Friday, May 16, 2014

What we're reading...assassins and serial killers???

Somehow young adult novels and books about hired killers or assassins seem like mutually exclusive categories, but apparently not--everything is fodder for teen literature, as I recently discovered at the Pasadena Teen Book Festival! A couple of books I bought there--Boy Nobody, by Allen Zadoff, and Dear Killer, by Katherine Ewell, introduce us to teens in professions we previously assumed were the purview of former CIA operatives gone rogue.

Boy Nobody was really a treat to read. Zadoff has used a technique that has made such writers as James Patterson successful at luring readers in (and I'm sure Patterson in his turn borrowed it from someone else!), which is to make all his chapters 1.5 to three pages long, with a statement at the beginning designed to intrigue you, and a cliffhanger at the end that compels you to turn the page, whether you intended to keep reading or not! (Hint: Don't start reading this book at bedtime.) His language is deceptively simple--clean, spare, and conveying exactly what he intended and nothing more--but his concept is not: The idea of a child who has lost everyone he loves to a ruthless killer then growing up to become that same ruthless killer is a hard one to understand, but the way he writes it drags you into the mindset and makes you want to hang in there until you do. It's intense, with a slow build and some great twists and turns.


Zadoff's book is an odd case. He wrote it last year, and said it didn't start out to be a series; but as we know, sometimes prose gets out of your control and demands to keep growing! So once he conceived of a sequel (and maybe more), and started referring to the series as "The Unknown Assassin," his publisher and he decided to rechristen book one: It's now called I Am the Weapon, and book two will be I Am the Mission. I Am the Weapon (alias Boy Nobody) comes out in paperback this month, and I Am the Mission comes out in hardcover in June! We already have Boy Nobody in the library, and will certainly be buying the sequel! I will also be proposing this one for 8+9 Book Club in the fall.

Dear Killer promises much (a teenage girl who is a contracted hired killer with no sense of right and wrong is a powerful idea), but the delivery is disappointing. After reading 35 pages, my impulse was to put the book down and move on to something else, but I kept going for another few chapters. Then I did put it down. This young author ( she was only 17 when she wrote the book, which is mostly why I hung in there) needed her editor to gently say to her, "Our first book is usually not the one that should be published." This should be one of those books put away in the box under the bed, as so many authors do with their first (and sometimes their first five!), to be resurrected for the compelling idea and rewritten sometime later in her career.

I give Ewell credit for the interesting concept, and some of the details that were original and intriguing--the "mailbox" cubbyhole in the cafe ladies' room being one of them. But…the language is stilted and sometimes awkward; the characters act in improbable, inexplicable ways; and the running internal monologue becomes tedious.

I hope to see her narrative skills improve to match her ideas for the next book, because there should be one--I think she has what it takes to be a writer, if she persists, and if she finds an editor (and/or a writers'  group) who knows better how to guide her. The novelty of finding a 17-year-old who wrote a book ultimately isn't enough to justify its publication, unfortunately, and the publishing house owed this author better advice. It's a shame that she will have all those one-star ratings on Goodreads to contend with when her next book appears.

Other YA assassin or serial killer books you might like (a mix of realistic, historical, fantasy, and paranormal!):
  • Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick (and its sequel, Perry's Killer Playlist), by Joe Schreiber (good fun);
  • Robin LaFevers's Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, set in 15th-century France;
  • Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, by Sarah J. Maas (a female assassin in a fantasy universe--not my fave, but popular with many);
  • The Name of the Star and The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson (a killing spree by a Jack the Ripper copycat, with paranormal elements);
  • Graceling, by Kristin Cashore (can't say enough good things about this amazing fantasy author);
  • Eagle Strike and Scorpia from Anthony Horowitz's perennially checked out Alex Rider series;
  • I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga, in which you see the serial killer mindset from both sides; 
  • and Money Run, by Jack Heath (an unknown quantity--somebody read it and report back?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Teen review: Historical Fiction

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a 550-page historical fiction novel that, sadly, is not a part of a series--although I do wish this was not true! As a ninth grader I found that this book was on point both with my reading level and with my mental understanding of World War II.

The book follows Liesel, a young girl who has lost everything: her brother, her mother, and seemingly, her happiness. As she goes through life in World War II-era Germany, she decides to turn to books as both a way to escape and also to learn what she hasn’t been taught during all those years out of school. The most interesting thing about the novel must be, however, the fact that it is told by the all-knowing "Death.”

I absolutely adored this book! With the interjections and side notes that frequent the pages, it’s almost impossible to not enjoy reading it. At points, I couldn’t help but ‘sneak read’: an affliction where you cannot help but read everywhere; in the car, at lunch, in front of the television, etcetera. Even with its pretty heavy storyline, I flew through the 550 pages like it was only 100! I truly wish that it was a series because I would love nothing more than to experience the book for the first time again.

The cover of the book parallels the domino effect that can take form in anyone’s life. Also, since it has been adapted into a screenplay the movie is also a plus! Movie first, book second? Whatever way you read and watch I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was. A 5 all the way!

Reading Level: Middle to High School
Reviewed by: C.G., grade 9

Editor's note: We have not only the book and the movie, but also the audio book and the e-book!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Teens' Top Ten!

This year’s list of nominees for the Teens' Top Ten features 25 novels that were published between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013. There are some predictables, some surprises, and a lot of books we ourselves haven't read! (I put links to books reviewed here.) They are (in order by author's last name, which is where you would find them on the library shelves):

Arnett, Mindee. The Nightmare Affair
Banks, Anna. Of Triton
Bardugo, Leigh. Siege and Storm
Block, Francesca Lia. Love In The Time Of Global Warming
Charbonneau, Joelle. The Testing
Dashner, James. The Eye of Minds
Edwards, Janet. Earth Girl
Gleason, Colleen. The Clockwork Scarab
Gray, Laurie. Maybe I Will
Henry, April. The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die
Howard, A. G. Splintered
Kate, Lauren. Teardrop
Konigsberg, Bill. Openly Straight
Laybourne, Emmy. Monument 14: Sky On Fire
Richards, Natalie D. Six Months Later
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park
Sales, Leila. This Song Will Save Your Life
Sanderson, Brandon. Steelheart
Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist
Smith, Jennifer E. This is What Happy Looks Like
Smith, Andrew. Winger
Stine, R.L. A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Tucholke, April. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Winters, Cat. In The Shadow of Blackbirds
Yancey, Rick. The 5th Wave

The way it works is, YOU read all these books (okay, some of them), and then in AUGUST, you VOTE ONLINE for your top three faves. Out of all the votes are picked the Teens' Top Ten for 2013! This list is revealed during Teen Read Week in October.

Download this BALLOT (you can also find paper copies at the library) to help you keep track of your reading, with "loved it," "hated it," or "so-so" check-boxes to remind you of what you thought. (Let's face it, August is a few months from now, and you'll be reading a lot of books!)

We'll let you know when voting is open!

Don't forget that TEEN SUMMER READING is coming...and you can put these books into your reading log to win prizes in our weekly drawings! Some of these books appear on the science fiction book lists included in your goodie bags, too!

And please, please write book reviews for us! We love to hear your views...