Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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Overall Rating: 96%

Relatable Characters?

Yes!

Epic?

Yes!

Funny?

Hilarious.

Moving?

At times~

Sad?

Maybe a little.

“‘One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us,’” says the protagonist of Cassandra Clare’s steampunk fantasy novel Clockwork Angel (Clockwork 71). Set in 1878, the novel follows sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray as she is thrust into Victorian London’s supernatural Downworld—kidnapped by the Dark Sisters while travelling to London to live with her brother Nate. The Sisters torture Tessa in the name of preparing her for their master, the Magister. Threatening to harm her brother, the Sisters force Tessa to train her ability to Change: a power Tessa didn’t know she had that allows her to shapeshift into and touch the thoughts of any person whose possession she holds. Saved from the Dark Sisters by a group of demon-slaying warriors called Shadowhunters, Tessa agrees to assist the Shadowhunters with their investigation of the Pandemonium Club in return for their help finding her missing brother.

Clockwork Angel features a skillful balance of action, romance, humor, and insight that will likely capture the attention of any teenage reader looking for a compelling, thoughtful read. Although readers may take a couple of chapters to become accustomed to the fantastical world Clare has created, the world-building in Clockwork Angel is smoothly integrated into the narrative so that there are no major info dumps; the reader naturally learns about the Shadow World along with the protagonist.

When I first read Clockwork Angel in middle school, the novel’s witty dialogue, heart-wrenching scenes, and unexpected plot twists kept me turning pages. Rereading the novel for the second time since then was like returning to old friends. Clockwork Angel remains one of my favorite novels because the characters express sentiments that really resonate with me— serving as great mirrors in which I can see myself. Sharing my belief in the power of stories, Will, one of the Shadowhunters who saves Tessa from the Dark Sisters, notes how books can help readers become better equipped to face reality (Clockwork 164). I really appreciated seeing my love of reading reflected through both Will and Tessa especially because their fondness for books is so integral to their individual characters and relationship with each other.

Exploring important topics like identity, family, discrimination, and intolerance, Clockwork Angel is a strong start to The Infernal Devices trilogy—a series that gets progressively better with each book.

By Celina Sun

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Overall Rating: 90%

Relatable Characters?

Meh.

Cute?

Yes!

Funny?

Sometimes!

Moving?

Could be?

Sad?

A little

Lemon trees from one’s dream materialize overnight in one’s room. Cuckoo clocks house talking cuckoo birds that fall asleep and forget the time. Croquet is played with flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as balls. The world of Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is full of fantastic, impossible things. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Heartless tells the backstory of the Queen of Hearts, featuring Meyer’s take on why the character becomes the “blind and aimless Fury” that Carroll portrays (Meyer 4).

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7Heartless follows Catherine Pinkerton whose passion for baking sustains her dream of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid Mary Ann. In the Kingdom of Hearts, however, women have no place in the world of business because societal rules and norms are modeled after Victorian England’s, and baking is not considered a suitable job for Cath, the daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove. Cath nonetheless endeavors to realize her dream, all-the-while grappling with her parent’s wishes for her to marry the King of Hearts and become queen.

Exploring the impact societal norms and parental expectations can have on one’s life, Heartless also illustrates issues of privilege and class divide and raises questions about what actions are just, what love justifies, and if some events are not certain individuals’ faults but fate’s.

Heartless’ rich world-building and colorful cast of characters make for a very immersive read that both those familiar and unfamiliar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will enjoy. In addition to reimagining staples like the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter, Meyer incorporates elements of other works like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” into Heartless and introduces original characters like the charming, funny, considerably swoon-worthy new court joker of Hearts, Jest.

However, not everyone may appreciate the substantial role romance plays in the novel, and I personally found it hard to like Cath. I didn’t always agree with how she handled situations, and her behavior and inner monologue, while authentic given the societal context, was off-putting at times—reflecting classist notions.

Nevertheless, my entrancement with the novel’s world and desire to learn what causes Cath’s transformation from aspiring bakery owner to heartless queen compensated for the few issues I had with Cath’s character and certain plot points in the story. Overall, I found Heartless to be a worthwhile read.

By Celina Sun

Meyer, Marissa. Heartless. EPUB ed., Pan Macmillan, 2016.

 

 

Beyond Anthology by Sfé R. Monster

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Think spaceships are neat? Well, how about LGBTQ+ people flying those spaceships?! I think that’s pretty rad, and that’s only a taste of what you get when you flip through Beyond, edited by Sfé R. Monster. Even if you don’t identify with any of those letters or care about science fiction, you’ll probably still think that this book looks amazing, and if you read it, you’ll like it even more. Beyond is an anthology of a bunch of original graphic short stories, all featuring sci-fi elements and LGBTQ+ characters, and all created by LGBTQ+ artists! There’s a story about a black space-pirate lesbian who attempts to rob a castle vault, and one about an indigenous tribe whose two-spirit warriors join with giant animal guardians to fight off alien invasions, and one with a young trans boy whose journey to manhood includes dragon-slaying, and many more. As an anthology, each of Beyond’s stories is written and drawn by its own artist, and each artist, of course, has their own unique style of writing and drawing, so that the reader is met with a beautiful new world every ten or so pages.

I enjoyed Beyond as both a trans person and a fan of science fiction, but again I stress that you do not have to be either of those things–or really anything other than human–to have a good time with this book. Its themes of love, companionship and coming of age are universal and creatively presented; it will take you to places so compelling and strange and personal that by the end of each story, you will want to see more and read further until you get a full-length graphic novel of what was meant to be the length of a single chapter. Beyond is especially important, though, for LGBTQ+ readers who don’t often get to see or read about characters like themselves. Its honest portrayal of gay, bi, trans and self-identifying queer people, many of whom are people of color, is refreshing and exciting and inspires the hope that representation frequently does for underrepresented and/or marginalized groups.

One of my favorite stories in the anthology is “Optimal,” by Blue Delliquanti. It’s about a “synthetic human,” a robot girl who was designed to be an exact copy of her creator’s deceased partner; she was built to be a boy. She tells you about her abilities and features, and it’s all very scientific, but in every frame, in the illustrations, you get to just see a trans girl who is at home in her body, and it’s wonderful.

You can buy Beyond online at http://www.beyondanthology.com/; Beyond Press, the publisher, is not printing hardcover copies right now, but you can get a PDF or a softcover and look forward to the new edition (it’s been fully funded on Kickstarter)! Beyond Press also has a comic anthology made entirely by creators of color, called Elements: Fire, which appears to be the first in another series. Get excited, and read some comics.

Monster, Sfé R., ed. Beyond. Vol. 1. N/A: Sfé R. Monster, 2015. BEYOND: an anthology of queer sci-fi/fantasy comics. Beyond Press, 2015. Web. 2017.

Every Day by David Levithan

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“Everyday I am someone else. I am myself—I know I am myself—but I am also someone else. It has always been like this.”(Levithan 1)

In David Levithan’s unique and captivating novel Every Day, the protagonist, a sixteen year old named A, wakes up each morning in the body of another person. Every day, A must adapt to a new life, assuming a new name, family, and set of challenges to navigate while attempting to keep the life of the host as normal as possible. Nothing in A’s life is constant or stable, and a sense of profound loneliness grows with each new day and identity. One day, however, A makes a special connection with a girl named Rhiannon, and soon both of their lives are changed forever.

As A travels from one identity to the next over the course of the story, readers are briefly introduced to a number of different characters that adolescent readers may relate to on a personal level. Mental illness, physical disabilities, loss, and family conflicts are just a few of the challenges that A encounters day to day in the bodies of these various sixteen year olds. Additional themes central to the story and A’s own set of challenges as a changing individual include romance, difference, belonging, gender and sexuality, morality and justice, and sense of self.

All adolescent readers can learn something from A. Among many other lessons, A teaches readers the power of compassion and human connection at times when it feels like the world is against you. A recollects, “If you stare at the center of the universe, there is a coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other”(320). An unconventional and captivating romance novel dealing with so much more than just two everyday teens, Every Day provides readers with a new, more open-minded perspective on identity, love, and sense of self.

Source Cited: Levithan, David. Every Day. New York: Ember, 2012. Print.

By: Liza

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

What would you do if you found your whole world turned upside down, if all those fantastical stories your grandfather told you turned out to be undeniably, unbelievably, true – and suddenly your life was in danger because of it? What if those phony-looking photos you saw growing up of peculiar children with all sorts of abilities, invisible boys and flame-wielding girls, would one day save your life?

These are the questions that Jacob, the main character in Ransom Riggs’s wincingly gruesome yet impossible-to-look-away-from young adult novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, must answer after his grandfather is mysteriously murdered. Not for the squeamish, the intensity of the story’s most graphic scenes is only matched by the raw emotion dripping from every maudlin, yet breathtakingly beautiful page. Readers will find themselves instantly wrapped up in the emotional conflict between Jacob, his father, and his grandfather, and the very real dangers he faces as he learns the many secrets of his – and his grandfather’s – murky past.

This book would appeal to any teen struggling to make sense of a life in flux – issues with parents, making friends, or trying to find their place in the world. Anyone who has dealt with trauma will instantly understand the pain and helplessness that Jacob feels as he slowly convinces himself that the monster he saw kill his grandfather was just a figment of his imagination – and later, the guilt he experiences when he found out he’d been right all along, and that he could have saved the man’s life had he just believed him. Are our lives, Jacob must ask himself, defined more by what happens to us, or how we deal with it? How much do we control our destiny, and how much does it control us?

Jacob’s narration is as astute as it is relatable, featuring an honesty capable of being expressed only by a Florida teenager as self-aware as he was afraid of the world. Perhaps the most notable feature of the book is its extensive inclusion of authentic photographs from the time period, which Riggs expertly weaves into the story, as if to say, see, I told you so. These photos will surely leave you entranced by the magic and wonder of Riggs’s first novel, and serve only to make it all that much more real. If you are ready for a terrifying yet incessantly exciting world of death, life and love, with just the slightest hint of conspiracy, this is the book for you.

By Lucas Benjamin

Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011. Print.

The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, is a modern homage to Romeo and Juliet.  It is the love story of two teenagers from rival families of traveling performers.  One family is French-speaking Romani, or gypsies, who perform a traveling show of fairies, wearing large wingspans of feathers and hopping amongst the evening treetops.  The other family is Spanish speaking and performs a traveling mermaid show, with sequined tails and choreographed movements appearing and disappearing within a local lake.  Both families are steeped in superstitions and convinced that their enemies are working black magic against them.  To touch a member of the rival family is forbidden.  Past down from generation to generation are stories of what evils will fall you if you touch their skin.  Deep family secrets spur on this hatred amongst the rivals.  

The story focuses on one summer the two traveling troops find themselves once again competing for audiences in a small town in Florida, living and performing around the town lake and forest.  Here, both families confront memories of a tragic event that happened on this same site twenty years earlier; both blame the other for their misfortunes stemming from this event.  A tragic cosmic event once again descends upon the lake and brings our two young people together.  Lace and Cluck are thrown together that night, saving each other and branding each other, becoming irreversibly entwined.  As their love takes hold, both uncover the secrets their families have kept and the source for the hatred held so sacred to both families for so long.  

McLemore weaves both French and Spanish throughout this novel, adding to the rich language and sense of cultural histories.  The superstitions of black magic that pervade each family’s identity also becomes real, as we learn that the x family all grow feathers from the backs of their heads, and the x family are all marked with iridescent scales.  Thus they truly are their acts- birds and mermaids.  

Both young people are outcasts from their families.  Cluck is tormented by his family because his feathers have marks of red; they call him the “little devil”.  Cluck and Lacy’s differences unravel as they both learn their truth and fall in love.  “Cluck knew what Lace meant, that they weren’t so different, that the space between them was make only of names and colors.  But the bitterness went into Cluck like the slip of a paring knife.  He would have wanted the choice not to be a red-streaked thing among all his family’s perfect black.  Now her father took aim at the black birds in the woods, shooting his own name” (216).  

This story is ultimately about self acceptance, discovering identity, and having the strength to break away from the narratives of family and set out on one’s own course.  Despite the hate they have been taught about each other their whole lives, both Lace and Cluck find refuge in each other and are able to look past appearances and preconceptions to find love.  Readers who love romance, magic and stories of overcoming discriminating family legacies will love this novel.  

by: Courtney Stephens

McLemore, Anna-Marie.  The Weight of Feathers.  New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

51RofZNoPjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus reads like a dream.

Built around the Cirque de Reves, French for the “Circus of Dreams,” a fantastic 19th-century circus that appears out of thin air and is active exclusively during the nighttime, Morgenstern crafts a tale that institutes fantasy in a pre-established historical setting. The story follows the childhoods of two gifted orphans, Celia and Marco, as they are raised by equally extraordinary—though brutish—guardians. Little do Celia and Marco know, their respective guardians have established a competition, that which will pit the two children against each other, using the Cirque de Reves as the contest’s stage. Then, when the two contestants begin to fall in love, the situation is unquestionably complicated.

The crux of The Night Circus is rooted in its themes of fantasy, family, history, and tragedy. Morgenstern layers the storylines of the novel beautifully, capturing the lives of Celia and Marco while also following the adventures of a young admirer of the Cirque de Reves, Bailey. This added storyline adds a sense of realism to the novel, as if all readers could be on the outside looking in at the circus and its tribulations. While the story is, at times, a lighthearted fantasy, it encapsulated the struggles that many adolescent readers may have. It is discovered that Celia’s mother committed suicide, which caused her to be handed off to her father, who is undoubtedly abusive in his training of her. Both Celia and Marco’s childhoods are marked by loneliness amidst activity others would likely find comforting and enjoyable within the Circus. Because of this, The Night Circus may be a more suitable read for older adolescents, who will more fully grasp the themes of the book and its multifaceted plot.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus would be an excellent novel for Brown Summer High School because it provides a unique challenge for adolescent readers while maintaining an incredible story. It is not always an easy task to track the plot of a book with multiple storylines, which would be a skill developed throughout the reading of this novel. Additionally, the novel’s text complexity is of a higher level than most adolescent literature, which makes it a novel that can be revisited for purposes of vocabulary development and plot-related clarity. The Night Circus transcends the boundaries of realism within its fantastical plot, but has the ability to surpass the partitions of its own genre through its relatability and literary intricacies.

By: Thea Monje

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus: A Novel. New York: Anchor. 2012. Print.