Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vampires, Werewolves, Faeries and Shadowhunters, Oh My!

Product Details
Now, please keep in mind there is more to this book than the hunky torso on the cover! Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is the first installment of a trilogy, all of which is written, published and out in the world. I cannot tell you how much I love when that happens! Nothing makes me crazier than getting sucked into a great book only to find it has absolutely no ending because it is the first book of a trilogy! Drives me crazy! But when I stumble upon an already finished trilogy/series? So exciting!

City of Bones starts off with Clary, a normal girl raised by her mother, who does normal things, forgets homework, hangs out with her friends, and occasionally finds herself in a spot of trouble. But one night, at a club with her friend Simon, she sees something sketchy going on- a guy being lured into a janitor's closet by a girl and two tattooed, scary guys. When she breaks into the room, she quickly discovers the guy being attacked isn't so innocent after all- actually he is a demon and the others are Shadowhunters- a group of humans, also known as Nephilim, who are sworn by blood and genealogy to kill all demons and any Underworlders who break the rules of the Accords. Underworlders are all the half-human creatures like vampires, werewolves and faeries who have created a life of peace (sort of) and harmony with the rest of the world. The Accords are a peace treaty the Shadowhunters struck with the Underworlders to stop hunting them if they continue to leave mortal humans (known as mundies or mundanes) alone in their ignorance.

But when her mother calls and frantically tells Clary not to come home, Clary goes anyway and finds herself face to face with a Ravener demon, but her mother is mysteriously gone. Jace, the huge blond Shadowhunter, finds Clary with the Ravener dead, but her in desperate need of mystical medical attention. He takes her back to the Institute, where Hodge, the Institute's leader, makes sure she is healed and fully restored. It is with the Institute and the Shadowhunters that Clary finds the true nature of who she is, who her mother is, and even who her "uncle" Luke really is: all with Shadowhunter blood. But now Valentine, a rogue Shadowhunter determined to kill all Downworlders despite the Accords, is back from the dead and ready to start his plan with the Mortal Cup- the only thing that can make more Shadowhunters from mortals- but at a steep price. Clary, Jace, and the two other Shadowhunters, Alec and Isabelle, must find the Mortal Cup while also finding out how Clary came to be immersed in the mundie world with no recollection of her Shadowhunter heritage.

This book is very, very interesting and I am thanking the writing and publishing Gods for pushing the other two books out before I found this one, because it certainly does not end with any semblance of closure- it was meant to keep you waiting for the rest of the trilogy. Clare's take on the mythical world of faeries and vampires is really interesting, and different from other stories of the same genre, while not changing their backgrounds too much. The Shadowhunters are a great addition to these time honored horror tales, and they are wrapped up in their own wars, disagreements, and factions. The writing isn't terribly complicated, the vocabulary is average, but the book is large- almost 500 pages. If you had a kid who made it through Harry and Twilight, this would be a great next step to keep them hooked! Give the Mortal Instruments series a chance, but don't be surprised if you start seeing faeries and pixies in the shrubs after you do!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fall for Hush, Hush

Product Details
Whomever has the nerve to say "don't judge a book by its cover" hasn't seen the cover of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. This book is simply beautiful. And the story isn't far behind!

The story starts with Nora Grey, a girl who isn't terribly interested in the guys at her school, is suddenly very aware of the new guy, Patch. He is dark, mysterious, and possibly quite dangerous- all the things a teenage girl shouldn't want but can't resist. When it seems as though Patch is following her and turning up in the oddest place, Nora begins to wonder what is really going on behind those brooding eyes. But her friend Vee is determined to pair the two of them up with an odd duo of guys they met. In fact, Vee wants Nora to stop seeing Patch. So does Nora's new guidance counselor. From being followed by a mysterious person, to a few near-fatal encounters, Nora knows something is going on, but has no idea that something is who Patch really is- a fallen angel. And there is even more to the story about why Patch has shown up in Nora's life than you can imagine.

I really enjoyed this book, but I was a little concerned by two things: striking similarities to Twilight and 3/4 of the book without knowing anything about who Patch really is. From the "cute meet" in biology class, to the internet search that gleans vital information, there are certainly some similarities between Fitzpatrick's novel and Stephanie Meyers epic series. While they are glaring, and I do think Fitzpatrick would have been better off if she carefully chose situations that did not make us instantly think of Bella and Edward, I think this book still holds a good story.

