Monday, February 27, 2012

The Blackhope Enigma Book Review

Author: Teresa Flavin. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Templar. ISBN: 9780763656941.
Annotation: After her stepbrother mysteriously vanishes while walking through a labyrinth in Blackhope Tower, fourteen-year-old Sunni and her classmate Blaise follow him into an enchanted Renaissance-era painting that has been shrouded in mystery for centuries.
Personal thoughts: The idea of people entering enchanted paintings is something I relish, and I found this story to be, in a word, delightful. Although the characters left just a tiny bit to be desired in terms of development, I really enjoyed venturing into the world that Teresa Flavin created. The concept of the layered worlds in the painting was really intriguing, and I loved seeing how the story played out as the characters got further into the painting. I’m looking forward to reading The Crimson Shard and hope that it can live up to what The Blackhope Enigma accomplishes.
Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest and her classmate Blaise Doran are both studying famous Renaissance artist Fausto Corvo for a project at their English school. Sunni enjoyed getting top marks in her class for her artistic skills, that is until Blaise blew in from America and wowed everyone with his intricate drawings. One afternoon while studying a painting called The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia housed in the chambers of the neighboring Blackhope Tower, Sunni’s tag-along twelve-year-old stepbrother, Dean, suddenly vanishes while walking through a labyrinth set up in front of the painting. Sunni and Blaise are shocked when they realize that Dean has been transported into the painting, spotting his out-of-place figure amongst the Renaissance inhabitants of Corvo’s work. Determined to rescue Dean, Sunni follows him into the painting. When neither Sunni nor Dean reappear from The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, Blaise decides to enter the work himself the following day, feeling partially responsible for their vanishing into the painting. What Sunni, Dean and Blaise discover is an intricate series of worlds layered upon top of one another in the painting. Each realm is beautiful, but dangerous, allowing visitors to move forward from land to land, but not in reverse. The trio soon realizes that the only way out of the painting is to continue on into the unknown, but will they survive what lies ahead long enough to return home?
Review:  Harkening to the traditions of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Blackhope Enigma, first in a series of novels for young adults by illustrator turned author, Teresa Flavin, brings a fresh, original, and enthralling tale that easily appeals to fantasy fans of all ages. The novel cuts right to the chase, immediately beginning Sunni, Dean and Blaise’s adventure from almost the first pages. The concept of the layered painting and various worlds that the trio experience is not only unique, but very entertaining. Readers will delight in finding out “what comes next” in The Mariner’s Return to Arcadia, with each layer adding more and more to the story. The inclusion of art history in the novel, from discussions of various painting techniques to a look at the society of the Renaissance, adds an element to The Blackhope Enigma that will appeal to educators who might want to spark an interest in this era. The characters of the novel, though somewhat underdeveloped, are enjoyable as well and will undoubtedly appeal to younger readers who can identify with some of Sunni and Dean’s brother/sister antics. Overall, The Blackhope Enigma is a wonderful start to a fun and exciting series. The second novel, The Crimson Shard, tells of another adventure involving Sunni and Blaise and was published in October 2011.
Genre: Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
Themes:  Art, time travel, betrayal, Renaissance.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Scholastic Parent & Child and Library Media Connection.    
Series Information: Sequel, The Crimson Shard, released in October 2011.   
Discussion questions: 
-       Have you ever had someone who wanted to do a project on the same topic as you? Did this bother you like it did Sunni? Why or why not?
-     Do you think Blaise did the right thing in following Sunni and Dean into the painting?
-    Why do you think Marin thought Sunni and Dean were spies?
-     Do you think Angus got what he deserved? Why or why not?

