This Week in Reviews: March 17, 2012

TOP O’ THE MORNIN’ TO YA!

FICTION:

4Q 3P S

Booth, Coe. Bronxwood. Push/Scholastic, 2011. 320p. $17.99. 978-0439925341.

In the author’s first book, Tyrell (Push, 2007/VOYA April 2007), the titular character struggles to hold his family together while his father is incarcerated. In this sequel, his father’s release only makes Tyrell’s life more complicated. Tyrell has rented a small apartment for his mother while living with some friends in the projects. He has carefully stayed out of their family drug-selling business and made some money DJ-ing with his dad’s equipment. His little brother, Troy, is still in foster care, but Tyrell has visited him often. With dad back in the picture, Tyrell has a hard time figuring out his role in the family. Who is responsible for protecting his mother? How can he continue to earn money without selling drugs if his father keeps all the DJ equipment locked away? Can he move back in with his parents without giving up his manhood? And most importantly, how can he protect Troy from being destroyed by their parents’ selfishness and unreliability?

This book is primarily about father–son relationships. Tyrell’s relationship with his dad is at the forefront, but the theme is explored throughout; older brothers acting as father figures, family friends stepping in when a biological father is absent, and teen fatherhood are all examined. Booth paints a vivid picture of urban African American life without relying on stereotypes or clichés. This book is recommended for teens who like urban fiction or who may be interested in taking a closer look at what it means to be a father or a son.—Liz Sundermann.

3Q 2P M J

Butler, Georgia Anne. Of the Wing: The Ivory-Billed Obsession. Pinchey House Press, 2011. 238p. $7.99 Trade pb. 978-0982034224.

Butler’s second novel in her Of the Wing trilogy picks up immediately where the first ended. Eleven-year-old Claire Belle, who lives with her mother and their new friend Jerry in a rural Pennsylvania home, is still best friends with classmate Victor Arquetana and at odds with Billy Hollow, Victor’s gaming buddy and the son of fugitive Clyde Hollow. Claire is thrilled when she learns that Robert Crawley, a famous ornithologist, is planning to visit his local estate a few miles from Claire’s home. While she and Victor are exploring the mansion grounds before Crawley’s arrival, they discover that Clyde Hollow is hiding out in the mansion and that Billy is covering for him. They keep this a secret from while they try to figure out how to handle it. In the meantime, the debonair Crawley comes to town and Claire develops a crush on him. She knows that he has been trying to catch sight of the rare, elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, and she tells him about her power to attract birds. Robert excitedly invites Claire, Victor, and Victor’s father to the wilds of Arkansas in search of the famous woodpecker.

While this story line is more eventful than that of the first novel, it drags in places and contains a distracting amount of subplots. Nevertheless, Butler’s prose is compellingly descriptive and her characters more fully developed than in the previous book. Readers who enjoyed The Legend Awakes (Pinchey House, 2010/VOYA August 2010) will look forward to this second installment in the series.—Dotsy Harland.

2Q 2P J S

Herding, Barb. Before I Disappear. Bookstand, 2011. 220p. $18.95 Trade pb. 978-1589099210.

Lauren’s life falls apart when high school “bad girl” Shannon targets her, stealing Lauren’s boyfriend and causing her to lose her coveted post as newspaper editor. She feels abandoned by her friends and her busy, often-absent parents. Frantically seeking some part of her life she can control, Lauren stops eating and begins exercising compulsively. When she collapses in gym class and is hospitalized, she must at last begin to acknowledge and confront her anorexia. In the hospital, Lauren reaches out to fellow patient Jenny, a beautiful, funny, talented girl whose father abused her, a fact that her mother and sister cannot acknowledge. As Lauren and Jenny gradually reveal their stories to each other, healing begins to seem possible, but for Jenny, it may come too late.

