Miles Morales (Audiobook) by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard

Miles MoralesMiles Morales

by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs. 53 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: August 7 – 8, 2017


It was Bendis/Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough — especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he’s Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko’s original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he’s popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There’s a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school — a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He’s not sleeping well — tormented by nightmares about his uncle’s death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him — descendants of criminals –should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It’s hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it’s a doozy, and it’s not what it seems to be early on.

I think Miles is a great character, he’s Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character — a great dad, it seems. Miles’ best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There’s a girl, of course, because he’s 16. I don’t know if Alicia’s a fixture in the comic or not, but it’d be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That’s just cool.

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn’t detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively — just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him — this’ll entertain. I won’t say I’ve read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades — but I’m willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook) by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin

There’s just so much I want to say about this book, I know I’m leaving stuff out even as I prepare to hit “Publish.” Also, I know that I’m not doing justice to how good this book is. Given that, here’s my best shot.

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., 40 min.
HarperAudio, 2017

Read: July 27 – August 1, 2017

I’ll be honest, the hype around this one turned me off initially. It just didn’t seem like my kind of thing. But my wife bought a copy and tore through it and started telling everyone she came across that they needed to read it (especially those of us she lives with). When I saw the library had a copy of the audiobook, I snagged it, because I hadn’t got that far on my TBR. By this time, I only remembered “YA,” “something about Black Lives Matter,” and “Mrs. Irresponsible Reader said I needed to.” Which is about as tabula rasa as one could get when coming to a book.

Our central character is Starr Carter. She attends a very nice private school in the suburbs of whatever unidentified city she lives in. She plays basketball there, has friends and a boyfriend and seems to be generally well-regarded by all. Then there’s her “other life”, that has almost no relation to that one — she and her family live in a poor neighborhood where almost no one knows her by anything but “Mav’s daughter what works at the store” (or something close to that). She has a friend or two in the neighborhood, but mostly works and then goes home. On one of the rare nights she goes out to do something social, she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil, who she hasn’t seen for a few months. Their reunion is cut short, sadly, while he drives her home and they’re pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop. I’ll leave the details for you to read on your own, but essentially, her unarmed friend is shot repeatedly by the police officer in front of Starr.

In the days that follow Khalil’s death is a nationwide story, Starr’s being questioned by the police and is trying to keep her psyche intact while the wheels of justice grind slowly. There are problems at school, unforeseen challenges at home and in the neighborhood, add in the involvement with the criminal justice system and activists, and it’s clear that neither of Starr’s lives are going to be the same again.

Yes, this book is about the shooting of Khalil and the aftermath. But it’s about more than that, too. Similar to the way you could say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about the trial Tom Robinson and its aftermath. There’s a whole lot of other things going on in both books that are just as much a part of the essence as the shooting/trial. There’s family growth and change, individual characters learning more about the world and changing, there’s the evolution of localities and best of all, there are characters taking all of this in and exercising a little agency to change themselves — and impact everything in around them.

One thing I didn’t expect was how fun this book would end up being. I laughed a lot — her father’s strange theories about Harry Potter, her Fresh Prince of Bel Air obsession, the teasing between her friends, her family’s very cut-throat approach to watching the NBA finals and trying to jinx each other’s teams, are just a start. Even when it’s not being out-and-out funny, there’s a joie de vivre that characterizes the lives of these characters.

When they’re not grieving, being threatened (by criminals or those who are supposed to be protecting them from criminals), being angered at the way that the system seems to be destined to fail them, or scared about their lives, that is. Because there’s a lot of that, too. All of which is justified. The interplay between the emotional extremes speaks volumes to the authenticity of Thomas’ work, and makes it much more effective than it could’ve been in less careful hands.

There are so few YA novels with healthy — or existing families — that Thomas should probably win an award or three just for having so many in one book. None of the families are perfect (though Starr’s comes close), some push the boundaries of “dysfunctional” into something we need a new word for; but at the very least there were at least a core of people caring about each other and trying to help each other, in their own way.

Yes, there are political overtones — or at least ramifications — to this book, but this is first and foremost a human story and can be appreciated by humans from all over the political spectrum. Thomas, as far as I can tell, went out of her way to be fair and balanced. It’d have been very easy to paint some of these characters/groups as all evil, all good, all misunderstood, all [fill in the blank]. Instead, she took the more difficult, more honest, and much more interesting approach and filled the book with people all over the moral spectrum, no matter their profession, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education, etc.

A few words about Turpin’s work. I loved it. She was just fantastic, and rose to the challenge of bringing this kind of book to life. Looking at her credits just now, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for her — she’s clearly a talented heavy-hitter on the audiobook front.

I laughed, I cried . . . it moved me. This is the whole package, really. It’ll challenge you, it’ll entertain you, and give you a little hope for tomorrow (while helping you despair about the time until tomorrow comes).

—–

5 Stars

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

Ewan Pendle and the White WraithEwan Pendle and the White Wraith

by Shaun Hume
Series: Ewan Pendle, #1

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Popcorn & Rice Publishing, 2012

Read: August 1 – 2, 2017d


Yeah, so this is a MG Fantasy about an orphan boy with horrible foster parents being recruited to go to a private school where he’s trained in mystical arts and gets in all sorts of adventures. But it’s totally not Harry Potter. Clearly inspired by that series by Rowling — but others as well, don’t get me wrong (Riordan and Mull leap to mind as examples) — but Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is its own thing. Every now and then its non-Harry Potterness gets in your face and is a bit distracting. At the same time, focusing on how Hume zags when Rowling zigs, or how they approach the same convention differently displays the strengths of this project while making it appealing for the reader missing the Hogwarts crew.

Ewan and the others at his school have the rare ability to see all sorts of mythical Creatures, and as such, are trained to deal with them and other exotic threats. Classic boarding school-type hijinks ensue, Ewan makes a couple of really good friends, and a few others. He and Mathilde and Enid, his two best friends, come across some information which they believe indicates that graduates, officials and at least one student are involved in an attempt to kill the Queen. They bend, break, and ignore rules to investigate and try to stop this plot.

Meanwhile, they have all sorts of interesting studies — there’s a class involving swords, one hand-to-hand combat, one involving making potions (of sorts), one involving the Creatures (of course), and things of that nature. That’s pretty fun.

The relationships between Ewan and his two closest friends, as well as those between the other students and some of the teachers are just great. I can easily see fan favorites emerging from among the student body as the series continues. There’s a couple of kids in his class that have an irrational hatred of Ewan and his friends. Those two are a little too underdeveloped now, they might as well have mustaches to twirl. It won’t take much in book 2 to develop them into something interesting.

On the whole, an entertaining, heartfelt, and quick fantasy novel that’ll please the MG crowd. The plot is solid, ditto for the characters, and the world is both familiar and foreign. I’d like book 2 to deepened everything a little, but given the worldbuilding and plotting that one had to establish that it won’t, that should be easy. Give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

3.5 Stars

Top Ten (and a bonus) Books from My Childhood

Having trouble finishing a post in time for this morning — mostly it’s that there are too many things I want to say about a few books and I’m having trouble narrowing it down. So, here’s a re-run of something I liked having written.
I was bemoaning how long my current read was the other day and how it was going to leave me without a post for today, and my ever-so-clever daughter suggested, “Why don’t you list the Top 10 Books from your childhood?” That sounded pretty fun, so I figured that I might as well. It turned out to have been better than I thought, so kudos to her.

Ranking them really would be impossible, but then 11 came to mind really without any effort, and I couldn’t axe one of them, so there’s a bonus entry to the list. All of these I read more than I can count — if they’re part of a series, these were the ones that I came back to most often. The links are to Goodreads pages because I can’t find good official pages for all the books/authors (a true sign of my age, I guess).

