Thursday, January 30, 2014

Interesting Departure from Normal YA, But About As Unapologetically Preachy as the Late Michael Crichton

The War on Science Goes Batshit by Allen J. Woppert (BookBaby, 2013, 248pp.)

You probably haven’t heard of Batshit, IL. It was founded in 1879 by a Persian immigrant named Omar al-Baht-Shi’it. Us Americans being the way we are, Omar quickly became known as Omar “Batshit.” The name stuck. One hundred and thirty years later, our story begins. 

The novel focuses on the perilous Freshman year of local brainiac Timothy Thompson at Omar L. Batshit High School. Timothy is the son of a high-powered lawyer who frequently takes on controversial cases. On the first day of school, Timothy saunters off to enjoy one of his favorite classes, biology, and is startled to discover that the teacher, Mrs. Barker, has decided to forego evolution entirely. Instead, she will teach her students Intelligent Design, an alternate theory that proposes that life on Earth is too complex to have simply crawled from some primordial ooze, and must have developed under the direction of a higher being. Timothy reasons that since the higher being must be God, and that since teaching religion in public schools is frowned upon, this is obviously a heinous violation of the separation of church and state. Without another thought, he contacts his mother, who promptly issues the school a cease and desist order.

There is a mixture of reactions to this event. Timothy’s friends, who are all science geeks who believe in evolution, immediately dismiss Intelligent Design (ID) as hokum. The Christians in the school think that since Timothy has denounced ID, he simply must be a Godless heathen and begin fervently praying for his soul. He also becomes the subject of bullying, pranks, and scorn. Despite this, Timothy and his circle of friends decide to sponsor a series of lectures on evolution, a decision that will lead to a dramatic, life-threatening climax.

I really have to commend the author on his choice of material. While a good number of YA books blither over love triangles and hormones, Woppert’s novel instead tackles some pretty relevant material: separation of church and state, public school systems, etc. However, the author’s stance on the material threatens to alienate some of its readers. As is the case with Jodi Picoult, who writes heavily biased, politically-charged fiction, the author trumpets the virtues of his beliefs, and then lumps all dissenters together as a troupe of ignorant fools. True, there are some exceptions in the story, but these seem few and far between. In the end, the story turns out to be  not so much about its characters as the agenda it’s trying to push on readers. It’s one of those books that makes your blood pressure go up in unhealthy ways. It forces us to pick a side, and God help your blood pressure if you don’t pick the “right” one. Overall, an interesting book, but not one to read if you prefer a nice, soothing story before bedtime. Recommended for Ages 16-18.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Complicated, Plot-Driven Modern Fantasy

Pigments of My Imagination (Soul Painters #1) by Angela Kulig (Green Envy Press, 2013, 324pp.)

I don’t know why I inevitably compare everything to Harry Potter, but I do. This book will be no different. Pigments of My Imagination starts out a little bit like Harry Potter, if J.K. Rowling had forgone wizards and instead focused on artistic, creative types who reincarnated on a regular basis. The heroine of this tale is Lucia, a budding prodigy who arrives at Bayside Art Academy in Galveston, Texas. Before long, she meets fellow classmate Leo. Although he’s a bit stand-offish at first, she soon realizes that he has been her soulmate from the beginning of time—literally. The two of them are Soul Painters, a group of artists with magic capabilities who reincarnate through the ages. They are also at war against the Deceivers, another similarly-abled group who are, well, deceitful. Add to this mix various fantasy entities (harpies, oracles, and mysterious beings called the Fates), and you have the world of the Soul Painters series. 
Many teens will find the love-at-first-sight between Lucia and Leo appealing, but as for myself...I just felt confused from page 1. Although Lucia walks into the novel completely unaware of her past lives, her first meeting with Leo soon remedies this. She begins experiencing memories of past lives, and seems to instantly gain an understanding of the mysterious goings on. Unfortunately, as the reader, I never caught up. It always felt like the characters always knew something that I didn’t, and because of this, I had trouble connecting with them and their situation. Some readers may have this problem, others may not. In any case, what I thought was going to be a simple paint-by-numbers paranormal romance turned into a more complicated, plot-driven modern fantasy best suited for older YA readers. My suggestion? If the plot summary sounds interesting, give it a shot. Recommended for Ages 16-Up.