Tag Archives: Michael L. Printz Honor

Scythe

Author: Neal Shustermanscythe

Arc of a Scythe, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

In a world where all the needs of humanity are met, where even death is reversible, Scythes stand apart as essentially the only remaining source of true death. Established as a sacred trust to ensure that the booming and aging population does not completely overrun the earth and exhaust its resources, Scythes kill–or “glean” as they call it–although not nearly enough to mimic the effects of normal death in the past. One such Scythe, Faraday, has chosen to take on not one but two apprentices, in opposition to the traditions of the Scythedom. But the other Scythes turn his decision against him, deciding that only one of his apprentices will survive the apprenticeship, killing the other apprentice. Scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan will not readily bend to this edict, however, regardless of the pressure put upon them–particularly considering the feelings they have for one another.

I know all the premises of Scythe sound really weird and dark and complicated–and they are. A huge chunk of this book is set up and world building and background, which is completely necessary to understand the story as it develops. But Neal Shusterman is such an incredible author that the background doesn’t feel like an info dump at all; rather it’s interwoven as a part of the story such that you don’t even realize you’re being fed these huge chunks of backstory. As for the premise, strange as it is, it works remarkably well and allows the author to focus in on several interesting philosophical and psychological points. In this world, humanity really wants for nothing. Death–however much focus may be put on it due to the Scythes’ part in the story–is incredibly unlikely for any given individual within the next century or so. Even apparent age can be turned back so that a centenarian can appear (and feel) twenty again. In this state, Shusterman draws attention to the stagnation that occurs when people don’t have anything to struggle for, any clock to race against. On the other side of society, he brings in some interesting observations regarding the sort of people who would be chosen to be Scythes–and the effect that such a horrendous job would have on those people. Add to all the interesting world building some absolutely stellar characters and an intense, rather horrifying plot, and you’ve got an incredible book. I would highly recommend Scythe, although I would also caution a certain level of reader maturity due to the violent focus of the story at times. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume in this set!

As an aside, is the cover of the book not just fabulous?!

 

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Tender Morsels

Author: Margo Lanagantender morsels

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Contains rape & incest

Ever since her mother’s death, Liga has lived in abuse and isolation, first from her father and later from the young men in her village. In a moment of desperation, Liga decides to end her own life and that of her baby daughter–only to have a most mysterious being interfere and offer her another way out: an exchange of her life in the real world for a safe life in her own personal “heaven.” And so, for many years, Liga and her two daughters live safely in peace . . . but the real world won’t be kept out forever, nor will strong-willed girls be kept in.

If you’ve read anything by Margo Lanagan, you won’t be surprised when I say that Tender Morsels was dark and unsettling. I think if you leave a book of hers undisturbed, you’ve read it wrong. Tender Morsels takes several story elements from the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and Rose Red,” and transforms them into a dark but hopeful tale. It wrestles with the harms women can and do receive from men–and with bringing that fact into balance with the wonderful, healthy relationships that are also possible. It deals with the concept of escapism and the fact that life is meant to be lived fully–the hurts, yes, but also the glorious joys and loves that it can bring. I think Lanagan’s handling of these concepts was well done; meaningful, conflicted, and thought-provoking to be sure. I also appreciated that she dealt with some very difficult topics without cheapening them by making them erotic or overly detailed, while still maintaining the painful emotional impact of them. Honestly, I probably should rate this book a 5 of 5, but it just didn’t work that well for me in some regards. I can’t even say why exactly . . . the plot was too loose and all over the place, perhaps? I’m not sure who the actual protagonist even is? I can’t even say how I really feel about the ending? Whatever the case, Tender Morsels was an excellently written story, just not one of my personal favorites.

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Stuck in Neutral

Author: Terry Truemanstuck in neutral

My rating: 4.5 of 5

You might consider Shawn McDaniel a genius: he’s smart and has a photographic memory of everything he’s experienced since he was a small child. That’s if you actually could know him. . . . Actually, if you met him on the street, you wouldn’t think that at all. Because Shawn has cerebral palsy and is completely unable to interact with the world around him. So no one, not even his family, have any clue that he’s able to even think at all, much less that he’s probably much smarter than they are. Which brings us to Shawn’s very real and very immediate problem: he thinks his dad is planning to kill him and there’s nothing he can do about it.

