The Ghost

From the day Emily rescued her dog, Zack, they have always shared a special connection—they can read each other’s minds. And since Zack can sense when someone is in danger, they’ve been using their special powers to help save people.

But now Emily and Zack have discovered something new. They can see ghosts! And one ghost, in particular, needs their help. Shocked by her new discovery, Emily is determined to find out who this ghost is and why he is haunting her town. But if Emily and Zack are the only ones who can see the ghost, how can they get anyone to believe them? Will they be able to help in time, or will the ghost be doomed to haunt the earth forever?

The third installment of the Dog Whisperer Series has a unique premise but unfortunately lacks development and action. Emily and Zack save a woman from a fire, but the incident is so out of place that it lacks emotional impact. Likewise, many of the story’s scenes are not developed enough to make the reader care about the outcome. For example, when Emily meets a ghost, their interactions are not exciting. Instead, when Emily talks to the ghost, the ghost gives vague answers that are confusing. Even though Emily helps the ghost, the ending is predictable and lacks action.

Emily, who is biracial and adopted, asks her parents about her birth mother. Emily is upset that her birth mother doesn’t want to meet Emily. Throughout the story, Emily is trying to work through her feelings about her birth mother. To complicate matters, Emily is upset that her birth mother has other children who she did keep. While Emily’s feelings are understandable, nothing is resolved.

Even though Emily is a likable character, readers will find the lack of action and plot development frustrating. The one bright spot is Emily’s interaction with Mrs. Griswold, an elderly neighbor who is a recluse. Mrs. Griswold’s backstory is slowly revealed and the conclusion hints that Mrs. Griswold will begin reaching out to other people. Through multiple characters, a theme is revealed—people are often doing the best that they can in difficult situations, and only by looking deeper can you understand a person’s character.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Emily’s neighbor was in a car accident. “The worst part was that Mrs. Griswold had tested positive for alcohol that night. . . her blood alcohol level was way below the legal limit, and that she had probably had a glass of wine or eggnog at the party.”

Language

  • The store owner, Cyril, calls a boy “a shifty-eyed, squinty little punk” and a “snaggle-toothed punk.”

Supernatural

  • Emily can read her dog’s mind. Emily “didn’t understand it, but ever since the night she had found him, the two of them had been connected, somehow. When he was hungry, she felt hungry.”
  • Zack is a conduit for the ghost. When Emily sees a ghost, “the man suddenly seemed to be surrounded by a small cloud of gray mist—and then he disappeared.” Emily can read the ghost’s mind.
  • Emily can read her cat Josephine’s mind. “Reading Josephine’s mind was always a little bit unsettling.”

Spiritual Content

  • A ghost tells Emily that his dog, “Moved on, at once. Animals have very beautiful souls.”

The Secret Explorers and the Jurassic Rescue

Traveling back millions of years in the past, The Secret Explorers must rescue a precious dinosaur egg. In their quest, Tamiko and Cheng attempt to fend off angry Allosauruses, but what will they do when the egg starts to hatch?

In The Jurassic Rescue, dinosaur expert Tamiko and geology expert Cheng team up to save a dinosaur egg. The two kids go on a fast-paced adventure where they must avoid becoming a dinosaur’s snack. The two must hide from a group of Allosauruses and at one point they even cover themselves in poop in order to hide their smell! Tamiko and Cheng use a combination of knowledge and teamwork to save an archaeopteryx.

Young readers will enjoy the story that is packed with plenty of dinosaur facts, suspense, and a happy ending that unites a newborn dinosaur with its mother. The story highlights the importance of one Archaeopteryx. Tamiko explains that the Archaeopteryx “can thrive, and have more babies. And those babies will have babies, and THOSE babies will have babies for a thousand generations—and that plays a part in the whole evolution of modern birds!”

The Jurassic Rescue has large black and white illustrations that break up the text and help readers understand the plot. Characters’ thoughts are easy to distinguish because they are in bold text. While younger readers may struggle with some of the difficult vocabulary and the length of the book, the book’s educational value makes it worth parents’ time to read The Jurassic Rescue aloud to their children. The book ends with 11 pages of a dinosaur timeline, glossary, and quiz.

Full of suspense and snapping dinosaurs, The Jurassic Rescue teaches about the Jurassic period in a fun and educational way. The Jurassic Rescue will entertain readers with the storyline and please parents with the educational value. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, The Secret Explorers and the Rainforest Rangers. Dinosaur-loving readers can also get more suspense-filled dinosaur action by reading the Dino Rider Series by Will Dare.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Tamiko and Cheng are transported to the Jurassic time period, a “creature bumped into the side of the Beagle, and it rocked again. . . The Plesiosaur lifted its head from the water. Tamiko caught a flash of teeth in a huge, yawning mouth.” The two kids drive away.
  • The two kids watch eight Allosauruses “prowling toward the Stegosaurus herd. . . An Allosaurus darted in and nipped at the mother Stegosaurus. With surprising speed, the Stegosaurus’s spiky tail thrashed down. One of the spikes caught the Allosaurus on the rump. It yelped with pain and quickly backed away.”
  • An Allosaurus “snapped its jaws at the Archaeopteryx. The Archaeopteryx shrieked and took off, gliding away through the trees.” The Archaeopteryx leaves its egg behind.
  • A Pterosaur tries to bite the kids. “The large predator swooped down from the branch and dive-bombed the cave mouth, snapping its long beak. Tamiko felt the brush of a leathery wingtip against her leg as she scrambled back into the cave.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Secret Explorers can travel through time. Tamiko goes to a fossil shop and “opened the shop door. But instead of the usual glass cases full of crystals and fossils, Tamiko walked into a dazzling white light. A strong wind whipped her short black hair around her head. She felt as if she were flying—and then the light faded.” Tamiko is magically transported to the Exploration Station.
  • The Exploration Station picks two Secret explorers for each mission. When the kids’ badges “lit up” they knew they were chosen to go on the mission.
  • The Beagle can change into different types of transportation and magically takes its occupants to where they need to go.
  • When Tamiko starts the Beagle, “the steering wheel transformed beneath Tamiko’s hands into a sturdy set of handlebars, and the old seats became deep and comfortable.”
  • When the mission is over, all of the kids return to the exact location that they left. “There was a flash of light, and a jolt. Tamiko thrust out her hand to steady herself in the fierce blast of wind.” Tamiko is returned to the fossil shop.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Storm Warning

Emily and her dog, Zack, have a special bond. But it’s more than that—they can read each other’s minds. Even more surprising, Zack knows when people are in trouble. Now, Emily and Zack are able to use their powers to save lives, though Emily is endangering hers in the process and making her parents worry.

When a hurricane warning is issued, everyone in town starts preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. After all, what are the odds of a hurricane actually hitting a small town in Maine? Emily and Zack don’t know what’s going to happen, but if the hurricane does arrive, are a girl and her dog enough to save a town from the destructive power of Mother Nature?

Unlike the first installment of the Dog Whisperer Series, Storm Warning lacks suspense and action. In order to establish Emily and Zack’s unusual ability to communicate, the story jumps back and forth between Emily’s school life and her personal life. In addition, the town is preparing for an upcoming hurricane. The multiple plot lines make the story disjointed. However, the scenes where Emily and Zack help injured people add some danger and excitement.

Middle school readers will relate to Emily, who wants more freedom and the ability to stay home by herself. While Emily’s family interactions show a healthy family unit, Emily’s parents struggle to balance Emily’s desire for freedom with their need to keep her safe. Several times, Emily runs after Zack in order to help an injured person and Emily’s parents react in appropriate ways. Even though Emily has a happy home life, she still struggles with the fact that she is adopted and has had no contact with her birth mother.

