Sunday, January 24, 2016

Yee, Lisa. The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days.

Yee, Lisa.  The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days.  Scholastic/Arthur Levine  2015  266p.  $17.99  ISBN 978-0-545-23094-0  hs  Conflict      E-BN      

Higgs Boson Bing, named by his mother who worked at JPL, or the Jet Propulsion Lab, has enough to deal with because of family expectations.  His father wants him to be a third-generation Harvard Dental School-educated dentist.  It’s the last week of senior year.  He is totally on track when his life is derailed by his girlfriend of over two years, who can’t believe he wouldn’t give her a kidney if she asked.  A smear campaign ensues, and he is known as Dinky Dick and other unflattering names, and unflattering flyers are being posted on campus and around town.  He tries to overcome these and other humiliating circumstances, including being seasick on the Senior Sail.  In the last week of school he stumbles onto an abandoned Airstream trailer and finds Monarch, a girl who seems to do just as she wishes with no outside authority telling her how to live and what to do with her life.  This novel provides a sometimes funny, yet very serious look at what parents’ expectations can do to a high-school student. Readers will identify with Monarch, whose mysterious background is finally revealed, as well as cheer for Higgs Boson as he aligns his future to his own goals.  This is a quick read that is fast-paced, with quirky characters that are very believable.                

Strongly recommended for contemporary fiction collections as it addresses a very real problem: parents directing their children to overachieve in order to get into quality colleges in order to follow family aspirations and occupations.

Summary: Higg Bing is on track to be valedictorian and Best Senior, and he excels in sports.  When he refuses to answer a hypothetical question from his girlfriend, he becomes a social pariah.  Can he survive, and does he really want to go to Harvard? Gr 8-11.      

Friendship-Fiction, Love-Fiction, Parental expectation-Fiction   
--Lois McNicol

Wiviott, Meg.  Paper Hearts.  Simon & Schuster/McElderry Books  2015  368p.  $17.99  ISBN 978-1-4814-3983-1  ms/hs  Historical fiction  E-BN     

The story is a fictionalized account of a group of girls who become friends in the Auschwitz death camp as they struggle to survive and work in a munitions factory.  In 1944, Zlatka and the other girls make a birthday card for Fania, her best friend in the group, to mark her twentieth birthday.  This undertaking is an enormous risk for them, and the origami heart is treasured and hidden through the remaining time in the camp and the death marches afterward.  The actual heart can be seen at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.  The story is told in verse format and covers flashbacks to life before the war, the dark days in the camp, and the daily struggles and familial losses of the inmates.  It is a tale of love and loss, hope and survival.  Highly recommended for secondary collections.

Summary: Fictionalized account of girls who become friends in the Auschwitz death camp and the risks that they take to make a simple paper birthday card for one member of their group.

Holocaust-Fiction, Novels in verse                          --Stephanie Pennucci

Westerfield, Scott, Margo Langan, and Deborah Biancotti. Zeroes: Every Power Has a Price.

Westerfield, Scott, Margo Langan, and Deborah Biancotti.  Zeroes: Every Power Has a Price.  Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse  2015  560p  $19.99  ISBN 978-1-4814-4336-4  ms/hs  Fantasy  E-BN 

This title may be the start of a new series.  Each main character has some sort of superpower.  Since they were born in 2000, they call themselves the Zeroes. One can crash electronic devices with her mind, but they also cause her physical pain when they are turned on.  Another can collect the emotions from a crowd and bend them in either a positive or negative direction.  There is the boy who has trouble controlling the Voice that will have him saying just the right thing to do whatever he really wants to achieve.  The leader draws people together toward his will, and the last can refocus the attention of people around him so that they forget they ever saw him, letting him seem to disappear.

se teens have been practicing their skills to improve their control.  The one with the Voice accidentally acquires a bag of cash from drug dealers.  While he is waiting in line to deposit it at the bank, bank robbers come in.  He uses the Voice to turn one robber against the other two.  The others kill each other as the police arrive.  At the police station, the rest of the team comes to rescue him.  Crashing most of the electronics releases all the prisoners.  The Zeroes hide but also try to set things right.  They find they do have to work together to really accomplish something good.

Readers will be drawn into the lives of these characters.  The action is continual, making for an exciting read.  Westerfield knows how to hold middle school readers.  This is a must have purchase.

Summary: This is a new title or possibly the start of a new series.  Each teenage character born in the year 2000 has a superpower.  They learn to work together to accomplish good works. 

