I am sharing two very different books today, which I can only tenuously connect thanks to the Alex Awards. (Thus the completely unimaginative title of this post!)
Let’s begin on a light-hearted note. First, a review of Raiders!, which won a place on the Booklist Editors Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults, 2012. Our reviewer certainly agrees with the positive assessment – note the star next to this one. Teen librarians and readers talk a lot about fan fiction — this is about the making of the ultimate fan film. (The book trailer is great fun, including a few brief clips.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one end up on the Alex Award list on Monday morning. It’s what teen appeal is all about.
Next up we have a review of Thomas Maltman’s second novel, Little Wolves. Maltman is no stranger to the Alex Awards. His debut, The Night Birds, won a 2008 Alex. The Night Birds is a beautifully written, layered historical novel set in 19th century Minnesota, which follows a teenager named Asa whose family history intertwines with the violent Dakota Conflict of 1862.
I happened to be the chair of the 2008 Alex committee, and one of the wonderful privileges of being chair is leading the Alex Awards Program at ALA the following summer. Maltman was one of the authors who spoke at that program, along with Jeff Lemire (Tales from the Farm, Essex County, v.1) and Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind). All of the authors were wonderful to listen to, of course, but Maltman had actually written out his speech, and he allowed me to reprint it in the Spring 2009 issue of YALS (Young Adult Library Services). It is very affecting – and available online (scroll down to page 6).
I especially enjoyed his ideas about getting teens to enjoy history by using stories. From his speech about The Night Birds: “Watching him [a substitute history teacher] I saw again how much we need story to understand history, often seen as a random sequence of events and dates. Story provides a guide to take us into the past and it shows us all the ways the past is alive inside us today. I used to tell people that my novel was a work of historical fiction, but when I interviewed with a bookseller down in Iowa, she told me what your novel is really about is family secrets. Now that’s a much juicier two word description. The truth is that most of us don’t love history the way we love a good secret. So if I can draw a young reader in with my novel, get them wrapped up in the story, I hope to also sneak in some history, in this case a lost, secret historical event unknown to many people outside of Minnesota.”
Little Wolves is very different. Then again, it is also set in rural Minnesota, this time during the 1980s. And again, family secrets play a role.
* EISENSTOCK, Alan with Eric Zala & Chris Strompolos. Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. 320p. Thomas Dunne. 2012. Tr $25.99. ISBN 978-1-250-00147-4. LC 2012035374.
Adult/High School–When two pre-teens decided to re-create the iconic Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, they had no idea what they were getting into, or that they were forging a friendship that would last long past the cut of the camera. Zala used his role as director to explore his abilities to prepare and be ready for any situation while Strompolos worked through his insecurities and body-image doubts by inhabiting Indiana Jones. Stubbornly, they spent each summer between 1981 and 1989 conceiving, casting, and recasting parts, filming and substituting when necessity demanded. Where were they going to get a submarine in gulf-coast Mississippi? They literally grew up on camera as their friend Jayson Lamb documented everything. Their sheer determination to finish is inspiring and a little frightening, skirting the edge of obsession. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Eric and Chris and Jayson did what they set out todo: remake Raiders of the Lost Ark, shot for shot. Surprisingly, creating the boulder became one of the production’s biggest sticking points, working as metaphor for Eric and Chris’ lives, friendship, ambitions, and love, and illustrating their struggle to get one of the lynchpins of the entire project to work, but never giving up. Raiders! has a great narrative flow that reads like fiction and would make an excellent choice for teens interested in filmmaking, pop-culture history, and those who just enjoy a good story.–Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI
Adult/High School–Clara Warren has joined her preacher husband on his first pastoral assignment to the town of Lone Mountain, in rural Minnesota. A substitute English teacher, she has a special rapport with her high school students, including the seemingly troubled outsider Seth Fallon. When Seth murders the town Sheriff and then commits suicide, Clara begins to have dreams, hear ghosts, and become guilt-ridden about a missed opportunity to talk the teen out of his fateful actions. She gets to know Seth’s father, Grizz Fallon, who wonders how he could have missed the signs of the pain and misery that plagued his isolated son. In their search for understanding, Clara and Grizz uncover an entanglement of family histories that reveal the root of Seth’s trouble. Little Wolves is a brooding mystery whose sadness and yearning for understanding in the aftermath of senseless violent tragedy reflect the moody confusion that that is all too common in contemporary America. The story is layered with literary and mythic allusions owing to Clara’s doctoral studies in Nordic language and mythology and is more complex and dependent upon character development than most mysteries. Teens who appreciate the atmospherics of a psychological thriller–one tinged with prairie mysticism and close encounters with coyotes (the “little wolves” that Seth had raised)–will find this a satisfying and unforgettable read.–John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY