Review: Minders by Michele Jaffe

mindersTitle: Minders

Author: Michele Jaffe

Publisher: Penguin

Pub. Date: January 30, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 12+

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For years, Sadie has worked with one ultimate goal in mind: being accepted into the prestigious Mind Fellowship program, a program that seeks to educate the future’s best minds. She knows little about the program, but what she does know – that the it pushes boundaries, selects only the best, and is a frontrunner in technological advancement – would make it a shining achievement on her already impressive resume. Sadie learns she will undergo a process in which her mind will connect with a randomly selected subject’s; she will see and feel everything he experiences, but he’ll have no idea she’s there. Sadie is expected to stay objective, to observe her subject without the bias of emotion, but she soon finds that task is much easier said than done. All she’s told about her subject, Ford, is that he’s on the fast track to criminality, information that immediately biases Sadie. Though privileged and sheltered, it doesn’t take long for Sadie to realize that people, even those from the wrong side of the tracks and with infuriatingly annoying tendencies, are complex… and that there’s always more than one side to every story. As the days she spends in Ford’s mind turn to weeks, she finds herself reevaluating the way she looks at the world. Pulled into his quest to solve his brother’s murder, Sadie is surprised to find herself feeling for Ford… and maybe even falling for him.

Oh, where to start with my love for this book? There’s crazy, advanced science, a mystery, dark threatening forces, gorgeous, crumbling Detroit architecture, and a complicated, swoon-worthy romance. What more could you want? Read this book!

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Review: Wanderville by Wendy McClure

wandervilleTitle: Wanderville

Author: Wendy McClure

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Pub. Date: January 23, 2014

Genre: Middle Grade

Rec. Age Level: 8-12

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WANDERVILLE is set in the 1900s and introduces readers to Frances, Harold, and Jack, three kids from New York bound for Kansas on an orphan train. Frances and her little brother Harold have been living in horrible conditions since their Aunt Mare abandoned them. Both hope for a better life out West, though Frances is skeptical of the fate that awaits them. Jack, not technically an orphan, has been sent away by his destitute parents after the loss of his older brother in a tragic factory fire. The three meet aboard the train, where Jack comes to Harold rescue as he’s being picked on by a bully. Jack and Frances are both convinced nothing good awaits them in Kansas, so they hatch a plan to escape the train and make their way back to New York. Dodging the local sheriff, the three escape. Beginning their trek back east, the three runaways literally stumble across Alexander, another escaped orphan. Alexander confirms their fears: nothing good was waiting at the end of their cross-country train ride. But, Alex explains, he has the perfect place for Frances, Jack, and Harold to live. A safe place. A place with no adults. A place all their own. A place where kids like them are always welcome. Wanderville. Population: 4. Everything is perfect until Harold is captured by the worst people imaginable, the Pratcherds, the very family Alex has escaped from. Now Frances, Jack, and Alex must rescue Harold, without getting caught themselves.

Creativity and resilience, key themes found within Wendy McClure’s newest novel, play a large part in the creation of Wanderville. The town, at first glance, might not seem like much, but if you look closely, it starts to take shape. Built with bits and pieces, and no small amount of  imagination, the town has everything our four runaways need: food stores (restocked frequently by “liberating” items from the nearby town, right under the sheriff’s nose), a safe place to sleep (both a remarkably comfy area on the ground and hammocks), room to make their own decisions (the courtroom is a great place to determine the laws of Wanderville), and the freedom to explore and play (plus determine how they’ll take on the sheriff if he tracks them down). After all the hardship these four kids have endured, Wanderville is a refuge. A place where no adult can hurt or betray them, a place entirely their own.

WANDERVILLE allows young readers to learn about and explore history, specifically the realities of orphan trains and the harsh lives of young children in the early 1900s, while allowing them to embark on an adventure with plucky characters their own age that they’ll find easy to relate to. Readers will easily compare their lives to those of Frances, Jack, and Harold, finding both similarities and differences. The characters in WANDERVILLE deal with bullies, love their siblings, enjoy reading and learning, etc, all things kids today can easily relate to. But there are notable differences too: Jack works in a factory under harsh conditions, Frances and Harold are briefly taken in many times before being abandoned, and all three are shipped across the country where they are promised a better life, but where a fate of a hard life as cheap labor awaits them.

A fantastic new historically set adventure, readers are sure to love both the adventure and history included in WANDERVILLE. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next for Frances, Jack, Alex, and Harold in the next part of their story, slated for a fall 2014 release.

Review: Vitro by Jessica Khoury

384e9-vitroTitle: Vitro

Author: Jessica Khoury

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Pub. Date: January 14, 2014

Genre: Young Adult

Rec. Age Level: 12+

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The author of Origin, Jessica Khoury, takes readers to a new locale and a new scientific experiment with her newest novel, Vitro.

Sophie Crue has spent most of her life living with her father in the United States, seeing her mother only a handful of times and only during exotic vacations, but before her parents divorced, they lived on a remote island in the Pacific. Her mother remained on the island after Sophie and her father set off for the States, staying behind to devote her life to making huge, life changing scientific breakthroughs…. or so Sophie always believed.

After receiving a cryptic message from her mother, Sophie returns to the island and teams up with her childhood friend Jim, the only pilot on the island who will brave flying her to the sinister Skin Island where her mother works. Sophie doesn’t believe in the mysterious fear and whispered stories that keep the islanders from venturing too near Skin Island, but she soon finds out that there’s more truth that dark experiments are being performed on the island and that her mother may be at the center of everything.

Tackling big issues, like nature versus nurture, the myriad of questions associated with creation and science, and the bond between parent and child, Vitro is sure to garner praise from readers looking for depth packaged within a fast-paced story and an exotic locale.

Review: Control

controlTitle: Control

Author: Lydia Kang

Publisher: Dial/Penguin

Pub. Date: December 26, 2013

Genre: YA

Rec. Age Level: 12+

More by author: n/a

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The year is 2150 and Zel, her younger sister Dyl, and their father are, once again, moving. The trio moves often, jumping from one state to the next, but this time is different. This time, Zel’s father is acting different and doesn’t seem to have a clear cut plan… and things go from bad to worse when, shortly into their trip, their vehicle is slammed into and totaled. Zel’s father doesn’t make it through the accident and, then, Zel and Dyl are mysteriously tested and then forcibly separated. Zel’s life is quickly spinning out of control. She’s lost her father and her sister and is suddenly overwhelmed with the knowledge that there are individuals, Dyl included, with mutated genes that give them special abilities and powers. Dyl has been taken by Aureus, a group that seeks to exploit her abilities, but first they must figure out what those powers are. As Zel races the clock to uncover the secrets hidden within Dyl’s DNA, she forms unexpected bonds with a group of mutated kids her father and new guardian, Marka, have kept hidden and safe from the evil clutches of Aureus and discovers shocking truths about her past, present, and future.

Lydia Kang’s debut has been compared to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies books, but, to me, it had a similar feel to Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers books. Ultimately, Control was not what I expected. It’s been a long time – probably since I read the Darkest Powers books – since I’ve read something quite like this. There is something that I can only describe as gritty happening within the pages of this novel. The characters aren’t perfect or stereotypically beautiful or attractive, but, as you sink further into the world and story, you find your idea of what is beautiful and attractive changing. The love interest, who you might not normally label attractive or “hot” is suddenly your biggest crush, even though your were a bit miffed about his looks at the start of the book. I love that. As Zel comes to appreciate the unique qualities and outward appearances of the kids she meets, we, the readers, do too!

As much as I loved all the secondary characters in Control, I did find myself frustrated with Zel quite often. I suppose, if she would have been smart all the time, not much would have actually happened in the book, but she really had an issue with thinking things through. That drove me absolutely bonkers sometimes, as she regularly made situations much worse than they had to be by being stubborn and not listening to reason. Still, I had to admire her determination and unfailing love for her sister.

I’ll definitely be reading next installment of Zel’s story, Catalyst, which is slated for a 2014 release. She changed a lot through the course of the novel and I came to appreciate her strength by the final pages. I’m excited to read what other kids with powers exist that Zel and her group are sure to meet!

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