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The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

cover image for The Hunger Games SoundtrackBurnett, T. Bone (producer). (2012) The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. New York, NY: Universal Republic Records.

Summary:

The 15 songs on The Hunger Games movie soundtrack do not come from the film itself, although three are played during the credits, rather they are all original songs inspired by the movie and recorded by a diverse group of artists.

Critical Evaluation:

It’s tempting to dismiss this soundtrack as merely being a marketing gimmick, since it’s hardly a proper soundtrack.  Actually listening to the songs does not give that impression.  The goal was to make money, obviously, but the songs stay true to the themes and mood of the movie and make me think more of author’s writing playlists or creations from talented fans.  Some, like Miranda Lambert’s Run Daddy Run sound much like the kind of folk music that might be sung in District 12, while more modern rock songs like Kid Cudi’s The Ruler and the Killer capture the anger and despair of the games themselves.  And I must guiltily confess to tearing up more than once while listening to Taylor Swift, whose Safe and Sound deliberately evokes both Peeta’s injury and Rue’s final moments.  The Hunger Games soundtrack may have initially made waves because of it’s ties to the popular movie and series, but it is the songs themselves, haunting and true to the spirit of the story, that continue to make this a popular album.

Reader’s Annotation:

15 haunting and original songs inspired by the girl who was on fire.

Author Information:

http://hungergamesmovie.org/category/hunger-games-soundtrack/

Genre:

music

Booktalking Ideas:

NA  (although quite a bit of them would work as poetry to be read aloud)

Reading Level/Target Age:

NA/13-24

Possible Controversy:

For popular music, it’s very mild, especially considering the topic.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Friends kept talking about how great this was, and I found it strange at first that this film would have a soundtrack.

The Hunger Games

poster for The Hunger Games movieJacobson, Nina (producer) and Ross, Gary (director). (2012) The Hunger Games [motion picture]. USA: Lionsgate.

Plot Summary:

Film adaptation of the popular book series.

Critical Evaluation:

Creating a blockbuster film out of a novel that takes on reality tv, the commodification of violence, and consumerism, while staying true to these themes, is no small feat.  For the most part, Ross and Jacobson have managed to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.

As in the book, the actual games takes up only a fraction of the of the film; the first two acts of the movie follow Katniss’ journey from Reaping Day in the Seam to training and appearances at the Capitol – and only then finally do we arrive at the games themselves.  While it makes the film longer, those small moments, not just in Flickerman’s chair but backstage as well, are essential in turning the film into commentary like the book, rather than becoming the thing it is discussing.  The lead up to the games makes it clear that this is a show that Katniss is participating in and that we are watching the creation of the show, not the show itself.

still from The Hunger GamesThere are a few missteps (the shaky cam needs to die a horrible death and the mutts just don’t look real compared to the other dangers the teens have faced) but overall, the casting is brilliant (Lawrence, of course, but Harrelson, Stenberg, Tucci, and Kravitz as well all completely capture their character’s presence and purpose), the score is perfect (understated and haunting), and the ending is disturbing and thoughtful, not triumphant.

It’s going to be tempting for many reviewers and pundits to dismiss this film and those forthcoming as merely another Twilight, albeit perhaps a more “boy friendly” one.  I’d like to encourage anyone thinking this to go to a midnight showing when Catching Fire comes out.  If the experience is anything like when I saw The Hunger Games at midnight, what they will learn is that this series is connecting to teens in extremely profound ways and that they are not treating it as yet another movie.  The theater I was in was almost deathly quiet from the moment the Lionsgate logo appeared.  Call phones disappeared and the slightest sound was immediately shushed (aside from a few moments of laughter, surprise, and elation).  There was a tremendous amount of reverence in the air; it was clear that the silence was not just to make sure that everyone could hear, but more importantly in order to show respect to the character’s experiences and deaths – even the careers – and steadfast a refusal to allow the film to be transformed into that which it critiqued by their own applause.

Reader’s Annotation:

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Author Information:

http://www.thehungergamesmovie.com/

Genre:

movie

Booktalking Ideas:

NA

Possible Reasons for Controversy:

Many parents find it too violent and the dark subject matter will be even more inescapable and devastating on screen.
While it may, in fact, be more violent than some younger teens should see, I would like to note that, among some of my teen patrons, it seems as though their parents’ opposition to them seeing the film is part of an organized effort rather than simply an individual decision.  I don’t mean to say that this is not a grassroots movement or even that it is anything as established as that, more that the similar language I am hearing suggests not individual decisions based on private research; but that the parents are getting their information about the movie from the same or similar sources.  I think this is important to be aware of because, since the movie has increased public knowledge of the book series, challenges to the books have increased.  Not only is this likely to spill over into inclusion of the movie when it comes out on dvd, but also that challenges to one will possibly prompt challenges to each other – so the arrival of the movie in libraries may prompt challenges to the book.
Rather than simply taking each challenge on as it comes, it may be useful to identify if there are any organized groups opposing the series and create a more comprehensive rebuttal.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I loved the books; I had to see the movie.

