As a fan of libraries, a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and a fan of graphic novels I was looking forward to reading Kiiro Yumi’s Library Wars manga series (adapted from the original story by Hiro Arikawa).  This series is set in a “near future” in which Japan’s federal government creates a committee to get rid of books they find unacceptable, and in response libraries and local governments create a military group called the Library Defense Force to try to protect libraries and their collections.

Volume 1 introduces Iku Kasahara, a young woman who was profoundly influenced by a man from the Library Defense Force who saved her book from being confiscated by the Media Betterment Committee years earlier.  Now Iku is training to be a member of the Library Defense Force, but she has to fight through a series of uphill battles.  Iku’s major obstacles are her own character flaws and the criticism of the other LDF members who make fun of her failings.  And while I know that Iku is supposed to be the heroine of this story, I have to agree that their arguments are valid.  She makes brash decisions, she romanticizes the encounter with the mysterious LDF man (which leads her to make more brash decisions), she can’t keep up with the other LDF members physically, and she’s falling behind academically because she always falls asleep in class.  There’s a big scene where another (male) recruit bluntly demands to know why she was chosen to be part of this organization, and I had to agree with his concerns.  Was she chosen to fill a female quota?  A hysterical romantic quota?  A hysterical romantic female quota?

Yes, we eventually learn that her headstrong qualities sometimes translate into bravery, and we learn that her fellow recruit is not as perfect as he first appears.  But I still found it difficult to empathize with her character.  Another issue I had with this story was the way that Iku was physically treated by her male colleagues.  On one occasion an instructor slaps her across the face for making (yet another) irrational decision.  And on several occasions her male instructors pat her on top of the head while they’re talking to her in a comforting/approving kind of way.  Maybe I’d be seeing things differently if I was born into the Japanese culture, but as an American woman both of those actions pissed me off almost equally.  Okay, if I think about it some more I’m actually LESS upset by the slap in the face; she deserved to be punished for putting her instructor’s life at risk, even if I didn’t agree with his method of discipline.  But the pats on the head just seemed … I dunno … Demeaning?  Patronizing?  Whatever they were, they didn’t seem like part of a healthy and/or professional work environment.  I definitely liked the IDEA of the story, of a group devoted to fighting censorship and upholding people’s right to read.  I just found several of the characters irritating enough to make me stop reading the series after volume 1.

I picked up Blank Confession by Pete Hautman because of its cool and dramatic cover and because I had enjoyed several of Mr. Hautman’s books in the past.  When I read the overview of the story, about a teenaged boy who confesses to a murder (but might be concealing part of the truth) I was hooked.  This book mostly lived up to my expectations, up to the ending which was a little more contrived than I would have liked.  However, I did enjoy the story, and I liked how the chapters alternated the point of view of different characters.  I think based on the exciting subject matter and the suspenseful way in which the story is told — interspersing the confession with flashbacks — that this book would be a good choice for reluctant readers.  Especially for boys who are looking for page-turning stories featuring male protagonists.

Most of the time I focus my attention on young adult books (like the titles I discussed above), but once in a while I squeeze in time for some children’s books as well.  A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz looked like an entertaining book for older children, a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story folded into retellings of several other classic fairy tales.  It also looked like a book with booktalk potential, which is always a plus for me.  The best part of A Tale Dark & Grimm is the narrator’s use of frequent asides to the reader.  On many occasions the narrator tells us to send small children out of the room because the story is going to be too scary for them, or tells us that the story only seems to be over except it really isn’t, or tells us just how awesome fairy tales are.  The technique of weaving the characters of Hansel and Gretel into multiple fairy tales is a unique one, and I think that it works well in this book.  Readers who might never have heard of tales like “Faithful Johannes” or “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs” will be introduced to these stories for the first time, and readers who know the original stories will be impressed by how Gidwitz inserts Hansel and Gretel into these classic fairy tales.  I’m a big fan of fairy tales and a big fan of modern fairy tale adaptations, and this book lived up to and exceeded my expectations.  Gidwitz puts the gruesome details back into Grimm’s fairy tales in a humorous way (with lots of warnings to get little kids to leave the room), so readers who’ve only heard the sanitized versions will be both surprised and entertained by the stories told in this book.  This is an excellent book for fans of fairy tales, for kids who would never choose to read a book of fairy tales, for good readers, and for reluctant readers.

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