The Name of the Star Book Review

 Author: Maureen Johnson. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile. ISBN: 9780399256608.
Annotation: Rory Deveaux is excited to begin school at Wexford, a boarding school in London, after her parents are assigned to teach at a University in nearby Bristol. Although her Louisiana upbringing has made her somewhat familiar with the supernatural and superstitious, Rory is unprepared when she finds herself at the center of a string of mysterious murders emulating Jack the Ripper.  
Personal thoughts: The Jack the Ripper case has always intrigued me, so when I saw that a novel about it had been written for a young adult audience I couldn’t wait to pick it up. I found that The Name of the Star managed to capture the creepiness of Jack the Ripper without overloading on the gruesomeness that made the case so famous. The twists and turns in the novel also made it fresh and interesting, and it didn’t rely very much at all on the draw of Jack the Ripper being a major part of the plot. I am excited to see where the author takes this series and think it has a lot of potential.   
Plot summary: Aurora “Rory” Deveaux isn’t sure what to expect when she begins school at Wexford, a boarding school in London. Her parents, both law professors in New Orleans, were recently assigned to teach at a university in Bristol, and Rory, wanting to experience the big-city life, opted to attend school in the hustle and bustle of London’s Whitechapel district. At first, Rory finds herself adapting nicely to life in England. Her roommate, Jazza, is nice and introduces her to Jerome, a handsome prefect that Rory thinks might turn out to be more than a friend. A string of grisly and bizarre murders in the neighborhood, however, change everything. In 1888, the Whitechapel district was the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper: a brutal madman who savagely murdered five prostitutes but was never caught. Now, a copycat killer is murdering women in the same locations, on the same days, at the same times, and Wexford seems to be at the center of Rippermania. As more is revealed about these new murders, Rory finds herself as the inexplicable target of the killer and at the center of an investigation by a mysterious group known as the Shades. Will Rory survive, or suffer the same dark fate as the Ripper victims in 1888 Whitechapel?
Review:  From veteran young adult author, Maureen Johnson, comes an intriguing new series for teens that is an entertaining combination of history, lore, and adventure. Although the author herself is a Philadelphia native, the London setting of The Name of the Star is expertly described, putting the reader right in the heart of the Whitechapel district of today. Also successfully presented are the facts, locations and legend surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. It is clear that the author did a great deal of research in writing this novel, and it pays off in a story that combines the past and present in a way that will interest young adult readers. Rory is a fun and spunky leading lady who’s Louisiana background contrasts nicely with her new English friends. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in the story as well, making for a break from the darkness surrounding the Ripper copycat murders. Overall, Maureen Johnson has created another fun and interesting novel that makes for a very successful start to her new Shades of London series. The second novel in the series, The Madness Underneath, is set to be released on January 2, 2013.
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Hereafter by Tara Hudson, Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach.
Themes:  London, Jack the Ripper, murder, ghosts, boarding school.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.    
Series Information: First installment in Shades of London series. Second installment, The Madness Underneath, set to be released January 2, 2013.  
Discussion questions: 
-       What did you know about Jack the Ripper prior to reading The Name of the Star? Did you learn anything about the case while reading this book?
-     Why do you think Jack the Ripper has remained so popular, even though the crimes he committed were over 120 years ago?
-      Who was your favorite character? Why?
-     Were you surprised to learn the truth about Alistair? Why or why not?
-       How do you think the terminus works?
-     What do you think will happen in the sequel, The Madness Underneath?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fever Book Review

