Book Review: Radio Silence

RadioRadio Silence
Alice Oseman
YA coming-of-age GLBT
474 pages
Published 2017

Representation MATTERS. Don’t let anyone tell you different. The two main characters in this book are GLBT – and asexual, which is a rarely-seen demographic. One of them is a WOC! And that’s IMPORTANT. We need representation of minorities in books, movies, TV, media – wherever it can be seen. So all those kids growing up, thinking they’re weird, or the odd ones out, or broken, can see themselves on the screen and realize that other people are going through the same things. That it’s NORMAL.

This book isn’t what I’d normally read – if I read YA, it’s usually YA fantasy, not coming of age stories – but because I’m making a conscious effort to read more diversely, and I’d heard it involved GLBT kids, I picked it up. I’m not sorry I did. It reminds me a lot of John Green – which is somewhat unsurprising, given he’s really the only other YA coming-of-age author I read.

I love the different formatting the author uses when representing texts, or phone calls, or the podcast that the kids create. It took me a few chapters to get used to the different school system they’re in – the book is set in the UK, and their school system is very different than the US system. But the writing and pacing is beautifully done, and the gentle mystery at the heart of it all is solved by the end of the book in an unexpected way. I really enjoyed this book.

From the cover of Radio Silence:

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City – and their friendship – is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

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The ALA Young Media Award Winners!

Today the American Library Association announced the winners of 2014’s Young Media Awards – authors, illustrators, books, and videos aimed at Young Adults. I’ll be adding a few of these to my to-read list and I’ll link to my reviews when I do! In the meantime, here are some of the award winners (You can find the full list at ALA’s YMA page):

 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures” written by Kate DiCamillo

Four Newbery Honor Books were named:

Doll Bones” written by Holly Black
The Year of Billy Miller” written by Kevin Henkes 
One Came Home” written by Amy Timberlake
Paperboy” written by Vince Vawter

The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:

Midwinterblood” written by Marcus Sedgwick

Printz Honor Books:

Eleanor & Park” written by Rainbow Rowell
The Kingdom of Little Wounds” written by Susann Cokal
Maggot Moon” written by Sally Gardner and illustrated by Julian Crouch
Navigating Early” written by Clare Vanderpool

The Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences:

 “Brewster” written by Mark Slouka
The Death of Bees” written by Lisa O’Donnell
Golden Boy: A Novel” written by Abigail Tarttelin
Help for the Haunted” written by John Searles
Lexicon: A Novel” written by Max Barry
The Lives of Tao” written by Wesley Chu 
Mother, Mother: A Novel” written by Koren Zailckas
Relish” written by Lucy Knisley
The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel” written by Katja Millay
The Universe Versus Alex Woods” written by Gavin Extence

Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults:

Markus Zusak, the author of “The Book Thief,” “I Am the Messenger,” “Getting the Girl,” and “Fighting Ruben Wolfe.”  

Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience:

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Fat Angie” written by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Three Stonewall Honor Books were selected:

Better Nate Than Ever” written by Tim Federle
Branded by the Pink Triangle” written by Ken Setterington
Two Boys Kissing” written by David Levithan 

 

I’ve added Doll Bones, One Came Home, Midwinterblood, Eleanor & ParkThe Kingdom of Little WoundsRelishThe Sea of TranquilityBeautiful Music for Ugly Children, and Two Boys Kissing to my reading list. (Two Boys Kissing, incidentally, is authored by the co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson – the other co-author was John Green, and it was an excellent book, also dealing with GLBT issues.)

I might also add Golden BoyHelp for the HauntedLexiconThe Universe Versus Alex Woods, and The Book Thief to my list. Not like it’s not out of control already…

Book Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

aliceAlice in Zombieland
by Gena Showalter
404 pages
Published 2012
Urban Fantasy

This was an interesting re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland. In Alice in Zombieland, Alice Bell’s life has always been curtailed by her father’s insistence that monsters exist. The family cannot leave the house after dark, she’s been taught how to fight hand-to-hand and with a couple of weapons, and they never – NEVER – drive past the graveyard. All of this changes in one night – when Alice “falls down the rabbit hole” as it were – and discovers her father wasn’t insane after all.

Now, living with her grandparents, haunted by visions of her little sister and glimpses of monsters in the dark, Alice – or Ali, as she insists on being called – finds herself being called on to fight the monsters alongside the roughest crowd in her high school. Falling in love with the leader of the bad boys doesn’t help her social life, but might help her stay alive.

I enjoyed this book and will probably pick up the sequel, Through the Zombie Glass, if I can find it at the library. The writing flowed well most of the time, and while Alice began a little whiny, by the end of the book she was pretty bad ass. It felt…. a little more “young adult” than some young adult books I’ve read; the emotions seemed detached or damped down a bit. While she was dealing with grief over the loss of her family, and possible death at the hands of zombies, it just didn’t feel as raw as I think those emotions should have felt. And the notion of a bunch of high school kids fighting zombies – with the support of adults, including the high school principal – was a little weird. Still an interesting book, and not a waste of time, but it felt a lot like “teenagers are special snowflakes!”

From the back of Alice in Zombieland:

SHE WON’T REST UNTIL SHE’S SENT EVERY WALKING CORPSE BACK TO ITS GRAVE. FOREVER.

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that’s all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone. Her father was right. The monsters are real. To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

Book Review: Tortall and Other Lands

TortallTortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales
by Tamora Pierce
369 pages
Published 2011

This is a collection of Tamora Pierce’s short stories, some of which have been published in other collections. There are six stories set in Tortall, four fantasy stories set elsewhere, and one contemporary non-fantasy story. I really enjoyed getting glimpses into other parts of Tortall – seeing stories of a few ordinary people, not just the extraordinary ones that star in her sagas and trilogies.

In one story we revisit Numair and Daine from The Immortals quartet, and see their foster dragon, Kitten, get into trouble and rescue a wild mage and her son. In another we see an apple tree turned into a man as a consequence of Numair turning a man into an apple tree half a world away. Another story shows us the birth of Nawat and Aly’s children. (Aly is the daughter of Alanna from The Song of the Lioness quartet, and has her own duology, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.) We see a girl learn to fight by watching animals squabble, and another girl learn to become an adult by rescuing a baby dragon.

I very much enjoy collections of short stories for a few different reasons; collections by one author show glimpses into rarely-seen parts of their established worlds, while collections around a theme introduce me to new authors. I also don’t feel bad about setting the book down between stories to go to bed! Tortall and Other Lands was a wonderful addition to the stories of Tortall, and has me even more eager to read The Immortals quartet and the Trickster set.

From the back of Tortall and Other Lands:

Years ago, the novel Alanna introduced fantasy lovers to the magical kingdom of Tortall. In Tamora Pierce’s subsequent fifteen books set in this medieval realm, readers have gotten to know generations of families; legions of friends, foes, and fantastical creatures; and much about the history, magic, and spirit of this extraordinarily well-drawn locale.

But epics do not always provide the smaller, more intimate tales. Collected here are six wondrous shorter tales from the land of Tortall, featuring previously unknown characters as well as old friends. These stories, some of which have never been published before, will lead old fans and new readers more deeply into one of the most intricately constructed worlds of modern fantasy. There are four more fantasy tales not set in Tortall. Two are historical and set in an unknown town; one takes place in a remote desert; and one is set in a very well-known town, New York City, in our time. 

And as a bonus, there’s one nonfantasy set in contemporary Idaho that proves that Pierce’s multilayered characters, finesse with dialogue, and impeccable storytelling are not limited to lands inhabited by dragons and magic. 

Book Review: The Song of the Lioness quartet

alanna1Song of the Lioness quartet
by Tamora Pierce
Young Adult Fantasy

Alanna: the First Adventure
308 pages
Published 1983

In the Hand of the Goddess
288 pages
Published 1984

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
304 pages
Published 1986

Lioness Rampant
400 pages
Published 1988

Alanna2The Song of the Lioness quartet is Tamora Pierce’s first set of books. I read her latest trilogy (the Beka Cooper trilogy) first, which didn’t exactly prepare me for The Song of the Lioness. It’s obvious, going from the latest trilogy to her first writing, how much her writing has matured since the 80s. My first thought upon completing Alanna: the First Adventure was “I’m very glad she’s gotten better at writing!” The story itself is still interesting and worth reading, but the style is a little difficult to read when I KNOW how well she writes now. The characters are mostly one-dimensional; few of the side characters seem to have plots going or events happening to them when they’re not with Alanna. Characters pop up, have a significant interaction with Alanna, and are gone again, with no indication they exist outside of their usefulness to the main character. This is in stark contrast to her latest work, where every character that has a significant role to play has a history of their own, and thoughts and feelings of their own. They’re much more fleshed out in her recent books.

