Thursday, September 25, 2014

Matched by Allie Condie

Ok, I confess. I don’t like romance novels. I don’t like girlie books where the girls worry about silly choices between boys or clothes or whatever. Vapid, empty and promoting the ignorance and/or sexuality of girls is not my genre and I was afraid this book was going to be that. It has some romance and mooning over boys and ooey gooey love but there is an underlying theme of the importance of strength, curiosity and choices. 

Matched is set in the future in a society that has removed all major choices from the people so they can live happy, uncomplicated lives. A girl, Cassia, comes of age in this society and we meet her on the eve of the ceremony of her match. Surprise ripples through the crowd at the announcement of her match, as it is abnormal because her match is someone she knows and usually it is someone from another area all together. However, when she gets home and looks on her computer to see what information the Officials give her about her good friend and match, Xander, a different face pops up on the screen, Ky. She questioned, was Ky meant to be her match? Mistakes don’t happen and Cassia’s brain and heart are thrown into confusion. In addition, her grandfather reaches the end of his life and subtly encourages her “do not go gentle into that good night” and eventually she ends up realizing the importance of choice and the highs and lows you can’t experience if your choices are removed. It reminded me a lot of The Giver, as it is a person who is successful in this artificial society, but as they learn more, they both struggled with the constraints the society has placed on people for their own good. It’s an interesting idea and, despite my apprehension about romance, I did enjoy the book for the most part. Ages 11-14 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. He is trapped in a...domain is the word he chooses as it’s more dignified than cage. He is in a run-down mall in California and accompanied by an elderly elephant, Stella, and a stray dog, Bob. The mall is run by Mack, who loves Ivan and Stella but loves money more. George is the night maintenance man and his daughter, Julia, comes with him at night and sits by Ivan and Stella while her father cleans. Ivan is also an artist-loves to paint and draw and Julia shares his love of art. Over the years, the attendance is down and Mack, in an attempt to increase attendance, buys a baby elephant. This crushes Stella because it reminds her of her life and the pains she has suffered as a captured animal, especially since the baby elephant, Ruby, is so very sad about her loneliness and misses her family. On Stella’s deathbed, she makes Ivan promise to free Ruby. After Stella’s death, Ivan feels the weight of his promise. Will Ivan keep his promise?

The story is told by Ivan and his voice is simple and powerful is compelling. I enjoyed this tale. Definitely deserved the Newberry. Ages 9-12

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

The main character’s name is Jack Gantos who lives in Norvelt, PA, same as the author who really did grow up in a town called Norvelt. How much of this is autobiographical and how much is exaggerated, I'm not sure. Regardless, in this story, Jack is a teenager who lives in the a progressive town of Norvelt, which has fallen into disrepair. This novel takes place in a time period that is fuzzy-I’d guess somewhere in the late1950’s/early 1960’s as that coordinates with his age and some of the events in the story but I’m not sure. 

Jack’s summer begins full of promise until a gun of his father’s went off in his hands, wreaking havoc. After that, he was “grounded for life” and had to find creative outlets to entertain himself. He loves to read and dives into history books. His mother did let him visit his elderly neighbor Miss. Volker, whose hands were so arthritic she needed Jack to help her write her parts of the newspaper--the obituaries and the history on this day. As he spent more time with Miss Volker, he genuinely enjoyed the activities and looked forward to the calls, allowing him to escape the prison he called home. The accounts of the adventures of Jack and Miss Volker are entertaining but at times the story is distracted and a bit too hard to believe or seems disjointed in a novel that is supposed to be realistic fiction. I do like the character of Jack as well as the personality of Miss Volker, as they both are quirky and interesting but found parts of it a bit unrealistic. 

Ages 9-14

Thursday, September 4, 2014

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This novel begins with Carley Connors in a car on her way from the hospital to a foster home. Carley’s past and present are exposed by the narration of the strong, fiercely independent voice of Carley. The horrors of Carley’s past are nothing compared with the ideal life the Murphy’s, her foster family, share with her. As this turns her world upside down, she eventually learns to love and trust. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching coming of age tale. I think I cried throughout almost the entire book. Some of the tears were for the pain.  Some were simply sharing the deep confusion and conflicting stories unfold. Either way, it’s an emotionally charged book that I loved, but shredded my emotions, all at the same time. 

Grades 6-8 for some of the emotional depth and some violence