Imagine a future where new high school graduates are funneled into one of two life options: prison (that's where they'll end up anyway) or a job at one of two superstores, AllMART or Q-Mart. This is the premise of Blythe Woolston’s MARTians, which follows Zoë Zindleman, a teen who is an unexpected early graduate of her now-closed efficiency high school.
Zoë’s homeroom technician explains that once upon a time a student like her might go to college to prepare for a professional position, but that was then and this is now. She’s lucky to have a job referral for both stores. Home life is a problem, because her house has been on the market for a long time, and so have all the other abandoned, looted dwellings on their cul-de-sac. And now that Zoë has job security, her mother, AnnaMom has decided to move away without her.
Lucky for Zoë, she meets Timmer, a fellow graduate who has had the advantage of working for AllMART for several months now. He’s also on his own, and he helps her navigate the world of the newly independent. He offers her a place to live at an abandoned strip mall, which serves as home to a variety of scrappy misfits. Of course, she could choose to live in the AllMART dormitory—after all, AllMART acts in loco parentis for its employees. AllMART is so much more than a job, her personal human resources manager reminds her. It’s all she can do to learn the departments within the vast store, all the while encouraged to remember “Your smile is the AllMART welcome mat.”
Although published as a teen novel, this dystopian satire features the kind sophisticated ideas and sharp prose found in adult science fiction classics. Savvy readers will notice references to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, which influenced this cautionary tale of a future that leaves superstores at the center of everyone’s existence. Equally funny and chilling, MARTians is a novel to share.
Having won the 2015 Eisner Award for both “Best New Series” and “Best Publication for Teens,” Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen, is a series to keep an eye on. The Lumberjanes, a group of five snappy scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types,” are an endearing bunch whose wacky adventures are sure to elicit smiles.
The power of “Friendship to the Max” gets the girls through a number of sticky situations, ranging from dodging their strict cabin supervisor after hours to battling sea monsters armed only with their scrunchies. Yetis, were-bears and outhouses full of raptors aside, Lumberjanes is a book about friendship and individuality. April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley each have their own quirks and skills that, when combined, make for an unstoppable force of feel-good girl power.
Fans of other offbeat series like Adventure Time or Bee and PuppyCat will feel right at home with Lumberjanes. Allen’s artwork is stylized and modern, the action is exhilarating and the zany sense of humor has something to offer readers of all ages. The film rights have recently been picked up by 20th Century Fox, so read Lumberjanes soon before everyone else is wondering “what the Joan Jett” this series is all about!
Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates capped a remarkable year last night when he won the National Book Award for nonfiction for Between the World and Me, a frank narrative outlining his experience as a black man in America. Coates received a standing ovation from the crowd at Cipriani Wall Street and told the audience, “I wanted to make racism tactile, visceral. Because it is.” Coates wrote the memoir as a letter to his teenage son and dedicated last night’s award to Prince Jones, a classmate from Howard University who was killed by a police officer while unarmed. Coates’ award-winning title has been selected as the adult nonfiction title in Baltimore County’s inaugural community-wide read, BC Reads, coming in April.
Adam Johnson won the fiction award for Fortune Smiles, a collection of short stories dealing with a wide range of global subjects. The award for young people’s literature was given to Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, a novel about a mentally ill teenager inspired by Shusterman’s son. Robin Coste Lewis won the poetry award for her debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus, an exploration of race, gender and identity.
The National Book Award, which was established in 1950, has been awarded to some of the country’s most celebrated authors, including William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. Presented by the National Book Foundation, the awards were open to American authors who published books from December 1, 2014, to November 30, 2015. The prizes were presented at a black-tie dinner, and all four winners will receive $10,000. Watch the entire ceremony, including all of the winners' acceptance speeches here.
Gotham Academy’s Olive Silverlock doesn’t pretend to be a slice of life protagonist. She’s a high school student at a gloomy Halloween-Castle-esque school in the heart of Gotham, dealing with hauntings, crocodiles in the pipework, mysterious and unwelcome cult meetings in the friendly campus mausoleum and, of course, semi-regular visits from Bruce Wayne himself. Authors Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher follow the creed of “start your story as late as possible” — although this is only volume one, Olive’s life is already in chaos as she deals with the outcome of her mysterious summer. Everyone seems to be whispering about what happened to her, and what it was that could be causing her to act so distant, even frightening. What connection does Olive’s new demeanor have to her mother, recently committed to Arkham Asylum? Will it strain her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle to the breaking point, or alienate his sister, chipper genius Maps? Don’t look for answers just yet, because the story’s just getting started.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is teen experience expressed honestly and beautifully. With grounded yet fantastical writing and Karl Kerschl’s absorbing artwork, each page brings you fully into a wonderfully gothic and magical universe comparable to Narnia and Hogwarts. Kerschl’s environments especially should be commended, since he elevates each page to the style of classical painting with his detail, lighting and diverse color palettes.
Sending people backward or forward through time has been done so many times that authors Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel decided on a fresh take with time traveling mail in Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...!
Franklin Isaac Saturday, preferably known as "Ike," is stuck in the social bubble known as middle school. Although his school life isn't super terrible — he's kissed two girls and he's usually picked somewhere in the middle for sports teams — it could definitely be better. Popularity seems to be the only thing the other students care about, and Ike feels that he is always grasping for it. His troubles also include his stepdad, his crush on Claire Wanzandae with her cherry blossom-and-gasoline-scented hair and that his first name is "Franklin" because his dad thought Benjamin Franklin was cool.
So when Ike's history teacher assigns the class an extra credit letter-writing assignment, he chooses to write to his namesake about all of his grievances. As a joke to make Claire laugh, Ike actually mails his letter. Imagine his disbelief when he receives a reply from Ben Franklin a few days later.
While initially skeptical, once Ike believes the correspondence is real, he seeks advice from Ben about his life and, in return and unasked, he feeds the Founding Father tidbits about America's history and present. It's one thing for Ike to share his problems with Ben and quite another thing when Ike shares evidence with him that could affect the course of American history.
Don't be fooled! Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...! is a teen book in middle grade packaging which is in line with Mansbach's previous books (New York Times bestsellers Go the F**k to Sleep and You Have to F**king Eat). That said, Mansbach and Zweibel created a funny story centered around the idea of mail that can travel through time. Judging from the climatic ending, there may be a sequel in the future.
Fans of Andy Gavin's Untimed, another teen time-traveling novel featuring Ben Franklin and disguised as middle grade fiction, will enjoy this book as well.
Stand-Off by Andrew Smith, the sequel to the acclaimed Winger, starts off with our hero, Ryan Dean West, about to return to his prestigious (if strict) boarding school Pine Mountain Academy as the school’s first 15-year-old graduating senior. Along with the normal doubts and insecurity his relative youth to his senior classmates would bring, he feels overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of his bright-eyed 12-year-old roommate Sam Abernathy. Sam’s relentless chipperness is more oppressive than endearing, and to make matters worse, he suffers from extreme claustrophobia that could send him into a panic if conditions aren’t just perfect. Normally warm and friendly, Ryan Dean begins to push friends new and old away, refusing advice from his girlfriend, honor from his Rugby coach and friendship from Sam, who reminds him a little too much of himself three short years ago. The real crux of Ryan Dean’s pain, however, is dealing with the trauma of the previous year, the chillingly real terrors that plague him night and day that force him to accept grief, resolution and humility.
Andrew Smith’s first person storytelling is warm, direct and effortless. Ryan Dean comes to life in voice as well as in visuals. Sam Bosma accompanies Smith’s prose with illustrations and comics crafted to fit Ryan Dean’s voice, which takes the storytelling to a new level. A read of Winger first is a must for this excellent, fast-paced sequel. Lovers of imaginative but ultimately down-to-earth and realistic fiction of all levels will find themselves exhilarated, heart-broken and lost in these two books.
It takes a certain kind of writing magic to transport readers so completely into the past, but that is exactly what Libba Bray does in Lair of Dreams, her latest installment of The Diviners series. With careful attention to detail she brings to life New York City during the Roaring 20s with all its slang, speakeasies and the social issues bubbling just beneath the glossy surface. From this setting Bray weaves a spine-tingling ghost story that will keep readers up late into the night.
The Diviners introduced us to Evie O'Neill, a young girl heading to New York City in search of parties and good times. Beneath her flapper façade she hides a special ability, and she soon finds herself drawn into a much stranger circle of friends chasing down a paranormal serial killer tormenting the city.
In this sequel, a strange “sleeping sickness” is striking citizens in Chinatown, killing more victims each night and reaching out into the city. This group of gifted teens must face the terrifying and unknown world of dreams to stop a new ghostly killer. This time, they are joined by Ling Chan, a dream walker who can communicate with the dead. Meanwhile, Sam, a fellow Diviner, and Evie have uncovered some strange clues about why they have these powers, and how much danger they may be in because of them.
This engrossing book has a little of everything including horror, humor and history in perfect measure.
Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.”
The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th.
Young People's Literature
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.
Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.