July 17

Nymph by Tonya Alexandra

1384925790952Have you ever been tired of reading about murder, destruction, and depression? Sick of vampires, zombies and the like? I certainly got that way earlier this year and then this book came across my desk. Judging a book by its cover, this was bound to be different.

Greek goddess Merope is in trouble. Zeus has agreed to her marriage, but she doesn’t even like Orion. So as punishment, she is sent to live on Earth for a year to consider her future. Not the ancient Greek Earth, but a modern Australian city. In order to fill her time, she is required to attend an everyday secondary school. Imagine a Greek Goddess in your class!

This is a light and entertaining romance novel, a great change from all the dystopian fiction so prevalent in YA today. But it is a real beach read. Don’t look for literary allusions or symbolism in this simple and straightforward story. Just read it to enjoy the fun of an all powerful god trying to blend in with modern teens.

This is not Percy Jackson, but is still fun in it’s own way.

July 16

The First Third by Will Kostakis

9780143568179‘Life is made up of three parts: In the first third you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made’. What a line, and what a theme.

Billy’s family is falling apart. One brother has headed off interstate to live. Mum is dating, and not all the dates work out. His younger brother won’t speak to anybody. And to top it all off, YiaYia (grandmother) is in hospital. Life is falling apart. But then YiaYia gives him her bucket list…and life falls apart a bit further.

This is a lovely, funny family story. A warm fuzzy alternative to all the dystopian fiction written now for YAs. The reader will laugh at Will’s antics, cringe during his first date, and cry with him during the funeral. But supporting Will, and the reader, is a traditional Greek extended family.

This book has been shortlisted for the CBC under the category Older Readers. I enjoyed the book, but I have some question about whether it is really the best book written last year. Nearly half the book is taken up establishing characters and background. It isn’t until Will gets the bucket list that the story becomes something wonderful. For that reason, I don’t think it is outstanding enough to be Book of the Year.

But then I am often wrong…

July 16

Silver People by Margarita Engle

3260This book came across my desk just before I left on a LONG holiday. But even simply flicking through the pages and noting the author and publisher, clearly this was going to be a very special book. One copy went immediately to the top of the review pile, but the pile did not fit into the travel case. Back now – and in only a couple of hours I discovered that first impressions rang very true.

Time – early 20th century. Historical event – the building of the Panama Canal. Two boys from Caribbean islands get jobs on the digging crew, one with slave ancestors and the other descended from Spanish. Both are promised gold, but paid silver – hence the title. The gold was saved for the Americans who ran the machinery and supervised the work. In spite of strict segregation of the races, these boys become friends and help each other survive, and eventually escape to set up new lives in the New Panama.

This is written as a verse novel, not that any of the poetry rhymes. The technique allows the author great freedom to tell her story from many different points of view. Every alternate ‘chapter’ is actually narrated by the rainforest and the animals found within. New characters enter the story, and leave, simply and naturally.

I have read many verse novels over the years, but this one impressed more than most. Engle used visual as well as rhythmic techniques for her poetry. Sometimes I wanted to pause and just read that poem again, or the poem demanded to be read aloud. Someday I really really want to read one of howler monkey poems to a class. And the Tree Viper poem may only be a few words long, but it is very powerful.

As you can probably tell, I loved it.