Posted by: Katie B | June 7, 2013

Batch #1: Know Your VCFA Faculty

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In my last post, I set up a challenge to read books by each of the VCFA faculty members teaching in the July ’13 residency.  I have reviewed so many books at this point, I can’t possible list them all in one post.  Instead, I’ll be submitting them in batches.  While it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I was still so awed by the variety of style and content and by the extraordinary writing in this collection.  Every single book was unique, distinctive, and gripping in its own way.  Try some.  You’ll be amazed, too!

Books I Like A Lot:

If It Doesn’t Kill You by Margaret Bechard.  Young Adult. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again: I wish we had books that addressed social issues such as this one when we were growing up.  We simply didn’t talk about them; they were taboo.  And we all suffered because of it. In this story, the football star father of a football playing freshman in high school (whose grandfather was a winning football coach) comes out to his wife and child that he’s gay, that he can’t live the lie anymore, and he leaves to go live with his partner. Interesting, no?

Hanging On To Max by Margaret Bechard.  Young Adult.  Here’s another fresh, invoking tale. A 17-year-old teenage father files for custody of his son when the 17-year-old mother decides to put him up for adoption.  Different from all the sensationalized TV dramas surrounding teen parents, this book explores just how hard it is to be a new parent and to juggle all the responsibilities – especially when you’re still a kid yourself.

The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr.  Young Adult.  Juxtaposing the world of chess masters and serious ballerinas is not something I would have ever considered.  Yet, this fascinating book about the sacrifices and joys of extreme commitment to excellence had me flipping pages.  While the characters involved were in their upper teens, the decisions they struggle with are relevant at any age.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. Young Adult.  The stylized, almost simplistic, language used in this story immediately sets the tone of an adult, twisted version of an old-fashioned fairy tale.  The cursed girl, the town witch, who falls in love with Lord Death.  Fabulous.  I’m always fascinated by writing styles which transport you into another time, primarily because they are incredibly hard to pull off.  When they look easily done, as this one is, you know just how much work went into it.

Pearls: A Faerie Strand by Louise Hawes.  Young Adult.  This title is a little deceiving as this book isn’t so much a Faerie book as a collection of retold fairy tales, and it’s fabulous.  The author takes several classics, including Cinderella and Snow White, and retells them from different perspectives, like from the point of view of Prince Charming or Erin the dwarf.  What results are beautiful tales, freshly unique, with subtle references to the familiar storyline.  Oh, and her writing style and word choice – exceptional.

Kendra by Coe Booth.  Young Adult.  Hands down, what sets Coe Booth’s novels apart is the voice of her characters and the realistic, sometimes sloppy and mistake-filled way they handle what life has offered them.   The main characters in Kendra, as in Tyrell, are teenaged kids from the Bronx who come from poverty and broken homes.  Their vernacular is authentic without being distracting – a perfect setting.  The circumstances they find themselves in remind you that for all the ways our lives may be different, in some ways, we are all dealing with the same issues.

Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami.  Middle Grade.  Any book that takes place in a different country is immediately fascinating to me, especially when it’s a country I will most likely never get to see (in this case, India).  The main character is struggling with her relationship with her parents after their divorce, a relatable theme among middle grade readers.  What makes this book unique is the multi-cultural backstory, although the conflicts introduced are universal.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami.  Middle Grade.  Another all-time favorite middle grade book that I’d recommend to anyone without hesitation.  No pet peeves; relatable, appropriate conflicts; upbeat, humorous writing – this book has it all!  And it’s set in another country, which makes it all the more fascinating.

Attack of the Mutant Underwear by Tom Birdseye.  Middle Grade.  So fun.  What can I say?  I’d easily recommend this book to any middle grade boy or girl.  It has none of my pet peeves (dead parents, dying parents, bad language, inappropriate social references) and had a nice moral gently woven into the story.

The Several Lives of Orphan Jack by Sarah Ellis.  Middle Grade.  Another great book for both middle grade boys and girls.  The story is light, funny, has an interesting theme, and the playful language slips in new vocabulary in a way that any level reader can understand.

Rex Zero and The End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones.  Middle Grade.  For anyone looking for fun, light, boy-centric middle grade fiction that is not fantasy, this book is for you.  The storyline is cute and believable even in its unbelievable moments.  I liked that it captured that summer-break spirit of adventure with a nice dose of kid-like make-believe.

Some of the Kinder Planets by Tim Wynne-Jones.  Middle Grade.  I’ve stumbled across several compilations of short stories for young readers, and after reading this collection, I’m hooked.  What a perfect bedtime read!  Each night a different story – that you start and finish before you have to turn out the light!  With this grouping in particular, I’m noticing a freedom that I don’t always see in novels.  The themes are a little different, a little quirky.  Maybe because the author can explore an idea which interests them without having to blow it out into 150 pages?  Whatever the reason, we’re luckier for it.

Books I Enjoyed (but could put down to go to sleep):

Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye.  Middle Grade.  This was an incredibly well-written, fast-paced, adventure book about extreme mountain climbing.  The only reason in didn’t make it into my “top-picks” list is that I have a queasy-stomach thing when it comes to people dealing with life-and-death situations on a mountain.  But, for anyone into mountaineering, this is a great book.

The Maestro by Tim Wynne-Jones.  Middle Grade.  This is another really well-written book that missed my “top-picks” list simple because the topic unsettled me a little.  Set in the wilder parts of Canada, this book appeals to anyone fascinated by life in the “outback”.  The main character comes from an abusive household, which is what distanced me from the tale.  Although, he does make his way in the end.


Responses

  1. I’ve been eyeing Pearl: A Faerie Strand. It was at the Princeton bookstore (Labyrinth, have you been? An AMAZING bookstore. We used to drive down monthly to visit).

    Love Naming Maya, but I haven’t had a chance to read her Grand Plan to Fix Everything. It will be on my to-read list. Along with a few other you mentioned. Thanks.


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