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 Naturals (Book Review)

The Naturals (Book Review)

The first thing I noticed in looking for a cover image of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ latest novel, The Naturals, is that there are a lot of really bad covers for this book. The version I read is fairly non-descript, something that suits the crime mystery novel inside of it. Alternate versions of the cover make the book look more teeny-bopper than it is, even though there is plenty of that.

naturalsThe Naturals is about a group of teens that are recruited by the FBI because of their special skills. Not super powers, thankfully, but simpler things, like lie detection, profiling, and ability with statistics. The kids are chosen and moved into a house near Washington, where they will be trained and eventually allowed to help the FBI solve cold cases- murders gone long unsolved by the Bureau.

Cassie joins the team, because she is tired of her ordinary 17-year-old life as a waitress, and maintains ideas that she can solve the unsolved murder of her mother, which happened five years before.

The novel is pretty squeaky-clean as far as YA goes, and it does little to push the boundaries in any of the areas that it dabbles in. This is good, in the sense that it is an easily recommendable read for almost any teen. You don’t need to worry about sex, drugs, swearing, and gore in this novel. Despite being about the hunt for a serial killer, The Naturals does not have the graphic violence that a novel like I Hunt Killers had.

There is an awkward, unnecessary, and fairly baseless love triangle that develops in the house, and really, it has very little to do with the story. It it far too predictable, from the moment Cassie walks into the house, and it does little to develop any of the characters, or push the plot in any direction or another. But, Barnes keeps it clean, and even though it is pretty much there only to appeal more to a female audience, it doesn’t do any real harm.

As for the mystery itself, it is pretty good. While being trained how to read crime scenes and files, Cassie and the FBI agents are thrown into the solving of a case that is eerily familiar to Cassie, as all the new victims bear a resemblance to her dead mother. And Cassie seems to be next on the list for the killer. This leads us on the chase for the new killer in town, before it is too late for his next victim, or to see if Cassie is his next victim. Barnes provides us with a few good hints along the way, and a couple of possibly killers, and does a pretty good job of keeping us guessing throughout the novel, as to who did it. I don’t know that the end was terribly satisfying, but at least I was kept guessing, which not all mysteries are able to do.

I think that The Naturals is an entertaining read, and it won’t take most readers long to plunge through the 308 pages of the book. It is not high-end literature, but it serves well as a relaxing book where we want to be taken on a fairly interesting journey to discover something bad.

Barnes has written a novel that has a fairly broad appeal. Despite having a female protagonist, and the aforementioned love story, boys might like this book as well because of the crimes, the idea of serial killers, the typically male characters, and the sultry character of Lia. As I said, for a crime novel, there is little that is offensive in here, to the point where there are some lines like, “…to figure out what the Hello Kitty went on the night before.” Case in point. Barnes took the time to ensure her novel wouldn’t write itself into a corner, and would be okay reading material for as many teens as possible.

There is nothing particularly special about The Naturals. Okay characters, pretty good story, solid mystery. But, overall, it is a pretty decent read.

Grasshopper Jungle (Book Review)

Grasshopper Jungle (Book Review)

In his acknowledgements at the back of the book, Andrew Smith states that he began writing Grasshopper Jungle as though no one would ever read it. He had decided to give up publishing his work, until he was convinced halfway through the novel that this one should see the light of day as well.

grasshopper-jungleSmith has created another fun, fascinating read, but one that lacks a distinctive audience. Jungle is too old for most YA readers, and too young for most adult readers. The true audience for this novel falls somewhere in between. Even though I did enjoy the book, I would find it hard to recommend to any of my students, even the high school ones, because of the language and some of the material in the novel. And I will pretty much recommend anything to students. Sex, violence, swearing. It’s all fine. But endless discussion about sperm, a fair amount of sex (both human and insect), frequent discussion about erections, and a goodly amount of swearing, makes this one a tough sell for me to give to a teenager (not because they can’t handle the material, but because I don’t want to field the parent phone call about the book I gave their kid). At times I found myself wishing that he would have dropped some of the language and edited parts of the sexual discussions, because it was a fun read that I could have seen myself giving to several people. Or, going in the opposite direction and making it purely a book for adults. That way, he could have gone all out and not censored any of his ideas.

Grasshopper Jungle is basically about two friends living in a boring Iowa town. They skateboard and smoke cigarettes. Austin and Robby have been friends since forever. Robby is gay, and in love with Austin. Austin is not sure what he is, as he is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, and Robby as well. He is confused, as he states time and time again throughout the novel. Eventually, the end of the world comes to town, in the form of large, man-sized, praying mantises that only like to do two things: eat and breed. The friends must figure out the mystery of the events leading up to the infestation, how to try and defeat it, and how to survive it together.

I found this novel difficult to get into. I liked the story just fine, but it was the way it was written that was a bit of a struggle for me. The repetitive style that Smith writes in worked wonderfully well in Winger, but often became irritating in Jungle. It seemed like everything was going around in circles for the first 150 pages. But, when things get going, they really get going in the novel. Once the infestation begins, the novel is a fun, action-packed book that is pretty hard to put down. Once the gang of Shann, Austin, and Robby find Eden, it becomes very interesting, and the whole purpose of the novel falls into place.

Austin is obsessed with history, and spends hours each day writing and drawing the history of his own lives. As the novel progresses, we see how everyone is connected through their history, and this is the brilliance of an Andrew Smith novel. While it is about giant insects eating all the people of a town, it is also about those connections, and what keeps us together and tears us apart. The relationships developed over the course of the novel are strong, and we get to feel the plight that each of the characters are going through. We understand Shann’s anger, as the boy she loves may possibly be gay, and may be in love with his best friend. We understand that Austin is confused, and he is trying his best to deal with his sexual urges, his feelings for the people closest to him, and his place in the small world they have created for themselves.

Despite not adoring the style in which the novel was written, Smith gets the job done. The frustrating repetition of the start of the novel slowly fades away, and when it is used during the second half, it tends to serve a more understandable purpose.

The novel ends satisfyingly as well, which is rare with books that could be deemed as being YA. I will assume that this will not be the beginning of a series, as Smith is not traditionally a series writer. Because of this, the ending is something that readers can be very pleased with, as we are given a conclusion that satisfies the story created.

While Grasshopper Jungle is not as laugh-out-loud funny as Winger, it has a distinct cleverness to it that is often hard to resist. As Austin goes through his life, recording their history as they live it, we are drawn into the strange world of Ealing, Iowa, the unique lives of the people that live within it, and the way that we are all connected through the stories of our past.

New Trailer: The Fault in Our Stars

When you love a book so much, it is scary to see it come to the big screen. And I love The Fault in Our Stars. I had long wondered why no John Green books had been transformed into films, given that there is such an appeal to his stories, and such a massive popularity among teens. Who of his fans don’t believe that Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns or Will Grayson, Will Grayson would make a great movie? It almost seems as though his novels are made to be classic teen love story films.

I was dreading to see what would become of TFiOS the moment that I heard it was being made into a movie.

And I hate to say it, but I think my fears have been realized. I know that Nerdfighters everywhere will be ecstatic about certain aspects of the trailer. I, unfortunately, am not sold.

The first trailer for the movie has been released, and upon first viewing, I instantly hated it. Upon further viewings, I have softened up my stance, but still am decidedly on the fence as to the results of what this film could be.

The lines, so beautifully written on the page, come across as hokey when heard aloud, delivered by actors (specifically, the actor playing Augustus Waters) that may not have the gumption to handle such a complex role as Hazel and Augustus. The trailer gives us the outline of a definite love story, which the novel is, but holds none of the humour or sarcasm that made the book so completely memorable. If the film lacks this, and it may not, as this is only a preview, then it is simply a sad love story that is left over. And the book is so much more than that. The greatest thing about Hazel in the novel is her unique way of looking at her life. She is going to die, she knows it. She is well aware that she is a grenade, but she deals with this reality in a way so uncommon across literature.

Some positives is that there seems to be many things that have made the cut from the novel into the film. Such as the literal heart of Jesus, a brief glimpse of Hazel reading An Imperial Affliction, going after Isaac’s ex-girlfriend. All of the big speeches from the novel seem to be there as well, although I was pretty surprised to hear chunks of them in the trailer.

I will still see this movie, if only as a sign of my dedication to John Green. As of now, I am uncertain to how it will translate on to the screen, and I am infinitely worried that the incredible story that Green put on to paper will not fully be told on celluloid. Time will tell. I want so badly for it to be a great adaptation. I want to love it like I love the novel. I want to be able to show the movie when I teach this novel to my class, as I already have done a couple of times. I want The Fault in Our Stars, the movie, to be as classic and memorable as the novel.