Monday, June 20, 2016

Kearsten's Book Club Wrap-up: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Last month's book discussion was a bit more difficult than they've been in the past, as most members of our book club had a pretty severe reaction to May's selection: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.

To free herself from an upcoming arranged marriage, Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, a futuristic prison with a mind of its own, decides to help a young prisoner escape.

Our discussion ranged narrowly between those of us who enjoyed the book and those who couldn't "get into it." Some of the readers' frustrations were with the alternating chapters between Claudia, the daughter of Incarceron's Warden, and Finn, the young prisoner Claudia decides to try to rescue from the prison. According to a couple of our teens, just as you'd start to get into one story, you were jerked out and placed into the other story - and Finn and Claudia's worlds are VERY different. Finn lives a brutal survival-at-all-costs life, while Claudia's life is quietly full of gowns, balls, and extremely well-mannered ladies and gentlemen.

Another frustration was with the setting - many readers gave up too early to learn that Claudia and Finn's world is set sometime in a future, futuristic enough to allow the people to create a prison that can think for itself, BUT that the people outside of the prison have decided that Victorian times were the "best," and therefore all activities, meals, clothing, etc. must reflect that time. Those of us who read and enjoyed the book were also frustrated, because we felt that the choice of the Victorian Era made it VERY easy for those in power to control its people via the strict class (poor servants, and rich "nobility") structure. But alas, we were not able to explore that much...

(Side note: we've agreed to reserve our graphic novel selections for discussion during May, a.k.a. "finals month")

Sadly, May's discussion was a bit like pulling teeth AND herding cats, as it's hard to focus a room full of teens to discuss a book very few of them finished, but we did come up with a list of books that also tackle over-powerful governments, steampunk/robotic elements, and/or scary, seemingly sentient prisons. These all come teen-book-clubber recommended!

1984 by George Orwell. Portrays a terrifying vision of life in the future when a totalitarian government, considered a "Negative Utopia," watches over all citizens and directs all activities, becoming more powerful as time goes by.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Huxley's classic prophetic novel describes the socialized horrors of a futuristic utopia devoid of individual freedom.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. As plague ravages the overcrowded Earth, observed by a ruthless lunar people, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and cyborg, becomes involved with handsome Prince Kai and must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect the world in this futuristic take on the Cinderella story.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. At the ceremony of Twelve, the community's twelve-year-olds accept their predetermined Life Assignments. Jonas is chosen for something special.Gradually he learns that power lies in feelings. Then his own power is put to the test -- he may not be ready and he may not be able to save someone he loves.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Sixteen-year-old Thomas wakes up with no memory in the middle of a maze and realizes he must work with the community in which he finds himself if he is to escape.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. In a world divided by blood--those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities--seventeen-year-old Mare, a Red, discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. But Mare risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard --a growing Red rebellion--even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. At age eight, David watched as his father was killed by an Epic, a human with superhuman powers, and now, ten years later, he joins the Reckoners--the only people who are trying to kill the Epics and end their tyranny.

Utopia by Sir Thomas More. Utopia, written by Sir Thomas More, depicts a fictional island with its own unique religion and customs. Sir Thomas More's work introduces readers into the concept of a perfect society with utopian, or perfect, ideas and beliefs.

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. H.G. Wells' late nineteenth-century novel in which an intellectually superior race from Mars invades Earth with plans to take over the planet.

Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. This re-creation of the land of Oz, tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn't so wicked after all. Past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Wicked just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Teen Review: Naruto, vol. 58: Naruto vs Itachi by Masashi Kishimoto

Our teen reviews are back! Today's recommendation is from a manga-lovin' teen: Naruto, vol. 58: Naruto vs Itachi.

Want to see your own review here? Fill out our What Did You Just Read form today!

What did you read? 

I'd say this book was *mostly* about...


This book's main character(s)...

Inspired me.

If others were interested in this book, I'd tell them...

Check it out RIGHT NOW.

Book Summary

Naruto is a young shinobi with an incorrigible knack for mischief. He's got a wild sense of humor, but Naruto is completely serious about his mission to be the world's greatest ninja!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kearsten's Book Club: Dorothy Must Die Wrap-Up

Last month we met and discussed Danielle Paige's take on the Wizard of Oz stories, Dorothy Must Die.

Amy Gumm, the other girl from Kansas, has been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to stop Dorothy who has found a way to come back to Oz, seizing a power that has gone to her head -- so now no one is safe!

Our discussion was wide ranging (as it often is) - here are some of the ideas we talked about!
  • Addiction/abuse to/of both drugs (Amy's mom) and magic (Dorothy).
  • Who was the creepiest character? (We pretty much agreed it was Scarecrow and his monstrosities. He was unsettlingly reminiscent of Nazi scientists...)
  • Did Amy miss her mom...and should she? (We talked a lot about this one. Amy's mom had been pretty lousy to her in the last several years, and despite good memories from her childhood, the recent years of drug and alcohol abuse had really fractured their relationship.)
  • Which of the members of the order of the wicked were our favorites. (This one was all over the place, though many of us liked Gert a lot.)
  • "Good" vs "evil." (This is a fun one. In the Dorothy Must Die, Oz's "savior," Dorothy, has become the person who is destroying Oz, and the "wicked" people are those who are trying to stop her. How do our ideas of good and evil shift when the "labels" are wrong?
We had a good time with this one, and don't worry if you have little familiarity with the source material - L Frank Baum's books OR any of the movies. The story is a fun action-adventure all the same, complete with a training montage! And don't miss this month's discussion of the steampunk prison story, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher!

Already read Dorothy Must Die and the sequels? Why not try one of these book-club nominated readalikes? (Plus some musical recommendations!)

For different takes on classic stories:
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles, bk 1). As plague ravages the overcrowded Earth, observed by a ruthless lunar people, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and cyborg, becomes involved with handsome Prince Kai and must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect the world in this futuristic take on the Cinderella story.
  • Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. After a Fenris, or werewolf, kills their grandmother and almost kills them, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March devote themselves to hunting and killing the beasts that prey on teenaged girls.
  • Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Wicked views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker and greener (not rosier) lens. Brilliantly inventive, Wicked offers us a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West who, as Maguire tells us, wasn't nearly as Wicked as we imagined. 
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Follow the adventures of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, as their Kansas house is swept away by a cyclone and they find themselves in a strange land called Oz. Here she meets the Munchkins and joins the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City, where lives the all-powered Wizard of Oz.

For assassins in training:

  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore. In a world where some people are born with extreme and often-feared skills called Graces, Katsa struggles for redemption from her own horrifying Grace, the Grace of killing, and teams up with another young fighter to save their land from a corrupt king.
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts--and a violent destiny.
  • (Also Sisters Red)

Be careful what you wish for (or getting unexpectedly drafted into something bigger than you thought):
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia. In a small South Carolina town, where it seems little has changed since the Civil War, sixteen-year-old Ethan is powerfully drawn to Lena, a new classmate with whom he shares a psychic connection and whose family hides a dark secret that may be revealed on her sixteenth birthday.
  • Marked by P.C.Cast and Kristin Cast (House of Night, bk 1). In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It's tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends. 
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace--and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. 

If you were fascinated by the Scarecrow angle and/or the idea of messing with nature:
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Presents the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his obsessive experiment that leads to the creation of a monstrous and deadly creature.
  • Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells. Mad surgeon-turned-vivisectionist performs ghoulish experiments that transform animals into men.
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. When young American pilot Rose Justice is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp, she finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery, and friendship of her fellow prisoners.
  • Into the Woods (DVD). A modern twist on several of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests.
  • Wicked (Broadway cast recording). Based on the novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kearsten's Book Club Wrap-Up: The Program by Suzanne Young

The March wrap-up comes in just in time for our next meeting, this Monday April, 25!

On Monday, March 28, book club met at the Main Library to discuss Suzanne Young's dystopian, not-too-far-into-the-future YA novel, The Program.

When suicide becomes a worldwide epidemic, the only known cure is The Program, a treatment in which painful memories are erased, a fate worse than death to seventeen-year-old Sloane who knows that The Program will steal memories of her dead brother and boyfriend.

We had our usual spirited discussion, with MANY teen-submitted questions (28!!!), and while we strayed a bit to electro-convulsive therapy (for use in cases of extreme, therapy- and medication-resistant depression), for the most part we talked about the awful treatment of teens in this story.

