Monthly Archives: January 2012

Terrifyingly Possible!

I just finished Kristen Simmons’ Article 5 and it was one of the most terrifying books ever because the possibility of it is just a little too, well, possible!  There are people out there, right now, who would support some of the Moral Statutes that govern this not too distant future.  The quote from Edmond Burke comes to mind…“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

War has destroyed America, as we know it.  All of the major cities have been abandoned, even Washington, D.C.!  There is no more Constitution or Bill of Rights.  They’ve been replaced by the Moral Statutes.  Noncompliance means arrest, detention and, possibly, worse…  Ember Miller does everything she can think of to make sure that her free spirited mother does not get caught with contraband like the romance novels she loves so much.  One perfectly normal afternoon, Ember arrives home from school and settles in with her friends to do homework when there’s a knock at the door.  Standing there are the soldiers that serve as police, enforcing the Moral Statues.  They arrest her and her mother for being in violation of Article 5, which states that having a child out of wedlock is illegal.  The two of them are being taken to a detention facility, from which no one has ever returned.  The worst thing of all is that one of the soldiers is Chase, the boy next door and her first true love.

This novel will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and the Maze Runner.  The formula is similar and the characters are both flawed but with a strong moral center that does not allow them to follow the pack.  As with many of these dystopian novels, the fate of their people lies in the hands of the young.  Perhaps because their filters still tend to see things in black and white, right and wrong, with few grey areas to cloud their judgement.  Whatever the reason, the young people in this book are true heroes!

 

 

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IT’S HERE!!!

I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T STAND IT!!! Okay, I know I’m yelling but this is really, really cool!  I have been a fan of Chris Can Allsburg for so many years and, particularly his book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.  When I was an elementary school librarian, I did the sacrilegious…I cut his book apart!  But it’s destruction was for a good cause.  I laminated them and used them with my 5th graders when they were studying the elements of a short story.  They each chose a picture and were to write a story about it…the only catch was that they had to use the caption somewhere in the story.  Once we were finished and the stories edited, I typed them into the computer (this was before the days of mass digitization) and had them bound and cataloged in our library.  It was great fun and some of the stories were really good!  Now, Harris Burdick has made a reappearance and my library’s edition just arrived!  Some of my favorite young adult authors have contributed stories…M.T. Anderson (love, love, love!!!), Sherman Alexie, Cory Doctorow, Walter Dean Myers and there’s a really wonderful forward by Lemony Snicket!  I’ve already read 2 stories and am going to read the rest today.  I will come back later and let you know about the rest of them!  And may I say again…I’M SO EXCITED!!!

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Dystopians, One and All

We’ve gone through several phases in YA lit.  Here are just a few: years ago there was the fairy tale to novel (Beauty/McKinley, Zel/Napoli, etc.), then there was the mythology to novel (Percy Jackson,  Nobody’s Princess/Friesner, Sirena/Napoli), next came the divine and the demonic (Demon’s Lexicon/Brennan, Hush, Hush/Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures/Garcia, etc.) and most recently, the vampiric (do I really need to list these?).  Now, all the rage is the dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction that has it’s grip on YAs.  The most recent entry is Divergent by Veronica Roth.  It has all the earmarks of a good dystopian novel…the world as we know it has been destroyed; society has had to reorganize itself to survive but that organization is now in peril.  You also have a boy and a girl hero, though the focus is on the girl. This one, however, is just a little different and a lot disturbing!

In a Chicago of the distant future, Beatrice lives with her family and the rest of her faction in peace and harmony.  Society has split into 5 distinct factions, all based on a particular personality trait.  Those who live in Candor tell the truth, always and know when someone else is lying.  Those who are Abnegation are the selfless helpers.  They put others’ needs before their own.  The Dauntless are the brave fighters.  Nothing frightens them because they have conquered their fear. The Amity are the peace keepers, striving to create accord between the factions.  The Erudite are the thinkers.  They value scholarship above all else.  When you turn 16, you go through an aptitude test which will help you choose to which of these factions you will spend the rest of your life.  Beatrice is unsure of what her test results will tell her.  She’s never felt selfless enough to stay with Abnegation and has always admired the audacity of Dauntless.  Her test results, it turns out, don’t help.  She is told that her results were inconclusive but, in reality, her tester explains that she is Divergent that that is very, very dangerous.  Like, it could get you killed kind of dangerous!  Now Beatrice must make her choice…and that is just the beginning of her troubles!  Things are changing.  There is an undercurrent that she doesn’t understand and when she finally figures out what’s going on, it’s nearly too late. Now she will have to fight friends and enemies alike to save herself and both of her factions!

Roth is an excellent storyteller and her dystopian world is an interesting, unique one.  The characters are flawed but likeable and you will find yourself rooting for the underdogs and shocked at the actions of one of them.  It’s a riveting tale with a mostly satisfying ending ( okay, I’d like to know more about what happens next).  Don’t miss this one!!!

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By Teens, For Teens

There are so many web sites out there for teenagers…some good, others not so good.  Below are a few of the ones that I really like…most are written by teenagers, themselves!

Teen Ink – is for teens who like to write or are artistic in other ways.  It started way back in the olden days…1989 as a print magazine and has flourished in the digital age.  Teen authors can submit their work for consideration in a future issue, they can enter all kinds of writing contest (usually with cash prizes), and read what other teens are thinking about.  Teachers who work with this age group, should definitely take a look and see what great writers are out there!

The T@ttoo – Teen journalism at it’s finest!  Begun in 1994 in Connecticut, this publication has spread world-wide.  The teen journalists tackle tough topics and issues that concern teens everywhere.

ReaderGirz – One of the best online books clubs out there!  For girls and by girls, this book club site provides excellent books to read and forums to talk about them.

ScenariosUSA – A site created to get teens involved in the issues of today.  Teens write about issues that touch their lives and enter them into the “What’s the Real Deal?” writing contest.  The winners are paired with some of the best film makers in the country to create a short film.

Other great sites and blogs are listed under my YA Links list to the right.  I think that teenagers are some of the best people in the world and they deserve to be heard!  If you have a teen or know a teen, encourage him or her to get involved, be vocal!  The internet is a great forum…just be safe out there!

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Creature Comforts

Chris Priestley is a master storyteller.  His books about Tom Marlow and his mysterious adventures are some of the most popular books, especially with my boy readers.  With Mister Creecher, he takes on the Frankenstein monster story and tells it very well and in the spirit of Mary Shelley’s original tale.

Billy is a street urchin eking out a living as a pick-pocket.  It’s not a lucrative venture and comes with many, many dangers.  One of them is a fellow pick-pocket named Fletcher.  One  fateful day, he Billy comes across what seems to be an enormous, grotesque dead body in the alley.  He is about to search it for any trinkets that he could sell when Fletcher comes upon the scene.  He threatens to call the constable, and claim that Billy killed the man when suddenly that hulking form moves!  It grabs hold of one of Fletcher’s boys, instantly shattering the bones.  The others turn tail and flee leaving Billy alone with the giant…at which point he passes out.  When he wakes, he is warm and sheltered from London’s nasty weather but his savior turns out to be none other than the giant who calls himself Mr. Creecher.  So begins a dubious relationship.  As the boy and the giant travel together, a bond begins to grow between them but there are secrets that the giant holds, secrets that could destroy them.  How much is friendship worth and to what lengths will Billy and Creecher go for each other?

This is the Frankenstein story from the monster’s point of view.  The story is woven together in such a way that Billy and Creecher’s relationship is wholly believable.  Creecher is an intriguing character.  At once a hideous monster, capable of great violence and a deeply moral person.  Billy delights in thievery but does not understand the wrongness of his actions.  As with his other novels, there are many exciting fight scenes and dangerous circumstances.  But there are also tender moments as Billy and Creecher become friends or when Billy finally understands Creecher’s deep need for the female creature that Frankenstein is building for him.  The ending is very difficult to read and is very sad but, somehow, fitting.  Frankenstein is not a happy story with a happily ever after ending.

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Tough Topics Make For Excellent Reading

Young adult authors are often accused of writing “after school special” or “ripped from the headlines” stories.  While it is true that they tackle some really difficult topics like rape, bully violence and drug abuse, they do so not because of their sensational qualities but because teens deal with these issues on a regular basis.  Teens need to be able to find safe ways to deal with the hardships of growing up in this modern and often scary time.  I know that we grown-ups often say that “When I was a kid, I had to deal with…” but I’m telling you, when I was a teenager, I did NOT have to deal with such depravity, horror or difficulty as teens today do.  If they can pick up a book about someone who was raped and find a way through it then, perhaps, that character will give him or her the strength to survive and move past the tragedy.  I’m all for “teen issue” books because I’m all for doing anything that might help a teenager.  Below is a short list of books that I think are must reads.

 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Inexcusable by Chris Lynch should be required reading for all teenagers before graduating from high school.  Speak is a stirring story about a young girl who is raped by an acquaintance at a party just before her 9th grade year.  Inexcusable is about a boy who desperately tries to convince the reader and himself that he’s a good guy and could not have possibly raped his good friend.  Both books present completely believable protagonists and situations.  If you are a high school teacher, I’m certain that you have probably seen these two teen characters walking the halls of your school…I have.

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus is an intense story written is verse about two forever-best friends, Kate and Liz, who are torn apart when Kate accuses Liz’s brother Mike of doing the unspeakable. Who is telling the truth?  Kate or Mike?

Hate List by Jennifer Brown tells the story of how a fairly common thing, a list of people you don’t like or who are mean to you, becomes a kill list and what happens to the survivors.

After the Death of Anna Gonzalez by Terri Fields presents the suicide of a girl from the view point of her class mates.  Some know her personally, other peripherally but all are affected by the loss.

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles reveals the terrifying power of pack mentality and how dangerous and manipulative popular kids can be.  There are tragic consequences and a single, terrifying act of violence but the perpetrator will surprise you.

Black-eyed Suzie by Susan Shaw…Suzie is the face of abuse but not the bruised or broken face you’d expect.  Rather, the reader will watch as she mentally and physically builds a box around herself, as protection from her abuser.

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Stories to tell

Once upon a time there was a girl who had a little brother.  One ordinary day they were playing at the park and a murder of crows swooped down and snatched the little boy, carrying him far away into the Impassible Woods.  The girl gave chase and found herself in a strange forest accompanied by an uninvited school mate.  The two searched and searched but they found no sign of the baby boy.   All of a sudden, they were attacked by a band of coyotes and separated.  The boy was taken to the Dowager Duchess, an evil but sweet-talking woman bent on total domination of the wood.  The girl was taken to the Governor Regent, a man also trying to control things well beyond his abilities.  Together but separately, the boy and girl work tirelessly to find the baby brother and, in the process, become embroiled in an epic battle between good, less good and down-right evil.

What a fantastic and imaginative story!  At first, Meloy seemed to be telling yet another story of girl-meets tyrant-vanquishes tyrant and lives happily ever after.  Okay, that does happen but it’s the in-between parts that are so fascinating.  The characters are consist of both humans and animals with good and not so good in both species.  Prue (the girl) and Curtis (the boy) are likeable, if a little naive at times.  Some of the situations seem to be just a bit too glossed over; like Curtis’ decision to stay in the wood and what happens to his family on the Outside.  Female fans of adventure will love Prue’s strength and determination.  Boys will like how Curtis starts the story as a bit of a nerd but evolves into a rather brave young man.  The drawings by Carson Ellis (think The Mysterious Benedict Society) add spark to the imagination!

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