Monday, 18 August 2014

YRCA 2015: "The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen" by Susin Nielsen (review)

The YRCA reads are coming along nicely!  I find summer is the perfect time for children's books because I'm able to work in more extended periods of reading and I can usually read one in only a few days!  Save the long slogs for the depths of winter, I say.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

However, just because some children's works are brief, doesn't mean that they are all bright and sunny.  Case in point, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen.  This multiple award winner first caught my attention when it won the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award, and has been on my "to-read" list for quite some time.  Seeing it nominated for YRCA was enough to bump it to the top of the queue.
Henry Larsen is asked by his psychologist to write in a journal.  He does so reticently at first, and as Henry opens up the reader gets a first-person glimpse into the lives of those who are left behind after a tragedy.  As Henry struggles to come to terms with events, there are moments in the story which are absolutely heartbreaking, others which are hilariously funny, and on the whole the entire tale is truly thought-provoking.

In it's coverage of issues surrounding bullying, I feel that this book does an excellent job of not only presenting the victim and perpetrator, but even more so the feelings of witnesses and family members of those affected.

Reluctant Journal is so much more than just another book about bullying though.  The realistic nature of the situations of the characters and their reactions make this book absolutely haunting.  This really is a necessary read for all Junior High aged kids, and is well-written and exciting enough to hold the reader's attention despite the heavy topic.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is thusfar my favorite read of this years batch of YRCA books.  I highly recommend it not only to it's main audience of early teens, but to absolutely everyone.  Its a fascinating book that will have you thinking about it for days after you finish reading.

Next up, watch for a review of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead and Ungifted by Gordon Korman.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

YRCA 2015: "Son" by Lois Lowry (review)

So I've taken it upon myself to get cracking and read all of the deliciously wonderful Young Readers Choice Award nominees for 2015.  Admittedly, I've already read Marissa Meyer's Cinder (and reviewed it here) and John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (which I can barely speak about, let alone write about!) which are both nominated in the senior division for this year's award.  The rest are new reads to me, and I'm going to try to read them all if possible.

Today I'm reviewing my first new reads for this award: Son by Lois Lowry is a contender for the Intermediate division.

Son - Lois Lowry

Somehow, certain siblings of mine made it through school without having read The Giver.  This caused me surprise and chagrin, as it was required reading for me, and I can’t imagine a childhood without this haunting and subversive tale with the cliffhanger ending.
Son is the fourth and final installment in The Giver quartet.  It is not really a series per se, as the events of Gathering Blue and Messenger can be fully enjoyed without having read The Giver at all.  However, all three are required reading in order to fully appreciate and enjoy Son.
Son spans the history of events of all three of the other books.  There are leaps forward in time, but they are reasonable and easy to follow.  Water Claire is lost herself as she tries to seek out her lost child, and is asked to sacrifice greatly in order to be reunited with him.  And really I can’t say more than that without spoiling the whole thing.  But for lovers of The Giver or any of the other books in this series, Son offers many new twists and many answers to questions readers have had for two decades since The Giver was originally released.

I highly recommend this book for any fans of Lowry’s work, and for anyone who enjoys a dystopian tale without all the robots and police and heavy-handed governments that make this genre usually seem so dark.  The government is there and lives are being controlled, but in so much subtler fashion than is currently typical in the genre.  

Next up will be reviews for The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.  Stay tuned!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" (book review)

Oh summer.  How I love thee.  Too bad it's already half over.  And yes I know it's August 1st, but to accurately quantify summer on the Canadian prairies, one needs to approach things with a dose of brutal honesty now and then.  Because really, we all know that summer is only July and August.  It can and has snowed in June, and spring this year was so fucking cold and raining and shitty that this was even more the case this year.  And it can and has and probably will snow in September, so that is definitely part of autumn.  You can't argue with cold morning temps and pretend anymore at that point.

So while I'm already pining for yesterday, while trying to enjoy the remaining 30 days before we plunge back into the ABYSS that is not-summer, AKA pseudo-almost-winter, the thing that monopolizes our year with 10 months of temperature related agony, I am in full blown summer reading mode.  Which means that I can't read less than 2-3 books at a time.  Books are delicious, and books on the back patio with margaritas are even better.

One of my recent reads was the July assignment for book club, a collection of short stories by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber.

It could easily be said, in advance of reading this collection of works, that I am a HUGE fan of Angela Carter's work (I reviewed her creepy tale The Magic Toyshop last year).  I like to describe Carter's writing as prose that sounds like poetry.  She had an exceptional vocabulary and understanding of the English language, and the sentences simply flow beautifully.  Mechanics aside, The Bloody Chamber features a large number of familiar tales (such as Puss-in-Boots and Beauty and the Beast) re-written with a variety of results, which are quite often not-so-happy endings for the protagonist.  As always, Carter is a feminist writer and this comes through very clearly in her work.  Women who are forced into marriage as an escape from crushing poverty are a common theme in this book, and as a result Carter ends up making quite extensive commentary on sexual violence found within legally recognized relationships and the dependence and voicelessness of women who are victimized by their husbands (who in this case are more frequently their "owners" than anything else).

Although some stories resonated with me more than others, this is obviously to be expected in a short story collection.  As a whole, The Bloody Chamber is an excellent work and quite representative of Carter's style and subject matter.  Once again I would recommend anyone who hasn't read a work Carter to seriously GO READ ONE.  Nights at the Circus is the most accessible and is a bit more gentle than some of her other works in terms of subject matter.  If you enjoy well-crafted and beautifully written stories which inspire empathy and insight, trust me, you will love her works.