Man Made Boy (Book Review)

Man Made Boy (Book Review)

Here is a fun YA novel.

The story of Frankenstein’s son, pieced together over the years by the Bride, provides us with a fun story about a boy trying to escape his past, and the mistakes of his present, all the while hoping to fit into a world where he doesn’t belong.

Boy, the simply named protagonist, is a monster. Stitched together, he is a hideous creation that is faced with the common dilemmas of a teenager, but has to deal with them while being stuck in The Show, a carnival-like atmosphere filled with all types of legendary monsters: a vampire, fairies, trolls, a centaur, minotaur, Medusa. You name it, and The Show has it.

But Boy wants more than to be a part of The Show for the rest of his life: he wants to be outside, and live in the normal world of humans, something that is easier said than done.

It doesn’t help that his parents are the legendary literary characters created by the mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein. They are as would be expected, and over-protective to boot.

boy5Man Made Boy takes us on a pretty awesome adventure, as Boy tries to integrate himself in the real world. In New York, he is able to get an under-the-table job, and is eventually joined by his troll girlfriend, as they try to make it as people. Of course, there are innumerable complications, including her growing addiction to Glamour, a drug that enables her to appear as a beautiful human.

To make things worse, Boy is a tech genius, and has created an Artificial Intelligence that forces him to hit the road, in search of normalcy, and in search of a place that he can call home, with other monsters that are like him. This creates a fun road trip, and the meeting of other interesting monster characters, both from urban legend and from literature.

Man Made Boy is an excellent YA read. It provides a lot of fun, and a lot of literary allusions that could hopefully pique the interest of young readers to learn more about monsters from books past. It is also rich in teen themes that are explored in new and unique ways. In an increasingly bland and repetitive world of YA literature, it is always refreshing to have a unique take on the same stories, and Man Made Boy definitely provides that. The novel is about inclusion, and love, and coming-of-age, in a situation where none of these things seem possible. It is about wanting to find the place where you belong, and having to make the sacrifices needed in order to find your place.

Boy is faced with questions galore about his life, and where it will lead him. He will need to love and lose, run and hide, and face the world. He will need to deal with his family, and with their past. He will need to look at his own creation, and be forced to deal with the fact that perhaps he isn’t too unlike the Frankenstein’s a family he has nothing but disdain for because of what they did to his father.

Despite being a page-turning ride, Man Made Boy offers plenty of complexity within its characters and themes. It is a very good read, and highly recommended in the genre. While there may be some language, it is a book that could be given to adolescents 14 and up without any issues.

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The Last Leaves Falling (Book Review)

The Last Leaves Falling (Book Review)

There are some pretty horrific and sad diseases out there. It is unfair that children anywhere have to go through the hellish trauma of any kind of disease. Recently, YA novels have undergone a trend of featuring sickly children as their focus, creating instantly heart-breaking novels. There are some that are great, and some that are average, and some that are blatantly trying to jump on to the “sick lit” bandwagon.

The Last Leaves Falling would fall into the first category: this is a very strong novel, and it tackles the truly heartbreaking and incurable disease of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

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Typically, ALS is a sickness that befalls the elderly, as it slowly shuts down the body of the person who has it. There is no cure, and it is not a good way to go. After the legs and arms slowly shut themselves down, the disease begins to work on the internal organs of the sufferer, until they are barely able to breathe. People essentially become trapped in their own bodies, able to think clearly, but unable to do anything about it. ALS is brutal, and it doesn’t stop.

It is not happy material.

The Last Leaves Falling takes this disease a step further, giving it to a young man, who must face his imminent death as his body begins working against him. With his amazing and dutiful mother at his side, he withdraws from the world that he no longer feels a part of: he has grown tired of the sympathetic stares, the judging, and growing feelings of uselessness that comes along with the disease. Leaving school, Sora shuts himself inside, rarely wanting to leave the apartment he shares with his mother. He reads books, and he goes online to be a watcher in an online chat forum.

SPORT RIPKEN

 

Here, he is able to do something he didn’t think was possible: he made some friends.

Online, and eventually in person, Sora is able to be himself, to the best of his abilities, with his new friends, and they spend some amazing times together, having fun, as kids should do, but at the same time dealing with the issues that come along with ALS.

As Sora worsens, the novel takes a turn when he makes a decision that will impact not only himself, but all of those who know him and care for him.

It is gut-wrenching.

The Last Leaves Falling is such a strong book for several reasons. The characters come across as real, and the situations that Sora must be a part of are described perfectly. We feel his pain, and understand his sentiments towards those that look at him in his wheelchair. We want to tell him that people aren’t so bad, that they will accept him however he is, but we can’t truly know this, no matter how much we wish it to be true.