Alanna3That complaint aside, the Alanna books are really the foundation that the rest of Tortall was built upon. It’s interesting to see how Pierce has fleshed out some of the concepts she touched on in the Alanna saga, and it’s fun to see where some of the things from the Beka Cooper trilogy originated. It also pays to keep in mind that though the Alanna books were written first, the Beka Cooper trilogy is based two hundred years earlier. We learn a lot more about the office of The Rogue in the Beka Cooper trilogy, something that isn’t explained very well in the Alanna quartet, even though one of Alanna’s main romantic interests is George Cooper (yes, a descendant of Beka!), the Rogue. Pierce also never explains the origins of Alanna’s cat, Faithful, in the actual Alanna books. That explanation lies in the Beka Cooper books as well.

The Song of the Lioness quartet is the story of a girl who decides to rebel against tradition and follow her heart to become a knight. In her time, ladies simply do NOT become knights. They learn to organize households and marry well. Alanna, however, is lucky enough to have a twin brother who does not want to become a knight; instead Thom wants to be a mage. So when they’re sent off to face their futures, they switch places, with Alanna becoming “Alan”, the younger twin. (Thom stays Thom; the school that ladies are sent to is the same school mages start at.)

Alanna4Alan/Alanna begins as a page, then moves to squire, and eventually a knight. Her secret is discovered, but due to her influential friends, most of whom knew she was a girl by then, she is able to keep her status. Her adventures take her from uncovering a plot against the royal family, to being adopted by a desert tribe, to recovering a magic jewel of prosperity, with many small adventures in between.

I love reading Pierce’s heroines; both Alanna and Beka have problems reconciling their feminine natures with the work they’ve chosen. The scenes where Alanna’s love interests see her in a dress for the first time, instead of her normal boy-garb and armor, is heart-warming in one case, and sad in another. In both womens’ lives it’s the man who can accept all of their aspects who ultimately wins their heart, which is a wonderful message.

Ultimately, the technical flaws in the writing of the Alanna saga faded as I became absorbed in the story. I’ll be requesting more Tortall books from the library in the near future!

From the back of Alanna: the first Adventure:

“From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.”

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins—one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and make her a legend in the land.

From the back of In the Hand of the Goddess:

Still disguised as a boy, Alanna becomes a squire to none other than the prince of the realm. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna’s liege lord, he is also her best friend—and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a mysterious sorcerer threatens the prince’s life, it will take all of Alanna’s skill, strength, and magical power to protect him—even at the risk of revealing who she really is…

From the back of The Woman who Rides like a Man:

Newly knighted, Alanna of Trebond seeks adventure in the vast desert of Tortall. Captured by fierce desert dwellers, she is forced to prove herself in a duel to the death—either she will be killed or she will be inducted into the tribe. Although she triumphs, dire challenges lie ahead. As her mythic fate would have it, Alanna soon becomes the tribe’s first female shaman—despite the desert dwellers’ grave fear of the foreign woman warrior. Alanna must fight to change the ancient tribal customs of the desert tribes—for their sake and for the sake of all Tortall.

From the back of Lioness Rampant:

Having achieved her dream of becoming the first female knight errant, Alanna of Trebond is not sure what to do next. She has triumphed in countless bloody battles, and her adventures are already legendary. Perhaps being a knight errant is not all that Alanna needs…but Alanna must push her uncertainty aside when she is challenged with the impossible. She must recover the Dominion Jewel, a legendary gem with enormous power for good—but only in the right hands. And she must work fast. Tortall is in great danger, and Alanna’s arch-enemy, Duke Roger, is back—and more powerful than ever. In this final book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna discovers through fierce combat and ceaseless searching that she indeed has a future worthy of her mythic past—both as a warrior and as a woman.

Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

papertownsPaper Towns
by John Green
305 pages
Published 2008
Young Adult

So this is the last of John Green’s books that I hadn’t read. And it, like the others, boils down to much the same plot. Boy meets Girl, Girl affects Boy’s life in a profound way, Boy loses Girl and has to deal with the changes she’s wrought AND her absence. On one hand, I feel like Green needs to branch out and find a new plot, on the other hand, he writes this plot so well. And even within this plot he writes such different books. The Fault in Our Stars was slightly different, in that Girl lost Boy and had to deal with it. Unlike Looking For Alaska, in Paper Towns Girl didn’t die, but Boy still lost her nonetheless. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the plot was changed to “Boy meets Boy, Boy changes Boy’s world, Boy loses Boy and has to deal with the loss and the changes.” But in all four books the protagonist winds up dealing with something John Green has mentioned repeatedly in his vlogbrothers videos: imagining people complexly.

What does that mean?

It means not making preconceived notions of what people are or how they think. That woman who was rude to you yesterday, she’s a bitch, right? Instead of just deciding “well she’s rude and mean” imagine her complexly. Maybe she has a migraine, maybe she overslept and her entire morning was a cascade of failure. Maybe she has a sick kid and an out-of-work husband at home and they’re struggling to make ends meet on her minimum wage income. Imagine her complexly and you’ll realize that she has problems of her own, and maybe what you interpreted as a rude, mean-spirited remark was simply a tired tone of voice from a stressed-out woman. Maybe she was rude, maybe she looked at you as simply someone in her way because she didn’t imagine you complexly. Imagining people complexly is another way of saying “treat people like PEOPLE and not just bit players in your own little drama.” That can be a hard task when not everyone is doing it.

In Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman is an enigma, even to the boy who’s been her neighbor for sixteen years and from whose perspective the book is written. She’s been a different person to every person in high school, letting no one see the real Margo until she runs away and leaves a trail of clues for Quentin, her neighbor, to find. Quentin’s had a crush on her since he was ten, but it’s only in following her clues that he begins to see Margo as Margo, and not as the idea of Margo he had constructed.

It’s an important lesson, and maybe the reason it shows up in all of John Green’s books is because it is so incredibly important and yet so rare to find and so difficult to do. John talks about the concept in a speech he gave at the Alan Conference but the important part is here, I think:

“Let me tell you what is, in my opinion, the central problem of human existence: I am stuck in my body, in my consciousness, seeing out of my eyes. I am the only me I ever get to be, and so I am the only person I can imagine endlessly complexly. That’s not the problem, actually. The problem is you. You are so busy taking in your own wondrousness that you can’t be bothered to acknowledge mine.

When I was a kid, I believed in an embarrassingly total way that I was the only human being in the world and that all the other people, including my brother and parents and everybody, was in fact an alien, and that the aliens had created the entire world to do a series of controlled experiments on how a human child—me—would respond to various forms of trial and tribulation. And when I wasn’t around, they would take off their human costumes—the aliens had very advanced costuming technology, naturally—and they would do alien stuff. You know, go to the alien zoo and watch the alien local news and whatever else. I really believed this.

And obviously, on some level, this indicated the kind of massively narcissistic worldview that would later require decades of therapy to adjust. But in a way, I was right. I am the only person whose existence I can directly attest to. By the way, when I’ve talked about this in the past I’ve seen people nodding, like they also believed in their childhoods that they were the only real person in the world, and I would imagine that right now, some such people are probably feeling the comfort we feel when we learn that our delusions are shared, that we are not alone even in our darkest corners.

… I will acknowledge that you are all likely to be people. The probability that I am the only person in the world is extremely small—it is that number that infinitely approaches zero but isn’t zero. And yet. On some level, I have to take it on faith that you are as complex as I am, that your pain and joy and grief are as real and as meaningful as my own.”

The entire speech is very much worth reading. John Green is extremely eloquent (as good writers must be!) and his perspectives on things are usually worth reading.

From the back of Paper Towns:

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows. 

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues – and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.