Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #6

It's been an emotional roller coaster of a reading week, from dystopian thrillers to zombie cows to kids obsessed with Broadway musicals to boys kissing boys. You go, YALSA. I've loved every minute!

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Lozen, an Apache hunter struggling to survive in a dystopian future where all technology has failed, is the strong, silent type. Unlike many YA heroines, she is a total badass. A combination of physical and mental toughness, the Apache lore she has learned from her family, and a certain mystical element makes Lozen a formidable fighter.

The Ones are holding her family hostage. Her mother, sister, and brother will be safe only as long as Lozen continues to successfully kill the gemods (genetically-engineered "pets" that escaped their cages when the electricity failed). She has a plan to escape with her family, but will she survive long enough to make it happen?

I loved Lozen. Not only is she tough, but she also stays true to her Apache background and to her role as protector. The action is pretty nonstop and kept me turning pages. On the downside, I wanted more of an understanding of her world. I also wanted some of the other characters to be fleshed out a bit more. Maybe this is nitpicky, but I wished that this book would have been edited better. In several places, awkward wording and grammatical errors slowed me down quite a bit.

I would actually rate this closer to a 3.5 and would recommend it to action fans. Even though the main character is a girl, she's tough and no-nonsense enough to appeal to even the manliest of readers. Here's my favorite quote:

"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Death
I will fear no evil
for I am the meanest son of a bitch
in this whole damn valley."

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

When some bullying teammates chase them off of their normal practice field, Rabi, Miguel, and Joe head over to a park next to the local meatpacking plant to play baseball. However, the stink is worse than usual, and before the boys know what's going on, workers are running out of the plant and their baseball coach is trying to eat their brains.

When the local police dismiss the boys' story, they take matters into their own hands. By relying on each other and their trusty bats, the boys unravel the mystery, but will they be too late to stop a zombie apocalypse?

This is a quick, easy page-turner that uses humor to tackle tough issues like bullying, racism, immigration, and exactly where our burgers come from.

The audiobook is a must-listen for the zombie cows alone!

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster is a slightly overweight 13-year old who lives in a small town and loves Broadway musicals. To make matters worse, his perfect older brother is athletic and gets all of their parents' approval. When Nate's best friend, Libby, tells him about an audition for E.T. the Musical in New York, they hatch a daring plot to get him there. 

Like any starry-eyed kid who doesn't quite fit in, Nate is absolutely convinced that this one big chance is going to help his dreams come true. He sees busy, crowded New York through an innocent's eyes and compares himself to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

"...I don't see any horses changing colors yet. But hey, I'm still indoors. And besides, it's Manhattan City and I think anything's possible at this point.  I peek down, just in case I'm in ruby slippers. Nope. Nikes. But still."

Nate has plenty of ups and downs in the city. Against the backdrop of his quest, he deals with some issues of identity and family. Is Nate gay? Possibly, but he's not quite sure yet. At this point in his life, Nate feels different (and the bullies who call him a fag and drop him in trash cans know he's different) but he doesn't have it all figured out. 

All Nate knows for sure is that he's not an a-hole: "Sometimes people are just a-holes, and you have to decide, every day, which kind of kid you are."

Good advice, Nate.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Do you know that feeling when you've just finished a book that is so marvelous, so beautiful, and so full of meaning that you sit motionless except for the tears streaming down your face?  And then you try to write a review, to "sell" it to other readers, but the words just won't come? That's how I'm feeling now, so bear with me.

Seemingly disparate elements come together in this breathtakingly beautiful story narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men lost to AIDS. Craig and Harry, inspired by a classmate beaten for being gay, intend to set a Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. It has to be two boys kissing, they believe, because "...maybe it'll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.” 

As these two boys kiss, other boys are dealing with their own relationships (or lack thereof). Neil and Peter have been together for a while, Avery and Ryan are brand new to each other, Tariq struggles to heal from a physical beating, and Cooper tries not to love anyone at all. While these boys all try to find their way, the Greek Chorus is watching from afar, giving advice that drifts, unheard, on the breeze. 

“We gather the things we learned, and they don't nearly add up to fill the space of a life.
You will miss the taste of Froot Loops.
You will miss the sound of traffic.
You will miss your back against his.
You will miss him stealing the sheets.
Do not ignore these things.” 

I feel sadly inadequate to capture the beauty of this story, these words. This is a story that can save lives. Read it and share it with everyone you love.

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