My Sister, My Daughter

Sometimes, as bloggers, we have different hats that are not quite “either” sister “or” daughter. One can be both! (Quick, who gets the movie reference?)

Lenore at Presenting Lenore is a book blogger whose debut novel, Level Two, is being published by Simon & Schuster BFYR in 2012. This brings about the dilemma: can one be an author AND a book reviewer? In true blogger fashion, Lenore shares her thoughts about it.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this one; it’s a gray area. Do authors review books in traditional, mainstream media (i.e., not blogs or their own websites)? Heck, yes. Why not on blogs?

But, people are human — if someone feels hurt by something that is said about them or their book, will they remember that? Depends on the person, the book, the comment. “Cannot write their way out of a paper bag” would probably be remembered, and if you meet that author at a cocktail party, it would be foolish to say “can you watch my drink for me.” I also imagine that the author writing reviews for mainstream publications has an editor that will say “instead of the paper bag quote, can you give an example of the plot not working” or somesuch to change the review into something more critical and less pure snark.

What I like about blog reviews are the variety of experiences and education and knowledge that bloggers bring to what they write. It’s not all lockstep, cookie cutter thoughts. One of those experiences is, well, that of being an author. One reason I find the National Book Awards fascinating is it’s writers reading writers, and I do believe they approach a book a bit differently than non-writers. Which is good, and I wouldn’t want authors voices to disappear from the book blogging world.

Back to Lenore’s question. Go, click through to her blog post and read the comments: there’s a lot of food for thought there.


Review: The Returning

The Returning by Christine Hinwood. Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher from ALA conference.

The Plot: A young man comes home from war, returning to the small village he left as a boy. At first it seems that only Cam Attling, missing an arm, has been changed by the war, but it touches all in both large and small ways. People are freed from doing what they had always done, being who everyone expected them to be. Some changes are internal: the realization that one can leave, whether it’s leaving an abusive husband or just wanting a different life than one’s parents. Others are more obvious: a young woman, alone and abused, determinedly creating her own future; a second son suddenly becomes the heir; an arranged marriage upsets all a girl thought she knew about life, love and family.

The Good: How to explain this book? How to get you to read it, because, yes, I want you to. How to convey how much I love this book, and this writing, even though it was not easy. In truth, when I began I felt a bit cold towards it. I wasn’t sure when or where I was, just a place that was vaguely pre-Industrial and with some names vaguely familiar (Cam, Graceful) and others not at all (Pin, Edord, Vivrain.) Just close enough to something known (Edward, Vivian), yet not, to be discomforting. So, too, the geography — there is a Downlander Village and the talk of war, the war between the Uplanders and the Downlanders, with the Uplanders triumphant. (Note I read the ARC, which had neither the maps, table of contents, nor character list of the final version.)

The story is about Cam, about Cam’s return, and how war impacted him and others, but The Returning dances around this, first telling us a story from the point of view of his young sister who sees Cam as a stranger, then from Graceful, the young girl he’d been betrothed to before he left for war, from others of the Village, with Cam figuring in their stories at least a little. Karyn at Someday My Printz Will Come was enthusiastic and I respect her opinion about books and the language and craft of the book was lovely, so I kept reading.

And then, it all just — clicked. Part of it had to do with realizing that I had to stop putting expectations on this book, about what it would or would not be, and just let it enfold me. Just let myself sink into Cam’s world without worrying about who was a main character and who wasn’t, and whether this world was European or Asian or something else. And I realized that what The Returning was about, was not Cam, or Pin, or Graceful, but was about war, and the impact of war on regular people and regular lives. The people who stay in the same village, well, as Cam’s mother wisely says, “there’ve always been taxes, new Lord or old.” Their losses are in the generation of men that did not come home; Cam alone returned. For others, those displaced, like young Diido, the loss is of home and comfort and security. There are families like Graceful’s that now have opportunities they would not have had before.

The reader learns more about Cam about a third of the way through, when his story takes center stage. Why did he go to fight, what he feels when he returns, and, most importantly, the ties he has with the “enemy” Uplanders are explored in rich detail as Cam tries to find his place in this new world. It’s not just the loss of his arm that prevents him from being the farmboy he was.

The Returning is a fantasy only in the sense that it is not our world; there is a medieval feel to this time and place, but no single thing ties it to our world enough to call it an alternate history. It is the villages changed by the War of the Roses, the aftermath of the Norman Invasion, the new Tudor rulers, World War I battle devastation. By removing the Lancasters, the Yorks, and any other familiar touchstone or name or place, Hinwood creates a place where the reader does not associate any one person or side with the “winner” or “loser,” the “good” or the “bad.” It answers the questions that I, as a history reader, wonder about – what happens to the people after the battles are fought? How do they live that next day, next month, next year?

The Returning was first published in 2009, in Australia, under the title Bloodflower. This is a situation where I like both covers, and each coveys a truth about the book, just different truths.

Because it managed to make me fall in love with it after I had already made up my mind not to like it. Because when I fell, I fell hard. Because Diido’s journey renewed my faith in people. Because there are is no good or evil, just people and power. Because it illustrated the power of choice, even when it seems there are no choices to be had. Because this world is fully realized and unique. For all these reasons, The Returning is a Favorite Book Read in 2011.

Review: The Map of My Dead Pilots

The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska by Colleen Mondor. Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. An adult nonfiction title, this is part of my “Holiday Reads” series; adult books to read and enjoy over the holiday.

It’s About:  The myths and realities of flying in Alaska is explored, using the time period of the 1990s when Mondor worked for “the Company,” an Alaskan commuter and charter airline. In attempting to understand those who fly in the dangerous Alaskan conditions, the risks they take, and the reasons they crash, Mondor also looks at the past and the first Alaskan flights in the 1920s. This is as much about story, and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives and our choices, as it is about the high-risk stakes of flying in Alaska.

The Good: Writing the brief synopsis of this book was hard, because I kept wondering if my words (“the high-risk stakes of flying in Alaska“) added to the myths that Mondor writes against.

The Map of My Dead Pilots is not a linear autobiography of Mondor’s time in Alaska in the 1990s. It does not begin with her arrival in Alaska commenting on the cold, it does not say why she went to Alaska, it does not go day by day, month by month, year by year. It’s not that type of book. Rather than a straight line, The Map of My Dead Pilots is a series of interlocked circles, linked stories that talk about the pilots, their flights, their crashes, why they flew and why they crashed. Stories that are about real people and real things, so they overlap and run into one another, have nothing to do with each other and everything to do with each other.

The myth of Alaska looms behind the story, and it’s a big myth, so Mondor wisely only looks at the myth as it applies to one area: flying. The myth is why some went to Alaska, why they went there to fly, and why the stayed. “It was the place where pilots were needed, where they mattered.” Myths are stories, and for Mondor and her pilots, the story matters. Why did a pilot, a friend, crash? What does “pilot error” mean? “Because he was lucky, he thought he was good.” True of pilots, but also true of anyone, and also true of how we choose to interpret our lives. How are our stories told and retold? For one particular crash where a pilot crashed into the Yukon River, different pilots have different stories of why the crash occurred, and each story is based on their own flying experiences, what they would or would not have done when the moment comes when there is the realization that something is wrong.

So the stories are told, by Mondor and her pilots, living and dead, attacking some myths (when is something a “life saving” mission and when is it to meet a contract to get paid?) yet repeating others: pilots who go to Alaska and and find that their comfort zones about what is and is not safe shifting, and “before they knew it, each of them was taking off in conditions that seemed unacceptable just a few weeks before.”

The writing in The Map of My Dead Pilots is beautiful; it tells about cold beyond cold, of cargo, of mail and corpses and dogs, and even a head in a box, as well as the planes, the pilots, the flights, and the history. From page one, it brings you into the story; I thought I was there, with Mondor and her friends Sam and Bryce and the other men. By jumping right into the stories, and following the emotional story arc rather than a linear one, Mondor includes the reader. “My” dead pilots does not mean Mondor’s dead pilots; it is the reader’s dead pilots as well. We are part of the myth-making and myth-breaking. “They came [to Alaska] for a thousand different reasons, but they stayed for one: Not one of them had anywhere else to go.”

