The Times They Are A Changin’

Time Snatchers, by Richard Ungar (2012)

I came across this debut randomly on the library shelf, and although I’d heard nothing about it, I took it for the sole reason that the back flap said the author was inspired by one of Chris Van Allsburg’s images from The Mysterious Harris Burdick, and as you already know (from my review of Chronicles of Harris Burdick), that’s a good enough reason for me.

Flash forward about 50 years to 2061 where we meet Caleb, a Time Snatcher. Orphaned at a young age, Caleb was “adopted” by a man called only Uncle, along with a handful of other kids. The children were trained to take advantage of new technology Uncle has developed that allows them to travel through time to steal famous artifacts for high-paying clients. For many years, Uncle’s group of orphans felt like a family to Caleb, but things are starting to change. America and China have entered into a partnership, and with it, Uncle sees new ways to increase business. In fact, his plans are so big, he feels the need to expand his group of Snatchers from a handful to hundreds. And to do that, the Snatchers will need to snatch more kids, even kids that have families. Throw in a big bully, the flutterings of first love, and some hefty decisions between right and wrong, and you have a coming-of-age story that will resound with many a middle-schooler of the current decade.

1.5 stars

(PS: Anybody else notice how the cover HIGHLY resembles one of the covers of Ender’s Game? Coincidence, I think not.)

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My debut Debut: A dystopia, duh.

Article 5, by Kristen Simmons (2012)

Two and half months into the new year, and I have finally scratched my first debut author off my list. Only 11 to go. And I have to say, it was a good one start with. Because I think this is one people are going to be talking about.

Ember’s world fits right in with the ever-growing pile of YA dystopias out there. And I don’t know what it is about this genre, but I can’t seem to help but love every single one of these I read. Who cares if they all function around the same basic premise (Sometime after some crushing WWIII event, in what used to be America that is now run by a totalitarian or military government, a scrappy teenage female will have to conquer all sorts of external forces beating her down while simultaneously confronting her internal turmoil caused by a certain male(s) of her past/present), I’ll eat it up anyway. And so do so many other readers out there. Well, here’s another one for your pile. Find and devour accordingly:

Ember Miller lives with her single mom, somewhat under the radar of the Moral Militia, as she affectionately calls the military government. That is until officers of the MM (more officially termed the Federal Bureau of Reformation) knock on her door and drag her mother out of the house and into custody for violating Article 5 of the Moral Statutes (having a babe out of wedlock). Oh, and did I mention that one of the arresting officers was none other than dear old Chase Jennings, former best friend and flame. After this particularly traumatic encounter (all within chapter 1, mind you), Ember is carted off too, crossing state lines to be deposited in a rehabilitation center for girls taken from their homes for similar violations. Needless to say, Ember wants to spend as little time as possible at the center, as her only goal is finding her mother and getting them to safety. Unfortunately, there is little possibility of this without the help of her recent back-stabbing ex-boyfriend.

Say what you want about predictable plot-turns and generic gender roles, I really don’t care. I love a good heart-thumper, and this one fits the bill. The ending leaves plenty of space for what will likely be at least a trilogy, as they all are.

2 stars

Who knew?

Who knew plucking one's eyebrows dated back to the 1700s?

Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000)

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, by Jim Murphy (2003)

Okay. Jig’s up. Who knew about this? Because I certainly didn’t.

If you are like me and were completely unaware of the horrifying Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Philadelphia a little bit after the Revolutionary War, you should probably go ahead and grab one of these YA books and enlighten yourself.

This semester I’m taking Information Books & Resources for Youth and in a couple weeks we are discussing the unique relationship historical fiction can have with your more standard-fare non-fiction. This coupling was one of the pairs we will be reviewing. And while I’m pretty familiar with the idea of using historical fiction to bridge kids to non-fiction (or the other way around), I have never seen a pair of books that do this so seamlessly.

As you may know, I have a habit of reading lots of books simultaneously. I have my blow-drying book, my waiting-for-the-bus book, by bedtime book, and sometimes another one thrown in there for good measure. So, needless to say, I was reading both these books at the same time. And I found myself forgetting which one had already told me one thing or another. I would come across a character in Fever that I forgot I hadn’t met in the context of Mattie’s story yet, just in the non-fiction version I read while in the kitchen. (It got a bit confusing, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this concurrent reading approach for these two.)

The good thing this proved to me, however, is how extremely detailed and impressive the research was that went into both books. Anderson spins an exciting tale of teen Mattie as she and her family and friends (and the rest of the city) contract and fight the disease. As I mentioned, interwoven throughout Mattie’s fictional story are plenty of historical characters and astonishingly accurate details. Meanwhile, Murphy has a knack for making death and disaster particularly engaging, as he pulls together primary documents and quotes from all the major players of this catastrophic event. (I’m serious, though. Catastrophe. In our country. That I had never heard of. Likely over 5000 people dead due to this 3-month-long epidemic. Did I miss that day of American History class in 8th grade? Sorry, Mr. Owen.)

So I don’t care if you prefer fiction or non-fiction or are a teenager or a retiree. Either of these books are extremely well-prepared to inform you about this bleak time in our history.

PS: ALSO — Did you know that Yellow Fever has no known cure and that any day now the mosquitoes could decide to spread it all over again and we would be totally unprepared because no American company manufactures the vaccine? OH GREAT.

2 stars (Fever) / 1.5 stars (American Plague)
(This is a total personal preference of fiction over non-fiction. I have a deep-seated prejudice that books like Murphy’s are beginning to dislodge. The quality of Murphy’s book is definitely high.)

Winter’s the worst…

Shiver, by Maggie Shiefvater (2009)

Riding on the coattails of the Twilight phenomenon, Shiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy has been on my radar for a while. I didn’t know much about it, except that it had an appealing cover and that it was one of those werewolf teenage romances that seem to be so popular. So as I was creating my stack of winter break reads, I added Shiver to the list.

Yesterday, when I was eating dinner with my dear friend and new librarian Laura, I mentioned that I had started reading it. When she asked how it was, I told her it was pretty much like Twilight, except that it was missing that need-to-read quality that unwittingly captured so many of us. I was 50 pages in and not very hopeful.

But. Obviously, as I am writing this today, less that 24 hours later, things picked up. I’m a slow reader, and I tore through those last 340 pages faster than anything I’ve read since the last HP. Oh BOY.

In alternating chapters, we get the story of Grace and Sam. When she was younger, Grace was attacked by a group of wolves, nearly died, until one wolf with golden eyes carried her home, saving her life. Ever since, Grace has watched the golden-eyed wolf who sits at the edge of the woods by her house through the winter months each year. Grace dreads summer, when the wolf disappears.

Sam, however, loves summer. When the weather gets warm, he is able to transform into his true human body. Except each year, the human transformations get shorter and eventually will stop forever. In fact, this year the summer months fade to fall and his wolf body remains.

Then one evening, a group of hunters take to the woods to kill all the wolves, and Sam is shot. Somehow, he shifts and makes his way to Grace’s porch, where she finds him bleeding and naked. When she looks into his eyes, those same golden eyes, BOOM. LOVE. The pair spend the next weeks and chapters navigating their new human relationship while simultaneously tackling complication after complication, including troubling parents, a new rogue werewolf, rocky friendships, and the ever-growing threat of winter.

It sounds a bit formulaic, I realize, but I’m not sure that really matters. Any book that can make me tear through nearly 400 pages in 2 days is okay in my book. And Stiefvater doesn’t stick to the conventional myths of werewolves either, making things more interesting.

Book number 2, Linger, has quickly been added to the winter break list.

2 stars

Dear Carolyn Keene

The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman (1985)

I’m feeling really sleepy after a long weekend and don’t have much to say about this selection for Mystery Week this Wednesday in Children’s Lit, but I can’t help but say this one thing:

THIS IS WHAT I THOUGHT NANCY DREW WAS GONNA BE LIKE.

Scary. Mysterious. Complicated. Bloody. Dynamic characters. Clever dialogue.

Sometimes I wasn’t really sure what was going on, and it didn’t thrill me. But so much better than N.D. Get a clue, Carolyn Keene stock-writers.

1.5 stars

A new trilogy to obsess over…

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (2011)

It’s another one of those dystopian, YA, chicks-rule, first love, impossible choices books.

But oh, it’s a good one.

