Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

everybody-sees-the-antsLucky Linderman’s father patently refuses to acknowledge the problems in his life.  It doesn’t matter whether the problem is growing up fatherless (his father was a POW/MIA soldier in Vietnam), his failing marriage, or his son’s troubles with a bully named Nader McMillan.  He pretty much walks away and tunes out from life when things start to get uncomfortable — often retreating to his job at what Lucky refers to as “Le Fancy-Schmancy Cafe.”  Lucky’s mom is just as bad.  She, too, refuses to acknowledge that her marriage is falling apart and ignores the bullying situation.  (She just doesn’t have as hefty an excuse as her husband.)  Even after Nader takes things too far and hurts Lucky pretty badly, his parents still choose to avoid confrontation and merely plan for Lucky and his mom to go away for the summer.  Staying with relatives in Arizona doesn’t do anything for fixing the marriage or bullying problems, but Lucky does end up making some friends while he’s there.  He also starts working out, under the tutelage of his uncle, and gains a little confidence in the process.  The only question is whether that will do him any good when he returns home.

Though most of this story is fairly standard for YA contemporary realistic fiction, there’s one thing that pushes this book pretty far into the realm of magical realism.  Lucky visits his [POW/MIA] grandfather in his dreams.  For real.  As in, he comes out of his dreams with physical tokens of where he has been.  (It actually reminds me a bit of The Dream Thieves, which is the second book of The Raven Cycle.)  Though I am sure none of the teens who read this book are actually traveling to visit long-lost relatives in their dreams, I am sure a great many of them can relate to the generalized family issues and bullying Lucky experiences.  I only hope that Lucky’s realizations and growth will inspire readers to be more proactive in response to their own problems.

Happy Reading!

 

Under the Shadow: Children of the First Star, Volume 1 by J. M. Kay [excerpt]

under-the-shadowI don’t usually do “guest posts” or participate in blog tours because I often find it difficult enough to find the time to keep up with my blog.  When I was contacted by BooksEndependent, though, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and help out a small press — especially considering the fact that I was being asked to participate during Banned Books Week.  I don’t have a problem with any of the large publishing houses, per se, and I don’t think of them as censors, but something about an independent/small press publishing house just brings to mind a sense of freedom.  If you are interested, you can check out the BooksEndependent website or their Rafflecopter giveaway…  But, first, you should check out the excerpt [below] from Under the Shadow!

Happy Reading!

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Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

two-boys-kissingIt wouldn’t be Banned Books Week without a review of a GLBT book, since so many would-be censors take umbrage with the fact that GLBT novels even exist.  So, I am taking this opportunity to finally review a book one of my teens suggested I read during GLBT Pride Month.  The basic premise of this story was that two [gay] boys were attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss.  The strangest thing, though, was that they were not boyfriends.  They were, in fact, ex-boyfriends.  But, Harry and Craig were not kissing merely for the fun of kissing or even just to break the existing world record.  In fact, kissing for 32 hours was a rather grueling experience, both physically and emotionally.  But their 32-hour-long kiss was worth all of the difficulties it presented because it was a statement of support for their mutual friend, Tariq, who was the victim of a hate crime.  Although the “Greek chorus” of narrators — men who had died of AIDS — seemed a bit clunky at times, I think that narration ultimately worked as a means by which to educate younger readers about [late 20th century] GLBT history, the progress the GLBT community has made thus far, and how far we still have to go.  I really enjoyed this story, though I have to admit to shedding a tear or two.  I highly recommend this for fans of other David Levithan books (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Every Day) and suspect that it will likely end up on many YA literature syllabi as required GLBT reading.

Happy Banned Books Week!

The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick

sin eaters confessionAfter Del died in a car accident, Ben started helping out on Del’s family’s farm.  While working on the farm, Ben started to look out for and became friends with Del’s younger brother, Jimmy, in a capacity much like an older brother.  After Jimmy was murdered, Ben felt guilty and escaped his home town by enlisting in the armed forces and heading to Afghanistan.  This story is told from Ben’s perspective, in a diary-style letter to someone back home, as he reflects back over the series of events that lead to Jimmy’s death and explains why he feels responsible.  The graphic description of Jimmy’s violent death definitely makes this a book for more mature readers, and I am sure some people would ultimately like to see this book banned.  I think, nevertheless, that this suspense-filled story is a great way to draw in readers who might not otherwise think they’d enjoy a story that explores such heavy themes as homophobia and hate crimes.  A definite departure from the apocalyptic world of Ashes, but equally well written.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

leonard peacockAlthough I read this book back in January, I never remembered to post a review.  Maybe it’s because I typically read more books per month than I review and some titles just slip through the cracks… but I prefer to think my subconscious was just saving this review for Banned Books Week!

I think this book is a likely target for would-be censors for a couple of reasons.  Not only are there the typical objectionable language and sexual situations that many people cite when challenging a book, but there is also the fact that the entire story revolves around Leonard Peacock’s plans to carry out a murder-suicide.  I understand that some people worry about teens being impressionable and mimicking the behavior of a character in a book, but I take umbrage with that reasoning.  After all, studies have shown that fiction can actually teach kids empathy.

While I agree, in theory, that it would be nice to be able to shield children from all of the terrible things that exist in our world, I recognize that it’s impossible.  Instead, I feel that it’s important to be open and honest so that my kids and the kids/teens I work with at my library feel comfortable enough to come to me if and when they find themselves in a troubling situation.  Rather than keeping this book out of the hands of teens for fear that a troubled teen who reads this book will decide to plan his/her own murder-suicide, I believe it is extremely important to make this book available.  Why?  Because I believe in the power of biliotherapy and think it is much more likely that teens who are struggling will learn from Leonard’s various mistakes, including his mistaken belief that he should end his life rather than seeking help.  Readers who enjoyed 13 Reasons Why should definitely check this one out.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reality Shock!

Reality_ShockI find it rather amusing that my 9-year-old son can’t handle seeing tiny hairballs on the floor from his beloved pet cat but that he was completely enthralled by the FOUR POUND tiger hairball (picture on pg. 9) that was the size of a basketball!  Looking through these books with my son, I always alternate between fascination and disgust.  And even though my own disgust sometimes outweighs my fascination, there’s something magical about bringing home a book that makes your child jump up and down with excitement and beg for just a few more pages before he has to go to bed.

Some of the most fascinating items in this issue were:

  • the skateboarding mice who can even jump through a ring of fire (pp. 14-15)
  • a woman named Barbie Thomas who, despite losing both of her arms at 2 years of age, has gone on to compete in fitness contests (pg. 97)
  • the man who took a picture of himself every single day for 12 years — a total of 4,514 photos! (pg. 152)
  • the Canadian base jumper who, after becoming paralyzed in a 2004 BASE-jumping accident, now jumps in his wheelchair (pg. 175)
  • the pumpkin artists (pp. 208-209) who are capable of turning pumpkins into sculptures of ghouls, goblins, and monsters

And some of the more disgusting items were:

  • the bedside table made from an actual, stuffed sheep (pg. 29)
  • the Sufi holy man who used a sharp stick to practically gouge out his own eye during the Urs religious festival in Ajmer, India (pg. 41)
  • the short-horned lizards that quirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism to scare of predators (pg. 90)
  • the “snot shots” (pg. 201) from artist Ulf Lundin’s Bless You project, in which people sneezed at a camera without covering their mouth/nose… ack!

If you’re looking for a conversation-starting/engrossing book to share with a tween, the Ripley’s books are a pretty sure bet.

Happy Reading!

The Iron Trial: Book One of The Magisterium by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Iron TrialMy son and I both love fantasy fiction, and we’re both suckers for ARCs from beloved authors…  So, when I heard that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare were writing a middle-grade fantasy series together, I just knew I had to get my hands on a copy of this ARC.  (The good news for anyone reading this review is that the book came out September 9th and you can read it without scheming to find an ARC!)

And do you know what was even better than opening a random, unexpected package to find a copy of this ARC?  When it arrived in the mail on the very day that we were ready to start a new book.  Awesomesauce!  I knew these authors were awesome and that a collaboration between them was likely to be epic, but I also kinda expected that this book would be somewhat formulaic and predictable, like many of the other middle-grade fantasies I’ve read.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Although there were some parallels to other books we’ve read, the story was fresh and there were a couple of plot twists that blew our minds!

Callum’s father has always taught him that magic is bad and that the Magisterium, a school that teaches adolescents how to hone their magical abilities, is evil.  So, when Callum had to go in to test his magical acuity at the Magisterium, he did his best to fail.  For some reason, nevertheless, Master Rufus chose Callum to be one of his apprentices.  Even though neither he nor his father wanted him to attend, being selected meant that Callum had to go to the Magisterium…  As soon as he started to learn how to use his magic and began to make friends, though, Callum started to wonder if maybe his dad was wrong after all…

Happy Reading!