Two Voices Review: Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1)

Author: Moira Young
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (June 7, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Book for Review
Young Adult * Dystopian * Apocalyptic

Description from GoodReads:
Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back. 

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.

We are trying something a little different with this review.  Blood Red Road is a book that we both wanted to read and review. Instead of just flipping a coin to see who would review it, Renée and I decided to both share the responsibility.  It was kind of fun processing the book together via Skype.  Since we had fun working together on this one, we decided to try it with another book in the future.  Let us know what you think of our Two Voices Review.

Blood Red Road has been on my "to-read list" since before it's release.  I always worry a bit if a book will live up to the hype.  Will the book that all of my friends love turn out to be the one that I don't like?  I am happy to announce that I devoured this book in one sitting and it was kind of late at night which is a positive sign.

Here's what I loved about the book -

The characters.  I love books that have great characters and not just the main character but all of the characters.  Saba, the main female character, starts off having no real idea of who she is or what she is capable of.  When her whole life changes in a minute, she begins on a journey.  A journey to find and rescue her brother, but also one where she learns more about who she is.  And Saba is tough!

And then there is Jack.  Yes, most YA fiction would not be complete without a love interest and Jack does a very nice job filling that role.  He is tough, and mysterious, and funny.  And a great match for Saba.  But there are more characters and they are just as essential to the book.  There are the Free Hawks, girl revoluntaries, and Ike, a friend of Jack's, and characters that you want to dislike and others that you want to know their secrets, and one annoying but brave little sister.

The setting.  The world has transformed into a very dangerous place.  Saba learns just how wild and dangerous the world is after her brother is taken.  Hopetown, one place Saba ends up on her journey, is anything but a place of hope.  It actually reminded me of the Wild West with a touch of Roman cage fighting thrown in for excitement.  Though the various locations that Saba passes through on her way to Lugh (her brother) are interesting, I really wanted to know more. How did the world fall into this state?  Who were the Wreckers?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and how Young wrapped it up.  I also liked how the author developed the "romance" part of the book.  I am not sure how to talk about it without spoiling the story.  (Renée, I'll leave that challenge to you if you want to take it on.)  However, I am hoping that the reference of Dustlands #1 means that there will be more to come - especially more of Saba and Jack.

Like Aly, I had heard a lot about Blood Red Road before it came out. It was yet another addition to the fast-growing collection of YA dystopian that was highly recommended by bloggers, so I thought, 'Why not?' Also like Aly, I was blown away by this totally original part-apocalyptic, part-dystopian world, with a wildly original guide in our fierce protagonist, Saba.

Characters were also the best aspect of the story for me. Saba felt like such a real person -- there were even moments when she really annoyed me. She made mistakes, she didn't always act her age, and beneath her tough exterior, she was vulnerable and innocent and felt completely relatable. Her relationship with her sister was one of the most frustrating/beautiful things in the book.... And Jack. I won't keep hammering on about everything Aly mentioned, but I really can't talk about what I loved about the book without mentioning him. Jack. There. I got it out of my system. Anything more risks me going into fangirl-mode and spoiling all the fun squeal-worthy details for you.

Another really interesting thing about Blood Red Road was the writing style. The premise of the novel is of a girl searching the wasteland (or "dustlands") that is post-Wrecker world. (We're led to believe that the world was destroyed, or torn down, by the Wrecker civilization who sound very similar to present day Western world.) Because of this destruction, formal language is gone and they speak in  broken, rural English slang. Except, not just the characters' dialogue is written like this, even the narration is written in this broken style. Words like 'figger' replace 'figure,' and other words are misspelt phonetically. It really immersed me in the story. I felt like I was really reading a narrative from a different culture and time.

There was also an interesting non-normal element to it. (I don't want to say paranormal, because it doesn't appear to involve vampires, faeries, or any kind of creatures.) There is a mysticism to the story that I liked, but it's very subtle. Is there any truth to the saying "written in the stars?" Are some of the old folktales about certain magical objects true? Are these animals just very intelligent or is there something more...? The novel doesn't bury you with fantasy, but I liked the small hints at something different that might be going on.

I don't want to repeat everything Aly said, but I really loved this book, so much of what she enjoyed, I enjoyed. I really hope there is a sequel, because even though the ending wasn't a cliffhanger, there are so many tangents and threads left hanging that I want need answers to! I want more Saba and Jack. I want more of the barren dustlands ruled by a corrupt and cruel government. Mostly, I want more exciting and original books like this on the market to gain popularity and attention.

For more information about debut author, Moira Young:

Official Simon & Schuster Author Page

Moira Young's LiveJournal Page

Check out the Simon & Schuster official trailer for Blood Red Road created by the talented Vania of VLC Productions.

Book Review: Anya's Ghost

Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second Books (June 7, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased a copy
Graphic Novel * Paranormal * Young Adult 

Description from Goodreads:
Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Last summer, I discovered the world of graphic novels, particularly those for children and teens. (Yes, they have been around for a long-time, but I was slow in catching up.)   As I made them a part of my regular book diet, I also found ways to use them in working with children.  Consequently, I have tried to take note of new releases.  One of those new releases that caught my eye was Vera Brosgol's debut graphic novel - Anya's Ghost.

