April May was working for a startup in New York City when she discovered something “absolutely remarkable”… It didn’t really have anything to do with her job, though, except for the fact that she was on her way home from work when she found it. She was trying to get home via the subway when her Metro card wouldn’t work. Since it was 3am, there was no one to help her and April decided to just try another station. It was on her way to a new subway station that she discovered Carl — a gigantic statue that resembled a Transformer wearing Samurai armor. April had no idea where the statue had come from, since there was nothing to identify the statue or its creator. But, surely someone had created it. Right?!?
I loved so many things about this story. First of all, I appreciated the fact that April came very close to brushing off and walking right by this amazing thing because she had already become so jaded and generally unimpressed by all the impressive things all around her. How often do people ignore the beauty of nature or the hard work of an artist simply because they are in a hurry to get somewhere? Far too often, in my humble opinion. Second, I loved the fact that Green explored the ways that fame and our world’s obsession with social media can fundamentally change a person. April went from a person who didn’t even really have a social media presence to a world-wide celebrity who was addicted to the fame this viral video spawned. Most of all, though, I loved the fact that April continued to assume the best about humanity (and The Carls) as she strove to both solve this mystery and fight the hatred that resulted from the fear of the unknown.
Imagine, if you will, that you have been taken away to another country and forced to live in an isolated cabin in a small beach town where you don’t know anyone. You’ve essentially been kidnapped, but the person who took you swears that they are isolating you to protect you. To make matters even worse, you can’t recall enough about what happened before you left the country to know for sure. All you truly know is that your ex-boyfriend was attacked, later died, and the person who whisked you away says that many people believe you are to blame. This is Evie’s life. Though Evie isn’t even her real name. Nor is her “Uncle Jim” really her uncle — or named Jim, for that matter. Her real name is Kate Bennett and she is doing her best to piece together her memories of what actually happened.
Perhaps other readers will figure things out more quickly than me, but I was shocked when I finally realized that my assumption of Jim’s identity and his motives had been so wrong for so long. Aside from the twists and turns of the story itself, this book also included some fascinating information about post traumatic stress, how memories are made, and how the mind can be manipulated.
Poor Jenny was in a terrible accident when she was only 7 years old. While she was at a sleepover, the house caught fire… and she was the only one to survive. Ever since then, her mom and step-father have done everything they could to keep her away from anything having to do with flames so that they could avoid exposing her to any further trauma. It’s just too bad they couldn’t do anything to change Jenny’s mental fixation on fire. Every once in a while, when the scar on her arm began to itch, it was like fire itself was calling out to her. And though she knew the terrible things fire could do, it made Jenny feel powerful whenever she started a fire — because she was in control of what would burn. But was she really?
Jenny’s mom and her step-father thought it might do her some good if she went to live with her father for a while, but Jenny didn’t really want to go. The only reason she agreed, basically, was because the police in her hometown were coming too close to uncovering the truth about who might be responsible for the arson of an abandoned building. If she could get away for a while and keep herself out of trouble, maybe things would blow over. But, unsurprisingly, the itch came back. The main question in my mind wasn’t whether Jenny would get found out, since it seemed far too easy to follow the clues back to her. It was more whether she would get her urges under control before it was too late, because we all know the old adage: “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned.”
I don’t know about you, but I feel like reality TV “jumped the shark” a while ago. It seems like a lot of what the producers are trying to pawn off as “reality” is about as unrealistic as you can get. So, it didn’t even seem like too much of a stretch to think that this story could actually come true. Convicted killers being sent to an island prison [Alcatraz 2.0] where they would be hunted down by government-sanctioned killers and live streamed on an app called The Postman? Why not, right?!? I mean, especially when the beginning of the story mentioned that the President was a former reality star and used his clout to make this show happen. I actually though to myself, “I really hope no reads this story and decides to treat it like a proposal.”
While I was horrified by the comments made by people who watched the murders via The Postman app, I wasn’t terribly shocked. Society has already gotten to the point where many people are desensitized to violence, and plenty of people already make callous remarks on social media because the anonymity and distance that the internet provides. So, if people in this near-future honestly believed that the inhabitants of Alcatraz 2.0 were convicted killers who “deserved” to die… Yeah. But what if they didn’t deserve it? Dee swears that she didn’t kill her step-sister, and some of the other young inmates have similar tales of being framed. Is there any chance that they can prove themselves innocent? Who can they turn to? Will anyone even attempt to listen to what they have to say? And how can they possibly trust each other enough to try and team up when their very survival means that they shouldn’t trust anything or anybody? Talk about an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
P.S. It’s hilarious, too!
