Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Crazy Summer and One Fabulous Story

Every student who makes it to middle school has heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but how many know about Malcolm X or the Black Panthers? An underrepresented piece of this important history comes alive in this tale of sisterhood, motherhood, and a bigger need to be heard and treated with equality. In Rita Williams-Garcia's beautifully written story, One Crazy Summer comes alive with the way the world existed in Oakland in 1968.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are packed up and ready to be shipped across the country to spend the summer with their mother Cecile who they haven't seen in years. Once Fern was born, Cecile left them to be cared for by their father and grandmother in Brooklyn and never looked back. While Big Ma questions Papa's judgment for sending them across the country to a woman who doesn't want them, the girls are full of nerves and excitement. As the oldest, Delphine is expected to make sure her sisters behave and don't embarrass Big Ma and Papa by being the "black girls everyone expects them to be". The color of their skin means they have to be better behaved than any white girl would have to be. 

When they arrive in California, it is clear Cecile didn't want them to come. She sends them by themselves to get Chinese food for dinner every night and to the Center to get free breakfast every morning. She won't even let them into her kitchen to get a proper glass of water. And she doesn't hold back from reminding them that she didn't want them there in the first place. When there is a knock on the door, she shoos them into the back room and tells them to stay back there and stay quiet. But Delphine can't help but peak and she sees men in black clothes with large afros: Black Panthers. She had seen some Panthers in Brooklyn, but they weren't like the men she sees now, with her mother. As the days continue on and Delphine continues to take care of her sisters while her mother ignores them, she starts to learn more and more about who she is as a young black woman. The Center is full of Panther information and the summer classes revolve around learning not to trust The Man. While others are content to fight in any way they can, Delphine can't help but remember her one priority: keeping her sister safe. And if the Man shot an unarmed black boy in his underwear just because he was a Panther, they wouldn't think twice about three little girls who their own mother doesn't even want.

This story was so rich with amazing historical facts and personal, real family emotions that I can barely wrap my head around it all! First and foremost is the emotional family dynamic. Williams-Garcia must have younger sisters because this incredibly realistic portrayal of three sisters is so perfect it made me laugh and cringe thinking about my own childhood with my sister. Everything from the way they parrot their older sister, to their precocious goofiness, to their enthusiasm about everything Delphine doesn't want them to do, all of it is so skillfully written you would think you were there with your own sisters! 

Then you have Cecile. At first I was shocked their father would just ship them out to her, but I realized by the end that he cared about her and trusted her with his kids. Cecile was such a dynamic yet subtle character that you really had to read between the lines to fully appreciate the character Williams-Garcia created. At first it appeared she was working for the Black Panthers, and then it felt like she was somehow forced into it. Then it seemed she didn't believe everything they stood for and then she lectured her daughter about being her own woman and not adopting the housewife subservience her gender has been forced into. It was a little confusing at times, but it made Cecile more human, more real. But more importantly, this story gave life to the Women of this movement, the women caught in between a war of men. From Big Ma back home, a poor but strong southern woman, to the ladies at the Center to Cecile, this was a wonderful book to allow your young readers to see a side of the story never talked about: how it affected the women these men belonged to. I loved this angle on the story, especially since we never hear about the women of the Black Panther movement.

And finally, this story is a much needed addition to the world of our cultural and racial history in this country. Everyone likes to talk about MLK, but what about the other side of the movement? They are an important part of our legacy, but it isn't taught as openly in schools, so I am glad to see a book that is appropriate for middle readers that also opens their eyes to a part of their cultural they most likely haven't been exposed to yet. There isn't a deep understanding of the Panthers, but enough to pique their interest. This might be a story best taught in a class or read with a parent in order to help them fully understand the nature of the revolution. I am really glad there is a book like this out there. It is a great addition to the shelves of our libraries and our classrooms. 

Secrets in the Ward

We take fresh water for granted, but there are parts of the world where freshwater is a commodity. When that becomes the case for New York City, especially after the Wash Out, fresh water is the only thing people care about, next to a cure for the Blight. In Jordana Frankel's first novel in The Ward series, we see just how far people are willing to go to save the lives of those they love. 

Ren can't tell anyone she works for the Blues, even if it is only to scout for water. Everyone would think she was a traitor who turned in the sick for a ransom rather than a selfless hero searching for a source of freshwater to sustain the population. Granted she wouldn't be working for the Blues had she not gotten arrested and forced to work for them, but still, she believes she is doing a good thing to find fresh water for the sick, dying, quarantined population. When she is told by a Blue to search a specific quadrant in the middle of a race whose purse she needs desperately, she can't tell him her sister is home suffering the final stages of the Blight. Instead of finding just fresh water, however, she finds something more important than she ever could have imagined. 

She finds water that is essentially the Fountain of Youth, heavily guarded and protected, but powerful enough to cure everyone of the Blight. Or at least for a little while. When her sister Aven drinks the water, it beats back the Blight in her body briefly, but then it makes her worse. Now Aven must get to the bottom of what was int hat water to make Aven better, how to get more of it, and how to cure her sister. What she doesn't expect is a crazy governor, a group of guards who protect the spring to the death, and even people who she thought she could trust who have darker intentions. All Ren wants to do is save people, but it seems like everyone is standing in her way.

A good PA or dystopia has to create a world I understand and believe in. Unfortunately, The Ward had great potential, but it really didn't delve very deep into the world that was so integral to the entire story. For instance, what is the full story of the washout that dropped New York City into the water? How is it possible to have lots of technology like racers and some "party noise filter" that gives you a beam of silence in a party to talk in but still be poor enough to not be able to treat the illness or at least buy pain relievers, or even have electricity? The racing is another thing I never truly understood. They are subs, but then they are on the roof? At first I worried I had possibly read the book too fast, and that this caused me to miss this important backstory, but in looking at some other reviews online, I realized I wasn't the only one pretty confused with the backstory. This was a shame for me because the story was actually pretty interesting and read quickly for its size. But still, the backstory was a huge thing to leave out of the story and it took away from my enjoyment of the story. I hope Frankel puts more into the back story of the rest of the series, but I am concerned the story is going to struggle without having already established this background.

Ren is a great character with a headstrong need to help people, even in a world where so many are dying. I like her relationship with Aven even though they aren't blood sisters, and how Aven is the only concern for Ren's entire life. It made Ren an investible character for me, even when I struggled with other parts of the story. I was a little torn and confused about some of the supporting characters like Ter, Derek, and Callum, but I guess there could be more to give them a boost in the next book. Overall, this wasn't a bad book, but I shouldn't have finished 460+ pages with so many questions about basic plot points and characters. I don't think I would give this story to many students unless they were strong readers and could handle the plot holes. It might be interesting for someone who has already read a lot of PA or dystopias and is looking for another. I will certainly read the next book in the series, but I strongly hope Frankel plugs the holes when she writes it!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wild Letters in a Wild Book

The history of dyslexia is as diverse and unique as each dyslexic themselves. The evolution of the condition from the use of the term "word blindness" to the term dyslexia feels as though it could be eons in the making, but it hasn't been as long as you'd think. In Ms. Margarita Engle's The Wild Book, a young girl is diagnosed with word blindness, but her strong, Cuban family doesn't believe in giving up.

When the doctor tells Fefa's mother she has word blindness, her mother doesn't listen to the diagnosis of never being able to read or write. Instead she takes Fefa home and gives her the Wild Book, a blank book for Fefa to discover words all on her own. At first the words feel overwhelming and terrifying, but Fefa also has a book of poetry. Her mother's love of poetry seems like an impossibility to Fefa, especially when her brothers and sisters make fun of her for not being able to read, but the words won't be so scary if only Fefa had a chance to get to know them. Outside her Wild Book, the land of Cuba is in disarray. War, danger, hurricanes, caimans, and even bad men who kidnap children for ransom surround them. But Fefa's family doesn't give up so easily. They don't buckle under the pressure of giant reptiles, kidnappers, or word blindness. They carry on.

This was a beautiful little book written in free verse. It is very short, the verse is very accessible, and the book is actually written in a manner that would not overwhelm a dyslexic student, with plenty of white space and a large font. In fact, I think this would be a great book to be read by a teacher with their whole class because not only do the words sing a beautiful melody if spoken aloud, but the discussion about learning styles is one all children should have with an adult. If children can be open about their different learning styles from a young age, perhaps the shame and guilt they feel would never stain their childhoods. I think this book might be a little too "poetic" or subtle for a young student to read by themselves, but this is perfect for a classroom setting or for a child to read with their parents. Fefa is a strong girl who shares the same self-doubt as any dyslexic student does, so she would be someone a dyslexic child could relate to with ease. I also love the backdrop of Cuba that gives you a little history thrown in with the story of this courageous girl who wouldn't give up. This is a beautiful story, so pick up a copy and read it to your students! 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ultimate Test

The college admissions process can be grueling. Having everything you have done in your adolescence examined to determine your potential for future success is painful to even think about. But what if you attendance in a University was determined with a Testing that rivaled the Hunger Games? In Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing, a group of young adults face the ultimate college admissions process... one that comes down to life or death.

Cia Vale waits to hear if she has been chosen for the Testing, like all graduates. In order to go to University, you must be chosen by the government for the Testing, but no one knows the exact formula for being chosen. Since the Seven Stages war left most of the world a poisonous, charred wasteland, only the students with the most potential are chose for the Testing. And of those, only the best of the best are chosen to move onto University. The government can't waste resources on people who aren't going to find real solutions to their very dangerous problems, like how to grow crops in soil that has been bombed and still contains the poison of those terrifying days. When Cia is chosen for the Testing, she is thrilled, until her father tells her about his own nightmares of the Testing. While the testers wipe your memories of the Testing after they are finished, her father is proof that they can't take everything... even if you wished they had. 

While Cia knows, thanks to her father's warnings, not to trust the other candidates, she can't help but be drawn to Tomas. They clearly have a lot in common, having come from the same colony, but their connection is more than that. As the tests begin, it becomes clear just how far the Testers are willing to go in order to weed out the unsavory candidates. Unfortunately for Cia and the others, their definition of unsavory doesn't exactly follow a moral or ethical code. The tests become more and more dangerous, but the final test is the one that will weed out the most candidates. The final test is the one they might not survive, if they have even survived this long. Cia and Tomas are safer if they work together, but can she trust him?

OK. Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room. If you have read the Hunger Games, you are going to see a LOT of similarities here. Not just the "every dystopia after Hunger Games is going to be compared to Hunger Games even if they have nothing in common" shtick. Nope. This book really is very similar, from the unwillingness to enter the contest/trial, to the kind mentor who guides the leading lady, to the "do I trust, do I not trust" the boy from your home town who was sent with you, to the other murderous, treacherous contestants. But there is the thing. Even with those incredibly obvious similarities and familiarity, this was still a really great story. Sometimes I get bogged down where there is too much "inspired by" going on in a new series, but this one was SO exciting and interesting that I didn't care where Charbonneau got her inspiration. I really, really liked this story a lot. The characters were interesting and surprising, the world is terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time, and the plot was fast-paced and well written. Truthfully? Whether you think you spy a Collins copy cat or not, you won't be able to deny the fact that you like this series just as much as Hunger Games! Truly, don't let the familiarity with the story bog you down. Just let Charbonneau work her magic and you won't be sorry.

This story is appropriate for anyone who read or watched the Hunger Games (sorry, but you can't deny they connection). It is also good for anyone interested in dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories. The content can be gruesome at times, especially if you are truly sensitive to any violence, but I don't think it is too gratuitous to preclude students from reading this series. I am sure there are enough people out there who will be disturbed by the violence and won't want to give this book to their children or students, but I promise you the message behind the violence is strong and anti-violent. This story will be perfect for any reluctant reader, and even though the protagonist is female, I think you will find a lot of male readers clamoring for the sequel once they give this story a shot. So don't let yourself be bogged down by the Panem similarities. Instead, look at this book with a clear mind and an open mind- one that will let you recognize it for the fabulous ride it will take you on. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dara and the Magic Marble

Our students will never fully understand the idea of being a refugee in your own country, but there are books that can make the terrors and hardships a little more of a reality for them. In Minfong Ho's The Clay Marble, the life of a little girl as a Cambodian refugee is all too real. 

Dara's family hears there is food in the refugee camps near the border, and they truly don't have a choice. If they want to eat, they are going to have to go there. While Dara, her mother, and her brother don't have much, they at least have each other. While the refugee camp may have more food than they had at home, it also has more dangers. Shelling and bombing is an all too-real danger that rocks the camp like shrapnel-laden thunder.  But in the camp, they also have the opportunity to meet other families like themselves. When she meets a young girl named Jantu who not only shares her family's food with Dara's family, but also gives Dara the opportunity to think about things other than hunger, war, and death, Dara begins to see the real root of happiness: family.

This was a very short little story, and the violence of the camp and the war raging around them is incredibly subtle. You barely see any of the violence while the situations are clearly dangerous. For me, that makes this a good story for a 5th or 6th grade class to read with a teacher who can explain the situation in Cambodia and also make the story a little more exciting than it is at face value. In fact, I was a little surprised the story was so mild considering the subject matter. If it is taught well, however, with enough teacher supplement to compensate for a story that is a little slow and slightly anti-climactic, it could provide some wonderful teaching opportunities. I think at most, I would give this to a low-skilled 7th grade group, but it is a very young story and older students might find it boring. I do think an awesome supplemental project could be to make the clay village Jantu and Dara made while in the camp! Not a bad story, just very young and a little too subtle for the circumstances surrounding Cambodia in the 1980s. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Left Behind than Just Fire and Ash

Benny, Nix, Chong, Lilah, and Riot have been in our lives for three years now. They have loved, lost and survived. But most of all, they have grown into strong, fabulous individuals who aren't ready to lose their world to the zombies or the evil people who still live and breath but bring just as much death as the zombies. In Jonathan Maberry's conclusion, Fire and Ash, we see a bunch of kids who are no longer children. They have accepted the responsibility of their world and are not about to give up like so many of the world's adults have. 

When they found the plane, Benny and the others thought they had found all the answers to saving the world. They were wrong. They almost died. They were saved by Joe Ledger. Brought to Sanctuary where the monks believe the zoms are the meek who shall inherit the earth and the scientists who don't leave their bunker, the group hoped a cure would be on its way, but things are more complicated than that. The material collected from the plane is incomplete, and without the final documents, it is impossible to see where the original doctors were going with their experiments. But there are bigger problems afoot than the lack of a cure. The zoms are changing. They have evolved. Something has happened and now there are zoms who are really fast, really strong, and scariest of all, those who can think, reason, plan, and even use tools to get what they want: fresh meat. 

While the people at Sanctuary are hoping for a cure, Saint John and the reapers are hoping to play out their final leg of armageddon. They want to kill every living person on earth and final rejoice in the death of all. Saint John doesn't have to rely on faithful followers joining his ranks. When faced with slow, painful death or joining the reapers, the choice usually isn't that difficult to make. Now with tens of thousands of reapers and at least twice as many zoms controlled by the reapers, they are marching from civilization to civilization to exact their final plan. What Saint John and his followers didn't expect, however, were a group of kids who might be underestimated frequently, but are never underestimated twice. 

Loving a series is a special experience. You grow to count on the next book being released for another connection to the characters you love. You wait with baited breath to find out the conclusion to the world you have loved for so long. And when that conclusion comes, it is terribly bittersweet. You know it is the end, but you are so happy to see how it ends. This was my relationship with Maberry's Rot and Ruin series. I absolutely loved this series, and for me, this was the most perfect conclusion. I find myself stunned by the conclusion and yet so happy with it that I feel the need to thank Maberry for bringing such an amazing ending into such a hopeless world. As with the rest of the series, you will have some heartache and people you love will be sacrificed to the Ruin, but overall, you know that this is the way it has to be. We grieved with the loss of Tom Imura, but we also knew the rest would carry on his legacy. In Fire and Ash, we experienced triumph and loss simultaneously. 

The transformation of the characters from start to finish of the series is one of the more dramatic and more realistic of the YA series out there. What was most interesting to me was how over the execution of the series, the zombies essentially became the backdrop to an incredibly rich, well-developed character driven story with deeper rooted evils than just the walking dead. This is the work of a master who knows there is more to the story than just the obvious. I have had great success in giving this series to students who are reluctant readers because there is more to it than just mindless chomp and chew. So, in all, I couldn't think of a better execution of Benny's story. I am incredibly sad to see this series go, (and I am not afraid to beg to see it continue!) but I loved the way Maberry ended the world I grew to love. And if you are an overall Maberry friend, you will be very excited to see an old friend, Mr. Joe Ledger!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Essence of a Soul

We don't need castes and language barriers to separate us from our fellow human beings, but in the sequel to Kimberly Derting's The Pledge, Charlie finds out just how difficult it is to break down the barriers of generations worth of differences. In The Essence, we see a young woman with good intentions who struggles to shake off the pieces of her own past. 

Charlie hasn't adjusted at all to being the Queen. Not only does it feel strange for people to refer to her as "your Majesty", but everything about being the queen is difficult, even the table manners. When she defeated Sabara, she didn't expect all that embodies royalty to become her future, but then again, she didn't expect Sabara's essence to attach itself to Charlie's psyche either. While Charlie is trying to exact great change to the country she loves, Sabara is inside her trying harder and harder to gain control over Charlie's body and do what she has done for generations: rule Ludania. 

The war inside Charlie's head isn't the only one being waged. The people of her own country are turning against her and the queens of surrounding nations don't trust her. Charlie believes in what she is doing, abolishing the caste system and trying to instill equality among her people, but the people are fighting back. Even the simple act of opening a new school has become a battle field for Charlie and everyone in her wake, innocent or not. She can't control what is going on inside her head, but she won't stop trying to help the people of Ludania. 

The fact that the wars in this book are being fought on a global and on a mental scale made the story all the more intriguing. Charlie is a tough girl, but having someone inside your head, someone you didn't hesitate to kill, can't be easy. Imagine the realization that every time you let your guard down, a piece of yourself takes over and you can't stop it? It must be maddening! So the Charlie you remembered form the first book is still there, but she is being consumed by the war being waged inside her head. I really liked this angle, especially when Charlie starts to see more and more of Sabara's memories. It brought a whole new level of sophistication to the story and it kept me from putting the book down.

I think this story has a tiny bit of the sophomore stall because it really needed to take the time to transition Charlie from wayward rebel to unrefined queen. That 180 took some time, but Derting was great at making the transition while still moving the story forward. In all, I barely noticed the stall, but it was there. What I didn't get enough of with this story was more of our supporting characters like Angelina and Max and Xander. We got a lot of Brook, who I love, but I want more from everyone! They are such great characters that you want them to pull out into the spotlight so you can enjoy it. On a whole, however, I loved this book, love this series, and can't wait for the next installment!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Corner of the Universe for Everyone

Every family has secrets, but some secrets are harder than others to fully understand. In this touching little book, Ann M. Martin, one of my favorite authors of all times, tells the story of one girl, one family, and one universe. In A Corner of the Universe, Hattie's summer of 1960 is one that will change her life forever.

