Revolution

by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is a Brooklyn teenager with more on her plate than she can handle.  She witnessed her younger brother Truman’s fatal accident and blames herself for his death.  Andi’s artist mother has emotionally collapsed and spends most of her days painting endless portraits of Truman.  Andi’s geneticist father is even more absent than he was before Truman’s death, in fact he now lives in a different city altogether.  Andi is struggling to keep it together but she is quickly losing control over the grief and anger that well up inside her daily.  The only thing keeping her grounded is her music.

When Andi’s father unexpectedly shows up in town, he decides that Andi’s mother needs professional help, admits her to a facility and forces Andi to accompany him to Paris over Christmas break.  Andi doesn’t want to leave her mother or her music lessons but has little choice.  In Paris, Andi makes a discovery.  Hidden in an old guitar case is the journal of a teenage girl named Alexandrine who lived during the French Revolution.  Andi is inexplicably swept away by Alexandrine’s story of hardship, love, and loss beyond anything modern Andi can imagine but to which she can fully relate.

Alexandrine’s story touches Andi in a way nothing has since Truman’s death.  Can Andi learn to live again from a girl who lived so long ago?

Revolution is engrossing.  It is quite a long book, 472 pages, but when I sat down to read it time and pages would fly.  The writing is quite exquisite.  Jennifer Donnelly is truly a master.  I’m not often moved by specific passages in books but I marked several quotes that spoke to me in Revolution.  While I couldn’t specifically relate to Andi, I could definitely empathize.  Her emotions and reactions rang true to me.  My only gripe would be that I felt the transitions between Andi’s story and Alexandrine’s, being read by Andi, felt untrue and were jarring, often bringing me out of the story.  If you can get readers past the size, Revolution has appeal for a broad range of teen readers.

The Season

Seasonby Sarah MacLean

Lady Alexandra, or Alex for short, is destined to have her first London season, to see and be seen, and to catch an eligible and wealthy husband.  Unfortunately, Alex is not interested in the least in having a season or a husband.  Alex is independent-minded, strong-willed, and not afraid to say what she thinks — nothing any suitable bachelor is looking for.  She is sure the season will be a complete waste of time, that is until she stumbles upon a bit of a mystery.  The father of her longtime friend Gavin, now Earl of Blackmoor, died recently when he fell from his horse while riding at his country estate.  Despite the fact that his death looked very much like an accident, Gavin can’t seem to shake the feeling that there might have been something more sinister behind it.  Gavin is constantly on the lookout for clues that might lead to the truth behind his father’s death.  Alex and her friends Ella and Vivi begin their own search for clues after Alex overhears a conversation between two mysterious and dangerous-sounding men.  As both Alex and Gavin search for answers and as the season launches into full swing, Alex and Gavin begin to see each other in a new light.  Will Alex have found herself a husband after all?

Reaction: From the reviews I had read (and my summary even kind of makes it sound like this), I thought there was going to be more of a mystery element.  Really, the mystery was very secondary and pretty easy to figure out, but that’s ok because it served very nicely as a foil between Alex and Gavin — a way to connect them but also to keep them apart.  The center of the story, if you hadn’t guessed already, is the growing relationship between Alex and Gavin, and it was done very well.  I often gripe about how quickly characters fall for one another and the lack of development between romantic characters but I have no complaints in that regard here.  The whole story was crafted in a way that allowed these two characters, friends since childhood, to realize their feelings for one another had grown into something more, something special.  My only (very minor) complaint would be that I felt there may have been one too many times when Alex and Gavin waffled between their feelings or what to do about their feelings.  In the overall scheme of things, this complaint doesn’t even really register.  The Season was a fun and very well done historical romance.

Plague

Plagueby Joanne Dahme

Nell looks exactly like Princess Joan and after Nell’s parents succumb to the plague, Nell and her brother George go to live in the castle where Nell works as Princess Joan’s body double in times of trouble.  Now several years after her parents’ death, Nell, George, and Princess Joan are off to Spain where Princess Joan is set to marry the Prince of Castile.  Unfortunately, Joan dies of the plague before she can meet her betrothed.  Refusing to give up the power the marriage would give to his family, Princess Joan’s brother, the Black Prince, blackmails Nell into posing as the princess and forces her to continue the journey to marry Prince of Castile as if she were Joan.  Nell does not want to go along with the plot and looks for every opportunity to escape.  Luckily, Nell has several people on her side and with the help of some unlikely good Samaritans — a minstrel, a monk, a gravedigger, and some merchants — Nell and George slip away from the Black Prince, but will they ever be free from his vengeance?

