Book Reviews: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn, and Chillers Book Two by Daniel Boyd, creator

If I Ever Get Out of HereIf I Ever Get Out of Here
Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-41730-3
Hardcover

This Middle-Grade novel comes out this month (August 2013).  The timing is serendipitous, as the book begins with an “Indian” (Native American) entering Jr. High.  While, on the surface, his trials and tribulations appear to be based on ethnicity and, in turn, poverty, the facts are that many students entering Jr. High (or Middle School) this year will experience the same taunting, teasing and bullying that Lewis tolerates.  Maybe a student will be singled out due to ethnicity, body shape, hair color, name or wardrobe.  The results are the same, which is why I strongly recommend this book.  Although a work of fiction, the core issues are very, very real and kids need to know that they are not alone.

It is so easy to recognize exclusion and to immediately attribute it to race, ethnicity, size or social class, when maybe that is not exactly the case.  The old chicken or egg.  Yes, maybe Lewis was ostracized, at first, because of his red skin and low socioeconomic standing.  Maybe, that initial reaction caused him to be defensive and to toughen up.  But, what about the next year?  Is it possible that he carries the defensiveness with him?  If so, maybe people are turned off, not by the color of his skin, but by the prickliness in his personality.

Another aspect of this book that I truly love: friendship.  As Lewis leaves behind the kids he has grown up with to attend a “White” school, he begins to learn the difference between true friendship and friendship by default.  He sees that although he has grown up with and hung out with someone almost every day of his life, that person may not actually be a true friend; whereas a new guy, free with unsolicited advice, may turn out to be the best friend he’s ever had.  This is the most realistic portrayal of a true friendship between boys that I have ever seen.  The strength and loyalty become clear based on actions and secrets kept hidden, rather than articulated enthusiastically as tends to be the case with girls.

This story, set in 1977 and filled with Beatles and Paul McCartney references, is remarkably well-written.  The prose is not flowery or lyrical; rather, it is a bit raw—exactly as it should be for the subject matter.  The simplicity is deceiving.  Mr. Gansworth manages to say more, with fewer words.   I experienced many emotions while reading this book.  I felt sad for the nastiness Lewis is constantly faced with, I felt frustrated with him for not trying a bit harder—for seeming to be too stubborn.  The random acts of kindness filled me with joy, and the show of true friendship renewed my hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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Dr. Frankenstein's DaughtersDr. Frankenstein’s Daughters
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, January 2013
ISBN 0-545-42533-9
Hardcover

Imagine being orphaned at birth, knowing nothing of your mother or father, only to find out 17 years later, that your father was on the run and considered a lunatic.  Despite this, the mysterious man owned a castle and had managed to amass a huge amount of money, which he left for the daughters he never knew.  Oh, and he happens to be Dr. Frankenstein.

Okay, that part is really a bigger deal to the reader than to the main characters.  No one knew what Dr. Frankenstein had accomplished.  The name did not bring to mind a flat-headed, greenish/gray man that walked like a robot with his arms outstretched.  None of the characters in the book compulsively shout out “It’s aliiiive!” at the mention of Frankenstein’s name.

The discovery of their father’s name, along with the receipt of a gargantuan inheritance, begins the story of twin girls, Giselle and Ingrid.  Although identical, Giselle is considered “the beauty” as she is quite fond of her looks and spends a great deal of time primping.  She wants to entertain the world.  Ingrid is absorbed with the practice of medicine.  The book is set in the early 1800s;  women were forbidden to obtain an education.  Ingrid had to do her studies behind closed doors or dressed as a man.

The girls quickly relocate to the castle.  As Giselle spends day and night cleaning and decorating the castle, Ingrid obsesses over her new treasure, her father’s journals.  Giselle is planning a huge party to fill the castle.  Ingrid couldn’t care less about the party, aside from coaxing Giselle to invite prominent doctors and researchers so that she could discuss her new theories about limb regeneration.  As life goes on, Ingrid becomes quite taken with an injured man in a small cottage near the castle, Giselle continues working feverishly, and the town becomes nervous as men begin to go missing.

The initial premise of the book is intriguing enough for anyone to grab it off of a bookshelf.  Once in hand, the story quietly snares the reader and draws him in.  On one hand, the readers see a bit of romance begin to bloom. It is sweet, but clearly complicated. Will love prevail or will the fear of heartache keep it dormant?  Worse, will a slow, painful and untimely death rip them apart?

On the other hand, the reader begins to sense mystery and danger slowly surrounding Giselle, like a fog creeping in.  Men are disappearing.  Some are later found, as mangled corpses.    Who is doing this?  The reader (having the advantage of knowing about Dr. Frankenstein’s creation) may believe that the monster is exacting revenge on the unsuspecting and totally unaware girls.  But that seems a bit too pat, so surely, it is someone else, right?

I won’t tell, but I promise that if you read the book, the answers to these questions will surprise you.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Chillers Book TwoChillers: Book Two
Daniel Boyd, creator
Transfuzion Publishing, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-9857493-6-1
Trade Paperback—Graphic Novel

I’ve always been a spooky little girl.  Growing up in West Virginia, I was surrounded by “True Ghost Stories”.  I could tell them all by the time I was 8 years old.  A couple of years later, a teacher called my mom to tell her that I was reading “inappropriate books” by John Saul and Stephen King.  To which my mother replied, “Yep.”  I’ve seen every episode of The Twilight Zone…..multiple times.  I love “scary”; the creepier the better.  I long for the blood in my veins to turn to ice, to feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the feeling that I must look over my shoulder…..several times.  I continue to seek this out in books.  Yet, I have been missing something: The Graphic Novel.  Well, specifically Chillers, followed by Chillers: Book Two.

I believe Mr. Boyd explains the “Graphic Novel” best as an “…accommodating venue for short story telling of the fantastic.”  To me, graphic novels are overlooked by self-limiting.  People who happily plough through horror novels may turn up their noses at the suggestion of a graphic novel.  It is embarrassing to admit, but I was one of those people.  I was wrong.

The common theme throughout Chillers: Book Two is “da bus” to Hell, driven by Peterr Jesus.  Someone always gets on the bus, but it is certainly not always the person the reader expects.  While I appreciated the common eerie factor shared in each story, I delighted in the uniqueness as well.  A welcome surprise was my immediate appreciation of the illustrations.  The artwork is simply amazing and always succeeds in setting the absolute perfect background for each tale.

Mr. Boyd’s “Sin Flowers” shows that sometimes, revenge is the only answer….even if it means boarding Peterr’s bus.  Although this is quite the chilling little tale, there is also love, survival, but maybe one too many disappointments.

As a perfect wrap-up to ‘Shark Week’, Mr. Bitner’s “Live Bait” introduces a cantankerous, flippant old man with complete disregard to human life.  Well, until it is his own life at stake.

Another tale includes tracking and devouring cryptids, such as the Yeti.   One story demonstrates how, sometimes, promises must be broken in order to bring closure and justice.  A personal favourite of mine features a money-grubbing, nasty broad getting her comeuppance in a grizzly, yet oddly comical way.  First time I’ve caught myself wincing and chuckling at the same time.  Yet another creeped me out so much that I never want to see a painting of myself, or, quite frankly, anyone or anyplace I care about.  Still get chills thinking of that freakshow.

I relished each and every macabre adventure in this book, and I highly recommend it to all fans of horror.  Read it.  If you dare.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.