Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lost Summer by Kathryn Williams

The Lost SummerThe Lost Summer by Kathryn Williams (Hyperion) chronicles Helena's first summer as counselor, while her best friend, Katie Bell, remains a camper. No, not that Katie Bell. From the moment she arrives at camp (texting while driving) to the late-night sneaking out to meet not-so-great boys to taking up smoking, seventeen-year-old Helena seems to be making a string of mistakes, and her relationships with alpha girl counselor Winn and best friend forever Katie Bell suffer too. When it seems like things just can't get any worse, Helena's in a boating accident that puts her into a coma--and mostly things are fine when she wakes up, and those that aren't, well, they're no particular challenge.

Unfortunately, the easy-out ending means that we don't really get to explore the resolutions in the friendships, and the explanation of what happens next is crammed into an overview that lasts a few pages. Neither do we get a true sense of the physical challenges that come from having been in a coma; instead, one can read the end as both punishment and salvation from iffy, but not world-ending, choices.

If you are looking for summer camp nostalgia, you might find it in the first two-thirds of the book, but it's still from the perspective of a counselor who spends a lot of time away from camp. The best parts are Helena's interactions with her campers, and more of that would have balanced the story between her strengths and weaknesses as a character.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week

I thought about this. And thought about it some more. I thought about sharing stories. Of feeling pressure to redact what you offer to or in front of children, of feeling pressure to offer the best quality reading and experiences for kids. Of being in charge of my development as a reader once I was able to read on my own. Of how laughable the reasons for banning books, and as often as not, how disappointed I have been to read a naughty book and to find it insufferably dull. Of how empowering it can be to decide for oneself what to read (and what to reject), especially when you're a kid who has little control over anything in your life.

But for today, all I have to say about book banning is: don't.

http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hopping and I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan

Book Blogger Hop

If you're stopping by from the Hop, say hello so I can be sure to find your blog! This week's question comes from Elizabeth who blogs at Silver's Reviews.


When you write reviews, do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book?
I nearly always write them after I've read the entire book. Sometimes even a few days later, but I like to do the review within 24 hours, even if I can't publish it for a while. On occasion, for the sort of book that gets a midnight release party, I'll take notes as I read (though I usually just immerse and worry about analyzing later); on occasion, I'll take notes if I'm not enjoying what I'm reading because that sometimes helps me figure out if there's a pattern, a hidden reason for my lack of enjoyment.


I Now Pronounce You Someone Else
Earlier this month, I wondered if YA romance was really romance, because romances in YA are usually accompanied with a self-growth story that's as important as, if not more important than, the romance. I'm not trying to say that characters in adult-marketed romances don't experience character growth, just that character growth is so very vital in YA stories that I usually see that as the focus, with romance secondary, or because I don't usually see the self-growth serving the romance in such a focused way as an obstacle, as an adult romance might use it.

Between then and now, I read I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan  (Scholastic - Arthur A. Levine), and it's probably one of the closest-to-romance-as-in-adult-marketed-romances I've read. Bronwen Oliver wishes she'd find out that she's Phoebe Lilywhite, switched and birth and someday to be reunited with her real family. At least she'll be getting away soon to go to college. But the summer before senior year, she starts dating college senior Jared Sondervan, and they're engaged before she goes back to school. It's perfect: his family is perfect for her, and Jared is--mostly--a loving and lovable boyfriend. Bronwen's senior year goes by in a blur, and she is focused like a laser on her love and her wedding plans, even to the detriment of her friendships.

This plan, to live in wedded bliss near Grand Rapids, Michigan, works for her. (I understand that this captures the people and area pretty well.) When Jared changes the game, will Bronwen play by the new rules, or will she have to leave true love behind to follow her dreams? Yes, there is a part of this story that focuses less on romance and lots on Bronwen finding out who she is as a person who exists as part of and separate from her family, but it's bookended with romance. And I'm not going to spoil the ending! I thought this worked as a romance, definitely.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Cybils Awards Coming Up!

I was so busy trying not to tell anyone until the announcement was made that I didn't prepare a post! I'm going to be a first-round judge on the science fiction and fantasy panel for the Cybils, book awards given by the children's and young adult blogging community. After nominations from the public for easy readers/short chapter books, fantasy and science fiction, fiction picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, nonfiction picture books, MG/YA nonfiction books, poetry, and young adult fiction, the first round judges read--or attempt to read, if they can get a copy--all of the books in their categories. A second round picks a winner from the first round's shortlist.

I am the biggest geek you know right now--I love science fiction and fantasy, and spending the rest of the year devouring books as fast as I can sounds like the best thing ever! I'll post when nominations are open, and please do nominate interesting, exciting, diverse, thoughtful books. In reality, every reader out there is part of the first round.

From the Cybils website:

A(n Informal) Poll!

There are a lot of book blogging memes. A lot! I've participated in a couple--a book giveaway, two rounds of the Friday Hop. I've been having a thought about maybe creating one, and I'd like some feedback.

Inspired by the interesting dates coming up, like 10/10/10, what if people posted exactly 100 words on the 1st of the month? One book--and just 100 words to tell all about it? It would only come around once a month, of course, so it's pretty low pressure; I'd still probably recommend that as with other memes, you visit a couple of other blogs to see their review of the day. Interesting? Terrible idea?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of XiaSilver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (HarperCollins - Greenwillow)

Do not read this book while you're watching a TV show about dim sum. You have been warned.

First, Cindy Pon is one of the most cheerful authors I've run across in a long time. She's like a sunshine. And overall, I enjoyed her Silver Phoenix, the story of Ai Ling, a girl who must discover her own powers and go on a journey to save her father. Along the way, she battles monsters and finds friendship with two brothers--all set against a backdrop that is drawn from Chinese tradition. Thank you, thank you, for a fantasy book that's not set in pseudo-medieval Europe! I was fascinated by the elements drawn from Chinese traditions.

I thought the setting was fantastic and I thought the overall story arc was good, and I thought that the writing and characterization got stronger as the book went along. I also adored that Ai Ling was HUNGRY. She eats, guys, and she's hungry for life.

No review of this book nowadays can come without a note that the cover of this book, and the next, will have a very different design from the cover I've linked here.  The best summary for people not in publishing to read is probably this one, where Pon explains the situation. I have some thoughts on why this cover didn't work so well (not connected to the cover model being a Chinese girl)--but then again, I'm not a designer or publisher.

Cindy Pon and her publisher have come up with a strategy together that they can go forward with, and I truly wish them success. I'm definitely looking forward to what comes next. That said, I encourage you to buy books with covers like this: let's not have all the same cookie-cutter books and people on the outsides or insides of books, and the best way to do this is to vote with your wallet. There's nothing that drives business--even artistic business--like sales.

Also, for some fabulous art commissioned for the sequel, check out this post.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel
I don't typically review books marketed for adults on this blog unless I think they have a lot of crossover appeal--I skip those in favor of catching on on new and old reads that I want to talk about! Room by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown) might not have that appeal, but I'm starting to wonder if it's going to be so well-known that it gets reads even by teens who are full-time YA devotees. It's a story that's been happening to teens, at any rate, and a book I would have read myself when I was a teenager.

Room was inspired by real events, and disturbing ones; I'm sure you've heard several stories of teenage girls kept in confinement by older men, and who have then had children while imprisoned. Donoghue's tale, told by one such child, is simultaneously softened and made more gruesome through her choice of narrator.

Jack is a five-year-old boy who's lived in Room with Ma--all of his life. They wake up in the morning and have breakfast and a bath, and then they have Phys Ed, which is trampoline on the bed or laps around the table. There are games to play, a giant toilet-tube fortress, clothes to wash, and (in order not to rot brains) just an hour or two of TV a day, where things that are not real flash by on the screen. Only Room is real, and Old Nick who comes to Room in the night when Jack's hidden away in the wardrobe, and then Jack stays quiet and counts the squeaks of the bedspring. And then, one day, Ma tells Jack something that will very much change his world: there is an Outside. It is real. Real for real.

The really fascinating thing about this book is the point of view; what if all you'd ever known was a single room? What happens when you've never been in a moving vehicle, or seen something more than twenty feet away from your nose? What if you've never had to be private, or had to understand something as yours or not-yours? It's a painful, excruciating read, and one that will certainly cause readers to question some plotting (why that, now, why not this, why then), but if you can stomach the idea, the rest is incredibly intriguing. The novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

You can read a bit of the book on the Hachette website here and there's an interactive version of Room here. The trailer:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Upping the Game on Reviews?

