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Category Archives: Action and Adventure

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Growing up Jake thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating man in the world.  He loved to hear his grandfather’s stories about life in the Welsh orphanage where he had been sent as a boy to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman mesmerized Jake with tales of his childhood friends and their peculiar gifts. One could hold fire in her hand. Another could levitate.  Another was invisible.  Still another had amazing strength.  To add to the intrigue, there were photographs, strange and haunting photographs, of these children displaying their unusual gifts.

But as time passed and Jake grew older, he began to realize that these stories and even the photographs were too fantastic to be true.  In time, Jake came to see them as merely a kind of family fairytale – that is, until the night that everything changed.

When Jake’s grandfather is attacked in the woods behind his home, the police blame wild dogs. But Jake was there, and he saw the attacker. He was no dog. He was terrifying.  And he was right out of one of Grandpa Portman’s stories.

Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him – just like no one believed Grandpa Portman.  To confront the nightmares and fears that consume Jake’s life, his parents try therapy, drugs, and distractions. Eventually Jake tries to convince them to let him travel, with his father, to Wales to see if he can find out more about Grandpa Portman and the place where his strange stories originated. Reluctantly they agree, hoping it will put to rest Jake’s belief in the truth of these tales.

However, there on the island of Cairnhom, Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, old and decaying, but teeming with information. Digging through rubble and remains of the old house, Jake begins to uncover, artifacts, photographs, and  the dark secrets of Grandpa Portman’s strange and disturbing childhood and the orphans he shared it with.

Set in a quaint Welsh fishing village and in the fog-shrouded Welsh countryside, this novel, part mystery part horror story, takes us with Jake on his this quest.  Who were these children his Grandfather grew up with? Were their gifts real or just fantastic stories? What happened to them? And where are they now?

As intriguing as this story is, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might not be the book for everyone.  I’ll admit that I half hoped the story would turn out to be a mystery of the ordinary variety. But no. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is definitely an extraordinary story.

However for adults and teens who enjoy the strange and the scary, this book is a nice departure from the witches, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves that we see in so many YA novels. The children, although very peculiar, are just children, some darker and creepier than others, but they are not supernatural nor other-worldly. There are monsters in this story, but they former Peculiars whose own attempts at immortality caused their mutation.

Another refreshing thing about this book was the lack of steamy romance.  There is an emerging romance between Jake and one of the teenage orphans (yep, they’re still there), but this is not necessarily central to the plot. Unlike most YA fantasy novels where the sexually-charged relationship between some misfit human and some ultra cool vampire, ghost, or witch is the storyline, in this book the romance is more of a subplot.

Like so many YA novels today, this one is the first in a series. So, it looks like fans will have to read the next novel, The Hollow City, to see if Jake’s romance is taken to the next level.  In fact, we’ll have to read on because at the end of the Miss Peregrine Jake’s adventure is really just beginning.

LANGUAGE

Yes, there are some swear words in this book and some crass expressions.

VIOLENCE

Yes.  Jake and the other orphans must battle the monsters who threaten their safely.  The last 40 pages or so  involve a pretty intense battle between the opposing sides.

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is a kissing scene that starts to get mildly heated and at one point Jake refers to himself as a “horny teenager.”   There are also references to “making out.”

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT

Not really.  As I said, neither the peculiar children nor the monsters they fight are really other-worldly.  But the monsters are scary and some of the children are downright disturbing.

THE MOVIE

To give you some idea of the type of book  this is, Tim Burton will be directing the movie slated to come out in the Summer of 2015.  Check out this article and creepy book trailer.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

To add to the eerie factor, this book is filled with photographs of the Peculiar Children – holding fire, levitating, swarmed by bees, etc.  The creepy thing is that all the photos in the book are actual photos found in various flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. Chilling.

Due to language and crass expressions some parents might feel this book is not suitable for tweens and younger teens. 


The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince, the first book in the Ascension Trilogy, is the story of Sage, a fourteen year old orphan who suddenly finds himself caught up in a clandestine plot of such magnitude, that to fail, will certainly cost him his life.  Sage, along with three other boys,  has been purchased from an orphanage by Bevin Conner, a nobleman of Carthya.  Unfortunately for the boys, Conner is no wealthy benefactor.  In fact, for his diabolical  plan, he needs only one boy – the one who can pass himself off as the long-lost (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron – the only surviving member of the Carthyan  royal family.

