Rummanah Aasi
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  I'm taking a short break from blogging as the end of the school year's madness is drawing closer (less than 2 weeks away!). I thought I could stay on top of everything, but I can't so I'm going to take a step back. I hope to be back to my regular blogging schedule once everything settles down, which I expect to be on  June 14, 2013. Thanks for your patience and hope to see you all soon!
Rummanah Aasi

Hi, Everyone! While I try to swim the rough waters of the end of the school year, I have a terrific opportunity for aspiring writers and fans of YA fiction alike to chat with some awesome authors! Figment, the online writing community, has a great author/editor web chat tonight, May 23rd at 7 pm EST. Come and chat with YA authors Elizabeth Norris (Unraveling and Unbreakable) and Brodi Ashton (Everneath and Everbound), plus Balzer + Bray editor Kristen Rens, will be taking questions about life as a published author.  I hope to see you at the live event!
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this soon-to be- regular monthly feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned. Today I'll be reviewing Robert Cormier's controversial YA suspense novel, Tenderness, which was published in 1997.

Description (from Goodreads): Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his parents. Now he's looking for tenderness--tenderness he finds in killing girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive and sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness--tenderness that she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other's salvation or destruction?

Review: Cormier is known for his gritty novels. His most widely known book, The Chocolate War, is a staple in YA literature and unapologetic explores the important issue of bullying which we are still struggling today. Tenderness is a mesmerizing albeit extremely disturbing plunge into the mind of a psychopathic teen killer. The book is compelling, short, and quick to the point. The story is simple as it follows two teens who are desperately searching for something called tenderness. 
  Eric Poole is handsome, clean cut, and with a vulnerability that plays well before the cameras. He is about to be released from the juvenile facility where he has spent three years for killing his mother and stepfather, who were believed to have abused him. Eric himself only knows that he murdered his parents without provocation; killed and sexual assaulted the girls involved in the serial killer case. Veteran cop Jake Proctor is almost positive that Eric is the serial killer, but he has no hard evidence to prove his suspicions. When Proctor's covert endeavors to obstruct Eric's release fail, the teen walks out of the facility, glorying in his cleverness and in great anticipation of renewing his obsessive search for "tenderness." 
  The really suspense begins with Eric carefully avoiding controversy until he can escape to another town while Proctor anxiously watches and waits for the young man to make a mistake. Neither villain nor cop suspects that Eric's undoing will come in the form of 15-year-old runaway Lori, who sees her own desire for affection mirrored in Eric's haunted eyes. 
  Lori is a complicated character. My reactions toward her varied from a selfish, vulnerable, obsessive child to a sexually precocious and an intuitive young woman. A victim of sexual harassment and abuse, Lori blatantly and aggressively uses her sexuality to get what she wants. Like Eric, she is obsessed with a search for genuine affection, and she's every bit as committed to pursuing it.
  While I was engrossed in the story, I didn't think this book was textured enough to satisfy today's YA readers. The chapters that switch from Eric and Lori's point of views aren't labeled though their voices are clearly distinct. There are, however, a number of intriguing psychological underpinnings that made me pause and think. There are strong hints of incest as we get a clear focus of Eric's fixation for his young victims: girls who have long, dark hair, medium height, just like his mother's.  Sex, though never explicit, plays a big role in both Lori's and Eric's behaviors. 
  Even though we don't get a whole lot of background to the story, particularly with Eric's parents, both main characters are fully developed. Though the characters are introduced separately, their perspectives smoothly transition once they finally meet. As readers, we know that Lori's time might be quickly shorten when she meets and spends time with Eric, but I never expected the book's final twist. The irony of Eric and Lori's ends is searing. The idea that humanity is a switch that can be turned off and on by will is the most disquieting aspect of the novel. It is also what ultimately makes the book so dark, seductive, and well.. forbidding. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Why it was challenged: According to Marhall University Library, the book was challenged in 2003 at the Fairfax (VA) school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools for "profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture".

Words of Caution: There is some profanity in the book, but nothing that isn't spoken in a PG-13 movie. Lori mentions that her mother has an alcohol and drug problem, which highlights her isolation and the way she behaves. She is harassed by her mother's boyfriends who don't disguise their lecherous desire for her. There are scenes of sexual suggestiveness: In the beginning we see Lori's mother's current boyfriend brushes against her. Later a hitchhiker who Lori allows him to kiss and fondle her, but these incidents aren't graphically depicted but give enough of a set-up for readers to fill in the details. While difficult to read, I thought these scenes were necessary to show how sex Lori has become a big part of her life and she is provocative without really thinking about what she is doing which is the point that Cormier is trying to make. Her opinions of adults never go beyond their sexual desires because that is all that she has known. As mentioned in the review, Eric is a serial killer and there is obviously going to be violence associated with him. We are briefly told that he strangles his victims and there are clear suggestions that he sexually assaults his victims. In almost all popular adult books, the author spends time detailing the act of crime.  Cormier, however,  spends more time focusing on Eric's psychological state. Due to the book's mature themes, I would feel comfortable in recommending this book to older teens (i.e. Grades 10 and up).

If you like this book try: Right Behind You by Gail Giles, The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin
Rummanah Aasi
   One of the books I have recommended picking up for Spring Break was The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. The book has received many glowing reviews. I knew very little about the Lindberghs except for the kidnapping of their first child in 1932. I enjoyed the book's historical detail and highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

Description: Despite her own major achievements--she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States--Anne Morrow Lindbergh is viewed merely as Charles Lindbergh's wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life's infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Review: The Aviator's Wife pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary and famous couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Readers anticipating an idyllic romance between Anne and Charles will be disappointed as Benjamin doesn't hold anything back from their troubled marriage.
  The story begins when Anne, the self-effacing daughter of a suffragette and an ambassador, is surprised when Charles, already a celebrity thanks to his first trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, asks her--instead of her blonde, outgoing older sister Elisabeth--to go flying with him. Anne, who is always in the shadow of her sister, is absolutely shocked when Charles proposes. She believes the marriage is a dream come true, which at first is true.  The honeymoon phase of their marriage consists of flights all over the world: Anne becomes a pilot and navigator and Charles' indispensable sidekick. Due to couple's celebrity status, they are constantly hunted down by the paparazzi. Charles, a man who liked his privacy yet believed his celebrity status was his self-right, wanted to stay out of the limelight.
  In 1932 the marriage crestfallen when the Lindberghs' first child is kidnapped from his nursery, the resulting press furor almost destroys Anne. Charles has put on a front that he can deal with this tragedy while he leaves his wife to face her grief on her own. Anne suffers the downside of fame as public adulation turns to prurient sensationalism. Charles, wanting to leave the trial and the memories of the kidnapping, convinces Anne to take refuge abroad, where they enjoy the orderly routine and docile press of the Hitler regime, as long as Charles is willing to accept a Nazi medal and attend rallies. However, Kristallnacht proves too much even for Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, and he and Anne return to the States as war threatens. As more children arrive, Anne is beginning to bridle at Charles' domineering ways, however the aspiring author is too insecure to contradict him even as he offends her liberal friends and family by siding with right-wing groups who claim that the Jews are trying to force America into war.
  Benjamin's primary focus is on Anne's evolution from submissive helpmate into the author of the feminist classic Gift from the Sea. The character growth steadily builds once she consciously decides that she will no longer live in the shadows of her famous husband. I was surprised by the extremely unsympathetic portrayal of Charles. I didn't know much about him before reading this book but I do remember how much he was adored by the country. Instead of making him a one dimensional villain, Benjamin makes him three dimensional and sheds light on his both domineering and vulnerable aspects of his life. As much as he hated being a celebrity, he yearned for prestige, honor, and accolades. He felt all of his hard work was completely wiped-out because of a personal tragedy which he never got over. Self-exiling to Germany and upholding unpopular political views during the buildup to World War II was his attempt to regain what he had once lost.
  There are plenty moments of suspense, especially where the kidnapping and trial of the Lindbergh's first child is concerned to keep the plot moving. I enjoyed watching Anne grow though I may not entirely agree with how she lived her life. After finishing the Aviator's Wife, I wanted to look up and read more about the Lindberghs, which to me is always a good sign of a historical fiction done well.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, sexual situations along, ethnic slurs with disturbing images. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Z : a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler.
Rummanah Aasi
  The cover of Kneebone Boy drew me to the book. The three children on the cover looked like they had secrets to tell. The gothic overtones and the ghost-like figure of a child above them in the trees had me intrigued. Unfortunately, the story within doesn't live up to its fabulous cover.

Description (from the Publisher): Life in a small town can be pretty boring when everyone avoids you like the plague. But after their father unwittingly sends them to stay with an aunt who's away on holiday, the Hardscrabble children take off on an adventure that begins in the seedy streets of London and ends in a peculiar sea village where legend has it a monstrous creature lives who is half boy and half animal. . . . In this wickedly dark, unusual, and compelling novel, Ellen Potter masterfully tells the tale of one deliciously strange family and a secret that changes everything.

Review: The Kneebone Boy is very reminiscent of the series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The dark overtones, odd eccentricities, and dry humor are the Hardscrabble children's trademarks. Otto, Lucia, and Max are the Hardscrabble children, and one of them is the unidentified narrator. Once you get comfortable in identifying the children on their own, it is easy to figure out who is narrating the story. Otto is the oldest and wears a scarf that he never takes off and hasn't spoken out loud since he was eight, when the children's mother vanished and uses his own version of sign language to communicate with his siblings. Lucia (pronounced Lu-chee-ah) is the know-it-all sister who loves to be right. Max is the youngest and perhaps the smartest much to Lucia's chagrin. Their father, Casper Hardscrabble, paints portraits of royal families, returning with stories of their adventures to tell his children. When he sends them to London to stay with his cousin, who turns out to be away on holiday, they make their way to their great-aunt Haddie, who lives in a life-size playhouse castle behind a forbiddingly real castle, once owned by the Kneebone family. From their great-aunt and others, the children learn about an urban legend called the Kneebone boy, a boy who has been locked away in a tower in the castle because of some unnamed deformity, and decide that they must rescue him. Instead, their mission leads to the resolution of their own family mystery.
  Despite the intriguing characters, the lovable and at times testy sibling bond, and the fresh wide eyed children perspective, I had a hard time figuring out what this book tried to be. It's neither a fantasy nor does it satisfy as a mystery as the plot meandered and the clues sprinkled throughout the story were touch and go. Though we do learn what happened to the children's mother, we aren't happy by its resolution but actually really sad and distressed. It's really hard to identify the readership for this book but I think readers who like quirky characters might enjoy this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Wildwood by Colin Meloy, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Rummanah Aasi
  I have been meaning to pick up Leigh Bardugo's Grisha series ever since I read great reviews about them. I finally got the chance to do so a month ago and was lucky enough to get an advanced reader's copy of the second book ahead of time. If you are interested in a fantasy that uses Slavic and Russian lore, be sure to pick this series up. The second book in the series, Siege and Storm, will be released next month (June 4th) according to Amazon. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an advanced reader's copy of Siege and Storm via Netgalley.

Description (from the Publisher): Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
   Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Review: At first glance, there is really nothing new to Shadow and Bone. Bardugo sets familiar tropes of fantasy such as court intrigue, magic, and characters finding dormant powers against the backdrop of a Russianesque land. In the opening passages, we are transported back in time and meet two small orphans, the handsome, competent Mal and the fragile, tiny Alina, who never seems to do anything right, who have developed a tight bond. Jumping forward present day, the story follows the two friends after they have joined the King’s First Army: Mal as a soldier-tracker and Alina as a cartographer. When placed in a life and death situation in the Shadow Fold, a mysterious, magical darkness that seethes with flesh-eating monsters, Alina discovers that she possesses a magical power that she had not known. Quickly, she is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, magicians who practice the Small Science.
  My issue with Shadows and Bone is not in its worldbuilding. Bardugo's skill is demonstrated in making Ravka come to life, however, I didn't really have a good grasp of the surrounding kingdoms that posed a threat to Ravka. I also thought the story took too long for the intrigue aspect of the plot to take flight. Apart from the charismatic, enigmatic Darkling, the people of the court were very blase.
    Bardugo has engaging characters, but I didn't think they were allowed time to develop. Alina is a somewhat likable character, but she got too whiny at times for me. Her wishy-washing actions made me wonder if she was truly capable of being an important leader that she is destined to be. I thought her strong friendship with Mal was evident, but I had a hard time believing their relationship could be anything else because there was virtually no development in their romance. When they did get together, however, their romance lacked heat. There are some clever turns in the fast moving plot, however, some of them were revealed too quickly. Despite these issues, I was interested enough in Bardugo's exotic and vivid world to see what happened next.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, sexual innuendo, and strong fantasy violence. Recommended for strong Grades 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Description (from the Publisher): Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
   The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Review: Shadow and Bone reads like a coming of age story set in a fantasy world. Siege and Storm, the second book in the Grisha Trilogy, changes the tone from a bildungsroman to a political thriller. Alina and Mal are on the run. All they want is to put Ravka and the megalomaniacal Darkling far behind them. Alas, this is far easier said than done. Captured by the Darkling and forced onto a ship captained by the notorious pirate Sturmhond, they find themselves in pursuit of the second of three magical amplifiers that will make Alina powerful beyond belief--and bind her ever-closer to the ancient, evil Darkling. Sturmhond has an unexpected agenda of his own, though, and turns on the Darkling. Darkling temporarily thwarted, Alina and Mal find themselves back in Ravka's capital as part of the ailing king's younger son's attempt to find his way to the throne.
   I definitely liked Siege and Storm much more than Shadow and Bone as it fixed a lot of my issues with Shadow and Bone. Alina's voice isn't as whiny this time around. I actually felt that I understood her and her predicament much more, especially as she struggles to deflect the allure of power that she draws from her ability. The relationship between Mal gets complex without the use of a love triangle yet I was surprised to see how much these two characters have trust issues. For a couple who seem to be all about devotion, they sure are insecure about their relationship and easily jealous of other people.
  There are also some great new characters added to the mix. I absolutely loved the Sturmhound. He is incredibly talented as playing the part of a ruler and a diplomat. Though I liked Mal, I couldn't help but hope that he and Alina would get together. I thought they did have some chemistry. I really hope to see him in the final book. While there really isn't a big cliffhanger in Siege and Storm, there are some serious questions that need to be addressed: Who is Alina?  Is she Mal's lover? Prince Nikolai's pawn? Commander of the Grisha Second Army? Saint? Though the book may seem large, over 400 pages long, I had no problem speed reading through them. Scheming and action carried me until the last page. I'm really curious to see how Bardugo ends her series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and strong fantasy violence. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Clarke
Rummanah Aasi
   With one book left in the Amelia Rules! series, I'm sad to say good bye to these fantastic and realistic characters. I wish I had these great graphic novels when I was a kid. Each volume is satisfying and gets better as the series goes on. If you read and enjoyed Raina Telgeimer's Smile, be sure to pick up this series.

Description (from the book's back cover): Amelia McBride may be growing up, but she's feeling down. If there's one theme to her life, it's that nothing lasts: not her parents' marriage, not Aunt Tanner's support, not the clubhouse for the Gathering of Awesome Super Pals (G.A.S.P.), not even her new spot on the stupid cheerleading squad. And while she's learning all kinds of things about foot fungus, cheerwitches, and Reggie--who thinks Rhonda is CUTE?!--there's still one thing Amelia can't figure out, and that's the meaning of life. It takes a grownup sort of tragedy for Amelia and her friends to realize that even when the world is scary, and life is as mystifying as ever, some things--like friendship--do last. In Jimmy Gownley's touching seventh installment of Amelia Rules!, Amelia may not find all the answers--but she does know how to ask the right questions. Who needs answers, anyway?

Review: A good sign of a strong graphic-novel series is that the characters and plot developments grow and never get stale. Amelia is growing up and beginning to take on the bumpy ride through adolescence and middle school. She is about to graduate from elementary school and officially become a preteen. In this seventh volume, precocious Amelia McBride encounters her first major crisis. She feels her time dressing up as Princess Powerful hanging with her superhero friends, G.A.S.P. (the Gathering of Awesome Super Pals) and being a care-free kid slipping away. She is now straddling the line between angst-ridden adolescence and her fading carefree childhood. For the first time in her young life, she realizes that nothing is permanent, and not everything is fair. She finally has come to terms that her parents' marriage has dissolved into divorce and they won't be together as a whole family. Her friend's father is fighting abroad (most likely in Afghanistan), which he may or may not return safely. Her school's principal treats her unjustly and even her beloved rock-star Aunt Tanner, whom she counted on for support, has left her and is now on tour.
  Though the seventh volume is a slender compared to its previous volumes, Gownley does not shy away from tough topics, presenting them in a way that is both approachable and understandable to kids. With all of the tribulations Amelia must deal with, she paints an accurate portrait of what preteens must deal with and how fast they sometimes have to grow up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4-6.

If you like this book try: Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me by Emmanuel Guibert, Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, Her Permanent Record by Jim Gownley
Rummanah Aasi
  Last year I discovered the sub-genre of historical mysteries, which I enjoyed very much. I came across The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher when a colleague and I were talking about doing a mystery/true crime display for our library. I had mentioned that I enjoy reading about Victorian England and was told that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher would be right up my alley. I couldn't have agreed more. The book never had a dull moment and I captivated by its topsy-turvey murder mystery along with discovering the seedy aspect of one well known family.

Description (from the Publisher): The dramatic story of the real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction. In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land. At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Whicher quickly believed the unbelievable that someone within the family was responsible for the murder of young Saville Kent. Without sufficient evidence or a confession, though, his case was circumstantial and he returned to London a broken man. Though he would be vindicated five years later, the real legacy of Jonathan Whicher lives on in fiction: the tough, quirky, knowing, and all-seeing detective that we know and love today...from the cryptic Sgt. Cuff in Wilkie Collins'sThe Moonstoneto Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a true crime story that rocked Victorian England and in a lot of ways began the big trend of the Victorian detective. The Road Hill case which involved the murder a toddler in a respectable home served as fodder for the emerging detective genre taken up with relish by famous authors such as Dickens, Poe and Wilkie Collins and it was the most talked about case of its time. It perplexed detectives at the time and was resolved five years after the deed at the humilating cost of its key detective Mr. Whicher.
  The book reads like a thriller as the author models this engaging true-crime tale on the traditional country-house murder mystery, packed with secretive family members moving about with hidden motives in a commodious old manor house. On the fateful night of June 30, 1860, in the Wiltshire village of Road, three-year-old Saville Kent was removed in the dead of night from his cot in the room he shared with his nursemaid, suffocated, stabbed and dumped in the privy outside the kitchen. In addition to his parents, Samuel and Mary Kent, the inhabitants of Road Hill House included numerous servants and Samuel's four children from his previous marriage, each harboring various grievances since their mother's untimely death.  Unlike police officials today that carefully examines the case without tampering the evidence, the local constable made a mess of the entire investigation. Authorities called in Scotland Yard's "Prince of detectives," the widely popular and most effective detective, Jonathan Whicher, who was at the height of his career. The book follows Whicher's interviews with the servants and family members, allowing readers to fill in the blanks much as the detective had to do. There were so many red flags on certain suspects, but the case twisted and turned as new information about the family and its household were revealed.
  On largely circumstantial evidence, Whicher arrested Samuel's 16-year-old daughter Constance, but she was soon released, and the press ridiculed Whicher for accusing an innocent girl. Whicher's fame became notoriety and eventually lead him to have a nervous breakdown. In 1865, however, Constance confessed to the crime and after a sensational trial served a 20-year prison sentence. It was startling to see how much the "authorities" mucked up the investigation mainly because the police were incompetent and the case was so popular that everyone had their theories of who is responsible for the crime. No one could understand the deeper questions and observations that Whicher was getting at, which dragged the case much longer than necessary. Summerscale pursues the story over decades, enriching the account with explanations of the then-new detective terminology and methods and suggesting a convincing motive for Constance's out-of-the-blue confession. I also liked how she incorporates the influence Jonathan Whicher had on Victorian detective writers. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a great read and fascinating read for those interested in true crime as well as mysteries.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some disturbing images and details surrounding the murder. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larrson, Midnight Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Rummanah Aasi
  I want to apologize for the sporadic posts on the blog in the last few days. The school year is wrapping up quickly with only a couple of weeks to go and I'm finding myself with less time. I did manage to sneak in a few reads, one of which is Sherri Smith's post-apocalyptic novel Orleans. My review of Orleans is based upon the advanced reader's copy I read provided by the publisher via Netgalley (Thank you!).

Description (from the Publisher): After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.
   Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Review: I've been burnt out by the dystopian novels overload. Each story and its characters are seem to blur together if you read them one after the other. Needless to say that I was a bit worried and curious when I saw that Ms. Smith is switching gears from historical fiction (I absolutely loved her book, Flygirl, which I highly recommend) to the post-apocalyptic/science fiction genre. While I had no doubts of her writing ability, I was curious how the author was going to add something new to the current big trend of YA.
  Instead of imagining a new government gone wrong, Smith takes a real past event, the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, and magnifies it into a captivating and truly frightening future for the United States. In a series of doctrines and weather reports we learn that in Orleans, six devastating hurricanes follow Katrina's path right into the heart of the crippled Gulf Coast. On the heels of the storms came the quarantine of the entire Gulf Coast region because of Delta Fever in 2020 and the government's complete abandonment of the disease-ravaged sector a mere five years later. Now in 2056, Fen de la Guerre and others like her find themselves struggling to live in a primitive society. Due to the catastrophic epidemic, many are choosing to organize themselves into tribes by blood type (some are more valuable than others and therefore higher on the social ladder) to gain a modicum of control over the spread of Delta Fever.
 The plot begins when Fen's dear friend dies while giving birth and gives Fen the responsibility to try to get the newborn over the wall to the Outer States so she might have a better life. Meanwhile, a young scientist named Daniel sneaks across the border into Orleans to further his search for a cure for the fever. Fen and Daniel become strong, if unlikely, allies. The book is written in two perspectives but they do not switch every chapter. I found the point of views completely different. Fen's voice is immediate, first person and spoken in tenacity and admired her survival skills, reading from her point of view was a bit jarring because it is written in the dialect of the Orleans tribe. Daniel's perspective is written in third person and in perfect grammar. This is a deliberate move by the author and it is very effective in watching how Fen and Daniel grow as characters. Smith waits for her readers to develop their own preconceived notions about Fen and Daniel from their appearances and their actions as they join these characters on their harrowing journey. Slowly  their back stories are revealed with nicely timed flashbacks, which either confirmed, altered, or denied our opinions of these characters. I know that my own opinions of these two characters changed many times throughout the book, especially when it comes to identifying who is the victim.
   While the plot moves at a steady pace, it really picks up when Fen and Daniel meet and we get a hint about government conspiracy. Though there are some loose ends that remain, the richly textured world-building, the complicated relationship between Fen and Daniel, as well as the constant and varied dangers they face, will hold a lot of readers interest. The book is also rich with important, powerful, and current themes such as global warming, racism, political corruption, and the complexity of human nature which would make this book a good choice for a bookclub.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is an allusion to rape and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Ward by Jordana Frankel, Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony, or Article 5 by Kirsten Simmons
Rummanah Aasi
  True Things Adult Don't Want Kids to Know is my second favorite Amelia Rules! graphic novel. This volume focuses on the hard transition from a kid to a young adult. In this volume Amelia learns that growing-up isn't very easy. Sometimes promises are broken and sometimes they are kept. Hard work is required in order to achieving your goals. And love...well, love is complicated at any age.

Description (from the Publisher): Meet Amelia Louise McBride. She was forced to move out of Manhattan after her parents decided to get divorced, and is now living in a small town. She’s survived being the new kid, multiple trips to the principal’s office, and even her first kiss. But it remains to be seen if she’ll survive turning eleven!
   The sixth volume starts with a bang: a huge birthday party featuring surprise guests and a special song from Aunt Tanner! It all seems too good to be true, until it turns out . . . it is. Suddenly, Amelia’s friends are fighting all the time. She gets the worst report card of her life. And when she finally musters the guts to tell a certain boy how she feels about him, she brutally learns why it’s called a “crush.” Aunt Tanner would know just what to do—if she were around. But with her new album and maybe a new boyfriend, she doesn’t seem to have time for Amelia anymore.
  There are some tough lessons to learn when you’re eleven, and things may not always turn out as planned. But who says that has to be a bad thing?

Review: In this volume, Amelia McBride has to face some sad goodbyes, some difficult decisions, and her 11th birthday. Luckily she has an amazing cast of friends and family by her side through all the hilarious and heartwarming trials of life. Compared to the other graphic novels in this series, this one is more mature.
  One of the main subplots in this volume involves Amelia's popular and fun Aunt Tanner. Tanner was a rising musician who suddenly stopped making music. When Aunt Tanner writes and sings a special song for Amelia's birthday, her passion for music rekindles. Unfortunately, Tanner also realizes that music companies aren't really interested in her anymore and it breaks her heart. Having faith and confidence in her aunt, Amelia with some help of her techie friends start spreading the news about Tanner and releasing her songs on the Internet. The news and Tanner's popularity spreads and also a music tour is very likely to occur.
  In addition to Tanner's music endeavors  there is also a budding romance between her beloved teacher and her Aunt Tanner, causing her aunt to be a bit absent just when Amelia needs her help in dealing with her own painful and sometime embarrassing first real crush. You can see Amelia's frustration and stress rising as she desperately seeks to get advice from somewhere. Luckily, she lets her aunt and mom know she needs help rather than dealing with her problems on her own.
  Amelia is growing up and it is evident in how she is becoming more self-aware and responsible while still maintaining her tween personality. Amelia is starting to realize that while she can have several people support her, she is ultimately responsible for making her own decisions.  Even her playtime is changing, transitioning from clubhouses and dressing up as superheroes to Truth or Dare and trips to the mall. Gownley gets this transition and it feels natural. The art maintains the simple bright charm of the previous volumes of the graphic-novel series, and the cartoon-style drawings with strong child appeal are a perfect match for the humor and emotion of the story lines. With some parts laugh-out-loud funny and some heart-wrenching, this book has something for everyone.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4-6

If you like this book try: Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me by Emmanuel Guibert, Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, Amelia Rules! Her Permanent Record by Jim Gownley
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