Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group who learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Duplex

Ryan wakes up to find his contractor dad building walls to turn their big old house into a duplex. The family that moves into the other side includes Bizzy Horvat, the pretty girl he has a crush on at school. Bizzy claims her mother is a witch with the power to curse people with clumsiness or, in Bizzy’s case, astonishing beauty.

When a bee gets caught in Bizzy’s hair, Ryan acts so quickly and radically to save her from getting stung that he attracts the attention of a group of micropotents—people with micropowers. He soon realizes that Bizzy and her mother also have such powers. It becomes Ryan’s job, with the help of the other micropotents, to protect the Horvats from a group of witch hunters from their native country, who are determined to kill Bizzy, her mother, and all the other “witches”—micropotents—who have gathered to protect them.

Ryan is a loveable, ultra-smart nerd, who will do anything to keep the people he loves safe. Throughout the novel, readers will enjoy seeing Ryan grow and mature. While Ryan is an interesting character, he is not necessarily relatable. For a sixteen-year-old, Ryan doesn’t talk or act like a typical teenager. For example, when Ryan is on a goodbye date with his girlfriend, “Ryan felt like he was catching a glimpse of a whole life that might have been, a life in which he was able to court her, to drive her to the movies and someday to the hospital to give birth to their child, and strap car seats into the back of the car until the kids were old enough to sit up safely on their own. . .”

Throughout the story, Ryan struggles to understand his parents’ separation. He wonders, “How do married people who loved each other so much they moved in together—how do they get so angry that they completely reject the life they built?” Later, Ryan finds out that his parents separated after his mother got an abortion. Ryan’s father says, “I don’t know if I can live with it. What she did. That was my baby too, we decided together, it was ours, and it’s dead now, and we’ll never have another, and I didn’t even get a vote.” While the topic of abortion is not explored in detail, the feelings of each parent are discussed. Ryan’s complicated family life adds interest to the story.

Unfortunately, Duplex spends too much time explaining Ryan and the other micropotents’ powers, which slows down the plot. In addition, once Bizzy and Ryan begin dating, their constant declarations of love become annoying. Plus, Ryan spends too much time explaining how he doesn’t love Bizzy because she’s beautiful, but because she’s an amazing person. While the story has some suspense, the action doesn’t pick up until the end. Readers who have read Card’s other micropowers novel, Lost and Found, will see the similarities; if readers enjoyed Lost and Found, they will also enjoy Duplex. However, if you’re looking for an excellent book about characters with supernatural power, you may want to read Card’s Ender’s Game Quintet or the Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans instead.

Sexual Content

  • When Ryan begins spending time with Bizzy, his mother gets worried. His mother says, “But you are both bags of undifferentiated hormones as volatile as nitroglycerin. So, I’m warning you. Keep your clothes on, buster. Keep your fly zipped. Don’t get that girl pregnant.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan are getting to know each other. “‘I’m going back inside now,’ Ryan said, ‘because what you showed me, and what you’ve been saying—it makes me want to hold you and kiss you and all kinds of stuff that would require me not to be in the friend zone.’”
  • Bizzy kisses Ryan to hide her face. “To Ryan’s disappointment, it only took one kiss to get them to the library. . .Worse yet, Ryan felt like he had wasted their first kiss on what amounted to camouflage.”
  • When Ryan hugs a girl, she says, “If you’re trying to turn me on, it’s not working.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan kiss many times. For example, Bizzy “swiveled to him, grabbed his head, and planted a kiss on him that was so passionate it blew the previous one out of the water.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan become girlfriend and boyfriend. At school, “She kissed him again. This time it was a real girlfriend kiss. Not long, not passionate, just quick. A declaration of ownership.”
  • Bizzy says that some girls “try to do a sexy walk. They end up looking like beginner prostitutes.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan get home late. Ryan is worried about their mothers’ reactions. He says, “The thing is, if I get home at ten, they’ll assume I got you pregnant by nine-thirty.”
  • Ryan’s mom had an abortion. She says, “It was a termination of an unwanted pregnancy, still in the first trimester.”
  • On Halloween, Bizzy and Ryan kiss. “She leaned in to kiss him. . . He did not break the kiss. Not for a good long while.” Later Bizzy, “kept stopping to kiss some unexpected part of his head—ears, nape of the neck, eyelid, cheek, chin. He never thought that having Bizzy kiss him could possibly be annoying, but now he knew that it could. And that she wanted to annoy him.”

Violence

  • Alfred shows up at Ryan and Bizzy’s school posing as an FBI agent. When the man makes a move to shove Ryan, “Ryan didn’t wait for the door to close. . . Ryan struck him in the side of the head with all the force of his open hand and extended arm. Alfred’s head crashed into the metal door frame as if his skull were on a track. A think streak of blood trailed after him.” The man dies.
  • To force Ryan to test his micropower, his best friend, Defense, begins bullying a classmate named Errol. When Defense calls Errol names, Errol kicks him. “Kicked him with all the force of a game-winning field goal. Defense gave a horrible oof! that sounded as if all the air he had ever inhaled was discharged at once. That was followed by a high gasp and then a whine that told Ryan that Defense probably had some broken ribs.”
  • When Errol goes to kick Defense in the head, Ryan leaps up. “He was at exactly the right position to strike Errol on the Adam’s apple. . . The blow landed with Ryan’s full mass behind it. Errol’s body instantly went limp and he fell straight down, with Ryan landing atop him.” The school nurse “performed an emergency tracheotomy and had Errol breathing again.” Both Errol and Defense had to be taken to the hospital.
  • A man tries to get into Bizzy’s house. When Ryan tries to stop him, “The man’s hand flew out toward Ryan’s face. Depending on where he meant to land it, it would have blacked Ryan’s eyes or given him a bloody nose. Instead, though, the man’s hand hit the edge of the Burkes’ storm door, which Ryan had partially closed to bring it right to the place where the man’s fist was going.” The man breaks his hand and leaves.
  • Two men dressed as police officers go to Bizzy’s house. When they enter the house, one of them reached for his gun. “As the fake cop was drawing his gun, which Ryan knew he was going to use to kill Mrs. Horvat and Bizzy, Ryan got his own hand onto the gun and squeezed a shoulder nerve in the guy so that his grip on the pistol suddenly let go. . .Ryan shot the guy square in the shoulder. . . By now the other fake cop had turned around and was drawing his pistol.” The second man falls to the ground. When the cop begins making noise, Ryan’s friend, “kicked this guy really hard in the head.”
  • When two cops are on the ground, another man comes into the house. “The man drew a weapon and began to raise it to aiming position. . . [Ryan] fired his pistol and the man sprouted a hole in his forehead and dropped like a rock.” The man dies.
  • Two more men enter the house. “They dropped to the ground, probably not dead because Ryan’s shots took them in the knees. They were screaming in pain while yawning.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dahlia, a friend of Ryan’s, has a micropower that makes people yawn. She says, “I’ve done ride-alongs with police guys on patrol, and they found it a lot easier to subdue drunks who were yawning. Even though yawning is sometimes a trigger for vomiting.”
  • On Halloween, Defense calls the police to report a drunk driver. He says, “I’m watching an obviously drunk guy get into his car.”
  • On Halloween, Defense and Ryan see two drunk guys dressed as policemen. Ryan says, “The friendship of drunks who need somebody to lean on must be one of the great blessings of alcoholic life.”

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, bitch, damn, crap, hell, and piss.
  • There is an abundance of name calling including ass-face, bonehead, dimwit, loser, moron, idiot, pervert, psycho bastards, weirdo and whiny baby.
  • Bizzy’s mother calls Ryan an “ass-faced idiot.”
  • A teacher calls Ryan a “rotten little con man.” Another teacher calls Ryan a “sphincter.”
  • A police officer refers to Defense as a “pissant kid.”
  • Ryan’s sister says their mom was being a “fishwife.”

 

Supernatural

  • Ryan joins a group of people who have micropowers. For example, one girl “makes people yawn, which partially incapacities them.” A boy can feel spider’s pain. “I know when they die, and I know whether it was deliberate arachnicide or not.”
  • According to Bizzy, her micropower comes from being cursed. Bizzy explains, “Mother says that when I was a baby, a Gypsy woman got so angry at Mom that she cursed me with something that would cause my mother grief for the rest of her life. . . I’m not just pretty, Ryan. The glamour is one of astonishing beauty. I’m heartbreakingly beautiful.”
  • At first, Ryan cannot see Bizzy’s glamour. “When she was paying no attention to him, he could see how the glamour poked through, stabbing at the hearts of strangers. Unlike people who had resting-angry-face or resting-bitch-face or whatever, Bizzy had resting-beautiful-face. It was all he could see, now that he knew what to look for. Her talent wasn’t that she could make herself beautiful, it was that she could make herself less beautiful. . .”
  • Bizzy believes her mother is a witch. She says, “her micropower is one that would have gotten her burned as a witch in 1680. Because if she mutters a certain formula under her breath, things go wrong for that person for a few days. . . They drop things. Like heavy tools on bare feet. Or the baby they’re carrying. Or the file folder they absolutely have to get to the boss’s desk right . .”
  • Ryan meets Jannis who can heal people. Jannis explains, “I help put things in order. But nothing deep inside the body. I’m good with broken bones just under the skin. . .” She uses her micropower to help Defense and Errol heal.

Spiritual Content

  • Bizzy and Ryan were talking about the different nature of girls and boys. Bizzy says, “Insane boys think God finally got the guy-design right when he made them. But crazy girls think God ran out of good parts and made them out of scrap.”

 

Girl From Nowhere

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world–moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Sophia is an interesting character, whose parents have taught her many survival skills including how to defend herself, even if that means she must take a life. While Sophia’s conflict isn’t relatable, her story takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through many dangerous situations. Along the way, Sophia meets Aksel, which adds romance and gives Sophia a protector. Eventually, Sophia confides in Aksel and explains how after being kidnapped and tortured, she feels as if she is “tainted.” Aksel helps Sophia realize that she’s not defined by what others did to her.

While Sophia and Aksel are teenagers, they do not act like typical teenagers. Instead, Aksel reveals that he has been secretly training to be an undercover agent. While this explains his advanced skills with weaponry and evasion, readers still may have a difficult time believing that Sophia and Aksel could survive an attack from a trained terror group. The conclusion is one bloody confrontation after another and finally ends with a surprise that has a very little emotional impact. Despite this, Sophia’s story is entertaining and suspenseful, and Aksel is a swoon-worthy protagonist.

Readers who love action-packed, secret agent stories will enjoy Girl from Nowhere. Sophia isn’t portrayed as a helpless girl in need of a man to protect her. Instead, she is a strong character who is intelligent and resilient. Readers who love strong characters, conspiracy theories, and a sprinkle of romance, but don’t want the graphic descriptions of violence should read Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter and Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery by Kate Jaimet.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, Sophia is dancing when Tate “comes up behind me, places his hands on my hips, and sways with me along with the music. . . I elbow him in the chest, right above his second rib.” Then Sophia leaves to line dance with a friend.
  • From the first time Sophia meets Aksel, she feels drawn to him. “His fingers graze mine, igniting flames across my skin.” Often, Sophia thinks about her reaction to Aksel. She wonders, “Why does being around Aksel make my skin feel like it is perpetually on fire?”
  • While out with friends, Tate puts his arm around Sophia’s shoulder. Sophia thinks, “Emma once said memories of kissing Ryan Rice in ninth grade give her the ‘heebie-jeebies.’ This is what I feel when Tate puts his arm around me—the heebie-jeebies.”
  • As Sophia and her friends split up, “Tate slinks his arm around [her] waist.” Tate realizes that he left his keys in the restaurant and leaves Sophia alone.
  • Sophia and Aksel are exploring the wilderness. Sophia’s snowshoe causes her to stumble. Aksel’s “arm is braced firmly around my waist to keep me from falling. He stares down at me, and my cheeks go blistering hot. . .Aksel’s lips press against mine. His fingertips trace my cheek, my jawline, before returning to the nape of my neck. . . Then our lips are meeting again and every nerve in my body is electrified.”
  • After Sophia rejects Tate, a rumor goes around that she “hooked up with Tate outside the Creamery, then hooked up with Aksel hours later.”
  • While swimming, Aksel swims towards Sophia, and “he wraps his large hands around my ankles and stands up in the water. . .Heat spreads like wildfire across my chest and it constricts my airways, like I can’t breathe . . . He outlines my lips with his thumb. He bends forward to kiss me. . .” Aksel stops and asks about a Sophia’s scar.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss for the first time. They’re at his house when “his hands entwine my waist, resting on the hollow of my lower back. Gently, he pushes me against a wall. . . An intense heat races throughout my body. . .We kiss until he leans away.” The scene is described over a half-page.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss numerous times. For example, “Aksel’s hands slide across my [Sophia’s] neck, slipping down my back. . . flames of heat surge across my throat. I feel his pulse, flush against my chest. Our lips hover. . . He pulls me in, wraps his strong arms around my waist, and kisses me.”

Violence

  • After being kidnapped, Sophia is home alone when someone breaks into her apartment. She was hiding when “right before he stepped into the kitchen—pop! He slumped to the ground, dead the instant my father’s bullet penetrated the back of his head.”
  • While walking in the forest, a bear attacks Sophia. “Huffing and grunting, she swats my back, violently rolling me over. My skull hits the dirt. She strikes my thigh fiercely with her paw.” Someone shoots a rifle and the bear runs away.
  • Sophia has a flashback that makes her panic. When she was younger, her family charted a sailboat when a group of men began chasing them. Sophia’s parents tell her to hide underwater. Her mother says, “No bubbles. You have to stay hidden, and that’s the only place! Now go!”
  • When the men get close to the sailboat, “gunfire erupted. . .” When Sofia comes up, she sees “four bloodied bodies floating in the water. Facedown.”
  • While attending school in Africa, the class goes on a safari. While the group was exploring, a truck blockades the road. One of the men gropes Anika and “her brother Peter shouted at him. The rebel hit Peter so hard with his rifle barrel, Peter staggered into the bumper, bleeding from his ear. . .”
  • One of the rebels shot the driver, who “crumpled onto the dirt, dead.” The rebels killed another adult, but when they went to shoot some of the children, the gun jammed. Sophia describes, “I reached into my boot, pulled out my 5-7, and fired twice. The commander dropped to the ground. A rebel shot Katu, so I shot him too, a double rap into his stomach. . .” The school group race to the hospital, but the fate of the injured adults isn’t known.
  • While leaving a restaurant, Sophia sees a man who has been following her. The man is standing next to Aksel’s truck, blocking the passenger door. “Abruptly, the man takes a step toward Aksel, like a tiny squirrel provoking a chained dog. Glinting in the man’s hand is the shining, polished edge of a blade. . .” After a short standoff, the man backs down.
  • Sophia tells Aksel about being kidnapped. While in Istanbul, two women ask Sophia for directions. Sophia “turned in time to see the second woman corner me. Her hand shot out like a viper from the folds of her pleated dress, snatching my wrist with a viselike grip. The first woman threw her shawl over my head, muffling my screams as they dragged me into the alley.”
  • After the two women restrain Sophia, a man blindfolds her and takes her someplace where she “was tied to a copper pipe jutting out from between the floorboards. . . I was scared. I knew I would be sold to a terror group, or a wealthy buyer. . .” A man finally unties Sophia and questions her. “When I didn’t answer, he touched my cheek and rubbed his hand against my neck . . . That was worse than when he hit me. And he did. . . often. . . he made me bleed.”
  • While being held captive, a man named Farhad “pulled out a rusty knife and put it next to [Sophia’s] throat.” The man threatened her, “Tell us who your father is or I send him your head.” When Sophia spat in his face, the man cut her, leaving a scar under her chin.”
  • Sophia was able to get the knife from Farhad. She “swung the knife, cutting him from his forehead to the bottom of his cheek.” Then, Sophia was able to escape. The kidnapping is described over four pages.
  • Terrorists surround Aksel’s house in an attempt to capture Sophia. One of the men throws a grenade. “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows shatter. The trim erupts in bright flames, splintering shards of wood across the room. We throw ourselves to the floor. Aksel turns midair, landing on top of me, shielding my body.”
  • The terrorists begin shooting at both Aksel and Sophia. Aksel “fires twice. Both bullets hit a man’s chest. His knees buckle and he drops. Aksel. . . pulls the trigger again. This time he punctures the man’s neck. A geyser of blood sprays across the foyer.”
  • When some of the terrorists enter the house, “Boom! A flash of bright light, the doors burst open. The force of the exploding thrust me [Sophia] across the room. I land hard on my bleeding leg.” Then “a man lunges for Aksel’s neck. Aksel spins hard around, hitting the butt of his rifle into the man’s face with a bone-crunching sound.”
  • A man is able to capture Sophia and “holds my arms behind my back and wraps a cable tie around my wrists. . . I throw my head backwards with as much force as I can. Crack! The Chechen lets go of me. . .” Sophia is able to use a knife to cut the man. “The semiautomatic drops from his hands as he tries to stop blood spurting from the neck.” The bloody scene is described over nine pages.
  • Sophia reads a report about Anton Katranov, who was an undercover spy that worked under Sophia’s father. Sophia’s father, Kent, found Anton “face down on the floor, arms outstretched… behind him were the lifeless bodies of his two boys. And behind them, blocking the entrance to the back bedrooms, lay the crumpled body of Mrs. Katranov.” The deaths are described over two pages.
  • Sophia gets angry at her parents and sneaks off a train. When Sophia realizes she is being followed, she goes into a crowded club and then tries to leave, undetected. She cuts through an alley and sees, “the bald man. I reverse, but two other men approach from behind me. . . Between them is a girl with long, dark hair, and silver hoops in her ears. . . Now, she stares at me, wide eyed. Petrified. Blood is coagulating around a cut in her eyebrow. Her lip is swollen. . .” Sophia gives herself up, so the men will let go of the girl.
  • Sophia is thrown into a car, and her ankles are zip-tied. Despite this, she is able to “curl my knees into my chest, pivot to the left, and rocket my legs out from my body. My blunt heels collide with the back of the driver’s head.” The car swerves and crashes. Sophia escapes.
  • The story concludes with a multi-chapter, extended description of the battle between Sophia, her parents, and the terrorists. Sophia’s father appears out of nowhere and grabs one of the terrorists, Munich Jacket. “Unflinching, my father bends Munich Jacket’s forefinger so far in the wrong direction that the bone snaps in two. . . With a swift swipe of his HK, my father breaks Munich Jackets’ skull.” There is a blood gun battle where many people are killed, including Sophia’s father.
  • As Sophia runs from the terrorists, she runs across a frozen pond. When the men try to follow, “I turn to see the ice dissolve beneath them too. Their bodies plunge into the frigid water.”
  • Bakami, the terrorist who wants Sophia, finally captures her. “Bakami slides his hand around the back of my neck and pinches my spine so savagely between his forefinger and thumb I nearly black out. . . Slowly, I tilt my neck back then ram my head forward. My forehead collides into his face with a hard crunch . . . Blood gushes from his nostrils, soaking the collar of his shirt.”
  • When Sophia continues to talk back to Bakami, he “traces my collarbone with his fingernail. . . with the back of his hand, he swings the weight of his forearm across my jaw. He grips my neck, pinching my esophagus, strangling me.” Bakami points a gun at Sophia, readying to shoot her when, “A gunshot sounds. Followed by another. . . Abramovich [Bakami] crumbles back against the mahogany desk, blood pouring from the silk handkerchief in his pocket.”
  • Sophia and the secret agents follow the terrorists, who set off a bomb. When Sophia comes to, “my skin is on fire. Hot pieces of metal gash my forearms like fiery embers; they singe my shirt, engulfing the pavement and every nearby surface.” While there are several injuries, no deaths are described.
  • When the double agent is discovered, Sophia’s mother “grabs Andrews by her lapel, flings her around, and shoves. Andrews tumbles backward out of the plane, sucked into the sky.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sophia is injured, she is given an injection of lidocaine.
  • Sophia’s captor drinks vodka.

Language

  • Damn is used twice. Sophia’s father tells her, “Stop being obstinate and get on the damn plane.”
  • One of the terrorists calls Sophia a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Daughter of the Deep

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP.

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now, that cold war has been turned up to a full boil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

In Daughter of the Deep, the books 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island written by Jules Verne are more factual than fictional. One of the teachers explains who the book’s characters are and where they fit into modern society. Ana also discovers that she is a descendant of Captain Nemo who “hated the great colonial powers. . . and had personal reasons to hate imperialism.” While introducing the above topic, both the Land Institute and Harding agree that “turning Nemo’s technology over to the world’s governments, or worse, the world’s corporations, would be disastrous.” Riordan repeatedly reminds readers of the danger of the world’s governments and corporations, who are more concerned with keeping their monopolies than helping citizens. This theme is not well-developed, and most teens will quickly forget these passages.

The story is told from Ana’s point of view. Even though she is the heroine, Ana is not portrayed as a perfect person. After her parents died, Ana dissociates; the narrative explains that Ana has talked to the school counselor regarding her grief. While Ana’s talk of her painful menstrual cycle makes her more relatable, the topic will make some younger readers uncomfortable. After the hostiles destroy Harding-Pencroft Academy, killing anyone on campus, Ana decides that the hostiles will be let free without any consequences. In the story’s conclusion, Ana unrealistically forgives the people who destroyed the school and then tried to kill her and her friends.

The story has a large group of characters who are both racially and religiously diverse. Plus, one character, Ester, has autism and needs an emotional support animal. However, even with readers paying close attention, the large cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. Daughter of the Deep has a unique premise, interesting characters, and fun technology; however, the story leaves the reader wondering if justice was served or if Ana’s opponents will just regroup and come back to continue their killing spree. Before jumping into Daughter of the Deep, readers who are intrigued by Jules Verne’s books should read the Max Tilt Series by Peter Lerangis.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In order to demonstrate a Leyden, Dr. Hewett shoots a student. “The only sound is a high-pressure hiss. For a millisecond, Gem is wrapped in flickering white tendrils of electricity. Then his eyes crossed, and he collapsed in a heap.” Gem recovers quickly.
  • Students from the Land Institute attack the Harding-Pencroft Academy’s yacht. When they board the vessel, they use grenade launchers. “Two fist-size canisters plunk onto our gangway and roll hissing. . . the explosions still leave [Ana’s] head ringing.”
  • A student’s dog helps defend his person. The dog, Top, “joins the party, clamping his jaws around the guy’s throat . . . As it is, he [the attacker] crab-walks backward, screaming and trying to shake off the furious twenty-pound fluff demon attached to his windpipe.”
  • During the attack, “Two hostiles fire their silver weapons. Miniature harpoons impale Elois’s shoulder and Cooper’s leg. White arcs of electricity bloom from the projectiles, both [students] crumple.” When the hostiles continue to fire, “Drue Cardenas shoots another intruder. Unfortunately, the electricity also arcs to Nelinha, who had been in the process of pummeling said intruder with a socket wrench. Both of them go down.” No one is killed, but several are injured. The fight is described over six pages.
  • Caleb, a student from the Land Institute, attempts to kidnap Ana. They are in the ocean when Ana snaps her “head backward and hears the satisfying crunch of Caleb’s nose breaking.” As the two struggle, “help comes from an unexpected direction. Right next to us, a mass of sleek blue-gray flesh explodes out of the sea, and Caleb is body-slammed into oblivion under the weight of a six-hundred-pound bottlenose dolphin.” Ana is able to escape.
  • A huge octopus, Romeo, likes the submarine, the Nautilus. When Ana and Gem first see it, “Gem tackles me and jets me out of the way, but the creature isn’t interested in us. Eight tentacles the size of bridge cables wrap themselves around the Nautilus.” The group manages to safely detach the octopus from the sub.
  • Ana’s brother, Dev, who is captain of the Aronnax, attacks the Nautilus. “The Aronnax’s four torpedoes sail straight over our heads. . .” Before the Aronnax can cause any damage to the Nautilus, “Romeo’s enormous tentacles wrap around the Aronnax, pulling her into an embrace… Romeo snaps the Aronnax like gingerbread. Fire and sea churn together. Giant, silver air bubbles, some with people inside, billow toward the surface.” The Aronnax is destroyed, but everyone survives.
  • There is a multi-chapter confrontation between Dev’s group and Ana’s group. When Ana and Gem try to get back to base, they see “Dev’s skiff is waiting for us. . . a black wedge bristling with weapons like the spines of a porcupine fish. It faces us from only fifty feet away. . . and in the pilot’s seat is my brother. . . We sail over the Dev’s stern . . . Gem shoulders his Leyden rifle and fires two rounds straight into the submersible’s propulsion system.” Once the skiff is out of commission Ana and Gem go to free the hostages.
  • Back at the base, Ana and Gem are attacked before they can get out of the ocean. “The nearest diver jabs [Ana] with his knife. . . The razor-sharp edge rips the fabric and grazes my ribs. . . White spots swim in my eyes. Nevertheless, I use my boots to wrestle my attacker, pushing him backward into one of the pier’s pylons.”
  • In order to get away from her attacker, Ana unsheathes her “blade and stabs him in the BC vest. . . With his vest’s air bladder punctured, my opponent is blinded by bubbles. He starts to sink . . . On his way down, I kick him for good measure.” Socrates, Ana’s dolphin friend, helps in the fight. “While he headbutts the blue-eyed diver into submission, three of the local bottlenose dolphins descend on the other guy . . . The dolphins welcome him to the neighborhood with an extreme tail-fin smackdown.”
  • Gem shoots several of the opponents with non-lethal bullets. The bullets leave them with “nasty red welts in the middle of their foreheads.”
  • When Gem and Ana get to the base, they see their friends “are being held at gunpoint.” Gem uses an alt-tech flash-band and then enters the dining room “but there’s no one left to shoot at. Our friends are still alive, though they’ve looked better. . . All four hostiles are out cold, spread-eagled on the floor, goofy grins frozen onto their faces. . .”
  • Dev finds Ana and Gem. “My brother smacks [Gem] across the head with a ratchet. Gem collapses. . . My brother glares at me. . . He grabs my wrist, slapping the gun from my hand, then steps in and twists, attempting to throw me over his shoulder.” The brother and sister fight until, “[Ana] shoot[s] him three times. The last rubber bullet snaps his head back, raising an ugly red spot right between the eyes.” Dev is taken as prisoner and locked in a room. The casualties from the battle are minor. There were no deaths on either side.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Students from the Land Institute attempt to kidnap Ana. Ana describes, “Someone behind me locks his forearm across my throat. I feel a sharp pain like a wasp sting in the side of my neck.” Ana discovers that she has been injected with sea-snake venom.
  • Ana takes Midol for period pain.

Language

  • God, oh god and my god are all used as exclamations several times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Ana’s school is attacked and destroyed, she prays, “Three-Eyed One, Lord Shiva, who nourishes all beings, may He liberate us from death.”
  • While thinking about her ancestors, Ana thinks, “Ester and I were bound together before we were born. It makes me wonder about reincarnation and karma, and whether our souls might have met at another time.”
  • After Ana realizes that her brother destroyed their school, she said “a prayer for my brother, and for the future.”

Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story

Life in lower Manhattan is normal for Molly, her dads, and her younger sister. But on September 11, 2001, everything changes. Molly and her younger sister, Adeline, are at school when the first plane hits the World Trade Center. When the Twin Towers fall, the city is thrown into chaos. Papa, a pilot, is flying, Dad can’t be reached, and Gran, an EMT with the New York Fire Department, is at Ground Zero. It’s up to Molly to find her sister and navigate a city she no longer recognizes.

The book begins with a short introduction to Molly’s family, which allows readers to connect to the people Molly cares about. Because the attack on the Twin Towers occurs when Molly is at school, her fears and confusion are understandable. When the school begins to evacuate, Molly searches for her sister. Once the two are together, Molly tries to protect her sister from falling debris, she also worries about her dad, who is an airplane pilot, and her Gran, who is an EMT stationed close to the towers.

Afterward, Molly’s dad tries to explain why the terrorists flew a plane into the Twin Towers. He says, “There are people in the world who believe that violence, hurting others, is how they’ll get what they want.” Her dad doesn’t think that terrorists will win because “for every person who wants to cause harm, there are thousands more who want to protect. To do good.”

Molly and the Twin Towers will answer basic questions about the events of 9/11. While Molly’s fear is obvious, the events are described in kid-friendly terms. Some of the information is told through news sources, which allows the reader to get basic facts without bloody details. Despite this, Molly’s shock, confusion, and fear are at the forefront of the story. Afterward, Molly and her family go to therapy in order to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In order to make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Molly’s location and the time. Every 7 to 10 pages there is a black-and-white illustration. The illustrations mostly focus on Molly and the events surrounding her. Some of the illustrations show the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke and ash. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of the heroes of 9/11, a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Molly and the Twin Towers will teach readers about the events of 9/11. The short chapters, fast-paced plot, and suspense will keep readers interested until the very end. Molly is a likable character who shows bravery in the face of fear. Readers who want to learn more about the attacks should also read I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis.

Sexual Content

  • Adi and Molly have two dads. “Our dads had used a different surrogate for each of our births. I got Dad’s light eyes and dusty hair. Adi got Papa’s beautiful darker features and curly hair, which she claimed to hate.”

Violence

  • While at school, Molly hears a huge boom. “It almost sounded fake, as if I was in a movie theater and the surround sound was turned all the way up. . . The noise shook our entire school like a humongous, angry clap of thunder. The glass in the windows next to me shuddered.”
  • A little later, Molly hears another explosion. “This one I felt in my chest. The blast made my ribs rattle, and the sound echoed within.”
  • Molly overhears an adult say a plane ran into the towers. Molly “couldn’t believe one airplane had hit, let alone two. It had to be something else.”
  • Molly leaves the school so she can look for her sister. Once outside, “fire and smoke raged and billowed out of the top portion of the North Tower. The South tower, now also on fire, was quickly catching up. Debris rained down as if the sky was falling.”
  • Molly hears a radio broadcaster say, “This just in . . . my lord . . . excuse me. . . I-I’m getting reports that another passenger plane has crashed into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.”
  • As Molly runs towards home, “a sound like nothing I’d ever heard before seized the air. It was a deafening thunderclap followed by the roar of a thousand train engines. . . The smoke and debris began where the tower stood and tumbled forward. It was like a large wave, quickly engulfing everything in its path, threatening to wash us all away.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While looking for her sister, Molly “prayed I would find my sister sitting safely among the cushions and chairs. But when I reached the top, the loft was empty.”

The Forest of Stolen Girls

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister Maewol went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

After five years, Hwani reunites with Maewol on Jeju island. Hwani has crossed the sea to find her father, Detective Jeewoo Min, after he has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of thirteen other girls. She is the older sister whose life plans—to get married and bear children—have come to a halt.

Maewol was called to be a shaman and train under Shaman Nokyung. Unlike Hwani, Maewol despises their father and does not wish for him to be found. When the body of one of the girls is discovered, Maewol and Hwani get sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of the young girls. The sisters realize there’s a possible correlation between the disappearances and their own Forest Incident, an event that left Hwani and Maewol completely changed. As Hwani and Maewol investigate further into the disappearances of the missing girls, they encounter a formidable enemy, the Mask, and the sisters learn that evil comes in different forms.

The entire story of The Forest of Stolen Girls is told in a prose narrative style, in the first person point of view. The story follows Hwani and her turbulent investigation into her father’s disappearance and, into the disappearance of thirteen young girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen. As the reader follows Hwani’s investigation, they will feel what Hwani feels and suspect who Hwani suspects.

The story displays a realistic sisterly relationship. The two sisters they, but are also kind to one another. A majority of the story is spent on the obstacles Hwani and Maewol face as sisters. Hwani is more logical and calculated while Maewol is impulsive and acts upon instinct. Maewol despises her father while Hwani idolizes him; this creates the central conflict. Hwani discovers her father is not as good as he seems and learns to be there for Maewol. Maewol, in turn, learns to forgive her sister even when Hwani has wronged her. At the end of the story, their sisterly bond is what saves Maewol and Hwani.

The Forest of Stolen Girls deals with the brutal history of China’s imperialism over the Korean peninsula. The core of the story relies on the historical fact that in Joseon, Korea, over 2,000 girls were kidnapped from their homes and sent to China as “tribute girls.” The story deals with this intergenerational trauma gracefully and brings to light atrocities committed by both Chinese and Joseon officials alike. The taking of tribute girls results in characters committing heinous actions for the sake of their own daughters. In order to prevent Gahee from being taken as a tribute girl, her father sliced up her face. Though her father did it to protect her, this actions permanently disfigured her and made her an outcast among her own people.

The Forest of Stolen Girls shows class strife and how it correlates with the missing girls. Rich officials of the Joseon government use bribes to keep their daughters from becoming tribute girls. But because the officials need new girls to take the place of their spared daughters, they kidnap girls from poverty.

The story shows the desperation of the poor, such as Convict Baek aiding in the kidnapping of girls in order to feed his daughter. The Forest of Stolen Girls shows readers that no one is truly bad and no one is truly good. It is the system in place that pressures people into continuing this cycle of grief and trauma.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a beautiful novel that centers around a story of Asian women and the trauma they’ve endured for centuries. The mystery is beautifully woven, with every event, fight and conversation is meant to either aid the investigation, provide a red flag, or add to the characters’ stakes in the mystery. The twist is pulled off excellently and shows realistic motives that reveal the monster in people. The Forest of Stolen Girls is for readers who like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or would like to learn more about East Asian history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After discovering the body of one of the missing girls, Hwani asks the victim’s older sister, Iseul, some questions. Iseul implies that Hyunok was not raped while captured. Iseul says, “The midwife is my aunt. We knew Magistrate Hong would have her buried without an examination; he is like that. We examined Hyunok, and my aunt concluded that my sister hadn’t been harmed in…that
  • While exploring the forest, Hwani is chased by a man in a white. “The blade flashed as he swung the sword, and I squeezed my eyes, waiting for the slash of pain.” Maewol saves her.
  • While treating her wounds, Hwani recounts how her aunt used to beat her with a stick, thus leaving thin scars on her legs. Her aunt uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Her wounds “stung, yet the pain was a mere inch compared to Aunt Min’s beatings. When she was upset, she would wait for Father to leave before striking my calves with a thin stick, and the humiliation of it had made the cuts all the more excruciating.”
  • Maewol tells Hwani that one of their possible suspects, Convict Baek, “ sliced up his daughter’s face when she was only twelve, and no one knows why.”
  • Hwani confronts Convict Baek. Convict Baek shoves Hwani, causing her to fall and hit her head against a low-legged table, hard enough to draw blood. “He took another step and with his large hand he shoved at my shoulder with such strength that I went toppling. My head hit the corner of the low-legged table, my hair coming undone and falling over my face.”
  • After Hwani finds her father, Inspector Yu tells her his cause of death was not poison. “He was stabbed.”
  • Seohyun wants to kill the person who forced her to become a tribute girl. “There was murder in my daughter’s eyes. She told me in riddles what had happened. She and many other girls had been given to Emperor Xuande for her imperial harem. She also told me she was going to kill the person responsible, that she’d found out who it was but she wouldn’t give me a name.”
  • Hwani fights Village Elder Moon in a cave where he was keeping all of the stolen girls. The scene lasts for about three pages. “With all my strength, I continued to cling to the village elder’s robe as we thrashed in a blackness that seemed to leak through my eyes, surging fear into my soul. The village elder’s hands, too, turned desperate. Fingers grappling for anything, grabbing strands of my hair, wrapping tight around my throat as I struggled to hold on. My limbs felt numb and frozen, about to shatter as the cold deepened.”
  • Convict Baek and Village Elder Moon are sentenced to be executed. “Weeks later, when the verdict was made in accordance to the Great Ming Code, Village Elder Moon accepted his fate with a stare as blank as that of the dead. He was to be decapitated for having committed murder. Convict Baek, his accomplice, was to be punished by strangulation.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are multiple mentions of poison, as well as incidents of poisoning. Poisoning was a common method of execution in Joseon, Korea.
  • Hwani gets poisoned twice, once with a poison called kyeong-po buja that Hwani ingested herself, and the second time with arsenic from Village Elder Moon.
  • Hwani’s father is revealed to have been poisoned with arsenic as well. The poison did not kill him.
  • Village Elder Moon’s daughter, Chaewon, commits suicide by poisoning herself because she cannot live with her father’s actions.
  • Hwani pours a bowl full of rice wine onto her father’s grave.

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual

  • There are multiple mentions of spirits and the spirit world. For instance, Maewol describes what she sees when Hwani asks her if she can really communicate with the spirits from the spirit world. “I can’t hear what they say…I can’t really see or hear anything clearly. It’s like seeing shadows through the fog. A very thick
  • Maewol is a shaman, someone who communicates with the spirits.
  • Hwani and Maewol say “gods” rather than God because their religion is polytheistic.
  • There’s a brief mention of witchcraft when the body of Detective Min was discovered in a pristine condition. Village Elder Moon said, “No corpse could be in such a condition, not with the humidity of Jeju. It has to be witchcraft.”

by Emma Hua

 

Help! We Have Strange Powers!

Jillian and Jackson are twins having a normal day at the movies until a fortune teller machine changes their lives by zapping them with superpowers. Now Jillian can read minds and Jackson can make objects levitate. The twins are excited to live their new lives as real-life superheroes, but what if superpowers come with super villains?

Scientist Dr. Cranium kidnaps the twins and takes them to a lab. Dr. Cranium wants to drain the twins not only of their powers but of their minds. The twins escape the lab by lying about their powers, but their troubles are not over. They eventually go to HorrorLand, and become trapped in a creepy theme park run by monsters. Will they be able to escape, or are they trapped in HorrorLand forever?

Help! We Have Strange Powers is the tenth book in the Goosebumps HorrorLand series. The first part of the story is interesting as it focuses on Jillian and Jackson’s new powers. However, once the twins are trapped in HorrorLand, the plot becomes confusing because the twins meet all of the characters from the previous books. This will be confusing for readers who have not read the previous books, as there is no explanation for what HorrorLand is or how Jillian and Jackson get there.

Help! We Have Strange Powers is told in the first person from Jillian’s perspective. In true R.L. Stine fashion, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, making the reader want to continue with the book. Jillian and Jackson are not admirable, as they only use their powers for selfish reasons and to mess with others. The plot is not cohesive and it uses the typical Goosebumps elements. Even though the story is just average, fans of R.L. Stine will enjoy Help! We Have Strange Powers because it is an easy-to-read thriller.

Sexual Content

  • Jillian reads her classmate’s mind. He thought, “Wow. Jillian is looking totally hot today.”
  • Jillian says the gym teacher is “young and tall and very hot. The girls in school all have crushes on him.”

Violence

  • Angry that Artie, an annoying kid, got butter on his sweater, Jackson “wrapped an arm around Artie’s neck and began wrestling with him…The two of them tumbled into the aisle, wrestling, grabbing at each other, punching.”
  • As Jackson reaches into a fortune-telling booth to grab his fortune, the machine shocks him and Jillian. Jillian’s “whole body shook and danced as a powerful shock stung [her]. Jolted [Jillian] hard. And sent pain shooting out over [her] arms and legs.”
  • During a soccer game, Artie kicked the ball, which “crashed into Jackson’s stomach.” Jackson “opened his mouth in a sick groan. His face turned purple, and his eyes nearly goggled out of his head.”
  • Jackson and Artie are playing Wii boxing when Artie’s “punch went wide – and he slammed his fist into [Jackson’s] jaw.”
  • Jillian and Jackson try to see if they can fly. They break into a run and leap up. Jillian “crashed headfirst into the wire fence . . . and staggered backward, struggling to keep [her] balance. Pain shot through [her] body.” Jackson “hit the fence with a loud clang. He bounded off and tumbled onto his butt.”
  • While Dr. Cranium tries to wipe Jillian and Jackson’s thoughts, Jackson uses his powers to crash a mannequin into him. “The mannequin dropped hard and fast. It landed headfirst on top of Cranium, and he crumpled to the pavement.”
  • Jackson uses his powers to crash a chandelier onto the Purple Rage, a superhero who was trying to hurt the kids. “The chandelier crashed onto the superhero’s head and shoulders. The Rage uttered a weak cry. He toppled facedown onto the floor.”
  • Because the Purple Rage is so angry, he “exploded. His body burst apart with a loud splat . . . his purple guts went flying all over the room.”
  • Jillian, Jackson, and a few other kids try to go through a portal in a mirror that leads to Panic Park. It doesn’t work because the mirror turns back into solid glass, and Jillian runs into it. Jillian “screamed as [her] forehead cracked into solid glass.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jackson and Jillian go see a movie called Butt-Kicker II.
  • Jackson used his powers to hurl a soccer ball at Artie. It missed Artie because he bent down to tie his shoe. Jackson said, “I’m sorry I missed that jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Jillian and Jackson obtain telekinesis and mind-reading abilities after getting zapped by a fortune-telling machine. Jillian can read people’s minds and Jackson can make things levitate. They are kidnapped by Inspector Cranium, who tries to erase their memories by “going into their brains.”
  • Jillian and Jackson eventually end up at a theme park called HorrorLand. The workers there are monsters, and they trap the two siblings and other kids in a basement where superheroes try to hurt them.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

They Both Die at the End

Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive a call from Death-Cast at around midnight on September 5, 2017. Death-Cast tells them that they will die sometime in the next 24 hours.

Until that day, the boys had nothing in common. Mateo has spent his life inside, fearing the day he gets the call and doing everything he can to avoid bringing it about early. Rufus, on the other hand, has seen death up close and personal. After losing his family in a car accident, he has vowed to live every day to the fullest.

Their paths cross when they each download the app Last Friend, designed to give people a chance to connect with someone on their End Day. The novel follows the boys as they try to make each final moment count, and learn to balance healthy fear with the pursuit of feeling truly alive one last time.

The spoilers are in the title, but knowing the ending makes the reading journey more valuable. The audience is given happy moments, not a happy ending. Readers must grapple with their own mortality and ask whether they have been living more like Mateo or Rufus. For these reasons, the book is recommended for older teenaged readers. While the message is valuable, it is at times difficult to confront, so readers should approach the book with caution. They Both Die in the End addresses death, illness, difficult upbringings, terrorism, spirituality, suicide, and first loves.

The story alternates between the first-person perspectives of Rufus and Mateo as well as a third-person view of characters whose stories intertwine with theirs. As their lives intertwine, characters who may seem unrelated at first, find themselves deeply affected by the boys. This unifies the plot and allows Silvera to explore a diverse collection of characters and their relationships with death without becoming too unfocused. Despite the sadness of a short life, the collective experiences of Rufus and, more particularly, Mateo, leave readers with the hope that though the boys may not have lived long lives, they each lived fully on their final days.

