The Plot: In the late 21st century, a world ending comet approaches Earth. Petra and her family are fortunate enough to take passage in a massive spaceship bound for a planet in another star system. They are placed in a type of cryo-sleep during the long journey. When Petra wakes up almost 400 years later, she finds that the ship has been taken over by a political group with radical ideas about social assimilation. To save the few people who still remember the old ways of Earth culture, Petra draws on the Mexican folk stories of her childhood.
My Take: The Newbery Medal winner of 2022! I was impressed by author Donna Barba Higuera’s blending of science fiction and folktales. She neatly balances life on a futuristic space ship with old Mexican stories in a way that enriches the story. This creates a narrative that is driven less by physical action sequences and more by Petra’s slow understanding of her situation and her persuasive efforts to awaken the other people from earth. I had to smile when she mentioned rebuilding society after the pandemic of the 20’s. I highly recommend this intelligent handling of a dystopian storyline to middle grade readers and teens.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According the her author website, Donna Barbara Higuera’s favorite hobbies growing up “were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration.”
The Plot: Twelve year old Maddie awakes in her hometown to find that everyone but herself has been evacuated by the government. Alone except for her dog George, Maddie must learn how to survive on her own for months at a time. One of the most challenging parts of her experiences is enduring the longing for family and friends.
My Take: This was a great read. Freeman wastes no time setting up and executing the inciting event that pitches Maddie into her survival challenge. Author Megan E. Freeman presents the story in a spare verse format that retains all of the emotional power while giving the reader only what they need to know about the plot and background. I applaud the tight framing of the character and the story and I won’t give away the ending when I say that I got a lump in my throat. Very much recommended for middle grade readers.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Freeman’s interest in becoming a writer started in elementary school when poets were invited in each week to present to her class.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Twin sisters Elodee and Naomi are moving with their mom and dad to a new place called Eventown. While the girls are ambivalent about leaving their old house and changing schools, they soon find that Eventown is an amazing place. The weather is always perfect, the residents are inevitably cheerful, and school has never been more enjoyable. Eldoee, however, soon begins to sense that something is off, that no risks are ever taken, and nothing much seems to change. As she becomes more acquainted with Eventown, she decides that the price people pay to live there is too high for her family.
My Take: I felt that this book worked well on a metaphoric level, so long as the reader does not think too much into it. Haydu introduces some elements of magical realism into the narrative at certain points and the reader will need to accept these to enjoy the book. The author asks that we not examine too critically such plot devices as the the cause of the collective psychological fog which embraces Eventown. When I accept that this is not a book based strictly in realism, I can appreciate that the story does a pretty decent job of exploring the themes of how families deal with change and grief, of how the drive for safety forces people to sublimate other emotional needs, and how deeper meaning derives from the messiness of life. Astute readers will notice clear parallels to Lois Lowry’s The Giver. While I’m not crazy about the plot mechanics behind the book, I would recommend Eventown to young people looking for a more serious read.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to the bio on her website, Corey lives in Brooklyn with her family and “a wide variety of cheese.”
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Standish Treadwell tries to fade into the background by giving a blank stare from the back of the class. But when his friend Hector climbs the wall behind the house and discovers what’s on the other side, Standish can no longer be inconspicuous. Now he’s being hauled into the principal’s office, interrogated by the leather coats, and beaten by his new stooge of a teacher Mr. Gunnell. After Hector and his family disappear and a strange visitor appears at his house, Standish seeks an opportunity to strike a blow against the heart of a diseased system.
My Take: This is excellent dystopian YA literature. Gardener drops the reader into the middle of Standish’s life with no explanation or exposition, allowing us to slowly piece together the story. What starts as a typical tale about a middle-schooler being sent to the principal’s office, turns into so much more. Gardener slowly develops the nightmare world, until the reader is fully invested in cheering for Standish to subvert it. Great writing and a great book by Sally Gardner! Parents and librarians should be aware that the language in the book is not for younger readers. Ages 15+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Much like Standish, Sally Gardner is dyslexic. As a student, she was branded “unteachable” and expelled from various schools. She is now a spokesperson for dyslexia.
Plot: The tripods arrived about a hundred years ago. Some say that they came from outer space, other claim that they were invented by humans and turned on them. Either way, they currently rule over humanity. They consolidate control over the minds of men by “capping” them. When a person grows old enough, perhaps around their 14th birthday, they are taken into a tripod and a net of metal is enmeshed into their flesh.
Will Parker is an adolescent on the cusp of this rite of passage. The village in which Will lives, however, is altogether ignorant of the deleterious effects of the caps. It is but a way of life for them. As the date approaches, he receives information from a drifter that the caps are mind control devices. But there is hope. A group of people live in the White Mountains, far to the south. These people are uncapped, live in freedom, and fight against the tripods.
Stealing away from home, Will is determined to make it to the White Mountains. His cousin Henry Parker joins him and together the boys travel at night to avoid detection. Along the way they encounter clues as to the history of the tripods and how best to destroy them.
Personal Reaction: John Christopher’s death last year prompted me to revisit this book. I was perhaps 10 years old the last time that I read it. I loved it then and I still enjoy it 20 some years later. I love the juxtaposition of the low-tech feudal world that Will inhabits and the high tech tripods. It is a classic underdog, David vs. Goliath tale.
One troubling spot for me as a reader was an abrupt shift in the plot that occurs about halfway through the book. The boys are taken in by a Comte and Comtesse and taken to La Chateau de la Tour Rouge, essentially a tower and surrounding structures for knights and servants. What follows are scenes of high Medieval times reminiscent of something out of King Arthur. It lasts for a chapter or so and then our boys on their way again, dodging tripods and trying to make it to the White Mountains. The scenes are engaging, but they felt disjointed to me and seemed almost to exist as filler. Perhaps Christopher is merely laying groundwork for future plot points farther into the series.
Themes: dystopian future, mind control, free will, individual vs. society, side effects of technology, aliens