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

Authors explore an explosive year in 1789

1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, edited by Marc Aronson & Susan Campbell Bartoletti, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536208733

Ages 12+

America wasn’t the only one feeling growing pains in 1789. Marc Aronson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who edited and contributed to 2018’s 1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, have put together another stellar examination of a contentious year in global history with 1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change. All-star authors, including Aronson and Bartoletti, Tanya Lee Stone, Steve Sheinkin, Joyce Hansen, and Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson, take on the big events and questions that rocked the world that year: what does “The Rights of Man” mean? White men? Nobles and kings? What about enslaved people and indigenous people? The Bill of Rights was ratified in the United States while France burned toward revolution; fishwives took to the streets and Marie Antoinette’s portrait artist captured the human side of an untouchable royal. Sailors mutinied, slaves told their stories, and mathematicians calculated the digits of pi. Organized into sections entitled “Exhilaration”, “Abomination”, “Inspiration”, and “Conclusions”, essays cover the excitement of change and discovery, the horror of enslavement, and the journey toward progress. It’s a truly holistic view of a pivotal year in history, and each essay broadens the reader’s world as they connect the dots to come away with a full picture of how one event can, like a snowball rolling downhill, engulf all in its path.

Publisher Candlewick offers a sample chapter on their website as well as an educator’s guide. Back matter includes comprehensive author notes, source notes, and a bibliography. 1789 has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

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

1968: A year of revolution, through the eyes of YA authors

1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, edited by Marc Aronson & Susan Campbell Bartoletti, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763689933

Ages 12+

1968 was an intense year: we lost Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy to assassins’ bullets; the Vietnam war raged overseas while protests raged here in the States; Olympic athletes raised their hands in protest and military police marched on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City, killing students and civilians during a protest. Fifty years later, where are we? You may be surprised. Fourteen authors share their memories and discuss pivotal events in 1968 in this anthology. David Lubar (Campfire Weenies and Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series) discusses stand-up comedy in 1968, while Lenore Look (Alvin Ho and Ruby Lu series) researches  the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1968 and the lasting impact on China’s citizens. National Book Award longlist nominee Elizabeth Patridge (Boots on the Ground) unites the anthologies with a running “Nightly News” prose poem that gives readers the stark cost of war: month by month tallies of American combat deaths, Vietnamese enemy combat deaths, and Vietnamese civilian deaths.

Each and every piece in 1968 is oustanding; it’s nonfiction that reads like fiction, bringing readers back to that contentious year. Black and white photos throughout capture moments like the Olympic Black Power salute and choppers over Vietnam. There are small moments and sweeping movements, but each observation helps draw important parallels between where we were and where we are; how much we have changed, and how much we have, sadly, remained the same.

The contributor list is an all-star cast of middle grade and YA writers: Jennifer Anthony, Marc Aronson, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Loree Griffin Burns, Paul Fleischman, Omar Figueras, Laban Carrick Hill, Mark Kurlansky, Lenore Look, David Lubar, Kate MacMillan, Kekla Magoon, Jim Murphy, and Elizabeth Partridge. Publisher Candlewick offers a sample chapter on their website, and I’d love to see a reader’s/educator’s guide written, too. 1968 is an essential add to YA collections, and I’d love to see this on summer reading (and school year reading) lists. This needs to be added to curriculum, DOE.

1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

An Unkindness of Ghosts is sci-fi worthy of Octavia Butler

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon, (Oct. 2017, Akashic Books), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-588-0

Recommended for readers 16+

The HSS Matilda is a massive spaceship, carrying what may well be the last of humanity through the stars, in search of a new, promised land in the wake of Earth’s ruination. Over time, the decks have become segregated by race and wealth, with the lower decks living with and suffering under abysmal conditions and treated like workhorses. Aster is a curious, angry young woman determined to find out what happened to her mother – why would she commit suicide when Aster was born? She also assists the ship’s Surgeon General, Theo, with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and herbology. All the while, she’s waiting and planning for a day when rebellion will come – and with a tyrannical Lieutenant about to rule, that day will come soon.

If you’ve read Octavia Butler, you will love An Unkindness of Ghosts. Rivers Solomon examines gender, sexuality, and social class using a starship and a narrative that moves smoothly between the third person and first person, giving us deeper insight into the characters and Matilda’s society. Aster is abrasive and inconsistent, yet surgically logical; almost detached, but passionate, all at once. Her friend, Giselle, is given to bouts of anger and aggression. Theo, the Surgeon, turns to religion to cope, yet struggles with his own sexuality and his family line. An Unkindness of Ghosts is a fascinating study of our own society and an exciting new work of science fiction. Solomon has created an intense, brutal world within the walls of the Matilda. I’m excited to read more from them.

An Unkindness of Ghosts received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Foreword Reviews.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Join the Dragonwatch!

Dragonwatch, by Brandon Mull, (March 2017, Shadow Mountain), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-256-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

After a seven-year wait, the sequel to the Fablehaven series is here! Dragonwatch starts a new chapter in the Fablehaven saga. The dragons are sick of their sanctuaries. They feel like prisons, and they want their freedom. Celebrant, a dragon resident and co-caretaker of the Wyrmroost Sanctuary, is testing his boundaries a little too much for anyone’s comfort. The wizard Agad, tells Kendra, Seth, and Grandpa Sorenson about an ancient group, the Dragonwatch, charged with keeping the dragons confined to their sanctuaries. Agad is resurrecting the Dragonwatch, and he also needs new caretakers at Wyrmroost: Seth and Kendra. As long as they work and together, they are the next hope for Wyrmroost, but Celebrant isn’t going to take having children as his new co-caretakers that willingly. Seth and Kendra must work with the supernatural residents around them to secure a magical artifact before the dragons can overthrow Wyrmroost.

I picked up my first copy of Fablehaven years ago, and fell in love with the story: the characters, the worldbuilding, the action, and the story of a family living under some pretty wild circumstances. Imagine finding out that your grandparents were caretakers of a preserve for magical creatures? Dragonwatch is every single thing I love about Fablehaven and more. There’s new worldbuilding and mythology that builds on everything we know so far; there’s a new conflict on the rise that will test our favorite characters and introduce us to new ones, and there’s an enduring commitment to the heart of the series: the family at the center of the story. We meet two possibly recurring characters from that family: cousins Knox and Tess, who bring a little of the outside world back to the novel while getting their feet wet in the world of Fablehaven. We meet a host of new magical friends, including Celebrant, the powerful dragon at the heart of the new conflict.

You don’t need to be well-read on Fablehaven to dive into Dragonwatch. It’s a new series, so Mull touches on the main points that newcomers need to be aware of, while giving readers an entirely new story to fall in love with. Kids will want to read Fablehaven once they start Dragonwatch – they’ll need something to read while waiting for the next installment – but they won’t be left out if they haven’t read the previous books just yet.

Courtesy of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch pageBrandon Mull’s Dragonwatch webpage has an excerpt, readers’ guide, and the VR experience that I linked to back when we were getting Decked Out for Dragonwatch back in January. There’s also a downloadable event kit and a sneak peek at some of Brandon Dorman’s amazing black and white artwork that you’ll see in Dragonwatch. Fablehaven fans and newbies can enjoy getting caught up at the Fablehaven page.Fantasy fans, especially dragon fans, are going to love this series. Booktalk it, display it, print out goodies from the website and share them!

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

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

Decelerate Blue wants to slow down society’s frenetic pace

decelerate-blueDecelerate Blue, by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro, (Feb. 2017, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596431096

Recommended for ages 13+

In a hyper future, speed and efficiency rule the day. Everything is sped up, from literature’s classics to movies. People end sentences with, “Go”, letting the other person know it’s their turn to speak. Angela is a teen who hates this crazy pace of living, especially when her grandfather is being sent off to a “reduction colony” because he can’t keep his numbers up. Angela goes off in search of something he’s left for her and finds her way into an underground community of citizens rebelling against the hyper society. She joins the movement, but their plan to free society from this delirious pace – a drug called Decelerate Blue – is in danger of being found out by the authorities.

This is a case where I love the idea, but the execution left me a little cold. I love the idea of this crazy hyper society where everything is skin deep; no one has real conversations anymore, and even Shakespeare has been edited for brevity. It’s an outcome that is chilling in its plausibility and is begging for a dystopian telling. Decelerate Blue just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would; the graphic novel had powerful moments, but didn’t sit down and unpack them enough to invest me in the characters. The ending bordered on melodramatic, and left me frustrated. I did want to know more, though: what happened after? Did society examine what happened, or did they continue on as if nothing happened? Will the movement continue? Like I said, great ideas, stumbled in the execution.

An additional purchase for your sci fi collections.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Ashkind: Helena Coggan’s The Catalyst

catalystThe Catalyst, by Helena Coggan, (Oct. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689728

Recommended for ages 12+

A dimensional cataclysm on our world turned the human race against one another: some are green-eyed Gifted, who wield magical powers; others are dark-eyed, non-magical Ashkind. A fragile peace is in place after a great war between Gifted and Ashkind, but there seems to be signs that something’s brewing again. Rose is a 15 year-old girl whose father, David, is in charge of the Department, a brutal law enforcement agency. David and Rose are gifted, and something… more. Something they must keep others from finding out. A mysterious murder suspect knows their secrets, though, and he’s blackmailing Rose into helping him – putting her loyalty to her father, and the Department, to test.

Helena Coggan was 15 years old when she wrote The Catalyst, and that alone makes it pretty darned impressive. She’s got some solid world-building in this first book (the second, The Reaction, has already been released in the UK), and I liked a lot of her character development. The action is well-paced, and the dystopian elements of the individual leading a group against the shadowy government is tweaked to include magic elements, a nice update to the genre. There was quite a bit to keep sorted for me at first, especially with the introduction of other groups like the Host; it took me a few re-reads of some pages to set them within the frame of the book. All in all, a good addition to dystopian/sci fi collections for those with strong readerships.

Helena Coggan’s got a WordPress site that has a nice photo and description of The Reaction, for anyone who wants to know more about the Angel Wars series.