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Random Thoughts on What I'm Reading
Winner of the 2014 Printz Award for best teen book, Midwinter-blood by Marcus Sedgwick has an intriguing structure and setting: seven linked stories on a Scandinavian island. It's a book of mystery, time, love, and sacrifice.
The time frame is intriguing, too. The first story, "Midsummer Sun," begins in 2073. The final story, "Midwinterblood," takes place during Time Unknown. The book moves backward in time, introducing characters in 2011, during World War II, 1902, 1848, and the 10th century, during Viking times.
Each story features characters named Erik and Merle, or variations of their names. Mysteriously, the first character we meet in 2073 is named Eric Seven, a journalist sent to Blessed Island. He's investigating rumors that people on Blessed can live forever. There he begins to fall in love with a beautiful woman named Merle. But before Eric can get any work done, his mind becomes fogged by the tea he's given, a tea made from the dragon orchid grown on Blessed.
By the time we meet King Eirikr and Queen Melle in the last story, we know that this orchid has dangerous, magical properties. We're not surprised that King Eirikr's story involves blood sacrifice, because sacrifice is a theme running throughout the book.
Each story is also identified by a moonóthe Flower Moon, Hay Moon, Snow Moon, Blood Moon--linking the entire book to nature and the seasons. Even futuristic 2073, with its modern technology and cool "OneDegree" app (sort of a Facebook of the future), is tied to agriculture and the weather. Some things never change.
Midwinterblood is a thought-provoking read. When I finished it, I was tempted to reread the book in reverse order, following Erik's journey in chronological order. As the stories unfold, they tell of people who live in the time of the story, but who have also moved between times. Ages 14 and up.
If you want to laugh until your sides hurt, rush out and find a copy of Jack the Castaway by Lisa Doan.
Eleven-year-old Jack just wants to attend school, do homework, and avoid poisonous frogs.
Unfortunately his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Berenson, have other ideas. Their get-rich-quick schemes have involved panning for gold in the Amazon, taking unsuspecting tourists on safari in Kenya, and exporting precious stones from India--all of them a disaster.
When they announce their newest scheme, which means moving to a Caribbean island, Jack has no choice but to go along.
Jack is reminded daily that the Berensons aren't like other parents. They encourage him to eat candy for breakfast, plan to educate him with their "home-schooling thingy," and don't worry in the least after Jack has disappeared for several hours in a foreign country.
When the Berensons launch their new scheme, a snorkeling business, Jack knows it will be another disaster. But he doesn't know it will be his disaster until he finds himself cast ashore on a deserted island circled by a whale shark. His only company is a parrot named Loco whose favorite phrase is, "Bad dog." Not exactly helpful when you're almost out of food and water.
Will the Berensons find Jack? Will they finally follow a checklist as Jack has been begging them to?
Fortunately, the hilarious Jack the Castaway is the first book in the Berenson Schemes series. I'm looking forward to more adventures and misadventures--assuming Jack and Loco get off that island. Ages 9 to 12.
In this captivating graphic novel, Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, Helene is a young teen girl in Montreal. She feels fat (she isn't), unloveable (she isn't), and like a loser (she definitely isn't).
No matter the facts, Helene feels like a sausage, a football, a piglet, and a fork cushion. She's none of these things, but that doesn't stop her classmates from ostracizing her. Helene's loving mother makes her a special crinoline dress, just like the other girls have--but when it's finished, the dress is already last summer's fad.
Enter Jane Eyre. Helene loses herself in the Victorian novel about the orphaned Jane. She identifies with the lonely heroine.
When Helene is forced to attend camp with her schoolmates, she finds herself in the outcasts' tent. There she spots a beautiful fox, "a real live red fox, tiny, with a small patch of darker fur." The fox has kind eyes, and Helene knows, "That same look in another human's eyes, and my soul would be theirs for sure."
Then the remarkable happens, and Helene's life changes.
Teen readers, don't be put off by the format of this graphic novel. It looks like a picture book, but it's a painful and ultimately lovely portrait of adolescence. Readers past teen age will remember when a Victorian novel and a tiny red fox were the only things that could get us through the day. Ages 12 and up.