Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dyslexics, Baked Goods, and Elvis, Oh My!

Close to Famous
As a teacher of dyslexic students, we see the joy of a student who can finally make sense of the words on a page, the elation of a kid who gets his first "A", and the relief of our kids when they realize they aren't "defective". They just learn in a way no one has tried to teach them before! Working at The Kildonan School has truly changed my life, but that pales in comparison to how many students' lives have been changed on this campus. This year, after giving a student his term exam, which he earned a 97 on, and telling him he was receiving an A in my senior literature class, he said, "Ms. Hoyt, I have to call my mom and tell her! I have never gotten an A on anything before!" This place makes you beam with pride for every one of your students' accomplishments.

Sadly, there is another side to working with dyslexic students. Every single student comes to us with a story. Some came here young enough to have moved on from the time they suffered in schools where they were being shoved in resource rooms and pulled from classes for extra help. Most remember all too vividly the pain and humiliation of being in a class where their classmates could read but they couldn't. Some can even tell you horror stories of teachers who called them dumb, lazy, losers. They were labeled as "limited" and put in the "slow" classes. This is the ugly side of dyslexia we try to help our students overcome, but sadly we are all too familiar with it. It is also a side of the story teachers of all likes should know and understand. How does what they say affect their students? What body language can the students read to know a teacher is frustrated or has given up on them? How do they feel being pulled out of classes- especially the fun parts- to go to resource rooms and reading specialists? Joan Bauer's latest novel, Close to Famous, is a beautiful story about a young girl who never learned to read, but had aspirations so big no one could hold her down.

Foster McFee is 12 years old and lost her daddy in the war in Iraq. All she has left of him is a pillowcase full of his stuff and his letters- letters she can't read. But she hides that fact through some pretty powerful evasive maneuvers, including her natural baking ability that makes people forget everything and just focus on the cupcakes. Her passion for cooking came from Sonny Kroll, a food show star who has giving her hope in a hopeless world. She has learned to hide and compensate for her severe learning disability. When Foster's mom packs them up in the middle of the night and they take off, she knows it has something to do with her mom's Elvis-impersonating boyfriend and the black eye she is sporting.

They drive and drive until they end up in a small town in West Virginia called Culpepper. There they meet the kindest, most generous hodge podge of people ever. A husband and wife tow truck duo give Foster and her mom a place to stay, free of charge, a little boy named Macon quickly befriends Foster and introduces her to the infamous actress, Miss Charleena, and Foster even gets a "job" selling cupcakes out of Angry Wayne's Bar and Grill. The entire town is enamored with Foster and her baked goods, which seem to settle any bad situation and clear hostilities like magic.

But despite her work with Macon on his documentary and her time baking, Foster is haunted by two things- her inability to read and the pillowcase of her papa's stuff she accidentally left in the rush to escape Elvis and Memphis. Add to that the accident Sonny Kroll has, and Foster is left with nothing to look forward to. Then Macon gets sick and begs Foster to take care of Miss Charleena in his absence, and everything changes. Miss Charleena, although she seems cranky and cantankerous, seems to like Foster. When she figures out Foster can't read, she shares her own struggles in school with the young girl and starts to help her. The help is rocky in the beginning, and Foster has to overcome her own shame before they can make any real progress, but eventually Foster can read. When the book-mobile comes by, Foster gets a Sonny Kroll cookbook and can even make out some of the words!

But evil Elvis is still out there and her pillowcase is still gone. When her mom returns to Memphis to get the pillowcase, it leads the abusive Elvis right to them. But the town won't let anything happen to Foster or her mother- this is their home now and family takes care of family! The real tearjerker, though, is when Foster finally gets to contact Sonny Kroll. For a girl who couldn't read or write, a simple letter to her idol and his response is all she needs to be truly happy!