I don’t tend to like short stories because I often feel that they leave too much of the story untold. I never seem to feel like I get to know enough about the characters. If it is a short story that builds upon on a story I’ve already read, though, I can usually handle it. So, I was hesitant to read this collection of short stories. I was nervous. Like, really nervous. But then I saw some of the blurbs that talked about how timely and amazing this book was, and I decided to go for it. Worst case scenario? I would give myself permission not to finish the book. As it turns out, I never even considered quitting. The first story was so compelling that I just knew I had to keep reading… And then I realized that the short stories were interconnected! Though the stories often took readers along different trajectories and switched up the characters and setting, there were plenty of references back to characters and events that had happened in previous chapters. I didn’t feel, at all, like I was missing out on the “what happened next” kind of stuff. Even more than that, I really appreciated how well Dayton extrapolated from current medical research to come up with a somewhat plausible, albeit dystopian, future of genetic modification.
My family is definitely geeky by most people’s standards. Anytime there is a new “comic book movie” in the theaters, you can practically guarantee we will be there opening weekend — if not opening night. We have been anxiously awaiting the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and I was really excited to see that there is a Miles Morales novel for teens who might not yet be familiar with his character. I was even more thrilled to see that Jason Reynolds was the author who took on this project. My husband asked me why I thought it was so important to have a notable YA author write a book about Spider-Man, since Spider-Man is a pretty popular character in his own right. And it was kind of hard for me to explain at first; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… But then I realized what it was. Some teens think that comic books are only for the truly geeky people of the world and might have otherwise not even paid attention to this story. Since Jason Reynolds is more known for his contemporary, urban YA fiction, though, I thought he might help attract some readers who wouldn’t ordinarily give this story a chance. And once those readers give this story a chance, they might find that they have more common ground with geeks than they previously realized. I’m not sure many non-geeks realize quite how strong the social justice storylines of comic books are, but there are a lot of examples of superheroes standing up for equality. This Superman comic is one of my favorite examples:
With funny, relatable characters, Jason Reynolds does a fantastic job syncing Spider-Man into contemporary Urban ya fiction. I liked how Miles Morales was not even close to perfect — with his “wrong side of the tracks” family that has a history of trouble with the law, his trouble controlling his own temper, and even his awkwardness with girls — because it can help teens to see that they, too, can make a difference. You don’t have to be a superhero to stand up for yourself and to help people. And that is especially evident in the fact that Miles’ best friend, Ganke, often needs to give Miles a pep talk when he is feeling particularly defeated! I think that fans of Spider-Man/Miles Morales will be pleased with how this story turned out, and I can only hope that the Miles Morales comics will gain a little more traction with the help of this novel and the upcoming movie.
What would you do if your home country was no longer safe? If you were persecuted for your religion, if a lack of food in your country was causing violent riots, or if your neighborhood was being bombed? If you had to take only what you could carry and try to escape to a place you had never even visited before? If you had to risk death for the possibility of a better life? The scenarios faced by our narrators varied because they grew up in vastly different times and places — Josef in Nazi Germany (1930s) , Isabel in Communist Cuba (1990s), and Mahmoud in modern-day Syria (2015) — but all three of these children became refugees when their families felt that escaping their homeland was the only tenable solution.
I think that books like this are extremely important, since they often provide a better perspective than news stories. News stories about refugees tend to focus on the current situation, such as which countries might take them in, but not so much about how the situation escalated to the point that they sought refuge in the first place. One of the moments that really struck me in this story was when Mahmoud’s family was talking about relocating to Germany. Someone commented that it would be cold there and his father responded by singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” The inclusion of a song from such a popular/recent movie as Frozen will surely help readers to recognize that refugees are not only people from some time “before.” By humanizing these narrators and showing how they were normal kids up until they had to run for their lives. I can only hope that this story will help to cultivate better empathy for the plight of refugees and the realization that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”