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The sadness of the novel is ever present, always looming over our likable protagonist, but first time author Sarah Benwell doesn’t smash it into our faces. The disease is there, and always present in Sora’s life, but there is more to this novel than disease and sadness. It is a skillfully written tale of someone trying to come to terms with the hand that life has dealt them, no matter how brutal or unfair it may be.

Sora struggles, and his friends struggle, and his mother struggles.

But there is a conclusion, and one that is worth pouring through the 350-odd pages to get there.

This is a good read, albeit not a terribly happy one. We know what happens with ALS: there is no remission, no remedy, no way to delay the inevitable.

The Alex Crow (Book Review)

The Alex Crow (Book Review)

Andrew Smith has a knack for being one of the more original, and interesting, YA authors out there. His works may always be borderline for a younger audience, but despite some language and very frequent sexual references, his books offer readers something unique and original, which may be the most difficult thing to find in the copycat industry of Young Adult novels.

Coming up with a plot summary of Smith’s latest novel, The Alex Crow, is fairly difficult, as he weaves together a handful of story lines that remain blurry until all of the pieces begin to fall into place. There is the story of Ariel, a refugee new to the small town of Sunday, Virginia, after a harrowing escape from attacks in his native village. We get multiple perspectives of Ariel’s life, both during his incident of hiding in a refrigerator, his terrible life in a refugee camp, and his move to America. Then we get Ariel in the present day, at a camp for boys who are addicted to video games, along with his new brother, Max, who is pretty funny, if overly obsessed with masturbation (the names he comes up for the act are pretty impressive and hilarious). Here, the boys befriend Cobie, and the three of them are tied together by the work their parents do on something called the Alex project, which tries to de-extinct animals and creatures from the past, while creating some kind of killer drones. Throw into the mix some journals from Arctic explorers from the past, and the multiple voices and personalities of the Melting Man, an experiment gone wrong, and you may get an idea as to what The Alex Crow is about.

alex3It is a bit of a mess, until it isn’t.

Despite the stories being all over the place, and seemingly unrelated, the novel plows forward, and all of the stories are interesting on their own. This is a feat by the author, and each of the story lines is quite interesting and engrossing, leading us to question their inter-connectedness as the novel moves forward.

Ariel is a likable protagonist, and his rough life makes us sympathize for him, and his journey into a new life provides very good depth of his character, to someone we can see struggle, and change, and overcome his obstacles.

alexThe Alex Crow is full of fun secondary characters. From Cobie, to the pet crow named Alex, to the disgruntled camp councilor Larry, and all of the boys at the summer camp, Andrew Smith creates an interesting world that moves his story forward, and provides a ton of entertainment along the way. He has been great at doing this in his other novels as well, specifically Winger and Grasshopper Jungle. Even if the story isn’t for you, the characters always provide a ton of fun.

As for this being a YA novel, it shouldn’t be recommended to younger audiences, much like the rest of his work. He never hesitates to swear, and the sheer amount of sexual references makes The Alex Crow something that should only be given to high school students and older, for the time being. I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to a well-read Grade 9 student, but anything younger than that would be questionable.

alex4Over the course of his career, Smith has developed a very distinctive style, and I have found all of his reads to be very entertaining. He is a breath of fresh air in the world of YA, not focusing on the same old stories that we have seemingly read a hundred times before. If anything, you know that you will be in for quite a wacky ride when you pick up a Smith novel. He pushes the boundaries, and provides his readers with something that we are all striving for in a novel: something different.

The Alex Crow fits in with his previous works, and it continues on his path, of fun, original stories. A worthy read.

The Boundless (Book Review)

The Boundless (Book Review)

The Boundless is the biggest train ever built, and it is on its maiden voyage across Canada. The beast of a machine is over 5 miles long, and contains everything from the stateliness of First Class, all the way down to the immigrant cars. It even includes its own traveling circus.

Will, son of one of the main engineers of the train, is on this first voyage across the country, a few years after he is present at the hammering of the final spike to conclude the building of the trans-national railway. When he ends up with one of the keys that opens a mysterious train car/tomb, Will must embark on an adventure that will lead him across the various sections of the epic Boundless, spend some time evading nefarious enemies in search of the key, and even join the circus, where he is helped out by characters such as Maren, and the ringmaster, Mr. Dorian.

boundIn The Boundless, Kenneth Oppel has created a very good adventure novel for the Young Adult crowd. In the novel, he seamlessly blends history with fiction, creating a novel of historical fiction that never gets too dry, or focuses too much on the history aspect of it. He blends in actual people and events into his story, and does so in a way that will keep the information interesting for the teen reader. His main focus is the adventure, and of this he manages to pack in a ton of action into the novel, which is sure to please readers of both sexes.

bound3Oppel has written a handful of very strong YA books in the past, and The Boundless belongs among them. He writes interesting characters, and is able to keep a breakneck pace through the majority of the novel. On The Boundless, he manages to create a machine of wonder and awe, mixed in with some fantastical elements that don’t take away from the interest or realism of the tale he is telling.

The Boundless is a fun read, full of twists and turns, and quirks that are fun to pour through. It is not a terribly difficult read, and could surely find itself a strong audience in the younger YA reading crowd.

For those who have enjoyed other Oppel works, specifically This Dark EndeavorThe Boundless makes for a good follow-up read by the same author, who has become pretty prolific over the past few years. The Boundless also serves as a novel that will be of interest to male readers. While it often seems like this is a dwindling crowd in the YA genre, this novel should appeal to both boys and girls. The love story aspect of the story remains subtle, never too much in your face, as the focus is consistently on the action.

The Boundless provides a strong YA read overall.

Challenger Deep (Book Review)

Challenger Deep (Book Review)

Neal Shusterman’s new Young Adult novel, Challenger Deep, tackles the intense issues of mental illness in teens, along with schizophrenia, a very complex and difficult to describe and understand illness.

And he does it extremely well, providing some insight into mental illness, and the harrowing journey that people facing it must endure.

The story focuses on Caden, a teenager who is sinking further into his own world, one where he is on a ship that is headed for the depths of the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of Earth, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Through alternating chapter views (one will be on the ship, one will be in the real world), Caden goes through a journey filled with a cast of characters that mostly seem intent on helping him, others who serve as mentors, and some who stand in his way of reaching his goals.

challenger3I will admit that at the beginning of the novel, everything seemed quite fractured, and the very short chapters interrupted much of the flow of the narrative. Which, I suppose, is part of the point. It just took me a while to catch on to the whole thing, but once I did, it all fell into place very nicely, and the two stories melded together seamlessly, providing more meaning to each.

What Challenger Deep offers in an insight into something that we know very little about: the problems of mental illness, and what people must go through in order to overcome their obstacles with the illness. For a good part of the novel, Caden is hospitalized, and we gain an understanding of the people that are in the hospital with him: their struggles, along with his. And we get a perspective from the patient on what it is like dealing with others, whose sole goal is to improve and steady their mental health, in order for them to be active members of society again. Shusterman also provides a very strong view of the impact on family when illness strikes, allowing us to see and understand what Caden’s parents and younger sister are going through while he is in the hospital.

challenger2Some of the more touching moments of the novel occur between Caden and his sister, as she is too young and innocent to completely understand what is happening with her brother, but old enough to share her thoughts and ask the questions that, seemingly, nobody else will ask.

While I didn’t initially love the start of the book, more based on my reading style, once everything came together, Challenger Deep became a strong, and important, YA novel. It is one that could not only have a great impact on those who suffer from mental health issues, or have in the past, but on those who need to be provided with something to help us understand what is taking place in the minds of those who suffer.

Filled with interesting characters, Challenger Deep may not be for everyone, but it is a very, very good YA novel.

Boost (Book Review)

Boost (Book Review)

Savvy is in grade 8, but she is already over 6 feet tall, making her someone with the natural gifts needed to succeed, and excel, at basketball. Moving across the country after her family experiences some financial problems, she needs to start again in a new city. Trying to make new friends, help run a farm, and most importantly, make an impression on a new basketball team.

She makes the choice to try out for the tough under-18 team, the Fire, despite her young age, and is forced to deal with rough teammates, a cute boy, and the pressure to be the best.

Along with the pressure of school on and off the court, Savvy is also forced to deal with her family issues: a hospitalized Aunt, forcing her to be in charge of the livestock, a hard-working mother, a former golf pro father who had to retire due to his crippling injuries, and a sister dealing with her own pressures to be thin and make the cheerleading team.

boost2Boost  has some highs and some lows, as far as YA novels go. There are moments when the book is pretty strong; especially during the basketball passages. The descriptions of the game are in-depth and well done. However, there are many flaws with the book, even for the younger reader. It is pretty predictable throughout, and is often too riddled with YA cliches. There are some groan-worthy scenes in the novel, seemingly ripped from the pages of Lifetime movie of the week script. The lessons being learned by the characters about relationships, and specifically about the use of drugs to get ahead in the sporting world are too overt and obvious. Even the most open-minded young reader could find them redundant and sounding like a health class pamphlet.

The protagonists and antagonists of the novel are also fairly cookie cutter. Think of any sports movie, and you basically have the set up of the Fire, the good team, and the Power, the plays-on-the-edge-for-a-tough-coach team that is full of villains. Essentially, it’s set up like a Mighty Ducks film.

While author Kathy Mackel has already published several YA novels, mainly focused on sports, parts of Boost read like she is a novelist still trying to find her distinctive voice. And to her credit, there are those moments in Boost where it feels like she has found it. It is unfortunately not sustained for the duration of the narrative, however. Her strength lies in the relationships that are built through the novel, specifically between Savvy and her volatile sister Callie, and between Savvy and the new herding dog the family must get in order to stave off coyote attacks on the farm. These are the moments that give Boost its heart and soul.

Overall, this is a solid read, despite being flawed. Young readers, specifically young female athletes, should like the novel for its competition and understanding of the pressures to be the best. Being an adult reader, it is easy to pick on some of the cliches, but it is often important to remember that many young readers are not yet familiar with these archetypes and situations that have become so common for those who have been reading for decades. Boost is a winner, in the end, and should definitely appeal to the niche audience it was written for.

Fish in a Tree (Book Review)

Fish in a Tree (Book Review)

Having been reading YA novels for some time now, it has become increasingly frustrating that there are only a handful of original stories out there, and then a slew of followers who are looking to copy the latest fad. The current crop of YA novels seems to be stuck in this cycle of repetition, and readers are beginning to feel burnout on dystopian novels, the supernatural, magic, kids will illnesses, and first love stories. While there are still a ton of good books that fit into these categories, enough it enough for a little bit. There has to be something else out there, something that is wholesome, and fun, and without the increasing amounts of sex, violence, and swearing that can be found in the pages of a YA novel now.

Fish in a Tree may be as nearly flawless a Young Adult book as I have read in a while.

It should be stated right off the bat, that Fish in a Tree is a true Young Adult book, meant for a younger group of readers. Our heroine is in the sixth grade, a far cry from our typical protagonists who are in high school and doing the things that high school kids do. Ally, our central character here, is still young, and still brings with her much of the innocence and frustration of being that age. While Fish in a Tree is geared for the younger readers out there, it can easily still be enjoyed by “older” YA readers as well.

The story focuses on young Ally, a troublesome student in class, since she spends most of her time fearing having to read and write, as she severely struggles with both. Once her teacher leaves the school for maternity leave, the new teacher, Mr. Daniels, becomes quite interested in her and the way that she learns. From here we are provided with a heartfelt tale of a teacher learning about his students, and helping them learn to the best of their abilities, regardless of what difficulties they may have.

fish2This is a story that is hopeful, and not filled with any type of doom and gloom. It is inspirational, and provides us with a great insight into the struggles that Ally feels before she can understand her learning differences, and that she is not dumb, just that her brain works a little differently from the other kids. We see her rising confidence, and understand what an impact it can be on a child to be so far behind the others in his or her classroom. Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt does a fantastic job of describing Ally’s plight, and how each and every day is a struggle, and how there were too many times when it seemed that all hope was lost in her attempt to succeed in school. It is quite heartbreaking to begin with, as we can understand the difficulties that she is going through, if only she would acknowledge them.

Ally takes abuse from her classmates, especially the vile Shay and Jessica, for all of her shortcomings. But as she grows in confidence, and is built up by Mr. Daniels, Ally becomes not only a kid who is learning to read, but a better person as well. She, and her motley group of friends (the sassy Keisha and the brilliant and awkward Albert), are forced to deal with, and stand up to abusive classmates, realize who they are becoming as young people, and thrive in the new world of learning that Mr. Daniels has created for them.

Honestly, it was refreshing to read about a teacher that cares in Fish in a Tree. Teachers are easily painted villains in any number of teen stories, but it was nice to see a tale in which they actually help the hero by caring about them, and making sacrifices for them. Too many people forget that there are many teachers out there who will sacrifice their own time to help out students when they need it, even if it is not actually required of their jobs, or even if they get little to no recognition for it. Mr. Daniels is a terrific example of the caring educator, taking Ally under his wing, and dedicating himself to building her up to the levels where she belongs. The things he teaches her would not just help her get through Grade 6, but through life.

Fish in a Tree is a very good, quick read. It is a one sitting book (for adults), but won’t need any sequels, and won’t make you feel sad and defeated at the end. It is about the good things that still remain in schools, and paints a realistic picture of a student struggling with something that so many people take for granted as something that everybody can learn how to do.