There are "warm and fuzzy" books that make you feel mushy inside and then there are books that just make you happy inside. I have always loved Joan Bauer and everything she has written, but I think this new one might be one of my favorites! She really captures the emotions and pain of a 12 year old who can't read without bringing down the tone of the story. She gives Foster the baking which is her true talent and displays how language skills don't stop someone from being really successful at something. Our kids come to us as amazing artists, beautiful woodworkers, chefs, storytellers, filmmakers, etc. They are really, really good at stuff, and that shouldn't be diminished by their language struggles. And that is just what Joan Bauer does with the utmost of ease- she doesn't hide Foster's language struggles, they are still important, but her strengths are more important!

This is a beautiful book that would be excellent for any middle reader. It can easily be used for older elementary students all the way to low-skilled high school students. The story is really well done, and the dyslexic character can be someone for the reader to understand and empathize with. Not only is this a great book for children, but it can be a real eye-opener for adults as well. I think teachers and parents alike would learn as much from this book as any young adult could! Brava, Joan Bauer. You are an amazing lady!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where Did it All Begin?

The Carrie Diaries
Who doesn't love the "Sex and the City" ladies and all their adventures? Well, upon finding that Candace Bushnell wrote The Carrie Diaries, a young adult novel about Carrie as a senior in high school, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I have always wanted to know more about those girls and just how life was like for them in the mean halls of high school.

Carrie hasn't had things easy, but she still has dreams of becoming a writer. She applied to a summer writing program in NYC, but she was rejected. Now she must resign herself to going to Brown and studying science like her father wants. She wishes desperately her mom were still alive to give her advice about what to do. So she keeps going through the motions, hanging out with her friends, chain smoking cigarettes (it was the 1980's after all), and listening to all her friends tell her about their boyfriends, guy friends, and crushes... until Sebastian Kydd arrives.

Carrie's first run-in with Sebastian when they were young was not terribly promising, but he is still as hot as she remembers. At first she thinks he is dating the head cheerleader (and Queen Bee) Donna LaDonna (feel free to gag a little at that name... I did). But soon it becomes clear Sebastian Kydd wants her more. Carrie is thrilled, until Donna LaDonna wages war on her. Carrie keeps trying ot get to the bottom of the LaDonna/Kydd thing, but Sebastian keeps dodging her questions.

Carrie's dad introduces her to a Brown student he knows and encourages her to spend time with him (in a not-so-subtle way of getting her to go to Brown). She likes George, but he just isn't boyfriend material. Still she continues hanging out with him until George finds out about Sebastian. Then she is left with Sebastian and a group of friends that has slowly fallen apart while Carrie was wrapped up in her own world.

When Carrie's sister gets put in jail for shoplifting and her father makes all three daughters go on lock down, she doesn't get to see anyone (including Sebastian) for 2 weeks. Upon her first jailbreak, there is clearly something up with Sebastian and Carrie's friend Lali. When Carrie runs back into the bar, she gets an eyeful of the two of them making out. Now, boyfriend-less, friendless, motherless, and without the summer writing class, Carrie has no idea what to do. Luckily, George forgives her and along with a few other good friends, and they help Carrie realize she has to go with what she believes in. She starts writing articles for the school newspaper under a pseudonym and exposes high school life for what it really is. When she submits those articles to the NY writer's program, she is accepted and her father agrees to let her go. Thus begins the story of Carrie Bradshaw, columnist...

If this story sounds a little thin, its because it kind of is. If it weren't for the ties I already had to the main character, Carrie, I may not have really gotten in to this story. The beginning was kind of slow and it took some real willpower to spend some time getting into it. When I finally did, though, it picked up a bit. The story was interesting, but I think there were a number of flaws. First, the marketing of this book as YA shoots past the mark. In order to really like the story, you should know of the TV show or original novels by Candace Bushnell, but those are certainly not child-friendly. Otherwise, this is only a mediocre story at best.

The other serious flaw was the time period it is set in- she is a senior in high school in the early 80's when kids and teachers alike openly smoked in and around school, the drinking age was 18, so they could easily sneak into bars and get alcohol. This might not seem too much of a stretch for teenagers, but it really seemed like a different world. In fact, I think younger readers would have a hard time relating to the time period- it is that weird limbo where it is close enough to seem familiar but long enough ago to be so wildly different. If it was earlier or later, it might have been easier to relate to.

