I read a lot of books by Walter Dean Myers in middle school. He was a staple at every library I went to, probably because so many of his novels lent themselves well to curriculum building. It’s been awhile since I read his work so I was looking forward to seeing what I might get out of his book Monster from an adult perspective.
Monster follows sixteen year old Steve Harmon as he stands on trial as an accessory to murder. He is accused of being the lookout in an armed robbery that left a drug store owner shot on the floor of his store. The novel is communicated in dual formats, Steve’s journal entries and a screenplay he creates of his trial in an attempt to distance himself from what is happening to him and assert some control over his narrative.
Well known as a writer of quality contemporary young adult fiction starring African-American teens, Sharon G. Flake delivers another excellent read with Pinned. Ninth graders Autumn and Adonis are polar opposites. Autumn struggles with reading but is a star wrestler and the only girl on her wrestling team. Adonis was born without legs but is a gifted and disciplined student, who manages the team. He is also the recipient of Autumn’s affections, who believes they would make an excellent couple. Adonis disagrees.
The developing romance between Autumn and Adonis is secondary to their growth as characters. Autumn’s pursuit of Adonis is by turns heartwarming and embarrassing, as she seems convinced he will return her affections if only she is persistent enough. Her challenge is to apply this level of determination to academics, overcoming her belief that reading is something she is incapable of doing well. Meanwhile, Adonis must develop compassion; learning that others face different challenges than he does and should be not be judged by harsh standards.
Autumn and Adonis are both well-developed characters who learn from each other. Between their journeys and a supporting cast with distinct personalities and challenges, Pinned delivers a strong message about the importance of empathy and taking the time to understand what is troubling others. Flake’s clear simplistic language and Autumn’s struggles with reading may also give this title additional appeal to reluctant readers. Recommended.
Flake, Sharon G. Pinned. New York: Scholastic Press, 2012. Print. 231 pages. $19.99 CAN (9780545 057189). Ages 12+
Kieron Gillen reinvents the popular Young Avengers line for Marvel NOW!, bringing together teen superhero teammates Wiccan, Hulkling, and Hawkeye with new additions to the Marvel line up. Kid Loki (yes, that Loki, Norse trickster god deaged) attempts to reunite the Young Avengers team when reality-warper Wiccan accidentally summons an reality warping parasite in an attempt to restore his boyfriend’s dead mother. The team bands together to battle warped versions of their parents intent on feeding on their souls. Gillen clearly has fun with the dialogue of the alterna-parents who take typical parental restrictions (dating, tirades against ‘bad influence’ friends, and more) to murderous extremes. The storyline will likely appeal to fans of Marvel’s similar teen superhero line Runaways.
The title Style > Substance gives an apt description of the volume’s strengths. Though the volume’s focus on pulling the team together leaves it a little light on plot, the biggest draw is its strong sense of style. Gillen writes entertaining pop-culture laced dialogue while McKelvie’s art makes every character distinct and eye catching. The action sequences are particularly engaging due to McKelvie’s willingness to experiment with layout, never portraying any two fights in the same manner. At the same time, this creativity can occasionally make scenes difficult to parse, requiring effort on the part of the reader. While Gillen and McKelvie succeed in bringing a distinct and entertaining new voice to the Marvel universe, the ties to the pre-existing Young Avengers title and experimental layouts make this a title best suited to the experienced comics reader. Recommended with reservations.
Gillen, Kieron, writer. Young Avengers: Style > Substance. Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton. Colored by Matthew Wilson. Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles. New York: Marvel, 2013. Print. 128 pages. $17.99 CAN (97807851 67082). Ages 14+
I was in junior high when I first encountered Tamora Pierce. I was at my library and saw a new book in the children’s section called Protector of the Small: First Test. It was about a girl and had a nice cover which frankly, was about all it took for me to give a book a chance in those days. A few days later and I had my librarian order me every book by Tamora Pierce she could find in the catalogue. Over a decade later and my approach remains the same; if Tamora Pierce puts out a new book then I’ll be at the library the next day to pick it up.
As prolific as Tamora Pierce is though (28 books not counting anthologies or comics!), I read far too quickly as a teen to sustain myself on Tamora Pierce alone. I decided then to make a pathfinder that I would have liked to have back when I was waiting months on a new Tortall book to come out. This pathfinder aims to recommend young adult books that will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce. In acknowledgement of how wide an audience that is I tried to include titles that went across the whole range of the YA age spectrum — from titles I’d give to students in middle school to ones I’d probably only suggest to older teens. I picked books that shared what I think are Tamora Pierce’s greatest appeal factors: her expansive worldbuilding, action-packed storylines, and focus on strong female characters.
In writing the annotations for these books I consulted with the readers advisory tools listed in my tips for finding readalikes: Goodreads and Novelist. Summaries were modified from Goodreads and the detailed reasons for recommendation were created using my own knowledge for the titles I have personally read and by assessing the Goodreads and NoveList reviews for those I have not (chiefly The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass, and Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc by Polly Schoyer Brooks).
Not a lot happens in Eleanor and Park. The New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2013 summarizes it like so: “A misfit girl from an abusive home and a Korean-American boy from a happy one bond over music and comics on the school bus in this novel, which our reviewer, John Green, said “reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.””
Orca Book Publishers is a Canadian publishing company dedicated to publishing books designed to appeal to reluctant readers. This week I decided to try reading books from two of their publishing lines: orca soundings which are high interest contemporary novels aimed towards older teen readers and orca sports which are similar but focused on team sports.
This week in my Young Adult Materials class, I was assigned the task of evaluating the resource Value-Packed Booktalks: Genre Talks and More for Teen Readers by Lucy Schall. The book is divided into different YA genres, identified by the values they are focused on (this would include categories along the lines of ‘Self-Respect: Issues Books’, ‘Problem-Solving: Mystery and Suspense Novels’, and ‘Imagination: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Paranormal Novels’). Each genre includes sub-categories, dividing, for example, ‘Issues’ books into the sub-genres of Health, Friendship, and Authority. Schall offers detailed entries on 4-7 high quality YA novels in each category.