 Author: Lauren DeStefano. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442409071.
Annotation: After escaping from the clutches of Housemaster Vaughan, Rhine and Gabriel find themselves on the run, trying to get to Manhattan to find Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. The pair doesn’t expect, however, that there might be more danger lurking in the real world, away from the confines of the Ashby mansion.
Personal thoughts: I absolutely loved Wither so I was super excited to get my hands on Fever! I think that, overall, Fever is a successful follow-up to the first novel, but I do have to say that I did enjoy Wither quite a bit more. The second novel is very dark, with very little levity even in the relationship between Gabriel and Rhine. I missed the luxury of the mansion and Rhine’s relationship with her sister-wives. There were some interesting new elements in Fever, however, that I found interesting, particularly Lilac and her relationship with her daughter, Maddie. I’m still a huge fan of this series and am looking forward to the third novel, though not with quite the same fervor as when I finished Wither.  
Plot summary: On the run after escaping the clutches of Housemaster Vaughan, Rhine and Gabriel soon discover that the outside world is far more dangerous than they ever could have imagined. Determined to return to Manhattan and reunite with her brother, Rhine and Gabriel are desperately seeking a way to travel from the Ashby mansion, and out of Housemaster Vaughan’s area of influence, in Florida, all the way up the coast to New York. After arriving in South Carolina, Rhine and Gabriel stumble upon a carnival-themed bordello, run by the ruthless Madame Soleski. Intrigued by Rhine’s beauty, Madame forces the pair to remain in her camp, surrounded by the young girls who draw business to the carnival, and the bodyguards who keep anyone from escaping. There, Rhine and Gabriel meet Lilac, one of Madame’s most intelligent girls, and her daughter Maddie, a malformed but observant little girl. Unwilling to trade the captivity of the Ashby mansion for that of Madame’s carnival, Rhine, Gabriel and Lilac plot a way to escape Madame’s clutches, and achieve their freedom once and for all.
Review:  This sequel to the best-selling novel, Wither, continues the Chemical Garden Trilogy as Rhine and Gabriel traverse the bleak landscape in author Lauren DeStefano’s dystopian America of the not-too-distant future. Fans of Wither will find that, although mention is made of characters from the previous novel, Fever is very different from the first installment in the trilogy. Gone are the ins-and-outs of life in the Ashby mansion, Rhine’s relationship with her sister wives, feelings for her husband, Linden, and budding romance for servant, Gabriel. Replacing them are the stark realities of prostitution, murder, and disease that existed all along outside the confines of Rhine’s life in the mansion. Fever delves much more into the nitty-gritty than Wither, and certain sides of various characters introduced in the first novel are revealed. The result is a whole new set of circumstances, far more intense than Rhine’s desire to simply escape her marriage to Linden and return to her brother. This makes Fever a successful, though slightly bleak, follow-up to the success of DeStefano’s first novel. The third and final installment in the Chemical Garden Trilogy is set to be released in 2013.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Divergent by Veronica Roth.
Themes:  Dystopian, polygamy, disease, prostitution, captivity, love.  
Awards/Reviews:  Sequel to best-selling novel.   
Series Information: Second installment in The Chemical Garden trilogy. First installment, Wither released in 2011. Third installment to be released in 2013.
Discussion questions: 
-    Why do you think that Madame was so intrigued with Rhine?
-    Do you think that Gabriel had any regrets about leaving with Rhine? Why or why not?
-    Do you think Rhine had any regrets about leaving the Ashby mansion?
-     Why do you think Maddie wouldn’t speak?
-    Which novel did you like more: Wither or Fever? Why?
-     What would you like to see happen in the third and final novel in this trilogy?

Friday, February 17, 2012

All Good Children Book Review

 Author: Catherine Austen. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Orca Book Publishers. ISBN: 9781554698243.
Annotation: Rebellious Max Connors, who lives in the idyllic town of New Middleton with his mother and little sister, Ally, becomes suspicious after his fellow high school classmates morph into complacent, well-mannered drones after his town starts Nesting: the New Educational Support Treatment.
Personal thoughts: I had high hopes for this novel, but, sadly, found myself disappointed. The concept of Nesting was interesting, but not enough to keep my attention, let alone that of a teen or tween reader. In terms of dystopian novels that feature conformity as a main topic, there are many better options available. I think that the author has some good ideas, and hope that her next novel is effective at bringing them to life in an enjoyable way.
Plot summary: In the not-too-distant future, rebellious teen Max Connors lives in the city of New Middleton, one of the many planned communities designed to ensure prosperity and happiness for its residents. Succeeding in New Middleton, however, depends on a lot of factors: wealth, status, and genetic makeup. Children born without any kind of genetic treatment are looked down upon; those of higher status having been created using the best embryos provided by their parents. After his father’s death, Max, his mother and his six-year-old sister, Ally, left their large New Middleton mansion for an apartment. Although their prestige has gone down, Max and Ally are still lucky enough to attend academic school, something their mom works hard to pay for, that will ensure their future success in the working world. Although he has always been more interested in painting and hanging out with his friends than in his schoolwork, Max becomes suspicious when he notices the children at Ally’s school behaving strangely. Instead of running around like most six-year-olds, Ally’s classmates are rigid, standing in straight lines, following orders and speaking in short, rehearsed sounding phrases. As the weeks pass, this behavior seems to travel upward by grade level, and Max eventually realizes that a new educational program called Nesting is causing his classmates to be turned into complacent drones, devoid of initiative or feeling. Max’s mother manages to prevent Max or Ally from receiving the initial treatment, but how long can the Connors family pretend to be normal in a world where standing out has become a crime?
Review:  Although it contains some interesting ideas, All Good Children, unfortunately, is not intriguing enough to shine in the sea of dystopian literature available for teens. The concept of conformity is one often explored in young adult novels. Many dystopian stories toy with varying degrees of forced complacency, and All Good Children engages in this as well. The Nesting concept is, arguably, the most interesting part of the novel when viewed as an allegory for the state of education in America and its reliance on things like standardized testing, etc. Nesting is described as making children easy to educate because they are all the same. Class sizes can be increased to 50 students per teacher, grades improve, and everyone is happy. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this allegory was the author’s goal in writing this novel for a young adult audience. When viewed simply as a dystopian novel, All Good Children is lacking in terms of pacing, character development, and overall execution. Parts of the plot were completely unbelievable as well, making the story too far-fetched to be relatable. If the author’s goal was to make a statement about education in the present day, this is not evident enough to be effective. Overall, All Good Children is a novel with a lot of promise that, ultimately, falls flat.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, Scored by Lauren McLaughlin.
Themes:  Conformity, dystopian, conspiracy, friendship.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Publishers Weekly.  
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions: 
-     Do you think that the government will ever institute a program like Nesting in schools? Why or why not?
-     Why do you think the adults in New Middleton were so supportive of Nesting?
-      If you were Max, what would you do if you saw your friends turn into “zombies”?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book Review

Author: Laini Taylor. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 97800316134023.
Annotation: Karou lives in Prague and is perfectly content with her dual-existence: to the outside world she is a seventeen-year-old art student, but in reality her family are chimaera, part-human, part-beast, who inhabit a land simply called Elsewhere. Raised in a shop who’s owner, Brimstone, trades wishes for teeth, Karou has spent her life travelling the globe, running errands for Brimstone, never quite understanding the nature of the “family business.” After the Prague door that leads to Elsewhere is mysteriously set ablaze, however, Karou must work to uncover the truth that can reunite her with her family.
Personal thoughts: I had heard a great deal about this novel before finally picking it up, and after reading it, understand what the hype was about! Although it took me more than a few chapters to really get into it, once I began to understand and care about the characters, I was hooked! I am really impressed with what Laini Taylor managed to create in a novel for young adults. The settings were so rich and interesting and her characters so well-developed. I am really looking forward to seeing where this series goes, and imagine that it has a lot of popularity and success on the horizon.  
Plot summary: Karou leads an unconventional double life.  To the outside world, she is a quirky but otherwise normal seventeen-year-old art student living in Prague. Her best friend, Zuzana, doesn’t question the strange stories she tells her about a group of half-human, half-beasts called chimaera that fill Karou’s sketchbooks, chalking them up to her over-active imagination. In fact, the chimaera that Karou sketches are real. Raised in their mysterious shop in a place they refer to simply as “Elsewhere,” Brimstone, part-man, part-ram, Issa, half-snake, half-woman, giraffe-necked Twiga, and parrot-beaked Yasri are her strange but loving family. Karou has never fully understood the nature of the shop, only that Brimstone trades teeth for wishes brought to him by people, and creatures, from around the world. Brimstone often sends Karou on errands to retrieve teeth as well, the door of his shop opening to cities across the globe, allowing her to travel to Hong Kong at lunch and return to her Prague flat for dinner. Karou’s happy existence changes, however, when, to her horror, she discovers the Prague door to Brimstone’s shop is engulfed in a blazing inferno. Unable to reach her family to determine if they are still alive, Karou sets out to learn the truth about Brimstone’s shop, and how she can return to Elsewhere to make sure her family is safe. Her dangerous new mission eventually leads her to Akiva, a seraphim, who’s race are eternal enemies with the chimaera. Karou realizes that Akiva had something to do with the attack on Brimstone’s shop, but is still inexplicably drawn to the beautiful angel. As more and more of the purpose of Brimstone’s activities is revealed, Karou begins to wonder who she truly is, and how she has come to be at the middle of a centuries long war between chimaera and seraphim.
Review:  Part fantasy, part action-adventure, part romance, this highly acclaimed first installment in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is as varied, and whimsical, as the beasts that form the crux of the story. Set primarily in Prague, a city not often featured in young adult literature, the novel focuses on Karou, a funky, confident art student with a very strange family. In the first chapters of the book, readers might be somewhat confused by exactly what is going on with Karou’s double-life. The strange characters who inhabit the shop in Elsewhere are a bit muddled at first, causing re-reading of the paragraphs that describe exactly who they are and what they look like. Once this gets sorted out, which it eventually does after about the first third of the novel, the reader is plunged into the unique and intricate world that author Laini Taylor has created in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Full of lore, history, and legend entirely unique to this story, the author does not rely on the work of others at all in imagining an original world that will undoubtedly remain effective throughout the following installments in the series. What the author manages to accomplish in a mere 400 pages is very impressive, and is clearly the reason that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been such a success. The relationships between Karou and the various characters in the novel, from spunky best friend Zuzana, to arrogant ex-boyfriend Kaz, to trouble seraphim Akiva, are all well developed and interesting. The conclusion of the story also lends itself very well to readers clambering to pick up the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, set to be released in September of 2012. Overall, an intriguing and original start to an enjoyable new series for young adults.
Genre: Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff, Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Misfit by Jon Skovron.
Themes:  Mythology, angels, mythological creatures, family, betrayal, romance.   
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Positive reviews from Booklist, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly. Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011.
Series Information: First installment in Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Second installment, Days of Blood and Starlight, set to be released in September 2012.
Discussion questions: 
-     Did your impressions of Brimstone’s shop change throughout the novel? How?
-    If you had Karou’s necklace of wishes, how would you use it?
-     Why do you think Karou was able to talk openly about Elsewhere and her family without anyone believing she was telling the truth?
-     What do you think is the significance of the wishbone?
-     Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Under the Never Sky Book Review

