Black Bottle Man

Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell has some incredibly intriguing elements. The magical aspects are different from typical paranormal fiction for teens and I found that refreshing. The hobo signs with power feel so natural within Russell’s world that I want to do some research and see if such things are explored more in folklore. I liked the premise of having to move on every twelve days and how that would influence the development of a young man.

I was somewhat disappointed with the chapter where the deal is made with the black bottle man. The deal is incredibly important to the plot and character development but it’s skirted around. The way the story unfolds isn’t linear, and that’s ok for most of the book I felt like the deal that has such an impact on the protagonist Rembrandt’s life should have had a more prominent part in the novel by being told in a more direct fashion. The motivation for the original deal is infertility and I’m not sure this is a subject that many teen readers will be able to relate to.

I would recommend this to teens who like an old fashioned supernatural adventure. The pace is slower than many popular teen novels, and the way it jumps around would be difficult for reluctant readers but I enjoyed it and I know some teens who would too.

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What We Hide

cover artWhat We Hide is a tapestry of teen angst. Many perspectives make up the quilt of the story, all patched together with the common setting of the English boarding school. Most of the characters have secrets, family they are ashamed of, insecurities about friendships, identity crisis, and a lot of pent up sexual frustration.

Since my focus at the moment is Canadian literature for teens, (and this technically qualifies because Marthe Jocelyn is Canadian) I find it difficult to read about English teens and American teens spending time in England. Especially the way Canada is referred to in the first chapter, this doesn’t feel Canadian. The British slang is amusing, and made less confusing by Jenny’s American perspective.

The story is set in the time of the Vietnam war but the way the teens talk and interact feels contemporary. Perhaps I was overly sheltered or naive but I didn’t have nearly as much sex going on in my high school decades after this story takes place and I find it surprising how much is going on in the novel. Many of the characters had or become teen parents, something that I often hear older people complaining about as a “new” phenomenon because of shows like Teen Mom.

There’s good diversity of characters, with representations of more than one ethnicity, sexual orientation and social class. However, all of them feel defined by those characteristics.

I think this story might work better in a different medium, perhaps television? I felt jolted as it jumped from person to person. Format to format. Although I enjoyed the letters embedded in the text the scripts didn’t flow as well.

Twisted

Lisa Harrington’s novel Twisted has a very appropriate title for the content. It was a good book until the last chapter but it is disturbing that Lyssa does not tell the police the full story, she acknowledges a resemblance between her love interest and her brother, and that she is calm about what she discovers in the final paragraph. The decisions made by the author about the ending cast a new light on the novel that is not as favourable. Were it not for the denouement, the reader would be left with a less unsettling feeling.

Twisted begins as a drama with the typical teen angst about relationships and the sadness of a lost parent, but the second half of the novel is a suspenseful, psychological thriller. The pace begins slow but things escalate quickly once the suspense begins.

If you liked Twisted read:

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The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy: A Handbook For Girl Geeks

Sam Maggs is Canadian author who I first learned about on the blog The Mary Sue (one of my favourites by the way/check it out). Her book The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy: A Handbook For Girl Geeks has gotten mixed reviews but I think it’s a fantastic addition to a library’s YA nonfiction collection.

The book is light and quirky with hilarious one-liners that fangirls will appreciate. I was laughing, giggling, snorting and blushing as I read this in the airport on the way to the Canadian Library Association conference. As a girl geek myself, I connected with the text and flew through it in less than an hour.

This book isn’t specifically for teens but it is just what a certain niche of them needs. As Maggs points out, being a geeky girl can be lonely. In a small town a teen girl who likes manga, video games or super hero movies might not have anyone to share that enthusiasm with. Even in a big city geeks can be a reclusive group and finding friends can be a challenge for young women with interests that are more traditionally part of male subculture. Maggs points young women in the direction of real world and online communities where they can connect with people who share their interests.

She also talks about being safe online and at conventions. This is something she has been critiqued for including but I thought her advise about privacy was relevant and important for youth to hear from someone who has an active online presence.

The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy encourages young women to embrace their individuality and be open about the things they love. She includes quotes from strong female role models and memorable fictional female characters. There is a commercial aspect of the book, linking to where to buy merchandise but this is appropriate in the context because fangirls want to know where they can find geeky products that are geared to women. She mentions some of my favourite sources for jewelry and casual clothes. I look forward to exploring the resources that weren’t already familiar to me.

Librarians who are not geeks themselves could benefit from the glossary of the book. Definitions of things like cosplay could be helpful in relating to youth and understanding the culture.

This book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but it’s a good introduction to geek culture for young readers, and it will give the isolated girl geeks the reassurance that they are not alone. That ability to offer a sense of community to minorities is one of the best parts of YA books.

Totem

cover artJennifer Maruno’s novel Totem is a time travelling tale for young teens. It contemplates the troubles of Residential Schools and the importance of heritage to First Nations people.

The content of the book was good but I didn’t find the writing compelling. The dialogue felt off somehow, not genuine.

I liked that there was a glossary of Chinook jargon.

Jamie’s Got A Gun

Jamie’s Got A Gun is by Gail Sidonie Sobat and Spyder Yardley-Jones. I’m afraid I extremely disappointed in this book. It’s somewhere between a novel and a graphic novel. There are scattered images that contribute to the story but they do not exclusively make up the action in the novel like a true graphic novel so I think the “A Graphic Novel” on the cover is deceptive. This combo of writing and images has been successful in other books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen but I find it too choppy in this instance, interrupting the flow of the story instead of smoothly integrating the two formats.

I feel like the harsh language of the narration is well intended- with a goal of creating a gritty atmosphere. Unfortunately it falls flat, with unconvincing diction that sounds like an outsider’s view of thug life rather than an authentic troubled youth’s journal. It comes across exaggerated in such a way that I’m not sure at some points if the poor grammar is intentional. It gives the impression of a language barrier- someone who knows the individual words of a culture but not the expressions or phrasing that feels natural.

I had trouble finishing it to be honest, it didn’t hook me.

 

Rabbit Ears

Rabbit Earsrabbit ears cover art by Maggie DeVries deals with mature heavy subject matter. The tales of child abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and death are sad and will be disturbing to some readers.

I found the narration to be disjointed. Sometimes I would miss that the perspective had changed, which doesn’t make sense because the two characters who tell the tale are very different and should have more noticeably distinct voices. Things unfold in a way that is not logical or linear. Some novels make this work, revealing bits in flashbacks, but it doesn’t work well in this one. I only start really connecting with Kaya in the last quarter of the book, and feel like I would have gotten more out of the first half of the novel with the back-story we receive too late.

There were two parts of the narration that worked well. The dissociation Kaya experiences, referring to herself in an odd way, is appropriate for the trauma she has experienced. That Beth felt her father’s illness more through her treatment at school then his behaviour at home was also poignant.

Kaya’s revelations in therapy are important aspects of the story. Readers can see, through her responses to the therapist, how she never understood that her abuser was manipulative or unkind. She thought he was good, except for one flaw, and only in having her situation framed by another’s words does she see what really happened. I think understanding her thought process will instill empathy for abuse victims and maybe help some young people to be aware of unhealthy relationships.

I respect DeVries attempt to portray a survivor of a situation that a loved one did not survive. I think it is well-meaning, but not as well executed as it could have been. My colleagues loved it and didn’t agree with my criticism.

Read-Alikes