Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The River Between Us


By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: The River Between Us
Author: Richard Peck
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 164
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 2003
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes, mainly for more mature readers

Description: (from book cover) ”A steamboat whistle splits the air one April evening in 1861, and with it, all is changed for fifteen-year-old Tilly Pruitt and her family. They’ve been living in a muddy little Mississippi River town in Illinois, fearing the approach of the Civil War. Tilly’s twin brother, Noah, however, has been marching and drilling with the other boys in town, and all of them are ready to soldier—some for the North, some for the South. When the Rob Roy from New Orleans docks at the landing, two remarkable figures come ashore: a commanding and glamorous young lady in a rustling hoop skirt and her darker, silent servant. Who are these two fascinating strangers? Is the servant a slave? Tilly’s mother invites them both to room and board at her house, and with that simple gesture, the whole world shifts for the Pruitts as well as their visitors. Within a masterful tale of mystery and the female Civil War experience, Richard Peck has spun a breathtaking portrait of the lifelong impact one person can have on another. Unexpected and enlightening, this is a novel of countless riches.”

Review:
I like to learn something from the historical fiction I read, and this book introduced me to the antebellum quadroon culture. The story was also somewhat suspenseful, in that the fact Delphine was not what she appeared to be wasn’t revealed until near the end of the story. I thought the story was an interesting exploration of the thread of race that has woven throughout American history – not just during the antebellum and Civil War periods, but into the early 20th century, as well (for the opening and closing chapters).

Rating: 4, for implied sexual situations

Recommend: Yes, although I would suggest it for more mature readers


Positive: Tilly and her family are tolerant enough to accept the strangers into their home when most people shun them. Tilly and Delphine take risks to find Noah when he’s sick in an army camp, and they nurse the other sick men in Noah’s tent even though it is unpleasant.

Spiritual Elements: Three of the characters (Tilly’s sister, mother, and Calinda) have the “gift” of being able to foretell the future (or at least to "see" negative things). Tilly’s sister has visions, while Calinda reads cards. There is also an unflattering portrayal of the local preacher’s wife as narrow-minded and hypocritical. Tilly’s family doesn’t seem to have much use for religion.

Violence: Tilly and Delphine go to Cairo to find Tilly’s brother in an Army field hospital, which is really nothing more than a tent. The description of the conditions (such as smells and the filth) is graphic. Later, Noah loses part of one of his arms during a battle.

Language: None

Sexual Content: Nothing is explicit. However, the main plot of the book rests on the fact that Delphine is the illegitimate daughter of a married white man and a “woman of color.” Delphine treats the arrangement as perfectly normal, and since Tilly’s family accepts her, they accept her background as well. Although I don’t approve of adultery, the quadroon culture was part of American history, and I think Peck actually manages to portray it in a way that shouldn’t be offensive. (SPOILER) However, some parents may be offended by the fact that Delphine won't give up her culture even after it is wiped out by the war, and though she lives with Noah and bears him a child out of wedlock, she refuses to marry him, even though he wants to marry her (this is revealed in a later conversation in the last chapter, not portrayed as part of the main story).

There are also some references to nineteenth-century standards of modesty.

Other: The father of the family has more or less abandoned them. (SPOILER) I was saddened by the way Tilly’s mother rejected her, showing Noah to be the favorite. The mother even commits suicide when she thinks Noah has died in battle.

Rating:
4, for implied sexual situations

Recommendation: Yes, for more mature readers

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Giver

By Reviewer: Amy Jane
Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Science fiction/Fantasy
# Of pages: 192
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
Year of Release: 2002
Part of a Series? No (though there are related books)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes, for the specified age

Description: 12-year-old Jonas is the latest in a long series of “receivers” whose job it is to store in himself all the memories of the long-ago—before the memories beyond one’s own life were passed away from personal keeping.

While the memory-keeping meant that many pleasures passed out of understanding, so also the enormous pains and evils of history were borne alone by one, rather than weighing on the lives of the community. In this way the majority could live lives unburdened by any of what we today call the “harsh realities” of life.

Review: This book was a good exploration about the costs and benefits of creating peace and order at any price. It presents a world that, logical in its detail, denies parts of the indefinable of the human soul.

Rating: 4 for violence and awakening adolescence.

Positive: Jonas makes every effort to obey the rules because he really does want the best for those around him. Many times he thinks of others before himself.

Jonas’s relationship with his parents and sister is very respectful, if not exactly warm.