I’ll end with what may be my favorite passage, because it is about how we use story to interpret our lives, and while Mondor is writing about flying I think it’s universal: “There are two ways to tell a flying story: the truth and what everyone wants to hear. You can’t have it both ways. The best stories try to walk a fine line, keep it real while making it funnier than it was, less frightening than you remember it. . . . But I think if you tell a story enough, you can find the truth in it: you can find the way it really was and not just how you wanted it to be. The lies in a story don’t come from writing it was better. They come from knowing it wasn’t.”

Disclaimer: I’ve been on-line friends with the author, Colleen Mondor, for several years. We met in-person for the first time at KidLitCon 2011.

Review: Carter’s Big Break

Carter’s Big Break by Brent Crawford. Hyperion. 2010. Brilliance Audiobook. 2011. Narrated by Nick Podehl. Reviewed from audiobook from Brilliance.

The Plot: Will Carter survived his freshman year — he’s got his friends, he’s got his girl, and he even passed all his classes. Sweet! What could be sweeter? How about starring in a movie? You heard me right! In this sequel to Carter Finally Gets It, Carter finds himself starring in in a movie with teen sweetheart, Hilary Idaho.

The Good: Carter, Carter, Carter. As with the first book, I listened to the audiobook narrated by the brilliant Nick Podehl. Podehl does such a terrific job of channeling Carter that I sometimes thought I was carpooling to work as the book played. He captures Carter’s attitude, his bravado, his sweetness, and his general, inevitable tendency to be a total dumbass. Just as important, Podehl had me laughing so hard I was crying. Carter is — well, he’s a teenage boy. He sometimes talks before he thinks. Acts before he thinks. He is often clueless. But, underneath the friendly insults with his friends and his fumbling romance with Abby, he is a good, sweet boy (who would hate me saying so).

I was a little hesitant about the sequel, because it seemed to be a literary equivalent of  The Brady Bunch Hawaiian Bound. Carter’s strength is that he is a typical teenage boy in a typical suburb. Really, I wondered, does it have to have that, well, surrealness added to what is otherwise a very grounded in reality book? Silly me; I  should have paid more attention to the author’s website. See, here’s the thing: Brent Crawford is an actor. Carter’s Big Break is full of details that show Crawford knows the business, and not just from sitting in a movie theatre watching a film. His portrayal of teenage actors and producers and others related to movie making further reflect his insider’s knowledge. At the same time, Crawford doesn’t take the business too seriously; part of the fun is Carter screwing up and the movie director misinterpreting and believing Carter is the next Daniel Day-Lewis or Marlon Brando.

Carter lives in the type of town where a bunch of teenage boys get on their skateboards and bikes and don’t come home until dinner. Despite the Hollywood in this book, the best moments are still ones about friendship, about Carter’s family, about his love for Abby. About Carter’s tendency to do and say the absolute wrong thing. While listening to Podehl, it was easy to picture Carter and his friends — so easy, that I began to wish that these books would be turned into a TV series.

Because sometimes, you just need to laugh so much it hurts. Because Carter is like so many teens, trying to be tough and mature and to know all the answers. Because at the end of the day, there is a bit of dumbass in each of us. This is a Favorite Book  Read in 2011.

Reading Books

As some of you may know (or have guessed), I love books, I love to read, and I love the role that libraries and librarians serve in the lives of readers.

One of my pet peeves (I have so many I should run a zoo) is when that role isn’t recognized or is downplayed. Sometimes it’s “anyone who reads can do readers advisory,” so who needs librarians? That’s a bit like saying anyone who eats can cook. Reading is about “me,” what I want and enjoy in a story; readers advisory is about “you,” what you want and enjoy in a story. Me is not you.

Other times its, “it’s really easy for people to find the books they want to read so they don’t need librarians or libraries.” I file that under, “you really don’t understand how people find books” folder. (How people find what they read, what influences them, how they’re not even aware of it (i.e., paid promotion in bookstores), is far from simple. That it’s invisible and hard to define does not mean it’s nonexistent and easy to do.)

Do libraries downplay it? Well, how many times do you see “readers advisory” included in “what’s amazing about libraries?” Nowadays, the main talking points for libraries seem to be information, knowledge, technology, and community — all good and admirable — but it leaves no room for the reader, unless there happens to be some overlap with one those four points.

