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The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 10 - 2013
ThisWickedGame Cover The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright Dial Books

I’m obsessed with all things voodoo, and even more so, hoodoo, but that’s a separate topic for another blog post. Ever since I was a kid, I loved reading anything and everything about it, especially books that used it as the foundation for the magic in their worlds. I was in love with voodoo because I was inundated with the western image of witchcraft, religion, and spirituality. Many books that feature witches pull their magical traditions and world-building from pagan European traditions. I loved those witches, but I didn’t find many brown ones as a young reader. I wanted to be included. So the use of voodoo, voodoo priestesses, and magic extrapolated from voudon or vodou, excited me. It’s from Africa. I found it refreshing to see something that reflected people who looked like me and encompassed many of my cultural values, whether it be superstitions or beliefs about my ancestors.

From this season’s American Horror Story: Coven to the CW’s spin-off show The Originals set in New Orleans, voodoo is showing up on TV, and trickling into the publishing industry. There has been a surge in voodoo appearing in YA Literature over the past few years. Two titles have come to my attention lately: Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game and Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls.

As a middle school librarian, author, and literary development co-founder of CAKE Literary, I consider myself a stakeholder in the children’s/YA book community, and I have been keeping my eye out for these books. And honestly, as a member of an American subculture, I watch for titles that present aspects of my culture or representation of black iconography in YA and children’s fiction. I always hope that the books do the traditions justice. But there’s always a nagging worry that the traditions will be trampled in the name of entertainment and universal marketability.

I was excited to read Michelle Zink’s This Wicked Game because I’ve read a few of her other books, and enjoyed her Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy. Her writing is smart, clean, and compelling. Plus, I am a librarian that needs diverse titles to serve a diverse student body.

The plot in a nutshell (SPOILERS AHEAD): Set in New Orleans, Claire is apathetic about Voodoo, despite being the great-great-granddaughter of voodoo queen Marie Laveau through her father’s side. This birthright ensures her membership to “The Guild”, a voodoo society that her parents are members of. One day when a woman orders a restricted item from the family shop—panther plasma, used to kill people—she alerts her parents. Her parents immediately whisk her off to her first Guild meeting with the other families.

Claire reports what happens, and learns that two more restricted orders were placed in the shop. Also, Claire has been dating Xander in secret. He is the son of the most prominent Guild family. The two of them start investigating the mystery, and break into the house of the woman who ordered the black plasma. Inside they find a photograph of the Guild members marked with Xs on some of the faces. The Xs connect with Guild families who have suffered from recent break-ins in their houses. Rooms had been ransacked for personal objects. Xander’s house is also broken into.

Claire notices the identical photograph at her house, but a man has been cut out of the photograph. Xander and Claire get together with Sasha and Allegra, who are two other prominent first-born Guild members. They decide to locate the exiled Crazy Eddie. They venture out to the seedy outskirts to find the old man. Crazy Eddie has been anticipating their arrival via his visions. Xander has also been having dreams and visions of Claire being sacrificed, and he’s been unable to help her. Crazy Eddie divulges past Guild secrets. He tells them all about Maximilian, the absent man from the photograph, and the details about his expulsion from the Guild. Claire’s great-great-grandma was anti-black magic, and rejected Maximilian from using the Cold Blood spell to save his dying child. In true villain fashion, Maximilian did it anyway and swore revenge against the Guild if his little girl died. She did die.

FX AHS ImageGallery 0000 24 The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

Copyright FX Networks

To counteract Max’s desire to use black magic, Claire’s great-great grandma spoke to the gods. She also assured that the spell would not work, as well as made an addition to the spell that required a special ingredient that Maximilian would be unable to get. She also did a counter spell. The teens put together all of these details because one of the grandmother’s journals was stolen. They point to Maximilian as the one responsible for the break-ins, and somehow found the addendum to the spell. They believe that he is plotting revenge on the Guild’s first-born children. Claire uses voodoo magic, and is able to watch her great-great-grandma in a dream as she writes the Cold Blood spell and the counter spell. Claire tells the crew and they band together to perform the spell and block Maximilian. Before they can complete their task, Claire is taken by Maximilian and Eugenia, the woman from the very beginning who wanted to buy the black panther plasma. They prepare for a voodoo sacrifice and start to bleed Claire. This harkens back to everyone’s visions — and her blood ends up being the essential spell ingredient. Xander, the rest of the teens, and Crazy Eddie rescue Claire just in time and enact the counter spell. Like magic, Claire is able to chant the right spell and call on the gods. The spell washes away her fear. In the end, she wakes up in the hospital and finds out that the others alerted their parents and the Guild. The police came, but Maximilian — of course to probably set up for a sequel — escaped. Claire feels better about voodoo and the belief system, and is more enthralled with her boyfriend Xander.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I am being selfish in what I wanted from this book.

