Tag: Juvenile Fic

by Kelly Barnhill

This was a wonderful story that I’m sure I would absolutely love if I were around ten years old! As as adult, I found it a nice read but not quite there for me (hard to put my finger on why, though). Perhaps it’s the multiple viewpoints, that kept me from feeling entirely engaged in the story. It’s about a dangerous forest and a suppressed town. The forest is on the slopes of mumbling volcanoes, full of hot vents and vast bogs and other tricky features to be avoided. The townspeople are held under the thumb of a ruling Council of Elders and an even more oppressive group of Sisters who live cloistered in a tower and forbid access to their library (that alone tells you they’re evil). The townspeople live in fear of a witch in the forest- every year they leave a baby in a clearing to appease her. Some of them don’t believe there really is a witch, and that the baby gets eaten by wild animals. Two of the alternate storylines are from people in this town- a woman who protests when her baby is taken, goes mad with grief and is locked up, and a young man from the Council who objects to the baby sacrifices and starts really questioning things.

The other storyline follows one baby that was left in the clearing. And the witch who comes for her. The witch Xan isn’t terrible as the townspeople have been told- she’s actually very kind, and baffled at why these people keep abandoning their children! She always rescues the babies and takes them to cities on the other side of the dangerous forest, where they are adopted into happy families. But this one baby- Luna- is accidentally fed magical moonlight during the journey. When Xan realizes what happened, she decides she has to raise Luna herself.  Luna’s body has become infused with the magic, which spills out uncontrollably and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing things (like the baby in Incredibles). This is funny at first, then really hazardous, so Xan performs a spell to lock the magic up inside Luna until she turns thirteen. It’s so effective that Luna can’t even hear the word “magic” spoken in her presence, and promptly forgets everything Xan tells her regarding it. So Xan’s plan to teach Luna how to handle magic and do spells until her power is unlocked, fails. Luna grows up not knowing who she is, basically lied to her whole life so far by the person who loves her most and is trying to protect her. Lies of love, in contrast to the lies for control and manipulation told to the townspeople.

This book has a lot of really great aspects- on the surface it’s an imaginative tale set in a world steeped with magic, with a spunky young heroine who reminded me of Ronia. There’s some lovely wordplay, a silly miniature dragon (that made me think immediately of Anne McCaffrey’s firelizards, although this Fyrian is unique to himself) and a friendly bog monster that loves poetry. There’s also a completely duplicitous evil witch in the town who thrives on the pain of others, paper-folded birds that come to life, and so much more. I kept thinking (in a lovely way) of other stories certain details reminded me of- how Xan feeds the babies starlight brought to mind A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle, where an infant unicorn drinks moon- and starlight. The theme of family is so strong in this book, and the aspect of Xan’s power waning as Luna’s grows- that reminded me how the ederly dragon transferred its knowledge in The Last Dragon. I also kept thinking of imagery from Mirrormask, though here again, couldn’t quite tell you why. It’s been too long since I’ve seen that.

Rating: 3/5
386 pages, 2016

by Laurence Yep

Another re-read from my gradeschool years- I distinctly remember discovering this book at my public library, and its sequels. It really fired my imagination at the time. Images instantly sprang up in my head as I came across familiar scenes again- human features from ancient statues sticking out through trees grown over an abandoned city, the hero and heroine trudging across a vast salt flat bickering and reconciling at turns, the final tense scene when it seems all hope is lost but the younger, smaller of the two pulls a marvelously clever trick to attain their goal. The unlikely pair are Shimmer- a haughty dragon princess who’s been living in exile- and Thorn, an orphan boy who wants to join her quest. She reluctantly accepts his help, thinking that his smaller size, physical weakness and total lack of magical ability (the dragon can shapeshift, among other things) make him more of a liability than an asset, but the boy soon proves he can be useful and loyal. Shimmer may be a royal dragon, but she’s actually quite young as far as dragons go in this story world (where they live for centuries) and her personality is grating- she’s smug and conceited for starters. She has a lot to learn from Thorn about just being a good friend.

Well- the main storyline is an adventure as they journey to find a witch named Civet that basically stole the inland sea where Shimmer’s people used to live, and locked all the water up in a magic pebble. Along the way they meet other allies and enemies- quite a few of them also magical- there’s a wizard and a trickster Monkey. I felt like I ought to recognize the Monkey character from somewhere- but I couldn’t quite place him. Lots of the story has roots in Chinese mythology which I know very little of. I really liked- both as a child and now- that the dragons in this world are aquatic creatures- they don’t breathe fire and their home is in the sea. It’s a very different take on dragons and the description of how Shimmer can move effortlessly through water, how she misses certain aspects of the sea that is no longer there- were really vivid to me. My public library has lots of other books by Laurence Yep but not this particular series- I’d like to read the rest of them over again but will have to find some used copies to acquire.

Rating: 3/5
211 pages, 1982

by Astrid Lindgren

Needed a good but easy read last night, and this was perfect. Spirited young heroine, and a story full of heart. Ronia is born into a band of robbers- her father is the chief. They’re constantly at odds with a rival band in the forest- Ronia constantly hears the others insulted and scorned, but doesn’t think much of it as she spends all day exploring the forest. She doesn’t even realize what her father actually does for a living- stealing goods and money from travellers- and when it finally comes to light, she’s appalled that the father she so admires and loves does something so wrong to support his family. But there’s more to turn her world around- Ronia befriends a young boy who lives nearby- turns out he’s the son of the other robber band, which moved practically next door, so the friction between the two groups becomes even more heated. Ronia and Birk enjoy roaming the forest together, though not without having hot-headed disagreements now and then. I had mis-remembered some of the events in the story- I thought there was one battle with a particular large beast or monster, but really there’s several confrontations with various magical creatures in the forest- things that live underground, harpies that chase them. Once Ronia has a mishap while skiing in the winter and Birk rescues her, another time they both almost get swept over a waterfall. They half-tame some wild horses in the forest and go riding together. Their adventures cement their friendship, so when the respective families finally find out- and there’s a huge uproar- the two run off to live in a cave together. Will Ronia ever go back to her robber family? can her father change his ways? I was actually glad I’d forgotten so much, as it made reading this a delight all over again. Glanced back at my previous review, and wouldn’t change a word of it.

Rating: 4/5
176 pages, 1981

by Rodman Philbrick

I liked this book, and I didn’t. Probably if I was a kid reading it for the first time, it would be one unable to shake from memory. I saw it compared to Of Mice and Men, and I was reminded of The Red Pony also. It’s about a kid named Roy who’s been in foster care until his older brother takes him out (without going through the proper channels) and they head out on the road. The older brother Joe has a history of getting into trouble- especially when he’s been drinking- and there’s hints that he plays dangerously with fire. That’s literal. So they approach a ranch where Joe gets work- he’s got a natural way with horses and is excellent at shoeing them. In fact, for me this was the most interesting part of the story, ha- reading how Joe taught his kid brother the importance of keeping a horse’s feet sound and how much their gait could indicate problems, etc. Roy is given an unbroken pony to train and ride (amazing how fast he does so, having nil experience!) All is well for a time and the boys are feeling settled and comfortable at the ranch, but then a local truant officer comes asking questions- why isn’t Roy in school? Then a mountain lion attacks Roy’s pony and it almost dies from the resulting infection. Later there’s a horse race at a rodeo show, and in the end a spectacular tragedy involving a barn fire. Which felt over the top to me, a really horrific scene how could kids read this and not be permanently affected? Well, I was fairly riveted to the page that’s for sure but the ending upset me.

Rating: 3/5
175 pages, 1996

by Sharon Draper

This middle-grade fiction is about a ten-year-old who has cerebral palsy. Melody is plenty smart and has a photographic memory, but she can’t walk, feed herself or speak- until she gets a new computer that gives her a voice. At school she’s been in a special education room for years, but is now excited to be “integrated” into music and a few other classes per day with the regular kids. Especially with a fancy new wheelchair she can drive by herself and then her talking computer. She just wants to fit in but it’s hard. More kids notice her now that she has a voice, but she still gets stared at or outright teased and insulted. Nobody seems to believe that she’s anything other than mentally deficient, even the teachers have this demeaning attitude. Several kids seem to think the computer is allowing her to cheat- and two girls in particular single her out to be mocked. Melody is determined to prove herself and joins the quiz team, but things turn disastrous right before a big competition. Some kids on the team seem determined to sabotage Melody’s ability to participate- but in the end, they’re only ruining their own chances.

