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One Word from Sophia

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by wally tagged picture book

Kissing in America

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged coming of age

Eva doesn’t like to tell anyone that her father died in a plane crash because they always want to know every awful detail. Instead she says that he died of a heart attack in his sleep. It’s the death she wishes he could have had, painless and peaceful. The first person that she tells the real story to is the very handsome, very popular, and very athletic Will, who gets help with his writing at her Friday tutoring session. He has also lost someone close to him (his brother) and understands how hard it is to deal with loss when everyone expects you to move on. For the first time she has a connection that could lead to something more. But after a very romantic kiss, Will has to move across the country. Eva desperately wants to see him again, but there is no way she’ll fly. She talks her best friend Annie into competing on a game show so they can take a cross-country bus trip.

Why I picked it up: A book review mentioned that Eva annoys her mother by devouring romance novels. The reviewer wanted the title of this book to match one of Eva’s favorite romances: Cowboys on Fire.

Why I finished it: Eva wrote poetry with her father, and she hasn’t wanted to write since he died. Now she connects with Will through her favorite poems by Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poems in their letters and at the beginnings of the chapters made me feel the intoxication of first love.

It’s perfect for: Rose, who’s starting to notice that her mom doesn’t have all the answers. Eva’s mother is no help at all at dealing with loss. Mom wants to get rid of every memory of Eva’s father and force herself to get over her pain. Eva finds other people in her life to help her grieve and grow. I think Eva would be a good role model for Rose.

Nnewts Book One Escape from the Lizzarks

Link to this review by wally tagged fantasygraphic novel

Herk is a young Nnewt whose small legs are not as strong as he wants them to be. His home life consists of playing with his little sister and watching over his parents’ eggs. When their little village is attacked by scaly Lizzarks, his parents are killed but he manages to escape. (His sister is away at a sleepover.) He goes on a long quest for a new home and stronger legs. His journey takes him to the palace of the most ancient Nnewt, King Anthigar, who tells him how he can get stronger legs by defeating the Snake Lord. 

Why I picked it up: I’ve enjoyed Doug TenNapel’s other graphic novels for kids, especially Bad Island and Cardboard. No matter how strange the setting he always makes families central to the story.

Why I finished it: This book, the first in a series, has many strange creatures including the cute little Nnewts themselves, with their round heads and big eyes, and the jagged, scaly Lizzarks, with their angular limbs and angry expressions. TenNapel’s drawing style is clean and bold, and he imbues all of his scenes with the energy of an excited kid.

It’s perfect for: Chelsea, who would like how Herk and his little sister Sissy are play-fighting at the start of the story. After Herk is separated from his family, he wishes he could see Sissy again even though they were fighting before she left for her friend’s house. She’d also like how the parents are reunited in a strange realm after their deaths, the outlines of their bodies meeting and singing about how happy they are to be together again.

The Serpent King

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Dill lives in a dead-end small town in Tennessee, the same town where his father, a snake-handling fundamentalist preacher, was sent to prison because of the child pornography on his computer. His infamous father makes things difficult at school for Dill, but he has two good friends that allow him to get by: Travis, a “wizard” staff-wielding fan of a certain fantasy writer, and Lydia, author of a popular retro-fashion blog. Their senior year is just beginning, and Lydia is already making plans to go away to New York for college. Travis is just trying to survive his abusive father. Dill worries about being left behind. And then a tragedy tears their group apart.

Why I picked it up: I have always had a curiosity about churches that worship with serpents. Some offshoot branches of the Christian church believe Mark 16:17-18 (“These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will…pick up snakes with their hands.”) means that those who are worthy can pick up venomous snakes without danger. I wanted to find out about the beliefs and practices of people who choose to worship this way.

Why I finished it: The snake-handling was a big part of the story, but by no means the whole story. Dill is a complicated character who plays guitar and composes songs but is also prone to depression, partially due to his family situation. His mother, instead of supporting him, feels like it is her duty to back her husband, even implying that Dill should have taken the rap so the ministry could continue. Lydia and Dill have a real friendship, one built on getting through tough life events together. And a surprise visit to their town by the famous author that Travis worships is a real highlight of the book.

