The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness
ISBN 9780763639310
Candlewick, 2008
Grades 8 to 12
Science Fiction/Dystopia

How is it possible that secrets still exist when everyone’s thoughts are heard?

Summary:

Todd is the last boy left in Prentisstown; boys become men when they turn thirteen. Todd lives on an alien planet, in the last town left. The women are all dead, which means humans are a dying breed in this world. A native alien group known as ‘spackles’ released a germ which killed all women and made men’s thought audible to everyone, this is known as the Noise. Todd is in the swamp one day when he encounters a place with Quiet, even animals have Noise so this is something he hasn’t experienced before. He runs home to his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, who are very worried by his news. They provide him with a map and backpack and tell him he has to leave. Todd trusts them, and so heads out of town with his ‘talking’ dog, Manchee. Before long he is back in the swamp where he encounters the Quiet again, turns out its a GIRL. The first one Todd has seen since he was a baby. Todd rescues her from the evil preacher, Aaron, and the two head out of town. They are pursued by townsmen. Todd suspects that Viola will be overcome by the spackle’s germ and die at any time, but she doesn’t. Eventually she introduces herself to Todd as Viola. The two continue to flee from the unstoppable Aaron, they are shocked to come upon other settlements. Some are friendly others are hostile. Aaron winds up killing Manchee, Todd’s best friend. Suffering from multiple wounds, exhaustion, and hunger, Todd passes out. He wakes up in a new town where he is being cared for by Dr. Snow. Something is weird in Dr. Snow’s town, so Viola and Todd flee. At the river they find Ben, who quickly explains some of the truths about Noise, their town, and the planet’s history. Aaron continues to pursue the two and they engage in a final battle. Ben is shot, but Aaron is finally killed. Todd and Viola head toward Have, where they hear there is a cure for Noise and think they will be safe. Arriving at Haven, Todd finds the city under control of the evil mayor of his town. All of their effort seems for naught.

Critique:

This story was a little different from what I was expecting but I loved it! I look orward to Ness’ sequel even more than that for The Hunger Games. Ness makes the reader think, and I found many of the elements of this novel to be inventive and compelling.

Curriculum Ties:

This book could be used in units where writing in dialect is taught.

Controversy:

None.

Selection Rationale:

This is a really unique story, with enough to challenge older readers and elements that will appeal to younger readers. Ness has a wonderful command of language and is very creative.

“Some of the central conceits of the drama can be hard to swallow, but the pure inventiveness and excitement of the telling more than make up for it. Narrated in a sort of pidgin English with crack dramatic and comic timing by Todd and featuring one of the finest talking-dog characters anywhere, this troubling, unforgettable opener to the Chaos Walking trilogy is a penetrating look at the ways in which we reveal ourselves to one another, and what it takes to be a man in a society gone horribly wrong. The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.” – Booklist

“Todd’s world is a fascinating one, and the psychological and sociological impact of being unable to shut out others’ thoughts—or hide your own—is creatively explored. The relationships, too, are nuanced; slow to evolve, they have considerable emotional depth by the last page. Todd’s colloquial voice is by turns defensive, belligerent, innocent, and desperate; the strength of his point of view and the subtle world-building contained in it make this series opener as promising as it is provocative.” – The Horn Book Magazine

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009

Booktalking:

Describe what it was like the first time Todd met Viola, esp. her Quiet.

About the Author:

The Knife of Never Letting Go is Patrick Ness’ first young adult novel, he has two novels written for adults.

Additional Information:

This is Book One in the Chaos Walking trilogy. The sequel, The Ask and Answer, is due out September 2009.

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The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
ISBN 0-439-02348-3
Scholastic, 2008
Grades 7 to 10
Science Fiction/Adventure/Dystopia

Katniss refuses to let her sister enter a battle she has no chance of winning. But will she have the resources to survive this fight to the death?

Summary:

In a dystopian future North America is now a collection of thirteen colonies called Panem. Supplies are short and many aspects of society have reverted back to those in past ages. The government hosts annual televised games in which each colony sends a representative boy and girl to participate in a fight to the death. The winner is the last one alive and brings fame and food to his or her community. Katniss’ young sister is one of those selected. Of course, Katniss cannot stand to watch her sister enter this battle and volunteers to take her place. Katniss leaves behind her sister, mother, and best friend (Gale, also a burgeoning love interest). The boy selected from her town is Peeta, with whom she has had a bond since they were children. As a marketing ploy, Katniss and Peeta’s handlers/agents direct them to feign a romance. The ploy works only too well and Katniss and Peeta both find themselves developing complicated feelings for one another. The two manage to survive until the end, both together and apart. They face starvation and suffer serious injuries and exhaustion, but their mental and physical strength gives them the upperhand. However, only one contestant can survive. The pair decides to pull one over on the game organizers, and dose themselves with poison. They anticipate that an official will step in before it is too late. Katniss and Peeta are prevented from taking the poison and both declared winners. Katniss acts like a jerk and lets Peeta know that she was only pretending to love him for the ratings. When Katniss and Peeta arrive at the Capitol for an awards ceremony, they are let known that the government is very unhappy with their decisions at the end of the game. Katniss and Peeta are in trouble, the government is watching them. Katniss must choose between Peeta and Gale in the next book.

Critique:

Having read a great deal of hype before finally getting around to The Hunger Games, I am happy to say I was only minorly disappointed. I should say that my disappointment came from the book’s focus on adventure rather than the dystopian society. I’m just not as into adventure. That said, this was an excellent read and I cannot wait for the sequel. Both fast-paced and meditative, solid characters, a suspenseful ending, action, romance, friendship, and family, with a sci-fi element make this a book that both male and female readers of all ages will love.

Curriculum Ties:

Collins cites mythology (Theseus) as inspiration for The Hunger Games; inclusion within such units in English and History courses would be appropriate.

Challenge Issues:

Violence committed by teens against other teens.

Ask challengers to read the whole book and refer them to its outstanding reviews and popularity.

Selection Rationale:

The Hunger Games is an easy sell; from the cover to the final page, this is a story that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Despite the complications of romance, there is enough adventure and action to create immense appeal for readers not looking for a relationship story.

“What Collins has done here is set up a series that will sink its teeth into readers. The future of this book will go one of two ways. Either it will remain an unappreciated cult classic for years to come or it will be fully appreciated right from the start and lauded. My money lies with the latter. A contender in its own right.” – School Library Journal

ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

Booktalking:

What does Gale feel when Katniss volunteers to take Primrose’s place?

About the Author:

Suzanne Collins is also the author of the best selling series The Underland Chronicles. Prior to writing novels for children and young adults, Collins wrote for children’s television.

Additional Information:

Part of a planned trilogy, the sequel, Catching Fire will be released early this fall.

Forged by Fire
Sharon Draper
ISBN 0-689-81851-3
Simon Pulse, 1998
Grade  7 and up
Urban Fiction

Gerald knows fire. A fire saved him from a terrible life once, how will he free himself and his sister this time?

Summary:

Gerald accidentally sets a fire when left home alone as a young child. He is taken away from his drug addict mother, finally finding safety and stability in his aunt’s home. Gerald’s aunt dies suddenly and his mother, half-sister, and her father re-enter his life. Jordan is dangerous and abusive; he beats up Gerald and molests Angel, (Gerald’s half-sister and Jordan’s daughter).

Gerald tries endlessly to protect Angel, even getting Jordan sent to jail. After he’s released, Jordan’s ire is even worse. Gerald and Angel’s parents tumble deeper into drug and alcohol addiction. A car hits Monique, the kids’ mother, and life takes a turn for the worse. Monique is a shell of her former self – she forms an addiction to painkillers. Then Gerald’s best friend dies in a car crash. Angel is nearly raped by Jordan. Luckily, a fire starts in the apartment. Gerald gets home just in time to rescue Angel, but Jordan meets his end. The two feel a glimmer of hope as they ride away from the flames in an ambulance.

Critique:

This short, quick read is accessible in language but deals with many harsh realities. Draper is direct and unflinching in her dealings with abuse, addiction, co-dependency, death, friendship, and family. Gerald’s mother and step father are not the most complex characters, but the issues they face are real and many readers will be able to identify with Gerald and Angel’s experiences.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the first chapter of Forged by Fire (initially submitted as a short story) when studying short stories in an English class.

Selection Rationale:

This is a moving account of a young teen’s experience of abuse and his attempts to salvage his family. Young adults will find many issues to identify with in Forged by Fire.

ALA Popular Paper Backs for Young Adults, 2002
“…Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There’s no all’s-well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.” – School Library Journal
“…Draper faces some big issues (abuse, death, drugs) and provides concrete options and a positive African American role model in Gerald.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Contrast life with Aunt Queen and life with Mom and Jordan.

About the Author:

Sharon Draper, and educator as well as author, has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is the recipient of five Coretta Scott King Awards.

Additional Information:

Forged by Fire is the sequel to Tears of a Tiger.