Tag Archives: dystopian

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. November 14, 2017. Harper, 263 p. ISBN: 9780062694058.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the adopted Native American daughter of two white “Minnesota liberals,” is secretly pregnant when she discovers that her birth name is Mary Potts. With this slash of wry cultural irony, Erdrich (LaRose, 2016) launches a breakout work of speculative fiction in which a sudden reversal of evolution is underway, threatening the future of humankind and life itself. The disintegrating, increasingly fascist and evangelical government is rounding up and incarcerating pregnant women, so Cedar heads to her Ojibwe birth mother’s reservation. But no place is safe and she is soon on the run. Throughout her harrowing, often darkly funny ordeal, she keeps a journal for her child—whom she knows she has little chance of raising—recounting, with exceptional sensory and psychological precision, the horrors of her predicament, the wild courage of the underground network helping fugitive mothers-to-be, and, in stark contrast to the violent chaos, the miraculous growth of her fetus.In this feverish cautionary tale, Erdrich enters the realm of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Emily Schultz’s The Blondes (2015), Edan Lepucki’s California (2014), Laura van den Berg’s Find Me (2015), and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold, Fame, Citrus (2015), infusing her masterful, full-tilt dystopian novel with stinging insights into the endless repercussions of the Native American genocide, hijacked spirituality, and the ongoing war against women’s rights. A tornadic, suspenseful, profoundly provoking novel of life’s vulnerability and insistence.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
The idea that evolution could suddenly move backward may seem like an incredible fantasy, but in this dreamlike, suspenseful novel, it’s a fitting analogue for the environmental degradation we already experience. A biological apocalypse has animals suddenly appearing in trippy, shocking manifestations—a dragonfly with a 6-foot wingspan, “golden-green eyes the size of softballs,” for example. Humans aren’t immune to “life dissolving into its mineral components,” which is why the new American government, the Church of the New Constitution, expands the original intent of the Patriot Act and requires all pregnant women to report to birthing centers. During a biological apocalypse set two months in the future, when the borders between Mexico and Canada are sealed off, Cedar Hawk Songmaker—26, pregnant, and with a burning independent streak—eventually learns why the government will do anything to ensure she has her baby under strict surveillance. Not all the pregnant women are as useful to the authorities as Cedar is, because they think she has a rare “normal,” unaltered fetus in her womb. Born Ojibwe but adopted by earnest white liberals in Minneapolis, Cedar is a flinty, determined, spiritual woman whose hesitance to trust others comes in handy in a world where suddenly no one should be trusted. And Cedar has three worlds to navigate: the one she was raised in and the Ojibwe family she is just coming to know, not to mention a United States ruled by a religious government in which a creepy, all-seeing, robotic figure named Mother hunts for Cedar. Framed as a letter to Cedar’s unborn child, this novel is bracing, humane, dedicated to witnessing the plight of women in a cruel universe, and full of profound spiritual questions and observations. Like some of Erdrich’s (LaRose, 2016, etc.) earlier work, it shifts adroitly in time and has a thoughtful, almost mournful insight into life on a Native reservation. If Erdrich hasn’t previously ventured into tropes normally employed by sci-fi writers, she doesn’t show the inexperience here. There is much to rue in this novel about our world but also hope for salvation: “I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful,” as the novel’s protagonist puts it. “I think it may be our strongest quality.”

About the Author

Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children’s books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

 

Teacher Resources

Future Home of the Living God Discussion Questions

Around the Web

Future Home of the Living God on Amazon

Future Home of the Living God on Goodreads

Future Home of the Living God Publisher Page

Advertisements

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway. January 9, 2018. Knopf Publishing Group, 688 p. ISBN: 9781524732080.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the widely acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World andTigerman, a virtuosic new novel and his most ambitious book yet–equal parts dark comedy, gripping detective story, and mind-bending philosophical puzzle–set in a not-too-distant-future, high-tech surveillance state.

