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Archive for the ‘Rachael’s Picks’ Category

jacket (1)Amber Appleton, at seventeen years old, is a busy girl – visiting the elderly at the local nursing home, swapping haikus with a Vietnam veteran, teaching English through R&B at a Korean Catholic church, and looking out for the socially-struggling guys of the “Franks Freak Force Federation.” She is an optimist, a Catholic, and homeless – sleeping in the school bus her single mother drives all day before barhopping at night for Mr. Right Now. Amber makes up for the lack of stability in her life with the diversion she finds in helping and connecting with others. Readers will question whether her pluck, happiness, and faith are in spite of her situation or because of it. Amber’s voice is funny, snarky, and authentic (her language likely influenced by Quick’s former years teaching high school). In the hands of a less skilled author, this could be a gag-inducing after-school special about unlikely triumph, but Quick gives us a real story about relationships, hardship, joy, and emotional survival.

Quick’s novels are engaging because of the authenticity of his characters and interactions among his diverse casts, and Sorta Like A Rock Star is no exception. The characters draw empathy and laughter because they are so carefully crafted to be genuine. Although Quick does not leave out any detail of characterization, the story isn’t bogged down in prose. It is perfectly tuned to a young adult audience, as young adults in my experience seem to have a radar for detecting falseness, and are less patient with wordiness. Young adult readers of realistic fiction will appreciate the funny yet complex characters in realistic circumstances, both humorous and dire.

The audio version of this book was fine, but the adult narration of the story did not always capture the accurate inflection of some of the slang terms, which could be a turnoff for teens. I would recommend the print version of this book to the next reader. Fans of tough and funny lead characters — Catcher’s Holden Caulfield or Whale Talk’s TJ — will enjoy this book, and despite the somewhat cheesy ending, my heart was singing because of my love of the characters. Feel good about Sorta Like a Rock Star.

Check the WRL catalog for Sorta Like a Rock Star

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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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jacketAs a fan of David O. Russell’s film adaptation of The Silver Linings Playbook, I picked up Matthew Quick’s latest young adult novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, fell in love with it, and went on a Matthew Quick reading frenzy. In his latest novel, due out June 16th, Quick looks at a woman ready to trade a comfortable but unfulfilling life for the one her high school English teacher made her believe she could attain.

Portia Kane married a slick young film director whose charm and opulent lifestyle wooed her after she dropped out of college, uninspired yet desperate to leave her unsatisfying home life. Mid-thirties, her gilded cage built, she finds herself finally unhappy enough to confront her long-philandering husband about his dalliances with his barely-eighteen string of “film” talent. (Those kinds of films.) Portia returns home to suburban Philadelphia to stay with her mother long enough to reconnect with her adored high school English teacher, become newly inspired, and engage with the world as a contributing member. Portia knows to expect the decrepit state of her hoarding mother’s home, the roughness of the old neighborhood, and the adult versions of the classmates who still hang around the neighborhood bars; but she is shocked by what has happened to her beloved teacher Mr. Vernon.

As in several of his other novels, Quick’s world is set within the working-class neighborhoods around Philly – think Billy Joel’s “Allentown” – and focuses on the lives of regular people trying to do their best, flaws and all, repairing themselves through bad times, after bad choices, and with old friends. The authenticity of Quick’s characters transports you to a barstool or to an elderly mother’s kitchen table. This novel is lighter than most of his work – anyone into hair metal in the 80s will appreciate the references – but still explores the personal work of people trying to reinvent themselves and find happiness despite wrongs that can’t be righted, only survived. I found myself disappointed in some of the characters, as I felt they didn’t learn or recover from the depths as much as I wish they had, but perhaps this is one reason the characters feel authentic, as people don’t always in the real world either. Quick’s fully-realized characters connect the reader to what might otherwise be a lukewarm slice-of-life story.

For a novel about the struggle of regular people trying better themselves with characters you can’t help but connect to, read Love May Fail. I recommend this title to fans of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and Jodi Picoult.

