Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Once Upon a Time...at the Full Moon

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 7: "Child of the Moon"

This episode returned to the fairy-back format to give the audience more information on Ruby's backstory, namely how she learned to control her monthly transformation through a chance encounter with a werewolf clan.  In the present, it is the first full moon since the curse was broken last season, so Ruby is anxious that she will no longer be able to control herself while in wolf form.  After a local is discovered dead the next morning, Ruby fears the worst and Spencer/King George rallies the townspeople against her, leaving David/Charming to solve the mystery behind the crime.

Very little of Snow and Emma was seen in this episode, save for a brief segment at the very end of the episode.  This was very much Ruby's episode to shine.  As such, there weren't a lot of hints about the loose threads in the series, save for some exposition about the shared "dream" between Aurora and Henry.  One line given by Rumpel after providing a protective amulet to Henry leads me to think my suspicions are correct, but time will tell.

All in all, a nice episode for a character whom we don't usually see enough of.  I'm looking forward to catching up with the other episodes this weekend.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sara's Library: The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Book one in The Books of Beginning trilogy
Knopf 2011
The P. orphans (surname unknown/withheld), Kate, Michael, and Emma, have been shuffled from orphanage to orphanage for as long as they can remember, ever since a deadly accident robbed them of their parents on a Christmas Eve ten years ago.  After being kicked out of their orphanage, the siblings are taken in by the mysterious Dr. Pym, who lives in a mansion in the dying town of Cambridge Falls.  While exploring the house, the kids discover a strange book and begin to uncover the secret behind the town's current status.  Eldest sibling, Kate, has the ability to time-travel via photographs, and through this new power, the group uncovers the sinister secrets behind the town's decay, including a Russian countess and vanishing children.

While the description of the book can sound a bit generic and there are definitely pieces borrowed from other children's fantasy novels (orphans, a stay at a mysterious house, a wise old benefactor who happens to be a wizard, etc.), Mr. Stephens weaves these tropes together expertly to create an ambitious introduction to his series, The Books of Beginning.  My only real complaint is that I had difficulties placing the time period in which the novel takes place.  The time-travel bits seem turn-of-the-century, but in the present the kids use a Polaroid camera.  I can understand not wanting to be too specific with the periods, but even a decade named would have helped me.

Honestly, I didn't have the highest of expectations when I began reading this for my book club, but I ended up reading it in one sitting.  The pacing is very good, in this regard; I never found myself being bored by useless or endless exposition.  Now, I will say, that I am very much a fan of fantasy, so being able to connect this work to predecessors in the genre wasn't the drawback for me that it may be to some.  It's not wholly original, but what it does, it does very well, and the way Mr. Stephens handles time-travel is intriguing.  And, anywhere there are Scottish dwarves, I'm there.  I would definitely recommend this to young fantasy readers who have finished Narnia and Harry Potter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sara's Library: A Tale Dark and Grimm

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Dutton Juvenile 2010
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 2010

As someone rather enthralled by fairy tales, I had been very excited to read Mr. Gidwitz's novel, especially after a number of my Goodreads friends rated it highly.  It's not that I disliked it; I enjoyed it for what it was. I think I was just expecting something more.

The novel takes a number of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, both familiar and more obscure ("Faithful Johannes," one of my favorites is the very first tale) and connects them by the conceit that the brother and sister (or sometimes brothers) in the various stories were always the same children: Hansel and Gretel.  Thus, the events in one story often lead directly into the events of another.  It's a great concept, but I had a few issues with the novel.

Perhaps because Mr. Gidwitz is attempting to emulate the style of storytelling used in the original tales, perhaps for other reasons, there is little character development, even with the protagonists.  The peripheral characters fall into two groups: those who aid the siblings and those who try to harm them.  So, I suppose this is a continuation of the very basic notions of good and evil present in the original tales.  However, I feel that modern readers are more sophisticated in their understanding of motivation and morality and would have preferred better representation of life's grey areas.