I'm not a writer--at least, I'm not an aspiring author. Do I write things? Yeah, but I don't have a book idea I'm shopping around, and that's not on my radar for the future. To brush up on my editing skills, though, I attended a writers conference this weekend. About half of the presentations I attended were publishing industry-related, and the other half were on things like structuring the middle of one's book  and creating an elevator pitch. It's the last one that I thought might apply to book blogging the most, and a lot of you that I'm following have been talking lately about wishing for more tools in the blogging toolbox.

I'm going to change what I heard in the presentation and combine it with other elevator pitch rules to fit with what is toughest in reviewing books, especially complicated ones, and maybe help push away the writer's block about explaining things. (I do reserve the right to continue to ramble in my own reviews, though! I often go for a steam-of-consciousness review and then try to right it into something readable. I will be trying this with some of the older reviews that I'm bringing to this blog.)

In a pitch, you might say:
  • Who's the main character, and what defines her?
  • What does she want?
  • What does she have to do to get it?
The idea is that you give all of this in one sentence, too. It's hard, though, when a story has a lot of complexity, or it's about self-growth, because that doesn't sound all that exciting when it's boiled down to a sentence. Here are a couple that I made up, for made-up books and real ones:

Headstrong attorney Ann must pass as a cleaning lady to infiltrate the offices of Big Corporation and find out who killed her mentor with a velociraptor.
Harry Potter, a young wizard attending a secret magical school, has to find and destroy the Philosopher's Stone before the evil Lord Voldemort uses it to gain power over wizards everywhere.
Peter Rabbit must dodge Farmer MacGregor if Peter wants to eat anything from MacGregor's garden.

Kinda like that. 

And then, as when a real elevator pitch's recipient shows interest, one might go on--a book reviewer might go on for a paragraph or a few--to flesh out the story. I think it's always helpful to give some personal thoughts on the book's strengths and weaknesses, your reactions as an individual reader, and even whether or not you like or would recommend the book: I'm friends with people who have completely different tastes in reading from mine, and when one of us likes a book, the other generally won't, so sometimes, a negative can sell a book, and a positive won't.

What do you think? How do you approach reviewing, especially if you read a lot of books? I'm thinking this approach works best for plot-based stories, and ones where even if there are a lot of threads, there's still a well-defined central conflict.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House) is the story of Liza, who lives in a U.S. Midwest devastated by a war between humans and faeries. She has to be very careful to stay away from magic, and her hometown has done everything it can to create a safe space to live within the natural, dangerous, magical world. But when people starting showing signs of magic, are they all in more danger than ever before, both from magic and from themselves?

I thought this was very prettily-written and nicely world-built, but in a poetic way; we're not checking off points on a map to see how they would correspond so much as getting sights and smells. I thought the pacing was right for the length of the book, too.

I was a bit confused by whether two particular characters were the same person and exactly what had happened to the mom character, and a little bit why the quest was entirely the protagonist's; I might chalk that up to having had to read several books with similar themes all at the same time, so I was confused in general (kids, don't try that at home--it's no fun). Anyway, I am really in admiration of the verdant world here--a world where people and fae went to war, a world where nuclear weapons destroyed a layer of the world, and a world where the plants are some of the most dangerous things lurking in the forest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Faery Reel, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (read in 2005)

The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight RealmThe Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (Penguin - Viking) is just one of many anthologies edited by Terri Windling, Ellen Datlow, or both. A few years ago I realized I'd been reading their collections for ages, and you might find that you've being reading their collections without realizing it, too.

This collection of new faery tales is like having a selection from the various-colored fairy tale books from Andrew Lang--without the obnoxious and dated forewords. There are 500-odd pages of stories and poems. Some of the best stories, in my memory, are the ones by Katherine Vaz  and Holly Black, as well as one that's all about Tinkerbell without any of the cutesiness of Disney. My very favorite, and in fact, one of my favorite short stories, hands down, is Kelly Link's "The Faery Handbag," about a handbag that's the portal to faery, which is bittersweet and sad without telling you if should really feel that way. There's also a source list at the end for stuff written in the last 25 years or so, which might make a good starting point for other people interested in exploring faery/fairy tales further.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde (a 2005 read)

Heir ApparentHeir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is one of my all-time favorite books. I love its humorous attack on the way that adventure game stories are constructed, and I love that it stars a girl gamer--someone who's more visible nowadays, but not always visible to game studios.

The heroine is trapped inside a virtual reality game--and the only way to leave is to play her way out. Danger looms and the clock is ticking. Luckily, it's virtual reality, so a game over leads us back to a Groundhog Day style start.

