In her latest novel, The Here and Now, Ann Brashares offers a new twist on a familiar trope. Prenna, along with her mother and friends live closed off from the world of the early 21st century. Having traveled back from a post-plague, climate-ravaged future, they intend merely to live out the remainder of their lonely lives in peace. No one can know who they are, or from where they have come. There’s just one problem, someone —Ethan Jarves, the sweet and gentle boy in the school Prenna has enrolled in– saw them arrive. Now as she struggles to understand what the homeless man Ethan has befriended has to do with her community’s safety, she and Ethan must struggle against time to prevent the disaster that sent time spiralling down the wrong path in order to create a better, safer future.
Once again, Brashares offers keen awareness of young adults as her characters grope through the darkness dealing with unfamiliar emotions and situations, navigating first love and the loss of loved ones. The situation she creates, hovers on edge of science fiction– the reader will find no long-winded explanations of the possibilities of time travel here– and offers just enough mystery and tension to keep the reader guessing about how/if the star-crossed “lovers” will find a life together.
Although the story starts off slowly, (Brashares includes just a bit of overt moralizing about how the “time natives” of 2014 could knowingly ignore the science that proves humanity is on a crash course with climate disaster) and Prenna’s marose initial personality put me off at first, Brashares ably overcomes those slight weaknesses by the end. When Prenna finally acts she proves herself to be a worthy heroine, leading the reader through an emotional journey from despair toward hope.
Well worth recommending to readers 12 and up.
Sexual content = 1/2 S — mildly open discussions about sex.
Violence = V several violent deaths.
Questionable behavior = 0
Darrow is a Hell Diver. He is one of the elite on the mining station of Mars who have been sent as an advance team to prepare the Red Planet for human habitation. When he risks his life to boost his team’s prospects at winning the Laurel, which translates into better and more abundant rations, he is surprised, but not overly upset when he finds out that the competition is rigged. The powers that control the lives of the miners manipulate and suppress the colony for their own purposes. What finally gets Darrow’s attention, though, is the unjust execution of a loved one. A single act of rebellion launches his life into a new trajectory in which he must erase all traces of his former life and hide in plain sight as a rebel against the political and social elite. Physically and mentally enhanced so that he can compete among the sons and daughters of Mars’ elite, he fights to secure his place among the top commanders of the Mars forces so that as a mole in the governing body’s closed society, he can undermine the planet’s governing system. Darrow is thrown into a world of murder, torture, hunger, rape and deception as he and his fellow “students” compete to survive the bloodiest, most maddeningly unfair competition in Young Adult fiction I’ve read in a long time.
This heavily hyped futuristic story set on Mars combines the best and most gruesome parts of The Hunger Games, while also taking the “school” competition to a whole new level. The violence and raw aggressiveness of the plot, the setting, and the characters themselves, make this dystopian novel appropriate for older teens only.
Violence – VVV
Sex – SSS
Appropriate for High School age readers.
Len Vlahos’s novel, The Scar Boys, written in the guise of an extended college admissions essay, recounts the story of Harbinger (Harry) Robert Francis Jones, who was struck by lightning as a child leaving him horribly disfigured. When a new kid at school befriends him, everything changes. They form a band, and thus begins the story of his first step toward living, rather than waiting around for things to get better. The novel offers a few bright glimpses of insight into the life of an outcast, but mostly the story is about Harry being forced to really look at himself and recognize that most of what has happened to him is the result of his own unwillingness to try. Throughout the story his down-in-the-dumps, expectation of rejection made me want to scream along with his shrink, “You are such a schmuck, Harry.” The climactic confrontation with his friend feels a little contrived but nevertheless provides him with the understanding necessary to move him beyond self-pity and fortunately, the lessons he needs to learn finally sink in . A story of friendship, self-discovery, and a nod to the redemptive force that music can offer, The Scar Boys will appeal to boys, fans of music from the 1980s and those who think they have it bad, and need to be ‘slapped” back into reality.
Sex = 1/2 S
Violence = 0
Questionable Behavior = ? (mild drinking and drug use, swearing)
With the upcoming release of the film adaptation of Richelle Mead’s popular The Vampire Academy series, many young people will be clambering to read the books. Like vampire tales of the past, these titles might best be reserved for mature readers.
Told from the perspective of Rose, a half-human, half-vampire bodyguard-in-training to Lissa, a vampire from a royal bloodline, the details of the pair’s lives are told in all their scintillating detail. Rose and Lissa share a psychic connection that allows Rose to see the world through Lissa’s eyes. The two spend most of the book talking about, thinking about, and engaging in normal teen activities, such as hooking up, partying, and avoiding school work. While the story follows the outline of other boarding school tales, the vampire conventions take their antics to a whole new level. The discussions and the depictions of school life (i.e. cliques, clothes, sexual encounters, double-standards about those encounters, sexual shaming, and the use of humans to satisfy both sexual and dietary necessities) will add to the popular teen appeal. Be prepared for some questions if you give this to anyone under 12.
Sexual activity –SS
Violence- V (The bodyguards train and fight in several well-written but brutal scenes.)
Questionable Behavior – ??
Walter Dean Myers’s 2014 Printz Honor winner, Darius & Twig, joins Myers’s long list of works featuring straight-talking, genuine characters dealing with real life struggles. In his latest novel, two high school friends encourage each other’s dreams as they fight to rise above the violence, and dream-killing streets of their neighborhood in Harlem. Darius, an aspiring writer, searches for his place in the world and his voice as he explores alternative lives through his fiction. Darius’s best friend, Twig, battles a different set of problems: family and outsiders’ demands that he settle for less and forget about going to college, despite his conviction that he has what it takes to compete nationally as a long distance runner. Myers’s skill at crafting intimate portraits of young men facing high stakes in difficult situations, invites us to see the world of guns, crack, and random crime through a different set of lenses. Instead of moralizing about the effect of the mean streets of New York on young black and Latino males, Myers paints a world of loving families, wise and caring neighbors, and the true value of friends.
Sex = 0
Violence = V (Although the boys witness drive-by shootings, fistfights and domestic abuse, Myers keeps the descriptions PG -13 with little graphic detail.)
Questionable Behavior = ? (Darius and Twig see and hear about drug abuse and gun play, they themselves do not participate.)
As a Librarian and a writer, I read a lot of books. Some I love, some I like, and some I just don’t get. But my purpose in writing this blog is not to add my opinion to the thousands out there that discuss YA literature (although you will find that, too). My purpose is to give readers, parents, and teachers useful information about a book. I will rate what I’ve read on the facts so that you will know just what you or the children who are entrusted to your care will be getting into when reading a book.
My intent is to be clear, concise and reliable — not to censor. Let’s face it, there are a lot of really great books out there. And there are a lot of books that are worth reading even if the content might not be right for a particular child. My hope is that with a little bit of information readers can make informed decisions about what to read or to suggest to the young people they know and love.
I rate books on a scale of one to three on all of the big categories of concern to most readers: Violence (V), Sex (S) , substance/alcohol abuse/troubling behavior or difficult issues (questionable behavior (?)) and the maturity level of the material (Grade). The greater the number of the V’s or S’s or ?s, the greater the amount of material that falls into those categories you’ll find in the book.
As reasonable people will disagree, I just want to remind you that my ratings will fall more on the conservative side. I hope that if you find yourself disagreeing, you will leave a polite, respectful reply so that my readers can judge for themselves whether a book is the kind of thing they think they or their children will enjoy.
Kekla Magoon tells a deeply moving tale of a high school girl struggling with issues that most teenagers will connect with: friendships, body image, sexuality, and parents. Although many of the questions Ellis struggles with as her school year comes to a close revolve around the decision concerning her father who has been in a coma for a couple years, most teens will focus on the other more teen-oriented problems. While Magoon’s sensitively draws a portrait of a young woman who needs and wants connections with those around her, it is Ellis’s poignant attachment to her silent father that fuels the emotional power of this novel. Well worth reading for the 13 through 15 crowd.
S = SS (Exploration and discussion of sex by gay, straight, and questioning characters.)
Questionable Activity = ?? (Underage drinking and lying.)