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 http://www.cal-webs.org/bluespruce/ 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.