SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress by Malinda Lo; published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2o11; 371 pages.

Grayness has settled across everything from the sky to the earth.  Strange creatures of myth have appeared on the fringes of the Wood.  Perhaps it was no surprise when the King and his entourage visited the Academy where sages are trained, since so many unusual things were already happening in the human world.  The King came with an invitation from the Fairy Queen to meet in her castle.  Perhaps meeting with the fairies could shed light on the strange events in the human realm; but the King and his advisors do not want to risk his safety.  His son (Con), two students from the Academy (Kaede and Taisin), and three guards will make the journey.  Will they survive the trek and reach the Fairy Queen in time to save the earth?  And who will discover she is the Huntress?

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: April 5, 2011.

Huntress is the prequel to Lo’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist Ash, but the story takes place generations earlier.  I have not read the first book; in fact, I was stunned to find my local libraries do not have Ash in their collections!  However, Huntress stands alone.  Please let me know if I’ve missed anything by not reading the first book!

OK, so Huntress offers a little bit for almost every taste.  A quest!  An adventure!  Mythology a la I Ching!  Romance!  At first I thought the mix of so many genres would dilute the impact of each, but that is certainly not the case.  The flow of the quest and the adventures associated with it was as exciting as any adventure story gets.  Battles ending in tragic losses were profoundly written which helped introduce the mythology of the Xi and other fay.  Introducing concepts from the I Ching, including quotes from the Book of Changes and use of the Oracle Bones, made the existence of a fay world seem plausible.

But for me, the exploration of romance was the most interesting aspect of the book.  In Huntress, the heterosexual relationship between the heir to the throne and one of the King’s guard is regarded as taboo; the love between the Academy students, two females, was regarded casually.  Hooray for writing a book that doesn’t make an overt statement about sexual preference!

Overall, I loved Lo’s descriptions of the world around her characters.  The greyness, the magic, the fairies were all described so vividly that I could step into the world at any given moment.  Sometimes I was confused by the point of view; the narration is third person omniscient and at times I had to reread passages after I discovered the point of view had shifted.  But that was a minor inconvenience given the depth of descriptions and the pace of the adventure.

Teens who prefer a variety of genres should be drawn to this book.  The Pronunciation Guide at the beginning of the book helped me get over the strangeness of the names and I felt more comfortable reading; I think young adult readers will agree.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: Love, love, love the ARC cover!  The obscured face of the girl holding the Huntress’ bow adds to the mystery of the storyline.  The snowy background sets the atmosphere of the story–grayness in an increasingly cold world.  The subtle Asian features also hint at the I Ching influence of the story.  I think the cover does a remarkable job of inferring the various genres (other than romance!) of the book.

From Reading Lists: Sexual Identity, The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: I Am J is gutsy, heart-breaking, uplifting

I Am J by Cris Beam; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 339 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: March 1, 2011.

The senior year of high school is the threshold to so many things.  It’s a time to prepare for change.  Many students prepare to leave their families to go away to college.  Or they have to transition from student to employee.  Relationships change as well as teens teeter on the threshold of adulthood.  For J Silver, change means so much more.  Yes, he has to consider college and transitioning away from family and friends.  But the time has come to find a way to step over the threshold into a “real” world: into the world of “T” and muscles and deep voices.  J has discovered a way to walk away from Jenifer Silver permanently: To leave the female body he was born in and cross the threshold to manhood that he always was inside.  Who will walk with him over the threshold, from Jeni to J?

Cris Beam has created a complex character in J.  Obviously, J is struggling with identity issues beyond what the average teenager faces; yet he is every teenager, or at least every teenager can relate to being misunderstood.  And he misunderstands the people around him, too.  The growth throughout the novel could be any teenager overcoming obstacles thanks to Beam’s writing skills.  But don’t get me wrong, this is an empowering story for teenagers struggling with transgender issues and enlightening for readers who are not familiar with those who struggle with gender identity.  In the end, I cheered for J as he crossed the threshold to a future he created for himself, a future with possibilities he could never have imagined.  I was overwhelmed by this emotional journey and pleasantly surprised that gender was not all that defined this intriguing character.

In addition to being a well-written story, the author has included a wealth of resources for teens (or adults, for that matter) who are struggling with sexual identity.  She also writes a moving note to readers.  This book is a tremendous resource for schools, libraries, and parents.  Will it only appeal to teens with a special interest in the subject?  I hope not; this book is too good to pigeonhole.

2P     4Q     Grade Level: 10-12

Cover Art: The zipped up hoodie will make sense to readers but may not be enough to generate interest in the book.  I hope they change the cover in the final edition (I only have the ARC to go by).

