Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Time's Running Out! Week 5 of Soaring Eagle nominees

Oops!  It's March already, and the voting period for this year's Soaring Eagle Book Award is open.  I still have three great books to talk about . . . and teens who read three of this year's nominees still have until March 15 to vote for their favorite.

This week's set of nominees have little in common, other than the fact that they're the most unusual books on this  year's list, in my opinion.  Although we've had nonfiction nominees on this list before -- last year's I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai  is a great example -- we've never seen a graphic novel on the list.  This year, we have a nonfiction book, a graphic novel, and an unusual horror book that blends history with fiction. Here are the last three nominees for this year:

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
(the Young Adult adaptation)
by Laura Hillenbrand

This nonfiction title is an adaptation of the adult book by the same name; you might know that the adult book has been produced as a movie, as well.  This is the fascinating, and hard  to forget, story of Louis Zamperini, whose life story serves as an inspiration.

Louis Zamperini started running as a teenager to help control his anger, and keep him from the life of trouble he was living.  The running took him to the Berlin Olympics where he ran in front of Hitler. He had hopes of competing in another Olympic games . . . until World War II changed his plans forever.  When the war broke out and the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, Louis enlisted in the Air Force as a young lieutenant. He flew with a bombing crew who became like family to him; Louis' role was the bombadier, and he was involved in several successful raids.  However, one day, while on a rescue mission to search for a missing plane, Louis and his crew went down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Louis and two other men survive, and then are forced to live on a crowded lifeboat.  They endured sharks, starvation, thirst, sun, cold, even the death of one soldier, for 47 days -- the longest recorded castaway experience on account.

When Louis and his crewman are finally rescued, the ordeal didn’t end.  His rescuers are the feared Japanese, whose actions in the Pacific theater threaten all American soldiers. Louis was taken prisoner, and endured inhuman conditions in three separate prisoner of war camps.  To read about Louis' horrible experiences -- and, particularly, how he overcame them in the end -- is both an inspirational and an educational experience.  This is a book not to miss.

by Raina Telgemeier

Callie's life is filled with middle school drama of all sorts.  She thinks she really likes Greg, but Greg is pining over Bonnie, who seems to want nothing to do with him.  When Greg and Callie kiss, she thinks life can’t get better; when he ignores her the next day, she thinks life can’t get worse.  Drama!
Thankfully, she has her best friend, Liz, and her love of theater to distract her from the rejection. This year, the school is producing Moon over Mississippi, a musical; Callie knows she won't try out for acting parts, but she is dying to try her hand at set production.  Callie has a close group of friends in the theater, and makes new friends when twin brothers become involved. 
Drama  is a graphic novel; we learn the story through picture and dialogue. Through the drama of romantic ups and downs, set failures,  a disastrous eighth grade formal, and even a bothersome little brother, Callie knows the "show must go on."  

by Madeleine Roux

Dan Crawford is ready for an eventful summer of learning at New Hampshire College Prep summer course, and he gets exactly that.  When Dan arrives, he learns that his dormitory used to be an asylum for the criminally insane.  Dan finds an old photograph with the eyes scratched out, and his curiosity compels him to investigate.  He and two of his friends begin to search the old office and uncover terrifying details of the patients, staff, and the procedures done there. 

Dan tries to forget about the pictures and the secret office, but it seems the dormitory won't let him.  He learns that he and this two new friends are entangled in the past of the hospital, Dan more than anyone. As the dormitory building goes from being just creepy to truly dangerous, Dan must confront his own part of the horror. In Asylum, Roux blends storytelling with authentic historic photographs to create a truly chilling horror story.

Asylum is the first book in this trilogy; the sequels, already released are Sanctum and Catacomb.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Week 4 of Soaring Eagle nominees -- adventure!

I'm nearing the end of my yearly review of the Wyoming Soaring Eagle book award nominees.  This week, I want to focus on three novels that, while not technically from the same genre, all feature high adventure, dangerous enemies, and lots of action. 

