Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson

Seventeen-year-old James Hoff is the world’s biggest pessimist. He doesn’t believe that all this “green” action is really going to do any good, that humans “have ravaged the planet with our insane lust and greed, everywhere leaving behind horrendous pollution, toxic waste, and lethal contamination” and we are all destined to die slow, agonizing deaths from SUV carbon monoxide poisoning. So what’s a cynical guy like him doing with an idealistic optimist like Sadie Kinnell? NOTHING, because philosophical and political differences finally led to their break-up at the end of sophomore year. But no matter how hard he tries to convince himself otherwise through the writing of heated English assignment manifestos that his teacher Mr. Cogweiller has no idea what to do with, James is still in love with Sadie.  And as he grapples with what to do about the Sadie situation, how to call off his eighth grade sister’s horny best friend and whether or not he should accept his corporate dad’s offer of an evil, pollution-spewing car (“I just don’t want one. I don’t want to put gas in it, I don’t want to insure it, I don’t want to park it, I don’t want to look at it. If I am the first teenager in the world to refuse a car, so be it.”),  a funny thing happens. James grows a conscience and suddenly Sadie’s point of view starts making a lot more sense. But is it too late for this gloomy Gus to turn over a new (green) leaf? Part angsty “dude” lit. and part angry meditation on the sad state of the environment, Destroy All Cars is one teen’s timely, comic take on love, life and ecology. Blake Nelson is one of my fav authors because he writes some of the smartest and most realistic guy characters in YA lit. Plus his dry, deadpan delivery never gets old and often leaves me smirking at statements like this one from James: “Because I have cut holes in my sweater and have been seen reading books in the cafeteria, I have declared myself to be some sort of fringe, radical, intellectual type. Now I must face the consequences.” Ha! A great companion read to this book.

Maggie Quinn, Girl Vs. Evil: Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

prom dates from hell
I have just one question for you, my adolescent friends: How the HELL did I miss reading this cheese-tastic gem when it first came out?! Part Buffy, part Supernatural and all kinds of awesome, PDFH is the first volume in the Maggie Quinn chronicles (Girl vs. Evil), the story of a reluctant high school seer and her propensity for attracting demons and their cloven-hoofed ilk. Maggie is an almost-graduated senior who enjoys a bit of amateur sleuthing when she’s not behind the camera in her role as girl-reporter on the school paper. Her nose begins to twitch with the smell of brimstone when one by one, the ruling senior clique begins to suffer a series of near-fatal accidents. hell weekNow, Maggie’s always had a little precognition going on, but seeing as she prefers logic over lunacy, she tends to downplay her telepathic talent. This time she has no choice but to heed what her third eye is showing her, especially when it becomes apparent that a certain something summoned from the PIT OF HELL is stalking Avalon High’s Barbie & Ken set. But don’t worry, Maggie’s got plenty of help on her side, namely in the form of college hottie Justin, one of her dad’s research assistants who is practically a certified ghost hunter himself; and bo-hunk Brian, a muscle-y Ken doll who’s defected from the football crowd because he’s decided that quirky Mags is more his six pack of beer. highway to hellWhat makes things even more complicated is that not only does Maggie have to banish demons, finish her English paper and decide which boy toy to snog, she also has to find a decent prom dress. Because what demon in his right mind could resist the levels of “grief and terror and angst and woe” that can only occur on prom night? Maggie will have to meet the demon on Prom Ground Zero if she wants to vanquish it, and the results are NOT gonna be pretty! I just loved this outrageous supernatural romp. Among  the sheer number of Buffy rip-offs and Twi-wannabes that crowd the book and DVD shelves these days, Rosemary C-M’s mystical offering manages to stand out, mainly because of Maggie’s snarly, sassy voice. The teen psychic’s one-liners are to die for, and how’s about those wicked, kick-ass covers? Although I’ve only read the first episode of Maggie’s eerie adventures, I look forward to tearing through the rest soon some dark and stormy night. Fun with a capital “F”!

Teen Titans: Year One by Amy Wolfram, illustrated by Karl Kerschl & Serge Lapointe

At first it looks like the kids don’t stand a chance in this action-packed GN about the origins of the Teen Titans. One day, without warning, ALL the JLA superheroes go super-villain, and their adolescent partners have to band together to figure out what’s made Batman and Co. go so, well, batty. The Dark Knight’s skinny sidekick Robin heads up a team of knock-kneed, pimply faced powerbrokers on the cusp of puberty: Aqualad, who’s scared of his own wetsuit; Wonder Girl, who’s a little too busy crushing on the boy band of the moment to fight crime; Speedy, who’s trying to grow up in the towering shadow of the Green Arrow; and finally Kid Flash, who wishes Robin would just take the backseat and let him lead the Titans for once! These five teens couldn’t be more different but they have to figure out a way to work together for the greater good, all while suffering through the usual adolescent woes of insecurity, jealously, and voice changes. Once they get those messy emotions under control, the rest is easy! Well, sort of. Short and sassy, this lil’ GN tickled me to no end with its’ “mini-me” depictions of my fav superheroes as anxious, body-conscious teens who just want to be as popular as their name-brand, muscle-popping mentors. A fun comic romp for all ages. (Collects issues #1-6)

