Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Chosen One

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra’s life has always been ordered and planned. Afterall, she is a Chosen One – a member of a polygamous cult who is led by a man called the Prophet. Her father has three wives which is not all that many – her uncle Hyrum has six wives. There are twenty children in Kyra’s family with two more on the way. Her family, large though it is, is close-knit and loving.

Kyra has a streak of rebellion in her (although she doesn’t really think of it as rebellion). She has a secret (kissing only) relationship with a teenage boy who lives at the same compound and she surreptitiously visits the local bookmobile. Books are forbidden in the group but each week she checks out one and hides it in a tree. Joshua has said he wants to Choose her, to marry her and Kyra’s thrilled. So she is devastated when the prophet comes to visit and tells her that she must marry her Uncle Hyrum, a man who is 60 years old. Even though her father tries to get the marriage prevented, he is unsuccessful and both Krya and Joshua are horribly beaten when Joshua asks to marry her instead. It becomes increasingly clear that escape is going to be her only option, but escape means giving her family forever. Escape is also not guaranteed to succeed – it could also result in her death.

I enjoyed this book, although I found it to be a little too dramatic at times. Williams does a good job of showing that though these polygamous groups are dangerous because of their potential for abuse, not everyone within them is abused or miserable. Kyra may have strict mothers, but the children are well loved and her father is attentive and loving to all of his children. I think this book will be in high demand from my eighth graders, to whom I plan to booktalk it as soon as Christmas break is over.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost

Sarah Zarr

It appears to Sam that everything in her life is broken down. Sam’s father is a pastor, her beautiful but fragile mother is an alcoholic who has had to go to rehab after a DUI. Even though their church is quite successful, money is tight, so tight that every time their credit card is used, they breathe a sigh of relief when it goes through. The world around Sam is broken down too – the town is suffering from a massive heat wave and both the air conditioning and her ceiling fan are broken. The plants outside that her mother had planted are dying. The heat is oppressive, suffocating.

And then the unthinkable happens. A thirteen-year-old girl in Sam’s church is kidnapped. Sam’s father becomes the family’s spokesman and encourages Sam to go and stay with her friends until the crisis is over. Sam resists but ultimately agrees to go for a short time. As the search for Jody continues, the likelihood of her being found diminishes and Sam’s faith flounders.

I honestly don’t think I can do a better job of reviewing this book than Liz Burns did over at Tea Cozy so I’m not going to try. Liz hits all the important points and I’m only mentioning the title here because there may be some people not familiar with her blog (her blog is probably my favorite literature blog). I found the book to be beautifully written, with lots of possibilities for discussion with literature circles or book clubs.

Monday, December 21, 2009

One of the Survivors

One of the Survivors

Susan Shaw

Joey and Maureen were the lucky ones. The fire alarm had been constantly going off that day at school. Each time the intercom would come on, telling everyone that they were testing the new alarm system. But the last time it goes off, the intercom message is fuzzy. Mr. Austen is annoyed by the interruptions to his class and he tells everyone to ignore the alarm again. But Joey can’t. His mother died the previous year in a fire, and he and his best friend are the only people in the class to defy their teacher and evacuate their classroom. They are also the only ones to survive the fire that kills everyone else.

Needless to say, Joey is traumatized by the whole thing. Afraid to be in his house and harassed by those who blame him for the fire (looking for someone to blame, he and Maureen became the natural, albeit innocent, scapegoats) Joey cannot get past what has happened to him. There are those, however, who can and do help him get over the trauma.

I have read two books by Susan Shaw and I think that she has “child who is traumatized by terrible event that has happened” down pat. I especially love Joey’s father who is patient and loving and everything a father needs to be in such a terrible situation. Overall I enjoyed this book, but it’s a quiet book and so won’t appeal to those who feel the need to have action on every page.

The copy that I reviewed came from my school library.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Let It Snow

Let it Snow
Maureen Johnson, John Green, Lauren Myracle

It started snowing in North Carolina Friday and I figured this would be the perfect book to read while watching the snow (and if I have to wait until the next snowfall it might be a few years :-) This is a series of three stories, all set in a small town in North Carolina during a blizzard. Maureen Johnson writes about a girl whose parents have been arrested in a riot over a Christmas village piece who is going to Florida to stay with her grandparents when her train crashes into a snowbank. When she ends up in a Waffle House with a bunch of cheerleaders, a boy from town rescues her. The story has all of charming Maureen Johnson quirkiness to it without being too absurd. I loved it.

John Green then takes over with a road trip story -- a road trip to the same Waffle House with the cheerleaders. But that quest to find love may in the long run turn out to have a satisfying conclusion right beside you. This story has John Green written all over it, indeed I was reminded several times of characters from Paper Towns. Green's voice is strong throughout the story.