From Reading List: Sexual Identity

Yin and yang of Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, New York, 2010; 310 pages.

We’ve all Googled ourselves to see how many people have the same name, right?  Well, for Will Grayson, there are at least two in the Chicagoland area, at least in this collaborative novel by superstar authors Green & Levithan.  Each author has created a Will Grayson; one straight, one gay, both angsty teens.  A chance encounter in a most unexpected location leads the pair, and a wonderful cast of friends and family, through a painful but ultimately redeeming journey for love.  But not romantic love necessarily, but “love” in the neighborhood sense, in the familial and friendly sense.  In terms of unconditional “being there” for one another.  And the standing ovation at the end of the book just might have you standing, applauding, too.

Ah, my experience with collaborative books is not great.  I don’t really enjoy reading them.  Too often, the author’s disparate voices detract from the storytelling.  To get around that issue, Levithan and Green each speak, in alternating chapters, as one of the Will Graysons.  We start with Green’s Grayson: straight, two parents at home, close friends, and struggling with typical teen troubles.  Then we shift to Levithan’s Will: gay, single-parent family, struggling financially, and written in all lower-case (to express his depression & self-esteem issues).  As their paths cross, the storylines cross and we see both sides of their journey.  Immediately, I was sucked into their stories, wondering how their paths would cross.  Both characters were accessible from the start; I was a little concerned about the depths of depression Levithan wrote about, but the further I read, the more understanding I had for his biological and environmental triggers.

Really, this collaboration works.  It works as a story.  More importantly, it works to compare the lives of young men whose lives aren’t really that different after all; they just approach problems from different perspectives.   In the end, aren’t we all looking for unconditional love from those closest to us?

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 10 and up

Cover Art: Eh, a burst of red light from a black background, not really an attention-getter.  But I had to do a double-take to see if the title was just Will Grayson or if was doubled as the type was superimposed.  (All the intriguing background images DID NOT pop on my library copy as they do in this picture of the cover).  IMHO, I think the authors’ reputations will put this book into the most hands.

From Reading Lists: Sexual Identity, Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) nominee 2010

My Most Excellent Year is most excellent

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger; published by Dial Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008; 403 pages.

TC, Ale and Augie have an English assignment during their junior year of high school: write an essay entitled “My Most Excellent Year.”  While the content of their papers open and close this book, it’s their journal entries that tell us their stories which revolve around love, activism and identity.  TC is dealing with buried emotions stemming from his mother’s death when he was only six years old.  Ale is trying to be the dutiful daughter of a Mexican diplomat but struggles with a growing desire to be a performer.  Augie is struggling with his identity; he realizes he’s gay in his freshman year but his first boyfriend wants him to “act more like a guy,” which contradicts the person Augie has been his whole life.  Hucky, an orphaned six year old boy, enters their lives.  By helping Hucky, all three teens look outside themselves and change a little boy’s life in addition to their own lives.  TC’s “three things” he should have known all his life end the book—summing up the story, illustrating his growth, and providing us with a few things to remember in our own lives.

Written from the perspectives of three teens coming of age and struggling with their identities, My Most Excellent Year is a deceptively complex book:  I found it easy to read and thoroughly engaging but introspective and full of life lessons.  I found that I slowed down to savor each page.  In addition, the use of instant messages, email content, and diaries is an inspired method for telling a story about teens, for teens.  The story of self-exploration and personal development will appeal to young adults. 

I have discovered a theme in many of the books I’ve read for this project: the value of keeping diaries or journaling.  I hope that teens are encouraged to keep a journal or diary after reading this book.  Although it reads like a light novel, there is so much more to offer in My Most Excellent Year.

4P     4Q     Grade Level 9-12

mymostexcellentyearCover Art: Mary Poppins’ umbrella with a baseball bat handle protects magical mauve stars on a sky blue background—not exactly gripping graphics for teens.  The overly flowery font for the title isn’t that appealing either.  The skinny, flowery white font is hard to read on the dark background of the spine.  These unfortunate choices may keep teens away from the book—and that’s a shame.

From Reading List: Sexual Identity

RSS Braingle’s Teasers

  • Today's Daily Brain Teaser (Jun 26, 2017)
    Bored . . .Try This Teaser! See if you can figure out these words using the clues listed below. Each word ends with "BOARD". Please note that numbers 4 and 5 are two separate words. Have fun! 1) Used with telephones 2) A place to advertise 3) Right-side of ship 4) Found around water 5) Old-time cars had two 6) Computers need them 7) College profess […]