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.
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.
I am always frustrated when people try to ban books that speak about the harsh realities of human history. I can sort of understand wanting to shield children from those atrocities, but to what end? Especially when those books are being challenged at the high school level, at a time in their academic careers when students are supposed to study the events of global history. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t remember much of what we learned about Iran from the lectures of my global history class, but I am fairly certain I won’t ever forget Satrapi’s story. Not only does this graphic novel provide an accurate timeline, but it also illustrates, with both words and images, how the Iranian people were affected by the Islamic Revolution. Sure, I found some of the stories/images to be upsetting — particularly the scenes in which men recalled the ways in which they were tortured — but no more so than stories and images from my studies of the Holocaust. The way I see it, we owe it to our children to be real with them so they can fully appreciate the current situation in Iran.
Experiencing this revolution through the eyes of a child helped me to understand, on a very basic level, both the scope of what happened and the complexities of Iranian history that are glossed over in a classroom. Things are not nearly as “black and white” as many people would like to believe. I won’t soon forget the mix of sadness and fascination Marjane experienced, for example, when she listened to her Uncle Anoosh’s stories about his life in exile and then when he was captured and put in prison; nor her anguish when he was sent back to prison and she could be his only visitor. History textbooks don’t usually appeal to me, but narratives like this are hard to put down! I was very impressed to see how seamlessly Satrapi included names and dates vital to learning about the revolution within the context of such a compelling story.
I think that a first person account, such as this, makes it much easier for readers to understand how some people could have been manipulated to accept the extreme changes that were made — like the re-writing of textbooks, moving away from bilingual and coed schools, and making women and girls wear veils in public. (FYI, in case you didn’t already know, fear is an amazingly effective motivational tool.) Yet, I found that my disgust at the tactics used against these people was outweighed by hope. It was inspirational to learn about people who found the strength to stand up for what they believed in and to revolt against what they knew to be wrong, despite all they stood to lose. I can only pray that this message of hope is what young people take away from this story and that future generations turn that hope into actions that will bring about peace.
Happy Banned Books Week!
This book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction. I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it was well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story. I was curious about how things would play out in the end and all, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.
One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach. The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack. Even worse? Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant. Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood. And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out. Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences drew parallels to that book and made her question the real possibilities of time travel. I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.
I was shocked to see that this book was a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist. Not because I didn’t think it was deserving, though, but because I was shocked it didn’t actually win! Shane Burcaw’s self-deprecating sense of humor and unwavering positivity in the face of adversity have already garnered tens of thousands of readers for his blog [laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com], so it comes as no surprise that the book has also been universally well-received. Continue reading
You may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons. First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on! Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions. Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer… Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time.
I first thought about reading this book when I helped a student request it for her summer reading assignment about ten and a half years ago. Since there was a wait list of students who needed it for their assignment, I decided not to add a hold for myself. (I thought it would be unfair to the kids who really needed it.) Every summer I thought to myself, “I need to remember to read that when summer is over.” And, every year, I’ve had such a long “to be read” pile when summer reading ended that this book was added to my “I’ll read this book someday” list. At the end of the summer this year, though, the planets finally aligned. I only had one week left before I was on vacation with my family, so I wanted an audiobook short enough that I could finish it before the week was up. Even though it was still summer reading season, this audiobook was available on OverDrive, and I went for it! Continue reading