The writing is fairly simplistic, but some of the circumstances might be better for an older crowd. There is a fair amount of talk about sex, alcohol, and cigarettes, but I wouldn't say it is in excess. I just think this might be a better book for older young adults or adults who are more familiar with the television show. I know they would certainly appreciate the last paragraph where a certain someone comes to Carrie's rescue!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clothes are More than Just Apparel

Vintage Veronica
Who wouldn't love to work at a thrift store, being the first person to sift through the garbage and find the treasures?! I can just imagine finding all those beautiful dresses from the 1950's and 1960's. I still look around (new) shoe stores for a pair of black shoes with the strap that comes up the front of the foot and connects to the strap around the ankle like my great grandmother wore all her life. Those shoes are in every sepia toned picture of a life I never knew with people I love. They are nostalgia personified. My grandmother's green dress and strand of flawed pearls (that were flawless to me). My grandfather's Italian suits with the mobster collars that cover the tie knot. Clothes may seem purely functional, but the emotions attached to them are what make me keep my "ouchy" shoes that look so cute and the adorable skirt that scratches. In Vintage Veronica, by Erica S. Perl, the clothes may be the background to the story, but for me, they were a main character!

Veronica lied about her age to get a job at a multilevel thrift store most famous for it's "Dollar a Pound" where the worst of the worst is sent unceremoniously sliding down a long chute to the bottom floor. There it sits in a large heap called "The Pile" where the "pickers" come to rifle through stained, torn, tattered clothing to buy for a dollar a pound. Veronica doesn't work at Dollar a Pound. Nor does she work on the Real Deal floor with the other floorons where they sell the better finds. Veronica works in Employees Only! and she loves it there- no customers, no people, no one to mock her for her size or general undesirableness. All that's there is the clothes she loves. A fashion guru of an unexpected sort, Veronica loves clothes. Her outfits are unconventional, full of bowling shoes, crinolines, and 60 year old prom dresses. Veronica is quite simply a thrift store personified!

Veronica hides in Employees Only! and sifts through the clothing, deciding the fate of each piece. Her limited interactions involve her crazy boss who disappears for the entire summer and The Nail. The Nail is a sickly young man named Len. Len comes to get the clothes to bring to Real Deal or unclog the Chute, but they don't really interact. When the two real Deal girls, Queen Bee Zoe and Pleaser Ginger (although they aren't called that in the book, it is difficult not to label them as such) come to Employees Only! to scope out Veronica, she can't resist their gravitational pull. Even though Veronica knows Zoe is toxic, she can't help but being drawn to such a loud and forceful girl. When an unexpected friendship strikes up with Len, Veronica is happy whole floors separate them all so Zoe and Ginger don't know about her time with Len.

The more time Veronica spends with Len, the more she realizes how special he is. He shares with her all his snakes and lizards- reptiles that take the place of people in his life who he cares for from birth until death. He even gives her a small corn snake to take care of and shows her Violet, his beloved blue-tongued skink who is suffering from a rare bone disease. All is going well, and Veronica is finally opening up to someone (Len), when her vintage worlds swiftly collide. Zoe finds her way up to Employees Only! and suspects something is up between Veronica and Dead Man Walking (Len). When she spies the snake Len gave Veronica, Zoe manages to get a hold of it despite Veronica's concerns. Next thing you know, the doughnut shop next door erupts in screams and Veronica knows Zoe is behind it. She rushes to the shop to find the snake dead on the floor. As if this isn't bad enough, Len overhears Zoe grilling Veronica about him, and he hears Veronica make fun of him. Now she has to find a way to make it all up to Len, but when he leaves the store, she thinks it's hopeless. She quickly learns there are things about all her coworkers, Len included, she never thought were possible.

