Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cheater by Michael Laser

Almost everyone cheats at least once during a test they really need to pass. Now think of high-tech cheating. Cell phone with earbuds concealed under baseball hats as receivers and a pencil as a transmitter. A group of teens have been cheating one way or another their entire junior and senior high careers. Never having honestly passed a test they doubt they will pass the SAT College entrance exams, be able to go to good colleges as their parents hope. So, harass Karl, who is sure to be class valedictorian, offer to stop if he helps, add a few successful practice cheats on less important tests and everything is in place. Except, Karl doesn't want to cheat, and the cheaters are suspected already, including Karl and an evil vice-principal has established rules that will ban the students from college forever, and a school's investigative reporter is awfully nosey, and a crooked politician wants his son in on it. It seems that everyone wants something from Karl. All he wants is to finish his turtle science project in his amazing garage workshop and work up enough courage to kiss Lizette. Lizette is another brainy student and helps him puzzle his way out of the mess. Their idea is ingenious and funny. This is perfect for middle schoolers and 9th and 10th graders. Without being preachy it makes a case for honesty.
JDW 4/30/08

Monday, April 28, 2008

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Clay receives a shoe box of tapes (not c/d's) in the mail. There are seven. Six are double sided, the last has only one side. In the box is also a map of locations referred to on the tapes. They are high school student Hannah's story. Hannah had committed suicide a short time earlier. On each tape she relates one more incident, by one more classmate or adult in her life that leads her to the feeling she has nothing left to live for. Clay is someone who tried to reach out to a girl who would not reach out to him and not one of the those whose very real teenager like thoughtless or even cruel deeds leads ultimately to her death. Nevertheless Clay and readers are compelled to hear the tapes and feel the emotions. So many of the things that happened to Hannah have happened to us, the readers as well. Or, perhaps we were the ones who mistreated a fellow student. Maybe this book will open some eyes and cause us to think twice before acting. Maybe, as Clay did it will cause us to reach out to someone we didn't think we had the courage to get to know.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This novel takes place in the undetermined future where a person doesn't need to die in order to be an organ donor and children can be aborted from age 13-18. In this future, abortions are outlawed but a new solution exists where teens (whether unwanted or merely troublemakers) can be "unwound" and every piece of them (limbs, muscles, organs, etc) becomes an item that can be transplanted. The order to be "unwound" can be determined at any age but it won't take place until they reach 13 and once the order is signed, there's no going back. Children who are unwanted from birth can also be "storked" where the mother leaves the baby on someone's doorstep and legally becomes the home owner's property. While being unwound sounds undesirable for a teen, certain teens are led to believe it is an honor to be unwound. These teens are called "tithes."

That's just the background for the novel. The story shifts through different third person points-of-views, but it mainly focuses on Connor, Risa, and Lev. Connor was a troublemaker sent to be unwound, Risa belonged to a State Home and had more potential as body pieces than one whole, and Lev was a tithe. Their paths cross when Connor goes AWOL before he can be sent to the Harvest Camp (where teens are unwound). As he runs from the cops, he takes Lev hostage and causes a bus to crash, therefore freeing Risa from the journey to the Harvest Camp. It then becomes a desperate journey to stay alive. Along the way they meet many characters who help them survive, discover that being tithed isn't such an honor, and that receiving an unwound body part also means you receive the unwound teen.

This novel is interesting, very thought provoking even though I don't really see this coming true. It has a unique concept but one thing I question is how a person could honestly support the idea of unwinding? Even though the person is "still alive," unwinding still theoretically kills another person. How can the world support condemning one person to "death" to help the needs of other people? Sure it is better to help ten people at the loss of one, but not when the one is an unwilling and unnecessary victim. It'd be one thing if the person was already dead, but to "kill" them is a completely different idea. Also, to do it when they're already developed into a living breathing person with hopes of a future is just cruel. At the same time the novel said people stopped trying to cure because they could merely replace, which almost seems counter-productive since the diseases still exist. Those, though, are just my reactions to this future.

In terms of the actual story, there are a lot of interesting characters presented. Cy-Fi does a great job of showing the affect an unwound body part has on the recipient. The Admiral is also a great character for the compassion he shows for the "unwinds." Roland also presents a nice antagonist for Connor. The story does drag at certain points, but it is, nonetheless, interesting. As a reader I wasn't overly impressed, but it did get me thinking so I guess that's a good thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

The narrator of this mystery for middle schoolers is Ted who has Asperger's syndrome which is a high functioning form of autism. Ted does rather too much explaining how his brain works for the readers. That aside this is a pretty good mystery, not at all predictable in its ending.
Ted's Aunt Gloria and his cousin Salim are moving to the United States and want to visit one last time before they leave. Salim wants to go up in a huge ferris wheel called the London Eye as his last great thing to do before leaving. Ted and his sister Kat take him but a series of odd events occur, Salim goes up alone and seemingly never comes down. Police are called in, while they do their searching and interviewing, Kat and Ted do their own sleuthing. Ted with his very logical mind has made a list of possible explanation's for Salim's disappearance. Kat and Ted work their way through them, revising and eliminating and occasionally lying and sneaking which Ted finds especially difficult. While the kids and the police often find they are going over the same territory, it is Ted who makes the final correct deduction. And really it was only logical. Short and fun. JDW 4/22/08

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chanda's Wars By Allan Stratton

This novel is one of the most interesting stories I have read in the last couple of months. In fact I hated to put the Novel down.

This novel takes place in a fictional African country, where their is plen ty of turmoil , & strife. The people have a few cattle, and sheep. But basically the people are poor farmers.

The main character of this novel is Chanda . She is the older sister responsible for her little brother, and sister the Mother died of Aids. Chanda decides to take her younger siblings to the relatives who reside in a remote village. Unfortunately, the village is close to the border where a Civil War is ragging.

Ruthless to say, the rebels are led by a General Mandiki, who stops for nothing. He attacks villages at night, and steals whatever he can; including children, who he trains to be soldiers with arms.

The General feeds them, & provides shelter to the children. Life as a child soldier is hard, & hopeless. The General steals the brother & sister of Chanda's & makes them fight in the childs army.
Chanda begins her trek trying to find her brother & sister. She begins alone, but ends up meeting a young man who is an experienced tracker by the name Nelson. Chanda refuses to give in to fear, & is a very courageous woman. Chanda has much hope in the midst of terrible events. Soly & Iris are rescued by their older sister Chanda in a clever way. This took months to achieve. This novel is excellent to read.

LRD 4/21/08

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fragments by Jeffry W. Johnston

Before this novel begins the main character, Chase, was in a car accident where he was the only survivor. Everyone wants answers as to how he managed to walk away unscratched, but he doesn't seem to remember anything about the accident. The novel then details his search for answers. It seems, though, that life only creates more problems for Chase as he deals with the aftermath of an unsuccessful suicide attempt, a new relationship with an outcast, and the return of his brother - the family's black sheep. As flashes of the fatal accident come to Chase, he tries to sort out what it all means, along with why he keeps revisiting scenes from his past.

The title of this novel fits because it's very fragmented. You get scenes here and there in his daily life. A moment at school, then at home, and next at the therapist only to do it over again. Things happen in the novel without being fully explained, which I suppose plays into the fragmented feeling Chase is going through. You are on the journey of discovery with him and only the important aspects of the trip are highlighted in the novel. We never fully figure out what happens in the accident even though he manages to remember most of what happens, it's still a little unclear of how falls out of the car. The subplot of his time with his brother Ben turns out to be really interesting especially when the truth comes out. Chase has a few mental issues, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is illustrated wonderfully and repressed memories - not just in regards to the accident. He is a rather complex and intriguing character and, even though the novel feels fragmented, the author does a good job of allowing the reader to feel the sense of discovery and enlightenment that Chase feels.

The novel in and of itself is okay. The choppy nature of the story makes me want more, especially since there's a lot of plain dialogue with nothing else happening. The ending with the revelations makes up for it, though. The truth, even though a little left field, blows your mind and then you understand why Chase is the way he is. It's a really quick read and worth a shot.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chanda's Secrets By: Allan Stratton

This is a terrific, but horrible novel in a way, that makes the reader aware of the way AIDS is rampant in may parts of Africa . Its numbers are increasing daily. This novel is not based on one particular nation in Africa .

The main character of the novel is sixteen year old Chanda . She carries many burdens in her heart. People she loves, are dying around her, and she knows the reason. Some people in the village call it a curse, but it is the deadly disease we know as AIDS.

Chanda is a teenage girl who loves school, and actually dreams of winning a scholarship to continue. Chanda is a teen living the truth. Chanda's Mother is missing, and Chanda decides to look for her. Chanda knows her Mother strayed to die peacefullyclose to her family who also have aids.

This is a novel that can teach us all a moral if we want. There are people with Aids all around even in the United States, and Canada. We need to be aware of the help even for teens.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Game of My Life By: Jason McElwain

This is a true story about Jason McElwain who was diagnosed with autism as a child two and a half years old. Jason overcomes his problem by working hard to overcome his difficulties. Of course his parents played a major role in Jason's life.

Now a days, especially in the Elections in the United States all candidates are mentioning autism, and what the candidates can offer to the individuals who have this increasing disease. In fact, the United States will create a special day for awareness of this disease.

Throughout the novel, the reader is getting a better knowledge of Autism. Now we are viewing Autism, as a common spreading disorder.

Jason in our novel, creates hope, and inspiration to all teens, who face having the label of autism. This novel takes place in 2006 about a real High School called Greece Athena Trojans that Jason attended. One of his motto's based on Rap Lyrics is as follows:- Never give up, never give in. Be motivated in everything you do, if you want to catch a dream. The sky's the limit. Give all that you can, if you want to catch a dream.

An interesting fact to note, Jason had a twin called Josh. By the way, Josh was a regular teen, who was a bother to Jason. On Saturdays they went to activities like baseball, basketball, or bowling to participate. Jason never caught on to bowling.

Once Jason talked to his brother, Josh became better friends. Jason played the drums, while Josh played the violin. Jason was placed in normal classrooms . Jason's favorite class was gym, because he was good in sports.

I enjoyed the novel very much. It was an eyeopener to autism. LD 4/8/08

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dreamrider - Barry Jonsberg

Michael Terny can dreamride. He can enter anybodys dreams and they will not really remember it. It's like lucid dreaming where you think the dream is real but it isn't. Michael can do anything to anyone even take away brain tumor, or even hurt someone. Michael has been to 7 schools in 4 years and at each one things start out ok, but then he gets bullied for being fat. At Millways High School Michael thinks things will be different. He gets to know Leah and after a few days he tells her that he can enter peoples dreams. She sets up a test to see if he's telling the truth by having Michael take away the blindness of her dog. The next day Leah's dog can see and she believes him. The bullying gets worse as the days go by. At the Year 10 social that weekend the bullies get to him and beat him up and he ends up in the hospital.

T.B. 4/7/08

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Circle of Blood by Alane Ferguson

The Circle of Blood is the third novel that follows assistant to the coroner Cameryn Mahoney. In the previous novel, Angel of Death (see August o1, 2007), Cameryn's long-lost mother, Hannah, re-enters her life, creating a lot of tension between the family members. Cameryn, though, feels that she's her mother's only hope and decides to stand up for her, despite the risks. When she sees her mother with a runaway (Mariah/Baby Doe) and then finds the runaway dead only hours later, Cameryn starts down the slippery slope of lies in order to protect Hannah. At first it seems as though Mariah had committed suicide, but, for some reason, her long braid had been cut off and placed in her backpack, which looks a little suspicious. Upon autopsy and a brain examination, the medical examiner determined that Mariah (later to be identified as Ester) had been murdered. Fearing the Hannah is the number one suspect, Cameryn begins a desperate search for truth that leads her to the dark world of polygamists.

My past exposure to this series has left me lukewarm to the novels. This third book hasn't exactly warmed me, but it's given me hope. I was actually planning on calling it quits right up until the last four pages when it leaves a cliffhanger and me wanting to read another book. Story-wise it's okay. It did take a while to actually get moving and in some ways it seemed to fall back on the reader having previous knowledge of the other books. A reader unfamiliar with the series might have difficulty understanding characters and some situations if they started with this book. The polygamist aspect of the story is interesting and helps to give the novel depth. This series is also identified as forensic mystery and this novel seems to delve more into the forensic aspects than the others. Cameryn explains things such as rigor, decomposition, brain trajectory and a few other forensic topics. The climax, however, was a little prescription - just like the other two it's Cameryn who solves the murder and is face to face with the killer. It seems a little insulting to the police in this story that a 17-year-old can solve a homicide but they can't.

I'm still not overly impressed with this novel. The forensic lesson proved itself to be more than just a mystery but, in a way, I wish this novel were more of a mystery and not so easy for Cameryn. The ending helped redeem my interest in the series and readers curious about the science of murder/dead might like this book.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Shug by Jenny Han

Its the summer before seventh grade as this story begins and Annemarie known as Shug has begun to notice boys in a romantic way. She is especially interested in her long time childhood best friend Mark. When school starts kids quickly pair off into their first dating couples. Mark chooses Hadley. Heartbroken Annemarie cannot even consider any other guys, even though one or two others express interest. In particular Jack, who she is tutoring, who has family situations similar to hers and with whom she has shared this, Jack wants to be her date. Self-centered Shug cannot see this at least yet. It seems that even her new best girlfriend Elaine, the girl she dumped Sherilyn for, has gone on to another group of kids with whom Shug just doesn't fit. And, always an A student Shug has one teacher who does not like her and won't give her an A. Central to the plot is the coming 7th grade dance, preparing for it by buying clothing, serving on committees and asking a special someone to go with and finally attending.
How Shug deals with the troubles in her life ring true. None of them are over the top awful. Shug could be almost any 7th grade girl. This is the first book I've read for a while and found truly worth reading. Its a good one for readers of Van Drannen's Flipped. Older teens could go on and read Sarah Dessen's stories. JDW 4/5/08