Monday, July 18, 2011

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

The Book Talk:

The Review:  

I'm a sucker for dystopian literature.  If a book is about a futuristic/alternate society where things aren't perfect, I'm probably going to read it no matter what it's about.  Epitaph Road is the book I chose for the middle school book group I'm running at the library I work for, because I wanted to choose a good middle school appropriate dystopia that could get them talking.

One of the most important aspects of a dystopian novel, for me, is the world-building.  In order for an oppressive society to believable, the world in which it is set has to be well constructed and vividly imagined.  I enjoyed the basic concept of the world in this book.  It was an interesting idea to play with a society that is mostly run by women (one that I thought was very well done in the adult graphic novel Y: The Last Man).  There are glimpses of great world building in Epitaph Road, but overall it was less vivid than I wanted it to be.   There's a little history lesson embedded in the story that gives some background on the way the world came to be, but I never really felt immersed.   It also felt a little odd to me that the main character, a male, did generally seem to agree with the fact that a society with only 5% men was better than one with a 50/50 gender ratio (women can live safely, FINALLY!).  Basically, the idea was interesting, but the world and its concept could have been better and more clearly executed.

I felt kind of the same way about everything else in this book, actually -- like it was about halfway to where it needed to be.  The action and the setting was a little muddy (I just had a hard time picturing what was happening), and the characters were just not that interesting.  A lot of terrible things happen to people in this book, and I never really felt like I got to know any of them well enough to care about their well-being and their relationships with each other.  I did enjoy the voice of the main character (David Patneaude does not dumb down the text, which is nice), but I to know more about the differences in personality between Tia and Sunday, the two main female characters (to me, they really seemed like the same person).

Overall, not a bad dystopia, but not one of my favorites either.  I wanted more clear realization of the world and its characters, but the overall sad mood of the book really did take me in and make me think.  I would recommend this book  for 6th graders and older who like books like Gone and The Hunger Games.   I know a lot of other people enjoyed this book, so I'd love to hear other opinions!

Random side note:  David Patneaude is actually coming to my middle school book group at the library tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to what he says about his novel.  Maybe my opinion'll change a bit once I've heard him speak!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How to Grow Up and Rule the World, by Vordak the Incomprehensible

The Book Talk:

The Review:

After I finished reading How to Grow Up and Rule the World, I had this weird feeling that I had experienced it before.  It took me a little bit of thinking, but then I realized -- oh yeah!  This is basically a print version of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog", but for kids!  But then I thought about it a little more, and I realized that it really is a different idea.  "Dr. Horrible" was a great because it was a great story.  This book is great for a different reason.

While it is classified as fiction, this book is actually kind of an awesome introduction to non-fiction for kids who usually read fiction.  At its core, it's a non-fiction instruction manual on how to become a successful super villain.  The chapters are organized by subject (how to create a lair, how to dress, etc.).  There really is no story to speak of, except for the little tidbits Vordak interjects about his own personal life, and how he may have become a failed super villain himself.  Yet, with minimal narrative to lean on, this book kept my attention.  It is completely riddled with hilarity (Vordak's sense of entitlement and pomposity will surely make anyone giggle), and the illustrations are appropriately comic-like (and also funny).   I really enjoyed the interactive nature of some of the text (you actually get to create your own super villain name, and there are fun charts to help you figure out what your costume should look like).

This is definitely a good boy book, and an excellent book for kids who might love to read but are intimidated by stories without pictures.  I book-talked it to local elementary schools, and I instantly had kids coming to the library and asking me for Vordak left and right -- one of the best things was that I had kids of all ages and both genders requesting it!  Girls want to be super villains too.

The one problem I had with How to Grow Up and Rule the World was that it had some jokes that were a little too current.  Some were current to the point that they were already not that funny any more (The Jonas Brothers faded away pretty should probably already be adjusted to Justin Bieber).  I am hoping that this doesn't mean that the book will be dated and irrelevant really soon, and that the publishers will update the jokes every once in awhile to keep it up-to-date.

Other than that though, this is a great pick for Diary of a Wimpy Kid lovers, humor fanatics, and comic book fiends.