- Always be trying to read one more book than I have already read this year.
Read whatever feels good to read and will make me want to keep reading.
More on the rationale behind these rules later.
Bruno and his brother Sylvio are the new kids at Suburban High this year, but they quickly make friends with the remaining members of The Rosary, a clique steeped in elegant, dark music and culture. Sylvio has always had those interests, but Bruno finds himself suddenly drawn to them – perhaps because of his powerful attraction to Celia, the protagonist from The Suburban Strange. Through his connection with Celia and his interactions with the school librarian, Bruno discovers that his intuitive understanding of maps has a supernatural source. He has to use these skills and his new understanding of the supernatural realm of the Kind and Unkind to help him solve two mysteries: why students around school are receiving “kiss notes” from a ghost and then discovering loved ones betraying them, and why kids all over the school are suddenly finding themselves deeply depressed.
My relationship with the author:
You should know that I can’t be unbiased about this book. Nathan Kotecki is my friend (see more about how we met in my review of The Suburban Strange). I’m listed in the acknowledgments. So if you’re looking for an unbiased review, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the honest perspective of the friend of the author who’s also a former high school teacher and school librarian, well, you’ve come to the right place.
What I love:
How my wish from last time got fulfilled:
What I need to warn you about:
A friend from high school recently connected me with the mermaiding community, where I learned about Raina the Halifax Mermaid’s book, “Fishy” Business: How to Be a Mermaid. Raina includes a list of recommended mermaid fiction, but even more useful, she provides the URL for this Goodreads list of the Best Mermaid Books.
As I’ve watched my former school library and classroom teacher colleagues chat about their summer plans on Facebook, I’ve occasionally had a twinge of longing for the times before I was a twelve-month university employee. That said, I wouldn’t trade my excellent job and full-time employment for anything, so I’m looking for ways to capture the feel of a summer vacation that match my current schedule. I think reading a giant stack of mermaid books (especially on my upcoming beach vacation) is a great way to get the job done.
So stay tuned for reports on mermaid reads. What are you going to read this summer?
Celia Balaustine is entering her sophomore year of high school, but it’s her first year at Suburban High. She’s all set to spend the year trying to be as invisible as possible, with only her sketchbook for a friend, when fellow artist Regine takes her under her wing and introduces her to a clique called The Rosary. The members of The Rosary are interested in dark alternative culture, including literature, fashion, and music. They pride themselves on being different from the other kids in their school. But as different as her friends are from the rest of their classmates, Celia can’t help but be drawn into the school’s drama as young girls begin to be gravely injured on the eve of their sixteenth birthday. She wants to stop these incidents from happening, as well as protect herself from becoming the curse’s next victim. But can she?
My relationship with the author:
Before I jump into telling you what I loved about this book (and there’s a lot), I need to tell you how it came to my attention. My former supervisor Emily (whose old job I now hold) contacted me and told me that her friend was having his first book released soon and would love to get a big name to be present at his book release party, and she knew I had connections in the YA lit world and thought I might have some suggestions. After some back and forth, Emily and Nathan and I sat down for lunch so he could pick my brain for my expertise as both a kidlit blogger and a school librarian (by training if not position). Over the course of the conversation it came out that we are both seekrit goths, me coming at it more from the fashion angle and him from music, with both of us crossing over into the other interest some. I confessed my lack of education on the music part of things, and he assured me that he could fix that. So, yes, I do have mix CDs that serve as, essentially the soundtrack for this book. Yes, the author treated me to lunch since I am helping him with publicity. Yes, I felt like it would be good if I liked this book.
So know all of that, because I don’t want to deceive you about my relationship with this book.
What I loved:
What I’d like to see more of:
What I need to warn you about:
This book is deliberately paced. There was definitely a point at which I thought, “Okay, I see why the Amazon reviewers complained about it being slow.” That said, it’s all leading somewhere and it’s all valuable. If I were doing reader’s advisory, I wouldn’t hand this to somebody looking for fast-paced action. I would hand it to somebody looking for atmospheric spookiness.
The big climax and resolution of the mystery are not why you want to read this book. They are of course very important to have, but what’s going to keep you interested is the mood and the world-building. Don’t jump in here expecting a typical suspense thriller. If you ran the numbers, I suspect you’d find mystery resolution takes up a very small percentage of pages or words here. But the supernatural element is woven throughout.
My favorite quotes:
“We’re a set of small black shiny beads who string around together, finding beauty the rest of the world has overlooked.” (p. 5 in the ARC)
“We’re in high school. Of course we’re egocentric,” Ivo replied matter-of-factly. (p. 83 in the ARC)
Who should read it:
I would recommend The Suburban Strange to readers who like books with a lot of atmosphere, a little mystery, and a slow but sustained reveal of supernatural elements.
Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. Carolrhoda Books. 2009. Library copy. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).
In Written in Bone, Sally M. Walker explores what scientists learned from excavating graves in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. They book examines not only burial practices, but also the evidence these excavations provide about lifestyles in the Colonial era.
Spooky Factor: Any time the pitch for a book begins with, “So, we exhumed some corpses…” your spooky kids are going to be on board. I myself think it’d be fun to read this, then write an essay called, “What I Learned from Dead People.”
On to the reviews!
Did you know that sometimes people used their cellars not to store food but as a trash dump? An archaeologist explains, “people lived upstairs and dumped fish parts and pig parts and chamber pot contents and goodness knows what else down there.”
