Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Classic Connections: Will in Scarlett, Man Made Boy and Far Far Away

Many young adult authors are incorporating elements of classic stories in a modern tale, which provides the opportunity for teachers to pair these novels with the classics they reflect. By having students read and compare the classic and the related modern novel, we can expose kids to plots that form the backbone of literature and help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine.  This month I am recommending three new "classic connections." Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron tells the tale of Boy, the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride.  Will in Scarlet by Mathew Cody reimagines the Robin Hood story, and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is narrated by Jacob Grimm, who is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death.

In a reimagining of Shelley's Frankenstein, Jon Skovron's Man Made Boy introduces Boy who performs in his parents'  Broadway revue of fantastical monsters, including Medusa, singing trolls, and sirens.  The audience thinks these characters are real people in makeup. Little do they know Boy's hideous appearance is due to his parentage; he is the son of the Frankenstein monster and his bride. When Boy, a computer hacker in his free time, creates a sentient computer virus that he unleashes on humanity, he must go out into the real world to undo the damage he has done. He embarks on a road trip to L.A., where he takes refuge in a community of magical creatures who work in TV special effects. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this action-packed supernatural mash-up, that has an underlying message about self acceptance and the value of family.

Will in Scarlet, an homage to the Robin Hood legend, introduces Will, whose father Lord Shackley is away on the Crusades with King Richard. Will finds himself fleeing the family manor when he wounds the manservant of Sir Guy, one of Prince John’s men. He ends up in Sherwood Forest where he is taken in by a gang of bandits known as the Merry Men.  He is befriended by Much, an orphan girl disguised as a boy, who has also taken refuge with the group. Determined to get revenge against Sir Guy, who has taken over his family's manor, Will schemes to get the Merry Men to aid him with his quest. Although Will's story is gradually woven into the Robin Hood legend, each of the characters feels like a new individual, some who resemble legendary figures more than others. 

In Far Far Away the narrator, Jacob Grimm, is stuck in a plane of existence between life and death and is the constant companion of Jeremy Johnson, a teenager who is the only one who can hear him. Jeremy’s abilities make him an oddity, and his only real friend is Ginger Boultinghouse, who seems to gravitate toward trouble. Grimm tries keep Jeremy on the straight and narrow, so he can get a scholarship and escape from the town of Never Better, but Ginger’s allure is hard for Jeremy to resist.  When Jeremy and Ginger are abducted and held in a dungeon by the town baker, he must find a way to get word to his father, before they become ingredients in the baker's next batch of Prince Cake. Details about the Brothers Grimm, as well as the tales they told, make this more than a run-of-the-mill fantasy. It is a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award.