Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Rundown: Memoir, Coders, and Fantasy

There are a bunch of good graphic novels out, so let’s jump right in – there’s something for everyone!

 

Taproot A Story About a Gardener and a Ghost, by Keezy Young, (Sept. 2017, Lion Forge), $10.99, ISBN: 9781941302460
Recommended for readers 13+

Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green, (Oct. 2017, Lion Forge), $19.99, ISBN: 9781941302415
Recommended for readers 13+
Katie Green’s graphic memoir details her years of abusing disorders, abuse at the hands of the therapist who was supposed to help her, and her recovery and reclamation of self. It’s devastating and inspirational; a life that we can all see in ourselves: cruel teasing, parental threats at the dinner table, a career you’re shoehorned into. Lighter Than My Shadow is a memoir of anxiety and depression, told in shades of grey, black and white. We see the physical manifestation of Green’s hunger and depression: a growing mouth in her stomach, a black scribble over her head, threatening to split her open. It’s an incredible story, and one that must be shared and discussed.
Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats, by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes, (Oct. 2017, First Second), $10.99, ISBN: 9781626726062
Recommended for readers 8-12
The Coders are back! Dr. One-Zero is a bane to their existence, especially with his new “Advanced Chemistry” class, where he only teaches them to make Green Pop. Hopper’s paired up with an obnoxious classmate who knows nothing about chemistry; Josh is fostering a kinda, sorta crush, and Eni’s sisters are following him around the school, reporting his every move to his overprotective parents, who want him to cut all ties with his fellow Coders. The Coders are still working together, though, and make a new discovery: The Turtle of Light. They also discover someone they’ve been looking for: Hopper’s dad, who’s under the influence of the evil Green Pop! This fourth installment is still good fun and has more coding challenges for readers; most notably, working out pattern repeats. The fifth book, Potions and Parameters, is coming in March.
The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill, (Oct. 2017, Oni Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781620104415
Recommended for readers 9-13
If you loved Princess Princess Ever After as much as I did, you are in for a treat with Katie O’Neill’s newest graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Greta is a blacksmith’s apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is even relevant anymore. She learns about another art form when she rescues a young tea dragon in a marketplace: the care of tea dragons; they’re dragons, who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. The cast is beautifully illustrated and diverse; we’ve got a plethora of relationships depicted, and a storyline every fairy tale and fantasy reader will love. The backgrounds, the characters, every single piece of this graphic novel is just incredible artwork. Buy two copies for your shelves, and a copy or two for readers you love. Do. Not. Miss.

 

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Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

A boy deals with his grief in Cast No Shadow

Cast No Shadow, by Nick Tapalansky/Illustrated by Anissa Espinosa, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596438774

Recommended for ages 12+

Greg and his friends live in Lancaster, in a town that’s lately become obsessed with tourist traps. This latest one is a giant hairball. No lie. Greg is kind of an attraction on his own: he was born without a shadow. He’s normal in every other way; he just doesn’t have a shadow, which just makes him one more quirky thing in a town full of quirks. When Greg explores an abandoned mansion just outside of town, he meets Eleanor, who could be the perfect girl for him – “smart, beautiful, funny, and man, she totally gets me” – if only she weren’t dead. Eleanor is a teenage ghost, living in her family’s old mansion, and chasing out the creepy living that go in and mess up her home, but she has a soft spot for Greg.

Greg’s got a lot going on in his home life, too: his dad’s girlfriend, Joyce, has just moved in, and Greg isn’t happy about it. He doesn’t want anyone taking his dead mother’s place. As he deals with the frustration of having a new person in the house, and a girlfriend who can’t leave her haunt, something is set in motion; Greg has unwittingly set a dangerous entity loose on his town. What are the chances he can save his town, smooth over his relationship with his father and Joyce, and have a happily ever after of his own?

Cast No Shadow is a touching exploration into grief and loss. Greg retreats from the world to cope with his mother’s loss and his father’s subsequent relationship; aside from his female best friend, the strongest relationship that emerges in the book is with a dead girl. Greg’s suppressed feelings find another way to emerge, causing destruction and danger for everyone around him. It’s a great story to put into older tweens’ and teens’ hands, helping them cope with feelings that may be too overwhelming to confront head-on. The black, white, and gray illustrations add a nice, ghostly feel to the story and come in handy when finer plot points fall into place.

A nice addition to middle school and teen graphic novel collections, and a good secondary reference for kids dealing with grief and loss. Find more of author Nick Tapalansky’s work at his website, and illustrator Anissa Espinosa’s work at her Tumblr.

Posted in Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dark middle grade fantasy: Room of Shadows

Room of Shadows, by Ronald Kidd, (Aug. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807568057

Recommended for readers 10-13

David finds himself with a lot of anger lately. I mean, it’s justified: his dad abandoned his mom, and they’ve been forced to move into this creepy old house. When a school bully messes with him on a bad day, David beats him up, earning some in-house grounding from his mom. That’s where he discovers the room: a secret room with an old desk and a carving of a Raven, signed, “EP”. The weird dreams start shortly after. When the incidents start at school, all involving people who David’s tangled with, everyone starts looking at him differently, including his mom and the police. How can David prove he isn’t The Raven – the person responsible for the incidents, who leaves a signed note each time? And how can he keep himself safe from The Raven, who’s fixated on him?

