Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series is extremely popular in my classes this year.  I try to pick up all the Haddix books that I can, as they seem to hook many reluctant readers.  When I saw that Scholastic was offering “Running Out of Time” last month, I picked it up without knowing much about it.  While getting my car’s oil changed yesterday I had about an hour to read and managed to finish the book.  It is definitely a quick read, but an exciting book! Jessie’s family lives like most typical families- in 1840.  She’s a tomboy, usually the one in the group doing the dares, rather than the daring.  In many ways, she reminded me of Anne of Green Gables.  Her mother is the local midwife and Jessie enjoys tagging along with her on jobs.  Lately, however, more and more children have been becoming sick.  

When the book opens, Jessie accompanies her mother to  an appointment, but her mother will not let her enter the home where two children are very ill.  On the way home, her mother is acting very strange, and she sees signs on certain houses that signify the occupants are quarantined.  Her mother won’t answer her questions, but tells her she needs to meet her in the woods the next day, after school, but to tell no one. That morning, Jessie’s younger sister becomes ill in school.  Jessie brings her home and then heads deep into the woods to meet her mother.  What she learns in those woods will change her life, and the lives of those around her.  Her mother tells her that she fears diptheria is the disease they are fighting.  She needs Jessie to leave their village, Clifton, and find medicine in another village.  However, all is not as it seems.  

Haddix’s book takes a sharp turn about a quarter of the way through- a twist that I never saw coming!  I hesitate to say more, because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else.  I really enjoyed this book and I know a few reluctant readers in my classes who will be hooked by this book.  If you enjoy fast-paced adventures, plot twists, mysteries, or Haddix’s other works, I highly recommend this novel! 

The Postcard by Tony Abbott

A few days ago, I mentioned here on the blog that I had added Tony Abbott’s upcoming novel, “The Postcard” to my wishlist.  Mr. Abbott himself actually stumbled upon the post and commented! He was kind enough to send an ARC to my class and he even signed it for us! When I showed my students today, they were absolutely thrilled, to say the least. I finished the book today and loved it! Below you will find my review:

Jason is your average, middle-class kid. He lives in Massachusetts, the youngest of three kids. Mom and Dad had him later in life, so he is practically an only child. Life seems great- Mom has a good job, school is going well, and it’s finally summer! But as most kids know, something always ends up going wrong. Jason’s grandmother has passed away and he is shuttled off to Florida to help his father clean out the house and help tie up some loose ends. Jason wants nothing to do with this, especially when he realizes his parents are using this time as a trial separation, of sorts. Regardless, his mother ships him off to Florida and Jason arrives in St. Petersburg within 24 hours of his grandmother’s death. St. Petersburg is “full of old people”, as my students would say. Florida is a major retirement destination for much of NJ, so I know my students will identify with this aspect of the story!

Jason figures he will help out his dad, clean the house, and be back in Massachusetts within a few days. His dad is pretty upset by the death of his mother, and Jason ends up taking care of him a lot. It turns out that his dad was an illegitimate child who never knew his own father; his mother was sick for most of his life and he spent a lot of time away at school.  Jason doesn’t know much about his father’s family and is thoroughly creeped out by sleeping in the house where his grandmother died. He wants nothing more than to get back home.  Everything changes when he starts receiving strange phone calls.

The phone calls lead to a strange postcard. Then, his house-bound grandmother’s funeral is full of bizarre guests. When he finds an old magazine in some boxes, a bizarre story saved by his grandmother for close to half a century becomes a mystery within the mystery.Who exactly was Jason’s grandmother? Who was his grandfather? Was his great-grandfather an evil man? Why did the guests at his grandmother’s funeral look like circus freaks and why did the funeral director refer to her as Marnie? And is the strange story in Bizarre Mysteries actually true?

Jason has stumbled into the mystery of a lifetime, and he is running out of time to solve it. Abbott effortlessly weaves together mystery and intrigue, resulting in a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat and constantly guessing.  I was able to come up with bits and pieces of the solution as I got deeper into the story, but I never figured it out exactly.  The novel is very unpredictable, making it all the more enjoyable.

I am strongly considering using this novel as a read-aloud for my class. I have been trying to find a fun novel with a male protagonist and none of my normal, go-to novels were doing it for me. “The Postcard” may be just what I am looking for! I love the mystery-within-a-mystery that Abbott writes using the magazine story. Jason is also very easy to relate to- I know my students will understand his parents’ separation and his relationship with his best friends. Even moreso, I know they already think of Florida as a place full of old people, so Abbott’s constant references to the influx of the elderly in Florida will make them laugh. Finally, the mystery itself is fascinating! I know I started looking at the history of the St. Petersburg area and some of the main characters. While the novel isn’t non-fiction, it brings up some very interesting historical aspects of Florida. Without ruining the mystery, I can say I learned a lot about a subject I had never really considered before.

“The Postcard” will be released in April 2008. Thank you again to Tony Abbott for getting this into my hands! My fabulous readers can’t wait to get their hands on this book!

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