Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Carr “The Raptor” Luka is a young and rising star in the violent sport of “zeroboxing,” a zero gravity form of cage fighting popular on Earth, Luna, and Mars. Luka is everything a marketer could want. Blessed with good looks, character, personality, a rags-to-riches life story, incredible talent and a drive to succeed and put in the work to do it, the league sees in him their opportunity to grow the sport. Enter Risha, a Mars-born “brandhelm” charged with making Luka the face of zeroboxing. Herself young and ambitious, she is successful in promoting Luka. More than that, the two fall in love.

 

Fonda Lee’s debut novel, Zeroboxer, chronicles the rise of the biggest sports star Earth has had in a long time, fighter possibly good enough to go up against the fearsome Martians, those genetically enhanced descendants of humans who were bigger, stronger, and faster than their counterparts from the third planet.

 

But during his rise, Luka becomes aware of a criminal conspiracy, one that puts him in possession of a secret that could destroy him and his family. If he keeps that secret, it could destroy everything and everyone he loves. But if he reveals the secret, it almost certainly would do the same thing.

 

Sometimes in sports you discover that you cannot win. You can always, though, refuse to quit. In that way, sports becomes a compelling metaphor for life.

 

Fonda Lee creates amazing characters. Luka and Risha feel like real people. Their motivations and their actions make sense. Luka loves his mother, loves his coach, and loves Risha. Risha also loves Luka. Luka fears losing, whether that is in the ring or in his life. Sometimes that fear clouds his judgment. Even when his decisions are questionable, though, his core remains firm.

 

Some of Lee’s best writing comes in her fight scenes. I will confess to not being a big fan of sports like boxing, wrestling, martial arts, UFC, etc. Lee’s descriptions, though, of a sport that does not actually exist, made it sound like she was in the cage with the fighters. Sweat, blood, pain, the feelings of victory and defeat. If zeroboxing ever becomes a real sport, I suspect that its chroniclers will use this novel as a reference tool.

 

I am not sure why this book is classified as YA. I suppose it is because the protagonist is a teen. The themes of the book are mature, though, and Lee certainly doesn’t pull any punches in her descriptions of violence, sex, or other adult themes. I wouldn’t say it is inappropriate for teens, but I wonder whether some audiences might pass on it thinking it is for kids. It is actually a great book that certainly appealed to this middle-aged reader.

 

Fonda Lee is a gifted writer who is just beginning to make her mark. Zeroboxer, like her more recent book Jade City, features gifted writing and memorable characters. I look forward to whatever she chooses to write next.

Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Fantasy: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

 

“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people.”

 

That may be one of the best lines I’ll ever read introducing a character. Sunny is many things. An American girl growing up in Nigeria, the daughter of two Igbo parents. An albino. And as she discovers early in the book, a Leopard Person–also known as a witch. Akata Witch is Sunny’s story, how she learned she had magical abilities, how she was embraced by a world she never knew existed, and how she found her place in that world with the help of some friends.

 

I am reminded of the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” when the Doctor tries to explain that they have entered a place that is not in their universe but it is like a soap bubble on the edge of a larger bubble except it is nothing like that but if it helps you to think of it like that then it is exactly like that.

 

My fear in writing my introduction is that it may sound like Akata Witch is similar to another series of books about a young magic worker who did not know about his abilities and was embraced by a world he never knew about and how he found his place in that world with the help of some friends. I suppose if HP were an albino American-Igbo girl who continued to attend school with ordinary students then it would be exactly like that…which is to say that it is extremely unfair to compare the two and I really don’t want to do that. Nnedi Okorafor has made some magic with Akata Witch, and it stands on its own quite well. She has won the Locus, Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for her fiction, and the sequel to this novel won this year’s award for Best Young Adult Book which was presented at the Hugo ceremony.

 

Akata Witch could not have been written by someone unfamiliar with Nigeria. Whether the descriptions are of the feel of the air on skin, the sound of insects, the taste of the food, the smell of dust and smoke, Okorafor engages all of the reader’s senses in her book. Sunny’s albino skin is described by her school bullies as being the color of sour milk. The book simply delights on multiple levels.

