April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review the Latest from Sarah Fine, David Lubar, and More

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

The members of the Kitsap (WA) Regional Library YA Book Group have been busy. Check out what they think about David Lubar’s Character Driven, Sarah Fine’s latest fantasy, and Emily Skrutskie’s debut, The Abyss Surrounds Us.

Cooper_guile_coverCOOPER, Constance. Guile. Clarion. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544451711.
Gr 7 Up–
In Wicked Ford, there is a power in the water, a power that changes objects and people in mysterious ways. Those who sense it are known as pearlies, and Yonie Watereye is one of them. Or at least she pretends to be. When she discovers that the death of her parents might have been murder and not an accident, she decides to investigate, and comes across secrets she never dreamed of. The cover is rather nice. Everything was well-designed, and the font was very readable yet also playful. Even the tagline, “there’s power in the water,” worked with the novel’s themes and plot, which I find to be something that doesn’t occur very often. At the same time, the orange color of the title seemed far too childish for an otherwise dark and tastefully mature cover, and the pocketwatch detail seemed vaguely out of place lighting-wise. It was a fitting cover, certainly, but a little boring at the same time, and probably not what I’d choose.

The most compelling aspect of Guile was definitely the setting. I’ve read a lot of fantasy with canal city settings, but this definitely had the most unique one I’ve encountered in ages. Usually these settings can be easily described as “palette-swapped Venice with different names,” but the one in this novel seemed to be more New Orleans–inspired, if New Orleans was built the same way as Venice. The world is set up beautifully and intricately, with an interesting magic system and the possibility of talking cats (which is always a plus for me). It makes reading the book an immersive experience, and an especially good pick for reading in the bathtub.

I was disappointed in this book mainly because of how immature it seemed. The entire time I read it, I couldn’t chase away the nagging feeling that it should have been marketed as middle grade. This isn’t because of the lack of romance; on the contrary it is perfectly possible to have a romance-less YA novel that manages to feel mature and engaging. But I think here, the problem is that no romance, plus teasing-though-not-biting sarcastic third-person narration, plus talking cats, plus whimsical place names puts me more in mind of the kind of things I read and gushed over in fifth grade.

Additionally, there’s a distinct lack of interesting character development and shades of gray in motivations. The villain of the story is merely an entitled brat grown to adulthood, with no explanation of her thought process or why she thinks a couple of teenagers are going to destroy her life’s work. It’s fairly annoying, because I prefer fantasy novels with ambiguous villains or even main characters who commit morally dubious actions. There was none of this in Guile.

This book was exceedingly disappointing, but on the whole not terrible. If you’re still fond of the wise, snarky talking cat character that seems to appear in almost every middle grade novel, this might be the perfect book for reading in the bathtub. Otherwise, if you skip it, you won’t be missing out on the best book of the year or anything.–Ella W., 16

Fine_Imposter QueenFINE, Sarah. The Impostor Queen. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481441902.
Gr 9 Up–
Elli has trained her whole life to be the next Valtia and help protect her people from raiders. Even when she doesn’t inherit the magic from the previous Valtia, she is determined to protect her people in any way she can. I liked how the cover showed the two sides of Elli’s character. The face painted side of the Valtia and Saadella, and her free, normal face. I thought is showed the differences between the two sides, and how they both make up Elli in the end. I thought it was original and appealing.

I loved everything! The book had a unique story line, the characters were all individuals with their own personalities, and the writing style was beautiful and enthralling. Elli was a strong character who obviously loves her people and tries her best in everything she does. The plot allows Elli to flower as a character, and all of her actions not only follow Elli’s established character, but enhance it as well. Oskar and his family were fun, and their interactions were amusing and drew me in. Mim was a good character, and allowed Elli to shine.

The author’s writing style made understanding the plot easy, and her descriptions vivid. I will definitely read The Impostor Queen again, and hope there is a sequel. It would have been nice if there had been a little more explanation about the outside world, but if this book is the first in a series then I wouldn’t change anything.–Shelby D., 18

Lubar_Character DrivenLUBAR, David. Character Driven. Tor. Mar 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765316332.
Gr 8 Up–
Cliff is a 17/18-year-old guy who has the mindset of every other self-respecting teenage guy…I think. I’m not a dude so I wouldn’t know. This is the life of Cliff, a boy who lives at home with a mother who loves him but an emotionally abusive father. Cliff has funny, sarcastic, lively friends that make this story wonderful, and Cliff has a crush on the new girl at school named Jillian. What you’ll love about this book more than the plot, is the voice of the main character. He interacts with you, he talks to you like you’re important and significant. Okay, maybe not as sappy, but he references you and this book often. It’s really nice, because not a lot of authors can write books that are interactive and neat like this. Maybe this isn’t the summary you were looking for, but this sure as hell is a neat and unique book.

The cover was orange fencing boards, with a smudgy picture of the main character, Cliff, over them. This cover didn’t work well at all. I didn’t like how it had absolutely nothing to do with the contents of the book. How was it relevant? Okay, sorry for being so cold about this. Maybe instead of the current cover you have now, how about replacing it with a picture of the hospital bed where Cliff is laying at the very end of the book, writing it. That could be time-space-continuum explosive right? Or make it look exactly like the journal that Cliff’s mother bought him in the gift shop at the hospital at the end of the book. Sorry, I’m getting off topic. I just thought those would be better ideas for the book’s cover because let’s be honest…the current one sucks.

