Saturday, June 02, 2012

When the World Goes Wrong!

MacKenzie, Ross. Zac and the Dream Stealers.
1 June 2012, Scholastic.
Reviewed for Young Adult Books Central

Zac has always thought that his grandmother was a bit odd, but when he has trouble sleeping because of bad dreams, he soon finds out just how odd she is-- she is from a land called Nocturne and aligned with the Knights of Nod. She is about to meet up with Rumpos Tinn to discuss the fact that the problems of Nocturne are starting to get to Wakelings (people in our world) when Tinn is kidnapped and put in jail. Zac and his grandmother work with Cornelius and Gideon, meeting at the Forty Winks pub to plan strategy, while Tinn is helped by the sometimes invisible Noelle to escape from jail. Zac's group has to fight magic, dragons, and the vampires and werewolves that the Dream Stealers employ to bring people to them. When Tinn ends up in a goblin camp and one of Zac's own turns out to be a spy for the Dream Stealers, there seems to be little hope that the world can be put right.
Strengths: Zac and Tinn's stories are told in alternating chapters, which makes this especially suspenseful. Entering the magic world is not belabored, and is internally consistent. Zac and his companions are likable and focused on their mission.
Weaknesses: This seemed like a long book for a younger audience. The names (Slumber City, Rumpos Tinn, etc.) seemed a bit twee for older students. I was a bit confused as to how the Dream Stealers were stealing dreams and how the Knights of Nod would be able to stop them, as well. Since this came out in the UK in 2010, perhaps it is a stand alone, although room was left for a sequel.

Wymer, Tracy Edward. The Color of Bones.
8 May 2012, First Pitch

Ever since Derby can remember, The Line has separated the Southsiders from the Northsiders and threatened anyone who attempted to cross over. He can remember his father, the mayor, getting too close one time and watching helplessly as The Line pulsed with electricity and attacked his father, leaving a scar on his face. When Derby and his friend see a pile of bones directly on the line, they wonder how it could have gotten there, and wonder why the skull seems to be staring at them. Derby likes to throw rocks at an abandoned carousel, and one day sees a girl who can throw even better than he can. Northsiders and Southsiders can't talk to one another, however, or The Line pulses threateningly. Derby sees Zora at their school (which is divided), is able to talk to her a bit, and comes to care deeply for her, despite the danger. After his father attempts to block The Line from view with a huge wall, so that Northsiders and Southsiders cannot even see each other, Derby ends up crossing The Line and surviving. He gets to know more about Zora and her family, especially her uncle Russell who was provoked into crossing The Line by Derby's father and ended up dying. Derby's family wants him back, but he is unwilling to give in to their pressure to not talk to Zora and to come home. Can he figure out a way to make The Line not matter?
Strengths: This was a quick read with elements that will appeal to middle grade readers-- mysterious piles of bones, the threatening Line, and a light romance.
Weaknesses: There was never any good explanation for why or how The Line came to be, which would have helped me get into the story at the beginning.  It felt to me like this was an allegory about interracial romances (Southsiders are dark skinned and live in squalid poverty; Northsiders are light skinned and have nice houses that smell like lemon cleaner) and trying to overcome the prejudice in society about this "line", but I'm not sure if middle grade readers will get that. Or that I'm even right about this.(I seem to be. Read a nice author interview with Mr. Wymer over at Project Mayhem about this book.)

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