Sunday, March 16, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #5

Now that I've read most of the graphic novels on the list, my weekly reading lists won't be as impressive from here on out.  I discovered a few gems this week, so my reading time was time well-spent.  Who am I kidding?  It usually is.

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

Adolph Eichmann was the Nazi commander in charge of transporting millions of people to their deaths in concentration camps during WWII. After the war, he disappeared without a trace. A team of spies eventually tracked him down and brought him to Israel for a trial. Eichmann's trial gave survivors a chance to tell their stories and made the horrors of the Holocaust a reality for people around the world.

Though the story is an important one, I wonder if something got lost in the adaptation of this book from the adult book Hunting Eichmann. The storytelling itself is not exactly riveting, though the book is obviously well-researched and the story could be exciting. The writing style didn't do much for me.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

When a middle of the night phone call summons her parents to a deserted church on a snowy night, Sylvie isn't all that surprised. After all, her parents' unusual vocation--helping troubled souls find peace--often takes them to strange places. On this night, Sylvie sleeps in the car until she is awakened by gunshots. Running into the church, she sees...

From here, the story alternates between past and present as Sylvie tries to solve the mystery behind her parents' murder. Lots of creepy moments (but not gory ones) make this a suspenseful read that would be appropriate for middle and upper grade readers. The paranormal aspect of the story was well done and kept me guessing.

Keep the lights on while you read and don't forget to lock the basement door!

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

This book is the reason I participate in the YALSA Hub Reading Challenge. Every year, I pick up a bunch of books that I wouldn't normally read and find a few gems that I would have missed.

Gabe has always known he's a guy. Unfortunately, he is trapped in a girl's body and his family and friends know him as Liz. Gabe's family has a difficult time accepting him, even though they do love him. His best friend is accepting and supportive, but Gabe wants more than friendship, which causes some tension. I loved Gabe's relationship with John, a neighbor and mentor who provides the kind of unconditional support and love that every young adult needs.

Music is a huge part of this novel, from the A side/B side metaphor to the "_____ is the New Elvis" chapter titles to the many song and artist references. I think that most teen readers will relate to Gabe's passion for music and his efforts to be true to himself.

I cheered for Gabe and cried for him and I will enthusiastically recommend this book to my students. However, what kept me from giving this five stars was the one-dimensional bullies and the too-neat ending. That said, this is one of my favorites from the challenge so far.

A few favorite quotes:

"That's what bites about the future--there's no way to predict it. You just have to show up and see what happens."

"Rush Limbaugh can't be the new Elvis; he's too mean."

Strobe Edge, Volumes 1-6 by Io Sakisaka 

I really had to force myself to keep reading these. First of all, I am not a manga fan. Reading left to right is so ingrained in me that I kept reading the panels in the wrong order and having to go back and reread. The whole "I love him/her, but he/she doesn't like me back" got old pretty quickly. Twelve year old girls might like this series, but I did not.

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints #1.

The Boxer Rebellion took place in China during the 1890s. Gene Luen Yang tells the story of this bloody war in two parts, the first from the perspective of Little Bao, a young Chinese boy who learns kung fu and how to use the power of the ancient Chinese gods. He eventually recruits an army (the Boxers) to defend his village and the rest of the countryside from foreign missionaries.

In his quest to free China from these "foreign devils," Little Bao becomes a person he can no longer recognize. This is a war story. It's a violent and not especially hopeful look at what happens when people go to war over culture and religion.

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints #2.

The Boxer Rebellion took place in China during the 1890s. Gene Luen Yang tells the story of this bloody war in two parts, the second from the perspective of Four Girl/Vibiana, a Chinese girl who converts to Christianity and sees visions of Joan of Arc. Her story intersects with that of Little Bao. 

As he does so well in his other work, the author combines realistic and magical elements that all come together in the end. This bloody and violent war story is not a happy one, but the vibrant artwork and compelling storyline will appeal to young adult readers.

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