It’s perfect for: My student Kya, who is way into fashion. Lydia spends much of the book looking for pictures of fashion and trends to post on her blog for her hundreds of thousands of fans. Kya would learn a lot as Dill and Lydia discuss the practicalities of getting out of town after high school and starting their lives. Kya will be doing the same thing in two years, and I think this book could get her thinking realistically about her future.

100 Sideways Miles

Link to this review by robert tagged coming of age

Teenager Finn Easton may be obsessed with death, but can you blame him? When he was seven, Finn’s mother died because a dead horse fell on them from a bridge while they were taking a walk. In the time the horse fell off the bridge and hit them, the earth moved 100 miles in its orbit about the sun. Finn was crushed in the accident, and has suffered from severe epilepsy ever since. The distinctive scar pattern where Finn’s spine was repaired looks like this:


His well-meaning father added to Finn’s woes when he used Finn’s mismatched eyes and the scar pattern on his back as identifying features of the aliens in a popular science fiction novel.

Finn collects lore about a local man-made disaster, the 1928 St. Francis Dam collapse. He thinks of the world as a “knackery,” where people and things are constantly being rendered into components for reuse. (The dead horse that fell on Finn and his mom was on its way to the rendering plant.) He’s not some desperate loner, though. He’s on his high school’s baseball team with his best friend and star athlete, the uninhibited Cade Hernandez. Add to the mix the new girl, Julia, a transfer student who is lying low after a scandal. Finn’s attraction to her is mutual, and nurtured by outings into the desert (with Cade as chaperone). 

Everything is going well for Finn, better than ever, when Julia moves back home.

Why I picked it up: I saw it among the new YA fiction at my local library and the title intrigued me.

Why I finished it: Finn presents himself as a walking, talking, wisecracking identity crisis. Is he a science fiction character or a maimed boy? An adequate but not great high school athlete or the guy who, during an epileptic fit, pissed himself in front of the girl he likes? A young man with an open future or a collection of components for the knackery? The boy left behind or the young man on a road trip out of state for the first time? Finn’s efforts to juggle these and to just be himself are recounted with humor and just the right amount of profanity. And he has an uncanny ability to turn any day into a good day, even the one during which he comes to after a seizure to find himself on a veterinarian’s examining table.

It’s perfect for: My younger nephew and nieces, whose dogs love rolling in rotting animals like Finn’s dog Laika.  My college roommate, Hans Callenbach, who never had an otherworldly being named after him, but was sick and tired of meeting fans of his father’s book Ecotopia.

Readalikes: Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook features Declan, whose search for positive and uplifting Nordic death metal is misunderstood. Like Finn, folks think he’s far moodier than he really is. And a heavily fictionalized graphic novel about the life of the real Laika, after whom Finn named his dog, is Laika by Nick Abadzis.

Oyster War

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novel

The oyster business is the heart of Blood Haven, a town on Chesapeake Bay. The town loses about ten watermen a week to drowning (they’re superstitious and won’t learn to swim), but the real problem is oyster pirates. Their special dredge not only removes the oysters, but will soon make the beds barren. Davidson Bulloch, who served in the Confederate Submarine Battery Service, is hired to eliminate the pirates using a specially outfitted steamship. Bulloch thinks the magic the pirates seek to employ is nonsense, and believes even a ragtag crew like his will make short work of the oyster thieves. Unfortunately, he’s mistaken on both counts.

Why I picked it up: Towle co-created the beautiful Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean. And Oyster War is beautiful, from its large size to the “mother-of-pearl” embossed title on the cover. 

Why I finished it: Towle’s subtle colors and the high-quality paper made this a pleasure to both look at and read. The action scenes, particularly the fights, are cartoony enough to look fun, but realistic enough to add to the tension. Plus there’s a selkie, a sea monster, a ghost, a decommissioned sub pressed back into service, and more. Good stuff.

It’s perfect for: Sarah loves to booktalk quirky books and pull odd details out of others to get teenage patrons to check them out. She’d love that a Marshall Islands stick chart, the Portuguese martial art jogo do pau, and Chessie all put in appearances in this one, and she’ll find just the right approach to get teens to snatch it out of her hands.

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