Hattie's parents ran a boarding house. There were many rules for the house, but not as many rules as in her grandmother's proper, sophisticated home. The summer is your typical summer until word comes to Hattie's family that her uncle Adam is coming home. Hattie didn't even know she had an uncle Adam. Significantly younger than her mother and her other uncle, Adam has lived most of his life at a special school. Unfortunately, that school is closing, and Adam's parents have to take care of them until they can find an appropriate place for him to stay.

At first Hattie isn't sure what to expect from Adam. She has heard words like "retarded" and schizophrenic and autistic to describe him, but she isn't sure what all that means. When he finally arrives, though, she is surprised at one thing in particular. When Adam is happy, he is the happiest person on earth. And most of the time, Adam is very happy. Most of the time. Throughout the summer, Hattie spends a lot of time with Adam. He teaches her, she teaches him, and most importantly, she finds a friend in the man her family seems to be ashamed of. What Hattie doesn't know is that there are deeper, darker pieces of Adam's psyche that can't be overcome by ice cream, I Love Lucy, and carnivals. 

I need to first profess my undying love for Ann M. Martin. This is the woman who made me a reader. Right here! And it wasn't because of the Babysitter's Club that I became a reader. It was because of a book she wrote called 10 Kids, No Pets. I read that book so many times, my copy literally fell to pieces. Disintegrated. But I haven't read anything from Martin in decades, so I had really high expectations from this story... and it didn't disappoint. 

Hattie is your typical 12 year old girl growing up in Millerton. That's right! Millerton! Now, don't expect Millerton in 2013 if you are a local, because this is Millerton in 1960, but how cool is it that Martin wrote about our very town?! So exciting! Hattie's grandparents are very wealthy and don't necessarily approve of their daughter's choice in husband (and artist, gasp!), but they deal with it since they moved back to Millerton to raise Hattie and run the boarding house. The monkey wrench of a son like Adam is such a touchy subject with this family that it leaves one word on the tip of your tongue as you read: shame. It is so sad to see this model of shipping off a "damaged" son who ruins your perfect persona, and I think this mindset is one our students would have a difficult time understanding in 2013. That makes this a perfect story to read together, and if possible, a phenomenal story for them to read with a grandparent or older teacher. I am sure this story will provoke questions, so who better than to read it with than someone who lived through this era in history?

Hattie is the true gem of this story, but Adam plays a close second. He is so happy and truly just enjoys all that life has. The dialogue from Adam really paints a picture of this bright young man that makes him all the more endearing. But of course, not everyone will find someone who is so different to be endearing. And that is why I loved Hattie so much. Even as an impressionable young 12 year old, she defends Adam both to strangers who are ready to mock him or call him a freak, but also to his own family who treat him like a stain upon their perfect family. She really was a wonderful kid- one you will love to expose your students to. I absolutely loved this story, and while the subject matter can be heavy at times, I think our middle readers can handle it. In fact, the heavy parts of the story are handled so beautifully, it made me remember just how much I loved Martin's writing. She knows how to use circumstances and inference to guide the reader, not dictate to the reader. So please give this book a chance and remember, it is better to read about tough subjects with your kids and to talk to them about it than to try to shelter them for too long. Kids never stay sheltered for too long. 

The Burden of the Prodigy

If a group of rebels is to ever overthrow a corrupt government, they must have a better option waiting to fill the void. In Marie Lu's Legend, Day and June became the poster children for the revolution against the Republic. In Prodigy, they become the heart of the people who demand something better from their government. 

The Republic has always been run by the Elector with an iron fist. June was his prodigy, and now that she has joined a common street thug, Day, whose Robin Hood-esque antics have always made him the Republic's nuisance, she is on the wrong side of the Elector. Then the Elector dies. When his son, Anden is tapped as the new Elector, he becomes a target for the Patriots, the rebel group fighting to overthrow the Republic. June and Day barely escape the rest of the Republic that is hunting them, but they finally find themselves in the hands of the Patriots. They are wary of the Patriots intentions, but Day needs medical attention and June will do anything to save him. The Patriots fix Day, but under one condition. June and Day are to assassinate the new Elector. 

As a former insider in the Republic, June is planted as an inside woman. With an elaborate plan to bring her back into the Elector's fold in order to distract him with a fake assassination plan while the true plan runs its course, June becomes the heart of the Patriot's plan. But something isn't right. From the moment she speaks to Anden, she becomes aware he is nothing like his father. She cant explain why exactly she trusts him as much as she does, but something tells her there is something very wrong with the plan to assassinate this man. She has realized it, but will Day? Especially when part of her cover is to play on Anden's obvious affections for her? 

Wow! This series could not possibly have more twists, turns, and surprises if it tried! I loved Legend, but it is amazing how Prodigy took the series in a whole new direction while still staying true to the amazing story Lu created in the first place. It truly was a fantastic follow-up to a great first book, and you won't be disappointed because there is absolutely no sophomore slump happening here! One of the best parts of this book is how connected Day and June are. Even when he has no reason to believe her about the fishiness of the assassination plan, his trust in her shines through. He won't let anyone tell him to trust or not to trust June. She is the one person whom he doesn't doubt. And June feels the same way. A lesser couple would have doubted one another, but these two really have an amazing connection that I can't get enough of!

The world building is also a huge strength of this series. We see more of the former United States in this novel, and I was glad to get more about the history of the Republic and the Colonies than I did in the first book. There is so much alternate history wrapped up in this story of rebels and patriots that even if you didn't have the fabulous connection between June and Day, you would still love this story. I find myself wanting Lu to write a whole history book separate of the June and Day story so I can learn more and more about this world. And that, my friends, is a true testament to an amazing world an author has created! I really enjoyed this book and this series as a whole and I am looking forward to the final leg of the journey. But if they ending of this story has anything to do with it, I can tell it is going to be a doozy! Can't wait!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Moon's Control

Susan Beth Pfeffer is a giant among authors. Her name might not be as well -known as J.K. Rowling, but she has such a powerful and versatile writing style that her books will stay with you long after you have finished them. When the third Life as We Know it series ended, I thought the series had ended with it. But here, years later both in the publishing world and in the setting of the story, we are lucky enough to find a fourth book in the series called The Shade of the Moon

Jon was always the little kid. He was the kid who had to be taken care of and kept safe. That was how he came to be a claver. Only people with passes were able to "slip" into the Enclaves, and Lisa, Jon's stepmother, had three passes. One for her, one for her son (Jon's half brother) and one for Jon. It was decided. The rest of his family wanted him to live in the Enclave and have as close to a normal life as possible with the state of the world as it has been. Years ago a meteor hit the moon, and since then, the world has been subject to severe shifts in weather patterns, geological disasters like earthquakes and volcanos where they shouldn't be, and mass extinctions caused by a host of catalysts. When the blended family couldn't survive any longer in Pennsylvania, they traveled to the Enclave, hoping for something better but not knowing what to expect. 

Now Jon is a claver and his mother, sister, brother, and their families all live outside the clave. Everyone outside the clave is known as a grub. If you weren't fortunate enough to be a claver, your life as a grub was determined by the people of the clave. If they needed a domestic, it didn't matter if you had a PhD, you were a grub who would work where they told you. If you defied the Enclave, you were sent to the mines where no one lasted very long. Life in and outside the clave wasn't ideal, but at least it was life. That was more than most people in the world had. Jon has grown into a virtual adult as a claver, and even though he has family outside the wall, he still carries the entitlement that comes with being a member of the clave, even though those who aren't "slips" (slipped inside with a pass), don't let him forget that he is only one step above a grub. Slowly, however, it becomes clear to Jon that there are some ugly and even scandalous things happening in the clave. When a soccer match turns ugly between the clave and the grubtown, everyone sees just how lopsided the power truly is, and the results get deadly. 

I was so ecstatic when I realized Pfeffer was writing another of the Moon books. Beside myself, even. I loved the original series that consisted of the first book about Jon and Miranda's family, the second about Alex (who became Miranda's husband) and his family, and the third brought everyone together. With this new book we really had an opportunity to see them outside survival mode and really trying to live their lives, which was much easier for the clavers who lived in relative comfort with an endless supply of domestic servants than it was outside the clave in White Birch with the grubs who were their domestics. This clash and clear caste system was so intriguing that it brought the series to a whole new level. I loved the turn it took the series, and that the story centered around Jon, who we didn't see much of int he other stories. While Jon should be happy as a claver, he is haunted by his life before he reached the Enclave as well as living a life where everyone he knows relishes in reminding him that he is no more than an unwanted guest inside the community. Even his family in White Birch are shocked by his lack of empathy for the grubs like themselves, but it is Jon's transformation that really makes this story brilliant. He becomes the man everyone hoped he would, even though it took him a while to find that man. 

This is a series that is not only great for young adults, but it is clean enough to be suitable for stronger middle readers. Some of the content is mature, so choose your reader wisely, but the story itself is clean and accessible enough for some middle readers. The characters are the heart of the story, and it is amazing to see all your familiar faces back again, but in a new capacity. Alex and Miranda are now supporting characters, which keeps the story from burning out or dragging on for too long. And Jon is a complex character, full of demons and haunted by his past, which makes him even more spectacular of a redemption. I really loved this whole series, but this story in particular. I am keeping my fingers crossed that in a few years, Pfeffer will announce a fifth book and will keep me in the Moon world. It might not be the best world to live in, but it is full of family, and love and hope, despite all the obstacles standing in the way. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fe Fi Fo Spindlers!

There are all kinds of things that go bump in the night. Some things parents know about and others they can't wrap their old minds around. In The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver, Liza knows the Spindlers are real, even if her parents tell her to stop making up stories... and they have taken her brother. 

Patrick went to bed as Patrick, but he woke up a Spindler. Liza is sure of it. Her brother's soul has been taken even though they always protect themselves from the Spindlers before bed. No one will believe her that the real Patrick has been taken by creepy spiders monsters who can't be killed. Not one to just let her brother's soul be taken and something else *gasp* being done to harm it, Liza waits until everyone is asleep and goes down to the basement. She knows it is the entrance to the Underground world of the Spindlers, but she didn't expect all the other creatures who lived down there too. 

When she first meets a human sized rat named Mirabella, who is wearing a dress, a wig, and an unnecessary amount of make-up, she is taken aback. But Mirabella agrees, albeit reluctantly, to take Liza to the Spindlers. Along the journey to the Spindler nests where they hold the souls to eat, Liza encounters a variety of creatures she never knew existed. Troglogs, and Nocturni, and little glowworm grubs, all become part of Liza's travels to her brother's soul. Some are helpful, some are tricky, but all stand between her and the Real Patrick. And Liza is nothing if not determined. 

This was a cute little middle reader that felt like the kind of book you would get if Roald Dahl wrote Alice in Wonderland meets Coraline. It was unique while still having a familiar feel of the greats, which made it even more enjoyable. I loved the little creatures Liza met along the way, and Mirabella in particular was a really multi-dimensional character as Liza's tour guide through the world underneath.  The characters were complex without being too complex for the age group the book was intended. The story is simple but will delight young elementary students (either read solo by a strong reader or with parents or teachers for a younger student) through middle school students. If you know someone who liked The BFG or James and the Giant Peach, this is a good next step for you. It truly feels like something written by Dahl, a man who transformed my own status as a child reader. I love the cross-over Oliver has created where she has gone from superb young adult novels to truly epic middle readers. That isn't easy to do, and it truly shows her skills as an author!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Can You Break the Code?

The Virals are not immune to trouble and adventure. In fact, both trouble and adventure seem to hunt them down and find them. In the third Virals novel Code, by Kathy and Brendan Reichs, we see how the superhuman pack reacts to a game that loses its "fun" appeal with the first bomb.

Tory Brennan is no stranger to adventure. After she and her three best guy friends, all of whom are the children of the scientists on the very island where they were exposed to a mad scientists experiment that turned them into a superhuman wolf pack, solved a crazy pirate's treasure hunt to find enough gold doubloons to save the island and LIRI, the lab, they became fairly legendary. Unfortunately, legendary still doesn't earn them any friends at the snooty private school that pegs them as "scholarship brats". But Tory and her friends Hi, Shelton, and Ben are too interested in their lives as Virals and the next adventure to care much about typical teen drama. 

When Hi starts geocaching, he is delighted to find a first time cache on Loggerhead Island, the very place where the research laboratory is located. Although his friends think geocaching is silly, when he finds an ornate Japanese puzzle box with a bizarre clue inside, they can't help but be intrigued by the thrill of the hunt. It takes them a while to break the clue, but their Flare doesn't let them down. While it might be invasive to be able to read one another's thoughts and act like a pack, they can't scoff at the benefits. But when they find the second clue, it seems they have stumbled upon a sick joke left by an even more disturbing individual who calls himself the Gamemaker. Now they must solve the clues int he time the Gamemaker gives them or they will be responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people. But the Gamemaker didn't plan on one very important detail when he targeted the Virals- a pack never gives up and never loses. 

This is such a fun, entertaining series. It really is perfect, good, clean fun for any reader, boy or girl, middle reader or young adult. Even adults would enjoy this fun series that keeps them guessing and trying to solve the mystery. I think the language is simple enough for lower skilled students, but the appeal is really in the fast-paced entertainment. You will be hard-pressed to find a reader who wasn't hanging on every situation the Virals found themselves in. The protagonist is fairly young, 14, so it might seem a little too young for a more mature reader, but I imagine they will quickly get sucked up into the excitement pretty quickly!

My one sticky wicket with this story was the final reveal at the end. I just didn't like it the way I have liked the big reveal of the evil mastermind behind the badness in the other books. This one was far less satisfying, but I still enjoyed the story. In fact, I am really looking forward to the next book. These books are so fast that I feel like I just devour them. Can't wait to devour the next! 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dirty Little Flop

Music is infectious. Music seeps into your soul. And if you are meant to make music, there is nothing that can keep you from making that music, even a pair of unsupportive parents who threaten to take away your college tuition. In Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols, Bailey was born a fiddler and will always be a fiddler. No matter who tries to tell her she can't be.

Bailey and her sister Julie were a team. They worked the bluegrass circuit as a duo and always played to each other's strengths and patched the holes of each other's weaknesses. When a record deal was offered, though, it wasn't for the duo. It was for 16 year old Julie, and 18 year old Bailey was informed that not only would she not get a deal, but the recording company was worried about bad press if people found out Julie's fame came from the destruction of a sister duo, so Bailey was sent to live with her grandfather and ordered to stay away from the music scene. Easier said than done in Nashville. Luckily her grandfather, a maker of string instruments, understands Bailey's need to play and gets her a gig playing back-up fiddle for the traveling bands int he mall. Not glamorous, unless you consider being dressed up as a middle-aged Elvis' back-up singer glamorous, but at least she can play. And she is good at it!

When Bailey is assigned to Johnny Cash (impersonator) and his son, she doesn't expect to find a boy who not only gets her, but also understands her passion for the rockabilly music they all crave. Sam commandeers his father's song and Bailey gets a little taste of his brilliance, both with guitar and his singing. When he convinces her to come play with her band, she is terrified her parents will find out or someone will connect her to Julie if she performs, but Sam is a persuasive guy. When she gets on stage with Charlotte, Ace, and Sam, she knows this band is where she belongs. Unfortunately, Julie's career is more important to her than her own music, and she won't jeopardize Julie. But Sam has other ideas. Not one to take no for an answer, he isn't afraid to lie, cheat, and manipulate to get what he wants, especially if it means he can achieve the success he so desperately craves.

I need to preface this review by saying I have always loved Jennifer Echols' books. They are edgy, no BS, and they appeal to mature YA audiences (or New Adult, if you buy into that subgenre). But this book made me cringe. I loved Bailey, but my hatred for Sam spoiled the entire book for me. Bailey was a sweet girl who got shafted all around: by her parents, by the recording industry, and by Sam... all the time. Everyone used her or discarded her to fit their own needs and no one cared about who Bailey was and what she wanted. And quite frankly, it made me angry to the point of violence against these fictional characters. I don't know why I didn't put the book down, but I can only imagine it was because I figured it had to eventually improve, but I was wrong. Instead, by the end of the book, I was so disgusted by Sam and Bailey's parents that I actually wished I had never read this book. What a poor example for young adult women to be exposed to.

First, Bailey was "in trouble" for the car accident she got into with her boyfriend. This was supposed to be the huge thing that led them to tuck her away, BUT they had already told her about the recording deal, taken away her future, cut her off from her sister, and discarded her BEFORE the accident. Then the accident itself wasn't even that awful, at least on her part. She went to a party where she didn't drink or do drugs, got in a car with her boyfriend who she didn't know had done coke, then he crashed into a pond, and finally he tried to manipulate her into taking the fall. Gratefully, Bailey told him to go scratch and told the truth about the wreck, but besides having poor taste in boys, I don't understand how any of this was Her fault, besides the fact that it made her parents have to remember that they had a second daughter- a fact they were happy to forget. 

Then her parents. Ugh. They had no problem discarding one daughter for the fame of the other, and Julie's career was what THEY wanted, not Julie. She missed having a real life, but they didn't care. They just threw it in her face that they had made huge sacrifices to get her this far. Even when she refused to go on stage until Bailey came, they blamed Bailey for filling her head with nonsense. Great parents. Really, model parents right here. If Echols' purpose was to make every young adult thankful for the loving, yet inevitably flawed, parents they had, then she succeeded. Otherwise, she just made me appalled by such selfish, self-centered, manipulative parents who should never have been allowed to have children. 

And finally, there is Sam. The worst of the worst. Sam is only concerned with his own career, and he is willing to do anything to get it. Including seducing young women to join his band to get them gigs. In fact, even though Charlotte, his bandmate, blows up his spot and tells Bailey that every sweet nothing he whispered to her, he also whispered to Charlotte (verbatim), Sam still manages to paint Charlotte as crazy and jealous... and Bailey BELIEVES him! Ugh! Then, Bailey agrees to play with them as long as there are no videos or other evidence that could be posted somewhere and jeopardize Julie's career. Does Sam care? NOPE! Send it in anyway and then cannot fathom why she would be upset by all this! In fact, he makes her feel like SHE is being selfish. Yep. Real winner there! Then, he makes fun of songwriters, something Bailey is not only good at, but she sees as her only outlet since there is no one in her life she can talk to. What a winner that guy Sam is! And as if that isn't enough... he actually convinces her to go groveling back to her parents SO THEY CAN GET HIM A RECORD DEAL. Before he realized just how serious Julie's career was, he was all, "Oh your parents are horrid! Never speak to them again!" Then he sees Julie's billboard and is like, "What is wrong with you? Your parents can make us famous! Can't you suck up your pride for once to help us?! C'mon! They aren't all that bad! See?! Having connections makes them infallible! Never mind your horrible childhood. I want a record deal!" And you know what she does? First she calls him on this BS... then she sleeps with him. Fabulous. Calling all Young Adult ladies! You worried you might be too strong, too determined, too powerful, and too proud? Don't worry, I've got the book for you! And this one will be sure to make you into the quivering, manipulated, spineless woman we want our next generation to become!! 
**End Spoilers**

