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.

Advertisements

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.

The Name of the Star

cover image for The Name of the StarJohnson, Maureen. (2012) The Name of the Star. New York, NY: G. P. Putnum’s Sons

Plot Summary:

Rory’s parents are spending their sabbatical teaching at the The University of Bristol.  So Rory gets to finish up high school at Wexford, a private boarding school in London rather than back home in Louisiana.  After a somewhat rocky start, including getting drafted for the field hockey team and almost choking to death in the dining hall on her third day, Rory settles in and finds her niche. But Rory’s time in England may not end up being the postcard perfect experience she was hoping for.  There’s a killer on the loose in London; someone is copying Jack the Ripper’s kills – and Wexford is right in the center of his favorite hunting grounds.

Critical Evaluation:

Name of the Star is typical MJ: clever, heartfelt, and more than a little bit off (in a good way).  The oddness makes the pacing less perfect that it could be, but it also takes what might have been a very predictable story about supernatural killers and instead keeps readers constantly guessing about who is going to do what next – and why.  Like Johnson herself, the characters have personality to spare, but never come across as larger than life or someone you would only meet in the pages of a book.  Overall, it was quite enjoyable and I very much look forward to the rest of the series – and I think many teens will too.

Reader’s Annotation:

A murderer is on the loose in London, recreating the crimes of the city’s most notorious serial kill: Jack the Ripper – and Rory’s school is right in the middle of his hunting ground.

Author Information:

http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/blog/

@maureenjohnson

(if you are not following Johnson on twitter, you should be. She’s hilarious.)

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

This is a good title for “what if?” type questions.  What if you had to go to another school for your last year? What if you started seeing ghosts? etc.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

There is sneaking out, drinking (but legally! well, mostly), and of course murder and supernatural elements.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

All of the other books of Johnson’s that I have read were on the scale of “enjoyable” to “awesome.”

 

White Cat

cover image for White CatBlack, Holly. (2010) White Cat.  New York, NY: Margaret K McElderry Books

Plot Synopsis:

 Cassel isn’t a good kid who dreams of being a hero, he’s a mundane born into a family or curseworkers that longs to be respected in the family business.  Struggling to appear normal so as not to attract attention at school, making ends meet by being a bookie for his classmates, wishing he could forget that it’s his fault his best friend is dead, and trying to remember what exactly happened that night take all he has and then some.  So he really doesn’t have time for strange white cats and odd dreams that leave him stranded on school rooftops, uncertain as to how he got there.
Critical Evaluation:
Overall this is a suspenseful tale that, like all good speculative fiction, draws enough parallels to real life to get readers thinking, but without being preachy or having an agenda.  While the worldbuilding is lacking in places, the curse magic, and it’s reliance on touch, is a welcome change of pace from more standard fare.
Reader’s Annotation:
Everyone has strange dreams sometimes, but when Cassel’s leave him stranded on the rooftop of his dorm, unsure of how he got there, he begins to worry that there is more going on than he thought.
Author Information:

http://www.blackholly.com/

http://blackholly.livejournal.com/

@hollyblack

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

The whole idea of a mob run by curseworkers is incredibly intriguing.  Black has bracelets that she passes out at signings that are different colors and have the names of the types of curse workers in her books.  It would be fun to copy that and pass out something to listeners that tell them what kind of curse worker they are and then go on to set up the basic plot.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-19

Potential Controversy:

This book has murder, betrayal, persecution, and much more, but the part that will likely generate the most controversy is the use of the word “curse” to describe the magic.

 Reasons for Choosing This Title:
I love Black’s books and her Curseworker’s series intriguing, new, and appears to be well researched.

Monster

cover image for MonsterMyers, Walter Dean. (1999) Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollin’s Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Steve Harmon is in jail, waiting to be tried for murder, and not even his attorney is convinced he’s innocent. If he’s convicted, it will be decades before he can get out.  Overwhelmed and afraid, Steve retreats to his journal, telling his story in screenplay form, just like he learned to do in film club at school.

Critical Evaluation:

The cover of Monster is covered with so many prestigious awards it’s a wonder there is room for anything else – and it deserves every one of them.  The idea of a novel as a screenplay does not sound like a brilliant idea, aside from the novelty factor, but Myers work here is brilliant.  Not only is the screenplay itself well done but the detachment and insightful commentary found in it is in stark contrast to Steve’s more personal and panicked journal entries.  Together they offer thought-provoking and empathetic commentary on not only Steve’s plight but on the dangers, discrimination, and stereotypes that black boys like Steve must navigate.

Reader’s Annotation:

“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is getting beaten up. That way they won’t hear you.”

Author Information:

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

Genre:

Award Winner

Booktalking Ideas:

One of the more clever parts of the book is the fact that it’s never quite clear if Steve is guilty or not; this allows Myers to both suggest innocence while also making the case that Steve deserves compassion regardless. I think it would be interesting try a booktalk that casts the listeners as the jury and the presenter as an attorney.  That way in can present it as a kind of whodunit (which is a driving plot point) but also keep the focus on letting the readers make up their own minds, as the book does.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

There is frank talk of rape and other violence perpetrated by inmates and the view of the justice system is honest but not terribly flattering.  Like many things that make books controversial, this is also a big part of what makes it such an essential story.  The multiple awards as well as the importance of the topic should help when making a defense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been remiss in not reading anything by Myers before and this is one of the titles I hear about most often.

Chasing Yesterday: Awakening

cover image for AwakeningWasserman, Robin. (2007). Awakening. New York, NY: Scholastic

Plot Summary:

JD’s earliest memory is of waking up in pain, on the ground, unable to move.  She doesn’t know what happened, how it happened, or why she was there.  She doesn’t know where she came from or where she belongs.  She can’t even remember her own name – that’s why the hospital calls her Jane Doe.  After a short, terrifying time in group home, suddenly a stranger arrives.  She seems to have all the answers – and she claims to be JD’s mother.  But is she? Or is JD involved in something more sinister and mysterious than she ever suspected?

Critical Evaluation:

Short and fairly uncomplicated, especially for a story about amnesia and superpowers, Awakening feels more like the first act in a longer novel than a story all by itself. It’s a quick and entertaining read, but the lack of depth makes it less than memorable and more appropriate to middle grade readers than high schoolers.

Reader’s Annotation:

D’s earliest memory is of waking up in pain, on the ground, unable to move.

Genre:

Adventure

Booktalking Ideas:

Booktalking this novel alone – as opposed to the series – would be a bit of a challenge, as the part I think is most interesting (JD has being taken to live with the woman claiming to be her mother) happens halfway through the book and is a pretty big spoiler.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/9-14

Possible Controversy:

This book is really too childish for older teens for it to really provoke much controversy.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This was suggested by one of our textbooks, or else I never would have chosen it for this class.  (And now, having read it, I am wondering if misread the suggested age.)

Double Helix

cover image for Double HelixWerlin, Nancy. (2004) Double Helix. New Yor, NY: Penguin Group.

Plot Summary:

Working with the exalted Dr. Wyatt of Wyatt Transgenics is supposed to be about solving the mysteries of science, but for Eli it’s also a way to try to uncover the secrets of his past.  His father may be dead set against Eli taking the job (although he won’t say why) but Eli knows that Dr. Wyatt is the only person both willing and able to explain the mysterious papers her found in his father’s desk.  With his mother dying from Huntington’s disease and his father growing ever more distant, Eli start to rely on Dr. Wyatt even more.  But can Quincy Wyatt be trusted?

Critical Evaluation:

Fascinating and fast paced, Double Helix is definite page turner.  It’s very consciously a young adult novel; not only does Eli struggle with his identity and maturing responsibilities and relationships, but the mystery itself echoes these themes. Which makes it all the more disappointing that Werlin could not stick the landing.  After close to several hundred pages about characters that are surprisingly raw and real, and a setting that is possible if not entirely probable, Werlin turns her realistically arrogant villain into a cartoon for no obvious reason other than to end with a lecture on the dangers of gene therapy. It’s a let down for readers who have been waiting to see how everything turns out and insulting to teens intelligence, as if they could not understand a more nuanced and ambiguous ending.

Reader’s Annotation:

Working with the exalted Dr. Wyatt of Wyatt Transgenics is supposed to be about solving the mysteries of science, but for Eli it’s also a way to try to uncover the secrets of his past.

Author Information:

http://www.nancywerlin.com/

http://www.facebook.com/nancy.werlin

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

It has an interesting premise and characters, so I would likely stick with that.  I don’t know that I would ever booktalk this title though, because I don’t think I believe in it enough to sell it.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

While the book tackles a controversial subject (and does so, in the end, in a heavy handed matter) it is not a particular lycontroversial topic in terms of adults getting nervous that teens may know or talk about it.  The sex discussed in the book is more likely to result in controversy.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I am a bit of a nerd so the idea of a science mystery appealed to me, especially when the book in question also won an Edgar Award.

Previous Older Entries