Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Set sail for big graphic novel storytelling in The Island

Island Book, by Evan Dahm, (May 2019, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781626729506

Ages 8-12

Sola lives as an outcast within her small community on an island. She is cursed – that’s what everyone says – because a Monster came to the Island when Sola was a child; everyone around her ran, but Sola alone stood before it, and it reached out to her. The destruction left in the monster’s wake, coupled with its interest in Sola sealed it: the rest of the Island branded her. As Sola reaches adolescence, she’s curious: what drew the Monster to her? Tired of living with everyone’s fear, and wanting answers, Sola leaves the island, taking to the open water. As she travels, she discovers that the Island isn’t alone: there are new lands and people to meet.

Island Book is Sola’s story. A quietly strong female protagonist, she faces adversity at home and has a curious streak that contributes to her own community’s distrust and fear of her. The plot meanders on a bit in spots, but is mostly a solid story about courage and curiosity; about friendship and working together, and about opening oneself up to new ideas and experiences. The characters are humanoid but not human; the artwork is bright and the nature is beautifully depicted.

The first in a new series, Island Book is a good choice for middle grade book discussion groups, too. Ask kids if they’ve ever felt like Sola, unable to change someone’s mind or looked down on because of their age. Does Sola do the right thing by going off on her own? Would Sola’s community encourage relationships with other beings?

There’s a soundtrack for Island Book available, along with two books of development artwork, through author Evan Dahm’s website. There’s a great review by the AV Club here.

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

The Cresswell Plot: Father doesn’t know best

creswellplotThe Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass (June 2016, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484730430

Recommended for ages 14+

Castella Cresswell is a 16 year-old living in rural upstate New York with her 5 siblings, her disabled mother, and her father, a religious zealot who believes that everyone except his family is evil and doomed to Hell. To keep the devil away from his family, he limits their interactions with other people; the kids go to public school, because they must, after a previous visit from Child Protective Services, and he insists that the siblings will marry one another in the afterlife. He’s even matched them up accordingly. I’ll let that sink in for a sec before I continue.

Castella is caught between loyalty to her family and the desire to be a normal teen, going to parties and having friends. She’s increasingly unsure about her father’s prophecies and revelations, and she just wants to save her siblings and break away from their controlling, abusive father. Her siblings have mixed emotions about Castella’s actions and ideas; whether they stem from truly being brainwashed by their father or being fearful of making waves, we never quite get: I expect it lies somewhere in between.

The Cresswell Plot is a book you sit down to read, and don’t move until you’re finished. It’s a fast read, it’s a disturbing read, but there were parts to the story that were missing; chunks that I feel could have made for an even more compelling read. I wanted more background on the Cresswell patriarch, and an entire suplot feels glanced over, really needing more development. The characters were all on the verge of being fully fleshed out, but missed nuances that really would create fully realized personalities. More conservative readers will find the subject matter – domestic violence, child abuse, references to incest – disturbing.

I enjoyed The Cresswell Plot, I just wanted more of it. I’ve heard this book compared to Flowers in the Attic, but I found more in common with Lisa Heathfield’s Seed.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Seed is a chilling story about belief and the loss of innocence

seed Seed, by Lisa Heathfield (2015, Running Press) $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5634-5

Recommended for ages 13+

Fifteen year-old Pearl’s life revolves around Seed. It’s the community she was born into; a land where Nature provides everything she could ever dream of, where the Kindred – the grown men of the community – are like beloved uncles, and where their spiritual leader and father figure, Papa S., teaches them that Nature will provide for them and punish them, if necessary. The outside world is corrupt, but Nature will favor the residents of Seed – as long as they abide by Papa S.’s rules.

When an outside family seeks refuge at Seed, Pearl struggles to maintain her belief in Papa S., Seed, and Nature – but as events become more difficult to reconcile, things are getting more and more difficult for Pearl to believe. Pearl will discover that there are many secrets at Seed, but can she face living once she discovers what’s really going on?

The community at Seed goes beyond cult, beyond closed community. It’s a horrific combination of the two, a community where men use bullying, grooming, and most egregiously, faith, to create a life where women have no power and are victimized from the moment they reach sexual maturity. They withhold education and limit contact with the outside world, always watching, to make sure that the children of Seed abide by Papa S.’s rules – but really, to keep them in the dark so that they can feed them lies under the guise of religion.

I received an advanced reader copy of Seed from Running Press, and tore right in, finishing the book in three days. It is a book that evokes visceral reactions – I was upset, I was horrified, I was angry. I wanted these children to see the lies and manipulations and walk away, to find justice for themselves and anyone who suffered at the hands of their captors – because really, that’s what Papa S. and the so-called Kindred are.

The characters, dialogue, and story pacing will draw you in and won’t let you go until you turn that last page. Even then, this is not a book that you will walk away from lightly. It will leave you shaken and changed. It’s a book I want to see in teenagers’ hands and talked about in discussion groups. I want this book on library shelves and in librarian’s hands, making sure kids read it.

Seed is an important book for an age where people are still looking for something to believe in. Do not miss this book.