Bookshelf: 'Death Cloud,' 'Tiger's Curse'
Two recent series for young readers present Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective, Sherlock Holmes, as a teenager. "Death Cloud" by Andrew Lane (Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.99; ages 12 and older) and the sequels to come in "Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins" are pitched to the crowd that likes action movies but can see that the television series "Psych" is in the Sherlock Holmes family. Just look at the Justin Bieber haircut on the cute young Sherlock on the cover, and you'll know it's a very pop treatment. Sherlock begins as an ordinary boy with ordinary fears and abilities; his powers are presumably going to develop under the wing of a mysterious American tutor. The villain is theatrically over-the-top, and his ambition to bring down the entire British Empire (bwah-ha-ha!) lends the story a comic-book atmosphere.
"Eye of the Crow" by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books, $9.95 paperback; ages 12 and older) and its sequels (there are three more in this series, "The Boy Sherlock Holmes") are more brooding and brainy. Although "Eye of the Crow" begins with the young detective in full possession of his powers of observation and addresses more of the Sherlockian details true Baker Street Irregulars cherish, it also introduces a unique motivation for Holmes' later career: his outsider status as the son of a penniless Jewish father mercilessly rejected by British society and a well-born English mother disinherited for falling in love.
By publishing the beloved "Al Capone Does My Shirts" and "Al Capone Shines My Shoes," Gennifer Choldenko has earned the right to try her readers' patience. And "No Passengers Beyond This Point" (Dial Books, $16.99; ages 10 and older) does try the patience. Several times while reading this story of three siblings detoured on an airplane flight into an absurd world, I wanted to fling it aside, but I thought: "It's Gennifer Choldenko, I'm sure she knows what she's doing." It isn't until you've gotten through to the shocking ending that the nonsensical nature of everything in the town of Falling Bird makes sense. The idea behind "No Passengers" is too slender to carry a whole novel, but how many short stories for kids find an audience? Here's my advice: Skip ahead when the story bogs down - but stick with it, because the climax makes it all worthwhile.
"Tiger's Curse" by Colleen Houck (Splinter/Sterling Publishing, $17.95; ages 12 and older) is one part Rick Riordan, two parts "Twilight," using Indian mythology as a backdrop to romance. A teenage girl takes a job with a circus and develops a compelling attachment to a white tiger, who turns out, when returned to his native subcontinent, to be a prince living under a curse that only she can lift. Romance novels used to be called "bodice-rippers," but the bodice being ripped here is mostly the guy's. In future installments of the series, perhaps the author will trust that readers have grasped the attraction of the prince's fantastically muscled chest and move on - well, not to other body parts, since it's a pretty chaste affair, but to more about the history of the curse. Or the family history, since the prince's black-tiger brother promises (Jacob-like!) to provide complications.
The John Newbery Medal for distinguished contribution to American literature for children was awarded in January to "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte Press, $16.99; ages 9-12), an old-fashioned story for readers in love with storytelling. More compelling, however, was one of the Newbery finalists, "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, $15.99; ages 9-12), which also won the Coretta Scott King Award. It tells the story of three sisters sent for a month in 1965 to Oakland, Calif., to get to know the mother who abandoned them. The mother has styled herself a poet of the revolution and is living in a Black Panther community on the hard edge of the Civil Rights movement. Eleven-year-old Delphine is accustomed to acting as mother to her little sisters but burdened by the constant vigilance necessary to avoid being "a disgrace to the entire Negro race."
She is torn between loyalty to her hardworking father and her increasing understanding of her radical mother.
The Civil Rights movement continues to provide material for excellent novels because it continues to pose relevant questions. Shouldn't we, as a society, have figured out by now how to lift from our children's shoulders the burden of negotiating racial tensions?