Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Light My Fire!

Who needs vampires, werewolves, zombies, and pixies?! We have Draki! Draki are descendants of dragons who have evolved to shift between their dragon form and their human form. This is how they live amongst the rest of the population, by shifting between forms. Unfortunately, there are enough hunters out there who now about dragons. The only thing that keeps the dragons safe is that the hunters don't know they can take human form.

Jacinda is rare even for a dragon. One of the first fire-breathers in generations, Jacinda is the prized possession of the dragon pride. In fact, the alpha has ideas of mating her with his son in order to produce more fire-breathing draki. While Jacinda isn't completely sold on this idea, she isn't completely against it either. She actually loves being a draki, and loves being a dragon even more. When she and a friend tempt fate by sneaking away from the safety of the pride's village to fly, she finds herself surrounded by hunters. She hides behind a waterfall, but a young hunter with soulful eyes finds her. Thankfully, he doesn't tell the other hunters she is there and lets her go free.

When the pride finds out what Jacinda did, endangering herself and the entire pride, they begin scheming. They want to make sure their prized draki doesn't leave the pride. But Jacinda's mother, a former draki who let her dragon die when Jacinda's twin sister, Tamra, didn't present as a draki, has other plans for the girls. Together, Jacinda, her mother and her sister flee the fertile lands of the mountains and the protective mist and head for the desert- a place where the inner dragon is literally dehydrated from the draki's body.

Although Tamra is thrilled for the move and a chance to live a normal life away from being the pride's outcast, Jacinda is horrified- until she sees Will, the hunter who let her go, at school on her first day. Will seems to bring the dragon out of her even in such an arid climate. Unfortunately, he brings out the dragon so much she almost manifests into her dragon just by being near him. As she gets to know more about Will, she realizes he isn't like the rest of his family. Will isn't a ruthless hunter. She also knows she can't reveal her secret to him, though, for fear of endangering her family and the rest of the pride. Although Jacinda knows she should stay away from Will, she can't keep herself away from him. Will she be able to keep her secret from him and his family, or will this be the end of the draki?

This is a fun supernatural story with loads of fun mythology and lore. Everyone loves dragons, right?! Well now you get dragons rolled into romance and death-defying stories! I love the stories about the actual draki, all of which have different abilities. Some can produce the shielding mist, some understand plants and herbs and are therefore amazing cooks. Some are water dragons, while others are made to fly. They dragon personalities and talents seem to manifest in their person as well. For instance, Jacinda's fire breathing seems to come out in the hot-tempered, impulsive person she is when she demanifests into a human. So interesting!

The story is at a moderate reading level, perfect for middle school through high school. It is probably a book more aptly suited for girls, although the dragons might intrigue some boys. It is also the start of a continuing trilogy, so we can expect to see more from Jacinda and the other draki in the future! The only question to answer now is, what kind of dragon would you be?

The Giver of a Story You Can't Forget

The Giver
There aren't many people out there who haven't read Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver, but I happened to be one of them. Then I talked to my longtime friend (since 2nd grade!) who I often share great YA titles with (and a love for cheesy RomComs) and she told me The Giver was a book that she read in middle school that stayed with her. She still thought about the book 20 years later (god we are getting old). So, I decided I had to quit being a turd and do my YA collection justice with this 1994 Newberry winner. After finishing it in one voracious sitting, I had to ask myself if I would ever learn. I avoided Percy Jackson for years- did I learn? I refused to read Harry Potter, Twilight, and so many more for no other reason than they were popular. Now The Giver. Will I ever learn?! Why do I deprive myself of great stories?

The story begins in a utopia. No one feels pain, no one is unhappy. Any feelings of anger, jealousy or concern are to be voiced in family units every morning in order to address and release them. Children are not born and raised with their parents. Instead, a sensible couple the community puts together is allowed to ask for children and they can receive up to one boy and one girl. Only Birth Mothers are allowed to have children, but since all the community members take drugs to inhibit sexual impulses from the time they reach puberty, no one seems to object. When people get too old, they are "Released" into a better state. If twins are born, the smaller of the two will be released. Even careers are not chosen, but rather given to the people of the community by the Elders after careful consideration. When children reach their twelfth year, they are assigned a career to focus on. Although they can request a career change, it doesn't happen. Instead, people are content in the community. They contribute, they live, and they are content. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When Jonas reaches his twelfth year and is assigned, however, it changes everything. Jonas is assigned as the new Receiver of Memory. He is to report to the Giver of Memory, an old man who was chosen as Jonas was chosen, to be given the memories of times forgotten. This includes happy memories, like snow, sledding, warm sun, and fun. It also includes bad memories like pain, breaking an arm, war, and anger. These memories begin to change Jonas, but he is forbidden to share them with others. All he wants to do is show his sister and his friends the colors of the world, the sunshine.

When his father, a Nurturer in the nursery, brings home a baby who isn't sleeping well, Jonas takes him into his bedroom at night and shares the happy memories with him. This soothes the baby, but is strictly forbidden, of course. Jonas and the Giver begin talking about leaving the community in order to give the people back the memories of past times, good and bad. It will be traumatic for them, but The Giver will be there to guide them. When Jonas's father announces the baby is going to be "released", Jonas, who has seen what "releasing" really is, refuses to leave the baby to that fate.

This story is one that will truly rock your world. With so many dystopias swirling around out there, it is hard to imagine one that could sweep you off your feet as easily as this one. Nevertheless, this classic bested me. It makes the reader question their wants, their desires, their hopes. It keeps the reader on their toes and examines what is really important in life. Do we need a life free of pain and suffering? Or will that lead to the loss of all this beautiful, wonderful, and sublime as well. Do we need to experience pain in order to truly know love and happiness when we have it?

This book is a must read for anyone who hasn't read it already. Recently a coworker said she was using it in her middle school Lit class, and I was thrilled! (eerily she told me about using it in her classroom the very same day I finished reading it!) To hand this story over to students, especially in a student-driven setting, means opening the door to struggling readers who can't get enough of a story. This will be that story- it will have them questioning everything they have ever known, and then some. And isn't that why we read anyway? To question ourselves, our worlds, what we know, what we think we want to know, and so much more? Don't be afraid to give this story to your children or students- like my grade school friend, they will never forget it!

An Egyptian High Adventure

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)
It wasn't enough, Rick Riordan, to tackle the Greek and Roman Myths with such skill? You still had to go Egyptian, too? Well, at least we know the myths are in good hands with you. In all their glory, crankiness, megalomania, and super-holy lunacy, the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt are here and ready to battle... the Kane kids? The Kane Chronicles, Book One: Red Pyramid takes the unlikely heroes of Sadie and Carter Kane and makes them save the world!

Since their mother died, Carter Kane has been on the road with his Egyptologist/archaeologist father, Julius Kane, while Sadie Kane has been in London living with her grandparents and enduring a rather normal life. Both kids see each other only twice a year, but both resent the other. Carter wants Sadie's stable life, and Sadie wants Carter's life with their dad. When the two kids go to The British Museum with Julius, they expect another day of work disguised as a family visit. What they get is nothing they could have expected.

Instead of normal exhibit viewing, Julius tells his kids to chain the curator in his office and stay out of the room, which they don't do, of course. When they come in the room, they witness their father summoning someone or something and releasing a scary fire man from the Rosetta Stone. Their father is thrown into a giant sarcophagus and sucked into the floor. Once the police take them back to their grandparents house, Sadie and Carter find out they are being deported and have to leave with their Uncle Amos immediately- a man neither of them know anything about.

They are whisked away to NYC and taken to their uncle's magical mansion (atop an abandoned warehouse and magically cloaked). Here they begin to learn their true lineage- that they are the descendants of two lines of magical lines from the Gods- one on their mother's side and one from their father's family. This makes them the perfect vessels for Gods, one where they could hold the Gods without losing themselves like so many have throughout history (Cleopatra). The problem? Sadie and Carter aren't too keen on sharing their bodies with Isis and Horus. Unfortunately, with Osiris stuck in their father's body and evil Set out to destroy the world, they have no choice but to work together with their Gods to save the world, and their dad. Now they must do so with an uncle they don't quite trust, Set creating a Red Pyramid that will make him all powerful, a group of murderous cranky Egyptian legends on their trail, and not much by way of friends except Bast, the cat Goddess, and a crazy baboon who likes to each things that end in "o" (Dorito, Cheeto, flamingo...).

After reading The Lost Hero, I was worried I might have a hard time breaking away from my favorite Greek Gods for this new series, especially since I don't know as much about Egyptian Gods as I do Greek Gods. Boy, was I wrong! This is a great story told from both Sadie's and Carter's perspectives. All the characters, from the two main characters down to the ridiculous baboon who is always getting into trouble, are hilarious, flawed, and endearing. The story is exciting and enthralling, one that will certainly keep any child or adult addicted. If you have a kid who loved Percy Jackson but needs something different, this is what will keep them reading.

The reading level is relatively simple, and luckily the Egyptian Gods names are not as tongue-twisty as the Greek Gods (Dionysus vs. Set). The book is rather long, though, and might be daunting to unsure readers. This book would be a great companion for any class learning about Egypt. It shows the Gods and myths in whole new lights that let you really know the stories while still feeling connected to the people and creatures in them. Riordan is amazing, and I hope he eventually decides to tap into the Norse Gods too- I need to buff up on my Norse Mythology now that Greek, Roman, and Egyptian are covered!

Unwound to a Better Place?

Ever wonder what will happen if two groups fighting over an unanswerable problem finally went too far? What about the pro-life/pro-choice debate? If both sides finally realize their futility and reach a point of no return, where would we be? In Unwind, Neal Shusterman has taken the abortion issue so far, you will be terrified to imagine such a world.

When the second civil war is fought over abortion, both sides agree to end the war if one rule is implemented: unwinding. A parent can choose to "unwind" a child only between the ages of 13 and 18. They must keep the child until they are 13 before unwinding. When a child is unwound, they are taken to a Harvest Camp and their parts are dismantled and used for other people awaiting the organs and limbs. The theory behind unwinding is that although a child is never alive "whole" again, they will always be alive in pieces, and therefore not be "aborted".

Connor, Risa and Lev are three unwinds who are all being sent to Harvest Camp for different reasons. Connor is a moderately bad kid whose parents are tired of dealing with detentions. Risa is a ward of the state and due to cutbacks, they are unwinding a bunch of kids to make room for more. Lev belongs to a religion where they believe 10% of their worth should go back to the community. As the tenth child, Lev becomes the "tithe" or donation to the community in the form of unwinding. While all came form different backgrounds, all three will end up the same way- as spare parts for the operating rooms.

During a freak accident, Connor runs away and causes an accident on Risa's bus to camp so she is able to escape. Then Connor rescues a reluctant Lev who just wants to fulfill his duty as a tithe. The three find themselves bumbling through town trying to find a way to escape the Harvest Camp. They find adults who are willing to sneak them and other runaway unwinds to a plane graveyard that doubles as hideaway for unwinds until they are 18 and free of the Harvest Camps. Unfortunately, for Connor, Risa, and Lev, it isn't as simple as just waiting, especially when someone is trying to take down the hideaway from the inside. Can they escape the camps? Or will they end up like every other unwind... pieced up like a junked car.

This story is so horrifying it would catch anyone's attention. And the creepiest part? It's delivery is almost casual, making it even more terrifying. Shusterman keeps you engaged from the first page and leaves you gaping at the ending. I think this is a great book for either a male or female student, as the main characters present both sides. Each chapter is told in the perspective of one of the three main characters, giving the story an amazing twist.

The most important part of this story is the discussions it will lead you into with your student or child. How far will people go to settle a long-standing argument? Can a compromise give up more than you imagined? What is death really? If your parts are still alive, are you? The discussion possibilities are endless. This is a book that will open up more than just your students reading fluency. It will create an opportunity to really talk a child about important topics. Shusterman hit a home run with this one- more than you can imagine!

Girl with Guts

Girl in the Arena
What if history took a strong turn away from its current path? What if that turn in history slowly led to the legitimization of modern day gladiators. Not the gladiators with foam swords and colorful arenas, of course, but instead the same gladiators who fought to the death with ferocious animals and other gladiators. The same gladiators who were bound by their servitude, either as slaves or through contracts. These gladiators are one and the same. The only difference? The gladiators from Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines are present day fighters- complete with technology and all the other trappings we have these days. They are "neo-gladiators".

Lyn grew up in the glad culture. Her father started fighting on the streets in underground glad events and was eventually one of the first legitimate glads... until he was killed. Then Lyn's mother remarried- another glad. In glad culture, glads, their widows, and their children stick together. Glad widows often remarry other glads, but seven is the limit. When Lyn's 7th glad father is killed in the ring by an up-and-comer, Uber, something goes horribly wrong. Lyn gave her stepfather, Tommy, her dowry bracelet to wear for luck in the arena. When he is killed, Uber picks up the bracelet and puts it on, and glad laws clearly state a man who puts on a woman's dowry bracelet is then betrothed to her. Now Lyn is expected to marry her father's killer.

Lyn refuses to follow glad bylaws just to appease Caesars, the company that owns and runs the gladiators and their events. She intends to fight Uber to the death to protect her mother and brother (who is described as being autistic but never labeled as such) as well as regain her freedom. Family glad friends help her train secretly, and she remembers a lot from her stepfathers who taught her fighting techniques over the years. There is only one problem, though. Uber isn't a bad guy. In fact, he adored her stepfather he was supposed to kill. He also hates Caesar's as much as Lyn does. And he wants to marry Lyn... for real, not just for the bylaws. Now Lyn must find a way to win in the arena without killing a man who doesn't deserve to die.

This is a very interesting book with an amazing premise, but at times it falls a little flat. I loved the characters, especially Lyn and Uber. The supporting characters like Lyn's mother and brother are also fascinating. Her mother is a tragic character who can barely keep herself together, and her brother is perpetually teetering on the edge. The plot is thoughtful and novel, but it stretches out a bit in certain places. My biggest complaint was the ending. While the book ended the way I wanted it to, it was rushed through in a brief few pages- I wanted more! We spent a couple hundred pages learning about Lyn's training and the most exciting part- the last battle with Lyn and Uber and its aftermath- are rushed through! It seemed like a waste of a good climax to end it so quickly.

As a whole, I would give this book to a student who is more comfortable reader and can wade through an occasionally slow part in a story. The premise is incredible and can lead to so many amazing discussions with students- especially about violence in our society. The author is also very nice and very open to conversations with students about her book! It would be an incredible experience to hook her up with a student and let them pick her brain about the story!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Still Hungry for Hunger Games?

The Hunger Games
by Guest Author Evan

The Hunger Games is a great book by Suzanne Collins. This is a fictional book with an odd futuristic concept. The story is told through a child's eyes. This book may be better for a more mature audience between the ages of 12 to 50. In my opinion the book is a heroic, action, false love story with no way out of your seat.
In the story two children are put through a life threatening endeavor. Decisions have to be made that never should have to be made by anyone. Love is really only a back drop for the big picture. This is definitely a memorable book. Some people may not agree with the positions the author puts the children in; it is a crazy concept, but it shows a different side of society. 
In my thoughts it shows a person’s true view of the future. I believe this book  shows a futuristic view of an extremist government. You just can’t put this book down after the first page. In the book, the author set up the ending so that you keep thinking about it. You just can't get the book off of your mind.