However, leaving the meat of the story until the last 1/4 of the book was not the wisest decision. I think the vagueness and confusion of both the plot and the narrator is something that could easily turn a reader off. In fact, we don't actually know anything about the big conflict until the last 50 pages of the book (and this is a 400 page book)! While the information leading up to the big reveal is certainly interesting, by the time I finished the book, I was saying to myself, "Well, heck, Becca! Why not bring this out earlier! I want to know more!"

If you give this book a chance, though, you will find an intriguing story about Fallen Angels and Nephilim (human/fallen angel offspring). The book has a lot to offer if you give it a chance, but it might not be the best choice for a reader who needs to be grabbed by a story. Suggest this book for the student who can plow through pages, not the one who needs to be prodded along. Give it a chance, but leave the comparisons behind- they will only leave you a little disappointed!

How Far is Too Far?

Going Too Far
I am an avid fan of Sarah Dessen. I love the "chick flick" YA with fixable conflict and happy endings. They always leave me with that warm, fuzzy feeling! So when I read the description of Going too Far by Jennifer Echols, I was so excited! I am always looking for a pseudo-Dessen to pass the time between her latest and newest novels.

Granted, Going too Far is similar in premise to a Sarah Dessen treasure, but the delivery is a bit different. Meg is a bit of a wild card: partying, minor law infractions, and casual sex. When she, her boyfriend and another couple get caught by the local police on the railroad bridge, they find themselves in jail. Officer John After is particularly irate at finding them there, especially since if they had stayed on the bridge for 10 more minutes, they would have been killed by an oncoming train the same way two kids were years ago. As punishment, John After devises a plan for Meg and the other couple (her sleazy boyfriend's father was able to muscle him out of any punishment) to serve time by riding along with either the police, the fire department, or the ambulance for one week followed by a written plan to stop teens from committing the same dangerous mischief they had gotten themselves into. Meg, of course, is the one who will be driving with Officer After.

Meg's parents, having had enough of her antics, decide not to interrupt their vacation because of her punishment. Instead, she is to spend 8 hours working in their diner, 8 hours with Officer After, and the remainder of the day exhausted. But her time with John After isn't nearly as bad as she thought it would be. It turns out, he isn't much older than Meg, and he even went to school with her before graduating and immediately joining the local police department in order to continue his obsession with the train bridge. During their time together, Meg and John find out there was a lot more to each other than the original impressions and judgments they made.

This is a fun, interesting story with fairly deep and developed characters. While it follows Dessen's formula, however, this book strays in the realm of "too much information." Dessen never gets too sexual in her books, but rather prefers to leave most of the goings on to the imagination, which makes her books perfect for a school setting. While this book is by no means graphic, there is more sex than I would be comfortable giving to many of my students as a book to read in class. It would be great for an independent book if the student was mature enough, but I wouldn't give it to a student younger than 10th grade. It is also very much a "girl" book, and I would imagine a boy to roll his eyes even at the cover! Despite its few shortcomings, though, this is a fun book with some great characters and situations.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spinelli puts a Smile on My Face!

Product Details
OK, so we have all read Stargirl, right? We all know and love Jerry Spinelli for his delightful characters, his unwavering optimism and his examination of adolescence. Despite each story's conflict, there is always a feel to Spinelli's books that you want these characters in your life, and you always know things have to turn out OK. Smiles to Go is no exception!

Will is a skateboard riding, chess playing ninth grader whose best friends, Mi-Su and BT, are the center to his world. When BT kisses Mi-Su at a stargazing event, Will realizes he wants to kiss Mi-Su! With plans and schemes, he has worked out a way to get Mi-Su to kiss him and plays the plans over and over in his head until he convinces himself it will work. But BT is so nonchalant about Mi-Su, the way BT is about everything (which drives Will crazy!).

