Tag: teenagers


Young Adult Fiction

August 13th, 2013 — 5:13pm

…..or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

For years, I have turned my nose up at young adult (YA) fiction. I have been a voracious reader for my entire life, and hadn’t read young adult book since my childhood — even when I was a young adult (in this case, meant to be a teenager), I was reading books from the “adult” stacks in the library. To me, young adult meant Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret or other books I’d read as a kid.

Once I hit college and became an English major, I turned into that annoying snobby reader — I was an English major, I’m reading the classics, I don’t have time for teenager nonsense. (Harry Potter notwithstanding. I will always fight for my right to Harry Potter.) While in college, I lived with a girl who wanted to be a young adult author, so she read a lot of young adult fiction and recommended that I read a book series about vampires and werewolves that she said was SO GOOD. It was Twilight, and good it was not. The writing in that book sent me back to my college reading lists happily.

It got worse when I became a high school teacher. I spent my day surrounded by teenagers, I did not want to spend my off time reading about their problems. I got enough teenage angst in the day, thank you!

Last year, I began my masters degree in library science. In order to ease myself back into the academic life, I took a class called Literature for Youth, because it seemed easy enough — read some books, write some papers about them. And kids books, how bad could it be.

The reading list was TWENTY-SEVEN PAGES LONG, full of a combination of children, juvenile, and young adult fiction and nonfiction. As I was teaching pre-AP English 2 at the time, I chose a lot of YA books (and pawned off a lot on my students, telling them to read them and let me know if they were good). I figured it would be easy enough.

YA has come a long way since my adolescent years. For one thing, it’s a genre unto itself, which has developed over the last ten years. As much as I roll my eyes, Twilight really did change the role YA plays in the bookstore or the library. YA is taken seriously as literature now and has a lot of great books — and some not so great. There is a HUGE supernatural presence in YA (Barnes and Noble has a separate YA shelf for paranormal romance, gag), but a lot of them are very well written and very compelling, with wonderful characters and plotlines.

Not all of them focus on romance, which is refreshing. Many of them explore themes that are important to teenagers (and adults, as there is a reason that they’re called “young adult” — teenagers go through the same issues that adults go through, they’re just plagued with hormones that make the smallest problem seem like a life or death situation) and, if read with an adult that’s close to them, can open up conversations and make it easier for them to identify with the world — yes, even the paranormal romance.

There are few guides out there to understanding and writing YA fiction, but here are a few things I’ve noticed from my (limited) exposure to YA:

1. YA is predominately written in first person, which can sometimes get a little tiring (but teenagers are self centered and probably won’t notice). YA also predominately comes in trilogies or series. Be warned — when I read Libba Bray’s The Diviners, I had no idea it was the first in a series and I was PISSED to get to the end and find that it continued in a yet-to-be-published book. PISSED.
2. There’s almost always a romance. Even in books that aren’t labeled as a romance, there will be a romance.
3. About 75% of the time that romance will be a love triangle.
4. The main character will usually feel inadequate and not understand why the other person likes them. A lot of, “But I’m so hideously ugly, how could anyone ever love me!?!??!?!” to which the other person will respond, “You are so beautiful, I wish I could make you see it!!!!!!!!!!!” Which happens in adult romances, too. So maybe that’s just a romance genre thing. Whatever it is, it can be annoying.
5. There is usually a very good lesson to learn, even if it’s hidden or thematic. YA can serve as a modern Aesop’s Fable, but with a lot more pining. Some books (such as those by Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins) are overt in their messages, some (like Libba Bray’s The Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy which focuses on the strength of girls/women) can be more subtle.
6. The books that I find the most enjoyable are the ones that are dystopian/paranormal in nature rather than focus on a more modern world with typical teenage problems. That’s just a question of taste, however.
7. Almost every new book/series will be compared to something that has come before it. I’ve noticed this more in YA than in any other fiction category. Books will be advertised as “the new Harry Potter,” (Shadow and Bone) “the new Hunger Games,” (Divergent) “the new Twilight” (City of Bones). Ignore that and just enjoy them for what they are.
8. YA books are easy to read without being too juvenile. There is a difference between a juvenile book (meant for ages 8-13) and a YA book (meant for ages 14-18). There are different issues for these kids. Wait ’til Helen Comes is for a different audience than Divergent — there’s a different maturity (and vocabulary level) associated with each book. That being said, YA books shouldn’t send you to the dictionary to look up every other word. If it is, you may need to take an SAT vocabulary refresher.
9. YA books are the new movie craze. Think about it — Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Percy Jackson, City of Bones, Divergent, Beautiful Creatures, The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, Vampire Academy, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Unwind, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children — these are all YA books to movies that are either already out or are scheduled to come out/start production in the next year. And these are just ones that I can think of off the top of my head.
10. While YA is a good place to go to be reminded that good conquers evil, YA does not shy away from real life situations and heartache. People die, people get sick, people are victims to horrible accidents. While good does triumph, sometimes it hurts and you feel like you can’t possibly go on but you know that you have to — and that’s just literature reflecting life.

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Module 14: Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

December 9th, 2012 — 11:52am

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a free verse novel told through five teenaged narrators, all of whom are struggling with various sexual and drug related experiences. It was published in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book follows the experiences of five teenagers and is told through free verse poetry:

Eden — Eden has been raised in a religious family, Pentecostal, by extremely religious parents. She is in love with a boy named Andrew, but she knows that her parents will not approve; not only that, but her parents won’t allow her to date until she’s ready to be married. She dates him secretly — she’s sixteen and he’s nineteen, and she knows that her parents won’t hesitate to press statutory charges against him if they find out. Andrew and Eden go out one night and Eden tells Andrew that she loves him. Andrew tells her that he loves her as well, so much so that he wants “to take from you what I’ve no right to take.”

Eden’s parents find out about the relationship and assume that Eden is being possessed by the Devil. I mean, obviously. They send her to a camp called Tears of Zion for wayward youth. It’s not a very great place and she is mistreated through work and being kept in captivity. She begins having sex with a worker named Jerome in exchange for food and shampoo, and in hopes that he’ll eventually help her escape.

She manages to escape with Jerome and while at a gas station, she ditches him. She prostitutes herself to truckers for money and rides until she gets to a youth home that serves as a refuge for kids in similar situations. She emails Andrew’s mother and Andrew is glad to hear that she’s alive, as no one has told him anything about where she’s been.

Seth — Seth is a closeted homosexual; he has always known that he’s different, but he can’t come out since his mother died of cancer a year previously; his mother also had very conservative views of sex, having once said that his sixteen year old cousin who got pregnant was “a whore.” His father has said homophobic things in the past, so Seth lives with his secret: not only is he gay, but their priest had taken advantage of him as a child.

However, Seth is lonely and a hormonal teenager, so he posts on Internet personal ad and drives to Louisville and meets Loren; he wasn’t looking for a hookup, but gets to know Loren and falls in love with him. Loren introduces him to a cultural life that Seth doesn’t experience in Indiana.

However, Loren ends his relationship with Seth at around the time that Seth’s dad finds out that Seth is gay and kicks him out of the house. He ends up moving in with Carl, a man he’d met at a bar, and moves to Las Vegas with him. While in Vegas, Seth hooks up with a guy that he met in the gym; shortly after Carl reveals to Seth that it was a test — he paid the guy to act as bait to see if Seth would fall for him and he kicks Seth out. Seth resorts to escort sites on the internet to find new guys to live with.

Whitney — Whitney lives completely in the shadow of her sister, Kyra. She acknowledges that her mother loves her sister more and that Kyra does everything better. Needless to say, Whitney and her mother don’t get along. They live in Santa Cruz, California, and Whitney’s father works in San Francisco. Her family is mostly absent in her life, and she therefore seeks attention and affection from anyone who will give her the time of day.

Whitney is dating a boy, Lucas, who she’s in love with but has remained abstinent, due to the fear of venereal diseases and possible pregnancy. Whitney and Lucas meet at Kyra’s school choir concert and bond when he is the first person to ever tell Whitney that Kyra is a bitch. Lucas is three years older than Whitney — eighteen to her fifteen, and he introduces her to pot and kissing.

Whitney sleeps with Lucas and, in typical teenage boy fashion, he dumps her soon after. She moves with a friend, Bryn, to Las Vegas with his family, and soon starts sleeping with him. However, it’s soon revealed that he deceived her in order to get her to fall in love with him and starts using her for sex, forcing her to have sex with other people while he records it, and introduces her to harder drugs, to which she’s soon addicted. Whitney overdoses and lands in the hospital; her mother, father, and sister come to visit, but they’re still self-involved and don’t understand their roles in her problems.

Ginger — Ginger’s mother (though she insists on being called Iris) has had many boyfriends during Ginger’s life because of what she calls her “womanly needs” by what Ginger refers to as an “overinflated sex drive.” Iris has six kids by five different fathers and is addicted to all sorts of drugs — booze, pills, whatever. Iris supports her children through prostitution, which Ginger knows about. They’re living with Iris’s mother, Gram, for now, who is more of a mother to the kids than Iris.

One of Ginger’s brother is in a motorcycle accident and is in the hospital. While Gram goes to visit him, one of Iris’s boyfriends rapes Ginger — Ginger finds out that Iris is selling her to these men; not only is Iris prostituting herself, but her daughter now, too. This is the final straw for Ginger: she steals Iris’s money and runs away with her friend, Alex, to Las Vegas.

Alex’s aunt, Lydia, gets the two of them jobs as strippers, which soon turns to prostitution in order to make more money to survive. The Vegas police bust them and send them to a youth refuge home. Ginger calls Gram, who tells her that Iris is dying. Ginger goes home to care for her siblings while Alex stays in Vegas; when she gets home, she discovers that she’s pregnant, and she vows to be a better mother to her child and siblings than Iris or Alex’s mom were to them.

Cody — Cody doesn’t know who his real father is — he suspects that he might have raped his mother, since she’s such “a prude.” He, his mother, stepfather, and half-brother have moved from Witchita, Kansas, to Las Vegas. He lives a normal teenage life, going to school, working at GameStop, the usual. He’s always fooled around and partied under the radar, nothing too out of the ordinary for teenagers, right?

However, Cody’s stepfather, Jack, becomes sick and Cody’s brother starts getting into major trouble, and Cody’s drinking intensifies. It turns out that Jack has cancer — after he dies, it is up to Cody to help support the family. He begins online gambling and his drinking spirals into out of control territory.

Desperate for ways to make money, Cody meets Lydia, who helps set him up with men who will pay him for sex; he’s pretty sure he isn’t gay, but he’s also pretty sure that they have a lot of bills. Many of the “dates” involve Misty, as the men are interested in threesomes. During one of these nights, Misty’s boyfriend finds them naked with a client — the boyfriend is less than pleased, as he wasn’t aware of Misty’s job, and he attacks and beats them. When Cody wakes up, he’s in the hospital and is told that Misty and the client are dead. He hears his mother’s voice, begging him not to leave her, but he isn’t sure if it’s real.

IMPRESSIONS

Um. Wow. This book is nothing if not intense. It was difficult to read, for sure — I’ve been a teacher in two different schools with kids with less than desirable lives; many of the foster kids had stories similar to some of these children, especially Ginger’s.

In researching this book, I read an interview with Ellen Hopkins, who said that she wrote her books (including her prose novels about teenagers with drug addictions) to encourage teenagers to make good choices and seek help if they have problems out of their control. Many of my students saw this book on my desk and made sure to tell me how great Hopkins’ books are, so hopefully her message is working. I’m just not sure if the graphic nature and desperate circumstances are almost too unbelievable to seem real to some children.

The prose of the novel made it interesting and easy to read — at 640 pages, when I first got the book it seemed daunting, but it was a fast read. It also gave the narrators five distinct voices and poetic styles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Five teenagers from all over the U.S.—three girls, two boys, some straight, some gay—end up as prostitutes in Las Vegas in this multiplevoiced novel in verse. Among the different stories are a preacher’s daughter breaking free from abuse, a closeted gay young man who hides his love life from his widowed and homophobic father, and the lesbian daughter of a prostitute. Hopkins has never shied away from tough subjects; descriptions of sex, while not overly graphic, are realistic and will likely provoke controversy. A master of storytelling through free verse, she uses multiple poetic devices to construct well-defined, distinctive voices for the five teens. Like E. R. Frank’s Life Is Funny (2000), the multiple protagonists are easy to identify and their stories compelling, especially when they begin to intersect. Teens will queue up for this one—some, admittedly, for the sensational subject matter—and find Hopkins’ trademark empathy for teens in rough situations.
Booklist

Five teens desperately seek to find their way through the darkness in Hopkins’s latest epic novel in verse. Eden flees an evangelical household; Cody blocks out a family illness with gambling and sex; Whitney gives up her body in exchange for the love she finds so elusive; Seth struggles to define himself as a homosexual; and Ginger comes to terms with an awful truth about her neglectful mother. Burden after burden piles on the teens’ shoulders until they resort to the unthinkable in order to survive. As they near rock bottom, their narratives begin to intersect. It is only when their paths converge that a glimmer of redemption appears out of the hopelessness. From the punch delivered by the title, to the teens’ raw voices, to the visual impact of the free verse, Hopkins once again produces a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This one is difficult. I don’t see myself using this as a booktalk, as the backlash from parents might be negative and overwhelming. However, it could be used in a display, perhaps for suicide prevention or another awareness campaign.

REFERENCES

Carton, D. (2009). Tricks. Booklist, 105(22), 62.

Hopkins, E. (2009). Tricks. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Maza, J. (2009). Tricks. School Library Journal, 55(10), 128.

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Module 11: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

November 14th, 2012 — 10:48am

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow is an informative book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. In it, she has researched the Hitler Youth and details the lives of several teenagers growing up in Nazi Germany.

SUMMARY

The book follows the timeline of the formation of the Hitler Youth, starting with Hitler’s appointment as chancellor and ending with the aftermath of World War II and the unification of East and West Germany as a democratic state in 1990. Within the information, the author uses the examples of several members of the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth (called Hitlerjugend for boys and Bund Deutscher Madel for girls) was compulsory for the young people of Germany. Many of the youth believed that what they were doing was for the betterment of Germany because that was what they had been taught and told for years. However, some teenagers disagreed with what was required of them and what Hitler was doing and put up active resistance, printing and distributing pamphlets telling about Hitler’s lies and the true work of the Nazis and the concentration camps. The author used both diaries and personal interviews to share the experiences of the variety of young people in Germany in the 1940s.

The book focuses solely on the events of WWII as it pertains to the Hitler Youth. It paints a grisly portrait of youth taken advantage of by their government and their leader. Hitler said about his Youth, “I begin with the young…We older ones are used up…But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at all these men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.”

IMPRESSIONS

The Hitler Youth was a topic that I’d never explored; I’m pretty sure I only knew they existed from watching Swing Kids. But this book was fascinating. I saw parallels between then and now — I’ve often wondered how young people in our society can be closed-minded and prejudiced, and this book showed that children are especially susceptible to propaganda and the direction and influence of adults. I say adults and not their parents because in a few instances, the youth were so entranced with Hitler that they turned in their parents to the Nazis for saying “unpatriotic” or disparaging things about Hitler or the Nazi Party. It was very 1984, where adults feared their children.

The inclusion of the interviews and personal anecdotes made the book read more like a narration and less like a textbook. It was very well put together, though at times I lost track of the timeline of the events and what was happening elsewhere in the world. The chronology was loose in the book, but it didn’t keep the information from being effective. There was also a plethora of pictures — pretty much one or two on every page — which also distracted from the chronology of the story.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Hitler’s plans for the future of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellent history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were victims of leaders who took advantage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means. Their stories evolve from patriotic devotion to Hitler and zeal to join, to doubt, confusion, and disillusion. (An epilogue adds a powerful what-became-of-them relevance.) The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.
School Library Journal

What was it like to be a teenager in Germany under Hitler? Bartoletti draws on oral histories, diaries, letters, and her own extensive interviews with Holocaust survivors, Hitler Youth, resisters, and bystanders to tell the history from the viewpoints of people who were there. Most of the accounts and photos bring close the experiences of those who followed Hitler and fought for the Nazis, revealing why they joined, how Hitler used them, what it was like. Henry Mentelmann, for example, talks about Kristallnacht, when Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers wrecked Jewish homes and stores, and remembers thinking that the victims deserved what they got. The stirring photos tell more of the story. One particularly moving picture shows young Germans undergoing de-Nazification by watching images of people in the camps. The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.
Booklist

LIBRARY USES

This, like Between Shades of Gray, would be well used for Holcoaust Memorial Day. It would also be a good booktalk for middle school students. In a school library setting, this would be a good companion piece to a class reading The Diary of Anne Frank; reading excerpts from this book and showing the pictures would help pique interest in the era.

REFERENCES

Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Medlar, A. (2005, May 30). Book of the week: Hitler youth by susan campbell bartoletti. School Library Journal, 176. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA604629.html

Rochman, H. (2005, April 15). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=1180952&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

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Module 10: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

November 14th, 2012 — 8:15am

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is historical fiction about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic region during World War II. It is narrated by Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, as she and her family are deported to Siberia.

SUMMARY

The novel opens with men from the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, taking Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, from their homes on June 14, 1941. Her father, provost at the university, has already been taken. They’re loaded on a truck with some of their neighbors and a few people they don’t recognize. They’re horrified that the next stop is at the hospital, as one of the people they are scheduled to take is a woman who is at that moment giving birth; they load her and her newborn baby into the truck as she’s bleeding onto her hospital gown.

Lina’s father, Kostas Vilkas, helped his brother and his family escape Lithuania to Germany, which put him on the black list as an accessory. Lina’s mother, Elena, speaks fluent Russian, which allows her to communicate with the NKVD. He is taken to a different camp from the rest of the family. They are stuffed into a train with even more prisoners, including the Andrius Arvydas and his mother, the son and wife of an officer in the Lithuanian army. The conditions in the train are horrible and they’re travelling through Europe for three weeks without stopping. On the train, the young woman’s baby dies and she is shot by an officer when she’s overcome by grief.

The train finally stops in Siberia, at a camp where they are assigned to live in shacks and work as beet and potato farmers. They stay there for a while, and Lina finds solace in her art. She has always been an artist and she’s particularly drawn to the work of Edward Munch. She decides to draw pictures of people and events so that she can send them to her father in hopes that he will find them.

While they’re at the camp, Andrius and his mother live in the officers house, where they are fed and treated better than the others. Lina is upset with this special treatment, but when she confronts Andrius about it, he reveals that his mother is prostituting herself to the officers to keep the officers from killing him. She’s horrified by this and distraught with his anger, which makes her realize that she’s falling in love with Andrius; when they reconcile, it’s shown that Andrius has similar feelings. He gives her a special stone to bring her luck and to remind her of him.

The NKVD tries to force the prisoners to sign papers saying that they are criminals and acknowledging that they’re being sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor and that they will pay a war tax of two hundred rubles per person, which most of them refuse to sign. Jonas becomes sick with scurvy from the lack of vegetables in his diet and almost dies until Andrius steals a can of tomatoes from the officers house. Soon after he heals, the prisoners hear that some of them will be transported to a different location. Some people are fools enough to think they’re being transported to America, but Lina knows better.

The prisoners, which now include prisoners from other camps, are taken farther north in Siberia. The NKVD take them to an empty field and tell them that they will have to build their own shelter, and quickly, as the arctic chill begins in September. They suffer through the cold temperatures and hypothermia. It is here that Lina discovers why they’ve been deported and that she is being punished because her beloved cousin and best friend, Joana, was able to escape — she is dying to allow Joana to live. It also here that a guard reveals to them that Lina’s father has been killed in prison. Lina’s mother takes sick and she dies in the shack.

Lina and Jonas are able to hide her body from the officers so they can bury her properly. The other prisoners help them, as a testament to how much they have become a family within themselves — they need each other to survive and Lina’s mother in particular was a unifying force due to her calm demeanor and peaceful spirit. Lina paints a map to her mother’s grave so that she will never forget where it is. Lina is determined to survive the camp and now cares for Jonas.

The other prisoners all take their turns with illness — scurvy, dysentery, typhus, hypothermia. They’re dying more and more every day. Jonas becomes very ill and just when Lina is afraid that he won’t be able to survive the night, an inspection officer, a doctor, appears at the shack. Dr. Samodurov is to inspect all of the prisons to report that everything is fine and the prisoners are being treated fairly, but he tells Lina that is not going to submit false reports. He spends ten days at the prison; he helps the prisoners store fish for the upcoming storms and plot a burial yard for the dead. The doctor tells her that it’s possible that her father hasn’t died; the guards have told prisoners before that people have died, only to be found living somewhere.

Lina is determined to live to reunite with Andrius. When they left each other, they promised that they would meet again, and when Lina closes her eyes, she can imagine that they are together as she holds the stone.

The novel ends with an epilogue from 1995 in Lithuania. A construction crew has discovered a wooden box int he ground that contains a glass jar full of papers. The papers contain drawings and a letter:

Dear Friend,

The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954, after returning from Siberia with my brother, where we were imprisoned for twelve years. There are many thousands of us, nearly all dead. Those alive cannot speak. Though we committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now, speaking of the terrors we have experienced would result in our death. So we put our trust in you, the person who discovers this capsule of memories somewhere in the future. We trust you with truth, for contained herein is exactly that — the truth.

My husband, Andrius, says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. I believe him. This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished. These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Lina Arvydas
9th day of July, 1954 — Kaunas

IMPRESSIONS

This book was incredibly moving. This was a side of the Holocaust that I wasn’t very familiar with, but it was equally as horrifying — in fact, one of the characters in the book points out the similarities between Stalin and Hitler. The horrors that people can commit to others, blindly, without cause or reason, is stunning. I’ll never fail to be amazed by the deplorable ways that people treat others.

That being said, the story was effective for several reasons. Lina’s story is told through flashbacks to events in her family, adding a dimension to the story of her relationships and her life before they were taken. I enjoyed Andrius’s character because he had his own experience that added to the plot; it didn’t feel like he was added solely for a romantic element. There were so many descriptions of Lina drawing that I began to wish that there had been reproductions of drawings to add just one more realistic element to the story. The epilogue was great, because I was a little disappointed in the ending that left Lina in the camp, so knowing that they survived and she and Andrius married was cathartic.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Sepetys’ first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can–she hopes–be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate. Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, estimates that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their populations during the Russian genocide. Though many continue to deny this happened, Sepetys’ beautifully written and deeply felt novel proves the reality is otherwise. Hers is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.
Booklist

This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children’s fiction: Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, Soviet officers arrest 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia. Their crammed-full boxcar is labeled, ludicrously, “Thieves and Prostitutes.” They work at a frigid gulag for eight months-hungry, filthy and brutalized by Soviet officers–before being taken to the Siberian Arctic and left without shelter. Lina doesn’t know the breadth of Stalin’s mass deportations of Baltic citizens, but she hears scraps of discussion about politics and World War II. Cold, starvation, exhaustion and disease (scurvy, dysentery, typhus) claim countless victims. Lina sketches urgently, passing her drawings along to other deportees, hoping they’ll reach Papa in a Soviet prison. Brief flashbacks, seamlessly interwoven, illuminate Lina’s sweet old life in Kaunas like flashes of light, eventually helping to reveal why the repressive, deadly regime targeted this family. Sepetys’ flowing prose gently carries readers through the crushing tragedy of this tale that needs telling.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be an excellent vehicle for a book talk. I would also recommend it be used in a display for Holocaust Memorial Day on May 8; it is important that the story of the genocide in the Soviet Union be told as well as the atrocities committed by Hitler.

REFERENCES

Between shades of gray. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(2), 138.

Cart, M. (2011). Between shades of gray. Booklist, 107(11), 68. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/58626231/between-shades-gray

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York, NY: Philomel Books.

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Module 9: Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

November 10th, 2012 — 12:40am

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin is a mystery novel for young adults. It was published in 2004.

SUMMARY

Eli Samuels is a high school senior who is not going to college after graduation — instead, he has applied for a job at Wyatt Transgenics and is planning on working for a year before going to college. He has a girlfriend he adores, Viv, and a strained relationship with his father. His mother, Ava, was an economics professor at Harvard before becoming stricken with Huntington’s disease. Eli had found a letter from Dr. Wyatt, the head of Wyatt Transgenics, which inspired him to apply for the job.

In his job at Wyatt Transgenics, there a few things that strike him as odd — Dr. Wyatt takes a keen interest in him and invites him to his house to meet a young lady, Kayla Matheson. Transgenics is the act of transferring genes from one organism to the other, which this company is doing through proteins in rabbits milk. Or something, that part was confusing, but it’s Eli’s job to take care of the rabbits.

It turns out that Eli’s parents knew Dr. Wyatt because they went to him when they knew that Ava was a carrier for Huntington’s but they still wanted to have children. Dr. Wyatt harvested her eggs and performed gene therapy to be sure that Eli didn’t have Huntington’s. Unbeknownst to the Samuels, however, Dr. Wyatt kept the other eggs he harvested from Ava and had been performing genetic experiments on them; Eli finds out through seeing a picture of her mother as a teenager that one of those eggs grew up to be Kayla Matheson, and while Eli was bred specifically to be clear of Huntington’s, Kayla has not.

Eli and Kayla sneak into a basement office where Dr. Wyatt had been performing tests on the children he’d made from Ava’s eggs (the experiments were nothing of the Dr. Mengele variety, just checking their growth and how they were developing thanks to the genetic enhancements they had as zygotes). They steal all of his files and Dr. Wyatt mysteriously vanishes after Eli and Kayla call the FBI; the epilogue reveals that the company is now called General Transgenics and Eli is enrolling in school to become a bioethicist to insure that no one else can perform genetic experiments on eggs.

IMPRESSIONS

I did not particularly enjoy this book. I found the mystery aspects to be weak. The foreshadowing in the beginning is not a shadow as much as a fore-boulder that rolls through the town, smashing everything in its path. There is nothing subtle in the set-up. Eli was also a particularly unsympathetic character to the point that I wanted to stop reading the book before I was halfway finished. This is not one I’d recommend to my students, unless they were particularly interested in biology and genetics.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation–stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information–and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way.
Publisher’s Weekly

Eighteen-year-old Eli Samuels, whose once-vibrant mother is losing her long battle with the ravages of Huntington’s disease, is hired at the Wyatt Transgenics Lab. Eli’s father is dead set against the job because of a secret he harbors concerning the lab’s owner, Dr. Quincy Wyatt, and Eli’s mother. Shortly after starting work, the teen meets Kayla Matheson, a beautiful girl who eerily reminds him of a photo of his mother when she was young. Slowly, Eli uncovers one layer after another of the shocking truth about Dr. Wyatt’s genetic-engineering experiments and their connection to his parents, Kayla, and himself. With the support of his longtime girlfriend and soul mate, he confronts Dr. Wyatt in a taut climax to the story. Werlin clearly and dramatically raises fundamental bioethical issues for teens to ponder. She also creates a riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This book would be a good book for a book talk, perhaps with other science fiction/medical books (Frankenstein or Unwind come to mind) or cross-curricular to introduce a unit on genes in a biology class. It could lead to great discussion about medical ethics and whether parents should be able to decide what genes their children have.

REFERENCES

DOUBLE HELIX (Book). (2004). Publishers Weekly, 251(7), 173.

Forman, J. (2004). Double Helix: A Novel (Book). School Library Journal, 50(3), 222.

Werlin, N. (2004). Double helix. New York, NY: Dial Books.

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Module 7: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

October 28th, 2012 — 7:46pm

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is a book of realistic fiction. Published in 2009, it details the horrifying world of eating disorders.

SUMMARY

Lia Overbrook is an eighteen year old senior in high school. The opening of the novel is a breakfast scene, where she avoids eating while being told by her stepmother that her best friend has been found dead in a motel. Lia lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Lia has also been suffering with anorexia since she was in eighth grade.

The story is told through flashbacks and current day. The flashbacks detail how she and Cassie made a New Years Resolution/pact with each other to be the thinnest girls in the school — Lia accomplishes this by anorexia, Cassie by bulimia. They are best friends until one day their junior year, when Lia is driving them in a car and she passes out because her blood sugar is low. Lia is subsequently hospitalized for her eating disorder and she she is released, Cassie blames Lia for encouraging her own eating disorder, and they become estranged.

Lia attempts to figure out the details of Cassie’s last few days. Her body was found in a motel and she had called Lia thirty-three times on her cell phone the night she died, but Lia didn’t answer. When Lia went to the motel, an employee named Elijah asked her if she knew anyone named Lia, because Cassie had left a message for her. Lia begins to see Cassie’s ghost, who becomes more and more angry as she encounters it.

Lia has to be weighed every day by her stepmother, Jennifer, but Lia has rigged the scale and wears a robe that has weight sewed into the pockets. Her weight drops from 101 to 93. Lia’s mother, Dr. Marrigan, sees her at Cassie’s funeral and is concerned by her appearance. Lia has become estranged from her mother due to what she sees as her mother trying to control her. However, when Lia’s young stepsister, Emma, walks in on Lia cutting herself on her chest and sees Lia covered in blood, Lia’s parents agree that it would be for the best for Lia to stay with her mother for a while.

While staying with her, Lia’s mother makes a deal with her — she’ll tell Lia details of Cassie’s death if Lia eats. Cassie’s autopsy revealed that she died from Boerhaave syndrome — a rupturing of the esophagus due to repeated vomiting. She had gotten the motel room after a fight with her parents, drank a copious amount of vodka, and died when her esophagus ruptured.

Lia tells her therapist that she has been haunted by Cassie’s ghost, and her therapist tells her that this, along with her weight loss, makes her need to be hospitalized in the psychiatric institution again. Lia goes to Elijah, who she’s become friends with, and tells him she wants to run away with him when he leaves town. He tells her that she can go as long as she tells her family first — when she refuses, he tells her how lucky she is to have a family that cares and tells her that it seems like her family is trying to help her. She falls asleep and when she wakes up, Elijah and her money are gone; he’s left her a note that tells her she needs to stay and get help.

Lia is alone in the motel and is near death. Cassie’s ghost appears to her again and Cassie tells her how excited she is that she’ll be joining her soon; they also talk about the good parts of being alive. Lia manages to harness her energy to make it to a phone and calls her mother and tells her to come get her.

The last chapter opens with Lia in the hospital again. The difference this time is that Lia wants to be healed and is working toward recovery both on herself and with her relationships with her parents. The novel ends with a message of hope for Lia’s recovery and the message that help is always there for you if you can accept it.

IMPRESSIONS

This is a very powerful book. I’ve had friends struggle with eating disorders and it was heartbreaking to think that this resembled their struggles.

This is Lia’s explanation for her eating disorder:

Why? You want to know why?

Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.

Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to the whispers that curl into your head at night, calling you ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all “a disappointment.” Puke and starve and cut and drink because you don’t want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it’s too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can’t stop.

Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you.

“Why?” is the wrong question.

Ask “Why not?” (Anderson 2009)

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with image issues. Every person, men or women, has something about their appearance that bugs them. I am no stranger to an image issue and a certain amount of obsession with my weight.

However, the book ending on a hopeful and positive note was refreshing. Though Cassie died, Lia was able to survive, though there is an admittedly difficult road ahead. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was that her family was there, whether Lia wanted them or not, the entire time. The relationship with the mother was also very real. What teenaged girl doesn’t think their mother is trying to control their lives? As well they should, because I’m around teenagers all day long at school and they are like naked moles. Hormonal, emotional, naked moles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

At times Lia’s narrow, repetitive mind-set makes her a frustrating narrator. Certainly her obsessional behaviors (counting calories, ritually berating herself) are central to the illness, but at such times Lia can feel more like a concatenation of symptoms than a distinct person.

This very quality, however, may make Lia recognizable to many teenagers. One issue the author must have confronted is the potential of “Wintergirls” to be a “trigger” for anorexia, as psychologists term it. Can a novel convey, however inadvertently, an allure to anorexic behavior? While to my mind there is nothing in “Wintergirls” that glamorizes the illness, for some the mere mention of symptoms is problematic. “It’s about competition,” an anorexia sufferer once explained to me. “Sometimes all it takes to get triggered is to read about someone who weighs less than you do.”

We recognize Lia, but it’s sometimes hard to relate to her. Withdrawing, she sees life as if it were a series of meals to be gotten through (“I bit the days off in rows. . . . Bite. Chew. Swallow”). Parts of her story are hurried, telescoped, and this can make it hard for the reader to feel much about what is occurring.

Yet the book deepens. Where Lia had been hiding the extent of her illness before Cassie died, pretending to eat, playing the part of the “good girl,” increasingly, as her self-destruction gathers force, the truth emerges; the surface placidity of her life begins to crack.
Feinberg 2009

The intensity of emotion and vivid language here are more reminiscent of Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, 1999) than any of her other works. Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, and each developed her own style of eating disorder that leads to disaster. Now 18, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia 33 times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia’s guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia’s cleverness holds sway. What happens to her in the end is much less the point than traveling with her on her agonizing journey of inexplicable pain and her attempt to make some sense of her life.
Edwards 2009

LIBRARY USES

I would anticipate this book to be used in a booktalk with a teenaged audience, but I think that it’s very important to introduce this book for parents to use to have discussions with their teenagers. This book would be a good conversation starter for parents.

REFERENCES

Anderson, L. H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

Edwards, C. (2009, January 14). Wintergirls by laurie halse anderson. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6628521.html

Feinberg, B. (2009, May 8). Skin and bone. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/review/Feinberg-t.html?_r=0

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Module 7: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

October 21st, 2012 — 11:27pm

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is realistic fiction about a girl, Mia, who is in a horrific car crash with her parents, who die on the scene, and her younger brother, who dies in the hospital. The story is told through flashbacks as well as the present, where she is witnessing the events from outside of her body and deciding whether she wants to stay alive or die with the rest of her family.

SUMMARY

Mia is 17 and a senior in high school; she is also a star cellist, who has auditioned for and is awaiting acceptance to Julliard. She has super cool punk rock musician parents, an adorable younger brother named Teddy, and a rock musician boyfriend, Adam. All is going swimmingly in Mia’s life until her family decides to drive to visit their family friends, Henry and Willow and their new baby, and are hit by a four-ton pickup truck. Mia is amazed to see herself standing on the side of the road, witnessing the devastation of the car and the carnage — pieces of her father’s brain are on the asphalt, her mother died of internal bleeding that has caused her eyes to turn red, and she’s horrified to see the hand of what she thinks is Teddy but soon realizes is her own hand. She’s in a coma and is having an out of body experience.

She’s taken to the hospital and operated on, and she watches the nurses and surgeons interact. She watches her grandparents arrive at the hospital, which is when she realizes that Teddy has died as well. She watches as her best friend, Kim, arrives with her mother, and finally, who she’s been waiting for, Adam arrives. He tries to get to her room but one of the nurses stops him. He and Kim come up with a plan to cause a distraction with the lead singer of the famous band that Adam’s band is opening for on their concert tour, but nothing works until Willow, her family friend that works for the hospital, gets them to allow Adam to visit Mia.

