Monday, November 26, 2012

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008. Print.

Annotation:  Reality television in a post-apocalyptic world has taken a violent turn.  All under the age of 18, and wielding weapons of every kind, participants forcibly selected from their respective districts must fight to remain the lone survivor.  Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen has been chosen to represent District 12 and is pretty handy with a bow and arrow…but, will it be enough to keep her alive? 
Justification for Nomination:  By now, there may not be a person in the world who has not heard of The Hunger Games.  Written by author Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a cross between reality television and war, but a war fought by unusual participants.  In a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, the Hunger Games are held each year in an outdoor arena, manipulated by Capitol “Gamemakers.” The Capitol of Panem is the highly advanced governing body, a cross between Alice in Wonderland and New York City, whose oddly dressed and eccentric citizens seem excited to see a slaughter.  To explain, the Hunger Games are a punishment for a past uprising by the twelve Districts against the Capitol.  Since the squelching of the uprising, every year one male and one female, ages 12 to 18, called “Tributes” are selected by drawing from each of the Districts, 24 in all.  In an effort to honor and prevent the rebellion of the past, the Capitol masks the Hunger Games as a fight for honor and glory, broadcasting the event “live,” in all of its bloody splendor.  Tributes are trained for weeks before being let loose in the arena to fend for themselves in a fight to the death.  Whomever is last standing in the end is sure to find fame and glory, but not without a human cost. 
Enter Katniss Everdeen, the one participant the Capitol never expected.  Headstrong and incredibly adapt at hunting with a bow and arrow, Katniss ultimately takes her young sister’s place at the Reaping, when Prim’s name is chosen as a Tribute.  The story of the Hunger Games is Katniss’s journey of survival.  Survival is but second nature to her, but in the Hunger Games arena, hunting is defined not by satisfaction of hunger, but it is to exist.  To live, Katniss must choose between surviving and humankind, but we watch as Katniss not only survives, but twists the plot in her favor, embarrassing the Capitol.  Rousing unity between the Districts, the Capitol must deal with Katniss, but that is another story to be told. 
The Hunger Games is an entertaining read, no doubt about that.  In many ways, this book is a successful means of motivating teens to read.  It is well-written, easy to read; a hard book to put down.  It is a modern story, with themes that relate to the young reader’s need for excitement.  While the subject of death matches between teens can be seen as disturbing, the narrative is at an appropriate psychic distance for young readers.  The emotional detachment to the other contenders is, what I think, keeps the story from being overwhelmingly gruesome.  While it is an entertaining story, it is also a story of a strong, young female heroine, who is quite capable against any foe.  Katniss works through issues of finding herself, believing in her ability to achieve, and complete the quest.  Through her fight, teens will relate to her rebellious and contagious spirit.  They will also relate to the awkward relationship she shares with her mother, her responsibilities as an older sibling, her feelings as a young woman, and love relationships.  Issues of humanity, freedom, political oppression, and democracy are also at play in The Hunger Games.  It is a story that continues with books two and three, a good motivator for teens to keep reading.
Genre Category:  Fiction/Violence/Survival.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Books, 2001. Print.

Annotation:  Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old criminal mastermind…a ruthless, cold-hearted genius who uses his smarts to break the law…and make lots of money.  After finding proof that fairies do exist, Fowl is on the trail of the biggest treasure in the world; fairy gold.  His evil plan to kidnap a fairy in ransom for the gold seems to be going well -- until he meets an elf who just may be smarter than he is.  

Justification for Nomination:  Artemis Fowl by Irish author, Eoin Colfer, is like “Jimmy Neutron on steroids.”  This child prodigy is a true genius, but unlike good ole Jimmy, Artemis is cold, calculated, and cares nothing about being honorable, but everything about obtaining treasure. And, he’s good at it.  Medical experts all over the world are left dumbfounded and confused by his uncanny abilities.  Oh yes, it may have been better to keep a good eye on Artemis who was too smart for his own britches, but left to his own devices Fowl has created a terrible plan.  Learning that fairies are real, he designs a plan to kidnap a fairy for a ransom of gold, but not just any gold…one ton of 24K fairy gold.  After obtaining The Book of the People, the fairy “Bible,” which describes the history and teachings of their kind, Artemis discovers a ritual that leads him to his captive, Captain Holly Short, who possesses healing powers.  Unexpectedly, Fowl finds he has met his match in this elf, and stunningly, he begins to change his cold, clammy heart, but not before some serious intelligent rule-breaking occurs. 

Eoin Colfer has created a real gem in the Artemis Fowl series, eight books in total.  When we think of overly smart, young technical geniuses, it is easy to think of Jimmy Neutron, the big-haired adolescent on the popular animated television show, who builds spaceships, robots and gadgets.  Like Jimmy, Artemis is just too smart for his own good, but unlike Jimmy, Artemis has no time for kindness.  He is a 12-year-old with a seriously bad attitude, who prides himself in committing “dastardly acts.”  He makes no apologies for it.  Artemis is willing to do just about anything, including kidnapping, to get what he wants.  Initially, there are no feelings of remorse or regret or tweaks of the conscience, but as the story grows, there are changes, growing up themes that present themselves.  It is a story about good and evil, and the consequences of greed.  Artemis begins to soften and learn from others, namely his captive. 

Humor is a big plus in this story.  Colfer’s narration is funny, as well as the dialogue between characters.  Colfer is the “Artemis of humor” as he weaves the story.  The narration is fast moving and easy to read.  Young readers will enjoy this simplistic, humorous style of narration, but also the complexities of character, setting and fantasy world-building.  The story contains successful use of literary necessities in young adult reading  -- we have the ‘quest’ theme, the ‘who am I’ factor, the battle of conscience, good and evil, and consequences of decisions -- all done with a humorous, light edge that make this reading fun and difficult to put down.  With Artemis's change of heart, he just may become the James Bond of YA literature; he certainly has the smarts for it. 

Genre Category:  Nonfiction/Fantasy/Humor/Greed

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Frank, Anne. Translated by B.M. Mooyart. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday, 1967. Print.

Annotation:  Thirteen-year-old Anne Frank gets a diary for her birthday, her very first.  Anne begins her diary with the desire to have a friend who could listen to her heart, for she didn’t have one.  Thus, through Anne’s friend, her diary, we learn of a girl who had dreams of life, love and happiness, but instead witnessed the horrors of a lifetime.  In a secret annex, Anne remains hidden, along with her Jewish family and friends, from what would be certain death if discovered by the Nazis.
Justification for Nomination:  Most young women, like Anne Frank, have dreams of what life will hold; the innocence of believing in a life full of promise, a future of happiness.  For Anne on her 13th birthday, along with things like chocolates, brooches, and books, received a diary.  Questioning her need for such a thing, Anne wondered why she would write in it, and for that matter, who would be interested in the thoughts of a schoolgirl?  Determined, Anne writes this:  “I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary: is that I have no such real friend.”  And so, through her friend, whom she sweetly names “Kitty,” we get a glimpse into a life torn by an evil that no human should suffer.  I wonder if Anne could have imagined that what she thought would be of no interest or consequence to anyone, would be read by millions of people?  Her inmost thoughts and feelings, written on paper, “buried deep within her heart.”  Her heart is bare and as we read it, we suffer in sadness as we see this young life grow up too fast, with no chance of seeing that future she so desired and so deserved.
The Diary of a Young Girl goes beyond what any book can describe or tell us about the Holocaust.  It is an unfettered, emotionally honest look directly from a young lady who experienced its terrors.  It is also a true reflection of the strength of the human spirit to live, to have hope in the dimmest of circumstances.  Anne, along with her family and a few friends, enter a secret hideaway, called an annex, where they hide for two long years from the Nazis and a certain fate, if discovered.  In hiding, Anne continues to write in “Kitty,” sharing her heart, her feelings as a growing young woman.  We get to know her, her parents, and others hiding with her.  We also get to know how young people think, the teen experience, and the conflicts that go along with this time of life.  Anne writes in her diary for two long years within the annex, until her last entry on August 1, 1944. 
Unfortunately, The Diary of Anne Frank is banned in some institutions due to Anne’s honesty about her sexual feelings and normal awkwardness as an adolescent.  Who can imagine what this young girl experienced?  Adolescence in and of itself is a time of discovering oneself and identity, yet Anne did this in the midst of an unimaginable situation.  Teens should be able to understand that their sexual awkwardness and issues of self-discovery are normal.  When we ban a book like this, we are telling the teen it is not natural to have these feelings (which we know IS normal).  This book is an authentic experience, which not only speaks to the teen experience, it relates the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust – something all people, especially the young people of the world need to understand.  It is especially poignant when Anne writes her final entry on August 1, 1944, speaking of her feelings about herself, the “two Anne’s.”  This entry is especially moving, considering we hear nothing from Anne again…she talks about how she looks at herself, the contradictions she feels about her personality; these are all things teens feel, and let’s face it, adults do, too.  Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is an emotionally powerful book that should be read not just once in a lifetime, but often enough to understand the emotional experiences of teens and the specific story of a young girl who should have lived a beautiful, happy life, but was trapped between the walls of an annex and an evil to deep to comprehend.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dickson, Peter. The Ropemaker. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2001. Print.

Annotation:  A spell of protection is fading, and an evil empire waits in the shadows to destroy the peaceful Valley Tilja and her family have lived in for generations.  Tilja and a boy named Tahl, along with their cranky aged grandparents, and an incredibly ornery horse venture into the Forest to find the answers in a magician they have to search for, in a place they have never gone.  It would help if Tilja had magic like her mother, but she doesn’t…at least that’s what everyone thinks. 
Justification for Nomination:  Peter Dickinson is a master at creating other worlds, and The Ropemaker is no exception.  The story of Tilja and her family begins on a cold snowy morning when her mother, “Ma,” does not return from a ritual of singing to the cedars in the Forest – an enchanted place.  For so long, Tilja’s home, the idyllic “Valley” has lived in apparent peace, sheltered from an evil world by a spell given by an enchantress, who unfortunately, is now dead.  Tilja, along with a boy named Tahl, and their two grandparents, Meena and Alnor, a very unlikely foursome, go on a quest to save their home.  Magic is everywhere, except it seems in Tilja, who appears to possess no magical abilities whatsoever, unlike the other women in her family…even her younger sister, Anja, much to her chagrin, has magic.  Magic just seems to, poof !-- vanish with Tilja’s touch.  But, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all? 
Seeking a powerful magician who apparently holds the answer to their dilemma, but for whom they have no name, in land they have never ventured before, is just one of the many twists and turns within this story.  It is a true quest story, with impasses and difficulties facing an unlikely cast of heroes.  True to all successful quest stories, the protagonist, Tilja, seems faced with all kinds of troubles – from caring for their elderly cohorts to an often rebellious horse in a world she has never seen.  But more than that, Tilja needs to find out who she is…and what she is capable of.  Through the story, we watch as Tilja grows and matures in stature and in understanding of her true abilities.  This story is firmly rooted in the essential YA requirement – the” coming of age, who am I quest.”
The Ropemaker is well-written and visually descriptive.  Dickinson’s ability to create visual imagery is amazingly detailed and well-executed.  This work is firmly grounded in setting and world-building, reminiscent of Old Norse tales or the works of Hans Christian Andersen.  For those readers who love to connect to a different world, The Ropemaker will bring them there…but it is a long one.  Like many fantasy novels, this story is lengthy in order to successfully build the world Tilja lives in, but it is not overly done or tiresome to read (and is much shorter than let’s say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).  
As far as award-winning material, this story tops the fantasy genre  - it contains all the necessary literary qualities that make a fantasy novel successful for a YA reader.  It addresses teen issues of self-exploration and discovery.  Tilja connects to teen issues like being different or unique from peers or family members, attempting to live up to expectations amidst many obstacles and feelings of inadequacy…yet ultimately discovering oneself and others, and finding success in the quest.  There are many fantasy books available to read…the flooding of the bookshelves with this genre has made gems like this one (which is now “older”) a little less prominent.  This is a book, however, that I would encourage a young reader to pick up if they would like to visit a world other than their own. 
Genre:  Fiction/Fantasy/Magic.