Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Rafe is tired of being the 'gay kid.' He came out a few years ago and everyone in town of Boulder, Colorado, has been mostly cool with it. His parents were more than supportive - meaning they have gone out of their way to support him and gay rights. Sometimes it is too much for Rafe to be the symbol for being an openly gay high school student. He just wants to be a guy (because no one seems to treat you normally when you are gay).

So Rafe decides to go to a New England all boys private school and not tell anyone he is gay. He will avoid all possible situations where his sexuality may be an issue. To do this, he must lie to his parents and best friend, Claire Olivia because they would never understand.

Upon his arrival, Rafe quickly becomes one of the guys playing touch football on his first day there. He joins the soccer team and hangs out with all the jocks. It feels great to just be Rafe for awhile. It's not always easy, though. For one of his classes, he has to write all about himself for the entire semester. How does he keep such a huge part of himself hidden and stay true as a serious writer? And of course, there is that really attractive guy who becomes Rafe's best friend at school...can Rafe tell him the truth and could they possibly be a couple?

It's tricky road for Rafe, but a satisfying one for the reader. It is all handled with great care.

For more about this book, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Message to Adolf Parts 1 and 2 by Osamu Tezuka

This is an amazing complex story set in Japan and Germany in the 1930s and 40s during the time of the Nazi regime and World War II. There are three Adolfs in the story. One is Adolf Hitler. The other two start out as young boys in Japan. One is a Jewish boy whose family owns a German bakery. Having always lived in Japan, he feels like he is Japanese even though he was born in Germany. The other Adolf's father is a German official living in Japan and his mother is Japanese.

Each boy struggles with the rise of the Third Reich as Jews become persecuted
throughout Europe and life in Japan becomes affected. Friendships are tested and loyalties questioned as the Nazis become more powerful and Hitler's views spread. After the United States enters the war, the Japanese people must deal with rationing and bombing raids. This portrayal of every day struggles I found fascinating. It is not a view we often see when learning about the 'enemy.'

A thread throughout the story involves secret documents that some believe could bring down Hitler. The documents pass through many hands and are hidden and secretly moved about throughout the country. People will torture and kill to obtain the documents before they become public.

You have no idea how much more I want to share from one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, but it would spoil key elements of the intricate plot. There is action mixed with deeper questions of identity and loyalty to country and race. There are moments of humor, too; mostly in the forms of character overreactions to situation (as depicted in the way the characters are drawn). These reactions are very much in the manga tradition. No surprise since the author is a pioneer of manga and anime.

Make no mistake, this is the Holocaust and the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people is graphically portrayed. It is not just the actual violence, but the thought of how human beings were treated that is sickening.

For more info about these books, check out the Evergreen library catalog for parts 1 and 2.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who Done It? An Anthology by Various

This is not a conventional story by any stretch of the imagination, although it is full of imaginative musings by many authors. The premise is that Jon Scieszka and we, the readers, are interrogating various people in the murder of a loathsome book editor named Herman Q. Mildew. The deceased was a lover of pickles and cheese (the smellier, the better) and a collector of toenails. He was often known to leave the check for others to pay and worst of all, he gave scathing reviews of his client's work.

The interrogations take place at the Old Abandoned Pickle Factory where all the guests (or suspects if you will) have been gathered. So who is on the 'guest' list? Some of the biggest young adult authors around right now. Fortunately, the list includes some of my favorites: John Green, Lauren Myracle, Jordan Sonnenblick, Mo Willems and Gordon Korman. If you read teen books, there is probably someone you like in this book.

The entries are usually no more than a few pages, but all explain the author's relationship with the late Herman Mildew. It is funny to read author's pointing the finger at other authors (there are probably several inside jokes known only to the writers). Some deny involvement in the crime and others practically confess to it.

This is a must read for anyone who knows and loves authors of young adult books (and purchasing one will help a good cause - money goes to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging student creative writing and inspiring teachers). By the way, you must read the author bios in the back - they are amusing, too.

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and Jon Scieszka's site.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Going Underground by Susan Vaught

Del digs graves in a cemetery. It is a solitary job and that's how he likes it. He puts on his earbuds, turns on his music and digs. It is his escape from the world that has pushed him away. He has a few friends like Marvin who never abandoned him in the worst of times and his talking parrot Fred (who's a girl). Some adults in his life say Del needs to think about his future and move on, but Del feels he will be cursed for the rest of his life for something that happened when he was 14.

This thing that happened almost four years ago has changed his whole outlook. His plans to be a veterinarian...well, now he will be lucky to be accepted to a community college. Dating...he can't even think of asking a girl out. Playing baseball, hanging out with his friends...all gone because of that night long ago. Spending time with the dead is appropriate for his life.

And then she appears. One day in the cemetery, he sees this mysterious fairy girl. Not a real fairy, just a beautiful girl who visits the cemetery. Del can only dream of ever talking to her, so he continues dig and everyday she appears. It is his parrot (who sits in a cage beside the graves Del digs) that gets the mystery girl's attention. Del knows it would be asking too much to see this girl.

The event that changed his life is slowly revealed over the story as Del struggles to reach his 18th birthday so he can...well, he has no idea what he will do. It is difficult for Del to be punished for something he didn't know was illegal. It is a scenario that is not too far fetched to be real. But do not despair - there is hope for Del.

For more info, check out the Evergreen Library catalog and the author's site.