March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)

Non-fiction

IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)

Standalones

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?

 

 





Read in January and February 2015

22 02 2015

It’s an absolute disgrace, but I haven’t read much this year so far. Here’s a brief overview:

The crossover by Kwame Alexander, which won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, in which 6 transgender teens tell their stories. I didn’t read much Middle Grade last year so I can’t say whether The crossover was “the best” MG of 2015. It was certainly different (told mostly in verse) and a punch in the gut. I liked this better than He Said, She Said, but I wasn’t wild about it either. It was good,… but not *wow* good for me. *** 1/2

Beyond Magenta, on the other hand: an eye-opener. Definitely worth that Stonewall Honor Award. ****

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The Alex Crow by the inimitable Andrew Smith. Yet again we get so many stories in one and yet again, Andrew Smith managed to pull everything together at the end.Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write a real review of this one. Maybe when it comes out (I read the ARC), I’ll re-read and write that review then. ****

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, a story of disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights in the Second World War. This was really well-told non-fiction. I can’t wait to read Bomb, now! ****

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The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi, the love story of 2 teenagers in modern-day Afghanistan. It pains me to say this because I really “like” the story and the topic of this book, and I thought the way Atia Abawi told her story of living in Afghanistan for 5 years was really fascinating…but the writing style of this book feels a bit amateur. It’s very ‘in your face’, almost portraying black-and-white figures, rather than the ‘complexity’ of the people that Atia Abawi refers to in the acknowledgments and the way she talked about it at NCTE. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.40Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. BIG disappointment. It has all the signs of a writer of “adult” fiction trying to write YA and thinking they need to ‘dumb it down’ somehow. Blèh… hate it when that happens. * 1/2

BTW, I didn’t know that Meg Wolitzer actually wrote “adult literary fiction” before I finished this book. So yeah, this one is a fail for me.

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: a very typical Telgemeier book. Sweetly drawn and with a recognizable story, albeit somewhat ‘short’. ***

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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, and with drawings of his son Brendan. A story of mental illness. A very harsh and confrontational read, but excellent to get an insight into the mind of so many people (teenagers especially) who suffer from mental illness. This book by Shusterman impressed me more than his Unwind series. ****

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Also read in January:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – which I actually liked a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a sweet romance but really well done. *** 1/2

Reading now:

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos and with the kid, I am reading the Zita the Spacegirl series. Really great!

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Read in November 2014

3 12 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in November. I also don’t have the time right now for more than sketchy impressions of the books I read, rather than the full reviews they rightfully deserve. So here goes nothing…

Power books by power women, or also: books that will kick your ass as they rightly should:

GloryOBrien

 1) Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (by A.S. King aka the most missed author at NCTE/ALAN 2014)

I really hope to write a longer review of this, because this book and this author so deserves all the praise! This is a veritable horror story too. And can I be shallow and say how much I love my signed copy? Look at it!! But seriously. Read this!ASKingNCTE2014

4 stars (but really, it already has 6 starred reviews!)

2) The Truth about Alice (by Jennifer Mathieu)

There’s definitely an overarching theme in my November reads and that is cruelty. In this particular case, it’s cruelty in the guise of ‘slut shaming’. The Truth about Alice is Jennifer Mathieu’s debut YA novel and I was completely and shamelessly sucked in by it.

I “loved” every bit of this book: the multiple perspectives, the ruthless investigation of stereotyping people (and characters in a book), the way it unflinchingly shows how boys and girls are seen and judged in a completely different light. I also “hated” everything about this book: the way the boys and girls are shown and how stereotypes are reinforced. How some people have (too) loud voices and others don’t have a voice at all.

This is such an important book. For boys and for girls. And not in the least: for the adults raising those boys and those girls.

4 stars

3) Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (by Meg Medina)

This is a book from the heart. It’s not a ‘nice’ story, though. On the contrary, Meg Medina wrote a harsh psychologically layered story about bullying and female relationships. It’s edgy – and I’m not even talking about that title (which, by the way kicks so much ass 😉 – and I’m sure not just girls will identify with Piddy Sanchez or possibly even the mysterious Yaqui Delgado. If there’s one thing that’s abudantly clear after reading this provocative little book then it’s that everyone has a story: the victim, but also the bully, even if we don’t know what that story is, as is the case with Yaqui Delgado. And more than being ‘just another bullying book’, what really stands out is Medina’s great rendering of female relationships.

