Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Heart to Heart by Lurlene McDaniel

heart to heart explores the dynamics between three families all affected by one tragedy.
Elowyn and Kassey are best friends forever. Elowyn loves lavender and French country decor (her bedroom is yellow and blue with pale purple flowers). As they grow up together, their relationship changes but Kassey is always a part of her friend's life. She goes on vacation with Elowyn's family and spends much of her free time with Elowyn's family. For Kassey this is important because her father and mother split up years ago and with her mother working long hours, she misses a normal family life.

In high school they play volleyball together and have classes together. When Elowyn gets a boyfriend, Wyatt Nolan, Kassey is left "to figure out my life on my own". Despite this, Kassey remains faithful to their friendship and supports Elowyn as her relationship with Wyatt runs into trouble. On her 16th birthday, Eolwyn is given a new car. One stormy night, after a fight with Wyatt, Elowyn doesn't come home.

After a horrific car accident, Elowyn remains in hospital, brain damaged. When doctors inform Elowyn's parents that she is "brain dead" they decide to take her off life support and donate her organs. This tragic turn of events is devastating for all involved; Elowyn's parents, Terri and Matt, Wyatt Nolan and Elowyn.

The recipient of Elowyn's heart is 16 year old, Arabeth St. Clair who has been suffering from heart disease since she was six. Her father, a soldier in Afghanistan was killed when she was 13 by a roadside bomb.

Most of the story from here on in deals with the relationship between Kassey, Wyatt and Elowyn's parents, and Arabeth and her family. In a special program, transplant recipients are allowed to meet their donor's family if all are in agreement. McDaniel uses the phenomenon of "cellular memory" to add a unique angle to her novel. Cellular memory is the theory that the brain is not the only organ that stories the memories, habits, likes and personality of the a person. There have been documented cases of people who have received heart transplants undergoing changes in philosophies, food preferences and having memories of events that they themselves did not experience.

heart to heart was riveting because of the new relationships that develop once the three families meet one another. For example, Wyatt begins dating Arabeth because her habits and mannerisms remind him of Elowyn. In the end, all involved must try to come to terms with what has happened and to move on with their lives.

Not a tear-jerker like many of McDaniel's other novels but well written, short and appealing to teen readers.

Book Details:
heart to heart by Lurlene McDaniel
Delacorte Press 2010
214 pp (small pages with small text)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation is a story about a young Chinese girl and her mother who come to the United States in the hope of making a better life for themselves. Eleven year old Kimberly Chang and her mother are brought to American by Kimberly's Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob. Although promised to be taken care of, they are taken advantage of and abused by Paula who is jealous and angry at her younger sister, Kimberly's mother. They are given an apartment in a vermin-filled, abandoned building without heat. Kimberly and her mother are forced to work in Aunt Paula's Chinatown garment factory in order to pay off their debt to her for the cost of their airfare and Ma's medical treatment.

Although Kimberly's Ma is resigned to her fate of grinding poverty and hardship, Kimberly recognizes that she has it within herself to better her life. She knows she was a top student in China and that this will be the key to a new life in America. But Kimberly soon finds herself leading a double life: one that hides the terrible hardship of their lives while trying to appear as normal as possible at school. She is a brilliant student during the school day but hides the fact that after school she works long hours in a sweatshop and lives in terrible poverty without proper clothing or food. Kimberly also has difficulty in adapting to a culture she doesn't understand. In order to hide her life from her peers, she allows no one to get close to her. The only exception is Annette who befriends her and throughout middle and high school respects Kimberly's need for distance. In the end, as the girls mature, Annette proves to be a true friend to Kimberly.

Like all young girls her age though, Kimberly must deal with the pressures of growing up. From the first time she works in the garment factory, Kimberly likes Matt Wu, a young sweatshop worker who is her age. But Matt is different from Kimberly. He is not as ambitious and he is content with what he has in life. Their friendship gradually develops into complicated love at a time when they are starting to drift apart. Matt becomes involved with another Chinese immigrant whose views on life are more similar to his. Kimberly struggles to cope with her feelings of a first love tainted by jealousy. When something very unplanned happens between Kimberly and Matt, something that threatens to destroy her chances to achieve her dreams, she must make a difficult choice. This choice will affect both her and Matt forever.

This novel is wonderful. Kimberly is a realistic character and her plight is so desperate that it is impossible not to develop a deep sympathy for her. As a reader, we see her grow from a frightened, disoriented 11 year old to a responsible, strong teen who is capable of making good decisions. Along the way she struggles with her developing love for Matt and his attraction to another girl, Vivian who is more suited to him. Kimberly must also navigate the social minefield of high school as well as her aunt's growing jealousy of Kimberly's academic achievements.

The jacket cover for Girl in Translation states "In time, Kim learns to tanslate not just her language but herself back and forth between the two worlds she straddles." And that she does in a most remarkable way.

I highly recommend this book and can't wait to read Jean Kwok's next offering. She is a fresh new YA author who holds great promise.

Book Details:
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Riverhead Books (Penguin) 2010
293 pp.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Upcoming books I hope to review

These are a few of the books I'm currently reading and hope to review in the next month:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

living on impulse by cara haycak

This was one book whose cover appealed to me instantly (maybe it was the rhinestone encrusted shoe on the front). The other attraction was the theme of a troubled teen who resorts to shoplifting to be the likable person she dreams of.
Mia Morrow is an impulsive person. She sees an item in a store and she takes it - on impulse. She's done it before. It's easy and thrilling. And in fact, that is exactly what Mia does in early April in the department store on the Commons. But this time things go down differently. When she is caught shoplifting, the head of store security and her mother agree that Mia must pay the cost of the shoes - a whopping $300. But getting caught shoplifting is just the tip of Mia's troubles. She has to resist the urge to join a local gang. She doesn't know her father and this causes her considerable distress. Mia spends time wondering if this person or another might be him. She loses her two friends at school, fails an exam and must deal with trouble at home between her beloved Grandpa Andy and her single mom, Constance.Mia wants to do better but she just doesn't know how.
When Mia discovers a job opening at the nearby college she sees this as her ticket to paying off her debt to the department store and perhaps to a new direction in her life. Will she continue acting on impulse or start thinking about what she might do?
Although Mia initially lies in the job interview she does come clean about herself and lands the job. Gradually we see Mia reform herself and develop into a more likable, responsible person. Instead, it is now her mother who crashes and burns, returning to drinking and losing her job. When her mother disappears for several days Mia must turn to someone unexpected for help. This person, a past boyfriend of her mother comes through for her and her mother and helps them both deal with the past.
Overall, the story was mostly believable but I felt that Haycak simply tried to do too much in this novel. I think simply focusing on Mia's problems would have been enough. Adding the mother's troubles to the story simply seemed to take it over the top for me. 

This would have also allowed the author to explore some of Mia's issues more in depth, especially those relating to her absent father.
When Mia calls the police to report her mother missing she is told to drop a picture off at the local police station. I would expect that a 15 year old minor who reports a parent missing and is living alone would very likely receive a visit from police and most definitely end up in foster care. I really don't see why this situation was even needed in the novel. It seemed like it was thrown in for dramatic purposes but was simply too unrealistic.

We see Mia develop as a character through the novel. By the end of the novel Mia is much more likable character. Although she still does things that are wrong, she is beginning to think her way through and see how her actions affect others. She also begins to set goals for herself.

The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen

Mason is a high school sophomore who hopes to study biology at Stanford someday. His biology teacher, Mr. Hogan, encourages Mason to apply to TroDyn's summer science program. TroDyn is a huge research company located in Mason's hometown of Melby Falls and they pay the bills for just about everything in the town. Mason knows his mother doesn't want him to become involved with TroDyn but he just can't figure out exactly why. That is until he learns about her connection to TroDyn. When Mason attempts to confront  his mother at the TroDyn funded nursing home where she works,  he makes a remarkable but disturbing discovery about the patients she cares for. And it is his developing love for one of those patients that leads Mason to risk everything to try to help this beautiful girl. Even if this means confronting a terrifying person known as The Gardener at TroDyn. The Gardener explores issues that deal with bioethics and human experimentation. Most of the science mentioned in The Gardener is flawed. The overpopulation vs food production scenario has essentially been disproven. Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb has been proven to be a monumental flop since most of the Western world is now facing a demographic implosion and many developing countries such as China face the prospect of gender imbalance and not enough workers to support a drastically aging population.The Gardener considers the degree to which scientists might go to save mankind should such a scenario play out.

Despite this, The Gardener is a suspenseful science fiction that blends a little of mystery and romance too. Mason is a heroic character who is willing to risk everything to save Laila. We are left struggling to understand just what is wrong with her and Mason's loyalty to her only deepens the reader's affection for him. The novel weaves it's way to a satisfying conclusion.

Book Details:
The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen
Feiwel and Friends  2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards

Three Rivers Rising is a historical novel written in free verse about the Johnstown Flood. This novel is a great success mainly because the author was able to successfully weave a believable romantic storyline with a dramatic historical event. Jame Richards was also able to create full bodied, realistic characters despite the sparse nature of writing in verse.

Many Canadians may not know about the Johnstown Flood of 1889, unless you happen to be a fan of Catherine Marshall (author of Christy) and have read her book, Julie, which is about a teenage girl in 1937 who experiences similar if not identical circumstances to those of the Johnstown Flood. The book is largely based upon the research the author did on the Johnstown Flood but is set in an later time period.

Three Rivers Rising is set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and area. Johnstown is situated at the junction of the Stony Creek and the Little Conemaugh Rivers. Above it lies Lake Conemaugh. Lake Conemaugh is not a natural lake. It was formed when an earthen dam was constructed by the state of Pennsylvania for its canal system in the early 1800's. Over the years the dam is gradually neglected and it becomes a standard joke that every year the dam will fail. If it does, the towns downstream from Lake Conemaugh would be subjected to a devastating flood.

Celestia Whitcomb is a rich young girl whose family comes to spend it's summers at the clubhouse on Lake Conemaugh. One day during the summer of 1888, Celestia meets Peter, the clubhouse's hired help who lives below the lake in Johnstown. They begin a friendship that gradually turns romantic - in essence, a forbidden love. Peter warned by his father not "to develop a taste for things" he can't have, continues to meet Celestia in the woods near the clubhouse. The relationship although innocent is beset by the effects of class prejudice. When the relationship is finally discovered Celestia's family decides to send her away to Paris with her Aunt Mimsy. However, fate intervenes and it is her sister Estrella who is suddenly sent off. Celestia and her family leave the Johnstown area for the winter and return in the following spring of 1889. It is at this time that Celestia decides to make a fateful decision that changes the course of her life and that of her family.

Richards tells her story mainly in the voices of Peter and Celestia. But she also fleshes out the narrative with the story of Maura whose husband, Joseph conducts the one of the many trains that run on the Pennsylvania Railway line through the Johnstown area. There is also Kate's story whose husband Early drowned shortly after they were married and Celestia's father, Whitcomb, whose narrative comes near the end of the novel.

This book had all the ingredients to make it exciting: the forbidden romantic element and the tension created in not knowing if Peter and Celestia would choose to stay together as well as the tension created by the event of the Johnstown flood.
The endnotes of the novel contain a chronology on the South Fork Dam and provide readers with selection of fiction and nonfiction books on the Johnstown Flood.
I almost wish that Richards had written this book as a full novel in prose. If anything, Jame Richards has shown me that I shouldn't overlook a novel in verse. I look forward to reading more of Jame Richards fiction. Definitely one of the best YA books of 2010.

Book Details:

Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
Alfred A. Knopf: New York 2010
293 pp.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The difference between adult and teen dystopias

Here is an interesting discussion on the difference between adult and teen dystopias. Dystopias have to be one of my favourite subgenres of fiction.
Because articles often disappear off the web I'm copying the entire thing here for further reading:

A Critic at Large
Fresh Hell
What’s behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers?
by Laura Miller June 14, 2010

For young readers, dystopia isn’t a future to be averted; it’s a version of what’s already happening in the world they inhabit.

Rebecca Stead chose to set her children’s novel “When You Reach Me”—winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal—in nineteen-seventies New York partly because that’s where she grew up, but also, as she told one interviewer, because she wanted “to show a world of kids with a great deal of autonomy.” Her characters, middle-class middle-school students, routinely walk around the Upper West Side by themselves, a rare freedom in today’s city, despite a significant drop in New York’s crime rate since Stead’s footloose youth. The world of our hovered-over teens and preteens may be safer, but it’s also less conducive to adventure, and therefore to adventure stories.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them are reading “The Hunger Games,” a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, which take place at an unspecified time in North America’s future. Her heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in one of twelve numbered districts dominated by a decadent, exploitative central city called the Capitol. Every year, two children from each district are drafted by lottery to compete in a televised gladiatorial contest, the Hunger Games, which are held in a huge outdoor arena. The winner is the last child left alive. The fervently awaited third installment in the trilogy, “Mockingjay,” will be published by Scholastic in August, and there are currently in print more than 2.3 million copies of the previous two books, “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.”

