OCTOBER 28, 2013
Allegra by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Allegra is a talented girl—she loves to dance, but she also has a huge amount of musical ability, perhaps inherited and certainly nurtured by her musician parents (one classically trained, one rock). She is new at an arts high school, and determined to not take any music classes so she has more periods of dance. She’s also a loner, suffers from social anxiety, and uses her dance to escape. She can’t get out of the music class, but is allowed to do a special composition assignment. Allegra is struggling with lots of issues: her parents’ troubled marriage, her social anxiety, her personal conflicts over her music and dance talent, a boy that likes her, girls that she’s trying to make friends with, and falling in love with her music teacher. Eventually, many of these issues come to a head, and Allegra falls apart. Besides strong, emotionally clear writing, the author uses many dance and music references which are pleasingly real and relevant. This book is a clean read and could engage girls who are interested in dance and/or music. For grades 6-9.
OCTOBER 9, 2013
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
An unexpected act of violence takes the small New Hampshire town of Sterling by surprise, and leaves the town with the question “why?” The title is based on the horrific act of Columbine, which took only 19 minutes to get revenge, to change the nation, and to devastate the friends and families of its victims. In the novel, the aftermath causes the townspeople to seek justice and try to distinguish fiction from truth in order to bring back the normality of their everyday lives.
Josie Cormier, the teenage daughter of the judge assigned to the case, could be the town’s best hope for justice, but she can’t remember any of the event, even though it happened right in front of her own eyes. As the novel progresses, fault lies between the high school and the adult community, and friendships and families are destroyed.
“Nineteen Minutes” is Jodi Picoult’s most raw and honest novel, addressing the unspoken tragedy of Columbine. It asks simple questions with impossible answers: Can your own child become a stranger to you? What does it mean to be different in modern day society? Jodi Picoult once again refuses to tiptoe around volatile issues and brings this farfetched story of Columbine into reality and makes the experience more real for the reader.
The ending of the book is the real reason for its shocking and mixed reviews. I believe the novel to be beautifully written and to contain information about an extremely interesting and modern topic. I recommend the book to anyone knowing of the Columbine incident and wondering what it must have been like. This book is shelved in adult fiction. Ages: 16-adult.
||posted by Lauren Marquis, Teen Library Volunteer
MAY 20, 2013
Bad Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple
So who are the real Bad Girls of history, and what are their stories? This mother/daughter team not only provides short and dramatic biographies of each “bad girl” but they also dialogue about the characters in the form of a comic book style conversation, trying to decide if each woman got the rap she deserved, or if perhaps there’s more to the story. Some of the women profiled include well-known names like Jezebel, Anne Boleyn, Mata Hari, and Lizzie Borden. Other biographies cover lesser known women, such as Elisabeth Bathory and Pearl Hart. All of the stories are easy to read and understand, but also contain plenty of gray material. Could Madame Popova, who provided poison to women to kill their abusive husbands, be seen as a social worker doing her best in the 1800’s? Was Typhoid Mary just too uneducated to understand that she was making people sick? History doesn’t always leave enough evidence to know the full story, and sometimes interpretation and cultural changes make it hard to know the truth. Besides profiling these historical women, the book does a good job of showing that history isn’t just about answers, but also presents many questions. There’s a useful index and a bibliography that will help interested readers discover more about these women. For grades 6 and up.
MAY 20, 2013
Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe
Sadie is moving again. She’s starting a new high school, and she’s scared she will blend into the walls, so to make herself seem more exciting, she pretends she has a severe peanut allergy. Sadie admits from the start that the idea sounds crazy, but she also carefully traces the incidents that lead to her decision. She observes an older, cool girl get all kinds of positive attention for her peanut allergy, and then one of her friends thinks moving would be cool so she could start over. So Sadie orders a Med-Alert bracelet and writes an essay for one of her classes about her peanut allergy, and it works! She makes some friends, and connects with a boy who’s potential boyfriend material. But it’s far from a perfect plan, and soon Sadie is consumed with keeping the lid on her secret. This graphic novel is well-written, with easy-to-follow pictures, and lots of dialogue and situations that seem quite real. The gossipy girls’ meanness is perfect to the point of being cringe-worthy, and the characters of everyone (even the adults) are well-defined and believable. The situation—pretending to have a peanut allergy—will probably read familiar to many teens, who are likely to have either lied or known someone to lie about some aspect of their life. Appropriate for grades 7 and up.
MAY 20, 2013
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This story jumps right in. A young British spy is caught by Germans in occupied France during WWII. A rookie mistake, looking the wrong way and getting struck by oncoming traffic. To avoid further torture, “Verity” will confess all, by writing pages for the interrogation officer. She must answer questions provided her, airplanes, airfields, of which she is aware, as well as her mission. In a roundabout way, partly to delay her execution, she tells the story of Maddie (code name Kittyhawk), a female pilot, and her friend Julie, a translator, who have become best friends. The long windedness of this tale infuriates her captor, but since she is providing the information he desires, he allows her to continue. The other prisoners, held in what used to be a fancy French hotel, despise Verity for being such a coward. Still she hears their screaming which is enough torture to bear. Halfway through the book, Maddie becomes the narrator and the reader learns what has been happening since Verity’s disappearance. The British are not sure she is captured until they hear an interview by a propagandist on the radio. In one mission, Maddie gets caught behind enemy lines, not far from the French hotel where Verity is held. It is one of those points where the reader knows how close they are to each other, and the girls do not. The stories of the two girls are weaved together flawlessly and there are unexpected twists and turns throughout. An excellent spy story until the very end. I listened to this one on CD and enjoyed hearing the differing British accents, since Verity comes from a wealthier background from Maddie. I could picture the entire story throughout the telling. This is a story the reader is unlikely to forget. Highly recommended for more mature teens and adults due to the graphic nature of the torture and limited modesty issues.
APRIL 25, 2013
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Astrid is in an invitation-only AP humanities class, and the focus is philosophy. Her teacher wants them to practice the Socratic method, which she describes as, “This will be a time of asking questions and not rushing to answer them. A time of poking holes in your own theories. A time of thinking and not knowing.
This pretty much sums up the course of Astrid’s journey in this novel. She gives Socrates a first name—Frank—and then begins to imagine him sitting supportively nearby whenever she’s facing something difficult. And she has plenty of difficulty in her life. She’s an NYC native living in a small, conventional town. She has a dad who has taken up pot-smoking, a high-strung mom who takes Astrid’s sixteen-year-old sister Ellis out for “Mommy and Me” nights, which includes them both getting drunk. And Ellis has turned out perfectly conventional, fitting well into the small, narrow-minded town’s expectations, unlike Astrid. Astrid is smart and eccentric. She likes to lie on picnic tables under the sky and send her love to the passengers of planes flying overhead. Delightfully, the author gives readers a glimpse of how these passengers are affected by the love.
Fitting in is a big issue in Ask the Passenger.
Sometimes Astrid thinks it doesn’t matter, but other times she feels stung and hurt by the gossip that she and her family generates. And Astrid is uncertain about her sexual identity. She thinks she might be gay, but she isn’t sure, and she doesn’t want to be pushed into making the decision until she feels confident. It seems that everyone is pushing her to decide—her girlfriend, her two best friends who are in-the-closet gay, and even her parents. The book covers some interesting territory in LGBT teen fiction, as Astrid isn’t ready for anything beyond kissing—she sees her identity as bigger than sex. Also, her parents don’t react to her coming out in the way the reader might expect. Astrid is still pulled into being gossiped about and ostracized by the community where she lives, but her reaction is surprising, and will feel empowering to teens. Still, this book isn’t just about a girl discovering her sexual identity. It’s about love, friendship, family dynamics, philosophy, and what it takes to make a satisfying relationship. Well-written with well-developed characters, this book is appropriate for older teens, grades 9 and up.
APRIL 25, 2013
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Anna leads a lonely life, and often comforts herself with memories of when she was a young girl and her mother would tell her, “More than anything in the world, I wanted a little girl.” But those days are long gone. Her self-absorbed and hurting mother marries and divorces a series of husbands, works too much, and lives her life as though the right man will solve all of her problems. It’s no wonder that Anna believes the same thing, and is drawn into sexual relationships at thirteen, hoping to overcome her desperate loneliness. Anna makes lots of bad choices in the course of this novel, but it’s obvious that she has little idea what a good choice would be. As a reader, I felt sympathy for her, and found myself rooting for her, especially as she slowly begins to see other options and make choices out of her slowly developing strength and self-regard. This book is about loneliness, and how loneliness compounds and expands and drives people of all ages to make desperate choices. It is written rather unconventionally, with short scenes interspersed with Anna’s thoughts. Due to somewhat graphic sex scenes and drug and alcohol use, this book is best suited for teens grades 10 and up.
APRIL 7, 2013
Food: The New Gold by Kathlyn Gay
Food: The New Gold
is one of our newer books in the teen non-fiction section downstairs. Within the book, Kathlyn Gay addresses a wide variety of issues relating to food while focusing on food insecurity and the role it plays in our economy and politics. Gay breaks up her ideas into manageable and interesting chapters. Each chapter focuses on a broad idea—like hunger, for example—but then goes into detail about that topic. In explaining hunger, Gay presents hunger by region, current coalitions preventing hunger, and successful movements in not only sending hungry people food but teaching them
to be self- sufficient. Moreover, she addresses topics that teens might not have a complete understanding of, including food deserts and public assistance in the U.S and hunger as a tool of terrorism/ war. Gay also explores issues of food production (including genetically engineered food), slaughterhouse methods, and sustainable food. Every few pages a yellow page comes into play, offering new and interesting information on sub-topics like fisheries, crop-based fuels, and food recycling. Gay is informative and concise throughout the book; she explains all of the terminology she uses and utilizes pictures and charts for further explanation. Food: The New Gold
is an eye opener and most relevant for ninth grade and above.
MARCH 26, 2013
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
This political and historical fiction story takes place between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge takes control of the country. It is based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a young boy who sells ice cream to help feed his family.
Despite the war between the government (Arn thinks the princess is pretty) and the gorillas (who wear black pajamas), Arn's life is relatively unaffected by the fighting in the jungle. His life is full of games and music. Quickly in the story, the Khmer Rouge trick the population into leaving their homes and marching into the countryside, saying that Americans are coming to bomb the city. On what is supposed to be a three day journey, many die from exhaustion as the days turn into weeks. Many are killed because they are considered rich, or too pale, or for not working hard enough, or for being too educated. Those who are not killed are forced into a life of slavery, working the paddy fields at labor camps. And then they still might be killed. Families are separated and years pass with starvation, sleep deprivation, fear, malaria, and sickness. Arn survives the first few years by quickly learning to play a type of flute in order to play the new revolutionary songs for the population. It helps keep him alive, and he steals food for others also trying to survive. He briefly lives in relative safety until he is pushed into the role of a child soldier as the country is about to be liberated by the Vietnamese. Arn only knows what he hears from rumors that include stories of people trying to escape to Thailand, which is where he intends to go if he can survive the Killing Fields. This harrowing tale is written from Arn's point of view in a very accessible dialect. It is gripping from the first page to the last. Arn might be compared to Anne Frank, a young child caught up in a war. Appealing to readers who enjoy survival stories, political stories, historical fiction, and true stories, it is highly recommended for teens in grades 9 and up, despite the fact that Arn was much younger than that when he lived through this genocide.
MARCH 12, 2013
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
There is no lack of drama in Callie’s life. Drama, as in events in her life in the exciting and awful category, but also drama as the story circles around the production of the school musical, “Moon Over Mississippi.” Callie’s a whip-smart, eighth grade set designer with purple hair, and keeps falling for the wrong boys, tangling with the self-centered diva lead in the musical, and is determined to get the biggest confetti bang from the cannon in the play. This colorful graphic novel, has all the angst that comes with being a thirteen-year-old girl and misreading cues from boys. It also gently explores the territory of teens figuring out their sexual identity, in this case, three boys who are pretty certain they’re gay. Cleverly written in the form of a play with Acts I-V, an intermission, and curtains, Drama
is beautifully true to life and relatable. It’s also a great early book for teens who are questioning their sexual identity, or who have friends that are going through this experience. This book won the 2013 ALA Stonewall Book Award for Children and Young Adults for exceptional merit relating to LGBT experience. For grades 7 and up.
