The Children and the Wolves by Adam Rapp
I made it through about the first 30 pages of this book and set it down, packed it in my bag to return it to the library, and started a new book. But. I could not get the story out of my head. I couldn’t leave Wiggins and Frog there, so I finished it and loved it, after all.
Frog is three years old and being held captive in a basement by three middle schoolers. Bounce is the mastermind of it all, a wealthy and very intelligent sociopath who decides to kidnap a little girl in order to murder an old poet who upset her. Orange is the boy whose basement they keep Frog in, his father is confined to a wheelchair and high on painkillers. Wiggins takes care of Frog, washing her clothes and making sure she takes vitamins. The three of them take drugs, get into lots of other trouble as well, and take revenge where it suits Bounce. The book cycles through all of their points of view, including Frog’s. It is a book filled with so much hate and aching that it hurts to read. It pushes the limits of teen books, exploring all of the dark places possible while at its heart having something shining with truth.
Rapp doesn’t shy away from anything here. The book is filled with swear words and not only the four letter ones. Drugs are seen as ways of release, not things that get you into trouble. Sexuality is explored in a matter-of-fact way. Violence is in almost every scene, and even when it’s not there you as a reader are waiting for it with shallow breaths.
And yet, there is something here beyond the shock value and the clawing desperation. There is somehow hope. I’m not sure where it comes from, it’s like a green sprout in the torn-up sidewalk. Rapp through the vileness of this book also gives us moments that shine. In any other book they may have been tragic scenes, but here they are light and warmth. It is all in comparison with the rest, just like the lives of these children. Victims all.
Stunning, violent, vile and filled with heart wrenching beauty of its own unique sort, this book is one that you can’t turn away from, though you may want to. Amazing. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
John Jensen Feels Different by Henrik Hovland, illustrated by Torill Kove
John Jensen lives in Norway. He lives in an apartment, eats cereal for breakfast, brushes his teeth, and takes the bus to work. But he feels different than everyone else and knows that people are looking at him because he is different. He notices that no one else wears a bowtie, so he changes and wears a regular one. But he still feels different. John Jensen decides that the real problem is his tail, since no one else has a tail like his. So he ties it up and hides it, but all that results in is not being able to sit comfortably and losing his balance. In fact, he loses it so badly that he falls and has to go to the doctor. Thank goodness that Dr. Field turns out to be just what John Jensen needs, a friendly doctor who is also an elephant.
Told in a deadpan voice, this book is pure delight. John Jensen is obviously different, since he’s an alligator. But the book never gives that away except in the illustrations. Instead, it is told as if he is just another Norwegian on the bus. The tension leading to the realization builds and is only partly fixed by the appearance of the elephant towards the end. The book ends shortly thereafter with no sudden realization by John Jensen, just an acceptance that he truly is different. I loved the fact that there was no culminating event at the end, because it made the book really work as a vehicle to talk about all sorts of differences even if you are a human too.
Kove’s illustrations add to the deadpan humor of it all. There are marvelous touches like Camus’ The Stranger as bedtime reading, and the fact that absolutely no one on the bus is actually looking at John Jensen. The illustrations are a large part of what really create the strong Norwegian setting that permeates the book.
Translated from Norwegian, this is a striking picture book in so many ways. It will be one of those books that children shout at thanks to the deadpan nature and the lack of reveal, and I love sharing those books with kids. After all, we all feel different and even a bit green and scaly at times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.