Monday, July 30, 2007

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume One, The Pox Party, by M.T. Anderson, 2006

Octavian, both the protege and the property of the Novanglian College of Lucidity, embarks upon a prolonged awakening, as cataclysmic as it is eloquent, to his status as a classically educated African slave in pre-Revolutionary Boston. A setting starkly convincing even its Gothic extremes, the Novanglian College of Lucidity with its absurdities and excesses is bound to feel rather more like modern America than not. An uncomfortable but necessary read; a staggering accomplishment; as a book jacket reviewer said (and I wish I'd thought of it), "A brilliantly complex interrogation of our basic American assumptions." Most strongly recommended (though not for very young or immature readers).

The Folk Keeper, by Frannie Billingsley, 1999

Corin, nee Corinna, has learned to survive in the Foundling Home by turning herself into a boy and extorting the secrets of Folk-Keeping from other Cellar-bound keepers. Her cover is almost blown at 15, when an ailing lord summons her by name to his manor, breathing his last breath in her ear. A fantasy at once bloodthirsty, mysterious, and romantic; a well-rewarded read, if at times confusing. Strongly recommended.

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, 2004

Al Capone really does launder 12-year old Moose Flanagan's shirts, ever since his family moved to Alcatraz, where rent's cheap during the Great Depression and his dad is able to get two jobs at the prison. They need the money to send Natalie, Moose's (younger? older?) sister to a special school for children with mental disabilities. Only problem is, the school has an age cutoff for admission, and Natalie's been celebrating her tenth birthday for the past six years straight. Thoughtful, funny middle grade historical realism that successfully mixes autism, baseball, and the mafia, with an enviably original and well-researched setting. Recommended.

The Tail of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler, 2003

For folks living on a houseboat, Emily and her mom are more than shy of water. So when Emily takes her first swimming lesson in gym class and finds her legs fusing into a scaly tail, no one's more surprised than she. Why didn't her mother tell her she had a merman for a dad? And why does that creepy Mr. Beeston keep coming over to feed her mother doughnuts? Light middle grade fantasy.