Sexual Content

  • Mateo wants to go do something outside, so he does not spend the day “masturbating because sex with an actual person scares [him].”
  • Mateo’s best friend Lidia is an 18-year-old single mother.
  • A man approaches a woman at a club and says, “Maybe you’ll live to see another day with some Vitamin Me in your system.” This causes her friend to “[swing] her purse at him until he backs up.”
  • Rufus’s foster home has a “bulletin board with information about sex, getting tested for HIV, abortion and adoption clinics, and other sheets of that nature”.
  • Aimee, Rufus’s ex-girlfriend wishes Rufus would “watch porn” rather than reality TV.
  • Rufus remembers when he and Aimee were dating, and they would “rest underneath the blanket together.”
  • Mateo distinguishes between the Last Friend app and Necro “which is intended for anyone who wants a one-night stand with a Decker—the ultimate no-strings-attached app.” Mateo says, “I’ve always been so disturbed by Necro, and not just because sex makes me nervous.” Mateo doesn’t like the app’s eight-dollar fee because he feels “as if a human is worth more than eight bucks.”
  • Rufus describes his outfit, including basketball shorts over gym tights to prevent his “package” from “poking out there like Spider-Man’s.”
  • A potential Last Friend reaches out to Mateo, but she reveals she does not really want a friend. She says, “do you have an open house then? I’m supposed to lose my virginity to my bf but i want to practice first and maybe u can help me out.” Mateo blocks her after he sees the message.
  • Another potential Last Friend tricks Mateo by implying he can save Mateo from death. When Mateo asks him how, he says he should come over to his apartment because he “[has] the cure to death in [his] pants.” Mateo blocks him as well. Rufus later receives the same message when he downloads the app.
  • After hearing Rufus is dying Aimee cries, holds Rufus’s hand and hugs him. He remembers how “she would relax on [his] chest whenever she was about to watch one of her historical documentaries.” After noticing that “she’s mad close,” Rufus “[leans] in” to kiss Aimee but is interrupted.
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds to message him, so “older men and women can no longer hit on [him].”
  • Mateo can hear the sounds coming from different apartments, including “one couple moaning” and laughter which he says could possibly be from “being tickled by a lover.”
  • Mateo considers the life of birds who “mate and nurture baby birds until they can fly.”
  • On the party train, Rufus notices “a girl . . . hops onto the bench seat to dance. Some dude is hitting on her, but her eyes are closed, and she’s just straight-up lost in her moment.”
  • A girl described as gorgeous, hazel-eyed, and black approaches Rufus on the party train and he feels “her breasts against [his] chest and her [lips] against [his] ear.” She asks if he wants to go home with her, and Rufus refers to her as his type, but he ultimately says no, due to him not having “much [he] can offer her, besides what she’s obviously suggesting.” He acknowledges that “sex with a college girl has gotta be on mad people’s bucket lists—young people, married-dude people, boys, girls . . .” However, he remembers Aimee and thinks, “I’m not trying to cheat that with something fake like this.”
  • The girl ultimately leaves with another guy, and Rufus suspects “they’ll just have sex tonight and he’ll call her ‘Kelly’ in the morning.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about his parents’ proposal story. He explains, “My mother turned him down twice. He said she liked playing hard to get. Then she found out she was pregnant with me and he got down on one knee in the bathroom and she smiled and said yes.”
  • Mateo discusses his parent’s relationship in terms of songs, saying, “Another of Dad’s favorites is ‘Come What May,’ which my mother sang to him and womb-me during a shower they took together before her water broke.”
  • Delilah places her phone on the pillow “on the side of the bed that was Victor’s whenever he stayed over.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “Your Last Friend is gonna make sure you go out with a bang. Not a bad bang, or a you-know-what bang, but a good bang,”
  • Rufus jokes that if observing makes one able to do something, then “[he has] watched enough porn to make [him] a sex god.”
  • As Mateo looks at Rufus’s Instagram, Rufus says he feels “exposed.” Rufus likens it to “someone watching [him] wrap a towel around [his] boys” after a shower.
  • When Rufus was thirteen, he describes how “flipping through magazines, [he’d] scout for pictures of girls in skirts and dudes in shorts and would tilt the page to see what was underneath.”
  • At Make-A-Moment, Mateo notices that “a couple are kissing in a hot air balloon.”
  • Mateo meets a boy who “was pretty sure love didn’t mean that your father slept on the couch and that your mother didn’t care when her husband was caught cheating on her with younger girls in Atlantic City.”
  • After Mateo’s nightmare, he notices how Rufus “shifts closer…[Rufus’s] knee knocking against [his].”
  • Rufus explains that Althea Park is “where [he] kissed this girl, Cathy, for the first time.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus he’s never dated anyone, but he has had crushes. Then Mateo thinks to himself, “I sense there’s something more he wants to say; maybe he wants to crack a joke about how I should sign up for Necro so I don’t die a virgin, as if sex and love are the same thing.”
  • Mateo describes riding the bike with Rufus. He says, “I would lean against Rufus, shifting my weight against him . . .  keep holding him.” He determines that he is “going to do something small and brave.”
  • Rufus will not express his interest in Mateo, because, “He’s gotta make a move himself.”
  • When talking about the ending to his dream, Rufus says, “Nah, I think I started dreaming about sex or something and woke up from that.”
  • Mateo recognizes that Rufus is “probably not a virgin.”
  • While sitting next to each other on the train, Rufus “shifts, his body leaning against [Mateo’s].”
  • A comment could imply a history of sexual assault. A girl tells someone “all the heartbreaking [secrets] she always kept to herself because speaking up was too hard.”
  • Rufus, Mateo, and Lidia go swimming unexpectedly and strip down to their underwear. Rufus says, “[Mateo] avoids looking my way . . . unlike Lidia . . . who’s looking me up and down.”
  • When they prepare to jump into the pool, Rufus says, “I grab Mateo’s hand and lock my fingers in his. He turns to me with flushed cheeks . . . ” After they jump, they are still holding hands, and Rufus hugs Mateo in the water.
  • Later, Rufus thinks, “We don’t bring up the hand-holding or anything like that, but hopefully he gets where I’m coming from now in case he had any doubts.” Rufus says, “[The Plutos are] smiling at me like they wanna tag-team bang me.”
  • A girl “eyes [Rufus] up and down” and Mateo’s “face heats up.” He says, “But then Rufus catches up to me and pats my shoulder and the burn is different, like when he grabbed my hand back at the Travel Arena.”
  • Mateo and Rufus sing karaoke. Then Mateo drags Rufus “offstage, and once we’re behind the curtain, I look him in the eyes and he smiles like he knows what’s about to go down . . . I kiss the guy who brought me to life on the day we’re going to die.” Afterward, Rufus kisses Mateo.
  • Mateo and Rufus slow dance. “We place our hands on each other’s shoulders and waist; [Mateo’s] fingers dig into him a little, the first time I’m getting to touch someone else like this.” Mateo admits that “maintaining eye contact with Rufus is really hard” because it is “the most intense intimacy [he has] ever experienced.” They speak into each other’s ears and continue to dance before they kiss and part.
  • Rufus thinks, “Part of me can’t help but wonder if Mateo is bringing me home so we can have sex, but it’s probably safe to assume sex isn’t on the brain for him.”
  • Mateo sings “Your Song” for Rufus, and in the middle of the song, Rufus kisses his forehead.
  • Mateo and Rufus sit on the bed, “linking [their] arms and legs together.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “I would’ve loved you if we had more time . . .Maybe I already do . . .” Mateo then says, “I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you.” To which Rufus responds, “You know damn well I love you too . . . I don’t talk out of my dick, you know that’s not me.” He says he wants to kiss him again, but he doesn’t.
  • Rufus narrates as Mateo “climbs into [his] lap, bringing [them] closer.” They stay close together and kiss one more time before sleeping side by side.

Violence

  • After he finds out that he is going to die, Mateo wants to “curse into a pillow” because his dad is in a coma or “punch a wall because [his] mom marked [him] for an early death when she died giving birth to [him].”
  • Mateo tells the story of a President who “tried to hide from Death in an underground bunker four years ago and was assassinated by one of his own secret service agents.”
  • Frequently, Mateo and Rufus imagine the scenarios in which they could die. These are often worst-case scenarios, and some are gruesome. For instance, Mateo says, “I could choke on a cough drop; I could leave my apartment to do something with myself and fall down the stairs and snap my neck before I even make it outside; someone could break in and murder me.”
  • A fight between Rufus and Peck, Aimee’s new boyfriend, occurs over nine pages. Rufus repeatedly punches Peck, while pinning him down. Rufus fears he may kill Peck. He checks to make sure Peck doesn’t have a pocketknife, concerned that Peck may be the one to kill him. Rufus picks “Peck up by the back of his collar and then [slams] him against the brick wall . . . Blood slides from an open wound in [Peck’s] forehead.” Finally, a friend of Rufus’s looks like he is “about to kick [Peck] like his head’s a soccer ball.” Peck is not killed but walks away severely injured.
  • Rufus explains that his family’s car “flipped into the Hudson River” killing his sister and parents. Rufus later goes into more detail about the crash. He explains, “I’d sat shotgun because I thought it bettered our chances of surviving a head-on car crash if both my parents weren’t in front.” He says that it did not change anything “before going on about the screeching tires, the way we busted through the road’s safety rail and tumbled into the river. . .” Rufus says, though he forgets their voices, “I could recognize their screams anywhere.”
  • Victor, a Death-Cast employee, explains that his day included telling a mother her four-year-old daughter will die today and sending police to her home just in case the mother is responsible for the impending death.
  • While contemplating death, Rufus thinks “I’m praying that I don’t drown like my parents and sis.” He then says he’s “counting on not getting shot.”
  • Despite telling his friends he “wasn’t going to kill” Peck, Rufus internally admits, “I could’ve killed him.”
  • Rufus says that his survivor’s guilt after his family’s death was so strong that “there’s no way in hell [he] would’ve been chill with [himself] for beating someone to death.”
  • Wondering what happened to a blogger who died, Mateo considers looking into “muggings or murders in Central Park” to see if one victim was the blogger.
  • Rufus tells the readers that his friend “Malcom’s parents died in a house fire caused by some unidentified arsonist, and whoever it was, Malcolm hopes he’s burning in hell.” He later says Malcolm learned from “the flames that burned his house, parents, and favorite things” how to value people over things.
  • Rufus’s friend’s father “committed suicide.”
  • After telling Aimee that he promises not to die before he gets to see her again, she responds with the question, “How many Deckers make those promises and then pianos fall on their heads?”
  • Rufus warns Aimee that Peck “better not call the cops” so that Rufus doesn’t “find [himself] on the wrong end of some officer’s club.”
  • A picture in Rufus’s room is described as showing his friend with a bloody nose after an attempt to create a handshake went awry “because of a stupid head-butt.”
  • A man using the Last Friend app “unwittingly befriended the infamous Last Friend serial killer.”
  • The characters occasionally joke that another character could kill them from frustration. For instance, Rufus says, “It’s possible I’m gonna die at the hands of my foster father; if you’re not his alarm clock, you shouldn’t wake him up.”
  • Rufus describes how Aimee pushes him, and that, “She doesn’t play when it comes to violence because her parents got real extra when they tag-team-robbed a convenience store, assaulting the owner and his twenty-year-old son.” He clarifies that she will not be arrested like they were for “shoving [him] around.”
  • Peck is described after the fight as having “one eye shut, a cut on his lip, spots of dried blood on his swollen forehead.”
  • Playing a video game, Mateo watches his avatar “[step] on a land mine” which causes the virtual “arm to fly through a hut’s window, his head rockets into the sky, and his legs burst completely.” However, a moment later, the character returns “good as new,” which makes Mateo contemplate the finality of his own death.
  • Mateo has a panic attack and lashes out. He throws “these books across the room and even kick some of my favorites off their shelves . . . I rush over to my speakers and almost hurl them against the wall, stopping myself.” He stops because the electricity could kill him.
  • Rufus, while biking to Mateo’s home, says, “He better not be a serial killer or so help me . . . ”
  • Rufus’s friends, Malcolm and Tagoe, are arrested by the officers who are trying to track down Rufus, because “Malcolm argued with the police officer and resisted arrest” and “Tagoe jumped into the argument too with more aggression than Malcolm himself was using.”
  • The narrator explains that “Malcolm has never even been in a fight before, even though many paint him to be a violent young man because he’s six feet tall, black, and close to two hundred pounds.”
  • Mateo is concerned that Rufus is going to rob him when he first meets him. He checks the hallway “to see if he has some friends hiding against the walls, ready to jump me for the little I have.”
  • Mateo imagines his death again and cringes from the phantom feeling of “falling face-first onto spiked fences or having your teeth punched out of your mouth.” He runs through a list of scenarios with Rufus and their plan, should one of them occur. These scenarios include “some truck might run us down,” “someone pulls out a gun,” and “a train kills us.”
  • Mateo and Rufus come across a dead bird that “has been flattened; its severed head is a couple inches away.” Mateo thinks “it was run down by a car and then split by a bike.” When Mateo goes to bury the bird, he fears its head will “roll away.”
  • Mateo remembers seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and how “its leg broke on impact.”
  • Rufus is grateful their train arrived because “we can safely rule out falling onto the exposed tracks, getting stuck while rats run by us, and straight chopped up and flattened by the train.”
  • Rufus says that getting Mateo “out of the apartment was one thing, but I’m probably gonna have to knock the dude out and drag him out of the hospital,”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about a childhood incident in which a bully took his lunch money, saying, “He punched me in the face and took it all.”
  • When Mateo goes to an ATM, he is “praying someone doesn’t come out of nowhere and hold [them] up at gunpoint for the money—we know how that would end.”
  • When exploring a ditch, Rufus tells Mateo, “If you find any toes in there, we’re jetting.” Mateo says there are no body parts, but in the past, he has found a “guy with a bloody nose and no sneakers. . . [he was] beat up and robbed.”
  • “Four six-foot-tall kids jumped [Kendrick] and stole” his sneakers. He ended up with a bloody nose and “walking home in his socks was painful.”
  • Mateo has a nightmare. “My skis disappeared and I flew straight off the mountain while headless birds circled overhead and I kept falling and falling.”
  • Rufus cries, mourning his own death, and becomes violent in response. He narrates, “I hammer at the railing with the bottom of my fist. I keep going and going. . . I stop, out of breath, like I just won a fight against ten dudes.”
  • An angry man, Vin, is said to “like to be feared” which is why he wrestles. However, he got sick and now cannot do that to take out his aggression. This results in him deciding to build a bomb to destroy the gym, those inside, and his coach, as his coach “suggested a new career route.” The narrator says, “Vin is going to die where he was made. And he’s not dying alone.”
  • Mateo and Rufus are caught in the explosion. “Glass shatters and we’re suddenly thrown backward through air as fire reaches out toward a screaming crowd. . . I slam against the driver’s side of a car, my shoulder banging into the rearview mirror. My vision fades—darkness, fire, darkness, fire.” He has no idea what happened, just that “Rufus is struggling to open his eyes and others are screaming. But not everyone. There are bodies on the ground, faces kissing cement.” He sees a woman whose “blood is staining a rain puddle.”
  • Deirdre is described “on the ledge of her apartment building” contemplating suicide. She sees people below and assumes they are betting on “if she’s a Decker,” or someone who knows they will die that day. Deidre says, “The blood and broken bones on the pavement will settle their wager.” It is said that this is not the first time she has thought about killing herself.
  • When Deidre was in a fight at school when she was young, someone called her “that lesbian with the dead parents.” This prompted her to go to a ledge, though her friend talked her out of killing herself.
  • Rufus seems to have struggled with suicidal thoughts before. He tells Mateo, “There was a point where I didn’t think any of this was worthwhile.” He goes on to say, “I would’ve been game with game over…but surviving showed me it’s better to be alive wishing I was dead than dying wishing I could live forever.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo he doesn’t deserve to die. Mateo responds that no one does. Rufus asks, “Except serial killers, right?” However, Mateo does not respond, implying he believes they are no exception.
  • Peck’s friend has been “stealing candy from the drugstore . . . fighting those who are the Goliath to his David. Starting a gang.”
  • Peck’s friend wants to hurt those who hurt Peck. He “imagines Rufus’s face where the dartboard is. He throws the dart and shoots bull’s-eye—right between Rufus’s eyes”.
  • The narrator says, “Peck will gain respect by unloading his gun into the one who disrespected him.”
  • Mateo hugs his best friend, Lidia. “She says everything in this hug—every thank-you, every i-love-you, every apology.” Mateo returns the hug. However, after a moment “Lidia steps back and slaps [him] hard across the face.”
  • A police officer is afraid of getting the call every night, “especially since losing his partner two months ago.” His partner died tracking someone participating in Bangers, which encourages Deckers to “kill themselves in the most unique way possible” and post videos that can win their family money. However, he says, most do not win, and “you don’t exactly get a second shot.” The Decker’s attempt to kill themselves resulted in the partner’s death.
  • There is a car crash. In the midst of a car ride, “Sandy’s eyes widen” then “the car jerks and Howie closes his eyes, a deep sinking in his chest.” The crash is narrated from the perspective of the boys who caused the accident. “The two boys laugh when one car bangs into another, spinning out of control until it crashes against the wall.” A girl survives the accident and remembers the “way [Howie’s] head banged against the reinforced window, heard the sickening crack that will stay with her forever—”
  • Peck pulls out the gun at the club, intending to kill Rufus. There is a stampede and Mateo says, “People are stepping on me and this is how I’m going to die, a minute before Rufus gets shot to death.”
  • There is a fight to get Peck to put the gun away. “Mateo punches Peck in the face.” Then, “Peck’s homie swings at Mateo” and someone runs “into Peck and his boy like a train, carrying them through the air as the gun drops, and he slams them against the wall.” Rufus is able to get the gun after he kicks “Peck’s other boy . . . in the face as he goes to grab it. . . Rufus unloaded the gun. All the bullets find their way into the wall.”
  • Mateo dies in a fire. “When I switch on the burner, my chest sinks with regret. Even when you know death is coming, the blaze of it all is still sudden.”
  • Rufus fights through the fire to try to find Mateo. He inhales a lot of smoke but reenters the apartment. He finds Mateo and grabs “Mateo, my fingers sink deep into boiled skin . . . half of his face is severely burned, the rest is deep red.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mateo regrets that “no one will ever get high with [him].”
  • Rufus describes his appearance in a photo saying, “my eyes uneven, kind of like when I’m high, which I wasn’t (yet).”
  • Two potential Last Friends reach out to Mateo with the message subject line being “420?” Mateo narrates, “I ignore Kevin and Kelly’s message; not interested in pot.”
  • Rufus says the gas station “smells like piss and cheap beer.”
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow Deckers to reach out, “so I don’t have to deal with anyone looking to buy a couch or pot.”
  • A girl approaches Rufus on the train who has “an extra can of beer” and asks, “Want one?” Rufus refuses.
  • Rufus later takes pictures of the “crushed beer cans and water bottles” on the train.
  • Mateo does not regret going to the party but thinks, “I don’t want to be around people who get so drunk they pass out and eventually black out the nights they’re lucky to be living.”
  • A girl has a cigarette at one point.
  • Officer Andrade and his partner “traded dad jokes over beers.”
  • Officer Andrade plans to “share a beer” with his partner in heaven.
  • Lidia says while drinking, “I wish this had some kick to it . . . I can’t be sober when I lose you.”
  • Rufus and Mateo sing “American Pie” which includes lyrics about “whisky and rye.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes asshole, god, dumbass, jacked up, damn, multiple forms of shit, hell, fuck, pissed, bullshit, ass, bitch/bitching, dope, dick, bastard, motherfucker, and piss.
  • Mateo says he’ll “feel ballsier” once he has said his goodbyes to those he loves.
  • Rufus says to Aimee, “There isn’t a bigger kick to the nuts than you turning your back on the Plutos for the punk-ass kid who got them locked up.”
  • After Mateo talks about wanting to “leave [their] mark,” Rufus jokes, “We going outside to piss on fire hydrants?”
  • When Rufus says he loves the Plutos, he notes that “No one cracks homo jokes.”
  • After Rufus refers to Malcolm and Tagoe as “shadows,” Malcolm jokingly responds, “That because we’re black?”

Supernatural

  • Rufus asks the Death-Cast employee about how they know when people will die. He guesses, “Crystal ball? Calendar from the future?” He remembers the theories told to him about Death-Cast being a “band of legit psychics and . . . an alien shackled to a bathtub and forced by the government to report End Days.”
  • Mateo believes Rufus is not a monster because monsters “trap you in your bed and eat you alive” rather than “come to your home and help you live.”
  • A boy was writing a book about a “demon doctor wearing a stethoscope that could read his patients’ minds.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • Rufus considers taking a picture of Aimee’s church to post to Instagram but decides his “nonbelieving ass” shouldn’t have that as his last post.
  • Aimee is described as “pretty Catholic.”
  • Rufus explains that “Malcom and Tagoe are always mocking the churches that shun Death-Cast and their ‘unholy visions from Satan.’” He goes on, saying that he finds it “dope how some nuns and priests keep busy way past midnight for Deckers trying to repent, get baptized, and all that good stuff.”
  • Rufus says, “If there’s a God guy out there like my mom believed, I hope he’s got my back right now.”
  • Mateo implies that his mother wanted to marry his father before he was born due to “her family’s traditions” believing him to be a “bastard” if she should not. He thinks “the whole bastard thing is stupid.”
  • Rufus and Mateo visit a graveyard and discuss how they, and others, view the afterlife. Rufus thinks that there are two afterlives: one “when Death-Cast tells us to live out our last day knowing it’s our last” and “then we enter the next and final afterlife without any regrets.” He also believes that if we live too long after knowing we will die then “we turn into ghosts who haunt and kill.” He thinks the final afterlife is “whatever you want.”
  • Mateo’s dad “believes in the usual golden-gated island in the sky”, which Lidia likes because “the popular afterlife is better than no afterlife”. Mateo thinks it will be “a home theater where you can rewatch your entire life from start to finish”.
  • Rufus says, “I’m not religious. I believe there’s some alien creator and somewhere for dead people to hang out, but I don’t credit that all as God and heaven.”
  • Mateo says, “I hope reincarnation is real.” This becomes a recurring wish for him. That in another life, he will be able to find Rufus again.
  • Mateo asks if Rufus believes in fate. Rufus says he doesn’t, but Mateo asks, “How else do you explain us meeting? . . . If you can believe in two afterlives, you can believe in the universe playing puppet master.”
  • A girl talks about the book that she is writing which is about reincarnation and a girl trying to find her sister after the sister’s death. The girl also mentions the origins of her name in “a heroine in Irish mythology who took her own life.”
  • Rufus says after cliff jumping, “It’s like I’ve been baptized or some shit, ditching more anger and sadness and blame and frustration beneath the surface.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Scorpion Mountain

Hal, his Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan have freed the twelve Araluens sold into slavery. Returning to Araluen, Gilan is given a new mission by King Duncan: protect his daughter’s life. Princess Cassandra has survived one attempt on her life already, and now whispers of a second attempt have reached the kingdom. A deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult is thought to be behind the assassination threat. Not waiting to see if the knife will strike true, the Brotherband again teams up with Gilan to track down the would-be killers.

Like the other books in the Brotherband series, Scorpion Mountain has nonstop action as Hal and the other Herons travel to a new location. Several characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series make an appearance and assist the Herons. The Herons fight in several bloody battles, which are described in more gruesome detail than in the previous books. One member of the brotherband, Ulf, is seriously injured and must be left behind. However, Ulf eventually heals from his wounds and is reunited with the Herons. While much of Ulf and his brother’s bickering was entertaining, many readers will find that they do not miss the brothers’ constant arguing.

As the fifth installment of the series, Scorpion Mountain continues to show the different qualities of the Brotherband Series, however, none of the characters show personal growth. Even though the Herons visit several new locations, the story is predictable and contains few surprises. Like the other books in the series, the crew travel somewhere new, Hal comes up with a brilliant invention, they fight an epic battle and then return home to a celebration. While the interaction between the characters is entertaining, some readers may find the story’s plot tedious rather than exciting.

Fans of the Brotherband Series will find that Scorpion Mountain uses the same formula as the other books in the series. Gilan and the other characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice add interest to the story; however, the characters are not well developed. Despite the story’s predictability, the action and adventure will keep devoted readers interested.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When an assassin tries to kill the princess, Lydia throws a blunt dart at him, knocking him out. He is then tied to a chair and questioned.
  • In order to free a town from raiders, the Herons attack one of their ships. When they get close to the ship, “Lydia’s first dart hit the helmsmen, killing him instantly. He reeled back across the deck, releasing the tiller, then crashing to the planks.”
  • The Herons use the Mangler to throw huge projectiles at the ship. One enemy tried to throw a spear at the Herons but, “He never managed it. An arrow suddenly thudded into his chest.”
  • During the battle, the slave master peeked out of the port and “was caught across the jaw by one of the leaping oar butts. He fell senseless to the deck. Two of the rowers, seeing their chance, leapt on him, drawing the long knife from his scabbard.” The slaves kill the man.
  • The Herons board the ship and Stig uses his ax to kill an enemy. “The man stumbled before falling on his side, a shocked look on his features.” The Herons kill every crew member. The battle is described over 11 pages.
  • The Herons enter a harbor and attack an invading force. “Philip was drawing back the second arrow when he felt a massive impact against his chest. . . The impact was like a hard punch but the area was numb. Then the pain came. Huge waves of it. . . he collapsed to the wharf like a rag doll.”
  • As the Herons enter the town, they are greeted by Invaders. “Thorn’s terrible club-hand rose and fell and swept from side to side, breaking bones, cracking ribs, sending enemies flying.”
  • During the battle, a “man went down, his horse somersaulting beneath him and sending him flying headlong into the rocky ground.” A lot of the enemies are killed and Ulf is seriously injured. The battle is described over 40 pages.
  • A group of cult members attacks the Herons. One man “begun to swing down from the saddle when Lydia’s first dart arrived. It went into his upper arm, slightly above the small circular shield that he wore there, and penetrated through to his body.” The man’s horse spooks and the man is “dragged behind it, one foot still firmly trapped in the stirrup.”
  • A man gets caught in a “ditch concealed by the thornbush.” Thorn “leaned forward and brought a huge, iron-studded war club down on his skull with crushing effect. The attacker’s hoarse war cry was cut short and he fell face-down, suspended on the clinging thornbush.”
  • During the battle, Ingvar hits a man. “The Ishti warrior felt as if a galloping horse had slammed onto his shield. He was hurled back several paces.” The warriors retreat. The battle is described over five pages.
  • The Shurmel, a cult leader, and Gilan fight one-on-one. The Shurmel thrusts his sword and “meeting no solid resistance, the Shurmel staggered forward, off balance, and felt the razor-sharp point of Gilan’s sword as it flicked up to touch his throat. A small runnel of blood came from the spot where it touched.”
  • During the fight, “Gilan went on the attack.” The Shurmel “staggered back clumsily, only just managing to avoid the stroke.” Eventually, Gilan “stepped forward and slammed his axe into the Shurmel’s unprotected ribs, driving the weapon to the hilt. . . The Shurmel’s eyes mirrored shock, then disbelief, then pain, in quick succession. Then his knees gave way under him and his eyes went completely blank as he collapsed to the stone floor.” The fight is described over 5 pages.
  • A group of cult members attempts to attack the Herons’ ship. As a warrior tries to get onto the ship, Thorn’s “heavy club-hand swept down and smashed the man aside. He fell awkwardly, half in the water. . .” The man tries to get back onto the raft causing one of his comrades to stagger. “Thorn’s sword caught him in the middle of the chest and he fell into the sea without another word.”
  • As the enemy tries to board the Heron, “Ingvar let out a bellow of fighting rage and lunged with his voulge over the side. The blade stabbed in and out like a striking cobra, and three of the Ishti fell back from the ship in terror.” Another raft gets close to the Heron and two men board the ship. “One of them went no farther. A heavy dart flashed across along the deck and thudded into his chest.” The scene is described over several chapters.
  • Reinforcements begin boarding a raft. Someone shoots the Mangler, which is a huge crossbow. “It hit the raft at an angle, but the impact was enough to shatter the pottery warhead and send shards of hard clay whirling through the crew. . . the water around the raft turned red with their blood.”
  • Hal sees the warriors and his “land sailor plowed at full speed into the three men, hurling them to either side like so many ninepins.” At the end of the fight, “a third of the Ishti fighters had been killed or wounded . . . The others wasted no time in surrendering.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When a king meets with the Herons, he offers them ale or wine. They decline.
  • Thorn is a recovering alcoholic. He thinks back to a time when “he saw most things over the rim of a brandy tankard.”
  • An assassin shoots a poisoned arrow at the princess.
  • Philip the Bloodyhand is captain of an invading force. When he is woken up, he has a hangover, and “several empty wine flasks and jars [were] scattered around the room.” Phillip orders a man to “get me wine.”
  • A small group of the Herons go to negotiate with a cult leader. When they arrive, the members were chewing something that Gilan assumes is “some kind of drug. Possibly a hallucinogenic or relaxant.”
  • When the Herons return home, the town throws a huge party where ale is served.

Language

  • Occasionally, characters use a name of a Skandian god as an exclamation. For example, “Gorlog’s earwax,” “Hern’s breath,” and “Gorlog’s eyebrows.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The assassin said he is protected by Imrika, the goddess of death.
  • When Gilan kills the cult leader, the Shurmel “realized that this ridiculous foreigner offered him a wonderful opportunity. Truly, he thought, he has a gift from the goddess Imrika. He raised his eyes to the heaven and uttered a silent word of thanks for this gift.”
  • When Gilan runs into an acquaintance, the man says, “It is you! May the almighty one be praised”

The Sky is Everywhere

After seventeen-year-old Lennie’s sister Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie finds herself trying to navigate a new world without her sister. Lennie lives in California with her grandma, Gram, and her uncle, Big. Lennie is passionate about Wuthering Heights, writing poetry, and music, and playing the clarinet in her school band, where she meets a charismatic new boy named Joe Fontaine.

Another large part of Lennie’s life is her best friend Sarah and her sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Things become complicated when Toby and Lennie start a secret affair while Lennie also begins a relationship with Joe. When she’s with Toby, Lennie feels free from the inescapable loneliness that surrounds her, although she also feels that her relationship with Toby is wrong. Joe is the opposite, the only person in Lennie’s life who didn’t know Bailey, which provides Lennie with an escape from the grief that follows her and her family around.

Lennie finally decides to end her relationship with Toby, because it is causing more harm than good. Then they share a final, goodbye kiss. However, Joe catches the two of them. Joe immediately ends their relationship, especially hurt by Lennie’s actions because she knew he had been cheated on in the past.

Lennie and Sarah scheme ways for Lennie to win Joe back, ranging from seduction to chopping down her grandmother’s roses, which are known around town to cause people to fall in love. However, in the end, what causes Joe to forgive Lennie is a poem that she writes for him, in which she expresses her intense love for him. The novel ends with Joe and Lennie’s reconciliation, as well as a new, budding friendship between Toby and Lennie.

Told from Lennie’s perspective, The Sky is Everywhere presents an inside look into the transition to normality after experiencing grief. Although the plot contains a love triangle, in reality, it is much more focused on Lennie’s relationship with herself. Lennie grows to accept that although her sister is gone, Lennie will always be able to treasure her sister’s memory and love. Lennie comes into her own and in doing so, recognizes a passion for music, something she had become complacent in for fear of failure.

Lennie will be relatable to many individuals struggling through grief, experiencing love for the first time, or those on a journey to discover who they are and what they’re passionate about. Nelson’s language is beautiful, immediately drawing the reader in and causing them to care deeply about the characters and their struggles. Although the love between Joe and Lennie is rushed, overall, the plot flows well, creating a story that’s intricate and easy to follow. The story reinforces the idea that it is never too late to find your passion. It also emphasizes that it is human to make mistakes, and this doesn’t mean you should give up.

Sexual Content

  • At the beginning of the novel, Lennie mentions, “suddenly all I think about is sex.”
  • As Lennie and Toby hug, consoling each other, Lennie notes, “I feel a hardness against my hip, him, that.
  • When remembering her embrace with Toby, Lennie thinks, “I recall the sensation of him pressing into me, shivers race all through my body-definitely not the appropriate reaction to your sister’s boyfriend’s hard-on!”
  • When Lennie encounters Toby after their past meeting, all she can think is “boner, boner, erection, hard-on, woody, boner, boner.”
  • Lennie recalls a conversation with her sister, where Bailey says, “Toby and I did it, had sex last night.”
  • After drinking and talking about Bailey, Toby “kisses me—his mouth: soft, hot, so alive, it makes me moan.”
  • After Lennie tells Sarah about her kiss with Toby, Sarah remarks, “Grief sex is kind of a thing.”
  • Lennie wonders what is wrong with her, because she has romantic feelings for Toby and Joe. Sarah asks, “What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her sister’s boyfriend the previous night?”
  • Lennie and Toby meet up and kiss. Lennie feels “his mouth crushing into mine, teeth and tongue and lips.”
  • Lennie and Toby almost have sex. She thinks Toby “must have eight hands because one is taking off my shirt, another two are holding my face while he kisses me . . . another two are one my breasts, a few are pulling my hips to his and then the last undoes the button on my jeans, unzips the fly and we are on the bed, his hand edging its way between my legs.”
  • After Joe almost catches Lennie and Toby together, Toby is described as “trying to cover a freaking hard-on.”
  • To stop Joe’s suspicion about her and Toby, Lennie kisses him. “I mean really kiss[es] him.”
  • In Joe’s bedroom, Lennie starts to imagine Joe naked, and then remarks, “I’ve never even seen a real live guy totally naked, ever. Only some internet porn Sarah and I devoured for a while.”
  • As they lay in a bed, Joe asks Lennie, “Are you a virgin?”
  • Lennie gives Toby a sort of goodbye, closure kiss. “I kiss him and keep kissing and holding and caressing him, because for whatever fucked-up reason, that is what I do.”
  • After daydreaming about Joe, Lennie thinks, “I’m so fed up with my virginity. It’s like the whole world is in on this ecstatic secret but me.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lennie describes her uncle Big as the “resident pothead,” and “smoking so much weed that when he’s home he seems to hover.”
  • Lennie’s friend Sarah is often described as “smoking cigarettes,” and “trying to blow smoke rings, but blowing smoke blobs instead.”
  • Toby sneaks into Lennie’s room at night and “pulls a pint of tequila out of his jacket pocket.” The two proceed to take pulls from the bottle.
  • When Lennie sneaks off during lunch, Joe follows her, describing her hidden spot as the “perfect spot for a gingerbread house or maybe an opium den.”
  • Lennie imagines her and Joe drinking “red wine” in Paris.
  • While on a date, Lennie and Joe drink “some wine Joe swiped from his father.”
  • Sarah takes Lennie to see a movie and offers her some vodka. Later they are “passing the bottle of vodka back and forth.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes fuck, shit, damn, and ass.
  • When Lennie is in band class, her teacher encourages them to “stick your asses in the wind!”
  • As Lennie and Joe kiss, she says that she’s turned into “a total strumpet-harlot-trollop-wench-jezebel-tart-harridan-chippynymphet.”
  • After talking to Lennie about her mom, Joe calls himself a dickhead.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Gram believes that a certain household plant “reflects [Lennie’s] emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.”
  • Both Lennie and Bailey compare Toby to St. Francis.
  • When talking with Joe, Lennie remarks, “My favorite saint of all time is a Joe . . . Joseph of Cupertino, he levitated. Whenever he thought of God, he would float into the air in a fit of ecstasy.”
  • While sitting at Bailey’s desk, Lennie notes that there is a statue of St. Anthony: Patron of Lost Things.
  • After clearing the house of things that Gram has deemed unlucky, Gram remarks to Lennie, “You know that mask Big brought back from South America… . . . I think that it might have a curse on it.”

by Sara Mansfield

Peak

Fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello has climbing in his blood. Both of his parents have climbed some of the largest mountains in the world, and his biological father, Josh, is still a renowned mountaineer. When Peak is arrested for scaling a skyscraper in New York City, he’s sent to live with Josh in Thailand rather than face time serving in a juvenile detention center.

But Josh has other plans—namely, that he’s going to get Peak to summit Everest, making Peak the youngest person ever to do so. Despite Josh’s sketchy, press-oriented motivations, Peak gives Everest a chance. But Everest is unforgiving even for experienced climbers. Any mistake could mean death.

Peak is an exciting mountaineering book that discusses climbing terms in ways that are easy to digest for readers unfamiliar with high-altitude climbing. For instance, Peak describes high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) to illustrate the sorts of dangers that climbing at high altitudes can have on the human body. Although nothing is particularly graphic in this book, it does describe seeing corpses and people suffering from HAPE.

Peak’s personal journey throughout the book is commendable. Peak’s main emphasis is on his family, who he loves dearly. His mother raised him, and his excellent relationship with his younger half-sisters (“the Peas”) highlights his fundamentally kind and caring personality. While climbing Everest, Peak’s friendship with another fourteen-year-old Tibetan boy named Sun-jo shows how much they depend on each other to make it to the summit. Their friendship is a focal point of the book because Peak grapples with his competitive nature while knowing that Sun-jo should have the honor of being the youngest person to summit. This conflict comes to a satisfying resolution, and Peak and Sun-jo’s friendship remains strong.

Peak also struggles with his feelings about his biological father, Josh. Peak is wary of Josh’s motivations. Their relationship, although fractured at the beginning of the story, begins to mend as Josh and Peak learn more about each other. Although their relationship is unlike Peak’s closer relationship with his mother, Josh starts to have a place in Peak’s life.

Peak is the first book in this series, and the next books also detail Peak’s climbing adventures. Peak is a good introduction to the series because it explains climbing facts while also creating a fun and interesting story about Peak’s climbing adventures. Climbing and being on top of the world are important for Peak, but love for family and friends top any mountain that he could scale. While reaching the top of Everest is temporary, family lasts a lifetime.

Sexual Content

  • Peak briefly recounts his parent’s relationship. He says, “I was conceived in a two-man tent under the shadow of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. At least that’s when my mom thinks it happened.”
  • Peak overhears a climber talking about Josh. The climber says, “Josh is so cute! What do you think he’d do if I snuck into his tent one night?” The person’s friend responds with, “I don’t think that’s included in the permit fee.”

Violence

  • Peak gets arrested for illegally scaling and tagging a building. A detective tells Peak, “I just talked with your mother. She said that I had her permission to beat you to death.”
  • Peak scales skyscrapers for fun, and he often ends up in newspapers as a mystery climber. A boy tries emulating him and he “fell from the Flatiron Building. He’s dead . . . The boy had all [of Peak’s] news articles pinned up in his bedroom . . . the fall was enough to kill him.”
  • Peak describes high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). He says, “Here’s how HAPE works: Your lungs fill with fluid, you can’t breathe, you go into a coma, then you die.”
  • Sun-jo gives Peak a rundown on the history between Tibet and China. Sun-jo explains, “The people’s Republic of China invaded Tibet fifty years ago. Since that time over six thousand Buddhist monasteries and shrines have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed or jailed.”
  • Peak, Zopa, and Sun-jo arrive at Base Camp “just in time to see Josh get into a fistfight with someone. At 18,044 feet, though, it wasn’t much of a fight. An older, red-faced man took a swing, which Josh easily ducked and countered by pushing him in the chest. The man landed on his butt in the snow. After this it was pretty much over except for the shouting.” Josh had told the man (as had the man’s doctor), that the man was in no shape to go further up the mountain.
  • Peak hears about someone dying on Everest. One climber says that the man who died “stepped out of his tent in the middle of the night to pee. Idiot was wearing slippers. He slid two hundred yards down a slope into a crevasse so deep the Sherpas say he’s probably still falling.”
  • A porter, or a Sherpa, tells a story about a yak that he purchased. An avalanche had almost buried them, and the yak ended up with two broken legs. The porter tells Peak, “There was only one thing to do. I unsheathed my knife and cut his throat.” The porter ended up sleeping in the carcass for warmth.
  • Several climbers die on Everest from HAPE. Peak and Zopa hear that “[the other two climbers] had died at Camp Six two hours after Zopa talked to the distraught German climber the previous day.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some climbers smoke cigarettes. Zopa “bought up several cartons of cigarettes to sell to them.”

Language

  • Light profanity is used somewhat often. Words include: moron, idiotic, dang, shut up, lame, lousy, and pooped.
  • At Base Camp, a man denies that he has a heart condition. He yells at the doctor, “That witch doctor of [Josh’s] doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” It is meant to be derogatory.
  • Josh jokingly tells Peak that Josh is “in debt up to [his] crevasse,” which makes Peak laugh.
  • Peak meets Holly, a reporter who he refers to as “a pain in the crevasse.”
  • Josh tells Peak that getting a fourteen-year-old to climb Everest has “more sex appeal” for attracting people to his climbing company.
  • There is a German doctor at Base Camp, and some of the climbers don’t like her. As a result, they say malicious and untrue things. Peak overhears one of them say, “Straight from Nazi Germany, if you ask me. I think she’s here to perform experiments on us, not treat us.” Another climber mutters, “Heil Hitler” when the doctor’s name is mentioned.
  • Josh tells Peak that he won’t be allowed to summit because the other climbers don’t want him to. Josh explains, “I’m sorry, Peak. I’ve been a jackass about this. They’re right. This is their climb. They’re paying the tab.”
  • As Peak is leaving camp, Josh waves. Peak “returned the wave with a gesture of [his] own,” insinuating that Peak held up his middle finger at Josh or something to that effect. Josh responds with “his trademark grin.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Peak and Josh stop by Mount Everest before going to Chiang Mai. Peak is surprised and says, “For a climber, saying that you are stopping by Everest is like saying you’re going to stop by and see God.”
  • Josh’s friend Zopa used to be a sirdar, or Head Sherpa. According to Josh, Zopa is “a Buddhist monk now. Lives at the Indrayani temple. The Lama there has given him permission to forgo his vows for a few weeks to take [Peak] up to Base Camp.”
  • Before going up Everest, all of the climbers go through a puja, which is “a Buddhist blessing ritual.”
  • For the puja ceremony, Peak and Sun-jo build a cairn and raise flags. Peak explains that “as the flags flutter in the wind they release the prayers written on them and pacify the gods.”
  • Peak makes “a special prayer flag” before he attempts the summit.
  • Peak tells his sisters about the prayer flags. Peak says, “There’s a prayer written on the flag. When it blows in the wind the prayers go up to God. If you put the flag really high on a mountain the prayer gets to God faster.”

by Alli Kestler

Slaves of Socorro

Hal and his fellow Herons return home to Skandia after defeating the pirate captain Zavac and reclaiming Skandia’s most prized artifact, the Andomal. With their honor restored, the Herons turn to a new mission: going to Araluen. But soon after they arrive, news comes of a Skandian wolfship attacking a village and enslaving twelve people.

With the help of the ranger Gilan, the Herons set off to track down Tursgud—leader of the Shark Brotherband and Hal’s constant opponent. Tursgud has turned into a pirate and a slave trader, and the Herons are determined to save the twelve Araluen villagers from him. The Heron crew sail into action. But finding Tursgud and freeing the slaves proves more difficult than the Herons ever imagined.

The Slaves of Socorro begins slowly, as it starts with the Herons returning home. When they are given a mission, the Herons travel to Araluen. Along the way, they see Tursgud’s ship and give chase, but Tursgud is able to slip away. Determined to find Tursgud, the Herons travel to Socorro. This causes the first half of the book to lack action and suspense, and readers will be glad when the Herons finally arrive at their destination.

The pace picks up in the second half of The Slaves of Socorro. Flanagan vividly builds the world of Socorro, which adds interest to the story. As the Herons come up with a plan to free the Araluens, Ingvar agrees to pose as a slave. His imprisonment shows his willingness to make sacrifices for strangers. Ingvar’s kind nature and loyalty are admirable. The Herons also highlight the importance of working as a team, as well as embracing each person’s strengths.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will cheer as Gilan joins the Herons on their mission. However, fans will be frustrated when several scenes depict Gilan in an uncharacteristic way. Gilan is not the only new character added to the story. Kloof, a misbehaving dog, joins the crew and adds humor to the otherwise serious story.

In typical Flanagan style, the book concludes with an epic battle that is somewhat bloody. Tursgud and his crew all die; however, their deaths are not celebrated. Even though many people die at the hands of the Herons, they intentionally try to disable their enemies instead of killing them when possible.

Slaves of Socorro may start off slowly, but the second half of the book is full of action as the Herons save the Araluens from slavery. The story’s difficult vocabulary and detailed sailing scenes make the Brotherband Series best for strong readers. Readers will enjoy the friendship between the Herons, Thorn’s gruff behavior, and the unexpected plans that Hal comes up with. Readers will be eager to begin the next book in the series, Scorpion Mountain, which will add another character from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series.

