Durst, Sarah Beth. The Girl Who Could Not Dream
November 3rd 2015 by Clarion Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Sophie's parents run the Dreamcatcher Bookstore, the only book store in their small town, and have a secret shop in the basement where they sell dreams. Sophie doesn't dream, and when she drank a dream, was able to bring one of the characters from the dream into our world. She loves Monster, who is her constant companion, but finds it hard to get along with her classmates. She delivers dream catchers to Madison and Lucy because they suffer from nightmares. It's not an altruistic act-- she takes their old dream catachers, and her parents distill their dreams from them to sell. Sophie offers a dream catcher to new classmate Ethan, who seems to be suffering from lack of sleep, and he surprises her by wanting to sit with her at lunch and talk to her. When Ethan is attacked by a nightmare animal and sees Monster, Sophie has some explaining to do. She doesn't know the whole story, but suspects a customer of her parents', Mr. Nightmare. When the book store is trashed and her parents disappear, Sophie needs Ethan's help as well as that of Monster and a surly unicorn named Glitterhoof to find out what is going on. The group uncovers a sinister plot to breed nightmarish monsters and knows that Mr. Nightmare must be taken down.
Strengths: I like Durst's writing, and this was a fresh approach to fantasy. The details of collecting, distilling and selling dreams were new, and both of Sophie's parents are alive! The villain isn't completely evil at first, which is nice, and Glitterhoof is delightfully snarky. A good addition to a magical realism collection.
Weaknesses: A little heavy on Sophie's social awkwardness.
What I really think: Like the story, but might have trouble getting middle school students to check it out with this cover. Yes, that's how Monster is described, but seeing a picture of him just makes him look ridiculous.
Woolston, Blythe. MARTians.
October 13th 2015 by Candlewick Press
When Zoe's school is closed by the governor as a cost saving measure (why tax people and use their money for things they don't want?), she finds herself graduated and in line for a job at ALLMart. Her mother, knowing that the house is foreclosed and it's a matter of time before she has nowhere to live, abandons Zoe and moves to the city. This is not unusual in the dystopian landscape that Zoe inhabits; money is tight, consuming merchandise is the driving factor in the economy, and whole neighborhoods are abandoned when people can't meet their mortgages. After she gets a job at ALLMart, Zoe realizes there is no bus from her house, and Timmer, a fellow employee, comes to her rescue. He is living in an abandoned strip mall with a little boy who won't speak after being abandoned by his family, and invites her to stay with him. She does, all the while hoping that her mother will call. Things go from bad to worse when she realizes her paycheck goes mostly back to ALLMart to pay for her uniform, and a friend of Timmer's brings a baby home from the care center at ALLMart, and the group has to find a way to turn it over to the authorities without being caught. Zoe tries to retrieve her mother's belongings from storage when the contents are about to be auctioned, but that's the bright spot-- things don't get any better in this realistically dystopian book.
Strengths: This was a compelling read for me, and quite the social commentary. Well-written, smart, and darkly funny.
Weaknesses: This doesn't end in any satisfying kind of way, and I would have liked more information on how the society got to the point described.
What I really think: This is adult science fiction. It's an odd trim size, has a nondescript cover, tiny print, and is oddly philosophical. This might go over well in high school, but I don't see middle school students understanding it.