Zombies Vs. Unicorns

cover image for Zombies vs. UnicornsBlack, Holly & Larbelestier, Justine. ed. (2010) Zombies Vs. Unicorns. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Plot Summary:

It all started when Larbelestier made an offhand comment on her blog about not endorsing unicorns.  Black challenged her on it, Larbelestier responded in praise of zombies, and thus did an internet war begin.  To settle this feud, Black and Larbelestier have each edited six stories written by twelve different authors and presented this in the same volume so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind.

Critical Evaluation:

Like most anthologies, Zombies Vs. Unicorns can be a bit uneven and but also wonderfully eclectic.  Highlights include Maureen Johnson’s laugh out loud zombie tale The Children of the Revolution, Carrie Ryan’s poetic tale of destruction in Bougainvillea, Naomi Novik’s irreverent critique of innocence in The Purity Test, and Diana Peterfreund’s The Care and Keeping of Your Killer Baby Unicorn, which had me squeeling “HOW DID I NOT KNOW UNTIL NOW THAT THERE IS A FANTASY SERIES ABOUT TEEN GIRLS THAT HUNT KILLER UNICORNS!!!!!

In addition to twelve zombie-or-unicorn packed stories, this collection also comes complete with hilarious commentary by our two illustrious editors.  The back and forth between Holly and Justine regarding which is most awesomeist: zombies or unicorns was the perfect addition to this anthology.  My only complaint was that their nerd!snark introductions got a little more spoilery than I would prefer, so if you tend to avoid spoilers like a zombie-borne-plague (or rainbow-colored-unicorn-farts?), I would suggest leaving the commentary until after you have finished the stories.

Reader’s Annotation:

Forget cavemen versus astronauts, the real question is “zombies or unicorns?”

Author Information:

http://www.blackholly.com/

http://blackholly.livejournal.com/

@hollyblack

http://justinelarbalestier.com/

http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/

@JustineLavaworm

Genre:

Anthology

Booktalking Ideas:

I would totally divide the class up and get them debating zombies vs. unicorns, and add in trivia based on the anthology to get them even more interested.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-24

(Yeah, I know that’s rather old at the higher end, but the super glossy and pretty cover is clearly trying to attract an older audience in addition to the regular teens.)

Possible Controversy:

There is so much in this book for people to get nervous about – sex with unicorns being just the start.  I suspect it will mostly get overlooked though because it’s fanbase, cover art, and premise suggest something a bit less…disturbing and sillier than what is inside.  I think people also have an easier time ignoring single stories in anthologies than they do entire novels or anthology topics.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I am a nerd and I love teen books.  There was no way I was not reading this.  I have, in fact, made it my mission to get my copy signed by every writer that participated in it.

Karma

cover image for KarmaOstlere, Cathy. (2011) Karma. New York, NY: Razorbill

Plot Summary/Critical Evaluation:

I am skipping ahead to the evaluation so that I can say that no one should recommend this book ever.  I’m not saying it should be banned or burned or anything, I just really think everyone’s time would be better spent on a novel that wasn’t so obnoxiously appropriative.

The genesis of the story alone is disturbing, not to mention how much it’s mentioned in the fore and afterwords.  Ostlere was on an extended tour of various parts of the world when she found herself in India during the destruction and death that followed Indira Ghandi’s assassination.  As she puts it: “My short-lived love affair with India was over.”  It is unclear whether the author was simply referring to having to go home, or if the actions of those days caused her to fall out of love with the country.  Unfortunately, the way in which she describes many of the people in India in the book – as superstitious and dismissive of the carnage that happens in their own country – suggests the latter rather than the former.

The story that Ostlere gives us is not all bad, nor is it full of nothing but racist caricatures.  Almost everyone in the book is Indian – by parentage if nothing else, such as in the case of the main character Maya/Jiva.  That’s what makes it so insidious; whether it was intentional or no, the racism is subtle and all the much more effective because of that.  Maya’s story is fairly compelling…until we get to the point where Maya gets caught up in the events of 1984 just as the author did. Suddenly the shame and heartbreak of an entire nation is all about how it affects Maya.  Despite the fact that her home still waits for her, unchanged.  (Or, at least, as unchanged as it was when she left it.)

