"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

How does one write a review for one of the weirdest, most brilliant YA books ever written? I have hemmed and hawed over this question for weeks and finally give up.  I have no idea. I'll just write a little and call it good and hope that my efforts thrust you in the direction of Andrew Smith's books. OK?

A little about the author:
     Andrew Smith is a high school teacher in California. He writes in the morning before a full day of teaching. Even though he could give up teaching to pursue writing full-time, he loves the kids too much, so he continues on with his day job. Pretty cool, huh? I understand that other YA authors love to do book events with him because his students show up! I'd love to witness that.
     His book Winger, my first of his, is semi-autobiographical. Apparently Smith skipped a few grades and had lots of problems because of it.  He also had a very unhappy, or more correctly, an unsafe childhood with abusive parents. They did not encourage his dream to be a writer and he was often beaten. In Winger the main character is in a private school where he has skipped two grades so he is smaller and younger than all his classmates.
     Smith was discouraged by reviews of his early books which criticized his work. He resolved to forget about publishing and just write for himself. The product of that decision was Grasshopper Jungle, a highly awarded book published last year. Thankfully he didn't stick with his decision to no longer publish his works.

What people say about Smith and his book The Alex Crow: (Goodreads)

  • "Andrew Smith, I'd read your goddamned grocery lists if they were publicly available. LOVE."-Jules
  • "When people were defending Andrew Smith, one of the things most often said was that he writes books for teenage boys. I actually disagree. I think Andrew Smith writes books about teenage boys."-Shaun
  • "This. Was. So. Strange. Like??? How am I supposed to review this??? I THINK I liked it. In some parts. I mean, it was definitely genius."-Emily
  • "I think at this point it's safe to say that Andrew Smith may be my favorite living author. No other writer more accurately GETS the teen male voice so perfectly, with all of the frustrations and goofiness and masturbation jokes and swear words and whatnot. Not only that, but Mr. Smith seems to understand that being a teenage boy frequently sucks." -Stewart

What is the book about?
      This is a very hard question to answer. Let's see, first I should say there are five story-lines that all converge at the end of the book. It doesn't seem possible but it does happen and all the parts are drawn together.

  • A young orphan from a war-torn country, Ariel, is adopted and brought to America
  • In 1880 a ship is stuck in the Arctic ice and while they are trapped the men discover a new being/creature.
  • A bio-engineering program which has a goal to de-extinct animals
  • A camp for tech-addicted teens
  • A mad bomber who hears Joseph Stalin in his head and is "literally" melting.
    See what I mean? How can someone describe these things and even get close to doing them justice? And yes, the book is weird, very weird.

The best review I've read of this book and about Andrew Smith is linked here:
     Entertainment Weekly by Anthony Breznican. I liked Andrew Smith and his books before I read this review, now I love him.

My thoughts:
     Last year I wasn't courageous enough to add The Grasshopper Jungle onto our Mock Printz list even though I recognized its genius. This year I am not making the same error. Kids deserve to be introduced to a wide variety of YA genres and since this one clearly does not fit into any of those genres, they need to read it.  And so do you.  And, by the way, don't worry if you don't "get it" in the beginning.  It all comes together in the end. Andrew Smith has kept to his motto:
Keep YA Weird!

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