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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Depth of Field

Chantel Guertin continues the story of Pippa Greene’s life that began in The Rule of Thirds with the novel Depth of Field . Once again she struggles to balance her father issues, photography aspirations and feelings for boys. It explains enough that you don’t HAVE to read the first book to follow the plot, but stays consistent so if you have read it and liked it, you will enjoy this one a little more.

The novel has many of the same appeals as the first installment in the series; with writing, language, and characters that will appeal to young readers. However, the plot is predictable and not overly original. An enjoyable but perhaps not memorable read.

Raging Star

Mcover artoira Young completes the trilogy that began with Blood Red Road in Raging Star.  The novel has many of the same faults and accomplishments as the other books in the series.

The writing style is unique. Some will admire it but others will struggle following dialogue not separated by quotation marks, perspective that jumps without headings that indicate it will, and understanding terrible grammar and spelling that is intentionally faulty to develop setting and character.

The protagonist is a tough, sometimes selfish and cold survivor who is thrust into the role of leadership. She may appeal to fans of Katniss Everdeen. Her tactics to tear apart the enemy establishment are both intelligent and sloppy. She inspires the people to do what needs to be done, at great cost.

This is a dystopian adventure drama with a touch of romance. It will pull at the heartstrings of fans of the series, and concludes in a satisfying manner. The book will make most sense, and be enjoyed more if the series is read in sequence.