#Review: Drowning Above Water by Alyssa Herron #Fiction #LiteraryFiction

Today on the blog I have the pleasure of reviewing Alyssa Herron’s gut wrenching novel Drowning Above Water. Split between past and present, Poland and the US, this unforgettable story has a power and potency that truly brings it to life.  Suspenseful and socially relevant, this novel is perfect for lovers of character driven stories and thrillers alike.


drowningTitle: Drowning Above Water

Author: Alyssa Herron

Publisher: BooksGo Social

Publication Date: September 30, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, General Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Themes: Family, Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Addiction

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Drowning Above Water is the story of a troubled young girl, barely clinging to life. She is trafficked across the waters to America by her own mother in an attempt to save her life. Twenty years later, she becomes pregnant. She escapes in an attempt to save her own child’s life, to deliver her baby to a safety and love she never knew. If she can give a lasting goodness to an innocent life, maybe her own was worth the pain of living.


My Review

 

Be prepared when you dive into this one, akin to jumping into the deep end, Drowning Above Water has the ability to take your breath away. Without any sort of gentle introduction readers are plunged into the world of human trafficking, sex work, fear, and absolute control. Dark and twisty while simultaneously gritty and hopeful, Drowning Above Water is a tale of fortitude, determination, and survival. It’s filled with villains you can help but pity and heroes you might come to hate.

Malina turned out to be a truly conflicting character, but I love characters that make me debate myself rather than simply rave. While fundamentally broken in some ways, Malina is undoubtedly a complex, strong, and resilient character. Despite her addiction and captive situation, she never loses hope or the will to keep trying. I was floored, however, when the reason for her special treatment was revealed. Once the sadness set in I ended up feeling a touch of sympathy for both Grizella and Malina, but this is one of those scenarios where everyone’s a victim.

I was touched by Malina’s bravery, kindness, and her ability to cultivate relationships despite her situation and restricted contact with the outside world. The loyalty that she inspired from these people really spoke to the strength and quality of her character. And yet, I was equally appalled when she capitalized on the loyalty of Guin during her escape and Petyr in the doctor’s office. Like I said, she’s conflicting, but this isn’t the type of story where things are black and white.. almost everything occupies a place in a vast expanse of grey space and really challenges readers to question their stance on a great many things.

I really enjoyed the constant shifting between her past and present, and especially liked how the flashbacks didn’t follow any sort of chronological order. Instead, their organization in relation to present circumstances creates a delicate balance between drama and insight, and leverages every ounce from the power of hindsight. Often times the flashbacks correlate with events that occurred a few chapters back, leading to so really gratifying ‘ah-ha!’ moments and an absolutely gutting experience.

I actually never liked Petyr. He always came across as a bit of a lap dog, or a little bog in search of his mother… or any mother for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, my heart went out to him. Being trapped as the errand boy for a trafficking ring is no easy deal, especially not after all his loss and suffering, but I always found his lack of will and individual thought or desire to be infuriating. I get it, terrible situations breed broken people, but Petyr’s permanent denial and naivety just never seemed to fit or grow with his circumstances.

I was touched by his undying devotion to Malina, but was never able to fully comprehend the pull behind the attraction. I was saddened by how his story ended, but sadly in the real world stories are all to common. Perhaps it was the reality of his situation that resonated with me – I just didn’t want to accept it as true.

One of the best things about this book is that with little to date it on the pages, it takes on a mournful and timeless quality. Now add in the fact that the writing is both gripping and powerful, and you have a recipe for the type of book that sucks you in and just won’t let you go. It is emotive, evocative, and at times down right frightening. Honest and real, it is evident that all of the characters are based in actuality including those in the periphery like Guin, Abraham, Grizella, Beata, and Voy.

This is one that I absolutely have to recommend! It’s disturbing and often tough to stomach but it’s also poignant and beautifully written. The messages within are both deeply human and overwhelmingly compassionate despite the constant cruelty. Herron maintains a delicate balance between character development, adventure and thrill that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of readers. But get your tissues read, this one will rip your heart out.

