Round one: Noggin vs. Egg & Spoon

Noggin by John Corey Whaley is a contemporary science fiction novel about Travis Ray Coates, who WAS dying of cancer. At age 16, Travis knows that his cancer is terminal. He doesn’t have much time, but when he is approached by Dr. Lloyd Saranson of the Saranson Center for Life Preservation, he is given an option. He can have his head cryogenically frozen until a time that it can be attached to a donor body. No one is sure it will work, until 5 years later, when Travis is “reanimated”. Travis is now a healthy 16 year old, but his friends and family have progressed through their 5 years. Nothing has changed for Travis, so he now has to figure out how to blend his 16 year old person into a world where everyone else has changed.Egg and Spoon

Noggin is a quirky take on life and relationships. It was a very readable book, but had a few issues. Although teens may be able to relate to the relationship woes in the novel, the main character Travis is a bit overly obsessive when it comes to Cate. The characters evolve in most ways and there are both funny and touching moments

When paths cross, strange things can happen. In Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, the lives of Elena Rudina a peasant girl and Ekaterina Ivanovna de Robichaux a wealthy girl intermix when Ekaterina’s (Cat) train is delayed on the way to meet the Tsar’s godson. Cat is bringing a Faberge Egg to the Tsar as a gift, but when she shows it to Elena, she drops it off the train. As she goes after the egg, the train moves on with Elena in it. The two then have to figure out how to get back to their own lives and stories with mistaken identities. Their journeys involve the Russian folk tales of Baba Yaga, The Firebird and the Ice dragon come to life. Unbeknownst to them, this journey helps them save all of Russia.

Egg & Spoon is part historical fiction, part fairy tale, part fantasy and part confusing. The story and imagery is amazing, but the author has a tendency to assume that the reader is already knowledgeable about the Russian folktales as well as writing at a very high comprehension level.

Winner: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

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Round one: Glory O’ Brien’s History of the Future VS Grasshopper Jungle AKA Chronicles of the Apocalypse

In Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King, Glory O’Brien has no future. Despite her impending high school graduation, and her talent as a reflective and creative photographer, Glory has applied to no colleges and made no plans. Glory has become paralyzed by the fear of becoming her mother, Darla. Darla O’Brien, also a smart, funny, creative young woman and a gifted photographer, committed suicide when Glory was four years old. Glory’s father never recovered, giving up on his own career as a painter and eating himself to 400 pounds; he has stopped truly living. Glory has a “best friend,” Ellie, who is a friend only by default of proximity. Though Ellie brags about one day running away from her family’s controlling hippie commune, she too has no future plans.Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

When Glory and Ellie drink the desiccated remains of a bat, the two girls can suddenly see the past and future of each person they meet. And Glory sees horrific things. Everyone’s future culminates in a second Civil War, the history of which Glory begins to write down. She seeks out new people to piece together the story of this future she uncovers, and in doing so discovers her own past, present, and future. She gains the courage to ask questions about her mom, sets healthier boundaries with the parasitic Ellie, and reconnects with her dad. Readers watch a frightened teen become a compassionate, courageous young adult who not only turns away from numb despair toward hope, but helps others do the same. Despite the dark future Glory sees, knowledge that she will play a role in the future empowers her. She has the power to build her own future and begins to do just that.

A more visceral apocalyptic tale, Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle is quite literally a story of piss, shit, blood, and semen – the very stuff of life. The dust jacket promises catastrophic action, with 6-foot, man-eating praying mantises, yet these monsters don’t appear till almost 150 pages into the story. And while they do provide pretty provocative action, they are but a metaphorical and atmospheric backdrop for Austin Sczerba’s quest for truth. Austin is chronicling the history of the end of the world as these giant bugs take over. And much like the giant bugs, EVERYTHING in the history of the end of the world makes Austin horny – most of all his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby. They are both in love with him, and he with them.  Austin can’t decide between the two people he loves more than anything in the world and he smashes both their hearts trying not to decide between them. But this is not the real crux of the story either.

As Austin tells his Grasshopper Junglepersonal history of the end of the world, he recounts the history of his Polish immigrant ancestors (and their glamorous urinals), vagrants, cooks, neighbors (and their testicles), friends, strangers, politicians (and their testicles), teachers, Saint Casimir, a mad scientist (and his semen), cave painters, and humanity itself. In the larger narrative created, we are a bunch of messy animals, trying and failing miserably to prevent the repetition of our own mistakes. And the inevitability of it is gut wrenching, terrifying, and tragic. The bugs, Austin, his friends, and family become a metaphor for all of humanity desperately chronicling their terrible mistakes in an effort to create some tiny change in human history. It’s funny and clever, crude and uncomfortable, raw and poignant, and absolutely heartbreaking. This is a story, like all of Andrew Smith’s, that will stay with me.

These were excellent books to juxtapose – both about teens finding themselves amidst tragedy, the unraveling of civilizations, and the connectedness of past, present, and future. But the history chronicled by Glory O’Brien pales in comparison to that written by Austin Sczerba. Glory’s magical visions of the future are almost unnecessary to the novel. They are emotionally distant, lifeless, lacking detail. But her story is more accessible than Grasshopper Jungle. I will be book-talking Glory’s story to my students, not Austin’s. Yet Grasshopper Jungle wins this competition, hands down. Austin’s history of apocalypse is acerbic, poetically profane, and epic in scope. The many layered meanings of Austin’s story, while creating a rich and complex picture of the human condition, do make it impenetrable to an inexperienced teen reader. This book requires a special student – one with advanced reading skills but also liberal appreciation of scatological and sexual references. For that reader, however, this book will dig inside and crack them open like the giant bugs of MI Plague Strain 412E.

P.S. I’m glad that Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead) has signed on to direct the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle. If anyone can do this book justice, it’s the creator of The World’s End.

Winner: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

 

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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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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Books to Pimp for Teen Tech Week

Back in the day before I earned my MLIS and before I even had a library career I had a LTA class on Readers’ Advisory.  The first day of class the instructor informed us that “when doing Readers Advisory you are not so much advising the reader as you are pimping the books”.  She went on to refer to her job as a “Book Pimp” (let the hilarious mental images ensue).  Now, many years later, using her terminology I give you: “Books to Pimp for Teen Tech Week”.  Going with their theme of “Mix & Mash” this post represents both fiction and non-fiction books that involve teens and technology.  Enjoy!

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Everyone should know this book, but fortunately for us new patrons are being born everyday and they have no idea about this magnificent, thought-provoking series.

Ender Wiggin is a third born child.  This is not unusual now but in the future when population is tightly controlled Ender is special.  Also, Ender at the age of 6 is still being monitored by the government.  Then comes the day that Ender’s parent fear most.  He has been chosen for Battle School (to his older brother’s horror), he is to become a solider and protect the world from the “bugs”.  Seventy years ago the bugs attacked the humans killing us without mercy, until a battle in which the bugs retreated and were never heard from again.

Ender is the youngest and smallest at battle school but it quickly becomes apparent that he is one of the best the school has ever seen.  There is talk by those in power that Ender may be the one to save us from the bugs again, except this time we are bringing the fight to them.

This book has attained classic status in the science fiction and young adult realms due to it’s engaging story and believable characters.  Orson Scott Card has created a world around Ender’s life and the series continues with Ender’s Shadow.  Listening to the audio-book  has it’s perks also (Harlan Ellison makes a guest appearance).

O’Reilly’s Brain-Friendly Guides

Greatest. Guides. EVER! These books are excellent beginner guides to web design, HTML, App Design, Algebra, Physics, and so on.  They are written in an easily digested format and interject humor where ever possible.  They are illustrated and show easy step-by-step instructions.  A very approachable text for teens with a high interest in technology and it’s applications.

Uglies – Scott Westerfeld

Tally Youngblood is going to turn sixteen and all her ugly little problems will go away. Her ugly face, gone. Her ugly body, gone. Her ugly mind, gone especially. When Tally turns sixteen she will be able to get the operation to correct every physical flaw she has. When her best friend turns sixteen and moves to New Pretty Town she figures her life is over until she becomes pretty. That is when she meets Shay who is drastically different than anyone Tally ever met. For starters she doesn’t want to become pretty which the girls will soon find out isn’t really a choice. Follow Tally on this amazing roller coaster of a novel, great for anyone in middle school and up.

The Accidental Billionaires – Ben Mezrich

This book is not a particularly hard sell.  As the inspiration for the movie The Social Network this is the story of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.  A billionaire before the age of 25 a concept that will not be lost on teens, “A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?  A billion dollars”.  This book is not without controversy though, slammed critically for the authors inability to get an interview with Zuckerberg, his liberal tweaking of the dialogue, and using Zuckerberg’s enemies for his primary source material.  All that aside the book is entertaining, fast-paced, and will be gobbled up high school teens.

Spacer and Rat – Margaret Bechard

Jack (Spacer) is a teen that has spent his entire life in space.  He and the rest of the residents of the Freedom Station refer to the earth dwellers as “rats” due to their destruction of their planet.  Then Kit (Rat) is abandoned by her father on the Freedom Station with her sentient robot, Waldo.  The robot is illegal technology that leads Jack and Kit into more trouble than they bargained for.  By the end Jack and Kit come to an understanding and both have challenged their previously held beliefs.

 

So YA like…Science Fiction

The Adoration of Jenna Fox Mary E. Pearson

Jenna Fox should be dead.  Her father, illegally using the latest medical advances, is able to save 10 percent of her brain.  Her memories slowly start to return as she recovers.  Now Jenna must remain hidden and she wonders: if this is life she is to lead why save her in the first place?

Silver Eyes Nicole Luiken

Angel Eastland is unable to remember her past, violet eyed due to a genetic experiment, and controlled by a brain chip, has been hired to capture Michael Vallant.  The problem is she feels an inexplicable sense of attachment to Michael.  She struggles to retrieve her past, fighting the control of the loyalty chip implanted in her brain.  There are many things in Angel’s world that are not exactly what they seem.

The Last Universe William Sleator

Susan wants desperately to be normal, but a freak illness confines her brother, Gary, to a wheel chair and now she must help him instead of the carefree summer she had planned.  Then there is the garden that the teen’s quantum-physicist uncle had installed, but the garden seems to be…changing?   After each attempt into the garden maze Gary’s illness get better, what is the connection and what is his disease?  A great fast paced novel filled with mystery.

Among the Hidden Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has finally had enough when his parents no longer allow him to go outside.  Being a third child is tough but it is infinitely harder when you are considered illegal.  With the woods behind Luke’s house seized by the government for more housing his only joy comes from watching the new families from his attic.  He watches everyone leave the neighborhood for work and school but one day he notices a movement at the window of one the houses.  Will he risk everything to find out what’s going on?

Unwind Neal Shusterman

The second civil war was fought over abortion.  When the dust settled a compromise was reached, any parents wishing to get rid of their child can have them “unwound”, a process that reuses the teen body for donation.  By chance three teens that are slated to be unwound meet and band together to fight a system that would destroy them.

Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card

Most people of a certain age have read this classic Sci-fi novel, but more and more teens are increasingly unaware of this fantastic novel.  Ender Wiggins has been monitored since birth, he could be the chosen one, the one that will save the world from the invaders.  A great read with a shocking ending.

Feed M.T. Anderson

A boy meets girl tale with a twist.  Every person gets a feed, a computer chip that constantly bombards them with ads and product info based on what their brain likes and doesn’t.  See a shirt that looks cool, instantly ads pop up for that shirt, where you can buy it, and heck they’ll even send it to your home.  This novel is great and does even better on audio (you get the feeds just like the charecters).