Saturday, August 17, 2013

Inhuman, by Kat Falls

I was really excited to get a galley of Kat Falls's new book, Inhuman, which is due out at the end of September. I loved her "Dark Life" series, and was looking forward to something new from her.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I think part of what I loved so much about Dark Life was that the idea behind the novel seemed so original and untouched. But that's not the case with Inhuman - it seemed very unoriginal to me. 

The novel is set at a time when a terrible viral outbreak has swept the United States, and the country is divided by a huge wall, to keep the infected away from the healthy population. The infected live in a section called the feral zone. I found this highly reminiscent of Gone, by Michael Grant, and The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey. Anyway, main character Laney's father is a "fetch", meaning he transports things from the feral zone back into society (much like what happened with artifacts in the "Matched" trilogy), and he finds himself in trouble. To save him, Laney must travel into the feral zone, dealing with all kinds of mutant creatures. Can she survive and save her father?

I think I'm just getting kind of sick of novels of this type, and I honestly think my students are, too. They're becoming like overplayed songs on the radio. I still love Dark Life and Rip Tide, but reading Inhuman felt almost like a chore.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Touched by Fire, by Irene N. Watts

Some people think of fires as beautifully mesmerizing - campfires, bonfires, fires roaring in the fireplace on cold days. But for Miriam's family in Touched by Fire, fire represents a lifetime of struggle and hardship.

Touched by FireMiriam's family is originally from Russia, but flees to Germany during the pogroms in the early 1900s. During this time, Jewish towns and communities are being torched and demolished. Since Miriam's family is Jewish, they know that they've got to get away before they're destroyed by fire or something even worse. However, when they arrive in Germany, they know that things are not perfect even there, so Miriam's father, Sam, secures passage to America - to New York.

Before long, he's able to send three more tickets to America: one for Miriam, her mother, and her brother Yuri - they'll leave her grandparents and little sister behind for a while. But, only Miriam winds up going. She quickly lands a job in the Triangle Shirt Waist Company. During her time there, one of the most famous fires of New York - the Triangle Fire - occurs, and she loses several friends to the flames.

Miriam's mother and sister finally make it to America, but her brother Yuri never does. In the epilogue, years later, Miriam's nephew (Yuri's son) is living with a Nazi step-father, watching SS officers and Hitler Youth burn books around him, saying they'll burn the Jews next. Can he be saved?

I really liked the way the fire was woven throughout the novel - I think it helped really connect things and tie the story together. I also liked that this novel was relatively short, because I think a lot of times, my students get bogged down with historical novels that are good, but too long.

Also Try: Is it Night or Day?, by Fern Schumer Chapman; Flesh and Blood So Cheap, by Al Marrin

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Poor Little Dead Girls, by Lizzie Friend

Poor Little Dead GirlsSecret societies, lacrosse, exclusive private boarding schools, and secrets are at the heart of Poor Little Dead Girls, by Lizzie Friend. Sadie Marlowe is essentially a "nobody" from Portland, Oregon, who's been extended a full scholarship to an upper-echelon, all girls boarding school called Keating. Her scholarship is for lacrosse, and Sadie is excited about the idea, but also nervous, knowing she won't fit in with the other girls, who have all led lives of privilege.

However, Sadie's worries are proven wrong, and she fits in all too well: she's pursued and inducted into a historic secret society called the Sullas - only the richest of the rich get into this society. From the get-go, Sadie feels mildly uneasy about participating in this society, but the members don't really give her a choice; not to mention the fact that the extravagances ($2000 ball gowns, anyone?) and lifestyle are hard to pass up. Before long, though, Sadie begins to see that the Sullas are not innocent - they're working on something deep and dark, something that may have caused the death of her mother - who also attended Keating - and another student named Anna. As Sadie uncovers the missing links and information, she's troubled with who she can actually trust and how she can bring the secrets of the Sullas to light without endangering herself or her friends.