I was torn about this book at first, but the more I think about the story and the characters, the more and more I like it. Veronica is a girl who has never fit in, so she dresses in these fabulous and kooky outfits to set herself apart even more obviously. That way, it becomes her choice to be different and an outsider- not the people who rejected her. She doesn't have any real friends and when Len comes into her life, it takes her a long time to open up to him. But like a lot of girls out there, when the Queen Bee comes to her, she can't resist the possibility of finally being accepted, even if it means losing a real friend like Len. I think when I first read this book, it was the way she treated Len that bothered me. I liked Len, even though he was a bit odd. But I also work at a high school where I see girls make these decisions all the time. Sometimes they realize they have lost a real friend, sometimes they don't. It was hard to "watch" at first, but the beauty of that was just how real the scenarios were.

I think my discomfort with the story at first was how accurate it all was. In my book, that is a good discomfort- it opens our eyes and gets us to look within ourselves. That is why I think this book would be great for those Veronicas out there- the girls who feel uncomfortable in their own skin and choose to put that on display rather than to hide it. These are the girls who join roller derbies and end up being amazing, strong women in a few years. In fact, this story made me think of Ellen Paige and her "Juno" and "Whip it" awkward loveliness. In fact, a chubby Ellen Paige is exactly who I see as Veronica. I think those girls need to see there is more out their for them than just skating around the edges. They can belong without belonging to "that" group!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

To Be or Not To Be a Saint

The Lost Saint: A Dark Divine Novel
Where do you go from the ultimate sacrifice? A girl takes on the curse of the Urbat (werewolf) herself in order to save her boyfriend, and then where do they go? Happily ever after? Oh, I think not! After such a lovely ending, things are bound to get ugly... And in The Lost Saint by Bree Despain, they certainly get ugly.

Grace Divine saved her boyfriend Daniel from the wolf inside him, but not before her brother, Jude, bit an infected her. Saving Daniel may well have damned Grace, but she and Daniel decide to embrace her wolfiness and begin training immediately. If Grace can use her new powers for good, then maybe she can overcome the curse and keep the wolf from taking her over. When Jude begins sending cryptic messages to Grace, things begin to go south quickly.

Grace is doing a community service project for school, and she meets a young guy named Talbot. Talbot quickly reveals he is also an Urbat and as the Last Saint Moon, he is taking up his family's mission to rid the world of evil: demons, vampires, and other ickly uglies that go bump in the night. Since Daniel has been avoiding her and has stopped her training, she can't resist the lure of fighting bad guys with Talbot. It makes her feel like a real super hero. But things aren't quite as easy and carefree as they seem. Jude keeps warning her not to trust anyone, but she doesn't know if he can be trusted either. When she is kidnapped, the truth is revealed about who is really after Grace, and it is a twist you never see coming!

This was a good follow-up to the first story. It is much darker with a lot of other stuff coming out of the woodwork, but sometimes the action gets lost amongst Grace's pining for Daniel and self-doubt. While I am fine with a little introspection, sometimes it is better to keep enough going on outside the character's head in order to keep the reader interested. The story would have been better if it was a little shorter by way of reducing Grace's constant self-analysis.

I liked the delve into the deeper supernatural in this book as well. There was a cursory discussion of different demons and their abilities, but not enough for my taste. I would have loved to hear more about the creepers Talbot and Grace keep hunting. This is a good sequel, so if a reader liked the first book, this should be a hit, too. Maybe the next book will venture even further.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Would You Stay?

If I Stay
by Guest Author Julia

I just finished reading If I Stay by Gayle Forman. I would recommend this book because you really get to know the characters. You get to know them as if they were a part of your own family. During the course of this book, you will begin to express feelings for each character.

This story is set in a modern town outside Portland Maine. It follows the life of a girl, named Grace, that is in a coma after being in a car crash that kills the rest of her family. She is faced with a decision whether or not to stay with her boyfriend Adam and her extended family, or join her brother, mother and father on the other side. She has an out of body experience while she is in a coma. She hears and sees everything her loved ones are going through.  Throughout the entire story, the main character would notice small details about the people around her which would trigger memories and flashbacks. I liked this because it added depth to the story.