The concept bobbles a little: the beginning sequence repeats several times before the heroine figures out one very specific and very true-to-gampelay step.Of course, adventure gamers will recognize this, and be quite familiar with starting over, and over, and over, until one figures out just which button to smash or which shopkeeper can give directions to the game villain's secret lair. About midway through the book the "game" becomes more fluid and narrative. Still, it's entertaining, and gamers will particularly enjoy the nods to conventions of that medium.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Girlfriend Material and the Romance

Book Blogger Hop

Are you here from the Hop? Say hello so I can check out your blog! This week's question is: Post a link to a favorite post or book review that you have written in the past three months. This was tricky: not all of my recent reviews are recent reads, so I'm reconstructing those experiences. One that might interest you, as it's about a new release, is my review of I Am Number Four, because I'm of two minds about the book...

---
 


If you missed it last week, Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein wrote an entry on romance here and author Malinda Lo expanded on it here. They're talking about elements of romance--the themes, the tropes, the plots.

When I was wee, I wanted to write romance novels (I thought that was the only way to be involved in making books; I don't have any great desire to be an author today). I started in on the spinny-display of Harlequins at the library when I was a pre-teen and for more than a decade, a romance or two was always part of my regular reading diet. I really liked historical romance; Kathleen Woodiwiss and Valerie Sherwood were favorites, and not just because they wrote thick novels that I could immerse myself in for a day or two at a time.

While I was devouring romances, I was also devouring books on romance. This was pre-Internet, so it meant books on how to be a romance writer. I no longer remember where I read this, but someone wrote that a book(/story) is a romance when the romance is the plot. In other words, it's not Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where he canoodles with Ginny Weasley. A romance would be Harry Potter and the Chest Monster of Undeniable Lust, wherein he canoodles with Ginny Weasley and Lord Voldemort is only there as a nemesis to lip-smacking good times.

Girlfriend MaterialThat's a very simple definition, to be sure. And I was thinking about it as I read Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantor (Hyperion) the other day. (Digression: I had an advance copy from way back, and poking the button that lets me link to the final cover was a real surprise--quite a change!) Katie would like to spend her summer practicing tennis and taking a writing class, but her mom drags her along to Cape Cod, where some of mom's old friends live. Once there, she's confronted with the idea that her parents might be splitting up, with the realization that an old friend might not be interested in being a new one, and with questions about whether or not she's girlfriend material.

I was trying to read this book as a romance, because her interactions with crush Adam Carpenter seemed to me to be the ones Katie was most interested in throughout the story. Toward the end I finally realized that the romance was there (in form #3, being wanted, and #5, being seen), but that the story was as much about Katie wanting and seeing herself, as well as about the potential-family-breakup plot. Kantor's teenagers are excellent teenagers, by the way; they are inescapably teen without being fascinatingly witty or slangy or mini-adults. And there's no reason why teenagers can't be those things, but it was refreshing to read something different that doesn't have the side problem of making the teenagers too unsympathetic.

And then! Then I wondered: Can a young adult romance be a romance, in the sense of the plot being about romance? Is it acceptable? Is it still young adult if it doesn't rely equally as heavily on self-awareness/new experiences and growth? There are a couple of well-known young adult romance writers (that, admittedly, I'm not well-versed in), and I don't happen to own any of their books--and when I skimmed my shelves just now, I couldn't find a single romance that didn't have a self-growth story just as important as the romance. Am I asking the wrong questions? Are these books out there and I don't know where to look? Is it possible to write these books, given how much coming of age as a solo unit is part and parcel of young adult books? What would you recommend?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden, 4-7

Darkness Be My Friend (The Tomorrow Series #4)
Wow, what a series. I reviewed the first book here and then the first three as a set here. Today, a (nearly) spoiler-free review of the last four.

Darkness Be My Friend begins at a transition for Ellie and her friends. They're safe, free. They have access to medical care, counseling, leisure, and food. Yet, at the same time, it's not all right. For example, Ellie has had an uncomfortable and unwanted sexual experience that she's not dealing with very well, she's pushing away friends for doing the same things she did in wartime, the group breaks down into chaos during speaking engagements, and at odd moments, fear creeps into everyday situations and threatens to tear at everyone's sanity.

Despite all of this, it's easier, safer to be here--so why would the Wirrawee kids go back into the war zone? Ellie says:
What we needed was a two-sided badge that said 'Mature' on one side and 'Childish' on the other. Then at any moment we could turn it to whatever side we felt like being and the adults could treat us accordingly.
But what's driving them is loyalty: to each other, to their families, to their former way of life.