My other issue with the book was the frequent breaking of the fourth wall by an irritating narrator whose delight in reminding readers that this isn't Disney and that violence will happen truly grated on my nerves.  Unlike the narrator in A Series of Unfortunate Events, who was amusingly snarky and often useful in explaining vocabulary words to child readers, the narrator's presence here is completely unnecessary after the introduction.

While I appreciate what Mr. Gidwitz is attempting to do with this work and hope that he succeeds in sparking an interest in folk lore in the grade school set, adult readers (especially those whose interests in fairy tales tend more toward the scholarly) may be disappointed.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Once Upon a Time...in Portland?

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 6: "Tallahassee"

As mentioned in my previous post, I am, unfortunately, rather behind on my posts due to events in real life.  So it should come as no surprise that I am behind in watching the television shows I frequently view.  This episode aired several weeks ago, but I only just got around to watching it.

Despite being titled "Tallahassee," the majority of the episode takes place (in flashback) in Portland, Oregon.  Is there some mandate that all fairy tale television shows must use Portland in some manner?  I half-expected Monroe to make an appearance.  Our heroine, Emma Swan, steals her now-familiar VW Bug, only to find a man, Neal Cassaday, in the backseat.  Cassaday then tells her that he, too, had stolen the car and they soon become a small-time Bonnie and Clyde outfit robbing convenience stores.  Love soon follows.
However, Cassaday is wanted for robbing a watch shop at which he was once employed back in Phoenix.  Emma, determined to make things work, offers to fence the watches so they may be together.  But August shows up and things go differently than planned.

In the fairy tale present, Emma and Hook climb a beanstalk to the stronghold of the last remaining giant in order to steal a compass.  Somewhat predictably, Emma does not trust Hook (nor should she) and she abandons him to the giant, who viewers learn is not the monster he is made out to be in tales.

Another interesting episode, which I'm sure pleased viewers longing to know more of Emma's backstory.  I was surprised that an episode sans both Rumpel and Regina was able to carry itself so well.  Like many other viewers, I am curious as to Cassaday's true identity, as his name is likely a pseudonym taken from the Beat author.  Without spoiling too much for those who have yet to see this episode, there is also scene in which he calmly accepts a magical act, which would be rather unbelievable for a mundane to do.  It was also wonderful to see this episode link back to the beginning scene of the season opener.  The pieces of the puzzle are certainly adding up.  One just wonders how much longer the series can sustain itself after its biggest revelations are presented.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sara's Library: Anna Dressed in Blood

First of all, apologies for the lack of updates.  While I had started this post almost two weeks ago, I found myself suddenly very busy with real life.  Between staffing a local convention and a couple of job interviews, I just haven't had time to work on the blog.  I'm hoping to catch up over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Tor Teen 2011
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012

There have been few books I can recall where my initial reaction to the premise and my final reaction are so completely disparate.  Going in, all I really knew about the plot was that the protagonist, Cas Lowood, went around the country (and Canada, apparently, given the novel's Ontario setting) slaying ghosts with his father's magic dagger (an athame).  It sounded like a lame attempt at writing a prose version of Bleach.  I have never been more wrong about a book.

Shortly after traveling to Thunder Bay, Ontario, in order to rid the town of the infamous Anna Dressed in Blood, events spiral out of Cas's control.  Not only does a prank played upon him by the school football team result in the death of one of the jocks at the hands of Anna, but Cas, so accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle that is part of his job, begins to develop attachments.  He befriends a psychic witch-boy and the most popular girl in school, both of whom insist upon tagging along during his midnight slayings, and eventually learns that he cannot complete his task without the aid of others.  Yet, more interestingly, he develops a strong bond with the ghost herself, Anna, whom he learns is a tragic, fragile creature trapped inside her place of death.

While Ms. Blake's work never shies away from the violence and gore that denote the work as horror, it is her juxtaposition of horror with sarcastic, referential humor that sets this work apart from others in the genre. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will definitely see shades of the Scooby Gang here, which is all for the better.  Without the humor, this tale would likely have proven too grim for the average reader.

The characters, especially Cas and Anna, are well-thought out and complex for the book's relatively short length, and the brisk pacing ensures that readers never tire of the dark events that could easily have become mired in a lengthier work.  A new sequel, Girl of Nightmare, continues the story, which ends somewhat abruptly, and promises to give fans another thrill ride, if the reviews I've read are any indication.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Dream Factory: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie directed by Tim Burton
Walt Disney Pictures 2012
Rated PG
Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Nominee 2013
BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film Nominee 2013
Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film Nominee 2013
Annie Award for Best Animated Feature Nominee 2013

I can clearly remember being seven and first seeing advertisements for The Nightmare Before Christmas in my Disney Adventures magazine.  Mr. Burton's ghoulish ink illustrations, used as promotional art, captured my imagination and I began to entreat my parents to take me to the film, though no one else in the family was particularly interested in going to see it.  The film, my first experience with stop motion animation, ignited a lifelong love for the art form, as well as for the story's writer, Mr. Burton.

Since 1993, Mr. Burton has both inspired me and disappointed me, but as I sat in the cinema waiting for his latest creation to begin, I had high hopes that Frankenweenie would belong to the former group and I was not disappointed.

The film follows the same storyline as that of the 1984 short (which I have fond childhood memories of watching every Halloween on the Disney Channel).  When Victor Frankenstein's dog is hit by a car, he attempts to resurrect him with electricity on a stormy night and succeeds.  The film, needing to flesh out the plot, introduces a science fair at Victor's school, and discovering Victor's project, the other students (all of them parodies of some horror figure or other), resurrect their own pets.  But, their motivations being quite different than Victor's, the pets rampage through the town and Victor must devise a way to stop them.

I wasn't expecting this film to be a comedy, but I found myself laughing aloud quite frequently at the numerous horror references sprinkled throughout the film.  Most of these jokes went over the heads of the children in attendance, and I think my husband and I were the only ones laughing most of the time due to the demographics of our particular screening.  But the relationship between Victor and Sparky, his dog, are something all people with pets can relate to, so the references shouldn't prevent non-horror fans from enjoying the film.

Aside from what felt, to me, like a mixed message about science and the failure to teach younger viewers a valuable lesson about letting go, the film hit all the right notes.  This is Mr. Burton as himself, filled with whimsical nostalgia and none of the soulless commercialism of his last few films.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sara's Library: This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Simon & Schuster 2011
ALA Teens' Top Ten Nominee 2012
Bram Stoker Award for Young Adult Novel Nominee 2012

I have been a fan of the macabre and gothic for as long as I can remember.  I think I first read Poe in third grade, which I followed up the next year with Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris.  Although Frankenstein was assigned reading during my senior year of high school, I had read it years earlier.  So when I began to see reviews for Kenneth Oppel's prequel, This Dark Endeavor, I knew I had to read it.

In this prequel, Victor Frankenstein has an identical twin brother, Konrad, who he believes to be his better at just about everything.  When Konrad becomes ill with an unknown (and perhaps incurable disease), Victor, his cousin Elizabeth, and their friend Henry decide to save him...through alchemy.  The trio discover a secret library of alchemical texts in the Frankenstein manor, but cannot decipher the archaic texts.  Learning of a disgraced alchemist, Dr. Polidori, living in the slums of Geneva, the group seek out his aid and soon embark on dangerous adventures for the ingredients required for the Elixir of Life.

Meanwhile, the family solicits the advice of an experimental doctor who determines that Konrad's disease is what we now know as leukemia.  While he is able to improve Konrad's condition, he cannot cure it, driving Victor to try yet harder to create the Elixir.

But is it truly brotherly love that drives Victor into this frenzy?  Or the desire to excel at something which his brother never can?  Darker yet, is Victor's secret desire to usurp his brother, especially in the heart of Elizabeth.

One of my only qualms with this book is that it doesn't stylistically mirror its "descendant."  While that marvelous work was an epistolary novel, this one is not.  The prose attempts to affect the style of the period, though I did find Victor's sense of humour a tad out of place, feeling somewhat modern at times.  While the characters are not the most complex or original, often falling into tropes of young adult fiction (snarky protagonist, headstrong girl, etc.), the work substantially reworks Ms. Shelley's story, leading readers to piece together that Victor's later creation is not a mishmash at all, but his brother.  Given the love triangle developing between the brothers and Elizabeth, one can imagine there will be bad blood between the two before events lead to the Modern Prometheus.

Mr. Oppel has already written a second work in the prequel sequence, titled Such Wicked Intent and released at the end of August.  While I've not yet had a chance to read it, I certainly intend to, and if the title is any indication, we can expect it to grow considerably darker.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Once Upon a Time...in Geneva?

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 5: "The Doctor"

Having been a fan of Once Upon a Time since it began airing last season, I like to guess the fairy tale counterparts of the Storybrooke community before they are revealed.  One character whose identity had been perplexing viewers since the series' inception was Dr. Whale...at least until last week's episode.  Within the first ten or fifteen minutes I had my suspicions as to his true identity, given the plot of the episode, which was Dr. Whale attempting to bring Regina's dead lover Daniel back from the dead.  Add in his Storybrooke name (an allusion to the director of the 1931 film version) and what do you get...Victor Frankenstein.

While some viewers may be left scratching their heads as to why a character from a science fiction/horror novel written in 1818 is a character on a fairy tale show, I think it was a rather interesting move on the part of the writers.  First of all, it reminds me of the comic Fables and its spin-off Jack of Fables, as its author Bill Willingham included various public domain characters and even genres themselves as characters.  We've already seen characters from legend (Mulan) and children's fantasy novels -- which some consider literary fairy tales -- (Jefferson/Mad Hatter and Hook).  While I wasn't particularly expecting Frankenstein, I think given Rumple's scheme of traveling to a world without magic to find his son, this new addition is an interesting twist.  I personally have been hoping for Oz and Narnia characters to turn up, so we'll see what happens.

As for Victor Frankenstein, he's been turning up in a number of places recently, not just Sunday night television.  Look for posts on Frankenweenie and the novel This Dark Endeavor soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

At the Theatre: A Spoonful of Musical Magic

I never enjoyed the film version of Mary Poppins when I was growing up.  I'm not entirely sure why, though I suspect that my reasons are similar to those held by P.L. Travers, the author of the novels, in that the film was too sugary.  I've somehow never read the novels, but I've now seen the musical adaptation twice, first in Chicago in 2009 and again last week here in Pittsburgh.  And I adore it.

Lolita often seem to gravitate toward children's fantasy from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, especially Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan, so I feel that Mary Poppins should be getting more attention.  The play, at least, is whimsical without being too twee, with elaborate sets and special effects that bring Mary's magical world to life.  During the "Step in Time" number, the actor portraying Bert dances on the walls and ceiling of the proscenium stage, and in the Chicago production, Mary flew over the audience during the finale (being a one-week touring engagement, I imagine there was not time to prepare and test the proper rigging needed for that trick here in Pittsburgh).  With epic nanny battles, statues that come to life, and flying umbrellas, I think there's enough magic here to satisfy the Alice-loving Lolita.  And, of course, the ideas of striving to be one's best and retaining the kindness of childhood, which are present throughout, are tenets of most lifestyle Lolitas, which should add to the appeal.

If you find yourself in New York or the tour is coming to your city, please check out the musical.  And remember: anything can happen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pulled in a New Direction

After giving it much thought, I decided to attempt to revive this blog. Back in February, I stopped writing for a number of reasons, including being inundated with assigned reading and projects for graduate school and simply having too many books to review, as the idea of attempting to review them all was incredibly daunting! I have since graduated with my MLIS and find myself with too much time on my hands, having not yet found employment. However, I do not intend for this blog to be quite the same as it had been previously. I was stressing myself by trying to review everything I read, so that will no longer be the case. I was also bored with my posts, as they were all reviews. So, after some contemplation, I have decided to give this blog a new direction. It will retain its name and there will still be a number of reviews. However, the focus of said reviews will be shifting. Rather than being a children's and young adult fiction review blog, "An Obsolete Child" will have a more personal focus and a lolita bent. Reviews will focus on those genres I most enjoy, whether the intended demographic is child, adolescent, or adult. Such genres include fairy/folk tale, fantasy/fantastique, gothic, and historical fiction (Georgian to Edwardian). I will also be writing about films, television series, and comics that pique my interest, as well as goings-on in the Pittsburgh area and thoughts on trends in lolita fashion.

To those who have read my blog in the past, I apologize if the new direction will be cause for you to abandon ship. For those who wish to see where our new course will lead, I will be working on several posts throughout the upcoming week. Thank you and welcome aboard.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Blog To End

With the amount of reading I have to do for grad school this semester (typically 3-6 novels a week, as well as another 300-500 pages of readings), I simply don't have time to review the books I'm reading. It's a pity, as I'm reading some great stuff for my YA classes, but given that I've had this blog for more than a year and have found few followers, I was considering dropping it anyway. School just gave me a better reason.

I am contemplating starting a fairy tale blog some time in the near future. Would anyone read it?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Week 1

I realize this is a week late. Apparently, my school reading is going to be a bit more time-consuming than expected this semester. I'll try to do better about posting over the weekend, but no guarantees.

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publishing Date: 1987
Reason Read: required for YA Resources (previously read in 6th grade)
Awards: Newbery Honor 1988

I remember reading Hatchet for my 6th grade English class and hating it, so when it was on the syllabus for my YA Resources class, I cringed a bit, but decided that as an adult maybe I'd better enjoy the book. I was wrong.

The story of Brian, a thirteen year old who survives a plane crash after the pilot of the single-engine plane has a heart attack, has the potential to be captivating, but not enough details of Brian's civilian life are given. All we are told is that his parents are divorced, and Brian unwittingly was privy to the reason why: his mother's illicit affair. Additionally, the writing is extremely repetitive, using the same words and phrasing ad nauseum to the point where I questioned if Mr. Paulsen owned a thesaurus. I understand that the writing is meant to mimic Brian's thoughts, but I'd like to think that even a teenager lost in the wilderness is a bit more sophisticated than this.

Grade: C

Title: Annie on My Mind
Author: Nancy Garden
Publishing Date: 1982
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

The quintessential lesbian romance novel for young adults, Annie on My Mind tells the story of two New York girls, Annie and Liza, who have a chance meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The girls quickly become best friends, and the relationship evolves into something more.

Although this novel was written thirty years ago, it is still as poignant and believable today. While Annie has acknowledged that she is gay for some time, Liza's feelings are frightening and new, and she struggles to come to terms with them, as so many others do. And on top of the main romance plot, there is a major plot point involving two teachers at Liza's school who are lesbians and how the school administration reacts to this. While the acceptance of gays has certainly made strides since 1982, the events that unfold in this novel are still extremely plausible, especially in more conservative parts of the country. Highly recommended for any girl questioning her sexuality.

Grade: A

Title: Weetzie Bat
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Publishing Date: 1989
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: Phoenix Award 2009

Despite being only slightly longer than 100 pages, Weetzie Bat manages to cram non-traditional families, gay relationships, and AIDS in its plot without weakening it. Often described as a pop fairy tale, the story follows teenage Weetzie, her friend Dirk, and the life they build through the results of three wishes Weetzie makes via a genie in a magic lamp. I suppose it's a bit precious, but the writing is so ethereal and poetic, I found myself easily sucked into the story. My only real complaint is that more time is spent on surface details instead of building really deep characters, but that goes along with the fairy tale concept, as do the bizarre names (i.e. My Secret Agent Lover Man).

