Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Dystopian Series

Although there is an abundance of dystopian series available now, authors are still coming up with unique twists on the genre.  Marie Lu's Legend series, Gabrielle's Zevin's Birthright series, and Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles all have something new and wonderful to offer teen readers.

Legend takes place in the not too distant future in a plague ridden America.   June, a  privileged daughter of the Republic, receives perfect scores at the Trial, a test administered to all teens. Her scores insure her a great future in the military. Day, who was born in the slums and supposedly failed the Trial, is a hero to the street people, because he fights injustice wherever he sees it. When Day tries to get plague medicine for his sibling, he kills June’s brother, and she vows revenge. However, when she finally captures him, she finds out all is not as it seems.

All These Things I've Done, the first book in Gabrielle Zevin's new Birthright series, introduces Anya Balanchine, the daughter of a deceased mafia boss, whose mafia family deals in contraband chocolate and coffee in 2083. When Anya falls in love with the new D.A.’s son, their star-crossed relationship is fraught with problems; especially when her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by her family’s chocolate and she is the number one suspect.
 Cinder, the first of four books in the Lunar Chronicles, retells the Cinderella story in a futuristic dystopian world. Cinder, a cyborg, who is a gifted mechanic, is hated by her stepmother and blamed for exposing her stepsister to the plague that is ravaging their world. Cinder gets involved with Prince Kai when she works on one of his droids. Little does she know that she is the key to dealing with the intergalactic struggle that threatens them all. Cinder will be available January 3, 2012.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kids in Foster Care

Coincidentally, I recently read two books about kids in foster care which I really enjoyed.  In Geek Girl by Cindy C. Bennett the story is told from the female foster child's point of view, and Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson is told from the perspective of the teenage girl whose family takes in a foster daughter, who is a nightmare. The contrasting points of views illustrate how complicated fostering a teenager can be.  What is especially refreshing about these two books is that in both cases the foster families are supportive rather than abusive.

Geek Girl introduces Jen who has been in many foster homes, some more succesful than others. This time around she is with the Clarks, a loving couple who have a daughter in college and a married son.  Jen is planning to sabotage her placement with this family rather than be rejected as she has been in the past.  She bets her Goth friends that she can seduce Geek Guy Trevor and turn him bad.  If she wins, the girls will pay for piercings that are forbidden by the Clarks.  Trevor responds to Jen's advances; however, she is in for a big surprise.  For the first time in her life, she is with somebody who sees through her makeup and chains and loves her for herself.  As their relationship progresses, Jen finds herself changing to accomodate Trevor's goodness. But when Trevor finds out about the bet, Jen fears she will lose him forever.

Calli focuses on the 15-year-old  daughter of two lesbians, who is excited when they decide to foster a teenage girl. However, Cherish, her foster sister, is not everything Calli had hoped she would be. Cherish attempts to sabotage Calli’s relationship with her boyfriend, steals her possesions, and pits her moms against her. When Calli's ipod goes missing, she decides to take action. Her plans for revenge go awry and Cherish is sent back to juvenile detention. Calli’s guilt begins to overwhelm her and she wonders how she can make amends.

In both books the foster parents want what's best for the foster daughter and are patient and kind; not only with the foster child, but also with their own children, who have trouble adjusting. The change of pace from the stories about abusive foster parents, who only take kids in for the money, was a welcome development. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Scorpio Races

Maggie Stiefvater, the author of the popular Wolves of Mercy Falls series, has done it again.  Her new book, The Scorpio Races, captured me from page one.  I am really looking forward to meeting her at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference next April.  The author bases her new action packed thriller on the Celtic legend of water horses that come out of the sea each fall to terrorize villagers. The story takes place on Thisby Island where men have learned to capture the predatory carnivores called capaill uisce and control them using iron and magic long enough to stage an annual festival and race. Sean Kendrick, who has won the race four times on a capaill uisce named Corr, is racing this year in hopes of buying Corr from his boss who runs Malvern Stables. Kate "Puck" Connelly enters the race in the hopes of using the winnings to buy her family's home from Malvern.  Puck and her brothers, who were orphaned when capaill uisce killed their parents, are facing foreclosure. Puck decides to ride her beloved land mare Dove, but is thwarted at every turn by the men who do not want a woman to ride in the race. Sean, who initially tells Puck to "get off the cliffs," is impressed by her tenacity and horse handling skills and begins to train with her.  While there is plenty of action, human villainy, suspense, and a breath-taking climax, it is the quietly evolving relationship between Puck and Sean that makes the book must read.
Another book with strong male and female protagonists is Ashfall by Mike Mullins. A supervolcano beneath Yellowstone Park erupts and sends the world into a tailspin of darkness, ash and violence. Alex, who is home alone when the volcano erupts, begins a 140 mile trek to find his sister and parents, who are visiting relatives. Along the way he is attacked by an escaped convict and he stumbles his way to a farm where he is nursed back to health by Darla, a spunky girl, whose knowledge about mechanics and farming are essential in this post-apocalyptic world.  When more atrocities occur, the two of them leave the farm and set out to find a safe harbor in an unkind world. This thriller has a few sexual references that may be inappropriate for younger readers.
Finally, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Paul Richard Evans is the first book in a new series that will also appeal to both boys and girls. As the story begins we meet Michael Vey who has strange electrical powers resulting from the installation of  a faulty machine at the Pasedena hospital where he was born. Of the 47 babies born in the hospital at that time, 17 survived with a variety of electrical powers. Michael, who has Tourette's Syndrome, is the constant target of bullies, but he must hide his powers because he and his mother are on the run from a mysterious organization called Elgen which hopes to control the children.  When he succumbs to using his powers against three bullies who are attacking him, the event is witnessed by his crush Taylor Ridley, who is also one of the 17 and has the power to "reset" people's minds.  When Michael's mother and Taylor are abducted by Elgen, he must enlist the help of friends and enemies to rescue them.  This book was of great interest to teen readers at Monarch High School, when I did book talks there last week. The sequel Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen will be released next August.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Paranormal Novels