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I am a droolin’ fool for Adam Rapp’s writing. No one brings the gritty goodness like my emotional hit-man from the Midwest, whose stories of down and out street kids living on the edge of rural suburbia never fail to rip out my heartstrings by their roots. Fourteen-year-old punk-music-loving Jamie has skipped out of military school and is making a rough living in Portland, OR by stealing ipods for Far Larkin, a shady figure whose “one eye gets stuck but…he’s into Star Wars action figures and he’s nonabusive to little kids,” when he gets word that his beloved older brother P, long kicked out of their conservative family for being gay, is dying of cancer down in Memphis, TN. So Jamie takes a Greyhound south, meeting a whole circus of freaks and geeks along the way. There’s Bucktooth Jenny, who dusts her collection of baby doll heads with an embroidered washcloth; Alan Skymer, who offers Jamie a hotel room if he’ll hold his hand and little bit more; the old lady with the leaky eye and “hair so white it hurts to look at” who “smells like diarrhea and old flowers;” kid genius Sam who owns a copy of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and a rubber mask that looks like Keanu Reeves; lovely Albertina with the wavy blond hair and the light blue eyes who breaks Jamie’s heart, and many, many more. As Jamie makes his way from stop to stop and town to town, he writes down all his thoughts and feelings in a series of letters to P that he hopes to present to his bro before he dies. But will Jamie make it to Tennessee in time? This rough, introspective novel reads like a stark modern take on Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road and features secondary characters so realistically rendered that I could touch the scars on their faces and see the dirt under their fingernails. Not for the faint of heart, Punkzilla takes brave readers to some scary and uncomfortable places, but never without a small lamp of hope to light the way.

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

mare's warWhen Octavia thinks about her grandma Mare, the first word that comes to mind is “embarrassing.” Instead of being the cozy type of grandmother who bakes cookies and does the Sunday paper crossword puzzle, Mare “has long fake nails and a croaky hoarse drawl, and she’s always holding a long, skinny cigarette…She’s loud and bossy and she drinks bourbon with lemon juice at dinner. She has a low-slung, two door red coupe…and walks everywhere else on strappy high-heeled sandals.” As far as ‘Tavia’s  concerned, the less time she spends with outspoken Mare the better! But now her parents have volunteered Octavia and her snooty older sister Tali to accompany Mare on a summer road trip South to a mysterious family reunion, and neither of them is very happy about it. Octavia stopped getting along as sisters with Tali a long time ago, and the prospect of having to deal with her in the close quarters of Mare’s car seems not only uncomfortable but practically impossible. But soon Octavia sees a whole new side of her outrageous grandma as Mare starts spinning tales of her time in the WAC (Women’s Army Corp.) during WWII to pass the time in the car. Almost against their will, the sisters are drawn into Mare’s sweeping story of bravery, sacrifice, prejudice and pain. As the journey continues, both girls begin to soften towards each other and Mare as they begin to understand the role the past has played in shaping their present.  There’s nothing I like better than a good inter-generational story—as long as the oldster on the scene isn’t some sappy, wise Yoda-type figure dispensing advice. And Mare couldn’t be less like that. She’s smart, sassy and utterly cool. But she also admits her mistakes, never sets herself up as a role model, and allows her granddaughters to see her weaknesses and insecurities. I loved how Tanita Davis wove together the contemporary with the historical and showed how they connect through two generations of strong African American women. And if you want to read another great story about the contributions of African American women during WWII, check out Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl.

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim

Dashing young Duncan is either a handsome knight trying to win the heart of a princess by relieving the dreaded Frog King of his head, OR just another downtrodden teen trying to get by in the projects of Oakland, as his depressed mom dates one jerk after another. Greedy Gran’Pa Greenbax is either a latter day Scrooge McDuck-like animated TV star, OR just a little freshwater frog who’s been used and abused by cruel humans. Meek Janet is either a stately Nigerian princess, OR just another cubicle-dwelling office drone. No one is quite who they seem to be in this lushly illustrated, full-color collaboration between two of the best author/illustrators in the comic biz.  But no matter what their circumstances, each character manages to discover hidden stores of bravery, hope and optimism that help clear away the dark clouds of anger, fear and pride. And what is the Eternal Smile? Well, it’s either the face of God or a hole in the ceiling, and the only person who can decide that is YOU, dear reader! Award winning authors and illustrators Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim will both blow and bend your mind with these three quirky, offbeat Twilight Zone-meets-Pushing Daisies short stories about love, life and the power of the imagination. I didn’t even have to get to the last page to know that what I was holding in my hands was pure graphic novel gold.