Reaction: Overall, I liked it but I found it a bit flawed.  It’s been awhile (maybe three weeks now?) since I read it and the things that have stuck with me about it aren’t necessarily the good things.  I thought Nell was a bit weak.  I think a lot of her weakness was understandable due to her position in life and the restraints of that position but I wanted her to do a bit more, be a bit more active in changing her own fate.  Also, her blind devotion to Princess Joan and the way she put Princess Joan above her own needs even after P.J. was dead bothered me, though, again, somewhat understandable due to her position.  George’s unexplained and sudden ability as a magical healer seemed out of place and unnecessary to the plot.  It took me out of the story as I tried to puzzle its significance when it didn’t seem to have any.  Finally, a big one for me, there was no historical note along with the text.  I am not familiar this period of English history so I was curious about what was true and what wasn’t.  Obviously the fantasy elements were not true but was the King a real king?  Was Princess Joan real?  What was the timetable of the plague?  I just wish there had been some note as to the historical background of the story.

The Plague did have many things going for it.  The best, I would say, is the dastardly villain, the Black Prince.  I loved his ability to control rats like a pied piper.  I can’t imagine having thousands of rats sent to chase after you and run all over you and squish you and bite you.  Ack!  Also, his use of rats and the fact that characters saw rats everywhere was great because of the plague.  I know enough about the plague to know that rats played a part in its spread.  I also liked the imagery of the plague worn country.  The plague was almost a main character itself because of its total effect on the people and the land everywhere the characters traveled.  The secondary characters were also amusing.  I especially loved the jolly gravedigger.  Oh, and the cover, pretty.  Even the hard shell is decorative.

FYI: Joanne Dahme, who also wrote last year’s Creepers, has another book coming out this summer that looks intriguing called Tombstone Tea — another ghosty, scary story.

Silent on the Moor

Silent on the Moorby Deanna Raybourn

If you have not yet read Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary you might want to skip this review until you do.

Lady Julia is at it again.  This time she is accompanying her sister Portia uninvited on a visit to Grimsgrave, the property that is now owned by Brisbane.  When Julia and Portia arrive, they are greeted not by Brisbane but by the impoverished ladies of the family that formally owned Grimsgrave.  At first, Julia does not know what to make of Lady Allenby or her daughters Ailith and Hilda, but soon warms to them determined to make the best out of an unexpected situation.  In befriending the Allenbys, Julia offers to catalogue the late Lord Allenby’s Egyptology collection and, in doing so, she begins to uncover some puzzling and even sinister secrets about the Allenby family.  Julia also learns that Brisbane’s past and many of his own secrets are tied to Grimsgrave and the moors surrounding it.  Julia is once again determined to get to the bottom of all the mysteries, even as it puts her and the ones she loves in peril.

Reaction: <Contented Sigh> So satisfying.  Not perfect but satisfying.  I liked Julia more in this one.  I’m not sure if she’s growing or becoming flat, but she wasn’t as haughty and seemed more comfortable in her own skin, being who she wanted to be despite social mores.  Also, she wasn’t as dumb as she was in the second one.  There were certainly mysteries that I figured out before her, but I attribute the major one to the fact that I just read The Thirteenth Tale and it had a similar subplot line.  And Julia did not have all the information because Brisbane, very annoyingly, kept a lot of things from her.  In this one, I really could have strangled him sometimes.  I think he kept information from her just so they could have a fight about it.  The end is definitely squee worthy but leaves me concerned for future installments.  While I’m all for resolution, I could have done with a bit slower buildup.  It seemed a bit abrupt to me.  Though, again, I was very happy so maybe I shouldn’t complain!

What’s next: A fourth, yet to be named Lady Julia Grey in October 2010.  Also, Deanna Raybourn has another book, not in the series, called The Dead Travel Fast that will be out in March 2010.  All this from her new blog.

Cover: I am thoroughly annoyed with this cover.  It makes it seem like a romance novel which would not be a bad thing if it was a romance novel but it’s not.  It is a historical mystery with an awesome romantic plot.  And I actually really liked the other covers.  Why did they have to change?  I know that it won a RITA for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, so are they trying to attract romance readers with a more romancy cover?  I don’t know but I just don’t like it.  And I really don’t like that dress.

The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth

The Boy Who Daredby Susan Campbell Bartoletti

We meet young Helmuth on October 27, 1942 on his 264th day in a Nazi prison.  It’s a Tuesday and the executioner works on Tuesday.  Will this be Helmuth’s Tuesday?

What has Helmuth done to land himself here, waiting in the cold, dank cell for death.  Helmuth thinks back to how he got here, back to Germany right after World War I, back to when Hitler was first voted into power with words of hope and wealth and security for the German people, back to the times when he began to question the words fed to him in school, at home, in the news, back to the point when he made his life-threatening decision.  Helmuth is the boy who dared to question and dared to do something to try to right what he felt was so wrong.

Reaction: This is a powerful book and what makes it so powerful is the reality behind the story, the shocking and thoroughly researched history, and the author’s wonderful ability to weave this story.  I really felt Bartoletti’s attachment to the story and I learned so much from this book.  My limited history classes in no way truly prepared me for what Germany was like during the 1930s and 40s.  I loved the author’s note, where she explained what happened to many of the characters, talked about her interviews with people she characterized in her book, and shared photos of the real Helmuth, his family, his friends, and the room where he was murdered.  I am very interested in reading Bartoletti’s nonfiction book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hilter’s Shadow, the work that first introduced her to Helmuth’s story.  This is a definite go ahead for my booktalks.  I am really excited to share this one with the students.

