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Book Club Pick

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Book Club Pick: August 2015

TheGiver

Book Details:

Title: The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry

Series: First novel in the Giver Quartet

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books

First Published: 1993

Pages: 225

Publisher’s Description:

“I have a great honor,” the Giver said. “So will you. But you will find that it not the same as power.”

Life in the community where Jonas lives in idyllic. Designated birthmothers produce new children, who are assigned to appropriate family units: one male, one female, to each. Citizens are assigned their partners and their jobs. No one thinks to ask questions. Everyone obeys. The community is a precisely, choreographed world without conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice . . . or choice.

Everyone is the same.

Except Jonas.

At the Ceremony of Twelve, the community’s twelve-year-olds eagerly accept their predetermined life Assignments. Bur Jonas is chosen fro something special. He begins instruction in his life’s work with a mysterious old man known only as the Giver. Gradually Jonas learns that power lies in feelings. But when his own power is put to the test – he may not be ready. Is it too soon? Or too late?

 

Review:

The novel opens with eleven-year-old Jonas awaiting his Ceremony of Twelve, where he will be assigned his career and begin his training.

Jonas lives in a community where a group of Elders select everything including one’s parents, career, spouse and children. All the negative aspects of society have been removed and the community lives in a safe world of sameness, but unfortunately many of the positive aspects of life have also been removed.

At his Ceremony of Twelve Jonas is assigned the position of Receiver of Memory. The Receiver holds all the memories of the past that include both pleasant and painful ones. The idea is by having the Receiver, the community is not burdened with this knowledge.

During his training sessions the current Receiver of Memory, and now Giver of Memory transfers the memories of the past, that include positive memories like the excitement of riding a sled in the snow but also painful memories like war, famine and death.

As Jonas begins to experience these memories he learns some shocking secrets about the how the community is managed and begins to question the world he is living in.

The novel has a rather ambiguous ending, which while hopefully will leave readers in thought may frustrate some.

The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and is frequently included on top young adult literature lists, but it is also one of the top 25 most frequently challenged or banned books in America.

A film adaptation was released in 2014 starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.

TheGiverMovie

 

Links:

Lois Lowry Official Website

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Book Club Pick: July 2015

Monster

Book Details:

Title: Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins

First Published: 1999

Pages: 281

 

Review:

The novel follows sixteen-year-old Steve Harmond, an African American teenager from Harlem, who is on trial for his role as an accomplice in a drugstore robbery that resulted in the death of an employee.

To help him process this life changing experience Steve records his experiences in prison and court in the form of a film script and diary. This experimental narrative gives the reader two forms of narratives – a deeply personal first person narrative in the form of a diary and a more distant third person narrative in the film script.

As someone who has studied film and is familiar with scriptwriting conventions at first I was bothered by the scriptwriting convention errors, which briefly took me out of the story. But I put this behind me as I have to remember this is the script written by a sixteen-year-old – not a trained scriptwriter.

The novel is written in  third person as a screenplay and in first person with diary entries
The novel is written in third person as a screenplay and in first person with diary entries

The novel features illustrations by Myer’s son Christopher, who is a children’s author and illustrator in his own right.

The title of the book and Steve’s script ‘Monster’ comes from a label given to him by the prosecutor. Is Steve a monster? That is a question he will struggle with as he comes to term with his identity – how he perceives himself and how he is seen my others.

The novel poses some serious questions and themes for the reader to consider, such as to whether Steve is guilty or not and the fairness of the judicial system. The subject material is obviously gritty, it deals with prison violence and the subject of prison rape is implied.

I would recommend Monster to junior high school age students up.

On a final note, July 1st is one year since the passing of Walter Dean Myers. He may be gone but his work lives on!

 

Links:

Walter Dean Myers Official Website

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Paper Towns by John Green

Book Club Pick: June 2015

Paper-towns

Book Details:

Title: Paper Towns

Author: John Green

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books

First Published: 2008

Pages: 353

 

Review:

The prologue to the novel opens with our protagonist Quentin “Q” Jacobsen recalling an incident from when he was nine-years-old; when he and his neighbour and childhood friend Margo Roth Spiegelman found the body of Robert Joyner, who had committed suicide.

The novel flashes forward, Quentin is now a senior in high school and like many childhood friends he and Margo have drifted apart. It is a month before his graduation, when in the middle of the night, Margo shows up at his bedroom window with a plan to seek revenge on those she feels have wronged her.

After their night of revenge on classmates who have wronged them the duo break into theme park SeaWorld.

The next day at school Quentin wonders if he and Margo will reconnect. Margo does not come to school that day or the next. After three days her parents file a police report. As Quentin was the last person to see Margo he is questioned by police.

Quentin learns that Margo has run away multiple times before and that her parents now seem to be beyond caring – her mother plans to change the locks. The police point out she is not a minor and that she left on her on accord.

When looking at Margo’s window Quentin notices a poster of musician Woody Guthrie taped to back of her window shade. Quentin enlists the help of his best friends Ben and Radar and they bribe Margo’s younger sister to let them search her room. This search leads them to Guthrie’s song ‘Walt Wiltman’s Niece’, which leads them to a collection of Wiltman’s poetry with lines highlighted.

He believes that Margo has left these cryptic clues for him to find her. With the help of Radar, Ben and his girlfriend Lacey, the four set off on a road trip in search of Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Paper Towns has been adapted into a film starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. It has a June to August release. Click here for worldwide release dates.

PaperTownsPoster   PaperTownsTrio

Before reading the novel I was unaware of the term ‘Paper Towns’ and found it interesting to learn about Paper Towns along with the characters and have done more research on the subject since finishing the book.

There are incidents of excessive underage drinking, sex and nudity. These incidents are not glorified but rather a portrayal of teenage life. I would recommend Paper Towns for junior high school age students and older.

 

Links:

John Green Official Website

John Green on Facebook

John Green on Twitter

John Green on Instagram

Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel (with brother Hank Green)

Paper Towns Film Official Website

Paper Towns Film on Facebook

Paper Towns Film on Twitter

Paper Towns Film on Instagram

 

Source: I purchased a copy of this book.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Book Club Pick: May 2015

Stormbreaker cover

Book Details:

Title: Stormbreaker

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Series: Alex Rider (Book #1)

Country: England

Publisher: Walker Books

First Published: 2000

Pages: 238

Publisher Description:

When his guardian dies in suspicious circumstances, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider finds his world turned upside down.

Within days he’s gone from schoolboy to superspy. Forcibly recruited into MI6, Alex has to take part in gruelling SAS training exercises; then armed with his own special set of secret gadgets, he’s off on his first mission. But Alex soon finds himself in mortal danger. It looks as if his first assignment may well be his last…

 

Review:

The novel opens following the death of 14-year-old Alex Rider’s guardian and uncle Ian in a car accident. Alex becomes suspicious after learning his normally very careful uncle was not wearing a seatbelt and finds that his uncle’s office has been cleared out.

Alex finds his uncle’s car in a junkyard ridden with bullet holes and blood on the seats suggesting his uncle had been murdered. In the first of many action sequences Alex narrowly escapes after the car is loaded into the car crusher with Alex inside.

Later Alex is invited to his uncle’s bank where he learns that Ian Rider was a secret agent for MI6.

Ian Rider’s last case was investigating multi-millionaire businessman Herod Sayles, who had recently announced that he was donating thousands of his new computer line Stormbreaker to London school children.

MI6 would like Alex to pose as a Felix Lester, a school boy who won a contest to test the Stormbreaker computer. Alex initially refuses. MI6 head Alan Blunt who controls Alex’s inheritance blackmails him with threats of selling his uncle’s home, placing him in an orphanage and having his live in housekeeper Jack Starbright deported.

Alex is unaware that his uncle has been preparing him for the secret service with karate and outdoor pursuits such as rock climbing and river rafting.

Alex completes an extensive training program with SAS soldiers before being sent to Sayle Enterprises armed with a series of teen-friendly gadgets including acne cream that burns through metal and a Gameboy equipped with spy gear such as a bug detector, transmitter and smoke screen.

The book is an easy read. There is plenty of action making this a popular choice for young male readers.

Stormbreaker was adapted into a film in 2006 starring Alex Pettyfer. Horowitz, an experienced scriptwriter also penned the film’s script.

Stormbreaker film

I would recommend the Alex Rider series to readers who enjoy action and adventure stories. Suitable for ages 11+

 

Links:

Anthony Horowitz Official Website

Anthony Horowitz on Twitter

Alex Rider series Official Website

Alex Rider series Facebook page

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones

Book Club Pick: April 2015

Book Details:

Title: The Boy in the Burning House

Author: Tim Wynne-Jones

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Canada

Publisher: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre Ltd

First Published: 2000

Pages: 214

Publisher Description:

Two years after his father mysteriously disappeared, Jim Hawkins is coping – barely. Underneath he’s frozen in uncertainty and grief. Then Jim meets Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of the town pastor, Father Fisher. Ruth Rose shocks Jim out of his stupor when she tells him Father Fisher is a murderer. Then she shocks him again. “Don’t you want to know who he murdered?” she asks. In spite of his uneasiness, Jim begins to burn with a desire for the truth. But stirring up the embers of the past can be a dangerous business . . .

 

Review:

14-year-old Jim Hawkins is growing up in rural Ontario, Canada dealing with the loss of his father Hub, following his sudden disappearance two years earlier. Many in the community suspect suicide but his body has never been found.

Jim’s world is further thrown into turmoil when he meets 16-year-old Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of Father Fisher, the local pastor. Ruth Rose tells Jim that her stepfather is a murderer and is involved in his father’s disappearance.

The problem is in the community’s eyes Father Fisher is the well respected pastor and Ruth Rose is a highly troubled medicated teen. But Jim is yearning for answers regarding his father’s disappearance.

As Jim digs into his father’s past he learns of an incident nearly 30 years ago where a friend of his father died in a burning house. But how is this connected to his father’s disappearance and what is Father Fisher’s involvement?

The novel, which is written in third person has relatively short chapters, which makes it an easy read and provides it with a quick pace.

The Boy in the Burning House, which won the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, is not a complex murder mystery and felt more like a psychological thriller to me as the mystery aspect is quite predictable.

Wynne-Jones plays homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel Treasure Island, by borrowing characters names such as Jim Hawkins and Billy Bones.

I would recommend this novel for junior secondary school (high school) students.

 

Links:

Tim Wynne-Jones Official Website

Tim Wynne-Jones on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

 

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Book Club Pick: March 2015

The Outsiders

Book Details:

Title: The Outsiders

Author: S.E. Hinton

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Penguin

First Published: 1967

Pages: 180

Publisher Description:

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count of his brother, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends – true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. And when it comes to the Socs – a vicious gang of rich kids who enjoy beating up on “greasers” like him and his friends – he knows he can count on them for trouble. But one night someone takes things too far, and Ponyboy’s world is turned upside down . . .

 

Review:

This coming-of-age novel is written by a teenager for teenagers. Susan Eloise Hinton was 15 when she started writing The Outsiders and 17 when it was published in 1967. The Outsiders is often credited as beginning the realistic young adult novel.

The story is about of a group of boys, ‘greasers’, living on the east side of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid 1960s.

The youngest member of the greasers gang is the novel’s narrator, fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, who lives with his two older brothers Darry (20) and Sodapop (16).

Darry works hard to care and support his two brothers after their parents were killed in a car accident – not an easy task for one just out of his teens himself. Sodapop has dropped out of school to work at the gas station, so Ponyboy feels the pressure to be a success at school. He is sure that Darry resents him and lives with the fear that he will be taken away and put in a boy’s home.

Sodapop and Darry aren’t Ponyboy’s only family – fellow Greasers, Dally, Two-bit Matthews, Steve Randle, and his best friend Johnny Cade are like his brothers.

The Greasers are constantly at war with the rival rich west side kids, the ‘socs’ (socials). This feud turns fatal one night when a group of Socs corner and attack Ponyboy and Johnny in a park.

Francis Ford Coppola adapted the novel into a film of the same name, released in 1983 starring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, and Diane Lane. Hinton makes a cameo in the film as a nurse.

Cast of 'The Outsiders' (1983, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Cast of ‘The Outsiders’ (1983, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

The Outsiders is a frequently challenged book and has been banned in many schools and libraries due to its portrayal of gang violence and underage smoking and drinking. Although today it is often a studied text in many high schools, which is fantastic because while the lingo may have changed it’s still as relevant today as it was in 1967.

“Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold”

 

Links:

S. E. Hinton Official Website

S.E. Hinton on Twitter

Note: My copy is the Speak Platinum Edition which includes a new foreword by S.E. Hinton, interview with S.E. Hinton and a discussion guide for students.

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Beth & Bruno by William Taylor

Book Club Pick: February 2015

BethAndBruno

Book Details:

Title: Beth & Bruno

Author: William Taylor

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: New Zealand

Publisher: Ashton Scholastic

First Published: 1992

Pages: 157

Publisher Description:

Bruno is an adult student at Gray’s Valley High School. A former streetkid, he has returned to look after his aged, blind father on a rambling, untamed farm. Part Maori and tough – and with a reputation to match – it’s not hard for Bruno to keep his distance . . . which is just how he likes it.

Beth is city born and bred. She has come to spend her senior year at Gray’s Valley High, staying with her aunt. Self-assured and attractive, Beth could easily be a popular figure in the local teen scene – but it is apparent that something is troubling her.

They are as different as chalk and cheese – so why does fate seem to keep throwing them together?

 

Review:

Beth Paterson has transferred to Gray’s Valley High School from the city and is staying with her slightly eccentric aunt and high school art teacher Stella.

The novel opens with Beth at a typical high school pool party. She did not want to attend the party but Stella pressured her in the hope that she will make friends – little does Beth know Stella arranged Beth’s invite.

Not really wanting to be there Beth takes up a fellow classmate Vic’s offer for a ride home. Vic has his own motives for getting Beth alone and makes a pass at her. When she rejects his advances they struggle and he pulls the door handle off the car trapping her. A motorbike appears out of the darkness with dead wild big draped over the handle bars. A mysterious rider wearing a black balaclava has potentially saved her.

This mysterious rider is Bruno Petrie. Beth asks around about him and learns he is an adult student who returned from the city to look after his father Archie. Bruno has quite the reputation as a violent thug.

Despite frequently butting heads something keeps bringing Beth and Bruno together.

Beth has a secret past. I’m not going to spoil it but I suspect many readers may pick what it is.

The novel is written in third person. For the first few chapters until Beth and Bruno meet, Taylor alternates chapters between Beth and Bruno’s perspective.

It’s coming on 23 years since Taylor published this novel and its characters and themes are still relevant to teenagers today. If published today they only difference would probably be that the characters would all have mobile phones and be on social media.

There is a moderate amount of adult content including sexual assault, low level violence, minor coarse language and alcohol use by the teen characters.

Beth and Bruno would be suitable for junior secondary school (high school) students.

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Book Club Pick: January 2015

Graffiti Moon

Book Details:

Title: Graffiti Moon

Author: Cath Crowley

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Australia

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

First Published: 2010

Pages: 264

Publisher Description:

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

 

Review:

The story follows a group of young friends over a 24 hour period in the fantastic art and culture infused city that is Melbourne.

Lucy has just finished Year 12 (final year of high school in Australia) and is about to take her HSE exams. Lucy’s parents are creative artistic types – her mother is writing a novel and her father, who is living in the shed, is a comedian/magician. Lucy also a creative soul spends her night in search of the mysterious anonymous graffiti artist known as Shadow. The last person she wants to be with is Ed. But Ed knows Shadow so she needs his help. The pair have an awkward history; back in Year 10 Ed and Lucy went one date, which ended with Lucy punching him in the nose.

Ed lives with his solo mum. The only paternal figure in Ed’s life was Bert, who employed Ed at his paint shop after Ed dropped out of school. Bert recently passed away following a heart attack and Ed lost his job. Like a lot of young men Ed is currently at the crossroads in his life, not knowing where to go next.

Ed and his best friend Leo are planning to rob the school in order to pay back a debt to the very scary Malcolm Dove. If they fail to do so poor Ed will have his nipple pierced with a compass. Malcolm demonstrates his compass piercing skills on Ed’s ear so he knows Malcolm is serious.

The novel is written in first person narrative alternating chapters between Lucy and Ed. There is also verse poetry interspersed throughout the novel, written by Leo, which provides a third distinct voice for the story.

Crowley often begins the chapter with repeating the last point of action from the previous chapter from the other character’s point of view. She has a great use of imagery and the dialogue, particularly Lucy’s narration is very witty.

The novel obviously deals with issues of youth crime such as vandalism and burglary. Crowley does not glorify or preach about these issues, instead she presents them as they are in a realistic manner. There are mentions of underage drinking and brief sexual references and strong coarse language.

Graffiti Moon would be suitable for junior secondary school (high school) students.

Links:

Cath Crowley Official Website

Cath Crowley on Twitter

Cath Crowley on Facebook

Cath Crowley on Tumblr

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

Book Club Pick: December 2014

Cloaked

Book Details:

Title: Cloaked

Author: Alex Flinn

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperTeen

First Published: 2011

Pages: 341

Publisher Description:

I’m not your average hero. I actually wasn’t your average anything. Just a poor guy working an after-school job at a South Beach shore repair shop to help his mom make ends meet. But a little magic changed it all.

It all started with a curse. And a frognapping. And one hot-looking princess, who asked me to lead a rescue mission.

There wasn’t a fairy godmother or any of that. And even though I fell in love along the way, what happened to be is unlike any fairy tale I’ve ever heard. Before I knew it, I was spying with a flock of enchanted swans, talking (yes, talking!) to a fox named Todd, and nearly trampled by giants in the Keys.

Don’t believe me? I didn’t believe it either. But you’ll see. Because I knew it all true, the second I got CLOAKED.

Review:

Seventeen-year-old aspiring shoe designer Johnny Marco is approached at his family’s struggling shoe repair shop in a ritzy Miami South Beach hotel, by Victoriana, an Alorian Princess, who asks him to find her brother Philippe, who has been transformed into a frog by an evil witch.

In exchange for his heroic deed the Princess agrees to marry Johnny. This would save him and his mother from poverty and not surprisingly the idea of marrying a ‘hot princess’ appeals to the teenage boy.

To aid him on his quest Victoriana gives Johnny a magical cloak that allows him to transport himself anywhere he wishes and a magical earpiece that allows him to talk to animals. Johnny is later joined on his journey by his best friend Meg who has a few tricks of her own up her sleeve.

It is not an easy adventure for Johnny, as he searches for the Prince he battles scary biker dudes, giants and the evil witch.

The story mixes traditional fairytales in a modern setting. Unlike Flinn’s other novels, such as Beastly (2007, Beauty and the Beast), A Kiss in Time (2009, Sleeping Beauty), Towering (2012, Rapunzel), which are a retelling of one main fairytale, Cloaked is a mash up of numerous stories. In an author’s note at the end of the book, Flinn lists her inspirations to include The Frog Prince, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Six Swans, The Golden Bird, The Valiant Tailor, The Salad, and The Fisherman and His Wife.

Being that it is mash up several fairytales was one of the reasons picking this book over one of Flinn’s others.

The novel is written in first person narrative and Flinn does a reasonably good job at capturing Johnny’s spirit and voice. Johnny is a nice guy, he wants to do best by his mum and help his friends, but at times he could be a little oblivious when it came to reading other people and often I was left wondering how he could be so clueless.

The book is an easy read with short chapters, and I did enjoy the shoe quotes that Johnny and Meg collected and quoted to each other. It is also a fairly clean read with no coarse language, sex and only mild violence.

Cloaked will appeal most to readers who have an interest in fairytales or fantasy adventure stories.

Links:

Alex Flinn Official Website

Alex Flinn on Twitter

Alex Flinn on Facebook

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.