Archive for April, 2010

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 447

2010 Iowa High School Award Winner

RAC Book:  Yes

Shay Bourne is a man on death row for murdering a cop and an eight year old girl.  The girl’s mother, June, was 8 months pregnant at the time of the murders and has since given birth to a baby girl, whom she has named Claire.  Claire is now 11 years old and the execution date for Shay has finally been determined, but it takes a dramatic turn when he sees on the news that Claire needs a heart transplant.  Shay quickly offers his own heart, but this raises many difficult questions.  Can June let her daughter take the heart of the man who killed her husband and daughter?  Will taking the heart of a murderer change her daughter’s personality?  Can she bear to pass on it and lose yet another daughter?

Picoult is a master of finding difficult moral issues and displaying all sides of the issue.  Much like her other stories nothing is ever as it seems, so readers need to read to the end to find out what surprises Picoult has in store.  Fans of Picoult or Diane Chamberlain will enjoy this title because the story and the characters are engaging.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Genre:  Science Fiction

# of Pages:  374 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Thomas wakes up in a metal box and cannot remember anything except his name.  A group of young boys come to help him get out of the box and Thomas finds they are living in a small community surrounded on all sides by a maze.  The first group of boys arrived two years prior and one new boy arrives every month.  They work hard to grow crops and raise animals in order to survive and everyone has a job.  The most powerful members of the community are maze runners and run in the maze everyday trying to find a way out.  There are many dangers in this place, but the worst part for Thomas is knowing that he should know more about their situation, but being unable to remember it.  Only one day after Thomas’s arrival they receive a shocking surprise:  not only do they receive a new member, but she is a girl!  Can Thomas help these boys to escape the dangers of the maze in order to get back to wherever they came from?

Readers who enjoyed the Hunger Games will enjoy this book due to the suspense, action, and mystery.  The characters develop and change according to events that happen in the maze and no one ever seems to know for sure what has happened or will happen, which puts them on level ground with the reader.  Unfortunately, this is the first in a series as many boys will be especially anxious after the ending of this story!

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre:  Mystery/Historical Fiction

# of Pages:  384

RAC Book:  Yes

Flavia de Luce lives in England in the 1950s.  Her mother died when she was a baby and her father is a recluse in their country manor.  She has two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, who enjoy tormenting her.  Flavia loves to work in her own chemistry lab and is always asking questions, to the annoyance of her sisters.

One evening she is awakened when she hears someone arguing with her father in his study, but the gardener catches her listening at the door and sends her to bed.  In the morning, Flavia finds a dying man in their garden and calls the police.  Unfortunately, they arrest her father for the murder and Flavia is not completely sure of his innocence since this is the man who was arguing with her father the night before.  Nevertheless, Flavia decides to go after the truth and begins investigating herself.  Can she piece together the facts to find out what happened to the mysterious stranger from the garden?  Can she clear her father’s name?

This story is a fun mystery story with very colorful and interesting characters.  The tone of the book and style of the mystery  is reminiscent of Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer.  There are many details of the story that the reader needs to remember in order to crack the case, which is reminiscent of The Westing Game.  Finally, the main character is captivating, clever, and a strong female character, reminiscent of Down the Rabbit Hole.  The story has all of the ingredients to be a lasting mystery for this age level for many years to come.

The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Genre:  Realistic Fiction/Romance

# of pages:  245 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Madison wakes up in a strange reality she calls “is” because there’s no way to describe it.  She believes she is dead because she can’t feel a body, but she does see objects in the space around her.  If she touches an object she is brought back to her life through a memory of when she lost that item.  She quickly realizes that she does not have memories past the age of 17 and knows she died young, but cannot remember how.  As she tries to navigate through the memories of her life she realizes she is not the only spirit lingering in those memories.  Will she ever be able to talk to anyone from her life?  Will she ever find out how she died?  Can she ever move past this place of “is” to the everafter?

This book was engaging, unique, and interesting.  As Madison moves through the memories of her life the reader cannot help but think about how she will meet her untimely demise.  Despite the fact that the reason behind her death is set up throughout the story, it will be a shock to most readers the way it actually happens.  Madison’s friendships and family relationships are easy to identify with and it’s hard to imagine how they must cope with her death.  Madison, however, believes that everyone dies when they are supposed to go and it’s okay, but she would like to know how it happens.  She feels no regret about how she lived or died.  This is a very interesting read that will leave the reader thinking about life and death long after the final page.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  405 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

In this gripping novel, Valerie is shocked when her boyfriend, Nick, brings a gun to school and begins shooting students.  She tries to stop him, but ends up getting shot in the leg before he turns the gun on himself.  In the aftermath, a notebook is found at Nick’s house of a list of people the two of them kept whom they hated.  People were put on this list for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they bullied Nick or Valerie or encouraged it in some way.  As Valerie courageously returns to the school for her senior year, she must face the repercussions of Nick’s actions as some people blame her and believe she should be in jail.  Others seem to think she is a hero for trying to stop the shooting and want Valerie to move on, but can she forgive herself for not seeing this coming?

This story forces every reader to think hard about his or her actions.  Everyone knows what it feels like to be picked on in some way and can identify with Nick and Valerie, but at the same time must decide how bullying should be punished.  Also, this book asks us all to think about how bullying can be stopped in schools or if that is even possible.  Valerie’s psychiatrist asks her to look at things for what is there and not what appears to be there.  This is something we should all be a little better at, but unfortunately it is often difficult to see the reasons behind certain behaviors.  Highly recommended.

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Genre:  Fantasy/Romance

# of Pages:  351 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Jessica is a normal American teenager trying to enjoy her senior year, which seems more difficult when a strange Romanian exchange students comes to stay with her family.  Lucius claims to be a vampire who was betrothed to her when they were babies.  When Jessica turns to her parents for answers she learns that they were asked to raise her so that she would be safe until the pact could be realized.  Despite Lucius’s fervent efforts to convince her to marry him, she finds him repulsive and wants to date the normal high school boy, Jake, instead.  When Lucius starts dating a cheerleader at school Jessica is unprepared for the jealousy she feels.  Is it too late to have Lucius to herself?  Does she really believe in vampires?  Does she think she has what it takes to join this dark world?

This vampire story is very original and engaging.  Readers who like vampire fiction will devour this book and wish for a sequel.  Of all the vampire books available right now, this one has the perfect mix of the fantasy world readers love to escape to and the real world that teenagers can identify with.  The characters and plot are much more substantial than readers might be expecting and will be pleasantly surprised by this title.  Highly recommended for fantasy readers.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  212 pages

RAC Book:  Yes

Austin is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in Texas with her mom.  Her father died six years earlier in an accident on Christmas Eve, which has left her mother a little traumatized and overprotective.  There is a family of bullies who think they can do anything in the town because they have money.  One in particular likes to criticize Austin at every chance he gets.  As Austin deals with the bullying, she decides that she wants to be the sweetheart of prosper county so that she can ride in the parade and no one could ever make fun of her again.  In order to do this she must raise a chicken to enter in the county fair.  It’s a very long process to raise a chicken and get him ready for the county fair, but Austin believes if she does this it will be the first step toward becoming somebody in this town.  Will she ever feel the courage to stand up for herself?

This heartwarming story follows a girl who has many things to deal with including a mother who has withdrawn from her life, and a terrible bully who thinks he can do anything because his father owns the corrupt mayor.  As she grows up and matures, she begins to see that she is the only one who can really change things for herself.  The characters are well-developed and fun to read about and the plot is so interesting and fast paced that anyone will want to know more about county fairs and raising animals.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  229

RAC Book:  No

Caitlin is having a difficult time coping with the suicide of her best friend, Ingrid.  Her parents keep trying to help her by creating projects for her and offering her space, but she cannot seem to feel normal again.  When a new girl in school, Dylan, tries to befriend her Caitlin feels guilty for having fun with someone else.  One day, Caitlin discovers Ingrid’s journal under her bed.  Slowly, she reads each entry and learns a lot about Ingrid she never knew.  She feels bad that Ingrid did not feel she could talk to her about her issues and wishes she could have helped, but also realizes she must begin to put her life back together.  She picks up her photography again and begins building a tree house in order to show everyone she is moving on, but not forgetting.

This book does have a few graphic scenes and some raw language, but many students will really identify with it.  The different feelings Caitlin has are portrayed so realistically that any reader feels like he or she has experienced this terrible loss.  Caitlin’s slow progression toward acceptance and healing feels natural and healthy and the people along the way who help her are engaging side characters.  Anyone who enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why will enjoy this title as well.