3.5 stars

Power books by power men

1) Knockout Games (by G.Neri)

Based on true events, comes G. Neri’s Knockout Games. I read this one right before Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and what the two definitely have in common is the violence. This one is a ruthless book. Set in St. Louis it’s all about a knockout club, a group of middle and high school kids who basically get into random violence (knocking out random people on the street for the fun and thrill of it). When Erica is uprooted to St. Louis after her parents’ divorce, she gets mixed up with the game (she’s good with a camera) and its leader, K (Kalvin), the Knockout King.

The narrative and the language are very straightforward. There’s no needless fancy talk, which wouldn’t really fit with the book’s topic anyway. Also like Yaqui Delgado, I see this being liked by a younger audience (Yes, yes, I know: there’s violence. And sex. Bite me). There’s also the same trope of the outsider trying to fit in, which that age group really seems to appreciate a lot. In this case, the protagonist is the white Erica who moves to a predominantly African American neighborhood and who’s trying to keep her head above water after her parents’ divorce.

3 stars

nctereads1

2) He Said, She Said (by Kwame Alexander)

This is described as a ‘hip hop’ novel and the language use of esp. the male protagonist Omar or T-Diddy (I did the same eye-rolling as the female protagonist!) in the book also reflects this. However, I can’t really say I was into it all that much. I also don’t like hip hop, so maybe it’s that. The story is too stereotypical for my taste: a good looking star football player (a real “player” too, of course) and a studious and responsible girl. Of course they’re destined to meet. Mixed in with this tale of destined yet too good to be true romance is a fight for social justice at the local high school.

I don’t know, it’s all very much in your face. I just couldn’t see past the shallowness of it all (maybe that’s the point?) and I just like my stories more nuanced and my characters with a lot more depth.

2.5 stars

Graphic novels:

1)  The Silence of our Friends (by Mark Long)

This graphic novel – also drawn by Nate Powell – is another (historical) graphic novel/memoir in the same vein as March Book One. It’s not quite as powerful as March Book One, but I can see this being liked a lot by my reluctant readers who’re really into history and the Civil Rights Movement.

3 stars

2) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (by Stephen Collins)

GET THIS BOOK NOW. GET IT! NOW! Absolutely brilliant graphic novel. What can I say? There’s the neat and orderly island of Here. The threat of a chaotic There. And there’s a *gigantic beard*. I repeat: there’s a gigantic beard. What more do you need? Brilliant artwork? It’s all there.

Gigantic Beard 1

Gigantic Beard 2

It’s the ultimate surrealist and eerily honest truth metaphor about the state of man in our current society (unfortunately it’s probably also the ultimate hipster book). This book is  awesome. Did I mention there’s a gigantic beard? That is evil?

5 stars

 

Up next: photo impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014





Something for the reluctant readers out there.

27 05 2014

Mojo (by Tim Tharp)

mojoTim Tharp scored a bit of a minor hit there when his The Spectacular Now got nominated for the National Book Award. It had a certain something that also James Ponsoldt (director) and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (screenwriters) noticed. The result: a critically acclaimed indie-feeling film with the now almost omnipresent Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

Mojo, however, is a completely different type of story than The Spectacular Now. It reads a lot younger, for one. At the same time, it might appeal a lot more to reluctant readers because of its fairly straightforward whodunit premise.

In order to find ‘mojo’, Dylan starts investigating a case involving the disappearance of a rich and beautiful girl, Ashton Browning. His investigation brings him to a world almost unknown, that of an elite private high school and an underground club called Gangland. It’s also a spider web of lies and deceit and obviously Dylan gets caught up in it.

Mojo isn’t very ‘subtle’, and as such its plot is also rather predictable, the characters fairly one-dimensional, stereotypical even. But if the mystery doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat enough, Tharp has infused his book with a dose of healthy humor. It’s this mix of reasonably undemanding plot, a bit of mystery and a dash of humor that makes this an ideal book for lots of reluctant readers.

