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Tag Archives: Action

Round Two: I’ll Give You the Sun vs. Grasshopper Jungle

So here’s the thing: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith got kind of a bum deal this round. I’m glad I read this book. There are a lot of things I liked about it – the gross-out humor, the crazy science, Robby and Ingrid and the underground compound with all its weird pieces sprinkled throughout Ealing, this dying Iowa town that felt so real in its insular detail. I loved the Unstoppable Corn and the Unstoppable Soldiers and the surreal quality of the science fiction laid over this absolutely normal town in the middle of nowhere.Grasshopper Jungle

Little things like how Smith uses food metaphors to describe the skin tones of all the white Iowans in the book – subtly pointing out how ridiculous a thing this is to do when describing a person of any color. Big things like how authentic Austin’s confusion regarding sexuality feels. Austin knows he’s in love with both his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby, but what does that mean? What should he do? And why does everything on Earth make him horny all the time?

Austin’s voice – and the question of how much of this history he’s sharing is actually, reliably true – and the question that rises from that – how much of any history is actually, reliably true? This is the heart of the book.

But (and you knew that but was coming from about a mile away – or the beginning of this post, anyway) – I am not the reader for this book. I know there are people out there who love this book. I know there are teens out there to whom I will recommend Grasshopper Jungle and who will adore it. It’s not you Grasshopper Jungle, it’s me. Austin kept going around and around in circles with his history and the voice kept me at arm’s distance, and honestly, I don’t like to have to think so hard about what the author is trying to do while I read (see, bum deal, right?).  I knew going in that there were going to be giant, unstoppable bugs who would only want two things – to paraphrase a bit: to eat and to copulate, but it felt like it took forever to get to the, er, copulating bugs!!

And then I read Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. And I fell in love. This book – oh man this book. It kept me up ‘til 2 in the morning when I finally had to put it down and go to sleep only to wake up and immediately start reading it again. The twin voices of Noah and Jude separated by time and all the secrets and lies between them captured me in a way Austin’s voice just didn’t. Just like in Grasshopper Jungle there are complex explorations of identity and sexuality going on here both for Jude and for Noah, who are both attracted to boys.

The way Nelson structures the two narratives is masterful – revealing clues to what happened in the years between through both sides of the timeline without the plot or the timing ever seeming forced. Because it’s broken up like this, it’s almost a puzzle structure (literary i'll give you the suncatnip to me – more of GJ’s bum deal) where you can see the pieces falling into place faster and faster towards the end.

Grief is a theme of intense interest to me – my brother died in a car accident over 8 years ago and a close friend followed several years after from the flu – and this book is chock full of grief. Grief not only for those who have left us through death, but grief for how we hide ourselves from the world and grief for how often we seem to harm the ones we love.

But Nelson also shows how humor is still there – even when our worlds are falling apart. I kept stopping to read funny parts out loud to my husband. “I’m so glad I’m not a horse.” “Did you just say you’re glad you’re not a horse?” The way Nelson captures these things makes me wonder what kind of loss and grief she has lived through that she can depict them so well. I can only hope that any teens I know who are dealing with grief in their lives find their way to books like this one.

And to top it all off – I’ll Give You the Sun is also about the power of art to change lives, to remake the world, to break your heart open wide so it can be whole again. (I was a music major in college and my best friend was an art major – seriously the deck just could not BE more stacked against GJ.)

With all these themes (I didn’t even talk about forgiveness or ghosts or magic), I never felt bogged down in my reading. There were so many avenues of thought to explore, but I didn’t feel like I was admiring Nelson’s technique from afar – I was right there in the middle of it.. And on a slightly shallower note, the make-out scenes in I’ll Give You the Sun were really, really hot. Plus, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

So, Grasshopper Jungle I like you a lot, I hope we can be friends. But my heart belongs to I’ll Give You the Sun. I just hope the next judge treats you kindly.

Winner: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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The 5th Wave vs. Just One Day (AKA Macarons vs. Sardines)

Trying to compare Gayle Foreman’s Just One Day and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is more difficult than comparing apples and oranges. It’s like comparing…the perfect macaron in a Parisian café to tinned sardines when you’re starving amidst an alien apocalypse. They are both something you would not want to miss—but they are very, very different things. While Just One Day can certainly be categorized as romance, I would more precisely term it a coming-of-age novel. The 5th Wave is falls squarely in the post-apocalyptic province. Both books are excellent examples of the genre they represent. Since we’re on the second round of the tournament now, plot summaries of Just One Day and The 5th Wave have already been done splendidly by my colleagues. Here I will direct my focus to the merits and weaknesses of each book.

The 5th Wave blends the action-oriented quest to survive with the exploration of philosophical theme, “Whom 5th wavecan I trust?” The shifting points of view in this novel highlight the isolation of each character as he or she is faced with the conundrum of distinguishing the good guys from the bad. As humanity faces possible extinction by aliens, the age-old question, “What does it mean to be human?” arises amidst the characters’ attempts to maintain hope, dignity, camaraderie, and love. The fast-paced plot works both for and against this book. The pages turn as secrets reveal themselves and the reader seeks to know who will live and how. However, the abrupt changes in point of view and time frame occasionally disorient the reader, and keeping track of the first four waves of the alien invasion is in itself a challenge!  Also, because the extremity of the situation has distilled the protagonists’ lives to the bare essentials, the characterization sometimes feels sparse, lacking the endearing quirks that often enhance the sympathy one feels for the characters.

Just One Day, on the other hand, luxuriates in the rich details of setting, and the reader relishes the description of each character–even the obnoxious ones! Readers cheer for protagonist Allyson as she tentatively asserts her own identity against the one her parents have chosen for her and as she gains the confidence to pursue the mystery of what happened to Willem. Forman further explores the theme of self-definition through parallel and foil characters like Melanie, Allyson’s BFF from high school who reinvents herself monthly in college, and Dee, Allyson’s code-switching, out-and-proud, gay African-American study partner. At the close of this novel, the reader feels absolutely compelled to read the companion piece, Just One Year, which tells the same story from the elusive Willem’s perspective. Shall I count it a weakness of Just One Day that the story is not complete in the first book? Or is it Forman’s strength that she manages to show the other side of the coin with equal depth, detail, and pathos in the second book? (I know, I know, that’s cheating…I’m only supposed to review the first book for this comparison!) Still, if I have to pick “Just One Book” to move to the next round of the tournament purely on its own merits, I will pick Just One Day because of the richness of the life into which it draws the reader and the empathy it evokes for the characters, especially Allyson, in her voyage to find her own identity.

Winner: Just One Day by Gayle Forman.

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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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This Song Will Save Your Life vs. The 5th Wave

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey bring together my two favorite This Song Will Save Your Lifetypes of books. I love realistic fiction with believable characters and a great story and I also love a book that is both dreadful and compelling.

This Song Will Save Your Life speaks to the insecure person in most (if not all) of us and gives hope to teens struggling with self-doubt. Elise is not just insecure, not just unpopular, she is maliciously preyed upon by bullies. Shortly after a failed suicide attempt, Elise sneaks out of her mother’s house to take a long walk during the night. She stumbles upon a couple of club kids who pull her into an underground nightclub……and here is where what every unpopular girl dreams of comes true. Elise makes cool new friends (much cooler than the popular kids at school), meets a boy, and finds her place in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to get close to new people because they don’t know your past, but in Elise’s case people who don’t know her past are exactly what she needs to help her see herself more clearly.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is an intense page-turner that opens with Cassie, a sixteen-year-old girl alone in the woods wondering if she is the last human left on earth. Cassie has survived four waves of alien attacks, and is on an improbable mission to find her young brother Sammy. The narrative is not linear and it flips between Cassie, Sammy, and Ben, a high school football star turned heartless soldier in the aftermath of the 4th wave. This jarring narrative (rather than being distracting) puts the reader right on pace with the characters, for whom everything changes from moment to moment. Enemies become allies, leaders become villains, and friends become murderers. Everyone in The 5th Wave is either already dead, dying or soon to be dead and the characters must decide how and why to go on when there is no hope for the future. The 5th Wave is an intense page turner full of deception and despair, but it peppered with just enough hope to keep me optimistic.

Now comes the hard part. I really enjoyed both of these books and they are so different it’s really hard to pit one against the other. This Song Will Save Your Life is an uplifting story about important social issues. It has a great message and characters that I could really connect with, but in the end I’m a sucker for suspense and Rick Yancey’s intense story had me engrossed from the first page to the last.

WINNER: THE 5th WAVE BY RICK YANCEY

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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Young Adult Action/Adventure Booklist

Remote Control

Heath, Jack.

In the sequel to The Lab, teenage agent Six of Hearts is suspected of being a double agent, which has him on the run from his fellow agents at the Deck while also trying to track down his brother’s kidnappers.

A Conspiracy of Kings

Turner, Megan Whelan.

In this historical fiction/Adventure story Sophos, an unwilling prince, is kidnapped and sold into slavery while trying to save his country from being destroyed by rebellion and exploited by the conniving Mede Empire.

 

Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo.

In a futuristic world, Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.

 

Smells Like Dog

Selfors, Suzanne.

When Homer’s explorer-uncle dies he leaves him a droopy dog with a mysterious coin hidden on its collar, it leads him to The City, where they meet Madame, head of the Museum of Natural History, who is trying to steal the coin and take Homer’s place in a secret society of adventurers.

 

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

Perkins, Lynne Rae.

Journeying by train to summer camp only to find that the camp program has been cancelled, Ry finds himself stranded without resources in the wilderness and invents a new definition of summer vacation.

 

The Grimm Legacy

Shulman, Polly.

After high school student Elizabeth, working as a page, gains access to the Grimm Collection of magical objects, she and the other pages are drawn into a series of frightening adventures involving mythical creatures and stolen goods.

 

Young Smaurai: The Way of the Warrior

Bradford, Chris.

After he is orphaned by a ninja pirate attack off the coast of Japan in 1611, English lad Jack Fletcher is determined to prove himself when the legendary sword master who rescued him begins training him as a samurai warrior.

 

Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow

Rollins, James.

Middle-schooler Jake and his sister Kady are transported by a Mayan artifact to a strange world inhabited by a mix of people from long-lost civilizations who are threatened by prehistoric creatures and an evil alchemist, the Skull King.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2010 in Booklists

 

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So YA Like…the Alex Rider Series

If you have teens that are crazy for the Alex Rider series and are killing time before the next one comes out in November 2009 check out these titles.  These books are character driven mysteries and adventure stories.  They geared towards boys but can appeal to any action and thriller fans.

accelerationAcceleration Graham McNamee

Stuck working in the Lost and Found in the bowels of the Toronto Transit Authority for the summer, seventeen-year-old Duncan finds the diary of a serial killer. He follows the clues in the diary that lead him to two victims.  Duncan must find a way to watch both girls while managing to keep his job.

Blade: Playing Dead Tim Bowler

A fourteen-year-old British street person with extraordinary powers of observation and self-control must face murderous thugs connected with a past he has tried to forget, when his skills with a knife earned him the nickname, Blade.

Death and the Arrow Chris Priestley

After his friend Will, a pickpocket in London in 1715, is murdered as part of a series of mysterious deaths, fifteen-year-old Tom Marlowe asks his friend Dr. Harker to help find the killer.  This is the first in the Tom Marlowe Adventure trilogy.

Down the Rabbit Hole: an Echo Falls Mystery Peter Abrahamsdowntherabbithole

Like her idol Sherlock Holmes, eighth grader Ingrid Levin-Hill uses her intellect to solve a murder case in her home town of Echo Falls.  This is the first in the Echo Falls Mystery series.

First Boy Gary Schmidt

Dragged into the political turmoil of a presidential election year, fourteen-year-old Cooper Jewett, who runs a New Hampshire dairy farm since his grandfather’s death, stands up for himself and makes it clear whose first boy he really is.

Payback Andy McNab

As teenage suicide bombers terrorize England, seventeen-year-old Danny tries to help his grandfather, an ex-SAS explosives expert falsely accused of being a traitorous spy by the government’s intelligence agencies.

rashRash Pete Hautman

In a future society that has decided it would “rather be safe than free,” sixteen-year-old Bo’s anger control problems land him in a tundra jail where he survives with the help of his running skills and an artificial intelligence program named Bork.

Raven’s Gate Anthony Horowitz

Sent to live in a foster home in a remote Yorkshire village, Matt, a troubled fourteen-year-old English boy, uncovers an evil plot involving witchcraft and the site of an ancient stone circle.  This is the first volume in the Gatekeeper’s series.

SilverFin : a James Bond Adventure Charles Higsonsilverfin

Young James Bond, while attending boarding school at Eton in the 1930s, must battle against an insane arms dealer who, by using killer eels, is attempting to create a race of indestructible soldiers on the eve of World War II.  There are four books in Young James Bond series

The Recruit Robert Muchamore

James is recruited into CHERUB, a secret division of MI5 which consists of teenage spies. He successfully completes his training and goes on his first mission.  There are seven books in the CHERUB series.

The Road of the Dead Kevin Brooks

Two brothers, sons of an incarcerated gypsy, leave London and travel to an isolated and desolate village, in search of the brutal killer of their sister.

supernaturalistThe Supernaturalist Eoin Colfer

In futuristic Satellite City, fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill escapes from his abusive orphanage and teams up with three other people who share his unusual ability to see supernatural creatures, and together they determine the nature and purpose of the swarming blue Parasites that are invisible to most humans.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2009 in Booklists

 

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