Last week, I did an interview with award-winning author Scott Westerfeld about the Bitch Media 100 Feminist YA list. It’s up at PopMatters now. Here’s a snippet.
How did you feel about the Bitch list at first? What was it like to have Uglies make the cut, before and after the the debacle?
Bitch is one of those iconic ‘90s magazines, like Wired or Bust or Sassy (which started in the late ‘80s, but still). Having Bitch give a shout-out to YA was great, and being on the list was just icing on the cake. It’s like one of those accomplishments where your teenage self is proud of you, though sadly in my case it’s my 30-something self.
After what you rightly call “the debacle”, I asked for my name to be removed from the list in protest. (This was a purely symbolic move on my part, I admit. But lists are merely sets of symbols, and so are books.)
Do you think books like Tender Morsels, Sisters Red, and Living Dead Girl belong on the list?
Absolutely. I’m glad that BitchMedia made some bold choices, and that’s what I would have expected of them.
If the term “literary” frightens you, you’re not alone. It’s something of a buzz word, and a confusing one at that. Literary YA, though, is a little different to literary adult fiction–generally speaking, it’s more accessible, and a great place to get started if you’re curious about lit fic, especially if you love language. These novels run the gamut from fantasy through contemporary, some light, some dark, some in between, each with a strong focus on character. Some are closer to middle grade, but all will appeal YA lovers.
1. BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, Shannon Hale
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment. As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. But the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors—one welcome, and the other decidedly less so—brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
With Shannon Hale’s lyrical language, this forgotten but classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes; it is a completely unique retelling filled with adventure and romance, drama and disguise.
2. STARDUST, Neil Gaiman
Tristran Thorn falls in love with the prettiest girl in town and makes her a foolish promise: he says that he’ll go find the falling star they both watched streak across the night sky. She says she’ll marry him if he finds it, so he sets off, leaving his home of Wall, and heads out into the perilous land of faerie, where not everything is what it appears. Gaiman is known for his fanciful wit, sterling prose and wildly imaginative plots, and Stardust is no exception.
3. THIS IS WHAT I DID, Ann Dee Ellis*
Eighth-grader Logan is struggling to deal with a violent situation he witnessed a year ago between his best friend, Zyler, and Zyler’s abusive father but insists to everyone around him that he is fine. Just fine. Reluctant readers will be drawn into this story, which also includes bullying classmates and a dismal winter camping trip. Frequent line breaks, screenplay-style dialogue, and e-mails and notes illustrated with black icons break up the scenes. Logan gets to play one of the Lost Boys in the school play, and finds that the theater crowd offers a respite from bullies. A friendship with a girl named Laurel (a palindrome collector who is is thinking of changing her name to Laral), and a relationship with a counselor help Logan to begin the healing process and convince him to reconnect with Zyler. This psychological drama effectively explores our failure to protect youth from abuse inflicted by peers or adults. Caution: there’s a slang term for scrotum on page 1. — Dobrez, Cindy for Booklist
4. SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.
5. THE UNDERNEATH, Kathi Appelt
Appelt’s impressive novel (her first) entails animals in crisis—a topic of enduring popularity. But the author, whose path from picture books to fantasy is discussed in the Story behind the Story, breathes new life into the sentient-animals premise, introducing strong currents of magic realism into a tale as rich and complex as “the gumbo-like waters of the bayous.” Chained and starved by cruel trapper Gar Face, lonely hound Ranger finds companions in a stray cat and her two kittens. When Mother Cat falls victim to Gar Face’s abuse, the surviving animals, especially sensitive kitten Puck, struggle to keep their makeshift family together. The animals’ caring, generous bonds juxtapose with the smothering love of an ancient shape-shifter in a moving parallel story. Joining Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as a rare example of youth fantasy with strong American underpinnings, Appelt’s novel folds in specific traditions of the Caddo peoples of east Texas, and casts the bayous as a kind of enchanted forest laden with spirits and benign, organic presences. Some readers may struggle with Appelt’s repeated phrases and poetic fragments, and wish the connections and conflicts in the story came to a faster boil. But most children will be pulled forward by the vulnerable pets’ survival adventure and by Small’s occasional, down-to-earth drawings, created with fluid lines that are a perfect match for the book’s saturated setting and Appelt’s ebbing, flowing lyricism. –Jennifer Mattson for Booklist
6. THE STAR OF KAZAN, Eva Ibbotson
