Review: The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

year of the beasts

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

Told in chapters that alternate Castellucci’s writing with Powell’s graphics, this is the story of two sisters.  When the summer carnival comes to town, Tessa, her younger sister Lulu and her best friend Celina get to go to the carnival without their parents for the first time.  After meeting up with a group of boys they know, the three girls and the boys head to the sideshow tent with its darkness and opportunities.  But Tessa’s plans don’t quite work out, and the boy she has a crush on, Charlie, ends up entering the tent with Lulu instead.  Tessa is left to go in with Jasper, a boy who is known as a strange loner.  When they exit, Tess has rebuffed Jasper’s attempts to kiss her, but something has obviously happened between Charlie and Lulu that has sealed them together as a couple.  Now Tessa has to deal with her jealousies and their dark results.

Castellucci’s prose is lush and wild.  The emotions in the book sizzle, coming right off the page.  On page 97, there is a great example of this:

If there were such a thing as a dark cloud over someone’s head, Tessa had one.  It was a stormy little thing.  With hail and lightning and thunder.  And no silver lining.

She explores the feelings of confusing lust and potential love, the ability for those same feelings to alienate and discourage, and the intensity of sisterhood.  The book is character-driven with Tessa at its center in all of her confusion, desperation to not be jealous, and constantly feeling as if she is second best.  There are no easy answers here, nothing is let go of easily, and emotions twist and turn.  It is a beautiful storm of a book.

Then you have the other chapters done in graphic novel format that show Tessa as Medusa with her nest of snake hair.  The graphic portion moves along in advance of the text portion, foreshadowing things that are yet to come.  Medusa finds that her school is also filled with other monsters, her best friend is a mermaid, and Charlie is a centaur.  She has turned her parents to stone with her gaze and now must live with the consequences of that unless she is able to reawaken as a human again. 

The pairing of these two makes this book even more original and powerful.  It also makes the book much more welcoming for reluctant readers or those who have discovered Castellucci through her graphic novels. 

An emotional ride of a teen novel done with beauty and power, this book has an innate appeal thanks to its graphic novel portion and the dynamic writing.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Here Come the Girl Scouts by Shana Corey


Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Juliette Gordon Low, or Daisy as her friends called her, was nothing like the other girls growing up in the Victorian Era.  While girls were meant to be prim and proper, Daisy instead loved the outdoors and adventure.  Daisy traveled the world, but eventually wanted to be more useful.  Then she found out about the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in the United Kingdom and realized that America needed something that would get the girls there out in nature and exploring.  So Daisy started what would become the Girl Scouts with just 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia in 1912.  She taught them the rules, designed uniforms, planned excursions, and had them outside, active and learning.  This book is about the impact one person with a purpose can have and also the incredible impact the Girl Scouts themselves have had in our society.

Corey looks at Victorian life very briefly and then jumps right in to celebrating the life of Daisy and her Girl Scouts.  The tone here is one of delight in a life well-lived.  Daisy is shown as a person unfettered by her time, but definitely not un-criticized by those around her.  Daisy rose above the scorn and derision that her program faced, continuing her commitment to everything the Girl Scouts stand for.

Hooper’s illustrations have a wonderful playful quality to them.  Done using printmaking techniques, the images have a hand-made quality that suits the subject matter well.  Woven into the images are phrases from the Scouts that immediately incorporate their attitude towards life and service.

An impressive picture book biography of an incredible woman, this book will inspire young readers to dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.