The Queen Will Betray You

In the second installment of The Kingdoms of Sand & Sky series, Princess Amarande deals with the aftermath of her fateful wedding. Having killed Prince Renard of Pyrenee, Amarande brought war to the Kingdom of Ardenia. She must return to her home to restore order while her true love, Luca, will return to the Torrent to reclaim his title of Otsakumea, the rightful leader of the Otxazulo, the fallen kingdom that was taken over by the Warlord.

Returning to Ardenia, Amarande is shocked to find her mother, Geneva, also known as the Runaway Queen and Warlord of the Torrent, has returned to Ardenia with Ferdinand, the son of the late King Sendoa. Despite having raised him on her own, Ferdinand is not Geneva’s son, but the son of General Koldo, making him Amarande’s half-brother. Far from a cordial family reunion, Amarande is imprisoned by her mother and declared dead. With Amarande’s absence, Ferdinand takes over as King. To make matters worse, Queen Inés of Pyrenee has vowed to marry King Domingu of Myrcell to fortify their kingdoms and attack Ardenia.

Imprisoned and betrayed by her family with her true love, Luca, miles away, Amarande finds help from an unlikely ally, Prince Taillefer of Pyrenee. The same Prince who tortured Luca to near death in the first novel. Knowing this is her only option for escape, Amarande accepts his help and the two of them escape to the Torrent to be reunited with Luca.

Meanwhile, in the Torrent, Luca finds the Otxazulo resistance and convinces them he is the lost leader of the fallen kingdom. The proof rests in the black wolf tattoo upon his skin. While Luca leads the resistance, Amarande and Taillefer are captured by the regent Warlord, who was appointed by Geneva. Now, Luca must save Amarande and prove, once again, that their love will survive any conflict.

At the brink of war, Luca leads the Otxazulo resistance to Amarande where she is rescued, and the regent Warlord is killed. Taillefer also escapes to kill his mother and reclaim Pyrenee as his own. Only Geneva is left for Amarande to defeat. However, facing her mother in an intense duel, Amarande is wounded and Geneva flees, leaving Amarande and Luca with a broken kingdom they must rebuild in the next chapter of their story.

The second book in this series has another fast-paced, action-packed plot, making it very engaging and easy to read. There is, however, a significant amount of graphic violence making it more suitable for older readers. Like the first book, the novel deals with the themes of true love, but there is also an emphasis on the importance of loyalty and trust as Amarande must decide who to put her trust in and who is worthy of forgiveness.

Amarande and Luca are kind, dedicated, and inspiring protagonists, but their characters are still undeveloped. Their love story is clear but lacks depth. This is addressed when Taillefer asks Amarande, “is Luca really your true love or just all you’ve known?” While it is unclear why Amarande and Luca are together, the uncomplicated history of their relationship makes for a sweet and pure romance. Overall, this is a fitting read for fans of The Princess Bride who enjoy wholesome romance with lots of action and adventure.

Sexual Content

  • Safe and far away from Pyrenee, Amarande kisses Luca “softly, mindful of his wounds. But her love was stronger than he seemed and put gentle fingers in her auburn hair, pulling her closer, deeper.” Soon, Amarande pulls away. After discussing their next adventure, Amarande “dropped another kiss on his lips, then up the line of his jaw.”
  • Before saying goodbye, “Amarande kissed Luca one last time—hard. As hard as she wished she had before he was kidnapped. As hard as she did when it was clear they’d escaped Pyrenee alive. As hard as she could—this kiss would have to hold her for days, if not weeks, or months.”
  • Queen Geneva refers to General Koldo as a “whore general.”
  • Amarande recalls the time on the pirate ship “she’d slept next to the bed in the captain’s quarters, holding [Luca’s] hand from her spot on the floorboards. He would’ve lain there, too, if the pain weren’t so great. Her stubbornness won out yet again.”
  • Happy to be reunited with Luca, “Amarande kissed him then. Eyes closed, mouth hungry, her whole mess of a body folded into Luca’s warmth. His arms tightened around her, a hand snaking through her hair and to her neck.”
  • Before returning to the fight, “Luca pressed another fevered kiss to Amarande’s lips, the princess shutting her eyes and drinking it in until, with one last gentle sweep of a thumb against her cheek, he drew away.”
  • Before facing her evil mother, Amarande showers Luca with kisses “to his spine. His shoulder blade—one, and then the other. Up his neck. Again, behind the ear—one, two. She settled the curve of her throat over his shoulder, her chin coming to rest on his collarbone, parched lips at his ear.”
  • After the battle with Geneva, Luca visits Amarande who is recovering in bed. He kisses Amarande and when she decides she is “strong enough to kiss him back, she did so, moving her hands to his hair, keeping Luca where she wanted him until she realized they weren’t alone.”

Violence

  • When Queen Geneva reveals her plans to imprison her daughter, Amarande draws her sword to attack but is thwarted by a hand clenching her neck, “squeezing precisely on the artery that supplies oxygen to the brain. An arm gripped around her middle—an arm clad in garnet-and-gold regalia.” Amarande faints and is brought to her cell.
  • Ula offers to clean Luca’s torture wounds. Luca confesses, “the sting of the process was one of a thousand bees under the skin, but the pain was minor in comparison with what he’d felt in the past week. And the wound looked only a little better, the skin bruised and raw with inflammation that ran down the whole hand-length gash in the middle of his chest, just beside his wolf tattoo. The flat black sutures were tight, straining to keep the swollen edges of flesh together.” His wounds are slowly healing.
  • Trying to look out the window of her prison, Amarande hoists herself up the wall using a bit of cloth. However, the “cloth tore and before she could lunge for another grip or pull her feet from the wall, Amarande fell with a resounding thud, the back of her head bashing into the stone floor.” Amarande feels a bit disoriented from the fall, but she is more frustrated than hurt.
  • Amarande’s brother, Ferdinand visits her in her prison cell to make peace, but Amarande refuses his offer; “the moment he was in range Amarande’s boot struck out and made jarring contact with his kneecap.” Amarande tries to attack again but, “Ferdinand was ready, grabbing her boot and yanking at it, trying to wrest it off with both hands. She pulled back, but he held fast, even managing to keep the dagger in his grip. Amarande’s other foot shot out and clocked his left hand. His grip faltered, he dropped his dagger, and she drove her heel hard into his knee yet again.” Soon, Ferdinand gains the upper hand. As Amarande hesitates, he removes a dagger from his boot, throwing it through the air. “The knife pinning her right between the tendons that sewed her knuckles in place. Impaled, Amarande’s hand flew open, dropping the dagger.” Ferdinand then removes the blade from her hand. “He braced her wrist against the wall with the other hand and, in one smooth motion, removed the blade,” but, “Amarande didn’t cry out, even as stars swirled in her vision and blood began to pour from her hand.”
  • While traveling through the Torrent, some of the Warlord’s men try to capture Luca by attacking his crew with fire. Ula, however, wouldn’t let them and “a fist-sized fireball shot over Luca’s shoulder, plowing straight into the leader’s gut.” The man “fell back, tunic and skin suddenly aflame. His bandana slid down as he hit the dry ground behind him, his face distorted with panic as he screamed horrifically.”
  • Before the other servants of the Warlord could retaliate, Ula’s “blade cut the stout one down with a blow to his wide upper back, and his grip upon Luca immediately died as he fell away.” Urtzi and Osana, friends of Luca’s, come to the rescue as Urtzi hits the other two men “with his own bucket and the glass jug. The instant the caustic antiseptic made contact, the torches shuddered and exploded,” and “all three men suddenly were ablaze.” The Warlord’s men are burnt to death, but Luca and his friends escape.
  • Luca and his group come across the dead body of their friend, Erfu. Urtzi examines the body and describes a “dart in his neck and an assassin’s smile. Slowed him down and then sliced him open. His tunic is torn, too—they checked his tattoo. Carved an X through it.”
  • Escaping from her prison cell, Amarande takes out her guard who “only seemed to register Amarande in the split second before the hilt of her sword crashed down upon the guardswoman’s temple.”
  • While fleeing Ardenia with Amarande, Taillefer kills a guard. “In the twitch of a moment, Taillefer’s free hand seized the guard’s dagger from the sheath at his belt, and sank it into the soft meat of the boy’s side.”
  • Amarande and Taillefer come across several dead bodies that “lined the creek bank—two, three . . . no, five—and two more floated in the shallow waters. No blood stained their sun-bleached clothes, no stab wounds obvious, no wounds at all.” Amarande discovers the water had been poisoned.
  • In the Torrent, Amarande and Taillefer encounter members of the resistance. Not trusting Amarande, “a knife shot out of the man’s hand, and the princess dove to the side. She rolled to her feet, dagger out and ready. His companion immediately rushed at her, sword tip aimed straight at Amarande’s belly. The princess pivoted and flattened, and the woman crashed forward under the weight of her driving weapon. As she fell to the dirt, Amarande immediately smashed the blunt hilt of her dagger down upon the back of her skull, rendering her unconscious.”
  • While Amarande fought with the resistance group, Taillefer battles a wild wolf. The wolf’s “paws connected with Taillefer’s chest and shoved him to the ground. He struggled to push away the animal’s jaws as the whole of the wolf’s weight was on him now, the snarling beast holding all the leverage.”
  • Taillefer and Amarande escape their battle only when the man pushes Amarande into a sand hole. The man’s “boot connected with her twisting back. The blow knocked the princess off-balance and she stumbled forward, her exhausted body lunging for solid ground. Where there wasn’t any.” Amarande tumbles into a hidden cave and Taillefer follows. They are bruised and sore, but alive.
