Monthly Archives: February 2011

No Passengers Beyond This Point

You should know Gennifer Choldenko for her wonderful Newbery Honor winning title, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and the follow-up read, Al Capone Shines My Shoes. Her new novel, No Passengers Beyond This Point offers us another story about family, home, and sibling relationships, but this time with a fantastical twist.

The story opens when India, Mouse, and Finn find out that they have less than 48 hours to pack up their things because they have to go live with their Uncle Red for a while. This is happening because after a long struggle they’ve finally lost their house to foreclosure and now their Mom plans to stay put to keep working while the kids head to Colorado and Uncle Red. None of the kids want to leave, but they don’t have a choice, so they get on a plane and leave behind home as they know it. When they arrive, they aren’t where they were supposed to land. They are in a mysterious place that is unlike anywhere they’ve ever imagined, let alone been. What’s strange, gets even stranger, and the kids discover that the only way they’re going to get home is if they don’t give up on each other and use all their smarts to work together.

Choldenko succeeds in creating a great dreamlike quality in the novel after the kids arrive in the weird new place called Falling Bird. There are shades of the strangeness of Alice in Wonderland and Oz in the way that they are stuck in a world that seems at once wonderful and at the same time, kind of frightening. The dreamlike quality to the story can sometimes get a little confusing, but I think that most kids will persist because they will want to discover what happens next, and also they will be engaged by the three-voice structure. This brings me to what I see as the real strength of the novel, beyond the imaginative premise: the characters’ voices. It is tricky to have a story told by three characters and have all three characters demonstrate individual, rounded voices. Choldenko is great at capturing how kids really talk and think. You will fall in love with Mouse, the genius little sister who is at once vulnerable and quirky and way too smart for her age. India might be a little bit too much the stereotypical grouchy teen older sister, but she becomes slightly more complex as things go along. The ending leaves lots of questions. Some readers may find this frustrating, but I don’t think that the end is necessarily unsatisfying. It seems to fit that a book that keeps you asking questions the whole way through doesn’t have a tidy “happily ever after” conclusion.

No Passengers Beyond This Point is suspenseful, a little spooky, heartwarming, and quirky, with an ending that is sure to get kids talking.

No Passengers Beyond This Point is published by Dial.

The Dead-Tossed Waves

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan may not at first glance seem the ideal book to be reading in the dread middle of February, when everything is grey and dark and cold and the snow (if you’ve got any) has turned black with grit. Like you need any more bleak right now, right? As it turns out, Ryan’s novel is a love story and a survival story, and really, what else is February about? If love and survival don’t interest you, I’ll just add one more thing that might convince you: zombies.

This novel is a companion to Ryan’s hugely popular debut, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. (Such a great title, yes?) If you haven’t read that one yet, you do want to start there, because a great part of the impact of The Dead-Tossed Waves comes from the way that Ryan continues to add richness to the world she began developing in her first book. You can read a review of her debut right here at Guys Lit Wire). The Dead-Tossed Waves begins years after where things left off at the end of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Gabry lives with her mother in Vista, a seaside town kept safe behind the Barrier. They live in a lighthouse and it is Gabry’s mother’s role to go down to the beach at high tide and kill any Mudo (zombies) that wash up onto the beach. Gabry knows little of her mother’s past, but she knows that the Forest was part of it. While Gabry is curious about the past, and wonders about the precariousness of the future, she is mostly happy to live safely inside her protected town. Then one night she sneaks over the Barrier with a bunch of her friends and disaster strikes. Her mother disappears into the Forest and Gabry must follow her. One reckless choice changes her future forever and forces Gabry to do things she never imagined.

While I don’t think that this companion novel is ultimately as successful as Ryan’s debut, I think that it will satisfy most of the fans of the first book. In my opinion, Gabry is not as complex and believable a character as Mary (her mother in this book / the main character in Forest of Hands and Teeth). I thought Gabry’s reactions to her situation were predictable and not particularly well-explored. I’d have liked more detail on the Soulers (freaky zombie worshippers) and a lot more related to the Recruiters, the military force responsible for keeping the Mudo (and disobedient citizens) in line. The love triangle didn’t fully work for me. I kept feeling that Ryan was going for a Katniss – Peeta – Gale thing, and not quite making it work. In places I found it a little over the top and unbelievable that there would be quite so much lusting going on in the midst of all those moaning zombies.

