Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman

I have to warn you about Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel. Want to Go Private? will make you squirm.  It will make you uncomfortable and angry.  You will want to put the book down and you will pray that Sarah Darer Littman is exaggerating and that events like those in the book don’t happen.  But then I read articles like this, this, and this.  All were published in the past month and only scratch the surface of the Google news results for online predators.

I hated  Want to Go Private?.  Despised it.  I felt gross just reading it.  Yet I could not put it down.  Darer Littman has written an important and powerful book about the dangers of online predators and it should be required reading for parents and teachers.  Adults want to believe that teens are “too smart” to fall for predators in this age of internet safety assemblies, guidance counselor pamphlets, and  PSAs.  But this book is proof positive that even the smartest and best kids can be “groomed” and it’s important that we, the gatekeepers, make them aware of the dangers on the internet.  I blog, so obviously I am a huge proponent of the internet.  (That sounds silly- is anyone really anti-internet?).  I am a huge proponent of my students using the internet.  But kids need to be smart and they need to be aware of the dangers that can be out there online.  Just like we teach kids about stranger danger at the park and in parking lots, we need to constantly ensure that teens and tweens are aware of online stranger danger.

Abby is a smart kid.  She’s a straight A student and a rule-follower.  She’s starting her freshman year of high school and she is nervous.  Her best friend, Faith, seems to be making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities.  Abby is sort of floating along, wishing that things weren’t changing.  She may have hated some parts of middle school, but she did like the innocence of it.  High school seems so much more real to her.  When Luke befriends her on ChezTeen.com, a new website for teens (as Abby says, everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so the teens are constantly migrating), she is flattered.  She makes sure that she keeps it anonymous and casual, being smart about not sharing any identifying information about herself.   Luke is understanding, listens to her rants and complaints, always takes her side.  He’s perfect.

Abby and Luke grow closer as the school year moves forward.  He’s always there for her and she looks forward to coming home from school and talking to him.  When he shares that he is a little older than her, she isn’t worried.  It’s flattering that someone in his twenties is interested in her.  Plus, he doesn’t actually know her.  Things get more complicated when her grades start slipping and Luke asks if he can send her a cell phone, so they can talk without anyone knowing.  And when he asks her to meet him at a particularly vulnerable time in her life, Abby’s life changes forever.

As you read, you follow Abby’s thought process and as an adult, the grooming she undergoes is blatantly obvious.  But Abby is a teen and her arguments are logical in her own head.  I could hear some of my own teens making the same justifications.  But when Sarah Darer Littman switches from Abby’s perspective to those of her friends and family, the book becomes even deeper.  Abby’s decisions affect her family, her friends, her classmates, her teachers, and her town.  Her own life will never be the same after the decisions she makes.

Abby is an irritating character because the reader wants to shake her and say “You are being preyed upon!”.  But at the same time, she’s a believable teen.  Her actions and decisions make sense to her and the reader is supposed to be upset by them.  You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire book, despite the eerie feeling that you know exactly what is going to happen.

 

Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is in important book.  It’s intense and gripping, and a cautionary tale that parents and teens alike should read.  Highly recommended.  This is a book that you will want to read and discuss with your kids.

 

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

I read Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely.  I also enjoyed that movies that were made afterwards.  Last month, I was surprised to learn that Ann Brashares had written a new Sisterhood novel, but that this one was aimed at the adult market.  I picked up a copy and added it to my vacation pile, knowing there was no way I could miss out on the end of the series.

Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) takes place ten years after the last book in the series.  Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen have grown apart as their lives begin to move down different paths.  I’ve been invested in the Septembers since the beginning, feeling like I was growing up alongside them.  I think Brashares is a brave woman: many of the women who love Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen are in their late twenties now so it makes sense that they would continue to connect with them as they close in on thirty years old.  But at the same time, there is no way an author will make everyone happy.  I struggle to summarize the plot of  Sisterhood Everlasting because I don’t want to give anything away.  Just know that the girls are adults now, so they are dealing with adult problems.  Life isn’t simple and there are no easy answers.  People grow and change, but the girls are the same at the core.  They still need each other, whether they admit it or not.

The girls are growing up and have grown apart.  While they consider the rest of the group to be their best friends, they aren’t in touch as often and life keeps getting in the way of planned reunions, emails, and phone calls.  All of the girls are relatable and true to the personalities they have had all along.  The stakes are higher in some ways, because they are adults now.  But does that mean they don’t need each other anymore?  This is the question they all struggle with as they grow up and grow older.  Brashares explores this in a real and heart-wrenching way.

If you’re a fan of the Sisterhood book, read Sisterhood Everlasting.  You owe it to yourself and the characters to see them through to the end.  It’s well worth the ride, despite the tears along the way.  I am so happy that Brashares made the decision to revisit the Septembers as adults and didn’t succumb to the inevitable pressure of the perfect “happily ever after”.  If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t pick this one up!  For one, I don’t think people who missed out on the series will be able to follow the Septembers through their adult lives.  Too many nods to their past and important events mean newcomers may be lost.  Plus, reading this book first will destroy the rest of the series for you.  Just trust me on that one!  You won’t be able to get through the first few books, because of the tears that will be falling.

Highly recommended for fans of Brashares’ earlier books.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary Pearson

A few years ago I read and loved Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I was overjoyed when I recently discovered that she had written a companion novel. I was fortunate to pick up a signed ARC of The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles) at BEA and I read through it during the 48-Hour Book Challenge. I was not disappointed.

Sequels don’t always hold up well, especially when the first book is really good. But The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles) works for a few reasons. The characters are new and not the same main characters as the first book. They are well-developed and I found myself rooting for them even more than I rooted for Jenna in the first book. Another thing that works well is that the setting is 250 years after the events in the first book. The world-building is superb and detailed.  For these reasons,  The Fox Inheritance works well as a stand-alone novel, too.

Thanks to advances in science and medicine, the disembodied minds of Kara and Locke (friends of Jenna who were also in the same car accident) have bene give new bodies.  But the world has changed drastically since their “death” and the man who has brought them to life has plans to use them as models for his new business venture.  Meanwhile, Locke and Kara are struggling.  Are they really human? And why did Jenna get to live her life while they were stuck floating in cyberspace?  When they find out that Jenna is still alive, Kara and Locke set off to find her and enter a world that has been divided by Civil War and is populated by droids and humans.

Highly recommended.  The Fox Inheritance is perfect for science fiction fans and mystery fans.  It is thought-provoking and I imagine that students will want to talk about the issues of humanity and human rights brought up by the plot.  Our world is rapidly changing and the rights of droids, the ability to “save” memories, and much more may be a possibility sooner rather than later.  Perfect for upper middle grade and high school readers.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This book is going to be huge.  Get your pre-orders in and block off some time on October 18th. This is a book you won’t be able to put down so you will have to read it straight through in one sitting.

The Scorpio Races is like nothing I have read before. The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy novel that Stiefvater says has been in her head for many years. The time that this story had to percolate in her imagination resulted in pure perfection. The prose is magical and haunting. The characters are true and life-like. The setting will surround you, with fog settling around you and drops of saltwater sticking to your skin.

Kate “Puck” Connolly lost her parents to the capaill uisce , the water horses, many years ago. She and her two brothers have been struggling to survive ever since.  They barely make ends meet on the tiny island they call home.  When her oldest brother announces that he is leaving to go to the mainland, Puck is stunned and heartbroken.  In a crazy bid to keep him home longer, she enters the Scorpio Races.  Every November, the capaill uisce wash upon shores of the island. The water horses are deadly, but the lure to tame one long enough to ride in the Scorpio Races is hard to resist for the island residents.  The promise of prize money has tempted many young men, including her brother’s friends. But  Kate swore to have nothing to do with the capaill uisce after her parents’ death.  Instead, she  enters the race as the first female rider in the race’s history, but plans to ride her own horse, Dove.

And then there is Sean.  Strong, silent, and the island’s most famous resident.  He is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races and he and his water horse, Corr, are known far and wide.  But Sean is silently struggling.  He wants to free himself from his overbearing employer but won’t leave his job without Corr, who belongs to the stable.  Winning this year’s Scorpio Races will win them both their freedom.

