Saturday, August 31, 2013

Legend, Marie Lu

Title:  Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile
Year: 2011
Pages:  320
Genre:  Dytopian Science Fiction
Themes:  Oppression, Social Justice
Age Range:  8th Grade and Up

Summary:  from Goodreads
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets

I've read a lot of young adult dystopian fiction in the last couple of years, and like most genre literature it gets to be repetitive in nature.  Repetitive in theme, elements, character archetype.   But what I've come to realize over the years is that good fantasy and science fiction writers are like great chefs.  Two chefs can take the same basic ingredients and make equally satisfying variations on a similar theme.

I would call Lu an adequate chef.  I think that she does a decent job with the basic elements of dystopian fiction-government control of the population through lies and manipulation, characters who fight against that control, manufactured wars, etc...Having June and Day come from such different worlds allowed Lu to invite the reader into the worlds of both the powerful and powerless in the Republic, and proved important to the plot later on when June was able to use her access to help them escape from danger.  It is not a cookie cutter novel, much like the Twilight clones that came out during its heyday.  There are some decent discussion topics that could be developed from the plot, and the book definitely has some merit in comparing and contrasting it to other titles in this genre.  It is the start of a series, so if you are looking to hook a reluctant reader this book provides opportunities for further reading (Prodigy and Champion are the next two in the series).  Definitely a good choice for a classroom library.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bliss, by Lauren Myracle

Title:  Bliss
Author:  Lauren Myracle
Publisher:  Harry N. Abrams
Year: 2008
Pages:  444
Genre:  Horror
Themes:  Friendship, Good vs. Evil
Age Range:  9th Grade and Above

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a tony Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naïve Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted, naïve Bliss is happy to be friends with anyone. That’s not the way it has ever worked at Crestview, and soon Bliss is at the center of a struggle for power between three girls—two living and one long dead.
I read my first Stephen King book, Carrie, when I was in eighth grade.  It was scariest thing my 13 year-old self had ever read, but it was more than that.  King has a way of making his characters completely believable, even when they have completely unbelievable experiences or powers.  Obviously King was never a teenage girl, but you'd never know it from the way he wrote that character.  Her loneliness and confusion and rage and painful naivete were things I recognized in myself in some form or another.

Lauren Myracle achieves a similar feat in this novel, and in fact the plot is almost an homage to Carrie.  Bliss is a typical teenager in most ways, though her life on the commune certainly didn't prepare her to deal with the girl-culture of a 1970s prep school.  But she's smart and kind and determined to do he right thing, even when she's not entirely sure what that is.  She befriends the awkward, unliked Sandy, who starts out as a good friend to Bliss, but becomes more and more needy and creepy over time.  Sandy is communicating with the ghost of a long dead witch, who convinces her that a blood sacrifice is necessary for Sandy to get revenge on all of the people who've tormented her.  When Bliss decides to help the most popular girl in school, Sarah Lynn and her African American boyfriend be together, she unwittingly provides the spark that pushes Sandy into action.

Malevolent is not too strong a word to describe the tone of this book.  Bliss's character is torn between wanting to be a friend to Sandy, and being scared of her.  And Sandy herself is afraid of the ghost character as much as she is drawn to her.  But it's not just the supernatural characters that are scary.  Between the mean girl culture and racism the book has plenty of emotional tension.  This is a perfect book for teens who love to be scared, and would make a great addition to a classroom library.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Everlost, Neal Shusterman

Title:  Everlost
Author:  Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Year:  2006
Pages:  313
Genre:  Fantasy
Themes:  Hero's Quest
Age Range:  6th-9th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Nick and Allie don't survive the car accident...
...but their souls don't exactly get where they're supposed to get either. Instead, they're caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It's a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost children run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.

When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost kids, Nick feels like he's found a home, but allie isn't satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the "Criminal Art" of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.

Love love love Neal Shusterman!  I think that his stories are always so creative and interesting, and after hearing his speak about his process at a conference in the spring, I have a pretty healthy respect for his imagination.  Unwind was one of the best young adult books I read in the last few years.  Everlost has the same inventiveness, and a great sense of heart.  The idea of souls existing in an alternate state, separate from the world of the living while still being able to observe, is not a new one.  But Shusterman adds some new twists, like the fact that only children stay behind, or that some places are so important that they continue to exist in Everlost even after they are destroyed.  The most emotional moment for me as an adult reader was when Allie and Nick discovered the World Trade Center towers in the New York skyline.  Over time, I think that younger readers will lose the sense of what that really means, but for me it was such a beautiful thought-that the emotional impact of the Trade Center towers was so strong that they will exist forever in more than just our memories.

What I really liked about the story was that unlike lots of ghost stories, what made this story scary was not monsters (thought there were some) or violence (though there was a little bit).  What was scary was the idea that living in Everlost caused you to lose your identity.  The longer you're there, the more you forget about yourself, and you fall into routines that create weeks and years and decades and centuries that are exactly the same, day after day after day!  Also, the whole "sink to the center of the earth" thing was pretty scary for this claustrophobic person to think about!

The end of this book sets up a conflict between two of the main character, Mary and Nick, that resembles a typical good vs. evil dynamic, but it more true to life, in that each person is acting out of what they think is best for the other "Afterlights", as the children living in Everlost are called.  The twist-they love each other as much as they disagree about the true nature of Everlost.  I am curious to see how Shusterman resolves the storyline, and whether Allie and Nick and the rest of the Afterlights ever get to that white light at the end of the tunnel.