Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Endangered won’t be released until October 1st, but I am publishing this early so that you can place your pre-orders now.  Endangered was hands-down the best book I read this summer.  I read it straight through, in the middle of the night, because I could not put it down.  The book made it’s way to the top of my TBR pile after I tweeted a request for realistic YA with a focus on science.  When a few Twitter pals recommended Eliot Schrefer’s upcoming book I remembered seeing a few mentions of the book at BEA back in May.  The ARC quickly climbed to the top of my TBR pile and I am very glad it did.  Like I said, it was my favorite book of the summer!

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I am a science girl.  I went to a pre-engineering and science high school and spent my first year of college struggling to decide between English and biology as a major.  I was a part of Project SUPER during my freshman year in college, which “is an enrichment program for undergraduate women interested in pursuing the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.”  We visited labs all over campus, met with mentors, and participated in research.  In the end, I became an education major with a double major in English.  However, I am still a science girl at heart.  All you have to do is look at my involvement with the Monarch Teacher Network to know that!

Back on the subject of Endangered.  Books about animals, with a focus on biology or conservation, are my bread and butter.  For some reason, there is a severe lack of these books in YA.  (Other than dystopian, science fiction books).  But Endangered is the book to beat all books in the genre!  It’s real, it’s gritty, and it will break your heart.  But the best part is the science is all real and the desperate need for conservation is all too real in a part of the world that often can’t feed it’s people, let along focus on the innocent creatures surrounding them.

Endangered is the truly exceptional story of Sophie, a teenage girl whose mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo.  Bonobos are our closest relatives (we share 98% of our DNA, more than chimps) and they are surprisingly human-like.  However, they live in the war-torn Congo and are in danger of becoming the first great apes to become extinct under our watch.  Sophie’s mother works alongside the government to raise orphaned bonobos in order to release them into the wild later in life.  But when Sophie personally rescues Otto, an orphaned bonobo, she becomes attached to him.

But Sophie and Otto’s lives are in danger when a coup threatens the stability of the country.  Sophie and Otto are forced to flee into the jungle in order to survive and they must make their way to safety.  Together, alongside some of the surviving bonobos from the sanctuary, they must fight to stay alive amidst revolution and chaos.

I can not recommend this book enough.  However, be aware that it is a war story, and thus I would recommend it for high school readers and not those in middle school.  It’s also full of facts that are woven seamlessly into the narrative.  I’d love to have my students read this as we study imperialism in Africa.  It’s a natural ladder to (and even from) Achebe and Adichi’s works.  Endangered is a tale of survival amid violence and Schrefer doesn’t shy away from the gory details at times.  And because those details sometimes involve mistreated animals, I found it hard to read at times.  However, I also could not stop reading.  And that’s the magic of Endangered.

I finished the book a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind.  I immediately passed it on to my co-worker who teaches biology.  I plan to place it on my list of recommended summer reads next year.  And I can’t wait to booktalk to my students.  It’s the perfect mix of humanity, history, biology, conservation, compassion, the human condition, and current events.  I find myself still researching bonobos as I type this!

Highly, highly recommended.  And I fully expect to hear this title brought up in many awards conversations.

(Eliot Schrefer will be presenting at NCTE in November.  I know I can’t wait to be a part of that audience!)

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I’m not sure that I can say anything that hasn’t been said yet, but I feel strange not reviewing John Green’s latest masterpiece.  This will be short and sweet, and I’m not going to bother summarizing the plot because it’s been done to death.  Just know this-  The Fault in Our Stars is a book that should be required reading for young adults and adults.

Hazel is dying.  She knows this, her parents know, and her doctors know. But John Green has crafted an unforgettable, life-affirming book that will leave you laughing through your tears.  This isn’t a book about death; it’s a book about life and living it to the fullest.

I purchased three copies of The Fault in Our Stars before it was released. Other than brief appearances as they passed from hand to hand, I haven’t seen any of those books since January.  But at least half of my students, of both genders, have now read it.  And all three copies are continuing their journey from student to student through the summer.  That’s damn good for a realistic fiction book.  That’s the equivalent of five stars from my kids!

If you haven’t read this yet, I can’t recommend it enough.  The story is multi-layered and intensely literary.  While it’s published as YA, it certainly has many adult readers.

If you don’t already own all of John Green’s novels (or if you are like me, and just can’t turn this down) be sure to preorder the  John Green Limited Edition Boxed Set (autographed).  The graphics, designed by Karen Kavett, are really awesome because she and her sister attended school in my district.  My nerdfighters love that!

*purchased, all three copies, on my own

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have no idea how to review Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity without giving away all the twists and turns of the plot.  So, I won’t be summarizing the book much, that’s for sure.

I avoided reading Code Name Verity for a few months, even though I had purchased a copy, because it was receiving so much praise. (Sometimes, I can be quite contrary).  When I taught 6th grade, we studied WWII and the Holocaust in literature, and it played a large part in our curriculum.  Because of this, I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction aimed at middle grade and young adult readers.  I’m pretty picky when it comes to books set during the time period because there are so many choices.   But I finally sat down to read Wein’s book a few weeks ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I closed the cover.

I started the book and read a few pages here and there for about a week.  Be forewarned- this one starts slow.  So slow, that I considered abandoning it.  But when I did sit down and give it my full attention, I found that I was fascinated, even if it did move very slowly.  It took about 100 pages before I was completely sucked in. But at that point, I couldn’t stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime, on a school night, and read the rest straight through.

Maggie Stiefvater said in her review that this book is unlike anything else she has read before.  I have to agree.  The book defies categorization.  It’s historical fiction but it’s immensely personal and internal.  It’s about WWII but it’s not really about the war.  Instead, it’s about two girls who join the war effort because it allows them to do what they love- fly, flirt, and gain power in some relationships.  It’s about friendship; true, never-dying, I’ll do anything for you friendship.  It’s about once-in-a-lifetime friendship and love.  It’s a haunting book that you will want to reread.

Code Name Verity isn’t perfect, but I expect to see it on many mock Printz lists at the end of the year.  It’s a slow book, and it’s not a typical YA.  I think it will appeal to adult readers and I plan to recommend it to some of my colleagues.  I also think my STEM students will love this one, because of the intense focus on pilots, engineering, planes, and and radios.  It would make a fabulous cross-curricular read, and I am thinking about ways to use it with my seniors during their 21st Century Human Condition unit.

Highly recommended for YA and adult readers.

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

It’s appropriate that I am publishing this review today, as I watch severe weather warnings scroll across the bottom of my TV.  Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm is a science novel (a term coined by Betsy Bird) about a dark future where storms have taken over the weather pattern and have pushed people out of their homes and into planned communities.

I loved this novel.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a weak spot for the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre.  But I am also a huge science geek.  I struggled to choose a major in college, because I loved biology and English.  I went to a pre-engineering academy for high school.  And even today, I still raise monarch butterflies and subscribe to too many science blogs to list.  I was excited when I read that Kate was writing a book heavily based on meteorological science and I begged an ARC off the publicist at NCTE.

Jaden’s dad is a meteorological engineer and he invites her to the middle of storm country to attend a camp for gifted and talented middle schoolers.  She is happy to spend time with her father and his family and as a science geek, she looks forward to camp.  But when she gets to Oklahoma, she realizes that everything is not as it seems.  Her father’s planned, engineered stormsafe community seems to be going above and beyond in order to keep the residents safe from harm. But by avoiding the storms, they may be putting those outside the community in danger.  Once Jaden starts camp, she befriends some of the farm kids from outside the community and they all begin to dig a bit deeper into the storms.

Eye of the Storm  is recommended for middle graders, but I think it will appeal to high school readers, too.  Jaden is a great heroine who is smart, geeky, and fun.  The science in the book is top-notch and Messner keeps you on the edge of your seat.  The teens/tweens read as real kids and as a teacher of gifted students, I recognized a lot of my own students in her characters.  One warning: Be sure to have some meteorology books on hand because when kids finish this one they are going to want to read a lot about storm systems!

Highly recommended for middle school and high school libraries.  A great read for upper elementary students, too!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher at NCTE

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son is an interesting book.  It follows the same group of friends as her Saving Francesca, but it readers can pick up The Piper’s Son without reading  Saving Francesca  (I haven’t read it).  It walks the line between YA and adult, and some readers will definitely feel it is more adult than YA.  The story follows two members of the Finch-Mackee family- Tom and his aunt, Georgie.

I’ll let the flap cover do the summarizing:

homas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything’s broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

Marchetta weaves two stories together, alternating POV between Georgie and Tom.  From the outside, they seem to be very different, but over the course of the book it becomes clear that they are very similar, despite their age difference.  I found myself drawn more to Georgie, even though I could not personally identify with her struggle.  However, I it’s interesting to present teens with both a late-teens main character and a clearly adult character.  I don’t see it done very often and I am interested to see how my readers feel about it.

Marchetta is a fantastic writer.  She pulls you into the story word by word. Nothing happens quickly in The Piper’s Son, but that’s because it is not an action book.  It’s a book about people and about relationships.  It’s about picking up the pieces and trying to move on, even when it feels like you can’t.  It’s about the ways we react to tragedy in our lives, and the ways we shut out the people who love us most.  Marchetta is a gifted writer and I think The Piper’s Son will resonate with a lot of adult readers.  It’s the perfect crossover book.  Older teens will also gain a lot from reading her book.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher  

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