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The Cost of College

posted by: September 10, 2013 - 7:00am

The TestingThe Earth has been horrifically damaged by the Seven Stages War. Water supplies are contaminated by nuclear waste, vegetation obliterated and mutations of animals and humans roam the wild charred remains of North America. There are 18 colonies of survivors throughout the land who are governed by the United Commonwealth, with the mission of regenerating the Earth and improving the quality of life. Their method for choosing the future leaders of the land is simple, selecting only the very brightest students from each colony, they offer this elite group an opportunity for The Testing. If successful, they go on to University where they will learn skills to continue improving their world. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau chronicles these challenges as faced by Cia Vale, and her specifically chosen peers. 


Cia has always tried her best in school in the hope that she may qualify for The Testing, and a University education just like her father. When she learns she has been picked to go to Tosu City she is overjoyed, although her father’s reaction is much more reserved.  He tells her about terrible nightmares of events he thinks may have taken place, but because of the mandatory mind wipe he has never been certain what was real. The only words of advice he can offer are “trust no one.”  120 students have been selected for Testing, yet only 20 will be offered coveted positions at the University, and failure in any of the four stages has severe consequences. Cia quickly learns that more is on the line than her future education, her very life is in danger. 


Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will not want to miss this debut book from Charbonneau, which is also the first of a trilogy. The Testing requires more than intelligence and instinct to survive, and some of the students will do whatever it takes in improve their odds.  Cia’s optimism and altruistic values in the face of the United Commonwealth’s sinister methods are also endangered. Will she ultimately sacrifice her humanity in order to pass The Testing? 


Brothers vs. the World

posted by: September 9, 2013 - 7:00am

The End GamesThere is much to be afraid of in the dark. Michael wakes to screams and discovers that his little brother is not in the Pokémon sleeping bag next to him. He must be sleepwalking again, but there is more than one dark shape moving around their camp, and the screams do not sound human; at least not living humans. Thus begins the nonstop action in The End Games by debut novelist T. Michael Martin, a zombie apocalypse thrill ride with a strong brotherly bond at its center.


On Halloween the world as we know it came to an end. What replaced it was something that 17-year-old Michael calls "The Game." Survivors play by a series of rules laid down from the “Game Master” in order to reach the safe zone. Michael and his 5-year-old brother, Patrick, have now been playing The Game for weeks, battling strange zombie-like monsters called “Bellows,” in hopes of reaching safety and reuniting with their mother. Unfortunately, The Game is starting to change, and there are other players who don't play by the rules.


Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there is thrilling action. Yes, there are evil villans and multiple plot twists and turns. But the heart of this story is the love between the brothers. Michael’s only thoughts are to protect Patrick morning and night, day after day, until the end. Martin gives enough glimpses into the past, before The Game, for the reader to understand the very special and unique relationship between the boys even then. Their struggle to survive is a heart-wrenching one, so keep a tissue handy. Recommended for fans of zombie fiction, action-adventure or stories of unique sibling bonds.


I Would Die For You

posted by: July 2, 2013 - 7:22am

ProxyAlex London’s thriller Proxy propels the reader into a not-so-distant dystopian future in Colorado. An orphan teen living in the Valve, the slum of Mountain City, Sydney Carton is forced to take on years of debt just to secure his meager existence. And like many orphans, he’s repaying this debt by serving as a proxy, made to take any physical punishments intended for his patron. Unfortunately for Syd, his patron is the incorrigible, spoiled Knox Brindle, son of the wealthy head of SecuriTech.


Throughout their lives, Knox has been forced to watch Syd suffer the painful effects of the electro-muscular disruption (EMD) stick, used to deliver physical discipline. But since they’ve never met and he’s always watched onscreen, it’s been easy to remain detached. Now it seems Knox is responsible for the death of a young woman, and Syd will have to pay with his life. An unusual turn of circumstance throws the teens together in the same place at the same time, and it turns out that nothing is as it seems. Syd’s life may be worth more than anyone realizes.


Baltimore native London has created a detailed science fiction world that takes our current technology and debt-driven society to a whole new level. He manages to put a fresh spin on some time-honored storytelling tropes, creating an exciting, fast-paced novel that makes for a great summer teen read. Proxy is rife with both big thoughts and big action, as London explores the complex nature of friendship, sacrifice and the value of human life.


A Clean Slate

posted by: May 7, 2013 - 8:05am

SlatedTeri Terry’s Slated opens in a London hospital, as Kyla, the novel’s heroine is about to be released. Kyla has no idea who she is because she has been Slated—her memory has been erased by the government as a result of a crime she can no longer remember committing. In Slated’s dystopian world, the government has given teen criminals a second chance at life; rather than sending them to prison, the government wipes their memory and controls their emotions with a device called a Levo, so that the former criminals are unable to commit future crimes.


After an extended stay at the hospital to level her mood out, and relearn basic human functions, Kyla is sent to live with a new family. As she moves in with her new family, her new sister Amy (who has also been Slated) helps Kyla learn about the world she once knew. As she adjusts to her life as a Slated, Kyla begins to have nightmares about her old life, something Slateds are not supposed to be able to do. As she tries to ignore her returning memories, Kyla finds friends, who end up helping her discover more about her former life. When some of her friends and classmates begin to disappear, she realizes there is more going on than she previously thought and she must decide what she’s going to do about it.


Slated is a fast-paced dystopian novel set in a future that is not that hard to imagine. Terry has created a story that leaves readers eagerly awaiting its sequel, Fractured, which comes out in September. Kyla’s story is one that fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent series are sure to enjoy.


The Dark Side

posted by: March 5, 2013 - 7:55am

Maggot MoonFor Standish Treadwell, being one of the few remaining imperfect people in a society mandating perfection is beyond stressful. Survival means staying under the radar and following all of the Motherland’s rules—which is difficult when you can’t read. Echoes of Nazi Germany clash with the Space Race of the 1960’s in Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.


Part dystopian fiction and part science fiction, the action takes place in an unnamed society. Standish is nearly fifteen, and he is getting tired of the violence that surrounds him every day. People keep disappearing, including his own parents, and no one will talk about it. The enemy, known only as the Greenflies, has pressured the President to send men from the Motherland to the moon as a show of superiority to the rest of the world. Anyone not necessary to achieve this goal is expendable. When his best and only friend goes missing, Standish decides it is time to stop hiding and plans to find him. He knows where he has to look—beyond the wall that towers over the last remaining houses in the city. As he makes his plan, he discovers a truth that could lead to freedom from the oppression. Can one person’s small rebellion be the spark that ignites a revolution?


The action in Maggot Moon plays out in extremely short chapters. These are snapshots of Standish’s thoughts, full of the muddled spellings that mirror his dyslexic brain. Author Gardner is dyslexic and is a strong advocate for educational assistance for children with dyslexia. Slightly disturbing pencil sketches on the page edges tell a simpler version of the same story as the text, and they beg to be flipped like an early moving picture book. While the extreme bravery from this 15-year-old boy veers slightly near the edge of believability, Standish is a likeable and honorable character who you want to root for.


A New Kind of Sibling Rivalry

posted by: January 8, 2013 - 7:55am

What's Left of MeThe world which Kat Zhang creates in her dystopian debut, What’s Left of Me, is in many ways similar to our own. The biggest difference is when a person is born, two souls exist within each body. After years of war, the government decided to put a stop to this, and created programs to force the souls to settle -- in other words, to get rid of the weaker soul. Children are taught that this is normal, and that having two souls is not. Adults reinforce that hybrids, those with two souls in one body, are evil and create problems in the world, and therefore should be turned over to authorities so they can be fixed.

What’s Left of Me is told from the perspective of Eva, a non-dominant soul, who has refused to settle. Her dominant counterpart, Addie, is afraid of being discovered as a hybrid, but Eva wants to maintain her sense of power. Eva and Addie end up meeting others like them, which only leads to more trouble. After being sent away with their new friends to be “fixed” by the government, Eva and Addie learn what the government has really been doing with hybrids and they join the movement against it.

Kat Zhang’s first novel is a smart, well-told story that leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next novel in the Hybrid Chronicles. The sibling relationship between Eva and Addie and the friendships that they form with other hybrids like them make their experience seem not so far-fetched. Fans of dystopias will surely enjoy this unique new novel.


The Powers Within

posted by: January 8, 2013 - 7:45am

The Darkest MindsChildren are getting sick in Alexandra Bracken’s new title The Darkest Minds. They are leaving school and never coming back, victims of a mysterious illness. Adults are afraid of the ones who are not sick, the ones who have developed special "abilities". These survivors are rounded up and sent to rehabilitation camps where they are tested, sorted, and imprisoned. Sorted into groups by color (corresponding to ability), the children are forced to work, fed little, and often tortured. Ruby learns right away that orange is a bad color to be, so she pretends to be green. Human touch awakens her ability—at best she can erase people’s memories, at worst she can force thoughts into their heads. At long last she is given the chance to escape, but is life on the run any better than life inside the camp?


Bracken does an especially good job of giving her characters unique and believable voices. Under different circumstances, these kids would be superheroes. Instead, Bracken shows us a society that is afraid of differences as various power-hungry groups vie for control of the children and the power they possess. Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or Kathy Reichs’ Virals books will be thrilled to find this new science-based adventure, the first in a series.      


Teenage Clone Drama

posted by: December 4, 2012 - 8:01am

BetaRachel Cohn, a seasoned author of books for teens, takes her first steps into the world of dystopian literature with her latest novel Beta. The first in a planned four book series, the novel takes place on Demense, an island paradise off the coast of the mainland. Demense is an escape from the problems that exist on the mainland following the Water Wars. Only the most elite can reach Demense, and once there are served by clones who were created so humans wouldn’t have to do any work on the island. In the book, readers are introduced to Elysia, a teenage clone prototype. Within the first chapter, the governor’s wife, Mrs. Bratton, purchases Elysia as a companion for her children, and to fill the hole left by her oldest daughter. She recently left the island to attend university on the mainland.

As Elysia grows accustomed to life with her new family, she finds that she is unlike other clones—she enjoys food, she has desires, and she remembers her First, the girl from whom she was cloned. Initially, Elysia decides to keep her unique qualities to herself, but as she learns more about her island home and the process of cloning, she realizes there is more at stake than pleasing the family that purchased her. Cohn reimagines our world in Beta, like the worlds created in other dystopian teen novels, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or Scott Westerfeldt’s Uglies. Fans of dystopian novels will surely enjoy the first in Cohn’s series. This novel deals with a number of mature themes, making it a better novel for older teens as well as adults. The book keeps readers guessing right up until the last sentence, and leaves us eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.


Come on Up for the Rising

posted by: December 4, 2012 - 7:45am

ReachedUnless you have been living under a rock, you know that teens are driving the literary and cinematic marketplace these days. Popular series such as Twilight and The Hunger Games have exploded into pop culture, and many adults are coming along for the ride. In the crowded market of dystopian teen fiction, Ally Condie has carved out a niche with her Matched series. The long-awaited finale is Reached, and fans of the series will be thrilled to discover what becomes of Cassia, Ky and Xander.


The three main characters have been separated as they serve The Rising, and the action begins early as the “rebels” take over the territories and distribute the plague cure. Until it is certain that everyone is recovered, healthy and safe, a quarantine is imposed. Ky is flying aircraft that carries the cure as well as supplies for those in need. Xander is a medical officer, directly treating the infected and distributing the cure. Cassia is working as a sorter, and her sabotage of the matching ceremony data is the impetus for the Rising. As the days drag on, frustration and loneliness lead all three to question the effectiveness of the cure and even the rebellion itself.


The main messages in Condie’s Matched trilogy are the impact of creativity and individuality on a society. The importance of creativity on the human spirit comes full circle in this final book, and the singing of the first non-Society song is a tear-inducing moment. The theme of individuality that runs through the series is mirrored in the three protagonists, and Reached is told from their alternating points of view in quick chapters. Ky, Xander, and especially Cassia all show growth and maturity in Reached, as each becomes more self-aware and less egocentric. Love is still their underlying motivation, but it is no longer the intense, gut–wrenching angst of the young but a more thoughtful and inclusive love. New readers should begin with Matched by looking for the highly appealing and eye-catching cover art that easily identifies this well-written dystopian series.


Perfect Is as Perfect Does

posted by: November 20, 2012 - 7:15am

OriginPia, the heroine of Jessica Khoury’s novel, Origin, is a perfect girl, or so she has been told all her life. In fact, Pia is far from perfect, but she is immortal. For years, a team of scientists has been working to create an immortal human being, and Pia is their first success. She has been raised in Little Cambridge (better known as Little Cam), a research facility hidden in the middle of the Amazon. The scientists, who have studied Pia since she was born, raised her to believe that she is perfect, and trained her to take over their operation permanently once she has passed all of their tests.


Most of the process of creating immortal beings has been kept secret from Pia, as has any information about the outside world. Beyond the scientific training deemed appropriate by the project’s directors, Pia is kept largely ignorant. However, with the arrival of a new scientist, things begin to change in Little Cam; Pia begins to question her life and everything she has been taught. This pushes her to sneak out of Little Cam, leaving for the first time in her life, at which point, Pia meets Eio, a boy around her age. As their relationship develops, Eio tries to convince her that Little Cam is dangerous and that she should flee. The mystery deepens the more Pia investigates his claims and considers leaving.


Origin imagines a future drastically altered by scientific advancements. Pia’s investigation into Little Cam’s quest for immortality leads her to ask—at what cost? Khoury offers readers a thought-provoking story full of science, romance, and suspense. Teen and adult readers alike will enjoy Khoury’s debut novel.



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