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Tell Me Something Worse

posted by: September 18, 2012 - 8:00am

The RaftIn this year of the anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage, survival at sea has been a common theme. In S.A. Bodeen’s deceptively simple novel The Raft, the clear-cut lines between life and death become as blurry as heat rising from asphalt, when a young girl struggles to stay alive. Fifteen-year-old Robie’s method for overcoming her fears has always been to ask people to "tell me something worse", but what do you do when there is nothing worse?


Robie lives a life that many her age would kill for. Her parents are research biologists, and the family lives on Midway Island, west of Hawai`i. Robie is home-schooled, makes her own schedule, and hangs out with naturalists and National Geographic photographers. When she gets bored, she hops a plane to Honolulu to visit her uber-cool aunt AJ. She is returning home from her aunt’s when the unthinkable happens—the engines fail and the small plane plummets into the sea. Robie and the co-pilot, Max, are the only survivors. Adrift in a leaky raft with an unconscious pilot, Robie is on her own. While food, water and the elements are the major physical concerns, keeping herself mentally present is proving to be an even greater challenge. As her body grows weaker, it becomes all-too-easy to simply close her eyes and give up. Max won’t let her do that, however, and he wakes just often enough to force her to stay alert, alive, and ready for rescue.


Bodeen is the author of many books for teens, including the best-seller The Compound. She ventures away from her usual science fiction fare with The Raft, but keeps firmly grounded in marine biology for her descriptions of ocean and island wildlife. Readers will be absorbed but also torn between lingering over the vivid details and rapidly turning the page to discover Robie’s fate.


A Platypus and a Wombat Walk Into a Bar...

posted by: September 7, 2012 - 8:45am

Albert of Adelaide“Albert had come to the conclusion that the key to survival in Old Australia was in picking a criminal element you liked and sticking with it.”


Albert of Adelaide is tired of his life. He is bored by his daily routine, the same meals over and over, the same neighbors arguing and complaining, the same people gawking at him day in and day out. He longs for freedom and adventure, to experience life as it was meant to be lived. He gets his chance when an inattentive staffer fails to lock his cage and Albert the platypus breaks out of the Adelaide Zoo, beginning his journey toward self-discovery.


Following tales and legends, Albert begins his search for “Old Australia,” a place where animals rule themselves and humans do not interfere. Along the way, he makes friends as well as enemies. Even among the animals Albert is a curiosity, which proves to be both an advantage and disadvantage for him. Curiosity soon turns to fear, and Albert must learn the difficult lesson that not everyone nice is inherently good and not every criminal is inherently bad.


Debut novelist Howard Anderson has created a thought-provoking and entertaining story. Comparisons to Watership Down or even Animal Farm are inevitable, but Albert is much more reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West language and shoot ‘em up simplicity of Old Australia draws the reader in, with many laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. The supporting characters are a literal hoot, namely the pyromaniac wombat and a pair of drunken bandicoots. Albert of Adelaide is recommended for fans of westerns, animal stories, or anyone who likes a good laugh.



A Glee-ful Story

posted by: August 22, 2012 - 7:55am

The Land of Stories: the Wishing SpellThe fairy tale world is one that is familiar to all of us. Hearing the words "My, what big teeth you have!" or "Somebody has been eating my porridge!" instantly transports us into a magical land of evil queens and brave heroes and heroines. Actor and debut author Chris Colfer takes readers on this journey in The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.


Twins Alex and Conner have not had much magic in their lives lately. Their father was killed in a car accident earlier in the year, and their mother has had to work double shifts just to keep the family afloat. Quiet, bookish Alex has had an especially hard time since her father died, since she has no close friends other than her brother. Neither twin holds out much hope for a happy birthday until their oft-absent grandmother appears for a visit. Among the birthday gifts she brings is "The Land of Stories", the book of fairy tales from which their father and grandmother used to read during happier times. When Alex takes the book to bed with her and it begins to hum loudly and glow, the magic truly begins. The twins literally fall into The Land of Stories.


As they try to find a way home by collecting magical items for the Wishing Spell, Alex and Conner encounter many of their favorite characters. They are not exactly as they remember them from the stories, however; Cinderella was scorned by her people for being lower class, Goldilocks is a master swordswoman on the run from the law for multiple crimes, and the Big Bad Wolf Pack (descendants of the original) is working for the Evil Queen who tried to kill Snow White. Will the twins find all of the items in time to return home to their mother?


