I’ve got three reviews for you today: a Middle Grade fantasy, a MG/YA graphic novel, and a YA memoir audiobook. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
The Revenge of Magic by James Riley
Series: The Revenge of Magic #1
Published by Aladdin on March 5, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Some MG-level violence)
When long-dead magical creatures are discovered all around the world, each buried with a book of magic, only children can unlock the dangerous power of the books in this start to a thrilling new series from the author of the New York Times bestselling Story Thieves!
Thirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Only those born after “Discovery Day” have the power to use the magic.
Now, on a vacation to Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald’s father is lost when a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking the city. Fort is devastated, until an opportunity for justice arrives six months later, when a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government run school, the Oppenheimer School, to learn magic from those same books.
But life’s no easier at the school, where secrets abound. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort seeing memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? If Fort doesn’t find out what’s hiding within the Oppenheimer School, more attacks will come, and this time, nothing will stop them!
This book is filled with action and adventure right from the very start, and I flew through it! The story follows Fort, who witnesses his father’s death when a giant claw reaches up through the ground and pulls him under. When he’s offered the chance to learn magic and get revenge on those responsible, he jumps at it. But he soon discovers that things aren’t as simple as they seem and there are lots of people at his new school hoping he’ll fail. And, of course, that makes us root for him even harder, knowing that his teachers have put him up against practically impossible odds. Throughout the story, we get clues about the mysterious voice in Fort’s head and what happened in the past that caused the attack that killed Fort’s father. Riley does a fantastic job of spooling out the details so you want to keep reading. This is middle grade fantasy at its best!
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Published by Graphix on October 9, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Memoir
My content rating: MG/YA (Contains some more mature topics like drug use, prison, some implied language and sexual situations--nothing graphic, but implied)
In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery -- Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents -- two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.
Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a graphic novel memoir, but I ended up finding this one really inspiring. Hey, Kiddo tells the story of a boy who was raised in less-than-ideal circumstances. Born to a teenage drug-addicted mom, Jarrett is raised by his grandparents. Jarrett’s family is portrayed in a very real manner–warts and all. His grandparents are loving, if not always perfect role models. And Jarrett learns to process his emotions on the page–in his art. This story is important–it can show kids in similar non-traditional families that they’re not alone and that they can aspire to great things. It’s also important to show kids who haven’t faced these types of circumstances that they exist so that they can get a broader view of the world. It deals with some heavy topics, but it can be a great tool for conversation because of that.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Published by Audible Studios on November 15, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Adult, Memoir
Length: 8 hours and 50 minutes
My content rating: YA/Adult (Some mature language, sexual situations, crime, etc)
Trevor Noah, one of the comedy world's fastest-rising stars and host of The Daily Show, tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
In this Audible Studios production, Noah provides something deeper than traditional memoirists: powerfully funny observations about how farcical political and social systems play out in our lives.
"Nelson Mandela once said, 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.' He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else's language, even if it's just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, 'I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.'" (Trevor Noah)
Attuned to the power of language at a young age - as a means of acceptance and influence in a country divided, then subdivided, into groups at odds with one another - Noah's raw, personal journey becomes something extraordinary in audio: a true testament to the power of storytelling. With brutal honesty and piercing wit, he forgoes an ordinary reading and, instead, delivers something more intimate, sharing his story with the openness and candor of a close friend. His chameleon-like ability to mimic accents and dialects, to shift effortlessly between languages including English, Xhosa, and Zulu, and to embody characters throughout his childhood - his mother, his gran, his schoolmates, first crushes and infatuations - brings each memory to life in vivid detail. Hearing him directly, you're reminded of the gift inherent in telling one's story and having it heard; of connecting with another, and seeing them as a human being.
The stories Noah tells are by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant - subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty, making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a color-obsessed world, thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn't commit, thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, and more.
I was excited to listen to the audiobook version of this book since it’s narrated by Trevor Noah himself. This memoir focuses on Trevor’s childhood as he grew up in Apartheid South Africa. Since he was a child of mixed race, his very existence was literally a crime. I knew about Apartheid, of course, but I only knew of it in terms of distant details. Hearing the story of someone who actually grew up in that environment gives you a much more solid understanding of the damage that Apartheid did and how racism truly affects a society. I’ll confess that there were times that I was sort of surprised at Trevor’s behavior—he describes his antics with humor, but every once in a while I’d start to wonder if he was actually a bit of a delinquent, and I was a little nervous that we were supposed to laugh off his bad behavior, even when it turned into actual crime. But the end of the book showed the revelation that Trevor came to when he realized that there were actual victims to his crimes. One of the main points of this book is that perspective changes everything—it’s hard to think of petty crime as anything important when you’re surrounded by actual dangerous criminals and dangerous circumstances all the time. Trevor asks us to walk in his shoes for a little while, but he also acknowledges that he didn’t always take the right path. While listening to this book, I found myself thinking hard about the racism in our own society and how privilege affects the way I view the world. My only real complaint was that the book seemed a bit disjointed since it doesn’t follow Trevor’s life chronologically (or even particularly thematically). Still, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a broader perspective on the world (which should be everyone, right?).
I’d also be interested in checking out the version of this book that was put out for younger readers (this one does have quite a bit of more mature content and language).