I hated Sam with a vehemence that doesn't even rival my hatred for Lord Voldemort, because at least the Big LV admitted he was evil, relished in it, even. Sam was billed as an awesome musician who came to sweep her off her feet, and instead he just continued to abuse her like her parents did. I am sorry, but there is no young adult woman I would ever give this book to. It demeans everything we try to teach the amazing young women in our lives: to believe in themselves, to stand up for themselves, and to see through people who would rather use them than love them. This book is truthfully one of the worst examples of young adulthood that I have ever read. Please don't give this to your young ladies. Don't do that to our next generation. Instead give them a book like Graceling or Throne of Glass or Defiance with some real, butt-kickin', take no prisoners kind of ladies. Trust me. We don't want to encourage our young women to become the Baileys of the world. Sorry, Ms. Echols. You might have ruined me forever from your books with this one. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Can You Outrun the Fear?

The kids of London have survived a lot since the sickness changed all the mothers and fathers into sickos, but they have no idea about the other horrors waiting for them outside their strongholds. In Charlie Higson's third book in the Enemy series, The Fear, the kids are about to learn just how ugly things can get.

DogNut is determined to find Brooke. He isn't the only one who has lost friends or family in the fray of battle. A number of other kids are willing to leave the safety of the Tower to hike across the city and find those they lost. But traveling in London isn't as easy as it used to be. In addition to the dumb, mindless, shambling sickos, there are new kinds who have grown stronger thanks to all the kids they ate, who are growing accustomed to the sun, and who are smarter than anyone could have anticipated. DogNut and the others manage to make their way up the river, but when they get to Buckingham Palace, they find that not all groups of surviving kids are welcoming visitors out of the kindness of their hearts. Some have bigger aspirations.

For David, the ruler of the Palace, ruling all of London is all he can think about. With plenty of other kids to do his dirty work, he has plenty of time to plot against those who spurned him and those who refused to join his group.  The girl DogNut is searching for, Brooke, was the one who started it all by taking the truck full of supplies she promised him for his protection and driving off to the Natural History museum to start her own group. While David doesn't want DogNut and the others to know about the group at the museum, DogNut didn't make it this far by being stupid. In fact, he was built for this world, not for holing up in some fortress pretending the world wasn't being devoured by sickos. Unwilling to remain a virtual prisoner, DogNut and his group manages to escape the Palace and David, but what they find outside might be worse than what was hidden inside. 

Higson really has a great series going here. My only qualm about it all is that the stories aren't released in chronological order. They jump all around and each book seems to start earlier than the last, but end up later. It can be really confusing, especially when you are reading about something you know already happened, but can't quite fit the puzzle piece into the whole equation. I struggled with this a bit, but I have just allowed myself to sink into each book and enjoy it. It's a shame about the order of the books, because otherwise, this is a near perfect series. It has excitement, twists, action, and some terribly tough, butt-kicking kids! 

Even though the sickos aren't true zombies, they still love to eat little kiddies. In fact, they are learning to think and plot and hunt, which, in my opinion, makes then all the more scary. Obviously, this makes the book pretty violent at times, but all the different kids' stories come together to make a true masterpiece. While DogNut was the focus, Courtney, Brooke, Shadowman, Jester, etc. are all fabulous characters, for better or for worse, and you want to hear more and more about them. As a chapter jumps to a new character, you find yourself wanting more from the one you just finished and still dying to dive into the next story. If you can get a student into this series, you will watch them plow through every book, they are really just that good!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Unravelling of a Great Story

Juliette might think she is crazy, but the world she lives in is crazier. At the conclusion of Shatter Me, she learned her own ability to kill a person with her bare skin was only just the beginning. In Tahereh Mafi's sequel, Unravel Me, the true nature of Juliette's gift has only barely been understood... until now.

Omega Point tries to be different from the Reestablishment in every way possible. Even their leader tries to maintain a peaceful leadership that protects their kind rather than exploits them. Juliette was happy to be free of her prison, but she can't let herself trust the people around her quite so easily, nor can she trust herself not to hurt them. Her power is so terrifying that she is glad she can at least touch one person- the boy she loves, Adam. Of course, she tries to forget that Warner, the man who held her captive for all those years, could also touch her. Adam is the only one who matters to Juliette. 

When Kenji takes Juliette to the labs and she sees them hurting Adam, she loses it. She barely holds her cool most days, but this led Juliette to a place she had never been before, and with that anger she was able to tap into powers she never knew she had. Her extreme strength and power could literally move the earth beneath them. Omega Point plans to use Juliette's powers to help them in their plans to eventually overthrow the Reestablishment, but what they weren't prepared for was what was happening above them on the surface. Warner's father has arrived, and as supreme commander, his presence is nothing to go unnoticed. Juliette doesn't want to admit it, but there is something inside her that is drawn to Warner, even though she knows just how ruthless he can be. It is almost like the connection between them is as powerful, if not more, than her connection to Adam, especially when she learns Adam might not be as immune to her power to kill as she thought he was. How can a relationship exist if she can't touch the man she loves without killing him?

The devil who knows your demons is better than telling the angel you love about those demons. For Juliette, having to be damaged in front of Adam is harder than having to be with sadistic Warner. She doesn't fully understand it, but she can't help but be drawn to Warner, even if the guilt about her feelings is drowning her. I love Juliette as a character, in all her damaged, semi-psychotic, caring loveliness, and I really liked this "anti-love triangle" that had even me questioning Warner's weird devotion to Juliette. It was a hard one to wrap your head around and it definitely made me want to come back for more.

If i had one complaint about this series it would be the lack of world building. There is supposed to be this incredibly corrupt, world-dominating force, but we don't see much of it. Instead the whole story has been inside Juliette's head. And don't get me wrong, that is fascinating, but the idea of this world out there is too and I just want more of it. This book can be a little scattered because it is told through he head of Juliette, so you see her indecision and guilt through Mafi's use of the strike out (although not nearly as much as in Shatter Me). It would be best for a strong reader who can wade through her occasional psychosis to really enjoy this truly unique story. I can't wait for the conclusion, but I am dreading it at the same time!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Is Delilah Fixable?

Every family has its skeletons in the closet, the elephants in the room, and the secrets that aren't really kept, but Delilah's family is more dysfunctional than most. In Sarah Ockler's Fixing Delilah, we see a family that has never been able to be truly honest... until now.

Delilah's mother drags her away for the summer, but it isn't for some dorky family vacation. Her grandmother, whom she hasn't seen since she was eight, has died, and Delilah's mother and her aunt, both estranged, must pack up the house, make the arrangements, and settle her affairs. Delilah doesn't understand why no one has spoken to each other in years, but her mother refuses to speak about anything to do with her past, even about Delilah's father who died before she was even born. 

Returning to Vermont is emotional for Delilah, who has been getting in a lot of trouble back home, but when she reunites with Patrick, a boy she used to play with when they were kids, she realizes there are more than just bittersweet memories she was forced to leave behind. Having left her boyfriend, Finn, back home, she begins to realize he might not be as great as she once thought he was. Patrick embodies everything she has been missing for all these years. But when they start really getting into the breaking down of her grandmother's house, all those secrets and hushed conversations start coming to the top. Now Delilah's workaholic mother must answer Delilah's questions whether she wants to or not. There are things Delilah deserves to know... even if she won't like the answers once she gets them.

I loved Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, and while I didn't like this book more than that one, this was still a really great, emotional, character-driven story. There were parts of this story where you say Delilah's grief and her attempts to reconcile her life and her grandmother's death and her family secrets that were so touching and gut-wrenching, I was instantly reminded of Ockler's supreme ability to transform a novel into a true emotional experience. For instance, in the sifting through of the house, everyone had avoided her grandmother's bedroom, so Delilah goes in, she puts on her grandmother's sweater, her necklace, uses her talcum powder, and tries to reconnect with the grandmother she really lost when she was eight. It was only a few pages, but this description was so poignant and bittersweet I was in complete awe of it. I don't know how Ockler does it, but she can describe grief like a master painter can transport you to their landscape. 

This was a great story for any emotional, sensitive young woman. It doesn't have any rampaging action, but the story behind Delilah's family is so raw and emotional, that kind of student who is deeply sensitive will truly love the experience of this book. I have grown to really love Ockler, and look forward to reading more of her books in the future. She knows her characters, and while the stories aren't the most action-packed, the characters are so real, you will feel like you are living life right along side them. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Chronicle of Post-Contaminated Life

In a world obsessed with appearance and weight, it isn't a stretch to imagine a diet drink that really worked would become an instant phenomenon. In Em Garner's Contaminated, we see the unexpected outcomes of this obsession, and it ain't pretty!

Velvet bears the burden of her parents' relationship with ThinPro, the diet water everyone was obsessed with. When people around the country started going crazy, destroying and murdering at will, uncontrollable rage, an inability to feel or understand pain, everyone immediately thought the zombie apocalypse had begun. Kill at will was the standard reaction as the Contaminated began to attack. What they didn't realize until later was that the Contaminated, or Connies, weren't zombies. They were victims of something like Mad Cow disease after ThinPro illegally and unethically changed the source of its protein to animal discards from butchers and factories. They couldn't keep up with the demand for their product and it is better to mislead the public than lose money, right?! Well, that decision was catastrophic as those who drank the liquid became Connies and ravaged the country. Even the President wasn't spared.

Now Velvet takes care of her little sister, Opal, and works to support them, and scours the Connie Kennels each week in search of her mother. Her mother turned later than her father, so Velvet hopes she was spared the fate he most likely succumbed to- a bullet to the head. Once they figured out the source of the Contamination, labs were able to devise collars that would keep the Connies calm and able to be taken home to their families. Unfortunately, most families weren't interested in a rabid family member, so they left them to be shipped back to the labs from where they never returned. But Velvet wasn't going to let that happen to her mother, and when she finally located her, she was determined to bring her home. Unfortunately, the world wasn't ready for the Connies to be back amongst them. Velvet encounters more problems than she expected, not only with taking care of her mother, but also from the people around her. Velvet isn't someone to give in easily, though, and even though two years ago she couldn't picture herself doing the things she must do now, Velvet will do anything to keep the remainder of her family together. Anything.

The cover of this book looks pretty fierce, right? I'll bet you expect some serious "zombie" blood and gore scenes thanks to that cover. And the author praise on the jacket? "Relentlessly horrifying... a bone-chilling, riveting debut," says Ann Aguirre (who knows horrifying, and did it beautifully in the Enclave series). "Absolutely unputdownable" from Jennifer Armentrout. This all leads you to think of an action-packed story full of attacks, evasion, and survival. Sadly, that isn't what you are going to get from this book. Now, don't get me wrong, the book wasn't bad, but I was so confused by the complete lack of "zombies" or at least some wild Connies, that I found myself turned off by a book I might otherwise have liked had I not been misled. I am completely baffled by the billing that this book could at all compare to Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin or Charlie Higson's The Enemy or even Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which was must less crazy than the first two, but still had some zombie action). Instead, this book was all about the reconstruction and how everyone is moving on with their lives. There was one attack and a few flashbacks of news stories or an attack or two, but they were only back story- nothing to lead the plot. Instead, this is a story of hardship, family, and love and devotion, which I love, don't get me wrong, but could have been better with a little more of the action I expected to find. In fact, I think my disappointment jaded my opinion of the book, and I struggled to finish it as a result. 

Had I known this was a reconstruction book, and not expected something "relentlessly horrifying", I would have probably really liked this book. In fact, I really loved Velvet's character. She was one tough cookie. Even when adults tried to push her around or take advantage of her, she wouldn't back down. She was only interested in taking care of her sister and her mother, even if it meant being evicted from their government assisted apartment and moving back to their previously quarantined and now empty (and dangerous) neighborhood. I really liked this girl. She not only had guts, she was totally unapologetic about it. I only wished I wasn't swirling in disappointment when I started this book so I could have focused more on the pretty good story hidden inside. One complaint is that the story just ENDS! No real conclusion, no wrap-up, just done. I wonder if Garner expects to write a sequel, because there was no closure here. So if you are going to give this to a student, be sure to take the book jacket off- maybe then they would enjoy it. But this won't catch the attention of those action-craving boys, so I think the target audience is a little narrow.