Hannah is Finnish, bipolar, biracial, and fond of wearing purple dresses in honor of her father, whose spirit she can still hear and see. At times, her swan necklace comes alive to protect her. After attacking her aunt with a rolling pin, she runs away to her mother’s house in Portero, Texas. But her mother wants nothing to do with her. Students tag her as a transient who won’t last in town. She strikes a deal with her mother: she will fit in within two weeks or leave forever. At school, Hannah falls in lust with Wyatt, a boy who fights demons. The town is above doors that open to other dimensions/worlds. Supernatural creatures appear all over town, with gory results. Hannah weasels her way into a hunt with Wyatt, where she is swallowed purposely as bait.
Why I picked it up: It yelled, “CREEPY FANTASY!” at me when I read the book jacket.
Why I finished it: Despite some failings in explanation of the magic, plot holes and odd pacing, there was enough that was fresh to keep me reading. Hannah’s schizophrenia made me wonder whether she was a reliable narrator. I also enjoyed the innovative monsters, especially the siren-like Lurks that draw students into the glass panels at school.
I'd give it to: The story’s matter of fact tone will attract fans of BTVS like Brenda, who will also appreciate the sex and foul language. Older teens like Liz, who enjoyed Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Highway to Hell.
Marvel’s Noir comics set popular superheroes in an alternate universe that is crime-ridden, morally ambiguous, and stuck in the earlier half of the 20th century. Daredevil’s origin story and an early adventure are retold in this setting.
Matt Murdock, blind and orphaned, couldn’t rise above his humble roots to become a lawyer, as he did in the “regular universe.” He works as an investigator for Foggy Nelson. At night, in costume as Daredevil, he tries to keep Hells Kitchen safe. But he’s manipulated by a woman he can’t forget and the crime bosses he’s trying to fight. In the end, he must also face the Bull’s Eye Killer.
Why I picked it up: The cover, in black, white, and red, reminded me of Frank Miller’s Sin City.
Why I finished it: Apparently, I’m a sucker for Daredevil mysteries. Brian Bendis’ and Ed Brubaker’s recent work on Daredevil showed me that these stories work best when treated as a crime novels. Also, the use of screen tones, rain, and an abundance of shadows in the art throughout really helped create a dark tone that went well with the reworked origin story.
I'd give it to: Frank, who likes both Raymond Chandler and Batman.
This coffee table book is filled with pictures of birds, organized according to the trait that makes them most amazing, and has just enough information on each bird for a quick read. Deadliest enemy, deepest dive, longest toes, best thermal engineer, best drummer, the list goes on and includes both the super cool and the super bizarre.
Why I picked it up: The bird on the cover looks SERIOUS. (It’s a shoebill, the most patient feeder.)
Why I finished it: I wasn’t sure how to articulate it until I was reading an X-Men comic the other day. Because of the variety of mutants on Utopia and their superpowers, I realized these birds are mutants, too. Some of their mutations are useful, some deadly, and others are just funny looking. (I’m still waiting for the bird that shoots beams out of its eyes or has adamantium claws.)
It’s fun to flip to a random page, but it’s even more fun to find the occasional naughty categories hidden among the record holders. Know which bird has the largest testes and why? I didn’t, but I do now.
I'd give it to: Alfred Hitchcock fans like my friend Ben, because it would remind him how terrifying a flock of seagulls can be (and I’m not talking about Mike Score’s old hairdo).
For her high school science class, Cat must take a semester long look at a randomly chosen topic, cavemen. She decides to take the position that hominids lived better and more healthy lives than we do. So, for 200+ days, she lives like a cavewoman. She eats only raw, unprocessed food and gives up technology, including cars and other labor saving devices. She loses quite a bit of weight and fends off several guys who come on to her because they now think she’s hot. She also realizes she has been holding a grudge that has affected her more than anyone else.
Why I picked it up: The guilt of having an advanced reader copy on my shelf for a long time, but not having read it, finally got to me.
Why I finished it: This book felt very Meg Cabot-ish -- it is mostly clean, and Cat’s convoluted path to true love should entertain girls everywhere. The message about self-worth and identity feels timely.
I'd give it to: Two students I know: Angela (who has the science bug and sees herself as an ugly duckling) and Eliza (who needs to curb her self-destructive behavior by cleaning up her emotional house).
Thirteen-year-old Brian is on his way to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness in a small plane. The plane crashes into the lake and sinks. He is the only survivor. He must survive in the forest with only an old windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother gave him for his birthday. He must figure out how to find food, hunt, and keep himself safe from the bugs and the wildlife.
Why I picked it up: I bought a sack of books at a rummage sale. I chose this because it was one of the only YA books for sale, and it had the Newbery Honor Medal on the cover.
Why I finished it: I assumed it would have a happy ending, and wanted to know how Brian kept himself alive. .
I'd give it to: Gigi, my daughter, when she is ten. I want her to understand that too many kids in the world need to struggle to survive (though not in the way Brian does), and I feel like this would help me start that conversation with her. Jacob, who grew up in a large city, and at twelve has never been in a forest for more than six consecutive hours.
This book on the political life and behind the scenes political struggles of Senator Joe McCarthy is accessible to a high school reader but doesn't gloss over the power games and betrayals. For example, Nixon was initially sent by party higher-ups to tutor McCarthy on the basics of Communism after his first fiery speech, but later served as Eisenhower's emissary to tell McCarthy to back off from his investigation of the Army. It's a straightforward account of the life and political maneuverings of a man whose name is the root of a word that’s a political insult. The book draws from historical sources on all sides of the issues (discussed in the very helpful bibliography and source notes) to make a solid and useful history of a man who inspired both fear and righteous anger.
Why I picked it up: I really loved the engrossing details in Giblin's previous book on John Wilkes Booth, and I wanted to find out more about the Cold War era politics.
Why I finished it: While some people came off as more noble than others, nobody in this story was a saint. Everybody made compromises to retain political power and the only reason McCarthy's tactics worked so well was that the electorate ate it up with a spoon. When McCarthy's poll numbers dropped, his political supporters dropped away, too. Voters got an issue they could be passionate about and the politicians got something they could sway elections with. Everybody won, in the most horrible possible way.
I'd give it to: David, my conservative pal, so we can find even more common ground in our views on the difference between true believers and mere political climbers.
The last collection of Ultimate Spider-Man, which takes place in a different universe than most Marvel comics. Peter Parker is still in high school, in modern day, and is meeting villains and supporting characters for the first time.
Why I picked it up: Gene used to give me a new volume every year on my birthday. Then he stopped, the cheap bastard. But now I'm so addicted to Bendis' writing that I buy everything he writes (even though the back cover features Venom, one of my least favorite characters).
Why I finished it: The magic of the Ultimate universe is that Bendis can look over decades of Spider-Man history, pick and choose the most interesting characters and storylines, and knit them into a much more cohesive and satisfying whole. The first arc is narrated by Eddie Brock (Venom's alter-ego), sitting on a park bench, who tells a succession of listeners his story. Eventually we realize why they haven't called the cops - he is eating them, one by one.
I'd give it to: Theo's homeschool friends, who needs a solid, well-written introduction to superheroes. I'll start them on Volume 1, and maybe we'll turn it into a book club.