A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee

A Spy in the House (The Agency, #1)A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Quinn finds herself in a bit of a Nikita situation….as she reforms her life, she is given a proposal to give up her traditional woman’s destiny and become part of The Agency. The really interesting part happens though when Mary is forced to acknowledge her past and there are some surprises there for the reader. This book just tripped along and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the next one in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone in grade 7 and up…Mary does have to fend off unwanted male attention and there is some violence.

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Delusion Road by Don Aker

Delusion RoadDelusion Road by Don Aker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is nominated this year for an Ontario Library Association White Pine award and It is hopping off the shelves in my secondary school library. At first I found the book to feel very abrupt as the chapters interchange between the two essential plots and subplots of the novel. This contrived double-narrative improves towards the midway point as the plots begin to come together. The characters of Willa and Keegan are very believable and well-developed so that we really care about what’s happening as the plot thickens. Ayer even makes me feel sorry for Wynn at one point! This book, with its predictable structure, and it’s classic themes of good vs. Evil….vs. Evil will surely appeal to teens from grade 7 and up.

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Rush by Eve Silver

Rush (The Game, #1)Rush by Eve Silver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eve Silver‘s book Rush is a sure fire winner with the strong young adult readers in my secondary school library. It begins with the life of an otherwise ordinary girl who gets pulled through dimensions into a ‘game’ but it turns out that she actually has to really kill the enemy Drau that she is up against. Miki ‘levels up’ as she becomes less afraid to hunt the Drau. There are hints at deeper issues as Miki deals with her own shock to the intensity of her situation, and as she tries to make a connection with the elusive leader Jackson, who has put up emotional walls to deal with his responsibility to the game. Because of the twists and turns in world-building and planar leaps, I don’t recommend this to weaker readers, but for those into science fiction, I do. I really enjoyed the game culture and also how Miki and her friends have to maintain all ‘normal’ appearances when they’re not fighting for their lives.

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Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeff Lemire ‘s graphic novel reminds me of this version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. As Nika and William come together through time and space and then are separated again, Lemire presents this as happening on two separate planes of existence. He uses the mythology of Mayan temples and an alien race to hint that these two people need to meet. The message is not explicit, but Lemire hints that these disparate people are meant to be together. The layout of the novel, which switches voices and combines the two planes of existence in unusual but effective ways is another convention-breaking strategy of Lemire’s to build the story. Although Trillium is rated by Vertigo as “Suggested for Mature Readers” there is no content or visualization that is beyond the capability of the adolescent readers in my secondary school library. More so what will challenge them are the style of the layout, and the topics of time, space and spirituality. Personally, I can’t wait for them to read it so we can have those great conversations.

weirdest-burp-ever

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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper JungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew Smith ‘s book Grasshopper Jungle came highly recommended to me as a secondary school teacher-librarian as something that would connect with those elusive, hard-to-read teens. Scientifically it checks a number of those ‘should-I-buy-it’ boxes: involves issues of gender-identity, bullying, marginalized characters, and it’s all set in a dystopian crisis.

I am a lover of the bizarre, characters on the fringe, and science fiction but this book did not connect with me. For one, the language is more like poetry as the main character, Austin, speaks wildly and tangentially connecting present-day with military experiments, family history, and far beyond. The rhythm of the poetry is continually interrupted by the action scenes of escaping giant man-eating praying mantis, and vice versa. It’s a science-fiction novel that is continually interrupted by the sexual appetite of a 16 year old boy whose bisexual tendencies are causing major friendship fiction. There are really only 2 characters who develop: Austin and his boy/friend Robby who star in the action of having to save their families from certain doom. We are left wondering about Austin’s brother/parents who are in a Germany military hospital; and Austin’s girlfriend Shann who is sidelined by her own concern for her family and a surprise pregnancy. Smith’s description wants to be cinematic but never quite achieves this. The book is both bleak and hopeful and only a strong reader is going to ‘get it’ although many will enjoy the sex-filled, swearing-filled, action-packed nature of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart and I’ll need major convincing to pick up another of Smith’s books.

