Split by Swati Avasthi

SplitTo what extent can we run from our past without fearing our future?  Jace, a high school junior, winds up on his older brother’s doorstep after being kicked out of the house by his abusive father. While his father’s abuse was the impetus behind his escape, Jace is worried that he will eventually turn into his father because he looks like him and begins to act like him. Prior to running away, Jace began to abuse his girlfriend, a second strike that makes him weary of his future.

Split makes for a fulfilling reading experience because the story is loaded with contrasts. Jace thought his older brother would welcome him with open arms, yet his older brother has run from the same fate – he does not want to turn into his father. At the same time, both share concern for their mother’s welfare.  No matter how many times her husband beats her, Jace’s mother stays, something he does not understand.  However, when Jace and his brother make plans to save their mother, they are surprised by what they encounter.

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Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

Epitaph RoadWhat would the world be like if women were in control?  Would war, hunger, and poverty disappear?  This is the question author David Patneaude explores in his dystopic young adult novel Epitaph Road. Kellen is a minority.  He’s male in a world where 95% of the population is female.  A plague, Elisha’s Bear, killed almost every male more than 30 years ago.  Had he not been on a camping trip in the wild with his mother and sister, he would have died as well.  Now, he’s nothing more than an oddity, someone girls look at with contempt.  He’s a second class citizen.  If he passes mandated tests that only males are required to take, he might be allowed to assume a non-threatening occupation, one in which the job keeper would not hold power over others. That is what males have been resigned to.  However, when another outbreak of Elisha’s Bear threatens a community of men and some women who are termed “throwbacks” for their old-fashioned way of living, Kellen becomes alarmed.  His father is one of those “throwbacks.” But will he have enough time to warn his father and avoid contracting the plague?

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The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh PlagueThe Chinese have unleashed a plague that has wiped out major portions of the population.  As the story begins, Stephen and his father have just buried his grandfather after having done the same for his mother, who died in childbirth.  Not long after, Stephen’s father is hurt as both attempt to escape “slavers” bent on selling anyone they can catch.  With his father unconscious, Stephen doesn’t know what to do until a group of men and boys enter the picture and rescue them both. This seems too good to be true, though, so Stephen remains skeptical of his new companions’ intentions. He has no choice, though, but to go along with this new group because his father’s health and welfare hang in the balance. All Stephen really wants is to help his father heal and find a place where they can both be safe in the long term.  Whether this new oasis is the place or not, he doesn’t know.

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Memory Boy by Will Weaver

Memory BoyMiles, a high school senior, attempts to lead his family from ash-covered Minneapolis to what he hopes will be the safety of his family’s cabin in northern Minnesota.   A massive volcanic eruption has covered the United States in ash, pitting people against each other for survival.  Riding his creation, the Ali Princess, a family-carrying, sail-propelled, super bike, between Minneapolis and the family cabin proves dangerous as they experience price gouging, hostile squatters, and thieves.   Miles learns to trust his instincts, and treasure his family; he realizes that a man is only as good as his ability to help himself and his family.

This is a great starting point for those readers who are reluctant to read science fiction.  The story is grounded in a realistic, current setting, and Miles and his family exhibit many of the same traits as modern families.  Weaver’s follow-up, The Survivors, extends the story and introduces new conflicts that fit the overall story.

 

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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of MiraclesWith so many dystopian novels filling our middle school shelves beyond capacity, I had reached my limit. Sure, I enjoy the what-if nature of most of these novels, but many began to feel like the same story simply being retold. Then I read the summary of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles and my curiosity was piqued.  Yet, I still wondered whether the novel would define itself, rather than follow the same worn-out path. Walker’s novel, thankfully, goes where the others have not.

The story begins like any ordinary day in an eleven-year-old girl’s life.  Julia, Walker’s protagonist and narrator, has just awoken from a sleepover with her best friend, Hanna.  Her father is seated at the dining room table, meticulously reading the newspaper. Her mother is headed home with bagels. The typical Saturday events are in motion. However, when Julia’s mother breathlessly enters the house and demands that the television news be turned on, readers know something is wrong.  This is where Walker’s premise – what happens when the Earth’s rotation slows down? – begins to reveal itself.  And, this is where her novel differentiates itself. While most young adult dystopian novels focus on the aftermath of a cataclysmic event, The Age of Miracles guides you along from the beginning.

This novel is also different because while the Earth’s slowing should be the primary focus, it shares time with Julia’s observations of her parents disintegrating relationship and her own social troubles. The “slowing” began when Julia was 11. However, she tells the story as a twenty-something, looking back, and at times making sense, of the events – social, societal, and scientific – that unfolded during those first few months, when the normal 24-hour day extended itself to 72 hours.  With all of the tumult surrounding her, Julia’s primary concern, fitting in, plays out against the uncertainty of Earth’s future.

The Age of Miracles is a novel I could have happily continued reading for hundreds more pages. That’s the sign of a truly wonderful story.

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Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary MeansRobyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means has been characterized as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park.  I disagree.  The novel stands on its own for originality and storytelling.  Lane, Schneider’s protagonist, has just entered Latham House, a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients.  A modern day tuberculosis outbreak has led authorities to segregate those who test positive until a cure can be developed. Lane’s life, to this point, has been regimented and predictable.  He’s an overachiever with Stanford admission staring him in the face.  He does everything today’s aspiring collegiate should do – he takes as many AP and honors classes as possible; he starts a club to make himself appear different and to add to his resume; and he does not take risks.  Latham House, ironically, changes him.  Being thrown into the sanitorium, a sort of summer camp with an open-ended release date, completely throws him off, until he discovers Sadie, someone he once awkwardly encountered at summer camp when both were thirteen. Lane wants nothing more than to break into Sadie’s clique because it seems to take on its predicament with a rather good outlook.  Sadie wants nothing more than to avoid Lane.  And there the conflict begins.

Yes, this is a love story, but it’s also a thoroughly-researched story and presents tuberculosis in a realistic manner.  Before becoming an author, Schneider completed an graduate degree in bioethics. Extraordinary means also goes the extra mile and addresses the real potential for bigotry, violence, and prejudice towards those with medical conditions. Robyn Schneider hooked me with The Beginning of Everything and cemented my appreciation with Extraordinary Means, one of the best books of 2014.

 

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Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Hit CountChris Lynch continues to amaze me with his fascinating characters and socially-significant themes.  This time around, he tackles (pardon the pun) high school football concussions.  Arlo and his older brother Lloyd love football and have the type of combative brotherly relationship that offers plenty of room to be both friends and enemies.  Their mother, who does not support their love of the game, keeps “The File,” a comprehensive compilation of research articles on the effects of football-related concussions.  When Lloyd begins to show symptoms and his high school football career ends, Arlo seems to think lightning can’t strike twice.  However, when Arlo’s girlfriend takes sides with his mother, Arlo has to choose between football and a mentally-healthy future.

If you have read Pop or Second Impact, you are sure to enjoy this book.

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