Monday, March 31, 2014

Before There was a Legend

June and Day couldn't be more opposite in the Legend series by Marie Lu. From two different worlds, they might as well have been born on different planets, but that doesn't mean they haven't both experienced struggles and won't both choose to do great things in their future. 

Day escaped the Republic's testings after failing his trial, but that doesn't mean they haven't forgotten about him. On the run and in hiding, he tries to keep a low profile, but that sometimes means going hungry. When a girl catches him trying to steal food from her father's shipment, she chooses not to hold that against him. In doing so, she gives him more courage than he could have wished for. 

June was admitted to the University at an unheard of age of twelve. She might be a prodigy, but that doesn't mean bigger, less intelligent people want her there overshadowing their own meager accomplishments. Being a prodigy means a lot of attention, and not all of it is good, but June refuses to be beaten when she can find a way to defend herself. 

These were two fun little prequels, but they are definitely short. I liked seeing a glimpse into Day and June's lives before Legend because it really gets you to love that they can overcome such differences to come together and do what they do. I would suggest these itty bitty stories to any fan of the series!

A Final Offering

Language separates us all in ways that are cultural and expected. We expect to be able to speak to those we share a country with, but we can't imagine a country separate into castes by the language we speak... or can we? Isn't language already a separation between those who can and those who can't In Kimberly Derting's final Pledge novel, The Offering, Charlie finally understands what it means to be a queen. 

When Charlie became queen, she did not rid the world of Sabara the tyrant. She fused Sabara's soul to her own. While it hasn't been easy, she has chosen to block out the former queen's negativity and focus on the changes she always dreamed she could make to her country. She disbanded the work camps for orphaned children. She sent their sadistic leaders to their punishment for years of abuse. She disbanded the caste system. Most importantly for a country separated by language, she restored communications. Sabara had cut all communication systems in the country long ago, but at Charlie's insistence, they were replaced and brought the country back together. Sure, this means her enemies could communicate easier as well, but Charlie refused to think of her people with Sabara's paranoia. She was a different kind of queen. 

Her scariest threat was Elena, the queen who would do anything to have Sabara's power. Charlie sent her friend, Xander, to forge an accord with Elena, but his long absence has troubled them all. When Elena sends a token of her time with Xander, a piece of him, Charlie gets both messages- the implied one from his severed hand, and the hidden one in the bottom of the box. As a true queen, Charlie knows it is her own duty to set off and stop Elena from the harm she intends for the people Charlie loves. Charlie might be young, but she certainly doesn't underestimate the lengths Elena is willing to go for control of Sabara. 

This series and its basis over language as a caste system has always been intriguing to me, especially as a teacher of dyslexics where language is a constant factor in their successes and failures. If you don't believe me, ask a dyslexic about an experience where they had to fill out an application on the spot and couldn't take it home to spell check it or ask someone for help with it. They will tell you what separation language makes between them and a non--dyslexic. So to see Charlie bring the country back together, for better or worse, was great for me. It felt like the same sentiment that fights to uphold the freedom of speech or demonstration even if it means also protecting groups and people you disagree with. If I want my rights, then I can't deny them for anyone. It was a really beautiful sentiment, and I loved watching Charlie blossom into a true queen. She was selfless and brave, and it didn't hurt that she could kick a little butt when needed!

The finale had a slow moment or two, but it really was just one big journey to the final battle against Elena. Charlie was truly the epitome of great leadership while Elena was the quintessential power-hungry leader who can never have enough. As we see the two comparatively, their differences are vast and unmistakable. It was a really nice juxtaposition. So even with a few slow parts, the story was a great ending to a great story. Kimberly Derting proved she could do dystopia with the same ease she did supernatural in the Body Finder series... so what's next?!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Find the Rebel Within

Three small kingdoms all together could not possibly be more different. Neither could the people they produce. Despite their differences, Cleo, Jonas, Magnus, and Lucia all play a part in the story of magic and rebellion in the second book of Morgan Rhodes' Fallen Kingdom Series: Rebel Spring

Cleo has watched all of her family destroyed and King Gaius has conquered her kingdom. Now, the three separate kingdoms have been merged into one, Mytica, under Gaius' control. He is determined to win over her people with ease rather than force, and isn't afraid to use her to get what he wants. When he announces she is no longer betrothed to Lord Aron, and will instead marry Gaius' son Magnus, Cleo can't imagine a more despicable husband than the man who killed the stableboy she had fallen in love with. For Magnus, who always does as his father tells him to, he knows he can't have who he truly loves, his adopted sister Lucia, so marrying Cleo is no more distasteful than anyone else he would have to marry. 

Meanwhile, Jonas is created a rebel army to fight again Gaius and reclaim their kingdom. Unfortunately, he is having trouble getting many people to join a cause that will most likely get them killed, especially when the king seems to be making improvements to their lives, like a road that connects the former three kingdoms. While he isn't gaining rebels in droves, he certainly has a faithful few who want nothing more than to punish the new king. When they realize their small numbers need a large-scale action to take the king down, they really believe Cleo is the key to their success. All this takes place with Lucia, the hidden sorceress still in a coma after performing the magic her adoptive father called upon her for. But there is more to these four individuals than their individual hopes, desires, and vengeances. From vastly different backgrounds, they might have more in common than they ever thought possible. 

I loved the first book in the series, and I really enjoyed this one too, but it certainly had a few slow parts that dragged a bit. I remember devouring the first book, but it wasn't difficult to put this one down here and there. While I still really liked it, that difference was pretty noticeable. There are a lot of hidden plot lines that haven't been fully realized even by the end of this second book, like the Watchers and the Kindred. While I have an idea, I think I have more questions than answers at this point. That isn't always pleasurable when you are 2/3 of the way through a trilogy, and I know it tends to lose my less focused readers pretty easily. Still, the story was pretty great, with those unanswered questions aside, and I couldn't help but get excited for the upcoming conclusion. 

