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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Weekly Reviews: Alex Winners Redux

And speaking of Alex Award winners, today we have two more reviews of novels by previous winners.

Neil Gaiman is one of those magical writers who seems to be able to write for any age level, with a Newbery Award under his belt, popular graphic novels for teens and adults, and two Alex Award winning adult novels–Anansi Boys and Stardust.  This year sees the publication of two Gaiman books–his renowned 2012 commencement speech for Philadelphia University, published under the title Make Good Art, and the subject of today’s review, the brief but powerful Ocean at the End of the Lane. Diane’s review, below, was enough to creep me out, so you can imagine how creepy the novel itself is.

And Khaled Hosseini, whose perennially popular The Kite Runner won an Alex, returns to his native Afghanistan in his third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, this time taking readers even further back into the history of Afghanistan, to the 1950s, while once again juxtaposing that historical perspective with a modern plotline.

No big surprises from either author–just excellent novels in the same vain as their best work.  In other words, easy sells to established fans, who in both authors’ case are legion.

GAIMAN, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. 192p. Morrow. June 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062255655; ebook ISBN 9780062255679.

Adult/High School–A seven-year-old boy sees more, believes more, and fears more than adults fathom; a story related by such a boy might be colored by the magical thinking of his age, or by his knack to see deeper than surface truth. This seven-year-old narrator is an unnamed boy in Sussex, England, who makes a friend. They meet as the boy watches his father’s car hauled from a lake, the backseat holding something dead and covered by a blanket the boy remembers from his own closet. As he stands frozen in horror, Lettie appears, rescuing the child with cheerful reassurances and talk of breakfast. But Lettie knows too much. She is nonchalant about the malevolent energy causing coins to lodge in the boy’s throat and hurtle from the sky. Lettie promises him that he will be safe with her, a promise that will ultimately cost her dearly. The book is so deeply atmospheric and psychologically unsettling that it hardly matters that the boy is unnamed and the plotline pocketed by mystery. Readers come away with a deep emotional imprint reminiscent of fairy tales. Indeed, Gaiman infuses his book with references to mythology, such as the evil enchantress who replaces the boy’s mother, or the magical ring Lettie draws around the boy to keep him safe. Teens know Gaiman’s unique ability to conjure thrilling discomfort with just a few disturbing words, such as “button eyes” or “the man Jack.” In this book, Gaiman once again escorts readers just past the borderline of evil, and then returns them to this world, not unchanged.–Diane Colson, formerly at Palm Harbor Library, FL

HOSSEINI, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. 416p. Riverhead. May 2013. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9781594631764; ebook ISBN 9781101626276.

Adult/High School–Hosseini’s gorgeously written book begins in Afghanistan in 1952. In the opening chapters, Abdullah’s father makes the horrible choice to sell Abdullah’s beloved sister Pari to a wealthy family so the rest of his family can survive. This sets the foundation for generations of the families and characters connected to the tragedy to tell their stories.  Ranging from Paris, the Greek Islands, and most significantly the U.S. and Afghanistan, and stretching to present day, the chapters are like short stories and relate– sometimes subtly, sometimes profoundly–to central themes of choice, love, and loss. A French journalist interviews a famous poet–Pari’s adoptive mother. A dying man writes a letter illuminating his part in Pari being sold.  Roshi, a young orphan living in a hospital in 2010 Afghanistan, is in dire need of medical attention. Unfortunately, the American doctor, who is also treating the elder Abdullah, makes her a promise he doesn’t keep.  Adel, a naive young boy also living in present day Afghanistan, is devastated and forever changed when he awakens to his father’s crimes as a warlord, impacting a grandson of Abdullah’s family.  Many chapters are brilliant in their evocation of the complexities of humanity and social issues, especially the intersections between the have and have-nots. Teens who loved The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007, both Riverhead) will be happy that this  book is as equally powerful and will and savor its pages. Teens who haven’t read him before will enjoy the big story.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA  

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark