Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Books with Embedded Research: Fallout, The Social Code, and Plague in the Mirror

 I recently attended the School Library Journal's virtual book show and got some great suggestions for the upcoming school year.  I read three books that fit into the embedded research unit that I outline in my book, What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use. Embedded research is information that is embedded so seamlessly into the story that it enriches the detail and realism in the story without seeming didactic.  Students might ask, "What is the difference between historical fiction and fiction with embedded research?" In answer to that question I would say that historical fiction has main characters, who actually existed in situations that really happened.  Stories with embedded research are about fictional characters in situations that really happened or involve accurate details about things that take place in the story. Todd Strasser's Fallout asks the question, "What would happen if a nuclear bomb was dropped and your family was the only one in the neighborhood with a bomb shelter? Sadie Hayes' The Social Code introduces twins who grew up in foster care and are now at Stanford University. They create a revolutionary computer app and are being courted by the biggest tycoons in Silicon Valley.  Deborah Noyes' Plague in the Mirror involves time travel back to 14th Century Florence where the Black Death is ravaging the countryside.

Todd Strasser grew up in the 1950s and experienced the Cold War first hand.  His family had a fallout shelter and he has parlayed some of his own experiences into a story about a twelve-year old-boy named Scott whose family is ridiculed for building and stocking a bomb shelter. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis occurs and his neighbors are singing a different tune. In Fallout the author suggests that a bomb is actually dropped and  neighbors force their way into the bomb shelter which was only provisioned for a family of four. Without enough food, water and air for all of them, tensions break out.  But the biggest question is if they can survive until the radioactivity outside abates, what will they find when they get out?

In The Social Code eighteen-year-old  scholarship students Adam and Amelia Dory find themselves out of sync with their privileged classmates at Stanford.  Then Amelia, who is happiest in a computer lab writing code, creates a computer program that allows users to control all their mechanical devices from their phones. Adam who longs for the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by those around them, talks her into creating a company and getting involved with a Silicon Valley mogul. However, their past comes back to haunt them in the cut throat, back stabbing world they have entered. The accurate portrayal of the computer programming culture make this a riveting read. This is the first book in the author's new "Start Up" series. The Next Big Thing, which continues to chronicle the lives of the Dory twins, will be available in November.

Plague in the Mirror weaves the horrors of the 14th century plague in Europe into the story of a young girl struggling with her parents' breakup. Hoping to escape the turmoil, May travels to Florence for a summer with her best friend Liam and his mother.  But once there, Christofana, a haunting doppelganger from the past, appears at the foot of May's bed and escorts her into the plague ridden Florence of 1347. There May meets Marco, an artist with whom she feels an immediate connection.  Christofana is hoping to trap May in the past so that she can take her place in the 21st Century. Meanwhile back in the present, Liam is intimating that he would like to be more than friends, which panics her.  When she tries to tell him about Christofana, he suggests that the stress of her parents' divorce may be sending her over the edge.  Is the time travel real or is it just a figment of her imagination? In a historical fantasy authors' panel at the trade show, Deborah Noyes discussed the extensive research she did, which is reflected in the story which is rich in detail about the Black Death, the Italian art world and life in the 14th Century.

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