Posts tagged YA
Posts tagged YA
Review by Morgan
Since this is an anthology of short stories, the star ratings will be slightly different.
Writing: *** (3 stars. The authors chose to present their stories in their raw and largely unedited forms: notes in the margins point out what they would like to change. Despite the rough writing in places, the general quality is very good.)
Arrangement: **** (4 stars. Stories are relatively varied and presented in an appealing order. I wish the final story had been stronger, though.)
Balance: **** (4 stars. We get a nice mix of fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, legends, and psychological darkness.)
Personality: ***** (5 stars. I mean to say that the authors’ personalities and their writing styles shine through their commentary in the best of ways. We see how they work as writers and it makes them even more lovable/admirable.)
Overall: ***** (4 stars. I really like this book!)
Inspired by their collaborative website, The Merry Sisters of Fate (merryfates.com), The Curiosties showcases quickly written pieces of short fiction by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. The stories tend to fall within their collective genre of paranormal or speculative Young Adult fiction, but each author contributes stories which refuse to be contained by one genre or even – as the amusingly hand-written margin notes point out – by their own distinctive writing styles. Brenna, Tessa, and Maggie share their thought processes, inspiration, and their opinions about each others’ work, and we get to see how their voices have changed and developed as a result of their literary friendship. For readers who pick up The Curiosities as fans of one particular author, there will be plenty of familiar themes and fixations within these pages. But it’s the unexpected pieces, the stories which surprised the writer, and which her friends admit to wishing they had written first, which make this collection so valuable to admirers of these authors and their subjects.
I was only slightly familiar with the authors of The Curiosities when I started reading. I’ve shared my high opinion of Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys already, and I remember getting carried away into the dark and intricate world of Yovanoff’s The Replacement a couple of Novembers ago, but I wasn’t particularly well versed in their bodies of work and I’d never read Gratton at all (though I wish I had – she’s great!). My ignorance didn’t really matter, though, because through witty banter with her friends and wise thoughts on writing, history, magic, etc, each writer bares her personality and makes her voice as distinct as if we knew her personally. The informal tone of this collection sets off some of the truly dark stuff which it contains, and you get to read a well balanced combination of YA anthology and “How We Write” essay, all in one attractive package.
The stories themselves are excellent fun, provided that you enjoy the sort of writing done by these women. While the pieces are varied in terms of plot and format, and while the order in which they’re presented keeps the pace from dragging, they are resolutely stories for Young Adult readers who like elements of the paranormal; the esoteric; the sinister; and the weird. (A note: by “Young Adult reader”, I refer to anyone, young or adult or somewhere in between, who enjoys YA fiction.) You will find monsters and creatures to suit every taste, retellings of legends and stories prompted by fairy tales, good old fashioned ghost stories, horrifying visions of the future, and even some stories featuring no technical magic at all but which embody a perfectly chilling sense of dread. You will read about highschool, college, alternative historical settings, the ancient north, and steampunk or sc-fi cityscapes. There is kissing, killing, and wit galore.
What you won’t find in The Curiosities is grown-up, tightly plotted, examinations of every day life; at least, there are no mundane sensibilities left to carry a story on their own. But themes get heavy in this collection, underneath the strange and beautiful surface. Maggie’s pieces about geniuses behaving badly and legends existing in our world deal with questions of power, loyalty, and how to spend the time we have given to us. These are questions which The Raven Boys also handled very well. Tessa’s tales about monsters and complicated spells examine the importance of bravery in the face of sorrow and how traditions shape our lives. And Brenna’s stories about psycho killers tricked by even-more-psychotic killers, lonely ghosts, and wishes gone awry reveal the capacity for darkness which waits within all of us, and that desperate need for understanding which can save us when we’re young. These ladies know what they’re doing, and they do it well: telling us eternal truths hidden deep within compelling stories which appeal to our sense of the macabre and the fantastic.
Characters: ***** (5 Stars)
Character Development: **** (4 Stars)
Plot: ***** (5 Stars)
Writing: **** (4 Stars)
Overall: ***** (5 Stars)
Age range recommendation: 13 +
Review by Morgan
This is the sort of novel I want to read all day, every day. This is the sort of book I want to write, except Lindsey Barraclough has already written it. And I’m so very glad she did. Rosie will verify that when I saw the title of this book as we were aimlessly browsing Barnes and Noble, I seized it with such energy of action that it must have looked like I was struck by lightning. Long Lankin falls into my very favorite tradition of modern literature: haunting stories inspired by unsettling British legends and faery stories, usually featuring young children and strange settings, but always grounded somewhat in our own realm and history. Other books I put in that category are Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea.
Inspired one of my favorite creepy old folk songs (of the same title), Long Lankin follows young Cora and her toddler sister Mimi from London to Guerdon Hall in the countryside in the decade following World War Two. Cora’s mother has been driven periodically insane by some dark memory from her childhood and their father can not take care of them, so they must stay with their less-than-maternal and wildly mysterious Great-aunt Ida on the ancient and decaying family estate. Guerdon Hall makes a perfect setting for this dark and haunting story: there are strange claw marks on the door, latin wards of protection on the gate, and Aunt Ida is vehement that no doors or windows are to be opened under any circumstances, and that they must never go into the yard when the nearby tide is out. Cora makes friends with a local boy, Roger, and his pack of comically English siblings, and soon enough the children break a few rules in pursuit of adventure in the small town. Unfortunately, their adventures in the forbidden church near the estate and their curiosity about the history of Cora’s ancestors prove to be more dangerous than they expected, and the twisted spirit of Long Lankin from the town’s old legend returns to continue his hunt for innocent blood.
The novel uses the general narrative of the folk song as background to the story we read: generations ago in Guerdon Hall a false nurse let Long Lankin in so that they could kill the baby and the mother when the lord of the estate was gone. In fact, the song lyrics make a ghostly appearance when Cora explores the forbidden attic centuries after the fabled murder, thus combining the real legend and Barraclough’s own invention almost seamlessly. She creates an origin for the song as well as a thrilling continuation of its nightmarish characters. While this appealed to me as a fan of the legend, it’s described well enough to be understood by a reader learning about the story for the first time, too. I loved reading little lines here and there which came directly from the song, and yet my prior knowledge in no way spoiled the novel’s plot or its ending. The plot has a traditional feel, but it was actually quite unpredictable and – to my eternal relief – there was no awkward and totally out-of-the-blue plot twist halfway through to ruin the ghostly atmosphere which Barraclough builds so well in the beginning. In short, the pacing of Long Lankin is superb: a well balanced mix of spirited childish adventure and bone-chilling supernatural suspense.
Several aspects of Long Lankin help it stand out from the other “Young Adult Adventure” books which were its neighbors on Barnes and Noble’s shelf. For one thing, the main characters are a young girl and a young boy, but they are childish enough that their friendship never develops into one of those overwrought romances which weigh down so many other stories. Their determined innocence fits well with the setting of post-war England, and the drama of Long Lankin comes almost entirely from the horrifying imagery and the mysteries which surround Cora’s family. It was a blessed relief to read an entire book without one moment of tragic teenage romantic agony. The writing and story crafting skills which Barraclough demonstrates captured my interest on their own, and I hope that young adults who read this book appreciate that scary stories can be gripping without any real romance at all.
There is true evil in Long Lankin – and that evil is terrifying – but even the good characters have depth and faults. Cora and Mimi are likeable and sympathetic, but they can be brats at times (as children are). Their Aunt Ida wants to do the right thing and protect them, but she also desires peace and solitude and does not have the patience to raise children. Roger and his brothers try to be dutiful sons, yet their adventurous spirits get them into trouble and the natural selfishness which comes with childhood blinds them to their parents’ struggles. These characters all grow and learn as they fight against the shadows of evil – and sometimes each other – but the children never quite lose the power of their innocence. The character development is good but never contrived, another way in which Long Lankin is better than most books I’ve read for the same age group.
I’ve mentioned how frightening the book can be, and I want to make it clear that I am a twenty-two year old girl who has loved ghost stories and scary monster tales since I was a child. Consider yourselves warned, therefore, when I say that this book gave me chills. It’s a little bloody and very suspenseful, but nothing to make you slam the book shut in disgust. Instead, the creepy foreboding mood which starts early on just builds and builds until the very last page of the book. Eerie dread which comes out of nowhere, the stomach dropping realizations that something is terribly wrong, and the paralyzing sight of a half-dead creature crawling outside your window: the book is full of these moments which would wake us up screaming if we dreamed them ourselves.
I would not recommend that anyone under the age of twelve start reading Long Lankin, despite the young age of its protagonists, unless those children have uncommonly obliging parents who do not mind waking up in the middle of the night to check windows. It’s scary stuff, even for me, and I’m a scary little person. Read Long Lankin if you love grim folktales, if you appreciate the charm of the English countryside and embrace the horrific past which so often accompanies that setting, and if you have several hours of uninterrupted reading time ahead of you. Once you start reading Long Lankin, you’ll be desperate to finish before you have to go to sleep.
Review by Morgan
Characters: **** (4 Stars)
Character Development: *** (3 Stars)
Plot: **** (3 Stars)
Writing: ***** (5 Stars)
Overall: ***** (4 Stars)
I found this book in the library by my old high school, when I was looking for a book by the same author I’d read as an early teenager; a book called Blue Girl which had punks and faeries and ghosts and just the sort of angst I had been into as a thirteen year old. Blue Girl wasn’t there, but Little [Grrl] Lost caught my eye with it’s painfully lame title and similar cover to the De Lint book I had been looking for. Sometimes self-indulgent teenage fiction is just the balm for the woes of a self-indulgent twenty-something, so I checked out Little [Grrl] Lost, with its shiny cover and outdated slang, and sat on the porch pretending to be a gothy freshman once more.
Charles De Lint can do a lot of things, and he does them well. I like his stories influenced by folklore, I like his urban fantasy, and I must say that his Young Adult fiction is pretty good too. Yes, Little [Grrl] Lost quickly became behind the times as far as teenagers and their interests are concerned, but when I read about a six inch tall “Little” with home made grunge tee-shirts and bright blue hair I couldn’t help but smile.
The novel’s main character is a fourteen year old human girl named T.J. who has had to move from the countryside and away from her beloved horse into the suburbs because her family’s finances have gone all sorts of downhill. (The details aren’t really explained, but the story starts after their move and the stock market isn’t exactly a riveting subject for most teenaged readers, so the plot doesn’t suffer). T.J. is a bit dull, a little too normal, and she clearly has no sense of fashion or adventure compared to the kids in the city where she now lives. Therefore, when the diminutive and feisty Tetty “Elizabeth” Wood storms out of her family’s home in T.J.’s wall, the angry Little (it’s what the six-inch-tall wall dwellers are rather obviously called) stirs up T.J.’s sense of style and personality as well as her belief in the unknown. The two teenagers band together despite their major differences in size and fashion sense; they’re both looking for independence and security in the big bad world. T.J. has no friends and no real personality. Tetty’s parents move away when they see that a “Big” has found their daughter and discovered their existence, so she’s now a little more on her own than she’d expected after her dramatic exit. There’s a children’s book author in town who seems to know about Littles and how they may be able to change back into the birds of their origins, so the two unlikely friends set off to find this woman though they have their own troubles along the way with hungry cats and creepy boys and life in the big city.
My favorite part of the book was after Tetty and T.J. find themselves separated. T.J. has to find the author on her own while perverts, gangs, and the promise of big-fat-trouble back home cause roadblocks on her quest. Tetty, on the other hand, finds herself in the company of more Littles, a Gnome with a talent for baking pies, a shriveled up old woman, and a complicated fairy wish quite literally weighing heavily on her mind and in her pocket. These are the details which made Little [Grrl] Lost seem timeless and universal despite the use of phrases like “as if” and “PDA”: a wish is dangerous if it places you in debt with a fairy; the ability to transform into a bird could be permanent or could disappear at a very inconvenient moment indeed; you’re safe in the goblin market as long as you remain polite and remember that nothing is ever free. These themes are true in ancient fairy tales, they’re true in “high fantasy”, and they’re just as true in De Lint’s fictional city where Littles learn about popular music on a stolen T.V. and human girls must be on the watch out for creepers and animal spies alike on every street corner.
I’d recommend Little [Grrl] Lost to grumpy middle school girls who are looking for a bit of magic in life, basically anyone who I would have been friends with as a teenager. The language is a little lame nowadays, and the plot isn’t as thought provoking as I know Charles De Lint has been in his other writing, but it’s a good story and a quick read. When I return it to the library this afternoon, I hope some kid will take it out soon, because it’s a decent introduction to an author who consistently adds just the right kind of magic to everyday life.
Characters: *** (3 Stars)
Character Development: ** (2 Stars)
Plot: *** (3 Stars)
Writing: *** (3 Stars)
Overall: *** (3 Stars)
Age Range Recommendation: Young Adult
Review by Morgan
I have very mixed feelings about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The concept of the novel is pretty cool; Ransom Riggs collected an assortment of vintage photos – seemingly unrelated despite the theme of incredible creepiness which binds them together – and wrote a novel about their subjects and settings. This appealed to me particularly because I am one of those losers who buys photos of old fashioned strangers from antique stores and yard sales. It’s a Lemony Snicket-style hobby and, in a way, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children managed to take that fascination in its own unique direction. At no point did I feel like he was ripping off Snicket or any other story of the sort. However, the creepy photos and interesting concept could not entirely make up for the novel’s disappointing turn of plot about one third of the way through.
The first few chapters of the book were amazing. The photos were mysterious, Jacob’s grandfather was a compelling character, and I found myself entirely engaged in the plot which started to unfold. Creepy Floridian landscapes! Unexplained floating children! Stories of monsters told by an old man with an armory in his basement! The woes of unappealing employment for teenagers! It was a promising start. When Jacob traveled to a remote island in Wales in his attempt to find the mysterious house which contained secrets from his grandfather’s childhood, I was all prepared for one of the best ghost stories of all time. The setting was atmospheric and the Welsh idiosyncrasies were amusing and when our intrepid protagonist began exploring the ruined house on his own I was nearly hopping with suspense. The abandoned orphanage, jars of suspicious stuff in a basement, the hidden stash of increasingly creepy photos: it all pointed to a chilling romp with some dead kids.
Then, immediately after the book really started to impress me, everything started going downhill. Instead of ghosts, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has time travel. Time travel is cool, I suppose, and the Home itself was interesting, but after such a creepy start I didn’t want to read what was essentially, The X Men As Children During World War II. Not only was the introduction of “time loops” a little anti-climactic, it wasn’t explained in sufficient detail to be believable. Yes, I know, time travel isn’t exactly realism, but I mean that the sudden turn of events was jarring and did not mesh with the novel’s beginning. I enjoyed reading about the peculiar children themselves; their powers, their lives at the Home, and their guardian. But from that point on the plot grew more and more far fetched, introducing evil mutated “peculiars,” under-developed villains called “wights,” U-boats, and a new plot which grew too big to be contained in one book. In fairness, Riggs is working on a sequel right now so the story has some time to grow into itself. I still couldn’t shake my disappointment, though, as I read on towards the end wishing that the book had stayed its original course and gone for creepy rather than action packed.
So who should read this book? I would recommend it to people who like Young Adult fantasies and aren’t easily frightened, but who also don’t mind a far-fetched story. I would recommend it more heartily to those folks like me who love weird old photos and unexplained shadows, to vintage fanatics, and to fans of Lemony Snicket and John Green (Snicket for the atmosphere, Green for the protagonist and narrative style). I would not suggest picking up this book if you are easily frightened, because there are some chilling descriptions and one ridiculously scary photo of a Mall Santa staring at some children with dead, pupil-less eyes. I just wish that the book in its entirety had managed to be as haunting as some of its better images and ideas.
Characters:**** (4 stars)
Character Development:*** (3 stars)
Plot:***** (5 stars)
Writing:*** (3 stars)
Overall:***1/2 (3.5 stars)
Review by Morgan.
Age Range Recommendation: Ages 14 and up. (Frightening ideas and some graphic violence.)
Hello my poor neglected readers. I had fully intended to review The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray in time for Hallowe’en, as it is one of my favorite scary books of all time, but alas I was figuratively drowning in school work, literally drowning in tea, and quite unable to form coherent sentences until now. However, November is an appropriately creepy month – especially here in Scotland where it gets dark by four in the afternoon – and the novel does indeed take place in November, so I’ll review it now.
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray has a slightly deceptive title; it suggests a ghost story about a young woman with a strange name. In fact, the book is less about a single haunting and more of a full-on supernatural onslaught in an alternative-history Victorian London.
The main character is a seventeen year old “wych-hunter” named Thaniel Fox, and he is one of those teenage protagonists blessed with an ability to perform any task a thousand times better than his adult counterparts. Thaniel and his mentor in wych-hunting Cathaline (in anticipation of your questions: No, not a single character in this novel has a normal name) stalk and destroy immensely terrifying creatures called wych-kin who roam the streets of London. London itself is different than it was historically in Victorian times: in an act of steampunk warfare the Prussians have bombed it from their airships roughly thirty years before our story takes place, and in certain parts of the city the wych-kin roam about unchecked. When stalking a cradlejack – a monster who steals and eats babies, infecting anyone it bites – Thaniel comes across a traumatized girl his own age with amnesia. This is Alaizabel Cray, and she is possessed by a cranky, super evil old wych. The story centers around Thaniel, Alaizabel, and Cathaline as they learn about Alaizabel’s past and realise that much darker forces are at work than the monstrous wych kin who are growing in numbers too ghastly to think about.
Some readers may be confused by the extremely varied ratings I’ve given each aspect of this novel. The writing and character development of this book aren’t too excellent, you can tell that the author was still in his early twenties when he wrote it and his style hasn’t been perfected yet. He overuses certain words, like “clotted” and “lacquered,” to remind the reader how very dark and scary his version of London can be. As for the characters, each person is unique and fascinating but sometimes they are a little too perfect. With the single notable exception of Artemis Fowl (by Eoin Colfer), no teenager could believably be so proficient in this many fighting techniques, magical applications, and generally bad-ass skills as Thaniel. He’s a likable character, levelheaded and cool, but when I first read this book I was fifteen years old and even then he seemed a little unrealistic. The same goes for Alaizabel Cray; she is sweet, clever, brave, and sympathetic every time she speaks or acts, and it doesn’t quite add up. Were I possessed by an evil spirit, I’d be grumpy and tired. The minor characters are more believable, they each have their own strengths and foibles which round out the cast quite nicely.
Despite Wooding’s occasionally questionable writing, the plot in The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray is one of the best I’ve read in YA fiction. He doesn’t just center around the relationship between Alaizabel and Thaniel, he writes a twisting, high-stakes tale which encompasses all of Victorian London from the police, to madhouses, to aristocratic cults, to beggar kingdoms, to serial killers. The wych-kin themselves are each described in spectacular detail; there are new creatures the reader learns about in nearly every chapter and each is grosser and more sinister than the last. Scrawny cradle-robbers with needle sharp teeth; the drowned splashing noises of the Draugs’ footsteps as they stalk their victims, the air growing cold and salty as they approach; the terrifying spectre which fills Alaizabel’s entire bedroom as it looms in darkness over her bed: this is the stuff of nightmares. Once you have read The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, you will never look behind yourself more than twice when walking at night, no matter what you might hear in your wake, for fear of getting devoured by Rawhead – the invisible stalker who only strikes on the third glance.
Chris Wooding has invented horrors I couldn’t even dream up myself, and I am notorious for screaming in my sleep from night-terrors. The wych-kin are truly traumatizing, but the villainous humans aren’t much nicer. The mysterious Fraternity – that dark cult which causes Alaizabel to become possessed as they carry out a nefarious scheme for power – is made up of corrupt policemen, cruel wych-hunters, and one truly nasty doctor who controls the city’s insane asylum. Their rituals are creepy and completely immoral, and although Wooding’s writing style sometimes detracts from the story he is extremely talented at inventing and describing magic in an original but comprehensible manner. The system of wards and summoning in the novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read and I was impressed by his inventiveness.
With the Fraternity and wych-kin for antagonists, those characters who remain in the moral middle-ground are evil enough themselves. Devil-boy Jack, a psychic little boy with his eyes sewn shut, has absolutely no qualms about letting his friends die for the sake of a plan. And he’s one of the kinder anti-heroes. Stitchface is one of Wooding’s greater creations. He’s a serial killer who drives a hansom cab at night, wearing a woman’s wig over his mask: a gaping face sewn together from the skin of prostitutes he murders. Yup, Stitchface is one of the good guys; the villains and monsters are way more horrifying than your regular psycho killer. Hence, my age recommendation of fourteen and above. “Not a bedtime book for those of a nervous disposition,” wrote The Times in its review of Alaizabel Cray, and I would have to agree. Read this book if you want to be terrified, and if you don’t mind feeling entirely on edge when walking home at night, because you’ll soon be counting the number of times you look over your shoulder and jumping at every noise.
So, why should you read The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, even though the writing is a bit iffy? The setting is vivid, the plot is engaging, it features one of the best duels I’ve ever read, and the story is entirely unique. It being a Young Adult novel, one could probably finish it in an evening, and that would be a November night well spent. It’s an atmospheric novel, perfect for this time of year when the nights are long and the weather dreary. Go and read it quickly, before November is over!
Young Wizards series by Diane Duane
Characters: ***** (5 stars)
Character Development: ***** (5 stars)
Plot: **** (4 stars)
Writing: ***** (5 stars)
Overall: ***** (5 stars)
Age Range Recommendation: 11+ (If you’re a precocious reader, start earlier.)
This is going to be a difficult series for me to review, and I’ll tell you why. If I had my way, most of my review would look like this: LASJHGLIUWGHMNO99Q;AURPTGABTAUE’RTYHVAOIUGVHEIRWNVGIUBTHNNUIV’G;EOAIUHAG’RIGBKNHVMGIKFKDOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGREADITALLTHETIMEREADITREADITREADIT!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!11!!!!!ONE!!!ONE!!!! For the sake of your eyes and my keyboard however, I will do my best to be coherent.
I don’t actually remember when I first picked up a Diane Duane book. I remember which one it was though, (the fourth) and where it was (the library). Sometimes that happens. I remember exactly how and where I read the first Harry Potter book, too.
Duane’s main characters, Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez, each find a mysterious book that tells them the risks and benefits associated with being a wizard. Each accepts, and they soon become friends, allies, and partners in magic. Duane’s approach to magic is immediately appealing. The wizards’ manuals explain to Nita and Kit that at the beginning of creation, the Lone Power (roughly analogous to Lucifer) brought entropy and death into the world. A wizard’s job is nothing more nor less than slowing down the process of entropy in the Universe. Each new wizard must undergo an Ordeal, after which he or she is considered a full practitioner of the Art. The Ordeal often involves a direct confrontation with the Lone One Itself.
The magic in Duane’s world is often difficult, nearly always rewarding, and frequently funny. It can seem nonsensical on occasion, and can lead to very unexpected results. The most compelling thing about it however, is that it feels real. Nita and Kit cannot simply wave a hand and get results. Each piece of magic they do has a price attached. Usually the price is simply that they feel winded or tired after completing a spell, but occasionally it is much higher. They must also learn to speak the wizardly Speech, the language all of creation understands. The studying is considerable, and it is completely self-motivated. At any minute any wizard might find him- or herself placed on assignment, meaning that somewhere in the Universe there is a problem to which they are the answer.
Duane’s wizardry is based on the Oath, which binds each wizard to the service of Life. At first glance this seems sweet, but relatively unimportant. Duane does not leave it alone though. She follows this premise to its logical conclusion, creating - not exactly a religion, but an entire way of life based upon the Oath. The books are not preachy. They do not tell the reader how to live life. Instead they give a picture of what life could be like, if everyone worked selflessly for the benefit of humanity. In the meantime there are aliens, sharks, monsters, and cranky gods, but the central message is about the rejection of negativity.
When Nita and Kit are younger, early in the series, they see the Lone Power as absolutely evil. As they get older however, they begin to see Its side more and more. They can even sympathize with It occasionally. Both of their characters have evolved and changed. The emotional and mental aspects of wizardry become more important, and the flash and bang of their starting years begins to fade. They become more skilled at wizardry, and they start to specialize. The books become more complex and less like childrens’ books. The fifth, and even the fourth book place the series firmly in the realm of Young Adult literature.
If spiritual speculation is not your thing, fear not! You will probably still like this series. Diane Duane is, all else aside, a fantastic science fiction writer. Her magic follows logical rules, and, as a bonus, it integrates into the physical, scientific world without a hitch. Her aliens are fascinating, with habits, appearances, and traditions that are, well, alien. She’s not scared of technology, which is something a lot of fantasy authors seem to shy away from. Nita’s little sister Dairine, who enters the wizardly scene in the third book, actually manages to partly turn her mind into a computer. There are chase scenes, giant bugs, huge battles, and even the Fair Folk. Legends and myths abound for those who like making connections, and Atlantis gets explained. In the fourth book, when Nita and Kit go to Ireland, there is even an extremely bossy and sarcastic kitten. Do you like time travel? It’s there. Do you like alternate universes? Oh boy, you got it! Do you have a soft spot for dogs? Kit’s dog Ponch will be your best friend. Of course, if you prefer cats, you can read the two spin-off books she wrote about the Grand Central Worldgating team - who happen to be feline.
The Young Wizards series really does have it all. The stories are told with a sense of humour that never fails to amuse. The settings are delightfully dated, so if you remember the nineties, get ready! Nita’s forays into the world of miniskirts are a blast from the past. Above all the books are quirky, fun, and charming. The world is well-developed, the plots are exciting, the characters are well-rounded and develop as the series continues, and hard truths are dealt with in a mature, sensible way. Diane Duane is a master of her craft. You should read these books, even if you think you’re too old for them. Trust me, you’re not.
List of Books:
1. So You Want to Be a Wizard
2. Deep Wizardry
3. High Wizardry
4. A Wizard Abroad
5. The Wizard’s Dilemma
6. A Wizard Alone
7. Wizard’s Holiday
8. Wizards at War
9. A Wizard of Mars
Looking For Alaska by John Green
Characters: **** (4 stars)
Character Development:*** (3 stars)
Plot:**** (4 stars)
Overall:**** (4 stars)
Age Range Recommendation: Ages 13 and up.
Morgan here. I first heard of YA author John Green via his wildly popular (with good reason) youtube channel Vlogbrothers, in which he discusses brilliant and hilarious subjects with his equally clever brother, Hank. At one point, he mentioned that the protagonist in his first novel, Looking For Alaska, was obsessed with the dying words of famous people, and I realized that I had to read the book as quickly as possible. Last words are morbidly fascinating, frequently funny, and it’s hard to dislike a character who has such a cool obsession. The book is not long and easy to read; at 221 pages I was able to power through it in an evening. While the writing is beautiful and the dialogue snappy there were moments when I had to tear my eyes away from the page to realize that I’d read something very deep and incredibly moving. I’m not always comfortable with having to think hard about morals and emotions, lacking them myself, but in Looking For Alaska there is enough sarcastic humor to balance out the wisdom. John Green treats teenagers with a respect not always present in books about high school. He has his protagonist Miles “Pudge” Halter say,
“When adults say, ‘teenagers think they are invincible’ with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old.”
