The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde.  Harcourt, 2011.

Because I enjoyed the author's Eyre Affair, I decided to try this teen fantasy, which is the second title in the Chronicles of Kazam series.

Magic is finally on the rise after a period of decline, and the two major houses are in a struggle to control it. One house, Kazam, is being managed temporarily by a gutsy teen Orphan, due to the enchanted absence of its real administrator. The other is nefariously engaged, with King Snodd's help, in rigging the competition so as to give control of all magic to the throne.

The plot is thin - but OK. The punniness is rampant, with character names like Youthful Perkins, Tiger Prawns, Half Price and Full Price, Boolean Smith, and Daredevil Nuttjob, and a setting called The Ununited Kingdom. The tension around the magic building contest isn't really tense, and the comedic mingling of the trappings of traditional magic (flying carpets, levitation, invisibility, turning to stone) with modern conventions like electricity, microwave ovens, cell phones, can be jarring at times. It would probably appeal to younger teens, both boys and girls, who get a charge out of puns, snarkiness, and wordplay.


http://www.saclibrarycatalog.org/record=b1606674~S51Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. Harcourt, 2002.

Elegantly set up and eloquently told, the life of an Indian teen changes catastrophically when the freigher moving him and his family and some zoo animals suddenly sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Having grown up as the son of a zookeeper in India, and having the freedom to explore the three major religions (Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam), he brings all this experience to bear while learning to survive in 40' lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orang-utan, and Mr. Parker, a tiger.

What I found fascinating is his application in the lifeboat of everything he had learned from his father as an animal keeper: the habits, the natures, of the animals in the boat, and the psychology required to remain the alpha male in charge of the menagerie. He made mistakes and learned from them. He faced illness and despair and surmounted them by calling on what he learned from his religious education as well as the responsibility learned as a keeper of animals.

The story is compelling and the zinger at the end made me want to go back and try to figure out what I missed!