Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Testing

I'm not usually a fan of books which seem like such obvious derivatives of a popular idea (the Wimpy Kid imitators come to mind), so I was hesitant to pick up The Testing. This dystopian novel has a ruthless government that pits teenagers against each other to fight to the death, a strong and independent female protagonist who falls in love with a boy she's known her whole life, trust issues among competitors who are also friends, and many other similarities to The Hunger Games

Luckily, it also features a lot of action, great writing, and suspense. That's what hooked me, kept me reading, and has me desperately trying to hunt down an ARC of the sequel, Independent Study. It's also the reason why The Testing jumped to the top of my book talk list. 

I like that Cia is mechanically skilled and able to get an advantage in the competition, yet never uses it to push others back. In fact, I wondered if her incredible generous and open nature was realistic in the harrowing circumstances of the testing. At some point, a self-preservation instinct should kick in. I'm willing to withhold judgment, trusting that author Joelle Charbonneau will develop Cia's darker side in the second book. 

I can't wait for one of my students to read The Testing so that we can dive into a discussion on where it fits into the dystopian genre and how excited we are for the next book. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast

I'm so happy to be reading novels in verse again. I received an advanced copy of Audacious from the author, Gabrielle Prendergast. I'm a reader of her blog, which is smart and challenging, exactly like her novel. 

Raphaelle's family has moved to a new home and she plans to no longer be an outcast; she will be more like her younger sister, taking on the name Ella. Yet, despite her attempts to fit in, her true self and the problems of her family can't remain hidden. Raphaelle finds safety in her artwork and is bolstered by a new boyfriend, Samir. Feeling bold, she pushes the limits with her art and creates something controversial, but the boundaries she has pushed bring out the worst in her new community. Raphaelle needs to actually be audacious in order to accept the consequences of her actions. 

I loved the characters in Audacious because they were authentic. Although there are stereotypes that they could fit into (the bulimic, the alcoholic, the religious zealot, the party girl), the characters show other sides to themselves that round them out and add to Raphaelle's world.

Prendergast has a gift for storytelling; Audacious flows and makes the reader want to know what will happen next. With so many unravelling dramas, a lesser author would leave some loose ends, but the reader feels satisfied with how Raphaelle's story develops, while awaiting the follow-up, Capricious.

I am happy there will be a sequel because I was a little confused by the ending. I couldn't tell if Raphaelle will continue to be the rebel that seems to be her destiny, or if she will try once again into the Ella mold that would seem to make her life easier. I'm eager to find out; other mature readers will be, too.

Audacious will be published on October 1st.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Recent Reads

Clearing up the cobwebs around here...between my new puppy and a leadership role at school, Goodreads is where I have been tracking my reading these days. So, I present a few thoughts on my recent reads:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - My recent "adult book"--it was everything I wanted in a break from YA lit: biting, funny, fast-paced, and surprising. None of that is surprising from Maria Semple, who used to write for Arrested Development. I am currently hunting down her other book, This One is Mine.

Formerly Shark Girl - The sequel to Shark Girl, this was a nice return to the time when I reviewed a novel in verse each Friday. A year has passed since Jane lost her arm to a shark attack. She has moved on and the new stresses in her life are completing her bucket list and deciding between art school and nursing school. Author Kelly Bingham handles this dilemma well: Jane's heart wants to be an artist, but she feels like being a nurse is the right thing to do. When she makes her decision, the reader is left satisfied with the way Jane's story has been concluded.

All the Lovely Bad Ones- I've been a fan of Mary Downing Hahn since reading Wait Til Helen Comes. That remains the book that I suggest to sixth graders who like scary stories. In trying to bulk up the scary book section of my classroom library, I ordered the rest of her oeuvre. While nothing tops how I felt reading that first book, All the Lovely Bad Ones is special in that it has actual ghosts and is genuinely spooky. Plus, the cover is guaranteed to draw in readers. 

I Funny - In my students' opinions, James Patterson can do no wrong. They all flew through his Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life series and are dying for more. I can't keep I Funny on the shelf. I'm pretty fascinated by Patterson's process, which includes co-writers who fill in the details of the outlines he makes for each chapter. In this way, he can churn out 10 books each year. I'm interested in talking to the kids about their opinion on this style of publishing. Is he really the author? How much credit should the other authors get? Some good conversation topics abound!

Capture the Flag- Mysteries are another section of my classroom library which needs to be beefed up. I was excited to add Kate Messner's Capture the Flag to the collection. I do wonder if the American flag on the cover will appeal to my Colombian students. And while the mysterious Silver Jaguar Society intrigues me--its mission is to protect important historical artifacts--I fear the the sixth graders will leave this gathering dust next to Chasing Vermeer