Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
THE BEST OF 2005

Dear Reader,

I read a lot of good young adult novels last year. Each is worth a full review but given my advanced years, I'd have to reread every novel to pick up the details I can't remember. So, I have negotiated this section of short reviews for a number of books. I hope these comments will lead you to the good reads I experienced. It is my policy to give you as little of the details of a story as possible. Why read it if I tell you everything that happens. This is so with my full reviews as well.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic, Inc., Copyright © 2004
Age Group: 12 up

Your bar code tattoo will make your life easier. It's painlessly tattooed onto the underside of your left wrist. The tattoo will aid you in everything from a map of one's DNA to assist in medical treatment to a driver's license to identification to shopping. Everybody gets a bar code tattoo when they turn seventeen. Getting a bar code tattoo is a rite of passage, the movement from childhood to adulthood. As such it is an anticipated and celebrated occasion. Not unlike a barmitzvah. Kayla, nearly 17, resists obtaining her bar code tattoo. On the other hand her parents and old friends at school can't understand why Kayla isn't excited. She finds others who are not so thrilled about the idea. They feel their lives will be limited and people will know too much about them. Kayla and her new friends have observed that after receiving the tattoo some obtain good jobs and a high standard of living while others find themselves in ghettos. The questions raised are individuality vs. conformity, identity vs. access, freedom vs. control. If there is a fault to this novel it would be that in places it reads like a first draft.

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
Rayo, Copyright © 2002
Age Group: 10 up

Alexander Cold and Nadia, daughter of the expedition guide, find themselves on an adventure up the Amazon River to find Bigfoot or Sasquatch and the secret city in which he hides. At first Alexander was not excited to stay with Kate, his grouchy grandmother, but changes his mind once he learns of her plans. Alex and Nadia become good friends and share their efforts to save the beast. The plot moves at warp speed, full of surprises and ironic twists. Publishers Weekly noted "the action and outcome seem preordained, cleverly crafted to deliver the moral, but many readers will find the author's formula successful with its environmentalist theme, a pinch of the grotesque and a larger dose of magic." I enjoyed this novel a great deal.

City of Ember and The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
Random House, Copyright © 2003 & 2004
Age Group: 10 up

This short review deals with a book and it's sequel. Ember has existed underground for 250 years. The people there have always had just what they needed to live good lives. Life has been so good, in fact, that the people have never questioned if there was anyplace besides Ember. Now, however, the food is running out and the lights are beginning to flicker, fade, and fail. Two teens, Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet, are instrumental in the discovery of a way out of Ember. Once out they meet the people of Sparks, one of the only communities to escape the time of the disaster. How the two peoples, who couldn't be more divergent, form an alliance is a model we could follow today. The sequel is a bit weaker than Ember but together they both make a fun read. Trust me.

Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
Simon Pluse, Copyright © 2001
Age Group: 10 - 16

The second book I read in 2005 that was about an underground civilization. However in this work the Downsiders know about the Upsiders. Two 14-year-olds, Talon (Dn) and Lindsay (Up), meet in an unexpected way and their curiosity about each other's worlds become an addiction. Then they begin to visit one another and offer tours of life up- and down-side. This was a fun and exciting book as there were many new developments and a few plot twists. The relationship between and Talon and Lindsay show us clearly that our culture shapes our identity and how we view others. I consumed this book with a voracious appetite. I bought ten of these so I could give them away.

Growing Wings by Laurel Winter
Penguin/Putman, Copyright © 2000
Age Group: 9 - 12

This was the first delightful book I read about children with wings in 2005. Linnet's wings were easy to hide until about age 11. They grow to be pretty big by then and can't be hidden under baggie sweaters or jackets. Some parents actually cut the wings off their children at birth leaving two ugly scares and giving birth to the cut-wings culture. Linnet's mother and grandmother are both cut-wings and her mother refused to cut off Linnet's. At the end of school Linnet is taken to stay at her grandmother's home and eventually joins a small community of children with wings. There is much conflict between Linnet and another winged girl, frustrating efforts to fly (is doesn't come with the wings, you have to learn) and intrigue as the children try to hide from the media. Soon they find a web site and a national network of people with wings. They are not alone but where do they go from here? Publisher's Weekly called this a flawed novel. I disagree as I found reading it to be a precious pleasure.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
The Chicken House, Copyright © 2003
Age Group: 9 - 12 (Up)

What could be more fun than a book about a book? Add to that a man named Mo (aka Silvertongue) who can read characters right out of a book. However there is a downside to this -- someone from our world will be exchanged for the person read into our world. The magic must be balanced and we have no control over who will disappear. Mo first discovered his talent when Meggie was just a baby. Mo unknowingly read some very evil character into our world. At the same time Meggie's mother disappeared as she was pulled into the world of the book. Whew, what a powerful but dangerous gift. Mo and Meggie have been in hiding ever since that day. The evil Capricorn (one of the people read into our world) wants to find Mo and have him read in a horrible monster so he can control the world. The excitement grows as the story gets ever more complex as Mo and Meggie stay on the move trying to evade Capricorn's men. I read this in paperback but loved it so much I went back to the bookstore and obtained it in hardcover for my personal library.

