Dead Boy by Laurel Gale (J)

Dead Boy

Dead Boy

Laurel Gale (Juvenile Fiction)

Being dead stank.  Literally.  With everything rotting, decaying, and decomposing, it really did stink.  And let’s not talk about the maggots and the skin falling off and the hair falling out.  Death was really the pits and eleven-year-old Crow Darlingson should know because Crow is dead.  Well, dead but somehow alive.  If you ask Crow what’s worse than being dead, he would tell you that it’s being alone.  Loneliness really stank.  But along came Melody Plympton, his new neighbor, who somehow accepted his deadness.  Just when things were looking up, Crow and Melody discover a terrifying and mysterious creature hiding in the park.  A monster that also grants wishes.  Could this same creature be the cause of Crow’s unusual existence?  Could Crow somehow wish himself a normal life?  Crow is willing to face whatever tests and dangers the monster throws at him.  After all, once you’re dead, what’s the worst that can happen?

Dead Boy is Laurel Gale’s debut novel and she sure delivers!  She delights and entertains readers with a creepy, ghoulish, sweet, and imaginative story that’s full of heart.  Although it’s labeled as a “horror” story and depicts scenes of maggots falling out of various body parts at inappropriate times (not that there’s an appropriate time), Dead Boy is really a story about a young boy wanting to be accepted and longing for a friend.  Anyone who’s ever wanted a friend who liked and accepted them for just the way they are will empathize with Crow and his unfortunate situation.

What I found refreshing about Crow was his ability to see the positive in any situation and to enjoy what little pleasure life might happen to toss his way.  Here’s a boy with no friends, unable to eat food, incapable of sleep, and whose entire existence is spent indoors surrounded by the safety of air conditioning (he lives in the desert of all places), yet he delights in the simple act of lying beneath the stars and gazing up at the night’s sky.  He’s selfless, understanding, intelligent, loyal, and a true friend in every sense of the word.  He’s probably one of the most unlikely protagonists that I’ve come upon in a long time and I certainly hope he won’t be the last.

Near the end of the book, when the dust has settled after all of his exploits and adventures, Crow realized something important that beautifully sums up the meaning of this book: “Maybe having friends wasn’t as important as having the right friends”.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman (YA Horror)

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Coraline   

Neil Gaiman (Young Adult Fiction)

Coraline (not Caroline) Jones lives in a rather large house with her mother and father.  Because the house is much too big for just one family, she shares it with Misses Spink and Forcible (they live in the flat below) and the crazy old man with a big mustache (who lives in the flat above).  The day after she moves in, Coraline goes exploring.  She IS an explorer after all and exploring is what she does.  She explores the gardens, the tennis court, and even the old well (which is very dangerous so it’s best to stay away from it).  Soon, she begins exploring her house, which leads her to a door (which is kept locked), which opens up to a brick wall.  But one day, the brick wall isn’t there and Coraline decides to go through the door, because that is what explorers do.  It’s not long before Coraline realizes that she should have listened to the mice (in the flat above) and NOT have gone through the door.  Mice are smart.  At least they pronounce her name correctly.

Coraline is a wonderfully spooky and thrilling tale of a young girl who is clever, brave, and kind.  Her curiosity tends to get her into mischief, but a level head and a compassionate heart always seem to allow this little explorer to come out on top.

In his book, Neil Gaiman shows us different kinds of love.  There’s the I-love-yellow-Wellington-boots-in-the-shape-of-frogs love and the I’d-love-for-you-to-go-away-so-I-can-work love and then the I-love-you-so-much-that-I-will-give-you-everything-so-you’ll-love-me-too kind of love.  Throughout our story, Coraline deals with all of these:  her own love for quirky things; the love from her parents who often don’t seem to notice her; and the demanding love from a strange being that will go to any length in order to acquire and keep it.  The Ancient Greeks identified eight kinds of love.  Psychologists state there are seven.  For Coraline, there is only one kind of love and that is the love she has for her mother and father.  It is this love that gives her the will and the strength to fight against seemingly overwhelming odds and terrifying beings in order to find her way home again…and back to love.

Rating: 4/5

Posted: 10/2/2018

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura & Tom McNeal (YA)

It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.

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The Decoding of Lana Morris  

Laura & Tom McNeal (Young Adult Fiction)

If you had one wish…just one…what would it be?

Sixteen-year old Lana Morris lives in a two-storied foster home that she shares with four special needs kids (Snicks for short) and her foster parents, Whit and Veronica.  Lana wishes for a different foster mother; she wishes to fit in with the cool kids; she wishes she didn’t have to live in Snick House; and she wishes she understood her feelings for Whit better.  Lana wishes for a lot of things and soon, after she visits Miss Hekkity’s Oddments & Antiques, she’ll have not just one wish, but 13.

First, I want to focus on the positive aspects of this book, which is the attention the McNeals devote to young people with special needs.  They give us insight into their daily lives and allow us to understand their challenges and individuality.  Too often society judges these amazing people by their outward appearance or behavior alone.  It is also heartwarming to see Lana’s role evolve from disparager to defender as she connects with her housemates and appreciates their uniqueness.

Unfortunately, the negative aspects of this book vastly outweigh the positives.  The McNeals make Veronica excessively cruel and evil for no apparent reason.  Her treatment of Lana is childish, snippy, and incredibly mean-spirited.  The authors provide no insight as to why this kind of person possesses such disdain and disregard for the children in her care.  We find out late in the book that she is unable to have children of her own.  So, are we then to assume that these children are somehow meant to fill a personal void or is she putting her own feelings aside and doing it out of selfless love for Whit?  Surely, she can’t be putting herself and these children through such torment for just a monthly stipend.

Additionally, and more disturbingly, is how the authors portray Whit.  Before Lana gains access to her “wishes”, Whit is a beloved, meek, and kind foster father.  The children adore him and Lana views him as a father (although her affections often overlap between familial and hormonal).  After her visit to Miss Hekkity’s, Whit inexplicably becomes increasingly salacious and lecherous toward Lana.  As a lonely teenage girl in want of a father figure, Lana is naturally drawn to Whit, but Whit’s reciprocation, and even encouragement, of her interest cross a very distinct line which is both disturbing and unsettling.  If the authors merely did this to shock their teen readers with provocative and edgy content, they handedly hit their mark.  What is supposedly a book about a teenage girl desperately trying to find love and acceptance dives abruptly into a world filled with infidelity, child exploitation, abuse, and neglect.

If I had one wish…just one…it would be that the McNeals had stayed a little truer to their book’s proposed purpose.  Unfortunately, the strong and encouraging themes of love, acceptance, and friendship are overshadowed by hate, jealousy, and lust and no amount of wishes can overcome that.

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com