Most of the characters in this story were introduced in The Rescue, but Storm Warning further develops two key characters—Emily’s best friend, Bobby, and Mrs. Griswold, an elderly neighbor. For those who have read The Rescue, the development of these characters will help reinforce the idea that you should not make assumptions about others.

Unfortunately, Storm Warning has an anticlimactic conclusion with little emotional impact. In addition, Mrs. Griswold tells Emily a confusing fact about her birth mother that leaves Emily wondering if her adoptive parents have been dishonest about Emily’s parentage. However, the story thread is left hanging. Despite the lack of action, readers will enjoy the character development and Zack’s ability to sense a person in need. For maximum enjoyment readers should read The Rescue first. Those looking for a more suspenseful hurricane story should read Hurricane Rescue by Jennifer Li Shotz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Zack’s veterinarian gives the dog some pain medication to help with an injury.
  • Emily’s father breaks his ankle and takes two aspirin to help with the pain.

Language

  • An older storekeeper calls a boy a “young punk” and “riftraff.”
  • Emily gets sent to the principal’s office and sits next to two boys. One boy tells her they were being jerks.

Supernatural

  • Emily can read her dog Zack’s mind. “It was sort of—psychic. Which was really cool, but also kind of unnerving. They had the exact same dreams and nightmares pretty often, and there were sometimes when she would find herself thinking something and then realize that, no, Zackary was thinking it.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Rescue

12-year old Emily has dreams of drowning. She’s being sucked under once, twice . . . until the third night, she realizes it’s not just a dream. It’s really happening to someone. On the rocky shore outside her house, Emily finds a large dog. He’s barely alive, but she’s determined to save him. She can feel his pain—and his determination to live. The dog is brought to the vet and with Emily’s help, he starts to improve.

But is the bond between the girl and the dog, Zack, something more? She can see what he sees and feel what he feels. And Zack seems to be able to read her mind, too. Is it possible that together, Emily and Zack can do more than read each other’s minds? Can they use their powers to help people?

The suspenseful story will pull readers in from the very first word. While the story focuses on the dog’s struggle to heal, it also has enough of Emily’s home life to keep the story interesting. The Rescue gives the reader insight into animal abuse without going into details that may frighten younger readers. In the end, readers will cheer when multiple characters come to Zack’s defense and save him from his cruel owners.

Emily is an extremely likable, biracial character who was adopted by a white family. The story has several examples of racism, such as when a white tourist talks to Emily and the lady assumes that if Emily is “in Maine, that must mean that some nice country family took me in for the summer. You know, to get me out of my deprived, inner-city neighborhood.” All of the examples of racism are kid-friendly and highlight Emily’s feelings. She wishes people didn’t see her “as African-American first, instead of a person named Emily.”

The Rescue will appeal to many readers because it is a suspenseful story about friendship, family, and helping a dog in need. While Emily is the only character that is well developed, the supporting characters have enough depth to be believable. Another positive aspect of the story is her family’s healthy dynamic and her supportive best friend. The Rescue is an excellent story that teaches the importance of not making assumptions about other people. Emily’s emotional journey will leave a deep impression on the reader. Readers will be eager to see how Emily and Zack use their unique powers to communicate in the next book in the series, Storm Warning.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is a rumor that one of Emily’s neighbors “killed her husband.” Later, Emily finds out that the woman was driving when the car crashed, and her husband died.
  • Zack’s owners go to the vet’s office to get Zack. When the owners find out that Zack isn’t there, they become violent. The violence is not described, but, “One of the men even had a baseball bat, and he had just broken the screen on one of the computers with it. . . Dr. Kasanofsky’s shirt was ripped, and it looked like his glasses might be broken, too.” The police escort the men to the police station.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Zack is injured, the vet gives him “medicine to help him sleep, and to make sure he isn’t in any pain.”

Language

  • Cyril, a shopkeeper, calls a man “that lousy roughneck punk” because as a boy, “he had stolen—and promptly eaten—a piece of red licorice from the penny candy section.”
  • While talking to her neighbor, Emily stutters. The neighbor tells her, “Don’t ramble like a ninny.”

Supernatural

  • Emily was having a bad dream and realizes, “it wasn’t a bad dream of hers. She had just been having Zach’s nightmare!”
  • Somehow Emily can read Zack’s thoughts. At one point Emily thinks, “Either she was reading her dog’s mind—or she was crazy.”

Spiritual Content

  • While the vet is treating Zack, Emily’s mother says, “We’ll just have to pray that this is a temporary setback.”

Target: Earth

Klawde is not your average cat. He is an exiled emperor from across the universe with a hunger for battle and a thirst for revenge. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant. He’s also Raj’s best friend.

With Klawde now stuck on a dismal planet, he sets his sights on a new target to conquer: Earth. But to succeed, he needs two simple things: an army of zombie squirrels, and money. Lots of money.

Raj is simply trying to make some cash for a cool virtual reality headset. But when a neighbor catches wind of Klawde’s nefarious plan, Raj may end up paying for his cat’s schemes.

Even though Klawde is devious and deceitful, he is also very likable. In the fourth installment of the Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series, both Klawde and Raj need money, but in true Klawde style, he devises a way to make virtual money. Klawde’s obsessive desire to regain control is hilarious, especially because he always underestimates the hairless ogres of Earth. The power-hungry cat doesn’t understand why humans “were so addicted to consumption. To shopping. To their possessions. Did they not realize that the most important things in life are those you cannot touch or possess, let alone buy? Like power domination. And humiliating your enemies!”

Klawde’s plotting brilliantly connects to Raj, who starts a lawn care business with his two friends. But with Klawde’s newfound millions, Raj has everything his heart desires—a virtual reality game, a skateboard, new shoes, and pizza. Raj thought his new game would make him happy, but in the end, he realizes that “The VQ had totally been messing with my mind.” At one point, Raj spends so much time playing a virtual reality game that he doesn’t sleep, do his homework, or spend time with his friends. In the end, Raj learns that “Money didn’t matter when you already had everything you need. . . family and friends.”

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series is exceptionally engaging, humorous, and fun to read. Readers will appreciate the short paragraphs, the easy vocabulary, and the hilarious blue-and-black illustrations. Not only do the illustrations help the readers imagine the story’s events, they also highlight Klawde’s emotions of misery, distaste, and disgust.

Readers will laugh out loud as Klawde tries to use squirrels to take over Earth. The conclusion introduces a new enemy—Colonel Akornius Maximus, a squirrel bent on keeping his Earthy brothers and sisters safe. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Emperor of the Universe. Fans looking to put more humor into their reading should also check out the Mac B. Kid Spy Series by Mac Barnett.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Klawde is upset at his “ogre” Raj and scratches him. Klawde “swiped his shin with my claws, leaving a trail of four bloody lines.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Klawde is upset that some of the cats from his home planet are calling him “Dog Lover” and “Wyss-Kuzz the Butt-sniffer.”
  • Occasionally, Klawde calls his minion, Flooffee, names that include dolt, idiot, and imbecile.
  • When FBI agents appear on Raj’s doorstep, Klawde thinks FBI stands for “Furless Brainless Idiots.”
  • Someone says to Raj, “I heard the FBI raided your house. When did it become illegal to be a loser?”
  • Dang is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Jinxed

Lacey Chu has always dreamed of working as an engineer for MONCHA, the biggest tech firm in the world and the company behind the baku, which is a customizable “pet” with all the capabilities of a smartphone. But when Lacey is rejected by the elite academy that promises that future, she’s crushed.

