It isn't often that I have abandoned a book over my years...but this is one that I just have no interest in finishing. I can't tell you how frustrated...moreIt isn't often that I have abandoned a book over my years...but this is one that I just have no interest in finishing. I can't tell you how frustrated I am with this book. The premise is awesome. The cover is awesome. I couldn't wait to book talk this "boy book" to my junior high students. Or...not so much. My junior high boys are not going to care about the history of this area, the soil type which lends itself to growing specific crops which in turn lead to immigrants who moved to this area. They aren't going to care about who is related to whom, who slept with who and then later found out that their child is a half-brother to the kid he's been best friends with since elementary school, and on and on. If this was a book about football, like it is advertised, both me and my students would've been on board, but at least for now, I'm giving up on it.(less)
**spoiler alert** Oscar is a shop boy. He spends his days in the cellar, preparing herbs, bark, and other natural remedies for his master who uses mag...more**spoiler alert** Oscar is a shop boy. He spends his days in the cellar, preparing herbs, bark, and other natural remedies for his master who uses magic to transform them into potions, elixirs, gems, and other things that the townspeople buy for protection or to increase their chances at love. It seems that everyone depends on magic for everything in their lives. It all started with the wizards who inhabited the island years before. When a plague devastated the island, it was the magic that was woven into the walls that saved the people. The magic continues because of the wizards who changed into trees that continue to feed the earth with their magic. Or so the ancient legend goes.
Oscar has always felt strange or odd and would prefer to spend his time alone with the cats who keep him company in the cellar. When the apprentice, Wolf, is suddenly killed, and Master Caleb disappears to the continent for days at a time, it is Oscar that is left to tend to the shop upstairs. He is awkward with the customers and it is Callie, the healer's apprentice who lives nearby, who comes to his rescue. When she reveals that her master has also left for the continent and has not returned and there are more and more sick kids showing up every day, she makes a deal with Oscar. She will help him with his people skills if he helps her with the remedies it takes to heal the sick children.
Through the process of healing the children, Callie and Oscar realize a terrible truth. Oscar's master, Caleb, has been doing awful things. He has chopped down the magical trees to create children who are perfect and will never have to suffer or become ill, but there is a hole in the magic and his spells are failing. Children are ill and going to die if Callie and Oscar can't find a fix.
I had a really hard time getting into this story. Because it is fantasy, Ursu has to create a new world for us. I think she does a good job of it but it takes up a lot of pages for us to understand the world in which Oscar lives and his mental state-of-mind. Things really didn't intrigue me until the earth monster starts attacking and Oscar decides to take the monster on himself, which isn't until the last fourth of the book or so.
I have noticed a troubling trend in young adult fiction over the last several years. Books for junior high and high school students seem to become more and more "dumbed down". They are written at a lower reading level every year it seems. It is common to see a book with an interest level of grades 10-12 but a reading level of 4th-5th grade. What I really appreciated about this book is that it was a challenging read. While some students will give up on it because it asks a lot of them as readers, some will appreciate the challenge it provides. I would recommend it to those overachieving junior high readers who are in need of something to challenge themselves.(less)
**spoiler alert** Re-reading for a student book club in preparation for the movie coming out Nov. 22!
I had forgotten how much I liked this book! The b...more**spoiler alert** Re-reading for a student book club in preparation for the movie coming out Nov. 22!
I had forgotten how much I liked this book! The book opens as Katniss and Peeta prepare to leave on their Victory Tour which means a stop in every district to celebrate their victories in the Hunger Games. As they travel from district to district, it becomes apparent that something is happening. There are an extreme number of guards and they witness one man being shot in the head. A rebellion is in the works and President Snow is not happy about it. Shortly after the tour ends, the third Quarter Quell, the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, arrives and it is announced that this year's contestants will be reaped from the pool of victors. Because she is the lone surviving woman victor from district 12, Katniss immediately knows that this means she will be forced to re-enter the arena. She convinces Haymitch that Peeta is the one to protect and they agree that if Peeta's name is chosen, Haymitch will volunteer to take his place. Peeta's name is chosen and Peeta and Katniss prepare for the Games. The rebellion in the districts is evident as the victors get ready to enter the arena. During the televised interviews on the eve of the Games, the victors make snarky statements and hold hands in solidarity. President Snow insists that Katniss wear a wedding dress as a reminder of the wedding to Peeta that won't happen now for her interview. Cinna plays a role in the rebellious nature of the interviews by making her wedding dress change into a dress that looks like a bird, a Mockingbird. Just as Katniss is about to be pushed up through the tube into the arena, guards come into the room and beat and drag Cinna away. Katniss is devastated.
The victors are surrounded by water as they enter the arena. Katniss and Fennick are the first to arrive at the Cornucopia and Fennick shows Katniss a bangle bracelet from Haymitch which tells Katniss that she's supposed to be in an alliance with him. Several others team up to form an alliance and they discover that the arena is in the shape of a clock. There's blood rain, killer monkeys, a huge tsunami wave, and other disasters in each of 12 sections. They decide to try to kill two of the other victors by attaching a wire to the tree that is struck by the electricity in section 1 at midnight and noon. Katniss and Peeta are separated, the plan fails, and Katniss ends up shooting one of her arrows into the force field which blows the entire arena up. Katniss is knocked unconscious and is picked up by a hovercraft. She wakes up completely alone and hears voices. When she goes into the room where the voices are, she sees Fennick, Plutarch (the head Gamemaker), and Haymitch. The plan all along was to save Katniss and Peeta but Peeta was taken out of the arena by the Capitol and they don't know where he is or what's happening to him. The next time Katniss wakes up, Gale is there and he tells her that her family is safe but District 12 has been destroyed by firebombs and they are on their way to District 13, the district that had been destroyed many years prior. The ending of this whole storyline will only be wrapped up with another sequel! Mockingjay, here we come! (less)
Ryan Dean West is a young 14-year-old Junior at a private school named Pine Mountain. He is a rugby player and completely, head-over-heels in love wit...moreRyan Dean West is a young 14-year-old Junior at a private school named Pine Mountain. He is a rugby player and completely, head-over-heels in love with Annie who is two years older than him. He made a stupid mistake last school year and is now relegated to "O" hall, the dorms for mischief makers. He is bunking with Chas, an unpredictable bully who Ryan Dean is initially scared of but eventually learns to live with. Throughout the book, Ryan Dean struggles with telling Annie that he loves her and being pulled in by the hot and secretive Meghan who likes to make out with Ryan Dean but is Chas' girlfriend. Throughout the book, Ryan Dean becomes good friends with Joey who plays rugby with him and who also happens to be gay. It is a tragic, out-of-nowhere turn of events at the end of this book that makes this book 4 stars instead of 5. I didn't see the ending coming and I didn't think it fit with the rest of the book.
I had a hard time getting into the mind of the hormone-raddled of an adolescent teenage boy at the beginning of this book, but once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it and when the book was over, I missed the character of Ryan Dean. There is a lot of swearing in this book, including the f word multiple times, and lots of sexual innuendo that would make it inappropriate for anything other than high school, but I did enjoy reading it and I think a lot of teenage boys would too!(less)
**spoiler alert** Lanesha's 17-year-old mother died during childbirth and Lanesha has been raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the woman who helped deliver her, eve...more**spoiler alert** Lanesha's 17-year-old mother died during childbirth and Lanesha has been raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the woman who helped deliver her, ever since. Lanesha is 12 now and is navigating middle school, friends, and a poor but tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha both have the ability to see ghosts but it is Mama Ya-Ya who has visions about the future and is able to see that a powerful storm is coming before anyone else can predict it. Mama Ya-Ya is deeply troubled because, while she can see that there will be devastation due to the storm coming, her visions are shrouded by a black veil that makes her unable to see beyond.
Many of their neighbors are preparing for the coming storm in a variety of ways - boarding up windows, preparing food and gathering water in case the electricity goes out, etc, while some of their neighbors, weary of predictions of hurricanes that either don't come or aren't as bad as predicted, act like this is a time to party. When a mandatory evacuation order is announced, many people from the neighborhood head to the Superdome for protection or leave town if they are able. Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha have neither transportation or the money to escape and Mama Ya-Ya is incapacitated by her inability to see the future. It is Lanesha who begins to make prepations to withstand the storm.
When it comes, the storm is awful. Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha take cover in the bathtub but there are times during the storm that Lanesha is sure that the house around them won't stand. When the storm finally ends, Lanesha is relieved that the worst is over but it is Mama Ya-Ya who convinces her that she needs to move to the attic. While Lanesha is confused, and quite frankly annoyed, by Mama Ya-Ya's demands to move higher, she knows better than to question Mama's visions and she does as she is told. This is where the story became just a bit unbelievable to me, although I'm not sure most students the age of whom this book was written would get it. Lanesha not only moves their essential belongings to the attic, she also goes to the lean-to and grabs an ax, a tarp, and rope. The next morning, she understands why. The levees have broken and water is part-way up the stairs and rising higher.
It is during the night that Mama Ya-Ya passes away in the attic and when the water starts covering the floor, Lanesha uses the ax to chop through the roof. It is three days before she is able to catch a boat as it floats by and row to safety.
I thought this book was very poignant and covered a ton of topics including what it means to be a family (even if you aren't related by blood), community, friendships, bullying, and the historic Hurricane Katrina. This book would be perfect for the low to middle-low junior high-age reader. (less)
**spoiler alert** In this sequel to Stuck in Neutral, we learn more about Shawn McDaniel, the 15-year-old boy who has cerebral palsey and while incapa...more**spoiler alert** In this sequel to Stuck in Neutral, we learn more about Shawn McDaniel, the 15-year-old boy who has cerebral palsey and while incapacitated physically, is brilliant underneath. He has perfect auditory memory and throughout the book struggles with his frustrations of appearing like a "vegetable" on the outside while completely unable to communicate with the rest of the world. He is completely and utterly in love with his sister Cindy's best friend, Abbie, and when Paul starts to date her, she is devastated and questions why he will have to live the rest of his life alone, with no one to share his future with.
In this book, his cousin Debi, who has Down Syndrome, comes to live with them along with her dog, Rusty. Debi goes to a work skills program during the week, makes her own lunch, empties the dish washer every morning, and lives within a very strict schedule she sets for herself. She occasionally comes into the room where Shawn sits and just stares. Shawn is perplexed by her but one day when she tells him that he is smart, it seems as if Debi has been reading Shawn's thoughts and finally, he feels as if someone gets him. Rusty also seems to understand Shawn and is able to predict when Shawn is about to have a seizure. At the end, when Debi dies, it is heartbreaking to hear Shawn talk about being unable to attend the funeral of the one person in the world who seemed to understand.
I listened to this book on audio and while I thought it was good, it didn't seem as "important" or eye-opening for me as the first two. When I read Stuck in Neutral, Shawn's character especially hit home because we had a student in our school who was very similar - wheel-chair bound, unable to control himself physically, etc. As I looked at him, I wondered what was inside. Was he brilliant like Shawn? Was he frustrated that the world would never know the real him? This book seemed like an "add-on". (less)
It is a surprise to everyone involved when Ed Slayterton starts dating Min Green. They are very different from one another. Ed is the co-captain of th...moreIt is a surprise to everyone involved when Ed Slayterton starts dating Min Green. They are very different from one another. Ed is the co-captain of the basketball team, very athletic, and "has been around" when it comes to dating other girls in their high school. Min is into old movies, is quirky and unique, and is "different" from any other girl Ed has dated. The book is written through the first-person voice of Min who is writing a letter to Ed, chronicling their relationship with things she kept over the course of their quick courting, and why they led to their eventual breakup. She writes this letter as she is being driven to Ed's house to drop them on his doorstep by Al, her best friend who eventually expresses his love for Min through the course of the book.
Even though we all know what happens to Ed and Min's relationship, I did find myself rooting for them, if anything just to prove their friends and family members wrong. I really did think they did a good job of trying to keep their own separate identities while trying to stay a couple, example: the Halloween party when they started the night with his friends and then made their way to her friend's party. The way in which Min finds out about Ed's infidelity and her response to it is extremely satisfying in a "you go, girl" kind of way. I listened to this book on audio and have to say that about 2/3 of the way through the book, Min's first-person voice was getting on my nerves. She became preachy and whiny at the same time to me. I was ready to be done with Min and thought that it might have been nice to have had first-person narration from both Ed and Min throughout the book. But then I'm sure the whole tone of the book would've changed at that point. This book was ok for me. It would be a good recommendation for those drama-driven junior high girls I spend most of my days with!(less)
After seeing a squirrel almost get sucked up into a vacuum cleaner in her next door neighbor's yard, Flora saves him and decides that he must have sup...moreAfter seeing a squirrel almost get sucked up into a vacuum cleaner in her next door neighbor's yard, Flora saves him and decides that he must have super powers. She brings him into her house, past her romance novel-writing mom, and names him Ulysses, after the vacuum cleaner. The squirrel is able to type words, and even poems, on Flora's mom's typewriter. Once her mom learns about the squirrel, she first asks Flora's dad who lives in an apartment across town, to get rid of it, and then decides to take matters into her own hands. She is unsuccessful though. Ulysses is able to find Flora's dad's apartment building and his neighbor across the hall who reunites Flora and Ulysses after all.
I did like a couple of things about this book. I thought the characters were really well-described and thought out. I especially liked Flora's mom and dad and her dad's next door neighbor. I also liked the comic book sections of the book which will really appeal to the "tweener" audience.
What I didn't like about this book was the storyline (um, which is pretty much the whole premise of the book). Even as I was writing the summary above, I felt like, as one English teacher discussed with me today, I was reading a quirky, creative-thinking 8th grade English student's paper, that got so creative that it got out-of-hand. However, I will say this. Kate DiCamillo has a sense of imagination beyond those of most and for the most part, I have enjoyed reading her previous books. This one just is a little over the top for me. (less)