Ten: On a Mission

The legends of King Arthur’s knights are inseparable from the idea of questing: to slay or capture or rescue. In this week’s Ten, we share some other stories centred on a mission. The quests below vary from the weighty — a quest to save a life, or answer an important question — to the silly, and even the every day. The stories demonstrate that approaching a task as a mission can help to turn fear to determination, tedium to adventure, and entertainment to challenge. May we all do more questing!

Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie’s quiet life in a frontier village takes a surreal turn when she is sent out alone to obtain medicine for local children dying of diphtheria, and finds that nearly everything she thought true about her life is an illusion. Continue reading

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave coverIn a post-apocalyptic world, Cassie feels like she is the last human alive. When the alien mothership loomed closer towards Earth, no one could have predicted what was to happen. The first wave took away their lives, the second took away hope of reconciliation, the third left only the few (both lucky and unlucky) survivors, and the fourth is killing off most of those who have outlived the other waves. Now, on the brink of the fifth wave, anything could happen — nothing and no one can be trusted.

Among Cassie’s possessions is her M-16, a first aid kit, water, a diary, some tins of sardines, pictures and a stuffed toy bear. Though worn and ragged from years of being loved, the bear represents the promise that she made to her brother, and the reason she fights so hard to survive. Little does she know that she is being stalked by someone in the shadows.

Elsewhere is another survivor who, through a miracle, has also somehow survived through all four waves. Dubbed Zombie by his rescuers, he is ushered to the barracks amongst the other surviving children to become trained “military style” to fight the enemies: you either make it or you die trying. When his regiment succeeds in bumping up its ranking and finally takes action outside camp, they are in for a surprise when they learn who their real enemies are.

Suspenseful, mysterious and with hints of romance throughout, Yancey does a stellar job of interweaving the lives and stories of its characters. He leaves the reader speculating about the realities within our day to day lives; what if the world that we live in really isn’t what we think it is? What would you do if your life was endangered by another species?

See more reviews by: Wired, the New York Times, and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Read the interview between Entertainment Weekly and Rick Yancey.

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Enthusiasm coverAshleigh has a history of enthusiasm. When she loved Little House on the Prairie, she tried to wear her flowered nightgown to school. When she was into The Wet Blankets, she camped out — with the ingredients for a wet blanket salute — in front of a music store that promised free tickets to their next concert. Now, besotted with the newly-discovered Pride and Prejudice, Ashleigh is covering her “lower limbs,” learning country dances, and figuring out how to crash a prep school dance to find Mr Darcy…and a nice Mr Bingley for her best friend.

Julie, the best friend, and the narrator of Enthusiasm, is a quieter sort. She’s happier reading a good book than trying to live it, but she goes along with Ashleigh’s projects, partly out of love for her friend, and partly because, embarrassment aside, she usually does have a good time. It’s true that Pride and Prejudice was Julie’s favourite book long before Ashleigh embraced it, and the “Mr Bingley” they meet at the dance does seem a much better fit for her enthusiastic friend. But Ashleigh’s never been anything but generous, and sometimes you have to put aside your own feelings to support your friend. Right?

One of Enthusiasm’s real strengths is its exploration of friendship. Julie and Ashleigh misunderstand and occasionally (unintentionally) hurt one another, but both are consistently motivated by an interest in the other’s happiness. Is the story rather “light and sparkling”? Sure. But with solid characters, believable friendships, and a hint of Austen more creative than most, I’d say this one’s well worth a read.

A small warning: The characters do use an unusual collection of slang words, which is a bit jarring at first. The words are used consistently, though, so they fade into the background pretty quickly.

Read more reviews at Austen Prose and Angieville

Read an author-supplied excerpt from Ashleigh’s book, Dancing and Its Relations to Education and Social Life, With a New Method of Instruction Including a Complete Guide to the Cotillion (German), With 250 Figures, by Allen Dodworth: http://www.pollyshulman.com/dodworth.html

One Way by Norah McClintock

One Way cover

I have the crazy idea that if I just hang on, everything will be okay

It’s halfway through lunch period when Kenzie rides the wrong way up a one-way street. While he is not the first person to do this, Kenzie’s choice gets him in big trouble today. One moment he’s on his bike, the next he’s on his back, on top of something that he’s hit. As it turns out, this “something” is his ex-girlfriend Stassi.

While Kenzie comes out the accident with a few bruises and scratches, Stassi has unfortunately suffered trauma to her head and despite the immediate medical action that she receives, remains unconscious. The police come talk to Kenzie, and it soon becomes clear that everyone believes that he had a reason to hurt Stassi. He even begins to doubt himself. Was this just a freak accident, or something more?

Canadian author Norah McClintock prompts us to stop and think about daily actions and decisions that have the potential to put us or others in difficult situations. Those who like suspense and fast paced action, but prefer simpler vocabulary and a shorter read will enjoy reading this high interest novel. In consideration of the complexity of the story’s situation,  it is also one that I particularly recommend as a Young Adult read. Whether on road safety, grudges or unintentional hurt, the novel is sure to bring up some interesting discussions and has potential to be a good read-aloud in the classroom or at home.

Read other reviews from the 49th Shelf and the Canadian Review of Materials.

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.

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: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading