Tomorrow’s Kingdom

If you haven’t read the Gypsy King read that first.

Maureen Fergus hooked me with the first two installments of the trilogy so I was excited to dive into the final book. Like the other books in the series, Tomorrow’s Kingdom is an exciting fantasy adventure.

The idea of a lost royal child having a unique perspective towards peasants, servants, and outcast tribes that will unite the kingdom is a bit cliche, but I must admit I enjoy it. There’s modern sensibilities towards prejudice and class divide injected into a setting of castles, corsets, horses, and adventure.

The romance is steamy but not explicit. The war has action but is not gruesome. These factors make the book appropriate for teens although I think many adults would enjoy it as well.

The villains are despicable men who are greedy, misogynistic and violent but they are also believable. They have reasons to be the disgusting people they are, formed by both nature and nurture they are well rounded characters.

This is a series I would recommend to readers looking for historical adventure, strong female characters or medieval fantasy. The fantasy elements do not play a large role, so it would appeal to people primarily interested in adventure who don’t mind a touch of legend or a sprinkle of magic in a story.

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Whisper

cover artChris Struyk-Bonn’s novel Whisper speaks loudly about many issues. It explores treatment of disabled children in a dystopian world where birth defects are growing in numbers but not in acceptance. The children are defined by their deformities and exploited as slave labour. Prejudice, abandonment, neglect, pollution, child prostitution, and unethical farming practices are all subjects explored.

Whisper’s hardships and adventures comprise a compelling plot, original characters, and thoughtful reflection. The description of her feelings towards her music, and it’s impact on others is symbolic of how art can help people communicate what they have difficulty putting into words. The value of art is also seen in Jeremia’s sculptures that are treasured by everyone.

Identity is a struggle throughout the novel. Whisper does not feel she belongs in any of the many places she lives. She is too ugly, too talented, too strange, too successful, too wild, too civilized…. The difficulty of finding the balance is something I think will go over well with teens who often are at a stage of figuring out who they are/want to be.

The pacing was a bit uneven. It lagged in a few places that could have been edited. However, the novel as a whole is successful in that it was entertaining but makes you think about the real world as well as the imaginary one it creates.

I think the most powerful and important part of this novel is Whisper’s refusal to hide who she is. She accepts herself and embraces her difference without allowing them to define her.

Life Cycle of a Lie

Life Cycle of a Lie is a novel that manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking. It deals with racism, prejudice about sexual orientation, domestic violence and environmentalism. It tackles all of these subjects in a thoughtful manner that isn’tcover art overly preachy but shows that the author has wrapped her head around the issues.

This novel does what When Everything Feels Like the Movies failed to do in my opinion. This book is more likely to be relate-able to gay teens and to inspire empathy in straight teens. It has the sexual awakening of a young man, who develops feelings for a male friend. It has mature content, describing the physical effect of the feelings- but this is done in a tasteful manner. Jona is a well rounded character who isn’t defined by his homosexuality. He’s also intelligent, well read, kind, and talented. He is faced with prejudice, and has a bit of an identity crisis.

Linc is a First Nations character who faces prejudice because of his race. He is not defined by this struggle any more than Jona is by his homosexuality. Linc is open minded, athletic, compassionate, protective, and a bit naive. He is a lovable character who’s major flaw is he has trouble reading body language, or understanding what his girlfriend is upset about.

Victoria is a character worried about being defined by her dysfunctional family but there’s more to her than her abusive father. She is an environmental activist and more. She makes big mistakes because of her insecurities, but I think readers will forgive her.

Romance, suspense, and character based drama make up this wonderful book.

Switch

Switch by Douglas Davey is a bildungsroman. It explores the struggle of a bisexual young man coming to terms with his feelings and with prejudice from bullies. Being bisexual is confusing for him and his friends, with everyone questioning how he really felt about his girlfriend.

The narration is great, and makes it feel like Sheldon is a real person. The footnotes are funny and informative, but I’m not sure teens will enjoy them as much as I do.

This is a book that could be helpful to a teen who is questioning their sexuality. It explores different opinions and misconceptions about bisexuality that they may face. You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the novel, but sexual orientation is the main focus so it will probably appeal the most to those who can relate or have friends they are trying to understand.

There are no explicit sex scenes in this novel, it’s more about the identity struggle than the actual sexuality.

Karma

I received Karma by Cathy Ostlere as a submission for the YABA and it was selected as an honour book.

This is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read since my undergrad. It’s in verse, with the narration and dialogue formatted in a unique and stylistic manner. If not executed correctly such a bold format would have taken away from the story, but Ostlere used it to enrich the text. In stark contrast to the last novel I read, Blood Red Road, the dialogue flowed naturally and it was always apparent who was speaking even without quotation marks.

This novel illustrates the difficulties of immigration from the perspective of a first generation Canadian. Maya is Indian to Canadians, and Canadian to Indians. She is always the outsider, and stands out in every culture she belongs to. Born to a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, Maya follows elements of both religions and cultures. Her mixed heritage puts her in grave danger when during her trip to India the Prime Minister is murdered, and the two cultures go to war on one another.

The book is marketed as a love story, and it does contain a compelling one,  but that is not what got my attention. The very nature of humanity is explored as Maya deals with survivor’s guilt. It not only places blame on the rioters who burn men alive and rape young girls, but on those who stand by and do nothing to stop it. Maya is justifiably frozen by fear as the horrors take place, but she later thinks about how many lives could have been saved if the bystanders spoke up. The denial of everything that happened by the government and so many people in the city is chilling, and leaves a lasting impression.

The snowball effect of hate, as the men fight an eye for an eye reminds me of the beautiful take on a nursery rhyme that plays at the beginning of the film Free Zone. Click this link and read the subtitles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuBo5z0fr8A

This would be a fabulous choice for a book club, because it deals with so many great discussion topics:

-identity

-prejudice/acceptance

-depression/mental illness/suicide

-poverty/ class systems

-apathy/denial

-family

I think this novel has much wider appeal than it’s hot pink cover shows. I think the cover is beautiful with the swirly fonts, but there is plenty in this novel that would appeal to boys, and I don’t believe many would pick this up.

The Whole Truth

I received Kit Pearson’s novel The Whole Truth from the publisher as a submission for the young adult book award I’m on the jury of.

I’m conflicted about what age this book is best for. The character is young, and the writing has an old fashioned formality that I think will appeal to readers of the American Girl/Canadian Girl series. However, the novel deals with complex themes such as morality, the depression, prejudice and religion. I think tweens are probably the ones who will enjoy it the most. This could potentially disqualify it from the award but I did enjoy it and would recommend it to teens who are looking for “clean” such as the Mennonite families I get at the library.

I thought Polly’s denial about what happened to her father and her difficulty understanding her sister’s changing attitudes as she grows up was realistic and well written. Bullying and poverty were dealt with in a serious but not too depressing way. I thought the tiny “romance” subplot was icky due to age difference.

The prejudices we don’t question

cover art of the belgariad I’m rereading David Eddings’ Belgariad series and I have to say I’m a bit shocked by how different I’m perceiving it now compared to when I was in Gr. 8-10 reading it the first time. It was one of my favourite series, I had fond memories of Aunt Pol’s kitchen, and Silk’s sly ways….

I don’t remember ever thinking, “that’s racist!” or “you can’t give a whole country a characteristic of being sneaky or stupid”. I never questioned the sweeping generalizations that Eddings pronounces about his characters. Reading it the second time I am horrified by the way he gives entire nations negative traits. Not only are all Murgo’s evil men who bribe people with red gold, the good guys are completely defined by where they are from. Sendaria, the territory whose people are descended from immigrants from all over the West appears to be Eddings’ America.

Eddings has social commentary, with Garion noticing the flaws of each society they pass through. I like the parts where he objects to serfdom and when he thinks the common people and the nobles should interact more because the country can’t work if they don’t understand one another. What I don’ t like is that there are no exceptions to the stereotypes. Garion doesn’t learn that not all Chereks are barbaric, or that not all Drasnians are sneaky, or that not all Murgos are evil. He learns to expect from his friends the same he expects from all their race, and he makes generalizations that are not portrayed as wrong.

I will continue to love Eddings books out of nostalgia, but I have a lot of problems with the oversimplified races and cultures. I don’t know if Eddings was being prejudice or if he just didn’t bother to make complex individuals who broke the mold, but teens should take the Belgariad with a grain of salt.

I also find it interesting that libraries tend to class this series in Fantasy for adults but I consider it YA because it is a coming of age tale. Garion starts off as a boy and he goes on an adventure, I think this would appeal most to teens.