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Archive for the ‘Coming of Age’ Category

perksNancy from Circulation Services provides today’s review of a favorite Young Adult book.

Charlie is not your average high school freshman, as you will read in this coming of age story. In a series of blatantly honest letters to an unknown recipient, Charlie lays out his deepest fears, joys, and struggles while trying to survive his freshman year and deal with his past and the events that shaped him into a wallflower. Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly serious topic, for this story also includes true to life goofy thoughts of teenagers, hair-brained schemes, love triangles, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show!” Read on!

Charlie starts his story with the quote,

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

As the story progresses it is easy to understand why Charlie questions his emotions as his past is revealed through fragmented details that he intertwines into current events. Befriending a random group of friends, all of whom are a bit different themselves, Charlie begins to make peace with himself. As his gay friend, Patrick, explains, “You’re a wallflower …You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” While this is an acceptable definition of Charlie’s personality, it also masks the fact that he remains an observer rather than a participant of many things. This is the part of Charlie that he wants to change, but how?

As he ventures out of his shell, Charlie finds solace in the books his English teacher gives him to read and report on, not as homework, but as a way to instill confidence in Charlie and to foster the thoughts that his opinion matters.

Two of the major themes of this story are identity and secrecy. Each of the main characters struggle with these and in the end find a way to cope with what they can’t change and begin to heal.

This is a quick read, but DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOGUE! It gives some closure for both Charlie and the reader. This book was made into a major motion picture in 2012 and quickly became a sort of cult film for some teenagers.

Check the WRL catalog for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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jacketAnda is a skilled player in a multiplayer online game called Coarsegold Online who learns about gold farmers – paid players in the game who simply hunt and gather treasures in the game for other high-bidding players who pay for, rather than earn, these points and tokens. At first annoyed by these illegal “cheaters,” and shortly after hired to hunt them for money, she learns that these gold farmers are overworked, poorly compensated players in other parts of the world for whom gold farming is not just a game, but their livelihood. Anda deals with conflicts with others in her guild in the game, confronts her own conflicted feelings about the gold farmers, tries to allay her parents’ concern about her online behavior, and struggles with right and wrong from different perspectives. I had been waiting since September 2014’s reviews for this book and was not disappointed by this beautiful graphic novel.

Unfortunately, the book starts with what I believe to be a possibly irresponsible misstep by Doctorow–an introduction addressing the gap between those who make and those who consume products today, followed by an oversimplified treatment of this complex problem involving a young person. Sometimes a little information is bad thing for young readers, such that I recommend parents read this alongside their young readers, as well-intentioned Anda’s online actions in the real world could be harmful. I’d have preferred the author let the story stand alone as a beacon of awareness or call to action for those who would interpret it as such.  I don’t think it is for Mr. Doctorow to address young readers “You still have to do the harder work of risking life, limb, personal fortune, and reputation”–this book is aimed at 13-year-olds!  This is my personal, perhaps overprotective opinion, but I will leave you to decide.

Now let’s consider the loveliness that exists beyond the introduction. The artwork is stunning (who could leave that cover on the shelf?), the watercoloring effect giving subtlety and life to the seemingly simple black line drawings; the ruddy cheeks under the stark white big eyes are particularly expressive in many of the characters. I am interested in picking up Jen Wang’s other title Koko Be Good for more. The transitions between online and real life are creatively rendered with dreamlike segues, and online interactions are punctuated with message boxes and buttons to keep even the least tech-savvy reader on track, and to speak to the experienced gamer in the visual language in which they operate. The lead character, Anda, is a smart, sensitive, independent gamer girl with supportive, loving parents in a healthy home–eschewing the trend of abusive or clueless parents in young adult fiction–whose character and friends give readers a spate of female gamer heroines for a change. The cast of characters is fully-developed, showing different sides in the many situations that happen throughout the book which keep the plot moving and interesting.

I recommend this book for graphic novel fans of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

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21490991Matt Miller is a modern day teen in Brooklyn whose mother has passed away from cancer. Partly to start helping his father and partly to distract himself from the fact that everyone seems to pity him, Matt visits the “Cluck Bucket” to try apply for a job, when a emergency cleanup he witnesses convinces him food service is not for him. The local funeral director, Mr. Ray, who coincidentally oversaw his mother’s arrangements, offers him $30 a day to help out around the funeral home when they run into each other this fateful day at the chicken joint. The next day Matt reports after school and helps Mr. Ray set up flowers, receptions, and handle basic arrangements. As Matt’s father descends into drink, Matt becomes both more independent and connected to more people in his community through his work at the home.

