Tuesday, December 18, 2012

YA Reading, Round 8: Action/Adventure

I distinctly remember 4th grade as being my biggest reading year as a child. We had a classroom library, and in addition to the books we read as a class, my teacher really encouraged independent reading for pleasure. I read such a variety of genres that year; I was really into the American Girl series and Gary Paulsen adventures AND Bruce Coville sci-fi comedies. This week’s topic in my class, Action/Adventure, immediately took me back to those days of Gary Paulsen, and I loved it. This was the most fun week yet!

All of these stories are plot-driven and fast-paced. There’s not a lot to think about—you just zoom through the story, hooked and wondering what happens next.

Will Hobbs’ Crossing the Wire is about fifteen-year-old Victor’s quest to cross the US–Mexican border so he can find work in the US to send money home to his mother and siblings. In Victor’s world, there are many ways to cross the border, but all of them are risky. You could pay a smuggler to get you across, but Victor doesn’t have that kind of money. Instead, Victor stows away on trains and trucks, hikes through the dessert, and encounters every potentially fatal extreme—scorching heat, freezing cold, hunger. And that doesn’t even consider the people he meets along the way, never positive if they’re out to hurt or help him. Victor is a character who just keeps pushing. He won’t give up, and the story follows that same mentality—it’s one thing after another, enough to keep the reader engrossed. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is a story to most kids/teens; they couldn’t imagine it as their own struggle, but it’s real life to many people trying to find a new life. Victor’s story can put readers in someone else’s shoes and consider what life is like across the wire. If your readers like this, Will Hobbs has written several more adventure books for YAs.

At the opening of Roland Smith’s Peak, a teenage boy is arrested for climbing a New York City skyscraper. Ok. Think about that for a second. It only goes up (pun intended) from there. Our main character, aptly named Peak, has been climbing his whole life; it’s in his genes. After his run-in with the law in New York, Peak heads overseas to stay with his father while things cool off back in New York. His father, by the way, runs a climbing company and his new mission for Peak is to get him to be the youngest climber to summit Mt. Everest…with his company. And Peak, despite knowing his father’s selfish motives, is totally up for it. To say Everest is dangerous is an understatement. During Peak’s climb, we learn about every slight misstep that is potential for disaster. Not only is the story full of action, it’s also about Peak’s relationship with his parents, making big decisions and sacrifices, and determining what’s really important. There are so many details in this story to further explore—names and dates and places. Not gonna lie…as I was reading this, I was Googling the crap out of Mt. Everest. I’m too much of a chicken to have caught the climbing bug, but something like Everest is just too amazing to completely ignore.

Stormbreaker is the first book in Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, and I dug it as a quick and thrilling ride. Fourteen-year-old Alex lives with his uncle in London until suddenly, beloved Uncle dies in a car crash. They claim he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but Alex knows that’s not possible. Something’s up. After his own investigations, Alex discovers his uncle was actually murdered and is, in fact, a spy for Britain’s top intelligence agency. And now that Alex knows all this, he’s essentially blackmailed into finishing his uncle’s work. Suddenly, Alex is training with the toughest men in the country and weaseling his way into the circles that probably killed his uncle. Stormbreaker doesn’t have much beyond action and adventure—only minimal moments of character introspection and growth—but it will attract a reluctant reader and excite those readers that want an on-the-surface thrill ride. And lucky for them, this is just the first in the (so far) 9-book series. (Also, there is apparently a movie.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Revisiting Anne, Part 3: Anne of the Island

Anne’s world continues to expand with L.M. Montgomery’s third in the series, Anne of the Island. After spending two years teaching in Avonlea, it’s finally time for Anne to head to Kingsport to attend Redmond College. She’s leaving her beloved Green Gables and her beloved best friend behind for a new adventure she’s not so certain about.

But of course, it’s Anne. She finds her niche, after a while, in a sweet and cozy little house with wonderful new friends and roommates. She excels in her “new life” away from the Island, while, of course, never letting it get too far out of sight or mind.

Anne, at heart, is a local girl, a homebody. She relishes in familiarity, surrounded by the people and places she holds dear; her nostalgia for these things only strengthen the bonds between Anne and the things she loves, finding comfort in the memories and associations she’s created in Avonlea. Though this Anne is actually a great deal younger than me, I think this is the version of Anne I relate to most. Her level of contentment with things “as they are” is higher than most; and though she craves new adventures and new interactions, she has a tendency to fall back on the past if things get too new and unfamiliar.

This Anne seems to grow up quickly. It’s her first real realization that one must grow up—the dreaming and scheming of childhood cannot last forever. But the lovely thing about Anne is that she disregards that standard. She sticks to her dreamy, romantic notions because she wants to. So while the story starts with an Anne who feels the pressure to “grow up,” who you fear will lose her youthful optimism, four years pass at Redmond, and Anne grows just as we hoped she would—maintaining her childlike wonder and gaining a level of maturity simply by becoming self-aware, understanding what it means to grow up.

I enjoyed this one much more than Anne of Avonlea. I felt we really got to experience life with Anne, instead of viewing her life in brief snippets. As Anne starts to experience real things—like loss and friendship and figuring out if it’s love or not—we get to see how she handles everything that comes at her. And it’s exciting to follow this character as she encounters important points in her life and see how she responds…and if it fits with how you believe she is as a person. Anne is growing up, and though it’s bittersweet, you’re somehow confident she’ll never really change.

My favorite thing about Anne has always been her ability to think about every situation, no matter how small. To look at it in the big picture, to truly appreciate it, to fully understand it, and to get as much out of it as she can. And then be able to present her thoughts in such a poignant, poetical way. Maybe it’s just the author’s voice, but I like to believe that’s who Anne is.

“It has been a prosy day for us,” she said thoughtfully, “but to some people it has been a wonderful day. Some one has been rapturously happy in it.”  

She felt very old and mature and wise—which showed how young she was. She told herself that she longed greatly to go back to those dear merry days when life was seen through a rosy mist of hope and illusion, and possessed an indefinable something that had passed away forever. Where was it now—the glory and the dream? 

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have the eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves—so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in which to delight, and for which to be thankful. 

She wondered if old dreams could haunt rooms—if, when one left forever the room where she had joyed and suffered and laughed and wept, something of her, intangible and invisible, yet nonetheless real, did not remain behind like a voiceful memory.

And L.M. Montgomery is a true fan of the em-dash. And I am such a fan of that. Also…Gilbert!!