Thursday, February 4, 2016

Reading Roundup: YA Edition

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason is the first in the Stoker & Holmes mystery series—a genre I constantly try to refresh in my library! Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes carry famous names, and being sister to the famous Bram Stoker and niece to the infamous Sherlock Holmes often puts them in rather bizarre situations. When two high society girls go missing, Evaline and Mina find themselves entangled in the investigation. Total opposites at the core (Mina's the brain, Evaline the brawn), the two must work together, despite their differences, as they've been tasked with this case that may end up being their downfall.

The setup for this story is great. You've got two well-known literary figures, and the author took a creative turn with a pop culture establishment. Further, it's not just your basic Victorian mystery; it's Victorian steampunk, with a hint of mysticism. The execution, though, wasn't as strong. Our main characters are quickly defined, but there is little further development. The plot is so-so with an unnecessary romance that is forced from the very beginning. These "heroines" exhibit their flaws—I'll pass it off as inexperience in this, their first adventure together—but I would like to have seen more growth and empowerment as young women in these roles. Perhaps that will happen in future titles. Definite potential.

Isabel's War by Lila Perl is historical fiction set in New York during World War II. Isabel is a Jewish girl living in the Bronx that loves French class and is more focused on boys and clothes than the war happening across the ocean. Things change, though, when a friend of the family from Germany, Helga, comes to stay with Isabel's family. Just a couple years older, Helga has lived a vastly different life than Isabel's sheltered one in New York. As Isabel learns more about Helga's life as a Jew in Nazi Germany, she begins to realize that her lucky fate as a New Yorker is the only thing protecting her from the fear and hardship Helga has suffered.

Though less well-known, Isabel's War is a great novel for young readers about this era in history. Isabel is your typical self-centered preteen, in the way natural to all young'uns who lack an awareness and understanding of events and lives outside of theirs. This perspective of hers is an important one for readers to know, and the book does a good job of establishing the significance of the war even though it felt distant to a person in Isabel's position. Hopefully, by the end, the reader will grow awareness, as Isabel did. The story itself also had enough of a "mystery" to keep the reader wanting to know more about Helga and her past. A fast read, but a pretty good one.

Sophie Kinsella's YA debut, Finding Audrey, tells the story of 14-year-old Audrey who's used to living her life in fear. It stems from a bullying-related incident at school (one about which we never actually get all the details), and she's been pretty much debilitated by a severe anxiety disorder ever since. I'm talking pulled out of school, unable to go outside, forever hiding behind a pair of over-sized sunglasses. She's been working with a therapist named Dr. Sarah, making the "two steps forward-one step back" kind of progress, and her family has been super supportive—when mom, dad, and brother aren't embattled in their never-ending duel of short tempers and snark, that is. Amidst the sometimes-chaos at home, Audrey meets Linus, her brother's gaming partner and the first person that has some success with (inadvertently) coaxing Audrey out from behind the shades.

I think my experience with this book would've been different had I not been reading it as one of the Battle of the Books titles for my middle school students. First off, the author is British (you know her from Shopaholic), so naturally the dialogue and humor follow. My inner-city, American middle schoolers do not get the references, slang, etc. So thinking of them reading, I was kinda like, "Oof, that's lost on them." Secondly, there is language! And it's used very casually, whereas we'd definitely write referrals for kids speaking similarly! There's a very gray line of "appropriateness" for middle school libraries, and I was a little concerned "endorsing" this by way of it being an official read for an event sponsored by my district/public library.

But all of that is to say I think this is definitely a YA novel. I'm glad to read a story about a condition and experience that is common but often "taboo," for whatever reason, to discuss openly. I think it's important to address disorders, like anxiety, more often so that any stigma surrounding them, whatever "they" may be, decreases and eventually disappears. Loads of people suffer anxiety; I had my own lapse of attacks late in college. They are not fun. But reading about it definitely helped. Important book, especially for the right reader.

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