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Tag Archives: young adult

The Wikkeling by Steven Arntson, illustrated by Daniela J. Terrazzini

The Wikkeling

You can tell this book is unusual just by looking at it.  Its shape is a perfect square, it is bound in cloth with no dust jacket, and the cover art is strangely wonderful.  The contents do not disappoint – this is a tale of children living in a dystopia, looking for adventure and causing a bit of mischief.  It also defies a brief description or easy packaging, but I’ll try.

The world of The Wikkeling is really just an exaggerated version of the rapidly accelerating and expanding world we currently inhabit.  Schools are standardized to the point of homogeneity, with constant, instantaneous performance evaluations.  If any student or school falls behind, the consequences are dire.  Children are kept “safe” and “secure” through continuous monitoring to account for their movements throughout the day, an elaborate seat belt system on the bus, and even a camera trained on their beds to watch over them in sleep.  Old houses are destroyed to make way for plastic edifices and books are done away with completely in favor of computers.  Traffic never lets up, with near-total gridlock even in the middle of the night.  It all adds up to a scary, but not completely unbelievable, vision of the future.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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Five Minutes with James Klise

James Klise

James Klise

James Klise is a high school librarian in Chicago who published his first book, Love Drugged, last September.  Not only did he launch his book at one of our most successful store events (back in the olden days, kids, when you could touch books in a store before buying them), he was also a regular customer, stocking his school’s library from our shelves.  We were lucky enough to catch up with him at Printers Row Lit Fest last month, and he agreed to answer some questions for our blog.  If you haven’t checked out our review of Love Drugged yet, you can find it here.

[Booksellers Without Borders]: Why should anybody buy your book?

[James Klise]: LOL at this question. Why should anyone pick up my funny, suspenseful, thoughtful, provocative, award-winning novel?

I’ll give you a serious answer. Please buy my book so you can donate it to a local high school library. It’s rare to find a selection of teen novels with gay characters in bookstores, and so we rely on libraries to get them into the hands of readers. But most school libraries are strapped for cash. Speaking as a school librarian, I can tell you that donations of brand-new YA books are always welcome. Many high school teachers have classroom libraries, so these, too, may be a great place to donate your gently used books when you are finished enjoying them.

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Love Drugged by James Klise

Love DruggedHigh school can be a tricky four years to navigate under the best of circumstances.  For 15-year-old Jamie, there is an added complication: he is gay.  We’re living in 2011, when acceptance of the LGBT community is continually reaching new highs, but coming out to family and friends can still be a very difficult and terrifying step, especially for a teenager.  Jamie doesn’t want to wave flags or march in parades; he just wants to feel “normal” and make it through high school intact.

When a classmate discovers Jamie’s identity on a website for gay teens, he decides to preemptively dispel all rumors.  To protect the secret of his sexuality, Jamie begins seeing a girl named Celia Gamez, who is rich, beautiful, and popular.  Celia’s father happens to be in the business of developing new pharmaceutical drugs and lets slip one day that he is testing a new pill that can “cure” homosexuality.  Jamie thinks this is the perfect opportunity to finally become “normal” and carry his relationship with Celia to its expected result.  He steals some of the pills and secretly begins taking them before hanging out with Celia.

As you can guess, this plan doesn’t work out exactly as Jamie had imagined.  The exact downward spiral is best read firsthand, so go get yourself a copy.  I’ll wait…

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Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Much as I love short story anthologies, I tend to find them lying around half-finished, simply because it is so easy to put them down at the end of a story and get sidetracked by some other shiny book.  So although I bought this book and started reading it back in September when it was first released, it was only recently that I picked it up again and realized I had a couple stories left to go.

The premise of this anthology is an argument started via blog between YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about the relative merits of these mythological creatures.  The stories alternate between zombies and unicorns, with a few combining the two.  The editors provide introductions to each story, arguing the virtues of Team Zombie (Larbalestier) and Team Unicorn (Black).  Many big-name YA authors have contributed, including Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld.  The bickering between the editors feels, at times, a bit contrived, but the stories deliver in fun and exciting ways.

Personally, I was firmly on Team Unicorn when I picked this book up.  In a revelation that is sure to send shock waves through the book blogosphere, I must admit: I am not a fan of zombie literature.  I know it has been very popular of late, with World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hitting bestseller lists everywhere.  But I just do not see the appeal of shuffling, leaking, previously-dead people trying to eat your brain.  Unicorns, on the other hand, have a complex and contradictory mythology.  They have healing powers and a sense of purity about them, and yet they can also be deadly.  They have an air of mystery about them.  They glow.  And they don’t leak body fluids.

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Five Minutes with John Connolly

John Connolly

John Connolly

John Connolly is the internationally bestselling author of 14 books (15 later this year).  He is one of our favorite authors around these parts, mostly because his books are some of the best we’ve read, but also because he was kind enough to hold a signing at our store (back when we had a store in which to do that kind of thing).  He graciously agreed to answer some questions for our blog about his newest book, Hell’s Bells, released in the UK earlier this month.  (It will be out in the U.S. in October as The Infernals, but you’ll want to get your hands on it as soon as possible.)

[Booksellers Without Borders]: Why should anybody buy your book?

[John Connolly]: I have no idea why anyone picks one of my books over another.  I feel I should cling to their legs in an embarrassing show of excessive gratitude if, and when, they do.  That’s not false modesty: most authors have this weird ego/self-doubt inner battle going on.  When it comes to The Infernals/Hell’s Bells, or, indeed, The Gates, the answer is the same as for any other of my books: because I’ve done my best to ensure that you put the book down when you’ve finished it and think, gosh, that was actually kind of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing that again…

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