Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Wells Have Run Dry

We really have no idea how much we rely on fossil fuels in this world. When I think of a gas shortage, I think of having to cut down on driving, but really had never thought of just how many products are petroleum based, from toothpaste to ball point pens. Our reliance on fossil fuels is terrifying, and Empty by Suzanne Weyn shows just how quickly everything can fall apart.

Sage Valley is your average town full of middle class folks who work hard every day and live their lives as though nothing in the world will ever drastically change. When a global-wide oil shortage begins, however, they are in for a rude awakening. Suddenly kids are biking to school. Sports teams stop because they can't drive to the opposing schools. Gas costs $40, $60, then $90 dollars per gallon. People can't heat their homes. Medicines are in short supply. Food deliveries stop. Very quickly, people start to get desperate.

Tom is your average second-string football player who only worries about his crush, head cheerleader Nicki. When the gas shortage begins, his biggest concern is not being able to drive her home. Nicki's biggest concern is having to wear her glasses because there haven't been any deliveries of her contacts to the pharmacy in a long time. Gwen has gone from the outcast to the only kid who has a warm house thanks to her brother's black market dealings. As if the gas shortage wasn't the worst problem, the climate change is finally about to get the better of them. Two enormous hurricanes from the gulf coast and the East Coast merge and make their way up the East to practically destroy everything in their "superhurricane" path. Disaster relief is virtually nonexistent in the current times, and Sage Valley is left to survive by its own devices.

This is not only a story of how everything falls apart (although that is certainly in the foreground). It is also a story of how tragedy brings people together. How people in dire circumstances can become selfless. Heroes even. It is also a story of how things need to change if we are to survive. Towards the end of the story, the kids find a "Green" house that was built to be self-sustainable with low amounts of electricity, food production, and heat. Are we prepared for what is going to happen when the non-renewable resources we gobble up are gone?

In the deluge of apocalyptic books these days, this is a fairly good one, especially for adolescents. It directly deals with their lives and can be an eye-opener for just how drastically their worlds can change. Sometimes it is hard for kids to understand how things truly affect them, like wars, natural disasters, etc., until they are in their backyards. This book puts the disaster in the worlds of these kids. It is also a fairly short, low-skilled book that would be perfect for younger or low-skilled students. The plus is that it isn't nearly as depressing as some of the stuff out there. Sure everything changes, but that doesn't mean it needs to be the end of the world! We can still find ways to survive, even in circumstances we never thought we would face!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Real Scorcher

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 2)
At times a sequel can far surpass the original book. It isn't easy, and rarely does it involve a huge plot shift. In The Scorch Trials, by James Dasher, the sequel to The Maze Runner, the story takes twists and turns that will leave the reader's head spinning. While the first book had the group of boys (Gladers) surviving the terrifying maze that turned out to be a test for scientists to help save the damaged world, this second book takes that horrifying idea even further.

The story begins just after the Gladers were saved from the Maze. They were ushered into a building under the cloak of darkness, fed, and left to sleep away their terrors. When they wake up, the people who brought them there are all dead, hanging in the common room. Thomas goes looking for Teresa, the only girl ever sent to the Glade and the girl he can speak to telepathically, but finds a strange boy in her room and no sign of Teresa. They find out from this boy quickly that there was another Maze- an all girls' maze that ended with Aris arriving as the only boy the same way Teresa arrived in the boys' maze. Stuck in the compound with no way out and bars on the windows (which keeps out the crazy Cranks- people driven to murderous madness by a disease called Flare), the boys spend days starving and wondering if they had been left to die.

Finally, when they are on the brink of starvation induced madness, a Rat-faced man arrives to tell them they are about to begin the next phase of their trials- the Scorch Trials. They will have to exit the compound and make it across the solar-flare ravaged desert, which is teeming with Cranks, in order to get to the safe house where they will be cured of the Flare. If they don't make it to the safe house, they will die by slipping into insanity like so many millions of other people have. The catch? The Scorch trials will make the Maze look paradise.

The Gladers choose to make a run for it, but even the entrance out of the compound and out into the world isn't safe. A weird metallic substance drips from the ceiling and hardens around the heads of the unfortunate, ultimately decapitating them. Once they reach the outside, the sun is so severe it threatens to give third degree burns with only a couple of hours of exposure. After quickly making meager protective shields for the sun, they escape the tunnel and set out across the Scorch. Unfortunately, everything from frighteningly intense electrical storms to cannibalistic Cranks are between them and the cure for their Flare. With the help of a couple of Cranks who aren't too affected by the disease yet, the Gladers who have lasted this far finally have a chance of making it to the safe haven. The last part of the trial, though, may involve more than they had bargained for- especially when they encounter the group of girls from the other maze.

This is a crazy second installment. When you think you have finally figured out the formula for the story, Dashner slaps you in the face with a totally new twist. The characters are put through so much, you can hardly believe any kid could survive long enough to make it to the other side of the trial. The violence is more graphic, the scenarios are more frightening, and the warped government reaches new levels of post-apocalyptic madness. This is a good series for that kid who needs constant action and twists to keep their attention. I think this book is a little like The Maze Runner's juvenile delinquent older brother. It will keep even the most easily distracted reader's attention from cover to cover.

Friday, October 29, 2010

You Had Me at "Camp-Halfblood"

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero
Oh, Rick Riordan, you are a God yourself. Or at least a demigod! Your books are amazing, they suck me in so quickly I have to save them for long weekends, and I really wish I was a demigod (without the monsters of course). I am not sure which God or Goddess I'd like to belong to, but I know I wouldn't want to belong to Hades- what a creeper! My only complaint? Why in all of Mount Olympus can't you save all your books in a series and release them together?! I really can't wait a whole year for the next book!

