Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wonderstruck

How do you feel about spoilers? I can't stand them and often go to extreme lengths to avoid them. No joke -- I stayed away from the internet on the week Mockingjay was released. When I heard that Brian Selznick had a new book coming out, I wanted to be totally unspoiled, so I had no idea what Wonderstruck would be about. It was worth the effort, because when I sat down to read this book, I didn't get up again until I was finished. That's right, 608 pages later.
True, half of the story is told in illustrations. Continuing with the method he pioneered in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick's amazing black and white drawings tell of Rose, a deaf girl who loves silent films and wants to belong somewhere. Rose's life is interspersed with Ben's written narrative. Although his story is set fifty years later, the two have a lot in common. Ben is also deaf and trying to find his place in the world. Their two narratives are also similar, with the characters experiencing the same emotions at the same time.

I don't want to spoil the plot so instead I will marvel at the research that Selznick did to prepare for Wonderstruck. His study of diverse topics ranged from Minnesota to the American Museum of Natural History to Deaf culture. The details --both in the illustrations and the writing-- are what make Wonderstruck so satisfying. The more I read, the more I appreciate authors who respect their readers. Rather than churning out the same plot and characters, Selznick challenges the readers to expect more.

This should be the next book you read.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anya's Ghost

The Neil Gaiman quote on the cover of Anya's Ghost proclaims it "a masterpiece" and I am not going to argue with that. This is one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, and even better, teenage girls will instantly relate to the protagonist.

Anya is a Russian immigrant who has worked hard to lost her accent, some baby fat, and the disdain of her classmates. Still, she spends most of her time crushing on a popular boy from afar and getting teased by her only friend, who seems to be using her for cigarettes. After an embarrassing incident, Anya falls down a well that is inhabited by a skeleton and its ghost, a girl named Emily Reilly who was murdered in 1918. After recovering from her fear, Anya befriends Emily, who helps her escape, gives her answers on tests, and encourages her to talk to her crush. As in most ghost stories, all is not what it seems to be and Anya learns that Emily can be truly scary after all.

Anya's insecurities are realistic and awkward to witness. Vera Brosgol is such a talented storyteller that I actually didn't realize that the only colors are black, white, gray, and purple until after I finished the book. The story was so engrossing that I lived it in color as I read it. The illustrations are full of interesting details that merit a second reading, now that I know the plot.

I enjoy a good scare (although not as much now that I live alone on the first floor--please don't stalk me) and found that Anya's Ghost delivered. I frantically read the last thirty pages at school during lunch, wanting to know how the story would conclude. I was pleased with the ending and am now anxiously awaiting Vera Brosgol's next book.

Some of the situations in the novel are too mature for my current class, but young teens will love Anya's Ghost as much as I did. You can enjoy a seventeen-page preview here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Joey Fly Private Eye 2: Big Hairy Drama

Clever wordplay takes center stage in Joey Fly Private Eye 2: Big Hairy Drama. Joey Fly is a classic gumshoe, full of snappy retorts and puns. The only difference between this and other entries in the genre? All of the characters are insects. In the second book in the series, Joey Fly and his bumbling sidekick, Sammy Stingtail, are charged with finding the missing lead actress of a local theater. Investigating the crime gives plenty of opportunities to teach about theater vocabulary and idioms, while following the traditional narrative pattern of a mystery.

Big Hairy Drama would serve as a great first graphic novel for readers, as it is very easy to follow. Among the clues (heh) given: the narrative is written in typed boxes, while the dialogue is in a different font, and each setting has a different colored background. These aids not only assist the reader, but also add to the reading experience.

Author Aaron Reynolds and illustrator Neil Numberman have created a series that belong on the shelf in all elementary school classroom libraries.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Zita the Spacegirl

Thank you to whomever nominated Zita the Spacegirl for a Cybil. This graphic novel was an absolute treat to read. It tells the story of Zita, who finds a mysterious button in the woods and accidentally zaps her friend Joseph and herself into another world. Joseph is quickly kidnapped because the locals mistakenly believe he can save their planet, which is about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Zita sets out on a quest to save him, collecting misfit friends along the way.

The story has wonderful messages of perseverance and friendship, but that takes a backseat to the gorgeous illustrations. Ben Hatke has a blast creating the inhabitants of this distant planet, going so far as to create guidebook entries about some of them. The illustrations are detailed and merit inspection.

Zita the Spacegirl is fairly long and is the first in a series, so it would be a worthwhile investment for your library. It will appeal to a variety of readers: lovers of fantasy, adventure, and graphic novels will all be clamoring to borrow it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hate List

Incredible.

Hate List is one of the best books I've read this year. It tells the story of a school shooting from the perspective of Valerie, the shooter's girlfriend. The novel begins with Valerie and Nick as outcasts who jokingly (or so Val thinks) compile a Hate List of people and things that annoy them. When the tragedy occurs and Valerie is wounded, she must reconsider everything she thought she knew about her relationship. The novel details Valerie's return to the school and the reaction of the entire community to a crime that she didn't commit, but with which she is intricately connected.

Author Jennifer Brown does an amazing job of addressing the feelings of so many characters: victims' parents, Valerie's family, classmates, and teachers. She shows how this defining moment will resonate for all the characters for the rest of their lives. Brown's description of Valerie's survivor's guilt is so authentic and wrenching that it had me in tears several times. My whole body felt weighted down as I read the scene when Valerie goes back to school for the first time. I hope I never feel the dread that she experienced in that moment, but Brown was able to take me there at least partly.

The writing was able to do the seemingly impossible: make the perpetrator of a horrific crime sympathetic, if only for a few scenes. Nick was a victim of bullying and was humiliated on a date in front of his girlfriend. Brown writes, "His face, just a few minutes ago grinning, had totally fallen. Almost withered. His cheeks had bright red patches on them and his jaw was trembling. I could almost feel the embarrassment and disappointment radiating off of him, could almost see him crumple into defeat before my eyes." The fact that Brown was able to make my heart hurt for this character is a testament to her talent.

I highly recommend Hate List and will promptly be pressing everyone I know to read it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

2 Graphic Novels for Younger Readers

The Cybils graphic novel reading has commenced! Expect lots of new graphic novel reviews over the next few months. Today I wanted to highlight two that would be great for elementary school readers.

The Ferret's a Foot is the third book in Colleen AF Venable's series about Detective Sasspants, a guinea pig private investigator that lives in a pet shop run by the scatterbrained Mr. Venezi. When a new pair of ferrets arrive at the shop and all the animals' signs get messed up, it's up to Detective Sasspants and his assistant, Hamisher, to solve the mystery.

The Ferret's a Foot is a very fun way for readers to learn about ferrets and play around with words. When the mixed-up labels turn the chinchillas into gorillas and the lizards into blizzards, young readers are challenged to create their own names for animals by adding a few letters. The layout is easy to read and is a nice bridge between a picture book and a graphic novel.


From the team that brought you Babymouse, Squish #1: Super Amoeba tells the story of your average grade-school student who happens to be an amoeba.

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm manage to squeeze basic science information into a cute story about being brave enough to face a bully. The book features simple illustrations (with step-by-step instructions on how to draw one of the characters) and muted colors, which balance the many arrows that offer humorous insights. If I was a science teacher (even in middle or high school), I would photocopy some of the graphics to add to my worksheets; they are that clever.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bad Taste in Boys

Kate Grable is pulling it together. No longer as nerdy as she once was, she gets to play doctor as a trainer for her high school football team, which also gives her plenty of chances to ogle her crush, Aaron. When the secret medicine that the coach injects into the players produces strange side effects—like the desire to eat brains—Kate goes from reformed science geek to full-on zombie hunter.


Carrie Harris’ debut novel is a blast from start to finish. She manages to take the well-trodden paranormal lit path to fun, new places. One of the most refreshing aspects of Bad Taste in Boys is the characterization. Instead of being confined to stereotypes, the characters are more like people the reader would actually know. Kate is smart and highly motivated, but also self-deprecating and insecure. It was an interesting choice to give her epilepsy, which plays a minor role in advancing the plot, but is more appreciated for giving the character diversity. Aaron, the quarterback crush, is cute and popular, but also thoughtful and appreciative. The only thing that changes about Kate in the novel is that she becomes more confident (she still loves pop quizzes, wears glasses, and is pretty clueless about fashion), but she is increasingly attractive and powerful to those around her. What a great message.
There is plenty of gore and vomit for horror fans, but not so much that it would repel readers taking their first dip in the zombie pool. The descriptions of zombie attacks were brief and usually tempered with humor. Harris was clever to make the major zombie a football player whose natural personality was not very different from a brain-dead zombie. Lots of witty touches like this are peppered through the novel, making it an enjoyable and quick read.

Fans of paranormal lit and action should check out Bad Taste in Boys, while I eagerly await the November 2012 release of its sequel, Bad Hair Day (my money’s on a werewolf plot).

This is my first post for YABooksCentral.com. Check out my review on the website here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Evermore

We are living in a post-Twilight world. For better or worse, every paranormal romance that I read will always be compared with Twilight in my mind. A friend and I discussed this today, saying "I know what I'm reading, so please don't take five chapters of the protagonist trying to figure out why the hot new guy can move so quickly, read her mind, and know so much about history." For once, I would love for a novel from this genre to openly acknowledge Twilight and then change the game. Evermore is not the novel to do that.

The love story of Ever, the sole survivor of a car crash who can read minds and see her deceased sister, and Damen, a mysterious rebel with an endless supply of red tulips, is not about vampires. Alyson Noel very clearly states that Damen is an Immortal, not a vampire, but then never really explains what that means and what his red beverage of choice is if he isn't a vamp.

There are some aspects to the story which I enjoyed. Ever is able to see the auras of those around her, which tells her how they are feeling. I liked flipping back to the aura chart to see what each colors meant. I also thought it was interesting how Damen shared the symbolism behind different flowers, a subject which has always fascinated me. Unfortunately, I have been wracking my brain for a third thing that was good about Evermore and can't come up with one.

I found the writing to be lacking, particularly in explaining Damen's history and what he really is. When the author writes, "And no, I'm not going to explain all the hows and whys because that would take too long..." and begins multiple sentences with, "All you need to know is...", I find it insulting to the reader. Did Noel not think things through enough? I was really put off by this glaring weakness in the plot.

Evermore is the first in a trilogy, but I won't be reading the others in the series. Does the cover look familiar? Check my review for North of Beautiful from a week or so ago. The last thing I am going to say is that the sequel to Twilight is called New Moon. The sequel to Evermore is called Blue Moon. Really, Alyson Noel?