Confessions: a novel by Kanae Minato. Translated by Stephen Snyder. Mullholland Books (Little, Brown), 2014. 9780316200929. 234pp.
I’m going to try (and fail) to pitch this Japanese novel as well as Wes at Third Place Books pitched it to me.
It opens with a middle school teacher, Yuko Moriguchi, talking to her students. Her daughter, Manami, drowned in the school’s pool during a staff meeting, devastating her and the girl’s father. But it was not an accident. Her daughter was killed by two students, and the teacher knows exactly who they are. She talks about them in detail, and though she doesn’t use their names everyone listening can easily identify them. And then Moriguchi explains her revenge — she’s poisoning their milk with HIV+ blood.
That’s dark enough already, but it gets darker. The next four chapters, each narrated by a different character connected to Manami’s murder, explore the murderers’ lives before and after the killing, and show what happens because of their actions and Moriguchi’s revenge. It’s all wonderfully horrific. (I hear there’s a movie. I can’t wait to see it.)
George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. Touchstone, 2017. 9781501162893. 288 pp.
Gene: This is George and Lizzy by Nancy Pearl.
Sarah: Who we’ve both met and both like.
G: Who I would say is a buddy of mine.
S: I own her action figure and the T-shirt that you made of her.
G: She’s awesome. I ran into her husband at my local library in September — they live close to me — when Nancy was on her book launch tour. He teaches a meditation class I need to take.
S: I feel like the few things I know about her I noticed reflected in the book, and there are probably going to be more, and the meditation class is one of them.
G: Oh my god, I didn’t think about that. So, give me your pitch for this.
S: Lizzie, when she was in high school, well her friend came up with this idea that she thought was great…her friend dropped out because this idea was insane but Lizzie did it anyway.
G: What was the idea?
S: To sleep with every member of the high school football team. Well, not every member, but the starters. And they were going to divide the starters between them, which was 11 boys each, and then they’d flip for the last one…
G: The kicker.
S: …but because her friend dropped out Lizzie decided she would do all the starters. And it’s never totally clear why she does this except she’s super pissed off at her parents and maybe kind of hopes this will shock them into caring about her.
Continue reading “Gene & Sarah”
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, illustrations by Brendan Shusterman. HarperCollins, 2015. 9780061134111.
As a book blogger, I hope I can bring you some value in my writing: helping you find a hidden gem or highlighting the best new stuff. So it feels weird to write about a book you probably already know is really good. The book, published three years ago, is widely-acclaimed, by a well-loved YA author, and won the National Book Award. It’s not new and it’s not hidden, but it is a gem. Challenger Deep ended up on my phone when I was taking screenshots of my library’s eBook platform for a presentation and needed to borrow a book. Before I knew it I was completely sucked in.
The chapters are short and propel you along quickly through two parallel stories. In one, fifteen-year-old Caden is beginning to suspect something might be wrong, but he can’t articulate what or why to his family. Strange ideas keep nagging at him, he feels connected in some profound way to everyone and everything, and he’s afraid that a kid at school wants to kill him. These thoughts become more persistent, the illusions and emotions become more heightened, and he develops physical symptoms: his artwork becomes abstract and uncontrolled (the art in the book is drawn by the author’s son, who is the inspiration for the book), he walks for hours and hours every day, and he never wants to eat. In the other story Caden is aboard a pirate ship crewed by teens with similar problems. Reality warps from moment to moment and analogy, metaphor, and even puns become real as the ship heads for the depths of the Marianas Trench.
The spoiler/not spoiler (the information is on the book jacket and in every review) is that Caden is struggling through the onset of schizophrenia. The chapters on the ship explore his experience through metaphor and may be the reality that Caden is living at his lowest points. The chapters set in real life show Caden’s perspective as he copes as best he can while his friends and family are frightened and bewildered by the changes in his behavior. The chapters begin to overlap as Caden responds to treatment, and the “real life” chapters show him regaining his perspective and sense of humor. My favorite character was the ship’s figurehead/fellow patient who forms a deep connection with Caden and gives him advice about his future. As Caden himself points out, people’s experiences with schizophrenia and its treatment are very individual: this is only one story and can only really show one experience. But I think it’s invaluable for humanizing this experience.
Impossible Fortress: A Novel by Jason Rekulak. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 9781501144417.
Sarah: So do you find yourself wondering if a book is intended to be an adult or teen book and then judging it differently?
S: I think I would have been harsher to this book if it had been a teen book.
G: Isn’t it a teen book?
S: It is not a teen book.
G: I read it like it was a teen book.
S: I read it as an adult book, so I was a little bit more forgiving of the fact that it meandered.
G: But it’s clearly a teen novel. It just relies so heavily on nostalgia that you can’t put it on the teen shelf. It’s much more for us.
Continue reading “8-Bit Nostalgia”
Colonial Madness by Jo Whittemore. Aladdin, 2015. 9781481405089. Also published as Me & Mom vs. The World.
When I booktalk to middle school classrooms, I like to bring at least one squeaky-clean book for the kids who need one. (And as a palate-cleanser for all of the books about skeletons and bizarre animals that I bring.) Colonial Madness was a perfect fit. The plot is light and cute: an eccentric aunt has decided that her huge historic house will go to the relative who can best live like a colonial settler in an heir-on-heir reality-show-style competition. Throw in a cute boy (the son of the house’s caretakers) and you’ve got a screwball family romantic comedy. Tori and her mom, competing as a team to save her mom’s dress shop, have a warm and close relationship, even if mom is often silly and impractical. How so? She and Tori once made a massive ice cream sundae in the bathtub, played hide and seek in a graveyard, and decided to see how many stuffed animals they could velcro to their bodies. Tori loves her mom a lot, but still gets mad at her and hurts her feelings. And it’s all presented in a way that I think would be very reassuring to a kid, especially to one who doesn’t want to read anything mom might think is inappropriate.
How To Survive In The North by Luke Healy. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620069.
For epic tales of icy climes that will make you feel the cold in your bones, read Leiber’s Whiteout or Bertozzi’s Shackleton. But for a beautifully rendered meditation on loneliness, bad choices, and survival, look no farther than How To Survive In The North.
There are three intertwined narratives. One begins in Nome, Alaska, in 1913 as explorer Robert Bartlett sets off on a scientific expedition to the arctic aboard The Karluk. (All does not go well.) The second begins in Nome in 1921 when young native Ada Blackjack signs on as seamstress for an expedition to claim Wrangel Island for Canada. (All does not go well.) The third, unlike the other two, is not based in fact. It involves a tenured professor in trouble with his school for having an inappropriate relationship with a student. On a forced sabbatical, he starts going through the papers of a former professor named Stefannson, learning about Bartlett and Ada Blackjack (via her diary) in the process. But he can’t get the student out of his mind. (All does not go well.)
There are two striking things about the way Healy drew this graphic novel. First, the colors — he uses a the washed out pink, yellow, and blue green that make up the aurora on the cover, along with white, to tell the stories. And somehow it totally works. Second, Healy creates the impression of maintaining a constant distance from is characters. Before taking another look just now, I could have sworn there were no drawings of them at a distance or close-up, that they were all framed as if seen from the same distance throughout. I would have been wrong, but somehow the work as a whole gives this impression — it feels like I’ve been watching an art film that I loved but that I can’t quite explain.
This is one of my favorite graphic novels from Nobrow, which is putting out some great books. Be sure to check out Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk books, Louis Roskosch’s Leeroy and Popo, and Marion Fayolle’s In Pieces.
Dan Versus Nature by Don Calame. Candlewick Press, 2016. 9780763670719.
Gene: Dan vs. Nature: the ultimate teen boy book!
G: I would give this book to almost any normal, hormonal, insane teen boy that I know.
S: Yes. I gave it to an ELL student who said he liked Calame’s Swim the Fly. His tutor was there with him and didn’t know what the book was about. I said “it’s a nature book. It’s about nature.”
G: It’s like Hatchet, but everybody has a raging boner the entire time.
S: OK, the very first sentence of the book: “Charlie and I are getting our asses punched.” This is why I decided I had to read the entire book. There’s a lot of books where if it grabs me on line one, I’m in. “You had me at hello.”
G: So Dan and his friend Charlie are geeks.
S: Yes, and his mom, uh… hasn’t had the best luck with boyfriends. Continue reading “Gross vs Reader, Everyone Wins”