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.
Clo has grown up on the road with her father. They move from village to village, taking small things every time but also repairing and fixing paintings too. When her father doesn’t return one morning, Clo puts their regular leaving plan in action, waiting for him in the woods. But her father doesn’t come, instead sending a boy with a strange ticket and a garbled written message to head to the harbor. There Clo finds she has a half passage aboard a strange ship. They take her to a strange gray island where there are no seasons, no day or night. Clo must wait there for her father to join her. She makes one friend, Cary, on the island where she can’t understand what anyone else is saying except for him. Her grandmother has taken her in, trying to force her to eat a strangely cold and fishy stew that Clo refuses to even try. Her grandmother wants Clo to work, but Clo is busy trying to watch for her father and to figure out the mysteries of the island itself. Clo steadily figures out the mysteries of the island, but it may not be enough to save herself and her father.
Based on Greek mythology, this children’s novel is a marvel of a book. It steadily reveals itself, a puzzle started by an ink-blotched note, a strange transport via ship, and then an even more odd island. One knows there is more going on, but the book holds it back, revealing it to the reader just before Clo herself begins to figure things out. The ties to mythology are dazzling, offering the Fates and Icarus as major characters, though not obvious at first. The pacing here is just right, never losing itself in the grayness of the island nor moving too quickly to resolution.
Clo is a great heroine, braver than many would be in her situation. She is opinionated and stubborn, two qualities that serve her well as she figures out the mysteries of the island and does not bow down to the pressure to conform. Her connection with others serves as a beacon for her to find a way forward, even as it threatens her own existence.
Tantalizing, puzzling and very satisfying, this Greek myth fantasy dazzles. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.