This book really amazed me by being a story that is bigger and harder and rougher and rawer than I thought it would be. It’s been named for two year’s best lists, and garnered three starred reviews, so it’s not just me feeling amazed. Althea and Oliver is a debut book that went far darker than I expected, and did so intelligently and memorably. While it’s not a perfect read, the more I think about this one, the more impressed I am. [Read more...]
For many, the second half of 2014 will be remembered as the time when police violence against black communities sparked outrage, protest, and calls for change. This is a timely and sorrowful moment for How It Went Down to arrive as a novel about the shooting death of a black teen by a white man. Thankfully, Kekla Magoon handles the plot and characters with delicacy and enough nuance that the book may become a helpful way for some teens to begin to process their frustration and confusion.
It’s important to note though, that How It Went Down is deliberately evocative of the death of Trayvon Martin, even though it’s possible to draw some parallels to Michael Brown’s death. It’s also important to note that Magoon doesn’t just recreate the plot beats of Trayvon Martin death; she’s not interested in a “ripped-from-the-headlines” kind of storytelling. She’s asking a lot of questions. How does a community cope with loss? When that loss is indicative of a larger social justice issue, how does that individual’s life become mythologized and/or demonized? How does tragedy connect and divide the people closest to it?
So, I think I made it pretty clear last year that I really like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s style. She’s smart and she writes books that appeal to me as a reader. But if you dismiss this as just another fangirl review, you’ll be missing out, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws — fannish and blind are not synonyms) this is one seriously notable book.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Little, Brown, October 2014
Reviewed from an ARC
OK, can I confess something? When I’ve tried to describe Glory O’Brien, I’ve started to feel like maybe I’m Stefon because there’s a lot going on here. A LOT: bat drinking, dystopias, politics, graduation, a dead mom, warring families, reclusive fathers, feminism, slutshaming, art, hippies, and STDs. Like, where are the Furbies and the screaming babies in Mozart wigs?
Which is not to say I’m not taking this review seriously (Stefon is always deadly serious anyway, right?) — with six starred reviews, with three placements on year’s best lists, A.S. King’s newest is getting a lot of love. Only, while I loved the wild ride of this read at first pass, as I’m writing this review now, it’s not entirely working. The things I loved are still there, but I have some problems and questions that are making me think twice as I write. [Read more...]
A lot of things make me cry. A great book, a sad movie, and occasionally, a really moving commercial*. I have a long list and I’m really honest about being particularly susceptible. But I’m also really honest when I know I’m being manipulated in a cheap or shallow way.
The last lines of I’ll Give You the Sun made me ugly cry and it was glorious catharsis. No tricks or unearned tears here. I won’t spoil the direct quote because you really should experience it in context, but I will say that in those sentences Jandy Nelson pulls all of the book’s themes together; those last words contain the entire novel.
Oh lists, we love you so!
And it’s open season for year end lists — PW’s early entry was followed by SLJ, and then Kirkus, NPR, the New York Times, and The Horn Book all joined the fray. Plus the Morris and YA Excellence in Nonfiction finalists (both YALSA awards, like the Printz) were made public. SO MUCH DATA. It’s amazing. So let’s take a look, crunch some numbers, and revisit what actually seem to be the real (for a purely speculative value of real) contenders of the year.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
You know we’re not going to get out of here without a Trogdor reference, right? I mean, that’s not in any way the point or even relevant, but it’s still burninating me up inside. Much like the countryside and all those peasants. Which doesn’t get us to the three stars, the three best of year lists (so far), or the placement on the Morris shortlist. The Story of Owen may not have thatched-roof cottages, but it is mostly full of fantastic fantasticness. [Read more...]
Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins
Published by Arthur A Levine, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of 14 stories collected by Prins and Steenhuis, translated by Laura Watkins. The chapters each read like memoirs; they’re all presented in first person, in the voices of the Dutch-Jewish survivors of the war. The stories present a range of experiences — some are about children as young as 3, while others are the experiences of older children — although there are a number of factors that they have in common (the idea of “sperre,” the temporary prison in The Hollandsche Schouwburg). The most significant commonality is that these are all stories of survivors, and so the stories include information beyond what we often think of as “the end” of the story. [Read more...]
For years in my teens and early twenties, I read chick-lit like it was going out of style. I didn’t mind the label or the candy colored covers or the many many headless women — I was young, and not in love, and these books filled a hunger. I now scorn the love triangle in EVERY. DAMN. BOOK, especially in genre, but I understand why it holds appeal. But I’ve also developed a real appreciation for a different kind of love story, the kind about friendship with no romantic overtones but which is just as rich and deep as any romantic love story.
“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend,” as Elizabeth Wein put it in Code Name Verity.
And in September, two lovely examples of exactly this kind of love story came out.
This is a difficult review to write.
The reason I’m struggling has nothing to do with Steve Sheinkin’s book, and everything to do with it.
My thoughts keep turning to Michael Brown, John Crawford III, and Tamir Rice. I’m thinking about the protests happening all over the country as I write these words. And I’m thinking about how these current events are part of the narrative of civil rights and racism in the U.S., specifically their connection to what happened at Port Chicago 70 years ago. Almost three-quarters of a century have passed since those 50 black sailors were convicted of mutiny, but we still need to take a hard look at the ways in which American systems have criminalized black youth—even when those young people are actively working to serve and defend the country.