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The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (2009)

I have my sisters and brothers running all over the place. My mother is Father’s third wife. Our trailers, one for each Mother with her children, sit in a group, like wagons circling a fire. This is the way it is all over the Compound, not just with us. Fathers with all their wives grouped together. Making a circle. Like how we’re one eternal round in heaven (p 50).

In The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams tells a story of religious devotion, manipulation, isolation, fear and family. Kyra lives with her Father, Mothers and many siblings in a polygamist cult under the dictatorship of Prophet Childs and his Apostles, and their henchmen – the God Squad. As Kyra enters adolescence, she risks disobedience by secretly visiting a mobile library, which introduces her to children’s literature, and carrying on a tryst with her young neighbor, Joshua.

When she is chosen to be the seventh wife of her 60-year-old uncle, she resists and is punished. Knowing she will not marry her uncle but reluctant to leave her family, Kyra struggles to break free of the bonds - positive and negative - that have made up the whole of her life.

Williams’ writing has a way of engaging and capturing her reader. Though this book only touches on a moment in a cloistered life and leaves many questions unanswered, it is not diminished. As a fan of HBO’s Big Love, I found this an interesting take on an outlying population.

Library copy (print ) | St. Martin’s Griffin | May 12, 2009 | ISBN: 978-0312555115 | 224 pages | Ages 13 and up | $16.95

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The Chemical Garden Trilogy: Wither by Lauren DeStefano (2011)

I fall asleep and have horrible dreams of sad girls with exquisite eyes, gray vans erupting with butterflies, windows that won’t open. And everywhere girls, tumbling from trees like orange blossoms and hitting the earth with sickening thuds. They crack open (p 111).

In the future, society is broken into two classes. The First Generations are old but very healthy. They were the first to benefit from genetic engineering – immune to diseases like cancer and other ailments like asthma.

The second class of people are descendants of the First Generations. They are the cursed. Males die at 25. Females at 20. Some of the First Generations experiment on the young trying to find a cure. Others are pro-naturalists, believing humanity is doomed to die out and those who remain should be left to live peacefully.

This has led to an underground market trading in young girls. Sixteen-year-old Rhine is caught by a group of Gatherers and sold to a doctor, Vaughn, bent on finding a cure to the genetic disease that will otherwise claim his son, Linden, who is 21.

Rhine becomes one of Linden’s three wives, desperate to escape the mansion that has become her prison and return to her twin brother in Manhattan, with Gabriel, a house attendant Rhine finds herself increasingly attracted to.

But it won’t be easy with Vaughn constantly watching and with his cold lab in the basement where Rhine can only speculate on what experiments are taking place.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Whither is another dystopia amid an influx of similar works in the wake of The Hunger Games. It’s strength is in its writing, but the setting and some of the story is less stable.

[SPOILERS]

Linden cannot be as ignorant as our narrator would have us believe. That he didn’t notice the other girls were shot when his brides (even in the process of being drugged!) noticed and that he didn’t wonder why the girls were kept like prisoners if they were willing applicants, is absurd. Even if he was ignorant of his own captivity, how could he be so deluded about the rest of the world (of which he has traveled)?

Also, DeStafeno’s version of the future didn’t jive with me either. If the polar ice caps have melted and other countries are undersea, how can Manhattan be above water?

So, all that aside, DeStefano does some good character building. Life inside the Governer’s mansion feels creepy and beautiful. The romance is a little stereotypical but I like that Rhine never seems to completely buy in to either boy.

[END SPOILERS]

Clearly, this is the beginning of a trilogy but this one could also stand on its own and I like that too. And I have to hand it to the book’s designer. Very eye catching and pleasing.

If you enjoyed this, try:

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Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sarah Pennypacker (5/3/2011)

Our family-meeting places are the same as our regular places, except that my brother has figured out that whatever the meeting is about, he and I are on the same team, so he sits in my lap. This gives me hope for him (p 27).

Everything is N-O-T, not good. First, Clemetine sees the sign for a Family Meeting! posted and wonders what she has done to get in touble this time. Then her science project, a rat names Eighteen, goes missing. She loses her favorite hat and then, the worst news of all – her parents are having a baby!

If you’ve read any of my earlier reviews on this series, you know this girl named for a fruit has entwined herself around my heart. I love how she makes sense of the world around her.

Mrs. Resnick seemed nice, so I didn’t tell her the other bad news: that she had the wrong hair. Scientists were supposed to wild, sciece-y hair, and hers was just kind of normal supermarket-y, television-mother-y kind of hair. Probably she was embarrassed about that (p 7).

I aspire to the kind of parenting patience and wisdom Clementine’s parents routinely display. I want to see the world as Clemetine sees it. Simply brilliant writing and absolutely entertaining reading.

This is a review of an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, Hyperion Books, via NetGalley. Quotes are not final and may change.

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)

Every new year Mother visits
the I Ching Teller of Fate.
This year he predicts
our lives will twist inside out (p 4).

In 1975, ten-year-old Kim Hà, her mother and her three brothers celebrate the New Year, praying for the safe return of their father missing these last nine years from the South Vietnam Navy. In beautiful verse, Lai tells of the family’s decision to flee Saigon aboard a deserting Navy ship, their rescue by an American ship and the family’s decision to strike out for America to start a new life.   

Hà is a vivacious, spirited girl who carries this heavy story with humor and veracity, bringing to life the beauty of her country even in wartime. Spats with her brothers, anger at being treated unjustly by schoolmates in Alabama and a desire for sweet things will have readers of all backgrounds relating to and cheering for her.

Inside Out and Back Again received a starred review in Kirkus. Read other reviews: Fuse #8, Bookends, Pipedreaming, and Sherry’s Book Reviews and Tidbits.

If you enjoyed this, you must read:

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Eon Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (2008)

No one knows how the first Dragoneyes made their dangerous bargain with the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. The few scrolls and poems that have survived the centuries start the story well after the deal was struck between man and spirit-beast to protect our land. It is rumored, however, that a black folio still exists that tells of the violent beginning and predicts a catastrophic end to the ancient alliance (p 1).

Eona is a sixteen-year-old girl pretending to be a Eon, a boy of twelve, in order to qualify as a Dragoneye candidate. For a chance to control the Rat Dragon, Eon and her supporters are willing to risk their lives. It is forbidden for a girl to be a Dragoneye and, should the Emperor learn the truth, it would mean certain death.

When Eona awakens the powerful Mirror Dragon, missing for the last 500 years, she finds herself embroiled in a political quagmire and the symbol of hope for a secret resistance.

While Goodman’s world is elaborate and at times enchanting, it occasionally stumbles, overburdened with relaying the intricacies of etiquette that detract from the story.

It is a shame more of the characters are not as fully realized as Eona and her master but rather flat and sometimes even stereotypical.

I believe this novel suffers from its first person narration, but, that being said, I’ll pick up the sequel when it comes in to my library.

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The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (2009)

Isabelle, nicknamed Belly, lives for summer because she spends every one at Cousins Beach with her mother, her mom’s best friend, Susannah, and Susannah’s two boys, Conrad and Jeremiah.

For Belly, it’s always been Conrad, the older brother two years her senior. Handsome, brooding and a winner at all he attempts, Belly has always loved him. It isn’t until the summer of her 16th year that Conrad notices her though.

Constantly left out of the boy’s activities, this summer promises to be different. For the first time, everyone seems to be noticing Belly, including Jeremiah.

Through flashbacks, readers see key moments from previous summers. But what will it mean for Belly’s future?

This is a light, breezy read that will appeal to chick lit readers. In terms of quality, it ranks closer to the Twilight end rather than the Sarah Dessen end, unfortunately.

Belly, testing the kiddie end of the romance pool, fails to impress, defining herself in terms of Conrad and loving him while I could hardly tolerate him. Conrad’s the guy you get over if you have any sense, not the guy you stick with. You’ll just end up 35 with two kids and no relationship with your husband who is having an affair.

Cam, Belly’s boyfriend for most of the summer and the only upstanding man in the whole novel, gets the shaft. While I’m sure teen girl readers will be pulling for Conrad, I couldn’t help but think this was another vanilla girl desiring the most needy, least deserving character. Blah.

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The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm (4/5/11)

My brother Wilbert tells me that I’m like the grain of sand in an oyster. Someday I’ll be a Pearl, but I will nag and irritate the poor oyster and everyone else up until then (p 1).

This is a review of an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

It is 1900 and May Amelia lives with her five brothers (the sixth and oldest, Matti, eloped with an Irish girl to San Francisco), cousin Kaarlo, and Mamma and Pappa on a farm in Nasel, Washington.

Her hard life on the farm – cooking, mending clothing, going to school to learn English, and tending the animals and land – is tempered by hijinks and humor. Amelia is surrounded by boys, often mistaken for a boy and prefers to treated like a boy rather than a No Good Girl.

Several new characters arrive in Nasel: Jaakko and his younger sister, Helmi - May Amelia’s cousins - arrive from Finnland, traumatized by the murder of their mother. Matti and his Irish bride make an appearance. And Mr. F. B. Yerrington, who claims to “represent the interests of a group of gentleman who are looking to develop” Nasel, swindles several farm owners, including Pappa (p 50). May Amelia once again takes the blame and must go about setting things right.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Trouble with May Amelia picks up just after Our Only May Amelia left off, though even more humorous and heartwarming than its predecessor. It is amazing what Holm accomplishes with terse dialog and expertly placed capital letters.

This three-time Newbery Honor author does it again with a poignant follow-up to a contemporary classic. A definite addition to my 2012 Mock Newbery list… which had included only Okay for Now until now.