First and foremost, I am a writer and would never want to be told what to write. I fully support creative expression and freedom. Write what you want, and if you’re not writing what you know — research. Furthermore, if you’re writing about the cultural traditions of a group of people outside of your own, make smart choices and think of the people who belong to those groups. Honor them! Be responsible and sensitive. I won’t assume that Michelle Zink isn’t Creole or doesn’t have African ancestry or ties to voodoo.

Whether she is connected to the community or not, why not make her main character reflect the heart of the voodoo tradition? In a YA publishing world that produces a massive number of books that feature white girls as lead characters, why not change it up and make this character reflect the heart of voodoo — black? Why neglect this opportunity?

Did she think it would alienate her readers or her base? Was she insecure about writing a black character? She wrote the black male love lead Xander.

t voodoo The Whitening of Voodoo in YA Literature

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot Deck

Instead, Claire’s dad was African-American and a descendant of Marie Laveau (this famous voodoo queen was of mixed heritage and believed to be the daughter of a black woman and a white planter, as well as her daughter Marie Laveau II). Claire’s mother is a white woman, so it isn’t unlikely that she would/could be a blonde girl without many traces of the markings of African ancestry. New Orleans is a wonderful stew of cultures, which creates a fantastic mix of people, food, and traditions. The history of the city is complicated by these racial implications and cultural mixing. Voodoo is influenced by it as well. I wish the book pushed boundaries, and took the rich traditions of the city and its various cultures to explore, alongside her elaborate plot. Instead people are barely described. Their races and cultural iconography are missing. The flavor of their language and world-views are absent. Claire Kincaid reads like a white girl (I realize this statement is multi-faceted, inflammatory, and deserves it’s own post). Her black father and his link to Marie Laveau felt convenient, and like an accessory to the novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy her connection to this heritage. I didn’t feel it inside Claire or her thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.

Mara Brock Akil, an American TV writer and producer said something that struck me: “My work is driven by my belief that the human spirit needs validation. It starts from the moment we’re born, and yet we’re born into a country whose greatest exports are images… Everywhere we turn — museums, TV, movies, magazines, and books — we’ll see beauty reflected. Unless you’re black, and a girl.” Her words stuck with me and made me think of this book because I selfishly wished the author validated those missing girls from YA fiction who are the darker faces of voodoo. The faces that brought this complex tradition over on slave ships.

I realize this is a lot to ask of someone. I realize that it is selfish. I realize that I have no right to tell someone what to write. I realize that in a nutshell, I am calling Michelle Zink a cultural appropriator or accusing her of making poor decisions in terms of her use of voodoo. Yet still, I wished that she (and her publisher Dial) made better decisions when tapping into a vast and rich cultural tradition attached to a marginalized group that has had a long history with cultural appropriation for profit. If it weren’t for this history, I think this issue wouldn’t be so loaded. And let me be clear for the Goodreads trolls or Internet bullies coming my way, I do not think that white people can’t or don’t practice voodoo. It’s like the same as a white person owning a taco stand. It happens. It’s fine. Those tacos are probably freaking delicious. This is a great benefit of living in a multicultural society. I just wish when authors use voodoo that they honor it by having practitioners reflect the tradition’s African roots. If kids of color only get a fixed number of books written from their cultural traditions a year/their POVs, wouldn’t it be nice if some of them featured characters who looked like them?

