Gaiman, Neil. illus. by Dave McKeon. The Wolves in the Walls. Harper Collins, 2005. ISBN 978-0380810956 52 pp. $
Lucy is convinced there are wolves living in the walls of her home, but the rest of her family members are too wrapped in their own lives to take her seriously–until the wolves come stampeding out and take over the house, forcing the family to hide out in an uncomfortable shed. Brave Lucy, ever the voice of reason, suggests returning to sleep in the walls, which of course… scares the wolves away.
Gaiman and McKean of Sandman (DC Comics, 1990) fame team up to create a picture book that slips into comic book panel style frames as an effective narrative device. Text and graphics combine in a tongue-in-cheek nightmarish style that is more cleverly humorous than genuinely frightening. The writing is clever and occasionally rollickingly repetitive. The illustrations spiral out-of-control, becoming chaotically wild in the same way that Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (Harper & Row, 1963) does – the wolves at one point take over the book and practically leap off the page, but their expressions range from cheerful to terrified, rather than terrifying, and because they are rendered in sketchy pen and ink rather than realistic illustration, they are more cartoonish than frightening.
There are many subtexts that can read into this deceptively simple story: children’s fears are often valid; children may be able to solve problems that adults cannot; sometimes we worry so much about how others will perceive us that we forget they are just as uncertain/scared as we are; our most secret fears, when exposed, are often not as bad as we dreaded; naming fears diminishes them. All of these are positive messages for children. While some adults may find this book “too scary,” it should be remembered that situations that allow children to take charge are empowering, and subversive stories where the children are right and the grown-ups are wrong are historically popular, and even become classics.
Child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim explains in his classic The Uses of Enchantment (Knopf, 1976) that fear has many purposes in children’s literature, most notably to establish rules of conduct and to recognize the complex nature of children’s imaginations and emotions. By not exposing children to stories with monsters in them, the parent is ignoring the monster part inside the child, and denying the child knowledge and control over his inner demons. A little fear can be a healthy and developmentally appropriate thing. This is a picture book for elementary school readers and up that has a place in public and school libraries.
Clarke, Judith. The Lost Day. Henry Holt & Co, 1999. ISBN 978-0805061529 154 pp. $16.95
Little about this book is appealing, from the title to the cover art to the typeface. The plot (a group of friend with complicated relationships go to Melbourne for a Saturday night out on the town) is the vehicle for Vinny to become separated from the group. They worry a bit, panic by Sunday and are hysterical when he arrives home on Monday. The twist? Vinny thinks it is still Sunday.
The novel is split; the first half is a series of vignettes. Each friend recalls some past incident or ponders his or her current life situation as s/he looks for Vinny. The second half is Vinny’s version of his disappearance. The reader can infer that he was drugged, kidnapped, and possibly abused, but the truth is muddled. An unsatisfying and confusing read. For a book on a similar topic, try When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins.
Cabot, Meg. The Mediator. Harper Teen, 2005. ISBN 978-0060724696 312 pp. $
She sees dead people. Talks to them, too. In fact, her boyfriend is one (and he just happens to haunt her bedroom). As a mediator, Suze is a liaison between the world of the living and dead. Her skills are still developing, as are those of her classmate and fellow mediator Paul, who relentlessly pursues Suze in spite of the fact that she is love with Jesse, a 150 year old ghost. When Paul discovers that one talent of mediators is the ability to time travel, he decides to eliminate his competition by going back in time to warn Jesse of his impending violent death, thus preventing his spirit from lingering and meeting Suze. The newly single Suze will then have no choice but to fall in love with Paul, and become his date for the upcoming Winter Ball. Will Suze find a way to stop Paul or to get back to the 1850s before he does?
It’s refreshing to see that Cabot has another voice inside her besides that of Princess Mia Thermopolis. Somehow, this light and entertaining read also addresses issues of moral behavior, teen abstinence, and the nature of life and death. Although I haven’t read other titles in the series, I got the gist of what was going on, and now want to go back and read the other five. The graphic cover art is modern and as appealing as the story within the pages.
Cole, Stephen. Wounded (The Wereling, #1). Razorbill, 2005. ISBN 978-1595140418 272 pp. $
At 16, Tom is less than thrilled at the idea of a family vacation in the wilderness. He takes off hiking in the woods one morning and while fleeing a bear, falls into the rapids-filled river, ended up battered against some rocks. A kindly local family takes him in to nurse him back to health, but things are not what they seem–they are werewolves, and he’s been chosen as the suitor for their daughter, who needs a mate to turn herself. She isn’t keen on becoming a monster either, though so the two teens make a run for it. Several exciting battles ensue as they run into other werewolves who are one the hunt for the runaways. Not so subtle foreshadowing indicates the two will fall in love, and Tom might be the prophesized wereling, a savior type to ride the world of evil werewolves.
Not as sensory, symbolic, or sexy as Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997), Wereling has the whole “star-crossed lovers but we can’t give in” feel that lends a certain type of romantic angst teens girls devour. I liked it enough to find out what happens next.
Griver, Jeanette A. Oh No! Not Another Problem: A Practical Approach to Solve Day-To-Day Problems. Compsych Systems, 2000. ISBN 978-0929948027 105 pp. $
When I see that the publisher of this book is the company the author founded, my spidey senses tingle. I struggle with a bias against vanity press titles, but am pleased to report this self-published novel has merit: six concrete examples show the reader how to apply a complex, ten-step problem solving method, focusing on operational analysis and objective vision.
Overanalyzing and backtracking may frustrate readers looking for a quick fix. Step-by-step solutions are provided for the sample situations. No exercises or activities are included to put theory into practice. Cartoonish illustrations add levity to the the writing, which is sometimes dry or technical. Lack of white space on some pages and too much on others, combined with the overused Times New Roman font and uneven margins give the work a “composed on my computer” look. The positive blurbs on the back cover come from people with no discernible authority on the topic, but the author credentials include a M.A. in psychology and work as business consultants for many years.
For more comprehensive and clearly written books on problem solving, turn to 101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques by James M. Higgins (New Management Pub. Co., 1994) or The Thinker’s Toolkit by Morgan D. Jones (Three Rivers Press, 1998).
Andrew Matthews. The Flip Side. Delacorte, 2005. ISBN 978-0385730969 160 pp. $15.95
This British novel about gender and sexuality is cleverly staged around Shakespeare’s gender-bending play As You Like It. When Robert is assigned the role of Rosalind in a class reading of the play, he is surprised to discover he not only enjoys dressing as girl, but that his crush Milena seems to like it too. As Robert struggles to wrap his mind around the idea that his preconceived notions of boys and girls no longer fit into little boxes, he raises more questions than answers, Milena agrees to a date, and his best mate Kev gets homophobic on him. A party invitation instructing attendees to dress as the opposite sex brings about a predictable climax.
In spite of knowing how the story will end, the author makes the journey there half the fun, keeping the serious story light and mixing in quotes from Shakespeare with true-to-life characters and issues. The underlying themes that we are all a mix of feminine and masculine, that we should be accepting of ourselves and one another, that there is no such thing as normal and that it is possible to surpass labels and just be are all positive ideas that teens–and possibly our politicians–need to have reinforced, not just in their literature, but in the world around them. Not as fluffy as David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003) or as serious as a Nancy Garden novel, The Flip Side would make a fantastic title for book discussion.
Steffans, Karrine. Confessions of a Video Vixen. Amistad, 2006. ISBN 978-0060892487 224 pp. $
I grabbed this one when I heard it was on the Quick Picks List. Confessions of a Video Vixen is an abused woman’s account of how low self-esteem plus a smoking hot 100 pound body led her to a life of prostituting herself with hip hop icons (and the occasional NBA superstar and rock god, to boot) for attention and gifts.
In this tell-all, laden with juicy sensory details, Karrine details poverty of her youth, an absent father, sisters of different paternity than she, a hellcat strumpet of a mama, a rape in high school and discovering the power of sex stripping with a boyfriend’s mother at age sixteen. After struggling through a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with a rapper ten years her senior who fathers her child then tries to smother it, she finally escapes and starts living the good life, dancing in videos (instead of on laps and tables) to the tune of $3,000 an day (2 day minimum written into her contract).
Steffans claims to have written this tale to warn other young girls against a similar fate. Getting the sordid details of her life amidst name dropping, club-hopping and designer label frenzy could meet teen developmental assets as an example of how NOT to gain positive adult role models, abstain from sex and drugs, and develop positive self-identity.
More information about how Steffan extricated herself from this mess of a life (whether through sheer dumb luck, God or therapy) would be a redeeming quality. The writing quality isn’t too bad, and on the whole, the book was riveting. After awhile, the shock value of the sexual details diminshes considerably. If you choose to purchase for the teen audience who wants to read about how heroes fall, your safest bet is to catalog it with adult biographies, but leave it lying around and watch the circs go up (if it doesn’t disappear!).
Incidentally, I wonder what the men whose names she drops had to say about her allegations.
Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Crown, 2005. ISBN 978-1400080465 pp. $18
The remarkable thing about this unique autobiography is that the author’s life has been mostly unremarkable. Krouse details her life, opinions and pet peeves in authoritative encyclopedia-style entries about such subjects as flight habits, strawberries, gloves, fears, and more, prefaced by a chronology covering birth to book publication.
Rosenthal has a clever spin on the world that is often humorous, but sometimes it seems a little forced. My favorite entries are about not being able to catch a ball (“that is why the symbol for male is [mars symbol]. It stands for catch the ball”) and the entry about a friend who worked as an editor at Encyclopedia Britannica and arranged for volume 8 of the 2002 macropedia to read “Menage-Ottawa” the spine. An article titled “Wreck” is a gem about an accident her son has while exploring a shipwrecked boat, and her insight into how quickly something – or someone – can slip through your fingers. An index is, surprisingly, missing, but the “see alsos” add to the encyclopedic feel. Funny bits appear in the CIP and a waiver that the reader is supposed to sign at the beginning of the book. An excerpt is posted online at the NPR website; Rosenthal’s webpage for the book is a great extension of the content.
So many entries focus on the past that teens may enjoy both the novelty of the book’s style and the entries that focus on the author’s own adolescence. If you enjoy reading Harper’s Bazaar, this book is for you.
Partridge, Elizabeth. John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth. Viking, 2005. ISBN 978-0670059546 256 pp. $18.00
This photographic biography of a music legend is carefully researched, engagingly written, and has great appeal to teen readers with its graphic heavy layout (a picture on every other page) and charismatic, idealistic subject. The moody cover showing half of a young Lennon’s face, the other half in shadow, speaks volumes about a rebellious but brilliant teen who grew up to change the world.
Don’t worry – Partridge is not as fawning as I. She writes about the good times and the gritty times with a objective voice, and presents primary source quotes to flesh out life the songwriter/poet, capturing his essence from birth in Liverpool to a young mother through his untimely death at the hands of a Catcher In the Rye influenced assassin at age 40 in front of the Dakota in New York City, hitting all the pivotal moments along the way: playing in clubs they weren’t old enough to drink in, the Ed Sullivan show appearance, the movies, the girls, the drugs, the record burnings, the affair with Yoko Ono, the Bed-in for peace. Beatles fans won’t be disappointed – the other three band members are spotlighted as they appeared in Lennon’s life.
Thorough source notes and bibliography make this an exemplary resource for students. Not included in the review copy but slated to appear in the hardbound edition are an index and permissions. A discography is a meaningful addition. A timeline is missing, but the work is presented chronologically. The chapters divide Lennon’s life into segments of 1-5 years, with dates appearing with the chapter headings.
Equally enjoyable for browsing or research, John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth is strongly recommended for all library collections.
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. Little, Brown, 2005. ISBN 978-0316160179. 544 pp. $16.99
Anne Rice meets Joss Whedon in this rich sensory tale of a Arizona sun worshipper displaced to dreary Washington state. Teen Isabella is drawn to a mysterious clique of aloof and shiny people who exude power, agility, wealth and beauty. One in particular returns her interest–the seductive Edward who is first angered by her presence, then resigned to it as he reveals his vulnerabilities–and strengths–to the innocently alluring Isabella. Balanced against typical high school drama of school dances, hiking and ball games is a dark and sexy yet chaste story in the gothic tradition of monsters and the women who are compelled to fall for them.
Romantic, angsty and surprisingly real, this tale of a girl and boy, each drawn to the very terrible person who could be their downfall, has “star-crossed” scribbled all over it. Crossing genres of horror and fantasy, Meyers delivers a modern twist that deserves a place of its own in vampire lore.