I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never read Hatchet before. I’ve handed this book out to countless kids operating under the mistaken impression that I had actually read it back when I was in elementary school. I mean, I clearly remember talking about it in 4th grade… But, as it turns out, I only knew the basic premise of the story and filled in the rest of my so-called memory with bits and pieces from another survival story we read at the time — My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Luckily, I decided to take the time to listen to this story to “refresh my memory” now that my son was reading it in school. (Oops!)
Brian was a fairly typical “modern day” kid. He spent most of his time on school and leisure activities, and he depended on adults much more than he ever realized. He wasn’t fat, necessarily, but he wasn’t exactly fit either. Finding food always meant going to the fridge or the pantry — at most, to a grocery store. So, when his flight to visit his father for the summer ended with a crash in the Canadian wilderness, Brian was not sure he had what it would take to survive. The only other passenger had been the pilot, and the plane crashed because the pilot had died of a heart attack. With nothing more than the clothes on his back and the hatchet [a gift from his mom] on his belt, Brian had to find both shelter and food enough to last until he was rescued… If he even *could* be rescued. Because no one, including Brian, knew exactly where his plane went down.
It’s no wonder Hatchet is the “gold standard” for survival stories. Paulsen masterfully balanced Brian’s hope and drive to survive with suspense surrounding the real-life dangers of the Canadian wilderness. I think this book would be an excellent precursor to lessons on disaster preparedness and survival skills, and it’s also sure to be a hit with kids who already enjoy wilderness-based activities like hiking and camping.
Jeremy Johnson Johnson was rather unlucky. Not only did his mom leave him and his dad, but his father became so crippled by depression that he became a total recluse. Jeremy became, in essence, the adult of the household and started taking care of things to the best of his abilities. After Jeremy was involved in a prank gone awry, though, he was ostracized by the townspeople who had previously given him enough work to get by. With the final “balloon payment” of the mortgage on his father’s bookstore [aka his home] coming due very soon, Jeremy began to panic. Fortunately, he had a friend, Ginger, who had a crazy plan and a guardian angel of sorts, Jacob, looking after him. Whether he was actually an angel is debatable, but there was no doubt that Jeremy could definitely communicate with the ghost of Jacob Grimm — one of the famous Brothers Grimm. Jacob was pretty sure he had not yet passed on completely because he still had a purpose on earth, and he was certain that his purpose was to keep Jeremy safe. Readers who are familiar with Grimm fairy tales will surely guess that something “grim” is in the cards, but they’re not likely to guess exactly what until it’s already too late. This clever combination of old-fashioned fairy tales and modern storytelling has plenty of suspense and plot twists to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and I’m glad I can finally settle back in mine again. :-)
I can’t even begin to explain how happy my son and I were when we found out that Rick Riordan was going to have a new series based on Norse mythology! When we read Loki’s Wolves, we actually lamented the fact that Riordan didn’t have a Norse mythology series yet and just prayed that one was coming. We’ve really grown to love Riordan’s ability to weave snarky and silly humor into books that actually teach readers quite a bit about mythology. As a mom and librarian, I have loved seeing kids flock to the non-fiction section to find out more about the characters of Greek and Roman mythology they encountered in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series. As a reader, though, I have simply enjoyed the way that the stories of characters in the different series were so artfully woven together and worked so well with the existing myths.
In this book, we are introduced to a character named Magnus Chase — a homeless kid from Boston who has been on the run ever since his mom died. Though she was actually killed by supernatural wolves, Magnus was fairly certain no one would believe him and decided that running from the law was easier than trying to convince people he didn’t murder her. When his cousin, Annabeth — Yes! *That* Annabeth! — and her dad come to Boston to look for Magnus, he ended up running into another uncle, Randolph. His mom was always adamant that Magnus should stay away from him, but it was too tempting to find out what Uncle Randolph knew. Randolph tried to convince Magnus that he was a demigod and that his father was a Norse god, but that didn’t really make sense. Only after he was killed by a demonic villain and woke up in Valhalla did Magnus begin to believe this could all be true.
Especially with the in-story pronunciation help (via other characters helping Magnus correctly pronounce the names of legendary places and characters), I think this series makes Norse mythology a lot more approachable and is likely to create a huge surge in interest. (I can only hope they do a better job if and when they turn this series into a movie!)
I would like to start off this post by apologizing for the lack of a post last week. I seriously thought I had posted something, but multiple curriculum nights and weeknight soccer games apparently broke my brain. To make it up to you all, and in celebration of my fREADom to read, I am going to post several reviews this week. I typically like to post multiple reviews during Banned Books Week, anyhow, so I’m going to keep the tradition alive with some “edgy” books.
Much like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which was the most challenged book of 2014 and yet *another* book I managed not to review even though I loved it), I fear that some readers will complain that I am the Weapon contains drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, violence, depictions of bullying, and that it’s “unsuited for age group” — whatever THAT means! I honestly believe that we need to trust tweens and teens to make their own choice about what they’re comfortable reading, since their lives and their emotional needs vary greatly from person to person. If they aren’t ready to handle a topic that comes up in a book, they’re most likely to simply set it aside and move on. And if there’s something “too mature” in a book, it will often go over the reader’s head — unlike a movie that just spells it right out for ya! I also firmly believe that experiencing the repercussions of unsavory/risky behaviors vicariously through characters in a book is a much safer than testing things out in “the real world.” Wouldn’t you rather your children learned to have empathy for others by witnessing the repercussions of bullying in a book instead of blindly joining up with the bullies at their school because they didn’t really think it was such a big deal? I know I would.