Collins’s trilogy is only the most visible example of a recent boom in dystopian fiction for young people. Many of these books come in series, spinning out extended narratives in intricately imagined worlds. In Scott Westerfeld’s popular “Uglies” series, for example, all sixteen-year-olds undergo surgery to conform to a universal standard of prettiness determined by evolutionary biology; in James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner,” teen-age boys awaken, all memories of their previous lives wiped clean, in a walled compound surrounded by a monster-filled labyrinth. The books tend to end in cliff-hangers that provoke their readers to post half-mocking protestations of agony (“SUZANNE, ARE YOU PURPOSELY TOURTURING YOUR FANS!?!?!?”) on Internet discussion boards.

Publishers have signed up dozens of similar titles in the past year or two, and, as with any thriving genre, themes and motifs get swapped around from other genres and forms. There are, or will soon be, books about teen-agers slotted into governmentally arranged professions and marriages or harvested for spare parts or genetically engineered for particular skills or brainwashed by subliminal messages embedded in music or outfitted with Internet connections in their brains. Then, there are the post-apocalyptic scenarios in which humanity is reduced to subsistence farming or neo-feudalism, stuck in villages ruled by religious fanatics or surrounded by toxic wastelands, predatory warlords, or flesh-eating zombie hordes. An advantage to having young readers is that most of this stuff is fresh to them. They aren’t going to sniff at a premise repurposed from an old “Twilight Zone” episode or mutter that the villain is an awful lot like the deranged preacher Robert Mitchum plays in “The Night of the Hunter.” To thrill them, a story doesn’t have to be unprecedented. It just has to be harrowing.

Dystopian novels for middle-grade and young-adult readers (M.G. and Y.A., respectively, in publishing-industry lingo) have been around for decades. Readers of a certain age may remember having their young minds blown by William Sleator’s “House of Stairs,” the story of five teen-agers imprisoned in a seemingly infinite M. C. Escher-style network of staircases that ultimately turns out to be a gigantic Skinner box designed to condition their behavior. John Christopher’s “The White Mountains,” in which alien overlords install mind-control caps on the heads of all those over the age of thirteen, tore through my own sixth-grade classroom like a wicked strain of the flu. Depending on the anxieties and preoccupations of its time, a dystopian Y.A. novel might speculate about the aftermath of nuclear war (Robert C. O’Brien’s “Z for Zachariah”) or the drawbacks of engineering a too harmonious social order (Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”) or the consequences of resource exhaustion (Saci Lloyd’s “The Carbon Diaries 2015”). And, of course, most American schoolchildren are at some point also assigned to read one of the twentieth century’s dystopian classics for adults, such as “Brave New World” or “1984.”

The youth-centered versions of dystopia part company with their adult predecessors in some important respects. For one thing, the grownup ones are grimmer. In an essay for the 2003 collection “Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults,” the British academic Kay Sambell argues that “the narrative closure of the protagonist’s final defeat and failure is absolutely crucial to the admonitory impulse of the classic adult dystopia.” The adult dystopia extrapolates from aspects of the present to show readers how terrible things will become if our deplorable behavior continues unchecked. The more utterly the protagonist is crushed, the more urgent and forceful the message. Because authors of children’s fiction are “reluctant to depict the extinction of hope within their stories,” Sambell writes, they equivocate when it comes to delivering a moral. Yes, our errors and delusions may lead to catastrophe, but if—as usually happens in dystopian novels for children—a new, better way of life can be assembled from the ruins would the apocalypse really be such a bad thing?

Sambell’s observation implies that dystopian stories for adults and children have essentially the same purpose—to warn us about the dangers of some current trend. That’s certainly true of books like “1984” and “Brave New World”; they detail the consequences of political authoritarianism and feckless hedonism. This is what will happen if we don’t turn back now, they scold, and scolding makes sense when your readers have a shot at getting their hands on the wheel.

Children, however, don’t run the world, and teen-agers, especially, feel the sting of this. “The Hunger Games” could be taken as an indictment of reality TV, but only someone insensitive to the emotional tenor of the story could regard social criticism as the real point of Collins’s novel. “The Hunger Games” is not an argument. It operates like a fable or a myth, a story in which outlandish and extravagant figures and events serve as conduits for universal experiences. Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader. “The success of ‘Uglies,’ ” Westerfeld once wrote in his blog, “is partly thanks to high school being a dystopia.”

Take the Hunger Games themselves. In the first book of Collins’s trilogy, Katniss explains that the games are a “punishment” for a failed uprising against the Capitol many years earlier, and they’re meant to be “humiliating as well as torturous.” The twenty-four child contestants, called tributes, are compelled to participate, and the people of their districts must watch the televised bloodbath. Yet residents of the richer districts (District 12, Katniss’s home, is a hardscrabble mining province) regard competing as “a huge honor,” and some young people, called Career Tributes, train all their lives for the games. When Katniss herself becomes a tribute (she volunteers, in order to save her younger sister), she’s taken to the Capitol and given a glamorous makeover and a wardrobe custom-designed for her by her own personal fashion maestro. She’s cheered by crowds, fêted at galas, interviewed on national television, fed sumptuous meals, and housed in a suite filled with wondrous devices. She’s forced to live every teen-age girl’s dream. (Her professed claim to hate it all is undermined by the loving detail with which she describes every last goody.)

As a tool of practical propaganda, the games don’t make much sense. They lack that essential quality of the totalitarian spectacle: ideological coherence. You don’t demoralize and dehumanize a subject people by turning them into celebrities and coaching them on how to craft an appealing persona for a mass audience. (“Think of yourself among friends,” Katniss’s media handler urges.) Are the games a disciplinary measure or an extreme sporting event? A beauty pageant or an exercise in despotic terror? Given that the winning tribute’s district is “showered with prizes, largely consisting of food,” why isn’t it the poorer, hungrier districts that pool their resources to train Career Tributes, instead of the wealthier ones? And the practice of carrying off a population’s innocent children and commanding their parents to watch them be slaughtered for entertainment—wouldn’t that do more to provoke a rebellion than to head one off?

If, on the other hand, you consider the games as a fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience, they become perfectly intelligible. Adults dump teen-agers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it’s supposed to be. The rules are arbitrary, unfathomable, and subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good-looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake. Adults don’t seem to understand how high the stakes are; your whole life could be over, and they act like it’s just some “phase”! Everyone’s always watching you, scrutinizing your clothes or your friends and obsessing over whether you’re having sex or taking drugs or getting good enough grades, but no one cares who you really are or how you really feel about anything.

The typical arc of the dystopian narrative mirrors the course of adolescent disaffection. First, the fictional world is laid out. It may seem pleasant enough. Tally, the heroine of “Uglies” (and its two sequels), looks forward to the surgery that will transform her into a Pretty and allow her to move to the party enclave of New Pretty Town. Eleven-year-old Jonas, in “The Giver,” has no problem with the blandly tranquil community where he grows up. Then somebody new, a misfit, turns up, or the hero stumbles on an incongruity. A crack opens in the façade. If the society is a false utopia, the hero discovers the lie at its very foundation: the Pretties are lobotomized when they receive their plastic surgery; the residents of Jonas’s community have been drained of all passion. If the society is frankly miserable or oppressive, the hero will learn that, contrary to what he’s been told, there may be an alternative out there, somewhere. Conditions at home become more and more unbearable until finally the hero, alone or with a companion, decides to make a break for it, heading out across dangerous terrain.

Because these new dystopias follow a logic more archetypal than rational, many of them don’t even attempt to abide by the strictures of science fiction. Or perhaps they care only about the third of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous three rules of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In her rooms in the Capitol, Katniss, who has previously spent her days poaching in the woods with a bow and arrow, finds she can “program the closet for an outfit to my taste. The windows zoom in and out on parts of the city at my command. You only need to whisper a type of food from a gigantic menu into a mouthpiece and it appears, hot and steamy, before you in less than a minute.” She might as well be living in a fairy-tale castle, dining off enchanted golden plates that refill themselves every evening.

The snow-globe timelessness of these novels doesn’t prevent them from incorporating the particular flavor of contemporary kid culture. Waking up in a hostile, confined place without an identity or any notion of what you’re supposed to do or how you can get out—as Thomas, the hero of “The Maze Runner,” does—is a scenario often found in video games. So are the rings that give their possessors more lives in Catherine Fisher’s “Incarceron,” where the characters are confined to a prison as big as a small country, complete with cities and metal forests. Like “The Maze Runner,” “Catching Fire” features a moment in which the desperate players must picture the geography around them as seen from above, like a game board or puzzle in whose pattern can be found a crucial clue. There’s more hand-to-hand combat in these dystopias than there was in the books of thirty years ago, and it’s more important to the stories, which frequently culminate in a showdown resembling the climax of an action movie. Carrie Ryan’s “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” takes an insular, vaguely medieval community reminiscent of the town in the M. Night Shyamalan film “The Village,” subjects it to George Romero-style zombie attacks, and then throws in a love quadrangle with enough emo angst to rival “Twilight.”

The experience of growing up under nearly continuous adult supervision—the circumstances that made writing about autonomous contemporary sixth-graders so difficult for Rebecca Stead—has tinged these novels as well. The protagonists in the technological dystopias of earlier generations frequently contended with surveilling cameras, hoping to either elude or defy them. Face-offs between the human eye and a soulless lens still occur; the teen hacker who narrates Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother,” a privacy-rights anthem set in near-future San Francisco, provides helpful instructions on how to make a concealed-camera detector out of a toilet-paper tube and a handful of spare L.E.D. lights. Often, however, the attitude is sullen resignation; in “Incarceron,” the hero, Finn, can do no more than note the small red lights of the prison’s ubiquitous “Eyes” staring down at him from the rafters. When Katniss is finally delivered into the Hunger Games arena, a tract of forest, she never even bothers to look around for the cameras; she knows they’re embedded everywhere. “It has probably been difficult for the cameras to get a good shot of me,” she thinks as she climbs down from a tree. “I know they must be tracking me now though. The minute I hit the ground, I’m guaranteed a close-up.” In “The Hunger Games,” surveillance is ambient.

The Internet plays a less important role in these novels than you might expect. One notable exception, M. T. Anderson’s merciless and very clever satire of late-capitalist complacency, “Feed,” has information (mostly advertising) piped right into people’s brains; the novel’s narrator thinks of the laptop era as being “like if you carried your lungs in a briefcase and opened it to breathe.” (“Feed” is one of the few Y.A. dystopias in which adolescence doesn’t confer any special immunity to the Big Lie. It’s a lot closer to “Brave New World” than to “The Hunger Games,” and its ending is notably downbeat.) In perhaps the most impressive of the recent crop, “The Knife of Never Letting Go,” by Patrick Ness, the Internet appears metaphorically, in the form of a virus that causes people’s thoughts to be broadcast into the minds of all those around them. “Information is absolutely everywhere today,” Ness has explained, “texts and emails and messaging—so much it feels like you can’t get away from it.”

Todd, the novel’s narrator, is a post-apocalyptic Huck Finn, the youngest resident of an all-male frontier town (the women have been killed off by the virus), where he’s bombarded by mental “Noise,” a cacophony of impressions and ideas, rendered at one point as a web of overlapping scrawls. Todd prefers to hang out in the nearby swamp, which is also Noisy, because the virus broadcasts animals’ thoughts, too, but less intrusively so:

The loud is a different kind of loud, because swamp loud is just curiosity, creachers figuring out who you are and if yer a threat. Whereas the town knows all about you already and wants to know more and wants to beat you with what it knows till how can you have any of yerself left at all?

The young readers of “The Knife of Never Letting Go” may feel the same way about their overscrutinized, information-flooded lives, or maybe that’s just how Ness thinks he’d feel if he were them. It somehow fits the paranoid spirit of these novels that adults are the ones who write them, publish them, stock them in stores and libraries, assign them in classes, and decide which ones win prizes. (Most of the reader reviews posted online seem to be written by adults as well.) But kids do read the books, and some of them will surely grow up to write dystopian tales of their own, incited by technologies or social trends we have yet to conceive. By then, reality TV and privacy on the Internet may seem like quaint, outdated problems. But the part about the world being broken or intolerable, about the need to sweep away the past to make room for the new? That part never gets old. ♦