Lauren Myracle's story focuses on a girl who is despondent because she cheated on her boyfriend and is remorseful and wants him back. Addie is perhaps the hardest character to like because she's fairly self-centered (and is reminded of that several times through the story) but I will say in her self-centeredness she is a typical teenage girl. She does grow in the story and characters appear from the other two stories to give a sense of connectedness.

This is a great, fun Christmas-time read, especially if these are authors you enjoy. Overall I did enjoy the book and may read it again next Christmas.

I purchased the copy of Let it Snow that I reviewed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Declaration

The Declaration

Gemma Malley

It is the future. An incredible thing has happened. Disease has been cured and a drug that will extend life forever has been discovered. Sounds like paradise, but there’s one hitch. With nobody dying the world is becoming overpopulated and running out of resources. So the Declaration is created. People have a choice – take the Longevity drug and never die, or Opt Out and have children. Pretty much everyone chooses not to die, but there are a few that rebel and have children anyway. If the children are captured (and they are almost always captured), they are considered Surplus and are sent to live in Grange Hall where they are trained to be servants for those who are legal. These children are treated horribly and are brainwashed to think that they should never have been born.

Anna had been at Grange Hall longer than any other child. She is determined to become a Valuable Asset in someone’s home. But then a new Surplus shows up. Peter is unusual because he was not captured as a young child, and he refuses to submit to the brainwashing and abuse that the other children take for granted. He quickly ingratiates himself to Anna and tells her that he knows her real parents and he has been sent to help her escape and take her to them. Anna is not inclined to believe him or even to care about her parents (after all they are terrible people for breaking the law and having her) but when it becomes apparent that the head mistress of Grange Hall is going to have Peter murdered, she decides to help him escape and to leave with him.

I’ve read a lot of books in which children are treated badly – whether it’s from child abuse or neglect or from addictions on the parts of the parents. The Declaration, however, is different. In this book the mere existence of the children is treated as despicable. People are willing – even eager – to trade the existence of children, a natural and good part of the life cycle, for the opportunity to live forever (certainly an unnatural thing). The abuse and brain-washing that Anna suffers was very painful for me to read.

This is certainly a compelling read, and I’m eager to read the second book in the series. It’s a great choice for anyone who loves dystopian fiction.

The copy of the book that I read was from my school library.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

this world we live in

this world we live in

Susan Beth Pfeffer

The only color I know now is gray, the gray of ash and dirt and sadness.

It’s been less than a year since everything changed, less than a year since hunger and darkness and death have become so commonplace, but I couldn’t remember what life – life the way I used to know it – had been like. I couldn’t remember blue. (p. 2, ARC)

Yesterday I checked my mailbox at school just before I left for the day and discovered an ARC of this world we live in. My plans to finish decorating my house for Christmas quickly flew out the window because the rest of my evening was spent devouring the book (I have a very understanding husband who even cooked dinner so that I could read).

this world we live in begins about a month after Miranda’s last entry in Life as We Knew It. While finally the family is beginning to receive food every week from the government, they are very aware that eventually the food will run out. Because the world outside is finally beginning to thaw, Matt and Jon decide to walk to the Delaware River (about 15 miles away) to fish for shad and hopefully bring enough back to supplement their diet for a while. Not only do they bring back fish, but Matt brings back a wife, Syl. While not exactly welcomed with open arms, Syl soon begins to fit in with the family. And then more company arrives. Miranda’s father, stepmother, and baby brother show up and they bring three new people: Alex and Julie (the brother and sister from the dead and the gone) and Charlie, a man they met on their journey. Now with eleven mouths to feed, survival has become just that much harder.

I honestly don’t want to say anything else about the book because I don’t want to spoil it. this world we live in is a bleak book, but it’s appropriate for the world Pfeffer has created. It’s the story of a family who has been thrown in an impossibly difficult situation yet they are managing (barely) to survive. It is their struggle that haunts me – it’s been two years since I read Life as We Knew It and yet I still think about Miranda and how much food it would take for our family to survive if we were thrust in the same situation.

While this is a survival story, it is also a novel about people and I have become quite attached to the characters. Pfeffer has done a wonderful job with characterization – I feel as though I know Miranda and her family. I don’t feel like I really got to know Alex and Julie any better but that’s ok – this was Miranda’s story and she’s who I really cared about. I have read Pfeffer’s blog for the past two years, and I know she debated about several different plots when writing the third novel. I’m thankful she settled on the story that became the world we live in because it’s a perfect way to end this trilogy.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the author and used it to review the book. Quotes need to be checked against the final printed copy of the book, which will be released in April 2010.