Oh. Em. Gee! I didn’t even know this book was out until I saw something about the second book coming out this July. Even though I am not a huge graphic novel reader, I try to push myself to read at least a couple a year so that I can stay in touch with what it out there for my library patrons who do prefer graphic novels. Since I am also a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work, especially the Uglies series, I figured it was a good bet that I would enjoy this one. I am happy to report that reading this was a lot more fun than work! 😉 In fact, I read this entire book in only three sittings because it was so hard to put down.
In Poughkeepsie, NY, there has been a Spill. No one really seems to know what exactly happened. They just know that it is no longer safe inside the Spill Zone. Military personnel guard the perimeter and people don’t tend to go inside except government scientists in hazmat suits. There are all sorts of weird things happening. Animals morphing into strange creatures. Inanimate objects moving around despite a lack of wind. And, in the words of Addison Merrick, the dead have become “meat puppets.” Though she was not in town when the Spill happened, he little sister was. Because they are allowed to stay in their home, which is inside the Spill Zone, Addison has taken to exploring and taking pictures she can sell to support her sister. But, how long will it be before her explorations take her too far?!?
Speaking of Westerfeld’s Uglies series… Check this out! (#squeeeeeeee)
When a mass shooting breaks out at a Portland mall, the people inside have three choices — run, hide, or fight back… And, since there are several shooters armed with semi-automatic weapons, the wrong choice will likely lead to death. When Amina decided to shut herself into the store where she worked, hoping that the metal security gate would provide enough protection, she didn’t close herself in alone. There were six teens inside, and they would all have to work together to try and get out alive.
It’s a diverse group of teens, so I thought of this as kind of like The Breakfast Club written as a thriller. And, I have to admit… Although I loved how this story kept me on the edge of my seat, I am not sure I will be able to go into a shopping mall for a while. (I thought No Safetly in Numbers was traumatizing at the time, but this is so much more realistic and terrifying.)
Contrary to popular belief, heroes are not always perfectly behaved and villains are not always evil. In fact, heroes sometimes act out of spite or self-interest, and villains sometimes act selflessly to help other people. In this story, both the Renegades and the Anarchists are comprised of prodigies — people with special powers, much like the X-Men — but their vastly different ideologies have placed them on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum. The Anarchists honestly believe that society would fare better without so much governmental oversight and interference, i.e. with anarchy. The Renegades, on the other hand, think that they are doing society a favor by overseeing everyone and bringing back law and order. Though both sides think their way would be best for the greater good, neither side seems capable of seeing the other side’s point of view.
Enter Nova, aka Nightmare.
Nova was raised by her Uncle Ace [the leader of the Anarchists] after the Renegades failed to protect her family. Nova has been consumed by a desire to avenge their deaths for as long as she can remember, but none of her plans seem to work out. Luckily, the Anarchists have an alternate plan that just might work. Because the Renegades don’t know Nightmare’s true identity, the Anarchists decide to send Nova to Renegade try-outs so that they can use her to gather intel and take down the Renegades from the inside. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Nova, who takes on the Renegade name of Insomnia, to start to feel conflicted. Not only does she start to fall for a guy who is a part of the Renegades, but she starts to see *why* the Renegades operate the way they do and that their methods actually have some merit to them. What’s a girl to do?!?
Because I enjoyed Dashner’s Maze Runner series, and am not-so-patiently waiting for the theatrical release of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), I thought this seemed like an audiobook I should probably check out. I mean, what’s not to like about a fast-paced technological thriller, right?!? Much like in Ready Player One, a lot of this story took place in a virtual world. Rather than just using goggles and gloves to connect to that virtual world, though, the people in this story use “coffins” that provide their bodies with physical sensations to make it feel as if they are actually experiencing the sensations (both pleasure and pain) of the VirtNet.