3 stars

 

Notes from the Blender (by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin)

notes from the blenderEven though the plot is completely different than Tim Tharp’s Mojo, Notes from the Blender might appeal to the same type of reluctant reader, and if nothing else, it will make you grin and chuckle at the sometimes silly and often confusing things its main characters experience. Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin, is the story of Declan and Neilly and how their respective separate family become a blended family.

Declan lost his mom about 6 years ago and has spent the time not getting over that. Now as a healthy teenage boy (!), he’s obsessed with (Finnish black) metal, violent videogames, doesn’t have a lot of friends and fantasizes about hot girls like Neilly. Neilly is in the in-crowd: she has a popular boyfriend, a best friend, goes to all the hip parties, is beautiful and the object of Declan’s obsession… sort of. Then Neilly finds out her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend, so she’s now date-less for her father’s wedding ceremony – after her parents divorced, her dad’s now marrying another guy. And now her mom is also getting married again. As if things couldn’t get any worse, her now also pregnant mom is marrying Declan’s dad. Lives get turned upside down: new house, new family, new church, new people to hang out with… Things aren’t so hot for Neilly now and Declan too can’t stop feeling let down by his own father for trying to replace his mother. In a sort of reversal of Parent Trap (the movie is even referenced in the book) things get all complicated, but work themselves out by the end of it all…

Notes from the Blender is a fun little book, which – despite its complicated relationships and friendships – isn’t that complicated at all. And it has the kind of life-affirming message we wish everyone believed in: that love and family are positive things, in whatever size or form or blend they come.

3.5 stars





Noggin (by John Corey Whaley)

1 05 2014

Where Things Come Back would always have been a tough act to follow. Not only did John Corey Whaley’s debut novel win both the William C. Morris Award and the Michael L. Printz Award and was it as such a definite critics’ favorite, it was above all a novel which showed talent and ambition, while not forgetting to tell a great story, the premise of any good book. Whaley did this with such a keen insight and with such an innovative approach, fusing together an imaginative plot with the most outstanding use of voice that he managed to wow the critics ánd the cat… no mean feat indeed! Taking all of that into account, it’s hardly surprising that this cat didn’t think Noggin – that hard second book – lived up to its spectacular predecessor.

Noggin is about 16-year-old Travis Coates, who is terminally ill (cancer), decides to get his head cryogenically frozen only to be resurrected in the future when medical science allows this type of Frankensteinery… And so it happens that five years later Travis wakes up, with a head that is attached to a new body. Travis is still 16, but everyone and everything else around him is 5 years older. And even though it feels to Travis that he just went to sleep and was gone for a week or two, theNoggin reality of the thing is that things definitely have changed in those 5 years. So Travis is left to find out just how much of his past reality is still the present reality and if it no longer is, whether he can make it so again…

Noggin does share something with Where Things Come Back, of course, and that is Whaley’s adherence to the importance of making the best of every moment, but also the importance of grabbing that second chance once presented with it. Noggin will force you to look at your own life and evaluate the choices you have made, which really is a very relevant thing in any person’s life, and as such, obviously Noggin is not without its own merit!

However, take away the eccentric premise of the cut off head and all, and what you’re left with is not quite the earth-shattering book that Where Things Come Back really was. And even though it might be a bit unfair to read Noggin with another book ‘in mind’, I can’t read in a vacuum and pretend Where Things Come Back didn’t happen. And in that respect, I thought Noggin was a step back rather than forward for Whaley. While Where Things Come Back focuses on Cullen Witter, 17-year-old guy with the lost brother, it was also a book that was so refreshing and innovative in its execution, and a book that did things to that age-old genre of the coming-of-age novel. That is not a feeling I got when I read Noggin, and I read with my gut before I read with my mind.

