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.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead

cover image for Crispin: The Cross of LeadAvi. (2002) Crispin: The Cross of Lead. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

As a serf and the fatherless son of an outcast mother, Crispin’s future has never held been especially bright.  When his mother dies, and he is accused of thievery, it grows bleaker still. On the run and not even sure why he is really being hunted, Crispin sets out merely to survive but ends up unearthing the secrets of his birth.

Critical Evaluation:

This is really meant for younger readers and will appeal best to them, but Avi’s work here is engaging, dense, and layered and will work well for many older readers as well.  Crispin’s actions and thoughts are sometimes too childish for some older teens to relate to, but they are not overly simple or shallow either.  Avi also sheds light on a period of time that is rarely talked about in young adult historical fiction – especially historical fiction featuring boys.  While it generally belongs in the young reader section, it will often be a good book to pull out for reader’s advisory.

Author Information:

http://www.avi-writer.com/

while Avi does not have a twitter, blog, or facebook, he does do class visists via skype

Genre:

Historical Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a good title to ask teens to imagine themselves in Crispin’s situation and ask them what they think they would do in his shoes.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/12-15

Possible Controversy:

As this title is generally considered tame enough for elementary students, there is little here that would cause anyone to object to it being available to teens.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have been meaning to read this and figured this was as good of an excuse as any.  In retrospect, perhaps a title meant for a slightly older audience would have been better.

Mastiff

cover image for MastiffPierce, Tamora. (2011) Mastiff. New York, NY: Random House

Plot Summary:

It’s been two years since the events of Bloodhound and while Beka Cooper can not yet be considered a veteran, she’s no longer a rookie, either.   When an assignment comes up that will require all her concentration, Cooper is eager to get started and put off working through the conflicted feelings she has about her recently deceased fiance.  She and Tunstall arrive at the Summer Palace as summoned, only to find it is near ruins, the only survivors being the king and queen, and quite possibly their young son, who they believe has been kidnapped.  Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of the young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Critical Evaluation:

Like the previous two novels, Pierce’s conclusion to her Beka Cooper series is fast paced and suspenseful.  Never one to shy away from heartbreak, the conclusion is especially devastating and triumphant.  While it’s best to have read the rest of the series first, the events of the book still make sense without having done so, they just won’t have the same emotional resonance.

Reader’s Annotation:

Summoned to the Summer Palace in the wake of a devastating attack, Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of a kidnapped young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Author Information:

http://www.tamora-pierce.com/

http://tammypierce.livejournal.com/

Genre:

Fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a difficult book to booktalk, as it’s the third in a series.  Instead, I would choose to either talk about the first book, or the series as a whole.  Pulling out a fight scene from the first book would be a great way of giving listeners an idea of both the plot and tone.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Pierce doesn’t shy away from having heroine’s that take charge of not just their public life, but their private life as well.  The book also spends a decent amount of time showing Beka struggling with a more restrictive religious culture that is growing in popularity.  Many conservative religious groups will (rightly) see the parallels between themselves and the religious leaders in the book, and may take offense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Pierce has never been a disappointment.

Going Bovine

cover image for Going BovineBray, Libba. (2009) Going Bovine. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Cameron has been acting odd lately – even odder than usual.  He’s also been seeing things that…aren’t exactly ordinary.  When Cameron’s parents finally decide that maybe something is wrong with him after all (that, perhaps, he’s not simply acting up) they take him to a doctor who explains that Cameron has Mad Cow Disease.  As if that isn’t enough, not long after Cameron has to be taken to the hospital a punk rock angel comes along and explains that it’s his destiny to save the world.  It’s not like Cameron has much else better to do, but with being stuck in bed and all, so he accepts the challenge.  But first…he needs to find a way to break out of the infirmary.

Critical Evaluation:

I desperately wanted this book to be half as long as it was.  Not because I don’t read thick books, but because long drawn out adventure stories in which it’s entirely likely that only one person is real do not make for terribly engaging stories.  Bray makes some clever allusions to Don Quixote and there is just enough ambiguity to make the question of what really happened an interesting one.  There just was just too little possibility that his friends really existed to make me care about anyone but Cameron; the hints that he was merely in a coma were too early and too often to let myself get invested in the fates of Balder, Gonzo, or Dulcie.  Nevertheless, it was certainly different and intriguing and worthy of reading and discussion, most especially when it comes to the question of if it even matters if none of it was real or not.  Also, it’s not as if Bray doesn’t write well.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron is off the save the world – and possibly himself as well.

Author Information:

http://libbabray.com/

http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

@libbabray

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

This book is full of weird and odd sh-, er…stuff.  I would probably pick one of the scenes in the book (probably the Small World scene, as it’s not really a spoiler) and use that the set the tone and scene of the story.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

Drugs. Cults. Reality TV. Explicit language. Sex. There’s plenty here for people to object to, if they are so inclined.  There’s plenty to use to defend it as well, if needed – starting with the Printz seal on the cover.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty and the rest of the books in that trilogy.  So I thought I would try this one.  Wow.  No one is ever going to accuse Bray of not having range.

The Great Wide Sea

cover image for The Great Wide SeaHerlong, M.H. (2008) The Great Wide Sea. New York, NY: Viking Juvenile

Plot Summary:

While Ben and his younger brothers are still recovering from their mother’s death, their father sells their home, buys a boat, and takes them sailing in the tropics.  The normal tension between a teenage boy and his father is intensified to the breaking point by grief, the father’s increasingly erratic behavior, and the lack of places to escape to for solitude or peer companionship.  Just when Ben is convinced nothing could get worse, his father disappears overnight, leaving Ben alone in the middle of the ocean, uncertain of where he is, and with his brother’s lives depending on him.

Critical Evaluation:

Herlong writes a compelling story of grief, conflict with parents, and caring for younger siblings – and it does so in a way that feels both honest to boys’ experiences (at least, as far as I can tell) and with a respectable about of depth.  The survival story and the main character’s growing conflict with his father were each enough to keep me turning the pages.  Together, they were simply excellent.  Unfortunately, the ending felt out of place with the rest of story, leaving a bit of a sour aftertaste

Reader’s Annotation:

Whe his mother died, Ben didn’t think it was possible for live to ever get any worse – until his grieving father disappears overnight while on a sailing trip, leaving Ben stranded in the middle of the ocean with his two young brothers.

Genre:

Adventure

Author Information:

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/m-h-herlong/

Booktalking Ideas:

Survival stories are always good for asking “what if?” and “what would you do” and this is no exception.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/12-16

Potential Controversy:

Parents acting in a way that means their children can’t depend on them tends to bother many people, but since this is an adventure story for boys, likely less so than with other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I thought the premise sounded fascinating and wondered if the book would live up to it.  I also thought the cover would catch the eye of a lot of teens, especially boys.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

cover image for Maximum Ride: The Angel ExperimentPatterson, James. (2005) Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment.  New York, NY; Little, Brown Books.

Plot Summary:

Max isn’t quite human.  The results of a scientific experiment, she and the rest of her flock are are avian-human hybrids with wings.  Family by choice, they live together in as much harmony as you can expect from 6 people under the age of 17, and always keep an eye out for the scientists they escaped from.  When their home is invaded and the youngest, Angel, is abducted it’s up to Max to keep everyone together and get Angel back.

Critical Evaluation:

I suspect there was really a good story hiding in there somewhere, if only Patterson could be bothered to write a halfway decent book. As it was, I was intrigued enough to keep turning the pages, but constantly annoyed by, for example, chapters that were consistently two chapters long.  As if constantly creating a new chapter was a legitimate way to do transitions or build suspense.

Reader’s Annotation:

On the run and separated from her adopted family, most teens in Max position would give up. But Max has one thing going for her: she’s not quite human.

Author Information:

http://www.jamespatterson.com/

Genre:

Action Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Despite the popularity of this title, I expect many kids don’t know what it’s about.  A simple but dramatic plot synopsis should intrigue listeners.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Adults are now shown in the most positive light in this series, and there is violence and then some.  Oddly, Patterson’s reputation as an adult writer seems to keep in insulated from most criticism.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve seen and heard about these books for years, and figured I ought to see for myself what they are about.

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