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.

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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.

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.

Feed

cover image for FeedAnderson, M.T. (2002) Feed. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press

Plot Summary:

Titus is hooked up 24/7 to FeedNet via an implant he received at birth, which gives him a direct line from his brain to all the internet has to offer.  While spending spring break on the moon, Titus and his friends run into Violet.  Violet isn’t like other girls; for one, her feed is new, she hasn’t had it since infancy.  For another, she isn’t so sure that life is unlivable without it.  In fact, she thinks that for her, life might just be unlivable with it.

Critical Evaluation:

Feed depicts a world in which decisions are made to maximize short term pleasure at the expense of education and culture, and in which class differences and are widened to an alarming and tragic degree. The Feed itself is created and controlled by a conglomerate of corporations, providing even more critique of consumerism and economic inequality.It’s an unusual book and, typical of Anderson’s work, it’s style is not one that will appeal to all teens.  It is, however, thought provoking, fascinating, and stands up well 10 years and several billion new websites later.

Reader’s Annotation:

Titus and his friends went to the moon to have fun, but the only part of that trip that did not suck was meeting Violet.

Author Information:

http://www.mt-anderson.com/

@Manderson_Rules

Genre:

Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

The hook for this will definitely be the idea of the internet jack to your brain.  The trick will be to not make it sound to much like a lecture, or else it will turn kids off.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-17

Potential Controversy:

Most adults would approve of the idea that media dumb down kids (which isn’t necessarily what Anderson is saying, but is what many people will get from it) as well as give respect the praise and awards it has received, but some will not like the accusations aimed at capitalism or the destructed behavior exhibited by the teens in the book.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked Octavian Nothing and I like science fiction, so I figured this would be the perfect combination.  Sadly, not so much, although it was good.

Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

Across the Universe

Recover image for Across the Universevis, Beth. (2011) Across the Universe. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

When Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they know there are risks involved.  They know that when they wake up, everyone they knew will be dead – except for each other.  What they didn’t realize is that the biggest danger to their safety would be a murderer running loose, killing frozen passengers.  Or that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – without her parents and stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Critical Evaluation:

For a generation ship story, this isn’t especially complicated or deep, but it does deal with weighty issues and is a good, solid story.  The whodunit woven into a more traditional science fiction setting was well done and while the romance lacked spark, neither was it annoying.  My favorite part was how Amy’s mobile presence on the ship was clearly meant to be a counterpoint to the classic story “The Cold Equations.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Amy and her parents were cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they knew there are risks involved.  What they didn’t realize is that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Author Information:

http://bethrevis.blogspot.com/

@bethrevis

Genre:

Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Since I think most science fiction fans will have already heard of this, I would focus on the whodunit and romance to try and draw readers in who might like it, but would never think to try it otherwise.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Possible Controversy:

There is murder and arguments for rebellion and non-conformity, but I honestly think most people bothered by that would be more likely to focus on objecting to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Generation ship! for teens!  I do not know that there are really any others, so I had to see if it was any good.

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:

http://www.carrieryan.com/

http://carrie-me.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/AuthorCarrieRyan

@carrieryan

Genre:

Horror

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.

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