 If I Stay  is what fiction is all about. It is recommended for teens through young adults. The New York Times compared it to the Twilight novels which is why I picked it up in the first place. If you like Twilight, then you will definitely like this book. I liked it because the main character’s boyfriend was massively hot and dreamy. I want a guy in my life like him. Throughout the whole book, I was jealous of the relationship between Grace and Adam. I also liked it because I really felt the emotion of what the characters were going through.  I felt like I had to make decisions about what Grace should do.

This book became like a movie in my head, because it was easy to follow and it had vivid details. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a story that brings your emotions on a roller coaster ride.  It explores the complexities of the teenage female mind. It also explores the emotional state that a person goes through when a loved one experiences trauma and is on the brink of leaving... Forever. If you like this kind of book, then I would suggest picking it up and reading it. You will thank me later.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Are you Extraordinary?

Nancy Werlin's Impossible was so good, I had to get Extraordinary. The same vague description, the same steady unveil of vital plot information, and the same supernatural culprits. The story is certainly different from the first book, and not at all a sequel, but you will certainly notice some similarities from the start of the book.

Phoebe Rothschild is a normal girl from an extraordinary family. From the earliest Rothschilds down to her mother, the entire family is quite simply extraordinary, but Phoebe just wants to be normal. She has a hard time dealing with the attention that comes with being a part of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the world. When Mallory Tolliver arrives in seventh grade, Phoebe is immediately drawn to her. Mallory is odd, eccentric, and Phoebe instantly becomes her best and only friend.

The reader, however, knows Mallory has an ulterior motive. With little snippits of conversations with the Queen, we know Mallory was planted there to meet Phoebe specifically, but we have no idea why and what the Queen has planned for Phoebe. When years pass and it seems Mallory can't bring herself to do what she there for, her half-brother Ryland arrives. Ryland is enchanting, but rude at the same time. Phoebe can't stop thinking about him, but she somehow feels there is something wrong about the horrible things he says to her, like how she is fat, ordinary, and not particularly important. When Mallory finally confronts Phoebe about dating Ryland (a wicked plan cooked up by Ryland and the Queen), Phoebe runs straight into the arms of Ryland to be consoled. While in their house, though, she opens his bedroom door only to find an enchanted garden behind the door- a garden that can't possibly be there but certainly is.

The truth quickly comes out that Ryland and Mallory are faeries. A curse was placed on Phoebe's family and the faeries need her as a sacrifice to restore their power and their kingdom. But when she still doesn't want to know about it, Ryland creates an accident that leaves her mother in a coma and Phoebe without much choice. As she enters the Faerie World, she knows this is the end of her ordinary life, as the curse stipulates, but she still can't lose that bit of extraordinary that floats through her veins like the ghosts of all her ancestors. Knowing the faeries are dying because of the curse, will Phoebe be willing to sacrifice herself to the very people who have tricked her for years?

I think the downfall of reading this book directly after Impossible was that they were too similar and Extraordinary just wasn't as good. I think if I had read them a few months apart, I might have liked this book better, but it just didn't stack up to the first book. The slow but well-paced reveal of information was still there, but the information revealed wasn't a surprise anymore- it was essentially the same story as Impossible, just tweaked a little. The book became much more predictable than the first story.

This is a decent story for a junior high to high school student. There are some interesting morals to be discussed with any young woman. I was particularly angered by the things Ryland said to Phoebe about her being so ordinary. I know they were part of him trying to fulfill the curse, but instead they just really ticked me off. If I was reading this book with a student, I would definitely have to use that as a teaching experience. It would be too hard to just let it lie there. Otherwise, this is a decent book. It's an interesting enough read and should keep the reader interested. Maybe next time Werlin can mix it up a bit? Not be so formulaic?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Impossibly Good Tale

With such a haunting cover and a vague description on the book jacket, the reader who picks up this book has to take a leap of faith. The blurb mentions a song, a curse, something about mental illness, and not much more. You are left wondering if the book is worth unraveling such nonsense... and trust me it is! Impossible by Nancy Werlin is a haunting story full of love, pain, and supernatural mystery that will keep you turning the pages all night long.

