Monday, May 26, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I got sucked into The Maze Runner from the very first page. Thomas "awakens" in an elevator-type box, and when the doors open he finds a large group of boys his age all starting at him. He quickly learns that he has joined the gladers, trapped in an area surrounded by an ever-changing maze.

The gladers have lived in the glade for two years, with one new boy arriving monthly, just in the way that Thomas arrived. Just as he begins to learn about the community and lifestyle, a new person appears. This new arrival is a girl, the first girl ever. Thomas is immediately drawn to her - and soon learns that their connection is not only strong, it contains the ability to communicate telepathically.

The boys have organized their community well, and have learned to provide for themselves using the tools given them by the creators. They believe their main goal to find a way to escape through the maze, but this is a most dangerous place, because creatures called "grievers" (mechanical monsters) come out mostly at night. A sting from a griever causes the victim to go through a "changing", which appears to affect them greatly. Those victims are lucky, however, because death comes to anyone receiving more than a minor injury.

There is a great amount of mystery surrounding the glade and the maze, and as readers we learn bits and pieces. I enjoyed the book immensely, but have a lot of questions as to how it can be made into a single movie. The books ends as part 1 of a four-part series, and simply delivers the remaining boys (and one girl) to the next phase in their trial.

I know you can find the movie trailer for The Maze Runner, so I'll share an author interview with James Dashner. Enjoy!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is on my list of books to read partly because it's being made into a movie. I don't watch very many movies, so it's probably not even one that I'll watch. However, when my students see books being made into movies that means they will want to read the books, so I want to be able to say that I've read the book already. Hence, the list.

There's no secret to this story line. Mia and her family are in a tragic car accident. Both of Mia's parents die at the scene. Her younger brother survives for a day or so and then also dies. Mia is in a coma, in critical condition, telling the story - as she watches it in one of those "out of body" experiences.

Throughout the story we learn all about Mia's life, family and friends. She is a girl with a musical gift for playing the cello, although she was raised around rock music.

The story is told beautifully, and I admit that there were several times where I wiped away the tears in my eyes. Overall, though, the book is a quick read that, although not overly dramatic, pulls the reader and keeps your attention until the very last page.

I especially enjoyed reading the author's notes at the end of the book, where Gayle Forman explains where she got the idea for the book, her references for the music, and provides an author Q and A.

There are a lot of great book trailers on If I Stay, and of course there's the official movie trailer, but instead I thought I'd share this interview with Gayle Forman. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by JC Carleson

The Tyrant's Daughter is the beautifully written story of Laila, the daughter of an Eastern leader who ruled his country through fear, violence and evil. When her father is killed in a violent attack on their home, Laila's mother moves her family to the United States, where they are protected and supported. Laila and her brother, however, are in the dark as to their country's politics and their father's role in the tragedies that have affected many in their country.

As a high school student, Laila is confronted by the differences in cultures. What was normal for her has been turned upside down.

As Laila comes to terms with who she is, where she came from, and how she can fit into her new school, she learns more and more about her past.

This book is fiction, but there is much that feels "real" about it, and it is an excellent novel to increase understanding and awareness for young people.

There are many stories to be told about war, terrorism, and politics, but so often these stories are told from the US point of view. It is so good for us to read one told by an innocent victim of the history and events of her country.

Author J.C. Carleson has her career in the CIA to back up the story, and so it reads entirely truthfully. I appreciate the complexity and emotions of this book, and I encourage adults as well as high school students to read it.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The difficult part about coming late to the Young Adult books of the high school crowd is that there is so much to read! It's always a difficult decision. Do I read the newest books out? Or do I go back to the standouts of the past 10 years to catch up? If only there were more reading hours in the day! My reading list is long and varied, and my bedside table (and my iPad) are filled with books that beg to be read...if only there were more time!

I grabbed John Green's An Abundance of Katherines on the way out the library door on Friday. I've booktalked this book many times without actually having read more than a few reviews, but there it was on the return cart, and I knew I needed something light for a quiet weekend.

And so it was that on Sunday morning, while Colin and Hassan were being chased by hornets after trying to scare off the feral pig, I was laughing out loud. And moments later, when Colin and Hassan were discussing what mattered in life, I was wiping the tears from my eyes, and realizing that I truly love reading whatever John Green writes. When you're old, this happens (the crying!) You read about teenagers finding out what's important - and how, as Hassan put it, "how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you." You see, a teenager, realizing that the future is unpredictable, is one of those things that makes me cry. Partly because I wish I had learned it when I was teenager. Mostly though, because I want all teenagers to come to that realization: that they can matter. That they can make a difference.

An Abundance of Katherines turned out to be one of my favorite books. I love John Green's writing style. I enjoy his sense of humor. And if you're working on young adult novels too, and are trying to catch up on some of the best of the past 10 years, grab it as you're walking out the door. You'll be glad you did.

“You matter as much as the things that matter to you. And I got so backwards trying to matter to him. All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me, and this place. It's so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don't even know why you need it; you just think you do.” 
― John GreenAn Abundance of Katherines

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Torn by David Massey

I had the opportunity to read Torn by David Massey with my high school book club this year. Torn is an awesome story of war, focusing on the way that children are affected by war, but the hope for peace that continues to exist in them.

David Massey lives in Great Britain, so it makes sense that his protagonist is also Britain. Private Elinor Nielson tells us the terrifying story of war in Afghanistan. Having this story told by Elinor gives us a different view of the Americans in Afghanistan. This provided some very interesting commentary for my students, who were aware of conflict there but unaware of the larger world's involvement. This gave us a great additional topic of conversation.

Probably the very best part about reading Torn was that David Massey was willing to meet with us via skype when we were ready to discuss the book. He joined us for lunch and we had a fascinating dialog with him!

The students were especially interested to learn how he came up with his ideas for this story, and they were amazed as David shared that the idea for the story came from the haunting picture of the young girl on a National Geographic magazine years ago.  Of course, they also wanted to know what he is writing now (and we can't wait to get our hands on it!) They were also extremely interested in David's "real life".  David and his wife run an emergency supply business, providing equipment and supplies for people faced with a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

We are looking forward to the US release of David's book, Taken, which was just released in the UK. David told us the book was about a group of friends on a perfect humanitarian trip to Africa when they are attacked by pirates and must fight for their release. Doesn't it sound exciting? We can't wait!

The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tara Altebrando's book, The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life! I grabbed it off the book return cart as I was walking out of school on Thursday, knowing I needed a quick fun read for the weekend. This book fit the bill perfectly!

A bittersweet story, Mary and her friends are participating in a senior year tradition - the scavenger hunt. Throughout the hunt we learn all of the highlights (and lowlights) of her school career, uncovering secret crushes, broken hearts, best friends, and even sisterly love.

This fun story goes much deeper than just the evening of fun, and we learn not only some of the regrets of Mary's past, but also her fears of growing up, leaving town, going off to college, and facing a future she has been dreaming of.

As an adult I read this book with many tugs on my heart and a few tears in my eyes. Mary uncovers some of the secrets that only adults know: that true high school loves usually fade. That parent/child relationships are complicated and not always what they appear to be. That there are many years ahead, with huge joys, and the disappointments of high school will mean much less when 5, 10, 20 years have passed.

Perhaps The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life is best read by adults - people who know that the best night probably won't happen in high school and that your life is not nearly as pathetic as you think. So whether you're in high school or "all grown up" this is a book that will make you wish you were off stealing statues, skinny-dipping, sneaking around, and enjoying fun times with good friends.