Abandoned as a baby, Annika is found and adopted by Ellie and Sigrid, cook and housemaid for three professors. Growing up in early-20th-century Vienna, she learns to cook and clean and is perfectly happy until a beautiful aristocrat appears and claims to be her mother, sweeping her off to a new life in a crumbling castle in northern Germany. Annika is determined to make the best of things, and it takes a while for her to realize that her new “family” has many secrets, most of them nasty. With the help of Ellie, Sigrid, the professors, and friends old and new, Annika escapes from a ghastly fate and learns to face the truth about her relatives. Winding like a braid through this story is a mystery involving a chest of worn costumes and junk jewelry left to Annika by an old woman she has befriended. This is a rich saga in the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, full of stalwart friends, sly villains, a brave heroine, and good triumphing over evil. Annika’s determination to do the right thing is both laudable and utterly frustrating, especially when readers realize that her loyalty is misplaced. Almost every character is distinct, but the ones that stand out are the “regular folk,” individuals whose sense of decency propels them into amazing acts of courage. Vienna itself is colorfully portrayed, brimming with pastries, coffee, and dancing Lipizzaner horses. An intensely satisfying read.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library for School Library Journal
7. A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, Shana Burg
Set in rural Mississippi during the civil rights movement, this gripping first novel offers an up-close look at the racism and violence endured in an African-American community. By the time Addie Ann Pickett, the narrator, enters junior high, she is well aware of the racial divisions in her county. She has been warned not to stay on the white side of town after the sun has set and not to “look at white folks too close.” But her older brother and the local minister have different ideas and argue that “there comes a time when a man’s dignity’s worth more than his life.” Caught between her mother’s rule to stay away from trouble and the call to take action, Addie must make decisions, especially when the lives of two family members are at stake. References to significant historical events (Medgar Evers’s assassination, the March on Washington) add authenticity and depth, while Addie’s frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop. –PW
8. A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, Megan Whalen Turner
Following The Thief, a 1997 Newbery Honor Book, and The King of Attolia, a 2007 Best Book for Young Adults, Turner continues her exquisite series with another rich story that examines peace, power, leadership, and loyalty. After initial, tense prison scenes focused on Eugenides, the king of Attolia, the novel’s viewpoint switches from third to first person, and Sophos, the reluctant king of Sounis who prefers poetry to politics, relates the adventures that precipitated his rise to questionable power. Tutors have drilled Sophos in imaginary attacks, but after he loses his family in a real invasion, he is bereft and goes into hiding as a slave on a nobleman’s estate in order to avoid his sovereign responsibilities. Even though Eugenides’ fans will miss his presence, he continues to pull strings from the sidelines as he joins leaders in high-priced alliances and prepares for an invasion. Turner’s plotting remains deft, and the subtlety with which she balances her characters’ inner and outer worlds will delight both series newcomers and fans, who will be waiting to grab this stand-out, stand-alone adventure, filled with all the expected intrigue and political machinations, from the shelves.–Cindy Dobrez for Booklist
9. NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, Justina Chen Headley
Sixteen-year-old Terra seems to be a typical high-achieving high-school student. Under her heavy makeup, though, she hides a port-wine colored birthmark on her cheek that makes her feel like an outsider. During yet another attempt to remove the birthmark, Terra runs into Jacob, a gorgeous Goth with a cleft-palette scar. That encounter initiates a transformation in both Terra and her subservient mother. Headley has written an exquisite book that explores the difference between physical and true beauty as Terra and her mother travel from Washington state to China, and from the home of a shame-faced, cruel cartographer into the presence of an adventurous, strong woman and her insightful teenage son. Headley uses map metaphors throughout, even in the activity, geocaching, which helps bond Terra and Jacob in both Washington and China. She also uses Terra’s artistic medium, collage, as a literary device to create layer upon layer of experiences and insights into a artfully written journey of self-discovery, self-actualization, and love. With every carefully chosen word, well-crafted sentence, and fully developed character, Headley maps out a wholly satisfying reading experience that takes readers from terra nullis to terra firma. –Frances Bradburn for Booklist
10. A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, (series), Ursula K. LeGuin
Often compared to Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Lewis’s Narnia, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea is a stunning fantasy world that grabs quickly at our hearts, pulling us deeply into its imaginary realms. Four books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) tell the whole Earthsea cycle–a tale about a reckless, awkward boy named Sparrowhawk who becomes a wizard’s apprentice after the wizard reveals Sparrowhawk’s true name. The boy comes to realize that his fate may be far more important than he ever dreamed possible. Le Guin challenges her readers to think about the power of language, how in the act of naming the world around us we actually create that world. Teens, especially, will be inspired by the way Le Guin allows her characters to evolve and grow into their own powers.
