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.

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LumberJanes

aprilThe LumberJanes is a strange but fun graphic novel suited for tweens.

The girls in the comic are quirky, diverse, and have hilarious one liners like “I have many skills. Falling is among them.” They make fairy tale references as they battle mysterious wildlife and often exclaim the names of famous women where there would normally be an “oh my God”. A lot of the references might be lost on kids but they are amusing for readers who recognize the names.

Why are hipster Yetis so odd?

Because they can’t even.

The graphic novel is broken lumberjanes1-e1406304295769down into chapters based on the badges the girls earn as LumberJanes.

While it has the pace and interest level appropriate for ages 10-13 the girls do use words like “jerk”, “stupid” and “what the junk” in place of swears and I know some parents might object to it.

It’s off the wall and has no real explanation in Vol. 1 for why there are 3 eyed beasts and possessed boy-scouts…but if you like fun stories about adventurous girls this is worth a look.

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.

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.

Unspeakable

cover artCaroline Pignat brings to life a historical tragedy and fictional love in Unspeakable. Similar to the story in the film Titanic, but undeniably original, this novel captures the fear, pain, and survivor’s guilt from the shipwreck of The Empress of Ireland.

“No, the waters didn’t take me that night, but I was drowning, still, in survivor’s guilt” (pg 176)

The friendships and romances are memorable. Learning about Jim’s perspective gradually as Ellie reads his journal is heartbreaking as we see the lost opportunities that so many people suffered.

The class divide on the ships makes you think about society and priorities. In shipwrecks, and in life, it is more dangerous to be in the lower class. Having a protagonist who grew up wealthy but is disowned and needs to work as a stewardess (in a time that was like serfdom) allows readers a view of the larger picture. She sees the contrast all the more starkly, making the transition.

“We write our lives by the choices we make. Like it or not, that becomes our story”

Ellie is a strong character who keeps her integrity through hardships. She experiences more hardships than many could bare but keeps her wits about her, stays true to herself, and fights for what is important to her. She is ostracized for her teen pregnancy, hounded by reporters for being one of the few survivors of disaster, and judged for following her heart. She makes mistakes, but the way she deals with them make her a good role model for readers.

A fantastic read for fans of adventure, survival stories and romance.