Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Maze Runner

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Trilogy (Hardback))
Author: James Dashner
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
# Of pages: 384
Publisher: Delacort Books for Young Readers
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? 1 of 3
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with strong reservations

Description: From Amazon: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Review: The Glade surrounded by a seemingly impossible maze is a very menacing place. The more you learn about the hideous things that have gone on, the less you won’t to know. But, the plot and background were unlike anything I’ve ever read. I think both Sci-Fi and fantasy book fans would be entralled. But, the escalating violence was a bit shocking along with the constant yet creative use of expletives. And just when I thought the author would ease up on his characters, he threw a bit more brutality at me. I was left to wonder what other horrible obstacles the characters would face in the sequels. I recommend caution on choosing this one.

Rating: 2 for strong violence

Positive: The Gladers, those who reside in the Glade, do not have much to lighten the heavy weight of their circumstances. But, each Glader has a purpose that is important to their existence. They may not like each other or their tasks, but they do them for the good of all. We also see unlikely friendships and true heroism.

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: Several of the violent moments are through stories told by the Gladers. Many young men are killed in very violent manners such as one being cut in half while trying to escape. It is a treacherous place to live, and the main goal of the Gladers is to survive. Creatures called Grievers, half animal, half machine, slither around inside the maze welding deadly weapons. The Gladers are terrified of them because most of those who come in contact with them do not survive. If they do, they go through a very gruesome and painful condition called “the Change.”

The rules in the Glade are very strict. If rules are broken, banishment into the maze is standard. One Glader, Ben, is banished for almost killing Thomas. The other Gladers strap a collar onto Ben, push him screaming and crying into the maze with long polls, as the walls close, trapping him inside with the Grievers. Several other detailed scenes of death follow.

Language: No traditional strong language is used, but the author made up several words the Gladers use as foul language – shank, klunk, and shuck. These words are used on almost every page. Even with the replacement words, you still get the picture the boys are using very foul language. Other words used are friggin’, freaking, cr*p, and arse.

Sexual Content: none

Other: Anger and hate seem to be prevalent among several of the Gladers.

Recommendation: I’m not completely sold on a firm “yes” recommendation. As I was told by my husband, often Sci-Fi and fantasy creators use “substitutionary swearing” or milder terms in place of strong language. Expressions such as “Gosh darnit” and “Sheesh” would fall into this category as well. It seemed very plain to me what each of the expletives used in the book meant. The Glade is a rough place to be where teenage boys have had to savagely learn how to survive without modern comforts. I feel the language was used to portray that, but use of it on almost every page was too much. As well God has shown me by researching substitutionary swearing that those words we as Christians deem as “ok” replacements are still wrong if we hold the true meanings in our heart. “Ouch.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) reads, "...The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

With the numerous expletives and never-ending violence, I would encourage parents to preview the sequels first, as I hope to do soon, before giving it to their teens. I would recommend ages 15 plus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Paper Towns

Reviewed by: Angi
Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 305
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 1 (View Scale)
Recommend? NO!

Description: From Book Jacket:
Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows. After their all nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues – and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

Review: I would not have completed reading this book, but considering that it was voted #1 in the 2009 YALSA/ALA Teen’s Top 10 and it was awarded the 2009 Edgar Award for best Young Adult Novel, I felt a comprehensive review was needed. Though, if a parent was to read merely the first chapter, they would immediately know this is not a book they’d want their teen to be reading. It is full of profanity, glorified underage drinking, felony breaking and entering, vandalism, disrespect for/lying to authority and sexual references.

The plot is your standard teenagers coming of age story - trying to figure out who they are, what their purpose is, dealing with the superficial, material nature of life around them. They live in Orlando, land of make believe. They are all financially well off, very smart and getting ready to attend colleges such as Duke and Vanderbilt. Margo was a character that clearly has some psychological issues her parents failed to have treated and basically goes off the deep end. Quentin, who idolizes her, chases after her and in the end finds out he really preferred the idea of Margo, rather than the real thing.

