Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One of the Survivors

By Reviewer Dianne

Title: One of the Survivors
Author: Susan Shaw
Primary Audience/age group: Middle School
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 199
Publisher: Margaret K. Elderberry Books
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes, but with reservations

Description: Joey Campbell endures survivor’s guilt when he and his best friend Maureen are the only two to survive a disastrous fire that swept through their history class during the last month of his high school freshman year. To complicate matters, other students accuse him of setting the fire since he “knew” to get out of the classroom. He becomes the target of taunts of “murderer” and suffers rocks and garbage being hurled at his house until his father resorts to building a fence around the property. He retreats, becoming a prisoner in his own house and only releasing his emotions in a journal and through his art work.

Review: Although this novel seems to target young teens, the writing and dialogue tend to be more appropriate for a much younger audience, yet I would not recommend this to anyone younger simply because of the subject matter. The protagonist is fourteen years old, but I had a hard time thinking of him as being any older than eleven or twelve.

I found this to be a rather disturbing story, with descriptions of Joey’s dead classmates as they were brought out of the burning building.

Rating: 4 for mild language

Positive: Joey and Maureen hold a fierce loyalty to each other. Joey works through his past experiences and struggles with the memory of his mother’s death in a fire in the recent past to emerge a stronger and more stable person. He eventually is able to convince others through his artwork that he had nothing to do with the fire. In the end he has grown strong enough to go back to his same high school.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: Most of The violence takes place in the form of harassment and mental cruelty. There is one incidence where Joey is surrounded by a number of students who have plans to beat him up (or worse).

Language: The history teacher swears, using the word “h*ll” a couple of times, which Joey remarks on…that his mother would not approve.

Sexual Content: None

Other: Joey mentioned that he tried pot once. It made him sick and he avoided it after that. Joey did sneak cigarettes from time to time.

Recommendation: There is nothing so wrong with this that I would say to avoid it, but there isn’t anything compelling that would make me suggest it to a young reader either. If a young teen was dealing with the issue of survivor’s guilt, it might be a compelling read, but the mixed issues of age appropriateness might make it difficult.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer

By Reviewer Carol
Title: Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer
Author: John Grisham
Primary Audience/age group: 10-16 years
Genre: Mystery
# Of pages: 263
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of ?
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Taken from the review published in the Christian Library Journal, August 2010.

Description: Theodore Boone is the 13 year old son of lawyer parents. Theodore (or Theo as he is sometimes called) knows every judge, police officer, and court clerk in town. He dreams of being a trial lawyer someday. Theo finds himself unexpectedly in the middle of a sensational murder trial, where he is the only one who knows the truth about a key witness. Without that witness, the killer will go free. But there are complications to bringing that witness to court.

In the meantime, others – friends, classmates, even adults Theo knows – come to him for legal advice and referrals because of his in-depth knowledge about the law and his connections to other lawyers. One is his friend since kindergarten whose divorcing parents are fighting over her custody; another had a brother who was picked up for drug possession, and another whose house was being foreclosed and the family was facing eviction.

Review: Grisham, a well-known author in legal mysteries, has crafted a plot and characters that draw in the reader. Theo is a likeable kid who wants to see justice served and the truth known. He knows the limits and boundaries of the law.

Readers will enjoy the twists and turns, as they try to solve the mystery in this legal thriller. Plot twists and plenty of action make this an excellent choice for readers in fifth grade and up.

Rating: 4 due to mention of drug use by the brother of a friend and mild violence (the murder),

Positive: Theo wants to help his friends and stays within the law to do so. He struggles with protecting the identity of a witness, knowing if the witness testifies, the witness is at risk for deportation. He wants to see justice done and the truth to prevail. He knows that if the witness doesn’t testify, a killer will go free.

Spiritual Elements: None

Violence: None – there is a murder but it is only mentioned, not described in detail.

Language: Clean

Sexual Content: None

Other: Theodore Boone, kid lawyer is the first work by well-known author John Grisham into young adult literature. It is a wonderful legal drama for younger readers with the characteristics of his other works: a legal thriller with suspense told by a skilled storyteller

Recommendation: Recommended for 10-16 years old. Boys and girls should like this new mystery series!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Heretic's Daughter

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: The Heretic’s Daughter
Author: Kathleen Kent
Primary Audience/age group: Adult
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 332 (plus extra features)
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown)
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes, for mature teens

Description: (from book cover)”In 1752, Sarah Carrier Chapman, weak with infirmity, writes a letter to her granddaughter, revealing the secret she has closely guarded for six decades….Her story begins more than a year before the Salem witch trials, when nine-year-old Sarah and he family arrive in a New England community already gripped by superstition and fear. As they witness neighbor pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, hysteria escalates – until more than 200 men, women, and children have been swept into prison. Among them is Sarah’s mother, Martha Carrier. In an attempt to protect her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy – a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it will save her daughter.”

Review: I don’t like the description of this book on the cover because it tries to give a “mysterious” slant to the story, like there’s some huge secret that is key to the plot. (Spoiler) There’s not. But that doesn’t make this book have less impact on the reader. It is a straightforward, moving account of what it would have been like to be on the receiving end of the witch hunt hysteria in Salem, and of how a family tries to hold together despite circumstances. Kent is a descendant of one of the women hanged as a witch, and this novel gives good insight into an unhappy period in American history.

Rating: 2, for violence and a little sexual content

Recommend: Yes, for mature teens

Positive: Sarah’s parents have great love and respect for each other. Even when he knows his wife is condemned, Sarah’s father won’t try to rescue her because he respects her decision to maintain her innocence rather than falsely admit guilt to save her life. That family devotion extends to the siblings as well. Tom, especially, shows himself to be a rock of the family.

Spiritual Elements: Sarah’s parents don’t agree with the Puritan establishment. Although they attend meeting because it is expected in the social structure, it’s clear to the community they are dissenters. Naturally, there is mention of Satan’s influence on the women who were accused of being witches and their victims.

Violence: Sarah, at age 10, spends several months in terrible prison conditions. A reader who is squeamish won’t much like the details of those conditions. There is also description of some of the torture methods the courts used to get people to confess to being witches, and I found that disturbing, especially knowing this isn’t something Kent made up for the book. Several people – and two dogs – are hanged as witches.

Language: There are a few instances of vulgar language, but not a lot.

Sexual Content: Sarah is exposed to sex through living on a farm, so there are a few mentions of her becoming aware of humans doing what the animals do. Most of the sexual content comes through the subplot of a servant who is trying to seduce Sarah’s brother so she can trap him into marrying her (and therefore raise her social status). When she (falsely) tells Sarah’s mother she’s pregnant, Sarah’s mother insists on examining her to know for sure. I found that scene sort of gross, but not to the point of being offensive.

Other: Sarah’s family has a chip on their shoulders toward outsiders. Her mother is very sharp-tongued, and gets into conflict with neighbors by refusing to budge on her position. Everyone is afraid of Sarah’s father because rumor says he was the executioner of King Charles I. Sarah herself is stubborn and vengeful at times, which leads to enmity with some local girls that later comes back to haunt her. I can’t help thinking their story might have had a different outcome if they had used a “soft answer [to] turn away wrath.”

Rating: 2, for some sexual content and violence

Recommendation: Yes, for mature teens