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“Reached” by Ally Condie

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

So I was a big fan of Ally Condie’s debut dystopian romance “Matched” and its action-packed sequel “Crossed.” The Penguin Young Readers group — excellent people, all! — chose to embargo the concluding book, “Reached,” which basically means there were no advanced copies available and I, like the rest of the mortal world, had to wait for its actual publication date. Bah! 😉

“Reached” was released in early November, and it has been a popular success, appearing on many YA bestseller lists. I was STOKED to read “Reached,” as I hoped it would combine the ethereal writing of “Matched” and the breakneck pace of “Crossed.” Alas, while “Reached” is by no means a failure, it is underwhelming and flat. I’m so sorry to write these words, but, for me, “Reached” was plodding and uneventful. I wanted it to be so much more.

SPOILER SPACE, y’all, because that’s how we roll here …

Ok, read on at your own risk, because I need to reveal some details to properly review this novel. As “Reached” begins, Xander is an Official with the Society (but secretly working for the Rising), while Ky is flying directly for the Pilot and Cassia is back sorting for the Society, waiting for the Rising to contact her, and conducting back alley trades with the Archivists. Each of the three main characters narrates his or her own story, so we get lots of insight and various perspectives on the action. The use of multiple narrators is surprisingly effective. The great revelation of “Reached” — maybe the only real revelation of “Reached”?! — lies in the fact that Xander is a remarkably complex, deeply wounded, deeply obligated man, which we may not have discovered without his individual narration.

As it turns out, the Rising has unleashed the Plague on the Cities and Boroughs of the Society. Via some seriously convoluted logic, the Pilot believes that spreading the deadly virus will break the Society’s hold on the population, as the Rising members — all of whom are immunized — will sweep in and provide the cure to a grateful nation. Um, ok, I guess. At first, the Pilot’s plan seems dope, as Society falls with barely a whisper. (I honestly thought of those last lines from TS Eliot’s “Hollow Men,” that “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”) But then the Plague mutates — and here we are subjected to some incredibly tedious virology discussion — and forms a new version of the virus that not only makes victims still, it actively kills them, regardless of cure or treatment. Even worse for the Rising? The immunization it provided its own members is no protection against the mutation. Only those with a special mark on their necks, who had previously been exposed and survived, are immune, and that’s a very small percentage of the populace (but, of course, it includes Xander and Cassia).

Much of the “action” — and I use that term loosely, because very little in the way of plot occurs — involves the three teens finally joining forces in an outer mountainous community (Endstone, one of the so-called stone villages) to find a cure for the mutation. Leaving aside the highly dubious prospect that the fate of Society would rest with a bunch of teenagers, even this mess is sort of blah. There’s a rad old Society exile named Oker, who is leading the team of scientists, and we briefly — and I mean briefly — see our old pals Eli and Hunter, but mostly it’s Xander, Cassia, and Ky in a race against time. You’d think this might be a compelling setup, but it’s so hollow and dull that I found myself barely caring. Ky quickly falls ill, and there is some small bit of sabotage and danger, but mostly we’re treated to mundane passages about working, sorting, measuring, working, etc. Eh.

What’s so unfortunate is that true moments of beauty and lyricism exist throughout the story, along with some lovely ideas about the relationship between art and community. Author Condie’s descriptions are as lush as ever; nature bursts with colors, scents, and textures, all gorgeously rendered. Cassia creates a gallery on Camas, in which ordinary people — so long deprived of freedom of expression — share sculptures, poems, pictures, and even songs. The vibrancy of this community, and the joyous celebration involved by those participating in it, are so touchingly real. Even Cassia’s growing embrace of poetry remains fresh and alive. We feel the seductive pull of poetry, of words and their purest expression.

Sadly, though, these beautiful passages and scenes only serve to underscore the slow, almost methodical nature of the rest of the story. The search for a new cure meanders, while the expected drama — deaths, love affairs — is muted, often occurring “offscreen.” How are we to react to a death that we don’t even witness? Full props to Condie for her willingness to off major characters, but I so wish that when those lives ended, we readers were allowed more than a passing glance. Moreover, the resolution to the trilogy’s core love triangle is so telegraphed and so devoid of emotion that I had to go back several times and make sure I wasn’t just glossing over some hidden details. I wasn’t. It really was that empty. If not for the development of Xander’s character and the exploration of how his whole life centers on the loneliness of duty, I may well have given up before the novel’s end.