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Book trailer:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I wanted to get into this book about a Cyborg with way more problems than Cinderella (who the book loosely resembles), I had trouble with the world-building and the flow of unfolding the politics of this fantastic setting. I had trouble understanding why she wanted the respect of her really mean stepmother. The unintentional relationship that forms between Cinder and Prince Kai seems too natural given the differences in their statuses. There’s barely enough time to realize that Cinder’s true identity will give her an edge in her battle of wills against the threatening Lunars, before she’s asked to make big life decisions. As the reader, I felt more confused by the local politics. Maybe Meyer has too many subplots or maybe she was asked to cut out 100 vital pages, but I felt leaving dissatisfied. I’m not sure that I will pick up the next one.

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The Bear by Claire Cameron

The BearThe Bear by Claire Cameron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The UGDSB has just chosen this book as our board-wide novel for secondary students and author Ms. Cameron will be visiting schools in May 2015. After reading this terrifying novel, I am nervous about the problematic areas in Cameron’s choices. As a parent, I can only describe the first 2/3 of the books as horrific, as main character Anna, 5 years old, attempts to care for her 2 year old brother in the wilderness of Algonquin Park after a trauma happens to Anna’s parents and the two children are left on their own. Nothing could be scarier except…trying to find food, and exposure to the elements, and the confusion of being suddenly alone. Every minute of Anna’s narration is heartbreaking. As a secondary school librarian, I hope the teens who pick up The Bear won’t be turned off by the narrative voice, and won’t be scared to ever go camping again. There are many issues to explore about wilderness, survival, bears and PTSD so I’m hoping the book will open avenues to inquiry. There is nothing explicitly horrific that I fear censorship on, only that the power of the imagination leads the reader to a dangerous place of what could be around the next corner for Anna with every turn of the page. Having said that I devoured it in 48 hours of my busy life, so I’m hoping teens will have the same reaction.

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Launching a book club with a riddle

My White Pine book club is growing stale. The same few students join every year (which is awesome) but I’m not reaching as far as I’d like to in my secondary school of 1200 students. So I’m trying an additional book club this year in a different format. The book I’ve chosen is “This Dark Endeavour” by Kenneth Oppel and if you haven’t read it you should!

So each week we’ll run a seminar on an interesting topic within the book in hopes of engaging new students!  I hope it will also promote inquiry-based thinking and lead to new possibilities.

This week’s seminar will be lead by Adam Wallace, and he’s going to talk all about Switzerland and cover many of the places the characters visit in the book.  Here’s our promo:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely fabulous. You’ve got to really like dragons (and luckily I do) but Rachel Hartman will have a fan in me forever after this. I hope she’s busy writing a sequel as after I was done I immediately looked for the next one. This is high fantasy, with lots of rich world-building and complicated new concepts and vocabulary for things. Hartman is not only delving into the fantastic with relish, but she is also making a social commentary about the ridiculousness of asking creatures to be what they are not in order to conform with societal norms. The taboos that the dragons break as they attempt to conform to the world of the humans are laughable. I’m also really glad that the ‘freaks’ (no spoilers) also get some superpowers as they develop their fringe community. I would highly recommend this book to any reader, young adult to adult, who enjoys fantasy.

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Drama by Raina Telgemeier

DramaDrama by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so thrilled that there is a female protagonist who loves theatre and isn’t dying to be onstage. Callie is a great role model for pre-teens and teens alike as she is the master of her own learning of stagecraft in order to help put on the school production of Moon over Mississippi. She encounters some very mature problems of how to work through her own limitations. She is also introduced to a couple of brothers who are new at the school and they teach her about making new friends. Telgemeier is able to call attention to the young character’s budding sexuality, openly recognizing that one of these characters are gay, without making it dominate the rest of Callie’s own story. The struggle she experiences is emphasized through the organziation of the novel into Acts, mimicking the structure of a play. I would recommend this book for students as young as grade 5 as long as they understand that it essentially explores ideas of romance. As a teacher, I think it could lead to some very real discussions with students who are confronted with the ideas of homosexuality for the first time in a school situation. I applaud Telgemeier’s bravery for writing this book. It’s not just a brave book…it’s a funny, endearing book about the awkwardness of first love.

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Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1 by Svetlana Chmakova

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that this is the first Manga I’ve ever read, although I’m an emerging fan of the graphic novel format. The artwork varies with the characters’ emotions from mysterious and flirtatious, to outraged and scary. The colour panels at the outset of Chapter 2 when our main character, the young Weirn and her pet Astral, are introduced are rich and ethereal in their hues of blue. The other section that stands out is the fight sequence when The Hunters take on The Rippers is about 6 pages long and almost completely non-verbal but filled with motion and tension. The thing I appreciate most about Nightschool is the enthusiasm with which Chmakova writes it. She is absolutely enthralled with the diversity of her Nightschool characters and each one of them clearly has an intrinsic purpose to the overarching storyline. This first volume mainly serves as a teaser, beginning every introduction of new plot and character in media res, the reader must take for granted that clues to the nuances of this other world will develop. It requires a leap of faith from the reader that I’m not sure every reader, certainly not struggling readers, would make. Having said that, I can see why these books would be wildly appealing to the right audience, pre-teen to young adult, and I’m proud to call Chmakova Canadian.

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Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis, Volume 1 (Persepolis, #1)

I really enjoyed the tone of Satrapi’s writing….a combination of harsh truth and the quirky humour of a young teenager.  Whether Satrapi has written this memoir as a young woman or older, she remembers accurately what it was like to appear fundamentalist in her public life but to be a rebellious teenager in her personal life.  I found it to be educational to read this book because the voice was so accessible. I’m sure that the students in my secondary school library would feel the same way.  Her black and white illustrations filled with paradoxes between modern life and religious expectations are also nuanced with symbolism yet are invitational to the deeper subject matter.

 

I was particularly surprised to learn about the different Shiite rituals surrounding virginity and death for both males and females.  The book forced me to reflect on what I know about Iran and here are my 3 major influences before reading Persepolis:  1) The movie Argo, 2) being a fan of Jian Ghomeshi and 3) having taught a couple of students from Iran while I was working for the Peel Board of Education.  Then I was sitting eating breakfast in Connecticut this morning and this news story came on the news: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/nyregion/bands-intensity-and-promise-drew-fans.html?_r=0  It seems that the religious extremism in Iran is still enough to chase out anyone who speaks up against it.


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Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

SkimSkim by Mariko Tamaki

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was actually first turned on to Mariko and Jillian Tamaki when I read Hiromi Goto’s young adult novel Half World, which was nominated in Ontario for a White Pine award. I just can’t get enough of Tamaki’s style of elegance and simplicity in her drawings. There are subtleties in her writing and art that let my imagination fill in the blanks and I like that. I feel like the Tamakis treat me as an intelligent reader rather than being explicit.

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Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

“>Friends with BoysFriends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think my favourite thing about the main character, Maggie, is that her personality is so well-developed. Before the ghost is even introduced we find out that: she’s the only girl with 3 brothers, her Dad has a new job, and her Mom has left the family. Besides all the other normal angst that goes with being a teenager, she’s starting her first day of regular high school after being home-schooled her whole life. The jacket is very well done and I think the description:”… and, oh yeah, she’s haunted.” is sure to appeal to readers in my library. I also really like how the main conflict in the novel is really approachable for all teens: new friends, learning the grey areas of right and wrong, and, oh yeah, how to put a ghost to rest. Ok, maybe not that last one. Maggie’s brothers are also well-developed and have distinct personalities especially Zander who is both wise and immature. With all their cavorting about it makes me wish that I had brothers too.

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Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s not surprising to me that Vera Brosgol, author/illustrator of Anya’s Ghost, has chosen Neil Gaiman’s critique to highlight on her front cover of this graphic novel. I can make a direct comparison between Gaiman’s character Coraline and Brosgol’s Anya who are both ordinary and unsuspecting in their quiet gothic existence. Both girls are pre-teen in age, excited and curious but not driven by hormones or a desire to rebel. Other than a few key shots of thigh, Anya is seemingly unaware of her blossoming sexuality. Even Anya’s secret cigarette habit seems more driven by anxiety than as a social tool to garner favour with her peers.
I particularly enjoyed the illustration of the ghost’s duplicity as it oscillates between good and evil in order to manipulate Anya. I was surprised by the story arch as the ghost reveals that not only is she using Anya but she has done this before to her own family. I particularly enjoyed how the ghost tries to compare herself to Anya by pointing out her selfish behaviour. I’m convinced that Anya isn’t sure what to do until the ghost tries to push her back into the giant hole. The book was deliciously suspenseful from beginning to end.

anya

If the ending had found Anya back in the hole, alone and afraid, then I would recommend this to a senior grade student. However, when everything works out alright and Anya grows in her appreciation of her family, friends and school life, I know that this graphic novel would be a good choice for junior students and older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see the official book trailer here:

http://www.schooltube.com/video/80480274511b452ca0ff/Anya’s%20Ghost%20by%20Vera%20Brosgol
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