Book reviews & writing tips from a wannabe YA writer
Summary: This is a story of two kids from completely different worlds: 12-year-old Peter goes to Greenland with his parents on a research expedition, but his mom is teetering on the edge of another bout of depression. 14-year-old Thea lives in an isolated settlement called Gracehope, where they’re running out of space but no one will let her explore new areas.
Review: The premise created immediate mystery in my mind and kept me reading to find out how the worlds might intersect. Here’s the opening that grabbed me:
Most boys his age had never touched paper. There was little left. Paper was reserved for fine drawing and important documents. Mattias knew even before he could skate that if he were to harm any of it, if he were to crease one corner of one sheet, the consequences would be serious. But Mattias could not resist his mother’s drawing table.
In the end, the story came together well.
But I didn’t always enjoy the writing, namely:
This isn’t the most compelling quote, but it’s a good example of the first issue listed above:
It was cold. At the steepest parts, they gave up walking and scooted along the tunnel floor in a sitting position, bracing themselves with their heels. This meant sitting in the icy stream that still rushed down the tunnel; their furs kept them dry, but couldn’t entirely protect them from the chill.
“Is it, uh, usually like this?” Peter asked. He was breathing hard. “With the water?”
“No,” Thea said fiercely, so that he wouldn’t ask more. She couldn’t help feeling a bit mean.
Title: Travel Far, Pay No Fare
Author: Anne Lindbergh
Category: Fiction, Middle Grade
Why I Read It: Because you told me to! This one’s been on the suggestion list since March, but it took a while for it to arrive via interlibrary loan.
Summary: 12-year-old Owen moves to Vermont when his mom decides to marry her widowed brother-in-law. Owen’s tasked with watching his 9-year-old cousin Parsley, but she keeps disappearing for long periods of time.
Review: I loved the premise of this book—that you can travel into your favorite books. (Tangent: Where would you go if you could? Hogwarts for me, hands down.)
But as fun as the premise was, I don’t think the writing held its own. Issues ranged from too much exclamation to a play-by-play of every thought and feeling the main character had. Here’s an example from a good ways into the book:
I’ve seen movies that had me close to tears, but even the saddest of them was nothing compared to this. Jody was hurting. I could tell! And I hurt with him: a tight, heavy kind of hurt that swelled inside my chest and behind my jaw. What did it mean? Was it because Flag was still there and condemned to die? Should I knock on the door and ask?
However, this book was written in 1992 so it’s probably not fair to hold it to my modern reading tastes.
I did like that the family conflict was front and center in the story, along with the parents. It heightened the tension and made it more realistic.
Author: Ingrid Law
Category: Fiction, Middle Grade
Why I Read It: This interview with Ingrid Law at Maw Books Blog piqued my interest, and the first line of the book made me want to read more.
Summary: Mibs Beaumont is about to turn 13 and get her very own savvy. She can’t wait to see whether her special ability will be the type to move mountains or brew up a storm, or a different talent altogether. But when Poppa gets hurt, Mibs doesn’t get the birthday celebration she was expecting.
Review: Here’s that first line that reeled me in:
When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.
I’m happy to report that the rest of the book was just as engrossing.
My two favorite parts:
Here’s the first full paragraph to give you a feel for Mibs’s voice:
When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it. I had liked living down south on the edge of land, next to the pushing-pulling waves. I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking, so moving had been hard—hard like the pavement the first time I fell off my pink two-wheeler and my palms burned like fire from all of the hurt just under the skin. But it was plain that Fish could live nowhere near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around any largish bodies of water. Water had a way of triggering my brother and making ordinary, everyday weather take a frightening turn for the worse.
Title: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris
Author: R.L. LaFevers
Category: Fiction, Middle Grade
Why I Read It: I read the first in this series, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Summary: 11-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton spends most of her time in an antiquities museum where her parents work. While they’re busy, she keeps herself entertained by saving the world.
Stopped on Page: 178
Why I Stopped: As much as I loved the first Theodosia book, I just never got into this story. A couple trivial things got to me, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing the bigger issues that made me stop. In general, the book didn’t feel lean and mean like the first one. Could it be that it was rushed to market without as much time spent in the editing phase?
So here are the trivial things I am able to articulate:
A quick example of the latter issue:
I would have to get word to Wigmere at once. And I needed to figure out what exactly it was that I’d discovered. Something that had power over the dead, that was clear. But what? And why? And how much power?
And what was I to do with the wretched staff in the meantime? If I took it with me, would the mummies follow me up the stairs?
I took three steps forward to test it. Sure enough, every single mummy shuffled along behind me.
I nearly burst into tears. What did it all mean? Had their ba, or souls, returned to their bodies? Were they merely reanimated, such as the zombies of western Africa? The enormity of what I didn’t know was staggering.
Should I have kept going? Or was I right to stop?
Note: As an aspiring author, I respect the extraordinary amount of effort that goes into writing a book. I did not write this review in order to be unfair or negative about the book. My goal is simply to articulate why the book wasn’t for me.
Summary: Emmaline lives in a tidy town, but she can’t manage to stay tidy herself. That can make a girl feel very alone. And the thing Emmaline wants most is a bunny to be her friend, but bunnies—a very untidy bunch—have been banished from her town.
Review: Such a sweet little story. I loved the language and repetition—it would make for a great read-aloud. This is from the first chapter:
Emmaline wanted a bunny.
She’d seen them on TV and in books.
She liked how they hop, hop, hopped. She liked how they dug holes and scoot-skedaddled under bushes. She liked how they huddled, cuddled, snuggled together.
And then from the third chapter:
Emmaline was not tidy.
Dirt she dug.
Shrubs she scoot-skedaddled under.
Puddles she hop, hop, splash, splash, hopped through.
Emmaline yelled, “Hoopalala!” and “Dinglederrydee!” when she was happy.
She huddled, cuddled, snuggled people wrinkly.
This is the sort of book that makes me anxious for my daughter to get a little older so I can read it to her.