Friday, March 30, 2012

STARTERS by Lissa Price

Price, Lissa. Starters. New York: Delacorte Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780385742375. $17.99.

One of the latest offerings in the dystopian young adult fiction field, Starters features Callie, a 16-year-old orphan living in a post-biological-warfare Los Angeles, where the Spore Wars have wiped out every living soul between the ages of 20 and 60. Living on the streets of LA, where she fights “unfriendlies” and allies with “friendlies,” Callie is in dire need of money for permanent shelter for herself and her sickly brother, Tyler. This desperation pushes her to Prime Destinations, an organization that uses teenagers’ bodies as vessels for elderly people who want to feel young again (in this dystopian society, Enders, as they’re called, live to be well over 100 years old). In return for a hefty sum of money, Callie must simply allow a chip to be implanted in her brain and essentially go to sleep for days at a time while a 150-year-old Ender gads about and enjoys the blessings of youth and beauty.

Callie is understandably hesitant at first, but when a fire takes away her and Tyler’s only remaining belongings and they are forced on the run yet again, with Tyler coughing all the way, Callie determines that the money she’ll get from Prime Destinations is worth relinquishing control of her body. She gets control back, though, when she wakes up in the middle of her renter’s borrowing period. While Callie tries to figure out what went wrong, she enjoys the opulent lifestyle led by her renter, Helena, and starts a romance with Blake, a rather wooden love interest. As her feelings for Blake (inexplicably) grow, Callie also hears from Helena, who reveals that Prime Destinations is not as legitimate as it appears. The pressure builds as Callie races to stop the government from supporting Prime Destinations' nefarious plans. The plot races through its romance and reveals, ending with a cliffhanger that paves the way for book #2 in this trilogy.

Starters is fast-paced and simply written, sometimes to its own detriment. The hurried pacing overshadows the development of Callie's character, motivations, and history. The Spore Wars are not explained in depth, and we learn that they only wreaked their havoc a year prior. I would have liked to see more explanation of their destructive properties and more specifics about how Callie went from having a home to being a street urchin in a matter of months. Such a rough transition could have offered a great deal of personal exploration for Callie, but her emotions are explored only shallowly. We get the occasional comment on how nice it is to sleep in a comfortable bed again, and of course Callie is in awe of Helena's wealth and gorgeous home, but there is no emotional impact or self-reflection in Callie’s experiences. Tyler, Callie's sick brother, is her motivating force in life, but we don't really get any backstory to their relationship or why she feels so compelled to take care of him beyond older-sibling obligation. Additionally, the author, Lissa Price, suffers from a case of telling, not showing, as she uses her secondary characters as vehicles for exposition and not as well-rounded people that enhance Callie’s story. Finally, the flat romance between Callie and Blake calls to mind YA insta-love, wherein two characters are suddenly transfixed by each other for no apparent reason. On Callie and Blake's first date, Price again tells us instead of shows us what's happening. Apparently whatever conversation Blake and Callie had was killer, but we don't get to know what they talked about.

Despite its shortcomings, Starters delivers a fantastic concept and raises interesting ethical questions. I see echoes of Robin Wasserman's Skinned, with the idea of the brain inhabiting another body, and Marie Lu’s Legend, with a bleak, post-apocalyptic Los Angeles cityscape. Like both of those novels, Starters features an urgent desire for survival and a contemplative look at the lengths to which governments will go to maintain control. With its fascinating premise and the promise of further character development in the rest of trilogy, Starters will surely be a commercial hit.

Reviewed by Jill Coste

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE MOURNING WARS by Karen Steinmetz

Special Feature: Review by a High School Student

Steinmetz, Karen. The Mourning Wars. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-59643-290-1. $18.99 US.

The main character of the book is Eunice, a.k.a. Marguerite Gannestenawi. Eunice lives with her family in Deerfield, Massachusetts before she is taken as a captive to Kahnawake. Her father, Reverend Williams, and other families are also taken captive by the Maqua. The tribe’s Atironta and Kenniontie are to be her step-parents; they lost their own daughter, so Eunice, now called A'onote, is to take her place. While with the Maqua, A'onote befriends Gaianniana and Joanna. During her first Green Corn Festival, A'onote is officially adopted into the Turtle Clan. There she meets a boy named Arosen, who is her friend Gaianniana's cousin. Arosen is to become A'onote's husband.
For some time, A'onote hasn't received any new information about her family. But after receiving Kenniontie's [her Natie American father] favor for her wedding with Arosen, she heard that her father had been looking for her. Then, after some time in Kahnawake, Eunice meets her father, Reverend Williams. He promises to get her back. She also learns her brother Joseph has been freed and become a trader. She is forced to choose between her new peaceful life, or go back to things as before in Deerfield.

I found the book interesting because I am quite fascinated with subjects concerning Native Americans. I was captivated by the two worlds Eunice lives in, the way she adapts to her new surroundings, and the choices she has to make..

Some strengths of the book lie in the emotions Eunice feels. That Eunice is, in a way, waiting for someone from her family, especially her father, helps to shape story line. I don't think of this as a weakness of the book, but I do think the clans -- turtle, bear, or wolf -- don't really have anything to do with the story.

Yes, I would recommend this book to people my age because, in some ways, the main character's life might correlate with the relationship between them and their parents. I would recommend it to someone my age or maybe someone older because a younger kid might not be able to understand the situation Eunice is in.

Steven Maglaya, 9th grade, 14 years old

ZITFACE by Emily Howse

Special Feature: Review by a High School Student

Howse, Emily. Zitface. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Children’s, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7614-5830-251699. $16.99 US.

Zitface, by Emily Howse, describes the challenges and phases a teenage girl has to go through – for example, boys, heartbreaks, and changes in her body. The main character, Olive Hughes, is going through a really hard time dealing with school, boys, and her career – acting. But something worse pops up: acne, and not just a bit. Olive’s outbreak is severe. Before the acne, she has a boyfriend and a job, and every girl wants to be her. When her luck runs out, though, she gets dumped, fired, and made fun of. Yet she ends up happy being who she is and not caring what other people think of her.

To me this is a good book because, even though teenage girls go through all of these changes, Olive sees the bright side in everything, and this book actually teaches lessons on how to handle specific problems. I would definitely recommend it to another girl because it might help in whatever problems she’s going through.

Carmen Herrera, 9th Grade, 14 years old

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Winter, Jeanette. Wangari's Trees of Peace. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-15-206545-4. $17.00 US.

Awards: ALA Notable Children's Book, Winner of the Bank Street College of Education Flora Strieglitz Strauss Award for Nonfiction, a CCBC Choice, and a Parents' Choice Recommended Title.

See also Jeanette Winter's Biblio-Burro.

Wangari Maathai earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to bring about a greener Africa. This book is about Wangari's life and how she changes the face of Kenya and improves the lives of many Africans. Wangari, born just below the slopes of Mt. Kenya, spends her days playing and working beneath the trees surrounding her home. When Wangari is older, she wins a scholarship to America. In America she gets a bachelor's and master's degree in biology and returns to Kenya. When she returns to Kenya, she is shocked and saddened by the deforestation that has occurred. Where there were once trees, there is now barren and dry ground. As more and more trees are cut, the land continues to erode, crops fail, and women have to walk farther and farther to get the firewood they need. Wangari is overwhelmed by the thought of all the trees that have been cut down and never replaced to make room for cities, but she decides something must be done. She starts by planting nine seedlings in her backyard. As she watches the trees grow, she is further inspired: if she can plant a nursery and get other women to do the same, she can make a bigger change.

Wangari successfully convinces other Kenyan women to plant their own seedlings as part of her Green Belt Movement. Despite being laughed at and told they can't succeed, the women continue to plant their small forests. For each tree that survives for three months, Wangari pays each woman a little bit of money. Changes start to occur, and women from other villages decide they want to be part of the movement. Wangari soon realizes that it is not just enough to replace trees that are cut down. She attempts to educate the government about the importance of trees. When that doesn't work, she protest and gets in the way of the loggers. Despite being beaten and thrown in jail, Wangari doesn't give up. While Wangari is held in jail, her dream and movement continue to spread.

One after another, women join the Green Belt movement until more than 30 million trees cover Kenya. Not only are there trees in Kenya, other African nations hear about Wangari and the women who believed that they could make a difference no matter what other people said. As trees have returned, soil has improved, gardens are once more productive, and women no longer have to travel miles and miles to get firewood.

In Wangari's Trees of Peace, Jeanette Winter's provides yet another inspirational true story (see review of Biblio-Burro). While one person or one tree might not seem to make that much difference, this book is a reminder of the importance of uniting with other people to create change and an excellent early introduction to ecology and the role everyone can play as responsible members of society. It is also a great book to read as Arbor Day approaches, or to be used to kick off a garden project at any time of the year. In keeping with the theme of the book, Wangari's Trees of Peace is printed on 100% recycled paper with 50% post consumer waste.

Stephanie Ashley