Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

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Going Bovine

cover image for Going BovineBray, Libba. (2009) Going Bovine. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Cameron has been acting odd lately – even odder than usual.  He’s also been seeing things that…aren’t exactly ordinary.  When Cameron’s parents finally decide that maybe something is wrong with him after all (that, perhaps, he’s not simply acting up) they take him to a doctor who explains that Cameron has Mad Cow Disease.  As if that isn’t enough, not long after Cameron has to be taken to the hospital a punk rock angel comes along and explains that it’s his destiny to save the world.  It’s not like Cameron has much else better to do, but with being stuck in bed and all, so he accepts the challenge.  But first…he needs to find a way to break out of the infirmary.

Critical Evaluation:

I desperately wanted this book to be half as long as it was.  Not because I don’t read thick books, but because long drawn out adventure stories in which it’s entirely likely that only one person is real do not make for terribly engaging stories.  Bray makes some clever allusions to Don Quixote and there is just enough ambiguity to make the question of what really happened an interesting one.  There just was just too little possibility that his friends really existed to make me care about anyone but Cameron; the hints that he was merely in a coma were too early and too often to let myself get invested in the fates of Balder, Gonzo, or Dulcie.  Nevertheless, it was certainly different and intriguing and worthy of reading and discussion, most especially when it comes to the question of if it even matters if none of it was real or not.  Also, it’s not as if Bray doesn’t write well.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron is off the save the world – and possibly himself as well.

Author Information:

http://libbabray.com/

http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

@libbabray

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

This book is full of weird and odd sh-, er…stuff.  I would probably pick one of the scenes in the book (probably the Small World scene, as it’s not really a spoiler) and use that the set the tone and scene of the story.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

Drugs. Cults. Reality TV. Explicit language. Sex. There’s plenty here for people to object to, if they are so inclined.  There’s plenty to use to defend it as well, if needed – starting with the Printz seal on the cover.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty and the rest of the books in that trilogy.  So I thought I would try this one.  Wow.  No one is ever going to accuse Bray of not having range.

The Name of the Star

cover image for The Name of the StarJohnson, Maureen. (2012) The Name of the Star. New York, NY: G. P. Putnum’s Sons

Plot Summary:

Rory’s parents are spending their sabbatical teaching at the The University of Bristol.  So Rory gets to finish up high school at Wexford, a private boarding school in London rather than back home in Louisiana.  After a somewhat rocky start, including getting drafted for the field hockey team and almost choking to death in the dining hall on her third day, Rory settles in and finds her niche. But Rory’s time in England may not end up being the postcard perfect experience she was hoping for.  There’s a killer on the loose in London; someone is copying Jack the Ripper’s kills – and Wexford is right in the center of his favorite hunting grounds.

Critical Evaluation:

Name of the Star is typical MJ: clever, heartfelt, and more than a little bit off (in a good way).  The oddness makes the pacing less perfect that it could be, but it also takes what might have been a very predictable story about supernatural killers and instead keeps readers constantly guessing about who is going to do what next – and why.  Like Johnson herself, the characters have personality to spare, but never come across as larger than life or someone you would only meet in the pages of a book.  Overall, it was quite enjoyable and I very much look forward to the rest of the series – and I think many teens will too.

Reader’s Annotation:

A murderer is on the loose in London, recreating the crimes of the city’s most notorious serial kill: Jack the Ripper – and Rory’s school is right in the middle of his hunting ground.

Author Information:

http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/blog/

@maureenjohnson

(if you are not following Johnson on twitter, you should be. She’s hilarious.)

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

This is a good title for “what if?” type questions.  What if you had to go to another school for your last year? What if you started seeing ghosts? etc.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

There is sneaking out, drinking (but legally! well, mostly), and of course murder and supernatural elements.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

All of the other books of Johnson’s that I have read were on the scale of “enjoyable” to “awesome.”

 

Across the Universe

Recover image for Across the Universevis, Beth. (2011) Across the Universe. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

When Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they know there are risks involved.  They know that when they wake up, everyone they knew will be dead – except for each other.  What they didn’t realize is that the biggest danger to their safety would be a murderer running loose, killing frozen passengers.  Or that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – without her parents and stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Critical Evaluation:

For a generation ship story, this isn’t especially complicated or deep, but it does deal with weighty issues and is a good, solid story.  The whodunit woven into a more traditional science fiction setting was well done and while the romance lacked spark, neither was it annoying.  My favorite part was how Amy’s mobile presence on the ship was clearly meant to be a counterpoint to the classic story “The Cold Equations.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Amy and her parents were cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they knew there are risks involved.  What they didn’t realize is that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Author Information:

http://bethrevis.blogspot.com/

@bethrevis

Genre:

Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Since I think most science fiction fans will have already heard of this, I would focus on the whodunit and romance to try and draw readers in who might like it, but would never think to try it otherwise.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Possible Controversy:

There is murder and arguments for rebellion and non-conformity, but I honestly think most people bothered by that would be more likely to focus on objecting to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Generation ship! for teens!  I do not know that there are really any others, so I had to see if it was any good.

