Saturday, January 28, 2017

Enclave

I liked this way more than I expected! Enclave has been on my Goodreads list since November, 2013 and I finally got to read it. My students are thirsty for anything dystopian, so I am making an effort to read all the ones on my list. I often read the first book in a series, but don't always read the rest. As soon as I finished Enclave, I downloaded its sequel.

A plague has decimated the population of Earth and driven its inhabitants underground. Deuce grew up in one of these enclaves, where the life expectancy is short and growing shorter as mutants in the subway tunnels become more organized and deadly. She and her partner are exiled to the world aboveground and need to learn to survive in a place that may be even more deadly than where they left.

I liked the character growth we see in Deuce over the course of the series, and how she is valued by males for her strength. There is a lot of fighting and action in the book, but I never wanted to breeze past it because the descriptions are interesting. While there are references to 'breeding', I don't think this book is inappropriate for my 6th graders. I can see quite a few of them devouring the whole series, as I know I am going to. This book was worth the wait!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Lions of Little Rock

This cover is way better than my copy!
This is such an important book to have in classroom libraries right now. It tells the story of friendship between Marlee, a shy white girl, and Liz, a black girl who gets caught "passing" as white at school. This is just one of the tensions in Little Rock in 1958, the year after the Little Rock Nine integrated schools. I had no idea that the public high schools were closed for a year in order to prevent integration.

I was charmed by Marlee, who is truly naive, but grows more vocal and brave throughout the book. I also liked that many of the 'villains' showed their humanity. I want young readers to discuss what overt racism looked like and learn to fight against it, especially with how often it occurred in this past election cycle. It would be a good talking point for how ugly it is in the book, and that hate speech is equally as ugly on social media.

Things wrap up nicely in The Lions of Little Rock, which makes it middle grade-friendly. I appreciate author Kristin Levine's research and will be eagerly book-talking this title.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Young World

When I learned that author Chris Weitz is a film director, a lot about The Young World made more sense. He is accustomed to presenting entertainment at face value, and may have to use shortcuts for the time allotted. What this translates to in novel form is stereotypical characters, lot of cheap thrills such as murders and animal abuse (I skipped that part), and rapidly changing narrators.

While all of this sounds negative, it was a good book to listen to on the treadmill at the gym. The action moved quickly and it reminded me very much of the movie "The Warriors." A group of teens make their way across a post-apocalyptic New York City, battling different factions. The Union Square hippie crew of the book could easily have swapped out for the Baseball Furies of the movie.

I won't be recommending this book to anyone and I'm not interested in the sequels, but it passed a few hours of cleaning and exercise.

Monday, January 9, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

When I first heard about All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, it shot to the top of my TBR pile. I was really curious to read a story about a boy who was raised in a co-ed correctional facility, particularly since it is geared towards a middle grade audience. As an avid viewer of "Orange is the New Black," I wondered how author Leslie Connor would deal with the challenges of daily prison life. For the most part, she didn't. Perry refers to some of the residents as "cold ones" and avoids them, and he gives privacy to them when they seem sad, but otherwise, the book focuses on creating a family wherever you are.

I enjoyed the setting, which is unique for a middle grade novel, but sadly not unique to many readers. As Connor writes in her afterward, "one in twenty-eight school-aged children have a parent in the prison system." Kids need to see their lives in books, and while I don't know if this is realistic, it's a start. It could also help take away the stigma of prison for kids who are unfamiliar with it. There is a lot to learn from seeing the kindness in characters who have made a life-altering decision.

I have only one complaint, which seems to be a common quibble for me with recent middle grade novels. This book weighs in at 344 pages, which will intimidate many young readers. If Connor took 100 pages off, the audience for the book would expand so much.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Words in the Dust

Summer is my favorite season for so many reasons. One is that I have so much more time for reading. The Audiobook SYNC program helps with that: every week they offer two free YA audiobooks for download. I love audiobooks, but they are pretty expensive for just me. So I take full advantage of the program, which is how I was introduced to Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. 

I was a bit hesitant to read a book about Afghan girl written by an American soldier, but Reedy explains himself well in his Author's Note. He says, "Of course, another problem I had in keeping my promise is that I have never been a girl and I am not an Afghan. Many would say that stories about Afghan girls should best be told by Afghan girls. I agree completely. I would love nothing more than to read the story of the girl who we helped in her own words. However, the terrible reality is that by some estimates, 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate." Knowing who the author is made me pay particular attention to how Americans are portrayed in the book. Yes, there are the savior bits where they give away gifts and selflessly help Zulaikha with her cleft lip. But the Americans also make huge mistakes by not learning enough about the culture, such as offering pork to Muslims. 

I enjoyed getting the background information on what life is like in a typical Afghan household, although I don't know if young readers will feel the same. I was rooting for Zulaikha to succeed despite all the odds stacked against her. And then, the book ended. I'm pretty sure that I just didn't download the final section of the audiobook, but if I didn't, it is the most abrupt ending ever. Some day, I'll have to check this out in a book store and see how it really ended.