Friday, September 27, 2013

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Lin and Andres Vera Martinez

A memoir graphic novel? This brilliant rendition of Na Lin's young life in China in the '70's offers readers a rare, autobiographical window into her life. Lovely.

The book begins with Mao's death and her family's actions and reactions. The story continues through a number of major life events, all when the author was young--maybe 5-10 years old throughout the 8 stories. The illustrations/graphics/comics captured me. The stories flow from one to another, some happy and some heartbreaking. The author ties in teachings from Confucius and how seeing her parents' hardships offered her an "easier way to build our own future."

Stories within stories, truths stacked within truths. Rich indeed.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce

I am kinda following in my daughter’s footsteps these days, feeling drawn to YA stories with a little romance. But the draw I feel tends to have said romance as a byproduct of another story line including some massive life tension and struggle. I like hearing how authors introduce and resolve the challenges of the story, and I like searching into how realistic the solution they come up with is. One theme I really appreciate is hope; I look for that theme routinely in the stories I read.

Anthem for Jackson Dawes is one such story. Being treated for brain cancer, Megan is in the hospital for the first time getting chemo. Within seconds of arriving on the children’s floor, Jackson Dawes enters Megan’s life. Literally. He trumps right into her room, forcing himself into her life. She is none too receptive to any visitor, but her wishes go disregarded by Jackson. After Jackson finally leaves her room, she begins to witness who Jackson is on this ward: the Pied Piper of the sick youngsters who inhabit the floor, the escape artist who explores the rest of the hospital on sleepless nights, and the dear one to the medical staff. As Megan’s treatment continues, she and Jackson grow closer, and Meghan takes off with him at night, breaking all sorts of rules as they maneuver their challenging illnesses and the escape hatch the giant hospital offers. While the title makes it obvious that Jackson passes, it is Megan’s life that holds center stage: the twists and turns of life, finding her way to live with cancer, her transitions from relying on her family to allowing herself to grow closer to her new friend and taking risks that fill her all come together to create a storyline that is engaging, creative, and realistic from what I can tell. Granted I have not had cancer, so I would like to know how realistic the author’s exploration of that topic is and that didn’t stop me. I feel as if Jackson Dawes could live in my life and as if in small ways, Megan’s internal challenges mimic mine. To me, those qualities make for good reading.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The cover alone made me want to be in the peaceful nighttime of deep winter, where the ground is covered by snow, the sky is black black black, those brilliant stars pierce black, and things hide in shadows. My connections and embrace of the serious quietude to wintertime's night on the cover led me into that book hook, line, sinker.

The story leads us into the mostly quiet and at the beginning, uneventful lives of Jack and Mabel. Never able to have a child of their own, they meander through life up in the wilds of Alaska, homesteading and barely making ends meet in the 1920's. Life becomes survival, and Mabel and Jack float emotionally apart; grief from the loss of their son in utero seals their conversations into silence. Until a little mystery named Faina shows up. A "snow child," Faina lives in the woods, tricking Mabel and Jack's eyes, causing them to question if they are going a little crazy, seeing snow children emerge in the middle of snow fields right before their eyes. But it becomes true: there is a girl living in the wilds of Alaska in the dead of winter. And she is quite healthy. Mabel and Jack develop a sweet relationship with the child over time, and readers will too. This story, wisely told by well-developed writer Eowyn Ivey, becomes one of hope and living life in the moment, meaningful relationships and beautiful life flowing every day and night. Some of the story is predictable but in that good familiar way.

I enjoyed this read for its simple pleasure. I look forward to more from Ivey, and more from that lovely, vast land to our far north. Let me know what you think. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer

Devil's Pass: the title alone sounds intriguing, right? Incites mental images of mystery, being hunted (or being the hunter, adventure in the great outdoors, right? Or does it make you think Gary Paulson-ish work, given the cover shot? Welllllllll, you are kinda on the right track, but there is more here, much, much more.

Brouwer, a well-established Canadian author, launches  us into the book through the main character, a grisly teen who refuses to connect with people around him. "Webb" or "Webby" as his grandfather lovingly called him, is on a journey dictated by the man most important to him: his grandfather. After his grandfather dies, a mysterious meeting with all 7 male cousins ensues, and there Webb learns his mission. Brouwer keeps his readers in suspense the rest of the read, aptly teasing his reader with clues while also upping the ante of outcome. I love the cover of this edition of the book, I love the visual imagery my mind created while I read--both about who he was with and the amazing treks he took from Arizona to Canada, and I treasured the resilience of Webb. The underlying message his grandfather sent him was not lost on me at all, and I found myself, an adult female reader, wanting to journey more with this older teen male. I imagine this young man would have been a tricky blast to work with in the classroom. Devil's Pass was indeed a gold-star read for me: engaging, realistic, and visual.

Possibly more interesting, this book is actually part of a series of seven, all written by different authors. According to website, "the stories take place at the same time during summer vacation." The seven boys all share the same grandfather and his will lays out the seven different tasks, one for each boy. Evidently the books stand alone individually but I think I will search the others out and see where they take me. Intriguing indeed....I am guessing there is a good story out there about how this series was dreamed up. Never fear: I am on the hunt for us! (Unless one of you know the inside scoop.)