We’re Not From Here

by Geoff Rodkey
First sentence: “The first time I heard anything about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Content: There are some possibly scary situations, but Rodkey knows his audience, and the book is neither too long or too complex. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lan and his family are part of the last of the human race, the part that escaped to Mars when the Earth dissolved into a nuclear holocaust that made the planet uninhabitable. They’re also the part of the human race that decided to take a chance on the offer of asylum from the Planet Choom — a planet full of insect-like creatures, as well as small wolf-like creatures and marshmallow-like creatures — and take up residence there.

However, when they get out of biostasis and arrive at Choom, they’ve discovered that the government is now against the humans settling there and they want them all to just leave. Except the humans don’t have anywhere to go. So the Choom government — which is run by the insect-like creatures — allows Lan’s family to come down on a trial basis. Which means they’re the sole representatives for the human race and whatever they do the entire race will be judged on it.

If you haven’t gotten the allegory that Rodkey is telling here, let me spell it out (mostly because I knew it going in, and it was quite obvious to me): he’s exploring — in a way that is accessible to kids — the idea of immigration and the idea of being the “other”. And since he can’t write an #ownvoices book, he’s doing it the only way he can: through science fiction. As far as an allegory goes, it’s excellent: it allows the reader to feel how it is to be “alien”, even if they (I’m white and while I’ve felt like an outsider, I’ve never really felt “alien”) are not. But, on top of that, it’s fun to read, it’s got great characters (#TeamMarf all the way! She’s brilliant!) and it’s got a good heart at the center of it. It’s quite probably Rodkey’s best work so far.

And it’s definitely one worth reading!

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

by Hank Green
First sentence: “Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death, but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13–I’m not your boss) you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore, but a high school student who was interested could definitely read this one.

April May is just living her life — and not really her best one, at all — when she stumbles upon a… thing… in Manhattan at three a.m. She has enough presence of mind to grab her filmmaker friend and upload a video about the phenomenon that will come to be known as The Carls, which shoots April into the world of the famous. She  is at the forefront of everything Carl-related: TV stations want interviews, her YouTube and Twitter followers skyrocket. And, yet, no one knows what the Carls really want.

Soon, April is experiencing the darker side of fame: There are factions out there that want to defend the world from The Carls, and see April as a traitor for being a “spokesperson” for them. And it doesn’t help that April keeps burning the bridges between her and everyone in her life that cares about her.

There are two ways you can read this book:

1) as a straight-up science fiction story. And, to be honest, it kind of lacks on this level. It’s not really a great plot; you only find out what The Carls are up to at the end of the book, and it turns out to be rather anti-climatic. April is a questionable human being, more concerned about her own fame than the lives or feelings of the people around her (though I do wonder if I’d feel the same way if Green wrote April as a man). There’s a bit of action, but not much; it’s mostly talk about coding and uploading videos and dealing with people.

2) as an exploration of what fame can do to a “regular” person. This is where I thought the book actually worked. If you know anything about Green (one half of the Vlogbrothers, etc.), it seems that he is coming to terms with the way fame works, especially in the era of social media, and how that affects people. I found that part of the book to be fascinating; how the masses glom on to someone — anyone really — who says things we like (or don’t) and by the sheer force of numbers make that person famous. And how that fame — and the money advertisers and corporations and “news” stations are willing to throw at them — ultimately changes a person. It was an interesting exploration into April’s psyche and the ups and downs of fame.

An interesting read, in the end.

Faith: Hollywood and Vine

by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Marguerite Sauvage
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Content:  There is your usual superhero blow-em-up fare, plus some awkward moments. This would be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore if we had it.

So, in my graphic novel class this summer, we (well, me and a couple other students) ended up talking a lot about representation by women (and diversity, though not as much) in the comics/graphic novels world. One of the other students said that Valiant did an okay job with representation, but mentioned Faith as a good example of a plus-size superhero where weight didn’t really come into play. I was curious, so I picked it up.

After a traumatic experience and a bad breakup, Faith Herbert aka Zephyr (she’s a psiot who can fly and has some telekinetic ability)  has moved from New York to LA to try and do things on her own. Donning an alias, Summer Smith, she gets a job as a content writer for a culture blog/website. Even though she hasn’t made many friends and her ex has a reality TV show, Faith is doing pretty well. That is, until she discovers that psiots are disappearing and that there’s a tie-in to the new, hot sci-fi show on TV. So, of course it’s up to Faith (with some help from a few friends) to save the day.

On the one hand, yeah: it was refreshing to see an atypical superhero doing cool and amazing things and being comfortable in her own body (or at least not having her body be the center of the story line). But, and maybe this is me, I think much of what was “revolutionary” by that is diminished by the fact that everyone else in the book is skinny and/or super built. What’s the point of making the main character look more realistic if everyone else (from her crushes to the love interest to the bad guys to her co-workers) is “normal” and she’s the odd woman out? I kept noticing that she was always the fat one, and felt — even though it’s written/drawn by women — that somehow they were trying to draw attention to her size. So, even though the plot wasn’t about her weight, the book, ultimately, ended up being about her weight. Which made me sad. (To be fair, maybe it’s just me?)

That said, I liked the story. I liked Faith, and her fangirlness. I liked her daydreams and her awkwardness and her moral code. And I liked the resolution in the end.

It wasn’t a bad graphic novel and I am glad I read it.

Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King
First sentence: “There were mosquitoes.:
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some bullying, a kiss, and a lot of talk of scat. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Obe (pronounced like Obi-Wan Kenobi) Devlin’s family has lived on their land for generations. But his great-grandfather was an alcoholic (never explicitly stated, but heavily implied) and mortgaged their land away to support his habit. Years later, the land is no longer being farmed but has been sold to developers, and it was then that Obe, now in 6th grade, began losing the life he’d always known.  And it isn’t just the change in landscape; with houses come new kids, who have different priorities and tend to tease (nay: bully) Obe. And with housing, comes pollution.

Obe’s really concerned about the environment (as is K; she’s the one I thought about most while reading this) and on one of his trips to clean up the creek by his house, he finds this creature. A creature that eats plastic. Maybe this is the solution to the Obe’s environmental concerns? It’s not that simple (it never is), but Obe’s finding of this creature, whom he names Marvin Gardens, changes his life.

It was a nice, quiet little book, this.  A bit about being conscious about how you treat the world. A bit about friends. A bit about toxic masculinity. A bit about science. A bit about history. And maybe, in the end, that was why I didn’t connect terribly well with it: it was trying to be too many things. New species (is it an alien? Where did it come from?), friendship, neglectful parents, history…. Decide already.

I can see some people — K, among them — really liking this one, though.

 

Last Day on Mars

by Kevin Emerson
First sentence: “Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some intense life-threatening situations and several deaths. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Imagine this: in the distant future, the sun starts to expand, eventually getting so big that it makes living on earth impossible. Thankfully, humans have had a bit of time to prepare, so they decamp to Mars, where they find a planet in a distant solar system that should support life, and work to create a terraforming system. But, now, the sun’s expansion has sped up, and Red Line — the deadline to leaving — has arrived.

I’m going to interject here that I was a bit suspect about this one. It starts with aliens, and it leaves a lot explained at first, but trust me: stick with this one. I read it in one sitting, once I got into it, and it was an incredibly intense experience. I could NOT put this one down.

It nominally follows Liam  and Phoebe the kids (not siblings) of the last scientists left on Mars. They’re on the terraforming team, and want to get a couple last experiments in before Red Line. Except what starts out as boring gets really interesting really fast when things start going wrong. And after Liam and Phoebe discover proof of alien life.  It’s up to them — for some very intense but plausible reasons — to get off the planet and to join the spaceship headed for the new planet. But things don’t go as planned.

This is a first in a series, and I’m totally on board with Liam and Phoebe and their adventures. So very good.

Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.

One Trick Pony

onetrickponyby Nathan Hale
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 14, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary bits, but it’s pretty tame overall. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Aliens have invaded, and their primary goal is not to destroy the humans but to gather the technology. Everything and anything that can be considered tech — from forks and knives to guns to computers and robots — is gobbled up by the aliens, whom the humans have taken to calling Pipers.

On the outskirts of one of the “hot zones” (places where there is lots of piper activity) there’s a mobile community — the Caravan — of people whose main goal is to keep the tech — and thereby “civilization” — alive. Then one day, a few kids from the Caravan uncover a robot pony in the middle of the hot zone. Suddenly pipers are after them, and it ends in a confrontation that will either result in the loss of humanity or its salvation.

It’s an intriguing story, and I loved the way Hale told it. So very good.