Sunday, March 21

Librarian Avengers!

If you (or someone you love) is a librarian, just go here...

And enjoy :)

Thursday, March 18


Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Simon and Schuster, 2007, 352 pp, $16.99, Science Fiction, ISBN:1416912045

Imagine a world where you never have to die. You can exist forever.

Did you notice I said "exist?" Because you won't exactly be alive.

This is the world that Connor lives in. The Second Civil War was fought over the sanctity of a human life. When the war was over, the new law stated that when a child was between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, their parents could decide to have them "unwound." This means that all of their child's limbs, blood, and organs would be methodically removed and then distributed among various recipients.

Connor is one of the "unwinds." After finding the unwind order, hidden away at his parents house, Connor decides to take matters into his own hands... while he still has them. He manages to stow away in a semi, create a major traffic accident, take a hostage, and then shoot a juvie cop with his own tranq gun while escaping into the woods. There was no way for him to know it yet, but Connor's story quickly spread among the world's unwind population, and he became known as the "Akron AWOL," the most courageous unwind to ever successfully run away.

"You're, like, the king of the Unwinds here," Dalton tells him, "but guys like you get unwound real quick--so watch yourself." Then Dalton takes a long look at him. "You scared?" he asks.

Connor wishes he could tell him different, but he won't lie. "Yeah." 

Connor, of course, isn't the only unwind in this adventure. He is joined by Risa, a brilliant concert pianist and ward of the state, who just isn't quite talented enough to survive the "cuts" in the state home. Lev plays another pivotal role in the drama. He is considered a tithe, a child who was born to be sacrificed as an unwind.

Together, they are each other's only hope.

I just have to say... I loved this book! The concept alone grabbed me from the very first chapter. The true excerpts from present day newspapers and websites made the horrific process of unwinding seem completely possible for the future. I felt myself becoming attached to each of the characters, holding my breath in the tense moments, mentally plotting against their enemies, and celebrating in their victories. Neal Shusterman truly did a masterful job of combining science fiction, adventure, romance, and modern ethics!

Unwind is completely unlike the other two books I have read by Shusterman: The Schwa was Here and Antsy Does Time. I would highly recommend both of those books as well, for their endearing characters and sense of humor, but they were written much further into the realm of the realistic. In some ways, Unwind reminds me of one of my all-time favorite novels: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. In this adult novel, a child is born solely out of the need for a matching donor who can help to keep her sister alive. In both Unwind and My Sister's Keeper, young adults must grapple with the (un)ethical decisions made by adults, and fight to defend the rights to their own lives.

I can envision older middle school and high school students becoming obsessed with Unwind. Students at that age - much like Connor, Risa, and Lev - are constantly analyzing their own identity and purpose in the world, while trying to understand the expectations that have been placed on them by the adults in their lives. They would be eager to discuss the political and ethical implications of such a dystopian society, and could research some of the current events cited in the book which seem to foreshadow a society of unwinds.

For more information on Neal Shusterman and Unwind, go here, here, or here!

If you are already an Unwind fan, did you know it was going to be a movie?

Battle of the Books

What book lover doesn't love to debate and discuss the merits of his/her favorite book? Well School Library Journal takes those debates to the next level with their annual Battle of the Books! Each day, two new YA books are pitted against each other in an NBA style bracket pairing. Different authors are given the gift of deciding which of the two books will progress to the next round. After they declare the day's "winner," they debrief their choice for you. This is my kind of March Madness.

I haven't read enough of the choices to make an informed prediction, but based on this review, the next "Battle Book" I read will definitely be When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Head over the site and see which books you are going to root for (and then come back and tell me)!

Saturday, March 13

The Chocolate War

            The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, Knopf: Random House, 1974, 272 pp, $7.99, Realistic Fiction, ISBN: 0440944597  

            “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

At a school like Trinity, few students are bold enough to challenge the status quo—few students until Jerry, that is. When The Vigils first gave Jerry the assignment of refusing to sell chocolates in Trinity’s annual fundraiser, they only meant for him to refuse the first ten days. On the eleventh day, when Jerry yet again responded, “No,” during the morning chocolate count, it was hard to tell who was more shocked—The Vigils or Jerry himself.

As the story progresses, the reader will become increasingly disturbed by the layers of corruption that can be found within Trinity’s hallowed walls. From Brother Leon’s thinly veiled threats, to the assignments of Archie and The Vigils, few students—or teachers for that matter—ever feel truly safe. This unstable atmosphere is partially to blame for Jerry’s audacious decision to “disturb the universe.” Some students react to his choice with empathy and grudging respect. Others, like Jerry’s friend “the Goober,” understand the true depth of the issues at Trinity, and they react with fear:

“Look Jerry, there’s something rotten at that school. More than rotten.” He groped for the word and found it but didn’t want to use it. The word didn’t fit the surroundings, the sun and the bright October afternoon. It was a midnight word, a howling wind word… “Evil,” he said.

