All the cliffhangers

16101054SYLO, by DJ MacHale (2013)

Opening line: “It was the perfect night for a football game. And for death.”

Oh boy. Let’s talk about a cliffhanger. Right from the very beginning.

Ninth-grader Tucker lives in a peaceful island town off the coast of Maine where no one is concerned with much more than lobster festivals and football games. In fact, it’s at one such Friday night game that the star of the football team drops dead moments after making a spectacular touchdown. Then later that night, Tucker and his best friend Quinn are out on a bicycle joyride to work off the weirdness of the evening, when they experience something out of this world. A strange shadow giving off an eerie melody hovers just off the cliffs where Quinn and Tucker watch, before it explodes.

And that’s only the beginning of the crazy mess. Soon the President is putting the island under a quarantine and a special military unit called SYLO has taken control of the island. But no one is giving them any answers. And the answers they are giving don’t make any sense. As aggravating as this is for Tucker, I swear it was just as aggravating for me, especially when we reach the end of 400 pages with still no answers. This may appeal to fans of Maze Runner, as I got the same sense in that one and had to keep reading the whole gosh darn series, despite the fact that I didn’t really like it. I liked this one more, but still find it annoying that I am compelled to read the remainder of the series to figure out what the hell is going on. If someone wants to spoil it for me, that’d be fine.

1.5 stars

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Middle Grade Fiction…telling me about another disease I really don’t want to get

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, by Deborah Hopkinson (2013)

Opening line: “What we now call the Great Trouble began one thick, hot, foul-smelling morning in August.”

As a recent transplant to a new state, I’ve got a new list of reader’s choice award nominees to read. I’d already read about 4 of them, but have a whole slew of others to get through as quickly as possible so that I can start promoting them to students! The Great Trouble was one of the ones available for immediate check out at the public library as soon as I heard I was being considered for a new middle school job, so it was up first!

Orphan Eel is doing his best to take care of himself and his little brother Henry, by doing just about any job he can get, including running errands for the local tailor. But when the tailor gets suddenly and incredibly sick one day, dying the next, Eel senses that finding his next paycheck is the least of his troubles. Soon the entire neighborhood appears to be just pulsing with the illness known to everyone as “The Blue Death”, but known to us today as cholera. In Eel’s desperation, he goes to another one of his employers, Dr. John Snow, to ask for help. Dr. Snow is instantly anxious to help, but not in the way Eel imagines. Instead of providing Eel’s friends with any kind of comfort or medicine, Dr. Snow immediately takes samples from the community well, in his opinion the culprit of the epidemic. Dr. Snow’s opinion is not a popular one — the well has the cleanest and best tasting water in the area, and everyone knows cholera is spread through the air! If Dr. Snow is going to prove otherwise, he’s going to have to act fast, and he’s going to need Eel’s help.

This book is going to be a big hit with kids who like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 (which was a big seller in my school in Illinois…we’ll see if that holds any weight in my new school). Like Anderson does in Fever, Hopkinson expertly blends real historical drama and characters with her created story, making it hard to tell where fiction and fact meet. (I was super impressed by Anderson’s ability to do this, if you remember.) This book also does a great job of exploring the scientific process (answering the “5 W’s” described by Dr. Snow) in a fictional context, reminiscent of Calpurnia Tate. It’s not going to win the South Carolina Junior Book Award, I’m pretty confident, but a good addition to the shelves.

1.5 stars

Things that go bump in the night

What We Saw at Night, by Jacquelyn Mitchard (2013)

Lots of times I listen to audiobooks I might not otherwise read based on what’s available at the time I need something else to listen to. I feel like I’ve really maxed out the audio collection of the public library system I just moved from, but they have a waaay bigger selection than the audio collection of the public library system I moved into, so I have been perusing both (don’t tell). I ran across this title, and it was one I’d never heard of, although I was familiar with the author as that one woman who’s book started that little thing called Oprah’s Book Club. I had no idea she’d written YA though, and the premise sounded interesting enough. You know I’ve been into thrillers lately, and this one sounded creepy.

Allie Kim has Xeroderma Pigmentosum, otherwise known as XP, an allergy to sunlight that makes her life a bit like a vampire’s. Unlike other kids her age, who have curfews of 11pm or midnight, Allie’s curfew is dawn. She must make it home before sunrise, or be subject to blistering skin, drastically increased chance for fatal skin cancer, and/or blindness. Luckily, Allie lives in a small town in Minnesota home to a research and medical facility focusing on XP. Those with this condition flock there, giving her best friends named Rob and Juliet, two more patients at the facility. Juliet’s an athlete, and after her skiing career comes to an end, she convinces Rob and Allie that they have to embrace the night and their lives by taking up Parkour. Parkour, or freerunning, is the discipline of getting from one location to another without letting things like sheer walls or 12 foot gaps get in your way. You may have seen videos on YouTube several years ago. Without the proper training and mindset, it can be incredibly dangerous. Even more so when you do it at night.

On their first real “trace” (the lingo used in Parkour for “run” or “routine” of sorts), the three friends take to the top of a new construction apartment complex, but before they even really get started, Allie sees something horrifying. Through the glass doors of one of the empty apartments, she sees a man standing over a girl who appears to be dead. And then the man looks up and looks straight at Allie.

Being the only one who saw anything, Allie tries to convince herself that what she thinks happened didn’t really happen. But after she starts doing a little solo investigation, things aren’t lining up. And then other things start happening. Like text messages from a blocked number. And a car that tries to run her down. And a door now shut after she left it open. To top it off, Juliet is being super weird. She’s knows more than she’s telling, and Allie starts to wonder if she’s somehow involved.

I was so intrigued by the premise of this story: super spooky (non-supernatural!) thriller, with the added layers of XP, causing the setting to always be darkness. I think I know why I hadn’t heard of it before, though. It was just okay. I mean, I wanted to know what happened, and it was definitely scary at parts, but I just didn’t feel that connected to Allie, Rob, or Juliet. And, (spoiler?) it doesn’t give you all the answers! You’re left wondering, and not in a good way! So frustrating!

So, hem, haw, 1 star.