Monday, September 28, 2015

Good, But Not Really A Good Read for Teens

Source: Publisher Website
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (2011; Roaring Brook Press, 2013, 272pp.)

Midwinterblood, which won YALSA’s 2014 Printz Award, is not a novel so much as it is a collection of seven linked short stories that focus on the theme of sacrifice, be it metaphorical, or of the human sacrifice variety. Each story takes place on the fictional Scandanavian island of Blessed, at different points in history, ranging from the year 2073, to an unnamed year in mankind’s prehistory. The one thing that ties the stories together is that each contains a male character named Eric, and a female character named Merle. Even though Eric and Merle’s roles change dramatically with each new chapter, it’s the fate of this man and woman that ultimately forms the heart and purpose of Sedgwick’s work of fiction.

For us adults, Midwinterblood can be seen as a strange but impressive literary feat. Although it starts out slow, it gets better with each chapter. The deeper you descend into the guts of the work, the darker and weirder each chapter becomes—and, consequently, the more gripping! Now, in regards to how teens will like it? Don't be surprised if you don’t see a sudden demand for this novel at your library. Printz Awards focus on literary quality, not on popularity. Midwinterblood will certainly never be a mega-bestseller, nor will it be universally appreciated by teens. By virtue of its content, it would really fare better in the hands of dedicated mature readers, say, ages 17 to adult, mainly due to its subject matter. That’s not to say there’s a lot of graphic sex and violence involved. No, Sedgwick is really more interested in exploring the theme of love, and not the fiery, passionate kind, either. While there is a chapter dedicated to a pair of doomed lovers, Midwinterblood is mostly concerned with mature love, such as the kind found in a decades-old marriage, or the simple, basic human connection achieved between different generations. While it may be impressive to adults, it’s certainly not exciting enough to grab your average teen's interest right off the bat. I’ll just say this: it’s not a book that I would recommend lightly for teens. If, however, you feel the need to share it with this age group, I would recommend the older age bracket, ages 16-up.

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Awesome Thriller

Source: Publisher Website
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski (2010; Annick Press, 2012, 440pp.)

When Nick is approached by a classmate offering a copy of Erebos, a hot new video game, he doesn’t expect much. It looks like a simple game that allows you to design your own character, join in group quests, and fight battles in a lush fantasy setting. Just your average RPG, right? Except there’s something different about Erebos. Something unnaturally addictive. Soon, Nick is obsessively gaming late into the night, plotting ways to gain new experience levels. When his character, Sarius, is mortally wounded in battle, all his hard work seems lost—until a sinister authority figure, the Messenger, offers to help. In exchange for renewed health and energy, the Messenger asks Nick to perform a series of menial tasks—not within the game, but outside in the real world. One day he’s instructed to leave an unmarked package under a bridge, the next day he’s told to take pictures of two strangers in their car. Harmless stuff, right? Except it isn’t. When one of Nick’s delivered packages turns out to contain something highly illegal, he gets scared. What is Erebos, exactly? Is it really just a video game, or something more? More importantly—can it be stopped?

As a reader, all I can say is that this international import is truly awesome. The sinisterness of the game is truly creepy, and the mystery of Erebos is intriguing enough to drive the story towards its thrilling conclusion. However, while this novel has the potential to be enjoyed by teens of any age and gender, there are some dark moments in the story that might limit its age bracket to 15 and up, including a scene where one character is accused of assault, and another scene where characters discuss a suicide that happened several years previous. There’s also some swearing and fantasy violence, but nothing graphic enough to mention.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Stand Against Hate Crime in Poetry Form

Source: Publisher Website
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick, 2012, 128pp.)

In October 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was found tied to a fence-post. He was unconscious and badly beaten, and died later at a local hospital. When the full story came out, news-followers learned that he had been attacked by two young men who started him because he was gay. In a stroke of irony, the week of his murder was also Gay Awareness Week. Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, was on her way to Laramie to deliver a lecture to the University of Wyoming when she heard the news. Years later, she published a novel-in-verse tribute to Matthew. Through a series of poems, Newman assumes several points of view, including Matthew’s killers, his parents, the police, a deer visiting the crime scene, and even the fence-post where Matthew was tied. The book includes an introduction where Newman explains the particulars of the crime, as well as an afterward and notes section where she lists sources and recommended reading.

Newman’s work is very sad and heartfelt, and while it’s not entirely graphic in its description of the crime, the content itself is disturbing. There are also times when the collection borders on heavy-handedness, but proves effective nonetheless as both a tribute to Matthew and as a stand against hate crime. Recommended for Ages 16-18.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Infinite Sea

Source: Publisher Website
The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave #2) by Rick Yancey (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014, 320pp.)

“What does it take to rid humans of their humanity?” In The Infinite Sea, Rick Yancey continues his exploration of this theme that he began in The 5th Wave. As the story begins, Cassie and her crew are holed up in an abandoned hotel, keeping watch for an enemy—the Others—that could close in on them at any second. When the attack finally does come, their stronghold is destroyed, their group scattered in the wilderness. Some end up in the hands of the Others as test subjects, while the rest struggle to survive. As with The 5th Wave, the protagonists are well-drawn, and the adventure they helm is full of non-stop action, suspense, romantic tension, and entertaining dialogue. Like the first book, there is also strong language, violence, and even a love scene, but nothing is graphically described. Recommended for fans of the preceding volume, The 5th Wave, and other post-apocalyptic fiction, ages 16-18.