“Golden Boy” Tara Sullivan

2013. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin). 354 pp. Includes a Tanzania mapAuthor’s Note, Kiswahili Words & Phrases, and Resources.

GoldenBoyThirteen-year-old Habo lives in a small village in Tanzania with his mother, older brothers and sisters. He has never been allowed to do much except watch the goats as he can’t hold down a real job. His father left because of him, and his brothers and mother act like they can’t stand to have him around. Only his sister seems to love him. Why is he treated like this? He is an albino.

Albinos have no place in his African society as Habo’s whitish skin, yellow hair, bluish eyes and sunburned skin always draw strange glances and arouse superstitious thoughts. Habo has grown up knowing he is different, but hopes to have a new chance at life when his family is forced to move to the village of Mwanza. It is a long and difficult journey, but Habo faces a new terror when he finds out albinos are killed in Mwanza for their body parts used by witch doctors for lucky medicine.

When an evil poacher tries to kill him, Habo has no choice but to run for his life. Through his trials and sorrow, readers aged 12-16 will learn much about the plight of albinos in Tanzania and will have their hearts opened to the fear and suffering of those who are persecuted through no fault of their own.

This moving, well researched novel by Tara Sullivan was a very sad eye opener, sharing insights into the terrible albino murders committed regularly in Tanzania which go unreported in Western news. The Glossary of Kiswahili words makes Habo’s language easier to understand while listing nonprofit organizations which help albinos, like Under the Same Sun, helps readers find ways they can help in the fight for their lives.

I am sure “Golden Boy” will win some awards at the upcoming American Library Association’s (ALA) Youth Media Awards announcements in January which will go a long ways towards ensuring more people learn of the albino plight in Tanzania.

2014 UPDATE: Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and on YALSA’s 2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

“Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy” Elizabeth Kiem

Rated 1 star * 2013. Soho Press. 264 pp.

DancerDaughterTraitorSpyIt is 1982, and the Soviet Union is alive and well. Marina Dukovskaya is on her way to becoming an established ballerina just like her mother Sveta had been when she was in her prime. Sveta is still held in high esteem by government officials, and is an important part of their propaganda machine. Despite managing to hide her strange proclivity to see visions of the past, when one of those visions reveals a dark state secret covered up by Soviet officials years ago, Sveta is arrested and imprisoned.

Knowing the KGB (Russian Secret Police) will be after them, Marina and her father are forced to leave their pampered lives and defect to a shabby Brooklyn apartment in Brighton Beach. Using assumed identities, they try to blend into their new lives but Marina’s father is not happy. In his naivete he is sure Sveta will be released by the KGB if he can provide proof of her revelations.

Unfortunately Sveta’s state secrets are also wanted by the Russian Mob, the FBI and the CIA, with each having their own reasons for wanting to place their hands on this data. Thus, instead of returning to her previous life as a ballerina, Marina and her new friend Ben find themselves in the midst of murder, intrigue, spies and national secrets. To complicate matters, Marina starts to get visions of her own…

Readers aged 12-16 who like ballet and want to learn more about what the U.S.S.R. was like in 1982 may find “Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy” interesting, but I found it to be not so interesting. There wasn’t anything especially riveting about it, and the numerous Russian words would have been better appreciated if the book included definitions and a pronunciation guide. It was also unnecessary to have a storyline revolve about Sveta and Marina’s “visions,” as a story of Russians defecting from Mother Russia could have stood alone without it.

So I leave it up to you to decide if You Should Read It or Not.

“11/22/63” Stephen King

2011. Scribner (Simon & Schuster). 849 pp.

11:22:63Fifty years ago, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, America and its citizens changed forever. Conspiracy theorists have had 50 years to ponder whether or not Oswald acted alone, and wonder how Kennedy would have led the country had he lived.

Most readers associate Stephen King’s name with horror stories, but “11/22/63” had none of what I’d come to expect from his scary books-turned-into-movies. I am not a fan of horror so tended to shy away from the genre but “11/22/63,” filled with realistic fiction and history, had me hooked from page 1.

Jake Epping, high school English teacher, is convinced by Al, owner of his favorite diner, that time travel is possible. Due to failing health Al is unable to accomplish his ultimate life goal – to use the time portal to prevent Kennedy’s assassination. Despite his unbelief and fear of the unknown, Jake manages to travel to 1958 unscathed where he begins to see the real possibility of changing history.

Jake has his own goals for entering the past which include saving Harry, a severely crippled GED student, from watching his drunken father almost kill him after using a hammer to kill his mother, brother and sister. Jake is sure he can undo the past and save Harry, while also hanging around to save Kennedy.

Jake tracks Oswald’s every move leading up to that faithful November day, while managing to build a new life and learning to love once more. Incredibly, the dangers he faces while changing the past are closely bound up in his future – revealed in proper King fashion. The intervening years between 1958 and 1963 show Jake that history has a way of changing even the best intentions, and that the past will do anything to stay the same.

“11/22/63” is a must read for Adult readers who will find themselves pondering the many “what if’s” faced by Jake while asking themselves if they would’ve made the same choices.

“Allegiant” Veronica Roth

Divergent, book #3. 2013. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). 526 pp.

AllegiantThe factions are in shambles, while Evelyn has turned into a tyrannical leader assisted by her loyal group of Factionless. She is insistent no one behave as a faction but, with no other knowledge of how to live, it is inevitable problems will arise within the city. Tired of having to hide their true selves, a small group forms “The Allegiant,” a group responsible for overthrowing Evelyn and restoring the normal faction way of life.

Tobias and Tris feel torn between their feelings for Evelyn, the change she’s trying to impart and the plan presented by The Allegiant. They like the former feeling of belonging and peacefulness amongst faction members, while also sympathize with the Factionless and their homeless problems. However, they don’t agree with Evelyn’s thirst for power and the rules she’s imposed on everyone.

As members of the Allegiant, they are chosen to go outside the walls which surround their city to find the other society alluded to in the video of Tris’ ancestor in “Insurgent,” and gather support for their plans. Since no one has ever been outside of the city they do not know what will befall them, nor are they aware of the terrible trials they will soon encounter.

In this last book of the popular “Divergent” series, Roth pulls out all the stops. Cowardice, bravery, betrayal, love, and friendships are all put on the line while rumors of war continue to escalate. Tobias, Tris, Christina, Caleb, Peter and many others are tested in ways which will cause even the strongest to cry foul, and will call up howls of protest from her loyal readers aged 12-18.

 

“Insurgent” Veronica Roth

Divergent, book #2. 2012. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) 525 pp.

DivergentThe 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” Veronica Roth

Divergent, book #1. 2011. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). 487 pp. Also includes Bonus Materials and a sneak peek of Insurgent.

DivergentBeatrice 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.”

“Goddess” Josephine Angelini

Starcrossed, book #3. HarperTeen. 2013. 423 pp.

GoddessTricked 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.