Divergent, book #2. 2012. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) 525 pp.
The scenario of having to shoot Will plays through Tris’ mind over and over again. Unable to forgive herself for his death, she sinks into a world of apathy, depression and fear. Once brave and full of Dauntless courage, she is now afraid to hold a gun or face her own fears. Tobias does his best to shake her out of her self imposed despair, reminding her of the necessity of killing him, but Tris refuses to be convinced and continues to wallow in misery.
While Tris fights with her demons, the world she knew has fallen into complete chaos. Erudite and Dauntless traitors, led by a crazed Jeanine Matthews, are in control. With the Abnegation faction almost gone, and not enough loyal faction members remaining to fight off their hostilities, Tobias decides it best to side with Evelyn, his long lost mother. She is now leader of the Factionless, and her goal is to stop the killings by uniting all Factions.
Meanwhile Marcus, his father, has hinted Jeanine is hiding a secret that will change everything. Tobias sides with Evelyn in calling him a liar, but Tris is convinced he knows more than he’s willing to reveal. Desperate to make a difference, Tris has to call her own allegiances to mind and choose between her love for Tobias and her Erudite search for the truth. Her decision will change everything and everyone, including herself.
“Insurgent” is full of chaos and deceit, as well as plot twists and turns. Readers aged 12-18 will keep turning the pages as they follow Tris from one adventure to another. “Allegiant,” the last book in the series, will answer the many questions Roth deliberately chose to leave unanswered.
Divergent, book #1. 2011. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). 487 pp. Also includes Bonus Materials and a sneak peek of Insurgent.
Beatrice has reached her 16th birthday, and it is now time for her to take the required Aptitude Test to help her choose one of five factions with whom she will spend the rest of her life. Each faction was formed to develop her society’s best traits, so she will now have to decide her future based on her test’s results.
Her faction, Abnegation, has selflessness and plainness as life qualities but Beatrice has never felt these qualities in her very being. She wants to be brave and fearless like the Dauntless, but life with them will mean losing her family. The honest life of Candor, wisdom of the Erudite, or Amity peacefulness are not for her so, despite discovering a secret during her testing that could result in her death if discovered, she decides to leave her family behind and become Tris, a Dauntless initiate.
During her initiation, members of Dauntless are cruel and manipulative while seeming to hide a dark secret of their own. As Tris struggles to make friends and fit into her new world, her fears ease when she meets Tobias. Together they find love and warmth in the midst of pain, but it doesn’t take long for their world to turn upside down. Her secret will soon be revealed, and Tris will have to make decisions that will change her life forever.
“Divergent” is recommended for ages 12-18, and is planned to be released as a movie in March 2014. I’m looking forward to reading its sequel, “Insurgent.”
Starcrossed, book #3. HarperTeen. 2013. 423 pp.
Tricked by Ares into becoming blood brothers Helen, Lucas and Orion unwittingly joined the Four Houses, thus releasing Zeus and the other gods from his promise to remain imprisoned on Olympus. Now that they have been freed, the gods are roaming throughout the Earth wrecking havoc and chaos on mortals.
Helen has confusion of her own because she has started developing strange new powers. She finds herself growing distant from Claire and the rest of the Delos family as she ponders these new differences and wonders what they mean. Since Orion can see her feelings, she feels as if only he can understand her secrets. Unfortunately their closeness drives Lucas crazy as he believes Claire loves Orion, and the darkness within him deepens daily.
Meanwhile Zeus and the other gods are determined to win their final battle over the Scions, and have amassed an army that threatens to wipe out all the Houses. With war looming, and divisions amongst themselves, the Scions desperately try to think of a plan that will save them and their way of life.
Greed, revenge, murder, hate and love are all bound up in the lives of the characters readers aged 14 and older have grown to love in the series. Angelini pulls out all the stops in this long awaited conclusion but leaves a few ends untied, perhaps hinting at a future novella to solve them.
Starcrossed, book #2. HarperTeen. 2012. 489 pp.
Helen was desperate to find a way to stop the Furies from interfering in the lives of the Scions. Since Hector killed his cousin Creon, he was now an Outcast and in constant danger of being killed by any demigod. Night after Night, she descended to the Underworld, hoping to find a way to end their reign of terror amongst the demigods and restore Hector to the Delos family. Despite her best intentions she has been unsuccessful, spending her time there in constant pain and torture.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, during the day she was haunted by her love for Lucas and their inability to ever be together romantically. Lucas has turned against her and withdrawn into himself, turning inwardly and outwardly angrier and darker. Sleepless nights and restless days, along with pining for Lucas, combined to make Helen weaker as her inability to rest and dream weighed heavily upon her, and her task remained unsolved.
One night, at her lowest and weakest, she met Orion an Outcast sent to aid in her Underworld quest. His kindness, handsomeness and availability drew them together leaving Lucas on the edges of their budding romance. Her love for Lucas was still strong, yet tempered by the growing feelings she began to have for Orion.
Despite her confusion and the intricacies of their feelings for each other, they all have to work hard if they’re going to stop the Furies and gain peace for the Scions. Despite their every endeavor, it was only a matter of time before they found out things might not come out as they’d hoped and the danger to mankind would be greater than it had ever been in the past.
Fourteen-year-old and older fans of “Starcrossed” will find another exciting page turner in “Dreamless,” leading the way to “Goddess,” its long awaited finale.
Starcrossed, book #1. HarperTeen. 2011. 487 pp.
Helen of Troy, Paris, the Trojan War, Homer, the Illiad, Zeus as well as other major and minor Greek gods make their appearances in “Starcrossed,” along with murder, revenge, kidnapping, betrayal and romance. All are woven into one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a long time. “Starcrossed” takes ancient Greek mythology and mixes it with the modern world to create a love story quite unlike any other.
Sixteen-year-old Helen Hamilton’s life was pretty normal, until Lucas and his family moved to her little island of Nantucket. All consuming blinding rage suddenly possesses her in his presence, as her confused mind has only one thought “kill.”
In her saner moments she finds out she, Lucas and his relatives are demigods (half human, half god) bound by the laws of the Furies to seek each other out for an ancient curse of blood revenge and fight to the death. Humorous scenes follow as both desperately find ways to avoid killing each other.
Despite the odds, it doesn’t take long for their hatred to turn to love yet they are cursed to repeat ancient Greek history, as decreed by Zeus, if they ever try to be together. Helen and Lucas will do anything to change their future in this ancient story of love and hate preordained long before they were born, but there are others who will do anything to make sure Helen is destroyed forever.
Readers 14 and older will anxiously await its sequel “Dreamless.”
2012. TorTeen (Tom Doherty Associates). 364 pp. (Includes Teen Reader’s Guide)
Jane Williams comes from the squalid city of Helmsdale, also knowns as Hellsdale. She has no memories of what happened to her before the age of 6, when she was put into foster care. After bouncing around from home to home, she landed in a group home finally gaining her freedom through a full scholarship to a prestigious school at the age of 16.
Birch Grove Academy is like a dream come true. Jane has an allowance, new clothes, friends, and her very own cottage apartment in the midst of a beautiful stand of birch trees. She has feelings for Jack, the headmistress’s son, but falls hard for Lucian, Jack’s brother.
Jane is drawn into Lucian’s unusual lifestyle, soon finding out two other orphans from Helmsdale once attended Birch Grove. One mysteriously died and one disappeared, leaving Jane to wonder if there is a connection between their disappearances and the strange series of events that soon begin to transpire at Birch Grove.
“Dark Companion” did a good job of describing the heartaches of foster care, while being mysterious as readers attempted to solve the puzzle of the two orphan girls from Helmsdale. However, open endings abounded near the end of the book. Instead of blindsiding readers with some of her “solutions” to these open issues, I think Acosta should have added another 30 or so pages to solve them in more reasonable ways. Perhaps she was deliberately being vague so as to have a chance to write “Dark Companion, Part 2.”
I leave it up to readers 9th grade and older to make a decision as to whether they want to read it or not.
2013. Lee & Low Books. (Includes footnote-like punctuation guide, “Afterword,” photographs, “Important dates in the History of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican Parrots” and “Authors’ Sources.”)
Long before mankind “discovered” the island, Puerto Rico had millions of distinctive green parrots. Over time man’s greed, as well as natural predators, combined to decimate the island’s parrot population along with the trees they called home. By 1967 millions of parrots were gone, leaving only 24 wild parrots alive. As a result, they were officially classified as an endangered species. Sadly, despite their endangered classification, the numbers of Puerto Rican parrots continued to fall, dropping as low as thirteen (13) by 1975.
The history of Puerto Rico and its endangered parrot comes to life before the reader’s eyes through the use of beautifully colored and arranged paper/fabric collages. The cover sets the book’s tone with its bright and intricately arranged feathers and cloth wings, showcasing parrots flying free against Puerto Rico’s bright blue sky – unhindered by any impediments. No title, author or illustrator names stand in their way, as they soar towards their future.
This picture book for readers aged 8-11 will teach much about the Puerto Rican parrot’s battles to survive despite nature’s blows and man’s numerous conspiracies against them. The excellent work of scientists with The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program (PRPRP) is heavily showcased, lending hope that the Puerto Rican parrot will grow in numbers and roam free once again over its ancestral homeland.
A unique twist to this well researched and cleverly illustrated picture book is the unique way in which the text is arranged. Instead of the usual “right to left” page turns, readers have to turn the book sideways and flip pages from bottom to top. Despite this unusual way of reading, I believe it will be a top contender for several awards this year, including the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award or perhaps even a Caldecott. Remember that you read it here first.