G’day folks and welcome to my YA Double-Dip. I’ve got two YA indie fiction titles for you today (obviously) – Bobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer and Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer. I received a digital copy of both books from the publisher (Bobby via Netgalley and Amanda via Hipso Media) in return for an honest review. So let’s get cracking!
One minute Bobby is shooting the miraculous winning basket at his school’s basketball match and the next he‘s being whisked away by a mysterious woman named Cassandra, with two large men in suits in hot pursuit. It seems Bobby has a hidden talent – an ability to manipulate the energy in himself and in the outside world, in order to do extraordinary things – but this is the first Bobby’s heard of it! Before he knows it, Bobby is stolen away from Cassandra by the suited men and taken to The Academy – a boarding school hidden high in the mountains of Tibet, run by monks and teachers with extraordinary abilities. Bobby tries to blend in and slowly makes a few good friends, but the snooty Ashley and her thuggish sidekicks immediately begin to make Bobby’s life difficult. And making friends with Ashley’s younger brother Jinx sure doesn’t helped that relationship.
As Bobby learns more about the Academy, he and his friends discover that there is something sinister going on that may reach all the way to the headmistress. But can Bobby stay out of trouble long enough to uncover the secret? Or will Ashley and her friends always be there to get in the way?
Dip into it for….
…a very original premise. I’ve not read anything much like this before in YA – the book has a real focus on power coming from the natural energy available within ourselves, as opposed to a paranormal type of talent. There’s a bit of focus on meditation and how to unlock the potential within and the monks in the book are a really interesting addition to the overall makeup of characters. Master Jong, one of Bobby’s teachers, turns out to be quite the (metaphorical) ass-kicking, supermonk by the end of the story and ended up being one of my favourite characters. The plot is also pretty complex, featuring a shady agency (the Academics) whose motives and intentions for the talented young people they educate isn’t exactly clear, and there are a lot of characters whose true loyalties are shrouded, making it difficult for Bobby (and the reader!) to know who to trust.
There is also a clear (but not cheesy) theme of the strength of friendship and the power inherent in knowing oneself that runs throughout the book, freshening the whole plot up a bit and helping it avoid descending into a teen version of a politico-psychological thriller.
Also, there’s a creepy bald kid with a malevolent ferret. You’ve got to admit, you don’t see that every day.
Don’t Dip if…
…you’re not into plots that take a while to unfold or plots that have a lot of twists and turns and red herrings thrown in. I also felt that a lot of the mean-girl type bullying from Ashley and her goons was a bit contrived, given the setting (would super-talented kids trained in mindfulness and meditation locked away in the Himalayas (some since birth) really bother with petty schoolyard antics to such a degree?). Some of the initial action which results in Bobby’s arrival at the Academy, and his responses afterward also didn’t ring true to me. I can’t really elaborate much, due to potential spoilers, but Bobby’s behaviour didn’t seem in character for someone who had been through a recent personal trauma.
Overall Dip Factor:
Take a risk on something different. Despite a few flaws, I was drawn in and despite feeling that I should put it down in a few places, I didn’t and was quite satisfied that I stuck with it because I ended up enjoying the adventure of the resolution. Plus, Jinx is a cool character. And of course there’s the malevolent ferret.
In Drawing Amanda we follow “Inky” Kahn as he struggles on entering high school after the recent death of his father in a plane crash. His mother has left him to his own devices and to manage his grief, Inky turns to his artistic abilities. Amanda is new to school following her family’s migration from Nairobi to New York, and is finding it more than difficult to fit in amongst the various groups at the international school. When Inky’s best friend Rungs gives him the link to a website developing a new video game, Inky thinks he might have a chance to show his art to a wider audience. Unbeknownst to Rungs and Inky, Amanda manages to copy the link and also logs in to the game-in-development, Megaland. When Inky starts submitting his drawings for the game, based on his classmate Amanda’s looks, things start to get complicated. And when Rungs delves a bit deeper into the makers behind Megaland, it becomes apparent that things are about to get very tricky indeed. Unless he can convince both Inky and Amanda of what he has discovered, both his friends may be exposed to more danger than either can handle on their own.
Dip into it for…
…a contemporary tale about fitting in, growing up and facing your demons. This was a nice change of pace from my usual fare because I don’t often read books in the YA category that don’t have some kind of paranormal or fantasy or psychological twist. This was a very straightforward plot and I enjoyed the simplicity of the story, while also appreciating the various trajectories of character development for the main four characters. The setting of an international school gave rise to a diverse range of characters and I loved how Feuer managed to seamlessly work cultural and religious backgrounds into the story without making it sound contrived. I even learned not to show the soles of my feet to a Buddhist if I wish to remain in their good karmic books!
Central to Inky’s character development is the idea of grief and bereavement, and the pressure that can be placed on the bereaved to “move on” and regain one’s former pace of life after a particular period of time has passed. It was interesting to see this played out with both a male and female character simultaneously in the book, as Inky’s ex-friend Hawk is also recovering from the death of a parent. The theme of creating one’s identity is also quite strong as Amanda attempts to find a new way of being in a context in which everyone else seems to have already cemented their place.
The underlying plot point about internet safety is played out with a fair amount of realism and Feuer manages to avoid preaching about it, instead demonstrating how easy it is for those who feel emotionally vulnerable to be taken advantage of by someone they think they know.
Don’t Dip if…
…you’re looking for anything particularly fast-paced or with a focus on action or romance. It aint’ here.
There is however a fair chunk towards the end of the book that deviates from the main story arc and focuses on the main characters’ major assignment for the year. While this section was interesting in itself, I felt it popped up at a weird place in the story because Rung’s investigation into the Megaland maker had just become exciting and this deviation slowed the pace a little bit. This wasn’t reason enough to abandon the book by any means, but you might want to watch out for a few asides now and then.
Overall Dip Factor:
This will appeal greatly to kids in the younger YA age group, say 12 to 15 years, because it features very relatable characters and deals with the issues that many kids face when trying to stake out an identity in a crowded social arena. Also, the story is simple and relevant to anyone who uses the internet for social activities – so I suspect this story will appeal to parents and teachers of readers in this age bracket as well. In fact, it would probably make a great launching point for discussion in lower secondary classrooms about mindful internet usage amongst young people.
Until next time,