Ten: Lost Things

Another of the best known Arthur stories is the search for the Holy Grail. This week’s Ten highlights other stories which focus on the search for something lost.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Sometimes things get lost on purpose.
Ella lives in a town founded by the creator of the famous pangram, “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog.” When letters from the pangram start falling off the founder’s statue, the town leaders decide that any letter no longer appearing on the statue will also be removed from the town’s vocabulary. Continue reading

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How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now CoverDaisy doesn’t exactly get along with her new stepmother. When an expected stepsibling only increases the tension between them, her father decides that a bit of distance would be a good thing, and packs Daisy off to live with her maternal aunt’s family in England. Though Aunt Penn and her four children are strangers to Daisy, they soon feel more like family, and their farm more like home, than anything else ever has. And then there’s cousin Edmond, who feels like something else entirely almost from the beginning.

When the threat of war becomes a real occupation while Aunt Penn is in Oslo trying to champion peace, the five cousins are at first thrilled to be parent-free. It turns out that the farm is needed for the war effort, though, and it isn’t long before the house is filled with soldiers, and the children are separated and billeted with families miles apart. Daisy and nine-year-old Piper are determined to find the others, even if it means setting out alone across an increasingly-violent, occupied English countryside. But while they’ve gathered enough hints to figure out where the boys have been placed, bringing their family back together is going to take far more from both girls than they can possibly guess.

How I Live Now is not a comfortable read. Between Daisy’s passionate romance with her cousin, the tension and violence of the war, and considerable risks involved in Daisy and Piper’s efforts to find the rest of Daisy’s cousins, readers are unlikely to get through this book without questioning both their own beliefs and the shape and path of the society in which they live. The book is also stunning — well structured, artfully populated, and beautifully strange. Recommended for teens open to a thoughtful, if occasionally intense, read.

Read other reviews from Angieville, The Book Smugglers, and The Observer.

Browse a bit of info on this fall’s film adaptation.

This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book I by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavour coverVictor may be brilliant, but it’s his twin brother, Konrad, who seems to have life figured out. Konrad is cheerful, athletic, and gets along with everyone, while Victor is passionate and stubborn — fitting in doesn’t come easily. There’s jealousy, to be sure, especially when their childhood companion seems to become more than just (distant) cousin Elizabeth to both brothers at the same time. Still, the boys love one another deeply, and the majority of their daily lives is lived in common.

When Konrad falls mysteriously and seriously ill, Victor is determined to do whatever is necessary to make him well. Dismissing the ineffectual methods of conventional doctors as a waste of time, Victor, his cousin, and their friend, Henry Clavel, turn to the books collected in a library hidden deep under the Frankensteins’ castle. Everything rational marks the books as untrustworthy, but the promised Elixir of Life appears to be Konrad’s only chance. The thing must be attempted, no matter what the cost.

Though I’m not generally a fan of the sort of dark, emotional atmosphere Oppel evokes here, to me it felt very much in line with what I remember of Shelley’s novel, even if the specific details didn’t quite line up with the original. I really enjoyed the questing and the complex relationships between the main characters — the fact that most of them had conflicting motivations in particular made the characters feel remarkably real. I think that This Dark Endeavor (and its sequel, Such Wicked Intent) would work especially well either as an introduction to Shelley’s novel, and as a follow up to the same. The novel stands on its own, but there’s so much potential to draw more from both Oppel and Shelley by reading each novel with the other in mind.

Find more reviews at Librarianaut and The Globe and Mail.

Find some great extras — a discussion guide, videos of the author talking about the book, and more — on Kenneth Oppel’s website.

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:

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:

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

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.

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