The four books I'll review in this post were all assigned for my Adolescent Literature class. I've enjoyed taking a class with so much fun reading!
Book #32 for 2012 was Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. It's scarily appropriate with its "city-killer" hurricanes, which go up to Category 6. (These days, in case you aren't a hurricane-watcher, the maximum is 5.) The book is set in the Gulf Coast region of a future United States, where New Orleans, along with Orleans II, is drowned and replaced by Mississippi Metropolitan (MissMet), which they didn't call Orleans III because "even the most ardent supporters of the drowned city gave up on the spectacularly bad luck enjoyed by places called 'Orleans.'" Nailer, the protagonist, works salvage on abandoned ships and lives like many teenagers do today in large third-world cities. He doesn't really know or think about other lives until he and his friend Pima find a rich girl whose fancy boat has been washed ashore during a hurricane. This dystopic novel is exciting and action-packed, but also full of thought-provoking ideas about whether we are doomed to remain in the world into which we're born. Here's an interesting interview with Bacigalupi where he talks about writing YA science fiction, whether his books are really dystopias, and how what he writes connects with what's already going on in the world.
Book #33 was not originally written as a YA novel; it was chosen for an Alex Award, given to books written for adults but judged to be especially appealing to teenagers. It's called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, and it's the first novel I've ever read that is basically set on the internet. Wade is a teenager living in 2044, a time when most people spend most of their time on the OASIS, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. One of the creators of the OASIS has died and left a will in which he gives vague and confusing instructions to find an Easter Egg which he has hidden in the system. Whoever finds it will inherit his entire estate. He has filled the hunt with references to his teenage years, the 1980s. This starts a worldwide craze for studying eighties lore, but when the book opens, nobody has made much progress in finding the egg. But that is about to change. Cline obviously had so much fun writing this book that you have to enjoy it too. I did find myself wondering who, exactly, his target audience was, since there are so many references to the eighties, which I remember very well, thank you very much, but which to my students seem like prehistory. But this book has sold amazingly and there is even a movie in the works, so it must be understandable even if you never saw War Games and don't know what PacMan is. You can see Cline's blog here, and once again, he's having so much fun that it really is endearing, especially if, like me, you like geeks quite a bit.
Book #34 is a new favorite of mine. I've already shared it with a class, my seventh graders. It's called Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, and it's the story of Lai's own childhood journey from Saigon in 1975 to Alabama. Written in incredibly spare and yet evocative free verse, the story makes Saigon and Alabama come alive, as well as the characters, especially Ha, who narrates the book. She's not always so grateful to be a refugee, and it's not easy for her to adjust to her new life. As the mother of some earthquake refugees myself, I found myself identifying with Ha's mother!
Book #35 is another one that the author enjoyed writing, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, by Steve Sheinkin. Sheinkin includes an afterword full of his sources, and writes, "I've been fascinated by Benedict Arnold's story for years and have long wanted to write my own version - I'm convinced it's one of the best action/adventure tales in American history. In preparation, I compiled an absurdly large collection of books about Arnold, not to mention plays, historical prints, and other Arnold items I probably shouldn't have spent my money on." C'mon, don't you like Sheinkin already? He's clearly obsessed by his subject matter. And his book is really a wonderful biography of Arnold, written like a novel. Here's Sheinkin's website.
Coming soon: books #36-#39.
This post is linked to the November 10th Saturday Review of Books.
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