Category Archives: YA review

Review: Georges and the Jewels

The Georges and the Jewels – Jane Smiley

This is a very gentle, old fasioned sort of book.  And not to say that’s a bad thing.  It takes place in 1960’s California and focuses on 7th grader Abby, her family and the horses they’re training.  When Smiley was interviewed at Day of Dialog, she talked about writing a book for every year that Abby ages.  I personally don’t care, and I’ve never really pretended to leave personal preference out of my opinions here, but would also happily recommend this to middleschool kids, if I still worked with any.  I’ve never read any of Smiley’s adult books, but every once and awhile try to read something that is exactly the sort of thing I would never read hoping to be pleasantly surprised.  And while this didn’t manage to rekindle any long dormant girl-and-her-horse fantasies I may have had when I was little, I did really enjoy it and felt transported and like I really learned something about the place and time and horses.

Playing Catch-Up

Tap and Gown – Diana Peterfreund

Just as promised, Amy finally stopped acting like an idiot about her kidnapping in this book.  But it took her way too long to stop acting like an idiot about her relationship with Jamie.  I did not love-love-love this the way I did the earlier books in the series, but it also didn’t make me angry like those books sometimes did.  I think I’m ready to move on from Amy, but am very happy that as I do, I have a soon-to-be-released YA book of Peterfreund’s to look forward to.  I think, like Fire below, that my passionate crush on this series did this volume in it no favors.

Fragile Eternity – Melissa Marr

I don’t think I ever recorded here the related novel in this series, Ink Exchange, which I really liked.  But I loved this one and Wicked Lovely.  The plot goes to surprising places and I didn’t even mind that the budding romance of the first book was no longer as budding or romantic (which allowed the plot to move forward and the relationship to mature).  If I ever read another modern Fairie story again it’ll just be because I’m chasing after the appeal of this one.

Fire – Kristin Cashore

I know I’m pretty much alone in liking Graceling more, but I keep reminding people that it’s only because of how much of a crush I have on that book and not because this isn’t a stronger book.  I agree that this probably is.  And it tackles the male gaze, which is one of my favorite things ever to think about.  But I love the way that Cashore writes banter and sexual tension and those were missing from this book.  So I’ll just anxiously await whatever bits of Katsa and Po I’m given in her next book.

Once was Lost – Sara Zarr

I don’t personally find faith interesting, but I find Zarr interesting enough to go along for the ride when she explores it.

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

I’m sad that the first book in the series lived up to my expectations but this couldn’t handle the pressure.  I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it, I just hate that I only liked it.  The spoilery text of an email I sent to a friend in white text:

But one of my biggest frustrations with Catching Fire was the pacing of her “radicalization.”  That she was intuitive enough to read intention into the timing of the gifts she was receiving in the arena, but not to understand that her pin had become a symbol of the resistance.  And that an organized resistance was clearly forming but that it took her until the end to see it.  And I didn’t buy that the resistance would trust using her without her knowledge to go well, when that clearly didn’t work out for the government the first time around.  I did like the way she adjusted to the arena, that she realized things were going on that she didn’t understand and went with it.  I just felt more manipulated by the plotting of this story than the first one.

Lips Touch: Three Times – Laini Taylor

This book had the great premise of three fairytale love/forbidden desire stories that hinge on a kiss  and ended up being so much better than I expected while not really fulfilling the promise of the hook.  Another instance where David Levithan lied to me (I’m writing this bottom-up, see the review below) but I’m happier this time to have listened to him anway.  And as much as like Jim Di Bartolo’s illustrations, I don’t like the cover design.  Because it’s a much more serious, even grown-up, book than it seems.  And yes, each story in some way revolves around a kiss and the manifestation of physical desire, but I often related more to the other wishes and dreams of the characters.  The third story is an epic love story crammed into 110 pages that improbably has you siding with the evil witch-type by the end.  I’m not entirely sure how that narrative flip was even accomplished, but it was very skillful.  The first two stories have their charms, but the last is the one that really wowed me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever bought myself a real copy of a book after having read the ARC, but in this instance I might just for the illustrations.

Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater

Ultimately, I don’t think I liked this book.  At Day of Dialog, David Levithan swore up and down that this book transcended the otherworldly creatures (werewolves in this case) genre but I don’t think it does.  I think it was just okay with hints of being something wonderful.  Maybe someone else will read this and see what I’m missing.  There’s another story of doomed love that this reminds me of, but I can’t figure out what. *UPDATE.  The Universe just handed this to me on a plate: The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s got the same “when will he disappear..possibly forever” tension.* It is very moody and atmospheric, but I never became fully invested in it.

Ash – Malinda Lo

Other than the lesbian love story aspect of this, it’s a pretty traditionally told Cinderella story.  The Fairy Godfather is actually a tricky, non-altruistic fairy, and it’s here and with the love story, where Lo carves her own space, that the book is the most successful.

Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby

Technically this book has no business being here, as it has zero teen appeal, but I really enjoyed it.  And will stretch and say that it explores the flip side of the “Nick and Norah” music-obsessed-teen coin.  But it’s all about being a grown up, the disapointments and compromises and joys, and how not even a rock star can escape that.  This is the first Hornby book in years that I’ve enjoyed as much as I wanted to.

Scott Pilgrim vs.the Universe – Brian Lee O’Malley

I didn’t mind that Scott’s life kind of falls apart during this volume, I guess I’m turning into a cold-hearted grown up who didn’t expect his slacker lifestyle to be sustainable.  The cover is also very shiny and pretty.

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane – Suzanne Collins

I’d been interested in this series ever since reading Hunger Games, but didn’t want to read a library copy because the paperback is both cheaply printed and very popular.  So I finally bought my own copy and once I’d finished, went out and immediately bought the second, which I read in one sitting.  I think the strength of these is Gregor.  He’s really likeable and resourceful.  And if too many of the books in this roundup feature kids who are destined to save the world, having a character who doesn’t act too stupid about the whole thing helps the over-used conceit go down easier.  I’m a little bit worried, and will have to be careful not to get too spoilery, that Collins may rely to heavily on formula with her plots.  These two books both follow similar arcs and this worry of mine is related to the aspect of Catching Fire that I wasn’t too impressed by.  I really wish these were collected in one volume, something with higher quality paper, so that you could easily read the whole saga in one go.

Blackbringer (Dreamdark) – Laini Taylor

I’m upset because I thought the sequel to this was already out but will instead have to wait until September for it.  So while that’s lame, I really enjoyed the story.  I like the way it maintained internal logic really well, how the strength of the god character was used to trick it, how the evil character was as much an important part of fairy history as anyone, how it feels like a complete story while making you want more, and how it might have the first fairy world I’d actually want to live in.  It would be really easy for me to talk about appreciating this book for all of the pitfalls it avoided, but that’s not very exciting.  This books seems to have initially been marketed as middle grade but then as YA for the paperback edition.  Which is funny, because I think it’s an easy sell to adults as well.

Review: Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely – Melissa Marr

I’d been wanting to read this for awhile, but there were never any copies on the shelf. Now that it’s on the Summer Reading Club list, there were some new copies floating around. I took one with me on my Memphis trip.
And it was such a refreshing change from Need. On the surface there were similarities: faeries, a human girl who gets mixed up in it all and is destined to play a big part in their games, a not entirely evil faerie king who’s looking for a queen. But Aislinn, a teenager living in a disintegrating Steel Belt city so that she can try to avoid the faeries only she can see, is so much cooler and more resourceful than Zara. And the romance is the most fun I’ve read about since Graceling (which I just noticed is discounted to only $6.75 at Amazon, I’m buying a copy).

I think I’m most impressed by how well Marr straddles the difficulty of making a modern teenager’s strength in the face of ancient power both relatable and realistic. I genuinely like Aislinn and how she accepts the things she can’t change but forces everyone else to accept her on her own terms 90% of the time.

There’s a related novel already out, and a sequel coming before too long. And I’m there. I’m totally buying into this storyline. Which is a little unusual for me with books about faeries. I like them in theory more than I do in actuality, and I’ve rarely read beyond the first in a series. Maybe it’s just because I think Seth is dreamy, too.

Review: Need

Need – Carrie Jones

Instead of a plot summary, I will cheat and just say: Twilight. This book is Twilight with pixies and werewolves instead of vampires and werewolves. Its “appeal characteristics” are nearly identical to those of Twilight and it really is a perfect readalike for anyone who loved that series. Which is not to say it was any good (though the material its clearly seeking to emulate isn’t that great itself). It was often fun and exciting, but at the same time, the pace of revelation and acceptance is really bizarre.

This is the first in what was accidentally a series of farie books I read. It was very unsatisfying (though luckily the next couple weren’t). I don’t think it’s worth saying more, bothering to talk about how I didn’t really like the main character, because I don’t think this book is intended to stand on its own. To repeat: pass it along to kids who liked Twilight. It doesn’t have vampires, but it has strong and “dangerous” men who really want to take care of you. It also has a teenage girl plucked from obscurity who struggles to find a place for herself in a scary and mythical world, who thinks that martyring herself is probably the best way to accomplish that. So yeah.

Review: Elsewhere

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin

Oh man, am I behind on reviews. I am going to attempt to churn some out today, so forgive me if I fail to give each book its due. I’ve been stuck on Elsewhere for awhile, because I did like it and was moved by it, but it took me awhile to get there. It’s hard to care about a dead character who’s having trouble acclimating to the afterlife. She’s bored and depressed and feels cheated and doesn’t do much. But she’s generally likable, so that helps pull the reader along during the rough parts. There are loads of interesting characters, who react to being dead in novel-seeming ways; the story really picks up once Liz starts letting them in. There is a really powerful emotional arc, and the end is very satisfying.

I have genuine affection for this book, and was able on Saturday to get a teenage girl to check out Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (which I read and really liked a few years ago) because she had also liked this book. So..faint praise, but a genuinely touching book about making your place in the “world.”

Review: Marked

Marked: House of Night – P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Zoey lives in a world where vapirism isn’t inflicted upon you, it’s just something that randomly manifests itself during some kids’ teen years.  Vampyres are the most famous, charming and talented people around, but they’re also feared and treated like freaks.  When  Zoey is marked as a vampyre she immediately leaves her old life behind and moves to the house of night, a boarding school where you are trained and either turn into a full-fledged “vamp” or you die.  But before she can get there, she gets an extra mark, from the goddess of night that they worship.  It singles her out as a possibly powerful new force, making her enemies and possible allies.  And other than drinking blood and not liking to go out during the day, the vampyres are much more like witches (the modern, Wiccan conception of it) than they are vampires.

I hate to bite the hand that feeds me (and supplied me with a free review copy of this book) but this really wasn’t any good at all.  I can see the appeal to a younger teen, there are elements of an interesting story here, but it’s really just no good.  It’s common for vampire stories to be an exploration of fears about female sexuality, but this book just reinforces those fears in a weird way.  There is a lot of slut-shaming and the use of someone’s sexuality as a weapon against them.  There is a lot of talk about gay acceptance, but it’s always framed in a way that shows that while the characters accept their gay friend it’s in part because he doesn’t hang out with any of the other gay students.  Those boys are all too faggy feminine, which is gross and wrong and luckily Damien’s not like that!  And of all the “bad” things that happen throughout the course of the book, the most scarring to Zoey is an almost blow job she witnesses at the beginning of the book:

Yes, I was aware of the whole oral sex thing.  I doubt if there’s a teenager alive in America today who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys blow jobs like they used to give guys gum (or maybe more appropriately suckers).  Okay that’s just bullshit, and it’s always made me mad.  Of course there are girls who think it’s “cool” to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong.  Those of us with fuctioning brains know that it is not cool to be used like that.

She seriously never shuts up about it.  But I think the above paragraph kind of shows how the authors are trying hard to be both purient and preachy.  For a book with such a squeaky-clean, sex-negative viewpoint there is a lot of cursing.  Which I have no problem with, if used well.  But all of the “fucks” in this book were just weird.  Especially when Zoey also says “poopie” a lot.

I don’t generally worry about what parents will think when I give kids books.  Working in a public library in a liberal city, I’m lucky that way.  But I don’t know of any parent who might read this book and find it appropriate.  Conservative or religious families would find the Goddess-worship and religion-bashing upsetting, liberal families would find the tone-deaf use of minorities (besides the homosexual weirdness Zoey’s Native American, and it’s not necessary or handled in a non-stereotypical manner at all), sexuality and thin fetishization offensive.  It’s writing and plot are best suited for younger teens, but the content is often more mature than that.

To me this is the exact opposite of the Vampire Academy series. The plot of which is more twisted and fun, and the romance is well, more twisted and fun.  The “bad mother” plotline is meatier (she’s a fierce warrior who didn’t want to sacrifice her independence to raise her daughter, vs a weak woman who stopped caring about her kids when she married a fundamentalist) and the questions about sexuality are actually interesting.

Review: Eon

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn – Alison Goodman

*I’ve been sitting on this post for almost two weeks.  I think I’m just going to post it as is, because I’m never going to be able to get down everything I thought about.*

In a vaguely Ancient Chinese world, spirit dragons hold great power that they are willing to share with designated humans.  Eon(a) will be competing for the honor of being a Dragoneye, but faces an uphill battle because of her crippled leg and because she’s secretly a girl.  The only person who knows this secret is her master, but if they are found out they will both be executed.  Things don’t go as planned, of course, and Eon’s position and power ends up being both greater than imaginable and more precarious.

There is a lot going on in this book.  TV night it became a joke that everytime something was mentioned, I would pipe up that that thing was a major element of my book.  And they were such disparate things that it seemed like I was lying.  There’s dragons and magic and swordfighting and lots of gender issues (even a MTF transsexual who is handled respectfully as is her romance with a hunky eunich) and politics.  The first third of the book is the most exciting, the pacing is so fast that it was making me anxious for a big presentation at work, I couldn’t separate my own adreneline from Eon’s.  There is some annoying, unstatisfying stuff that happens in the middle, where you want to shake Eon for not figuring it out fast enough, but it passes without too much head-banging-on-desk.

This, like Hunger Games, is a book that has tons of action and excitement but never shies away from the fact that its protagonist is a girl.  And like Hunger Games, it’s cover is designed to trick boys into reading it.  Some will be mad at the trick (like one amazon reviewer whose son could not handle the menstruation references) but most will get caught up in the story.  If it ever sits on my shelf for more than ten minutes, I don’t think I’ll have any problem getting kids to check this out (certainly not if it gets picked up as soon as I put it on display).