Sage has perfected life as a loner and a survivor.  Now he is being forced into “prince lessons” with two rival boys.  On Conner’s luxurious estate, Sage and his rivals undergo reading, sword fighting, horseback riding, and manners lessons.  In the end, only one boy will be chosen to be presented at court as Prince Jaron.  To succeed and be chosen as the False Prince will mean a life  Sage has never wanted and possibly one as Conner’s puppet.  To fail will certainly mean death.

The False Prince is an exciting novel with twists and turns I did not see coming.  I chose it because, unlike all the paranormal romance novels lining bookstore and library shelves, I thought this book might appeal to boys.  I was not wrong.  I’m thrilled to have a book I can recommend to the guys in my English class.

VIOLENCE

Yes, some mild.  But nothing too disturbing.  I think kids from upper elementary age through high school would enjoy this book.

LANGUAGE

None

SEXUAL CONTENT

None.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

None

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

~ What is true freedom?

~ Sage prefers life as an orphan – a life that is sometimes very very difficult.  Why do you think this is?

~ Which of Sage’s rival do you like best the most?  The honest but brutally ambitious Roden or the submissive and sneaky Tobias?

~ Does life as a royal sound like fun, or do you think the cost (high expectations, scheming noblemen, enemy nations, etc.) is too high a price to pay for that level of fame, wealth and power?


Lord of the Flies

Generally the books we review here are current, popular fiction. We review, not what we wish kids are reading, but what they’re actually reading. And while Lord of the Flies is certainly not pop fiction, if you have a child between 8th and 10th grade, there’s a good chance he or she is reading or will be reading it this classic. Recently at my school, a parent decided (some eight chapter in to this twelve chapter book) that the content was too disturbing for her child. That is a decision that every parent has the right to make, but perhaps if she had been a bit more informed, she could have made that call in time for the teacher to make an alternative assignment.

So, spoiler alert…this is a fairly detailed synopsis.

Lord of the Flies is a dystopian novel about a group of British boys stranded on an island after the plane evacuating them from boarding school crashes somewhere in the South Pacific. The first two boys we meet, Ralph and Piggy, find a conch shell and use it to call the other boys together. At this first meeting, we are introduced to Jack and his choir (apparently for British boarding school boys being the head of the choir is akin to being captain of the football team, so Jack wields a lot of clout). In any case, after some discussion about there being no grownups, the boys elect Ralph chief. Jack is clearly ticked that he wasn’t elected, but Ralph placates him by asking him to be in charge of the choir.  Jack declares they will be the hunters. This role seems to satisfy Jack- for the time being.

At first the boys are elated at the realization that there are no grown ups. They see the whole thing as a big adventure. Thy set about right away establishing rules and a system of order.   The conch is the symbol of this order. When Ralph blows it, it is a signal to the other boys to report for an assembly. Any boy holding the conch also holds the power to speak.

The fire is another important symbol in the novel. The boys light their fires by using Piggy’s glasses (another important symbol).  Their first fire gets rapidly out of control and one of the younger children is never seen again. Still, Ralph insists that maintaining a signal fire is their best hope for rescue, and he places Jack and his hunters in charge of keeping the fire going.  Unfortunately, Jack’s primary interest is in hunting and killing pigs.

Ralph works to build shelters and maintain order.  Finally he and Piggy see a ship on the horizon, but their joy turns to panic when they realize the signal fire has gone out.  Ralph is furious with Jack for not maintaining the fire and confronts him.  But Jack has just returned from his first pig kill.  Most of the boys are too excited about the prospect of meat to be too concerned with the missed rescue opportunity. When Piggy criticizes Jack, Jack slaps him breaking one of the lenses of Piggy’s glasses.

The carefree days of freedom the boys enjoyed in their early days on the island are all but gone.  Jack becomes increasingly obsessed with hunting.  Ralph is constantly frustrated with the lack of order, the filth, the fire, and his hair (another symbol).  The littler boys, the Littluns, are having nightmares, fearing a beast that they believe inhabits the island.  In fact, even some of the older boys are beginning to have their own fears about the beast.  A few nights later when two of the boys (twins named Sam and Eric but simply called Samneric) are tending the fire, they awaken to see the body of a dead parachutist, who has drifted down to the island, hovering over them.  They are terrified and run to the others to report that The Beast has attacked them.  The boys organize a hunting party, and their fears are only confirmed when they come across the strange “ape-like creature” hanging in a tree.

After this, Jack tries to convince the others that Ralph in no longer fit to be chief because, among other reasons, Ralph was afraid when they were hunting The Beast.  When none of the boys support Jack, he runs off in tears and says he’s “not playing.”   Before long other boys slip off to join Jack’s tribe.  Soon, only Ralph, Simon, Piggy, and Samneric are left to tend the fire.  The Littluns are fending for themselves almost entirely now.

At this point, Simon, who has always been a bit of a loner, wanders off into the forest.  From his secluded spot he witnesses Jack and the other hunters gleefully kill a mother sow.  The boys then leave the pig’s head on a stick stuck in the ground as an offering to The Beast.  When they leave and Simon is alone with this ghastly offering, he begins having a hallucination that the thing is speaking to him.  She tells him that they cannot kill the beast because the beast is inside them all.  The whole thing is very creepy.  Simon faints or has a seizure.  When he comes to, he goes up the mountain and finds the dead parachutist.  Realizing what it is, he staggers down the mountain to tell the others.  When he arrives at the beach, the other boys, including Ralph and Piggy, are engaged in a frantic dance in which they reenact the killing of the pig.  Simon stumbles into their frenzy and the becomes The Beast in their imagination.  They beat him, bite him, and claw him to death.  His dead body is swept out to sea.

The following morning Ralph is ashamed and despondent.  Piggy refuses to acknowledge what they’ve done, but Ralph calls it murder.  Samneric join them at the fire and all four boys try to convince themselves and each other that they weren’t really there the night before at all.  Once again, Ralph focuses his attention on keeping the fire going – a much more difficult task with only four boys.

That night while they sleep, Ralph, Piggy,and the twins are attacked by Jack’s tribe.  They’ve come for Piggy’s glasses so they can re-start their own fire.  They take them leaving poor Piggy nearly blind and utterly helpless.  Perhaps it is because of this, Piggy is desperate enough to confront Jack, and he convinces Ralph to get the conch so they can go to Jack’s camp and talk some sense into him.  There a fight breaks out between Jack and Ralph, but Piggy holding the conch, commands, for the first time since they’ve arrived, the attention of all the boys.  He speaks eloquently and passionately about rules and order.  Then Roger, the most evil of all the boys on the island, launches a bolder off the side of the cliff.  It hits Piggy and sends him sailing off the side of the mountain to the rocks below, shattering both Piggy’s skull and the conch.  Like Simon, Piggy’s lifeless body is claimed by the sea.   With the conch gone, so is any lingering sense of order or fairness that Jack might still have possessed.  He orders Samneric tied up and Ralph is forced to flee a barrage of spears.

Ralph spends the rest of the day and all that night hiding in terror for his life – especially after he sneaks up on Samneric tending the fire and they tell him of Jack’s plan to have the hunters hunt Ralph.  The next day, in an attempt to smoke Ralph out of his hiding place, Jack’s tribe accidentally sets the entire island on fire.  All the boys run to the water to escape.  As the boys crawl across the sand, Ralph runs smack into a naval officer who had seen the fire.  When the officer asks who is in charge, Jack starts forward then retreats.  Ralph takes responsibility for the boys – then he breaks down and weeps  “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.”

VIOLENCE

This might be one of the reasons some parents find this book so disturbing.  The killing of Simon is horrific. Piggy’s fall from the cliff and subsequent skull shattering is describe in fairly graphic detail. And the slaughter of the pigs is even a bit disturbing.  Most teachers (including me) would argue that this graphic violence is necessary to the plot – to illustrate the level of savagery the boys sink to.  Still, some parents might want to check it out for themselves  The killing of the mother pig is in chapter 8. Simon’s death is in chapter 9.  And Piggy is killed in chapter 11.

LANGUAGE

In chapter 8, when the boys kill the sow, one of them shoves a spear up her anus.  Then all the boys get a huge kick out of repeating the phrase, “Right up her ass!”

