Seventy-one years ago the American economy collapsed, and the Ministers of the Union and the Hart family took over. Now Prime Minister Daxton Hart and his mother control everything, including the press, and they will do anything to stay in power. After turning seventeen every citizen is tested, and a person’s score, which determines his or her place in society, is marked on the back of the neck. The government says everyone has an equal chance to become a productive member of society. Scoring a IV is average. IV's, V's, and VI's are allowed to pursue their lives and live normally. Anything below that condemns one to a life of manual labor or worse. Those raised in poverty, given a poor education, and only the barest of essentials usually score lower and become the menial laborers that the country depends on. Anyone with physical or mental issues is sent to Elsewhere, a vast primitive area controlled by the government, and is never seen or heard from again.
Kitty and Benjy Doe are Extras -- children taken from parents who violated the rules and had more than one child -- and have grown up in a group home in DC. Now seventeen, they are in love and hope to score IV's or better and enjoy a life together. But Kitty can’t read. She runs out of time while taking the test and earns only a III; she is marked to work in a sewage plant in Denver. To stay in DC and continue to see Benjy, she runs away to join a friend in one of the government-tolerated pleasure clubs. On her first night, scared and unsure of what will happen, she is auctioned off for an exorbitant fee. But the man who bought her is Prime Minister Daxton Hart. He offers her a choice: come with him and become a famous and adored VII (a member of Hart’s ruling family), or die on the spot. Clueless to his motives, she reluctantly agrees and is immediately sedated.
When she awakens, she has been surgically altered to look like Lila Hart, Daxton's niece, who is immensely popular with the people. She was secretly killed by her uncle and grandmother for encouraging a group called the Blackcoats, whose mission is to restore the American democracy and ideals of freedom. Kitty must learn to imitate Lila, renounce her support for the Blackcoats, and promote the Hart family as the country's saviors. Failure means death. She is to be tutored by Lila's mother and Lila's fiance, Knox. As she learns more about her role and the inner workings of the family, she finds herself at the center of a bitter power struggle where no one is quite who they seem to be.
Why I picked it up: The promo copy that came with the advanced readers copy said this dystopian America had lots of intrigue. Sold.
Why I finished it: When Kitty first wakes up as Lila, Daxton takes her on a hunting trip. They go to Elsewhere. Daxton shoots the house mother of Kitty’s group home, the only mother she has ever known, then tells her he will kill Benjy if she doesn't fully cooperate.
Kitty is shown recordings of Lila's speeches. She comes to fully realize how important Lila’s work was and that she somehow must find a way to continue to use Lila’s immense popularity to support and inspire the rebellion. But to do so she has to outwit the ruthless Prime Minister and involve herself in a complex conspiracy that could cost her and Benjy their lives.
It's perfect for: Becky, who loves novels with lots of plot twists and chameleon-like characters, but will still love Benjy, the only person in the book who is completely open and honest. (All he wants is for Kitty to survive.)
@bookblrb: Kitty is fated to a life of manual labor. Then she’s offered a glamorous life impersonating a popular young woman.
Into the jungle. Into the wild. Into harm's way.
When he was a boy, Luc's mother would warn him about the "mock men" living in the trees by their home -- chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.
Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn't mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.
Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family -- and must act when that family comes under attack.
As he did in his acclaimed novel Endangered, a finalist for the National Book Award, Eliot Schrefer takes us somewhere fiction rarely goes, introducing us to characters we rarely get to meet. The unforgettable result is the story of a boy fleeing his present, a man fleeing his past, and a trio of chimpanzees who are struggling not to flee at all.
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Mr. Wuffles is a dignified black and white cat. His humans keep purchasing him a variety of playthings he never seems to enjoy. He just stares under the heat register and ignores all the entertainments they try to lovingly foist upon him. What will it take to catch his attention?
Why I picked it up: It’s safe to say that David Wiesner is one of the most gifted picture book author/illustrators in the world. He has won the Caldecott three times and was a runner up once. As soon as I hear he has a new book out, I order it from the library.
Why I finished it: Wiesner has clearly spent hours observing cats to capture their body language, attack strategies, and attitudes. As a former cat owner and current cat appreciator, I wonder just what cats are thinking about, and what sorts of secrets would be revealed if they spoke. It is completely reasonable to think humans might miss an alien invasion if the ship was small enough to get mixed up with the cat toys, and the aliens were the size of ants. And really, how would cats tell us if this did happen?
It's perfect for: Young science fiction lovers who understand that grownups have no clue about what is really going on, and want to believe that brains can beat brawn. These readers would enjoy seeing the tiny aliens team up with ants and ladybugs to overcome the terror that is Mr. Wuffles.
@bookblrb: A dignified cat ignores the playthings his humans purchase for him.
The cult of exceptionalism, like celebrity worship, is draining us of our humanity and joy, suggests high school teacher McCullough, whose expertise comes from having nearly three decades of teaching experience and four children of his own.
The author, son of the acclaimed historian, moves through the world with his eyes open, willingly empathetic to those deserving and dedicated to doing the right thing in all cases. In this book, an expansion of a 2012 commencement speech, he writes with crisp precision and light humor (“this was before Al Gore invented the Internet”). McCullough discusses the importance of authority figures’ butting out, letting kids govern their engagement with life and learn through trial and error. As he notes, we all fail, but we must get up and get back into the scrum, not allowing our expectations to cripple us. ‘Parents, you see, are people, subject to self-doubt, who don’t always have every answer, who are doing the best they can,’ he writes. ‘And we are only as happy, generally, as our least happy child, only as successful as our least successful child.’ McCullough ably conveys his genuine love of teaching, as well as its ups and downs, and demonstrates the significant of encouraging independence and the impulse to explore and take risks and discover those things that touch you deeply. He also digs into the perils of technology, ‘the breathless infatuation with hi-def, 3D, 5G, glued to the hand, glued to the ear, twenty-first-century cyber gee-whizzery.’ The author tackles big issues, such as gender and race, with searching sincerity, open-heartedness, and a deft, light touch. ‘I like to imagine,’ he writes, ‘[parents and teenagers] putting [this book] down…and reaching for another book, then maybe another, and, before long, getting up, heading out, taking great happy lungfuls of air, eager to do some good.’
Neither sage nor curmudgeon, McCullough is a thoughtful pre-Socratic without a schadenfreude-soaked bone in his body.
“The author tackles big issues ... with searching sincerity, open-heartedness, and a deft, light touch.” — KIRKUS (STARRED REVIEW)
Kidd explains what graphic design is and shows why it’s important. He uses many examples, including historical images and books he’s designed, to explore the importance of fonts, form, scale, juxtaposition, repetition, symmetry, color, imagery, and more.
Why I finished it: He had me at the first aside. Right before the copyright page, Chip explains a bit of the © symbol’s history and why it’s so great. I paid special attention to the copyright page, not only to the information presented but how it was presented. Kidd already had me looking at things I see every day in a new way. The explanations of his book design choices throughout were very informing, from the reason he made Batman’s head so big on the cover of The Dark Knight Strikes Again to the strange images on the cover of The Buzzing. But my favorite thing was the amazing, effective way he varied the fonts and their size throughout the book to emphasize his points.
It's perfect for: Rebecca, a grade school art teacher. She’d love the informative and beautiful way Kidd presents information. And I think she could use some of the ten design projects Kidd includes in the back of the book with her students.
@bookblrb: Chip Kidd shows kids what graphic design is and why it’s important.
Motivational speaker Cecilia just lost her best friend to cancer and isn’t sure what to do next. After so many years of telling others how to embrace their authentic selves, she can’t seem to do it herself. On a whim -- and with the encouragement of Penny’s voice in her head -- Cecilia sells her house and moves in with three other middle-aged single women, all of whom have some kind of unfinished relationship that needs attention. Together they embark on a road trip to heal old wounds: one to reconcile with her ex-husband, another to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption, and Cecilia to reunite with Dennis, her old flame who moved to Tahiti years ago. A subplot about Cecilia’s stint as a hospice volunteer reinforces the central idea that no relationship is too far gone to be fixed.
Why I picked it up: My sister introduced me to Elizabeth Berg’s books a few years ago, and I’m never disappointed when I read one.
Why I finished it: Berg gets the crazy details of road trips just right: the possibly homicidal, pie-making man on a country road, the ill-fated trip to a tattoo parlor, and the freedom to eat crap for days on end.
It's perfect for: Your book group, especially if it’s all women and/or wine-centered: these characters are multi-dimensional, their relationships layered and affectionate, and the resolutions satisfying.
@bookblrb: A motivational speaker with trouble embracing her authentic self goes on a road trip with three friends.
In 1929, promoter Charley Pyle made the Annual Transcontinental Footrace across America a big deal by offering $60,000 in prize money. The American public had showed interest in coming out for endurance running events, which were always well covered in the newspapers, so he believed he could start a tradition of cross country runs. After 414 of the 3,554 miles, over half of the seventy-seven men who began the race had dropped out. They ran through hail, rain, and heat, on mud, gravel and paved roads, and up and down mountains. The race itself was everything it was supposed to be, with a heroic ending that came down to two men who were never more than a few hours apart.
Why I picked it up: I have heard of car races across the country, bike races of thousands of miles, and even a man walking across the whole United States (A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins), but this was the first I heard of men running the entire distance from New York to Los Angeles. I didn’t think it was physiologically possible.
Why I finished it: Charley Pyle planned to accumulate the prize money by bringing his variety show to each town the race visited, but problems arose, including the performers’ buses being seized for non-payment and lower than expected gate receipts. He did not tell the racers he was in danger of not being able to pay the prize money.
I loved Eddie Gardner, a runner who got a lot of attention for both his smooth running style and because he was African-American. Through the South, he faced racism in the form of yelled epithets, strangers following him in a truck, and refusal of service at several hotels. Eddie made a point of pushing himself to win several of the stages in the South as a silent rebuff to racist spectators who wanted him to fail.
The small group of runners who persevered was described as a bunch of sun-baked, dirty, unimpressive men. Their will was incredible. Several runners were hit by cars, a few broke bones (a few kept running despite broken bones), and there were many days when they faced multiple, fifty-mile-plus runs back-to-back.
It's perfect for: My friend Mark. He and I ran the Portland marathon together in 2005, finishing in just over four hours. We were proud of ourselves for running the entire time. (We averaged 10:01 a mile.) When Mark reads this book, he will be shocked that the winner averaged 8:30 for running across the whole country. He will feel, as I did, that our marathon accomplishment was nothing.
@bookblrb: Charley Pyle organized and promoted an insane, 3,554 mile footrace across the U.S. Not many men finished it.
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has been growing in reputation as a great school to attend, partly because of their outstanding academics, and partly because they are one of two private schools (the other is Stanford) that host a full field of competitive sports teams in NCAA power leagues. So when three Duke lacrosse players were charged with imprisoning and raping an exotic dancer they hired for a party, it was a black eye for the school. The case had all the ingredients to capture the national media’s attention: privileged white kids, an African-American single mother, and lurid details about an out-of-control party, a vicious rape, and the teammates’ “wall of silence.” William D. Cohan’s well-researched book is the definitive account of the changing accusations, behavioral stereotypes, prosecutorial misconduct, Duke’s cowardly response, and the slew of lawsuits that followed.
Why I picked it up: I feel guilty whenever I hear about this case and the hysteria that surrounded it. It wa all over ESPN, and I was sure that where there was smoke, there had to be fire. I was particularly sure that the prosecutor wouldn’t have brought charges unless he could prove them. When the case fell apart, I was in the difficult position of justifying why I believed that the boys were guilty without knowing any of the facts.
Why I finished it: I am a believer in our justice system, but this case taxed credulity. The prosecutor, Mike Nifong, went after the athletes with an aggressive, facts-be-damned, full-speed-ahead approach that gave him a plurality of black votes and won him an election where he had been trailing. Nifong required all forty-six lacrosse players to submit to a DNA test (illegal), had the alleged victim identify the players’ photos from a group of photographs where there were no non-lacrosse players (illegal), withheld exculpatory evidence, and ignored the dancer’s changing story (which another stripper contradicted). He did not meet with the “victim” for nine months after the alleged crime, and also refused to meet with defense lawyers who wanted to explain their clients’ ironclad alibis. (Two of the men charged were not even at the party at the time of the rape, and there was photographic or electronic evidence to prove it.)
It's perfect for: My neighbor, Jonathan, who argues that the money that flows through places of privilege, like Duke, and anywhere where games are televised and celebrated has warped our experience of sports. He would love that Duke, uncertain where to stand on their accused athletes (a vigorous defense in the media? a quick distancing to protect the university’s reputation?) ended up costing Duke $100 million in lawsuit payouts and settlements to the accused and their families.
@bookblrb: When three Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping an exotic dancer, the media jumped on the story.
Investigative journalist Jon Ronson profiles competitive eaters, an artist who makes self-portraits while on different drugs, Insane Clown Posse, a pop star who molested teens over the course of decades, and investigates a few murders, suicides, and a mysterious disappearance.
Why I picked it up: I got hooked on Ronson's writing with his first book Them: Adventures with Extremists in which he interviewed people who want to take over the world and a few who may already have control of politics or financial markets. He's tireless in following up a story, and has a sense of humor that makes the serious stuff pack even more punch.
Why I finished it: Each story had a perfect arc. Events spooled out at just the right pace to build interest and tension. Ronson paints a picture and then hooks you with something shocking, like an Alaskan town that has a year-round Christmas theme and the middle school boys there who planned to massacre their classmates.
I highly recommend listening to Ronson on This American Life, or narrating an audiobook. Because I know that he is very gentle and soft-spoken, reading the essays was more harrowing. I worried for his safety!
@bookblrb: An investigative journalist interviews oddballs, insane “clowns,” and looks into a few mysteries.
Treasure hunter Fabian Gray has pieces of Dreamstone imbedded in his chest. They allow him to call on the powers and abilities of Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Merlin, Miyamoto Musashi, and Dracula. He’s trying to find an artifact that will revive his comatose sister. But he’s losing control of his power, and it’s going to kill him and cost him his soul.
Contains Five Ghosts #1 - #5.
Publisher’s Rating: “Rated T+ / Teen Plus”
Why I picked it up: The guy on the cover is dressed like a young Lobster Johnson, plus there are tentacles. I was hoping it would be an entertaining bit of pulp.
Why I finished it: Nazis, spider gods, and the forgotten city of Shangri-La -- what’s not to love?
Readalikes: No Way Out, another recent graphic novel that’s reminiscent of pulp heroes of the 20s, though in this case he’s a gun-wielding crime fighter known as The Black Beetle. And The Eyre Affair in which literary characters are being kidnapped out of their books.
@bookblrb: A treasure hunter uses the powers of R. Hood, S. Holmes, Merlin, M. Musashi, and Dracula to help his sister.