I found this book at a library sale. Surprised to realize I must have read it before- but I only recalled things from the beginning and end. The whole thing about the fake snowman they decorated was really familiar, and so was the intensely dramatic scene at the end involving Melody’s little sister. I’m baffled why I had forgotten nearly all of the middle events- including everything about the quiz team- and why this book wasn’t already noted on my blog, when it was published after I started keeping a record. I must have read it with my oldest at a younger age, and maybe we only read parts together.

Regardless, certain aspects of the book didn’t work for me personally- some of the adult’s actions felt unrealistic, the way Melody was treated in school seemed rather atrocious (not the teasing, but the total lack of educational structure and advocacy) and often I felt like Melody’s mother was saying things a kid would want to hear their mother say, not very realistic either. But for what it is, a book written for middle-grade kids about a peer with a physical disability, I think it gives a pretty clear picture what that’s like. How so many ordinary things like putting on clothes or participating in conversations or navigating stairs to get into a building, become obstacles and struggles. And that kids with disabilities have thoughts and feelings and want to be included like everyone else.

The goldfish incident bothered me, though. Probably because I’m a fishkeeper. And why didn’t she explain it to anyone afterwards, when she finally had her talking computer? Sigh.

Similar read, a true story from adult perspective: I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes.

Rating: 3/5
295 pages, 2010

by C.S. Adler

     I read this book in a hot bath, just under two hours. It\’s a horse story where the whole narrative arc is about how to procure treatment for an injured horse. It has a lot of difficult things going on: Jan\’s father has recently died in an accident, she and her mother are still grieving. They had to give up their large ranch house to live in the small \”casita\” that used to be for hired hands. Her mother still makes a living boarding and caring for other\’s horses, and taking guests on trail rides, while their original house has been converted into an assisted living home for the elderly. When Jan\’s horse goes lame it turns out to be more serious than just a bruise or sprain- he needs an operation. Jan\’s mother takes a second job but it still isn\’t enough for the cost. The girl is desperate to find a way to save her horse but can\’t think of anything. She\’s more distracted than usual from school, and can\’t relate to the other kids who don\’t seem to have any of the same worries (though one girl is nice to her and that might turn into a friendship). One day she\’s outside with her horse and meets two old ladies from the assisted living home, out for a walk. Mattie commiserates with Jan over the horse\’s condition, says she used to have a horse when she was young, and invites Jan to the house to see photos. Reluctantly Jan complies and to her surprise finds she rather likes the older woman. She visits her now and then, while still trying to figure out what to do: can she get a job herself? could she lease a \”share\” of her horse to someone who wants to ride and doesn\’t own one? It turns out that Mattie might have an answer to her problem, but then she worries about the morality of accepting the offer. This story surprised me with its depth, for such a short book it sure hits some serious issues. And I didn\’t even mention all of them! Have to leave the reader something to find out. There was only one conversation near the end of the book that struck me as awkward, the rest felt very real and easy to read.

Rating: 3/5

by Janet Taylor Lisle

     Hillary is intrigued when the girl who lives in the house behind her shows her tiny little cottages built of leaves and twigs. Sara-Kate tells her in whispers they were built by elves, and soon has Hillary wrapped into the imaginary world of the elf village. The other kids at school scorn the idea, and talk unkindly about Sara-Kate- her worn clothes, thin appearance and wild temper. Hillary listens uneasily to their warnings to stay away from Sara-Kate, but she wants to go back and see the elf village again, so slowly the two become friends. She\’s never invited inside Sara-Kate\’s house though, and never sees any lights on either, not even after dark. When Sara-Kate stops coming to school, Hillary worries something has happened and screws up her courage to knock on the door of the silent house. She\’s shocked to find that some of her friend\’s stories had a scrap of truth- Sara-Kate is in a rather desperate situation, but Hillary doesn\’t want to betray her friend by seeking help. She tries to offer some assistance herself, even though this means doing things she knows is wrong- stealing and lying to her parents. Soon an adult steps into the situation though, and then everything changes very quickly.

