Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jellicoe Road--Melina Marchetta

Let me start by saying that I am out of the loop with YA lit now. I don't know what's coming out until I see it on the library shelves. I don't know who the recent Printz winners are or what books are creating the latest buzz. I'm no longer working as a YA librarian, in fact at this moment I am not working at all since I had my third baby 3 1/2 weeks ago. So I picked this book randomly off the shelf the last time I went to the library. I didn't even realize it was the Printz winner until I saw the seal later on.

This book was so good.

17 year old Taylor Markham attends a boarding school in Australia. She's been there ever since she was 11 years old and her drug addict mother abandoned her at a McDonalds. She is naturally a little messed up from the experience. The school is set up into houses and each house has a student leader that takes care of the younger students in the house. A teacher is assigned to each house, but does not live in it and has very little responsibility. The student leader shoulders most of the burden. Taylor is the unwilling house leader for her house, as well as the reluctant leader of an underground community. The students are all in a war with the Townies--kids who live in the town--and the Cadets--kids from a military school who come out for a few weeks each year. They fight over territory and make deals and war based on a purple book handed down to the students from 20 years ago. Taylor must deal with negotiating with the Townies and with the Cadets (the leader of which is someone Taylor has a mysterious history with) while coping with the absence of Hannah--a beloved volunteer at the school who picked Taylor up from the McDonalds and trying to understand her strange dreams about a boy in a tree.

There's so much in this book it's hard to summarize anything. It's nearly impossible to put down. Taylor begins her journey as untrusting and bitter and eventually learns to open herself up to other people. She finally accepts her past, learns the truth about her family, and is able to move on and look to the future. I cannot say how much I loved this book. It's not the fantasy I usually rave about... but Marchetta pulled me in to the world she created and I could not leave until I was done with the book. It's well-written, the characters are complex and interesting, and the story is riveting. I highly recommend it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Graceling--Kristin Cashore

In Kristen Cashore's fantasy novel there are people called Gracelings who have extraordinary gifts. Some are graced with cooking skills or healing skills or mind reading. Katsa is a young girl graced with killing. Her uncle, King Randa, uses her abilities to maintain control over his subjects, as well as her. She does not like being the king's bully but she doesn't see a way out until she meets another strange Graceling from another kingdom.

This book has everything you want. Fantasy, adventure, romance, social commentary, political intrigue, mystery. Katsa is a strong female character who stays true to her ideals. She is determined not to marry or have children. At one point I was disappointed because I thought that certain events were going to change her mind, but she didn't. She didn't change her true essence to please a man or anyone else. Cashore did a great job of creating a really strong heroine. She starts out a little lost and not understanding her grace, but by the end of the book she learns what her grace really is and what she can do with it. She finds her place in the world and accepts it.

This was a great book and I look forward to reading the companion, Fire, when it comes out in the fall.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot--Andrew Auseon

I enjoyed Andrew Auseon's first novel Funny Little Monkey and was not disappointed by his second. Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot is an immensely creative and imaginative look at life after death. The story opens with Jo-Jo, a 17-year old boy, who has lost his girlfriend and his desire to live. He intends to commit suicide when he is distracted by the naked body of a young girl floating in the water. The sight of the body is enough to delay him and arouse his curiosity. When he decides to touch the body the unbelievable happens--she opens her eyes and comes back to "life." Jo-Jo learns that there is an Afterlife--just not quite the heaven we imagine. More of an "other life", the Afterlife is a place to go to try to fix the mistakes made the first time around. When Jo-Jo makes a poor decision he follows the girl back to the Afterlife and is given a second chance at "life" and needs to choose whether or not to take it.

The story is pretty damn cool. Auseon's vision of the Afterlife is unique and wonderfully described. But his description of the band that the young girl is in--The Fiendish Lot--and the music they play is just out of this world (no pun intended). I found myself wishing for a soundtrack. I would love to know if Auseon had a band in mind as he created the Fiendish Lot!

Auseon really hit his stride with this novel. I enjoyed it a lot and was really annoyed that I had only 30 pages to go when my water broke in the middle of the night and I went into labor--without the book packed! Luckily I managed to finish it when I got home. I highly recommend this and look forward to his next books.

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