Daniel Crawford has always been a bit of a loner, not fitting in at his high school, but now that he is at a summer program for gifted students on a college campus, he hopes to make friends at last. Things are looking up when he meets Abbi and Jordan.
Since the regular dorms are undergoing renovations, the summer students are staying in Brookline, a former psychiatric hospital with a dark and secret past. Dan and his new friends explore the twisting tunnels and dusty rooms underneath Brookline, and in so doing, stir up ghosts that do not want to rest in peace.
Asylum (Harper 2013) by Madeleine Roux is the kind of book that gives me nightmares, but I know I will have students who will enjoy it. If you like the kinds of movies where you want to scream at the main characters for entering into the deserted house or dark woods where the killer is lurking, you will enjoy the fear these pages dredge up. It’s not too gory, but the mind games and bizarre occurrences are chilling.
Stefan auditioned for a part in the action movie Ice Planet Earth never dreaming that he would actually get the part. Now he finds himself on location in mountains of Slovakia. He is trapped with a stuck up costar Raine, annoying costar Jeremy, and supposedly cursed costar Cecil. Throw in some trained wolves for the movie and wild wolves surrounding the set–a run-down abandoned castle–and a blizzard closing in, and Wolf Storm (Scholastic 2011) has all the ingredients for an action-packed adventure.
Dee Garretson creates a story filled with suspense and danger. The tension between the young costars soon turns to tension to survive against ever escalating dangers. A snowstorm turns into a blizzard. A blizzard turns into an avalanche. Wild wolves circle closer, hungry. Now Stefan, Raine, Jeremy, and Cecil have one chance to do whatever it takes to survive.
Margaret Peterson Haddix has created a thrill ride full of secrets and deception, danger and intrigue, and suspense and tension. Full Ride (Simon and Schuster 2013) delivers on every page.
Becca and her mother fled their hometown and comfortable life in Atlanta in order to start over with new identities after Becca’s father was convicted of embezzlement. They protect the secrets in their past in order to avoid discovery. But now that Becca is a senior in high school, she needs to apply for financial aid in order to go to college. (One benefit of giving up her social life is that she is now a straight-A student.) But applying for financial aid might reveal their secrets to the world.
Stubborn Becca applies for a local scholarship anyway because of the potential for it to pay her entire way to college. As she digs deeper into the past of both her family and her new hometown, she discovers secrets that might endanger her life as well as her privacy. To what lengths will she go to learn the truth? Will the truth set her free?
Once I picked up April Henry’sThe Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, I had a hard time putting it down. The fast-paced action starts with the first scene and doesn’t let up until the last page. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to give you whiplash and keep you guessing.
The girl from the title wakes up lying and the floor of a cabin. She doesn’t know who she is or where she is or much of anything else. She hears two men talking about her and realizes that they want to kill her. She has know idea why, but she knows she must get out of there. As she desperately tries to escape, she uses the clues around her to figure out who she is. She remembers how to drive a car, so she must be at least 16. She knows how to attack someone and leave them injured. What kind of person knows how to do that? She finds a family photo with her picture in it. Who are these people with her?
She does not know who she can trust–not the security guard who threatens to return her to a mental hospital. Is she crazy? She can’t even trust her own memories, which are mostly missing. The news reports share information that can’t be true, or can it? She finally gives in to accept help from Ty, the teenager closing up the McDonald’s where she eats and then falls asleep at her table. I’m not sure how believable it is for Ty to get involved with a stranger who is in such desperate circumstances, but I’m willing to go along with the reasons given that he doesn’t quite believe it at first (would you?) and that he wants to pass along the help he received during rough times.
I can’t wait to share this one with my students. Several have already read Henry’s earlier book, Girl, Stolen, and are clamoring for this one.
Now that I am teaching 7th grade (where Social Studies explores world geography and civilizations), I am on the lookout for books that take readers to other times and places that connect to their curriculum. I have found an action-packed adventure with Outlaw by Stephen Davies. This thriller explodes with desperate outlaws, high-tech surveillance, high-speed chases, and murderous double-crossers.
Jake Knight longs to live a life filled with adventure, but he has to create his own excitement at his stuffy British boarding school. When one of his pranks goes too far for the headmaster, he is sent to his parents in Burkina Faso. There he encounters kidnapping, terrorism, and the beauty of danger of the Sahara Desert. As he and his little sister Kas struggle to survive, they encounter Yakuuba Sor, the most wanted outlaw in the Sahara Desert, but just who is the Chameleon?
I enjoyed Jake’s antics throughout the book. After all, he mastered the art of walking up walls and lives for adventure, but he is smart enough to admit that being kidnapped by a notorious terrorist is more excitement than he really wants. As he travels with Yakuuba Sor, he learns that life is much more than just adventure and adrenaline. In the end he is willing to make a choice to stand up for what is right.
My favorite character, though, is Yakuuba Sor. This outlaw is more Robin Hood than terrorrist. He is a master of disguise and trickery (hence his nickname the Chameleon) who uses his skills to right wrongs against the poor. Doing so often puts him at odds with the police, who supplement their poor salaries with bribes and corruption. I know in the real world that not all–or even most–outlaws are such good guys, but I love stories where they are.
I’ve been hearing about this book, so I was excited when my student Avis M gave me a copy of I Hunt Killers for my classroom library. I devoured it in one weekend and handed it off to my co-teacher, who also devoured it quickly. Barry Lyga has created a thrilling page turner that will be a hit with fans of television shows like Criminal Minds. This book trailer shows you what it’s all about:
The best news? There’s a second book, Game, due out next spring.
One of my 7th period students, Frank, handed me this book Friday afternoon and said, “You have to read this.” I’m glad I opened Blank Confession (Simon and Schuster 2010) by Pete Hautman. Frank was right. This is a book you don’t want to miss. (You probably do want to miss the book reports on Hautman’s website. I’ve read them, and I wouldn’t give them a C–much lower. At least, they did make me laugh, laugh quite loudly, in fact.)
There is a kid named Shayne Blank. Once I got to the end, I discovered just how fitting and symbolic his name is, but you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out why. Shayne is the new kid in school. He becomes friends with Mikey, a dorky short kid who wears suits every day. Shayne’s not looking for trouble, but trouble finds him in the person of Jon Brande–bully and a drug dealer and the boyfriend of Mikey’s sister. Yep, there’s a lot of potential for drama here.
The story opens with Shayne walking into the police station and confessing to killing someone. How did this quiet student end up here? You find out how the story unfolds through the voices of two characters. Detective Rawls, who takes Shayne’s confession, is not sure what to believe from Shayne’s story. He also has his own history with the people involved. The rest of the story is told by Mikey. He is struggling to survive (there’s a strong possibility Jon Brande just might kill him) when Shayne appears and sticks up for him. Even though Shayne’s story changes every hour, Mikey can’t help but like the new kid. Now he just needs to think ahead enough moves (like in the checkers games he plays with his grandpa) before things spiral out of control.
I picked up Bullet Point (HarperTeen 2010) by Peter Abrahams expecting a sports story with a twist of mystery. There wasn’t much sports since the baseball program at Wyatt’s school is cut for lack of funds. The parting gift from his coach is a picture of the father at age 16. His resemblance to Wyatt is uncanny. Wyatt transfers to another school, hoping to play baseball, but only one transfer is allowed. His best friend Dub beats him to fill the spot, but offers a place to live with Aunt Hildy in Silver City until he can establish residency.
Even though Wyatt loses baseball, he finds more than he can handle in Silver City. First is Greer, a hot, older girl. Greer and Wyatt have something in common–their fathers are in the same prison just outside Silver City. Greer’s father is in for arson, Wyatt’s father for murder. Wyatt questions if his father is guilty or took the fall for someone else. He follows the mercurial Greer on a quest to learn the truth. It just might be the biggest mistake he’s ever made as events spiral out of control.
I first read Peter Abraham’s Echo Falls series (Down the Rabbit Hole and Behind the Curtain) and loved Ingrid. Bullet Point is much grittier and edgier. It’s every bit as well-written, but much darker. Just as in life, there are no easy endings, and actions have consequences.
This action-packed mystery has a little bit of everything: a very cold murder case, four very smart teens, one very cute puppy, and some DNA-altering viruses. What could possible go wrong for Tory Brennan and her friends? To start with, someone is trying to kill them.
Tory has just moved to tiny Morris Island to live with the father she never knew after her mother’s death. She is content to hang out and explore the islands with the other science geeks–all children of the scientists who work at the research station. They band together to rescue a wolfdog puppy from a secret research lab when they become infected with a rare strain of canine parvovirus that worms its way into their DNA. Now they are not just friends, but they are united as a pack. They call themselves the VIRALS and struggle to control their new super-senses and reflexes. Can they outsmart the killer of a teen forty years ago before he turns his sights on them?
I found this story to be a real page-turner. It opens with the four teens dodging bullets as they flee through the brush and doesn’t let up until the last page. I saw some of the pieces come together, but I was still surprised by a few twists at the end. At times I found the first person narration a little abrupt, but it fits the voice of Tory Brennan well. This girl is all about action. Even though she is the newcomer to the island, she is quick to take the lead, especially in plotting the less than legal activities.
After reading this one, I’m definitely off to the library to read some more Temperance Brennan (she is Tory’s aunt, after all) novels or off to the couch to watch some episodes of Bones. Fans of both will enjoy Virals by Kathy Reichs. And yes, there is already a sequel, Seizure, involving pirates and sunken treasure.
I did a lot of reading over Spring Break. (That’s what long car rides will do.) Now I’m trying to catch up with telling you about all the great books I read. You are going to love these.
These first three books feature girls who will do whatever it takes to get what it want. They may live in different times and places, but they share a strength of will that will amaze and impress you.
Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson (Scholastic 2006)
Rachel is horse-crazy. It may be proper for young ladies to ride side-saddle, but she doesn’t have time for propriety when she is astride her horse Peaches, racing trains across the countryside. Her wild rides come to an end when her father moves the family to Boston. A tragic fire leaves a firehorse terribly burned, and Rachel volunteers to nurse it back to health. As she tends to the horse, Rachel dreams of becoming a veterinarian, unheard of in 1782. Her newspaper man father certainly won’t hear of it. A plague sweeps across the city, killing horses and leaving the city vulnerable to fire. Through crisis after crisis, Rachel finds herself in the middle of it. Her passion and her level head see her through, and might even lead to romance. I cheered for Rachel through every challenge she faced. This book is packed with action.
An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi (Gulliver Books 1997)
I picked this one up in the gift shop at Ford’s Theater. Once again, Ann Rinaldi weaves a tale of personal tragedy against a backdrop of national tragedy. As the book opens, Emily is caring for her dying mother. She is grateful for the support of her best friend and neighbor Annie Surratt. After her mother’s death, Emily must go live with her uncle, a doctor who may or may not be involved in creepy after-dark activities. Emily is so wrapped up in her own personal tragedy, that she can barely focus on the shock that grips that nation when John Wilkes Boothe kills President Abraham Lincoln. But when her best friend’s mother is arrested for plotting Lincoln’s murder, she is forced to look beyond herself. Will she see clearly before it is too late? This book is a seriously creepy read.
Girl, Stolen by April Henry (Scholastic 2010)
Cheyenne Wilder is sick and just wants to sleep in the backseat of the car while her stepmother goes in to pick up her prescription. She doesn’t count on someone hijacking the car. The hijacker, Griffin, doesn’t count on there being a girl in the back seat. Cheyenne is also the daughter of the president of the Nike corporation. Once Griffin’s dad puts all the pieces together, he gets greedy. How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare? Not only is Cheyenne sick with pneumonia, she is blind. I love the strength and determination that Cheyenne shows in trying to escape and survive her kidnappers. She uses everything she knows from being blind to transform her lack of sight into a strength as well as a liability. I had no idea how Cheyenne could escape as I read, but she never gave up. This is the book for you if you want one to keep the pages turning.