Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Groundhog Day meets the ’80s in Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsutawney, by Laurie Boyle Crompton, (Jan. 2019, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310762164

Ages 12+

This fun mash-up of ’80s teen classic movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and 1993’s Groundhog Day stars a high schooler who’s stuck in a time loop: her first day of school in a new town. Andie, daughter of a Gen X John Hughes fanatic, wakes up every morning with the Pretty in Pink DVD from the night before stuck in her DVD player. She goes through the first day of school again and again, trying to figure out how to break the loop; she tries everything from joining different cliques to trying on new personas, to no avail. But as she tries to get through each day and stave off the frustration and depression that tries to set in, she also sees past the social groups to the personalities of her classmates, and realizes that she can bring everyone together.

Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun, light-hearted love letter to ’80s movies (the novel is loaded with great references), friendship, and finding your own space in your community. Andie gains depth as a character as the novel progresses; the other characters are there to support her, so we only get a taste of them. This one’s a fun beach read that Gen X parents can enjoy with their teens.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Taking Cover: Growing up during the Iranian Revolution

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution, by Nioucha Homayoonfar, (Jan. 2019, National Geographic Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781426333668

Ages 10-14

Nioucha Homayoonfar’s memoir of life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution is equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. In 1976, at the age of 5, her family moves from Pittsburgh to Iran, where her father can be with his family again. For several years, Nioucha and her expat friends are educated in a progressive French-Persian school and enjoy the things most kids do, including listening to music, dancing, and swimming. But the revolution changes all that. Nioucha and her friends are segregated; they have to wear robes and hoods that cover their hair (and are threatened with burning in Hell, hanging on every visible thread of hair), and live in fear of being kidnapped by the Moral Police: a group called the Zeinab Sisters. Nioucha refers to them as The Black Crows, which brings a colorful, tongue in cheek image to mind, but these women are anything but humorous. The women patrol the streets in a van, capturing women and teens they deem immoral, hiding them in prisons, and beating them until they feel redemption is earned.

But there are wonderful moments of family and friendship in Taking Cover, too. Nioucha recalls her first Iranian Christmas, when she hopes Santa Claus will remember that she’s moved to Iran, so she’ll get her presents, and her family decorates her aunt’s house with a beautiful tree and presents. She talks about her relationship with her grandparents, who adore her and comfort her during her first sleepover away from her parents; going to concerts and driving around with her cousin, Sara, even learning French in an underground school run by her mother and her best friend’s mother. In the midst of explosions and oppression, Nioucha and her family managed to take joy where they found it.

Parallels to Persepolis are expected, and should be encouraged. Taking Cover is an excellent memoir and lead-in to Persepolis, allowing middle graders to expand their worldview and start a conversation on how the Iranian Revolution changed the world. The book includes a map of Iran and surrounding areas, and a timeline of Iranian history. There is a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Quick Takes: Toy Academy, Ask Emma, Confusion is Nothing New

Every now and then, I dive into my TBR, which accumulates at an astonishing rate. This week, I managed to read a few more from the TBR, and wanted to give a quick take on them, since they’ve been out for a while but still deserve some mention.

Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required (Toy Academy #1), by Brian Lynch/Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, (Jan. 2018, Scholastic), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-14845-9

Ages 7-10

This is the first in a new intermediate/middle grade series, and it’s SO much fun. Grumboldt is a stuffed animal of some sort – he has a somewhat amusing and dubious origin – and desperately wants to belong to a kid of his own. He meets a transforming car robot named Omnibus Squared, who, as it turns out, is recruiting toys for Commander Hedgehog’s Institute for Novelty Academia – The Toy Academy. Grumboldt manages to talk his way into admission, and tries desperately to be a great toy, so he’ll be assigned to a great kid, but he’s got some challenges. There’s a bully (it’s always a soldier, isn’t it?) named Rex constantly bugging him, and he can’t stay awake during Bedtime Prep. When Commander Hedgehog’s arms go missing, though, Grumboldt sees a chance to help out and make good at Toy Academy after all.

Have readers who love Toy Story? (Seriously, who doesn’t?) Give them Toy Academy. It’s sweet, hilarious, and loaded with toy references that everyone – kids and grownups alike – will recognize and get a laugh out of. Brian Lynch is a screenwriter with Minions and The Secret Life of Pets to his credit, so he knows how to write things that kids like. Edwardian Taylor’s art is a perfect match for the wacky, fun storytelling and gives us characters we’ll know and love for books to come: Grumboldt is a lovable plush with mismatched parts; Micro is a lively action figure whose collectable status limits her movement – she’s stuck in a plastic bag, because she HAS VALUE; Commandant Hedgepig is a knockoff, off-brand version of Commander Hedgehog who insists on being called his proper name rather than his emerging nickname, Bootleg. The second Toy Academy book, Ready for Action, is also available, so put these on your series purchase lists if you don’t have them already.¬† The kids will love them.

Ask Emma, by Sheryl Berk & Carrie Berk, (May 2018, Yellow Jacket), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0647-2

Ages 8-12

Emma is a 13-year-old seventh grader who loves to give advice, whether or not it’s asked for. She decides to start an Ask Emma column, so she can make herself available to all of her classmates at Austen Middle School, but quickly discovers that she’s a bit tone deaf in the process; she tends to push her best friends into doing things her way. She even tries to get the cute new guy, Jackson Knight, to join all the groups she thinks he should and tell her all about himself, but he gives a little pushback, which adds to his mystery. Emma starts getting some negative comments on her blog, and things start going haywire in Emma’s real world, too. When a hurtful picture of Emma starts making the rounds around the school, she decides to nip a potential cyberbully in the bud and takes action.

This is the first book in a new series from The Cupcake Club authors Carrie Berk and Sheryl Berk, and it left me a little wanting. Emma never really sees how self-absorbed she is, or apologizes for the things she does to her best friends. Her friends turn their backs on her when another student that Emma tries to “help” lies to make herself look good, but she never has that aha! moment when she examines her own behavior. A few negative blog comments and one mean picture become an overblown cyberbullying campaign, which, in this day and age, is forward thinking – catch cyberbullying in its early stages, before it becomes something out of control – but her related blog entry makes it sound like she endured a hateful campaign where she was bullied day and night. This one is a little out of touch; maybe an additional purchase where the authors are popular. The additional characters, including Jackson Knight and Emma’s best friends, Izzy and Harriet, seem interesting and I’d like to read more of their stories.

 

Confusion is Nothing New, by Paul Acampora, (May 2018, Scholastic Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-20999-0

Ages 9-13

Fourteen-year-old Ellie Magari just found out her mother, who left her and her father when Ellie was a baby, has died. Never having known her mother, Ellie tries to figure out who her mother was, especially when her father presents her with a box of her mother’s memorabilia, mysteriously sent to Ellie. She discovers that her mother was the singer in an ’80s tribute band, married her *other* high school sweetheart, and that the band is playing the local college soon. Ellie struggles with learning about her mother and how to grieve someone she never knew, while expressing frustration with her father’s reluctance to talk about her at all. Thankfully, Ellie’s friends, her principal, and an interesting new music teacher are there to help her put together the rest of the missing pieces.

Confusion is Nothing New is good, and yes, I say that partly because I love all things ’80s. (I would make a heck of a playlist to booktalk this book.) But aside from the music, it’s got a solid, readable story, and the characters have incredible heart and humor. Ellie is a likable, relatable character who takes no foolishness when a teacher treats her friend badly; she’s also vulnerable and working her way through big revelations dropped on her throughout the book. I loved her school band friends and the ease of their relationships; their humor, and their loyalty to one another. This one is a good read for tweens and teens – it’s on the cusp of being YA, but not – who want to read about another character figuring it out as best as she can.

 

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover Fiction: New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages, by Warren Kinsella, (Dec. 2018, Dundurn), $14.99, ISBN: 9781459742154

Ages 16+

The second book in Warren Kinsella’s X-Gang series, while set in the ’80s, sees the rise of a candidate that’s eerily familiar: Earl Turner is an all-American guy running for President on a “White is Right” platform, and the country seems to be eating it up. His numbers are going up, his rallies are teeming with supporters, and, most distressing to Kurt Blank and the rest of the X Gang, their former drummer, Danny Hate, is right smack in the middle of it. He went “conservative” after incidents from the first novel (Recipe for Hate, 2017), but to be showing up at political rallies as Earl Turner’s right-hand man? Meanwhile, dead punks are being discovered in cities right after the Nasties’ – the X Gang’s band – shows, and Kurt’s drug habit is starting to become a problem.

Set in the ’80s, New Dark Ages is a reminder that we haven’t come as far – or is it fallen as far? – as we thought we may have. Earl Turner has that jock appeal that went over so well at the time, with the current administration’s open malice for anyone not like him. The narrative tends to jump around a bit, though, and while there’s some good punk culture fiction happening here, along with potentially interesting political intrigue, there are too many balls in the air to keep a cohesive storyline in play.

Is New Dark Ages YA? Not necessarily, but it’s got crossover potential. The characters are in the age range, and confronting issues that will most definitely affect their futures. It’s an additional purchase if you’ve got readers interested in punk culture (including us Gen X readers who were around at the time) and politically charged fiction.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Paperbacks from Hell is a love letter to ’70s and ’80s horror fiction

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, by Grady Hendrix, (Sept. 2017, Quirk Books), $24.99, ISBN: 9781594749810

Recommended for readers 16+

I know you may be looking at this review funny: ’70s and ’80s horror fiction? For teens now? YES. Walk with me.

First off, Grady Hendrix is straight up hilarious. If you haven’t read Horrorstor or My Best Friend’s Exorcism, you haven’t yet been introduced to his brand of smart, snarky horror: a haunted Swedish furniture store (Horrorstor) starts out witty, and leaves you sleeping with the light on for a week. A YA novel about demonic possession in the ’80s (My Best Friend’s Exorcism) starts with insidious, creepy storytelling, takes it into sheer horror territory, and ends on the most ’80s of endings; you can practically hear the synths in your mind as you turn pages. And now, Hendrix writes a love letter to that crazy time with his retrospective of horror paperback fiction. We go back to a time when paperbacks were sold in the supermarket; when kids like me would sneak peeks at VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic while on line at the A&P grocery store. So many creepy children. So much Satan, with so many cultists. So many animals bent on our destruction.

Hendrix is one of those authors that make you pause, grab a friend – or your teenager, in my case¬† and say, “No, wait, you have to hear this.” Multiple times. Until said teenager finally asks, “Wait a minute: Gestapochauns? There was a book about Nazi leprechauns? Are you serious?” And that, my friends, is where you hook them. You pick a section – any section – and you show them some of the covers. Then you read some of the text, because Hendrix’s knowledge about these books – in conjunction with Too Much Horror’s Will Errickson – is encyclopedic. And the teen is laughing and kind of terrified and wants to know more, all the same.

 

Gestapochauns are indeed a thing.

 

Paperbacks from Hell is perfect for us readers of a certain age, sure, but it’s also a book that connects us with our teens. We can get them on board with the craziness and the overwrought drama of the art and the stories. You can point out authors that teens will know, like VC Andrews, who’s now considered YA, and RL Stine, who was writing horror long before Goosebumps made him a household name. Let horror build a bridge between you and your teens. As my teen told me, “You grew up in a different time, Mom.” Yes, son. Yes, I did. And it was amazing.

Grab a copy and take a tour through the bookshelves of your youth, and invite your teens to make the trip with you. And while you’re at it, share your best six-word horror story with Quirk Books on Twitter by this Friday (9/22/17) and maybe you’ll win your own copy of Paperbacks from Hell! Details are here.