Lucy Scarborough has been tormented by her mother's insanity for years. Lucy's foster parents, Soledad and Leo, take wonderful care of Lucy. In a way, they do for Lucy what they couldn't do for Lucy's mother, Miranda, when she came to them 17 and pregnant with no place to go. They took care of Miranda, but as soon as she gave birth to Lucy, she was lost in a world of her own madness. Lucy is so humiliated and saddened by her birth mother that she doesn't tell anyone her story, except Zach. Zach has stayed with her foster parents for years and is finally back on Christmas break from college. While Lucy has always trusted Zach with everything, she is starting to see him as more than just a family member.

When prom comes around, Zach helps convince the overprotective Soledad to let her go. Although he is jealous of the nerdy boy she is going with, he thinks it is important Lucy gets some normal fun in her life. Unfortunately, prom night is anything but normal or fun. After the dance, Lucy follows her date back into the ballroom where he forgot something. In the ballroom, he admits he didn't forget anything, but just wanted some time with her. Then he proceeds to rape her. Lucy tries to stop him, but something happens to his face as he hurts her- it seems to shift as though someone else is inside his body. When Zach finds her, the wheels start turning to help her. She goes to the hospital, the mysterious new employee at Soledad's practice gets Lucy the morning after pill, and they find a therapist for her to talk to.

About two months later, it becomes very clear to Lucy that she is pregnant, despite the prevention she took. When she finally confides in Zach and her parents, they are very supportive of her decision to keep the baby. Then Lucy learns something of her past. She finds her mother's diary from when Miranda was pregnant. While the diary is telling, there are pages ripped out. When Lucy remembers the false bottom of a shelf she found as a kid, she finds the missing diary pages. In them, Miranda tells of a curse placed on the Scarborough girls generations ago by an evil faerie king. When Fenella Scarborough refused to be her queen, he cursed her generations to come with an early pregnancy that creates another girl in the line and drives the mother mad once she is born. Miranda's diary pages also explain the song "Scarborough Fair" tells of the curse and the three impossible tasks Lucy can perform before she gives birth that will end the curse. Lucy must make a shirt with no seems and constructed with no needles. She must find an acre of land between "the salt water and the sea strand" and she must plow that land with a goat's horn and sow it with one grain of corn. While the tasks seem impossible, Zach and Lucy's parents won't give up on her. From genealogical research to prove the curse is real, to searching real estate for the acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand, to work with fabrics and materials to create the seamless shirt, the whole family is determined to save Lucy and her baby girl. But can they beat the clock and beat the faerie king in one fell swoop?

Oh, Nancy Werlin, you wove such an intriguing tale! This story is mysterious and clever, with a plot that continuously reveals little tidbits until you finally have the whole, crazy story. The vague description of the book made me wary- I am not fond of books that stay shrouded in mystery for all but the last 50 pages. It drives me nuts! While this book has a vague beginning, the pace of revelation throughout the book is wonderful. New twists are revealed and unfolded at a pace that keeps the reader from losing interest but still keeps them wanting more.

The material seems heavy and mature, but it is handled with the utmost of grace and dignity. While the rape is certainly traumatizing for Lucy, it isn't the central story. I also liked how her parents dealt with the rape and the pregnancy- very upfront, honest, and supportive. I suspect some people would hesitate in giving this book to students because of the content, but they would be overlooking the incredible messages embedded within the mature scenarios. Yes, Lucy is pregnant, but she trusts her parents enough to openly talk to them about it, not hide it from them. Yes, Lucy is raped, but her family is proactive, seeks a therapist, and support Lucy every step of the way. And while Lucy acknowledges the unfortunate timing of her pregnancy, she loves her unborn daughter and will fight against the impossible in order to protect her. I know there are many adults out there who would shy away from exposing mature situations to young readers. While I understand that urge, I think the right book with mature situations handled well is just as powerful in a positive way. This book is well written and any maturity is handled beautifully. So make it all possible and give this amazing book a chance!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dark and Twisty in a Fabulous Way!

