Wednesday, December 03, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Contemporary/Fantasy Fiction: American Born Chinese by Gene Lee Yang



1.  BIBLIOGRAPHY
Yang, Gene Lee.  American Born Chinese.  London: Square Fish, 2008.  ISBN 0312384483.

2.  PLOT SUMMARY
Told in three short stories, Gene Yang brings to life Jin, a Chinese boy struggling to fit in around the American girl he likes, Danny, an all-American student tormented by his stereo-typical Chinese cousin who has come visit, and the Monkey Kings, an all-powerful monkey deity, who wants to be anything but a monkey.  But these seemingly different characters all have something in common – they want to be something other than themselves.  Can they work together to find their true-form and become something more that was inside of them all along?

3.  CRITICAL ANALYSIS
At first, all three of the short stories presented in American Born Chinese seem like parallels, but not interlocking pieces.  We meet the Monkey King, who longs to be thought of as the greatest of all, but learns to be a servant.  Then we met Jin, who’s story is the most prominent of the tales.  Jin seeks nothing more than to fit in and not be seen as an outsider in front of the girl he likes, and then we meet Danny.  Danny is an all-American boy with a Chinese cousin, who embarrasses him with his stereo-typical Chinese ways.  And, we can see ourselves in each character – the need to not be an outsider – but to be accepted.  We can feel the embarrassment of Danny as his cousin’s oblivious actions and over-the-top accent make him afraid that he will be outcast because of something he can’t control.  Yang’s drawing style stays simple and uncrowded, but each of these characters is an individual on the page. The short blocks of the graphic novel style allow a quick flow to the reading without feeling choppy.  The theme remains constant and uncomplicated as the stories progress – two in typical “American” high schools and one on the mystical monkey islands.  There is just enough setting to get a feel for the place, without it overpowering the narrative development.  And it flows easily from fantasy to contemporary without the reader feeling lost in who’s story is at the forefront for the moment – right until we find that all of the stories are intertwined in more than just theme.  Danny transforms back into Jin with the help of the Monkey King, who’s spiritual journey has taught him how to be a disciple instead of just a leader and with the right push, Jin moves to help his one-time friend, who needs it more than he does.

4.  REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
2007 MICHAEL L. PINTZ AWARD
2006 NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS FINALIST – YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
2007 BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM: NEW
2006/2007 BEST BOOK AWARD FROM THE CHINESE AMERICAN LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION
BOOKLIST TOP TEN GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR YOUTH
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – “Yang’s crisp line drawings, linear panel arrangement, and muted colors provide a strong visual complement to the textual narrative. Like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Laurence Yep’s Dragonwings, this novel explores the impact of the American dream on those outside the dominant culture in a finely wrought story that is an effective combination of humor and drama.”
From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY – “True to its origin as a Web comic, this story's clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he's depicting need no translation.”

5.  CONNECTIONS
Gather other books about fitting in and feeling like an outsider:
     Alexie, Sherman. Ills. Ellen Forney. THE ABSOLUTE TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN.   ISBN 0316013692.
     Chbosky, Stephen.  THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.  ISBN 1451696191.

Gather other Gene Yang books to read such as:
     ANIMAL CRACKERS: A GENE LUEN COLLECTION.  ISBN 1593621833.
     Ills. Thien Pham.  LEVEL UP. ISBN 1596432357.
     Ills. Sonny Liew. THE SHADOW HERO.  ISBN 1596436972.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Fantasy Fiction: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman



1.  BIBLIOGRAPHY
Gaiman, Neil.  Ills. Dave McKean. (2010). The Graveyard Book.  New York: Harper Collins.  ISBN 0060530944.

2.  PLOT SUMMARY
Once on a cold, dark evening, a baby wandered out of his home and into a graveyard.  When his parents and sibling are killed, Nobody Owens is adopted by the denizens of a local graveyard and kept safe from the dark Jack who is looking for the child.  For years, he lives in the mausoleum with them, learning how to Fade and Haunt and given free range of the graveyard, with little need of the world beyond the gates.  However, time stops for no living person, and Bod grows up.  He begins to question life beyond the gates, school, and finally what happened to his family.  Set inside decades of headstones and populated by a cast of characters from modern day to ancient ghouls, The Graveyard Book gives a unique twist on the classic story of a boy growing up and finding his place in the world.

3.  CRITICAL ANALYSIS
I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Neil Gaiman’s writing and other books that I was excited to dive into this one for my review.  The setting is masterful and dark without being too jump-scare creepy, and the majority of the characters are familiar and comfortable – even with old-fashioned language from their personal time periods.  I particularly enjoyed the way he introduced the cast of the graveyard with their names, dates, and epitaphs. The fantasy of the book is engaging, even when the characters are sometimes less than believable.  The prose flows and keeps the book moving, floating from page to page, even when the main character didn’t really keep me entertained.  Perhaps the book might come across better in the graphic novel format, where there is more interesting drawings to keep the reader engaged and nothing to distract from the plot and ghostlike character of Bod, whose presence was much like he is depicted in the book and slides from memory as soon as you stop reading about him.  In the version I had, the illustrations looked more like some clip art to tie in with the book, rather than something drawn specifically for the novel in places and character sketches in others, which were beautiful, but didn't add immensely to the novel itself.  I found the villain and the climax of the book to be disconcerting as it jumped from place to place without a clear image of what exactly was happening and felt unsettled at the end of the ordeal, but happy with the overall ending of the book.

4.  REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
2009 JOHN NEWBERRY AWARD
2010 CARNEGIE MEDAL
2009 HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
2008 CYBILS AWARD FOR FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION
2010 SFX AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
2009 LOCUS AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG-ADULT BOOK
From BOOKLIST – “This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming. Although marketed to the younger YA set, this is a rich story with broad appeal and is highly recommended for teens of all ages.”
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – “The child Bod's behavior is occasionally too precocious to be believed, and a series of puns on the name Jack render the villain a bit less frightening than he should be, though only momentarily. Aside from these small flaws, however, Gaiman has created a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing tale of dreams, ghouls, murderers, trickery, and family.”

5.  CONNECTIONS
Gather other paranormal coming of age books to read such as:
     Brosgol, Vera.  ANYA’S GHOST.  ISBN 1596435526.
     Riggs, Ransom. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.  ISBN 1594746036.
     Roux, Madeline. ASYLUM.  ISBN 0062220977.

Gather other books by Neil Gaiman such as:
     Ills. Dave McKean.  CORALINE.  ISBN 0380807343.
     NEVERWHERE.  ISBN 0060557818.
     STARDUST.  ISBN 0061689246.

BOOK REVIEW: Contemporary Fiction: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


1.BIBLIOGRAPHY
Green, John.  The Fault in Our Stars.  Recorded by Kate Rudd. [Audiobook].  New York: Brilliance Audio, 2014.  ISBN 1491510706.

2.  PLOT SUMMARY
In many ways, Hazel Grace Lancaster is a typical teenager.  She likes pizza and watching trashy television on the couch.  She’s witty and sarcastic, and occasionally depressive – but she has good reason to be.  Hazel has cancer.  Facing her reality and dragging herself to support group where she “communicated in sighs” with her friend Isaac used to be her normal existence.  Then she met Augustus Waters – who’s wit and sarcasm match her own and challenge her to live for once – even though she’s dying.  Through health scares and a disappointing but exciting trip to Amsterdam, Hazel and Augustus find something special in each other and cherishing each moment, even knowing that “[t]he world is not a wish-granting factory.”

3.  CRITICAL ANALYSIS
From the very first pages of this book, the reader understands that it might not have a happy ending and that’s okay.  In fact, knowing your dealing with Hazel Grace’s cancer, you almost expect it not to be.  There were many times within the book, I was afraid it would end as Hazel and Augustus’s favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction” does – mid sentence, with the reader left wondering or saddened at the sudden loss of a dear friend.  John Green creates characters that you can almost feel breath along with you – even if it’s Hazel’s stuttering wheezing breath through a cannula.  You fall in love with the setting and the people the same way Hazel falls in love with Augustus, “slowly, and then all at once.”  Everyone has known someone with a disease or cancer in their life and Green keeps this book from being a pity party of the poor kids with cancer and more about life and making choices and learning to accept what you have, even when you want to push it all away.  The characters are not happy, but they don’t have to be.  The setting is normal, except for one fantastic trip through the streets of Amsterdam, but it’s all believable.  Every step of the journey is real – from throwing eggs at a person’s car for breaking your friend’s heart to falling in love even when you’re scared and don’t want to.  Green’s language brings to life more than just the characters.  I was especially happy with the casting of Kate Rudd to read the audio.  She gave Hazel’s voice sound within Green’s language.  I could imagine her pulling her sharpied oxygen tank bag along, internally cursing her lungs and laughing at a friend’s comment.  Hazel’s fitting eulogy had me in tears, especially as she recounts her own struggle with life:  “You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

4.  REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
NOMINATION FOR GUARDIAN CHILDREN'S FICTION PRIZE
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER (#1 for Seven Consecutive Weeks)
WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST SELLER
INDIEBOUND BEST SELLER
BOOK SELLER BEST SELLER
TIME MAGAZINE #1 FICTION BOOK (2012)
KIRKUS BEST FICTION BOOKS OF 2012
From NPR.ORG  – "[Green's] voice is so compulsively readable that it defies categorization. You will be thankful for the little infinity you spend inside this book."
From BOOKLIST – “Happily, Green is able to transcend such pitfalls in his best and most ambitious novel to date. Beautifully conceived and executed, this story artfully examines the largest possible considerations—life, love, and death—with sensitivity, intelligence, honesty, and integrity. In the process, Green shows his readers what it is like to live with cancer, sometimes no more than a breath or a heartbeat away from death. But it is life that Green spiritedly celebrates here, even while acknowledging its pain.”

5.  CONNECTIONS
Gather other books by John Green such as:
     PAPER TOWNS.  ISBN 014241493X.
     LOOKING FOR ALASKA.  ISBN 0142402516.

Gather other books about surviving and reclaiming life such as:
     Downham, Jenny.  BEFORE I DIE.  ISBN 0385751834.
     Lowry, Lois.  THE GIVER.  ISBN 0544336267.
     Kline, Christina Baker. Recorded by Jessica Almasy  and Suzanne Toren.  ORPHAN TRAIN.  ISBN 1480537381.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Historical Fiction: Paperboy by Vince Vawter




1.  BIBLIOGRAPHY
Vawter, Vince. (2013.) Paperboy. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers. [Kindle Dx version] Retrieved from Amazon.com.ISBN 0385742444.


2.  PLOT SUMMARY
Memphis born, 11-year-old Victor has a stutter – even his own name is hard to get out.  So he uses a technique from a speech therapist that has him releasing air and hissing letters, because at 11 years old, “it’s better to be called a snake, than a retard.” He loves pitching baseball, his friend ‘Rat’ and his African American housekeeper, Miss Nell – ‘Mam,’ who calls him ‘Little man.’After taking Rat’s paper route as an apology for a busted lip during one hot July, things really start to shake up.  A neighborhood woman drinks too much, a retired merchant marine coerces him to come out of his shell, and he’s forced to communicate with customers.  But when a drifter junkman refuses to give back his knife, things take a turn for the worse.  Set against the changing segregation of the South in the late 1950’s, ‘Little Man’ must stand up for himself and Mam and learn that you can’t always make a difference on your own, but you must always have courage to try.


3.  CRITICAL ANALYSIS
A few years ago, I would have had to google in order to check the accuracy of the setting and tone of Paperboy.  Now, living in Memphis, I can feel the heart of the city in each page - from Peabody Avenue to the Memphis Zoo on the trolley and in alleyways.  Vawter does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of the city in the late 1950’s.  The characters are believable and most are quite likeable - as they should be.  Paperboy is a mostly autobiographical piece for Vawter.  Little Man comes to life in million little details -- from his stutter to the descriptions of the lemonade at the Italian restaurant with his family -- we can feel each setting in the small movement and piece them into the larger image.  Even his parents and the villain, Ara T, could easily come off as caricatures, but have enough depth and moments to set them apart from two-dimensional stand-ins.  Vawter leaves enough information to give depth to the civil-rights movement happening around Little Man, but doesn’t overwhelm the reader in events that would pass, and often do, right over the head of his young protagonist. For instance, Mam’s seat on the bus or her uniform just feel like part of her, even though even Little Man recognizes there’s something strange and perhaps not right about the situation.  Even his attempts to stand up to Ara T and speak when its painful help to keep the theme of growth and moral justice through learning even and authentic.  Though at times Little Man’s speech patterns get a little overwhelming, especially since he states he is typing rather than telling the story, the first person style of the narrative keeps the pacing of the story moving.  There are moments when it slows, but like the Memphis heat, a cool breeze shuffles through to keep the protagonist and his thoughts moving until you slide into the Autumn rains and things reach their culmination.

4.  REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
A NEWBERY HONOR AWARD WINNER
AN ALA-ALSC NOTABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK
AN IRA CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULTS’ CHOICE
AN IRA TEACHERS’ CHOICE
A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION
A BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A NATIONAL PARENTING PUBLICATIONS AWARD HONOR BOOK
A BOOKPAGE BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK
AN ABC NEW VOICES PICK
AN ALA-ALSC NOTABLE CHILDREN’S RECORDING
AN ALA-YALSA AMAZING AUDIOBOOK
AMAZON BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2013: AGES 9-12
From BOOKLIST – “First-time author Vawter has lived this story, so he is able to write movingly about what it’s like to have words exploding in your head with no reasonable exit. This paperboy is a fighter, and his hope fortifies and satisfies in equal measure.”
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – “Vawter portrays a protagonist so true to a disability that one cannot help but empathize with the difficult world of a stutterer. Yet, Victor's story has much broader appeal as the boy begins to mature and redefine his relationship with his parents, think about his aspirations for the future, and explore his budding spirituality.”

5.  CONNECTIONS
Gather other coming of age books to read such as:
     Timberlake, Amy.  ONE CAME HOME.  ISBN 0375873457.
     Vanderpool, Clare. NAVIGATING EARLY.  ISBN 0385742096.
     Howe, James.  ADDIE ON THE INSIDE.  ISBN 1416913858.
     Erskine, Kathryn.  THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE.  ISBN 0142421014.


Gather other books that explore the early 1960’s in America, such as:
     Scattergood, Augusta.  GLORY BE.  ISBN 0545331803.
     Madden, Kerry.  GENTLE’S HOLLER.  ISBN 0142407518.
     McMullan, Margaret.  SOURCES OF LIGHT.  ISBN  0547722362.