SEXUAL CONTENT

None.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

There is the mysterious beast, that comes to life in Simon’s hallucination.  In that moment it is named “Lord of the Flies.”  This is actually a biblical reference to the devil Beelzebub in the Bible.  In other words, one way to look at it, is that the Lord of the Flies is the devil.  At some points in the novel the beast is thought of as a creature apart from the children.  In Simon’s hallucination, the beast reveals she is a part of them.  Scary stuff.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

When I read this novel with my students, I tell them that it reminds me of a slumber party I went to in 7th grade.  One of the fun things about slumber parties is that you stay up way later than any grownups. You are, in essence, on your own – or at least it feels that way.  At one point in this particular party, someone decided to play a practical joke on another girl.  Everyone (including the girl) thought it was funny.  So funny, in fact, that some other girls played their own practical joke.  One prank led to another, and by 2:00 a.m. we had chosen teams and were in an all out prank war.  I remember at one point in the evening thinking that things had gotten out of hand, but I didn’t say anything.  I was driven by both fun and anger to keep going.  No one was hurt. And no damage was done to anyone’s reputation or self-esteem, but property was destroyed and mother’s were called.  In the end, I had no answer for  why I went along except that everybody else was doing it.  It was a mob mentality.  Now, if a few 12 year old girls can get carried away in one evening.  Imagine what a group of 12 year old boys would do after several months.  Well, we don’t have to imagine it.  William Golding has shown us.

QUESTIONS

– Are people basically good or basically evil?

-What would happen if we lived without rules?

-Is it rules that keep us civilized or is it our natural goodness or sense of right and wrong?  Do we need rules to keep us from sinking into chaos or savagery?

-What is a mob mentality?  Why are people so susceptible to mob behavior?



Cryptid Hunters is another great read by author Roland Smith. Since being a school teacher tires me out by the end of the day, I tend to choose some books for easy reading. This book is full of action and adventure, much like Smiths’ other books.
Grace and Marty, thirteen-year-old twins are sent away to live with their uncle Wolfe when their parents are not found after their airplane crashes. Besides getting to know their uncle, the twins find out that he is very interested in cryptozoology, the study of animals, such as the Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster, and the Mokelembembe, whose existence have not yet been proven scientifically. Wolfe sets up an expedition to the Congo in central Africa to find what is believed to be the last remaining Mokelembembe, a small dinosaur slightly larger than an elephant. He is in a race against time since his enemy in the scientific field, Dr. Noah Blackwood, is also setting up an expedition.
Grace and Marty try to convince Uncle Wolfe to take them on the expedition, but he refuses. Grace really wants to go on the expedition since she experiences nightmares and thinks they are connected to somewhere in the Congo. The twins end up in the Congo, but the way they get there is quite “air”xilirating. Along the way, Marty and Grace find out the truth about their family and Uncle Wolfe.
LANGUAGE
There was no inappropriate language in this book.
VIOLENCE
The most violence that occurs is some tranquilizer darts being shot at some of the villains and a fire being set to destroy the carcass of a dinosaur.
SEXUAL CONTENT
None
SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS
The most supernatural thing in this book is the mentions of the cryptids and the hunt for the Mokelembembe. In my opinion, these are more mythical, but possibly real creatures truly not yet discovered.
MORE GREAT READS FROM ROLAND SMITH (these books are wonderful for upper elementary and middle school students who like fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat adventure)
Elephant Run Peak I.Q. Book One: Independence Hall Storm Runners
Storm Runners: The Surge

Review by John McClellan (Middle school science teacher, father of three boys)


I’m not sure where to begin. Not only is it difficult to summarize a 100 chapter, 460 page book, but Life of Pi might just be one on the most complex books I’ve ever read.  The plot is fairly simple, if not fantastical.  Life of Pi tells the story of Piscine Patel, a sixteen year old Indian boy who becomes stranded in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, a orangutan, and a bengal tiger.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The shipwreck that sets Piscine’s ordeal in motion does not happen until some 30 chapters into the novel.  The novel begins with an Author’s Note in which Martel tells his readers how he happened across the story of Piscine.  Of course in real life there is no Piscine Patel, but it’s a great literary technique that draws the reader in and makes Piscine’s story all the more intriguing.

