Book Review: Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResBy Lila Quintero Weaver

This book talk is based on an advance review copy. Quotes and details may vary in the final version.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash for the best car around—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raúl the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provides definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.

MY TWO CENTS: Look in the children’s section for graphic novels from the Latino perspective and you’ll find precious few choices. Look there for books about lowriders and your choices will be still slimmer. Here is Lowriders in Space, ready to fill both spots with a joyous, celebratory tale. You don’t need deep knowledge of the lowrider culture to appreciate this middle-grade graphic novel, brought to you by the author-illustrator team of Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third.

Lowriders In Space_Int_3In the opening pages, we meet three animal characters with Spanish names, all of whom work for a car-repair shop. The shop is called Cartinflas, and this is just one of many playful allusions and verbal jokes in this book. (Cartinflas plays on the name of the famous Mexican comic actor, Cantinflas.) Lupe Impala, (a wolf) busts gender stereotypes as a female lead who knows her way around car engines. Her sidekicks, the octopus El Chavo Flapjack and the mosquito Elirio Malaria, each specialize in key aspects of automobile revamping in the lowrider style. Elirio’s fine-tip proboscis doubles as a paintbrush that turns out the sweetest racing stripes and airbrushed scenes you could imagine. El Chavo’s eight tentacles go to work washing, polishing and buffing cars to a high sheen.

The trio dream of going into business for themselves, but where will they find start-up money? A car competition with a hefty cash prize gives them hope, but there are tough challenges to meet. First, they must find a car to work their magic on. They settle for a rusty heap sitting on cinder blocks. Now for car parts. At an abandoned airplane factory, they pick up mini air compressors and a box of rocket equipment. After attaching the parts, they’re in for a surprise when Lupe cranks the engine and it launches the car into the stratosphere. High above the earth, the car gears down into bajito-y-suavecito mode, low and slow: this is the cruising speed that lets low riders see and be seen. While the transformed auto travels outer space, it takes on loads of flash and bling borrowed from stars, asteroids and others elements of the galactic realm.

There’s much to love in this kid-friendly graphic novel. The story arc follows a familiar trajectory: the protagonists meet every challenge successfully and win the sought-after prize. Kid readers will be cheering. But my hat’s off to Cathy Camper for elevating the storyline above the predictable. She does this through original settings and characters, including the lowrider car itself, and with the inventive twists of space travel and comical astronomy. Her text engages the ear with musical language that includes alliteration, onomatopoeia, and bursts of G-rated street slang in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.

Kids will eat up the comics-style art. Every page offers levels of visual puns and charming details that invite readers to study panels closely. The color scheme and the drawings give off a retro historieta vibe, fitting for a story about lowrider culture, which was born in the 1950s and is rooted in the Mexican American community. I’m not familiar with the ballpoint-pen doodle style that Raúl the Third credits as his inspiration, but I dig it!

TEACHING TIPS: The back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish phrases, factual information on the tongue-in-cheek astronomy that appears in the story, and a thumbnail summary of lowrider history.

One bonus of graphic novels is their appeal to devoted bookworms and reluctant readers. Kids seem to instinctively grasp the multiple levels of interaction offered through their blend of text and images. Teachers may want to approach Lowriders in Space—and any graphic novel—in two steps. Read through it once purely for the story. Revisit it at a slower pace to more fully absorb the images. Raúl the Third’s art is rich with details, charming secondary characters, and visual puns that sharp-eyed kids will relish hunting down. These may not be central to the story, but they sure contribute to the fun. For example, it’s one thing to read that there’s a fast-food joint called Sapo Bell in the background of one scene—it’s another to spy the goofy sapo sitting out front. Middle-grade readers are sure to love such hidden gems.

Lowriders in Space encourages kids to celebrate a fun aspect of Mexican American culture that should be respected, not ridiculed or stigmatized. Too often when lowriders appear in popular culture, they’re thrown in for kitsch points. This usually results in stereotyping and negative connotations. Teachers can use this text to combat the lazy disregard involved in stereotypical usage and replace it with the dignity that comes with cross-cultural appreciation.

If you’d like to learn more about lowrider history culture, here are some suggested resources:

“Lowriding: This Culture is About More Than Cars.”

“Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders.” 

Be sure to read Cathy’s guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smCathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Raúl the Third teaches classes on  drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.          

   Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay)

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now for a big treat, the official book trailer for Lowriders in Space!

 

Guest Post by Author Cathy Camper: Lowriders in Space Blast Off!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smBy Cathy Camper

Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Flapjack Octopus and Lupe Impala work at a car dealership six days a week. Lupe’s the mechanic, Flapjack washes and buffs the cars, and Elirio details the cars with his beak. Their dream is to have a garage and a lowrider of their own:

            They’d seen some cars blast by fast,

             And others that could shift and drift,

            But they wanted a car that would go low and slow.

            Bajito y suavecito.

            A universal car contest gives them that opportunity. But not until their car gets customized by outer space! Pinstripes from Saturn, pompom asteroids, and star-capped hubcaps make their car an interstellar phenomena!

That’s how I pitched my graphic novel Lowriders in Space at Pitchapalooza in Portland, Oregon. Back when the book was just a manuscript and a vision in my head, I’d exhausted the list of graphic novel agents, and so winning this contest was like a dream come true. The prize was the advice of The Book Doctors, a husband-wife team who connected my project with an agent and eventually, an editor and publisher.

I’m a writer, artist and a youth services outreach librarian. I wrote Lowriders in Space because as an Arab American, I was fed up with the inability of mainstream comics and books to represent the diversity of kids I see everyday, kids who like me, don’t see themselves in books. When I first sent the script to the book’s artist, Raúl III, who is Latino, he told me, “This is the book I wanted to read as a child,” and he was as excited as I was to create it, and for the same reasons. Our editor at Chronicle Books, Ginee Seo, is Korean American, and she gets it too—like us she wants to give kids a book that meets them where they are.

I’d been working on the book since 2006, and was thrilled when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign launched in May 2014. We’re hoping that when Lowriders comes out this fall, it kicks a big hole in the wall of racism of kids’ books, welcoming kids of all backgrounds to read it. We hope it encourages publishers to create more books by new authors and illustrators of color, and to inspire kids via reading our book, to become creators, too.

By 2050, one third of the US will live in English-Spanish speaking households—that’s our audience! The book’s also aimed at boys, because the literacy rate of boys is dropping, and like Jon Scieszka (who sponsors the Guys Read website), we want boys to read. We also envision that kids struggling to read, for whatever reasons, might find our book inviting. And it looks like adults are loving it, too, from all the reviews that have been popping up online.

Since I’m not Latina, it was crucial to me that our book was culturally correct. I did tons of research, read books, watched films, went to the Lowrider Magazine’s car show, and interviewed people. I’m also fortunate and forever grateful to have the help of many Latino friends and library co-workers, who read the manuscript, offered suggestions, and helped fine-tune the Spanish. One of the cartoonists I admire most is cartoon journalist Joe Sacco. His ability to go into places of high conflict, like Palestine and the Bosnian war and create detailed drawn and written records out of chaos humbles me. When I heard him speak, he mentioned that one of the things he tries to do is set his ego aside, and put the stories of those he’s writing about, up front. When I wrote Lowriders, I tried my best to emulate this goal, and to fight for, as best I could, what would make the story culturally relevant.

This goal included having the right illustrations. Traditionally in children’s books, the writer doesn’t choose an illustrator for the manuscript (though this is different in comics creation). I was warned along the way, “Choosing your own illustrator may work against you.” However, I felt it was crucial that Raúl illustrate this book, not only because he’s a brilliant artist (and if we’re saying we need more diverse kids books, we also need more diverse creators), but because his art added just the right touch of both cultural relevancy and the retro-nuevo feel the text demanded. Raúl told me that much of the setting and landscape is based on his childhood in El Paso, Texas. When he started sketching Flapjack Octopus, he said he couldn’t help but think of him in his pail as El Chavo del Ocho, sitting in his barrel—and so we changed Flappy’s name and look to reflect that.

Lowriders In Space_Int_2

Just as Raúl was able to make contributions to the text, I sometimes added context to the drawings. For example, it was important to me that our lowriders’ car had the Big Dipper on it. For the lowrider diaspora of Latinos and African Americans whom the book celebrates, the Big Dipper represents the path north, and more broadly, the path to freedom. What better symbol to have on a flying car’s license plate? Our book celebrates the influence of older comics, art, pop culture and car references that Raúl and I both love and wanted to share, including George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, the Hernandez BrothersLove and Rockets, Mad Magazine and Big Daddy Roth’s cars.

And then there’s the science – I love science! My first book Bugs Before Time was about giant prehistoric insects – including a sea scorpion as big as your mom. Why wouldn’t our graphic novel include science, when there really are things as wondrous as flapjack octopuses and braided rings of Saturn? The technology of cars is part of science, too, whether it’s learning how cars are buffed and painted, how air compressors make lowriders hop, or what vulcanizing does to make rubber tires strong.

We think Lowriders is going to read like something brand new, because of the unique, aligned intent of author, illustrator, and publisher and because of the crazy mix of culture, comics, and science our combined imaginations dreamed up. We hope you love it and it makes you laugh, and that you share your excitement with all the kids out there that might love it, too. When Lowriders in Space blasts off this fall, our real destination isn’t the outer galaxies, it’s to land in the hands of kids who deserve to see themselves in what they read, and to be read by everyone else so they experience how rich a culture of color can be.

Cathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow the book’s Facebook page for more news.

Coming soon on Latin@s in Kid Lit: A book talk on Lowriders in Space with more story details and more peeks at interior pages!

Book Review: Sanctum: Guards of the Shadowlands, Book One by Sarah Fine

13482750By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. On Monday, we had a Q&A with Sarah Fine, author of the Guards of the Shadowlands series. Today, we take a closer look at her debut novel, first of the series, Sanctum, which features a 17-year-old Latina protagonist.

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

MY TWO CENTS: Sanctum by Sarah Fine offers an engaging blend of fantasy, action, romance, and contemporary social issues, sure to appeal to a variety of readers. Protagonist Lela Santos has spent most of her life in foster homes and the sexual abuse she suffers at one causes her to attempt suicide. Her abuser interrupts the suicide, but Lela was gone long enough to glimpse hell. When her best friend Nadia kills herself and Lela dies accidentally soon after, she is determined to save her friend from the city that preys on souls’ worst fears, insecurities, and vices.

Problem is: Lela doesn’t belong there. The city won’t sustain her, which puts her at risk of dying–again.

Another problem: Creepy creatures called Mazikin claim broken souls and are preparing to bust out of the city. The fights are fierce between the Mazikin and the Guards, and Lela proves to be a badass even before any formal fight training.

Yet another problem: Lela is falling in love with Malachi, the leader of the Guards. And while the romantic tension between them is hotter than Hades itself, a love affair in this setting isn’t likely to last. Plus, Lela is still healing from traumas experienced in her mortal life, which means she doesn’t easily trust people even in the afterlife.

One of the things I liked most about Sanctum was the development of the characters’ emotional journeys through pain and into healing. They all suffered so severely in life they decided to commit suicide, and that decision landed them in a place that continues their torment. Still, as difficult as it is, in life and this afterlife, some are able to overcome the worst experiences and find purpose in life and even love. I won’t give away what happens when Lela finds Nadia, but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised at Nadia’s response to the rescue effort. The point that we all heal at our own pace is an important one to remember (in real life) when trying to help people with mental health issues.

TEACHING TIPS: One thing the Common Core State Standards asks is for students to compare different treatments of the same subject or analyze how one work of literature has influenced another. One way Sanctum could be used in the classroom, even if only parts are used, is to compare Fine’s version of hell with other versions of hell and purgatory in literature. Discussions about the afterlife and the particular fate of those who commit suicide would be appropriate in higher level English classes that consider the Bible’s influence on literature and history/social studies courses that include a comparative study of religions.

AUTHOR: Sarah Fine is the author of the Guards of the Shadowlands, a YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing), including Sanctum (October 2012) and Fractured (October 2013). The third and final book in this series comes out in October 2014. In May 2014, Putnam/Penguin published Scan, the first of two thrillers she co-authored with Walter Jury. Her gothic young adult novel Of Metal and Wishes will be published by McElderry/Simon & Schuster in August 2014. When she’s not writing, she’s psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.

Author Sarah Fine Talks About Hell, Trauma, and Creating Diverse Characters

13482750By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we have a Q&A with Sarah Fine, author of Sanctum and Fracture. (Book three is in the works.) Here is a partial description of Sanctum, which features Lela Santos, a Latina main character, a foster child from Rhode Island who has experienced abandonment, neglect, and sexual abuse:

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

Cindy: First, let me say that I loved Sanctum. The only part that frustrated me was how long it took for Lela and Malachi to kiss :.)

Sarah: I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and I hope the kiss was worth the wait!

Cindy: The premise of Lela going into hell to retrieve Nadia is similar to the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice, but obviously this is not a retelling. How influenced were you by that myth or mythology in general?

Sarah: I actually didn’t think about that particular myth at all as I was generating the idea for this book. When I read that comparison in a review, I was like … you know, that’s actually quite apt! I was a little more influenced by Jewish and Mesopotamian mythology. The Mazikin are mentioned in the Talmud as evil spirits or demons, and the inhuman Guards are very loosely based off protective deities called the lamassu in Mesopotamian myths, where they’re described as half-man, half-bull.

Cindy: Your setting is an interesting kind of hell, with the buildings being alive and able to feed off its inhabitants. How did you create and develop this idea? What kind of research do you do for fantasy world creation?

Sarah: This idea was inspired by the way C.S. Lewis wrote about his version of hell/purgatory in The Great Divorce. The “grey town” is this massive, depressing city where it’s always raining, always twilight—and here’s the part that really got me: people could have whatever they wanted, but it was of low quality. That Grey Town at the very beginning of that book completely inspired the dark city in Sanctum. Obviously, I changed it a lot, including the idea that the city is really one living, breathing entity that grows off the depression of the people residing within, but I give Lewis the credit for the basic idea (and he was clearly influenced by Dante in that work, so he deserves credit as well.)

17667916Cindy: Do you continue to work as a child psychologist? Did your work experiences help you to portray the emotional recovery Lela and the others have to go through in order to heal from trauma?

Sarah: I do, but in a different capacity than I have in the past, when I did a lot of home-based evaluations and therapy. Now I direct programs and supervise clinicians who provide those services to children and adolescents who are at risk for out-of-home placement in psychiatric hospitals or residential treatment facilities. Our goal is to work with families to keep these kids at home and in their communities, where research clearly shows they do best.

My work definitely influences how I see the complexity of trauma and what it takes to heal. A huge percentage of our clients have experienced some type of trauma, and usually not what we think of as single event, “simple” trauma. Though that can be devastating, it’s actually easier to treat than the complex developmental trauma we often see, where the trauma is more chronic and ongoing. This is actually the type of trauma Lela’s experienced—multiple disruptions in attachments, several instances of abuse or neglect. As I show her fragile but growing relationship with Diane, her foster mom, that’s always on my mind. I definitely explore more of that in book three.

Cindy: In addition to the great action scenes, this story focused on the characters’ battles with their personal demons. Thinking about author choices here…because of the issues the characters face, this story could have been developed as a YA contemporary. What led you to decide to develop the story as fantasy instead?

Sarah: I guess it’s a preference thing. There are some brilliant, brilliant authors who have explored these issues with contemporary YA (Nina LaCour, for example), but I wanted to place these characters in an environment where the depression was a tangible, living thing. This fantasy world gave me the chance to explore a lot of philosophical issues, like what is heaven, really, and how could it possibly be the same for everyone? What if you’re not emotionally ready to be there and accept what it offers? To me, that’s not a religious question, but a more concrete way of exploring something very emotional–Can you have some version of that goodness in your life, no matter where you are? What would you have to understand and embrace to receive that?

Cindy: Again with author choices….Obviously you could have created characters of any race, ethnicity, etc. What made you decide to create a Latina MC?

Sarah Fine

Sarah Fine

Sarah: Lela Santos really just materialized to me in that form. However, I will tell you that the majority of the school children in the urban core of Rhode Island, where Lela’s from, are Latino/a. Also, in general, children of color are overrepresented in terms of involvement in the juvenile justice system in this country (with harsher sentences as well—we’ve had court workers outright say that they’re harder on these kids because of the racism they face within society, which is a totally twisted logic that over-penalizes those children and in my opinion perpetuates that racism). Once I considered those facts, it seemed wrong to consider making her anything other than what she was from the beginning.

Cindy: Your secondary characters have interesting back stories as well, which suggests to me that including diversity in your writing is important to you. Some authors shy away from including diverse characters for fear of “getting it wrong.” Did you have any concerns about creating diverse characters? What advice, if any, would you give to fantasy writers about diversity in the genre?

Sarah: This story takes place in the afterlife, and the idea that the only people residing there would be Anglo-American, or any kind of American, is pretty laughable. The world is a BIG place—and the afterlife would be the same, minus the country divisions. Everyone would be there together, right? The dark city where most of Sanctum takes place is where everyone in the world who committed suicide has gone (with some exceptions, I think, but that’s a different interview!). I felt very strongly that having Lela coincidentally meet up with people who were American would just be false and icky.

I did have concerns, of course, because I really wanted these characters to have an impact, and to feel like real people. I did quite a bit of research. I also focused on writing from the inside out, trying to focus on each of those characters as human beings who loved and hoped and despaired in their own ways. I don’t think I’m some kind of expert on this. I’m certain I’ve made mistakes. But I’m curious and always wanting to learn about people who are different from me. And I started from the premise that all those diverse characters—Lela, Malachi, Ana, Takeshi—were on their own profoundly personal journeys, armed only with their intelligence, resilience, perseverance, and the capacity to risk their lives and hearts for a chance at peace. The rest flowed from that.

Check out these other works by Sarah Fine:

17733363  13451410  17303139

Book Review: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

By Zoraida Córdova

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we’re highlighting OTHERBOUND, a debut novel by Corinne Duyvis, which has received excellent reviews, including starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of The Center for Children’s Books.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKETAmara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

MY TWO CENTS: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is an ambitious novel that breaks the norm of YA fantasy.

Nolan is a seventeen-year-old boy with a prosthetic leg who has seizures, at least, what the grownups think are seizures. In actuality, he has a vivid connection with a girl named Amara who lives in the Dunelands—definitely not Arizona where Nolan and his family live.

The dual perspective—even the dual reality of it all–is interesting. I thought it might get distracting to have breaks where Amara’s world cuts into Nolan’s perspective in bold. But if Nolan can handle the after effects that come with what is pretty much a psychic invasion and still try to have a life, then I can handle it as a reader.

From the very beginning, we’re set up to understand the following things: Nolan leads a pretty average life. As average as it gets for a low income Latino family in Arizona. He has parents who work three jobs to pay for his meds. He has a younger sister who is 15 and has an attitude. Their Latin-ness isn’t brought up except for mentions of Grandmother Perez’s food and how Nolan’s parents go back and forth between speaking Spanish. The Spanish is always typed out in English, but since I speak Spanish I translated it in my head as I read along. And even though this is a fantasy novel, Duyvis makes a note of Nolan’s father writing angry letters to his school about banned books. It’s Arizona, you have to! So props.

After experiencing Nolan’s day-to-day, we’re then thrown into a completely different world with its own rules to understand. Amara is a servant. By nature of her birth she can’t read, write, or speak (literally, servants have their tongues cut off and are branded by palace). I love how the author didn’t shy away from the brutal life that this young girl has to endure. At the end of the day, Amara is a girl who is kidnapped and held against her will. She’s a slave, whose sole purpose in life is to protect a cursed princess through Amara’s ability to heal herself. Should princess Cilla’s blood spill, the curse will be unleashed. The Dunelands come with their own royalty system, magic, political intrigue, and adventure, which keeps the pace moving.

Nolan and Amara live in separate dimensions/planets but are both faced with disabilities that impede them from an autonomy that others take for granted. Amara’s ability to speak has been stolen from her. Never the less, she tries to over come this by learning how to read, despite the terrible punishment that awaits her if caught. While she does fear and question the people around her, she isn’t exactly a wallflower. She’s brave, loving, and loyal, traits that a physical disability can’t change.

As for Nolan, he lost a leg at a young age from a freak accident (brought on by the vision-seizures). While he can still be active, swim, go to school, and move around on his own, when you add painful “seizures” to that, the results are not good. It’s not a mental disability in the way that we treat depression or being bipolar, but it is in his head. On his part, he tries not to feel like a burden in his household. He’s constantly trying to give people the “right” kind of smile, and often lies about how he feels to get the grown-ups off his back about whether or not he’s “okay.” I think there’s a big pressure put on kids to “be okay” and it’s more for the adults than for the kids. Still, as he realizes the sacrifices his parents make for him, he takes to even the smallest chores–dishes, laundry, helping his sister rehearse for a play–to show that he can be present in his world, that he can be helpful.

Then the unexpected happens—through some circumstance of their connection (and the new meds), Nolan’s role goes from simply watching to doing. He can make Amara move. He can run through her, and it’s great to watch Nolan find the ability to move through Amara’s magical world. The levels of magic are complicated, and when Nolan and Amara discover each other, they become reliant on one another for survival. I mean, I’d be pissed off if some guy who was watching me for years and years, suddenly shows up and can control my body. Amara’s first reaction is to be mad, but Nola isn’t a creeper. He’s been part of her life for years and he truly cares about what happens to her. True, Amara would like to kiss the person she likes without Nolan snooping, but without Nolan, Amara’s ability to heal would not manifest. She needs him there for her to pass as a “healing mage.”

