Nielsen, J. (2016). The Scourge. New York: Scholastic.
In a country named Keldan, a plague wipes out over one-third of the population, effectively shattering the economy and creating a divide between townsfolk and the river people, where the plague is believed to have originated. Nearly three centuries later, the Scourge strikes again, only this time, deadlier. To prevent a catastrophic collapse, Governor Felling randomly pulls people out of their lives for testing to weed out the sick and prevent further contamination. If the test results end up positive, the victim gets shipped off to a quarantined Colony on an isolated island. Ani Mells, our heroine and main protagonist, is separated from her family when she gets plucked from her life among the river people and carted away for testing along with her best friend Weevil. Ani is certain of the fact that she isn’t sick and is desperate to get back home to her family. But when her test ends up showing positive for the plague she is swept up into a twisting plot Continue reading
Brown, P. (2016). The Wild Robot. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Peter Brown’s art has come to middle grade fiction, and combined with his equally bare bones writing style, he has created a meditation on nature versus technology, a philosopher’s handbook, if you want to go that far.
After falling off a cargo ship and bobbing along in the ocean, Roz reaches the shores of an island where otters manage to open up her shipping box and activate her. Roz opens her eyes, looks around this place – the only place she’s ever known – and even though she is indeed a robot, she considers it home. However, survival quickly becomes her primary focus, when a storm sweeps her down in a mudslide, angry bears chase her, and a mama bird makes sure Roz lands with a clank out of a tall and sticky pine tree. Intriguingly, Roz begins to observe the island’s animals and learn their ways and their language. The line between real and robot is tenuous and appealing in Continue reading
Thomas, A. (2017). The Hate U Give. New York: HarperCollins Publisher.
Inspired by the movement #BlackLivesMatter, The Hate U Give is an incredibly relevant and heartbreaking account of a sixteen year old girl who witnesses the killing of her childhood best friend at the hands of the police. Everyday Starr leaves her own neighbourhood where her family owns the corner store, to attend private school in an affluent neighbourhood. Up until this point, Starr had done fairly good job of keeping her two worlds separate –dating someone at school who is white, while still being very much a part of her own community, until now. Even though Khalid was unarmed and innocent at the time of his murder, the press makes him out to be a thug.
The Hate U Give (or THUG) will inevitably spark discussion on race. It reminded me a lot of All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely because both books deal with witnessing a police killing of an innocent young black man and grappling with the decision to come forward as a witness, or not speaking up out of fear. Continue reading
Werlin, N. (2017). And Then There Were Four. New York: Penguin Random House.
Five prep school kids are tossed together under mysterious circumstances. When one is murdered, they begin talking and piecing together what they know about their families, and a terrifying idea surfaces. What if they are all targets? The premise is classically entertaining, mimicking Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, when a group of strangers are assembled on a remote island only to be murdered one by one.
The chapters alternate between two of the five friends, Saralinda and Caleb, she speaking in the present tense, he in the past for some reason, but both pushing forward the pace of the story. Nancy Werlin knows how to create complex characters whose voices captivate us. We become swept up into the mystery as they go on the run from their cloistered, island-esqe school to an actual island, Fire Island in New York. Here there are no cars, only dirt paths through tall grass, and little Continue reading
Thomas, L. (2015). Because You’ll Never Meet Me. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Because You’ll Never Meet Me evolves through a series of letters between two teenage boys, Ollie and Moritz. Each letter progresses the story and illuminates their quirky, brilliant personalities.
It reminded me a bit of Everything Everything because both stories revolve around embellished medical conditions. Ollie is allergic to electricity; any small amount will cause seizures so he and his mom live a remote life in the woods. Mortiz has a pacemaker and was born without eyes yet has the skill of echolocation, being able to locate objects by reflected sound waves (as bats and dolphins do). Apart from the fact that Moritz lives in Germany and Ollie in the US, their health keeps them apart from one another.
Unpredictable from start to finish, this breathtaking story beautifully portrays friendship and humour.
Prendergast, G. (2016). Pandas on the Eastside. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers.
A little book with a fun design on the cover caught my eye, and it was so easy to delve in and imagine East Vancouver during 1972, I had finished the story of Journey Song before I knew it. Part historical fiction, part alternate reality, it’s the story of a wilful and cheeky girl, Journey, and a wide cast of characters who live in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside when two giant pandas were gifted to the American people from the Chinese government. In reality, the transportation of the pandas went smoothly and didn’t stop in Canada, but Prendergast imagines a world where the United States and China have a spat and the pandas are delayed indefinitely in a warehouse in Vancouver; a stop in the trip that never actually happened.
Journey becomes concerned about the pandas’ living conditions in the warehouse Continue reading
Gardner, W. (2017). You’re Welcome, Universe. New York: Knopf.
You’re Welcome, Universe is Whitney Gardner’s debut novel that smoothly weaves layer upon layer of diversity, beginning with Julia, a teenager who is Indian American and Deaf. She has two moms (who are also Deaf) but the story doesn’t pause for very long on this LBGQT+ detail; it simply is the way it is. Deaf culture, however, is a world that gets explored. And the inclusion of art is inter-dispersed throughout the pages of the book with drawings done by the author.
Julia’s character is real and raw and flawed. Often she is frustrated by people’s cluelessness regarding deafness, and she can be very abrupt about it. When we first meet her, she is in the principal’s office for spraying graffiti on school property. Nevermind she was covering up slurs about her friend, she still gets expelled.
Graffiti is another underrepresented world that is allowed a front row in this novel, and its validity is exposed. Julia’s passion for her art takes her around the city at night when she draws and then “tags” – not her name since graffiti is illegal – but a special signature that is hers alone. Little does Julia expect someone else to draw over her drawings, making them even better! An all-out graffiti war unfolds as we all wonder who is behind it.