Bracken, Alexandra. Passenger. New York: Hyperion, 2016.
Passenger is an action-packed, romantic adventure that spans the topics of time travel, racial and gender equality, and the evolution of societal norms. Etta Spencer, a violin prodigy about to perform in present day New York, learns she can time travel when she is abducted to a ship sailing the Atlantic in 1776. Her abductor Sophia Ironwood, who was born in 1910, provides the foundation for a conversation of evolving gender roles in American society. Furthermore, Nicholas Carter, an African-American sailor, whose proper time period belongs to the 18th century, becomes Etta's partner and love interest, which provides a dialogue on the evolution of racial equality and interracial relationships. The oscillating time periods and the differing eras in which the characters were born allow the reader to acknowledge how far societal norms have matured, and yet how much further we have to go.
Bracken has struck a perfect balance of addressing societal concerns with the entertainment value of an action-adventure tale. She sets up the perfect rivalry between time-traveling families (Etta's vs. Sophia's), in which Etta's family has hidden an important astrolabe, which will allow the owner to control time. The Ironwoods, who basically rule the time-traveling world, have kidnapped Etta with the intention of her finding and providing them with the astrolabe. If she does not, they will kill her mother, who hid the astrolabe in the first place. Thus, Etta embarks on a journey through time and space, deciphering clues left by her mother and dodging the attacks of rebel time-travel groups; mystery, violence and intrigue permeate the novel.
Though I would not classify Passenger as a romance novel, it still provides an obvious romantic element. The relationship between Etta and Nicholas is clearly strained by their differing races and the contrasting societal values that belong to their respective time periods; however, this strain allows the reader to reflect on the nature of love and the various degrees in which outside factors can effect a relationship. Early in the novel, Nicholas's friend mentions the evident attraction between Nicholas and Etta, and when Nicholas dismisses the notion that they could ever be a couple, his friend reminds him of his mentor, who "said he'd never remarry [after the passing of his wife], because he'd never find another lady that fit so neatly at his side. He called her his equal in spirit" (157). Bracken pursues the concept that lovers should be equals through Etta's persistence that she and Nicholas be partners. This idea, too, relates to changing gender roles, and a contemporary woman's refusal to be subservient to a man. Equality: partners in love is the new ideal.
"I cannot help but think, it matters not who you love, but only the quality of such a love. And so what I wish to say to you is... a flower is no less beautiful because it does not bloom in the expected form. Because it lasts an hour, and not days" (409).
I love the romantic notion of this quotation, but I haven't yet decided if I agree with it. It's true that love can come in unexpected forms; experiencing pure love, whether its ephemeral or lasting in the scope of time, is enlightening, but is it worth the pain of eventually losing it? The metaphor of the flower perfectly captures the essence of love in the scope of time and urges the reader to evaluate his or her own concepts of love.
Overall, this novel will have wide appeal with young adult readers; the historical fiction element is balanced enough with action and adventure that it won't turn off potential readers; instead, it may give them some historical background knowledge without them realizing it. Passenger is never boring, and the ending leaves you ready and awaiting the next installment. Check it out!
Fowley-Doyle, Moira. The Accident Season. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2015.
Moira Fowley-Doyle's The Accident Season follows Cara, Alice, and their step-brother Sam, whose family is plagued by accidents once a year, and their friend Bea. The novel opens in the midst of the family's Accident Season,which is sure to result in all members of the family sustaining injuries of one sort or another; the cover states, "Accidents happen. Our bones shatter, our skin splits, our hearts break. We burn, we drown, we stay alive." Following the concept that the human experience encompasses points of suffering and, yet, survival, Fowley-Doyle skillfully incorporates elements of magic realism and the supernatural to create an atmospheric story that oscillates between the exploration of forbidden relationships, repressed memories, violence, loss, secrets, and love.
The attention Fowley-Doyle gives to Cara's search for Elsie, who mysteriously shows up in all of Cara's photos and who has disappeared from manning the secrets booth at school, the apparition of dream-like versions of the 4 teenagers, and the preparations for a Halloween masquarade ball in an abondened house creates darkly whimsical imagery that alludes to the family's unfortunate history. Readers will appreciate the mystery that floods every aspect of the novel, as well as the sensory experiences it evokes.
Though the setting occurs in Ireland, the text is not difficult to comprehend for non-Irish readers; however, this title probably won't be popular among all young adults. Those who appreciate an intellectual element to their novels will enjoy this book more than those who gravitate toward a quick pace and action.
Near the end of the novel, Cara asks Elsie, "Do you ever get this feeling... this feeling that you've done everything wrong... this feeling like your world's about to blow open" (242). Cara address basic human nature; it's impossible for us to know the future outcomes of our actions, so it is easy for us to feel as if we've been living our lives through a series of mistakes. Young adults, in particular, question the validity of the choices they make, espcially when their peers and family have such strong influences over their decision-making. Yet, even as an adult, I question choices I make; the feeling may lesson with time, but it never entirely leaves us.
Elsie tells Cara, "there's a lot you pretend you didn't see," and when Elsie disappears, Cara wonders, "maybe I've been talking to myself all along" (247). Fowley-Doyle addresses our psychological need to repress or ignore or deny experiences within our lives. This may be our brain's way of coping with abuse or trauma, but I think it is also a relevant issue in our every day lives. It's easy to ignore or pretend we didn't do something wrong, something that may have hurt someone else. It's often easier for us to deny responsibility of our actions, rather than admit fault. However, without interpreting our world with eyes wide open, it is impossible to learn from our mistakes and shortcomings. If we contintue to pretend to not see things, we will also continue to feel as if we've done everything wrong, as mentioned in the quote above.
Lastly, "Maybe I just need to be remembered, [Elsie] said... I think it must have felt like drowning, catching death that way. I think about Seth hitting his head on a rock, I think about hands holding me under the water. I think about Sam in secrets, Alice in fire, my mother in memories. I think that we all drown, in one way or another" (290). The significance of this quote is two-part:
1. The need to be remembered - This too is a basic human fear. We fear that we'll be forgotten in death, that our life had no significance. But, for me, this fear extends beyond death to the every day, to our relationships. When a relationship ends, I fear being forgotten in that way too; instead of fearing my life had no significance, I fear my relationship had none. In many ways, that can be just as terrifying.
2. The idea that "we all drown, in one way or another" - There is truth in this as well. We all fall victim to our faults, or our fears, or our secrets, or our memories at one point or another; whatever it is that weighs us down shapes the choices we make and that too can figuratively kill us. This is why it is so important to acknowledge, rather than ignore, our ugliness, the bits of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. We cannot change, we cannot break the surface, unless we admit to that which pulls us under.
I definitely recommend this book; as an adult, I found it provocative, and I am sure that teens, who are questioning their identities, their pasts, and their futures will also find relevance in the text. I wouldn't put this in the hands of everyone, but I would definitely put it in the hands of those existentialist teens, who are pondering human existence.
As a librarian, I love the idea of the secrets book and the art installation that resulted from it, and I plan on creating a maker-space of this sort in my library.
If you haven't read it, whether you're an adult or young adult, you should give it a try; I'm sure you will find something that inspires you.
Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016.
Wink Poppy Midnight captures the entanglement of three teenagers, whose love triangle is less about love and much more about self-ownership. The novel’s cover poses: “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s Who?” Before even pulling back the cover, the reader can infer that people may not be who they seem - that there will be a riddle to the tale - that, perhaps, our classifications of people are not so simple. In this case, the riddle teases out the complexities of human nature because the novel really is a study in character. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. The novel opens with Midnight, who is eager to be free of Poppy’s manipulation and finds solace in his new, unconventional, witchy neighbor Wink. From there, a path, which entails revenge, chicanery, and moxie, is spread before them.
Readers who are not quite ready for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl but who desire some of the conniving, ugliness of character present in that novel should pick up Wink Poppy Midnight. Readers may despise Poppy for her malevolence, but there are some twists that may surprise young adults, in particular, and bring them to question their understanding of humanity. That said, I would recommend this title to thoughtful readers, who care more about seeing characters unfold than action; the formatting, however, allows for easy reading. The chapters are short and alternate between the different characters’ points of view, which allow readers to move steadily through the text without being bogged down.
In addition, I have read Tucholke’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and its sequel Between the Spark and the Burn. I loved both of those novels. I was hooked by the Gothic elements, such as the supernatural and atmospheric setting. Wink Poppy Midnight has a similar ambiance. Its imagery is vivid and evocative, and the allusions to fairy tales are enchanting; however I did find Wink Poppy Midnight to be more intellectually stimulating, as opposed to diverting. For those readers who are looking for something more than a simple, amusing story, this is a beautiful read that will provoke thought.
I also have to mention the novel’s lovely cover. The typography is perfectly paradoxical in its combination of whimsy and rigidity, and the deeply saturated jewel tones and natural elements decorating the black cover mirror the beautiful and yet dark fairy-tale-esque elements that permeate the novel. The cover is aesthetically appealing and flawlessly complements the literature within.
Lastly, I have written two blog posts analyzing the characterization of Wink, Poppy, and Midnight. If you’ve read the novel or don’t mind spoilers, you should give them a read.
Vega, Danielle. The Merciless. New York: Penguin Group, 2014.
Pretty Little Liars, please meet The Exorcist.
The Merciless follows Sofia Flores, army brat of a single mom, to her latest high school in the “tiny army town of Friend, Mississippi,” which “feels like the inside of an oven,” and is populated with more churches than grocery stores (6). Sofia’s first day of school introduces her to bad girl, tattooed and pierced, Brooklyn, who is the antithesis of the popular, beautiful, devoted-to-God, good girl group, Riley, Alexis, and Grace, who quickly claim Sofia as their own. Sofia falls easily to Riley’s flattery and allows the girls to baptize her in the girls’ bathroom at school, in order to seal her place in their clique. Sofia finds herself inducted into a world of sleepovers, red wine, gossip, and beauty talk… that is, until it becomes a night of red wine, butcher knives and an exorcism.
Vega’s novel opens with blood and visceral imagery. Sofia snags her “thumb on the lunch tray’s metal edge, and a crescent of blood appears beneath [her] cuticle. It oozes into the cracks surrounding [her] nail, then spills over to one side, forming a perfect red droplet, almost like a tear” (1). I was hooked and seeing red from page one, which boded well for a work of horror. I was not disappointed - The Merciless leaves one bloody bread crumb after another, filling the reader with suspense, disgust, and, well, horror, leading to a crowning act of violence through crucifixion. The pages beg to be turned and readers will be unable to turn away from the (in)humanity and darkness that lurks within the characters and their actions.
Despite the book’s breakneck speed and cinematic feel, it still leaves room for the contemplation of the power play between good and evil in humanity. The first chapter sets up the enigma of the girls working their ways into Sofia’s life. In Sofia’s first interaction with Brooklyn, Brooklyn offers Sofia a Band-Aid for her bleeding cuticle. Sofia acknowledges that she has “hung out with girls like [Brooklyn] before, the girls who skip third period to smoke cloves in the bathroom and pierce their ears with safety pins. It’s always exciting for a while, but they never become real friends,” but Sofia, being new, leaves her options open for making friends (5). Hanging out with the rebellious, angsty, noncormfist, though likely unfulfilling, is better than being friendless. On the other hand, Riley sneaks up on Sofia, who has just discovered a skinned cat, lying inside a pentagram. Riley, with her “brown curls [that] pool around her shoulders in perfect spirals” and immaculate blue dress, reveals no emotion regarding the cat; instead, she invites Sofia to sit with her friends at lunch (6). Sofia is skeptical, thinking that “pretty, popular girls form cliques harder to break into than a bank vault,” but she gives Riley the benefit of the doubt because she “seemed genuine when she made her charity announcement in the cafeteria” (9). Riley’s crew proceeds to share rumors of Brooklyn’s sacrilege, but Sofia has trouble believing that the girl “who offered [her] a Band-Aid would also kill a cat” (12). Does Riley’s absence of emotion toward finding the cat imply that she was involved in the ritual or was it actually Brooklyn? Questions spring from the opening of the novel. As the story progresses, when Brooklyn is tied up in a basement, and Riley, Alexis, Grace, and Sofia confess their own sins, the lines between right and wrong/good and evil become even more distorted. Are the “pretty little liars” ultimately the good girls, or are they the evil in the room? Or are they both or neither? Is it Brooklyn, who is possessed, or the others? What would it mean about humanity or morality if Brooklyn isOR if the girls are OR if no one is?
Danielle Vega has created a novel that will appeal to horror fans, as well as to the cult of readers and TV-viewers that follow the drama, trifling, and suspense of Pretty Little Liars. Riley, Alexis, Grace, and Sofia are Spencer, Hannah, Aria, and Emily hopped up on religious fervor and a desire to exorcise, instead of exercise.
Also to Vega’s credit, never has a cover so perfectly wrapped up and sold the contents within. The hot pink cover perfectly captures the bubblegum-chewing, superficial, beauty-obsessed, popular, girly-girl image, just as the textured, gold-embossed text evokes the Bible - only our text is The Merciless, accompanied by a pentagram, rather than a cross. The cover is so poignantly sweet and diabolical at the same time, so beautifully decadent that I almost can’t stand it but ♡ it instead.
So, The Merciless as the popular girl’s quintessential bible of good vs. evil? Or just evil?
Vivian, Siobhan. The Last Boy and Girl in the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Siobhan Vivian’s The Last Boy and Girl in the World follows protagonist Keeley Hewitt through the final days of her junior year of high school - first love, increasingly unstable friendships, and a sinking town - as in literally going under water. The flooding of Aberdeen, a working-class community with deep roots in its place by the river, means the upheaval of its entire population. For Keeley’s father, the urge to combat inexplainable politics awakens him from the stupor he has settled into since his accident, and he becomes the leader of the “Reservoir Resistance.” Keeley, who is heartened by her father’s fervor, commits to making the best of a difficult situation. She utilizes her sense of humor and outlandish antics to cheer up her friends, as well as obtain the affections of the popular, athletic, senior-class clown that she’s been crushing on since middle school. However, despite the secret parties, cancelled school, and distracted adults, more than Keeley’s hometown begins to drown.
I have recently started reading Goodreads reviews of books I have finished, which I should probably stop doing because it always ends up annoying and frustrating me, but I also find it interesting to see what people enjoy and dislike about novels. In this case, one reader, who initially liked Keeley, ended up disliking her for becoming “such a selfish brat.” The reader expressed that she hated the choices Keeley makes, so much so that she struggled to finish the book. Now, for me, I find Keeley’s proclivity to make bad choices endearing and real. I find it difficult to be so self-righteous as to pretend that people (especially teens, but also 31-year-old bloggers) do not, and often, make mistakes. After Keeley’s father meets with Mayor Aversano, when Keeley’s world view finally comes crashing down, her father says that he thought “things would work out differently,” and it “broke [Keeley’s] heart. Because he wasn’t a bad person. Just like [she] wasn’t a bad person. So how did [they] both screw up so badly?” (398). This is the core of the matter - Keeley is not a bad person, nor is her father. It is easy to be misled, to forget varying viewpoints, when fighting for a cause or a feeling. The true test of character is not that Keeley screws up, but that she eventually sees the error of her ways, learns, and grows. And these things she does. As she’s unpacking from her move, Keeley says, “I was a different person. I couldn’t say a better person, but someone who couldn’t ignore their shortcomings” (404). She finally realizes that “instead of fixing the problems, [she] deflected and distracted” (407). Individuals cope with tragedy differently, but people of all ages experience denial and/or misinterpreting situations. My favorite professor once gave me this metaphor - you’re in a speeding car with the top down; you can’t see what is ahead of you because it is too far in the distance; you can’t see what is directly beside you because it’s a blur as you race by; only when you look behind you, do objects take shape and make sense - we cannot see the future, the present is happening too fast to be clear, only the past can be interpreted and given meaning. The Last Boy and Girl in the World highlights this ideology - Keeley is too caught up in the present to really see the consequences of her behavior; that doesn’t necessarily excuse her, but it does make her human.
In Keeley’s defense, a smile always helps, even in the face of disaster. When she has her final goodbye with Jesse, she has already realized that Levi was right when he says, “not everything should be turned into a good time… you’re trying to pretend it isn’t happening” (291-2). Even so, Keeley appreciates that Jesse ends their relationship with a joke; she says, “it really was easier that way. It also immediately validated my choice to let him go, because I suddenly wasn’t interested in easy anymore” (385). It is not a crime to feel moments of pleasure in the presence of misfortune, but Keeley finally understands that it is not productive to mask uncomfortable emotions, such as pain, confusion, sadness, with humor. When I think of Keeley’s experiences, lyrics from The Decemberists’ “Down By The Water” come to mind - “the season rubs me wrong/the summer swells anon/so knock me down, tear me up/but I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup/down by the water/down by the old main drag.” She allows the events to completely knock her down; she bears a broken friendship with Morgan and a missed true love - all consequences of her wanting to have her time, wanting to fill her cup with what she thought was love with Jesse and some laughs. However, it is clear to the reader from the moment that Jesse hip-checks Keeley at Spring Formal that he is not going to be the one, and it’s not surprising that, with Levi’s constant lurking, he is the opportunity to which she is blind. Furthemore, her laughs gradually become more spiteful and distance her from the people she loves, rather than draw her closer to them. When Keeley finally stops laughing, she starts “caring for [herself]” and begins putting “one foot in front of the other and find[s] a way to keep going” (406). She is able to move on, still cherishing her past life in Aberdeen, but focused on the possibilities of the future.
The Last Boy and Girl in the World is enjoyable realistic fiction; the novel encourages readers to reevaluate their perceptions and actions, to consider their behavior in times of duress, and remember the future’s uncertainty. The novel’s conclusion did evoke some teary eyes as Keeley comes to terms with the realization that life is challenging, that our choices are hardly ever easy, and that relationships fluctuate and evolve. Read it; it doesn’t disappoint.
Bunn, Cullen. Night of the Living Deadpool. Illus. Ramon Rosanas. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2014.
In Night of the Living Deadpool, Deadpool wakes from a food coma to find himself in a zombie apocalypse. He joins a motley crew, wanting to gain access to a quarantine district; unfortunately, they all become zombies at one point or another. He beheads a group of crazed women set on destroying the one idyllic town unaffected by the plague, only to temporarily turn into a zombie himself and convert the town. Finally, utilizing the severed head of an evil scientist, he discovers the origin of the infection and attempts to reverse its effects.
One of the most striking aspects of Bunn’s version of the zombie apocalypse is that the undead are cognizant of their condition but unable to prevent themselves from acting in horrific ways. As the zombies are attacking their victims, they say things like, “My cat… I ate my cat…,” “... happy place… my happy place…,” and “I can still taste it! Oh, God!,” which lends some humor to what are, ultimately, dark circumstances (#1). In Cullen Bunn’s story pitch, he explains, “the human consciousness is trapped within, unable to change the zombie’s actions. This leads to some real horror, and a reflection of a descent into madness” (Cullen Bunn’s story pitch). The proliferation of and interest in zombie-stories are obviously representative of our culture’s fear of becoming enslaved to our baser desires. However, what makes Bunn’s version so poignant is the zombies’ acknowledgment of and inability to change their actions. We all have our vices, whether it’s shopping or reading or playing video games, and I think it’s a universal concern, of, at least, my generation and older, that technology is numbing our humanity. I can relate to scrolling through my social media feed and thinking that I have to take a break, that my brain feels fuzzy, and, yet, not stopping. Bunn’s commentary prompted me to question how complacent we are becoming in our obsessions with our hobbies/interests (or are they addictions?). At what point are we going to start asking, “Please… I don’t want this!,” “Why? Why can’t I wake up?,” or “Somebody… tell me why this is happening?” (#4). Even though we have yet to start eating each other, the prospect of zombification, figuratively speaking, is still a relevant fear.
Night of the Living Deadpool also presents an alternative, and much needed, account of the hero. In comic #1, Deadpool asks where all the other heroes are, and he’s told that “they didn’t stand a chance… as far as heroes go… you’re the only one left;” the corresponding illustrations pan across Captain America’s shield buried in rubble and covered with blood (#1). In his story pitch, Bunn states that the “story redefines the hero in many ways, and here we’ll see a dark reflection of that” (Cullen Bunn’s story pitch). As I mentioned in my blog post, Deadpool’s appeal is that he’s much more human than he is superhuman. He’s a mixed character - dark and light - he’s so much more relatable, and he’s a result of good intentions gone bad, which is an element with which most readers can empathize. Yet, he finds humor in the human condition and is able to evoke laughter at the absurdity of life. As much as I find Deadpool’s humanity and humor intriguing, I also find his references to pop culture particularly entertaining. The pop cultural allusions are one of the major factors that I found the film so appealing and successful, and I feel similarly about the comic. Within the first few pages of the graphic novel, Deadpool sings, “I think we’re alone now..,” which immediately put Tiffany’s 1987 hit in my head. Those quirky references are the most endearing element of Deadpool, in my opinion.
Lastly, Ramon Rosanas captures the spirit of Deadpool perfectly by contrasting the vibrant red of Deadpool’s suit to the stark black and white background that surrounds him. The illustrations reflect Deadpool’s spirit; he is flawed, but he is alive - full of hope and color, despite his imperfections and cynicism. Additionally, Jay Shaw’s cover art is beautiful and frame-worthy. Whether you have seen the film or not, check out the artistry of Cullen Bunn and Ramon Rosanas’s graphic novel Night of the Living Deadpool.
Rowell, Rainbow. Carry On. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2015.
Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On follows Simon Snow, a Normal and the Chosen One, to his final year at the Watford School of Magicks. When he returns to wizard school, he is perturbed by his missing, villainous vampire roommate Baz, conflicted over catching his girlfriend Agatha holding hands with Baz right before summer break, and struggling with how to fulfill his “Great Destiny” (35). Simon’s best friend Penelope provides plenty of insight, quirkiness, and moral support while Simon obsesses over the elements in his life he cannot control. One night, Simon is visited by the ghost of Baz’s mother, which catapults Simon, Baz, and Penelope into a mystery of prophetic proportions.
The beginning (as in the first 150 pages) of the novel is extremely slow-going. I didn't care for the allusions to Harry Potter - Simon is a Normal and he's an orphan and he's the Chosen One and he befriends Ebb, a sheepherder/groundskeeper... So, die-hard Harry Potter fans may love the similarities, but it definitely left me wanting more than what seemed to be a more grown-up version of Harry Potter with bad language thrown in. Additionally, there did not seem to be anything of much consequence happening - Simon's position as the Chosen One, as well as his unfortunate magical ineptitude were clear, as was his obsession with Baz. I would have appreciated it if Book One had been more concise because once I started Book Two and Baz appeared, I was caught up in the story.
Rowell presents a valid commentary on societal inclusion/exclusion and the divide between social classes. However, I think the most striking aspect of Carry On was her attention to creating a diverse, young adult fantasy novel. I attended an author panel entitled "Diversity is More Than a Hashtag" at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in April. During the discussion, Cindy Pon, author of Serpentine, expressed her desire for authentic and diverse protagonists in all genres of literature. She created a Chinese protagonist for her novel because, growing up, there were no novels that included main characters with which she could identify culturally. The worlds of books should mirror the diversity in the world around us. White characters dominate all genres of literature, and minorities still read and identify with those stories. White readers would, similarly, still identify with more diverse characters, as well as broaden their understanding of various cultures. There is literally no reason to exclude minorities as the heroes or heroines in novels. In the case of Carry On, Rowell beautifully created a fantasy novel, in which the two leading characters are homosexual. What makes that so fantastic is that it is a fantasy novel - the main characters just happen to be gay. Most of the LGBTQ YA I have read is realistic fiction, and the purpose is to show the evolution of owning one’s sexuality. But Rowell is not as focused on that; instead, she throws it out there nonchalantly, so the reader accepts it as a given and does not question the validity of having homosexual heroes. Baz owns and is comfortable with his sexuality and, at the end of the novel, Simon states, “I suppose I am gay; my therapist says it’s not even in the top five things I have to sort out right now” (515). With the progress in gay rights and the passing of gay marriage, sexuality should no longer be a cultural or societal anxiety. The LGBTQ community is just as human as anyone else; there’s no reason that sexuality should prevent a tale from being told or cause that tale to become a spectacle rather than a story. I appreciate Rowell for providing me with characters I have never encountered before and with which I easily (after the first 150 pages) fell in love.