After recent trips to San Francisco and NYC, I got back in town in time to see the Dark Days panel of authors at Barnes and Noble last weekend.  Jocelyn Davies was there promoting A Beautiful Dark, which involves angels. Claudia Gray, the author of the Evernight vampire series, has a new book entitled Fateful about werewolves on the Titanic. Kierstan White brought Supernaturally, her sequel to Paranormalcy, and read from her draft for Endlessly, the final book in the trilogy. Finally, romance novelist Amy Garvey talked about Cold Kiss, a zombie novel, which is her first book for young adults.

Jocelyn Davies is an editor of young adult books and coincidentally edited books in Claudia Gray's Evernight series. A Beautiful Dark is the first book in a new series about angels.  Sky, an orphan who is living in Colorado with a friend of her deceased parents, has little knowledge of her parents' history.  When Asher and Devin, two boys with unearthly powers, arrive in town, they both seem to know more about her past than she does and are determined to protect her. As she approaches her seventeenth birthday, her legacy is about to be revealed.

Claudia Gray's Evernight series involves a Romeo and Juliet type romance between a vampire and a vampire hunter.  Bianca attends the Evernight Academy, whose student body includes closeted vampires. There she meets Lucas, the son of the leader of the Black Cross, a group of vampire hunters. Lucas and Bianca fall in love, just as her vampire powers are emerging. Balthazar, the fifth book in the Evernight series, will come out in the Spring.  Claudia was at Barnes and Noble to publicize Fateful, which has a unique twist on the Titanic story. Tess is a ladies' maid, who is drawn to Alec, a first class passenger with a dark secret. He is a werewolf who is trying to defy his nature, but the Brotherhood, a powerful werewolf clan, is after him.  They want to capitalize on his cachet as the heir to a steel company. In addition to the werewolf romance, Claudia includes rich historical detail about classism on the Titanic.

Paranormalcy, the first book in Kierstan White's new trilogy, introduces sixteen-year-old Evie who works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, an organization that “bags and tags” paranormal beings. She has the unique ability to see past their glamours. When she finds herself attracted to Lend, a captured shape shifter who has lived in the normal world, she begins to see the allure of a normal teenage life. Kierstan has set up a framework to include a variety of paranormal beings.  In the sequel Supernaturally, unicorns are introduced and in Endlessly, the final book in the series, she adds dragons. 

Amy Garvey, a former romance writer, introduced her new YA novel, Cold Kiss, an unconventional zombie novel.  Wren, who has magical powers, is devastated when her boyfriend Danny dies in a car accident, and she raises him from the dead.  However, the new Danny is a shadow of his former self, and she realizes it was a mistake.  To complicate matters, Gabriel, a new student with powers of his own, uncovers her secret.  As she struggles with the problems Danny is creating, she is falling for Gabriel. This novel is an unusal take on first love and letting go.

Another paranormal author, Laini Taylor, was also in Colorado recently, introducing her critically acclaimed new novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The first book in a series introduces Karou, a teenage girl who has been raised by Brimstone, the leader of the chimera. This wishmonger sends her through portals to collect human and animal teeth which he then uses to reanimate dead chimera. The chimera are at war with the seraphim.  When the portals suddenly disappear behind smoldering black seraphim handprints, Karou is cut off from the only family she has ever known.  Then she falls for Akiva, a seraphim warrior, and she begins to learn the back story of the thousand year old conflict, which sets up the second novel in the series.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Melissa Kantor's Candy Bar Books

Although some people think that kids should always be reading great literature, I think a healthy dose of  candy bar books,  sweet reads about issues such as boyfriend/girlfriend problems, strict parents, or cliques/popularity, keep young readers engaged and enjoying reading. One of my favorite authors in this genre is Melissa Kantor, author of a new series entitled The Darlings.
 The first book, The Darlings are Forever, introduces Jane, Natalya and Victoria, New York City teens who have been inseparable since kindergarten, until they enroll in different high schools.  They have been dubbed "The Darlings" by Jane's late grandmother who advised them to "always do what you are afraid of doing." Jane is attending a performing arts school, where she considers acting on a crush she has on her drama teacher. Natalya, a Russian girl on full scholarship at an elite private school, succumbs to the allure of the "Queen Bee" when overwhelmed by the social pressure to fit in with the wealthy students.  Victoria, whose father is running for the Senate, finds her social life now makes headlines in the tabloids. The girls continue to rely on each other for advice and friendship, even though they are no longer classmates.
In the sequel, The Darlings in Love, each of the girls struggles to navigate the treacherous waters of young love.  Jane falls for the gorgeous Simon, with whom she is paired for a project on love stories.  She is playing Medea opposite his Jason. Although he warns her that he has been attracted to a guy in the past, she plunges into a relationship with him. Natalya rekindles a friendship with Colin, her chess partner crush whom she alienated in the first book.  Victoria is head over heels in love with Jack, but begins to worry when she realizes that they don't have much in common.  The story alternates between the three girls' lives and paints a picture of a very special friendship between characters that readers really care about.  Melissa Kantor is a master at writing dialogue that seems current and realistic.  Several issues are unresolved at the end of the book, leaving readers clamoring for the next installment, which will be awhile because this book isn't due out until January of 2012.
In the meantime, other titles by Melissa Kantor that I would recommend include If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?, a retelling of the Cinderella story, set in New York City, and The Breakup Bible, another book where Grandma knows best. These books are perfect for middle and high school age readers who are Sarah Dessen fans. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Persephone/Hades retellings

