That title makes this entry sound badass, like the origin story of a comic book character. But really, this post is just about the other handful of YA books I read last year and haven’t yet talked about, in the vein of this post.
This Dark Endeavor (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1) by Kenneth Oppel
I hate to say it, but I couldn’t really find anything I liked about this book. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be, but here are a few things it tried to be: the origin story of Doctor Frankenstein from the novel Frankenstein; a romance novel/paranormal romance/love triangle Twilight-esque thing between twin brothers and their cousin; an adventures novel with a lot of really confusing descriptions of said adventure; and smart, which it wasn’t. Burn? I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me. As I read, I kept waiting for it to get more interesting, but it mostly just read as a bastardization of the original Frankenstein story. Which it was. Many YA novels based on classic works of literature are prone to this problem, but this was especially bad. [GoodReads]
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
I may just be biased, but I really can’t get into YA novels with male narrators. Nine out of ten times, I just won’t be interested from the get-go, and this book was no exception. I was really hoping for some zombie carnage to see if that would save it, but no, this was mainly a survival story. The writing was solid though, and I will give the author props for making the “minority” of this story an actual minority, not just some white guy with like, mutant powers or a weird disease. The world and it’s post-apocalyptic problems were also very realistic, but I just wasn’t into it. If you’re a fan of adventure/survival, this may be for you, but it just didn’t do it for me. [GoodReads]
Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn
This book is a hybrid as far as historical significance is concerned, because not only is it about the Salem Witch Trials, it’s also a story about slavery, which I loved. So many novels, especially of the YA variety, will focus on one significant historical event while ignoring anything else happening during the same time period. Although clearly a fictionalized version, where witches actually exist, some good and some evil, it depicted the period well and fairly accurately.
That said, it read much like a YA novel from before the recent boom – a standalone book with a meandering plot that focused less on the paranormal elements and more on the inner feelings of the main character. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it wasn’t really what I was looking to read when I started on this adventure. I give major props to the author for being daring with historical integration, though. Very few YA novels set in this time would bother trying to tie in a slavery subplot, and Weyn does it very well, making it significant but not preachy. [GoodReads]
I have to wonder just how many American kids spend their teenage years living on farms after their parents decide on a whim to relocate them in an attempt to… I don’t know, ride out a mid-life crisis? Anyway, I see this as a plot in books quite often: “How can I make my main character weird in a way that doesn’t actually make them weird, but might get them teased and would definitely make them hate their parents? I know, I’ll have them go from living in the city to living on a farm! Genius!” Really, you could replace farm with just about any place that isn’t the sort of place a teenager would want to live and it would still work. What I’m saying is, it isn’t a terribly original plot device. But it wouldn’t be a plot device then, would it?
The book itself is well written, but like The Invisible World, it reads like a pre-boom novel with a meandering plot and a teenage protagonist whose only worries are smelling like cow pies and having a flaky best friend. Not that every YA book needs heavy (or any) supernatural or romance plot lines to carry it, but it was again just not what I was looking for. And it was cute, but it could definitely have been better. [GoodReads]
Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicle #2) by Marissa Meyer
Oh gee golly gosh am I glad about how quickly Meyer gets these books out. Only a few scant weeks until book three is released! End preemptive squeeing.
Scarlet is the second book in The Lunar Chronicles series and introduces quite a few new characters. Cinder remains, and spends much of her time running from the law in this novel, while Meyer introduces the second girl in the “team,” Scarlet. Scarlet is a French girl whose grandmother has gone missing. When her absentee father suddenly returns, she knows something is up, and partners with a prize fighter named Wolf to find her.
Though I think Cinder spent a little too much time on the lam without much to show for it (except a new partner in crime and Iko’s transformation from robot to ship), meeting Scarlet and seeing what Queen Levana is truly up to was definitely worth it. It actually took me a while to finish this book because I was reading an ebook version on my iPod. Yeah, my iPod. That’s how desperately I wanted to read it, but the eye strain kept getting to me. I persevered and finished, but for the next one in the series I think I’ll just get a print copy. [GoodReads]
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci, et al.
WOW, did I have a hard time with this book. Short stories collections are great, because it basically gives you allowance to jump around a book without consequence, but this one was a goddamn nightmare. For every good story, there was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one. And who they were by would surprise you. (Maybe.)
It is now apparently a trend to make your geeky protagonist a middle-to-high-school aged girl with a single quirk that makes her “geeky”, give her a BAOF (“best and only friend,” a term actually used in one of the stories), and then pit her against a popular girl, or have her have a hopeless crush – or worse, both. The stories in the collection that boil down to this were clearly phoned in, and it shows. But let’s not dwell.
Some stories that were really amazing were the following: Black & Castellucci’s “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi all the Way”, a Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story-esque tale about Klingon and Jedi cosplayers who meet at a con and fall in love, is hilarious and cute. Tracy Lynn’s “One of a Us”, about a group of geeks who teach a cheerleader how to be, well, one of them, is incredibly sweet and heartwarming, as well as great commentary on geeks and geek culture. M.T. Anderson’s “The King of Pelinesse” is melancholy and smart, a take on the pulp novels of the mid-20th century. And Wendy Mass’ “The Stars at the Finish Line” is a cute romance that was actually believable and fun to watch unfold.
And I may have embellished a little. Many of the stories were very good. I’d say maybe only a third were utter trash. But in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. [GoodReads]