In this first book, A Wizard of Earthsea readers will witness Sparrowhawk’s moving rite of passage–when he discovers his true name and becomes a young man.–Amazon
11. WHEN YOU REACH ME, Rebecca Stead
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.??By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
12. STARGIRL, Jerry Spinelli
“She was homeschooling gone amok.” “She was an alien.” “Her parents were circus acrobats.” These are only a few of the theories concocted to explain Stargirl Caraway, a new 10th grader at Arizona’s Mica Area High School who wears pioneer dresses and kimonos to school, strums a ukulele in the cafeteria, laughs when there are no jokes, and dances when there is no music. The whole school, not exactly a “hotbed of nonconformity,” is stunned by her, including our 16-year-old narrator Leo Borlock: “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”
In time, incredulity gives way to out-and-out adoration as the student body finds itself helpless to resist Stargirl’s wide-eyed charm, pure-spirited friendliness, and penchant for celebrating the achievements of others. In the ultimate high school symbol of acceptance, she is even recruited as a cheerleader. Popularity, of course, is a fragile and fleeting state, and bit by bit, Mica sours on their new idol. Why is Stargirl showing up at the funerals of strangers? Worse, why does she cheer for the opposing basketball teams? The growing hostility comes to a head when she is verbally flogged by resentful students on Leo’s televised Hot Seat show in an episode that is too terrible to air. While the playful, chin-held-high Stargirl seems impervious to the shunning that ensues, Leo, who is in the throes of first love (and therefore scornfully deemed “Starboy”), is not made of such strong stuff: “I became angry. I resented having to choose. I refused to choose. I imagined my life without her and without them, and I didn’t like it either way.”
13. THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her. Pearson has constructed a gripping, believable vision of a future dystopia. She explores issues surrounding scientific ethics, the power of science, and the nature of the soul with grace, poetry, and an apt sense of drama and suspense. Some of the supporting characters are a bit underdeveloped, but Jenna herself is complex, interesting, and very real. This is a beautiful blend of science fiction, medical thriller, and teen-relationship novel that melds into a seamless whole that will please fans of all three genres.—Meredith Robbins for School Library Journal
14. THE BOOK THIEF, Marcus Zusak
Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith for School Library Journal
15. THE GIVER, Lois Lowry
In the “ideal” world into which Jonas was born, everybody has sensibly agreed that well-matched married couples will raise exactly two offspring, one boy and one girl. These children’s adolescent sexual impulses will be stifled with specially prescribed drugs; at age 12 they will receive an appropriate career assignment, sensibly chosen by the community’s Elders. This is a world in which the old live in group homes and are “released”–to great celebration–at the proper time; the few infants who do not develop according to schedule are also “released,” but with no fanfare. Lowry’s development of this civilization is so deft that her readers, like the community’s citizens, will be easily seduced by the chimera of this ordered, pain-free society. Until the time that Jonah begins training for his job assignment–the rigorous and prestigious position of Receiver of Memory–he, too, is a complacent model citizen. But as his near-mystical training progresses, and he is weighed down and enriched with society’s collective memories of a world as stimulating as it was flawed, Jonas grows increasingly aware of the hypocrisy that rules his world. With a storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting, this intriguing novel calls to mind John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Lowry is once again in top form–raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.–PW
16. JELLICOE ROAD, Melina Marchetta
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga. –Daniel Kraus for Booklist
17. CRANK, Ellen Hopkins
Seventeen-year-old Kristina Snow is introduced to crank on a trip to visit her wayward father. Caught up in a fast-paced, frightening, and unfamiliar world, she morphs into “Bree” after she “shakes hands with the monster.” Her fearless, risk-taking alter ego grows stronger, “convincing me to be someone I never dreamed I’d want to be.” When Kristina goes home, things don’t return to normal. Although she tries to reconnect with her mother and her former life as a good student, her drug use soon takes over, leaving her “starving for speed” and for boys who will soon leave her scarred and pregnant. Hopkins writes in free-verse poems that paint painfully sharp images of Kristina/Bree and those around her, detailing how powerful the “monster” can be. The poems are masterpieces of word, shape, and pacing, compelling readers on to the next chapter in Kristina’s spiraling world. This is a topical page-turner and a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.–Sharon Korbeck for School Library Journal
18. PUSH, (Precious), Sapphire *
An electrifying first novel that shocks by its language, its circumstances, and its brutal honesty, Push recounts a young black street-girl’s horrendous and redemptive journey through a Harlem inferno. For Precious Jones, 16 and pregnant with her father’s child, miraculous hope appears and the world begins to open up for her when a courageous, determined teacher bullies, cajoles, and inspires her to learn to read, to define her own feelings and set them down in a diary.
Yesterday, I posted about the growth of e-books and the possible need for e-agents. Thinking about e-books set me a-wander, and here are the results. Not all of the stories presented here are novel length; some are short stories–there’s even a short graphic novel. All are worth a proper sit down read through, and, to me, YA appropriate (remembering that I’m very liberal). A note on Fairyland: it’s all there save for the final chapter. Although it can be frustrating to wait for an ending, I recommend you read it anyway, slowly, and over a cup of steaming hot tea.
*Titles link to online text or download pages.
1. FOR THE WIN, Cory Doctorow
Doctorow is indispensable. It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a “living”—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as “General Robotwalla”), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can’t resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it’s eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge.–Daniel Kraus for Booklist
2. TIME TRADERS, Andre Norton
Head over to the Baen Free Library, then follow the prompts to authors, then Andre Norton.
Intelligence agents have uncovered something which seems beyond belief, but the evidence is incontrovertible: the USAs greatest adversary on the world stage is sending its agents back through time! And someone or something unknown to our history is presenting them with technologies — and weapons — far beyond our most advanced science. We have only one option: create time-transfer technology ourselves, find the opposition’s ancient source…and take it dawn.
When small-time criminal Ross Murdock and Apache rancher Travis Fox stumble separately onto America’s secret time travel project, Operation Retrograde, they are faced with a challenge greater than either could have imagined possible. Their mere presence means that they know too much to go free. But Murdock and Fox have a thirst for adventure, and Operation Retrograde offers that in spades.
Both men will become time agents, finding reserves of inner heroism they had never expected. Their journeys will take the battle to the enemy, from ancient Britain to prehistoric America, and finally to the farthest reaches of interstellar space…
3. THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, Catherynne M. Valente
A young adult novel, following September on her journey. From the first chapter:
Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her father’s house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.
“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes, and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”
4. BETTER ZOMBIES THROUGH PHYSICS, Jim Ottaviani and Sean Bieri
A short, online only graphic novel. Join us for chills, thrills, and pulse-pounding scientific breakthroughs as we embark on a tour of the Quantum Zombie, Inc. facility, courtesy of a guy who bears a striking resemblance to famed scientist and cat-lover Erwin Schrödinger. Hijinks, hilarity, and an abundance of felines await you in “Better Zombies Through Physics.”
*Tor.com & the authors encourage fan fic based on this story.
5. TOAST, Charles Stross
The title of Stross’s provocative new SF collection—a revised, expanded version of a 2002 title of the same name—is a mordant reference to catastrophes at the climaxes of these 11 stories. In “A Colder War,” a stand-alone sequel to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” monsters from outside space and time are liberated as weapons of mass destruction by Russia and the Middle East. In “Antibodies,” a mathematical theorem undermines the foundations of all computer encryption systems, forcing fugitive behavior from the narrator who has depended on the anonymity they hitherto ensured. “Ship of Fools,” written in 1995, evokes the epic scale of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction in its projection of dire technological fiascos that rock the world at the turn of Y2K. In Stross’s worlds, virtual reality is the new frontier, AI is a fact of life and everyone is fluent in the sometimes impenetrable technogeek-speak that goes with the territory. For all that, his characters are familiar and sympathetic hackers, slackers and opportunists, whose lives have not been improved by their technological expertise, and whose adventures he interweaves seamlessly with the circuitry.–PW
6. HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES, Neil Gaiman
A story about a couple of British 1970s teen-aged boys, Enn and Vic, who go to a party to meet girls, only to find that the girls are much different than they imagined.
The story follows Enn, a shy boy whom the more confident Vic encourages to just talk to girls. While at the party, Enn talks to three very nice but strange girls. As he focuses on “making a move” on the girls, it is revealed to the reader the exchange students there are more interplanetary than foreign.
7. TANGLEFOOT: (A Story of the Clockwork Century), Cherie Priest
A novelette, Tanglefoot is steampunk/alternate history fic. From the prologue:
Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.
It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armored vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature, and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.
But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.
This is the Clockwork Century.
It is dark here, and different.
8. AGENT TO THE STARS, John Scalzi
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.
So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.
Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.–Publisher description
Once upon a time, graphic novels were “those things my dorky kid brother reads”. Over the past few years, though, graphic novels have come into their own, and popular titles are being adapted to the format in an effort to reach a broader audience (or sell more books to collectors, *ahem* Twilight *ahem*). Here are a few great reads you may’ve missed the first time around.
* book may be hard to find
** best for older teens
1. THE BOOKS OF MAGIC, Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, & Paul Johnson
Considered by some to be an early Harry Potter, The Books of Magic introduce Timothy Hunter, a weedy kid with glasses and a pet owl. Timothy is introduced to the world of magic by the Trenchcoat Brigade, a quartet of fallen mystics (and familiar faces to DC readers) who are aware that the boy has the potential to be the world’s greatest magician, but that his allegiance to good or evil is undecided. They take him from the birth of the universe all the way through to its eventual death, ostensibly teaching him about the possibilities – and the price – of wielding magic before he decides whether to embrace his destiny. Along the way, Tim meets some of the DCU’s more prominent magicians and fantasy characters, whilst his allies try to protect him from the machinations of the Cult of the Cold Flame. Following his misadventures, Tim decides that the price is too high . . . only to find that everything he has learnt from his supposed mentors has made it impossible for him to turn away from magic.
2. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, Gene Luen Yang
As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it’s a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin’s hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee’s destructive glee or the Monkey King’s struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character’s expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. 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. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you’ll already have reached out to others.
3. EMMA, Kaoru Mori
Meticulously researched and beautifully rendered, EMMA is a beloved, award-winning series that was adapted into an acclaimed anime series in Japan. In Victorian-era England, a young girl is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. Emma meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, and immediately falls in love with him. William shares her feelings, but the strict rules of their society prevent their relationship from ever coming out in the open. Traditional class distinctions and rich, historical details provide the backdrop for this appealing romance.–DC Comics
4. THE WALL: GROWING UP BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN, Peter Sis **
Born out of a question posed to Sís (Play, Mozart, Play!) by his children (Are you a settler, Dad?), the author pairs his remarkable artistry with journal entries, historical context and period photography to create a powerful account of his childhood in Cold War–era Prague. Dense, finely crosshatched black-and-white drawings of parades and red-flagged houses bear stark captions: Public displays of loyalty—compulsory. Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves. Text along the bottom margin reveals young Sís’s own experience: He didn’t question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn’t told. The secret police, with tidy suits and pig faces, intrude into every drawing, watching and listening. As Sís grows to manhood, Eastern Europe discovers the Beatles, and the Prague Spring of 1968 promises liberation and freedom. Instead, Soviet tanks roll in, returning the city to its previous restrictive climate. Sís rebels when possible, and in the book’s final spreads, depicts himself in a bicycle, born aloft by wings made from his artwork, flying toward America and freedom, as the Berlin Wall crumbles below. Although some of Sís’s other books have their source in his family’s history, this one gives the adage write what you know biting significance. Younger readers have not yet had a graphic memoir with the power of Maus or Persepolis to call their own, but they do now.–Publishers Weekly, ages 8 & up.
5. PERSEPOLIS, Marjanne Satrapi
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.
6. THE RABBI’S CAT, Joann Sfar **
Sfar, the French cartoonist behind the Little Vampire children’s books, has come up with a hilarious and wildly original graphic novel for adults. The nameless, scraggly-looking alley cat who narrates the story belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the ’30s. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech and tries to convince his master to teach him the Torah, raising the question of whether the appropriate age for his bar mitzvah should be in human years or cat years. Of course, being a cat, he has plenty of impertinent opinions about Judaism. That’s a delicious setup on its own, but it gets better when the cat loses his speech again halfway through, and the story becomes a broader, more bittersweet comedy about the rabbi’s family and the intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture. The rabbi’s daughter Zlabya marries a young man from a nonobservant family in France. The Algerian family’s visit with their Parisian in-laws is the subject of the final and funniest section of the book. Sfar’s artwork looks as mangy and unkempt as the cat, with contorted figures and scribbly lines everywhere, but there’s a poetic magic to it that perfectly captures this cat’s-eye view of human culture and faith.
7. EPILEPTIC, David B. **
The cartoonist’s memoir of growing up in a family in which his brother’s grand mal epilepsy regularly took center stage is packaged here in its entirety. Although the first part of this book appeared in English in 2002, published by L’Association, there is no demarcation within the current volume to show where that break in the story occurred–nor does there need to be. David B. reports on the childhood adventures and interests he and his siblings shared–including warrior fantasies, a fascination with World War II, and drawing–and the family’s increasing involvement in seeking help for coping with the epilepsy. The latter half of the complete work continues through adolescence and into manhood, including David B.’s education in art college and his founding of L’Association. His brother’s failure to respond for any duration to any form of treatment or to adjust to life with a chronic disease is presented with unsentimental but humane forthrightness. The heavily inked images include many hallucinatory panels, and subplots involve the grandparents’ prejudices, David’s developing relationships outside the family, and his continued interest in his family. While the final difficulties revolve around the author and his inability to become a father, most of the book is both accessible and of high interest to teens.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
8. THE RUNAWAYS, Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
This unusually clever, fun teen comic is based on the novel premise that parents don’t just seem evil, they actually are evil supervillains. Or so some kids find out one night while eavesdropping on a dastardly meeting they take to be a cocktail party. Although the children are each a “type” right out of sitcom land-the goth girl, the brain, the jock, the dreamboat, the shy one-they’re also fairly empathetic characters. Vaughan’s closely observed dialogue lends them authenticity and pathos as they go through the disturbing realization that their parents aren’t just jerks but actually mass-murderers. The plot builds from this initial discovery, as the kids band together, discover they, too, have superhuman powers and engage their parents in good, old-fashioned superhuman fisticuffs. The group goes on the run and discovers their parents have all of Los Angeles in their pockets-it’s enough to make a teenager feel more alienated than ever. Alphona’s dynamic, manga-influenced artwork agreeably complements Vaughan’s crisp writing. They tell the story with clarity, a dollop of drama and just enough pizzazz to hook video game-obsessed readers. Packaged in a manga-size paperback, Marvel’s attempt to tap both the manga and the young adult market nicely succeeds.–Publishers Weekly
9. 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL, Bill Willingham, illustrated by Charles Vess, Esao Andrews, & more **
Probably the smartest mainstream comic going, Fables usually concentrates on the contemporary activities of characters from children’s stories who now are living as secret refugees in New York. This collection gives glimpses of their individual backstories before the armies of the brutal Adversary drove them out of Fairyland. Readers will learn, for example, what spoiled the Big Bad Wolf’s disposition and what happened to the witch after Hansel and Gretel pushed her into the oven. It would be relatively easy to do clever, merely cynical readings of the fairy tales, but Willingham is after something much more interesting. Like Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee, he’s reimagining the old stories, trying to see why they have survived and also to point out the aspects they somehow neglect: it’s only natural that Snow White would take revenge on the seven little rapists who abducted her, but the independent way she goes about it casts doubt on her subservient relationship to Prince Charming. Willingham reminds readers of how much they ignore in their anxiety to believe that all stories end happily ever after. Artists like Charles Vess, Mark Buckingham and Jill Thompson work up to the level of the perceptive scripts, making this a memorable, uncomfortably amusing treat.–Publishers Weekly
10. BUDDHA, VOLUME 1: KAPILAVASTU, Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka, the master of Japanese comics, mixes his own characters with history as deftly as he transfers the most profound, complex emotions onto extremely cartoony characters, and his work defies easy categorization. In Buddha, originally serialized in the 1970s and one of his last works, he lavishly retells the life of Siddhartha, who isn’t even born until page 268. Instead, Tezuka introduces Chapra, a slave who attempts to escape his fate by posing as the son of a general; Tatta, a crazed wild child pariah who communes with animals; Chapra’s slave mother, who stands by him no matter what; and Naradatta, a monk attempting to discover the meaning of strange portents of the Buddha’s birth. Throughout the book, the characters engage in fresh and unexpected adventures, escapes and reverses, as they play out Tezuka’s philosophical concern with overcoming fate and the uselessness of violence. Despite episodes of extreme brutality and broad humor, the core of the story revolves around various set pieces, as when Tatta sacrifices himself to a snake to save Naradatta and Chapra’s mom. After a moment of intense emotion, the scene is upended by the arrival of a bandit who mocks their attempts at keeping their karmic slates clean. “Why were you all fussing over some stupid trade? Why not just kill the snake and eat it?” The answer unfolds over succeeding volumes. Heavily influenced by Walt Disney, Tezuka’s often cute characters may take some getting used to, but his storytelling is strong and clean. Appearing in handsome packages designed by Chip Kidd, this is a stunning achievement.–Publishers Weekly
Still recovering from hitting the Irish coffee too hard on St. Patrick’s Day? These gems, set in Ireland, steeped in Irish folklore, or written by a few great Irish YA novelists, will help you get back on track.
1. NOTES FROM A SPINNING PLANET–IRELAND, (series), Melody Carlson
Affectionately teased as a “country bumpkin,” nineteen year-old Maddie has never been one to explore new territory. Her first trip outside of the country with her Aunt Sid and Sid’s godson, Ryan, promises an exhilarating adventure. Northern Ireland is more captivating than she even imagined–and Ryan is offering plenty of intrigue himself. During the journey, Maddie begins to discover more about what she wants from life, while developing a deeper friendship with her irresistible traveling companion. When Maddie and Ryan dig for the truth about the IRA car bomb that killed Ryan’s father years ago, questions about the past accumulate. Unable to let go of growing suspicions in this mysterious country, Maddie finds herself on a dangerous journey, a journey that will lead her to the greatest discovery of all.–Amazon
2. ARTEMIS FOWL, (series), Eoin Colfer
Colfer’s crime caper fantasy, the first in a series, starts off with a slam-bang premise: anti-hero Artemis Fowl is a boy-genius last in line of a legendary crime family teetering on the brink of destruction. With the assistance of his bodyguard, Butler, he masterminds his plan to regain the Fowls’ former glory: capture a fairy and hold her ransom for the legendary fairy gold. However, his feisty mark, Holly, turns out to be a member of the “LEPrecon, an elite branch of the Lower Elements Police,” so a wisecracking team of satyrs, trolls, dwarfs and fellow fairies set out to rescue her.–PW
3. 12 AGAIN, Sue Corbett
A riveting first novel. Overwhelmed with her life as a mother, wife, and newspaper journalist, Bernadette McBride decides to spend the night at her late Irish mother’s house. Helping herself to some mysterious liquid in the pantry, Bernadette ruefully wishes to be young again. When she awakens, she has been transformed into a 12-year-old on what should be her 40th birthday. She hears her mother calling her down for breakfast and is at first jubilant, but then realizes how complex her life has become. She enrolls in her oldest son’s school and tries to figure out how to undo her wish and get back to her husband and three boys. As weeks go by, her family assumes the worst but her son Patrick is certain that his mother will try to contact him, and he never gives up hope. When he receives her mysterious and untraceable e-mail sending him off on a dangerous errand, he realizes that her rescue is completely in his hands, and the results measure up to a satisfying conclusion. Corbett’s story, told from the alternating points of view of 12-year-old Patrick and Bernadette, is an extraordinary alchemy of elements that makes for an engaging read. The dialogue is natural and believable, and the emotions expressed by the characters are genuine. A great mix of fairy charms, Irish folklore, humor, mystery, and familial love. –Janet Gillen, Great Neck Public Library, NY for School Library Journal
4. THE GAME, Dianna Wynne Jones
Celestial intrigue and the nature of storytelling are just two of the strands woven together in Jones’s (the Chrestomanci books) inventive novella. Sent from her grandparents’ London home in disgrace, Hayley arrives in Ireland to stay with her aunts and cousins in their rambling castle home. The girl takes to her new life almost immediately, especially the thrilling game her cousins play, in which they venture into the mythosphere—a mysterious realm where they perform various tasks drawn from the worlds of fairytale, myth and legend. In the course of her own quests, Hayley discovers the truth about her own unearthly nature. She gets the chance to rescue her long-lost parents from dreadful fates, to which they’ve been condemned by domineering Uncle Jolyon, a power-hungry god thinly disguised as an unpleasant business man. Readers less familiar with classical mythology will be helped (and may well find their interest piqued) by a note at story’s end that clearly links the original Greco-Roman characters with their modern-day avatars.–PW
5. THE DEMON’S LEXICON, Sarah Rees Brennan
In this riveting debut novel, 16-year-old Nick and his older brother, Alan, are accustomed to life on the run. Since their father was murdered, the boys have been forced to slay demons set on them by magicians seeking the powerful charm stolen by the boys’ mother. Nick is furious when Alan receives a first-tier demon mark while saving a neighborhood boy. While seeking to remove it, Nick begins to suspect that his brother is lying to him about the reason for the magicians’ attempts to kill them and about why their mother screams whenever Nick touches her. Fans of the Supernatural television series will be hooked from the novel’s opening lines (The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.). Even teens who don’t consider themselves genre buffs will appreciate the solid writing, fast-paced plot, and sense of authenticity that Brennan gives to the shadowy world between ordinary, modern-day London and the otherworld of demons and magicians. Though Nick and Alan’s story is mostly resolved with Nick discovering the truth behind his father’s death and his mother’s fear of him, readers will no doubt clamor for the next book in this planned urban fantasy trilogy.–Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD for School Library Journal
6. THE CHRONICLES OF FAERIE, (series), O.R. Miller
An Irish Canadian author’s lauded fairy fantasies are updated and introduced to U.S. fantasy readers for the first time in O.R. Melling’s Chronicles of Faerie. The first volume, The Hunter’s Moon, follows two cousins, Gwen and Findabhair, as they backpack around Ireland in search of the country’s magical past. But the girls go too far when they dare to spend the night in a known fairy mound. Finn is stolen away by the dark king of Faerie to become his bride sacrifice to the Great Worm, or Hunter. It is up to timid Gwen to rescue her intrepid cousin, and she wonders if the task will be too much the first time she catches a glimpse of the Little People at play. “Gwen quaked inside. This wild abandon…was beyond anything she could imagine…Exquisite chaos.” But with the help of a fairy doctress and her handsome grandson, Gwen assembles a rag tag team of heroes determined to bring Finn back — even if it means the destruction of Faerie itself.–Jennifer Hubert for Amazon
7. THE ORAN TRILOGY, (series), Midori Snyder
(Series begins with “New Moon”.) Two hundred years ago, the Fire Queen destroyed her rival queens of Earth, Air, and Water in the fateful Burning and took power over Oran. No child with a trace of the elemental magic was allowed to live. Years later, the country still trembles under her oppression. But now there are rumors of hope. Four young women escaped—four who have the powers of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air—and are even now finding each other. At the same time, a ragtag army of artists and singers, orphans and vagrants, thieves and knifewielders is stealing into the city. Their sign is the bloodred, blade-thin New Moon . . .–Amazon
8. BALLADS, illustrated by Charles Vess & Jeff Smith, authors including Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles DeLint.
