Monday, October 27, 2014

The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins

Jackson is a 14 year old living in a relatively rural area of New Mexico in the 1980’s. His family is relatively poor and his neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, used to own all the land but had to sell some of it to his family because of bad financial times. Mrs. Nelson seems to resent the neighbors and is an ornery older lady. One day, after her son storms out of the house, she calls Jackson in to her house and offers him a deal. If he gets her orchard in shape, she will consider him the ‘true heir’ to the orchard because her son doesn’t deserve it. After a little discussion, he agreed to pay her $8000 and any profit above that is his. This begins the year of hard work for Jackson. He, despite knowing nothing initially, does research and seeks the help of his siblings and his cousins. This is a story about his adventures in trying to whip the orchard into shape with his cousins and adhering to his contract with Mrs. Nelson. I enjoyed this story but did feel sorry for him as he worked so hard. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Donovan Curtis is in middle school and, although he’d never claim to always make good choices, any shady choices he does make seem to snowball and...well, disaster ensues. One day this is exactly what happens. His actions cause serious damage and he’s caught by the superintendent, however, after he’s released, no one ever calls his parents. There is no follow up. And then the letter arrives. He’s been accepted into the gifted academy. His acceptance into the school is as much a surprise to him as it is everyone else, but he sees it as his way out of his current dilemma and goes. He meets interesting students there and, although he’s pretty sure he has nothing to contribute and his teachers are finding the same to be true, he finds his place and his contribution. Will he be able to hide there forever?

It’s an interesting book but, man, oh man, does it stereotype gifted kids. I mean there are kids that are completely dorky and have no social skills, but they are not all like that, nor are even the majority of them. Other than pigeonholing gifted kids, it’s an entertaining tale and you are rooting for Donovan the whole time. 

Grade 4-8

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Legend By Maria Lu

This is ANOTHER dystopian novel about a future where the United States is divvied up and there’s the “good” country and then the rest, which has devolved into chaos. In this case Los Angeles and the surrounding areas make up the “good” known as the Republic.  The city is divided up into sectors and there are wealthy areas and poor areas. Illnesses rage through the poor sectors, as well as violence, while the wealthy are insulated from almost all inconveniences of everyday life. Day, the protagonist, is a poor boy that is separated from his family because he escaped death and his family can’t know he’s alive or they will be in danger. Day spends his time wreaking havoc like a modern Robin Hood by saving people, robbing banks and distributing the money to poor people or destroying symbols of the Republic. He is careful to cause as little damage to people as possible and is known throughout the Republic as a thorn in the side of the government because he hasn’t ever been caught. Tess is a street urchin he has befriended and together they seem to accomplish anything. 

On the other side of the story is June. She is a privileged, extraordinarily bright girl who attends college even though she is young because she is so smart and shows such promise. She is raised by her brother because her parents were killed when they were younger. He’s in the army and a rising star himself. She is a bit restless at college and does manage to find herself in trouble, but because he is a captain and she has such potential, she is granted a bit more leeway. When tragedy strikes, June finds herself catapulted into serving the army and hunting down Day, the sworn enemy of her beloved Republic, until she begins asking questions about what is good and what her beloved Republic really represents. It’s an interesting tale that, although it has some violent moments, is well told and gripping. Encouraging people to not take things at face value, delve deeper, and ask questions is a great message. If dystopian novels are your thing, this is a good one to add to the list!

Ages 10-15