Imagine that. Imagine dumping that refuse in your cellar. Wouldn’t it smell? How healthy would that be? Why would you do that? And then I thought about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books where the Ingalls were snowed in for days and days and days. As a grown up rereading the series, I’d wondered, where did they put the trash? Go to the bathroom? Is that why a basement was used as a trash pit? And then… as the chapter reveals… a body was buried in the basement. Treated like garbage. Hidden. Unknown. For hundreds of years, until the secret was revealed. What was it like, to live in that house? To know that body was there?
When I first had heard about this book, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I am pleased with this and found myself really fascinated with what archaeologists do with human remains. I think that this book has a huge appeal, both to those interested in history and science, as well as those interested in the all-too-common “something different.” Oh, and boys will eat this one up! This is a book about people doing something and it gives boys tools to learn with (I mean, there’s also really cool images of skulls and bones, too).
Colorful pictures and flowing prose explains the process of excavating and studying a grave site, and explains how the details observed and analyzed tells us about life in colonial Virginia and Maryland.
…profusely illustrated with photos of skulls and skeletons…
Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian at Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol at lectitans
Vera was kind enough to answer seven questions for me for the SBBT.
Why did you choose to create Anya’s Ghost in black and white?
I honestly didn’t think it needed color. Full-color can really add a lot to a story especially when it takes place in an interesting location or fantastic world, but for this particular one I feel like it would’ve been superfluous. The monochromatic palette served the mood of the story, I think. And it would’ve made the coloring take twice as long.
In addition to creating comics and graphic novels, you are a professional animator. In Anya’s Ghost and the art on your website, you create a sense of movement in still images. How do the skills required for comics and animation overlap?
I’m actually a story artist rather than an animator, though I went to school for animation. [K: My bad!] In college I learned that the part of the process I enjoyed the most was the storyboarding part, so that’s what I went into. I didn’t have the patience for animating! I think animation made me a much faster and more flexible artist – when you have to do thousands of drawings you can’t fuss with them too much. It also taught me how to be efficient in communicating with a drawing. I started focusing less on making a pretty picture and more on telling some kind of story with it. That definitely carried over into my illustration and comics work. I feel like the same part of my brain gets used for storyboarding and comics.
Like you, Anya came to America at the age of 5. A lot of Anya’s concerns over her appearance and behavior are magnified by the fact that she comes from a Russian family. How do you think having this extra level of being different affects common teenage concerns?
It’s just one more thing making life difficult. Anything that makes you in any way different from everyone else makes you a target, and when your skin is bad and your clothes are fitting weird you don’t want to pile anything else on top of that. I didn’t have a hard time about being Russian but I was constantly aware that my home life didn’t exactly match that of my friends, and a part of me definitely wished it did. Of course it depends on where you live. I went to a high school in Brooklyn where there was a huge immigrant population and being from another country didn’t cause problems – at most it just dictated what group you’d be friends with.
While Anya’s worries are common to most teenagers, Anya’s Ghost adds a supernatural element to issues of friendship and peer pressure. What do you think is powerful about using the supernatural to tell this kind of story?
Part of the reason I added the paranormal element to the story was to make it more fun for me! Regular old school drama is all well and good but I don’t really get excited unless there’s something weird or creepy going on. And Emily served as a way to reflect all of Anya’s bad traits back at her, so that she could get a good honest look at herself. That would’ve been possible to do with a non-ghost character but it made sense for me to do that with someone who literally didn’t have a life of their own.
On your website, you feature fan art for other works such as Scott Pilgrim and The Hunger Games. Who are some of your favorite artists and writers? What about their work inspires you?
I’m a big fan of Fred Moore and Earl Oliver Hurst, both of whom drew lovely lady illustrations. Jillian Tamaki is one of my favorite modern illustrators – I love her embroidered Penguin covers and her amazing ink work. There’s a Czech illustrator named Stepan Zavrel who did the most amazing watercolors – I’d love to get some of that looseness into my own work. And I’m friends with some phenomenal artists – Jon Klassen, Chris Turnham, Steve Wolfhard, Emily Carroll… so I am constantly inspired by them. Writer-wise, I really like Haruki Murakami’s books. Before that I read Dracula and Geek Love. Right now I’m working through the Song of Ice & Fire books. I usually want to draw a picture to go along with whatever I’m reading just to get it out of my head!
A lot of your art, such as your collaborative Tumblr blog Draw this dress! and your many circus-themed pieces, draws on vintage imagery. What is it about these images from the past that appeals to you?
I love fashion. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was little (as well as an animator and a children’s book illustrator and probably a vet or something). Though really I think what I meant was costume design – I love anything that tells a story and clothes can absolutely do that. Vintage clothes tell you about the kind of person who wore them, what their life was like, what was going on in the world at the time… it’s really easy and fun to insert a character into them, which is what Draw This Dress is all about. Modern fashion can be a lot of fun too but there’s definitely more variety if you’re borrowing from the past.
When you were in high school, you created the webcomic Return to Sender. What did you learn from this experience that has helped you in your career?
Haha! I kind of learned what not to do. I did that comic before school and the whole thing was a very fussily-drawn, poorly-planned experiment. I generally knew where the story was going but putting it up online one page at a time was not the best way to do tell it – once a page was up it was up, there was no going back and reworking things to improve the story. Maybe for a comic strip that would’ve been okay but I was essentially trying to make a graphic novel. It reached a point where it had gotten sloppy and I got too busy with school to deal with fixing it so I just stopped. I’m much more careful with plotting now and try to think of a book as a whole, rather than a series of installments. And I stopped using those darn Micron pens!