Check the WRL catalog for Love May Fail

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toysConfession: I am not a fan of James Patterson (though not a detractor).
Confession: l have tired of the slew of half-baked bandwagon dystopian fiction that has flooded the market in the past few years, following the success of several well-done iterations, especially in Young Adult fiction (blasphemy, I know!).
However – being a contrarian at heart, I had to pick up Toys, by James Patterson and Neil McMahon, after hearing someone despise it as both unlike typical Patterson, and a dystopian fiction!

Set in a not-too far-future United States, the country is run by Elites – synthetically incubated human beings with genetic upgrades that produce superior intelligence, physical ability, and looks – charged with the responsibility of protecting the flawed and warring human race from themselves. (Remind anyone of Asimov’s first of the Robot Laws?) The human race has not been difficult to run, however, as the majority not in poverty are lulled into a humming submission by the consumption of “toys” – a panoply of gadgets, devices, virtual diversions, and recreational drugs.

Elite government agents Hays Baker and his wife are among the top U.S. agents in the President’s stable combatting human crimes and enforcing Elite law. When a massacre of top executives of the Toyz company calls for Hays and Lizbeth to intervene, Hays is hospitalized and wakes to find himself excommunicated to the other side of a global conflict between a gang of revolutionary humans, and an Elite plan to extinguish the human race.

This book was a ton of fun, without being silly; think a less moody, fun, mildly sexy Blade Runner. It considered the dystopian questions of the division of the have and have-nots by technology, the hypnotism of society by mind-numbing entertainment, and the threat of creeping totalitarian government, but with sharp, snarling characters, and slick action scenes. This book is equal parts interesting and amusing; it’s neither fluff nor overly philosophical, nor too high a Sci-Fi. In summer blockbuster terms, this is the I, Robot (with Will Smith) or Judge Dredd rather than the Minority Report or Truffaut’s Farenheit 451.

I recommend Toys for young adults who enjoy action and espionage reads, as well as pop Sci-Fi fans. I give the audiobook bonus points for White Collar’s Matt Bomer’s great speaking performance.

Check the WRL catalog for Toys

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altheaA premise that I repeatedly turn to for a good read is that of the atypical or unexpected friendship. Sometimes that is simply the unlikely friendship (Notes from the Dog, Eleanor and Park), or means quirky outsiders who become friends (Stoner and Spaz, The Fault in Our Stars), and is expanded upon as the scarred heroes who heal through a new friendship (A Long Way Down). Althea & Oliver explores this premise somewhat in reverse.

Althea and Oliver grew up together as neighbors since the age of six, she without a mother, he without a father, she impulsive, and he controlled, she starting adventures, he keeping her out of trouble, both as inseparable as a loyal brother and sister. As their senior year in high school looms, Oliver begins to suffer from a rare sleeping disorder at the same time Althea starts to develop complicated feelings about Oliver and their friendship – ultimately clashing in a conflict between the two that threatens to end their friendship. In the middle of this discord, Oliver pursues a solution in the form of a sleep study and treatment in New York City, without telling Althea. Ever a fighter, Althea packs her beat-up car and sets out from their North Carolina hometown to find Oliver and try to remedy their relationship. This separation for the first time they can remember is where debut author Moracho explores possibilities of the individuality for these young adults, adding a different perspective to the teen friendship story – and exploring the benefits and losses of separation, rather than of coming together.

Although the story is a bit slow-moving, the teen worlds of both their hometown and New York come alive, with realistic characters and environments – almost characters themselves – whether it’s the neighborhood they live in, the halls of their school, a house party, or a hospital ward of teens. The characters are real, varied, messy, smart, and sometimes raw, giving the personalities of young people the more complicated treatment which they are due but don’t always get in popular young adult fiction. Some book summaries and reviews dwell on the placement of this story during the 90’s punk scene, and draw attention to Althea as the artist and Oliver the academic, but these aspects of the story seem peripheral in comparison to the characters, place, and exploration of the conflict of the book, which are very well done; perhaps these aspects were highlighted in an attempt to “sell” the more messy and complex whole that is the fully-realized story. I give kudos to this author for resolving one version of a more complicated stage of the friendship arc and the teasing out the gray areas between friendship and individuality.

I recommend this book for fans of Eleanor and Park, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Paper Towns.

Check the WRL catalog for Althea & Oliver

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