White Cat

cover image for White CatBlack, Holly. (2010) White Cat.  New York, NY: Margaret K McElderry Books

Plot Synopsis:

 Cassel isn’t a good kid who dreams of being a hero, he’s a mundane born into a family or curseworkers that longs to be respected in the family business.  Struggling to appear normal so as not to attract attention at school, making ends meet by being a bookie for his classmates, wishing he could forget that it’s his fault his best friend is dead, and trying to remember what exactly happened that night take all he has and then some.  So he really doesn’t have time for strange white cats and odd dreams that leave him stranded on school rooftops, uncertain as to how he got there.
Critical Evaluation:
Overall this is a suspenseful tale that, like all good speculative fiction, draws enough parallels to real life to get readers thinking, but without being preachy or having an agenda.  While the worldbuilding is lacking in places, the curse magic, and it’s reliance on touch, is a welcome change of pace from more standard fare.
Reader’s Annotation:
Everyone has strange dreams sometimes, but when Cassel’s leave him stranded on the rooftop of his dorm, unsure of how he got there, he begins to worry that there is more going on than he thought.
Author Information:

http://www.blackholly.com/

http://blackholly.livejournal.com/

@hollyblack

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

The whole idea of a mob run by curseworkers is incredibly intriguing.  Black has bracelets that she passes out at signings that are different colors and have the names of the types of curse workers in her books.  It would be fun to copy that and pass out something to listeners that tell them what kind of curse worker they are and then go on to set up the basic plot.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-19

Potential Controversy:

This book has murder, betrayal, persecution, and much more, but the part that will likely generate the most controversy is the use of the word “curse” to describe the magic.

 Reasons for Choosing This Title:
I love Black’s books and her Curseworker’s series intriguing, new, and appears to be well researched.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

cover image for Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistCohn, Rachel and Levithan, David. (2006). Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Plot Summary:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever. Nick isn’t actually trying to hit on Norah, however, he just wants look like less of a loser in front of his ex-girlfriend, who is headed his way. Norah is tempted to tell him “FUCK, NO!” but she decides instead that kissing a cute boy – however random – is her best shot at avoiding a frenemie who just happens to be walking right towards them.  Neither of them expected a chance encounter to turn into something much more.

Critical Evaluation:

As improbable as this set-up is, Nick and Norah themselves feel honest and believable as characters. Their motivations may be unhealthy at times, but as the story unfolds we begin to understand the internal logic, hopes, history, and fears that drive them to do what they do. Told in alternating third person point of view chapters, the plot of Nick and Norah takes place all in a single night. Although the characters do spend much of the night falling in and out of love, tt is more a story about learning from relationships – and allowing room for both yourself and your partner to be flawed and human – than it is about the start of a romance. This is not a particularly memorable book in terms of craft, but it was enjoyable and will speak strongly to teens and their experiences in learning how to relate to peers romantically.

Reader’s Annotation:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever.

Author Information:

http://www.rachelcohn.com

http://www.davidlevithan.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Levithan/139042149485971

Genre:

Sexuality and Gender

Booktalking Ideas:

Despite the title, I would not try to come up with a playlist and center the talk on that.  I would begin by talking about Nick and Norah’s break-ups and ending with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/15-19

Potential Controversy:

Nicks and Norah and their friends stay up all night in New York and spend a decent amount of time partying at clubs.  Nothing really risque happens, but many parents would not approve.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I must confess I saw the movie first, and was told the book was better, of course.

The Dark and Hollow Places

cover image for The Dark and Hollow PlacesRyan, Carrie. (2011) The Dark and Hollow Places. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

In this final book of The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, Gabry, Catcher, and Elias are joined by Annah, girl that Elias left behind in the ruins of New York City.  With the horde descending upon the city, death for all seems imminent, but the four friends find shelter in one of the last strongholds of the city, a fortified island defended by what is left of the government and armed forces.  The demands and cruelty of the corrupt and unsympathetic soldiers quickly become life threatening and the teens are forced to concoct a way to escape them as well.

Critical Evaluation:

None of the titles in this series are what you could call “joyful” or “full of light” but this final book takes bleakness to a whole new level.  The title for this book is especially apt, fitting Annah’s emotional turmoil, the state of society overall, and the literal conditions of the ruined city.  There is much food for thought to be found in Annah’s – and her companions’ – refusal to give up on humanity and the clever, creative, and desperate ways they manage to fight what was once upon a time a functioning government.

After my frustrations with the love triangle in the second book, I was especially gratified to discover that Annah’s longing for love and family clearly revolves around all that encompasses rather than simply romance in particular.  Annah not only learns to believe that she is worthy of love from a boy, she also creates a family with Catcher, Elias, and especially Gabry (in more ways than one).  The trust and affection between all of them plays a significant role in allowing them to escape from the totalitarian remnants of civilization.  It also, of course, is meant to act as counterpoint to the selfishness masquerading as pragmatism that is condoned and practiced by the men in control.

Zombie stories are really about society, and this final installment does a fantastic job of exploring morality of survival and sacrifice; by the end of the tale Annah not only lives through the reality that regimes perpetuate horrors as well as protect from them, she is also forced to acknowledge and accept her own mistakes – and the limits of her ability to prevent them.

Reader’s Annotation:

With the horde descending upon the city, death seems imminent for Annah and her friends, so they make one last desperate attempt to escape.

Author Information:

http://www.carrieryan.com/

http://carrie-me.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/AuthorCarrieRyan

@carrieryan

Genre:

Horror

Booktalking Ideas:

This one would work well with a descriptive plot summary, bringing them up to and early, dramatic part of the book (like when the friends meet again on the bridge) and then leaving the rest for them to read.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-19

Possible Controversy:

Death, destruction, attempted rape, murder as sport – and that’s just the beginning.  Every bit of it is shown in order to present moral dilemmas though, and none of it comes across as exploitative.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

While I did not enjoy The Dead-Tossed Waves as much( and was annoyed at the switch to a dead looking and scantily clad girl on the cover) I did like The Forest of Hands and Teeth and figured I would give this a try.

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