Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020Benjamin Alire Saenz has a way with words. He writes lines that describe feelings that are rarely reflected on so well in teen literature or maybe any literature.

This is a novel that explores the subtleties of being a teen. The ambivalence towards parents is handled beautifully. There’s the perfect mix of resentment, affection, criticism and respect in Ari’s feelings for his parents. The mix of anger and adoration fit with his situation.

The characters are deep and interesting. Ari and Dante are both philosophical and have a sarcastic sense of humour. Their coming of age tale is about more than their relationship because both characters are complex and have other conflicts going on in their lives.

With Mexican-American homosexual characters this book will add diversity to a library collection.

There were times when I felt the characters seemed younger than the age stated in the book. Their curiosity and embarrassment about their bodies was coming a couple of years late in my opinion but maybe I’m just more familiar with girls and boys do mature slower.

*spoiler alert*

There was a chemistry between the boys that made it more compelling to me then other LGBQT titles I’ve read such as Moon At Nine. Even when they were just talking Ari and Dante had a spark. They felt like a couple even before Ari let himself realize what he was feeling.

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.

A Boy Like Me

Jennie Wood’s novel A Boy Like Me is a coming of age story focused on a transgender character. The character development was phenomenal. Peyton/Katherine is a well rounded protagonist who’s story will touch the hearts of readers. Supporting characters are well written as well. The uncle was my favourite. While the main story-line focuses on his feelings for Tara and his discomfort within his female body, there is more going on. There are stories of friendship, of family dynamics, of depression, of bullying… I had a lot of issues with another book about gender identity recently (When Everything Feels Like the Movies) but I feel like all the the things that made me uncomfortable in that story were played out in a much healthier, more relate-able and more empathy inspiring way in this novel.

The chemistry between Peyton and Tara felt real. Wood did a fantastic job of writing about the sexual tension. She includes some mature scenes that make this book better suited to older teens, but she does it in a way that’s tastefully sexy rather than crude.

Heavy, emotional, perhaps controversial, subject matter is included in this novel. I think that it’s great she includes resources at the end, for readers who may be going through what Peyton is in the book.

I’m glad that I read this novel because I think it gives me a better understanding of transgender teens and gives me a resource to point to if someone is looking for a good book on the subject.

Review: Afterworlds Part 1

Halfway through the book I can’t refrain from posting a review

Scott Westerfeld masters the incredible feat of spinning the webs of two complex stories into one cohesive novel. There’s the story of the young writer, experiencing the joys and challenges of being on her own for the first time in her life. Then there’s the story she’s writing- A paranormal romance with terrorists, a serial killer, ghosts, and a schoolgirl crush on a sexy reaper inspired by Hindu legends.

In the surface story the protagonist is living her dream but learning the downfalls of being an adult. Westerfeld pokes fun at the practicalities we don’t think of when we are starting out- like the need to own a mop, and the incredible portion of your budget that goes to food and rent. Despite these tidbits of realism Darcy’s story is one of wonder. First love, networking with the authors she worships, exploring New York… It’s like a more optimistic version of the show Girls. Beautiful diction and literary jargon that will appeal to the nerd in you. Lesbian flirtation, internal debates over what constitutes virginity, and the Angelina Jolie Paradox for your other side.

There are some excellent instances of insight from Westerfeld, such as the concept of a budget “in the corner of the bar like a noisy ghost, sometimes laughing at her, sometimes shrieking and rattling its chains”  which creates a fantastic mental image, and succinctly explains the challenges of being limited by your funds when you just want to have fun with your friends.

The story within the story unfolds unlike any paranormal romance I’ve read. Lizzie’s traumatic experience in an airport is cinematic. I was engulfed in her story, picturing it effortlessly. The tale is much darker than I anticipated, having become accustomed to fluffy paranormal stories that Westerfeld himself pokes fun at in the framing narrative. I’m haunted by several images in her story. The frantic passengers pressed up against the locked gate, the tear gas lifting to reveal bodies, and the gnarled trees in the bad man’s yard- just to name a few. I would love to make a book trailer for this book, but I really don’t have the budget to do it justice- I can only picture it in my mind.

Ok back to my reading….. I’ll post my thoughts on the second half soon

Doll Bones

cover artI’m a big Holly Black fan so it came as no surprise that I enjoyed this book. Doll Bones is an interesting story on several levels. Black is one of the few tween/teen authors who writes really compelling, believable male characters. Her male protagonists are not stereotypes or shallow, there is a depth to them that is unfortunately rare in contemporary literature. I like that Zach’s desire to play “the game” is not portrayed as overly childish or feminine even though it is noted some people in his life perceive it that way. He plays because he is a creative storyteller with a vivid imagination and he has an appreciation for the fierce and thoughtful nature of his playmates. The story is spooky, creepy, and yet heart-warming. Great for 11-13 year-olds with a sense of adventure and mixed feelings about growing up.