People are thought to be pretty complex, but in the world of Divergent everyone is categorized into groups based on one of five personality traits. Each person is best suited to life in one group. If you are brave, you are Dauntless. If you are selfless, you belong in Abnegation. If you are smart, you are an Erudite. If you are friendly, you are Amity. If you are honest, you are in Candor. Your faction dictates where you work, what you wear, how you spend your free time, and who you spend it with.
Beatrice has turned sixteen and it is time for her to choose her faction. She has been raised in Abnegation, but never really felt like she belonged. That feeling is confirmed when her aptitude test reveals that she is an aberration, a Divergent, who is not well suited to any single group. Her results indicate she could be Abnegation, Dauntless, or Erudite. The Dauntless who administers her test instructs Beatrice never to reveal these results to anyone. Not even her family can know that she is Divergent. Her life may depend on it.
Nevertheless, Beatrice must still choose a faction. Without test results to guide her choice, or the ability to talk about her results with others, she must make the choice alone. Feeling that Erudite is not the faction for her, she is torn between her longing to be Dauntless and the pressure she feels to yield to expectations and stay in Abnegation with her family. She leaves her decision to the last minute. When the Choosing Ceremony begins, and her name is called, Beatrice makes the decision that will change her life. Will she be brave, or will she be selfless?
Choosing a faction is only the beginning of Beatrice’s story. Life in her chosen faction does not quite go as she planned. How can she learn more about what being Divergent means if she cannot discuss it with anyone? Divergent is the first in a trilogy and is followed up by Insurgent.
Check the WRL catalog for Divergent.
Kyle’s story begins with what is expected to be just another annual Millgrove talent show. Things begin to take a strange turn when Danny Birnie, “The Great Danielini,” takes the stage to perform his new hypnotist act. Danny, who’d never been particularly successful at anything, claims he was actually able to hypnotize his sister only a few days earlier, and now he intends to hypnotize four people from the audience. Kyle is surprised to find himself volunteering, along with Lilly (his best friend’s girlfriend), Mrs. O’Donnell from the Happy Shopper convenience store, and Mr. Peterson the postman. Kyle is even more surprised to find that Danny is really able to put his volunteers into a hypnotic state. What he finds when they all wake up, however, is not surprising. It is terrifying.
Everyone in the audience is frozen in place, their mouths open in a look of horror and shock. Bees still buzz, the wind still blows, but nobody moves. It is the same all over town. Then they discover that the phones, computers, radios, and televisions don’t work. Something terrible must have happened while Kyle and the others were under hypnosis.
Mr. Peterson takes it particularly badly:
They’re gone,” he said. “Changed. All of them. You hear me? I …I SEE THEM!” His words sent a physical chill down my spine. “See what?” I demanded. “What can you see?” “All of them.” His eyes were stretched even wider now, and his voice was little more than a rasping whisper as he said, “They are to us as we are to apes.”
No sooner do they begin to formulate a plan of action than everyone wakes up, acting like nothing out of the ordinary has happened at all. But no one is behaving like themselves, and when Kyle tells his parents what happened, they phone Dr. Campbell. Only Kyle was sure the phones still weren’t working. Kyle’s suspicions that all is not back to normal are confirmed when he overhears Dr. Campbell’s advice to his parents: “I’m sorry, but it is clear that he is one of the zero-point-four. There is nothing that can be done for him. He will have to be dealt with.”
Check the WRL catalog for Human.4.
One thing that seems to be drawing readers to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the bizarre vintage photography that author Ransom Riggs has integrated into the book. It is definitely the first thing that caught my attention, and it does give the book a little something special. You might think that a novelty such as this would overshadow the story (or be compensating for a weak plot) but I found that the characters and plot were my favorite part. The photographs were just icing on the cake. It’s not often that an author’s inspiration is shared so directly with readers, but Riggs has crafted a whole world which revolves around the subjects of these unusual pictures.
Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather tell stories about his youth. The most interesting stories were about the time he spent in a Welsh home for orphaned children during World War II. The home, his grandfather claimed, was full of children who could do peculiar things. One could float, one was incredibly strong, one was invisible, and others had even stranger abilities. He said they were all living in the home, under the care of Miss Peregrine, to hide from monsters that were after them. That’s not the sort of thing even a young boy would believe outright, but Jacob’s grandfather had proof. He had photographs of all his old friends. Unfortunately, as Jacob got older he became more skeptical, and eventually stopped believing in his grandfather’s tales altogether. That was a mistake.
