Review: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton (9780525580966)

Take a dazzling and frightening look at our potential future in this novel for teens. Told in six linked stories, the novel starts in the near future with a look at the moral medical questions of saving one twin by killing the other. Things only get more complicated from there with genetic modifications becoming more and more prevalent. Where does a human end and a cyborg begin? What happens when a modified human loses empathy but gains so much intelligence? What about cryogenics when it falls into the wrong hands? Can humans evolve so far that they appear to be another species entirely? Each story takes the reader farther from the present day and into a wild exploration of the depths of genetic modification taken to the logical extreme.

Dayton could have created six stand-alone stories but instead wisely chose to tie all of them together but not in an expected way. Instead of one of the main characters, it is a minor but majorly influential character who is in the background of all of the stories, making an appearance himself or just having his theories mentioned. He is a religious man who starts out believing that genetic modification is the work of the devil and creates demons but then has his own personal experience with death and genetics and finds a way to become the leading figure in promoting genetic modification.

Dayton keeps a firm hand on the politics of her world as well, setting one of her stories in Australia and another in Russia while the remainder take place in the United States. This global focus allows readers to see more deeply into the divided views on genetic modification and also to see more of the questions related to how far it is alright to take this. Each of Dayton’s stories is an ethical question wrapped in a taut and fascinating plot in a shared world.

Brilliant and timely, this novel for teens is remarkable in its ethical and open questions. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.

 

Review: Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

Living on Wilnick, an outdated and aging space station at the end of the galaxy could be dull, but not for best friends Sanity and Tallulah. Sanity, who has always wanted a pet despite rules against having one, decides to create one herself. It turns out to be a very cute three-headed kitten with a taste for meat. The kitten manages to escape soon after Tallulah’s mother finds out that she exists. The girls set out to find out whether the problems that are happening across the space station are the fault of one cute kitten or maybe it’s something else. Meanwhile, there seems to be a very large monster on the loose and the coolant tank appears to have been drunk dry. As disaster looms aboard the space station, it’s up to Sanity to save the day thanks to the technology she explored when creating her illegal pet.

Brooks sets exactly the right tone in this graphic novel. The girls best friends who tend to talk one another into getting into even more trouble while trying to fix what they have already done. Add in a three-headed kitten and mayhem follows. The two girls could not be more different, which makes for an odd-couple chemistry between them. The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power.

The art in the book is done in a limited color palette with pinks and deep blues. The art brings to life the space station and its size, conveying the hazards of keeping it functional while giving the girls a lot of space to run into trouble. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and that extends to all of the people who live aboard the space station.

A strong graphic novel with plenty of appeal. Appropriate for ages 9-12

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud (9781250126429)

Amani is taken from her farming village to the center of the Vathek empire, the alien race that now rules their planet. She looks nearly identical to the half-Vathek princess, Maram. The princess is despised by everyone, including the courtiers that surround her and her own half-sibling. Amani is drawn cruelly into a world where her very survival depends on her being able to pretend to be a princess. The training in being a body double is precise and ruthless. As Amani begins to conform to the expectations, no one can take away her love of reading and poetry. But Amani doesn’t know who she can trust in a world built on deceit and blood.

Daud does several things marvelously in this debut novel. She has created compelling characters, including Amani herself who is brave and willing to take immense risks for those she loves. Even Princess Maram becomes more complex as the book continues. The prince that Maram is betrothed too is also richly drawn, particularly as he and Amani become more closely acquainted. She has also created a richly built world that draws from Middle Eastern culture. It is a unique and compelling vision of the future that hearkens back to traditional tales in a fascinating way.

Given that this is a debut book, readers should expect some beginner issues. There is a lot of telling and not showing in the writing. I also struggled as Amani started to become friends with her oppressors, even though she is also given a way forward as a spy and mole, someone who could work aggressively to take down those who are hurting her family and her planet. I am hoping that in the next book in the series, there will be less warmth for the oppressors and more for the rebels fighting back.

This is a science fiction book for teens worth reading thanks to its unique setting and strong characters. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An amazing graphic novel for teens, this book offers romance, space travel, and boarding schools all in one incredible package. It is the story of Mia, a girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends at the boarding school she attends. But one girl catches her attention, Grace, a new girl who needs help figuring out how to make her way at the school. Soon the two girls are a couple, but Grace has a secret that she refuses to share with Mia until suddenly Grace is gone. Now Mia works in space repairing buildings with a small team. She gets close with the others until she finally reveals why she joined the crew.

