Arc of the Scythe Series (books 1 and 2)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and takes great risk so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

My Review

This is one of those series that enveloped me immediately and I didn’t want to put down until I’d read every last word. Having to wait for the third book is torturous. I found the portrayal of human nature in this fictional case study intriguing, disturbing, frustrating at times, and just a great read. The author suspended my disbelief well, creating a world and scenario that felt plausible and the character’s actions and reactions fit too. Despite the amount of death and killing I did not find the descriptions to be gory or gratuitous with violence. If you liked The Hunger Games definitely give these books a try.

Age Recommendation: Some pretty heavy philosophical ideas and situations centered around death, immortality, perfection, and murder that make this book for mature readers.  I would say 16 and older.

Appropriateness: The author is skilled at telling this story fraught with moral dilemma and murder in a way that evokes deep thoughts and emotions without just being gross or praising corruption.

Book Club or Classroom Use: It would be fascinating to see the discussion that these books would spur in a book club or high school English class setting. The story would be an interesting sociology read as well.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Arc of the Scythe series interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and The Winner Series by Marie Rutkoski.

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Atlantia

AtlantiaAtlantia by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

My Review

I didn’t love Matched by Ally Condie so I’m not sure why I decided to pick up Atlantia. Maybe because I thought there were a few redeeming qualities in Matched, at least enough for me to give Condie a second chance. The plot also intrigued me, and I was looking for something easy to read and entertaining to read over the holidays.

Well, Atlantia certainly fit the bill for easy to read and it was entertaining enough that I finished it. However, it had many of the same disappointments that I found in Matched. It’s difficult not to compare the two books because they are both dystopian fiction for teens, written by the same author.

In both books I was quickly drawn in to the premise, the excitement of exploring a new world, and the anticipation of how the story and characters could develop within the rules of the new world. I think the author did a better job of creating a believable world for Atlantia than she did with Matched. I didn’t find myself questioning so much whether the human responses were plausible given the circumstances. I was actually quite impressed by the beginning of the book. I loved how Condie “showed” me the rules of the world she had created rather than “told.” The pacing was quick and engaging, and the world itself was interesting and had some unique aspects. Through the first quarter of the book I had high hopes that it was going to succeed where Matched had failed me.

At the halfway mark, unfortunately, my hopes crumbled. The book centers around conflict between the world Below (the city Atlantia which was built in a “bubble” on the ocean floor) and the world Above (the world we inhabit). The main characters and the storytelling begins Below, but it’s clear early on that the story will, at some point, have to continue Above. I was disappointed and bored to get halfway through and still be building to the point where the action would switch to Above. I knew at that point that there was going to be rushed action to the climax and rushed resolution in order to wrap up the story in the number of pages left.

I was right. I didn’t get nearly the feel or Above that I needed to balance the care that had been taken to show me Below. The characters Above were weak without the needed development and I didn’t care for them like I needed to in order to really care about the plot. In the world Below the author used mystery and the characters’ gradual discovery of important information to build tension. A little over halfway through that method completely broke down and information just starts getting handed out left and right. It felt like the author knew how she wanted to wrap it all up, but she didn’t have a great grasp on the steps needed to get there. She spent an overly long time building up which could have been ok if the same care had been taken in the action and resolution. But instead it just fell flat and became forgettable.

I debated on whether to give 2 or 3 stars. I settled on 3 because I respect the potential of the author’s ideas. I even liked the poetic style she tried to give her prose. I felt like it fit the idea of an underwater civilization that worships “the Gods.” Had she just been able to balance the story elements better it would have been a satisfying entertainment escape.

Age Recommendation: Because of the dystopian elements as well as some teen romance this book would be enjoyed best by 14 and older.

Appropriateness: There is no swearing, no graphic violence or gory descriptions. Some kissing but not overly descriptive. Pretty squeaky clean in my book.

Other Book Recommendations: If Atlantia interests you, you might also like Matched by Ally Condie, Until We Meet Again , Remember me Always, or Relic, all by Renee Collins, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, or The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children, #1)Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside. Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?

My Review

This was the perfect third grade read-aloud book. It had everyone (girls and boys) engaged from the first chapter, gave plenty of discussion material, and was completely age appropriate. The writing is easy to read without being dumbed down.

