I have been a fan of Francisco X. Stork since I read his novel Marcelo in the Real World. In his latest novel, The Memory of Light, Victoria (Vicky) Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital psych ward not expecting or wanting to still be alive. When asked if she knows how she got there, all of the memories come flooding back — the sleeping pills, living up to her father’s expectations, her nana leaving and her mother’s death. Vicky feels hopeless and is sure she will “try” again if she goes back home. Against her father and stepmother’s wishes, Vicky ends up staying at Lakeview for two weeks. While there, she befriends the others in her group therapy — Mona, Gabriel and E.M. — none of whom have as privileged a life as she.
Vicky’s father does not understand why she is so depressed since he has provided her with a good life. He feels as though she is just not trying hard enough or putting in the effort her older sister Becca has, who is studying at Harvard. In the end, Vicky finally breaks through some of her father’s anger and hurt, and they begin a slow start to building an authentic relationship.
The author notes that he has also struggled with depression and a suicide attempt while attending Harvard. This is a real look at what living with the illness of depression is like. This is a powerful, genuine story that will leave you cheering for Vicky and her friends. This is more than a story about suicide and depression — it is a story about loss, family, friendship and hope.
Alyce is trying to figure out how to attend the dance try-outs that could secure her future when she's supposed to be working on her father's fishing boat. Dora is trying to build a life for herself away from her abusive parents. Ruth is just trying to get by and avoid the attention of her domineering grandmother. Hank is running away with his brothers. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel The Smell of Other People's Houses interweaves the stories of four teens as they confront their personal challenges and begin to gain control in determining how their life choices are made.
Set in Alaska during the Reagan administration, Hitchcock makes the Last Frontier seem like home with her descriptions of daily life — hanging out with friends, shopping at Goodwill, eating blueberries — interspersed with that which is wholly new to “Outsiders” (anyone from the mainland United States). By writing this story, she brings to light many challenges of Alaskan society — limited resources, Native rights and government representation—as well as many challenges that are not unique to Alaska — alcoholism, divorce, and abuse. Fans of Rebecca Stead will find a compatible voice in the naturalistic way Hitchcock includes the historical aspects of the ’60s, juxtaposing her characters’ development with Alaska’s acceptance of statehood into the U.S., in this emotionally-driven tale.
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely joined forces to write All American Boys, a story about police violence and how individual acts — whether justified or unjustified — can impact everyone in the surrounding community.
All American Boys is told from two perspectives: there’s Rashad, who enjoys drawing and hanging out with his friends as he follows in his father’s footsteps through high school JROTC; and there’s Quinn, an aspiring basketball player who also enjoys chilling with his friends. Rashad and Quinn go to the same school and run with some of the same guys, but they don’t know each other. Yet.
Rashad makes a quick trip to a corner mart to grab a snack. While he’s deciding on which flavor of chips to get (anything except plain), a woman trips backwards into him. Hearing the commotion and spotting the chips on the floor, the store clerk confronts Rashad and accuses him of stealing. Rashad tries to deny the accusation, but before he gets the chance, he’s slammed face-first onto the sidewalk with his hands behind his back and the full weight of a police officer on his ribs.
Quinn and his friends happen to be in the alley beside the mart. Quinn witnesses Rashad being manhandled by the officer, who he recognizes as his friend’s older brother. Realizing the gravity of the situation, he and his friends flee the scene hoping to remain unseen.
Thanks to a smartphone video, Rashad’s incident makes the news and goes viral overnight. While Rashad is recuperating in the hospital trying to deal with manic family visits, Quinn struggles to choose a side in a polarized school environment. With a protest demonstration looming days away, will Rashad and Quinn be able to rein in their feelings and set new headings for their lives in the midst of violence?
Reynolds and Kiely had a mission from page one in All American Boys, and it was accomplished without sacrificing literary quality or becoming preachy. Quinn and Rashad could be any real boys caught in this alarmingly common scenario — read this book, hear their voices and learn from them.
All American Boys is the teen title for BC Reads. Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely are appearing at the Woodlawn Branch on April 19 at 3:30 p.m.
There are manga, and there are sports. If the next thought in your head is “never the twain shall meet,” you might be surprised to learn that there’s actually an entire sub-genre of manga focusing exclusively on sports. Wataru Watanabe’s Yowamushi Pedal, (or “Wimp/Sissy” Pedal) does the most poetic job yet of bringing this delightful literary paradox to life.
To start with, Yowamushi Pedal does not at first seem to be about sports at all. Our protagonist is high school freshman and Otaku (anime fanatic) Onoda Sakamichi, who pours his passion into anime and manga and could never get along with sports or jocks. He sings anime theme songs on his way to school and while shopping for merchandise, he collects capsule toys obsessively and hopes to form an anime club. He doesn’t even realize that his weekly trips to Akihabara by bicycle are actually a grueling feat that have developed his unusual talent for biking.
While he might not have realized, he keeps getting noticed by skilled athletes at his school, whether it’s kind Kanzaki who thinks him a diamond in the rough, cold-tempered Imaizumi who is looking to test his recent training or wild Naruko who ropes him into chasing down a car. Eventually his dream of reviving the anime club seems to have been dashed — but in the process of meeting his new friends he unexpectedly develops an otaku-like passion for bikes and a new type of confidence. Onoda instead joins the biking team and finds himself on a path to discovering teamwork, exhaustion, victory and friendship like he’s never experienced before.
Watanabe’s storytelling and style are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to new manga. His characters are as diverse in personality as they are in looks, and he weaves exciting tales of growing friendships and loving rivalries that are both thrilling and heart-warming. Although his artwork appears awkward at first, his fresh choices when stylizing his characters are consistent, lively and unique, allowing for a perfect range of emotion and movement as he shows us these high-speed races. If you enjoy Yowamushi Pedal make sure to check out similar titles like The Prince of Tennis, Big Windup, Cross Game and Fantasy Sports.
Yo-Kai Watch is poised to become the next Pokemon! The Nintendo 3DS game about tracking and befriending cute little Japanese folklore-inspired ghosts has landed stateside and brought with it an anime show and a manga series. Kids everywhere can get their Yo-Kai fill no matter their preferred medium.
In the first volume of the manga, Yo-Kai Watch hero Nate Adams — an ordinary elementary school student — is on his way home one afternoon when he happens across a capsule machine made of stone. To Nate’s surprise, the machine still works and grants him a stone capsule. At first he feels slightly underwhelmed by the rock, but then it goes nuts and poofs out a floaty, unibrowed, blue Yo-Kai called Whisper.
Whisper is super grateful for being freed and pledges to serve Nate as his personal butler. He even gifts Nate a swanky watch...a Yo-Kai watch! The watch emits a special light that reveals the otherwise invisible Yo-Kai to its wearer, which Nate quickly realizes makes him his look like a crazy kid as he converses with his invisible familiar in front of his friends and family.
It’s for the greater good, though. Each chapter pits Nate and Whisper against a mischievous Yo-Kai hounding people around town. First is Jibanyan, a fiery two-tailed cat who vows to get revenge on the car that ran him over. Then there’s Happierre and Dismarelda, two bulbous spirits who alter the moods of everyone and everything around them but balance one another quite perfectly. Next comes Mochismo, an animated rice cake who haunts a child who never finishes his rice cakes whenever he’s treated to them. That’s not even all of the Yo-Kai Nate meets in volume one — they’re everywhere!
Children who know and love every last Pokemon or teens who grew up with the critters should definitely check out Yo-Kai Watch.
Welcome to the Drearcliff Grange School, where the girls have something missing or something a little extra. In The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School author Kim Newman introduces us to the school’s most recent arrival, Amy Thomsett, who was sent hastily by her mother after she was found sleeping on the ceiling. Luckily, Drearcliff encourages this particular strangeness in its students and Amy soon finds herself at home amongst the daughters of criminal masterminds, outlaw scientists and master magicians.
In her first term, Amy makes fast friends with three roommates possibly even stranger than herself: Light Fingers, the daughter of criminal stage-magicians whose hands move “like hummingbird wings;” Kali, the princess of a bandit kingdom whose English is informed by Hollywood gangster movies; and Frecks, the orphan daughter of spies who’s inherited magic chainmail blessed by the Lady in the Lake.
Together, they discover that even a school as strange as Drearcliff has its secrets, and the four set out to uncover them. Who are the hooded strangers collecting girls in the night? Why does a snowman in the yard seem to be marching closer to the school every day? And why can’t anyone get that sinister jump rope song out of their head, no matter how hard they try? The answer is terrible enough to unite an entire school of misfits against a common enemy.
Just as in his Anno Dracula books, Newman has crafted a world that is overflowing with original ideas as well as allusions to classic works like Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. Even those who don’t appreciate Newman’s imaginative world building will enjoy the novel’s fast pace and refreshing focus on female friendship. It’s the literary mash-up of Harry Potter and Mean Girls you never knew you wanted.
In the world of manga there are few titles more renowned — and more confusing — than that of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki. It’s a story told in multiple arcs that could be read as stand-alone stories, yet are all connected by the characters and events that take place. The origin of the adventure is called Phantom Blood, a story told in volumes 1-3. Phantom Blood is set in a roughly historical timeframe in a location more or less resembling England. We begin the tale by meeting our hero Jonathan Joestar (nicknamed JoJo), a schoolboy living a carefree life with his wealthy and kind-hearted father. Everything turns south for JoJo, however, when young Dio Brando claims rights to his father’s guardianship. Instead of the playmate and friend naïve JoJo had been hoping for, Dio is determined, for no apparent reason, to take away everything good in his life — his father’s love, his faithful dog, and even the first kiss from his sweetheart. Araki’s dialogue rings out strange and memorable even translated from its original Japanese as Dio triumphantly cries “You thought your first kiss would be JoJo, but it was me, Dio!”
Events quickly escalate from childhood squabbles. As they do, an ancient stone mask with a terrible curse to bear finds its way into Dio’s hands, turning his rivalry with JoJo from a man to man duel to a cataclysmic event involving torture chambers, Jack the Ripper, vampires, the zombie apocalypse, dismemberment, ancient sun magic, hair fights (what?) and, of course, exploding boats. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure never once fails to deliver on its titular promise — it is bizarre. Araki’s highly stylized and exaggerated illustration hails from what is now considered old-school manga — Phantom Blood may have been released as English language volumes in 2015, but its original serialization in Japan began in 1987. There’s a certain stiffness and ridiculousness to the overly muscled characters that does not always seem intentionally comedic. At the same time, each event taking place is so over the top it’s nothing but the most fitting style. Once you become acclimated to the universe, there’s an undeniable and surprising tenderness to the story and characters, and JoJo and Dio become almost self-aware in their roles of light and dark against each other.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is for any reader looking to pick up something different, something very, very different. It more than delivers.
If you have heard of Scheherazade, the woman who stayed alive night after night by telling a murderous king cliffhanger stories, then you may want to check out A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, a retelling of The Arabian Nights.
She knows her village is next on Lo-Melkhiin's list. Bound by the laws of men, he has to choose a wife from each city district and each village before beginning again. He has taken three hundred wives and all have died in his palace. She fears that her fiery sister will be his next victim and her love for her sister is so strong that she successfully devises a way to make it impossible for Lo-Melkhiin not to choose her instead.
Her goal is to stay calm and to survive the night at the palace. And she does. When she survives the next night and the next, the servants and guards of the palace take notice. There's something different about her and it has to do with her sister's love and fierce will. Although she still lives, her sister prays to her as does her mother and her sister's mother. Soon, all of the women in her village and in the palace pray to her, and the longer she survives the more her story spreads. Praying to a deceased person brings comfort and goodwill to the living; praying to one who still lives translates to power that person can use to combat evil.
She tells Lo-Melkhiin stories about her sister and her family, falls into trances while spinning thread and weaves images into cloth that begin to come true. Her power grows; but the more she uses, the more she weakens. As she unravels the secrets of the palace and of Lo-Melkhiin, she feels she may have just enough power to defeat evil. For her sister. For her village. For all of the unmarried women under Lo-Melkhiin's rule. For herself.
A Thousand Nights is an elegant and descriptive retelling that stands on its own. You do not need to be familiar with The Arabian Nights to enjoy Johnston's version. The only named character is Lo-Melkhiin, which lends an air of mystery and power to the other characters, especially the women and the protagonist. A Thousand Nights starts off at a slow crawl and doesn't pick up much pace for the majority of the book, but if you can look past that you will find the beauty in the descriptions of the desert and its people and the feminist undertones in the quiet strength and cleverness and power of its women. Look out for Johnston's companion novel, Spindle, its publication date to be announced.
It’s nighttime, the lights are off in your living room and you see your frightened mother standing there in the darkness peering out the window. Your mom clutches her phone and calls the police because she thinks, no, she knows that the man inside the car parked across the street from your home is the same man who’s been tracking you down for years. He has found the both of you. So, your mom tells you to “Get your things,” because you’re moving for the fifth time. Well, that is exactly what Cameron Weaver, a teenage boy, and his mom experience in Allan Stratton’s psychological thriller teen novel, The Dogs. Oh, and the maniac that is stalking Cameron and his mom, is his dear ol’ Dad.
Cameron’s mom rents a new place that is 800 miles away. They move into a creepy, dilapidated farmhouse way out in the country in a town called Wolf Hollow. On Cameron’s first day at his new school, he hears rumors that his house is haunted. This is not good news for Cameron because he tends to imagine things. Ever since he and his Mom started running away from his Dad, Cameron has become more fearful and prone to having nightmares. The worst part is that his nightmares feel real because he never experiences the waking up part. Cameron’s new environment has a negative effect on him because he begins to hear strange noises, such as dogs howling. He starts to see and converse with a young boy named Jacky McTavish, who lived in the same house decades ago. By the way, Jacky may or may not be dead. No one really knows what happen to him, except maybe the mysterious property owner, Art Sinclair, who used to be Jacky’s best friend. When Cameron learns that a murder occurred at his house back in the early 1960s that involved Jacky, Jacky’s parents and a pack of dogs, he starts his own secret investigation to learn what really happened to Jacky. As Cameron gets deeper into his investigation, he finds himself getting into trouble. Furthermore, he and others start to question his sanity.
For those who are looking for a psychological thriller with a bit of mystery, I definitely recommend that you get your paws on The Dogs. The writing is splendid—Allan Stratton sure knows how to set the tone and lure you into the story.
Jen Larsen’s critically acclaimed memoir Stranger Here detailed her own choice to have weight-loss surgery and the unexpected highs and lows that followed losing 180 pounds. In her teen fiction debut, Larsen tackles weight-loss surgery again in Future Perfect.
Ashley Perkins is the type of kid that any parent or grandparent would be shouting about from the rooftops: class valedictorian, AP student, on the volleyball team and now she’s set her sights on getting into Harvard. All of her friends and family know she is a shoo-in for admission. In her grandmother’s eyes, though, the main thing setting Ashley back is her looks: she’s fat.
Every year since her 13th birthday, Ashley’s grandmother presents her with a card: 50 pounds lost equals a trip to Disneyland, 80 pounds lost equals a shopping trip to Paris, 100 pounds lost equals a brand new car. Every year, Ashley has turned down her grandmother’s offer, but when this year’s card offers her Harvard tuition for the cost of having weight-loss surgery, Ashley struggles with the decision more than she ever has. Should she give in to her grandmother’s demands for how her body “should” look to get everything she’s ever dreamed?
Between the Covers recently caught up with Jen to talk about her novel.
Between the Covers: (No spoilers, please!) While you were writing this novel, did you know what choice Ashley was going to make? Did it change for you while developing her character?
Jen Larsen: I did know! Because her final choice is completely central to why I wrote this book. I wanted to write a character who was everything I wanted to be, and as brave as I wish I were, when I was her age. I wanted to write a book that was the book I needed when I was struggling with my own body issue demons, fear, doubt and isolation.