Aside from the mastery Rowell utilized to address diversity, other elements of Carry On did not quite meet my expectations. The back cover of the book quotes Lev Grossman as stating that the novel is “funny and shocking,” so I had planned on laughing. Though it did not evoke laughter like Andrew Smith novels, I did end up finding it amusing. I thoroughly enjoyed the running joke about the numpties, as well as any description of Fiona, who “likes to swear like a Normal” and "thinks she’s punk” (156). The spells, on the other hand, which are derived from songs or popular phrases, should be charming, but are obnoxious instead. However, at the same time, I have to give Rowell props for alluding to some awesome music - most obviously Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Lastly, the Mage’s corruption was predictable, and I thought it was strange that, with the intelligence of the characters, they did not acknowledge that the Mage and Lucy were Simon’s parents or that Simon did fulfill the prophesy, just not in the way they expected. Despite this, it was a witty read, and I would suggest taking a chance on it.
Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015.
In Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, teenage Finn struggles with just about everything: the community, his relationship with his brother, his budding romance with Petey; however, his greatest struggle is with his guilt and confusion about witnessing Roza’s kidnapping and not being able to accurately describe the perpetrator. In this thrilling mystery, Ruby mixes realism with fantasy, creating a tale that seamlessly shifts between worlds. Alternating chapters depict Finn’s attempts to discover what happened to Roza as well as Roza’s captivity. Savvy readers, who know their Greek mythology, will be delighted to decipher the allusions. Once readers become comfortable with the magic realism genre, they will be enthralled by the tale.
Martin, T. Michael. The End Games. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2013.
In T. Michael Martin’s The End Games, brothers Michael, 17, and Patrick, 5, are fighting their way through a zombie apocalypse. In order to protect his brother, Michael explains to Patrick that they are playing a real life video game, in which there is a Game Master, rules, points, levels and, eventually, an End Game, where the brothers will reunite with their mother and other unharmed civilians. The novel begins with the brothers traveling alone, eluding the infected Bellows, who only come out at night; however, when they arrive in Coalmount, they encounter not only Bellows, but a cult called The Rapture, who believes that the Bellows are God’s will and fight to protect these “sacred” monsters. In their escape from the Rapture, they are saved by Captain Jopek, who brings the boys to a secure location with three other survivors. Michael and Patrick must then discover who their true allies are, find a cure for the zombie infection, fight the Rapture, as well as the mutating Bellows, and attempt to find their End Game.
This novel is action-packed with fight scenes and will have a special appeal for those who enjoy zombie/apocalyptic stories and/or gamers. The consistent allusions to video games allow readers to compare events in the novel to video games like Halo. The End Games, however, does dig deeper than violence and basic survival; Michael struggles with the amount of control he has over his world, whether he’s helping or harming Patrick by creating The Game for him, coming to terms with his love for his mother, but also accepting her weaknesses, and connecting emotionally with others. I would recommend this title to readers who want plenty of action in their novels, but also some substance.
Backderf, Derf. My Friend Dahmer: A Graphic Novel. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2012.
Alex Award 2013 - adult books for young adults.
Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer documents Backderf’s acquaintance with Jeffrey Dahmer through high school and explores Dahmer’s growing struggle with his own depravity. Dahmer grew from being invisible in middle school and interested in dissolving dead animals in acid to throwing “fake epileptic fits and [mimicking] the slurred speech and spastic tics of someone with cerebral palsy” his sophomore year of high school to his eventual first murder after graduation (47). Through Backderf’s text and illustrations, the reader questions nature vs. nurture and wonders if the adults in Dahmer’s life had not been “so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent,” perhaps circumstances could have turned out differently (11). Though Backderf’s “Dahmer Fan Club” is not completely blameless, they did laugh at Dahmer’s behavior without ever really befriending him, they are more easily forgiven because they were children. However, the openly contemptuous relationship between his parents and his being ignored by teachers, who did not even take notice when he was constantly drunk at school, are far more despicable for their absence of care or concern. Dahmer struggled, “hanging onto his sanity by the thinnest thread,” alone (123). He kept his homosexuality a secret, as well as his fantasies about dead lovers and his dismemberment of animals. However, no one took an interest, and in 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested for murder – “his apartment was full of bodies! He had sex with the corpses… and ate some of them!!” (223).
My Friend Dahmer is an excellent example of young adult literature that explores an uncommon subject and is written at a high level of sophistication. The text is dark, haunting, and psychologically captivating. Kirkus questions, “If a boy is not born a monster, how does he become one?” (2399). Backderf “doesn't try to elicit sympathy for "Jeff." Yet he walks an emotional tightrope here, for he recognizes that someone--maybe the other kids who laughed at and with him, certainly the adults who should have recognized aberration well beyond tortured adolescence--should have done something” (2399). Readers must wrestle with Dahmer’s circumstances; his life was truly miserable, but does that excuse him? No. Yet, Backderf does create an emotional link to Dahmer and his hopelessly austere adolescence. Readers will ponder whether Dahmer could have led a normal existence if his family and community had shown him love rather than indifference. The graphic novel ends on an especially poignant and thought-provoking note. Ten years after graduating high school, Backderf and a couple friends met to reminisce, and when remembering Dahmer, one friend states, “Ya know what? Dahmer is probably a serial killer by now!” Backderf ends the novel with “and we all laughed” (199). In the end, Backderf acknowledges that they knew something was wrong with Dahmer, and yet no one did anything. They laughed. Readers must question their own actions (or lack of) and ponder what they would do in the situation.
Nilsen cites research that found that one of the “most popular types of nonfiction [is] cartoon and comic books” (285). My Friend Dahmer is a perfect example of this type of nonfiction text. The illustrations perfectly capture Dahmer’s psyche and the bleakness of his situation, adding to the literature. Library Journal states “Backderf's intentionally ungainly black-and-white art underscores the universal awkwardness of adolescence, and the approach has emotional resonance” (65-66); in addition, Booklist states the “blunt, ungainly drawings, with their robotically stiff figures, effectively convey the drab suburban milieu” (37). Dahmer’s face constantly appears emotionless, and the shadows that often grace his face create an element of foreboding. Furthermore, the cover art captures the essence of Dahmer and the tone of the graphic novel. Dahmer is central, staring, blankly and directly, at the reader, challenging and unfeeling. He is spotlighted, and yet, the shadows under his eyes and near his mouth render him ominous. Moreover, his classmates in the periphery appear unconcerned and oblivious to his presence, reflecting his triviality. Also, the included photos enhance the reality of the story. The photo in which the NHS teacher blacked out Dahmer’s face is affecting – “this photo would become the symbol of Dahmer’s wasted youth. The boy who didn’t belong” (117).
Backderf aptly utilizes narrative in his nonfiction. Nilsen cites evidence that “in people’s minds fiction and nonfiction are blending together” (289). My Friend Dahmer reads just as easily as a fiction novel would; Backderf utilizes literary elements, such as foreshadowing, metaphor, and dialogue. At times, it is easy to forget that the text is biographical; however, the inclusion of photos and actual cartoons that Backderf drew in the ‘70s helps remind the reader that the text is nonfiction. Additionally, Backderf cites a plethora of sources, showing from where his information derived. He utilized personal memories, interviews with contemporaries, interviews with Dahmer, news accounts, FBI files, a family calendar, and Lionel Dahmer’s book. Backderf also includes notes, explaining why details were included in the text. He also provided brief, biographical information about Jeffrey Dahmer, Joyce Dahmer, Lionel Dahmer, and the Dahmer Fan Club. Lastly, the quotes from Jeffrey Dahmer add a sense of uneasiness and reality to the graphic novel, underscoring its truth. Dahmer’s quote, “when I was a kid, I was just like anybody else” is particularly disconcerting because it hints at the possibility of a different outcome (8).
Cornog, Martha. "My Friend Dahmer." Library Journal 137.9 (2012): 65-66. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 29 July 2014.
Flagg, Gordon. "My Friend Dahmer." Booklist 108.14 (2012): 37. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 29 July 2014.
"My Friend Dahmer." Kirkus Reviews 80.1 (2012): 2399. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 27 July 2014.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace., James Blasingame, Kenneth L. Donelson, and Don L.F. Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults: Study Guide. 9th ed. New York: Pearson, 2012. Print.