Pretty Monsters: stories by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters
This otherworldly collection of short stories by master fantasist Kelly Link is equal parts whimsy and menace, where dreams and nightmares walk hand in hand, and butterflies turn out to be cockroaches. Walk around in Link’s peculiar world for a while, and you might run into a dead teenage girl at the 7-11 (“The Wrong Grave”), or wind up in another dimension if you open “The Faery Handbag.” In “Magic for Beginners,” you can watch a pirated television show called The Library, where the characters may or may not be real—but only if you can find it, because it’s never on the same channel twice. You can divine your inner goddess in “The Constable of Abal,” conjure your inner werewolf in “Pretty Monsters,” or discover that we are all capable of magic in “The Wizards of Perfil.” You’ll never go camping again after meeting the urban legend-y “Monster,” but may be tempted to believe in aliens after shaking hands with “The Surfer.” You can even try on the evil cousin of Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat in “The Specialist’s Hat.” Each story is as unique as a fingerprint, as surreal as a Salvadore Dali painting, and as unforgettable as your first kiss. Just in time for Halloween, these nine stories, quaintly illustrated by Shaun Tan, are full of tricks AND treats!

Dogface by Jeff Garigliano

Fourteen-year-old Loren’s first mistake was torching the golf course. His next was trusting his mom’s slimy golf pro boyfriend when he said they were going “camping.” Instead, Loren’s mom and her vindictive beau end up dropping him off at Camp Ascend!, a run-down boot camp for wayward teens. The golf course fire was the last straw in a long line of military “maneuvers” the Green Beret-obsessed Loren carried out that finally land him in the dubious care of the “Colonel,” a professional scammer who wouldn’t know a Green Beret from a Navy Seal.  The Colonel, his uber-high maintenance wife Kitty and her Neanderthal brother Donovan are the camp’s only staff, and their methods of tamping down turbulent teen behavior are less than orthodox. But they’ve never dealt with a kid like Loren, who actually has some knowledge of espionage & guerilla warfare–even if it only comes from movies. Loren proceeds to turn the camp on its ear by kidnapping Kitty, smoke-bombing Donovan, and stealing the Colonel’s Swiss bank account numbers. But Donovan, whose brain really is the size of a bottle cap, finally gets wily Loren under his ape-like paw. And that’s when the fun REALLY starts. This raucous send-up of a Dr. Phil-type teen boot camp special is a clever indictment of the pop psychology media that touts “tough love” as the answer to all teen troubles. At times Donovan’s pea-brained violent behavior is truly terrifying, but Kitty’s vapid obsession with mail-order spa products and Loren’s dumb-luck escapes help lighten the sometimes dark story. This is the perfect book for those of you who always suspected that adults aren’t nearly as smart as they pretend to be!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

In the Forest of Hands and Teeth, you never stray too near the fence. You learn to tune out the endless moans and cries. And when darkness comes, your sleep is dreamless, because no nightmare compares to what constantly rattles and claws at the all-too vulnerable border between your village and the silent trees. Mary can’t remember a time she didn’t live with the presence of the Unconsecrated: dead bodies propelled by a savage appetite for human flesh that push against the fence surrounding her village day and night. Her people live in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Sisterhood, obeying the Sisters who enforce God’s laws and praying one prayer over and over: “Please, Lord, let the fence hold.” Despite the obvious dangers, Mary dreams of the world that must exist outside the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and of the salty ocean that her mother told her about but that her neighbors insist is just a myth. She has despaired of ever quelling the longing in her chest for freedom that often feels as desperate as the ragged need of the Unconsecrated.  Then a stranger comes to the village, from the fenced-in path that the Sisterhood has forbidden anyone to explore. Her mysterious presence sets in motion a chain of events that catapult Mary far beyond the borders of her tiny village into an uncertain future fraught with fear and death. Let me tell ya something, friends, it’s pretty freakin’ creepy to read an entire book about zombies without ever seeing the word mentioned. The strength of Carrie Ryan‘s walking dead debut is the menacing mood it strikes–I could feel those cold, clammy fingers brushing my neck by novel’s end. But I was left with more questions than answers by the time I turned the last page, and frustrated by the clues Mary found of modern life gone wrong and the potential corrupt nature of the Sisterhood that were dropped and not picked up again. Man, I hope there’s a sequel–otherwise I’m gonna be as unsatisfied as the Unconsecrated! Tired of the same old vampires and werewolves? Then take a lurch on the wild side with Ryan’s disturb-arific zombies as soon as they start staggering into the nearest library or bookstore…

