by Libba Bray
When a plane full of beauty queens headed for the final leg of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant crashes on an island in the Atlantic, all but 13 of the contestants perish. All of the stranded girls have their own priorities: Miss New Hampshire wants to figure out how to survive on the island, Miss Texas wants to continue to practice for the competition, Miss Rhode Island needs to find her medication, and Miss New Mexico has to figure out a new hairstyle that will distract from the airline tray stuck in her forehead. Surviving the elements is the first challenge, but the girls will have to learn to love and respect themselves and each other in order to make it through the trials that await them on the island. While the beginning of the story focuses on the skeptical Miss New Hampshire (Adina Greenberg), we get to see each of the contestants’ thoughts and backstories as the book goes on. The story is occasionally interrupted by commercial breaks, and includes product placement footnotes from our sponsor, The Corporation.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book was actually overtly feminist. It’s a satire, so it gets a lot of flak for having characters who are just stereotypes, but Bray turns a lot of the stereotypes on their heads. There are a lot of characters who never get a name beyond Miss [state], but even this gets some tongue-in-cheek attention near the end of the book. For a story with such overt political messages, it is shockingly funny! Even though the characters discuss some complex political issues, the book avoids a didactic after-school special directness by staging these conversations in settings that would be either realistically appropriate for such conversations or hilariously inappropriate for them. Of course a group of beauty pageant contestants would discuss Feminism 101 over campfire. And a backstory about colonialism is totally pillow talk material before oral sex! But, race politics while sinking in quicksand? Well, that’s just awesome. While the book sort of spirals out of logical control in the last quarter, none of the messages are lost in the chaos, and it’s still pretty funny. There are some glaring plot holes, of course, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief for what I got in return: a socially responsible survival satire starring a group of kick-ass ladies.
Recommended for mature teens who are comfortable enough with reading non-descriptive sex scenes. Ideal for teens who are interested in social issues, but funny enough to be enjoyed by teens looking for something silly.
by Tamora Pierce
Keladry wants to be a knight. Fortunately, the page program for knights in training has been open to girls for the last ten years. Unfortunately, Kel is the first girl to enroll, and a lot of people want to stand in her way. It’s hard enough to get by with so many boys avoiding her or outright picking on her, but the training master has also put Kel on probation for her first year in order to voice his displeasure at having to admit a girl to the program. Having grown up with the stoic Yamani, Kel has learned to master her emotions and rise above such provocation. She is determined to show them all just what she can do.
Your basic girl power story, with a girl showing that she can excel among male peers. What I enjoyed about this one was that Kel made sure to not just behave like a boy in order to gain acceptance; although she never wears skirts or dresses at home, she wears them to dinners at training school to remind everyone that she is a girl. It’s rare to find a girl character who wants to do things boys do but doesn’t express a distaste for all things feminine, so I was pretty pleased with Kel as a character. As for the storyline, it’s is pretty obvious, and it gets really cheesy when these birds Kel feeds decide to follow her on a mission and help her out. It seems like the whole series will go on without anyone nice dying, which is always a bummer for me but it makes it a lot better for younger kids who just want an inspirational story.
I would definitely recommend this to kids nowadays, even though it seems like something written in the 80s (it was published in 1999). I think it’s pretty standard fare, and I’ve heard Pierce’s other Tortall stories are more original. It would still be enjoyed by a lot of kids who like the other series set in Tortall by Tamora Pierce, The Ranger’s Apprentice series, books with girl characters doing boy things, or castle fiction in general. Some book sites say this is for 12 and up, but it’s super tame so I would shift the age group to 8-12.
by Patrick Ness
Book two in the Chaos Walking series continues where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off. Todd and Viola have made it to Haven only to find it completely empty save for Mayor Prentiss, who has taken over the town and become president. Viola and Todd are separated and both need to play by the Mayor’s rules in order to see each other again. Instead of being narrated completely by Todd as in the first book, this volume is narrated in turns by Viola and Todd. They are separated for most of the book, only able to contact each other a handful of times. As their time apart lengthens, they begin to wonder if they are on the same side anymore. Todd spends so much energy just getting by under the Mayor’s orders that he becomes complicit in his crimes. Viola finds herself working with a group of mostly female dissidents within Haven called the Answer, run by a morally questionable leader. How far will they both stray from their moral core to be together, and what will happen to New World when the war comes to a head?
Usually sequels lose momentum in the second book, but Patrick Ness keeps the story going at an even faster pace than the first book. The setting, the challenges, and even the characters we got to know in the first book have all changed. More questions about morality come up in this book, and I think it’s a really accurate depiction of how dictatorships start out. People just want to get by, and they compromise their morals to do it. Those who challenge malevolent rulers lose sympathy from regular citizens by making it harder to just get by. While I thought a lot of the tactics the Mayor and the Answer used were true to life, I had a hard time believing Todd’s character development in this book. I liked it as a plot point, but I think it would have taken a bit more to make him go as far as he did. I also thought that some of the crimes he ends up committing would drive more of a wedge between him and Viola, but maybe there will be more consequences in the next book. I do like that they are loyal to each other, and I really hope that they do not end up getting romantic in the next chapter of the story. Despite the somewhat unbelievable jumps in moral boundaries, I loved this book hard. I think it’s really important to show how human rights can be chipped away so easily in a fear-based culture, especially considering the current political war against women’s rights in the western world. That being said, this book isn’t didactic at all and leaves it up to the reader to draw comparisons between their own society and New World.
This book should be read after The Knife of Never Letting Go. See my review here.
by Kristin Cashore
In the Seven Kingdoms, everyone knows that those born with two differently coloured eyes are also born with a Grace–an extraordinary inborn talent for one thing or another. For some, it’s baking a mean mud pie, for others, it may be accounting. For Katsa, it’s being a brutal killing machine. Her talent is unmatched, and her role as the vengeful King Randa’s goon has made her feared throughout the kingdoms. Frustrated at her negative role in life, Katsa takes part in a secret society that tries to do good. It is on one of their missions that she meets a boy who seems to have an identical Grace and who may be part of a larger conspiracy to throw the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil. Brute strength alone won’t fix this problem, and Katsa has to figure out who and how to trust when so much is at stake.
Vancouver KidsBooks started recommending Graceling to young girls who came in to buy Twilight. It is a fantasy novel with romance, mystery, action, and supernatural abilities. There are many differences between this book and the Twilight series, but the most profound contrasts are that this book is socially responsible and incredibly well written. Not an insignificant difference, but a unique one as far as supernatural teen fiction goes. Katsa does not want to get married, can physically overpower all of the males in the book, will not sacrifice her values for romance, and is a natural leader. The male lead is respectful of women, cooperative in heroic situations, and shows no evidence of the creepy controlling-man syndrome seen in Stephenie Meyer’s books. Awesome values aside, this book was exciting and surprising, and I would love to read it again.
Even though Graceling is about a girl, I really hope book hawkers everywhere talk it up to boys as well as girls. It’s got a lot of action, bad-ass characters, surprising twists, and a nice absence of gushy romantic feelings (even if it is slightly romantic). A good book for teens of all ages who like castle fiction or supernatural action. Read before Fire!