With a background in Edgar Allan Poe’s history, I dove eagerly into Room of Shadows. The author takes Poe into very dark territory here, for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. It’s an interesting concept, but one I had a hard time with. I didn’t really get to know David or his best friend, Libby; I felt like their character development took more of a backseat, allowing the Poe storyline to drive the plot. I did like the nod to some of Poe’s greatest hits in the story, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Pit and the Pendulum; it’s always great to discover Poe in new fiction. This one wasn’t my book, but middle grade horror fans who are ready for something weightier than Goosebumps and Haunted Mansion may sit down with this one.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

One for Sorrow mixes ghost stories with historical fiction

One for Sorrow, by Mary Downing Hahn, (July 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544818095

Recommended for ages 10-14

Annie is the new girl at her school. Desperate to make new friends, she’s thwarted when the school pariah, Ellie, latches onto her on the first day. Annie quickly discovers that there’s a reason the other girls don’t like Ellie: she’s a liar, a tattletale, and a thief who bullies her way into Annie’s life. When Ellie is out sick for a few days, Annie manages to befriend the other girls at school and becomes one of Ellie’s tormentors. When the 1918 flu epidemic reaches Annie’s town, it claims Ellie as one of its victims, but Ellie’s spirit won’t rest. She returns as a vengeful ghost, punishing all the girls who bullied her through Annie, thus ensuring that Annie will be as hated as Ellie was in her lifetime.

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the reigning queens of middle grade horror. I still can’t look at a doll in the same way after reading Took (2015), and she’s the first author I go to when my library kids ask me for a good, scary story. One for Sorrow, inspired by the 19th century nursery rhyme, seamlessly blends elements of an intense ghost story with historical fiction. Hahn addresses World War I and anti-German sentiment and the 1918 flu epidemic in a small American town while drawing on her own mother’s childhood for inspiration, having her characters visit various homes with funereal wreaths on the door in order to eat their fill of sweets and pastries put out for the wakes. Ellie’s vicious haunting will keep readers turning pages late into the night, feeling Annie’s helpless frustration as Ellie systematically destroys her reputation and her life.

 

Mary Downing Hahn has won many awards for her writing. You can find out more about her (like the fact that she’s a former children’s librarian!), her books, and her awards, through her publisher’s website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

From California Girl to Cemetery Girl: Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead

25446348Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead, by Cindy Callaghan, (March 2017, Aladdin Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1481465694

Recommended for readers 9-13

California almost-in crowder Sydney MacKenzie just got the worst news: her father sold his failing sporting goods retail business, and they’re moving to Buttermilk River Cove, Delaware: population 800. Her dad’s inherited the Lay to Rest cemetery, and they’ll be living in a Victorian house on the cemetery grounds. As if! Desperate to be the cool girl, Sydney tries putting on her best California Girl airs, but the Delaware kids are remarkably unimpressed – but they are impressed by her new digs. Movie-obsessed Sydney starts out making up a creepy history of the house, but quickly discovers that her house has some real history of its own, and sets out, with the help of her new friends, to investigate.

I just didn’t love this one. I’ve liked Cindy Callaghan’s Lost in…” series, which is light and fun, but that vibe didn’t translate as well for me here. Sydney comes off as a largely vapid social climber, even as the kids around her try to teach her that it’s not about what’s on the surface. An Underground Railroad subplot feels awkwardly attached to the book to give it more depth. It’s a quick, easy read that tween girls will likely check out for the fun cover and title, but for me, this one’s an additional purchase. I’d rather add another “Lost in…” set to my collection.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A girl tries to bring her family back together in The Haunted House Project

haunted-houseThe Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707122

Recommended for ages 8-12

When Andie’s mom died in a tragic accident, she left a huge hole in her family. Andie’s dad drifts from job to job, spending more time drinking and gambling away their insurance money. Andie’s older sister, Paige, holds down a diner job in addition to being a high school student, just to make sure there’s food on the table. Andie’s having a harder time holding it together at school, and teachers are starting to notice. Seemingly left on her own most of the time, Andie  comforts herself with ghost stories; she wants desperately to believe that there’s a way she can reach out to her mother, somehow. When Isaiah, her science partner, suggests they study paranormal activity for their project, Andie gets a spark of inspiration: what if she were to haunt her family’s home, making them believe her mother was reaching out to them? Would it bring them back together? She sprays perfume, leaves objects and writes messages around the house, hoping to get a reaction from her father and sister. Whether or not it will be the reaction she wants remains to be seen.

The Haunted House Project is a touching story of grief and loss, and one girl’s attempt to bring her mother back the only way she knows how.  She grieves not only for her mother, but the normalcy of everyday life. It’s an honest look at a girl coming of age under difficult circumstances; it’s a look at how friendships can change, and it’s a story about one child trying to repair her broken family. Readers will feel sympathy for Andie; some will, empathize with her, and most readers will understand the desperation of wanting. This is a strong yet gentle work of fiction that will go well with Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May.