So, it was with a lot of agreement that I read Laura Pearle’s The Role of Reading at the Venn Librarian (and not just because she highlighted one of my tweets on this subject). Here are some highlights, but please read the whole thing: “Yet for some reason, our role in reading has been diminished and unstressed.” “Reader’s Advisory is one of the few school librarian skills that cannot be outsourced to others. Many (most?) English/Language Arts teachers aren’t really up on what’s New! Wonderful! in the world of ya or children’s literature. Not only that, those teachers rarely allow students to just read the book, they want analysis and thoughtfulness.” Laura’s final words, “What I’m saying is, what better way to make yourself essential to the school than by creating passionate readers who will advocate for you when they tell their teachers and parents that you provided them with their current great read?” can also apply to public libraries.

If passionate readers make passionate library users, why isn’t readers advisory given more respect in the greater libraryworld? (And if you think it is, please, leave the links to reassure me of that!)

Review: Saving June

Saving June by Hannah Harrington. Harlequin Teen. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Nine days before her high school graduation, Harper Scott’s older sister June commits suicide.

Harper, 16, doesn’t understand. June was the good, popular, nice sister; Harper is the unmotivated disappointment.

Harper’s family is no help: her father is with his new,  younger girlfriend; her mother is either drinking too much  wine or going to Church with Aunt Helen. The last straw is when her divorced parents decided to split June’s ashes into two urns, one for each of them. Harper decides to take June’s ashes to California, the place June never saw, the place she was obsessed with.

It’s a crazy plan, but luckily Harper’s best friend Laney is always up for an adventure, and Jack Tolan, the boy with the mysterious connection to June, offers up his van. The three take off to make June’s  California dreams come true.

The Good: Road trip! Just your typical road trip with a boy, a girl, a best friend, a soundtrack and an urn of ashes. (Yes, I’m listening as I write this up). The road trip, like any good road trip, includes parties, a political protest, a concert, and a FridgeHenge. Of course, no road trip is just the literal getting from “here” to “there”; it’s also about the physical and psychological journey.

Harper’s internal journey is about coming to terms with who she is, not just someone who created a persona in opposition to her sister June. It’s learning to live a life without June. It’s trying to understand June; who she was, what she did, and why.

Getting to know Jake means learning more about June. It also means learning more about Jake. Harper finds herself attracted to Jake, making Harper wonder what, exactly, was the relationship between Jake and her sister and if Jake likes Harper for Harper, or just because she is June’s sister.

Harper is hurting; at times, she is prickly and rude. The journey Harper takes is not out of her grief; it’s learning how to live with her grief. Harper is fortunate to have Laney as a friend, because, well, Laney understands and when she doesn’t understand, puts up with it. She lets Harper be Harper; in return, Harper lets Laney be Laney. Like any good road trip book, each participant has their own journey, and Laney has her own path to figure out.

What else? Jake’s passion is music, all types of music (well, except for Top 40, of course!) Music is how he connects to life, and the music he shared with June, and shares with Harper, is significant. Luckily, the reader doesn’t have to go through Saving June with a highlighter. Playlists are included at the end of the book.

Review: The Piper’s Son

Today the One Shot World Book Tour is: Book City! The list of participating blogs is over at Chasing Ray.

I’ve chosen a city I’ve never been to, but, because of the author’s books, I feel like I have: Sydney, Australia, as depicted in Melina Marchetta’s book, most recently, The Piper’s Son.

So, here is my review; and don’t forget to head over to Chasing Ray for the complete list of books in this Book City tour!

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2011. Candlewick on Brilliance 2011. Read by Michael Finney. Reviewed from audio from Brilliance.

Do I double dip? Yes, I double dip. I reviewed The Piper’s Son in February; and just listened to it on audio. So, this is the audio review.

The Plot: For those who don’t click through to my original review, two years ago Tom Finch Mackee had it all: a girl he’d spent one and a half wonderful nights with; good friends; a large, loving family. Now, he’s pursuing oblivion through drugs and alcohol and hasn’t spoken to family and friends in months.

Two years ago,  his Uncle Joe was alive. Two years ago, Joe hadn’t been blown up on his way to work. Two years ago, the family hadn’t buried an empty coffin.

Can Tom find his way — if not back to who he was two years ago, can he find his way to a Tom who doesn’t hide from the grief and pain of Joe’s loss, and his family splintering, and of messing things so badly with Tara Finke that she and their mutual friends can barely say hello to him?

The Good: While, for me, Tom’s emotional journey of putting his life back together, still broken but together, is what resonates with me. For others who, say, may want more action? Here’s the pitch: Two years ago Tom had a one and a half  night stand with a girl he loved and after, treated her so badly that not only won’t she talk to him, she has left the country. When you’ve treated someone horribly, is it possible to fix it?

Finney’s Australian accent emphasizes the setting of The Piper’s Son; the slang, the city, even the music. It’s the city setting — Sydney, Australia — that made this my pick for this One Shot – Cities tour. The Piper’s Son was on the shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, (alas, it didn’t win)and their judges comments explain perfectly why I picked this for its city setting: “This is the eagerly awaited sequel to Saving Francesca, and Marchetta creates a fresh and vibrant story that focuses on Sydney’s inner city suburbs and the life of a young and out of work musician, Tom Mackee. Homeless and haunted by the death of his favourite uncle in a terrorist bombing in London, Tom desperately seeks to put his life back together by re-establishing ties with his aunt, his friends, and his long separated father. For him, it is a long and very hard road. Marchetta’s insightful narration and wonderful cast of characters take her readers on an always fascinating ride through the gritty, pulsating streets of the city’s inner west. The story culminates in an emotional and memorable conclusion.” More on the inner city inspiration at this interview with Marchetta.

Tom’s parents and their friends made a deliberate decision to remain in Sydney’s inner city instead of move out to the suburbs, a decision led by his father, Dom: “All the people they wanted in their lives lived within a ten-mile radius. Her brother Dom had started the vow of not moving away from each other just because they’d be able to afford bigger houses in the outer suburbs. “Let’s stick together, no matter how poky our houses are,” he had made them all promise. “Better to be able to pick up each other’s kids and hang out together than have bigger backyards and rumpus rooms.”

The neighborhood, the Sydney neighborhood, is as much a character in The Piper’s Son as any person. So much so, that someone later observes that Tom himself has never moved out of it, always living within a few blocks of friends and family. “You could draw a line around the parameters of your world, Tom.”

Things I noticed about The Piper’s Son this time around: the craft of the book, how it’s all put together, how Marchetta weaves the past and the present together, and her use of different points of view to tell the whole story.

Coming of age books are usually about independence; in the hands of another, The Piper’s Son would be look at how people failed Tom, cast those adults as villains, and ended with Tom in a new place, with new friends, and a new direction in life. Marchetta recognizes that life is messier and more complex than that; people failed Tom, and each other, because each, individually, was so torn apart and hurt by Joe’s death that they could barely take care of themselves let alone anyone else. The Piper’s Son is about the role of community in one’s life; for Tom to mature, to grow, he has to once again become part of a community of friends and family. The goal is healthy interdependence, not independence. The friends and family that grow around the Finch Mackee family is so wonderful, funny, and loving, that even though sadness and hurt and grief have touched them, and none of them have had an easy time, I still want to go to their homes, hang out over a bottle of wine, laugh as the children play in the garden. If I’m every in Australia, I want to walk these Sydney streets.

Yes, this remains a Favorite Book Read in 2011.

And yes, I listened to this on the way to and from work and cried every day.

Review: The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. RazorBill, a member of Penguin Group. 2011. Reviewed from review copy from publisher.

The Plot: It’s 1996 and Emma Nelson, 16, just got a new computer. She takes an AOL CD-ROM and downloads the program using dial up; a few hours later, she is on-line looking at something with an odd name. Facebook. Even odder, there’s a photo of a woman who looks like her, only older. An Emma Nelson Jones, “contemplating highlights,” married to someone named Jordan Jones Jr. This Emma is a graduate of Lake Forest High School — Emma goes to Lake Forest High School — and has a birth date of July 24, Emma’s birthday. What is going on? Who is Jordan Jones Jr.?

As Emma tries to figure out what is going on, she shows her next door neighbor, Josh, her ‘Facebook’ and he looks at his which shows an older Josh married to the prettiest girl in school, with three cute kids and an amazing  house.

Is this a joke — or a real look into the future? And if it is the future, can it be changed?

