Monday, January 25, 2010

The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins
Scholastic 2008

As late as the fifth century of the Christian Era, Roman citizens gathered in great stadiums to watch criminals and slaves battle each other to the death. Some competitors were highly trained, with wealthy sponsors who provided weapons and armor. Others were simply societal rubbish thrown to the wild animals. These bloody entertainments might make us shudder now, we who are used to knowing that the people we see hacked up or shot to pieces on the movie screen will wipe off the makeup and go home after work in one piece.

But what if the gladiatorial games were revived, and broadcast on national television?

This is what makes Hunger Games so eerie. It isn't much of a stretch. Reality TV plus the Roman Area? It could happen.

To punish their people for a rebellion nearly seventy-five years ago, the Capitol requires each District to sacrifice two of their children each year to the Hunger Games. When Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place as a contestant, she is thrust into a wilderness crawling with enemies where she must struggle not only for her life but to maintain her identity in spite of being on the cast of a deadly entertainment spectacular.

It's a brilliant premise, and Suzanne Collins makes the most of it. She deals out edge-of-your seat adventure while laying on the full emotional impact of being in the Games. At the heart of this disturbing, haunting tale of survival is a battle between one girl's inner humanity and the tyranny of an inhumane society. This is real literature, AND a riveting read.

It's violent, so violent I almost didn't review it. Still, it has my approval for dealing with the consequences of violence rather than merely mucking around in gratuitous gore. For ages 14 and up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963

Christopher Paul Curtis
Yearling, 1995

Kenny's older brother Byron is big trouble. Hanging out with his delinquent friends, playing with matches in the bathroom, stealing cookies from the grocery store---Byron is not the kind of older brother a kid can look up to. When Byron dyes his hair his parents decide that's the last straw. His sentence - leave Flint, Michigan and spend a summer with Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama. The whole family piles into the "Brown Bomber" and takes off on a marathon drive from the icy north down to to the deep south to drop of Byron at Grandma's Detention Center.

Sure, there's been some trouble down there in Alabama, something about segregation, but that won't stop the Watsons from taking a trip to the old hometown.

Byron's antics and Kenny's hilarious commentary create a heartwarming picture of a family just trying to do their best to get along in hard times. Quirky and human in a deeply believable way, by the end of the book the Watsons feel like part of your family.

Which makes the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church Bombing so much more than a historical event. It becomes a heart-stopping tragedy.

A book that reminds us how precious life is, how ugly hate is, The Watsons Go to Birmingham is a great piece of historical fiction. Mild language and vulgarity, some bullying situations. For readers 13 and up.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone

Dene Low
Houghton Mifflin 2009

The very title of this book made me want to pick it up and read it.

Petronella Arbuthnot would like to be a very proper Victorian-era young lady, but never lets that aspiration get in the way of her adventurous spirit. When her coming-out party is overshadowed by a collapsed party-tent and a couple of political kidnappings, she puts on her sleuthing hat, and, in company with her dearest friend and dearest friend's bothersomely attractive older brother, scours the countryside and braves the foggy streets of London in search of clues. With a hilarious cavalcade of bossy aunts, irritating cousins, undesirable suitors, and helpful domestic servants in tow, Petronella carries the day with dash and style...

...and saves nearly everyone!

Packed with delightful period details, this book sparkles with personality as mischievous Petronella narrates her sometimes rather un-ladylike adventures. Best enjoyed by readers ages twelve and up.