Luke knows enough just enough about what his father does as a black ops infiltrator to know which questions not to ask. But when his dad goes missing, Luke realizes that life will always be different for him. Suddenly he must avoid the kidnappers looking to use him as leverage against his father, while at the same time evading the attention of the school's mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters.

This YA novel is even more fun than the cover copy implies, throwing together werewolves, Indian legends, secret evil laboratories, martial arts, and – yes, really – a mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters. And more. Much more. Despite its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, it’s a surprisingly coherent action-adventure with a big helping of comedy.

Given the title and cover, it’s no spoiler to say that Luke is a werewolf. Like Bruchac, the author, he’s also an Abenaki Indian. Between the Indian werewolves and a cool take on vampires, I suspect that Twilight was one of the inspirations for this novel. It’s not a parody, but there are a few winks in that direction. Luke, a bad-ass literature geek with a political bent and a mind crammed full of information, was reminiscent of a Cory Doctorow character, but with the saving grace of being much less smug. I liked him.

The mix of action, new riffs on old myths, and wisecracks would probably appeal a lot to Percy Jackson fans. It appealed a lot to me. There’s some over-explaining and messaginess, and while Meena, the girl Luke crushes on, is a likable character with her own issues, she is structurally just The Girl. And the denuement is a bit rushed. But overall, I liked it a lot. Many of you would probably like it too.

This is one of the debut titles of Tu Publishing, an imprint of Lee and Low and the only mainstream YA imprint I know of in America dedicated to publishing multicultural sf and fantasy. They’re off to a good start.

Wolf Mark

Meet Joseph Bruchac: poet, novelist, storyteller, musician, nuclear physicist, race car driver
These will be brief, as I read them both ages ago and only now realized that I never got around to reviewing them.

True Meaning of Smekday, The is a marvelous and very funny science fiction comedy in which eleven-year-old Gratuity "Tip" Tucci tells the story of how Earth was colonized by aliens, and she ended up traveling cross-country in search of her mother in a flying car called Slushious, in the company of a conflicted alien named J. Lo.

This book has all sorts of elements which I normally hate, from cutesy pop culture references to heavy-handed messages ("colonialism is bad") to mocking Disneyland (easy target). Amazingly, I loved it anyway. It's very, very, very funny, the messages are on-target, and Tip is an extremely likable heroine, if a tad mature for eleven. There are some comic strips incorporated which tell the history of the aliens, and I nearly died laughing reading them.

I also liked that Tip is biracial (African-American/Italian) and it comes up believably, but that's not the subject of the story. Though I have to register my usual annoyance that while she is accurately depicted in the interior illustrations, she's not present on the cover. Seriously, would it kill publishers to occasionally depict people of color on the covers of books in which they are the protagonists?

I think anyone over about eight could appreciate this one, if their reading level is up to it.

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story is a young adult novel, definitely not appropriate for young children, about a fat geeky teenage boy, Doug, who becomes the world's least glamorous vampire. It's nowhere near as assured or successful as Smekday.

It alternates narratives between Doug and Senjal, an Indian exchange student with an internet addiction. Doug's narration is dead-on as a geeky teenage boy. Senjal is potentially interesting but comes across more as a narrative construct than a flesh-and-blood character. But I was enjoying it, mostly for Doug's narration, until, at the two-thirds mark, the entire thing falls apart into a mess of preachiness and WTF.

Read more... )
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