Tuesday, February 12, 2019

YA-For-A-Day: THE WILD LANDS by Paul Greci

THE WILD LANDS by Paul Greci (Imprint, January 29, 2019)

The Mafioso has to admit straight-up that he counts Paul as a friend--and that Paul was a member of the group blog Project Middle Grade Mayhem, which I managed. This, of course, has made The Don wildly happy. As he was famously quoted by Mario Puzo, "Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family."

And, as he just told me, "You should be doing nuttin' but writing 'bout your friends. 'Cos, when I'm gone, that's all you'se gonna have left. Capice?" I guess that's a strong green light.

What It's About (from Goodreads): 
Natural disasters and a breakdown of civilization have cut off Alaska from the world and destroyed its landscape. Now, as food runs out and the few who remain turn on each other, Travis and his younger sister, Jess, must cross hundreds of miles in search of civilization.

The wild lands around them are filled with ravenous animals, desperate survivors pushed to the edge, and people who’ve learned to shoot first and ask questions never.

Travis and Jess will make a few friends and a lot of enemies on their terrifying journey across the ruins of today’s world—and they’ll have to fight for what they believe in as they see how far people will go to survive.

Opening Lines: 
"With any luck we'll be gone by tomorrow," Dad says.
I nod and keep stuffing the tent into its sack, looking forward to getting out of this ash bucket but not to the four hundred mile walk north. And not to cramming my six-foot frame into a small tent with my mom, dad, and sister." 

Why I Loved It:
Paul Greci lives in Alaska, and seems to have taken the land into his very sinews and bones. As in his debut middle grade, Surviving Bear Island, the setting is a character in itself. Around Fairbanks, the land has been ravaged by fires, and what is left of society is living on the very edge.

The characterization is great. Paul deals with a large cast of characters, but the ones who truly matter are made indelible by his deft descriptions. 17-year-old Travis chafes against his father's hard-nosed commands, but comes to an understanding of why his father was the way he was. His ten-year-old sister, Jess, misses her mother deeply, yet Jess shows amazing grit and resolve as she keeps up with the older characters as they make their way through many miles through treacherous terrain. The main antagonist, Dylan, is a truly frightening character because he seems to have some sort of power to read the land and sense what's going on.

There are many high-intensity scenes and, at times, I was on the edge of my seat. (At one point, a chapter ended with a cliffhanger when it looked like Dylan would make a surprise reappearance. I defy any reader not to scream.) [I told the Don I was screaming because his favorite soccer team, Juventus, had just scored a goal. He believed me.]

The issues of climate change, environmental destruction, and the collapse of society hang over this masterful YA dystopian novel--but it is never a polemic because the characters are so well-formed and the writing so self-assured. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to all those who love survival stories, heart-pounding thrillers, and novels set in wild places.

Because I know Paul, I was able to bug him with some questions I was curious about. Here are his answers:

MGM: Was there anything in particular that sparked your idea for The Wild Lands?

Paul Greci: I spend a lot of time in the Alaska wilderness and love writing wilderness survival stories. I am fascinated both with survival and with climate change, so putting the two together was a story idea that resonated with me.

MGM: How long did you work on the novel?

Paul Greci: The Wild Lands took about ten months from the first word of the first draft to a final draft where I was offered representation by a couple of agents. When we finally found a publisher a few years later, I did a couple revisions based on the notes I received from my editor. In contrast, Surviving Bear Island, my first novel, went through about 50 revisions over a ten-year period before it was published.

MGM: Are you writing a sequel?

Paul Greci: I have ideas for a sequel for The Wild Lands but am not actively writing one right now. I am working on revisions for Follow the River (the sequel to Surviving Bear Island) which is due out sometime in the late fall 2019 from Move Books, and on revisions for another YA Alaska wilderness thriller (title forthcoming) due out in January of 2020 from Macmillan. (MGM: Sounds like a busy man!)

And, if you're wary of taking my word for it, because of this friendship thing, this is what some others have said of The Wild Lands: 

This fast-paced book contains all the hallmarks of a classic wilderness survival novel (deadly terrain, vicious predators, literal cliff-hangers) and the best of the postapocalyptic genre ... The author’s decades of Alaskan wilderness experience is evident throughout ... A great high-stakes wilderness survival tale.” ―School Library Journal

“This rugged survival story places a group of teens in a dark, burned-out post-apocalyptic nightmare. Your heart will pound for them as they face terrible dangers and impossible odds. Gripping, vivid, and haunting!” ― Emmy Laybourne, international bestselling author of the Monument 14 trilogy

“A compelling story that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Greci has created both a frightening landscape and characters you believe in and want to survive it.” ― Eric Walters, author of the bestselling Rule of Three series.

“Heart-racing... A rugged wilderness lover's post-disaster survivalist tale.” ―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author (from Macmillan Publisher's page):
Paul Greci has lived and worked in Alaska for over twenty-five years as a field biology technician in remote wilderness areas, a backpacking trip leader for teens, and a naturalist for several outdoor education programs. His middle grade adventure novel, Surviving Bear Island, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Scholastic Reading Club Pick. WEBSITE  Twitter  Facebook

Monday, January 28, 2019

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE FRIENDSHIP WAR by Andrew Clements

THE FRIENDSHIP WAR by Andrew Clements (Random House, January 8th 2019)

As chance would have it, I'm reviewing this the week after Greg Pattridge featured it on his Always in the Middle blog--which goes to prove that, at least for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, there is absolutely no collusion.

But... The Don was rather miffed I got pipped at the post by Greg.

The Don: What's this I hear, Michale? This Greg guy, he runs the show, and he also gets to be the first talking about this friends- going-to-war book? Great title, by the way. What'cha going to do about it? Want me to send in the boys to pay this Greg a little visit?

Middle Grade Mafioso: I don't want any trouble, Boss. Greg's a great guy, and he's just a little bit more organized than I am.

The Don: Organized? You're part of an organization, ain't ya? This organization. Now, you want out, you just say the word. There's plenty of little fishes in the sea, just sayin'.

MGM: No, no, Boss. I'm happy doing your bidding. Now, you wanna hear about this book? I'll read it to you while you eat your antipasto. Look, we've got some cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses... That's right, buon appetito!
(Phew! The rest of you--don't forget to read this review to the background sound of contented munching.)

What It's About (from the Penguin Random House website): 
Grace and Ellie have been best friends since second grade. Ellie’s always right in the center of everything–and Grace is usually happy to be Ellie’s sidekick. But what happens when everything changes? This time it’s Grace who suddenly has everyone’s attention when she accidentally starts a new fad at school. It’s a fad that has first her class, then her grade, and then the entire school collecting and trading and even fighting over . . . buttons?! A fad that might also get her in major trouble and could even be the end of Grace and Ellie’s friendship. Because Ellie’s not used to being one-upped by anybody. There’s only one thing for Grace to do. With the help of Hank–the biggest button collector in the sixth grade–she will have to figure out a way to end the fad once and for all. But once a fad starts, can it be stopped?

Opening Lines: 
Flying from Chicago to Boston by myself hasn't been as big a deal as my dad said it was going to be. But nothing ever is. The second I turn on my phone, it dings with three texts from him.

Why I Liked it:
Andrew Clements is a master of the middle grade voice, and he's picked a topic all those of us who live with middle graders are intimately familiar with: the all-consuming fad. Whether it be fidget spinners or Fortnite, something always seems to flood the market and literally everyone seems to be doing it or having one.

In this particular story, it's buttons. Grace, the main character, finds a stash of buttons on a visit to her recently widowed grandfather--and it's game-on after that. What brings in the conflict is the fact that Queen Bee Ellie has to get into the action and one-up Grace. This felt realistic, also. At this age, friendship and rivalry can be different sides of the same coin--and who among us hasn't had what the kids these days call a "frenemy?"

The novel reads very quickly, the middle grade voice is perfect, and the characters are fleshed out. I liked Grace's sweet relationship with Hank, and the fact that the ending was a lesson in the consequence of making bad decisions. I can't wait to see what Andrew Clements will come up with next!

About the Author:
Andrew Clements is the New York Times bestselling author of the beloved modern classic Frindle,which has sold over six million copies, won nineteen state awards (and been nominated for thirty-eight!), and been translated into more than a dozen languages around the world. Called the “master of school stories” by Kirkus Reviews, Andrew is now the author of over eighty acclaimed books for kids. He lives in Maine with his wife, Becky. They have four grown sons and two rascally cats. Visit Andrew online at andrewclements.com.

MGM: Okay, Boss, I see you liked this one too. What shall we read after dinner?  I guess we'll all know soon enough. Till then, ciao!

Photo: © George Clements

Monday, January 21, 2019

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BOW WOW by Spencer Quinn

BOW WOW by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic, 2017)

This is the third book in the Bowser and Birdie series that my youngest son and I have read, the other two being WOOF and ARF.

What It's About (from Goodreads): 
A bull shark in the swamp? No one in the Louisiana town of St. Roch believes it at first, but when a local boy has a face-to-face encounter with the toothy monster, every big fisherman is called out for the hunt. There's a big cash bounty on the shark.

Sharp-eyed Birdie Gaux and her handsome dog Bowser can't help noticing that shark fever is causing some shady doings in town. For instance, where is Snoozy, the clerk who works at the Gaux family fishing store? He's the town's best fisherman, but suddenly he's missing. Is a rival bounty hunter behind Snoozy's suspicious disappearance? Or perhaps the marine biologist who said he'll do anything to keep the shark alive?

Birdie and Bowser are determined to find Snoozy and bring him home safe, but the job is more dangerous than they know. Bowser better practice his paddling: He and Birdie are heading for deep waters . . .

Opening Lines:
A car beeped outside our home at 19 Gentilly Lane. Beep beep. The beep beep of a horn hurts my ears in a way you probably wouldn't understand, since my sense of hearing is a lot better than yours. I didn't say better than yours, so don't be upset. But just between you and me, it is better! I hear sounds humans don't hear all the time!

What I Liked About It:
Bowser is a total character, and his narration is often very funny. As the series has progressed I've really come to enjoy Quinn's portrayals of his characters from the idolized-by-Bowser Birdie to Snoozy LaChance (always sleeping on the job) to Grammy with her harrumphs. The sticky, steamy bayou around St. Roch, Louisiana is almost a character by itself.

The mystery was slighter plot-wise in this one, but there were several perilous moments. I wonder what my 12-year-old thought...?

Twelve-Year-Old's Thoughts:
Honestly, I thought it was kind of boring. (Why?) Because it was one of those books where it took so long. I was expecting a mystery, like in the other ones, but this one didn't really deliver.
(Were there any good things about it?) It was funny on occasion.

Hmmm, interesting. The oldie liked it better than the target audience... I wonder how often that happens. Well, I better get looking for a book that both of us enjoy. Any suggestions?

About the Author:
Spencer Quinn is the pen name for thriller-writer Peter Abrahams. Under the Spencer Quinn name, he writes the Chet and Bernie mysteries for adults, and the Bowser and Birdie series for middle grade readers. A father of four grown-up kids, Abrahams lives on Cape Cod with his wife and two dogs, Audrey and Pearl, whom he calls "the kind of researchers writers dream of, showing up every day and working for treats."