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are ceaselessly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of ‘transparency.’ When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody during a routine interrogation, Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector, is assigned to the case. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, she finds a panorama of characters and events that Hunter gave life to in order to forestall the investigation: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game. In the static between these mysterious visions, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter–and, alarmingly, of herself, the staggering consequences of which will reverberate throughout the world. Gnomon is a dazzling, panoramic achievement from one of the most original voices in contemporary fiction.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Kidnapping, Murder, Gore

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Beguiling, multilayered, sprawling novel that blends elements of Philip K. Dick–tinged sci-fi, mystery, politics, and literary fiction in a most satisfying brew.In surveying, a gnomon is a set square used to mark right angles on a chart. “By extension,” writes the genre-hopping British novelist Harkaway (Tigerman, 2014, etc.), “it means something perpendicular to everything else, such as the upright part of a sundial.” It is different from its surroundings, and so is everything that police investigator Mielikki Neith (as in ’neath, where hidden things are to be found) learns about the case just assigned to her: it involves a dissident, now deceased, in a near-future society where citizens patrol each other by means of social media, totalitarianism with a thin veneer of friendly hyperdemocracy, all committee work and political correctness. In this world, Diana Hunter, “a writer of obscurantist magical realist novels” read in fragmentary samizdat editions, harbored antinomian thoughts—and, given the recent news that the brain remains conscious for at least a short time after death, it makes sense that Neith should try to get inside her brain to ferret out subversion. That’s not easy, for Hunter has laid land mines throughout in the form of odd diversionary characters: ancient mathematicians, Roman legionaries, and other formidable obstacles who share Hunter’s “bad attitude.” The possibilities in the story are endless, and Harkaway looks into most of them, it seems, firing off brilliant lines (“The universe has cancer,” “Thousands and thousands of years, thousands of bodies, thousands of minds combined into one, and your best answer to pain is still revenge?”). Although he doesn’t go out of his way to advertise the fact, Harkaway is the son of John le Carré, and from his father he has inherited a feel for the world-weary tediousness of police work. Yet there’s no Smiley in the smiley-face future world where being a fascist busybody is a badge of honor—though enigmas abound, to be sure. Fans of Pynchon and William Gibson alike will devour this smart, expertly written bit of literary subversion.

Library Journal – web only (January 19, 2018)
This latest from Harkaway (Tigerman) is set in a near-future Britain managed by the Witness, a pervasive surveillance system connected to instant plebiscites that has taken the place of government. This system is perceived as the ultimate rule of the people by the people, but, disturbingly, the Witness can see into your mind. When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies under interrogation, investigator Meilikki Neith mentally ingests neural recordings made by the interrogators and thus relives the experience. The book then launches into multiple narrative streams, revealed in the recordings, involving macho Greek banker Kyriakos; fifth-century alchemist Athenais, mistress of Saint Augustine; and Ethiopian expatriate artist Bekele. These narratives are woven together to create a tapestry of meaning and of mystery. The theme of katabasis, the descent and emergence from the underworld, is central. Verdict The book functions as a riposte to the dangers of the surveillance state, demonstrating the interconnectedness of consciousness and the triumph of the all, the gnomon, over totalitarian control of the few. This work goes so far as to invoke the reader’s role in creating the narrative, which is simply astonishing; to be read at all costs! -Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA

About the Author

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall, UK in 1972. He is possessed of two explosively exciting eyebrows, which exert an almost hypnotic attraction over small children, dogs, and – thankfully – one ludicrously attractive human rights lawyer, to whom he is married.

He likes: oceans, mountains, lakes, valleys, and those little pigs made of marzipan they have in Switzerland at new year.

He does not like: bivalves. You just can’t trust them.

His website is www.nickharkaway.com

Around the Web

Gnomon on Amazon

Gnomon on Goodreads

Gnomon Publisher Page

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

Al the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry. October 10, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 288 p. ISBN: 9781616206666.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 750.

Sarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt work in the vast maguey fields that span the bone-dry Southwest, a thirsty, infinite land that is both seductive and fearsome. In this rough, transient landscape, Sarah Jac and James have fallen in love. They’re tough and brave, and they have big dreams. Soon they will save up enough money to go east. But until then, they keep their heads down, their muscles tensed, and above all, their love secret.

When a horrible accident forces Sarah Jac and James to start over on a new, possibly cursed ranch called the Real Marvelous, the delicate balance they’ve found begins to give way. And James and Sarah Jac will have to pay a frighteningly high price for their love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Lakes have dried up, the earth is dying, and Sarah Jac and James flee southwest, leaving behind a gritty Chicago to harvest maguey in the desert. Surrounded by other transient workers, they hoard their money, hiding their love and scamming other workers while they dream of a different future. After an accident forces them to flee, the two find themselves working at the Real Marvelous, a ranch that’s rumored to be cursed. The owner of the ranch has two daughters, and Sarah Jac, who knows her way around a horse, is asked to give the youngest, timid and angry Bell, riding lessons. At the same time, James catches the eye of the eldest, fierce and beautiful Farrah, ill with a mysterious, terminal disease. As Sarah Jac and James are inexorably drawn into this family and their secrets, strange and magical things begin to happen at the Real Marvelous—things no con in the world can overcome, things that even their love may not be able to withstand. In aching, luminous prose, Mabry (A Fierce and Subtle Poison, 2016) crafts a story impossible to forget, infused with southwestern folklore and magical realism. The harsh desert is exquisitely, painfully rendered, and the characters are flawed and wholly real. A gripping, fablelike story of a love ferocious enough to destroy and a world prepared to burn with it.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
In a dangerous, post-apocalyptic America, Sarah Jac and her boyfriend, James, keep their relationship a secret as they work at a mysterious farm. After environmental collapse, the western half of North America is desert. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Jacqueline Crow, aka “Sarah Jac” (who’s mixed-race), and fellow orphan James Holt (who’s white) specialize in picking the maguey plant for violent overseers and profit-hungry ranch owners whose harvests turn into pulque, mescal, and tequila. After a fatal accident during a dust storm, Sarah Jac is accused of murder, and the two stow away on a train that leads them to the Real Marvelous, a ranch in Texas that’s rumored to be cursed. To protect themselves, Sarah Jac and James pretend to be cousins, fearing that if they’re open about their love, they’ll expose themselves to blackmail or worse. Soon, Sarah Jac is commanded to provide equestrian lessons to the owner’s younger daughter, Bell, while James is commissioned to work in the big house as a groundskeeper—and ends up catching the eye of Bell’s sickly but beautiful older sister, Farrah. A complicated series of plagues, prophecies, and love triangles ensues. The author’s prose is rich and lyrical, but the worldbuilding is lacking, leaving readers wondering about details rather than immersed in the story. In a reverse of most romantic story arcs, the love story goes from initially swoonworthy to deeply unsatisfying. Mabry’s mix of magical realism and dystopia doesn’t live up to its promising start. (Science fiction. 14-17)

About the Author

Samantha was born four days before the death of John Lennon. she grew up in Dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

She spends as much time as possible in the West Texas desert. Her website is samanthamabry.com

Around the Web

All the Wind in the World on Amazon

All the Wind in the World on Goodreads

All the Wind in the World Publisher Page

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi. October 10, 2017. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316220835.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This third book in a major series by a bestselling science fiction author, Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist is the gripping story of the most provocative character from his acclaimed novels Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.

Tool, a half-man/half-beast designed for combat, is capable of so much more than his creators had ever dreamed. He has gone rogue from his pack of bioengineered “augments” and emerged a victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by someone determined to destroy him, who knows an alarming secret: Tool has found the way to resist his genetically ingrained impulses of submission and loyalty toward his masters… The time is coming when Tool will embark on an all-out war against those who have enslaved him. From one of science fiction’s undisputed masters comes a riveting page-turner that pulls no punches.

Sequel to: The Drowned Cities

Part of Series: Ship Breaker (Book 3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Five years after The Drowned Cities (2012), Bacigalupi returns to his award-winning Ship Breaker series. This opens with a rare moment of peace in the Drowned Cities. Moments later, Havoc missiles rain down death on Tool and his young army, turning humans and city into ash. The Mercier Corporation and General Carora have finally located the DNA-enhanced Tool and are desperate to annihilate their renegade augment. The action is nonstop as Tool is marched through a series of brutal battles, meeting main characters from the earlier books along the way. The number of plot conveniences and narrow escapes is almost as high as the body count as Tool seeks revenge on his corporate makers. The central issue of Tool’s humanity is burdened by plot contradictions that overwhelm character development, and the searing passion of the earlier books seems missing. Still, Bacigalupi’s action scenes are brilliantly cinematic, powering the pacing with breathtaking superhero stunts. Tool, as ever, is a character impossible to forget, and all loose ends are tied up in an epilogue.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Bacigalupi returns to probe his brutal, post-apocalyptic American landscape and darkly provocative characters in this third installment of the series begun in Ship Breaker (2010) and continued in The Drowned Cities (2012). Following the pattern of existential fracture found in its predecessors’ narratives, this latest novel further explores the consequences of war and corruption with a focus on the DNA–spliced “augment” called Tool. Tool (also called Blood, Blade, and Karta-Kul the Slaughter-Bringer) is a finely honed weapon, bred for massacre, survival, and loyalty. But after breaking free of his conditioned servitude, Tool represents a serious threat to his former masters, who attack with everything available in their considerable arsenal to destroy him lest they be forced to face the terrifying question of what happens when a weapon turns on its creators. For Tool was uniquely designed for more than just the tactical strategy and lethal bloodlust of most augments—he has a power that, now unleashed, could spell the end for a violently factionalized, inhumanly cruel humanity. Told in third person, the novel alternates among the perspectives of several new as well as familiar characters, none of whom shy away from the constant gore and near-paralyzing moral complexities of their war-torn existence. After playing fascinating, catalyzing roles the first two books, Tool is at center stage at last as readers move through Bacigalupi’s exploration of the intricate relationships connecting hunter and prey, master and enslaved, human and monster. Masterful. (Dystopian. 14-adult)