Classic Connections, one of my favorite units in my book , involves modern young adult authors retelling a classic story in a modern setting or using elements of a classic in a modern tale.  Recently, I have read three YA novels that incorporate the myth of Persephone and Hades in the story. In the Greek myth Persephone, daughter of the Greek gods Zeus and Demeter, is abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld.  Demeter is distraught and convinces Zeus to intervene.  Zeus says that Persephone may return to earth if she has not eaten anything, but Hades woos her with a six seeds of a pomegranate. A compromise is reached in which Persephone spends 6 months a year with Hades and 6 months on earth. Demeter refuses to let plant life grow during the 6 months Persephone is gone, thus explaining the seasons.  Meg Cabot's Abandon, Aimee Carter's The Goddess Test, and Emily Whitman's Radiant Darkness, all involve the myth of Persephone.

In Meg Cabot's Abandon, the first book in a proposed trilogy, Pierce and her mother have moved to Isla Huesos in South Florida after Pierce nearly drowns in a swimming pool.  Due to the pool’s frigid temperature, she is resuscitated, but not before she makes a trip to the Underworld and meets John, who doesn't want to let her go.  In Isla Huesos, which happens to be a portal to the Underworld, she reconnects with her mother's family and starts school, but John seems to be monitoring her every move.  She tells him to leave her alone and returns a necklace that he gave her while she was in the Underworld. But does she really mean it?  The sequel, entitled Underworld, will be published in summer 2012.

The Goddess Test introduces Kate Winters, whose main interest is spending time with her dying mother, who has convinced her to move to her home town of Eden, Michigan. Kate meets several teenagers at school and agrees to attend a party with Ava, to please her mother who wants Kate to make a life for herself without her.  When Ava has a fatal accident, the mysterious Henry appears and agrees to save her if Kate will spend each autumn and winter with him at Eden Manor.  Kate ultimately finds out Henry is actually the god of the Underworld, and he wants her to take the place of his ex-wife Persephone.  Kate must pass seven tests in order to become Queen of the Underworld.  Eleven girls before her have died trying and if she fails, Henry will fade from existence.  At first Kate is furious but as she begins to fall for Henry, she realizes becoming his wife will not only save him, but herself as well.

My favorite is Emily Whitman's Radiant Darkness,  which is a more faithful retelling of the original myth.  This story finds Persephone a willing accomplice in her abduction by Hades.  Persephone is the bored teenage daughter of Demeter, the earth goddess who rules an all female realm.  When Hades appears in a secluded meadow and begins to woo Persephone, she is more than willing to elope with him.  In the Underworld Persephone spends her time gardening and working on the greeting process for the newly arrived dead.  However Demeter is furious about the supposed abduction of her daughter and is causing drought and famine on earth.  When Persephone discovers the trouble she's caused, she convinces Hades and Demeter to compromise and allow her to spend six months on earth and six months in the Underworld.

Popular novels with classic connections can be paired with the originals for comparison. Exposing kids to plots that form the backbone of literature will help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine.  Next up on my list of must reads is Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The question posed on the back of my galley copy of FLIP by Martyn Bedford asks "What does it mean to have a soul whose will to live knows no limits? "  This question peeked my interest, as well as the personal letter from Wendy Lamb of Wendy Lamb Books, which mentioned how hot this book was at auction and how excited she is to be publishing it.  The book did not disappoint!
As the story begins, Alex Gray wakes up to find himself in another boy's body.  Suddenly, asthmatic, clarinet playing Alex finds himself inhabiting the body of Phillip Garamond or Flip, an athletic girl magnet. Alex says, "Being Flip was like playing the lead in a film about a special agent assigned to work undercover...Except in a movie the agent would be thoroughly prepared for the operation. Provided a dossier of information, told to memorize every detail of the false ID which had been created for him...Only then would he be sent out to the field...ready to handle any tricky situations without blowing his cover."  Needless-to-say, Alex has a lot of trouble negotiating Flip's persona.  He immediately tries to contact his mother who is 200 miles away.  Her co-worker, who answers the call, thinks he's an evil prank caller, as does his best friend David, whom he tries to contact next.  He begins to suspect that Alex is dead.  When he steals money and takes a train back to his own home, he is apprehended by the police, after trying to make contact with his family.  He finds out that Alex is in a persistent vegetative state and returns to Flip's home and parents, who worry that their son is mentally ill.
Alex is heartened by the idea that he might be able to find a way back into his own body, so that Flip can once again inhabit his.  After doing some internet investigation, Alex makes contact with Rob who tells him he is a victim of psychic evacuation. At the moment near death, his soul moved into a new body.  Most psychic evacuees, who inhabit a new body, have died in their previous incarnation.  Alex is one of the few who may have a chance to reverse the process. Rob, also a psychic evacuee, takes Alex under his wing and tries to counsel him to accept his new body and move on.  Alex, however, refuses to lose hope and continues to struggle to reclaim his former life.
Although this book is being billed by some as a new Freaky Friday, it is so much deeper than that.The author explores questions such as What is a soul? What happens to it when the host body dies?  Bedford, who is the author of five novels for adults, also poses a detailed explanation as to how Alex came to inhabit Flip's body. This is his first young adult novel, but I would highly recommend this page turner for young and old alike.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

While researching information for leading a talk back for the film Tiny Furniture at the Boedecker Theater, I found that the film maker, Lena Dunham, has been hired to write and direct Dash and Lily's Book of Dares for Scott Rudin.  Coincidentally, I had just finished the book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, who also wrote Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.  Once again the story is told in alternating chapters with Rachel writing Lily's perspective and David voicing Dash's.
The story begins when Lily leaves a red moleskin notebook with a list of literary clues in the stacks of the Strand Bookstore in New York City.  Dash, a bookish sixteen-year-old, finds it and takes the challenge to follow the clues, leaving some of his own.  Both teens are on their own for the Chrismas holidays.  Dash has duped his divorced parents each into thinking he is spending the holiday with the other parent, and Lily has been left in the care of her older brother while their parents take a second honeymoon.  Lily challenges, “Are you going to be playing for the pure thrill of unreluctant desire?" and a bored and lonely Dash responds enthusiastically, following the clues to crowded venues to pick up messages.    As the dares continue, the two teens learn more and more about each other from the pages of the notebook, and they begin to fall in love.  When they finally meet under terrible circumstances, it is not the romantic interlude the reader expects. The rest of the story is spent with the two working toward a second chance at making a first impression. Well-read teens will love the words, thoughts, and emotions that these two unique characters convey.


Of all the series optioned for film, Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and its sequel Sapphique seem the most cinematically challenging to me. I am really interested to see what the screenwriters, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper, will do with this steam punk story. Taylor Lautner, who plays the werewolf Jacob in the Twilight series,  will play Finn, who has been trapped in Incarceron, a sentient futuristic prison. He finds a crystal key which allows him to communicate with Claudia, the daughter of the Warden, who lives outside Incarceron.  However, Claudia is trapped in her own prison, a world designed to look like the 17th Century. Technology is outlawed and society has returned to a feudal time including arranged marriages.  When the Queen and Claudia's father tell her she has to marry the dolt who is the heir to the throne, Claudia vows to do whatever it takes to avoid her fate. She knows nothing of Incarceron except that it exists, but when she and Finn begin to communicate, she believes he is Giles, her long lost fiance. They hatch a plan for Finn to escape and claim his throne.
 The sequel Sapphique picks up where Incarceron ended with Finn on the Outside with Claudia and her tutor Jared, trying to prove that he is the rightful heir to the throne.  His oathbrother Kiero and friend Attia are still trapped inside the prison, trying to find a way out. Incarceron itself is hunting for an object known as Sapphique's glove that may help it attain a human body so it can escape from the prison. Attia and Kiero meet up with Claudia's father the Warden, and the three attempt to thwart the prison's plans. Meanwhile, on the Outside, a Pretender, hired by the evil Queen, is threatening to usurp the throne and destroy the Kingdom.  While Claudia and Finn are dealing with that intrigue, Jared is still trying to find the Portal between Incarceron and the Outside.  Although the major plot lines are resolved, the possibility of another book to explore the repercussions of what happens has not been ruled out by the author.
Even though the world Catherine Fisher imagines is very creative, I had some problems suspending my disbelief as I was reading.  I'm wondering how film makers are going to portray a living breathing prison which is the size of a watch fob. Watching the MTV movie awards last night and hearing the girls scream every time Taylor Lautner's abs were shown, I'm sure the film makers will come up with something. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

City of Fallen Angels

According to the Entertainmently Weekly article, Find Me a Twilight, some industry insiders think Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instrument series is the most likely to "inherit the Twilight mantle,"  because it has the biggest fan base online.  Lily Collins, a British-American actress and television personality, is cast as Clary Fray, a young girl who learns about the supernatural from Jace, a boy who is characterized as "Edward with attitude." Four books in the projected six book series are currently available.
City of Bones is the first book in the series, which is filled with vampires, werewolves, fairies and demons. When Clary Fray witnesses three tattoo-covered teenagers murder another teen, she is bewildered because the victim disappears and no one else can see the killers. Then she learns that the teens are Shadowhunters, humans who hunt and kill demons, and she can see them because she is a shadowhunter whose skills are just emerging. Shortly after this her mother is kidnapped, and Clary finds out that her mother is also a Shadowhunter and the only one who knows the location of The Mortal Cup, a dangerous magical item that turns humans into Shadowhunters. Clary and her friend Simon are drawn into a world filled with danger and intrigue, where renegade Shadowhunters led by the evil Valentine are trying to kill all non humans.  Romantic tension is created when Simon declares his love for Clary, only to find out Clary is in love with one of the Shadowhunters named Jace.  However, as the first book draws to a close, Clary finds out that not only is she Valentine's daughter but Jace is supposedly Valentine's son. 
The sequel City of Ashes finds Clary’s mother in a magically induced coma.  Clary’s only hope of helping her mother is to hunt down her father, the evil Valentine. To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering vampire, werewolf and faerie children. Is Valentine behind the killings -- and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor suspects Clary’s brother Jace.  Clary wonders if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father? 
In City of Glass, the book which was originally advertised as the final installment of the Mortal Instrument series, Clary goes to the City of Glass in search of a remedy for her dying mother.  There she gets involved in a battle between the Shadow hunters and Valentine’s army of demons in a last ditch effort to save the world.  Romantic issues are resolved and surprising relationships are revealed in what was supposed to be a satisfying ending to the popular series.
After beginning a prequel series with the book Clockwork Angel (see 10/26/10 blog) , the author then announced she would write three more installments of the Mortal instruments series.  In the fourth book, City of Fallen Angels which was released in April, the mortal war is over and Clary is training to be a shadow hunter. However, the peace between the shadow hunters and the downworlders is broken when someone begins murdering shadow hunters. Simon, who is attempting to adjust to life as a vampire, seems to be at the center of the conflict.  Jace and Clary once again are pulled apart when Jace begins having dreams about killing Clary. 
Personally, I thought this terrific series should have ended with City of Glass, which tied up all loose ends and brought the lovers together.  As I was reading City of Fallen Angels, I found myself annoyed with the story line, and not really caring about the characters any more.  However, fans of the series may be thrilled to have three more books, which I consider to be a retread of the original story.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Young Adult Film Series - Divergent

