Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gone, by Michael Grant

A group of English teachers on twitter suggested Gone for my male students who have a hard time finding books that they can get into. I think that a lot of my boys would have gotten into this book, I just wish it was shorter! It seems that no matter how great I make a book sound in a booktalk, length is what gets them every time. I'll have to think of a really great way to sell this series to them so they can overlook the sheer volume of it!

Anyway, Gone is the beginning of a series that chronicles the lives of kids in Perdido Beach, CA. One day, while they're going about their normal lives, all adults and teens over the age of 15 just disappear from existence, in front of their eyes. They begin calling it the "poof," and the remains of the population - all kids under the age of 15 - struggle to make sense of what it might mean, and how to make do in a world without adults. Even worse than the adult disappearance factor, a towering wall with no visible breaking point has trapped them within their town - there's no way out. On top of that, there are animals with strange mutations, like coyotes that can talk, out to get the kids.

Protagonist Sam takes the lead as the stereotypical "good guy", and is rivaled by a vigilante seeming "bad kid" Caine, from nearby Coates Academy. Sam and Caine both possess superhuman powers, which they discover that many others among them also have. But the two boys are more connected than they initially think - I'll let you figure out how :) - and the novel becomes a bully vs. nice kid all-out war for control of the area, which they call "The FAYZ".

I can't wait to read more of the series, or to recommend it to kids next year!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman

The Wells Bequest is the companion book to The Grimm Legacy, which I read (and loved) last year. You can see my review here. I had high hopes for The Wells Bequest, but it didn't really live up to my standard. Although there were huge differences between the two books, it almost seemed like there was a formula that Shulman she just plugged in some new stuff in the old book's template. In some ways, I think there are readers that will really appreciate that, but I was expecting more.

The last book surrounded items in the Repository that were connected to Grimm's fairytales. The Wells Bequest is connected to items found in H.G. Wells's novels, specifically The Time Machine. This book was packed with more real history that The Grimm Legacy, which I really enjoyed. In fact, the characters' time travel introduced the reader to Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, and Nikola Tesla, in an attempt to save the world. I did really enjoy that part.

All in all, I'd definitely recommend The Wells Bequest to readers who enjoyed The Grimm Legacy - the familiar characters will grasp readers, and the plot was quick-moving, I just wish it had seemed a little less formulaic.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Raft, by S.A. Bodeen

A while ago, I read another of Bodeen's books, The Gardener and loved it, as did all the students I lent it out to. This book, The Raft, is entirely different from The Gardener, which I liked - I love when authors are able to pull off all genres and types of stories.

The Raft is about a girl named Robie who lives in the Midway Atoll, a group of islands somewhere near Hawaii. Midway is extremely isolated, and when Robie gets sick of the lack of civilization, she goes to visit her aunt "AJ" in Honolulu. Robie's return trip to Midway, though - via cargo plane - goes terribly wrong and she finds herself surviving a plane crash (or, as the airlines would call it, a "water landing"), trying desperately to survive in the middle of the ocean, hopefully making it to shore. To make matters worse, Robie's parents did not know she was on the flight, so they don't know to look for her. Robie's sole companion is the co-pilot of the plane, named Max, who fared much worse than her in the crash. The relationship between Robie and Max made me think a lot of Pi in Life of Pi...I couldn't tell throughout the novel if Max was really there with Robie, or if he was a hallucination, or just a coping mechanism. You'll have to read to figure it out!

For me, this book wasn't one of my favorites. I can't really put my finger on why, it just didn't do it for me. But, my kids are obsessed with survival stories, so I'm sure this one will be a hit in my classroom when school begins in August.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, by April Henry

I have one of April Henry's books, Girl, Stolen in my classroom - I've never read it, but it was a crowd-pleaser among my girls this year. There was constantly a list of kids waiting to check it out, and now, after having read The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, I understand why!

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die opens with a girl coming to, knowing nothing about herself or her whereabouts, and over-hearing that she's supposed to be killed. Talk about starting in the center of the action! The novel follows this girl (whose name turns out to be Cady Scott) through her quest to figure out who she is, what happened to her family, and why a group of mysterious men (and a woman) want her dead. Despite claims that she's mentally unstable, a boy named Ty believes Cady's story, determines that she's in a state of dissociative fugue - meaning she essentially blocked all of her memory as a result of a traumatic event - and helps her find her family.

Similarly to in The 5th Wave, but in an entirely different way, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die made me think about how easy it is to just believe things people tell you, and how hard it is to determine the truth. For instance, Cady's tormentors convince her that she killed a man and that her brother is dead...neither of which turn out to be true. This more psychological aspect of the novel was really interesting.

I now have to go back and read Girl, Stolen and Henry's newer novel, The Night She Disappeared. I can understand why my students love her work - this novel was action packed and it seemed like no words were wasted...every detail was essential, and left the reader with a pretty compact book with none of the boring, distracting descriptive paragraphs. Plus, the chapters were pretty short which is always a selling point with my kids. I can't wait to read more from April Henry!

Friday, June 21, 2013

The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey

I can think of several of my students who would enjoy The 5th Wave, but I honestly found it kind of confusing.

The book is about several characters and how their lives intertwine, but mainly it's about a girl named Cassie.  Cassie's life is turned upside down when a series of "waves" of an alien invasion begin. The 1st Wave is a huge electromagnetic pulse that renders all electronics - including cars - useless. This is followed by four more waves of increasing atrocity, including a violent plague, which wipes out Cassie's mother. Cassie finds herself alone, determined to find her little brother, Sammy, whom she was separated from at a refugee camp. She comes into contact with the mysterious Evan Walker along the way; she is torn between trusting him and letting him help her, or assuming the worst...that he's part of the invasion. Throughout the novel, things are never really what they seem, you can never tell who's lying, and people are brainwashed to believe something that isn't real. 

There were several parts of the book that really confused me - like what exactly the "aliens" were. It never really made sense to me. Evan tried to explain it to Cassie once, but it still seemed sketchy to me. I found myself skipping pages sometimes, too, trying to get to the good parts. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How to Save a Life, Sara Zarr

A student of mine told me I had to read this book, so I did - and I was not disappointed!

The story is about three women - Robin, Jill, and Mandy. Robin and Jill are mother and daughter and the main man in their lives, Robin's husband and Jill's father, has passed away recently in a tragic car accident. Jill, closer to her father than her mother, has had a difficult time dealing with the death, and this only becomes worse when her mother announces that she's going to adopt a baby. Jill thinks this is a terrible idea, but her mother won't listen. On top of that, the situation surrounding the adoption is anything but ordinary: the birth mother, Mandy, is not yet finished with high school, refuses to sign any legal papers and wants everything on her terms, and is going to stay with Robin and Jill for the weeks leading up the pregnancy. Jill could not be more upset - she even enlists the help of a sleuth-y friend to figure out what Mandy's hiding and try to protect her mom from being hurt.

Predictably, Mandy has second thoughts about giving up her unborn baby girl towards the end of the novel, but it all works out in the end in a surprising twist. I really liked the ending, and watching Jill and Mandy's relationship unfold.

This book, as well as a few I've read recently (If You Find Me and Small as an Elephant) really made me think about what family means, how we cover for our family members, and the possibilities for choosing your own family. I've always been told things like "you get to pick your friends, but you're stuck with your family," but these books kind of negate that claim, which made them really interesting for me to think about.

There was some mild language in the book and, again, some discussion of sexual abuse, so I'd recommend this only to my more mature readers, and definitely girls. Now I want to try Zarr's book Story of A Girl (2007) and her new one The Lucy Variations, which just came out in May.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

I've been wanting to read The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater for a long time, mainly because I love horses and I love the ocean. This book centers around those two things, but in unexpected ways.

The "Scorpio Races" take places on the first of every November on a remote island called Thisby. They're horse races, but not your typical horse races. They involve racing the mysterious "capaill uisce", or water horses - vicious, man-eating, predatory horses captured out of the sea to be trained for their sheer speed and mysticism. As you can imagine, racing these beasts is quite dangerous, and in Thisby's history, only men have entered the races. Well, that all changes when the book begins, as main character Kate "Puck" Connolly seeks to enter the races on (gasp!) her pony - not a capaill uisce. Puck has to win the races to save her home, but can she beat the dangerous capall?

To be honest, it took me a while to really get into The Scorpio Races. The first page grabbed me, with the opening line, "it is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die." But then I got lost/bored for a little bit. I kept at it though, and by about a third of the way through the novel, I was totally hooked. I loved the idea behind the race, and the way the island of Thisby was described. I am sad the school year's over because I can think of two students who would absolutely love this book!