Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is a story of a junior in high school who loved to run and she was quite good at it. Then, through an accident, she loses part of her leg and running is no longer an option. This story picks up her tale as she is recovering in the hospital and tells of her recovery process, both physically and mentally and her adjustments easing back into a life that was centered on her running, which she can no longer do. The stress of recovery, the social implications, the familial stress all weigh heavily on this girl, but with her best friend pulling her up and her own sheer will, she discovers that her will to run came from her determination, which can be repurposed. She also discovers that people should be recognized for who they are, not their disability, as she befriends a girl with CP who helps her figure out math. It is a relatively simple, heartwarming tale of perseverance and friendship.  It reminded me a LOT of Shark Girl, which I liked as well. 

Grades 4-8

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiance by Veronica Roth

This series captivated me. I loved the series and the exhilarating pace and constant action and thoughts about humanity. It is another dystopian novel in which the society has tried to put people into neat little boxes, which we all know don't fit real people. On a large scale, these books explore what makes us human as well as how much leaders and people with power can manipulate our perceptions based on the information we are fed.

The first two books follow Tris as she discovers herself, the meaning of strength and love through all kinds of tests, violence and tribulations as she makes her way through her city, which takes place in the ruins of Chicago. Initially it is about survival and fitting in and then she learns she is different. The serums that the leaders use to control the population don't work properly on her and she discovers she is Divergent. Divergent people are frowned upon and she must hide it if she is to remain alive. Through the support of her trainer and her friends, she manages to survive and eventually flourish. Her trainer, Four, sees strength in her she never new was possible and she sees his heart hidden behind all of his tough exterior. They fall passionately in love, creating the scenes that are inappropriate for younger audiences. Their passion is, at times, raw and fairly sensual and when she has to face her fears, one of hers is the depth of this love and it's not appropriate.

The last book breaks the trend a bit, as it point of view is through two perspectives, Tris and Four as they manage to escape the walls of the city and discover the larger picture. Again the book is about leadership and strength and what makes evil and human and Tris and Four try to save their old world and find a home in their new world. There were moments the words captured human struggles so clearly, it took my breath away.

Grades 7 or 8 (depending on the student) and up

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Liar & Spy By Rebecca Stead

This is a story that tries to honestly deal with the idea of bullying...what it really looks like and how the victim feels, without making it melodramatic. This kid, Georges, had the deck stacked against him because of his name (after Seurat) but he had some pretty strong familial support and a good friend until the summer before the book starts hits. During that summer, his dad lost his job, meaning his mom has to pick up many extra shifts, making her pretty out of the picture and his dad trying to pick up the pieces. Because of the loss of income, they have to sell their house and move into an apartment. Also during that summer, his best friend went off to camp and came back cooler. School started and his friend Jason sat with the cool kids, the same ones that tease Georges consistently. All of this is the backstory. Once they move, it is mostly Georges and his dad, eating out, unpacking. Georges meets a kid in his building and they begin a spy club. The other kid, Safer, lives in another apartment and is homeschooled. Safer tells Georges about Mr. X who wears all black and is generally suspicious. This is a story about how they begin to forge a friendship through the act of spying and Georges begins to figure out life without his mom around and managing the bullies at school, and both Safer and Georges finally face what really scares them. This story has a genuine voice that seems to capture the voice of a middle schooler. 

A NY Times bestseller. grades 5-8