akibird

A Blog of Children's Literature

Goth Girl Rising August 9, 2011

Goth Girl RisingGoth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lyga, Barry.
Goth Girl Rising.
Oct. 2009 (galley). 388p. Houghton Mifflin Books.
Grades 9 and up.
REVIEW. First published August 9, 2011 (Akibird).

After a stint in rehab, Goth Girl Kyra is back with a vengeance and aiming for Fanboy for putting her in the hospital. Occurring six months after Lyga’s popular The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl, Goth Girl Rising switches to Kyra’s narration and shows a lost teen who must transition back into reality and return to school and so-called friends. Truly understanding girl bravado, Barry Lyga portrays Kyra as outwardly confident with her shaved head, blue lipstick, and killer attitude. However, his creative genius unravels Kyra’s true feelings in her evolving poetry and letters to comic legend Neil Gaiman, exposing a girl grieving the loss of her mother and her muddled relationships. The author’s exploration of Goth Girl’s psyche accurately reveals a damaged soul, terrified of abandonment. Rather than talk openly about her feelings, Kyra is willing to sabotage the life of the boy she loves to fill her emptiness and avoid rejection. With a plethora of eye-opening moments and references to popular graphic novels, Goth Girl Rising will be a favorite of fans of the first in the series and also of those interested in angst and identity formation. Lyga’s use of graphic novels in the characters’ lives shows the format is not just about superheroes and tights but can lead to deeper questioning about life, death, and what it all means.

 

The Arrival April 18, 2011

The ArrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007)

Graphic Book, 128 pages

In a book that looks like an old-fashioned photo album, the story of one man’s journey to emigrate to another country is documented wordlessly through illustrations that seem like photographs. In the beginning the man leaves behind his family in order to find his place in a new world and ultimately make enough money to send for them. On his arrival, he is met by bizarre creatures, customs, and text which he cannot decipher, echoing the experiences of new emigrants around the world. Without any text, the experience could represent numerous immigrant experiences; however, with the diverse faces on every page and elements of fantasy, Tan seems to be making a universal statement on the hardship and obstacles immigrants around the world face as they settle into a new home. The man’s story is captured in Tan’s exemplary pencil sketches that look like grainy photos. Slight variations in gray or sepia allow the reader to understand time and place for the protagonist, as he makes friends, hears their histories, and tries to make a living. Tan’s own imagination comes to life in the unique companion creatures that each resident attains, the grand architecture of the new country, and the impending doom from the oversized shadows and people who take over former homes. With multiple layers, younger readers will appreciate the basic story of one man’s strength to overcome hardship, while older readers will find elements of immigration, politics, war, and acculturation. As a great piece for visual learners, I would recommend The Arrival to ages 10 and up with more of an emphasis on the middle school years. Teachers may also find this book useful in portraying general settler experiences during an immigration unit of study.

 

Sweetgrass Basket

Sweetgrass BasketSweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell (2005)

Novel in Verse, 243 pages

In heart-wrenching dual free-verse narratives, Carvell crafts the voices of two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, who are sent to an off-reservation school after their mother dies. Doing what he thinks is best, their father sends his children away to go to school, where they have lessons, march, and do domestic work. In their alternating voices similar to diary entries, the girls share their stories of leaving home on a long train ride and receiving a slap in the face by the head mistress, Mrs. Dwyer, because they are too afraid to let go of one another on their first day at the school. While the girls soon find a few friends and kindness in some of the school’s employees, both just want to return to the land and culture they call home. While Sarah cries all the time from homesickness, Mattie begins to be more headstrong and refuses to cower like the other girls under Mrs. Dwyer’s strict hand. When Mattie is wrongfully accused of stealing Mrs. Dwyer’s silver brooch, she refuses to admit she is guilty and attempts to escape the school. Carvell’s poetry embodies the broken souls of both sisters and does not skip a beat when the narration switches voices. Painting a painful but often true story of misunderstood culture and emotional child abuse, Sweetgrass Basket portrays the experiences of many Native American children who went to the boarding schools so far away from their homes, their families, and themselves. I would highly recommend this book to ages 11 and up.

 

All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken PiecesAll the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg (2009)

