Monday, April 30, 2018

I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

Image result for princess x book cover

Libby and May have been friends since the fifth grade. Libby is a great artist. May is a good writer, but she can't draw for crap. She says so herself.

Their friendship isn't the only thing that started in the fifth grade. Princess X started there too. She wears a pink dress, red Chucks, a crown, and carries a katana. She lives on a hill, in a haunted house, and has ghosts as friends. She started as a sidewalk drawing, and eventually morphed into a full-fledged character. Libby and May have written and drawn hundreds of Princess X comics.

And then, one night, Libby's mother is in a car, driving over a bridge, with a rushing river underneath. Libby is with her. The car goes over the side, into the water, and Libby dies.

Three years pass, and now May is sixteen, lonely, filled with longing for her friend, and haunted by dreams that say that Libby didn't die that night, that she broke free, and swam to the surface. But May doesn't believe herself.

Until she sees the sticker on the window of a building about to be demolished.

Is it possible? Can it be? The sticker is Princess X! But how? Libby is dead... isn't she?

Princess X stickers, Princess X patches, and Princess X graffiti art start popping up everywhere. But the most intriguing of all is a webcomic on a website called May starts to see more and more connections between the webcomic and Libby's "death." 

Because Libby is alive. What May's dreams have been telling her is true. Well, maybe.

I Am Princess X shows just how far a friendship can go. May doesn't give up on Libby when everyone else thinks her dead. May struggles to prove that Libby is alive. Throughout the story, May collects clues and makes shocking discoveries, all in an effort to solve the mystery of Libby's disappearance. And May shows us one thing: When the world tells you to give up, to quit trying, don't.

I first read this book when I was around 10, and I loved it. I read it over and over. I just pulled it off the shelf after a year or two, and it definitely is for a slightly younger reader, ages 9-11, maybe 12. I still liked it, but I have moved on to more grown-up books. Still, it was fin to re-read. The book is definitely "cool" - the artwork is cool, two of the characters are hackers, and this will appeal to a lot of readers. Just read it before you outgrow it!
Daddy's afterthoughts: This was Julia's favorite book for a good six months after I bought it for her (that's a long time, for her...) when she was 10 or 11. Everything from the colors of the artwork, the strange fusion of novel and graphic novel styles, to the hacker-chic aesthetic, to the quirky style of Princess X's getup and X's super-cool Powerpuff Girls-esque bravado and stance simply screamed "high-interest." I wonder if the title will scare away male readers; if so, it should not. Boy or girl, whether your bag is anime, superheroes, or cartoons of the Powerpuff Girls' extended universe variety (Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack) and the like, this book will be a hit. Yes, it almost certainly was written to target tween girls (say 10-12-ish), but that should not stop anyone who likes this kind of storytelling.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Image result for doll bones

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played a make-believe game (which has no name) together for years. Their game uses action figures as the characters, and a bone china doll whom they call the Great Queen. The Great Queen has the power to curse anyone who displeases her, well, in the game anyway. 

But Zach's father thinks that Zach should "grow up" and stop playing with action figures and play more basketball instead. Zach's father decides to take matters into his own hands, and throws all of the action figures into the trash without telling Zach, while Zach is in school.

When Zach gets home after school and realizes his figures are gone, he gets mad. And then he realizes that without his figures, he can't play the game anymore! This is terrible! Zach and the girls are the best of friends, and this has been their tradition for years. What can he do?

Zach decides to lie to Alice and Poppy about why he can't play. He simply tells them that he doesn't want to play anymore. After that, ties are split for a while, until... 

A few days later, Poppy announces that she's been dreaming about the Great Queen; she dreamed that the Queen was actually the ghost of a little girl named Eleanor, and that Eleanor had told Poppy that her spirit needed to rest. But that can't happen until the doll is laid into Eleanor's empty grave.

The grave is empty because Eleanor's father took her bones and made them into the doll. 

The three friends go on an adventure to East Liverpool, Ohio (the location of the grave), by boat and bus, in hope of finally letting Eleanor's spirit rest, and on the way, they discover things that they never knew about each other...

Doll Bones is (yet another) novel about a trio of friends going on an adventure. The author perhaps borrowed the "haunted doll" thing from the "Child's Play" movie series (?), except this doll doesn't kill anyone. Not that kind of book.

The book is a bit creepy, and the front cover illustration makes it look like a horror novel. This book would fall under the "horror" category... if you were eight years old. For anyone over eight, this novel will be a suspenseful adventure story. Doll Bones may give you a feeling, a leering feeling, like there is just something there, waiting for you... 


Daddy's afterthoughts:  This 2013 Newberry Honor book is the product of Holly Black, who co-created the Spiderwick Chronicles. This book has been decorated with a veritable slew of awards. It's a spooky read for younger readers, but older pre-teens will like it just fine. But it's not just a creepy-spooky story that involves a haunted or possessed doll; this is also a story about relationships and friendships in the tween years, that awkward time between childhood and teenager-dom. A wonderful read for ages 8-13.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Flash, by Michael Cadnum

Image result for Flash book by michael cadnum grade recommendation

Bruce, 16, and Milton, 18, are brothers, and the type of high schoolers that always get into trouble. Bruce gets into fights, and Milton gets arrested. In fact, Milton and Bruce are planning a robbery even though Milton hasn’t even had a trial from his last crime. But it's not what you think... they're not "bad" guys.

When they get to the bank that they want to rob, Bruce gets out of the car that they used to get there, and which will also act as their getaway car, and everything seems to go fine. Until Bruce tears out of the bank, with a practically empty sack, and tells Milton to drive. They get 3 blocks away when the bag explodes. The teller had sneaked a dye bomb into the bag. And now they have useless money, and are covered in neon green dye.

They bury the evidence in their backyard. But they haven’t buried the soiled wealth unnoticed, though. Terrence, an “almost legally blind” neighbor, has heard them and recorded their conversation while out bird-watching. (Actually, he doesn’t really “watch” them. Since he is nearly blind, all he can do is record their songs and the sounds they make. But this is why he has his recording equipment with him.)

Bruce and Milton know that they are in trouble, because Terrence had been recording birds while they were burying the money, and Terrence may have recorded their conversation too. What Bruce and Milton didn’t know was that Terrence told his girlfriend, Nina, and her brother, Carraway, a soldier back home from the War after surviving a tank explosion in Iraq. Carraway is “a stickler for law and order.” Carraway knows that Bruce and Milton attempted to rob a bank, because Terrence told him. And he’s not too happy about it.

The dust jacket says that Flash is based on an actual robbery that the author witnessed. I liked the way the narration is in the third person, but the point of view switches from seeing Nina’s side, to Milton’s side, to Terrence’s side, and back again, as if someone were recording their thoughts and words. The novel talked about the crime from the criminals’ perspective, and I liked that too – it is not something you see a lot: Bruce and Milton are motivated by the need to get money for their family, not just to be "bad guys." Ever since an explosion at the sugar refinery killed their father, their family has been very tight on money. The insurance company forced the family to take only 1/3 of the payment they were due. The insurance company knew that he had nothing to do with the accident, and was just ripping the family off. They told them they could take 1/3 or take nothing. What choice did they have? Now they are poor, and their mother is sick (and lacks the money to get proper medical help). 

I found this in a “horror” section in the library... which is weird. This book is not scary, other than the mildly disturbing cover image. Michael Cadnum used a real event to write a “thriller” that in my opinion was not super-thrilling. But don’t let what I say get in the way of if you want to read it, if you like crime thrillers or detective stories, that type of thing. By all means, go right ahead!


 Daddy's afterthoughts: Julia was not especially enthralled with this one, but it's not really her genre of choice. Kirkus rates the book highly, praising its "unpredictable resolution that brings the cast to the end leaves room for reflection on motivation and character in hard times." Bob's Book Blog calls Cadnum's writing "vivid and evocative" and calls it a "brilliant story for teens and reluctant boy readers." Well, Julia is neither a reluctant reader, nor a boy, so maybe that's it. The book is gritty, realistic fiction, not the fantasy and dystopian fare that is de rigueur in YA fiction these days, so if you are looking for something in that vein, there you go.


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