlstein by Phillip Pullman, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Small Steps by Louis Sachar, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Holes (movie version)(less)
I had very ambiguous feelings about Kirsten Miller's first Kiki Strike book Inside the Shadow City. Although I loved the cover art and most of the cha...moreI had very ambiguous feelings about Kirsten Miller's first Kiki Strike book Inside the Shadow City. Although I loved the cover art and most of the characters, I felt like the book didn't live up to its full potential. Despite my misgivings (and the fact that no one shared them), I remained optimistic about Kiki Strike #2, feeling confident that it would be better than the first since Miller would have had more time with the characters she was writing about and to iron out her writing voice (which I thought was inconsistent in the first book).
Well, I finally had a chance to read Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb and am very happy to say, my hopes were not unfounded as this book was definitely better than the first in the series. Although this book does follow up on plot points from the first book, this one does stand alone. There is enough summary of important information that, if you read the first one a while ago (or not at all), the storyline will still make sense.
The story once again follows the Irregulars--brilliant albeit sometimes misguided Girl Scouts who were recruited by girl spy extraordinaire Kiki Strike to help her map Manhattan's secret Shadow City and protect it from criminal exploitation. This time, however, the Shadow City is not the major plot. Kiki and narrator Ananka Fishbein also take a back seat to fellow Irregular Oona Wong who, for lack of a better word, is the star of this story--just look at the cover if you don't believe me.
Master forger turned entrepreneur and sometimes blackmailer, Oona has always been one of my favorite characters and I was really happy to see more of her in this book. Unfortunately, the Irregulars don't feel the same as they grow tried of Oona's continued snark and snobbery. To make matters even worse, that means no one has time to hear Oona's important news.
That isn't to say that the other girls don't have problems. Kiki's life is in danger (again). Ananka's mother is threatening to send her to a boarding school in Virginia of all places if she can't get her grades up. Meanwhile Betty, the group's master of disguise, seems to have attracted the attentions of the giant squirrels that have started wandering the city's parks. Add to the mix a haunted mansion, a prodigal parent, and Oona's dramatic secret and you have a story jam-packed with excitement.
The tone of The Empress's Tomb feels a lot more even than Miller's first Kiki Strike book. I suspect this has to do with the book being grounded in one time period instead of starting with the characters at the age of twelve the way the first book did. In addition to being a fast-paced read, the novel also offers an interesting commentary on secrets (when to keep them and when to share them) as almost every character has something up her sleeve in the way of hidden information.
Speaking of information, Miller also once again includes some of Ananka's useful information at the end of some chapters. Her findings include: how to be mysterious (learn to be quiet and invent a secret among other things), how to find information in people's trash (and what to avoid placing into your own trash), as well as a quiz on events in the book that, were I a teacher, I might assign to students if I had them read this book in class--which I really could. Because Miller writes a good story with a lot of practical information that could be applied to everyday life (maybe you'll never be digging through someone's trash, but it's good to be aware of what people might find if they dug through yours).That is one of the reasons I stuck with Kiki Strike, and one of the reasons The Empress's Tomb was so much fun to read: Miller doesn't just write a good story she writes a good, informative (and fun) story. (less)
Germany, 1939: Nazis are gaining ever more power. The country, maybe even the world, is holding its breath. Death, as he will tell you soon enough, ha...moreGermany, 1939: Nazis are gaining ever more power. The country, maybe even the world, is holding its breath. Death, as he will tell you soon enough, has never been busier.
Liesel Meminger is fostered in a small town outside of Munich. Times are hard and money is tight. But it is a good life. Liesel lovers her foster father fiercely and, when the opportunity arises, she steals books to even the scales of the world.
But nothing lasts forever. Not pages in a book or friendships. Not secrets hidden in basements. Certainly not good moments in Nazi Germany in The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak.
There isn't a lot to say about this book that hasn't been covered already. The Book Thief has received wide critical acclaim. It was Printz honor title in 2007. It was made into a movie in 2013.
The problem with picking up a book after everyone has been talking about it (and loving it) for years is that it puts a lot of pressure on the book. That's a lot of hype to stand up against.
In this particular case, it was too much. The Book Thief is a very clever book. Death is the narrator. There are illustrations. It does so many cool things. But it was just never quite enough.
Honestly, The Book Thief is a miserable, gutting book. Not necessarily in a bad way. But not always in a good way either. The first parts dragged unbearably. They were ugly and dense but it picked up in the last third and the transformation is obvious for all of the characters. I can see how when it came out (and still) it is groundbreaking and shocking. It's a powerful book if not a perfect one or one I ever want to read ever again.
Possible Pairings: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Tamar by Mal Peet, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein(less)
At first glance it seems likely that Cornelia Funke's novel The Thief Lord (2000) will center around the Thief Lord. All the same the story actually s...moreAt first glance it seems likely that Cornelia Funke's novel The Thief Lord (2000) will center around the Thief Lord. All the same the story actually starts with Prosper and Bo, brothers who have run away to avoid their nasty aunt who wants to separate them. Convinced that all of the wonderful stories their late mother told them about Venice will be true and keep them safe, the boys make their way to that fair city.
Unfortunately Venice is not as magical as their mother had told them (at least not right away). Just when Prosper is prepared to accept defeat and return his younger brother to the warm and safe, if not loving, home of his aunt, the boys are taken in by a very unusual band of children. Led by Scipio, the Thief Lord, the children live in a condemned theater living off the riches that Scipio steals from Venice's elite. The children know little else about Scipio, but in exchange for his support and protection they are willing to overlook that small detail.
Meanwhile, the brothers' aunt has enlisted a private investigator to locate the boys and bring Bo back to her (Prosper will be sent to an orphanage). Like any other investigator worth his salt, Victor soon picks up the trail of the children. The more this trio sees of each other, the more tenuous the children's existence in the Venice theater seems. Indeed, Victor's investigation could unearth a secret about the Thief Lord that will change all of their lives. Forever.
The Thief Lord is told in the whimsical, ethereal tone common to some fairy tales. It is entirely appropriate for this story, but also manages to make it that much harder to believe that the story is real. While the book was enjoyable, it always felt like the characters were at a remove--visible but not near enough to discern subtleties. Funke describes Venice and its landscapes beautifully but leaves the characters much less dimensional
I liked that the story had a lot of twists and turns, but by the end of the novel it felt a bit like one too many turns. Funke blends realistic incidents with pure fantasy creating an uneasy combination that sometimes works well in the text and other times left me scratching my head. In some ways it feels like the first and second half of the the story come from two different plots.
After realizing that the novel was originally written in German, I suspect that the different culture and writing conventions might have contributed to my uneasiness in deciding whether I actually liked the book. In summary, The Thief Lord was entertaining and will likely please any young fantasy readers in the house even though it was not completely wonderful. (less)
In 2002 I was 16 and a sophomore in high school. I was the Manhattan finalist for a storytelling festival. I was writing, mostly poetry. The year befo...moreIn 2002 I was 16 and a sophomore in high school. I was the Manhattan finalist for a storytelling festival. I was writing, mostly poetry. The year before I had been named runner up in a contest held by the Poetry Society of America and had the poem I entered read on the radio. I used to feel pretty good about those accomplishments until I read Christopher Paolini's bio on his first book.
In 2002 Christopher Paolini was 15 and a high school graduate. So, of course, the next obvious step was to write a novel. Which is why readers now have Eragon, the latest in a long line of dragon-centric fantasies (I just made that term up). This novel is the first in the Inheritance Trilogy (Eldest is already out and Brisingr is due for release soon). It was also made into a movie in 2006 that I enjoyed quite a bit even before I found its excellent tagline: "You are stronger than you realize. Wiser than you know. What was once your life is now your legend."
The reason I mention the movie at all is because this is one of the only books I can think of where I saw the movie adaptation before I read the book. I really liked both and found it interesting to be motivated to read a book because of the movie. Before I review the book I just want to get this out of my system: Eragon was really good and I enjoyed it, but it did at times sound like it was written by a fifteen-year-old. I'm not saying that to be petty or because of sour grapes--I just really think that's the case.
In addition to mentioning his age, Paolini's back flap bio mentions that he has an abiding love of fantasy that subsequently motivated him to write his own fantasy novel. For that reason, Eragon owes an obvious debt to some of the fantasy big shots. Like Tamora Pierce's books (and Gail Carson Levine's), this one has a medieval-esque setting. The most obvious similarities that I noticed lie between this book and Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea and J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books (and The Hobbit too). Obviously, then, if you like those books you will like Eragon. At the same time, though, these similarities did leave me wishing there were more "acceptable" ways to write a fantasy setting. Maybe that's me.
More than an event book where events are central to the plot and the story moves from event to event, this is a journey book. Stuff happens, but most of the novel is spent traveling. In a sense, the entire book is a journey to the end which I assume leads to more revelations which will be found in the second book in the trilogy.
