Young Adult


The first in a humorous fairytale series aimed at younger readers.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours and 9 minutes
Narrator: L. J. Ganser

The parents of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm vanished without a trace about a year and a half ago. The orphanage has sent them to a couple of families who turned out to be rotten. Now, an elderly woman has sent for them, claiming to be their grandmother. However, Sabrina knows that they don’t have any living relatives, their father said so. So, 11-year-old Sabrina is determined to keep her guard up and escape with her younger sister as soon as possible.

But Granny Grimm seems like a cheerful person willing to feed them very well, even though she is somewhat odd at first. But soon Sabrina starts to think the Granny’s insane. For one thing, she thinks that giants are real and that she’s some kind of detective. Sabrina is more determined than ever to be the voice of reason in this madness.

Then there’s Mr. Canis, a tall and thin old man who helps take care of the strange house Grandma Grimm lives in.

In this book, fairy tales are real, or at least some version of them. Fairytale characters (called Everafters) are also real but they’re confined to one town. The Grimm family is kind of sheriff types to them. Magic is also real. The characters aren’t just confined to fairytales, though. However, most of the Everafters are pretty unpleasant characters, even those who should be nice. For example, Mayor Charming continually verbally abuses everyone around him, unless he’s fishing for votes. Also, this book is quite reminiscent of the Fables comics. The foster care system is presented as pretty much a criminal system where children are abused, more or less systematically.

It takes a long time for Sabrina to accept that people aren’t lying to her and at first she tries to furiously deny it all, like, you know, a sane modern person would do. I liked her stubborn streak a lot. She’s also determined to protect Daphne and be “strong” for her, which is a lot of responsibility for a girl who is almost twelve.

Daphne accepts everything far quicker, too, quickly in Sabrina’s opinion. Daphne has a lot sweeter personality than her sister.

This is a fun and funny book. Unfortunately, there are some glaring holes in the background. But this is apparently the first in a series of books, so maybe they’ll be explained at some point.

Quotes:
“New York City is a place where everyone lived on top of each other, and that was exactly how Sabrina liked it. Living out in the middle of nowhere was dangerous and suspicious.”

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A stand-alone fantasy book set in post-Apocalyptic Australia.

Publication year: 2016
Format: epub ebook
Page count: 194
Publisher: The Hive

I got the ebook in exchange for an honest review. Once I realized this was YA, I had some misgivings but in the end I had nothing to worry about. S. C. Flynn is a fellow blogger.

Couple of decades ago a brain disease called the Great Madness swept the globe. It made almost all people violent and they killed each other. It wiped out civilization, leaving a few survivors struggling for existence. They quickly divided to the City People, who live in the crumbling cities and try to bring back the old technology and the way of life which lead into the civilization collapsing in the first place, and people in the Settlements where they live free of tech and even destroying any tech they find. When the survivors started to get children, those kids go through a Change which gives them special powers. However, some the kids come out of the Change just wanting to destroy and kill; they’re called Ferals and the others banish them into the wilderness or kill them. So, people are at first afraid of the kids who come out of the Change. In the Change, the kid falls into a coma and his or her mind travels to the Changelands. They rarely talk about their experiences there, even to each other and never to the adults who haven’t experienced it. Any injury they get in the dream state is real.

Narrah and Arika are 13-year old twins. They’re born to a small Settlement in Australia and are now near their Change. They’ve tried to find out as much as they can about the Change but haven’t succeeded. Only three kids have gone through it before in their village. One has gone Feral, one was kidnapped by the City People, and one doesn’t talk anymore. Because Narrah and Arika are twins, they have a special connection: the Path will allows them to know each other’s feelings and thoughts even from a distance. They’re also orphans and witnessed their parents’ murder.

The book starts when Arika’s Change begins. She falls into a coma and goes into the Changeland where she encounters strange and dangerous visions. She sees the world before the Great Madness and is chased by a blood-thirsty enemy. Eventually, she manages to call her twin briefly to the Changeland to help her. Narrah is very worried about her but the elders convince him to leave Arika in the care of their foster mother and do his chores. One of those chores is destroying a metal tower from the old days. Narrah and a couple of other men go and bring it down. But then they’re attacked and the City People kidnap Narrah.

Narrah and Arika are the two POV characters and we follow their paths in real life and in the dream world. They’re both very resourceful and brave people but they’re also very young. They’re anxious about each other and want to find their own place in the world. Oh, and there’s no romance or love triangles in the book, which was great.

The book has several scenes in the Changeland which is a weird place. It follows dream logic and not natural laws. Of course, the real world is a dangerous place with Ferals that roam in packs wanting human flesh and supposedly sane people wanting to exploit other humans.

I didn’t really care for the ending and I had some quibbles about the enemy, but that’s just my weird taste.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book. Siblings are still rather rare choice for protagonists and both Australia and the dream world were interesting settings.

A fairy tale for all ages.

Publication year: 2011
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Translator: Sarianna Silvonen
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Format: print
Page count: 339
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus

September is a 12-year-old girl and she lives in Omaha with her mother who is an engineer. Her fa-ther is away because he’s a soldier. One day, Green Wind invites September to Fairyland and she accepts. She rides Green Wind’s leopard to Fairyland where she will find new friends but also strange adventures.

This is a delightful, highly imaginative, and charming tale but it could be at times rather scary for young readers. Still, I think it’s well worth a read. It has a narrator who remains nameless but who is eager to please the reader.

I really enjoyed the characters, especially the wyvern “A through L” who thinks his father is a li-brary. He is named after the encyclopedia entries he read and knows by heart.

Quotes:
“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.”

“Shoes are funny beasts. You think they’re just clothes, but really, they’re alive. They want things. Fancy ones with gems want to go to balls, big boots want to go to work, slippers want to dance. Or sleep. Shoes make the path you’re on. Change your shoes, change your path.”

“When little ones say they want to go home, they almost never mean it. They mean they are tired of this particular game and would like to start another.”

“It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor.”

The first book in a YA Steampunk series called the Illumination Paradox.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Publisher: Amazemo Books

This was part of the steampunk bundle I bought and I didn’t realize that was YA so I had different expectations for it.

The main character is Eyelet. We first encounter her as an eight year old girl who is wandering in a carnival. She has seizures, epileptic fits, so her mother is very concerned about her. But Eyelet knows that her father will cure her with his Illuminator machine – he’s promised to do so. However, she realizes that the carnival folks use the Illuminator as a carnival trick and to sell miniaturized copies of it. She thinks that they’ve stolen it. When she confronts the carnies, they call the guards and chase her. But everything changes when the Illuminator causes an eternal twilight to decent over the city.

Nine years later Eyelet is a student at the Academy and she’s secretly reading her father’s notebooks in order to find the Illuminator which was supposed to cure her seizures. She and her mother have kept her fits a secret because otherwise Eyelet could be accused of Madness or Wickedry, and she would be either sent to an asylum or hanged. Her father died years ago without telling her what he had done with the Illuminator.

However, one of the professors tell Eyelet that her mother has been sentenced for Wickedry and has been hanged and Eyelet herself is to be taken into custody. But she flees and managed to find her mother. Just before her mother dies, she gives Eyelet a mysterious pendant and says that it’s the key to everyone’s future. Eyelet barely escapes the guards called the Brigsmen.

From her father’s notebook, she gets an address to a warehouse and is convinced that the Illuminator is there. She races to the warehouse but the Brigsmen are at her heels. When she gets there, a man is loading a large machine into a carriage. Eyelet can’t let him escape so she grabs onto the carriage while it’s moving. The man has no choice but to haul Eyelet aboard or let her be crushed under. But the man is very strange indeed – he has red eyes and chalk white skin and one side of his face has large birthmark. It turns out that his name is Urlick and he lives in the far Follies with his eccentric father and a mute maid called Iris. He has lots of secrets.

The pace of the book is quick with chases and plot twists following quickly. The book is written in first person, present tense. Most of the time the POV character is Eyelet but in a few chapters it’s Urlick.

Eyelet is a very plucky heroine: she’s quick to draw conclusions and act on them. She’s also determined to find the Illuminator and cure her condition. When she meets Urlick, she’s at first afraid of him because of his looks. But when she gets to know his secrets, she quickly starts to find him attractive and starts to trust him, more than she has any reason to. She’s also very curious and doesn’t follow rules well.

By contrast, Urlick is a more patient person. He has good reasons to keep lots of secrets. He’s attracted to Eyelet from the first time he sees her but is convinced that nobody could ever find him attractive. Urlick’s mother died giving birth to him and his father accused Urlick of it. He also knows that people consider him a monster because of his odd looks. But he’s very brave and loyal to his friends. He’s also very interested in the sciences and has invented a number of gadgets.

Of the two main characters, I found Urlick to be more appealing, heroic even. They’re both damaged, by their own estimates and in the eyes of their society, and they both harbor secrets, even from each other. Iris is also an interesting, tragic character. I also really liked some of the gadgets. And the ravens.

Unfortunately, there were some irritating things in the book, too. Both Urlick and Eyelet ask the other “How much do you trust me?” when they barely know each other and don’t have much of a reason to trust each other. Especially at the start of the story, this is asked after some big revelation which is forced out of the character, demonstrating that the other, indeed, doesn’t have any reason to trust. I also thought that the characters behaved sometimes in unnecessarily melodramatic fashion jumping to strange conclusions and having teenage angst. Also, the romance is more pronounced in the first part of the book, when the characters are just getting to know each other. Also, Eyelet’s mother’s death didn’t seem to be a big deal to her.

The setting has some interesting features which aren’t really explored. One of them is the constant twilight which has fallen on to Earth. Also, outside the Brethren, which is the city where the rich people live, women are literally owned by men. If a woman is caught alone outside, she belongs to the man who caught her. Yet, this is only used once in the book, to threaten Eyelet, and never even talked about afterwards. None of the males behave according to that sort of culture. However, the Vapors are a constant threat to everyone. They are poisonous clouds which force people to stay indoors or die. They can also mutate some people.

Still, this is a fun, fast-paced book and ends in a cliffhanger.

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 303
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2009
Format: print
Finnish translator: Inka Parpola
Finnish Publisher: Otava
Art: Dave McKean

The man named Jack kills people. He kills a family but the youngest boy, an infant, has gone wandering and manages to escape – to a graveyard. A mysterious man who calls himself the groundskeeper sends the man Jack away while the spirits of the dead decide what to do with the boy. In the end, the Owens adopt him and the mysterious man, Silas, agreed to be his guardian, as the spirits can’t leave the cemetery and can’t even touch the infant. Nobody Owens, Bod, is made an honorary dead and he grows up in the cemetery.

The dead are kind and willing to teach him what they know. Of course, sometimes what they know aren’t current anymore. Bod explores the graveyard, including the oldest grave and the witch’s grave. But he’s also curious about the outside world. After all, even when he was an infant he was always escaping from his parents and exploring the world around him.

Many of the things we take for granted are turned on their head in this book. For example, the dead are almost always kind while the living people Bod meets are often greedy, distrustful or otherwise disagreeable. The Graveyard book feels like a collection of short stories, except for the two last chapters when Bod grows up and meets challenges.

The stories are warmhearted if a bit scary at times and the ending is bittersweet.

McKean’s art helps to build a great atmosphere. Especially on the first page, the art really starts the story.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 311
Publisher: Puffin Books

Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are General Matsika’s children. They live in Zimbabwe in 2194. Because the General fears that the children will be kidnapped, they have lived their whole lives inside their father’s mansion. The martial arts instructor visits them every week and other teachers teach them through a holophone. Yet, the children are often bored. One day, they scheme to get outside the house. They want to just go to the nearest city, Harare, to explore a little, and get back before the parents even noticed they’re gone. And they would get the Explorer scout merit badges. With the help of their friend the Mellower, they manage to get out. Unfortunately, their father was right; soon they are kidnapped.

The General has a lot of resources but they aren’t suitable for such small targets as the kids. So, Mrs. Matsika decides to hire the only private detectives left in the country: Ear, Eye, and Arm. The three men are friends and they were born with special abilities because of toxic waste near their village. Ear has enormous ears and can hear accurately from long distances away. Eye has extraordinarily sensitive eyes and Arm has very long and strong arms and legs and he can also sense others’ feelings. They are poor and live in the Cow’s Guts district in Harare. The trio is delighted to finally get some work.

There are three point-of-view characters: Tendai, the oldest of the kids is the main pov character. Arm is another pov character and the kid’s mother is also briefly a pov character. Tendai and the other kids have various adventures and they become rather knowledgeable about the city’s underworld. General Matsika, who is also the country’s leader and chief of police, led a war against the gangs. The gangs have been demolished except for the Masks which is widely feared. However, there seems to be a network of child kidnappers operating in Harare even though they aren’t part of a known gang.

The children see how different their rich upbringing is in comparison to the poor who have almost nothing. We also get a glimpse of Resthaven which is a walled village where the inhabitants live their lives as Africans have lived for millenia. Apparently, some think that this is like living in a paradise, unpolluted by modern things. I guess it can be, as long as you’re a man. For the villages’ girls and women who have to do all the boring and nasty work, are married off too young, and die in childbirth, it looks like a very different world. It seems that the girls are also given deliberately less food that boys. And on top of everything, they are constantly told that they are worthless.

The science fiction elements are rather sparse. The rich have robot servants and use holophones and most people use Nirvana guns which put people to sleep instead of killing them, but otherwise the book could have been set into an alternate now. In fact, the book has more elements from myths than SF. Tendai prays to his ancestors and interprets events as answers to his prayers. Some of the ancient beliefs which are still alive in Resthaven seem to be true. The Mellower has the strange ability to hypnotize others with his voice. Spirit medium is a respected profession and it’s a commonly accepted fact that spirits can and do possess people. Most of the time these spirits are benevolent and can give the possessed valuable skills. This mix was unusual and unexpected in an SF book.

The plot was somewhat repetitive with several escapes and kidnappings but I guess that’s usual for YA. Tendai is easily the most complex of the kids. He’s thirteen and he wants to be a warrior, like his father, but when he tries to even practice violence, he always thinks how his victim would feel. This almost paralyzes him and he’s convinced that he’s a coward. Like all the other kids, he’s spoilt and rather self-centered. Yet, he tries to protect his siblings. Rita is the most short-tempered of the three and is quick to irritate even adults. Kuda is a bit too young to have much personality beyond wanting food and entertainment.

The upcoming movie made me read this one.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Finnish translator: Helene Butzow
Page count: 335
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 where the main industry is coal production. Like all the other men, her father worked in the coal mines but he was also a great singer and a woodsman who could hunt and knew all the edible plants. Unfortunately, he died in a mining accident years ago and it fell on young Katniss to support her mother and younger sister. Now 16 year old Katniss hunts in the nearby forest and is in danger of being killed if the local authorities decide to interfere. So far, they’ve liked the rabbit meat and strawberries too much to care. She hunts with his best friend Gale whose father has also died and who supports several younger siblings. Life is tough but somehow manageable.

It’s time for the Harvest, when two kids between 12 and 18 are randomly chosen to journey into the Capitol and take part in the Hunger game. The game has two participants, a boy and a girl, from each of the 12 Districts and only one of them will survive the brutal game which will be performed in front of cameras for all to see. The wealthier Districts train their candidates, call tributes, to survive the game but District 12 is too poor for that. Only once has candidate from District 12 won.

During the lottery, the unthinkable happens: Katniss’ younger sister is chosen and Katniss volunteers so that Prim doesn’t have to die. She barely knows the other District 12 tribute who is the baker’s son Peeta. They have no choice but to step into the train which will take them to Capitol. Peeta and Katniss have two helpers: Haymitch who is the only tribute from District 12 to win and Effie Trinket from Capital who will teach the two youngsters to perform in front of cameras. Unfortunately, Haymitch is a drunk and Effie seems to be pretty ineffective.

A big part, perhaps the biggest part, of the game isn’t surviving on the arena itself. Before the teenagers are put on the arena to kill each other for viewers’ pleasure, they have to perform for the audience. They have to try to interest rich people enough that they will aid the tributes during the game. This means short interviews and a parade in various costumes. For the viewers, it’s very much a game and nobody seems to care that the contestants are actually dying. The arena is an artificial construct and the game admins control every aspect of it.

The book has excellent pacing; I was barely able to put it down during a stressful work week. The characters are engaging. Katniss might seem brutal at times but she has to be in order to survive. She has to take advantage of every opportunity, every slight edge. Yet, she’s human and can’t help but to be moved by others’ struggles. She has an edge because she’s already an excellent hunter and is used to supporting herself in the wild. She has a temper which she’s learned to keep in check but it also drives her forward in a situation where others might break down. She’s a fighter and she’s learned not to trust anyone. In contrast it was interesting to see that Peeta isn’t a fighter, really. He’s baker’s son and his strengths lie elsewhere.

I was a bit surprised when it turned out that the part set in the arena wasn’t just brutal fighting all the time. There’s that, too, characters dying and killing, but mostly it’s focused on survival: hiding and finding food and water. This was a pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, I felt that some of the things near ending were very convenient, even a cop-out. But I’ve heard enough about the series that I guessed something like that was coming. However, there’s also no hard choices for Katniss during the game and that was a bigger disappointment.

The book has a lot of social commentary. The Hunger game is, of course, a critique of the current day reality TV and also a commentary on the way that the viewers distance themselves from what they see on TV, no matter if they’re watching fiction or a report from real war. There’s also a deep divide between the rich people in Capitol and the District people who die of hunger if they are hurt or too old to work. The District people are forbidden to hunt or forage in the woods around them. (Frankly, I found it unlikely that only two people would be illegal hunters; surely there must have been many more doing it.) Even in the Districts there’s a divide between the merchants who are seen as well off and the poor laborers. This all shows how corrupt the people in power are.

The book ends with an uncertain future for our heroes but not really in a cliffhanger unless you’re a romance reader.

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