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Review – Shades of Earth (Across the Universe trilogy)

6 Jun

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis.  Razorbill, 2013

Book cover courtesy of

Book cover courtesy of

Shades of Earth:

The plot

Part of Godspeed has finally landed on Centauri Earth, the new planet where the threat of the “monsters” revealed in book two (A Million Suns) becomes a frightening reality for Elder and Amy.

Despite being unnerved by the mysterious sounds of the unknown creatures outside of the ship, Elder resolves to bravely help his people to re-settle on Centauri Earth and begin a new colony.  Tensions arise when the “frozens” thaw out, and the Earth-born humans, including Amy’s parents, wake up from their frozen sleep and begin to initiate the military operation they were trained for, with no regard for Elder’s rule of the colony.  Distrust quickly builds between the Earth-born and the ship-born humans, but the biggest enemy for all of them lies beyind the walls of Godspeed.

Book Snitch’s thoughts

This book focuses on the moment that readers had been waiting for throughout the last two books in the trilogy; Amy’s arrival on the planet she had travelled across the universe to get to.  Revis doesn’t disappoint, and continues to build the sense of claustrophbia which we experienced when Elder and Amy were trapped on Godspeed in space.  Now though, the tension mounts from their being trapped on an unknown planet where there are more secrets and more threats to their survival.

Revis doesn’t miss a beat with keeping up the tension in Shades of Earth.  First, Elder and Amy have to land the shuttle in a white-knuckle ride where everything that could go wrong, does. Then they hear unfamiliar noises beyond the walls of the shuttle which signals the arrival of the “monsters” which were spotted on Centauri Earth.

The alternating narrative perspective between chapters gives readers a chance to see the conflicting problems which Elder and Amy experience.  Elder struggles with a sense of guilt about leaving behind half of his people on the orbiting part of Godspeed, and the introduction of Amy’s father as the leader of the frozen military personnel from Sol Earth makes things even more difficult for Elder.  Amy is caught between the Earth-born and the ship-born people, trying to unite them in their common purpose: to survive on their new hostile planet.

The final installement of the Across the Universe trilogy is a thrilling read, and Revis cleverly switches the setting and introduces new characters to keep the plot interesting and fresh.  Romance fans will be pleased about the increasingly feverous kisses between Elder and Amy.  Sci-Fi fans will enjoy the descriptions of Centauri Earth and the hints of the non-human life forms which remain largely hidden for the first half of the novel.  Mystery fans will relish the inexblicable clues which continue to point to that fact that Godspeed’s mission is certainly not all it seemed to be when Amy and her family were frozen and stored on the ship.

5 stars


Who should read this?

Book Snitch recommends this final installement for fans of the Across the Universe trilogy.  It doesn’t function well as a stand-alone read, as much of the plot is tied to events from the first two books in the series.

Notes for educators

This trilogy would work well for independent reading projects or student book clubs.  There are many activities which could stem from reading this trilogy, such as:

  • Creating map of Centauri Earth, adding quotations containing descriptions from the novel
  • Create a timeline of events in the novel using Timeglider, an interactive Edtech tool that allows students to create timelines, adding images, videos and URL links.  You could ask students to imagine what they think happens on Sol Earth between now and when Amy leaves on Godspeed, to her arrival on Centauri Earth.
  • Recording verbal ‘clues’ for Amy and Elder from the perspective of Orion or another character who lived on Godspeed and discovered some of the secrets of the ship.  Try recording students’ voices using Voicethread and sharing their recordings with other readers to get feedback on their clues.  Alternatively you could ask students to record a verbal book review and share these on your school library blog for other student readers.

Review: Wintergirls

31 May

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Speak (2009), Viking (2009) Scholastic (2011)

  • ISBN-13: 978-0-14-241557-3
  • ISBN-10: 0-14-241557-X
  • YA fiction

“I     won’t     pollute      my       insides     with    Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either.  Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me.  I am shiny and pink inside, clean.  Empty is good.  Empty is strong.”

Wintergirls, chapter 003.00

The Plot:

Eighteen year old Lia suddenly learns that her former best friend, Cassie, died alone in a motel room.  Cassie and Lia used to be inseperable, united in their life-threatening quest to both be size oo.  Haunted by the fact she didn’t answer Cassie’s calls on the night she died, Lia struggles to hide her deadly secret…her promise.  Lia is still determined to be the skinniest girl in school.

Book Snitch’s thoughts:

Narrated by Lia throughout, this novel squeezes your insides with horror from the opening chapter.  Anderson’s narrative style is constructed so that we see the frightening pathology of anorexia nervosa right from the second chapter where Lia makes excuses for not having any breakfast:

Beacuse I can’t let myself want them because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.”

The power of the novel is delivered through Anderson’s vivid symbolism, which conveys the impact that anorexia has on Lia and her family.  Lia’s grossly distorted perceptions of herself are conveyed through her unforgiving stream of consiousness, and the chilling coldness motif  which shows her physical and emotional deterioration.  Anderson portrays Lia’s obsessions with weight in obvious and subtle ways, including writing the chapter numbers as though they are on a scale, and in Lia’s careful lists of food (with the calorie count always added in parentheses).

Who should read Wintergirls?

Book Snitch recommends this novel for mature YA readers.

Notes for educators

This novel doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of anorexia. The narrative is intense in several places, containing descriptions of death, physical and emotional self-harm and the supernatural.

This novel would work well as supplimentary independent reading in a unit based on the theme of identity.  Book Snitch would recommend responding to the text through activities related to imagery and symbolism in Wintergirls.

One possibility is to have students create their own book trailers using Creative Commons licensed images would be a great way to see if they have understood Anderson’s use of symbolism.  Alternatively, students could create their own films promoting awareness of anorexia, particularly the emotional impact it has on the sufferer and their friends and family.

More information about using iMovie and Creative Commons licensed images with your students is available on Resources and Teaching ideas page.

Review – The Skin I’m In

10 May

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G Flake, Hyperion 2007

  • ISBN-13: 978-1423103851
  • YA fiction; diversity; teenage conflict; discrimination

The Plot

Thirteen year old Maleeka Madison describes herself as “the darkest, worst-dressed thing in school”. Maleeka lives in a world where discrimination is an everyday occurance, and the way you look determines whether you fit in or not at McClenton Middle School.  When Ms. Saunders, the new English teacher with the unusual face, arrives at McClenton, Maleeka senses trouble ahead.  Ms. Saunders seems determined to challenge Maleeka’s low self-esteem and judgemental ways, but Maleeka has enough trouble to deal with: borrowing clothes to hide her own home-made ones, doing homework for other people, and ignoring the taunts from her peers about how dark she is.  The last thing Maleeka needs is a freaky teacher on a mission to teach her how to like herself, but Ms. Saunders is determined to get help Maleeka learn to live with the skin she’s in.

Book Snitch comments

The Skin I’m In is a story with universal messages that both young and adult readers can relate to. Sharon G. Flake offers the reader a realistic insight into the world of teenage politics and loyalties which conflict with being principled.  Maleeka’s struggle with her identity consumes young readers and has them eagerly turning the pages to discover the outcomes of the Maleeka’s tactics to survive; like creating an alliance with Charlese Jones, the toughest bully at McClenton.  Narrated through Maleeka’s eyes, readers are privy to Maleeka’s thoughts and feelings which reveal the psychological side of growing up and learning about who you are.  Maleeka’s sassy attitude will also make you smile, as she shares vivid descriptions of the host of characters at McClenton Middle School.  Flake also uses epistolary elements within the narrative through Maleeka’s diary entries where she imagines life for a fourteen year old slave girl in the seventeenth century, creating parallels to compliment the modern setting and encourage student inquiry into the history of discrimination.

Who should read this?

The Skin I’m In is a novel aimed at Middle Graders. Book Snitch recommends this novel for readers aged twelve upwards.  Contains themes of racism and diversity.

Note for educators

The Skin I’m In is a fantastic text which students wil enjoy reading.  It could be used in a transdisciplinary unit between English and Humanities and/or Homeroom focusing on topics such as discrimination, conflict or growing up.  There are a lot of rich opportunities for writing assignments based on the plot.  For example, Maleeka is given the assignment to write the diary of a slave girl for her English class which offers the opportunity to look at the history of slavery and oppression of African Americans.  Other writing ideas could include:

  • Writing sections of the story from an alternative character’s perspective
  • Newspaper reports promoting tolerance and respect in a student body
  • Developing the story of Akeelma (Maleeka’s character in her slave diary entries)
  • Writing Caleb’s love poems

See the Resources and ideas page for a lesson idea based on advisory writing to Maleeka.

4 stars