Firestorm Caretaker Trilogy David KlassJack Danielson has lived an ordinary life – pointedly so, in fact; his father reins him in every time he risks getting grades too good, winning sports too much, or otherwise calling attention to himself. When he ignores his father’s well-meant advice and breaks a league record in football, he’s suddenly on the run, with a telepathic dog for company. A few mysterious and dangerous women pop in from time to time, plus some monsters and visions, as Jack slowly learns that he has to save the Earth from humans before we completely destroy the environment.

It begins: “Halloween week in Hadley-by-Hudson. Senior year of high school. Nine in the evening. Had enough sentence fragments? My English teacher said they are a weakness of mine.”¹

I’ve got to agree with his English teacher: they are annoying. As is his habit of saying “Look that one up in the dictionary, my friend”² every time he uses a word of four syllables of more. He clearly thinks this highlights his vocabulary and extensive SAT prep; really, it would be more impressive if he wasn’t saying, basically, “I learned this word special!” Plus, it makes him come off as a pompous asshole. Which is pretty accurate, but did create some extra distance between me and the book. I cared about Jack’s mission; I neither liked nor cared about Jack.

Obnoxious narrator aside, it’s a pretty good book. A lot happens, but everything gets enough time. Similarly, it’s the first in a planned trilogy; the ending leaves no doubt that there’s more to come, but it isn’t a jarring stop. The environmentalism is dealt with well; it shows the damage we’re doing to the Earth, rather than preaching. It also recognizes that most people are not willfully contributing to the damage, but do accept the status quo without asking difficult questions. Personally, between Firestorm and Mark Bittman’s recent article on finding fish one can buy ethically,³ I’m rather glad to be vegetarian. Makes life simpler.

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¹p. 3
²p. 4; variations abound throughout the text.
³conveniently published the day after I finished Firestorm. Clearly, the universe really wants me to get this point.

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Firestorm ~ David Klass (Wikipedia)

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Cabinet of WondersPetras father, Mikal Kronos, has been blinded. A magically gifted metalworker, he was summoned to Prague to build the Bohemian ruler a clock – a beautiful clock to impress the populace and control the weather. When all that was left was the mechanism to control the weather, the Prince ordered Mikal’s eyes gouged out and magically preserved, able to be worn by the Prince himself; because the Prince wanted to finish the clock himself, because he wanted to see the world as Mikal does, because he doesn’t want Mikal to make anything that beautiful for anyone else. So, naturally, Petra must go off to Prague to retrieve her father’s eyes. Of course, she promptly has her pocket picked by a Gypsy, who, of course, is a noble thief and, of course, promptly befriends her and helps her in her task. Because we’ve totally never seen that before.

It’s a straightforward, well-written story with moments of fantastic imagination – the tin animals Petra’s farther creates, the Worry Vials her best friend’s father creates (like worry dolls, only they actually absorb your worries), a peculiar skin condition, and other cleverness – but while the main characters have distinct, fleshed-out personalities, their motivations are not fleshed-out and the supporting characters have little in the way of either. Making John Dee rather bland and predictable is a bit of an achievement; unfortunately, it’s not an achievement to celebrate. Still, the thread of inventiveness woven through the book is much appreciated.

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The Cabinet of Wonders ~

Miriam Newman YA Lit Young Adult Literature Transgender

Matthew’s American cousin, Sam, has come to live with Matthew and his parents in London. He’s unruly and obnoxious, glorifies violence and gets Matthew and his friends into fairly big trouble. They, naturally, want nothing more to do with Sam; but with his mother recently dead and his father – to the best of his knowledge – still in jail, Sam really doesn’t want to be alone in his new school in a new country. The solution? Sam will prove his loyalty to Matthew and his friends. How? by passing himself off as a girl for the first week of school.

Oh yes, boys, this is a great solution. Nothing could possibly go wrong!

Man, teenagers are dumb. But at least they’re dumb in interesting ways.

Boy2Girl resists coming to neat, easy conclusions about gender roles, which I appreciate. As Sam’s living in a genderqueer space, Sam becomes less standoffish and more open, but maintains a fierce determination and still refuses to take shit from anyone – not the schoolyard bully nor the schoolyard hunk. Even as Sam is softening, the girls Sam befriends become somewhat more aggressive and loosen up a bit. Basically, Sam pulls everyone nearby a little further from the stereotyped gender roles and a little closer to the center. (And what’s between Mars and Venus? Earth! (and an asteroid belt.)) It’s idealized and the deus ex puberty is rather over the top – actually, the last third of the book is rather over the top – but it’s refreshing to read something that’s light and fluffy but doesn’t take gender entirely for granted.