I really loved this novel, and was drawn in from the start. The suspense that Friend built in was awesome, and the novel really kept you guessing. I do think, though, that it's a little too mature for my classroom - there's lots of bad language, drug/sex references, and some questionable topics. For instance, part of the Sulla's operation is that they harvest the eggs of their members in order to preserve an impeccable gene pool and create a perfect race. I think that this novel could spark some really interesting ethical discussion at the upper high school level, but it's not appropriate for my middle school students.

Also Try: "Pretty Little Liars" series, by Sara Shepard; The Disreputable History of Frankie of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011, by Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 (I Survived Series #8)In the wake of his father's death, Ben, his younger brother Harry, and his mother, travel to Japan to visit his dad's brother, whom he calls Ojisan. Ben has not really dealt with his father's death in a healthy way - he's torn down photos of him, stopped playing basketball (which they used to play together), and essentially just tried to erase his memory.

However, disaster soon strikes Japan. During the massive tsunami, Ben is separated from his family, yet somehow manages to stay alive and make it to a local school for shelter. He realizes, that through all of this, he was thinking of his dad and things his dad had taught him. He would not have survived the tragedy without the memories of his father.

Just like all the other I Survived books, I know this will be a big hit in my classroom. The kids love these survival stories, and I like them because they also teach them about real-world events.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Nazi Hunters, by Neal Bascomb

To date, only one criminal has ever been sentenced to death in Israel. The Nazi Hunters tells the story of the capture and trial of this sole recipient of the death penalty - a World War II SS officer named Adolf Eichmann.
The Nazi Hunters is a fast-moving piece of narrative nonfiction, chronicling Eichmann's tracking and ultimate seizure outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The book explains that Argentina was a sort of safe-haven for lots of Nazis following the war, as the country generally sympathized with anti-Semitism, and allowed Nazis to assimilate into their culture.

That's what Eichmann and his family had done for several years, until his son Nick brings home a girl. Upon meeting Nick's father (who he says is his uncle), the girl - Sylvia - grows suspicious. She alerts her father of her concerns and they communicate the Israeli intelligence office. This tip leads to a lengthy investigation and covert operation by the Mossad, eventually landing in Eichmann's capture and conviction.

I loved that this book took place after World War II, examining what happened to the Nazis as they attempted to carry on with their lives. I think that's a part of the Holocaust that often gets overlooked - the focus is on the horrific events of concentration camps, but what happens to the war criminals is left untouched. This is a really interesting part of history to read and learn about.

I loved the way the book was written; it was very factual but at the same time read almost like a thriller. I know it will appeal to lots of my make students, and I always love having a new, great nonfiction title to recommend!

Side Note: I LOVE the cover - the colors and the images...awesome!

Also Try: Warriors in the Crossfire, by Nancy Bo Flood; Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys; Maus, by Art Spiegelman

Monday, August 5, 2013

Into That Forest, by Louis Nowra

It's crazy to think how quickly we can lose what makes us 'human' - things like speech - but that's exactly what happens to two girls in Into that Forest. Hannah and Becky live simple, rural lives, but find their worlds turned upside down when Hannah's parents are killed in a boating accident in the Tasmanian bush. A pair of tigers - a male and female - approaches the girls and leads them to their shelter. At first, Becky is resistant, holding out hope that they will be rescued, but it's not long before the two girls have abandoned all of their human ways. They sleep with the lions, hunt with the lions, walk on all fours, and communicate with grunts and growls; they completely lose their ability to make words.

Years later, Becky's father discovers the girls after hearing reports that two humans were spotted hunting with tigers. He seemingly brutally captures the girls and attempts to assimilate them back into society. But after all they've been through, everyone involved discovers that this re-assimilation will be nearly impossible - they can't fully recoup their lost ways. One thing the girls will never lose, though, is their tragic bond.

I thought the idea behind this novel was incredibly interesting, but I found it a little too graphic for my taste. The descriptions of eating raw meat while with the tigers was a little too much for me to handle. My students do like survival stories, but I tend to think this might be a little much for them as well.