The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee (9781419731457)
Fans of the first of the Genie Lo books will adore this second novel in the duology. Genie has been busy doing her job keeping the demons in the Bay Area under control and settling their disputes. Meanwhile, the Jade Emperor has disappeared just as Genie finally takes some time off to visit a college campus with her best friend. As supernatural things start happening on the campus, it is up to Genie, Guanyin and Quentin to try to keep things in line. But the disappearance of the Jade Emperor has opened up competition for his throne. Genie nominates Guanyin for the throne, but accidentally sets her friend up to take on an unstoppable force. As Genie and her friends set off into parallel worlds to battle the supernatural, they discover that their combined strength may not be enough to save the world this time.
Impressively, three years after the first book, readers will be able to simply pick up this sequel and start reading without needing to go back to review the first. Yee doesn’t backtrack much but carefully constructs his sequel so that the names and characters fall effortlessly into place for the reader. Yee’s characters are so vividly drawn. Add in the setting of a college campus and partying and you have a great setting for this second book.
It is great to also see growth in Genie herself as she explores what she wants to do after high school, despite being a Guardian now. Genie remains as irreverent and sarcastic as in the first book, as well as being a great friend to those around her as well. She is brave, ferocious and full of tenacity, but it may take all of her cleverness to win rather than brute strength this time.
Smart, funny and full of great fights, this novel is the second in a marvelous pair. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet Books.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (9780062671158)
This collection of short stories is lush and beautiful. Written by fifteen female authors of Asian descent, the stories are modern twists on more traditional tales. Using the folklore of East and South Asia, the stories in this book take those tales and modernize them with clear feminist and girl-power themes. The stories are grand, mythological, stirring, and amazing. Readers will find themselves swept away, learning of myths they have never heard before and finding new ways to love tales they grew up with.
Compiled by Ellen Oh, the CEO of We Need Diverse Books, these stories are women speaking from their own diverse backgrounds. One of the most vital components of the book are the short paragraphs that follow each of the stories, tying them to that author’s upbringing, the original tales, and explaining their inspiration. Throughout the book there are themes of love and loss, death and redemption. No matter whether they are fantasy or contemporary fiction, these stories are each tantalizing and rich.
One of the best teen short story collections I have read in recent years, this one should be in every public library. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Greenwillow Books.
The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law (9781580897464)
The whole family gathers for the Mid-Autumn Festival to give thanks for the harvest. They will look at the moon and then each person makes a wish for the upcoming year. As the mooncakes are served, Ah-ma tells the story of Chang’e, the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. It was in a time when there were ten suns in the sky, baking the earth. The suns would not listen and stop shining so hard, so a young archer, Hou Yi, shot down nine of the moons. The last one he asked to share the sky with the moon. Hou Yi was given a magic potion for his courage by the Immortals. When a thief came to steal the potion, Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’e, drank it rather than have it fall into the wrong hands. The potion turned her into the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. Hou Yi discovered what had happened and would sit in the garden and look up at the moon, providing mooncakes on the anniversary of the day she transformed. After the story, the girls are ready to light their paper lanterns and make their wishes, inspired by the heroism of Hou Yi and Chang’e.
Matula merges a modern tale of a Chinese family with the legend that inspired this festival. The two stories are clearly separate, which works really well for a young audience. Her writing is clear, describing the mooncakes in a mouthwatering way and the inspiring actions of the legendary characters in a way that allows the melancholy yet beautiful tale to shine. The illustrations also make a clear distinction between the stories. The modern family is shown on white backgrounds that are clean and crisp. The legend is shown with primarily deep jeweled colors as the background, inviting readers into the richness of the tale.
A wonderful and warm introduction to Chinese festivals, this picture book offers a look at how festivals carry on in modern society while also telling the story behind it all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee (9781419725487)
Genie has been focused on getting into an Ivy League school. She has perfect grades, plays killer volleyball and is getting help seeming more human in her application essays. But suddenly things aren’t going to plan when her Bay Area town is attacked by demons. At the same time, a new transfer student comes to her school. Quentin is gorgeous and maddening and clearly connected to the demon attack. As Genie learns about her own powers, she also learns about Chinese mythology as it comes to life around her. Quested with removing the demons from her town and the greater Bay Area, Genie uses her superior studying and learning techniques to figure things out. But even her intelligence might be too late to see what is really happening around her.
I adored this book. It has a kick-ass heroine with mythical previous lives and a razor-sharp humor. Yee made a great choice to combine the pressures of getting into a good school with the high expectations when Gods send you on quests. The duality of those roles is cleverly built upon. Add in the genius humor of the Monkey King and his mix of honor, silliness and skepticism and you have the ideal foil for Genie and her hard-working ways.
