Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paintings From the Cave by Gary Paulsen

Although I have read many books by him over the year, Gary Paulsen reveals something in the foreward to this book that I didn't know - he was one of the kids who slipped through the cracks and had a rough childhood. He felt a desire to write this book so that other kids who are living hard lives have something to which they can relate. The three stories in this book all present kids who are getting by. Jake is living on his own in the inner city trying to stay away from Blade, the drug dealer who runs his block. In the second story, Jo lives with two adults she only refers to as "Her" and "Him". Jo stays away from her drunk, abusive parents as much as possible. When she adopts three dogs Jo begins to feel that she has a family for the first time in her life. The final story centers on Jamie who is homeless and living with his older brother Erick after they left their horrible home. These are moving stories that are grim, but not unbearably so. Two contain some hope for the characters involved. I think this will be a popular title for many students, but especially for those whom Paulsen intended.

Unforgettable by Loretta Ellsworth

Baxter and his mother have just moved to Minnesota to get away from Dink, his mother's ex-boyfriend who has just been released from prison. Baxter knows that Dink might be trying to find him because Baxter's the reason Dink went to prison in the first place. Baxter never forgets anything he has ever seen or experienced. When he was younger, Dink used Baxter to memorize credit card numbers so that Dink and his friends could steal money from the owners. Not only did Baxter testify against Dink, but he also took the $67,000 that Dink had hidden in their house. Baxter has another reason for wanting to go to Minnesota specifically. One of the things he remembers Halle, a girl he knew in kindergarten who moved away. Baxter is sure that Halle is the love of his life and he wants to meet up with her again now that they are older but he's determined to keep his identity as "memory boy" a secret. This is a very engaging read about a real medical condition. I really enjoyed the story which also has a subplot of environmental issues.

Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Jake's father is the British ambassador to Burkina Faso. After Jake gets into trouble at school for participating in parkour-type activities, he is suspended and sent to Africa. During a fancy dinner, Jake and his sister Kas are kidnapped. Thanks to Jake's cell phone they are able to communicate for a short time with their parents and they learn that their kidnapper is the famous outlaw Yakuuba Sor. As their captivity drags on the kids learn that not everything or everyone is as it seems. People they thought were on their side might be the biggest villains of all. And what about Sor? Is he the evildoer they have been led to believe? The action and adventure in this book reminded me a lot of the Alex Rider series. While Jake has some special abilities he still rings true as a real teen who learns about his limits and has to challenge his belief system. A great choice for anyone who likes action and adventure.

Trapped by Marc Aronson

This is the true story of how 33 miners were rescued in Chile after a mine collapse. The book alternates between descriptions of life for the trapped miners, how their loved ones above ground were coping, and short essays of background information to help the reader understand about mining. Like many nonfiction books, I learned many interesting tidbits of information. For instance, did you know that Americans use ten pounds of copper a year? But only four pounds per person is recycled so there is still a huge need for copper mining. I appreciated the background information but I wish that the descriptions of life for the miners was as complete. And after the escape tunnel was carved out of the rock and the escape pod was completed, there was relatively no description of the trip through the rock to the surface. Since I knew that they all (amazingly!) survived, I guess I just really wanted to hear more about the adversities they faced along the way.

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Nikki has just returned from 100 years in the Everneath although only six months have passed in the mortal realm. Nikki went to the Everneath willingly after she witnessed another girl coming out of her boyfriend's dorm room. Desperate to relieve the pain she was feeling, she agreed to let everliving Cole feed off her emotions for 100 years. Most people who enter the feed are destroyed by the process but Nikki has somehow managed to keep her sanity and her youth which makes Cole think she just might be the person he needs to help him take over the underworld. Rather than rule the Everneath with Cole, Nikki chooses to spend just six precious months back on Earth in order to repair her relationship with her father and try to reconnect with Jack, the boy she loves. This book is based on the myth of Persephone. It felt just a little long to me until Nikki's time was almost up, then it moved very fast. I don't think that will be a concern for others, however, because of the love triangle and the anxiety about whether Nikki will be able to avoid the Tunnels.

The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius by M.D. Usher

This is a teen-friendly telling of an ancient tale. A curious man, hoping to make his fortune by slightly dishonorable means, is accidentally turned in to a donkey. His adventures as an ass include working with a band of robbers, learning to eat hay, and helping collect donations with monks. He is stolen and sold. He works for masters both kind and nasty. But throughout it all he reports on his adventures with humor and clever placement of the word "ass" which will delight those students who read it. Although I enjoyed it (being a huge fan of folk literature), I don't think it's going to be wildly popular with my students. The cover makes it appear a little young for them. Still, teens do love a chance to use words like "ass" and "dam" in seemingly innocent ways.

Tempest by Julie Cross

Jackson has recently discovered that he can travel in time. He is conducting tests with his friend Adam to see what is possible for him. So far, they have discovered that nothing he does in the past seems to affect the present and his body in the present sort of zones out while he is in the past. Things change, however, when time travelers from the future appear and attack Jackson, killing his girlfriend in the process. Jackson jumps away and finds that he is now permanently stuck two years in the past for some reason. He is now determined to protect his girlfriend at all costs but he has to find out more about his abilities and the people who are tracking him. People that might even include his father. This is an interesting book but I found myself really confused about what was happening when as well as the extent of Jackson's abilities. I'm also not sure if Jackson's decision at the end will actually solve the problem he faces but, of course, I can't go into that too much here....