So You Want to Be A Jedi: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back by Adam Gidwitz, with original concept arts
Really enjoyed much of the book — many of the Jedi lessons are great fun and with the trade-mark Gidwitz caring for a young person’s mind and character. The second person narrative device worked for me and the added extended training segments made me happy. The third person narrative parts about Han & Leia are faithful to the movie but to someone like me who saw the original movie and re-watched it a few times in the past few decades, they can seem a bit bland. I could tell that the imagined audience is actually those who’re young and not exactly familiar with Episode V. Waiting to hear from my 4th & 5th graders of their view.
The Three Body Problem (三体）by Liu Cixin（刘慈忻)，translated by Ken Liu
This is a rare experience for me since my encounters with Science Fiction tend to be on the “soft sci-fi” end: where the details of the science employed by the authors are often quite flexible to suit the narrative needs of the tale. This is Hard Science Fiction and I was absolutely fascinated (even while I didn’t quite understand them) by the explanation of the Three-Body physics problem, the unfolding of protons into various dimensional modules, and how radio waves are delivered and received, etc. However, what compelled me to keep on reading was the realistic and unflinching depiction of the story’s backdrop (from Cultural Revolution era to contemporary China,) the underlying multiple and somewhat conflicting philosophies about human nature, the life story and struggles of one of the main female characters, and the kinship I feel with a specific type of online gaming.
The author honestly and boldly laid out the views of his characters (and one can choose to side with or against whichever view) and the translator faithfully captured and presented the analytical and yet deeply emotional landscape of the story.
Let’s celebrate this book’s 2015 Hugo Award win for being a solid hard science fiction and for being the very first Hugo novel winner penned by an Asian author.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith was a baffling read from the beginning to the very end. Baffling but fascinating, engaging, engrossing, moving, and thrilling. I didn’t know where the story was heading and in the end, I wasn’t quite sure where I have been: spanning time and space, from the icy pole in the 1800s to the summer heat of an American summer camp now (?) — encountering the Melting Man (literally,) the refugee boy, the eccentric scientists, the Dumpling Man, and many others. Or even where we eventually arrived — are we to be pleased with Ariel’s final situation, bonded with his adopted brother and their new found friend, no longer being closely monitored? Are we to continuously be paranoid of how our lives might be closely examined by unknown forces and crazy scientists? At least I know to unconditionally love Ariel for his intelligence and compassion.
Since earlier this year’s brouhaha about Andrew Smith’s “lacking” in inclusion of positive female characters in his work, I couldn’t help but noticing that in this book the readers only encounter two real life women: one is a completely ineffective mother figure and the other is a terrifying scientist whose goal is to eliminate all males from the human species. (I’m not counting the two imaginary women in the Melting Man’s schizophrenic head.)
Of course, introducing compassionate and caring characters (male or female) will result in a completely different story: one that simply wouldn’t have been as brutal to such extreme and thus wouldn’t have had the same level of impact. If the point is to portray a world for Ariel and his buddies to “survive” in without the physical or emotional support of kind souls, Smith succeeded brilliantly.
And I must mention his ability to effortlessly switch into drastically different narrative voices! A skilled writer, indeed!
Chew by John Layman, artwork by Rob Guillory
Not for the faint of heart or queasy of tummy. There are laugh-out-loud scenes and almost-puke-my-guts-out scenes. Definitely cannot read this and have a meal at the same time.
Since 2009, the series creative duo, Layman & Guillory, have brought us 50 installments and 10 collective volumes (August 2015) of this bizarre tale of a Chinese American FDA detective Tony Chu with a superhuman ability: Tony can bite into any once living organism and have vivid “recollection” of the scenes in that living organism’s life, including the circumstances surrounding its death. So, when he arrived on a murder scene, he is required to take a bite out of the corpse… But, wait, others also have strange abilities like, a food critic able to write reviews that make the readers actually “taste” the meal (including the terrible ones), a chocolate sculptor who can recreate any landmark in 100% accurate details, etc.
And then you have the U.S. Government’s top secret weapon, Poyo, a rooster with nuclear weapon power, other political conspiracies involving NASA and the aliens they deal with, and enough family and love drama to satisfy any soap opera aficionado. Yup. A crazy smorgasbord of gross but hilarious scenarios. I absolutely adore this series and can’t wait to read the rest of the collected volumes (planned 12, by mid-2016.)
One of the main reasons that I love Chew is my fondness of Guillory’s artistic style. And now I think of it, the series definitely fits #weneeddiversebooks movement very well — for older teens.
Meet the artist, Rob Guillory:
And Meet Tony Chu:
And see some of the unusual scenes for yourself:
Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (Reckoners, #2)
This second book in the Reckoners series reads like a complete story — with it central villain(s) being dealt with by the last chapter and secrets revealed. It also sets up the next book nicely, because those secrets will propel the conflict into grander scales. A thoroughly enjoyable book that did not go beyond my expectations, even when some “shocking truths” are exposed. Perhaps because I have been binging on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I read this book, and the two storylines share a lot of similarities especially when it comes to how the perceived good characters and those supposedly bad characters might turn out to be very different from what you have originally believed. So, I learned to mistrust all characters (even the narrator himself) until proven otherwise. This makes me wonder about the recent wild popularity of dystopian novels for young people and the central conflict rooted in a strong distrust of one’s government (or team, family, or friends, etc.)
I am all for critical thinking and questioning authority and demanding clear reasons and transparency when we are asked to behave in certain ways (and when we ask young people to follow certain rules and paths.) However, I often fear that we (as educators) are encouraging generations of young people to question everything every step of the way and mistrust those around them as the default form of interaction with the wider world. Once in a while, it would be so nice to simply just trust since I do believe that large portion of humanity is good.
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
I went into this book with a lot of trepidation — believe it or not, drastic gravitational changes to Earth by the altered distance between Moon and Earth was one of my all time environmental fears, probably from when I used to watch Twilight Zone as a kid. Pfeffer managed to tell the story with a pretty tame disaster setting: the town our heroine lived in has faced much milder impacts and although you hear about quite a bit of “the rest of world is disappearing and people have died everywhere,” you only experience her personal (and none of the immediate family members) losses a few times and the heroine’s reactions do not make the readers feel completely devastated. I thoroughly appreciated the author’s ability to show the shifting in priorities, attitudes, and family relationships as the story progresses.
This is a survival story that I can feel quite comfortable giving to 5th or 6th grade students, especially those who enjoy Hatchet.
by Joelle Charbonneau
I like this book partly because some of my students really took to the series and I can see why they love it. The different stages of the testing, the unflinching gruesomeness of certain deaths/acts, and the still unclear intentions of the Officials (and of some other characters’) at the end of the book (with a cliffhanger that makes you really want to read the next book) all make this a compelling and fast read. However, much of the book also feels quite derivative and pieced together from many other, better penned stories: Ender’s Game, Fahrenheit 451, The Enemy, or Battle Royale, that it probably will not be my top recommendation to some other students.