Sunny never fits in. She is albino, American, and her family just moved back to Nigeria. A gifted soccer player, she cannot play outside in the sun for fear of her pale skin burning.
Because of her alienation, she’s accepted by the Leopard people, Africans who have learned to tap into their spirit powers. Despite the shock of finding out she has magical abilities, Sunny is able to harness them quickly. Within weeks, she learns that she and her new friends Orlu, Sasha and Chichi are a quartet drawn together for a purpose. They must use their powers to stop Black Hat, a renegade magician responsible for a spate of child kidnappings. Black Hat hopes to release a chaos demon that will obliterate every living thing on earth.
Why I picked it up: Friends told me it was the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”
Why I finished it: This book is powered by a different sensibility because it is steeped in African myth and magic. At one point Sunny complains about a man dying as a result of a wrestling match that is cheered on by thousands. The man’s widow tells her that life is full of death and it is not necessarily the worst thing to pass on to the spirit world. Also, Sunny’s delight at finding a place where she fits in is palpable as she throws herself into her dangerous training regime.
I'd give it to: Brandon, a risk-taker, who would love that the kids his age are given dangerous tasks that could maim or kill them if they screw up.
The immer underlies and overlies our reality, though it’s not in the same dimension. Places that are far away in our space may be close in the immer, and vice-versa. It can be used to travel between stars quickly, but it is not without dangers. At the edge of the explored immer is a Bremer outpost, Embassytown, on a world its inhabitants call Arieka.
The Ariekei (Hosts) are large, insectile, coral-like things that crabwalk and speak simultaneously with two mouths. Their biorigging technology borders on miraculous -- they grow everything from homes to bridges to batteries. They speak Language with pure intention (they cannot lie). They are unable to perceive when humans speak their language until a breakthrough is made and human Ambassadors who can communicate with them are developed.
Avice Benner Cho grew up in Embassytown, but escaped into the immer. She returns years later with her husband, a researcher fascinated by Language. Then the first Ambassador from off-planet arrives from Bremer. His words are a drug to the Hosts. Their need to hear his voice becomes their sole purpose for being, and infects even their buildings and technology, threatening the Arekei civilization and also Embassytown itself.
Why I picked it up: China Miéville’s books are always pleasantly mind-boggling. Plus Jenn Northington and I agreed to meet and talk about this book at BEA, as we did in previous years about The City & The City and Kraken.
Why I finished it: Miéville rarely stops to define terms or explain (which is one of the things I love about his books) but instead lets his words’ and worlds’ strangeness wash over readers. For example, Bren, who Cho encounters early in the book, is described as “cleaved,” but the book takes a long time to make the weirdness of the Ambassadors clear and, by inference, clarify Bren’s situation (he’s half a person).
Six new students arrive at the prestigious Morning Glory Academy, having all dozed off in the car that picked them up from the airport. They sit through an orientation speech. They discover they all have the same birthday. Then, when Jade calls home, she finds that her father doesn’t know who she is. When another student, Casey, asks about it, she’s told that it’s a strategy parents are encouraged to follow to help build self-reliance. She doesn’t think her parents would ever do that. She’s told she is right about her parents. Then she’s shown their corpses hanging in a dungeon below the school.
Collects Morning Glories #1 through #6.
Why I picked it up: I was waiting for these comics to be published as a collection. There seemed to be a good buzz about the monthly comic at Zanadu by issue #3, but when I wanted to buy the comics I had already missed the first few issues.
Why I finished it: I decided I liked it somewhere between when a cattle prod is used on Casey and when teachers try to drown everyone in detention.
I'd give it to: Emma, who attends a private middle school. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her school, and she clearly doesn’t hate it, but this book about teens who refuse to break despite being isolated and tortured by their prestigious private prep school would be a fun read for her.
Caroline knows that living in a cave in a wooded park in the middle of Portland, Oregon, is not the life for everyone. But she and Father are different. Other people would not understand this better life they have made for themselves. They are happy and have everything they need. But when they are discovered, the authorities decide this is not the life for a young teen and give them an alternative on a farm. There Father becomes paranoid about helicopters and other watchers that they escape to the streets.