There's a sense that this series is timeless; the war has knocked out electricity, so electronic devices from cell phones to computers are out of commission, and only occasionally are there batteries for a radio. The series was first published in 1995 (and, of course, written earlier) and continued to come out over the next few years. Every now and then we get a sense of the time scope--there's a reference to electronic mail early in the series, later e-mail. But without television, radio, and the Internet, after loss of watches, sometimes, and periods of unconsciousness, the sense of date is lost. Time is passing, but it is no longer organized by calendars.

Time's passage is evident, too, in the emotional and psychological focus. Now, the focus is less on questioning oneself, less on purpose, less on whether or not to be involved in war; there is no choice, and perhaps there was never a choice. Instead, the characters delve further into the questions of how they got here. By mid-book, it's easy to see the psychological change--the fun, if it ever was, is gone; the fear is all. Adults supposed to protect them have betrayed them. The danger is greater, and failure more likely. But, the questions are not so much about will I or won't I, but what will I live for--or die for.
Burning for Revenge (The Tomorrow Series #5)

By the fifth book, Burning for Revenge there is a grim awareness that they have no future plans. They are, perhaps, not long for this world. There is no route back. Sometimes there are dreams; they still want to see the world, but are painfully aware that they weren't paying much attention to it.

Ellie's group happens into situation where they can make major damage, and try to leverage that for rescue. Then, while in hiding, they discover bands of free children in nearby Stratton, doing what their group had been doing--perhaps more successfully at times--and regain a sense that they are not entirely alone. At the same time, they cross an invisible line. They may still look like kids on the outside, but they're adults on the inside, and are becoming more self-aware. They've come to terms with physical damage, but are finding it harder and harder to rebound from psychological damage; still, recognizing this gives them the first glimpse that there could be a future, an after.


The Night is for Hunting (The Tomorrow Series #6) 
In The Night is for Hunting, as you might have predicted, Ellie's group gets involved with the free kids. Wrangling them isn't easy, and not only because the children have been living independently for so long. They have to care for others again. They have to integrate the children's unpredictable behavior, and have to ensure their safety. And hardest of all, the must recognize for themselves that their own childhoods are over and can never be regained.

The Other Side of Dawn (The Tomorrow Series #7)
The seventh and final book in the series, The Other Side of Dawn, is the final battle. They are close, so close, to the end, and the question is whether they will live through it. Circumstances are dire and they are in danger as never before. Ellie, in particular, has to face the possibility that everything she loves is gone, look death in the eye, and figure out the aftermath--if there is one. The saying is that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and that holds true in this book. The saying, though, implies that dawn will come, and never mentions the shadows that follow.


Marsden wrote a follow-up series, The Ellie Chronicles. I haven't decided whether or not I will pick those up, because I thought that the series wrapped up where it should have, and I have a bit of epilogue fatigue. (Generally, I think stories should stop before the epilogue, or integrate some of what's perceived to be needed in the epilogue into the last chapters.) I really enjoyed reading this series, and I definitely recommend it if you are a Hunger Games fan--particularly if you are a Team Katniss fan! Ellie and Katniss would probably be good friends, and they'd want to be on the same side. This series has as much character focus as plot focus, too, if that's what you're after.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Peter and the Starcatchers (a 2005 read)

Peter and the StarcatchersBack during the August book giveaway, I promised that I'd (eventually!) find my review of Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (Disney Editions, which became Hyperion).

My review: It was okay. For the most part, technically well done. I told a friend that this could have been very much like the Muppet Show, especially with a side of Dave Barry: fun for kids, fun for adults. So, it could have been more "slapschtick-y." On the flip side, it could have been very vivid. Really, it ended up being neither. At the same time, I can respect that the story is not too complicated for its intended (I think) middle-grade audience.

The second half of the book picks up the pace, and here and there bits of the Barry sense of humor shine through; I detect his influence especially in the lighting-fast changes of which side is winning (and there are more than two). Toward the end, there are some moments--well, potential moments--when some of the basic decisions that produce the Peter who becomes Pan almost move you, but then...then, you realize everything you feel is inside your head, based on what you know of his future as the boy who never grows up. A nice book, and well-packaged, but not a classic. That said, this "prequel" is more accessible than the original, and leaves behind some of the more outdated aspects of Barrie's work.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Zarah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker

Zahrah the WindseekerI can't remember where I first heard about Zarah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Graphia). It took me a while to get a copy, because I ordered it at the same time as something that was on backorder. Once I had it, I zipped right through it.

Zarah is dada: vines grow intertwined with her dreadlocks. She's a Windseeker: she can fly. She has to figure out how to save her best friend and not get killed inside the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.

There were a few spots where I felt the story was a little uneven, like Zarah was sometimes suddenly older or younger without that being tied to the story; I thought there was perhaps too much beginning and too much end to this story, and not enough middle. Those are really minor quibbles, though, compared to the absolutely fabulous world-building. I love this world. I love that plants and people have to exist together--that you grow computers from seeds, that a big plant is a building. I love that the Jungle is really, truly wild and that if you're going to enter it, it's going to take the woods trope and make it huge. I love that--I think that this book is both a fantasy and a science fiction as much as a story about empowerment without being a didactic message book.

The other thing that I love about this book (and The Shadow Speaker) is the exploration of the monstrous. I'd been looking for books related to this theme for a while. What I mean is not so much monsters in the literal sense, though Zarah must confront more than one, but the idea of questioning what it means to be a monster, whether or not you are a monster yourself (perhaps an especially interesting question for a teenager, who is told from all sides in U.S. culture that she is, and for exploring girls/women portrayed as monsters), whether it's even a bad thing to be a monster. Despite all of the vampires and werewolves hanging around the bookshelves right now, I haven't found many books where that's more than a device to separate two lovers.

After reading Zarah, I was really interested in reading more by the same author because I thought her work was good, but had potential to be really, really good. I was pleasantly unsurprised to see The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion) living up to that.

The Shadow SpeakerShadow Speaker shares some of the universe of Zarah the Windseeker, and it's the stronger, smarter older sister to that book. In this, Ejii is a shadow speaker, someone who can speak to spirits and who, as her powers mature, can read the lives and motivations of others; at times she's revered for this, and others, treated as a monster (luckily for theme-exploring me). Her Earth is an odd one, disrupted by war and magic--creating a vivid and interesting world for her to navigate as she tries to catch up with Jaa, her queen (and her father's murderer), who is on her way to a summit between the worlds. It's Ejii's ability to see motivations that helps her in the big confrontation. Again I'm drawn in by the world-building: it follows neither the rules of fantasy nor the rules of science fiction.  I adore the magic technology, the mix of the familiar and the odd-to-me. I recommend both of these, as well as reading this post by the author on the cover designs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden

The Dead Of Night (The Tomorrow Series #2)The Dead of the Night by John Marsden and The Third Day, the Frost (also released as A Killing Frost) (Tomorrow series)

I reviewed the first book in this series here the other day, and today I'm going to (re)review the first three as a set; they all come in around 200 pages, and while each book has its own story arc, I perceive a larger arc in these first three as a group, at least compared to the beginning of the fourth book, which I'm on right now.

After the chunk at the beginning of the first book that sets up our understanding of the teens as everyday Australians in the early 1990s (though there are very few clues as to the time period--I'm putting a few references together with the publication date of the books), there is a certain emotional sameness in Tomorrow, When the War Began; The Dead of the Night; and The Third Day, the Frost. Ellie and her friends are, in this stretch, trying to figure it all out. When they rebel, they really rebel, creating major headaches for the enemy, but as they spiral around their interest in and repugnance toward the war, they also circle greater and greater consequences. Still, for most of the first three books, the group still sees some tiny sheen on the whole thing, like it's not quite real--like it's almost fun, almost a lark if you turn your head and squint a little.

I am a sucker for wars, dystopia, peril, kids figuring out adult things, and the Tomorrow series has all of it. But one thing that strikes me about these books is that I feel very strongly that the teenagers are still teenagers; they talk like real teenagers. They have perceptions and prejudices and are questioning. They have short-lived romances and petty squabbles. They are smart--and it's tied in to who they are.
A Killing Frost (The Tomorrow Series #3)
Marsden doesn't let up on the reality and ugliness of the war, but he also doesn't let Ellie and the others slide into inhumanity, even as they wonder whether they've crossed a line somewhere; big things and small things happen in turn, a reminder that even in turmoil, small gestures can be very much appreciated.

I am reading the Australian versions (and providing images as I can get them); in the U.S., they're published by Scholastic. I've labeled these with the title of the first in the series so that it's easier to find them, if I want to look back later!
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