Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred

Fourteen-year-old Jay Cooper is enjoying the view from his Uncle Rex’s Cessna when a low-flying 757 speeds past them. Caught in its wind turbulence, their small plane is shaken violently, knocking Rex unconscious and leaving Jay blind from a head injury.

With fuel running out fast, Jay drifting in and out of consciousness, and the plane heading straight for a mountain range, this high-flying adventure shows the importance of faith as Jay faces numerous unseen dangers.

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred is an exciting survival story that shows how one teen’s bravery allows him to survive a dangerous situation. The story focuses on Jay, who is blinded when his plane is caught up in wind turbulence. Despite his injury, Jay stays calm. When Jay is instructed to crash land the plane into Puget Sound, he realizes that he is unlikely to survive, and his uncle will surely die. Despite this, Jay believes that God “knows what’s best. We just have to put ourselves in His hands and let Him take it where He wants to take it.” Jay is only able to succeed because his trust in God allows him to focus on the situation at hand, and not be consumed by what-if questions. Jay’s determination to safely land the plane and save his uncle’s life is admirable.

Even though much of the story focuses on Jay’s conflict, there are many people who guide Jay. When another pilot witnesses the accident, the pilot follows Jay’s plane to give Jay directions, so he does not crash. Jay is also in contact with air traffic control, his father, and other members of his family. The media also appears and broadcasts Jay’s dilemma. The varying points of view create suspense as well as highlight the unknown dangers that Jay must face. Readers will get caught up in the story’s drama and will root for Jay to successfully land the plane. 

Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred is a suspenseful story that will capture the reader’s attention from the very start. While the story highlights Jay’s trust in God, the lesson is integrated into the story and never feels preachy. Readers will be biting their nails wondering what new difficulty Jay will have to overcome. Fans of survival stories should put Mayday at Two Thousand Five Hundred at the top of their reading list. Readers who are eager to read more survival stories should also read the classic book, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and The Raft by S.A. Bodeen.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Several of the characters pray short prayers. For example, when Chuck sees his friend’s plane begin to spiral, he prays, “Dear Lord, please wake him up, nudge him, get him on the controls.”

Kat Wolfe On Thin Ice

Best friends Kat Wolfe and Harper Lamb can’t wait to travel from England’s Bluebell Bay to New York’s Adirondacks for a fall vacation with their parents. But misadventure plagues them from the start, leaving them in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alone! As the weather turns wild, Kat discovers she may have been the last person to cross paths with Riley, a girl who is a star witness in a criminal trial making headlines across the country. When the witness vanishes, Kat and Harper race to piece together the clues that might save Riley from a notorious gang, but soon Kat and Harper are targets too. With an early snowstorm moving in and no way out, detectives Wolfe & Lamb will need all their wits, skills, and the help of some wayward animals if they’re to survive.

In the past installment of the series, Harper was a minor character who let Kat take center stage. However, in Kat Wolfe on Thin Ice, Harper takes a starring role and her fun-loving personality shines. Although Kat is still the story’s focus, readers will enjoy getting to know Harper and seeing how the two girls work together to solve the case. Their relationship adds interest and readers will enjoy seeing Kat and Harper interact.

Even though the girls spend much of their time snowed in, there is still plenty of action and adventure because they end up in the wrong cabin, alone except for a pack of huskies and a pet raccoon. Mystery is added when the girls investigate Riley’s disappearance and risk their lives to search for clues before a major blizzard hits the area. Along the way, they must use all their survival skills as they attract the attention of a bear, get lost in the wilderness, and are saved by huskies. 

Kat and Harper put the pieces together to solve the mystery and, along the way, the case highlights how stereotypes are hurtful. In the end, the girls keep many secrets from their families, including their accidental stay in a stranger’s cabin and they don’t reveal the culprits that committed the crimes. Despite this, Kat and Harper have many positive attributes including being brave, considerate, and showing kindness to strangers. 

Kat Wolfe on Thin Ice is a wonderfully entertaining book that has the perfect blend of suspense, surprises, and silliness. Plus, the book teaches that “We’re all human. Every one of us makes mistakes. The real test is what we do about it.” For those who love mysteries and animals, not picking up the Kat and Lamb Mystery Series would be a mistake since each book in the series is full of suspenseful mysteries and loveable animals.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Riley, “a star witness in an upcoming trial,” is kidnapped. The two officers who were protecting her “were both wounded in an ambush” and are “critically ill.”
  • A police officer shows up at the cabin where Harper and Kat are staying. When Harper answers the door, the man begins to question her. When he realizes Harper is lying, “he lunged at her and clutched her arm.” When she refuses to answer the questions, the man “squeezed even harder.”
  • As the police officer manhandles Harper, a racoon jumps on him. The policeman “reeled away, blood streaming from two punctures on his neck. Chittering in terror, the raccoon jumped from his shoulder onto the kitchen cabinet.” This gives Harper time to run. Later, the police officer is also bit by one of the huskies. 
  • A rich family earned their fortune through blood diamonds. “Diamonds mined using child and other slave labor in conditions of unimaginable hardship and wickedness.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • When Harper’s dad forgets his passport, he says, “What a bone-headed peanut brained dingbat I am.”
  • When a husky injures his foot, Kat tells it, “I’m going to disinfect and tape up your paw. It’ll hurt like hell.”

Supernatural

  • When Kat meets Riley, she gives Riley a picture of her Savanna Cat, Tiny. When Riley says the cat photo helped save her life, Kat explains that Tiny’s “spirit kept her going when she was lost in a blizzard.”

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Found

On one fateful day at Sky Trails Air, an airplane full of 36 infants and no adults appears out of thin air. Thirteen years after the plane incident, readers meet Jonah Skidmore and Chip Winston, neighbors, and new friends. The boys were adopted thirteen years ago, and both receive mysterious letters that read “You are one of the missing” and “Beware! They’re coming back to get you.” 

When trying to find out what the letters mean, the boys meet an FBI agent who refuses to share any information regarding a matter of “national security.” After a bit more digging, the boys discover they were victims of a vast smuggling operation and are now caught in a battle between two opposing forces that want very different outcomes for Jonah’s and Chip’s lives. The boys struggle to decide how to protect the lives of all 36 children and must choose to return to the future or stay in the current time which might ruin the fabric of time. 

Jonah is the primary protagonist, who is nonchalant about most things in his life — adoption, planning, confrontation, and more. However, when others are in trouble, Jonah is the first to step up and fight. Chip is Jonah’s newest neighbor and friend, and the boys bond over their mysterious situation. Chip is more emotional than Jonah, and he is more prepared to jump into situations headfirst. Jonah’s younger sister, Katherine, is intrigued by the mystery and is enthusiastic to help —  sometimes to a fault. Jonah reflects that “she made this whole mess sound as if it was just a challenging math problem . . . this was just an intriguing puzzle to her.” Chip and Katherine are more eager to find clues than Jonah, who ends up being the voice of reason at times. Despite their differences in approach to the challenge, the three characters work together to solve the mystery.

Found is a phenomenal book for young teens as they begin to question their identity and relationships with others. The book’s primary theme is identity, as Jonah and Chip try to answer the question: “Who am I?” While not every adolescent isn’t adopted or struggling with a multi-generational infant-smuggling operation from the future, readers can appreciate how the characters work to understand their past and how to shape their future. However, there are plot holes in the story regarding how the timeline works and there is little background on what the reader knows about Chip and Jonah’s past. The questions readers are left with leave them to continue reading the series to find answers.

The action-packed book has suspenseful turns that readers won’t expect. For readers who love science fiction and mystery, Found is a perfect story. The science isn’t entirely explained, but if readers are able to look past that and focus on the story, the book will be hard to put down. The main characters are brave and try to do the right thing, which could inspire readers to do the same. This is the first book in an eight-part series, so the book ends on a cliffhanger to keep readers engaged and interested in the next book: Sent

Sexual Content 

  • Chip admits that he has a crush on Jonah’s sister, Katherine. When Jonah’s mom finds out Katherine is hanging out at Chip’s house, alone, she thinks, “There couldn’t be anything romantic going on between those two, could there? She’s only in sixth grade, but this is an older boy . . . ”

Violence 

  • After Chip learned he was adopted, his father refused to talk about the topic. This upsets Jonah, who fantasizes about “stalking over to Chip’s house, swinging his best punch, and hitting Chip’s dad right in the mouth. He wanted to hit him a couple of times.”
  • Someone tries to abduct Jonah, Chip, and Katherine when they meet with an eyewitness from the plane incident, Angela DuPre. Someone else jumps onto the abductor, which allows the children to get away. The person who tackles the abductor “had one hand pressed into the other man’s hair, holding his head down. With his other hand, the tackler was frantically waving Jonah away.” The teens are able to safely escape with no injuries.
  • Two of the bad guys get tased while trying to abduct the teens in order to return them to the correct time. Angela DuPre “pointed her gun at [one] and a stream of light shot across the room, jolting him. He let out a scream and fell to the ground, twitching.” The men are stunned momentarily but are not seriously injured.
  • The final fight scene between the attackers and the children gets violent. Jonah has a direct confrontation with one of the bad guys named Gary. “With one hand, Jonah grabbed for Gary’s hair, with the other, he poked his fingers into Gary’s eyes . . . Jonah let go of Gary’s hair just as Gary was shoving him away, flinging him toward the stone wall. Jonah slammed against the wall hard. He thought he could feel every bone of his spine hitting rock, one bone after the other.” Jonah is not seriously hurt, and able to run immediately after. This scene only lasts one page.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • The teens believe there is a ghost sharing information with them. 
  • Angela DuPre has a conspiracy that Chip and Jonah were part of an attempt to travel back in time. Angela explains, “the theories are that if anything could go faster than light, all sorts of weird things would happen. Time and space would have a different relationship.”

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Dolphin Song

Martine’s class is going on an exciting school trip—a voyage to watch the Sardine Run off the coast of South Africa. But the trip takes a dramatic turn when their ship runs into a fierce storm, and Martine and her classmates are thrown into shark-infested waters! Luckily, a pod of dolphins rescues and transports them to a deserted island, but now the children—and the dolphins—face a new and terrible danger. Will Martine be able to use her special gift with animals to save them?

While other students are looking forward to the class trip, Martine has been plagued with terrifying nightmares about being in the ocean and surrounded by sharks. Then Grace, a witch doctor, warns Martine about staying away from the ship’s gate, which increases Martine’s fear and confusion. Martine’s fear of the ocean is understandable, and it increases the story’s suspense. 

Despite the warnings, Martine’s greatest fears come true when she and several of her classmates are thrown into the raging ocean. The story takes an unexpected turn when Martine and some of her classmates are stranded on a deserted island and must fight for their survival. While much of the story revolves around survival, there is still plenty of animal action — a cage dive with sharks, an encounter with a man-o-war jellyfish, and a swim with dolphins. Through Martine’s experiences, readers will enjoy learning about various sea creatures as well as how sonar poses a threat to ocean life. 

Once the group of students lands on the island, they soon split into two groups, leaving Ben and Martine to join forces. During their time on the island, the kids only begin to work together out of necessity. However, they soon join forces to save the dolphins, and in the process, they learn the importance of giving someone a second chance. Along with this lesson, Dolphin Song weaves in many important life lessons including being able to fix your mistakes and the importance of standing up for what you believe.

Martine struggles with uncertainty, fear, and forgiveness, but her inner turmoil doesn’t slow the story’s action. However, readers will enjoy seeing Martine’s personal growth that leads her to more fully understand her best friend, Ben. In the end, Martine realizes “that was the thing about a friend. You could do things that weren’t really possible on your own. Friends made you brave. Friends made things fun.”

The Legend of the Animal Healer Series uses a unique approach that will give readers a new appreciation of sea life. The story educates readers about the importance of protecting all sea creatures. However, Dolphin Song does have several scenes that may upset sensitive readers. While Dolphin Song recaps the important information from the first book in the series, for maximum enjoyment, the books should be read in order. Animal-loving readers who want more action-packed animal adventures should also read the Wild Rescuers Series by Stacy Plays and the Survival Tails Series by Katrina Charman.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Santa Carolina was known as Death Island, as it was a penal colony. “The jailers at Santa Carolina used to take prisoners to Death Island, a tiny shell sandbar, and tell them if they could swim the five miles or so back to the mainland—a stretch of water cursed by vicious crosscurrents and even more vicious sharks—they’d be freed. None of the prisoners ever survived.”
  • When the ship hits a terrible storm, everyone grabs a life jacket. One student, Claudius, “wrenched at Ben’s life jacket, trying to pull it off by brute force. Ben wriggled out of Claudius’s desperate grip and held up a hand in surrender.” Ben falls into the ocean without a life jacket, but he survives.
  • Martine is exploring a reef by a sunken ship when a manta ray pushes her toward the surface. “An instant later, there was a muffled, undersea explosion. . . the ray caught the full impact. Bits of cartilage, tissue, and manta ray skin rained down on the sea like lava.” Martine had a bloody gash on her arm, but the ray saved Martine’s life.
  • A group of bad men show up on the island and see Claudius. They think the boy might be a spy so they take him back to their hideout and tie him up. The skipper questions Claudius and “struck Claudius across the face. A palm print appeared on the boy’s cheek.” When the group finds out there is a reward for information about Claudius, they decide to treat him better.
  • A tourist, Norm, was cage diving with sharks when he fell into the water. A great white swims toward him, “like a torpedo sleek and deadly, shooting toward the stricken man. As it approached, its jaws stretched wide and its serrated teeth were plainly visible. In seconds, Norm would be missing an arm, his head, or even his torso.” Martine uses her gift to stop the shark.
  • An island, Santa Carolina, has a dark past that is discussed several times. Santa Carolina was “a notorious penal colony and Death Island, which was not an island but a shell bar, had seen many prisoners drowned after being abandoned by guards.”
  • Sonar can disorient and confuse dolphins and whales. The sound a sonar gives off “can carry up to a hundred miles and be as loud as a fighter jet takeoff. In some cases, it can cause whales to surface too quickly, leading to a fatal condition similar to the bends in human beings. They get gas bubbles in their organs. Their brains bleed. Dolphins’ lungs explode.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the sailors drinks “a home-brewed concoction called palm wine.” 
  • A sailor tells Martine a story about a man who had a “skull-splitting headache.” A “witch doctor had started the treatment by putting a large pebble into his fire. . . blended herbs in a bowl made from a special wood and engraved with a cross, then added water. . . After making a series of tiny incisions in the man’s forehead, the witch doctor rubbed in a little of the herb point and sent him home. . .” After the story, the sailor says he uses aspirin for his headaches.
  • When Martine sees a sunken ship, she assumes the pirates had been drunk on rum.
  • A tribe of sailors would catch fish by crushing “the leaves of the lulla palm” which made the fish intoxicated. “When the fish were rolling drunk, the men would simply scoop them into a net.”
  • One of the student’s parents would leave him alone while they went to cocktail parties. 

