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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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.

Moon at Nine

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis is based on a true story.  The tale of a girl in Iran who falls in love with her female classmate is heartbreaking and perhaps eye-opening to many readers. Farrin and Sadira are sweet innocent girls who experience persecution for their sexual preference.

I found it interesting that Farrin didn’t care much about the politics that surrounded her until she was directly affected. Her parents supported the opposite regime than the one her school supports. She is is bombarded by two views of how the country should be run but doesn’t really take a side. Neither side is tolerant of her creativity, curiosity or romantic interests.

Reading about the troubles the girls face should make Canadian youth grateful that we don’t have regular bombings, executions for minor crimes, and extreme sexual discrimination. The school the girls attended was progressive in many ways, valuing intelligence in women- but it makes me sad that the best they could hope for was to be paired with a powerful man.

Ellis explores many social issues from class divide, to racism. The novel is powerful in terms of subject matter, but I have several concerns about the execution of the writing:

  • The dialogue is overly formal- even when it’s letters or whispers between the girls. This may be a reflection of their culture but I think Canadian teens will see it as forced and artificial. It doesn’t have a natural flow that some authors master.
  • For a story of forbidden love there was a serious lack of heat. To go against the laws of their country and family to be together I would expect more chemistry between them. They acted more like best friends than lovers for the most part.
  • The adults are all despicable. This is often the case in YA where the teens are the heroes and the parents are villainized. I think their flaws should be explored but there should be a couple of adults who are well rounded people, not just caricatures. In this novel there were many adults barely mentioned and those that had an emphasis were defined entirely by their flaws.
    • The shallow, vain, nostalgic guests at the tea parties lead by Farrin’s superficial and selfish mother
    • Farrin’s exploitative, greedy, prejudice father
    • Sadira’s mentally absent father

The only exception is the principal who shows some kindness in the end but given what she has done, and the circumstances I don’t think this came close to redeeming her as a figure of good.

Farrin liked to think that the demons in her stories were just demons but she learned that they were a reflection of the negativity she saw in the people around her, and the leaders of all the countries- for the book doesn’t take sides, she criticizes all parties.

 

The Death Of Us

Alice Kuipers does something very well in The Death of Us that few authors succeed at in my opinion. She gives voice to several characters in first person narratives, and they each have a distinct and believable voice.

I adore Callie’s nerdy musings as she jogs “I feel like Odysseus travelling to exotic lands, and I wonder where the Lotus-Eaters are, or where the Cyclops lives” (29). The way phrases pop into her head, the way she struggles to write down her myriad of ideas, and almost everything about her resonates with me. The way she describes her surroundings and the people is so creative and observant that I want her to be real so we sit and people watch, because I think hearing her describe what’s around us would open my eyes.

cover artIvy isn’t someone I would be friends with but she still feels more real than someone like her usually does in the story. She may be the gorgeous, impulsive, center of attention but she also has a darkness in her, and an insecurity that Kuipers makes convincing. She does what she can to avoid becoming her mother, embracing life to the fullest. The wild streak this brings out in her leads her down her mother’s paths though.

I enjoy that each girl tries to emulate the other. When they get stuck they imagine what their friend would do and act it out. It’s interesting that it works both ways. There’s a strange bond between them, they are so different but fit well together. There’s also a sexual tension that is explored in a subtle way that I think demonstrates the difference between being sexy and being crude in literature for young people.

Kurt is in a unique situation of experiencing two worlds. He knows what it’s like to come from that dark place, like Ivy… but he also knows even more luxury and sophistication than Callie. He struggles with balancing these sides of himself. I think each of the girls represents a side of him, and his attraction to them both represents that inner struggle.

The novel is a tragedy, but despite my sadness at the events that take place in it-I am left feeling inspired. It’s the kind of novel that makes you want to hug someone you were angry at, to really live, to write poetry… I think Kuipers has done a fantastic job at creating realism. You can’t help but care about her characters. You can’t help but hang on her words.

This One Summer

This One Summer is a graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. It’s a coming of age story about two tweens who have spent the summer together for years but are at an awkward age where the things they used to do aren’t “cool” enough anymore. First conversations about sexuality are handled well in the novel- I think the mix of curiosity, disgust and longing was right on. The girls get emotionally invested in the lives of the clerks at the video store. Eavesdropping, spying and renting movies that are too mature for them for a chance to speak to the older boys become as much a part of their summer as their usual beach time.

The book also focuses on how the problems the parents are going through impacts the kids. Depression, tension and grief experienced after a miscarriage aren’t communicated well with the girls and they are confused about the one girl’s mother distancing herself from the usual family fun.

The art did a great job of portraying emotions. Ranging from realistic facial expressions to an awesome panel with a symbolically twisted up stomach twitching nervously. I liked that despite their conversations about sexuality the young girls were not portrayed in a sexualized manner. They were curious about what others were doing and what they’d be like next summer but they were drawn like children, and not in an exploitative manner. The author and illustrator collaborate really well together. The words and images meshed so well I could have believed the same person did both. This is a complement because I think they communicated well about the tone and characterization.

This is the winner of the CLA Young Adult Book Award for books published in 2014. They have done a fantastic job of showing us how profound graphic novels can be, while still being fun and accessible to youth.

The Shadow’s Curse

Amy McCulloch’s sequel to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow had many of the elements I loved in the first installment. The unique ways she incorporates magic into her fantasy world continue to impress me. There remains something profound about being literally bound by your word and being haunted by broken promises. She takes this further in the sequel, with pieces of the ones who break the oath going to comfort and protect the jilted party. It recognizes that there are layers in people, and that a part of someone didn’t want to break their promise and would do anything not to hurt the one they have hurt. Beautiful metaphors all over this text.

I found the nomadic people’s view of the city dwellers and farmers interesting. The idea that they had captured and enslaved the land in an unnatural way makes the reader think about modern life from a new perspective.

Many of the characters are misguided and make foolish, selfish or reckless decisions. It’s didactic in the way they recognize their mistakes and in many cases atone for them. However, it’s written in such a way that it is not a boring lesson on keeping your word, or being careful who you offer your loyalty to. There are moments of suspense and exciting action.

I think this would make an excellent role playing video game. There would be shadows and consequences based on the player’s choices within the game. The setting would be beautiful and the fight scenes or sage tricks would be challenging.

I think with some editing this duology could have been one great novel. I’m not convinced it needed to be two and would strongly have preferred they work better independently if there had to be more than one book.

Julian

William Bell’s novel Julian wasn’t quite what I expected. It begins with action that made me think there would be more of a crime angle then there turned out to be. In the end it’s a character story, a young man finding himself. It has a nice balance of intrigue and romance.

I didn’t understand a lot of the protagonist’s decisions. He was untrusting with people I thought he should trust and naive when it came to things he should have been alarmed about. He had good instincts in some areas average people would have struggled but failed to see other more obvious risks.

I feel like there was potential in this novel that wasn’t fully realized. It skimmed the surface of politics but didn’t get too involved. It skimmed the surface of an action story, but didn’t have the exciting climax I anticipated. It had a tragic love story, but I think the sadness of the tragedy was somewhat diminished because the happy times together weren’t as fleshed out as the bad times.

This book is ALMOST good, but it doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s a decent read but not overly memorable.