Another book that is coming out through a packager The Story Foundation is Kiki Sullivan’s The Dolls. In Publisher’s Marketplace the book is pitched as:

Kiki Sullivan’s THE DOLLS, pitched as Pretty Little Liars meets True Blood, in which a girl returns to her tiny Louisiana bayou hometown only to discover that she is the powerful missing link in a trio of voodoo queens who rule the town – and the gifts she’s inherited may be tied to her mother’s death years before, to Sara Sargent at Balzer & Bray, in a two-book deal, by Holly Root at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency on behalf of The Story Foundation. (NA).

This much I can guess about the novel if the current trend of whitewashing voodoo continues:

(1) The protagonist is another white girl

(2) The voodoo queens are each from a different racial group — one black girl and another white girl (most likely — might have some Spanish or Native American ancestry to reflect old racial groups from colonial New Orleans)

(3) There’s an attractive black male love interest who looks mixed (fair skin, maybe light eyes)

Voodoo is fun and interesting. I get it. People want to incorporate it into their worlds. Go for it. But think about it’s roots and history. Think about the people who came from those traditions. Don’t leave them out or relegate them to side-kick characters when really it’s their story to tell. Give those characters an opportunity as well.




Book Review: The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 14 - 2012

The Theory of Everything 225x300 Book Review: The Theory of Everything by J.J. JohnsonI first discovered J.J. Johnson last year when her first book, This Girl is Different, came out. I loved it and reviewed it for the blog here, so I was really excited to get my Amazon pre-order of her follow up, The Theory of Everything. I was not, however, prepared for the totally completely overwhelming awesomeness that is The Theory of Everything. When I was finished with the book, pretty much all I could say was, Wow!

The Theory of Everything is about fifteen-year-old Sarah, whose best friend, Jamie, died about eight months before the book begins. The world has moved on, but Sarah’s life will never be the same. She’s pushed away her other friends and family and can’t even begin to go near Jamie’s twin brother, Emmett, or Jamie’s parents. She still has her sexy boyfriend, but she’s going through the motions. Sarah’s voice is humorous and realistic, never becoming depressing but never letting us forget what she’s going through. Sarah’s main comfort is her dog, Ruby, and even though personally I’m not a dog lover, I totally got it. I felt like I was inside a real person’s head, and all the external characters were painfully real. I don’t recommend reading the front cover copy, because it gives away plot stuff that I’m glad I didn’t know before reading.

There were several places where I cried yet no places where I felt manipulated. There were no brightly painted signs saying, “This is so sad! Cry here!” Just real, believable emotions naturally worked into a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. If I was on all those fancy awards committees, I’d have The Theory of Everything at the top of my list. Everyone go out and read this book now!

Cover image courtesy Peachtree Publishers

Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On September - 3 - 2012

The Broken Lands Totally Biased Review: The Broken Lands by Kate MilfordI’m admitting it right in the title: Kate Milford is a friend of Teen Writers Bloc, and I’ve personally mentioned her before in multiple blog posts. She hosted my book release party and saved my day at BEA. AND we have the same publisher, Clarion Books. Now that that little disclaimer is out of the way, go buy her new book because it’s awesome!

The Broken Lands is a prequel/companion to Kate’s first novel, The Boneshaker, which took place in 1913 and starred 13-year-old Natalie Minks, who had to save her small Missouri town from the evil Jake Limberleg and the devil himself. Of course, everyone should read The Boneshaker just for the fun of it, but you don’t need to read it to understand The Broken Lands. Though both books take place in the same alternate-history world where folklore is real, the The Broken Lands stars different main characters and stands alone.

The setting is 1877 New York City, a time when the country had yet to recover from the Civil War and tensions were thick. Into this come the mysterious and evil Walker and Bones (a literally-derived name), who want to turn the city into a new kind of hell. I don’t want to give away too much, so let’s just say there are a goodly amount of evildoers, a well-laid-out and diabolical plan, and a need for heroes! Enter Sam and Jin, a 15-year-old Coney Island card sharp and a Chinese girl who is a pyrotechnic genius. With the help of a few “uncanny” good guys and their own wits and spunk, they must save the world by beating the bad guys at their own game. Kate renders the setting, characters, and folklore in exquisite detail and makes the New York of 1877 feel as real as New York today. Anyone who likes historical fiction, fantasy, or historical fantasy will love this book!