As he gets more and more involved in the political schemes of Amara’s world, Nolan is determined to make sure Amara survives, even if it means he feels pain. The way I read it is that he would much rather feel that physical pain than deal with the pressures of his reality. With everything that goes on in his real life–the meds, school, pressure, parents who constantly hover–Nolan gets a taste of being a hero without the Earthly limitations. As for Amara, her payoff is that Nolan gave her the ability to heal. There were so many times when she was tortured because her captor knew she would heal soon enough. Without Nolan, she would have probably died sooner. I can’t spoil the end, but Nolan’s connection came super in handy at the end. Even though their connection had to end sometime, it was great to see a relationship between a boy and a girl that wasn’t sexual, but bonded through adversity.

When I say that I’ve never read anything like this, I mean it. While I do feel like I know more about the characters than the actual fantasy world, I think I’m okay with that. There’s a young Mexican-American boy with a prosthetic leg who can see into another dimension and inhabit the body of an alien servant girl. This servant girl is bisexual and used as a ploy to a political regime way beyond her control. Definitely not your average YA.

AUTHOR: Corinne Duyvis is a lifelong Amsterdammer and former portrait artist now in the business of writing about superpowered teenagers. In her free time, she finds creative ways of hurting people via brutal martial arts, gets her geek on whenever possible, and sleeps an inordinate amount. Visit her at www.corinneduyvis.com or say HI on Twitter!

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Otherbound, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Book Review: The Sowing: The Torch Keeper Series, Book Two by Steven Dos Santos

17342414By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: “This time, there are no choices. Lucian “Lucky” Spark leads a double life. By day, he trains to become one of the Establishment elite. At night, he sabotages his oppressors from within, seeking to avenge the murder of his love, Digory Tycho, and rescue his imprisoned brother. But when he embarks on a risky plot to assassinate members of the Establishment hierarchy, Lucky is thrust into the war between the Establishment and the rebellion, where the lines between friend and foe are blurred beyond recognition. His only chance for survival lies in facing the secrets of the Sowing, a mystery rooted in the ashes of the apocalyptic past that threatens to destroy Lucky’s last hope for the future.”

MY TWO CENTS: Wow. When I say, the action doesn’t stop, well, it just doesn’t stop. The reader is taken immediately to a dramatic fight a couple of months after newly minted Imposer Lucky finishes the trials, portrayed in the first book, The Culling. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the totalitarian Establishment, led by Cassius Thorn, really enjoys keeping Parish citizens downtrodden.

We continue to view the world through Lucky’s eyes – including struggle to protect his little brother, Cole, and the injustices he must now pretend to participate in, while actively working toward positive change. We can see that Lucky has grown and matured, but is weighed by his constant terror of losing Cole. As he is forced to return to the Trials, this time as an Incentive, he experiences old horrors in new ways – and we learn more about the mysteries of the first book as well. There are a couple shocking twists, that I won’t mention here, but suffice it to say, this is one entertaining read. And readers can see that a bigger story line is building – bound to shake up Lucky’s already precarious situation.

The amazing thing about this series, besides the edge-of-your-seat suspense that gives the reader inventively gory payoffs, is that the sexuality of the LGBTQ characters are treated totally matter of factly. In this horrific version of our future, at least society recognizes that love is love. I think LGBTQ teens who love dystopian thrillers like The Hunger Games will enjoy a similar story that focuses on sympathetic characters that just happen to be gay. Dos Santos doesn’t make a big deal out of his characters’ sexuality. Normalizing this aspect of society is a long time coming; I think today’s teens deserve to envision a future without a closet and this series supports that idea. Although it would be nice if the other parts of the future didn’t go down the drain!

This series would be great as a pick for a LGBTQ teen book group, whether for high school or in a public library. It’s an excellent counterpoint for LGBTQ books that are serious or that focuses on sexuality as the actual story. Teens will also understand Lucky’s growth and his love of family. But, most of all, it’s just a fun read.

AUTHOR: Steven dos Santos was born in New York City and raised in south Florida. He began writing at 7, but didn’t become a professional writer until after graduating with a communications degree and then spending time working in the field of law. The two books of The Torch Keeper series are his first professionally published works, and The Culling has been added to the 2014 ALA GLBTQ’s Rainbow Project Reading List. He’s currently at work writing the final book in The Torch Keeper series.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Dos Santos and The Sowing, visit your local library or bookstore. Online he can be found at stevendossantos.com, worldcat.org, goodreads.com, indiebound.org, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.

fontenot headshotEileen Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.