Monday, February 20, 2012

The Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking

Switched is about a girl, Wendy, whose mother tried to kill her on her sixth birthday because she believed Wendy was not really her child. Eleven years later, with her mother in a mental hospital and under the care of her older brother and aunt, Wendy finds out she was right.

Wendy is a troll, and I think her reaction to finding out is pretty priceless: "Nothing about me resembled a pink-haired doll with a crystal in its stomach or a creepy little monster that lived under a bridge. Admittedly, I was kind of short, but Finn was at least six feet tall." She is taken to the Trylle kingdom, where she discovers she is actually next in line for the throne, and she is none too happy about it. She spends the rest of the three books trying to find her way in her new life (and often fighting to get out of it entirely!).

I have to say, this trilogy got better and better the further I read. Wendy, the heroine, gets stronger and more independent. The obvious choice is rarely the one that writer, Amanda Hocking, makes, which is delightful in any fiction, but especially in girls' YA fiction. She doesn't spend the books mooning over the same boy, and very often pushes love out of her mind for the betterment of the Trylle kingdom and her own independence.

I hesitate to give details because I don't want to ruin the wonderful surprises for future readers, but this whole trilogy was a 5 star absolute must-read! That's as much as I'm giving away. It falls somewhere on the drama-o-meter beneath The Twilight Saga, and I can't quite think of a book to go below it at the moment. It's a lot of fun, drama, and romance, and it was good enough for me to immediately buy the second book and third books in the trilogy after I read the first.

P.S. Amanda Hocking also has a blog! Check it out here.

5 Stars
This book has now become part of my foundation and is an extension of the very essence of me...I laughed, I cried [or some other emotion] and am sad this reading is over...gush, gush, gush...

Sex 2/5
There is some kissing/making out between Wendy and a male lead, but nothing too detailed or heavy. Sex is alluded to on a few occasions, but it's actually because Wendy gets married to a guy she doesn't love/isn't attracted to and wants to avoid it.
Language 1/5
There may have been a word or two, but nothing I remembered.
Substance Abuses 0/5
Nothing at all!
Violence 3/5
There's some violence, mostly in the third book as a war rages between two kingdoms of trolls. It may be great in volume in a couple of spots, but it's mostly magic based, and it's not really graphic. I've seen worse than what was described on tv!

Touchy Subjects
Wendy's relationship with her mother is rocky because her mother has never believed Wendy was her child. Wendy's supposed brother loves her very much but has a lot of trouble accepting her new place in the world.
Inter-class Relationships
Wendy is in love with a troll who is low on the social totem pole compared to her royal status. She and her troll mother get into it on more than one occasion over this matter.
Arranged Marriages
Wendy is the victim of an arranged marriage (though she eventually gets out of it). It's not really "touchy" in the traditional sense, but kids might have questions about whether this ever happens in the real world.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Adam by Ted Dekker (Guest Post by Kate Sutter)

While Ted Dekker’s fiction horror/thriller Adam may be classified as “YA fiction,” it is definitely not for the immature. Written in a similar vein as popular shows like Criminal Minds, it will appeal to readers who like a good crime/suspense thriller. The story is based on an FBI behavioral pathologist Daniel Clark (who is so obsessed with the case that it brought about his divorce) teaming up with a forensic pathologist Laura Ames to catch a serial killer (Eve) with a background in kidnapping and child abuse. Clark's ex-wife is also investigating the case in an attempt to help bring peace. They use some techniques that will be familiar to crime show watchers and some that are not Standard Operating Procedure. Adults should be aware that Clark has his heart stopped twice as an attempt to relive his "near death experience" with the killer from the time Clark saw and almost Eve. The end of the book contains an exorcism when it is determined that the killer is driven by generational demonic possession. Even though Dekker repeatedly portrays the main characters as not religious, they put up very little resistance to the action. 

I liked how Dekker split up the story into sections, beginning each with a magazine article installment about the crime written after the killer is caught. The final segment seemed less developed than the rest of the book and seems to assume the reader has committed to the story long enough to overlook missing details that made the rest of the book hard to put down. It does not take away from the story too badly but left me with questions I did not expect to have when I came to the end. I felt like I needed a sequel just to find out what happened with all the characters.