About the Author

Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of the highly acclaimed The Drowned Cities and Ship Breaker, a New York Times bestseller, Michael L. Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist. He is also the author of the Edgar Awards nominee The Doubt Factory; a novel for younger readers, Zombie Baseball Beatdown; and two bestselling adult novels for adults, The Water Knife and The Windup Girl. His first work of collected short fiction was Pump Six and Other Stories. The winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards, he lives in western Colorado with his wife and son.  His website is windupstories.com

Around the Web

Tool of War on Amazon

Tool of War on Goodreads

Tool of War Publisher Page

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh. September 14, 2017. Tu Books, 389 p. ISBN: 9781620142998.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, War, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities

 

Author Video

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 8-11. In her brilliantly crafted debut, Oh brings us to the year 2199. The planet’s East and West have been consumed by war for the past 50 years, and the newly formed Neo Alliance (Korea, Japan, and China) are ruthless in their ambition to control the world. Enter Lee Jaewon, fresh off his military placement exam from one of Neo Seoul’s elite military academies and assigned to the Tower—home of the government’s most top-secret project. Here Jaewon meets Tera, a teenage girl who has undergone years of military testing to turn her into a supersoldier with the ability to pilot one of Korea’s advanced God Machines, a weapon capable of leveling a city block in one blow. Abandoned by those who were meant to love him the most, Jaewon is committed to doing his part to contribute to the war effort. But as he and Tera grow closer, and the mystery of his father’s death comes to light, Jaewon begins to question his loyalties. Will love for another open his eyes to the true nature of war? Equal parts K-drama (Korean drama) and sci-fi blockbuster, Oh blends futuristic tech, authentic Korean culture, and romance in this complex, utterly engrossing, and wholly fresh story that is sure to entice a wide array of readers.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2017)
In a militaristic future Korea, a boy and girl meet.It is 2199, and Korea, China, and Japan no longer exist as separate countries but as members of the Neo Council (conveyed to readers in infodumps). Five decades of war have yielded many innovations, such as the God Machines (riffing on the tradition of Japanese mecha movies and Pacific Rim). Preparing to take his military placement exam before graduation from an elite academy, Jaewon is isolated: his father is dead, his mother abandoned him, and his former best friend has turned his back on Jaewon to gain power in one of the Old Seoul gangs. Jaewon’s military posting is to the Tower, the kilometer-tall building in Neo Seoul that serves as headquarters, where he is assigned to supervise Tera, a girl whose strength has been enhanced with drugs in order to pilot a new kind of God Machine. With war still raging and rebel nationalists seeking to make Korea an independent nation again, will two young people be able to find love in this plot-heavy story? While Jaewon is an effective character, much of the supporting cast is relatively flat and the dialogue occasionally stilted, which jars against the mostly colloquial flow. The setting is well-captured, but it’s slow going in this sci-fi adventure. (glossary) (Science fiction. 14-16)

About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her puppy, Toro (named after Totoro).  Her website is axieoh.com.

Around the Web

Rebel Seoul on Amazon

Rebel Seoul on Goodreads

Rebel Seoul on JLG

Rebel Seoul Publisher Page

Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski. May 9, 2017. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9780399175817.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 690.

An upper-middle grade thriller by the New York Timesbestselling Nightfall authors perfect for fans of James Dashner’s Maze Runner books.

Thousands of miles south of the island of Bliss, day and night last for 72 hours. Here is one of the natural wonders of this world: a whirlpool thirty miles wide and a hundred miles around. This is the Drain. Anything sucked into its frothing, turbulent waters is never seen again.

Wren has spent most of her life on Edgeland, a nearby island where people bring their dead to be blessed and prepared for the afterlife. There the dead are loaded into boats with treasure and sent over the cliff, and into the Drain. Orphaned and alone, Wren dreams of escaping Edgeland, and her chance finally comes when furriers from the Polar north arrive with their dead, and treasure for their dead.

With the help of her friend Alec, Wren plans to loot one of the boats before it enters the Drain. But the boat–with Alec and Wren onboard–is sucked into the whirlpool. What they discover beyond the abyss is beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Disturbing imagery, Suicide, Cannibalism

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 5-8. Life on Edgeland is devoted to funerary arts, due to its nearness to the Drain—the waterfall-like ocean drop-off believed to lead to purgatory. Dodging through the somber island’s streets, 12-year-old Wren snatches what valuables she can in order to buy passage off Edgeland and find her missing father. It’s a cutthroat existence that ultimately lands her at the scene of a murder, rendering Wren its prime suspect. Before making her escape, she agrees to help her friend Alec retrieve a considerable payment to his bone house (a cross between a funeral parlor and church) that was accidentally loaded onto a funeral raft. Their daring plan goes spectacularly wrong, sending Wren and Alec over the Drain’s edge along with the dead, who are reviving for their journey to the afterlife. Purgatory is a dangerous place for the living, and as Wren and Alec endeavor to escape, their core beliefs are challenged in unexpected ways. Halpern and Kujawinski have constructed a refreshing, original fantasy that thoughtfully probes the subjects of class, religion, and morality. Wren’s and Alec’s responses to the astonishing sights in the Drain are believable and reflective of their individual personalities, maintaining the importance of their inner lives. Compellingly written, this otherworldly adventure is a unique offering that deserves attention. Happily, an open ending suggests Wren and Alec’s adventures have only begun.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
After being banished from House Aron for stealing, orphan Wren must endure the bleak life of a grayling on the island of Edgeland, living underground and supporting herself through thievery. Her banishment has separated her from her best friend, Alec, who by the age of 12, has risen from an apprentice to a high-ranking position within House Aron, conducting complex funeral ceremonies. Dead bodies are kept in ice blocks, then sent sailing into the Drain, a large circular waterfall down which the frozen dead disappear into a seemingly bottomless mist that is the entryway to the afterlife, either the Sunlit Glade or the Moonlit Beach. The two friends are brought together when the chest with the payment for a funeral mistakenly tumbles, along with the dead, into the Drain. Desperate to recover it, Alec and Wren find themselves descending with it. Alec and Wren are now “breathers” in the world of the dead—where they learn the afterlife isn’t quite what the ancient songs profess it to be. Unfortunately, this compelling premise, bolstered by complex worldbuilding, loses its steam about halfway through, as the protagonists make their way from one realm of the dead to the next, with more running and hiding than actual story. The occasional mention of pale skin but no other racial markers implies a white default. As the living help to liberate the dead, intriguing characters roam the pages of a lifeless story. (Fantasy. 10-14)

About the Authors

Jake Halpern is an acclaimed journalist, author, and radio producer who has written for several publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.  As a contributor at NPR, Jake produced one of the most listened-to episodes of This American Life. He co-wrote the Dormia series with Peter Kujawinski and is the author of Bad Paper, a nonfiction book for adults.

His website is worldofdormia.com

Peter Kujawinski is an author and diplomat, currently serving as US Consul General for Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. His next book, Nightfall, will be released this September by Penguin Books for Young Readers. He co-wrote the Dormia series with Jake Halpern and has written for The New York Times.

His website is peterkujawinski.com

Around the Web

Edgeland on Amazon

Edgeland on Goodreads

Edgeland on JLG

Edgeland Publisher Page

The List by Patricia Forde

The List by Patricia Forde. August 8, 2017. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 336 p. ISBN: 9781492647966.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.3; Lexile: 600.

Fahrenheit 451 meets The Giver for middle grade readers!

You are The Wordsmith now. Are you ready for the challenge?

The city of Ark is the last safe place on Earth. To make sure humans are able to survive, everyone in Ark must speak List, a language of only 500 words.
Everyone that is, except Letta.

As apprentice to the Wordsmith, Letta can read all the words that have ever existed. Forbidden words like freedom, music, and even pineapple tell her about a world she’s never known.

One day her master disappears and the leaders of Ark tell Letta she is the new Wordsmith and must shorten List to fewer and fewer words. Then Letta meets a teenage boy who somehow knows all the words that have been banned. Letta’s faced with a dangerous choice: sit idly by and watch language slowly slip away or follow a stranger on a path to freedom . . . or banishment.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 6-9. Letta, Ark’s apprentice Wordsmith, may be too young to remember the “Melting,” but John Noa, the town’s ruler, is not. How could he forget the floods, the famine, or their insidious origin: “dangerous, destructive words”? Thanks to Noa, Ark now relies on List, a fiercely regulated collection of permissible phrases. But there’s no hope in Ark, and there’s certainly no love. What’s worse: List is quickly diminishing. Yet, with the help of a ragtag crew of outsiders, Letta might be the one to save it. While debut author Forde’s premise is intriguing, its execution vacillates in effectiveness; List’s 500-word vocabulary is employed arbitrarily, and the conversations it generates, while illuminating the absurdity of limited language (“Criminal. Steal food. Bad boy”), often cripple plot development and hamstring secondary characters. List’s inception, too, is foggy. Still, Forde’s exploration of language as both weapon and savior is a noble one, and environmental undertones bolster its power.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
Young Letta becomes wordsmith to her community in a future that follows a climate apocalypse. A likable protagonist, Letta (white with green eyes and red hair) is the one positive female character in this narrative of resistance and revelation. She is at the mercy of John Noa, the controlling savior of a number of people who joined his Ark just before a warming planet Earth produced massive, devastating floods in an event remembered as the Melting. Noa is obsessed with the potential of the spoken word to influence human conflict and confusion. When Letta chooses to shelter a wounded boy, Marlo, shot as a Desecrator by Noa’s security force, the corruption at the heart of things begins to reveal itself to Letta. Her disillusion deepens when her master goes missing and when a young boy, son of her neighbor, is banished for misusing language. Marlo (sallow-skinned, with blue-gray eyes and black hair) turns out to be part of a largely self-sufficient community living outside the Ark and opposed to Noa’s strictures. Forde’s pacing and characterization are compelling, especially after initial chapters focused on Noa’s truncated List-based language of acceptable words (all English ones) and people’s awkward struggle to speak it. Brief expository passages interspersed with Letta’s story reveal Noa’s thinking and his ugly desire to eliminate the weakness of language. An intriguing speculation about authoritarian futures with a terrific cover. (Science fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Patricia Forde lives in the Galway, Ireland. She has published three picture books, lots of easy readers, two plays, and her first novel, The List. She has also written for several television series, including dramas for children and teenagers and English- and Irish-language soap operas. In another life, she was a primary school teacher and the artistic director of the Galway Arts Festival. She now lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a dog called Ben.

Her website is www.patriciaforde.com

Teacher Resources

The List Discussion Questions

The List Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

The List on Amazon

The List on Goodreads

The List on JLG

The List Publisher Page

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. May 9, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 489 p. ISBN: 9781419724848.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 920.

In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 7-10. Published in Britain in 2012, this makes its American debut on the heels of Hardinge’s acclaimed The Lie Tree (2016). Eschewing the horror-tinged darkness of the latter, this story embraces fantasy, whimsical detail, political intrigue of epic proportions, and cheese—yes, cheese. Twelve-year-old Neverfell has been the apprentice of Cheesemaster Grandible since he found her hiding in his tunnels seven years ago. Paranoid from his years at court, he’s sealed their home off from the rest of Caverna, the underground city where they dwell. When Neverfell stumbles upon a passage out of her master’s tunnels, she’s plunged into a mad world where facial expressions are crafted and sold, and families are locked in a high-stakes game of politics and power, constantly scheming to gain the upper hand, whether through deceit or assassination. Neverfell, whose face shows her every emotion, is immediately marked as an outsider and swept into the deadly machinations of Caverna’s elite. Though wide-eyed, she’s a fast learner who refuses to be their pawn; and as Neverfell devises her escape, she uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her past and Caverna itself. Using beautiful prose, Hardinge builds a richly imagined world that twists as much as the carefully orchestrated plot. Readers will eagerly follow noble Neverfell through its tunnels, marveling at the extraordinary sights and catching their breath at her daring escapades.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
In this fantasy (first published in the UK in 2012), Hardinge (The Lie Tree, rev. 5/16) imagines Caverna, an underground city that thrives through its production of magical luxuries: mind-altering cheeses, wines that erase memories with surgical precision, and perfumes that influence attitudes. Perhaps these consciousness-influencing items make up for the inhabitants’ shared disability: they’re incapable of making facial expressions naturally. Into Caverna’s highly artificial court lands apprentice cheese-maker Neverfell, whose unique facial mobility and transparent feelings are so dangerous she must wear a mask. First threatened, then adopted by powerful courtiers, Neverfell penetrates the heart of Caverna’s secrets and disrupts its very underpinnings with her plan for social justice (“I want you to help me topple Master Childersin, break hundreds of laws and save as many people as will trust me”). Hardinge’s imagination here is—as ever—ebullient, lavish, and original. Whether she’s anatomizing expression as fashion accessory, describing the effects of certain wines, or likening human maturation to that of cheeses, she needles into some of our dearest desires and foibles with sharp psychological insight. Her enthusiasm for language play brightens dark Caverna with the sparkle of wit; but most notably, she suggests how fundamental to human interaction our facial expressions are. deirdre f. baker

About the Author

Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.

Her website is www.franceshardinge.com

 

Around the Web

A Face Like Glass on Amazon

A Face Like Glass on Goodreads

A Face Like Glass on JLG

A Face Like Glass Publisher Page

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay. March 14, 2017. Candlewick Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9780763688370.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.9; Lexile: 660.

In an isolated society, one girl makes a discovery that will change everything — and learns that a single stone, once set in motion, can bring down a mountain.

Jena — strong, respected, reliable — is the leader of the line, a job every girl in the village dreams of. Watched over by the Mothers as one of the chosen seven, Jena’s years spent denying herself food and wrapping her limbs have paid off. She is small enough to squeeze through the tunnels of the mountain and gather the harvest, risking her life with each mission. No work is more important. This has always been the way of things, even if it isn’t easy. But as her suspicions mount and Jena begins to question the life she’s always known, the cracks in her world become impossible to ignore. Thought-provoking and quietly complex, Meg McKinlay’s novel unfolds into a harshly beautiful tale of belief, survival, and resilience stronger than stone

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Self-starvation, Self-injury

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. Jena is the leader of her line of seven girls primed since birth to navigate natural mountain passageways and harvest the mica that fuels their community. The mountain is revered, and the Mothers lead the isolated village nestled in its basin. Digging passages is forbidden, so slim-framed girls are bound tightly from infancy to create lithe figures that might easily slip through rock crevices to gather the harvests. McKinlay’s middle-grade dystopia quietly builds a peaceful society, in which Jena is proud of her position and honors the word of the Mothers. When her adoptive mother goes into labor far too early, however, Jena suspects a plot to produce smaller girls to work the line. As she investigates her suspicions and recalls events from her childhood, cracks begin to appear in the Mothers’ stories. Tension twists through the narrative in the claustrophobic mountain passages, the polite yet oppressively controlled society, and Jena’s risky rebellion. Action is minimal, but detail-oriented readers who like stepping into a carefully crafted world will find plenty to ponder in this book’s pages.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2017)
In an isolated mountain village, seven girls tunnel deep into the earth in order to provide for the well-being of all.Fourteen-year-old Jena is the leader of the line, a group of seven carefully trained girls who harvest mica from deep within the mountain. For their village, heat- and light-giving mica is life-sustaining, and if not collected with reverence for the mountain, terrible things can happen, such as the Rockfall that took many villagers’ lives generations ago. The Mothers, wise women who govern the village, carefully select the tiniest baby girls to be prepared for their futures as tunnelers. From birth, the chosen ones are wrapped tightly and fed very little in order to prevent them from becoming too large to fit the tight spaces that weave through the mountain. When Jena discovers the Mothers are inducing labor months early in order to birth smaller babies for training, she questions everything she was raised to believe. The novel simultaneously takes on dystopian and time-slip qualities, but it is of neither genre, and readers will appreciate being left to figure it out for themselves. Similarly, the villagers seem to be pale-skinned but are otherwise racially indeterminate. The prose flows gracefully, like rivulets down a mountainside. Like its classic predecessors, Nan Chauncy’s Tangara (1960) and Patricia Wrightson’s The Nargun and the Stars (1974), this Australian novel explores the ways in which identity is tied to the land one inhabits. A beautiful, sparkling gem. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Meg McKinlay is a children’s writer and poet living in Fremantle, Western Australia

She has published twelve books for children, ranging from picture books through to young adult novels, and a collection of poetry for adults. Her most recent publications are the chapter book Bella and the Wandering House and novel A Single Stone, which won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction as well as a number of other awards.

