Book Review: While We Run

While We RunTitle: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Genres:  Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Pages: 327
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Review Copy: Library/Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later.

Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia’s cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust, and when they uncover startling new details about Project Ark, they realize thousands of lives may be in their hands.

A suspenseful, page-turning sequel to When We Wake that will keep readers on the edge of their seats and make them call into question their own ideas about morality – and mortality, too.

Review: I have to say this straight out. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! So much that I read it twice and was enthralled the second time. While We Run is just that good. The first time I read it was during summer vacation and I think I read the book in a matter of hours. I couldn’t put it down. Karen Healey’s pacing in this sequel is much better balanced with heavy hitting points mixed with quiet moments between characters that really showcase the relationships in this novel. The themes Healey presents as well, such as the concept of collateral damage, she handles with skill and a deftness that allows explores the grey areas of political revolutions. Many YA dystopian novels that focus on revolution often have an “Us vs. Them” mentality and the fight is usually a “good vs. evil” trope. While Abdi, Tegan, and their friends view the Australian government as evil, through their experiences they eventually learn what it means to have to make those tough decisions and that sometimes you have to lose to win. It’s a very grown up lesson to learn and Healey presents those ideas well.

The one aspect of the novel that I loved the most was Abdi’s voice. In When We Wake, I enjoyed Abdi’s presence in Tegan’s life and found him to be a well-rounded character, love interest for her. While We Run is told entirely from Abdi’s perspective and he is a fascinating character. I felt his voice is much stronger than Tegan’s, more introspective and thoughtful, owning a maturity far beyond his 17 years. He often very blunt with the reader while at the same time hiding information from the other characters. In Healey’s sequel, we get a real sense of Abdi’s inner self, what drives him, and what made him the deep thinker he is. Because he is still a teenager, he does make some stupid mistakes but unlike some YA characters, he does own up to them, eventually. He is also able to take criticism from his friends, internalize it and then work to change his behavior. I have to say that is one quality that I loved in him. Healey also handles instances of racism that Abdi experiences and comments on extremely well. These are usually comments that Abdi keeps to himself and rarely says aloud, and by doing that, Healey captured the internal dialogue a person of color usually has to racist comments or experiences. I greatly respect writers who understand that when writing cross culturally,  characters of color would have to internalize their reactions to racist situations. I feel like Healey did her homework when writing Abdi and it shows; I practically feel in love with him.

I don’t know if there is a 3rd book planned for the series, but I hope there is one. I want to know what happens to Abdi and Tegan next, what their future holds, and how they handle the decisions they made at the end of the novel. The world that Healey created is very believable and one that I’m not ready to leave just yet. In the meantime, I’ll just read While We Run one more time.

Recommendation: GET IT NOW!

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New Releases

Summer has come to an end, most of the kids are back in school, and publishers are starting to publish their fall releases. We have four new releases this week, including Jacqueline Woodson’s newest. I got a chance to meet her in February at a conference and really loved what she had to say. I’m looking forward to reading her book.

 

Bombay BluesBombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Push

The long-anticipated sequel to Tanuja Desai Hidier’s groundbreaking BORN CONFUSED!

In BORN CONFUSED, Indian-American just-turned-17-year-old Dimple Rohitbhai Lala found love, friendship, art, and home where she least expected it. But a lot’s gone on in the years that have followed. And what happens if what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you wanted after all? As she learns during adventures that take her from India to New York to London and back, with a little luck and a lot of vision, the journey home might prove just as magical as what you left behind to make it.

 

AmityAmity by Micol Ostow
EgmontUSA

For fans of Stephen King and American Horror Story, a gruesome thriller suggested by the events of the Amityville Horror.

Connor’s family moves to Amity to escape shady business deals. Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start after she’s recovered from a psychotic break.

But something is not right about this secluded house. Connor’s nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons and destruction. Dreams he kind of likes. Gwen has lurid visions of corpses that aren’t there and bleeding blisters that disappear in the blink of an eye. She knows Amity is evil and she must get her family out, but who would ever believe her?

Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a bloody end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again.

Alternating between parallel narratives, Amity is a tense and terrifying tale suggested by true-crime events that will satisfy even the most demanding horror fan.

 

Kinda Like BrothersKinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Push

Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon.

But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother — a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon. Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends — but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett — and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets. Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it — but what? From award-winning author Coe Booth, KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don’t get along — but have to find a way to figure it out.

 

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Can You See Me Now?

Can You See Me NowTitle: Can You See Me Now?
Author: Estela Bernal
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 161
Publisher: Arte Publico Press
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: On Amanda’s thirteenth birthday, her father is killed by a drunk driver while on the way to pick up her birthday present. She’s stunned when she overhears her mother blaming her: “If she hadn’t insisted on that stupid watch for her birthday, he would still be alive.” Her mom retreats into extra shifts at work, leaving Mandy with her grandmother and making her feel as if she has lost both parents.

To make matters worse, she’s the butt of cruel pranks at school. One day, some girls even glue her skirt to the chair! But things take a turn for the better when she befriends Paloma, an unusual new student at Central Middle School, who introduces her to yoga and meditation. And she reluctantly becomes friends with Rogelio, a fat boy who is bullied even more than she is by their classmates.
Mandy’s new friends, a dog named Lobo and an interesting school project help to ease the pain of her father’s death and her mother’s absence. She maintains a connection to her father by writing letters to him each night. But will she always be invisible to her mother?

Estela Bernal’s debut novel, a fast-paced and entertaining read for middle school teens, explores tough issues—including death and bullying—with sensitivity and humor.

Review: A few days ago a writer friend sent me an article about the difference between Middle Grade books and Young Adult books. The article was focused on writers sending their manuscripts for publishing, but it also made me realize why I had such trouble getting into Estela’ Bernal’s debut novel. In the article, the author reminded writers that readers often “read up” and since I teach 8th grade, I’m commonly recommending (and reading) novels on the “older YA” spectrum. While “Can You See Me Now?” is marketed at a YA novel, when reading it, it becomes clear that the novel is actually a Middle Grade novel. It is shorter than the average YA novel and the writing is much more simplistic. The article notes that MG novels tend to focus on “a characters immediate world” with little self-reflection and “Can You See Me Now?” fits the definition of a MG novel.

The lack of self-reflection in the novel is actually what bothered me the most. The story is very “on the surface”, not fully getting to the deeper emotional issues that Amanda is dealing with. Essentially Bernal’s novel lacks heart. Amanda’s father died tragically and her mother practically abandons her, and none of that emotional pain is reflected in the novel. Amanda writes letters to her father, which is very sweet and a realistic portrayal of how one grieves, but pages go by without her talking about her mother. I kept leaving the story because of that. I couldn’t understand why she’d go days, weeks, without a passing thought to her mother. The novel focused on her budding friendship with Paloma, Rogelio and the school project. I understand that the budding friendships is what helps Amanda heal, but the lighthearted approach Bernal took towards those relationships bothered me. Spending my days around middle schoolers, I know how deep, emotional beings they can be and I felt that Bernal didn’t quite grasp the complexity of the pre-teen/teenage mind.

Lastly, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Amanda, in that I didn’t really get to know her. I know her in a superficial way, not enough to care to want to read a novel about her. A book can have a strong premise, such as “Can You See Me Now?” does, but if a reader cannot connect to the main character, if we don’t have a good enough reason to root for her, then the novel falls flat. I was left wanting more from Amanda, more from this novel.

Recommendation:  Tying back to my opening paragraph, I think the main reason why I didn’t like it is because I’m not used to reading Middle Grade books (which are aimed at an audience of 8-12 years old). While “Can You See Me Now?” would make a good MG novel, as a reader of YA, it doesn’t work for me. If you enjoy MG books, then I’d suggest you borrow the novel when you can, but if you are a fan of YA, then skip it.

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Mini-Review: Hungry

hungryTitle: Hungry
Author: H.A. Swain
Genres:  Dystopian, SciFi
Pages: 372
Publisher: Fiewel and Friends
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: In the future, food is no longer necessary—until Thalia begins to feel something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She’s hungry.

