Tag: Young Adult

by Anne McCaffrey

Closely following Dragonsong, when this book opens Menolly has just left the sea hold she grew up in, and landed in the Harper Hall. I had forgotten the entire story takes place over just seven days- seven days in which a lot happens. Menolly is tested by the various teachers on her knowledge and skill- in singing, playing a variety of instruments, musical theory and even making the instruments from raw materials. She faces some instant resentment and prejudice from peers- girls sneering at her manners, boys jealous of her fire lizards, even one instructor who disapproves of girls being serious music students (in this world). But she also quickly finds friends, and admirers. She can’t quite believe it at first, not only being allowed, but encouraged to make music (having been punished for that where she grew up) and rather falls all over herself apologizing for everything. Then there’s her slow-healing injuries- her feet are still very sore, and her nearly crippled hand hinders her performance at first. But Menolly literally finds her stride in this book, adroitly showing her natural talent and abilities to those around her, standing up for herself to some nasty girls who gossip and try to ruin her reputation, even learning more about what her fire lizards can do, and coaching the Masterharper and one of his senior journeymen through the impression of their own fire lizards. This one didn’t fade at all on a re-read.

Rating: 4/5
264 pages, 1977

more opinions:
Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

by Anne McCaffrey

This book was just as wonderful on a re-read as when I first discovered it decades ago. I actually savored it this time around, stopping myself at the end of each chapter to continue the next day- when I could easily have finished it in much quicker! Set in the world of Dragonflight, centered around an ordinary and very sympathetic character. Menolly is youngest daughter of a large family in a sea hold- a place very much set in old traditions. Her one love is music- which relieves all the drudgery of cleaning fish, tending her senile uncle and other tasks- but her father disapproves. Life becomes even more unbearable when the Harper who had nurtured her talent dies, and she seriously injures her hand- so her parents tell her she’ll never be able to play an instrument again. Menolly runs away from the Hold and shelters from dangerous Threadfall in a cave on a bluff. She happens across a clutch of fire lizards just as they are hatching- and bonds with nine of the delightful little creatures. The dragonlike lizards seem to like her music, easing her loneliness, and Menolly has enough skills as a fisherman’s daughter to survive there. Until one day she’s found by a dragonrider, running from Thread (having wandered a bit too far from her cave). He takes her to a weyr where she is shocked at the treatment she receives- kindness, understanding, even appreciation for her music when she looses caution and sings in front of others. Her confusion and alarm at being given attention and kindness makes you realize just how badly she’d been treated back home. (Meanwhile, all this time back at seahold, only her brother and the new replacement Harper had continued to look for her when she ran away and was presumed dead!) It’s with relief and gladness that the reader sees Menolly at the end of the book facing a possible new life for herself- one in which she can embrace her talent and grow, instead of feeling constantly squelched and shamed.

How I loved this book as a teen. I came across a piece of it when I was in fourth or fifth grade- in a school volume with selected short stories, poems, and excerpts. The piece of Dragonsong in there wasn’t assigned reading, I was intrigued by the illustrations and read it on my own- having no context of the world it was set in, or the background- it started in the moment when Menolly pushed open the heavy seahold doors to leave home right before Threadfall, and wrapped up right after the momentous scene where she impressed the fire lizards. I read it several times over- fascinated, but didn’t realize it came from a full-length book. Years later, at an event with my family which I found boring, I wandered the building and discovered a small library- and of course I browsed the shelves. Dragonsong was there. I may have read the whole thing in one sitting, or found it at the public library later to finish it- I don’t recall now- but I immediately recognized it as the story I’d enjoyed in the school volume- and was so thrilled. Even more so to find it had two sequels. I like the illustration I’ve put to head this post, but the first copy I picked up had the whimsical artwork here to the left. Can’t decide which is my favorite now.

Rating: 5/5
202 pages, 1976

more opinions:
Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

by Kenneth Oppel

This novel is of an early language experiment done with chimpanzees, in the seventies. It’s told from the viewpoint of a teenager whose parents work at a university. They bring home an infant chimp to raise in their home- to see if it can learn to communicate with sign language. Ben is annoyed at first, jealous of how much attention the chimpanzee demands. He’s also not happy having to attend a new school, dealing with pressure from his parents to get better grades, navigating an intense new interest in girls and trying to figure all that out while making new friends. Gradually he becomes more involved with Zan, the chimp, and starts to relate things he’s learned from his mother’s books (Jane Goodall!) with Zan’s behavior, also comparing to humans. He decides to be methodical in his efforts to win a girl’s attention- keeping notes on things she likes in a logbook similar to how his parents keep notes on Zan, and starts interpreting how kids behave at school- constantly shifting social status and all- with “alpha” chimp behavior. That was both funny and interesting. The family is eager to see how Zan starts picking up sign language and using it, but they come under scrutiny from the university department who brings in an expert challenging their ideas- is Zan really learning language? or is he just cleverly imitating signs to get rewards? There’s issues renewing their grant, and it becomes harder to manage keeping Zan- while he can be cute and endearing, at barely two years old he’s already stronger than any one human, can become aggressive without much notice and makes horrendous messes. This all leads to Ben’s parents deciding the chimpanzee must go- probably to a research facility where he can live with other chimps. Ben protests- he’s become fond of Zan and feels like the chimp is his little brother now- and he feels it’s unfair to treat the chimp as part of a human family and then ditch him in a new environment- will he be able to adjust? Ben’s outrage spurs him to some hasty, questionable actions- and while the ending was satisfying I felt it concluded a bit too quickly.

Overall I liked this book- I’ve read quite a few in the past about language experiments like this that were actually done with chimpanzees and gorillas, and I think this was a very well-rounded look at that for teens. It touches on all the issues without really diving deeply into any one thing- is the chimpanzee a family member or just an experimental subject? what is he really learning from them? what’s the best way to treat him fairly? At the end there are glimpses of different ways chimps are treated in other facilities- some quite grim and others more benign. Reading this made me look to see if I have other nonfiction books on similar topics on my shelf.

Rating: 3/5
375 pages, 2010

by Kacen Callender 

     Felix is a trans gay seventeen-year-old. He lives in New York, attends a special summer art school program, goes back and forth between his dad\’s apartment and his best friend\’s. He really wants to apply for a scholarship but can\’t quite get his portfolio together, and seems to spend a lot more time hanging out with his friends, talking about issues and messaging around on Instagram than actually making any art. But then, art wasn\’t really the focus of the story. It\’s relationships, and finding oneself, and coming to terms with how people do or do not see you, and how you see yourself. It\’s about feeling marginalized- Felix is also black- and honestly I was surprised at how often people within the LGBTQ community portrayed here cut each other down- for not being different enough, or for taking up each other\’s space. Felix is surrounded by friends who are gay or non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming. He came across as a really emotional person, although we\’re inside his head so maybe it just appeared that way. He\’s upset with his father- who supports him in many ways but often uses the wrong pronouns and can\’t bring himself to say Felix\’s chosen name. He\’s shocked and horrified when someone hacks his online account, prints photos from before he transitioned, and displays them at the school. Felix is determined to find out who did this and get revenge- so he starts catfishing (a new term for me) another student on Instagram, pretty sure this guy is the culprit even though his friends warn him he could be mistaken. Things get awkward when Felix starts to realize he actually likes talking to this guy in his online persona, when in real life they can\’t stand each other. Meanwhile his best friend has started dating someone new, which hurts his feelings although he can\’t figure out why. 
I found this book a little hard to get into because well, it\’s not my usual type of read and the tangled mess of friendships, dating, and fake online identities (who knows what about whom?) kinda makes my head swim after a while. I was rather appalled at how quickly Felix jumped into his plan for revenge, but it also gave his character some realistic flaws, I admit. I also didn\’t like how Felix treated his father, or some of his friends later on in the story- but things get better near the end. Felix starts to do more painting, figures out some things about relationships, finds the bravery to speak honestly to his best friend, and bounces around New York attending LGBTQ support groups, going to the gay pride parade (although he hates the crowds and noise of parades- I\’m with him on that one!) and sometimes just loafing around the park with his friends. Some of the conversations in this book felt odd- especially in the support group- and some of the talks Felix had with his dad- I sympathized with the father a lot but on the other hand, found his advice to Felix regarding love rather strange. Because more than anything, Felix wanted to feel loved and have a strong connection with someone- he actually had that all along but didn\’t see it until the end. Well, it\’s a good story and I was eager to see if Felix would find the things he was looking for, but honestly I could have done without all the f-words and the characters were always smoking pot or drinking which also bothered me, but it made me feel so old

I sincerely thank Jenny for bringing this book to my attention and giving me the opportunity to read it.

Rating: 3/5                    354 pages, 2020

by Timothy Zahn 

Sorry book, I skimmed most of you. The more convoluted the plot got, with suspicions abounding about who knows what about whom, who is infiltrating or conniving or scheming about what- well, I just lost interest. Kayna and Taneem stow away inside a bomb-rigged safe to get aboard the enemy spaceship; Jack and Draycos wind up in jail, then get sprung and for the bulk of the story are hiding on another ship in a gap between the hull and the inner wall- each party spying on the crew and those in charge, sowing unrest in the thin alliance their enemies hold, and attempting to sabotage the ultimate weapon. There’s lots of sneaking through air ducts, and using sophisticated tools to eavesdrop. Kayna isn’t who we thought she was (no surprise) and Jack finds out a few more obscure secrets about his past. Taneem realizes she can slide onto other people’s skin without them even being aware (the guy was asleep) which was kind of weird, but not really explored much. In the end more about the K’da background and their bond with humans came to light, which is really why I pushed through this. My main curiosity was about the ongoing development of the K’da/human relationship, and the interactions between the four main characters- but this book was much more about the tension and excitement of space battle. Not really for me. However fans of the author like how this wrapped up the series with drama and speed, so there you are.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                364 pages, 2008

by Timothy Zahn

     More curious twists. Jack and Draycos happen to be near the planet where his parents last were – before dying in a supposed accident. Jack decides he can\’t pass up the chance to visit the place, and get some closure. Upon landing they are promptly accosted by an alien group that lives in a secluded canyon. (I happened the really like the naming convention of the aliens- it was quite unique). These aliens claim to recognize something about Jack and press him into service as a judge, to settle disputes they\’ve had lingering for years. Because the last set of assigned judges in their community- provided by the intergalactic entity- died under suspicious circumstances. Jack quickly realizes that something else is going on in this alien colony, and he\’s determined to get to the bottom of it. So he pretends to accept his new role (using the manipulative and people-reading skills he learned from his criminal uncle) while practically living in captivity and sending Draycos (whose existence is still a secret) out at night to spy around. But then he finds out that events in the past here involved his own parents- and if he\’s not careful, his old enemies might turn up to finish him off before he can expose things. Meanwhile there\’s a parallel storyline of Alison and her new alien/dragon companion Taneem, who have been captured by the enemy who coerce them into opening the safe that was owned by the advance team of Draycos\’ people- which will give them the coordinates of the arriving remnants of his race. Alison and Taneem have to outwit the enemy while hoping to gain access to that information themselves, but the reader is starting to wonder if Alison has her own, darker motives as well. Just like the other stories in this series, there\’s plenty of action, intrigue, and delving into ethics, especially between Jack and his K\’da companion with his high standards of self-imposed chivalry. 

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5          318 pages, 2007

by Timothy Zahn 

     Third in this series. It was a good story, even though the adventure is not my usual type. Jack and his symbiont companion are still trying to identify the enemy of Draycos\’ race. Having failed to do so as mercenary recruits, this time Jack deliberately gets himself sold into slavery, intending to hack the computers of the wealthy owner who has the right connections. Before ever having a chance to get close to a computer in the family household, Jack first has to survive his life of servitude- suffering deprivation, long work hours, unjust punishments and so on. He is astonished when his fellow slaves help him, with no obvious benefit to themselves. Draycos tries to help him plan an escape route and break into the house, but it isn\’t until the spoiled daughter demands him as her plaything (having seen him perform tricks for his companions) that he has a way in. It\’s not easier though. Inside the house is even more dangerous and tricky than just living in the slave quarters was. Somebody maybe is spying on them. Jack doesn\’t speak his owners\’ language. He guesses wrong at things several times. In the end, with a neat twist of irony, he finds the information he was after through no effort of his own. But then finds it impossible to leave safely- as now his skills as a conman and lockpick have been recognized by the owner, who plans to sell him to the highest bidder- or are there ulterior motives? I\’ve kind of left a lot out here- the plot got rather detailed and honestly sometimes it lost my interest but then new turns would make me eager to find out how they were going to get out of the mess. Something strange is happening with Draycos, too- his connection to Jack is changing, his senses are sharpening with no real explanation. I\’m curious to see what that\’s becoming, as the alien/human relationship is what intrigues me about this series. Funny, the girl Kayna which a few other reviewers speculated was being set up for a future enemy or love interest, wasn\’t present in this book at all.

Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5              300 pages, 2005

by Timothy Zahn 

     Sequel to Dragon and Thief. Not quite as good as the first book was for me, but that could be due to the focus on battles and such. Jack and Draycos need to identify who had attacked the dragon\’s species, without revealing the fact that Draycos survived. They figure they can get this information from the database of mercenary companies that keep tabs on all their enemies and competitors. So Jack enlists in a mercenary unit that regularly takes children (base age is fourteen, though quite a few lie and join up younger). Supposedly they do this because their families are desperate for the payout money, although the contracts of course have fine print that often lets the company weasel out of paying- but that\’s beside the point. Jack goes through a ten-day boot camp, trying to fit in but his dragon \’tattoo\’ gets noticed and he has to pretend to show it off, not hide it. Which makes keeping Drayco\’s existence secret a bit more tricky. Meanwhile they have to figure out how to access the computers, and get sent to their first battle assignment before accomplishing that. A place where they are not welcome, and after a short while Jack realizes they\’re not actually there to defend the civilians as he was told. The fighting in this book is not hard to read- it\’s mostly bombs, tactical evasion, spying, getting taken captive and interrogated, and so on. Draycos takes matters into his own claws a few times, but even in that case the descriptions are light on gore (and he prefers not to kill unless it\’s necessary anyways). 

More interesting is the continually developing relationship between Draycos and his host- he\’s still trying to instill his code of honor and ethics in the boy, while Jack can\’t help falling back on the conman mindset he was taught. There\’s also an intriguing character Alison Kayna, who seems a lot more experienced than the other new recruits. Suspicion goes both ways between her and Jack- they each wonder what the other is up to, but avoid close questioning or striking up a friendship. The story closes with Kayna zeroing in on the fact that Jack is definitely involved in something- which probably leads right into the next book in the series.
I kind of like the fact that something I at first assumed was a weak point in the plot- Jack sabotaging a natural resource that was the crux of the whole conflict the mercenaries were there for with an item that could withstand the blast- actually turned out to be something he did on purpose. Seems like his desire to be a better person- turning away from his shady upbringing- and Drayco\’s strong sense of chivalry are sinking into each other. There was also a really cool scene where Draycos and Jack\’s uncle spoke in code using poetry- they basically took turns quoting a lengthy poem, with critical information given in lines were deliberately omitted. (However, the dragon\’s line-by-line explanation of that to Jack later on was a bit tedious).
This one has my favorite cover of the series. I just happen to like the tattoo detail and how Drayco\’s tail is snapping out of Jack\’s arm (even though there was never a scene where the dragon showed himself while Kayna was nearby).
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5             301 pages, 2004

by Timothy Zahn 

This very sci-fi story is about two unlikely companions. Jack is a boy- about twelve I think- who was raised by a conman, decided to quit that lifestyle and at the opening of the book is hiding out on a mostly uninhabited planet because someone framed him for a very serious theft. Draycos is an alien being, a highly intelligent dragonlike creature trained as a warrior, with a strong sense of honor and ethics. Draycos and his crewmates are fleeing an enemy intent on commiting genocide against his race, when they\’re ambushed and his ship crashes on the same planet: Draycos is the only survivor.  Some dangerous mercenaries come to inspect the crash site, to do away with any possible survivors or witnesses. The boy had approached the crash site out of curiosity but finds himself fleeing alongside Draycos for his life. They strike up a very unusual partnership. Draycos agrees to help Jack solve the mystery of the theft he was blamed for, after which they intend to do something about the aliens that killed Draycos\’ people- because they are now approaching humankind as well, presumably with similar intent. This quickly becomes a story with a lot of action and intrigue, which ends up centering on a high-stakes heist Jack is forced to perform by his enemies, only in the end to discover the enemy isn\’t quite who he thought it was. There are encounters with other aliens, chase scenes with narrow escapes, sophisticated break-ins, and other adventures. Not my usual kind of reading yet I was riveted to the page. 
The dynamic between Jack and Draycos is a good one- Jack is not really pleased at having to use his thievery skills just when he was trying to start living a reformed life, but at the same time he is often irritated by Draycos\’ insistence on honorable actions which he perceives as being pointless or getting in the way of their goal. Draycos is literally bound to the boy in order to live (more on that in a moment) but finds Jack\’s everyone-for-himself attitude troublesome and at one point serious thinks of abandoning him, even though it might mean his own undoing. His often superior attitude reminded me a lot of Ax from the Animorphs books. And there is an even stronger connection:
SPOILERS in this paragraph. I didn\’t know this aspect going into the book, it took me by as much surprise as it did the main character, and I was instantly intrigued and delighted by the unique idea. The dragonlike alien shifts between dimensions. He can be three-dimensional for a six-hour limit, then must rest or he will die. And he rests by flattening himself into two-dimensional form that lays over the skin of an appropriate host- in this case the boy Jack. He\’s like a living tattoo that can slide around into any position on the body, and pop out into real space at any point. I\’ve read plenty of books featuring dragons that have some sort of bond with a human partner- mental telepathy or sharing emotions, etc. This idea! It was so fascinating to imagine, and of course gives Jack an edge when facing his enemies who don\’t know Draycos even exists, much less is travelling along with him at every moment, communicating, planning, and able to snap out into attack mode when the moment is right. The dragon can also bend himself somehow to move through walls, and says that when he is in two-dimensional form \”most of my body is now projected along a fourth dimension, outside the bounds of this universe.\” Does that sound like Z-space to anyone? Ha. But in this case it\’s handled so well- the alien\’s attempts to explain a complicated phenomenon of his life-form to an unbelieving boy is totally believable to this reader. 
And my fascination with this concept- that Draycos with all his speed, agility, intelligence, claws that can pierce metal and ability to go through walls- yet had a serious vulnerability in depending on this young boy for his continual existence (also he couldn\’t read written language, a crucial flaw in a few points of the story that he struggled to overcome)- kept me reading with a lot of interest, even though the main premise is outside my usual interest. It\’s a well-written story too, which also kept me very engaged. There\’s even some funny moments. Like when they are running from enemies, crash an alien celebration ceremony and avoid being outright killed for the intrusion by pretending to be hired performers. Draycos stepped up to the role very adroitly!

Well, I picked this one up on a whim at a library sale once. Glad now that I did! I recognized the author\’s name, probably because he has written a lot of Star Wars books (even though I\’ve never read any of those). I liked this so much I looked for the rest of the series before I was even halfway done with this one. Someone else has #2 and 3 on hold ahead of me at the library, so I\’ll have to wait a bit, but I already have #4-6 in hand now. My only complaint- and this is a silly one- is that the cover image doesn\’t really match the description of Draycos. He has shiny gold scales with red edges, that color change to black when angered or excited. So I guess that\’s why the cover image dragon has dark skin, but it looks more leathery than scaly, hm.

Rating: 4/5                             248 pages, 2003
More opinions: Thistle-Chaser

by K.A. Applegate

Another good one! Like The Andalite Chronicles, it fills in a ton of backstory about the Yeerks invading Earth. This one jumps around between the present narrative and the past, because it\’s Visser One being on trial for multiple counts of treason, and having to explain herself- recounting how the Yeerk Edriss first discovered Earth and realized humans might make good host species, how they took their first hosts to explore the possibilities and learn about humans, how the Sharing was initially set up, how Edriss and her companion Yeerk went through several different hosts until Edriss ended up in Marco\’s mom, and so on. Half of this is Edriss simply telling it, the other half is \”memory transfers\” where everyone gets to view exactly what went on, revealing some details Edriss would have rather kept secret. All the time Visser Three is there- goading her and spouting anger and at risk of being put on trial himself, as Visser One takes every opportunity to point out his mistakes. At one point someone dumps a tiger and a bear into the group- as a distraction?- to make them think it\’s the Animorphs but later someone let the actual Animorphs know where they are and they face a real attack. It was actually cool to see the Animorphs through their enemies\’ eyes. Also to see how humans appeared to them- kind of a character study on the human race. As in The Departure, this one lets the reader see things from the other side, making Visser One not exactly sympathetic, but definitely more of a gray character- you can see why she was driven to do the things she did, but she readily displays her ruthlessness- for all she appears to have developed fond feelings for humankind (living among them in disguise for over a year before any more Yeerks came to Earth), she has no qualms about killing children to meet her ends (and that\’s just one example). Visser Three, on the other hand, remains thoroughly himself the whole time in this book- angry and blustering and bloodthirsty. Not one of the funnier books, but definitely intriguing and laid a lot of things out. Incidentally it was difficult at some points to tell who was talking, or who could hear whom using thought-speak though, when the narrating Visser One was communicating with her host or someone else, or they were in one of the memory replays- but I skimmed past some of that muddle regardless. As a trial it\’s all one huge farce, because in the end the Vissers evade the death penalty and carry on- with some warnings is all. If you\’re interested, do check out some of the other reviews I linked to below. Some of them go into a lot more detail than I cover here.

Rating: 4/5                      220 pages, 1999

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
the Library Ladies


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it




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