Tag Archives: sci-fi

YA Graphic Novels like whoa, part 2

9781596436206Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman
Overall: 1 out of 5 stars (unfinished)

I had to stop reading this one because it gave me a headache. I mostly picked it up on a recommendation from a colleague, and because Roman was married to Raina Telgemeier (not just gossip – this GN spree was brought to you by a spunky 8-year-old who loves Raina so I’ve been looking for other graphic novels that she could read while she waits for Raina’s next book HURRY UP RAINA). Anyway, plot. Was there a plot? I’m not sure. A kid starts school at Astronaut Academy. There are other kids. There are teachers. There are dinosaurs you learn to ride…? There are magic flying buses that join up Power Ranger / Transformer style to create Metador. I couldn’t really follow what was going on because it reads like a little kid wrote it and makes no sense. But maybe some kids would like that? Probably kids who like Captain Underpants. I feel no need to finish this.

9781608868988Goldie Vance, Volume 1 by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Goldie Vance has been compared to Nancy Drew, and very rightly so, but with a modern feel. Goldie still lives in the 1960s, but is interested in (and holds hands with) a girl. She is very precocious and also a very good detective. She gets into far more action-movie sequences than Nancy, which were exciting to read (if you like suspending belief). Goldie is also in high school (she works as a valet at the hotel her dad runs) and has a vendetta with the daughter of the owner of the hotel. She races cars like in Grease, which was also fun. I liked that the mystery wasn’t straightforward and took actual brainpower and observational skills to solve.

9780375865909Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Peanut tells the story of Sadie, who wants to stand out at her new high school and decides to tell everyone that she’s deathly allergic to peanuts. However, her lie soon gets much more complicated than she imagined, having to lie about epi-pens and reading ingredients carefully and even keeping her boyfriend away from her mother. Eventually, as you might guess, she gets caught in rather a dramatic way when someone catches her eating something suspected to have nuts in it. EMTs are called and the school nurse and teachers are panicked. Sadie, who has wanted to come clean at least with her close friends, is left a laughingstock, especially by the popular girls she had once wanted to befriend. The story ends with hope, though, of her earning back her boyfriend’s trust, if not exactly all her new friends. I thought this made for an excellent cautionary tale about the very likely outcome of a lie like this. The flipside, where real allergies are not taken seriously, is not really addressed, which is too bad. I was right with Sadie as she made every decision and felt for her desire to fit in, even as I knew where this was heading. We squirmed uncomfortably together as she realized how much she had to lose by confessing her lie, and just had to sit and watch it play out.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

9781368022828by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.

There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).

There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey

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by Geoff Rodkey
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lan and her family are the last surviving humans after Earth is destroyed. They’ve been living in a colony on Mars but finally struck a deal with the citizens of Choom, a distant planet, to allow them to settle there as refugees. But by the time they get to Choom 20 years later (in suspended animation), the government has changed hands and the new government is completely opposed to the idea because humans are violent and they don’t want any violence or conflict of any kind. They finally agree to let Lan and her family (her mother is the chief negotiator) come down on a trial basis while everyone else stays on the ship. There are three main species: the Zhuri, who are the majority and run everything; the Krik, who have the second-highest population; and the Ororo, who are the smartest. The Zhuri leaders have effectively banned all emotion, and anything that provokes emotion, such as singing, and Lan’s sister Ila won an “America’s Got Talent” type show back on Earth with singing and the humans were hoping to win the residents of Choom over with her skills.

This book raises a number of really interesting issues. One is the very real, very near future of humans destroying Earth, and then what happens? And we could be based on our history of violence as a species and denied asylum elsewhere. Then there’s the idea of asylum seekers as “us” and not “them” which is a change from how it’s generally understood, not to mention the way the humans are shown in the Choom media. Lan and her family are frustrated over and over again by the fake news. And then the Zhuri and their emotion-denying. Wow. You can only clamp down on your own nature for so long before it erupts, and in the end it was Ila’s music that won them over. It would have been a different story if the species were actually completely peaceful, but they were just pretending to be to maintain order, which rarely works.

I was also particularly struck by how the different species’ foods were described. The Zhuri drink a gray liquid that smells revolting to humans, and it is described as an efficient way to nourish them. They also do not create “body garbage” like humans do, which was entertaining. The Krik also eat something gross, but the Ororo eat varied-colored cubes of food that is tasty to humans. The Krik were the first to inhabit Choom, and they were joined by the Zhuri later and then the Ororo. It turns out that there used to be a fourth species, the Nug, but the Zhuri killed them all. So all their claims of peace were not entirely truthful. The reason I docked it a half-star is that the resolution to the conflict came right at the very end, so we didn’t really get to see the humans settling into and enjoying Choom society at all, but maybe there will be a sequel?

