by Philip Pullman
The final book in the trilogy follows Will as he tries to find Lyra, who is being kept in a permanent state of sleep by Mrs Coulter. In her dream state, Lyra communicates with her dead friend Roger, and she forms a plan to travel with Will into the afterlife to help him. Meanwhile, Mary Malone has stumbled upon an opening into a fantastical world with strange creatures who take her in as their friend and maybe saviour. Lord Asriel continues his plot to undermine the Authority, and Mrs Coulter struggles with her newfound emotional attachment to her daughter. A lot happens.
You may have noticed that I stopped reviewing books for a while. That is because of this book. Even though I am a fast reader, it took me ages to finish this book. As much as I loved it, it was almost too creative to read. I would start reading it and then get distracted and have to go create something of my own or just stare into space contemplating love or the universe or something. In the His Dark Materials series, I felt the momentum stall in the second book with the introduction of Will, who I couldn’t bring myself to care about. Everything picked up in this book, though, and I became really invested in his character and his relationship with Lyra. I loved all of the characters, even if I felt nothing for them in the previous books. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the writing is. The descriptions of the action, the different worlds, and the different peoples are so vivid I felt like I was watching this book instead of reading it. This series is definitely going on my re-read shelf, even though I think it will take me forever to get through it all again.
Obviously recommended to people who have already read the first two books. To anyone who may have given up over the course of the series like I did, I urge you to read on because it’s definitely worth it.
by Robert Muchamore
James Choke is an ordinary 11-year-old with a few problems. His mum is an obese swindler who sells stolen electronics to the local soccer moms, and the other kids won’t stop hassling James about how fat his mum is. When James violently snaps at one of his schoolmates, causing her to get stitches, he lands himself in court. But his court visit isn’t until after he comes home one day and finds his mum dead in her favourite chair.
James gets put into a children’s home, and his sister Lauren has to live with her no-good dad. He falls into a rough crowd, and ends up attempting a liquor store robbery hours after his court visit. Shortly thereafter, he is recruited by CHERUB, an organization of child spies that finds crafty orphans like James and offers them an alternative to a life of crime. The training is hard, but James knows that if he quits, his life will continue to spiral out of control until he lands himself in jail.
This series is so much better than Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. James is a more realistic character than Alex, and the other characters and all the plot twists are a little more grounded in reality. I’ve read nearly all the books in the series, and it seems to be far less problematic than other spy books I’ve tried. Where Alex Rider books come across as xenophobic and at times outright racist (Horowitz uses the term “Chinaman” in Snakehead), the CHERUB series actually includes gay people, women, and people of colour who contribute to the plot and are on the good guys’ side. I like that James isn’t perfect, and he isn’t just born with secret spy skills like Alex Rider is. I think the teens in this series are more realistic, and while the series includes progressive values the teens do not necessarily reflect them like characters in an after school special would. James gets pretty sleazy with the ladies and exhibits problematic behavior, but as in real life there are consequences. The worst cliché I see in CHERUB is the “environmental terrorists” trope that crops up a lot, but at least the main characters are sympathetic to environmental concerns, with one character even making a commitment to vegetarianism after a run-in with a PETA-like terrorist group.
These books are action-packed, gritty, and easy to read. Even though the main character is 11 when it starts, it is definitely more of a teen read because of the subject matter. They are perfect for older readers who just want something fast and fun and not too challenging, but at a teen level of maturity. Girls read these too and I don’t like gender stereotyping, but this is the ideal series for teen boys who aren’t usually into reading.
by Kristin Cashore
In the Seven Kingdoms, everyone knows that those born with two differently coloured eyes are also born with a Grace–an extraordinary inborn talent for one thing or another. For some, it’s baking a mean mud pie, for others, it may be accounting. For Katsa, it’s being a brutal killing machine. Her talent is unmatched, and her role as the vengeful King Randa’s goon has made her feared throughout the kingdoms. Frustrated at her negative role in life, Katsa takes part in a secret society that tries to do good. It is on one of their missions that she meets a boy who seems to have an identical Grace and who may be part of a larger conspiracy to throw the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil. Brute strength alone won’t fix this problem, and Katsa has to figure out who and how to trust when so much is at stake.
Vancouver KidsBooks started recommending Graceling to young girls who came in to buy Twilight. It is a fantasy novel with romance, mystery, action, and supernatural abilities. There are many differences between this book and the Twilight series, but the most profound contrasts are that this book is socially responsible and incredibly well written. Not an insignificant difference, but a unique one as far as supernatural teen fiction goes. Katsa does not want to get married, can physically overpower all of the males in the book, will not sacrifice her values for romance, and is a natural leader. The male lead is respectful of women, cooperative in heroic situations, and shows no evidence of the creepy controlling-man syndrome seen in Stephenie Meyer’s books. Awesome values aside, this book was exciting and surprising, and I would love to read it again.
Even though Graceling is about a girl, I really hope book hawkers everywhere talk it up to boys as well as girls. It’s got a lot of action, bad-ass characters, surprising twists, and a nice absence of gushy romantic feelings (even if it is slightly romantic). A good book for teens of all ages who like castle fiction or supernatural action. Read before Fire!