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Snake City

Joe Rosenblatt. Exile Editions (IPG, U.S. dist.; Canadian Manda Group, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-55096-464-6

Freddie, a Canadian "snowbird" or migratory retiree, lives in Florida with his roommate, Cottonmouth, a talking viper with an especially vulgar tongue with whom Freddie occasionally shares "conjoined" dreams. Freddie's paramour, Hilda, is a shape-shifting swamp hag whose loyalty and love extend to all manner of creatures: man, beast, and serpent. The literally lovesick Cottonmouth also lusts after Hilda, and the three of them are soon engaged in a strange love triangle replete with backstabbings and murderous machinations. Observing all this from afar, the angel Gabriel, with whom Freddie communicates via talking into his pillow at night, appears in order to relay his master's displeasure with Freddie's associations (suspecting, of course, that Cottonmouth is in fact Satan himself). Rosenblatt, who has won a Governor General's Award for his poetry, has crafted a kingdom with plenty of surreal strangeness but little of anything else. The novella is constructed in short, sometimes half-page chapters that often feel like incomplete thoughts, with characters existing as little more than thinly sketched collections of absurdities and attitude. Despite the obvious religious commentary at the novella's core, it never manages to find any sort of focus, feeling at times frustratingly random. The final product is, unfortunately, less than the sum of its parts. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Yellow Wood

Melanie Tem. ChiZine (Diamond, U.S. dist.; PGC/Raincoast, Canadian dist.), $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-77148-314-8

Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award winner Tem (1949–2015) enters some disturbing psychological territory with this contemporary story of five siblings struggling to cope with the talents imposed on them by their father. Alexandra Kove was always expected to be more than any of her siblings but, fed up with her father's interference in her life, left their family home in the yellow woods. Returning after 30 years, she attempts to separate who she is from the person her father tried to create. She starts to suspect her father's influence over her family might go further than a lifelong contest of wills as she uncovers evidence of his unconventional parenting methods. Tem balances her insightful depictions of people made deeply neurotic by an overbearing parent with the creeping presence of the uncanny, suggesting there is more to the Kove family's obsessions than childhood trauma. The book beautifully exploits the fine line between merely weird and genuinely unnatural. Alexandra is "Daddy's little girl, wizard's familiar," and Tem invites readers to consider the nature of a father's power over his children when those two relationships can be conflated. The result is smart, creepy, and painfully insightful about the purpose and effects of parenting. Agent: Robert Fleck, Fleck Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure

Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio Garc%C3%ADa S%C3%A1nchez. Toon (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (52p) ISBN 978-1-935179-81-8

In an emotionally astute (and geographically useful) comic, which incorporates archival photographs, subway maps, and other materials, Pablo’s family moves so frequently that he is determined not to become attached to anyone or anything—even New York City. During a field trip to the Empire State Building on his first day of school, Pablo shrugs off his classmate Alicia’s attempts to befriend him, as well as his enthusiastic teacher’s history lessons en route. After Pablo and Alicia accidentally get on an express train and watch their classmates and teacher pull away on the local, Pablo’s frustrations come to a head: he storms away from Alicia at Times Square and has to find his own way to the Empire State Building. Sánchez uses a mix of full spreads and panels, depicting myriad dramas unfolding on (and below) the streets. With humor and sensitivity, Spiegelman reveals how getting lost can be the first step toward finding your way—while also giving NYC residents and visitors alike a valuable primer on the subway system and its history. A Spanish-language edition is available simultaneously. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure

Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio Garc%C3%ADa S%C3%A1nchez. Toon (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (52p) ISBN 978-1-935179-81-8

In an emotionally astute (and geographically useful) comic, which incorporates archival photographs, subway maps, and other materials, Pablo’s family moves so frequently that he is determined not to become attached to anyone or anything—even New York City. During a field trip to the Empire State Building on his first day of school, Pablo shrugs off his classmate Alicia’s attempts to befriend him, as well as his enthusiastic teacher’s history lessons en route. After Pablo and Alicia accidentally get on an express train and watch their classmates and teacher pull away on the local, Pablo’s frustrations come to a head: he storms away from Alicia at Times Square and has to find his own way to the Empire State Building. Sánchez uses a mix of full spreads and panels, depicting myriad dramas unfolding on (and below) the streets. With humor and sensitivity, Spiegelman reveals how getting lost can be the first step toward finding your way—while also giving NYC residents and visitors alike a valuable primer on the subway system and its history. A Spanish-language edition is available simultaneously. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event

Rebecca Bond. FSG/Ferguson, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-38077-9

In this haunting story about a 1914 incident from the childhood of Bond’s grandfather, four-year-old Antonio Willie Giroux lives in the lakeside hotel his mother runs in Gowganda, Ontario. Antonio spends his days helping staffers and walking in the forest, where he catches only glimpses of wildlife—with hunters and lumberjacks afoot, “the safest place for animals was a distant, hidden one.” Bond’s (The House That George Built) richly descriptive language and sepia-toned illustrations work in tandem to conjure the remote, densely wooded setting. A raging forest fire—which Antonio hears “roar like a monster and crackle with white lightning heat”—threatens the entire town, whose residents dash to the lake for safety. A strange tranquility descends as they stand in the water and watch animals exit the burning forest to take refuge alongside them—“Wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” A story valuable both as a glimpse into a bygone way of life and a record of a surreal, singular moment. Ages 5–9. Agent: Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges, Studio Goodwin Sturges. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event

Rebecca Bond. FSG/Ferguson, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-38077-9

In this haunting story about a 1914 incident from the childhood of Bond’s grandfather, four-year-old Antonio Willie Giroux lives in the lakeside hotel his mother runs in Gowganda, Ontario. Antonio spends his days helping staffers and walking in the forest, where he catches only glimpses of wildlife—with hunters and lumberjacks afoot, “the safest place for animals was a distant, hidden one.” Bond’s (The House That George Built) richly descriptive language and sepia-toned illustrations work in tandem to conjure the remote, densely wooded setting. A raging forest fire—which Antonio hears “roar like a monster and crackle with white lightning heat”—threatens the entire town, whose residents dash to the lake for safety. A strange tranquility descends as they stand in the water and watch animals exit the burning forest to take refuge alongside them—“Wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” A story valuable both as a glimpse into a bygone way of life and a record of a surreal, singular moment. Ages 5–9. Agent: Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges, Studio Goodwin Sturges. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Sarah Ockler. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0127-2

In an imaginative but mixed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” Elyse moves from her idyllic home on the island of Tobago to the stormy Oregon coast after an accident stripped the aspiring singer of her voice, severing her from her twin sister and singing partner. There, she meets handsome ladies’ man Christian and begins working with him to repair his boat for the annual Pirate Regatta. Christian must win the race to stop his father from selling their summer home to developers with plans for commercializing the cove. Ockler’s (#scandal) poetic writing captivates from the outset (“My first breath outside my mother’s body was salt water; the Caribbean Sea lay claim to my soul the moment it took hers”), and Elyse’s backstory—including the mystery of exactly how she lost her voice—is inventive and well-drawn. But while steamy scenes between Elyse and Christian are enticing, some of the other plot lines feel contrived, from the bet over the boat race to a thread about Christian’s younger brother’s desire to march in a mermaid parade reserved for female participants. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ted Malawer, Upstart Crow Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Sarah Ockler. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0127-2

In an imaginative but mixed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” Elyse moves from her idyllic home on the island of Tobago to the stormy Oregon coast after an accident stripped the aspiring singer of her voice, severing her from her twin sister and singing partner. There, she meets handsome ladies’ man Christian and begins working with him to repair his boat for the annual Pirate Regatta. Christian must win the race to stop his father from selling their summer home to developers with plans for commercializing the cove. Ockler’s (#scandal) poetic writing captivates from the outset (“My first breath outside my mother’s body was salt water; the Caribbean Sea lay claim to my soul the moment it took hers”), and Elyse’s backstory—including the mystery of exactly how she lost her voice—is inventive and well-drawn. But while steamy scenes between Elyse and Christian are enticing, some of the other plot lines feel contrived, from the bet over the boat race to a thread about Christian’s younger brother’s desire to march in a mermaid parade reserved for female participants. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ted Malawer, Upstart Crow Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dancing with Molly

Lena Horowitz. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1552-1

This diary-style novel offers a straightforward cautionary tale about the drug Ecstasy. The unnamed 17-year-old narrator, “an average-looking band geek with mousy, frizzy hair the color of dishwater,” feels invisible and awkward both at school and at home. She’s thrilled when the band is invited to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, but her mother is more impressed that the narrator’s younger sister, a sophomore, has been invited to prom by the school quarterback. Sick of being stuck in the shadows, the narrator is seduced by the prospect of “pure bliss” by taking Ecstasy offered by her friends. She only plans on trying the drug once, but she falls in love with the feeling of losing her inhibitions and being lifted out of her normal life. Soon she’s engaging in other high-risk behavior and can’t enjoy anything, even her new boyfriend, while sober. While the plot is predictable, it’s a realistic look at how easily one can be lured into drug use, and most readers will be pulled through the story by the candidness of the narration. Ages 14–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Between the Notes

Sharon Huss Roat. HarperTeen, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-229172-1

When 16-year-old Ivy Emerson and her family are forced to move to the “poor” side of town after the bank forecloses on their home, Ivy’s charmed life is replaced by one in which her family is crammed into a shoebox-sized house, she has no money to go out with her friends, and her mother shops for groceries at a food bank. Debut author Roat uses the intensity of major life changes to force Ivy to reevaluate everything she believes about herself, her friends, and her family. Ivy’s understandable bitterness and shame eventually give way to discoveries about what is—and isn’t—important in life, especially in the case of her neighbor Lennie, who has a reputation as her school’s “most notorious druggie,” but turns out to be kind and generous. As Ivy tries to choose between Lennie and a boy who represents a connection to her former life, the novel’s romantic and economic stakes feel too transparently tied to an overarching message about looking beyond appearances and material wealth. Ages 14–up. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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