There are many great aspects to the novel. Ryan has a strong sense of pacing. Things happen and keep on happening. Things get worse and then even worse. On her website, Ryan describes her writing process this way: “I sit down and think: “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Well obviously she’s pretty good at this, because that method leads Ryan to a compelling story. The themes around hope, loss, and self-discovery interweave nicely and are presented with enough depth to inspire some discussion. The writing is often vivid but isn’t heavy or overdone.

Carrie Ryan’s third book in this collection, The Dark and Hollow Places, will be out in March, so you won’t have long to wait to find out what happens next in this dark, well-crafted series.

(This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire).

The Cybils Winners for 2010…

It’s Valentine’s Day, which means love, and chocolates, (and in my case, a dazzling pair of red boots bought for me by my fella and then put away for long, painful weeks “until Valentine’s Day”), and the Cybils Award Winners!

Of course, I am particularly interested in Middle Grade fiction, being category organizer/judge for that area. So without further ado, the Cybils 2010 winner for Middle Grade Fiction is…

Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda!

It is such a delightful, funny, quirky, true book for Middle Graders. Buy one for someone you love today. What says Valentine’s more than a wise old green guy with giant ears?

Here’s my review (from before it was even nominated for a Cybils Award – don’t worry folks, we’re all about integrity here), and a wonderful little video so you can make a Yoda for your sweetie today:

Now, allow me to link you straight on over to:

The Cybils Winners for 2010 in all of their kid-appeal fab-writing glory

Zombies vs. Unicorns (can’t we just all get along?)

Could there be a book better for the bleak midwinter than this totally over the top, fun anthology? I doubt it. In Zombies vs. Unicorns, YA genius ladies, Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black have put together a collection of short stories, half about zombies, half about unicorns, and even though they say you need to choose a team, I say you can just read every single one and enjoy, without worrying about whether or not you’d vote for the shambling undead or the sparkly horse-type creatures. That’s what I did anyway. (Though if forced, I think I know which team I’d be on – more on that later).

The list o’ authors reads like a lineup of the coolest and bestest YA authors writing right now, including: Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Cassandra Clare and more. I confess I felt hip just holding the book. It has this edgy look and the cryptic cover made people on the subway peer at me to see what I was reading. Some of the stories are hilarious, some are dark, and some are both, but I promise you’ll enjoy each one. My favourite was Carrie Ryan’s (who knows a thing or two about zombies, for sure). Hers is a zombie-ish pirate tale – gorgeous and gory.

Inspired by this delightful romp into all things undead and pastel sparkly, I have decided to put the following books head-to-head in my own mini-battle:

I’m going to read them back to back and when I’m done, I will tell you which team I’m on.

Grump-proof Ruby Oliver

I am super grouchy today.

I cannot explain why.

Is it the splinter in my foot that I cannot get out?

Is it the fact that my dishwasher is busted?

I think it is probably that it is a snow day, and I should be GLEEFUL, but instead I have a case of the grumps that I can’t seem to shake, even though I don’t even have a real reason to be grouchy.

So it was risky for me to have picked up the fourth and final Ruby Oliver to finish reading today, because I love the Ruby Oliver books and I was a little bit worried that my grouchiness would ruin the little bit of book I had left to enjoy.

Good news folks! Even an extremely grumpy girl will love this book! She might even love it better than any of the other Ruby Oliver books! (And that is really saying something. Perhaps if I use a lot of exclamation points in this post I will become less grumpy! Okay! I’ll try it! Yay Ruby Oliver! Yay snow days! Yay exclamation points! I will stop that now).

But for real, I think this is the best Ruby Oliver book of all. E. Lockhart is sort of my author idol. She amazes me. Her books – particularly the Ruby quartet – have the perfect balance of humor and depth, of laugh-because-they’re-so-true moments and touching-without-ever-approaching-sappy moments. Her books are wise, but never in a showy way. Subtle. Ruby’s voice is dynamite – but I don’t love everything about Ruby (and I love that). She can be so self-absorbed, and she’s overly dramatic a lot of the time, and there were moments in the series when I really didn’t like her choices, and I sided with her friends. In the end, she’s just so interesting. She is as rounded a character as you’ll find anywhere. After four books, I’m not tired of her neurotic ways yet. That’s impressive. She’s got heart and by the end of this last book, she’s grown a lot, and she’s ready for what’s next. She’s the kind of character that gets you imagining everything that is ahead of her in her life.

Sigh.

I wish it wasn’t over.

I am now going to shovel snow, and when I get back inside, I’m going to eat cookies. Maybe I’ll just start reading this one all over again. That plus cookies just might banish the grumps for good.

Real live boyfriends is published by Delacorte.