Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

Darkest Light (Half World, #2)Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy is a sequel to Goto’s Half World, which was nominated for numerous awards in young adult fantasy. Half World is a kind of purgatory where people go who haven’t resolved events in their lives. The first book introduced one such character, Mr. Glueskin, who is able to leave Half World for ours as a baby.

The story continues from Goto’s Half World following the life of Gee, now a teenager, who relies on his adopted grandmother, Popo, for guidance. Gee’s mysterious background and his penetrating black eyes make alienate him from his peers. He makes his first friend, Cracker, another alienated youth, have to defend their awkward lives from street predators. Gee and Cracker discover that they each have connections to Half World and together must travel there in order to answer questions about their pasts. Half World is filled with challenging and dangerous obstacles as Gee and Cracker are compelled to search for meaning. Together they must face their darkest fears to have any hope of finding peace.

The novel is filled with more questions than answers about what exists beyond death. Using realistic characters from our world to introduce the reader to the fantastical plane of Half World somehow makes the idea plausible. Goto’s descriptions of the various tragic events trapping characters in Half World are at times horrific but captivating. Although the character Gee is featured in Darkest Light, the character of Cracker is well-developed and leaves room for a next book.

Goto’s style is deliciously dark and detailed which will appeal especially to young adults who dabble in Asian literature. The spiritual questions involved in the subject matter may not appeal to some readers but would appeal to any curious young adult in search of answers about life beyond death. The story is quite violent in certain scenes but not in a gratuitous way.

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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Book title: Under Heaven

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Bibliographic entry Kay, G. G. (2010). Under heaven. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Group.
Description Tai is assigned the duty of burying the fallen soldiers of his kingdom in order to put their ghosts to rest.  This strange task takes him two years to complete and leads to a series of events that will forever change his destiny.  He is awarded 250 pricless horses and must take them across China to his home kingdom.
Reaction This tale is both historical and fantastical as Kay creates the supernatural setting in ancient China.  The story is epic and involves many key players to help Tai set his life right again.
Recommended age level Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes History, family, tradition, honour
Curriculum connections English: read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards Won the Sunburst Award, for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic; nominated in the Best Novel category at the World Fantasy Awardsnominated for an Aurora Award, for best SF/Fantasy Novel.  Awarded June 2011; nominated for the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.
Miscellaneous Set 300 years later, Kay’s next novel River Under Stars will be released in 2013.

Under Heaven US

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Book title: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Author: Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic entry Collins, S. (2004). Underland Chronicles: Gregor and the prophecy of bane. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Description In this 2nd book of the Underland Chronicles series Gregor reunites with his bat, Ares, and together they must overcome a new quest together.  Gregor is more greatly accepted by the Underlanders but this new alliance puts him in even greater danger.
Reaction Collins is a master storyteller.  This junior fantasy fiction series manages to be both heartwarming and suspenseful.  The roaches in particular are characterized so well since they have very little verbal communication yet their behaviour speaks volumes.
Recommended age level Junior/Intermediate
Subjects/themes Identity quest, family, friendship
Curriculum connections English: identify several different characteristics of literary, informational, and graphic text forms and explain how they help communicate meaning
Awards 2005 CONNECTICUT BOOK AWARD FINALIST–CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Miscellaneous The Underland Chronicles series has five books in it.  Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane is the second.

Gregor_and_the_Prophecy_of_Bane

The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber (audiobook)

Book title: The Witch’s Boy (audiobook)

Author: Michael Gruber

Bibliographic entry Gruber, M., & O’Hare, D. P. (2005). The witch’s boy. New York: Harper Children’s Audio.
Description Long long ago a boy named Lump is born to a witch.  The prejudice he experiences his whole life, because of his facial deformity and strange behaviour, turn him into an angry young man.  His envy drives him to violence and he loses what he loves most.
Reaction  A fantastic tale that weaves pieces of well-known fairytales together while following the journey of the unknown character, Lump.  The themes and topics are universally human and this book would appeal to any fantasy lover.  Denis O’Hare, the performer on the audiobook, is a wizard as he vocally masters dozens of identities in the book.
Recommended age level  Junior/Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes  Identity quest, fantasy, prejudice
Curriculum connections  English: extend understanding of both simple and complex texts by making connections between the ideas in them and personal knowledge, experience, and insights; other texts; and the world around them
Awards 2006 Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award for Middle Grades/Young Adults
Miscellaneous  Michael Gruber blogs at http://michaelgruberbooks.blogspot.ca/

The Calling by Kelley Armstrong

Book title: The Calling

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Bibliographic entry Armstrong, K. (2012). The calling. Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada.
Description  Maya’s adventures continue as she attempts to get home and find her parents after her mishap in The Gathering.  Maya learns more about her skin-walking tendencies and her companions also discover their own abilities.  The plot thickens when Maya and her friends discover their town is abandoned and they have to develop a new strategy for rescue.
Reaction  The second book moves very quickly as characters and the main conflict have already been established in the previous book.  Students will devour this book and wait impatiently for the third in the series.
Recommended age level Grades 7 and up
Subjects/themes  Identity quest, trust, survival
Curriculum connections English: read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards
Miscellaneous  This is the second book in the series.  The third book will be released in the spring of 2013.

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Book title: The Gathering

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Bibliographic entry Armstrong, K. (2011). The gathering. Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada.
Description Maya and her friends discover a town secret as they are the victims of a mysterious scheme by their local pharmaceutical company.  When a new boy and his sister move to the area, Maya discovers that her extraordinary human strengths lead to questions about her birth parents.
Reaction  Maya is a likeable character: smart, funny, conscientious but also inexperienced and naive.  There are enough strong male characters that I think boys would like this book but it is a sure fire winner for girls.
Recommended age level  grades 7 and up
Subjects/themes  Trust, mystery
Curriculum connections English: read a variety of student- and teacher-selected texts from diverse cultures and historical periods, identifying specific purposes for reading
Awards  The Stellar Book Award, White Pine Book award
Miscellaneous  The first book in a three part series