Book club members were very upset about the way the adults in The Program acted as though any sign of sadness or grief was a death sentence, and they felt that the Program (which used drugs and therapy to "erase" bad or "infected" memories) was a horrible abuse. As one book club member asked, "Did all these adults forget that THEY were once teens?!?!?!"

Here are some of the questions/topics we discussed:

  • "Is it ethical for the government to erase the memories of teens to protect them?" (The overwhelming response: "NO!")
  • "Lacey's awesomeness." (We agreed that the main character's best friend-turned-erased-memories-turned-new friend was very cool.)
  • "If teens can't talk or trust their parents, who can they talk to other than depressed teens?" (This was a major problem for us. In a world where The Program is the only option, the adults ignore the importance of therapy and talking about - rather than hiding - one's feelings.)
  • "Would you choose to forget in order to get rid of depression? Would you send a friend or family member to have their memories wiped in order to protect them?" (Book clubbers overwhelmingly said no, but Kearsten said, as a parent, if her only two options were the Program/wiping her kid's memories or risking her child committing suicide - and losing her/him forever - she'd probably choose the Program. Kearsten is surprised the teens didn't throw things at her.)
Overall, our book club recommends this one, especially if you have the chance to talk to others about it once you're done...'cause you WILL want to discuss it!

Already read The Program? Why not try one of these teen-recommended readalikes?

Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, she falls in love. 

The Giver (and sequels) by Lois Lowry. At the ceremony of Twelve, the community's twelve-year-olds accept their predetermined Life Assignments. Jonas is chosen for something special.Gradually he learns that power lies in feelings. Then his own power is put to the test -- he may not be ready and he may not be able to save someone he loves.

Rash by Pete Hautman. In a future society that has decided it would "rather be safe than free," sixteen-year-old Bo's anger control problems land him in a tundra jail where he survives with the help of his running skills and an artificial intelligence program named Bork.

Shock Point by April Henry. Fifteen-year-old Cassie Streng is determined to expose her stepfather after learning that he is giving a dangerous experimental drug to his teenaged psychiatric patients, but he sends her to a boot camp for troubled teens in Mexico in order to keep her quiet.

Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen. A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. In a future world where those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can have their lives "unwound" and their body parts harvested for use by others, three teens go to extreme lengths to uphold their beliefs--and, perhaps, save their own lives. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kearsten's Book Club Wrap-Up: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Last night, our teen book club very loudly discussed Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking.

How do we think without thinking, seem to make choices in an instant--in the blink of an eye--that actually aren't as simple as they seem? Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others? Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology, the author reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

The group agreed that this month's book was a bit of a challenge - nonfiction not being of high interest. However, despite the fact that about half of the teens didn't finish the book, we still had a lively conversation!

The topics we focused on were the chapters about the drawbacks to thin-slicing/split-second decisions (illustrated by a police shooting), the need for context in thin-slicing (experts being better at analyzing tiny bits of information), and emotion (whether or not we bought the facial-expressions-creating-emotional-responses. We do.).

We also tried the Pepsi vs. Coke taste-test challenge, with several of our teens guessing correctly! None of them are interested in becoming expert taste-testers, though, as the training sounds crazy intense.

Already read Blink? Why not try one of these book clubber-endorsed recommendations?

Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. The best-selling author of Blink identifies the qualities of successful people, posing theories about the cultural, family, and idiosyncratic factors that shape high achievers, in a resource that covers such topics as the secrets of software billionaires, why certain cultures are associated with better academic performance, and why the Beatles earned their fame.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcom Gladwell. Uncovers the hidden rules that shape the balance between the weak and the mighty and the powerful and the dispossessed.

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly. When sixteen-year-old Rashad is mistakenly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best friend. Told through Rashad and Quinn's alternating viewpoints.

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon. When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot to death, his community is thrown into an uproar because Tariq was black and the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white, and in the aftermath everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events agree.

Bonus TED Talk recommendation!

