Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sequel Proves to be Major Improvement Over Predecessor

The Struggle (The Vampire Diaries #2) by L.J. Smith (1991; HarperCollins, 2010, 304pp.)

Caught in a battle of wills between two vampire brothers, willful mortal Elena struggles to support Stefan after he’s accused of murder, while at the same time fighting off the affections of Damon, Stefan’s devious and devilishly attractive older sibling. As if she doesn’t have enough trouble on her hands, rival and former friend Caroline steals her diary and plans to use its contents against her. After the slow, plodding pace of The Awakening, The Struggle proves to be a major improvement. Now that Stefan and Elena’s relationship has been established, the story is free to move forward to more interesting things--such as fleshing out the supporting cast and building character development. Elena’s devotion to Stefan is touching and brings strength to her character, while Damon’s pursuit of Elena--alternately tormenting her and wooing her--makes him both villainous and sexy. The Caroline subplot entwines nicely with the Damon/Stefan subplot, creating enough momentum to keep the story speeding forward to its cliff-hanger conclusion. Recommended for Ages 15-Up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

High Adventure and Romance in a Solid YA Fantasy

The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa (Harlequin Teen, 2010, 368pp.)

After her baby brother is kidnapped by evil faeries, high school outcast Meghan travels deep into the heart of the Nevernever to bring him back, encountering fantastical beasts, jealous faery queens, and true love. Drawing heavily on traditional lore, Kagawa’s richly imagined fantasy world provides a lovely backdrop to the story, while delightful supporting characters flank the novel’s rather average leading lady. Although there is very little objectionable material to bar this from a younger audience, (the love story is sweet and mild-tempered, and the level of fantasy violence is to be expected), the novel’s sporadic use of strong language (the worst instance is when a faery tells someone to “F*** off!”) may act as a deterrent to sensitive readers. Non-stop action and elements of high adventure and romance make this tale of teenage heroines a solid entry in YA fantasy. Recommended for Ages 15-Up.

Click on cover for image source.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not the Best, But Provides a Nice Message

Cut by Patricia McCormick (Scholastic, 2000, 168pp.)

Callie is sent to a treatment facility after her parents discover that she’s been cutting herself. After a while, she finally opens up to her psychiatrist and begins to re-examine the fragile home environment that prompted her distress. Although not as powerful as others of its kind in the “teen issues/bibliotherapy” genre, the message that Cut provides is a heartwarming one: we all have the power to change our situation, if we only are willing to take the initiative. Despite the novel’s short length, McCormick provides a solid picture of life at the facility and lets us get to know its inhabitants. The one problem-character that stands out, however, is the character of Amanda. A cutter like Callie herself, she is so unrepentant of her cutting compulsion that she seems to have been planted by the author as the persona of temptation. She often tries to draw Callie into discussions of different ways to cut oneself, and she even goes so far as to proudly display her scars to the other patients (she has the words “life sucks” carved into her arms). Sound edgy? It’s a little uncomfortable to read at times, but compared to other works, shouldn’t be too intense for younger teens. Recommended for Ages 15-Up.

Click on cover for image source.