Beatrice has been raised in a future dystopian society where personality influenced factions are more important than one's relations. When, on her 16th birthday, she must choose to remain in Abnegation (which requires a life of self-sacrifice with which she has never felt comfortable) or follow her heart to the very different life of the Dauntless, she chooses to become Dauntless. Further complicating matters is that her personality test indicated that she was really Divergent, which is very dangerous since such people don't fit one particular mold, and she is told to keep this secret. Once in the Dauntless compound, she embarks on an initiation course which includes weapons, fighting, and evil cohorts who think that she should fail. Despite the difficulties, Tris (as she now calls herself) triumphs, using her Abnegation ways to her advantage, and drawing on her inner strength to change her views on the world. Helping her is Four, a trainer with whom she develops a romantic bond and with whom she has more in common than she could imagine. When things go wrong in the larger world and the Dauntless are manipulated to attack the Abnegation, Tris and Four manage to survive when many of both groups are destroyed. The next book, Insurgent, due in May, promises even more Hunger Game style violence and adventure.
Strengths: Wow. At 487 pages, this kept me reading past my bedtime. I was enthralled with Tris' search for identity and the lengths to which she was willing to go to change who she was. In a way, the larger conflict that results in Tris' parents being killed got in the way. I would rather have seen the world as envisioned by Roth be a fairly happy place, and read more about how Tris worked within that world. But what fun would that have been? I also really like the romance between Tris and Four, especially this exchange (pg. 337): "Fine. So you're not pretty. So?" He kisses my cheek. "I like how you look. You're deadly smart. You're brave." That's way better than all the vampire stuff out there.
Weaknesses: Violence. Lots of violence. A boy getting a knife in his eye while he sleeps. People jumping to their death. People being shot. At close range. Sex is also mentioned, and this is the hard part. There is nothing more than kissing and hugging going on, but Tris and Four talk about someday perhaps having sex. Four appears in Tris' "fear landscape", and she is afraid of intimacy with him. While I don't have a problem with this, some 6th graders will freak out over this, so I will have to see if the other middle schools buy this before purchasing it for my school. That said, I am encouraging both my own daughters read this because it was really good.
Tom Edison, a descendant of the inventor, is happy with his friends and his New York life, even though he is frequently in trouble when his own inventions go bad. This life is imperiled when his father gets a job offer in Kansas. When trying to clean up his workshop, Tom and his friends come across a clue that may help him find Edison's formula for creating gold and indicate that his great great grandfather and other famous men of the time were involved in a secret alchemical society. To complicate the search, a descendent of Nicola Tesla, Curtis Keller, is bound to avenge the wrongs done to Tesla.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure, nice historical tie-ins, and a main character that students should like. Always need more mysteries, and I think this will be popular.
Weaknesses: Bad cover, and a vague feeling of being a twist on National Treasure, complete with aroom full of gold that the children decide to abandon for the greater good.
Bobby and his family are driving their grandmother from Cleveland to Florida after the death of their grandfather in 1959. They are supposed to see Civil War battlefields along the way. The trip is not an easy one, and when the car is damaged, the family has to ride back on the bus. This story is interspersed with the story of Jacob, a young black boy who is sent to stay with relatives. When Jacob goes missing, his family also tries to get on the bus but runs into an overcrowding situation, and the fact that they are black does not override their need to get to find Jacob. Bobby, who is not used to seeing "chocolate people" is moved by their plight.
Strengths: This has a Watson's Go To Birmingham feel to it, and collections where books about Civil Rights are in high demand will want to consider this title.
Weaknesses: The alternating viewpoints made this somewhat confusing, and the overwrought emotions of everyone involved make this a difficult read. I agree with Publishers Weekly that this is beautifully crafted but "challenging for the target audience".