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.

Advertisements

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.

World War Z

World War Z Cover

“The only rule that ever made sense to me I learned from a history, not an economics, professor at Wharton. “Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” [Effin’] A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells.”

Historical fiction is often an interesting genre for literature. Basing a story in a past and playing with the history a bit, perhaps manipulating it to fit the story, an author can create a beautiful story that the reader can relate to. These books may bring accounts of real life situations into the story and can be told from the perspective of those in the heat of the battle. In my opinion, Max Brooks’ World War Z is a piece of historical fiction, albeit a fictitious history. World War Z is an oral history of the zombie apocalypse on earth, told from the perspective of survivors from around the world. It is a very intriguing book, as it details the story of the outbreak of a zombie plague that surrounds the world and how each area of the world dealt with each phase of the plague’s spreading and ultimate defeat.

Using multiple perspectives on similar events makes a fantastic story weaved together with elegance. Brooks uses several different voices that each present haunting stories that reveal government cover ups, issues with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and lost loved ones. But Brooks also includes the beauty in humanity, with stories of collaboration, grit in the face of adversity, and hope for the future. It is a story with many themes and many angles that provides several different ways a teacher could employ it in their classroom. And the way that Brooks weaves it all together from an oral-historical perspective, makes World War Z a unique story of survival.

The unique way in which World War Z is told makes in an extremely engaging story. The interviewer/interviewee style makes it feel like the stories coming from the people are real, instead of just some fictitious story. However, there is some strong language and some haunting scenes  in this book and I would only recommend this book for grade 12 students. The most apparent theme, humanity and the human reaction to challenge, is very compelling and harkens back to books like Lord of the Flies or 1984. It is a book with many different themes and ideas so it leaves many opportunities for students to provide written responses. I would pair this book with Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, or Timothy Findley’s The Wars, as they all deal with PTSD, the issues of seeing horrors first-hand, and the brokenness of war. World War Z is one of the most creative zombie apocalypse books I have ever read and it is an extremely engaging read.

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.