Category Archives: sci-fi/fantasy

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzyI have several lenses through which I view the education system in our country.  First, as a former student.  Second, as someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library and information sciences with a concentration in youth services and public libraries.  Third, nevertheless, is the role that has provided me a completely different [admittedly, more biased] view — mom to two children in public school.  Based on my own experiences, the training I have received, the literature I’ve studied on best practices, the work I have done in schools and public libraries, and the ways I have seen my own children navigate the system, I feel extremely confident in my ability to speak about both the successes and shortcomings of recent educational reforms.  And while I feel as though most of the reform in the last couple of decades was well-intentioned, I am both concerned about and disappointed by the general trend toward extreme standardization and hands-off learning because of the focus on high-stakes testing.  This book spoke right to my heart!

Imagine that the school you attended had an all-seeing, computerized Vice Principal who could track every single student’s educational progress and behavior in real time.  For Max, this is her reality.  Every time her grades slip, every time she is late to class, and every time she breaks even the tiniest of school rules, the Vice Principal (aka computerized student tracking/evaluation system) Barbara updates Max’s student record.  That might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Barbara also constantly notifies Max’s parents, who are stressing big time and pressuring Max to turn things around before she ends up kicked out of her regular middle school and enrolled in a remedial program.  School is nothing but stress for Max… but then Fuzzy shows up.

Fuzzy is a new student at Vanguard One Middle School.  The thing that makes him different, nevertheless, is that he is not human; he is a robot.  Sure, the school already had robots who perform routine janitorial and cafeteria work, but Fuzzy is something very new.  Instead of being programmed for only a few specific jobs and functions, he is programmed with “fuzzy logic” so that he can attempt to adapt his code to the demands of being a middle school student.  To help him with his mission, Max has been recruited as a student partner with whom he can interact.  She agrees to help Fuzzy better understand the intricacies of navigating middle school, both literally and figuratively, and Fuzzy “decides” he wants to help Max as well.  In a world where it seems like administrators would rather their students behave more like robots, you would think that Fuzzy would be welcomed with open arms.  But it seems that Barbara is not a fan of the new Robot Integration Program.  Perhaps it’s because she’s afraid Fuzzy will catch on to the fact that she seems to be so obsessed with better test scores that she may be taking liberties with student evaluations?

Happy Reading!

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

house-of-the-scorpionMatteo 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.

Happy Reading!

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

unwantedsChildren 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…

Happy Reading!

Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano

holding-smokeJohn “Smoke” Conlan is serving time at a juvenile detention center known to most simply as the Y.  He’s there because he was convicted of murdering two people — but he didn’t really kill his teacher, Mrs. Cruz, and the boy he killed was an accident.  That boy, by the way, happened to be the only other witness to Mrs. Cruz’ murder.  Ack!  (John feels so guilty about both of those deaths, though, he doesn’t really feel like he deserves any better than the Y.)

John earned the nickname “Smoke” because he seems to have the ability to go anywhere and see anything.  No one knows quite how he manages to get all the information he does, but they’re more than happy to enlist his services.  In truth, people probably wouldn’t believe him if he told them.   You see, ever since his near death experience, John has had the ability to separate himself from his body and to navigate through the world in a ghostly form.  That was how he witnessed Mrs. Cruz’ murder in the first place, and that is how he gets information for other people at the Y.  If it wasn’t for a run-in with a girl he calls Pink, who can see and communicate with him, he probably would have given up on himself completely.  But, because Pink seems to believe in him — and because he wants to protect her, since she wound up in danger after visiting him at the Y — John finds the courage to search a little harder and to try and clear his name…

Happy Reading!

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

Vivian-AppleAlthough Vivian Apple never really believed in the teachings of the Church of America, she was forced to re-evaluate when her beliefs when her parents disappeared — especially after she found holes in their bedroom ceiling the morning after the predicted “Rapture.”  She always thought that The Book of Frick (named after the man who created the Church of America) was a bit over the top — especially considering the fact that it touted conservative behaviors and traditional gender roles but claimed that God loved America best because of its capitalistic tendencies.  At times, it was hard to tell if this book was intended to be a parody or simply an exaggerated to make a point.  What I know for sure, nevertheless, is that I’ve never read anything quite like it.  A strong female character who is examining her beliefs while navigating through changing friendships, a developing romance, and the end of the world?  Sign me up!

Happy Reading!

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

these-broken-starsThe Icarus is a luxury spaceliner; it’s basically an entire city flying through space at hyperspeed.  Many of the people aboard are among the social elite, but none are quite so famous as Lilac LaRoux — daughter of the man whose engineering company is responsible for the manufacturing of the Icarus, terraforming planets, etc.  It’s rather funny, then, that Tarver Merendsen — famous in his own right by his “war hero” status — doesn’t know with whom he is flirting when he meets Lilac.  All he really knows is that this girl is beautiful and not *quite* like the rest of the socialites he’s encountered.  After a brief period of flirtation, nevertheless, Lilac decides to shoot him down so that she can get the eventual heartbreak over with.

It’s rather unfortunate, therefore, when the Icarus experiences technical difficulties and Lilac and Tarver end up in the same escape pod.  Unsure where in the galaxy they could be, with very little in the way of supplies and without any way to contact anyone else, the two have to find a way to get along well enough to work together on both survival and coming up with a rescue plan.  My only complaint about this story is that we *know* right from the beginning that they will, in fact, get rescued.  (Based on the fact that Tarver is being grilled about his interactions with Miss LaRoux, there is no doubt that they will find a way to eventually communicate with someone back home and get picked up.  It was only a matter of when and how.)  I highly recommend this book to people who enjoyed Beth Revis’ Across the Universe trilogy.

Happy Reading!

Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

warriorsThank goodness my son started reading this series and insisted that I join him!  All these years, I have been under the mistaken impression that the Warriors series was a lot like Redwall but with cats.  Yes, there are rivalries and battles, but this is much more realistic than the very fantastic (in both senses of the word) Redwall series.  Rather than being set in some fantasy world in which anthropomorphized animals build their own cities and battle against other anthropomorphized animals, this is a story about a house cat named Rusty who longs to live in the wild and joins a clan of feral cats called the ThunderClan.  There are actually four clans of cats, and they have co-existed for a long time by following the rules and boundaries laid out by their ancestors.  The balance of the clans is threatened, though, as the ShadowClan grows stronger and encroaches upon the hunting grounds of the ThunderClan.  With all the action, adventure, and mystery, it’s no wonder I’ve had kids asking me for these books for so long…  I just wish I would have followed their lead and read this sooner.  If you’ve made the same mistake and haven’t yet read these books, I highly recommend you add this to your reading pile soon.

Happy Reading!