How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff Pub Date: 10 Nov 2020 read courtesy of http://netgalley.com Put five different competitive high schoolers together to see who can survive hypothetical apocalyptic disasters, and you get five unique interesting challenges. Falkoff crafted an entertaining story that expertly incorporated five different characterizations into the survival scenarios. I found some fairly profound truths in this story that resonated with me: (1) "I hated that I tended to assume people were straight unless they indicated otherwise." (2) "Funny how different it felt, having a crush versus liking someone who liked you back. I'd had butterflies with Hunter, but they'd made me feel a little bit sick. Wyatt made me feel nothing but happy." (3) "We'd been so fixated on managing big-picture problems that we hadn't yet learned how to deal with the day-to-day complexities of being ourselves..." Unfortunately, the author used some standard YA story formulas that I tend to dislike. For example the characters don't tell others how they feel but then expect others to be mind readers and act a certain way. In addition, this author actually comes out and has a character articulate another overused plot line "...where we need to help ourselves because the adults weren't going to be of much use." Throughout the book, the lead character Amina frequently claims she doesn't know her friends as well as they know her. The purpose of this characterization is so she can eventually prove she does end up knowing one her friends better than her other friends do. The repetitive self-deprecation, however, is annoyingly tedious. Nonetheless, I like the ending in which the characters learn to be " ...less concerned with what we put in our go-bags and more about how to use cooperation and empathy to prevent the things we were so scared of from happening." I only wish that Falkoff had listened to her own advice. Why was it necessary for her to call out 'Republican' vs. 'Democrat' in a doomsday scenario in which a Republican was so "unpopular" that he got elected for a third and fourth term? Since the good messages outweigh the trite precepts, I will enjoy putting this book into the hands of my high schoolers.
Oasis by Katya de Becerra
Pub Date: 07 Jan 2020
Read courtesy of Netgalley.com
I so wanted to like this as much as I started out liking it. It really pulled me in quickly. I can see how it was initially described as Lost mixed with Twilight Zone, but I guess I was hoping for more Twilight Zone mixed with Lost. I personally enjoy more scifi than fantasy, and Oasis was definitely more fantasy than scifi.
Confession: At first I thought the "diversity thing" was over the top, but I quickly understood the setting was absolutely appropriate for scholars from all over to participate in an archaeological dig. I was glad to find the mix of characters was not just a ploy for inclusiveness. I did have a bit of a struggle with some of the characterization (Would a 13 year old boy run to greet an older teenager girl and hug her? What about a brooding, moody, slightly older assistant would appeal so strongly to a teenage girl?) On the other hand, I give de Becerra props for being able to provide two different personalities to each character depending on the plot influences.
From what follows you might get the feeling I really didn't like the book, but I did. I just liked the beginning and where I thought the dig plot was going more than I did where it ended up. So what follows in this review are things that detracted from my fuller enjoyment of the book:
- I get the teen hormone thing, but the kissing did seem to appear at random (or inopportune) times. I guess that's how it is with teens. I know the kissing was the plot device to imbue the main character with self-consciousness and doubt, but it seemed to belie her strength and wisdom as a strong female character.
- In one scene, the brooding, moody character tells the main character, "It'll be all right," after she says she has doubts about their situation. It reminded me of the insurance commercial where the frightened teens agree to run into the chainsaw shack instead of escaping into the running car. A bit too obvious that danger lurked ahead.
- Another short scene was full of psychobabbly, new-agey philosophy. I wondered at the time I was reading it if teens like that mumbo-jumbo and would buy into it.
- For me the depth of the stolen tablet's insight into the characters was lessened by the fully developed characterization of the main players previously by the main character. I just thought the part where the tablet "made things clearer for its host" really just reiterated the things that main character had already revealed about her friends.
- When the characters each experienced the tablet in different ways, why was Rowen's depiction one of a tree? Nothing else in the story implied that vision, so it felt random to me.
- Is it me, or was it too obvious for the author to use the terms "alternate reality" and "parallel universe" toward the end of the story. Did that need to be spelled out so blatantly? And what about the use of "alien threat"? That TOTALLY changed what the dark essence was for me and took me even further out of what I had come to find comfort in while trying to stay engrossed with the story. An alien threat is a very specific choice of words that restricts the reader's imagination.
The book had a really strong beginning; I'll give it that. I was compelled to read it, and then I was compelled to read it to see if it dug its way out of the hole it fell into. If you're a fantasy fan, it did. If you're a scifi fan, it stayed buried.
Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin
Publishing date: November 19, 2019
Read courtesy of netgalley.com
If we couldn't get more of Denton Little, at least we have Winnie Friedman. Cleverly written story about comedy without being forced and corny -- quite an achievement. Makes me want to start an improv club for my students!
Even though I know a bat mitzvah is for girls and a bar mitzvah is for boys, and the reader is told about the character's bat mitzvah, I still found myself [pleasantly] surprised when I absorbed that the protagonist was a female and not a male. This is a good thing since I was able to break myself from stereotypical thinking early in the story. I think that the character is Jewish also makes for a subtle take on the humor that other ethnicities might not have inherent in their culture, the subtleties between puns and sarcasm, which are so integral to Jewish and Yiddish parlance. In other words, this mix of character development worked very well for this story.
And speaking of inherent ... sporks are inherently funny. Just sayin'...
Teens will relate to the cute humor throughout the story, too. For example, categorizing potential relationships as "hope-will-flirts," "neutral-will-flirts," and "please-don't-flirts" is funny and quite teenager-ish.
While the humor carries the story afloat, the author does an a-ma-zing job of showing a teen's understanding of complicated adult conversations. Winnie's father has ALS, and the subject is handled honestly from the patient-, the parent, and the family-perspectives. All of the characters are treated with equal humanness and not made into oversimplified caricatures.
The few criticisms I have do not deter from the 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ or the story. There are just a few times where the writing is too PC or 'too' inclusive just to fit in with the contemporary times....Jews, hijabs, and trigger warnings. There are also some contemporary references that might date the book before it's ready to be a thing of the past: Polly-O string cheese (specifically Polly-O), the TV show Parks and Rec, Totes McGotes, and FOMO.
Regardless, I loved this book and cannot wait to get it for my high school library!
Hope Is Our Only Wing
by Rutendo Tavengerwei
Pub Date: 10 Sep 2019
read courtesy of Netgalley.com
Note: Let your readers know that there is a glossary at the back of the book. Because I read this as a digital galley, I didn't find the glossary until after I finished reading, and it would have been helpful to have been aware of it earlier.
I agree with prior reviews that this is a middle school book, but I also think that it's not as easy a read as others have noted. While the vocabulary is not too difficult (besides the references to African terms, for which there is a glossary), the concepts of politics and disease and cultural references might pose a challenge for some students. We're lucky, however, in this time of the Internet, that we have the ability to easily quench our curiosities. For example, as a result of a reference to "Oliver Mtukudzi's timeless voice," I was able to find out that he died recently, January 2019, and hear an example of his sound on YouTube (https://youtu.be/p-JUy6p0Qpw). And though I could figure out what ZESA was from context, I could also look up that it's the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.
As an educator, I was drawn to the words of wisdom one character's grandfather imparted, one "could quit if it was the instrument that was making him miserable. But if it was the learning he was trying to avoid, he would have to toughen up."
In spite of the unfamiliarity with the setting, readers will be drawn in by the developing friendship between the two main characters. As readers we're given room to experience the interplay of actions and feelings the two girls experience rather than being explicitly spoon fed what to think and feel. I liked that about Tavengerwei's style. I think sophisticated middle school readers will like this story.