Tag Archives: young adult

The Demon Queen and the Locksmith by Spencer Baum

The Demon Queen and The Locksmith by Spencer Baum: When Kevin skips his first day of high school, he never imagines the sort of impact it will have on his life. He meets a couple of other kids, they eat magic sap, they gain super powers, and all of it is somehow linked to Turquoise Mountain and its mysterious Hum that only certain people can hear. Throw in termites, fire ants, espresso, and a healthy dose of conspiracy theories, and you’ve got yourself one strange little tale. Still, I kind of enjoyed it. It’s certainly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Sure, there were times when it felt like the author had been given a list of objects and told to write a story around them, but as a fan of writing challenges I can appreciate that aspect as well. I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to, though. Espresso fanatics? Budding entomologists? I don’t know. But if you’d looking for some young adult fantasy that doesn’t follow the same old formula, try this one on for size.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (unabridged audiobook read by Kim Mai Guest; 5 hours on 4 discs): Rebellious American teenager Daisy is sent to England to live with her aunt and cousins, and a somewhat nebulous world war breaks out soon thereafter. It felt a bit like the author was wondering what would happen if World War II broke out today, except without actually picking specific countries to go to war with. Of course, the enemy’s identity isn’t all that important, since Daisy is the narrator and has little interest in politics anyway. The story is told well, with some horrific scenes, some sad scenes, and some happy scenes, and all in all I found it a perfectly believable representation of how such a person would deal with such a situation. I was somewhat confused by the weird psychic powers held by some of the characters, if only because everything else in the tale was completely realistic. In short, I’m having difficulty summing up my feelings about this book. It was almost equal parts trivial and serious, narrated by a character with whom I only somewhat sympathized. I’m glad to have read this, but I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend it to anyone else. If I were to recommend it at all, I’d definitely go with the audio version, as I believe the punctuation issues in the print would drive me absolutely bats.

A note on the audio: Guest was quite good as the narrator, but it was a little strange that none of the English characters had English accents. Even so, she managed to make Daisy both believable and listenable as a pretty typical American teenager – no small task, that.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain: Yeah, what you thought just now was pretty much what I thought when I picked up this book: “wait, what?” And that is, truth to tell, pretty much how I feel now that I’ve finished reading it. David’s father is a therapist for troubled teens whose latest client, the lovely Zelda, claims to be an alien searching for her Chosen One. This Chosen One turns out to be none other than famous actor Johnny Depp, but David follows her on her quest, more out of dumbstruck love than anything else. Soon they’re on a madcap adventure through Paris involving some stolen cars, underage sex, and burning gas stations. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous. I can see some parents objecting to the mature content, but this book has ‘80s teen comedy written all over it. It’s a bizarre and somewhat shallow story, and over all I think I enjoyed it. You might too.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (unabridged audiobook read by the author; 7.75 hours on 7 discs): Bod (short for Nobody) Owens lives in a graveyard, raised by the ghosts and otherworldly beings who live there. This tale chronicles his entire childhood including his adventures with ghoul gates, Hounds of God, the Sleer, and fellow living children. The narration borders on the lyrical, with ghostly voices like rustling leaves and Bod’s guardian Silas the most mysterious of them all (though I have my suspicions). This is one of those rare books that I enjoyed so thoroughly that I can’t think of anything to say about it in my review. It’s weird and funny and bittersweet and very memorable. I will definitely be reading it again one day.

A note on the audio version: Very few writers are good readers, but Gaiman is one of the best of both. I was completely enchanted by his gentle narration, and I advise everyone not to miss out on a chance to listen to him read his stories. However, by listening to this on audio I missed out on Dave McKean’s illustrations. Which is why it is such good luck that I happen to own a paper copy as well, so I can go back and read it with Gaiman’s voice in my head and McKean’s drawings at hand.

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green: Margo Roth Spiegelman is larger than life. Tales of her exploits are nothing short of epic, and one night she grabs her neighbor and schoolmate Quentin Jacobsen for one last spree before she disappears from town. Following vague clues left behind, finding Margo becomes an obsession for Quentin that leads him to abandoned buildings, Walt Whitman, and – of course – paper towns. The whole thing culminates in an epic road trip where every noteworthy event that’s ever happened on any roadtrip anywhere happens on this one. Green has somehow managed to distill pure adolescence into prose, filling his narratives with believable characters who have believable feelings and say believable (and often very, very funny) things. Granted, these kids are more like I was in college than high school, but I can still relate. The story is similar in tone to Looking For Alaska, where you have a fairly ordinary teenage boy fascinated with a beautiful, inscrutable, unattainable girl. However, I think I might like this one just a teensy bit more, because Quentin’s philosophical ponderings about how well one can know another person really resonated with me. It’s bittersweet, and once again a book I wish I could have read when I was that age, if only so I could have played Metaphysical I Spy with my friends.

For ages # and up

I was looking through some stuff the other day and was reminded of a comment one of my reviews had received, suggesting that instead of just calling something a children’s book, I should name a specific age range. It occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea how to define such things. I believe I have two major factors working against me:

  1. No children in my life. I am not a parent; I don’t babysit; my nieces and nephews all live halfway across the country; and I was the youngest child so I never even had a younger sibling to care for. In short, I have exactly zero experience in choosing age-appropriate literature for children of any age.
  2. I’m not even sure if my own childhood reading was age-appropriate. First of all, I didn’t really enjoy reading. I hated everything we ever read for school. Aside from a few books by Beverly Cleary, Gordon Korman, and Daniel Pinkwater, I don’t recall much between picture books and adult science fiction and fantasy. By the time I was a preteen, I was reading mostly Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin. Is this age-appropriate? Hard to say, I guess, though I did grow up to be a (fairly) well-adjusted and (somewhat) normal adult. All the same, I’m sure I embarrassed my mother that time when I looked up from one of the Incarnations of Immortality books to ask her what a concubine was.

I am also at a loss to define “age-appropriate” in terms of subject material. I could probably rate books in terms of vocabulary, but who am I to say what topics are or are not suitable for a child of a certain age? Most banned/challenged books become that way because someone believes it is inappropriate for children of a certain age group. When do people magically become old enough to handle any variety of topics? I say if you’re in high school, you should be capable of handling adult themes. I read Night by Elie Wiesel as a freshman. It could be argued that a fourteen-year-old is not mature enough to handle such a subject, but considering the events occurred when Wiesel himself was fifteen, the objection seems trivial.

So, how do you determine the proper age range for a book?

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord: Catherine’s little brother David has autism, and because of it she feels increasingly invisible to the rest of the world. She’s just that girl with the weird brother. When her new next-door neighbors turn out to have a girl just her age, she’s overjoyed to have a normal person to hang out with. Then she befriends Jason, a mute boy in a wheelchair, who causes her to rethink her definition of normal. I admit, I was worried this story would end with someone dying, since that’s how so many authors “resolve” any relationship with a differently-abled person (I’m not trying to be snarky here; I just don’t know what the correct term is anymore). Luckily, I was granted a happy ending to this tale that is both very sweet and unflinchingly realistic. (And funny. Can’t forget funny.) I don’t know if I’ll necessarily look up any of Lord’s other books, but this one was a nice change of pace. It’s so refreshing to find a Book With a Message that’s actually fun to read and not preachy.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: A charming twist on the familiar tale of Cinderella. Ella is cursed from birth to obey any command anyone gives her. Using her own ingenuity, she overcomes hungry ogres, careless fairies, and wicked stepsisters in her journey to break the spell and find true love. All the standard components are here – a fairy godmother, glass slippers, a pumpkin turned into a carriage – but reimagined in a clever way. Rather than sitting around waiting to be saved from her life of servitude like the classic Cinderella, this Ella is her own savior, and an excellent role-model to boot. I wish this book could have been part of my own childhood. It’s marvelous.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket (unabridged audiobook read by Tim Curry): When the three Baudelaire children lose their parents in a fire, they are sent to live with distant relative Count Olaf. He is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, legally untouchable until the eldest child, Violet, turns 18. What follows is a somewhat ridiculous collection of torments for the children, all told with the same flowery narration, sprinkled with non sequiturs. The humor is less dark than random, such as the description of Violet being, “like many girls her age,” right-handed. All in all I enjoyed it, but I’m not champing at the bit to read the rest of the series. I do, however, wonder how many people read these books expecting a happy ending. And, for that matter, whether the series ends unfortunately.

Notes on the audio version: Tim Curry was a fine narrator, even if I was unable to forget for one second that it was Tim Curry. After the end of the book was an obviously pre-scripted “interview” with the author. It was cleverly written and would have been very funny had the readers not been so terribly stilted and awkward. I suspect Daniel Handler played himself, which made me thankful he hadn’t narrated the story. As insincere as it would be to have actors play Handler and the interviewer, it would have been a much more enjoyable listen.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (unabridged audiobook read by Brendan Fraser): A delightful tale of a dragon and his brownie companion on a search for the Rim of Heaven, the legendary dragon home that may or may not exist. This is the sort of thing I think of when I think of fantasy epics: quests, dragons, genies, dwarfs, magic, legends, peril, humor, excitement, new friends, trust, betrayal, and a happy ending. It reminded me in many ways of The Neverending Story. In other words, I absolutely loved it. It’s the sort of thing I would enjoy reading again and again, just to relive the adventure.

Regarding the audio version of this novel: I don’t have strong feelings about Brendan Fraser’s movies. I mean, he’s charming enough, but he always seems to play more or less the same character. As a reader, however, he is absolutely brilliant, easily one of the best I’ve ever come across. The characters came to life with his animated narration, sound effects, and distinct voices. Simply fabulous.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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