THE HELLION

Like an unholy union between Garrison Keillor and Stephen King, this book mixes small-town Americana with horror in ways...

A young man with an abusive childhood discovers he’s the son of Satan and becomes a prince of hell.

In tiny Riverton, Minn., George Carlson grows up in a large, chaotic family where he bears the brunt of his mother’s and half brother’s cruelty. Forced to defend himself at an early age, he becomes skilled at fighting, escaping and surviving in the surrounding wilderness. At 18 and on the brink of joining the Army, George is framed for murder by Rick, his half brother, and finds himself in hell. There, he discovers he’s the son of Satan and that it’s time for him to fulfill his destiny: Become a devil and rule the underworld. No quick summary can capture this book’s strangeness: an odd assortment of childhood abuse, small-town memories and (in the second half) fantasy horror/humor. Whether it’s camping trips and toboggan rides, a battle in hell or fratricide, Anderson recounts it all in a remote, deadpan that varies only when verging into black humor. Riverton is a demented Lake Wobegon where local characters include Smiling Jack, “mute, glassy-eyed and with a Joker-like grimace from a WWI gas attack,” who likes “to get drunk on banana extract” and the Watsons, “Riverton’s hillbillies”; when a new fridge gets wedged in the doorway, “they kicked a hole through the wall and walked around it.” Anderson is not a polished writer. His anecdotes, for example, aren’t always tied together, but he has a gift for description, particularly authentic details of life and work in the Minnesota north woods. Nevertheless, the many descriptions of base ignorance and cruelty make much of this book unpleasant to read—and that’s before we get to hell. That section (often rather funny and comprising half the book) is interesting less for the events it describes than for how it turns a dark mirror on George’s childhood. Perhaps hell is identifying with your abusers. The ending provides the tiniest glimpse of a life that might be different for George, as does the book’s closely guarded sense of compassion.

Like an unholy union between Garrison Keillor and Stephen King, this book mixes small-town Americana with horror in ways that can be odd, off-putting and sometimes compelling.

Pub Date: June 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475147612

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2012

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JUPITER STORM

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

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A fifth-grade New Orleans girl discovers a mysterious chrysalis containing an unexpected creature in this middle-grade novel.

Jacquelyn Marie Johnson, called Jackie, is a 10-year-old African-American girl, the second oldest and the only girl of six siblings. She’s responsible, smart, and enjoys being in charge; she likes “paper dolls and long division and imagining things she had never seen.” Normally, Jackie has no trouble obeying her strict but loving parents. But when her potted snapdragon acquires a peculiar egg or maybe a chrysalis (she dubs it a chrysalegg), Jackie’s strong desire to protect it runs up against her mother’s rule against plants in the house. Jackie doesn’t exactly mean to lie, but she tells her mother she needs to keep the snapdragon in her room for a science project and gets permission. Jackie draws the chrysalegg daily, waiting for something to happen as it gets larger. When the amazing creature inside breaks free, Jackie is more determined than ever to protect it, but this leads her further into secrets and lies. The results when her parents find out are painful, and resolving the problem will take courage, honesty, and trust. Dumas (Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest: Episode 5, 2017, etc.) presents a very likable character in Jackie. At 10, she’s young enough to enjoy playing with paper dolls but has a maturity that even older kids can lack. She’s resourceful, as when she wants to measure a red spot on the chrysalegg; lacking calipers, she fashions one from her hairpin. Jackie’s inward struggle about what to obey—her dearest wishes or the parents she loves—is one many readers will understand. The book complicates this question by making Jackie’s parents, especially her mother, strict (as one might expect to keep order in a large family) but undeniably loving and protective as well—it’s not just a question of outwitting clueless adults. Jackie’s feelings about the creature (tender and responsible but also more than a little obsessive) are similarly shaded rather than black-and-white. The ending suggests that an intriguing sequel is to come.

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943169-32-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Plum Street Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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