Super Human

Super Human

“Right now, Roz Dalton despised the ‘one thing at a time’ limitation on her telekinesis. If she’d been able to control more than one object, she might have had a chance to get away. Instead, she’d been captured.” – Michael Carrol

A worldwide plague has begun spreading, endangering the existence of the human race. But it seems as though only adults are being hit by this flu that is slowly spreading around the world. A sinister group known as The Helotry is immune to this disease and attempting to use it to their advantage. Are they the culprits behind the outbreak? What is their plan? And, if all of the adult super humans are sick, who is going to stand against them? Michael Carrol’s Super Human is a superhero comic without the comic, a thrilling story of a patched together team of teens who try to find a cure for the sickness and stop The Helotry. They are underdogs, trying to prove themselves in a society that is surrounded by super heroes. Carrol borrows ideas from other stories, such as the threat of the end of humanity, the loss of all parents, and a nod to super heroes of old, to put together his fast-paced adventure that focuses on three super humans, Thunder, who manipulates sound waves, Abby, who has super speed and strength when using metal, Roz Dalton, a professional super hero who has telekinesis, and Lance, a regular teen human who is a bit of a thief and con artist. It is their story that the reader follows, with occasional snippets of story from the villains’ perspective.

While Super Human is a super hero story, it is not as shallow as some would assume. The idea of prejudice is quite strong in the story, with the teens being underestimated by adults early in the story, and some infighting between Lance and Thunder based on class, race, and human/super human issues. The way that Carrol uses these themes is not heavy-handed, but he uses it to develop his characters’ motivation. However, there is nothing new in these concepts either. I guess it is just good to have teens thinking about these issues on a regular basis, so the more they encounter them in literature, the more they will keep it in their minds. This isn’t that new for the super hero world though, as many graphic novels and comics are dealing with deeper issues more and more as they become more culturally relevant. There are many Marvel and DC stories that have dealt with big issues like these, such as the prejudice constantly seen in the X-Men comics.

I found the pacing of Super Human to be quite good, although I wasn’t always feeling like I needed to keep turning the page. Carrol does a good job of leaving cliffhangers at the end of his chapters, but the jumping back and forth between characters that so many people are using now was a bit distracting and pulled me away from the action sometimes. One thing that Carrol did well was slowly leaking the answers to mysteries in the story. It kept me in the action and made me want to know more about how he was going to weave all of the different stories together. Most teens who enjoy comic books and superheroes would probably enjoy this one, as it does a good job of describing the action scenes and pushes the pace of the story well.

I have to say that Super Human is not my favourite superhero story, but it is better than some of the books from the I Am Number Four series. The story is fast and action-packed, but it is a bit violent, so I would suggest this be used for grade 8 students or above. I would also say that the lack of depth in the story would lead me to not suggest it as a Lit Circle book, but it would work just fine as a silent reading story. If I had to suggest some books to pair it for Lit Circles, I would use Michael Grant’s Gone, Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four, or Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin, as they either have super heroes, missing parents/adults, or teens forced to take on more responsibility than they normally would. Super Human is an interesting story that will draw in students who are drawn in by superheroes or fast-paced adventure.

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Cinder

Cinder

“Even in the Future the story begins with Once Upon a Time.” – Marissa Meyer

Fairy tales are the stories many children are raised on. They are the narratives that they fall asleep to and influence their dreams. They have also had a huge influence on stories and writers for hundreds of years. But over the years, these stories have been altered to make them more culturally acceptable and less terrifying for the children who hear the stories. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is one such story based off of the fairy tale Cinderella, although this is not a story for children, but for teens. It is set in the near future after World War IV, where very large and unified empires exist, technology is advanced and androids are a regular part of life. The story focuses on the title character Cinder, a cyborg who is hated by her stepmother and shunned by her society. Her job as a mechanic is the only income her family receives, but she is forced to give it all to her stepmother. She meets the prince and future emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth, Kai, in her job and so begins anything but an ordinary fairy tale story of love. Throughout the book, Kai and Cinder keep running into each other and Kai expresses his interest in Cinder, but she neglects to inform him of her cyborg nature due to the fear of being shunned. She spends the entire story hiding her mechanical limbs and keeping secrets from Kai.  While she longs to be honest with Kai and connect with him, she continuously pushes him away.

The theme of prejudice runs strong throughout the story, especially when Cinder has her encounters with her stepmother Adri and stepsister Pearl. They show little care for Cinder and use her as more of a slave than a family member. Even the fellow shop owners at the market who know Cinder’s secret try to keep their distance. The prejudice that the culture shows towards cyborgs is even more ingrained because, when a disease begins ravaging the empire, a cyborg lottery is started where random cyborgs are brought in to scientists as guinea pigs to experiment on to find a cure. This prejudice is what keeps Cinder from revealing her secret to Kai and what creates a feeling of “otherness” in Cinder’s character. She feels like an outsider in her society and it is what drives her to try and escape from her family and start a new life with a rebuilt car she finds at the dump.

While the Cinderella adaptation is fairly well done, and Meyer mixes in the tropes of the Cinderella story fairly well into the story, in the end, it is a very predictable story. Meyer lays on the foreshadowing pretty thick and I knew what was going to happen in the story by the time Meyer revealed her first piece of foreshadowed story in the third chapter. Now that may be due to the fact that I often am analyzing stories and the fact that I read a lot of stories, so that may not be an issue for students. I think the heavy use of foreshadowing can be good for some students, as it provides them an opportunity to predict what is going to happen. Students who have inexperience with the concept of foreshadowing will be able to pick up on it well and have things to discuss in class and in their written responses.

While I did not overly enjoy Cinder, I think it definitely has its uses within Lit Circles. It has a strong theme about prejudice and the characters have enough depth to dig into them a bit. The foreshadowing is also helpful for students, although the story is quite predictable for more seasoned readers. I would recommend this book for grade 9 and higher, although strong younger readers could tackle the story as well. If I were to use this with Lit Circles, I would pair it with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies or Leviathan, or Ally Condie’s Matched, because these books all deal with some sort of prejudice and even covering up or lying to stay safe. Cinder is an adapted fairy tale for fans of futuristic fiction and unrequited love stories.

Ranger’s Apprentice Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan

Ranger's Apprentice Book 1

“People will think what they want to,” he said quietly. “Never take too much notice of it.”– Halt

When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, you often hear similar responses, such as a policeman, a fireman, and, here in Canada especially, a hockey player. These children choose careers that are often idealized, jobs that are highly sought after, but very challenging. And over time, many of these children learn that the idealized careers of their childhood are not the ones they are best suited for. Will, the main character of John Flanagan’s first Ranger’s Apprentice novel, has a similar view of his impending career. He wishes to become a member of Battle school, to be trained as a warrior, but he is slight of stature and would struggle to survive the hardships of the school. However, Will is quick and agile, which allows him to move without being seen and climb to heights where no one seems to look. Although he longs to be a knight, he is not chosen to enter Battle school, but he does receive a warrior’s training as a Ranger’s apprentice, where he learns the art of stealth.

Will struggles with the realization that becoming a Ranger is a better fit for him. He had always seen himself as a warrior, and his constant battles with his fellow orphan and bully, Horace, had hardened his resolve to become one. But, as he develops under the tutelage of Halt, a Ranger with immense skill, he comes to understand why it is his destiny to become a Ranger, and why his skill set fits so perfectly in that role. His journey to that point, including the facing down of a charging wild boar, helped Will realize who he was and gave him the confidence to help Halt when they needed to stop a pair of monstrous beasts, known as the Kalkara, from assassinating members of the royal court.

