ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT BOOKS: A Review

Recently I read another “book about books,” Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, book two of “The Great Library Series.” Originally written for young adults and in the “steampunk” tradition, the book appeals to young and older readers alike. It is an Alternate History, where the great library of Alexandria survived, instead of burning, and by the time of this novel, it is all-powerful and in complete control of all knowledge. Personal ownership of books is forbidden although people have access through tablet-like devices to the words and world of books. This situation makes black-market books, especially old ones, very big business.

The story opens as Jess, a young bookrunner, is being chased by Library Gardas and automatons across the busy marketplace. With the help of his twin brother, Brendan, who is described as “a schemer,” Jess escapes. Shortly afterward, the boys’ father sends Jess into “Library Service” to spy on its activities and to determine the location of ancient books, so Brendan can steal them to further the family’s illegal business. Jess’s training is rigorous, and he ends up making friends with other candidates who compete against him. Exciting book-related and library-related adventures ensue, and one turns the pages with anxiety and even dread at times. Action-fueled scenes bring the fatal “Greek Fire” of the alchemists, an encounter with an inklicker, and many encounters with bookburners The Library is seeking to prosecute.

Jess and his friends are well-drawn, and the author makes the reader care about what happens to each of them, even the ones who at the beginning are arrogant or worse. Characterization, a skill I seek in every book I read, is second only to the fast-paced, breath-holding pace of the action and plot. This is a fun read and promises much in the next book of “The Great Library Series.”

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Cynthia Kadohata’s YA novel, A Place to Belong (published 2019), is set at the end of WWII and tells the story of a young Japanese girl, whose family had been interned recently at a camp in the U.S.,and has decided to take advantage of the “deal” the government gives them to return to Japan after Hiroshima. Having spent her whole life trying to appear more American and less Japanese, the teenager must now act less like the “spoiled, American teen” and learn her family’s Japanese ways. Japan, the family finds, is not the Japan her parents longed for, but the poverty-stricken, occupied shell of their home country.

This Newberry Award-winning author of Kira-Kira, a hit with both middle school students and early high-schoolers, once again deals with YA angst, relationships, and trying to “fit in.” Kadohata explores the Japanese concept of kintsukuori, “fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever.” This young woman’s broken spirit is mended, and her character is molded into something strong and beautiful as she deals with the situations and circumstances which occur in the page-turner.

I give this one 5 stars out of 5 stars!

TUESDAY TEASER

Friday’s (May 17) post on “Friday First Liners” here included the first line of Wendy Mills’ All We Have Left. Today, since I just finished the book, instead of writing a “tease” from where I am reading, my Tuesday Teaser will be excerpts from the back cover of the paperback YA novel.

” A haunting and heart-wrenching story of two girls, two time periods, and the one event that changed their lives–and the world forever.”

Jesse, aged 16, searching out the truth about how her older brother died during the 2001 World Trade Center attacks is one thread/story.

The other thread, set in 2001, the era of the attack, brings Alia, a sixteen-year-old Muslim, who is a typical American teenager in every sense of the word, dealing with strict parents, demanding school assignments, complex relationships with friends, especially boys, and who is the girl caught in the flames mentioned in the Friday First Liners post.

As it “interweav[es] stories from past and present, All We Have Left brings one of the most important days in our recent history to life, showing that love and hate have the power to celebrate…the future.”

IT IS AN EXCELLENT READ that is going out to my Little Free Library…now!

TUESDAY TEASER

This meme encourages the reader to take a random few lines from where he/she is reading or will read and quote them in hopes of teasing other readers into reading the same book. It is hosted by the Purple Booker and has a huge following. (When posting your teaser, be sure to mention the title and author of the book; no spoilers, please).

I have selected “The Quiet Child” by John Burley as my letter “Q” book for the Alphabet Challenge.  Here is a brief teaser from the novel.

“Sean emerged from the aisle with two cartons of ice cream in hand, the coffee and sugar balanced on top. He set them down on the counter and walked over to the rack of comics in the shop’s entryway. A dying glimmer of sunlight spilled through the door’s window, illuminating the back of the boy’s head, a hint of scalp visible beneath the dusky blonde crew cut, the tan neck bent slightly to study the illustrated covers.” Sean was the son allowed to go into the store with his father. Danny, Sean’s brother is the quiet child who was told, “…I want you to stay here [in the car]…There was no dissent from Danny–Would there ever be”?

I am not sure about what the book entails, but I suspect the quiet child is autistic, and I am very interested in autism because of contact with autistic children and young men and women over fifty years of teaching where autistic pupils were mainstreamed (or undiagnosed) with other children/young adults. In this novel, the idea is stretched into something almost supernatural as the “quiet child” is shunned as one who brings ill fortune and even disease to those around him. Both brothers evidently go missing, and the “consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.”

FRIDAY REVIEW The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe)

This 2017 publication was one of my favorite reads in 2018. The story opens with the protagonist, Sal, saying, “Maybe I’d always had the wrong idea as to who I really was.” By the end of the book, “Sally,” to his best friend Sam (short for Samantha), discovers his true identity. His birth certificate name is Salvadore, and his perceptive, gay dad refers to him as “Salvie.” A senior in high school, Sal deals with anger issues–Did the “urge” to fight come from his biological father?  Was this unknown man, so unlike his easy-going adopted father, Vincente, the origin of the trait that so often gets him into trouble?

Throughout the novel, Sal deals with the anger/hurt/sense of loss that comes with the death of his mother before he was old enough to have memories of her, and he faces the impending death of his grandmother who raised him. Conflicting emotions of Mexicans/Anglos and the culture of each tear at Sal as he faces applying for and choosing a college. Bullying raises its ugly head in Inexplicable Logic as does the search for identity every teen faces.

This is not the pointless angst so many YA novels offer, but an in-depth exploration of a representative of the “younger generation” that would benefit my generation to examine.  It is a good read and one that most readers will not soon forget.

LAST MINUTE CHRISTMAS REVIEW OF TWO SPECIAL YA BOOKS ABOUT TWO SPECIAL YOUNG ADULTS

Tru and Nelle and Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, both written by G. Neri and illustrated by Sarah Watts, are about the childhood and teenage friendships of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). When interviewed as to why he wrote the refreshing novels, Neri said he “used their (Capote and Lee’s) childhood friendship in Monroeville, Alabama as fodder for (his) fiction.” The author continued, “I was intrigued that no one had ever written about that friendship, especially for young people.” (Neri, interviewed in “Taking with G. Neri” / Books and Writers (magazine)

Neri recommends the first novel, Tru and Nelle for second through sixth graders and T and N: A Christmas Story for middle school students.  At the end of the first book, Tru leaves Monroeville where he had spent the summer with his aunt for New York City to live with his mother and stepfather. The second novel begins with Tru running away from a military school his mother had placed him in as an attempt to “man him up,” and he heads to Monroeville.  There he is awaited by Nelle and Big Boy, the notorious detective story enthusiasts and “agents” from childhood who are now growing into their pre-teen and teenage years. The setting is 1930’s Monroeville, home of the Jim Crow laws, the Klu Klux Klan and Southern Injustice. All characters, events, and places are “drawn from real life,” characters and events. Beginning with Tru’s Aunt’s house burning to the ground, leaving the family homeless at Christmas, an event Nelle’s father feels he is responsible for, the tale is described as “speculative fiction in search of poetic truth.” Both books are funny, sad, touching and well-researched.

The first book is deliberately reminiscent of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the second deals with teenage angst, search for sexual identity, and zaniness of the teen years. Both are excellent books.

SATURDAY MORNING FOR KIDS

The kids who would respond well to the novel(s) I am reviewing today would more likely be sleeping in, scrunched up under the covers, on Saturday mornings than watching cartoons.  Alice Hoffman has written some wonderful YA novels along with her outstanding adult novels, which turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, using a “touch”of the supernatural. The double novel, Green Heart contains two novellas, Green Angel and Green Witch.

As with Faithful (reviewed earlier on this blog), the protagonist is a fifteen year old girl. Like Faithful, Hoffman’s sophisticated novellas could be labeled “coming-of-age stories.”  This double novel is  a “two-fold story of loss and love.” The fifteen-year-old Green Angel maintains a wonderful garden which bears plants, vegetables, and flowers that her family takes with them when they go to town to market. One October weekend, her whole family goes off to market and are lost in a terrible fire that consumes the market and the town. Ashes from this disaster even cover the countryside farm where she had stayed behind. Also, the young man she loved is missing. Has he betrayed her, or has he been betrayed? Her only consolation is working in the ruined garden where nothing will grow. Slowly, over years, she resurrects the garden, with Hoffman’s signature touch of the supernatural, touch of magic.

Over time, she begins to heal. She learns the truth about love, hope, and magic. One day, the Green Angel, “branded [by her neighbors] for her mysterious powers,” and called a witch by little children, begins a quest to discover what became of the boy she had once loved.

The exciting end of the quest and the “battle” that ensues demonstrates the Angel/Witch’s craftiness and dedication to love. The ending is quite satisfactory.

Interestingly enough the metaphor of tattoos prevails throughout the novel(s). The first,vines, inked in green and self-inflicted by the devastated young fifteen-year-old, foreshadow many more tattoos of growing things and becomes a major theme of resurrection, life and change.

To me, this was a magical, beautifully written book, one of Alice Hoffman’s best. I give it five stars out of five.

First Line Fridays (on Thanksgiving night–Thursday)

I promised the first line of Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird, my Tuesday Teaser choice for Friday’s post:

“You can’t believe EVERYTHING YOU HEAR, not even in Sidwell, Massachusetts, where every person is said to tell the truth and the apples are so sweet people come from as far as New York City during the apple festival. There are rumors that a mysterious creature lives in our town. Some people insist it’s a bird bigger than an eagle; others say it’s a dragon, or an oversized bat that resembles a person.”

Whatever it is, “Twig,” the young protagonist is determined to find out.

TUESDAY TEASER

This meme, hosted by The Purple Booker, and caught my eye on my friend’s blog, Brainfluff, is one I love to participate in. Here is my teaser from Nightbird, a YA novel by Alice Hoffman:

“‘She’s a natural,’ Mrs. Meyers cheerfully announced.

‘A natural witch’? my mother seemed confused and insulted.

‘Not at all, my dear. A natural actress. Not many have true talent, but when they do, it’s usually the shy ones. They just bloom onstage.'”

And, this is just page 14. Hoffman’s touch of the supernatural is at work here and the novel promises to be a terrific read. Watch Friday for the opening of this same book in First Line Fridays.

 

SATURDAY MORNING FOR KIDS (On Sunday)

I’m having trouble with my laptop and could not post Saturday’s post.  I did what most Senior Citizens do when having technology problems–asked my grandson. The result is I have the missing “Write” tab back.  Thank you Dr. P.

Saturday’s book is one of the best kid/YA books I have read (and I have read many in 50 years of teaching). Jordan Sonnenblick’s novel, Zen and the Art of Faking It, is a funny, age-appropriate book. San Lee, a teenager and his mother have left Houston where his father is in prison and have relocated to a small apartment in a Pennsylvania town. It is quite an adjustment for everyone. San thinks, “Blending in is impossible, so maybe it’s time for me to stand out.” San begins to invent a “new” past for himself that makes him very popular.He has let the students think he is a Buddhist who practices meditation. He meets a really cool girl who becomes his friend.  Of course, eventually things start to unravel.

Here, at the front of the book, is “A Note to the Reader”:

“Have you ever switched schools? I have, and let me tell you–a school is a school is a school.  Every middle school on God’s green earth smells exactly the same because damp lockers, industrial cleaning fluids, and puke are universal. The lunch is the same: How many ways can you flavor a freakin’ Tater Tot? The guys are the same: like a show on Animal Planet without the cuddle factor.  The girls are the same: Martians with human hormones. And the teachers? Please.

So when I dragged my feet in their rotting sandals through the gray midwinter slush and up the stairs of Harrisonville Middle School for the first time. I knew exactly what I was getting into. Sure I did.”

I highly recommend this book to kids and kid-friendly adults everywhere.