Review: Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was getting ready to write that this book started with power and hypnotism, full of hints at mysterious adventures to come, and then got mired for more than 70 pages in ordinary 1950s double dating conventions. Blah blah snooze. Then – pow! At about page x, it all starts to speed up again and takes some horrible and exciting turns. (No surprises yet, as everything thus far is revealed in the book synopsis, but it’s still well done.) So far, the fairy tale references feel a little underdone; I hope they ramp up!

So, 4 and a half stars for originality, effort, beautiful language, and strangeness. Far fewer for continuity, follow-through, appeal, and closure.

I loved Boy, Snow and Bird. Oyeyemi makes you love them. Why does she tear them apart? History makes clear the motives of Arturo’s family — but his own, individual motives? Why does he marry Boy and let Bird be born without ever disclosing the fact of their passing? Why does he allow Boy to send Snow away? What father does that? Oyeyemi never fully develops what it is that sours the relationship of Boy and Snow. Even with the Cinderella and Snow White references, even with a nod to some postpartum depression, there’s no justification in this story for what comes next. I get that a major theme is the rifts between who you are, how others choose to see you, and your own self-understanding, and how these can warp you or lift you up. But the solid center of the actual tale seems to have happened somewhere off the page.

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Review: Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story
Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Adam Rex fest continues.

If you become undead while chubby, pale, dorky, and too young to drive or get into freaky fetish nightclubs, well, you stay that way forever. Instead of feeding on mesmerized and grateful beauties of the opposite sex, you’ll be sneaking into zoos and farm pens, sucking blood from whoever you can catch. You’ll probably also have to still go to school.

Fat Vampire is a great concept. Not as crazy good as The True Meaning of Smekday (because, what could be?) but, oh, it’ll still take your mind off of stupid grown up problems you can’t quite solve.

One thing that was hard to get past was Doug and Jay’s relationship. They are supposed to be best friends, but, who would want that friendship? They are kind of jerks to each other all the time. (Or, maybe, Doug is always rotten to Jay.) Rex does cover this — The other new vampires notice that they are mean or unfeeling towards people they used to love — Doug, however, was kind of crappy to people before, able to hide it behind the mask of unpopular comic book dude. Maybe becoming a vampire is the unmasking of his true self?

Anyway, I agree with other readers who expressed annoyance over the ending. Choose your own adventure? If I get to choose, I’d choose a whole book centered on Sejal, who not only is the star of her own life but should be the star of her own book.

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Review: Tree Ring Circus

Tree Ring Circus
Tree Ring Circus by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I have a confession to make: I really hate books with lots of repetition (like the House That Jack Built). Especially when I have to read them aloud. I know you’re supposed to encourage the kids to catch on to the repeated phrases and chant along, but I just never enjoyed that bit. When I’m alone, I just skip the repeated lines and try to get ahead to whatever’s supposed to be happening in the story. So, when I started to read Tree Ring Circus I thought, ‘Oh no. Is this going to be an Adam Rex book I’m going to have to decide I hate?’

Phew! This book is great! The rhymes work, the illustrations are whacked, some line repeat and some don’t, making reading this aloud (or silently) much more interesting. The kids can get in on the act when asked “Drumroll, please.” The artistic style completely evokes a circus and it ends with a predictable (yet satisfying) bang!

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Review: Moonday

Moonday
Moonday by Adam Rex
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part of my personal Adam Rex festival.

The quiet blue and brown opening spreads and the hyper-realistically drawn characters set the reader up beautifully for the surprising and magical events ahead.

Favorite line: “It doesn’t belong in out backyard,” said Mom. “And I could do without the dogs.”

This one is for all the kids who ever sleepily gazed out the car window and were sure the moon was following them home.

This will make a lovely bedtime book.

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Review: Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes by Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven short stories linked by the central theme of a mysterious box. I enjoyed seeing how each author and illustrator wove the box into his or her work. I wish there had been an introduction — Did the editor choose them b/c they each involved a box? Are these stories each a unique response to the challenge of the theme?

The cleverist, most satisfying stories are Under the Floorboards, Spring Cleaning, The Keeper’s Treasure, and The Butter Thief. The most visually interesting is Whatzit. Overall, an interesting grouping of tales that are deeper than they appear at first glance. Worth reading!

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Review: The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love

The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love
The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love by Liza Monroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the serious topic, this was a quick and breezy read. Monroy (I found myself wondering if this were her real name) packed a lot of content into this short and entertaining book. Would you risk prison and the ruination of your mother’s career to enable your best friend to stay in the U.S.? What if he risked very real personal violence if forced to return to his country of origin? (Why is threat of persecution for being gay not enough reason for asylum??) There’s a lot to think and talk about in here. I hope many people will read this easy book and then grapple with its difficult topics.

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