It would be bad enough if Ostlere had simply tried to tell two stories instead of one – the suicide of Maya’s mother and the subsequent fallout being the story that the novel begins with.  Instead, Ostlere does not merely try to fit into that elegant tale another story about complex historical events and their effects on bystanders, she does so in a way that only lets us see these complexities through the eyes of someone that is a stranger to the land.  It’s not just bad writing, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Reader’s Annotation:

Maya, barely coping with the loss of her mother, is caught up in political riots while returning her mother’s ashes to her homeland.

OR

White Canadian writes about her experiences in India through the voice of a fictional Canadian girl whose parents are Indian immigrants.

Author Information:

http://cathy-ostlere.com/author/

Genre:

Multicultural

Booktalking Ideas:

Unless the booktalk is about what not to read? Nope, not doing it. Ever.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

You mean, other than the subtle racism?  There’s violence, of course, but nothing that stands out compared to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

It sounded interesting.  And I was looking for a book about that part of the world, or kids whose families come from there, because there are a decent number where I live and work.

Midnighters: The Secret Hour

cover image for Midnighters: The Secret HourWesterfeld, Scott. (2004) Midnighters: The Secret Hour. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Jessica Day has just moved Bixby, a small town in the great state of Oklahoma. She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting, but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain that had been pouring a moment ago suspended in the air as if time had stopped.  Jessica quickly learns that most everything else spends the secret hour frozen in place; the only people or creatures that are ever awake during it are herself and a handful of her classmates at Bixby High. Well, and the Darklings, who exist only during the secret hour and seem especially determined to hunt down Jessica.  Luckily Jessica and her new friends, Dess, Rex, Melissa, and Jonathon have some very unusual but sometimes useful superpowers.

Critical Evaluation:

Westerfeld’s plot concepts are are always crack for the imagination, and his execution here isn’t half bad either.  There’s nothing about this story that doesn’t sound odd when laid out and summarized, but on the page it’s exciting and magical rather than absurd.  Neither is everything perfect either, the teens superpowers come with a high price and their friendships are complicated and full of baggage.  It’s fairly complicated for a young adult novelabout superheros, but it never lets this get in the way of having fun.

Reader’s Annotation:

She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting from Bixby, OK but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain suspended in the air as if time had stopped.

Author Information:

http://scottwesterfeld.com/

http://scottwesterfeld.com/forum/

@scottwesterfeld

One of the great things about Scott Westerfeld’s site is that he doesn’t just encourage fans to engage with him, he encourages them to interact with each other and with his books; not only does his site include a forum but his blog will regularly feature fan art and creations.

Genre:

Action Series

Booktalking Ideas:

I love recomending this book to library patrons and will usually talk up either the Secret Hour, the Darklings, or the superpowers.  For a booktalk I would try to touch on all three.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-17

Possible Controversy:

There might be some people who have religious objections to the premise – especially the presence of the Darklings.  Other than that it’s unlikely to be challenged.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Once I read the premise – after noticing the book’s cover – I was totally drawn in.

Hatchet

cover image for HatchetPaulsen, Gary. (1987) Hatchet.  New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

Plot Summary:

Brian is on his way to visit his father after his parent’s divorce when the pilot if the two seater plane he is taking to get there dies of a heart attack mid-flight.  Brian survives the crash, but the pilot does not, leaving Brian alone to survive in the wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization.

Critical Evaluation:

Hatchet’s widespread appeal comes from the believability of Brian Robeson’s situation, and how he reacts to it.  Despite being unlikely, none of the events in the book is outside the realm of possibility.  When events first begin to unfold, Brian panics, as any thirteen year old would.  He continues to make mistakes throughout his ordeal, but he also learns from them and always gets back up – eventually, anyway – once he’s been knocked down.  Watching Brian constantly learning and problem solving keeps reader’s guessing “what if?” long past the initial hook of the story.  The credulity of his saga, as well as the betrayal that led to his being on the plane in the first place, bring a emotional immediacy to Hatchet that is missing from mamy other survival scenarios.

Reader’s Annotation:

The sole survivor of a plane crash, Brian must find a way to survive in the wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization.

Author Information:

http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/

Genre:

Adventure

Booktalking Ideas:

What would you do if the pilot of your flight had a heart attack at seven thousand feet?  Could you fly the plane if there was no one else there?  Would you live through the inevitable plane crash?  How would you survive if you crashed hundreds of miles from civilization, with nothing but the clothes on your back….and your brand new hatchet?

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/ 10-15

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This book has been a mainstay when I do reader’s advisory for years, based on reputation and reader reviews.  I figured it was time I actually read it myself.

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