Language 

  • There is some name calling among the kids including runt and loser.
  • Martine gets angry at Ben and says, “You are a wimp. You’re pathetic.” 
  • One of the kids tells Martine, “I thought you were a fruitcake.”
  • One of the kids says Ben is “a tree-hugging nutcase.”
  • Oh my God is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Martine is able to heal animals with her touch. When she finds a beached dolphin, Martine touches the dolphin, and “the electric current zapped her. . . She kept her palms on the dolphin’s side . . . then her palms heated up to the point where they were almost sizzling . . .” After the dolphin is healed, Martin and a kite surfer put the dolphin back into the ocean and it swims away.
  • Martine goes to a secret cave where she sees paintings that show her future. When Martine sees a new painting, she thinks the paintings are “as if the forefathers were reaching out from beyond the grave.”
  • Claudius, one of the stranded school kids, gets stung by a man-o-war jellyfish. Martine tries to help him. She “laid her hands on him. Almost immediately her palms began to heat up. . . The energy went as far as Claudius’s skin and then stopped as if blocked by an impenetrable barrier.” Martine’s gift didn’t help.
  • While trying to use her gift to help Claudius, Martine has a vision. “The scene at the beach swam away and she saw smoke and Africans in animal masks and then, out of nowhere, a mental picture of Grace’s plant. . . came into her head.” Martine uses the plant to save Claudius.
  • Grace, a witch doctor, uses bones to tell the future. She believes that “everythin’ is already written” and that you cannot change fate’s path. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Ben is Buddhist and also half Zulu. He says, “Buddhism does allow the eating of meat; we’re just not supposed to cause pain. . . Buddhists believe that animals are equal to people.”

Carrie and The Great Storm: A Galveston Hurricane Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Carrie is excited to spend the night at her best friend Betsy’s house one Saturday night in Galveston, Texas. But when her parents receive a last-minute invitation to a high-society party, they insist Carrie stay home to babysit her little brother, Henry. Despite a storm brewing — and Carrie’s protests over the change in plans — her parents go to the party. As the storm approaches, the streets begin flooding. Henry is scared, and Carrie tries to calm him. But then a hurricane hits, and the house is shaken from its foundation. Carrie must make some quick decisions to save herself and her little brother from the Great Galveston Hurricane. 

Carrie and The Great Storm: A Galveston Hurricane Survival Story focuses on Carrie, a typical fashion-loving girl who is upset when she has to cancel a sleepover to babysit her brother, Henry. When the storm hits, she has only herself to rely on, but she doesn’t let fear overtake her. Instead, she uses quick thinking and bravery to save herself and her brother. When Carrie and Henry’s raft gets stuck between trees, Carrie’s main concern is survival. However, when she sees a young boy, William, floating in the water, Carrie jumps in and saves his life. After seeing the city’s devastation, Carrie realizes how lucky she is to be alive. 

While most of the story focuses on the Great Storm, segregation is mentioned several times. The author’s note explains that one positive outcome of the storm was that people came together and helped each other, despite their racial differences. This ties into the story because Carrie helps William, who is African American. Afterward, one man gives Carrie a strange look when they see her walking with a black boy. However, Carrie didn’t care about William’s race because at that point they were the same—they were survivors. 

To make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Carrie’s location and the date. In addition, every ten to seventeen pages there is a black-and-white illustration that focuses on Carrie’s experiences. Readers can learn the real story of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 from the nonfiction information at the back of the book. A glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts are also provided.

Readers will be pulled into the story because Carrie is a likable character with a relatable conflict, and it doesn’t take long for the action and suspense to begin. Even though Carrie and The Great Storm: A Galveston Hurricane Survival Story is educational, readers will love the story because it is also entertaining and easy to read. Through Carrie’s experiences, readers will see that “Your actions, no matter how large or small, can make a difference.” For more water-related survival stories, check out Tara and the Towering Wave: An Indian Ocean Tsunami Survival Story by Cristina Oxtra and the I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Carrie and her brother are home alone when the storm hits. Carrie looks out the window and, “through the rage of the storm I could see shapes in the water. A panicked horse swam past, kicking and neighing. A woman’s head surfaced. She screamed and was pulled underwater again.” 
  • When Carrie’s house is destroyed by the hurricane, she and her brother are on a makeshift raft. As she and her brother huddle for warmth, Carrie sees “the face of a young black boy emerge. ‘Help me!’ he cried before the water swallowed him up again.” Carrie is able to pull the boy, William, onto her raft. 
  • William tells Carrie the story of his family. He was working at his family’s store when, “I got swept away. . . I could still see the store though, through flashes of lightning. And then all of a sudden I couldn’t see it anymore. It collapsed.” Later, William finds out that only his father survived.
  • After the water recedes, Carrie is walking and sees “a huge pile of debris. A pair of boots stuck out from the bottom of the pile. And then I realized that the boots were attached to a pair of legs.” 
  • Carrie hears cries for help, and then sees “a group of men digging through the rubble, looking for survivors.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady: Voyage on the Great Titanic

Five years ago, Margaret Ann Brady’s older brother left her in the care of an orphanage and immigrated to America. When the orphanage receives an unusual request from an American woman looking for a traveling companion, Margaret’s teachers agree she is the perfect candidate to accompany Mrs. Carstairs on the Titanic, so that once Margaret arrives in New York she will be free to join her brother in Boston. But the Titanic is destined for tragedy, and Margaret’s journey is thrown into a frozen nightmare when the ship collides with an iceberg. Will she live to see her brother again?

The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady: Voyage on the Great Titanic based is told in diary format and is based on Margaret’s personal diaries and includes a lot of Margaret’s reflections. Margaret has the unique opportunity to see how the wealthy live. She is fascinated by their privileges and is especially interested in their fashion and food. Since the story is in a diary format, there is little suspense and Margaret’s life on the Titanic has few exciting scenes. However, Margaret is a likable character and her experiences give readers a peek into the life of a servant in the early 1900s. 

Even though Margaret’s story lacks action, the book is perfect for young readers who want to learn about the Titanic, but are not ready to be exposed to graphic descriptions of the ship’s sinking. During the disaster, Margaret shows how wealthy women and children were given preferential treatment when it came to loading the lifeboats. Today’s readers may have difficulty understanding why the serving class was not allowed to board the lifeboats and instead were left to die. In addition, Margaret does an excellent job showing the bravery and courage of the Titanic’s crew. In her diary, Margaret writes: “I think the Titanic’s crew may have suffered the most devastating percentage of deaths. Stewards, cooks, engineers, postal workers – even the entire band perished. How admirable they were! How admirable all of them were!”

Although Margaret survived, she struggled to understand the events that happened the night the Titanic sank. Throughout her life, Margaret suffered from survivors’ guilt because she felt that by taking a seat on a lifeboat, she had doomed “others to their helpless, frozen fate. . . I doomed Robert; I doomed complete strangers. I hope I can figure out some way to understand all of this. . . Most of all, I hope I can learn how to forgive myself for still being alive when so many others are not.” 

Readers interested in learning about the Titanic have a wide variety of books to choose from. Readers who want a view into a survivor’s experiences will find Margaret’s story worth reading. However, if you want an exciting action-packed tale that also teaches about the Titanic, put Survival Tails: The Titanic by Katrina Charman and Disaster on the Titanic by Kate Messner at the top of your reading list. 

Sexual Content 

  • On several occasions, Margaret spends time with a young steward named Robbie. When he realizes he is going to die, he says, “Would you mind doing me one small favor? I should like to remember I kissed a pretty girl tonight.” When Margaret agrees, “he gave me a small peck on the lips. This was all new for me, and I was not sure if I was supposed to respond in kind.” 
  • Margaret and Robbie kiss again. “This time our kiss was warm and tender. Robert hugged me very tightly, and then stepped back, looking pleased.” 

Violence 

  • When Margaret is disrespectful, one of the nuns “tells me that I am very, very wicked, and then slaps a ruler across my knuckles to punctuate the scolding.” 
  • After being orphaned, Margaret and her brother, William, live with Mr. McDougal and his brother, who “would come home much the worse for drink. They would be spoiling for a fight, and Mr. McDougal would swing out a big hand at anyone who looked at him cross-eyed. After I got knocked down a time or two, William grew to fear for my safety . . .”
  • When the ship begins to sink, Margaret sees people “leaping into the water from all directions, while others scrambled toward the stern in a frantic, hopeless attempt to save themselves. . . Then with an almost stately grace, it gradually slipped beneath the surface of the ocean.” 
  • Margaret is safe in a lifeboat, but “after the Titanic sank, the unspeakable shrieking of hundreds of people dying filled the night. Frenzied, terrified screams. . . I could distinguish individual voices begging for help, calling out for people they loved, and praying for salvation.”
  • The lifeboat that Margaret was in, went to help others. “We were able to pull five or six half-frozen men out of the water. Each time, I prayed that one of them would be Robert, and each time, my prayers were not answered.”
  • The people who were in the ocean had no hope of living. Margaret describes “the screams of the dying seemed to last forever. It was a horrifying, unearthly sound that would have sickened the very Devil himself. I am not sure which was worse: the screams themselves, or the way they gradually faded away.”   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While having dinner on the Titanic, the adults drink wine, but Margaret “elected not to drink any wine, and satisfied myself with water, instead.”
  • While on the deck, Margaret sees a man who “lit his cigarette—right in front of me!” She notices that the man “also smelled of whisky.” 
  • When the Titanic begins to sink, Margaret takes a few minutes to talk to a young steward. He says the other stewards are, “Gone, I guess. Maybe having a bit of a nip for courage.”
  • One of the men on the lifeboat “was clutching a bottle of brandy, and the Quartermaster Perkis tossed it overboard, since the man was obviously already intoxicated.”
  • After being rescued, Margaret is given a hot drink. “There may have been some brandy in there as well.” 

Language 

  • When Mrs. Carstairs refuses to go out to the deck, Margaret thinks she’s “stupid.”
  • While on a lifeboat, a woman sees the Titanic sinking. She says, “My God. She really is going down.” 

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • One of the sisters took Margaret to Easter mass. The nun “explained that St. Botolph is the patron saint of travelers, and she wants to be sure I leave with his blessing. Our fellow worshipers were a bizarre mix – ranging from prostitutes to the very flagrantly pious . . .”
  • Margaret goes to “a religious service . . . I took great solace from this, which suggests that I may be more devout than I would have estimated.” 
  • When Margaret realizes that some people will not survive, she thinks, “God help us.”
  • After being rescued, the captain held a brief service. “He and a reverend gave thanksgiving for the approximately seven hundred of us who had been saved, and then led us in prayer in memory of the more than fifteen hundred people who had been lost.” 

The Maze Cutter

Isaac, Sadina, and their friends are living on an isolated island — far from the destruction and terror on the mainland caused by the Flare virus. But when a suspicious ship carrying a woman from the mainland arrives, the friends take this chance to leave the safety of the island for the opportunity to see what life on the mainland holds for them. Isaac and his friends leave their safety and their home behind for a chance at improving the world for future generations. The novel follows Isaac and his friends’ trip to the mainland, as well as two warring groups, both desperate for descendants of a certain bloodline that they hope to use for their respective causes.

Fans of Dashner’s original Maze Runner series (2009) will be thrilled to find a new batch of characters and references to the original series in The Maze Cutter. Though the story is set seventy-three years after the Maze Runner Series, the references to the original series will make it difficult to follow for readers who have not read the original series. The prologue opens with references to the events of the original series and there are interspersed excerpts from the diary of one of the characters in the original series. 

The Maze Cutter’s point of view switches between Alexandria, Isaac, and Minho. Alexandria is a goddess with powers stemming from the Flare virus. Isaac is a young man who joins his friends who return to the dystopian mainland. And Minho is a trained soldier for the Remnant Nation. The varying plots can be hard to follow since the different characters start out in completely different places, hundreds of miles from each other. However, by the halfway point of the novel, a trap set by one of the two warring factions brings them together with a battle scene that keeps readers wanting to know more. 

Minho and Isaac demonstrate the importance of building relationships and embracing “found family.” Isaac struggles to reckon with the loss of his family, as well as his perceived guilt because his family died when they entered stormy ocean waves to save him from drowning. Isaac’s willingness to push through his fear to protect his friends makes him a likable character, and readers will enjoy seeing his realization that “all the crazy people” that survived the battle with him “had made [the loss of his family] a little more bearable.” 

