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.

The Compound
S.A. Bodeen
ISBN 0-312-37015-6
Feiwel and Friends, 2008
Grade 7 and up
Adventure/Survival/Science Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic

Eli has lived the past six years of his life underground after a nuclear attack on Washington State. The Compound was supposed to be a safe place for fifteen years after such an attack, but supplies are dwindling and Eli is starting to ask questions.

Summary:

When the United States is under nuclear attack the Takanaki family thinks they are lucky to have the Compound. Eli, Lexie, and Terese, along with their parents all make it into the underground shelter. Eddy, Eli’s twin, and their grandmother aren’t so lucky. It is six years later; Eli is now fifteen and still misses his twin. Things in the Compound have started to go wrong. The livestock has all died, the hydroponic lights are flickering, and supplies are dwindling all around. But Eli’s father thought of everything, he has a stockpile of Supplements to feed his family with, should the food run out. Bits of the truth of their situation begin to seep in when Eli discovers his twin’s never-used laptop and a mystifying internet connection near his father’s office. Eli successfully gets online and into Instant Messenger. His brother is there. After verifying that they are both who they say they are, Eddy lets Eli know that there was no nuclear attack, it was all a ruse. Eddy and their grandmother are safe and sound, all this time they thought the rest of the family was dead. The conversation is cut off when Eli’s father emerges from his office and discovers the laptop. At this point, the book undergoes a transformation from science fiction to a horrific psychological survival story. Eli and his family must go up against their father and wits to escape the underground prison—the father is the only one with the password to open the hatch, a secret is not willing to part with easily. Between Eli and his siblings the code is discovered and Eli opens the door. A final battle remains as Eli rescues his family from underground. The children and their mother do escape and begin a quiet life in Hawaii, but the threat of their missing father looms over them all.

Critique:

Excellent. A thrilling, unique, page-turner. Bodeen created a roller-coaster ride of a plot, as soon as I thought I had it all figured out, another twist appeared. Fabulous introduction of many ethical dilemmas. Boys and girls alike will love it. I think this would be a perfect pick for even the most reluctant reader.

Curriculum Ties:

Biomedical ethics or science classes. Could be integrated into discussion about the Cold War and nuclear arms testing.

Controversy:

Cannibalism, cloning.

Have challengers read the entire book and decide if the way in which these issues are presented are still objectionable. Present positive reviews.

Selection Rationale:

As reviewers note this would be a great novel to use as a class read, it is filled with topics for discussion. Although The Compound turns out to be about something other than a nuclear apocalypse, it is still a great representation of some of the best features of the genre: an ethical question, growing up fast, and survival. As an action-packed but introspective read, this book will appeal to a great variety of readers.

“Bodeen’s straightforward, action-packed writing

conveys through apt detail the Compound environment—physical and emotional—and its subtly debilitative effects. As the plot builds from unease to intrigue to outright peril, Eli believably and satisfyingly grows from a spoiled, disturbed bully to the persuasive and empathetic (if still disturbed) man of the family. Taking full advantage of a unique premise, this tense portrait of a family in crisis probes the psychological and moral costs of survival.” – The Horn Book Magazine

“The novel becomes full of tension and suspense and turns into a true edge-of-the-seat thriller. There are numerous social issues addressed that could lead to great classroom discussions.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Why doesn’t Eli want to be touched?

About the Author:

This is S.A. Bodeen’s first book.

How I Live Now
Meg Rosoff
ISBN 0-553-37-605-5
Random House, 2004
Grades 9 to 12
Science Fiction/Survival/Post-Apocalyptic

Sent to her cousin’s country home an ocean away, Daisy quickly learns about love, loss, and survival when war breaks out.

Summary:

Daisy is sent to her cousin’s in the English countryside. While there, England is attacked and Daisy is stranded, unable to get back to her native New York or contact her parents. Her aunt is lost to them as they become more and more isolated. But the children are happy. In this fleeting idyll, Daisy begins to fall for a younger cousin, Edmond, and they embark on a secret romance. Their happiness does not last, however, when the war comes literally to their doorstep. They children are separated and shipped off when their house is taken over for army operations. Daisy is sent off with her cousin Piper, nine. She is bent on finding Edmond and her other cousins, Isaac and Osberrt, from the first. When gunfire sounds the girls seize the opportunity to find their family. Arriving at the house where the others are supposed to be, they find only death and destruction. Although they are starving and exhausted Piper and Daisy make their way back to Piper’s house. The girls continue with their struggle to stay alive and the knowledge that they have had no news from or of Edmond or the other boys. Out of the blue the phone rings and on it is a voice Daisy recognizes. Daisy is sent back to New York, where she lives for the next six years, waiting for the war to end. Daisy receives a letter from Piper when the war finally ends and is one of the first people let back into England. The family is reunited but all is not as it was. Everyone is older, and Edmond seems permanently damaged from the trauma of the war and the shock of losing Daisy. But this is Daisy’s home, her family. Despite the hardships, the brokenness, the silence, these are the people Daisy lives and how she lives now.

Critical Evaluation:

This is a heartbreaking story about struggle, survival, love, and finally, acceptance. I enjoyed every moment of this book. Rosoff created characters that are mysterious and, at times, supernatural while still remaining real. Daisy’s voice is perfect.

Curriculum Ties:

Integrate into a unit on war for a history class.

Challenge Issues:

Teen sexuality, incest.

These elements really lend to the tone of the story and show how Daisy and Edmond are growing up too quickly. Ask challengers to read the entire book and see if their opinions change. Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by How I Live Now.

Selection Rationale:

How I Live Now is both highly touted and one I was very interested in reading. It definitely lived up to the rave reviews, which is why it is included here. Daisy’s personal development makes this an important read.

“This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century.” – Publishers Weekly

Michael L. Printz Award Winner, 2005

Booktalking:

Use a passage where Daisy discusses how her approach to eating has changed.

About the Author:

Meg Rosoff is an American who has resided in London since 1989, she worked in advertising for years. How I Live Now was her first novel. Rosoff followed the book with Just in Case (2006) and What I Was (2007). Her next novel, The Bride’s Farewell is planned for release in 2009

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.