“I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought. Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired. I mustn't forget, I'm alive, I know I'm alive, I mustn't forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that.”
-Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine


Friday, November 30, 2012

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of classic scary stories collected from various folklore and then retold by Alvin Schwartz.  This creepy book even includes various urban legends, such as the babysitter being called from inside the house, and the man with the hook. Although Alvin Schwarz’s prose is certainly simple, it does not diminish the creep factor in the slightest. Adding to the effect are the awesomely gruesome illustrations, by Stephen Gammell, that accompany every story.  Although the reading level is certainly appropriate for upper elementary school students, this book has some stories that even creeped me, a 25 year old, out. Reader beware, spooky and gruesome stories inside!  

Anything But Typical by Nara Raleigh Baskin

Anything but Typical details the life and struggles of Jason Blake. Jason, we find out,  has been diagnosed as autistic. Jason tries desperately to make life easier for his parents and teachers, but things seem to keep going wrong. Jason loves his computer and especially his time on the Storyboard website, a place for writing stories and fan-fiction. When Jason starts exchanging messages with a girl his age, he thinks he has finally found a real friend, but chaos is always right around the corner.
            This is a great novel for people who are trying to better understand what it is like to be autistic. The reader is privy to Jason’s candid thoughts and feelings, making the mystery of autism a little more understandable. This novel is well written and entertaining; you really get a feel for the characters and what they are going through. 

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith   is a non-fiction book about Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. It catalogues Darwin’s struggle with faith, as well as much of his life and work. It is an in-depth look at Charles’ and Emma’s relationship and romance as well as the reception and development of Darwin’s theories.
            I will be honest--I had a hard time with this book. Although the subject matter is interesting, I found the writing to be lacking. The text was a bit disjointed and it didn’t flow as smoothly as most biographies I have encountered. Although it is incredibly informative, it is dry in parts and as I said, I had a hard time getting through it. This book is appropriate for junior high students, especially those interested in science and evolution.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is the story of a young boy, Jonas, who is just coming of age in a society highly regulated by the government. The council controls every aspect of the inhabitant’s lives, including assigning jobs and controlling emotions, all under the guise of equality. Jonas has the startling assignment of receiver, a position that is shrouded in mystery. Under the wise direction of the Giver, Jonas begins to understand the implications the society’s rules have on its inhabitants.
            The Giver is a well thought out and intriguing novel. Lowry’s first installment of The Giver quartet will leave the reader pondering the benefits and downsides to total government control. Jonas’ struggle to overcome a system that has shaped his entire life is both engaging and heart wrenching. This book is suited for upper elementary school kids and junior high students. 

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Kira’s life is meager and simple. As the book opens, Kira’s mother has died and she is struggling to find her place in a village that looks down upon her and her crippled leg. Kira has always had a knack for embroidery, and when the council in the village see this they commission her to repair a ceremonial robe. Even though Kira’s life improves, she is now privy to the secrets that town council hides. As her skills grow, Kira becomes more aware of some lurking power that allows her to thread the future into her cloth.
            Gathering Blue is book number two in The Giver Quartet. Although this novel seemingly has nothing to do with The Giver, it is set in the same place a number of years after Jonas’ escape. Lowry’s portrayal of strong willed Kira reflects the same depth and beauty as seen in The Giver. This is a great novel that leaves you wanting to know more about the inhabitants of this strange world. This book is ideal for upper elementary and junior high school students. 

Messenger by Lois Lowry

Messenger is the tale of Matty, Kira’s friend from her original village. Matty lives in a village that is a refuge from the harsh surrounding villages with a man named Seer.  Matty is the unofficial messenger for the town as well as the communities surrounding. Very few people manage to go into the dark forest around the village without the forest attacking them. For some reason Matty is able to continually go in and out of the forest with no repercussions. As the people of his town are slowly infiltrated by the foreboding figure Trademaster, Matty is charged with telling the surrounding communities that they will be longer be accepting people into their once friendly village.
            Messenger is book number three in The Giver quartet. Matty is a great character that readers will think very fondly of.  The inclusion of characters in The Giver and Gathering Blue will be a delight and relief to readers. Lowry’s characteristic rich description and masterful story telling will leave the readers anxious to learn of the fate of sweet Matty and his friends. This book is great for upper elementary and junior high students. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Son by Lois Lowry

