Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Unidentified

Although at first The Unidentified by Rae Mariz seemed like science fiction, I soon realized that this dystopian novel is hauntingly prophetic. Set in the near future, the story profiles a scenario where public schools have failed and big business is now in charge of education. High-surveillance schools are located in converted shopping malls, and students participate in the Game, a mulitmedia experience which is a combination of learning and entertainment. Students are required to carry mobile devices while they are playing, and they are constantly monitored by sponsors who are looking for new trends and opportunities to exploit them. Coincidentally, at the same time I was reading the novel, the Wall Street Journal published an article, "Your Apps are Watching You," by Scott Thurm and Ukari Iwatani Kane, which suggests that people's smart phones are sharing their personal data widely and regularly. Out of 101 apps, games and software applications for mobile phones, that they examined, 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies, which allows tracking companies to find the age, gender and location of the user. Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association is quoted as saying, "In the world of mobile there is no anonymity. "

Oddly enough, in the novel students are seeking the attention of advertising agencies in the hopes of being "branded." Branding is somewhat like being sponsored in that students get free products and are invited to exclusive events. Students who set fashion trends or achieve the highest scores in games are branded, thus insuring their popularity and assisting the corporations in advertising their products. The cell phones kids carry include GPS trackers, and they continuously post updates to profile pages, so that administrators and corporate sponsors can monitor their every move. Unlike her classmates, the main character, Katey "Kid" Dade, is an aspiring musician who prefers to fly under the radar. Then Kid witnesses a mock suicide staged by a group of students, calling themselves the Unidentified, who are challenging students to think for themselves. She begins to search for the underground movement's members and comes to the attention of an online-security company that brands her for being a "trendspotter." This alienates Kid's best friend who has been desperately trying to be branded herself. As Kid attempts to adjust to her new popularity, she experiences betrayals by lifelong friends and new relationships with people who previously ignored her. The deeper she gets into her investigation, the more she begins to question the societal structure around her.

The Unidentified suggests what the future might be like for today's technology dependent society and will make readers think critically about their use of Facebook and Twitter. Although I would recommend it for fans of Scott Westerfeld's Extras, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and Suzanne Collins Hunger Games, I think it will appeal to a wider audience as well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fixing Delilah

In my October 23rd Blog I mentioned that I had attended a Barnes and Noble event where nine terrific YA authors talked about the writing process and their new books. One of these up and coming authors, Sarah Ockler, caught my attention, not only because she is involved in Lighthouse Writers Workshops, where I took a screenwriting class with Alexandre Philipe, but also because her first book Twenty Boy Summer, despite its lightweight title, was a complete delight. Now that Sarah Dessen has a young child and has understandably slowed down with her book releases, readers and librarians are looking for writers to fill the void. I would definitely recommend Sarah Ockler's books for these readers.
Twenty Boy Summer is a book about friendship and the grieving process. Anna and Frankie are next door neighbors and best friends. Frankie's brother Matt, who is two years older, is Anna's best friend, who is a boy. The three of them are inseparable. Anna has had a secret crush on Matt for years and on her fifteenth birthday he kisses her and acknowledges that he loves her, too. They are, of course, worried about trying to find a way to tell Frankie. Then Matt dies suddenly and Anna struggles with her grief, as well as the secret she decides to keep. After a year of grieving, Anna goes to California with Frankie for the family's annual trip. Frankie, who has dealt with her grief by becoming boy crazy, decides to set a goal of meeting twenty boys on the trip and flirts with everyone in sight. Ana is much more conservative but ends up falling for a surfer, and she feels like she is cheating on Matt's ghost. Then Frankie finds Anna's journal and freaks out when she discovers Anna's secret relationship with Matt. Now boys take a back seat and Anna and Frankie have to salvage their friendship.
Sarah latest book Fixing Delilah once again navigates the issues of the grieving process. Seventeen-year-old Delilah, whose life has been spiraling into free fall, is suddenly whisked off by her workaholic mother to Vermont to attend her estranged grandmother’s funeral and deal with the family summer home. Delilah has not been to Vermont since her grandfather's funeral a decade earlier, when her grandmother, mother and Aunt Rachel had a falling out. Delilah, who believes her father was a one night stand who died in Afghanistan before her mother could tell him about her pregnancy, cannot understand why her mother would keep her away from her family. When Delilah arrives in Vermont, she reconnects with her friend Patrick with whom she spent idyllic childhood summers. As she and Patrick fall in love, she uncovers the secret of her mother has been harboring. Delilah finds the diary of her Aunt Stephanie, who died under suspicious circumstances when she was nineteen. Suspecting that her family is plagued by problems with depression, Delilah worries that she will succmb herself. Ultimately Delilah realizes that she cannot escape the problems of her past but "some of them can be repaired, piece by piece, rebuilt into something even more cherished and loved and unique."
Although Sarah's Ockler's books are a bit more sexually explicit than Sarah Dessen's, romantic issues are dealth with tastefully. I would recommend them for mature middle level, as well as high school readers who like their chic lit a "cut above."

Thursday, December 2, 2010


After reading a review of Matched, a dystopian romance by Ally Condie, in the Wall Street Journal, I decided to move it to the top of my reading list. The reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, compares the book, the first in a proposed trilogy, to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, saying, "Ms. Meyer, captures the temptation, the mix of longing and self-discipline, felt by passion-swept young people trying to make the right choices for the right reasons. Ally Condie catches the same heart-tugging elements that Ms. Meyer does."

Matched is set in a tranquil, rational futuristic world where choice has been virtually eliminated. Seventeen-year-old Cassia, who is looking forward to her matching ceremony where she will be introduced to her future husband, is also dreading her grandfather's upcoming Final Banquet, where he is scheduled to die. When Cassia is matched with her childhood friend, Xander, she is ecstatic, until she gets home and looks at her courtship microcard and instead sees the face of Ky Markham, an orphan from the Outer Provinces, who was adopted by a neighboring family. He is considered an aberration and is forbidden from matching. She decides to confide in her grandfather, who rather than comforting her by saying that it was just a computer glitch, encourages her to question the Society's dictates. He gives her a forbidden poem by Dylan Thomas, telling her "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage against the dying of the light."

When Cassia joins a hiking group for leisure time activity, she finds herself paired with Ky, who introduces her to the lost art of cursive writing (keyboarding is the only writing allowed) and surreptitiously begins to share the secrets of his past. The better she gets to know Ky, the more she wishes he were her Match. Although Xander is her best friend from childhood, Ky's creative rebellious personality speaks to her passionate nature that she has been sublimating for years with lockstep obedience to the Society's rules. As the book draws to a close, Cassia's fateful decision sets up the sequel in which she will continue the rebel against societal dictates.

In the Wall Street Journal review Ms. Gruden says, "That Matched works so well is due partly to the author's even, measured prose. The cool clarity of Cassia's voice, eerily suits the watchful, unfree Society she inhabits." School Library Journal compares Matched to Lowis Lowry's The Giver, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and George Orwell's 1984. Comparisons to these esteemed novels, should signal readers that Matched is a step above the average teen romance. I would highly recommend this book for middle level and high school readers.