Bayou by Jeremy Love
Lee is a young girl living in the American South in the 1930s. As a black girl, she has a lot of prejudice to deal with, and so does her father. One of the first major events of the book involves Lee being sent to retrieve a body from the bayou near her home. The body is that of a young black boy who was lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman, and it's Lee's job to get it because she's the only one small enough to reach into where it's caught. (This book is not for the very young.)
Lee has a white friend named Lily. One day, Lily is taken - eaten, really - by a creature that lives in the swamp, and Lee's father is blamed for it. He's arrested and taken away, and Lee knows he's soon to be lynched just like the other black boy was. In order to save him, Lee ventures into the swamp - a sort of horrifyingly magical alternate world - to rescue Lily. Along the way, she meets up with a benevolent giant called Bayou who helps her.
Bayou is one of those rare stories where I enjoyed the realistic aspects more than the fantastical aspects. Once Lee began her journey with Bayou, my interest waned. I think it became a little difficult to follow, and it doesn't help that this is the first installment and is therefore an incomplete story.
While the story lost me after a while, the art is incredible throughout. I admit that part of the reason I loved it so much is that it's heavy on the greens, which always makes my heart go pitter patter. The illustrations are detailed and expressive, but also somewhat soft (without being babyish or overly sweet, since this is certainly not a sweet story). Many of the landscapes look like something I'd like to have hanging in my house. I'm obviously not doing the art justice with my words, but you can take a look at some of the images and see what I mean.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
I loved Everybody Sees the Ants, so I was really looking forward to King's previous novel, which garnered a Printz honor and was a finalist for the Edgar. While I enjoyed it, it didn't live up to my expectations. In a nutshell: Vera's best friend, Charlie, has died in mysterious circumstances. Vera knows what happened - and all about the events leading up to it - but she's not sure she should share it with the police. Before Charlie died, he and Vera had a major falling out, and Vera's still trying to wrap her mind around her feelings for Charlie and how it should impact her actions.
Vera's dealing with a lot of other major issues aside from the death of her best friend - a mother who abandoned her, bullying, alcoholism, a loving but pushy father, etc etc. While her voice always seems authentically teen and Vera isn't really a wallower, there just wasn't enough humor to balance out the darkness of this novel for me. One thing I loved about Everybody Sees the Ants was the dry humor that permeated it - in particular Lucky's voice and the ants' antics (PUN). King tries it here with Vera's father's flow charts and some random sections narrated by the town pagoda, but it fell flat for me. I was also disappointed that this wasn't more of a mystery. I'm really surprised it was a finalist for the Edgar, since the circumstances of Charlie's death are known to the reader and there isn't really a mystery to it.
All those complaints makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, but I really did. I just had higher expectations.