Why I picked it up: Of all the books on YALSA's 2010 Alex Awards list, this one really jumped out at me, especially when I heard it was inspired by the true story of a teen discovered living in Portland’s Forest Park where I used to go hiking regularly.
Why I finished it: There were so many moments when I was waiting for Caroline to make that right decision and change her life for the better, but she had only one seriously deranged adult to guide her. I had to find out if she had a chance for a normal life.
I'd give it to: My coworker Kwami, with whom I will be able to discuss the elements of education versus brainwashing in this novel, and what it says about the world at large.
It's 2785 A.D. in the 18th century agrarian village of Cypress Corners. Devon does not accept that he can't marry Rachel. He also wonders why the sky is metal.
Why I picked it up: Gene is a huge Harlan Ellison fan, and I knew it would infuriate him if I reviewed this first.
Why I finished it: I couldn't stop looking at Devon's chin. Robinson's artwork is wonderfully stylized, equally suiting the Amish-like villagers and the other world Devon discovers when he’s on the run from a torch-bearing posse.
I'd give it to: Brett, a huge fan of The Village, the last good M. Night Shyamalan movie. They start off similarly, then go off in very different directions.
Graphic novel-style stories from Cunningham's experiences working in a psychiatric hospital in the UK, each one touching on the experience of living with or caring for someone with a particular mental illness.
Why I picked it up: I liked Cunningham's writing on health and was interested in how he would handle a delicate topic like mental illness.
Why I finished it: I was deeply moved by the caring message of the stories. Cunningham made it clear that the biggest challenge for most people living with mental illness is rejection by family, friends, and community. While the work that he did in the hospital helped people cope with their brain-related symptoms, it’s clear the rest of us need to help reduce the stigma.
I'd give it to: My coworkers at the library, because I recognized the behaviors of many of the people in our neighborhood. I think we could use the book to start a discussion on treating these patrons as a part of our community. And a friend from my university days who has bravely dealt with bipolar illness because this book would reassure her that she is doing really well with a big challenge.
Janie hides in the library during lunch, and gets humiliated on the school bus because she stepped in fragrant goat poop during morning chores for her mother’s mini-farm. To get close to a boy she admires from afar, she joins Jam Band at school, despite the fact she doesn’t play an instrument. There, a boy whose real name is Monster takes her under his wing and gives her a bass guitar. High school starts to look a little better.
Why I picked it up: The inside jacket talks about Janie learning to “live large” with confidence. My school’s eighth graders are transitioning to high school, so this sounded appropriate for them.
Why I finished it: For the funny scenes about Janie’s home life, like when her mother announces on her blog that she is hosting a hootenanny at the farm. (Janie wants to move to Peru.) Also, her mother is considering sewing all their clothes at home so she can write about it on the blog.
I'd give it to: Kenneth, who carries his own microphone around school in a velvet bag, because he’d like the musical emphasis of this book. And Condee, who would appreciate the civil rights sub-plot of Janie and her friends researching a school project about a local activist.
It has been three years since Mia decided to stay -- to live for her boyfriend Adam, after the accident that killed her family and nearly ended her life. Now living in New York, she’s on the fast track at Juilliard.
But she unexpectedly stopped returning Adam’s calls and emails shortly after she left Oregon. Adam has been unable to understand how Mia could do this after what they meant to each other. After six months of pity and self-loathing, he channeled his despair and anger into two phenomenal and dark chart-topping albums with his band, Shooting Star. He is rich, famous, and dating a hot Hollywood starlet.
On the eve of a worldwide tour, Adam is still an emotional train wreck. While wandering the streets of New York City, he happens on a classical concert featuring Mia. The chance encounter leads them to revisit their past, their grief and their feelings for each other.
Why I picked it up: I was curious to see how Forman would follow up Mia’s survival ordeal in If I Stay. I also enjoy books about musicians, having been one myself.
Why I finished it: Adam’s angst while trying to cope with the tabloid world in which he finds himself. When he blows up during an interview after being asked about he and Mia having been an item in high school, he realizes he has alienated his band mates, dreads the upcoming tour and knows his current romantic relationship is shallow and publicity driven.
I'd give it to: My old high school bud, Charlie, who got seriously dumped and never really recovered. A book this insightful might have given him some hope, or at least some understanding, back when he needed it.