The Plain Janes

313162The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg is an exciting graphic novel geared mostly towards teen girls.

Rebellion, art and friendship are explored through the familiar “new girl” trope but go beyond typical high school drama. The story is framed by a terror attack. Jane’s character evolves because of the trauma.

I thought the mother’s overprotective anxieties were realistically smothering and anxiety inducing for Jane. Jane’s obsession reminiscent of  While You Were Sleeping    makes sense given her need to connect with someone who shared her experience.

A quick, enjoyable read for teens looking for realistic fiction in graphic novel format.

American Born Chinese

118944American Born Chinese is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. It mixes a contemporary story with Chinese folklore (the Monkey King).

It is an interesting take on racism focusing on a young man who is embarrassed of his heritage, family and friends. Jin feels like he needs to be more white to attract the girl he likes.

I enjoyed the story and I think it will appeal to ages 12-15. Colourful and imaginative illustrations grab reader’s attention but it’s also a story with heart.

This book has won many awards and I think it could work for a graphic novel book club.

 

Friends With Boys

11389398I was hooked by this graphic novel in the beginning. A contemporary story about a nerdy girl who can see ghosts has so much potential. I am always looking for graphic novels or comics that can appeal to young teens and/or have well written female characters.

Unfortunately I found this one to be too didactic. It was clearly from an adult’s perspective and felt like a story a parent would tell a child not an authentic young person’s voice.

I liked the art and there were elements I enjoyed but I feel like if I use them with my teen book club I might be too obviously teaching a lesson.  Maybe it would be better in a school setting, to discuss bullying or peer pressure. It just didn’t quite make it for me as something  most teens would fully enjoy in their free time.

We Were Liars

16143347 E. Lockhart weaves breathtaking imagery throughout We Were Liars. The way she words heartbreak, loss and physical pain is exactly what I’ve tried to do a thousand times through poetry but I have never managed to be so succinct and descriptive.

The descriptions of chronic illness and migraines rings true to me as a reader who has experienced these things.

Teens will connect with the angst and attraction between Cadence and Gat. I think the closeness of the cousins when they are together contrasted with their lack of communication the rest of the year will especially resonate with older teens who have gone away to college or university and have a similar relationship with friends back “home”.

The fairy tales Cady makes up are fantastic little allegories for what’s going on in the story.

There are surprising twists to this novel that will haunt readers and keep it on their mind long after they finish reading.

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.

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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