Monday, April 12, 2010

PW's Starred Reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 4/12/2010

Picture Books

Bear in the Air by Susan Meyers, illus. by Amy Bates. Abrams, $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8109-8398-4

The stuffed animal carried away on a long, unexpected journey is a perennially popular theme; here, it’s illustrated with delightful attention to period detail by Bates (The Dog Who Belonged to No One). The baby who owns the unfortunate teddy bear is accompanied by a young mother in wellies, a polka-dot skirt, and a snug cloche hat for their boardwalk stroll at some pre-WWII seaside resort town. Bates works in roughly sketched pencil and soft, lustrously shaded watercolors, evoking a lost, gentler age. Meyers’s (Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!) verse is sturdy, obedient to its metric structure: “This is the dog that found the bear,/ Shook it and tossed it high in the air,/ Carried it down to the sandy shore,/ Trotted away with the ribbon it wore.” Bates honors each person, creature, or force of nature the bear encounters (from sailor to seal to sea breeze) in stately picture frames that appear at the start of each leg of the bear’s journey under the sea, up into the sky, and eventually—to readers’ relief—into a neighbor’s yard to be rescued by its owner. Ages 4–8. (May)

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, trans. from the Spanish by Lucia Graves. Little, Brown, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-316-04477-6

Originally published in 1993, Ruiz Zafón’s (The Shadow of the Wind) first novel, unavailable in English in the U.S. until now, is a melancholy horror tale that explores the implications parents’ choices can have for their children. During WWII, Max and Alicia Carver, 13 and 15, move with their family to a coastal Spanish village and meet an older local boy named Roland. As the three spend their time diving and exploring the town, they become aware that an unsettling force is lurking nearby. Visits to Roland’s adoptive grandfather fill in the story of the Prince of Mist, who has been bargaining for souls for decades. As the children learn more about the mysterious figure, they find themselves in greater danger. In gorgeously translated prose, Ruiz Zafón maintains a sweet, believable relationship among the characters when dealing with mundane concerns (a conflict over cleaning out a room full of spiders could be taken from any contemporary family film), but still conveys a sense of adventure and danger. The bittersweet ending suits the theme and setting, offering both hope and tragedy without any pretense of fairness. Ages 12–up. (May)

Stolen by Lucy Christopher Scholastic/Chicken House, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-545-17093-2

Christopher’s debut is an emotionally raw thriller that follows the abduction of 16-year-old Gemma by Ty, a gorgeous, 20-something Australian who is in love with her and hopes to win her love in return. The fast-paced novel is written in the past tense as a sort of diary from Gemma to Ty, suggesting that she has escaped, though this makes the story no less suspenseful. Ty drugs Gemma in a Bangkok airport and transports her to the home he has built in the isolated Australian outback, believing he’s rescuing her from shallow parents and a city life in London she never really fit into. Clever and determined, Gemma gathers her strength and plots numerous escapes to no avail. In the process, she encounters the wildness of her desert surroundings and carefully digs for Ty’s weaknesses, patching together his complex history, including the extent of his six-year obsession with her. Gemma’s fluctuating emotions are entirely believable—she’s repulsed by Ty, but can’t help recognizing the ways in which he’s opened her eyes. It’s a haunting account of captivity and the power of relationships. Ages 14–up. (May)

White Cat by Holly Black S&S/McElderry, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4169-6396-7

In this beautifully realized dark fantasy, which launches Black’s Curse Workers series, Cassel Sharpe is a talented con artist who works as a bookie at his snooty prep school. But skilled as Cassel is, it’s nothing compared to the rest of his family, who are curse workers, able to control people’s memories, luck, or emotions with the touch of a finger (curse work is illegal, and all citizens wear gloves to safeguard against being taken advantage of). Three years ago Cassel murdered a friend, the daughter of a crime lord, and now, not by coincidence, he’s having nightmares about a white cat (“It leaned over me, inhaling sharply, as if it was going to suck the breath from my lungs”) and sleepwalking on the roof of his dormitory. Complex plots unfold around Cassel, and he eventually realizes that he can’t even rely on his own memory. With prose that moves from stark simplicity to almost surreal intensity in a moment, Black (Ironside) has created a believable alternate America where mobsters are magicians and no one is entirely trustworthy. Ages 14–up. (May)

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