After the amazing conclusion of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Riordan has created another little gem, The Heroes of Olympus. The first book in the series, Lost Heroes, doesn't disappoint. It is full of Greek myths, some Roman mythology for good measure, sprinkled with some familiar characters like Annabeth, Chiron and our favorite Gods and Goddesses (in all their ridiculous glory). While Percy Jackson may not be present, his mysterious disappearance is still in the background as some of the heroes go off to find him. The focus of the story, though, is three demigods who are thrown together in a Hail Mary attempt to save the Gods from the new threat brewing. Percy may have finished off the Titans in the first series, but he really ticked of their mother, the Earth mother Gaia herself, and she can be one mean old lady.

Now Jason, Piper, and Leo, all demigods with special circumstances and powers, must go on a quest to find Piper's kidnapped father, find out why Jason's memory has been wiped, and stop whatever is threatening the Gods. Unfortunately, there are plenty of saucy or wicked Gods and spirits out their to derail their quest. Can they find the kidnapped Goddess in time to save her and stop Gaia from awaking? Should they trust each other? What the heck is up with creepy mud giants?!

This was an amazing first installment to this new series. I loved having a new series with new main characters, but familiar ties to places like Camp Halfblood and characters from the first series made it seem like an extension of the first series- it was the best of both worlds!! Since the Percy Jackson books are not terribly long, if a student made it through the five books in that series, this would be the next graduated step. Topping out at over 550 pages, it is like two Percy Jackson books in one, but the mutual characters and setting along with fun new themes and quests make it an exciting new adventure. The writing style and skill level is the same as the first series, relatively accessible for a middle school student through high school (especially for low-skilled high school students because it is still fun and exciting- not at all juvenile). Give Jason, Piper, and Leo a chance- you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When It's Cold, Be-Were!

by Guest Author, Julia

I recently finished the book Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. In the course of two weeks, I was sent on a journey that held love, romance, and hardship. I would definitely recommend this book to people ages 14 and up. I feel that they would enjoy every bit of the story the way I did. This book is set in modern times and is a fantasy involving a teenage girl and her wolf.

Imagine this: you are in a small town. You are a 17 year old girl who, yes, is in love with a wolf. You are trying to hold on to this love forever but each day it gets colder and colder, until you are uncertain you can hold onto this love any longer. In this story you will meet Grace who is 17. You will also meet her not so caring parents, and Sam the love of her life. There are many more characters you will meet along the way.

Shiver is a love story. Grace is madly in love with Sam, but sadly their love is complicated. Sam has a secret that only Grace knows. His secret is that when the cold arrives, he disappears. Grace and Sam try to keep their love pure and alive as long as possible.

I would recommend this book to people ages 14 and up. This novel is somewhat sophisticated. It is full of real love and romance. Shiver would most likely appeal to teens because it includes werewolves, and it involves a somewhat magical aspect of their fondness for each other. It is like a fairy tale similar to Beauty and the Beast. The princess always gets her prince. It is also similar to Romeo and Juliet with their forbidden love. This is a thrilling love story. I believe that only people 14 and up can really grasp and appreciate the concept of love.

Stiefvater has recently published a sequel to Shiver. If you like the author and the way she writes her novels, you might also enjoy her other books. You might enjoy Linger. She has also written Lament and the sequel, Ballad. She has really found that writing is her true calling, and I hope she continues to do it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lies are Only the Beginning...

Lies: A Gone Novel
Since the power went out in the FAYZ, life has gotten worse. Food is scarce, the Human Crew has waged war on the "Freaks" and now people who used to be dead are walking around town. In the third installment of Michael Grant's Gone series, Lies delves deeper and darker into a world where all adults are gone, kids as young as five are forced to take care of themselves, and reality is never quite as it seems.

While Sam began life in the FAYZ as the natural hero, the natural leader, he hasn't recovered from being whipped within an inch of his life by Drake Merwin. Now he is unstable at best, but still the one kids look up to. While Astrid is desperately trying to establish a government to maintain order, her council's complete lack of respect or power among the kids is leaving the FAYZ in danger. Zil and the Human Crew are doing everything they can to destroy the power of the Freaks, starting with amassing weapons and getting as many normal kids as possible on their side.

The tenuous stability in the FAYZ breaks down quickly, though, when the Prophetess Orsay begins telling kids she can hear their parents dreams from outside the wall. She tells them they can return to their parents by blinking out when they turn 15. Thanks to her handler Nereeza, her message is heard far and wide. Then a broken Caine enlists the help of Zil and the Human Crew to create a diversion in Perdido Beach by burning houses down so Caine and the few starving, cannibalistic cohorts he has left can steal boats and seek out the island that belonged to an actor and his wife- a place that just has to be full of food. As Zil follows through with his side of the bargain, the FAYZ erupts in chaos. Can Astrid, Edilio, and Sam keep the bizarre civilization together through the chaos?

This installment of the series is the darkest yet. Grant wasted no sentiment on the fact that this was a young adult series and pulled out all the horrors of the apocalyptic and dystopian genres- starvation, cannibalism, death, etc. This book is as adult as it could be without completely crossing the line of the young adult genre. Descriptions of Caine's crew seeking out the body of a boy who killed himself in order to cook and eat him was probably the creepiest part of the book. This is not a story for the faint of heart! While it is dark, though, there is always a hope amongst the kids of the FAYZ. They are trying to make life as tolerable as possible. It is hard, though, with no electricity and having to rely on children to keep society together. The twists are interesting, new characters are introduced, and the action keeps you flying through this book as fast as possible. While it was an amazing volume, this series is getting more and more mature and its readers should be ready to handle the harsh circumstances it deals with.