A former academic, swimming teacher, Japanese interpreter and tour guide, Meg has accidentally lived her life in accordance with the song lyrics, “If you see a strange door to your left/then drop your things and run for it”, which is how she found herself wrangling words for a living. Meg has no plans to drop writing, though; she is always cooking up more books, with two new picture books scheduled for 2017, and more to follow.

Her website is www.megmckinlay.com.

Teacher Resources

A Single Stone Teaching Guide

Around the Web

A Single Stone on Amazon

A Single Stone on Goodreads

A Single Stone on JLG

A Single Stone Publisher Page

American War by Omar El Akkad

American War: A Novel  by Omar El Akkad. April 4, 2017. Knopf Publishing Group, 333 p. ISBN: 9780451493583.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 890.

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be.

Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Discrimination; War; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Alcohol; Description of torture

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
In 2074, the American South has once again attempted to secede from the Union, this time in ferocious opposition to the Sustainable Future Act, even as the ravages of global warming—severe storms, prolonged drought, and a massive rise in sea levels— cause waves of coastal refugees to pour into the Midwest as the federal government abandons deluged Washington, D.C., for Columbus, Ohio. The Chestnuts are getting by, living in an old shipping container in Louisiana, until Benjamin is killed in a bombing. Martina flees to a Mississippi refugee camp with her soon-to-be-rebel son, Simon, and twin daughters, fair and pretty Dana and dark, curious, and intrepid Sarat, the focus of this vigorously well-informed, daringly provocative speculative first novel by an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist. As Sarat grows into a six-foot-five, shaved-head warrior, she is radicalized by agents of a new Middle Eastern and North African superpower, the Bouazizi Empire. The war between Red and Blue is further compounded by raging plagues, while captured insurrectionists are tortured in a domestic Guantánamo. Catalyzed by his reporting on the Arab Spring; the war in Afghanistan; racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri; and environmental disasters, El Akkad has created a brilliantly well-crafted, profoundly shattering saga of one family’s suffering in a world of brutal power struggles, terrorism, ignorance, and vengeance. American War is a gripping, unsparing, and essential novel for dangerously contentious times.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
A dystopian vision of a future United States undone by civil war and plague.El Akkad’s debut novel is set during the tail end of the 21st century, with the North and South at it again. Southern states have taken up arms to protest a Northern ban on fossil fuels, and the war-torn secessionist “Mag” (Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia) has forced civilians to herd in refugee camps. (South Carolina, attacked by a weaponized virus, is “a walled hospice.”) Among the refugees is Sarat, who as a young girl in 2075 escaped a much-diminished Louisiana (climate change has swallowed the coasts) with her family to what seems like an endless occupation. But in the years tracked by the novel, Sarat becomes a daring young woman who leads a resistance against the Northern military. El Akkad, a journalist who’s reported from hot spots in the war on terror, has a knack for the language of officialdom: news reports, speeches, history books, and the like that provide background for the various catastrophes that have befallen the country. And he’s cannily imagined Sarat, who is at once a caring daughter and sibling, freedom fighter, and sponge for the wisdom of one old-timer who dispenses tales about occupations decades past. But above all, El Akkad’s novel is an allegory about present-day military occupation, from drone strikes to suicide bombers to camps full of refugees holding “keys to houses that no longer existed in towns long ago deserted.” He imagines this society in some creative ways: battles royal are major entertainments in an internet-free society, and Sarat’s brother becomes an interesting and peculiar folk hero after he’s injured. But El Akkad mainly means to argue that these future miseries exist now overseas. A well-imagined if somber window into social collapse.

About the Author

Omar was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar until he moved to Canada with his family. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantànamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He is a recipient of Canada’s National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting and the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Canadian Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honorable mentions. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

His website is www.omarelakkad.com

Teacher Resources

American War Reading Guide

Around the Web

American War on Amazon

American War on Goodreads

American War on JLG

American War Publisher Page