Herding’s knowledge of eating disorders and her compassion for sufferers are clear. Unfortunately, good intentions do not a novel make. The story is subordinate to the message. Characters are types rather than individuals, and there is way too much explanation. Lauren’s reconciliation with her parents and friends is not convincing, and Jenny’s story verges on bathos. Typos and grammatical errors mar the text. Skip this one, and for a more nuanced portrayal of eating disorders, recommend Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2009/VOYA April 2009) or Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best by Maria Padian (Knopf, 2011/VOYA April 2011) instead.—Kathleen Beck.

3Q 3P M

Mass, Wendy. 13 Gifts. Scholastic, 2011. 304p. $16.99. 978-0545310031.

In 13 Gifts, Tara Brennan, hoping to have an “in” with the “in crowd,” agrees in the final weeks of school to steal the middle school principal’s goat from his school office. Tara gets caught mid-act and is consequently sent to her parents’ childhood hometown of Willow Falls to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin during the summer instead of accompanying her parents on a research trip to Madagascar. Tara makes the journey alone by train, and once aboard, a bizarre series of events starts off rather quickly. At her aunt’s house, things are no different; the cast of characters expands to include a peculiar group of friends eager to embrace Tara, adding diversity to her once-secluded world. Another lapse in judgment causes Tara to be assigned to find thirteen random items throughout town in order to avoid dire consequences and a sinking sense of shame. Aided by her friends and propelled by her own desire to leave behind her guilt before her upcoming thirteenth birthday, Tara sets off to make things right. The quest to find these random items and the individuals she must interact with to acquire them provide the backdrop for a character-building, boundary-breaking journey for Tara.

The story is lighthearted and endearing, engaging the reader to go along to accomplish this task and uncover the reasons behind the pursuit. Mass brings forth her unique understanding of the struggles teens face in discovering themselves and navigating autonomy in a thought-provoking story where the underlying message of the power of choice and consequences, as well as the remarkable ability to trust, is laid out like a gift, neatly tied with a bow.—Susan Redman Parodi.

SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR

3Q 2P J S

Deaton, Leslie. A Marked Past: The Mercer Legacy. CreateSpace, 2011. 356p. $14.99. 978-1463551124.

Lyla Mercer’s life changes in the blink of an eye. Her father’s murder has her family reeling, and Lyla is forced to move. The Mercer family has lived in Salem for generations, and Lyla comes face-to-face with an extended family that she hardly knows. Hana, her cousin, dresses all in black and is bullied incessantly for being a “witch,” Lyla begins to learn strange things. A birthmark appears on the back of her neck, and she can hear people talking from extremely long distances. Lyla soon realizes that the rumors are true—her family is part of a coven, and real witches do exist. Lyla and her cousins will be forced to fight an evil that has hunted them for centuries.

The idea behind Deaton’s story is good, but the execution is lacking. Within the first two pages, Lyla’s father has died and she is almost immediately swept off to Salem. There is absolutely no lead-in into the story. Perhaps this is how Deaton wanted the story to play out—almost as if we are starting in media res. It felt like reading the House of Night series by the Cast ladies, only with witches instead of vampires. There are some teens that are drawn to the vampire/witch genre that will appreciate these novels. The sequel, A History Renewed, will be released in 2012.—Jonatha Basye.

Lyla Mercer’s life shatters when her dad dies in an accident and her mom decides to move them to Salem, Oregon. There she meets her father’s family and learns that she is not what she seems. Although the modern twist on witchcraft and Pagan rituals is interesting and fresh, the story lacks action and emphasis. It is very predictable, and the relationships between characters feels rushed. Overall, it reads like it is still a rough draft. 3Q, 3P.—Mauree Schroeder, Teen Reviewer.

Relic Master. Dial/Penguin, 2011. $16.99.

4Q 5P M J S

Fisher, Catherine. The Hidden Coronet, Book 3. 421p. 978-0803736757.

­­­­______________. The Margrave, Book 4. 384p.  978-0803736764.

Catherine Fisher’s Relic Master series concludes with The Hidden Coronet, Book 3, and The Margrave, Book 4. All four volumes made their U.S. debut during summer 2011, a decade after their original publication in Great Britain as The Book of the Crow quartet.

In Dark City, Book 1, and The Lost Heiress, Book 2 (Dial, 2011/VOYA August 2011) readers were introduced to Anara, a planet ringed by seven moons and populated by a pair of intelligent species:  a secretive, catlike aboriginal race, the Sekoi; and “Starmen,” human descendents of colonists from Earth.  The “Relic Masters” of the series’ title are fugitive scholar-priests who preserve relics of the advanced technology left behind by the original Starmen. Anara has degenerated into a dark, feudal society, its citizens cowed and brutalized by secret police known as the Watch. In Books 1 and 2, Galen, a Keeper, and Raffi, his young apprentice, become allies with one of the Sekoi and with the former Watchspy, Carys, to complete dangerous quests which lay the groundwork for rebellion against the Watch and renewal of the oppressed land.

In The Hidden Coronet, Book 3, Raffi and Galen search for Flain’s Coronet, the most powerful of all the “relics” left behind by the ancient, legendary Makers. Planetary weather has become extreme and unstable, crops are failing, and one of Anara’s seven moons, Agramon, appears to be falling out of orbit. Galen and Raffi must evade the Watch and uncover the deepest secrets of the mysterious Sekoi people to gain the Coronet which alone can stabilize Agramon and halt the planet’s entropy.

The Margrave, Book 4, brings the series to a satisfying conclusion. The colorful dwarf-lord, Alberic, has captured a watchtower and inspired a general rebellion against the hated Watch. With the enemy distracted by Alberic, Galen and his allies are able to penetrate the Pits of Maar in the heart of the Unfinished Lands. There they encounter the dreaded Margrave and learn the true nature of the planetary mechanics and genetic engineering bequeathed by the Makers. Both Raffi and Carys find their loyalties strongly tested in the exciting finale.

Relic Master is a four-volume, planetary fantasy of high quality, featuring an intriguing secondary world, complex characters, dangerous quests, and realistic growth of two young protagonists. Readers of Fisher’s renowned duology, Incarceron (Dial, 2010/VOYA February 2010) and Sapphique (Dial, 2011/VOYA December 2010), will find Relic Master an equally well-crafted series, but more approachable for young readers.—Walter Hogan.

3Q 5P J S

Jobling, Curtis. Rise of the Wolf: Wereworld. Viking, 2011. 412p. $16.99. 978-0670013302.

Drew is a young farmhand who loves his life and family, though his father treats him differently from his brother. He learns why when one day tragedy visits the farm and he changes into a werewolf; the resultant misunderstanding forces him to flee and live in the woods alone. After helping some rangers and re-encountering civilization, Drew slowly comes to learn that he is a Werelord—a people usually comprising the ruling class. But werewolves are hated, feared, and nearly extinct thanks to the new Lion Werelord king. With the brainy young Boarlord Hector and pampered Werefox princess Gretchen, Drew goes on the run to survive and seek his true heritage.

Jobling is already well known outside prose circles as the creator of Bob the Builder and many children’s books. His first novel is assured and lively enough to captivate with its strong world building and approachable language. Drew is a likeable hero who is brave but lacks confidence, benefitting and learning from his new friendships. But after a strong start, the well-paced book falls prey to some typical adventure fare. Drew must rescue Hector, and particularly Gretchen, again and again. The importance of Drew’s beloved sword, inherited from his father, is hammered home mercilessly. And Drew is not just the tortured hero but also the constantly tortured hero, following the authorial rule of “If they can survive it, do it.” But characters like the Wereshark Count Vega, who fills the role of morally ambiguous day-saver swashbuckler with élan, grant the book a charm that will draw followers to the sequel like Drew to a damsel in distress.—Lisa Martincik.


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