Now Jacob is almost sixteen. When he receives a frantic call from his grandfather in which he sounds agitated and delusional, Jacob goes to his home to check on him. He finds the house has been ransacked. There is a large gash in the screen door and a bloody trail leading into the woods. Jacob races into the forest, and finds his grandfather dying from what appears to be an animal attack. His grandfather lives long enough to give Jacob some final instructions (which Jacob doesn’t understand in the least) and then succumbs to his wounds. Jacob senses he is being watched, and sees something moving in the trees. His flashlight catches a glimpse of the creature. It’s a monster from out of his grandfather’s stories. Jacob has a horrible realization: everything his grandfather told him was true. Now he must decipher his grandfather’s last words before the monsters come for him.
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Clay is excited to receive a package in the mail, until he realizes that it contains cassette tapes from a classmate, Hannah, who committed suicide. In the tapes, Hannah gives thirteen reasons why she took an overdose of pills. Her voice explains:
I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.
And so begins a compelling, compassionate, intimate glimpse into Hannah’s life. Her story appears in italics, and Clay’s actions and reactions in regular print. They both have pretty ordinary lives that many people will be able to relate to.
The stories of the thirteen people and what they did to her were mostly ordinary as well. You find out that someone started a rumor and how that hurt Hannah. Another pretended to be her friend, then ignored her. And someone else stole her notes from a class. There are a few “big” events in the story, but they aren’t lifted any higher than the more ordinary events as the reason Hannah decided to take her life.
Hannah explains it in the tapes:
I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.
Long after I closed the book, I continue to wonder how my words and actions impact others.
The author doesn’t glamorize the suicide, and it’s not portrayed as the only option that Hannah had. Clay is frustrated because he thinks he would have listened had Hannah confided in him. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not. The author doesn’t get hung up on being preachy. He makes it an interesting story. One that ends with hope—hope that Clay will never forget Hannah and hope he will make an effort to reach out to others who may be hurting inside.
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Beatle’s real name is John Lennon. For obvious reasons, everyone calls him Beatle. As the title suggests, Beatle meets a girl named Destiny. For a guy who describes himself as superstitious that would be reason enough to take notice, but her last name is McCartney— as in Paul. Beatle and Destiny keep running into each other at random places and Beatle is sure they are being drawn together by fate, much like the greatest song writing duo of all time. Unfortunately, Beatle already has a girlfriend. Cilla, in addition to being his girlfriend, is also the best friend of his twin sister, Winsome. If you think that sounds complicated, wait until the story really gets going. There are a lot of plot threads in this book, but they are all interesting, funny, and enjoyable. There is a curbside trash-to-treasure art project gone awry, a stalker, an eccentric mother who makes star charts, an astrology column, a stroke, a documentary, and a secret romance, just to name a few. Not to mention a few major misunderstandings. Pick up this book for the relationship drama, but read it for the quirky characters, unbelievable situations, and offbeat plot.
Check the WRL catalog for Beatle Meets Destiny.
I have been meaning to read some of the urban fantasy of China Mieville, if for no other reason than that someone with a name like that ought to be a great fantasy writer.
Certainly, all the reviews have praised Mieville’s characters and stories. Some time ago, I came across a copy of Mieville’s YA fantasy Un Lun Dun on display at an American Library Association conference, and I picked it up for the return trip. It proved to be all that I could want in a novel. Mieville has a deft hand for characters, and Deeba, the ultimate heroine of the story, can take her place with Phillip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua and Francis Hardinge’s Mosca Mye in the ranks of tough, enduring characters who make their way through dangers that they never foresaw.
The story is complex enough to keep all readers interested, and Mieville mixes humor and wordplay in with a variety of intriguing plot twists. There are betrayals and failures here, and, as in all good fantasy, help often comes in unexpected ways and from unlooked-for quarters. Mieville conjures up an alternative London, where the unwanted debris of the real, contemporary London comes to life. This Un Lun Dun, or the Abcity as it is called, is threatened by the Smog, and it falls to Deeba to lead the struggle against this evil. There are puzzling connections between London and Un Lun Dun, and a sinister plot that involves the British government and those who would control the Abcity. Mieville blends a beautifully descriptive writing style with a flair for thrilling action, and I look forward to getting to his other novels soon.
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There are all sorts of materials that can be checked out from a library. The most typical, of course, are books, but some libraries circulate items such as maps, art prints, even toys. Elizabeth’s new job is as a page at a very different type of library, The New York Circulating Material Repository. This library circulates objects. Some objects, like one of Lincoln’s hats or Marie Antoinette’s wigs, are particularly valuable. Others have little intrinsic value, but are no less important to have in the collection.
“Some of the more popular types of items we loan out these days include musical instruments, sports equipment, and specialized cooking tools. Many New Yorkers like to give the occasional fondue party, for example, but they don’t want to devote the cupboard space to a lot of fondue pots. Or if you’re thinking of learning to play the piccolo, you might want to borrow one to see how you like it. In the late nineteenth century, specialized silver services were very popular. In the 1970s, it was wood lathes.”
Now, the idea of such a library is so incredibly cool that it prompted me to immediately Google “New York Circulating Material Repository” just to be sure it wasn’t real. The realization that this library was fictitious was a blow, but the author had even more up her sleeve. My longing for this library to be real grew as Elizabeth began to uncover its secrets. In the Dungeon are sections with names such as the Grimm Collection, the Wells Bequest, the Gibson Chrestomathy, the Garden of Seasons, and the Lovecraft Corpus.
Elizabeth, being a fairy tale fan, is most interested in exploring the Grimm Collection. She learns that it contains objects related to the Grimm brother’s stories and that many of the objects are powerful, even dangerous, and as such are kept under lock and key. Her coworkers are hesitant to reveal any other details, however, as other library pages have recently disappeared, and Grimm objects are going missing as well. Elizabeth is still learning her way around this mysterious new job, and she doesn’t know who to trust, but the lure of working among genuine Grimm Collection items is too great a prospect to resist. Sounds like a dream job to this librarian!
Check the WRL catalog for The Grimm Legacy.
Sophie is a teen witch who doesn’t have much experience with spells. She was raised by a mortal mother, and her warlock father has never been in the picture. Despite her lack of expertise, or perhaps because of it, Sophie has cast one too many spells in front of her mortal classmates. Her punishment is to be sent to Hecate Hall, a reformatory boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. Hex Hall, as it is called by these magical teen delinquents, is to be her home until she shapes up, or she turns eighteen (whichever comes first).
While Sophie doesn’t fit in the regular world very well, she doesn’t exactly fit in the magical one either. In addition to being behind in her magical abilities, there turns out to be a few things that her classmates know about her father that she doesn’t. Her ignorance of the magical world leads her to say and do many wrong things, and prevents her from making many friends. She has drawn the ire of the resident mean girls by declining to join their coven, and she has a crush on the head mean girl’s boyfriend. On top of all that, her roommate, Jenna, is a vampire. She is the only vampire student at Hex Hall and her last roommate was found exsanguinated in the bathroom from two puncture wounds on her neck. Although Sophie has been assured that Jenna was cleared of any wrongdoing, the culprit is still at large.
As Sophie is finding out, the magical world, and her place in it, are much different than she ever could have dreamed.
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How certain are you that the things you do in life matter? A heavy question, I know, but then this is a heavy book.
One day, Pierre Anthon announces to the rest of his 7th grade classmates that nothing matters. The students take his comments, in a word, badly. His announcement flies in direct opposition to everything their parents have taught them and everything they believe. Pierre, however, is adamant in his belief and will not be swayed. He settles himself in the branches of a plum tree and is content to let life simply pass by. This does not sit well with his classmates at all. They endeavor to prove to Pierre that there is something, anything, in the world that matters.
Things start off innocuously enough. It is almost like a game of truth or dare. The children build a “heap of meaning” and each child is required to contribute the item that means the most to them. What that item must be is decided for them by their classmates. The pile builds as the children take turns chapter by chapter. With each item the stakes get raised. No one wants to sacrifice their beloved item. After a child makes a sacrifice, it is their turn to demand a meaningful object from someone else, and they begin to take their revenge. Each time they go for the jugular, choosing more and more valuable things. Disturbing things. Horrific things. In the end, someone pays the ultimate price.
Nothing was originally published in Denmark and has been translated into English. A 2011 Printz Honor book, it is dark, thought provoking, and not for the faint of heart. It is for older teens and a crossover title for adults.
Check the WRL catalog for Nothing.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, a missionary family is sent to the Congo to show God’s word and covert the Congolese people, “bringing the Christian word to these people.” Reverend Price, the father, expects to be highly welcomed the whole time the family is in the Congo and intends to baptize all of the children, but what the family finds is something entirely unexpected. Some of the family members learn to adapt to Africa and understand the people, while other family members resist the change and keep to their societal stereotypes.
The book is narrated by the girls’ during the time they are in Africa and by Orleanna years after she has left the Congo, living on Sanderling Island, Georgia. Nathan Price does not speak but we are painted a clear picture of his character through the eyes of his children and wife.
The Congo during this time was undergoing radical political changes. Belgium was leaving the Congo after extracting many of its precious natural resources and as a nationalist movement was growing. The Congo was becoming an independent nation with the first elections. Unrest was growing in the country as the elections were soon to be held. Nathan was warned by other missionaries to leave to country and go back home, because it was unsafe for his family. Nathan rejected this even after being yelled at by his wife because he wanted to stay “until another family can come.” Civil unrest began as the first elected president is murdered and as racial violence continues. The family continues to be in a vulnerable situation as Nathan continues to insist to stay in the country.
Throughout the novel, Kingsolver continues to display the role of the American government involved in the Congo during this time, and how unaware the Prices’ are of their involvement. Mrs. Price continues to display the picture of President Eisenhower and Nathan Price continues to believe that America takes better care of its people, “Americans would never stand for this kind of unequal treatment.” She shows throughout the novel just how guilty the Americans are as the Belgians for mistreating the Congo. Social stereotypes about the Congo and blacks are portrayed throughout the characters and events.
An overall message in the novel is describing how something the same can mean something entirely different based on the context. Judgment should not be used unless a person really understands and accepts the situation. Nathan Price spoke some of the native language, but he did not really understand the meaning. He kept on saying ”Tata Jesus is bangala,” but really with his accent meant “Tata Jesus is poisonwood!” Nathan also did not understand the reasoning for the natives to resist baptizing their children in the river. If Nathan had really looked into it he would have realized it was full of crocodiles. Everything the natives did had a purpose; they didn’t have time to run around and have fun.
The Prices’ mission trip to the Congo changed all the characters for the rest of their lives. They learned how to deal with the harsh realities of life and how different two worlds can be. The novel displays a message of overcoming prejudices, fighting to gain control of one ’s self, and learning to adapt to changes that come one’s way. The novel puts into perspective what is really important in life and how to overcome, or deal with major hurdles.
Check the WRL catalog for The Poisonwood Bible
Just about everything that could go wrong in Zoey’s life has gone wrong. Last summer her father had an affair with a 24-year-old coworker and left her mother. Then, the week before school starts, her devastated mother attempts suicide and is put into a psychiatric hospital. Zoey gets into a car accident that affects her memory of the events leading up to and immediately following the accident (which turns out to have been a pretty eventful night). Her father abandons her to run off to Hawaii to marry the coworker, but not before he threatens to send Zoey to the “loony bin” with her mother if she is actually claiming to have amnesia.With all that going on, Zoey had better have a pretty supportive boyfriend, right? But, no, Brandon hasn’t made any attempt to contact her to see if she’s alright. However, Doug, her worst enemy, won’t leave her side.
The night of the accident holds the key to everything, if only she can remember it. When her detective work leads to spending more and more time with Doug, Zoey must come to terms with the fact that Brandon might not be the right guy for her, and Doug might not be such a bad guy after all. The night she can’t remember changes everything, but it could all change again when she learns what really happened.
Check the WRL catalog for Forget You.
“Here’s the essential truth about me: I killed a girl when I was fourteen. Her name was Lila, she was my best friend, and I loved her. I killed her anyway.”
This noir fantasy for teenagers, first in an ongoing series, has a great mafia-with-a-twist setup. Curse workers can change your emotions, alter your memories, tweak your luck, and in rare cases, kill you stone dead with the touch of a bare hand. Thus, the gloves. Everyone wears them, all the time, even though workers are actually pretty rare—maybe one in a thousand people. Illegal since the 1930s, curse working has gone underground, and most workers are associated with organized crime.
Cassel Sharpe is the only non-worker in a worker family, and the only one trying to go straight (-ish), which is tough when you’ve been raised by con artists. But Cassel has good reason not to draw attention to himself, because of all the grifters and mobsters in his family, he’s actually hiding the deadliest crime.
There’s a satisfying mystery to be unraveled here, but the real payoff of the story is in Cassel’s layered, complicated relationship with his family: his mother, awaiting trial for her latest gold-digging swindle; his grandfather, whose hand is withered and blackened as a side effect of the death curses he’s dealt. His brothers are lying, conniving pieces of work, but they’re the only ones Cassel can trust, because they’re family, right? And family watch out for each other.
Sure they do.
Holly Black works in the background details—history, politics, slang—that give this alternate reality depth. There’s some physical violence, but mostly the violence is in watching Cassel get emotionally yanked around by, oh, everybody. (The best—and creepiest—part of the setup, for me, is that Cassel’s mother is an emotion worker. When Mama Sharpe tells her boys to love each other, she’s not kidding around. She can make you.)
Check the WRL catalog for White Cat.
It ends with a punch, so you may want to have the second book, Red Glove, ready.
Amy has had a rough year. Her boyfriend, Matt, hasn’t been treating her very well, and now he has left her for her best friend. She needs to get away, and her mother’s solution is to send her to her great-aunt Mae’s house in the country for an extended visit. Amy thought she’d be fine with that, but she soon finds that country life isn’t that different from city life. Most of the students at her new high school are just as gossipy, the boys behave just as badly as Matt, and the girls aren’t any friendlier than her ex-best friend. Luckily, the country does provide some solitude when she needs to escape.
Behind Mae’s house is a clearing, beyond which lies a thick mist which never seems to dissipate. While wandering one day, Amy meets Henry, who is everything the kids at school are not. He’s polite, friendly, and doesn’t seem to want anything from her. Amy finds that she can be at ease around Henry, and their meetings in the clearing become something she can look forward to. She wonders why they never meet at school or in town, but what Amy doesn’t know is that Henry’s home beyond the clearing exists in a pocket of time in which it is still 1944. Henry and Amy’s relationship develops, but Henry is always wary of Amy’s spending too much time in his world, since it has taken him quite a bit of effort to maintain it. Henry must decide what is more important, his reasons for staying in 1944 or his desire to be with Amy.
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Jacob Fielding cannot be killed. As the story begins, Jacob has just survived what should have been a fatal car accident. His foster father is killed, and just before impact his final words to Jacob are, “You are indestructible.” With those words, Jacob seems to be given a gift, and he cannot be harmed in any way. Things take a turn when he writes those same words on the cast of the girl he has a crush on, Ophelia. His invincibility seems to be passed on to her, when shortly thereafter she survives a nasty skateboarding accident. He confides in Ophelia and his best friend Milo that he believes these words are the key to his power and that he can transfer it to those in need. With Ophelia and Milo now sharing his secret, the three set out to test the limits of his power and put it to good use.
Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Although they try to use Jacob’s indestructibility for good and to save those in danger, they realize that there is a terrible side effect to preventing death. Jacob is sending his power out to others more and more, and giving it to Ophelia more often as well. Ophelia’s personality begins to change, and she becomes obsessed with using the power to protect herself and as many people as possible. Soon Ophelia becomes a danger to herself and to everyone else, and it is up to Jacob and Milo to determine what this power really does, where it comes from, and how to bring Ophelia back.
Check the WRL catalog for Thirteen Days to Midnight.
Four-year-old Young Ju is going to heaven. She’s going to take a plane and live in America, “Mi Gook,” the land where her parents will smile again and stop fighting. Her father won’t be so angry and life will be good. But Young Ju soon learns that America is not heaven. Instead it is a country where her father gets drunker and angrier and meaner. Her mother works two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Her brother closes himself off. No one talks to each other or understands, and Young Ju must be the bridge between her family and the world.
