Thursday, August 19, 2010


The Lords of DisciplineThe Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

I've included this novel in my "ya lit" reviews because although it isn't technically YA Lit, I think young adults could relate.

An absolutely amazing novel. This book was recommended to me during an AP Conference, and I can certainly see why. This novel is easy to read no matter your age, but probably especially powerful for young adults who are seeking their own voices and identities.

Our protagonist, Will McLane, a cadet at the Carolina Military Institute (known simply as The Institute), answers the call to keep an eye on the new freshman, Tom Pierce, the first black student to enroll in the fall of 1966. This task sets Will to reflect on the current climate of the Institute. The novel unfolds in four parts, 3 focusing on specific and monumental events in Will's senior year, and one flashback to his own plebe year. All these events eventually converge in Will's present, forcing him to uncover the truths and demons of The Institute, including the possible investigation of a mysterious and dangerous society ("The Ten").

This is one of the few books that I am giving 5 stars to based purely on my holistic reaction. This book isn't without its faults, namely that I'm still not entirely sure why the storyline with Annie Kate was absolutely necessary. But I'm willing to forgive it and some of the other little faults simply because the total piece is so gripping, interesting, and compelling. As hackneyed as it may sound, it is true: I laughed, I cried... (it was better than Cats!)

Conroy is a master of suspenseful writing, that's for sure. I probably got more out of listening to this on audio simply because there were several scenes in which I was dying for information to come to light, where I found myself gasping in shock or gripping the steering wheel, telekinetically urging the narrator to read faster. If I'd had a novel in-hand, I probably would have sped-read through those pages and missed a great deal of his lush descriptions, apposite metaphors, and engaging characterizations. This is a book worth talking about, so don't read it on your own; grab a friend, book club, or classroom, and dig in!

Recommend: Yes, but it is a military institute in the 60s. There are obscenities including use of the N-word. This would be a great book for older grades.

Topics Discussed: Honor, Brotherhood, Loyalty, Truth, Class Divisions, Prejudice, Identity, Respect

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Another winner!

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

First thoughts: A great, thoughtful book with real characters and real dialogue.

Miles doesn't much have a niche where he "belongs" in school, so he finds it fairly easy to shift ground and enroll in a boarding school in Alabama his junior year of high school. He goes intending to seek the Great Perhaps, as inspired by the last words of Rabelais. At Culvert Creek, he instantly finds himself in a circle of friends who - consciously or not - are seeking the same. The title character, Alaska, is the central, enigmatic character around whom the boys cluster. She keeps the group together through her alternately ebullient nature and her mysterious distance. Miles experiences more than he perhaps ever intended to in that first year at Culver Creek, and he has Alaska to thank for it.

The book is definitely not for younger readers, but it will grip you from beginning to end. A real treat and honestly written by newcomer Green. This book inspired me to pick up others by him (e.g., Paper Towns).

Recommend: Yes

Topics Discussed: Identity, Existentialism, Relationships/Connectedness

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here's a Five Star one...

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

Absolutely fantastic. Amazing. Gripping. I couldn't put it down!

Katniss, our protagonist, lives in a post-apocalyptic society. Years before she was born, a war raged and resolved, leaving in its wake the broken system currently in power. The Capitol is at its heart; ironically, the Capitol itself has no heart, as it maintains control of the states by mandating the annual play of The Hunger Games, in which each state must surrender one boy and one girl to fight to the death. Katniss lives in one of the poorer states, and Kat works hard every day to support and provide for her mother & little sister. When her sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss steps forward to take her place, determined to provide safety for her sister & mother. What unfolds is a riveting tale of cunning, survival, and power - both evil and good.

The first 25 pages or so seemed like they might be cliche ("Dystopian YA, like that hasn't been done before"), but once Katniss got to the Capitol, I was convinced this was anything but. Hunger Games is definitely a new classic - one of those rare YA books that could transition well into the classroom, as The Giver, The Outsiders, and Catcher in the Rye have done before it. Speaking of classroom lit, I think this could be beautifully paired with Fahrenheit 451; really, anything with a theme of man vs. society would work (1984 and Cuckoo's Nest also come to mind), but especially F451 due to the concerns of the individual and technology/reality TV.

Katniss's voice is captured expertly in her straightforward, down-to-earth diction and syntax. I think just about anything else I could say of this book would be repetitive of the many many glowing reviews already out there. Read it.

And have book 2, Catching Fire, on hand. And pre-order book 3, Mockingjay, which is released in a week.

Recommend: Yes!

Topics Discussed: Family, Loyalty, Dystopia, War/Violence, Corrupt Society, Power of Individual...there's a lot.

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Friday, August 6, 2010


RiotRiot by Walter Dean Myers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars ("Liked It")

In the style of a screenplay, Myers outlines the racial tensions - born of economic frustrations - of the 1863 riots in New York. Clare, our protagonist, must grapple with the issue of identity when her very being prevents her from knowing which "side" she belongs to. The audiobook version is presented with a full cast including soundtrack and effects; it is extremely well-done and works surprisingly well with the format. Some of Myers' scenes or characters don't feel perfectly cohesive with the overall story arc (namely a cameo by Walt Whitman and Clare's meeting of soldiers). In general, however, the book is well-told and an engaging read.

My only pet peeve with this book? It's too short! Myers starts a few days into the riots, but I think he lost a lot of climatic tension that way. It would have been interesting to see more build-up. Still, though, even Myers' average books are better than most.

This would be an excellent book in the classroom to accompany a unit studying cinematic techniques. And...oh, what's this? Why yes, I have fun ideas on just that!

Recommend: Yes, but mainly to middle school students

Topics Discussed: Race, Historic Events, Identity, Violence

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