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Search tags: young-adult-lit
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review 2016-07-19 03:43
The Giver that keeps giving
The Giver - Lois Lowry,Ron Rifkin

The Giver is one of those well-loved books that's been around for ages that I've somehow managed never to pick up. Until now! People weren't making a fuss when they talk about how good this book is. I wouldn't call it a dystopian book, but it is set in a future where the rules and structure of society have changed dramatically.


Lowry introduces these differences very slowly. It starts with something small, like Jonas referring to his sister as a Seven, not that she is seven. As the book progresses, more and more terms come out that begin to illustrate just how different this world is from our own. I think Lowry was very clever in her plot progression. Everything starts of seeming very idealistic. It's different, but not dramatically so. There are rules in place so everyone is taken care of and everything is fair.


But then Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory and suddenly things don't seem so perfect. The shell is cracking and Jonas is seeing through the cracks into the dark underbelly of his perfect world. So like I said, not exactly dystopian, but foul things are clearly at work.


This book seems a pretty good metaphor for how our own world works. Many people are comfortable and happy. They have access to the basic needs of life as well as luxuries and things that make life easy. But they don't always see all the terrible things that are happening elsewhere. And if they do, sometimes they just try to ignore it. Just because you live a perfect happy life does not mean the world is a perfect place, though. It's important for us to remember that there is no 'us' and 'them.' There are only people. We're all here together, and when some of us suffer, we all suffer.


If you were like me and haven't read The Giver yet, read it!



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review 2015-07-15 05:00
True Grit / by Charles Portis
True Grit - Donna Tartt,Charles Portis

Let me start by saying that I have never seen either of the True Grit movies.  I was only vaguely aware that there was a young girl at the center of the story, and that John Wayne once played a character named Rooster Cogburn, but I had no idea what movie that character was from.  So True Grit the book is my experience with True Grit.


There is a simplicity about True Grit that appealed to me.  The writing is clean, uncomplicated and precise.  There is no fluff in this book.  Mattie is out to bring the man who killed her father to justice.  She's not admiring scenery, she's not learning big life lessons, she's not coming of age.  She doesn't have time for foolishness, or really even sentiment.   She is not a baby, she is not out here playing.  She's got a mission, and she fully intends to fulfill it, come hell or high water, consequences be damned, let's get this show on the road, there is work to be done.


Because Mattie is no-nonsense, the book moves at a good clip.  This story gets rolling right out of the gate, says what it's got to say, and when all that needs to be said is said, it's done.  The last sentence is "This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross's blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground."  Crisp, to the point, and starkly beautiful, just like the rest of the book.  A simple pleasure to read.



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review 2015-02-18 19:24
Jason's Gold / by Will Hobbs ; narrated by Boyd Gaines
Jason's Gold - Will Hobbs

Jason's Gold wasn't a bad story about the Klondike Gold Rush, and as a Seattleite I have to say that people here are particularly attuned to that gold rush.  Our city would have never become anything but a backwater without that event.  It put Seattle on the map.  For that reason, I'd particularly recommend this book to kids who live in the Puget Sound area.


Jason's Gold is very much a story in the same vein as the classic adventure stories like The Call of the Wild, and White Fang (in fact, Hobbs pays homage to Jack London in this book), Huckleberry Finn, and Treasure Island.  It is above all else an adventure story, but it doesn't quite strike the same chord as those greater adventure tales do.


It is clear that Hobbs has done his research and has written a nice piece of historical fiction.  That is well done.  Unfortunately, Jason's Gold lacks what those other great adventure stories I mentioned above have in abundance; the ability to pull at your heart.  Generally speaking, Jason's adventures, especially initially, don't have much to them.  He moves quickly through them, and we never quite get a chance to be really affected by who Jason meets, or what Jason experiences (with one notable exception, but I can't talk about it because it would be a spoiler).  Jason does see and experience some horrible things, and it's not that those passages aren't well written.  It's just that Jason moves through them so quickly that there isn't a chance for the reader to let the experiences sink in.  Because of this rapidity of pace, the adventure is muted in exchange for historical reporting.


Still, the book was enjoyable, and very accessible to kids between 5th and 8th grade, maybe even 9th grade.  There are some pretty gruesome passages.  The Klondike Gold Rush lead to nothing but violent death for some people and many animals, and Will Hobbs makes that point quite clearly.  Kids who are more sensitive might find those particular passages disturbing.  But this book is based on an historical event, and history is seldom sterile.  Kids looking for a historical fiction adventure book could do worse than Jason's Gold.  


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review 2015-02-17 20:16
The Crossroads / by Chris Grabenstein ; narrated by J.J. Meyers
The Crossroads - Chris Grabenstein

The Crossroads is a pretty good ghost story aimed at kids in maybe 5th-7th grade.  It was creepy, there was some violence, and there were kids in peril.  All of this was enough to make kids in this age range appropriately freaked out, but not enough to be really and truly terrifying to them.


While the ghost story does take center stage in this book, it's also a story about Zack having to come to terms with the verbal and emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of his now deceased mother.  He learns to lean on himself, to find value in himself, and he learns to trust in the bond that he's formed with his new step-mother.  All of this is well done, and does not get in the way of or overshadow the ghost  story.


As for the ghost story, it was good, but the majority of the ghosts in the story died in the 1950s.  There is a lot of 1950s terminology and culture that goes on in the story, and I do wonder if that might not make too much sense to younger readers.  I guess kids could understand the slang and the culture from context, but in some places it did come off as a little bit corny or dated.


Overall, though, I think it's a good story for those kids who like their books to lean a little dark.  This one does have a dark streak, but it's the light that triumphs in the end.

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review 2015-02-15 05:02
The City of Ember / by Jeanne DuPrau ; narrated by Wendy Dillon
The City of Ember - Jeanne DuPrau

I am having a hard time figuring out what to say about The City of Ember.  I enjoyed the book.  I liked the main characters, and I liked the supporting characters.  I liked the dystopian aspects and the mystery aspects of the story, although Lina and Doon's efforts to decipher the message written on a torn up piece of paper did not translate too smoothly to audio format, which made the mystery aspects a little tedious at times.  DuPrau carefully built Ember, and took care to make her two main characters three dimensional.  


That said, I guess I feel a little bit chagrined by the abrupt way in which this first book in the series ended.  I suppose that it ended at a "good spot," but just when things were starting to get really intriguing, when the questions really started to flood my mind, the book stopped!  Great way to boost sales of the next book, but frustrating to me as an adult.  I don't know if I feel invested enough to read the next book in the series, but I do want my questions answered, so we shall see, I suppose.  If I were a 5th or 6th grader, I'm sure I'd be reaching for the next book in this series before I even pulled my bookmark out of this one. 


Enough about that.  What I really did love about the book was the allegorical aspects.  I thought the book was an allegory for an awakening.  Perhaps spiritual, perhaps intellectual, perhaps emotional, but awakening, nonetheless.  DuPrau really wrote some lovely passages that explored awakening, and I thought the book was the strongest at those points.  Adults will pick up on the allegory quickly, I think, but this is going to be subtle to kids.  In other words, the allegory was not heavy handed for the audience that this book was intended for, and I appreciated that.


I would recommend this book to my 5th grade niece.  I believe she would like Lina, and I think she'd become invested in her struggles to improve life for her family and for her city.  I also believe that this is exactly the kind of book that would make the gears in her mind click.  She'd want to know why things were the way they were in Ember, and unfortunately, that doesn't really quite get explained too clearly in this book.  I don't think I'd be able to answer her questions.  I guess those unanswered questions are what drive readers to the next book in the series.



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