Monday, August 29, 2016

If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine  by Sara Farizan

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has shared kisses and romantic dreams of the future with her best friend Nasrin since they were little girls.  But modern Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love.  The punishment for homosexuality might be a beating, or it might be death by hanging.  So far, their love has stayed secret...but when Nasrin's family arranges a marriage for her, Sahar feels she must act.

Although homosexuality is a crime in Iran, transsexuality is not.  In fact, the government will pay for sexual reassignment.  Sahar knows she isn't really a man in a woman's body.  But, what if this is the only way she can ever be with Nasrin?

This absorbing peek into another culture features a wide cast of well-written characters:  Sahar, who loves Nasrin.  Nasrin, who loves candy, and Bollywood movies, and pretty clothes, and being the center of attention...and probably also loves Sahar.  Sahar's father, who still mourns for his wife and refuses to move forward with his life.  Sahar's cousin Ali, a gay man trying to find his place. Ali's friend Parveen, who tries to help Sahar sort things out.  And Reza, the doctor engaged to marry Nasrin, who is not as simple and two-dimensional as Sahar might wish.

Kissing, mild cussing, sexual decisionmaking and sexual situations.  Recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guy in Real Life

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Lesh does not have romance on his mind as he staggers home drunk at 2:30am after a heavy metal concert in downtown Saint Paul.  He is thinking about his head, his guts, and the sidewalk, and how soon those three things are going to connect in vivid, pukey Technicolor.

That's why Lesh isn't watching where he's walking...and he walks right into Svetlana,

Svetlana isn't thinking about romance either.  She's riding her bicycle, thinking about her friends, and contemplating the amazing artwork she has created for the upcoming Gaming Club campaign...until Lesh wobbles into her path and sends them both sprawling into a puddle.

The collision of Lesh and Svetlana starts a series of events that might be reminiscent of a modern reboot of a 1970's television sitcom...until the plot takes a sudden twist and everything changes.

Lesh is so fascinated by Svetlana that he secretly creates a online MMO  character that looks just like her.  He even names his character "Svvetlana" (with two V's), and campaigns her up to level fifty, gaining power, virtual gold, and lots of magical online loot.

Lesh enjoys spending time with Svetlana (one V) in real life, but he also enjoys being Svvetlana (two V's) in the game.

What could possibly go wrong?

In alternating narrative voices (Lesh and Svetlana, and also the virtual warrior orc Kugnar and the virtual elf priestess Svvetlana), the story gradually stumbles and reels to an unexpected--and sort of wonderful--final chapter.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  Lesh is verbally misogynistic (calling girls "skanks" etc.) which is somewhat disturbing, especially considering his own gender questions.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America  by Katie Kennedy

Apparently, it's difficult to calculate how much stuff from space lands on Earth in an average year.  But in Learning to Swear in America, there's only one object that anybody worries about. 

Asteroid BR1019 is a big one.  Not kill-the-dinosaurs big, (probably), but destroy-the-West-Coast-of-America big (possibly).  That's why NASA has borrowed Russian teen physics prodigy Yuri Strelnikov:  in the hope that Yuri can save California with math.

Yuri's research in antimatter will win the next Nobel Prize (presumably), but he is still a seventeen-year-old boy and the NASA scientists are disinclined to listen to him.  That's enough to drive Yuri to use obscenities, if only he knew how.

With help from hippie-girl Dovie (who declines his offer of quick sex before the world goes cold) and her brother Lennon (who sees the world clearly from his seat in a wheelchair), Yuri learns how to swear.  

And then, Yuri (maybe) has a chance to save the world (or at least, California).

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  An excellent pair for The Martian by Andy Weir with (significantly) fewer cuss words.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Into the River

Into the River  by Ted Dawe

Te Arepa Santos lives with his grandfather Ra, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles, descendants of a Maori woman who married a heroic Spanish pirate.  The day that Te Arepa encounters the giant eel in a haunted stream, his life changes.  Soon Te Arepa, like his piratical ancestor Diego Santos, will leave his family home and his traditions.  Soon, he is on his way to an exclusive boy's boarding school in Auckland.

Into the River was the first book ever to be banned in New Zealand, although that country has much stricter "decency standards" than we have here in America.  The book wasn't even banned when it was first published; actually, it spent two years picking up prestigious awards like the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year first.  Then it got rated "for mature readers ages 14+".  Then it was banned entirely: not available for sale to any reader in New Zealand at all (although sales of the international Kindle edition went up as readers circumvented the ban).

Why all the fuss?  That's what I wondered.  So I read it.

The story contains sexual situations--including naked body parts, masturbation and intercourse--on the page.  There is cussing, and drug use.  There is homosexuality, bullying, underage drinking, suicide, lawless behavior and rampant racism. 

My verdict:  the censors in New Zealand really need to get out more.

In other words, Into the River contains nothing we haven't seen in teen lit before.  Why this particular book bothered the outspoken members of Family First, I cannot say.  

Unfortunately for my feelings of unfettered righteousness, I did not love the book.  

Not because I object to sexual content in teen books (obviously) but rather because I thought that the main character had tremendous potential as a young Maori man entering Western society...and he quickly turned as mainstream as the bullies around him.  


While the first half of the book raced along with the glory of Maori words footnoted on each page, the last half trudged inexorably towards the main character's expulsion from school.   

Buy this to diversify your collections, or to demonstrate the power of censorship (sales soared!), but if you want to read a great coming-of-age story of Maori New Zealand, you may have to write it yourself.