Debut novelist Morton tells a gloriously macabre young-adult tale about the difficulties of being a teenage ghoul in the 1970s.
Howard and his family are ghouls. Scientifically, all that means is that their bodies don’t produce certain hormones and enzymes. But Howard’s father has been training him since age 11 in the practical side of their heritage: They need to dig up and eat freshly dead bodies to make up for their own bodily deficiencies. After Howard is orphaned by a murderous mob on his 17th birthday, he flees Georgia for New Jersey and searches out his grandmother—also a ghoul, because the condition is genetic. Granny disagreed with Howard’s parents on many things; for example, she considers “digging for food” low class. (She worked as a nurse who took her work home with her, so to speak.) If she and Howard are going to live under the same roof,Howard is going to have to adapt to a new way of life—including graduating from high school. As the fall semester begins, he starts his senior year at Pinebury High, home of some particularly sadistic bullies. Right away, the jocks forcibly seat Howard at what they call the “nerds and fags” table in the cafeteria. Here, Howard meets oddballs and outcasts who will become his friends, including a frustrated musician named Sebastian who turns Howard on to a new genre of music made for people on society’s fringe: punk rock. Morton successfully pairs the darker aspects of life in high school with the lighter aspects of cannibalism, including details that range from humorous, poignant reflections on monster movies to quirky details of grave robbing. Howard’s very human struggle to find acceptance explores whether being a monster is in fact a choice. The plot starts to decay three-quarters of the way through with a series of improbable events, but Morton satisfyingly finishes the story off before it goes bad. The ending will likely leave readers happy and delightfully disturbed.
Once readers dig up this clever supernatural YA story, they likely won’t want to put it down.
In this debut middle-grade novel, a lonely boy finds friendship and learns about the magic of human connection.
Defined by the large mole on his lip, 10-year-old Gregory has grown distant from his family. He is friendless and withdrawn. Then one night a strange little creature emerges from Gregory’s mole. It is riding a (quite lovable) cockroach and can change size. This is the Grimbockle. The Grimbockle—one of many Bockles, who, like Palmer Cox’s Brownies, live at the peripheries of human awareness—tends to the exoodles that bind people together. Exoodles are long, transparent, noodlelike threads and are usually invisible. Once Gregory has his eyeballs painted with Carrot Juicy, though, he can see them. He joins the Grimbockle and the roach, traveling the exoodles as if on a high-speed roller coaster. Exoodles wither and die when people don’t look after their relationships. The Grimbockle is trying to repair a particularly sickly exoodle that links a boy to his mother. Can Gregory help—and can he mend the exoodles in his own life? Schubert follows delightedly in the footsteps of Roald Dahl, opening her unfortunate young protagonist’s eyes to a previously unseen world both weird and wondrous (yet for all its outlandish magic, oddly logical). The scenario is one of riotous imagination, while the Grimbockle himself—brought sweetly to life in black-and-white illustrations by Kraft—is a sprightly and good-natured little person, full of the type of singsong infelicities found in Dahl’s beloved nonhuman characters: “Is you ever seeing glimpses of squiggles in the corners of your twinklers but then they is disappearing in a snippety blink?” “ ‘Exoodles!’ shouted the Grimbockle in triumph. ‘Sometimes, hoo-mans is getting so twisty and wound up in extra exoodles that they is feeling gloomy blue and heavy all day long.’ ” The story is perhaps too much of a parable to fully match Dahl’s template; the adventure is safer and the threats less dark. Nonetheless, readers should fall willingly and with thrilled abandon into the fizzy, fanciful world of Gregory and his Grimbockle friend.
A beautifully realized daydream; a fun yet thoughtful exploration of the complexities and possibilities hidden beneath surface appearances.
A lost bunny searches for his mother in this debut picture book.
The youngster is already lost in the beginning of Lakhiani’s version of the time-honored tale of a lost child reuniting witha parent. On a foggy day, a young rabbit finds that he doesn’t recognize where he is. He calls for his mother, but instead of her voice in response, he hears the hum of a bumblebee. The nameless little rabbit asks if the bee knows where his home is, but the bee doesn’t and sends him on to the wise owl, who “sees everything.” As the little rabbit runs through the “eerie” fog toward the owl’s tree, he meets a kind squirrel. “I’ve lost my mother….I am lost and scared,” explains the little rabbit. The squirrel leads the rabbit to the wise owl’s tree, which the rabbit climbs to ask the owl, “[C]an you see where I live?” The fog is too thick for the owl to spot little rabbit’s home, so he gives the little rabbit a snack and invites him to rest. Falling asleep, the little rabbit dreams of his mother but is awakened by the hooting, buzzing and chattering of his three new friends. Looking around, he sees his mother, who embraces him: “I will never again let you out of my sight,” she tells him. The digitized art by Adams, some of which is credited to Thinkstock, is in a cartoon style that clearly delineates the characters but includes a few anthropomorphic details—a graduation cap for the owl, spectacles for the squirrel and only four legs for the bee—that add little value. Since the story centers on the little rabbit failing to recognize where he is, the choice to make the right-hand page of every spread identical is potentially confusing; regardless, it’s repetitious. The text fails in the opposite direction: It doesn’t create the typical patterns that can help toddlers follow the story, build anticipation and learn to chime in—steps on the path to reading alone. Erratic rhythms, changing stanza lengths and rhyme schemes, and awkward syntax undercut attempts to enliven the tale with poetry.
A story with a tried-and-true plot that needs to freshen up its presentation.