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The Porcupine of Truth.
Konigsberg, Bill (author).
May 2015. 336p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, hardcover, $17.99 (9780545648936). Grades 9-12.
First published March 1, 2015 (Booklist).
Seventeen-year-old Carson has come from New York City to Billings, Montana, to spend the summer with his dying father, whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years. Things are different in Billings. For one thing, it’s quiet; for another, there are no animals in the Billings Zoo—well, except for a depressed Siberian tiger “with a look of existential despair in his eyes.” However, all is not lost, for it is at the zoo that Carson meets Aisha and falls instantly in love. There’s only one hitch: Aisha is a lesbian. Carson is disappointed, but, nevertheless, the two form an easy, bantering friendship, and together they set off in search of Carson’s grandfather, who vanished when Carson’s dad was a teenager. Their goal is to bring the dying man closure, but their quixotic search ends up testing their friendship. And the truth, when it emerges, may be as thorny as, well, a porcupine. Konigsberg (Openly Straight, 2013) employs a colorful style (a day is “warm, like bread just out of the oven,” and Carson’s new room is “like a remote bunker where people store their afterthoughts”) and crafts fascinating, multidimensional teen and adult characters. A friendship between a straight boy and a lesbian is relatively rare in YA fiction and is, accordingly, exceedingly welcome. And that’s the truth. Michael Cart
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As a member of the Scintilla,
17-year-old Cora possesses the rare ability to see people’s auras, making her
both an object of desire and a target for harm.
A showdown between the few remaining
Scintilla and the Arrazi, a group capable of feeding on people’s auras, leaves
Cora’s father dead. She also discovers that Finn, her “rock-star poet,” is a
member of this vampirelike group. Chapters bounce between Finn’s attempts to
deny his murderous heritage and Cora’s discovery of her latent powers.
Thankfully, in addition to her addled mother, Cora also has the support of fellow
Scintilla Giovanni and Mari and Dun, friends from America. Following clues left
in Dante’s Paradiso, they begin to unravel the history of the two races
as well as to research ways of possibly defeating the Arrazi. The love triangle
among Cora, Finn and Giovanni echoes that of Twilight and its many imitators. However,
Cora, possessing both her own powers and a fierce determination to protect
those she loves, is no shrinking violet. New enemies emerge, and new alliances
are forged as the death toll rises. Passion and power are the driving forces
behind this series that continues to deliver.
A solid if not terribly original sequel
to Scintillate (2014). (Paranormal
romance. 14 & up)
THE ALEX CROW
Three stories wind round one another
in unexpected ways in this science-fiction offering peppered with recurring
Fifteen-year-old Ariel Burgess
survived a nightmarish attack on his home village by hiding in a refrigerator. He
was taken in by a family in Virginia, and to his chagrin, he has now been
packed off along with his adoptive brother, Max, to stay at Camp Merrie-Seymour
for Boys, a free perk his family receives for the work done by their inventor
father for a research group. A multitude of strange and grimly funny characters
populates the camp, including Mrs. Nussbaum, a prim therapist whose forced
cheer is at one point hilariously described as being “about one-half-octave
above ‘drunkenly enthusiastic’ and just below the sound baby dolphins make” and
who offers the first hint that all may not be as it seems. Two other narrative
threads—one involving a ship called the Alex
Crow stuck in the ice during the 1800s and the other detailing the madness
of a character called the “melting man,” who hears various voices urging him to
commit acts of violence—are juxtaposed against Ariel and Max’s story, smartly
weaving their ways into it right up to the surprising conclusion.
Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly
witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw
experiences. (Science fiction. 14 & up)
TRAVELS IN VERMEER
A memoir exploring how
Johannes Vermeer’s paintings bestow bountiful gifts.
Poet White (Creative
Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; Vermeer in Hell, 2014,
etc.) was stunned when he first saw Vermeer’s The Milkmaid during
a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. “Stillness. Not emptiness but
stillness,” he thought as he gazed at the figure of the milkmaid. “A great soul
balanced there.” When he discovered that only 35 of the artist’s works are on
view in the world, he decided to see them all: in The Hague, Washington’s
National Gallery, New York’s Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of
Art, and London’s Kenwood House, Royal Collection and National Gallery. In this
lyrical memoir, the author recounts his travels in search of Vermeer, set in
the context of love, loss and pain: a difficult childhood, alcoholism and
recovery, the grueling death of his first wife and, most recently, a wrenching
divorce. Along the way, he tells of two unpromising dates with women he met
online; his love for his young daughter; and his frustration over the custody
fight that will limit his seeing her. Vermeer’s “radiant canvases” serve as an
antidote to his enervating sense of loss: “The rapturous inner life of each
woman and the infinitesimally detailed and self-contained life of the street
are each imagined as an undiscovered heaven on earth.” White’s descriptions are
sensuous, precise and evocative. He describes one painting as a “dialogue
between Vermeer’s favorite colors [that] pervades the entire atmosphere of the
room.” A window “seductively refracts the world rather than revealing it, and
in so doing makes it seem new and strange.” The figures communicate with one
another in “a circular, closed system of glances.” White praises Vermeer for
his sensitivity to “anatomies of intimate, unguarded moments,” a sensitivity
that White himself brings to his luminous readings of the paintings.
An enchanting book about
the transformative power of art.