Marian's Picks

Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White

I picked up this book on a whim, and what I learned from this experience is 1) I have excellent taste, and 2) people look at you strangely when you start cackling in public.

Adventurer's Guide is very much my kinda book—completely hilarious and unafraid of poking fun at itself and its genre, with awesome characters and a cool new fantasy world to explore. Thirteen-year-old Anne (short for Anvil) is an orphan, living at Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. The Institute is about as welcoming as it sounds, and unsurprisingly, Anne dreams of leaving it for good.

Fortunately, it turns out she's needed for an epic quest.

 

I laughed the whole way through Adventurer's Guide, from start to finish, and I also genuinely liked the characters and the plot. It's aimed at kids 8+, but the writing style and the humor really work for older readers as well.

Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee

I have a confession that will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever met me: I love superheroes. Doesn't matter what medium, I'm totally there—tv, comics, movies, graphic novels, regular novels...

 

So when I picked up a copy of C.B. Lee's Not Your Sidekick, I was pretty excited—and it didn't let me down. Jessica Tran lives in a time and place where superpowers are common—both her parents are heroes, and her older sister is as well. But in spite of all her hopes, dreams, and best efforts, Jessica remains frustratingly normal.

 

Until she finds herself interning for a supervillain. As you do. But at least she's not alone—her long-time crush, Abby, works there as well.

 

Not Your Sidekick is a ton of (gleefully cheesy) fun, and Jessica is both likable and relatable. It's a very character-and-relationship driven story—there's action and mystery and suspense, but the real meat of the story is Jessica's ties to her family, her friends, her love interest, and her own personal heroes. If you're a fan of superhero stories and solid coming-of-age tales, then I highly recommend Not Your Sidekick for readers 14+.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is one of my all-time favorite authors, and his Tiffany Aching books hold a special place in my heart—both because the series is actually aimed at kids and teens, and because the last book he ever wrote was the final Tiffany Aching novel.

 

Wee Free Men is the first in the series, set in Pratchett's sprawling Discworld universe—and don't worry, no background Discworld knowledge is necessary going in. As I've always found quotations the best way to pitch Pratchett to new readers, enjoy an introduction to our no-nonsense heroine, Tiffany:

 

“No,” said Tiffany patiently. “[My question] is about zoology.”

 

“Zoology, eh? That's a big word, isn't it.”

 

“No, actually, it isn't,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

 

If you're a fan of humor, coming-of-age stories, fantasy, or any combination of the above, I strongly recommend Wee Free Men—it's an absorbing and hilarious read, great for anyone 10+.

 

Natsume's Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa

Natsume's Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa is difficult for me to describe without feeling like I'm doing the series a huge disservice—there's an undefinable atmosphere to this manga, a tone, something quiet and magical and wistful—but I'm going to try anyway.

 

Takashi Natsume can see yōkai—Japanese spirits and monsters. He inherited his abilities from his grandmother...who had a bad habit of challenging yōkai and then taking their names when she won. Those names gave her absolute power over the yōkai she'd defeated, and she bound them into a 'Book of Friends'. As her only living relative, Natsume's inherited that as well.

 

Once he learns the truth about the Book, Natsume decides to keep the book until he's returned all the names within. But that's a dangerous choice—more than a few yōkai want the power of the Book for themselves.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is one of the most engaging, fulfilling books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I laughed, I cried, I discovered my former manager told the author I'd cried...

 

A.J. Fikry starts out with his failing bookstore and not much else—he's alone and lonely and temperamental. But everything changes when his rare edition of Edgar Allan Poe poems is stolen. He finds a surprise on his doorstep soon after, and before he knows it, his entire life is turned upside down.

 

I feel a little like I'm stating the obvious with this one, honestly—it's a beautifully written ode to literature and neighborhood bookstores and grouchy booksellers, of course I love it and I think everyone should read it. Storied Life even made me kind of want to give reading Moby Dick another try, which I'd previously thought impossible. But it's also so much more than just a book a surly bookstore owner—Storied Life is about family and community and second chances, and manages that without ever becoming cloying or preachy.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

This book is gorgeous in every sense—the art and writing are both bright and engaging, and I was pretty much in love by the time I was done with the first few pages. Also I'm weak for likable characters, legends, and mythology, and really weak for dragons and female protagonists, and Lin weaves all those elements together masterfully.

 

Minli is a brave girl, with an open heart and a deep love for her family, and her journey to find the Old Man of the Moon is filled with daunting challenges and a whole host of interesting characters. I read the book straight through, start to finish, without ever once wanting to put it down.

 

Sometimes I enjoy a book, but it's pretty much gone from my head the day after I'm finished; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has lingered, and I'm glad that's the case. While it's aimed at kids from ages eight to twelve, I really recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of magic with their fiction, and it's a great choice for a read-aloud to younger children as well.

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