In the first book, Cleo and Jonas were the most intriguing characters for me, but there is something interesting about Magnus that I wanted to see more of. Is he despicable? Or just misunderstood? And the whole story of Lucia and the Watchers was unfortunately a little too confused for me, but Magnus was certainly the one who held my attention the most. The most interesting this about the entire story is how the magic is the entire focus of the series, yet it is always on the periphery. It brings this element of fantasy and mystery into the boundaries of the story and teases you along. That could either be fun or maddening depending on how you thought about it. I liked it, but I can imagine others who wouldn't!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Amazing Experience

If one event that happened decades before you were born could shape the person you would become, what would you do if you could go back and witness that event? Would you try to change it? Jordan Sonnenblick takes a boy whose life has been dictated by the events of the summer of 1969 and flings him from 2014 back to that summer and the festival that changed the face of our culture. Are You Experienced? is your opportunity to be transported back to the three days that defined the decades that followed.

Richie's parents were older than his friends' parents, and their age shows in more ways than one. He has never had anything in common with his father other than their love for guitar, but his dad even controls his love for music. In his parents militant anti-drug, anti-alcohol campaigns, they control his life like he is on lock-down. When he sneaks out to play at his girlfriend's protest to legalize marijuana, Richie doesn't expect his father to show up outside, but then again, Richie didn't even know what the protest was for! When he gets home, the chasm between him and his father is almost insurmountable... almost. When Richie's mother tells him the truth about his uncle Mike's death, Richie goes to speak to his father and instead finds the secret his father has been keeping: Jimi Hendrix's famous guitar from Woodstock... with a note for someone named Gabriel. Richie can't help himself. Despite his father's restrictions on electric guitars, he plugs it in. Just as he is about to rock out, his father finds him. Despite his father shouting at him to stop, Richie refuses to give in. He needs to play this miraculous piece of history he never knew was hidden in his basement. And then it all goes black. 

Richie wakes up, naked, in 1969 just in time to get hit by a car. Granted it wasn't going very fast, but it still hurt! He can't understand why he ended up on the side of the road, why he is naked, or where all of these pristine super old cars came from. That is, until a girl named Willow jumps out of the car to check on him. Through a few quick questions, it becomes clear that Willow is Mike's girlfriend, Richie's uncle Mike. And his little brother David, is Richie's father. Richie has heard that Woodstock was the weekend where it all went downhill for Mike and started the trend that led to his heroin overdose two months later, but somehow, he is going to live it right alongside them. Knowing he had to be careful about the future, Richie tells them his name is Gabriel, his middle name, and the strangest and most incredible weekend of his life that he wasn't even born for changed his life forever. 

Wow. Just Wow. I thought the premise of this story was hokey. I have to admit it. Time traveling to Woodstock? Ha! Wouldn't we all love that?! But it still seemed silly. And even the beginning of the book where one chapter was in Woodstock and it alternated with 2014 didn't thrill me, but from the moment Richie learned the truth about his uncle and played that legendary guitar, I was hooked. This story is so steeped in incredible history and music legends, I felt that I was transported to 1969 right next to Richie. Some stuff was a little silly (how the holding of lighters at concerts or crowd surfing started?), but on a whole, this was a really amazing story of how one weekend can ripple into the generations that follow it. I loved seeing how the consequences of Mike's weekend even affected Richie and his own music. It was a pretty powerful message. And that music? Let's not forget that music! Oh, I could just hear Janis and Jimi and Credence. It makes me think I was born a few decades too late, and the beauty is many of our students don't know who these greats are yet. So let's grab the Woodstock album and set the tone! There is no better way to understand such a festival than to swim in all its magnificent tunes!

The thing to know about this story is that it is Woodstock, with all its amazing adventures and all of its 1969 charm... including the things people would like to forget. There are certainly a lot of drugs being taken and accidents happening, and some skinny dipping, but you have to understand Sonnenblick wanted an authentic experience for his readers. If hundreds of thousands of young adults could go to Woodstock and spend an entire weekend peacefully listening to music and not rioting, hurting, and being unkind to one another, why can't today's young adults read about it? I find fault with the opinion that reading about drugs makes kids try drugs. I think that is a ridiculous hypothesis, but then again, I have always felt it was important not to censor our young adults' reading habits (or music or movies, for that matter). I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, and that includes some of those romance novels my mom and grandmother read, and you know what? I didn't turn out so bad! I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Trainspotting, and I didn't turn to a life of drug abuse. I watched R-Rated movies and it didn't make me violent. I think we have to trust our young adults to experience something like Woodstock through this amazing story, and experience it in its entirety! 

One part of this story that we can all agree is invaluable, though, is that Richie finally took a moment to understand why his father did the things he did. He always thought his father was overbearing and controlling and basically just there to throw a wrench in Richie's fun, but really, he just wanted to protect Richie. Mike was everything to David, and it took a trip to Woodstock for Richie to understand that was why David protected Richie so fiercely. I have read a lot of Sonnenblick novels, and I think this might be one of my favorites! I just can't get our how much the culture of 1969 washed over me, from the music to the idea of war and the draft. After reading this, I talked to my students about the draft and how they would feel if it was reinstated, and they were speechless. It is important to understand what the generation of my parents and their grandparents lived through. It was a summer to remember, even if you weren't there!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Into the Still-Fabulous Conclusion

Aria and Perry have never had it easy. Coming from two different world, a burnt-out wasteland and a domed uber-tech fortress, was only the beginning of their differences. But Dwellers (inside the dome) and Outsiders all have one thing in common. They want to reach the Still Blue where the Aether storms can't ravage everything they know and love about life. Into the Still Blue is the conclusion to Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky, and it holds your heart in its hand to the last page. 

As the new Blood Lord of the Tides, Perry is now responsible for everyone in what was once his brother's tribe. Now that Aria has returned to him, he feels he can face that responsibility. But the fact that Cinder, the boy who can control the Aether, was kidnapped haunts him. The psychopath leader of the Horn Tribe, Sable, and Soren's father, leader of the domed city Reverie, Hess, have joined forces to do everything they can to get to through the wall of Aether to the Still Blue, even if it means kidnapping and using a little boy like Cinder. They knew Perry, Aria, Roar and the others wouldn't let them get away with it, either. In fact, they counted on it. 