Walden is the author of Spinning, which was an impressive graphic memoir about coming out. Here, she weaves a complex tale in a universe entirely her own. The universe she has created is populated entirely by women, something that is slowly realized by the reader rather than being specifically mentioned or explained. The result is an LGBT universe that includes a very special depiction of a transgender character as well.

The art here is simply amazing. The universe unfolds on the pages, done in a limited color palette but incorporating dreamlike moments, staggering rock formations, crumbling abandoned buildings and fish-like space craft. It is entirely Walden’s creation, unique and unlike anything else.

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Review: Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith

Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith

Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith (9781534422209)

Cager’s best friend Billy and caretaker Rowan have taken him to his father’s huge cruise-liner spaceship orbiting the moon in order to break his drug habit. It was meant to be for a short period of time but while they are up in the ship, the earth with its thirty wars burns up. Now Billy, Rowan and Cager are the three last humans left alive with thousands of cogs (robots) around them to serve their every need. The cogs usually have one dominant personality trait and unfortunately that can be anger, glee, talkativeness or being constantly horny. As Billy and Cager explore the ship, they find that something strange is going on. Cager is certain that there are human girls aboard the ship because he can smell them. But even more interesting and perplexing, the cogs have started eating one another!

Wow. I fell hard for this wild and zany science fiction novel. It can be read as a rather sexual romp in space with horny robots and aliens intent on destroying the cogs. But Smith uses that tantalizing premise to really ask some deeper questions about humanity, about robots that are so close to being human that it may not matter any more, about love and about survival of a species that may be in its final version. Smith avoids becoming too didactic by continuing to have frantic and funny moments throughout from a tiger-eating giraffe with a French accent to Parker, the perpetually horny personal servant.

It is incredible that Smith keeps enough rein on this book as it strains to break free and become a farce at any moment. Yet he does, partly thanks to Cager, the lead character, who though he is spoiled and beyond wealthy, also has a straight-forward take on life whether beating a cog to death with a shoe or hanging cogs by the neck to save them.

A deep book hidden in farts, horniness and space, this is one incredible teen novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.

 

The World Science Fiction Society Award for Best Young Adult Book

The nominees for the 2018 Hugo Awards were announced. The finalists for the young adult award are:

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2)

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

The Art of Starving

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

In Other Lands

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

A Skinful of Shadows

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Summer in Orcus

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher, illustrated by Lauren Henderson

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman (9781442472457)

This is the sequel to the award-winning first book in the Arc of a Scythe series. It continues the story of Citra and Rowan. Citra is completing her apprenticeship under Scythe Curie when they find themselves being hunted down. Rowan meanwhile is doing the hunting, taking out scythes who are hiding illegal activity. He kills as Scythe Lucifer and has become a legend of sorts. As the time for the Winter Conclave comes about though, something far more sinister is rising up and just in time for when the MidMerica scythes gather.

I often have issues with second books in series, a kind of sophomore slump. Shusterman though does not miss a step here. He brings readers right back into his sharply drawn world. It is the writing itself that does this. He has a particular tone and style evident here as he writes of beloved characters and introduces new characters to root for. They are all marvelously complexly drawn, the heroes full of darkness and the villains full of righteousness. The character of the Thunderhead itself is also wonderfully created, its voice wise and also full of questions.

The book is one that will keep readers guessing throughout. Even as they know something is coming, it is not clear what it is or what that will mean. There are layers here that reveal, foreshadowing that is deftly written, and an ending that is so fast and wild that you almost can’t turn the pages quickly enough.

Beautifully crafted and written, this is a worthy successor to the first. And that is saying something! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

4 Great Graphic Novels

5 Worlds The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel (9781101935880)

This is the first book in an epic new graphic novel series that promises lots of adventures across five different worlds. Oona Lee studies at the Sand Dancer Academy but she is known as a failed student. When an attack occurs, Oona knows she has to reach her older sister, who can actually sand dance and is the best bet for being able to light the Beacon. Along the way, she meets two other children who are willing to help her. There is An Tzu, a boy from the slums who is starting to disappear, literally. And Jax Amboy, one of the biggest athletes in the galaxy, who is also hiding his own secret. As the three join together, they set off on a wild ride of an adventure that reveals their secrets and their hidden skills.