In Thalia’s world, there is no need for food—everyone takes medication (or “inocs”) to ward off hunger. It should mean there is no more famine, no more obesity, no more food-related illnesses, and no more war. At least that’s what her parents, who work for the company that developed the inocs, say. But when Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that most people live a life much different from hers. Worse, Thalia is starting to feel hunger, and so is he—the inocs aren’t working. Together they set out to find the only thing that will quell their hunger: real food.

Review: I admit that the premise of Hungry sounds both interesting and a bit far-fetched at the same time. The concept of having meal replacements is not a new concept in science fiction, but it is one that if the science isn’t done right can be very unbelievable. In her novel, Swain almost makes it work. She provides the science of how it works; society takes a substance called Synthamil that is calibrated for every person’s specific nutritional needs. The reason for the Synthamil is that there was a war over food, hence food shortages, and Synthamil was the answer. Therefore, one can assume that in Thalia’s world there has been a population explosion which immediately made me wonder “what about the poor folk?” And this is where Swain’s premise gets deep and the book becomes less about the fact that people don’t eat food but the social inequalities that exist because of it. At it’s core, Hungry is a study of the “Have” and the “Have Nots” as Thalia learns that the privilege life she has lived comes at a cost. By becoming involved with Basil (one of my critiques was the food names for people) Thalia is able to see how the other-half lived and really see how controlled her society has become.

While I enjoyed the novel and felt that it moved at a good pace, I was thrown out at times because I questioned a bit of the world building. I wondered how far into the future the novel took place because based on small clues given, it seems like Thalia could be my future granddaughter’s generation. If that is the case, some of the science Swain includes, such as Thalia’s genetic mutation for hunger, doesn’t work. In fact, Thalia’s mother is the inventor of Synthamil therefore making the product a fairly recent change. Because of that, I couldn’t believe that a society could completely change from one dependent on food (and the controls that went with it) to one without. I feel with Synthamil being so recent in Thalia’s world, that more people would be resistant and still feel hunger. I feel that Swain’s premise was an interesting one and attempted to ask questions about fairness and privilege, but her science just didn’t fully work. And when one is writing a science fiction/dystopian novel, one’s science really needs to work.

Recommendation: Borrow it

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#nErDCampMI Celebrated Diverse Books

nErDcampLOGO2014

Logo designed by author/illustrator Laurie Keller

If you haven’t yet heard of #nErDCamps, they are EdCamps with a literature focus. They came into being through Colby Sharp and other members of the Nerdybookclub. As you may have guessed, the members of the Nerdybookclub are quite enthusiastic about reading. At this amazing “un” conference, the participants decide the session topics and each session is run collaboratively by the attendees.

I was able to attend this fantastic event earlier this month. In the morning we met to decide what sessions would be happening. I was super excited to see Cindy Minnich and Sarah Andersen offer up the topic  “Finding Diverse Lit for Diverse YA Readers.” Cindy started out the session highlighting the work of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and encouraging everyone to participate and spread the word about the campaign and about diverse books through blogging and social media. Cindy and Sarah have a website called YA Lit 101. “Cindy and Sarah created this course so teachers can read and discuss YA, try new genres, and find ways to incorporate it in their curriculum.” (quote from their site) They explained that after participating in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, they were going to have a diversity focus this year for YA Lit 101. Yesterday, they officially announced their plan. I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the coming year.

In addition, the people who attended the session (and there were many – yay!) spent a lot of time asking for specific types of titles and sharing great titles they have found. A list of titles and resources was compiled here. I was encouraged that there were so many teachers and librarians that wanted to learn and share about diverse lit. I look forward to seeing the conversation continue throughout the education and library communities. More than that though, I am eager to see actions taken as a result of these types of discussions.

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New Releases

Again, only one this week. I really think publishers tend to lighten their load during summer so we can lazily read their spring offers and get ready for the fall. Though, being a teacher, I have more time to read during the summer (officially on break as of today – Yay!) so publishers should load up on summer releases. Hmmmm…..Anyway, I haven’t heard of this series until now, but that cover is amazing. Maybe I should add this series to my list?

seaThe Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire

This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother-and there can only be one winner

In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.

Summary and cover image via Goodreads

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