Here are some shorter musings on recently read MG novels.
Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison
I liked this so much more than I expected to going into it. I had not read the first book in the series and was expecting a typical fairy tale retelling. You can read this without reading the first book, but now I want to read that too. This was nothing like a typical MG fairy tale retelling. It delved into some pretty deep political and social justice themes. Fairy Tales are the PERFECT place for that. I very much liked both Ella and Dash and how their relationship developed, but how there was also a lot of other important things going on. Looking forward to reading the first book and continuing with the series now!
The Dragon's Return by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, Andy Tong
I did not read book one of the Zodiac Legacy but read this volume because it was nominated for a Cybils. (I am a round one MG Spec Fic panelist.) I did not find it at all difficult to pick up on what was going on even though I had not read the first. Like a Marvel movie, it seemed designed for that. This is pretty much a Marvel movie in novel form in every way imaginable. The characters can all be matched to a movie counterpart. The plot is fast moving and follows a similar formula: major team action sequence, team tired and angsting, various team members cause minor to major disasters with more action scenes, major team action sequence with threads dangling for next installment, team tired but renewing their bond minus some who are MIA. It even has two epilogues. There is a diverse cast and several female characters of importance. All in all a good read for any kid addicted to super hero stories and tropes. The sentence level writing is mediocre and I do feel this would work better as a graphic novel series. I really did love the illustrations that are included though.
My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Let me say the one good thing I can: The MG voice here is strong and well done. It definitely gets you invested and keeps you reading. However, that also left me feeling greatly betrayed and incredibly angry by the time I reached the end of the book. I wanted to rage and shake my fists at the sky, "I READ 400 PAGES FOR THAT???" Ugh. Engaging voice aside, it is just not worth it. The story takes place in an alternate modern US world wear fantastical creatures (dragons, mermaids, sasquatches, etc. exist and so infrastructure (highways, railways, etc.) did not develop as they did in our world. What was able to develop was bad fast food. Plenty of Taco Bells and Dairy Queens to be found! It got to the point where I was ready to set the book on fire if Taco Bell was mentioned one more time. The world being so similar to ours was a big problem for me. The history of the US and its technological development would be VERY DIFFERENT if the entire middle of the country were uninhabitable. Where were the First Nations peoples? Wouldn't regions have developed their own governments and ways of surviving? The. World. Makes. No. Sense. You want to know what else this alternate world has besides fantastical creatures? Ominous clouds that show up in your town, then your street, then your house. They hover just outside waiting to take the soul of an unknown occupant. Dun Dun Duh. Want to try to outrun the cloud? It will follow you. There is no escaping the Clouds of Death. The whole plot of the book revolves around an attempt at this. Road Trip! Gracie (the main character) and her family hightail it out of their town trying to not let the doomed person from their house die. And that's the book. Family road trip to escape a Death Cloud. (They pick up an orphan and Sasquatch on the way. Hilarious right?) The ending made me furious from a thematic angle and a plot/storytelling angle. Also a characterization angle. It is the thematic angle that made the most upset though which I can't talk about without spoiling the book.
The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
I found reading this to be the ultimate experience in frustration. There is such a good story here. Reuben is an excellent main character and I loved his relationship with his mom. The supporting characters are all equally wonderful. The mystery is good too. But all of that is lost in an avalanche of verbiage. There are so many unnecessary words. This book is 500 pages long. 500 pages full of long detailed tiny print worded paragraphs. These long paragraphs outnumber the segments of dialogue by a lot. This story could have been told in half the pages and been an amazing read.
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
This is an excellent addition to Grace Lin's lovely set of books that take place in Ancient China. Lin brought elements from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky together in this story. What's truly brilliant is that you don't have to read those two books to enjoy and fully understand this one. They are a rich layer for those who have, but the book stands well on its own too. Pinmei and Yishan are my favorite heroes of this set. They complemented each other so well. As I've come to expect from Lin, the setting was rich and lovely, all the characters important, and the way the plot wove together was magical.