The book's journey starts with its title character, Eragon, a fifteen-year-old youth living in a rural town in the land of Alagaesia. Once a place of glory where dragons and their riders kept peace across the country, the Empire is now ruled by a cruel king called Galbatorix. Such concerns are far from Eragon's daily concerns though. Living with his uncle and cousin, Eragon's days are spent helping his family farm their land and prepare for winter.
All of that changes when Eragon returns from a hunting trip with a mysterious stone. Soon enough, he realizes the stone is actually an egg. A dragon egg. The presence of this new dragon will not only change the course of Eragon's life but also the path of the entire Empire. Thus Eragon is set on a new path with only his dragon, an old storyteller and a mysterious sword to help him find his way.
And that, really, is what this book is about: Eragon finding his way as he learns what being a Rider, and dare I say being a hero, really means. One of the subtler things I liked about the writing is that when Paolini begins this story, his protagonist is clearly a boy even if by Alagaesian standards he's only a year from manhood. By the end of the novel, though, Eragon is a man. The writing changes subtly to reflect this important change from beginning to end.
Eragon is literally finding his way too--the novel features a lot of long, perilous journeys and long, dangerous battles. All of which were good to read but did leave me burnt out when I finally made my way to the end of my paperback copy (on page 497). Sometimes it's just surprising how long it can take to read a long book.
For fear of providing accidental spoilers, that's really all I have to say. Once I got over the fact that I did not graduate high school at fifteen or write a novel, the book was not at all depressing. Eragon features some great characters (Brom to name one) and some of the scariest villains seen in recent fantasies. I have high hopes for the next installment in the trilogy once I get my hands on it.(less)
"The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" is one of Sherman Alexie's first collections of short stories. The collection deals with the lives and...more"The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" is one of Sherman Alexie's first collections of short stories. The collection deals with the lives and troubles of Indian in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. The stories also deal with characters that Alexie would later revisit in his novel "Reservation Blues" (specifically, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Victor, and Junior).
In a 1996 interview with Tomson Highway, Alexie explains a bit about the title of this collection: "Kemosabe in Apache means "idiot," as Tonto in Spanish means "idiot." They were calling each other "idiot" all those years; and they both were, so it worked out. It's always going to be antagonistic relationship between indigenous people and the colonial people. I think the theme of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is universal."
This universal theme permeates many of Alexie's stories here and in his other writings. The stories take a fresh, sometimes painful, look at life for modern Indians on the Spokane Reservation. Alcoholism, violence, and death all permeate this collection. At the same time, Alexie brings an extreme level of humor and compassion to these characters, making their hardships bearable to the reader.
The stories here mostly interconnect, referring to the same events or at least the same characters, creating a narrative that almost flows between stories. Exceptions to this flow include "Distances." "Witnesses, Secret and Not" and "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation" also seem disconnected but remain similar in style to the rest of the collection. A follow up to "The Business of Fancydancing," a collection of short stories and poems, the stories in this collection alternate between a poetic style and a more conventional prose style.
The characters in these stories have not reached "happily ever after," it is not clear if they will ever get there. Sometimes, the characters are at fault for these failures. At other times they are victims of circumstances far beyond their control. Regardless of the reason, Alexie portrays his characters with compassion and the hope that they will one day succeed. Even Victor, a drunk continuously falling off the wagon, and Lester FallsApart (whose name might say everything) are presented with a certain dignity and afforded a degree of respect throughout the stories.
When writing about such modern problems as car wrecks and alcoholism, there is always the risk of being too serious, too tragic. In "A Good Story" Alexie acknowledges this fact when his self-proclaimed storyteller, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, goes out of his way to tell a happy story.
Other stories remain less concerned with themes discussed and instead are focused on presenting rich narratives. One favorite is "The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn't Flash Red Anymore" in which Victor and his friend watch reservation life from their porch while drinking Diet Pepsis. However, bar none, the best stories in this collection are the title story and "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow." Both stories are as evocative and compelling as any novel. Furthermore, in each story Alexie creates characters that are unique, well-developed and completely absorbing--no easy feat for stories of around ten pages.
"The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" does two important things. First, it illustrates Sherman Alexie's wide range of talents as a writer. Second, it tells a lot of good stories. (less)
"My Sister Gracie" is a picture book written and illustrated by Gillian Johnson (originally published in 2005). The book is ostensibly about a lonely...more"My Sister Gracie" is a picture book written and illustrated by Gillian Johnson (originally published in 2005). The book is ostensibly about a lonely dog but, as is the case with any good book (picture or otherwise) it's also about a lot more.
The story starts with Fabio. Fabio has a pretty good life for a dog. Loving family, friends, and lots of toys. But Fabio wants more. To be precise, he wants a brother to play with and share his fun with. As Fabio languishes in the house, his family agrees that Fabio needs a companion. But things don't go quite as planned.
