Cath is the shy “Clark Kent” half of Cath and Wren, a pair of twins who used to share everything, including their love of writing and reading fan fiction. But now that they’re headed to college, Wren isn’t as interested in their online stories anymore and wants to go off on her own, while Cath just longs for everything to stay the same. At first Cath is as miserable on campus as she thought she’d be. She desperately misses her twin and worries about her single advertising exec dad, who is prone to fits of extreme mania that leave him exhausted and unstable. The only thing that makes school even bearable is keeping up with her fan fiction about Simon Snow (a very thinly concealed version of Harry Potter). But bit by bit, almost against her will, she is coaxed away from her computer screen by her smart, sarcastic roommate Reagan and new creative writing partner Nick. Then there’s flirty Levi, Reagan’s Starbucks barista boyfriend. No matter how much she tries to ignore him, he just refuses to let Cath slip away into her shell. Cath can’t decide if Levi is charming or annoying, but he’s certainly entertaining. Suddenly college isn’t so awful after all. But then Nick starts acting weird, her dad goes off the deep end and her long lost mom, who deserted Cath and Wren when they were little, decides she wants to be a part of their lives again. And if all that weren’t enough, Cath thinks she might be falling for the worst possible person in the universe, and her sister is too busy with her new life to help her decide what to do. Cath is so overwhelmed that the only thing that helps is immersing herself in all things Simon. But how will she ever learn to solve her real life problems when the first sign of trouble sends her running to the safety of her fictional world? This delightful and poignant story by the beloved author of the beyond amazing Eleanor and Park does not disappoint. Rainbow Rowell uses realistic, absurdly funny dialogue like a BOSS, exploring in spirited conversations between her quirky, flawed characters everything from plagiarism and identity to divorce and mental illness. It’s a book about being an artist, being in love and being true to your self. Just read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Fifteen-year-old Colette is “what your English teacher calls an ‘unreliable narrator.’” Or in other words, a big fat liar. Her therapist says she lies because she’s “got a very bad case of Daughter-of-a-Famous-Movie-Star Disorder.” But Colette disagrees, even though the part about having a blockbuster mom is true. “I say I lie because it’s the most fun I can have with my clothes on.” Even though her lying gets her in trouble with her family and friends, Colette finds the exaggerated storytelling too much fun to stop, especially when her elaborate fibs find such an appreciate audience in her little brother Will. Then Colette meets Connor, the boy of her dreams on the set of her mom’s latest movie, and lies about everything from her age to who her mother really is. But this time she regrets not keeping it real, because she finds herself truly falling for Connor. One thing Colette is honest about is how far she wants to go physically with Connor, and when he storms off after she tells him “no” one time too many, Colette regrets not being more honest about why she doesn’t want to go all the way. When Connor finally returns and shares some shocking truths about himself, Colette has decide if she should come clean or keep her flirty fictions intact. This light and frothy verse novel about truth, lies and relationships is the perfect way to end your summer reading. It has been six long years since we’ve seen a sassy title from the singularly talented Sonya Sones, and this one will not disappoint her masses of fans.
There are two sides to every story, and stupendously talented author/artist Gene Luen Yang elevates that saying to a whole new level with Boxers & Saints. In this double volume, graphic novel masterpiece, two teenagers become caught up in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1898 on opposite sides, fighting to retain their identity and hold on to their hard won religious values.
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, the youngest son in a motherless family of farmers from a poor village. When a Catholic missionary priest smashes the statue of one of his village’s gods in front of him, he is devastated, especially since the opera stories he sees during the spring fairs make him feel as though the ancient gods are his close friends and allies. As he grows into adulthood, he begins training with a kung fu master in order to join the rebellion against these foreigners who have their own army and refuse to respect the native Chinese ways. Soon he is heading up his own small army, each member fueled by the angry spirits of the old gods. But as the “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist” marches closer and closer to the capital of Peking to “eradicate the foreign devils” once and for all, Little Bao begins to question his rock solid faith as the number of bodies of innocent people build in his violent wake.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, a lonely child who is considered a bad luck devil by her family no matter how much she tries to win their approval. The only person who shows her kindness is the village acupuncturist, who is also a Christian. He tells her Bible stories that fire up her imagination, and she begins having recurring visions of Joan of Arc. Soon she decides to become baptized and join the church. She gets a new name, Vibiana, and leaves home to work at a Catholic orphanage, followed by her visions of Joan. When Little Bao’s army comes to her village’s doorstep, Vibiana decides that God is calling on her to be His warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. The tragic, unpredictable result of Little Bao and Vibiana’s final meeting will haunt you long after you close the covers on Saints.
The earthy/monotone palate of both volumes perfectly conveys the rural landscape and hardscrabble life of the peasants, only exploding into vibrant color when Little Bao’s pantheon of Chinese gods arrive on the scene, with their rainbow robes and elaborate masks, or Four-Girl’s golden vision of Joan of Arc shimmers between the trees outside her home. While this exceptional work will no doubt help gazillions of readers understand the complexity behind religious wars and personal freedoms, it can also be appreciated as a swiftly paced adventure peopled with men, women and gods who bring this fascinating period of Chinese history to bloody life. I was blown away by both the richly illustrated package and the timeless message. Read them in the order the title suggests, (first Boxers, then Saints) and then pass them along to everyone you know.