Teen Book Reviews – May

Junior Teens: (ages 11-14)

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

By Gerald Morris

Medieval Fiction (Arthurian)

Dinadan, the youngest son of an erratic and drunken British baron, is expected to follow in the footsteps of his famous older brother, Sir Tristram. But all Dinadan wants is to become a traveling bard; he would rather compose songs about Sir Tristram’s rumored great feats of chivalry than replicate them himself. When, in a fit of drunken rage, his father knights him, Dinadan leaves his home and goes out in search of a quest (and, of course, a story worthy of a great ballad). He does come across a damsel in distress, but it is his bumbling discovery of a treacherous plot (and his songs regarding the following events) that earns him respect when he arrives at King Arthur’s court in Camelot. Over the following years Dinadan has many adventures and meets many interesting people, including King Arthur’s brother Sir Kai, a Moorish soldier searching for the true meaning of knighthood, a clever lady hiding from an unknown mistress, a magical helper in the forest, and even his own brother, Sir Tristram, who is living deep in the throes of a concerning, but absurdly amusing love story. While continually gathering material for legendary ballads, Dinadan comes to see the world in a new light, losing his delusions about foolish quests and fake chivalry, but gaining an even greater appreciation for honesty and trust, finally understanding the true meaning of nobility and love. Dinadan is an extremely likable protagonist, possessing both a steady down-to-earth attitude and a thoughtful, wide-eyed delight; able to recognize and laugh at the ridiculousness of life while still having compassion on those for whom it proves burdensome. Full of light, witty humour, entertaining characters, and surprisingly poignant truths, this is a delightful story set in the golden age of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

Senior Teens: (ages 15-19)

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater

Modern Fantasy

On the island of Thisby, November is the month of the Scorpio races: the month where the deadly water horses are captured from the sea, the month where racers gamble their lives and tourists flock to watch, the month that both Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly risk everything. Told from their two perspectives in alternating chapters, this story presents a fascinating blend of magical fantasy and modern living, with the mythical water horses ceaselessly drawn to the island, and the magic of the races thrumming in the blood of the island folk from the dawn of time. Puck (Kate) Connolly has never ridden a water horse before, but when her older brother Gabe decides to leave for the mainland, Puck declares in a fit of defiance that she will ride in the Scorpio Races. The Connolly kids are orphans, and Puck is desperate to keep her little family together, at least for one month longer, even if it means jeopardizing everything she loves (including the house and her horse Dove, not to mention her life). But despite her savage courage, her sharp tongue, and the support from her younger brother Finn, finding a water horse and being accepted as a racer is harder than anticipated; she is, after all, the first woman to ever compete in the Scorpio races, despite it being the 21st century. Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick, on the other hand, has no trouble being acknowledged as a racer, having won the Scorpio Races four times already. An orphan himself, he works for Malvern at the largest stables on the island, his steady quietness and keen perception making him invaluable. Even though Sean is known everywhere as the Scorpio champion and as one of the best horsemen on the island, no one really knows him; he speaks little keeps his emotions buried deep, his only loves being the sea and Corr, Malvern’s blood-red stallion and the fastest water horse in captivity. The races for Sean this year are different though, and not just because of the ginger-haired girl with the fierce frown and breathtaking bravery. Sean has made a deal with Malvern: if he wins once again, he can buy Corr. But the desire to win becomes more complex for both Puck and Sean as Sean comes to know Puck’s family and Puck falls in love with Corr; they cannot both win, after all. This story is beautifully written; Sean and Puck’s voices are contrasting and distinct, the first-person perspective providing direct access to the thoughts of two of the most fascinating characters I have ever read. While being one of my favourite novels due to the complex character development, breathtaking prose, and engrossing world-building, this story is darker: the main characters have to deal with loss, abandonment, various family issues, and cruelty (Puck is discriminated against for being the first girl to ride; Sean is treated cruelly by Malvern’s jealous son). The book also contains descriptions of violence, blood, and some gore (the water-horses are savage and carnivorous; some do not differentiate between human and animal, especially when scared or angry). In many ways though, the darker elements make the story all the more powerful and add to its raw energy; these terrifyingly dangerous races provide a vivid background for the deeper and more meaningful story of Sean and Puck and what they learn of courage, sacrifice, and the importance of family.