[Spoiler] The Giver chooses to stay with the community, as an experienced voice and hoped comfort, even though it is a sacrifice.

Spiritual Elements: Nothing overt.

Violence: [Spoiler] Jonas learns what “being released” means—euthanasia via needle for those who do not fit into the perfectly ordered society: non-thriving infants (needle in the head's soft-spot), the very elderly when their time is up, and others.

Language: nothing objectionable.

Sexual Content: Jonas shares a dream that introduces “stirrings” – the awakening of pre-sexual feelings.

Other: Everyone who has once felt “stirrings” is responsible to take a pill each morning to neutralize them.

Recommendation: I do recommend this book, especially if it is a part of discussion with a caring adult.

Every security involves some kind of sacrifice, and every pain can teach us something, often making us stronger. There is a reason for the pain God allows in this world—even if we don’t know what that is this side of heaven.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Book of the King: The Wormling Book 1

Reviewed by Shawna
Title: The Book of the King (The Wormling)
Author: Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry
Primary Audience/age group: 9-13
Genre: Christian Fantasy
# Of pages: 288
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 5 (Wormling Series)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: From Amazon: "Nothing special" is the best way to describe Owen Reeder--at least that's what he's been told all his life. When a stranger visits his father's bookstore, Owen's ordinary life spirals out of control and right into a world he didn't even know existed. Owen believes the only gift he possesses is his ability to devour books, but he is about to be forced into a battle that will affect two worlds: his and the unknown world of the Lowlands.

Review: Owen Reeder has a remarkable ability; he is capable of memorizing everything that he sees from books to people. But, he isn’t able to see his uniqueness and purpose until a mysterious stranger gives him The Book of the King. Owen has to set aside his fears and feelings of inadequacy to accept his purpose and save two worlds. This book is an excellent read for pre-teens, and through the main character, Owen, teaches many admirable character traits. Children will be able to identify with Owen and feel encouraged as they see him face and conquer his fears. The book is filled with adventure, mystery, and even a monster or two that will keep young readers on their toes.

Rating: 4 for scary imagery

Positive: Many encouraging elements fill the book. One of the main themes is that everyone has a purpose even the least of us. It teaches that if you don’t find your purpose and only do what feels good, you won’t find true happiness or joy. You could even compare The Book of the King (the miraculous book given to Owen that explains his purpose) to the Bible, meaning you can always find the words you need at the right time. Forgiveness is another good theme; and, although there are supernatural elements, the book speaks against incantations.

Spiritual Elements: If you are a reader of the Bible you will recognize ideas from it within The Book of the King; however, no specific verses or names are used. Some characters in the book have a negative view of religion.

Violence: Owen is bullied at school and is beaten up. The bullies are desperate to see our hero (Owen) hurt and are glad when they think of his demise. They are very vengeful.

Scary imagery exists within the book, especially the parts dealing with the dragon and other scary beasts. The details are a bit grotesque. The dragon kills a man.

Language: none

Sexual Content: none

Other: Part of the setting is a tavern.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to young readers aged 10-14. The book is filled with positive themes, yet has enough mystery and intrigue to keep them reading. The themes could be great lead-ins to many character-building conversations you could have with your child. I would recommend discussing forgiveness, having a purpose in life, facing fears, and what to do if you are bullied. However, some parts of the book are a bit scary and gross and may not be appropriate for all children.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vampire Academy


By Reviewer Rachel, aged 18
Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Adventure
# Of pages: 336
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of _?_
Rating: shortlisted (View Scale)
Recommend? NO!

Description: "St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school—it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's—the very place where they're most in danger. . . .

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever."

Review: Richelle Mead is a talented author; she knows how to draw in readers of any age. However, her books are very inappropriate, and I found it very hard to stop reading Vampire Academy. The story was very good, nevertheless, it is saturated (not exaggerating) with immorality.

Rating: shortlisted for sexual content, language and alcohol usage.

Positive: Friendship is one of the most uplifting themes in this book. Lissa and Rose are very good friend; they would do anything for each other. Sadly, I can’t think of any other positive content.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: Rose fights to protect Lissa, one Strigoi kills somebody, and Rose is beaten up pretty bad in one scene.

Language: anything from God’s name in vain to f***. There was at least one swear word per page. My guess was there were more than five hundred cuss words in total.

Sexual Content: Girls talk about having sex with guys. Rose is still a virgin; however, she has gotten very close with a great number of men. The book gets very descriptive in this area. People are called whores numerous times. Lissa tells Rose that she had sex with one of the guys, but she doesn’t really like him. This is only a summary. There is plenty more.

Other: For humans, when a vampire sucks some of your blood, it feels like you’re high. So, there are many people who are “druggies”. There are also a few scenes were the kids are drinking alcohol.

Recommendation: I read this book when it came out, so I know that I am forgetting somethings that are in it. But, from what I do remember I am strongly advise people to not even pick this book up of the shelf. It is almost addicting and definitely immoral.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Finest Kind

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Finest Kind
Author: Lea Wait
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12 yrs
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 241
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Year of Release: 2006
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: The Panic of 1837 left Jake Webber’s family on hard times as banks began to fail. Formerly a prosperous Boston banker, his father found himself out of work with job prospects nonexistent. In September of 1838, he resettled his family in rural Wiscasset, Maine, where there was the promise of work at a lumber mill. After moving into an isolated farmhouse, Jake’s father found that the mill was so far away that he would have to be away from home a week at a time, leaving 12 year old Jake to care for his mother and his six year old brother, Frankie, who was “different”. (He had cerebral palsy). The family had previously suffered discrimination because of the condition of their youngest son, so they had kept his presence secret for years. As a “city boy”, Jake knew he would have to learn quickly how to prepare for brutal Maine winter. Through hard work, perseverance and the generosity and help of friends, Jake learns how to survive the long winter.

Review: Finest Kind presents a picture of mid-nineteenth century life in rural Maine. Life is arduous; hard work and your wits are required if you are to survive the bitter winter. It will make young readers aware of how different our lives are now.

Jake has gone from living in a big house in the city complete with servants to an impoverished young man with few possessions...yet Jake is always willing to help out wherever he can. He discovers extra chores that need to be taken care of and does all and more of what is expected of him...an admirable character trait, but it does seem a little unrealistic that a twelve year old boy does all this without ever a cross word or thought. He does miss his old friends and his life in Boston, but he just shoulders the burden that he is expected to carry without even a spark of resentment. Doesn’t sound like any twelve year old boys I know. In spite of Jake’s near perfection, I found it a very enjoyable book as Jake worked through one dilemma after another.

Rating: 5

Positive: Jake’s care and concern for his family shines throughout the book. His loyalty to his friends, and his regard and respect for those who were “different” was evident in his attitude toward his younger brother and another character who was described as “slow”. Perseverance, respect for authority, thoughtfulness...all those character traits you value...you name it, Jake’s got it.

Spiritual Elements: The family attended church on Christmas.

Violence: There was a fist fight between Jake and another boy (Tom) who bullied him. Tom suffers a bloody nose. Another time an older boy bullies a younger girl by throwing a snowball at her face and bloodying her nose.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: Some of the men get drunk in the town tavern and decide to burn down the house of Granny McPherson, claiming she was a witch. Jake and his friend scare them away.

Recommendation: I would certainly recommend this to lovers of historical fiction, as it presents a realistic look at a different time (and place for those of us living in the south). It is a simple story, but well written. This is totally appropriate for 9 to 12 year olds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nine Days A Queen

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Nine Days a Queen: The Short Life and Reign of Lady Jane Grey
Author: Ann Rinaldi
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 179
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Having royal blood in 16th century England could put you in the best of circumstances or the worst of circumstances. Jane Grey, great-niece of King Henry VIII was trained for court life, but at the same time was treated with distain by her own parents. In her parent’s sight, nothing that she did was quite good enough...not her manners, her behavior or even her appearance. It was fully expected that she would be betrothed to Edward VI, her cousin and son of Henry VIII, thus making her queen regent. Position in royal society was the driving force of her parents, and Jane suffered their abuse uncomplainingly. Political conspiracy puts Jane in danger when young King Edward named Jane heir to the throne while on his deathbed. Jane became a pawn in a plot to keep her Catholic cousin, Mary, off the throne. As a fifteen year old girl, Jane had no desire whatsoever to be the Queen of England. Things go from bad to worse for Jane as unrest grows among the people and she is stripped of her crown after a reign of only nine days. Her cousin Mary (also known as Bloody Mary) was declared queen as the rightful successor to Edward, and as they say “the rest is history.” Her tragic end came at the age of sixteen when she was beheaded for treason after a time of imprisonment.

Review: As a fan of historical fiction, I enjoyed the story of Lady Jane Grey. Ann Rinaldi always does a thorough job of researching her topics and this is no exception. She brings Jane to life as a girl who seems both younger and older than her years. Emotionally Jane is still a child, yet she gained wisdom beyond her years as she has dealt with her parents and learned how to handle the intrigue and internal workings of the royal court.