Instead of the mini-Fabio he was hoping for, Fabio's family brings home Gracie--Fabio's new sister! Gracie came from the pound. She's old, tired, shy (and a little weird looking). Nothing like the sprightly companion Fabio had in mind. Certainly not an appropriate addition to his family. Too bad Fabio is the only one who thinks so.
Things only get worse when Fabio and Gracie travel the neighborhood and meet some of Fabio's friends. At least until Fabio realizes that not being able to pick your family doesn't make them any less important.
More perceptive readers than me may have already picked up on the fact that this book would be good for young children expecting a new sibling in the near future. (I only realized that after reading the blurb.) Johnson uses Gracie's arrival to show that new pets (and babies) aren't very exciting playmates and that they need a lot of tender loving care. The book also shows that adopting dogs from a pound or shelter is a commitment. I haven't fully worked out how yet, but I think this book could also work for children who want to get a new pet--but that might be for slightly older children since it's a pretty abstract concept in relation to the crux of the book.
I love the illustrations for this book. I cannot, unfortunately, say what medium Johnson works in as I cannot find that information anywhere online but they look like pencil and ink to me. These drawings are cartoons in the best sense of the word. Fabio is a miniature poodle with what can only be described as a mohawk. And Gracie, well, Gracie is awesome (as is immediately apparent from the picture of her on the cover). Johnson's illustrations, while simple, are rich with motion. You can almost see Gracie waddling along down the street beside Fabio's staccato steps.
As if all of that isn't cool enough, this book is also written in verse--rhyming verse. I've heard lots of different opinions on rhyming in poetry and picture books. Personally, I say if it works, it works. The rhyming works in "My Sister Gracie" adding a lot of rhythm and snap to this cute picture book.
Amazon.com recommends this book for children ages three to five. I think the age might even extend slightly higher if a grown up wanted to talk about the "sibling angle" or the rhyme scheme found in the writing. (less)
Skulduggery Pleasant is a sharp dresser, a detective, a wizard, and, in addition to being rather charming, he has "a voice so smooth, it could have be...moreSkulduggery Pleasant is a sharp dresser, a detective, a wizard, and, in addition to being rather charming, he has "a voice so smooth, it could have been made of velvet." The only thing that keeps Skulduggery from being the perfect man is that he's not exactly a man: he's a living skeleton. He is also the main character in Derek Landy’s debut novel, “Skulduggery Pleasant,” published last year.
Despite sharing his name, the novel does not actually start with Skulduggery. It starts with Stephanie Edgley and the death of her favorite uncle, Gordon. Stephanie was Gordon’s favorite niece which is why, at the age of twelve, she is named sole benefactor of his significant estate. That’s when the trouble really starts and everything changes for Stephanie.
Enter Skulduggery, magic and Nefarian Serpine, one of the best villains seen in recent fantasy novels. Stephanie refuses, much to Skulduggery's dismay, to stay out of the dangerous world of magic and becomes an apprentice of sorts as the two investigate Gordon's death and its connection to an old (literally ancient) foe trying to tip the balance toward evil. For good.
This story might sound vaguely similar to other fantasy/action plots. But it's not. Landy borrows some elements from other popular children's fantasies, perhaps most obviously from Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" trilogy.
Like Le Guin's keystone work in the genre (“A Wizard of Earthsea” first published in 1968), Landy focuses on what he describes in the novel as "the quieter course" for magic: Elemental magic. What that means, basically, is the wizards here don't use wands and Latin spells. Instead, the power comes from the air, fire, water and earth--but earth magic is defensive and "purely for use as a last resort."
The power of naming also plays an important factor here, much in the same way it did in "A Wizard of Earthsea" (and even perhaps in "The Namesake" although the power there was much more figurative to say the least). Everyone has three names. The one they are born with, the one they are given, and the one that they take. If you know a person's true name (the one they are born with) you can control them absolutely. But there’s no need to worry because a taken name seals the given name, protecting it. True names need stronger protection, a fact that becomes more important as the story progresses.
This truly modern fantasy is set in contemporary Ireland, which is where Landy lives. The narrative is modern and has a lot of verve. So much so, in fact, that some reviewers have said "Skulduggery Pleasant" reads more like a movie screenplay than a novel. This connection makes sense. Landy wrote the screenplays for two Irish horror films ("Dead Bodies" and "Boy Eats Girl") before writing "Skulduggery Pleasant."
The story here does have a cinematic scope. Some novels are cerebral--relying heavily on what happens in the characters' heads to drive the story along. This is not one of those novels. It doesn't have to be. Landy's descriptions are concrete and the plot straightforward, both of which lend themselves to film adaptation. The novel presents readers with all the information they need through the author’s narration.
Landy's novel is mostly compared to movie scripts because of his dialogue. When the characters talk they are witty. Oftentimes they don't really talk, they banter. Take for example, this exchange between Stephanie and Skulduggery:
“Mr. Pleasant, you’re a skeleton.” “Ah yes, back to the crux of the thing. Yes. I am, as you say, a skeleton. I have been one for a few years now.” “Am I going mad?” “I hope not.” “So you’re real? You actually exist?” “Presumably.” “You mean you’re not sure if you exist or not?” “I’m fairly certain. I mean, I could be wrong. I could be some ghastly hallucination, a figment of my imagination.” “You might be a figment of your own imagination?” “Stranger things have happened. And do, with alarming regularity.”
This exchange is illustrative of the novel as a whole. The dialogue and, to some extent, the prose have a snap that is more often associated with a movie or a television show than with a book. I must admit that distinction never made sense to me. A book's merit has more to do with good narrative and engaging characters than whether or not it sounds like a "real" book and this book has both.
All in all, the theatricality of "Skulduggery Pleasant" will probably prove to be an asset since, according to RTE Entertainment, Warner Brothers bought the movie rights for the entire series (a proposed total of nine books) in 2007. Book two in the series “Playing With Fire” will be released in May of this year.(less)
Published in 2007, "Flight" is one of Sherman Alexie's more recent novels. His critically acclaimed YA debut "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time...morePublished in 2007, "Flight" is one of Sherman Alexie's more recent novels. His critically acclaimed YA debut "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" came out a few months after "Flight's" publication. Together these novels illustrate how teen narrators can comfortably inhabit both adult and young adult novels. More about that later.
The book starts with a simple request from the narrator: "Call me Zits. Everybody calls me Zits." In other words, the narrator has no name. Given the structure of the novel, this choice actually works. Throughout the story, Zits is rarely called by any kind of name that would be termed as his own. The opening line also tells readers everything they need to know about Zits. Specifically that this fifteen-year-old half-Irish, half-Indian kid doesn't think enough of himself to bother using his own name. Worse, Zits is pretty sure no one else thinks much better of him.
Orphaned at six and in foster care since he was ten, Zits has slipped through the cracks and is truly a lost soul. After an unceremonious exit from his twentieth foster home and his latest stint in the kid jail in Seattle's Central District, Zits starts to think that maybe he doesn't really need a family. Maybe what he needs is some kind of revenge.
But things don't go as planned. Instead of punishing the white people who are abstractly responsible for his present situation, Zits finds himself on a time-traveling, body-shifting quest for redemption and understanding.
Zits' first "stop" is inside the body of a white FBI agent during the civil rights era in Red River, Idaho. From there he moves to the Indian camp at the center of Custer's Last Stand, then a nineteenth century soldier, a modern pilot with his own variety of demons and, finally, Zits finds himself in a body more familiar than he'd like to admit.
As many other reviewers are quick to point out, "Flight" is Alexie's first novel in ten years. Unlike previous works, where characters and plots intersected (even in his short stories), this novel remains disjointed. It's the kind of book that could easily be seen as a grouping of short stories. Except that each segment follows Zits' spiritual evolution. For this reason, the novel is obviously much more character driven than plot driven. But Alexie makes it work.
I consider flight to be adult fiction. Zits is a teen, so it could be YA, but that fact is largely irrelevant to the main machinations of the novel--which is why it's an adult book but "True Diary" whose narrator is close to Zits' age is a YA book.
Finally, a word on the ending of the novel: It's optimistic. There is some talk that the ending is too up, that things come together a bit too easily. In terms of the plot that could be true although I'm more of a mind that the ending was already in the works from the beginning (the fact that "The wounded always recognize the wounded" and other events support me in this claim).
Some have claimed that the happy ending might be reason to suggest that "Flight" is a YA book because only a book written for teens would have such an abrupt ending. That's bogus. This is an adult book that teens can enjoy and the ending doesn't change that. After reading this novel it becomes clear that Zits has been through a lot. Way more than any fifteen-year-old should have to take. For Alexie to end the novel in any other way would have been a slap in the face both for Zits and the readers invested in his fate.
"Flight" is a really quick read (I finished it in a day) and entertaining throughout. The novel doesn't have the depth of character found in "Reservation Blues" or "True Diary" but the story remains different enough from Alexie's usual work to make "Flight" a refreshing departure nonetheless. (less)