Aaand … Kate is having a book release party on September 6, 7:00–9:00 P.M., at McNally Jackson Books in Soho (52 Prince St.). The party is for The Broken Lands and the companion novella The Kairos Mechanism (which I can’t wait to read!). I guarantee a good time.

Cover image courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Book Review: When You Wish Upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthy

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On August - 31 - 2012

When You Wish Upon a Rat 406x600 Book Review: When You Wish Upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthyWhen You Wish Upon a Rat is the first middle grade novel from bestselling Australian Author Maureen McCarthy. Once again I have to ask, why oh why do we have to wait to get our hands on great books written in other English speaking countries? Yeah, yeah, I know the official publishing industry answer. Still, it’s a shame we in the US had to wait two extra years to get this gem of a novel!

Originally released in Australia under the title Careful What You Wish For, When You Wish Upon a Rat is the story of eleven-year-old Ruth Craze, who is understandably annoyed by her inattentive family and saddened by the recent death of the one person she felt like she had a connection with, her aunt Mary Ellen. Before Mary Ellen died, she gave Ruth a precious gift, an (apparently) toy rat named Rodney that’s described as “…like a little gnome or a strange elf from a dream, ugly yet weirdly beautiful too.” Well, you can see where this is going, but that doesn’t spoil the fun. I immediately fell in love with the character of Ruth, probably because she’s a girl after my own heart. “So what if she’d quietly read a book? What harm did it do?” Ruth thinks after being chided by her mother for being less than attentive at her brother’s concert. Exactly! Ruth doesn’t want to attend a boring cycling race with her annoying family, and we don’t blame her. Who wants to be dragged along all the time and treated as if their wants and needs are unimportant? So with the help of her strange friend Howard, Ruth heads off to find a lost Rodney.

I did find McCarthy’s structure a little disconcerting at the beginning due to some jumping around in time, but I quickly got used to it, and the excellent characters soon washed away any doubts. I especially loved Rodney’s humorous creepiness once he appeared in the story to offer Ruth the titular wish. I won’t say what the wish is for fear of spoiling it, but I found the resolution very satisfying. I highly recommend it for lovers of middle grade, and I think fans of both realistic fiction and fantasy will enjoy it.

When You Wish Upon a Rat will be released in the US on September 1st.

Cover image: Amulet Books

 Book Review: Herbert’s Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre by Peter Nelson and Rohitash RaoI discovered the first Herbert’s Wormhole by accident last year, and I immediately fell in love. The book had everything an immature child at heart like myself could want: time travel, aliens, absurd humor, video games, and silly wigs. I loved the book so much that I immediately had to get on Teen Writers Bloc and sing its praises. So when I heard that there was going to be a sequel, I immediately pre-ordered it. Well, it finally arrived and did not disappoint! Without giving too much away, at the end of the first book, our heroes Alex, Herbert, and Sammi had saved the future through an elaborate scheme involving video games and the earth’s amiable conquerors, the Australian accented G’daliens. As Herbert’s Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre opens, the kids are living the good life, being lauded as heroes by humans and G’daliens alike. But the evil yet pathetic no-good G’dalien Gor-don is still out to get them. Gor-don’s plot involves stuffing his tentacles into high heels and pretending to be a human woman, a disguise which everyone takes at face value, much like that episode of Pinky and the Brain where Brain pretends to be Cher by wearing stilts and a wig. Anyway, the plot isn’t actually all that important. What’s important is that we get more absurd, childish humor involving silly wigs, alien nonsense, and bad puns. In fact, the whole book is worth reading just for the fact that the evil alien bullies are after some valuable substance called LUNN-CHMUNNY. The back of the book says it’s for ages 8–12. But I say, read it, laugh, and feel young again!

Cover image courtesy Harper Collins

Book Review: Caleb’s Wars by David L. Dudley

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On February - 1 - 2012

Calebs Wars 198x300 Book Review: Caleb’s Wars by David L. DudleyI meant to review this book back in October when it came out, but I got busy reading books for school and didn’t get around to reading it. So now it happens that it’s Black History Month! Score one for procrastination, because this is the perfect book to read this February.

