The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan coverIvan’s feelings about human beings are complicated. On one hand, humans destroyed his family and carried him far from home. On the other, he enjoyed his childhood in Mack’s house, raised more or less like a human son. And while he’s not sure he remembers how to behave like a wild gorilla, his domain at Mack’s mall is reasonably comfortable. He even has his own TV.

Stella, Mack’s elephant, remembers more about life before, and understands more about the life she and Ivan are living now. When Mack brings in Ruby, a baby elephant, in an attempt to revive his failing mall, Stella is horrified. And Ivan? He discovers that Mack’s “domains” start to look an awful lot like cages once a child is closed inside.

I loved Ivan. His voice is straightforward, insightful, and occasionally witty, without ever feeling affected. I liked Stella’s gravity and Bob the stray dog’s attitude, and I was impressed by the open exploration of the complex relationship between the human and the animal world. That said, it took some time for this book to settle for me. I liked it, but it’s a quick read, and I reached the end feeling like it hadn’t quite accomplished what I’d anticipated — I didn’t feel entirely satisfied. I think, though, that this is a book that deserves contemplation. Applegate’s few words sketch an image with the potential to linger in the memory and challenge the reader in more ways than one, if it’s given the space to do so. So here’s what I suggest: read the story once for the characters. They’re wonderful. Then sit with it awhile and, if you can, read it again. Then come and tell me what you think.

Read other reviews from Steph the Bookworm and School Library Journal.

Watch a particularly well done trailer:

Ten: Trilogies of Days Past

How many of the books on your shelves come in sets of three? Trilogies are big these days, and for good reason: three books give the author more space to develop a story and keep readers coming back, without running the risk a longer series does of petering out when the number of books exceeds readers’ interest. Trilogies’ popularity isn’t new, though. This week’s Ten reintroduces some excellent past trilogies that, like their newer counterparts, will keep students reading. The only trick now is to find them!

Note: I read and loved most of these titles when I was young, but I haven’t reread most of them in quite a long time (and yes, I confess that The Lord of the Rings and the second and third Emily books remain on my to-read stack). With the help of Goodreads and Wikipedia, I’ve done my best to get the basic summary right, but please let me know if I’ve gotten something wrong.

The What Katy Did Trilogy by Susan Coolidge
What Katy Did (1872), What Katy Did at School (1873), What Katy Did Next (1886)
Katy Carr has ideas of her own — most of which get her into trouble. Most of the first book in the trilogy is about Katy’s response to an accident that leaves her (temporarily) paralysed. The second covers a year at boarding school, and the third follows Katy to Europe, where she spends a year assisting a family travelling there.
See also Clover (1888) and In the High Valley (1890), additional companion novels about other members of Katy’s family. Continue reading

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind coverConnor’s parents have had enough of his attitude. Risa, a ward of the state, has not proven herself valuable enough to merit continued taxpayer-funded support. Lev, the tenth child of a large, religious family, has been raised to offer himself up for the good of humanity. All three are on their way to an unwinding camp, where they will be disassembled, their parts used to repair others suffering injury or disease.

In Shusterman’s imagined future, the pro-life/pro-choice debate has brought the US to the point of war. The compromise that ended the war was this: a pregnancy may not be aborted, but between the ages of 13 and 18, a child may be turned over to the government for unwinding. Because the unwound are kept conscious through the whole of the procedure, they are not considered dead, but altered (there is evidence to support this argument toward the end of the novel), so that parents retain the right to decide whether they wish to bring a child to adulthood without threatening the sanctity of life. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, but one that is presented with enough skill to enable readers to suspend disbelief and consider a fresh perspective on an issue whose implications for both sides tend to leave little room for discussion. Remarkably, Unwind manages to challenge the reader without championing one side over the other. Instead, as good stories should, it opens the door to questions, and allows readers to wrestle with the answers for themselves.

Audio edition highly recommended.

Read reviews from the New York Times and The Page Sage.

This short film, based on the world presented in Unwind, is very well done. However, it will make more sense if you’ve already read the book:

Savvy by Ingrid Law — Audiobook Edition

Savvy coverMibs Beaumont’s 13th birthday will reveal her special talent – her savvy – but it’s only the beginning of the process of learning to use that talent. Last year, when her brother Fish turned 13, his newfound power over local weather resulted in a short-lived, but damaging hurricane. He’s still figuring out how to keep that power under control.