“What did you say?” Crazy. Jerry would think he’d flipped.


“It’s all a game, Goob. Think of it as fun and games. Let them have their fun. Brother Eugene must have been close to the edge anyway…”

“It’s more than fun and games, Jerry. Anything that can make you cry and send a teacher away—tip him over the borderline—that’s more than just fun and games.”

When The Chocolate War reaches its conclusion, readers will find themselves reeling with shock and disgust.

On the surface, the premise of The Chocolate War is deceptively simple, yet after just a few chapters, you will quickly find yourself immersed in Trinity’s disturbing universe. All of characters, good and evil, must grapple with life’s big questions: What is our purpose? How much is one life worth? What do you value more: personal integrity or relationships and loyalty? Jerry is a true teenage hero in the sense that he is completely independent in his rebellion against corruption. The full credit for any progress toward the greater good goes to Jerry and his inner strength. Although The Chocolate War is by no means a “feel good” read, it will leave its audience with a wealth of material to discuss.

I would offer one note of caution. Although The Chocolate War was written for teen readers, it contains some adult language and a few sexual allusions. Teachers and parents must be sure to fully preview the text before assigning it. I believe it would be most appropriate for high school students. If you do make the decision to use this novel in a classroom, this site offers both a teacher’s guide and a reader’s guide (for sale!), along with an interesting Q and A with the author (for free!). McDougal Littell offers a (free!) teacher’s guide as well.

Many of Robert Cormier’s other novels grapple with similar real-life issues of honor, integrity, loyalty, and betrayal. In Beyond the Chocolate War, Trinity’s story continues, although this time it focuses more on Obie—another member of The Vigils. Go here for an interview with Cormier, where he discusses the character he feels closest to, other YA authors he admires, and his views on censorship.

Monday, March 1

The Hunger Games

              The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, 2008, 384 pp, $17.99, Adventure, Science Fiction, ISBN: 0439023483

I have been dreading writing this review… because The Hunger Games is one of the all-time best books I’ve ever read and I know that nothing I can write will do it justice. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a shot!

The Hunger Games is set in the futuristic nation of Panem, a land that was once known as the United States of America. Panem’s Capitol controls the 12 surrounding districts with an iron fist. The citizens of Panem are completely at the mercy of the whims of the Capitol, most notably through their yearly ritual: The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games are “played” by 24 different young adults, one male and one female from each district, chosen at random. Once all 24 tributes have been chosen, they are plucked and prodded and paraded before the adoringly vicious crowds in the Capitol. Then finally, they are sent to fight each other to the death in the Arena.

Katniss, the heroine of this story, actually volunteered to become a tribute in the games, in the place of her 12-year-old sister who had been chosen in the lottery. This scene played out immediately after she stepped up to the stage…

To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding the betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.

Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of district 12 as a place that cares about me. But… at first one, then another, and then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district… It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.

Katniss is an easy character to fall in love with—self-reliant, fiercely protective, daring, brave, and brilliant in the Games. It is easy to see how she quickly wins the hearts of those around her—even some of those who have pledged to kill her.

The Hunger Games is a story of mystery, suspense, adventure, treachery, and romance. Crack the book open to the first page and you will find yourself reading breathlessly—while driving the car, in the bathtub, and under the covers—until the very last page. After reading the conclusion, which will be like nothing you ever anticipated, you will most likely drive to the nearest bookstore and buy Catching Fire, the sequel. Male or female, young or old, insatiable reader or book-phobic, this is truly a story for everyone. It’s no wonder that this book has won nearly every award possible over the past year!

I would recommend The Hunger Games to any middle or high school teacher. It could be used to teach conflict, character traits, plot development, and context clues, along with themes of control, coming of age, and overcoming obstacles. It could also be used in a Social Studies classroom that was studying systems of government. My one caution for teachers would be to have a plan in place for teaching vocabulary prior to diving into this novel. Although the story is gripping, the vocabulary is advanced and could be a real stumbling block for less advanced readers.

After you or your students finish The Hunger Games, here are a few suggestions for other books with similar elements of science fiction, fantasy, and strong-willed leading ladies. Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, is a fast-paced fantasy story about Katsa, a girl with a “Grace.” Katsa’s grace is the gift of fighting and although she has grown up trying to hide it, she must ultimately use her grace to save the people around her. The Maximum Ride series, by James Patterson, features Max, a science-experiment turned surrogate mother to her band of “adopted” brothers and sisters. I believe all of the books above would be best for upper middle school or high school students.

One last word about The Hunger Games… Go read it! You won’t be sorry.

PS: Many Hunger Games fans have made a game out of predicting casting choices. After reading the book, who would your picks be?
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