Son, Lois Lowry’s final novel in The Giver quartet, follows the travels of Gabe’s birth mother, Claire. Once her escape from the oppressive community is secured, Claire, who is lost at sea during a fierce storm, arrives on the shores of a small community nestled on the base of daunting cliffs. Although most of Claire’s memories are faint, she does remember the pain of her son being ripped from her shortly after his birth. As she slowly becomes a beloved part of this new community, Claire becomes and more and more determined to find her son. Although the community is safe and friendly, the cliffs keep the inhabitants from leaving; no one has dared leave except a mangled young shepherd who has graciously offered his knowledge to help Claire leave. As Claire embarks on her journey she encounters a strange figure who will trade the knowledge of where her son is for her youth.
            There have been a lot of reviews out there that say that Lowry has done a disservice to her readers by answering all the questions posed in The Giver and the following novels. I would have to disagree. Son is a beautifully told novel that has characters and problems with depth and brilliance. Lowry once again has outdone herself  by snaring the reader with issues that are both relatable and intriguing. Son is incredibly well written, and Lowry ties the four books together seamlessly. This dystopian novel would be great for junior high and upper elementary students. 

The Tombs of Atuan

The  Tombs of Atuan is the second book in the Earthsea Cycle. Set on a remote island ruled by the foreboding Nameless Ones, we find our protagonist Arha. Arha at the young age of six has been dedicated to the service of The Nameless Ones. Although Arha takes her role seriously, she is still a young child who is confused and frightened by the task before her. Arha is the only one on the island who is allowed to move freely about the labyrinths beneath the settlement; there the prisoners of The Nameless Ones are kept to die a slow and painful death. As Arha’s only friend and confidant dies, our hero Ged appears on the island in search of half of a ring that will save Earthsea.
            Tombs of Atuan is a great science fiction fantasy book with rich, detailed descriptions that are frankly down right terrifying at times. Arha is a vivid character who plays the role of  faithful and solemn servant as well as bright eyed child equally well. Le Guin does a fantastic job of tying Ged’s quest into Arha’s struggles. This book would be appropriate for high school students.  

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins has been voted the kid most likely to receive the death penalty in his school. When Bronte starts to show interest in Bruiser, it is no wonder that her twin brother Tennyson doesn’t approve. As the twins become closer to Bruiser, they realize how entangled in his life they will really be, whether they want to or not.  Tennyson soon realizes that Bruiser has the uncanny ability to take on the pain of those he cares about. As Bronte and Tennyson begin to understand this power and see how desperate a situation Bruiser is in with his abusive uncle, they feel compelled to help him.
            This is a great combination of science fiction and contemporary literature. Bruiser, Tennyson, and Bronte have a great dynamic that keeps the dialogue and plot interesting. Shusterman is true to his style of well thought out and compelling characters as well as plot. I really liked this book. This book would be best suited for later middle school to high school. 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin  details the struggles of Sparrowhawk, a restless young boy who discovers his uncanny wizarding abilities amidst the poverty he is born into. As news of Sparrowhawk’s power spreads, the wise wizard  Ogin comes to take Sparrowhawk under his wing and help him with his training. There Sparrowhawk learns his new name, Ged, and begins to see the extent of his powers. As Ged develops, he decides to leave the comfort of Ogin’s care to study at the renowned school of wizadry. Once there, Ged in a fit of anger calls forth a spirit from the beyond that begins to stalk him relentlessly. In the following books, Ged struggles to rid himself from the monster, as well as develop his powers.
            This is one of those great books that would probably be categorized under fantastical science fiction. Le Guin creates a world of magic that is based in natural principles and the science of the world the wizards inhabit. The narrative is engaging and lively; Le Guin could certainly be compared to Tolkien in her vivid descriptions of scenery and action. This book is best suited for high school students.

Payback Time by Carl Deuker

Mitch wants nothing else but to write for the school paper. When the new editor assigns him to be the head of the sports section, Mitch, dubbed the Michelin Man because of his weight by his classmates, is anything but thrilled.  Despite his initial hesitancy, Mitch soon becomes wrapped up in sports, as well as in the sports photographer, Kimi. Although Mitch has been directed to focus his writing on Horst Diamond by the football coach, another player, Angel, catches his eye.  Angel has transferred to Mitch’s school and is quickly becoming the star player, but there is an air of mystery surrounding this golden boy, and Mitch is determined to get the bottom of it.
            This is a great sports novel that is also a bit of a mystery. The character Mitch is a great narrator and his struggles will resonate with high school and junior high school students alike. Deuker’s character development is believable and interesting; this is a great book for hesitant boy readers who need a little action to get them hooked. 

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos is preparing himself for a summer of baseball and lounging when he gets in trouble for mowing down his mom’s cornfield and shooting off his dad’s Japanese rifle. Jack, instead of spending time with friends, is commissioned to help his neighbor Ms. Volker , who is crippled by arthritis, write obituaries for the quickly diminishing population of Norvelt.  As more and more originally founders of Norvelt die off, Jack becomes suspicious of the causes.
            This Newbery winner is a delightful tale of a small town and the people in it. Jack’s character is vibrant and funny. His relationship with Ms. Volker is endearing, and the mystery surrounding the town keeps you interested.  The narrative is both humorous and relatable. This book would be great for middle school or high school students. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda, the main character of When You Reach Me, is a sixth grader who lives with her mother in New York City. Miranda starts the book by explaining that the story she is telling is being told for a mysterious stranger who has been leaving her notes; he has requested that she tell the story of her sixth grade year. As the book progresses, Miranda puzzles over the mysterious notes, the abrupt end to her relationship with her best friend Sal, as well as the curious boy Marcus who seems to continually be in the periphery.
            This is a great story. The underlying mystery keeps you wanting more, while Miranda’s relationship with her mother and schoolmates allows the reader to feel connected to her and her struggles. Miranda’s fascination with A Wrinkle In Time and time travel provides the reader with much to contemplate. I loved this book and would recommend it for any middle schooler who likes science fiction or contemporary fiction. 

Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Winter Girls is the story of Lia and her struggle with anorexia. Lia’s best friend Cassie has just recently died from the effects of her anorexia; this incident throws Lia into a cycle of avoiding food, exercising compulsively, and lying to her parents. The narrative is through Lia’s journal where the reader is privy to her justifications and thoughts about Cassie’s death, as well as her communication with what she assumes is Cassie’s ghost.  As the novel progresses Lia continues to follow Cassie deeper into her disease, with disastrous results.
            Winter Girls is very well written, and I loved the journal format. The characters are well developed and the reader is able to understand where Lia is coming from. This book is very good, but it is incredibly depressing. If you are looking for something light, I suggest you look elsewhere. As you would assume, this book has some content--there are instances of self –harm, drug abuse, and other destructive behaviors. My thought on this is that it makes the book believable and also helps the reader to understand what someone who suffers with anorexia goes through; it is certainly justified.  There is also a fair amount of language in this book. Winter Girls would be great for high school students. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Hope Was Here is a story about a young girl named Hope and her aunt who move from bustling New York City to small town Wisconsin. There they help run the Welcome Stairways Diner. The owner of the diner, G.T., decides shortly after their arrival to run for mayor against the town's current devious and greedy incumbent. With the help of Hope and her new friends from school, and  her new love interest Braverman, G.T’s campaign has a fighting chance against the slimy Eli Millstone.
 I will be honest, Hope Was Here made me cry. Not just the normal shed a tear for the characters in the book, but a full out bawl for Hope and her little family. This is a wonderful book that has great approachable and relatable characters. The plot is engaging and you feel genuinely invested in the characters' lives. This book would be great for middle schoolers.  

Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Unwholly by Neal Shusterman is the second book in the Unwind trilogy, Unwholly is a startling book. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view and the insight you get from each of these perspectives provides a depth to this book that makes it unlike many other dystopian novels. The story follows a group of teens who have escaped the fate of being unwound-their organs and limbs removed and donated to save other people. In this society parents have the option to “unwind” their children if they no longer want them. This rag-tag group of kids who have escaped are on a mission to change the laws of their society.
I absolutely loved this book. Specifically the character of Cam resonated with me. Shusterman’s comments on identity and consciousness through this character make it an ideal book for use in the classroom. This book had me on the edge of my seat half the time and in deep thought the other half. For days after I read it I thought about the implications of this novel and how it connected to my life. It is a great dystopian read and appropriate for late middle school to high school readers. Reader be warned, Unwholly has vulgar language as well as a fair amount of violence.