Ballads were little known to the literate world until the 18th century, when scholars began writing them down. Since then, they’ve received attention from folklorists, folksingers and, now, cartoonist Vess (Stardust; Rose). Vess and his collaborators put a little meat on the ballads’ often bare-bones stories, adding fantastic elements not in the originals (“Barbara Allen”), giving them modern settings (“Twa Corbies”), sexing them up (“Savoy”) and otherwise putting their own mark on them. Vess approaches them with an appropriately elegant style. His exquisitely detailed art delightfully recalls the Pre-Raphaelites here, Aubrey Beardsley there and elsewhere Winsor McCay or Gustave Dor . The best stories involve passion, whether celebrated (“King Henry” and “Savoy”) or cautioned against (“The Demon Lover” and “The Three Lovers”), though even the least effective stories are still beautiful. “The Three Lovers” is especially noteworthy; in it, Vess makes clever, subversive use of comics language, presenting a story that pretends to be a play (complete with proscenium arch). “Tam Lin” may be the collection’s consummate piece. In it, Vess goes for straight illustration, with each illustrated page facing a page of verse. Here Vess reaches the peak of his art, standing proudly with the 19th- and early 20th-century illustrators who influence him.–PW
9. THE HOLLOW KINGDOM, (series), Clare B. Dunkle
When orphaned Victorian teenager Kate and her younger sister move to an estate they have inherited, Kate feels sure she’s being watched. She’s not wrong. The suave, hideous Goblin King, Marak, plans to kidnap and wed her (goblin women are mostly infertile, so “crossing out” to other species ensures the survival of the race). All seems poised for clever Kate to outmaneuver the villain, but the seemingly conventional setup gives way to something far more intriguing: the dreaded marriage actually happens. Readers are then plunged into the goblins’ eerily lovely subterranean world, where Marak, despite his pitiless disregard for certain human sensibilities, surprises Kate with his wise leadership and husbandly concern. Each of the novel’s three parts fairly brims with plot, at times things seem a bit rushed, and Kate’s concluding adventure presupposes a devotion to her husband that hasn’t yet been convincingly established. But this is a fresh, powerful twist on the Beauty-and-the-Beast theme, and the impact of Dunkle’s evocative storytelling lingers long after the final page. –Jennifer Mattson for Booklist
10. LAMENT: THE FAERIE QUEEN’S DECEPTION, (series), Maggie Stiefvater
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan, a gifted harpist who regularly plays for weddings and other events, has the kind of stage fright that makes her physically ill before a performance, which is an inauspicious way to start a romance; but while vomiting before a competition she meets a gorgeous boy who comes into the restroom to hold her hair. He is Luke Dillon, a flautist who proceeds to accompany her in a truly stellar performance. As four-leaf clovers start appearing everywhere, Deirdre develops telekinetic powers and encounters strange, unworldly people who seem to bear her ill will. Her best friend, James, also a talented musician; her beloved grandmother; and her mother all are in danger, as Deirdre is targeted by the queen of Faerie. Deirdre eventually discovers that she is a cloverhand, a person who can see the denizens of faerie, and Luke, not the only immortal who has her in his sights, is a gallowglass, an assassin assigned by the queen of Faerie to kill Deirdre but who falls in love with her instead. This beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary debut novel, with its authentic depiction of Celtic Faerie lore and dangerous forbidden love in a contemporary American setting. –Diana Tixier Herald for Booklist
11. IMPOSSIBLE, Nancy Werlin
Date rape, a pregnant teen, and a shotgun wedding (of sorts)—must be a YA problem novel circa 1985, right? Not really. From a hidden letter, 17-year-old Lucy Scarborough learns “all sorts of melodramatic, ridiculous, but true things” about the circumstances surrounding her rape on prom night, her subsequent pregnancy, and why therapy and her signature pragmatism won’t be much help against an ancient fairy’s curse. By the Edgar Award–winning novelist whose thrillers include The Rules of Survival (2006), this tale, inspired by the song “Scarborough Fair,” showcases the author’s finesse at melding genres. Although it’s perhaps overly rosy that Lucy’s devoted foster parents take the curse in stride, Werlin earns high marks for the tale’s graceful interplay between wild magic and contemporary reality—from the evil fairy lord disguised as a charismatic social worker to the main players’ skepticism as they attempt to solve the curse’s three archaic puzzles (“We’ve formed the Fellowship of the Ring when really we should’ve all just gone on medication”). Meantime, Lucy’s marriage to childhood pal Zach, a development unusual in YA fiction but convincing in context, underlies the catapulting suspense with a notion that will be deeply gratifying to many teens: no destiny is unalterable, especially not when faced with tender love magic, “weird and hilarious and sweeter than Lucy ever dreamed,” worked by truly mated souls. –Jennifer Mattson for Booklist