Novel in Verse, 218 pages

In brilliant verse, Ann Burg shares the experiences of Matt Pin, a Vietnamese refugee who was adopted by an American family. Airlifted out of war-stricken Vietnam when he was 10, he still remembers it all, and the memories haunt him: the mother who made him leave her to come to America, his younger brother’s limbs lost to war, the American father who never returned for him or his mother. Now in seventh grade, Matt has a loving new little brother and has become the star pitcher for his baseball team; however, some teammates refuse to accept him, taking out their pain from the war on Matt (“My brother died / because of you”). Matt’s adoptive parents decide to take him to a Vietnam vet support group to hear their stories and find a way to help him let go of some of the broken pieces that cut into his soul like shards of glass. Matt’s poetic narration shows the reflection of a child who is learning to grow up with post-traumatic stress and who does not yet understand the causes of war or its destruction. Heartbreakingly, Matt must learn to stop blaming himself for his brother’s injuries, the Vietnam vets’ pain, and the numerous shattered lives in order to shed his fear and embrace his life, both past and present. While Burg touches on many heavy issues within the book (the nightmares of PTSD, the destruction of war, the guilty feeling of loving a new family, the sting of racism, and the need to belong as a child), her simple prose poetry allows YA readers to relate and understand a life that might be very different from their own. Burg’s beautiful metaphor of the game of baseball and life winds itself through the story as Matt and his teammates accept each other and help one another grieve. While an amazing stand alone read, All the Broken Pieces would be an excellent supplement to a unit on war and its effects on soldiers and civilians.

 

The White Darkness April 13, 2011

Filed under: Adventure and Fantasy — akibird @ 3:55 pm
Tags: , ,

The White DarknessThe White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (2006)

Adventure, 369 pages

14-year-old Symone is fine, despite the fact that her father has just died, she has few friends, and her disability has made her somewhat socially awkward. Sym gets through life with the help of “Titus” Oates, once a great traveler of Sym’s passion, Antarctica. Dead for over 100 years, Titus is now a voice in Sym’s head, her own creation, representing everything she wants in a man and best friend. Besides Titus, Sym’s Uncle Victor has been very supportive through the grieving process and has even paid for the funeral for her father. Sym has so much confidence in her Uncle Victor, that she does not doubt him when he suggests traveling to Paris and then south to Antarctica without telling her mother. Through her sheltered experience, Sym only sees a genius uncle who has devoted much of his life to science and the discovery of Symmes’ Hole, a crack in the earth’s crust that Victor believes opens onto a world hidden under our own full of its own inhabitants and life. In this quest for amazing discovery, Uncle Victor’s guise of genius slowly slips away to insanity as Sym realizes this and other disturbing facts about her uncle. Now deep within the heart of Antarctica and left in extreme conditions, Sym must learn to stop believing what Uncle Victor tells her and start believing herself and Titus in order to attempt to make it out alive. With interesting psychological elements both within Sym’s narration and Victor’s behavior, McCaughrean creates characters in desperate need of help who get entangled in their own dreams that lead to disaster. I would recommend The White Darkness to older teens who love extreme adventure and stories that unfurl mysteries and origins of pain.

 

The True Meaning of Smekday

The True Meaning of SmekdayThe True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (2007)

Fantasy, 432 pages

In a world that was once the United States, 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci struggles to find her mother who Boov aliens have abducted, befriends a Boov named J.Lo, and tries to save the planet from alien dominance. Most of Tip’s cross-country adventures occur while driving her mother’s car which has now been transformed by J.Lo into “Slushious,” a hovercar that is steered by the radio tuner and operates using a combination of alien mechanical parts and convenience store finds. Earth, now called Smekland, is a hot commodity as Gorg aliens come to overthrow Boov and secretly enslave humans. Gratuity and J.Lo are running against the clock to find a plan to restore earth to human control and convince others that Gorg do not intend to allow humankind to survive. In a very unique style, Adam Rex creates a dizzying narrative full of twists and comical turns that show humanity may not just be limited to humans. Using comic-like illustrations and Polaroid drawings, Rex also walks the reader into his narrative with the history of the alien worlds (drawn by J.Lo), a new America full of alien contraptions, and a car that flies complete with pink beach ball safety devices and a Snark’s Adjustable Manifold. Rex’s quirky imaginative story would be a great find for any young adult open to extraterrestrial hilarity that turns our world upside down.

 

Alabama Moon

Alabama MoonAlabama Moon by Watt Key
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alabama Moon by Watt Key (2006)

Adventure, 304 pages

Moon Blake is only 10 years old, but he knows how to survive in the wild and live off of the forest. Moon and his Pap have been avoiding the law and living in a half underground structure deep in the woods for almost all of Moon’s life. When his father dies unexpectedly and tells Moon to go to Alaska and find others like them, Moon is thrust into a whole new world outside the comfort of his natural surroundings. Moon then really learns what it’s like to run from the law as a boys’ home director and a sadistic constable are out to get him. Using his outdoor survival skills, Moon attempts to break out of confinement, find his way to Alaska, and live free. However, Moon’s heart begins to change as he makes friends with boys at the home, particularly Kit a sickly boy who admires Moon and his former lifestyle. In his first novel, Watt Key does an exceptional job portraying a boy who knows everything about survival but has a lot to learn about friendship, trust, and himself. The reader sees Moon grow into a multilayer character with his increasing doubts in his father’s plans for him, his inability to make an adequate medicine for Kit, and his ultimate decision to stop running. Readers who like adventure, strong male characters, and stronger introspection will appreciate Moon’s narration and his journey home. I would recommend Alabama Moon in a booktalk to share with 9-12 year olds who enjoy adventure and heart.