I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

You never know, I tell myself.  One day there might be a few select people who’ll say, ‘Yes, Dylan was on the brink of stardom when he was nineteen.  Dali was well on his way to being a genius, and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for being the most important woman in history.  And at nineteen, Ed Kennedy found that first card in the mail.”

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver, sharing a shack with his ancient, reeking dog, The Doorman.  His life isn’t going much of anywhere at the moment:  he drives around business men and tries not to drive around people who look like they might throw up in his cab, suffers from unrequited love for his best friend, and meets his similarly unmotivated buddies to play cards every week. He’s pretty pitiful, by his own admission.  He doesn’t really do much with his life: that is, until the messages start coming to him.

After accidentally stumbling into a bank robbery, Ed starts receiving playing cards.  They’re messages, and following the clues in them leads him to people who need help: a lonely old woman.  A wife whose husband hurts her at night.  A priest who lives among those who need him most.  It’s up to Ed to figure out what he needs to do to reach out and solve their problems.  He’s no hero, but someone out there has chosen him to be the messenger.

Friends, this is my new favorite book.  I love it even more than The Book of Lost Thingsand here’s why: Ed is a self-professed loser, a nobody.  The best part of his day is sharing coffee with his enormous dog, or daydreaming about his best friend, who is dating someone else, and probably never going to fall for him.  His mother hates him because he reminds her of his dad.  He’s got no money, has terrible taste in jackets,  he’s bad in bed, and his life really isn’t going anywhere.  But do you know what is the best about Ed?  He is a kind, sincere guy.  He could have ignored the messages, or decided the people out there weren’t worth helping (especially after he gets beaten to a pulp by the brothers he was trying to help), but instead, he doesn’t.  So he goes quietly about, doing things like reading Wuthering Heights to an old lady and using all his money to throw a block party for a priest, all with no clue who is behind the mysterious messages.

I Am the Messenger champions the humble and honest among us, and without preaching, reminds us of the importance of reaching out to each other, even if our gestures may be small. Now, that may sound saccharine, but with Ed’s voice, it’s hilarious, and you won’t feel talked-down-to in the least. This is book whose message is that we are all in this together, so it’s best if we were gentle with one another.  And that, friends, is why it is my new favorite.

Happy Reading!

Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 357 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Author’s website.

If you liked this book, you should check out my other SUPER FAVORITE, Sorta Like a Rock Star.  It’s lighter than I Am the Messenger, but has the same belief in sincerity and hope, and I bet you’ll like it, too.  Other books with the same tone are Gone, Gone, Gone   and Everybody Sees the Ants.  I’d love to hear what you think!

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Image“He wished that he was with his mom in her library, where everything was safe and numbered and organized by the Dewey decimal system.  Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system.  That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.”

Ben’s mother worked as the librarian in their small town, until she died in an accident, leaving Ben alone and lost.  He never knew his dad.  Now he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are kind, but after losing his mom, he can’t help but wonder about his father: where is he?  Who is he? During a thunderstorm, he discovers a mysterious message that he thinks could be from his father, and he is determined to get to the bottom of things, even if it means getting to New York City on his own.

Half a century earlier, Rose is being pushed to learn to lipread.  She rebels, cutting up her lipreading primer and turning it into a diorama of New York.  She keeps a scrapbook of her favorite movie star, and goes to all her movies.  Even though she can’t hear, Rose can still go to silent movies, and read the dialogue, like everyone else.  When she sees a newspaper headline that says Lillian Mayhew, her heroine, will be in New York soon, Rose sets out for the big city.

Rose’s part of the book is told entirely with Selznick’s intricate, enchanting pencil sketches, while Ben’s storyImage is told with words.  The effect, much like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is rich; this, like its predecessor, is a book to be treasured.  Indeed, Wonderstruck shares several similarities with Selznick’s previous book:  orphan protagonists, museums, secret messages, and adventures that take place in very important cities. I especially loved that the two books were so similar, because I felt bereft after I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret, as though there was unlikely to ever be another book that made me feel the same way.  I shouldn’t have worried, though: with the release of Scorsese’s magical film rendition of Hugo, followed by Wonderstruck, the stories aren’t over.

ImageMy advice?  This is a book for sharing. Read it to your classroom after recess: the mystery will keep the students engaged, while the ethereal illustrations will inspire even the most timid budding artist.  Read it to your children, to anyone you love who cares about Deaf culture, dioramas, paper art, the American Museum of Natural History, libraries, adventures, thunderstorms, or New York. Read it with hot chocolate and a mind ready to marvel.  Selznick’s world is meaning-rich and stocked with secrets.  He is clearly an author that has not forgotten what it like to dream.  Let’s all hope he has another book dreamed up for us, and soon.

Happy Reading!

Wonderstruck website: http://www.wonderstruckthebook.com

Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. Scholastic Press: New York, 2011. 635 pp. (I promise, it doesn’t feel like it at all; you are going to wish it would last forever.)  Ages 10 and up.

If you liked this book, try The Invention of Hugo Cabret or the shorter graphic novel, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

“But a whole sea of monsters–how could you hide something like that?  Wouldn’t the mortals notice weird things happening…like, ships getting eaten and stuff?’

‘Of course they notice.  They don’t understand, but they know something is strange about that part of the ocean.  The Sea of Monsters is just off the east coast of the U.S. now, just northeast of Florida.  The mortals even have a name for it.’

‘The Bermuda Triangle?

‘Exactly.'”

I didn’t get to give this book as much attention as I wanted to; it was finals week, the last week before graduation, and I suddenly needed to find a job.  Then, my favorite nine-year-old, who often shares books with me, begged me to finish it, because he was just getting to his last few pages in the first book of the series, The Lightning Thief.  So, thanks to Sam, I had the motivation to get through this exciting book.  I’ll hand it off to him tonight, and then undoubtedly have to climb up the stairs and encourage him to stop reading and turn off the light at least three times before he falls asleep reading it.  That’s the best kind of sharing, I think.

Anyway, back to The Sea of Monsters.  This is the second in the series, and the story picks up at Percy’s new school.  When a routine dodgeball match gets ugly, and Percy and his team is attacked by a mob of cannibals, he’s forced to flee to the safety of Camp Half Blood.  However, things aren’t they way he left them last summer.  Something terrible has happened, and the magic borders that protect the campers are beginning to disintegrate.  Percy suspects a curse, or perhaps poison.  But if someone can’t lift the curse, there will be no safe place on earth left for the demigod campers, those children of mortals and gods.

So, Percy sets out on another dangerous quest.  His satyr friend, Grover, is in mortal peril.  Grover had been searching for Jason’s golden fleece, which has the powers to heal and rejuvenate the land.  In his attempts to grab the fleece and save Camp Half Blood, though, Grover has been taken prisoner by a giant cyclops.  The cyclops may not be bright, but he sure is mean…and hungry!  Percy and his friends must brave the Sirens’ tempting songs, many-headed monsters, giant whirlpools, and risk getting turned into guinea pigs, all in order to save a friend.

Older readers will appreciate the twists that Riordan applies to Greek mythology.  I, for one, loved The Odyssey, and this book covers a lot of the same adventures.  In a way, it’s almost better, because Riordan offers a lot of details, like why Circe wants to turn people into pigs (well, guinea pigs, in this case), and just exactly what the sirens’ song sounds like.  Also, I didn’t find that the book falls into the Middle Book trap.  You know, how the middle book of a trilogy can sometimes feel a little incomplete, because its beginning and end are taken care of in other volumes?  That is definitely not the case here; this is a short, fast-paced, adventure story, complete in its own right.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: www.rickriordan.com

Riordan, Rick. The Sea of Monsters. New York: Disney-Hyperion, 2006. 279 pp.  Grades 6-8

If you liked this book, be sure to check out the next in the series, calledThe Titan’s Curse.  Or, if you’ve read the entire series and everything else by Rick Riordan and you need something new, I really like Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer.  However, they might be for a slightly older crowd. But if that’s you, go for it!

Huntress by Malinda Lo

“The whole situation should be terrifying, but she felt a helpless surrender to it.  Here she was on this journey to a place that didn’t exist on their maps, and all around unseen things seemed to stare out at them day and night.  But there, not two feet away from her, was a girl who made her feel light-headed.”

Here’s the brand new Malinda Lo book, fresh off the press just this April!  I saw it at the library yesterday and spent all my spare seconds reading it.  Not that it was hard–I definitely didn’t want to put it down.  I feel like Malinda Lo really exceeded all of my expectations when it came to this book.  Even though it’s her second book, it’s set a few centuries before Ash, in the same land.