Minho is an orphan who “had no parents, no brothers, no sisters, no friends. Only enemies,” until he meets an older woman named Roxy who offers him food and shelter when he stumbles onto her property. Readers will appreciate how Minho’s mindset changes about having family, as he initially is taught to “follow protocol” and not trust anyone, but eventually, he lets Roxy in and shows his emotional side. During the battle scene at the end of the novel, Roxy saves him. Minho says, “It was kinda cool having a mom.”

Another major theme is humanity, and what happens when humans reach for power. To prevent any spread of the Flare virus, the Remnant Nation trains children, like Minho, to be soldiers that will kill any outsiders in hopes of eradicating the virus. By contrast, the Godhead wants to use the virus to infect all of humanity and cause “The Evolution”—powers they hope to gain from the virus. Minho explains of the Godhead and the Remnant Nation, “You’re talking about two religions here, both in a race to the end. And one won’t rest until the other’s gone.” Readers can take away the message that while sometimes people start out with the intention of protecting and helping people, the opportunity to gain power can cause them to hurt others to achieve their goals.

The conclusion leaves readers wondering what the characters will choose to do—will they stay on the mainland or look for a way to return home? Will Alexandria take complete power over her faction? Readers will be left looking forward to the next book in the series, The Godhead Complex, which shows Alexandria uncovering the most valuable asset in this post-apocalyptic battle—a clue that connects the book back to the original Maze Runner series. Readers who are not put off by violence will enjoy how the end battle brings the characters together and shows the survivors forming tight bonds of friendship. 

Sexual Content 

  • After Sadina is kidnapped, she is reunited with her long-time girlfriend, Trish. “Trish and Sadina had yet to let go of each other. . . kissing and hugging in a loop that might last another day or two.”

Violence 

  • Minho is approached by a man who begs for his life. Minho didn’t have the courage to disobey protocol” so he shot the man. The murder is described in detail, “A single shot rang out” and the man Minho shot is described as having “a small wisp of smoke leaking from the new hole in his head, slumped off the horse and fell into the mud with a wet splat. Another shot, and the animal fell as well.”
  • Alexandria finds out that another member of the Godhead, Mikhail, has been attacking followers in a vicious process called “hollowing.” During hollowing, “they’d been sliced from aft to stern, their very essence of life removed with violent but precise efficiency.”
  • When witnessing a young boy being attacked, Minho grabs the man attacking him and “slammed him against the wall . . . the stranger’s head cracked against the jagged stone.” It is implied that Minho kills him.
  • Sadina and Isaac are threatened by Timon, a follower of the Godhead, who attempts to kidnap them and threatens to kill their friends. Timon yells, “MEET ME OR THEY ALL DIE . . . TELL ANYONE, THEY DIE.” 
  • When Sadina and Isaac are kidnapped, Kletter, a suspicious woman who arrived on a mysterious ship at the beginning of the book, is brutally murdered. “Her neck . . . that was the bad part. The really bad part. It had been slashed with something sharp, from one side to the other like a necklace, and blood poured down the front of her body in gushes.” 
  • In order to protect his newfound friend Roxy, Minho attacks Letti, one of the kidnappers. Minho “swung the club of wood and smashed it against the side of Letti’s head . . . Letti collapsed to the ground in a heap.” She is not killed as, “Her chest moved up and down, still alive, but her bloody head sure didn’t look so good.” 
  • While trying to escape the confines of the Remnant Nation’s “Berg,” Minho’s friend, Skinny, is killed. It is brutal; Skinny’s “head was smashed, the arms and legs twisted at weird angles, blood everywhere.” Several people die, but these deaths are not described in detail. This “Berg” battle is described over ten pages.
  • During the battle scene, “Minho had barely stepped from the wreckage when he saw a man buried beneath a large chunk of the Berg that had fallen off . . . The chest didn’t move at all, and there was blood in all kinds of bad places.” 
  • Roxy saves Minho from being stabbed by a Remnant Nation leader during the battle: “Then a long object swung in from the left of his vision, slamming directly into the face of the priestess. The woman screamed, blood spurted, she dropped the knife, collapsed, and went still.”
  • Alexandria orders her followers to kill Nicholas and bring her his head. Alexandria “slid the box closer to her, lifted its lid . . . The eyes of Nicholas stared back at her. His eyelids removed so that they could never close again. She smiled at him, half-expecting what was left of the dead man to return the kind gesture. He did not.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • During a meeting of the Congress of the island, Sadina discovers that her mother and two other congresspeople have put something in the wine so that they can leave the island without resistance. They “spiked the wine. But don’t worry, it only puts them to sleep.”
  • Alexandria meets with Mannus, a wavering follower of the Godhead, who describes how he ended up with “horns sewed upon his head.” He says, “I was young and drunk and there might’ve been a lady involved. She’s dead now and I still got these damn horns.” 

Language 

  • Many of the younger characters frequently use hell and damn.
  • Other profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes bastard, shit, and bullshit.
  • Characters from the Remnant Nation frequently use “thank the Cure” and “for Flare’s sake” as exclamations.
  • Within the setting of the Godhead, there are frequent exclamations of “Praise to the Maze,” “Glory to the Gladers,” and other expressions of worship towards Alexandria, “the Evolution,” and powers that come with it.
  • Old Man Frypan, one of the original Gladers, often exclaims, “hallelujah” and “amen.”

Supernatural

  • Though there are no direct examples of magic in the book, futuristic technology often appears to fill this type of role. For instance, when Isaac and his friends are reunited once more, they are horrified to discover “at least a dozen dark shapes hovered above the horizon as if by magic,” but “Isaac knew it wasn’t magic,” instead it is gigantic “Bergs” coming to take them away. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Characters with strength and enhanced senses from “The Evolution” are referred to as Gods and Goddesses of “the Godhead.”
  • Timon, one of the kidnappers, asks Sadina and Isaac if they have heard of the Godhead, to which Sadina asks, “Like in the Bible. . . Never read it.” But Timon exclaims, “No I’m not talking about the damn Bible.” 
  • The Remnant Nation forces Minho to go on a forty-day trek. While pretending to be loyal to the Remnant Nation, Minho says, “Long live the Cure . . . May I wander for forty days and nights and return a Bearer of Grief in her service! May the Godhead die, and the Cure rule the earth.” 
  • Jackie, one of Isaac’s friends, worries about her kidnapped friends, explaining, “We’re wandering the wilderness like freaking Moses from the Bible. Or was that Joseph? Paul? Who the hell knows.” 
  • Alexandria is part of “the Godhead”, and her goal is to overtake the other two “Gods” and become “their new God.”

by Elana Koehler

Now is the Time for Running

In the poor village of Gutu in Zimbabwe, Deo and his family live in one room. The people of his village are starving and struggling. Deo doesn’t even have a proper soccer ball to play with – just a bag of leather and twine – but this village is the only place he’s called home. When government soldiers destroy Gutu for housing “dissidents” suddenly Deo has lost his family, his home, and his happiness all at once. Deo’s mentally disabled older brother, Innocent, is his only remaining relative. Deo must get Innocent to safety in South Africa, but the journey to a better life is harder than he could ever imagine.

First, Deo and Innocent leave Zimbabwe. As they travel, they see a country torn apart by the government’s purge of dissenters. They narrowly escape run-ins with soldiers and travel through dangerous wilderness to cross the border. They spend some time at a farm, but danger arises when the local workers don’t like that refugees have stolen their jobs. The promise of a better, safer life lies in the city of Johannesburg. Once again, Deo and Innocent uproot themselves and travel to the city.

However, Johannesburg doesn’t turn out to be the haven they heard about. Instead of fighting against the government, the people in South Africa are fighting each other. Groups of radicals are calling for “foreigners” – the refugees from other African nations – to go home or be eradicated. They destroy refugee-owned shops and ruin their homes. During one of these raids, Innocent is killed. 

Without his brother, Deo doesn’t know what to feel. In fact, he wants to feel nothing at all. The book resumes almost two years later with Deo addicted to drugs and living on the streets. His life changes by chance when a soccer coach sees Deo’s skill with the ball, and suddenly Deo is given a place to sleep, warm food to eat, and a reason to live: playing soccer.  

At first, his team is a far cry from a family. Deo thinks they come from too many different places to understand each other. However, Deo’s coach convinces them that their strength lies their differences. They play successfully at the Street Soccer World Cup, also known as the Homeless World Cup – a competition that brings refugees and street kids together for the chance to change their lives. The story doesn’t reveal how the final match ends, but for Deo, his new life is just beginning. 

Inspired by true events, Now is the Time for Running is a journey of displacement through the eyes of a young man. Deo tells it like it is – he doesn’t shy away from the situation in Zimbabwe despite how much pain it causes him. It’s necessary to note that this book does not shy away from the horrors of civil war, poverty, and intolerance. While this book is not for the faint of heart, the lessons and truths it brings to light are meaningful and powerful. As a narrator, Deo goes through more in a few years than many people suffer through in their whole lives, but this doesn’t make him less relatable. Deo wants to protect the people he loves and to be happy – goals that anyone can relate to.

The first lesson of this book is clear: Deo never gives up. His unrelenting goal to protect his brother and escape the disastrous situation in Zimbabwe shows that he is continuously determined to have a better life. Even after Innocent dies and Deo struggles with addiction, he gets back on his feet through the soccer program. Despite great odds, Deo shows that people can always make the choice to persevere towards their goals. 

The other main theme of the story is not as apparent, but it’s one of the reasons readers see repeated instances of violence as Deo searches for a new place to call home: The “us vs. them” mentality. While present throughout the whole book, such as when the soldiers massacre the people of Gutu or when Innocent is killed in the anti-refugee riots, this issue comes to a head in Deo’s soccer team. After fighting breaks out amongst the teams, Deo’s coach teaches them that the true strength lies in their differences. The coach says, “Each of you brings something special to this team. Zimbabwe has brought me guts and determination; from Kenya, I get lightness and speed; from Mozambique, superb ball control and agility. . . It is because we are not the same that we are stronger than any other team in this competition! All of you have learned to play soccer in different parts of Africa. Our combined playing style is like no other in the world.” Once the team listens to the stories of their fellow teammates, they understand that they all have suffered, but they can all move forward together. 

Now is the Time for Running is a powerful book that teaches that strength does not lie in forcing everyone to be the same; it comes from accepting that everyone’s differences bring something new and unique to the table. Readers who want to learn about history through the eyes of an athlete should also read The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow.

Sexual Content 

  • The guards punish Innocent by taking his clothes away. When Deo rescues him, Innocent throws a fit about being naked, but Deo convinces Innocent to come with him by saying that the soldiers might take both their clothes. “We don’t want the soldiers to come back and take my clothes too. Then we’ll both be naked. . . Can you imagine everyone laughing at our butts and our balls bouncing around?” 
  • One of the women that Deo and Innocent stay with is a sex worker. 
  • Two of the soccer players, T-Jay and Keelan, have a short exchange. When T-Jay says Keelan has a “cute butt,” Keelan gives him the middle finger. 
  • Innocent always carried a condom. Keelan says, “Perhaps your brother knew more about sex than you think.” Deo replies, “Innocent didn’t like girls much. He saw safe-sex ads everywhere, and he thought that condoms would keep him safe from girls.”
  • During a game, Deo describes, “Keelan. . . scored her third goal and headed straight to me. I was sitting on the bench when she threw her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek.”