The book is technically Christian fiction, but like other books I have read from this genre by authors like Dekker, Frank Peretti, and sometimes Randy Alcorn, they tend to be light on being “preachy.” These authors do shy away from the foul language and sex found any much contemporary fiction, but do not avoid it completely. A non-religious reader might not notice much “Christian” in some of these author's books at all, though most reference Christian views of themes such as redemption and good versus evil, and the supernatural world more overtly than secular novels. 

3 Stars

Teacher Advisories
Sex 0/5 
There’s some sexual tension between the two FBI agents, and at one point the pathologist tells Clark’s ex-wife that they haven’t been together. Definitely nothing a teenager will be concerned with, and probably not their parents either.
Language 0/5
I don’t remember seeing anything….
Substance Abuses 0/5
Unless you count getting totally intoxicated on someone's soul...than I bump it up to a 1/5.
Violence 4/5
This is a horror book about a serial killer, ya know. ☺ There are details without being overly gory especially in the final scene. It's also on the creepy side.

Touchy Subjects

Supernatural/Spiritual Concerns
The killer’s relationship with the Catholic church, unbelief in God, and demon possession are all prominent in the story and become more so as the story progresses. As a Protestant, I was not offended by anything until the very end where I saw parts of the exorcism as gimmicky, mostly due to lack of detail. The book is not trying to convert any readers to a belief, but religious elements are an overarching part of the story.
Final analysis – this book should be read by mature readers who are prepared to confront beliefs (or possibly, suspend them completely) about the supernatural and religion. Even if they do not believe in such matters, a hostile opinion or inability to maintain an open mind to these themes will make if difficult finish the book.
Motivation (and consequences)
For both Daniel Clark (FBI Agent) and Eve/Alex Trane/Alex Price (serial killer)
Medical Ethics
Good vs. Evil
Clark’s obsession with the case, his ex-wife’s obsession with winning him back, the consequences of being obsessed

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option
Use as a choice book. Know who is reading it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

It's been a while since I've read this book, but I feel the need to review it because it seems that so many people just love it. I'm not sure why. This book made me angry. If you don't know the premise, it is about a girl who, before her suicide, has put together 13 tapes, one each for the people she believes contributed to her death. After her suicide, she has them sent to the first person and instructs that person to send them to the next, and so on.

I'm not an expert on suicide and I haven't lost anyone very close to me to suicide, so maybe I'm not the best person to write about this. But I'm going to anyway. I'll try to be as sensitive as possible. My goal here is not to offend anyone.

To me, this book condones blaming others for suicide. I don't think that's the right message. Instead of dealing with her issues, the girl looks for reasons to be upset with people. Even when she talks to her counselor, he says one wrong thing that she doesn't like, and checks that off as another reason for her to kill herself. I think in a way this book glorifies suicide and focuses on blaming others for our problems.

I think what this book was trying to do was to show that we should treat everyone with respect and we should reach out to people who seem like they may be having trouble because we never know what is going on in that person's life. I do agree with that message. However, in today's world I think we focus too much on stopping the bullying and do not focus enough on teaching people who are bullied how to deal with it. Yes, I think bullying is wrong and should be stopped. I think we should never treat people badly and should always be aware that something might be going on in their life which we can never begin to understand. As a teacher, I will always do my best to be vigilant about looking out for bullying and trying to stop it if I can. But bullying will ALWAYS exist. In school, in the workplace- everywhere. It's the sad truth. In addition to trying to spread awareness of bullying and prevention, we need to teach those victims of bullying how to deal with it in ways that aren't self-destructive.

Ultimately, I don't like the idea this book presents that others should be blamed for someone's suicide. People handle things differently, and I think focusing on the victim and helping them find positive ways to deal with things is the answer. What scares me most about this book is that so many young adults are reading it and may not be seeing the message they are meant to see. I can see that what Asher is trying to say is that people should treat each other with kindness and respect. However, what I'm afraid teenagers will see is that if they are having problems, they should quietly blame others for those problems and act out by doing something irreversible.

2 Stars
As much as I wanted to give this one star, I do recognize its merit. It can be used as a gateway for many important conversations between parents and teens regarding suicide, sex, bullying, depression, and other topics.

Teacher Advisories
Sex 3/5
Sex is mentioned and is a catalyst for what the protagonist does to herself. There is one scene that is slightly explicit.
Language 1/5
The names the girl is called are a bit explicit and I believe she uses some language herself (again, it's been a while)
Substance Abuse 1/5
Teenage drinking occurs.

Touchy Subjects
This is the whole premise for the book. It's from the point of view of a girl who commits suicide and explores why she does it.
A huge catalyst for why she commits suicide. The bullying comes in all forms and is done by many different types of people.
Sexual abuse
There is a scene of blatant sexual abuse, and one in which it is a bit vague whether it is abuse- regardless, sexual abuse is present in this novel.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Maze Runner Trilogy James Dashner

Readers, meet The Maze Runner Trilogy, another book series you won't be able to put down. Be sure to allot a couple hours a day of couch time for this one. And be prepared to have some strange dreams if you are one who reads before bed.

The Maze Runner is a wonderful science-fiction, mystery, dystopic/post-apocalyptic roller coaster. Right up my alley (maze?). The first book, The Maze Runner, opens with the protagonist, Thomas, inside a box, with no memory of anything other than his name. The box rises like an elevator and a group of boys pulls him out and lifts him to The Glade, where the colony of boys has been living for the past two years After asking numerous questions and getting answers to few, Thomas discovers that the boys don't know much more about their predicament than he does and their memories are just as absent. The only thing these boys know is how to survive The Glade- and that they have to find a way out- a feat that would be easy considering it's all they have to do. But it's not that easy. Outside The Glade lays a maze with moving walls which harbor strange, part-blubber, part-mechanical and fully deadly creatures. As far as they can tell, there is no hope for escape.

If anyone has watched LOST, you know of feeling of being completely in the dark about what is going on, yet getting just enough details to keep you wanting to turn the pages to find out more. The Maze Runner does just that. When Dashner does shed light on all of the seemingly impossible things that are happening, he does so in such a wonderfully scientific way that it all seems just a bit plausible.

Though the protagonist is a 16 year-old boy, the books are actually much darker than some young adult books I've read. They get rather gruesome at times, and there are a lot of implications about how far a group of people should go in making individuals suffer for the good of society. Dashner is clearly trying to convey a message that we can't do whatever we want to people even if it will help us in the long run. It seems that he is saying that in some cases, the ends don't necessarily justify the means.

One of the things I really love about this series is that it is SO opposite of The Lord of the Flies (not that I didn't love that). Dashner must have a lot of faith in teenagers, and I'm glad he does. When these kids are left to their own devices, instead of becoming corrupt and killing each other, they create a full-functioning society with order and justice and diplomacy and a system for doing things. They're smart. They think things through and problem solve. They're kids you could be proud of.

I would recommend- no- HAVE recommended- this series to high school students (and they've loved it!). There is enough action to keep them interested, and I would hope that they could see the layers of this series and consider the message it may be giving. It has something for girls and boys. Action, love, friendship, loyalty, fighting, technology, you name it.

The rating I'm giving this series reflects my feelings on it as a whole. It was riveting. I couldn't put it down. But now that I've stepped back, there are some things that bothered me about the third book and the way it ended- but I won't get too much into that. Overall, I think these books are great for young adults- especially anyone who has read The Hunger Games. Instead of a Katniss, we have a Thomas, and the message is quite different- but it's just as dark and enthralling.

5 Stars

Teacher Advisories
Violence 3/5
There is a lot of it, and the killing seems so unnecessary, especially since kids are the ones being killed. The kids themselves, though, are the ones who are admirable and NOT doing the killing. The adults are the ones to blame for everything here.
Sex 0/5
Flirting, relationships, love: yes. Sex: no. It may be implied at the very end, but not enough that it would affect the rating.
Language 0/5
One of the things I loved about this book was the inventiveness of the kids. They have invented their whole language of slang and curse words, but they are words that don't mean anything to us. i.e "What the klunk," and "You shanker"
Substance Abuse 0/5
There is ONE scene where people drink quite a bit. And there is a drug that doesn't exist to us now that people are abusing. Not enough for me to give it a 1.

Touchy Subjects

A big question with these books is whether people should sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Even while reading the book, it's difficult to decide what is right and what the main characters should do.
Mercy Killing
This issue comes up once and it's not a major part of the book, but still a touchy subject for many
These kids all have lost their families for one reason or another.

How I would use it in the classroom:
1. Independent Read Option