Brian and I have never met, although we’ve exchanged emails a couple times. Still, we share a profession, that of librarianship. He’s a school librarian, I’m in the public sector. It’s clear from reading his blogging that he cares a great deal about helping kids ‘get’ it when it comes to information literacy and lighting the love of reading fire under them. We both have a sense of humor: Witness the about section from his website (Brian Katcher was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1975. He attended the University of Missouri, Columbia, before dropping out of society and bumming around Mexico for three years. He’s worked as a fry cook, a market researcher, a welding machine operator, a telemarketer (only lasted one day), and a furniture mover. He lived on an Israeli military base one summer, and once smuggled food into Cuba. When he’s not writing, he works as a school librarian. He lives in central Missouri with his wife and daughter. He still hasn’t paid the parking ticket he got in West Virginia in 1997.) (http://briankatcher.com/site/).
I discovered him when I read the description for his second book, Almost Perfect which was published in 2010. I bought it, read it and added it to the collection here in Hartland, then added the audio edition as well. The book still resides in my head four years later, and from many of the reviews I’ve read, still does for many other readers. It’s about Logan who just discovered his girlfriend of three years has been cheating on him. He’s devastated, but when Sage, a breezy and cheerful, albeit mysterious new girl starts at his school and catches his eye, things begin to look up. Sage has been homeschooled for the past few years, hence nobody knowing anything about her. It doesn’t take long before Logan is completely captured by this new girl. It’s a huge shock when he discovers that Sage, while a girl in every way that should matter, was born a biological male and hasn’t gone through the physical transition.
Imagine that you’re an 18 year old who grew up in conservative Missouri, trying to wrap your head and emotions around something like this. Brian didn’t spare anything in crafting the rollercoaster of feelings that Logan and Sage experience. If there ever was a book that I wanted a sequel to, it was this one, but because of the story and the way it HAD to end, none could be written and that’s why it still lives in my head. I keep wondering where Sage and Logan’s lives are five years later. Very few book have ever had that effect on me.
When I finished it, I grabbed Brian’s first one, Playing With Matches, written in 2008. High school junior, Leon wonders why with so many females in the world, not a single one will even give him the time of day. Maybe it’s because he’s a nerdy D&D playing Monty Python addict with a penchant for telling bad jokes. When he tells Melody Hennon, a girl severely disfigured by a childhood burning accident a bad joke, she laughs, something nobody has ever seen her do. Despite his obsession with super attractive Amy Green, Leon finds himself opening up to Melody and she to him. He begins to see the equally beautiful and quirky girl hiding behind the burn scars.
When he saves Amy from detention, she shocks him and asks him to go out. How his response throws everything with both Melody and Amy into an interesting turmoil, one you need to discover for yourself by reading the book. (There are eleven copies in Maine libraries). A huge bonus in the book is the cast of supporting characters who are worth the price of admission on their own. Both this book and Almost Perfect would make terrific movies.
I had to wait another four years for Brian’s next book, but the wait was well worth it. Everyone Dies In The End…And I alone escaped to tell you came out in March. Imagine Leon six years later, only this time he’s morphed into seventeen year old Sherman Andrews, whose mom took off years ago, leaving him with his dad who’s a plumber. While Dad tries, he tends to be clumsy and a bit over-effusive, so Sherman created his master plan at age eight…Become an award winning investigative journalist which, at the moment, includes him getting as much as possible out of a summer school session at the Missouri Scholar’s Academy. Sherman is hoping a stellar performance this summer will open doors thanks to amazing recommendations from the professor he’s working with.
When he strikes up a conversation with Steph, an attractive girl in the lounge of the dorm while sorting through old files from the sociology department, a spider runs out of one, scaring her. Sherman swats it with the folder he’s holding and a yellowed letter flies loose. The moment he starts reading it, he’s hooked. It refers to a series of mysterious events in 1935 regarding something evil that four men, a minister, a college professor, a hobo and an army veteran joined forces to fight.
Steph is immediately forgotten as Sherman realizes he just might have found the holy grail for a budding investigative journalist. The next day, he goes to the historical society building, located near the campus library. Charlie, snarky, overweight and self-conscious, but with a brain and a sense of humor to match Sherman’s, is the sole person there, working as summer help. Their initial meeting goes like this:
“May I help you?”
The girl behind the counter was as young as Steph, shorter than Steph and probably weighed twice as much. She did, however, carry a lot of that weight in her chest, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. She had hair as kinky as steel wool and as red as a box of McDonald’s french fries. A proliferation of freckles covered her apple cheeks. Thick lips and a turned-up nose completed the picture.
“Yes, um…” I glanced at her name plate. “Christine?”
“Call me Charlie.”
“Charlie, do you work here?” She seemed awfully young. I was hoping for someone a little more experienced to help me.
She raised an eyebrow. “No, I’m actually heiress to the throne of Moldavia. Today I switched places with a lowly peasant girl to see how the serfs live.” She then squinted her eyes and bared her teeth. It took me a moment to realize that this was how she smiled.
I found myself grinning in return. “Sarcasm. I learned about that in English Lit.”
“Yes, Einstein. I’ve worked here all summer. I’m going to be a freshman next year, so I figured I’d read all the books in advance. What’s your story?”
“Sherman. I’m a Youth Scholar.”
Thus begins a very unusual and quirky friendship that ends up being a lot more. In 98% of YA fiction, Charlie would be a blip on the main character’s radar, but like in Playing With Matches, we have the less than perfect girl who totally kicks ass. By the end of the book, pretty much anyone will have Charlie at the top of their way cool girls list.
Also like the aforementioned book, the supporting cast is pretty interesting. You get to meet the shadowy characters from 1935, Sherman’s asshat roommate, L.J. who grows a set when he needs them the most and isn’t deterred from helping Sherman even after an experience with a car chase that would send most teens running home to mama, and Denton, who was hauled off to a mental hospital after trying to investigate the same mystery that Sherman is looking into.
The bad guys are super bad, the mystery spans several centuries and the action is pretty much nonstop. The combination of quirky characters, evil, mystery and the romance between Sherman and Charlie make this a dandy read and one I sincerely hope garners a YA Edgar nomination because it’s that good.
I’m thrilled that Brian has another book coming out in May from Katherine Tegen Books. The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is described thusly: “When Ana Watson’s brother ditches a high school trip to run wild at Washingcon, type-A Ana knows that she must find him or risk her last shot at freedom from her extra-controlling parents.
In her desperation, she’s forced to enlist the last person she’d ever want to spend time with–slacker Zak Duquette–to help locate her brother before morning comes.
But over the course of the night, while being chased by hordes of costumed Vikings and zombies, Ana and Zak begin to open up to each other. Soon, what began as the most insane nerdfighter manhunt transforms into so much more…
The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is Brian Katcher’s hilarious he said/she said romance about two teens discovering themselves on an out-of-this-world accidental first date.”
I can’t wait!