Colfer credits his grandmother for his writing skill, as she often edited his childhood writing by tearing it up and telling him he could do better. He infuses his Land with witty humor and quick action. Alex and Conner complement each other as the star-struck fairy tale fan and cynical wise-cracker respectively. Kids will love going along with them on the ultimate scavenger hunt and learning what happened to their favorites beyond “happily ever after.” The audiobook is narrated by Colfer himself, and his voice adds child-like humor and whimsical charm to his tale.


The Will to Live

posted by: August 14, 2012 - 7:55am

SurviveWhat gives someone the will to live? Often it is nothing within themselves but rather someone else, someone who would not survive without you. In the debut novel Survive by Alex Morel, a teenage girl must overcome her own mental health issues and fight to save the life of another.


Jane has it all planned. She has been on her best behavior at the institute. She has not cut herself in months and has been very forthcoming in her sessions. This has earned her a plane trip home to see her mother for Christmas. She does not plan to arrive alive, intending to use a pocketful of pills in the bathroom to join her father and her grandmother, both of whom committed suicide. Fate has a cruel sense of irony, and when the plane crashes in the mountains due to the winter storm, she and Paul are the only survivors.


Morel creates an interesting dynamic between Jane and Paul, both of whom have experienced tragedies that left them with distant emotional connections to their parents. On the surface, Survive is simply a survival story—a modern-day Hatchet. The action is swift and will hold the attention of more challenged readers. If the reader chooses to delve a bit deeper, they will find a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that rises and falls as the survivors climb toward rescue.


Scully and Mulder Beware

posted by: July 24, 2012 - 9:01am

UnravelingAn ordinary girl. A mysterious boy. A horrific accident. A countdown to…the end? The truth is indeed out there, and Janelle Tenner is determined to discover it at all costs in Elizabeth Norris’ debut novel Unraveling.


Upon leaving the beach where she works as a lifeguard, Janelle is hit by a pickup truck and dies. So why is she still thinking, breathing, and feeling?  Because of Ben, a “stoner” boy who Janelle barely notices until he is standing over her, whispering in her ear and laying his hands on her broken spine. He runs off as the ambulance arrives, and Janelle is convinced that he has brought her back to life.


The mystery of Ben is just one part of the puzzle for Janelle. The man who hit her was covered in radiation burns and, according to her father’s files (he is an FBI agent), the man was dead before he struck Janelle. She secretly begins her own investigation to discover the truth of the accident, including the numbers on her father’s files that seem to be a countdown. 


In the glut of paranormal and dystopian teen fiction, Unraveling is a refreshing change. Janelle is a fully-drawn character, a girl dealing with family issues as well as her own unexplained return from death. Fans of FBI dramas like The X-Files or young amateur investigators like Veronica Mars will enjoy undertaking this Unraveling.



Morality Tale

posted by: July 23, 2012 - 8:45am

The LifeboatThe relationship between strong leadership and survival in an emergency are at the core of The Lifeboat, the debut novel by Charlotte Rogan. Speaking up, taking a stand, and following through with decisive action are usually recognized as qualities of an effective leader in a crisis situation. However, when the people you lead are adrift at sea on an overcrowded lifeboat, sometimes holding your tongue can be more effective.


The Lifeboat begins in a courtroom. Twenty-two-year-old Grace Winter is on trial, along with two other women, for a crime yet to be revealed. The story unfolds as Grace tells it, through alternating narratives of the current trial and her journaling of the three weeks spent in a lifeboat after the sinking of a luxury ocean liner in the Atlantic, two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Thirty-nine people are adrift in the filled-past-capacity boat, and the claustrophobic conditions only add to the mental anguish of the survivors. A power struggle between the sole crew member onboard and a strong-willed female passenger seethes beneath the surface of the group. 


All of the usual survival story arcs are at play here—lack of food and water, beating down of the sun, reliance on wind and weather-- but Rogan skillfully pushes these into the background. The true heart of the story is the survival of a sense of society and morality. Initially, the men take charge and make decisions for the group. As the days stretch on without rescue, the balance of power begins to shift. The women, led by the deceptively matron-like Mrs. Grant, soon take matters into their own hands. How will these actions be judged upon rescue?


The idea for The Lifeboat came to Rogan from an old criminal court case involving two soldiers who survived a shipwreck and found themselves floating on a plank that would only support one of them. Is it murder to ensure the survival of some rather than the probable death of all? Readers who enjoy survival stories like Jamrach’s Menagerie or psychological dramas like Room will read this in one sitting.  




Hey Jude

posted by: July 17, 2012 - 7:55am

Before You GoThe summer before senior year is a season of firsts for Jude. He begins his first job at a food shack on the beach, and there he meets the girl who will become his first love. He also breaks with family tradition, and for the first time talks to someone about the darkness that surrounds them -- the accidental drowning of his sister in the backyard pool. Jude’s long-suppressed emotions come to the surface in Before You Go by James Preller.


The beauty of this book is in the drawing of the teen characters. The friendships between the boys are realistic and the dialogue is believable. No one is overly-pathetic or incredibly cool; these are everyday kids growing up in an ordinary town doing what teens do. They work “undesirable” part-time jobs, drink a little, get bored sometimes, explore dating and relationships, distance themselves from their parents, and start to realize that life may not work out the way you plan it.


Preller is the author of the Jigsaw Jones series and the children’s fiction title Bystander. He makes his teen fiction debut with Before You Go. Although it begins with a fatal car accident, this book is not action-packed. Readers drawn to emotional stories with subtle character development will enjoy this novel.



A Prince of a Guy

posted by: July 10, 2012 - 8:31am

Between the LinesMany of us have wished that our favorite literary characters were real people who could jump off the page and into our lives. In Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer, Delilah gets the chance of a lifetime when Prince Oliver, the hero of the fairy tale of the same name, speaks to her and she can hear him. The two become fast friends and together they hatch a plot to free Oliver from the book. Delilah’s family and friends do not understand why she is so obsessed with this children’s book, and they unknowingly thwart her at every turn. Likewise, the rest of the fairy tale characters (who have distinctly different personalities when the book is closed) do not understand why Oliver is so unhappy reliving the same story over and over again.


The creative idea for Between the Lines was pitched to Picoult by her teenage daughter Samantha, who was daydreaming about book characters coming to life instead of paying attention in French class. This charming book is a collaborative effort between mother and daughter, and it includes many inserted images and pencil sketch drawings. An imaginative romance, this is a good book for reluctant readers or teens that are looking for something simpler and sweeter than your typically angsty novel for adolescents.


As the World Slowly Turns

posted by: June 25, 2012 - 8:30am

The Age of MiraclesWho among us hasn’t wished for more hours in a day?  In The Age of Miracles, debut author Karen Thompson Walker presents a world in which having more time is taken to the extreme. For no apparent reason, the earth has slowed its daily rotation, lengthening the day by a few minutes. This “slowing” continues to grow incrementally, and the days and nights grow longer. Society divides itself into two groups: “real-timers” who follow the sun, sleeping whenever it is dark and staying awake when there is light, and “clock-timers” who live by the standard 24-hours-in-a-day system and adhere to a regular schedule for school, work, and sleep. As time goes on and on, real-timers are bullied and eventually forced to move into communes. 


People soon begin to realize how disastrous the consequences of more time can be. Power outages, food shortages, environmental changes, behavioral problems and physical and mental illnesses plague people worldwide. Both societal groups eventually suffer from the seemingly endless days and nights as the struggle to be right becomes the struggle to survive.


The Age of Miracles is told from a young girl’s point of view, though this is not a children’s story. Julia experiences all of the catastrophic environmental changes through the filter of her own life, which is filled with the everyday challenges of growing up.  Julia comes to realize that no one is perfect as she watches her friends, family members and community deal with the slowing in very different ways. Readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction such as Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer or On the Beach by Nevil Shute will enjoy this title, which has excellent teen-crossover appeal.



Boy Soldier

posted by: June 5, 2012 - 6:11am

Never Fall DownThe smell is what gets him.  He can survive the endless marching, total exhaustion and constant hunger. But the smell from the dirt piles, the piles of dead bodies, penetrates his wall of stone-faced nothingness. Sickly-sweet yet slightly bitter, the smell makes him wince, cringe, and lose what little he has been able to put into his stomach. He could survive another day if not for the smell.


Arn Chorn-Pond was 11 years old when the Khmer Rouge came into his Cambodian village and forced everyone to march to the work camps. Never Fall Down is a fictional account of Chorn-Pond’s capture, torture, and exploitation by these “freedom fighters.” Divided from his family, he struggles to survive each day by not drawing attention to himself. Arn is a smart boy, and eventually he uses his quick mind to learn to play the khim, a traditional musical instrument. The Khmer Rouge use music as propaganda to turn the minds of the captives and make them loyal to the cause, and as a musician Arn gains some small status among the soldiers. Does he dare risk standing up for himself and the other children against his captors? Now that he has some small measure of freedom, should he just run away?


Patricia McCormick is the author of numerous young adult novels, including Cut and Sold, for which she was nominated for the National Book Award. McCormick is an author who is not afraid to examine difficult topics such as self-injury and sex trafficking. She decided to write Never Fall Down in the first person so that Arn’s own voice (including his broken English) could be heard. This book is a good choice for reluctant teen readers needing to read historical fiction, or for anyone who enjoyed Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone or Emmanuel Jal’s War Child.



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