One night, Lacey comes across the broken form of a highly advanced baku. After Lacey repairs it, the cat-shaped baku she calls Jinx opens its eyes and somehow gets her into her dream school. But Jinx is different than any other baku she’s ever seen. . . he seems real.

As Lacy settles into life at school, competing with the best students in a battle of the bakus that tests her abilities, she learns that Jinx is part of a dangerous secret. Can Lacey hold on to Jinx and her dreams of a future?

Lacey has always been focused on academics, but being successful at Profectus is not going to be easy. When she learns that she has been chosen as part of a baku battling team, Lacey is determined to make friends. Lacey was prepared for Profectus’s academic pressures, but Lacey wasn’t prepared for the challenges of having a baku that has its own opinion and agenda. Lacey soon learns that some of the students will stop at nothing to make it to the top of the class.

Lacey’s world is unique, fascinating, and full of unexpected surprises. Everyone in Lacey’s world depends on their baku, and each baku has the ability to make its owner happy. Whether it’s playing an upbeat song, helping instruct a recipe, or giving directions, each baku is essential for day-to-day life. However, Lacey’s baku, Jinx, is different. He doesn’t follow commands and often leads Lacey into trouble. The interactions between Lacey and Jinx create suspense as well as show Jinx’s unique personality.

Jinxed is an action-packed story that keeps the readers guessing until the very end. Although some of the characters are predictable—the mean kid, the rich cute boy, and the best friend who feels left out—the story never feels cliché. Instead, Lacey’s world gives the reader a realistic view of the future, where everyone is connected to a device 24/7. The end of the story will leave the reader with many unanswered questions, which might frustrate some readers.

Through Lacey’s experiences, the readers will learn important lessons about choosing your own path; it doesn’t matter where you come from, your choices and decisions make you who you are. The message that Jinxed portrays is clear: loving someone doesn’t give you the right to decide what’s best for them.

 Sexual Content

  • Lacey gives Tobias a handshake and “he clasps my hand. I don’t know if he feels it too. A spark. A moment where electricity leaps from my hand to his, where all the neurons in my palm seem to light up. It takes my breath away.”
  • When Tobias winks at Lacey, she feels butterflies in her stomach and feels “my face burning bright red.”
  • After Tobias grabbed Lacey’s hand, her “palm doesn’t stop tingling for the rest of the weekend.”
  • When Tobias holds Lacey’s hand, her “heart pounds, my brain is unable to compute that Tobias Washington is holding my hand.”

Violence

  • A woman holding a “creature” runs from someone with a pulse gun. “She ducked and the shot flew over her head, obliterating the trunk of a beech tree in front of her. . . The next shot hit her shoulder, and she wasn’t sure who screamed louder: her or the creature.” The creature falls over a cliff into a ravine, then “the men turned back to her, gun barrels leveling at her head. She closed her eyes and accepted the inevitable.” The two-and-a-half-page scene ends without saying what happened to the woman or the creature.
  • The school allows teams to battle their bakus. During the battles, some of the bakus are destroyed and cannot be fixed. During a battle, Tobias immediately makes a hit on Dorian’s snarling wolf baku, his eagle stretching his talons out, wing spread wide to keep him hovering—and to enable a quick getaway from the wolf’s surprisingly high jump.” During the battle, one of the girls is upset because she thinks her baku is destroyed and cannot be repaired.
  • When a boy is being rude, Jinx scratches the boy’s hand, which “beads with blood.”
  • During another baku battle, “The cloud leopard is lightning fast, rounding on poor Jupiter with barely a delay. . . Frost swipes out with a sharp paw and part of Jupiter’s surface paneling is torn.” When it looks like Jupiter will be completely torn apart, Jinx jumps into the fight. “The boar falters, twitching and convulsing, as something is destroying him from the inside out.”
  • When Lacey’s baku is stolen, Lacey and her friends go to get it back from Carter. Carter’s panther baku “leap past their bakus and aim their attacks at the people themselves. . . While Tobias is distracted by my screams, he sends hunter up to bring Aero down. There’s a sickening crunch of metal against metal, as Hunter’s tusk pierces Aero’s belly.” Lacey is able to pin Carter to the ground.” Lacey and her friends are able to free Jinx. Tobias has “one arm around Ashley, who is bleeding from a scratch along her hairline, and another arm supporting River, who is getting shakily to his feet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jerk is used multiple times. For example, a boy from school is mean to Lacey. Lacey’s friends say, “He’s a jerk. Forget about him.”
  • Lacey’s friend tells her, “You’ve worked hard all friggin’ year. You’re allowed to take a break and relax.”
  • “Holy baku” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Heck is used four times. When Jinx scratches a boy, the boy says, “What the heck?”
  • Darn is used twice. For example, when a teacher tells Lacey that she’s late for class, Lacey thinks, “Darn.”
  • Oh my god is used as an exclamation three times. God is used as an exclamation once.
  • While working on a baku, Jinx’s “paw brushes against a smashed-up printed circuit board—if one of the bakus is missing that, they’re going to be seriously screwed.”
  • When a team captain thinks an opponent isn’t going to show up, he says the girl is a coward.
  • Jinx refers to an opposing team captain, saying “only idiots could have broken what you fixed. I mean, I wouldn’t put it past them to be idiots, but. . .”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Lacey and her friend Zora run into a mean boy from school. The boy is rude to Lacey. “Zora doesn’t immediately follow, and I whisper a silent prayer for her to drop it. . .”
  • When Lacey tells her friend that she found her baku, “she responds almost right away with a series of ‘Praise the Lord’ emojis.”
  • Jinx plays loud music and draws attention to Lacey. When the music stops, she thinks, “Thank god.”

A Wrinkle in Time

Meg’s father is a physicist. Or at least he was, before he disappeared. While her mother insists that he will come back, Meg and the rest of the town doubt he’ll ever return. It doesn’t help that Meg is having trouble at school and thinks that her curls, glasses, and braces make her a “moron.” In fact, Meg is convinced that her life will be terrible forever–until Mrs. Whatsit blows into her kitchen one stormy evening.

Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which definitely aren’t from Earth, and Meg doesn’t trust them. But her little brother Charles says they’re alright, and Charles has always been able to see below the surface of people. When Mrs. Whatsit says they can help the children find their father, Meg doesn’t care what they are, as long as they can help. Suddenly Meg finds herself traveling to other planets with Charles and their friend Calvin. Together will the three of them be able to rescue Meg and Charles’ father? Or will they too become lost?

A Wrinkle in Time has memorable characters that will quickly find their way into readers’ hearts. Meg is very relatable to young readers, as she deals with her fears, her braces, and with not fitting in at school. Watching Meg struggle, grow, and find her inner strength will leave readers cheering for her. The beautiful, imaginative planets that Meg journeys to will awe and delight.

Throughout A Wrinkle in Time, Meg will glimpse a cosmic battle between good and evil, light and darkness, and knowledge and ignorance. While rescuing her father is just a tiny piece of this battle, Meg’s journey is filled with gravitas. Numerous lessons are learned along the way: Meg learns how to be brave, how to take responsibility rather than blaming others, and she discovers the one thing that the Shadow doesn’t have: love.

Sexual Content

  • The rumor is that Meg’s father “left your mother and [went] off with some dame.”
  • When Meg has to go into mortal danger to save her brother, she says goodbye to Calvin. “Calvin came to her and took her hand, then drew her roughly to him and kissed her. He didn’t say anything, and he turned away before he had a chance to see the surprised happiness that brightened Meg’s eyes.”

Violence

  • Charles thinks a man is a robot, so he “darted forward and hit the man as hard as he could.” When he realizes the man is not a robot, he says, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
  • The mind in charge of a planet that has been lost to the Dark Thing tells Meg, “We let no one suffer. If it is so much kinder simply to annihilate anyone who is ill . . . Rather than endure such discomfort they are simply put to sleep.”
  • When Charles is hypnotized, Meg tries to knock him back to his senses. “She hurled herself at him. But before she could reach him his fist shot out and punched her hard in the stomach. She gasped for breath.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Charles says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
  • Moron is used often. The town thinks Charles is a moron because he never talks, and Meg calls herself a moron several times. When Charles speaks to Calvin, Calvin is surprised. “Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be the moron?”
  • Calvin calls Charles and Meg “dope” several times as an affectionate nickname. “Look, dope. I just want to get things straight.”
  • Ass is used once. Mrs. Who says, “And old ass knows more than a young colt.”

Supernatural

  • Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are not from earth, though they can appear in human form. It’s never directly stated what they are, but it’s mentioned that Mrs. Who is a “paltry few billion years” older than Mrs. Whatsit, and that Mrs. Which is even older.
  • At one point, Mrs. Whatsit morphs into a new form. “Outwardly Mrs. Whatsit was surely no longer a Mrs. Whatsit. She was a marble white body with powerful flanks, something like a horse but at the same time completely unlike a horse, for the magnificently modeled back sprang a nobly formed torso, arms, and a heard resembling a man’s but a man with a perfection of dignity and virtue.”
  • The children tesser across space (a form of faster than light travel) several times with Mrs. Which. “All light was gone. Darkness was complete . . . Just as light and sound had vanished, she was gone, too. The corporeal Meg simply was not . . . She was lost in a horrifying void.” They visit several different planets and meet the occupants of those planets.
  • The children visit the “Happy Medium,” a very happy woman who can see the entire universe through a crystal ball.
  • The children visit a planet that has been lost to the Shadow. There, they find a man who is possessed by IT, the mind in charge. “His eyes were bright and had a reddish glow. Above his head was a light, and it glowed in the same manner as the eyes, pulsing, throbbing, in steady rhythm. Charles Wallace shut his eyes tightly. ‘Close your eyes . . . He’ll hypnotize you.’ ”
  • The children finally meet IT and realize, “It was a brain. A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded.”

Spiritual Content

  • On one of the planets they visit, centaur-esque creatures are singing a song of pure joy. Mrs. Whatsit tries to translate the song into words: “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles; and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory onto the Lord!” When Meg hears the song, she “felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before.”
  • The children learn their father was taken prisoner while fighting the Dark Thing. Meg sees the Dark Thing, a huge shadow stretched across space. “What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?” When they ask what it is, Mrs. Which says, “Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!”
  • The children realize that many people have fought the darkness on Earth for years. Mrs. Whatsit says, “They’ve been lights for us to see by.” They include Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Madame Curie, Einstein and more.
  • Meg’s father said, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
  • When struggling to describe Mrs. Whatsit to aliens, Calvin says they are “Angels! Guardian angels! Messengers! Messengers of God!”
  • Before Meg goes to confront It, Mrs. Who tells her, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble men are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

Ender’s Game

Earth has been attacked twice by the Buggers—aliens attempting to colonize Earth’s solar system. The whole world waits with bated breath for the Third Invasion and sends its best and brightest children to Battle School when they are six years old to be trained in strategy and warfare. Eventually, these children will become the pilots, commanders, and soldiers that will save the human race from extinction.

Ender is a governmentally approved Third child in a world with a strict two-child rule. He was allowed to be born in the hopes that he will be a genius like his two older siblings, but with the correct temperament for Battle School. The experiment succeeds, but Ender doesn’t want to go to Battle School. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He especially doesn’t want to leave behind his beloved sister Valentine, though he will not miss his psychopathic brother Peter. But Colonel Graff tells Ender that the world needs him, and Ender believes him.

What follows is Ender’s journey through Battle School, where his brilliance generates both respect and hatred from the other children. As the children study how to fight, Ender finds himself at the center of an immense web of manipulations, all designed to turn him into the Commander that Earth needs to defend itself. It doesn’t matter that Ender doesn’t want to kill anyone; it’s what he is good at and will become great at with the right push. And push him, they do.

Ender’s Game is a masterpiece, which is why it is required reading at many high schools. There is heavy content that is inappropriate for younger and sensitive readers: profanity and name-calling are used often, there are bouts of violence (including attempted murder), and there is a thematic question of whether cruel, immoral means are justified by an end that benefits humanity.

These masterfully woven questions will keep readers up at night, and readers will relate to Ender and his struggle to define himself. Is he a monster like his brother Peter? Is he a killer like the teachers want him to be? It is Ender’s emotional turmoil of self-loathing, loneliness, and despair that will haunt readers long after they read the last page—more than the aliens, the fights, and even the theological questions. Ender’s Game will leave readers desperately wishing that Ender’s life had not been so hard. Readers will forget that Ender is just an ink-and-paper boy from a story, and not the son, brother, or friend that they have fondly come to know him as.

Sexual Content

  • When Valentine says she has an oral exam at school, her brother says it could be worse. “It could be an anal exam.”
  • Dink says, “Hey, look! Salamander’s getting babies now! Look at this! He could walk between my legs without touching my balls!”
  • When Valentine is offered a weekly column in a newspaper, she says, “I can’t do a weekly column…I don’t even have a monthly period yet.” Later in the same argument, Peter asks her, “Are you sure you’re not having a period, little woman?”
  • When Peter is also asked to write a column, he says, “Not bad for two kids who’ve only got about eight pubic hairs between them.”
  • After a bully makes fun of another boy’s butt, “Look how he shimmies his butt when he walks,” the other boys start calling the bully, “Buttwatcher.”
  • One of the commanders “had programmed his desk to display and animate a bigger-than-lifesize picture of male genitals, which waggled back and forth as Rose held the desk on his naked lap.”
  • Ender jokingly calls his friend, “you circumcised dog.”
  • When the Buggers procreate, “each male in turn penetrated the larval queen, shuddered in ecstasy, and died, dropping to the tunnel floor and shriveling.”

Violence

  • Ender is attacked, and he beats the main bully thoroughly, to make sure no one is ever bold enough to attack him again. “Ender walked to Stilson’s supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again, in the crotch.”
  • Ender’s older brother threatens to kill him. Peter “knelt on Ender, his knee pressing into Ender’s belly just below the breastbone. He put more and more of his weight on Ender. It became hard to breathe. ‘I could kill you like this,’ Peter whispered. ‘Just press and press until you’re dead. And I could say that I didn’t know it would hurt you, that we were just playing, and they’d believe me, and everything would be fine. And you’d be dead.’”
  • A boy hits Ender repeatedly when they are on a space shuttle. “Just as the next blow was coming, Ender reached up with both hands, snatched the boy by the wrist, and then pulled down on the arm, hard…The boy sailed through the air, bouncing against the ceiling, then down against another boy in his seat, then out into the aisle, his arms flailing until he screamed as his body slammed into the bulkhead at the front of the compartment, his left arm twisted under him.”
  • Two teachers mention a prior student’s suicide in passing. “Everybody looks like Pinual at one time or another. But he’s the only one who killed himself.”
  • Ender plays a computer game that sometimes has gruesome deaths. One time, “the Giant cut him open along the spine, deboned him like a fish, and began to eat while his arms and legs quivered.” Another time, “He jumped at the Giant’s face, clambered up his lip and nose, and began to dig in the Giant’s eye. The stuff came away like cottage cheese, and as the Giant screamed, Ender’s figure burrowed into the eye.”
  • A commander slaps one of his soldiers. “Madrid stepped closer to the girl and slapped her across the face with the back of his hand. It made little sound, for only his fingernails had hit her. But there were bright red marks, four of them, on her cheek, and little pricks of blood marked where the tips of his fingernails had struck.”
  • Ender’s commander hits him after Ender disobeys orders. “Suddenly Bonzo swung at him, caught his jaw with a vicious open-handed slap. It knocked Ender sideways, into his bunk, and he almost fell. Then Bonzo slugged him, hard, in the stomach. Ender dropped to his knees.”
  • Ender and his friends are attacked by an older group of guys in the Battle Room. “Someone caught Ender by the foot. The tight grip gave Ender some leverage; he was able to stamp firmly on the other boy’s ear and shoulder, making him cry out and let go. . . the boy had hung on too well; his ear was torn and scattering blood in the air, and Ender was drifting even more slowly. I’m doing it again, thought Ender. I’m hurting people again, just to save myself. Why don’t they leave me alone, so I don’t have to hurt them?
  • Ender gets picked on several times during Battle School. “So Ender got knocked down in the shower that morning. One of Bernard’s boys pretended to trip over him and managed to plant a knee in his belly.”
  • Valentine, “had seen a squirrel half-skinned, spiked by its little hands and feet with twigs pushed into the dirt. She pictured Peter trapping it, staking it, then carefully parting and peeling back the skin without breaking into the abdomen, watching the muscles twist and ripple.”
  • Bonzo tries to kill Ender. “Bonzo’s tight, hard ribs came against Ender’s face, and his hands slapped against his back, trying to grip him…instead of kicking, he lunged upward off the floor, with a powerful lunge of the soldier bounding from the wall, and jammed his head into Bonzo’s face. Ender whirled in time to see Bonzo stagger backward, his nose bleeding.” The fight takes place over two pages.
  • “Late one night [Ender] woke up in pain…He saw that in his sleep he had been gnawing on his own fist. The blood was still flowing smoothly.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Bastard” is used often. Peter tells his brother, “No, no, I don’t want your help. I can do it on my own, you little bastard.” Another time Colonel Graff says, “We promise gingerbread, but we eat the little bastards alive.”
  • “Hell,” “asshole,” and “ass” are used several times. Valentine says her older brother is “The biggest asshole.” Graff tells a teacher, “your ass is covered, go to hell.”
  • “Damn” is used a few times. Graff tells Ender, “I told them you were the best. Now you damn well better be.” Another time a student says, “I be the best soldier I can, and any commander worth a damn, he take me.”
  • Another student tells Ender to “kiss butts if you’ve got to.”
  • Variants of “piss” are used several times. One boy in the Game Room tells Ender, “Beating you…would be as easy as pissing in the shower.”
  • At Battle School, the boys’ slang includes frequent name calling. For example, Graff says, “Scumbrains, that’s what we’ve got in this launch. Pinheaded little morons.” Other variants include pisshead, fartface, etc.
  • “Son of a bitch” is used once. “I’m a pilot, you son of a bitch, and you got no right to lock me up on a rock!”
  • “There was a myth that Jewish generals didn’t lose wars.” The commander of Rat Army is Jewish, so it, “was often called the Kike Force, half in praise, half in parody of Mazer Rackham’s Strike Force.”

Supernatural

  • An alien race, called “Buggers,” invaded Earth’s solar system twice before. All of Earth is preparing for the Third Invasion.

Spiritual Content

  • When talking about how humans won the last war, Graff says, “Call it fate, call it God, call it damnfool luck, we had Mazer Rackham.”
  • Graff says if Ender is not the one, “then in my opinion God is a bugger. You can quote me on that.”
  • After a battle, Ender saw that some people “knelt or lay prostrate, and Ender knew they were caught up in prayer.”
  • An admiral says piloting is “a god. And a religion. Even those of us who command by ansible know the majesty of flight among the stars.”
  • Speaker for the Dead is a book that became “a religion among many religions” on Earth. “But for those who traveled the great cave of space and lived their lives in the hive queen’s tunnels and harvested the hive queen’s fields, it was the only religion.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

The Wild Robot

ROZZUM unit 7134, more frequently referred to as Roz, is the sole surviving robot of a shipwreck that lost nearly two hundred other robots. The island Roz is stranded on is devoid of any human life, but there are a wide variety of wild animals who all see Roz as a monster. Eventually, Roz begins to blend in with the animals, and she even learns how to speak like them. Roz soon becomes a part of the island.

The harmony Roz and the animals enjoy does not last very long. A ship spots Roz, and three “RECO” robots are deployed to bring her back to society. The RECO units will use force to get Roz to leave, but she wants to stay with the animals she has grown so attached to. In addition to raising a gosling, surviving winter, and almost becoming an animal, Roz now has to survive an encounter with her own kind.

The Wild Robot is, at first glance, a seemingly lighthearted book about a robot learning to live alongside animals. Even though Roz has many human qualities, she is not entirely relatable due to her robotic nature. However, readers will relate to Roz being in a new environment and not knowing what to do.  Like many people, Roz must adapt and overcome obstacles. Through her struggles, Roz receives help from the animals on the island and learns the value of friendship. They endure numerous hardships together, including death and violence between animals. Death is presented in the book, but the characters die in relatively tame ways and learn to cope with the loss of their friends and even parents in a healthy way.

Even though the story focus on a robot, it provides themes that can easily be related to the real world. The Wild Robot explores the difficulties of integrating into a new setting, as well as an adopted family between a robot and a gosling. Roz and the animals have to trust each other when outsiders threaten their home, and they become closer as a result. The Wild Robot creates an environment of diverse characters that cooperate for a common good.

The Wild Robot tells its story through short chapters that describe events at a rapid pace. With short sentences, chapters, and simple vocabulary, the book is very easy to read. The pictures in the book are sprinkled throughout the chapters, and they are drawn in a cute comic style depicting the events that Roz and the animals experience.

Peter Brown has created a story of an outsider overcoming prejudice, and he has done so in both a tranquil and thrilling way. The Wild Robot introduces characters who are not humans but think and act like humans. Although the story isn’t full of excitement, Brown keeps the reader’s attention through beautiful descriptions of the island, diverse characters, and a unique plot, ultimately creating a powerful story. Instead of having a happy ending, the conclusion is open-ended which allows the reader to come to their own conclusions as to what Roz will do. Roz’s next adventure continues in the second book in the series, The Wild Robot Escapes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is no violence between humans, but there are multiple instances of violence occurring with robots described in a human way. For example, during a shipwreck, “Robot limbs and torsos were flung onto ledges. A robot head splashed into a tide pool. A robot foot skittered into the waves.”
  • The protagonist of the story observes “vultures hunched over carcasses.”
  • A fox recounts his attack of a porcupine, “I didn’t think that porcupine could see me in the bushes, but when I went for his throat, suddenly there were quills in my face.”
  • The main character falls into a goose nest, leaving “two dead geese and four smashed eggs among the carnage.”
  • Again, the main character is a robot with human attributes but still faces violence. Two bears “slashed at Roz’s body” at one point.
  • In the aftermath of a harsh winter, Roz finds “A frozen mouse. A frozen bird. A frozen deer,” as well as several other animals that have frozen to death.
  • After the snow from the aforementioned winter melts away, the frozen creatures become visible, and “their corpses were slowly revealed.”
  • A farmer with a rifle shoots a goose, described from the animals’ perspective as “a bright beam of light [shooting] out from the rifle, and Longneck slumped to the floor.”
  • A goose is “plucked by her foot and flung to the ground” by a robot.
  • A rifle is pulled apart, and a “blinding explosion” results in “Roz’s arms and legs… completely blown off.”
  • Geese surround a rifle and pick it up, then use it to shoot a robot, creating “a beam of light” that left the robot’s chest “glowing brilliant orange… melting and oozing down his front.”
  • An opossum “rolled onto her back, stuck out her tongue, and died,” although it was only faking its death.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • There are numerous instances of animals defecating, such as a robin “splatter[ing] her droppings across the robot’s face.”
  • Roz is called a “monster” and a “creature” by the animals multiple times.
  • Mr. Beaver is called “rude and stubborn.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Dylan Chilcoat

Dragon Pearl

Thirteen-year-old Min lives an ordinary life. No one knows that her family comes from a long line of fox spirits. Her family hides their powers, and Min’s mother doesn’t allow any of them to use fox-magic. Instead of shape-shifting and using Charm, Min always appears as a human.

Min dreams of leaving her dust-ridden planet and joining her brother Jun in the Space Forces. When Min gets older, they hope to see more of the Thousand Worlds together. Then an investigator appears and informs the family that Jun has deserted. The investigator thinks Jun is searching for the mythical Dragon Pearl that is rumored to have tremendous power.

After reading a strange message from Jun, Min knows that something is wrong. Min runs away to search for her brother. During her journey, she will meet gamblers, pirates, and ghosts. She will have to use deception, sabotage, and magic. Min will need all of her courage to complete her journey. Will she be able to find the answers she needs to find her brother?

Sci-fi enthusiasts will enter an imaginative world that includes Korean mythology. The Korean mythology is seamlessly integrated into Min’s story and helps create an interesting world. The story is a perfect blend of mystery, action, and space travel. Although most of the story is fast-paced, parts of the story are difficult to read because of long descriptions.

Dragon Pearl is told from Min’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her thought process as she searches for her brother. Middle school readers will enjoy reading about Min because of her daring actions and can-do attitude.

Although Min has spent her life hiding her magical abilities, once she leaves her house, she consistently relies on Charm. Readers may question how she can be so skilled using her Charm when she has had no practice. Another bothersome inconsistency is that Min notices when other supernaturals use their powers, but no one notices when Min uses her Charm. Even though Min uses her Charm to deceive others, she is still a likable character. At the end of the book, Min realizes that she should rely less on magic, but it would have been nice to see Min use her brain to solve some problems throughout the story, instead of always using Charm.

The ending is a little predictable, but there are enough surprises to satisfy readers. Middle school readers who are interested in mythology may want to begin with the Percy Jackson Series or Aru Shah and the End of Time, which have better character development as well as humor. Overall, Dragon Pearl creates an interesting world filled with magic. The danger, magic, and mystery will draw readers into the story and keep them engaged. However, some readers may struggle with the long descriptions and difficult vocabulary.

Sexual Content

  • Some people wear “a small symbol next to the name that let me know they should be addressed neutrally, as neither female or male.” One of the characters, a goblin, is gender neutral and referred to as they.

Violence

  • When an investigator finds out that Min is a fox, he “snatched me up by the throat. I scrabbled for air, my fingernails lengthening into claws, and tore desperately at his fingers.” Min turns into a block of metal and fell on the man’s foot. When he lets her go, “I snatched a saucepan and brought it crashing down against his head. He fell without a sound.”
  • Mercenaries attack the ship that Min is on. Min “cried as a burst of violet fire hit us in the side.” The scene takes place over nine pages. Someone pulls Min “behind the copilot’s seat. Great timing: A bolt sizzled over me, where my head had been just a second earlier. . . Two more bolts flew over my head. I peeked around the side of the seat and fired once at the first shadowy figure I saw. I heard a yelp.” Min is hit and “slid out of consciousness.” Later, Min discovers that one cadet died.
  • A person accidently crashed into Min, who is appearing as a boy. Min “emitted a strange yell when the person’s knee accidently connected with my crotch. I was going to have to be more careful about guarding that part of my body!”
  • A space ship is attacked, and the Goblin is injured. “Sunjin jumped back from their workstation, clutching their side. An enormous burning line of light had seared the goblin from the neck all the way to their waist, as though someone had slashed them with a whip of fire. . .”
  • Min discovers that the colonist, “stopped making offerings to the pox spirits, and the spirits took their vengeance by wiping out the colony.”
  • Min helps two mercenaries escape. They get on a ship and the pilot, “blew open the hatch with a missile at short range. . . Acceleration slammed us sideways as our ship veered hard to starboard, then rolled.”
  • Min turns into a bird, and someone shoots at her. “Fire pierced my right wing. . . I plummeted, struggling. . . The pain made me light headed.”
  • A man grabs Min. “I stifled a gasp as his fingers dug into my flesh and he yanked me toward him, wrenching my injured shoulder.” The ghost helps Min escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Min knocks the investigator unconscious, her family discusses using a “subtle poison” to kill him.
  • Min questions a guard, who tells her that he got his information from a “drunk spacer who was spilling secrets last night.”
  • Min meets a guard who had, “the flushed skin of someone who had been drinking too much cheap wine, and he reeked of the stuff.”
  • For a few hours, Min works in a gambling hall where she serves wine and uses “Charm to encourage customers to relax.” While working, she gives wine to customers.
  • When Min is injured, she is given a dose of painkiller.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The main character is a fox spirit, who lives as a human. A fox spirit can, “shape-shift into whatever she wants: human, animal, even a dining room table.” Fox spirits can choose to be female or male. Fox spirits can also use Charm “to manipulate human emotions and make people see things that aren’t there.”
  • Besides fox spirits, there are other supernatural creatures, “such as dragons, who can control weather, and goblins, who can conjure things out of thin air.”
  • Shamans can communicate with ancestors and spirits.
  • Throughout the story, Min uses Charm to disguise herself. The first time, she made, “myself plainer, drabber, harder to see.” She also uses Charm to turn into an inanimate object several times. The majority of the story, she disguises herself as a cadet who had been killed. The cadet is a ghost and gave Min permission to pretend to be him.
  • The story revolves around the Fourth Colony, “whose entire population had perished when they’d angered disease spirits a few centuries ago.” The ghosts of the colonists haunt the planet.
  • A ghost is one of the supporting characters. “Ghosts weren’t necessarily unfriendly, but many of them became vengeful over time, especially if the unfinished business that bound them to the world of the living went unresolved.” Later in the story, the reader learns that “most ghosts were bound near the site of whatever had felled them.”
  • Ghosts can be dangerous because, “wrongful death warped people’s souls and made them vengeful toward the living.”
  • Several times, the goblin uses his magical sport to create food. The first time the goblin uses the magic, “Sunjin waved the sport, and a box of chocolate-dipped cookies magically appeared.”
  • People are looking for the Dragon Pearl, which could, “transform an entire barren world, give it forests and seas and make it suitable for habitation, it could just as easily destroy a world, turn it into a lifeless desert.”
  • Both people and space ships have an energy flow, which affects luck. “Just like you could have flows of good or back luck in a room, depending on how furniture and ornaments were arranged, there could be flows of good or bad luck across star systems and beyond.”
  • Min meets her brother’s ghost. “Through the disheveled locks I recognized the face—what remained of it, anyway. Half of it flickered with ghostly flames, as though he were on fire. Between that, and the hair, I could barely see his surviving eye.”
  • A shaman was “going to rid the Fourth Colony of its ghosts by singing us into the underworld.” The ghosts stop her.
  • Min uses the Dragon Pearl to give the ghosts a proper burial. “The ghosts shimmered, and I could sense their joy.”

Spiritual Content

  • A pilot whispers a “spacer’s prayer that heaven would see us safely through the gate.”
  • When Min’s escape pod crashes, she “prayed to every ancestor I knew to watch over us.”
  • Min sees that the dead colonist “didn’t have gruesome lesions of smallpox, the disease that gods had once wielded to teach humankind respect. . .”

Fire the Depths

Thirteen-year-old Max Tilt’s life changes in a moment. When his mother becomes ill, his cousin Alex comes to care for him. When Max discovers his parents are in danger of losing their home, Alex and Max want to find a way to help. They head to the attic to find items to sell and discover Max’s great-great-great-grandfather Jules Verne’s unfinished manuscript The Lost Treasures. What begins as a quest for artic items becomes a treasure hunt as Alex and Max learn that everything Jules Verne wrote in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was true.

As Alex and Max begin their journey, a strange skunk-haired man named Spencer Niemand appears. He’s determined to steal The Lost Treasures’ manuscript and claim the treasure as his own. However, he needs the kids’ help. Can Max and Alex outwit the devious man who is willing to use violence to gain the treasure?

There is a lot to like in Max Tilt: Fire the Depths. Right from the start, the story is fast-paced and interesting. Although the story is a bit far-fetched, especially the part where his parents leave knowing the electricity will be turned off and the house repossessed, these events explain why Max and Alex are willing to go on a dangerous treasure hunt in order to help.

As the two cousins begin their journey, they don’t realize the danger that follows. As the two follow Jules Verne’s path, they use clues he left behind, but they are soon trapped in a submarine with a villain. As they struggle against an evil villain, they dive to a city beneath the ocean, explore an ice cave in Greenland, and fight a giant squid. This page-turner keeps readers engaged using suspense, adventure, and a bit of humor.

The interplay between Alex and Max helps readers engage in the story. Throughout the story, the two cousins build a friendship and learn to rely on each other in dire situations. Each shows their bravery in different ways. Alex is unique in that he has synesthesia (where one sense substitutes for another) and the effects of synesthesia are shown in a simple, unique way.

Although this adventurous story is written for the ages of eight and up, the story is more appropriate for middle school students because of the violence and the truly evil villain. Although the violence is not described in graphic detail, the villain kills others in order to satisfy his greed. The action-packed plot takes Max and Alex on a submarine ride to an epic adventure that will engage students and teach that, “Sometimes you can’t be ready to do the things you really need to do. You just do them. And that makes you ready.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a man grabs Niemand’s wrist, Niemand, “drew a knife from his pocket, and slammed it downward. As the man yanked his hand back, the blade sank into the tabletop.”
  • In order to eliminate witnesses, Niemand locks people into a warehouse and then sets off explosives. Niemand tells the event from his point of view, “on four, he heard sudden shouting and frantic footsteps inside the building. They finally realized. Good. Let them know there was no escape . . . On seven, the warehouse exploded.”
  • Niemand throws hot coffee in someone’s face. The man, “was squirming in pain on the worship floor.”
  • When bullies steal Max’s lunch, he uses a drone to get his lunch back. The drone hovers over the bullies’ heads and Max hits the release button. “The apple conked Dugan in the head. As he screamed and jumped aside, Max guided Vulturon downward, where Claw #3 grabbed onto his lunch bag.”
  • When a bad man tries to grab Alex, she hits him. The man, “recoiled with a howl of pain. But his reflexes were quick enough to wrap one beefy hand around Max’s throat.” Someone grabs the man’s foot and he lost his balance, “falling to the floor. His head smacked against the solid-steel edge of the Tilts’ coffee table.”
  • A man shoots at Alex and Max, but someone stops him before anyone is hurt.
  • In a letter, Verne writes about how Captain No One destroys an underwater civilization. “With a flash of fire, the carapace was breached. A hole shattered the thick material, jagged and mean as a lightning bolt. An explosion turned the sea to red.” Captain No One looted the city, and when two crew members tried to steal, they “were shot for their greed.”
  • A man falls from an icy ledge, “and then came the scream—deep, raw, animal-like—as Basile fell off the ledge and into the teeming white mass below.” Later, he is discovered alive.
  • Niemand ties Alex and Max to a snowmobile. “He circled it around each of them individually. He tied it down to various places on the snowmobile . . . Niemand flipped the lever to Drive. And he walked away.” The kids then fall into the frozen ocean, but they do not die. When the squid grabs Alex, Basile “swung the ax at the appendage that held Alex . . . The blade split it in two, the top part skirting upward in a violent spray of milky liquid.” The squid finally retreats.
  • A giant squid attacks the submarine and is able to get inside. Basile, Alex, and Max fight the squid in a battle that lasts eight pages.
  • When Niemand tries to capture Alex and Max, Max fights back. “As André approached, Max thrust himself off with his hands and kicked upwards, landing a solid hit on André’s chin. The scraggle-haired man fell backwards, arms flailing.” André grabs Alex and tosses her “like a bale of hay. Max saw her body fly over a thick copse and smack against a tree trunk. He heard her head thump and saw her limp body drop down to the forest floor.”
  • Niemand tells Alex to dig his own grave, but before he can get the work done, Alex hits Niemand on the head with a shovel. The kids are able to get away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Crap!” is used once.
  • Max tells someone that they are about to feel like “asses.”
  • Someone yells at a bad driver, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While hiking, a character thinks “if God had meant for humans to live among hills, he would have made them goats.”
  • After defeating the squid, Alex said, “Thank God it’s over.”

Tin Star

Left for dead at a space station far from Earth, Tula is focused on getting revenge. Revenge for the beating Brother Blue gave her. Revenge for the death of her family and the other members of the group who had hoped to colonize a planet. In order to get revenge, Tula must first learn to survive in the underguts of the space station.

Luckily, an alien named Heckleck befriends Tula. Heckleck teaches her how to trade with the natives and gives her a desperately needed friend. Just when life on the space station began to seem normal, three humans crash land on the station, and Tula wants to use this opportunity to get her revenge. She soon discovers that taking down Brother Blue may mean the end of Earth. Should she take this opportunity to destroy her greatest enemy or protect the planet that she loves?

Tula and Heckleck are loveable characters that show that friendships can grow despite physical differences. Even though Tula trades with questionable people, she has an honorable code of ethics that she lives by. This code allows other characters to trust and respect her.

Because the story is written from Tula’s point of view, the reader has the opportunity to feel her pain, understand her desire for revenge, as well as see her desire to do what is right. The author uses vivid description to bring Tula to life and make the reader care for her.

Although the book has some violence and sexual content, these scenes are not described in detail, and they are in the book to advance the plot, not merely to add to the entertainment factor of the book.

Overall Tin Star is an entertaining book that gives readers a glimpse into a believable space world, where different species learn to care for each other despite the harshness of life.

Sexual Content

  • At the space station, two people can fight in a hotch. This is a way to settle disagreements.  Tula is forced to fight one of the humans in a hocht. During the hocht, Tula thinks, “I had never been this close to a man . . . his mouth was near my ear, his breath hot. He had some stubble on his cheek. His skin was warmed. His smell filled me . . . I wanted to both pull away and also pull in closer but my eyes kept going over to Reza, who was watching from the side. I stumbled backward. Wishing that I was doing this dance with him.”
  • When Tula is talking to an Earth boy, she describes, “His lips were just inches away from mine. I was on fire. As Reza spoke, I could feel his breath on my face, and I opened my lips hoping to catch his words in my mouth.” Later in the same scene, Tula thinks, “Every part of me reached for him. I ran my hands through his hair. He smelled kind. I had no words for pain, for despair, for loneliness. I put my lips on his. Our hands found each others’ skin. My body trembled. I had to stop before I exploded . . . I had gone hungry at times during my time here, but truly I had been ravenous for touch. I knew that I would not be able to survive without it anymore. It was nourishing, intoxicating, and addictive.”
  • When a female Earth girl is trying to manipulate Tula, the girl uses physical touch. “She put her hands on my shoulders. She kissed me. It was a warm kiss. Full of affection and softness. But it was so different from Reza . . . She kissed me again. The kiss was electric, but had no warmth to it. No love. She was trying to manipulate me, and to get what I wanted I would have to go with it . . . After a while we stopped kissing. I held her in my arms the way that I held Reza, but it was far from the same.”

Violence 

  • Brother Blue punches Tula in the face. “He hit me again, and now I was too stunned to scream. He did not stop until I was limp . . . It was only when he thought that I was dead that he moved away from me. . .”
  • Heckleck, a bug-like alien, uses his tongue that, “looked like a sharp pointy bard” to injected Tula with nanites, which gave her the ability to understand Universal Galactic as well as breathe the air on the space station. After Heckleck injects her, she feels ill and wonders if he was, “calmly waiting to finish me off at his leisure, picking off parts of me when needed.” She then goes on to think, “Maybe this insect-like alien had done me a kindness. After all, I had just thought about killing myself and had been too cowardly to do it.”
  • Heckleck gives Tula a cloth that contained a digit from someone’s crew member. Tula is instructed to, “tell him to give you the item, or I’ll send the rest of the crew member to him in pieces.” He then threatens to kill Tula if she betrays him.
  • Tula thinks back to her childhood fights. “There was hair pulling with my friend over a doll we both wanted. There was a slap and a push I gave to my sister, Bitty, when we were fighting.  There was a kick to the groin I’d given a boy at school who had tried to paw me at a party.  Then I turned my thoughts to the fights I’d witnessed. My father, drunk over the holidays, fists in front of him, always jabbing at my equally drunk uncle, face covered with his arms but his stomach getting pummeled. I remembered the bully from school, Mika, fighting the scrawny Stan: Mika moving quick from side to side while Stan crouched low, always hitting Mika’s spleen. And of course Brother Blue, standing over me and kicking in my ribs.”
  • Tula and an Earth boy fight in a hotch. They push and hit each other, and at one point Tula, “brought my knee up to his groin.” In the end, Caleb allows Tula to beat him.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Kitsch Rutsok’s bar is a popular hangout place on the space station.

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • While discussing the dead, Heckleck said, “But the dead, they have ghosts. Ghosts are very useful for haunting. Never forget the dead, Tula. They have their function. They sometimes speak at the most useful or inopportune times.”
  • Tula likes to go to the Gej temple. The Gej were a highly spiritual race who are no longer at the space station. When Tula had an item that she did not know how to trade she would, “bring it to one of the shrines and place it as an offering. I liked making offerings to gods I did not know. It seemed somehow more pure. Did the Gej have one god or many? Were they even gods at all?  I wasn’t certain. But when I put a cracked gem down or a burned a sole stick of incense, it called me as if I was wishing on fallen and forgotten stars. Perhaps I’d given a gift to a deity who cared only for love. Perhaps I’d placed a trinket on a devil. I couldn’t be sure, and I didn’t care.”

The Trap

You would think Henry and Helen would be two peas in a pod. After all, they are twins. But Helen is brave and fearless, while Henry must think everything through. Despite their clear differences, they, along with their best friends Carl and Nicki, are inseparable.

When Carl’s brother mysteriously disappears, the four friends go on a mission to figure out what happened. Their search leads them to a book called Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self, which explains how a person can leave their body in their sleep. As the four friends learn to travel, they quickly discover that their subtle self isn’t invulnerable when Henry’s subtle self gets trapped. His friends want to jump in and save him, but will that lead to more disaster?

Teens and preteens alike will enjoy The Trap because it is fast-paced and easy to read. This story contains a good mystery, a bit of the supernatural, as well as a bit of humor.

The Trap touches on racial issues of the 1960’s but doesn’t go into detail. The only negative part of this book is that Henry and Helen have no qualms about lying to their parents in order to solve the mystery.  There is also a section in the book where Helen reveals that she likes to break into people’s houses because it’s interesting to look around.

The Trap shows the importance of understanding people of different cultures. It has a sweet ending that will leave readers satisfied.

Sexual Content

  • Henry and Nicki go to a school dance in their subtle forms. As they dance, Henry “leaned forward and kissed her. A subtle kiss is a strange thing. It’s slippery, and a little electric, and it buzzes on your lips.”

Violence

  • Carl punches Henry. “Carl’s big knuckles had come at me, his pimply face looming behind them . . . My nose and cheek backed up—right into my brain, and my brain retreated down my throat into my stomach. My stomach hadn’t expected that, and become upset.” Henry pukes, and Henry’s sister jumps on Carl.
  • A character talks about the Jews being killed during World War II. “They were murdered . . . I returned once, years after the war, to see the graveyard where my parents and grandparents were buried. It is all weeds now. There are no Jews left to care for their own dead.”
  • One of the children talks about her great-grandfather who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. “And in Iowa, he got attached by an Irish railroad gang. They mobbed him and some other Chinese workers, saying that Chinese people were stealing Irish jobs. They almost killed him, and he ended up in the hospital in Cedar Rapids.”
  • In a TV show, the Devil tells a rich man he can live forever if he murdered two other people. The rich man finds two “bums drunk.” The rich man did not think those men deserved to live as much as he did. So the rich man puts rat poison in a bottle of whiskey, “intending to give it to the hoboes. Then the show took a commercial break.”
  • Henry’s dad talks about when he was in the war. When they heard shots, everyone ran, but one man got shot. “Lying out there on his back, in the street. And making a sound, like gargling . . . because they shot him . . . in the throat . . . The North Koreans . . . they went up to Davis. And I watched . . . as they. ..They stripped him. They took his gun, his belt. Jacket. Helmet. Boots. Right off him, while he was still trying to breathe. They took everything. And they left him there, naked in the street. He died there.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Carl’s father is disliked because he is a drunk. The father appears several times in the story and is seen drinking beer on multiple occasions.

Language

  • One of the adults complains about, “this damn back of mine.”

Supernatural

  • Henry finds a book that teaches him how a person, “could step right out of their body while their body was sleeping. You’d be yourself, but invisible. This was called ‘subtle travel.’ The part of you that did the walking, your second body, was called ‘the subtle form.’”
  • A ghost appears and helps Henry solve the mystery of what happened to Carl.
  • When Carl was in his subtle form, someone did something to his physical body. Carl isn’t sure if his body is alive or dead, and he is afraid if he goes back into his body he will die.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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