This story was compelling and in the end, rather sad. It\’s another that I read in one sitting, quite unable to put it down. While the exact nature of illness in Sara-Kate\’s household was never revealed, the hints are clear enough. More interesting is how completely Sara-Kate invented the details of the elf world for Hillary, drawing her back day after day with the curiosity and hope the magic would actually be real- all the while hiding her real difficulties. She left a mark on Hillary, too- who always looked more closely at things afterwards, who noticed tiny details others might skip over. Though it was just secondary material, I also liked the bits about her father\’s garden, the work he did there and how he missed it during the cold winter months. It was nice that Hillary found a way in the end, to conserve the elf village the two girls had worked so painstakingly on. And that she recognized the greatest lesson she learned from their strange friendship- that other people\’s reality might not be the same as yours, that you have to work hard and put aside your assumptions to truly see things from another\’s point of view. 

Rating: 4/5                       122 pages, 1989
anybody else?

by Phyllis Root

     This is a short J fiction book I picked up on a whim secondhand. It\’s about a young girl in a Native American tribe. At five years old, she\’s been living alone with her parents for some time. Her father leaves on a hunting trip and when he doesn\’t return, the mother goes out to find him. The girl Kiri waits and waits but nobody returns. A couple from another tribe comes across her tent and takes her in. She is at first shy in her new surroundings, not used to being around so many people in the new tribe. Kiri has a special ability to \”put herself into the eyes of others\”- I guess you would say she\’s an empath, able to deeply feel what others around her experience, and also to see the world through the eyes of animals. This can be useful- she can put herself into the eyes of a bird overhead and see something far off, for example. It\’s also hard to deal with in close quarters with other people, as when she can\’t avoid feeling the anger and resentment of a boy in the tribe named Garen. Seeing how disconcerted she is among others and recognizing her gift, the tribe\’s healer adopts her so she can live in relative seclusion in his tent, and learn his skills. But when she\’s asked to help him heal a sick person, she flinches away from the strong feelings of loneliness and pain that overwhelm her at the bedside. When Kiris turns thirteen, she has to go on a solitary journey to seek a spirit vision that will let her know what her purpose in life is, and her role in the tribe. She expects that it will be as a singer and healer. But she\’s afraid, doesn\’t feel ready for this responsibility. On the journey she runs into a storm and her boat is wrecked, leaving her stranded on a riverbank in unknown territory. So it turns into a survival story- how she finds food, builds a shelter, and so on. She finds an injured wolf, and tries to heal it. Then Garen shows up- he\’s been out on a spirit journey too, and he\’s hunting the wolf that she befriended. He\’s also half-starved and needs help. Kiri is torn between protecting her wolf companion or helping this disgruntled young man she\’s never really liked. Of course she does the right thing, even though it\’s hard- and when she finally reaches out to Garen with her healing skills, she finds to her surprise that they have something in common- a deep loneliness each has been carrying around for years.

In the end Kiri finally resolves having felt abandoned by her parents so long ago, and returns to her adopted tribe with confidence and peace. It\’s really a nice story with some complexity and depth of feeling I didn\’t expect for how short it is. I read it in one sitting. I really wished it had been twice as long- I wanted more of every aspect! There\’s also throughout the entire book, words like korlu and skirre which kind of threw me out of the narrative because I spent way too much time trying to figure out what they were. Every single animal in the story has a foreign word instead of English (and I have no idea if this is a real tribe depicted, or a made-up one). While there\’s a glossary, it doesn\’t say wolken- a wolf but instead wolken- an animal with slender legs, bushy tail, pointed nose, and keen eyesight and hearing. Is it a wolf? or did she befriend a fox? I just want to know and I wonder if kids would puzzle as much over this as I did, or just gloss over it and be absorbed in the story. The illustrations by Dennis McDermott are beautiful, rich with texture and detail that add a lot to the book.

Rating: 3/5            106 pages, 1992

by Glenn Balch

I\’m in the middle of a longer book but needed an easy read for a hot bath, and this was it. Unfortunately I found out pretty quick that like Indian Paint, this book is an abridged version of the original (titled Wild Horse). Wasn\’t quite as \”dumbed down\” so I was able to enjoy it somewhat; however it still doesn\’t really sound like the author\’s voice to me and will only stay on my shelf until I find a copy of Wild Horse

