The Dark and Hollow Places

cover image for The Dark and Hollow PlacesRyan, Carrie. (2011) The Dark and Hollow Places. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

In this final book of The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, Gabry, Catcher, and Elias are joined by Annah, girl that Elias left behind in the ruins of New York City.  With the horde descending upon the city, death for all seems imminent, but the four friends find shelter in one of the last strongholds of the city, a fortified island defended by what is left of the government and armed forces.  The demands and cruelty of the corrupt and unsympathetic soldiers quickly become life threatening and the teens are forced to concoct a way to escape them as well.

Critical Evaluation:

None of the titles in this series are what you could call “joyful” or “full of light” but this final book takes bleakness to a whole new level.  The title for this book is especially apt, fitting Annah’s emotional turmoil, the state of society overall, and the literal conditions of the ruined city.  There is much food for thought to be found in Annah’s – and her companions’ – refusal to give up on humanity and the clever, creative, and desperate ways they manage to fight what was once upon a time a functioning government.

After my frustrations with the love triangle in the second book, I was especially gratified to discover that Annah’s longing for love and family clearly revolves around all that encompasses rather than simply romance in particular.  Annah not only learns to believe that she is worthy of love from a boy, she also creates a family with Catcher, Elias, and especially Gabry (in more ways than one).  The trust and affection between all of them plays a significant role in allowing them to escape from the totalitarian remnants of civilization.  It also, of course, is meant to act as counterpoint to the selfishness masquerading as pragmatism that is condoned and practiced by the men in control.

Zombie stories are really about society, and this final installment does a fantastic job of exploring morality of survival and sacrifice; by the end of the tale Annah not only lives through the reality that regimes perpetuate horrors as well as protect from them, she is also forced to acknowledge and accept her own mistakes – and the limits of her ability to prevent them.

Reader’s Annotation:

With the horde descending upon the city, death seems imminent for Annah and her friends, so they make one last desperate attempt to escape.

Author Information:




Booktalking Ideas:

This one would work well with a descriptive plot summary, bringing them up to and early, dramatic part of the book (like when the friends meet again on the bridge) and then leaving the rest for them to read.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-19

Possible Controversy:

Death, destruction, attempted rape, murder as sport – and that’s just the beginning.  Every bit of it is shown in order to present moral dilemmas though, and none of it comes across as exploitative.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

While I did not enjoy The Dead-Tossed Waves as much( and was annoyed at the switch to a dead looking and scantily clad girl on the cover) I did like The Forest of Hands and Teeth and figured I would give this a try.


Bad Girls Don’t Die

cover image for Bad Girls Don't DieAlender, Katie. (2009) Bad Girls Don’t Die. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.

Plot Summary:

To say that Alexis and her sister don’t get along would be an understatement.  It doesn’t help that Kasey, always a bit odd, has been acting even weirder lately.  Kasey’s moodiness and obsession with her doll collection are the kinds of thing Alexis can blame on little sisters being little sisters.  But now Kasey can’t seem to remember the weird things that she did, and she’s using words that sounds like they should be coming from someone much older.  And did her eyes just change color?  As much Alexis tries to ignore it, there seems to be something very weird going on.

Critical Evaluation:

I’m not a huge fan of horror novels, so keep that in mind when I say that this story was very well written and kept me on the edge of my seat from the start.It’s hard to write a horror novel for younger adults in which readers actually believe anyone’s little sister is in danger, yet there were times when I wasn’t terribly sure that anyone other than Alexis would make it through.  Alender also does a nice job of having enough roller derby and not too much boyfriend; Carter’s there when you need him, but doesn’t stick around when you don’t – letting the focus be on Kasey and Alexis.

Reader’s Annotation:

Most little sisters do weird things form time to time, but when Kaseys’ eyes change color and her touch burns Alexis’ skin,  Alexis knows something more than just everyday weirdness is going on.


Fantasy and Horror

Booktalking Ideas:

Both the house and Kasey’s actions are downright creepy, I would very much talk about them and ask teens what they would do, where they would turn to if something like this began happening.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

There is a reason why Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark consistently tops ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books.  Kids and teens love horror, but it makes many parents uncomfortable.  On top of the violence there is also the use of motifs that many religious groups find offensive or corrupting, such as curses, ghosts, and other supernatural elements.

Reasons For Choosing This Title:

I’ve got to admit, the cover drew me in.  I knew I needed to read some horror (I’ve read plenty of fantasy) and the cover for this book popped out and caught my eye as I was browsing the bookstore shelves.

Skeleton Creek

cover image for Skeleton CreekCarman, P. (2009)  Skeleton Creek.  New York, NY: Scholastic


Ryan McCray is stuck in his room, courtesy of a monster sized cast, with nothing but nightmares, his journal, and illicit messages from his friend Sarah Fincher to keep him company.  Ryan and Sarah’s parents have forbidden them to contact each other in the aftermath of the accident at the abandoned dredge that left Ryan nearly dead, but Ryan and Sarah have been best friends for forever.  Besides, Sarah has footage from that night – and it looks like it might have been more than just shadows and aging wood that caused him to fall.

This book was Scary with a capital S.  Heck, this book was SCARY and CREEPY as…um…heck?    Sarah’s vids – which are accessed at a website via passwords scattered throughout the book – was a big part of why, but the book itself wasn’t exactly unscary.  Unlike your typical horror movie though, there was plenty of breathing room in between the truly scary parts, which is what makes it just the right amount of scary for older tweens

While it might seem like this is only a gimmick book, it’s also a well-crafted story with a mystery that’s gets even more interesting as things move along, and both the journal and the vids felt fairly genuine.  It’s not just a good series for reluctant readers, it’s a great series period.  Especially with the cliffhanger ending, it was very hard to not run out and read the rest of the trilogy instead of making sure I was reading a variety of types of books. This series is on the top of my list of series to finish.

My only worry is that kids that don’t have easy access to the internet 24/7 may have difficulty following the story and vids in order, which would be rather like trying to read chapters out of order.

Best for ages 11-15

Sarah’s website:

Series website:

Author website:

The Last Apprentice

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare

cover image for Cirque du Freak: A Living NightmareShan, D. (2001) Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.


He knows he’s not supposed to go.  After all, that’s why he goes to all the trouble of sneaking out.  But Darren Shan and his best friend Steve Leonard want nothing more than to go to the questionable and possibly illegal Cirque Du Freak (Circus of Freaks)  – in town for a short time only.  Until they get there, and Darren sees something that he just can’t live without – and it’s revealed that Steve has had something more in mind all along.

Darren is not the most likable of protagonists, but that’s part of what makes this story work.  In a world full of vampires, snake-boys, and spiders that can read your thoughts, the honesty of Darren’s internal conflicts lends believability to the unlikely events of the plot.  It’s clearly meant to be the first in the series – it’s much more a set up than a proper story itself, but it’s delightfully gory, scary, and heart-wrenching; the perfect combination to keep tweens turning the pages.

This first installment isn’t too much for most tweens to handle, but I’ve heard that the series gets progressively darker.

Best for ages 10-16


Author Website:

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch

Delaney, J. (2005) The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.


At thirteen, Tom Ward is at an age where he is expected to begin making his own way in the world – or at least learning how to, in any case.  The problem is, as the youngest child in a large family, there aren’t a whole lot of options left for him.  Jack, the eldest, will inheirit the farm and most of their parent’s meager savings have already gone to paying for apprenticeships for Tom’s older brothers.  Tom isn’t just the youngest, though, he’s also the seventh son of a seventh son, and that makes him the perfect candidate to become the newest apprentice for the local Spook – the shadowy man whose job it is to keep the spirits at bay.  As he leaves his home for the first time, Tom isn’t just worried about being homesick or passing his trial period, he’s worried about living through his inevitable encounters with the things that go bump in the night.


This book was seriously both creepy and scary.  It wasn’t exactly Supernatural level of frightening, but it definitely gave me goosebumps and kept me turning the pages.  It’s also well written, fantastically illustrated, and has characters, themes, and plots with plenty of depth.  Tweens of all ages will love the scary stories and all but the youngest of tweens will also be drawn in by Tom’s moral and emotional dilemnas.

Best for ages 10-14

Awards and Reviews: ALA Best Books for Young Adults

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