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Book: Carry on by Rainbow Rowell
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alternative Reality
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: 2015
Hardcover: 528 pages

 

I hardly needed inspiration from the title. This book was one that I could not Stop carrying on reading, till I breathlessly reached the end, and looked up, blurry and bemused, wondering what all might have transpired around me for the 3 days it had me in its magical thrall. Did Rainbow Rowell cast a spell on me via the written word, as Baz or Penny might have through speech?

 
Lest I get too cloying with my enthusiasm, let me proceed in a different vein. This book, to me, was everything I wanted the later Harry Potter books (and Lev Grossman’s The Magician) to be but weren’t– a YA book that allowed the reader to fall into a magical yet real world with real complexities and problems, with shades of grey that were real but neither debilitatingly nihilistic (Lev Grossman) nor facilely annoying with its “chosen one” ideology (JK Rowling’s later Harry Potters). I am talking in generalities here because I don’t wish to write down spoilers, although this is a book wherein, if you have already read Fangirl by Rowell, there are inherent spoilers that are already in the back of your head. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of faults with this book too — the main one being the overly hit-you-on-your-head descriptive romantic and physical tension between the main characters. Another one being, why oh why does it seem to be fashionable for well-known white authors to write in an Indian (east) character into their book and call it a day in terms of diversity? Are we the flavor of the year? Did Aziz and Mindy make us cool and likeable? Does inserting Indians (who I would argue have much more inherent privilege than many other ethnic groups) satisfy that itch for color? I would really like to sit down with Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Stead, and E. Lockhart, all authors whose books I love, and yet make me want to tear out hairs from my head in frustration at times, to figure this out, and to give them some guidance: If they insist on writing Indian characters, please Do. The. Research. Like for example, Rebecca, don’t give an Indian family the uber-Gujarati (એકદમ સખડ Gujarati?) last name Patel, and then insist on having the parents follow the custom of Karva Chauth, which is Not a Gujarati Custom. And also, if you are going to gratuitously give a Hindu-observant family’s children French names, PLEASE explain why so your Gujarati Hindu readers don’t drive themselves cross-eyed wondering what was going through your mind. But I digress. And anyway, Rainbow was too smart for me, heading off my would-be criticism, by having Penelope (the Indian-British character in Carry on) herself dare Simon to challenge her on why she shouldn’t have an Indian name. BUT. I digress!

 
Regardless of my rant above, all in all, this is one book that I simply could not, for the life of me, put down. And lately, that’s saying a lot, as even with my favorite books, I seem to (of late) belie my own self-given nickname by being reluctant to pick them up and only too ready to lay them down for any and every distraction. All this blustering is to say, I think many people will enjoy this book. Who, you ask? Who exactly do I think will enjoy it? Well, I will lay it out for you in the next section of this post which is not so much a review as it is a stream of thoughts about this book, in (perhaps) an effort to exorcise its effects from my clouded brain, so that I can get on with my day and with my week. Here goes.

 

To whom will this appeal?~ 
Carry on will appeal to fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Robin McKinley’s Shadows, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It will also appeal to those looking for books with boy on boy sexual tension, for books written about magic and good and evil in a nondidactic white and black kind of way, for books about love between friends, between family, for books which have amazing vampire characters that don’t make you want to throw up. It will appeal to readers of the usual famously successful white authors of smart books for teens (John Green, Scott Westerfeld, E. Lockhart, David Levithan, etc). (Yeah, I wish it was not just white authors who got this kind of attention, but I’m just calling a spade a spade at the moment.)

 
Mostly, it is funny and insightful in a way that adults will enjoy, but it is definitely a YA book, with teen characters whom (I believe) teens will be able to identify with, and through whom teens will be able to enjoy vicarious magic and love.

 

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As a librarian working with children and teens, I often am asked about what are some of my favorite books for various age groups. The problem is, I have a zillion “favorites!”

But I thought it would be fun to list just a few today, a taste, as it were, of beloved books that come to mind. There are more, but those will have to come another day!

For the first five years set, Goodnight, Gorilla and Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman make great read-alouds. I also love Bark, George by Jules Feiffer and Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora. This last one is a riff on the “Old MacDonald” song, and it was a hit at our Día de los Niños celebration!