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#Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi #YALit

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing an oldie but a goodie, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I saw this baby sitting on the bargain book pile the last time I took a gander through the book store, and simply couldn’t resist the cover. Was it ever worth it! Action packed and beautifully written I completely understand how this sucker won a Printz Award and landed a spot as a National Book Award finalist.


ship breakerTitle: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: May 1, 2010

Genre: YA Fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction

Themes: Dystopian Futures, Adventure, Family, Friendship, Loyalty, Survival, Classed Societies

Features: Excerpt from The Drowned Cities


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life…

 

 


My Review

I absolutely adored every second of this book – from the futuristic post-climate change setting to the characters, and from the writing to how events were sequenced – everything just seemed to fit and flow.

The opening chapters do a fantastic job of the setting the scene for the story to really kick off. They set the tone for how little the ship breakers have, and how highly loyalty and friendship are valued in a world where every day is a struggle to make it to the next. I loved the idea of the Gulf coast returning to nature, and that the mega tankers of today are now nothing more than obsolete sources of scrap metal. It was interesting to the disparity between those who owned the clippers and the companies, and the masses who  lived in squats and carried out the grunt work of for the manufacturing world. I hope desperately, that this book opens up conversations with it’s YA readers that this is a thing of the future, but reality for so many working right now in industries like textile and electronics manufacturing, electronics recycling, and the roughly 65 million bonded labourers working the world today.

I adored the contrast not only between Nailer and Pima, with their vastly different family situations and ability to trust, but also tension created between Nailer and Nita and their disparate socioeconomic statuses. It was interesting to see why Nailer attached to people the way the he did, why he craved security and family, and why he was willing to go out on a limb to save Nita when he knew it would bring him immeasurable trouble. I appreciated too, how while Nita never fully lost the habits and airs ingrained through her upbringing, that she was quick to adapt to her situation. It was much easier to palette some of her more pretentious moments knowing that the words were said innocently, especially since she was so quick to get her hands dirty and get to work.

The cast of supporting characters was incredible as well, with Richard proving predictably unpredictable, Tool’s surprising loyalty despite his apparent lack thereof, Pima’s tenacity and courage knowing her odds of making onto a heavy crew were slim, and even Sloth’s deplorable gamble. I was left constantly guessing as to who would be loyal and who would be quick to betray with the temptation of money, and was frequently surprised when characters acted against my expectations.

The messaging throughout this book is sometimes subtle and at other times glaringly obvious but it is always spot on. It matters in this world how you treat people, it not enough just to be smart or lucky – you need to be both, and family can be something far beyond blood. The commentary on industry, urbanization, and climate change is just as poignant and could easily prove to be the starting point for some excellent class and book club discussions.

Finally, the writing is exceptional with it rich imagery and rapid pace. I did find that there were a few words used a touch on the repetitive side, but on the whole the language and vocabulary is not only effective but easily approachable. Given that this book is written with a teen audience in mind, I appreciated the less challenging lexile as it was paired with some heady concepts. I really saw this as a high interest book that could easily be recommended to struggling and advanced readers alike.

Would I recommend this book? Well, I supposed I answered that one in the line above… but the answer is a resounding yes! This is the kind of book that can easily be enjoyed by teens and adults alike, and I definitely think that it’s the kind of book that should be included in school library collections. Fast paced and utter engaging, Bacigalupi will keep you enraptured until the end. I can’t wait to dive into The Drowned Cities and Tool of War, as I am certain they will be just as amazing as Ship Breaker.

 

 

#GraphicNovel #Review: Stitches – A #Memoir by David Small

Today I on the blog I have a review for David Small’s gripping memoir Stitches. Dark, and bordering on gothic, this book achieves an incredible balance between autobiography and visual storytelling. For those new to the medium, Stitches is an ideal place to start. And for those that are already seasoned in reading panels rather than pages, the beauty and flow of this haunting recollection is sure to keep you on your toes.


stitchesTitle: Stitches – A Memoir

Author: David Small

Publisher: McClelland & Stuart Ltd.

