Publisher: Harper Teen Release date: August 31, 2010 335 pages
Age Group: solid YA +
(some slightly sexual innuendo, references to language, though not actual)
The Center is being attacked, and paranormals everywhere are dying inexplicably. She’s supposed to be protecting them, but Evie can only think of one thing to do: run.
Ever since she was a child, and the IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency) discovered that she could see through (thus identify) paranormals’ glamours, Evie has been living at the medicinally white-walled Center, working the whenever-they-need-her shift, capturing and tagging vampires, werewolves, hags, and more with ankle bracelets that prevent their wreaking any more havoc. It’s not much of a home, but it’s better than bouncing through foster care like the abandoned child she was. Besides, life is fairly normal…she finds out all she needs to know about “real” teenhood from her favorite high school TV drama, Easton Heights. And she shops. Oh, and that weapon she uses to subdue the paranorms? It’s called Tasey. And it’s pink, like her stiletto boots.
So, it’s no biggie that she is intrigued by the (seemingly) teenage guy—whose face is like water, and whose eyes are utterly unforgettable—that they’ve captured downstairs.
So what if she’s not supposed to see him? So what if he’s classified? So what if he’s the only person she’s able to save when everyone else is in danger? So what if her life is suddenly and completely turned upside down?
Evie’s story is a captivating one, not necessarily because it’s terribly unique content-wise (young person with strong personality and an inexplicable power vs. paranormal creatures gone awry), but because of the endearing, fun, and spunky style in which it’s told. Evie is a unique personality, and her story glows with her spirit and humor. The action is consistant throughout the book, and the love interest, truly interesting. There’s no triangle (TG!), and the world—as limited as it is by Evie’s infrequent exoduses from the Center—is well-represented.
I really enjoyed the book, particularly its uniquely positive overtone. When I first heard “pink heels” and “perky,” I moaned internally, but take my word for it: it’s expertly infused with cheek and irony in a way that makes it fun instead of groanilicious. (My totally manly husband is actually the one who recommended it to me.) I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel Supernaturally (which came out this July) and, based on this, all things Kiersten White.
[Let me preface this by saying that this will not be a 5-paragraph essay with a very structured body or a
repetitive intro and conclusion. What I started out writing has turned into anything but!]
Today while I was watching The Avengers trailer below, courtesy of @YABookNerd‘s Trailer Thursday post, something dawned on me that I, at least, find really intriguing.
I usually don’t think of superhero comics as having particularly strong ties to the PLAYA movement (Paranormal Literature Addicts Young & Adult – yes, I just coined that, and yes it is totally awesome), though I know that the audience is similar if not the same: people of all ages who revel in thinking outside the box of the everyday, thrive on a good shot of adrenaline, and aren’t concerned with what anyone else might think of their literary/film preferences.
In other words, people who know what they like and they know that it ROCKS.
But, maybe because I was utterly lost in @CaraghMOBrien‘s uhhhmmm-azing book Birthmarked this morning on the train, or because I just read a rock-on article in this month’s @VOYAMagazine (go to pp. 48-49 to find Tough Girls Don’t Accept &$%!# From Anyone by Rebecca A. Hill)…or both, I started thinking, well, what are the differences? What separates dystopia from the comic-born superhero story?
My conclusion? Not much.
The primary differences I find between, say, Katniss’ tale and that of Batman or Captain America are that 1) the latter’s “powers” are magnified and embellished, and 2) that the superhero’s actions are usually preventative, while the dystopian protagonist’s tend toward the revolutionary.
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)
I think that second point is the more significant: Superman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, and the like are fighting to stave off an impending-but-not-yet-fully-realized takeover by the dictatorially-minded villain. Gaia, Deuce, Meg, Tally, and Titus, on the other hand, awaken to injustice from within an already established regime, and have to fight their way out.
Some might also cite natural disasters as a difference, since they are usually the cause for the negative setting of a dystopian universe, but isn’t that what the Green Goblin (lab accident), Poison Ivy (attempted murder), and Magneto (mutation/racial discrimination and violent) are? Of course, there are exceptions, but in general, I think that all of those things can be summed up as a similarity: human-caused disasters.
And, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by such similarities.
First, if you think about it, many of the paranormal (outside of the everyday) elements in comics are close to those in the alternate realities of dystopian fiction. Really, what separates a Pretty or a Special from Captain America? Or an anti-gravity suit from a dress that catches on fire and flakes away without burning anybody? Then, in both genres, there are also genetic advancements/alterations occurring in people (Peter Parker; the Scriven) and/or animals (tracker jackers; Ninja Turtles). There are advanced forms of weaponry, transportation, and medicine/science in both genres as well. Etc.
Poison Ivy (Batman)
However, above and beyond such decorative items, there’s also the deeper plot lines and themes, which are almost identical:
A) these are all narrative stories B) set in an adjacent though somehow different (whether ahead of, behind, or alternatively developed) version of our world, C) in which said world is threatened (or overtaken) by seemingly insurmountable, evil forces of a paranormal (not of everyday experience) nature, which have some totalitarian motivation, D) to which a (somewhat) ordinary citizen takes a disliking, decides to stand against, E) and, by some unforeseen force of nature (be it simple or extraordinary, human or extraterrestrial, mutant or constant, mental or physical), manages to overcome, F) thus securing the equitable, harmonious, and enjoyable future of their (and by implication, our) civilization.
Tally Youngblood (Specials)
Once I had collected these different points in my head, the next question for me was, What does this mean? Why are we creating these very similar stories right now, and why are they so popular? Huge questions, I know, but the items that seem to answer this for me are C and D, which in turn linked back to a problem I’ve had with the academic world. We PLAYAs and our beloved literature have been accused of and marginalized in “literary” society because of many things, but probably most notably on account of our supposed unwillingness to live within the confines of reality. Just for the record, this is something that I readily admit to (a different conversation altogether), but I would argue that it’s not a complete picture.
What I saw in the trailer for The Avengers today – the element that got me started thinking about how it is, in its way, a form of dystopia – was a deeply rooted love for our reality, a fervent desire to keepit the way it is by thinking of all the ways it could be destroyed. From oil-virus crises that lead to plastic-surgery-based communism, to homicidal environmentalist redheads, we are constantly thinking about the ways in which our (very earthly, very human) thoughts and actions could (will?) affect our (very earthly, very quantifiable) world. And, just as importantly, we’re thinking about the strengths we have within us to combat that negative potential.
It seems to me that, whether it does so via a poor, scrawny huntress, or a roid-raging, genetically-empowered green dude, or a mixture of the two (dare I suggest Harry Potter?), paranormal literature is at heart very similarly focused right now. (I purposefully avoided throwing sci-fi and fantasy into the mix, but you can probably pick out for yourselves that, underneath the very superficial differences, the same parallels are present.)
We’re not escaping to enter a “better” reality somewhere “out there.” We’re doing it to bring one back home.
Much of human art can actually be boiled down to the same motivation. If so, you might ask, what’s my point in all of this?
Just that, well, perhaps we’re not all so different after all.
Release Date: September 13, 2011 Publisher: Scholastic 608 pgs
It’s 1977, and somewhere in the quiet woods of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, lives Ben Wilson. His mother has just died, and though his aunt and uncle welcome him in, he just cannot seem to feel at home. Something is missing. When he finds a 12-year-old clue about his father, Ben decides that the search for that mysterious man is the answer to all of his empty longing.
Flash back to Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927, where the story of a young girl is depicted only in pictures – or is it? Rose lives her life shut away in her home, and she, too, is longing. Longing for something . . .
The collision of their worlds will leave you speechless.
Summary is not something that suits this book, really, so apologies for my somewhat cryptic attempt above. That’s because the storytelling in Wonderstruck is utterly unique. I did not realize, when I sat down to read it, that I was embarking on a sensory journey that would leave me mystified and in awe. Needless to say, the book’s title was chosen well.
Subtle and unobtrusive, it nevertheless defies all of the rules about reading that I – unwittingly – have always taken for granted. Text is text, right? Pictures are pictures, right? Wrong.
Selznick has created a masterpiece wherein the line between letter and sketch gradually blurs into one unified experience.
Like its similar, but intrinsically different sibling, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (movie directed by Martin Scorsese out Nov 23!!), Wonderstruck is a revolutionary publication. (I can’t quite bring myself to call it a “text.”) It will alter the way you look at and define “books.”
So much more than a picture book, this story can’t simply be read: it has to be experienced. I highly recommend.
(P.S. Don’t be daunted by the page count – the balance of text and illustrations make it a fairly quick read.)
Publisher: Putnam Release Date: May 13, 2010 Pages: 320
It’s the year 2141, but Molly’s world looks anything but futuristic: living on a farm; raising crops, livestock, and siblings; and playing her fiddle “Jewels,” keep her too occupied to really notice that the civilized world is – well – not so civilized anymore. Since 2031, when the unchecked shortages of oil caused world economies and governments to irrevocably collapse, her family has lived in relative comfort. They were lucky enough to be insulated from the worst of the crisis by the water that surrounds their small Canadian island.
But, all of that changes when they receive a frightening letter from Molly’s grandparents in Oregon, and no one but Molly can be spared to go and find out if they are still alive. Armed with nothing but her fiddle, she sets out on a journey that will change her forever.
I enjoyed this book on one level: it provided a dystopian perspective that I really haven’t seen before. For once, the protagonist’s family lives comfortably apart from the disaster because of their foresight, planning, and agricultural skill. In a way, the book contains bothawarning about what might come to pass in our world if we continue to consume resources at the current rate, and a practical solution to the problem for those concerned enough to listen. I found this intriguing.
However, the narrative itself was otherwise unremarkable. The attempt was made to recreate mid-depression America – where liquor is scarce, the farmers are better off than the doctors, and organized crime has replaced a debilitated and absentee government – but those elements were regrettably “told” and not at all “shown.” Too much time was spent with the minutia of Molly’s days inside her grandparents home (of which I never could get a very clear picture) and not enough on the rest of the world, including the love interest. Complications, perils, and various other twists and surprises jumped out at every corner, but were not very believable. I became quickly jaded to them, and was never able to fully emotionally invest.
The heroine was fairly spunky and likable, but completely flat. Her fiddle, which could have been an interesting prop, got rather annoying by mid-book – mostly because it was named. Hearing “Jewels” over and over again, juxtaposed to rather old-fashioned song titles like “Turkey in the Straw,” just didn’t appeal to me. There’s so much modern folk music being created (I know, I’m a fan and go to festivals and other such geeky stuff), and I wish the titles had given the impression of more sophisticated music. As it was, I felt like I was back in kindergarten, listening to a “Wee Sing” album.
Still, it could have been worse. I appreciate the attempt to harken back to a simpler time and place (as well as the LACK of love triangle), and I did like the closed, feel-good ending to what I hope was a stand-alone title.
It’s dark, but you can just see the outline of the tunnel walls ahead, curving on in their endless arc. It’s all you have ever known, the Enclave of youths you were born into, the only human contact you have ever had…until now.
Something shuffles to your left—it’s rotting stench is overwhelming. But survival of the fittest doesn’t leave much room for the squeamish. Besides, you are a Huntress. This is your purpose. So, you end him in a warm spurt of blood. His companions will finish him off. They’re hungry. They aren’t squeamish either.
There are stories of others like you up there, but you would never venture topside. Enclave elders say it’s all scorched and toxic. And, despite what your new hunting partner thinks—or the warm shivers his nearness gives you—you believe what they say. Well, most of it anyway. Their laws are harsh, but they keep you fed and safe…
Except. Maybe…no. You shouldn’t even consider it. The Freaks aren’t a threat. They’re just crazed animals in human form…rotting bodies with razor sharp teeth. They don’t think. And they certainly don’t organize. They don’t. Really. They just don’t.
I knew this story was going to be quite unique from page one—which prompted my attempt at an unusual summary above. (Pardons if it’s ghastly!)
The narrator lets on that her world is not the same as the reader’s. There’s been a second holocaust, she says, one that razed human civilization…leaving behind a few ragtag groups to fend for themselves using what vestiges of human culture can be salvaged…underground.
The book really does an excellent job of keeping the reader, too, in the dark—both literally and figuratively. The more you read of the tight, gloomy post-apocalyptic underworld, the less it seems you can remember the feel of the sun on your face. The instinct for survival is visceral, as is the sinking realization that this could be our world, if the right thing goes wrong.
Similarly, until the last 10 pages, it’s never revealed exactly where in relationship to the present day world you have been —or why it’s the way it is—which I appreciated immensely. (I really thought it quite a shame on those bloggers who let the cat out of the bag in the first few lines of their review!) Even the fact that the question goes unspoken (because, absolutely true to her circumstances, the heroine doesn’t even know it can be asked) really adds to the close, musty murkiness of it all: it’s as if the world as we know it has truly ceased to exist. Serious props to the author—it was mightily well pulled off.
I do have to confess that I wasn’t quite as pleased with the 2nd half of the book (into which there was a significant shift) for three reasons. First, I had a lot of questions unanswered about the people/places/things in the 1st half that I thought were rather abruptly (& ergo cheaply) dismissed. However, I have hope they will be revisited/answered in the sequel, so I won’t belabor that just yet. And, relatedly, there was a certain thinness to the latter half: too much happens in too few pages. You don’t really have time to get attached to anyone or anything—despite the passage of book-months. In the rapid-fire beginning, this thinness serves to underscore the transience of life as it has become, but in the end results in a kind of “weak tea” effect. Finally, a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle left a fairly sour taste in my mouth. (They always do…)
However, I won’t reveal any more detail than that—though I’m longing to (maybe a hidden post?)—because this is one book where I strongly feel that the experience of reading blind is a huge draw—and one of the book’s greatest achievements. The concept, the setting, the world, they’re all fresh, as far as books go. We’ve seen the same thing in films before, but reading it is really a different and intriguing experience. I also love that it’s inspired and/or influenced by George MacDonald’s “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” story…but I’ll write more on that later…
Let me know if you agree.
P.S. DON’T watch the book trailer. DO NOT.I’m warning you. It really doesn’t do the book ½ ounce of justice…
Release Date: August 2, 2011 Publisher: Walker Children’s
My good friend Shanella (whose excellent book blog you can find at http://ireviewbooks.tumblr.com) and I scored BIG at BEA2011 this past May. Included among the virtual library with which we each schlepped home was an ARC of Between by Jessica Warman.
It’s not exactly the type of book I usually read, but I was so intrigued by Shanella’s compelling review that I decided to pick it up, starting tomorrow. I would say the usual “don’t take my word for it,” but instead I’ll highly recommend you give an ear to hers:
When I received this book at BEA, I first thought it was another book – I’m not sure why, it was a long day – so when I brought it home and read the back of it and realised that it wasn’t a fantasy novel I was a bit cautious. While I step outside of fantasy novels every once in awhile, it’s mostly on recommendations or because I’ve heard great buzz about it, so going with no buzz and no expectation I started to read Between.
I was blown away.
Jessica Warman spins the tale of a high schooler named Elizabeth. Liz is pretty, rich, popular, dating a popular boy at school and at the top of the high school social food chain. Liz is a runner. Liz has a secret. Liz is dead . . .
It’s absolutely gorgeous! I mean, the font (yes, font) is perfect…beyond perfect? The sheen of the feathers is just Karou’s essence. The scene on the back is exactly what I pictured in my mind while reading. Whoever designed this cover knew this book superbly well (or just has mad crazy skills…or both…).
Listen to me prattling on.
I think I have collector’s fever! This is one I’m definitely going to have to get my hands on…
What are YOUR top 100 children's books? How about YOUR #1?
Click here to read about 100 Greatest Books for Kids countdown by Scholastic's Parent & Child Magazine and enter your choices for a chance to win a copy of one of the titles in your preferred age group.
influential book of the month: December ’11 – January ’12
The Iliad by Homer
Written around the 8th Century BC, this epic Greek poem about the Trojan war has influenced countless classic authors with its tragic and quintessential tale of hubris, love, and war. With hunks like Achilles and Odysseus, hotties like Helen, and powers that be like Ares, Apollo, and Aphrodite, it's no wonder this book is also prime inspriation for today's YA otherworldly writers.
Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney Nobody's Princess by Esther M. Friesner Nobody's Prize by Esther M. Friesner Troy by Adele Geras Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot Achilles: A Novel by Elizabeth Cook
peter and the starcatchers
a web of air*
the last werewolf
there's no such thing as dragons*
the light fantastic*
pride and prejudice and zombies
the book thief
down the mysterly river
the princess and the goblin*
the iron king/daughter/queen*
the name of the star*
the picture of dorian gray
the name of the star*
the 11th plague*
the last little blue envelope*
rip tide (dark life)
city of ember
*s denote books I own, but just haven't gotten to (yet!)
To Be Read!
Here are some titles that I highly recommend, but haven't had a chance to review (quite) yet.