My own fondness for Peter Pan-type manifestos aside, this little speech does a good job of summarizing the plot of the book as well as its message. The story concentrates on Miles, who leaves his dreary public school in Florida to attend Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama, where he meets the title character (and possibly the most compelling character in YA literature for quite a while) Alaska Young. Naturally, Alaska is gorgeous and quirky and smarmy and wise, but it is a mark of Green’s true understanding of teenage-hood that he doesn’t have Miles and Alaska launch into a romantic but doomed relationship. They both have significant others, neither of whom are bad or abusive. For the first half of the book, when we are not reading about Alaska, Miles’ new friends spend a lot of time planning epic pranks, which are entertaining but not gripping enough to make up the entire plot of the novel.
Luckily (or unluckily as the case may be), a disastrously fatal event occurs in the very middle of the book, right after the reader has become accustomed to the easy and fun environment, which seizes control and makes the plot as important as it is. Green calls the first half of the book “Before” and the second half “After,” and at first I looked at the heading of each chapter and demanded “before WHAT?” but it was explained soon enough, and I was rather upset (successfully, I suppose) by the abruptness of how quickly life can change. There are still moments of humor in the second half of the book, but this is where the intelligence of Green’s writing shines through: as Miles and his friends have to deal with tragedy while still attempting to live through high school. On rare occasions I got a little put-off by the extensive introspection and the presence of feelings, but I think a more sociable person would not have problems with this at all.
My only other complaint is that, while the characters are memorable, their development seems a little stunted and hard to explain, although this is probably an inherent problem with writing relatively short books, especially ones like this with a cast of several unique major characters. The portrayal of teenagers is spot on – I know this because I still sometimes think that I am fourteen years old and my reading-brain hasn’t changed much since I was – and it’s easy to forget that Green is in his thirties and has a young son. The characters are stressed but functioning (for the most part) and their occasional shortcomings are completely relatable because, hey, they’re trying to deal with death and understand World Religion at the same time. In this way, the book can be read by anyone who has ever been in high school and appreciated not only for its beauty and humor but also for its honesty.
Looking For Alaska has been challenged a few schools because of its treatment of sexuality and death, but as John Green aptly points out in his vlog “I Am Not A Pornographer,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHMPtYvZ8tM) it doesn’t glorify sex in any way; it shows quite accurately how awkward and uncomfortable it is to be a teenager. And, honestly, if someone is in high school and being told not to read the book by their concerned adult superiors, it’s all a bit late anyway. Teenagers know how unpleasant it is to be them, they don’t need to be shielded from their own realities. As Green says in his video on the subject, with enough wisdom to make Confucius weep, “Shut up and stop condescending to teenagers!” The treatment of a student’s death, too, is not offensive but rather completely accurate.
When I was in a high school (similarly, a rather small private school) a student died in a car crash and no one knew what to do. The administration tried to be understanding, but they were sometimes too overly-sensitive and were criticized either for not giving us the day off or, conversely, for assuming that we needed to be treated like children. The students wanted to express their grief but they seemed to be all jumping on one bandwagon to mourn a kid they barely knew. I was confused and everyone was confused and that is what life is like. Looking For Alaska captures this perfectly. Some of the dialogue seems to be lifted directly from the halls of my school and the writing is respectful without pandering to the reader or to the characters. No one is a villain, no one is a hero, everyone is just trying to sort out their lives and no reader should be able to find fault with this. I’ll repeat my earlier point: John Green knows what’s up. He’s got shit down to a science.