Recommended to me by my local children's bookstore owner and friend, The Scorpio Races might just be one of my top reads of this year.
Set on a fictional island seemingly located somewhere in the British Isles (sheep, perpetual drizzle, the ever-important pub...need I say more?), The Scorpio Races weaves its story around the mythical Capaill Uisce, or water horse. Based in both Celtic and Scandinavian mythology, the water horses in The Scorpio Races rise out of the sea every November to either be captured and ridden in the famed Scorpio Races or kill the men who try.
Young Sean Kendrick has won the Scorpio Races four times, riding a water horse named Corr. It is clear from the outset that Sean has a very uncommon bond with Corr, taming him in a way that most others cannot. He is also frequently called upon to rescue others from their foolish attempts to capture the wild creatures.
Puck Connolly and her brothers lost their parents to the water horses. Struggling to make ends meet, Puck decides to enter the Scorpio Races out of desperation. Little does she know how fateful this decision will be as not everyone on the island sees her participation favourably.
This book is a bit of a slow burn, building Puck and Sean's stories slowly and separately. The magic happens as the two stories begin to come together, twisting and twining around each other, as stories do on small, isolated islands. Maggie Stiefvater elegantly weaves the very realistic lives of the islanders with the mythological water horses, creating a story that you just can't put down.
Recommended for Gr. 7 +
,I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons - first, the setting - my high school hometown, Toronto; second, I liked the idea of diving into the world of homeless teens. At first, the premise for how Harbour ends up in Toronto turned me off - what fourteen year old girl actually believes that her father would send her to camp out in a big city while he sails from Florida all the way to Toronto? As the book continues and Harbour begins to develop a relationship with a homeless teen named Lise, however, Kilbourne weaves a more and more believable explanation, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the whole story until you can see exactly how this could have come to be. This slow reveal is what really made this book for me; it kept me reading and it kept me guessing as to what the next little piece was going to be.
The look in to the lives of homeless teens is well done - revealing both the positives (the kind and caring shelter worker) and the negatives (predatory men, eating out of dumpsters, addiction, cold weather) with empathy and respect. The ending, while a little to coincidental for my taste, is not picture perfect and you are left with just enough questions to keep it from feeling like it was wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Safe Harbour is not a gritty look at the life of teens on the streets of Toronto as the flyleaf might lead you to believe; rather, it is an exploration of a young girl coming to terms with her family, friends and the harsh realities of life. Sure, the desperation of life camping out in a ravine in the middle of a big city, with no money and no lifelines underscores the story and provides the background for pivotal moments, but the true beauty of this book lies in the gradual unfolding of Harbour herself. As Harbour says at the very end of the book "I don't know everything about how I feel, or anything about how I should feel. I don't even know how I want to feel. But I know without a doubt that the ground is solid beneath my feet and it feels good."
Gr. 7 and up. Be aware of language and some content (drinking mouthwash, sexual predators - - implied). There is mention of a free downloadable teacher's guide but I was unable to find it on the Dundurn Press website (perhaps it will be available after the book is officially released Nov 2019).
Saving Everest had a lot of potential - big, meaty subject matter (suicide, depression, gay teens), romance, the weight of expectation and more. There were parts of it, especially in the first half of the book, that I really enjoyed and that felt realistic; unfortunately, the second half of the book fell apart for me.
In the first half, the unexpected attempted suicide of the super-popular high school quarterback drives the storyline, underscoring the shallowness of some relationships (the protagonist's girlfriend and teammates who mock & vilify rather than supporting him), the harshness of others (his father) and the hidden potential in still others (Beverly, the "ghost girl" who takes it upon herself to rescue him). The difficulty Everest has recovering from depression is well-written and speaks to the realities of the ups and downs of mental illness. Beverly's attempts to befriend him, while awkward and perhaps a bit unlikely, are believable in their innocence and naivete. I enjoyed many of the interactions between the characters at this point in the story and felt like they fit the genre well. I particularly enjoyed the snippets from the uncle's journal and would have loved to see those established as an anchor for the chapters and the development of the main characters and their relationships.
As the story continues, however, consistency becomes an issue. Everest's father, who has loomed large in the background as an overbearing jerk set on controlling his son's future, simply disappears. Everest haphazardly attends his senior year of high school but no one seems to care; his budding career as a musician seems explanation enough for why school is no longer necessary. We know that Beverly's relationship with her mother is generally unhealthy, but opportunities are missed to explore this in any detail. It is often difficult to remember that these are teenagers in high school as they spend very little time actually at or concerned with school, especially for kids looking to go to college.
Basically the second half of the book tries to cram a teenage romance in beside every possible high school drama imaginable, the result being that none of them are explored with any depth or detail. You've got a caricature of every type - stoner, class president, pretty, popular mean girl, bookworm, football player, closeted gay football player, musician - and every scenario - homecoming, winter formal, birthday party, drinking in the basement, coffee shop, awkward Thanksgiving and on and on. By trying to include it all, Saving Everest merely floats on the surface of what could have been some pretty important and meaningful topics. For me, Saving Everest misses the mark; the early potential to explore the stressors of high expectations, family issues and depression gave way to a poorly developed teen romance that ended with a fizzle rather than a bang.
In a world torn apart by war, one young woman learns that the gods are as real as she is...and they hold all the power.
16 year old Cassia's world has been torn apart - her brother was hanged for treason and her parents were killed in a bomb attack, both part of a war that has destroyed her home country of Kisk. When she unwittingly becomes a sacrifice to gods she doesn't believe in, she learns far more about this war than she ever dreamed of.
Theodric, the God of War, is intent on proving himself to his siblings after being stripped of most of his powers by his older brother. Young, with a big chip on his shoulder, he approachs war in the human world with little compassion, manipulating it primarily to prove his own abilities. When he meets Cassia, however, chinks begin to show in his armor, revealing a more tender hearted soul than he would like to let on. The longer he spends with Cassia, the more he begins to question his role in the war and in his family's complex dynamic.
It took me a little while to get in to this book but once I did, I was hooked. The development of a fictitious mythology was solidly done and I kept having to remind myself that I wasn't, in fact, reading about Greek or Roman gods (the jeans and t-shirts that Theo wears helped me out there!). Theo and Cassia are both complex, believable characters and the supporting cast is just the right size to be well- developed as well (I particularly enjoyed Goran's wry older-brother attitude). Cassia is a strong female lead with suspicion and sass in spades and Theo's prove himself at all costs attitude is a good foil for what is to come as the novel progresses. Amber Duell has created a fascinating, complex world that mimics ancient mythology while remaining fresh and vibrant. With ample room to explore other storylines, I look forward to reading more about the gods and goddesses that rule over Kisk, Volkana and Asgya.
A great choice for YA fantasy and mythology lovers
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