Greyhound by Steffan Piper

This is one of those novels which I’m unsure how to categorize. It takes place during the 1980s, so I initially considered it “historical fiction”. Yet, the goal of the novel is not to define a decade or even just a specific period in the 1980s. I also considered it a coming-of-age story. Yet our protagonist, Sebastien Ranes, is only twelve years old, so he’s hardly “coming of age”. Genre labels aside, Piper wonderfully pens the story of a youngster growing up in the 1980s, forced to grow up a little faster when his mother sticks him on a Greyhound headed east to live with his grandparents.

I liked Sebastien, but I didn’t sympathize with him as much as I thought I would; he did have such a terrible childhood, after all.  I felt like more could have been done to develop his character.  I understand he’s a boy of few words (he has a stuttering problem which began shortly after a traumatic event that happened two years before this story takes place) which is why getting into his thoughts is so important.  Unfortunately, half the time he seemed to be more concerned with the taste of the air from sitting so close to the bathroom than anything else.  Readers finally catch a different side of Sebastien towards the end of the book when he’s two bus stops away from his destination.

I loved Marcus though.  He’s just one cool dude.  He’s wise.  His life experiences cause him to “be real” with Sebastien.  He never sugarcoats things.  But, there is another side of him that surfaces now and then that fills Sebastien and the reader with hope that not all things in the world are bad.  I enjoyed watching the relationship develop between the two.  While there were many serious conversations, there were also a few conversations that made me chuckle.

My favorite by far:

“Well, I guess there’s no harm.  Yes, I’m from L.A.”  He was leaning in close now.  “A place most people call the ghetto.”  His voice had dropped to almost a whisper.

“Really?” I replied, wide-eyed.  “I once lived in a place with my mom and one of her boyfriends called The Grotto.”

A lot of “Holy Crap!” events occur throughout this book, which helped break up what could have been an otherwise incredibly boring bus trip. That’s not to say these events were just thrown into the book just for the heck of it; I thought they were relevant to the storyline.  I just wish these events had been fleshed out a little bit more.  In parts of the book when not much is going on, Piper takes the time to draw the reader in with passages that appeal to the senses.  But it seems like the same consideration isn’t taken during all the commotion.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I appreciated the premise of the story.  Having it take place during a three-day bus trip cross-country was pretty neat; surprisingly, a lot can happen in three days (and in such a confined space too).  Many of the characters introduced to Sebastien’s life (regardless of how briefly) were heartwarming, ensuring that the 12-year-old got to his destination safe and sound.

Greyhound: a Novel by Steffan Piper

Released: April 2010
Genre: Coming of Age
Age Group: Young Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

Sebastien Ranes’s mother is no good; she chain-smokes cigarettes, smells like a soggy ashtray, and cares more about her pretty dresses and shoes than she does for her son.  Oh, and she is getting remarried to some deadbeat who doesn’t want Sebastien around anymore.  So, at the age of 12, Sebastien is placed on a Greyhound bus in California by his mother, and he is headed to live with his grandparents in Pennsylvania.  He has to make this three-day trip alone.  Just when Sebastien thinks his life will only be filled with disappointment, he meets Marcus, a black, ex-convict who becomes his guide and protector.  Along the way, Sebastien learns that while there are some appalling creepers out in the world—pedophiles, racists, everyday impatient jerks, there are also some unlikely folks in the world who have guidance and understanding to offer.

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane

I just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series, and my thirst for fantasy, wizardry, and magic had not been quenched; so, I picked up So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane. I knew nothing about it, and I have to admit, I did have trouble getting into the book. The pacing at the beginning seemed slow, so I nearly abandoned the book. However, once Fred the white hole, was introduced, my attention span grew.

I’m still baffled at Nita and Kit’s ability to have what seems to be a sudden understanding of complex wizardry though. They discovered a spellbook in the library and in a matter of days, they knew exactly what spells to use and when and how to manipulate basic spells into something more complex. I understand this is a fantasy novel, but I would still expect the characters to have training before jumping into the big stuff– the really big stuff.

I also had a problem with the way certain characters were introduced.  Sometimes their introductions seemed so sudden, specifically with the Perytons. When Nita and Kit are casting a spell, these villainous creatures begin to approach them. The two know them immediately as Perytons as if Perytons were creatures they passed in everyday life. When I initially read the passage describing the Perytons, I thought they were humans with wolf-like features, but I was very wrong. I later looked them up, and I guess they look just like wolves except for more evil…?*shrug*

Confusion aside, I am glad I picked up the book. I enjoyed the characters in the story. Nita and Kit, the protagonists, are underdogs, but they don’t feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they try to find ways to overcome the bullying they endure daily. It just so happens that the lessons they learn through wizardry hold the answers. Fred, the white hole that is summoned, is my absolute favorite though. He is just a fun character! His awe of the new world and the sun (which he describes as “cute”) is so heartwarming, and his comments often evoked a few chuckles out of me.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was Nita’s closeness to nature. Her closeness allows her to communicate with and manipulate nature easier than say things that are man-made, like cars and planes, which appears to be Kit’s specialty. Nita’s closeness to nature allows for some really interesting dialogue between Nita and the trees that I absolutely adored.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a magic or wizard fix.

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane

Released: January 1983
Genre: Fantasy
Age Group: Middle Grade

[add to goodreads | indiebound]

Nita Callahan, thirteen years old, ducks into the local library to escape the torment of the neighborhood bully, Joanne. While hiding in the book stacks, she finds a book titled So You Want to be a Wizard among other career exploration books for children. She brings the book home with her and discovers it is about the art of wizardry. She believes it to be a hoax, but she decides to take the Wizard Oath anyway– just in case. The next day, when she is out trying to do her first spell, she meets Kit Rodriguez, a young Hispanic boy who gets picked on for being too smart.  She finds out he is also a fellow wizard. The two complete a spell together which summons an intelligent white hole, Fred, from space; he informs the young wizards that a book, The Naming of the Lights, has gone missing and the universe may be in danger. Nita’s doubts about the book are gone: she is a wizard.

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry was an interesting twist on zombie lore. It wasn’t the typical hack and slash story I expected. Instead, Maberry humanized the zombies and penned downright deplorable characters, which highlighted the man vs. monster dilemma. I never thought it was possible to feel sympathetic toward a creature that hungers only for brains, but this novel proves it is.  The one thing I appreciated most is Maberry’s ability to keep me guessing all the way through; there were so many twists and turns! And there were so many cliffhangers that kept me saying, “I have to read just one more chapter…”.

I thought the characters were a “mixed bag” though. Tom was a little too good to be true, and Benny was a tad bit annoying. Some of their dialogue was a little hokey too, and every once in a while I would think, “Did he really just say that?” Nix and the Lost Girl, on the other hand, were amazing! Both were butt-kicking heroines. Maberry also cooked up some deliciously vile baddies; Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer were two characters that I loved to hate. I wanted to tie those two guys up and feed em’ to the zoms!

Overall Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry was an enjoyable book filled with adventure, butt-kicking, blood and rotting flesh, a budding romance, and dreams of a better future. This book is definitely worth a read!

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Released: September 2010
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction,
Age Group: Young Adult

[add to goodreads | IndieBound]

from goodreads:

Benny Imura is 15, and now he must find a job or his food rations will be cut in half.  But what kind of opportunities are there in a world that’s nearly been run over by zombies?  His job search seems fruitless until his brother, Tom, invites him to join the family business– zombie hunting.  For the first time in his life, Benny will go beyond the fence that keeps him safe in Mountainside to land claimed by the zombies known as the Rot and Ruin.  Any preconceived notion Benny may have had about his brother, fellow bounty hunters, zombies, and the way the world works will be completely shattered.

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

I’ve never met a book by Joe Meno that I didn’t like, and The Great Perhaps is no different. The novel, with it’s lyrical and darkly funny prose, rotates between members of the Casper family– each chapter digging into their quirks and revealing a family on the verge of a breakdown.

This is what I liked:

  • Meno showcases his experimental storytelling once more by mixing prose with illustrations, transcripts from old radio serials, and declassified government documents.
  • Realistic teenage dialogue and insight that he has more than perfected in his past novels (Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails)
  • In my personal experience, the characters evoked an array of emotions.  Just when I begin to think, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t know people like this,” another side of their humanity is revealed, and I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic.

This is what I didn’t like

  • Albeit interesting, I felt the grandfather’s narrative was uninspired compared to the other family members’.
  • Absolutely, under no circumstances read The Great Perhaps on an e-reader (at least not the Nook; I can’t vouch for other e-readers).  The price tag of $2.59 is alluring, but there is a reason for that.  The e-reader version lacks the illustrations found in the print version.  Regretfully, I found this out the hard way.

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

Released: January 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Age Group: Adult

[add to goodreads | IndieBound]

From GoodReads:

Jonathan, a paleontologist, is searching in vain for a prehistoric giant squid; his wife, Madeline, an animal behaviorist, cannot explain her failing experiment; their daughter Amelia is a disappointed teenage revolutionary; her younger sister, Thisbe, is on a frustrating search for God; and their grandfather, Henry, wants to disappear, limiting himself to eleven words a day, then ten, then nine – one less each day until he will speak no more. Each fears uncertainty and the possibilities that accompany it. When Jonathan and Madeline suddenly decide to separate, this nuclear family is split and forced to confront its cowardice, finally coming to appreciate the cloudiness of this modern age.