Monday, November 3, 2014

Variant by Robison Wells.  NY: HarperTeen, c2011.   373 pages.  Let me give you a heads up on this book...have the sequel (Feedback) ready and waiting before you begin reading.  This is not one of those nicely wrapped up endings.  You will NEED to keep reading!

Benson Fisher has had a pretty crappy life so far.  His mother abandoned him and he bounced around from foster home to foster home, never really settling in anywhere.  When he got the chance to apply for a scholarship at Maxfield Academy, he thought things were going to change...and they did.  But not as he expected.  Maxfield Academy was not like any other school Benson attended, starting with the razor wire fence surrounding it.  He has a lot of questions, and no one is giving him answers.  He has to choose between three competing gang-like groups, and even though he finds himself fitting in, his thoughts are all about how to get away.

Although there is some violent content, this book is on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for this year and I would recommend it for 7th and above.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Diviners by Libba Bray

On the Iowa High School Book Award list for 2014-2015, The Diviners, by Libba Bray follows Evie O'Neill as she is "exiled" to New York City to live with her uncle Will.  Evie is one of those spunky girls who love to be the center of attention and don't put much stock in being told "no."  During the twenties, Evie finds excitement in the Ziegfield girls and speakeasies.  She is not that excited about the musesum "of the creepie crawlies" that her uncle runs, but when a murder occurs, Evie finds herself caught in the search for the murderer.  Though at first she is all glitter and society, she ends up in some very unappealing and scary situations and discovers a secret power she finds often gets her into trouble.  This is both a lively romp and a good mystery.

Damaged....beyond repair?  Two very different books explore a similar theme...

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt,
Pulitzer Prize 2014
Boy 21 by Matthew Quick 

These two books could not be more different in a lot of ways.  The Goldfinch, 775 pages long and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner is the epic story of Theo Decker, told in his own voice, as he struggles with the effects of being in a museum bombing and his mother's death there, and a chance meeting with a dying man.

Boy 21, only 250 pages, is about two boys, both damaged by horrible and traumatic experiences, who manage to find a way out of their emotionally crippled state to live more normal lives.  A big difference is the audience the books are written for.  Another difference is the enormous amount of detail in The Goldfinch, the detailed thoughts and attention to every sensory cue in scenes and dialogs.  Boy 21 on the other hand is almost Spartan in coming to the point and moving on.

Where they mesh is the terrible damage suffered by all three as boys and the struggle they go through to become whole again.  A big question, a theme of The Goldfinch is whether good can come from bad.  This theme is present in Boy 21 as well, when Finley wants to refuse the money that will free him because he knows where it came from.  Both books have characters you will never forget.

The Goldfinch is only recommended for upper level high school and adults.  Boy 21 is recommended for 8th grade and above.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Korman, Gordon.  Ungifted.  NY: Balzer & Bray, c2012.

In this funny novel, we meet middle school student Donovan Curtis, who does something typical for him, unexpected and not too smart!  He whacks the school statue, accidentally sending a huge brass globe careening toward the gym's open door.  The principal is so mad at the damage done, and in a hurry to get to a meeting, he mistakenly writes Donovan's name on the list for gifted students going to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction instead of the detention list.  Donovan, of course, decides to play it out and see what happens.  He knows he is not smart enough to succeed at the school, but finds that he has special qualities that make a difference to the robotic team and their upcoming competition.  In the end, things work out and Donovan learns a lot about himself and what he believes in and is capable of.  This book is on the Iowa Teen Award list for 2014-2015.  You'll like Donovan!  Recommended for Junior High and above.

Dark of the Moon 

Barrett, Tracy.  Dark of the Moon.  Boston:Houghton Mifflin, c2011.

This dark story is totally different from Barrett's Sherlock Holmes lighthearted mysteries, but it definitely fits into her imaginative Greek retellings.  In this book, we see the Minotaur through the eyes of his 15-year-old sister Ariadne who loves him despite his monstrosity.  We also meet up with Theseus, who is planning to slay the Minotaur and rule Knossos.  While many details are consistent with Greek legend, there are a lot of details about Ariadne's role as Moon Goddess, which are not for the squeamish.  If you like imaginative re-tellings like this one, Barrett also wrote Stepsister's Tale, a Cinderella story, King of Ithaca, about Homer, and On Etruscan Time about Hector.
Recommended for High School and above.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Lace Reader

Barry, Brunonia.  The Lace Reader.  NY: HarperCollins, c2006.

If you are a twin, you might really like this book, though it is also a little dark in theme.  In order to recover from a nervous collapse after the death of her sister, Towner Whitney moved as far away from the New England town of Salem as she could get.  She only returned from California years later when her grandmother Eva was found drowned.  Whitney is one of the unique Salem women who could look into a piece of Ipswich lace and read the future.  Towner avoided this talent, but on the few occasions when she was pulled into a reading, she found it terrifying.  You grow to love Towner, and as the story "spirals into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies and half-truths" you want things to finally work out for her.  This story pulls in a lot of historical details about Salem and the witch hunts that plagued the town long ago, but provide a source of tourist business in the present.  Some of the darker parts deal with abusive relationships.
Recommended for High School and above.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


In the future, love is considered a disease which impaired reason and posed a threat to society. A cure was created to protect citizens from the debilitating effects of the illness, but since it is an alteration to the brain, the procedure cannot be done until the age of 18. Lena Haloway counts down the days until her procedure, anxiously anticipating the moment she can join the other "cureds.” However, her procedure is interrupted by a gang of rebels, one of them a boy that Lena finds herself falling hopelessly in love with. She is entangled in a forbidden romance in a society that now views her as diseased.
I could not put this book down until I finished, and I will warn any students that I recommend it to that it will greatly inhibit your ability to accomplish tasks after you start. The romance of the book is beautiful and genuine, and the action is thrilling and intense. I love dystopian fiction, so it is a very appealing story to me. I think high school girls are the best fit for this book, but once the movie comes out, it will be a much more popular series. 

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. New York: Harper, 2011.
Gr. 7-12, Speculative fiction, romance, science fiction

Check out the booktrailer created by Ms. Redington!

Peanut: a graphic novel

Sadie moves to a new town for her sophomore year of high school. Overwhelmed in a environment where no one knows anything about her, she comes up with a lie to get some attention—faking a deadly peanut allergy. This instantly makes her unique and interesting to her classmates, but it proves to be more difficult than she anticipated for Sadie to keep up with this tiny lie.
Peanut is a clever, age appropriate graphic novel with some very important themes about being yourself and the adolescent desire to be accepted by peers. Beautiful illustrations with a unique color scheme and eye-catching jump out images sprinkled through the pages. Peanut would work well as part of a graphic novel unit in a language arts or reading class, and is a great book to offer to reluctant or unconfident readers, especially ESL students because of the inferences that can be made from the great illustrations. 

Halliday, Ayun, and Paul Hoppe. Peanut. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013.

The Scorpio Races

On a quiet island, each year in November, the town comes alive for the dangerous Scorpio Races, where men attempt and sometimes die riding the dangerous water horses across the beach. Puck Connelly is the first woman rider in the races and Sean Kendrick is the best rider out there, and together they train and ride in the treacherous race, while learning about what is really important in each other’s lives and in their own.
The Scorpio Races is a wonderful fantasy/adventure story that fuses folklore with romance between a strong heroine and a dignified hero. The setting is intriguing—a mysterious island in an unknown time period with a Celtic feel and the peculiar capaill uisce draw the reader in, while the real and sincere characters keep him or her absorbed until the last page. Fans of romance and speculative fiction will enjoy this book, as well teens who are looking for a great adventure.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011.
Gr. 8-12 Speculative fiction, fantasy