December 12, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

All-Star Reviews from Seanan McGuire, Jane Yolen, & More | Adult Books 4 Teens

As we approach the end of the year, we move from creating themed lists of reviews to just getting our favorite books on readers’ radar before time runs out. So all five of the books below are starred reviews and some of our favorites of 2017 that haven’t been featured yet.

In fact, Jane Yolen’s Emerald Circus may be my favorite book of the year, period, with apologies to Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne. Many years ago, when I had my own blog, I wrote a post celebrating the versatility of Yolen—one of the few authors who can write top-shelf books at any age level. Emerald Circus is a perfect example of her fluid but rock-solid prose.

Some of the short stories within are easily readable by a middle grader (such as the fabulous “Lost Girls,” about a new Wendy in Neverland leading a woman’s strike). Others fit squarely in the teen category; for example, “Blown Away,” a thought-provoking take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, though a few of the more literary-minded selections—say, “The Confession of Brother Blaise”—may baffle teens unfamiliar with the Arthurian source material. But even those can easily be read and enjoyed purely for the story.

Alright, it’s not true that there are no connections among the books in this column, because the next two are new sci-fi/fantasy titles by returning favorites. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway won an Alex Award and garnered a glowing review from this column last year, and McGuire is back with a prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Neal Stephenson, meanwhile, has somehow managed never to win an Alex, despite his teen appeal and fantastic body of work. Nevertheless, he has a devoted teenage following, and with his new book, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., he has teamed up again with Nicole Galland (they worked together on the “Mongoliad” series) for a fantastic time-travel novel, which also weaves in the magic of science, romance, and secret government organizations.

Though the title of John Freeman Gill’s The Gargoyle Hunters sounds a bit fantastical, this book is a different beast entirely: a coming-of-age novel centered on a son’s quest to understand his father’s interest in architecture. OK, that might sound a bit boring, but the tale never is. The architecture in question is the gargoyles of the title, which 13-year-old Griffin and his father liberate from soon-to-be-demolished buildings and sell to collectors. As our reviewer notes, this story is much more exciting than the somewhat prosaic description.

Finally, we have Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, a memoir by Ila Borders, a glass ceiling–breaking baseball pitcher who became the first woman to receive a scholarship to play on a men’s college team and to record a win in men’s college baseball, and one of the first women to pitch in a men’s professional league, the Independent Northern League. Borders’s memoir is a joy to read and provides incredible inspiration for underdogs of all kinds.

FICTION

redstarGILL, John. The Gargoyle Hunters. 339p. Knopf. Mar. 2017. Tr  $27.95. ISBN 9781101946886.

New York City changed rapidly in the 1970s as buildings were demolished to make space for new ones. In the midst of this transformation, 13-year-old Griffin is having troubles at school and at home, and he misses his father after his parents split up. He begins visiting his father’s workplace, where he sees decorative items that his father and his crew have rescued from demolition sites: gargoyles, busts, and flowers to be sold to collectors. Soon agile Griffin begins braving dangerous heights as he helps his dad. (His mother and older sister do not worry about where he is after school, although he frets about them.) His father’s appreciation of beautiful detail leads him to liberate a few gargoyles that are not slated for destruction. Gills has a knack for describing buildings, and New Yorkers will find themselves looking out for the decorative features he mentions. VERDICT This appealing, exciting work is ideal for fans of coming-of-age stories.–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library

redstarMCGUIRE, Seanan. Down Among the Sticks and Bones. 192p. Tor.com/Tom Doherty. Jun. 2017. Tr  $17.99. ISBN 9780765392039.

Jacqueline and Jillian’s parents were more taken with the idea of having children than the reality of raising them. The Wolcotts are now too busy making sure that the identical twins are the perfect accessories to their perfect lives to see how unhappy the sisters are about the roles they are shoved into. So when they discover a trunk containing a set of stairs instead of old clothes, the siblings take flight. They find themselves in a bleak, desolate, brutal land where good girl Jacqueline can be Jack, the mad scientist’s apprentice, and tomboy Jillian is Jill, the pampered, proper companion to a vampire. This stand-alone prequel to the Alex Award winner Every Heart a Doorway features the same haunting and lyrical prose. Tightly crafted chapters compare the mundane horrors of the girls’ childhood with the horrors of the Moors and invite readers to meditate on what really makes a monster. Coupled with McGuire’s examination of the strained relationship between the sisters in both worlds, this is a work that will deeply resonate with teen readers. VERDICT Beautiful and devastating, this gem of a novel lingers and will garner many more fans for McGuire.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, VA

redstarSTEPHENSON, Neal  & Nicole Galland. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. 768p. Morrow. Jun. 2017. Tr  $35. ISBN 9780062409164.

Dr. Melisande Stokes pens a diary in which she chronicles the events that brought her to 1851 London, where she has been marooned against her will. She writes it so that someone in the future (2017) will discover it and learn how D.O.D.O., a secret government organization, unlocked the secret of time travel. Her tale begins in the halls of Harvard, where she meets government official Tristan Lyons, who lures her from her job as professor of ancient languages so she can read the ancient texts needed to understand where and how magic worked in the past. His plan: to travel back in time to connect with those who practiced magic. How to do that is up to physicist Frank Oda, who is tasked with designing the method of transportation. It is only when Melisande meets Erzabet Karpathy, a witch from the past with knowledge of their aims, that she understands the real mission: to bring magic back and put it to work today. Melisande’s diary carries the story, but Viking sagas, email conversations, government memos, and 16th-century handwritten letters are interspersed throughout. There are others who want this information. Can D.O.D.O. defeat them? VERDICT Fans of science fiction, science, history, romance, and shady government operations will love this rich narrative about a world in which time travel and magic seem possible.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

redstarYOLEN, Jane. The Emerald Circus. 279p. notes. Tachyon. Nov. 2017. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781616962739.

Though only one of the 16 stories in Yolen’s latest collection is newly published, the selections are anything but haphazard. The central vision of the compilation is the reimagining of folktales, legends, literature, and history. More than that, the volume feels unified by themes and imagery. The most obvious connections are three retellings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and three takes on the quasi-historical basis of the King Arthur myths. But even these seemingly discrete blocks of stories feed into the rest of the volume. One of the Arthur tales, for example, features the story of Merlin being told to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the real author of some of the earliest Arthurian legends. Yolen takes up this thread of focusing on the creative process again and again as she weaves stories of the magic behind Hans Christian Andersen, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. And of course, every entry contains Yolen’s crystalline prose, which captures the magic in reality, and vice versa, with ease and grace. Each tale is accompanied by a brief note from Yolen and a related poem, almost all written newly for this work. VERDICT These highly entertaining retellings are perfect for teen fans of fairy tales and classic literature, though they are easily enjoyed without any background knowledge.–Mark Flowers, Springstowne Library, Vallejo, CA

NONFICTION

redstarBORDERS, Ila  & Jean Hastings. Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey. 264p. Univ. of Nebraska. Apr. 2017. Tr  $26.95. ISBN 9780803285309.

Borders made history in the 1990s when she became the first woman to pitch and win an entire college men’s baseball game, and she set records again when she pitched and won a professional league game for the St. Paul Saints. Though her memorabilia is celebrated in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, she faced adversity, intimidation, and harassment during most of her baseball career. While some of Borders’s coaches and teammates were supportive, her internal struggle only increased as she hid her sexual orientation at a Christian high school and college. Even at the professional level, she tried to maintain her image as the “perfect” Christian athlete who focused only on baseball. Thoroughly readable and engaging, this inspiring autobiography deserves a spot on all sports shelves and, with Title IX in the news lately, serves as a timely memoir about gender equity in sports. VERDICT A must-purchase for all high schools.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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