Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Final Three SEBA Nominees

This will most likely be my last post for 2012, so it's appropriate to finish discussing this year's Soaring Eagle Book Award nominees.  Once 2013 begins, a lot of attention in the world of Young Adult literature will focus on nominees and winners of other national awards, and this blog will likewise focus on those books.

The last three of this year's 14 SEBA nominees are more difficult to group together; although all three are realistic fiction, they differ widely in writing style, plot motivation, and reader appeal.  The best thing to do is just to talk about them! So, here goes. . . . 

Theodore Boone, Abduction by John Grisham.  This book is the second in Grisham's first young adult series. Grisham, a highly popular author of adult crime novels, has developed a teenage character, Theodore Boone, whose parents are both involved in the law. Theodore himself plans to be a lawyer when he grows up. However, in the first book of the series, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, he finds himself in court much sooner than anticipated: Theodore has witnessed a murder and helps to solve it with his keen observation skills. In Theodore Boone: Abduction, Theo's best friend, April, has disappeared. There are sinister happenings in town, and Theo has a bad feeling about April's disappearance.  Will he be able to use his detective skills to find his friend before it's too late?  

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones. When the "popular" girl and the "outcast" boy connect and start dating, classmates and parents do not understand. Robin has always considered himself a loser; he can't believe that Sophie, the prettiest girl in school, is actually interested in him.. . and neither can Sophie's clique-y friends. Sophie sticks by Robin through all the hurt; but if she knew the total truth about him, about the secrets he hides from her, would she make the same choice?  This book is also a sequel to "What My Mother Doesn't Know;" both are written in verse rather than prose.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac are three friends bound together by a common enemy -- cancer.  All three have, so far, survived some form of cancer, although at the cost of body parts, freedoms, and any chance of "normal" teenaged lives. This is not a feel-good cancer story; Green writes a gut-wrenching, painfully realistic tale about three teenagers who fight against being defined by their disease.  Isaac loses his girlfriend just before surgery to have his second eye removed, and rages against the unfairness.  Hazel has been in remission since a miracle drug shrunk her thyroid tumor two years ago, but now relies on an oxygen tank and cannula for every breath.  And Gus, the most vibrant and alive of all three, just wants to focus on making Hazel's dream come true.  A beautiful story about friendship, love and life.  

 We had only fourteen nominations for the Soaring Eagle book award this year, rather than fifteen.  If you need to view the full list, you can find it at this URL:   Encourage your teen (or you!) to read at least three so that they can vote for their favorite in March. Happy Holidays, and happy reading!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Boys' Adventures -- Post-Apocalyptic Style

When I began teaching literature classes in the early 1990's, the adventure novels that my junior high boys loved to read focused on the skills they saw their fathers, uncles and brothers using:  western and wilderness survival skills, like hunting and trapping, roping and riding. In fact, I still remember one boy, Brad,  who had just discovered Gary Paulsen; that was only a few years after the original publication of Hatchet, and it seemed that Brad could not read enough Gary Paulsen books!

While boys (and girls) are still reading these more traditional adventure novels, particularly here in our rural state, the adventure novel of today is more likely to have a futuristic setting, and often a post-apocalyptic tone.  That statement is certainly true for these three 2012-2013 Soaring Eagle award nominees:

 Scorch Trials by James Dashner:  This is the second book in Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy; the first book, Maze Runner,  was a nominee on last year's list, and was reviewed in this blog on September 22, 2011. Scorch Trials begins where the last novel ended: Thomas and his friends have escaped the maze and are hoping to return to a normal life, one without constant fear. Instead, they find themselves still under the control of others.  There is another trial in store for them: Sun flares have destroyed most of the earth, and a virus has infected the remaining population. Infected people turn into zombies, called Cranks, that attack and eat one another. Thomas and his friends are told that they, too, have the virus, but that they will be cured if they succeed in surviving their second trial. The second trial? With very few supplies, they must travel across 100 miles of scorched earth to reach a safe house and receive the cure; they will only have two weeks to reach their destination. As expected, the second trial tests the boys' courage and loyalty to one another just as much as the first trial did.  Dashner concludes his trilogy with The Death Cure; he has also written a prequel to the series, The Kill Order. 

Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans: This is the story of 14-year-old Michael Vey, who is accustomed to being labeled as "different." Michael suffers from Tourette's syndrome, one reason other kids see him as different. However, he is different in another way as well. Michael has massive amounts of electricity coursing through his body, so much that he can knock bullies right off their feet, and even jump-start his mother's car!
Unfortunately, Michael causes an "incident" that forces his family to move to a small town in Idaho. There, Michael works hard at just being normal.  However, he discovers that he is not the only student with unusual abilities in his new school; a girl, Taylor, has the power to read people's minds. Michael and Taylor become friends, and decide to try to discover why they have these special powers. As they come closer to the truth, they also come to the attention of some people who have been looking for kids like them -- and not with good intentions.  The sequel to this story, Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen, is already out.