Caleb’s Wars takes place during World War II, an era in African American history that I hadn’t read a lot about. It’s 1944, and fifteen-year-old Caleb lives in rural Georgia with his parents, a devoutly religious mother and a father who whips him. All his life, Caleb’s been taught that you can never say no to a white person. You have to pretend to be stupid, pretend to agree with everything they say, take any abuse, and never question the strict system of segregation and degradation. As summer begins, Caleb expresses his anger with acts of petty vandalism and fistfights. But there’s more going on in Caleb’s town than his own struggles. His brother is in the army and is about to be shipped out to Europe. Meanwhile, German prisoners of war are being kept in a nearby camp. When Caleb’s fights with his father lead him to take a job where he works side by side with a German prisoner, he begins to see that the prisoner may not be one of the Nazis he’s heard about. In fact, the prisoner is the only white person to respect Caleb’s humanity. Over the summer, Caleb grows in his views of the world around him and navigates relationships with his family and the white people who run the town.

Caleb’s Wars is a thoughtful exploration of the social dynamics of a segregated Southern town. It also explores the depths of the kind of racism that would cause white Americans to give more respect to German prisoners than to their own African American soldiers. That Dudley manages to do all this through the eyes of one teenager and without detracting from Caleb’s personal story is something special. I was right there with Caleb the whole time, and I never felt like I was being lectured to or told what to think. In fact, Dudley’s nuanced consideration of these issues was a big plus for me. My only criticism is that the book contains a religion-is-real subplot that detracts from the otherwise stellar historical journey. All in all, I highly recommend Caleb’s Wars for anyone interested in WWII or African American history.

Image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Book Review: Charming Prairie Novel-in-Verse May B. by Caroline Rose

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On January - 7 - 2012

may b Book Review: Charming Prairie Novel in Verse May B. by Caroline RoseIf you were a reader who loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, you’ll love Caroline Rose’s charming novel-in-verse May B. set in a sod-house on the Kansas prairie. May B. is a sweet girl, full of moxie, who has been sent to help another Kansas prairie family, the Oblingers. Mr. Oblinger’s wife is having trouble adjusting to life on the prairie and in a sodhouse. Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, or “May B” arrives to  help Mrs. Oblinger, who is only a few years older than her, complete chores and to keep her company. May is angry that she has to leave Ma, Pa, and her brother Hiram, as well as give up her schooling, which is of the upmost importance to her. She worries about falling behind in her lessons, since she already has trouble with reading, and her unfriendly and strict Teacher has been hard on her. The letters in her reader jump all over the page and she must memorize them in order to read successfully. But her life changes drastically when Mrs. Oblinger decides to go for a ride on her horse — things change for May. Mrs. Oblinger has flown the coop and now Mr. Oblinger is headed after her, and May is left in the soddy all alone as winter steadily approaches.

This book is told in verse with lovely spare language that invokes both place and sentiment. I love what Caroline Rose does with May’s difficulties with schooling and reading. We get to see what she’s reading and experience her struggles manifest on the page. We read the words as she reads them, and we can identify how the words are jumping around and she’s not slow or stupid like her mean Teacher had said.

During the days May spends alone, we also get to see what she does and doesn’t do with her time. We get to experience what it feels like to run out of food and to have no one to talk to and what that loneliness does to the human psyche. As a teacher and an academic tutor, this is a perfect book to use in conjunction with learning about those brave souls who ventured out to the Plains during the early years of America.

I have a million wonderful things to say about this book, and another thing is the pacing. Oftentimes, I struggle with pacing. It is not my strong suit. Most of my narratives have issues with forward movement; it’s something I need help with from fellow critique partners. But Caroline Rose’s May B. sails along. Split into three parts, the first one sets up the relationship dynamics, May’s new life and the one she left behind, and hints at the trouble in the horizon. Part two opens up after the trouble has hit and we get to see how May adapts and struggles, and part three finishes to a satisfying conclusion with the resolution of the conflict. I finished this book feeling like I wanted another one because I just love historical fiction like this: sweeping, emotional, and full of story.

May B. will release on 1/10/2012 from Random House Children’s Books

Cover art courtesy of Random House


Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On December - 27 - 2011

Books Our Favorite Books of 2011: A Teen Writers Bloc Roundup

Happy holidays, everyone! Now that we’ve reached the end of 2011, we at Teen Writers Bloc have come together with our favorite kid lit and YA books of the year. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author:

Bronxwood by Coe Booth
Caela says: Bronxwood is a must-read for any kid who has ever had a parent in prison.  Tyrell’s struggles to love, obey, and still disagree with his father when he returns from incarceration are poignant and heart wrenching.

Crossed by Ally Condie
Jess says: Though it’s not quite as gripping as its predecessor, Matched (read the review here!), Crossed, the second book in Ally Condie’s series, is a solid “middle book,” filled with beautiful language and a compelling story — complete with a giant mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. It is also told from Ky’s, as well as Cassia’s, point of view, so those of you who didn’t get nearly enough of Ky in the first book will be super happy to be inside his head in this one.

Circle Nine by Anne Heltzel
Jane says: I went to one of David Levithan’s book readings at the NYPL and heard an excerpt read by Circle Nine’s author Anne Heltzel. Abby wakes up outside a burning building and is pulled away by Sam, a boy she doesn’t recognize but somehow feels a connection to. She has no memories of who she is or where she came from. Abby is happy to start a new life with Sam, but events and memories bring up the need to figure out who she is and what happened the night of the fire. Read the TWB interview with Anne Heltzel here!

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
Jane says: I chose to read this one because I don’t know of a lot of YA books that have a male narrator. It’s about 16 year old Stephen who’s living in a post-apocalyptic future with his dad and grandfather. The family wanders the land, looking for a place to live and where they can avoid being found by gangs that find people to enslave them. Grandpa dies and Dad has an accident that results in a coma, so when Stephen looks for help, he finds Settlers Landing, a town that’s rebuilt by a group of people trying to regain civilization. Stephen becomes involved in a prank that puts Settlers Landing and lives in danger, and he has to figure out how to deal with the aftermath.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Jess says: The book starts off with our narrator and heroine, Mara, telling us that Mara Dyer is actually not her real name. Her lawyer insisted that if she is to tell her story to the world—the story of how she committed several murders—she must choose a nom de plume. So, right off the bat, we know this is not going to be a story for the faint of heart. Mara is going to kill people, and she is going to get caught. But how it all goes down is anything but predictable. If you are a sucker for dark, paranormal teen romances, trust me when I say you will love this book. Read the TWB review here!

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
Mary says:  Full of well-drawn characters and emotional pull, the story builds slowly and grows on you until you are right there in the frozen, claustrophobic fortress. Each person has their own motivations, feelings, and strengths. No one is idealized, and no one is simple. Kirby has done a masterful job of creating tension, intrigue, and action—even though the characters have limited space in which to move. Solveig especially is many-faceted and manages to be both relatable and awesome. Readers will enjoy exploring this world with her. Read the TWB review here!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Jess says: Bumped is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in… maybe ever. Though it has a sort-of “popcorn” feel to it, filled to the brim with cheesy references, corny names, and teen celebrity lust, underneath all that, there is an extremely edgy, daring story. What would happen if everyone over the age of 18 became infertile and it was up to teenagers to continue the human species? In this day and age of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, it’s a question that, amazingly, doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This book is a fun, quick read, and yet, I guarantee it will really make you think.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Mary says: A Monster Calls is a great illustration of how fantasy can depict reality better than so-called “realism.” What, after all, is more real than our greatest fear? For younger children, that fear might be a monster under the bed or in the closet, but as we get older, we begin to realize that real life contains monsters that can’t be scared away by a bright light. The author’s writing is sparse but lyrical. With few characters and not a single gimmick, Ness brings us into a world of nightmares. Whether the nightmares will end depends on Conor. How will he face the monster that stalks him? Ness’s poignant answers make this book required reading for anyone, young or old, who appreciates the power of a story to reveal truth. Read the TWB review here!

Lisel & Po by Lauren Oliver
Dhonielle says: Liesl & Po has the best blend and balance of both magic and mystery, danger and safety. The tale reminds me of the books I used to stay up late to read as a kid — both classic and modern. Each character has layers and secrets, and Oliver’s flowery prose brings them alive. This book will stand up for multiple readings.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Jess says: Part Lord of the Flies, part Bumped, and part Battlestar GalacticaGlow is filled with murder, deception, and nonstop action. The characters are layered and complicated, to the point where you never entirely know who to trust. Sometimes that can be frustrating, but Ryan pulls it off quite well. Read the TWB review here!

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky
Corey says: This is a beautiful contemporary YA about a Sylvia Plath-loving teen whose family is falling to pieces the same summer she has come down with an epic case of chicken pox. Left alone with her dysfunctional family, her confusing relationships, and her virginity to ponder, she spends a lot of time with an old typewriter and a well-loved copy of The Bell Jar. Narrator Keek is one of my favorite YA narrators of all time, and this creative, quirky, honest novel was a good reminder of why I became a writer and why I love writing for teens.

Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Posted by Amber On December - 15 - 2011

impossible book final pb1 200x300 Book Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

This semester I haven’t done as much outside reading as I would have liked. A few weeks ago though, I did stumble upon a book by Nancy Werlin called Impossible that I couldn’t put down after I began to read it.  In this novel, Werlin takes the lyrics of a well-known folk song, “Scarborough Fair,” and turns them into a curse that has plagued protagonist Lucy Scarborough’s ancestors for many years. However, Lucy doesn’t find this out until after the curse has already begun to affect her.

The only thing Lucy knows when the novel begins is that her biological mother went insane shortly after giving birth to her and now walks around town with a shopping cart, humming the ballad “Scarborough Fair” to herself.  And while Lucy resents her biological mother in those first pages, eventually an understanding between the two emerges when Lucy realizes that she may one day have the same fate. An Elfin Knight with a  grudge has cast a spell, making it so that whenever a Scarborough girl turns eighteen, she gets pregnant, has a baby girl and goes insane. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle.

The only way to break the curse is to complete the tasks mentioned in the “Scarborough Fair” song. The tasks are to: 1. Create a shirt without needle or seam 2. Find an acre of land between salt water and sea strand and 3. Plow the land with a goat’s horn and sow it with one grain of corn. These tasks are nearly impossible to complete, hence the title and the perpetual insanity of each of Lucy’s ancestors.

Werlin is very skilled at keeping you engaged in the story. The story takes place in present day Massachusetts and because initially the plot has elements that could be a part of any realistic YA novel — prom night, track practice, falling in love with your best friend —the incorporation of the magical elements of the tale and their stark contrast to the YA norm really tug at readers, making them want to know more about how Lucy will overcome  this enormous obstacle before her.  Werlin tells the story from multiple points of view, using the third person past tense, allowing us to get into the thoughts of Lucy, the Elfin Knight, and those of Zach, Lucy’s love interest. This I found to be very effective. And while the discussions about pregnancy can feel a bit overdone at certain moments, it’s all essential information for the protagonist to know given her unfair circumstances.

If you’re looking for a quick and unique read, Impossible is a book you should at least consider.

Photo Credit: Penguin Putnam, Inc; Nancy Werlin


Book Review: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On October - 5 - 2011

Icefall Cover 196x300 Book Review: Icefall by Matthew J. KirbyIn ancient Scandinavia, where the Norse gods still rule and dragons hover with haugbui (the undead) just outside real experience, Solveig is the daughter of a king. Embroiled in war, Solveig’s father has sent her and her brother and sister to a hidden fortress packed in ice, where they plan to wait out the winter and hope for peace. As the middle child, who is neither beautiful nor a boy, Solveig has always felt ignored and useless, inferior to both her siblings and her father’s warriers. Packed in with soldiers and a few servants, Solveig doesn’t expect anything to be different in a new place. But under the stress of war and close quarters, true characters come to the surface. Now Solveig must decide whom she can trust and learn to harness her own strength—if any of them are to survive.

This is the wonderful premise of Matthew J. Kirby’s Icefall, which was released by Scholastic on October 1. Full of well-drawn characters and emotional pull, the story builds slowly and grows on you until you are right there in the frozen, claustrophobic fortress. Each person has their own motivations, feelings, and strengths. No one is idealized, and no one is simple. Kirby has done a masterful job of creating tension, intrigue, and action—even though the characters have limited space in which to move. Solveig especially is many-faceted and manages to be both relatable and awesome. Readers will enjoy exploring this world with her.

Icefall is highly recommended.

Cover art courtesy Scholastic Press.

pixel Book Review: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

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