Rating: 4 for violence.

Positive: Jane was generally upbeat and uncomplaining despite the cruel treatment that she suffered at the hands of her parents. She looked to small pleasures and enjoyed them to the fullest. Jane was wise and brave.

Spiritual Elements: Religion played a key role in 16th century England as Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and many Protestant vs. Catholic plots and subplots were rife in the government. This would be classified more as a “religious element” rather than a “spiritual element”. Jane did pray, but it did not seem that prayer was important to her personally on a consistent basis. It seemed that it was just “what people did”.

Violence: Mention was made of Henry’s wives losing their heads, and of course, there were others that met the same fate...even our heroine. There were no graphic descriptions.

Language: None

Sexual Content: Some oblique references to sex were made. Thomas Seymour engaged fourteen year old Princess Elizabeth is sessions of “tickle and slap” (in the presence of others) that were inappropriate, but no one had the courage to put a stop to the behavior. Thomas and Elizabeth were observed in the garden in an embrace.

Other: None


Recommendation: I would recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially those who like the Tudor period in England. At first I was concerned that the language used was going to be stilted, but Ms. Rinaldi got over the use of “mayhap” within a couple of pages.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Impossible


I almost didn’t do this review, since I couldn’t decide on my recommendation, but then I reviewed the purpose of these reviews and decided to lay out both sides as well as I could so parents can make an informed call—or maybe just enjoy the book themselves.




By Reviewer: Amy Jane
Title: Impossible
Author: Nancy Werlin
Primary Audience/age group: 16+ (I expect it’s marketed younger.)
Genre: Modern Fantasy
# Of pages: 376
Publisher: Speak
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 View Scale
Recommend? Yes, but with Reservations

Description: With the loving (if sometimes incredulous) help of her foster parents and Zack, her childhood friend, 18-year-old Lucy attempts to unravel an impossible riddle before she gives birth and becomes the next link in a centuries old generational curse.

Review: It was a great piece of storytelling and contained many elements rarely available in YA (detailed below in positive), but it did have an (unfortunately necessary) emphasis on sexuality at times.

Rating: 2 for sexual violence

Positive: Lucy Scarborough is a very rational, mature teenager. Before her own drama begins she tries to offer sensible relationship advice to her more loopy friend.

Zach and Lucy come from “intact,” two-parent households, and both ask and receive advice from their parents. Communication is free and respectful in both directions.

[Spoiler:] Abortion is rejected as an option in a crisis pregnancy situation. The young couple wait until their wedding night for sex. When asked, Zach says he’s a virgin. Lucy was before she became pregnant.

Human love, and more specifically loving marriage is the most holy and meaningful thing in this storyworld. It’s a bit disappointing (to see the creation worshiped over the Creator), but it’s better than other things that could have been chosen.

In addition, life is honored—both of the unborn baby and Lucy’s mentally damaged birth-mother.

Spiritual Elements: [Spoiler:] When the young couple chooses to marry, Lucy’s (foster) mother invites all the various “clergy” she can recruit to their living room wedding, sort of as a warding charm.

Violence: Lucy is raped. The reader sees the young man (“possessed,” perhaps by the malevolent force that’s perpetuated the curse through the ages) coming at Lucy, and later sees Zach finding her in the restroom, with a handful of bloody paper towels.

Language: I don’t remember anything past PG.

Sexual Content: When I described the sexuality as “unfortunately necessary,” I meant that it was not gratuitous to the story. The curse is perpetuated by the rape of each young mother (the Tolkien-type elf to blame was rebuffed by the first mother, and he has cursed her line of daughters through the centuries: pregnant and giving birth to a daughter by age 18).

Other: The fowling up of the Morning-After pill is blamed for the “issue” (baby and curse) still existing.

The birth scene leads me to believe the author didn’t truly know what she was describing, which is really too bad, considering the cohesiveness of the rest of the story and how careful she was to patch holes.

Recommendation: I recommend this book with reservations, because I know this site is aimed at teenagers.

As a married adult, I was smitten with the honorable relationships and cooperation in the midst of the inconceivable situation. The characters were believable, the teen angst was left behind blessedly quick, and marriage was honored both in word and in deed—the young husband is the stopgap help Lucy (more than once) desperately needs, once physically and once mental/emotionally.

When thinking of the teen girls in my life, I hesitate to offer it.
My concerns are with the sexual violence and open (as well as implied) sexual issues raised.