Friday, April 29, 2011

Looking for X by Deborah Ellis

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I have never read this book before. I love reading Deborah Ellis' books, but this one came out before I really started reading her books and somehow I've never gotten around to reading it.

I'm working on gathering up some books to use for literature circles in the next week and I want to expose students to some of the challenges children face- both in other countries and in our own backyard.

Looking for X tells the story of Khyber- an 11 year old girl living in a rough part of Toronto. Her single mother has all she can handle looking after her twin brothers with autism and Khyber has a great deal of responsibility on her shoulders. Khyber's life isn't an easy one. Her mother often has to choose between food and luxury items such as phone services and cable. Throughout the story, the love found in this family is very strong, and even though life is difficult, the family enjoys everything they have.

I think this book will really open the eyes of some of my students. They will be exposed to homelessness and what it is like to be poor. It is a short novel with lots of depth. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it!

Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo

I've heard about Iqbal and his courageous fight to stop child labour through the Free the Children organization but I didn't know the whole story.
This fictional story looks at Iqbal's life from his days working in the carpet factory to his eventual freedom. Interestingly this story isn't told from his perspective, but instead from another child who gets to know him as she works beside him tying knots for carpets.

I loved how D'Adamo used this different perspective. I found the story to be moving, heart breaking and eye opening. I believe my students will enjoy reading it as well. There is so much to explore in this book that even though it is a short book- the depth and detail they will be exposed to will make for a very rich experience.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan

Much like Thunder over Kandahar, Wanting Mor is set in post-Taliban Afghanistan. This story is about a young girl named Jameela and how her life evolves after her mother has passed away. The story deals with some of the harsh truths of life in Afghanistan.

I enjoyed reading this book for the second time. At the start, it is a bit hard to follow because the author uses many of the words heard in Afghanistan. There is a glossary at the back, but slowly you start to recognize and understand what is happening. This book is going to be used for a unit on Children Around the World I am starting soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

This is a book that was getting lots of buzz from people I follow on Twitter. It is one of my favourite genres- Alternative Reality. There is just something about authors who can create a world just slightly different from our own that I really like. I really enjoy the way writers introduce us to the characters, setting and different rules that the members of the society are forced to live under.

In Delirium, society has decided that love or deliria nervosa is a disease and must be avoided at all costs. In order to avoid the side effects of the disease, at the age of 18 people undergo surgery and are usually unable to fall in love. The surgery also means that people are incapable of forming attachments to other people and they move through life in a rather protected shell.

The main character is Lena, a girl who is just approaching her 18th birthday. Lena has been counting down the days until she can have the procedure. She feels that only when she is 'cured' will she be safe. Lena's own mother had a great deal of difficulty with the surgery and was never fully cured, Lena was forced to watch her mother struggle to cope with all the feelings she had for people she was close to. Lean wants nothing more than to be matched with whoever the government decides is her perfect match and to get on with her life. Her best friend Hana is starting to think that maybe the cure is wrong and that maybe there is more to life than just drifting through without feeling anything. Hana's questioning of the way life should be really confuses and upsets Lena. Then Lena meets a boy who starts changing the way she looks at her world. Suddenly she is questioning everything she has always believed in.

I really liked the fast paced approach to this story. Oliver has created this believable world where somehow love is wrong. I found myself getting angry with the way love and caring and connections were seen as being so wrong and dangerous. Lena is such a complicated character. Because of her past you can totally understand why she can't wait for this surgery and watching her struggle to realize that maybe society has it wrong is quite the ride. At first I thought the romance aspect of this book would only appeal to the girls, but after finishing the story I believe that the boys will enjoy this alternative reality book as well. This book reminds me a great deal of the Uglies series as well as Matched.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I have to say first off that there is no way I can do justice to this book. I was absolutely crazy about it and I don't have the words to describe how much this book moved me.

Where She Went is the sequel to If I Stay. If you haven't read it yet, you need to do that first, please don't read on- you will ruin two wonderful books for yourself!

In If I Stay, Mia has to decide if she will choose to live or die when her family is in a car accident. As she is fighting to make this decision, her boyfriend Adam is by her side. The relationship between Mia and Adam was unlike most teen romances- this one felt so real and believable.