Stan Lee

Steven Lee is a lucky student; he gets go on a school trip to China. Normally, he feels like a misfit, but he wonders if this is his chance to fit in. Unfortunately, many people on the trip expect him to be able to read all the Chinese around them, since that is his heritage.  He begins to feel like the trip is a mistake.
That feeling gets worse when he realizes their guide at a museum really doesn’t seem to know much the museum. And why are so many exhibits empty? Then the guide slips away from the tour, and out of curiosity, Steven follows her into a creepy basement, and his life is changed forever.  He is a exposed to a beam of green light in the midst of a supernatural power transference. Suddenly, Steven acquires the power of the Tiger, one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.  Steven soon learns of the evil Maxwell's plot to use twelve teens like him to overtake the world.  Will Steven find the other eleven before Maxwell?

This title is an illustrated novel, combining Stan Lee's storytelling power with the Andrew Tong's illustrations, and making it a good choice for readers who prefer a more graphic format.  Lee plans to continue the series, The Zodiac Legacy, with a second title this year.  

A World Without Heroes
Brandon Mull

Jason was a junior high student who loved baseball and worked at a zoo for a part time job. One day, while he was cleaning the hippo cage, he fell into the pool, and is transported to another world. Jason soon learns that he is in Lyrian, a strange place populated by weird characters and ruled by an evil emperor -- a world without heroes.

At first, Jason just wants to go back to his world, the Beyond. Then he accidentally finds a forbidden book, one that reveals the first syllable of a word that will defeat the emperor and restore freedom Lyrian. Now, his life is in real danger as the emperor knows Jason saw the book and is aware of the word that will destroy him.  As he runs for his life, Jason meets Rachel, another teenager from his world, and the two set out to find their way back home. The two make many friends along the way, and must battle giant crabs, volcanic lakes and man-eating frogs. Maldor, the emperor, is a dangerous enemy who always seems to know the next move Rachel and Jason will make.

Finally, when it looks like the two are making real progress and might actually defeat Maldor, Jason is thrown his biggest challenge yet, an opportunity to have everything he’s ever wanted. Will Jason be able to say no?
This is the first title in Mull's Beyonder trilogy; the sequels are Seeds of Rebellion and Chasing the Prophecy.

The Boundless
Kenneth Oppel

Will is a young boy waiting for his father to return from a railroad workcamp in the Canadian wilderness; suddenly, both are swept into life of luxury when Will’s father becomes the head of the railroad company overseeing the construction of a train in the likeness of The Titanic. This amazing train, called The Boundless, features a steam engine several kilometers long.  Will and his father set out on The Boundless' maiden voyage. However, when Will witnesses a vicious crime, he must run for his life.  
To escape, Will chooses to join the circus, enlisting the help of a master magician, a young female escape artist, and, of course, the animals.  Not only is Will fighting for his life, but also is being used by those around him for their own hidden agendas.  Will’s journey is full of twist and turns, clowns and stilt walkers, and even avalanches and sasquatches.  Can Will overcome each of these obstacles and pass as a talented circus performer in order to save his life and -- even more importantly -- the lives of all those aboard The Boundless?
Oppel has proven his talent for writing adventure in earlier series, particularly the Silverwing trilogy.  His combination of historical events, mystery, danger, and elements of fantasy make this a hard-to-put-down, engaging story. 
 Remember, any teen reader who finishes three of the fifteen nominees on this year's list is eligible to vote for their favorite.  Voting will happen at school and public libraries throughout Wyoming beginning in mid-February.  Our last group of nominees -- some non-traditional titles -- will be up in next week's post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Round 3 of Soaring Eagle Book nominees

I've been posting about the fifteen books that have been nominated for this year's Soaring Eagle book award: a Wyoming state award for quality young adult literature. Teens who read at least three of the fifteen book can vote for their favorite during the voting period, February 15 to March 15.  So far, I've posted about three dystopian novels and four fantasy novels.  This week, I'll write about the two realistic fiction novels on this year's list.  Because these novels relate real-life events, their content may not be suitable for every reader.

The Bridge from Me to You
Lisa Schroeder

Lauren has just moved to a small town to live with her aunt and uncle.  Lauren is heartbroken, struggling with loss and trying to find where she fits into her new surroundings and family.  Colby is the star receiver of the high school football team, dealing with the pressure of family, winning the game, and choosing college.   When Lauren and Colby meet coincidentally, the two have an instant connection.  They begin to get to know each other, finding relief and acceptance in the other’s company.  However, tragedy strikes, sending one of them into a downward spiral and thus, forcing them apart.    In alternating chapters of verse and prose, we get each character’s point of view as they experience the joys and pitfalls of high school, life, and young love.  Will Lauren and Colby be able to find a way back to each other?

While the content of this novel is relatively light - at least compared to other realistic fiction in YA -- the characters' ages may cause younger readers to have a hard time relating to them.

I Was Here
Gayle Forman

One day Cody receives an email from her best friend, Meg.  Although the two friends had planned on going to college together, they are forced to part ways when Cody decides to stay in their hometown, due to the financial burden of the private school and the overwhelming change of it all.  Cody assumes the email is joke, but because of the contents decides to contact Meg’s parents.  When the disturbing events chronicled in the email prove to be fact, Cody’s life and world view are irrevocably changed. Cody finds out that Meg has committed suicide; Cody is blindsided.  She vows to find out why, uncovering secrets and truths she never noticed or wanted to know about her friend and the society we live in.  Once Meg’s story begins to unravel, Cody must confront the truth about herself, her paralyzing guilt, and the truth about Meg.  Can Cody find the courage to answer the tough questions or will she lose not only Meg, but herself in the process?

Be aware that this is a novel about suicide; parents may want to read it along with their children, and discuss the issues the novel brings up.

Only two books this week, as these are the only ones that qualify as traditional realistic fiction on this year's list.  Next week -- adventure stories!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Soaring Eagle book award nominees -- part 2

Last week, I began my annual review of the titles that make up the current year's list of Wyoming Soaring Eagle book award nominees; the three titles in last week's post shared a common genre -- post-apocalyptic dystopias. As I stated, the popularity of dystopia among young adult literature fans is not a new trend.

The popularity of the fantasy genre among teen readers is not a new trend, either: indeed, over the history of young adult literature, those novels that have enjoyed both the highest sales and the longest staying power have largely been fantasy novels. However, the genre experienced a definite decline in popularity after the Harry Potter age.  That decline seems to have ended, and readers are showing a renewed interest in tales of magic and alternate worlds. This week's selection of SEBA nominees include two traditional fantasy novels, one mermaid fantasy, and one genre-blending sci-fi/dystopian fantasy.

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien, the Assassin of Erilea, has been a slave in the mine of Endovier for a year and a half, enduring brutal conditions and nearly impossible physical labor. She believes she will die in the mines. . . until the day when she is summoned to meet the crown prince of Adarlan. He offers Celaena her freedom: the catch is that she has to prove her worth by defeating several other Champions from all over the kingdom.  If she wins the competition, she will have work for four years as the personal assassin of the kind of Ardalan -- the very man who killed her people and imprisoned her.
Still, Celeana knows his offer is her only chance, so she allows him to take her to the castle to begin preparing for the competition.  Celeana realizes that she must work harder than the other Champions if she’s going to be able to make up for the time she spent starving at the mines. Furthermore, Celeana is not at the castle long before strange dreams of ancient fairies asking for her help begin to haunt her.
Soon, Champions are being violently murdered and strange symbols begin to appear around the castle.  Somehow, Celeana knows the symbols, her new friend from another country, and even the king, are all connected. Celeana must solve the mystery of the murders and learn who she can trust before she, too, is killed.  This is the first title is Maas' Throne of Glass series; the sequels are Crown of Midnight; Heir of Fire; and Queen of Shadows. Maas has also published a short story collection, The Assassin's Blade, and has started a second fantasy series.

Shadow and Bone
Leigh Bardugo
If you had secret powers, would you reveal them?  What if revealing your power meant that you had to leave your best friend behind forever?
Alisha and Mal are orphans living in Ravka, a cold, dangerous country controlled by wizards, known as Grisha, who command the various elements of earth. By law, each orphan is tested to see if they, like the Grisha, possess the Small Science. When it is their turn to be tested, Alisha, in order to stay with Mal, hides her secret powers.  Years later, when she and Mal are both serving in the King’s First Army, she uses her latent powers to save Mal from flesh-eating volcra -- huge, vulture-like birds that live in the skies above the Dark Fold.
When Alisha’s power is revealed, she is whisked away to the palace by the Darkling Prince. At the palace, Alisha begins an entirely new life, filled with trainings in the Grisha magic, court appearances, friendship, and intrigue. Alisha soon finds out that she doesn’t know who to trust. They say that Alisha is the Sun Summoner, able to destroy the creatures of the Dark Fold and bring light to her country.  If she really has such powers, shouldn’t she be able to recognize the darkness in the people around her . . . and in herself? This title is the first in Bardugo's Grisha trilogy; the sequels are Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising.  Bardugo returns to the land of the Grisha in her newest novel, Six of Crows.

Of Poseidon
Anna Banks
Emma hates to swim, hates seafood, hates anything to do with the ocean. The tragedy that strikes when she and her best friend, Chloe, vacation in Florida only reinforces her hate. While Emma clings to a surfboard, Chloe is brutally attacked, and Emma cannot help.
Galen watches the attack, because he’s been watching Emma. He sees her helplessness, but he sees something else, too – something no one else will believe, including Emma.  Galen follows her back to her hometown, wanting to convince her of her special nature. But what Galen tells Emma borders on insanity – Emma, the girl who hates the sea and all things associated with it – how could she be a long-lost mermaid princess? How could she possess the gift of the god Poseidon?
It’s up to Galen to convince Emma of her gift, and to bring her back to his world, before the entire kingdom is lost.  Of Poseidon is the first of Banks' trilogy, The Syrena Legacy:  sequels are Of Neptune, and Of Triton.

Marissa Meyer
Cinder has no memory of the accident that caused more than half of her body to be replaced by robotic parts. She lives in futuristic China and spends her days working as a mechanic, making money to help support her cruel step family. Cinder works hard but the world she lives in doesn’t trust androids, and when they see the small, outgrown robotic foot she is forced to wear, they don’t trust her, either. One day, by chance, Cinder meets the future emperor of China and begins doing repair work for him. Through her association with the castle, she discovers that there may be more to her past than her hateful step-mother has revealed.  Meanwhile, a vicious epidemic has forced the future emperor to become betrothed to the queen of Luna, an empire of people who live on the moon and have the power to control people with their minds. Cinder realizes that the emperor is in grave danger from the queen and that she must fight to escape her evil step-family, and save the emporer -- and her country. 
This is the first in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series; each successive novel is play on a different fairy tale.  The sequels to Cinder are Scarlet, Cress and Winter.  

Soaring Eagle voting happens soon:  from February 15 to March 15.  Readers who read at least three titles are allowed to vote for their favorite; if you are a fan of fantasy, I hope one of these four novels will earn your vote!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Soaring Eagle book award -- 2016 nominees

Every year, students in Wyoming nominate books to contend for the Soaring Eagle book award -- a state award that recognizes excellence in Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, based on peer nominations and peer voting.  This year's list of nominees has been on the shelves -- or, rather, off the shelves -- since school began in late August.  Interested students have been reading and talking about these titles since then, in preparation for the final voting period, which will take place from February 15 to March 15  this year.  At that time, one of the list of nominated titles will be named this year's Soaring Eagle book award winner. 

For the final reading push before the voting period, I'll be reviewing the list of fifteen nominees a few at a time.  Besides being on the list of SEBA nominees, each of these titles offers a glimpse of what is new and popular among young adult readers.  

This week's first set of titles represents dytopia, a genre that, while not necessarily new, remains incredibly popular among young adult and adult readers.  In each of these novels, some sort of cataclysmic event has altered the world as we know it, creating a society of disorder, violence and destruction.  Interestingly, we are seeing a move in YA fiction from dystopias brought about by technology, to those brought on by natural disasters . . . as evidenced by the following three nominees. 

Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago calamity happened, an explosive event that transformed the people it touched into Epics, superhumans. Each Epic has a unique set of powers, and some are more intense than others.  The Epics begin to take over, controlling their own personal kingdoms, and turning the Averages into slaves. David lives in one such kingdom, known as Newcago, run by the most powerful Epic, Steelheart.  Steelheart can control the elements, turning anything, except the living, into steel; thus, he is believed to be invincible.  People say that nothing can pierce his skin . . . but David has seen him bleed once, long ago.  David wants to get revenge on Steelheart for his own personal tragedy; however, no one fights back except the Reckoners, a small group who target and kill only the Epics. In order to enact his vengeance, David must find a way to join them so that he can restore order to the world and bring justice to those he loves.
This is the first title in Sanderson's Reckoners series; the sequels are Firefight; and Calamity (to be released in the spring of 2016).

Mike Mullin
Alex is more than due for a weekend home without his family. While they travel out of town, Alex has big plans to play all the video games he wants and to hang out with his friends. Suddenly, power is disrupted; a series of earthquake-like tremors destroys the streets in his town; and the sky turns an ominous gray color.  Alex ventures out of his home, only to learn that the Yellowstone volcano has exploded -- a caldera so large that its explosion destroys life in the entire Western half of the United Sates, and sends the rest of the world into days of complete darkness. Without any means of transportation or communication, Alex decides to venture east in search of his family. He endures hunger, nearly fatal weather conditions and horribly violent people. With Darla, a teen that he meets on his journey, to accompany him, Alex must endure a world where no one is safe and people will do anything to survive. What are Alex and Darla willing to do in order to live in this dangerous new world?
Although this is a work of fiction, the science is extremely well-researched, and based on predictions of what might happen should Yellowstone explode.  This is the first in Mullin's trilogy; the sequels are Ashen Winter and Sunrise.
Ship Breaker
Paolo Bacigalupi

Nailer lives on what used to the Gulf Coast.  In a time after global flooding drowns cities along the coast and destroys the offshore oil industry, Nailer works on grounded oil tankers, scavenging for copper wire.  His requires him to crawl through the innards of the ship in order to find every bit of wire available, which will hopefully bring survival for another day.  It is a hard life, where food and shelter are never guaranteed, and survival is determined by sheer luck.  Nailer’s only solace from this harsh world is his friend Pima and her mother.  Murder is an everyday occurrence, justifiable if it brings the murderer more food and money.  Nailer and Pima struggle to hold on to their dignity while living in such a brutal world.  Everything changes when they find the wreckage of an immaculate clipper ship full of luxuries and goods.  If they can keep the wreckage a secret, a new life and unimaginable security is in store for them.  But when Nailer finds a teenage girl still aboard the ship, he faced a hard choice.  Will Nailer use the girl to buy his own survival, or will he hold on to his humanity in the face of a world that tells him not to?
Besides being nominated for a Wyoming Soaring Eagle book award, Bacigalupi's debut YA novel has been named a finalist for both the American Library Association's Printz award, and the National Book Award.  His companion novel, Drowned Cities, explores Nailer's world from another point of view.
I hope you'll enjoy one of these three YA dystopias.  I'll look at some SEBA nominees that feature a different genre next week.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Remember me?

If you're a regular viewer or follower of this blog, I owe you a huge THANK YOU for still checking in!  I have been absent from this blog for quite a while -- since July, actually. 

However, I have not been absent from reading YA literature; I've been taking a class about Children's and Young Adult literature for my master's degree this fall, and have been reading some really great books, both classic and contemporary. Along with reading, I've been writing a different blog to review some of the titles.

Now that the class is over, I can share what I've been writing about all fall.  You can find my review blog from the class I've been taking here:  Feel free to scroll through, and even follow or comment if you'd like.  I've already done some cross-posting, using work I've written for this blog to complete some entries for the other one; I may continue to do that.