Last Book In The Universe, The by Rodman Philbrick
Scholastic Apple Paperbacks, Copyright © 2000
Age Group: 12 up

The story in this book takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting that offers two sides of the coin. Less privileged people live on the street where the gangs rule life. Privileged, wealthy folks, live in beautiful highrise neighborhoods with all the advantages of the latest technologies and security. Spaz is a young boy who must find medical help for his ill foster sister. To accomplish this he must cross various gang territories and other dangers. Along the way he meets an old man named Ryter whose only treasure is the book he is writing in a bookless world. Finally he meets Linnea, a prove (genetically improved person) and enlists her help. Along the way Spaz learns who he really is and where the last book can be found. The three of them are involved in enough adventure and intrigue to keep even the least of reader's attention. Avid readers will consume this book as if it were air.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Eos, Copyright © 2001
Age Group: 12 up

"The little town was so close that he could see the antlike shapes of people running about on its upper tiers. How frightened they must be, with London bearing down on them and nowhere to hide! But he knew he mustn't feel sorry for them: It was natural that cities ate towns, just as towns ate smaller towns and smaller towns snapped up the miserable static settlements. That was Municipal Darwinism, and it was the way the world had worked for a thousand years, ever since the great engineer Nikolas Quirke had turned London into the first traction city." (p. 10) As if things couldn't get worse, the weapon that laid waste to the world one thousand years before has been recreated in London in order to disable other mobile cities and consume them. Two young people are involved in trying to stop the possible carnage if the weapon is used again. Tom, an apprentice at the London Museum, is the principal character. What a page turner this was as you learn more about Municipal Darwinism, how it works, and who the idiots are that are running the whole thing. Tons of adventure, intrigue, and even a little romance.

Redwall by Brian Jacques
Ace Books, Copyright © 1986
Age Group: 9 - 12

In the tradition of Watership Down by Richard Adams, Brian Jacques has created a thick and brightly colored tapestry. Redwall is the beginning of a fantasy world that is rich in heritage and detail. What would fantasy novels do without a coming of age story? Jacques gives us Matthias the mouse. Tiny of stature but huge of heart. And as they say in the boxing movies, "Tough ain't enough, you gotta have heart." Matthias is our man, er mouse, and when the Redwall Abby comes under attack from Cluny the Scourge, the evil, one-eyed rat and his horrible horde, Matthias vows to find the lost sword of Martin the Warrior. Without the sword Redwall Abby will fall. This is a fun read with a large diversity of animals. Each animal's talents are related to their true nature in the wild. I recommend this book to all lovers of fantasy.

Storyteller's Daughter, The by Cameron Dokey
Scholastic, Inc. Copyright © 2002
Age Group: 12 up

So what if the King (not Elvis) got dumped once. It happens to everybody. Instead, he goes ape and marries a different girl once a month and then kills her the next morning before she has the time to betray him with another man. First, I can understand why he was so hurt. This is serious business. On the other hand, how many beautiful young women can a small country have? Nevertheless, the storyteller's daughter volunteers one month and finds a way to prolong their relationship. This is a sweet, soft story that all will enjoy. It is also a retelling of a tale from The Arabian Nights.

Supernaturalist, The by Eoin Colfer
Miramax Books, Copyright © 2004
Age Group: 12 up

The Supernaturalist is a supernatural book. I was taken by its spell on page one. Cosmo is a 14-year-old orphan who knows most orphans fail to reach the age of fifteen. He plans a daring escape and though successful, he is seriously injured. First he is attacked by an alien parasite that feeds off the dying, and then he is rescued by a rag-tag group of young people who have dedicated their lives to destroying the parasites. Cosmo is recruited by The Supernaturalists as a spotter because he can see the blue critters. From here the plot twists several times and keeps the reader bound to the book. Friends turn out to be enemies and is it possible that the alien critters are beneficial? Can friendly enemies be believed? Read this amazing book and find out. Rumor has it that there is a movie in the works.

Uglies by Scott Westereld
Simon Pluse, Copyright © 2005
Age Group: 12 up

Much of the world is a wasteland because of a virus that destroyed all petroleum. Society forces people into three groups; uglies, pretties, and specials. The uglies are taught that they are ugly when perhaps they are nothing but normal. At age 16 every ugly must have a special operation that makes them a pretty. Pretties spend their time in pursuit of fun. They live inside a neon lighted roller coaster world. We only meet one Special and that was enough for me. She was quite frightening. Tally Youngblood and Shay are friends. The love to break and rules and go hover boarding at night or sneak up and watch the Pretties. They discuss Shay's negative feelings on the operation and her plans to run off to a community in which you are free to be you. When Shay disappears, Tally is forced to follow and betray her or not get the operation to become a Pretty. Uglies is an incredibly creative concept. However I think the book is somewhat shallow. It touches on many ideas and values of our society but does not explore any in depth. I believe it is the author's intention to make the readers draw their own conclusions. Uglies is a page-turner and reading it is a lot of fun. And remember to schedule your appointment for your operation to become a Pretty. It is, after all, first come first serve.


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