Violence 

  • Deo punches a kid named Pelo who calls him crazy on the soccer field. “Pelo does not have the chance to finish what he’s saying because he has to deal with my fist in his mouth. . . ” Another kid pulls Deo away before the fight continues.
  • When Deo sees soldiers carrying guns, he thinks about the damage guns can cause. “I have seen a cow cut in half from a burst from one of those guns.” 
  • Deo knows stories about the violence brought by the soldiers. The soldiers “went to Chipinge when the people were angry from hunger, so angry that some of them were killed. Auntie Aurelia told us that her niece was one of those who were hungry. She did not say how she bled to death.”
  • Commander Jesus comes to Deo’s village, Gutu, to kill dissenters of the government. Commander Jesus says, “In the back of my jeep there is a drum filled with blood. The blood came from people who voted wrongly. My life is to drink human blood. My supply is running low. I have come here to kill dissidents. . . You are going to eat eggs, after eggs hens, after hens goats, after goats cattle. . . . Then you are going to eat your children. After that you shall eat your wives. Then the men will remain, and because dissidents have guns, they will kill the men and only dissidents will remain. That’s how we will find who they are, and then we will kill them.” 
  • The soldiers and Commander Jesus hurt Grandpa Longdrop. Deo witnesses “an awful crunch and [I] see Grandpa Longdrop collapse in front of me. His eyes look dazed. He tries to get up, and I try to reach him to tell him to stay down, but then Commander Jesus kicks him. He crumples.” 
  • Deo’s mentally disabled brother, Innocent, comes to defend Grandpa Longdrop. “Innocent runs screaming toward Commander Jesus with a stick raised high above his head. He cracks it down on Commander Jesus’s outstretched hands.” The soldiers attack Innocent. “The soldiers beat Innocent with their rifle butts. What is worse than the sound of wood against the bones of your brother?. . . Innocent does not cry. He lies like a baby, curled up, his hands and arms covering his head. . . Innocent is pulled to his knees. His face is crooked, his eyes black balls. Blood trickles from his broken nose.” Innocent later recovers from these injuries.
  • Commander Jesus has the soldiers beat all the residents of Gutu. “The soldiers beat us as we lie on the ground. . . Useless hands against hard sticks. Elbows cracked. Heads smacked. Screams. Flashes of wood. Soldiers grunting. And pain. Lots of it.” 
  • After the beating, Deo assesses the townspeople’s injuries. “Grandpa Longdrop lies on the ground, his head in my [mother’s] lap. Sometimes he groans, and sometimes he is so quiet that I am afraid that he will never wake up. . . The backs of my legs hurt where the soldiers’ sticks fell, but this is nothing to what others have suffered. One of Lola’s brothers has a broken arm. Bhuku’s [mother] has a split in her head that bleeds and bleeds. Shadrack’s little sister could be dead.”
  • The soldiers pull a truck driver out of his car and kick him before letting him run away.
  • The soldiers take Innocent as punishment for hitting Commander Jesus. Deo finds him later. “A naked body is lying in the middle of the [cattle pen]. The man’s wrists are tied to pegs in the ground. His ankles are tied to the end of a log that stretches his legs wide apart. There is a sack over his head. . . I notice ants crawling all over his body. . . There is dried blood at the side of his mouth, his nose is broken, and his eyes are all puffy.” Innocent says the soldiers also peed on him.
  • The soldiers end up killing everyone in Deo’s village. “Gunshots rat-a-tat-tat across the valley. . .I crawl forward into the noise of people dying. The soldiers are shooting. People are running away. Some are falling. Now the soldiers hold their guns as if they mean business. Their guns bark, come alive in their hands, their bullets rip into the earth, the walls, trees, pots, chairs, and flesh. I watch. I am too afraid to turn away. People scream; their cries are cut in half by bullets.” 
  • Deo finds his mother (or “Amai”)  and Grandpa Longdrop among the dead villagers. “Amai is lying face down. Her arms are thrown out in front of her as if she is trying to grab something out of her reach. Her back is covered with a damp patch of blood. . . I find Grandpa Longdrop. He stares up at the sky. His mouth is open. He does not look like Grandpa Longdrop anymore. I find Shadrack. Dead. There is Lola. Blood where her face should be. Her brothers are lying not far away.” 
  • During a soccer game, Deo gets angry and kicks a boy named Aziz. “I charge [Aziz] from behind and deliberately kick his ankles. He falls, and the players on his team shout at me.. . . Aziz gets up, inspects his knee. It’s bloody.”
  • When crossing the border, two of the men in the group climb an electric fence and are electrocuted. “The two men run ahead, faster than us. They are the first to reach the fence. They start climbing. . . The wire fizzes, crackles, and the men shriek and fall to the ground as the electricity burns them.” The men are dazed but recover. 
  • An anti-refugee gang pulls a shopkeeper named Ahmed from his store and beats him. “Hands grab Ahmed and pull him onto the street. He screams as many sticks fall on him. . . Ahmed’s white robes turn red with blood.” It’s unknown whether he lives or dies.
  • Deo finds Angel, a sex worker, beaten up by one of her clients. “Angel is covered with blood, beaten. She lies on her bed, curled up in a ball. Her face is swollen. . .” Angel explains that her clients “were tired of paying a kwerekwere [a foreigner]. They wanted it for free.”
  • Deo finds Innocent’s dead body on the ground during an anti-immigrant raid. “I see the shape of a human head, lying on its side. The shape of an arm and a hand. . . I reach the body of my brother, facedown on the ground, covered with rubble.”
  • A refugee named Muhammad commits suicide by jumping into the ocean. “Muhammad had had enough of what he called a life without hope and without country. . . so he chose to run to the blue horizon. [The police] sent out a boat to fetch [Muhammad], but they never found him.”
  • While playing soccer, T-Jay and Deo get in a fight. “T-Jay lashed out at me with his elbow. The blow caught me squarely between the eyes, and for a moment I thought I was going to fall down. But instead of taking me down, it was like a switch that flicked on inside me. My fist found its way up T-Jay’s nose and my knee said hello to his balls. . . he got in quite a few good punches before my nose started bleeding. I stopped kicking T-Jay only when I heard [the] whistle bursting my eardrum.”
  • Keelan explains how she ended up in South Africa. Soldiers came to her town to punish the people who had voted wrongly. Her father, the community leader, was killed. Keelan says, “they had chopped off his arms with a machete.” 
  • T-Jay shares his story too. His father lost his foot when he stood on a landmine. T-Jay’s father “couldn’t work anymore, so he stayed at home. He beat the crap out of me until the social services took him away.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Captain Washington, a family friend of Deo, drinks after he learns Deo’s mother is dead. Captain Washington “brings back a bottle of booze. He pours himself a drink and swallows it quickly…At least when he drinks, he is no longer crying.”
  • After his brother dies, Deo gets addicted to sniffing glue, a common addiction for street kids in South Africa. Deo says, “the glue makes everything weightless.” He also calls it the “magic tube.” Deo talks about getting high off glue and the withdrawal symptoms, which include vomiting and muscle aches. 
  • Deo notices that some of the other kids on his South African soccer team are also “glue-tube heads.”
  • T-Jay’s father was an alcoholic.
  • T-Jay says it’s too late for him to go back to school because he got into drugs.

Language   

  • The story contains some profanity. Shit is used a few times; damn is used three times.
  • Deo says fear smells worse than “dog crap.”
  • A rude man calls Mai Maria, a woman who helps Deo and Innocent cross the border, a “filthy Rasta woman.”
  • Angel calls someone a “bitch.”
  • The slur kwerekwere is used occasionally. It is a derogatory term for foreigners or outsiders. It is used by gangs of people who want to expel the refugees from their country.
  • The guy who sells Deo glue says, “get your ass down here.”

Supernatural 

  • There is a rumor that Mai Maria is a witch who eats children. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The Methodist Church is mentioned throughout the story because they sometimes provide food and shelter for refugees or struggling communities. Once, Deo stays in a shelter set up by the Methodist Church. 
  • Deo talks about Spirits. “Grandpa Longdrop says that there are two kinds of people, those who believe in the Spirits and those who don’t. . . I understand the Spirits of the Wind, the Spirits of the Rocks, and the Spirits of the Trees are all those who have died and live on in other ways. I understand that they watch over us, that they can sometimes be angry because we forget them. And it is said that when they are angry, they can sometimes punish us. But this thing of the beating [by the soldiers] is too big to blame on the Spirits. They would not allow such a painful thing to happen. If I believe in Spirits, why would I believe in something that causes such pain? Surely the Spirits had nothing to do with what has happened in our village.”
  • Deo sings an ancient Spirit song passed down by his family to prompt Innocent into a fit so they can distract a group of soldiers. “It is always terrible to see Innocent when he has one of his fits. . . People are afraid of Innocent when he becomes like this. They think he is possessed. They think that the Spirits have taken over his body.” The lyrics of the song are not included in the story.
  • One of the items that Innocent carried with him was a pocket Bible with a note inside from their father. The note reads: “To Innocent and Deo, This is not a book of laws but a book of love. It will always be your salvation.” 
  • The soccer team from the Philippines at the Homeless World Cup chants, “For God and for country!” 
  • Bishop Desmond Tutu, who has come to oversee the Homeless World Cup, thanks God and says to the players, “God bless you all!” 

Tara and the Towering Wave: An Indian Ocean Tsunami Survival Story

When her mother announces a holiday vacation to Thailand, Tara isn’t thrilled. She’d rather stay home with her friends, but Mom is determined they use the girls’ trip to explore their Thai heritage. Tara is reluctant to travel so far from home, especially to a country she doesn’t feel connected to. But then disaster strikes. The day after Christmas, a massive tsunami sweeps through Phuket, Thailand. Tara’s resort vacation suddenly becomes a fight to survive – and find her mother in the wreckage. 

Tara and the Towering Wave explores themes of identity and heritage by focusing on Tara, who is Thai but has never been to Thailand. All of Tara’s information about her heritage comes from her mother, who also grew up in the United States. When people ask Tara about her identity, she is slightly confused about what to tell them because she knows very little about Thailand. The themes are not explored in detail because the focus is on surviving the tsunami. 

When the tsunami hits, Tara and her mother are separated but Tara eventually makes it to safety. Afterward, a man helps Tara out of the raging ocean, but her only focus is to find her mother. Often, she is so caught up in her own fears that she doesn’t take other people’s situations into consideration. While her behavior is understandable, it isn’t until she is safely reunited with her mother that she begins to think about others.  

The story’s events highlight how people helped each other through this difficult time. Fisherman went out to sea looking for survivors, businesses opened their doors as makeshift evacuations centers, and Tara and her mother helped at the hospital by passing out food and water. As Tara begins to realize the devastation that the tsunami caused, she wonders, “Why were we spared when so many others were not?” She never answers the question, however, she realizes that her and her mother were lucky to survive. 

In order to make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Tara’s location and the time. Every 10 to 17 pages there is a black-and-white illustration. The illustrations mostly focus on Tara and the events surrounding her. Some of the illustrations show the towering waves but no one’s injuries are included in them. The back of the book contains an author’s note that goes into more detail about the historical facts of the tsunami, a glossary, and three response questions to help readers connect to the reading material. 

The Girls Survive Series is similar to the I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis because both books focus on young protagonists who survive a disaster. Anyone who is interested in survival stories will enjoy Tara and the Towering Wave. After Tara is saved, the action wanes but there is still enough suspense to keep readers engaged. However, the book doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, and readers are left wondering what happened to some of the characters—did they live, or did they die? Despite this, Tara and the Towering Wave will introduce readers to the devastating effects of a tsunami while using kid-friendly details of the destruction. Readers who want to learn about another historic tsunami should also read I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 by Lauren Tarshis. Readers who want a more in-depth look at historical survival stories should check out the Survival Tails Series by Katrina Charman; this series uses the unique premise of having animals tell the story. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Tara and her mother were strolling through an open-air market when the tsunami hit. “Everyone and everything in the market was washed away. The powerful currents knocked my feet out from under me. . . In seconds, the street I had been standing on was gone, turned into a churning river.” 
  • The water tore Tara and her mother apart. Tara “quickly clamped my eyes closed, but salty water filled my nose and mouth. I was tossed and tumbled around in the water like a pile of clothes in a washing machine.” Tara finds a tree trunk to hold on to. 
  • While holding on to a telephone pole, a wave crashes into Tara. “It felt almost stronger than the first. Like the ocean was angry it hadn’t washed me away on its first attempt. . .The water gushed over and around me. . . This was a thick curtain, determined to suffocate and bury me.” Tara eventually makes it to safety.  
  • Tara’s mom broke her foot when the ocean pulled her under. She says, “I slammed into something—I don’t know what. But it was like running into a brick wall.” 
  • Later, Tara learns that “the death toll was unimaginable. In Thailand alone, the number of dead and missing was in the thousands. . . The waters had receded, revealing more bodies.” The death toll appears at the end of the book. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Tara is in the ocean, she sees another wave heading in her direction. She grabs onto a telephone pole. She prays that “this pole will stand up against this next wave.” 
  • After Tara and her mother are reunited, they say a prayer. They “prayed for Malee, Yuk, and Noo, for Nolan and his missing family, for everyone else who had been working and staying at the resort.”  

The Buried

As far as the three families in the bunker underneath a manor know, they are the last people on Earth. An event—The Cataclysm—drove them underground. They narrowly escaped death by sunlight that suddenly seared their skin. That was ten years ago. Now, seventeen-year-olds Sash, Yuna, and Gabe struggle to remember life on the surface. Every night they sit with their families and watch as Dr. Moran puts on a hazmat suit and leaves the bunker, and every night she returns with the same news, “It still isn’t safe . . . We’ll have to stay down here just a little bit longer.”

Not going outside is the most important rule the doctor has insisted they live by, but it’s far from the only one. Skin-to-skin contact is forbidden, natural light must be avoided, and the truth must always be told. The three main characters long for “something besides fake sunlight and tasteless gruel and a never-ending parade of tasks designed to keep them alive.”

Gabe, who works with his father to maintain the bunker, uncovers a hidden secondary hatch to the surface. He, Yuna, and Sash venture into the decrepit mansion above. From there, the three slowly begin to unravel the truth, Dr. Moran grows more suspicious, and eventually confirms their violation of her most important rule.

Each chapter alternates between the perspectives of Sash, Yuna, and Gabe. The story might have been stronger had it opted to be told in the first person rather than the third person, as it would have helped the perspectives stand out from one another a bit more. As is, the reader gets a decent feel for the three characters, and their dynamic is enjoyable. Most of the other characters lack dimension. The most egregious case is Sash’s older brother, Misha, who becomes cartoonishly sadistic in the latter part of the book after scarcely being involved in the story beforehand.

Dr. Moran’s leadership has made most of the adults “malleable,” so she is able to “mold them into what she wanted them to be.” Still, what the parents condone—and participate in— in regards to Moran’s punishments of their children stretches the suspension of disbelief. The reader can sense early on that Moran will ultimately be a villain, but readers will find themselves questioning why none of the adults have grown suspicious of her.

Ultimately, The Buried is a quick read. Readers will be drawn into the claustrophobic atmosphere and curious to find out what is really going on, though parts of the story remain fuzzy in the end, such as the exact origin of the creatures Moran has apparently created. The story would have benefited from better pacing, as it feels like too much happens at the end and the reader might get confused if they don’t pay close attention. The rushed conclusion may make The Buried a disappointing read. Readers may want to choose a more interesting read such as They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera or I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal.

Sexual Content

  • Moran has a conversation with Sash in which Dr. Moran senses Sash has feelings for Yuna. Dr. Moran assures her that such thoughts are “completely normal, especially for a girl [her] age.” She says she sympathizes with her desire to be touched but reminds her that skin-to-skin contact is forbidden.
  • When they were younger, Sash, Gabe, and Yuna read a romance novel. Sash recalls “Gabe blushing furiously every time two characters kissed.”
  • Sash and Yuna have developed a crush on each other. During a tense moment in the climax as the two need to split up, Yuna grabs Sash’s arm. As Sash begins to ask what she is doing, “the question [ends] with a collision of lips.”

Violence

  • When visiting the surface, Gabe encounters a man who eats a live rat. “Blood spurted around his jaw as his eyes closed in ecstasy . . . the rat struggled in the man’s bandaged and bloodied hands.”
  • When Sash demands more information from Dr. Moran about what happened to her father, who died shielding her from The Cataclysm, Moran says, “Do you want to know the gory details? Do you want to know how his skin crisped on the outside while his organs liquified . . . that he felt the skin slide off his bones?”
  • Moran killed Sash’s grandmother with a toxin. Yuna finds a journal entry where the doctor recorded: “moment from ingestion to cessation of cardiac activity – 18 minutes. Remains disposed of in incinerator.”
  • Yuna is being chased by several of Moran’s creatures while running through the mansion. She kills a creature that attempts to attack her with a sword she found in a display case, “the blade cleaved through the skull – oddly soft.”
  • After Gabe went to the surface, Dr. Moran punishes him. Dr. Moran has the group take a vote. Gabe’s mother is the tie breaker, who allows Moran to slice off two of Gabe’s fingers. After the vote, Dr. Moran brings “the knife down, hard and swift and merciless.” When we next see Gabe, his fingers are gone and there is a “bandage around his hand.”
  • Sash’s older brother, Misha, attempts to strangle her. “Sash’s fingers clawed at his hands but it wasn’t enough. Her fingers were numb. Weak. Limbs refused to listen to the commands her oxygen starved brain was sending them.”
  • Before Misha can succeed in killing his sister, he is attacked by one of Dr. Moran’s creatures. The lights in the bunker go out, so Sash only hears the exchange. “A gurgle cut short. The snap of a bone.” Moran appears and shoots the creature and kills Misha as well. When the lights come back on, Sash sees her brother and the creature “locked together. Joined by the single bullet that had ripped through one and entered the other.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • Moran’s creatures ambush a group of people in the bunker. While the others manage to escape unscathed, Gabe is attacked by a creature that is described as having “a skull, misshapen. Half smashed. A face so completely covered in scars its features were subsumed.” Gabe fights the creature off while the others run. This takes place over three pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There is a stash of medications in the bunker that are “used so sparingly [they] might as well not have [been] used at all.” Gabe is implied to be given one of these medications after his fingers are cut off to subdue him.

Language

  • Ass is said once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Yuna’s mother reminds her that they pray before every meal.
  • During a conversation with Dr. Moran, Sash says, “Oh, Jesus.” Moran retorts, “A false prophet, but I digress.”
  • Sash says she isn’t sure “she [believes] in God. She [isn’t sure] what she believed, if she believed in anything at all.”
  • Yuna finds her mother praying. “The crucifix pendant dangling from the thin gold chain around her neck was still clasped firmly in [her] hand.”
  • In a moment of terror, Yuna prays to “every god—dead gods, forgotten gods, vengeful gods, and merciful gods.”

by Erin Cosgrove

Rebecca Rides for Freedom: An American Revolution Survival Story

The American Revolution is raging in Philadelphia, and Rebecca is determined to do all she can to help. With her father stationed with Washington’s army at nearby Whitemarsh, it’s up to Rebecca to help her mother at home with her younger siblings. That includes selling vegetables to British officers stationed in wealthy houses nearby. When Rebecca intercepts a message about an impending British attack against the Patriots from one such house, she knows she must act. It’s up to her to get the message to the Patriot army – before it’s too late.

 Rebecca Rides for Freedom begins by describing how the American Revolution affected families. Rebecca’s father leaves the family alone so he can fight alongside General Washington. However, because of the families’ loyalties to the Patriots, there is constant fear that the Tories will harm them. Despite the danger, Rebecca is determined to deliver an important message to her father’s garrison. Rebecca’s ride through dangerous territory highlights her bravery and determination. When she is finally close to the Patriot’s camp, a soldier tries to send her away, but Rebecca refuses to give up. She thinks, “I’d ridden miles in the snow, been captured, escaped, and forded the frozen creek. I hadn’t come this far only to be dismissed as a silly girl.”

Rebecca’s experience doesn’t go in-depth about the history behind the American Revolution. However, readers will begin to understand people’s fear of the Redcoats and how the war impacted families. While Rebecca’s fear of the soldiers is obvious, the events are described in kid-friendly terms. However, this doesn’t detract from Rebecca’s harrowing experiences or her bravery.

To make the story easy to follow, each chapter begins with Rebecca’s location, the date, and the time. Every 7 to 10 pages there is a black-and-white illustration. The illustrations focus on Rebecca and the events surrounding her. Some of the illustrations show the Redcoats carrying rifles. The book ends with a note from the author that describes her inspiration for writing the story, a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Rebecca Rides for Freedom is a fast-paced, entertaining book that will spark readers’ interest in history. While Rebecca is a fictional character, the author explains how real women inspired Rebecca’s character. The author writes, “The women behind Rebecca’s story were real wives, mothers, and daughters. They were ordinary women who showed extraordinary courage in order to protect both family members they loved and the ideals they believed in.” This allows girls to see the important and often overlooked, contribution women made during the American Revolution. In addition, Rebecca Rides for Freedom will encourage readers to stand up for their beliefs. Readers who want to learn more about the Revolutionary War should grab a copy of George Washington’s Socks, which is a fast-paced time travel adventure that goes into more detail about the war.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When the Redcoats moved into one family’s home, they “turned the families out onto the street in the middle of the night. Lydia Wright’s baby sister had died that way.”
  • A Redcoat officer accidentally “shot himself in the foot.”
  • Rebecca meets Betsy whose “brother was beaten in the street when he wouldn’t get out of the way of the Redcoats. They broke his arm.”
  • For Rebecca to take papers with attack plans, Betsy helps. Betsy “swept her arm across the surface of the desk. All the papers fluttered to the floor.” As Rebecca leaves the house, “there was a smacking sound, and Betsy cried out.”
  • Rebecca is captured by the Redcoats. When she escapes, she jumps on her horse, Brownie, who “ran directly through the soldier’s campfire before any of them could realize what was going on. . . the soldiers dived for safety to either side.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A group of Redcoats apprehends Rebecca. That night at their camp, the men were “Passing their jug from hand to hand, sometimes breaking into song. When the sergeant speaks, there is the “unmistakable slur of drink in his voice.”

Language

  • A Redcoat refers to General Washington’s soldiers as “Patriot devils.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Rebecca is planning to escape from the Redcoats, she “prayed none of them would sense my movement.”
  • While crossing a swollen river, Rebecca “held the wet reins, clinging to Brownie’s wet mane, and prayed. It must have been heard because the water grew more shallow.”

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May of 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Will Mary and her family survive the terrible move forced upon them?

Mary and the Trail of Tears is told from Mary’s point of view, which allows the story to be told with kid-friendly descriptions. While the descriptions are not graphic, some readers will be upset by the brutality that the Cherokees faced. For example, Mary’s grandfather is killed by a man who says, he “wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The Cherokees faced the constant threat of being shot or dying from disease. However, the story ends on a positive note when Mary and most of her family are reunited in Oklahoma.

The story highlights the difference between the Cherokees and the soldiers. The Cherokees loved nature and respected all people. In contrast, the soldiers were motivated by greed and hate. “Since gold had been discovered on Cherokee land a decade earlier, many Georgians were convinced we had gold hidden away. They didn’t understand that to us the most valuable things were other Cherokees.” Throughout the story, the soldiers show cruelty or indifference to the Cherokees’ suffering.

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events that take place between May of 1838 and March of 1839. To help readers visualize the story’s events, black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with nonfiction support material including a glossary, and three questions about the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These accounts will help readers learn more about the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and the ten prison camps that were set up in Tennessee.

Mary and the Trail of Tears focuses on one girl’s story and the suffering that the Cherokee people faced during the Trail of Tears. Because readers will sympathize with Mary, the death of her family members will be upsetting. Despite this, Mary and the Trail of Tears should be read because of its educational value. By writing this informative story, the author—who is a member of the Cherokee tribe—sheds light on “one of this country’s darker chapters.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mary’s family and neighbors are forced out of their homes and the whites fight over the Cherokee’s belongings. “Georgians marched Raven out of his house with his hands tied in front of him. His hair was messy, and his cheek was swollen. . .They had hit Raven and bound his hands.”
  • When Mary’s grandpa runs back into his house, she “was afraid they were going to beat my grandpa or whip him when we got to the fort. Grandpa was only in the house a moment when a single rifle shot exploded.” Grandpa is killed.
  • The man who shot grandpa said that “he wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The man is not punished for his crime.
  • When Mary’s family is in the prison camp, they meet a man who had run away from the prison camp and then returned. He says, “The soldiers who were escorting us were cruel. I came back here because there is no place else for a Cherokee to go. . . There is no food or water, and many drowned falling from the overcrowded boats.” Through the man’s story, they learn many had died, including enslaved Africans.
  • While traveling, the children were slowing them down, so “the soldiers took babies from their mothers and put them in wagons with the sick and the dead.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mary thinks about her grandma, who looked for medicinal plants found in the woods. Mary thinks, “The creator provided food and medicine we couldn’t grow in the garden.”
  • Grandpa sings a song after dinner. He explains that “It’s about us. It means the creator wants us to take care of each other. If a child is alone and crying, we need to take care of them.” Later a group sings the song.

Maria and the Plague: A Black Death Survival Story

Years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and twelve-year-old Maria must fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Death is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to survive the challenges ahead of her?

Maria and the Plague educates readers about the challenges of living during the black plague. Maria mentions the death of her mother and baby sister; however, their deaths took place before the events in the story and are not described. But tragedy follows Maria’s family. When her father is infected, Maria says goodbye to him and then he goes off into the woods to die. With her father gone, Maria is not left alone for long. She soon meets up with a group of survivors and the adults willingly take Maria under their wing.

Even though the story tackles a difficult topic, the engaging tale describes the events in a kid-friendly manner. While Maria makes it clear that some of her loved ones will die, the actual deaths are not described. Although the story doesn’t go in-depth, it does include some interesting facts. For example, the song “Ring Around the Rosie” began during the plague. A “part of the song was about the rash that appeared on people’s skin. It was also about the flowers and herbs we carried near our faces to stop the smell of the sickness.”

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events which take place between April 13, 1347 and September 10, 1348. Black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of her thoughts while writing the story. There is also a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Maria and the Plague will help readers understand the events that revolve around the black plague. Readers will connect to Maria because she is a relatable character who loves her family. Throughout Maria’s ordeal, she shows determination, bravery, and compassion for others. Maria and the Plague is a fast-paced story that will entertain as it educates. Readers who enjoy historical fiction should also check out the Imagination Station Series by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While Maria was in line for bread, “two people behind me started arguing over who got there first. Their raised voices turned into blows.”
  • After leaving the breadline, a man stops Maria and demands her food. “He wrenched my arm and grabbed for my bag. I kicked him, hard, and ran. As I sped away, I heard his heavy steps pounding after me.”
  • An old woman, who was carrying a basket, walks by Maria’s house. “Two men ran up to her. One of them grabbed her and held her tight. The other wrestled the basket from her hands. . . The men shoved her to the ground.”
  • A group of men tries to steal Maria’s bag. Her dog, Speranza, “launched herself at him. Her jaws clamped down hard on his leg. The thin man howled in pain.” A group of adults intervenes, and the men leave.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A man calls Maria’s dog a “stupid mutt.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maria’s father says that the plague will not kill any of their family because “The saints will protect us.” Maria’s brother disagrees saying, “The saints are in heaven, not on Earth. We mustn’t rely on them.”
  • As Maria and her Papa are leaving the city, they are “forced to step around the bodies in the road. I [Maria] tried to say a prayer for each person I saw, but I soon lost my voice.”

 

Stormy, Misty’s Foal

A raging storm slashes across Assateague and the Chincoteague islands. Water is everywhere! The wild ponies and the people must battle for their lives.

In the midst of the storm, Misty—the famous mare of Chincoteague—is about to give birth. Paul and Maureen are frantic with worry as the storm rages on…will Misty and her colt survive? This is the story of the hurricane that destroyed the wild herds of Assateague, and how strength and love helped rebuild them.

Readers looking for a good horse story will be disappointed in Stormy, Misty’s Foal. Throughout the story, people talk about Misty and worry about Misty, but Misty appears for only a brief time. Stormy, Misty’s Foal is similar to a survival story because it focuses on Paul’s and Maureen’s experiences with the hurricane. While the story has some tense moments, the realistic story has little action and readers may quickly become bored.

Paul and Maureen are both hard-working children who rarely complain. Throughout the hurricane, the community comes together to help those in need. While the main characters have positive attributes, none of the supporting characters are memorable. In addition, readers may have a difficult time understanding the colloquial language spoken by many of the characters. For example, Grandma says, “This ain’t easy, but I got eenamost enough to make a nice pot of cocoa.”

Readers looking for a story of action and adventure will be disappointed by Stormy, Misty’s Foal. The focus on Misty will become tedious especially for those who did not read Misty of Chincoteague. Even though Paul and Maureen have many positive attributes, their story is not unique or engaging. Readers who want a story that focuses more on horses should skip Stormy, Misty’s Foal.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The storm floods much of the island and many animals are pulled out to sea. Paul “was staring, horror-struck, at the neighbors’ houses. Some had collapsed. And some had their front porches knocked off so they looked like faces with a row of teeth missing. And some were tilted at a crazy slant.”
  • In order to keep people from loitering, “Grim soldiers were patrolling the watery streets, rifles held ready.”
  • Grandpa helps to load the corpses of the dead horses. He says, “That all the days of my life I’ll hear that slow creakin’ of the crane liftin’ up the dead ponies, and I’ll see their legs a-swingin’ this way and that like they was still alive and kickin’.”
  • While the men were cleaning up the dead animals, the preacher “put up a prayer to the memory of the wild free things.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Grandpa sees one of his stallions dead and says, “Oh God!”