You'll notice that the Word Press blog is not limited to YA literature, but also includes YA nonfiction, and CH fiction.  I hope you enjoy all the books!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Unmask! Everyday Heroes

Every week, I receive a copy of the New York Times’ bestseller list for Young Adult literature; I review it mostly to be sure we have the listed books in our collection. As I was skimming the July 12, 2015 edition, I noticed several unusual items:

  1. Four of the top ten books are novels by John Green: Paper Towns (1); Looking for Alaska (3); The Fault in our Stars (6); and An Abundance of Katherines (8).  Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise me, as Green is an excellent author and the first two titles have been made into movies . . . but still, four out of ten?  I think Green might be living every author’s dream. Even more remarkable, for YA literature, is the fact that each of these is a stand-alone novel; none belong to a series.
  2. In fact, only one of the top ten books is part of a series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (5).  The sequel is Hollow City.
  3. Miss Peregrine’s Home, along with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (4), are the only two novels in the top-ten list that contain elements of the fantastic. Miss Peregrine’s Home is a thriller/ghost story, and The Book Thief is told from the perspective of Death himself. Still, both books contain plenty of reality, and realistic fiction populates the rest of this week’s list: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jessie Andrews (2); We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (7); Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (9) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (10), as well as all four of the Green novels already mentioned.  Although dystopia still fills the NYT best-selling series list, none of the most popular novels are dystopias.
  4. Finally, with the exception of the Andrews, Riggs, Lockhart, and Rowell novels, the top-ten bestseller list is relatively old.  The other six YA titles on the list have copyright dates ranging from 2005 to 2008. . . ancient, in terms of YA literature.


All of these are interesting facts, but what can we infer from them? That teens like to read books that are going to be made into movies? That many adults are reading teen realistic fiction, and driving up sales? That today’s teens have suddenly developed an interest in reading books that were published when they were still in kindergarten? That John Green now owns the New York Times?

Perhaps all these statements are true; who knows? What is certain is that dystopian fiction is less popular than it was a year ago, and realistic fiction more popular, and that teens (and probably adults) are gravitating toward novels with real-life problems and real-life heroes, no matter the publication date.

Therefore, in celebration of our Unmask! teen summer reading program, here are some more recent YA novels about realistic, everyday heroes:


Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: Younger sister Sydney has always been overshadowed by her big brother, Peyton.  When Peyton is imprisoned for a drunk-driving accident, their mother seems to forget about Sydney even more. Sydney shrinks into herself and her reality-TV programs, until a school transfer causes her to meet Layla. As Sydney and Layla become friends, Layla’s support helps Sydney take steps toward healing and a new beginning.

The Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver: In this story of two sisters, each dealing with their own turmoil following a terrible accident, Oliver weaves together mystery and family tension. Nick leaves her parents’ home to move in with her older sister, Dara, hoping to mend the divide between them. But when a little girl goes missing in their town, and Nick thinks Dara disappears in a similar incident, she discovers secrets about her sister that threaten to unravel their bond even more.

If You’re Reading This by Trent Reedy: Ever since Mike Wilson’s father was killed in Afghanistan when Mike was eight, he’s tried not to give his mother any problems, taking on extra responsibility and doing what she asks. All he wants is to play football, but she won’t allow it.  Mysteriously, Mike begins receiving letters from his dad – letters that were written long ago.  Inspired by the letters, Mike forges his mother’s signature and joins the team. In joining the team, Mike experiences both the love of the game and the guilt that comes from living a double life. Bullying, hazing, and a budding relationship with a Muslim girl complicate Mike’s decision even further. Can his father’s letters help him sort it all out?  

Biggie by Derek Sullivan: Henry Abbott is an obese 17-year-old who suffers from the dual pressure of being bullied about his weight and being pressured to succeed by his locally-famous father. Henry has little ambition, and even less self-esteem . . . until a fluke perfect game in gym class makes him believe that he may have the potential to, like his father, excel at baseball. His friends begin to help him on his quest to get healthy, but along the way discover that Henry’s weight isn’t the only thing keeping him down.  Language and some mature content make this a choice for older readers.


By all means, read some of the Young Adult bestsellers listed above; they are wonderful novels. But if all those are checked out of the library, delve into a newer, less well-known story of realistic, everyday heroes; you won’t be disappointed.