Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matched

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 13+
Genre: Science Fiction
# Of pages: 366
Publisher: Dutton Books
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 3 (Only one has been published so far)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Cassia lives in a perfect society…the government makes all the choices and always chooses what is best for the individual. It determines your job, the clothes you wear, how long you live, what you eat and the one you marry…your perfect match. When Cassia turns 17, she is thrilled to be matched with Xander, her best friend since childhood. She couldn’t be happier, as most girls are matched with someone they don’t know. Then she is shocked to see another face appear briefly on her matching screen…a boy she also knows, but not well. Which boy is her true match? As Cassia seeks to learn more about Ky, she finds herself falling in love with him, even though she has been told that Xander is her match...that the image she saw of Ky was a “mistake”. She struggles with rebellion against the authorities and wonders why they must be the ones to make all the choices. Her actions lead her to increasingly question the officials, and she risks having the Society take action against her and issue an Infraction and possibly classify her as an Aberration, which would severely limit what she would be allowed to do. She questions whether it is worth the danger…she knows she would be happy with Xander even if she doesn’t follow her heart.

Review: This book will pull you in from the beginning, and hold you there if you are into teen romances. That was one of the major themes...along with living in a controlling society where everything is managed so your life will be…”perfect”. (Reminiscent of The Giver.) I sometimes questioned Cassia’s reactions to situations that seemed at odds with her previous propensity for following the rules…but perhaps that is just part of the process of growing up, which for her seems to come at a later age than for most teens. (How many girls would be elated to be told that they would marry their best childhood friend?) Cassia is aware of the consequences of her decisions and considers the possible outcomes before making a choice, but often places her personal desires above concern for her family. Her character was well developed, but I would have liked to learn more about Xander. The ending left questions and lots of room for the sequel.

Rating: 4 for disregard for authority (Considering the subject matter, a lack of disregard for authority would totally eradicate the story. I thought it was totally appropriate.)

Positive: Cassia has a loving relationship with her grandfather, and seeks out his wisdom. His quest for individuality has been inherited by Cassia, and he has awakened this propensity in her. He and Ky both encourage her creativity. Her desire for excellence in all she does is noticeable throughout.

Spiritual Elements: None
Violence: None

Language: None

Sexual Content: Mild kissing

Other: All citizens are given three tablets that they are to keep with them at all times…a blue one, which will provide two weeks worth of nutrition should circumstances require it, a green one which will immediately have a calming effect on the taker, (not to be taken more than once a week), and a red one (rumored to be a death tablet…)

Recommendation: I found the oppressive society vaguely disturbing, yet worth discussing. The choices made by Cassia would also be worthy of discussion, since many of them had the possibility of unpleasant consequences for her family. I would recommend this book for age 13 and up.

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Reviewed by: Emily
Author: Sarah Miller
Title: Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: historical fiction
# Of pages: 208
Publisher: Antheneum Books for Young Readers
Year of Release: 2007
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Young, fiery Annie Sullivan is hired to work a miracle. Employed to teach Helen Keller, a deaf and blind child, she is faced with the challenge of reaching a mind almost completely shut off from the outside world. Stubborn and outspoken, Annie perseveres through Helen’s violent temper tantrums and frustratingly slow progress, clinging to her hope that Helen will one day learn to communicate. The process is healing for Annie as well as Helen, allowing her to come to grips with her troubled past and gain a sense of purpose and belonging.

Review: Told from the perspective of Annie Sullivan, the novel brings Helen Keller’s well-known story to life. The characters’ raw emotion is exposed as Annie describes her struggles to reach Helen and the young girl’s frustration and anguish as she tries to connect with a world she can neither hear nor see. Annie also shares her own difficult childhood via various flashbacks. Given such insight into Annie’s past, it is easy to see why she feels such a connection with Helen and so earnestly desires to see her succeed. Like Helen, Annie experienced blindness and felt isolated and misunderstood. Miller’s skillfully crafted tale of love and perseverance through hardship encourages and motivates, instilling a new appreciation for the precious gifts of sight, hearing, and ultimately communication.

Rating: 4, for violence, brief reference to prostitutes, and alcohol use.

Positive: Annie displays admirable perseverance, never giving up on Helen. She throws all her strength and intellect into reaching the girl, unselfishly sacrificing her own comfort and safety.

Helen’s parents love her unconditionally, despite her disabilities and violent outbursts. They ignore suggestions to send her to an insane asylum. So great is their love for Helen, they allow Annie to do what is best for Helen, although it is sometimes difficult for them.

Spiritual Elements: Annie is Catholic, but faith does not play a significant role in the book.

Violence: Helen is initially a violent child, due to her inability to communicate and her spoiled nature. While never injuring the child, Annie often uses bodily force to restrain Helen or encourage her obedience. Helen fights back, subjecting Annie to numerous minor injuries. Annie also describes encounters with her physically abusive father, mentioning that he punched her. The scenes are not graphic.

Language: Annie uses mildly harsh language. She calls Helen a devil and uses expressions such as “Lord above!” giving the impression that she is taking the Lord’s name in vain as opposed to actually crying out to Him.

Sexual Content: It is mentioned that prostitutes inhabit the poor house Annie lives in for part of her youth. Additionally, Annie says one of her father’s drunken friends laid his hand on hers a little too long, hinting at but not stating the sexual nature of his touch.

Other: Annie’s father is a drunkard and she relates some of his actions while under the influence of alcohol. In one instance, he has some drunken friends over to gamble. Annie does not glorify drinking, instead highlighting its negative effects on her life.

Recommendation: I heartily recommend this book. The only note I have is as the book progresses one becomes anxious to reach the resolution. However, the reader is only feeling the frustration and impatience Annie herself felt, so this is not a great concern.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Home Another Way

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: Home Another Way
Author: Christa Parrish
Primary Audience/age group: Adult, 15+
Genre: Contemporary Christian
# of pages 350
Publisher: Bethany House
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a series No
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Sarah Graham has been on her own for awhile now, living in the fast lane. She isn’t really proud of her choices, but who would blame her after her father murdered her mother and left Sarah in the hands of her godly yet judgmental grandmother. Now, her father’s death has caused her to travel to the tiny mountain town of Jonah to collect her inheritance. The only stipulation to receive the money she so desperately needs is for her to remain in the secluded town for 6 months. She begrudgingly complies but as her past collides with her present she realizes her plans for the future certainly won’t turn out as she expected.

Review: Home Another Way is about the transformation of Sarah Graham, an angry, rebellious young woman. The author goes deep into Sarah’s mindset, explaining why she makes the detrimental choices she does. You begin to understand and take on Sarah’s plight, feeling her despair and cheering for her in triumph. As the truth begins to unravel her way of life, several of the townspeople who knew her father as a kind-hearted and giving man pull together to help her see herself as God sees her, a misguided young woman in need of a Savior. The tears of joy and heartache that will ultimately ensue on your journey through this book make it all the more enjoyable.

Rating: 2 for mature sexual situations

Positive: God meets you where you are as He does Sarah in the book. She was angry at her life, at God, and wanted nothing to do with the godly people that once knew her father. She had to hit bottom to look up and see the truth and hope that can only come through grace.

Spiritual Elements: Jack, the young reverend of the local church, and his family (his mom and sister) befriend Sarah. Each is concerned for Sarah’s spiritual well-being and takes strides to share their faith with her. Sarah grew up with a overbearing grandmother who used her Christian beliefs to condemn Sarah, but the Christians she meets in Jonah share their faith by loving and forgiving her. They befriend where she is and wait for God to bring Sarah to Himself.

Violence: The murder of Sarah’s mother is revealed but was not described in a brutal way. Beth, Jack’s sister, was in a church fire as a young teen and was severely disfigured.

Language: none

Sexual Content: Sarah admits that her “drug of choice” is men. When she is depressed she peruses bars to find a man to take her home. She does this once in the beginning of the story, but no details are given, other than her sneaking out of his apartment in the morning.

Jack and Sarah like each other, and she tries to use her femininity to seduce him. Jack doesn’t let it go beyond a kiss. Even though he is attracted to her, he knows if they go beyond friendship then Sarah will put her focus on him and not God.

SPOLIER: While Jack was away at seminary, he becomes involved with a young woman who becomes pregnant. He doesn’t try to stop her from having an abortion because he wants to hide his sin. He is very repentant.