This is the one of the few dystopian fiction books I have read that is actually written for middle grade and younger. Most other books I have read from the genre are for young adults and older, but Among the Hidden breaks that mold and it does it perfectly.

When I first saw the book I was intrigued and excited about the idea of introducing my students to a new genre, but also a little concerned that it might get to intense or disturbing for 8 and 9 year olds. But after reading the first few chapters I was enthralled in the plot and certain that it would be just the right amount of dystopia to spur some new thoughts and ideas in my students without traumatizing them.

The world of the Shadow Children is full of injustice and unfairness. The government is corrupt and overly controlling. The main character, Luke, and his family have very little control in their lives as farmers, but Luke’s biggest problem is that he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, at least according to Population Law. Families are allowed to have 2 children, no more; and Luke is a third child. These are all pretty heavy issues, but the author presents them through the eyes of a child, a very sheltered and inexperienced one at that, so I found there was nothing inappropriate, nothing that I couldn’t read and discuss with 8 and 9 year-olds.

We had productive discussions on the role of government, the validity of information from certain sources, times when rules/laws should and shouldn’t be broken, and how to better appreciate the world we live in. We were also able to look at what ways our world might be similar to that of the book, and how we can avoid the problems getting worse.

Each time I closed the book at the end of read-aloud time there were groans of disappointment and displeasure. The author has a real knack for cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. My class is begging me to read book 2 in the series as our next read-aloud, but I want to introduce them to other genres this year, so the rest of this series will have to wait. I can assure you, however, that I will be picking up the other books in the series to satisfy my own curiosity and hunger to find out what happens next.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were at a perfect age to enjoy this book.  There is nothing that would be inappropriate for younger readers, but I’m not sure younger than 8 would understand the context fully. As an adult the plot and storyline was intriguing and I enjoyed the read, though the writing was more of a middle grade level.  I think readers from ages 8 to 14 would be the target audience.

Appropriateness: In reading this book you have to be prepared for pondering government corruption, the consequences of naivety, the idea of mass killing (though not described in any detail), and the general discomfort of a dystopian society. However, it is all told without profanity and with sensitivity for the ages for which this book is intended.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Among the Hidden you might also enjoy The Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, and the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage.

Classroom Use: As described in my review, there is a lot of class discussion material in the book.  Some applicable discussion questions could be

  1. What change causes Luke to finally feel dissatisfied with his life to the point that he risks be seen?
  2. How does the government control the people in Luke’s world?
  3. Do you think the books and media reports we read are always accurate?
  4. How would knowing the true facts of history help the people in Luke’s world to solve some of the problems with which they are faced?
  5. How are Luke and Jen alike? How are they different? How do their differences affect their reactions to their situations?
  6. What do you think of the laws in place in Luke’s world?
  7. The Barons seem to be able to break a lot of rules and laws. Is this fair? What about if the laws are unfair?
  8. What do you think would be the hardest part about being a shadow child?

We also used this book to practice writing book reviews. Students were required to state whether or not they liked the book and why.  They gave a basic summary, and then stated whether or not they would recommend the book to others and why. You could also integrate this book into science and social studies by studying renewable sources of energy and food, and finding ways students could help with hunger or injustice in today’s world.

The Selection Series

The Selection (The Selection, #1)1624806818635016The Selection , The Elite, and The One by Kiera Cass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

My Review

I liked the first book in the series the most. They were all entertaining and kept me reading to the last word, even into the wee hours, but in the end they weren’t terribly fulfilling. I got tired of the soap opera and of the constant tension because of characters’ decisions to not trust each other or to communicate. I can understand immature miscommunication being the source of some of the story conflict but when it happens over and over and over it gets old. I need the characters to learn from their mistakes otherwise they become annoying.

I also didn’t buy the whole dystopian setting. The story takes place in a future America after a 3rd world war, etc. etc. but the problem is that the setting didn’t actually have any relevance to the story itself. A dystopian American didn’t affect the plot or enhance the plot in any way. It was more like little tidbits of trivia just to make it fit into a genre that is so popular in YA fiction right now. It just didn’t work for me and in fact I found it took away from the story development and plot because the little tidbits just weren’t developed enough. If the story had been set in some other fictional or semi-fictional location I would have enjoyed it much more. Then I wouldn’t have needed much detail to explain the country’s roots or current status. I could have accepted it more easily as just how things are. Whereas setting it in dystopian America automatically results in me asking more questions, wanting more explanation, so I can be convinced of the plausibility of the plot. Unfortunately that kind of information wasn’t offered, the details were lacking, and so the setting fell very flat.

The development of the big “shock” in the third book was also lacking for me. I can’t decide if there was too much foreshadowing and so I already knew what was coming which dampened the “wow” factor. Or if it was that the development just wasn’t exciting enough or involved enough. I needed more information about the opposing factions. The resolution came about rather quickly after 3 books of build up.

But despite being disappointed in all of those aspects, that didn’t stop me from reading all 3 and reading them rather quickly. They definitely make for an easy and entertaining read. Having just seen that there is a book #4 and a #5 I can say that I will be reading those as well.

Age Recommendation: These books would be enjoyable for 14 and older, mainly girls.

Appropriateness: These are young adult romance books with plenty of romance (kissing) but greater intimacy is not described in great detail. Language is clean. There was nothing that I was uncomfortable with in my reading.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in The Selection Series I recommend you also read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Winner’s series by Marie Rutkoski, An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock, and Matched by Allie Condie.

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An Uncommon Blue

An Uncommon Blue (Colorblind, #1)An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

In Télesphore, the glowing color of a person’s palm determines their place in society, and touching hands with another mixes the colors permanently. When sixteen-year-old Bruno accidentally kills a royal soldier, he goes from favored to fugitive. Now Bruno’s only chance at survival is to become someone else. That means a haircut, a change of wardrobe, and most important, getting rid of his once cherished Blue. Now he’s visiting parts of town he never knew existed, and making friends with people he would’ve crossed the street to avoid only weeks ago. At the last minute, Bruno’s parents arrange a deal to clear his name and get his life back. All Bruno has to do is abandon those in the Red slums that look to him as a leader and let an innocent Green boy die in his place.

My Review

The first word that comes to my mind to describe An Uncommon Blue is fast-paced. It starts out with the action and conflict right away and it just keeps moving. I was enthralled at the get-go and I didn’t want to put it down until I had read the last word. This is absolutely a dystopian novel, but the world created in it is unique and fresh; it stands out in the very popular genre.

I appreciated a main character worthy of admiration, one who is trying to do good and make a difference as he faces the harsh realities of his world. However, I did feel there were some holes in his character motivation and development that left me wondering why, exactly, he was so generous and cared so much for the unfortunate people he met. With his privileged upbringing and naivety when it came to the “lower classes” in his society, I would have thought it would have taken him more time to be ok with sacrificing his privilege for the sake of those beneath him. But he was willing to risk his reputation and coming to bodily harm right from the beginning, even for the kid that had pretty much just ruined his life. Just made me wonder how he got to be so caring, especially while it was also clear that his main concern up to that point had been keeping his privileged status and easy life as a star athlete.

This unclarity in character motivation didn’t keep me from devouring every page, however. The writing style is simple, no stand-out prose, but it’s well-done. I wasn’t distracted at all by awkward phrasing or overly flowery description. Easy to read. The rules of the fictional world were conveyed through the story-telling; I appreciated that I didn’t have to get bogged down or interrupted from the story to read long explanations. In fact, the story may have even moved a little too quickly for me. I would have like a little more time spent on introducing the world and its rules, and the people and their motivations. There is a sequel so I hope that more will be explained because there were quite a lot of unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries at the end. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel quickly after it is released.

Overall though this is just a fun, fast, interesting, read. If you are looking for a book to get lost in for a few hours, I recommend An Uncommon Blue.

Age Recommendation: I suggest 15 and older. There is some killing and harsh inequalities in the book, and while the description isn’t graphic it could be disturbing to younger readers.

Appropriateness: Clean with great examples of selflessness and kindness. It would be of particular interest to boys. It has great book club discussion material too. The prejudices and inequalities based on the color of a persons’ light in their hand gives an interesting way to talk about the difficulties in our society as well. The sacrifices and rewards of selflessness and kindness would also be fitting topics.

Book Recommendations: If you like An Uncommon Blue you should read The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Beyonders series Brandon Mull, and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.

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