January 15, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA: A “Doctor Who” Spin-Off, Teen Greek Gods & More | January 2018 Xpress Reviews

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Adams, Guy with Patrick Ness. Class: Joyride. 256p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062666208.

Gr 9 Up –One morning, several British teens wake up realizing that they are no longer in their bodies. In fact, they are committing egregious acts of crime without their consent. Theft, property damage, murder, and attempted suicide are just some of the things many are forced to do against their will. This sparks the attention of a group of teens at Coal Hill Academy, a special school where the students are tasked with assisting a certain eternal timeless Doctor in rescuing the world from alien attacks. This original novel is inspired by the latest BBC series created by YA author Ness, Class, a spin-off from the hit show Doctor Who. Fans of the show will enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters spring into action and finding out background information not revealed in the program. Readers not familiar with Class should have no problem jumping on board this story, as Adams painstakingly explains many of the backstories and intentions of the characters (which, unfortunately, makes the pacing lag in several spots). VERDICT Fans of both shows will want to pick this up, but otherwise, there might not be many new converts.–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

BEACON HOUSE TEEN WRITERS. The Day Tajon Got Shot. edited by Kathy Crutcher. 230p. Shout Mouse. May 2017. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780996927451.

Gr 8 Up –Tajon Williams, a black teen, sells weed as a means of getting his mother and sister away from his abusive and alcoholic father. He is threatened at gunpoint by the neighborhood drug dealer into handing over his weed supply without receiving money from him. Their transaction is interrupted by a white police officer, and Tajon is shot twice while running from the officer. The shooting is witnessed by Razia, a longtime school friend of Tajon. She knows Tajon did not have a gun, contrary to the police officer’s claims. Her sister, Angel, is best friends with Ashley, a white female member of the basketball team who figures out the police officer is none other than her own father, Pete. Her brother, Zach, lashes out at Pete for shooting his friend. When the school finds out Pete is their father, it is Ashley who unwittingly earns the wrath from Angel and the basketball team. The 10 teen writers of Beacon House have brilliantly crafted a YA book in which they take on the perspectives of 10 central characters. Each is given multiple layers. However, Pete’s nameless wife and Ashley and Zach’s mother are not as nuanced. Readers will appreciate the usage of multimedia, such as newspaper headlines, social media, and protest signs and posters. The book gives off an element of anticipation, which will cause readers to wonder the outcome of the comatose Tajon’s condition. Readers will also be alarmed at the list of unarmed people of color killed by police in the United States, from March 2015 to the writing of this book. VERDICT This smart and courageous YA novel will open up a dialogue started by young voices who deserve to be heard. A strong purchase.–Donald Peebles, Brooklyn Public Library

Ledbetter, Chris. The Sky Throne. 290p. Month9Books. Apr. 2017. pap. $15. ISBN 9781945107870.

Gr 6 Up –A coming- of-age story involving a rivalry between the Olympians and the Titans. Young Zeus feels invisible at Eastern Crete Lower Academy. Even the bullies don’t notice. When tragedy strikes his family, he is swept up in a struggle he doesn’t fully understand. Filled with rage, he seeks revenge, but fate guides him to Mount Olympus Prep where he meets Hestia (Tia), Hades (Shade), Demeter (Meter) and other notable mythological characters. Zeus’s romantic attraction to girls is woven throughout the tale as he learns about himself and the talents he possesses. The mystery shrouding his past and an internal conflict consuming the school sets Zeus on a life-changing path. The novel offers a blend of Rick Riordan’s contemporary Greek heroes and Harry Potter’s academic endeavors, a fun story line, fast-paced storytelling, and an endearing protagonist. VERDICT A good choice that will delight readers of Greek mythology.–Robyn Gioia, Seoul American Elementary School, Korea

Lee, C.B. Not Your Villain. 320p. (Sidekick Squad: Bk. 2). Duet. Oct. 2017. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781945053252.

Gr 7-10 –In this installment, readers meet Bells and his friends in a future where superpowered heroes and villains are essential aspects of politics as well as American culture. As a shapeshifter, the hero is inducted into the league after years of training in a secret location, only to discover that the battles between villains and heroes is more con job than factual. Lee writes with humor and a sense of lightness that gives buoyancy even to the grim twists and turns of this deception and the vicissitudes of Bells’s love life. An element of this futuristic society is that acceptance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities has vastly improved: Bells is trans, one of his older brothers is aromantic, and his friends all present a variation on the identity spectrum that read both realistic and reassuring to readers looking into this future. Pacing presents a problem, however, as time and events move rapidly with sequencing that feels more like a comic book or a movie than a narrative novel. While this is disorienting at first, enough character development and logic are maintained that this becomes less distracting as the story unspools. In addition to truly amicable and delightful peers, Bells also inhabits a world of mostly friendly and capable adults. All in all, both the action and the tweaks to typical world-building make this charmingly fresh. VERDICT A fun choice for action-adventure shelves.–Francisca Goldsmith, Library Ronin, Worcester, MA

Llewelyn, Haf. An Empty Chair: The Tragic Story of Welsh Poet Hedd Wyn. 120p. glossary. Dufour Editions. Oct. 2017. pap. $12. ISBN 9781784614522.

Gr 6 Up –Teenager Anni thinks her brother Ellis might be “the worst soldier ever,” but Ellis’s bardic name, Hedd Wyn (Blessed Peace in Welsh), suggests that heroism exists beyond the battlefield. This slim WWI novel is a translation of Llewelyn’s prizewinning Welsh-language original, based on the true story of Ellis Evans’s posthumous award of a bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod of 1917. Despite this ambitious setup, the novel strives for accessibility. Anni struggles with shoplifting, boys, an uncle’s war injury, and missing Ellis. Her perspective emphasizes Ellis’s quirky lovability rather than his genius. This demystification aligns Ellis with the other Welsh men who serve the British cause but feel like “outsiders” on the front. It is possible that, in Wales, Evans’s poetry is so well known that accentuating his poetry would be unnecessary (the translation provides a brief cultural orientation via foreword and glossary). However, the novel’s one poem, “Gwenfron and I,” is lovely, and including more of Ellis’s war poetry would only strengthen the novel’s pacifist message. (Ellis’s status in the community also contests the idea that poetry is boring, inaccessible, or irrelevant.) Ultimately, after his death, the empty bard’s chair delivered to the Evans family is a poignant image for a loss that is personal, and national, specific to Ellis’s talent and generally applicable to the loss of life suffered in war. VERDICT A concise, alternative cultural perspective on the First World War for history units and curious readers. An additional purchase.–Katherine Magyarody, Texas A&M University, College Station

Marco, Puco. Los secretos de Alba. 160p. Puck. Aug. 2017. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9788496886643.

Gr 10 Up –Marco Sanchis hopes to become a great detective like his father, and he has even set up his own detective agency with his steprother Klaus and stepsister Mireia. When his best friend—and the girl he secretly loves—Alba comes to Marco for help in finding the person who has been sending her obscene messages through Whatsapp, Marco wastes no time in discovering and humiliating Alba’s boyfriend, Xavi. Thinking this will win him points with Alba, Marco is surprised to find Alba is deeply upset with him. Even worse, Alba faints and falls ill at school, and Marco soon finds out that if Alba’s biological parents are not found, she may die from leukemia. While juggling the insults of Profesora Sanmartin and simultaneously trying to find who is stealing exams, Marco races against time to try to save the girl he knows still has a life left to live. Along the way, Marco learns a few lessons from his dad about life and about being a detective. With cultural references to Booktubers and music and a tone that switches between comedic and grave, this short novella is sure to be a fast and engaging read for teens. VERDICT Recommended for libraries with a Spanish-language collection for young adults.–Selenia Paz, Harris County Public Library, Houston, TX

Strohm, Stephanie Kate. Prince in Disguise. 320p. Disney-Hyperion. Dec. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484768174.