A few days before her birthday, her father is in an accident that leaves him in a coma in Salina, 90 miles away. Mibs’s mother leaves the younger Beaumonts at home with Grandpa Bamba to be with him, but when events on her birthday convince Mibs that her savvy can help her father, she stows away on a Bible delivery bus in an attempt to follow. Her rescue mission gets complicated when Fish, the pastor’s kids, Roberta and Will, Jr., and the Beaumont’s younger brother, Samson, join in, and the fact that the bus still has several stops scheduled in the opposite direction before returning to Salina doesn’t help, either. In the two days that it takes to actually reach her destination, Mibs discovers the true nature of her savvy, Fish figures out the secret of managing his, and all five kids find ways to share their respective talents, savvy and otherwise.

Savvy places a lot of emphasis on the roles that a person’s talent plays in the context of a community. Mibs’s talent is an inherently social one, focusing the necessity of control on the way that that talent affects her relationships with her brothers, her friends, and a handful of others encountered through the course of the novel. The audiobook, narrated by Lily Blau, does a great job of bringing the story to life and settling Law’s tendency toward creative colloquialisms into the broader “tall tale” approach to the story.

Check back Wednesday to find out how the next Savvy book, Scumble, compares!

For a conservative but very detailed review, visit Kimberly Lyn Kane’s blog. For another take on Savvy, check out another review on Librarian Tells All.

The official Savvy book trailer:

P.S. Apologies for the delayed review.

The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle

Only Alien on the Planet coverGinny’s already a bit off balance when she first encounters Smitty Tibbs. Her closest brother, Paul, has up and gone away to university, and the rest of the family has left its comfortable, stable life on the west coast and moved across the country. So when her new neighbour, Caulder, asks Ginny to help him figure out what’s wrong with Smitty — who hasn’t spoken or visibly responded to anyone since an accident when he was two — Ginny isn’t eager to get involved. Despite her reservations, she does quickly find herself as fascinated as Caulder with Smitty’s strange silence. But as the two work to draw Smitty out, the first signs of success suggest that breaking down his walls may have bigger consequences than they’d realised.

I loved this book as a teen, and I was thrilled to discover that it had been re-released a few years ago. Even better — the book is at least as good as I remember. Ginny’s parents and brothers are lovely, providing grounding in the midst of a complicated and difficult situation while still maintaining both flaws and lives of their own. The gradual development of Smitty’s story is handled skilfully, and Ginny’s ongoing struggle with her role in Smitty’s recovery is thought provoking, but so tightly focused on her unique circumstances that her conclusions never feel preachy. The language is also worth noting: more than once, I was caught by a passage so beautifully put that I stopped to copy it. Highly recommended for those who enjoy a ponderable book, and for those who read for language. This book has plenty to offer both.

Read reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for two different perspectives on Randle’s handling of Smitty’s psychological recovery. For another blog review, visit Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

The Higher Power of Lucky written by Susan Patron and illustrated by Matt Phelan

The Higher Power of Lucky coverLucky Trimble, resident 42 of Hard Pan, California, population 43, has one of the three paying jobs in town. Three times a week she sweeps up the patio in front of the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center so that the Smokers Anonymous members won’t have to see the cigarette butts of the alcoholics and overeaters, the Overeaters Anonymous members won’t have to see the others’ candy wrappers, and the Alcoholics Anonymous members won’t have to see everyone else’s beer cans. When she finishes sweeping, Lucky likes to listen to the meetings, where members take turns telling again and again how they hit rock bottom, found their higher powers, and got their lives in order. The stories are good, even if she has heard them before, but what Lucky really wants to know is how to find her own higher power so she can get some control over her life. Having lost her mother to a freak electrocution, and terrified that her Guardian — her absent father’s previous wife Brigitte, from France — will give up on Hard Pan and Lucky and go home, this is no idle wish. Frustrated with the lack of detail regarding how to find her higher power, Lucky decides that perhaps she’s had the order wrong all along. Maybe she needs to take control of the situation first, and let the higher power follow.

Patron fits a lot into a small package — Lucky is just over 130 pages — without the story ever feeling forced. With well-chosen details and a handful of vignettes, she creates a believable community making do in near desperate circumstances. I particularly loved the characterisation of Lincoln, a “knot artist,” and Lucky’s efforts to frame her experiences in scientific terms that, while far from accurate, feel somehow logical and familiar just the same.

Read reviews from The Well-Read Child and Kirkus.

Check out a New York Times article about why The Higher Power of Lucky was challenged.

Ten: With Their Own Two Hands

When we make things, we participate in shaping our own environments, as well as the world in which others will live. We take ownership of our places in our communities in a creative and unique way — what we create reflects who we are and how we see ourselves contributing to the people around us. This week’s Ten is full of characters whose diverse creative gifts impact their worlds in big and small ways.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Kira’s twisted leg makes her an outcast in a community that values usefulness above all else. However, a special gift for creating pictures with coloured threads makes her invaluable in preserving the past and shaping the future of her village. This is the second book in Lowry’s Giver quartet.

Continue reading