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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Winners of CLA Young Adult Book Award

The winners of the award I chaired this year have officially been announced today so I’m free to tell you all how amazing they are!!

The official press release is on the CLA website.

The winner is This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

The honour books are:

I wrote the blurbs for the press release so you have a taste of my thoughts but I have also linked each of the titles to my more detailed reviews.

There are some fantastic Canadian authors and awards like this help us raise awareness of their books. I hope public libraries, high schools and teens will invest in these books.

The Comic Book War

cover art

The Comic Book War is a Canadian novel set during World War 2. It explores some of the hardships faced in Canada at that time. The stresses of having family members in the war, supply shortages, and the pressure to dedicate all of your energy and funds to the war effort all featured heavily.

I have to say I find the premise of this to be too juvenile for teens. A delusional boy who feels that reading comics keeps his brothers safe on the battlefield because of a piece of meteor he wears around his neck is just not sophisticated enough for contemporary teens. I think maybe 10-12 year-olds would enjoy it if they are from old fashioned families and are interested in both history and comics. That’s a very specific niche.

Maybe it’s because it’s not a time period I know extensively but I found the dialogue really unrealistic. Did people ever really use the corny expressions that are only used sarcastically in the modern world? I think the “golly gee” factor will alienate most teen readers.

The plot was predictable. I guessed the fate of key characters, and a few “big reveal” moments fell flat because I was anticipating them.

That being said, it was an easy read that could potentially fill the void of things to read aloud to an ailing grandparent, or listen to as a family on a car trip. It’s juvenile but might appeal to the elderly who want to share part of their lives with another generation. While I can’t see many teens I know reading this independently it could serve as a family bonding exercise.

Your Constant Star

In her novel Your Constant Star Brenda Hasiuk establishes three very distinct voices. Life filled with dysfunctional families, identity crisis, hormones, tempers, and loss is experienced and expressed by three young narrators. Character development is rich with motives and scars carefully crafted to form convincing people. This is a skill that’s essential to writing great teen literature. Hasiuk makes you think of her characters as people- not just plot devices.

Teen pregnancy is such a common theme in YA books that it’s almost cliche but Hasiuk succeeds in her storytelling by making it about more than an unplanned pregnancy. The strained relationships between the former neighbours (“sort of friends” as they put it), the family members and the couple are all complex.

The plot is not rife with action and adventure despite the thrill seeking nature of two of the narrators, but the characters grab you enough to make it a worthwhile book to ponder.

Capricious

Capricious is the sequel to Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast. Every page is populated by beautiful verse. The poetry of it delights me. The imagery and stream of consciousness flow in a way that convincingly portrays the angst of teen life.

I felt it begun too abruptly, jumping right into her loss of virginity. The rest of the book I loved the gritty bits of desire and drugs but they were always framed successfully by her quirky observations of the world. The first page and chapter only work well if you’ve read the first book – which is unfortunate.

I can forgive this false step because of the mastery in the rest of the writing. From comparing a bikini wax to the chopping down of rain forests to the musings about loss of faith, Prendergast makes words into art with fantastic diction and tempo.

Often flawed characters are the most endearing. Ella’s questionable morals and decisions such as juggling two men don’t make the reader hate her because of the way Prendergast writes her internal struggle. She is finding pieces of what she needs in each of the young men- but neither of them is capable of making her feel whole. I think the struggle to understand relationships and love is well played out. The narrator is not a shining role model for teens, but feels like a real person shaped by her traumas, hopes and fears.

One of my favourite passages was where she describes the bus kneeling in supplication for Marika. The girl who’s disabilities don’t detract from her beauty and queenly personality. At one point she describes school as a “dystopian death match” with students writing essays in the blood of their classmates. The competitive nature of high school is reflected on repeatedly- comparing students to coyotes who are fighting for territory and dominance. This is a novel that tackles the tough topics of peer pressure, addiction, religion, relationships, illness, and depression. It doesn’t choose one above others and feel forced or didactic. Instead it succeeds in demonstrating how all the issues can pile up, drowning the people who are surrounded by varied struggles.

Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl

 

After reading a dozen bcover artooks I didn’t care for this one was a breath of fresh air. It was fun, suspenseful and I read it in two quick sittings. A perfect book for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  A shy musician’s transformation in a werewolf is a light, fun, supernatural read  with a strong female lead. Some of the reactions of her friends were unrealistic and something we learn about the main love interest at the end made me rank it lower than I would have. Enjoyable but not overly memorable.

 

 

Yaba daba do

My blogging hiatus is finally over! I received over 100 submissions for the canadian library association young adult book award and we are done reading. Now we have an excellent short-list that we have voted for and will narrow down to a winner. I will save these reviews for last but there were plenty of great books that didn’t make the cut. Anytime I mention YABA in a review you know the book is Canadian. it’s been great reading novels with familiar settings, values and dialects.
For those of you outside of Canada you may be surprised to learn that some of the books you love were written or published here.

Here’s the official shortlist

the gathering All good children fantatics The Woefield Poultry Collective
once every never my beating teenage heart the town that drowned this dark endeavour
karma held