Why Eyewitnesses Get It Wrong. Scott Fraser studies how humans remember crimes — and bear witness to them. In this powerful talk, which focuses on a deadly shooting at sunset, he suggests that even close-up eyewitnesses to a crime can create "memories" they could not have seen. Why? Because the brain abhors a vacuum.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Teen Review: The Book Thief

Today we're featuring our first Virtual Volunteer* book review from teen volunteer Jacob. Read on for his thoughtful review of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

In Mark Zusac’s charming novel, The book thief, he is able to capture and captivate his audience throughout the entirety of the novel. Creatively, yet concisely, Zusac details the life of Liesel Meminger whether her family is harboring a fugitive or she’s stealing another book; You will always comprehend what he’s writing. The book begins with a little girl who faces tragedy immediately (among other tragic things happening such as the holocaust and the many events of the holocaust); she has to move to a foster family with her brother, and on the trek to the foster family, her brother dies. This death of her brother sets the theme for the rest of the book: tragedy, triumph, and the importance of books and reading (you’ll see how these connect later!) Fittingly, this novel is narrated by the end himself, Death. Death being the narrator adds a much needed playful (“yeah, right.” You’re thinking right now.) and cynical tone. Overall, this book was great, believe it or not I was sobbing by the end of the book (not sure if it was because I was tired or if it was genuinely sad.) I rate this book 9.4 out of 10. The .6 is missing because of the tears that were shed reading this, and because the book ended on a solid note, leaving no room for cliffhangers (darn!). This book may have caused me emotional turmoil, but it was worth the read and do not regret taking the time out of my day to read it.

*Interested in becoming a Virtual Volunteer? Fill out an online volunteer application, indicating an interest in Virtual Volunteering, then email our volunteer coordinator, Ray Ceo at for more information. We look forward to your reviews!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Kearsten's Book Club Wrap-up: The Name of the Star

Did you miss book club last week? Never fear, read on to find out what we thought of Maureen's Johnson's The Name of the Star!

Rory, of Boueuxlieu, Louisiana, is spending a year at a London boarding school when she witnesses a murder by a Jack the Ripper copycat and becomes involved with the very unusual investigation.

Overall, book clubbers *really* liked this one. We totally dug the boarding school, the ghostly element, and certain members seriously enjoyed the Jack the Ripper murders! (Though one teen lamented the lack of main character deaths. He felt those would have added more suspense and motivation on Rory's part. The rest of us mostly yelled at him for his wanting some of our favorite characters to die.)

We spent a lot of time speculating about ghosts in general - do ghosts exists? Why might ghosts happen? - and then moved on to the victims in the story and why those people - or anyone, really - becomes a victim of violence. We also touched a bit on the "Ripperoloigists" in the story (people who started flocking to the scenes of the books' murders to either sightsee, "help" with the investigation, or simply try to profit off of the spectacle), and how there are people/websites that devote their time to trying to solve unsolved murders from history and today. (For a one of Kearsten's favorites, see the link below.)

We had a great time discussing The Name of the Star, but if you've already read it, why not try one of these book-club-recommended "books to read if you loved The Name of the Star" titles?

Dead City by James Ponti. Seventh-grader Molly has always been an outsider, even at New York City's elite Metropolitan Institute of Science and Technology, but that changes when she is recruited to join the Omegas, a secret group that polices and protects zombies.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Through twists and turns of fate, orphaned Mary seeks knowledge of life, love, and especially what lies beyond her walled village and the surrounding forest, where dwell the unconsecrated, aggressive flesh-eating people who were once dead.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Though she is from a family of clairvoyants, Blue Sargent's only gift seems to be that she makes other people's talents stronger, and when she meets Gansey, one of the Raven Boys from the expensive Aglionby Academy, she discovers that he has talents of his own--and that together their talents are a dangerous mix.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender. While in Paris, France on a class trip, Colette Iselin enlists the help of her charming French tour guide to help uncover a possible connection between Marie Antoinette, a series of gruesome murders, and perhaps her own family history, and he also gives her insights into herself.

Absent by Katie Williams. Seventeen-year-old Paige Wheeler died in a fall off the high school roof and now her spirit seems bound to the school grounds, along with Brooke and Evan, two other teen ghosts who died there--but maybe if she can solve the mystery of her apparent suicide they will all be able to move on.

Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo. Maka is a weapon meister, determined to turn her partner, a living scythe named Soul Eater, into a powerful death scythe - the ultimate weapon of Death himself! Charged with the task of collecting and devouring the tainted souls of ninety-nine humans and one witch, Maka and her fellow meisters strive to master their weapons as they face off against the bizarre and dangerous minions of the underworld. But the meisters' own personal quirks may prove a bigger obstacle than any sultry enchantress!

Bonus recommendation!

Ghost Whisperer - this TV show about a woman who can talk to ghosts is off the air, but you can find it on various streaming services.