and what we wish they were

Monthly Archives: October 2012

Whew!  I’m exhausted. I just spent the last week in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago. It was brutal. Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen year old girl who has grown up in a society divided into five factions – each dedicated to a particular virtue.  Beatrice as been raised Abnegation, a faction dedicated to selflessness, but now she is of age to choose her own faction.  Unfortunately for Beatrice, the aptitude test designed to help young people choose, has come back inconclusive.  She is not fully suited for Abnegation, nor any other faction.  She is Divergent.  Beatrice doesn’t know what this means. She only knows (thanks to a warning from Tory, a kindly, albeit cryptic, test administrator) that being Divergent is very dangerous.  After covering up Beatrice’s test results, Tory admonishes her not to tell anyone she is Divergent.

This makes choosing a faction very difficult for Beatrice, who has never really felt she belongs among the selfless Abnegation.  On choosing day, Beatrice surprises herself  and her parents by choosing Dauntless, the faction devoted to bravery.

Most of the book is devoted to Beatrice’s (who renames herself Tris once she joins her new faction) training to become Dauntless.  Initiates who fail training must live Factionless – a fate worse than death in a society that places “faction before blood.”  Initiates must undergo weapons training, hand-to-hand combat training, and worst of all, fear simulation exercises in which trainees are injected with a serum that cause hallucinations of their worst fears.  While all this is going on, poor Tris must deal with injuries, homesickness, sadistic roommates, and a growing suspicion that Dauntless leaders might be hiding something.  It is Tris’s handsome trainer, Four, who first suspects what Tris is hiding.  Lucky for her, he is a good guy, and he has a thing for her. Like her test administrator, he helps her hide the fact that she is Divergent.

Eventually things escalate, and Tris and Four discover the truth about Dauntless.  Together they foil Dauntless’s plan, but not without a bloody battle.  And not for good.  I guess I’ll have to read the sequel, Insurgent to find out what happens next.

While violence and sexual tension might make some parents squeamish about this novel, Divergent has the potential to open some very fruitful discussions about bravery and sacrifice – something many of today’s teens know little about.

LANGUAGE

There might have been a few four letter words, but not enough to make the language a disturbing factor for me.

VIOLENCE

Oh my, yes.  In this novel we are treated to descriptions of brutal beatings, near drownings, a guy getting stabbed in the eye with a butter knife.  I’m not a complete weenie when it comes to violence, but this book was just exhausting.  It was like one long action movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t put it down, but I’m not sure it’s the right book for my sensitive eleven year old.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Since this is a teen novel, it’s no surprise that a romance blossoms between Tris and Four.  They only kiss, but there is a sensuousness to their relationship that might not be appropriate for younger readers.  This book is by no means steamy, but she definitely likes him for more than his eyes.  Also, in one of her fear simulations, the fear Tris must face is sex with Four.  She fears intimacy.  She faces it by saying no, and after the simulation, he assures her that he does not have experience in that department either and that she is under no pressure. Of course, I would have preferred he said he does’t believe in sex outside of marriage, but I guess that’s just too much to hope for in a modern romance – even one for teens.  I just hope Tris and Four don’t  take it to the next level in the sequel.  I definitely felt like the author left that door open.

SUPERNATRUAL ELEMENTS

There are no supernatural elements in Divergent.  However, in one of her near-drowning scenes, Tris recalls the waters of her baptism.  I thought that was nice.  Also in the acknowledgments, Roth’s first thank you is to God and His Son for her blessings. This bodes well for a chaste sequel!

WHAT TO DISCUSS

Divergent is a dystopian novel.  What other dystopian novels are popular for kids today?  (The Hunger Games, Among the Hidden, The Ugglies, Matched…)

Was the violence too much, or did it add to the story by helping readers imagine what life was like for Tris and the other Dauntless?

To join Dauntless, Tris must, for all intents and purposes, leave her parents forever.  What does this say about her?

Tris is not terribly sympathetic to some of her fellow initiates.  Is Tris a likable character?

What role dose forgiveness play in this novel?

What is the role of self-sacrifice in this novel?  Selflessness?  Selfishness?

What is bravery?

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Shiver is the story of young girl who falls in love with a mythical creature. No it’s not Twilight, but it’s close. In this story the girl, Grace, loves a werewolf, not a vampire. Since she was attacked by wolves as a child, Grace has been fascinated and drawn to wolves – particularly the wolf with yellow eyes who was there the day she was attacked (but he didn’t bite her) and who continues to watch her from the woods beyond her house.

When a boy from Mercy Falls, Grace’s hometown, is attacked and (supposedly) killed by wolves, the locals take to the woods with their guns. After some fast thinking and white lying, Grace is able to stop the hunters but not before they get off a few shots. When she returns home, Grace finds a naked boy curled up and shivering on her deck. He has been shot. Grace instantly recognizes the boy as “her wolf” and rushes him to the hospital. Fortunately it was just a flesh wound and werewolves are crazy fast healers, so the two duck out of the hospital and head straight to Grace’s bedroom. To make the plot less complicated, Stiefvater has given Grace parents who are entirely self-absorbed and rarely home. This makes it easy for Grace to stash Wolf Boy Sam in her bedroom night after night. Even though they have been longing for one another for years (yes, technically Sam has been a wolf every time Grace has ever seen him, but there has been longing nonetheless) they maintain self-control – for a while.

The remainder of the novel deals with Sam and Grace falling ever deeper in love and dreading the approaching winter since it is cold weather that causes Sam to turn into a wolf every year. To further add to their angst, Sam is worried this will be his last year to get to be a boy during the warmer months. Eventually all werewolves just stay wolves.

When the schoolmate of Grace who had been “killed” by wolves weeks before begins showing up in Mercy Falls, things get even more complicated. He is convinced that Grace must have a cure since she herself was attacked by wolves as a child but never actually became one. Turns out, there is something that just might work.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll just say that in the end, the cure does work for some, but not all, of the werewolves in this story. Even if I didn’t know there was a sequel, I’d know by the way this book ends, that Stiefvater has left the door wide open for another best seller.

LANGUAGE

Yes, some. I don’t remember any instances when the characters take the Lord’s name in vain, and they don’t drop any F bombs, but some four letter words do fly.

VIOLENCE

There isn’t a lot of violence per se (except when Sam recounts the story of a dog fight he was involved in as a boy), but the descriptions of the process of the change from human to wolf might be disturbing for some.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Spoiler alter!….Yep, they give in. It isn’t graphic, but it is sensual. Shortly after their encounter, Sam turns back into a wolf (the two incidents are not related), so there’s just the one time, but I’m guessing the romance gets a lot more heated (and frequent) in the sequels.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Are werewolves supernatural or just mythical? I’m going to go with mythical, so I’ll say there are no supernatural elements in this story.

WHAT TO DISCUSS

  • Why are Grace’s parents so uninvolved in her life? Does this affect who she is?
  • Grace and Sam fall hard and fast. They seem to have some sort of connection. Is this realistic? In other words, do they really have a connection? Are they really in love? (Remember Grace only knows Wolf-Sam until several chapters in.) Or are they just hot for each other?
  • Why are there so many books for teenagers about vampires and werewolves? What is the fascination?
  • How is this book like Twilight? How is it different?

Welcome to Book Smart – A Parents’ Guide to What Kids are Reading.  I began this blog, along with some friends, to help parents help their kids make wise choices about books.  I am convinced a steady diet of bad literature can be seriously damaging to a young person’s academic, emotional, and spiritual development.  Fortunately, there are a lot of great books available for young people.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of disturbing books out there too.

Knowing this,  I have tried to read what my kids are reading.  My own four children are not only avid readers, but they are are also required to read a lot for school. It has been impossible for me to keep up.  Also, I teach ninth grade English, and my students are constantly asking for book recommendations.  I take that responsibility seriously. I feel that I should know something about a book, beside the fact that it is popular, before I suggest a child read it.   So, to be better informed for my own children and for my students, I’ve enlisted help.   The other contributors to this blog and I will be  reading a youth or young adult books and giving our readers plot summaries  and a heads up about possibly troublesome content.

Who are we?  First and foremost we are Christians – Protestant and Catholic.  We are mothers and fathers, College students and singles.  We all love books and love kids.  We also all have different levels of tolerance for things like violence, language, sexual content, and supernatural elements.  Our goal is not to tell you what your kids should or should not read or even to heavily critique the books we review.  Our goal is merely to  enjoy some good books, endure some not so good books, and inform our readers what we find out in the process.

Please feel free to share your comments and insights as well.  We’d love to hear form you!

Laura Catherine

p.s.  Please bear with us.  We are just getting started and hope to have more reviews posted soon.