Grade: A-

Title: Monster
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publishing Date: 1999
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: National Book Award finalist 1999, Printz Award 2000, Coretta Scott King Honor 2000

Written as a screenplay by the main character, Steven Harmon, Monster is a courtroom drama concerning a murder trial of a convenience store owner in New York City. While we are told that Steve served as a look-out of sorts, checking to see that no customers were in the store prior to the botched robbery, throughout the course of the trial, the defense tries to prove his innocence and save Steve from a life behind bars. A number of witnesses are criminals themselves, somewhat discrediting the case of the prosecution. And the entire trial both the jury and we the readers are left wondering if Steve is really innocent.

Given Steve's penchant for filmmaking, the screenplay concept is a nice touch. Had Mr. Myers chosen to write in a traditional format, the story easily could have become bogged down with legal jargon, but as a quick-moving screenplay, such terminology is dealt with much more easily. That the format fits the character so well is a credit to the author.

Grade: A

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publishing Date: 1999
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources (previously read senior year of high school)
Awards: N/A

Maybe this was just something we did at my high school, but I remember reading Perks in my senior year and passing the copy around to people and having them leave comments in the margins. My own copy was just between my best friend (now husband) and myself, but I had friends who also did this with larger groups of friends. I think the epistolary format and confessional tone of the letters is conducive to this.

I think I'm a bit biased toward this book, not only because of how nostalgic it makes me feel, having grown up in the 90's and come of age soon after the millennium, but also because the book is set in the Greater Pittsburgh metro area. All the places that are mentioned in this book are familiar to me, so it ends up having a special place in my ya collection.

Despite this personal connection to Mr. Chbosky's novel, the issues presented, including homosexuality, teen pregnancy, and abuse are rather universal issues faced by teenagers everywhere, which is why it's such an appealing book. I truly feel that it's my generation's Catcher in the Rye.

Grade: A

Title: Gossip Girl
Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Publishing Date: 2002
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

By far the worst book I've read in some time, Gossip Girl is about as mindless as I expected it to be. And while the writing is decent, at least if one likes the style used in gossip columns, what really irritated me was that the characters are almost described in terms of what brand-name they are wearing. If one has no concept of what a certain Prada dress looks like, he'll have little idea what to visualize.

Even worse than the lack of poetic description is the sheer lack of positive characters in the main cast. Nearly all of the major characters drink, smoke, and do recreational drugs. The only girl at the school that I can tolerate is the artistic misfit, Vanessa, but aside from attending a concert with the flighty Serena, she's a peripheral character at best.

I'm glad that these books are getting teens reading, I suppose, but there's so much wrong with them that I really worry about the negative influence the books could potentially have on young readers.

Grade: C-

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Format: 2011 Week 52

Given the amount of books that I read within a month, I often find that I simply don't have time to stop and write about all of them. So, rather than writing lengthy entries on the newest releases, I've decided to use a new format this year, writing a weekly entry with short reviews of all the middle grade and ya books I've read in a week. Posts will typically go up on Saturday or Sunday.

Nearly all of the books in this week's post were required for an upcoming class. Future weeks should be more of a mix of required and leisure reading; we were assigned 15 books to read by the first day of this particular class, but subsequent weeks have no more than three assigned.

Week 52

Title: The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1 in the Ranger's Apprentice series)
Author: John Flanagan
Publishing Date: 2004/Australia; 2005/US
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards:Aurealis Award for Best Children's Novel short list 2004

My older brother, who has recently started reading ya novels, had actually recommended this series to me over the summer, so I was glad to see it on the required reading list. Telling the story of an orphaned boy who becomes an apprentice to a ranger (think of the D&D class or Aragorn), The Ruins of Gorlan bridges the gap between The Prydain Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings, with a brisk enough pace to hold the attention of reluctant readers and enough action to satisfy them, as well. The story may be a bit cliche, but the characters are likeable and the writing above-average. While the first installment felt resolved, there are enough loose threads to warrant looking at the next volume.