 

Okorafor is one of the leading voices of Africanfuturism, a growing genre of stories that features African voices telling African stories set in the future. This genre is long overdue. Africa gave birth to us all, and now is giving birth to some exciting literature that demands attention. Okorafor has a voice that is both African and American, born in Cincinnati and teaching in Chicago, but spending a lot of time in Nigeria as well. The blend of cultures, mixed with her intelligence and experience and scholarship, helps her create unique books which put extraordinary characters into extravagantly described worlds.

 

Akata Witch features a young woman finding herself. African and American, “black” and albino, magical but living in an ordinary home and attending an ordinary school, Sunny Nwazue is a special protagonist. I loved this book, and I am excited to read the sequel.

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Fantasy: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Zelie’s mother was killed because she had magic. Many people were killed during The Raid, when magic disappeared from the world and those who once had used it were targeted by the king. Since that fateful night all those years ago, the magic was gone. Zelie had the white hair that indicated magical potential, but no magic could be found in the world. Then, a princess touches her with a mysterious scroll, and Zelie begins to find the power in herself that her mother once employed. The magic may be gone from Zelie’s world, but that is only because Tomi Adeyemi has put it into her amazing novel Children of Blood and Bone and has thus brought it into ours.

 

It’s easy sometimes to reduce stories to tropes. Hero’s journey? Check. Love story? Check. Misunderstood princess? Check. Young and untrained people discovering how to use magic? Check. And, sure, fine, those familiar themes are present in this novel. What sets a novel apart, though, is when it makes familiar ground new and exciting and different.

 

Here again, the easy and cheap thing to do is grab the obvious differences: Africa, not Europe or America. But this book is not different only because it is set in a part of the world that is underrepresented in published fantasy literature. This book is different because it is really, really good. The world building is amazing. The characters are real and flawed and heroic and common and everything you want in a character. Some of the scenes take your breath away. There is magic in this book, and it is not from the spells or the mystical powers or the artifacts. The magic is in the writing and the creativity and the depth of the story. The bookChildren of Blood and Bone may hide on the YA shelves of your local library, but it is a very mature story that should appeal to all ages. I could not put it down.

 

Two of the three main characters are female, but this is not a “girl’s” book (or a “boy’s” book–if there are such things). This is a good book. Will girls and women be thrilled to see the heroics come from a “her”? I hope so, but boys (and men) will also love to see the strength of these characters. As a reader, I also loved watching the growth and change in the characters through the course of the book. None of the three main characters is perfect, all are flawed, and all of them are different by the end than they were in the beginning. And although the next novel is perfectly set up, I have no idea what direction the characters will take in the next part of the story. I just know I am very eager to find out.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Booklist about Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist about Books for Shared Reading with Children

 

Books were an everyday part of my boys’ life from the time that they were very little. Instead of wanting to sleep with a plush toy, they all opted to sleep with their current favorite book at night. And of course, they all tried the flashlight under the covers to read past bedtime trick. When Son #2 was in elementary school, he was devastated to learn that books were for the serious purpose of homework and learning because until he reached 3rd grade, he thought that books were only for fun like toys. Harsh reality of life for the poor little guy in 3rd grade. To encourage a love of books and reading try a few of these books about books, where books and stories are central to the overall plot.

 

Before Shared Reading

Review and label the parts of a book including the little noticed sections like the gutter, end pages, and dedications.  Books also include information about their publishing including the country where the book was actually printed and the fonts or type used for the lettering. If you have a library book edition, you may notice that the brightness of the inks maybe vary depending on the age of the book – recently published books tend to have more vibrant colors while older books have more muted colors due to advances in printing. Exam some of these usually overlooked details to find out something new about the book and how it was made.

 

During Shared Reading

Periodically talk about the importance of stories or books and the role it plays in the overall plot. Also, ask your child how they would feel, if they were in the main character’s place. Would they feel the same way about stories and books?

 

After Shared Reading

Look at the back of the book and see if there are any author notes. Some authors write letters to their readers to help the reader connect and understand the book better or the writer’s thought process. Sometimes there are also questions in the back of the book that can be used to encourage discussion on the book.

Make a point to ask your child to share a simple story with the family — about their day, favorite events, challenges they faced. Share a story yourself. All books start out as a story in the imagination of the author before it is written down — your child can be a storyteller or writer as well.

 

Books about Books for Shared Reading with Children

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How This Book Was Made

Words by Mac Barnett

Pictures by Adam Rex

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Go behind the scenes or rather inside the scene, to see how this book was made — with a big dose of humor in the form of a tiger and pirate. Also see other “meta-books” with a sense of humor: My Worst Book Ever, words by Allan Ahlberg and pictures by Bruce Ingman; Once Upon a Zzz, words and pictures by Maddie Frost; Whose Story is this Anyway? words by Mike Flaherty and pictures by Oriol Vidal; as well as, Help We Need a Title, words and pictures by Herve Tollet.

 

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This Book Just Ate My Dog!

Words and Pictures by Richard Byrne

Picture Book, Part of a Trilogy Ages 4 – 8

Bells dog disappears into the gutter of the book, the fold in the middle of the book when it is spread apart. Follow her adventure to rescue her dog as well as those who try to help her. Also see by the same author, This book is Out of Control! and We’re in the Wrong Book! For another carnivorous book tale see — Open Carefully: A Book with Bite, words by Nick Bromley and pictures by Nicola O’Bryne. Also enjoy the classic although not carnivorous, from Sesame Street, The Monster at the End of this Book.

 

 

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I am a Story

Words and Pictures by Dan Yaccarino

Picture Book Concept Ages 4 – 8

Reminds readers about the power of storytelling to bring people together — past, present, future — no matter what format or shape the story takes.

 

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A Child of Books

Words by Oliver Jeffers

Pictures by Sam Winston

Picture Book Ages 5 – 12

The guide, A Child of Books, takes a young boy and the reader through a  delightful adventure of the wonder of words, storytelling, and books. Includes snippets from classic children’s literature. Will be an encouragement to new readers and an inspiration to capable readers.

 

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How Rocket Learned to Read

Words and Pictures by Tad Hill

Picture Book Ages 3 – 7

Parents’ Choice Silver Honor

A little yellow bird teaches Rocket the puppy how to read. Also see by the same author, Rocket Writes a Story and Rocket’s Mighty Words. Great choice for new readers and those just starting to learn.

 

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Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books

Words by Kay Winters

Pictures by Nancy Carpenter

Picture Books Memoir Ages 5 – 9

Shares the story of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood love of books and how reading helped him grow into the man who became the 16th President of the United States. See also Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora.

 

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How to Read a Story

Words by Kate Messner

Pictures by Mark Siegel

Picture Books Concept Ages 5 – 8

Reminds readers of the perfect process for reading a story.

 

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A Squiggly Story

Words by Andrew Larsen

Pictures by Mike Lowery

Picture Books Ages 4 – 8

Reminds readers, that they too can be writers and authors and it all starts with one letter.

 

0142410373

Matilda

Roald Dahl

Chapter Book Ages 8 – 12

Matilda loves books. She also has a secret superpower that she uses to save herself from the dreaded head of the school. Also enjoy the 1996 PG movie adaptation of Matilda which was a family favorite through the elementary and yearly middle school years, for more on the movie see https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/matilda 

 

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The Librarian

Eric Hobbs

Chapter Book, Part 1 of a Series, Ages 8 – 12

A fantasy adventure, where the characters from classic children’s literature come alive in Astoria’s library.

 

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The Story Thieves

James Riley

Chapter Book Part 1 or a Series Ages 8 – 12

Owen teams up with classmate, Bethany, who is really a fictional character, to rescue her father by jumping into his favorite book for an amazing fantasy adventure.

 

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The Book Thief

Marus Zusak

Young Adult Fiction Ages 12 and Up

In 1939 in Nazi Germany, Liesel steals books to read to her foster family and the Jewish man seeking refuge in their basement. Also see the 2014 PG-13 movie adaptation for a review see https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-book-thief; for more on the Holocaust read The Diary of Anne Frank.

If you like this booklist, then see our

Booklist: Books about Libraries for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: The Invisible Library Series, Genevieve Cogman

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