The rest of the novel is divided in to three parts.  In Part One, Toronto and Pondicherry, we learn who Piscine Patel is – an Indian boy growing up happily at his father’s zoo and deeply committed to his faiths.  Pi, as he calls himself, is a devout Hindu.  Since his parents are not particularly religious, they find it startling and perplexing when they discover that not only is Pi a devout Hindu, but also a devout Christian and a practicing Muslim.  Pi’s faiths are in some ways tangential to the story of his survival.  He relies on prayer to get through each day, but the story is far more about the practical business of Pi’s survival (getting food and water and not being eaten by the tiger) than about a spiritual journey.  Yet in the end, the concepts of myth, truth, and reality will all be called into question.  What questions Martel wants his readers to ask about faith are unclear.

The second part of the novel, The Pacific, is the where the action is.  It is the 70’s, and Pi’s parents have decided to sell the zoo animals and leave India for political reasons.  The family and many of the animals are on a ship bound for Canada, when a freak explosion causes the ship to sink.  Only Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker make it out alive.  Oddly, it is not Richard Parker whose blood lust takes out the zebra and orangutan.  It’s the hyena’s.  He’s a disgusting creature that even Pi, an animal loving vegetarian, can’t warm up to.  Soon, however, the hyena gets what’s coming to him when Richard Parker kills and eats him.  Now there are two.

Fortunately for Pi, the lifeboat contains a locker of survival supplies,including food and water.  Unfortunately, he is still trapped on a lifeboat with a hungry, cranky Bengal tiger.  After nearly giving up in despair, Pi decided his only hope is to train Richard Parker. Pi must show the tiger who’s boss – establish dominance.  He does this using a whistle, the rocking motion of the boat, and his own urine. The book give an extremely detailed account of Pi’s other survival efforts and struggles – collection of water, building a raft for fishing (and for getting away from Richard Parker), finding food.  Survival on a lifeboat, with our without a Tiger, is rough. The supplies don’t hold out forever, and Pi is often on the brink of death from starvation or dehydration.  As if living on a lifeboat with a Tiger were not bizarre enough, Pi’s experiences become even more fantastical as the story goes on. Soon we begin to question Pi’s story, if not his sanity.

For example, once, while Pi is suffering from dehydration-induced blindness, he happens upon another lifeboat containing a blind passenger.  The two have a rather amusing conversation (considering their circumstances) until Pi’s new friend inadvertently wanders into Richard Parker’s territory.  The good news is that Richard Parker’s hunger is certainly staved off, and Pi is able to gather enough supplies from the poor man’s lifeboat to live to see another day himself.  There is also an island of algae inhabited only by meerkats.  Pi is able to live there quite satisfied until he discovers the island is carnivorous.

Finally, finally in the third section of the book, Infirmary, Tamatlan, Mexico, Pi and Richard Parker wash up on the shores of Mexico. The first thing the tiger does, much to Pi’s dismay, is jump off the boat and run into the jungle never to be seen again.  While he is in the hospital, some men from the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport, come to interview Pi in hopes of finding out what happened to the ship that sank.  Pi relays his entire ordeal to the men, but they insist they do not believe him.  Finally, he offers them another version.  In this much shorter story, Pi tells them that with him on the lifeboat were a Chinese sailor, a disgusting and cruel French cook, and his mother.  Wait.  What? The second version is even more horrific than the first, which, while disturbing at times, still had an element of charm and humor to it.  The people version does not.  It does, however, strangely resemble the animal version.  The horrible French cook cuts off the leg of the Chinese sailor – just like the hyena bit off the leg of the zebra.  Eventually the cook turns on Pi’s mother and kills her violently.  He decapitates her, just like the hyena decapitates he orangutan.  If in reality, the Frenchman is the hyena, the Chinese sailor is the zebra, and the orangutan is Pi’s mother.  We are left to wonder if Pi is actually Richard Parker.  Was the earlier, much much lengthier story, merely Pi’s way of coping with a truth too horrible to imagine?  It’s never clear. If so, what questions, if any, is the author raising about the way we use stories and myths to deal with life’s difficulties?  Remember, Pi is deeply religious, and all three of his religions spring from great stories.

