Wasteland, Aristotle + Dante, Splendors and Glooms

These are quick reviews; they have to be done now so that we can return these library books and leave for an international spring break adventure!  Very exciting.  So here are some books I read during the last few weeks:

Wasteland by Francesca Lia Block

I heard about this at the ALISE conference, when my fellow professors were talking about the kind of YA fiction that would really push some buttons and provoke conversation.  In Block's signature poetic style, she dances over and around the complexities of incest between a sister and a brother.  The scene itself is never shown, and the lead-up to this one sexual encounter is intertwined with tales of its aftermath.  Specifically (BIG spoiler) the aftermath of the sister's experience is overwhelming grief and loss, because now her brother is dead.  In the end, the two "siblings" turn out not to have been related, and, while it's easier to stomach their attraction that way, the revelation comes so late in the book that is feels somewhat apologetic compared to what came before.  Still,when Block can pack a punch, writing some of the simultaneously grittiest and most lyrical fiction out there for teens.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sanez
When Ari meets Dante at the pool, they are laughing like old friends within minutes.  Their friendship seems perfect, until Dante is saving a bird and is nearly run over by a car.  Without thinking, Ari pushes him out of the way, and when he wakes up in the hospital, things are, well, awkward.  Sanez does a beautifully rich job of detailing the development of this relationship, interweaving questions they each have about their Mexican heritage--whether they are really Mexican, compared to their cousins who live in Mexico or the neighborhood guys, some of whom are getting into gangs and drugs.  There are layers of family secrets, though Ari's deepest secrets are buried inside of himself, and he needs family help to understand himself, ultimately.  Sanez has crafted an amazing realistic contemporary novel that will become a classic of (spoiler) LGBTQ YA lit for years to come.  Teens of all sexual orientations, but especially LGBTQetc.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are apprentices of the creepy puppeteer Grisini.  But there's a witch after Grisini, and also Grisini has kidnapped and enchanted one of their recent patrons, a rich young girl named Clara, turning her into a doll for the marionette puppet stage.  The creepiness here is richly atmospheric, and, while there is some violence (real and remembered), the audience here could easily go down to the 6th grade set, possibly lower for relatively jaded young readers.  All does end well, but it looks like it will not several times.  Fans of Coraline (the book, not the graphic novel or movie) will adore this Dickensian story of orphans who, eventually, find a home.

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