Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘young adult books

Ready for an adventure story? I certainly haven’t read one in awhile. How about a story filled with sea adventures, pirates, and treasures? I liked Pirates of the Caribbean, but that was a movie, and now I’m ready for a book with similar fare. Rediscover the old classic Treasure Island written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880 for his son. In Treasure Island, young Jim Hawkins is “full of sea dreams and the most charming anticipation of strange islands and adventures”. Jim spends hours pouring over a treasure map, never once imagining how strange and tragic his adventures would actually be. Yet they are. For they are filled with murders and betrayals.

Perhaps Jim should have anticipated how “dark and bloody” the sojourn on Treasure Island would be. After all, in the several months prior to his journey, he witnesses two threats and two deaths in connection with the treasure. An old seaman named Bill takes up lodging at the family inn and pays them from his chest with a few pieces of gold. One January morning, a pale and tallowy creature named Black Dog visits the old seaman to chat. A battle ensures and Black Dog flees, but only after injuring Bill’s shoulder. Not long after, Bill is threatened by a second seafaring visitor. This blind man by the name of Pew inflicts Bill with the Black Spot and apparently tells him he will return at ten o’clock. Bill doesn’t live that long, but Pew returns with seven or eight enemies to raid Bill’s possessions. Upon discovering that the family has fled, taking Bill’s treasure map and some of his gold (as recompense for unpaid bills), Pew and his men head out in search of them. They encounter several riders on horseback, and attempt to flee, but Pew accidentally dashes under the nearest oncoming horse. Pew falls, collapses on his face, and moves no more.

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Image by PTMoore via Flickr

If you haven’t already figured out yet from the previous paragraph, the book Treasure Island is filled with a dizzying array of characters. There is Bill, our old seaman with a treasure map, whose coat is soiled, hands are ragged and scarred, nails are broken and black, voice is tottering, and who fears other seafarers for good reason. There is Black Dog, the pale tallowy creature, who lacks two fingers on his left hand, wears a cutlass, smacks of the sea, and both fawns and sneers. There is Captain Flint, the blind man, who has a horrible soft voice, grip like a vice, and swears. These are some of the bad guys. Then there is Dr. Livesey, who is neat and bright with black eyes and pleasant ways. And there is Squire Trelawney, who is tall and broad, has a rough face, and black brows. These are some of the good guys. There are also Jim’s parents, the sea crew, the marooned Ben Gunn, and perhaps the most famous characters of the book: our hero Jim Hawkins and the ship’s cook Long John Silver. Yet as you can see from my brief descriptions, Stevenson made all of his characters come alive.

One more thing about the book riveted me: the atmosphere. Jim and his mother are searching Bill’s room after he dies for his money, when a sudden noise startles them. Captain Flint will return at ten o’clock. It is only six. They search Bill and find around his neck the key to his chest. They are counting our their dues when they hear “in the silent frosty air … the tap-tapping of the blind man’s stick upon the frozen road”. It strikes sharp on the inn’s door. The handle is turned. The bolt is rattled. The blind man leaves. Jim and his mother retreat. Not long after, they hear the sound of several footsteps running, see a light tossing to and fro….

As a young person, Treasure Island is one of the few books on my shelf that somehow I resisted reading each time I picked up a new book. My dad recently picked it as his choice for our family book reading. Now I finally know why the book is considered the classic adventure story!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate it?

Partway through GONE, the final book in Lisa McMann‘s dream trilogy, Janie’s boyfriend yells at her to, “Just shut about your stupid problems!” To which I nodded my head and voiced an inner, “I agree!” Indeed, my biggest criticism of this last book is Janie’s attitude. I do have other complaints too, such as the lack of background information provided for readers new to the series. There’s also the drawn-out suspense about a second choice Janie faces, as if we haven’t guessed it long before she reveals it to us. For awhile, I feared that McMann might fall into the trap that so many series writers do of failing to provide a satisfactory end with her last book. Thankfully, she didn’t. Having now read the whole trilogy, I can heartily recommend it to mature audiences.

If you haven’t guessed already, the first half of the book is the weakest. It rapidly dumps us into the middle of the Janie’s emotional reaction to events revealed in FADE. She is reeling from the publicity of being an undercover cop and from information revealed in a green book about some unpleasant consequences of being a dream-catcher. Throwing readers into the thick of her emotional meltdowns might work fine for readers familar with McMann’s earlier books. For newcomers, surely more explanation could be offered about Janie’s history as a dream-catcher or the trial in which she served as a witness.

Janie has also returned to her “woe is me” tune of the first book, except there I could accept it because it inspired her to seek out more information about her abilities whereas here it only pushes her deeper into a pity mode: There is no escape. There is never ever nothing for her. She is suffocating. She is breaking inside. I begin to lose sympathy for her, which doesn’t seem like the smartest move on McMann’s part. If readers stop caring for an author’s main character, and there isn’t any other crisis driving the story forward, why will they contnue to read?

After tolerating several chapters of her depression, I just want Janie to pull it together. Should this make me seem callous, keep in mind Janie has been dealing with her dream ability now for three books. That’s like three years in real life, isn’t it? Also, don’t you think her troubles seem rather removed from the real world? I mean, who actually has to deal with the ability to enter people’s dreams? Tell me, why should I care so much about this fantastical conflict that I am willing to read page-after-page of it?

Well, what keeps me reading is the new developments in her relationship with her parents. Her father is not only alive but in town and in the hospital–and perhaps on his death’s bed. Her mother also takes on a larger role, criticizing Janie for most everything she does. This attitude comes out of the blue, but at least McMann finally makes Janie deal with the impact that her parents had on her life and come to terms with them.

Initially, I am unsure even about the second half of the book. Janie’s second choice is revealed, didn’t really come as a great surprise, but she sure seems determined to stick with it. She also seems to view her father almost as a saint, in contrast to her mother whom she can’t stand. Or does she? And is there a third choice? McMann introduces some twists and turns, just as she did in the second book, that both surprise and delight me. Those new developments save the book and make me satisfied with her whole trilogy. So what are you waiting for? Go read the dream trilogy!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

FADE is my favorite book in the dream trilogy by Lisa McMann. For one thing, all our favorite and not-so-favorite characters have returned. For another thing, this book better succeeds at being more than simply a supernatural thriller. While in the first book Janie discovers she can enter dreams and struggles controlling them, in this follow-up Janie uses her skill to uncover the very realistic and terrifying threat of date rape. She also faces incredible choices about what to do with her gift. While none of us will ever have to deal with the fantastical ability of entering people’s dreams, all of us will do eventually face decisions about our gifts. As such, this book resonated strongly with me after I closed its covers.

At the onset of the book, I feel somewhat disappointed with all the changes in Janie’s life. Best friend, Carrie, isn’t introduced until page thirty and then is described only as “self-centered and immature”. She never struck me as such in WAKE, but definitely seems absorbed with her new boyfriend. Then again, Janie is absorbed with her boyfriend too–and so perhaps that is why Carrie must take a back seat and turn into more of a stock character than a real friend. There are other little changes too such as the fact Janie has quit her nursing home job or now eats Power Bars instead of Snickers.

Yet I have to accept that book characters are going to change just like real people do, even if many other ways the book does pick up where it left off. Caleb is still a secret boyfriend. Janie’s mom is still a cliche drunk parent. And Mrs. Stubin, despite being dead, still conveniently turns up whenever Janie needs guidance on being a dreamcatcher. Oh, also let’s not forget that Shay Wilder (who we still hate) is still mad for Caleb. Most important though, Janie is still using her dream skills for the police.

Actually, the book is largely about her solving a case for them. To figure out who the bad teachers are, the ones who are inviting students to socials that start out innocently but end up being about drugs and sex, Janie and Caleb must become close to all the teachers. Of course, ultimately, Janie needs to gain the trust of those she leasts trust. Initially, I didn’t care for how obvious McMann made the suspect, but eventually greatly appreciated how the investigation played out due to some twists and turns in how Janie handles the case. I also highly commend McMann on her ability to slow down scenes with small details. Kudos to her skill as a literary writer that we are allowed to savor quiet moments, in between the tension of crime.

Just as much it is about a crime mystery, this book is about Janie’s growing relationship with Caleb and with the Captain. I love that Janie squeals over the gift from the Captain and all the other equally fun reactions Janie has upon receiving overdue attention. The Captain slowly becomes the mother Janie never had. I had a more mixed reaction to developments in the relationship between Janie and Caleb. Was the rejection that the two received from apparently all adults just a way to make us feel sympathetic to their decision to have sex? Otherwise, I liked their relationship. The two face all the normal fluctuating struggles that normal couples do including how to handle fights and to love one another without suffocating each other. There are also some awesome tender moments between them, which provide readers with a much more mature relationship than other more frivolous teen romances.

There are other positives I could write about the book, but let me end by referring back to the theme of the book. I could easily dismiss WAKE as simply being another supernatural thriller if not for FADE. It succeeds in going beyond the superficialities of simply trying to scare us. It even succeeds in going beyond being a mature romance. Janie discovers that choices exist about her ability to enter dreams, just the same way we all face momentous decisions about own gifts. In this way, FADE tackles the deeper issues of life and becomes universal.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

A supernatural thriller without vampires, werewolves, or fairies? What is the young adult book world coming to? Lisa McMann has dared to be different with her New York Times best seller WAKE. She didn’t even chose alternative popular trends of wizards and witches or angels and demons. Imagine, there are other realms worth exploring in the fantasy world!

