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.

TUESDAY TEASER

This little game, originally started by the Purple Booker asks that you copy a couple of sentences from what you are currently reading to tease someone into reading the same book you are. Be careful not to give anything away (no spoilers, please). In the comments section, please include the title and author of the book you are reading, then your Tuesday Teaser.

Mine for today is from a YA book, The Lightning Thief  by Rick Riordan: The three main characters are about to hitch a ride from a van carrying old, tired zoo animals to the West Coast where the three (all of whom have a superhuman side to them) are to carry on their quest to save the world.

“We huddled in the corner on some mildewed feed sacks, trying to ignore the smell and the heat and the flies.  Grover talked to the animals in a series of goat bleats (Grover is a young satyr) but they just stared at him sadly.  Annabeth was in favor of breaking the cages and freeing them on the spot, but I pointed out that it wouldn’t do much good until the truck stopped moving. Besides, I had a feeling that we might look much better to that lion than those turnips.” (which was all that the lion had been given to eat)  The main character, Percy, is the son of Poseidon, which he doesn’t find out until junior high school when strange things begin to happen to him and strange creatures are “out to get him.” Of course the other kids in the school think he is just weird.

The book is entertaining and a good adventure-read.

 

ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson: A Review

The thing that made me check this book out from the library was that Ann Patchett recommended it on the cover blurb.  It is a 2016 publication, and I had never read Woodson before.  Set in Brooklyn during the 1970’s “where friendship was everything,” this coming of age novel features August, Sylvia, Angela and Gi Gi. Yes, it is a coming-of-age novel, but the way it is written makes it much more. Brooklyn, itself is a character, “…a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways.”

Sometimes the writing is like reading poetry, and this “gifted novelist,” a very young writer, is better known for Brown Girl Dreaming, a 2014 National Book Award winner. Woodson was also named “Young People’s Poet Laureate” by the Poetry Foundation, and her writing has been deemed “of literary quality.”  

Not only was Another Brooklyn a darned good story and a literary experience to read it, 1970’s Brooklyn is depicted accurately, yet sympathetically. After I read the book, I felt like I had been there.

THE FORTELLING by Alice Hoffman, a Review

I filled in the gap between Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City and Give a Boy a Gun this week by reading Alice Hoffman’s coming of age story, The Fortelling. This mystical, mythical 2005 publication is set in “ancient times of blood,” pre-dating history, when Amazons rode their magnificent horses across the Russian Steppes.

Rain, born in sorrow and destined to become queen, cannot force the current queen, her mother, to love her. Even the shaded illustrations and patterns on the pages create a misty background for the visions that come out of the fog and the smoke of the women’s fires. What is the significance of the black horse Rain sees when the ancient priestess throws her potions into the fires to accomplish the foretelling? What are the strange dreams she has that haunt and worry her as she changes from a warrior girl to a leader-queen?

Mothers and daughters alike will enjoy this novel where genres of YA and women’s literature are blurred. Better yet, read it aloud to each other, luxuriating in the poetic wording and phrasing handled so well by Hoffman. I recommend this novel to all women, regardless of their age or reading preferences.

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE: A Review

Benjamin Alire Saenz, a Pen Faulkner award winner, has written a tender, sensitive, honest, beautiful YA novel in Aristotle and Dante. The main characters, both fifteen, “clicked” from their very first meeting and frequently made each other laugh for no reason.  Moments of anger and miscommunication came later, as did questions of identity and sexuality. Together they explore the purpose of one’s life and one’s reason for being.

Ari is big and brawny, very handsome, although he is not aware of it and does not “feel handsome.” Dante is small and beautiful, delicate, and very sensitive. Ari closely guards his emotions where Dante expresses them freely.  Both boys are highly intelligent and can discuss everything from comics to “real literature.”

The novel is “gorgeously written” and excels in drawing two complex but totally believable characters in the boys, and realistic, loving parents.  Saenz explores the themes of family, friendship, love, the Latino lifestyle, and teenage angst as he describes places and events that will keep the reader engaged.

As the novel opens, we hear Ari speaking to himself:

“The problem of my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” Everything that follows , everything that happens to him and what he does seems to be “someone else’s idea” until he meets Dante, and everything changes. The two boys seek out and at the end discover, together, The Secrets of the Universe.  I give this book a rating of ten out of ten, and recommend it to all ages who appreciate beautiful writing and a darned good story.

THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY: A Review

This 2016 publication by Genevieve Cogman is a fantasy novel, the first in a series. It has been called, “… a stunning work of art that has me absolutely begging for more…” by The Fantasy Book Reviewer. I have to agree that it left me begging for more, and I have already ordered the second book which came out in September.  I cared about the characters and would certainly like to continue following them and their adventures/misadventures.

Irene, one of the protagonists, is the daughter of Librarians and a “professional spy for the mysterious Library”, which is an organization that collects important works of fiction from all the different realities. 

Kai is Irene’s assistant, and the mystery as to his secret/identity left me reeling as I read.

The two are assigned to an “alternate London,” whose world is “chaos infected”–meaning the laws of nature are bent by “supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic.” Irene and Kai are sent to retrieve a special book, but when arrive, they discover it has already been stolen.  Mystery upon mystery and calamity upon calamity occur, including mechanical, giant alligators and the sticky business (literally) of a massive silverfish invasion which starts underfoot and climbs the walls and anything (including Irene and Kai) that gets in its way.

Beset by “sinister secret societies,” the pair learns more about their alternate world, the motivation and politics behind their mission, and each other.

This is a perfect opportunity to get in at the ground floor of an exciting, spectacular series.

TUESDAY TEASER

Having discovered on Brainfluff, an excellent blog, this meme hosted by The Purple Booker, I am putting forth my Tuesday Teaser for this week.

Instructions were to choose a random sentence or two and type them hoping to tease others into reading the same book you are reading. Add yours here after mine by hitting Leave a Reply:

This teaser is from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a YA novel.  I am at the end of Chapter Eleven where Dante and Ari fifteen year old friends are about to part ways for a year because Dante’s professor father has taken a temporary position at another university.

“Dante hugged me.

I hugged him back.

‘See you in a few months,’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

‘I’ll write,’ he said.

I knew he would.

I wasn’t sure I’d write back.”

The book starts a whole new section after this as the two friends ponder the secrets of Life and the Universe-two boys so alike and so different all at the same time.  This is a magnificently written novel with mystery, friendship and family relationships, and excellent dialogue employed well.