Perry's plan is to attack the Komodo, a giant moving city that is slowly creeping to the edge of the Aether. With the help of Soren, a former Dweller, they can fly the hover craft to the Komodo, rescue Cinder, and get back to their people in time to escape the incoming final Aether storm that will eradicate anything still living inside the burning, toxic wasteland. The problem is that Dwellers and Outsiders don't play well together. Both Perry's group and the group inside the Komodo are ravaged by a lack of trust and faith in one another. When you are constantly watching over your shoulder to make sure your partner doesn't stab you in the back, it is hard to see the enemy who isn't afraid to stab you in the heart. The one thing keeping the survivors from the Still Blue might just be themselves. 

I have followed this series since the first book was released, and I have never once been disappointed, including this finale. It was a way to bring the story full circle and deliver a conclusion that would make Rossi's fans proud. There was no slump from the first page of book one to the last page of book three, and I am really glad I found this series. With such dystopia burnout out there, it is hard to pick your favorites, but this is certainly one of mine. There is a perfect mixture of hope and despair that keeps you through this hull of a world to get to the place we all hoped existed. These characters have all lost so much that you couldn't help yourself but to hope there really was an oasis in the face of such destruction. 

While the story itself and the world-building, are pretty phenomenal, the true winners are Perry and Aria. Both are loyal to a fault, and Perry's loyalty to Cinder has to be my favorite. He cares for the boy to the point of staying with him on a mission that can only lead to certain dead for both of them. It is really fantastic to find a male lead like Perry who we all hope our sons and students can grow up to be like (without the apocalyptic landscape of course!). And Aria is a young woman for our girls to look up to as well. She understands the difference between her own hopes and desires and her responsibility to the people who trust her, and she faces difficult decisions with grace and determination. I loved watching the two of them together. But don't discount the supporting characters! If you don't love Soren and Roar as much as I did, there has to be something wrong with you! It is just sad knowing their story is over, even if it was the perfect ending!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Pivot in the Right Direction

If you had the power to choose between to futures with every choice you made, playing them out and seeing where your choices take you, would you be interested in knowing every detail of your life? Or would you rather leave it up to chance? In Kasie West's Pivot Point, Addison has an ability anyone would covet... unless they knew the consequences of it.

Addison's life on the Compound is fairly typical. Strengthen her abilities, use them to hone her senses, and enjoy a more technologically advanced life away from the Norms (people who don't have abilities). Then her parents drop a bomb on her simple life where the biggest decision was who to go to the prom with (NOT Bobby Barker after a peak into her future saw him groping her). When they announce they are getting a divorce, they tell her she is to pick whom to live with and they fully expect her to use her ability to find out which is the better choice. As a Divergent, Addie can look into the future for both sides of a decision in order to find which she wants to choose. It is a power that comes in handy, especially when avoiding a gross date to a dance, but she doesn't like to use it often because living out the chosen path is not easy when you know everything that is coming. Luckily her friend Laila is an Eraser and can take away her memories of her future peeping.

When Addie delves into her two choices- stay with her mom on the compound in Para-land where all the technology and use of her ability is encouraged, or go with her father to Dallas where she has to hide her ability and fit in with the Norm World- she gets more than she bargained for. In the compound, she knows Duke just isn't her type- the ever popular charming jock- but there is something so irresistible about him. He seems to charm his way with everyone. When she starts to get suspicious of the football team and the possibility they might be hurting the competition with their abilities, it is hard for her to look the other way. In the alternative, when she goes to live with her father, she realizes just how different it is in the norm world without the compound's technology, healers, etc. When she meets a boy named Trevor, she is excited to have a new friend. What she doesn't expect is to find herself really caring for him. When his friend floats his theory that Trevor's recent football injury that blew out his throwing arm, Addie can't help but listen. Especially when she finds out the injury's are about her old school- a team of Paras who have the powers to cause all these injuries. Which reality would you choose?

WOWZA! This was one unique, catch-you-by-surprise kind of story! First, when reading the premise, I didn't know it centered around a compound of people who had paranormal powers. And the idea of this compound? I was so into it! My only problem was I didn't get enough of it. There was different technology, houses that anticipated your needs, different kind of cars, etc. I wanted more! I think the only thing this book lacked was a little more world-building to flesh out this paranormal bend to things. I wish there had been more about it, not just little snippets here and there. 

But the purpose of the story was Addie's choice, and the coolest way to show two divergent paths is to juxtaposition them, right? So West alternated chapters. One for her mom, one for her dad. I loved this. Sometimes it took me a minute to realize the change (a different font or color or heading would have stopped that), but it was only because I was so wrapped up in the story I was turning the pages like a madwoman. I loved this alternating realities so much I almost wanted to go back and try it with one then the other to prove how great these alternating chapters were! 

The greatest part about this story is how it took a genre staple (paranormal teens) and put a unique spin on it. Not an easy feat! But West really came up with a unique approach to the YA genre and went with it, and what you got was pretty freaking awesome! I loved the concept, the characters, and especially the difficult choice Addie had to make, because it wasn't all about the divorce- there were darker acts at play here, and she had to navigate through a maze of them. The book was a great surprise! I didn't expect it to be so good, and I was pleasantly surprised when it knocked my socks off!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Exposed and Fabulous

Some kids just can't help themselves. They find themselves in trouble regardless of where they go or what they do. Tory Brennan seems to be drawn to the craziest situations like a moth to a flame. In the fourth Virals book by Kathy and Brendan Reichs, Exposure, Tory and the other Virals find themselves caught between life and death... again! 

After the Gamemaster was stopped and the Virals found out their pack member Ben was helping him, nothing has been the same. Ben was expelled and lives with his mother, which makes it easy for Tory, Hi, and Shelton to avoid him. The problem is, even if they feel betrayed by Ben, they still never feel whole without him. He is the fifth member of the pack with the three kids and Tory's wolf-dog Coop. When the pack is apart, their powers are disjointed. When twins from school are kidnapped and the killer leaves a Zodiac card behind, Tory and the others just can't help themselves. They have to investigate. Even with everyone from their parents to the headmaster to the police watching them after their involvement with the Gamemaster, they can't help themselves. They know they can find things the investigators overlooked. 

The problem is, they do find clues to the disappearance of the twins, and when they realize the police aren't making any real progress, they can't help themselves but get further involved. The deeper they get, the more they realize the story behind this kidnapping isn't what it appears to be. To make matters worse, their separation and struggles within the pack have left their powers a little wonky. Now, when they flare, it feels like the flare is completely consuming them. When hunting a kidnapper, there is nothing worse than going from 100 to 0 in 10 seconds flat. Now the pack is in danger, but can they get themselves out of this one?

These books are so much fun and so adventurous, it is hard not to get sucked into them. Each time these kids get sucked into another dangerous adventure, I know I should be skeptical, but I just don't care that in reality, their parents would have left this island already. I just love how much fun the story is! And it really is fun. From start to finish, you know they are going to get into trouble, they are going to work together as a pack, and by golly, those bad guys are going to get what is coming to them! On a whole, the stories are predictable, but their bits and pieces are not. There are always twists and turns around each corner to keep you hooked, which is why I love them so much. 

I love these books for mature middle readers. They are fun, exciting, easy reads, and fabulous for strong middle readers. Because they are just clean, fun stories, you don't have to be afraid to give them to an inappropriate reader. My one complaint was toward the end when the pack was split, the narrator remained first person but it jumped from Tory to Hi and back and forth. It took me a while to figure out who on earth was speaking, and it would certainly confuse unfamiliar readers. I wish there was a better way to acknowledge the narrator at that point. Otherwise, you are going to love them all- Tory, Hi, the rest of the pack, even scary Whitney! And when you get to the end, you will be delighted to find out there most certainly HAS to be another book!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Out with a Bang

Imagine you had a vision of an accident where people you knew were killed and in body bags. Would you stop it? What if they were strangers and you were hurt too... would you take the chance to stop it and save strangers if you could be killed in the meantime? Lisa McMann's sequel in the Visions series, Bang, makes you ask yourself that very question.

Jules saved the lives of a bunch of people, including the delicious Romeo to her Juliet, Sawyer. Their families have despised each other for a generation, but they refuse to carry on the ridiculous tradition. In saving his family's restaurant, however, she has put herself on the wrong side of her father's mental illness. Now he doesn't trust her and will do anything to keep her away from Sawyer. Luckily for Jules, her sister Rowan and her brother Trey are comrades in the war against their unpredictable father, and they help her to come and go without his knowing. All would be perfect if only Sawyer hadn't had a vision...

When he tells her he had a vision, she can't believe she somehow "infected" him with such a burden. They have no idea how he got the vision, but they all know the ramifications of what he has seen. He knows it is some kind of school because the shooting takes place in a classroom, but the vision is so difficult for him to cope with that he can't seem to get a handle on it to get any specifics. Jules knows she has to help him to work through the vision, but are they willing to risk their own lives to save the lives of a bunch of strangers? 

Whenever I first start a McMann book, I am usually turned off by the "uber-teen" language that sounds campy, hokey, and forced. I work with teens, live with teens, spend an exorbitant amount of my life with large amounts of adolescents, and I don't know any who talk like Jules and the others do in these books. It is kind of a turn off for any older readers, but I have found middle school students don't seem to mind it (maybe they think that's how high school students talk!). It is a shame that language struggle happens because as soon as I get into the book a little, I am sucked into such a good story! Sadly, that campy language detracts from the engaging, exciting story McMann wove, but at least I can ignore it once the excitement of the story takes over. 

The stories are really exciting, and McMann writes a good middle-of-the-road book where the language is very simplistic but the books are engaging enough for a mature reader (if you can get past the silly language). I use these for those 12-14 yr old students who struggle to stay with a book because their reading skills are lower than their interest. And the stories are short enough that they can get through the story with only reading 20 minutes a day or so. With larger books they tend to lose track of what is happening, but the story in McMann's series' are condensed and fast, so they can keep up. 

In addition, this story has some really deep, adult situations, like the fact that Sawyer's father and grandfather have a tendency to hit him. Or the fact that Jules' dad's mental illness made the entire family walk on eggshells. There was one scene where her mother comes into her room where Jules and her brother and sister are sitting. They expect her to be mad for setting off their father again, but instead she just tells them she is so grateful they have each other. It was such a devastating and moving scene, I couldn't get over the ridiculous campy language McMann put into Jules' mouth. Such a weird juxtaposition! But still, this is a great series and it will be great for those older struggling readers. I can only imagine where McMann is going to go with all these visions!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Almost Perfect Ruin

We all know that underneath even the most seemingly perfect utopia lies a hidden dystopia. At the very least, it is a false utopia. Lauren DeStefano starts her utopian series, The Internment Chronicles, with a Perfect Ruin

In Morgan's world on Internment, marriages are arranged, people listen to the will of the king, and no one gets too close to the edge. Attempting to go over the edge of Internment can result in death, if you are lucky. Jumpers who survived are scarred physically and emotionally from their attempts to leave Internment. Internment is a city high in the sky where the citizens aren't allowed to see the ground. Saved by the Gods in the sky, before Morgan's generation, Internment was created as an act of mercy. Now they must abide by the rules of Internment to keep life sustained and happy. That includes accepting your betrothal the king arranges, only having children when your number in the queue is called, and accepting all decisions by the government without complaint. This sounds easy enough, but there are always exceptions to the rules, like Morgan's sister-in-law Alice who accidentally got pregnant out of turn and was forced to lose the pregnancy. Or Morgan's brother Lex who tried to jump and suffers the consequences. Or Morgan's friend Pen who finds her betrothed completely insufferable. But Morgan is happy with her betrothal, and she never thought to question the decisions of the king, until she meets a murderer. 

Crime is unheard of on Internment, but when a young girl is murdered, her betrothed is blamed. Morgan's father, a patrolman, claims they have apprehended the boy, but Morgan has seen him around the city, hiding from everyone. Weirder still, she finds him with Amy, the dead girl's sister. Why would a little girl be hiding with and protecting the man who murdered her sister?  Convinced the boy, Judas, is innocent, she hides her encounters with him carefully, even from Basil, her betrothed. Morgan becomes the object of concern to the king's people, but she is careful to keep the secrets of her family. But in a city the size of Internment, it isn't easy to keep secrets. Or is it? 

I struggled with DeStefano's Wither series, so I was skeptical going into this story. I loved Wither, but then the series took a nosedive after the first book. When I started Perfect Ruin, I have to admit it felt a little slow and confusing at first. It is hard to weave a utopia, which we all know is bound to be flawed in the end, but you still want to it appear to be perfect on the surface. Lois Lowry did this effortlessly in The Giver, and honestly, DeStefano did a pretty good job too, but it felt a little forced at times. Not quite effortless. But not a bad attempt either! So while the story was a little slow at first, it quickly picked up and by the end, I was devouring the story. My biggest concern, however, is that The Internment Chronicles will follow the same Wither path and lose steam after a pretty good first book. Hopefully this series will benefit from the experience DeStefano gained from her first series. 

The concept of Internment was really fascinating, but there are some holes in its existence that I assume further books will clear up. I loved the utopian angle which was bound to have flaws, but still wasn't a full-fledged dystopia. It will rustle up some great conversations about what the "perfect society" really is. While Morgan wasn't an overtly strong female lead, she also didn't drink the king's Kool-Aid, so to speak. She was happy with her betrothal, but she saw the flaws in the system first hand. In our society, we have a knee-jerk, gut reaction against imposed life-altering decisions, like arranged marriage, so it was an interesting twist to see happy betrothals (Morgan and Basil) and marriages (Lex and Alice) come out of those arrangements. It was an interesting twist on something you won't expect to approve of. The beauty of this story for students is that it is a relatively clean story that can be read in book groups, individually, in class, etc. The story can be complex at times, so it is probably best for a student who can unravel the multiple layers of the society DeStefano created. And I desperately hope that amazing, passionate momentum from the end of the story continues into the sequel!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Break on Through

An extreme of any type of society is bound to lead to a heavy hand in enforcing the cultural expectations. When the country swung from a focus on freedom to a focus on morality, the means of upholding forced morals went too far. In the sequel to Article 5, Breaking Point is a story of just how fast Ember is forced to grow up when she is on the run from a government that thought she was a criminal just for being born. 

Ember knows Chase had a hand in her mother's murder, but she also knows he had no choice. Tucker, on the other hand, is as sadistic and guilty as the worst parts of the government. They were happy to be free of him, but even on the other side of the fence, they find themselves surrounded by people whose decisions are questionable at best. In the resistance, everyone must work to end the government's moral indoctrination of society. As a bunch of societal misfits, criminals, and AWOL soldiers, the resistance needs people like Ember and Chase. Everyone is expected to work and fight in order to turn the tide of of the moral oppression that believes anyone who breaks an article is subject to imprisonment or death. 

The Resistance is confident in their ability to sway public perception, but they underestimated the power of the government. Their safe houses and ability to smuggle "packages" (people) out of the government's control gives them a false sense of security under the heavy hand of moral directives. All that security comes crashing down on them when their safe house burns to the ground and soldiers surround the building. Ember and Chase have been on the run before, but they almost didn't make it. With what they have lived through before they came to Wallace's safe house, they are facing a terrifying proposition: is there really any place safe for them to go? The government would like the answer to that question to be NO!

It was a long time between when I read the first book in this series and this sequel, so I had to look up a plot summary of the first story in preparation for this book. I think that was part of the reason the first 1/4 of this story was a little slow for me, but the other part of that problem was because the beginning of the story was indeed a little slow. Luckily it turned itself around and picked up the pace to what I so fondly remembered from the first story. Unfortunately, that slow beginning might be a struggle for a student who has difficulties sticking with a book. If they can hang in there, though, they would really enjoy a story that basically has Ember and Chase on the run for most of the book. We saw a lot of that in the first book, but in this sequel, the risk is elevated once Ember is named as one of five enemies of the state and her face is plastered all over the place with a reward for her capture. When people are starving and displaced, their sense of loyalty is disposable. 

The idea of being hunted by the government and moral police compared with being a hero to the resistance was an interesting angle. This is a book where religion took over the government and the separation of church and state was abolished to make way for moral and religious indoctrination. In contrast to our own politics or the politics of countries where religious police already exist, it is a book that could produce many topics for discussion or research while still being entertaining and interesting. And best of all, I really like the characters of Ember and Chase. Ember puts herself in harms way more often than not in the name of what is right, and Chase is her voice of reason. Together they make the perfect hero, and I love the dynamic that the two of them bring to each adrenaline pumping situation. Now I am looking forward to how the story wraps up with the final book!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Eleanor and Park Stole My Heart

Every now and then a young adult book comes along that instantly transports us back to our own adolescence, for better or worse. It can be a painful or a beautiful journey (more often than not, a little of both), but it takes a talented author to do so effortlessly. In Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell tells you a story of two misfits that will leave you forever changed. 

Since her mother brought Eleanor back to the house, she, and everyone else, has had to walk on eggshells. Their stepfather is not a nice man, and in particular, he hates Eleanor. In a house as tiny as theirs, it is all but impossible for her to escape him. Sharing a bedroom with her four siblings, worrying about whether or not they will have food each night, and listening to Richie beat her mother are just some of the reasons Eleanor has no interest in seeking friends in her new school. Never mind the fact that she dresses weird (in whatever her mother gets her from Goodwill), she isn't the skinniest girl, and her flaming red hair has a mind of its own. When she steps foot on the bus that first day, no one will let her sit down... until Park lets her sit with him. 

Park isn't a complete outcast, but he isn't popular by any means either. He tries very hard to keep his head down and blend into the background. When he sees Eleanor, he feels bad, but girls like her are who keep the vicious attention of his peers off his own faults. Taking more after his Korean mother, he has always been too gentle, too feminine, and not manly enough for his former soldier father. He doesn't intend to be anyone's hero, but he can't let Eleanor stand in the aisle of the bus and cry the way those beasts want her to. So he tells her to sit. And that changes everything. 

Eleanor and Park don't talk. He reads his comic books and she carefully tries to read them without letting him know she is peaking over his arm to see. He notices her reading the comics and starts turning the pages slower. Then he starts bringing her comics to borrow. All of this happens without a word shared between the two, but slowly, glacially, Park avoids Eleanor less and less. A few careful questions here, a kind gesture there, and the two find the human interaction they miss the most at the end of each day are the interactions they have together on those bus rides. But Eleanor has a lot to hide and is the target of many a malicious teen. And Park is very conscious of how her proximity affects his ability to camouflage himself from the other kids. Their backgrounds, self-consciousness, and situations should have prevented them from ever getting to know one another, but sometimes life's circumstances can't stop love from blossoming, no matter how hard it tries. 

There is something you should know before you read this book. It has been raved about by bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, and readers everywhere. They are right. John Green gave this clip for the New York Times Book Review: "Eleanor and Park reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book."  He was right. Yalsa, Printz, and every other professional in the field loved this book. They were all right. If you are anything like me, you develop an immediate bias against a book when it receives instant and passionate acclaim. Why? I don't know. I guess the little rebel in us doesn't want to love what everyone loves. But that stupid generalization keeps us from books like Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, and Eleanor & Park, so let's just stop this nonsense already, ok?! Because if we miss out on amazing books like this one, we are just silly little rebels who have lost out on a chance to read some seriously amazing books. 

Eleanor and Park was the saddest and most achingly romantic story I have read since The Fault in Our Stars. Eleanor is a girl who just needs life to cut her a break, but no one stands up for her. Until Park. And he doesn't do it willingly at first, but when he does, you know it goes against every ounce of self-preservation inside him. And it is that simple act of sticking his neck out for this girl that will make you love him unconditionally. Park isn't perfect. Even Eleanor knows she embarrasses him, but he wants to be a better person, and more importantly, he can't imagine life without Eleanor. I loved this boy. I really did. My heart broke for Eleanor, but I loved Park. And his life wasn't tulips and daisies either, but it couldn't compare to the war zone she lived in. 

I imagine some critics of this novel might find fault in the love between Eleanor and Park, but you have to think of the lack of love they have both lived with. Park can never be enough to satisfy his father. Eleanor's own mother left her with a neighbor for a year because Richie didn't want her in his house. For two damaged kids, finding that love was transformational, both for them and for you, as the reader. Rowell has the ability to make you love the main characters with a fierce protectiveness that will surprise you, and the ability to make you hate those who hurt them with a ferocity that makes you want to inflict bodily harm upon those fictional characters like Richie and the girls who bully Eleanor in school. 

This is a book that will steal the heart of any reader. Filled with fabulous 80's music references, comic book references, totally called-for foul language, and adolescence in all its ugly glory, it will change ever reader who turns that first page and can't put it down. There are some dark and dirty parts of this story that are hard to read, but they are just as important as the beautiful, innocent, guarded love that blossoms between Eleanor and park. This book is everything people say it is, and I know it will stand the test of time among readers. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the World We make

When the world officially falls apart thanks to a virus that originated on an island and couldn't be quarantined. Despite everyone's best efforts for a cure, the only tried and true vaccine was developed on the same island where the virus originated. Now a group of kids are the last hope to get it to the CDC in order to save what's left of their world.

Kaelyn never imagined she would hold the hope of saving the world in her hands. Then again, she never imagined she would watch the people she loved get sick, go mad, and die, either. When her dad died, she assumed the responsibility to get the cure to a place where it could be mass-produced and distributed, but the journey is far from easy. While Kaelyn and her friend Leo are vaccinated, no one else in the group is safe from the virus, including her boyfriend. Without an immunity, Kae's group finds itself with two infected members. Knowing how the virus plays out, they don't think they will ever make it all the way to the CDC in Atlanta.

It doesn't help that there is a gang of malicious, greedy thugs on their tail, either. The Wardens, sent by Michael, their leader, are determined to get the vaccine. Michael has created a group who aren't afraid to profit from the apocalypse, and if they get the vaccine, it will only get to the highest bidders. The group knows their mission is a life or death journey, but the true magnitude of how many lives they hold in their hands with the vaccine is almost too much for a group of teenagers to handle. The only thing that keeps them going is a duty to everything they have lost in this whirlwind apocalypse.

When it comes to the apocalypse, we all know it is going to get ugly, but how ugly should we make it in a young adult novel? Authors like Mike Mullin, Michael Grant, and Lex Thomas show the dirty, ugly side of things with all its grit and grime and don't hide anything from the audience. Then there are authors who can tell the story without getting too graphic, like Mindy McGinnis or Emmy Laybourne. It isn't that they are hiding the grit, they just have a knack for tip toeing around the big, bad and ugly. Everything is behind the black curtain or the "fade to black" where the other authors lay it all out, clear as day. Neither approach is bad, they are just very different, but the thing I like about having both options is that I can get different types and ages of kids to read the same kind of stories while still finding one that is developmentally appropriate for my student. For this series, I have to say Crewe decided to keep the ugly side of humanity behind the curtain and leave it up to the reader's imagination. 

For this reason, I really like this story for those younger students who may have liked the dystopias out in the genre right now but aren't really mature enough to handle the graphic side of post-apocalyptic stories. I could give this to a middle school student and they would see one layer, or an older student and they would see a deeper layer. I don't have to worry about situations being too mature or too graphic for a younger student. The story itself was really interesting and would hold the attention of any reader, and Kaelyn is a determined, strong young woman to read about. I was impressed with this trilogy and look forward to more from Crewe!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Black Out is a Knock Out

Teenagers can be unpredictable. Teenagers with extreme supernatural powers are an entirely different phenomenon altogether. In Robison Wells' Blackout, a virus has changed some teens into powerful individuals who could rival the X-Men. 

Aubrey's secret landed her a connection to the most powerful girl in school, and as a result, she has gotten a taste of popularity. She had to ditch her previous friends, but becoming invisible at will has been a gateway into the popular crowd. Unfortunately, now that she is there, she isn't sure she wants to stay there. At the school dance, her invisibility lets her hear just what people really think of her, but her own self-torture is cut short when a group of soldiers storm the school and round up the kids. Luckily, her invisibility helps her escape, but not before she watches her date hulk out and attack the soldiers. After he is killed in front of everyone, Aubrey realizes she has to get out of there. She sees Jack, a friend from what feels like another lifetime, and they manage to escape, but they know life as they knew it has changed. 

Meanwhile, Laura, Dan and Alec are following through with their mission. As they attack specific targets using their powers, they know they are achieving maximum damage, not only to their targets, but also to the American sense of security. When they appear to be trapped, however, they will go to great lengths to escape, even if it means sacrificing one or more of the group. As they get split up, the world around them is scrambling to try and stop the terrorist attacks. But that isn't easy when you are fighting your own adolescent population who have powers the government can't even fully understand yet. With no choice but to fight fire with fire, the government makes a bold decision: kids with powers can help in the fight against the other kids with powers. In a draft like no other, the newly talented children of the United States find themselves with a decision that will forever change their lives... again. 

While the few plot holes and multiple POVs that narrate the story were occasionally in the con column for me with this story, I actually really enjoyed it overall. The powers of the kids were fascinating, and since the kids weren't born with them, there was a great element of "coming into your own" with whatever ability you got. Some were scary (the ability to compel people to do anything) and some appeared trivial (the ability to change the color of something), but kids were at different stages of comfort with their new-found abilities, and the adjustment period was intriguing. I also really liked Aubrey and Jack, so following them around became my favorite part of the story. Of course, Laura, Alec, and Dan's parts of the story were creepy, to say the least, but there was more to that story than we get in this installment of the new series. 

That was one of the biggest plot holes. We know there is a purpose for Laura, Alec, and Dan's destruction, and the government explains the systematic attacks, but we never really find out who or what is behind the terrorist activities. Someone is certainly leading them, but even the kids don't have the full story. While it was definitely a plot hole, I suspect it will be cleared up in installments to come and the hole didn't really interfere with your understanding of the story. You will find yourself trying to figure out who it could be, but you can still understand the story without that information. Also, the multiple POVs can be confusing occasionally, but I thought Wells did a good job of bouncing around and still keeping the reader focused and connected. I have seen this technique go horribly awry before, but Wells was quite adept at it. I also know this technique is a "love it or hate it" move, so if you don't like multiple POVs, this story will certainly bug you. 

This was a fun and intriguing start to a promising series, and I am looking forward to where Robison goes with it. It feels a little like the Avengers meets the Breakfast Club, but in a great way! It is appropriate for any strong reader who can keep up with the different narrators throughout the story. They will flip the last page dying to know what happens next!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Full Fragment

It isn't a far stretch to find a world that has been ravaged by the greed and hubris of humans. In Dan Wells' Partials series, the development of humanoid soldiers, the Partials, was just the beginning of the end. When the Partials rebelled against their creators, a war like no other ravaged the face of the planet, leaving humans and Partials alike desperately clinging to life. In Fragments, that fight gets even more desperate. 

Kira's astonishing discovery that she isn't completely human was life-altering. She grew up fearing Partials only to find out she was some kind of Partial, but no one knew exactly what she was. She aged like a human, and didn't seem to have the same weaknesses of a Partial, but she certainly had the strength of a Partial. Kira was the one who realized the Partial pheromone was the key to inoculation against RM, the virus that kills all babies within days of birth and is effectively phasing out the human race. When she saves her friend's baby, the first child to survive since The Break, she realizes there is more to the story. With Samm, the first Partial who made her realize just how human the created beings were, and his Partial friend Heron, Kira takes off across the country to get to the heart of ParaGen's motives behind their current situation. The Partials are about to reach their expiration date, the twenty year mark when they will all degrade and die, and with them goes the cure for RM. They are in a race against time. 

While Kira is off trying to save the world, Marcus is trying desperately to hold onto their little piece of the world. The humans on Long Island have seen a baby live, but without a cure to replicate, they have lost more baby since then. The Partial army is closing in on them and threaten an invasion with every bated breath. Marcus is worried about Kira off in the dangerous world, but he is more terrified Dr. Morgan will find her. Dr. Morgan, the crazy Partial doctor who thinks Kira holds the cure to the Partial expiration date and isn't afraid to experiment on her to find it, is ripping apart their world to find Kira. While she waits for Kira's arrival, she is using humans as her guinea pigs to find a cure. Morgan thinks she is untouchable, but Marcus has a plan to stop her, however crazy it might be. 

It had been a long time since I read Partials, so I was glad this story began with a brief refresher to the first story without being too repetitive for a reader who didn't need a reminder. Then it quickly jumped into the fray and started with an action-packed story that never let up, which is pretty impressive for a 500+ page book. The story alternates between Kira's journey and life back on Long Island, neither of which are stable situations. Kira's journey is terrifying as she evades Partials and survives in a world with any number of horrors awaiting her around every corner. I always liked Kira, so watching her determination to save both the Partials and the humans was a winner in my book. All the other characters question the best way to save one or the other, but Kira will not abandon one population for the other, and her quest for answers about the origin of RM is fascinating. 