Sexual Content

  • When Lydia finds out that Karina and Thorn are going to a celebration together, Lydia sings, “Karina and Tho-orn, sitting in a tree-ee. Kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee.”
  • Thorn asks Karina to the celebration. Later, Thorn tells Hal, “Just wanted you to know, there’s been no . . . funny business between me and your mam. No . . . hanky-panky, if you know what I mean.”
  • Before Thorn sails off on a mission, Karina “threw her arms around Thorn’s neck and kissed him soundly on the mouth. For a moment, Thorn was caught by surprise. Then he responded eagerly.”
  • One of the saved Araluens thanks Hal and then “leaning in, she kissed him on the cheek.” When Lydia snorts, Thorn asks, “What’s got your undies in a twist, princess?”

Violence

  • The Oberjarl, Erak, sees Tursgud, “and half a dozen of his unsavory crew members” drinking ale. Tursgud’s “eyes were bleary and he was very much the worse for drinking ale.” When the boys are disrespectful, “Erak raised the cask high, then slammed it down on Kjord’s head. The bottom of the cask gave way and showered the remaining ale down over Kjord’s body and shoulders. . . He [Kjord] sat upright for a second or two. Then Erak grabbed his collar and jerked him up and back off the bench with one convulsive heave.” Kjord is knocked unconscious. Erak tells Tursgud, “‘Now pick that piece of garbage up.’ He jerked his head at Kjord, who was moaning softly. ‘And get out of my sight.'”
  • A man shows up in Cresthaven looking for help. The man says slavers “hit us after dark and caught us totally by surprise. Killed three and took twelve prisoners. The rest of us ran. . . [They] drove us off and sat around drinking and feasting on our food and ale—and burning down houses and barns.”
  • A group of men attacks the Herons. In the fight, Hal uses a large crossbow. “The force of the shot jerked the man’s leg out from under him, and he fell, dropping the bow and clutching at his injured leg.” The Herons create a shield with their bodies. “Four of the attackers went down in the first impact, as the Skandian axes, and Thorn’s mighty club-hand smashed into them. . . The leader looked back in an attempt to rally his men. . . [a crossbow bolt] hit him squarely in the chest. The impact hurled him backwards and crashed into two of his men, dead before he hit the sand.” Many of the bandits are wounded or killed in this eight-page fight.
  • While Ingvar is imprisoned in the slave market, another Slave named Bernardo, bullies him. “Each of his questions was accompanied by a vicious elbow jab into his [Ingvar’s] ribs.” Bernardo’s head jerked back with the first punch. . . Ingvar heard the sound of bones cracking as the man’s nose broke. Bernardo uttered a choked cry, dazed from the rapid sequence of devastating punches.”
  • To create a diversion, Gilan starts a fire in the gold market. As he is leaving, someone sees him and Lydia and calls for the guards. The guards attack and “Lydia took a pace forward and punched her dirk into the soldier’s upper arm. The heavy blade sliced through the man’s chainmail shirt like a hot knife through butter. He felt the sudden burning pain in his arm.” Several of the guards are injured.
  • As Gilan and Lydia flee, the guards continue to follow. “Gilan’s sword shot forward. . . the guard felt the impact, felt the point penetrate his chest and almost immediately withdrew. He felt the hot gush of blood that spelled the end.”
  • Hal and some of the Herons break into the slave quarters in order to free them. When they enter a room, a guard “began to rise, just as Thorn kicked the heavy table over. The two on the side nearest Thorn were caught by a quick back-and-forth sweep of his club, thudding into their skulls and sending them sprawling to either side.”
  • As the slaves try to escape, soldiers “began shooting at the fleeing slaves. . . the would-be escapees began to fall, some crying out in pain, others ominously silent.”
  • While trying to escape, a group of guards corner the Herons and slaves. Hal’s dog Kloof attacks. The guard “yelped in fear as Kloof’s jaws clamped shut on his sword arm with all the force of a bear trap. . .” Then the Herons rush the guards. “Thorn’s small shield slammed full into his face, breaking his nose and cheekbone. The sergeant stumbled backward, blinded by blood and tears, his hands to his face, sinking to the cobblestones, huddled over in agony.”
  • One of the Herons stabs a guardsman who “fell sideways, staring in horrified disbelief at the blood welling from the wound. His chain mail and his sword clattered as he crashed onto the cobbles.”
  • To prevent Tursgud from following the Herons, Hal secretly ties ropes to Tursgud’s ship. When Tursgud tries to follow, the ship is ripped apart, and “the water rushed in and the boat filled and sank. . . One or two heads bobbed on the surface and they could hear their desperate cries. Then they fell silent.”
  • As the Herons flee Socorro, guards use a catapult to throw huge boulders at the ship. The Herons use their own catapult to launch jars filled with pottery shards. The pottery shatters, hitting a guard. The guard “took a jagged, five-centimeter piece in the forehead. It tore a huge flap of skin from his head. Blood gushed out, blinding him, and he threw both hands to his face in pain.” Gilan and Lydia shoot arrows at the guards.
  • A guard accidentally hits a trebuchet, and a boulder fell on the commander who “was still hurling curses at the little ship as it slid past. . . when the huge, crushing weight landed on him. He screamed once, then he was silent.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s mom soaks a “slab of meat. . . in a mixture of red wine and oil.”
  • At a dance celebrating the Heron’s return, wine and ale are served to the adults. “The band seemed to have mastered the art of drinking deep drafts of ale in sequence, so that the music continued, uninterrupted.”
  • The Herons go to Cresthaven to relieve a Skandian crew of duty. Someone tells Hal, “the ale is wonderful.” Before they leave, the villagers throw a party for the Skandians, who drink plenty of ale.
  • Smugglers bring brandy from Gallica into Cresthaven.
  • Wine is served at the gold market.
  • Tursgud and his men had been banned from “several drinking places.” So Tursgud went into a different tavern and “spent the night there, hunched over a table in the corner, repeatedly calling for his ale cup to be refilled.”
  • When the Herons return the Araluens, the village throws a party and offers their guests ale. The Herons drink coffee instead.

Language

  • The Skandians often use their gods’ names as exclamations. For example, when a dog eats a brush, Hal yells, “Let go, you fool! . . . Orlog blast you!”
  • When the Herons approach a damaged ship, Hal says, “Oh Gorlog’s socks, they think we’re going to attack them.”
  • Someone calls the Oberjarl a “silly old fool.”
  • Two brothers argue and call each other names, such as idiot and blithering twit.
  • Several times someone is called an oaf or an idiot.
  • Damn is used once.
  • A guard calls his commander a “son of a pig.”

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Socorrans build prayer towers for their gods. Hahmet is the god of war. Jahmet is the god of love. Kaif is the god of good harvest, fair weather, business and success, and family matters. The Socorrans pray three times a day.
  • The Hellenese believe in the goddess Ariadne.
  • When the Herons rescue slaves, one of them tells Hal, “May the gods bless you for coming.”
  • Someone says, “By Ergon’s tears,” which refers to an obscure Araluen god.

History is All You Left Me

Griffin Jennings is no longer dating Theo McIntyre, but his ex-boyfriend is still his favorite person in the world. In Griffin’s universe, he and Theo are “endgame,” even though Theo is off at college with a new boyfriend, Jackson. Ever since they broke up so Theo could enjoy college, Griffin has been impulsive and reckless. Slowly, he’s been able to manage life without Theo, by holding onto the thought of their future together.

That dream shatters when Griffin learns that Theo is dead. Now, he must speak at Theo’s funeral, watch him be lowered into the ground, and learn to live in a universe without his first love and best friend. History is All You Left Me is divided into two sections. First, it covers Griffin and Theo’s history in the past. Then it switches to the present day as Griffin deals with losing Theo. He befriends Jackson, the person who took his place; Griffin sees Jackson as the only person who understands his grief. Additionally, the story details Griffin’s relationship with Wade, Theo’s childhood friend, and how their group of three was impacted by Theo and Griffin dating and breaking up.

In the end, Jackson and Griffin come to terms with the fact that they both loved Theo, but in different ways. Griffin says, “I’m hit with a realization: the Theo you were with him isn’t the Theo you were with me, and maybe that’s okay.” Though their story is fraught with complications, jealousy, cheating, and impulsive hook-ups, History is All You Left Me is a story about learning to navigate the world when you lose someone you love.

Griffin narrates the book in the first person, often voicing his thoughts directly to Theo as “you” – such as “you’re still alive in alternative universes, Theo.” The story switches from the present to the past, which allows readers to immerse themselves in Griffin’s headspace as he grieves and remembers Theo via the history they shared.

As a main character, readers may not relate to Griffin because of his impulsiveness and jealousy. By sleeping with Wade and Jackson, he seeks to get revenge on Theo. However, this book is much more complicated than what is on the page. Griffin also struggles with OCD compulsions that contribute to his behavior. In addition, dealing with grief causes people to do things they normally wouldn’t consider. Griffin is experiencing two kinds of loss: first, losing his boyfriend to someone else, and second, losing his best friend to death.

Even though Griffin’s actions may not be relatable, he is a well-developed and complicated character who deals with grief realistically. He doesn’t hide his pain and is willing to admit he has done wrong, which makes him human rather than a hero. His guilt and regret are genuine and devastating—sadly, there is no happy ending; rather the ending emphasizes the process of learning to be happy again while still preserving history. A certain amount of moving on is necessary too. For Griffin, that comes in repairing a friendship with Jackson and trying out a relationship with Wade as all three of them learn to live without their versions of Theo McIntyre.

Sexual Content

  • Griffin kisses Theo after a trivia game night, in which they win a plastic sword and shield. Once they take their prize, Giffin “lean[s] over to give Theo a thank-you kiss.”
  • Griffin thinks about having sex with Theo. Griffin doesn’t “know if Theo is smiling because he’s imagining us having sex or because he likes making me uncomfortable, but I do know that I don’t have the balls to continue this conversation.”
  • While they’re doing a puzzle in Theo’s room, Theo asks Griffin to have sex with him. Theo “immediately holds my hand and kisses me. We lie down. When our shirts finally do come off, it’s different from all the times we’ve gone to the beach, since we’ve never held each other shirtless . . .  And just like that we’re naked in my bed . . . It’s weird how it’s nothing like I thought it would be from the countless hours of porn watching I’ve clocked.”
  • After having sex, Theo says, “I’m Theo McIntyre, a dude who just had sex with another dude!”
  • At a birthday party in central park, Wade, Theo and Griffin’s friend, says, “Just don’t have sex out here or I’m calling the cops.”
  • Wade talks about Griffin’s sex life with Theo a lot. Later, Wade says, “You came out to each other, made out, banged out, and now came out to your parents. You’re as out as it gets.”
  • Wade accompanies Theo and Griffin to buy condoms and they run into Griffin’s father. They both feel awkward. “’Protection is good,’ Dad says. ‘You can’t get pregnant, but there are other dangers.’ Griffin tries leaving the aisle, but his dad cuts ahead. Griffin’s dad says, “Wait. We should be able to talk about this. This doesn’t have to be embarrassing . . . Your mom and I were thinking about sitting down with you soon to talk about this stuff—to talk about sex . . . Wait. Have you both already?” His father ends up buying the condoms for them, but the boys vow not to use them because it would remind them of the awkward situation. This scene is described over five pages.
  • Afterward, Wade says, “Good going guys. Do you think your dad is trying to figure out who’s the top and who’s the bottom yet?”
  • While working on Theo’s college admission essay, Griffin kisses Theo. Theo says, “Screw college, let’s have sex instead.”
  • On Griffin’s birthday, Griffin says, “I woke up to a video from a shirtless Theo for my eyes only.” Later that day, Theo can tell Griffin is thinking about something. Theo says, “You’re supposed to be able to talk to me when something’s up. If you don’t the Bad Boyfriend Council will show up at my house and give me a demerit.” Griffin replies, “What happens when you get too many demerits?” Theo says, “I’ll be sentenced to an entire month without masturbation or sex. You got to save me here.”
  • Griffin visits Theo’s dorm. “The single bed is unmade. It’s so small, and whenever Jackson slept over, you two must’ve been forced to really push up against each other so no one fell off the edge. I have no idea when you and Jackson had sex for the first time, but the first time you casually mentioned it to me was a couple of months after you were already dating him, a little joke as if you were testing the waters to see if I would laugh. I did, but I knew you could tell it hurt me, because you never brought it up again. Either that or you and Jackson stopped having sex, which, let’s be real. . . I know you.”
  • Because Theo liked zombies, Griffin created a “zombie kiss” for him, where he nibbles Theo’s cheek. Jackson later shows this to Griffin. “Jackson nibbles on my [Griffin’s] cheek, doing a very stupid growl. He stares into my eyes afterward and smiles . . . he doesn’t know I know all of this. You taught him something personal to me . . . I grab Jackson by the back of the neck and kiss him – a straight-up kiss where my tongue finds its way into his mouth and his massages mine back . . . His fingers rake my lower back as he pulls me so close to him our chests are pressed together, hearts hammering against one another. I push him backward, and he probably thinks I’m done, that I’ve come to my senses or something, but I take off my shirt and send it sailing across the room.” To Theo, Griffin says, “I want you to watch me have sex with your boyfriend.”
  • When Theo visits home, he kisses Griffin and says he will break up with Jackson.
  • After Wade hears about this, he lets Griffin know that Theo doesn’t intend on breaking up with Jackson. “I have to tell you something. Theo got a single room for his sophomore year so he can have more private time with Jackson . . . Stop defending him, Griffin. And stop putting him on some throne.”
  • Griffin and Wade kiss: [Wade] pulls me into a hug, which is rare. But I need it. I hug him back. Then [Wade] kisses me, which is unimaginable . . . I stop kissing Wade. He’s Theo’s best friend. Wade doesn’t apologize. He stares at me, probably expecting me to punch him or run away. He’s no longer the same Wade I grew up with and this dizzies me, even more so than the news of Theo getting a single room so he can pretty much live with Jackson . . . So I kiss Wade again. I kiss him because he’s Theo’s best friend.”
  • Griffin and Wade have sex multiple times. Griffin takes “off my shirt and pull[s] off Wade’s too. I climb on top of Wade and he sinks to the floor, flat on his back, and I kiss him a lot like Theo kissed me the last afternoon we had sex. It’s not long before we make it into his bed, completely undressing ourselves, and Wade confesses this is his first time. . . Theo is never going to take me back. Not after he learns I’ve had sex with Wade five times already.”
  • Veronika, one of Jackson’s friends, meets up with him and Griffin and reveals that she had an abortion. When someone comments on her Facebook status, Veronika gets upset and says, “Did my Facebook status mention I broke up with the latest love of my life because of the abortion I had to have? Did my Facebook status tell you all about how I wasn’t ready to be a mom and he wasn’t ready to be a dad and how we agreed this was a bad time, that we would go to the clinic together and he would hold my hand through this? Did my Facebook status tell you he didn’t show up and hasn’t responded to any of my texts? . . .I lose a part of myself and lost a little person who was growing inside me and was going to look like me . . . I’ll never get to be this kid’s mom.”

Violence

  • One of Griffin’s cousins tells him to get over Theo, prompting a fight with Griffin. He narrates it like this: “I lunge at the bastard—I hear the gasps of my mom and Rosie, some cheers from some younger cousins, screams from others—and my dad catches me before I can snuff him, dragging me back toward the kitchen while Remy laughs.”
  • Theo drowns, but it is not described because Griffin didn’t witness it. However, Jackson admits that, instead of trying to save Theo himself, he went to get a lifeguard. Griffin is angry so he says, “’I would’ve never stood by and watched Theo die!’ Jackson jumps up and he holds my arms. I don’t know if he’s trying to stop me from shaking or keep me from walking out, but I break out of his grip and punch him in the face, which surprises both of us, and then I punch him in the face again, which only surprises him.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Russell, Theo’s father, goes “out for a smoke” occasionally.

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes: damn, shit, hell, dick, bitch, and ass. Fuck is used less often. For example, the weather is described as “fucking freezing.”
  • Slut and whore are both used once.
  • Griffin says to Theo, “I’m sorry. That was a dickhead thing to say. I need a condom for my mouth.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Griffin’s grandmother is religious and asks him if he’s prayed today. Griffin says, “I prayed this morning.” Then he thinks, “lying about prayer would’ve felt a lot more sinful if I ever believed in God, but well, those thoughts are better suited for someone with reasons to believe in the miracle of resurrection.”
  • Griffin’s family prays at Thanksgiving.
  • Jackson and Griffin talk about God while wishing at a fountain. Griffin says, “Look, there are so many coins in here. People thought their spare change could buy them stuff, like actual riches or something else. We’re all suckers.” Jackson says: “I always thought it was more religion than fantasy. Ignore everyone throwing in money for more money. Everyone else is praying. Throwing a coin into a fountain is a little less disappointing than praying in some church. You go straight to the Big Man’s house, you expect results.” Griffin says: “How the hell can you believe in God? After Theo?” Jackson replies: “I don’t spend my Sundays at church, but I’ve always taken to the idea of bigger plans. I had big plans with Theo – now I don’t. There’s got to be something to take away from this. I refuse to believe he died pointlessly… I’m not going to give God the silent treatment because I’m pissed off Theo is dead. Theo believed in God.”
  • Griffin speaks to Theo in his mind about going to church: “I should remind Jackson where I stand on this God character, but this place is beautiful . . . You [Theo] never mentioned going to services with Jackson, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. I’m trying to be respectful here, but my feelings on faith at the moment are the same feelings I have for the church itself—beautiful and promising on the outside, but possibly disappointing on the inside.”

by Madison Shooter

 

Charlotte’s Web

Fern saves a piglet, the runt of his litter, from being killed by her father, Mr. Arable. She names the piglet Wilbur and cares for him until he has grown too big to stay at the Arables’ house. Her father is unwilling to provide for Wilbur, so he convinces Fern to sell Wilbur to her uncle, Mr. Zuckerman. Wilbur can stay at Mr. Zimmerman’s farm for the rest of his days. And although Wilbur has more room to move and plenty to eat, he becomes lonely—he wants a friend.

After hearing Wilbur’s request, Charlotte, a gray spider, befriends him. Fern frequently visits Wilbur and observes the activities around the barn, occasionally accompanied by her little brother, Avery. One day, a sheep warns Wilbur of an inevitable future: one of those days, the farmers will slaughter him for “smoked bacon and ham.” However, Charlotte plans to dissuade the humans from killing her new friend.

An external narrator tells the story of Charlotte’s Web so the reader can understand the thoughts of every character. Since the story centers on Wilbur’s growth from his friendship with Charlotte, who encourages him to be “some pig,” “humble,” and “radiant,” Wilbur is the only character who changes throughout the story. The narrator follows Wilbur’s actions often since Fern spends more time with the humans than the animals. Fern expresses her fondness for Wilbur, nonetheless. Younger readers will not get lost in the plot because Fern tells her family about the farm animals’ activities. In addition, pictures of the farm and characters are in most chapters so readers can visualize the setting.

Even though the story is a beloved classic, the frequent praise of Charlotte’s webs and Wilbur’s magnificence is heavy-handed at times. Plus, the book’s vocabulary will make it difficult reading for some readers. Younger readers may not understand the 1950s culture, but they will understand the relationship between Fern and the humans, and the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte. The dialogue has 1950s dialogue, and some phrases and terms may be offensive to modern audiences. For example, when Mr. Zuckerman says to the minister that Fern is a “queer child,” he meant that Fern is a strange child.

Elementary school readers will enjoy the book as it ultimately tells the story of friends from unlikely places. If you are looking for a more modern story about love, life, and friendship similar to Charlotte’s Web, there are great ones to choose from, such as A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mr. Arable was on his way to kill Wilbur, but Fern stops him by saying, “The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? . . . This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of.” The scene lasts for two pages.
  • Throughout the book, Charlotte captures and eats “anything that is careless enough to get caught in [her] web.”
  • One of the old sheep in the farm tells Wilbur that the humans have been fattening him up so they can kill him and eat him. “Almost all young pigs get murdered by the farmer as soon as the real cold weather sets in. There’s a regular conspiracy around here to kill you at Christmastime. Everybody is in on the plot.” Wilbur’s panic at the revelation continues for two pages.
  • One of Charlotte’s cousins battled against a fish. “There was my cousin, slipping in, dodging out, beaten mercilessly over the head by the wildly thrashing fish, dancing in, dancing out, throwing her threads and fighting hard.” Her cousin wrapped the fish in her threads, defeating it. Then, “[Her] cousin kept the fish for a while, and then, when she got good and ready, she ate it.” The fight lasts for two pages.
  • Charlotte dies after seeing off Wilbur and Templeton, a rat, who are returning to Mr. Zuckerman’s farm. “She never moved again. . . Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the County Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charlotte gives her prey “an anesthetic” so they won’t feel pain when she eats them.
  • Lurvy, the hired man on Mr. Zuckerman’s farm, gives Wilbur “two spoonfuls of sulfur and a little molasses” when Mr. Zuckerman notices Wilbur’s misery.

Language

  • Templeton is mad when Wilbur wakes him from his nap, and says, “What kind of monkeyshine is this?”
  • Wilbur calls Templeton a “crazy rat” when the rat makes noise at night.
  • Zuckerman calls Edith, his wife, “crazy” because she wants to wash Wilbur with buttermilk.

Supernatural

  • An announcer refers to Wilbur’s excellence as “dealing with supernatural forces.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Mr. Arable lets Fern keep and care for Wilbur, he prayed for the “good Lord” to “forgive him for this foolishness.”
  • Lurvy “dropped to his knees and uttered a small prayer” upon seeing the words “some pig” on one of Charlotte’s webs.
  • Many humans refer to Wilbur and the webs as a “miracle.”
  • Mr. Zuckerman meets with the minister about Wilbur and the webs. The minister says, “I can explain it in my sermon next Sunday.” On that Sunday, the minister says, “the words on the spider’s web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”
  • Wilbur refers to the doorway where Charlotte wove her webs as “hallowed” when he spoke to three of Charlotte’s daughters, Joy, Aranea, and Nellie.
  • Templeton exclaims, “Bless my soul” out of frustration when Wilbur persuades him to take Charlotte’s egg sac before they leave the County Fair.

