Stewart was a socially awkward prodigy who attended a school called Little Genius Academy and Ashley was a popular girl who excelled at fashion but wasn’t so great at school. You might think this is a perfect set-up for a story in which Stewart becomes Ashley’s tutor, but that definitely wasn’t how they met. They actually got to know one another because their parents decided to move in together. Ever since Stewart’s mom died of ovarian cancer, he and his father have been struggling with ways to manage their grief and honor her memory while also, somehow, moving on with their own lives. This move seemed to be the ultimate test. Ashley’s situation was very different, but still very traumatic for her — her parents decided to divorce because her father came out as gay. Though upset by her family breaking up, it seemed Ashley was even more concerned about what people would think if they found out the truth about why her parents divorced. After all, being the “it” girl of her crowd was pretty much all she thought she had going for her.
When Stewart and his father moved in with Ashley and her mom, Stewart also transferred into Ashley’s school. She was relieved to think that she would be “safe” from dealing with Stewart at school, even after finding out that he would be transferring from Little Genius Academy, because he was younger… But then he was placed in some ninth grade classes because he was so advanced. Trying to fit in at a new school was tough in and of itself, but it was made even more difficult by Ashley’s insistence that he hide the fact that they were now sort of related. I really enjoyed the emotional journey Nielsen provided. There were moments where I was so sad I nearly cried, times when I got angry with characters, moments where I found myself rolling my eyes, and others where I full-on chuckled. The geek in me also really appreciated the fact that Stewart’s cat was named Schrödinger and that Nielsen included a part in which Stewart explained the joke to Ashley, just in case readers didn’t get it.
P.S. Just in case there are any people considering this book for a younger teen/tween, I feel compelled to mention the fact that there are situations in which both underage drinking and sexual assault come up. I think it was very well written and offers a fantastic conversation starter, but I didn’t feel right not saying anything.
Abilene Tucker’s father, Gideon, sent her to live with an old friend for the summer, while he worked on the railroad. While she understood that life on the railroad was not suitable for a “young lady,” she knew she would miss her father terribly. Upon arrival, she was further disappointed to find that the town of Manifest was so dull. After growing up hearing so many stories about her father’s time in Manifest, she had expected it to be a grander and more exciting place. When Abilene found a hidden cigar box full of mementos, though, she found some of the adventure she had been hoping for. After all, there were even a few letters in the box that referenced a spy called “the Rattler.” When Abilene shared the letters with her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, they decided to work together to figure out who had been the Rattler… and then they received an anonymous note telling them to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Yeah. Whoever wrote that note certainly didn’t understand that the surest way to get tween girls to work hard at solving a mystery was to basically forbid them to do so!
I liked the way Vanderpool wove together the stories of Abilene and her friends with the boys, Ned and Jinx, to whom the mementos in the box had belonged. It was very clever to reveal the past through both newspaper articles and “readings” of the mementos by the diviner, Miss Sadie. Not only did Miss Sadie’s storytelling help to provide details about Ned and Jinx that the girls could never have pieced together on their own, but it added a further layer of mystique as Abilene tried to figure out if Miss Sadie was truly “reading” the items or simply making up a story. I found it a bit painful to watch Abilene struggling to find any hint of Gideon’s existence in both Manifest and the stories Miss Sadie told, I liked the fact that readers are able to look back at the end of the story to see how the various story threads all truly came together. People who enjoy learning about the early 20th century will love the rich, historically accurate details. (Abilene came to Manifest in the 1930s and the stories of Ned and Jinx were from 1917-1918.)
Growing up in my family provided me with some very interesting insight into the Vietnam War. I was born in 1979 and completely missed “experiencing” the Vietnam War for myself, but my grandfather, Jim Cain, has been telling me stories about the Vietnam War for as long as I can remember. Although I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I reached my late-teens/early-twenties, I always knew Grampa had been a “Raven.” He would tell me stories about secret missions and being shot down in Vietnam, but I always kinda assumed he was playing it up and putting on a show for his grandkids. Yeah… I was wrong! As it turns out, the Ravens “were fighter pilots used for forward air control in a covert operation in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in Laos during America’s Vietnam War [who] provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets and People’s Army of Vietnam’s infiltrators in support of the Laotian Hmong guerrilla army.” (Check out http://ravenfac.com/ravens/Adventures/Episode0000.htm for more information about the Ravens – and a picture of my grampa!)
Despite the fact that her father was fighting in the Vietnam War, my mother was a tried and true “hippie” who protested the war. (Her parents actually found out, long after the fact, that she had attended an anti-war rally while they were stationed in England because of an old photo that was published in their local paper when Bill Clinton was running for president!) Some people would argue that she was less than patriotic for not supporting that war, but I don’t think opposing war makes anyone a bad American. Especially after listening to this story of how politicians sabotaged one another and actively prolonged this particular war to “save face” and further their own political agendas, I find it extremely difficult to even consider accepting war without considering all other possible avenues toward diplomacy. I am grateful to live in a country where citizens have the right to free speech and where freedom of the press works to keep citizens informed of what is going on behind the scenes. I never learned much about the “Pentagon Papers” in school, but this book had me riveted. I especially liked the fact that the afterword of this story referenced a more current “information leak” involving Edward Snowden and provided Daniel Ellsberg’s opinion on the matter. After what Ellsberg has been though, he is certainly someone whose opinion on the Snowden case is relevant.
The O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons). Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead. Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident. Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn. Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries. They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.
Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself. He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields. He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her. People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye. He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine. The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.” Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.
I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be. I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away… But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too. It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost. Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome. If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.
Ever since I read The Girl Who Owned a City [back in fifth grade], I have been fairly obsessed with dystopian fiction. There’s just something so intriguing about seeing that the world could be *even more* messed up than it already is, you know? The thing about this story that instantly brought me back to The Girl Who Owned a City, of course, is the fact that the entire adult population in this story has been wiped out. In this case, though, all the little kids have been wiped out too. It’s only the teenagers who have survived — and it must have something to do with the particular blend of hormones that exists in teens, because even the survivors die off once they reach full maturity.
This is not just a random disease that struck and went away, by the way. This is something that, if left unchecked, will wipe out the entire human race. Yeah. Let’s hope there are some super-genius teens out there who can figure out what to do to fix it all, right?!? Enter the kids of Washington Square. This story is told from the perspectives of various characters, including an “average” girl named Donna and a guy named Jefferson who has “inherited” leadership of Washington Square now that his older brother has turned 18 and died. Oh yeah… Jefferson is also secretly in love with Donna and just so happens to be think he might have found some information that could lead to a cure. Jeff just needs to convince his friends to join him on a dangerous trip through the city to find more information and, you know, a lab where he can do some research. Witty banter and fast-paced action make this a fairly quick read. I recommend this book to fans of series like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Monument 14.
Matteo Alacran was not simply born; he was implanted in and later harvested from a cow that was designed to incubate clones. And not only was Matteo a clone, but he was a very special case. Most clones were lobotomized at birth and simply existed to provide organ transplants to the people from whom they were cloned. Matteo was the clone of a man called El Patron, the dictator of a land called Opium. El Patron was born to a poor family in a very poor town and lived a decidedly difficult life, but he worked his way up to be one of the richest and most infamous people in the world. Though he couldn’t go back in time and change his own childhood, El Patron was able to provide Matteo with tutors and music lessons and to watch a version of himself have the things he never did.
Matteo was so sheltered that he didn’t even know that he was a clone until he was nearly a teen, but then he felt somehow protected from the fate of the other clones because of the time and money El Patron had put into raising him. After all, who would waste all that time and money on a clone they only planned to kill later? Even setting that fear aside, though, what else is impacted by his status as a clone? Can Matteo possibly attain any sort of personal freedom, or will he always “belong” to El Patron? And, if he does, in fact, belong to El Patron, is he entitled to set any of his own goals or focus on his own happiness? Readers who enjoyed thought-provoking books of the Unwind Dystology should definitely check this one out.
Children in the land of Quill are raised in a perpetual state of fear. They are expected to live by very rigid rules and too many instances of rule breaking could get them labeled as an Unwanted. Being told that you are “unwanted” may sound cruel in and of itself, but it’s actually much worse than that. There is an annual Purge, and the 13-year-olds are separated into Wanteds, Necessaries, and Unwanteds. All of the Unwanteds are then rounded up and sent to the Death Farm. So, what are these infractions that are worthy of getting a child sentenced to death? Anything creative, for starters — drawing and singing are absolutely not allowed. It is also particularly bad if a child displays any curiosity or, worse yet, questions authority and/or the status quo. After all, “Quill prevails when the strong survive.”
Alex has known for a long time that he was an Unwanted and that his twin brother, Aaron, was a Wanted. Though he knew that Aaron could have been labeled Unwanted right along with him, he accepted the blame for his brother’s drawing to keep him safe. Imagine Alex’s surprise, then, when he got to the Death Farm and discovered that it was actually a ruse. Mr. Today pretended to be the executioner of the Unwanteds, but he was actually a wizard who created a hidden land, Artime, in which the Unwanteds were encouraged to find their happiness and express their creativity. Had he only known the truth, he would have turned his brother in and actually saved him! Sadly, he is now forbidden to have any contact with his brother. They are ALL forbidden from returning to [or even contacting anyone in] Quill because it would surely endanger the entire land of Artime and all the people living there if the leaders of Quill learned that they had been fooled. But, how can he simply leave his brother in that terrible place? Especially knowing that another boy in Artime is looking for a way to sneak back into Quill to get revenge on Aaron. Surely there must be a way to save him…