The Hunger Games movie, which has a March 23, 2012 release date, made the cover of Entertainment Weekly last week! In addition to pages and pages about this upcoming film and its sequels, there was an article about all the young adult series that are being adapted for film, in the hope of finding the next hit franchise.  In Find Me a Twilight, Sara Vilkomerson and Stephan Lee take a look at several series the studios are swooning over. Allie Condie's Matched series (see 12/2/10 blog), Maggie Stiefvaters Wolves of Mercy Falls series (see 3/11/10 blog), Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, Lauren Oliver's Delirium series, and Catherine Fisher's Incarceron series will soon be making their way to a theater near you. Veronica Roth's Divergent, which came out earlier this month, is also slated for the silver screen.
Set in a dystopian Chicago, Divergent is about a futuristic world where all people are born into one of five factions which have a different strength and focus: Abnegation (service), Amity (friendship), Candor (truth), Dauntless (fearlessness) or Erudite (intellect). On their sixteenth birthday, teens take an aptitude test and can choose to remain with their factions or change allegiances.  The main character Tris chooses to leave behind her gray robes and loving Abnegation family to become one of the tattooed and reckless Dauntless, a choice even she doesn't understand. As she begins the Dauntless training, that is much like a violent military boot camp, Tris discovers that only ten of the trainees will be accepted into the final group. Although she appears small and child like, she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams and begins to make enemies and form alliances; her demanding instructor "Four" takes particular interest in her that evolves from protectiveness to love.  What Tris doesn't know is that much of her success is because she is actually a Divergent, with the strengths of multiple factions. This makes her a target of the merciless autocratic leaders who kill divergents because they are hard to control. As in all dystopian literature, Tris and her friends fight the status quo in hopes of creating a "brave new world," where all inhabitants live in harmony. 
The first of a trilogy, Divergent, has a satisfying ending, but sets up the conflict for the future.  The book is an action packed page turner with descriptions of Tris's initiation process which are as riveting as they are violent. The tender romance between Tris and Four will have readers coming back for more. Due to the graphic violence, I would recommend Divergent for more mature readers

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where She Went

In my "Connecting with Young Adult Novels" workshop at the Teen Literature Conference, I talked about using essential questions to encourage kids to think critically about their reading.  One of the essential questions discussed was "How do people overcome adversity?"  In addition to seeking justice, doing good works for others and getting support from loved ones, we discussed  people pouring themselves into their passions, such as music or art, for solace. No better example can be found to support this idea, than Gale Forman's Where She Went, the sequel to her New York Times best seller If I Stay. Having just finished Where She Went, I am still basking in the euphoria of reading an amazingly powerful and well-written novel. 
For those of you who have not read If I Stay, you are in for a double dose of wonderful. Mia, a talented cellist and her family are in the family car when a truck broadsides them, leaving her parents dead and 17-year-old Mia in critical condition.  After the accident Mia is standing outside her body beside the wreckage of their car and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being loaded into the ambulance.  As she ponders her state, ("Am I dead?  I actually have to ask myself this.") Mia is transported to a hospital where she lies in a coma and reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live.  Through flashbacks, flash-forwards and out-of-body reports on what is going on around her, Mia analyzes the situation. Adam, her boyfriend who leaves his punk rock band's concert to be with her, arrives at the hospital.  As he sits by her side, he begs her to stay saying, "If you stay, I'll do whatever you want...I'll even let you go. If you stay."
In Where She Went the story flashes forward three years. Mia is pouring herself into her music career at Julliard, and Adam is a rock star who is close to a nervous breakdown.  After Mia goes to New York, she inexplicably stops communicating with Adam, sending him into a deep depression that results in him writing songs for a new album that sky rockets his band to fame and fortune. The album "Collateral Damage" tells Adam and Mia's story. Adam is in New York, dreading his upcoming world tour to support the band's new album, when he happens upon a poster for her concert at Carnegie Hall. Thinking no one will recognize him, he watches the concert from a balcony seat, only to be asked by an usher at the end of the concert to meet Mia backstage. Their reunion is filled with supressed emotion as they spend the rest of the night wandering New York City.  When she ultimately reveals the reason she left him, it sparks a cathartic reconnection which is expressed through their music.
Where She Went is a first person narrative told from Adam's point of view.  Lyrics from "Collateral Damage" songs that preface many of the chapters are heart breaking, revealing the trajectory of Adam and Mia's relationship. In the band's anthem, "Animate," Adam sings, "First you inspect me, then you dissect me, then you reject me. I wait for the day that you'll resurrect me." Where She Went is the story of that resurrection.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lucky, Gorgeous, Brilliant

I am looking forward to the Colorado Teen Literature Conference at the Tivoli on Saturday, April 2nd. In addition to Pete Hautman, the other guest author is Rachel Vail, whose latest books include her critically acclaimed Avery Sisters Trilogy. Lucky, Gorgeous and Brilliant are interconnected sister stories about three girls whose mother, a financial wizard, loses her job. Although their Dad still has his teaching job, the family must adjust to vastly reduced financial circumstances.

The first book, Lucky, introduces 14-year-old Phoebe Avery who has always taken for granted her family wealth and her popularity. When her executive mom loses her job, Phoebe must contemplate giving up her fabulous graduation party and the Vera Wang dress that she plans to wear. Phoebe's older sisters, Allison and Quinn, warn her to keep the family's crisis totally secret. However, her best friend and boyfriend are getting suspicious. Phoebe tries hard to act like nothing is wrong, but when her mother's credit cards are denied while buying Phoebe the Vera Wang dress and her father threatens to cancel her party, she freaks out. What will she do to keep up her reputation as a lucky girl?

Gorgeous, the second book in the trilogy, tells the story of the family’s financial crisis from the perspective of the middle sister Allison, who has always considered herself too plain to notice. One night she dreams she sells her cell phone to the devil in exchange for being gorgeous. She enters the next top teen modeling contest with surprising results. Her parents are not happy with the new Allison, and she also begins to wonder whether her hot new boyfriend and new friends like her only for her looks. To what lengths will she go to be on the cover of a magazine?

The final book in the Avery Sisters Trilogy is told from Quinn’s point of view. The oldest sister, a piano virtuoso who has always been the intelligent responsible one, decides if her mom isn’t perfect, she doesn’t have to be either. She begins to experiment with wild partying and drinking, but will it make her feel better? When she kisses Allison's boyfriend and then her piano teacher, she begins to wonder if she's gone too far. The book is the perfect ending to this inventive trilogy, which tells an addictive family saga from three points of view.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Big Crunch

The Colorado Teen Literature Conference takes place on April 2, 2011. In addition to preparing a workshop I'm presenting called "Connecting with Young Adult Literature - Using Essential Questions in the Classroom," I have also been reading books by Pete Hautman, who is a guest author. I loved No Limit (2005)and its sequel All In (2007), his poker series about a teenage boy who is a Texas Hole 'Em whiz kid. The main character Denn Doyle is sympathetic and well drawn, and I learned a lot about poker. Reading Pete's blog, I frequently laugh out loud and am looking forward to seeing him in person. His latest book The Big Crunch, which he characterizes as a vampire-free tale of two teens who fall in love, is another winner.

The Big Crunch chronicles a year-long romance between Wes and June, two ordinary teenage lovers, who struggle to maintain their relationship after June moves away. June has gone to 6 high schools in 4 years, so when she arrives in Minnesota she decides to avoid getting attached to anyone, because she knows her consultant dad will move them again soon. Then she literally runs into Wes at a convenience store, and a black eye later, they are in love. The story alternates between the two teens' point of view. June says their relationship was inevitable. "Some things just had to happen, like two trains heading toward each other on the same track. It wasn't like you could swerve to avoid the collision. It wasn't like you could stop." Wes, who has just extricated himself from a two year relationship, does not wanted to get involved with June but he can't help himself. When his best friend Jerry starts dating June, Wes finds himself jealous and picking fights with him. The Big Crunch, a scientific theory that suggests the universe will stop expanding one day and start to contract, is a great metaphor for Wes and June's developing relationship. After a series of encounters that are filled with sexual tension, they try to avoid each other but find their mutual attraction has "all the force of a black hole." They give into their feelings only to find that June's father is moving the family to Omaha.

June's parents usually demand that she cut all ties when they move, to the point of erasing her former friends' phone numbers from her cell phone. Wes and June surreptitiously try to maintain their relationship with texts and calls, but inevitably it becomes difficult. Wes, however, will not give up on their relationship and "borrows" a friend's parents' car to go see her. The few hours they spend together, before the police show up at her door, is enough to refuel their passion. What the two teens do to keep their love alive is heart warming. Hautman does a great job of creating characters we care about with dialogue that is clever and filled with humor. The book follows their relationship through the four seasons and I predict you will want to follow it, too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials

In additon to presenting at the CCIRA convention in February, I attended several terrific workshops, one of which was the Colorado Blue Spruce YA Book Award Session. The Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award recognizes the most popular books among middle and high school students in the State of Colorado. Teens nominate their favorite titles and select the winner - adults do not vote. At the workshop the 2011 winner of the Blue Spruce Award, Rick Riordan's The Last Olympian, was announced, as well as the list of 2012 nominees. I am now on the Blue Spruce Award Committee and will be writing book talks for the nominees which can be found on their website at later this spring. One of the nominees is The Maze Runner by James Dasher. Coincidentally, I have just finished its sequel The Scorch Trials.

The Maze Runner is the first book in a new dystopian trilogy. It introduces Thomas, who is an amnesiac thrust into the center of an enormous maze name the Glade where other teenage boys are struggling to survive. The boys arrive at the Glade through an empty freight elevator and have no memory of who they are or how they got there. Outside the Glade technological monsters called Grievers are lurking. Each day the boys send out Runners who are looking for a way out through the maze that surrounds their oasis of safety. Each night they must lock themselves into the Glade so that the marauding Grievers can’t kill them. As Thomas, who becomes a maze runner, struggles to adjust to this foreign world, the group’s leader tells him, "Old life's over, new life's begun. Learn the rules quick.” Then the elevator delivers Teresa, a comatose girl who triggers something in Thomas’s memory. Attached to her is a message which says no more food or supplies will be delivered and she will be the last teen sent. The boys realize that it’s now or never. The Maze must be solved before supplies run out and the Grievers attack. When readers finish this exciting dystopian thriller, they can dive right into the sequel, The Scorch Trials.

In The Scorch Trials Thomas and Teresa find their problems are not over. After one day of rest, they are tasked to cross an expanse of earth, which was scorched by sun flares. The Scorch is teeming with Cranks, people inflected with an insanity inducing disease known as the Flare. The teens are told that they are infected with the Flare, but if they make it across the desert, they will receive a cure and their problems will be over. This action packed adventure tests the teens surival skills as well as their loyalty to each other. Readers will be clamoring for the final book in the triology.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Annexed, a new Holocaust novel by Sharon Dogar, tells the Anne Frank story from the point of view of Peter Van Pels, the sixteen-year-old boy whose family moved into the annex on July 13, 1942 and lived there for two years, before discovery. Alternating with reports of his last days in the death camps, Peter reflects back upon his days spent with Anne from the perspective of one who is marching to his death from Auschwitz to the Mauthausen concentration camp.

When he first meets Anne, he thinks she is an annoying know-it-all. He struggles with the lack of privacy and the thought that he is missing out on so much of the teenage boy experience. He pouts, fights with his parents and questions God and religion. He confides in Anne and she accuses him of deserting the Jewish people. To this he replies, "I want so many things, but what I need is to know who I am. Because if I don't know that, I can only ever be what they say I am. A Jew." As Peter struggles to become a man in unthinkable circumstances, the reader witnesses through his first-person, present-tense narration, the day to day highs and lows in the Annex. Interspersed with his thoughts in the Mauthausen concentration camp, the days with Anne begin to seem idyllic and he wonders what happened to his parents and the Franks. The italicized death camp passages become more frequent as Peter's experiences in the Annex and at Mauthausen converge in death.

In an interview Sharon Dogar said she wanted to reimagine what it was like to live with Anne Frank. She laments that most of the people who lived through the Holocaust are dead and their stories are dying with them. She says that stories help to keep history alive. She is very careful to distinguish between fact and fiction and deals with lack of details in the diary to corroborate her story by having Peter ask Anne to keep their relationship out of her diary. While a prior reading of The Diary of a Young Girl is not necessary to reading Annexed, an understanding of that book will give readers the opportunity to see Anne Frank's story with Peter's hindsight. The story begins and ends with Peter asking, "Are you there? Are you listening?" I hope readers are.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Across the Universe

Across the Universe by Beth Revis has just been named Amazon's January Best Book for Young Adults. The first book in a new trilogy is an imaginative spin on the recognizable tale of a problem plagued starship sent to colonize a new planet. The riveting first chapter chronicles the details of Amy and her parents being cryogenically frozen before being sent on a 300 year journey into outer space. Flash forward 250 years and Amy's cryogenic chamber has been unplugged and she is awakened 50 years too early. The first person she meets is Elder, the rebellious young teen who is being groomed to take over as dictator of the spaceship, when the current leader dies. The story is told in alternating chapters by Amy and Elder.
At first Amy is furious, then intrigued by the spaceship Godspeed, which has three different levels corresponding to the three castes of passengers: the feeders, who are farmers, the shippers, who maintain the technology and the keepers, who rule. As she acclimates to her new environment, she realizes that most of the inhabitants seem to be drugged automatons. When Amy begins questioning Elder about the spaceship society, he realizes that the current leader has been hiding the truth from him with secrets and lies.
Elder, who was in the dark for years about the frozen inhabitants of the lower level, is captivated by Amy and sympathizes with her fears about the future. When other cryogenically frozens are unplugged and left for dead, Elder must help Amy locate the culprit before her parents are lost forever. As they methodically discover the truth about the horrors which have taken place aboard the Godspeed in the last 250 years, Elder and Amy look for a way to thwart the evil dictator and save the day.
The Across the Universe website currently includes a schematic drawing of the Godspeed, a trailer, reviews and downloads. There is also a Facebook fan site. The murder mystery and romantic aspect of the plot will widen the fan base beyond sci fi readers. Although the sexual content in the book is not particularly graphic, there is a mating season element that leads me to recommend the book for more mature readers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Classic Connections - King of Ithaka and The Sherlockian

In my last blog I talked about my 2010 revision of What's New in Young Adult Novels? and discussed the three new instructional units that I added. One of my favorite updated units in the book is entitled "Classic Connections." Many modern YA authors are following the time honored tradition of retelling a classic story in a modern setting (Beastly by Alex Flinn) or incorporating elements of a classic in a modern tale (Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors). By having students read and compare the classic and the related modern novel, teachers can expose kids to plots that form the backbone of literature and help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine. Two new books which can be added to this lexicon of classic connections are King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett in which the author recreates the voyage Telemachos takes to find his father Odysseus, and The Sherlockian by Graham Moore which alternates the present day story of a Sherlockian scholar’s death with the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker’s investigation of a series of murders in the early 1900s.

If you are looking for classic connections to Greek Mythology, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians five book series or his new Heroes of Olympus series immediately come to mind. The new series introduces Jason, Piper and Leo, three of the seven demigods mentioned in Rachel’s prophesy in The Last Olympian. These troubled teens are at wilderness school in the Grand Canyon when they encounter evil storm spirits and are transported to Camp Half-Blood. However, if you are looking for a book with deeper mythological connections, you may want to read Tracy Barrett's King of Ithaka, which reimagines Telemachos' quest to find his father Odysseus, King of Ithaka. When the book opens Telemachos has been waiting 16 years for his father to return from the Trojan Wars. His mother, Penelopeia, has been weaving a burial shroud whose completion she is using as an excuse to fend off would-be suitors, who think it's high time she remarries. Telemachos, who is worried about his country's lack of leadership, says, "I knew that Ithaka was falling into ruin and was vulnerable to attack, both from within and from without." He consults an oracle, who prophesies that Ithaka will not have a king until Telemachos searches for Odysseus and returns "to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not. On that day the King will return." With his centaur friend, Brax, and Polydora, a female runaway, Telemachos puts aside his fears and sets sail. He travels through dangerous territory from Pylos to Sparta. In a first person narration he tells the tale of his journey during which he meets many famous mythological characters, some who help him and some who deter him in his quest to fulfill the mysterious prophesy.

Based on real life events, The Sherlockian by Graham Moore embellishes the story of the death of a modern Sherlockian scholar, who was to present his finding of a lost Conan Doyle diary at the annual Baker Street Irregulars convention, but died on the eve of his presentation. The fictional Harold White, who has just been inducted into the society when the Sherlockian dies, is hired by a Conan Doyle relative to investigate the death and the whereabouts of the diary . The lost diary chronicles the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker’s investigation of a series of murders of young suffragettes. The author alternates his chapters between Harold's story in the present and Conan Doyle and Stoker's investigation in the early 1900s, so the reader can understand why the two would want to suppress the diary. The Sherlockian is arguably an adult crossover book which has some vulgar language and violence. However, any student who is reading Sherlock Holmes stories, will undoubtedly be comfortable with the subject matter and will revel in the backstory of Conan Doyle's period of abandonment of Sherlock Holmes and his dabbling in detective work using Holme's techniques.

What's New In Young Adult Novels? 2010

I just published the 2010 revision of my book, What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use. It includes reviews of over 130 new young adult books, as well as three new units. "Art World Connections" details YA novels, which explore the characters’ connections with the arts, as well as their ability to express themselves through artistic renderings. Many characters in these books escape the conflict in their lives by disappearing into artistic endeavors. Their art work helps them work through problems in a constructive manner. Included in the unit are art related projects that students can create which reflect what they learned from the book. The projects can take many forms, depending on the art form explored in the novel. Some of my favorite books that lend themselves to this project include Masterpiece by Elise Broach, Invisible Lines by Mary Amato, and Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian.

"Cultural Comparisons" is a new unit that focuses on YA novels that involve a foreign or minority culture. Students are asked to compare and contrast their own culture to the one profiled in the book as they read, and ultimately write a comparison/contrast essay as their final project. Graphic organizers are provided for the essay and the initial data gathering. There is also an example essay for Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Other books I would recommend for this unit include Finding My Place by Traci Jones, A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.

The "Amazon Web Page" unit is one I based on Betsey Coleman's "Camazon project" at the Colorado Academy in Denver, Colorado. The “Camazon” project, instructs students in creating a mock Amazon web page for an assigned book. The project not only has students using the latest technology, but also requires them to use higher level thinking skills in reflecting on their reading. For an Amazon web page, students include product details and a list of the author's other books, write spotlight reviews, create a "customers who bought this book also bought/viewed these books," section, and write an email to a friend about the book. Students make connections between the books they have read and the book they are reviewing; they use their own voice to respond, and they provide evidence in their spotlight reviews. Although the Colorado Academy project was technology based, (This year students used Glogster and last year Dreamweaver to create their projects) I think the ideas could be adapted for simpler projects. If access to or knowledge of technology is limited, teachers could assign a print project, rather than a web based product.

As always the hardest part of my revision was to determine a cutoff date for books to include. I still have plenty of 2010 novels sitting on my bookcase which I will have to include in my 2011 revision. I will be blogging about these books throughout the year, as I continue my quest to read and recommend the best YA books available. If you are interested in buying What's New in Young Adult Novels? 2010, there is a link on this web site which will connect you to where it can be purchased for $14.95.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ron Kidd's Historical Fiction

If you are looking for well-researched historical fiction, I would highly recommend several novels by Ronald Kidd. My sister-in-law, who is acquainted with him in Nashville, saw him recently and mentioned my interest in young adult novels, and he sent me copies of three terrific novels: Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial, On Beale Street, and The Year of the Bomb. Each book has an informative afterword in which Ron provides details about the historical incidents and people he weaves into his young adult coming-of-age tales.

Ron was inspired to write Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial, when he went to a reenactment of the trial with his friend Craig Gabbert in the summer of 1994. There he met Craig's mother Frances Robinson Gabbert, whose tales of the trial intrigued him. Her father, druggist F.E. Robinson was the local drugstore owner and school board chairman, who suggested a publicity stunt which would take advantage of the Civil Liberties Union's desire to test the state's law against teaching evolution in schools. Robinson asks John T.Scopes, a teacher/coach, to be "arrested" for violating the state's law to help boost the town's economy. Scopes reluctantly agrees, and is stunned when Clarence Darrow arrives to defend him and William Jennings Bryan to head up the prosecution. In Monkey Town, Frances Robinson is a 15-year-old girl who has a crush on John Scopes and defies her father, who masterminds the publicity stunt, to defend "Johnny." Ron uses actual dialogue from the trial and includes many historical figures, such as H.L. Mencken, as he weaves the story of a young girl struggling to understand the behavior of her friends and neighbors, as well as whether evolution has a place in the classroom.

Ron sets On Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee in 1954, suggesting it is an excellent place to begin a study of race relations. The main character, 15-year-old Johnny Ross, is a white boy who lives in a segregated world, until he starts sneaking out and going to Beale Street, the heart of the Negro blues and music scene. There he meets Elvis Presley, who tells him about Sun Records where he hopes to record music. Johnny begins working for Sam Phillips at Sun and develops a relationship with Elvis, as well as other notables such as Nat D. Williams and Dewey Phillips, who broadcast the ground breaking radio program Red, Hot and Blue. As Johnny gets more involved with people in the music business, he discovers ties to secrets from the past and a father he never knew.

A fan of horror movies, Ron spent time watching them with his friends on Hollywood Blvd in the early 1960s. Discovering that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed in 1955 in Sierra Madre, California and Richard Feynman, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb and the subject of an FBI investigation, lived a few miles away in Altadena, Ron was inspired to combine the two ideas in The Year of the Bomb. In the book four 13-year-old boys, fans of horror films themselves, are ecstatic to find out The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is being filmed in their town. Visiting the set, they meet two FBI agents posing as extras, who are investigating the filmmakers for possible Communist ties, as well as a scientist named Richard Feynman. The boys decide to do some investigating of the own and find out Richard was friends with Klaus Fuchs, who sold secrets to the Russians. The boys disagree over whether to turn over their findings to the FBI, as they realize it's not always easy to agree on what is the "right thing" to do.