Outside of Will’s bildungsroman development story, the issue of bullying is a strong component to the story, one that is great for teens to read about, even if they hear about it a lot in school. The interesting aspect to this story is that Horace, the bully for Will during his childhood, becomes the target of bullying once he enters Battle school. It is heartbreaking to witness the tortures that Horace must endure and the brokenness he feels inside from being rejected by his peers, but it is also so beautiful to see the redemption he receives when he and Will reconcile. Flanagan weaves an interesting story that allows for the reader to feel the pain of the former bully and see his emotional change over time.

This story is fairly accessible and I would easily offer it to grade 7 students and up. I have used it in my class this year with my grade 8s and have received fairly good feedback. In my personal opinion, I was not as engaged by the story as I have been by others recently, but I have also been told by some of my students that the series gets more engaging as the books move along. Thematically, I would pair it with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as they all deal with bullying and the need for the learning of a new career or skill. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy or medieval settings.

An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” – Colin Singleton

How many people go through their lives every day wanting to be told that they are special, that they are unique, that they are gifted? This idea is a driving force behind many people’s lives, and I believe it is for this reason that our society is infatuated with the idea of super heroes, the reason athletes are coveted and celebrated, and the reason celebrity status is so highly regarded. We each want to be someone who is viewed as unique and special. But rarely do we think about the consequences of these labels. In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines the reader gets a glimpse inside the life of a recently-graduated teen named Colin Singleton who has been labeled a child prodigy since he started reading at the age of 2. The problem is that Colin is trying to find his “Eureka” moment where he will be able to shift from prodigy status to full blown genius. It is here that the reader sees the pressure put on a gifted person, and the negative impact that pressure has on their development as a normally functioning human being.

Like many of the other novels I have reviewed, An Abundance of Katherines is a tale of a young man searching for an understanding of self. His search for self-worth is what moves the story along, but it is his nerdy, awkwardness that makes his story intriguing. Due to his constant focus on becoming a genius, Colin does not function well in society, and he feels an inordinate amount of pressure to find meaning in his “Eureka” moment. Luckily, his friend Hassan Harbish, a fellow nerd who is not nearly as mentally driven as Colin, is there to help him cope with the outside world and the rigors of daily teen life. As the story progresses, Colin learns to deal with his self-imposed pressure and discovers release in a new environment outside of his norm.

The big theme in this book that was most impressive was the idea of being yourself. The idea that going through life trying to please everyone around you or trying to be something that you are not will lead to a lack of self or an unstable and unhappy existence. When Colin and Hassan go on a last minute road trip to get Colin away from his most recent ex-Katherine (he has only ever loved Katherines), they meet a girl named Lindsey, who is the embodiment of a lack of self. She “chameleons” through life, constantly changing her personality based on those around her, and, as she interacts with Colin and Hassan, she reveals these traits and shows a lack of comfort in her lifestyle. The story also highlights her development as a character and it is her personal revelation that I find to be the most compelling aspect of the book and also the one portion that teens need to hear so badly.

I would recommend this book for grades 10 and up, due to some more mature ideas and content represented in the story and those age groups need that maturity to properly digest the ideas Green presents. I really think it is a topic that teens need to hear about and those age groups could use that insight into their psyche as they navigate high school. For Lit Circles, you could pair it with Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted, and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. All of these books deal with the idea of fitting in and going against what the main character has known or acted up to a point in their lives. I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, but it definitely wasn’t a big favourite for me. I still feel The Fault in Our Stars is Green’s best work, but Katherines is still a good read.

Hold Me Closer Necromancer

Hole Me Closer Necromancer

“Most people felt lost after high school. Sometimes I felt like I’d never really been found in the first place.” – Samhain LaCroix

       I need to be honest up front, I chose to read this book solely on the quote on the cover from Sherman Alexie. If he found this book to be funny and entertaining, I felt that I would also enjoy it. He was not wrong. Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer Necromancer is a funny novel, in that “Oh boy, how can things get any worse for this kid” kind of way. The story follows Sam LaCroix, a college drop-out who spends his days working at a fast food restaurant and his nights skateboarding and playing video games with his friends. For all he knows, he is living an inconsequential life. However, through an accidental taillight smashing, Sam’s life is enveloped in a series of unfortunate circumstances. Throughout the course of the novel he is beaten, belittled, berated, broken, and several other negative non-B related things. I guess that makes it sound like a good ol’ comedy of errors-style book. The thing is that Sam is no ordinary young adult.

Sam discovers early in the story that he is a necromancer, someone who can commune with the dead. It is this fact that sends Sam on a journey where almost ever bad circumstance occurs to him or his loved ones. But throughout his story, Sam maintains a dry wit that makes him so likeable. The reason I was drawn to Sam’s character was his everyman-ness. He is so unremarkable at first, and yet he is able to endure great pains, both emotional and physical, and come out of it with a sarcastic remark that keeps the reader going. The story is engaging not because of how Sam is knocked down, but how he gets back up.

I do have one semi-complaint with this novel, and that is it’s similarity to the Twilight series. Both books have a similar setting, Washington State, and both books include werewolves and other dark folklore figures. But that is pretty much where the comparisons end. While Twilight is a romantic story of teen love, Hold Me Closer Necromancer is a story of mishap and misadventure, of comedy and bad timing.

As for use in the classroom, I would suggest it be used in a Grade 10 classroom or higher, as some of the darker aspects of the book may be harder for younger readers to deal with. The book is a coming of age story, where Sam must overcome adversity and figure out his true self. While it is definitely not the deepest of novels, the plot is fairly straightforward and would be good for reluctant readers, as the pacing is pretty good. I would probably not recommend it to be used with Lit Circles, but if I had to, I would pair it with Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four, Michael Scott’s The Alchemyst, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, as each novel is an action driven story where the protagonist struggles with coming to grips with their power.

This is a funny dark-comedy with an interesting protagonist and a fairly straight-ahead plot. A good choice for reluctant readers or fans of western folklore and campy horror-ish themes.

The Fault in Our Stars

“Without pain, we couldn’t know joy” – Augustus Waters

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two star-crossed lovers struggling against the impediment of being cancer survivors in a culture that views them as very other. Meeting through a Teen Support Group, the two build a relationship based on a mutual love of literature, a quirky sense of humor, and an inner understanding of how different they both are from everyone else.

The true heart of the novel shows through in the interactions between Hazel and Augustus, as they analyze their perspectives on the challenges and purpose of life, the “cancer perks” they receive because of their otherness, and the after-life. Green portrays Augustus as an idealized romantic; suave, extremely attractive, and always able to say the right thing. Hazel is a quietly sarcastic wit, who has immersed herself in a world of literature above that of a teen her age. When the two combine, they drive the story with witty banter and an easy back-and-forth that shows a deep, almost instinctual, connection between the two teens. Green has a knack for creating rich characters that have depth beyond their years, and Hazel and Augustus are, in my opinion, his best creations.

I felt I connected best with Hazel, as the story follows her perspective. It shows the reader the daily life of a person fighting to keep cancer at bay and the arduousness of life under those constraints. However, as a father myself, I had to wipe away a few tears at certain moments of pain for the parents of Hazel and Augustus (Disclaimer: this book is not for the feint of emotional heart).

As for use in teaching, I would suggest it be used in a Grade 10 classroom or higher, although some motivated Grade 9 students could handle its vocabularial depth. The book deals with topics such as overcoming adversity, coming to terms with self, and the purpose of life. Most students who have read it find it heart-wrenchingly engaging and are voracious for the next John Green meal they can devour. For Lit Circles, I would pair it with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, or even Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, as each novel deals with the development of selfhood.

This is a great book for those looking for a romanticly engaging read, or someone looking to see the inner-workings of an intellectually stimulated high school relationship.