Sherwood

Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé. Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Marian is a captivating protagonist who struggles with deciding what is right and wrong, just and unjust. As a girl, Marian has always struggled to fit into her society because she would rather wield a sword than wait for a knight-in-shining-armor to save her. Even though Marian’s society expects her to act like a lady, Marian knows she will never fit into the typical female mold. One of the reasons Marian loved Robin of Locksley is because he never asked her “to be someone she’s not.”

Even though Robin of Locksley died in the story’s prologue, his voice is not silent. When Marian first dons Robin’s cloak, Robin’s voice guides her. Flashbacks to Robin’s and Marian’s childhood also develop both characters’ personalities. As the story progresses, Robin’s voice recedes into the background, and Marian wonders if she ever really knew Robin. Despite this, Marian deeply misses Robin’s friendship and appreciates that he never tried to change her.

Sherwood quickly grabs the reader’s attention and keeps the suspense high until the very end. The story is full of sword fights, chases, and secrecy. Spooner creates wonderfully complex characters that cannot be judged based on their appearances or their station in life. Readers will fall in love with Marian’s ragtag group of followers as they fight for justice. Through this fight, the story questions whether the law is just. Gisborne is dedicated to the law, but even he realizes “the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

The action-packed conclusion contains several surprises but also ends with a heartfelt scene that will leave readers in tears. In the end, Sherwood is a story that will stay with readers for a long time after they put down the book. Marian’s story reinforces the idea that each person needs to be true to themselves. Even though you cannot fight today’s problems with a bow and arrow, Sherwood encourages you to make an impact on the people around you.

Sexual Content

  • While confronting Marian (who Gisborne thinks is a man), Gisborne said, “You’re of noble birth. Disgraced one too many times with the household servants or else a bastard son banished when you came of age.”
  • Seild, one of Marian’s friends, is in an unhappy marriage. Seild says her husband “prefers the company of women who are too afraid to refuse him.”
  • Robin Hood tells Seild’s husband, “Only a coward leaves his wife alone while he forces himself on the servants.”
  • After Gisborne shares part of his personal life with Marian, she kisses him. “Her lips met his too strongly, the sudden need for him turning her clumsy. . . He held her a moment longer, eyes falling to her lips—and then he bent his head to kiss her. His mouth met her gently at first, but when she leaned close, when her lips parted, when he slipped an arm around her and felt her back arch, he abandoned gentility as utterly as the rest of the façade he’d worn for so many years. . . Her hips moved, tipping up like a beckoning finger, and when he felt her swell toward him he tore his mouth from hers . . . “ The steamy scene is described over two pages.
  • After Marian and Gisborne jump into a river and survive, Gisborne kisses her. “He was kissing the tears from her cheeks when he realized she was shivering, and not from his touch.”

 

Violence

  • During a war, Robin tries to protect the king. The enemy “must have killed the sentries in silence. . . Something thuds into Robin’s shoulder, sending him off balance, and he whirls, searching for the blade he knows is coming. . . It’s then that he feels the fiery lance of pain racing down his biceps and he gasps, sword dangling uselessly from his shoulder.”
  • Even though he is injured, Robin uses his arrow to save the king. “And then a blade crunches into Robin’s side and he’s knocked down against the stone with the force of the blow. He cannot move, cannot feel anything below his rib cage—there is no pain.” Robin dies. The battle is described over four pages.
  • While in the forest, Marian is attacked. “She saw a thick, blunt branch swinging out of the darkness towards her face. She moved without thought. . .The cudgel came at her again, its wielder a shadowy, wild shape that danced in her half-stunned vision.” When Marian pulls her sword, the man stops because “he was afraid.” Marian realizes that the man is Will.
  • Will and Marian continue to fight. “She dropped the weapon as his body collided with hers, and her world narrowed to a frantic staccato of gasps and grunts. . . And then Will got to his feet, and in his hand was Marian’s sword. . . she ducked easily when he rushed her, twisting so that she could land a jab of her elbow into his arm below the shoulder.”
  • During the fight, Marian “struck out at the back of [Will’s] head, momentum half spinning him so she could ready a second blow. But before she could strike, his knees crumpled and he dropped to the ground. . .” Marian ends up saving Will’s life.
  • Marian goes into the forest looking for Will. Two men see her and try to steal from her. While on horseback, Marian tries to run down the thief. “John, now flailing in the leaves, had dropped his staff – Marian threw herself down and snatched it up. . . She had the staff’s tip against Little John’s throat before he could stand.”
  • While disguised as Robin, Marian meets Gisborne. “But then something kindled in Gisborne’s dark eyes, a flash of decision or ferocity, and her instinct took over. She swung her blade up in time to deflect his blow, the clang of steel on steel bringing her back to herself.” After a brief scuffle, Marian runs.
  • Marian, disguised as Robin, hears fighting in the forest. She finds Little John “surrounded by a swarm of the Sheriff’s men. . . Every so often he landed a blow that sent one reeling back, but there were more men than could gather round him at once. . . Gisborne strode up, holding John’s staff, and swung it in a massive arc at John’s head. John grunted and dropped to his knees, his eyes glazed. . .” John passes out because of his injuries.
  • After Marian helps John, a man leaped out at Marian, and “his fist slammed into her stomach. . . She staggered back, all the air driven from her lungs. . . The world around her grew dim, the green-gold of afternoon fading into a deep velvety gray twilight.”
  • Marian as Robin flees from the castle. However, Gisborne chases her. “. . . A hand shot out of the drizzle and slammed into her shoulder. She skidded backward, breath driven from her lungs as she hit the wall. . . Dazed, ears ringing, she forced her eyes to focus in time to see the hand coming at her again. . . She ducked, and twisted, and grabbed for the arm as it passed her, and threw all her weight against the body the arm was attached to and sent it into the wall with a sickening thud.”
  • Marian plans her own kidnapping. After “Robin” drops off the ransom notice, she tries to escape from Gisborne. Gisborne “was moving, lunging at her with shocking speed. . . and then something wrapped around her throat and hauled her backward, chocking. Gisborne had the edge of her cloak, and with a second heave he flung her down to the ground and rolled on top of her . . .” Robin “swung its hilt with all her strength into the side of Gisborne’s head. . .” Robin escapes. The scuffle is described over three pages.
  • While robbing a wealthy man, Robin and her men cut the horses’ traces so the carriage stopped moving. “Little John felled one of the remaining guards with one sweep of his staff, and by the time the other guard reached for his sword, Marian was standing in front of him, bow drawn, arrow just a breath away from his nose.” No one is seriously injured.
  • Seild’s husband, Owen, raises his hand to strike her. Robin Hood shoots an arrow. “Its point pierced Owen’s hand in the dead center of his palm, causing the man to stagger back and fall with a howl of surprise and pain, clutching his wrist with his good hand.”
  • While fighting a war, Gisborne was scarred. He said, “The Saracens poured oil from a jar down my face and tied me over a lamp so that I could feel its heat rising against my skin, and had to hold myself back against the ties or else be burned. . . they cut the bonds. I was too weak to stop myself from falling against the burning lamp.”
  • Marian accidentally drops her Robin Hood mask and a guard finds it. When the guard pulls his sword, Marian shoots an arrow at him. “The force of the arrow’s impact had knocked him back against the wall, and he stayed leaning there, mouth open. . . he moaned and slumped toward the ground.” The guard dies from his injuries.
  • Robin Hood and his men plan to steal gold, but they end up walking into a trap. When Robin Hood realizes it’s a trap, she yells to the others to flee. “One of the guards screamed a moment later as he fell, bleeding from a shallow cut across his face. . .”
  • Robin Hood is left to fight Gisborne on her own. “She swung hard, with the momentum of her whole body, as Gisborne’s next blow came down at her. The force of her parry knocked him back a step, and Marian scrambled back. . . His sword came down like an elemental force, but Marian saw the shift in his feet and the tension in his arm and she was ready. . . Steel met steel with a clash that numbed Marian’s arm.”
  • When Robin Hood flees, Gisborne shoots an arrow. “The point had broken off when she’d rolled, but when she looked down a bloody, splintered thing protruded from her chest. He’d shot her in the back, and the force of it had driven the arrow straight through her. . . His eyes moved from his hand to her face, and then down to the mess of blood and splintered wood at her chest.” As Gisborne looks at Mariam, “something heavy swung into view and collided with the side of Gisborne’s head, knocking him flat.” The fight scene is described over six pages.
  • When Marian is accused of being Robin Hood, she is sentenced to hang. Her men and Gisborne attempt to free her. “. . . Before Marian could recover, [Gisborne] pulled her sideways and dropped her neatly and abruptly off the edge of the platform and into the mud.” Marian is grabbed and pulled underneath the platform.
  • Gisborne fights the sheriff’s men. “Gisborne flung himself down onto the wood to avoid two more swords, spraying blood onto the planks from a gash in his neck.” Marian jumps in to help Gisborne.
  • While trying to free Marian, the scene turns into chaos, which allows Marian and Gisborne to flee. When their pursuers get close, “a hard body collided with hers and slammed her to the ground. . .” As arrows fly toward them, Marian and Gisborne jump off a cliff into a river. The final escape scene is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After Marian is told about Robin’s death, a physician gives her something that makes her sleep. Later her maid gives her “herb-laced wine.”
  • When Marian is upset, her maid gives her a “cup of well-watered ale.” The ale has “draught” that makes Marian sleep.
  • Occasionally the adults have wine or mead. For example, Marian thinks back to when her mother would give her father a “mug of watered ale” to ease his tension.
  • Marian runs into a castle guard that was “slumped on one of the tables . . . drunk, and out of his head.”
  • When robbing a wealthy man, John “had liberated a cask of wine.”

Language

  • Damn is used seven times. For example, the sheriff yells at his men, “Kill him—now, you damned slackwits!”
  • Ass is used once and hell is used twice.
  • “God’s bones,” “God’s knees,” “oh God,” “Christ” and other like phrases are rarely used as an exclamation.
  • “Mary’s tits” is used as an exclamation twice.
  • When Will doesn’t want to help Gisborne escape being hung, Alan says, “He just saved her life. You really do have shit for brains.”

Supernatural

  • Some believe Robin’s spirit has returned; however, it is really Marian in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • When Robin’s uncle died, Robin was told, “Your uncle was much liked, before he went to be with God.”
  • While engaged, Robin and Marian had “never lain together, both too conscious of the laws of God and man. . .”
  • Occasionally Marian prays. For example, when Marian goes to help a friend, she prays, “God what am I doing? It’s Robin—Robin’s the one who should be here.”
  • When Robin’s mother died, “people kept saying [Robin] should be happy she was with God.” Marian replies, “Or I could be like Father Gerolt and give you a sermon about God’s plan. Don’t despair, my child, for it is not for us to know the will of heaven.”
  • After injuring a guard, Marian prays “to God that he lives.”
  • When Marian goes to see the injured guard, a monk tells her, “Now it only remains to wait, and to pray for God’s mercy. If the wound begins to heal, he may live. If the wound poisons his blood. . . he will go with God.”
  • The monk moves with difficulty. When Marian asks after his health, the monk tells her it is a “test God has granted me.”
  • Gisborne tells Marian, “Because the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

 

The Vanishing Deep

Seventeen-year-old Tempe was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet five hundred years ago, its people had to learn to survive living on the water. However, the ruins of the cities lay below. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn’t food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister’s life.

For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn’t a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe. Tempe knows that her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents; now she wants to know why.

But once revived, Elysea has other plans. She doesn’t want to spend her last day in a cold room accounting for a crime she insists she didn’t commit. Instead, Elysea wants her freedom and a final glimpse at the life that was stolen from her. She persuades Tempe to break her out of the facility, and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. Every step of the way they are pursued by Lor, a Palindromena employee desperate to find them before Elysea’s twenty-four hours are up—and before the secret behind the revival process and the true cost of restored life is revealed.

The Vanishing Deep takes the reader on a trip into the future, where people live on metal structures on the ocean. The Old World was destroyed due to unsustainable practices because people “always [are] wanting more than we have.” Scholte’s world-building is detailed, realistic, and beautiful. Even though the story shows the importance of caring for the earth, the message is integrated into the story and never feels like a lecture.

The story jumps back and forth between Tempe’s and Lor’s points of view, which helps build suspense. Both characters are suffering from grief, but they each react to the loss of a loved one in different ways. Lor hides from the world and forces himself to pay penance to his friend’s death. On the other hand, Tempe is so shrouded in anger that she hasn’t grieved for her lost sister. By the end of the story, both Lor and Tempe realize they need to deal with their grief. Tempe realizes “anger had been my anchor. It had tethered me to the darkness in the world, to the things I couldn’t control. I had hidden from my grief. It was easier that way. But it wasn’t healthy.”

The Vanishing Deep is a suspenseful story that propels readers into an imaginative world that makes one consider questions about death. Tempe and Lor’s different perspectives show how grief can overtake someone’s life in unexpected ways. The conclusion contains several surprises but also leaves many unanswered questions. Despite this, readers will enjoy the journey through the New World, where people can resurrect a loved one. The story leaves off on a positive note by reinforcing the need for people to go through the grieving process, which includes learning to fully live their lives even though they’ve suffered an incredible loss.

Sexual Content

  • Lor and Tempe kiss. Tempe’s “skin blistered at the touch of him. I wasn’t sure who had ignited who. He tasted like the sea, smoke, and brine. His hand snaked up and into my hair. I breathed him in between kisses, needing him, needing this, needing life.”

Violence

  • When Tempe was younger, kids “would circle me, throw things in my hair and chant, water witch, water witch, water witch, as they ran around me. They wanted protection from the Gods below. Protection from me.”
  • When Tempe and her sister escape Palindromena, Lor goes after them. When Elysea sees him, she yells, “He’s already killed me once! Don’t let him do it again!” The barkeeper “tossed the knife at [Lor]. . . The knife dug into the counter, scratching [Lor’s] arm and pinning [Lor’s] shirt to the wood.” Lor is uninjured.
  • When Lor boards Tempe’s boat, she “Dove toward him, my arms connecting around his middle. . . He slipped on the wet metal hull, and we fell to the deck. . .He had hit his head against the mast when he fell. He was out cold.” Tempe ties Lor to the boat.
  • Lor and his best friend, Calen, were climbing a cliff when they fell into the sea. Lor died and his mother “couldn’t say goodbye to her son, so she killed Calen so Lor could live on.”
  • Tempe, Elysea, and another boy go to an underwater temple where they are ambushed. “Something silver shot past [Tempe’s] shoulder, tearing through my diving skin and into my flesh. I gasped in pain.”
  • While in the temple, a rebel named Qera grabs Tempe. Qera “grabbed my leg and twisted the flipper off. . . I reached for Qera’s wrist. She elbowed me in the face, attempting to tear my dome loose.” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After diving, Tempe takes a “recompression pill to neutralize the bubbles that were currently forming in my muscles and bloodstream.”
  • When Tempe goes on land, she is given “two opaque pills” to help with the stationary sickness.
  • There is the occasional mention of drinking rager—“a spirit made from fermented seaweed that hit you in the face like the odor of a month-dead familfish.”
  • A man goes to the bar and asks for a rager. He says, “Thanks, man. Liquid courage.”
  • While at a celebration, Lor drinks rager. Lor takes “a tentative sip. The fermented drink burned my tongue and made my eyes water.” Lor gets drunk.
  • The day before Tempe’s birthday, she goes to a bar with her friend. The worker gives Tempe’s friend “a shot of rager and a half a shot for me.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes ass, bastard, crap, damn, piss, and shit.
  • “Gods below” and “Gods” are both used as an exclamation occasionally.
  • Fuck is used once.

Supernatural

  • Scientists found a way to bring people back to life for 24 hours. Some thought “bringing back the dead was against the Gods’ wishes. Both Old and New.”
  • When a person is revived, he or she is “intrinsically linked through the echolink, tethering to my heartbeat. If she died, I would too.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • The New Gods and the Old Gods are mentioned, but no specific information is given about them.
  • Several times, Tempe prays to the Gods below. For example, she drops stones into the ocean “saying a prayer to the Gods below who took souls from boats in a storm and the air from the lungs of divers.”
  • In the past, “the Old World believed in the Gods above and followed the stars to journey across the land.”
  • Some people believe the “Old Gods had turned away from us and our selfishness.”
  • Tempe “doesn’t believe in luck; I believe in the Gods below and what they determined for my future. Why they had chosen to take my parents and my sister, I wasn’t sure.”
  • When Tempe goes to Palindromena, someone says, “Praise the Gods below for protecting our island.”
  • Tempe asks her sister about death, but her sister doesn’t remember anything. “Those who believed in the Gods below said you would be reunited with your loved ones in a realm beneath the sea. A realm where you could breathe underwater. And those who believed in the Old Gods said you would go to a place in the sky.”
  • When Tempe’s sister suddenly becomes unconscious, Tempe prays. “In all the times I’d prayed to the Gods below, they’d never listened. I begged that they would this time. Just this once.”
  • Lor wants to save Elysea’s life, but he’s not sure how. “For the first time in my life, I whispered words of prayer to the Gods below, not knowing if they existed, listened or cared. But wasn’t that how everyone prayed? With faith that they weren’t alone and no evidence to prove it?”

 

 

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding. It puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of the country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war. In war, personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, and find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Mariam and her mother live as outcasts. With little contact with the outside world, Mariam dreams of a time when her father will accept her. When Mariam’s mother dies, Mariam has no choice but to show up at her father’s house. Her father quickly arranges for Mariam to marry Rasheed. At first, Mariam is hopeful that living in a new city with a new husband will be the beginning of something good. But after a string of miscarriages, Rasheed becomes violent and forbids Mariam from seeking friendship.

Meanwhile, Laila grew up with parents that believe everyone deserves an education, including girls. While Laila’s childhood is far from perfect, she is surrounded by loving people. Then, just when her family plans to leave their war-torn city, Laila’s parents are killed. With no family or friends left, Laila isn’t sure where to turn. When Rasheed offers marriage, Laila reluctantly agrees to become his second wife. However, she wasn’t prepared for his first wife’s hate or Rasheed’s violence.

A Thousand Splendid Suns has worked its way onto many schools’ required reading lists because the story helps readers understand Afghan history. More importantly, it is a story of family, friendship, and hope. Mariam and Laila’s friendship gives them strength to live in a brutal environment, where their husband is cruel and abusive. Through their plight, readers will begin to understand the role women play in Afghanistan and how the Taliban changed their world overnight.

Readers will be deeply moved by the story’s events. However, the brutality of war, the massacre of innocent people, and the harsh physical abuse of both Mariam and Laila is graphic and disturbing. Hosseini paints a realistic picture of living in a war-torn country, and the images of death will remain with readers for a long time after they close the cover of the book. Even though A Thousand Splendid Suns has a positive message, sensitive readers will find the descriptions of Rasheed’s abusive behavior and the constant death upsetting.

Before you read A Thousand Splendid Suns, grab a box of tissues because the story will bring you to tears. Because of Laila’s friendship, Mariam makes a decision that will forever alter both of their lives. Through Mariam’s experiences, readers will come to understand how powerless women were under the Taliban’s rule, but they will also see how friendship and kindness have the power to change one’s life.

Sexual Content

  • After Mariam’s mother got pregnant, the baby’s father told his wives that her mother had “forced” herself on him.
  • Mariam is forced to marry a much older man. Before the marriage, Mariam thinks about her mother’s words. “It was the thought of these intimacies in particular, which she [Mariam] imagined as painful acts of perversity, that filled her with dread and made her break out in a sweat.”
  • One night, Mariam’s husband comes into her room. “His hand was on her right breast now, squeezing it hard through the blouse. . . He rolled on top of her, wriggled and shifted, and she let out a whimper. . .The pain was sudden and astonishing. . . When it was done, he rolled off her, panting.”
  • Mariam finds pornography in her husband’s room. The women in the pictures, “their legs were apart, and Mariam had a full view of the dark place between.”
  • Mariam’s husband desires intimacy. “His appetite, on the other hand, was fierce, sometimes boarding on violent. The way he pinned her down, his hand squeezes at her breast, how furiously his hips worked.”
  • Laila’s feelings for her best friend, Tariq, begin to change. She wonders “what would it be like to kiss him, to feel the fuzzy hair about his lips tickling her own lips?” Later, they have sex. “Laila thought of Tariq’s hands, squeezing her breast, sliding down the small of her back, as the two of them kissed and kissed.”
  • Laila hears a story about three sisters who were raped and then “their throats slashed.”
  • After Laila’s parents die, an older man asks Laila to marry him. He implies that if she says no, she may have to work in a brothel. Laila agrees to marry him because she is pregnant.
  • After Laila and the man are married, he has sex with her. “Laila had a full view of his sagging breast, his protruding belly button. . . she felt his eyes crawling all over her.” They have sex several times, but the action is not described in detail.

Violence

  • The book often describes the violence of war. For example, someone says that the Mujahideen forces boys to fight. “And when soldiers from a rival militia capture these boys, they torture them. I heard they electrocute them. . . then they crush their balls with pliers. They make the boys lead them to their homes. Then they break in, kill their fathers, rape their sisters and mothers.”
  • After Mariam goes into town, she comes back and sees “the straight-backed chair, overturned. The rope dropping from a high branch. Nana dangling at the end of it.”
  • After Mariam has a miscarriage, her husband becomes different. It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults. . . [Mariam] lived in fear of his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks. . .”
  • Russians took over Afghanistan and people talked about “eyes gouged and genitals electrocuted in Pol-e-Charkhi Prison. Mariam would hear of the slaughter that had taken place at the Presidential Palace.” The president was killed after he watched the “massacre of his family.”
  • Mariam’s husband was angry because of her cooking. “His powerful hands clasped her jaw. He shoved two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold, hard pebbles into it. Mariam struggled against him, mumbling, but he kept pushing the pebbles in, his upper lip curled in a sneer . . . Then he was gone, leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars.”
  • A teacher would slap students. “Palm, then back of the hand, back and forth, like a painter working a brush.”
  • A boy shoots a water gun, spraying a girl with urine.
  • After a girl is bullied, her friend fights the bully. “Then it was all dust and fists and kicks and yelps.”
  • A rocket hits one of Laila’s friend’s houses. “Giti’s mother had run up and down the street where Giti was killed, collecting pieces of her daughter’s flesh in her apron, screeching hysterically. Giti’s decomposing right foot, still in in its nylon sock and purple sneaker, would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.”
  • A rocket hits Laila’s house. “Something hot and powerful slammed into her from behind. It knocked her out of her sandals. Lifted her up. And now she was flying, twisting and rotating in the air. . . Then Laila struck the wall. Crashed to the ground.” Laila sees her dead parents.
  • Laila hears a story about soldiers “raping Pashtun girls, shelling Pashtun neighborhoods, and killing indiscriminately. Every day, bodies were found tied to trees, sometimes burned beyond recognition. Often, they’d been shot in the head, had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out.”
  • Rasheed, Laila’s husband, hits both of his wives often. “One moment [Laila] was talking and the next she was on all fours, wide-eyed and red-faced, trying to draw a breath. . .” She drops the baby she was carrying. “Then she was being dragged by her hair.” Her husband locks her in a room and then goes to beat his other wife. “To Laila, the sounds she heard were those of a methodical, familiar proceeding. . . there was no cussing, no screaming, no pleading. . . only the systematic business of beating and being beaten, the thump, thump of something solid repeatedly striking flesh.”
  • When the Taliban take over Afghanistan, they kill the Afghanistan leader. The Taliban “had tortured him for hours, then tied his legs to a truck and dragged his lifeless body through the streets.”
  • After Rasheed hits Laila, she “punched him . . . The impact actually made him stagger two steps backward. . . He went on kicking, kicking Mariam now, spittle flying from his mouth. . .” At one point Rasheed put the barrel of a gun in Laila’s mouth.
  • Rasheed gets upset at Laila and begins “pummeling her, her head, her belly with fists, tearing at her hair, throwing her to the wall.” Mariam tries to help Laila but Rasheed hits her too.
  • After an old friend comes to see Laila, Rasheed gets angry. “Without saying a word, he swung the belt at Laila. . . Laila touched her fingers to her temple, looked at the blood, looked at Rasheed, with astonishment. Rasheed swung the belt again.” Rasheed begins to strangle Laila. “Laila’s face was turning blue now, and her eyes had rolled back.”
  • In order to save Laila, Mariam hits Rasheed with a shovel. “And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical . . . Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had.” Rasheed dies from his wounds.
  • When an Afghanistan leader is killed, Laila thinks about some of the violence that he caused. “She remembers too well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branches of some tree days after their funeral. . . “

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone is given morphine after being injured.
  • Laila overhears a story about her husband. He was drunk when his son “went into the water unnoticed. They spotted him a while later, floating face down.” The boy died. Someone says, “This is why the Holy Koran forbids sharab. Because it always falls on the sober to pay for the sins of the drunk.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes ass, piss, shit, and damn.
  • As a child, Mariam’s mother reminds her that she is a bastard because she was born out of wedlock.
  • Mariam yells at her half-brother, saying “he had a mouth shaped like a lizard’s ass.”
  • Mariam pleads with her father, asking him not to make her marry a stranger. He yells, “Goddamn it, Mariam, don’t do this to me.”
  • A child yells at a bully, saying, “Your mother eats cock!” The child does not know what the words mean.
  • Someone calls Laila a whore. Later, Laila’s husband also calls her a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on characters who are Muslim. They often pray.
  • Mariam’s mom said she had a difficult labor. She said, “I didn’t eat or sleep, all I did was push and pray that you would come out.”
  • Mullah Faizullah teaches Mariam about the Koran’s words. He tells her, “You can summon them [God’s words] in your time of need, and they won’t fail you. God’s words will never betray you, my girl.” During difficult times, Mariam thinks about verses from the Koran.
  • Mariam asks Mullah Faizullah to convince Mariam’s mother to let her go to school. He replies, “God, in His wisdom has given us each weaknesses, and foremost among my many is that I am powerless to refuse you, Mariam.”
  • Mariam’s mother tells her, “Of all the daughters I could have had, why did God give me an ungrateful one like you?” Later that day, her mother commits suicide.
  • After Mariam’s mother commits suicide, Mullah Faizullah says, “The Koran speaks the truth, my girl. Behind every trial and every sorrow that He makes us shoulder, God has a reason.” Later, he tells Mariam that Allah “will forgive her, for He is all-forgiving, but Allah is saddened by what she did.”
  • After Mariam’s father forces her to marry, her father says he will come to visit her. She tells him, “I used to pray that you’d live to be a hundred years old. . . I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me.”
  • When Mariam learns that she will have a baby, she thinks about a verse from the Koran. “And Allah is the East and the West, therefore wherever you turn there is Allah’s purpose.”
  • When Mariam has a miscarriage, she gets angry, but thinks, “Allah was not spiteful. He was not a petty God. . . Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He Who has power over all things, Who created death and life that He may try out.”
  • When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, flyers were passed out with new rules including “all citizens must pray five times a day. . . If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.”
  • A man tells Mariam, “God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can.”

The Great White Shark

In beautiful Cape Cod, a fatal Great White attack rocks the popular tourist destination. As the beaches are closed and locals grow angry, a recently arrived Barn Whimbril heads straight into the action. But with a group of local teens determined to surf no matter what gets in the way, can Barn safely investigate the attack or will he come face-to-face with the ocean’s most feared apex predator?”

The main protagonist, Barn, is an extremely likable character who is obsessed with sharks. He is joined by his two best friends, Margaret and Fin. Unlike the first installment of the series, Barn’s friends do not play a major role in the story, which may disappoint some readers. Instead of focusing on Barn’s friendships, in The Great White Shark Barn is isolated and spends too much time thinking.

When Barn makes enemies of some local boys, the group begins harassing Barn and his friends. The most vocal instigator is Vince. Like many readers, Barn is uncertain about how to deal with the bullies. When Vince and Barn are pulled out to sea, it is Barn’s knowledge that helps the two survive. Even though Vince and his friends are cruel to Barn, Barn doesn’t consider repaying them with violence. During all of Barn’s conflicts, he never allows hate to rule his emotions.

Barn’s enthusiasm and shark knowledge is a wonderful aspect of the story. Even when he comes face to face with sharks, Barn is still awed by them. While out in the ocean, Barn tells Vince, “They’re looking for food. We’re food. They don’t want to hurt you; they just want to eat you. If we’re lucky . . . they won’t bother us.” Barn’s calm attitude and his willingness to forgive Vince are both admirable traits.

The Great White Shark is not as entertaining as the first installment of the story. One reason is that there is very little interaction between Barn and his friends Margaret and Fin. In addition, some of Barn’s conflict comes from his uncertainty about his mom dating. While the first installment was a fast-paced action story that never had a dull moment, The Great White Shark has a much slower pace.

The Great White Shark will appeal to readers who love sharks and survival stories. One reason that Barn’s story is so captivating, is because Barn isn’t afraid to show his shark knowledge, but at the same time, he is uncertain when it comes to different aspects of his life—like his feelings for Margaret. Readers who want more shark action should read Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Barn’s dad was “killed in Afghanistan.”
  • Jimmy is killed by a great white shark. While surfing, “something fierce and horrible grabbed his leg. A pain more terrifying, more excruciating, than anything he had ever experienced ran like a million hornet stings to his brain. He screamed . . . The pain kept ringing and ringing and ringing in every cell.”
  • A great white shark eats a seal. “The shark tore into the crippled seal. The shark’s full head came out of the water and then it began thrashing back and forth, ripping the seal meat, scattering bits of flesh on the surface of the sea.”
  • A man begins shooting at a shark.
  • Vince intentionally runs into Barn. “In the next moment, a body smashed into his. The contact came so quickly, and so unexpectedly, that the impact knocked him off his feet and into the air. He landed with a thud in the sand. . . His wind had been knocked out of him.”
  • Vince starts harassing Barn’s friend, Margaret. Barn tries to help when he “ran as hard as he could at Vince. Vince sidestepped in time and stuck his leg out, and Barn piled right into the mounded beach. His face went into the sand, and his body crashed like an accordion behind him.” Barn is embarrassed, but not injured.
  • Vince and his friends corner Barn and shove him onto the beach. Vince forces Barn to take a surfboard out into the shark-filled ocean. The two boys get pulled out to sea by a riptide. Both end up in the hospital with hypothermia. Vince apologizes for his behavior.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jimmy loved sports and was “a darn good surfer.”
  • There is some name calling, including idiot, dweeb, jerk, loser, and chicken.
  • Heck is used twice

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation

Decades ago, Albert Einstein devised an equation that could benefit all life on earth—or destroy it. Fearing what would happen if the equation fell into the wrong hands, he hid it away.

But now, a diabolical group known as the Furies are closing in on its location. In desperation, a team of CIA agents drags Charlie into the hunt, needing her brilliance to find it first—even though this means placing her life in grave danger.

In this adventure that spans the globe, Charlie must crack a complex code created by Einstein himself, survive in a world where no one can be trusted, and fight to keep the last equation safe once and for all.

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation starts with an epic chase scene and continues the fast-paced adventure until the very end. The story is told from Charlie’s point of view, which makes her relatable despite the fact that she is a genius. Even though she is intelligent, Charlie doesn’t always know what to do. But when it comes to difficult situations, Charlie can visualize numbers in her head, which allows her to solve complicated problems. This talent comes in handy when she uses a cipher to reveal Einstein’s message.

Charlie wants to keep Einstein’s equation out of the hands of terrorists and hostile governments, but she’s not sure the U.S. government can be trusted. Charlie is cynical when it comes to the U.S. government. She says, “America’s priorities are pretty darn clear: The first thing we do with any major discovery is try to kill people with it.”

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation deals with some mature topics including religious extremism, death, and Charlie’s complicated family life. The intense fight scenes, life-or-death chases, and the death of several characters may upset sensitive readers. In addition, the complicated plot is best suited for strong readers. However, readers who are ready for more mature content will have a hard time putting the book down because of the action and mystery.

Charlie’s journey takes readers on a suspenseful trip that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation will entertain mystery fans. At the end of Charlie’s adventure, she realizes that “all the talent in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you squander it.” The conclusion wraps up all of the story threads and also leaves readers wanting to know what will happen next. Readers will be eager to pick up the next book in the series, Charlie Thorne and the Lost City.

Sexual Content

  • Charlie teases her brother Dante, saying, “Jeez, you might know a whole lot about terrorist cells, but you don’t know much about women. That was a full-on ‘I wish Dante would say to heck with the regulations and just kiss me’ look.”
  • Dante tells Charlie to go to bed, but she will have to share the bed with his partner agent Milana. Charlie says, “You’re sure you wouldn’t rather be in there with her? You could do a little smooching before bed.”

 Violence

  • At Einstein’s request, his friend Ernst began burning Einstein’s papers. Ernst “continued feverishly stroking the flames, even as he heard the men break down the front door and shove Helen aside, even as they burst into the room and pulled their guns and screamed at him to stop, right up until their leaders clubbed him from behind, crumpling him to the floor.”
  • Charlie wants to steal the pool guy’s truck. When he refuses to give her the key, Charlie “lashed out a leg and swept the pool guy’s legs out from under him. . . He slipped and landed flat on his back.” Charlie shoves the guy into the hot tub and then takes off.
  • The KGB captures an American spy, who “cowardly offered secrets in return for his life. The old man and his fellow agents listened as the American spilled his guts—and then they killed him anyhow.”
  • The narration states, “The world’s most infamous serial killers had all been unimpressive losers who had been unsuccessful at just about everything except murdering helpless people.”
  • A terrorist steals one of Einstein’s books. When “the young archivist instinctively moved to protect it. . . he [Marko] punched the archivist in the face, then drilled a fist into his stomach as he reeled backwards. The archivist went down, whacking his head on a table. . .”
  • Charlie tries to get Einstein’s book back. She grabs a skateboard and jumped on a railing. “Then she rode down quickly grinding along the rail, bearing down on Marko . . Charlie bounced off the railing, hitting Marko with the full force of her body. The two of them tumbled across the asphalt.”
  • When Marko recovers, he “lowered his shoulder and rammed into her [Charlie]. . .He knocked the wind out of her while sending her falling backward into the trunk of a parked car. The trunk caught her. . . sending a lightning bolt of pain up her spine.”
  • Marko tries to escape Charlie but she uses the skateboard to trip him. “He flew forward, the rage on his face now giving way to surprise. . . Marko plowed headfirst into a lamppost, hitting so hard that the sound rang across the parking lot. . .She grabbed a handful of his hair, and with a surge of adrenaline and rage she’d never known she had, she slammed his head back into the lamppost again.” One of Marko’s companions kills him and then tries to kill Charlie. The chase scene is described over six pages.
  • In order to escape Dante, Charlie “drove her knee into her brother’s crotch.” Dante runs after her. “Charlie was thrown several feet by their combined momentum and crashed into a kiosk selling fresh fruit.” Dante wrestles her to the ground and drags her to a safe house.
  • When entering the safe house, the terrorist attacks Dante and Charlie. Dante is “beaten down and a gun was pressed against her [Milana’s] head.” One of the terrorists “kicked Dante in the stomach so hard it made Dante curl into a ball.” In order to escape the terrorist, Charlie“grabbed the mug and smashed it on Alexei’s temple, sending him reeling. Then she threw it at Vladimir, hitting him in the face.” As Charlie and Milana run, Charlie can hear the sound of fighting and guns being fired.
  • As Charlie and Milana try to escape, Dante “fired down, directly through the floor. There was a scream of pain from below, and then Dante dove away as more bullets tore upward through the floor. . .” The fight with the terrorists is described over 20 pages.
  • The terrorists kill a CIA agent. A terrorist says, “The brown man? He’s dead. We tossed him in the bathroom.”
  • When Charlie and Milana run from the terrorists, Charlie runs into a fruit stand. “The owner grabbed her arm roughly and raised a hand to strike her . . .” Milana stops the man and “wrenched the man’s arm so hard that he howled in pain, releasing Charlie.”
  • When the terrorists catch up to Charlie and Milana, Charlie threw chili powder into a man’s eyes. “Oleg roared in pain and stumbled forward blindly. Milana spun around and drove a knee into his crotch, folding the man like a hinge.” Charlie throws boiling water in a terrorist’s face. The scene is described over two pages. Both Charlie and Milana escape.
  • The CIA looks at the security video from the safe house. An “unknown figure . . . shot both of the agents before they could even react.”
  • While leaving a church, “three of the pilgrims pounced on her [Milana], knocking her to the ground. . .” Charlie was hit and “her legs were swept out from under her, her face was slammed into the cobblestones, and a gun was pressed against the back of her head.” Then the Mossad arrested them.
  • In order to free Milana and Charlie from the Mossad, Dante shoots one man “in the shoulder, spinning him and dropping him to the ground.” The Mossad lets the two go free, but then there is a high-speed chase.
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Alexei, a rogue CIA agent, the Mossad, and Charlie’s group race to get Einstein’s work. The rouge agent shoots and kills a man sitting in a car. Agents shoot at each other and someone points a gun at Charlie’s head.
  • Milana tries to catch Charlie, but “bullets stitched the earth around her, and she felt a sting as one caught her thigh. . . The bullet had only nicked her, although it still hurt like heck.”
  • The rogue CIA agent, John, catches up to Charlie. Charlie punches John. “The punch caught him off guard, but he rolled with it and then came in low. He drove his fist into Charlie’s solar plexus, then caught her with another blow that floored her.” A bullet hits a propane tank and there is a strong explosion. “The explosion roared over her [Charlie] and blasted John off his feet, slamming him into a tree with such force that his bones snapped. . . His spine had been broken when he had been thrown into the tree. . . John felt a sudden rush of heat and smelled something burning close by. . . Within seconds, the flames leapt up all around him. John screamed, but no one heard him.”
  • While trying to flee Jerusalem, Milana and Dante have to get by the security guards. “The CIA agents caught the poor security agents by surprise, rendering them unconscious within seconds.” Then the terrorists show up and open fire. “The CIA agents emptied their guns. One after the other the Furies screamed in pain and dropped. Alexei was the last to go.” When one of the Furies shoots toward a fuel tanker and “emptied his clip. . . The tanker exploded. A ball of fire raced toward the plane. . .” Charlie, Milana, and Dante escape. Three people die. The scene is described over seven pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Albert Einstein was gravely ill, his doctor gave him morphine.
  • Alexei goes into a bar and talks to a man who has been drinking. “At first Alexei thought the [man’s] story might be the ravings of an alcoholic.”
  • Einstein’s friend believed he had failed Einstein. A few months after Einstein’s death, his friend died in an alcohol-related death.
  • Several men who are part of a group of terrorists have been in jail for drunk driving. One of the men spent time in jail because of public intoxication.
  • After a fight with a terrorist, Charlie takes ibuprofen for the pain.
  • The terrorist discovers a man works for the CIA and, “The Furies, drunk and vengeful, had shown no mercy. . .the Furies were brutal.” The CIA agent’s body was unrecognizable.

Language

  • The story has a lot of name calling including: creep, idiot, jerk, slimeball, and stupid punk. For example, Charlie calls a pool guy a “sexist jerk.”
  • Crap is used four times. For example, Charlie drove her friend’s “crappy car.”
  • Charlie tells a CIA agent, “I nearly killed myself trying to save your stupid butt. What kind of idiot jumps in front a moving truck?”
  • God is used as an exclamation once.
  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Alexei is planning on bombing a large city “teeming with people of inferior races. . . He would destroy them all. The day was close. Alexei knew it. God had willed it.”
  • Alexei believes that immigrants are “rats” and his job is to wipe them out. “God had chosen him to do it.”
  • While trying to escape the terrorists, Charlie was “praying her math was right.”
  • Charlie “wasn’t religious . . . And now, here she was sitting inside one of the most important churches on earth. It occurred to her that maybe she should take that as a sign and pray for Dante.”
  • Einstein “didn’t believe God played dice with the universe.”
  • Charlie thinks about God and Einstein. “Einstein had been a religious man, but he had claimed the God he favored was that of Baruch Spinoza, who had declared, ‘God is in the details, the beauty, the math of the world.’”
  • While looking for Charlie, Alexei, “Prayed to God that he would get to Charlie Thorne before the Mossad.” When Alexei finds Charlie, he thinks, “God smiled on him again.”

 

I Am Still Alive

Jess Cooper loses her mother and some of her mobility in a car accident. At fifteen—soon to be sixteen—years old, she is forced to live with her absent father in middle-of-nowhere Alaska. Then just as Jess was getting to know her father, a secret from his past leaves him dead. Jess is determined to survive in the wilderness with nothing except her father’s hunting dog and her wits.

Jess journeys through the wilderness to her father’s second cabin just as winter begins to set in. During her stay at the cabin, she plans her revenge against the men who killed her father. As winter continues, she also learns skills to keep herself alive and just how much the wild does not care about human life.

The first half of the book follows Jess in a “before and after” journal style as she recalls moments before and after her father’s murder.  With the change of point of view (from journal to the first-person present) the reader loses descriptions of Jess’s surroundings as the story becomes more of a stream of consciousness, which focuses on Jess’s inner thoughts. The journal-like style gives readers insight into Jess’s internal thoughts and worries. Understanding Jess’s personality and thought process allow readers to connect and sympathize with her.

Despite the many trials Jess goes through—the car accident, her father’s murder, her physical disability, and a lack of survival skills—she uses her wits and figures out ways to solve problems. Jess’s first obstacle is finding shelter. Jess recalls memories of building stick shelters in a small patch of woods with friends. She realizes that she does not need to chop down trees or find the greatest place to hunker down. She has the remnants of her father’s burned-down cabin, and a belt to help drag planks. Through Jess’s experiences, the reader will learn the importance of perseverance in the face of danger.

The style and wording of the novel welcome young readers, though the topics may be upsetting. While the violent death of a parent is a heavy topic, readers will gain insight into Jess’s emotions and feelings as she struggles with stressful situations. Readers who enjoy survival stories will enjoy the action and tension as Jess fights her father’s murderers. Readers also gain a sense of triumph as Jess completes her goal of survival in the wilderness.

I Am Still Alive is a quick read with an uncomplicated plot, but the act of surviving gives enough of a thrill to make readers want to know the end of Jess’s story. While she does not always learn from her mistakes—she often makes the same mistakes two to three times—she always puts 100% of her energy into planning a way around an obstacle. While the ending is not completely happy, Jess grows as a character from the city girl she once was. At the end of it all, she even feels a slight pull back to the wilderness. Jess thinks the wilderness is, “A place that does not love me and that I do not love. But we don’t expect love from each other, the wild and me.” Readers looking for other snowy survival stories should check out Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson and Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter.

Sexual Content

  • As she hides, Jess overhears the perpetrator of her father’s murder talking. The man “mostly talked about women. Talking about women in ways that sex ed and primetime TV did not prepare me for. I hated him more with every word.”

Violence

  • The book contains general talk about death in the sense of hunting, hunger, and survival. Skills on how to skin animals and degut them are described. For example, Jess’s dad “narrated everything he was doing as he took the fish and slit it along its belly. He told nobody in particular how to scoop out the guts.”
  • Jess reminisces about her mother’s death in the car crash: “. . .the world ended. Only half of it came back. My half. It was feel of wet cold rain and wet hot blood.”
  • Jess goes fishing with her dad. “Then [dad] hit [the fish] three times sharply on the back of the head with a little weighed club.”
  • Jess has a nightmare. The man “raises his hand, and there’s a gun in it. The gun roars with the sound of a fire, crackling and howling. Griff’s head kicks back. The air filled with red blood like mist, and it’s all over my clothes, it’s all over my hands and my face and in my mouth.”
  • People visit the cabin and “Raph kept smiling. And he took out his gun. And he shot my father in the head.”
  • While she hides from the people who killed her father, Jess debates her next actions. “I would have to get out to the plane and I would have to get the door open and then I would have to shoot him or stab him or whatever it was that I could possibly do to a man with a gun, a man whose friends had shot my father as he reached out his hand to shake.”
  • When Jess confronts the villain he “slams the butt of the rifle against my jaw.”
  • Jess defends herself against a man. “I bring the rock up in both hands and swing it as hard as I can at the side of his head.”
  • Daniel, the villain, attacks. “And Daniel, lying on his side with one arm twisted awkwardly under him. I watch for a long time, but he doesn’t move. He doesn’t breathe. Dead. My fault.”
  • When her dad’s hunting dog takes a bullet for her, Jess has to kill the dog as she cannot save him and he is in pain. “I aim the rifle between his eyes. He doesn’t flinch out of the way, only pants.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After the accident, Jess takes medication for her pain. “Painkillers, the powerful kind, leftover from my prescription. I haven’t taken them in weeks, but I shake one out now and swallow it dry.”
  • Jess describes a boulder in the forest. “I remember a boulder. Dropped here by some long-gone glacier, it leaned a bit, like it was drunk.”
  • Jess, her father, and her father’s friend, Griff, are telling stories. “And Griff snorted beer out his nose and into his beard and then we all laughed about it.”
  • Jess’s dad describes Griff, saying “But eventually he always pours himself out of his bottle and comes back.”
  • Jess finds “a couple of bottles of beer at the back of the cabinet.”

Language

  • Ass is used once and asshole is used twice. For example, Jess reminisces about one of her foster families, and thinks, “George is an asshole.” Later Jess names a fox George, “because George was an asshole, and so was the fox.”
  • Jess describes her injury and how unbalanced she is. “Just snap and shut, and I’m on my face or my ass.”
  • Damn is used once. Jess tries to figure out how to survive, but she doesn’t “know a damn thing about making a fishing rod from scratch.”
  • Raph, the villain, talks about Jess’s dad. He says, “It’s his own goddamn fault.”

Supernatural

  • Jess finds the last bullets for her father’s rifle. “I’ll waste at least one bullet, maybe more. Maybe all of them. They were a talisman. A piece of magic I was searching for, but now I have them and I remember that magic isn’t real.”

Spiritual Content

  • Jess describes Griff saying, “Jesus is [Griff’s] personal savior.”
  • Griff tells Jess, “God loves everybody, and when you die he can finally tell you direct. That’s why heaven is so nice.”
  • Jess’s mother, who was a pilot, says, “Pilots don’t have to depend on memory, which will always fail sooner or later. The checklist is God.”
  • Jess says the Lord’s name in vain. When she swears in front of her dad, he says “Don’t say that. . . There is no Lord. God’s just a lie the powerful people tell the little people to keep them in line.”
  • Jess reminisces about how Griff and her dad interacted. “Dad didn’t seem to mind when Griff talked about God. Maybe because Griff’s idea of God was very odd.”
  • At the end of the novel, there is a memorial service for Jess’ father. Jess “stood in an empty chapel while a preacher said kind words about a man he didn’t know, a man who would have hated every mention of God and heaven in the service.”

The Invaders

As champions of the Brotherband competition, Hal and the rest of the Herons were given a simple assignment: safeguard the Skandians’ most sacred artifact, the Andomal. When the Andomal is stolen, the Herons must track down the thief to recover the precious relic. But that means traveling stormy seas, surviving a bitter winter, and battling a group of deadly bandits willing to protect their prize at all cost. If it comes down to a fight, Brotherband training might not be enough to ensure the recovery of the Andomal—or the safety of the Herons.

Even though the Herons have left Skandia, their training continues as they wait for the winter winds to cease. The beginning of The Invaders focuses on Thorn’s training of the boys, which allows Thorn’s character to shift from a broken-down drunk to a respected warrior. The story often shifts focus from the Herons, to the pirate Zavac and back to Skandia. While the three story threads are easy to follow, the large cast of characters do not allow for sufficient character development. Hal and Thorn are well-developed, but the other characters fade into the background.

Despite the lack of character development, one theme runs true: “We all have different levels of ability. What we must do is make the most of what we’ve got.” Each character has a different ability and even Ingvar, who has poor vision, is a valuable member of the crew. The Invaders adds Lydia to the crew. Lydia is not a helpless girl who needs a man to save her. Instead, her skills are essential in helping save lives during the battle against the pirates.

While the plot is somewhat predictable, the interactions between the Herons’ Brotherband, Swengal’s Skandian crew, and the town people add interest. Unfortunately, at 400+ pages, The Invaders does little to advance the plot. The story ends with the pirate Zavac’s escape and the Herons alone in their search to find Zavac and take back the Andomal. The sluggish beginning, the difficult vocabulary, and the descriptive sailing scenes make The Invaders best for strong readers.

Unlike the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, the main characters are not fighting to help their country. Instead, Hal is fighting to restore his Brotherbands’ reputation. Another main difference between the two series is that Hal’s ingenuity is constantly praised, and he does not learn and grow. Readers who fell in love with Will in the ranger’s apprentice, will miss the three main characters—Will, Horace, and Halt. Even though The Invaders is not as captivating as the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, readers ready for an adventure on the high seas will enjoy the story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Jesper questions Thorn’s ability to train the boys, Thorn “moved with blinding speed. . . The old sea wolf’s left hand closed on Jesper’s collar in an iron grip and hoisted the boy off his feet, holding him suspended, his feet dangling clear of the ground. Then he gathered himself and hurled Jesper away like a sack of potatoes.”
  • While training the boys, Thorn uses a hickory baton to give the boys “a none-too-gentle rap on the behind” to get them moving. Once, Thorn “put a little extra venom into a whack.”
  • Thorn teaches the boys how to fight in battle. During an exercise, “Stig launched one last, massive blow at Thorn. . . Thorn caught it on the slanting face of his shield and deflected it.” Stig loses his balance, and “Thorn jabbed the baton painfully into his ribs like a snake striking.”
  • Pirates attack a ship. When a sailor tried to surrender, “a pirate’s spear was already thrusting forward. It took him in the middle of the body and drove him back. He screamed and fell to the deck, the spear still transfixing him as the pirate struggled to free it.” Even the sailors that surrendered were killed. “One died in silence. The other gave a brief cry of pain and despair, then fell to a bloodstained deck.”
  • The pirate captain, Zavac, questions a sailor to find where the ship’s treasures are hidden. Zavac “slashed the thin blade of the dagger across the Gallican’s face, laying open a long cut. . . Now the pain registered with him, a burning sensation across his face, accompanied by the rush of blood dripping down onto his clothes.” When the sailor stays quiet, Zavac tells his men, “Torture him. . . . On second thought, when he’s ready to talk, keep torturing him for another five minutes. Then call me.” After being tortured, the sailor is “barely recognizable. . . Two of his fingers on his right hand were missing, as was his left ear.” The sailor was eventually killed. The ship attack is described over eight pages.
  • Zavac and the pirates attack a small town, killing many people. The watch commander and his men try to defend the town. Zavac joins the fight and “he pivoted on his right foot and thrust viciously with the long curved blade in his hand. He felt it strike a momentary resistance, pause, then penetrate. Only now, he looked, and saw his sword deep in the belly of one of the garrisons. . . Zavac’s thrust had gone just below the highly polished breastplate that the man wore. The officer’s eyes were wide-open with shock.” The man dies. The pirate’s attack is described over several chapters.
  • A group of pirates chase Lydia. Trying to escape, she gets into a skiff. A pirate “grabbed hold of the stern” and Lydia “unshipped one of the oars and jabbed it at him, aiming at the hand that clutched the stern. He yelled in pain, releasing the boat.” Another pirate comes after her and Lydia “took quick aim at the man who had nearly caught her, then cast. His comrades were startled as he screamed and threw his arms up, then fell backwards against the wave. . .” The pirate dies.
  • Stig asks Barat, a company commander, to allow some of his men to help save Hal. Barat tells Stig no and Stig “hit Barat with every ounce of his strength. . . It was a savage right that connected flush on the side of his jaw, lifted him off his feet, then dropped him to the sand like a sack of potatoes. . . Barat was out like a light.”
  • The Skandians team up with the town people to defeat the pirates. Hal and his crew hit the balustrade with huge arrows. “A few seconds later, a section of the pine balustrade around the tower exploded in a hail of splinters as the heavy projectiles smashed into it, then through it, cartwheeling among the defenders and knocking men over.” Some pirates are injured, but the injuries are not described.
  • After Hal and his crew set the watch tower on fire, the pirates flee. However, the Skandians are waiting for them. The Skandians “smashed into the disorganized Magyarans, axes rising and falling in a deadly rhythm. The pirates, stunned and demoralized by the sudden onset of the watchtower fire, eyes streaming from the smoke, had no chance against the charging Skandians.”
  • Swengal and one of the pirates have one to one combat. “The Magyaran panicked as he tried in vain to withdraw his trapped spear. As a result, he never saw the roadhouse stroke from the massive ax that ended the fight for good.”
  • The story ends with a multi-chapter battle where the Skandians help free the town from pirates. When one of the invaders was shooting arrows at the Heron, Lydia threw a dart at him. The man “reappeared, arrow nocked, bow half drawn—and stepped straight into the plummeting dart she had just thrown. He threw up his hands, the bow went spinning away, and he reeled, then toppled over the railing, hitting the support frame several times as he fell.”
  • One of the Heron’s crew, Ingvar, was hit by an arrow. “. . . Ingvar [was] writhing on the deck, clutching at the arrow that was protruding from his left side, close to the hip.”
  • The Heron uses an oversized crossbow to send projectiles into a platform. The projectiles “wreaked havoc on the platform, smashing and splintering the railing and cutting down five of his [the pirate leader’s] men.”
  • One man is hit with a dart and then “toppled off the catwalk and thudded to the street below.”
  • Another pirate tried to flee, but Thorn “slammed the small metal shield into his unprotected midriff and he gasped and doubled over. A rib-cracking jab from the club finished him, sending him sprawling.”
  • During the battle, many pirates die. One dies when Hal “jabbed quickly forward and saw the shock on the man’s face as the sword penetrated his defense and slid between his ribs.”
  • When some of the pirates attempt to flee, the towns’ people attack them. “After a few brief violent moments, the townspeople moved on, leaving the broken, battered bodies of the pirates sprawled on the cobbles.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A Skandian in the common room had an ale cup in his hand.
  • Sometimes Thorn’s past drunken behavior is discussed and Thorn is called a, “Broken-down old drunk.”
  • A ship that the pirates attack is carrying “a few barrels of wine and ale.”
  • After the town is liberated, they throw a celebration where ale is served.

Language

  • One of the boys says, “Don’t be an ass, Stefan.”
  • Lydia calls someone a “pompous, overbearing prat of a man.”
  • Thorn calls someone a “preening idiot.”
  • Gorlog is a Skandian god. Five times, Gorlog’s name is used in creative exclamations such as, “Oh for Gorlog’s sake.” Another time, Thorn says, “Gorlog’s bleached and broken bones you’re a sorry lot.”
  • Someone says, “Oh Bungall’s braided beard.” Bungall was a minor deity, generally referred to as the god of acting in an embarrassing manner.
  • One of Hal’s crew says, “Perlins and Gertz,” who are the Skandian demigods of snow and ice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Occasional the Skandian gods’ names are used as exclamations.
  • Thorn thinks, “May the Great Blue Whale fly up to the sun.” The reference is not explained.
  • There is a brief reference to Tharon, the god of thunder.
  • When Hal and his crew are found, Swengal says, “Thank the gods you’re all safe.”
  • After a man knocks out Barat, he tells one of Barat’s men to tell the others “Barat stayed behind to pray to Torink for a great victory.” Torink was their god of battles.

Storm Rescue

Sunita and her friends—Zoe, Brenna, David, and Maggie—all volunteer at Dr. Mac’s veterinary clinic. The kids work with all kinds of pets, but each one has a favorite. For Sunita, cats are the best pets, but she is afraid of dogs, especially big dogs.

Sunita is also afraid of the water, which is why she has never learned to swim. As a hurricane approaches, Sunita realizes that Lucy, a diabetic cat with a broken leg, is in danger, along with her owners. But when the evacuation begins, both vets are out on emergencies. Will Sunita be able to save Lucy or will she be a scaredy-cat? And when a Great Dane needs help, will Sunita be able to get past her fear?

Storm Rescue is told from Sunita’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her fears. However, Sunita’s actions are often irresponsible and dangerous. For example, when Sunita goes to check on an injured cat, she isn’t completely honest about where she is going because she knows her mother would never allow her to go into a flooded neighborhood during a hurricane. When rescue workers leave Lucy in the house, Sunita convinces her two friends, David and Maggie, to canoe to the house and try to rescue the cat on their own. Even though Sunita cannot swim, she jumps into the freezing water and doggie paddles to the attic window. While her intentions were honorable, Sunita’s actions could have easily lead to her and her friends’ deaths.

While the hurricane adds suspense to the story, some events in the story are not realistic, including how Sunita and her friends rescued Lucy. In addition, when the wet kids come in from the storm, Dr. Mac puts the kids to work caring for the animals before they even have a chance to dry off. In this installment of Vet Volunteers, the adults are off helping animals, but this leaves the unsupervised eleven-year-old kids to make unwise decisions. The story never acknowledges Sunita’s impulsive, dangerous actions. Instead, Sunita’s actions are praised.

Readers will relate to Sunita’s desire to help animals in distress and cheer when she is able to overcome her fear. However, the story’s short length does not allow her or the plot to be well developed. While the story teaches about the dangers animals face during a natural disaster, the characters needlessly put themselves in danger. The book ends by giving information on how to keep animals safe during a natural disaster.

The story is educational and will keep the reader’s interest. The happy ending is slightly unrealistic; however, the conclusion shows that one person can make a difference. The short chapters, interesting plot, and relatable characters make Storm Rescue a book that will appeal to animal lovers of different ages.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The vet gives a scared dog a tranquilizer to calm him down.

Language

  • When a worried pet owner calls the clinic, one of the kids says, “Mrs. Creighton is a nut. Precious is probably on a hunger strike to try to get herself a new owner.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Short History of the Girl Next Door

Matt and Tabby have been best friends almost since birth. When Matt and Tabby enter high school, Tabby starts dating a senior basketball player and makes other friends. Because of Tabby’s other friends, Matt struggles to understand his place in his best friend’s life. He also tries to make sense of his feelings for her, all while trying to be the best basketball player on the junior varsity team. Then tragedy strikes. Matt’s world is turned upside-down, and he has to piece himself back together.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door surrounds Matt and Tabby’s friendship, basketball, and the tragedy that strikes their community. Matt loves Tabby, and losing her to senior basketball star and school golden boy, Liam Branson, is unbearable. Much of Matt’s life and his memories include Tabby, so when she and her father suddenly died in a car accident, Matt has to figure out how to deal with all his feelings. Although Matt, who narrates the story, sometimes can come off as petulant, his personal growth at the end of the story is commendable.

With the help of his family and basketball, Matt makes peace with Tabby’s death and apologizes to the people he’s hurt. The book deals with themes of friendship, death, and forgiveness. The most bittersweet and touching moments come when Matt learns to cherish his memories and opens up to those who are also grief-stricken. Family and community rally around their collective sadness, and they help Matt through his personal grief. Matt is only able to get better by relating his experiences and his pain to others.

Although most of the book is about Matt and Tabby’s friendship, basketball is also important to Matt. Basketball is Matt’s outlet, and the only activity he has that is separate from Tabby. However, when Tabby is dating fellow basketball player Liam, Matt’s two worlds become intertwined. And when Tabby dies, Liam becomes a reminder of what Matt has lost. Basketball itself isn’t as important to the story as the relationships between Liam, Matt, and Tabby, and the sport serves as a vessel for their personal issues.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door will appeal to those who enjoy slower-paced, slice-of-life stories. Those looking for a basketball-heavy book won’t find it here, as basketball is not the primary focus. The sexual content and language are geared towards an older audience and may not be appropriate for middle schoolers. Nevertheless, Matt’s growth throughout the novel is commendable, and Matt’s reaction to Tabby’s death will no doubt resonate with readers. A Short History of the Girl Next Door is a quiet book that looks closely at the ending of a friendship, and how someone learns to pick themselves back up.

Sexual Content

  • Matt admits that he started making “a mental list of the top-five hottest girls by grade level. Lily Branson landed the #1 ranking on [his] list.”
  • Tabby says about Lily, “People say she’s all stuck-up, but she’s actually really nice. I think people just say stuff because she’s pretty, you know?” To this comment, Matt says that he feels “like a complete ass. [He’d] made that comment—and worse—more than once, about Lily Branson, and any number of other attractive girls. Probably every girl on [his] top-five list. Because, you know, if a hot girl doesn’t want to mate with you, she’s obviously stuck-up.”
  • Matt is attracted to Tabby, his longtime best friend. He thinks, “Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh, but goofy grin number 1,001 nearly stops your heart?”
  • Matt says upon describing the height difference between his grandparents, “The Wainwright men’s infatuation with pocket-size women is apparently genetic,” a nod towards Tabby’s small stature.
  • Matt describes the book An Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie as “an amazing book about basketball, and masturbation, and feeling shitty and alone, and how Indians are perpetually screwed.”
  • One of Matt’s neighbors, Corey, is very straightforward with girls at school and “openly tries to get [girls who like Corey] to touch his dick at his locker.”
  • Tabby tells Corey to go away, and Corey responds with, “You know, if you grow some tits, I’ll let you suck my dick.” Matt tries standing up for Tabby by saying, “Hey, that’s what I said to your mom last night, bro.”
  • One of the basketball players says to Liam, “What’s the deal with the freshman, B? She sucking your dick yet?” It is clear that he is talking about Tabby. He then says, “She’s a cockmonster, isn’t she?”
  • Matt jokes that his mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing is so good that he and his dad get “stuffing boners.”
  • Matt has a physical copy of his “Do List: Girls [he] would do if there were no consequences—social, emotional, or physical: freshman class.” Tabby finds the list and is very upset. She tells him, “Let me know when you’ve done the first hundred on the list, Matt. So I can spread my legs and wait my turn.”
  • Matt and his friend Trip have to write gift poems for poetry class. Matt jokes that he’s writing his for Trip, and that Matt “couldn’t think of a word that rhymes with bulge.” Trip responds, “Indulge,” with a wink, messing with him.
  • Matt writes a persona poem for his poetry class from the point of view of Mr. Mint, who has “wildly inappropriate opinions on King Kandy, the princess, and most of all, Plumpy, whom Mr. Mint tells to choke on it.”
  • Matt’s mom wants him to wear a bald eagle costume for Halloween. He would have to wear skinny yellow pants with the costume, and he says, “Where am I supposed to keep my nuts in these things?”

Violence

  • Tabby playfully “punches [Matt] in the shoulder, hard” when Matt asks if she likes Liam Branson.
  • Corey grabs the front of Matt’s shirt, looking to start a fight. Tabby, holding a corked baseball bat, “swung. Hard. The bat slammed into Corey’s right arm, the dented plastic barrel and duct-taped head finally giving way.”
  • After Tabby hits Corey with the bat, “he shoved Tabby to the ground. Tabby flew backward, landing hard on her elbows to keep her head from smacking the pavement.”
  • After hearing other basketball players make sexual comments about Tabby, Matt envisions different scenarios in his head, usually violent. He imagines “Branson going stone-faced in the locker room, grabbing Lighty by the neck and slamming him back into a locker . . . Or me, walking up behind Lighty as he’s singing his song, palming the back of his stubby, lumpy head and slamming his face into his locker, smashing his nose and knocking him unconscious.”
  • Matt tells Trip that he looks like a “squirrely-ass twelve-year-old.” Trip responds by picking up “a spent pizza crust from the box and backhands [him] with it on [his] arm.”
  • Trip and Matt play a video game where their characters spar against each other. Trip beats him one round, saying “I just made you my bitch.” Matt describes, “On the screen, his demon-girl flips into the air over another empty swing from my dude’s battle-ax and lands on his shoulders. In one quick motion, she scissor-cuts my poor bastard’s head off, reaches down into his gaping neck-stump, pulls out his still-beating heart, and eats it.”
  • Tabby “passed away in an automobile accident” while visiting her grandparents. Matt and the other students hear about it at school. It is later stated that, “an SUV lost control on a patch of ice coming off a turn, hit Tabby’s dad’s pickup head-on. Died instantly. Felt no pain. Probably never saw it coming.”
  • The team rallies around Liam because he dated Tabby and took her death hard. Matt is frustrated that no one has acknowledged that Tabby was Matt’s best friend, so when another player brings out armbands for the team to wear in solidarity with Liam, “a laugh escapes [Matt’s] mouth before [he] can stop it.” Liam “stands and drills [Matt] in the face.”
  • Grampa talks about when they used to paddle kids in school, as a teacher. After his first wife and daughter died in an accident, “by Christmas, a kid was getting it about every day. Usually the same ones.” On one kid who was being particularly nasty, he “broke the paddle.” Grampa never hit a kid after that.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Of Liam Branson, Matt thinks, “This time next year, Branson will be gone—hopefully putting on forty pounds of beer fat in a dorm at some state college.”
  • Trip’s dad explained how to cork a bat to Trip while “a beer [rested] on [Trip’s dad’s] stomach.”
  • One of Matt and Tabby’s neighbors, Corey, takes “weed from his parents’ stash.”
  • Tabby’s mom was a “drug-addict” who left when Tabby was a few months old.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, bullshit, fuck, douche, badass, damn, shit, bastard, dick, slut, and cock.
  • Tabby calls her friend’s boyfriend a “complete perv-ball.”
  • Matt sketches a carny ride operator that wears a “a trucker hat that reads ‘I <3 Little Boys.’”
  • Matt writes a poem that’s an “ode to Internet pornography.” The reader never sees the poem.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Matt’s grandpa takes one look at Matt in the bald eagle costume and says, “Sweet Jesus.”
  • At Tabby and her father’s funeral, Matt listens to “a few more numbing hymns” and the priest “speaks in infuriatingly generic terms about ‘the mystery of God’s love’ and [Matt] thinks, Yeah, this is a pretty big fucking mystery.”
  • Grampa has a heart-to-heart with Matt after Tabby’s death. Matt’s struggling to reason out what happened to Tabby and if life has meaning. Grampa says, “If there’s a God—and I’m pretty skeptical, myself—I figure he can fill me in when my time comes.”

by Alli Kestler

 

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