John 4:13-14 says “Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” “This water” is the things of this world that people try to fill themselves up with, material things, relationships, sex, drugs, etc. The living water Jesus offers us will fill us up, causing us to seek Him more, not the empty things of this world. Seek Him, accept Him, and believe in something real, completely the opposite of the fake, Paper Towns.

Rating: 1 for sexual situations, frequent course language, glamorizes underage drinking, breaking of the law and disregard for authority.

Positive: Quentin is a loyal and dedicated friend on whom his buddies can count.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: Mild childish bullying

Language: A lot of bad language including the “F” word and many uses of the Lord’s name in vain. I lost count of how many and what they all were – it was rampant and offending.

Sexual Content: Quentin walks in on teens having sex, talks to his friends about sex, many teenage boy remarks about their own genitalia.

Other: Quentin and his friends attend a party where there is a lot of drinking and competition to see who can drink the most. There is a lot of vandalism, breaking and entering, encounters with policemen, lying to parents, and vindictiveness. I’m sure I’m leaving some stuff out – but you get the picture.

Recommendation: I personally am very disappointed that this book was voted by teens to be the ALA #1 Teen book of 2009. Equally disappointing is that the Mystery Writers of America voted it the top Teen Mystery book of 2009. Yes, there are some good lines, and I do think it is well written. However, I feel using such filthy language lacks creativity with words. Mr. Green is a gifted writer, it is sad to me that he isn’t writing books that are more appropriate for teens to read. Books that inspire them to figure “it” all out in less destructive, more productive, and creative ways. In places, Amazon is recommending this book for ages as young as 13. Parents beware – this book is not at all appropriate for a 13 year old and would be best left unopened by all.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
# Of pages: 480
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 2 (but, both stand-alone)
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: Graceling’s are individuals that possess extraordinary gifts that the rest of humanity do not, gifts such as fighting, mind-reading, or talking backward. Graceling’s are identified by their two different colored eyes that develop at a young age. Once a child is discovered as having the peculiar eyes they are brought into the king’s household and may remain indefinitely if their gifts are useful as in the case of Katsa. With both her parents dead and possessing the violent gift of killing, her uncle, King Randa, uses her to his brutal benefit. But, Katsa hates killing and would like nothing better than to leave. She develops the Council, a secret group, who saves those in dire need from the evil, vengeful kings and stumbles upon a stranger along the way. He happens to have the most striking eyes she’s ever seen, one silver and one gold, and then her world begins to change.

Review: Kristine Cashore’s Graceling is a unique, spell-binding story that takes you into the world of the Graceling Katsa, born with two different colored eyes and bearing a violent gift. Katsa is a vengeful and strong-willed yet succumbs to the verbal abuse of her uncle, King Randa. She is strong in physical ability but weak in regards to her emotions. I was drawn to the character of Katsa because of her vulnerabilities, but when the plot turned romantic, I became very disappointed with the outcome. Katsa’s decisions concerning marriage and sex, especially her conclusions that marrying would be selfish, denying the other person the right to love someone else, were based on her fears and were ultimately self-seeking as opposed to being selfless.

Rating: 2 for detailed sex scenes

Positive: Katsa thinks she is nothing but a stupid brute with her only skill being to kill. Others are afraid to look her in the eyes but she grows into a compassionate, caring person as she stands up for herself against King Randa. She develops the Council to help those in need. With the help of Prince Po, another Graceling she befriends, she discovers she is able to love.

Spiritual Elements: none

Violence: Katsa discovered her Grace of killing at the age of eight when she accidentally killed someone. After this, King Randa began training her to become his deadly weapon. She practiced her skills on dummies and prisoners sentenced to death until she was able to control her gift. At the age of ten, King Randa began using her to violently torture or kill those he did not like. He controlled her with verbal abuse. Later, Katsa and Po seek out a murderous king, and several bloody scenes follow.

Language: one use of a**

Sexual Content: Katsa makes it very clear that she never wants to marry or have children. She feels they would change her, and she never wants to be controlled by anyone again like she was by King Randa. When she realizes she is in love with Po, she panics. Even his love doesn’t persuade her to commit; therefore, he suggests they become lovers instead and she finally agrees. They have sex on several occasions. One scene in particular is fairly descriptive.

Other: none

Recommendation: The book’s negative portrayal of commitment and monogamy in marriage was very disappointing. God designed marriage to be a gift, and even Christ’s love for us is described as an anxious Bridegroom waiting for His bride, the church. Even though marriage can be a difficult endeavor at times, it is still one of the most rewarding and fulfilling gifts we have along with having children. I do not recommend the book based on the open views of sex outside of marriage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bark of the Bog Owl

By Teen Reviewer Sarah
Title: The Bark Of The Bog Owl (The Wilderking Trilogy)
Author: Jonathan Rogers
Primary Audience/age group: Ages 9-12
Genre: Christian Adventure
# Of pages: 231
Publisher: Broadman & Holman
Year of Release: 2004
Part of a Series? Yes, book 1 of The Wilderking Trilogy
Rating: 5 View Scale
Recommend? Yes, highly!

Description: Twelve-year-old Aidan Errolson comes from a long line of adventurers – from the first settlers of Corenwald to great warriors in the battles against the Pyrthens. Yet he spends his days living a comfortable life tending a flock of sheep. He never has any real adventures, and that, he believes, is the one great injustice of his otherwise happy life.

All that will change the day he first hears the bark of the bog owl and meets Dobro Turtlebane – one of the fabled feechiefolk. That same day Bayard the Truthspeaker also arrives with a startling pronouncement: Aidan Errolson will grow to be the Wilderking – the long prophesied wild man who will come out of Corenwald’s forests and swamps to lead the kingdom back to its former glory.

Review: I salute Jonathan Rogers for writing this wonderful trilogy! The unique setting of Corenwald’s forests and the Feechiefen swamp are only a part of what makes this book so excitingly new and unlike any other books out there. A retelling of King David, this book is funny and appropriate for any age.

Rating: 5

Positive: Aidan’s father is a man who stands firm for what he believes despite his nation’s backsliding, and teaches his sons to do the same. Although his nation begins to eagerly desire the prideful promenading of their neighbors, he continues in his humble, faithful, and honest service to his king. Adrian’s father views the king as the one anointed by God – although obedience to God should always come first – and these views are reflected in Adrian’s wise choices. Both father and son hold a fierce patriotism for their country, but do not accept its sins.

Spiritual Elements: As mentioned before, this book is a retelling of David. Adrian’s faith in God is child-like and unfaltering – its very existence condemning to the disbelieving Corenwalders and their King. His faith in the midst of so much doubt is encouraging to us as Christians, much like David’s heart for God inspires us.

Violence: A short war ensues between the Corenwalders and the Prythens – there are no needless descriptions. As in the story of David, Adrian kills the giant and beheads him. There is an explosion of gunpowder that kills no one. No graphic descriptions or anything of the sort, even though adventure fills every page of this book.

Language: None.

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: What can I say that is not good about this book? Children of all ages will like this book – and I’m sure adults would not regret settling down for an enjoyable read as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alice in Love and War

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: Alice in Love and War
Author: Ann Turnbull
Primary Audience/age group: 15+
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 325
Publisher: Walker Books
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes, for mature readers

Description: (from book cover) ”1644 – Alice Newcombe, trapped and unhappy on her uncle’s farm, finds her life transformed when royalist soldiers are billeted there during the Civil War. Suddenly her days are filled with excitement – and love for one young soldier, Robin. When the regiment moves on, Alice persuades Robin to take her with him, and she joins the other army women on the baggage train. The road ahead is long and hard – will there be happiness at its end?”

Review: For the first half of this book, I felt like I was watching a train wreck about to happen. As an adult, I can look at Alice’s story and see the mistakes she made and predict the unhappiness they are going to lead her into. Turnbull doesn’t gloss over the consequences of choices Alice made and circumstances she can’t change. In the end, a more mature Alice gets the chance to start again and make better choices.

Rating: 2, for sexual content and war-related violence

Recommend: Yes, for mature readers

Positive: In the midst of the English Civil War, there are still people who are willing to be kind and to help Alice when she is in desperate circumstances. Alice herself shows loyalty and bravery (SPOILER!) when she adopts a child whose mother is murdered in a battle, even though doing so has great disadvantages for her.

Spiritual Elements: Religion is mentioned in the contrast between the views of the king and the soldiers for Parliament. Alice stays with a family(the Weston family) that is devoutly Anglican, and they urge her to use their chapel to repent privately of her sins. Throughout the book, Alice acknowledges that she has sinned and is ashamed of it, but she stops short of formal repentance. She is honest enough to know she would make the same mistakes, given the same circumstances. The soldier Alice nurses back to health is a Puritan, and a point is made of showing what a godly young man he is – his Bible is well-worn, and Alice notices him reading it.

Violence: Since the book is set during the English Civil War, violence is an inescapable part of the story. It takes many different forms, from the destruction of the Weston family’s property to caring for wounded soldiers. The worst of the violence comes in two chapters in the middle of the book, when Alice and her friends observe the aftermath of the pillaging of a town by Royalist soldiers, and when Alice’s friends are hacked down and murdered by Parliamentary soldiers. I made the mistake of reading that chapter before going to bed one night – it’s definitely disturbing (especially knowing that the event really happened).

Language: The word “whore” is used throughout the book, but there is no other offensive language.

Sexual Content: This is what will probably make most parents object to the book. (SPOILERS!) Within the first two chapters of the book, we read that Alice is in danger of being raped by her uncle and that she loses her virginity to a soldier (Robin) billeted on the farm. Alice is in “love” with Robin and convinces him to take her with him when the army leaves the farm, believing he will marry her as soon as he gets the chance. She becomes part of the community of camp followers, some of which are soldiers’ wives, but which are mostly viewed as prostitutes (for good reason). Alice sleeps with Robin frequently, and quickly becomes pregnant (she miscarries the child in a somewhat graphic scene). But her expectation that Robin will marry her is disappointed when he deserts her. She later learns he’s already married, and that she was just a diversion on the army’s march.

For the rest of the book, Alice lives with the knowledge that she has been foolish and that people are going to look at her as an immoral camp follower, the same as the prostitutes. When she nurses a wounded young Parliamentary soldier back from death, she falls in love with him, but she fears that he will judge her harshly once he knows her story. She decides she must be honest with him.

I debated with myself about whether I should recommend the book. There is quite a bit of sexual content, and while they are not “romance-novel” explicit, the sex scenes are fairly descriptive. However, I decided to recommend the book on the basis of its portrayal of the consequences of sex. A lot of what teens see in the media about sex fails to acknowledge that there are consequences. From the first time she sleeps with Robin, Alice is worried about what she’s done to her reputation and about the possibility of getting pregnant. Once she is pregnant, she is worried about trying to get Robin to marry her and make her respectable again. Once Robin has deserted her, she’s resigned to being “used goods,” so to speak, and to knowing that will affect her life from now on.

I also liked that the book contrasted Alice’s infatuation with Robin (which was based solely on physical attraction) and her love for Jem (which is based on getting to know him as a person – they don’t sleep together until they are married). Teens need to know there is a difference, and Alice’s story may be more effective in getting that message across than any number of parental lectures.

Other: This is a time of history when everyone drank beer in the same way we drink soft drinks or tea. There are only a couple of brief mentions of people who are drunk.

Rating: 2, for sexual content and war-related violence

Recommendation: Yes, for mature readers. I think this book could serve as a good discussion starter.