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Review – Rose Under Fire

21 Jun

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.  Disney Book Group, September 2013

Image courtesy of NetGalley

Image courtesy of NetGalley

The Plot

Rose Justice, a young American pilot, is captured by the German army during World War Two as she is returning from a mission and is sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp.  Rose meets extraordinarily strong women in the camp, called “the Rabbits” who were used for medical experimentation by the Nazis.  Rose faces unimaginable horror in the camp, and learns the true meaning of hunger, desperation and the lengths to which the female prisoners will go to survive.

Book Snitch’s thoughts

Female prisoners during selection at Ravensbruck.  Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia

Female prisoners during selection at Ravensbrück. Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia

I read the pre-release version of Rose Under Fire after requesting it from NetGalley.  I was drawn to the premise of the novel, as I have previously taught World War II and Holocaust themed works through the novel by Joyn Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the non-fiction memoirs: Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man, and Elie Wiezel’s Night.  I was drawn to Wein’s decision to portray the experience of concentration camp incarceration from a female perspective.  It is a powerful and challenging read which gives a unique view into the Holocaust by focusing on the merciless medical experiments performed on the female prisoners at Ravensbrück.

Wein uses Rose as the first person narrator, and structures a large portion of the novel as a series of Rose’s diary entries describing her experiences at the camp (both techniques which will appeal to young adult readers).  Though the narrative at times seemed repetitive and drawn-out, Wein arguably captures the experience of tediously enduring time, which Rose and her fellow prisoners face as they wait for death or liberation.

One of the key motifs throughout the narrative are the poems that Rose recites for the other prisoners in return for extra bread.  The poems accentuate the misery which Rose and her fellow prisoners and friends endure at Ravensbrück, as well as revealing the fragile beauty of life.

Wein is careful to balance the horror of Rose’s descriptions with the touching portrayal of friendships and loyalty that she experiences in Ravensbrück.  There are even moments of humour, where we are reminded that many of the young women in the concentration camp were only teenagers.

Who should read this?

I agree with NetGalley’s description that this is a novel for readers aged fourteen years and older.  Although this is a companion novel, it can be read as a stand-alone novel also.

Rose Under Fire certainly feminizes the theme of war, and reminds young readers that some of the greatest battles fought during World War II were personal ones, without physical weapons and soldiers.

4 stars

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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 www.bethrevis.com

Book cover courtesy of www.bethrevis.com

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: Skin

1 Jun

Skin by Donna Jo Napoli.  Amazon Children’s Publishing, August 2013

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

  • ISBN: 1480534986
  • ISBN13: 9781480534988
  • YA Lit

The Plot

Sixteen year old Guiseppia (who calls herself Sep) wakes up one morning with white lips. She decides to hide the strange discolouring with lipstick and goes to school, hoping her natural colour will return the following day. Only it doesn’t. Sep finds out that she has vitiligo, a skin condition which causes a loss of pigmentation in patches of skin over the body. It’s harmless to her health, but there is no cure for it. The doctor tells her it will inevtitably spread over her body, and she won’t be able to hide it with lipstick forever. Sep struggles to come to terms with her changing appearance, especially when Joshua Winer, captain of the football team, starts to flirt with her. Will Sep manage to hide her vitiligo from Joshua and the rest of the school?

Book Snitch’s thoughts

This novel is an easy read dealing with the insecurities of transitioning into being a young adult. The plot is fairly predictable but teen readers will like the romantic storyline, and will be able to relate to the importance of appearances in high school. The premise of the novel is sound, and it has the right ingredients for a YA read: family conflicts; self-identity; hormonal tantrums and lusty romance.  Napoli delivers a sound, realistic message about the difference between outer appearances and inner-identity.

Who should read this?

This would make a good independent summer read for students looking for a break from school curriculum prescribed texts.  There is some sexual content, so Book Snitch would recommend this to readers aged fifteen upwards.

3 stars

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 – Matched

29 Apr

Matched by Allie Condie. Penguin Group, 2011

  • ISBN-13: 9780142419779
  • Book one of the trilogy
  • YA fiction; dystopian fiction

The Plot:

Cassia Reyes doesn’t have to worry about anything.  All of the major decisions in her life are made for her, by the Society.  At her Matching Ceremony, Cassia knows she will be partnered with her perfect match.  During the ceremony, Cassia faces a screen and waits for the Society to reveal her perfect mate.  She sees Xander, her best friend and her destiny.  Suddenly the screen fickers and Ky Markham’s face appears.  Then the screen goes blank.

The Society reassure Cassia that Xander is her match, but her thoughts keep turning to Ky.  She begins to doubt the Society, which has always seemed so flawless.  Cassia is faced with the choice of following the rules which she has never previously questioned, or challenging the Society’s authority and creating her own future.

Book Snitch’s thoughts:

This novel starts a great premise which most people have thought about : what if we didn’t have to worry about finding ‘the right person’?  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to worry about finding a compatible love match, because they would be find us?  At first the idea seems alluring, but Cassia’s internal conflict after she sees Ky’s face for an instant reminds us that many things can be controlled, but emotions are unpredictable.

From the start you will be drawn in to know how the Society works.  What do the red, blue and green pills that everyone has to carry around with them do?  What happens to the elderly?  Why is Ky an Aberration, and what does that mean?  Ally Condie creates a mysterious futuristic setting which fascinates the reader and will get them questioning the seemingly perfect appearances right from the start of Matched.

Who should read this?

Classified as YA literature, Book Snitch recommends this to readers aged twelve upwards.  This is definitely a must-read for dystopian fiction fans, and futurism enthusiasts.  It will also appeal to romantic fiction fans.

Note for educators:  Matched would make an great comparison with dystopian classics like Brave New World by Adolf Huxley and Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell.  It could be used an an independent reader in a dystopian fiction unit, or extracts could be used for close comparison analysis with another dystopian novel.

Book Snitch rating:

5 stars

Review – Thirteen Reasons Why

24 Apr

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher.  Razorbill, 2011.

Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

  • 159514188X  ISBN-13: 978-1595141880
  • YA fiction; mystery; teenagers; drama

The Plot

Clay Jensen, a high school student, arrives home one day to find a package waiting for him.  Inside the package are casette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his High school crush.  Hannah committed suicide the week before, and the tapes are her thirteen reasons why she ended her life.  As Clay listens to the first couple of tapes, he realises that Hannah has left a personal testimony detailing the people who influenced her decision…and that he may have been one of them.

Book Snitch says:

Th1rteen R3asons Why is a detective story of sorts, and Asher combines Clay’s thoughts with Hannah’s as the reader switches between hearing Hannah’s explanations and observing Clay’s reactions.  The plot is well constructed and there are many moments when Hannah surprises you with the information she reveals, some of which will resonate with many high school readers.  Asher develops tension as Clay listens to each tape which describes the people who influenced her tragic decisions and why.  You’ll be gripped as Hannah hints at many events which are only revealed in later tapes, drawing you in on the mystery trail with Clay.

The power of the novel is transmitted through Clay’s reactions and our underlying knowledge that it is too late for Hannah.  Though the premise may seem depressing, Asher is careful to make sure that there is education in Hannah’s story.

Who should read this?

A great YA read for teenagers aged twelve upwards.  Mystery fiction fans may also like this one.

Book Snitch comment for educators:

Th1rteen R3asons Why would make a great support text for a Homeroom program in high schools, providing plenty of content relating to health and social issues teenagers should be encouraged to communicate about.

5 stars

Review – Across the Universe

23 Apr

Across the Universe by Beth Revis.  Razorbill, 2011.

  • Book one of the trilogy
  • YA adventure; fantasy fiction; sci-fi; adventure romance
  • ISBN 1595143971 (ISBN13: 9781595143976)

The Plot:

Sixteen year old Amy has been voluntarily frozen and placed as cargo on the spaceship, Godspeed, which is travelling to a planet where humans will create a new world.  Amy is suddenly woken from her frozen sleep, and she discovers that Godspeed still has fifty years before it reaches it’s final destination.  Trapped on the ship, with her parents still frozen, Amy must work out why she was woken up and discover the secrets that Godspeed and it’s inhabitants are hiding.

Book Snitch says:

This novel was compelling right from the first chapter where Amy describes the emotional turmoil she felt watching her parents being frozen and stored as cargo on Godspeed.  Revis writes using alternating first person male and female narratives which keeps the reader’s interest throughout, and builds up suspense as we follow these two characters and see their different perspectives.

The second protagonist is sixteen year old Elder, who was born on the ship and is second in line to rule the inhabitants of Godspeed.  Elder is transfixed by Amy from the moment he sees her. Eldest has his own problems, like dealing with the current ruler, Eldest.  Together, Amy and Elder try to navigate their way through the mysteries of Godspeed and being the only two teenagers on a ship that still has years before it reaches it’s destination.  The dynamics between the characters definitely work to raise the tension in the plot, and you’ll find yourself rooting for them.

The plot is cleverly crafted to make you imagine the futuristic world of Godspeed.  Thanks to Amy’s contrasting memories of Sol-Earth and life as we know it, you will also feel the claustrophobia of being stuck on a ship in the future with years stretching out before you and nowhere to hide.  The end of this book will not disappoint, and you will be hankering to read A Million Suns (the second book in the trilogy) as soon as you can get your hands on it!

Who should read this?

Classified as YA lit, Book Snitch recommends this to readers aged eleven upwards.  Fans of dystopian lit, fantasy or sci-fi should also check this out.

5 stars