Michael is a gamer who spends more of his time in the VirtNet than in actual reality. And, who can blame him? Most of his friends are people he has never met in real life, and his hacking skills mean that he can be better, faster, and stronger with only a few lines of code. Rumors begin to circulate about a “bad” hacker who is using his skills to trap people in the VirtNet against their will, which causes the victims to suffer brain damage and memory loss in real life. Shortly after meeting a girl who claimed to be a victim, Michael was contacted by someone from the government who asked him to use his hacking skills for good by tracking down the perpetrator. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah… Definitely not! If you want lots of action and adventure set in a high-tech virtual world, you’ll definitely want to read this one.
I am NOT the kind of person who enjoys spoilers, and I *never* flip to the end of the story to sneak a peek… but I somehow really enjoy stories that start out telling you how things are going to end and then go back to the beginning to show you how it all went down. I had forgotten the synopsis of this story when I started reading, and it started out innocently enough. Ben was talking about how he and Rose came to be a couple — with her basically picking him and telling him she was going to be his girlfriend. A little abnormal, but not scandalously so. I am a sucker for love stories, although I was pretty sure the title meant they had broken up, but then it became clear something had happened to Rose. She had died in some tragic way, and Ben’s story was going to tell the reader how it happened. What I wasn’t prepared for, nevertheless, was when Ben ended the first chapter asking, “So why’d I kill her?” Say WHAT?!?
I was recently talking with a colleague about Nancy Pearl’s “four doorways” into the book — characters, language, setting, and story — and I think this book had all four but story was my primary doorway. I was sucked right in because I just had to know more about Ben and what could compel him to kill the girl he claimed to love, let alone claim that he wasn’t sorry, felt absolutely no guilt, and was not looking for absolution. I especially liked how we got to glimpse into Ben’s past to see how he had been shaped by both the injury and tragedy of his childhood to become the young man he was when this story took place. If you are a fan of mysteries that don’t follow a typical crime show formula, you should check this one out.
Growing up in Bed Stuy, NY, meant being surrounded by a lot of “bad” stuff. Ali knew about the criminal activity all around him — from fencing stolen goods to prostitution to dealing and using drugs — but he wan’t into any of that. His thing was boxing, hence his nickname. It wasn’t because he actually liked fighting or anything, though, but because he liked training. In fact, Ali wasn’t really into sparring at all and didn’t do particularly well in the ring. Aside from boxing, he mostly just wanted to hang with his friends, Noodles and Needles. Obviously, those are not their real names, but I’ll let you read the book to get the back story of how they got those nicknames. I will also leave most of the plot out of this review because I don’t want to spoil anything. Just know that there are plenty of teachable moments about family, friendship, loyalty, and choosing to rise above your surroundings.
I think what I liked the most about this story was how the author acknowledged the seedier side of urban life without glorifying crime and violence. Much like Greg Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, this book laid out all the best reasons kids should aim higher and also showed that it is possible to come back from bad choices instead of simply giving up.
Sadie was more than prepared for a boring summer. Her best friend was going away to work at a summer camp and she was going to work at a farm stand selling fruits, veggies, and $12 chunks of cheese to “citiots” who were on their way from NYC to the Hamptons. Then, something completely random happened. When a drunk and belligerent man pulled in to the farm stand, Sadie became a bit of a hero. Rather than let him drive away with his toddler screaming and crying in the back seat, Sadie physically stopped him from leaving. It wasn’t all that simple, though. As she struggled to take away his keys, she actually had her head smashed off a toolbox and ended up with a major concussion and a terrible scar to show for her efforts. Video of her daring deed went viral and she was nominated for an award at a “homegrown heroes” luncheon that honored local teens.
Though they would have been unlikely to come together on their own, these teens felt an instant connection and decided to start hanging out as a group. Before long, they were working together to take down internet trolls while leaving care packages for the people who had been bullied. I don’t want to give away too much, but I think it’s fair to say that their good deeds soon escalated with the help of a generous benefactor. Though I was glad to see a book featuring brave and generous characters from a wide variety of backgrounds (both ethnic and socio-economic), I have concerns about the dangerous situations into which these teens placed themselves and can only hope that readers will know better than to emulate those particular acts of heroism.