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Prodigy by Marie Lu (2013)

I tap restlessly on the hilt of my knife. Be careful, June. That’s the only certain thought running through my head. Be careful — for your sake and for ours (p 238).

Prodigy_Marie_LuPicking up immediately where Legend ended, Day and June are on the run from the Republic soldiers, heading to Las Vegas to seek refuge and assistance from the Patriots. Upon their arrival in Las Vegas, the Elector dies and young Anden, the Elector’s son, is pronounced Elector across the ubiquitous JumboTrons.

In exchange for shelter and resources, the Patriots demand Day and June work together to assassinate Anden in the hopes of sparking a revolution. Ascending to an unsteady throne and a fractured Republic facing riots and uprisings on a large scale, Anden purports to be a different man than his father, but June recognizes the ambition in him.

Will they become murderers in order to overthrow the Republic?

As Day and June navigate a milieu of uncertain feelings for each other and a tenuous allegiance to the Patriots, their faith in each other holds true through their separate missions. Lu’s world expands and we see the larger republic as well as the Colonies. Ultimately, there is no haven save that which Day and June can forge for themselves and their people.

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Legend by Marie Lu (2011)

Rumor has it that Day once scaled five stories in less than eight seconds. If the Republic’s most-wanted criminal can pull that off, then how are we ever going to catch him if we’re not just as fast? And if we can’t even catch him, how are we going to win the war?

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverIt’s a future North America where the United States is no longer. Instead, the Republic forms the western front, clashing for land with the Colonies who hold the eastern front with a waterfront line starting in Texas (and splitting the state) running north along the eastern edge of Colorado and the Dakotas.

June is a prodigy, a young fighter who scored a perfect mark on her Trial test. She’s analytical, physically strong and cunning (think River Tam from Firefly/Serenity). Then there’s Day, who failed his Trial, lives on the fringes and disrupts the Republic’s war efforts at every turn.

When June’s brother, Metias, is murdered during a raid by Day, June is tasked with hunting down her brother’s killer. Her mission will bring her into the underworld of the Republic and have her questioning everything she’s been taught.

An enjoyable read that follows a familiar structure but manages to engage none-the-less.

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A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (2014)

SnickerThis one is popping up in mock Newbery discussions (Heavy Medal, Eva Perry Mock Newbery Club). It has received several starred and glowing reviews from the media (NY Times Book Review, Kirkus) and book bloggers (Books and Beautiful World, Nerdy Book Club).

It is not on my list. Call me old and jaded but I couldn’t read more than 50 pages before the saccharine language induced nausea. I put the book down, revisited one page a few days later and finally declared it inedible.  It was too cloyingly cheerful, painfully paced, and heavy handed in its plotting. I simply could not see it through. Not for me.

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Audrey (cow) by Dan Bar-el (2014)

MADGE
(cow)
How would I describe her in a word? Well… young. That was her, plain and simple. Too young to go through what she did, poor thing.

AudreySo begins Audrey, the story of a young cow destined to enter the human food chain. Told from various animal and human perspectives so delightfully that I am mildly surprised I haven’t been transformed into a vegetarian, Audrey first learns of her fate then plots to challenge it.

With the aid of the different farm animals, a pair of raucous crows and some cunning forest dwellers, Audrey manages to elude predators of the two and four feet variety.

Each animal, however briefly it appears, is delightfully brought to life and some moments are gut-splittingly funny. A gentle read that contains hefty themes.

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The Young Elites by Marie Lu (2014)

The boy approaches me. I stare in fright at his hooded face and silver mask, the outline of his features lit by the inferno behind him. The only part of his face not hidden by his mask are his eyes – hard, midnight dark, but alight with fire (p 33).

YoungElitesThe premise for this teens-with-superpowers fantasy begins with a blood fever that left infected adults dead and most of the surviving children with scars. Called malfetto and at first pitied, a decade later some of those children began to display supernatural abilities and all became feared and looked upon as evil abominations.

On the island country of Kenettra, Adelina Amouteru, marked with silver hair and missing an eyes, and her sister Violetta, survived the fever that took their mother but never displayed any powers – though their father employed brutal tactics to tease out any hint of power in Adelina.

Driven from her home and hunted by the King’s Inquisitors, Adelina is recruited by the Daggers, a rebel group of powerful Young Elites, a title given to malfettos with powers, after she displays a talent for creating illusions.

Adelina, the focus of this narrative, provides a refreshingly different voice. She is damaged, the product of years of physical and psychological abuse. She is used by almost everyone she meets. She is suspected and threated by the Inquisitors but finds little comfort in the Daggers who put their mission above individuals. And she doesn’t simply change over the course of a few weeks. Each experience she has in layered on top of her previous experiences, not separate from them.

The finale/cliff hanger is also refreshingly brutal, though a bit wild in its telling. And I cringed every time Adelina mentioned her alignment to passion being roused… but otherwise, Kirkus gets it right:

In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers.

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The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (2014)

The tree was so close to the house that they almost seemed to have grown together — its gnarled trunk running up the wall like a great black chimney stack. Palsied branches crept out in all directions like a second roof — including a few that appeared to cut straight through the walls. “It’s almost a part of the house,” Kip said softly (p 14).

NightGardenerSeparated from their parents and in desperate need of food and shelter, Molly and Kip travel to the Windsor family manor in England seeking employment. Much like Jonathan Harker of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Molly and Kip are warned by passerby as they approach the dilapidated mansion in the sourwoods. And like Jonathan, the pair continue headlong into danger, despite Kips suggestion to turn away.

Molly convinces Mistress Windsor to take them on in return for food and board though Molly is only 14 and her brother 10 and a cripple (he walks with a crutch). The pair soon realize the Windsor’s are sickly and suffer from horrible nightmares. They discover muddy footprints every morning and see a shadowy figure roaming the grounds. But who is the night gardener and what does he do in the house?

Auxier successfully creates an atmosphere of suspense and dread while developing Kip and Molly and probing the reader with philosophical questions. Highly recommended.

Library copy | Abrams | ISBN: 9781419711442 | 345 pages| Grades 4+

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Jackaby by William Ritter (2014)

A chill tingled up my spine. Beyond the obvious strangeness of the spectacle, there was something more profoundly unsettling about the woman’s muted cries. An indefinable spasm of grief and dread shuddered through me. Was this the life that Jackaby lead? Death and madness and despair behind every door (p 59)?

JackabyYoung Miss Rook is fresh off the boat in New Fiddleham, New England and in great need of a job. She eventually stumbles upon Jackaby, a civilian sleuth who – like the great Sherlock – uses deductive reasoning and – like a diviner – a fantastical ability to see what others cannot in order to understand the past and prevent future harm.

I expected more wit but the development of the main characters and intriguing secondary characters made up for any lack. The killer will emerge as somewhat predictable early on but there is a side twist that left me wanted to read a sequel immediately. The prose flowed smoothly and I found myself quickly immersed. Recommended.

Library copy | Algonquin Young Readers | ISBN: 9781616203535 | 299 pages | Grades 6+