The Good: Emma and Josh tell the story in alternating chapters. They glimpse their future, but it’s a future that changes, sometimes for very small reasons and in subtle ways. One day, Emma’s Facebook talks about eating the comfort food mac’n’cheese; 1996 Emma eats mac’n’cheese when angry; and when 1996 Emma checks in on Facebook, future Emma now talks about her comfort food being lasagna. For no obvious reason, Josh’s future children change (a son and twin girls, no, a baby on the way, no, twins) while his future wife, home, and career always remain the same.

Knowing their future also impacts their present: Josh looks at the pretty popular girl who he has never even said “hello” to and wonders why she keeps showing up in his future. Knowing he is going to marry her gives Josh the courage to talk with her. Emma is jealous of the winning life Josh seems destined to have, while she has ever-changing spouses and ever-changing homes that don’t reflect any of the desires or dreams she has in the present.

What Emma and Josh learn that is more important than the butterfly theory is, well, the attitude theory. What is one’s attitude towards life? How does that shape present and future choices and actions?

Aside from the question of “the future of us”, The Future of Us is fun to read to because of all the 1996 references in Emma and Josh’s present, as well as to see how the two react to the future world– a world they see only via Facebook pages. What is it with all the updates about food?

Who Will Win?

November 16 is the National Book Awards Ceremony in New York City. On my bucket list: to one day attend. In the meanwhile, I’ll have fun following along on Twitter.

First, a recap of the five nominated titles in the Young People’s Literature Category:

Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc. ). From my review: “Oh, I loved this book. I agonized over putting together the plot description because it seems inadequate. I considered just cutting and pasting the publisher’s description but that didn’t seem to capture Chime, either; not in the “I have sixty seconds to sell this book to you. Here’s why to read it” way I wanted. The best one liner I’ve seen so far is from Reading Rants: “If Tender Morsels had a love child with Madapple, and My Sweet Audrina was the midwife, it might turn out looking like Franny Billingsley’s crazy good new fantasy, CHIME.” The only thing I’d add to that is “and set in a world like The China Garden.”

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Marshall Cavendish). From my review: “There is a difference between a depressing book and a book where sad things happen; this is not a depressing book. Yes, things are lost; Luke’s name is not easy, and neither is his time at the school. There is also love, friendship, kindness, and survival. Not just survival, but triumph.”

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers). From my review:Inside Out & Back Again is a novel in verse. I usually think of novels in verse as books with less details, because, well, there are less words; and I look at them as books where the emotions that need to be conveyed are best told in verse. What surprised and impressed me for Inside Out & Back Again was just how much about Ha’s life in Vietnam, at sea, and in Alabama are given: the lotus seeds and rice cakes to celebrate Tet, a brother who dreams of being Bruce Lee, a family of five living on one mat, the frustrations with learning English.”

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books). From my review: “Imagine — a fifty two hour work week is a “win” for the labor movement. I am thankful to not live a hundred years ago. Before the reader can feel smug about “now” being better than “then,” Marrin informs the reader of current factory conditions in other countries that are far from safe. “Short memories are dangerous, because they allow greed to take control.” There are no simple answers; but there is knowledge, such as the information that Marrin provides in Flesh & Blood So Cheap.”

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). From my review: “The voice! Doug’s voice! I adored it, was swept away by it, not just in how Schmidt captures a thirteen year old with a chip on his shoulder trying not to be “that person” who strikes out in anger, but also how Doug reveals information. Look at that simple quote, above — “I hate that we had to come here” — and how in those few words we find out so much about Doug. It’s not the town he hates, but the fact that his father lost a job, that they had no options, that it’s a step down, that they “had” to do this. Again and again, Doug reveals information he doesn’t realize he’s revealing. It’s a thing of beauty, actually, to go through the book and find instance after instance of this.”

The Judges: Marc Aronson (Panel Chair), Ann Brashares, Matt de la Peña, Nikki Grimes, Will Weaver.

Review: The Demon’s Surrender

The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2011. Book 3 in The Demon’s Lexicon Series. Book One: The Demon’s Lexicon; Book Two: The Demon’s Covenant. Reading anything after this point is spoilers for the rest of the series. Personal copy.

The Plot: Sin and Mae have been named as the two potential future leaders of the Goblin market. For Sin, 16, a fourth generation Dancer in the Market, the Market is her life. Life used to be simple. Her enemies were the Market’s enemies: demons and magicians. Tourists, even her own father, are best kept at arm’s length. Take care of your own: those in the Market and her younger siblings.

How can Mae possibly become a leader when she is just a tourist, even if she is able to Dance up a demon? Plus, Mae’s brother Jamie is a magician in the deadly and ruthless Aventurine Circle. It’s not just magicians Mae seem close to; there are also the Ryves brothers. Know it all Alan, so self righteous, who Sin owes because he saved her baby brother. And Nick . . . Nick, whose handsome exterior masks a demon.

Will Sin win leadership of the Market? Or will she lose everything?

The Good: First things first; yes, this is a series, and yes, these books are best read in order. At this point, please check my prior reviews (links above) for The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant. The bigger question, with this being the last book in the series, is — is it worth it? Should a reader invest their time in reading this series? The answer, I’m happy to say, is “yes.” Those of you who were waiting because you want to read a series all at once will be richly rewarded with this intricate examination of magic, power, politics, choice, family, and love.

Each of the books in the series uses a different point of view to tell the story: first Nick, then Mae, now Sin. This shift in perspectives not only changes the knowledge and emotions motivating the narrator, it also shifts the story priorities and world-view. The Market as Nick and Mae saw it is different than how Sin sees it. Sin’s loyalty to the Market is so great, she hasn’t told her father about her younger half siblings.

As a born and bred Market girl, Sin often sees the trees and not the whole forest. Sin also has secrets of her own, that risk her future. Sin is a good choice to narrate the third book: it bring the reader into the tight, clannish Market world in a way they weren’t before, because the Ryves brothers were visitors with some knowledge and connections and Mae was a tourist overwhelmed with the newness of it all. It makes sense that now that the reader is more familiar with and comfortable with the Market world, that a Market girl tells the tale. It also increases the stakes of what could be lost if the Market is lost, because Sin — unlike Alan, Nick, Mae and Jamie — has no where else to go.

Sin has many different balls to juggle — sister, daughter, Dancer, friend, potential leader, student — much like Rees Brennan has many plot points that need to be addressed to create a satisfying end to this series. What can I say without spoiling the ending? Rees Brennan takes those threads and weaves a fulfilling and exciting story. Like the previous two books there are twists and turns and much plotting and the reader only knows what Sin knows. What Sin doesn’t know is that she’s in a Sarah Rees Brennan book. I know that not everything is as it looks, and people lie and hold back information. I figured out one twist (one of about, oh, a dozen) and I liked finding out I was right about at least one thing. And wrong about others. Further complicating it are certain things the reader has learned: Alan lies, a lot; and demons like Nick always tell the truth.

Sin and Mae’s relationship was refreshing, because they are two strong-willed, opinionated, ambitious women. It would have been easy to make them enemies, but they are not. They are friends who want the same thing. At times, on Sin’s behalf, I wish she got angrier at Mae. Sin recognizes it is better to have the warmth of friendship than the coldness of enmity. Can I also add that I loved that the Sin/Mae triangle was not a love triangle (who will get the boy?) but a power triangle (who will become leader)?

The Demon’s Surrender, like the two books that came before, is full of action and fight scenes: knives, swords, guns, and, of course, magic. People die; people get hurt. I’m not sure why,but the violence in this book really hit home, seemed more real, even though the earlier books had violent deaths. Maybe it was because Sin was not just fighting, as the others fight, but also protecting: a younger sister and toddler brother who depend entirely on Sin.

Oh, I’ll give one spoiler. There is a love interest for Sin. The unlikely Alan. Unlikely, because while readers of the series have adored Alan since the start (or, at least, this reader), Sin did not. It takes her a bit longer to come around to our side.

Alan, Alan, Alan. I have one critical thing to say about Alan, or, rather, the jacket illustration. I’ve been picturing him as Eric Stoltz (circa Some Kind of Wonderful), so the cover made me go “that’s not MY Alan.” But picture in my head aside, I love the colors and illustration: the burning sky, the London skyline (most of this is set in London), Alan and his bow and arrow that hints of battles to come.

I heartily enjoyed The Devil’s Lexicon trilogy and recommend it for its adventure, action, twists, turns, humor, and romance. Sin is a terrific, conflicted, complex character. For all this (and for how the book ended!), this is one of my Favorite Reads of 2011. I’m looking forward to rereading these books one right after another.