Such as dreams. These aren’t the Freddy Kruger style either where falling asleep can put you face-to-face with a burned-up hate-spewing killer. Nor are they the Matrix type where heroes have ninja-like moves. In WAKE, as in the Nightmare movies, Janie can enter people’s dreams. But at the start this is all she can do. And when she eventually tries manipulating those dreams, she just uses commonplace interactions.

So what then is so special about her dreams? Well, for starters, isn’t being able to enter other people’s dreams a unique feat in itself? Then we start reading about Janie’s attempts to controls her actions in dreams, exit dreams by waking others or herself up, or even change the outcome of dreams. Janie might not ever fear being slashed to pieces or develop super human dream powers, but she would still rather accept a dare of running down the street naked in real life than to tell the truth about her unusual ability.

Janie dreads falling into other people’s dreams. Seeing their hopes. Seeing their failures. Viewing their inner worlds. Experiencing their nightmares. Not to mention losing sleep–every time she dreams. She can fall asleep at any time. Even when driving in her car. Or when sitting next to peers on a bus. Her body reacts physically. Shakes. Falls. As if she is having a seizure. But she’s not. And so she comes off as a freak. And it is happening more often. Teenagers sleep a lot in class.

Did you notice the staccato style I just used? It was deliberate to illustrate McMann’s style. She typically writes in short brisk sentences, in present tense, and in a third-person omniscient viewpoint. She does this to capture the immediacy of Janie’s life and dreams. (In case you’ve forgotten your grammar lessons, third-person omniscent means readers are often aware of events that even the main character isn’t privy to.) I like her style. It grew on me.

So did her book, despite some cliches. Janie is from a dysfunctional family. The father is absent and the mother might as well be. We barely read of her and when we do she is generally drunk. This is not unfamiliar territory, especially in books for young adults. On rare occasion, her mother actually acts nice. She also never abuses Janie. The relationship probably could have been less cliche and more complex, but McMann sadly never develops this angle. There is also a bad boy in the neighborhood. He does drugs, wears his hair long and clothes grubby, which means of course he’ll end up dating Janie. To McMann’s credit, she does reveal unexpected twists in his character.

Perhaps the best commendation I can give Lisa McMann is that WAKE withstood the test of repeated reading despite my knowing the outcome. I generally sympathize with an underdog. Janie is definitely one. I also remained entranced by her struggles with her so-called gift. Will she learn to control it? Will she attempt to use it for good or bad? Will it prove more dangerous to her as she encounters more sleepers? Upon both reads, I found myself staying up later and later to finish the book. This proves the book has standing power, which is a pretty big feat.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Wondrous strange things are happening to Kelley and her friends–and characters in young adult novels all across the country. That’s the main problem with Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. It’s been done, not just once but many times. Yet therein also lies at least some of its success. We know this tale, we love this tale, and we’re willing to read it one more time if it’s well done.

At least, us females will. This is a romance, so boys you can leave. Yes, it’s also a fantasy, but its heart is romance. And so it follows the standard formula: Girl meets guy. Girl falls for guy, who is always handsome and also almost immediately attracted to her. He’s also the dark and quiet type, not to be mistaken for the blonde and popular type. The latter rarely fall for the girl until the end of the book–and then more often this happens in so-called realistic romances. Boy is also bad or at least troubled or different. (AKA, vampire, werewolf, fairy, or…. I don’t see too many aliens this days, but perhaps that’s because I’m a fantasy lover.)

Okay, now that you know the plot, I won’t bore you with the further details except to mention Kelley’s unique background. She is a high school graduate, living in New York, and looking to land her next big stage job. We read about Kelley earning her first break, bumbling through a script, and eventually stumbling to balance stage life with the mystical life.

Oddly enough, her unique background is what helps lift the book out of the slush pile. That Livingston accurately portrays how a young woman would react to encountering the fairy world for the first time is also a plus, as is her alluring descriptions of fantastical creatures and their magical world. This book does right what Princess Diaries didn’t, although it still fails to provide more than a glimpse into the supernatural world. Most of the time, descriptions are rooted in real-life New York. Why do so many of our modern fantasy authors depend on human landscapes to populate their books? Imagining other worlds that humans fall into is difficult no doubt, but others such as Lewis and more recently Collins have. Our world is richer for their books.

Wondrous Strange is competent, which I know is only mild praise. Don’t get me wrong; this book is worth a read. As its plot thickened, I found myself racing through paragraphs to learn the fate of Kelley and her friends. The characters are delightfully ecletic and include sirens, janus, and kelpie. The book never succumbs to be a straightforward romance as Princess Diaries dismally did. Yet even as a romance, it makes for a fun couple hours. There just isn’t anything exceptional about it. Borrow it, read it, post comments, and then move on to the more solid books. This is just dessert.

PS But if you happen to read the sequels, please drop me a note to let me in on what happens.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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