Yehuda and Bluma grew up near one another in the tiny village of Tupik. But their lives could not have been more different. Bluma was the daughter of the town baker, raised with plenty to eat and an ever-warm hearth. Yehuda spent his time figuring out where his next meal was coming from and trying to stay out of fights. The two find themselves transported to the Far Country. Yehuda is on a quest to find his father’s soul, which has been added to a demon’s collection. Bluma found herself in an endless cemetery, quickly scooped up by a female demon and her group of demon cat-women. Bluma has in her possession a very special object, the spoon that Death used to take her grandmother’s soul. Bluma found it after Death left her home. In the Far Country of the demons, there are different rules, pacts that are made and reworked, lies and truths. It is a world that shifts and changes right in front of Bluma and Yehuda who must find their own way through and back home.
So there is no way to actually summarize this book clearly at all. It is a great twisting and writhing story that the reader simply must give themselves up to and enjoy the journey. There are deaths and there is Death. There are demons who all manipulate and scheme, telling partial truths for their own gain. There are fathers who are trying to find sons and then sons trying to find fathers. There are spoons that cut and remove and libraries with endless knowledge and answers.
This book is less about the two main protagonists and more about the world they enter. Based on Jewish mythology and folklore, this world is full of jagged points, dangers and despair. But it is also basked in love, the joy of unexpected kindness, and the discovery of new old friends. It’s complicated and unique, a world that readers will likely never have visited before, and what a treat that is!
A delicious nightmare of a novel, this is one to make room for in your reading pile. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.
Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!
The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.
A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
A stunningly inventive retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this debut novel turns the entire tale around over and over again. Born into a world captured under a paper sky, Nyx has been promised as a bride to their demon ruler since she was born. Her father promised tribute when he made a deal with the demon, so Nyx is to be sacrificed. But her sacrifice is not to be without results, so she has been trained to kill her demon husband. On her seventeenth birthday, she is sent to live with her new husband whom she has never met in his incredible castle. She is not expecting to be beguiled by her new husband or by his silent shadow that serves him. But once in the realm of her husband things are different, answers are not as clear, and even the questions shift and change just like the rooms and doors in the castle. Nyx must figure out how she can save not only her family and her world but whether her newfound love can be saved too.
I was amazed when I discovered that this is a debut novel. The writing has a polish and steadiness that would not lead one to believe that when reading. Hodge has managed to take the foundation of the Beauty and the Beast storyline but then transform it, writing her own original world on top of it yet never quite leaving the original too far behind. It is a critical balance in reworking familiar stories, and Hodge manages it admirably. She turns it into something wilder, more frightening and just as beautiful.
Nyx is a wonderful protagonist. I love how prickly she is, how feisty and fiery. She can stand right up to a demon and match wits with him. Yet she is also entirely human, torn by the fact her father chose to sacrifice her, awash with a mix of love and hate for her twin sister, and at times overcome with the situation she finds herself in. Hodge allows these opposite forces to linger, building the tension and not resolving it until the end.
Dramatic, romantic and completely beguiling, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast will get teen hearts racing even as the world twists and turns changing the story. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.
Mia’s life is turned upside down when she is possessed by a demon. She terrorizes her family, throws them across the room, and destroys their home. Priests try to exorcize the demon, but nothing works until her relatives from Italy arrive and force the demon to flee. Mia has to return to Milan with them so that she can be protected from future attacks by the demon. Once there, she is kept inside most of the time unless several of her family are available to escort her outdoors. Even with their protection, the demon tries to attack her often. Mia begins to learn Italian, the history of her family, and the strange arts that they practice. Soon she feels very at home in Milan, but will there ever be a time that she is truly safe there?
Beyer’s book is very well-written. It has a style that celebrates the historical in Milan, the beauty of the Italian language, and the strength of a close-knit family. The perspective of Mia is crucial to this, allowing readers a way to see Milan for the first time through her eyes. Add in the exorcisms and demons, and you have a book that is a dazzling addition to teen lit.
The setting of Milan is as much a part of the story as Mia’s extended family. It is Italy that is celebrated here. At the same time though, Mia’s extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins are each written as unique and intriguing characters. Some are imposing, others motherly, but they all surprise and delight.
The opening scene of the book with Mia’s possession is written so vividly and with such strength that you know that you are in for a unique and fascinating read. Happily that stunning opening continues through the entire book. Appropriate for ages 15-17.