All of this is interspersed with flashbacks detailing Mia’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, her relationship with Kim, playing the cello and excelling, auditioning for Julliard, her relationship with Adam, the difficulties of falling in love as a teenager and having life take you in separate directions.

One of the nurses tell Mia’s grandparents that they need to give Mia reasons to want to stay here, that it is all up to her, so her family and friends come to talk to her. It is finally Adam who plays cello music in her room and speaks to her:

“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

Then it is Adam who lets go. His sobs burst like fists pounding against tender flesh.

Mia finally makes her decision and feels all of the physical and emotional pain of her body as she wakes up. The novel ends with Mia squeezing Adam’s hand and Adam saying, “Mia?”

IMPRESSIONS

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever read. My students would enjoy this book, however. Mia’s life seemed just a bit too perfect for me: she has the coolest parents, her boyfriend is a rock star, she’s a musical prodigy on the cello, she and her boyfriend are so in love, blah blah blah. The writing was good, and I appreciated all of the musical terms that were included in different aspects of the book — the car doesn’t just crash, there’s “a symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees.”

The book raised some very interesting questions, most importantly, “what do you live for?” I can’t imagine losing my entire immediate family at once. However, I was glad that Mia decided to stay, because she and I were going to have some strong words if I read the entire book and she decided to die. Strong words.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Forman creates a cast of captivating characters and pulls readers into a compelling story that will cause them to laugh, cry, and question the boundaries of family and love. While out on a drive with her family, 17-year-old Mia is suddenly separated from her body and forced to watch the aftermath of the accident that kills her parents and gravely injures her and her younger brother. Far from supernatural, this shift in perspective will be readily accepted by readers as Mia reminisces about significant events and people in her life while her body lies in a coma. Alternating between the past and the present, she reveals the details and complexities of her relationships with family and friends, including the unlikely romance with her punk-rock boyfriend, Adam. An accomplished musician herself, Mia is torn between pursuing her love for music at Julliard and a future with Adam in Oregon. However, she must first choose between fighting to survive and giving in to the resulting sadness and despair over all she has lost. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Mia’s struggles and will race to the satisfying yet realistic conclusion. Teens will identify with Mia’s honest discussion of her own insecurities and doubts. Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
School Library Journal

When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia’s passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia’s decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be good for a book talk with teenagers; it would also serve as a good display for warnings against drunk driving or safety while driving.

REFERENCES

Forman, G. (2009). If i stay. New York, NY: Dutton Books.

IF I STAY. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(7), 382.

Rashid, L. (2009). If i stay. School Library Journal, 55(5), 106. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/39142151/if-stay

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Module 5: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

October 15th, 2012 — 6:21pm

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is a children’s book that details the life of Esperanza Ortega, a 13 year old girl growing up in post-Revolutionary Mexico. It won the Pura Belpre award in 2002.

SUMMARY

Esperanza Ortega is the daughter of a ranch owner; her father, Sixto, owns El Rancho de las Rosas and produces grapes. However, Mexico after the revolution is unsafe and Esperanza’s father is murdered by bandits and robbers the night before Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday. Esperanza’s uncle, who is the mayor of their town, offers to marry her mother to save them from poverty — when her mother hesitates on the offer, a fire mysteriously burns down their house. In order to escape the marriage, Esperanza and her mother travel to California with a few of their friends, who also served as their servants on the ranch. Esperanza is devastated, not only to leave her life and the land that knew her father (Esperanza and her father could both hear music in the land by lying down on the ground; at one point, Esperanza feels herself physically rising while listening to the hum of the earth), but because they have to leave her grandmother, Abeulita, behind.

It’s difficult for Esperanza to acclimate to the her new station in life. The first time she goes to bathe, she prepares the way she’d been used to — for Hortensia to undress and bathe her. However, she quickly becomes aware that she has to get used to her new life; her mother falls ill with “Valley Fever,” a lung infection that afflicts workers in dusty environments. In order to pay for her mother’s hospital stay, Esperanza has to work in the fields. She works for her mother and grandmother — she is putting away money to send for her grandmother back in Mexico.

Some of the workers on the farms talk about striking. The conditions, while not abysmal, are not fair to all of the workers — even among migrant workers, there’s racism and unfair treatment. Esperanza and her friends and family avoid the strikers, and eventually immigration forces come in and wipe out the striking Mexican workers.

Esperanza reveals to Miguel, the son of her family’s servants and friends, that she has been saving money to bring her grandmother to them and is devastated when she wakes up one morning and discovers that Miguel and her money are gone. Her mother is released from the hospital and Miguel arrives on the train; he took Esperanza’s money and went to Mexico to bring Abeulita to her.

IMPRESSIONS

This book won the Pura Belpre award, which is awarded to Latin American authors whose work portrays and celebrates the Latin American culture. This book is wonderful in presenting the Mexican side of the Great Depression and migrant farmers in America. Before reading this book, my sole literary encounter with this era was Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Esperanza is a wonderful character (and was actually based partially on Pam Munoz Ryan’s grandmother, Esperanza) because she is childlike without being naive. The “rising” of the title is a metaphor for the rising she accomplishes from difficult circumstances, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. My only disappointment was that I wanted to know more about Esperanza’s life (mainly because I really wanted Esperanza to marry Miguel).

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Moving from a Mexican ranch to the company labor camps of California, Ryan’s lyrical novel manages the contradictory: a story of migration and movement deeply rooted in the earth. When 14-year-old Esperanza’s father is killed, she and her mother must emigrate to the U.S., where a family of former ranch workers has helped them find jobs in the agricultural labor camps. Coming from such privilege, Esperanza is ill prepared for the hard work and difficult conditions she now faces. She quickly learns household chores, though, and when her mother falls ill, she works packing produce until she makes enough money to bring her beloved abuelita to the U.S.. Set during the Great Depression, the story weaves cultural, economic, and political unrest into Esperanza’s poignant tale of growing up: she witnesses strikes, government sweeps, and deep injustice while finding strength and love in her family and romance with a childhood friend. The symbolism is heavy-handed, as when Esperanza ominously pricks her finger on a rose thorne just before her father is killed. But Ryan writes movingly in clear, poetic language that children will sink into, and the books offers excellent opportunities for discussion and curriculum support.
Booklist

Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza’s expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza’s mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California’s agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This would be a great introduction for Hispanic Heritage Month or in an introduction for a unit on the Dust Bowl and migrant workers. The book cover is bold and vivid and would make a great display.

REFERENCES

Engberg, G. (2000). Books for youth: Books for middle readers. Booklist, 97(7), 708. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3840940/books-youth-books-middle-readers

Goldsmith, F. (2000). Esperanza rising (book review). School Library Journal, 46(10), 171. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3646672/esperanza-rising-book-review

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.

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Module 4: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

September 29th, 2012 — 10:09am

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was published in 2008. It, like many of Gaiman’s other books, is a fantasy book that presents the supernatural as completely natural and present in the world — in this case, a boy is raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard. The plot is enhanced by illustrations by Dave McKean. The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book opens with the murder of a family: a mysterious man Jack has been sent to kill an entire family, but one member escapes — the toddler boy of the family manages to leave the house and find his way to a nearby graveyard. The ghosts that inhabit it hold a council and decide that they need to save the boy (as the man Jack is still trying to find him) and so give him the freedom of the graveyard and swear to protect him. Two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, agree to adopt him and Silas, a mysterious figure who is suggested to be a vampire, agrees to serve as his guardian, as he can leave the graveyard and get food and clothes for the boy. The ghosts christen him Nobody Owens, Bod for short.

Each chapter serves as a different time period and adventure in Bod’s life, from meeting a human girl who is visiting the graveyard and discovering that he has powers that she doesn’t, befriending the ghost of a witch, and taking lessons and meals from a werewolf. The denizens of the graveyard strive to protect Bod from the man Jack who is still searching for him and trying to kill him.

IMPRESSIONS

The Graveyard Book was a fun book, though I felt that the development of Bod’s character was a little weak. I was more interested in the “people” in the graveyard and found that Bod sometimes was a minor character in my mind. Though he aged in the book, there wasn’t a lot of growth — he acted pretty much the same through the entire plot, from age five to eighteen. I enjoyed the fantasy aspects and felt that each chapter both fit in with the action as well as stood apart. It had a nice amount of weirdness without an overwhelming amount of frightening moments and gore, which is impressive considering that the book opens with a serial killing. It seems perfect for the Newbery award, which I associate with younger readers.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

A lavish middle-grade novel, Gaiman’s first since Coraline , this gothic fantasy almost lives up to its extravagant advance billing. The opening is enthralling: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Evading the murderer who kills the rest of his family, a child roughly 18 months old climbs out of his crib, bumps his bottom down a steep stairway, walks out the open door and crosses the street into the cemetery opposite, where ghosts take him in. What mystery/horror/suspense reader could stop here, especially with Gaiman’s talent for storytelling? The author riffs on the Jungle Book , folklore, nursery rhymes and history; he tosses in werewolves and hints at vampires—and he makes these figures seem like metaphors for transitions in childhood and youth. As the boy, called Nobody or Bod, grows up, the killer still stalking him, there are slack moments and some repetition—not enough to spoil a reader’s pleasure, but noticeable all the same. When the chilling moments do come, they are as genuinely frightening as only Gaiman can make them, and redeem any shortcomings.
Publishers Weekly 2008

And it is appropriate too. Don’t let the fact that the first sentence in the book (“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife”) put you off. The murder of Bod’s family is swift, immediate, and off-screen. What remains is just a great fantasy novel that has the potential to appeal to both boy and girl readers. Kid wants a ghost story? Check. Kid wants a fantasy novel set in another world appropriate for Harry Potter fans? Check. Kid wants a “good book”. That’s my favorite request. When the eleven-year-old comes up to my desk and begs for “a good book” I can just show them the cover and the title of this puppy and feel zero guilt when their little eyes light up. A good book it is.
School Library Journal 2008

LIBRARY USES

Halloween time, definitely. I think the best use of this would be a book talk with middle school aged kids, paired with Gaiman’s other book for young adults, Coraline. Those two books paired together would be good for both boys and girls — I would present the chapter about the ghost of the witch as the hook.

REFERENCES

Bird, E. (2008, August 6). Review of the day: The graveyard book. School Library Journal. Retrieved from SLJ.com website: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production/2008/08/06/review-of-the-day-the-graveyard-book-by-neil-gaiman/

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Publishers Weekly. (2008, September 29). Children’s review: The graveyard book. Retrieved from PublishersWeekly.com website: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-053092-1

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The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

February 13th, 2012 — 8:47am

The Hunger Games Trilogy is a series of three books by Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. The first of the books, The Hunger Games, was published in 2008 and the series has skyrocketed in popularity, culminating in a movie that will be released this March. It was originally marketed as a young adult novel, but has been embraced by readers of all ages, including almost all of my adult friends.

The books are set in a dystopian future in a country called Panem, which was once North America. The people of Panem attempted a coup that was defeated by the Capitol, the corrupt leaders of the country. The country was divided into districts and are strictly controlled by the Capitol. In order to remind the people of their mistake of the uprising and to demonstrate their control, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.

THE HUNGER GAMES

The first book introduces the narrator, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12 with her mother and younger sister, Prim. District 12 was once the Appalachian mountain region, which is revealed by small clues, such as the coal mining jobs the people hold. Katniss is 16 and is the sole provider for her family; her father died in a coal mining accident five years before and Katniss and her best friend, Gale, have been illegally going out of the confines of District 12 and hunting animals and foraging different mushrooms and berries to feed the family (both by feeding their families and selling the excess meat to the people in the black market, the Hob).

The book opens on the morning of the lottery for the Hunger Games, when all of the people of the district are required to put their children’s names into the lottery. The children’s names that are pulled from the lottery are referred to as Tributes, which is one more way to keep the people of Panem in their place. When the Capitol representatives pull two names for the Hunger Games, the boy is Peeta Mellark, a boy who Katniss knew from school and had once given her bread from his family’s bakery when her family was starving, even though he was punished for it later. The name of the girl that is drawn is Primrose Everdeen, Katniss’s eleven year old younger sister. As Prim walks to the stage, Katniss runs forward and volunteers to be the female tribute for District 12.

Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol, where they are to be trained by the former victors of the Hunger Games from their district. In the case of District 12, there has only been one former victor: Haymitch Abernathy, who is infamous for living in a perpetual state of drunkenness. Katniss takes an instant dislike for him, as he is too drunk to properly train them, which is crucial, given that the wealthier and healthier districts have been training their tributes for years.

In the initial interviews with Caesar Flickerman that are broadcast to everyone in Panem, Peeta reveals that he’s had a lifleong love for Katniss, which she interprets as a way to manipulate the audience and get support and fans, which is important, as the audience can send gifts of food and medicine to the players in the Games. Katniss and Peeta are assigned a team that serves them while they’re staying in the Capitol, which include an aesthetic team to help clean them up for the formal on-air parade and presentation. Their stylist, Cinna, designs their outfits that instantly gets the audience talking about them — he bases the designs for their outfits on their coal-mining district, but rather than sticking to coal, he comes up with designs that incorporate fire and flames; Katniss becomes “the girl on fire” when Cinna’s designs for the first audience presentation includes actual fire.

The Hunger Games begins with all of the tributes (two from each district, 24 in all) starting in a circle around a cornucopia filled with items that could be helpful during games, including weapons, food, and medicines. Haymitch has advised Katniss and Peeta to avoid the cornucopia, as that is where most of the triubtes are killed. Sure enough, 11 of the 24 tributes are killed the first day. Katniss spends most of the first few days of the Games alone, using her hunting and foraging skills to survive. Some of the more experienced tributes make a gang and are attempting to hunt and get rid of the other tributes. Katniss briefly unites with a tribute from the agricultural district who is one of the younger of the tributes. Rue reminds Katniss of her younger sister, and the two of them torment the gang by setting some of the Capitol’s mutant creations, tracker jackers, on them (the Capitol had created different creatures and set them on the people of Panem in order to shorten the rebellion; these include tracker jackers, a genetically-altered wasp that hunt you down and sting you with a hallucinogenic venom that gives you visions before killing you, and jabberjays, birds that spied on and then repeated the things the rebels said to the Capitol. The jabberjays then mated with mockingbirds to create mockingjays, birds that memorize and repeat songs instead of words. The mockingjays serve as a symbol of the rebellion and a slap in the Capitol’s face, as the jabberjays were supposed to die off but created new life and thrived instead). When Rue is killed by one of the other tributes, Katniss sings to her to comfort her as she dies and then covers her with flowers, giving her a makeshift funeral and showing her anger and defiance to the Capitol.

Unbeknownst to Katniss, the audience has become enamored with the unrequited love story of Peeta and Katniss, and the Capitol has announced that there are new rules for the Hunger Games: two tributes from the same district can win the Games as a pair. Katniss hears the announcement and tracks down Peeta; she finds him wounded and takes him into a cave to nurse him back to help. Peeta has blood poisoning from a leg wound given to him from one of the gang, and Katniss has to go to the cornucopia to get medicine that has been donated by viewers. While there, she is almost killed by the remaining members of the gang, but she is saved and her life is spared by Thresh, the other tribute from Rue’s district. He spares her life in order to thank her for helping and caring for Rue when she was dying. Katniss makes it back to Peeta and injects him with medicine, saving his life. They stay in the cave for days while Peeta recovers. Katniss and Peeta explore their budding romance; Katniss initially engages in the romance in order to keep up the star-crossed lovers act, but feels that the feelings she’s pretending to have are slowly becoming real.

On the final days of the Hunger Games, the river close to their cave becomes dry, and Katniss and Peeta realize that this is the Capitol’s way to get the remaining tributes together at the center of the arena. They make their way there and, once there, see the final tribute, Cato, being chased by giant muttations, a Capitol creature that are human-like wolves. Katniss realizes that the muttations resemble the dead tributes, including one that has Rue’s eyes and face. Cato is attacked by the muttations but doesn’t die because of the armor he’s wearing, so Katniss kills him by shooting him with an arrow. Peeta and Katniss wait to be announced as the winners when an announcement is made that there can only be one winner after all. OH HELL NO.

In order to keep one from having to kill the other, and because Katniss is pissed as hell, Katniss and Peeta threaten suicide with poisonous berries in hopes that the Capitol would rather have two victors than none. It works, and they are declared the winners and taken out of the arena. In the aftermath and celebration from the Hunger Games, the Capitol becomes angry with Katniss and claims she was sparking rebellion by “outsmarting” the Gamemakers and defying the Capitol. When Haymitch tells Katniss this, she takes it as her job to reverse it to save her family and friends from retaliation from the Capitol. During an aired interview with Caesar Flickerman, Katniss claims that she wasn’t trying to rebel, she was trying to insure a future with Peeta because she loves him, insuring that the audience likes her more and will hate the Capitol if they kill her. Peeta and Katniss seem to be safe for now.

On their way home, Katniss and Peeta discuss their feelings and Katniss reveals that she knew when Haymitch would send her sponsorship gifts and played most of the games by manipulating the feelings of the audience by acting like they were in love. She has assumed that Peeta was playing the games as well, and quickly finds out that Peeta’s feelings were true — he tells her that he’s loved her since that day years earlier when he gave her the bread for her family, even though he knew that he would be punished by his parents. Katniss tells him that she doesn’t know exactly how she feels about him. Peeta’s feelings are hurt by knowing that Katniss was playing him, but he agrees that now they have to portray themselves to be in love in order to keep the Capitol from discovering this and killing them and their families for their rebellion.

CATCHING FIRE

The second novel opens with Katniss and Peeta embarking on their Victory Tour, where they tour each of the districts and are presented as the victors of the Hunger Games. When the tour has finished, they return to their homes in District 12. Their relationship is tenuous, as Peeta is in love with Katniss and, because this is a young adult novel, Katniss is unsure of her feelings for him. She knows that she cares for Peeta and wants to keep him safe, but she thinks she just might be in love with her best friend from home, Gale. Of course she is. OF COURSE.

While on the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta keep up their love act, with Peeta proposing to her during one of the televised interviews. Katniss figures that this is the only way to stay alive. Turns out, she’s right.

When she gets to her family’s new house in the area reserved specifically for victors of the Hunger Games, her mother tells her that there is a visitor waiting in her room. Waiting for her is President Snow, the president of Panem, who is none too pleased with her shenanigans in the arena, specifically that her actions could be interpreted as trying to spark a rebellion against the Capitol. The unhappy citizens of the country have embraced the mockingjay pin Katniss wore during the games as the symbol of the rebellion. President Snow tells Katniss that she has to convince the citizens of the country that she was simply trying to save Peeta’s life and not a way to stick it to the man. Before he leaves, he whispers in her ear that he knows that Katniss kissed Gale upon her return home and Katniss realizes that President Snow’s breath smells like blood.

Katniss discovers that there have been uprisings in other districts — she encounters two runaways from District 8 and they explain a theory that District 13 was not wiped out by the Capitol, due to its residents going underground, and that stock footage of 13 is played instead of new film on television. There are suddenly a new group of Peacekeepers (the Capitol’s police enforcers) that arrive in District 12; their first act upon arriving in the district is brutally whipping Gale for hunting illegally. Katniss tries to stop his beating and is struck in the face by the new Head Peacekeeper, Thread, before the beating stops and Katniss and Haymitch carry Gale to Katniss’s mother for healing. That night Katniss realizes that she loves Gale, but she doesn’t know if it is a romantic love.

(That is one of my least favorite parts of young adult novels and honestly, one of the reasons why I tend to shy away from reading them. It seems like every young adult novel that’s been written in the past ten years incorporate some sort of love triangle between a girl and two guys. IT IS SO ANNOYING. I blame Twilight. There is some sort of romantic dissonance that has to occur in young adult novels. It’s not enough that Katniss is a strong female character, she has to be incapacitated by some sort of romance. Okay, moving on.)

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Capitol’s defeat of the rebellion, so it is the 75th Hunger Games and is what they call a Quarter Quell. There is always some sort of special craziness added into the mix. The last Quarter Quell, during the 50th Hunger Games, there were double the amount of tributes. This time, the twist is that the tributes will be chosen from previous victors, which means that Katniss and either Peeta or Haymitch will be back in the games.

On the day of the reaping, Katniss and Haymitch’s names are drawn, but Peeta volunteers to take Haymitch’s spot. Katniss decides that she is going to make it her mission to save Peeta’s life and make sure he stays alive during the games and makes Haymitch agree.

These games are different because all of the victors know each other and are friends and more importantly, all of the citizens of the Capitol love the victors — they’re celebrities in Panem and the Capitol loves them like we love our reality stars. A lot of the victors are old and many of them have turned to drugs or alcohol to try to rid themselves of the memories of the games. Haymitch tries to get Katniss and Peeta to forge an alliance with some of the tributes, but they decide to try to keep each other alive on their own.

The games start and Katniss and Peeta find out that Haymitch has been forging alliances without them — Finnick, the extremely handsome and muscular tribute from District 4 and his 80 year old fellow tribute, Mags, instantly fight with Katniss to survive; Finnick even has a bracelet Haymitch had been wearing to show that he can be trusted.

There are some gruesome tortures in the arena, including a chemical fog that paralyzes and kills and orange muttation monkeys. Johanna Mason, a tribute from District 7, meets up with Finnick, Katniss, and Peeta, bringing Beetee and Wiress, tributes from District 3, the technology district. Wiress soon proves her genius by revealing to Katniss that the arena is arranged like a clock, with all of the arena’s disasters occurring on a timed chart. After Wiress is killed, Katniss learns of Beetee’s plan to harness lightning in order to electrocute two other contenders.

While Johanna and Katniss are attempting to set the wire, they’re attacked by the remaining contenders, Brutus and Enobaria. Johanna jumps Katniss, which makes Katniss think that Johanna was working against them the whole time. Johanna has knocked her out and cut her arm, and when Katniss comes to, she finds Beetee laying on the ground with the wire wrapped around a knife and Finnick and Peeta are nowhere to be found. She remembers Haymitch’s advise before going into the arena: “You just remember who the enemy is.” She finally realizes that the enemy he was talking about is the Capitol. Good job.

Realizing that Beetee was trying to blow up the forcefield, she wraps the wire around her bow and shoots it straight into the forcefield at the exact moment when the lightning strikes the tree, blowing up the arena. She is thrown to the ground and, before she passes out, thinks that the Capitol will never let her or Peeta live after this.

When she wakes up, she is being transported on a hovercraft to District 13. Katniss wanders around until she finds a room with Haymitch, Finnick, and Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who has been secretly working with the rebels. Haymitch tells her that there was a plan to break them out the minute the Quell was announced. The victors from 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11 had varying degrees of knowledge about it. Plutarch had been for several years part of a group planning to overthrow the Capitol. He made sure that the wire was among the weapons, as it was to be used by Beetee to blow up the forcefield. The hovercraft is from District 13, which is where they are headed. Upset, Katniss asks why she and Peeta were not in on the plans, and Haymitch explains that once the forcefield exploded, she and Peeta would be the prime targets and the less they knew the better, in case of capture. She tells them that Johanna tried to kill her, but Finnick explains that Johanna was removing Katniss’ tracker, and that all of victor tributes in those districts have pledged their lives to her and the rebellion; that she is the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion.

She realizes that Haymitch never had any plans to keep Peeta alive. He tells her that everyone kept Peeta alive because they knew that if he died she would never keep an alliance with the others. She asks where Peeta is, and Haymitch tells her he was picked up, along with Johanna and Enobaria (the tribute from District 2), by the Capitol. In horror and anger, she attacks Haymitch, scratching his face. Finnick and others strap her down and drug her to keep her calm. Finnick tells her that the Capitol will at least keep Peeta alive to use as bait against Katniss. So you know, there’s that.

Gale visits her in her room on the hovercraft. He tells her that after the Games, the Capitol sent bombers to the districts. He explains that he was able to get her family out in time, but District 12 has been destroyed.

MOCKINGJAY

The third and final novel in the trilogy begins with Katniss visiting the ruins of District 12 and is thinking about the happenings of the previous few days. There has been an underground rebellion working for a while and District 13, which the Capitol said had been destroyed in the initial uprising, has been thriving in underground bunkers. District 13 had been in charge of nuclear technology and has escaped the clutches of the Capitol by threatening them with a nuclear attack.

The rebels, headed by President Coin, the leader of District 13, are eager for Katniss to join them. She has become the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. She is more of a figurehead of the rebellion, but they’re desperate to be able to produce pictures and propaganda of her as a part of the rebel alliance. Katniss agrees that she will take part in the rebellion but she has some conditions: she demands that President Coin grant immunity to all of the captured tributes of the Quarter Quell, she demands the right to kill President Snow herself, and asks for her family to keep their cat, Buttercup.

The rebels are thrilled that Katniss has decided to be the face of the uprising and put plans in motion to make different TV spots featuring the Mockingjay in action. They send Katniss, Gale, and a team of other soldiers and cameramen to film her visiting a hospital in District 8, which has been targeted and badly attacked by the Capitol. In fact, while they’re leaving District 8, the Capitol bombs the hospital, killing almost all of the helpless men, women, and children inside. Katniss becomes enraged and realizes that she wants to help the rebellion now. Luckily, it’s all caught on tape.

Beetee, the technological genius from the Quarter Quell, has come up with a way to hack into the Capitol’s live broadcasts. The broadcast they interrupt is an interview with Ceasar Flickerman and Peeta. Katniss is relieved to see Peeta is alive but is concerned that they’re torturing him, especially since his message is for that of a ceasefire. Beetee manages to stick several seconds of the propaganda shots into the broadcast, which excites the rebels and makes them plan different videos they can shoot.

The next time they hack into the broadcast system is during another interview with Ceasar and Peeta, only this time Peeta is looking a little worse for wear. He looks like he’s lost a substantial amount of weight and there are bruises on his face that even the Capitol makeup can’t cover. Peeta manages to get a message to Katniss and the rebels watching that District 13 will be bombed that night — the screen goes black but there are suspicious torture noises. They manage to get further underground into their bunkers before the bombs hit, but Katniss saw blood on the screen before it goes to black and knows that somewhere Peeta is being tortured.

While bunkered down during the bombing that lasts a few days, she talks to Finnick, the tribute from District 4, who tells Katniss that he knows how she feels — his girlfriend, Annie, has been taken prisoner by the Capitol as well and he is being driven mad by the knowledge that she is being tortured by the Capitol in order to destroy him mentally. Katniss realizes that this is what is happening to Peeta and she has a panic attack and passes out.

When she comes to, Haymitch is there. He tells her that the decision has been made to attempt a rescue mission into the Capitol to save Peeta, Annie, and Johanna. It is a very dangerous mission, made even more dangerous by the fact that Gale was the first person to volunteer, so now she’s even more distraught about it because both of her men might die.

In order to distract the Capitol from the rescue mission happening under their noses, Katniss and Finnick shoot a new propaganda video. Katniss tells the camera that she has been set free by the knowledge that the Capitol is torturing Peeta because that means that she can fight them without punishment. Finnick reveals that President Snow had been selling Finnick’s body to anyone from the Capitol who was willing to pay; Finnick and the other victors were forced into this prostitution because if they didn’t, someone they loved would be killed. In exchange for his sexual services, Finnick has learned a lot of secrets about prominent Capitol members, including President Snow. According to Finnick, Snow has been poisoning his political adversaries to rise to power. He would drink out of the poisoned cups to avoid suspicion but sometimes the antidotes wouldn’t work, which is why he always smells of roses and why Katniss smelled blood on his breath — he has sores in his mouth that will never heal. After the cameras have cut, Haymitch tells Katniss that after his games, when he technically cheated by using the forcefield around the arena as a weapon to kill the remaining tribute, the Capitol killed his mother, younger brother, and girlfriend in order to “make an example” out of him to the other tributes.

The spot airs on the Capitol television, and Katniss and Finnick wait for the rescue team with Annie and Peeta to arrive. They finally get word that the team has returned with everyone alive. They bring Finnick and Katniss to the hospital wing, where Finnick and Annie are joyfully reunited. Peeta is still unconscious, so they bring Katniss to his room so she can be there when he wakes up.

When she gets to his room, Peeta is awake already. He sees her and immediately runs to her, for what she thinks is an embrace. He grabs her by the neck and tries to choke and kill her.

It turns out that the final way of torturing Peeta and Katniss has been to “hijack” Peeta’s mind — they injected him with the hallucinogenic tracker jacker venom and gave him false memories of Katniss being the enemy. It’s very “Zoolander killing the prime minister of Malyasia,” except this time it could actually work.

The doctors at 13 attempt to un-hijack Peeta’s mind while Katniss, Finnick, Gale, and the other soldiers prepare for an assault on the Capitol. Katniss still has her mind made up that she is going to assassinate President Snow. Gale shows her a bomb that he and Beetee have been working on; a bomb goes off, waits for about a minute for rescue workers to go in, and then another bomb goes off, killing the innocent people attempting to help. Katniss realizes that they are becoming just as sociopathic as President Snow, especially when Gale defends his bomb by saying that the people of the Capitol didn’t care about the people of the districts, so all is fair in war and war.

Katniss, Finnick, Gale, and about five other rebel soldiers go on a mission into the Capitol after taking control of some of the other districts (they’ve managed to take over District 2, which is especially important as they produce the Peacekeepers for the Capitol). One of the soldiers is killed toward the beginning of the mission and President Coin sends a replacement: Peeta. This is when Katniss realizes that President Coin sees her as a threat due to her influence on the people of Panem and has sent Peeta in so that he can kill her, even though his mind is mostly back to normal. After a call from Haymitch, Katniss resolves to start trying to help Peeta remember his former memories. The Squad creates a game, “Real or Not Real”, to help him separate the hijacked memories from the real ones. During this, Peeta reveals that when he was held in the Capitol, they forced him to watch the execution of two Avoxes (prisoners who have had their tongues cut out and are then forced into slavery in the Capitol), Darius and Lavinia, under the guise of trying to get information about the rebellion — he reveals that he is beginning to understand the difference between the fake memories and the real ones because the fake memories have a “shiny” quality to them. He still has some homicidal moments, though, which awkwardly show up in the middle of a Capitol street that has been booby-trapped with several traps and pods of danger, and it results in the death of two men.

The group continues through the Capitol to get Katniss close enough to kill President Snow, encountering traps and monsters and losing men along the way. When they finally reach the Capitol, Peeta separates from the rest of them, saying that he can’t trust himself to not try to kill Katniss at the last minute. Katniss reaches Snow’s mansion, which she is horrified to see has a human shield comprised solely of children. Silver parachutes that look like supply packages similar to those that came down in the Hunger Games arena come down and the children reach for them; unfortunately, the packages contain bombs. When the children have been bombed, a group of rebel rescue workers rush in to help. Katniss recognizes her sister, Prim, among the group and starts running to her to warn her of possible danger, but it’s too late — a second bomb goes off, killing Prim and burning Katniss.

Katniss is taken back to District 13 with the rest of the survivors — Finnick was attacked and killed by muttations in the Capitol, Gale was captured but rescued in the Capitol, and Peeta is nowhere to be found. Katniss’s body is reconstructed using skingrafts, but there is nothing to do for her mind; Prim’s death has driven her to a point of mental instability reminiscent to that of when she won the first Hunger Games. Slowly she regains her sanity, but the slightest remembrance of her sister can put her back over the edge.

President Snow was taken captive that day and has been held in a District 13 cell ever since. She goes down to see him and he tells her that it was President Coin, not Snow, who ordered the attack on the children. This means that the bombs could have been the one designed by Gale. Uh oh. When she talks to Gale, he tells her that he has no idea if it was his bomb but he feels guilty nonetheless. She realizes that she will never be able to look at Gale the same way again; he represents the destruction and anger that she has always had toward the Capitol and two fiery people will never last long together (and my ex-boyfriend and I can attest to that truth).

The day of President Snow’s public execution arrives and Katniss is outfitted with a bow and arrow to take the “final shot” of the war. As she stares at Snow, she realizes that he had promised that they would never lie to each other, which meant he was telling the truth about Coin ordering the attack on the children. Coin has also told the former victors that they will hold one final Hunger Games in which the tributes will come from the children of the Capitol, so Katniss thinks that she is just as untrustworthy and horrible as Snow. When she takes the shot to kill Snow, she aims and shoots and kills President Coin instead. The people on the square instantly riot and Katniss is taken away by guards.

While being held in a cell, she is told that after the riot, President Snow was found dead; he was either trampled to death or choked on his own blood from the sores in his mouth that were no longer able to be medicated once he was taken from the Capitol. District 13 holds a trial for her while she’s held in solitary confinement and finds her not guilty due to her apparent insanity — her punishment is that she is sent to live in District 12.

She and other former 12 citizens return to what is left of their homes. Her mother doesn’t return, however, as the deaths of Katniss’s father and Prim are too much for her to handle; she remains in the other districts as a healer so she can keep busy. The District 12 citizens attempt to rebuild and Katniss lives alone in her house in the Victor’s Village (Haymitch is a less than stellar neighbor) until one day Peeta shows up. It has been months since anyone has seen him and he has apparently worked off his brainwashing.

Katniss realizes that falling in love with Peeta was inevitable — he represented the peace and hope for the future that was a perfect contrast to her fire and anger. They reunite and together, with Haymitch, create a book memorializing the victims of the Hunger Games and the Capitol’s bloody reign.

The end of the book jumps ahead to fifteen years later, where Peeta and Katniss are still together. They have had two children together, because Peeta desperately wanted them. The Hunger Games are over, but Katniss dreads the day her children learn the details of their parents’ involvement in both the Games and the war. Peeta and Katniss sometimes experience flashbacks of the Games; when she feels distressed, Katniss plays a comforting game reminding herself of every good thing that she has ever seen someone do. She finds the memory game repetitive sometimes, but as she concludes the novel she concedes that “there are much worse games to play.”

The novels are really entertaining and have a really good story. I enjoyed them because they don’t seem like the typical young adult novels, minus that annoying love triangle. The characters don’t act like teenagers and there are a lot of mature themes. The characters live in extreme poverty and experience extreme loss at very young ages, and also have to deal with loyalty, betrayal, challenging authority, and war. Katniss has essentially raised herself after the death of her father when her mother had an emotional breakdown which makes her much more self-efficient and not a whiny teenager.

I tend to shy away from young adult novels because I spend my days with teenagers. The last thing I want to do is read about a teenager’s life and problems, especially because they usually involve crushes and clothes and bullshit. This novel circumvents the trapping of a typical YA novel by using teenagers in an un-teenage format.

Plus, the movie looks like it’s going to be AWESOME.

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