Supernatural

  • Grandpa says, “A goose washin’ in the horse trough/ Means tomorrow we’ll be bad off.” Grandpa’s uncle told him that “geese in the trough is a fore-doomer of a storm.”

Spiritual Content

  • Paul and Maureen tell their grandma a verse from the Bible in the hopes of missing a day of school. The two kids say, “There’s a time to sow and a time to reap. . .There’s a time to cry and a time to laugh. . .There’s a time to love and a time to hate. . .There’s a time to go to school and a time to stay home.”
  • When the storm starts, Grandpa “began to pray for all the wild things out on a night like this.”
  • Paul and his grandpa go out into the store and Paul prays, “Please, God, take the sea back where it belongs. Please take it back.”
  • When Paul and his grandpa make it home, Grandma exclaims, “Praise be the Lord! I been so worried I couldn’t do a lick o’ work. Just sat by the window praying double-quick time.”
  • To keep everyone’s spirits up, Grandma sings a hymn. “Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass come from Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
  • Maureen is dismayed that she can’t help more. She asks, “Why was I born a girl?” Grandma says, “It’s God’s plan.”
  • The men prepare to go back to the island. Grandpa says, “But I say the Lord helps them as helps theirselves.”
  • When Grandpa starts to cry, Grandma says, “Let the tears out if they want to come. King David in the Bible was a strong man and he wept copiously.”
  • Grandpa and his kids sing Glory, Glory, halleluiah.
  • Grandpa, Grandma, and the kids go to church. The preacher says, “The earth is the Lord’s. He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. . . God is in the rescue business and every believer is a member of His rescue forces.” The church scene is described over three pages.

 

Deep Water

Twelve-year-old Julie Sims is still reeling from her parents’ separation and from being moved to a different city. On the other hand, she is looking forward to spending the summer with her father and helping him with his diving business. However, Julie soon finds out that her father hasn’t weathered the divorce well and his business is about to fail. When a rich client agrees to pay an extreme amount to go on a dive, Julie knows her father will have to say yes because he desperately needs the money.

When Julie’s father falls ill miles off the coast of Alabama, Julie knows she must guide the client and his reckless son, Shane, into the depths of the ocean. Both the son and father ignore Julie’s instructions during the dive. Julie realizes she’s in over her head, but it’s too late to avoid danger. When the anchor loses its grip, the boat floats away making it impossible for the scuba divers to locate it. Stranded in the middle of the ocean, Julie just hopes someone will find them before it’s too late. Can Julie keep everyone alive until help comes, or will they all sink to the bottom of the ocean?

Julie’s story focuses on survival and jumps into action right from the start. Deep Water is not a character-driven story but instead centers around Julie’s desire to survive and her conflicting emotions about Shane. Shane’s father is killed by a shark which makes the two teens realize that they must work together. As Julie gets to know Shane, she realizes that Shane’s bratty behavior is caused by the deep hurt he is hiding. Within this survival story, both Julie and Shane’s family dynamics are explored, adding another interesting element to the story.

Key’s love and respect for the ocean shine through the entire story. Even though Julie faces sharks, freezing waters, and other dangers, she doesn’t lose her love of the ocean. Deep Water is a suspenseful survival story that doesn’t rely on typical events. Instead, the story weaves unique elements to create an entertaining tale that readers will have a hard time putting down. The ending is predictable and the characters are not well developed, the story’s action and suspense will still entertain survival story fans. The Raft by S.A. Bodeen and Adrift by Paul Griffin will also be good for any readers who enjoy ocean-themed survival stories.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Shane yells at Julie, she “spun around and punched him in the face with all my fear and anger.”
  • Julie thinks about a shark story her dad told her. The sharks “often tore into each other by mistake. He saw one of the sharks with its stomach completely ripped out, still feeding for another few minutes until the life suddenly left it.” The other sharks “ripped it up even more and ate it.”
  • While stranded in the middle of the ocean, Mr. Jordan begins to thrash about. “He began lifting his arm from the water repeatedly, plunging the knife blade down at his imaginary sharks.” When Julie and Shane realize they can’t help him, they let go of Mr. Jordan. It is implied that the sharks kill Mr. Jordan.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julie mentions that her mom takes anxiety medication.

Language

  • Someone calls Julie’s dad a jackass.
  • When Shane realizes his dad has the bends, he says, “We’re so screwed.”
  • Someone refers to another person as a jerk four times. For example, Julie tells Shane, “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be nice to people. Why would you want to be a jerk?”
  • “God” is used as an exclamation twice. “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Julie tells Shane his dad is an idiot.
  • Crap is used eight times. For example, when Shane loses sight of a shark, he yells, “Where’s that one going? Crap! Where’s he going?”
  • “Holy crap” is used three times. For example, Shane sees a waterspout heading for him and Julie and says, “holy crap!”
  • When Shane is snarky, Julie tells him, “don’t be a smart ass.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

The Wild Boars soccer team is made up of explorers. The 12 members ventured deep into the caves at Tham Luang, further than even some seasoned cavers. They were bold with their exploring, looked out for one another, and worked well as a team. However, their adventurous spirit was met with bad luck when the team and their assistant coach became trapped in the cave. With the wet season approaching in Thailand, the mountain where the cave was located was saturated with water and when it started to rain, the caverns began to flood.

When the team went missing, rescuers and problem-solvers were called to action to rescue the team. In order to save the soccer team, rescuers would need a well-thought-out, coordinated plan. It was going to be a huge undertaking. The book takes the reader through the timeline of the rescue mission and dives into broader topics that color the event. Soontornvat highlights the importance of STEM in the mission and goes into the scientific details about the cave and how the water and sediment affected the mission. At the same time, there are subsections in the book that go into the historical and cultural context of the local community.

Buddhism and meditation is an important piece of this nonfiction story. Part of what made the mission successful was that the soccer team did not panic and they were able to focus their energy with meditation. “When thoughts of hunger, pain or shame come in through one window, you can notice them, and then let them float right out the other window, keeping the room of your mind clear from all that clutter.” The Wild Boars were trapped in the cave for 18 days and they needed to look within to ease their pain. The subsections on Buddhism and meditation are a great introduction to Eastern religion and meditation practices. Without overwhelming the reader with specifics, the book takes these concepts and displays them in a way that is relatable to a younger audience.

Soontornvat also touches on geopolitical issues that are present in Thailand, such as immigration and religious persecution in neighboring countries. While the story is focused on the rescue mission, Soontornvat uses the experiences of the Wild Boars’ assistant coach, Coach Ek, to understand asylum-seekers. Coach Ek was forced to migrate to Thailand from Myanmar to escape the armed conflict. Migrant children face tough odds as they often do not have the necessary support systems to help them. Coach Ek considers himself lucky to have found the Wild Boars because he was able to find community and serve as a mentor to the soccer players.

The photographs in the book bring humanity and a sense of urgency to the story, as well as highlight the scale of the rescue mission. Many of the pictures were taken during the mission. The massive undertaking of bringing the Wild Boars to safety is captured with photographs of heavy machinery, the elaborate sump systems, and camo-wearing Navy SEALs. The book has a cinematic feel to it and the fast-paced life-or-death story keeps the reader turning pages. With loads of first-hand accounts, artifacts, and photos, the reader will feel immersed in the rescue mission.

One of the underlying themes of the book is that collaboration and teamwork can accomplish amazing things. There is no shortage of heroism in this story as people from all over the globe pitch in to save the boys. Donations are made, scuba experts consulted, farmers help with the sump system and the soccer team supports each other during the trying times. For the team, their support for each other was paralleled through the lens of soccer, helping to make it relatable to young readers. “Through their time on the soccer field, they know what it feels like to work as a team to tackle something that seems impossible.” Despite the danger of being trapped and impossible odds, through collaboration and sheer willpower, the boys are brought to safety.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tham Luang has a mythology of the Sleeping Lady which visitors pay their respects to at a shrine. In the story, “he [a servant who loved the princess] was captured and killed by the king’s soldiers. The heartbroken princess killed herself. Her blood became the water flowing in the cave and her body became the mountain.”
  • When discussing the probability of the soccer team’s survival, Major Hodges says, “if they are in there, they’re probably dead, and if we’re lucky, we will find their remains.”
  • When contextualizing the background of Coach Ek, it is said that “groups such as the Rohingya of Myanmar, have fled their ancestral land because they are persecuted and murdered by their own government.”
  • While making plans for a recovery, there is a reminder that “a dead body requires a recovery. Rick’s experience as a firefighter has trained him to be unemotional about such things, but trying to maneuver a lifeless body through the twists and turns of a sump is a grim and dangerous task.”
  • One of the Navy SEALs dies during the rescue effort. “When Saman’s partner finally emerges, he is pulling a lifeless Saman behind him. The other SEALs rush to revive him, but it’s too late.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The soccer team is sedated during the rescue mission. “Dr. Harris has finally decided to give the boys a sedative called ketamine. Ketamine is a common drug used during surgeries when the patient needs to be unconscious.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The caves at Tham Luang “house giants who were defeated by the Buddha himself.”
  • Before the Wild Boars go to bed, Coach Ek “tells them all to pray together.”
  • When discussing meditation, a background on Buddhism is given. “It was through meditation that the Buddha arrived at the pillars of his great teachings that guide all Buddhists today. The Buddha taught people how to free themselves from the suffering that is a natural part of life.”
  • The Thai variety of Buddhism is often intertwined with other spiritual beliefs. It is written that “spirits are everywhere; they can be gentle and protective, or moody and vengeful. Either way, spirits should be treated as respectfully as the living.”

by Paul Gordon

When Stars Are Scattered

Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent most of their childhood inside the A2 block of the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab. After fleeing from his family farm in Somalia and becoming separated from his mother, Omar’s main concern is always protecting his only remaining family member, his nonverbal brother Hassan. Not only does Omar shield Hassan from the grueling chores of finding water and cleaning the tent, but he also cares for his brother when Hassan suffers seizures, or when he is teased by the other kids for only saying one word: Hooyo—“Mamma.” Omar also hopes one day his mother will find him and Hassan, and so he keeps all days the same. So, when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future…but it would also mean leaving his brother, his only remaining family member, every day.

When Stars are Scattered is an easy-to-read, beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Omar Mohamed’s story comes to life in this graphic novel about his childhood in a refugee camp. The story shows the heartbreaking events that lead to Omar going to a refugee camp when he was only four. Omar’s story chronicles the hunger, heartbreak, and harsh conditions he endured. The story also sheds light on other issues including women’s access to education, starvation, family loss, and the constantly looming struggle to get on the UN list that invites refugees to interview for resettlement. Despite difficulties, Omar is still able to create a sense of family and home in the midst of difficult situations.

Like all people, Omar is a complex character who struggles to make the right decisions. He also often has conflicting emotions. For example, Omar wonders if his mother is dead or alive. He thinks, “I love my mom, but sometimes I hate her for leaving us. It’s like these two feelings are tearing me apart.”

At one point, Omar wonders if school is a waste of time; however, his foster mom tells him, “Prepare yourself and educate yourself. So you can be ready when God reveals his plan to you.” Eventually,

Omar falls in love with the power of learning and the potential of resettlement. Omar begins to learn what it feels like to build a new life by focusing on what he is given, rather than remaining torn by what he has lost. It is in this way that Omar moves from searching the stars for his mother to actually feeling that, “Many years ago, we lost our mother. But maybe she is not gone. She is in the love that surrounds us and the people who care for us.”

The story teaches several important life lessons including not to judge others and to make the most of your life. Appreciating what you have is the overarching theme of When Stars Are Scattered. Omar’s best friend tells him, “I didn’t ask for this limp. But I didn’t ask to live in a refugee camp either. . . I guess you just have to appreciate the good parts and make the most of what you’ve got.” Despite his struggles, Omar makes the most of what he has been given and thanks God for the love of others.

Based upon the real-life story of Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered navigates themes of familial loss, grief, struggle, and finally, hope, all while addressing the permanent feeling of a temporary refugee camp and the heartbreak of a war-torn home country. Omar shares his story because he wants to encourage others to never give up on home. Omar says, “Things may seem impossible, but if you keep working hard and believing in yourself, you can overcome anything in your path.”

When Stars Are Scattered not only encourages others to remain persistent, but also sheds light on the conditions of the refugee camps without getting into a political debate on immigration. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Omar’s story—his hardships, his hopes, his despair, and his desire to help others like him.

The narrative is occasionally intense and heavy in its consideration of grief and the lifestyle of a refugee, which may upset younger readers. However, the serious and very important subjects that When Stars are Scattered covers are overall presented in a digestible way for young readers. The graphics that illustrate the story are absolutely captivating for all, while the humor and uplifting optimism that perseveres throughout this novel can fill the hearts of any audience.

Sexual Content

  • Maryam’s family needs the money, so they allow Maryam to get married despite the fact that she is only in middle school. “Maryam’s husband is old, but he’s not too strict.”

Violence

  • When Hassan hugs a boy, the boy pushes him away. The boy tells Omar, “I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron. He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions.” Omar punches the boy, and they get into a fight. An older woman breaks up the fight.
  • While Omar is at school, Hassan wanders off and some kids “[take] his clothes, and… He’s pretty badly hurt.”
  • When Omar’s best friend says he’s going to America, Omar thinks about the resettlement process. He thinks, “I heard about one guy… His case was rejected by the UN and he couldn’t handle it. He… He killed himself.”
  • During an interview with the United Nations, Omar talks about the village he came from. Omar was playing under a tree when he heard men yelling at his father. Then, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Omar ran to his mother, who told Omar to take his brother and run to the neighbor. The neighbor hides them inside, but “then I heard gunshots and screaming, and soon the whole village was running. There were angry men everywhere.” Omar and his brother run and stay with the people from the village, but they never see their mother again. The event is described over three pages.
  • When Fatuma describes her sons, she notes that “they were killed in Somalia” but there is not any explicit description as to how they were killed.
  • When Hassan tries to help Omar with collecting water one day, Omar gets frustrated and shoves Hassan, yelling “leave me alone!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some of the men in the refugee camp chew khat leaves. Omar explains that “a lot of men in camp chew Khat. They say it kind of helps you . . . forget things.”

Language

  • There are multiple times where some of the children are called by names based upon their physical appearance. For example, one child is called “Limpy” based upon a physical disability. Omar is also called “Dantey” for being quiet.
  • The story has some mild name-calling, such as idiot, jerk, and dodo head. For example, Omar thinks that one of the boys his age is “kind of a jerk.”
  • While walking to school, someone yells at two girls, “Hey it’s the mouse and the shrimp.” In reply, someone says, “Tall Ali… You’re like… A towering tree of an idiot.”
  • In class among the girls, A boy says, “You’re just jealous because you’re, what, number seventeen? I didn’t know we had seventeen girls in class. My goat could’ve done better than you.”
  • When Tall Ali becomes frustrated at Hassan for not understanding a game, he says to Omar, “ I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron! He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions!” Then he says to both Omar and Hassan, “Now I know why you’re orphans. That’s probably why your mom left you.”
  • When Jeri gives a presentation in school about how much he wants to be a teacher when he grows up, another classmate exclaims, “what a kiss-up.”
  • When Omar learns that all the teachers speak in English, he thinks, “Oh crud.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When community leader Tall Salan tries to convince Omar to go to school, he says, “Omar, only God knows what will happen in the future.” Omar’s foster mom Fatuma also says, “I think you should look deep inside yourself and see what God is telling you to do. If this is God’s will, then He will make everything okay.”
  • Omar and his brother practice Islam. Because of this, Omar recognizes that “Like every morning, I hear the call to morning prayers over the loudspeakers. It’s early, but today I was already awake.” There is also a chapter dedicated to discussing the Holy Month of Ramadan. This chapter shows Omar and his friends celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, which is the holiday at the end of this month. It is also recognized that Omar’s camp, and others near it, have a “loudspeaker that, five times a day, called everyone to prayer.”
  • When Omar decides to go to school, he prays “that [he’s] making the right decision.”
  • Omar’s foster mom tells him that God has given Hassan gifts. “Hassan is considerate, helpful, and friendly.”
  • When the community comes together to help Hassan, Omar thinks, “We may be refugees and orphans, but we are not alone. God has given us the gift of love.”
  • During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though many in the refugee camp are always hungry, “people in the camp fast anyway… Just because we’re poor and hungry doesn’t mean we can’t observe the holy month.”
  • During Eid, Omar prays “for me and Hassan. That we’ll find a way out of this refugee camp—that someday we will find a home.”
  • When a social worker brings Omar a school uniform, he thinks, “you just try your best, and God will find a way to help you when you need it.”
  • Even though life has dark moments, Omar believes that “God will deliver an answer, and you’ll find a faith out of the darkness. The kindness of strangers. The promise of new friends.”
  • When Omar is waiting to see if he will be resettled in America, he thinks, “We’ve done all we can. It’s in God’s hands now.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

The River

Two years after Brian Robeson survived fifty-four days alone in the Canadian wilderness, the government wants him to head back so they can learn what he did to stay alive. This time Derek Holtzer, a government psychologist, will accompany him. But a freak accident leaves Derek unconscious. Brian’s only hope is to transport Derek a hundred miles down the river to a trading post. He’s survived with only a hatchet before—now can Brian build a raft and navigate an unknown river? For the first time, it’s not only Brian’s survival that’s at stake.

As Brian embarks on his journey, he realizes that being in the wilderness with another person isn’t the same as crash landing. There is no danger. No tension. And then Derek is injured, and Brian must make a life or death decision. However, the situation still has little suspense or action. Even when Brian is rafting down the river, there is little excitement, and Brian’s hallucinations are confusing. However, when Brian becomes exhausted, he thinks, “It would be better if Derek were gone. What were the differences? He was dumb enough to rise up and get hit by the lightning, and he should be gone.” Brian doesn’t give in to this momentary weakness and ends up saving Derek.

Even though The River follows Brian on another adventure, Brian’s character does not grow. Much of the plot focuses on Brian’s thoughts and emotions, which slows down the pace. The conclusion is abrupt and the secret that plagued him in Hatchet is never resolved; however, it no longer bothers Brian. The River has few intense moments and the plot and characters are underdeveloped, which makes it hard for readers to connect with the characters.

Readers who enjoyed Hatchet will find Brian’s journey interesting. However, if the slow pace of Hatchet made finishing the story difficult, you will want to avoid picking up The River. Brian’s next adventure, Brian’s Winter, takes the reader back in time and shows what would have happened if Brian wasn’t rescued after his plane crash. Readers who enjoy understanding character’s thoughts and emotions will find The River satisfying. However, if you’re looking for a more fast-paced survival story, Adrift by Paul Griffin would be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Derek is hit by lightning. “Some thing, some blueness of heat and light and raw power seemed to jump from the tree to the briefcase and radio and enter Derek’s hand. All the same part of a second it hit him and his back arched, snapped him erect, and then it seemed to fill the whole shelter and slammed into Brian as well.” After being hit, Derek is in a coma.
  • Brian falls into the river and is swept along with the current. “. . .he was down again, mashed down and tumbled by the pressure wave, smashed into the rocks on the bottom, and all he could think was that he had to stay alive. . . He fought and clawed against the rock, broke his face free, then was driven down again, hammered into the bottom.” Brian finally finds the raft and is able to get on it.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation four times.
  • When Derek is injured, Brian thinks, “The woods. The damn woods.”
  • When Brian decides to build a raft and travel down the river, he thinks, “Oh, hell, we just have to do this. . .”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Brian was trying to make a difficult decision. “Please, God, he thought—and did not finish it. Just that—please, God.”
  • When the raft is near huge rocks in the river, Brian whispers, “God. . . “

Storm Warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

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 Canyon’s Edge

Nora’s birthday marks the one-year anniversary of the worst day of her life. To distract them both from the memories of a horrible mass shooting that killed Nora’s mom, her dad surprises her with a trip to explore a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert. Nora hopes they’ll find some remnants of the happiness they felt when her mother was alive.

But in the twisting, winding depths, the unthinkable happens. Suddenly Nora finds herself lost and alone, at the bottom of a canyon, in the middle of a desert. Separated from her supplies, she faces dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the last year. To save herself and her father, Nora must conquer her fears—and outsmart the canyon’s dangers.

The middle part of Nora’s story is told through poetry that uses repetition, alliteration, and other types of figurative langue to convey Nora’s emotions. Nora’s fear of “the Beast” becomes apparent as she imagines the man who killed her mother. “Now I feel the Beast below me, / sneering, sniping, snapping/ his snarling mouth / his claws outstretched, / waiting, patiently waiting, / for me to fall.” The poetry has an emotional impact and also creates a sense of panic, suspense, and fear.

The poetry creates wonderfully descriptive passages and the text often is placed to create a visual element that enhances the story’s emotion. For example, when a flash flood takes Nora’s father, the descriptive words are placed in the form of a whirlpool. The visual effect of the words helps the reader imagine the story’s events and the emotion behind them.

Nora’s story begins with Nora and her father building protective walls around themselves in order to shut out all other people. Nora suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, and loneliness. Even though Nora struggles with understanding why her mother died, the story never explains why a man killed strangers. Yet the terrifying events in the canyon allow Nora to deal with her past and her story ends on a hopeful note as she begins to heal.

Even though the story uses Nora’s stream-of-consciousness narration, The Canyon’s Edge is not a character-driven story. Instead, the story focuses on 48 hours of heart-stopping tension as Nora fights to survive scorpions, dehydration, and other dangers. Nora’s emotional trauma, the death of her mother, and the life-and-death struggle she faces may upset younger readers, but will be enjoyed by older readers. The Canyon’s Edge will take readers on a twisting emotional ride that will stay with them for a long time after they put the book down.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One year ago, Nora’s mother was killed in a mass shooting. Nora thinks back to the event. “First come the tremendous booms. My mother, singing to me seconds ago is shoving me under the table so frantically, so desperately, that I bash my head on the edge and her fingers leave bruises on my body.”
  • Sofia Moreno, a woman in the restaurant, tackles the shooter. “Sofia Moreno, / who died / while giving her two boys, / while giving everyone, / while giving me, a chance / a bigger chance. . . to flee, / to hide, / to act, / to survive.” Sofia is able to stop the shooter before she dies.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Damn is used once.

 

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • Nora’s psychologist tells her about Gerald Manley Hopkins, a poet. “He was searching for a pattern. He believed if he sketched the same wave twice, it would be proof. . . That there was a god.”
  • When Nora sleeps in a cave, she prays “for help, though I don’t know who or what could possibly help me here inside a hole in the wall on the side of a canyon.”
  • As Nora walks through the desert, she prays “for help.”

Dirt Road Home

Two years ago, Hal was sent to a state residence to keep him away from his alcoholic father. Hal escapes the boys’ home but is eventually captured. Now, he’s being sent to serve hard time at Hellenweiler Boy’s Home.

With his dad back on the wagon, Hal can walk out sooner than he thinks if he keeps his cool. But at Hellenweiler, trouble finds those who try to avoid it. In order to stay out of trouble, Hal tries to avoid the other residents, but two rival gangs each want Hal to pick a side. To make matters worse, Hal realizes the head of Hellenweiler, Mr. Pratt, is determined to keep Hal locked up. Is there any way Hal can stay out of the gangs’ fights? Will everyone believe Mr. Pratt’s lies?

Hal is determined to stay out of trouble, but other inmates notice his confidence and compassion. For example, Hal encourages the new arrival of Leroy to quickly choose a gang as Leroy will need protection. But after seeing Leroy and Hal interact, the gang leader chooses a cruel initiation task—beat up Hal. Hal quickly realizes Leroy’s struggle and promises not to fight back. Hal takes the beating because he knows it is the only way Leroy will be safe. Throughout the story, many boys fight each other. Some of the fights are barbaric and bloody, which may upset more sensitive readers.

Readers will admire Hal for his determination and grit. Hal’s experiences highlight the violent nature of boys’ homes and the corrupt system that is designed to keep the boys behind bars. The boys often fight each other and the guards gladly ignore much of the fighting. However, the guards seem to relish in being able to use violence to stop the fighting. While the story ends on a positive note, readers will be left wondering if all of the boys can be reformed or if are some of them already destined to live in a prison for the rest of their adult lives.

Full of violence, questionable characters, and suspense, Dirt Road Home will keep the reader interested until the very end. The story has a darker tone and explores difficult topics such as alcoholism, justice, and prison life. Hal and several other characters made an appearance in Alabama Moon. Even though readers do not have to read Alabama Moon to understand the story, understanding Hal’s background will help readers have empathy for him. Dirt Road Home is an easy-to-read story that illustrates how one person can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Sexual Content

  • Hal dreams about his girlfriend and “the time I couldn’t help myself and leaned over and kissed her on the tailgate of my truck. And the way I’d felt when she’d kissed me back and then later when she’d stood behind me and put her hands in the front pockets of my jeans and pulled close against me.”
  • Hal kisses his girlfriend. “I leaned into her and kissed her on the mouth. Her lips were soft and tasted like cherry ChapStick. I’d been thinking about that kiss ever since.”

Violence

  • Two rival gangs try to recruit new boys. A boy chases after a basketball and gets too close to a rival gang member. “The Hound slapped the ball out of the Minister’s hand and bent down to get it. The Minister kneed the boy in the stomach and the Hound collapsed, holding himself.” An adult breaks up the fight.
  • As part of a gang initiation, Hal’s friend Leroy is told to beat up Hal. Hal tells him, “I won’t fight back, Leroy.” Leroy “drew back and hit me in the ribs. I grunted and leaned over and grabbed my side. . . He punched me hard in the stomach. I doubled over and went to my knees. . . He hit me across the face and I fell sideways. I rolled over and looked at him. Tears were coming down his face. ‘Kick me,’ I said.” Hal is taken to the infirmary.
  • When Hal refuses to join a gang, Tattoo “slammed his hand into my throat and pressed me against the wall. I gasped for breath as he held me there. . . He hit me again. I felt the coppery taste of blood in my mouth. Then I saw it running down his hand.” Hal is knocked unconscious. The scene is described over a page.
  • A gang member tries to make Hal throw a punch. “Jack’s hand shot out and grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wire. He was breathing heavy through his nose, and his eyes danced with craziness.” An adult intervenes.
  • When one of the boys refuses to fight, he disappears. Someone tells Hal, “Chase accepted a service he could not pay for. He is gone. . . He was taken away in an ambulance last night.”
  • Hal sneaks down to the basement intending to fight Jack. “I tightened my grip on the shiv and started to stand. Before I could rise, another figure slipped out of the darkness behind Jack and pulled him to the floor. The room was suddenly filled with screaming.” Someone beat up Jack. The next morning, one of the boys is found in bed with “blood staining his bedsheet and the entire side of his shirt.” Both boys heal from their wounds.
  • The two gangs fight. “It was a blur of chaos and confusion as the Hounds descended on their cowering prey . . .” Guards watch the fight and then one “stepped down onto the yard. Behind him came three more guards, each of them with his own club. . . Then I saw sticks rising and falling and caught glimpses of their faces, jaws clenched and eyes narrowed at the pleasure of what they dealt. I heard grunts of pain and more yelling. . . in the end, the guards stood in the settling dust. A few boys lay around them, moaning and curled into fetal positions.”
  • Paco explains how he became a gang leader. “I put a rock in my fist and walked up to their leader and hit him in the face with it until he fell to the ground and spit his teeth into the dirt.”
  • During a fight between the two gangs, “the boys are so worked up that they continue to fight and do not notice the guards. Perhaps even if they did notice they do not believe what is about to happen. . .” The guards attack the boys. After the fight, “there are several boys lying on the ground. One of them is not moving. . . Caboose’s younger brother.” When Caboose refuses to leave his brother’s side, “the guards close in and I hear the clubs hitting his back like punches to a side of beef. Slowly, after many blows, Caboose becomes silent. . . Then, after many more blows, he rolls over and falls across his brother.”
  • A guard finds a shiv in Hal’s locker. The guard grabs Hal and, “I felt the hand on my shoulder. I tried to twist away and the fingers dug clawlike into my collarbone and pain shot up my neck. Then I was hit hard from behind and I went to my knees with the room spinning.” Hal is put in solitary confinement.
  • Paco tells the story of how he ended up in the boys’ home. He was bullied. He became tired of the jeers and ridicule. “I snapped. I began picking up desks and throwing them at students from the back of the room. They screamed and ran for the door. . . All I had to do was throw the desk at the cluster of them.” Paco blames the boys’ home for turning him into a “violent youth.”
  • The gangs fight. Jack, one of the gang leaders, “charged and rammed Paco against the fence. . . Jack began driving his fists into Paco’s kidneys over and over while Paco did nothing to defend himself. . . Jack came at Paco again and began hammering his face with the fury of an insane person. . .” Paco’s friend Caboose “picked him up and put him over his shoulder like he weighed nothing. Blood drooled out of his mouth and down Caboose’s back.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s father is a recorded alcoholic. In a brief conversation Hal asks, “He goin’ to AA meetin’s?” Occasionally, Hal thinks about the past, when his father would drink whiskey.
  • When Hal’s father comes to visit him, Hal is worried because his father has lost weight. His dad says, “I guess I’ve been wired to the stuff [alcohol] for too long. Gotta get reprogrammed.”
  • One of the boys tells Hal, “My parents are in jail for sellin’ drugs.”
  • Before Hal had to go to the boy’s home, he spent time with his girlfriend. They were “drinking a couple of hot Budweisers I’d found in the toolbox.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, hell and pissed.
  • Someone is called a wuss several times.
  • Christ is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Hal’s father writes Hal a letter. In it, he writes, “I figured you wanted her [Hal’s girlfriend’s] address, numbskull.”
  • While talking to his father, Hal calls his mom a “fat old nag.”
  • One of the boys calls someone a “dumb spic.” The boy replies, “Bring it on, cracker!”
  • Someone tells Hal that he will have to join a gang for protection. When Hal refuses, someone gives him a shiv. Hal says, “Then I’m screwed!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hideout

Twelve-year-old Sam has been given a fishing boat by his father, but he hates fishing. Instead, he uses the boat to disappear for hours at a time, exploring the forbidden swampy surroundings of his bayou home. Then he discovers a strange kid named Davey, mysteriously alone, repairing an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. Not fooled by the boy’s evasive explanation as to why he’s on his own, Sam becomes entangled in his own efforts to help Davey. But this leads him to tell small lies that only get bigger as the danger increases for both boys and hidden truths become harder to conceal.

Hideout is a suspenseful survival story that delves into the complicated nature of friendship, self-esteem, and evil. Sam and his best friend, Grover, are savagely beaten. Sam is unable to forget about “the fight” and blames himself for the event. Told from Sam’s perspective, the reader gets an inside view of how Sam feels ashamed. He thinks that if he wasn’t a loser, “the fight” would have never happened. While Sam struggles with his own personal demons, he meets Davey who is living alone in the middle of a swamp.

Davey’s story is one full of hardship and mystery. Even though Davey is secretive, Sam is determined to help him. In doing so, Sam begins to tell lies that get him into a dangerous situation. Readers will be drawn into the two boys’ lives and wonder if their secrets will lead to their downfall.

Hideout expertly weaves the boys’ stories into an interesting, suspenseful story that is difficult to put down. The story ends on a happy note and shows Sam’s character growth. In the end, Sam learns several important lessons. He finally realizes that “there’s just bad people in the world. Sometimes they do bad things to people like us. But it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us.” In addition, Sam learns that “being a man isn’t about winning fights and carrying guns. It’s about helping people however you can, no matter what.”

Fans of survival stories will enjoy Hideout’s fast pace, the surprises, and the life lessons. In addition, readers will empathize with Sam and Davey, who both struggle with hardships. Readers who enjoy Hideout should check out Key’s other survival stories which include Terror at Bottle Creek and the Alabama Moon Series. Readers looking for another intense survival story should check out ADRIFT by Paul Griffin and Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Leroy and Gooch beat up Sam and his best friend, Grover. Leroy “tripped Grover. . . he smacked hard onto the concrete.” Then, Gooch “shot out and his fist punched Grover in the chest so hard it sounded like a hammer thumping a wood barrel. Grover flew backwards into the lockers and collapsed . . .” Sam tried to help him and “Gooch’s arm slid around my throat and constricted me in the crook of his elbow. . .”
  • While Grover was still on the ground, Leroy “kicked him in the stomach and bounced him off the lockers like a soccer ball.”
  • During the fight, Sam “began to struggle against Gooch, trying to break free. Then I felt a sharp blow to my ribs, and what breath I had left me and everything went blurry. . . Gooch kicked me in the stomach . . . [Sam felt] blows to [his] face and stomach and arms until it didn’t hurt anymore.” Both Sam and Grover have to be hospitalized. The fight is described over three pages.
  • Sam’s father chases a thief. “I saw the big man sitting up and punching down. . . I saw Dad start to stand. Suddenly he was falling, and then he was gone and the big man was punching again.” Sam’s father is able to restrain the man.
  • Sam meets a boy who tells him, “My stepmom got a boyfriend, and Dad stabbed him in the stomach with the knife.” No other details are mentioned.
  • Davey was in a foster home. “My foster dad used to tell me I was like a stray dog that nobody wanted. He hurt me sometimes, but he didn’t do it so you could tell. He’d do things like press his thumbs up real hard under my armpits. . . If I yelled, he’d press harder until I got quiet.”
  • Davey’s foster dad sprayed him “in the face with some air freshener . . . Everything’s been blurry ever since.”
  • Davey’s step-brother, Slade, tells Sam, “And if you screw up, I’m gonna come to your house on Acorn Drive and kill you in your sleep.”
  • Slade got upset at one of his friends and “grabbed him by the throat with one hand. Jesse swung and hit him in the stomach. . . [Slade] punched him in the face. . . Slade kicked him hard in the ribs and he went down again, clutching his side.”
  • Slade kicks Davey “in the shoulder and knocked him over into the leaves.”
  • While trying to flee the swamp, Slade crashes into a patrol boat. Davey gets thrown and stops breathing. After receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Davey is revived.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Slade and his friends show up with beer. The step-brother’s friends “were each drinking a beer.”
  • Slade and his friends are growing marijuana out in the swamp.
  • Sam’s father grabbed a beer.

 

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, crap, hell, and pissed.
  • A classmate trips Grover, Grover calls the boy a “dumbass” and a “stupid redneck.”
  • Someone calls Grover a “wuss.”
  • “Christ,” “Lord” and “my god” are used as exclamations seven times altogether.
  • Grover calls Sam’s dad a “redneck cop.”
  • Dumbass is used three times. For example, Davey’s step-brother calls him a dumbass.
  • Someone asks Sam, “Are you a complete idiot?”
  • While trying to resuscitate Davey, the officer says, “Breathe, damnit!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Sam’s family attends First Methodist Church.
  • When Sam’s boat is almost out of gas, he prays, “Please God, let me get home. Just this one time. . . Okay, God, I won’t go out there again [into the swamp]. Just let me get home and I won’t go out there again.”
  • When Sam goes to church, he “remembered my plea to God and tried my best to pay attention to the sermon as repayment for any help.” The preacher’s sermon, which was about the good Samaritan, is paraphrased in a paragraph.
  • Sam goes missing. When his father finds him, he says, “Thank God.”

Beautiful Wild

Vida Hazzard can see her future. Aboard the heralded “Millionaire’s Ship of the West,” she’ll charm the young scion Fitzhugh Farrar, resulting in a proposal of marriage.

But Vida didn’t plan on Fitz’s best friend Sal, a rough-around-the-edges boy with a talent for getting under her skin. Nor did she anticipate a hurricane dashing their ship and her dreams to pieces. Now stranded on an island with both Fitz and Sal, Vida is torn between the life she’s always planned for, and a future she’s never dared to want. As they desperately plot a course for home, Vida will discover which boy will capture her wild heart—and where her future truly lies.

Beautiful Wild has an interesting premise, but the predictable plot and spoiled protagonist make the story drag. First of all, Vida is a self-centered girl whose only goal is to snag Fitz as a husband, even though she has no genuine feelings for him. Vida longs for adventure but realizes “that the adventures of young women are adventures of the heart—or of husband-hunting. And that it was enough for you to see the heights of the world through the eyes of the man you would marry.” When Vida finally wins Fitz’s heart, she realizes her longing for clothes, parties, and acceptance in society means nothing to her. Unrealistically, she sails off into the sunset, alone and in search of her true love, Sal.

Even though the story is written in third person, Vida’s thoughts take center stage. Unfortunately, Vida’s conflicts are revealed through long-winded passages. In addition, readers may have a hard time relating to Vida because the girl is selfish and vain. Even after Vida learns that Fitz has been in a long-standing sexual relationship with his brother’s wife, Vida still wants to marry him so her own materialistic wants will be fulfilled. When Vida begins to have doubts, Vida’s mother reminds her of the importance of getting married, because if she doesn’t “your life will be aimless, and you won’t be anybody at all.”

Beautiful Wild has elements of a survival story as well as a romance but lacks action and character development. Vida’s two love interests are so undeveloped that the love triangle lacks suspense. However, readers will come away from reading Beautiful Wild with a new understanding of the restrictive lives women had in the past. The ending is predictable and lacks an emotional impact. Readers who like to understand a character’s inner musings may like Beautiful Wild. However, if you’re looking for a heartfelt romance or an action-packed survival story, Beautiful Wild will leave you disappointed.

Sexual Content

  • It’s revealed that Fitz had a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife.
  • Vida goes to find Fitz in the hopes that “Fitz would kiss her.”
  • Fitz kisses Vida. “His face moved toward hers, his chin tilted—in a moment she would close her eyes to accept his kiss. His hands spread over her waist, and she felt the press of his mouth against hers, and the warmth of his breath, and the pump of his heart.”
  • Vida asks Sal why he didn’t try to kiss her. She thinks, “It had been so easy to get Whiting, and Bill, and Theodore to kiss her—why should Sal be so difficult?”
  • After Fitz returns with help, he tells Vida, “When I was on that raft, in the storm, when the sea was all around me and we seemed certain to drown, I kept thinking of your lips, and I thought that if I could only steer her true, I’d survive and I’d be able to kiss you again.” Fitz then gives Vida a “chaste kiss just slightly off the mark of her mouth.”
  • Before her upcoming marriage, Vida seeks out Sal. “And then quite unexpectedly her fingers fluttered up, brushed his lips, his jaw, gently pinched his earlobe. . . Her mouth found his mouth. . . Then he returned the pressure of her kiss, and she knew what it was to want and be wanted in equal measure.”
  • Later, Vida thinks about kissing Sal and wonders “what the next kiss would have been like, and the one after that.”

Violence

  • Their ship sinks and Camilla’s husband dies. Vida sees Camilla “as she tried to protect the body splayed on the beach. A dead body.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A gossip columnist writes that “the heir to the shipping fortune drank more than his older brother thought proper.”
  • Vida has a hangover after drinking a “hideous quantity of champagne.”
  • When the ship is ready to depart, “champagne bottles popped. . . cheers erupted.”
  • While at parties and on the ship, Vida drinks champagne.
  • Vida thinks about all of the gentlemen in a room. One man was “liable to drink too much and become boorish.”
  • Fitz tells Vida that when they are saved, the two of them will “play bridge, and we’ll have cocoa and whiskey and we’ll dance.”
  • When Fitz scolds Vida, no one notices because “everyone was a little drunk.”
  • When Vida’s father talks about her upcoming marriage, Vida stops him. “Her Father—Vida supposed—made a gesture that implied she’d been too free with the passing trays of champagne last night.”
  • At her engagement party, someone finds Vida upset. The person tells her to “have some sherry to fortify you for the rest of the night.” Vida drinks brandy, which “stung her mouth and snapped her back to this place.” As the night progresses, Vida drinks enough to have a hangover the next day.

Language

  • Damn is used five times. Vida is afraid that she will never get the tangles out of her hair. She says, “Tomorrow I will cut the damn braid off.”
  • My God and oh God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Vida calls someone a bastard.

Supernatural

  • When someone gives Vida a knife, her mother tells her, “If you accept a blade as a wedding gift, it means the marriage will fail.”

Spiritual Content

  • Vida’s lady’s maid tries to hide the champagne glasses from Vida’s father. When he leaves the room, she says, “Oh thank God.”
  • The ship passengers hold a funeral service for a man who died. The man’s brother says, “He is with God now. May his soul be at rest.”
  • After the ship sinks, Vida is worried about a friend. She prays, “God, please, let her still be [alive].”
  • The surviving passengers are forced to hide in a cave. Vida “had prayed for the night to end.”

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