The best part of this book, however, is not Will, Mi-Su, BT, or the typical teen love triangle. The best part of this book is by far Tabby, Will's five-year old sister. Tabby is a handful, to say the least, who seems to live for making Will's life miserable. She is so precocious and mischievous, you just know you would love to know this girl (although perhaps in small doses). At one point in the book, Will and his dad are working on Will's chess game for the big match coming up. Tabby has been unceremoniously locked outside and is not happy about it. She tries screaming, pleading, pretending something horrible is happening in the hall, and any other stunt to get Will and her dad to come out of the room. When she gets mysteriously quiet, Will glanced over at the door to see a straw poking under the door- Tabby had resorted to trying to "suck all the air out of the room".

This book will literally make you laugh out loud and applaud Sir Spinelli once again. There is of course a life lesson to be learned for Will, but not before Tabby worms her way into your heart. This is a great "middle reader" book for low-skilled high school students or average-skilled middle school students. The story is sophisticated enough to not be a stretch for a high school student, either. Great book, quick read for you, and one you won't be sorry you took the time to read! But I warn you, this book will make you look for the Tabby in your life!

Freaks will be your Next Revelation

Freaks and Revelations
Sometimes you stumble across a diamond in the rough and you just aren't sure what to do with it. With that in mind, I will pass on Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin to you and wish you the best of luck. It will leave you raw and with a knotted stomach, but it is certainly hard to forget.

Freaks and Revelations is based on a true story of two men on opposite sides of a hate crime. Jason is a 13 year old young man who comes from a family that is anything but desirable. His parents have separated, and he is forced to live with his mother who feels strict religion is the solution to every problem. Unfortunately for Jason, he feels the damage to his family is a direct result of their secrets that torment them all and decides to share his biggest secret. When he announces to the family, including his estranged father, that he is in fact gay, his father walks out and his mother tells him to find another place to live.

Doug comes from an equally horrible household, but handles the situation differently. His father is abusive and Doug finds himself escaping through hardcore punk music and culture. Soon he begins going to clubs and meets another group of people who share the same beliefs that minorities- all minorities- are beneath them. Eventually, they even begin "bashing" on a small scale- mostly scaring people and threatening anyone they deem unworthy.

Jason is living on the street, hustling money and turning tricks. Doug is sinking deeper and deeper into a life of intolerance and violence. A night of tension and uncontrollable rage lead Doug to attack Jason, who he thinks is just "gay trash"- not someone worth consideration, let alone human decency. Years later, however, a chance encounter will change both their lives.

This is an amazingly powerful book about how two boys can come from equally awful houses, turn out so very different, and still come colliding together more than once. With hate crimes like Matthew Shepard's murder still in our memories, this book based on the lives of Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal is one that will stay with you forever- and not just because of the violence and hate behind it- but because of how intolerance and violence can change into tolerance and caring with the right circumstances.

My only complaint about this book is that 95% of the book is about the two boys and how they grow up and end up in this situation. I would have loved to read more about the aftermath of the bashing, how they got to where they are now, and what happened after their meeting later in life. I am sure their journey as adults was just as interesting as their journey as kids, and there is so much to be learned about their path to acceptance and forgiveness. Nonetheless, this is a powerful book about sentiments that are still so real and raw, even in 2010. Please give this book a chance!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bewitching? Or a Wizardly Flop?

Product Details
Another wizard book fresh off the press! James Patterson's Witch and Wizard is yet another take on the "supernatural kids with powers" storyline. I know there are as many witch and wizard books out there as there are vampire books these days, but I am not going to lie- I LOVE witch and wizard books! Who doesn't want a power? Teleportation, telekinesis, reading minds, bursting into flames, controlling the weather... who doesn't want to have a power?!

Whit and Wisty are a brother and sister who find themselves under a new government that has it out for witchcraft and all those who practice. When the police and neighborhood thugs burst into their house one night and arrest them, strange things start happening. Wisty can disappear. Whit can create a storm like no other. Wisty can even burst into flames while never getting burned (but it sure scares those cops!). They are beginning to realize they are different, special even, and that their parents have been hiding something from them.

In a new world where all who are suspected of witchcraft are imprisoned before meeting an even worse fate, Whit and Wisty are saved by Whit's girlfriend- the very same girlfriend who disappeared months ago and is now a spirit roaming between worlds. They find out they are not the only kids the government has imprisoned and their parents are now on the Most Wanted list. Once they break free, they find other kids on the run- most don't have any special powers at all; they are just guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These kids have created a little civilization of their own and are planning a jailbreak- one they need Whit and Wisty's help to pull off. But as they learn more about the new world, they find they might be the brother and sister from the prophecy who will be the ultimate challenge to the new regime.

This book has a great premise, a very interesting plot, and best of all- witches and wizards. But somehow, it fell a little flat for me. It is a quick read, not the best writing, the characters aren't really developed or overly interesting, and some of the plot twists are a little predictable. The thing that irritated me the most, though, was reading Wisty's dialogue. She speaks like a painfully whiny teenager. While I appreciate Patterson trying to make the story as realistic as possible, Wisty's dialogue was a bit overdone- possibly the result of a middle-aged man trying to write as a 15 year old girl? Unfortunately, the Young Adult genre has become such an amazing home for beautiful and exciting writing and mediocre just doesn't do it for me anymore. And that is just what this book is- mediocre, nothing special, just OK. Of course it is the start of a series with many more to come. While I will probably read the rest of the series, I have a feeling I will be disappointed with each installment unless Patterson decides to up the ante. The book isn't horrible, but there are just so many amazing books out there, it seems silly to seek this book out. Better to check out Eragon, Charlie Bones, Inkheart, Shiver, City of Bones, or any number of other great books about the supernatural or mythical world.

Miles of Serendipitous Adventure

The Miles Between
The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson is just pure serendipity! Everything falls into place, shows up at the right time, and works out in the end. Pearson created a story that makes you feel good.

Destiny Farrady is in the latest of many, many boarding schools she is shuffled in and out of. She keeps to herself and doesn't bother making friends, because inevitably she will just have to leave them! The only thing she is looking forward to is her aunt's visit on her birthday because she knows her parents won't be coming. They never come. In fact, they have essentially forgotten they even have a daughter. But when her aunt cancels her visit, Des is so upset she doesn't know what to do... until she spots the beautiful car in front of the school with the engine running.

Des needs to take this car, but she can't drive. She sees another student, a boy she has been interested in, dodging his work duty detention and convinces him to drive the car- but she doesn't tell him the car isn't hers! Then, two other students happen by and want to tag along. Soon, the foursome is off on an adventure that will change their lives.

With a hilarious and adorable quest with no destination in sight, the four students start driving to the nearest city. They happen upon a poor lost lamb and adopt it as their "dog" (affectionately referred to as Lucky and explained as being a "Lamberdoodle" when they are told livestock isn't allowed in the city limits. They stumble upon a great thrift shop where they find poodle skirts and funky outfits to change into instead of their uniforms. Des even finds a stack of cash in the glove box to fund their little excursion. The conclusion of their "fair" and perfect day leads to more than just one revelation of their lives and budding friendships.

This is an absolutely adorable book with a sweet story of four kids who are trying to find their way in life. It is a quick read, and it keeps you interested with something always happening on the road trip. The language is very readable and not terribly complicated. There is also a bit of seriousness as Des deals with her family and deeper troubles in her life, but these issues are handled with a delightful optimism that will put a smile on your face. In fact, I would like to rename the book to "the Smiles Between". If you just need a feel-good book that will make you happy for your friends and family, this is it!

A War of Words

How I See The Alphabet War

by guest author Liz, Grade 12

The book The Alphabet War is a children's book by Diane Burton Robb and illustrated by Gail Piazza.  The book is about dyslexia, and the theme is believing you can't read or spell and then realizing you actually can.

Adam is a little boy with a big imagination who discovers that he can't read and realizes that he also can't pretend he can.  The principal and his parents get together to figure out a way to help him.  They decide to test him and find out in 3rd grade that he has dyslexia.  His 4th grade teacher Mr. Chase is the first teacher who believes in him.  Adam believes he is stupid and doesn't know anything because he doesn't know how to read.  Mr. Chase teaches Adam that he is actually smart even though he didn't believe the person who did his testing.  Then he start doing the things that he can do well, like make a skateboard that can "whip anybody racing down Third Street Hill."  He tries and works his hardest at things that are hard and believes that he can do it.

The book is a good lesson to have children realize that you have to start believing in yourself.  Once you realize you can do it, you can almost do anything.  It relates to me because I have dyslexia.  When I was little, I also thought that it was good enough to pretend and not really worry about doing anything.  I understood the feeling when Adam was getting tested, the feeling like a bug under a microscope.  The books shows realistically how kids would feel and would react to these different abilities.  At one part, he kicked a kid who made fun of him.  I know I have felt that way when someone has made fun of me because of my learning disability that I have to deal with and can not change.

I thought the book was all right.  I would recommend it to some people.  I think kids that aren't dyslexic but think things are really hard should read this book to show them that things can be worse.  Kids who have dyslexia and feel like they can't do anything should also read it.  I would recommend it to Elementary teachers so they can really realize what it is like.  Then they can help the kids so the issues are resolved when they are little.  Little kids should be able to understand what dyslexia is and get through it rather than waiting until a certain age.  It will be way harder if they wait.  Kids should ease in to what they are about to learn so they don't need to do so many things at once, especially with their learning disability, and this book is a good place to start.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beautiful Creatures are calling to you!

Beautiful Creatures

Try as I might, I couldn't get through this big girl in one night over the holiday break! But, oh! I did try! Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a southern, Gothic tale of a small town who revels in their reenactments, supports voodoo and strong Baptist beliefs in the same breath, and knows there is something going on in the Ravenwood estate- especially when Macon Ravenwood's niece Lena Duchannes shows up to live there.

Ethan Wate is an average high school boy who plays on the basketball team, "belongs" without actually belonging, and goes through the motions of adolescence. Then again, maybe he isn't so average... his mother dies, his father becomes a shut-in, and his voodoo practicing nanny/housekeeper, Amma, keeps hiding charms around the house to protect him (some which contain creepy little chicken bones Ethan suspects were from dinner). When Lena comes to Gatlin High and the rest of the school immediately pegs her as Macon Ravenwood's creepy niece, Ethan feels oddly protective of her. This of course instantly makes him as much of a pariah as Lena is.

Quickly, however, it becomes clear to Ethan that despite their feelings for one another, Lena is hiding something from him. Upon meeting the infamous hermit, Macon Ravenwood, Ethan finds out what is really going on with Lena. However, the extent of her secret is still to be uncovered. Lena and Ethan must delve into the secret history of Gatlin in order to save Lena from a fate she is terrified to see.

This book is almost 600 pages, which can be daunting to say the least. While I felt it moved pretty swiftly, looking back I see the real meat of the story didn't evolve until 300 pages into the novel. Therefore, this may not be the best novel to get a reluctant kid to read. However, if you have the kind of kid who loves the supernatural books and can plod through such a tome, this is a really cool story. I love the Gothic, southern elements that creep into even the smallest elements of the story. For instance, Ethan has three kooky, elderly aunts he spends time with each and every week. He takes them to church, keeps them from killing each other, and even makes emergency vet runs when one clubs the other's dog thinking it was a rat. There is a southern hospitality about this book that is just charming.

There are other less appealing aspects of such a small-town culture, too, though. For instance, when odd things happen around Lena (glass explodes out of a window when a group of girls are tormenting her), the town mothers and DAR members rally together to kick her out of school, claiming she is an evil influence on their children. The town goes to great lengths to get rid of Lena, simply because she is related to Macon Ravenwood. Even teachers and the principal want her gone for no other reason than she "might" be responsible for the odd things that happen.

This is a really interesting book, and I loved it, but the size and belated action might make it difficult for some to get through. I would suggest giving it to a strong reader who can spend extended periods of time reading. Otherwise, you will keep plucking your way through this book and it will consume the entire year! I also think this is more of a "girl" book than a "guy" book. While there is some interesting supernatural content, there is a lot about the relationship between Lena and Ethan, as well as a great deal about love, friendships, etc. The action is more of an undertone to the mystery of the relationships in the story. Nonetheless, this was a great book that kept me up half the night until I just couldn't go on any longer! I passed out on top of the book dreaming about creepy Gothic graves and chicken bones (and possibly even drooling a little bit!). Great read!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Knights Templar in a whole new Light!

Devil's Kiss
"Killing him should be easy; He's only six." An opening line like that is all this book needed to grab me! As I was reading it, I was just praying it would become a series! I don't know much about the Knights Templar beyond what Dan Brown wrote about, but I have always been intrigued by their history, and in particular, their mysterious nature throughout history. When I picked up Devil's Kiss, by Sarwat Chadda, I wasn't prepared for such an interesting book and description of the Knights Templar!

Billi's Father is the master of the Knights Templar, while her mother, a Pakistani Muslim, was killed by one the very monsters Billi, her father, and the other Knights fight against each and every day. Billi is being trained as a Templar, much to the irritation of the older, more cantankerous of the Order. Despite the training, all Billi really cares about is having a normal life. She wants to be able to do her homework at night without having to assist in slayings and Ghul, Were, or Grigori attacks. She wants to meet boys and have a real relationship. Most of all, she wants her friend, Kay, another Templar in training, to return from Jerusalem where he is learning to hone his psychic abilities.

When Kay returns, though, his powers get him in trouble. He underestimates his abilities and almost allows a group of angry fallen angels (Grigori) escape hell. They were able to close the portal, but not before the Grigori are able to call for their one free brother- The Angel of Death. The Knights are preparing for a fight, but Billi just wants to spend time with the mysterious new guy she just met- Michael. What Billi doesn't know is that her unconventional and sometimes terrifying life is about to get a whole lot scarier.

Packed with history and mystical fiction, this book is really a page-turner. I read it in one sitting and was sad to see it end. The characters are deep and complex while the story is tinted with dark creatures, religion, and a modern girl who just wants to listen to her iPod and enjoy being a teenager. I love how Chadda is able to combine an ancient mysterious order with the life of an average present-day teenager. This is a great book for both guys and girls, with enough action to keep anyone interested. It isn't too gory, but there are some harsh parts with the creepy Ghuls. If you have a student who is a little bit darker than Harry Potter or Twilight, but still likes the magical, mystical type of book, this one is sure to be a screaming success! Now I am just going to keep my fingers crossed that Chadda decides to continue Billi's story!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What does "Beautiful" mean anyway?

North of Beautiful
I have had this book for a while, started it a couple of times, but never gotten very far. I finally picked it up again over the holiday and looking back, I don't know how I ever put it down. North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley is a beautiful story about physical beauty, inner beauty, pain, humiliation, and coming to terms with who you are.

Terra is a senior in high school who is determined to keep her body as beautiful and physically fit as possible. She obsesses over her body to compensate for the rather large port-wine birthmark that is splayed across her cheek. Despite years of trying to lighten the birthmark through painful laser surgeries, nothing has worked. But Terra has become a master at camouflage. She has enough make-up to cover her face, and sometimes her soul, from the rest of the world.

The birthmark isn't Terra's only source for humiliation. Her father is great at making her feel small and insignificant. When he isn't picking on Terra's mother for being overweight, this washed up cartographer waits for opportunities to keep his children down, humiliate them, and hurt them in anyway possible. Terra's two older brothers have escaped the tension of the household, but Terra is still stuck there. Each moment in the house is spent listening to her father abuse her mother and being torn between wanting to intervene and not wanting to be the next victim.

When her brothers come home for Christmas, Terra's father pulls his usual attack which causes the boys to leave- the eldest returning to China where he has lived for two years. When he sends Terra and her mother tickets to visit him in China, they immediately dispel the idea- Terra's father would never let them go. It takes the gentle push of a new-found friend and her son, Jacob, who offer to go with them to get Terra and her mother on the plane. Once in China, both Terra and her mother are forced to look at themselves, their lives, and most sadly, Terra's father and his verbal and emotional abuse.

This is an amazing book that put a knot in my stomach from the first word to the last. The description of the father's emotional and verbal abuse is so haunting, I felt as though I was Terra. Having known victims of such abuse, and having been a witness to such abuse, I have no idea how Headley could put those emotions and feelings on paper. I had a friend whose father was just like Terra's, and the tension, anxiety and fear Headley describes is what you felt the moment you walked into my friend's house. But at the same time, this book is beautiful. We are all flawed, but that is simply what makes us stronger.

I would recommend this book for students only if you can be sure they have never suffered this kind of family situation. I can honestly say the descriptions of the father are so painful and hurtful that if a student who had a similar home life were to read this book, the consequences could be great. However, this is an amazing book for that student who may need a "little touch with reality". We have all had the student who thinks the latest high school drama and who sat where in the cafeteria are the biggest happenings in the world. This book is certainly an eye-opener to how those silly high school dramas aren't really as important as kids think they are. My only caution is to please read this book before you give to a student and know the student you are recommending this book to- it isn't for everyone.


Have you ever relived a moment in time, trying to judge whether anything you could have done might have prevented an inevitable outcome? When Justin's younger brother Mark dies, Justin is forced to relive the horrific day and its consequences again, and again, and again.  Kate Morgenroth's Echo depicts grief and its consequences and explores the gray area between reality and illusion.

Justin used to be popular. He used to be an athlete. Now, he's a pariah. His former friends and his girlfriend go out of their way to avoid him. Everyone tells him he has changed. The teachers and administrators at his school have lost their patience; his grief is no longer enough to account for his rudeness and hostility. Justin thinks he is doing fine until he is overwhelmed by the anniversary of his brother's death and is found at the scene of a critical accident involving his former friend Billy. Already grappling with the guilt of being a firsthand witness at his brother's death, Justin now hears a voice that makes him relive the day of Billy's accident over and over.

Each time, Justin sees the incident with new eyes and learns a little more about the cast of supporting characters. He comes to understand which circumstances he could have changed and which were beyond his control. He realizes that he is not, in fact, okay, but that he also does not have to be alone in his grief.

Echo is dark and a little raw in places. It's not too graphic, but there are a few scenes I could do without visiting multiple times. For young adults who are not too close to grief in their own lives or who have an interest in psychology, this would be an interesting read.  It is pretty compelling, and at 137 pages, moves quickly. There's a little mystery and a little raw emotion as well as a need for belonging and search for forgiveness that we can all relate to.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Prepare to be Locked Down with this one from Cover to Cover!

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace 1
Intense is most certainly not the word for Lockdown: Escape from the Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith. This book is dark, twisted, and terrifying! Smith's breakout YA novel is one that will keep kids (and adults) intrigued and possibly even a little queasy.

It starts with Alex Sawyer, a teenager who has slipped into some bad habits from bullying to burglarizing houses at night. Alex is not an angel. He started off small by ripping off his classmates and preying upon the weaker students in particular. When he and his friend graduate to robbing houses, they really like the money it brings in. But one night, in a routine burglary, the boys find they are not alone in the house. A group of giant thugs led by a terrifying man in a gas mask catch the boys, kill Alex's friend, and tell Alex he'd better run! Alex quickly realizes it was all just a set-up as he is quickly apprehended by the police, convicted, and thrown into the new prison- the Furnace.

Furnace is a warehouse for young criminals built into a crater in the earth. With nothing but rock miles deep surrounding them, the kids have no choice but to accept life's cruel twist of fate- especially since so many are innocent. Alex quickly breaks all the rules- he can't stop worrying about the kids he came in with, makes friends with his bunk mate, and even stands up to the biggest gang in the prison to help another "new fish". Alex can't stop bringing attention to himself, and both the guards, the warden, and the other prisoners are ready to put him in his place.

Lockdown is not only a scary prison book- it has subtle (or not so subtle) hints of the supernatural as well. These elements aren't the primary focus of the story, but they certainly do the trick of giving you goosebumps. Prison guard dogs with no skin, just bulging muscle and vicious blood-thirsty fangs, patrol the Furnace after a lockdown hoping for a kid to rip apart. Creepy beings swoop in at night and mark 2-3 cells. One boy from each cell is taken and never returns (or do they?!). Even the guards seem to be something inexplicable. All seems hopeless in the Furnace... or is it?

When Alex and his friends find a possible way out, they go to great lengths to orchestrate the escape. But no one escapes from the furnace- at least no one who lives to tell the tale. You will just have to read the book to find out what Alex does next, and get ready for the sequel!

I would recommend this book for a teen boy who needs an action-packed novel to keep their interest. There is never a dull moment in the Furnace, and this book will keep them interested! However, it is very, very dark and disturbing. I wouldn't recommend this book for a younger, less-mature student, as it can be quite harsh at times. The vocabulary is also a little high, but that can be a great thing if the student is reading the book with you- a perfect teaching situation! I would certainly recommend reading this particular book before giving it to a student to be sure they can handle the situations. It may be a YA novel, but this book is written with adult situations and language. However, if given to the right student, it could get even the toughest student reading furiously!