 Author: Veronica Rossi. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780062072030.
Annotation: In the distant future, the world is divided into two groups: Dwellers who live in domed cities protected from the terrible electrical storms that permeate the sky, and Outsiders who brave the elements and live as primitive tribes of hunters and gatherers. After a terrible accident in her city of Reverie, Aria, a Dweller, is cast out into the wilderness. There she meets Perry, a handsome Outsider and outcast from his own tribe, and the two vow to help each other return home.
Personal thoughts: I am a big fan of both dystopian and survival novels, so Under the Never Sky was a perfect fit for me! I really liked the concept of the domed cities, especially the Realms, and how that life impacted Aria after she was exiled into the Outside. Both Perry and Aria were interesting characters with a lot of depth, which kept my interest high as I travelled with them on their journey through the wilderness. I hope that in the following novels, the author goes into more detail about the exact nature of the electrical storms (that concept was especially intriguing.) I am really excited about this trilogy and would definitely recommend it for fans of dystopia, romance, survival, or for teens who simply want a well-written and exciting read.
Plot summary: In the distant future, society as we know it has collapsed, replaced by a savage and brutal wasteland plagued with electrical storms that torch everything in their path. The world has become divided into two groups. The first are the Dwellers who live in domed cities protected from the outside world. In these cities, the people spend most of their time in the Realms, virtual realities that mimic what the world used to be like and allow the Dwellers to travel from place to place in the blink of an eye. The second group is the Outsiders: people who brave the storms and live in primitive tribes as hunters and gatherers. Aria is a Dweller and has spent her seventeen-years living in the domed city of Reverie with her scientist mother, Lumina. After travelling to another domed city known as Bliss, Aria loses contact with her mother. In an effort to learn what has happened, Aria becomes involved in a terrible accident that takes the lives of two of her friends and causes her to be exiled from Reverie and cast out into the wilderness. There she meets Perry, an Outsider her age who was thrown out of his tribe after he was blamed for the kidnapping of his nephew, Talon, by Dwellers. Perry and Aria, though distrustful of one another, realize they can help each other return home: Perry by taking Aria to Bliss and Aria by giving Perry a way to retrieve Talon. As the two travel through the harsh wilderness, however, they begin to discover that they have more in common than they thought.  
Review:  In the current sea of dystopian novels that is young adult literature, there are those that stand out from the crowd as fresh, original and intriguing. Under the Never Sky, the first installment in a new trilogy for teens, is one of those novels. Part Hunger Games part Clan of the Cave Bear, debut author Veronica Rossi has created something truly unique that juxtaposes high-tech gadgetry with primitive tribal life. Aria and Perry, both narrators of the novel, are equally strong characters, giving the reader two protagonists to easily care about and identify with. Their evolution throughout the story, from distrust and contempt to mutual understanding and love, is expertly paced and well executed. Other characters, Perry’s friend Roar and mysterious orphan Cinder are equally interesting, giving the novel depth and richness. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Under the Never Sky, however, is the intricate landscape that Veronica Rossi has created. From the domed cities, to the electrical storms, to the tribes of vicious cannibals, the reader is plunged headfirst into Aria and Perry’s world. According to the book jacket, the book has been optioned for film by Warner Brothers, something that comes as no surprise after arriving at the exciting final pages of the novel. The second installment in this trilogy, Through the Ever Night, is set to be released in 2013.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Earth’s Children series by Jane Auel.
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, exile, virtual reality, survival, loyalty.  
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Kirkus. Positive reviews from VOYA
Series Information: First installment in Under the Never Sky trilogy. Second novel, Through the Ever Night, set to be released in 2013.
Discussion questions: 
-    Would you rather live as a Dweller or an Outsider? Why?
-     Why do you think Aria was exiled from Reverie?
-      Do you think Perry did the right thing in leaving the Tides? Why or why not?
-     Why do you think Aria and Perry didn’t like each other at first?
-     Were you surprised by Lumina’s “Songbird” message?
-      What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Legend Book Review

Author: Marie Lu. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile. ISBN: 9780399256752.
Annotation: The year is 2130 and, after the collapse of the United States, the western half of America, a Republic, is embroiled in a civil war with the Colonies to the east. Fifteen-year-old June Iparis, the Republic’s most promising up-and-coming soldier, vows to avenge her older brother who was killed by a notorious criminal known only as Day. June is unprepared, however, when she discovers that Day is, like her, only fifteen and her brother’s death might not have been his fault after all.
Personal thoughts: I always like a good dystopian novel and so I really enjoyed Legend because it is just that: a good dystopian novel. This genre seems to be more and more popular in young adult literature, but Marie Lu added a lot of elements to her story to make it fresh and unique. I was really intrigued with the Trials concept and hope she goes into that a little further in the sequel. I also am curious to learn more about the conflict between the Republic and the Colonies, and think that it will have a more important role in the sequel as well. Overall, I want to know more about the world Marie Lu has created and am looking forward to the sequel. I would highly recommend Legend for teens (or adults!) who are Hunger Games fans especially!
Plot summary: Following the collapse of the United States, the western half of the continent has become the Republic of America: an oppressive society ruled with an iron-fist by an elector and his massive army of soldiers. All children in the Republic are subjected to the Trial at age ten: an aptitude test that determines their place in society. Fifteen-year-old June Iparis has accomplished what no other person in the Republic has, a perfect score of 1500 on her Trial. This puts her in a top position with the Republic’s army, and she trains constantly with her older brother, Metias, hoping to eventually become a commanding officer. On the other side of the spectrum is Day, a fifteen-year-old from one of the poorest sectors of the Republic who failed his Trial. Those children who fail are sent to labor camps, but Day, who managed to escape after receiving his score, has been living on the streets, trying to protect his family from the oppressive police forces and plague patrols that dominate the poor districts. Now Day is the most-wanted criminal in the Republic and has been accused of the murder of June’s brother. Enraged and determined to avenge Metias’ death, June goes undercover to discover who Day is and bring him to justice. The more June learns, however, the more she begins to understand that the Republic, not Day, might be the true enemy.
Review:  Debut author Marie Lu describes the first novel in her new series as a more modern take on the classic Les Misérables tale, exploring the relationship between criminal and investigator. Add a gritty, futuristic setting rife with oppression, civil war, and conspiracy, a touch of romance, and two attractive teen protagonists and you have Legend, a dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of the genre as well as those who are simply interested in a well-written and entertaining story. In the wake of the Hunger Games mania, teen readers are often looking for something that is different enough from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy to be intriguing but similar enough to have the same appeal. Marie Lu’s new series fits nicely into that category. The setting is well-thought out and developed, as are the various pieces of the Republic of America: the class warfare, the segregation, the plague and disease, the brutality of the government, etc. The main characters, June and Day, share in narrating the novel, providing the perspectives of the haves and the have-nots and allowing for the reader to identify with and care about both equally. The book concludes at a satisfying point that still leaves plenty of room for a sequel to continue story. Overall, an easy-to-read, well-paced and enjoyable novel that fans of dystopia, especially The Hunger Games, will want to read. The not-yet titled sequel is set to be released in late 2012.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Matched by Ally Condie.
Themes:  Dystopian, oppression, terrorism, loyalty, post-apocalyptic, disease, conspiracy.
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA and Library Media Connections. Positive reviews from New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today.   
Series Information: First installment in Legend series. Second novel set to be released in 2012.
Discussion questions: 
-    What do you think is the purpose of the Trials?
-     Why was Day trying to stop the Republic’s efforts on the Warfront?
-    Which character did you like better: Day or June? Why?
-   Do you think June did the right thing? Why or why not? What would you have done?
-      What would you like to see happen in the sequel?