Where She Went is the story of what happened following Mia's decision to live on after her family was killed. However this story is told from Adam's perspective. He went through so much when Mia was in the car accident, he lost not only her family but also Mia and the special relationship between the two of them. He is confused, depressed and even though his music career has taken off, he is totally lost. When Mia and Adam meet up one night in New York, they spend the night wandering the city and learning about each other all over again. It isn't easy, there is a lot in their past that makes reconnecting so difficult.

Forman's writing is so touching and beautiful. I was moved to tears many times while I was reading it. The hurt and betrayal that Adam feels was so raw and real. Even though he was living the rock star life, you knew he hadn't really changed who he was. His struggle to come to terms with his guilt and anger and hurt was so hard to read at times. However, I loved ever minute of it and my plan is to go back and reread it before the weekend is over. I don't think there is any other book that has ever made me want to do that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thunder over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay

I am currently getting prepared for a literature study focusing on Children around the World. I want to expose my students to life outside of our small town in Ontario. To that end, I am reading several books for our up-coming literature circles.

Thunder over Kandahar is an amazing, powerful book about life in Afghanistan. The story centers around two girls of very different backgrounds. Yasmine, who spent most of her life in England and has returned to Afghanistan with her parents to help restore the country. Tamanna is a girl who has been raised in Afghanistan. At first Tamanna has a hard time being comfortable with Yasmine because their childhood was so different. For Yasmine, she was raised by highly educated parents who instilled in her the passion for learning and education. Tamanna, however grew up under Taliban law and was treated as a second class citizen and was not allowed to go to school. Slowly the girls overcome their differences and become best friends. They find their friendship put to the test when they must flee their village or face certain death.

I was absolutely fascinated with this book. McKay has created characters that are so real and believable that I was racing to finish the book to find out what happens. Life in Afghanistan is so hard to grasp. It is my hope that children who read this book realize how lucky they are to live in Canada and to have some compassion and understanding for what is happening in another part of the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Words in the Dust is the story of Zulaikha, a young girl from post Taliban Afghanistan. Things in Afghanistan are difficult for her. Her father's wife is pregnant and very mean to Zulaikha and her sister. The two of them need to do chores all day long. There is nothing for them to do but cook, clean and look after their little brothers. There is no school because girls are not allowed to go to school. For Zeynab her sister, this is fine because all she dreams of is the day she will get married and have children. To make things even more difficult, Zulaikha has a cleft palate which leaves her disfigured and causes the local children to be quite cruel to her. Zulaikha takes small comfort in learning to read in secret with a friend of her mothers. However the cost of lying to her family is something she constantly worries about.

Things start to look up for the family when her father's welding business is offered the opportunity to build a new school and a U.S. army base. This means more money, more word and more contacts with richer Afghanistan people. This contact with the army also opens up the possibility of Zulaikha's having a simple operation to fix her face. With all of these changes, Zulaikha and her family must learn to adapt and hope for a better future for the children of Afghanistan.

This book was written by a solider on active duty in Afghanistan which I found quite unique. I found the descriptions of the country and what it is like to live in a place filled with war to be incredibly sad and depressing. The thought of no education for girls is so hard to come to terms with and I loved how the story that was told through a female character growing up in a world where men control so much. Zulaikha's courage to face a life that offered such little hope was quite remarkable considering how she was raised. I'm not sure how many of the kids in my class would push through this book. I found the many different names and customs hard to keep up with, and I'm not sure kids would work through it. It would be a great book to use as a literature circle so that you could discuss the events as they were taking place in the book.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beastly by Alex Finn

Beastly has been getting a lot of buzz in my classroom this year. It might have something to do with the movie coming out, but either way, several girls in the class are excited to read this one.
It was a quick read for sure- but a good one and I understand why the girls are liking it. Beastly puts a modern twist on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The main character Kyle is a shallow, mean yet very handsome young man. He comes from money and is so egocentric that you can't help but dislike him right from the start of the book. Kyle gets a lot of satisfaction from hurting others and when one of his tricks goes too far, a witch seeks revenge on him. Handsome, popular Kyle is turned into a beast over night. In my mind, I see him just like the character in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, although in the movie he isn't quite so scary. The witch who cast the spell on him has told him that he has two years to make a girl fall in love with him or he will need to stay this way forever.
The next two years are very challenging for Kyle. He has been stripped of everything that he once thought was important, yet he still hopes someone might see past his ugly exterior and find what is in his heart.
The story is a little over the top with romance, but I really enjoyed reading as Kyle transformed his life and his attitude. I think this will make a wonderful movie,(trailer) some of the scenes that Finn describes are visually beautiful.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

This is the third and final book in Kelley Armstrong's Summoning series. You can find my reviews on the other two books here and here I would strongly suggest that you read the first two books before reading this review, because I will be giving away some important parts that will ruin the first two books for you.