Sean and Puck meet while training for the races.  But don’t think this is just a love story.  It’s so much more than that.  The center of the story is that both Puck and Sean’s futures hinge on how well they do in the race.  But only one can win.  And while there is tension between the two, Stiefvater’s tale is about the water horses.  I was not familiar with the mythology of water horses before picking up this ARC and that made the story all the more delicious.  I had no idea what was coming.  I fell in love with the gorgeous and deadly water horses, and I’ve been reading everything I can about them ever since I finished the book.  Stiefvater’s prose is haunting and I could hear the hooves pounding on the beach while the waves crashed in the background.  The world-building is spot-on and the atmosphere will haunt you.

This is a book that will fly off the shelves in October.  I have already passed it on to my students, and they took it home this summer to pass around amongst themselves.  I know they are going to love it.  I certainly do!

(I plan to look for some water horses when I am in Ireland later this summer.  ;)  )

*ARC courtesy of the publisher at BEA

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

It’s no secret that dystopian books are some of my favorite.  I’m thrilled that they seem to be taking over the market right now and it’s hard for me to pass up the chance to read the latest and greatest in the genre.  I saw Wither being buzzed about in the blogosphere and added it to my list of must-reads when I got a chance to glance at the cover.  How gorgeous is that?  And luckily, the story did not disappoint!

Set in the future, in a world where every human being is living a countdown; a countdown to death.  Males only live to 25 and women to age 20.  Rhine has been captured off the street, kidnapped, to be used as a bride for a wealthy young man.  At almost sixteen, she had planned to spend her remaining few years living with her twin brother and caring for him.  Instead, after being kidnapped, she is forced to marry a sad young man and live with his other two wives.  Rhine has been chosen to replace Linden’s favored first wife, recently deceased. Suddenly she is residing in a world of wealth and privilege, instead of the dangerous basement apartment she shared with her brother.  She has favored status among the wives and Linden doesn’t even seem that bad.

But Rhine longs to be free.  She plays the game, appeasing Linden and her father-in-law, appearing to be the ideal wife.  In reality, she is planning her escape.  She is determined not to live out her last days in a prison, even if it takes on the appearance of a palace.  She needs to return to her brother, and that means manipulating those around her.  But can she move through her life without having any feelings for or towards those around her?  Will she be able to break free and leave behind those who have grown to care for her, like Gabriel, her friend (and servant)?

I read mixed reviews of Wither before I ordered myself a copy.  The cover art is gorgeous and the premise sounded intriguing.  But a few bloggers I trust had so-so reactions.  Hence, I began the book a little apprehensive.  Well let me tell you- I was sucked in within the first few pages!    Some reviewers complain that the world-building is irritating in the sense that it seems incomplete.  I have to admit I didn’t notice that.  The plot and the characters drew me in so much that I didn’t even think about the world outside of Rhine’s home.  That’s a credit to DeStefano’s incredible prose.  Rhine’s emotions leap off the page, and the characterization is perfect.  There are no flat or static characters here- every single character seems to jump off the page, standing in front of you.  Everyone is real.  I can’t think of a better way to put it.  Even the characters I hated were human and sympathetic.  I felt for all of them, which was no easy feat in a book like this.  Kudos to Lauren DeStefano.  I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

*purchased by me

The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

Stop what you are doing and go pick up this book. The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe was just the book I needed to get out of my reading slump and I have been recommending it to everyone I know.  I have a personal connection to the story of the monarch butterfly’s migration, but this is a story that many people will identify with.

Luz Avila’s mother abandoned her as a child and she was raised by her Abuela.  Now that she is in her twenties, Luz takes care of her grandmother.  She works a factory job, dreaming of the day she will be able to go back to school.  But the job pays the bills and lets her grandmother live life relatively worry-free.  But when Abuela suddenly announces that she wants to take Luz home, to visit their family in Mexico, it breaks Luz’s heart to have to say no.  She promises that they will go one day, after they save the money and pay off a few more bills.  Abuela dies before plans can be made, and Luz is plagued with regret.  Then she wakes up a few days after the funeral and sees an out-of-season monarch butterfly in the garden that her abuela so loved.  It’s a sign, and Luz takes it to heart.  For the first time in her life, she throws caution to the wind and lives life spontaneously.  In a few short days she is in an old, beat-up VW bug on her way from Milwaukee to Mexico.  She carries Abuela’s ashes with her, planning to scatter them in the monarch sanctuaries near her family’s ancestral home in Angangueo, Mexico.

This is a quest story, a journey, both spiritually and physically.  Along the way Luz meets women who leave an imprint on her life and her heart, changing the way she looks at the world.  Each woman alters the flight path a little more, but they all enrich Luz’s life.  And when her mother reappears in her life, Luz must decide which way to fly.

As a monarchaholic, I know this book would affect me deeply.  But I also believe the casual reader will find themselves immersed in the tale of the monarch butterfly.  And the descriptions!  Oh, the language in this book!  I’ve been to Angangueo, to the sanctuaries, and I’ve visited Alternare in Michoacan.  Reading The Butterfly’s Daughter transported me back to the dusty dirt roads high in the Transvolcanic Mountains.  I could smell the fresh blue corn tortillas and hear the sound the butterfly wings beating in the blue sky.  The language of the Purepuchuan people rings in my ears even now.  (Read about my time in Michoacan).  Monroe traveled to the sanctuaries with Monarchs Across Georgia, a group very similar to my beloved Monarch Teacher Network, and the authenticity of her book speaks volumes about that trip.  I could not put the book down.

Highly, highly recommended.  Published for adults, but with definitely crossover YA appeal.

*copy purchased by me  

 

 

Want to visit the sanctuaries?  Read my post about an amazing professional development opportunity for teachers!

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning novel-in-verse from debut novelist Thanhha Lai. Ten-year old Ha’s father has been missing in action for nine years when her family must flee Saigon, leaving behind everything she knows. Heartbreakingly, she knows she might never see her father again or find out what happened to him.  The family must  voyage by ship and it is dangerous and miserable.  There is not enough food, water, space, or bathroom facilities. In fact, the family barely makes it onboard the packed ship! Eventually, the refugees are rescued by an American ship, which tows them to a refugee camp in Guam. The family must decide where to go from Guam and Ha’s mother chooses America.  In order to go to America, they must be sponsored by an American family. When a “cowboy” (in Ha’s eyes) rescues them, they move to Alabama.

Alabama is not home and is nothing like Saigon.  On her first day of school, Ha has her hair pulled by her American classmates, who want to make sure she is real.  She and her brothers are bullied, and none of them are able to explain how smart they are and what they learned back in Vietnam.  As immigrants, they are looked down on and often ignored.  Lai’s spare verse evokes such emotion that I found myself with tears in my eyes on many pages.  This book is a must-have for any teacher dealing with bullying in their classroom/school.  Lai’s story is based on her own childhood (read more here) and I can imagine some amazing conversations that will be started by this book.

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning, lyrical debut from author  Thanhha Lai.  While it seems like it is being marketed to MG readers, I want to stress that this is a book ripe for high school classrooms, too.  The close look at bullying and being an outsider should be required reading for all children.  Lai’s poetry ensures that the story wil grab even the most reluctant reader.  And her humor and sensitivity will have readers coming back for more.

Highly recommended for all readers!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Hidden by Helen Frost

Helen Frost is one of my favorite authors.  While she may not be the most well-known MG/YA author on the market right now, I wish she was!  I am constantly recommending her books to my readers.  When I was offered an ARC of her newest title, I jumped on the chance. Hidden does not disappoint. If you are a middle school of high school teacher, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

From the flap copy:

When Wren Abbott and Darra Monson are eight years old, Darra’s father steals a minivan. He doesn’t know that Wren is hiding in the back. The hours and days that follow change the lives of both girls. Darra is left with a question that only Wren can answer. Wren has questions, too.

Years later, in a chance encounter at camp, the girls face each other for the first time. They can finally learn the truth—that is, if they’re willing to reveal to each other the stories that they’ve hidden for so long.

I have a strange attraction to crime stories.  I am the person who can’t turn off CNN when they are talking about a missing person.  I read newspaper articles and magazine interviews.  Hidden was exactly what I was looking for. The story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The chapters alternate between Wren and Darra and you sympathize with both.  The suspense alone is reason enough to pick up the book.  However, Helen Frost’s real gift is in her poetry.

Nothing is ever as it seems, which is what I love.   The real magic in every Helen Frost book comes when you start digging deeper, really paying attention to the poetry.  In Hidden, Helen Frost has invented a new form of poetry to help give insight into Darra’s story. Darra’s poems are told through especially long lines.  But upon reaching the end of the book, you learn that taking the last word of the longest lines allows you to read Darra’s thoughts and memories, seeing the kidnapping from her point-of-view.  Due to this, I found myself re-reading the book immediately upon finishing it the first time.  The second time through, I simply lost myself in the poetry, paying attention to the word choice, the rhymes, and this wonderful new form.

Hidden is perfect for reluctant MG/YA readers.  Highly, highly recommended!

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  

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

In the interest of full-disclosure, I went to high school with Brian.  We’ve kept in touch and I was so excited when I read his book announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.  I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could, and I read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. However, I tend not to read a lot of adult NF (other than professional books), so I knew I would be pretty hard on the book- I am tough to impress in the adult NF sector).

Publisher’s Summary: 

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can “think.”

Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, the Tur­ing Test convenes a panel of judges who pose questions—ranging anywhere from celebrity gossip to moral conundrums—to hidden contestants in an attempt to discern which is human and which is a computer. The machine that most often fools the panel wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, bizarre and intriguing, for the Most Human Human.

In 2008, the top AI program came short of passing the Turing Test by just one astonishing vote. In 2009, Brian Christian was chosen to participate, and he set out to make sure Homo sapiens would prevail.

The author’s quest to be deemed more human than a com­puter opens a window onto our own nature. Interweaving modern phenomena like customer service “chatbots” and men using programmed dialogue to pick up women in bars with insights from fields as diverse as chess, psychiatry, and the law, Brian Christian examines the philosophical, bio­logical, and moral issues raised by the Turing Test.

One central definition of human has been “a being that could reason.” If computers can reason, what does that mean for the special place we reserve for humanity?

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a stimulating, fascinating book that is perfect for both the most discerning technophile and the neophyte reader who seeks to start thinking about humanity, language, biology, history, and technology.  It’s the rare nonfiction book that can capture the mind of almost any reader.  Nothing is “over your head” and the tone is conversational while remaining intellectual. (The entire book actually made me think I was reading a TEDxtalk.  It’s that kind of conversational tone). Anyone who knows me know that I read very fast.  However, I found myself reading this slowly, savoring the ideas. I frequently stopped to think about some of the points Brian brings up, saying, “Wow, I never thought of it like that!”

As a teacher, I really appreciated The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.  Brian does a fantastic job of bringing together many disciplines- math, science, computers, linguistics, sociology, human behavior, and much more.  Brian’s background in science writing and philosophy plus his MFA in Poetry are exactly the type of well-rounded academic life I am promoting to my students.  To be a successful citizen of the 21st century, you can’t just be an engineer, or a salesperson, or a teacher.  You must make your own way and your own ideas.  We are preparing students today for careers that don’t even exist yet!  Being well-rounded academically is so very, very important. And being able to bring all those ideas together is imperative.

And as a teacher, I appreciate the thought-provoking theme of what makes us human.  Our students are moving into an increasingly digital world- what will that mean for humanity? Where do we draw the line?  When do computers become “human”? As Brian points out, most human inventions came to be when we had a job that needed to be done.  Computers, however, were invented and then we created jobs for them.  They’ve always been different, and they are shaping the world we live in today and the world that will exist in the future.

This is a book I know I will find myself going back to over and over, rereading chapters here and there.  I look forward to discussing it with my students in the fall (The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is our One Book, One Class for the incoming freshman class).  A few of my current freshman have read it and really enjoyed it. And Brian will be coming to speak to our freshman after spring break.  I am really looking forward to that!

Highly recommended for high school readers and adults.

*purchased copy

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