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Fiction Reviews of 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Fiction Winner

smith_grasshopper jungleGrasshopper Jungle
by Andrew Smith
High School     Dutton     390 pp.
2/14     978-0-525-42603-5     $18.99

Unfortunate coincidences involving sixteen-year-old Austin and his best friend Robby lead to the unleashing of gigantic, ravenous praying mantises related to a diabolical scientist’s decades-old experiments. Austin’s love for and attraction to both his girlfriend and to Robby is the powerful emotional backbone of this intricate, grimly comedic apocalypse story, in which Smith proves himself a daring and original wordsmith. KATRINA HEDEEN


Honor Books

wein_rose under firestar2 Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein
High School     Hyperion     360 pp.
9/13     978-1-4231-8309-9     $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4231-9869-7     $17.99

Wein plunges into difficult territory in this engrossing companion novel to her
lavishly honored Code Name Verity (rev. 5/12). Rose Justice, eighteen-year-old American pilot, delivers personnel and planes for Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary. On her way home from liberated Paris in 1944, she’s  captured by Germans and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, where she’s beaten, starved, and forced to transport corpses of fellow prisoners. She’s also befriended by  the “Rabbits” — victims of Nazi doctors’ heinous medical experiments. Once again Wein has written a powerful, moving story of female friendship in World War II; her decision to tell the story as a combination of journal entries, letters, and survivor’s account softens but doesn’t compromise the  forthrightness with which she writes about Ravensbrück. “I did not make [it] up,” she writes in her afterword. “It really happened to 150,000 women.” Rose’s character — pilot, poet, former Girl Scout, survivor, and friend — becomes increasingly rich, deep, and nuanced, most compellingly in response to the French, Russian, and Polish women who befriend her. In plot and character this story is consistently involving, a great, page-turning read; just as impressive is how subtly Wein brings a respectful, critical intelligence to her subject. DEIRDRE F. BAKER

boxersstar2 Boxers & Saints

by Gene Luen Yang; illus. by the author; color by Lark Pien
Middle School, High School First Second/Roaring Brook 328 pp.
10/13 978-1-59643-359-5 $18.99

by Gene Luen Yang; illus. by the author; color by Lark Pien
Middle School, High School First Second/Roaring Brook 172 pp.
10/13 978-1-59643-689-3 $15.99
Boxed set 978-1-59643-924-5 $34.99

saintsYang’s latest graphic novels are a “diptych” of books set during China’s Boxer Rebellion of the early twentieth century. Boxers follows Little Bao, a village boy with an affinity for opera; Saints centers on Four-Girl, an unloved and unwanted child who perfects a revolting “devil-face” expression. They meet fleetingly as children, foreshadowing their respective roles in the conflict to come. Little Bao, with the help of an eccentric kung fu master, learns to harness the power of ancient gods, forming the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist in an attempt to rid China of the “foreign devils” who spread Christianity across the country. Four-Girl sits squarely on the other side of the rebellion. After repeat visits from Joan of Arc in mystic visions, Four-Girl comes to the conclusion that she, too, is destined to become a maiden warrior. She converts to Christianity, takes the name Vibiana, and strives to protect China against the Little Bao–led uprising. The inevitable showdown between the two characters leads to a surprising and bleak conclusion. While neither volume truly stands alone (making for a significant price tag for the whole story), Yang’s characteristic infusions of magical realism, bursts of humor, and distinctively drawn characters are present in both books, which together make for a compelling read. SAM BLOOM

The 2014 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on May 31st, 2014. Don’t miss the Horn Book’s reviews of the picture book and nonfiction winners.



  1. Could you please explain in greater detail why you praise so highly _Grasshopper Jungle_ and Andrew Smith’s writing? I read the novel in anticipation of a fresh approach to apocalyptic plots. The plot concept was the only part of the experience I found compelling. I thought the protagonist whiny and self-absorbed; I couldn’t have cared less if he were eaten by the mantids or not (truthfully, I was hoping he would be eaten). How many times did he comment on his BO and need to masturbate? Would he really be obsessing about his sexual orientation in the midst of an apocalypse? The dialogue was not comedic, clever OR engaging. Why did the characters always seem to respond with ‘uh’? The characters were fairly one-dimensional, and the plot backtracked and sidetracked into these historical, repetitive and largely irrelevant tangents so often I found myself skimming and the skipping sections of the novel. I was so bored, I prayed for the apocalypse to come.

  2. It seems too often that “different” or “unusual” gets the attention, and thus the prize.

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