BTC: You documented your own weight loss surgery and its impact on your life in your memoir Stranger Here; what influence did your own weight loss have on this novel?
JL: When I chose to get surgery, I thought it was my only option—that I had no other choice, because it would be impossible for me to be fat and happy and lovable. That idea is dangerous and so incredibly wrong and yet so prevalent. Future Perfect is a counter to it, an argument for the fact that the body image standards that get pushed on us by the media and even by our own well-meaning family are limited, bigoted and cruel. There's no loving yourself "despite" your flaws, because your body isn't flawed. Not looking like a Victoria's Secret model is not some kind of defect.
BTC: Unlike other teen heroines "of size," Ashley never hides behind her body as a suit of "fat armor." She's not separate from her body, she just is. That is so refreshing! In developing Ashley's character, what pitfalls did you want to avoid? How did you reconcile those pitfalls with having to write a teenage character?
JL: It was really, really important that Ashley's voice be authentic. She rejects the idea that fat is a dirty word. She is fiercely, defiantly happy in her body, almost defensively so — because I think when you're a teenager you are very much still in a role where your beliefs and feelings feel challenged by your adults and your peer group. You feel as if you always need to be on guard, fighting back.
But Ashley also has ordinary doubts and fears and worries that nag at her. She compares herself to other girls, she has fleeting moments of self-doubt when she wonders why her boyfriend thinks she's beautiful, she struggles with her family's nagging and comments. When you're a teenager, your family's opinion is both the most important and the opinion you feel like you need to reject or rebel against. And that's part of what fuels her need to push back as hard as she can.
BTC: This novel could've easily translated to an adult trying to decide if this surgery was for her, so why teen? Teen voice can be very hard to capture, and these kids were very realistic. How did you transition your writing style to suit teen, if at all?
JL: Because I believe teen fiction is so, so important. There's this huge number of brilliant, hungry kids out there looking for themselves in the books they read, wanting their worries, interests, hopes, needs understood and validated. I choose teen because I thought this story and idea and message is so important for teens to hear when they're in the throes of their own struggles with the expectations of the adults around them.
BTC: Ashley's group of friends could each have a wonderful novel in and of themselves! In writing these characters, why was it important for you to stress how, in a lot of ways, these friends were her family perhaps more than her family was?
JL: Thank you! I love her friends very much. I wanted to talk about what happens when the family you have isn't the family you need. It's so important to surround yourself with people who give you strength, who love you and support you. It's okay to push back against your family's expectations if they don't understand you, or care for you the way you need, and create your own community to help give you the strength you need and support your sense of identity and self-worth.
BTC: I've seen a lot of people comment that "No loving grandmother would ever do this to a child!" Do you agree? Why is Grandmother so hard on Ashley when she gives others such love and attention (her dad, Jolene, etc.)?
JL: That kind of direct criticism and pressure on kids about their weight and size is incredibly common, from the really subtle stuff I used to get as a kid ("Why don't you just butter one piece of toast and then press it against the other piece?") to flat-out disapproval and condemnation. Parents and caregivers are roped into The War on Obesity by doctors, and forget that study after study shows that shaming and coercion is useless and, in fact, incredibly harmful. It can cause life-long eating issues, disorders, depression and even more weight gain. It is real and it is common and it is horrific.
Ashley's grandmother genuinely believes she's doing right and good—that she is taking care of her granddaughter in the best way she knows how, and actually helping her to achieve her identity. She thinks if Ashley wants to be successful, she can't be fat. That she'll be denied opportunities and struggle in her career. She thinks she's helping Ashley fight back. And in that sense, she's helping Jolene fight back against the people who reject Jolene's sense of self, unaware of the irony in celebrating Jolene's body autonomy while dismissing Ashley's.
BTC: What's next for you and your writing? (Please, please tell me there's a Jolene book somewhere.)
JL: I love Jolene and would love to write a book about her! But currently I'm working on a couple of new teen books—my first fantasy novel ever, a retelling of the "Princess and the Pea" and a book that's incredibly important to me, about two girls in love and San Francisco and social justice.
Thank you so much for such awesome questions!