The Fox Inheritance, by Mary E. Pearson
This is the sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox as reviewed earlier. It follows the two friends who were in the same car crash that killed Jenna Fox. While Jenna’s parents had been able to salvage enough of her to bioengineer her back into life, Locke and Kara had only their minds preserved for 270 years. Now they have been brought to life by an evil genius who wants to use them as floor models for a business that offers a new life to those about to die.
While Adoration reads like a psychological or medical thriller, Fox is much more of an action page-turner. Kara and Locke must escape their creator into a world void of anybody they know and vastly changed. A cross-country chase ensues with spy technology and real goons on their trail. They seek Jenna, who is still alive, and resolution to the question of who they are now.
Both books are both thought-provoking and exciting to read. Girls from middle school on up will like both books and boys will certainly like the second one, so it’s worth a chance to start them with the first one.
Whatever Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Sarah Dessen is an author who aspires to express what her readers are feeling. She writes to an audience of teenage girls about the challenges of maintaining equilibrium in the face of adversity. The appeal of her books lies in the first person narrative voice of genuine and likable characters who work through their own reactions to difficult events in their lives. While she does not shrink from difficult subjects, neither does she indulge in shock value. Her steadfast message is one of the value of being real, forgiving, and true. This, and her natural writing style, make her books suitable and of interest to girls as young as middle school and enjoyable reading for their parents as well.
In this book, Dessen’s latest and seventh novel for young adults, seventeen-year-old Mclean tells the story of her reaction to her parents scandalous divorce. She struggles with a loss of identity, resentment, and disorientation. After several moves with her dad, a consultant for a restaurant chain, she lands in a town where the people she encounters begin to help her bring her life back into focus, if not to stability. For Dessen fans, it is another visit to her emotionally satisfying fiction; for those new to her writing, probably the first of many.
Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
Jennifer Donnelly has written a book in an authentic teen voice in the tradition of Holden Caulfield that is highly educational, both about music and about the French Revolution. The narrator is a teen girl in her last year at a prestigious New York prep school. She has recently suffered a family tragedy and is tormented by what she views as her responsibility for that tragedy. Her often absent father whisks her away to Paris, thinking it would be good for her to get away.
In Paris, Andi discovers an old diary hidden in a secret compartment in a centuries-old guitar case. She has in her hands the guitar and the diary of another teen girl who lived during the French Revolution. Though all Andi can think of is leaving Paris and her father, as she slowly reads this diary she gets drawn further and further into the life of Alexandrine, her eighteenth century counterpart, until she is, in fact, there on the streets of revolutionary Paris. Even for readers new to the story of the French Revolution, Donnelly’s account is thorough and illuminating.
The second major theme of this story is music, specifically, the tradition of music that passes from the earliest classic composers all the way down through modern rap music. Andi is a serious musician; in fact, her music is all that keeps her together for most of the novel. Her musings on styles and compositions throughout this story should be of great interest to any teen interested in music.
Teens of both genders, both young and old, will like this book. It is history, it is music, and it is the pursuit of personal strength in the face of the worst of odds.
The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent
In Kent’s earlier book, Heretic’s Daughter a young girl loses her mother to the notorious witch trials. Her father has a mysterious past–in this book we learn what that was.
The Wolves of Andover is about two different kinds of wolves–the wild ones and the human ones. Settlers in New England in the seventeenth century contended with many natural hazards–wild animals, smallpox, weather, crop failure, to name a few. But author Kathleen Kent uses her gift of vivid detail to make clear that the hazards from fellow humans were much more dangerous in the struggle to survive.
This story ties English history with Colonial history. The two of course were closely entwined during this period, a fact that does not come through in much of the American history taught in classrooms. Thomas Morgan, the man with the mysterious past in The Heretic’s Daughter, was involved in the English Civil War in which the king of England, Charles I, lost his head. The reader and the young woman who becomes his wife (and the accused witch in The Heretic’s Daughter), slowly uncover the part he played…the description that Martha eventually writes down is stunning and totally believable, even as a fictionalized account.
There is much violence, vividly depicted, in this book. It is definitely for mature readers. The history may be harder to follow for teen readers than Kent’s earlier book, simply because it is much more unfamiliar territory than the Salem witch trials. But if a teen reader liked The Heretic’s Daughter, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. By the end, the history becomes very clear and the reader gains a vivid perspective of the interconnectedness of England and its American colonies.
I loved both these books. But I love this period and place in history–I have a deep question in my psyche about why we left England and came here–so reading historical fiction as good as this is a treat I only yearn for more of.
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
by Kenneth Oppel
I just recommended Kenneth Oppel’s new children’s book, Half Brother, to my 86 year-old grandmother. It is that good.
I knew it must be good when I heard that Violet got in trouble at school for reading too much. At home I was envious of her complete absorption in the book, but also excited because I knew I would get to read it next. I asked her, “Is it ‘Hunger-Games-Good’?” She just grunted and waved me off. “Violet if you don’t answer me I’m going to take the book away.” She looked up at me and said, “Oh yeah, it’s good. Can I just please read to the end of this chapter?”
Later she told me she loved it because it made her feel like she was the main character, thirteen year-old Ben. When I got my turn, I felt the same way. Now I’m curious if my grandmother will feel likewise. Any book that can make a ten-year old girl, a forty-year old mother, and an eighty-six-year old great-grandmother feel like a thirteen year-old boy is impressive.
There are stories that are compelling, and there are books that are insightful and complex. Half Brother is a masterpiece that combines the best of both. A page-turner for sure, we are dropped into a world of being new in junior high school while having a stormy relationship with a driven father. Just the thought of it makes most grown-ups cringe. Add on top of that the complexity of developing a close bond with a species so near to our own, but still clearly animal – and you have one of the best children’s books I have ever read.
I would not recommend this book to children younger than ten years old. The complexity of relationships might be harder for younger children to grasp, and there are some sexual references. The sexual references are not explicit, and they are appropriate to what a thirteen year-old boy would say and experience but some parents might be uncomfortable with younger children reading them. This is one of those books that would be a pleasure to read so you can judge for yourself.
The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong
A grieving father who has just lost his wife sells everything, buys a sailboat, and leaves with his three sons to sail the Caribbean for a year. Readers would expect that this might be a journey that gives them back their life as a family unit. And it is, but it is much more than that. The oldest son, Ben, is fifteen–old enough to feel some responsibility for his younger brothers, old enough to be thinking of his life as separate from that with his family, and of the age to question the character of his own father. So the journey does become a test for each family member’s strength as well as the bonds with each other. But the other journey, the journey of Ben’s perception of his father from failure to fallible is an equally perilous journey.
There are similarities between this book and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Paulsen captures the fear and desparation of a young boy alone in the wilderness with nothing to help him survive but a good knife. Herlong’s story doesn’t deliver as much of the urgency of surviving the ferocity of nature, but it delivers much more in the interior workings of a teen-age boy and the ferocity of coming of age.
Kids who like to sail from age nine on up should enjoy this book. While there is plenty of suspense, this is not an action packed story. It is more of a tale that rings true. I am no sailor and well past nine-years-old and I loved it.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Fiction tends to follows certain rules, particularly fiction for kids. The reader is satisfied when the bad guys get their due, and when true friendship endures. But fiction based on a real event cannot necessarily follow those rules, because in real life, often good guys lose really badly and friendships get lost forever. In 1911, the lives and homes of the people of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine did get destroyed by some greedy, powerful men from the neighboring mainland. Nothing good came of it; the powerful men never got the tourist attraction they wanted and the people who lived there never came back.
Author Gary D. Schmidt populates this story with the new minister’s son who lives on the mainland and an orphaned girl, the youngest of several generations of African-Americans to call Malaga home. Turner finds his starched white shirts and the scrutiny due to the new minister’s son suffocating. He meets Lizzie, who rows over from her island to dig for clams on the mainland beach. Their instant liking for each other deepens into a solid friendship. He believes he can save her. She tells him he isn’t thinking straight. She is the wiser of the two.
This is a tale of the war between two human instincts: the desire to be generous and kind to others and the coexisting capacity to treat fellow humans cruelly and without conscience. It is told with a cast of colorful characters on a backdrop of natural beauty by a sensitive and lyrical writer. Written for middle school and older elementary school kids, it is also a joy to read for an adult.