Friday, November 30, 2012

Kpop: BTOB

BTOB or Born to Beat is a new seven member boy band that debuted in March 2012. The group was developed by Cube Entertainment and is comprised of Seo Eunkwang, Lee Min Hyuk, Lee Changsub, Lim Hyansik, Shin Dong-guen, Jung Ilhoon, and Yook Sungjae. Eunkwang is the lead vocalist.

Their debut song was a dance number titled Insane. This was followed by the beautiful soulful ballad, Imagine.

But BTOB has changed direction somewhat with their latest album.

BTOB released their second mini album, Press Play on September 12, 2012. The title refers to the action of pressing the play button on a cassette tape deck. Tracks on this album include Press Play, WOW, I Don't Know Anything But Love, U & I, Stand Up, and My Girl. The music video their track titled, Lover Boy (previously titled I Don't Know Anything But Love) was released in October. This song has some elements of new jack swing, which is a fusion of hip hop, rap, and rhythm and blues and which was popular in Korea (and elsewhere) in the 90's. Considering that several members of BTOB are rappers this really isn't a surprising development in their style.  Press Play is somewhat retro, harking back to the boy band sound of the 1990's but incorporating their own unique style. The album cover is great, visually appealing and retro.

The first video is the ballad Imagine.

Enjoy WOW from their mini-album Press Play:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bookmark Days by Scot Gardner

"There was only one way to communicate with a Carrington and that was with fire in your eyes and broken glass in your words."
So thinks Avril Stanton until the day she meets Nathaniel Carrington!

Avril lives with her family on a sheep farm in an extremely rural area of Australia. She does her schooling by correspondence since the nearest school is 165 km away and rides her horse whenever she wants. She loves to read, so she has many books.

Avril also has learned to hate the Carringtons who live a mere fifteen kilometers away. No one knows just when the feud between the two families began, except that it started sometime after the war in which Hoppy Stanton and Les Carrington Sr. served together.

Avril meets Nathaniel Carrington when she and her grandfather go out to check on some sheep that have supposedly strayed into the Carrington's canola fields. Instead they find that their fence has been damaged by the Carrington's and they set out to mend it. Nathaniel arrives on a quad bike, apologizing because he was the one who damaged the fence. When he offers to mend the fence, he gets the royal brush off from Avril's grandfather, who is intent upon throwing more fuel onto the fire of the feud. Avril however, sees that Nathaniel is polite and sorry for what has happened. And she also finds herself instantly attracted to this handsome neighbour, with the tousled blond hair and the cap. Avril feels like Juliet when she first saw Romeo and this confuses her because she's been taught the Carrington's are bad people. Nathaniel doesn't look evil. He's handsome. It is a bookmark day.
"It's called a paradigm shift....and I had one that day. It was the biggest one in my life and it left me reeling. It was a whole mix of things that messed me up, like seeing my grandfather adding fuel to a fire that he'd always said blew in from the other side of the fence. Seeing a boy I'd been taught to hate and feeling the way Juliet probably did when she first saw Romeo."
Avril's cousin Katie and her Aunt Jacq arrive for a visit. Katie overwhelms Avril with her constant talking and bragging about her many boyfriends. Avril feels that she doesn't have the social confidence her cousin has but she soon comes to realize that Katie's approach to life is very different from her.

Avril and her family take their visiting relatives to the Forsyth Agricultural Show in Mildura. This day also turns out to be a bookmark day, changing Avril's life in ways she never dreamt. Avril meets Nathaniel at the Show, but she is too shy to talk to him. However, later on they find each other again and have a blast dancing to a band. Avril realizes that she is falling for a boy she shouldn't like - a boy from the family her own family has had a feud with for two generations. A feud she doesn't know the cause of and doesn't understand. At the Show, Avril makes an astonishing discovery regarding her grandmother.

Shortly after Nathaniel leaves the Show with his father, there is a violent thunderstorm and a lightning strike at the bandstand. In the chaos of the storm, Avril searches for Katie so they can go home. After getting her hungover cousin into their truck, Avril and her father come across the Carrington's ute which has overturned. Les Junior is badly injured but to Avril's relief,  Nathaniel is only bruised. The Stanton's help the Carringtons, despite the elder Carrington, Les Senior's violent response towards their presence at the accident scene.

Avril begins to understand that the feud between the older men of both families, doesn't really seem to exist between her parents and Nathaniels parents nor between herself and Nathaniel. She doesn't understand the deep hatred the two men have for each other because it doesn't seem to exist in the younger generations of either family. Avril reaches out to the Carringtons, not only because they are in a tight spot with Nathaniel's father injured but also because she wants to be able to see Nathaniel again. Although her and Nathaniel attempt to keep their blossoming love a secret, it is soon common knowledge in both families. When the two devise a plan to meet one another, a crisis develops. Will Avril be able to take a stand for what she believes in and also for a future with Nathaniel?

It's obvious Bookmark Days is a twist on the Romeo and Juliet theme set in the Australian outback. Two feuding families, and a young couple in love, secret meetings and co-conspirators like those in Romeo and Juliet can be found in this short novel. Avril Stanton is a likeable character who stays true to herself. She has little of her cousin Katie's "talent" for make-up, dress, and flirting with boys but she does come to recognize that she has abilities that her cousin doesn't have. In this way, she doesn't try to copy her cousin and at one point is thoroughly disgusted with Katie's behaviour. Instead she forges her own path. Her strength of character not only helps her and Nathaniel but also both of their families.

Bookmark Days is a sweet story about a girl's first love. Avril's uncertainty and awakening to love is tender and endearing in contrast to Katie's more cynical approach. This short novel is well written and is a great choice for reluctant readers. The unique Australian setting adds another layer of interest. The themes of identity and love make this a book young readers can relate to. Scot Gardner has definitely succeeded in writing a wonderful romantic novel.

Book Details:
Bookmark Days by Scot Gardner.
Crows Nest: Australia       Allen & Unwin   2009
170 pp.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Beta by Rachel Cohn

Elysia is a human clone but very different from the animal clones we are familiar with, which are grown from a few cells into a fully developed organism that is identical genetically to its parent. Her body is not grown from a few cells which pass through the stages of human development but instead is an exact physical replicate of a person who died - her First. Because her body is a duplicate made in a machine, Elysia is told she cannot feel emotions and has no soul. Elysia is unique as a clone because she begins life as a 16 year old teen. Clones are made of adults and the process hasn't yet been perfected for teens, so Elysia is known as a Beta clone.

To make up for the lack of a soul, all clones have two individualized chip implants. The first implant is placed in the brain to supply working knowledge and information on how to respond emotionally to humans. The second chip is placed in the wrist and functions as a locator so clones cannot get lost.  All clones have violet eyes and a violet fleur des lis tatooed on the right side of their face. Clones can be purchased and once they are purchased they get a second tattoo on the left side of their face which tells what their function is.

Elysia was manufactured by Dr. Larissa Lusardi, the world expert in cloning. Lusardi's laboratory is located on one side of an island in the lush archipelago named Demesne. This island was developed into a paradise for elite citizens. The air is specially treated with high concentrations of oxygen and everything on the island is created to perfection. Demesne's inhabitants require clones to serve them as butlers, maids, cooks and companions. The newly emergent Elysia is bought by the wife of Demesne's governor, Mrs. Bratton as a companion. Bratton's eldest daughter, Astrid, has left home to study at university on the Mainland and she wants someone to replace her daughter.

Elysia is taken to the Governor's villa where she meets two of his children; 18 year old Ivan and 10 year Liesel. In addition to being a companion for Mrs. Bratton, Elysia is also to train Ivan for his placement in military academy. She is an expert diver, excellent swimmer and in good physical shape. The implication here is that her First was probably an outstanding athlete.

Although Elysia knows she is not supposed to be able to feel or taste, she immediately begins to realize that in fact she can feel emotions and she can taste food. She loves macaroni and cheese, as well as chocolate. And she has strange memories of a man whom she feels attracted to - which she believes are the memories of her First. She gradually comes to understand that her first "Z" loved this unknown man.

When Elysia meets Tahir Fortesquieu, Ivan's best friend who had a serious surfing accent a year ago, there is a certain inexplicable chemistry between them. Elysia learns that Ivan's older sister, Astrid, loved Tahir, but the pre-accident Tahir, was a "player". Post-accident Tahir, seems strangely different to his friends. He is no longer interested in partying, drinking or doing drugs and he seems very quiet and polite.

While all this is going on, we learn that a man from the military who is an Aquine, has been sent to investigate why some of the clones on the island are "waking up". The clones who wake up or experience emotions are called Defects and they are immediately returned and expired. The Aquine is to prepare are report to the Replicant Rights Commission on what is happening on Demesne.

As time passes Elysia comes to realize that there are other clones like her - who feel. When she catches Xanthe, another clone making love to a male clone, they later meet and Elysia learns more about the Defects. Elysia learns that she is not the only teen clone and that some teen clones go through an "awakening" and turn Awful - they become uncontrollable and rage against humans. She is warned by Xanthe not to let anyone suspect that she feels or has memories. And Xanthe tells her not to get involved with Tahir - that a human cannot love a clone and that she will be nothing more than a consort.

Tahir's parents are so impressed with Elysia that they ask the Brattons if they can borrow her for a week. For Elysia, this couldn't come a moment too soon as the governor has indicated that he expects her to become his consort in exchange for her not being tested to ensure she is not a Defect. Elysia is suddenly becoming aware of how she can be used against her will.

**spoilers from this point on**

During the week with the Fortesquieu's, Elysia comes to the astonishing conclusion that Tahir is also a clone. The first Tahir died in the surfing accident. His parents had him cloned to continue Tahir's life. When Tahir's parents learn that Elysia can feel they decide that they will purchase her from the Brattons to help their son. Not surprisingly, the two clones fall in love and decide that they wish to determine the direction of their own lives. This means that they must somehow find a way to escape from Demesne.

However, before they can do this, fate intervenes. Elysia who has no returned home to the Bratton's house is put on display at the Governor's Ball, which the Brattons have been preparing for. It is at this time that she meets the Aquine, Alexander Blackburn who turns out to be her First's lover. She learns from Alexander that her First's name was Zhara and how she died. As an Aquine, Alexander belongs to a master race of humans who mate for life. Since Zhara was his mate, he finds he is very attracted to Elysia.

The situation at the Governor's Ball turns ugly when Tahir turns "awful", getting into a fight. Tahir is outed as a clone and as a result the Fortesquieu's vanish and with him Elysia's chance to escape the island. Elysia then makes of tragic mistake of telling Ivan that she and Tahir are mates. Furious and in a fit of jealousy, Ivan rapes Elysia. When he tries to do this again the next night, she stabs him in self defense and flees the island by jumping into the sea. Elysia is rescued by Alexander and nursed back to health by Defect on an isolated island. When Elysia and Alexander are out one afternoon swimming they make an astonishing, but heart rending discovery that concludes the first book.

Beta is one of the more interesting dystopian young adult novels. The writing is excellent, (Cohn is an established young adult writer) with the author focusing on portraying the evolution of the teen clone Elysia as she searches to understand who and what she is, especially since her experience of who and what she is differs from what she has been told. She shouldn't feel or taste - but she does. She shouldn't have memories from the person she was cloned from - but she does. She should want to serve - but she wants to be free to make her own choices. This dissonance creates a source of conflict in her that she struggles to hide because it could mean her torture and destruction. At the same time these feelings and experiences create pleasure and pain.

Written from Elysia's point of view, her voice is authentic from beginning to end. Her innocent, demure voice is appealing, drawing the reader into learning more about this unique character and trying to understand what she is. It wasn't apparent to me that Elysia as a clone was different from the clones we know. Elysia's voice changes as she struggles to understand her place in the utopian society of Demesne and deal with what appear to be memories of the person she was cloned from. Elysia gradually "awakens" to an understanding that although she may be a physical copy of another person, she might actually have the ability and the right to forge a separate path. She is led to this position by her interaction with other clones such as Xanthe and Tahir, although she probably would have reached this conclusion on her own eventually.

Beta also deals with the use of human clones as essentially slaves. Demesne society has attempted to bypass the ethical questions by first murdering the real Dr. Lusardi and creating a clone who would continue her work without any qualms about how the clones are used. But it appears that Demesne is the only society on Earth that allows the use of clones and there are brief references to the fact that this is not acceptable. There is a growing movement from outside of Demesne to stop the cloning.

Cohn doesn't spend much time developing the dystopian world as a whole, focusing more on the luxury island paradise of Demesne. This works for the most part because the story is set on the island and most of the main characters have never been off the island which rather conveniently is impossible to travel to. There are references to other parts of the world such as Biome City in a desert but these are never really developed.

One drawback to the book is the focus on physical beauty; everyone in the book is physically perfect. The teen boys are well muscled and buff, Elysia is stunningly beautiful as is Tawny (the Governor's masseuse) and Xanthe. Alexander is also a perfect physical specimen because he is part of a master race of humans, the Aquines who breed only within their race and mate for life.

There is some sexual content in the book; the rape scene is not graphically described. The violence is graphic and scattered throughout the book.

There is also a strong prolife message in the novel. When Elysia is told she is pregnant she doesn't want to keep the life growing within her. But she barely understands what is happening to her, nor how she can care for this new being. When she asks the Defect who has helped heal her to get rid of her baby she is told that she is in no condition to make any decision right now. She tells Elysia that she is a sign of hope for the clones because it was believed they could not conceive children. While this message might offend some, it is not only a good message, but will add an interesting dimension to further development of the storyline in the next book.

Overall, I found Beta to be a good start to what is likely to be an interesting science fiction series. The short trailer can be found below:

Book Details:
Beta by Rachel Cohn
New York: Hyperion 2012
331 pp.

Monday, November 26, 2012

DVD Movie: Oranges and Sunshine 2010

In 1986, Margaret Humphreys was a child protection officer working in Nottingham, England. Incredibly, she stumbled upon one of the most astonishing and horrendous secrets safeguarded by the British government for over eighty years. In the movie which is based her book, Empty Cradle, one day after work Margaret is approached by a woman by the name of Charlotte, asking her to help her locate her family. Charlotte had been visiting from Australia where she lives and she tells Margaret that all she knows is that she, along with a large group of children, were sent over by ship in the 1940s and 50s to Australia. Charlotte was four years old at the time. She was told her mother had died and she was unsure of her true name and her birth date.

At first Margaret is reluctant to get involved until one day in her post-adoption group therapy session, one of the attendees, Nikki, tells the group that out of the blue she got a letter from someone claiming to be her brother Jack and that he lived in Australia. Nikki cannot understand how this can be. As she tells the group more, Margaret realizes that this must be more than a coincidence and she decides that she must look into what is going on.

Margaret researches Charlottes birth certificate and manages to track down her mother, reuniting the two women. When she meets Charlottes mother, Margaret learns that she had been told her daughter was adopted out to a family.  She never knew her daughter had been sent to Australia. And she had always hoped to get her daughter back, not see her adopted out.

Margaret eventually meets Nikki's brother Jack, who seems devastated over what happened to him. In an attempt to learn more about the children, Margaret flies to Australia on her own time and using her own funds to determine how many other children have had a similar experience and to try to understand the scope of what happened.

Eventually Margaret and her husband, Mervyn uncover a migration scheme so widespread that there is no way the British government could not have known about it.They discover that these "forced migrations" began as early as 1900 and lasted until 1970. During that period of time there were "waves" of forced migrations and there were so many children involved that upper levels of government would have had to have given permission, including the Home Secretary. All of the children were in care and it was evident that these children were systematically deport. These schemes were run by charities and churches, among them, the Christian brothers.

Margaret, through her visits with children who were forcibly sent to Australia, learns that many suffered abuse, both emotional, physical and sometimes sexual, and worked as virtual slaves. Some received little educating and were basically indentured slaves. All this despite being told they were going to a warm country where there was plenty of sunshine and they could pick oranges off the trees.

Margaret attempts to get the organizations involved in the migrations to accept responsibility and acknowledge that they did a great wrong to these adult children and their families. It took 23 years before the British and Australian government finally issued an apology for the child migration schemes. More than 130,000 children had been deported. Margaret, with the help of her husband, continue their work today of helping reunite children with their families.

Oranges and Sunshine deals with this difficult subject in a forthright way but one that also demonstrates how the forced child migration affected the children, their mothers and how it continues to affect them to this day. Emily Watson does a stellar job portraying Margaret Humphreys in a performance filled with intelligence, gentleness and subdued passion. She is never deterred from her mission of finding these "lost children" even when her personal safety is at stake. Eventually the stress of dealing with so many people who have been hurt takes its toll on Margaret and she is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She tries to keep her distance and set personal boundaries but the breadth and depth of the tragedy is so overwhelming that she is unable to accomplish this. Watson conveys this with such utter realism that we forget we are watching a movie.

The effect of her work is especially well portrayed in the scenes with Len (David Wenham) near the end of the movie. Len is a man who has been deeply affected by his experiences; by his own admission he stopped crying at the age of eight. Wealthy enough to afford a private detective to find his mother, he is at first doubtful of Margaret's intentions and her ability. Yet after finding his mother for him, Margaret is challenged by Len to go to Boys Town at Bindoon to see what he and other child migrants experienced. She doesn't want to but in the end she agrees. Bindoon is in the middle of nowhere, and as Margaret and Len look down from afar at Boys Town, we see a colossal structure built by child migrants who were at the mercy of the Christian Brothers and who suffered some of the worst abuse.The cinematography effectively captures the isolation and the fear these children must have felt as they saw themselves being driven far from any town or village.

When Margaret sees this place she is terribly shattered because she feels that what she is doing is not enough. But Len tells her, "You feel it for all of us because we can't...You're in there for us. You're fighting for us. So let the rest go. Just let it go."

Oranges and Sunshine is based on the book, Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys. The film was produced by Emile Sherman and Camilla Bray who also produced The King's Speech. The Oranges and Sunshine website has more information on the making of the film and the actors involved.

Those interested in reading more about this topic, the Child Migrants Trust website will be most useful.

The Australian National Maritime Museum has an exhibit entitled, "On their own - Britain's child migrants". This website has an interesting video on the exhibition.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids by Jerome Pohlen

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
                                                                                              Albert Einstein
Everyone knows Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity but how much do we really know about this famous scientist and his theories? Adults and children alike will be fascinated with the details they learn about Einstein's life and his theories in Jerome Pohlen's book on Einstein. Pohlen tells Einstein's life story in a straightforward manner while also presenting simple experiments that explain some of the points of relatively and physics.

Albert and his sister Maja
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879 to nonobservant Jewish parents, Hermann and Pauline Einstein. His family moved to Munich where Albert lived until he was 15. When their electrical business failed, Hermann moved the family to Milan, Italy without Albert. Albert was not pleased about this and soon found a way to join them. He managed to gain entry into the Swiss Cantonal School of Aarau in Aarau, Switzerland in 1895. At this time of his life, Einstein wanted to renounce his German citizenship and after a period of time he managed to get his father to agree to his request. His citizenship was revoked in January, 1896.

In the fall of 1896, Albert began classes at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute, studying to be a physics teacher. However, Einstein was not a serious student. It was at this time that he met Mileva Maric, one of five students studying physics. Interestingly, Switzerland was the only German-speaking country where Mileva could apply to undertake post-high school studies.

Mileva and Albert gradually became romantically involved. She was the perfect companion for him at this age; intelligent and stimulating. When he graduated, Einstein was unable to find a job and in 1901 Mileva became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl.  It is not known what happened to this child named Leserl.

Albert and his first wife, Mileva
In 1903 Mileva and Albert married and a year later they had their second child, Hans Albert. It is amazing to see the strong resemblance Hans Albert had to his father when he was younger. You can see this for yourself by viewing the picture of Albert Einstein and his younger sister, Maja, on page 4 and that of Eduardo and Hans Albert taken in 1914 on page 60.

1905 is considered Einstein's "Miracle Year" or "Annus Mirabilus" when he published five groundbreaking papers on time, space and matter that forever changed the way we look at the universe. At this time, the Einsteins were living in Bern, Switzerland, and Albert, chronically underemployed, was working at the Patent Office as a Technical Expert, Third Class. This was a perfect situation for Einstein as he had a group of mathematicians and physicist with which he could discuss problems in theoretical physics.

Pohlen takes readers through a brief explanation of the innovative concepts in each of Einstein's five papers using examples and simple experiments. An entire chapter explains the basic concepts behind Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity while another chapter explores the ideas of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

After Einstein's ideas were published and he began to gain widespread acclaim, some began to question his theories. claiming his work was Jewish physics and others that his work was immoral because it suggested everything in the universe was relative, included morality. Amazingly, Einstein never won the Nobel Prize for relativity. Instead he won the 1921 Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect - an area of research his major detractor, German physicist, Philipp Lenard specialized in!

This book also delves into Einstein's personal life which involved him abandoning his first family for another woman, his estrangement from his oldest son, and his fleeing Germany at the outbreak of the Second World War. It also touches on Einstein and the development of the atomic bomb and his pacifist views on war, as well as his latter years. Einstein was not directly involved in the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the first a-bomb, but many of his contemporaries were.

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids is marketed as a book for children in Grades 4 to 6 but I feel that this book is probably too advanced and contains to much detail for the lower end of that group. I would suggest this book is better used for older children aged 12+ who have a keen interest in relativity and for those studying the early 20th century. Pohlen's style is readable and engaging. This is a beautiful book, with glossy pages, lots of photographs of Einstein and the major characters in his life story as well as famous scientists of this time period. The front of the book contains a timeline of important dates while the back of the book has a list of books for further study and websites and places to visit.

Interesting websites include The American Museum of Natural History and the American Institute for Physics.

Book Details:Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids by Jerome Pohlen
Chicago: Chicago Review Press 2012
126 pp.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

The Bar Code Tattoo is the first book in a trilogy written by Weyn that explores a not so futuristic world where everyone has a bar code tattooed on their wrist.

Kayla Reed is sixteen, soon to be seventeen, the age at which she will qualify for a bar code tattoo. The bar code tattoo is all the rage, with not only kids getting them but adults too. Both of Kayla's parents recently got the tattoo but Kayla thinks the tattoo is bizarre.
"Even though she saw tattoos everywhere, they continued to fascinate her. How bizarre to be branded like a box of cereal. Didn't people mind being counted as just one more product on a shelf? There had to be more to a person than that."
For people with the tattoo, it means that all their personal information is quickly available with a simple scan of their right wrist. Information such as banking, medical records, and insurance is readily accessible. But for those who don't have the tattoo, life is gradually becoming more and more restricted. All tattoos are done through the US Postal Service which was taken over by Global-1, an international affiliation of corporations and billionaires.

One afternoon Kayla returns home to find that her father who worked as an FBI researcher has committed suicide.Her mother, a nurse, is convinced that the bar code is responsible for his death but she won't divulge to Kayla why she feels this way.

At school, Kayla connects with several students who have formed a resistance cell. Nedra Harris a cynical red-head, Allyson Minor, August Sanchez, Mfumbe and Zekeal Morrelle are working with Senator David Young who has organized a resistance group named Decode. Young is attempting to place restrictions on the bar code tattoo. Led into the group's secret meetings by Zekeal, Kayla eventually becomes involved in this group and  romantically involved with Zekeal. At her first meeting in an abandoned warehouse, Kayla is invited to use a virtual reality helmet which puts her in touch with resistance groups. While using this helmet she meets a mysterious woman named Eutonah who lives in the mountains. Kayla learns that there are dozens of resistance groups who are organizing and hiding out in the Adirondack Mountains.

As the pressure to get the bar code tattoo intensifies, Kayla begins to see the lives of those who get the tattoo unravel. The parents of her best friend Amber, suddenly find their bar codes are no longer working and soon after they are without jobs and unable to purchase a home. Those who have worked hard and achieved success suddenly lose their jobs and homes while others see their economic status inexplicably improve overnight. Kayla knows that this has something to do with the bar code tattoo.

When the bar code tattoo is made law, Kayla arrives home to discover that her mother has been able to access her father's FBI profile and learns that genetic testing was done on him and that he had the genes for alcoholism and schizophrenia.

After spending a night with Zekeal, Kayla makes a shocking discovery about him and flees his apartment. Arriving at her home Kayla finds her mother distraught and now attempting to burn the tattoo off her wrist. In this confrontation with her mother, she learns the truth behind the bar code tattoo and what is happening at the hospital where her mother works. It turns out that Global-1 is murdering babies who are not genetically perfect and taking those who are and genetically altering them through transgenics. It is at this time that their house is set on fire and Kayla awakes to find herself in hospital, being prepped to be tattooed.

Kayla escapes and decides that she must make her way to the Adironadack's and to safety with the resistance groups hiding there. She manages to make it partway and connect up with Mfumbe who has also fled his home.But Zekeal and Nedra are not so willing to let Kayla escape and they pursue her into the mountains. This leads to a climatic confrontation. With Global-1 apparently holding all the cards, Kayla and Mfumbe must decide whether to hide in the mountains or go back and fight Global-1.

Weyn's short novel is an excellent book for reluctant readers with its high interest and action packed plot and its fast pace. At just over 200 pages The Bar Code Tattoo seems perfect for younger teens. There is some suggested sexual content in the Kayla and Zekeal's relationship but nothing overt.

The Bar Code Tattoo is timely because it deals with privacy issues in the electronic age. The story is set in 2025 and society has transitioned from debit cards to e-cards to the bar code tattoo which stores information about a person and allows them to function in society. In Weyn's book, the tattoo goes from being a fad to being something that is required in order to function in society. For example, Kayla cannot receive university scholarships nor her drivers license without the tattoo.

