Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dark Room Etiquette: A taut YA thriller

Dark Room Etiquette, by Robin Roe, (Oct. 2022, HarperTeen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780063051737

Ages 13+

Sayers Wayte is a 16-year-old with an easy life, and he knows it. Everything he knows is upended when he’s kidnapped by a man who tells Sayers that he isn’t who he believes he is. As Sayers endures imprisonment and his captor, he begins questioning his reality. A tense thriller that examines PTSD, Dark Room Etiquette becomes an intense character study as readers accompany Sayers on his journey through trauma. The story goes very dark, but is ultimately a hopeful story that readers will white-knuckle through.

Dark Room Etiquette has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

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

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in Teen, Tween Reads

An Odyssey of Her Own: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy, by Douglas Rees, (May 2018, Running Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780762463039

Ages 13+

Sixteen-year-old Elektra Kamenides was happy. She had a happy, secure life in the Mississippi college town where her father worked as a scholar on ancient Greece, and her mother, Helen, was an aspiring author. When her mother whisks Elektra and her 13-year-old sister, Thalia, out of Mississippi and away from their father, to go live on a roach-infested shack that alleges itself a houseboat in an area of California called Guadalupe Slough, Elektra is furious. Who wouldn’t be? The entire rug of her life has been pulled out from under her, and she can’t even get her father to return her calls. What is going on? Not even her sister Thalia’s endless optimism can shake Elektra, who decides she’s going to make like Odyseuss and get back to Mississippi. But like her Greek hero counterpart, the gods have other plans in store for Elektra.

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy peeks into the end of a marriage, a coming of age, and the strength of community. With distance, Elektra sees that the hero she made her father out to be was not necessarily the case; an emergency serves as her wakeup call to make the most of the present, and she discovers that she can survive and thrive in her new community, surrounded by her supportive neighbors. There’s good and colorful character development, including a veteran with PTSD and a Latinx family whose San Jose roots go back for generations. The cast of characters are primarily white and Latinx. There are amusing interludes at the local library, where a neighbor – and later, Elektra – takes out hundreds of books a week to keep circulation numbers strong, for the sake of keeping the library open.

I enjoyed the pace of the storytelling, the characters, the situations, and the relationships between the characters. This one is a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Mutt’s Promise- Animal Fiction about family, journeys, and finding your home

mutt_1Mutt’s Promise, by Julie Salamon/Illus. by Jill Weber (March 2016, Dial Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780525427780

Recommended for ages 8-12

A tired dog wanders the woods and saves a cat from a weasel attack. She’s taken in by the cat’s human, an older man living on his own, and he christens the dog, “Mutt”. The son of the migrant family working for the man bonds with the dog, who gives birth to a little of four puppies. He names them, cares for them, but when the family has to move on and tells their employer that they won’t be back, he gives the puppies away, saying they’re too much to take care for. Two puppies are adopted by one loving family, but the other two – a female named Luna and a boy named Chief – end up living a nightmare in a horrific puppy mill. Will they be able to keep their spirits and their bodies healthy enough to survive and escape?

Mutt’s Promise is an unexpected book. It starts in a most idyllic setting, only to move pretty quickly into some heavy social issues. While the idea of migrant worker families is lightly touched on, it’s there, showing that this is not something that died out with The Grapes of Wrath. The heavier topic here is animal cruelty, most notably the kind of cruelty that takes place in puppy mills. Luna, a spunky little female pup, also deals with crushing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in the puppy mill. All of these topics are handled in an age-appropriate manner, framed within the animals’ story and using vocabulary that doesn’t try to sugar-coat what happens in these places, but makes the situation comprehensible to younger readers.

The writing and illustrations made me think of the animal fiction I read as a child; books like Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers series, and one of my all-time favorites, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket. Kids who love animal fiction will enjoy this book, and it provides a gentle introduction to hot-button social issues today. For kids who have experienced trauma in their own lives, reading a book like this may help facilitate a discussion; guidance counselors and therapists should give this a read and have available to talk over with parents and children.

Author has written nine books for both adults and children, including Cat in the City (also illustrated by Jill Weber).  Jill Weber is a children’s book illustrator and designer, and has worked on two other books by Julie Salamon.

Enjoy a glimpse at some of the art from the pages of Mutt’s Promise.

mutt_2mutt_3mutt_4mutt_5mutt_6