Kate’s Review: “Dragon Hoops”

44280830Book: “Dragon Hoops” by Gene Luen Yang

Publishing Info: First Second, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In his latest graphic novel, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well. 

Review: Though I’m not really a huge sports fan in general, if you asked me what my least favorite ‘mainstream’ sport to watch was, I’d undoubtedly say basketball. I can’t even tell you why that is, but I’ve never enjoyed it, even when I was playing on the basketball team in sixth grade. But given that Gene Luen Yang is one of my favorite comics writers, I knew that I was going to read his newest book “Dragon Hoops”, even if it was about basketball. Looking into it more, I realized that this wasn’t going to be a book that was just about basketball. And because of that, I was immediately hooked on this story that’s part memoir, part history, and part inspirational sports story.

We follow Yang as he’s following his school’s basketball team in it’s journey to hopefully win State, and he finds a lot of layers and depth and heart to put on display. While he could have had a structure that was purely factual, or perhaps a story that profiles just one player, or even a story that focuses on a coach’s deferred dreams that are possibly going to come true, he manages to take aspects of all these things and balance them into a combination. We get profiles of the various members of the team, from the players themselves and their varied backgrounds, to Coach Lou and his own personal connection as a former player, to Yang himself as he is thinking about his own dreams. I really enjoyed getting the context of the various team members, but I thought that Yang putting his own story in there was a nice touch, as it shows that even those who don’t have a specific sports connection can find commonality with these inspirational, and sometimes difficult, sports stories that we hear about ever so often. He uses devices and symbolism that repeats throughout the story, and it almost always landed. Yang has always been really good at showing the deeper meaning of what he’s trying to say without outright saying it, and it comes through in this non fiction story just as well as it does in his fictional stories. I also really enjoyed Yang’s way of toying with the fourth wall, as he would have have himself in comic form acknowledge things that were being done for story telling purposes, as well as toying with the other characters perceptions of things that were going on or had gone on. While the action of the basketball games still kind of lagged on the page for me, I do acknowledge that Yang really captured the action and the tension of the moments as the Dragons are trying to get to State.

But ironically enough, it was the introductions to each section which focused on different parts of the history of basketball that clicked with me the most. Yang would give us a pretty easy to follow but comprehensive moment of history of the game, and that moment would then provide context or connect with the focus on that chapter, which was usually another member of the team or support system. I’m a history buff to be sure, and the way that Yang grounded his story within the context of this history was really well done. Plus, it all connects to the fact that Coach Lou, after his dreams of basketball success ended prematurely, decided to focus his education on history because he knows that history can inform us in the present. LOVED that, and it’s exactly the kind of theme I would expect from Yang.

And, of course, I love Yang’s style of artwork. It’s definitely a bit cartoony, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant or emotional when it needs to be. There were multiple moments where the emotions being portrayed were so well done both in writing and in imagery that I was moved to tears. Yang’s style is unique and well known at this point, but it always works.

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“Dragon Hoops” is another triumph for Gene Luen Yang! And if you’re hesitant to read it because of the basketball thing, take it from me. It’s absolutely worth it.

Rating 8: A charming graphic novel about basketball dreams, and dreams of doing something great, “Dragon Hoops” is a personal and emotional story from one of my favorite comics writers.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Dragon Hoops” is included on the Goodreads lists “Project LIT”, and “Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Book List”.

Find “Dragon Hoops” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Broken Wish”

Book: “Broken Wish” by Julie C. Dao

Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, October 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: 1865
Hanau, Germany

Sixteen-year-old Elva has a secret. She has visions and strange powers that she will do anything to hide. She knows the warnings about what happens to witches in their small village of Hanau. She’s heard the terrible things people say about the Witch of the North Woods, and the malicious hunts that follow. But when Elva accidentally witnesses a devastating vision of the future, she decides she has to do everything she can to prevent it. Tapping into her powers for the first time, Elva discovers a magical mirror and its owner—none other than the Witch of the North Woods herself. As Elva learns more about her burgeoning magic, and the lines between hero and villain start to blur, she must find a way to right past wrongs before it’s too late.

Review: I’ve only read one other book by Dao, but it was one I definitely liked. She had a steady, beautiful way of writing that really captured the feeling or essence of a place and time. This is just the story of writing technique that is required for writing good fairytales, in my opinion. So, like always, I was excited to see a new fairytale book make its way onto the publication lists and even more intrigued when I saw that Dao was the author.

The 1800s in Germany is a time and place where women have very few options. But for Elva, it’s not only the typical things that are off-limits, but a part of her very identity: her magical abilities. Growing up, her family has instilled in her the importance of always, always keeping her abilities a secret. The dangers of being thought of as a witch are very real. But when Elva discovers a real witch and sees a glimpse into a terrible future, she realizes that she can’t hide from who she is and what she can do forever.

I feel like the book description is a bit off, as Elva herself doesn’t show up for about a third of the story. Instead, we follow the developing friendship of Elva’s mother with a local witch. The fall-out of this relationship is what puts Elva’s feet on the path of this story. Part of my struggle with this book was how much I really loved this first third, unfortunately. I really liked the beautiful friendship that was built up between Elva’s mother and the witch and then the inevitable moment where things go wrong. It had all the right markers of a fairytale while also focusing on the type of relationship (friendships between adult women) that is rarely seen in just these sorts of stories.

I did like Elva’s story well enough when she did show up. But the story took a more dramatic turn in YA stereotypes at this point, too. There were elements that seemed all too familiar, and I wasn’t super into the romance that we got either. I did like the magic and Elva’s struggles between obeying her parents and recognizing the obligations that come with the power she has. Not only the typical obligations that you usually hear about, but ones that have to do with righting past wrongs, which I thought was an interesting new take on the general concept.

The concept of this series is also interesting. Here, we have Elva’s story and the development of the curse that follows her family (for every two good things that happen, a very bad one follows). The next three (I think three?) books will jump generations and tell new stories focusing on different characters. They will also be written by different authors. This could either be really cool, or it could lead to the series feeling very disjoined and mismatched. Dao’s style of writing worked perfectly for the type of dark fairytale she’s trying to tell here. Will the next books also read like fairytales? Or will they have different tones? And will the other authors being able to capture these tones correctly?

For all the good things (the strength of Dao’s writing and the first third), I did struggle with this book once we got to Elva and the more typical YA fare. But I am curious to see where new authors will take the story in the future and how much they will verge away from or remain true to the story that was started here. Fans of fairytales or Dao’s previous books will likely enjoy this!

Rating 7: An interesting start to an interesting new series, though a bit too reliant on some YA tropes near the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Broken Wish” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on Oct 2020 – Middle Grade/YA – New Releases.

Find “Broken Wish” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Cousins”

Book: “The Cousins” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I don’t know what we did to deserve it, but the book world gave us two YA thrillers by Karen M. McManus this year. Maybe it was to try to balance the scales of this year just a little bit? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to deny that McManus is a hot commodity in YA thriller publishing, and “The Cousins” is her newest foray into the genre. Had this book come out a little later, it certainly would have been on my list in our upcoming Highlights Post. It wasn’t easy letting it sit on my Kindle as long as I did, but once I dove in I found myself pretty well ensnared.

Like a couple of McManus’s other stories, “The Cousins” involves a group of teenagers who are thrown together under strange circumstances, even though they are not alike in any way, shape, of form. Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah are cousins who never spent time together as kids, as their parents are generally estranged from each other and completely estranged from their grandmother Millicent. We get the perspectives of each cousin, who all have their own secrets, insecurities, and reasons that they want to get back in their grandmother’s good graces. Milly is desperate to know more about her family, if only because her mother has been so cold to her over the years that she wants to know what made her that way. Aubrey wants to please her father, as his indifference towards her that borders into disdain is a constant hurt that has only amplified as of late because of his escalating callousness. And Jonah, well, Jonah is a bit of a mystery. He wants to meet his grandmother, but he has ulterior motives that aren’t as clear as Milly’s and Aubrey’s. Each of these characters had a distinct voice and read like teens coming from the backgrounds that they do, and their authentic personalities were easy to latch on to, even as their various flaws and, in some cases, lies come to light. I wouldn’t say that any of them were super outside of the box from what I’ve come to expect from McManus, but that’s more than okay because I liked all of them. While I expected myself to like Milly the best (who doesn’t love a sarcastic and somewhat privileged protagonist?), it was Jonah whose voice stood out the most. His frustration, resentment, and ultimate softening towards Milly and Aubrey was a nice journey, and he does get a well set up and believable romance to boot. He was just so easy to care for, and I wasn’t expecting that at first. McManus really has a knack for writing characterizations that really click.

The mystery itself, and the sub mysteries within, were also fairly strong, though once again my jaded self was able to figure out a couple a few steps before I probably was supposed to. I wasn’t as interested in the answer as to why Millicent cut her children out, because as far as I was concerned they probably DID deserve it. But as things became to be not as they seemed my expectations shifted a bit, and I was more interested. Again, sometimes the clues to the various mysteries and secrets sprinkled throughout the story were a little obvious and therefore the solutions predictable. But the pace was fast and I was going through quick enough that I didn’t find myself hindered by my abilities to guess what was coming up. I think that there are still a good amount of surprises here that are, indeed, well set up but well shrouded as well. So even if you do find yourself predicting some things, I can almost be positive that you won’t get them all.

“The Cousins” is fun and quick, and should be on the lists of anyone who likes YA thrillers. Karen M. McManus has a lot of talent and I am very excited to see what she comes up with next!

Rating 8: Another fun mystery thriller from Karen M. McManus!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cousins” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best YA Mystery/Spy books”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

Find “The Cousins” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!