Other: none

Recommendation: Sarah’s way of life is not wise. She is not a Christian, therefore, she does not make godly choices. But, the story is about her transformation and her realization that there is a God who loves her and will forgive her.

All the sexual/romantic type scenes like her going home with a man she doesn’t know and her moments with Jack are done tastefully. The book does not condone premarital sex and goes a step further to show the consequences of making those type choices outside of marriage. I would recommend this book to ages 15+.

Journey to Topaz

Reviewed by: Emily
Title: Journey to Topaz
Author: Yoshiko Uchida
Primary Audience/age group: 10+
Genre: historical fiction
# Of pages: 149
Publisher: Heyday Books
Year of Release: 1971
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Eleven year old Yuki’s world is turned upside down when she and her family are sent to an internment camp with countless other Japanese Americans during WWII. Yuki is forced to adjust to the cramped living conditions, unappealing food, and harsh weather of the desert surrounding the camp. Resilient and spirited, she quickly begins to make a new home for herself, finding friendship and laughter in the bleak prison camp. Through her trials, Yuki gains maturity, learning valuable lessons about loyalty, injustice, and her own ability to persevere through difficulties.

Review: Yuki’s story is clearly and engagingly told, providing valuable insight into an important period of American history. Written from the perspective of eleven year-old Yuki, the book allows younger readers the opportunity to gain greater understanding of Japanese internment camps. The author’s vivid descriptions immerse the reader into the world of the prison camps, both the physical scenery and the emotion. It is easy to become interested in the well-developed characters, whose diversity enables the discussion of a variety of important topics including forgiveness, family, discrimination, and loyalty to a country that treats one like an enemy.

Rating: 4, for brief violence and the maturity of the subject matter.

Positive: Yuki and her family show incredible perseverance and resilience given their circumstances. Both Yuki’s family and friends work together, unselfishly sharing resources and providing each other with emotional support through their difficult stay in the camp. Hospitality is especially important to Yuki’s mother, who goes out of her way to reach out to those around her. Despite what they have suffered at the hands of the American government, Yuki and her family remain loyal citizens.

Spiritual Elements: Yuki attends church with her family before she is sent to the internment camp. However, she does not express much interest in God or religion. Her father attends church out of a sense of duty, while her more devoted mother reads her Bible everyday. In general, the family looks to themselves and each other rather than God for comfort and strength.

Violence: Violence is kept to a minimum. In the camps, a man gets shot. Thugs throw a stink bomb into Yuki’s house. A dust storm hits the camp. Yuki mentions fighting with her elder brother.

Language: No inappropriate language.

Sexual Content: None.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to upper elementary school children and above. However, since it is written at a level appropriate for younger children, it may not be as engaging for older readers

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Before I Fall


By Reviewer Leeann Cronk
Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Primary Audience/age group: 16+
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 470
Publisher: Harper Collins
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 1 for language, drug and alcohol use, violence, and sexual situations (View Scale)
Recommend? No

Description: What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first-pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High – from the best table at the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death – and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Review: Samantha was able to relive the last day of her life seven times. In the beginning of the novel she started out as a shallow, selfish, stuck-up, snob who is preparing to lose her virginity to her boyfriend that night because she is tired of being afraid of sex and wants to get it over with. Instead, she winds up dying in a car accident, but wakes up the next day only to realize that it is really yesterday again (in much the same way that Bill Murray’s character relieved the same day in the movie Groundhog Day). Samantha soon realizes that no matter what she says or does, “today” will be erased when she wakes up the next morning. This leads to her making some very poor decisions and for a while she actually manages (somehow) to turn into an even more dislikable person than the one she started out as. Each day, however, Samantha learns more and more about those around her and it is as if parts of a puzzle are slowly come together day after day. As she learns more and more each day about her friends, acquaintances and herself, she matures, makes decisions that are finally honorable, anddevelops depth of character. Once Samantha learns what is making certain people behave the way they do, she is able to love them and appreciate them in a way she could not before.

Rating: 1 for bad language, sexual situations, violence, smoking, frequent drug and alcohol use.

Positive: The main character, Samantha, eventually matures and by the end of the book has acquired many of the values that she was missing in the beginning. She appreciates her family and chooses to spend some quality time with them on her final day. She loves her friends for who they are – even though they clearly have faults. She realizes that her feelings for her boyfriend were baseless and allows herself to fall in love with a boy with whom she normally would not have associated. She becomes kind and begins thinking of others instead of herself. The final person that Samantha becomes is a person worth knowing.

Spiritual Elements: Very little in the way of spiritual elements are mentioned, which is somewhat is surprising since you would imagine that a teenage girl who keeps dying would at least wonder about her soul and what happens to it when her body dies. Her best friend once confessed that “sometimes when she’s upset about something she recites this Catholic bedtime prayer she memorized when she was little, even though she’s half Jewish and doesn’t even believe in God anyway.” Samantha and her friends also play with a Ouija board, but they seem to be just goofing around with it, not actually trying to read their futures.

Violence: The main character dies multiple times, most often by being in a car accident or being hit by a car. Another character commits suicide with a gun. Her teacher kisses and gropes her and when she tries to push him off of her, she can’t because he’s too strong.

Language: Full of bad language – if you can imagine it, it’s probably said, so I won’t bother listing everything. The Lord’s name is taken in vain multiple times.

Sexual Content: Lots of sexual content and references. Most disturbing is Samantha’s flirtations with a teacher that eventually result in a kissing/groping scene.

Other: Samantha smokes pot, drinks and propositions her teacher.

Recommendation: This was actually a well-written, engaging book and I seriously considered recommending it with STRONG reservations because I enjoyed reading it very much – I found that I couldn’t wait to see what happened next as bits and pieces of the stories of Samantha’s classmates were revealed. However, while Samantha does become a better person and matures a great deal, she never draws closer to God (or even thinks about Him for that matter). While this is not a requirement I make before I will recommend a book, the tremendous amount of sex, drinking and terrible language involved, ultimately made me decide that Samantha’s becoming a “better person” wasn’t a compelling enough reason to make me recommend the book to teen readers.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Rogues

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: The Rogues
Author: Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 277
Publisher: Philomel Books
Year of Release: 2007
Part of a Series? Yes, 4 of 4 of Stuart Quartet Series (But will stand alone)
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: The Macallan family are tenant farmers in a small croft in the Scottish Highlands in the 18th century. During that time many of the Scottish lairds found it more profitable to rent their land to the English for grazing their sheep than to allow the native farmers to support their families by farming. When their farms are burned, they are forced to flee. Young Roddy Macallan returns to his burned out home, determined to discover the “blessing” (a brooch that was given to the family by Bonnie Prince Charles that his mother had hidden before her death) in hopes that it will improve their lot. When he does find it, he is almost immediately set upon by the laird’s men and relieved of his treasure. He joins forces with a Robin-Hood type rogue to recover what rightly belongs to his family.

Review: This is a skillfully written book that gives a good idea of the conditions that were endured by the common people of Scotland during the 18th century. A bit of Scottish brogue adds to the authenticity of the story, but might be a bit off-setting to a young reader. There is a big dollop of adventure, a slight tinge of romance, a bit of mystery and villains enough to provide an engrossing tale. I found myself cheering for Roddy and Alan Dunbar, even if Alan was a scoundrel. I especially appreciated an afterword that gives information as to which parts of the story are based on fact.

Rating: 4 for violence, non-glamorized use of alcohol

Positive: The loyalty shown to family and friends permeates the book as the characters seek to assist and protect their neighbors. Although Alan Dunbar was a rascal, ever ready to do what was necessary to save his own skin, he still had a code of honor when it came to protecting what was right and fair.

Spiritual Elements: The kirk (church) was the community meeting place and was a basic part of village life. Even though the preacher, Mr. McGillivray, considered the village people his flock, he was in the hire of the laird and seemed to relish preaching fire and brimstone to the congregation.

Violence: Whole villages were burned to clear the people from the land, and individuals were beaten, robbed, stabbed or shot and often left for dead.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: Frequent references were made to drinking whisky, but there was no evidence of drunken behavior.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to all young adults with a love of historical fiction. It was superbly written with an eye for detail. The only concern I would have is that it might be a bit confusing for younger teens who might struggle with the dialect.