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STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

SCARS book cover

Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

HUNTED book cover

Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.

PARALLEL VISIONS book cover

Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Teen Books That Have Something to Say


Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie

Review

Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie
by Holly Black
Simon & Schuster,(May 2005)
ISBN-10: 0689868227

My rating:



"Want to know a secret?" Lolli asked.
Val leaned in close and nodded. Of course she did.
"We know where there's a tunnel with a monster in it," Lolli half-whispered. "A faerie. we know where the faeries live."
"What?" Val wasn't sure she'd heard Lolli right.
--Valiant, Holly Black, p. 41.

Seventeen-year old Val discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her--with her mother. And her best friend knew about it, and kept it a secret from her. Feeling betrayed, hurt, and angry, Val runs away, and ends up living with some squatters underneath the subway.

The squatters have their own politics and secrets. Val slowly uncovers those secrets--that they know real faeries--and gets drawn into the other world that most people can't see. A world where she shoots up Nevermore, a magic the faeries need to live around so much iron, but when absorbed by humans, allows them to use some limited magic and feel euphoric from a drugged-out place. Val and the squatters she befriends become so addicted to Nevermore that they begin to steal it from the deliveries they make for Ravus--the faerie who's trying to help other exiled faeries. Val becomes caught up in the drug's power. But when faeries who were on the delivery route begin turning up murdered, she starts to realize that she has to do what is right.

Valiant is a dark fantasy; there's a lot of grit, anger, and pain in the pages. A lot of realism, including street life and, metaphorically, drug addiction. At times it feels relentless, with long stretches without hope or good feeling. Other times, the magic helps bring some relief, as does Ravus, and Val's relationship with him.

There is also a mystery woven into the story; the faeries who are being murdered. At times this thread seems to drop right out of the story. But at other times, hints are nicely placed, and intrigue is built. Another thread is a slowly developing love relationship between Val and Ravus--as well as the less affectionate sexual relationships between other characters.

For readers who like to dive into the fantasy aspect of the novel, the magic and fantasy may come too slowly, with tiny hints scattered here and there, and a long stretch of the everyday dragged out before anything overtly magical happens (even though the writing is compelling).

The story starts off firmly in Val's regular world, and her close friendship with her best friend Ruth is developed. We also see Val's relationship to her mom. Then Ruth and Val's mother are abruptly dropped for most of the book, while Val lives on the street and within the magical world of the faeries. There are a few sentences alluding to them, but because Ruth was such a strong ally, and there was such an emotional betrayal with the mother, it feels like a loss of potential depth and conflict. It also felt slightly jarring and unbelievable to have Val rarely think about them. Ruth and the mother are brought back into the book in the end, but it feels like Ruth, especially, too neatly bookends the story.

Val is a strong character; she is brave, feisty, loyal, and stands up for her friends, especially through fighting. She has both the courage and bravery we want to see in a hero, and flaws. But at times the ways she acts and the choices she makes after her addiction to Nevermore make it hard to feel completely on her side. And I'm not sure we ever quite completely crawl into Val's head or emotions or inner self. Sometimes we are told how she feels, instead of seeing it.

Val's voyage into drug addiction and her resulting behavior changes felt believable, moving from euphoria and feeling powerful to desperation, and seeing the ways that the drug made people, including herself, act dishonorably, even cruelly. However, there were a few places where the magic power that Nevermore could give them did not seem to fit with their choices while using, given their horrible day-to-day existence. It would have felt more believable had they used the full power of the magic to get themselves off the street. But this would have solved some of the problems the characters faced too easily.

Although Val choosing to learn about sword play from Ravus was built on her being athletic, it did not seem entirely believable--perhaps because we were not completely inside her head. It felt more like a necessary plot device to explain her actions and skill later in the book.

Still, there was a lot of backstory nicely woven into the story, which helped give both Val and Ravus some depth, tell us more about what mattered to them, and helped us believe in many of their actions and reactions.

Black uses details with great skill; there are places where a few small details tell so much about the characters and hint at their history or foreshadow what is to come.

Val falls in love for Ravus, who is part faerie, and a likeable character. We were given a detailed physical description of Ravus, who some people would be physically repulsed by. Although I believe in the possibility of a human falling in love with the kind of person someone is on the inside, rather than how they look on the outside, I did not completely believe in it here, probably because I did not feel I was inside Val's emotions or body.

Ruth, Val's best friend, is a lesbian, and this is nicely woven into the story. Ruth is just who she is; her sexuality is not an issue (except briefly by another character); kudos to Holly Black for bringing in lesbian/gay characters without a fuss, as a natural part of the story.

Some of the characters in Valiant are despicable--enough so that the reader can enjoy hating them, and worry about Val taking so long to see their true colors. However, some readers may feel betrayed or mislead, as some of these characters were introduced to us as seemingly good or helpful characters. Still, perhaps this is closer to life--with complexities and shades of grey. We are given some background that helps us understand why these characters may have become the way they have, still, the truly horrible actions of some of the characters can be painful. Yet this also adds to the conflict and tension of the book.

There are a number of things in this novel that sensitive readers may find disturbing, upsetting, or offensive, including some violence, drug addiction, abuse, cheating, self harm, and swearing. But if you like books that don't sugar coat things, yet still bring a happy ending, you may really enjoy this book!

This is an enjoyable read. Yes, there is pain, but there is also depth, and good thing happen. Fantasy and grit are woven together here with strong writing. If you enjoy fantasy, check this out!

-Added March 2006


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