The novel chronicles Matt’s coming of age through his work, mentoring by Mr. Ray, and a new friend. This is also a satisfying story about how a young man grows up as a part of his community by opening himself up to new experiences and responsibilities, strengthening himself and, in small ways, his community. In this book we see not only the Brooklyn that challenges, but also the Brooklyn that supports–a refreshing change from the often one-sided negative portrayals in urban fiction of city neighborhoods.

The Boy in the Black Suit moves along at a leisurely pace, and is written with some great descriptions and unique turns of phrase (were I not listening to the audiobook in my car, I’d have written them down). Without dragging, Reynolds lovingly details his characters and the neighborhood, making them real.  An added layer of authenticity comes from the very natural narration by Corey Allen on audio. Some of the coincidences and the neatly-tied ending were the only pieces of the story that did not feel realistic, but these are small criticisms in comparison to the quality of the work overall. This is a novel version of the male coming-of-age story that had me caring about the characters and invested in the story.

I recommend The Boy in the Black Suit to fans of Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, and Walter Dean Myers’ young adult fiction. This book will be enjoyed by the more thoughtful young adult reader of realistic fiction, and by all ages of readers who enjoy character-driven stories with a strong sense of place.

Check the WRL catalog for The Boy in the Black Suit as an audiobook on CD

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jacketThis volume of collected webcomics from Jillian Tamaki was a no-brainer purchase for the Young Adult Graphic Novel collection–it is centered on teen protagonists at an X-Men/Hogwarts-type boarding school, and is written and illustrated by the illustrator of the Printz Award-winning This One Summer. Upon receipt, it was cataloged for the Adult Collection, and when I sat down to reconsider its classification, I was hooked, and honestly doubtful as to just where this quirky volume should reside.

From page one, I compared the smart, sadly existential, darkly humorous tone to that of the late great Charles Addams, whose out-of-print collected works I own (as does the library) and cherish. I have no idea if the young Tamaki is influenced by his work at all, but I was thrilled to discover this texting, blogging, Dungeons & Dragons-playing fictional world that offers the same unpretentious and masterful mix of the sophisticated and the absurd for a new generation. You’ll meet Everlasting Boy, unable to die and doomed to live a teenaged life over and over; lizard-headed Trixie, obsessed with her looks and boys; the optimistic and shape-shifting Wendy; and her cynical friend Marsha, who is secretly in love with her; the laser-shooting Trevor who is dying to fit in; and Cheddar, the popular jock who defies stereotypes in secret. Don’t let me forget the cigarette-smoking performance artist Frances. The teens vary in form from dinosaur-faced, to feline, to human, and range in abilities from physical regeneration to object conjuring, but these aspects of this cleverly created world are second to the teen high-jinks and angst, making it both bittersweet and fun.

Unlike a collected volume of subsequent comic issues or a traditional graphic novel, this a collection of individual webcomic strips which, though ordered, may disappoint readers who like segues and seamless plot sequences. The series also poses more questions than it answers, so that this will appeal to a more literary older teen or adult reader.

In conclusion, I think this volume may live most happily in the adult Graphic Novel collection, as many young webcomics fans to whom this style of work would appeal have already read the run of this series online, and because enough of our teen readership already knows to cross into the Adult Graphic collection for more mature reading. This collected edition will appeal to sophisticated young adult, new adult, and other adult readers of more thoughtful graphic works. I recommend for fans of An Age of License, The World of Chas Addams, and I Kill Giants.

Check the WRL catalog for Super Mutant Magic Academy

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jacketDespite being abandoned by her Danish mother when she was an infant and her Chilean immigrant father’s absence working as an international airline pilot, Maya was raised by her grandparents with spirited enlightenment and fiercely bolstering love. She was propped to have sound character, and her future held so much promise, until her Popo died when she was fifteen. Popo was her Nini’s second husband, but his presence meant the world to Maya. He had promised, “I swear I’ll always be with you.” Popo was a remarkably attentive surrogate parent to Maya, but following his death, whatever threads held her in check were unraveling at an alarming rate. The trio formed with her two girlfriends styled themselves as the “Vampires” and challenged each other to commit increasingly risky criminal acts and venture into dangerous sexual territory. By the time Maya is nineteen and living on the streets of Las Vegas, by the time she phones home, she’s on the run from criminals and the law. As she’s ushered onto a plane to exit the country and ride out the danger, her grandmother hands her a notebook for writing out her troubles as a tool for recovery, or as her Nini says it,

take advantage of it to write down the monumental stupidities you’ve committed, see if you can come to grips with them.

In the audiobook version I enjoyed, as the narrator began speaking in the voice of the 19-year-old female main character in Maya’s Notebook, she sounded far too mature, using unrealistic vocabulary and sounding too worldly. Soon, however, that didn’t matter because I was spellbound by Maya Vidal’s troubled past. She’d experienced complex problems and was running from drug lords, international criminals, and the FBI, and she comes from a highly unusual family; clearly her life was more complicated than an average teen girl’s. She was sent by her Chilean grandmother, her Nini, to Chiloé Island, perfect as a place for banishment or exile, to ride out the danger with an old friend of Nini’s, Manuel Arias. Manuel is a man with a mysterious and painful past as well. The narrative floats easily between Maya’s present in Chiloé and her past in Berkeley, California, then a rehab academy in Oregon, then in Las Vegas where she reaches the darkest pit of her degradation and suffering. Just when you think her story has been told already, it just gets deeper and more layered.

Maya’s Notebook is an Adult Fiction title which would likely appeal to many older teens, but the book contains very graphic scenes of criminality, violence (both sexual and drug-related), sexuality, and extreme drug use. It’s available in the WRL collection via regular print, audiobook on CD, e-audiobook, and in large print.

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JacketI just closed Descent and can still feel those symptoms of adrenaline: heart racing, shallow breathing, butterflies in my stomach, eyes and ears hyperalert, muscles twitching and ready for fight or flight. Of course, it could be the two pieces of birthday cake I had for dinner, but I’m convinced it’s Tim Johnston’s storytelling.

The best part is that Johnston manages to pull off two good books at the same time – an intense psychological thriller and an emotionally resonant story about the family that’s left behind when one of its members goes missing.

Caitlin Courtland is a tough competitor, a runner who demands everything of herself; her younger brother Sean is pudgy and shy, overlooked by his peers and her friends. Their parents have lived through personal trauma, undergone difficulties in their marriage, and are returning to a sense of normalcy. The family is on that last golden trip before Caitlin goes to college on a track scholarship. Then Caitlin, trailed by Sean on a bike, goes for a run; the next thing any of them know, Sean is in the hospital, leg shattered and in shock, and Caitlin is gone.

Over the course of the next two years, the Courtland family breaks apart. Sean leaves home in his dad’s truck, traveling the road, taking menial jobs for gas money, and encountering the dark underside of the American character. Angela, the mother, goes back to their home in Wisconsin but is devastated by the loss of her child and the ongoing uncertainty of her fate. Grant, the father, stays on in the little town near Caitlin’s kidnapping in some vain hope that she’ll know he’s close by. He also begins forming tentative relationships–and definite enmities–with people in the community.

We learn in small pieces what became of Caitlin, and what it cost her to save Sean’s life. We also come to admire just how tough she is, and what she could have become had a strange man not come hurtling into her life. But hers is not a happy story, and as the book approaches its ending we see just what kind of person she is.

Johnston uses the story to address not only family issues (and of families other than the Courtlands), but also of the blend of good and bad that exists in (nearly) everyone. That same kind of blending propels Descent to a powerful and emotionally affecting end.

Check the WRL catalog for Descent

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JacketAh, jeez – as with so much else we know, it ain’t so. If Horace Greeley ever said, “Go West, young man,” it was in the context of quoting someone else who said, “Go West, young man,” and that may even have been an attempt to create a Greeley-sounding quote. Whatever the case, for some it was advice many young men had already taken on their own. Among them were the trappers and traders who pushed into the Rocky Mountains to forge relationships or fight with the Native Americans over the lucrative fur business.

In 1820, William Wyeth is determined that he is going to make his fortune in the West and prove to his father that he is a man of worth. He signs on with a trapping company in the frontier town of Saint Louis and heads out under the guidance of an experienced captain. Thus begins his adventure, and it is a wild one.

Wyeth is also coming up against the consequences of the fur trade. The companies he works for are pushing the boundaries of American influence against the settled Spanish and the British and French trappers who have long considered the West theirs for exploitation. With each tense encounter, the possible causes of war increase, and some of Wyeth’s companions would not necessarily mind the consequences. And the success of the trade means that more trappers and traders want to get in on it, so resources are disappearing even as conflicts are building.

Burke takes the tropes of the American Western and turns them into a literary jewel. His beautiful depictions of the landscape, exciting details of hunting, trapping, racing, and close observations of both the white men and the natives he encounters become opportunities for Wyeth’s self-examination on the meaning of manhood. There’s also a satisfying love story, a complex antagonist who helps Wyeth determine his own course, and men who open Wyeth’s eyes to the complexity of the native cultures.  Into the Savage Country offers an old-fashioned Western feel and a wonderful coming of age story.

Check the WRL catalog for Into the Savage Country

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