An Na has created a wonderful character who vividly illustrates the challenges immigrants must face as they acculturate to the new world they have chosen. We see Young Ju as she tries to understand the Americans around her. An Na writes as Young Ju would hear (“Ah ri cas, ca mo ve he,” for “Alright class, come over here”) and animates the pain Young Ju feels as her father punishes her for being too American. Each vignette reveals the layers of Young Ju’s life as she grows and learns and navigates her way through the world. Each revealed layer brings the reader closer to Young Ju and the triumphant woman she can become when she finally finds the voice that will free her family from the vicious cycle they are living.
A Step from Heaven won the 2002 Michael L. Printz Award for literary excellence in young adult literature.
Check the WRL catalog for A Step from Heaven.
At some point in our lives, we have all wished that we could send a message back in time to a younger version of ourselves. Maybe it would be a warning, or piece of advice that would have made life much easier. In Gimme a Call, author Sarah Mlynowski describes such a scenario, in which 17-year-old Devi is suddenly able to call 14-year-old Devi on her cell phone. Once older-Devi (she uses the name “Ivy” to avoid confusion) manages to convince younger-Devi who she is, they get down to the business of improving Ivy’s, and therefore eventually Devi’s, life.
First on Ivy’s list of changes for Devi: turn down Brian when he asks her out. Otherwise she’ll waste three years of high school with him and lose all her friends. Then, work on improving her grades and increasing her extracurricular activities, not only to be accepted at a top-tier school, but also to get a scholarship. Ivy spent too much time with Brian to worry much about schoolwork, and now her college plans pale in comparison to her brainy older sister’s.
As their plan unfolds, everything that Devi does manifests as a change in Ivy’s reality. In order to maintain the structure of the story, Ivy’s memories don’t change, just the world around her. Unfortunately, some changes do more harm than good and before too long Devi isn’t sure she likes having to do all the hard work while Ivy reaps the benefits. Logically, she will benefit in the long run, but since when do 14-year-old girls think logically? Not to mention that Brian seems like a great guy, despite what Ivy says.
Will Ivy’s plan to create a better life work? Or are things just as bad as they were before, only in a different way? And will any of it matter if she can’t convince Devi to stick to the plan and not give in to Brian’s charms?
Check the WRL catalog for Gimme a Call.
Days in Bixby, Oklahoma, last a little longer than everywhere else. One hour longer. This hour, between midnight and 1 a.m., exists for those in town who were born precisely at midnight. In this secret hour everyone and everything freezes, except for a small group of local teenagers and a new girl in school, Jessica Day.
Jessica wakes one night in her new home to discover that the world around her has frozen. After some exploration she finds that certain animals are also awake and can travel in the frozen world, but they turn out to be less than friendly. When they attack her she is rescued by fellow “Midnighters” Dess, Rex, and Melissa. They explain that these creatures are “slithers” and “darklings” and that they are the reason the secret hour exists. They created it to hide from humans, technology, and the things that can destroy them.
The Midnighters tell Jessica that each of them possesses a special power and they assure her that she has a power as well, which she will soon discover. The following night Jessica meets the final Midnighter, Jonathan. He is on the outs with the others, but soon develops a special bond with Jessica. When Jessica is again attacked by darklings, it seems clear that something about her threatens them. Perhaps they sense that her power will enable her to bring about their destruction.
Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Hour.
7:54 a.m., September 27th, 1974. Classes are about to start at the Ben Turpin School (grades K-8), and Mr. Elber is finishing up a disappointing extra-credit bio lab, in which he and two students failed to reanimate a deceased fetal pig. Not only did the experiment flop, but now there’s a weird purple smoke wafting up from all the chemicals. It smells really bad, and soon it has drifted outside the classroom and into the rest of the school. Before long, all the adults and most of the children are feeling unwell: symptoms include upset tummies, blanched complexions, drooling, and a ravenous urge to eat other people.
On the bright side, this zombie contagion only affects people who’ve hit puberty. The fourth-grade heroes of the story are hormonally immune to zombiefication. On the other hand, they’ve still got to defend themselves against being eaten alive—and the doors to the school are locked! Who will save them?
Fourth-grader Bob Fingerman, that’s who! Coincidentally sharing a name with the author, young Bob leads his classmates in a desperate plan to break free. Armed with épées, hockey sticks, and baseball bats from the gym, the children wage battle against their undead elders, with only their wits and their crude weapons to preserve them. (And a deus ex machina. The armored truck filled with weapons helps the situation considerably when it crashes through the wall.)
This is campy, silly, gory fun. The pictures are gross, not horrific, with over-the-top violence depicted in ookey splendor on the pages of the graphic novel, again and again and again to the point of absurdity (“Odd how something so terrifying can become redundant so soon,” quips one of the sidekicks). The one-liners are abundant and the humor is sophomoric. Because of the excessive violence, we’ve got this shelved in the adult section of the graphic novels, and my official party line is that this book is appropriate for mature readers, though privately I think it’s perfect for teens, or for any adult who never bothered to grow up.
Check the WRL catalog for Recess Pieces
You know how some movie reviews say, “This film grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go”? Well, The Enemy does that in book form. I was hooked from the very beginning of this dark and somewhat disturbing story. It is set in London a year after everyone over sixteen falls victim to an unexplained illness. The adults who did not die are now zombie-like, killing and eating whatever they can to survive, and their kids are left to fend for themselves.
A band of kids are using the Waitrose grocery store as their home base, and they have turned it into a fortress. They send out parties to scavenge for food, which is becoming harder to find, and they must fight roving bands of zombies, whom they call “Grown-ups.” Don’t get too attached to any particular character, even if they seem to be one of the main protagonists, as the death toll is high. It gets even higher when Waitrose is visited by a kid they have never seen before, who claims to be from a similar entrenchment of kids at Buckingham Palace. The Waitrose kids, along with a group of kids similarly holed up in the nearby Morrisons grocery store, decide to abandon their stores and attempt to travel to the palace, where survival is promised to be much easier. And it’s not necessarily a suicide mission. As one character says, “The thing about grown-ups is, some of them are strong, some of them can run fast, and some of them are clever, but the strong ones are slow, the fast ones are stupid, and the smart ones are weak.”
I had to push past a particular incident very early on featuring the kids taking on a pack of feral dogs, but I can tell you dog-lovers that this is the only instance of canine violence in the story. There is plenty of human violence, however, and fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series and the Hunger Games series will find similarities here: kids in peril fight for survival in a world where adults can no longer help them.
Check the WRL catalog for The Enemy.
It sounds dreadful: a group of talking dogs goes around the neighborhood solving mysteries. It sounds like one of those wholesome cozy novels where the cat helps his human solve the crime, or like Scooby-Doo without the kitsch appeal. It’s amazing, really, that Evan Dorkin could take such a cutesy premise and turn it into something powerful and dark and wonderful.
Life is perfectly normal for the canines of Burden Hill, until a beagle named Jack begins to suspect that his doghouse is haunted. Concerned for their friend, Pugsley the Pug, Rex the Doberman Pinscher, and Whitey the Terrier seek help from the Wise Dog, an English Sheepdog accustomed to dealing with the paranormal. You’d expect this to devolve into a hokey little fluff piece, but listen: precisely five pages later I had tears in my eyes, and then it happened again two chapters after that. And then a bit after that I had to put the book down to have a good sniffle. And then again, and again.
The emotional depth is truly astonishing. Over the course of several discrete but sequential stories, you come to care for the seven main characters—six dogs and one cat—and the secondary characters they meet. Some of the stories are campy (cannibal frogs! zombie dogs! humongous killer rats!), but the comedic relief never undermines the pathos of the narrative.
Jill Thompson’s artwork beautifully illustrates Dorkin’s text. She draws her animals realistically without resorting to cartoony gags and paints them with lush watercolors. I’m thinking of one panel in particular that made my jaw drop, in which a Weimaraner tilts her head and looks at us with soulful eyes, the light and shadows dancing on her face. The image itself is haunting, as is her speech bubble: “My children are missing.”
The language is (mostly) mild, but the physical violence can get gory and the emotional violence is intense. However, more mature readers should check this out from the library, or even buy it from a comic book store; if the publisher, Dark Horse, sees enough profit from Beasts of Burden, then Dorkin and Thompson will be obligated to continue writing stories with my new favorite paranormal investigators.
Check the WRL catalog for Beasts of Burden