Gr 4-7 – Told through a series of letters from two pen pals, House and Vaswani tell a story full of heartache and triumph. Meena recently immigrated f...moreGr 4-7 – Told through a series of letters from two pen pals, House and Vaswani tell a story full of heartache and triumph. Meena recently immigrated from Mussoorie, India, where she was raised by her grandmother as her parents and brother tried to save enough money for her plane ticket to New York City. River lives with his grandmother and mother in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Though their backgrounds seem worlds apart, both middle schoolers discover that they have much in common, like their attachments to their grandmothers and fathers who are working away from the family to make ends meet, and soon become best friends. Vowing to be completely truthful, both children are comfortable enough to admit their own ignorance of the other’s culture and ask for explanations for things they do not understand, allowing for misconceptions to be cleared and acceptance and respect to form. This helps to reinforce to readers that it is okay to admit ignorance, but to ask questions about other cultures instead of embracing stereotypes as truth. Stereotypes are discussed, but Meena and River also exchange letters that include subjects that are familiar to fourth through seventh graders, like bullying, shaving, love, and books, making them relatable characters regardless of cultural background. As the year progresses, River begins to see his beautiful mountains destroyed by Mountaintop Removal Mining, and an accident stemming from the mining forces River, his grandmother, and others in their Appalachian community to take action. At the same time, Meena grieves the loss of her grandmother and is frightened to lose the rent-controlled apartment that her family lives in illegally. Throughout these experiences, River and Meena provide support and serve as an outlet for their fears, concerns, and happiness through photographs, illustrations, and descriptive prose. Told over the backdrop of the end of the 2008 election, Obama’s eventual election and inauguration represents to both characters the promise of the American Dream and the hope for their situations to improve. House and Vaswani use their own experiences and research to develop characters that are true to their backgrounds; House is renowned for his novels about the Appalachian Kentucky experience and has also been honored for his work in environmentalism, and Vaswani is half-Indian, lives in New York City, and is an education activist in India. Though the novel ends with no clear resolution, it does not take away from the powerful story of an unlikely friendship.(less)
Katie is a typical Amish teenager – planning her Rumspringa activities, helping with chores at home and on the farm, and flirting with the boy destine...moreKatie is a typical Amish teenager – planning her Rumspringa activities, helping with chores at home and on the farm, and flirting with the boy destined to be her husband. However, a strange helicopter crash in her Amish community and word from the Outside of riots and death brings Katie’s plans to a halt. Fearing the evil of the Outside, these events prompt the Elders to impose community quarantine – no one is allowed in or out. When a young man is found outside their gates, on the verge of dying, the Elders decide to leave him in God’s hands, but Katie, unable to leave him to suffer, risks her life by rescuing him. Hiding him in her barn, the stranger becomes worse, forcing Katie to venture Outside for medicine and supplies. What she finds is a situation more horrifying than she could have ever imagined. She knows the evil is real. Has Katie risked her entire community by bringing the Outsider in and disobeying the Elders decision?
Bickle successfully brings horror fiction to the Amish world, incorporating their faith and traditions in the face of horrifying evil. Though necessary for those unfamiliar with Amish life, the stilted way Amish terms and traditions are explained often interrupted the flow of the story. However, this mostly happens during the beginning of the novel, to set the stage for the rest of the novel. An engaging writing style allows for teens to relate to Katie, even though she is from a different culture, and moves the plot at a fast pace. The monsters of the book, their reveal and explanation for existence are surprisingly unexpected. The ending leaves many plot points unresolved, and sets the stage for the inevitable sequel.
Despite its slow beginning, this book maintained my interest better than the first book. It had more action, and a lot less of the high school romance...moreDespite its slow beginning, this book maintained my interest better than the first book. It had more action, and a lot less of the high school romance drama. (less)