Scythe-Should You Read It?

Image result for scythe shustermanGenre: Young Adult Fiction/Almost Dystopian?

Rating: 5/5

While the world of Scythe is set in a far future society, the world is almost like one giant utopia. Almost.

Citra and Rowan have grown up in a society hundreds of years beyond the Age of Mortality. Science and medicine have come so far as to be able to revive a person from things such as jumping off buildings (known as “splatting” in this world), a knife to the heart, and even beheading! The only thing that people cannot be revived from is a flaming death–the remains are too far gone to be able to revive.

People grow up with nanites withing their bodies, little machines that can emit pain killers, balance one’s fat ratio, and control one’s emotions, making every human perfect in terms of peace.

In this society where people can no longer die, murder isn’t even a contemplation. It just doesn’t exist. But the population of humanity could reach a high point, and then the entire world would be in poverty, running out of resources. That’s where the Scythedom comes in. The Scythedom is an organization that ordains people–called scythes–to select people at random to glean (their society’s word for kill), for population control and peace. There are only a number of scythes per region in the world, and they are responsible for gleaning a certain number of people every year, a quota to meet to keep the population in check in a world of immortality. How a scythe selects their target, their meathods of gleaning (weapon of choice), and where are completely up to them as long as they follow the ten commandments of the Scythedom. Scythes cannot kill based on any form of bias, such as race, gender, of popularity. Their selections should be random.

Citra meets Scythe Faraday when he visits her home for dinner only to glean her next door neighbor. Rowan meets Scythe Faraday when he comes to a school to glean a student. The two show traits that would make a good scythe: schythes shouldn’t want to be a scythe, shouldn’t enjoy killing.

Faraday takes the two on as apprentices, but a scythe who enjoys killing and wants to change the Scythedom for the worse, claims he shouldn’t have two apprentices. Now Citra and Rowan must both strive to be selected as a scythe, but only one can get the scythe ring. And their first act will be to glean the loser.

First and foremost, you should read this book! It is an utterly amazing and unique take on population control as well as future technology and what people can do with it. It also has a number of controversial issues regarding some of the ways people are killed, especially Scythe Goddard’s methods which involve mass gleanings–reflecting all too well the events of society today. A book that can highlight these issues is important to bring forth discussions, especially in young people. This book is recommended for readers age 12 and up for these reasons.

One of the other things I really like about this book is that it has reading group discussion questions and activities–both of which can be applied to fit the needs of a classroom. As an educator, I see an exponential amount of promise in this book and using it in the classroom. Because of the questions and activities–which can be easily adapted for any grade level 7-12–this book can be easily made into a current events unit because of how much it reflects many of today’s controversies. I also think students should have more of a variety in what they are required to read at school, rather than just the “great literary canon,” because some of those ideas might not fit with a certain generation of students, although many elements can still be applied today. It’s important to find something that relates to student passions, and students today follow current events now more than ever before, once again making this a viable book to bring into the classroom.

 

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Replica-Should You Read It?

Image result for replica lauren oliverGenre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Replica is a unique book by Lauren Oliver in that it is two books in one. It’s really all one story, but the reader gets the perspective story of Gemma and Lyra. There are a few different ways to read this book, and there’s really no wrong way to read it (see chart below).

How I read the book was Lyra first, just because her story is on the front cover of my edition, then Gemma, whose story is on the back. You can also read Gemma and then Lyra, or if you want, the book is uniquely set up that you can go back and forth between characters after each chapter, so Gemma Chapter One, then Lyra Chapter One, then Gemma Chapter Two, and so on, for an interesting blend of the two stories. Any way works. While I did Lyra and then Gemma, I find for the second book, Ringer, I will try out the alternating chapters for the experience of constantly flipping the book back and forth.

I’ll start with a brief summary of Lyra’s story, since I read hers first. She is a girl in a facility who doesn’t know much about the world. She only knows what the doctors tell her, and they want it that way. She is a replica, basically a word they use for clones. There are different generations of clones, some constantly sick and not what the facility aims for, and others pristine specimens. Some people do not approve of what this secret facility is doing with genetics, not to mention stealing other people’s babies.

When the facility is under attack, Lyra is outside speaking with a male replica, planning an escape. After an explosion, Lyra and the boy–72–look for survivors. There are gunshots and men who don’t belong, bringing Lyra to hide until another girl and her friend find them, and Lyra notices that the girl looks like a replica, but she has hair and her own clothes.

Gemma thinks she is an alien. She doesn’t really fit in with the other kids at school. When a threatening message comes for her, she flees. She runs into a strange man she doesn’t know, yet he seems to recognize her. Strange things are going on with her family, and she aims to get to the bottom of it, her first step heading to the Haven institute, a secret lab in Florida.

What Gemma ultimately finds astounds her. A boy and girl who seem to know nothing of the world, the girl–Lyra–holding the file of someone from the destroyed lab. Now on a quest to find out who they both are, Gemma seeks the truth and Lyra aims to find out what it’s like to be human, all while avoiding those who do not want such secrets to be revealed.

This book is, once again, unique in its craft of two stories in one, being able to alternate, and the quest for identity is exciting and fast paced. There is thrill to the novel in that the two girls know certain things that those working for Haven do not want to be revealed, and death is just around the corner. The end feels slightly abrupt, definitely open-ended, and rightly so, given that the second novel came out in October 2017.

I highly recommend this read to female teens especially, considering the two perspective characters are female teens trying to find their place in the world. I would also recommend it to those interested in genetics and clone studies because there are some political aspects that relate to this idea of genetic engineering that we see developing in the world today, showing how this novel touches upon contemporary issues.

White Noise-Should You Read It?

Image result for white noise delilloImage result for white noise delillo

Genre: Satirical Fiction

Rating: 4/5

White Noise, by Don DeLillo, covers an array of thematic ideas that relate to something the American culture cannot escape: consumerism.

The novel is told from Jack’s first person past perspective. Jack is in his fifties, has married multiple times and has a number of children among the marriages. He is also the founder of Hitler Studies as his local small-town college. His fascination with Hitler is interesting in that how we look at Hitler today is a man of terror. Why might Jack be so interested? Hitler surrounded himself with death, and now, as he ages, Jack is surrounded by the fear of death, consumed by thoughts of what age he will die and “Who will die first,” him or his wife, Babette? The question appears multiple times in the novel, driving this obsession of man vs self.

The novel has an interesting structure. There are three sections of the novel: “Waves and Radiation,” “The Airborn Toxic Event,” and “Dylarama,” each adding to the thematic ideas and meaning behind consumerism and the satirical development that shows readers to not give in to consumer culture. While “Waves and Radiation” sets the reader up with the characters and their personalities, it is slow in comparison to the rest of the novel. Once the family experiences the Airborn Toxic Event, things really heat up in the final part of the book, “Dylarama.” Dylar, for short, is a fictional drug for the sake of the novel that is meant to cure the fear of death, a major theme in the novel.

The fear of death is something all people must face. We all have that fear, to some extent, and the various characters in the novel approach that fear on varying levels, some even looking at it in a positive light, because why fear something you cannot control?

Another interesting aspect to the structure is its “white noise” and random consumerism inferences. For example, we see a number of single lines similar to “Blue jeans tumbled in the dryer” (18), “‘Kleenex Softique, Kleenex Softique'” (39), and “Mastercard, Visa, American Express” (100), all hinting to white noise and consumerism. The dryer, the running sink, the garbage compactor, the TV or radio on in the background, cars rushing by–all these things are “white noise,” the noise of everyday life that we often do not singulary hear because it is not what is important in the now. These background noises are all contrubutors to the daily life of the average American lifestyle, always needing to clean house, drive somewhere, throw trash away. And where does our trash come from? Consumerism. the “Kleenex Softique” is an announcement over the mall speaker, both white noise to those who don’t care, and an advertisement to consumers. And of course, the major credit card companies being randomly thrown into the structure show how consumerism is all around us no matter where we go, in our pockets.

