Tuesday, March 25, 2014

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Normally, a book review would begin with a summary of the plot. But I can't offer you that for We Were Liars, because each reader will come to understand this book at different times in its narrative. I must be careful.

Here's what I can tell you. We Were Liars is about three highly privileged wealthy teenagers and their one less wealthy (and less Aryan) friend. Every Summer they holiday, with their parents and younger siblings on a private island owned by their Grandfather. The four friends are The Liars. They are not likable people and their families are occasionally revolting. But we have some sympathy for our narrator Cadence, who suffers from crippling headaches. She had an accident at the island in the Summer before her fifteenth birthday, but she doesn't remember anything about it and her memory of that whole Summer is fragile.

We Were Liars contains some of the most heart crushingly beautiful prose I've ever read in a Young Adult novel. Some lines are poetic and float free of the standard constraints of the page. Other parts are told as short fairy tales. Sometimes there is circling repetition. Sometimes it reads like a teenager's diary. Incredibly, it all comes together perfectly. I was continually astonished by the technical genius of E Lockhart's writing.

This is a book I would recommend to anyone over the age of 15 and I do mean teens and adults alike. We Were Liars is a sophisticated novel that deserves to find its audience.

Published May 13, 2014 by Delacourt Press

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Time Out of Time; Beyond the Door by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Timothy Maxwell leaves the door open to adventure when he is visited by Herne the Hunter and The Greenman on a stormy night in Spring. He soon discovers that he has an integral part to play in the coming battle against The Dark. A battle which will endanger not only himself, but also his family and friends.

Well paced and lyrical writing sets the scene perfectly in this adrenaline fueled ride through British mythology and middle school.

This is exactly the kind of book I loved when I was in middle school and let's be honest, I love them still. Kids books that draw on mythology, especially more obscure mythologies and bring those ancient stories up to date are very important. There is an incredible wealth of oral tradition underpinning this book, not just in the legendary figures of British mythology that stalk it's pages, but also in the stories that Timothy's babysitter tells him, stories which may ultimately save his life.

Ages 10-14

Published March 18, 2014 by Amulet Books

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Star Mackie starts a club, to help her make friends at a new school. The club turns into a poetry club and becomes a lifeline for her and some other students. But that's just the plot.

Star is the kind of ten year old heroine we all love, she's bright, enthusiastic, empathetic and determined. She's also poor. Star lives in a trailer with her Mom and teenage sister, they use food stamps and her hair was cut by a family friend who needed some practice.

This story is told from Star's perspective and her voice is written with incredible authenticity. As a result Star's family are drawn with differing levels of clarity, depending on how close she is to them or how well she understands them. I'm pretty sure that Mom's best friend is actually Mom's girlfriend, but that doesn't cross Star's mind. There's also a lot of ten year old thinking behind Star's actions, for example she does her homework, but she never hands it in, because her teacher expects that she hasn't done it.

Of course Star is marginalized, bullied and pre-judged by students and teachers alike. Nevertheless, the hope and conviction felt by Star Mackie could fuel a rocket to the moon. That energy gives this book an appeal that could not be achieved by an otherwise earnest plea for recognition of child poverty.

At the end, things are taking a turn for the worse in the trailer and although Star has found a friend she can rely on and has got over the idealization of her absent father, this is no happy ending.

Hope is a Ferris Wheel raises some difficult questions and doesn't attempt to answer them. But because we now have the character of Star Mackie, we have springboard to discussion about social poverty. A difficult but really rewarding book that I imagine will be taught in schools in years to come.

Published March 11, 2014 by Amulet Books

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

Nathan is a half blood, the son of a White Witch mother and a Black Witch father and he doesn't belong in either of their worlds. Barely literate and unable to sleep indoors, he also cannot pass as human among the Fain, those who don't even realize that witchcraft is under their noses.

He has been abandoned by his father and blames himself for his mother's suicide, he is loathed by his half sister and beaten and bullied by Whites his own age. Meanwhile the Council of White Witches is determined to control his fate, by force. It doesn't take Nathan long to understand that he must make his own way, be his own moral compass and his own best chance of survival.

There is a lot of hype about this book, but to my mind, that hype is justified. There is so much to love in Half Bad. The language, effortless pacing, contemporary setting and tantalizing hints of the story yet to come are all marks of quality this book carries with ease. Nathan's voice is street smart and tough as hell, but he has a strong moral code, (I suspect this is the source of the Hunger Games comparisons).

My favorite thing about this book is the treatment of magic. Magic is something subtle in this world, no flying cars or magical dragons. Instead, magic is described as a gift, different from witch to witch in type and strength, there are healers, potion makers, shape shifters and some with less common gifts. It makes magic seem more believable and is an obvious limit to the extent of any one character's power.

A teen book with guts and heart, plenty of action and some touching moments. Bring on Book Two!

Age 14+

Published March 4th, 2014 by Penguin

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by J C Carleson

Until recently, Laila and her family lived in a palace in an unnamed a middle eastern country. Her father was king and although they lived under threat from violent rebel factions, Laila believed her father was a good man in a difficult situation. A few weeks ago he was shot dead in a coup and Laila was removed to America by the CIA. Now she lives in a small apartment in Washington DC, with her hysterical mother and younger brother, "the king of nowhere".

Laila has to make adjustments to her world view, not just to fit in at the local high school, but also to make sense of the father she loved and the tyrant she now knows he was.

Her mother is intent on taking back the country, making deals with the CIA and rebel factions back home. But this all occurs in the background as Laila recreates herself as a Western teenager. She learns to drive, makes out with a boy and goes to a school dance. But Laila knows she wants to go home and after spying on her mother, she thinks she may know how.

This is a taut and clever story about the innocent and not so innocent families behind the news reports. Laila's perspective not only shifts, but actually stretches to accommodate all the different people she needs to be. The ending is very satisfying and surprisingly hopeful.

An interesting and different coming of age novel, with fascinating insights into international relations.

Ages 12+

Published February 11, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Review first published in Diesel, a bookstore's Newsletter March 2014