About Will Hose and his Reviews
Will rates books on an overall scale from 1-10, with ten being the best. He is the teen librarian at the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, and he writes these reviews strictly as personal opinion; nothing here represents the opinions or policy of the library, its staff, or its patrons.
Audrey, Wait!, by Robin Benway
Audrey is the protagonist of this music-oriented romance. Told from her point of view, the book starts out with her breaking up with her boyfriend, Evan, a musician in a local garage band. The next night, Evan’s band (The Do-Gooders) give the premier performance of the song Audrey, Wait!, written by Evan the night of the breakup. The song details Evan’s feelings about the breakup, and talks about incidents from their time together. It’s embarrassing, it’s TOTALLY unfair, and the problem is, it’s very good. Evan’s band gets picked up by a major record label that begins promoting the new song, and soon it’s number 47 with a bullet on Billboard’s Top 100. Audrey has to deal with the embarrassment, with sudden fame, and most difficult of all…boys! This book is on the reading list for the Arkansas Teen Book Award in 2009.
I wasn’t a fan of Audrey, Wait! I wanted to like it, but the whole thing just fell flat. Audrey is whiny, petty, and generally unlikeable, and so is Evan. The book follows a formula so closely that I got halfway through it before flipping to the back, and I didn’t miss a thing. Most of the teen-book stereotypes are there, including the superperky and together best friend, the nerd-who-turns-out-to-be-hot, the unpleasant queen bee of the school’s social group, and clueless adults. There are no surprises in this one. Unless you’re a die-hard music lover who really needs to see the names of favorite songs in print, I recommend picking up a copy of Laura Ruby’s Good Girls instead.
My rating: 4/10. Ages 12+
Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan
This retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red story is focused on a girl named Liga Longfield, daughter of a terrible man who spends a lot of his time abusing her in different ways. After surviving his molestation and a gang rape, Liga finds herself on her own with a baby and another on the way. Magic grants her the chance to live in a heaven of her own creation, a place full of helpful neighbors and the quiet peace for which she’s always longed. However, her heaven isn’t sealed from the rest of reality, and people from the real world enter and leave with increasing frequency until Liga and her daughters are forced to confront the world that Liga thought she had left behind forever. This book is on the reading list for the Arkansas Teen Book Award in 2009.
This book has taken a lot of flak for the themes of child abuse and rape, however non-graphically rendered. I think that those themes were handled as tastefully as possible, however unpleasant they are. I was glad when Liga found her heaven, and wished her well in it. That was only the first quarter of the book, though, and from there it became somewhat disjointed. First-person narrators trade places with third-person descriptions without warning or identification, and characters are introduced briefly for reasons that only become visible in hindsight (at times I felt that I needed to keep a spreadsheet). While this isn’t a bad book, it’s one that took a lot of effort to get through, and it’s probably not one that I’ll be recommending to anyone. For retold fairy tales with more oomph, try Nancy Werlin’s Impossible or Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold.
My rating: 5/10. Ages 16+.
Nation, by Terry Pratchett
Nation is actually the story of two nations that literally run into each other. Mau is a boy who has yet to go through the initiation ceremony that will make him a man in the eyes of his island Nation, though he has finished all the other requirements. On the way home, his canoe is almost swamped by the giant wave that goes on to utterly destroy his entire world. The wave also brings Ermintrude (call her Daphne), a girl from a minor noble house in a nation much like 19th-century England. She is the only survivor when the water lands her in the middle of a tropical jungle, and she, Mau, and a few stragglers must learn to survive together while figuring out what it really means to be a Nation. This book was a Printz Honor Book for 2009.
I’m a huge Pratchett fan, and this book was no exception. It’s a departure from his Discworld series in that magic doesn’t play much of a part in the story, though some traces of the fantastic remain. Mau is strongly defined, a young man whose anger at what he feels is a betrayal by his ancestors is real and deep. Mau’s sense of hurt drives him to re-define what a Nation is, and is also the driving force behind the discovery of the deepest mysteries on his island. Daphne is a strong female character, presenting a façade of self-assurance on the few occasions that she doesn’t really feel that way. Tough and smart, Daphne is the perfect complement to Mau’s anger and fire, and the friendship that grows between them feels real. Their story is one of the best I’ve read all year.
My rating: 9.5/10. Ages 14+.
Angry Management, by Chris Crutcher
Crutcher’s latest book is not a novel like his normal fare. Instead, he writes three short stories bound together under Mr. Nak’s “Angry Management” class from 1995’s Ironman. Crutcher takes characters from previous books and throws them together in different settings. “Kyle Manard and the Craggy Face of the Moon” puts Angus Bethune and Sarah Byrnes (from Athletic Shorts and Staying Fat For Sarah Bynes, respectively) on a road trip to find Sarah’s mother. “Montana Wild” finds Montana West (from The Sledding Hill) defending her school newspaper article on medical marijuana against censorship from the school-board president, who happens to be her father. Finally, “Meet Me at the Gates, Marcus James” is a story about devout Christian student Matt Miller (from Deadline) defending openly gay student Marcus James when someone hangs a pink noose on James’s locker.
I’m a huge Crutcher fan, and this book was no exception. The story about Angus and Sarah just blew me away, and the others were pretty good too. There are some mature themes, but hey…it’s Chris Crutcher. Overall it fell short of Whale Talk, still my favorite of his books, but for anyone wondering what became of some of the characters in his previous stories, it’s a rewarding read.
My rating: 9/10. Ages 16+.
The Roar, by Emma Clayton
At the start of the story, the entire Earth’s population lives in the remains of London, behind a huge wall that was created to keep all animals out. Over the course of the book, we learn that there was a plague that drove the animals insane and violent, and that humankind has been hiding behind the walls ever since. Mika is a 12-year-old who lives with his parents in the slums underneath the main city, malnourished and with few prospects. He is certain that his twin sister, Ellie, is still alive somewhere even though his parents have given up hope after her disappearance. An opportunity for Mika to rise above his poor surroundings and find Ellie at the same time drives him into a cutthroat competition with dozens of others of his own age.
I wanted to like this book. The premise was intriguing, and life behind the wall was interesting at first. Unfortunately, it was too big a project for the author to keep track of as the book went on. Characters wandered in, said hello, and then wandered out just as I was starting to think they might be interesting. Major plot points showed up and then simply went away, never answered or even mentioned again. I realized about halfway through that the book had turned awful, but I kept reading out of a growing sense of morbid curiosity: just HOW bad could it get? The answer is, “bad” doesn’t begin to describe it. The final revelation about the plague and the wall was interesting, but I have no idea what happened on the last twenty or so pages. I re-read it three times and I still have no clue. Those who are interested in sci-fi about the end of the world and the future are encouraged to read nearly anything else at all, though I strongly recommend Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
My rating: 1/10. Ages 12+
Venomous, by Christopher Krovatin
Locke Vinetti has an anger problem, and not an ordinary one. The anger in him waits, coiled and ready, and anything might set it off. Locke calls the anger the Venom, and while part of him enjoys the rush and the power that the Venom gives him, he knows that it’s slowly ruining his life and poisoning those who care for him. As a result, Locke won’t let himself get close to anyone. That changes when he meets Renee, a goth girl who finds something in him worth pursuing. Now he thinks that he has the chance to get rid of the Venom for good…but it won’t be easy.
I liked Venomous a lot. Having been a teen with a temper, I found the descriptions of the Venom to be exactly right, and I was glad when Locke started to find hope that he could control it. It brought back memories, and not the good kind, when Locke exploded at someone. I liked Locke and his friends, and the scenes where he’s interacting with his ten-year-old brother are heartbreaking. Each chapter is set off by a full-page, graphic novel style illustration and an ongoing short story that provides harmony to the main narrative. Venomous contains some sexual encounters and some full-on street fights that do NOT end prettily, so I recommend it for older teens. There are no easy, quick answers to Locke’s problems, and I appreciate that as well.
My rating: 8/10. Ages 16+
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Katsa is particularly gifted in this first book by Kristin Cashore. Katsa was born with two different-colored eyes, a condition that marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are all particularly gifted in some manner; some are spectacular cooks, others can fight or swim with superhuman skill. Katsa is isolated by her Grace, because Katsa’s Grace is the ability to kill. Forced to act as an enforcer for a manipulative king, she forms an underground resistance to his rule.
I admit that it took me two tries to get through Graceling. One of my co-workers told me that she really liked it, and so I gave it another shot. I’m glad I did. It’s different from the regular sword-and-quest fantasy, dealing more with Katsa’s efforts to fit into the world as more than a weapon than anything else. I ended up caring about Katsa and her struggles, and while it wasn’t the best I’ve ever read, Graceling was a pretty solid book. I’m glad my friends pushed me into reading it.
My rating: 7/10. Ages 14+.
Betwixt, by Tara Bray Smith
For three teenagers, dark mystery has always lurked at the corner of the eyes and the edge of sleep. Beautiful Morgan D'Amici wakes in her trailerpark home with dirt and blood under her fingernails. Paintings come alive under Ondine Mason's violet-eyed gaze. Haunted runaway Nix Saint-Michael sees halos of light around people about to die. At a secret summer rave in the woods, the three teenagers learn of their true, changeling nature and their uncertain, intertwined destinies.
Betwixt wasn’t bad for the first couple of hundred pages as Bray lays out what, exactly, the protagonists are and the challenges they face. But after that, the story sort of gets away from her as they scatter around the country and she suddenly introduces several new major characters. I think Betwixt might have worked better as two books or even a trilogy, since the ending felt really rushed. To be honest, I’m not sure what happened in the last quarter of the book because I lost track of who was doing what. Outside of those problems, Bray has a really interesting take on the idea of the fairy changeling, and it might be worth reading just for that element.
My rating: 6/10. Ages 16+ (for drug use and mature situations)