Monday, July 6, 2009

If I Stay

If I Stay
Gayle Forman

It was such an easy decision – a snow day – a trip out with the family to visit friends. A decision that ends three lives and puts the fourth in jeopardy. Mia loves being with her family, they are close-knit – her parents are what people my age would call “cool.” But on this snowy day, there is an accident. Somehow Mia’s consciousness is thrown from her body and she wanders around the accident site, noticing the bodies of both her parents. She cannot find her brother Teddy, but after the rescue workers arrive they mention him so she thinks he will be ok.

Mia travels along with her body, first to the local hospital and then to the Trauma Center in Portland. Although she is aware that her parents are dead, she is dispassionate about it, and disconnected from what’s going on around her. Eventually she becomes aware of the fact that Teddy too is dead and although her grandparents and friends are still alive and desperately want her to get better, Mia becomes aware that whether she lives or dies is her choice. Fairly unemotional at first, as it gets closer and closer to her having to make a decision, she becomes more aware of the ramifications of the actions.

In the quiet corner of the ICU I start to really think about the bitter things I’ve managed to ignore so fare today. What would it be like if I stay? What would it feel like to wake up an orphan? To never smell Dad smoke a pipe? To never stand next to Mom quietly talking as we do the dishes? To never read Teddy another chapter of Harry Potter? To stay without them? I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.

Mia has to decide – does she want to stay, when those who matter most have already gone?

This was a wonderful afternoon read. It’s very different emotionally from the other tear-jerker I read this weekend, Would You, but I really liked it. Most review sources have it recommended for high school and I would agree with that assessment, although I think mature eighth graders would enjoy it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Would You?

Would You
Marthe Jocelyn

It’s just a normal summer – Claire’s last summer before she goes away to college. Her sister Natalie is spending her days working as a lifeguard at the pool, and her nights hanging out with her friends. Natalie’s isn’t happy about Claire’s imminent departure (“We’ve been sharing a room since I was born. How can our life be reduced to occasional weekends?”) And then in one moment, her world changes. She arrives homes one evening to find out that Claire has been hit by a car. She’s in a coma, and nobody knows if she will be ok.

It must be first understood that I rarely cry while reading a book, so the tears rushing down my cheeks were a shock. Natalie’s love for Claire and her knowledge that her life has been changed forever just broke my heart. I must say that I really appreciated that this was not a lesson book. Claire’s accident is just that – an accident and was not caused by drinking or drugs, or anything else could be used to preach to teenagers. Because of this, Jocelyn can spend her time focusing on the effects the accident has on Claire’s family and the choices they have to make. I recommend this one to anybody who loves tear jerkers.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan

Mary and all those who live in her village are surrounded by the forest. Not any forest but the Forest of Hands and Teeth. The forest out of which the Unconsecrated relentlessly attack the fence that surrounds the village, the fence that protects the villagers. Mary’s father has disappeared, and it is assumed that he was bitten, that he has now become one of the Unconsecrated. Mary’s mother waits by the fence, determined that her husband will return to her, but he doesn’t, and one day she gets too close and gets bitten. She is given a choice – be killed immediately or to become one of the Unconsecrated and be cast out of the village. Because she hopes that she will find her husband, she chooses the latter, and Mary, who cannot bear to leave her until the end, has to watch her mother die, knowing she will turn into a horrible, flesh-eating monster.

Mary’s brother is so upset by what has happened that he turns against her and tells her to join the Sisterhood, a group of unmarried women who live in the Cathedral, direct the villagers in their faith in God, and hold many of the secrets behind what has happened to the village. Mary has lost her faith in God, but she has no choice but to go to the Sisters. As part of her duties, she nurses the fiancĂ© of her best friend and falls in love with him. As it is obvious to the head Sister that Mary doesn’t belong among them, eventually Mary is offered the chance to marry – not to the man she loves but to his brother. Mary is torn, she feels as though she has no good option, but before any wedding occurs, the village is attacked and the fence is breached. Mary and just six others escape while the rest of the village is destroyed by the Unconsecrated. Now they must follow a narrow path surrounded by a fence, trying to find a place where they can be safe.

It is obvious from the first sentence that Carrie Ryan is a wonderful writer, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a hauntingly beautiful book. It is also dark and sad but I absolutely could not put it down. It is the first book in a trilogy, and it will be difficult to wait until spring when the next volume is available.

I do have one question for the author. This book is set on Earth in the future after some sort of apocalyptic event that has caused the zombies to be created. Because there is an old cathedral in the village and there was once an old vineyard there, I would have guessed that the book is set somewhere in Europe, perhaps in France. However, at one point Mary finds an old page from The New York Times, implying that the setting is the former United States. I would love to know where she planned for the book to take place.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is on the middle school portion of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award 2009 – 2010 list.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Stephen Krensky
School library copy

I have really mixed emotions about this book, so I debated about whether or not to review it. I decided to go head and write the review because it does allow me to address some issues I have with much of the high interest nonfiction that is available.

I chose to read Zombies because, although I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and can tell you a lot about vampires, I know next to nothing about zombies. Since two of the books nominated for the middle school portion of the North Carolina Young Adult Book Awards deal with zombies (The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Zombie Blondes), I decided to learn a little about the creatures before I tackled these books. And I must say that I did learn a few things about zombies, things that will enable me to talk about them in a reasonably coherent fashion when I’m doing monster booktalks this October.

As I stated earlier, I did have issues with several aspects of this book. First of all, it really isn’t very well written. I understand that the reading level is fairly low (grade 5.7 according to the publisher’s website) but does easy-to-read have to mean poorly written? Many of the sentences are short and choppy and I don’t think the book as a whole flows very well.

The author also includes a section that summarizes a number of books and movies that have zombies. Whereas some of the books he mentions are appropriate for the target age range (grades 4-7), others were written with more of an older young adult to adult audience (such as Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series). Also, many of the movies that mentions (for example, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later) are R-rated and thus inappropriate for the book’s age range.

My final issue with the book is one that is true for many of the high interest books that are available today. I don’t care for the book’s page layout – I find it confusing. Miscellaneous fact boxes and picture captions that don’t directly deal with the topic on the page interrupt the narrative. For example, in the introduction to voodoo section, there is a picture of a man, presumably in Haiti, riding a pony. The caption reads, “Haiti was once covered by a lush, tropical rain forest. European settlers cut most of the trees to make way for farms.” Now what does that have to do with voodoo or zombies?

Will I booktalk this book? Probably, because it is one of only two nonfiction books I have about zombies. Will students like it? Yes, because they will be interested in the topic. Would I purchase it again now that I have read it? Honestly, I don’t know. It does fill a niche in my library, but I just wish it were a better book.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Elephant Run

Elephant Run
Roland Smith
Copy from school library

After the London apartment in which Nick Freestone lives with his mother and stepfather is bombed during World War II, Nick is sent to live with his father in Burma. Unfortunately, by the time he arrives at his father’s teak plantation, it is obvious that the Japanese are going to take over the country. Nick’s father is determined to get Nick out of the country and to safety in Australia, but before that can happen, the Japanese arrive and take everyone captive. Nick’s father is sent to a work camp, along with the most trusted of his mahouts (men who train and work with the elephants on the plantation). Nick is left to be a servant to the Japanese occupiers. He is determined to escape and to rescue his father. A Burmese girl, Mya, is left an orphan when her father is murdered by the Japanese and she also wants to escape and rescue her brother, one of the mahouts now forced to work on a railroad being built by the Japanese. Nick and Mya do have some help – Mya’s great-grandfather who just might be able to make the attempt a success.

Like all of Roland Smith’s books, Elephant Run is action-packed. I do have a few quibbles about it, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The quibbles: First, Smith focuses on the points of view of two characters, Nick and Mya, but there were times that I had trouble moving from one point of view to the other. My second quibble deals with the way Smith teaches the reader about the region and the time period. It is obvious that most of his readers will come to this book with little knowledge of Burma, the Japanese invasion of the country, and of elephant training so Smith has a lot of information to get across. It does feel like in certain places it’s almost as if he’s saying, “OK, here’s a little lesson for you about . . .” and after a paragraph or so then proceeds with the narrative.

Despite these quibbles, I was really drawn to the book. The almost non-stop action helped, as did my interest World War II. I also really liked the characters and cheered for them as they faced such terrible odds in their attempt to escape and free their family members. I loved the sections with the elephants and enjoyed learning about them. I think this will be a great book for my middle school boys – especially those in 7th grade who study Asia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Carl Hiaasen
Copy from the school library

Noah Underwood’s father, Paine, has gotten into trouble before but this time takes the cake. Paine is certain that the owner of a floating casino is flushing his toilets directly into the water, polluting the marina and nearby beaches. He cannot prove anything because the owner, Dusty Muleman, seems to have an inside source that tips him off whenever the Coast Guard is about to have an unannounced inspection. Paine decides to take matters into his own hands by sinking the casino. He’s promptly arrested and it isn’t long before the boat has been raised and the casino is back in business. It’s now up to Noah and his little sister Abbey to prove that Dusty’s actions are threatening the beaches.

I really enjoyed this book. Hiaasen has a strong environmental message, but his books never seem overly preachy, partly because he injects a lot of humor in them. I also really liked the characters in Flush. I wouldn’t say that his characters have a lot of depth, but they’re quirky and fun. This is a title on the 2009 -2010 Battle of the Books list and I think the students at my school are going to enjoy it.