The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith – A Book Review

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet I chose this book solely because of just that.  I saw the cover art on First Second’s (@01FirstSecond) Twitter page and then immediately picked it up at my local library.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Alex Crow even after reading its synopsis.  It’s comprised of three seemingly unrelated stories that, as you probably guessed, ultimately merge.

The first story focuses upon Ariel, a Middle Eastern refugee trying to make sense of his tortured past and his perplexing present after a family in West Virginia adopted him.  They also have a son Ariel’s age and a reincarnated crow named Alex.  Alex is not reincarnated in the strictest sense.  Ariel’s new father works to reintroduce formerly extinct species through his scientific endeavors.  Ariel and his new brother, Max, are soon sent to camp where they are meant to bond.  Unfortunately, the camp is intended for boys addicted to gaming, and when surrounded by teenagers going through cold turkey, both Ariel and Max feel as though they’ve been dropped into an asylum.

The second string focuses upon a mad bomber named Leonard Fountain.  Leonard believes he’s trailed by an invisible drone, hears voices, and has skin that is literally falling off his body.  He drives his U-Haul around the countryside, listening to the voices help him find the perfect place to detonate.  As fate would have it, he’s connected to the Alex Division of the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, the very company where Ariel’s adopted father works.

The last plotline features a doctor in the late 1800s aboard the Alex Crow, which is a sea faring vessel attempting to reach the absolute north.  When the ship becomes trapped in ice for months on end, the doctor and his shipmates must fight for their very survival.  They eventually find something encased in the ice, something long since dead, something hellish, and the doctor knows then and there that he must somehow reincarnate it, even if it takes a century.

The Alex Crow’s genre is undefinable, which is the highest compliment I can offer any work.  Though it features young adults, this old man very much enjoyed it.  At times the book is brutally realistic, especially when revealing Ariel’s past, but it also holds nothing back in the realm of science fiction.  It is at times adventuresome, creepy, absurd, touching, unsettling, and thought provoking.  Amidst its multifaceted threads, however, it is consistently humorous.  The humor is sometimes good-natured, sometimes discomforting, and sometimes inappropriate, but it is always there.

Though I’ve discussed the major beats of The Alex Crow, this book is complex beyond description.  One must read this book truly to experience Smith’s originality, intricacy, and hilarity.  I highly recommend you do so.

The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II In Canada!

I love it when people send me pictures of themselves reading my books.  This photograph of The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II is sent in by Jacob Padin while vacationing in Canada.  Thanks, Jacob, and I hope you enjoyed the short story collection!

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Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger – A Book Review

I’m a teacher, and The Time Traveler’s Wife experienced something of a resurgence in my classroom this year.  Many seniors discovered it for the first time and, like me, now claim it among their favorite books.  Their enthusiasm renewed my interest in Niffenegger, and so I sought any work I could find at my local library.

Hence, Raven Girl.

Written and illustrated by the talented Niffenegger, she claims this seventy-seven page book is a modern day fairy tale written in conjunction with a ballet.

It is the story of a postman who falls in love with a raven after bringing it home and caring for it.  They have a child, a human girl with the heart and soul of a raven.  She wants to be true to herself, and when an ingenious doctor comes into her life, her greatest wish may just be possible.

Like all fairy tales, and literature, Raven Girl is open to interpretation.  This story could be analyzed as a work encouraging tolerance, self-discovery, and even medical advancements.  There is a villain, of sorts, but like all good villains his intentions are seemingly honorable.  It’s even conceivable that he’s no villain at all, merely misguided.

Niffenegger’s artwork is unique and particular to to her style.  Her illustrations fit the tone.  They are both unsettling and warm.

I absolutely recommend Raven Girl.  It can be read in a single sitting, and it’s thought-provoking plot line is full of potential analysis.

Son by Lois Lowry – A Book Review

I read The Giver in high school and adored it.  I loved its abstract nature while still rooting itself mostly in reality.  I recently watched the film adaptation, and doing so inspired me to revisit the book.  Because three companion pieces came out between the time I read the original work and the movie, I felt compelled to read the entire quartet.

Gathering Blue and The Messenger proved to be a rather large departure from The Giver, happening in the same “universe” but still only loosely related.  Both of those books leaned far more into the realm of fantasy than science fiction, and I frankly had trouble connecting to the ambiguous morality tale they assumed.

Son, however, offered the best of both worlds.  It begins in The Giver’s community, but it ends in the village of the other two books.  As most will agree, Son is a direct companion piece to The Giver as it initially occurs parallel to Jonas’ story.  It follows Claire’s story, a birth-mother who doesn’t last long at her assignment.  She yearns to be with her only child, which is a rarity in the community, and takes drastic action to do so.  However, she’s beaten to the punch by Jonas, and it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that Claire is Gabe’s mother.  It seems Gabe was destined to live as it is revealed he had two protectors all along.

Once Gabe is taken, Claire decides to do anything to be with her son.  Through a series of hardships and obstacles, and though it takes years, she eventually makes her way to The Messenger’s village where Gabe is now a hearty young man.  Claire, unfortunately, is now unrecognizable thanks to a vicious evil, an evil which Jonas declares Gabe must eradicate.

When I initially read The Giver, I related to Jonas as he was similar in age and temperament.  Interestingly enough, I now relate to Claire as I am the father of two children myself.  I understand her innate need to be with her child, to love her child, to protect her child at all costs.

Son utilizes both science fiction and fantasy as it begins heavily with the former and ends almost exclusively with the latter.  I personally found it ended more akin to a fable than anything, and I honestly felt disappointment as Claire took a backseat to Gabe when the story became his.  I cannot argue, though, that it ties the previous three books together nicely and answers some frustrating questions introduced in The Messenger.

Son is a worthy conclusion to The Giver even if it is a departure in both tone and theme.  I am so glad to know Jonas and Gabe’s fate, and Claire cemented herself as a pinnacle character in the series as well.  I have no doubt young adults will particularly relish Lowry’s tale of overcoming evil, the enduring love of family, and the call of morality we all should heed.

It’s Kind Of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – A Book Review

I’ve seen It’s Kind Of a Funny Story on several must-read lists, especially those aimed at young adults.  I must admit that when I learned of the book’s plot, as well as the author’s unfortunate passing, well, it was with morbid fascination that I finally sat down to read it.

The premise is sadly common.  A teenage boy named Craig becomes overwhelmed by the demands of life, particularly his rigorous school, and decides to take his own life.  He finds his way into a psychiatric ward, and there he finally meets people with whom he can relate.  Though only required to stay for a short while, the fifteen year old recognizes his issues, has an epiphany on how to manage them, and leaves the ward on a happy note.

Of course, this is oversimplifying everything about the book.  The important thing to note is that Vizzini truly captures the essence of depression, he creates real characters, he expertly draws out various emotions, and, in the end, he provides hope to both Craig and the reading audience.

This book is sad, it is funny, it is uncomfortable, it is affirming, it is real, it is life.  No matter what your age, I highly recommend it.

 

Share My Passion

In 2011, I began an experiment called Dr. Nekros.  I’d created the character a few years prior, but it wasn’t until that time that I fully committed to telling his story.  Amazon Direct Publishing arrived on the scene, and I realized it provided the perfect platform to execute a form of storytelling I’d never experienced firsthand – the serial.

I knew I wanted Dr. Nekros’ odyssey to span eighteen episodes, and I knew I wanted three major story arcs that ultimately told a much grander tale.  When I started, I pretty much had the first six episodes mapped out. Beyond that, I can’t claim to have fully understood where the story would ultimately end.

Writing a serial proved a thrilling experience, especially because I figured much of it out as I went.  I hoped to release an episode every two months, and, for the most part, I stuck to that schedule.  Oddly enough, when I about hit the half way mark of the series I came down with a terrible case of the stomach flu.  My entire family suffered from it.  This thing lasted for days, and none of us could hardly get out of bed.  Since I had so much downtime, I took advantage of it to finally map out the end of the series.  Looking back, I think I may have been a bit delirious because Dr. Nekros takes a fairly surreal turn near the end.

Those years spent writing Dr. Nekros proved to be the busiest of my life thus far.  Just a few months before the serial started, my wife and I moved into a new house we built, I returned to my full-time high school teaching career, I started and finished my Master’s degree, and we had our second child.  Throughout it all, Dr. Nekros’ adventures unfolded.  In many ways, the not-so-good doctor kept me sane.  I am the sort of person who always needs a creative outlet, and in the midst of so many obligations, he gave me the opportunity to do things my way.  Of course, that’s not entirely true.  The serial very much took on a life of it’s own, and I, at times, felt as though I was merely the tool for this story to arrive.

If you have not yet read the Dr. Nekros serial, I do hope you’ll share my passion and give it a try.  It is an epic work, and I believe it has qualities appealing to most readers.  I found the entire process incredibly satisfying, and I am thankful to have experienced such creative passion.

Simply click the image to visit the works on Amazon.

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