The focus of Travis Coates’ new life is Cate and how to get his old girlfriend back, and Travis even almost becomes stalker guy to do so… and repeatedly so, which is another thing that knocked off a star for me: Nogging was just too long. Or rather, the book (and its message) wouldn’t have lost any of its strength if 50 or more pages about Travis trying to get Cate back had been edited out, which may sound harsh, but why hammer it in, when you could have condensed all of that to make it more powerful? That would have left space to explore Kyle (and his going back into the closet), to make Hatton (Travis’s new best friend) more than the hilarious side-kick stereotype, ànd to focus on the changed relationships in his own family.

If all of this made you think that I didn’t like Noggin, then you’re wrong. I did like it, I just didn’t love it the way I love certain other books. Despite its crazy premise, Noggin is contemporary realistic fiction, but rather than exploring that to the fullest, crossing boundaries, getting back inside of the box only to step out of line the next, both in terms of plot ánd voice ánd character depth (which Whaley definitely did in his debut), this is (just) a nice enough book about a boy trying to get a girl back. If this is me being harsh on John Corey Whaley, and me judging this particular book unfairly on its own, well then so be it, because I happen to know that John Corey Whaley is the author of Where Things Come Back, and Where Things Come Back rocked my socks off, and I know he can do that again… only he didn’t do it with Noggin.





Girls, girls, girls… (Fat Angie, Fangirl & Doll Bones)

7 04 2014

Doll Bones (By Holly Black)

Doll BonesIt’s a fact universally acknowledged that porcelain dolls are exceptionally creepy. From Holly Black – of The Spiderwick Chronicles, Modern Faerie Tales and much much more fame – I expected nothing if not a creepy old tale of a superweird doll scaring the bejeezus out of me. In that respect I didn’t get what I came for, because rather than a scary story, we’re actually getting a fairly standard middle grade road trip ‘adventure’ story of 3 friends, Zach, Poppy and Alice, who want to lay the bones of this creepy little doll to rest.

Maybe I just went into this with the wrong expectations, but I thought it was all fairly safely played and written, especially when it comes to the characterization of the three protagonists. This reads like an adventure book about friendship, but the characters making up that friendship aren’t pronounced enough to be wholly successful. Holly Black also merely touches upon some of the family dynamics, making this novel to only scratch the surface of much deeper things and in that respect, I think Doll Bones and Holly Black missed a few opportunities.

3 stars

 

Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell)

FangirlLast year’s hit sensation was definitely Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (for a variety of reason, not in the least that it’s just a really great book!). So when Fangirl came out, I got an e-ARC, but didn’t get around to reading it BECAUSE I JUST HATE READING STUFF ON A SCREEN. Anyway, I finally got a hold of a print copy and… was disappointed with the outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the concept of fandoms. Hell, I belonged to the X-Files Fandom way back when. Yes, that’s before the Harry Potter Fandom, on which Fangirl’s Simon Snow Fandom is obviously based. The main problem I have with the Fandom stuff in the book is that it’s all.so.incredibly.boring. Seriously, there’s nothing exciting whatsoever about the characters that Cath, the protagonist is obsessed with, Simon and Baz. Rowell introduces every chapter with extracts from either the ‘actual’ Simon Snow books, or with an extract from Cath’s fanfiction, but after one or two of those, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually read them anymore, because: SOoooo Boooooring.

This leaves the other aspect of this novel – which is obviously not just about fandoms and fangirling, namely the character part and Cath growing up into college as her own person and not an appendage of her twin sister Wren, and/or out of the fandom. There are a whole bunch of minor characters around Cath (like her twin sister Wren, the love interest Levi, her roommate, the writing partner Nick, her bipolar dad, etc. etc.), but I’d argue that also on this front Fangirl can’t bring what Eleanor & Park brought: real characters I could root for.

Add to that that this book is a way way too long (+400 pages) and dragged all the way until the end, which was then completely rushed, and you can safely say that I thought Fangirl was a big disappointment. I missed spunk in the main character, I missed sparks in the romance, and I missed guts in the writing.