Gr 6-10 –If there is one thing that the British do well it is Christmas: Christmas movies, Christmas songs, and Christmas television specials, and American anglophiles eat it all up. This year Dylan, who prefers to live under the radar, is finding herself in the middle of shooting one of these Christmas specials—a reality show set in a Scottish castle. Dylan’s sister Dusty, a former Miss Mississippi, is marrying the dashing Scotsman and laird-to-be, Ronan, and the wedding, along with the days leading up to it, will be part of a spin-off special to the show Prince in Disguise where Dusty and Ronan first met. Upon arriving in Scotland, Dylan meets the charming and extremely well-read Jamie, who is also staying at the castle through the Christmas Eve wedding. Both awkward and a little camera shy, they find comfort in each other, and a budding romance ensues as Jamie shows Dylan the secrets of the castle and its grounds. Hilarious from the start and full of bubbly dialogue, this will appeal to those looking for humor and those looking for light romance. It captures the best of British rom-coms with its grand gestures, big musical numbers, and swoony romantic moments, all set against a dreamy, snowy backdrop. Strohm presents the appeal of reality TV while also giving readers a glimpse behind the scenes of the genre’s not-so-genuine tactics. VERDICT A solid romantic comedy that will appeal to younger and older teens or any American Anglophile craving a British yuletide romp.–Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR

Wallenfels, Stephen. Bad Call. 320p. Disney-Hyperion. Dec. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484768136.

Gr 9 Up –On what was supposed to be an “epic” camping trip to Yosemite National Park, Colin, Ceo, Grahame and Rhodey make one bad decision after another. First, Rhodey bails out at the last minute and is replaced by Ellie, a friend of Ceo that Colin and Grahame have never seen or heard about before. After deciding to keep going despite a fire in part of the park and an ill-advised race to the top by Ceo and Grahame, they make it to the apex of Yosemite. When a freak storm hits, they are unprepared. Ceo and Grahame are becoming increasingly hostile, and when the two go into the woods to get firewood, only Grahame makes it back to the camp carrying nothing but a bloody axe. After Grahame snaps and abandons his friends, and despite his conviction that Ceo is still alive, an exhausted and hypothermic Colin decides to leave his friend to get himself and Ellie back home safely. But is this just another bad call? Wallenfels makes a good call by telling this from the viewpoints of Colin and Ellie. It is interesting to see the story unfold through their disparate perspectives rather than a more conventional narrative. However, as the two of them come together and the action increases, their voices become more similar and the need for the separation becomes unnecessary. This well-written psychological thriller has a slow start filled with backstory, which gives readers a better chance to get to know the characters so they are more emotionally invested in each one’s ultimate fate. VERDICT An engaging thriller that will find a strong readership. A solid first purchase.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

Young, John. Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist. 288p. Floris. Dec. 2017. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781782504245.

Gr 9 Up –Fifteen-year-old Connor Lambert is bright and funny; he has also been living with cancer for most of his life. He lives with his Mom, but misses her because she works all hours to make ends meet. Connor also misses his little sister who died in accident years earlier, and he misses his Dad, who is incarcerated, and no one will tell him why. He is tired of the limits his condition places on his life, so Connor teams up with his former bully/new best friend Skeates to run away and begin a wild excursion through the country side to visit Connor’s dad in prison and get some answers. The only problem—Connor forgets his life sustaining medications and ends up running from police and local street thugs. He also learns to ski and goes clubbing. This adventure novel is set in present-day Scotland has a lot of cultural and Gaelic-language references. This is a funny, fast-paced celebration of friendship that is is uplifting even while dealing with illness and mortality. There is even a Spotify playlist of 15 songs mentioned for teens to listen to. VERDICT Recommended for fans of British culture and funny adventure stories with lots of hijinks.–Grace Bazile, Brooklyn College

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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