No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss

No Parking at the End Times

I was fortunate to attend ALA Midwinter this past weekend (and get out before the snow hit!). While there, I was talking with Greenwillow editor Martha Mihalick about what she was excited for coming up. Instantly, she put this book in my hands and talked it up. I’m so glad she did.

The premise here is that we have a girl, Abigail, whose parents sold their house, their belongings, and put whatever they could fit in their conversion van and drove from North Carolina to San Francisco. Why? Well, because Brother John predicts that the end of the world will happen on Christmas, and Abigail’s parents decide they need to be there for whatever comes next.

Notice the past tense in that paragraph? Yeah. End of the world? Didn’t happen. So Abigail, her parents, and her twin brother Aaron are in San Francisco: jobless, penniless, and homeless (unless you count their van). What are they to do?

That’s the opening scene of No Parking at the End Times [side note: WHAT A TITLE!].

So, really, what are they to do? Well, if you’re Aaron, you’re to realize what a joke your parents have become. You’ll sneak out at night and befriend some of the other homeless San Francisco youth, because you know that’s what you are: homeless and parentless, but not hopeless.

If you’re Abigail’s parents, you will continue with the one thing you know: Brother John and his church. Sure, attendance is down what with the lack of the ending of the world and all, but God has a capital-P Plan, and this is all part of it. So while you’re waiting on breadlines and hoping for a sign from the man upstairs, you will be sure to be at Brother John’s church daily, relying on his words for sustenance almost as much as you rely on the free coffee at the supermarket.

If you’re Abigail, you are caught somewhere in between. You don’t know about the whole God-having-a-Plan thing, but you’re also not sure that your parents are lost causes. Certainly, if there’s anything to hold on to, it’s each other.

…Right?

We follow our narrator, Abigail, as she tries to figure this all out.

This debut novel from Bryan Bliss [I know, I know; he spells his first name the wrong way] very smartly tackles issues of homelessness, faith, and morality. The publisher recommends grades 9 and up, but aside from some language and violence, I could see mature middle schoolers doing well with this one.

Of course, there’s a bit of an elephant here I should address: I am Catholic, and I teach at a Catholic school. How do I feel about this book on my shelves? The beauty here is that Bryan Bliss handles faith, God, and church in the way most of us see them. They can be a crutch to those who need them (e.g., Abigail’s parents, Brother John), but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important or not real. This book, as much as it is about Abigail learning to trust in herself, is about Abigail learning to distinguish between those who need God to be something He isn’t and those who simply need God. And it’s wonderfully done.

No Parking at the End Times comes out February 24 of this year. I recommend you check it out.

Rating:

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4 out of 5 fish!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the Sun

This book took me a while, but in the best possible way. It was like a piece of red velvet cake that you eat slowly to make it last as long as possible. But then you see the end in sight, and you devour it all at once, trying to fill yourself up with its beauty. [We all agree red velvet cake is beautiful, right?]

This is about truth and beauty and art and reality and twins and love and despair. It’s about lying to yourself and to others and what happens as a result. It’s about family and what that word means. It’s about tragedy and how sometimes, bad things happen. It’s about the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s about the sun, which disappears for half the day.

The way Jandy Nelson ties things all together is almost — ALMOST — too far-fetched. But she stays just this side of the line. This is a masterful story, and the writing was wonderful. When I read the last word, a shiver I didn’t realize I was suppressing made its way through my spine to my extremities.

I know I haven’t said a thing about the plot here, but you should read this book. You should read it now. High school and up, though. Well, maybe mature middle schoolers. Whatever. Just read it.

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish.
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Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds

Wow. It has been a while since I reviewed a book on this blog. I’ve read a lot of good ones along the way. However, for whatever reason, none of them compelled me to write a blog post. There were a few I wanted to, but the words just didn’t come. Then Afterworlds came along. Something about this book is so. . .unique, it just had to be written about.

To begin with, it’s important that we realize that Afterworlds is actually two books in one. It is part Afterworlds, a novel written by fictional 18-year old Darcy Patel, and part the story of Darcy becoming a published author. These two stories are told in alternating chapters.

I won’t bore you with the details of either story, because, quite frankly, they’re good, but not the most interesting part of this book. The most interesting part is reading and watching Scott Westerfeld wield his pen and do magical things with this book.

First off, there’s the fact that the story-within-the-story is written by an 18-year old girl named Darcy, not a 51-year old man named Scott (who actually wrote the story). It’s also not only Darcy’s first published novel, but she wrote it in a month, and has spent a year revising it. I don’t know how he does it (probably because the man is a genius), but Westerfeld manages to create a novel (Darcy’s Afterworlds) that a publisher would take a chance on, but also reads like a debut novel from a teenage girl. By itself, it may not get a second glance from me, but the story is interesting.

Okay, I mentioned the story; perhaps I should talk about it a bit. The story of Darcy’s novel is of a girl named Lizzie (and yes, the fact that a girl named Darcy wrote about a girl named Elizabeth is addressed in the book). Lizzie is in an airport when 4 gunmen come in shooting up the place. A 911 operator suggests she play dead, so she does. Lizzie then discovers that she can sort of pass through between worlds — the overworld where we all live, and the afterworld where we go when we die. The story goes from there, there’s some paranormal romance type stuff going on, and she’s faced with difficult decisions along the way. You know, kind of like a debut novel from a teenage girl would read.

Then there’s the other half of Scott Westerfeld’s novel. The story of Darcy herself. As someone who has often been intrigued by the publishing world, I find this story fascinating. Darcy decides to postpone her freshman year of college to move to NYC and work on both Afterworlds and the sequel. She deals with her editor, her agent, and fellow writers. She finds love, and deals with being a young adult in the big city.

In this story, I can see Scott Westerfeld’s experience coming through. His experience as an author in the publishing world is evident, as he has been through the ins and outs of this process many times. Reading this book felt at many times like a veteran pulling up the curtain and poking a flashlight around for everyone to see what really goes on backstage. His experience as a writer comes through in ways I didn’t fully anticipate.

I have never written a book. I have a few I’ve started, but none I’ve seen all the way through. I imagine, though, that if I write a book and have it published, I would love to tell my readers certain things to look for — little pieces that I’m particularly proud of or that took a lot of effort on my part. Darcy, through Scott Westerfeld, gets this opportunity.

By telling us Darcy’s story of getting the book published, Scott Westerfeld can guide our thoughts on the book. We can see the connection between a ghost in Darcy’s book and a “ghost” from Darcy’s mom’s past. We can see how much work has gone in to the ending, so we will read it more eagerly, knowing what could have happened, or what was an earlier draft. We can even keep an eye out for a few words to make their appearance, as Darcy mentions they’d be good to use. How often does an author get to do this? Never. Never times. It’s a unique look into the mind of an author as she is creating the book — even if it is all entirely fictional.

That is the mastery of this book, and that is the genius of Scott Westerfeld.

I give this book a rating of 5 out of 5 fish, just for the flawless execution of the dual story-telling.
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Audio Book Road Trip #1: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, narrated by Kirby Heyborne

Ants

I know, I know. I said I’d start Monday. I couldn’t wait.

The first book I listened to on my Manitoba road trip was Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. I really hit the ground running with this one.

Well, not literally running. I was driving. I mean, it was 1,234 miles to my destination (which I think is kind of cool) (this is really close to 1984 kilometers, which is also cool, as that’s the year of my birth). Anyway, I didn’t run. I sat. And I listened.

And what I listened to was phenomenal. I had given up on audio books for a little bit because I listened to some stinkers. Basically, if the narrator speaks in either a monotone the entire time or, like, like a valley girl chomping on her bright pink gum? With her fingernails matching her headband matching her gum color matching her lip gloss? And her sentences all sound like questions? I won’t like it. But this one was great.

First, a little plot music. Lucky Linderman is the fortunate hero of this tale. His family is. . .less than functional. His dad is the son of a champion MIA/POW supporter, as Lucky’s grandfather never came home from Vietnam. So this dad character has never really dealt with that fully, and doesn’t know how to be a father. He cooks (that’s his job), and. . .that’s about it. His mom swims. Like, 7 million laps a day swims. Lucky just goes through his day, doing what he can to ignore it all.

But Lucky has a bully. Nader McMillan (what a sweet bully name, right?). And one day, Nader picks on Lucky just enough that his mom can’t take it anymore. So they’re off to Arizona to visit her brother and his wife. Where they can deal with things. Which basically means she can swim 7 million laps a day in a different state, and Lucky can have a different male role model. As if that changes anything.

There’s something else, though: Lucky’s grandfather. Yes, he never came home from the war. But Lucky has been having meetings with him. In his dreams. There’s a very real nature to these dreams. Lucky decides it is his job to rescue his grandfather (which was also his grandmother’s dying request. Oh, by the way: his grandmother is dead).

So much more is going on (there’s a girl, among other things) that wouldn’t really fit in the context of a review. But here’s the thing. This story is layered and complex and all that. But more than anything, it’s just. . .it’s good.

A.S. King takes us on a journey through Lucky’s mind that is just so real it’s impossible to turn off. I mean, not that I had anything else to do but sit and listen, but I didn’t want to stop. This was so good at being a teenage boy’s perspective of life that I didn’t know A.S. King was female until after I got home and looked her up on Twitter. The book was just spot-on.

Without Kirby Heyborne’s narration, though, it might not have come alive as much. There was just this dry, teenage sarcasm dripping through my speakers. This was juxtaposed with intense teenage confusion, as Lucky often experiences this particular feeling. I can’t explain how good it was. Just go listen yourself.

I would recommend this book for anyone looking to try an audio book. It’s not too long (just under 8 hours), and will definitely hold your interest. Also, I think fans of John Green and The Perks of Being a Wallflower will enjoy the story.

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish. FishFishFishFishFish

 

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Requiem

Before you say anything, just stop. “Dude, aren’t you a little old and male to be reading these dystopian books with female protagonists?” See? I can ask the question myself. If you’ve watched any of these shows or movies, I want you to stop even thinking that these books aren’t okay for a guy my age to read:

  • The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
  • American Idol
  • Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
  • Duck Dynasty
  • Swamp People

Okay, my list ends there because I can’t think of anything else, because those shows are awful. Yet people watch them. And enjoy them. And they have good moments. In fact, some of those shows might actually be really good, but they get lumped in and judged with the others.

What am I talking about? Right. Requiem. YA dystopian fiction with a female protagonist. Oh, and it’s also about love being a disease, the government ordering people to be cured when they’re 18, but of course we have our rebellious ones who believe too strongly in the power of love (not to mention the power of freedom). Totally the book for a 28-year old man.

Oh, just one thing: that last sentence was not sarcastic.

This book is AMAZING! It’s the third and final book in the Delirium trilogy (“Oh, really, a dystopian trilogy? Didn’t see that one coming.” Can it.), so I’m going to try not to give anything away. But Lena is on the run with some of the other Invalids, and they’re basically trying to figure out what to do. The cities are coming after them. They can’t stay hiding. They must fight back. How can they possibly win? How can their belief in love and freedom win?

Well, I’m not gonna tell you. Read the booking book.

What I will tell you is this: this book is powerful. There are emotions you will feel when you read it, and that’s absolutely okay. You might laugh. You might cry. I think I laughed, and got a little choked up. But the ending. Oh. The ending. Some books, when I get to the end, I want to throw them against the wall because they’re just awful. Requiem, on the other hand, has an ending that is like the book pulls you in and spreads a warm blanket around your shoulders to keep you warm on a chilly fall evening. It’s just that perfect.

But. My favorite part of the book is Hana. Hana is Lena’s childhood friend. We haven’t really heard much from her, as Lena is our narrator. But in Requiem, we hear from both Lena and Hana. Now, normally, I hate dual narration. I think it adds a lot, but I think it just ruins things overall. Here, though, because the characters are where they are and so separated, it’s incredibly well done. It’s vital to the story. And it shows us things in Hana that we’d never know. And it shows us, for the first time in the series, what it’s like inside the mind of a Cured. It’s amazing. Hana is heartbreaking and beautiful.

With all of that, though, there’s probably some of you out there thinking, “Well, yeah, sure, but isn’t this book written for teenagers? I want something written well, not just a good story.”

Batman Slap

 

Since when are those two things mutually exclusive? Requiem is both a great story and written beautifully. This is not grade-school work here, people. This is a master work of art carefully crafted by someone with a MFA from NYU. It reads that way. Yet a 12-year old can enjoy it. Now that takes talent.

Am I off topic enough here? Just. . .just go read this series. It’s worth your time. I loved it, and I think you’ll love it, too. When you’re done, let me know. I want to talk with you about it in ways I can’t here because they’re too spoilery. So go. Read it.

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish.FishFishFishFishFish

Prodigy by Marie Lu

Brian’s Note: Today is my blog’s one-year anniversary! Hooray! As I opened my blog with Legend, it only seems fitting that I review Prodigy today. Hopefully next year, I can review the third in this series!

Prodigy

Excuse me while I take a moment to compose myself after remembering all the things this book made me feel.

::deep breath::

::exhale::

Okay. Here we go.

If you read the first book of this series, Legend, you know what’s going on here. If you haven’t read Legend, you should probably not read this review. At least not until after reading Legend. There may be spoilers for that one here. Just a fair warning. Have I rambled enough for those people to leave? All right, good.

Day and June are on the run to Vegas, after the events that made the crazy ending of Legend so awesome. They were denied by the Patriots, but are hoping that making it to Vegas will prove their loyalty — or at least that they are not actually supporting the Republic. Also, Day’s leg is practically falling apart, so they need someone to help them fix that. The Patriots are their only hope.

Well, they are not to be disappointed when they get there, as it turns out the Patriots have lavish quarters in Vegas. Not everyone is trusting of June, and Day has his doubters as well. But they’re there, and they’re willing to help out.

What are they helping out with? The Patriots’ new goal: assassinate the new Elector Primo, June’s good old friend Anden. I can’t say too much more without really getting into the details of the plot, and I want to leave those for you to enjoy 🙂 We do learn a lot more about the history of the country, though, and get some glimpses of the Union side of things as well. It really starts to come together in this book.

There is definitely some growth from Legend into Prodigy. For one, the ending was not nearly as predictable in this one. I was eating it up right until the last word, and then I was there, completely satisfied from this book, but still thirsty for more! It was like drinking a huge glass of water, but the last sip was not quite big enough, so I want to go get another whole glass. The emotions of this book are also much more real and more in depth. We can see that these characters are accepting that, no matter how old they are, they’re not kids any more, and they are maturing, rising up to what is needed of them. It’s great to read and to see that.

I recommend this book, as I did the first, for anyone who enjoys YA dystopian. It’s just good. If you like that, read this. No real age restriction here. There are some romantic scenes, but nothing inappropriate for anyone who would be reading a book that involves war and killing.

Definitely grab this one when it hits shelves January 29th!

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish. 

The Strange Case of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

I have to be upfront with you. This review is not about The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Well, it is, but it’s really about the strange case of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. And it involves Ryan.

Ryan is a 7th-grade student of mine. I’ve known him for about a month now. Ryan, by his own admission, does not like to read. He’s read The Hunger Games and he liked it, but he’s not someone who will read something for him (not because his friends are reading it or there’s a movie coming out).

So one day, Origami Yoda comes into my classroom. Ryan’s ears perk up, much like Origami Yoda’s ears do. He is the first to check the book out.

THE NEXT DAY, Ryan says to the whole class that this book is the best book he’s ever read. EVER. READ. He’s not finished, but already there’s a waiting list growing.

THE NEXT NEXT DAY (actually, the following Monday, because the previous school day was a Friday), Ryan takes advantage of a pause in class to say the following to me: “I just want to thank you for buying this book, because I don’t like to read, and I love this book. A lot. And you have inspired me to read the series. Since you don’t have The Fortune Wookie, I’m going to go buy it.” [Side note: when one student asked him where he was going to buy it, he said Nicola’s Books. Support your local independent bookstores!] At this point, there’s a noticeable buzz in the classroom. Ryan’s classmates know he’s not really a reader. He’s way more concerned about sports (currently: football) than he is about reading. But he is taking the time out of class to sing the praises of a book? There’s gotta be something magical about this book.

And that brings me to my next Ryan-centered point. I am requiring my students to read from different genres this year. So, of course, they’re asking what genre Origami Yoda is. I say it’s realistic fiction. Ryan steps up and says: “Well, maybe. It depends. We don’t really know yet.” [Another side note: at this point in the conversation, Ryan is most of the way through Darth Paper Strikes Back. It’s also been less than a week.]

So now, in a week’s time, Ryan has gone from someone who doesn’t really read to someone able to intelligently discuss the genre qualifications of a book. Oh, and he asked me if I could pass on a note of frustration to Tom Angleberger (and his publisher). So here I shall do so. Ryan is upset that he cannot purchase these books on an e-reader.

I must revise my previous paragraph. In a week’s time, Ryan has gone from someone who doesn’t really read to someone able to intelligently discuss the genre qualifications of a book and is finding himself indignant over the ability to easily purchase the books he needs to feed his now insatiable appetite.

This book is a gem. I don’t know when I’ll see it again on my bookshelves.

 

Oh, did you want a review from me? We’ll go quickly. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a book about a group of 6th grade friends, one of whom creates an origami finger puppet that looks like Yoda. This finger puppet then begins answering questions, many of which turn out to be right! The book itself is a series of testimonials about Origami Yoda, from those who believe and those who don’t. What is the truth? Read to find out you must.

My rating: 5 out of 5 fish.