At the end of the first two books, Chloe finds herself in a safe place. She has food, a bed and someone to look after her. But, like the last few books, this is short lived and Chloe once again finds herself having to look after herself with the help of her friends. Chloe is starting to come to terms with her new normal- the fact that she can see ghosts and her friends include a witch, a wizard and a werewolf no longer seems strange to her. Chloe and her friends find themselves once again fighting to stay alive. They recognize that there are people who see them as a danger to the world, yet they know they just want to be left in peace. Throughout this book, Chloe searches for the strength to not only survive, but also to live a happy life. As she continues to support her friends, she finds herself drawn to Derek. Even when he does everything he can to push her away. She soon discovers that she will do anything to protect those that she loves.

This was by far my favourite book in the series. I read this one in a day (and I worked too!) because I could not stop reading it. I thought some of the scenes where Chloe was raising the dead to be a little long and confusing and didn't always add to the story. However, I loved how Armstrong wove the romance aspect through the book without being over the top. Chloe is definitely a strong female character who doesn't sit by while her boyfriend does the all the hard work and fights all the battles. Chloe isn't afraid to use her skills to her advantage and I love that about her. Yes, she is in love- but she is going to fight just as hard. I admire that in her! It took me a bit to get into this series, but by halfway through the second book- I was hooked! They really are great reads!

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

The is the second book in the Summoning Trilogy. If you haven't read The Summoning, I would stop reading this review, because there will be spoilers.

In The Summoning, Chloe discovered that she is a necromancer- a person who can not only see ghosts, but also raise the dead. At the end of The Summoning, Chloe and Tori- a nasty, spoiled sorcerer are locked up in a laboratory where people are trying to 'help' them. Chloe and Tori don't really believe they are really going to be helped, they feel as though their lives are at risk. All Chloe and Tori want to do is to escape and meet up with Simon and Derek. To do this, they need to trick their guards, fool Chloe's aunt and find their way to the arranged meeting spot.

Once they are together again, the four supernatural friends decide to find an old family friend of the boys. Chloe wants nothing more than to resume her normal life and she tries to find some sense of normalcy with Simon, who she has romantic feelings towards. At the same time, her friendship with Derek- a rather rude, sullen angry boy seems to be growing. The friends fight for their freedom and try to learn about the powers they possess all while trying to find safe place to live.

I liked this book even more than the Summoning. There is lots of excitement, adventure and challenges that the kids face. The fact that these kids all have different supernatural powers is very interesting. The powers they have aren't ones that are written about very often- so it is quite interesting to learn about what could happen. When I finally finished this book, I couldn't wait to start the next one.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

This book is currently on the Ontario Library Association Red Maple nominees. Jessica is in my Red Maple group and she was raving about this book (and series). She read all three books in one weekend and said that I HAD to read this series. I've ordered all three books in the series and started with book number one "The Summoning"
The Summoning starts out innocently enough by introducing us to Chloe Saunders, she is in high school and has some good friends, an absent father, a dead mother and a very committed aunt. One day at school Chloe has an episode that causes her to break down and be carried out of school in an ambulance. Now Chloe has been sent to Lyle House, a home for teens with mental illness.
As Chloe gets to know the other kids staying at Lyle House she learns a great deal about herself and that maybe she isn't mentally ill after all. Mysterious things happen to Chloe at Lyle House which causes her to explore episodes from her childhood. Chloe grows closer to some of the other kids and realizes that the kids at Lyle House aren't quite what they seem to be.
I did enjoy reading this book. It is obviously setting up for the next two in the series. I finished it late last night and didn't have the immediate desire to start the next one, but now I am looking forward to starting the next book: The Awakening.