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer

I had great expectations for The Deadly Sister and I have to say that overall, Eliot Schrefer has crafted an ingenious murder mystery for young teens.
Abby Goodwin was always the one to protect younger sister, Maya. She'd protected her bullies, from their parents when Maya broke curfew, stole money or did drugs. But this time, things are so much more complicated. When Abby discovers Maya's boyfriend/tutor, Jefferson Andrews dead during her Saturday morning run, she knows she has her work cut out for her.
Told in 18 year old Abby's voice, the reader follows along as Abby attempts to piece together what happened that fatal night. From the beginning Abby makes the assumption that Maya is the killer and therefore in need of her protection. But this murder mystery is full of twists and turns and Schrefer had me considering everyone as a possible suspect until well into the book. For reasons I won't divulge (so as not to reveal the plot), the ending therefore, wasn't a complete surprise but did offer a creepy twist.
I did feel that the storyline was somewhat unrealistic, given the current state of practice of forensic science. I felt that ending was unbelievable simply because Jefferson Andrews murder was a violent crime. It would have been expected that some form of evidence would have been left at the murder scene and in other areas such as Jefferson's car, that would have directed police ultimately to the true killer. Nevertheless, this was an entertaining book, one that most will find difficult to put down.
Book Details:
The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press: New York 2010
310 pp.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

Cathy Ferris was in her second week of summer school when things began to unravel. All because Tommy Petrak believes Cathy is really Murielle Lyman, the long lost daughter of Cade and Rory Lyman. The Lyman's fled overseas 5 years previously to avoid charges of embezzling millions of dollars of their clients money. So certain is Tommy, that he confronts Cathy in the cafeteria during lunch and in front of all the summer students. Within minutes, most of the 60 students at Greenwich Summer School are googling the Lyman name on their Blackberrys and cell phones and comparing pictures of past Murielle and present day Cathy. They never came back is in two voices, that of 15 year old Cathy Ferris and also of 10 year old Murielle Lyman. Murielle's story is one of a confused, innocent 10 year old who loses everything because of her parents greed. Questioned tirelessly by FBI agents, she begins to vomit due to the stress and is eventually placed in a foster home. Cathy's story eventually reveals to the readers, quite early on, that she is in fact, Murielle. She began to use her second name of Catherine when she was moved to a second foster home. Although the reader knows that Murielle and Cathy are the same, the characters in the story do not. It turns out that Cathy deliberately enrolled in the high school in her childhood hometown of Norwalk to see her cousin Tommy Petrak. But she never anticipated the situation she now finds herself in. The FBI reappear, this time hoping to use Cathy's resemblance to Murielle to entrop her parents. Cathy must deal with issues of guilt, loyalty, justice and greed. The choice Cathy/Murielle must make at the end of the book is sure to spark discussion both for and against.
I did enjoy the book but found the means the author used to bring Cathy back in touch with her parents simplistic and unrealistic. I also felt the book would have been much more exciting if the reader had been kept in suspense about whether or not Cathy was Murielle. Nevertheless, the idea for the book was a good one. I just didn't like the way the author developed it. I highly recommend this novel. It's a quick good read for teens.

Book Details:

They never came back by Caroline B. Cooney
Delacorte Press 2010
200 pp.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

I decided it was time to try a novel in verse. I love poetry but reading an entire novel in verse seemed well,....tiresome. Shark Girl is in free verse and from the opening lines, I was completely hooked. The attack is recounted in both newspaper articles which are written in prose and flashbacks by the victim and this is the hook that draws readers into the novel.
When 15 year old Jane Arrowood is attacked by a shark while swimming, her life undergoes a radical change. Jane was a gifted, emerging artist who had won many awards for her talent. Now she struggles to cope and understand what the loss of her right arm above the elbow will mean for her life.

Shark Girl focuses on the inner journey Jane undertakes. She wants to be "normal" again. But life is anything but normal. There's the difficulty dealing with a video that was posted online of her attack.There's trying to relearn old tasks that were previously done without thinking....folding the laundry, taking out the garbage and cooking. There's trying to deal with how others now view her, minus an arm. And what about ever drawing again? Can she relearn to draw with her left hand.....
Sharing Jane's journey is Justin a ten year old boy who lost his leg and was in the hospital during the same time period. Justin's innocence and forthright way of dealing with loss help Jane cope.

Despite the heavy topic, there's a lot of wit in Shark Girl. Interspersed throughout the book are "letters" Jane receives from people whose intention is to offer support. One such letter from a little girl who has lost an arm to cancer suggests to Jane that she names her prosthetic. Eventually, when Jane does get a prosthetic arm she names it Chuck. Bingham uses Chuck to show that Jane still has the ability to approach difficult times with a sense of humour. Chuck drives Jane crazy with his clumsiness and he's so hot.
Gradually Jane learns to cope and even begins to find joy in her new life.
I truly enjoyed this book and will be reading another novel in verse very soon.

Book Details:
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
Candlewick Press 2007