I thought the voice Cliff had was amazing. He seemed funny, inappropriate at times (but it’s ok. He’s a teenage boy), elusive, lively, sarcastic, obsessive (again, in a teenage boy way), and just overall…lively. If you’ve read this book, or are going to read this book (which I highly suggest), then you’ll know precisely what I’m talking about when I say lively. In the entire, two days that I’ve been glued to this book, I noticed the author’s clear attention to detail and effort he put into developing even the smallest characters so that they would be important later. There were a handful of characters in this book I just loved, even though they weren’t significant in the plot, like Jimby who’s a mentally challenged kid who Cliff helps out with on his story-writing project. You see? I really liked that heartwarming moment (even though I don’t normally), but the plot was spectacular too! I thought how the voice of Cliff started it with something interesting, and was so blunt and direct with the audience (heh, me!) about having this story in your hands by purpose was unique and awesome, because not many authors design stories to be interactive with the main character. I loved how the book ended with a paradox of the beginning. Do yourself a favor and read this book, because you’ll know what I mean.

Eh…you know what? Sex scenes in books aren’t my favorite thing, but if you’re into that, then go ahead and read on. Some other parts like how Cliff was obsessed with breasts was enlightening to the boy-mind and I think if you can’t imagine yourself as a dude, you’ll find it slightly awkward.–Sam G., 14

Savage_After the Woods_SAVAGE, Kim. After the Woods. Farrar. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374300555.
Gr 9 Up–A year ago, Julia and her friend Viv were running in the woods alone. When Donald Jessup attacked them, Viv ran away, but Julia was found two nights later. Julia is left to pick up the pieces of her scattered recollection and unravel the mystery of what really happened in the woods.   

I think the cover reflected the plotr well, but did seem slightly overly creepy. The plot was the most compelling aspect of the book. I found it hard to put down – I hung on to every page, trying to unravel the mystery. The only thing I was disappointed by was Julia’s reaction after she found out what Viv did to her. I think she should have gotten at least a little mad at the girl who put her in danger and then ran away. At first, I was nervous that After the Woods was going to a creepy and scary read, but as I got in to it, I realized it was really about Julia unravelling the mystery of the events leading up to the woods, and her eventual understanding of her friend, Viv. So I think it would be helpful if some part of the cover or back showed it’s not creepy.–Juliette S., 14

JanSciFi5SKRUTSKIE, Emily. The Abyss Surrounds Us. Flux. Feb. 2016. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738746913.
Gr 9 Up–
The plot takes place in the future where a girl’s family business is hatching reckoner pups and training them, but when she goes on her first solo training mission, things go amiss. On the cover there is a bit too much going on and I wish they had a picture of the ship, perhaps transparent over the cover.

The overall content was absolutely stunning. Great twists, new things happen, however the character to character interaction is good, it is definitely a book for people who like ships and sci-fi. Most characters are made to be more like divers. Almost all of them are described as wearing wet-suits. Character interaction seemed forced, could cut down on her use of said, but I have very few complaints about the plot line! Also the author could give us some more info on the family.

The book is a thriller for anyone who loves girl to girl interaction. The book will throw you on board a pirate ship, and away into the sci-fi future.        This book will work well for anyone who enjoys a quick but highly saturated read, and not the bad type of saturated. It’s packed with action and suspense. Can’t wait for the next book in the series! –Alex P., 15

Wung-Sung_The Last Execution_WUNG-SENG, Jesper. The Last Execution. S. & S.. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481429658.
Gr 9 Up–
Fifteen-year old Niels Nielsen is about to be executed for arson and murder. He has never known his mother, or has ever had a home of his own or enough to eat. Niels tries to be at peace with his impending death and miserable life.

I liked that the cover portrayed a clock with a bloody axe for one of its hands, symbolizing the idea that “the boy” Niels Nielsen had limited time left. Every chapter, there was a count-down for how many hours there were left until Niels was executed for arson and murder. Yet the narrator portrays Niels in a way that makes readers have some sympathy for him, so it makes the image of the clock more compelling after reading the book.

The most compelling aspect was the premise—an impeding execution. I also liked how readers slowly learn more about Niels. Other than that, I cannot think of any other positive aspects of the book. Some of this may have to do with the fact that it was translated from Danish, and thus a recurring stanza reads: “Our town’s many mouths, a chorus fair/ Whilst a head that still doth stare/ Rolls to the ground/ Without a sound.” It likely is better in its original language. The author also attempts to explore death, religion, love, and dreams.

I was disappointed with the plot of this story. The story focused on the events that led Niels to be executed by decapitation, but it read like Grave of the Fireflies punctuated by translated poetry set in 1850s Denmark. Niels and his hardworking but for some reason unemployable father take any work they can get and slowly starve to death in the Danish countryside in a society that oppresses the poor, and his father dies.

One cold night in an empty barn, Niels sets a small fire to keep warm and ends up falling asleep and burning it down. For his crime of arson, he has to work as a servant for the Sheriff’s family. The Sheriff’s son is a little brat and makes cutting remarks about Niels and his family, and Niels throws a stone at him, killing the boy.

I disliked the disconnected writing style, with the perspectives shifting from the town’s mayor to the priest to the coffin-maker to Niels to a poet who was writing poetry about the execution. Additionally, Niels had a conversation with a buzzing fly, reminiscent of the conversation between Simon and the Beast in Lord of the Flies as the fly tells Niels to stop thinking about his girlfriend and dreams of a better life as he is in his jail cell preparing to die. Though the author tries to show the different perspectives of the townspeople, I imagined all of the characters speaking with the same voice. I feel like Wung-Seng did not have to write any more than the author’s note at the back of the book, which stated that in 1852 a 15-year-old boy called Niels Nielsen was sentenced to death for arson and murder and executed on Gallows Hill in Svendborg, Denmark and it was the town’s last execution. That way, the reader’s mind can fill in the gaps of the historical story without trying to make it into literature. Recommended for all fans of Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies.–Angela K., 17

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.