For upper-elementary kids, one perennial classic that I simply adore is Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I love the fact that even though this book is 50 years old, its themes of friendship, secrets, and betrayal continues to appeal to children today. For this age group, one of my favorite newer fantasy series to recommend is the Wildwood series by Colin Meloy. Set in Portland and its adjacent (fictional) “Impassable Wilderness,” this book captured my heart with its refusal to follow any set stereotypes about heroic characters.

For young teens, I love Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, in which the voice of the main character immediately engages the reader into wanting to know what will be the fate of this unique teen.  A creepy (but in an awesome way) book that I loved was The Riverman by Aaron Starmer, which is a haunting exploration of coming of age among children just on the cusp of their teen years, with a strong fantasy theme that interplays very well with what it means to come of age.

And last but not least, in this age of Hunger Games and Divergent, one series that I always recommend to all teens – old and young – craving more post-apocalyptic dystopian excitement is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, which, with its intrepid female lead characters really gives those other books a run for their money!

So, for today, these are a few of my favorite go-to Children’s and Teen books. What are some of yours?

 

Book: Shadows by Robin McKinley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alternative Reality
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publication date: 2013
Hardcover: 368 pages
Other: Chosen as one of Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading 2014 books for Teens
 

 

Shadows by Robin McKinley

Booktalk: Maggie’s story starts off, as she says, “like something out of a fairy tale.” She is a regular 16 year old teen who loves dogs, origami, and her friends and family. Well, except for her weird stepfather. She lives in present day Newworld, a world much like ours, but with these differences:

Magic is real. Magic is dangerous. It is so dangerous, in fact, that it was outlawed a couple of generations ago – in fact, the “magic genes” were removed from any and all families that were known carriers, including Maggie’s own grandmother and her descendants.

In Newworld, where Maggie lives, magic is thought to cause cobeys, slang for “cohesion breaks,” which are huge rips in the universe which threaten the existence of the whole planet, from Newworld to Farworld and everything in between.

Maggie’s stepfather bugs her. Something is way off about him, not just because he is from Oldworld, where magic is actually not only allowed – it is used as a tool to fight cobeys. And it’s not just his odd looks, or accent, nor is it his distinctly weird clothing. It’s the SHADOWS that accompany him everywhere, shadows which it seems only Maggie can see.  From the very first time she meets him, she sees “…something freaky about the shadow of his arm against the wall—a sudden sharp ragged line along the line of his forearm…” Soon these shadows seem to be trying to follow and communicate with her, and she is totally freaked out.

Maggie tries to find solace in the company of her dog Mongo and her part time job at the local animal shelter, and also in her friends Jill and Taks. And there is her origami – a long time ago, Taks taught Maggie how to make kami—origami creatures which are kind of a good luck charm to ward off evil. Although Maggie resolutely doesn’t believe in magic, making kami to ward off Val’s dark creepy shadows can’t hurt, can it?

Lately, though, it seems that things are getting worse and worse. Maggie has a bad feeling that is only heightened when the first cobey in years opens up in a nearby town.  Somehow, she thinks Val may have something to do with all this bad mojo. Maybe he’s brought illegal magic with him. And now there are all these anti-Cobey army units, which also bring bad vibes.

Mixed in with all this bad stuff there’s the welcome distraction of the super-handsome college student Casimir… but he too comes from old world, and seems to think that only magic can help with cobeys. What is right? Who is right? What are those strange sentient shadows that wriggle and wave to Maggie from over Val’s shoulder? What are they trying to tell her? What will happen to her world if cobeys rip it apart? Could it be possible that the anti-cobey patrol units end up causing more harm than good?

Read Robin McKinley’s Shadows to learn all this and more.

To whom will this appeal?~
The ideal reader of this book would love:
  • Animals, especially dogs
  • Magic
  • Origami
  • Fantasy set in a modern setting, replete with pizza, cars, and high school
  • Adventure wherein a female character and her friends come into their own just in time to help save their world

I would give this book to people who like to read about the juxtaposition of Magic and Science in a modern day setting, books like Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, the Rithmatist or even White Cat by Holly Black…  The reason that I chose Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time as two of the readalikes for this book is that, like these books, Shadows reads a little on the younger YA side…

Except for the romantic bits closer to the end, of course. Ahem.