Here’s the story:  the Kingdom is in trouble.  The sun has faded to a nondescript gray, crops are failing, and people are starving.  Those worst off are beginning to revolt.  At the Academy, the leaders cast the stones of the Oracle.  Two seventeen-year-old girls, Kaede and Taisin, are chosen to undertake the perilous journey to the city of the Fairy Queen.  No one is sure what danger waits ahead, or even exactly where to go: some of the maps haven’t been updated in decades, back when the fairies and the humans had much more contact with each other.  So, with several escorts, the girls make their way over miles of terrain, facing cold, fear, wolves, a horrifying changeling baby, and worse.  As they travel together, the girls grow closer, and end up falling in love.

All right, I have to apologize.  My description of the plot is so, so lame compared to the actual story.  That’s why Malinda Lo is out there writing incredible adventure stories, and I’m just  here on this little blog, telling everyone how awesome she is.

Because, you know what?  She is awesome.  I want to live in her world, where there is no hate or homophobia and falling in love is just falling in love.  She makes a safe space for us, and I so appreciate it.  Many GLBT books deal with hatred, homophobia, social relationships, family tensions and bullying…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  However, in Lo’s world, there has been a paradigm shift, far away from all of that.  It’s just normal.  Some people are gay and some people are straight, and there’s really no discussion about it.

Here’s what she has to say about the world she creates:

“The difference is: in the world of my novels, being gay doesn’t matter.

What that means is that the characters are able to fall in love without dealing with homophobia. They don’t have to come out, because sexual orientation is never assumed in their worlds, and falling in love with someone of the same sex is seen as perfectly natural.”

Beautiful.

Besides all of that lovely business, the adventure is tight: no wasted words, no irrelevant plot detours, just pure action and excitement.  Halfway through the book, I started panicking that it was going to end.  It’s not a tired account of the same old symbols, either: Lo mixes in the I Ching, fairy tale elements, and an ice fortress that reminded me of a fantastic Celtic folk tale I read one time.  I can’t wait for her to write something else!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:  http://www.malindalo.com/

Lo, Malinda. Huntress. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2011. 371 pp.  Ages16 and up.

If you liked this book (and you’ve already read The Hobbit, which it partly reminded me of), you should try her first book, Ash.  If you’ve already read them both, and are looking for more fantasy, I really like the author Robin McKinley.  However, if you’re searching for more GLBT fantasy, I am actually not sure what else is out there.  If anyone knows of something along those lines, please share!

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

“If you were a god, how would you like being called a myth, an old story to explain lightning?  What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that someday people would call you a myth?”

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this incredible book!  Half the world has already finished it, and there’s already a movie version and I just picked up the book for the for the first time this weekend.  But you know what?  It’s so good that reading it was almost all I did today!  I fell asleep reading it last night and then woke up and started right up again.

You probably already all know the story better than I do, but I’ll summarize it quickly, just in case there’s another person out there who hasn’t read it yet.  Let’s see: Percy Jackson has troubles at school.  He’s been diagnosed as dyslexic and as having ADHD, and, well, it seems like the problems just find him.  For example, on a class field trip to the museum, his math teacher transforms into a ferocious, bloodthirsty Fury, like the ones from the Greek myths.  Unfortunately, no one believes Percy, and worse yet, no one even seems to notice anything unusual happening!  It seems like for all of his life these strange occurrences just follow him around.

Percy soon learns that he is a demigod, or the child of a god and a mortal.  In fact, his father is Poseidon, the god of the seas.  So, that’s the good news. There’s even a special camp for kids like him!   But Percy finds out that it’s not easy being only half mortal.  It isn’t long before he receives his first quest:  Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and the god is furious.  The camp counselors  thinks that Hades, god of the underworld, has it, but Zeus is convinced that Percy has stolen it.  So, the three major gods are just a few days away from an all-out war with each other, and Percy has to figure out a way to find the master bolt, return it to Zeus, and save the world.  And you thought sixth grade was hard!

I loved the mix of Greek myths and modern setting.  Some of my favorite parts of the book were when the gods and goddesses adapted to life in the 21st century, resulting in places such as Medusa’s snack bar or “Crusty’s” (the god Procrustes) water bed store.  The plot is complicated, but not confusing, the characters are believable, and the action is nonstop. Percy’s relationships with his friends and mother are realistic and really add a lot of depth to a story.  This isn’t just an empty adventure tale that skimps on the characters.  I ordered the next two books in the series, and I can’t wait to read them, though maybe I should hold off on starting them until I get some more homework done.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.rickriordan.com/home.aspx

Riordan, Rick.  The Lightning Thief. New York: Hyperion Books, 2005.  375 pp.  Ages 10 and up.

If you liked this book, check out the rest of the series!  You can start with Sea of Monsters, and then The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian.  And, if you finish with those, I love The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.