MARCH 11, 2013
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Fever is a 14-year-old girl, a foundling brought up by Doctor Crumb in the uber-rational guild of Engineers who consider emotions silly and hindrances to logical living. They live, fittingly enough, in a giant head. She is the only female, however, since girls are not believed to be capable of rational thought. The story begins when Fever is sent out to work on an archaeological dig with Kit Solent, who is working on a top secret project. Soon after leaving the protection of her adopted father, however, she is accused of being half "Scriven", a race that has all but been eliminated following a devastating rebellion. As well, Fever begins having memories that are not her own. The reader follows Fever's slow discovery of the truth of her lost background, while the "Movement" tries to take control of future London.
Set far in the future, the story is full of names and words that are a creation of the new world, so as in reading any science fiction, there is a learning curve for comprehending the story, which is the first in what is to be a four-part series. Fans of science fiction will enjoy it most. It has an A.R. level of 6.7, most likely due to the strange futuristic vocabulary, and is best suited for grades 9 and up.
MARCH 7, 2013
Reflections on the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones, who died in 2011, was a writer of more than 40 fresh and original fantasy novels for children and teens. She is especially well-known for her novel Howl’s Moving
Castle, which was made into an animated movie. This hefty book (354 plus pages) is a compilation of her short nonfiction—essays, lectures, book reviews, interviews—and covers her vision for her writing. Part memoir and part writing guide, she offers her philosophy on many subjects: the importance of fantasy and myth for human beings, her understanding of children and their needs, and what writing can and should do. Her wonderful sense of humor and joy for life is evident in every piece as well, most especially when she shares anecdotes from her life. There are also several pieces from people who knew her well, including her sons, as well as Neil Gaiman, and Charlie Butler, from the University of West England in Bristol. I found this book an entertaining read, even though I’m only slightly familiar with Wynne Jones writing. The book isn’t likely to be a best seller, but I can see its value for readers who are interested in Wynne Jones, or for the high school or college students who are conducting research. The book will also be of interest to those who write fantasy or write for children. For grades 7 through adult.
FEBRUARY 19, 2013
Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
The world of this novel is a supermarket—Coles Supermarket in Sidney, Australia, ironically renamed by cashier Chris Harvey as “Land of Dreams.” Employees range in age from mid-teens to university-aged young adults, and the social strata and power games that are unique to this kind of workplace is well-illuminated here, perhaps better than any other teen novel I’ve read. Amelia and Chris are naturally drawn to each other since they are notably different from their workmates—both in their interests (they’re readers) and in their approach to life (they’re deep, original, opinionated thinkers, articulate speakers, and hilariously self-deprecating). Almost instantly, Amelia develops a huge crush on amiable Chris, while aware that their age difference makes a romantic relationship impossible (and not just because he consistently calls her Youngster). Amelia is fifteen, and Chris is twenty-one, and he tells her about his is unsuccessful “Search for the Perfect Woman.” The novel switches between Amelia’s first person narrative and Chris’s journals, filling out the relationship and the story line with writing that is both funny and painfully honest.
The theme is “the no-man’s-land between the trenches of childhood and adulthood,” and all the awkwardness and lamentable choices that come during this time. Both Chris and Amelia say and do cringe-worthy things they quickly regret, and yet the book is never predictable, and the ending surprisingly satisfying. The book also spends considerable time on feminism, parents and family life. This is a romance for romance-cynical teens, but also for teens that sense satisfying love is deeper than physical attraction. While this doesn’t appear to be a series book, I would love to follow these characters through another novel or two. Due to frank references to alcohol, drugs, and sex, this book is recommended for older teens, grades 10 and up.
FEBRUARY 15, 2013
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This is an interesting and complex fantasy that incorporates fascinating old photographs into the story. Jacob is a teenager from a wealthy family in training to take over the operation of a chain of stores he has no interest in. He is very close to his Grandpa Porter who was orphaned during the Holocaust and lived in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and recounted stories from those days with fondness. He's shown Jacob pictures of his friends from the home and says it was a wonderful place to live. The photos are odd and Jacob wonders if his grandfather makes up these stories to mask the pain he experienced during the war. Suddenly, his grandfather is killed by some sort of monster with multiple long tongues protruding from it's mouth, according to Jacob, and no amount of grieving or counseling helps him. Grandpa Porter died with cryptic last words and it is Jacob's desire to uncover their meaning. He convinces his father to take him to the remote island of Cairnholm off Wales to visit the home where he's hoping to find the Head Mistress, Miss Peregrine, that his grandfather corresponded with at least until 15 years ago.
The magic of the story begins after his arrival on Cairnholm. He learns that the home was bombed in 1940 and that no one survived, which confuses Jacob because of the last letter from Miss Peregrine. While exploring the house ruins, he unwittingly uncovers a "loop" on March 9, 1940, where the children and Miss Peregrine have intentionally lived since the bombing. Loops are places, or times, that continually loop the same day over and over again, and allow time travel. Thus, they all remain as they were in 1940. Jacob learns that the children he saw in the photographs are still here, and they all have some sort of gift - levitating, making plants grow, turning into birds, having prophetic dreams, being extremely strong, holding fire. Not only that, but the girl that his grandfather was in love with, Emma, is still there and asking about him. Now that Jacob knows Grandpa Porter's stories were true, he must uncover the truth about his death.
Although the cover suggests that this might be a horror story, it is not. It does contain some interesting concepts about time travel and immortality, and there is a minor love story between Jacob and Emma, which may be an "ick" factor considering her true age. But much of the final chapters is filled with kids fighting monsters and narrow escapes, loyalty of friends, and Jacob finding an alternate solution for the life he doesn't want.
A sequel is implied. The photographs are a plus and overall add to the story. Some drawbacks for me occur in the beginning chapters - a best friend who appears briefly and disappears for the rest of the book, all the interactions with his extended wealthy family that play a minimal part in Grandpa's Porter's story, the drawn-out research of trying to discover what his grandfather's last words mean. For me, the story becomes interesting after he arrives on the island. Still, readers who enjoy fantasies will enjoy this.
FEBRUARY 6, 2013
We are the Weather Makers by Sally M. Walker
A 2009 piece in our non-fiction section for teens, We are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change
, is an informative and enlightening book that leaves readers-- as not only consumers but as humans-- more informed and hopefully more environmentally conscious. Sally M. Walker has adapted this edition from Tim Flannery’s original work to appeal more to teens (or as she refers to them, “the generation that will act on global warming”). Walker goes back to the basics and gives readers in-depth knowledge about the Earth’s atmosphere, how carbon forms, and what greenhouse gases are. While some of her terminology and explanations are hard to decipher (especially for those of us that aren’t exactly prone to the sciences), illustrations and charts help to clear up the confusion. Moreover, Walker doesn’t just ramble on about theory and proposed hypotheses; instead she gives readers hard and fast numbers that have been cited by reputable sources.
Walker shares devastating news—news that the media has somehow neglected—that affects every part of our world: the permanent demise of Costa Rica’s golden frog, the suffering and starvation of the North Pole’s polar bear (solely because our actions have a created a rift in their food chain), and the proposed end of some of the world’s most beautiful attractions and most plentiful ecosystems, the coral reefs. Walker holds, “We had killed [the frog] with our wasteful use of coal-fired electricity and our oversize cars just as surely as if we had flattened its forests with bulldozers” (110). While this was one of the most moving sentences in the entire book for me, it was one of few. Walker spent almost no time putting the blame on the reader or trying to make the reader feel guilty. Instead Walker wants desperately for readers to merely comprehend the repercussions of their actions. She’s not asking for every reader to show pity towards animals; she actually notes that even if readers don’t care about animals they should care about the financial burden they are putting on themselves (through an increased chance of economically devastating hurricanes, through wiping out ecosystems that humans make millions on, like the reefs, through increasing the livelihood of parasites that carry out malaria, etc.)
Furthermore, after each chapter she presents a small tidbit or fact that will help readers save the world. These are small; they range from unplugging your cell phone cord when it’s not in use to using CFL bulbs. The back of the book also offers some great examples of institutions that have taken up the challenge (one is a public library!) and made a change. We are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change
is an absolute must-read, especially for teens interested in science or an environmental career (which is estimated to be secure and most of the time lucrative). It is most suited for those in tenth grade or above.
FEBRUARY 6, 2013
How to Analyze the Works of J.K. Rowling by Victoria Peterson-Hilleque
How to Analyze the Works of J.K. Rowling
is an informative tool about literary criticism. The book takes four different Harry Potter works and summarizes them. It then applies literary theory to them (whether it’s psychoanalytical, Marxist, or biographical). Each critique offers side annotations about what a thesis is, what a supporting sentence is, how it should be formatted, etc. These help the reader walk through the steps of a critique. That’s important because at the end readers are challenged to come up with their own unique thesis that calls upon a certain school of literary criticism (feminism, structuralism, Historicism, post-colonialism, etc.) Readers are asked to formulate their own questions about the book and then answer those questions through criticism, thus using the book as a “spring board” for thoughts (96). How to Analyze the Works of J.K. Rowling
is useful for not only learning literary criticism, but also the writing process. It also gives some interesting facts about J.K. Rowling and her life. It’s great because it makes readers think about a beloved (and fun!) read in a new and challenging way. My only complaint is that it doesn’t ask readers to use the text enough to prove their thesis, which is something that is mandatory in every school of thought, but even more so for structuralism and New criticism. A great pick for English projects or those interested in being an English major, this book is most appropriate for junior or senior teens.
FEBRUARY 1, 2013
The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy
One of the biggest hoaxes in US history occurred in rural Cardiff, New York in 1869. A giant stone figure of a man was found during the digging of a well, and was thought to be a petrified man or a statue made by an ancient civilization. For several months thousands of people paid to see it, and a number of people invested money in it, while others were promised payment for keeping the hoax a secret. This book is about the willingness of so many people to believe what they wanted to believe, but it’s also about science. This hoax, in combination with others, moved science toward more learned scrutiny, and pushed for peer-reviewed investigations. The final chapter is about other hoaxes related to science and paleontology. At the end of the book, the author explains his research, and includes source notes, selected bibliography, plus photo credits and index. This fascinating book reads like a fast paced story, and is promised to provoke thought and discussion. For grades 6 and up.
FEBRUARY 1, 2013
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
16-year-old Blue lives with her psychic mother and numerous other psychics in town. Although she has no psychic powers, Blue seems to increase the powers of others by proximity. Gansey, a rich "Raven Boy" (named after the mascot of a private Virginia all boys prep school called Aglionby), is on a quest to discover and follow ley lines of energy that will ultimately lead him to Glendower, a long dormant Welsh king who, if awakened, promises to grant a favor. Gansey has enlisted the help of three other Raven Boys, Noah, Ronan, and Adam, and adds Blue to the list after benefiting from her amplification powers. Blue tends to stay away from Raven Boys in general, but for some reason is drawn to this group and their quest. The problem is that she has always been told that if she kisses her true love, he will die, so she is very careful to remain hands off. The reader is drawn into the intertwined world of the psychics and Raven Boys with fully developed characters and plot. I was disappointed in the final reveal of one of the premonitions given early on... when It happened I didn't even recognize it. Also, there were numerous characters introduced in the beginning that I found confusing. Even at the end I was still confused about the various psychics. Otherwise, I was completely sucked into the story and wanted it to continue, which is good since there will be a sequel. This will most likely appeal to girls despite most of the characters being boys. Ghosts, psychics, paranormal events, and a mystical feel are prevelent throughout, so if you are into that sort of thing, you'll enjoy this story. It is otherwise a clean read with no kissing (obviously), drinking, or drugs. Suitable for readers grades 8 and up.
JANUARY 24, 2013
Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy
This book follows the adventures begun in Wildwood,
a few months after Prue returns to her home. As in Wildwood,
this book is filled with the same charm, humor, action, unpredictable details, and delightful illustrations as the first book. However, this book is darker. It also has a slow and slightly confusing start, as it jumps between various settings and characters, and I didn’t find the settings equally gripping. The new elements—the over-the-top Unthank Home for Wayward Youth, the villains Desdemona Mudrak, Joffrey Untank, and Ms. Thennis, as well as two more fearless girls—was necessary to make the story move. Sadly, the episodes in the Wildwood don’t feel as original or compelling as the first book, even though the terrain changes to subterranean parts of the fictional Impassable Wilderness. The burden of remembering details from the first book made it hard for me to follow at the beginning, too, though perhaps if I had read the two books back to back I would have not felt so lost. Regardless, it’s not stand alone material and reads like many second novels in a trilogy—lots of set up, not so much compelling story. While it took me awhile to get into this book, I kept reading to see how all the storylines would come together. All the time I spent on this 550 page book, however, left me feeling a bit frustrated when things were not resolved. Obviously, there will be a third book in this series. I fear that it will be hard to sustain the originality and energy through another long volume, but sincerely hope that Meloy is able to pull it off. Suitable for grades 7 and up.
JANUARY 24, 2013
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Take the humor and imagination of Terry Pratchett, add his ability to create characters that jump off the page, and put it all in the most squalid parts of Victorian London, and you have Dodger. When I first heard the title, and that Dickens appears in the novel, I thought of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, and certainly there are echoes here. However this Dodger—though excellent at swiping valuables without being caught—gets most of his money through the more honorable method of toshing (finding lost valuables and coins in the London sewers) and has a compassionate and moral center that makes the reader cheer. Dodger, who seems to be in his late teens, witnesses the beating of a lovely young woman, and proceeds to rescue her and to beat up her attackers. She is a mysterious person of value to some unidentified foreigners, but was abused by her husband, and it becomes the mission of Dodger, Charles Dickens (known in the book as Charlie), and many other characters to not only save her, but to keep her from being returned to her abusive husband. All of this is done through some good connections that Dodger makes and his own cunning and kindness, often accompanied by his smelly dog Onan and guided by Solomon, the wise old Jewish repairman who has taken him in. This is also the story of how Dodger's life changes drastically in the period of a few weeks. The life of the poor in London during this time period was heavily chronicled by Henry Mayhew, and Pratchett has used his writings to inform the novel, as well as making Mayhew a character. The book has both historical and imagined characters: Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Sir Robert Peel, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Sweeny Todd, to mention a few. Pratchett also judiciously uses slang from the period —“nobby” which means rich, “cove” which is loosely “guy,” and you’ll have to read the book to find out what “richards” are. Due to the sophistication of the novel, as well as the sexual allusions and some of the other subject matter, this book is most suitable for grades 9 and up. For follow up, I would recommend the non-fiction book Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren.
JANUARY 2, 2013
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray
is a remarkable-- yet haunting-- portrayal of a stolen youth. Lina, a 15 year-old teenager, is ripped from her home in the dead of the night. She is forced to leave her beloved Lithuania, sacrifice her belongings, and deal with being separated from her father. The NKVD force her family to travel on a filthy train labeled “thieves and prostitutes,” while only giving them enough food to merely sustain themselves and crowding them into a small space that’s rampant with disease and depression. Along the way Lina witnesses the death of a malnourished baby and the murder of the baby’s mother. Nevertheless, Lina and her family find refuge in others. Lina and her brother, Jonas, connect with a teenage boy on the train named Andrius. Their mother, Elena, finds solitude in helping everyone, even those that aren’t appreciative, though she has little to offer.
Their journey continues near China where they are coerced into manual labor for their daily ration of 300 grams of bread. Andrius’ mother is forced into sexual slavery, only to save his life. Families are woken up nightly to be intimidated into signing a statement admitting their “crime” and sentencing them to twenty years of hard labor. Lina copes the only way she knows how: drawing. She draws to express her anguish, to confirm that her experiences are real and most importantly, to leave a trail for her father to find her. She illustrates images that even Sepetys words couldn’t do justice: Andrius’ mother’s bruised face, the NKVD leader’s cruelty, a mother still mourning her child, and her brother’s illness.
Sepetys brings to life an event that many of us unfortunately fail to talk about (and some even fail to recognize) when we discuss World War II. Lina is a more contemporary depiction of Anne Frank; Between Shades of Gray
similarly leaves readers shocked at the waste of talent and innocence of the era. Moreover, Sepetys reminds us that suffering is much more than numbers. Only personal, gripping, chilling experiences can remind humanity of the injustice served. Sepetys’ true brilliance is in depicting a story that isn’t so black and white. While some characters are pure evil and others are saintly, Sepetys holds that there are shades of gray. One NKVD officer, Kretzsky, is merely a child himself. He’s stuck between the violence that he’s associated with—and forced to practice-- and his own morality. Between Shades of Gray
is a must-read, not just because of how beautifully it’s written or how hard it is to put down, but because every person must know the truth about what happened to fellow human beings. It’s geared toward readers that are 13 or 14 and up and it reads pretty young. Some violence is present, but a conversation with teens about that violence would help to alleviate that and make a rewarding discussion.