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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A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am at a disadvantage in reading the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time because I don’t remember the original story enough to compare it.  The only thing I do remember is “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  At the same time, I have the advantage of reading the graphic novel fresh for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I found the illustrations in black, white and blue to highlight the surreal and stark settings as well as give a reminiscent feeling to the tale.  My favourite illustration in the book is on page 296 when Meg is entering the dark thing, but her father’s hand is reaching through the frame to pull her back.  The abstract combination of lines meeting Meg’s limbs somehow conveys that her soul in as much jeopardy as her body. I think this drawing of Hope Larson’s would make Picasso proud.

The story itself reminds me of The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.  I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that hinted at the mathematics and physics behind time travel theory as much as A Wrinkle in Time.  I’m also surprised how much spirituality is hinted at through references to the Bible and other philosophical works.  I suppose the spiritual questioning of Meg is why most of all this book reminds me of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  This graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time is already part of my secondary school library collection and now I’m glad that I’ll be able to recommend it.

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City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can totally see why this is a young adult hit….female protagonist who is struggling with identity as she discovers some deep dark family secrets all the while learning that she has some new magical powers. I will definitely put it in my secondary school library collection and will continue buying the series the moment I get a request to do so.

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The Taming by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten

The TamingThe Taming by Teresa Toten

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I expect high things from anything that Eric Walters puts his name on. After the Ontario Library Association nominated this as one of the best Canadian young adult fiction of the year, I expected even more. Until halfway through I thought I had found a predictable teen romance. When our main character Katie’s life starts to imitate her art on the stage of her high school Shakespeare production, I became engrossed. The rest of the story strikes me as very true dealing with the bizarre power struggles that sometimes arise in first love relationships. Although I wish that the ending will be true in the case of most young people caught in Katie’s circumstance, it was a bit too hopeful to be believable. This book would suit most of the readers who would pick it up…young females searching for love.

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Is it possible to grow readers who are also digitally savvy?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Penny Kittle speak about reading and how complex it is for intermediate/senior teachers to teach.  Kittle estimates that in 1st year college/university that the average pages a student reads is 500.  She proposed that the #1 reason that students drop out after first year is that they can’t keep up with the demand of reading.  Meanwhile Don Tapscott tells us in Grown Up Digital that we need to appeal to the multimedia savvy of the NetGeneration students in our classes.  How do we balance both of those ideas?  Heather Durnin tells us how she does it in her blog post about modifying literature circles in her grade 8 classroom.  What I love about Heather’s work is that she’s still focusing on  teaching reading, critical analysis and through social interaction (Vygotzky would approve).  The students develop their skills in analysis face-to-face with their peers and their teacher, before being accountable to the technology. I suspect that as students hear the types of questions and comments that lead to richer discussion, that in turn their reading becomes stronger as they look for ways to contribute.

What’s the next level?  Maybe it’s that the students publish their work to an authentic audience and get feedback.  The hardest part of inquiry-based learning for me is to ask really meaningful questions that will lead to critical thinking.  I’m at the point where I am conscious of designing my questions to be evaluative ….so that students are developing criteria as well as their analysis, but the questions don’t come naturally to me yet. Is there an app for that?  I don’t think so.  #teachersrock

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a solid first novel …. lots of world-building and the dragons are introduced well. Paolini’s writing style is juvenile …. self-indulgent in terms of cryptic vocabulary use, and the plot is predictable. The best part about this book is …the dragon.

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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

The Hour I First BelievedThe Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rate Wally Lamb’s other two books as some of my all-time favourites. The Hour I First Believed has his usual depth into emotional hell (which I love!) but it was not something that I could read all in one sitting. It was arduous without being epic. I felt that the ending was anti-climactic.

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Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway

Kiss of the Fur QueenKiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure why I never read this book when it first came out, but I just found it this year. It is an incredibly moving story of what it was like to attend a residential school. More importantly, it made me feel much more in touch with the complicated issues surrounding native Canadians and the displacement of their culture. A must read for Can Lit fans. This book would be an excellent complement to a reading of The Rez Sisters, also by Tomson Highway.

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The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Book of Human SkinThe Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Transported me in time and space to an unfamiliar world where brothers are very very mean to sisters. In this patriarchal place, the female protagonist has to do her utmost to survive her brother’s bizarre tastes. This book is kind of like a Cronenberg flick….you hate to read the gruesome details, and you just can’t put it down.

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Triptych by J.M. Frey

TriptychTriptych by J.M. Frey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Triptych’s exploration of heteronormativity touched me in places that I didn’t even know existed. The characters and their relationships make the sci fi problems Frey creates, very real and very relevant to the human reader. It is a very brave first novel, and I found it surprisingly accessible for something that I consider outside of my genre. I will definitely pick up J.M. Frey’s next novel.