Superpowers-Fiction                 --Joan Theal, Joan

Starmer, Aaron. The Whisper. (The Riverman Book 2)

Starmer, Aaron.  The Whisper.  (The Riverman Book 2)  Macmillan/Farrar Strauss  2015  361p.  $16.99  ISBN 978-0-374-36311-6  ms/hs  Fantasy  VG-BN        

After the climactic conclusion to Book 1 of The Riverman series, Alistair enters Fiona’s portal and is washed up on a shore in Aquavania.  It seems different from the descriptions Fiona had given him.  He is only twelve years old and small for his age.  All he wants is to find Fiona and her friends who have disappeared and then go home.  He sees that this will not be so easy as he enters strange worlds with strange inhabitants.  He does not know whom to trust.  As he travels from world to world, he must confront his past mistakes.  He discovers that the Riverman now uses the name Whisper but has been known by other names too.  Alistair does not find answers, only more questions.

As a sequel, this is not what was expected.  The Riverman was written in the first person, while Whisper is in third person.  It may be harder for readers to associate and empathize with Alistair.  The identification with reality and separation from fantasy was easy in the first book.  Book 2 is all fantasy with flashbacks to reality, or are they?  The story is even darker, with an active role being played by Whisper.  Predictions for Book 3 are totally up in the air.

Recommended for upper middle school or high school due to the very dark nature of the fantasy worlds.  This title is quite dark and except for readers who loved the first book, it will take some hard sell.       

Summary: Alistair has used Fiona’s portal to Aquavania.  It is not completely as she described it.  The Creators are disappearing and the worlds are falling apart.  Can he find the Riverman and the missing Creators?    Sequel to the Riverman. 

Fantasy-Fiction                                                   --Joan Theal

Schmatz, Pat. Lizard Radio.

Schmatz, Pat.  Lizard Radio.  Candlewick Press  2015  280p.  $16.99  ISBN 978-0-7636-7635-3  jr/sr  Science fiction  VG-BN     

Kivali Sauria Kerwin (aka “Lizard”) is sent to camp at a very young age because she is a “bender,” and does not conform to any gender.  In fact, Kivali struggles not only with gender identity, but also with a conviction that she is not human, but saurian (hence her nickname).  The story explores the fact that not all things are binary and how all things are part of a spectrum.  Each person shares a connection to everything.  In the end, choices about identity and sex should matter only to the individual making the choices.

Young adult readers will find that gender
queerness is handled with deft sensitivity.  Kivali ultimately comes to consider gender and sex as two separate things.  Gender identity is defined as one's internal sense of being a woman, man, both, or neither, while sex refers to an individual's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to others.

As an infant, Kivali was wrapped in a t-shirt with a lizard print on it
and abandoned.  She is rescued and fostered by Sheila and Korm, two single women living on the fringes of society.  It is unclear whether Kivali is an “otherkin by congenital condition or for other reasons.  As an otherkin, Kivali identifies as partially komodo dragon in spirit if not in body.  After a passionate encounter with Sully, a girl Kivali meets at camp and comes to love, Kivali “sheds” her lizard “skin” and for a while becomes a vulnerable, emotional human being.  Kivali clings to a small komodo dragon talisman to ground her secret “saurian” identity, indulging in magical thinking and supernatural beliefs through “lizard radio,” using meditation to connect with a lizard state of being.

Camp is conducted against an idyllic pastoral backdrop.
 Campers learn to care for crops, planting seeds, nurturing the seedlings, and weeding out the weak plants so the strong ones thrive.  Not everything at camp is as peaceful as it appears on the surface.  For example, Kivali observes one young man as he “vapes,” a disturbing event where the young man literally disappears before her shocked gaze.  It is unclear whether he has committed suicide and is dead, or if he still exists, but as “waves” rather than “particles.”  The camp director is there but lies to campers about the young man’s fate.  Kivali soon learns that the director is hiding other secrets, too.  It becomes clear that those young people who are followers are being drugged into compliance, while leaders have more autonomy and can choose whether to take the government-endorsed medication called “kickshaw.”

The camp administrator identifies Kivali and her campmates as natural leaders, despite the cohort’s disregard for rules and authority.
 Kivali, especially, has been singled out as a change agent with the potential to affect all of society. When the friends refuse to comply with the director’s scheme to control them, they are threatened with expulsion, not just from camp, but from society. Surviving with no resources, skills, or connections in the “Blight” is difficult for adults scraping out a marginal existence.  What will happen to the teens if they are tossed into that mix to fend for themselves?  The open ending in this novel suggests that a sequel is sure to follow.    

Summary: In a near-future world, Kivali struggles with gender identity in this coming-of-age story.   Lizard Radio is set in a near-future world, controlled by a totalitarian government that expects teens to attend camps that provide young people with a place to make the transition to the norms it sets for conforming adults.                      

Gender identity-Fiction, Fantasy-Fiction              --Hilary Welliver