 

Original Syn by Beth Kander

9781947003996

by Beth Kander
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Fifty years in the future, after most humans have made themselves immortal by becoming part-machine (“Syns,” short for Synthetic), two teenagers come together to rebel against the inevitability of their situations. Ere, an “Original,” who is fighting for survival in the wilderness of the United States, is one of the youngest and last of his kind and has to deal with very human experiences of loss and change. In direct contrast, Ever, a beautiful and privileged Syn, rejects her family’s choice. The narrative switched back and forth between the two worlds, nicely building tension, and the plot twists kept me turning pages. I loved that this story explored some of the unmentioned repercussions of immortality, like that Ever and her mother are stuck perpetually in a teenager/mother relationship that is only ever bearable because it ends someday. The technological details were great too, like the Syns’ finger ports that both charge them and upload their day’s data, including all memories. When Ever goes into private mode, there are subtle and not-so-subtle readings into that choice that she must take into account. I’m looking forward to the next two installments in the trilogy!

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

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by Kristin Cashore
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was intrigued by this advance review in an email newsletter from Publisher’s Weekly, which described it this way: “Kristin Cashore’s first novel in five years is a fantasy—and a science fiction story, and a thriller, and a mystery, and a horror story. JaneUnlimited unfolds during a highly eventful weekend at an island mansion, in five different genres.” By the time the hold came in for me, I had (as usual) forgotten that premise, remembering only that something about it had intrigued me. In most cases, that’s fine, but in this case, I would have found a refresher on this premise very helpful. So my advice to anyone just picking this one up is to keep this in mind: Jane has five parts, each intended to be written in a different genre. Because the first genre was mystery, I read the next few expecting them to also be mysteries and to interlock with the first one in different ways, so it was a bit jarring when they each just… ended. But at some point I caught on and was much more satisfied once I did.

One thing I really liked about this book was how it challenged many of my assumptions at every turn. In terms of sexuality, race, and class, Cashore does a masterful job of addressing each in ways that poke at the status quo. One of the first things I noticed, for example, was that characters’ descriptions included race, even if they were white. (WHAT?!?!?! I know. But white people are the default, right? Why should we specify unless they’re not white???) It’s something I think about often, and I’m glad to see a writer putting this into practice. I’m also sad to realize again that it’s not anything I’ve seen before, but I do look forward to seeing it more in the future.

Jane has a romantic interest in several of the stories (the same person) and it was cool to hear her reflect in one of them that she couldn’t see herself jumping into bed with another of the characters, and why, and that she was comfortable with that expression of and attitude toward where she was with sex at that point in her life (18 years old). It was also interesting that she ended up with the same person each time, and one of many many things that this book gave me to chew on for a while.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
The year is 1996. High school junior Emma and her best friend Josh, a sophomore, discover one day that Emma’s brand new computer has downloaded a version of AOL that includes a link to Facebook in 2011 and they can see their lives 15 years in the future. Highjinks ensue in which they make a series of reckless choices to change their future and click refresh to see instant results. What I really liked was that Emma eventually realized that just changing the person she marries, or where she insists on living, wasn’t enough to make her happy – she had to change the kind of person she was interested in altogether, and learn how to let someone in and get to know the real her. You know she’s going to get together with Josh in the end, but the way she gets there has you rooting for her with just the right amount of tension in the timeline. Josh, for his part, seems excited to have married the hottest girl in school, but as they start to actually get to know each other, he realizes that he too has been a bit shallow and may not be as happy as he lets on in the photos he posts. The narration is done alternating perspectives between the two of them, and also features their two other friends, Kellan and Tyson, who have an on-again, off-again relationship.
Pretty predictable teen romance. I will say, this one caused me to review my Facebook posts recently and see how they might have looked to my 16-year-old self. Would I like my life? Would I think I was happy? Interesting thought experiment!
Plot like: Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski
and Landline by Rainbow Rowell
and 13 Going on 30 (movie!)

Double Review: Audiobooks I Quit

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The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness
Overall: Unrated

Something about the combination of the reader’s voice (Nick Podehl, if you’re interested) and the whiny opening had me hitting the eject button after just a few minutes. The concept is intriguing: a boy escapes from his world where everyone can read minds (“noise”) to one where there is privacy but at a cost. However, the opening scene has the boy interacting with his dog, who can also talk but is very unintelligent, in such a mean way that really ruffled my feathers. It’s possible there was something about the boy’s home life, or maybe just that society in general, that made him be so mean and annoying, but I wasn’t about to stick it out to find out. (I do suspect it was the words and not the voice, so apologies to Mr. Podehl.)

9781416954231

Sent
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Overall: Unrated

This is the second book in The Missing series. The first one, Found, was incredible! But, as I suspected, because the first one was all about solving the mystery, and then it was solved, I did not like the second book. Spoiler alert: the trick was time travel, so in the subsequent books, the kids go back in time to 1453. Could be a good way to learn about different eras of history, and definitely good to have in a librarian’s toolbelt, but I wanted to free up that CD player space for something new.

Onward! So many books, so little time.

Fuzzy Mud

by Louis Sachar
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Well, this premise is completely creepy and not at all out of the realm of possibility. There’s a new alternative fuel out there which has gotten into the mud and in contact with the skin of Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad. Once it has skin contact, the ergonyms inside the fuel eat the person’s skin and they are left with bloody blisters at best, blindness at worst (if it gets into your eyes). (Ew.) Complicating things a bit is the three kids’ relationships with each other and their reasons for hiding the truth from adults (some of whom don’t really listen anyway, like the school secretary/nurse) – Chad has been bullying Marshall for years; Tamaya has looked up to Marshall for ages and they walk home from school together at her mother’s insistence. Chad has a breakthrough and I think bullies (or potential bullies) will see themselves in him. This new story by Sachar is much more like Holes than like Sideways Stories from Wayside School and I loved it.

The True Meaning of Smekday

by Adam Rex
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is separated from her airheaded mother when the aliens invade. She and her new alien friend (a Boov named J.Lo) manage to drive her mother’s car from Pennsylvania to Florida and finally to Arizona, where the entire population of the United States (well, those who are still alive after the invasion, that is) are relocated, and try to find her mother.

The story is original but I had so many feelings about this book, which I discussed with a librarian friend of mine. Firstly, it smacks of American colonialism with the way the aliens take over and relocate the people. Not that it’s bad to get people thinking about how it must have felt to the American Indians to be kicked out of their lands, but it made me squirmy. The other thing was an American Indian character who embodied stereotypes and played them up to the racist characters, but to the main characters showed that he was more than that. I could have done without the references to alcoholism, specifically, but my friend reminded me that it was all to make a point. I mostly felt like both of these issues could have been handled better, instead of the in-your-face way that they were in the book. However, it’s a solid and original story and apparently they’re making a movie of it, so there you go.

Ender’s Game – Movie & Book

 

by Orson Scott Card
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Many moons ago, I read Gone With the Wind. It was summer, the slow time at my job, and I read it mostly at work. It took about two weeks. My grand idea was then to watch the movie and be able to sound all smart when casually mentioning the differences between the book and movie. For whatever reason, I never got around to watching the movie, but I was left with an attitude of understanding that the movie will always be different, and have a special fondness for movies adapted from books. I generally don’t find them as upsetting as most people for this reason. The one exception is books where I just love the way I’ve imagined the world in my head and don’t want to spoil it with someone else’s view of how that world looks.

Ender’s Game is not one of those books, and I was so excited that they finally made a movie of it! I first read it twelve years ago and it instantly rocketed to the #2 slot on my all-time favorites list. (Expect to see another post when the movie of my #1, The Giver, comes out – slated for this August.) I don’t think I reread Ender’s Game until this week but it was, if it’s possible, even better the second time around. Card’s recent attention on his comments on homosexuality aside, he has some deep and beautiful things to say about the nature and worth of humanity as a whole. That said, this book is deeply rooted in a Cold War mindset, with mention of the Warsaw Pact, scathing rebukes on population control, the realistic bad guys being Russian and the alien bad guys being less overt but cold-hearted killers unable to communicate or think for themselves. In the end, though, Ender loves his enemy and finally is able to understand them and tries to make up for all the damage he’s done.

The one main thing I remembered from the first reading was the surprise twist at the end. Having held onto that, and very few other details, I entered the movie-world, which I heartily recommend. Of course they left out most of the back story, and not developing his older brother Peter’s character took away from what made Ender perfect for his task. But the thing that jolted me out of my blissful enjoyment of the first half was that I started to believe that Ender knew all along what he only finds out at the very end of the book, along with the reader. (I’m trying very hard not to reveal any spoilers, so no details!) But then at the end of the movie, he does find out and it’s clear he didn’t know at all. Much of the beauty of Card’s views on understanding and loving the enemy is lost by the way they tied things up in that department, but it was still a solidly entertaining movie. The other interesting change is that Ender is much older than 6 in the movie. The actor himself was 15 or 16 during filming; while he definitely looks younger than that, he’s clearly much older than 6, and that takes away a little from it. But I think this would be an incredibly demanding role for an actual 6-year-old, and that’s kind of the point Card makes in making Ender so young, so I have made my peace with it.

So the final word is, I love watching movies-from-books to see where they nipped, tucked, and changed, but I know that the book is almost always better. Go forth, watch, enjoy – but always read (or reread) and you won’t be disappointed!

And if you get a chance, find yourself a third edition (1991) with Card’s Introduction. It’s got one of my favorite reflections on reading and writing: “The story of Ender’s Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that you and I made together.”

Yes.