Into the Volcano by Don Wood

into the volcanoBrothers Sumo and Duffy are completely confused when they are abruptly yanked out of school one day by a mysterious cousin they’ve never met, Mister Come-and-Go, “the only man in the world to graduate with honors from Cambridge and…go three years undefeated in the International Extreme Street-Fighting Tourney.” When informed by their harried father that Come-and-Go will be taking them for a hastily planned visit to their eccentric, gout-ridden aunt Lulu’s  island home of Kocalaha, optimistic Duffy is thrilled while pessimistic Sumo is bummed and more than a little frightened (“Shark attacks!” “Hostile natives!” “Tidal waves!”) Once there, the boys are informed that they will be accompanying Come-and-Go and his crew of native sailors and divers on a dubious “expedition,” presumably for the purpose of leading tourists through the maze of volcanic island paradises. But when Come-and-Go takes the boat straight into the heart of an active volcano, Sumo realizes that the adults aren’t setting a new tourist trap, they’re looking for something–something very valuable and somehow related to his scientist Mom, who is supposedly conducting research in Borneo. Sensing danger greater than that they have already faced, Sumo and Duffy set out on their own to discover the secret of the volcano for themselves. And that’s when the REAL adventure begins…my adolescent friends, I have never seen anything quite like Don Wood’s Into the Volcano. While the art and lettering remind me somewhat of my favorite indi-graphic novel, The Interman, Wood takes it to a new level, his frantically kinetic panels depicting earthquakes, breaking waves and flowing lava so immediately you feel as if you are right with Sumo and Duffy in the thick of the action. And there is non-stop action, which takes off by page 30 and explodes, burns, and plummets to the very end. But least you think that Wood is all brawn and no brain, there is a moving story beneath all the adventure–the story of how petty Sumo transforms from a whiny coward into a real hero. This all-ages action adventure, also riddled with fascinating facts about volcano formation, will engage everyone from Anthony Horowitz fans to MythBusters aficionados.  So take a deep breath and venture Into the Volcano. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena

mexican white boy“He’s Mexican because his family’s Mexican, but he’s not really Mexican. His skin is dark like his grandma’s sweet coffee, but his insides are as pale as the cream she mixes in.” Danny Lopez is torn between the private school world of his divorced white mother and the San Diego barrio of his Mexican father’s family. Feeling like he doesn’t fully belong in either, he focuses on his passion for baseball, and improving the erratic pitches that have kept him off the prep school team. When his mother decides to go live with her wealthy white boyfriend in San Francisco, Danny opts instead to spend the summer with his father’s family in San Diego. There he meets Uno, a trash-talking half black, half Hispanic kid, also with a divorced mom. Uno understands Danny’s split background and helps him use his fast pitch to cook up hustles at local ball fields. These two boys have Big League dreams. But they’ll both have to learn to come to terms with their mixed heritages and the confusing roles their absentee dads have played in their lives before they can achieve their goals. Matt de la Pena scores a home run with this richly characterized story of two boys struggling to discover the sort of men they want to be. Full of authentic, raw dialogue liberally peppered with Spanish, de la Pena’s follow-up to his thought provoking first novel Ball Don’t Lie is powerfully reminiscent of Paul Griffin’s Ten Mile River and Coe Booth’s Tyrell.  An unexpectedly lyrical and poignant read about teens from the wrong side of the tracks trying to make good.