Through the lens of Jack, the reader can establish through DeLillo’s use of satire, that consumerism is negatively impacting our culture because we buy and waste so much more than we need to. As Jack meander’s through his fear of death, he comes to find that shopping, for him and everyone else in the world, is a way to put off death, to mingle until our time comes. Consumers are the residents of Purgatory.

Overall, an interesting book. I read and taught this to high school seniors and find that the novel has a number of real-world applications that students who are turning 18 should be aware of as they ready themselves to enter the world on their own, to go to college, find a job, and pay their bills. This book makes them more aware of consumerism and highlights how being afraid of death is trivial. Many instances in the book relate to many of the experiences we simply have as human beings, and that is what teaching English is all about: learning what it means to be human. Recommended for those who want to be aware of issues in society through an interesting and relatively humorous and fun satirical lens.

Gemina (Illuminae Files #2)-Should You Read It?

Related imageGenre: Young Adult Science-fiction/Space/Visual

Rating: 4.5/5

Not a full 5/5, but only because it felt a bit slower than Illuminae and not paced quite as well, but definitely still an amazing book! If you haven’t picked this series up yet, make that the next thing on your to-do list!

While Kady and Ezra fight off the Lincoln and fend for their lives against the AI AIDAN, Niklas and Hanna prepare for Terra Day on jump station Heimdall.

A day of celebration quickly takes a turn for the worst when a crew from BeiTech, sent by Leanne Forbisher, aim to destroy any evidence that leads back to the BeiTech attack on Kerenza IV. This team not only aims to take over the jump station, but will terminate anyone who gets in their way. Making preparations for the Kennedy fleet, a drone fleet that will eventually be the clean-up crew to destroy Heimdall, the BeiTech team kills the commander, tampers with the wormhole that allows for hyperspace jumps, and aims to kill Hanna, the troublesome daughter of the Heimdall commander.

When Hanna’s boyfriend turns out to be something he’s not, she turns to Niklas, a Russian gang member with a past full of crime. Not to mention the fact that Niklas likes Hanna, to no avail (yet?). With the help of Niklas’s cousin, the two fight their way through the jump station to take out the BeiTech crew. Did I mention there is a parasite type creature that has been killing a bunch of people as well? Yeah, that’s a thing, and Kaufman and Kristoff nail the biology of the creature excellently.Image result for gemina

The whole time, the reader is left with countdown pages, one for when the Hypatia (remember that ship?) will arrive at Heimdall, and one when the Kennedy Assault Fleet will arrive, adding tension and anticipation for the reader. The science of this novel is intriguing and realistic, possibly even accurate, when talking about wormholes and alternate dimensions, that is.

Along the journey, the reader is also gifted with beautiful illustrations by Marie Lu (author of The Young Elites trilogy, the Legend trilogy, Warcross, and Batman: Nightwalker). These illustrations consist of Hanna’s journal, originally a gift from her father, an item that is hard to come by so far from the core systems.

Masterfully crafted, the paperback edition comes with some extra Illuminae Files at the end, which was pretty fun. The only thing that really made this book go slower than the first one was that there were a huge amount of video surveillance sections (meaning more like regular prose) in comparison to texts, vocal chat, e-mail, or images, which slowed the reading down. Kaufman and Kristoff did well with spreading out these chapters for the most part, but there was still a huge amount of them. Overall, this was a fantastic read, highly recommended to all, because this novel series really redefines the term “novel” for contemporary readers and writers. Obsidio awaits!

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Go Set A Watchman-Should You Read It?

Related imageGenre: Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5

This book is a rough stand-alone, to say the least, and there is a reason for that.

Harper Lee revised and revised with her editor to make To Kill A Mockingbird a contemporary masterpiece set in 1935 American South. There were interesting messages, plot twists, and connections implemented in that novel.

Go Set a Watchman was never meant to be published. It is Lee’s original draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, literally found stuffed in a drawer a few years before her death. Because Lee never intended for this draft to be published, she wanted to be left alone, not wanting all the hype of being a writer. She wrote what she intended to get the ideas across about various topics, such as racism, education, socioeconomic status, gender, justice, and courage. And then she was done writing. Because of the success of her first novel, publishers sought to buy out her first draft just to get something else out there. Wanting to get these people off her back, Lee signed off the draft to be published with no edits to the plot, an elderly woman taken advantage of for her marketing value.

Some people like to look at it as a sequel, but that is not what this book is. This is Scout and Atticus and other characters before they were redefined in the perspective of an eight-year-old girl. In this book, Atticus is not the God-like figure we see in Mockingbird, and might even be just a little bit racist. Scout is 26 and visiting from where she now lives in New York. We see some reminiscences of her past as a child and in high school, reflecting on how Maycomb is not what she once remembered, and the people are just as relentless in race as ever.

So here’s the big gist of what I have to suggest about this book. If you have not read To Kill A Mockingbird, then do not read this book. The value and merit of this novel really only come from making comparisons between this first draft and how things have changed over the course of the writing process to create To Kill A Mockingbird. That is where the value lies in reading this book, but otherwise it feels tedious and a bit all over the place.

The Hate U Give-Should You Read It?

Image result for the hate u give

Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Realistic Fiction

Rating: 5/5

This was a heart-pounding, stunning debut novel by Angie Thomas. I had seen it everywhere before finally deciding to pick it up. Literally a week after I bought it, one of my university professors said I have to read it, as I am an educator as well as a lover of young adult books. Thus, I started reading it a bit sooner than planned, and I am bummed that I did not pick it up much, much sooner.

This story is told from the perspective of a Black sixteen-year-old girl whole is living two different lives, that of the ghetto in Garden Heights, and that of the high style of Williamson. In Garden Heights, there are gangbangers, drug deals, people get shot too often, and the education system is lacking, which is why Starr’s parents send her the hour drive to Williamson, a school in the suburbs that can offer her the education and socialization she needs away from Garden Heights. When she is in Garden Heights, she keeps to her Black friends and speaks often in slang that shows she is from the ghetto, but at Williamson, being one of the only Black students at the school there, she keeps her Garden Heights life pretty secretive and speaks properly, accepted by the White population there, not to mention her White boyfriend, Chris.

At the very beginning of the story, Starr goes to a Garden Heights party consisting mostly of Black people, but with a light skinned person here or there. When she has a run-in with her childhood friend, Khalil, the two begin to catch up after not seeing each other for months, but of course, shots are fired at the party. Khalil and Starr rush out to avoid the bullets. When they have a great evening catching up with each other in Khalil’s car as he aims to drop Starr off at home, a police officer pulls the two over. The officer is not very understanding and shows aggression, in which Khalil questions the officers motives. When Khalil asks why the officer pulled him over, the officer does not give a reply. Eventually Khalil complies. While the officer is checking Khalil’s information, he is toled by the officer to stand still, but Khalil aims to check on Starr, who seems scared. When he leans in to asks if she is okay, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM. Khalil is shot dead by the officer, an event that drives the whole rest of the novel. This is not spoilers, for it is within the first 25 pages, and it is heart-stopping. The drive for justice keeps the reader going, wondering if Khalil’s death will be justified.

All Starr has to go on is the officer’s number: One-Fifteen. Until she finds out his name is officer Cruise, she uses this number to identify him. When first asked to tell the police what happened, those interrogating Starr twist the questions from the officer to Khalil: was he in a gang? Was he a drug dealer? Did he have drugs on him? This is not why Starr chose to share about what happened. Of course, the officers make Khalil into a negative criminal to justify the officer’s actions, when to Starr and her community, this is a hate crime and comes down to simple color: Black and White.

Eventually a group called Just Us for Justice seeks out Starr to represent her in a court of law and help her justify Khalil’s murder by speaking out against officer Cruise. Starr prepares to share with a judge and jury, hoping that the officer will be convicted.

Starr becomes an activist for social change as she joins members of her community to fight for Black justice and to clear out the gangs and drug dealers in her community that are sending the wrong message to the world, that are adding truth to stereotype, when it is only a few, and not the many, who are as such.

This book was so great at showing the Black perspective and breaking down racial stereotypes. This book I recommend for all young readers to gain a better understanding of a perspective that either relates to them, or that they may not understand and need to see the other side. I highly recommend this book to educators and encourage reading and writing about social change as it pertains to this novel. One of the best things about this novel is that it is contemporary, revolving around issues that we still have in our society today, issues that some people may be ignorant about or may just want to ignore, issues that reflect our nation’s past and demonstrate a fight that is still being fought, the fight for equality.

 

The Indigo Spell-Should You Read It?

Image result for the indigo spell Genre: Young Adult Paranormal

Rating: 4/5

As the Bloodlines series continues, more and more magic becomes involved with Sydney Sage and her history teacher, Mrs. Terwiliger.

This is the third book in the series, and it opens up with Mrs. Terwiliger asking Sidney to help her out with the spell, a spell that only a virgin can do. This spell is a type of scrying spell that allows the caster to see another person wherever they are. It turns out that Mrs. Terwiliger’s sister might be sucking magic away from other young which is and killing them to stay youthful, and she wants Sydney’s help with this problem. Of course Sydney complies, but she has a number of other things that she’s dealing with the same time, between her unspoken affections for Adrian Ivashkov and her duty to the Alchemists.

Sydney is invited to Sonya and Mikhail’s wedding, a vampire wedding in which a few Alchemists are invited to keep the peace and develop a relationship between the two groups. To aid in keeping the peace, Sidney is asked to dance with Adrian when he approaches her with an open hand. With a look of fame discussed, Sydney complies, showing both the Alchemists and the vampires that they can work together under various circumstances.

At the same time, Sidney questions the goals of the alchemists, as evidenced in the events of The Golden Lily, in which Sydney was captured by a group of vampire hunters, and the name Marcus enters her thoughts. From the vampire hunters, Sydney previously found out that a man named Marcus left the Alchemists, but the problem is, nobody leaves the Alchemists-they are not permitted to do so. With this name of her lips, Sydney aims to find Marcus between trips with Adrian to attempt to save young witched from Mrs. Terwiliger’s sister.

Eventually, Sydney does find Marcus, but they start off on awkward terms with a fight insuring, Marcus thinking that the Alchemists have found him. When Sydney shares her hope of leaving the Alchemists, Marcus explains that a special ink is used to break the vampire compulsion used in the golden lily tattoos that keep the Alchemists from saying things they shouldn’t or from stepping out of line.

When Sydney’s life is threatened by the opposing witch, she learns that it was not her teacher’s sister at all, but someone else who had been seeking power, and Sydney must practice her magic to face this powerful witch.

Safe and sound, Sydney is becoming more comfortable with using magic, but she is also learning that her feelings for Adrian might be effecting her life choices as well. When asked to go to Mexico with Marcus to get her tattoo broken, Sydney at first complies, but later chooses to stay with Adrian and admit her feelings for him, even though they come to the conclusion that they would have to hide their relationship, especially when Sydney’s sister is added to the on-duty Alchemists in Palm Springs.

I really enjoyed this book and as the series progresses, the stakes get higher and higher, and the intensity is escalated. Now that Adrian and Sydney choose to be together, they must hide from the vampires and the Alchemists, otherwise Sydney might get caught and taken to the Reeducation that seems so torturous by the alchemists. This was a fantastic read and I am looking forward to the next installment to see how Sydney balances her relationships between her sister and Adrian, as well as with Mrs. Terwiliger. It will be interesting to see how the Alchemists handle the situation. Overall a great series that I would continue to recommend to readers in their later teens, especially females because the romance in the story heightens the anxiety of separation and the eagerness to find out what will happen next!