by Libba Bray
When a plane full of beauty queens headed for the final leg of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant crashes on an island in the Atlantic, all but 13 of the contestants perish. All of the stranded girls have their own priorities: Miss New Hampshire wants to figure out how to survive on the island, Miss Texas wants to continue to practice for the competition, Miss Rhode Island needs to find her medication, and Miss New Mexico has to figure out a new hairstyle that will distract from the airline tray stuck in her forehead. Surviving the elements is the first challenge, but the girls will have to learn to love and respect themselves and each other in order to make it through the trials that await them on the island. While the beginning of the story focuses on the skeptical Miss New Hampshire (Adina Greenberg), we get to see each of the contestants’ thoughts and backstories as the book goes on. The story is occasionally interrupted by commercial breaks, and includes product placement footnotes from our sponsor, The Corporation.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book was actually overtly feminist. It’s a satire, so it gets a lot of flak for having characters who are just stereotypes, but Bray turns a lot of the stereotypes on their heads. There are a lot of characters who never get a name beyond Miss [state], but even this gets some tongue-in-cheek attention near the end of the book. For a story with such overt political messages, it is shockingly funny! Even though the characters discuss some complex political issues, the book avoids a didactic after-school special directness by staging these conversations in settings that would be either realistically appropriate for such conversations or hilariously inappropriate for them. Of course a group of beauty pageant contestants would discuss Feminism 101 over campfire. And a backstory about colonialism is totally pillow talk material before oral sex! But, race politics while sinking in quicksand? Well, that’s just awesome. While the book sort of spirals out of logical control in the last quarter, none of the messages are lost in the chaos, and it’s still pretty funny. There are some glaring plot holes, of course, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief for what I got in return: a socially responsible survival satire starring a group of kick-ass ladies.
Recommended for mature teens who are comfortable enough with reading non-descriptive sex scenes. Ideal for teens who are interested in social issues, but funny enough to be enjoyed by teens looking for something silly.
by Shannon and Dean Hale, ill. Nathan Hale (no relation)
Rapunzel lives a sheltered life within high fortress walls that surround the house she lives in with her mother, whom everyone calls Mother Gothel. One day, Rapunzel decides to scale the walls and sees that Mother Gothel has used her magical green thumb to control the land and make the villagers slaves for her coal mines. Rapunzel discovers that Gothel stole her from her birth mom when she was a baby and sent her mom to work in the mines. When Rapunzel demands to be reunited with her real mom and refuses Mother Gothel’s offer to inherit the family business, Gothel locks her up in an enchanted tower of a tree. As the tree continues to grow, so does Rapunzel’s hair. She uses her lasso skills and her long braided hair to rescue herself from the tree and begins a wild west adventure to undo Mother Gothel’s evil deeds and rescue her birth mother from the mines.
The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it raised my expectations for other cracked fairy tales. I was incredibly disappointed with Tangled after having read this. Thankfully, there’s a sequel: Calamity Jack, which focuses on Jack’s backstory. I can’t stress enough how much I love this comic. Strong female main character, positive First Nations secondary character, incredibly clever writing, and good consistent drawings make this story stand out as one of the best books for kids I’ve picked up in the last few years.
Anyone who liked Jeff Smith’s Bone series will enjoy the humour and adventure of this story, and it’s a good one for those who love cracked fairy tales. Kids enjoy this book, but I also recommend it to adults who are interested in comics and appreciate a good parable about unchecked capitalism.
by Maurice Gee
When the Whips come to Blood Burrow and round up people for Company’s salt mines, they don’t get everyone. But they do get Tarl, Hari’s father. He is marked for transport to Deep Salt, a place from which no one ever returns. Hari promises his father he will save him and get his revenge on Company. Lo has told him the story of when Company first arrived in the town of Belong and traded with the locals until the locals understood they had become Company’s slaves. The people of Belong revolted and threw their oppressors off a cliff until Company retreated. But Company came back in full force and threw the people of Belong off a cliff and set up an empire in Belong, pushing any survivors to the burrows. Lo also taught Hari how to communicate with humans and animals without speaking.
Pearl is from a Company family and has had a different education, with one similarity: she has been taught by her maid, Tealeaf, to communicate telepathically. When a marriage is arranged between Pearl and a power-hungry older man named Ottmar, Pearl and Tealeaf escape and head into the wild. There they cross paths with Hari, whose first instinct is to kill Pearl. But they will all have to work together to stop Company and the cycle of violence it has brought to Belong.
I’m a sucker for post-colonialist fiction, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this book. There’s a lot of brutal violence, supernatural abilities, and survival stuff in there too! Easily one of my favourite reads in the last year, but I’m reluctant to ruin it by reading the sequel. It always ruins it for me when romance comes into the picture. Still, I’m impressed by Gee’s ability to weave issues of race and colonialism and the cycle of violence into such a gripping adventure story.
Definitely a recommended read for teens and adults who can handle dark, thoughtful reads.