Category Archives: ***A Good Read

Resistance, Book I by Carla Jablonski, illustrated by Leland Purvis, color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2010     ISBN: 9781596432918

This graphic novel for middle school readers revolves around two young French children, Paul, and his little sister, Marie, who get involved with the Resistance after hiding their best friend Henri Levy in their family’s wine cellars when the Germans take over his family’s hotel and his parents disappear. When Paul and Marie uncover a decoded message that Henri’s parent’s are alive and in hiding in Paris. The two children convince their mother and the Resistance leaders to let them take Henri to his parents, a trip that turns out to be hair-raising.

Before setting off, Marie decides that since Henri won’t be there for his thirteenth birthday, she and Paul should give him a Bar Mitzvah. None of them quite knows what to do, but they cobble together a very touching ceremony in which Marie calls upon the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Gods, “and any other ones I forgot,” as a blessing over the wine, and Paul takes the role of the father and tells Henri that he must now be responsible and go out and do his part to heal the world.

The use of the very popular graphic novel format provides an appealing and accessible entry into the story, even for reluctant readers. The pace of the action, and the development and maintaining of tension throughout the story keeps the reader involved right until the very end. The minimal text manages to provide a surprising amount of character development, and with the evocative drawings, manages to convey the horrors of the time, but also the daring of many people who found large and small ways to resist the Germans, and the strength and courage that comes of true friendship.

A page at the beginning briefly discusses the Nazi invasion of France, the occupied and unoccupied zones, French anti-Semitism, and the existence of thousands of Resistance fighters, both organized and individual. An author’s note at the end talks more about the Resistance, about collaborators, and the Vichy government. The author challenges the reader to think about what he or she might do in similar circumstances, and points out that history is a living, dynamic thing, with few black and white areas.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword of Avalon by Diana L. Paxson

Roc, 2009     ISBN: 9780451462923

Paxson envisions here the circumstances of the creation of the sword, Excalibur, which will later come into play in the King Arthur legends. Based on archaeological evidence of technology, she sets the time period in the latter part of the Bronze Age / into the beginning of the Iron Age when iron-smithing was a technological possibility.

The tribes of the British Isles are descending into war with each other as the climate is increasingly hostile and food becomes scarce. What is needed, believes Anderle, the current Lady of Avalon, is a King to lead the tribes back into unity. She believes this to be the destiny of the infant Mikantor, who she rescues from the fiery destruction of his tribe by that of a marauding band of renegades.

She does what she can to keep his existence hidden, but ultimately, the boy’s enemies realize that he is living. When he is finally captured, his life is spared when his captors sell him into slavery instead of killing them as they have been ordered to do.

Mikantor then spends some years in the Mediterranean, as the slave, and then companion and friend of Velantos, the smith of the soon to fall City-State of Tiryns. Mikantor learns the art of weaponry, and together with Velantos, who has had a vision that he is to forge a sword to be wielded by a mighty king, returns to the British Isles to take up his destiny.

Paxson’s character development does not live up to that of Zimmer Bradley’s, and the episodic, plot-driven story ultimately falls short of expectations, providing a quick read that doesn’t have a lasting impact, although teens may be satisfied with the action of the story.

The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth

Hyperion, 2008     ISBN: 1423104943

This book draws the reader from the beautiful cover art into a story full of adventure, danger, and history, as the two main protagonists, Luka and Emilia, members of a Rom family in Cromwell’s Puritan England, seek out the members of four other Rom families for assistance in getting their family out of jail before they come to trial and are all executed. Traveling with them are Emilia’s horse, Alida, their performing bear, Sweetheart, their dog, Rollo, and Luka’s monkey, Zizi.

Emilia has been instructed by their grandmother to reunite the family’s five magical charms, whose separation many years past has brought bad luck on the Rom. Each family is supposed to have one charm, but finding each family, and then convincing them to part with their charms even temporarily is a struggle. Emilia has to leave her horse with one family in surety for their charm, and Luka ends up leaving his violin with another.

On their trail are a group of henchmen led by a man called the thief-taker who is under orders to capture and imprison them with the rest of their family. There are many near misses and their travels are exhausting and nerve-wracking, and are well-plotted to keep the interest of the reader.

A subplot involving Royalist spies and secret meetings about restoring Charles the Second to the throne add to the suspense and danger. Various historical figures play a role in the story and the author provides detailed notes about the history of the time, and about the Rom culture.

This book is highly recommended to readers between the ages of ten to fourteen, and anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some good adventures thrown in.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Dial Books, 2006.    ISBN: 0803730012  $16.99

Written as a letter to his youngest sister, Emmy, –a letter that he hopes she won’t choose to read until she is much older, seventeen-year-old Matthew describes how he and their sister Callie, tried to protect Emmy as much as possible from their mother’s increasing unpredictability and mental illness.

Nikki, their mother, is a pathological liar, a drug and alcohol abuser, and a negligent parent, who will do anything to get what she wants, including stalking a boyfriend who has rejected her, leaving the three children unattended, or taking dangerous risks with them in the car or elsewhere. Very occasionally, she can be fun, although often in a scary way, and even more rarely, she shows an attentive and caring side, all of which leaves the kids confused.

Matthew and Callie feel hopeless about their situation. They don’t think their situation falls into the kinds of abuse that have been described to them at school as reasons to talk to a teacher or other adult. Their father has been unable or unwilling to step up to the plate beyond child support, even when Matthew finally lets him know that they aren’t safe, and Aunt Bobbie, who lives downstairs seems to be involved in her own little world. Matthew finally reaches out to their mother’s previous boyfriend, Murdoch, and while he promises to do something, it seems a long time in coming, and Matthew ends up having to respond to the ultimate crisis on his own, while Murdoch shows up at the last minute, in time to prevent Matthew from doing something he will have regretted.

Teens will appreciate the struggles Matthew describes as he tries to protect his siblings from an ever more out of control situation.

Rage – A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters

Knopf, 2009  978-0-375-85209 $16.99

Johanna has been nursing a wild crush on Reeve, who she scarcely knows. She grasps at the opportunity to make a place in Reeve’s life for herself, even as Reeve pushes her away, and as her friends, and ex-lovers of Reeve’s warn her that she’s getting into trouble. Reeve lives in a home permeated with violence, drug and alcohol abuse. She struggles to survive and protect her brother Robbie, who is perhaps autistic. She can’t risk letting anyone get close to her, and violence is the only way she knows to push people away. Johanna, however, keeps coming back for more, in a pattern that becomes almost impossible to be willing to break.

Teens will find themselves deeply engaged in this very well-written book which deals realistically with the difficult issues raised; however, it is disappointing to read yet another LGBT novel that is so filled with pain and violence and hopeless relationships.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Penguin, Speak, 2009.  978-0-14-241491-0 $9.99

Seventeen year old Lucy has lived her whole life with Soledad and Leo, her foster parents, and friends of her mentally ill birth mother, Miranda. Miranda is a bag lady who comes and goes, and is an embarrassment to Lucy. Recently she has turned up twice at Lucy’s school, ranting crazily. It turns out that she is trying to warn Lucy of the family curse, based on a variation of the song Scarborough Fair, which is sometimes known as The Elvish King.  The curse is that each generation of daughters will give birth at eighteen, and will go mad, unless she can complete three impossible tasks set out in the lyrics of the song before the Elvish King comes to claim her. When Lucy is raped after the prom and gets pregnant, her family and friend Zach race to figure out how she can accomplish the impossible, even as they struggle with believing in the curse. Werlin provides a fascinating blend of reality and fairytale to tell a story of love, madness, and danger, and the healing power of family.

Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson

Allen & Unwin, 2009  9781741753349  $9.99

Mahtab, an Afghani girl, flees with her family one night to escape the Taliban. Their goal is to reach Australia. They are hidden under a load of furniture and other items in the back of an old pick-up truck. Their father has devised an innocuous noise to warn them to be perfectly still and quiet if they are stopped at a checkpoint.

After a long, uncomfortable journey, they finally arrive in Pakistan, where they will wait until the next stage of their voyage can be arranged. Weeks go by with no action, and finally, Mahtab’s father decides to set out ahead of them and send for them once he has reached Australia. After eight months of waiting, they must flee again when rumors of the Taliban in the area arise.

Their next stop is to Malaysia, by plane, an experience new, and frightening to all of them. In Malaysia, they are housed in a nice hotel until a boat can be arranged to take them on the final leg of the journey. Unfortunately, the ship is less than sea-worthy, and begins to take on water. And when they draw near to Australia, a large ship approaches and orders them back. Their small ship turns away, and the captain makes plans to land elsewhere once it is dark.

Upon setting foot on land, Mahtab rejoices that they’ve made it and that they’re free, only to discover that they are to be interred in a prison-like refugee camp until each of their cases can be dealt with. Up until this time, Mahtab has been her mother’s right hand, cheerful, and keeping the younger children entertained. But now she loses heart as the months pass by waiting for the officials to find their father.

Inspired by a true story, this well-written book offers readers insight into the plight of refugees.