This ultimately raises the question of how much personal information should a government have access to? And who can access and use that information? What can this information be used for? Should individuals have a say in who accesses their personal information? In our age of debit cards and e-transactions, almost every personal transaction from purchasing groceries to where we travel, to our health records can be monitored. This gives whoever controls such information enormous power.

Weyn has created a strong character in Kayla, who is both determined and principled. While others around her tend to follow the path of least resistance, Kayla becomes determined not to get a bar code when the evidence increasingly points to a sinister motive behind the tattoo. She doesn't know how she will exist but she knows it will be with out the bar code. This is not without some conflict - Weyn doesn't present this as an easy choice for Kayla. She struggles and realizes to that to just get the tattoo would make her life much easier.

American author Suzanne Weyn has penned numerous novels including the popular Wildwood Stables and several contributions to Simon Pulse's Once Upon A Time series of fractured fairytales.

Book Details:
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
New York: Scholastic Inc.    2004
252 pp.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soldier Dogs by Maria Goodavage

Soldier Dogs tells the amazing story of dogs who serve in the United States military. Goodavage, a well known author who has written previously about dogs, provides readers with a detailed look into how military dogs are acquired, trained, and deployed along with their soldier-handlers in the military. As she leads us through this journey, she also provides more personal accounts of the dogs and their handlers.

Not many people know about dogs serving in the military. (I vaguely knew they existed but not much more.) These dogs receive no reward and no military honors for their service, despite the fact that their work is dangerous and despite continued pressure from veterans and from advocacy groups. Currently, dogs are considered equipment by the US military and equipment doesn't get honoured. But in 2010, U.S. military dog teams in Afghanistan located more than 12,500 pounds of explosives, saving numerous lives of both soldiers and Afghan civilians.

Interest in soldier dogs increased greatly after it became known that a Belgian Malinois was part of the SEAL Team Six which took out Osama bin Laden. Throughout history, dogs have been used in warfare as trackers, messengers, scouts, for protection, for sentry duty and also for attacking. Goodavage provides a brief history of the use of dogs by the military, including their use during the Vietnam War as sentry dogs. Dogs provided companionship during wartime. I know from my dad who served during World War II, having a dog helped ease the stress of war. He took in a stray and kept it during his time in England preparing for deployment to the continent.

Soldier Dogs begins by following Corporal Max Donahue and his dog, Fenji, a black German shepherd, who is walking point one hot August day in Safar, Afghanistan. They are part of coalition forces who are sweeping the area for insurgents and their bombs. As they walk along, leading the men from the Third Battalion First Marines, Fenji locates something of interest at the side of the road, sniffs the area and then her tail begins to way. She lies down and her handler praises her as he draws her away from the area. Fenji has just located an IED and this is her way of alerting to such a find. Its location marked, they move down the road to search for more bombs. On this day, Fenji will find three more roadside IEDs. Such is the life of a working military dog and her handler. It is a dangerous job and one in which at least seventeen handlers have died over last decade working in the Middle East.

Surprisingly, the United States military buys all its dogs overseas in Europe. This is because most of the best breeders are located in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. Stewart Hilliard, the military working dog (MWD) program manager at Lackland Air Force Base where dogs and handlers are trained, explains the different roles dogs have in the military and how the US procures its dogs. Dogs are evaluated on the basis of their health, environmental stability (how well a dog tolerates intense stimuli), and how much they desire to hunt for a ball. The latter trait is bred into them, as they are often hunting dogs. The most common breeds utilized by the military are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.

Once dogs arrive state-side, they must go through boot camp for dogs and then canine basic training. Dog school consists of first going through detection training, learning eight explosive scents. The next part is patrol training and training to bite. Not all dogs make it through patrol training. Goodavage discusses the training method used by the US military - which is mostly reward-based. For a job well done, military dogs receive much praise and a Kong toy which they are crazy for.

Military personnel go through an eleven week course on how to become a handler. The chapters on predeployment training are fascinating, not only because of the experiences described but also because of the unique people who co-ordinate the training. And that is one of the prime strengths of Goodavage's book. She had unprecedented access to military personnel for interviews and was able to view the training facilities and watch dogs and their handlers being trained.This up-close-and-personal perspective not only makes her book enjoyable but helps the ordinary person see the devotion and care that handlers have for their dogs and how the dogs in turn help the soldiers cope with the trauma of war.

Handlers must learn to provide medical aid.

Handlers and their dogs can take the Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 (IASK) Course at the Yuma Proving Ground where the climate and terrain are similar to many Middle Eastern countries where troops are deployed. Dogs and their handlers are exposed to raids, night operations and home made explosives. Dogs also learn to work off the leash, a valuable skill outside the wire.

There's a fascinating section of the book on canine physiology and behaviour. Another section deals with the special bond between dog and handler, a bond that sometimes transcends death. And of course what would a book on military dogs be without stories of dogs and their handlers. Many of these stories are heartwarming, some are terribly sad.

Maria Goodavage's Soldier Dogs. The Untold Story of American's Canine Heroes is a must read for those interested in the military and definitely for dog lovers. Well written and informative, with lots of attention to detail, this book is at times deeply touching with its stories of heroes - both human and canine. If anything, the reader will come away with a deeper respect for man's best friend and a better understanding of soldier dogs.

For more pictures and videos please visit Maria's website, Soldier Dogs and take time to visit the Bonus Features page.

Book Details:
Soldier Dogs. The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage
New York: Dutton 2012
292 pp.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Oddrey by Dave Whamond

 Oddrey is cute little girl, with her short black hair and her red and white striped tights. But Oddrey is a very different girl. She's unlike anyone else. Oddrey likes to do the unexpected and she doesn't mind being different. She likes blue apples and crazy hop-scotch games. While her classmates get "run-of-the mill" light-bulb ideas, Oddrey gets ideas so big and unusual, she needs a chandelier to represent them!
But sometimes being different and choosing your own path can be challenging. Oddrey wishes she had friends who are just like her. Despite her disappointment at being cast as a tree in her school play, Oddrey decides to be the best tree she can. When things go awry during the play though, Oddrey's creative approach saves the day. Afterwards, Oddrey isn't quite so odd anymore.

Canadian author-illustrator Dave Whamond is the winner of the 2011 Blue Spruce Award for My Think-A-Ma-Jink. His work has appeared in OWL, Chickadee, and National Geographic Award.

Oddrey is a delightful picture book, reminding us that each person is unique and special and that we all have gifts worth sharing. An ideal book for Reading Buddies programs, Oddrey is an Owlkids Books. Their website offers free Oddrey activity pages for children to enjoy.

Book Details:
Oddrey by Dave Whamond
Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Italian Canadian Internment in the Second World War by Pamela Hickman and Jean Smith Cavalluzzo

Most people are familiar with the internment Canadians of Japanese descent during the Second World War but not many know that Italian Canadians were also jailed or sent to internment camps. My family knows this first hand because of the experiences my mother's family had during the Second World War - which I explain further on in this post.

Hickman and Smith Cavalluzzo have written an informative and visually appealing book about the internment of Italian Canadians, incorporating personal photographs and testimonies, newspaper articles, historical photographs and many other primary sources.

This book provides a very methodical treatment of this topic by presenting first a history of Italian immigrants to Canada. "About 16 million Italians left Italy in the late 1800's and early 1900s to seek better lives." Many left Italy because increased taxes by the government to fund industrial development in the northern part of a newly united Italy, impoverished so many farmers they could no longer survive. These Italian immigrants like my grandfather, Pasquale Caiazzo, were single and young. They came to find a better life in Canada.

It then goes on to describe what life was like for Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. At this time, Canada was very much a homogenous country made up of predominantly British and northern European peoples. Canadian society at this time was not very accepting of the Italian immigrants who were so different culturally. Nevertheless, the Italian immigrants were hard-working, often employed in construction, farming, and mining. They also formed small communities within major cities such as Toronto, Halifax, Montreal and Hamilton. These communities were called "Little Italy" and served to help Italians preserve their warm, vibrant culture.

The authors describe what happened in 1922 when Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy and the country became a one party state - as fascist dictatorship. Mussolini was loved by many Italians because he brought law and order to a deeply divided and impoverished country where rural villages were often ruled by the Mafia.

During the 1930's Italy invaded Ethiopia and adopted many anti-Jewish laws. Adolf Hitler had watched and admired Mussolini for years. When Germany began its acts of aggression against Poland, Austria and eventually invaded France, Italy did nothing. To the dismay of many Italian Canadians, Italy eventually aligned itself with Germany.  Despite the fact that many Italian Canadians pledged allegiance to Britain and Canada, the Canadian government became suspicious of the Italian communities in Canada.

In 1940, after Italy's declaration of war on Canada, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King ordered that all Canadians of Italian origin  "whose activities have given ground for the belief or reasonable suspicion that they might in time of war endanger the safety of the state or engage in activities prejudicial to the prosecution of the war..." were to be interned.

Many Italian Canadians were treated terribly during the war. Families lost their sole breadwinner when the husband and father was taken away to a prisoner of war camp. Family members often lost jobs. Hickman and Cavalluzzo do an excellent job through the use of photographs, artwork, letters and interviews of capturing what it must have been like for these families. Many men felt they were sent to the camps simply out of spite and racial hatred, due to false accusations.

This book also looks at the effects the Italian internment had on the Italian community, and on individuals after the war was over. Many Italians lost their business, their friends, and were never offered any compensation by the Canadian government.

Based on the experience of my own family I know that Italian Canadians were treated badly during the late 1930s and 1940's.  My mother told me how her older sisters dyed their beautiful black hair blonde or red, changed their last names so that they could get work and how her parents refused to speak Italian in public.

If Italian Canadian Internment in the Second World War is missing anything it is the forgotten contribution of one Italian Canadian --  Quinto Martini, who happens to be my uncle and who was the first Italian Canadian elected to Parliament. My Uncle Quinto was involved in organizing textile labour unions in the city of Hamilton before the war. Quinto was arrested and interned during the Second World War mainly because he was Italian and also likely due to his labour activism. This despite having signed a declaration stating that he was faithful to the British government.

Quinto Martini was POW #720 and his record can be found here in a list of internees.Nicholas Zaffiro, who was interviewed for this book knew Quinto Martini through the Sons of Italy. Quinto Martini passed away in 1975. Quinto's internment caused considerable hardship for my Aunt Lucy who was expecting her third child that fall. With no money to support herself, a newborn and two small children, my Aunt Lucy was forced to go on welfare.

Following the Second World War, Quinto joined the Progressive Conservative Party and after a first unsuccessful bid, was elected to the House of Parliament, in 1957, representing Hamilton East, thus making him the first Italian Canadian elected to the House -- something I consider important enough to have merited his inclusion in Hickman and Cavalluzzo's book. During his second term, he served as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport.

For further reading:

Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens: Memories of World War II.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day 2012

Today is the day we remember those Canadians who fought in wars, served in our military in any capacity, and those who paid the ultimate price. To that end I will be reviewing two books by Canadian author, John Wilson, which were written for younger readers so that they might learn some history and understand some of the factors that led to the First and Second World Wars.

The first book, Desperate Glory: The Story of WWI explains how the Great War came about, how Canadians got involved, the famous battles, the air war - new to warfare, trench warfare, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the situation in Russia, and the Halifax Explosion. Students who use this book will have a good overall understanding of World War I. There are plenty of photographs and maps to help the reader understand and identify the areas of conflict, and Wilson's writing style is simple and readable.

Failed Hope: The Story of the Lost Peace details the interwar years from the signing of the devastating Treaty of Versailles in 1918, through the Roaring Twenties with Prohibition, the rise of Benito Mussolini and Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, and finally to the brink of war in 1939. Again Wilson makes great use of photographs to enhance the text.

While generally speaking this book provides a good overview of events that took place during the interwar years, Wilson does parrot the accepted view that "the Catholic and Protestant churches either supported the Nazis or folded when faced with any intimidation." Unfortunately, in a book about history for young people, author John Wilson has chosen to continue to perpetuate the myth of the Catholic church's silence and inaction when it came to Hitler's treatment of Jewish citizens and later on the Nazi's policy of extermination of an entire race of people.

It has now been well documented by historians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that the Catholic Church did much to help the Jewish people both in the interwar years and also during World War II. As an example, on "April 4, 1933, ten days after the Enabling Act, the Apostolic Nuncio in Berlin was ordered by Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli", then Vatican secretary of state, (who would later become Pope Pius XII), "to intervene with the government of the Reich on behalf of the Jews and point out all the dangers involved in an anti-Semitic policy." Pacelli, throughout the 1930's was regularly lampooned as "Pius XI's 'Jew-loving' cardinal because of the more than fifty-five protests he sent the Nazi regime while serving as Vatican secretary of state."  The above quotes are taken from Rabbi David G. Dalin's book, The Myth of Hitler's Pope.

Pope Pius XI also wrote Mit brennender Sorge, the 1937 anti-Nazi papal encyclical, which the Nazi's of course, ignored. Pope Pius XII concentrated on quietly saving lives, rather than speaking out and enraging the Nazis into taking retaliatory action against helpless citizens of occupied countries.

It should also be noted that many Catholics were also imprisoned, tortured and murdered and that there were notable Protestants such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Marga Meusel who strongly opposed Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp just weeks before the camp was liberated.

There is plenty of Canadian content including mention of Canada's growth as a leading exporter of pulp and paper and hydro-electric power, the Group of Seven painters and the Winnipeg general strike. This book is actually the third in a series, Stories of Canada.

Bitter Ashes: The Story of World War II follows Desperate Glory. I don't have a copy of the book so I'm unable to review it but based on the two books I've read these are overall good books, well written with lots of primary sources and excellent for providing background information for upper elementary and also high school students. As with many modern history books, students should question general statements made about religion and in particular the Catholic church.

Book Details:
Desperate Glory: The Story of World War I by John Wilson
Toronto: Dundurn Press

Failed Hope: The story of the lost peace by John Wilson
Toronto: Dundurn Press
116 pp.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Happened to Ivy by Kathy Stinson

David Burke's eleven year old sister, Ivy, suffers from cerebral palsy and is wheel chair bound. Everything in his family's life revolves around Ivy, who needs round-the-clock care. Things weren't always like this for David's family. His father, who is a Classics professor, used to take him to the museum. At the cottage he went fishing with his dad. But after Ivy began suffering from seizures following surgery at age eight, her deteriorating health has meant that David's life has changed drastically. Ivy now needs diapers and uses a wheelchair. His parents are consumed with all aspects of Ivy's care and she's due for another surgery to correct her spine soon.

All fifteen year old David wants is a normal life, where he can do things with his dad, where things don't always revolve around Ivy and maybe where he can even have a girlfriend some day. David begins a friendship with the new girl who's moved in across the street from him only three weeks earlier. Hannah is sweet and seems to like David and she's good with Ivy. David was worried Ivy would drive Hannah away but she seems to enjoy sharing David with Ivy.

When David's parents invite Hannah to come along on the family trip to the cottage David is thrilled. Up at the cottage though, David's father seems very stressed out. One day Hannah and David walk into town to get a few groceries, but when they return they find that Ivy has had an accident while swimming with her dad.

While dealing with his grief David discovers he must also deal with his guilt over Ivy. Many times David was resentful towards Ivy and the difficulties her disabilities created.
I loved Ivy, too. But I bet she didn't know it. Besides all the times I didn't speak up for her -- like today, which was nothing compared to sometimes -- there were the times I did worse than not speak up for her.
After Ivy's funeral people begin talking about what happened and there are rumours that Ivy's death was not as it seemed. Eventually David is confronted with the awful possibility that Ivy's death may not have been an accident when his father confesses one night to the family that he didn't try to save Ivy. As David considers this possibility he tries to reconcile what his father did with the care and comfort he gave Ivy throughout her life.
"Last night, was Dad trying to say he did what he did because he loved Ivy? How is that supposed to make sense? I'd sure never try to claim I fed her those worms because I loved her."
Among the questions David asks himself are, What makes a person's life worth living? And how do we know whether or not that life is a good one?
"Or was Ivy's life tougher than I ever let myself believe? How do you weigh crappy stuff like seizures and physio and people hardly ever understanding you, up against giggles and grins and just being happy with birds and pretty flowers and your sunhat and your turquoise bathing suit? How can anyone know whether someone else's life is worth living or not, especially if that someone can't tell you about it?"
David has an interesting discussion with his elderly neighbour, Will, who is now in a nursing home. When David tells Will that his father let Ivy die, Will tells him that he wished he had the courage to "do something for my Vera" implying that the courage is in mercy killing rather than helping that person live better.

But later on David questions this approach too. He recognizes that it is likely Ivy would have died eventually, if not in the lake, in the hospital - a place she hated. But he asks whether Ivy deserved to live life on her terms.
"But even if it was like that - and maybe it wasn't - did that make it okay for Dad to do what he did? To decide - whatever made him decide - that her life would now end? Sure, she's free of all the crap life handed her. But didn't she deserve more chances to splash in her bath and laugh at Shamus's tricks? To talk to the birds and east orange gummy bears?
In the end, David doesn't seem to know whether what his father did was right or wrong. When a witness comes forward to say that they saw what happened that day at the lake, David's father is taken in for questioning. So What Happened to Ivy ends with the question of Ivy's death unresolved.

This book attempts to address the thorny issue of mercy killing and does so reasonably well, but leaves the question open for the reader to decide. Predictably it leaves out the important point that there are usually options to murdering a person who is disabled and suffering. While Stinson does tackle the quality of life issue rather well, what is never discussed in the book are the options that might have helped Ivy's family cope with her overwhelming medical problems so that her father might not have considered doing what he did. It seems her family either didn't give this much thought or outright dismissed their options, as evidenced by the brief mention of putting her into a group home, which is immediately rejected by her mother.

This short novel closely parallels the story of Robert Latimer who was convicted of second degree murder in the death of his disabled daughter Tracy. Although Latimer served seven years of a ten year sentence, he maintains that his premeditated act of euthanizing his daughter by carbon monoxide poisoning was an act of love. Latimer was portrayed in the media as a loving father who did not wish to see his daughter continue to suffer. Similarly, David's father is portrayed as a caring father, so much so, that Hannah, whose father has abandoned her, refuses to believe that David's father did anything wrong.

In Canada there have been several recent incidents of mercy killing and not surprisingly, we see the case being made for the euthanizing of the severely disabled, those terminally ill, and the elderly. As the Council of Canadians with Disabilities writes, "murder is not mercy".

Book Details:
What Happened To Ivy by Kathy Stinson
Toronto: Second Story Press     2012
146 pp.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Catla and the Vikings by Mary Elizabeth Nelson

This juvenile historical novel focuses on two villages which are attacked by the marauding Vikings in the year 1066. During that year, according to the author's note at the back of the book, "there was a rebellion close to York, in Northumbria, not too far from Catla's village. The previous year, northern lords had ousted Tostig, brother to the King of England, from his position as Earl of Northumbria. In his anger, Tostig conspired against his brother by inviting the King of Norway to invade England and claim England's throne. The Norse king had already created trouble by proclaiming he was the legitimate heir to the throne.
That autumn, hundreds of Norse ships crossed the North Sea. Some of them sailed up the River Humber to York, where three great battles were fought. The invaders won the first two, but the English king won the third one, at Stamford Bridge, just outside of the city of York."

