Friday, July 12, 2013

Guy Friday-- Niche Writing

I get an amazing number of requests to review books, and I turn most of them down.Two authors recently caught my attention, though, because of the fact that they very clearly saw a void in books for middle grade boys, and wrote books to fill those voids. While I don't normally review books that are hard to get for school libraries, I thought that both of these deserved a mention.

You can still get Love Thug for free at!

LOVE THUG (a.k.a. Can't I Do Anthing Wrong?) Berenson, Daniel. Love Thug: AKA Can't I Do Anything Wrong?
26 April 2013,  Freaky Dude Books
Copy provided by author

Billy is completely enamored of the lovely Veronica, who is permanently glued to the side of Lester, a ne'er to well middle schooler who smokes and is constantly in trouble, so when his friend Kevin makes a chance remark that Veronica must like the fact that Lester is a jerk, Billy has an epiphany. HE will be a jerk, thus winning Veronica's affection. He tries it all-- stealing library books, cutting class, smoking in the hallway, and even pulling the fire alarm right in front of a school administrator, but everything he does backfires, and he cannot overcome his reputation as a good kid. In the end, Veronica still likes Lester best just because he's Lester, but Billy decides that perhaps if he tries to be a perfect gentleman, his plans may back fire and then he can embrace his true calling as a "love thug".
Strengths: Original and fast-paced, this story captures the mind-set of a middle school student well, and the ways in which Billy tries to get in trouble are realistic. I can't think of another middle grade book that describes trying to smoke a cigarette in a way that is both funny and off-putting. Berenson avoids the cliche of having Billy's friend Laurie suddenly seem like a good romantic interest, and he gets bonus points for Billy's somewhat geeky friend Kevin being African American without belaboring the fact.
Weaknesses: A little too heavy on the description, and sometimes half a bubble off. I haven't seen a middle school student in a blue skirt and white blouse (as Veronica is wearing) for a long time, and I don't know that middle school students have heart-to-heart talks about relationships.

Journey to a Different Dimension: An Adventure in the World of MinecraftSchatt, Stan and Demian. Journey to a Different Dimension
17 May 2013, CreateSpace

Paul and Ryan are all set to play Minecraft when they have to visit with Tiffany, whose mother is visiting with Paul's stepmother. She isn't interested in their game, but when the game starts, all three teens are sucked into the world of Minecraft. They are unsure how they will get out, but know that they have to keep themselves safe, and go about their days as if they were playing the game. They are robbed, find and blow up the robbers, and go into the jungle. There, they see a village and protect it from zombies, but learn that a nearby village has been attacked. They blow up the zombies there and end up going through many different scenarios and fighting the dangers there-- a mushroom biome, a swamp, and a desert. Tiffany reads a book to learn about the game and draws on her skills obtained during Girl Scouts to help out. Ryan turns out to be a graceful swordsman, and Paul uses his intelligence to lead the group. Eventually, they reach the portal at the end of the game and are able to return home.
Strengths: Many students profess an interest in computer games. Judging by how much of the action I didn't understand, readers who enjoy Minecraft will find this to be a faithful recounting of Minecraft type activities. It is a short book, and easy to understand. Tiffany, though unwilling at first, is a strong female character, and the three face all of their obstacles bravely and with intelligence. This would be a good choice for hard core computer gamers who can't be convinced to step away from their gaming to read anything else.
Weaknesses: This will make very little sense to people unfamiliar with Minecraft. There is little character development, and the action is described in a basic, almost dispassionate way. It would have helped if the teens knew what they needed to do to get out of the game and had a goal to work for, or investigated how to get out. This would have given them more purpose. Still, children who love the game will care more about the world building than character building, and will probably enjoy this.


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