Ben, aka the Unknown Assassin, is a finely-tuned, teenage hitman. He has been trained by “The Program” and reports to people he calls “Mom” and “Dad.” Ben is not his real name, of course. It’s just the name of his persona for this mission, and he will stop being Ben as soon as his mission is complete. This mission is different than the rest, though, because it has such a short timeline. Ben is used to taking time to find his mark, to get close enough to kill them, and then sticking around long enough afterward so as to not arouse suspicion. But this mission is supposed to be completed in no more than five days. Five days! With such a high-profile target, this mission seems nearly impossible. But, Ben is bound and determined to succeed. He’s never failed before, and he doesn’t intend to start now. Except… Something about this mission feels off. Not only that, but Ben also has feelings for the daughter of the mark. The fast pace, action, and adventure are sure to lure guys in, and the romantic undertones are well-balanced enough to enrapture love-crazed teenage readers without turning off the people who couldn’t care less. I definitely need to get my hands on the rest of this series!
Happy Banned Books Week!
Oh. My. Goodness! Y’all have GOT to read this book when it comes out! Sadly, people who are not members of a site like NetGalley might have to wait until the November 3rd release date to get their hands on Need — but, even then, it will be worth the wait. I’d especially recommend this book to fans of thrillers like Lauren Oliver’s Panic. I also think this would be a good book to present to your child when s/he asks for permission to start a Facebook (or other social media site) account. Even though it’s a bit hyperbolic, this story does an excellent job showing just how easily social media brings out the worst in people and could be a great conversation starter about both bullying and personal accountability.
With the anonymity available through some sites, and the simple fact that confrontations aren’t happening face-to-face, cyberbullying has become a huge problem. Teens are known for being impulsive and self-centered; those traits are part and parcel of the whole adolescent experience. So, imagine how easy it would be to convince teens to complete simple tasks in exchange for rewards. Especially if they were able to name the rewards they wanted AND were able to complete those tasks anonymously. Let alone the fact that they often had little-to-no information about how their task fit into the big picture. I kept thinking to myself, “OMG! Something like this could totally happen!” Everything started out so simply and innocently but then quickly escalated to get completely out of hand — a bit like Janne Teller’s Nothing. Do yourself a favor and don’t pick this book up until you have a few hours to read it uninterrupted. Trust me! ;-)
Dara and Nick used to be more than just sisters; they were best friends. Though they used to be practically inseparable, they don’t even speak to one another anymore. The worst part is that Nick started to lose her other best friend, Parker, at the same time as Dara — all because he and Dara started dating. One night, during a heated argument, the girls ended up in a car accident and that was the final straw. Dara’s face and body were forever damaged, just like her relationship with Nick, and she keeps herself hidden away all the time. Still, Nick is determined to fix things with Parker and Dara this summer. Before she can even start to work things out, nevertheless, Dara disappears. It could just be that Dara is messing around, but the disappearance of another local girl, 9-year-old Madeline Snow, makes Nick wonder if there might be something more to the story. Will she be able to piece everything together? Will the girls ever be found? The answers might be more shocking than you can imagine… Fans of Oliver’s earlier books Before I Fall and Panic are sure to enjoy her latest mystery/thriller.
I cannot believe it took me this long to get around to reviewing this book. I mean, Michelle Zink visited our library more than a month ago and I finished the book not too long after… but, summer reading has been stripping my brain of functionality and I pretty much consider myself lucky to still be coherent at this point! Michelle and I actually met back when my 5 1/2 year old daughter was only a baby, and we have stayed in touch ever since. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately since she just kicked off her new series of adult romance novels, writing as Michelle St. James. (Ruthless is actually ranked #41 in romance right now on Amazon. Go Michelle!) Who knows? Maybe I will even buy/read a book for “grown-ups” to find out what the big deal is?!? But, I digress. I haven’t read Ruthless — thinking about it just reminded me that I need to get my act together and review Lies I Told! ;-)
First off, I think it’s only fair to “warn” readers that this book isn’t a Gothic fantasy like the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy. (If you’re looking for more Gothic fantasy, you should probably check out the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.) If you’re into contemporary fiction, though, you will be pleased to see that Michelle Zink has made a seamless transition to that genre. Grace Fontaine is a teenage girl with pretty much everything she could want: money, beauty, and a perfect family. It’s just too bad that it’s all a lie. The truth is that she and her brother have been adopted by con artists and trained to play their own parts in their parents’ cons. Every time they move to a new town, they have to develop new identities and help their parents get close to the marks (aka victims). For a long time, Grace convinced herself that she was OK with the arrangement. She “knew” that her parents loved her and that the people from whom they were stealing were so rich they could afford to be conned. When she starts to fall for one of her marks, though, she begins questioning everything about her life. Though the plot isn’t *quite* the same, I recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye (which tells the story of a girl who takes on a new persona every time she moves to a new town).