The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

July is DARK
Dark can be many things. It can be physically dark, emotionally dark, dark colored, about dark topics, scary dark, dark in a way that is realistic and not ficticious. These titles were chosen to show the range of books that may be recommended for a YA reader with a desire for something with more depth. None of these books are especially light-hearted, although they each have moments that are. Some are about ghosts, some are about war, some are about death, some are about rape--but all of them are about growing up and finding your place in the world.

There was once a man Jack. Well, maybe that is a bad way to start...there was once a boy named Nobody. He was adopted by a graveyard, has ghosts for parents, a mysterious guardian named Silas who lives in the graveyard as well, and has strange abilities that allow him to pass through walls and disappear from view. While his life is fairly stable, the man Jack--who killed his family--is still out there.

Neil Gaiman's newest novel is the latest recipient of the Newbery Medal, and a can't miss tale of finding your place in the world. Nobody Owens, or Bod as he is called, was so young when his family was killed that his life in the graveyard is nothing out of the ordinary to him. He gets lessons from Mr. Pennyworth on the ways of the dead, learns about Dreamwalking, Haunting, and Fading. Miss Lupescu (a Hound of God, or werewolf as humans call them) teaches him how to call for help in Night Gaunt, which proves useful. Silas, his ever solemn guardian, gives him support and unfailing honesty.

This is an adventure that takes the reader through the ghoul gate, down to face the SLEER, into the heart of a young girl, inside the nightmare of a bully, to the dance Macabre, and embraces the idea that you are in charge of your own destiny. Gaiman's tale is about overcoming fears, understanding where you belong in the world, overlooking arbitrary boundaries created out of prejudice or ignorance, recognizing the dangers that exist, and finding your own path to freedom. The touching friendships and connections that Bod makes throughout the book give him the strength to stand on his own. Also, it's really fun to read.

"Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,

Leave no path untaken"

(Gaiman pg. 306, 2008).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, you might like:
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Gaiman, Neil. (2008). The Graveyard Book. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, NY.

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

This collection of short stories doesn't disappoint. My favorite story ("Magic for Beginners"), not surprisingly, features a TV show called "The Library". A group of friends, somewhat tied together because of the show, feature as main characters. Jeremy is our protagonist. His mother is a librarian. His father writes horror stories about gigantic spiders, is a compulsive shoplifter, and reupholsters furniture as a hobby. The friendship between the group of teenagers is magical, woven together as Link brings us into the story.

Jeremy's mother's great-aunt has passed away leaving them a Vegas wedding chapel and a phone booth. It begins as a whim, but becomes a compulsion for him to call the phone booth. Once a breathy female voice, sounding remarkably like the main character of his favorite show, Fox, answers.

The other stories run the gamut of sci-fi/fantasy with such imagination and ingenuity that everyone will find a story that they enjoy. Link's prose is magical, with moments that begin to feel familiar only to take you in a direction you never expected. The characters are relate-able and intriguing. The stories leave you wanting more. Some are set in the present, some in the past, some in the not-too-distant future, some in a parallel universe to ours.

This collection by Link is well worth picking up. There is something for everyone, from soccer players to aliens, from ghosts to a fighting statue, from monsters to wizards, from grave robbing poets to a magical boy named Onion, from villages that exist inside purses to love interests who are not what they seem. I will be on the lookout for any other Kelly Link I can find.
"On Jeremy's desk is a scrap of paper with a phone number on it. If he wanted to, he could call his phone booth. When he dials the number, it rings for a long time. Jeremy sits on his bed in the dark and listens to it ringing and ringing. When someone picks it up, he almost hangs up.

Someone doesn't say anything, so Jeremy says, 'Hello? Hello?'
Someone breathes into the phone on the other end of the line. Someone says in a soft, musical, squeaky voice, 'Can't talk now, kid. Call back later.' Then someone hangs up," (Link pg. 105, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link and Shelley Jackson
A Foot in the Grave by Joan Aiken and Jan Pienkowski
Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
3 a.m.: a collection of short stories by Dallas Woodburn

Link, Kelly and Tan, Shaun, Ill. (2008). Pretty Monsters. Viking: New York, NY.

Thirsty by M.T. Anderson

Chris is a normal teenager. His best friends, Tom and Jerk, may not be the friends of his dreams, but at least he has some. Rebecca, the girl of his dreams, may not be in his league, but at least he can still admire her from afar. His parents have informed he and his brother, Paul, that they are getting divorced when Chris goes off to college, but at least they are still together for now. His life is far from ideal, but it is pretty standard fare for a teenager in America.

That's when things start to get a little weird. He's always hungry, can't seem to eat enough. At night, he just lies awake, unable to fall asleep. He's thirsty, but water feels too thin. One day, while traipsing through the forest, he gets into a fight with Tom. Someone across the river draws his attention to his reflection in the water--or lack thereof--it has to be a trick, right?

Vampires are nothing new in Chris's world. There are bodies found around town more frequently lately. His brother drags him to a vampire lynching, and the girl being killed seems to recognize him. It doesn't really start to hit home until he meets Chet. Okay, that's not really his name, but who can pronounce a pattern of thought? Chet the Celestial Being offers Chris a way out. He just needs a favor in return. All Chris has to do is thwart the vampires' plan to resurrect their Vampire Lord, and in exchange, Chet will remove the curse of vampirism. Easy...easier perhaps if it didn't involve meeting the vampires at a pot luck dinner.

Anderson weaves together the angst of adolescence and becoming a vampire together until you almost forget that humans don't naturally morph into vampires at a certain age. Chris's struggles may be unique in some ways, but are certainly not in others. We all face situations in which we want to believe that someone will save us. The thirst grows with every day, and soon he fears for those around him. All the vampire fans out there will enjoy this, as well as anyone who is looking for a good adolescent tale of the pain that is necessary to grow.

"'In the midst of life, we are in death. Of whom may we seek for succor, sucker?' He smiles at me. Then he vanishes and leaves me appalled; for I know, and realize, that all he has said is true," (Anderson pg. 226, 1997).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan
Vampire Kisses series by Ellen Schreiber

Anderson, M.T. (1997). Thirsty. Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Fanboy is not a fan of many things. He is not a fan of high school, Jerk Jocks, his Step-Fascist (Step-Father), his soon to be born half-sister, his social status, or gym. He IS a fan of comics, his only friend Cal, Senior Goddess Dina Jurgens, Michael Bendis (a famous comic book writer/artist), education, and getting the hell out of his hick town. He has a plan. He's secretly been working on a graphic novel of his own, so secretly that he hasn't even told his best friend about it.

His friend Cal is the only thing that makes high school bearable. Cal is just as big of a comic book geek as he is, he's smart, funny. But there's a catch: he is also on the Lacrosse team. Cal isn't like those other Jerk Jocks.

Enter Goth Girl, aka Kyra, who befriends him after witnessing an especially humiliation moment in gym. She wears all black, and hides the scars on her wrists. She tells him that her mother died of lung cancer while she lights up a cigarette. She always picks him up in a different car, but being with her gives him confidence. He shows her his graphic novel Schemata, which he hasn't even shown to Cal.

The three have adventures that take them to a comic convention, through many fights, down into a basement, on treacherous driving sprees, to a party, and of course, on a bus.

Barry Lyga captures the essence of teen angst so well. The outcast with a basement full of comics may be the icon of geek, but that is only a background for Fanboy's other problems. His family situation makes it hard for him to make friends, and his ability to hold a grudge keeps him at a distance from a lot of people. Undoubtedly, Fanboy's life is far from ideal, but through this novel he learns that he might not be as different from all those people he thought he hated. Sometimes learning forgiveness, to forgive yourself and those who wronged you, is the path to growing up.

"But this isn't a movie or a book. And worst of all, I'm not a hero. So I just kneel next to her on the ground as her body shakes and jerks, as the tears run down her cheeks. I don't know what to say or do. I just want to touch her, to feel her, to know that she's real, that I'm real. To find the exact, precise right things to say that will make it all stop and make it all go forward," (Lyga 2006, pg 304).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga (sequel to be released Oct. 19th)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

Lyga, Barry. (2006). The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda is beginning her freshman year of high school. For some reason, that we as readers don't yet know, she is being ostracized by all her former friends. She is even alienated by the rest of the school. Even her first lunch period ends with food all down the front of her. Her only friend is a transfer student, Heather, who's incessantly positive attitude leaves a bitter taste in Melinda's mouth at times.

Why is she so bitter? Why is she so full of words, but can't find the strength to speak up? Her only solace comes in art class. Her teacher assigns each student one subject matter to work on for the entire year. She draws, scrapes, molds, paints: a tree. One day she stumbles into an old janitor's closet, and decides to make it into her own special place. A place where no one can hurt her, a place of freedom and safety.

Slowly we learn about IT. The incident. The reason for her silence, the reason for her shame and public humiliation. The thing she can't talk about to anyone, not even herself. She called the cops on a party at the end of the summer. Lots of kids got in trouble, even more were pissed off. She just ran away, not able to find her voice--to speak. There is a reason for her silence.

Melinda's inner world is so full, yet so desperately lonely. Through a series of choices and learning to stand up for herself, she is able to face the past. She doesn't stay silent forever. Everyone should read this book. If you have ever felt lonely, like you couldn't share the most important thing in your life with anyone, this book is for you. If you ever struggled with your parents, your friends, yourself, this book is for you. If you have ever found comfort in writing, in art, in creativity, this book is for you. Melinda's story shows us the importance of discovering who WE are inside.

"I know my head isn't screwed on straight. I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me," (Anderson pg. 51, 1999).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon Flake

Anderson, Laurie Halse. (1999). Speak. Farrar Strauss Giroux: New York, NY.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Okay, I can't lie. Keep the tissues handy for this one. The prologue introduces us to our narrator, Death. Right off the bat, we know that this isn't going to be a really happy book. Liesel loses her brother to Death in the first chapter, and her mother leaves her in the care of foster parents. However bleak it begins, and however grave the subject matter (Nazi Germany), this is not a tale of sorrow. Rather it is a tale of how powerful words can be.

The book thief's first theft turns out to be "The Grave Digger's Handbook", and the first book she ever reads. She stays up every night with her new Papa, learning her alphabet and slowly beginning to understand the words. After that she steals from a Nazi book burning. As a member of the Hitler Youth, this is both daring and dangerous. Her thievery doesn't stop with just books. With her best friend Rudy they steal apples, potatoes, even a ham once, to sooth their hungry bellies.

Her heart is stretched once more to include a wayward Jew, Max, who is hidden in their basement for months. In addition to becoming her friend, he gives her the gift of handwritten stories. When the time comes for Max to move on, she is torn between his safety, and that of her foster family's. Written from a different perspective than the usual Holocaust novels, this book is also full of beautiful prose. Zusak weaves words expertly.

This book will touch your heart. Somehow it makes you almost sympathize with the Germans who could see the harm their country was doing, but were powerless to stop it. Even the Germans who followed the rules became prisoners, in their own way. Liesel's story, as narrated by Death, tells us the tale of a young girl who finds her place among all the despair around her. She finds a way to grow and live.
"Usually it was like spillage--cold and heavy, slippery and grey--but once in a while some stars had the nerve to rise and float, if only for a few minutes. On those nights, she would stay a little longer and wait....till the stars were dragged down again, into the waters of the German sky," (Zusak pg. 45, 2005).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Maus by Art Speigleman
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Number the Stars by Lois Lowery
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Zusak, Markus. (2005). The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.

MuZz Volume One by FSc

From the beginning, this story has you off balance. The author, Foo Swee Chin or FSc, has swept you into an afterlife of sorts, and nothing is familiar. Meet Farllee: a girl who doesn't remember her past, or how she got there, only that she is on a train to MuZz with other little creatures. These folks claim to be creatures of imagination, but Farllee clings to the idea that she is human.

On their journey into MuZz, Farllee is almost killed, and finds she can create, destroy, and change the space around her. This causes a good amount of chaos, illustrated by the emotive drawings making up this graphic novel. I admit, parts were hard to follow, and it made more sense the second time around. But the dark, gothic, Japanese-style art is entrancing.

The second half of the story introduces us to Edward, a former Dreamlord, Olive, a girl he found and planted, Savllomon, a companion and traveller into the dreams with Edward, Fealu, an adopted dreasmstress from the SOD (State of Dreams), Modorrellin and Gabriyer, the human twins who get mixed up in MuZzian affairs, among other strange and bewitching creatures.

The story is full of adventure, fantasy, emotion, confusion, and beautiful artwork that makes it hard to put down. Read it twice--once to get an appreciation of the drawing style, twice to make sense of the sometimes convoluted plot--but read it.

Be sure to visit the website for additional chapters that have yet to be published, and other fun things from the author.

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Nightmares and Fairy Tales by Serena Valentino and FSc
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
Sparks: An Urban Fairytale by Lawrence Marvit
The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman, et al

FSc. (2008). MuZz Volume One. SLG Publishing: San Jose, CA.