Young Inferno

Young Inferno

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by John Agard

Can our hoodie-clad hero make it through the nine circles of Hell and back again? Will he find love with his soul mate, Beatrice? In this red-hot retelling of Dante’s Inferno, readers discover the city of Dis, where everybody disses everybody; meet Frankenstein, the lovesick bouncer with the bling; come face-to-face with the Furies, a gang of

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Can our hoodie-clad hero make it through the nine circles of Hell and back again? Will he find love with his soul mate, Beatrice? In this red-hot retelling of Dante’s Inferno, readers discover the city of Dis, where everybody disses everybody; meet Frankenstein, the lovesick bouncer with the bling; come face-to-face with the Furies, a gang of T-shirt-wearing, snake-haired females; and encounter a host of gluttons, bigots, and plunderers from the world of history and politics. Rich with lively references, from Shakespeare and Wagner to the Bible and Beauty and the Beast, The Young Inferno updates Dante’s 14th-century masterpiece for a 21st-century audience. John Agard, one of the funniest and most popular poets in Britain today, offers an ambitious, energetic retelling in verse that sings with wit and originality while remaining true to the original text. Satoshi Kitamura’s deliciously wicked, avant-garde artwork is a brilliant depiction of Dante’s vision, and a delight for readers young and old.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British poet Agard pulls off the formidable task of modernizing Dante's 14th-century Inferno for a teenage audience. This heavily illustrated version features a young black protagonist (wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the word Hell) who travels to the underworld with fable master Aesop as his guide. He encounters sinners of a contemporary variety, as the streetwise narrative echoes the format and rhyme scheme of the original “He caused a child's death in a stolen car./ But did he stop? No. And that's because/ he had drunk himself over the limit by far.” Agard also offers commentary critical of modern politicians and events. In Hell's Seventh Circle, readers find “that smooth duo who caused much blood to flow/ between the Tigris and Euphrates” (unmistakable are the silhouettes of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair). Kitamura's edgy illustrations, rendered in black, white and grays, jump from the page. Cutouts, geometric motifs and cartoon-styling create a youth-friendly yet still-haunting effect. While this fresh take will be most appreciated by those familiar with Dante's work, its potential to ignite curiosity about the original should not be underestimated. Ages 11–13. (July)
Children's Literature - Patrice Russo Belotte
Lost in the forest of a childhood memory, fear encompasses the thoughts of a young hero destined for an eerie adventure. Retold in thirteen cantos, John Agard breathes a new and fresh life into the "Inferno" by Dante Alighieri. Black and white illustrations bring unsettling energy to the story of a young boy searching for escape from the nine circles of Hell. Readers learn as much from the literary and cultural allusions throughout the text and illustrations, as they do from the young hero's adventure itself. Led by Aesop, the young hero is guided through a disturbed reality of pain, suffering, and insults. As Aesop leads the boy through this death-marked endeavor, he tells him tales that teach values and morals. An intent listener, the young boy is inquisitive about the moral and lesson learned from each of Aesop's fables. New faces bring a current perspective to a classic story; Frankenstein keeps a watchful eye over the lovesick souls who dare to cross into the Second Circle of Hell. It is there where Einstein suffers amongst Homer, Socrates, and Plato. Money converses when it clinks and clatters in Hell's Fourth Circle. In the city of Dis, within the Sixth Circle of Hell, everyone "disses" each other with fiery insults. The young hero tightens his hooded sweatshirt as he faces the crocodiles that inhabit the Ninth Circle. Reaching the end of the journey, the young hero finds reality again. He also discovers the love of Beatrice, with whom he shares his story. Reviewer: Patrice Russo Belotte
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The narrative poems in this short book are accessible and have important things to say about the state of the human race. "Off 2 Hell with teacher Aesop" reads a text message the hoodie-wearing protagonist composes in his head for his parents. As in a scary movie, he awakens in a strange and frightening forest. A dark man appears and introduces himself as the tale-teller Aesop: he is to be the teen's escort through Hell (much like Dante used the poet Virgil as his guide). As the pair travels through the Circles of Hell, they see the sins of mankind. They see the gluttons forced to stuff their faces for eternity and those who were indifferent stung by wasps and flies. They also see scientists and artists such as Einstein, Homer, and Euclid forced for eternity to repeat some aspect of their creation. The pair visits the city of Dis, where "everybody disses everybody." As our hero travels through Hell, he is trying to find his Good Fairy, his Beatrice. Some British terms might make a few sections a little tricky for American students, but savvy readers should be able to figure them out. The scribbled, heavy-lined black ink and watercolor illustrations convey exactly the right mood for a book about a modern-day expedition into Hell. This will be a great book to pair with a discussion about Dante's Inferno and/or poetic structure.—Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO
Kirkus Reviews
"In the middle of my childhood wonder / I woke to find myself in a forest / that was-how shall I put it-wild and sombre." Using Dante's Inferno as his model, Agard sends a teenage narrator on a tour of Hell, squired by a fable-spouting Aesop rather than Virgil and encountering not only Charon, Mammon and their traditional like but Einstein and the Furies, here pictured as a street gang. Despite Kitamura's jagged, smudgy black-and-white figures (some of which will be recognizable to contemporary readers), the trek never acquires much emotional or poetic intensity as, unlike Dante, the author seldom names names, finishes up in an abbreviated 13 Cantos and skips over any mention of Lucifer. He also closes by having the narrator hook up with Beatrice (billed by Aesop with a wink as "The Good Fairy") in the library: "I danced in the chemistry of her eyes / and I could have chilled out there for ever." Steer readers who can't face the original to Marcus Sanders and Sandow Birk's weirdly campy but grand illustrated rendition, Dante's Divine Comedy (2004). (Poetry. 12-15)

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Product Details

Lincoln, Frances Limited
Publication date:
Age Range:
11 - 13 Years

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