Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sports fiction with a heart

Somehow, in my years reviewing books for School Library Journal, I've become one of the go-to reviewers for middle grade and young adult sports fiction.  Which is kind of funny, because I was an uncoordinated kid who hated PE, and as an adult, am definitely not an armchair quarterback (or a watcher of any sports, really).  But there are some wonderful novels being published today that feature main characters who are involved in different sports, and they make for some great reading.  Recently, I've come across two excellent books.  You'll have to wait for a review of the first one, The Pitcher, since that's one of my SLJ books and the review won't be out for a couple of months. 

The other one, Boy21, was one of YALSA's top ten Best Fiction for Young Adults picks for 2013, with good reason.  Written by Matthew Quick, the same guy who gave us The Silver Linings Playbook, it's a story of friendship between a white kid and black kid in a racially divided town.  A friendship between two damaged kids who turn to basketball and outer space for healing.  Here's my Goodreads review:
It's Finley's senior year, and basketball has been his life since he was little... it was his escape after his mother's death. Growing up in a poor, racially divided town, he knows that it is his ticket out. When his coach asks him to befriend a student who is transferring in, Finley doesn't hesitate. Even when his coach tells him that this new student, Russ, is a nationally ranked basketball player who is having trouble coping since the death of his parents, Finley doesn't see Russ as a threat. Russ isn't interested in basketball anymore. He calls himself Boy21, and his conversations all focus around outer space, and the fact that his parents will be picking him up from Earth within the next several weeks. Coach is determined that Finley help Russ get back into basketball... he believes that playing again will help Russ in his grieving process. Finley wants to do the right thing, but he can't confide the facts of Russ's background to his girlfriend or anyone else. And if Russ is as good as Coach says, Finley could be talking himself out of his starting position on the team. In this warmly-written, multilayered story, Finley is an engaging protagonist. And the friendship that he offers Russ comes back to him when he needs it most.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Unbreakable, by Kami Garcia

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

Kami Garcia is well-known to lots of teens already as one of the co-authors in the Beautiful Creatures series.  Here's my review of her first solo YA venture, which also appears on Goodreads.

Kennedy and her mom have a nice life in DC. Kennedy is fairly introverted, preferring drawing in her room to going out to party. But when Kennedy comes home one evening and discovers that her mom has died of apparent heart failure, her world quickly crumbles. She can't imagine moving in with her aunt, so they compromise on a boarding school. A couple of nights before Kennedy is due to move from the house, she is wakened violently, unable to breathe, and discovers her cat on her chest sucking the air from her. Two strangers burst into her room with guns and shoot the malevolent spirit that was trying to kill her. The two strangers turn out to be hot twin brothers Lukas and Jared, and they explain to Kennedy that her mom wasn't the only one to die that fateful night-- her mom was apparently one of five members of a secret society charged with protecting the world from the demon Andras, and all five members were killed in the same way that night. Since membership in the Legion of the Black Dove is passed through a family, they've come to convince Kennedy to join forces with them and two other teens, Alara and Priest. Kennedy would prefer to stay in the home where she and her mother spent the past 17 years until it's time to leave for boarding school, but the malevolent spirits take that option off the table when they destroy the house. Kennedy and the twins escape in the nick of time and she reluctantly joins the other four as they search for the weapon that old journals say will destroy the demon. I was swept up in the beginning with good solid character building, but as the story went on, I found that the characters actually got more two-dimensional, and the love triangle between Kennedy and Jared and Lukas just seemed too rushed and weird. Alara's a perfectly lovely girl, even if she does have a tough exterior, yet both of the twins seem completely captivated by Kennedy as soon as they meet her. Really? But the creepy factor is high, with the group traveling from an abandoned mansion to an abandoned orphanage, to an abandoned prison, and meeting lots of violent ghosts along the way (which they are able to vanquish with Priest's cool homemade anti-ghost duct-taped contraptions). The action-driven novel culminates in a final showdown between Kennedy and the ghost of a serial killer in the haunted prison, and (** SPOILER ALERT **) when the weapon that the kids have managed to assemble has the final piece put in, it does indeed destroy the serial killer's ghost, but-- OOPS!-- apparently gives Andras even MORE power than he had to begin with. Will the group go on to vanquish the demon in upcoming volumes? Will Kennedy ever believe she's one of the group? Will Lukas and Jared learn to get along? Lots of questions remain to be answered in this overall fun if somewhat contrived quick read.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review of Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves

Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most compelling young adult authors writing today.  Her series and stand-alone novels are thought-provoking and beautifully written.   The Dream Thieves, the second in her Raven Cycle, is no exception... here's my Goodreads review:

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

This second book in the Raven Boys series has a different rhythm than the first. It's focused much more on Ronan, and we learn about his ability to "steal" things from his dreams (hence the title), bringing them back into the waking world. He got this gift from his father, but he's not the only one in town who has the ability: a schoolmate, Kavinsky, is able to do the same thing, to darker purposes. The storyline involving Gansey, Blue, Adam, and Noah and the quest for Glendower progresses minimally... the emphasis here is really on what Ronan's abilities are going to bring to the table in the final installment. A worthy second installment... looking forward to the next one. Stiefvater's writing style is just beautiful.