Category Archives: Teen Fiction

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

In order to test overdrive ebooks on my Android smartphone, I wanted to download a book I knew would be available.  I quickly decided on Treasure Island, a book I last read when I was in the 4th grade.  I was able to download the book directly on my phone using the overdrive app.  There was a bit of work up front (making sure CCRLS was the indexed library, registering with Adobe, saving my library barcode) but subsequent downloaded titles have been an absolute breeze.

Set in the 18th Century, Treasure Island is a fantastic adventure story about the recovery of pirate treasure on an uncharted island in the Caribbean.  The story begins at a modest inn in a small southwestern England village.  Young Jim Hawkins’ discovery of the map leading to the infamous pirate captain Flint’s treasure sets the wheel of destiny in motion.  The local squire, the local magistrate, and Jim agree to charter a sailing ship to find the treasure.  The two officials will serve as overseers of the excursion and Jim will serve as the ship Hispaniola’s cabin boy. Only the officers of the crew know the ship is secretly destined for the hidden pirate booty. Among the crew, Jim meets the ship’s cook, Long John Silver, a one-legged veteran of England’s naval wars of a previous decade.  Silver is taken with Jim’s ability to quickly learn all of the necessary skills of sailing at sea and the two become friends.

Unfortunately for Jim and the officers, the Hispaniola’s secret destination was uncovered by Flint’s old pirate crew and they have signed-on as the ship’s crew.  There is a mutiny as the Hispaniola arrives to the island.  Swashbuckling, treachery, and valor all ensue.

There aren’t many stereotypical characters in the story.  Often in fiction characters have predictable roles: the hero, the fool, the coward, the effete snob, the evil-for-the-sake-of-evil villain.  Most of Treasure Island’s characters are much more nuanced.  This is especially the case with Long John Silver, who according to many literary historians is the first morally ambiguous character in juvenile literature.

There are many superb elements of the story.  Like many of today’s young protagonists, Jim is intelligent, brave and resourceful.  However, at times the reader might question the logic in some of Jim’s actions.  The narrator does not expressly tell the audience whether or not Jim’s decision was wise, nor will any of the characters.  The reader will have to let the action carry out and decide for him or herself.  Stevenson’s Treasure Island has been adapted to film 40 times between 1912 and 2012.  The story stands the test of time amidst a changing society and emerging technology – just as enjoyable on my phone as on paper.


Review: This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel

In This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel tells the story of 15-year-old Victor Frankenstein and his quest to save the life of his identical twin brother, Konrad.  This tale, set in the late 1700s, is Oppel’s creative prequel to Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.

Oppel, author of Airborn, Half Brother, and Silverwing, weaves together a story about twin brothers that could not be more opposite.  Konrad is sweet and sensible and Victor is arrogant, jealous and passionate.  Although the Frankenstein brothers differ in almost every other way, there is one similarity they both share: they are both completely in love with their cousin Elizabeth.

Early in the book, Victor, Konrad, Elizabeth and their friend Henry Clerval discover the hidden Dark Library in the Frankenstein household.  Victor’s father, a very learned and progressive civic leader, expressly forbids the children from going back to the library and warns of the dangerous occultist ideas that reside within.  Particularly he talks of the faulty and socially-intolerable pursuit of alchemy.  However, when Konrad suddenly falls ill and is diagnosed with a fatal and untreatable disease, Victor believes alchemy to be the only hope.

Victor seeks the guidance of Polidori, a scorned former Alchemist now living as a recluse.  Polidori convinces Victor that only the Elixir of Life could save Konrad’s life.  Victor, Elizabeth and Henry’s pursuit of the Elixir of Life’s three rare ingredients provide the adventure portion of the story.   Each ingredient resides in a dangerous location and the respective retrieval of each becomes increasingly perilous.

The reader can predict, from Victor’s character flaws, his transformation into the mad scientist of Shelley’s novel.   In spite of these flaws, Victor is intrinsically devoted to his brother and his desire to save Konrad’s life ultimately makes Victor a sympathetic, compelling character.  Elizabeth is similarly brave, intelligent and fiery, though she also possess Konrad’s propensity for kindness and sympathy.  Henry, much like the Cowardly Lion or C3P0, frequently offers a voice of caution and restraint.

Much like Oppel’s Airborn or Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the lead is male but there is a very strong female secondary character.  This makes for the broadest appeal for having both male and female readers.  Further, the book has a crossover between horror, gothic romance and adventure, which should entice many types of genre reader.

Review: The Sky Inside, Clare B. Dunkle

Martin lives in a seemingly perfect world. The suburban town in which he lives resides under a protective dome.  All children are genetically-engineered and every year a new generation is shipped out to meet their parents. Families gather every morning in front of their TVs to vote on one of any number of political issues.  A popular television game show has everyone’s interest.  A newer model of genetically-engineered children, including Martin’s younger sister Cassie, is so intelligent they are even teaching the rest of the students’ classes.  Unfortunately, Martin, who has always been a bit of a malcontent, starts becoming suspicious of his society.

First, Martin starts noticing how scared all adults are when talking to each other, as if they are frightened of saying the wrong thing.  Then he starts seeing the game show contestants seeming usually nervous.  Then a stranger has come who rounds up and takes away Martin’s younger sister Cassie, along with other perfectly engineered children of that model.   No one seems to know where the children have gone and why.  Further, everyone seems hesitant to talk about the decision to take them away.  Martin, with the help of his especially-clever new pet robot dog, decides it is up to him to leave his safe life at home to explore the outside world to find answers as to where his missing sister might be. This is quite a brave decision, as neither he nor anyone he knows has been outside of their domed town.

Throughout the story, Martin grows from a often-annoyed, lazy young teen into a brave, admirable hero.  He might not have all the resourcefulness of many Young Adult book protagonists, but he is immensely real and likeable. The futurist society author Clare Dunkle has created is very full and detailed, especially given the brevity of the book.  Also, the many functions of the pet robot dog are surprising, clever and fun.

The Sky Inside is a great book to introduce readers, particularly boys, to the dystopian-style novel.  Further, if the reader enjoys reading about conspiracy or has a natural sense of suspicion, this will be a good selection.  This is also a good book for those that like to think they know a little more about what’s going on than those around them.  Lastly, if you like this book, try reading the sequel The Walls Have Eyes

Review: Carter Finally Gets It, by Brent Crawford

Carter Finally Gets It tells the story of high school student Will Carter’s freshman year of high school.  The reader gets to see Carter’s growth through his triumphs and tragedies.

What I liked best about Carter is he seems like so many people I knew.  Carter is more like an average teenage male than the usual detached-observer character (that is almost certainly a teenage representation of an author) one commonly finds in other young adult literature.  With Carter, it’s like most of those guys you knew growing up.  It’s all there: the one word sentences, the three word conversations, and the high-five or arm-slug greetings.  And yet, even though Carter might not be verbally communicative, there is a lot going on in his mind.  He might not always have answers, he might not always draw the best conclusion or course of action and he might be eternally flummoxed, but his mind is always trying to process what is going on around him.  The humor of the story comes from Carter trying to find his place in the world (in this case, high school), the need to fit in, beginning to date girls, and the ability to get one self into a social fix when trying to get socially ahead.  This is a very funny book.  While you might get a little frustrated with some of Carters decisions, he is a very likable, sympathetic character for whom you can’t help but rooting.

While I cannot recall the language being particularly coarse or explicit, girls and sex are definitely on Carter’s mind.  That being said, Carter Finally Gets It is fairly innocent, relatively speaking, but it’s never a bad idea to give readers a little warning to weigh against their respective comfort levels.

New Books for Teens

Black Hole Sun
The Curse of the Wendigo
The Demon’s Covenant
Dirt Road Home
Fixing Delilah
Game Day
Star Crossed

Neat Teen Graphic Novels – new!

Brain Camp
Fantastic Four – Flesh and Stone 
Joe and Azat
The Marvelous Land of OZ
The Return of King Doug
Salem Brownstone
Wonder Woman – Love and Murder
Yummy  –  The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
Zeus  –  King of the Gods

The Wreckers, Iain Lawrence

When 14-year-old John Spencer’s father’s merchant ship sinks on the rocks just off the rocky coast of the Cornish area of England, he finds himself stranded in the mysterious fishing village of Pendennis.   All is not as it seems in this village and John quickly comes to suspect there may be more to the frequent shipwrecks in the area than a jagged coastline.

Do not let the lack of the modern, splashy YA cover deceive you, this Young Adult novel is fast-paced:  complete with chases, escapes, and mysteries to be solved.   The book cover may be muted, but The Wrecker’s writing and dialogue are lively and colorful.  Fans of any or all of the Young Adult genres of historical fiction, adventure, survival, or mystery should be satisfied.

The Wreckers fits nicely with my “capable boy” story explanation, first described in my review of Airborn.  I described a “capable boy” as a young lad who reacts with bravery, resourcefulness and intelligence when suddenly put into a harrowing situation.  Also like Airborn, this book recalls the adventurous spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson.  In addition to this, Iain Lawrence’s descriptions of the characters and the village also add an element of Charles Dickens.

In terms of themes or content, there is little in this book that should offend anyone.  On the other hand, the story is not so saccharine that young readers who enjoy a little edge will be turned off.    The book is under 200 pages, so those just looking for a quick read also might think to give it a try.   If you or your teen reader enjoy The Wreckers, note that it is the first book in a trilogy.