The Boy Who Dared is nominated for a Cybils.  I have been avoiding reviewing Cybils books until after the finalists have been announced but I just had to talk about how great this book is at depicting the German side of WWII.

The Dragonfly Pool

Dragonfly Poolby Eva Ibbotson

Tally’s family decides it is best to send her away from London to the safe haven of the countryside as war becomes a more imminent threat.  Tally doesn’t want to go to boarding school, but she is a very like-able, very agreeable child who only wishes for the happiness of others, so she complies.  What Tally finds at Delderton is more than she could have ever imagined–a free-thinking, free-spirited place where she can imagine being and doing anything she wants.

While at Delderton, Tally sees a news reel about the small country of Bergania and how the country’s king has been steadfast in his refusal to surrender to Hitler and the Nazis.  Tally feels a connection to the image of the strong but tired King of Bergania.  When word comes to Delderton that Bergania wishes to host an international folk dancing festival, Tally jumps at the chance to travel to Bergania despite the fact that she and her friends know nothing of dancing.  Putting together a makeshift dance with makeshift costumes and makeshift music, Tally and her fellow Deldertonians make their way to Bergania.

In Bergania, Tally becomes friends with the unhappy Prince Karil.  Karil wishes only to be able to spend some time with his father, to be able to make his own choices, and to have true friends.  When Tally offers a friendship that has nothing to do with his status, Karil is thrilled, but his happiness is short-lived as tragedy strikes Bergania.  Tally and the other Deldertonians must help save Karil from the fate the Nazi’s have in store for him as well as the fate his own family has planned for him.

Reaction: For pretty much no reason at all, I wasn’t thrilled.  It just didn’t strike me.  The story was solid and enjoyable.  Ibbotson is certainly a talented writer.  Most of the characters were very interesting, especially the teachers.  I really like the interspersed illustrations drawn by Kevin Henkes.  But, Tally was too perfect, parts of the story were too predictable and bit too hokey for me, and I thought it moved a bit slowly and was a tad long.  I am in the minority though, so possibly you shouldn’t listen to my opinion.  Read the Amazon reviews (all 5 star reviews) and Stacy’s over at Welcome to my Tweendom.

Also, I’m probably not going to use this for my booktalks.  Not because of my review but because, while it takes place during the war, it is much more about people and relationships than the war. Don’t get me wrong, the reader is aware that the war is approaching and happening, depending on how far along in the book you are, and it is very important to the story but it’s most important effect was to an imaginary country.  But, I’m torn because I liked the description of the warning balloons and the Nazi villains and how people were called up in the draft and other subtle but important things involving life during WWII.  I’ll see what I think closer to the date, I suppose.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamasby John Boyne

Nine-year-old Bruno must leave his comfortable home in Berlin that has five floor and a banister for sliding down and his three best friends for life and his grandparents to live in a desolate countryside where there are no children to play with.  He must do this because his father has a very important job.  Bruno can see many children, and adults for that matter, out his window but they all live on the other side of the fence.  Bruno thinks there must be another town beyond that fence but doesn’t understand why they are there and he is here and they can’t mingle.  One day when exploring, because Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up, he meets Shmuel, a boy with his exact same birthday who lives behind the fence.  Bruno wonders why Shmuel is so skinny and has grey skin and is always hungry and scared and sad and why Shmuel and the others behind the fence all wear pajamas.  What is the secret behind the people who live behind the fence and Bruno’s father’s important job?

Reaction: I really liked the concept and I even liked the author’s writing style but I found the book flawed.  First, the biggest problem was Bruno’s totally naivete.  He’s nine and probably ten by the end of the book.  In reality, he would have understood much more about what was going on.  In the book, Bruno knew nothing and understood nothing which seems entirely impossible considering his father was supposedly running Auschwitz.  He didn’t understand what Jews were and why they were different; he didn’t know the difference between the star sash and the swastika sash but thought he would rather wear the star; he didn’t even know he had moved from Germany to Poland.  Sheesh.  In the end, Bruno’s total lack of understanding for what was going on around him somehow made the story less emotional for me.  My other pet-peeve was with some of the language used.  For example, Bruno and his sister called their new home Out With — play on words with Auschwitz.  BUT Bruno speaks German and “out with” in German is not Auschwitz or even close to it.  Bugged the crap out of me.  There were other similar incidents where a play on words didn’t quite add up.  I pretty much agree with everything Ralph Blumenau said in his review on Amazon.  I may still use it in my booktalks because I did really enjoy Boyne’s writing.  For example, “out of bounds at all times and no exceptions” being used every time his father’s office was mentioned and the subtleties of what was happening with the other characters in the background — did I imagine that Bruno’s mother had an affair with Lt. Kotler?

What’s next: A movie!  And it looks more fleshed out and million times sadder than the book.  Here’s the trailer: