Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Colorado Teen Lit Conference recommendations: The Alex Crow, Masterminds, and Tesla's Attic

The Colorado Teen Literature Conference in April featured Andrew Smith, author of Printz Honor Book Grasshopper Jungle, as the keynote speaker.  Predictably his talk was funny and irreverent, yet revealing, in his honesty about his road to becoming a published author.  Smith, who is being called "the spiritual heir to Kurt Vonnegut," also spoke about his latest book, The Alex Crow. As with his first book, his latest is provocative and profane. The tale blends multiple story lines which include an adopted refugee, a schizophrenic bomber and 19th century explorers on a failed expedition. Other books highlighted at the conference that I would like to recommend include Gordon Korman's Masterminds, the first book in a new series about clones, and Eric Elfman and Neal Shusterman's Tesla's Attic, the first in a series about a boy who finds Nikola Tesla's last magical inventions in the attic of his new house.

The Alex Crow focuses on Ariel, a refugee from an unnamed country, who is adopted by an American family. Ariel and his adoptive brother Max are sent to the Merrie-Seymour camp for boys with technology addictions, solely because their dad works for the company and it's free. His adoptive dad works for the Alex Division which experiments with resurrecting extinct animals and creating biodrones (beings with surveillance chips in their heads).  The boys at the camp seem to be somehow involved with his research. Flashbacks chronicle Ariel's journey which includes periods of tagging along with soldiers in his war torn nation, as well as time spent among abusive teens in a refugee camp. Meanwhile, Lenny, a weird guy who hear voices which prompt him to do violent things, is transporting a truck load of bombs to the camp. Finally, chapters chronicling the story of the first scientists in the Alex division, who are exploring the Arctic in the 19th century and experimenting with "de-extinction," are interwoven.  When the story lines finally come together, they evoke an intriguing statement about society, extinction, and life itself.  This book is only recommended for mature high school readers.

Masterminds takes place in idyllic Serenity, New Mexico, population-185, where all the adults are employed, the children are well-behaved, and the community members are congenial.  However, when 13-year-old Eli and his buddy Randy try to leave town on a lark, Eli is paralyzed with pain and nausea. After Eli recuperates, he finds Randy is being sent away, the factory which employs most of the townsfolk is a sham, and their internet is sanitized, excluding anything unpleasant.Telling the tale from alternating points of view, Eli and his friends Tori, Hector, and Malik begin to investigate the sinister happenings in Serenity, unraveling a mystery that shows the whole town is a gigantic lie. The truth about the kids' parentage threatens their very lives.  Their attempted escape is action packed and lays the groundwork for the sequel.  Middle level readers will find this a real page turner.

Tesla's Attic, the first book in the Accerlerati Trilogy, introduces Nick who has moved with his younger brother and father to a Victorian house they inherited after their home burns down, killing his mother.  Wanting to move into the attic, Nick has a garage sale to get rid of all the junk stored up there.  But this is not ordinary junk. The reel-to reel player records what is said but plays back what the speaker is thinking.  The See 'n Say predicts the future and the wet-cell electrodes can reanimate dead insects.  Nick and his new friends Caitlin and Vincent investigate and discover the  objects are Nikola Tesla's last inventions that have magical properties. When mysterious men show up looking for the objects, the kids decide they have to get the objects back. The men are from a secret society of physicists, the Accerlerati, who want to stop the kids and use the objects for their own devious plans. Plausible scientific explanations for the fantastic happenings add to the fun of this gadget filled mystery. Middle level readers will look forward to the next installment of this fast paced series.

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