The fictional events that make up this novel occur just after the battle at Stamford Bridge in which Tostig was killed and King Harold saw his throne secured.
One day Catla is out on the headland above her village of Covehithe, walking and thinking of her impending betrothal to Olav, an older peddler. Catla doesn't really want to marry Olav, but she wants to please her parents too. On her way home, Catla sees smoke coming from her village and witnesses the attack on Covehithe by Vikings. Realizing that she cannot help her family or her village, Catla sets out on a journey to the nearest village, Aigber, on the banks of the Humber River, to seek help. Traveling by night, she stops at the standing stones to rest, before continuing onward. At the standing stones, Catla meets Sven, an older boy from her village on his way back from York. When Catla tells him about the attack, the two of set out on the final stage of the journey to Aigber.

But it turns out that the villagers of Aigber must also defend themselves from a Viking attack, after Catla and Sven sight the same Viking ship that attacked Covehithe, sailing up the Humber River. The village devises a plan to defeat the invaders and rescue Catla's village from certain captivity.

Catla and the Vikings is a well-paced historical fiction novel with an attractive cover illustration that will appeal to younger readers who like adventure and learning about history. The battle scenes are exciting without being gory and the final battle for Covehithe is filled with drama and tension. This novel is also a coming of age story, as Catla, who is only thirteen years old, makes the transition from childhood to being considered an adult member of her village. She does this by helping plan the attacks and also speaking her mind as to whether or not she wants to marry Olav.

Author Mary Elizabeth Nelson has worked as a teacher-librarian and also as a language arts teacher. I feel this novel would have benefited from a map showing the coastline and the situation of the two fictional villages as well as the journey Catla and Sven undertook. Not many juvenile books are illustrated these days, but this is one book that would have definitely benefited from the artwork of an accomplished illustrator.

For those young readers interested in the Vikings, another great read is Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Polland. Set in 9th century Ireland, Polland's wonderful novel tells the story of Ness, a young Christian girl captured by Beorn a Viking from Denmark, on his first raiding voyage. 

Book Details:
Catla and the Vikings by Mary Elizabeth Nelson
Victoria, B.C.: Orca        2012
183 pp.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mr. Zinger's Hat by Cary Fagan

"Well, Leo, I wonder why my hat took off like that. Maybe there is something inside it." Mr Zinger peered into the hat.
"What is it? What's inside the hat?" asked Leo.
He looked, too, but he didn't see anything.
"Ah, I see now," said Mr. Zinger. "It's a story.
A story trying to get out."
Little Leo likes to bounce his ball against the wall in the courtyard after school. He knows he's not suppose to disturb Mr. Zinger who walks around and around, because he's working on stories. But one day his ball bounces so high that it knocks Mr. Zinger's hat right off his head and right on to Leo's head. When Mr. Zinger gets his hat back he tells Leo that there is a story inside. Together the two of them discover just what that story is, with Mr. Zinger asking the leading questions and Leo using his imagination to create a story that is his very own.

Illustrated by Dusan Petricic, Cary Fagan's story is a play on the saying or idiom of "pulling something, (in this case, stories) out of a hat". Petricic's watercolours convey a range of wonderful emotions that help carry the story along. Cary Fagan is a noted Canadian author who writes books for children and adults. Great reading for children who are part of a writing club and where there will be a discussion of the storytelling or writing process.

Book Details:
Mr. Zinger's Hat by Cary Fall
Toronto: Tundra Books      2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Sixteen year old Radley Parker-Hughes was in Haiti volunteering at an orphanage when America was plunged into chaos and marital law. The American People's Party came to power and the new president has been assassinated. Against the advice of Monsieur Bellamy who runs the Paradis des Enfants orphanage Radley decides to fly home to the United States. But when she arrives in Philadelphia, her plane to Manchester, New Hampshire is delayed. When Radley finally arrives in Manchester, her parents are not at the airport to meet her. Without a working cell phone, no food and little money and uncertain as to what to do, Radley manages to get a ride to the bus station only to discover that she needs authorized travel papers to cross state borders.

When she tries to contact her parents, she finds their phone number not working. Not having any other options, Radley decides to walk from Manchester, New Hampshire to her home in Brattleboro, Vermont. She finds food in dumpsters along the way, and sleeps out in the woods along the highway. Unfortunately when Radley arrives home, her parents are not there. Fearing that they have been arrested and imprisoned, especially when the police continue to come to the house, Radley decides to leave and head north towards Canada. Canada, it appears, is largely unaffected by what is happening south of its borders and offers both safety and stability. Radley hopes that her parents have also traveled to safety in Canada and that she will meet them there.

Radley packs her backpack, takes whatever money she can find and sets out north walking along Route 5 towards the Quebec-Vermont border. It is during this journey that Radley sights another young woman and her dog, walking north. One rainy day Radley finds herself led by the dog to an abandoned silo where this same girl has hidden herself. The girl whose name is Celia is very ill and Radley takes the last of her money to buy medicine to help her. Celia and Radley continue there journey, largely uneventful into the small town of Sutton, Quebec. Because both are in the country illegally, they decide to hide in an abandoned farmhouse. Celia is not well and eventually Radley learns what is wrong with her. Surviving in the house is a day to day struggle but the girls are helped by an elderly woman they dub Our Lady of the Barn. Will Radley ever be able to go home? And if she does will she find her parents? Will life ever be the same again?

Safekeeping has an interesting format in that the story, narrated by Radley, is illustrated with over ninety black and white photographs taken by author Karen Hesse. These photographs serve to enhance the first person narrative, helping to establish both mood and setting. The sepia cover photo sets the initial atmosphere of the novel with it's rainy, rural location and a lone girl.

Safekeeping is a realistic survival story that centers on the themes of friendship, trust, and identity. It's not a particularly exciting read and gets bogged down in the middle when the two girls reach Canada. We learn a bit more about Celia but what we learn is not especially surprising and there isn't a great deal of suspense or action in the novel. In fact there's really not much to hold the reader's interest at this point and many will probably put the book down. However, those who are interested in a novel driven more by character rather than plot will enjoy Safekeeping. Radley not only makes a physical journey from America to Canada, but she also experiences a personal journey from that of a dependent teen whose parents have always made mistakes right to one who is self-reliant, mature and concerned for others.

"My parents never scold me about the frequency with which I lose things. They always just fix it for me, no matter how I screw up. I'm used to them just fixing it for me."

Hesse provides little backstory as to how the situation developed in the United States nor who exactly the American People's Party is. Everything happens at a distance mainly because the characters are the focal point of the story.

Overall, this is probably a book that younger teens might enjoy, with an element of dystopia, some mild adventure and lots of interesting themes to explore.

Book Details:
Safekeeping by Karen Hesse
Harrisonburg, Virginia: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company 2012
294 pp.