Do I recommend this book?  It’s a tough read.  Few younger readers will be able to hang in there for all 100 chapters, especially the one’s that go on and on about this detail or that of Pi’s survival.  (And of course there is the violence – see below.) Yet as boring as the book was at times,  I always found myself wanting to read further.  Oh, and I can’t wait for the movie!  My guess is that it will be “Disney-ed” up enough to make it suitable for those how don’t want to endure the violence and occasional tediousness of the novel.

LANGUAGE

Language is not a big issue in this book.  Early on Pi does explain that he shortened his name from Piscine to Pi because the kids in school kept calling him “Pissing.”

VIOLENCE

Most of the violence is animal on animal violence, but it’s fairly gruesome.  Perhaps the most disturbing element is the cannibalism  that is present in both the animal and people versions of Pi’s story.

SEXUAL CONTENT

In the first section of the book, Pi does discuss animal husbandry briefly.  That’s about it.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

As I said in the summary, Pi is religious.  Very religious. Some parents might find his unwillingness to “pick a team” troubling.  Some would argue that you can’t simultaneously be a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim.  It’s unlikely that younger readers will draw a parallel between the questions raised by Pi’s stories and the stories of faith.  I’m not even sure the author meant to make that connection.  If not, Pi’s faith is really almost unnecessary to the story.

FOR DISCUSSION

Why does Pi become a Christian?  A Muslim?  Can you be both?

Why do you think the author includes such details about how Piscine got his name or how he made is raft?  Does this add to the story or make it harder to read?

Pi says that you can get used to anything. Do you think this is true?

Pi says he believes that Richard Parker saved his life? How is this so?

What do you think would be the worst part about being stranded on a lifeboat?  The hunger and thirst?  The fear?  The loneliness?

 


  It’s unusual for the main character of a book to be the bad guy, but this is the case in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl.   Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old criminal mastermind, who seeks to restore his family to billionaire status by stealing the sacred book of the fairy people.  After decoding the fairy language, Artemis discovers the location of the fairies’s magic restoration ritual.  There, under an ancient oak tree, Artemis captures Holly Short, an agent for LEPrecon (think fairy Interpol) and holds her for ransom in exchange for fairy gold.

LEPrecon’s response is to send in their retrieval team.  This is tricky, however, since fairies aren’t allowed to enter human dwellings without permission. In comes the unscrupulous, kleptomaniac troll, Mulch Diggums! His principles and criminal record have long since been compromised, so he’s the perfect person (ummm creature) to break the rules and dig his way into Fowl Manor.  Unfortunately, the fairies underestimate both Fowl, who stays one step of ahead of them throughout the novel, and Holly, who is able to break free from her cell and finish the magic restoration ritual.  Together, Holly and Butler, Artemis’s body guard and butler, defeat the troll, and the fairies are forced to give Artemis the ransom.

In a last ditch effort to regain their gold (and their dignity), LEPrecon makes one last attempt at defeating Artemis, but again he outsmarts them.  Luckily, even a 12 year old evil genius has a soft spot.  For Artemis, it’s his mother who has been in a catatonic-like state since his father disappeared months before.  Artemis returns half the gold in exchange for a wish – the return of his mother’s sanity.  Holly uses her magic to grant this wish.

Now, before we judge the wicked Artemis too harshly for being a thief and a kidnapper, there are several more Artemis Fowl novels and many more fairy adventures.  My guess is, he gets a chance to redeem himself.

LANGUAGE

I’ll have to start highlighting the naughty words so I can give an accurate count, but I don’t recall any bad words in this book. That’s not to say one or two didn’t slip past me.

VIOLENCE

It’s possible some kids could find the final fight scene between the troll, Butler, and Holly a little disturbing.  I’d say it’s a level or two above cartoon-level violence.  It’s not enough to upset my kiddos.

SEXUAL CONTENT

None.  This was a welcome change after my last couple of reads full of teenage sexual angst.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Magic rituals, spells, fairies, centaurs, trolls.  Some parents who are squeamish about pagan culture, will not want their kiddos reading this book.

WHAT TO DISCUSS

How is reading a novel in which the bad guy is also sort of the hero affect your reading of the novel?  Did you find yourself rooting for Artemis or the fairies?

Did you find the use of spells and magic troubling?  Exciting?  Interesting?

How is this book like other books in the spy/espionage genre?  How is it different?


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?