Dead End in Norvelt (ARC 9/13) by Jack Gantos
This middle grade coming of age story is actually historical fiction—my favorite! That being said, it wasn’t my favorite book ever because it’s a boy book. The main character, also named Jack Gantos, is interested in war memorabilia, baseball, and suffers from a bloody nose condition. The plot is amusing—since Jack is grounded for the summer he helps his elderly neighbor write obituaries for the unusual number of old women who are dying—and the adult townie characters are fantastic. It’s a well-written book, but not my type. (Historical Book Challenge #6)
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
One of my new at work goals is to read one Harper backlist book a month, starting with the award winners. Monster was selected for me and I so glad it was! It is the story of Steve Harmon, a 16 year-old black kid from Harlem who is on trial for murder during a convenience store robbery. It’s written in multiple formats: diary entries, the trial transcript, some illustrations. The best part about this novel is that although the jury comes to a verdict, the reader isn’t ever quite sure if Steve is innocent or guilty.
The Scorpio Races (ARC 10/18) by Maggie Stiefvater
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this novel. It’s so different than the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy which I adored. This novel is older, darker. It takes the mythology of deadly water horses and turns it upside down; in a small island community brave (or foolish) men capture these horses each November to race them. This year, for various reasons, Kate ‘Puck’ Connelley joins the men and begins a relationship with the race’s past champion, Sean. Their relationship isn’t the sigh-and-swoon type of Sam and Grace. I never actually felt really connected to them. I cared more about Sean’s water horse. But the language in this novel, especially the sparse dialog, proves once again that Maggie Stiefvater is a talented writer. (A very small side note: the UK cover is way prettier and more exciting that the US art…)
The Shreek of Wagons: 1848 Diary of Richard M. May, edited by Helfrich & Ackerman
This is a little different than my typical reading this past year. It’s my boyfriend’s great-great-great-grandfather’s Oregon Trail journal. And since I love history and I was traveling in Oregon this month I thought it was a great time to read it! And it was really interesting; he was one of the only diarists of the area to record meeting settlers coming back East with the gold they had found in 1849 and to mention traveling through a lunar eclipse. Now, of course, I want to play the Oregon Trail computer game!
The Unwanteds (ARC 8/30) by Lisa McMann
In this middle grade fantasy/dystopian children at the age of 13 are divided in three categories— intelligent and athletic “Wanteds,” helpful “Necessaries,” and creative “Unwanteds.” Society believes that the Unwanteds are sent to death, but in actuality they live in a secret world full of magic and prepare to fight the rest of the population. I first heard of this book at BEA—and saw the Kirkus Review calling it “Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games.” I naturally had to see if it lived up to that hype. Not only did it disappoint, I struggled to even finish it, only doing so so that I could write a review here. There are many problems with this novel; first, it is written in such a distant third person that I never felt like I knew the characters. I never was rooting for them and I didn’t care if they succeeded. Second, the world-building was far too cutesy for my taste. This is definitely a personal preference, although I love Savvy and the upcoming Bliss which use puns and clever world play. This took it too far; characters had names like Mr. Today and his daughter Claire Morning, the half-octopus was named Octavia. When the students battled they used neon yellow highlighters to blind opponents, or a dance from The Nutcracker to dance the Wanteds into submission. Last, (“spoiler”) the Unwanteds beat the Wanteds at the end of the book—but they win through creative fighting. Never once do the intelligent and/or athletic Wanteds even acknowledge that creativity is a useful skill. There needed to be a revelation at the end, because without it, I don’t know what the message is supposed to be…Overall, I can see the comparison to Harry Potter since the story takes place in school-like setting a magic world but that’s where the similarities ends: I didn’t care about the characters, world, outcome, or anything else.