I really had no idea what to expect when I picked up Stuck in Neutral; the cover looked interesting, so I decided to try it. But this story was a wonderful surprise; powerful and moving in ways I couldn’t have expected. It’s the sort of story that changes how you view the world around you. Trueman, whose own son has a condition very similar to Shawn’s, has a brutally, painfully real view of how the world views people with cerebral palsy and similar conditions. And he is painfully, viscerally honest about the needs these people have. But by telling the story from Shawn’s perspective, trapped but intelligent and very aware, he brings everything into a different focus and makes you re-evaluate your preconceptions. But this book isn’t just some lecture to make you feel bad about how you react; Shawn is an incredible character and I got totally wrapped up in his story, the suspense of watching his father deciding his fate. And the cliffhanger ending was excellently done, leaving things up to the reader’s interpretation. I would definitely recommend Stuck in Neutral to all readers in their upper teens and older.

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Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are days that define our lives, sometimes without even seeming particularly outstanding. Austin Sczerba was having one of those days, but at the time, it was just another day hanging out with his best friend Robby, skating and smoking lazily. . . . Then they ended up getting beaten up for “being queers” and had their shoes thrown on the roof of the local nearly-abandoned mall. Late that night, sneaking out with Austin’s girlfriend Shann, the three return to the mall to retrieve their stuff. Only, things get weird when the two boys leave Shann in the car to nap while they climb up to the roof. And during the course of the evening, things happen that none of them ever expected: kisses, secret stashes of old experiments gone wrong, the beginning of the end of the world. Poor Austin’s soooo confused!

I really enjoyed reading Grasshopper Jungle. Having said that, if I had read this two years ago, I probably would have freaked out. Because, let’s face it, this book is spilling over with swearing, smoking, sex, and general over-the-top irreverence of all sorts. And if you’ve got a problem with that, you should probably avoid reading this one. Still, somehow Smith takes all of that and melds it into Austin’s character, making it more than that. He’s a complex, confused teenage boy, and this story drags the reader into all that complicated mess–a complicated mess that sees the connections between past and present, between all sorts of seemingly unrelated occurrences that do eventually loop around to connect. I would tend to compare Smith’s writing to that of Sherman Alexie; he writes the world as he sees it and doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about what he’s writing. This is the sort of book that–if they ever bother to read it–parent groups would be up in arms about. But at the same time, there’s something vibrant and engaging about the story. Honestly, the one thing I really had issue with is not related to any of that at all–rather, it’s that the science fiction aspect is very old-school B-rated movie, in other words, kind of cheesy. But, that’s really just a carrier for the other aspects of the story; it’s one of those books in which the underlying plot is almost unimportant, comparatively. I think I would recommend Grasshopper Jungle, but only to those adult readers who are able to view it open-mindedly (and NOT to younger readers; 18+ in my opinion).

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Black Juice

Author: Margo Lanagan

This book is deep and dark and dangerous. It’s the sort of book that pulls you under, and when you finally surface, you’re not the same person as when you started. Really, that’s my strongest impression upon finishing this intense short-story collection. Black Juice collects a double handful of unusual, imaginative stories that display different facets of the darkness within us all, but also of the hope, steadfastness, and just plain stubbornness that keeps us going through the darkness. The ideas presented in this collection are troubling but moving, and the creative, sometimes disturbing tales Lanagan uses to express them are really quite excellently done. Read Black Juice. If you’re brave enough.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universeAuthor: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Aristotle Mendoza (better known as Ari) is fifteen–an awkward, complicated age for anyone–and he has no friends, no social life, and no communications skills. That’s just the way life goes sometimes . . . until he meets Dante, another fifteen-year-old guy. A guy who reads because he likes to, who cares about the fate of birds, who watches the stars in the desert to get away from the city light pollution. Meeting Dante might just change Ari’s life–to the very core of his being.

This is an incredibly brave and beautiful book, both poetic and direct at the same time. The sparse, to-the-point style is perfect for Ari’s character. As he’s going from still-kind-of-a-boy fifteen-year-old to essentially-grown-up-but-not-quite almost-seventeen-year-old, it’s like “I can totally relate to that.” That’s how I feel when I read it, you know? And Dante–I can’t see how anyone could not fall in love with that guy. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is definitely a character-driven story, which is one of the things I love about it. Do be warned: it’s shounen ai, although it’s pretty mild. The story is really more about the struggles of growing up, though. It’s not a book I would recommend to everyone, but I will likely read it again myself, for what that’s worth.

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