How it Went DownHow it Went Down Kekla Magoon Henry Holt 2014

Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co.
October 21, 2014

Do you know the phrase, “there are two sides to every story?” Instead of two, this book presents about a dozen. The only facts of the story—presented in a foreword titled “The Incident”—are that black teenager Tariq Johnson, was shot twice by middle-aged white man, Jack Franklin, in an unknown city’s rougher neighborhood. Why and how it happened is a matter of many opinions and stories. Some say Tariq was a gang member; others say he’d never get mixed up in that. Some profess to have seen Tariq with a gun and that he was fleeing a robbery; some witnesses claim it was a Snickers bar legally bought from the local grocery. Poor kid shot over a Snickers bar? Insanity.

Books with  multiple character POVs—I’m looking at you Song of Ice and Fire—aren’t always my favorite because I have a hard time keeping all the characters straight, but Magoon does a great job here. Each has such a different account of the murder: there’s his friends from school, some of whom have joined the 8 – 5 Kings gang that Tariq flirts with; the girl who tries to give him CPR; his mother; the politically aspirational preacher who flies in to help lead the ensuing protests; the matriarchal grandmother who has seen all the neighborhoods’ kids grow up; and more. The most affecting is Tariq’s little sister Tina, whose sparse lines of poetry about missing her brother are some of the most memorable and heartbreaking parts of the novel.

The sobering genius of the book is that it could be any city and any teen but it’s especially hard not to draw parallels between How it Went Down and the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Tariq was even wearing a hoodie when he is shot. Protests afterward use the article of clothing as a rallying symbol, just like for Trayvon. This is a great book that demonstrates how hard it is to find out someone’s real story. Anyone looking for multiple POVs, a contemporary setting with fast-paced chapters, and musings on media bias in racially motivated crimes would do well to check this out.

–Anna

Lois Lane: FalloutLois Lane Fallout Gwenda Bond 2015 Switch Press

Gwenda Bond
Switch Press
May 1, 2015

Most people in the English-Speaking world (and beyond) have at least heard the name Lois Lane. Popular Culture has not let us escape it in over seventy five years—not that we’d want to. Lois Lane is the the epitome of the American Woman: she’s smart, with a meaningful job that she loves, and, of course, she has the love of the Greatest Man On Earth, Superman. I have always loved Lois Lane. It didn’t matter if she was in a cartoon, or on film, or a campy tv series. Or, of course, the medium of her origin: comics. Which for me came a lot later.

But Gwenda Bond has created for us a new Lois Lane—one for the next generation of unapologetic, obstinate busybodies—in a brand new format, The Novel. (Kevin J. Anderson doesn’t count.)

This Lois Lane…is in high school.

On her first day at East Metropolis High School, Lois is trying a new thing: she’s going to play it straight and stay out of trouble. She’s gotten into a few verbal scuffles before, but always because she was trying to do the right thing for someone else. She tries this time, she really does (or at least wants to) but she can’t escape a run-in with the Principal—which lands her a job offer from Perry White himself. Cool, right? Being a reporter is something Lois never knew she always wanted to do. But when the subject of her confrontation with Principal Butler grows into something super bizarre, she knows that she’s going to have to dive head first into the trouble that her dad, the General, had hoped she’d stay out of, now that he’s got a permanent position and the family wouldn’t be moving around anymore. With the help of some new friends (and fellow reporters) and her Secret Internet Friend—who lives on a farm in Kansas but won’t tell her his name or what he looks like—she falls deeper and deeper into the conflict. But it’ll be one hell of a story when she figures it all out.

Bond has written a Lois Lane that I can recognize—and champion. She is a rule-disregarding, ballsy truth seeker, who will stand up for anyone who needs it. She can be a little obtuse, and her feelings can get hurt pretty easily when she opens up. The person who can do this the easiest? Her internet friend SmallvilleGuy, of course. Reading other reviews, a lot of people thought SmallvilleGuy was the highlight of the story. I love Clark in any rendition, but my favorite part of Fallout was that even though he had an essential role in the climax of the story, and is just as good at finding out information—leading to his future as a reporter as well—Lois is the hero of this story.

And she’ll hopefully keep on heroing through more of these awesome tales.

–Jess

ZodiacZodiac Romina Russell Razorbill 2014

Romina Russell
Razorbill
December 9 2014

Zodiac, the debut novel from Romina Russell, kicks off a brand new series starring 16-year-old Rhoma Grace. Rhoma is a citizen of the House Cancer, where she is in training to read the stars. One day, when her skill is honed, she hopes to join the other Guardians and look for patterns and warnings there, in order to keep her world and her people safe. But when no one predicts the attack on their moons, that day comes much, much sooner than she expected. Thrust into a dangerous, but essential, new position Rhoma begins to see a pattern and thinks she knows who’s behind the attacks—Ophiuchus, the exiled 13th Guardian of the Zodiac legend. But how can she convince the other Zodiac leaders that a children’s bedtime story may be real?

This book used the Zodiac in a way I had never experienced before and I have to admit Russell’s approach was intriguing. The world she brought to life on the page was epic and often cinematic in tone. But because it was so different, there was a lot of information that needed to be communicated—the mythology, the magic, the different planets and their political structures—and it was all too easy to feel overwhelmed. Rather than building the world organically, there were often long passages that felt more like a history textbox than a novel. I felt like I was only just getting my bearing when the story was almost over. I’m interested to see if I would be more invested in the sequel, Wandering Star, because the world will already be established.

Despite some plot inconsistencies and clunky world building, Romina Russell’s Zodiac adapts the astrological symbols of the zodiac in a completely new and unexpected way. If the sequel improves on the first installment it is definitely something I can see myself getting behind.

–Christa

Familiar ThingsFamiliar Things Lia Habel Kitten perfume Press 2014

Lia Habel
Kitten Perfume Publishing
October 28, 2014

I would argue that Lia Habel’s paranormal, steampunk, romance series, Gone with the Respiration, is one of the most underrated zombie series out there. I picked up the first book, Dearly Departed, on a whim and absolutely fell in love with the world, the characters, and the adventure. And when it ended with only two books I was crushed. So when I heard she would be self publishing her next book, Familiar Things, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Familiar Things takes place in a world that runs almost parallel to our own. Both worlds started off in the same place, but time moves a little bit slower there. In our world, it’s 2015. In All Hollows, it’s 1958. But they have something we don’t – they have magic.

Everrose Morgantwill is a teenage resident of All Hollows. She’s not too different from the other teenagers in town, except she’s a little late in finding her familiar. And as a result her magic isn’t quite as strong as everyone else’s. I liked that despite these rather unusual circumstances, Everrose felt like your everyday, ordinary teenager. She struggles with finding her place in the world and with walking that line between wanting to fit in and wanting to be yourself. Habel manages to touch on all these themes, while still maintaining the strong fantasy elements of the novel. For example, having a hard time finding her familiar felt parallel to someone who hits puberty a little later, or is still a virgin when all their friends are having sex. It made for a read that felt both poignant and enchanting.

In addition to the magic and the teenage drama, Habel makes some really interesting points about the costs versus the benefits of industrialization and technological advances. Are they always in our best interest? Who should make the decisions regarding them—the government or the people?

Though I will admit I didn’t enjoy this novel quite as much as her zombie series, it was still an enjoyable fantasy romp that confirmed what I already suspected—Lia Habel is the kind of writer than can take even the most bizarre premise and turn it into a story I can’t put down.

–Christa