One of the qualities in a graphic novel that appeals to me is the creator's ability to deal with elements of real life in a way that will connect with readers.  Brosgol's first book does exactly this.  Her debut deals with themes familiar to most teens - fitting in, crushes, family relationships & expectations, friendship, decisions & consequences, and also how all this is made more complicated by being an immigrant. However, Brosgol doesn't stop there.  The real twist comes with the introduction of a century old ghost who is more than eager and willing to be Anya's BFF.  

Another aspect of the book that made the story work for me was that Anya truly grows as a character.  Through her experiences and interactions with her new friend, Anya comes to learn more about herself, those around her and what is important in life.  This can be tricky in a YA story.  How do you talk about things like being responsible or making hard decisions without coming across as preachy?  Brosgol manages to do it with humor, and sincerity.  

I also loved Brosgol's illustrative style.  Here is where I struggle....I lack all the right words to best describe how the simple color scheme used throughout the book fits the mood and theme or how the art is engaging and fun.  I am sure that there is a way to do this but unfortunately, I seem to lack the right words.  Maybe the best way to share about Brosgol's style is to share with you the official book trailer.

Check out the official book trailer for Anya's Ghost:

I am excited to add Vera Brosgol to my list of graphic novelists to keep an eye on.  She has a solid debut and I look forward to future books from this talented artist and writer. 

Vera Brosgol details the process she used to create Anya's Ghost.  Click here to read it.

Here is an interview with Vera Brosgol by Macmillan:
Check out Vera Brosgol's website:

Follow Vera Brosgol on Twitter: @verabee

Find her on Facebook:

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Juniper Berry

Author: M.P. Kozlowsky
Illustrator: Erwin Madrid
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (April 26, 2011)
Source: ARC for Review
Audience: Ages 9 to 12 years
Fiction * Modern Fairy Tale * Elementary

Description from GoodReads:
Juniper's parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.

On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world's secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn't.

M.P. Kozlowsky's debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

Sometimes the key to writing something scary is to simply write the truth. M. P. Kozlowsky in his debut middle grade novel Juniper Berry combines just the right aspects of the truth with powerful storytelling for a novel that grabs you from beginning to end.  Juniper Berry has everything in some ways except for the attention and affection of her famous parents.  She wishes for friends, for a life outside of her family's home, and most importantly for her parents to see her again.  While exploring the woods around her home, she meets a boy named Giles.  It seems that Juniper's parents aren't the only one who have been changing.  Giles has been noticing a change in his parents as well. Together the two discover a secret that is both alluring and terrifying.  And how does a woodcutter, a raven, and a red balloon fit into this puzzle?

Kozlowsky plays with common themes of desire and hope and the consequences of getting what you asked for.  Juniper and Giles are likeable protagonists that you want to root for as they must address what is happening to their parents, the struggles in their own lives, and some attractive choices.  As I read through the story, I could feel tension that these two children are facing.  Layered with a secret underworld and a really creepy adversary, the two children must fight for their lives and the lives of those they care for.

Juniper Berry will appeal to both female and male readers.  The story maintains a steady pace culminating in a battle which will determine the winner.  Though I wondered at times if children would fully grasp the extent of the author's underlying message about temptation, I never doubted that it would be a story they would enjoy and one that would be easy to book talk.

Kozlowsky's debut novel is a winner and I look forward to future books from him.  If this is on your "to be read" pile, I would encourage you to bump it up or at least add it to a summer reading list for students.  Thanks to Kellie and Walden Pond Press, I have a hardcover copy of JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. Kozlowsky to giveaway. This contest is open to readers in the U.S. or Canada only. To enter to win, please complete the form below.   

To check out Juniper Berry Blog Tour Week 2, head on over to the Walden Pond Press blog here.
To read M.P. Kozlowsky's guest post The World Outside A Book's Cover, click here.
For more information on M.P. Kozlowsky, check out his website here.

Here is the Official Book Trailer for Juniper Berry:

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here.

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section, you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest. Comments with personal information will be deleted.
2. The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. PDT on May 16, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 21.
3. You DO NOT need to be a follower of this blog to enter.
4. You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
5. If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail. If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
6. Only US and Canadian participants may enter the contest.

Book Review - The Pull of Gravity

Author: Gae Polisner
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)
Pages: 208
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Advanced Reader Copy for Review
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Read withOf Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

Description from GoodReads:
While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, Scooter, is dying from a freak disease. The Scoot’s final wish is that Nick and their quirky classmate, Jaycee Amato, deliver a prized first-edition copy of Of Mice and Men to the Scoot’s father. There’s just one problem: the Scoot’s father walked out years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. So, guided by Steinbeck’s life lessons, and with only the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off to find him.

Characters you’ll want to become friends with and a narrative voice that sparkles with wit make this a truly original coming-of-age story.

Here is one of my litmus tests for a book that I really like - I pick it up to read and get interrupted but it stays in the back of the mind whispering for me to find it and finish reading it.  In the story, Jaycee and Nick are discussing foreshadowing in reference to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Jaycee tells Nick:
"I guess. But that's what makes it so brilliant.  Because, if I closed the book now, you'd want to know what happens, right? Sure, you know something's is going to happen, but you don't know what.  And you care about them, so you want to know." (quote taken from p. 87 of the ARC)

Here I was suppose to be finishing a pile of books for a project, and I start reading The Pull of Gravity.  By about 50 pages in, I realized that I had to return to my book stack and reluctantly put it down. Yet, I was already attached to the characters in Gae Polisner's debut novel, The Pull of Gravity, and wanted to know what was going to happen.  I loved that Polisner managed in less than 50 pages to already make me care about the characters and that I knew this would be a book that I would go back to and read.

Likable characters are not the only thing I enjoyed about The Pull of Gravity.  I truly appreciated that the book had short, readable chapters and was only a little more than 200 pages.  With some teenagers, I have the challenge of trying to convince them to read a book.   If they already think they don't like reading and I hand them a book that is 400 pages long, I might lose them.  If I can read a couple of quick chapters to them, make them laugh, and hook them in, then I will usually be successful in convincing them to give it a try.   

The Pull of Gravity also has a boy narrator who actually seems like a 15 year old boy.  I spend a considerable amount of time with children and teens and the majority of the teen boys I meet do not seem like the suave, got it all together male heart-throbs in some YA novels.  Many are kind of geeky, awkward, and not sure what to do around a girl they might potentially like.  Nick (the main character and narrator) says/does/thinks a bunch of things that made me chuckle basically because it seemed real.  And yet despite all of the awkwardness, you really find yourself liking him.  He is paired up with Jaycee, a quirky classmate, who wears necklaces made of troll dolls and slinky bracelets.  Together they set out on a road trip guided by the lessons of Steinbeck, and with the mission of reuniting a first edition copy of Of Mice And Men with the estranged father of of their dying friend, Scoot.

If you have been counting, you'll notice there are several things about this story that I like (characters you care about and who seem real, short chapters, humor).  Here is another one, the road trip has a purpose.  By this, I don't actually mean why the characters went on the road.  Instead, the road trip has the purpose of helping the characters change and grow.  Road trips without purpose, no matter how fun or quirky it may be, actually irritate me.  This is probably my own personality quirks coming out but still, it makes my list of another reason I liked the book.  

I, also, have to admit not being exactly a true fan of contemporary fiction.  Partially because so much of it is filled with way too much high school drama.  Consequently, I can probably count on one hand the ones I really like.  Books such as Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye In Robot or Allen Zadoff's Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have stand out in my mind as contemporary fiction that I adore.  Polisner's The Pull of Gravity will likely appeal to fans of those books.

Finally, Polisner creates an ending for Nick, Jaycee, and the others that is right.  Not a perfectly wrapped up ending but one that feels right for the book and for the characters.  Polisner's debut novel is an enjoyable read and I certainly look forward to future offerings.

For more information about Gae Polisner, check out her website:
On Twitter, you can follow her: @gaepol

Below is the official book trailer for The Pull of Gravity:

Book Review - Page by Paige

Author/Illustrator: Laura Lee Gulledge
Publisher: Amulet Books (May 1, 2011)
Audience:  Young Adult
Source:  Advanced Readers Copy - ALA Midwinter
Graphic Novel * Contemporary Fiction 

Description from GoodReads:
Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she?s having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.

Laura Lee Gulledge crafts stories and panels with images that are thought-provoking, funny, and emotionally resonant. Teens struggling to find their place can see themselves in Paige's honest, heartfelt story.

I was going to wait to post this review a little closer to the release date but I have heard from a Twitter pal (Paul Hankins) that Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge has been spotted in the wild.  So I am celebrating early.  I have been dying to share about this book since January when I picked up an Advanced Readers Copy at ALA Midwinter.  

Page by Paige is the debut graphic novel from Laura Lee Gulledge.  According to Gulledge's bio on her website "the story is her journey as an artist and transplant in New York".  In the book, Paige is 16 and has moved from VA to NYC with her writer parents.  It is a tough time to a teen's life to move and teen readers will resonate with this aspect of the story as well.  Despite Paige's many wonderful traits/characteristics, she is filled with myriad of insecurities as well. Through her developing friendships with Gabe, Jules and Longo, as well as with her sketchbook, Paige discovers more about herself and how she fits into the world around her and how others may see her.  All of these are themes that will connect with especially female teen readers. 

As I read this graphic novel, I was particularly taken with how the illustrations perfectly match the text. Some of the images were just so expressive and vivid which truly moved the text to a new level for me.  I immediately wanted to find people around me to share the images.  I encourage you to check out the book trailers below just to get a taste of the artwork from the book.

I can't wait to start giving this out as gifts or sharing it with teens that I know.  Page by Paige is a wonderful debut by Gulledge and I certainly look forward to future work from her.  

For more information about Laura Lee Gulledge, check out her websites:

To follow her on twitter:  @whoislauralee
To find her on Facebook:

The original book trailer on YouTube:

And the revised book trailer on YouTube: