Monthly Archives: January 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

I picked up Legend by Marie Lu on Saturday night, read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and then picked it up again Sunday morning and read to the finish.  Yes, it’s one of those books where the action is so constant and fast-paced, and the plot so compelling, you just can’t put it down and can’t wait to find out what happens.  Kids are going to love this book.

The book takes place in a dystopian future, in Los Angeles.  The United States has dissolved to become two warring territories, the Republic and the Colonies.  The narration switches back and forth between June, a wealthy 15-year-old prodigy and member of the Republic military, and Day, also fifteen, who is from the slums and is the Republic’s most wanted criminal.  When June’s brother Metias is murdered, and Day is the prime suspect for the murder, she decides to hunt him down to get her revenge.  In the process, Day and June both discover disturbing things about the Republic and surprising things about each other.

There is definitely a fair amount of violence in this book, but of a milder variety than the Hunger Games trilogy.  There is romance, but aside from some “hard kissing,” there is nothing explicit.  I can tell you that, as a school librarian who loves to be able to recommend books freely to kids without having to worry a lot about content, I breathed many sighs of relief as I read this book.  There were places where other writers might have gotten more explicit when it really wasn’t needed, but Lu never did that.  The horror of the actions of government and the romantic tension are both completely evident without so many of the details that would be too much for the middle school readers who are drawn to this kind of story.  (Note: There are definitely many young middle school readers who would be upset by the violence in this book, but for ones who are not sensitive to it and are seeking it out, this is a better choice in my opinion than something like The Hunger Games.  We have been experiencing some high demand from 5th and 6th graders for these kinds of books, and within that genre, this is a relatively tame offering.  Emphasis on relatively, though, because there are a few scenes that are pretty brutal in terms of the violence, and I really would recommend this book more for the older middle schoolers and high schoolers.)

Another reason to be aware of this book: there’s going to be a movie, and if it’s at all good, it’s going to be popular.  This book is so visual and exhilarating, I really cannot wait to see it on the screen, assuming it is well done.  I don’t typically feel that way because I want to preserve my own internal vision of the book, but in this case, it’s just the right kind of book to be made into a film.  I also feel like the ending sets us up for more books, and I definitely look forward to seeing a next installment.

Update:  This went over very well in my classes this morning (I read the third chapter to them).  Two boys had already read the book and raved about it; it’s always nice to hear that actual kids have enjoyed the book!

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Filed under dystopia, fiction, science fiction, suspense

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

What a funny little book The Unforgotten Coat is.

Two Mongolian refugees show up at sixth grader Julie’s school one day, and she becomes their guide to navigating life in Bootle, England.  The opening scene, when Chingis (the older brother) takes on a teacher in a battle of wills, had me literally laughing out loud, and those bursts of laughter continued throughout the book.  Frank Cottrell Boyce has a true grasp on middle school humor.  At the same time, there was an undercurrent of sadness and fear.  Nergui, the younger brother, worries about being taken away by a demon, and much of the story revolves around his and Chingis’ various tactics for avoiding this demon.  (Which might sound kind of silly, until you get to the end of the story, which I won’t spoil.)

I read a review that criticized this story for being insensitive and misrepresentative of Mongol culture.  I did not see what that reviewer saw.  I saw this experience of being confronted with difference, through the eyes of a young girl who does her best to understand and help these two boys, who become her friends.  But I’m curious to know more about what might be offensive or incorrect; this particular reviewer did not elaborate.

This book would be wonderful to read aloud to a class; I can’t wait to read part of it to my 5th and 6th graders.  It is short, and funny, and in the end, gives you a lot to talk about.  Be sure to read the Afterword, which describes the true story that inspired Cottrell Boyce to write this tale.  This book reads very much like nonfiction, with a series of Polaroid photos (including ones of the characters), so I wondered if it were actually true.  It is not, but the story behind the story made me feel like it kind of was true.

The only thing that bothered me about this book was the setting in terms of time.  The narrator is looking back maybe 20 years, but talks about doing searches on Wikipedia.  The present day bits read like they are in the true present (the narrator uses Facebook).  It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a bit jarring to my former editor’s brain.

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Filed under fiction, friendship, funny, realistic fiction

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I’m not going to be able to write intelligently about this book, so maybe I shouldn’t even try.  I just finished it, and I just want to go sob somewhere or something.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, complex book.  Even the story behind the book is beautiful, heartbreaking, and complex: Siobhan Dowd had an idea, but passed away from cancer before she could write the story.  Patrick Ness was asked to write the book, and as he says in the Author’s Note, he knew he couldn’t write the story Dowd would have written.  He decided to try to write a story she would approve of.  I believe he succeeded.

Conor O’Malley’s mother is very sick, possibly dying.  One night at 12:07, the yew tree from a nearby graveyard forms itself into a giant, frightening monster and comes crashing into his room.  Thus begins a series of visitations from the monster, who, like everything and every character in this novel, is no simple creature.  Is he evil?  Is he kind?  Is he destructive?  Is he gentle?  Yes to all of these, and more.  He yells, he rages, he destroys, and he tells stories in which the bad guys seem to win.  But he also seems to be there to help Conor sort out his problems–with his mother’s illness, his father’s absence, his grandmother’s coldness, his classmates’ bullying.

This little book, with its dark illustrations (beautifully wrought by Jim Kay) and its suspenseful scenes and its quirky but compelling premise, grabbed me from the very beginning and did not let go.  The beauty of this novel for me is how accurately it portrays this messy business of being human.  We have thoughts we wish we didn’t have, do things we wish we hadn’t done, hurt and are hurt by the people we love and who love us.  Nothing is ever tied up quite as neatly as many novels for children would have us believe or hope.  How wonderful of Ness to take all of that complexity and deliver it in a tight, suspenseful novel that I expect kids and adults alike will be moved by.

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Filed under fiction, sad, suspense