Dark Goddess (A Devil's Kiss Novel)
Ever since reading Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda last winter, I have been hoping there was a second book. Devil's Kiss was a dark, twisted story about a young woman who wants to live a normal life, but whose father is the leader of the Knights Templar. He raises her and trains her as a Templar, which often means the greatest sacrifices in order to protect the people of the world from ghuls: werewolves, fallen angels, vampires, you name it. Dark Goddess picks the story up where Devil's Kiss left off- Billi SanGreal's life as the only female Templar.

After losing her best friend Kay, both to the world of the ghuls and then to the blade of her own sword, Billi has hardened. She understands the nature of her duty and life, and she plans on cutting off her emotions in order to serve the greater good. Unfortunately, her plan doesn't last long after they save a young girl named Vasilisa from the same werewolves who tore her family apart. They suspect Vasilisa is a Spring Child, an oracle, but they don't realize just how powerful she is at first. In fact, until she stops Vesuvius erupts. Vasilisa is somehow connected to the eruption and is running a fever that mirrors the volcano. When Billi puts her in the snow to cool her off, the eruption ends, but not before Naples is completely destroyed. It then becomes very clear to the Templars that Vasilisa is a very special Spring Child- she is an Avatar. Avatars are extremely powerful oracles who can actually affect the earth.

While the Templar is prepared to raise and train Vasilisa as one of their own, a very specific sect of werewolves called the Polenitsy, has a very different idea. The Polenisty is a group of female werewolves who live and serve the great God Baba Yaga (who has gone by other names, such as Gaia, but is essentially Mother Russia). Baba Yaga is an ancient witch who survives by consuming (literally) Spring Children. A Spring Child as powerful as Vasilisa will give her enough power to bring about fimbulwinter- an apocalyptic winter that will essentially rid the earth of the human plague. As a goddess/witch of the earth, Baba Yaga can no longer stand the humans and what they have done to her earth, and she will do anything to get rid of them.

When the Polenitsy kidnap Vasilisa from Billi's care, the Templar's have three days before the full moon to get her back. If they don't, Vasilisa will be eaten by Baba Yaga and human life will effectively end. The Templar's split up in order to cover more turf. Billi and a few others seek out the Bogatyrs, an ancient Russian group who rid the world of ghuls the same way the Templars do- or at least they used to. Descended from the Romanovs, the group is ruthless, but their new interim leader since the "Tsar" was killed by a Polenitsy is more ruthless than even the Bogatyrs are famous for. Tsarevich Ivan is the prince, but cannot take over the Bogatyrs until his 18th birthday. Now they must work together with the Templars to save Vasilisa. Unfortunately, Billi is quickly faced with the same situation she endured with Kay- Vasilisa may have to be killed in order to prevent Fimbulwinter and save the world. Can Billi sacrifice the young child in order the protect the many? Will she be able to stop Baba Yaga and the werewolves?

This is a fantastic follow up to the first dark installment. Chadda is a brilliant author who isn't afraid to broach truly dark and disturbing topics in the YA genre. While the stories are clean and appropriate for a younger demographic, they don't hold back when asking the really tough questions. Chadda's main character Billi is fantastic. Still damaged from the loss of her best friend Kay, she is struggling to hold herself together. By throwing herself into her Templar work, she thinks she can escape her grief and protect herself from more loss, but she couldn't be more wrong. Instead, she is essentially slapped in the face with it time and time again.

This book is probably better for an older student- mature middle school through high school- because there is some dark subject matter. The language is average, but the names- especially the Russian names- are tough. This is a solid follow-up to a wonderful break-out novel. Chadda has outdone himself with Dark Goddess, and I hope he will continue Billi SanGreal's story with the Templars!