Publication Date: September 8, 2009

Genre: Graphic Novel, Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir

Themes: Dysfunctional Families, Cancer, Survival, Coming of Age, Childhood Trauma

Features: Family photographs


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.

Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statemen.


My Review

Full disclosure book lovers, this is not the first time that I have read this book. In fact, it’s probably my 5th or 6th adventure through these pages – I love it that much. This is one of those reads that you can power through in a short amount of time and undoubtedly understand the story, or you can take your time to unpack all of the visual and textual information on the pages and walk away with an entirely different take on the events.

But a word of warning, for those that see this book in YA reading lists – just because it’s a graphic novel and starts off from the perspective of a child, doesn’t mean that it’s intended for children. Would I encourage older teens to engage with it? Absolutely! But it does deal with some pretty heavy hitting issues such as cancer, dysfunctional families, abuse, repressed sexuality, and overcoming childhood trauma. I would encourage readers of all ages to consider whether or not they’re comfortable reading such scenes in a visual format, as it can often evoke a very different emotional response than would be experienced with a traditional literary telling.

I love how the book starts abruptly with ‘I was six’ and then uses a series of silent panels to set the scene and mood of the memoir. There is so much said in, and between, these panels with it’s sombre scenes of empty streets, stretching hallways, and lone child playing in the living room. I have always loved too, how as the view zoomed in from Detroit to the front door of the house, how the door swings open and invites the reader into an almost voyeuristic experience. Not only is it incredibly cinematic, but this preamble establishes a pacing and flow that it maintained throughout the text.

The introductions to all of the major players – David, Ted, their mother, and father – are all even spaced, with more being said about each in the visual medium than is ever relayed in the written accompaniments. This is fitting however, given David’s deliberate and imposed silences, and the fact that art came to play such a huge role in his life. I instantly got a sense of fear from David’s mother, and soon came to dread any sequence in which she appeared. And similarly have always felt a sense of detachment and acceptance when reading David’s father. His grandmother too, gave me a serious case of the heebee jeebies with all her shouting, physicality and unpredictable moods. But what was most uncomfortable was the fact that everything is presented so matter of fact in writing, but so emotionally fraught in the imagery.

I felt so deeply for the caricature of David as he was constantly put in the position of least important – it was less important for David to see a doctor than for his mother to get a new car, less important for his parent to have an emotional bon with him than seek out affairs, less important than vacations and boating and parties… until he has his surgery, and then he simply seems to disappear. I will not say too much about his circumstance and family, as I hate handing out spoilers, but I will say that I was uplifted as David finally found his voice again and came to terms with his past.

The use of heavy ink work and grayscale watercolours had a tremendous impact. While I understand that many graphic novels are printed in black and white for economic reasons, the choice in this instance was an incredibly powerful one. It enhanced the depth and gravity of the darkest situations and allowed for the interplay between light and dark to be used to it’s maximum effect. So too were the forays into the more fantastical elements of David’s imagination with traces of Alice in Wonderland, cartoon bats, and adventures into ones own body. The contrast between David’s escapism and his brutal reality really drove home that these events happened to a child.

Would I recommend this book? In a heartbeat! It is my go to recommendation for those looking to get into the graphic novel medium, but it’s an outstanding choice for lovers of art and autobiographies alike. Sure, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind the inherent issues of autobiography in the back of your mind (as this memoir tells David’s story and makes no attempts to explore the situation from any other perspective – remember, it’s David’s story!) but it remains an absolutely amazing read. Deeply evocative and visually enthralling, this is one that sticks in your memory for a while.

#Review: Sentinel by Joshua Winning #YALit #Fantasy @JoshWinning

Today I am delighted to present a review for Joshua Winning’s YA fantasy Sentinel. The first instalment in a trilogy, I was immediately sucked and mesmerized by a world that so closely parallels our own. This is one of those books that I started and couldn’t stop until it was finished – so if you love YA, a little paranormal fantasy, a brilliant imagination this one might just be for you!


21503783Title: Sentinel

Author: Joshua Winning 

Publisher: Peridot Press

Publication Date: May 19th, 2014

Genre: Fiction, YA Fiction, Fantasy

Themes: Survival, Family, Paranormal

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

“What is a Sentinel? A guard. A detective. A killer…”

They are the world’s best-kept secret – an underground society whose eternal cause is to protect the world against the dark creatures and evil forces that inhabit the night.

Now Sentinels are being targeted, murdered and turned as the fury of an ancient evil is unleashed once more. And when 15-year-old Nicholas Hallow’s parents are killed in a train crash, the teenager is drawn into a desperate struggle against malevolent powers.

Sentinel is the first book in the Sentinel Trilogy – a world of unconventional heroes, monsters, murder and magic.


My Review

I really, really enjoyed this book. A lot of times I find it hard to get into YA fantasy as it either comes across as childish or it there is simply too much backstory to get into. But, Sentinel really finds the goldilocks medium of just enough of everything to keep it approachable, moving along, and just enough enough detail for everything to make sense while leaving just enough details out to keep you guessing.

I ended up loving Nicholas as a character, as he was mature enough to handle all of the obstacles thrown at him in a reasonable (read no overly stroppy) manner, yet he will filled with just enough angst and self pity to remain relatable despite the more fantastical elements of this book. I would, however, have liked to know a little bit more about his parents, what sentinels really do, and what happened to Sam’s wife. But, seeing as there are two more books to comes and Winning’s slow release style of handing out details I have no doubt that the answers to these questions will surface in the books to come.

With that being said though, Sam was by far my favourite supporting character. Who doesn’t love a plucky old man who can surprise the heck out of you by holding his own… or whipping a rifle out at random moments? It was refreshing to see that his sentimentality never waned despite the gravity of the situations presented, and that he always remained loving and compassionate to those in his care. I truly appreciated that he never stopped believing that he could save his friends, and hope that this theme persists into books two and three.

As a librarian, one of the things that really drew me in is the fact that neither Sentinel or Ruins are particularly long, with both books sitting around 300 pages give or take a few. It’s long enough to tell a full story, but no so long that the girth of the book scares potential readers away. As someone who rarely circulates the bound collection of Tolkien’s work as a single volume, but rushes around circulating the individual instalments of LOTR in quick succession, I know just how important the intimidation factor on the shelf can be for YA readers.

But what I loved the most about this book was the inclusion of History and facts too often considered to be above a teen audience. My heart literally went pitter-patter at the mention of the Grimm brothers and their dictionary, as well as when Perrault’s fairy tales were brought into the fray. The only things missing from those conversations were the Grimm’s Laws for linguistics and the fact that Perrault’s recorded fairy tales were, in fact, edited amalgamations of tales that had been told orally for centuries and were only codified through his publications.

I was left with a good number of questions though, such as how does the Sentinel organization work, what purpose do the ravens have, and who are the Trinity? I also need to know more about Jessica and Isabella as their characters fascinate me, but I am happy with feeling like their mystery was part of the point. Despite a few lurking questions, there wasn’t enough to turn me off the books or even leave me feeling frustrated. Instead, they left me wanting more and eager to dive into the second book – Ruins.

Ultimately, I really liked this book! It’s well written, engaging, and vastly different from the majority of YA lit currently on offer. It has hints of Rowling, Clare, and even a Whedon but still clearly stands on it’s own. Sentinel is a promising start to what is sure to be an outstanding trilogy – it’s action packed, evenly paced, and allows just enough room for character development and battling the forces of evil.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I can’t wait to dive into Ruins, or for the third instalment to come out this summer. Take a gamble on this one, lovers of YA, I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Many thanks to Joshua Winning for providing paperback copies of both Sentinel and Ruins in exchange for an honest review. 

#ARC #Review: Big Nate – Silent But Deadly by Lincoln Pierce #graphicnovel #childrenslit

The kids at my school are absolutely nuts about the Big Nate series, I struggle to keep them on the shelves! Not that this is a bad problem for a library, but seeing as I have about 40 copies amongst 300 students and only two that haven’t been checked out I  figured that I should give one a read and see what all the hype is about.


35924714Title: Big Nate: Silent But Deadly

Author: Lincoln Pierce

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Comics, Graphics Novel

Themes: Friendship, Pranks, Humour, Family, School

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Middle school is a breeding ground for mischief and dreaming big for Big Nate and his pals!

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR!

Everyone’s favorite sixth grader is back for more misadventures, and Big Nate: Silent But Deadly smells like a winner!

Whether he’s showing the ropes to a detention rookie, campaigning for the Student of the Month Award, or writing hilarious movie reviews for The Weekly Bugle, Nate Wright never fails to make his mark at P.S. 38. But middle school’s no bed of roses. In fact, sometimes it just plain stinks. Just ask the Great Nose-ini! Nate’s alter ego with a sense for scents can smell trouble a mile away . . . or at the very next desk. Was that you, Gina?

Join Nate and the gang for nonstop laughs in this latest collection of Big Nate comics!


My Review

Given that my students are absolutely nuts about this series, I think I was expecting to dive into something a little more substantial. But, after reminding myself that this is a series that resonates the most with kids in grades 2-5, I think perhaps my expectations were a little too high. Regardless, I’m glad that I finally dove into one of these as it’s great to see what’s got my kids excited to read.

There’s lots to love about this book, and I have no doubt that it will be a smashing hit like all those in the series that came before it. The artwork is simple and cartoonish, with block colours and high contrast. It’s easy to read with a spacious layout, and the colour blocking is such that even those with colour blindness are not likely to encounter too many issues. All of the panels read left-to-right and not too much action happens in the gutters, which makes this a perfect book where new comics readers can cut their their teeth on the medium and gain essential literacy competencies.

I love too, how the comics are a series of vignettes with some being just one page, while others are more substantial. Sure, there are arguments for a sustained plot, but the smaller episodes mean that this book will appeal to both established and reluctant readers alike. Given the spread of reading abilities within the targeted age groups, it can be difficult to find books that appeal in terms of difficulty and structure level across a broader spectrum and this one absolutely hits the mark.

But I didn’t love everything about this book, and as a result I’m am somewhat saddened by what must be in all the others that came before it. It plays strongly on stereotypes and reinforced some (gender) roles that I find a little concerning. Sure, this is meant to be funny, and yes it’s great to have a prolific series that appeals largely to boys, but some of the messaging is… outdated. Girls can be smart without being angry, can be discussed without being attached to male partner (how does a work of children’s lit fail the Bechtel test?), women can be older without enduring a loveless marriage, boys can settle disputes without resorting to violence, and big words can (and should) be used without encountering derision. My feminist arguments aside, it is the fear of/ need to ridicule intelligence that I find incredibly concerning. To send the message to kids this young that smartness and popularity are opposing forces is unnerving.

With that being said, I know that I am probably going to read a lot more into the messaging than the kids ever will. It’s funny, engaging, and is sure to get a large portion of young readers amped up about diving in. And not all of the messaging in bad! I need to say that after my little rant about – there is a huge focus on creativity, friendship, family, teamwork, and personal growth. So in this I am willing to accept the balance if it gets even the most reluctant readers turning the pages.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Despite the misconceptions about the graphic novel format, it introduces incredibly sophisticated words and concepts to it’s readers – often well above the intended grade level. Yet, the subject matter remains enticing and the pages packed with bawdy humour.

Librarians, order in hardcover – this baby will be in high demand!


Many thanks to Lincoln Pierce and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.