Friday, November 2, 2012

Reading YA

Even though most readers of YA (young adult) fiction aren't actually young adults, I'm still a little embarrassed to admit that it's really what I prefer. Maybe part of the reason is that it's more reliably cleaner than grown-up fiction (I hate to say "adult" fiction since that seems to be another hot genre that many adults might be embarrassed to read in public). And maybe another part is a lingering fondness for the books I loved so much as a kid. Regardless, here's a few I've received from Amazon Vine lately.

In Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Beil, twelve year old Nicholas Mettleson and his younger twin sisters have been sent to spend the summer in Demming, Ohio. It's a different world from NYC, but "Uncle Nick" – who doesn't have a TV – turns out to be really nice and soon he's teaching them how to sail on the lake. Nicholas makes friends with a girl named Charlie who can throw a curve ball no one can hit, learns how to ride a bike, and discovers a secret compartment in his room with an unfinished movie called "The Seaweed Strangler" that his father was making when he was 14 years old and spending the summers there. And although the "mystery" about their father and the seaweed strangler drives the plot along, it's really more of a sentimental and old-fashioned story about growing up and spending the summer away from parents and home. It's not a thrill-a-minute adventure, but instead charms with an easier pace and a beautiful setting that will make kids wish to spend summers in a place like Forsaken Lake. And it's the kind of book I loved to get lost in as an 11 or 12 year old.

Immortal Lycanthropes by Hal Johnson, on the other hand, reminded me of I Am Number Four with its heavy emphasis on a plot-driven action story and some mystery mixed in. Myron Horowitz is an especially ugly kid who was found wandering a country road looking more like hamburger than an 8 year old. Multiple surgeries saved his life but left him horribly disfigured and an unusually small and stunted 13 year old as well as a favorite target of bullies. But when one particularly brutal bully picks on him in the school cafeteria something happens that leaves his attacker a bleeding mess and Myron unconscious and naked on the floor. It turns out that Myron is an "immortal lycanthrope," and "lycanthrope" refers to more animal/human shape-shifters than just wolves. (So, a were-bear, a were-moose or even a were-mouse is also a lycanthrope and in this story there is one for each mammal species and they're immortal – sort of.) Yeah, I know – this sounds like another rip-off of the recent trend in teen books since Twilight, and this one suffers from an especially uncreative title. But if you liked series like Percy Jackson or I Am Number Four you might enjoy this one. There are a few mild profanities and a couple of juvenile comments of a sexual nature, but the violence was more restrained than I expected. It's not a great book – the ending is abrupt and the narration is too smart-alecky – but it was kind of fun and might be mildly entertaining for older kids.

And finally, Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman appears to be aimed at fans of the Goosebumps series. The book cover is what originally caught my attention – a 3D picture which morphs from the dour-looking Professor Goyle into the demonic Professor Gargoyle – but the story isn't quite as creepy and unsettling as the cover might suggest. Because of school redistricting, twelve-year old Robert Arthur finds himself starting the school year at the brand new Lovecraft Middle School. Unfortunately, the only familiar face he recognizes is Glenn Torkells, a bully who's dogged him for years. But in addition to the state of the art technology, the school has a few quirks like rats in the lockers on the first day, an enormous and labyrinthine library with a secret room, and teachers who aren't quite what they seem. At about 160 pages it's a short and easy read but it includes real life issues like dodging bullies and making new friends. I'm not familiar with all the references to the horror novelist H. P. Lovecraft, but I caught the fact that Robert is named after the original author of one of my most favorite series as a kid (as well as the reference to one of my favorite movies, "Poltergeist").

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