This book is rife with moral ambiguities that make the story relevant to our current political and cultural climate. There are moments when Kira's moral compass is sent reeling with the choices that are forced upon her, and she she consistently has to decide if sacrificing one is acceptable when it means saving the many. For a character like Kira who doesn't deal well with moral ambiguity, these crises of confidence are both difficult and fascinating to read about. Wells did a great job with this series, and I can't wait to see how it all wraps up in the final book!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The ART of War

More and more, the graphic novel is receiving the praise and respect it so deserves. From the time when comics were "just for kids" to now, when a timeless manual like Sun Tzu's Art of War can be adapted into a graphic story that follows its namesake's principles through a gritty dystopian future. Kelly Roman and Michael DeWeese do Sun Tzu justice with this exceptional homage. 

Kelly Roman was punished, but nothing could punish him like his own conscience did. Once released from prison, he discovered his brother, an employee of Sun Tzu, was murdered. For Shane, there is nothing more important than finding the person behind Shane's death. As he starts to dig, however, he finds the darker and more disturbing world that hides behind the surface of the global economy. No longer about just money and ethics, the obsession with power has led men to do or create things that can never be undone. The face of society has changed through the decisions of man, and one lone person will get to the root of the deepest evil, all in the name of revenge. 

I don't want to get too deep into the story behind Sun Tzu's original book because it is just too special, unique, and ground-breaking to steal that opportunity for discovery from you. The story itself could stand alone without Sun Tzu, but throughout the unfolding of the story, you will have little snippets of Sun Tzu's philosophy. Those snippets fold beautifully into the story, guiding you through the key purposes without just reiterating what was already written. Instead, it becomes an interpretation or reimagining. And it is truly something impressive to behold. I had never read Sun Tzu's Art of War from cover to cover in one fell swoop, but I was fairly familiar with it, and this was quite the interpretation and use of those ideas and philosophies. I was pretty surprised with how impressed I was, and I encouraged my husband to read it, who hadn't read the original, and he was equally as impressed. Therefore, this is a great book for anyone who is either well-versed or unfamiliar with the original. It will still have an amazing impact on any reader. 

The story is, of course, incredibly violent and graphic. There were times where I was actually taken aback by the violence, but I felt it was all necessary for this particular story; nothing was gratuitous. This does, however, make the book better for older readers who can handle a good amount of violence. I would certainly recommend this story for any reader, especially a gamer, who struggles to find a story that keeps them going from cover to cover. This story with its incredible two-colored illustrations and terrifyingly capturing story will grab hold of those readers in particular. So if you have a bunch of boys who claim to never have found a book they cared about, try this one out- I think they will have a tough time putting it down!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

You are Cordially Invited to Get Sucked In!

How much can our genetics determine who we are? Does the color of our skin or our physical stature change the way people act around us? Do our genes hold the key to preventing violent people from committing crimes? In Sophie Jordan's Uninvited, we have to ask ourselves how far we are willing to go to protect ourselves.

Davy is your typical upper class private school girl with all the opportunities in the world. As a musical prodigy, she aspires to go to Julliard after graduation. When her high school screens for the "killer gene" or HTS (Homicidal Tendency Syndrome), the last person you would think to carry the dangerous genetic code would be Davy, but HTS doesn't follow patterns or expectations. The minute Davy's test results are communicated to the school, she is "uninvited" or basically expelled. The local private school has a program for carriers like Davy, but it means they must show up and leave int he middle of standard class times to avoid interacting with "normal" kids. When she arrives for her first day, she is led to her classroom, The Cage.

While the separation of the people with HTS is meant to protect the general public, it quickly becomes a means for the "normal" population to attack and corral the HTS population. Davy experiences this at the hands of her own boyfriend and friends. Once they find out her status, she is an untouchable. Even her own parents are scared and ashamed of her. She can't believe how the other kids in the Cage survive being treated like this, but the truth is, most of them were untouchable before a test confirmed they carried the Killer Gene. When HTS terrorists commit an unspeakable act, there is nothing left to do but take the segregation a step further. What happens when you put a bunch of people together who already have a genetic predisposition to kill? You can only imagine...

This is a fast-paced, incredible thriller that connects deeply to current situations in a broad, science fiction realm. As I was reading about the prejudice against the HTS kids, I could not help but think about current racial and sexual orientation issues that plague our nation. We currently have legislation that is openly prejudiced against our LGBTQ population that eerily relates to the kind of governmental prejudice in this book. This part of the population had done nothing wrong, but the mere possibility they might was enough to strip them of their rights to freedom. Sound familiar? I loved the carefully shrouded implications Jordan makes about society and how we treat anyone we see as "other". As a teacher of dyslexic students, I see first-hand how a label can change everything. Our students want to be "normal" and what they don't realize (and society perpetuates) is the idea that the way they learn makes them abnormal, different, or defective. It is heartbreaking to watch, and Jordan does a phenomenal job of exploring those feelings of isolation and prejudice with Uninvited

The characters in this story, whether you love or hate them, are also amazing representatives of the different approaches people will have to this type of situation. The government gets pressured into questionable legislation based on the acts of a few terrorists who do not represent the general population. Davy's mother is ashamed and overwhelmed while her father disappears completely and wishes he could sweep it all under the carpet. Davy's boyfriend and friends turn on her in an incredible, despicable, and realistic manner. But the characters aren't all vile. Davy's brother in unwavering in his love and support of her. He is willing to do anything to keep her safe. Sean, a fellow carrier who doesn't stick his neck out for anyone, can't stand by and let Davy be eaten alive by those around her. Most of all, this book symbolizes that those we think are predisposed to the most evil, often are not the most evil in reality, or even evil at all. This is important to remember, and I love how Jordan makes us question how we define ourselves compared to how society defines us. This was a great story for a variety of readers. I guarantee any reader will draw parallels to the world we live in today, but they might not like where they fall in that mirror image!