Grade: B

Title: The Burning Bridge (Book 2 in the Ranger's Apprentice series
Author: John Flanagan
Publishing Date: 2005/Australia; 2006/US
Reason Read: I enjoyed the first book and wanted to see how the series would continue -- I plan on reading the first four books as of now
Awards: N/A

Within the first installment, the over-arching plot involving Morgarath was not resolved. This volume focuses on the impending battle with Morgarath and his minions. Will and his friend Horace are the protagonists here, along with a new character named Evelyn who they encounter on their journey. Both boys have an opportunity to shine, Will with his wits and Horace with his sword. Much of the same is present in this second book of the series, which ends unresolved (at least where Will is concerned). Not as strong as the first installment, but I can see why it remains popular.

Grade: B-

Title: Seventeenth Summer
Author: Maureen Daly
Publishing Date: 1942
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

Often considered one of the first young adult novels, Seventeenth Summer was actually written when the author herself was seventeen. The story is rather generic, concerning the first love of a girl about to leave home to attend college. At first, I found it difficult to read, as the dialogue is so trite and corny, but eventually its 40's charm grew on me. It's certainly dated and not for everyone (especially readers accustomed to today's steamy teen romances), but it's fluffy and cute -- perfect for someone who enjoys retro romance.

Grade: B-

Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Publishing Date: 1951
Reason Read: required for YA Resources (previously read junior year of high school)
Awards: Modern Library's 100 Best English-language Novels of the 20th Century

This book needs little introduction, as it's read in high school classrooms all over the country. I never really stopped to consider it as a ya novel before, and I still question that label, despite Holden's age and the issues he deals with in the novel, as I don't think Mr. Salinger's intention was to write for a teenage audience, but a universal audience. Despite its age, The Catcher in the Rye holds up rather well, although like Ms. Daly's book, some of the dialogue does seem a bit dated. I think I appreciated the book more the second time around, though.

Grade: A-

Title: The Outsiders
Author: S.E. Hinton
Publishing Date: 1967
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

Another example of early ya written by a teenager, The Outsiders is a bleak account of a band of greasers and the trouble that ensues when one of them kills a rich kid in self-defense. While on the lam, the killer saves a group of children from a burning building and becomes a hero, though gravely injured himself. The kids from the wrong side of the tracks are presented as victims of circumstance here, enabling readers to empathize with them, despite their background, which was rather ground-breaking at the time. I can definitely see why so many high schools require this to be read, as it's brilliantly written and remains poigant today.

Grade: A

Title: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier
Publishing Date: 1974
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

A realistic, albeit brutal, portrayal of the mob mentality present in high schools, The Chocolate War concerns a secret society at a boys' prep school and a freshman who refuses to follow their orders to participate in a chocolate fundraiser. Mr. Cormier's attention to gritty detail helps this work to stand out, although the ending left me cold, as the antagonists receive no form of punishment and the acting headmaster seems pleased with the lawless behaviour of the secret society. Perhaps I'm being too idealistic, but I would have preferred a more satisfying conclusion.

Grade: A-

Title: Forever
Author: Judy Blume
Publishing Date: 1975
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

One of the first ya novels to frankly discuss teenage sexuality, Forever concerns the relationship between two high school seniors, including their decision to engage in sex. It's a breezy read with relatively accurate portrayals of teenage love, although I question whether a girl would actually refer to a boyfriend's member by a silly name like Ralph and the parents seem a bit too open to the idea of their teenage daughter having sex. These details aside, it tackles not just sexuality itself, but the consequences that come from it, as well as the difficult question of what to do when a relationship ends.

Grade: B+