It\’s about two kids who have been admiring a wild black stallion that lives near their father\’s cattle ranch. The father doesn\’t see much use in wild horses so he doesn\’t mind when men come to run the wild horses, intending to sell whatever they catch for rodeo broncos or to a factory that makes chicken feed. The kids are appalled that the wild stallion they call King might meet such a fate. The boy determines to go out and catch the wild horse himself, and his sister helps by bringing supplies and fresh horses. It is a long hard job which they mainly do by following the stallion in relays until he\’s worn out. Most of this story felt really flat and bland to me- the dialog and descriptions- but that is probably due to it being \”revised\”. The final chapters were more interesting, after the horse is caught. The ranch hand is from South America.  He uses a bola for the capture instead of a lariat and his methods for getting the wild horse to accept some basic tack were also interesting. I liked that the horse\’s behavior and responses were very realistic. Eventually they teach the horse that it can\’t get away from a rope and are riding it (although it\’s not really controllable). The kids are so excited to have the wild stallion, but also dismayed that it seems the horse will never really accept confinement or guidance from a rider- having lived so many years in the wild and being set in his ways. But if they let him go again, he\’s at risk of being caught by others and sold to rodeo or slaughterhouse. The way they solve this problem is neatly done and honestly I didn\’t expect it at all, even though it was hinted at in the opening scene, I missed it.
Definitely think I\’d like the original version of this story. Happily I found a website that lists Glenn Balch\’s books and notes which ones are revised reprints, so maybe I can avoid this mistake again.

Rating: 2/5            118 pages, 1960

Animorphs #54 

by K.A. Applegate

     Wow, hard to believe it\’s actually over. I finally finished this sixty-two book middle-grade sci-fi series (counting in the four Meagamorphs and four Chronicles. I didn\’t read the offshoots called Alternamorphs, which it sounds like are in Choose Your Own Adventure style). Warning for some SPOILERS.
Jumps right into the action showing how the battle ended- and yes Rachel ends up in a fight with Tom/Yeerk and his followers. They both die. The rest of the team manages to end the war against the alien Yeerks, the Visser is taken captive, Jake cleverly talks the Andalites into doing things their way (don\’t want the Andalites running Earth or taking credit for the victory) without much loss of face (amusingly, Earth becomes a tourist destination for Andalites who want to taste food). The Animorphs kinda go their separate ways and we see what happens to each of them- and I found all their paths fitting (although Tobias made me feel sad- he\’s distraught at loosing Rachel and basically leaves to just live as a hawk). After a year the Visser is brought to trial for war crimes. Jake has been suffering ever since it ended- most of the others found a purpose to their life, but Jake is depressed and directionless. The trial brings back all his memories as he has to testify and feels the mountain of guilt again for his role in killing innocents. The other Animorphs force him into morphing dolphin in the ocean so he can physically release some tension and feel a bit of joy again- and they all have a long serious talk about the war, its effect on them, where the guilt lies, etc. Very good stuff!
Then the story takes a sudden turn- I knew before that a lot of fans hate the ending of the series, but it really took me by surprise what it was. Jake receives a report that Ax had been scouting around in outer space (he\’s a Prince and captain of his own ship now) and encountered a suspicious, seeming-empty huge ship. He went aboard with part of his crew, something went wrong, there\’s only one survivor. Of course Jake gets together the few remaining Animorphs (addition of two new people who have been studying under Jake and minus  Cassie who stays behind) and they secretly take what used to be a Yeerk ship, out there to investigate. They find that Ax and his crew were subsumed by a huge new alien thing- and they get ready to face off to it, even though they have no chance. And that\’s it.
The book abruptly ends. You can only assume that they were all taken by this new alien. I nearly yelled aloud in frustration because- I wanted to know what happened! But after some thinking I kinda get what the author was aiming at. A lot of this book was showing what happened to the main characters in the aftermath of war, how they were able to adjust and go on with their lives, or not. (Strange that the families were hardly mentioned). But then this new threat comes up and they go face it- so the message I take from that is: there\’s always another battle. You think it\’s all over and you have peace but something else will eventually rear up and make you fight again. And sometimes- you just can\’t win.
It sure would be nice if someone wrote another series continuing where this one dropped off- do the Animorphs still retain a thread of consciousness or individuality in that alien thing? Could they be rescued? what happens if that alien finds Earth- where Cassie still is, with all the other humans, Hork-Bajir and visiting Andalites. Hm, maybe there\’s some fanfic out there on this one . . .
The book is on my e-reader.

Rating: 4/5               176 pages, 2001

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