Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang YP FIC YANG

Boxers- Little Bao was happy with his simple life in his small village, but when foreign missionaries smash the harvest idol it leads to a path of destruction for his family.  A strange man come to town that teaches the ways of kung fu, he becomes his disciple and later the student of the man's master.  He learns the skills to drawn in spirits and gods to become invincible warriors.  They realize they must drive out the foreign influence that is killing their nation and kill any, including women and children, that stand in their way. 

Saints- Four-Girl.  She doesn't even get a name. Born fourth means born unlucky. Four means death, so when she meets a strange doctor that gives free cookies and tells her that a Christian church will giver her a new name, she jumps at the chance.  She is reborn as Vibiana, but that rebirth marks her for death. Her visions of Joan of Arc make her want her own calling, but what will it be and will it call for her to suffer the same fate as Joan? The Boxers are slaying Christians wherever they find them and she has put herself right in their path.

This is a brilliant look at cost of war, violence, and oppression.  It makes no excuses for the atrocities on either side, while populating the book with all too human characters.  Little Bao is driven by heartbreak, desperation, patriotism, and hope.  Unfortunately, he is driven to commit atrocities against innocent people.  Vibiana is driven to find some sort of destiny after being born cursed.  Her early attempts to be a devil are one of my favorite parts of the whole story, as are the young Little Bao's love of Chinese opera.  It was very hard to follow Little Bao down a path of darkness and watch him continually betray his own principles. It was hard to watch Vibiana blindly head straight to her own destruction, but in crossing paths they find a way for the death to actually have some meaning, if only for one person. This story of childhood to adulthood makes the death and murder that comes later all the more tragic.  Yang has taken a very tricky historical period and looked at it on a human level.  He populates the book with various characters of Chinese culture and Christian culture, never questioning their 'reality'.  This makes the book a work of not just warring people, nations, and ideas, but of the power and dangers of stories themselves.  The book offers no clear heroes and few clear villains, it also offers no easy answers.  It does ask very good questions.  I think it will lead most readers to seek out more information on the Boxer rebellion and Chinese history, which is always a great thing.  Even if it doesn't, it stands by itself as a powerful example of what comics can do.

You can find Boxer in our catalog here and Saints in our catalog here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

RASL by Jeff Smith SF SMITH

Rasl is a thief.  He can break into almost anywhere, steal priceless works of art, and disappear without a trace.  It's easy. He just has to jump between parallel worlds!  He used to be Robert Johnson, the military physicist that found the lost journals of Nikola Tesla and used them to develop the technology to jump between worlds, but after horrible betrayal and irrevocable loss he is a thief on the run with little left to live for. Then he finds that he isn't the only one jumping between worlds.  The government has found him and will do anything and kill anyone to get Tesla's secret diaries.  If Rasl can't stop them then they'll rip a whole big enough to destroy all parallel worlds.

This is the best work Jeff Smith has done since his masterpiece Bone.  It uses the unique language of visual storytelling to be much more than just an  amazing noir science-fiction adventure. It is a dark and sad look at fate, love, loss, and the drive to know what makes the very universe run.  Smith doesn't do very much to make Rasl very likeable.  He's fairly down and almost all the way out when we meet him, and its only revenge that drives him through a lot of the story.  Its through revealing his past piece by piece and having Rasl face it piece by piece that he becomes the story's hero. It also helps that eh gives us a truly repellant and malevolent villain to root against in the lizard faced Agent Crow. Crow is gleefully willing to murder again and again, because he sees parallel worlds as a sick perversion of reality that he has to exterminate.  it makes for a more driven and interesting foil than a simple 'company man'.  I called it noir science fiction, because it is clearly inspired by two-fisted hardboiled crime fiction and a good dose of classic sci-fi.  It is not the first to mix the two by a long shot, but it is definitely the best graphic novel to do so.  My only gripe is that the idea of Tesla as the genius that discovered secret science powers and lost them to history becoming a pretty tired cliche.  Fortunately, the use if Tesla is very thoughtful and has deep thematic resonance to the story in RASL. This is not just a must read for older serious comic fans, but a must obsess over.  it has all the propulsive drive that Bone had that makes you rush through your first reading, and like Bone it has so much texture and detail to make it worth revisiting again and again.  Now that Smith has the best all ages fantasy comic epic ever and the best dark and gritty science fiction comic, there's no telling what is next.  

You can find RASLin our catalog here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Than This by Patrick Ness YP FIC NESS

"Here is the boy, drowning.
In these last moments, it's not the water that's finally done for him; it's the cold.
It is too late for him.
He will die.
And he will die alone.

He dies."