This graphic novel is bright colored and full of surprises as readers learn about the new science fiction setting they are exploring. There are plant people, lots of bad guys, secret identities, intrigue and lies. It’s a wild ride of a graphic novel and one that is sure to please many young readers. Just make sure to get the second one in the series next year! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar by Sean Rubin (9781684150694)

Bolivar is a dinosaur living in the bustle and crowds of New York City without ever being discovered. He doesn’t just stay at home, venturing out into the city to visit the used book store, see new exhibits at the museums, and buy a copy of the New Yorker. Then a neighbor girl notices that Bolivar is a dinosaur. Sybil tries to get the adults in her life to believe her, even giving a presentation at school about her dinosaur neighbor. No one believes her until one day, Bolivar gets a traffic ticket despite not having a car. He tries to set things straight, but it just gets more and more complicated until he is suddenly outed as a dinosaur by Sybil who then has to figure out how to repair things.

This graphic novel is brilliant. Clearly designed with a deep love of New York City, the neighborhood is captured with an eye for small details and invites readers to also fall for the great City. The ability of adults and humans to miss the fact that there is a dinosaur right in front of them is a great basis for a book and completely believable. The art is distinctive and inviting as is the humor and the pace. Pure joy in a graphic novel that will have you believing in Bolivar too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale (9781419721281)

Strata, her brother and a friend from their caravan spend their days scavenging for technology and metals that have been overlooked by the alien Pipers. One day they discover a robot horse and then a hidden room filled with other robots and technology. The problem is that large areas of technology draw in the Pipers and soon they are being pursued for their discovery. Strata uses the robot horse to run with her friends, but the rough world outside that has been eaten away at by the invading alien Pipers makes for a daunting maze. Meanwhile, their families are searching for them as they discover another girl living a very different but equally dangerous life.

Hale has created an entirely unique science fiction graphic novel. He uses a very restrained color palette, allowing the golden robot horse to be some of the only bright color on the page. Using fine lines, grays and yellows, the story shows a devastated earth, the oppressors and a frightening future. Filled with great adventure and heroic young people, this is a story worth devouring. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Review copy received from Amulet Books.)

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (9781770462939)

This graphic novel tells the story of the author’s childhood as a girl in Iraq. The book shares small glimpses of life in Iraq, schools, families and more. It is a lovely way to see a culture. Unfortunately, there is also state control as Saddam Hussein comes into power and things change. Throughout the book, there is a sense of history being shared as an adult, of a beloved land lost and a country so changed it is almost unrecognizable and yet filled with family still. The art is playful and light, a strong contrast to the often heavy subject matter. Religion plays a large part in the book as the author grew up in a Christian family in an Arab part of the world. Deftly written, this book invites readers into the author’s story and leaves them with a much deeper understanding of Iraq as a result. Appropriate for ages 12-14.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (9781101994979)

Set in a world slightly in the future, this teen novel explores what might have happened if the British Empire had continued to be in power. Canada is part of the empire and the United States is a struggling land of revolutionaries and poverty. When Victoria-Margaret is allowed to have one year of freedom and visit Canada incognito, she discovers new friends, plenty of balls and parties, and a new understanding of the empire she will one day govern. One of her new friends is Helena, who doesn’t know who Victoria-Margaret actually is and who is also keeping her own secrets from Margaret and her beau, August, who also has troubles to occupy his time. As the three of them head into the Canadian country to spend time at their families’ lake homes, the truth must eventually be shared in between newfound love, country dances and letter writing.

Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, has created a novel that could have been entirely frothy and filled with dresses, dances and divas. Instead it is a book that explores many aspects of life from honesty to family honor to the truth of who someone actually is, deep inside. Set in the near-future, the book also has a computer that finds genetically beneficial matches for people. For Helena, this computer reveals that she is actually intersex. That fact almost topples Helena, but as she lives with it for awhile she finds herself exploring new parts of her personality and of romance.

Written with grace, this novel for teens is a lovely introduction to alternative history science fiction. The flair of the debutante season, the touches of British life throughout the realm, and the pressure on all three teens to find proper matches create a whirl of a novel. The two female lead characters are refreshingly different from one another and yet make ideal friends. There is a quiet to them both, an introspective quality and also a merriment and delight in simple pleasures.

A great book for fans of The Crown and Victoria, get this into their hands. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.