  • After poisoning King Domingu, Queen Inés “did not release Domingu’s chin as he thrashed, words burbling up through the white foam on his lips.” He dies moments later.
  • At one of the Warlord’s camps, Taillefer was lifted into the air by a giant man. Amarande tries to save him, “but the movement she’d anticipated didn’t come—the prince’s body was tossed vertically, not horizontally. And, as he plummeted back toward the cracked earth, the man’s leg shot out and his boot connected with Taillefer’s gut. The crunch of a shattered rib reverberated in the air, a cry escaping into the new dawn with it. Taillefer landed in a heap, blood rolling out of his mouth.” Taillefer’s ribs are broken.
  • Amarande and Taillefer fight with followers of the Warlord until “something thunked hard against Amarande’s temple, tossing her off-balance. Her opponent used that split second to roll onto the princess, driving Amarande’s face into the sandy earth as she sat atop the princess’s back, pinning her in a way that left all of Amarande’s fight useless.” Amarande and Taillefer are captured to be brought to the Warlord.
  • To prove her ruthlessness, the Regent Warlord orders those who do not comply with her to be burned in a fire pit. She will spare only one of them if they “fight to the death—disfigurement, loss of consciousness, and general injury do not count. You have to be the last living, breathing person standing.” From her confinement, Amarande watched the “human kindling. Hopes and dreams consumed nightly, reduced to flesh, fat, skin, and sinew, until there was nothing left to burn.” Then, she heard “the unmistakable sigh of a blade carving the breath from a man’s throat. One. Two. Two bodies draped gently on the ground. One. Two.”
  • When Luca reveals himself to the Warlord, more chaos erupts. There is “blood spray, bodies tumbling into the pit, the fire roaring and coughing smoke with each addition. Daggers and swords met in violent, reverberating clangs. Boots crunched bones, and live bodies, shrieking to the stars.” In the chaos, the Warlord “was sent headfirst into her own flames.” She is burnt to death.
  • Taillefer is fighting for his life against the Warlord’s men with his “hands in a fury, going for all the soft spots on the soldier’s face—ears, eyes, lips. The prince’s forearm caught the boy’s windpipe, and his head flew back with a crack, sucking cry escaping from his lips.” He escapes.
  • While escaping her prison cart, Amarande notices “her arm was bleeding from her shoulder through the length of her forearm, the wood of the fractured cart taking a sliding bite on the way down.” Ula stitches up Amarande’s wounds later.
  • To defeat his mother, Queen Inés, Taillefer stabs her guard and “twisted and removed a dagger from where it had been lodged in the soldier’s liver for hours on end.” The soldier bleeds out and dies. Taillefer then throws poison on his mother, burning her skin and killing her. “The tincture had dissolved the skin at her throat, the meat of her exposed, veins and capillaries burned back like parchment blackening and curling in flame before vanishing altogether.”
  • While Amarande converses with the Royal Council members, Geneva violently enters the room and “one guard and then another fell to the floor, assassin’s smiles carved across their throats, blood gushing onto the collars of their regal Ardenian uniforms.”
  • While fighting, Geneva thrust her blade “straight for the vulnerable flesh of Luca’s unprotected torso.” Luca is wounded but not killed. Next, Geneva turns to fight Amarande. “Geneva smashed her body backward, driving Amarande even harder against the wall, so hard that her skull thudded off the unforgiving stone with a terrific crack.” General Koldo attempts to save Amarande by attacking Geneva from behind, but she is thwarted when Geneva thrusts her into a table. “[Koldo] was bleeding from the head, a huge gash over her eye from where she’d made contact with the massive piece of scrolled furniture.”
  • When the action subsides, Luca notices he had accidently struck Taillefer in the neck with his dagger. Luca watches as “blood framed each of his teeth in stark red, as if he’d sunk them into a still-beating heart.” Luca then saw the “weak slice to the jugular.” Taillefer slowly dies from the loss of blood.
  • Amarande is stabbed in the leg by her mother. She tries to overpower Geneva with her good leg, but Geneva “thrust a thumb straight into Amarande’s leg wound, and the princess’s body seized as she cried out, vision fading to white. Her mother shoved Amarande and her blade aside, and scrambled free.” Amarande begins to lose consciousness with “all her adrenaline tapped, blood pooling under her body from her leg, arm, somewhere else.” Amarande survives, but her mother escapes.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hell is used once. When Amarande is brought to the Warlord, she curses by saying “stars and hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

We All Looked Up

Ardor, a newfound asteroid, is barreling towards the earth—coming closer and closer each day. The threat of Ardor becomes clear as it is determined to have the capability to wipe out the entirety of civilization. Suddenly the simple lives of four teens doesn’t seem so cut and dry anymore. Given a few weeks left to live, the four find themselves contemplating life and what they want out of it.

Andy, Anita, Eliza, and Peter—four unsuspecting students at the same high school – find themselves intertwined in the lives of each other when an asteroid threatens to demolish the earth. Peter finds himself questioning if all there is to life is sports and the prospect of growing old. Andy has never cared about anyone or anything other than his best friend Bobo, but suddenly that changes when Anita comes into his life. Since the day she was born, Anita has only ever known the pressure to go to Princeton and fulfill the investment that her family has made in her. And Eliza finds art to be more reliable and kinder than any friend has proven to be. In the past, the four have passed each other in the hallway and only made off-handed comments to one another when no one is around. They have carried on with their lives and kept to their social crowds . . . until an asteroid threatens their planet.

Anita runs away from the restrictions of her family and becomes roommates with Andy as they pursue a music career and hope to perform at the end of the world concert. Peter has found the courage to declare his love for Eliza, even though they have an exceptionally bad history. Andy has no idea what he wants, but he knows that his best friend Bobo is acting crueler than usual. And Eliza begins photographing the pre-apocalyptic version of Seattle and posting it on Tumblr which quickly earns her more fame than she would like.

As the asteroid gets closer, the four go from strangers to friends. They confide in each other, plan an end of the world party, and defend Peter’s sister from her boyfriend and a drug dealer. They even break a bunch of teenagers out of a juvenile detention center. Four distinctly different characters come together and showcase that sometimes there is a comfort that comes from being seen by those you never thought were looking in the first place.

We All Looked Up gives the reader a unique glimpse into the thoughts of teenagers who grapple with the threat of the end of the world. Overall, the development of the characters is strong. But the societal labels put on the four main characters can come off a bit cliché, especially with the novel being set in high school. Each chapter alternates between Peter’s, Anita’s, Andy’s, and Eliza’s point of view, which allows the reader to get a glimpse into the inner thoughts of each character. While the actions of some of the characters are not exactly likable, they are entirely relatable. Coming from a teenager’s vantage point, it is easy to understand their reactions and missteps add a sense of realness to the story that elevates it for the reader.

The plot examines adult topics such as toxic relationships, drug and alcohol use, mental illness, self-harm, and gang-related violence. In addition, the scenes pertaining to violence are graphic and may disturb sensitive readers. If you’re looking for a story with a happy ending, potentially forego reading We All Looked Up due to the serious topics and melancholy conclusion. However, We All Looked Up is a good read for those who like to contemplate life’s what-ifs. For each trial the characters face, readers are reminded of the fact that everyone is just trying their best at life. People work constantly to exceed and yet can still fall short, but there is beauty in the fact that you can get up and try again. We All Looked Up reminds us that there is no better time than the present to start making the most of every day we have because no one knows exactly how many more precious days they have left to live.

Sexual Content

  • Eliza’s dad refers to her best friend Madeline as “a stripper dressed up as a prostitute for Halloween.”
  • Bobo (Andy’s best friend and Misery’s boyfriend) makes a bet with Andy. Andy must lose his virginity to Eliza before Ardor hits, or he has to pay Bobo $1,000. Andy says, “Come on, it’s inevitable. You’re the biggest virgin at Hamilton, and she’s the biggest slut. You’re just working the odds.”
  • Eliza recounts making out with Peter in the art room and being caught. “He sat her down on the table, still kissing her, his tongue rough in her mouth, and his hands were making their way up her shirt when the lights flickered on. A skinny blond girl stood between the black curtains in the doorway, her mouth agape, like some cartoon character expressing shock.”
  • Eliza brings a guy home with her from the bar, and it is alluded to that they have sex. “It took her fifteen minutes in front of the bathroom mirror to scrape away the telltale signs of an alcohol fueled one-night stand.”
  • After being caught making out with Peter, Eliza goes to school and sees that the word “S-L-U-T” painted on her locker. “By the time Eliza got to school the next morning, someone had already spray-painted her locker, one huge black word with four capital letters: S-L-U-T.”
  • Eliza mentions losing her virginity. “In reality, she’d never had a serious boyfriend, and she’d lost her virginity practically by accident at a summer camp for blossoming artists, to a pale Goth boy who only painted wilted flowers.”
  • Anita and Andy have sex before they perform at the concert. “‘I don’t want to die a virgin,’ Anita said. She immediately covered her face with her hands. ‘I know it’s crazy to say that right now, with everything that’s happened, but it’s the truth.’ She straightened up, took a deep breath, and looked him straight in the eye. ‘I like you. If you’re into it, then I’m into it.’”
  • Peter and Eliza have sex at the release party at the detention center. “Misery was one. Hopefully, she’d gotten a ride home. He had no idea what he’d say to his parents if he had to show up without her. Sorry, but I got distracted having sex with this girl I cheated on Stacey with last year. You’re going to love her.”
  • Eliza and Andy drunkenly kiss and begin to remove each other’s clothing. They proceed to almost have sex before Anita walks in and Eliza runs out of the room. “But as Eliza felt his hand drop down between her legs, as she unconsciously ground against him with her hips, she felt the wrongness of what she was doing crash like an asteroid against the plant-size need to connect with someone, with anyone, and she pushed him off her with a fury that she knew he wouldn’t understand.”
  • Another inmate asks Eliza if she would sleep with him. “You don’t know me, but I’m a really nice person. And I think you’re absolutely beautiful. If you tell me to go, I’ll go. But, I’d love to hook up with you, and because it’s the end of the world and we’re stuck here, I figured I might as well ask.”

Violence

  • Andy talks about the cop that is standing at the end of the football field of the high school and mentions his gun. He states, “Andy half expected him to whip out his sidearm and mow them all down.”
  • Peter gets brutally beaten by Golden and Bobo. At one point, Golden instructs Peter to put his hands behind his back to allow Bobo to attack him even further. “‘Hands behind your back,’ Golden said. He had the gun trained on Peter’s forehead. ‘Bobo, tie him up. He’ll probably kick your ass by accident otherwise.’”
  • Andy tases Peter with the encouragement of Bobo. “At first, Andy thought Peter was playacting-quaking and quivering like a fish just pulled out of the water, little grunts coming out of his slack mouth. Then his knees buckled and his forehead collided with the pavement. His body went still.”
  • Peter punches Bobo in the face after he makes a foul remark about Eliza. “A black blur of movement, a meaty thunk. Bobo was suddenly bent over, holding his hands to his stomach. And there was Peter, appearing out of nowhere, like some kind of superhero.”
  • Police intervene at a rally being held and begin to use tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • Eliza tries to talk to a cop and he detains her instead. “The cop wretched Eliza’s arm behind her back, and then he was carrying her away, back beyond the wall of shields.”
  • Eliza, Misery, Bobo, and Kevin get detained and put into a juvenile detention center for being at the rally.
  • Andy references the suicide pact that he had with Bobo and how he was unable to go through with it. “He called Bobo’s cell as soon as he realized he couldn’t go through with it, but there was no answer, so he called the police. Later on, a paramedic told him it had come down to just a few minutes.”
  • Andy and Bobo steal a guitar from the mall and witness others looting.
  • Bobo kidnaps Misery and keeps her held hostage at the hotel he is staying at.
  • Anita shoots Golden. “‘What happened to Golden?’ Peter asked. ‘I shot him,’ Anita said. There was no remorse in her voice.”
  • Eliza stabs Bobo. “He slid off her, onto the floor, and she jumped on top of him, preparing for the next assault. But he didn’t move. She’d aimed for the heart and she’d found it.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Andy says he wants to “smoke a bowl.”
  • Andy mentions that Bobo’s dad was in an alcohol treatment facility.
  • Peter and Andy successfully get the detention center to release the juvenile occupants, the protestors have a large party in the detention center. There is a lot of alcohol provided and everyone is heavily intoxicated.
  • The characters frequently drink out of a bottle of alcohol or finish a bottle of alcohol.

Language

  • Profanity is used regularly and includes words such as shit, fuck, and ass.
  • Bobo is said to be able to “chat up the crackheads and gangbangers.”
  • Eliza is talking about her encounter with Peter with her father and says, “He can fuck off and die for all I care.”
  • When Eliza goes to see her father, he says “Gaga’s a fucking hag next to you.”
  • The term slut is used frequently.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Peter admits that he is a “Christian”, while Eliza confesses that she doesn’t believe in God.
  • As Ardor makes contact with the earth, Eliza finds herself “praying for forgiveness. Praying for grace. Praying for mercy.”

by Cassady McIntyre

Genesis

Noah has died again. Now he is determined to live. After an asteroid destroys the Earth, the planet is left in the hands of Fire Lake’s sophomore class.  After being murdered and uploaded into a simulation, the group of 64 students is left to duke it out and hopefully make it through the Guardian’s game. There are no rules, but repeatedly dying has trained Noah. Now, he plans to lead the strong into the future. At any cost.

Min Wilder knows that survival isn’t enough. In a world where violence is king, Min rebels against allowing others to determine who lives and who dies. She will fight for what is right. She will fight against anyone who stands in her way.

The second book of Project Nemesis follows the same group of kids, alternating perspectives between Min, Tack, and Noah. The kids are told by the Guardian, the one in charge of the computer program, that they must fight each other to make it through the program and eventually return to real life. He claims that the simulation will only allow the strongest and smartest to return to the real world. This spurs the kids to form groups and turn on one another as their existence becomes a fight for survival.

Min, Tack, and Noah all take separate journeys and handle the violence and new reality differently. Min refuses to bow to the moral pits that the violence keeps tugging the students into. Tack completely gives himself over to the violence, willing to do anything to make it out alive. And Noah believes completely in the program’s rules, until Min reminds him of his humanity. All three teenagers’ journeys spotlight different ways of handling grief, trauma, and catastrophe. The students’ struggle with whom to trust and what to believe is both interesting and thought-provoking.

In order to fully understand Genesis, readers need to read Nemesis first. Reichs does an excellent job of incorporating past events from Nemesis into the story; the short reminders help the reader stay engaged. However, what makes the reader keep turning the pages are the intriguing situations the students face—the story has non-stop action and startling surprises.

Genesis is extremely violent and has an outrageous storyline. While it takes some faith from readers, this story does an excellent job navigating this unique plot. Genesis will keep the readers guessing until the very end. Readers who enjoy suspense and adventure will enjoy the plot twists and action sequences. Readers who are fans of Maze Runner will want to pick up the Project Nemesis series.

Sexual Content

  • Tack says Noah is “too busy roasting people like marshmallows, or making out with his hunting knife” to look for him and Min.
  • Toby volunteers to take Min back to the jail in town. Min says, “Screw you, Toby.” He replies, “You offering?” As they start back into town, he “put a hand to the small of my (Min’s) back. He left it there for a few paces, then ran his fingers up and over my bra strap.”
  • Min announces that she’s willing to sacrifice herself so the group can make it to Phase Three. Noah is filled with emotion and insists that she’s their leader. Noah then kisses Min “in front of the others. His touch was electric, and soft, and sad.” Noah insists that he should be the one to sacrifice himself. Min says, “‘Don’t leave me, okay? I forgive you. I . . . I love you.’ I kissed him then, hard on the mouth.”
  • Right before Noah and Min get in their tubes to be regenerated, they share a kiss. “Then Noah’s lips found mine and I wrapped my arms around him, squeezing, losing myself in his warmth. . . I grabbed him again and mashed his face with another kiss.”

Violence

  • A group of kids is ambushed as they are sneaking through the woods. Their rivals who ambushed them start shooting. “Zach dropped like a puppet with its strings cut, a dark stain spreading. . .Morgan’s body jerked . . .Then she slumped onto her butt, blubbering, glossy liquid spilling from her mouth.” Later in the scene, the rest of the group gets away and sets fire to a cabin with the rivals inside. The people inside screamed and were locked inside as the cabin burned down. The people are not described as they are dying.
  • Chris and Mike kill Min by locking her in an elevator and blowing up the cables. “The wall exploded, shards of metal lacerating my arms and legs. Flames licked my skin. . . My legs smashed up into my body. The roof slammed down on top of me.”
  • While on their way to the Silo, Min and Tack run into Neb who is staying at a summer camp with four others. While talking, “Neb spun sideways. . . gasping in confusion as a red bloom spread across his chest.” Two kids are attacking the camp, and one shoots Min and Tack with an assault rifle. It is not depicted in any detail.
  • Min is ambushed. When the three assailants try to capture her, one “caught a fist in his teeth for his trouble.” They put a bag over her head and tie her up.
  • Devin drops some food, and Ethan overreacts. “. . . he raised his gun and shot Devin in the stomach.” Devin doesn’t die immediately, so Ethan shoots him again. This is all done with the understanding that he will revive at one of the reset points.
  • Zach, part of the team trying to ransack a store, gets shot in an ambush. “. . . a line of bullets ripped into his jacket.” Then Noah shoots the sniper who killed Zach. The sniper “toppled forward and fell to the sidewalk with a sickening crunch. . . leaving a wide smear on the icy concrete.”
  • The convenience store is blown up. A couple of kids standing in front of the store were shot and killed. One of them “had been tossed face-first into the gutter and was smoldering with tiny flames. The victim, a girl, lay unnaturally, her neck twisted too far around.”
  • In order to give Min an extra life, Tack tricks her into shooting him and causing him to reset. It is not described in any detail.
  • Noah and another kid use machine guns to shoot a group of kids following them. No details are given.
  • In order to escape the jail and show up at the reset points, Akio and a couple of other kids used a fork to kill themselves. “The most horrifying jailbreak in history—a human murder chain. . . Ran myself into a wall.”
  • Noah and Tack get in a fistfight. Noah’s “left fist flew, striking Tack across the face. . . Punching. Kicking. Clawing. . .” The fight lasts two pages.
  • Tack, Noah, and their team try to ambush Ethan’s group but instead get ambushed themselves. “The barrel hit him chest-high and broke open, covering him in flaming liquid. Richie screamed. . . he collapsed in seconds. . . A tongue of red enveloped Jamie. She made a sickly screaming sound, a red stream leaking from her mouth.” Tack and Noah throw grenades, and “Toby’s left leg was missing. . . Toby put his gun in his mouth and calmly pulled the trigger.”Noah gets ambushed. “The first shot took me in the shin. The second struck my side.”
  • Min must shoot Noah four times to even her life count. Noah “was lying on the ground in a puddle of warm, slick blood. . . I was down again. The drop cloth was soaked through with dark red liquid. . . I closed my eyes as she thrust the gun barrel against my forehead. . . Bang. Bang. Bang.
  • Ethan’s group and Min’s group attack each other. Over twenty kids are involved in the fighting. “Then Kyle stood over his body, unloading on Chris every time he tried to get up. . . Dropping his gun, he unsheathed a KA-BAR knife from his belt and stabbed Leighton in the chest. . . Before he could fire, Ethan tried to tackle him, but Toby sidestepped in a blink and tripped him, then shot Ethan five times in the back.” The fighting lasts six pages.
  • Tack sacrifices himself to get the group to Phase Three of the program. “Tack put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At the beginning of the simulation, Sarah “destroyed the liquor store the first week. I let Cash and Finn get drunk and smash everything.”

Language

  • “Jesus” and “God” are used as exclamations.
  • Profanity is used extensively. Profanity includes: “jackass, “ass,” “fucking,” “fuck,” “hell,” “damn,” “crap,” “freaking,” “assholes,” “pissed,” “bastards,” “shit,” “bullshit,” “bitch,” “bitchin’,” “goddamn,” “douchebag,” and “prick.”
  • Derrick says, “Sarah’s lost her damn mind.”Casey
  • is upset when Noah acts like only the boys are good at fighting. “‘Since when did sex matter?’ Casey shouted. . . ‘Don’t count up penises and assume you know the score.’”
  • Ferris walked across the valley to get to Noah’s house. He says that the lake was, “colder than Santa’s balls with that wind.”
  • Noah asks Tack to eliminate him. “No way, Noah. . . Fuck you, Noah! You want to play Jesus, do it your goddamn self.”

Supernatural

  • In the program, the kids figure out that as they kill each other, they gain strength and powers from the confirmed kill.

Spiritual Content

  • While traveling across the valley to try and unite the groups of kids against Ethan, Tack jokes, “So we’re not seeking converts along the way? . . . This is the worst mission trip ever.”
  • Min is worried she will be captured or killed by those after her. “Pray to God Noah isn’t sitting there waiting for me. Pray to God? Or the Guardian?
  • Min says a small prayer because she believes that Sarah cannot manipulate the program.
  • Min is nervous when she learns that Sarah actually has the power to manipulate the program on her own. “Sarah was playing God, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.”
  • Sarah discovers how to change the program. Derrick says, “Sarah acting like the voice of God.”
  • To even people’s numbers, Hector needs to shoot someone. He refuses, saying, “My religion forbids it.”

by Hannah Neeley

 

 

The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond

Jack and his friends are looking forward to their first Christmas celebration since the monster apocalypse. Jack wants to show the monsters the joy of sledding, snowball battles, and gift giving. But their winter plans are put on hold when an evil human villainess begins hunting them.

The villainess hopes to create a portal to bring Ghazt, the general of the undead, to Earth. But first she needs Jack’s monster-slaying tool, the Louisville Slicer. When his prized weapon is stolen, will Jack and his friends be able to get it back? Will they be able to stop the villainess’s evil plan?

The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond takes a step back from monster fighting and focuses more on the kids’ winter activities. In order to show the monsters that snow is fun, the kids do a series of snow activities including ice fishing and snowball fights. But the activities make the “monsters extra freaked out. They’ve become afraid of snow in both flake form and ball form.” Readers will laugh as Jack and his friends try to show the monsters their traditions. Through these humorous scenes, readers will learn the importance of understanding different cultures. The story shows that some people may find different traditions strange because they have never heard of them.

Like the previous books, the story will keep readers entertained with its fast pace, funny scenes, and epic battles. The easy-to-read text contains dialogue bubbles, alliteration, and onomatopoeias that make reading the story a joy. The black and white illustrations that appear on almost every page bring the kids’ world to life as well as add humor.

At first, The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond may look like just another graphic novel. But the characters are surprisingly well developed and readers will come away with a valuable lesson about the importance of community. When Jack and the kids seek out a Warg, Jack realizes that “maybe she was watching because she felt that feeling, that’s the worst of all feelings. That feeling of being, like, left out?”

This story can be understood without reading the previous books in the series, but for maximum enjoyment readers should read the books in order. Readers will enjoy The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond. The story keeps the same humorous, non-frightening format as the previous books.

Sexual Content

  • Jack has a crush on June. At one point, June “looks deep into my (Jack’s) eyes. I’m wondering if this might be sort of a romantic moment or something. . .” It’s not.
  • When Dirk is bitten by a zombie, he is “stretched out on the poker table. . . I expected it to be like a scene from one of those TB shows with doctors running around emergency rooms. You know the ones, where they spend like half their time saving lives and the other half making out in the hospital closets?”
  • Meathook grabs Jack, and his “gray-purple tongue snaps and smacks me across the face. I half expect it to follow that with a French kiss of death.” Meathook grabs Jack’s weapon and then lets him go.

Violence

  • While catapulting in a sled, the kids jump out of the sled before they slam into a monster. “There’s a gulp—and the great beast’s belly rumbles. The sled has been swallowed.”
  • An “above ground-like octopus” attacks Jack. Before the monster can hurt him, “a rolling library cart slams into the monster. There’s a wet SPLAT and the monster is suddenly airborne, sailing across the library.”
  • A zombie tries to bite Jack, but June stops the zombie by putting her gum in its mouth.
  • An evil human villainess captures the kids. In order to escape, Jack throws “a handful of dry, shredded gum into her face.”
  • Meathook tries to smash the kids, but they use a string of lights to try to trip him. Jack “sees the string of lights snapping in the air and then—THWACK!—the harpoon slams into Meathook’s scaly hide.” The trick does not work, but “the string of lights circle around me (Jack). My butt’s jerked from the seat.” During this battle, a zombie bites Dirk. Evie grabs Jack, but then, “a pair of zombies soars past our heads. Like, airborne undead. . .Another zombie sails past us. Its pinwheeling arms nearly take Evie’s head off. . . ” The scene is described over seven pages.
  • Meathook grabs Dirk. Jack sees Dirk, “sagging, spinning, hanging from the monster’s tongue.” The two disappear.
  • In an epic battle that takes place over several chapters, Meathook tries to stop Jack and the others from helping Dirk. “His one massive paw swipes, slashing the air, engulfing me. . . Quint cries. He’s scooped up, too. Our heads clonk tougher and my world spins.” Meathook captures all three kids.
  • Jack escapes Meathook and jumps on Evie’s back. “It’s a whole hero-villainess piggyback situation. My hands grasp her cloak.”
  • Jack and his friends have been “overrun by the undead. . . the zombies are on us! Quint’s robes are shredded! Teeth sink into June’s shoulder pads! A dripping mouth on Quint’s wrist. Hands tearing open my big white puffy pants. . . The zombies are flung backward on the heels. It’s like they’re being yanked by invisible strings.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crud is used twice. When a monster goes to hit Quint, Jack yells “crud.”
  • Dirk calls Jack a dork. Later he calls the evil villainess’s zombies “her dork collection.”
  • Freaking is used once.
  • Ghazt tells Evie she is a fool twice.
  • Evie calls Jack an “idiot boy.”

Supernatural

  • A new monster appears called Meathook. His characteristics include, “Big fist! Powerful Paw! Action Arm!”
  • Monsters that look like eyeballs appear. When Jack sees the “goo-ball things” he thinks, “It’s a reminder of just how bizarre the world is now that the sight of a rolling, gooey, eyeball creature only medium weirds us out.”
  • Warg has “spiny bone tentacles, and an outer eyeball layer. When the monster stomps on the floor, “at once the eyeballs roll toward her. They leap up, veering at her like some coat of peeping pupils.”
  • Ghazt is the general of the undead.
  • Dirk begins turning into a zombie. When Dirk moans, “it’s an awful combo cry: a howling human and a groaning zombie, mushed into one awful noise.”
  • Something happens to the Louisville Slicer that makes it “different. It has some new power because of what happened.”

Spiritual Content

  • Evie, an evil human villainess, is a worshiper of the Destructor of Worlds. While trying to understand the villainess, the kids find a book that explains that the worshipers want to build a portal. Quint explains, “Apparently, these worshipers had some success. They called themselves the Cabal of the Cosmic. . . Any creature can be a Servant—they need not be from a specific dimension.”
  • The evil human villainess plans to use a three-step ritual to bring an evil being from another dimension. Part of the ritual is to “capture an undead human being. . . place the artifact in the zombified human’s hands to open a portal, allowing Ghazt to enter the zombified body. Ghazt will then take control of that person’s body. Forever.”

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