I was particularly impressed with the way the mythology is presented in the novel. Only once does it become necessarily explanatory and the rest of the time it simply plays out in front of the reader in a natural way. The twist at the end of the book is surprising but also makes sense. It’s exactly what a book should do and the pace is wild and success never assumed.
A perfect blend of high octane fights, high expectations and mythology, this book is unique and clearly the beginning of a great series. I can’t wait for the next adventure. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
ARC provided by Amulet Books.
Bull by David Elliott (9780544610606, Amazon)
This verse novel takes on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Told with a wild irreverent tone, this novel follows the arc of the original myth faithfully but builds upon it, including points of view from all of the characters. Readers learn about Asterion, the half-bull boy who will become the monster of the labyrinth, in his own voice as he grows up, son of royalty. Poseidon serves as the narrator of the story, taking credit for not only setting the story in motion but also meddling to keep it heading in the direction he wants. Other characters speak too, each in their own poetic form, the structures serving to inform their voice. Even if readers know the myth, this book is impossible to put down as the full story unfolds.
Immediately upon starting this book, the voice of Poseidon demands attention, speaking in a modern vernacular and offering rude commentary, zinging puns, and humor that is shocking and great fun. As narrator, he moves the story along at lightning speed, serving to open the curtain on the play that is afoot, both carnival barker and puppeteer. The use of different forms of poetry is masterful, each serving to show the character as unique. Some are more focused and formal while others wander, only to snapped back by Poseidon and his tale.
Smart, wildly funny and just as naughty as the original myth, this verse novel is no bull. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (InfoSoup)
A companion book for Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, this picture book looks at creation stories from around the world. From the very beginning of how the universe was formed, then how the earth was formed, how human beings came about and then the animals as well, this book combines a myriad of different cultures into one story with various voices and points of view. With all of the differences, the book still manages to show the universal elements of creation stories and how looking at different cultures allows us to celebrate our humanity as one.
Fleischman captures phrases from different cultures in the book. Structuring the elements into a story all of its own, he allows each culture’s differences to show but also focuses them into a cohesive whole as well. While cultures may differ on how the universe was formed, there is a sense of wholeness in looking at it from so many points of view. The universal aspects shine and the differences ensure that we are still seeing the cultures themselves and their uniqueness.
The illustrations by Paschkis are beautifully elemental, showing each culture, celebrating each one separately. The illustrations also label each culture or region of origin for the story fragments, allowing readers to see the roots of the different stories and how they reflect the area they come from.
Vividly presented, this picture book look at creation itself is a dynamic view of our world’s cultures as well. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am Pan! by Mordicai Gerstein (InfoSoup)
From the minute he is born, Pan is filled with mischief. Born with his goat horns and hoofed feet, he is immediately silly and even gets the grumpy Zeus to smile. As Pan grows, he becomes bored with life on Olympus and gets into so much trouble that the Gods ask him to return to Arcadia where he was born. While there, he invents panic, falls in love with the moon, and helps battle the monster Typhon. He also falls in love and marries Echo and discovers his love of music and the pan pipes. Story after story shows the power of merriment, music and mischievousness.
Gerstein embraces the spirit of Pan on the page by telling the tales with a zany spirit and a wild feel. There is not attempt to contain Pan here, just a feeling of being along on a very rambunctious ride. This suits the subject beautifully, giving space to the large personality of Pan. The graphic novel format also works very nicely with retelling Greek myths, keeping them brief and showing rather than telling a lot of the action.
The illustrations of this picture book/graphic novel are done in loud colors with lots of action and movement. Pan almost flies off the page in some sections, particularly when creating panic personally. The illustrations match the subject, offering a loud and cheery look at this wild God.
I am hoping this is not the only Greek God book that Gerstein does, since this book works so well and offers a very approachable and funny look at Pan. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse (InfoSoup)
Singer returns with another collection of her amazing reverso poems this time focusing on Greek mythology. The format which has poems which read one way read forward and another way read in reverse, looks at myths from two divergent points of view. This is particularly effective with Greek myths because they so often have two points of view embedded in them. The poems focus on myths such as Pandora’s box, King Midas, Medusa, Icarus and Narcissus. Though brief, these poems capture the essence of each myth, exposing their complexity in a few choice words and phrases.
Singer has done it again. Her amazing reverso poems must be read with care by young readers who have to pay close attention to punctuation to see the difference in meanings between the two poems. The poems are dazzling as they lay open the themes of each myth, the drama being played out in the story and the differing points of view of the main characters. This is one intelligent display of word play that is incredibly difficult to even imagine doing.
Masse’s illustrations each play upon the theme of different sides or points of view. With visual lines down the middle, the two sides both work together as a whole and show the differences between the two poems. The illustrations echo the poems closely, offering a visual feast in addition to the richness of the words.
Another winner for Singer and her reverso poetry, classrooms teaching mythology will love to have this book on hand for accessible and bite-sized looks at many myths. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.
Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.
Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.
Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.