New Releases

We only have one this week as we ease into the holiday season. I read the first book of the Heart of Dread series over the summer and I enjoyed it. I think I’ll pick this up to read on my winter vacation.

stolenStolen (Heart of Dread #2) by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
Putnam Juvenile

Nat and her drakon are the last of their kind—sworn to protect what their enemies seek to control—and she’s risked her life for their reunion. But fighting for the majestic Blue meant saying goodbye to Wes, breaking both their hearts. Back in New Vegas, citizens are threatened by the resurgence of magic and declare war on all the marked. Wes and his team travel to the extravagant indoor city of El Dorado looking for his sister, but when they are caught on the wrong side of the RSA’s strict new laws, Wes is forced to do the unthinkable—surrender and rejoin the military’s quest to uncover the magical source, the same land Nat is struggling to protect. Now he and Nat find themselves on opposing sides of a war that could potentially destroy what’s left of the world. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: The Walled City

the walled cityTitle: The Walled City
Author: Ryan Graudin
Genres:  Realistic, Thriller
Pages: 432
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Copy from Publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there run drugs or work in brothels—or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: In her author notes, Ryan Graudin states that when she learned about the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, she was reminded of the settings of many dystopian novels. I agree with her because while dystopian novels are very popular, there are parts of the world where many teenagers already live in a dystopian world. Graudin continues to write that  her imagination ran wild with stories ideas upon learning about the various types of people who lived in a .010 square mile of space, and we are all the better for it. The Walled City is a intense thriller, that is full of action, yet has many quiet moments between characters that allow us to really connect and empathize with them.

It was clear that Ryan Graudin did her homework before starting to write this lovely novel. She writes the setting to clearly, so well, that I can picture the twisting alleys and stacks of apartments that practically blocks out all sunlight perfectly. In fact, the Walled City, Hak Nam, almost feels like a character itself, so rich were Graudin’s descriptions. Little details, such as places were Jin and Dai purchase food, to the grander details such as Dai’s thinking place, really gave a sense of this dense city that is filled a large number of people in a small amount of space.

While Graudin’s setting definitely set the tone of the novel, the three main characters, Jin, Dai and Mei Yee,  had the most impact on me. All three were written with depth and care that made them seem like real teenagers living/surviving horrible circumstances. The fact that Jin disguises herself as a boy doesn’t seem like a gimmick but a real reason that makes the reader understand what is really at stake. The opening scene with Jin running from some teenage thugs and then coming across an escaped victim of human trafficking, reinforces this fact. When one contrasts Jin’s life with her sister Mei Yee, we really understand her decisions. Dai is the definition of the reluctant, flawed hero who has a dark past but is working hard to redeem himself. He is burdened from the results of a costly mistake, but he’s not the type of character whose walling becomes annoying. We understand why he is driven to change his life, and why it is so important to him that he achieves his goals in 18 days. Lastly, I was surprised at how Mei Yee’s situation was handled in the novel. She is a victim of human trafficking, and I wondered how Graudin would express this fact, and I’m glad that she is very truthful with the ugliness of this deplorable practice. Mei Yee was not the often portrayed “spunky girl trying to fight her way out”, but as a real victim, one who is forced in this situation, makes the best of it, while longing for freedom. Not once, however, did I feel like Mei Yee was helpless. In fact, when she does decide to fight back, you worry for her because the reader clearly understands how deadly her captives are and what could potentially happen to her if she should fail. The connection these three characters have really brought me into the story and I was rooting for them to succeed, even when it didn’t seem like it.

I’d heard a lot of buzz about The Walled City and I have to say that this novel definitely lived up to the hype. Ryan Graudin wrote a touching, yet intense novel that tackles the lives of a group of people in a unique situation with care that did not fetishize Chinese culture, nor sensationalize life among a criminal sect. I really came to care for Jin, Dai, and Mei Yee and enjoyed the time I spent with them. Those three have stayed with me in the days since. That is the mark of a great book.

Recommendation: Buy It Now!

The real Walled City. Kowloon, Hong Kong

The real Walled City. Kowloon, Hong Kong

Aerial view of the city.

Aerial view of the city.

In case you’re interested, here is a CNN article on Kowloon Walled City.
Life inside the Densest Place on Earth: Remembering the Kowloon Walled City

 

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Book Review: Complicit

complicitTitle: Complicit
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 248
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Review Copy: Library
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Review: Often times when I figure out the twist in a book I usually stop reading because the result of the twist is often predictable. With Complicit the opposite happened. I figured out the twist maybe about 3/4 of the way, but was so involved in the mystery of how, and what would Jaime do with the information once he realized it, that I kept reading – well past my bedtime in fact and when I finished the book, I was lost for words. Seriously. Kuehn ends this book hitting you right in the gut and you take it because she has you travel this road with Jaime while he searches for answers, you end up really caring for Jaime, wanting happiness and peace for him, and then Wham! She throws that ending and you’re left dumbfounded. And then you do a slow clap for Ms. Keuhn because you realize you have just experienced a master storyteller at work.

I’ve heard a number of criticism about YA not being “literate” enough or deep enough or just full of romance and angst (ugh, whatever!) and I wish to throw Complicit at them as the example of what smart writing for young adults looks like. Kuehn’s writing is crisp, her dialogue realistic, and moves at a pace that doesn’t let up from the first word until the last. Weaved within the present story is the moments before Jamie’s sister went to jail, focusing on their relationship. These moments do not slow the pace of the story, instead they drive the mystery that Jaime is attempting to solve (and also, if one is astute, foreshadow the plot twist). Kuehn’s writing doesn’t talk down to the young adult reader, rather she treats her readers with respect and presents the subject matter of mental illness as one would with an adult novel. I must applaud Kuehn on how she presented mental illness as a real, daily struggle for Jaime rather than use it as a gimmick for shock value.

So let’s talk about Jaime, shall we? He’s an unreliable narrator if I ever saw one, but you connect with him, feel for him because you know that he’s had a troubled past that he doesn’t remember much about but desperately wants to know. Jaime is adopted and is struggling, like many adoptees go through at a certain point, to want to know more about his birth mother. His only link to her is his sister, but she and he have a troubled relationship. They clearly love each other, but Cate acts horribly to Jaime sometimes and he doesn’t understand why. With his confusion about his mother and his sister, one can really empathize with Jaime. However, there are hidden clues sprinkled throughout that makes the reader, if they are paying attention, not really believe what Jaime is saying. There are periods of his life, in the present narrative, that Jaime doesn’t remember. How can a reader trust the narrator when the narrator doesn’t even know what he’s doing sometimes? And that is the beauty of Complicit, in that even though Jaime is unreliable, he still is relate-able. We care, deeply, for the one who is living the lie. Kuehn has written him so well, so earnestly, that I didn’t care that Jaime’s narration was unreliable until the very end. Actually, I felt sorry for him at the end because…well, I think you just have to read the book and then you’ll understand my feelings.

I haven’t read Charm & Strange, but based on what I experience with reading Complicit, I’ll be running to my library to check it out. I’ll also be eagerly awaiting anything else Ms. Kuehn writes because the thrilling ride she sent me on with Complicit, I can’t wait to go on again.

Recommendation: Get it Now!

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More Diverse YA Books = More Diverse YA Movies

I had intended to share another excerpt from my MFA paper, but a more pressing concern, or real world example expressed itself to me and I felt compelled to write about this instead. While we here at RiC focus on diversity in YA literature, it must be mentioned that the need for diverse characters is even more important when we look at the number of YA books being turned into movies. Those of us who are already reading diversely are able to balance out the pervasiveness of the dominate culture in movies with our literature, but what about the kids who aren’t as well versed, whose only exposure to literature is from the movies that are made from books?

This question popped into my head recently through an assignment I gave my students for our first unit. We are studying the elements of fiction and instead of having the entire class read one book, I thought it would be fun to have the students choose their own book, have them read something they are interested in. Last year when I did this, I had a number of students asking me for recommendations and you know I encouraged diverse texts. This year, not so much, and well, sadly most of the books the students chose were novels that hit the big screen in 2014. The books my students have chosen….

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsCatching_fireDivergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

ifistayThe_Maze_Runner_cover

I want to just let you think about something for a minute….my student population is 60% Hispanic and 40% African-American, and those 5 books are what most of my students chose. Let it sink in that none of my students are able to see a reflection of themselves as the hero, the love interest, in any of these stories. It was during a class activity when the students had their books out that I started to get irritated with the situation. I feel that if stories that featured characters of color were seen as “marketable” or “popular” (whatever that means), then my students would have more diverse reading lists. As it is, they’re only reading diverse stories because I choose diverse texts for class! I’m only one teacher, what about all the other teachers whose population numbers are similar to mine? Are they sharing diverse texts with their students or only teaching one voice, with the exception to a novel about slavery or the Civil Rights movement one month a year? I’d hope they’re not, but the sad reality is that many students, especially students of color in low-income areas, do not have access to diverse texts and only read books that have been made into movies, because the rational is “it must be a good book if it was made into a movie.” I find this unacceptable, do you? African-American and Hispanic teens throw down large numbers of cash on movies and movie tie-in stuff, is it so hard for a book that features a character of  color to be made into a movie? The audience is already there and I can guarantee that teens will run to the theaters. Hollywood and publishers do not get that “If they build it, we will come”. They don’t get that the reason why they are not seeing big numbers for diverse books and movies is that they are not putting the money behind the authors to get the word out, to find the audience. Again, the audience is there as the #WeNeedDiverseBooks juggernaut keeps proving time and time again.

I will admit that the only movie on this list that I have seen is Catching Fire, as I really have no desire to see the other movies (okay, maybe Maze Runner). I read all of the books and can honestly think of other, better books that feature diverse casts that should be made into movies. So, to end this rant on a positive note, here is a list of books that I would love to see made into movies.

otherthe living
every day pointe bloodofeden

I think the next big YA series made into a movie should be Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series. It was just that good!

 

since you asked

This would make such a funny tv show as we follow Holly through high school.

What say you, dear readers?

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New Releases

Walter Dean Myers left us this summer, but apparently he had a number of books still yet to be released. This makes me happy, especially since this book looks really interesting.

Two other books get to share book birthdays with Walter Dean Myers. An ending of a popular trilogy and a new sci-fi debut that sounds really interesting.

On a Clear DayOn a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers
Crown Books for Young Readers

Young heroes decide that they are not too young or too powerless to change their world in this gripping, futuristic young adult novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Printz Award–winning Monster.

It is 2035. Teens, armed only with their ideals, must wage war on the power elite.

Dahlia is a Low Gater: a sheep in a storm, struggling to survive completely on her own. The Gaters live in closed safe communities, protected from the Sturmers, mercenary thugs. And the C-8, a consortium of giant companies, control global access to finance, media, food, water, and energy resources—and they are only getting bigger and even more cutthroat. Dahlia, a computer whiz, joins forces with an ex-rocker, an ex-con, a chess prodigy, an ex-athlete, and a soldier wannabe. Their goal: to sabotage the C-8. But how will Sayeed, warlord and terrorist, fit into the equation?

 

UnmadeUnmade (The Lynburn Legacy #3) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Random House Books for Young Readers

Powerful love comes with a price. Who will be the sacrifice?

Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

This final book in the Lynburn Legacy is a wild, entertaining ride from beginning to shocking end.

 

Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
EgmontUSA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

 

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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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