2.5 stars

 

Fat Angie (by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)

fatangieSpunk and sparks is not something I missed in e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s Fat Angie. And I’m sorry, Simon Snow Fandom, but a Buffy mention in the first couple of pages of any book will bring a smile onto my face, even if the main character of said book has to go through the worst of things on a daily basis: extreme bullying, a shitty home life… When KC Romance walks into Fat Angie’s life, things are looking up, even though Angie at first doesn’t really know how to react to a person who genuinely seems to want to be friends with her, rather than kick her when she’s down.

Fat Angie was one of the two winners of the 2014 Stonewall Book Award, along with Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Unlike that book, Fat Angie definitely has more literary spunk and where I felt Cronn-Mills’s book was first and foremost “an issues book about a very important topic that needed to be told”, to me  Fat Angie is an actual good book as well, regardless of topic or issues dealt with.

3.5 stars

 





The Buffalo Tree (by Adam Rapp)

9 03 2014

thebuffalotreeIn 2005, Adam Rapp’s debut novel[1], The Buffalo Tree found itself in the midst of what the New York Times called a Culture War. This happened in the Muhlenberg School District, where – coincidentally – another book riot went on (and is still going on) at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. The petition that was started on Change.org by some of the students themselves, explains how books are being ‘red-flagged’ and how class and school libraries are at risk of losing many of its books because they might contain “inappropriate” content.

In the case of Rapp’s The Buffalo Tree – as is the case in most if not all instances of book challenges or attempted bans – the main issue is that those who want to ban it never actually read all the material they are protesting, and in the case of The Buffalo Tree, the school board only heard some passages taken out of context.

The Buffalo Tree has all the hallmark signs of “an Adam Rapp novel” and already show his mad talent. I’d previously read Punkzilla, The Children and the Wolves and 33 Snowfish, and each of those reading experiences left me shattered. Not just because of the harsh story of the kids in those books, but equally so by the unmistaken talent of Rapp as a word artist. Voice is his strength, and it’s no surprise then he’s also a playwright, and a really good one at that (even though I haven’t see any of his plays, I have no doubt believing that).

His experience as a playwright is all over those 3 YA novels, in which each character gets a very distinctive voice. In The Buffalo Tree, Rapp isn’t quite there yet, but it shows how good he is at having a character “be” that character completely, voice and all, enhancing the reality of that character from the inside out. And in Sura’s case – the 12-year-old boy who’s locked up in the Hamstock Boys Center for 6 months for stealing hoodies (car hood ornaments) – that means that he speaks tough, in a sort of juvy vernacular. It’s also Sura’s stream of consciousness perspective we get when the other Spalding juvies are described: Coly Jo, Sura’s (unfortunate) patchmate (cell mate) and Hodge and Boo (two juvy bullies). But like in other Rapp novels, it is fascinating to see how a kid like Sura views the adults of his surroundings: the cruel Mister Rose, Deacon Bob Fly, the resident ‘psychologist’ who’s intent on ‘getting through to Sura’, and none of them are seen in a positive light, except maybe for Sura’s mom, Mazzie – who got pregnant with Sura when she was 15.

Let’s face it, what happens in The Buffalo Tree is grim and hits you hard, but it’s a real world. Sura’s world in the juvy center and outside of the center is a bleak one: cruel, violent, abusive adults, and kids who may end up the same way as those adults, or kids who do not find the inner strength to overcome their situations. That too is something certain teens experience every single day. Every day is a battle for Sura and even after his release that feeling stays with him: “You get that old feeling back up in your bones”, but the hopeful thing to keep in mind here, that even though he might still get that feeling, he’s out.

Is a book with an almost naturalistically drawn story reason enough not to allow teens to have the ability to read this? OK, so that’s the most absurd question ever, which is why I can only respond with an Elle Horowitz original: “So, OK. The Attorney General says there’s too much violence on TV, and that should stop. Even if you took out all the violent shows, you could still see the news. So until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.” And if you don’t believe Elle, then read this. Also, it’s really great to hear that there are students willing to support what they believe in and say: “We refuse to be idle,” they say in their petition. “We need to show them that young adult literature is a life-changing thing for young people to be exposed to. We won’t stop until every book on every shelf of our school is saved.”


[1] (I found 1990 on Wikipedia for the first time this was published, making Rapp 22 at the time!








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