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Book Reviews Review: Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant, Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Zenn Diagram

By Wendy Brant

Kids Can Press, 328 pages, $18.95

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Kids Can Press was one of the first Canadian kidlit publishers in 1973. Now it is launching a YA imprint and stepping out with a romance dusted with magical realism from debut author Wendy Brant. Eighteen-year-old Eva can't touch anything. Every time she touches a person or object, she gets hit with a "fractal," a sense-flooding vision of the person's inner (and often secret) life. Going through adolescence with a hands-off policy is tough, and it gets even tougher when Eva meets a hunky new guy named Zenn. What seems like a desperate play for a cutesy, character-name title actually sets up a compelling, surprising twist. This is an easy, breezy read, but Brant also captures Eva's all-consuming desire for touch, ranging from a platonic hand squeeze to sexual lust. Romance and magic overlap in perfect proportion.

Max

By Sarah Cohen-Scali, translated by Penny Hueston

Roaring Brook Press, 432 pages, $27.99

This may be the only book that opens from the first-person perspective of a Nazi fetus. It's 1936 in Germany, and Max is conceived as part of the Lebensborn program designed to propagate the Aryan race. Born a Nazi showpiece, Max is baptized by Hitler and eventually employed by SS officers to carry out horrific acts of kidnapping. The historical piece is fascinating, but the narrative voice makes this translation from the French a total showstopper. From birth, Max's inner monologue sounds like a smug, smart-ass, racist teenager – and that's what makes this a young-adult novel (although most definitely for the older end of the spectrum). It's graphic, disturbing, shocking, relentless and shows how scary innocence and ignorance can be in one little boy.

Defy the Stars

By Claudia Gray

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Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 512 pages, $23.49

Planet Earth makes a great villain. In Claudia Gray's new sci-fi saga, Earth has burned through most of its natural resources and has colonized the faraway planet of Genesis. Earth has also grabbed control of several less hospitable planets, inhabiting them with both humans and "mechs," robots possessing various degrees of artificial intelligence. Noemi, a Genesis soldier fighting Earth's destructive forces, ends up inadvertently rescuing Abel, the most advanced mech ever created. When she enlists his help to fight against Earth, a breathtaking, fully realized intergalactic quest for freedom begins; characters wrestle with questions about humanity, the substance of souls and faith. It's technical and space-y enough for hardcore sci-fi readers, but touching and human enough for those who almost lost their lunch watching Gravity.

Algonquin comic book creator and TV producer Jay Odjick responds to the idea that diversity in comic book storylines is to blame for falling sales. Odjick is the creator of Kagagi, a superhero comic book series and TV show
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