Fans of the first two books in the “Matched” trilogy will undoubtedly rush out and read “Reached,” and I’m certainly not one to dissuade them. Some sections of “Reached” are as achingly lovely as ever, and following Xander’s character is rewarding in its own way. But the larger plot — or lack thereof — and an overall sense of inertia really weigh “Reached” down. Like its predecessors, this one is good for older middle schoolers and up. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did. I sure hope so!

reached

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Homeschool Liberation League” by Lucy Frank

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

I know, it's getting old, but once again I have to give props to the Penguin Young Readers Group for their package of teen ARCs (advanced readers copies). Lucy Frank's "The Homeschool Liberation League" is a book I probably never would have picked up on my own, but I was intrigued by a homeschool-themed middle grade novel and figured, what the heck, it's free. I'm so glad I gave it a try, because this book is so much different — and so much better! — than what the generic "chick lit" cover might indicate.

Kaity has just completed a summer at wilderness camp, and it's changed her whole outlook on returning to Martin Van Buren Middle School for eighth grade. She loved learning about nature, wildlife, and foraging for food. She also loved the person she became at camp (she's even renamed herself "Katya"). Katya is a smart, independent, interesting girl, in contrast to the catty, troublemaking prankster Kaity often was during the school year. Katya feels like middle school, besides stifling her inquisitive mind, also forces her to play a certain role, and, quite frankly, she can't bear to do that to herself again.

Katya bails on the first day of school and prepares two massive research binders on homeschooling for her parents. Mom and Dad are working class folks, and, while they understand much of what Katya's complaining about, they're, for lack of a better term, "school people." Besides, they don't even believe they're capable of teaching their daughter. Katya eventually gets a trial homeschooling run, which mainly involves downloaded worksheets, a part-time job in her mom's salon, and a little bit of what she loves — engaging with and studying nature. As you might expect, there are many missteps along the way.

Much of the novel involves Katya, with an assist from her parents, trying to find her place in the world. Her folks aren't stupid, but they're not intellectual or academic people, and they worry — legitimately so — about Katya's education at home. Katya, meanwhile, is a bit frantic in trying to convince everyone that she can do all this schooling alone. "Unschooling" is, in fact, her dream. Unfortunately, to hide what's really going on, Katya tells some whopper lies to Francesca, the most popular girl at school, including one about the non-existent Homeschool Liberation League. As it turns out, though, even the seemingly perfect Francesca knows all about having to play a role to survive at school, and the Homeschool Liberation League, with an assist from cute violin master Milo, soon becomes a reality.

So there are a few things I loved about this book, which I'll just list for you:

(1) It's so rare to find a girl-oriented, light novel that takes place in a rural setting and focuses on the utter coolness of learning and education. The naturalist theme is wonderful and just so different, and the message here is a timely one.
(2) The romance with the homeschooled Milo, himself a smart, quirky, conflicted guy, is charming and innocent enough for the age group but realistic enough to capture our interest; and
(3) There's an important idea here about the ways in which school — teachers, peers, routines, and politics — forces some people to behave in artificial ways that absolutely kill their spirits. Even better, this book reassures those kids who feel as frustrated by school as Katya.

"The Homeschool Liberation League" is an appealing, good-natured novel that will be adored by middle school girls. It's also pretty clean — I think I remember one fleeting bit of profanity — so it's perfect for fifth graders and up. Katya's self-introspection, grudging slide into bad behavior, and recognition of her flaws reminded me of Ant in Gennifer Choldenko's delightful "Notes From a Liar and Her Dog," so fans of that book might want to check this one out, too.

This smart, likable novel comes out in early July. I hope you'll look for it then!

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Music of the Dolphins” by Karen Hesse

SUMMER READING REVIEW!

FROM KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWERS:

Review #1:

I liked this book because dolphins are one of my favorite animals. It's about a girl that was raised by dolphins ever since she was a little baby.

Review #2:

I liked this book because of the deep message and the feelings of Mila (a feral child) longing for her dolphin family and home.

Review #3:

I liked this book because it was very interesting and had a good theme.

Review #4 (2008):

I loved the characters' personalities. I also liked the main character's feelings about human life compared to her dolphin life. This was a great book!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“Downriver” by Will Hobbs

FROM A KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWER:

I liked "Downriver" because it was full of excitement and adventure. You feel like you are in the book yourself, riding down the Colorado River in a raft. I think this book is good for both boys and girls. The book is very suspenseful, which makes you want to keep on reading. It was one of my favorite books that I have ever read.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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