Gone by Michael Grant: The first book in Grant's highly-popular five-book series, Gone takes place in a normal small town, with normal people living in it.  The only unusual thing about this town is the nuclear reactor that once had a meltdown. Normal life has resumed by now, and most people try to forget the accident. Until one day -- in a moment, all the people over age 14 disappear. There is no trace of them; they are gone . . . just gone.  Sam, one of the 14-year-olds remaining, always knew he had special powers, one which could be dangerous if he got upset. He also has the ability to know what to do in emergency situations, making him a natural, if reluctant, leader. Now, Sam and some of his friends have to figure out how to provide the basics for all the children left in their town. Suddenly, in this frightening new world, responsibility for food, shelter, and basic needs falls heavily on Sam's shoulders.  Added to his burden is the fact that others besides him have strange powers, and not all of them are working for good. Even worse are the mutated animals who threaten this new society every day.  So far, Grant has published five titles in this series; the sixth and last book, Light,   will be released in April of 2013.

These three adventure books still combine the survival skills and character traits that have always made adventures a good choice for reluctant, and other, readers. Hopefully there is one on this list to interest you. We will finish up with the final three 2012-2013 Soaring Eagle nominations in the next blog post.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Back to Soaring Eagles

It's December! This month is a great time to find a new novel to read, or to find a book that will make a nice gift for someone you care about.  Considering that, let's get back to reviewing some of this year's list of Soaring Eagle book award nominees:

If that person for whom you are selecting a gift happens to be a girl, one of the following three nominees might be appropriate.  All feature female characters in oppressive situations; all the heroines manage to find ways to assert their independence and free will despite the dangers.  If you've been reading my blog, you'll also notice that all three of these novels are dystopias. (See the November 14 entry for more on this genre.)

Matched by Ally Condie: In Cassia's world, society makes all the decisions: who your spouse will be; where and how you will live; what work you will do; and even when you will die. All persons are equal, except when society decides otherwise. All listen to the same 100 songs; recite the same 100 poems; and read the same 100 books. 

When Cassia turns 17, she attends her "match" banquet, to discover who her future spouse will be.  When his picture appears on the large overhead screen, she is surprised and pleased to discover that it is Xander, the boy down the street whom she's known all her life. It is a rare thing to already know your match, let alone to be best friends with that person. Since Cassia knows Xander so well, she almost does not look at the microchip of his personal information that is given to all match candidates at their banquet. When she finally decides to load the microship on her home port and take a look, she is shocked to see another boy's picture and information -- Ky, also a boy she knows. The authorities tell her that there was a mistake in her microchip: after all, Ky is an Aberration, a lesser member of society who will not be allowed to marry. Cassia, however, becomes less sure of her match with Xander, and faces difficult decisions in the following months:  Who will she love? Who will she hurt? And will society even allow her to choose?

Matched is the first in a trilogy by Condie: the sequels, already released, are Crossed and Reached.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano: In this future world, the pursuit of a perfect human race has resulted in one generation of people who live to be over 100. However, their genetic modification has now caused a virus that shortens life spans for all future generations.  Young men only live to be 25, and young women die at age 20.  The fear of the eventual demise of the human race causes people to behave in horrific ways.  Geneticists experiment on human beings in order to find a cure; orphans roam the street as their parents die of the virus; and polygamy abounds. Young women are kidnapped and sold as "wives" to rich men in order to propagate their family line.

Rhine has been living with her brother since their parents died, and despite their desperate conditions and struggle to survive, the two of them are happy to have each other. That is, until Rhine is kidnapped. She is transported to a mansion far away from the squalid apartment she shares with her brother, and is married to a stranger named Luther. Trapped in the mansion, Rhine is desperate for a means to escape from Luther, his sinister father, and her two "sister wives" who she cannot trust. She wants to flee -- but will have to find a way past her captors. 

The sequel to Wither  is Fever, which is already out. DeStefano will finish her Chemical Garden trilogy in February with the last installment, Sever.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: In this world, set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has divided itself into five factions: Amity, Candor, Erudite, Dauntless, and Abnegation. Each faction values a different human quality above others. As teenagers come of age, they are subjected to aptitude tests to determine where they best fit. Their results are secret, however, so that on Choosing Day they can select to remain with the faction in which they've been raised, or they can choose a new faction based on their test. If they do leave their faction of origin, they generally do not see their families again; one of this society's most basic rules is "faction before family." For Beatrice, who has been rasied in Abnegation, the prospect of leaving her family for a faction that would perhaps be a better fit for her induces extreme guilt . . .and extreme excitement. Can she leave her family forever? Is she willing to take the risk and pay the price? And which faction will best allow Beatrice to hide her secret?

The second book in the Divergent trilogy is Insurgent, already released.  An as-yet untitled third book, the end of the trilogy, is expected in September of 2013.

Three trilogies, three strong characters.  Visit the library for some great reading choices for December!