Beatrice lives in future Chicago, which has been split into five factions, based on the most valued trait of that community. Beatrice grew up in Abnegation, where the residents are selfless above all else. Then there’s Candor (the honest ones), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the smarties), and finally, Dauntless (the courageous). But she and her brother are now sixteen and time has come for them to choose their future. At this stage in everyone’s lives they undergo a ceremony during which they choose what community they want to belong to. This choice cannot be taken lightly, because from this point on, they must commit to “faction before blood.” If Beatrice chooses anything other than Abnegation, she will never be able to go home again. And Beatrice knows that selflessness is not her strong point.

This isn’t giving much of a summary, I realize, but part of the pleasure of reading this, is that there’s a possible spoiler in just about every chapter. Gotta love that.

A lot of reviewers have compared this one to Hunger Games, and I too can see a lot of similarities, the most significant of which is the INTENSE NEED TO KEEP READING. I really couldn’t put this down. I also loved the references to Chicago landmarks (the Bean, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, the building that “used to be called the Sears Tower”), allowing me to track her journeys across the city.

This is such a hot genre right now, and there are plenty for teens to choose from. But this will be one of the top dystopian novels that I’ll recommend, both for it’s interesting new ideas and its exciting plot twists.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this for days afterward. I haven’t returned it to the library yet, just to keep in around.

Three stars.

 

The greatest gift of all?

  Delirium, by Lauren Oliver (2011)

PHASE ONE: Preoccupation, difficulty focusing; dry mouth; perspiration, sweaty palms; fits of dizziness and disorientation; reduced mental awareness, racing thoughts, impaired reasoning skills

PHASE TWO: Periods of euphoria, hysterical laughter and heightened energy; periods of despair, lethargy; changes in appetite rapid weight loss or weight gain; fixation, loss of other interests; compromised reasoning skills, distortion of reality; disruption of sleep patterns, insomnia or constant fatigue; obsessive thoughts and actions; paranoia, insecurity

Any idea the disease whose symptoms I’m describing? Some sort of flu? Maybe mono? No? Let me keep going…

PHASE THREE: Difficulty breathing; pain in the chest, throat, or stomach; difficulty swallowing, refusal to eat; complete breakdown of rational faculties, erratic behavior, violent thoughts and fantasies, hallucinations and delusions

Figured it out yet?

PHASE FOUR: Emotional or physical paralysis (partial or total); death.

There’s only one disease this could be describing. Think about it. What makes all of us crazy at some point in our lives?

…. Love, of course.

Or as it is known in Lena Haloway’s society, amor deliria nervosa. Set in a future America, sixty-four years after the American President declared love to be a disease, Lena is one of many teenagers anxiously awaiting their eighteenth birthday, the day when they will receive the surgery that will cure them of the deliria forever. Following the surgery, people live content, non-threatening lives, free from any pain or heartbreak. Lena has 95 days till her surgery, and can’t think of much else but her upcoming examination which will determine her future,  including who she will be paired with for marriage. But on the morning of her examination, Hana, Lena’s gorgeous, happy-go-lucky best friend whispers something outrageous to her: “You know you can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes, right?”

Lena is horrified. Is it possible that her very best friend could be a “resistor”, someone who rebels against the government and, if caught, is executed or at the very least, thrown in the Crypts? To find out for sure, Lena follows Hana to an underground party, where illegal music is pumping, and–horror of all horrors–boys and girls are dancing, touching, laughing together. On her way out of the party, Lena runs into Alex, a strange boy she met earlier that week. Although he’s been cured–making it legal for them to spend time together–he certainly doesn’t act like it, and Lena is suspicious of his friendliness. But for some reason she can’t explain, she’s drawn to him, and when he asks her to dance, she’s unable to say no.

It doesn’t take much to figure out what happens next. Before too long, something in Lena has changed. She’s still counting down the days till her surgery, but soon it’s with dread rather than excitement. Could everything she’s ever known and wished for be one massive lie? Is her community really as peaceful as it seems? What lies beyond the gates surrounding her city? Can one person really change Lena’s life?

Fairly reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, Lena’s story joins a long line of other dystopian novels that encourage readers to imagine what our society will become, to question the norm, and to fight for what is truly important.

It took me a while to get into, but of course, once into it, I could do little else but read. More than 24 hours later, I’m still wishing there were more pages to turn. Luckily, Oliver will eventually fulfill my wish, as she completes the trilogy with two more stories about Lena.

Exciting, though sometimes predictable, 2 stars