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When good kids make bad decisions

17 Apr

We often tell 6th graders who have done something really stupid, that this is the time in their life when they can make mistakes and truly learn from them, never repeat them. We let them know that, when they are older, the consequences of their actions will be more severe. We say this when they turn in a friends work as their own and mess around in the bathrooms. We have really good kids.

But sometimes, really good kids make tragic mistakes, and it adults don’t tell them this is their chance to learn, they want them punished.

That is the premise of Jeff Zentner’s second novel, Goodbye Days.

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Publisher’s Summary:What if you did something so terrible that it literally steals your breath away?

Something you wish you could take back every waking minute of your life. Something everyone is guilty of doing at one time or another—but this time, it destroyed life as you knew it forever.

“I would tell you that I definitely killed my three best friends. Here’s the cruel irony for the writer I am: I wrote them out of existence.

Where are you guys? Text me back.”

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

Although intended for a slightly older audience, this is a YA novel that I can easily put on my 6th grade shelf. There is a little romance, but the book is intelligent and heart-breaking.

The hottest book in my classroom library

13 Apr

A few weeks ago, after I’d finished reading it, I booktalked Fonda Lee’s Exo  and added it to my classroom library.

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It hasn’t been back on the shelf since. Kids are passing it, hand to hand and urging the person reading it to read faster.

Author Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son.  Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another galactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

I don’t read every book before I add it to my library. I do like to read books that lean more YA than middle grade, though. Sixth grade advanced readers are funny creatures. They have the cognitive abilities to tackle complex text, but lack the life experience to understand mature content. Exo is the perfect sort of book for my students: action-packed sci-fi to challenge their reading and an age-appropriate moral dilemma.

If you like science fiction, or know someone who does, pick up a copy of Exo.

Optimists Die First

12 Apr

I picked up Optimists Die First  by Susin Nielsen because of the promise of knitting. There wasn’t as much as I’d hoped, but it certainly got a mention in a few places.

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Publisher’s Summary:  Beware: Life ahead.

Although I enjoyed this book, I didn’t find it as compelling as The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen or We Are All Made of Molecules but it was still a pretty good read.

A stunning debut

10 Apr

If you follow YA, you’ve probably heard of The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas. Maybe you’ve even read it. It you haven’t, you should. It deserves all the buzz it is getting.

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Goodreads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Maybe you’ve even read it. If you haven’t, you should. It deserves all the buzz it is getting. I couldn’t put it down.

There is a lot to love about the book. There is no slow build up. By page 12 you are right in the main problem. The scene with the police officer is so realistically written, I felt tense reading it, as though I were really there.

I loved Starr and she was a wonderfully written character, but the minor characters are equally well drawn. Starr’s parents are fabulous. So many YA novels have absent parents, but hers are an integral part of the story.  Her uncle, a  police officer, helps the reader see how complicated the issue of police and race really are. Starr’s school fiends will give non-African American readers an opportunity to wonder Have I ever done that? 

I bet this one will be a real contender for the Morris Award. But we won;t know that until late January.

 

 

A New Series for Old Fans

3 Apr

In Allegiant,  the final novel in her Divergent series, Veronica Roth used dual narrators to bring the story to its conclusion. She returns to this format in the first book in her new series, which is more sci-fi than dystopian.

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Publisher’s Summary: On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power – something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

Her world-building is excellent and I found it more interesting that the problem in the story that Cyra and Akos are trying to solve. This is the sort of book the my 6th graders who have read the Divergent series will read and enjoy. They won’t worry about the accusations of racism that have been leveled at the books. They just want a fast-paced story that makes them think and feel smart.

Will I read the second one? I don’t know. The untitled second book is not due out until sometime in 2018. I’ll see how I feel then.

Back to the Books

2 Apr

It has been a month since I posted about a book, but, now that the Slice of Life Story Challenge is over, it is time to get back to the books. I might not have written about books in the last month, but I have certainly read many.

Just before the challenge began, I finished Scythe by Neal Shusterman.

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Publisher’s Summary: A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I avoided reading this book for a while for the same reason I put off reading The Hunger Games: I didn’t want to read about anything gory. But, like The Hunger Games, the book was too compelling to put down.

The story unfolds slowly, as Shusterman builds the dystopian setting of MidAmerica, introducing us to the characters, main and minor. Humor is woven  into this dark tale of a world where one can live forever, but creativity and purpose have been lost. There are unexpected plot twists and difficult decisions must be made by Citra and Rowan, who you can’t help liking. Readers will find themselves pondering philosophical questions about life, death, and morality.

I stayed up way to late reading this one and will now have to wait until November 21st for its sequel, Thunderhead.

Second Looks

20 Feb

Two times in my life I have abandoned books, only to return to them on the advice of my twin  sister, and been thrilled to have done so.

The first time was in 1994 and the book was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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The opening chapter about the bean in the ear threw me off the scent of a great book.

The second happened just this week. I had started, then abandoned David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite because it opens in a police station with talk of a gruesome murder.

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That’s not my usual cup of tea, so I set it aside. Then, my sister asked if I had read it. I told her why I had abandoned it and she told me I should give it another try. So I did. You should give it a try, too.

Publisher’s Summary: Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.

Can I just say, too, that this is one of the best publisher’s summaries I’ve seen in a ling time.

I think, because I work with youth, I have heard enough stories of crappy lives kids have, that little shocks me. The crappy lives of the kids in David Arnold’s book aren’t especially crappy, but the story he has created is funny, heart-wrenching and sweet all at the same time. It doesn’t solve all their problems, but it gets them to a better place. We had a rainy weekend and I started and finished this book on Saturday,that is how engrossed I was in the stories of the lives of the Kids of Appetite.

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