I Will Save You (by Matt de la Peña)
Kidd Ellison has the worst of lives. Away from the mental facility Horizons where he ended up after his mother killed herself (after she killed her abusive husband), he now lives in a tent on the beach, employed by Mr Red. In I Will Save You Matt de la Peña plays with narrative timelines as the reader has to figure out the links between Kidd and Olivia, Kidd and Mr Red, and especially Kidd and Devon, a guy Kidd met at Horizons but who now also turns up at the beach.
The book actually starts at the end of it all, when Kidd somehow pushes Devon off of a cliff, and then goes back to tell the entire story in flashback, memories, dreams and notebook entries (Kidd writes in his philosophy of life notebook). This disjointed chronology may throw you off at times, but it actually enhances the sense of desperation Kidd feels. The only thing this broken and vulnerable kid wants it to save Olivia, but when the mysterious Devon arrives and starts his devious schemes, everything Kidd wants is threatened. Even though you know from the start that something is up with Devon – there are clear hints throughout the book – I’m sure some readers will still be shocked at the ultimate twist at the end of the book.
I was a bit surprised to see this listed as a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, because it’s not exactly a “quick read”. On the contrary, it really does require some effort from the part of the reader. I don’t see my reluctant readers picking this up ‘quickly’. In any case, I Will Save You is a deeply moving and engaging book about a boy with an extremely troubled past and whose future is far from bright. Definitely one of the saddest books in a long time…
My Swordhand is Singing (by Marcus Sedgwick)
Marcus Sedgwick is a cat favorite. One of the only writers to successfully publish work for children and young adults, his foray into the ‘darker’ genres is remarkable. In My Swordhand is Singing Sedgwick takes on the myths of the vampire. In his version of the age-old myth, there are no melodramatic romances. There are also no shining and sparkling über-creatures and irresistible doe-eyed maidens. Instead, Sedgwick focuses on the folktales that have been told all over the world, all through the ages. He sets his story in the 17th century in the dead of winter somewhere in Eastern Europe. We get the story of a father, Tomas – a drunk – and his son Peter, both woodcutters and not liked by the villagers where they have settled. In this tale we get gypsies and the evil of the Shadow Queen. In this tale we get the ‘hostages’ (vampires), who’re only after one thing and it’s not making out with the living!
Sedgwick’s horror is so different from the fantasy horror that is usually associated with Vampire stories these days. If anything, it looks like for once we get a writer who has done his homework researching ancient folklore instead of romanticizing it. My Swordhand is Singing is by no means Sedgwick’s best work, but it already shows what this unique writer will attempt in later books too: a focus on setting (eerily so), an interest in the past, and gothic-like retellings of old tales.