Enough of that, on with the trip down Amnesia Lane:

The Castle of LlyrThe Castle of Llyr

by Lloyd Alexander
The Chronicles of Prydain taught me most of what I needed to know about Fantasy (augmenting The Chronicles of Narnia‘s lessons). Fflewddur Fflam here is at his best, I think it’s here that I fell in love with Eilonwy, Taran’s more of a real hero than before, and you get plenty of Gurgi (who I just have to mention because thinking of him makes me smile). There’s peril, the characters grow more than they have before, a hint of romance . . . it’s not the most important book in the series, but I think it’s pivotal.

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity PaintDanny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint

by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams
I didn’t know until today that this was the first in the series, I always figured it was mid-series. It’s the only one of the series that I owned — thankfully, the library had a few more — so it’s the one I read most. It was also my favorite — I just loved the stuff at the edge of our solar system and Prof. Bullfinch and Doctor Grimes making musical instruments from their hair — stupid as all get out, but it worked for me.

The Mystery of the Dead Man's RiddleThe Mystery of the Dead Man’s Riddle

by William Arden
While Encyclopedia Brown (see below) got me reading mysteries, it was The Three Investigators — Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw (btw, the only thing there I had to look up was Pete’s last name — not bad for a series I haven’t touched since the late 80’s) got me hooked on reading detective series. The Dead Man’s Riddle was one of my favorites — and I think the first or second I read — something about the Cockney slang kept bringing me back to it. I read what I do today because of this series, really.

SuperfudgeSuperfudge

by Judy Blume
I remember Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing being funnier, but this was a better story — the Fletchers leaving NYC, Peter maturing, Fudge being a real pain, not just a cute nuisance. Blume taught me a lot about how to read non-genre stuff, probably paving the way for Hornby, Tropper, Weiner, etc.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

by Julie Edwards
What a great world, what a great magic system . . . I’m not sure I can express what this book meant to me as a kid, and the copious warm-fuzzies the memory brings up. I remember that it was in the pages of this book about a magic kingdom that I first learned about DNA and RNA (and what those letters meant) — thanks, elementary school science classes. The creatures’ names in this are great (and, as an adult, I can “hear” Andrews saying them in my mind for an added layer of fun). There’s a great deal of whimsy here, a sense of play that permeates this — even when it gets silly. The kingdom’s motto, “peace, love and a sense of fun” really sums up the spirit of the book.

Me and My Little BrainMe and My Little Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Mercer Mayer (illus.)
Sure, the series was supposedly about Tom, but J. D.’s the real hero of the books. He has a conscience, a better moral compass than his brother — and is probably just as smart. This is the book that lets him shine as he ought to have all along. All the books had their strong points, and were fun, but this ruled them all.

The Phantom TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illus.)
Such wordplay! What a great, twisted way to teach how important words and ideas are. Seriously, just a wonderful book. The humor is so off-kilter, any appreciation I have for puns came from this book (and it set the standard that a pun must achieve for me not to groan). If you haven’t seen the documentary about it, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, get on it. (I contributed to the Kickstarter for it, I should add).

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C. S. Lewis
I remember the bookstore where I bought this, the date and month that I bought it, and reading a good chunk of it before I got home. I read this one more than the rest of the series (Prince Caspian a close second). I just love this one — you get Reep at his bravest and funniest, some really odd creatures, an epic story, and Eustace’s redemption (back when I did crazy things like this, I almost got a tattoo of Eustace as Dragon). Who could ask for more?

Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from MarsAlan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

by Daniel M. Pinkwater
Pinkwater has funnier and stranger books (both before and after this one), but there was heart, there was depth — there was length! — to this story about a kid who didn’t really fit in until he made a friend who didn’t want to fit in. This is another one where I can peg the place and time I bought it. Science Fiction-y in a real world (didn’t know you could do that!), comic book geeks as heroes, and real non-sanitized-for-kids emotions. There’s no way this wouldn’t be a favorite. More than the rest on this list, I’m thinking of finding my old copy and taking it out for another spin (because I just read the next one a couple of years ago).

The Westing GameThe Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin
If I had to pick one off this list (and I don’t), this would probably be my favorite. I re-read it two years ago, and it was one of my favorite experiences that year with a book. The characters are great, the story was so clever, the writing so crisp. There’s nothing wrong with this book at all.

I saw a hardcover reprinting of this on Monday, and had to fight to resist buying a new copy. Kind of regretting that now. [Note: I went back a couple of days later and bought the hardcopy. It looks very nice on my shelf]

Encyclopedia Brown Boy DetectiveEncyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

by Donald J. Sobol
Summer after second grade, we were on a forever-long road trip and I was bored, so I demanded my parents buy me something to read. I must’ve been a real snot about it, because at the next town, they did. I got two books, this one and Sugar Creek Gang Screams in the Night (not the best in the series, but it was good enough to read several times). It blew me away — I loved the puzzles, the characters, the idea. I wanted to be a P. I. This was my first mystery book, and it clearly set the stage for most of what I’ve read since (about a third of what I read).
Were you a fan of any of these as a kid? What were some of your faves? Have you read them lately?

Pub Day Repost: Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson
eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017
Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017

Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3 Stars

Gork, the Teenage Dragon by Gabe Hudson

Gork, the Teenage DragonGork, the Teenage Dragon

by Gabe Hudson

eARC, 400 pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2017

Read: June 30 – July 3, 2017


Note: As I re-read this before it goes up, I thought I should stress something: this is a fun book and I think people will enjoy it. The problem is, it takes more words to describe the stuff I wasn’t crazy about than it does to describe the stuff I liked. I chuckled, I grinned, I was happy for Gork’s successes (happier for his best-friend Fribby’s successes — but they usually coincided) — as rare as they were. Don’t let the length of the “bleh” bits here distract you — Hudson just provoked some thoughts.

There were parts of this that were delightful, parts of it that were problematic, parts that were just okay. There were also too many parts, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Our protagonist and unlikely hero is Gork — a dragon with pretty strong feelings toward Tolkein and the author of Beowulf for the depiction of dragons — he’s sort of a wimp, his horns aren’t that big (pretty small, really), he’s not that fierce (but he wants to be), and he tends to faint at inopportune times and frequently. Nevertheless, he’s about to finish his last year at the War Academy and head off to terrorize and conquer a planet of his own, all he needs to do is get someone to agree to be his queen and they’ll head off. We meet him on the day he’s supposed to do just that. Now, think back to high school — does this seem like a guy who’s going to be getting a lot of dates? Not really — and when your high school is full of dragons intent on learning how to be the nastiest, fiercest, most terrifying conquerors any planet has ever seen, well — Gork’s odds are even worse.

Naturally, because this is a high school story, our puny geek has set his eyes on the most popular, gorgeous and dangerous girl in school. The question really isn’t “Will Gork and his band of friends be able to convince her to be is queen?” It’s, “Will Gork survive the day?” And oddsmakers around the school, put his chance at that at 1%.

This is clearly from the word “go” a comic novel — we’re supposed to laugh at the madness, mayhem and murdering — and it’s easy to do on the whole. It’s a crazy world Hudson’s created for these dragons to go around in, and most of the characters are amusing. I’m not convinced it works that well as a novel as a whole — as a series of goofy episodes that eventually lead to a big showdown with the nastiest dragon around, it’s all right. (I’m not sure that distinction makes sense to anyone).

I like the idea of spacefaring dragons, dragons that have fully embraced technologies that we can’t think of (or we have thought of, just haven’t done that much with yet) — robotics, nanobots, and more. Although the “mind-swap” device doesn’t really swap minds it . . . well, it’s hard to sum up, but it felt like it belonged more to a Hanna-Barbera show than a SF novel. Basically, this is a Science Fiction wonderland populated with dragons instead of highly developed humans, Grays, Vulcans or Wookies. Still, being that takes away some of the X-factor that makes people fascinated with dragons. Dragons are already pretty cool, you don’t need to give them gizmos and machines that go “ping” — if anything that detracts from them. Still…a dragon in a spaceship is a pretty cool visual.

There’s a moral code that the dragons here live by, or aspire to anyway. It glorifies treachery, destruction, brutality, and so on. Grades of F are to be aspired to, As are to be lamented. That sort of thing — but societies can’t exist like the way Hudson depicts, and honestly, his society doesn’t function the way he says it does (the fact that there are actual friendships depicted, not just uneasy alliances is proof enough against that). You can’t have characters shocked by betrayal in a world where there are classes on betrayal. It’s the moments of loyalty and help that should be shocking, and not trusted by anyone. But no one works that way in this book. This is not a problem unique to Hudson’s work, I’ve run into it before — usually, in works like this, where the twisted ethics are played for laughs and we’re not supposed to be getting as analytical about them as I am. So, ignore everything I just said.

There were just a couple too many zigs and zags to the plot — a few less challenges, a few less pages, and I think this would’ve worked a bit better. I’m not necessarily saying that I can point to something and say, “That right there — yeah, we didn’t need that,” it just dragged a bit here and there. I tend to be more patient than most of the target audience for this book, so I worry about their reaction.

Speaking of target audience — I’m not sure what it is. The humor and emotional depth says MG to me, but the Gork’s fixation on mating and the things that attracts him to potential mates (he’s pretty shallow, I should warn you) are more YA. I’m not sure it matters all that much, it’s just one of those things that ran through the back of my mind during the slow parts.

I got a bit ramble-y there, sorry about that. I clearly am not sure what to make of this book — I enjoyed it, and I bet many will, too. But it has it’s problems — my best advice is, don’t think about it — just enjoy the antics. Gork’s a good guy and is fun to hang out with.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3 Stars

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness

Paperback, 225 pg.
Candlewick Press, 2013

Read: June 1, 2017


I hadn’t even heard of this book until a couple of weeks ago, when it was recommended to me by a loyal reader. And I wasn’t given a lot of details, just a strong recommendation and something about it being “about grief.” I could’ve used the warning that it was a YA book, but otherwise, that’s all I needed to know (and the YA wouldn’t have been a deal breaker or maker — I just would’ve liked to know what I was grabbing). I’m not going to say much more than that, really. It’s about grief, there’s some magic, and it’s one of the most effective novels I’ve read this year.

There’s been so much said about this book by others — I’m almost afraid to say much, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s discovery.

You’ve got a 13 year-old boy, Conor, whose mother is undergoing cancer treatment — and it’s not going well. His grandmother (not at all the stereotypical grandmother-type, as Conor is very well aware), comes to stay with them with every new round of treatment, and Conor hates it. His father and his new wife have started a new life in the US. All of this has left Conor isolated, emotionally all alone — except at school, where he’s bullied (when not alone). Somehow in his despair, Conor summons a monster, a monster older than Western Civilization, who visits the boy to help him.

He helps him via stories — I love this — not escapism, but through the lessons from stories — and not in a “You see, Timmy . . . ” kind of moralizing — just from understanding how people work through the stories.

After reading page 15, I jotted down in my notes, “Aw, man! This is going to make me cry by the end, isn’t it?” I didn’t, for the record, but I came close (and possibly, if I hadn’t been sitting in a room with my daughter and her guitar teacher working on something, I might have.

The prose is easy and engaging — there’s a strong sense of play to the language. There’s some wonderfully subtle humor throughout, keeping this from being hopelessly depressing. The prose is deceptively breezy, it’d be very easy to read this without catching everything that Ness is doing. But mostly, what the book gives is emotion — there’s a raw emotion on display here — and if it doesn’t get to you, well, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The magic, the monster and the protagonist remind me so much of Paul Cornell’s Chalk (which is probably backwards, Chalk should be informed by this — oops). Eh, either way — this is cut from the same cloth.

That’s a bit more than I intended to say, but I’m okay with that. I’m not convinced that this is really all that well-written, technically speaking. But it packs such an emotional wallop, it grabs you, reaches down your throat and seizes your heart and does whatever it wants to with it — so who cares how technically well it’s written? (and, yeah, I do think the two don’t necessarily go together). A couple of weeks from now, I may not look back on this as fondly — but tonight, in the afterglow? Loved this.

Love, grief, hope, loss, anger, fear, monsters and the power of stories. Give this one a shot. Maybe bring a Kleenex, you never know . . .

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4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge