Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

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January 24, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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UnSouled by Neal Shusterman

imageWhen Neal Shusterman started the Unwind Dystology, he created a world that is both terrifying and all-too-familiar.  While I am horrified at this dystopian world that literally tears apart its unwanted teenagers in order to harvest them for body parts to transplant, I am also reminded of our own society where people with money routinely undergo surgery to improve their looks and where politicians call for ever more punitive policies toward poor students (such as denying students a free lunch or tying food assistance for families to student test scores).

UnSouled, Book 3 in the series, continues to raise questions about our society even as Connor, Lev, and Risa continue their fight to change their world.  Connor and Lev are on the run to find answers from the woman Proactive Citizenry has tried to eliminate from history.  Along the way the pick up Grace, a low-cortical girl who is much smarter than most people suspect.  They also detour to the Arapache Reservation Lev had previously visited with disastrous results.  Risa is on her own now that she revealed Proactive Citizenry’s blackmail to the world.  Cam, the perfect being of rewound parts, is determined to bring down the the organization that created him in order to win back Risa.  Just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse, Starkey is back to rescue his fellow Storks and exact revenge.

I love the shifting points of view that give this book the complexity it deserves.  While there are definite right and wrong sides, no one person is entirely right or wrong.  They all have conflicting motivations and incomplete understanding of events.  I like being able to connect pieces that the characters cannot see while trying to wrap my own brain around the conflicting bits of information.

I’m not sure if UnSouled is the end of the story.  Connor, Lev, and Risa certainly haven’t stopped Proactive Citizenry and their unwinding, but the seeds have hope have taken root.  Even if they can’t see how the can stop it or how soon, they believe there is a way out.  I hope the same is true for the problems facing our world.  We may not see a way out immediately, but hope still simmers and waits to come out of hiding.

January 21, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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Champion by Marie Lu

champion_coverMarie Lu has created a stunning and satisfying conclusion to the story begun in Legend.  If you haven’t yet read Legend and Prodigy, you may want to stop reading this review now and go find yourself a copy of the first two books.  Champion (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2013) picks up where Prodigy left off.

Day and June have returned to the Republic to throw their support behind Anden, the new Elector, but they have gone their separate ways.  Day is reunited with his little brother Eden, who is still blind from the Republic’s former experiments.  Day is fighting to stay alive.  June serves as Princeps-Elect, but hates the politics of the Senate.

It takes another crisis to bring them back together.  The Colonies attack and invade the Republic because of a deadly plague outbreak.  This one has no known cure and the only one who might hold the answer is Eden.  Even though the people of the Republic hail Day as a hero now, neither he nor their government trust each other enough to work together.  June might be able to bridge the gap, but is she willing to hurt Day even more than she already has?

Even though Day weakens throughout the story, he is still capable of running up walls and kicking butt when needed.  He is also a thorn in Anden’s side, constantly reminding Anden to remember the common people–in emergency evacuations, housing, and medical treatment.  Oh yeah, he still makes June swoon.  June may not be cut out for politics, but she is still at the top of her class and is itching for an opportunity to go out on the streets again.

Just like the first two books, this one is impossible to put down once you start reading.  The alternating voices of Day and June give two very different perspectives on this dystopian world that seems way too close to our own–especially the Colonies.  I can’t wait to see what Marie Lu comes up with next.

January 10, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

imageI first met Matteo Alacran when he was still the clone of El Patron in The House of the Scorpion.  I cheered when he escaped his fate and cried when he learned of the cruelty of El Patron that even reached out from beyond the grave.  When I learned that Nancy Farmer had written a sequel, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Of course, I wanted to know what happened to Matt, but how could a second book live up to the mind-blowing experience of reading the first one?

I needn’t have worried.  The Lord of Opium is every bit as powerful as The House of the Scorpion.  Now that El Patron is dead, Matt is the new drug lord for the country of Opium.   He has grand plans for the future of Opium, but first he must convince his people and the outside world that a fourteen-year-old can lead a country besieged on all sides–and from within.  He’s not sure who he can trust.  His beloved foster mother Celia now treats him differently.  Cienfuegos, head of the Farm Patrol, is deadly and dangerous, but he is the only one left who knows how Opium is run.  Maria’s mother is determined to keep her away from Opium and Matt.  Even his friends from the plankton factory–Chacho, Ton-Ton, and Fidelito–don’t know how to react to this new, powerful Matt.  Dr. Rivas has worked for years to find a way to reverse the eejit operation, but he has his own hidden agenda.

All Matt needs to do is find a way to reverse the eejit operation, find new crops to grow in Opium, negotiate with Esperanza Mendoza to end the drug trade, keep competing drug lords from invading, discover the many secrets of Opium, and hope that biometric security features recognize him as El Patron instead of disintegrating him on contact.

Just as in the first book, Matt holds the story together.  He wants to do the right thing–if he can figure out what the right thing is when there are no easy answers.  Is he any better than El Patron if he must sacrifice a few in order to save many more?  How can he take on all the responsibilities and threats that come with being Lord of Opium when he doesn’t even know the details of its daily operation?  How can he free the eejits without destroying them?

This is another book that leaves me with plenty to think about.

January 8, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch

imageI loved The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, and was excited to take home his newest book, The Darkest Path, over Christmas break.  Don’t worry.  It’s not a sequel.  Both books are stand-alone novels, which will terrify you with their dark vision of the future strongly rooted in the issues of today.

If anything, I found The Darkest Path even scarier than The Eleventh Plague.  What used to be the United States has been torn apart by civil war.  The southern and western states are ruled by the Glorious Path–a militant religion that does not allow dissent.  Whenever the Glorious Path takes control, they give the residents of the area a choice:  either join or be killed.  The rest of the country is ruled by what’s left of the US government.  The wealthy continue to live in luxury while the rest of the citizens struggle to survive and defend themselves from the Glorious Path.

Enter Callum Roe and his younger brother James.  They were captured by the Glorious Path six years ago and have slowly worked their way up through the ranks.  Cal still yearns for home and his parents, but James has slowly come to believe the teachings of the Path.  When Cal is given an opportunity to join a group of secret agents, he reacts by killing the commander who wants to train a stray to be a vicious attack dog.  Cal and the dog named Bear go on the run, trying to cross the border into US controlled territory, but across the border is not the promised land he had hoped for.  Instead of heading for home, he finds himself in the middle of deadly battles and forced to make choices that have no good answer.

Every page is packed with action, and the twists and turns of the plot kept me guessing until the last page.  Callum didn’t start out to be a hero.  At the beginning he simply reacts to events and is nearly overwhelmed by them.  But through the people he meets–some courageous, some fearful, some selfish, some fanatical–he begins to make choices to grow into a stronger person.  My favorite of the characters who influence him is Nat.  She is stubborn and fiery and unflagging.  Even though the setting is harsh and dark, I was impressed with the number of characters who chose to live above the darkness and risk their lives for others.

December 27, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Truth by Julia Karr

imageIn writing XVI, Julia Karr created a chilling future world where advertisements for the latest trends blare from personal listening devices and change according to where you are.  Sound familiar, Facebook and Google ads?  Girls are constantly told how to be sexier, and when they turn 16, girls must get a tattoo that reveals their age–and their availability–to any and all men.  Truth continues the story with the same breakneck speed as the first.

Nina Oberon grew up in a house of quiet resistance with her mom, sister, and grandparents.  Now that she is 16, she not only has to wear the tattoo ordered by the Governing Council, she is ready to reveal the truth to the world, but the world is not ready for the truth to come easily.

Nina is tired of waiting while others work to bring truth to light.  She joins a small force within the Resistance and soon finds ways to use her art to portray the truth.  She must also confront the truth within her own life–her little sister is growing up and her grandparents aren’t always able to protect them.  She fights jealousy when Sal is gone for long stretches of time with the beautiful, top tier Paulette, and she fights a growing attraction for Wei’s older brother Chris.

Just when I thought I could see what was coming next, Karr surprises with another twist or turn that makes perfect sense from the other side.  The roots of this world sink deeply into our own, and give much to think about.

June 26, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Tomorrow Girls by Eva Gray

In the not-so-distant future, the United States is at war with a group called the Alliance.  This on-going war has changed everything.  There are no longer shopping malls, supermarkets, or amusement parks.  Obesity is no longer a problem because there is barely enough food to eat.  Four girls find themselves roommates at the Country Manor School, where their parents sent them “for their own safety.”

Once inside, they begin to uncover secrets that could change anything.  These four books in the Tomorrow Girls series by Eva Gray are packed with ever-present danger, narrow escapes, and determined characters.  I liked that each book was narrated by a different one of the girls.

Behind the Gates (Scholastic 2011)

Louisa enjoys the new classes and challenges found at Country Manor School.  She just wishes that her best friend (and now “sister”) Maddie would relax and enjoy it, too.  She doesn’t know what to think of their roommates Evelyn (who sees a conspiracy theory around every corner and Rosie (who quickly becomes the leader of the popular girls).  Soon though, the girls discover a deadly secret and must learn to depend on each other to survive as they flee Country Manor School to try to find their parents.

Run for Cover (Scholastic 2011) 

Rosie isn’t sure she is ready to lead the girls as they flee through the woods, and she sure isn’t ready to share her secret with them.  When the girls are joined in their escape by Drew, Ryan, and Alonso, things get even more complicated.  Who can she trust as they find themselves in the middle of an Alliance prison instead of closer to Chicago?

With the Enemy (Scholastic 2011)

Evelyn is quick to think the worst of any situation, but now that one of their own has been captured, the rest of the group is starting to pay attention to her theories.  Evelyn needs to come up with a plan to save her friend before it is too late and before the rest of them are captured, too.  The closer they get to Chicago, the greater the danger grows, but they do make some unexpected allies and discover even more surprising secrets.

Set Me Free (Scholastic 2011)

Now that she knows the truth about her parents, Maddie is ready for action.  But first, she and her friends must break codes and travel across the war-torn city to reunite with their parents.  Once they join with the Resistance, they have one last dangerous mission to complete.  Their experiences have given them courage and strength, and they will need every bit of it to defeat the Alliance one more time.

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June 4, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

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I’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

Like I have for the past couple of summers, I’m taking part in Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge over on Twitter.  So far, I am keeping up and making a dent in the huge stacks of books I brought home for summer reading.  I’m not doing so well with sharing my daily books on Twitter, and I’m struggling to keep up with the reviews, but boy, am I reading some good books!

imageThe book I finished yesterday, Epitaph Road (Scholastic 2010) by David Patneaude, is one that sticks with me.  It’s in one of my favorite genres–dystopian.  The world in this book seems to be much improved over our current state of affairs.  Poverty, hunger, war, and crime have almost entirely disappeared.  How did this come about?  A deadly virus nearly wiped out the world’s population of men.  Now that women rule the world (and tight restrictions keep the remaining males in their place), it is a much better place.  Or is it?  As much as I might like to think that women would do a much better job running the world, I’m not sure it would happen.  I’m afraid that once women got into power, that power might corrupt them, too.  Indeed, there are hints of that corruption even in the world of Epitaph Road.

Kellen Dent is used to the restrictions, but he chafes at the limitations placed on his future.  Then when rumors of another deadly outbreak threaten the area where his outcast father lives, Kellen will take any chance to warn him before it is too late.  Two new friends, TIa and Sunday (both girls), offer to go with him.  Before they return from their mission, they uncover an even deadlier secret that will change their lives and their world.  Even as they rush blindly into the future, Patneaude weaves echoes of the past throughout the story.  Each chapter begins with an epitaph for one of the males who died.  Some are related to characters in the story.  Others reveal just how much the world has changed, and at what cost.

Kellen is a pretty cool fourteen-year-old boy.  He wishes he had more freedom, but having studied history before the virus, he can see that the world is better off in many ways.  When his dad is in danger, he doesn’t hesitate to take off to warn him in spite of the danger to himmself.  He’s also willing to accept help from others–Tia, Sunday, Gunny, even Dr. Nuyenn.  I love Tia and Sunday.  These girls are smart, musical, funny, and brave.  They insist on going with Kellen because it’s the right thing to do.  Together, this trio can take on the world.  Some of the other characters are quite memorable as well.  One of my favorites is Ms. Anderson, the rebel history teacher.  She wants her students to think for themselves and in her homework gives them just enough information to piece together the truth behind those in power.  I hope I can do as much for my students.

March 15, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
4 Comments

Why Day Should Win Our March Madness

 

I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

 

 

I’m sure my classes have noticed that I have a new current favorite book.  My mission right now is to convince as many students as I can to read Legend by Marie Lu.  My second mission is to sneak another book order past my husband so I can read the second book, Prodigy, as soon as possible.

I also nominated Day for our March Madness brackets, and I’m doing everything in my power to convince my students to vote for him.  I don’t even promise to set up the brackets fairly.  Now June is awesome in her own right (and I usually go for strong female lead characters), but something about Day just blew me away.  Here’s why I think Day should win it all:

  • He’s the Republic’s most wanted criminal, and they don’t even know what he looks like.  He has been sabotaging the war effort for years, and the police don’t have a picture or even a fingerprint.
  • The Republic supposedly killed him when he failed his Trials, but Day escaped and has been living on the streets every since.  He has street smarts you wouldn’t believe that allows him to find food, clothing, and shelter without leaving a trace.
  • Day is brilliant both mentally and physically.  He broke into a heavily guarded bank vault in under 10 seconds.  He escaped with the money and without harming any of the guards.  Once again, he left no trace behind.  He can scale the outside of skyscrapers and leap from rooftop to rooftop.
  • Day’s biggest heist was breaking into a military hospital–the heavily guarded, no windows medical lab floor–to steal plague medicine.  He got away without killing anyone, but he did have to injure one soldier to escape.  Why did he even attempt such a daring and dangerous break-in?  He had to save his little brother who lay dying from the plague.
  • Day is not a cold-hearted criminal.  Both the bank theft and the hospital theft were to help his family.  He can’t let any of them (except his older brother John) even know that he is alive, but he keeps an eye on them and helps out when he can by slipping John extra food, money, and clothes.
  • Day also is willing to help out a stranger in need.  That’s why he teamed up with Tess, a street urchin he found abandoned in an alleyway.  He also reached out to help June because she had helped Tess.

I didn’t think any character could ever top Katniss for all around toughness, stubbornness, and goodness (I even named my orange car after the Girl on Fire), but I think Day deserves to win.  I can’t wait to see what happens in Prodigy now that Day and June are on the same side.

Who do you think is the toughest, baddest character from YA literature? I think Day can take him or her any day.

March 8, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

True confession:  I haven’t actually read The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix yet.  But yesterday, and again today, Austin M told me that I need to read it right now.  It’s that good.  I promise, I moved it to the top of my TBR pile.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get it read before this post shows up.  It certainly looks good.

March 5, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Sometimes sequels let me know, but not in this case.  If it is even possible, I loved Scarlet (Feiwel and Friends 2013) even more than I did Cinder.  I introduce Cinder as my all-time favorite Cinderella story.  Marissa Meyer takes the sci-fi cyborg and stirs in elements from yet another fairy tale, this time Little Red Riding Hood.

Scarlet is tough and stubborn enough to walk blindly into danger to rescue her grandmother.  When the police won’t help her, she turns to the mysterious (and possibly dangerous) Wolf to track down what happened.  Scarlet discovers much more than she bargained for, including desperate secrets kept by Wolf and her grandmother.

Don’t worry.  We still get to follow the adventures of Cinder (and her new sidekick Thorne) as she escapes from prison and comes to terms with her real identity and growing Lunar power.  When Cinder’s path collides with Scarlet’s quest, things really get interesting.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the release of Cress in 2014 to find out any more.

Cinder:

Scarlet: