Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Losing your mother and home then becoming lost at sea and stranded on a desert island may be a bit much for any teen, or any adult even, to handle. That is the situation in which Ben and his two brothers, Gerry and Dylan, find themselves. When their mother dies in a car accident, the boys and their father are unable to bear their grief. Ben's father goes off the deep end and sells their home so they can sail for a year around the Bahamas. Ben is not happy with his father's decision, and this creates a rocky relationship between them. Being stuck on a small sailboat with three others who are not getting along can make for a very long year at sea. It turns out they do not get stuck together for a year on the boat. Instead, the Ben's father disappears off of the boat and is lost at sea, leaving Ben to take care of his brothers and the boat. Then a storm shipwrecks the boys on a desert island. Ben finds himself in the role of father to his brothers. Each brother has his own troubles surviving on the island between accidents and just plain going insane.

The book is a fast read, mainly because it is a page turner. You will be dying to find out if the boys make it off of the island alive. Some parts are predictable, and I became a little tired of the constant reminders of the family's grief over the loss of their mother (yeah, kind of cold- I know). However, the book is definitely worthwhile. I recommend for a pleasurable summer read for guys and girls.

Book; 12+; ISBN 9780670063307; New York : Viking Childrens Books, 2008

Peak by Roland Smith

Have you ever dreamed of being the first to do something? Or to just plain do something that very few people get to do? Peak Marcello finds himself in just that position. Born to famous, rock climbing parents, Peak has inherited their love of rock climbing. However, he and his mother have moved from Wyoming to New York City to live with his step-father, and New York City is not exactly a rock climber's paradise. Peak turns to climbing sky scrapers instead, and, to add some excitement, he leaves secret tags on his conquests. Climbing sky scrapers is illegal, and one day he is caught and thrown in juvenile hall with the possibility of spending years in jail. Lucky for Peak, his long absent father steps in and strikes a deal with the judge: Peak will leave the United States, and the media blitz his actions have caused, to join his father in Thailand. However, when Peak lands in Thailand, he finds that his father has other plans for him. Peak will become the youngest person to ever reach the peak of Mount Everest. Peak jumps at the chance, but soon learns that his father has his own motivations for getting Peak to the top. Furthermore, one of Peak's father's guides has his own plan for getting another young man to the top. Climbing Mount Everest takes a great amount of ambition, and some are more ambitious than others. The preparation for ascending Mt. Everest can be more difficult than the actual push to the top. There are so many obstacles in Peak's way. Will he make it? Will he even survive the treacherous climb in a place that even stepping out of your tent to go to the bathroom can mean your death?

Peak is a page turner with just the right amount of suspense and danger. You don't need to know anything about mountain climbing as Smith describes everything you need to know without going into too much detail. I recommend this book for everybody, not just adventure junkies and/or guys. It is a quick read that will keep you guessing until the end.

Book; 12+; ISBN 9780152024178; Orlando, FL : Harcourt Children's Books, 2007

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Today, we know the plague was carried by fleas hitching rides on rats. Back in the day, nobody knew what caused the plague, a highly contagious disease that could wipe out entire towns. When townspeople showed signs of the plague, some would freak out and run to another town, not knowing they carried the plague with them to infect even more people. This is the climate in which Anna Frith, an 18 year old widow with two kids, lived in from 1865 – 1866. When her town’s people come down with the plague, some want to run away, but the town vicar, who Anna works for as a maid, convinces most of the townspeople to stay. The town locks down into a year of forced isolation. Nobody can leave, and nobody is allowed in. Of course, as the plague spreads, some still run off—some to join a group of flagellants, people who believed that the plague was sent by God to make people atone for their sins and that if they whipped themselves into enough pain, God would forgive them. As the year of isolation goes on, the townspeople suffer greatly and begin to look to each other for someone to blame. Is there a witch in their presence? Or did someone bring God’s wrath down upon everyone for his own sin? Anna, the vicar, and his wife are only a few of the townspeople who manage to cling to their humanity. Will they survive the year? Will the plague go away?

This book is based on an account of a true town that shut itself off from the world. Brooks does a great job of making even the mundane events of daily life readable and interesting, and the book is littered with one shocking event after another. Brooks keeps her readers emotionally involved, and you will be almost afraid to turn the page to see who else has died of the plague or violated the town's agreement to quaranting themselves.

Book; 13+; ISBN 9780142001431; New York: Penguin Books, 2002

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

Whether you like graphic novels or never considered reading one, this book is a must! Maus tells the true story of Art Spiegelman’s parents’ survival of Hitler’s persecution of European Jews. Spiegelman tells not only the tale of his parent’s survival but of Art’s own coming to terms with his family history. In this Holocaust tale, the characters are depicted as animals: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, and Poles are pigs. Art’s father, Vladek enlists in the Polish Army when war breaks out. However, he is Jewish, and when Germany conquers Poland, he and his wife, Anna, are forced to move into a Jewish ghetto. When they learn what will happen to them if they are sent to a Nazi concentration camp, they go into hiding.

This novel does not have a happy ending… yet. It is the first of two graphic novels chronicling Art’s family as they struggle to survive the Holocaust. This graphic novel is sometimes considered an adult novel and sometimes a young adult. The story is harrowing and disturbing, even more so because it is told in pictures. Because everything is illustrated, it does not let your imagination soften the experiences of the Jews during the Nazi regime and the Final Solution. It is very "in your face."

Graphic Novel; ISBN 978-0394747231; New York: Pantheon Books, 1986

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Meyers

Fighting in battle can seem romantic and brave. The Vietnam war caused many to begin questioning that romanticism of war. Seventeen year old Richie Perry had plans to go to college after graduation in the late 1960s, but those plans fall through. Not knowing what to do, Richie enlists in the Army figuring it is better than ending up on the streets of Harlem. He is quickly sent off to Vietnam after a brief training. He has hopes that his knee injury will get him out of fighting, but, of course, something happens with his paperwork, and he ends up in battle alongside his new buddies, PeeWee and Jenkins. Richie struggles to come to terms with what he was told about war and Vietnam during his basic training and the reality he experiences in Vietnam. He begins to question the validity of the U.S. role in Vietnam. After dealing with commanders who are more concerned with their own promotions and their soldiers’ safety and realizing that African-Americans are purposely being sent on the most dangerous missions, Richie decides to demand some answers from his authorities, despite warnings from his comrades.

This is a coming of age story about a young adult who is trying his best to live to come of age. The story is an eye opener about the realities of war. This is a great book about survival and discover, and a recommended book for anyone who dreams of fighting in battle. Meyers manages to let the story speak for itself without becoming preachy. With you are for or against war, this page turner will have you questioning your own beliefs and perceptions. Fans of other Walter Dean Meyers books will not be disappointed as he continues writing in his usual edgy style here.

Book; 14+; ISBN 978-0545055765; New York: Scholastic Inc, 1988

Friday, May 1, 2009

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Would you like to live in a society where everybody is equal? How about if equality means that everyone gets a special surgery that makes them pretty or handsome? Not too bad huh? That is the world in which Tally Youngblood lives. Turning sixteen means a surgury that will make you beautiful and hot. Once you've turned from an Ugly to a Pretty, you also get to go live in a city where your only responsibility is to party and have fun. Tally is excited to turn sixteen and get to go join her friends who have already become Pretties. It is what she has wanted her entire life. However, in the weeks before her sixteenth birthday, Tally meets Shay, who does not want to become Pretty. The two girls develop a bond, and Shay invites Tally to run away with her to live with others who do not want to become Pretty. Tally cannot imagine not becoming a Pretty and turns Shay down. Just in case, Shay gives Tally cryptic instructions for how to find her should Tally change her mind.

When Shay disappears, Tally is brought in to the authorities and questioned about her friend. They strike Tally a deal: either show them the way to Shay and her friends who chose to stay Ugly or stay Ugly forever herself. To find Shay and the other rebels, and ultimately betray their whereabouts, Tally sets off on a dangerous journey by herself. Her journey will expose her so called perfect society for what it really is and lead her to discover what is truly important in life. If only she will survive it.

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. It is not the fluffy novel I expected. Westerfeld created a story of extreme environmentalism and equality. It takes place in the future but does not feel like a typical sci-fi story. Westerfeld is great at keeping just enough unknown to encourage the reader into each chapter. This would be a great book for a book report as there is lots to think about and respond to, but it is still a fun read. I couldn't put it down. It is the first of a trilogy, and I can't wait to get my hands on the other books.

Book; 14+; ISBN 978-0689865381; New York: Simon Pulse, 2005