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Reviews - YA fantasy and SF
...for adult readers!
I've been reading steadily from a pile of books that came into my hands. Three of them were f/sf (I'll review the two historical fictions on my regular journal).

Title: Boy Heaven
Author: Laura Kasischke
ISBN: 0060813148
Genre: Horror
Plot summary: Three girls from a cheerleading camp send some local boys to "Boy Heaven" in an original story based on urban legend form.
Verdict: Much better than it sounded.

I put this one off for a while. The cover shows three gorgeous girls with flowing hair looking out over a lake, and the cover copy talks about cheerleading and flirting with boys and perfect lives. I had visions of a teen romance, which is a problem with the marketing here. The phrase "urban legend," which describes what the book is, took me a while to get to.

As urban legends go... meh. I won't give the plot away, though the "surprise" ending won't surprise anyone who's familiar with The Hook or The Vanishing Hitchhiker or The Killer in the Back Seat... it's standard enough UL fare, and satisfying in the way those stories are almost always satisfying. The weaving of other ULs in through campfire tales reminds you of exactly what kind of story you're in.

What makes this book worth recommending is the language. Kasischke is a poet in her other writing career, and it shows in the rich, evocative imagery she uses to create the camp and show the fears and hopes of her characters. My favorite involves the narrator looking at her friend in the moonlight and seeing a crooked tiara of moonlight that slips off and dives into the dark water of the lake. Kasischke handles the English language with a lot of aplomb, far more than a book with this kind of subject matter would usually get... which means exposing kids who are attracted to this sort of story to language use they would otherwise not get. It also makes it enjoyable for an adult to read as an adult, and for a writer to read as a writer (it's shocking to me how often I find a book disappointing purely on the level of the language, so it was definitely pleasing to find a book I liked especially for it).

Title: The Prophecy
Author: Hilari Bell
ISBN: 006059943X
Genre: Fantasy
Plot Summary: Scholarly, undersized Prince Perryndon finds a prophecy that will help him slay a dragon and earn his father's respect.
Verdict: Not as good as it should be

I very much wanted to like this book, and I didn't dislike it, but it's a book that suffers from what so many Y.A. books in every genre do: You can see the plot mechanics. Clearly. "Ah, here is the character. I will present him with a problem, and leave a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter. I will then resolve said cliffhanger, move character to a new place, present a new problem, and throw a difficulty in the character's face." And so on. It's very mechanical plotting, the sort of thing that people who denounce "plot" are thinking of, making those of us who support plot bang our heads against the nearest piece of solid wood.

Prince Perryn is likable enough, and his friend, the bard Lysander, is a great sidekick. The talking unicorn and sword (all magical objects have "mind voices") are pushing it, but not too badly. Even the ending, where the elements of the prophecy come together, is okay, if not exactly stirring, because it displays another case of visible mechanics--a bit of Perryn's studies had been excluded until a chapter before it was needed, despite the fact that there was ample opportunity to include it, and, you guessed it, that bit of study was exactly what he needed to slay the dragon.

I will say, the unicorn's fearfulness comes off funny, as does the sword's boredom and desire to fight again. Perryn also grows up believably over the course of the book. I just wish it had been done better.

Title: 15 Minutes
Author: Steve Young
ISBN: 0060725087
Genre: Time travel
Plot Summary: Casey Little comes across an invention of his late grandfather's, a time machine which will take him back fifteen minutes in time.
Verdict: Too young for my crowd, but funny.

I have no idea why this was sent to the YA room. The character is in 8th grade, yes, but the story is a very surface story, with bright cover illustrations and highly simple vocab.

On the other hand, it's funny.

Because, really, what would you do if you could roll back fifteen minutes at a time?

Yeah, me too.

And Casey. He trips in the mud in front of a girl he likes and says all the wrong things, so SWOOSH, he goes back and re-does it. He finds out what would happen in his football game, and winds back to re-play it. He eats his favorite breakfast over and over.

There's ultimately a lesson about not being selfish or using the thing for selfish purposes, but that's not the point, is it? Young is just joking around.

And that's okay sometimes.
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