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Under My Skin by Charles de Lint

Under My SkinUnder My Skin by Charles de Lint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy begins in Santa Feliz, California in present day. The story unfolds through two voices, Josh and Marina, who are best friends. In this school year, each character has become a Wildling, a shapeshifter from human to animal form. As more and more local teens are becoming Wildlings overnight, government and corporate organizations move in to lock down the situation. Josh’s quest is to make sure any external interest has good intentions, and Marina’s journey is more about acceptance and making sure that Wildlings are treated with respect.

Both Josh and Marina are caught up in the movement as different factions of Wildlings compete for their attention. Some come across as eco-warriors, while others explore the spiritual blessing nature of shapeshifting and other natural gifts. Every single adult and teen group involved in the Wilding phenomenon has a different agenda, and neither Josh nor Marina can identify where they belong. Instead, Josh is singled out as a natural leader, as his animal self, the mountain lion, is one of the oldest animal clans known. Marina’s intentions of aiding the Wildling cause confuse her as she has to choose between the cause and her own dreams.

The alternating voices in each chapter allow the reader to understand the perspectives more deeply. The novel is a familiar story of teens being misunderstood as they go through their quest for identity. The shapeshifter motif allows the author a way to explore questions of identity in sexuality, race and belief. As the shapeshifter story is now a popular culture meme, this puts Under My Skin clearly in a fantasy category for beginners. The novel ends only as Josh and Marina escape their first test of Wildling experimentation leaving room for the proposed sequels to take place. The story hints briefly at stirrings of sexuality and the violence is dramatic but not overdone. This novel’s realistic and modern setting will appeal to most any reader who is ready to dabble in the fantastic. Readers who are more experienced with the genre may find de Lint’s explanations of fantastical elements to be juvenile.

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Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

Darkest Light (Half World, #2)Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy is a sequel to Goto’s Half World, which was nominated for numerous awards in young adult fantasy. Half World is a kind of purgatory where people go who haven’t resolved events in their lives. The first book introduced one such character, Mr. Glueskin, who is able to leave Half World for ours as a baby.

The story continues from Goto’s Half World following the life of Gee, now a teenager, who relies on his adopted grandmother, Popo, for guidance. Gee’s mysterious background and his penetrating black eyes make alienate him from his peers. He makes his first friend, Cracker, another alienated youth, have to defend their awkward lives from street predators. Gee and Cracker discover that they each have connections to Half World and together must travel there in order to answer questions about their pasts. Half World is filled with challenging and dangerous obstacles as Gee and Cracker are compelled to search for meaning. Together they must face their darkest fears to have any hope of finding peace.

The novel is filled with more questions than answers about what exists beyond death. Using realistic characters from our world to introduce the reader to the fantastical plane of Half World somehow makes the idea plausible. Goto’s descriptions of the various tragic events trapping characters in Half World are at times horrific but captivating. Although the character Gee is featured in Darkest Light, the character of Cracker is well-developed and leaves room for a next book.

Goto’s style is deliciously dark and detailed which will appeal especially to young adults who dabble in Asian literature. The spiritual questions involved in the subject matter may not appeal to some readers but would appeal to any curious young adult in search of answers about life beyond death. The story is quite violent in certain scenes but not in a gratuitous way.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most unique aspects of this book are the narrator (the voice of Death) and the protagonist (Lisel). The interplay between the constant but playful voice of Death as he studies and admires Lisel, makes them an unlikely pair. Of course the historical setting of Germany in World War II adds a great deal of interest to the story. Lisel’s childhood is filled with mischief, learning and friendship as any youth would be, yet it is tainted by the events unfolding at the time. This book is a must-read and would especially appeal to anyone searching for answers about the atrocities that humans commit, and anyone who believes that hope can exist in even the darkest times.

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Divergent by Veronica Roth

Book title: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Bibliographic entry Roth, V. (2011). Divergent. Harper Collins.
Description On Choosing Day, Triss chooses to leave her faction and join another where she is faced with challenges of physical and mental limits to be ranked amongst her peers. Her training is immediately put to use after graduation, as a conspiracy threatens her friends, family and whole way of life.
Reaction  This book is filled with adventure, romance and the quest for personal best and is sure to thrill teen readers.  It needs to belong in every secondary school library.
Recommended age level  Intermediate/Senior
Subjects/themes Survival, relationships, identity quest
Curriculum connections Learning Skills: analyse the importance of personal management skills in school, work, and daily life (e.g., dealing with stress related to test taking, managing time to accomplish multiple tasks, persisting with work-related tasks until completion) and their impact on success
Awards  Goodreads Choice Awards 2012
Miscellaneous  Divergent is currently being translated to film and is scheduled to be released in 2014