He wakes up.  He's covered in weird bandages. Well, partially covered.  He's in a strange, desolate, dried up town that seems totally empty and totally dead.  Then he finds something that cannot be. His childhood home.  The one in England. The one an ocean away from where he died. The one he left years ago after the tragedy that no one in his family will talk about.  The tragedy that is all. his. fault.  It is a dusty dead, burnt out world. A world in which he doesn't dream, so much as relive his past life in painful, frustrating detail. Since he can't really be alive and he can't really be in England. He realizes that he must be in his own personal, private Hell.  But even in Hell, there has to be more than this!  Doesn't there?

This is a tough book to review, because so much of what I love about it would reveal plot twists that should go unspoiled!  I can say that Ness has hit it out of the park once again with his deft use of realistic reaction and emotion in fantastic and seemingly impossible situations. The boy, Seth is a scared and scarred teen trying to survive and looking for a reason to survive. His doubts and frustration in the dead world he wakes up in and in his reliving his past are so well conveyed they feel universal.  I found myself rooting for Seth whether he was gripped by loneliness and despair or searching anywhere for a glimmer of hope.  Ness is able to wring drama and action aplenty with Seth just wandering around his new wasteland home, before he ever begins to reveal any of the books mysteries. For the price of one book (free because we are a library) you get a weird sci-fi (maybe) apocalytpic adventure, a devastating and harrowing look at living (and dying) with grief, a TOTAL brain twisting look at the very nature of reality itself, a beautiful and painful contemporary romance (as told in flashback), and several other wonderful surprises I won't spoil!

Young Adult fiction definitely has a lot of books where the main character has a painful past that is revealed bit by bit every few chapters until the final cathartic reveal. What makes More Than This stand apart is that the structure isn't just used to string the plot out, it becomes a part of the plot and the deeper themes of the book itself. Also, unlike some books that use this device, you never want to yell "HURRY UP ALREADY!!!", because BOTH worlds Seth is living in are fascinating in their own way.  I highly recommend this to anyone taht wants to read something truly unique.  It is going SUPER high on my Best Of list this year, and I think it will top yours too.

Check our catalog for More Than This here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Texas Library Association announces their picks for best YA books of the year!

It's December, so it's time for everyone and their brother, sister, mother, cousin, uncle, and/or neighbor to make their Best Of lists for the year! Below are the Top Ten best YA novels of the year according to the Texas Library Association.  For the full TAYSHAS list click this link. Want to know what's the best of the bestest in graphic novels? Check out TLA's Maverick list here.

 All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry YP FIC BERRY
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.

You can find it in our catalog here.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black YP FIC BLACK
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret.  Tana enters a race against the clock to save them by going straight to the wicked heart of Coldtown itself.

You can find it in our catalog here.

The Wicked and the Just by Jillian Anderson Coats YP FIC COATS
In medieval Wales, follows Cecily whose family is lured by cheap land and the duty of all Englishman to help keep down the "vicious" Welshmen, and Gwenhwyfar, a Welsh girl who must wait hand and foot on her new English mistress.

You can find it in our catalog here.

Ask the Passengers: A Novel by A.S. King YP FIC KING 
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

You can find it in our catalog here.

Reality Boy by A.S. King YP FIC KING
Gerald Faust started feeling angry even before his mother invited a reality TV crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he's still haunted by his rage-filled youth--which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle. No one cares that Gerald has tried to learn to control himself; they're all just waiting for him to snap. And he's starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that...

You can find it in our catalog here.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg YP FIC KONIGSBE
Tired of being known as "the gay kid", Rafe Goldberg decides to assume a new persona when he comes east and enters an elite Massachusetts prep school--but trying to deny his identity has both complications and unexpected consequences.

You can find it in our catalog here.

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan  YP FIC LABAN
The story of Tim Macbeth, a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is "Enter here to be and find a friend." A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants. Yet, despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential "It" girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving's most popular boy. To Tim's surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out.

You can find it in our catalog here

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell YP FIC ROWELL
Set over the course of one school year in 1986;this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.


You can read my glowing review of it here. You can find it in our catalog here

 Winger by Andrew Smith YP FIC SMITH
Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He's living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he's madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy. Against the odds, Ryan Dean manages to survive life's complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what's important, even when everything has falls apart. 

You can read me raving about it here. You can find it in our catalog here

Are You Experienced by Jordan Sonnenblick YP FIC SONNENBL
On the 45th anniversary of his uncle Michael's death, Rich Barber, an overprotected 15-year-old, travels back in time to Woodstock. There, he meets Michael for the first time-and gets to know his strict father as an enthusiastic teen. Rich also runs into rock star legends , inadvertently ingests psychedelic mushrooms with his father, and learns about the pressures Michael is under, including trying to protect his brother from their terrible parents.

You can find it in our catalog here.