Friday, February 15, 2013

Pale by Chris Wooding

In Jed's world people don't necessarily have to die.  Those who can tolerate it can take the Lazarus Serum which brings them back from the dead.  But the "pales", as they are called, don't breathe and have almost white skin and eyes.  They are denied rights, live in The Graveyard and get beat up by bullies.  Jed is one of those bullies until he is given the serum by his girlfriend after a car accident.  When he wakes up as a pale he finds that his family and old friends don't want anything to do with him anymore, not even the girlfriend who saved him.  Forced to seek refuge with the other pales Jed learns about them and realizes how mean he was before.  He devises a plan to get back at some of his old friends but something happens that changes everything for him.  This book was written with the intention of appealing to struggling teen readers.  As such, it is extremely short so since I am not a struggling reader I found myself a little frustrated.  Not by the content of the book, simply because I wanted to know MORE about this world.  I find the premise unique and interesting and the events of the book pulled me in.  I wished that Wooding hadn't "wasted" such a great idea on a such a short book.  Then I realized how amazing this book will be to exactly the audience for which it is intended.  It is extremely difficult to find science fiction or fantasy that is not quite long and with the huge popularity of these genres that leaves our struggling readers out of luck.  In my experience, the books that are labeled as hi/lo are not popular at all with my students because they still want a good story.  Pale offers a good premise with an engaging plot that is still accessible.  But can't Wooding write a companion piece to this one that fleshes out the world just for me?  :-)

Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters

The ghosts don't bother Veronica, not even her father's ghost who arrives every morning to read the paper.  Ever since the Event there are ghosts everywhere endlessly repeating the same moments of their lives.  The ghosts don't talk to or interact with the living and no one knows for sure why they reenact the moments they do.  On her way to school each day Veronica sees the ghost of Mary Green climbing the stairs to history teacher Mr. Bittner's apartment.  Mary was murdered four years before on leap day and although creepy Mr. Bittner was a suspect, nothing was ever found to tie him to the crime.  With leap day - also Veronica's birthday - approaching again, Veronica finds Mr. Bittner paying more attention to her.  With her new boyfriend Kirk, Veronica becomes involved in investigating the ghosts and why there seems to be more of them appearing all the time while simultaneously figuring out what happened to Mary and what is actually going on with Mr. Bittner.  This is definitely a creepy book!  For those old enough to understand the reference it strongly reminds me of "Psycho", especially Mr. Bittner.  I was disappointed that the Event was never explained as I had the impression that would help me to understand more about the ghosts and the timeline of their appearance.  A slowly (but not slow-paced) evolving story that builds in intensity throughout with lots of suspense and horror.

I Swear by Lane Davis

Feeling hopeless, Leslie decides to take her own life.  After her death in the first chapter her tormentors attempt to work together to keep secret the details of what drove Leslie to commit suicide.  Macie, the head of the mean girls, immediately becomes the public face of the tragedy, spinning the events as she wants everyone to see.  The other girls in Macie's group of friends have their own reasons for having followed her all these years but are beginning to question their actions.  What is very clear to the reader is that Leslie - dealing with rumors of plastic surgery and promiscuity as well as constant Facebook messages suggesting she kill herself - felt she had no other choice left.  Told in alternating chapters the story of Leslie's persecution and persecutors unfolds. I wasn't bowled over by this book as reading it which is not to say that teens won't like it.  I think the mean girls and the bullying will make it popular.  But one theme has stuck with me, a theme that I hope would make some bullies stop and think a bit.  As their stories are revealed it is clear that the girls in the book had their own reasons for picking on Leslie and felt justified in doing so.  But as they begin to break down and really examine what they did, they see how some very small choice would've made a huge difference to Leslie and they realize how meaningless their reasons were.