Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekly Geeks - book reviews (modified)

This week's meme is in a multi-question format and asks us to catch up on any outstanding books that we have not yet reviewed:
1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you hope to finish this week.

2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. (Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.)

3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).

4. Visit
other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions! finish this week.
I really love this topic and wish that I had time to address each point listed. Unfortunately, this is just not the right time of year for me to participate at that level, BUT I do have a couple of outstanding books that I would like to discuss before I leave town. Therefore, I will take the intent of this meme, but modify it to suit my personal needs (I hope the moderator of weekly geeks is ok with these changes). I will focus on questions 1 and 2 -- but perhaps leave questions 3 and 4 for another time.

I intentionally said I wanted to discuss not review some"outstanding books" because after several weeks of mulling over the books in my brain, I am still finding it difficult to formulate a review. I think the reason for this is two-fold. First of all, both these books are considered Young Adult - which is a genre that is relatively new to me. Because I am not the target audience for these novels, I feel as though I need to read these books on two levels: as personal enjoyment and as a teacher reading for her students (would they enjoy this book; are there themes we can discuss in class; is the book appropriate for the conservative Christian demographic of the school).

The second reason I am finding it hard to write a review is because both of these novels are futuristic - somewhat sci-fi in nature, and this is a genre that I definitely struggle with. I intentionally stepped out of my comfort zone with these books, however, because there are so many wonderful bloggers out there who LOVE science-fiction and fantasy fiction, and I feel as though I am missing out on a lot of great literature by self-limiting my reading selection. I thought if I tried this genre in the YA category, I might be able to comprehend it better, and then slowly work my way "up" to the adult novels.

The first novel up for discussion is Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I was first introduced to this series by one of my 7th grade students. I require students to read one book of their choosing over Christmas break and then a give a brief oral book review when we return to class. I was amazed at the number of students who chose fantasy and sci-fi books this year. I was introduced to Fellowship of the Ring, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and Among the Hidden. Here is the book's plot summary from
Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family's farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl's face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he's met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows -- does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?

Now the concept of a futuristic society limiting the size of families is not new to me, yet I had never read a book that focused on that issue. Luke is not only an outcast in this society, but he is nearly an outcast in his own family. His mother attempts to understand his feelings and tries to show compassion, but his father is so petrified that his son will be discovered by the Population Police, that his relationship with his son is very strained, to say the least. Discovering another shadow child in close proximity to his house allows Luke to have the social interaction that he has craved for so long. Jen has an agenda, however, and is more brave and daring that Luke has ever allowed himself to consider. He is torn between doing what he knows is "right" in this society, and doing what he feels is right for humanity. The book definitely ends on a cliffhanger and left me wanting to read the rest of the series.

The second YA book that I read was The Hunger Games. Now, this book adds a third element of review difficulty in that SO many other bloggers have reviewed it, that I really have nothing else to add. I can honestly admit that if I had not read the reviews of bloggers whose opinion I fully trust, I would never have picked up this book, based on its description from

Sixteen-year-old Katniss poaches food for her widowed mother and little sister from the forest outside the legal perimeter of District 12, the poorest of the dozen districts constituting Panem, the North American dystopic state that has replaced the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. Her hunting and tracking skills serve her well when she is then cast into the nation’s annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death where contestants must battle harsh terrain, artificially concocted weather conditions, and two teenaged contestants from each of Panem’s districts. District 12’s second “tribute” is Peeta, the baker’s son, who has been in love with Katniss since he was five. Each new plot twist ratchets up the tension, moving the story forward and keeping the reader on edge. Although Katniss may be skilled with a bow and arrow and adept at analyzing her opponents’ next moves, she has much to learn about personal sentiments, especially her own. Populated by three-dimensional characters, this is a superb tale of physical adventure, political suspense, and romance. Grades 9-12. --Francisca Goldsmith
Now, I don't watch much television, but this description sounds like a cross between the reality show, Survivor, and the Jim Carey movie, The Truman Show. These young children know that this is not just a game; this is truly a matter of life and death. They must quickly learn to use strategy, form alliances, and as the old saying goes, "keep their friends close and their enemies closer." Some of these children have been training for this event their entire lives, while others, like Katniss, just happen to be there because of the luck of the draw (I must admit that the first pages of this book was eerily like Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, which continues to have a powerful impact on my life - 30 years after I first read it). But to complicate matters even more, the government has full control over the environmental elements of the games as well (which is what reminded me of The Truman Show, sans any sense of humor).

Is this a YA novel?! I must admit, the novel displays very mature themes that are perhaps not suitable for some adult segments of the population. BUT...there are many junior high and high school students that would thoroughly enjoy this style of narrative. An added benefit to reading this YA book is that the language and the graphic descriptions are kept to a minimum. If this were written as an adult book, I can almost guarantee that the writing would be too gory for my modest tastes. The author wastes no time in setting up the suspense, and she keeps the reader positively engaged in the story the entire 374 pages. While there is a satisfying conclusion to this portion of the tale, the reader is left with many unanswered questions about the future, which beautifully sets up the need to immediately purchase the sequel, Catching Fire, when it is released in September.

So there you have it. Two discussions, rather than reviews, of two YA novels that I truly enjoyed, but simply could not find the time nor the words to adequately review them. I am glad that I have stepped foot outside my literary comfort zone. I anticipate reading the sequels to both of these books, and to continue reading more YA novels in these genres (I am currently listening to the entire Harry Potter books on CD and am having a BALL!! I have just started book 4: The Goblet of Fire - and I can't decide if I love JK Rowling's writing more or Jim Dale's narrative voice).

I would welcome any and all comments you may have on either of these books, any of these genres, and any recommendations you may have to help me expand my reading horizons.


  1. Sorry, I haven't read the books you would like to discuss (& I refuse to get drawn into the Harry Potter hype LOL!) so I can't oblige. But one of my books still to be reviewed is The End of Mr. Y, sort of a thought experiment about time traveling and... books ;) It seems to fit your students choices!

  2. I enjoyed your "discussions". They seem like reviews to me. I don't read YA or science fiction but it's good to know what the young are reading and what's out there. This is a great idea for the meme.

  3. I think I will be the last blogger to read The Hunger Games. I'm anxious to read it, but must admit that the premise reminds me of The Running Game - an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

  4. I definitely recommend the rest of the Shadow Children series. I also recommend pretty much everything Margaret Peterson Haddix. I love her books for their complexity. All deal very smartly with ethics and humanity.

    Have you read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians? That is one very fun fantasy novel :)

  5. Along the line of book reviews, I find it difficult to review classics and/or a book that has been so popular that all the bloggers and reviewers might have spoken their opinions. Sometimes there is no need for me to repeat. I tend to focus on writing style and the language, if these areas are worthy to be explored. :)

  6. What a coincidence - I read The Lottery for the first time about an hour ago! I agree there are a lot of similarities with the Hunger Games. Great point!

  7. I've seen it mentioned over and over again (The Hunger Games) - and since I am trying to compile a list of YA to read later this year - a genre I know nothing about - is this a book you can recommend?

  8. I agree with every single word you chose in your "discussion" of The Hunger Games. There's hardly a need to say more. I would, however, love it if you would read my review of Catching Fire. I've been trying to make many friends today, as I'm new and in need of the guidance of a pro. I am now going to read more of your reviews, and, inevitably, comment. (:


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