Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dystopias-- Real and Fictional

Lake, Nick. In Darkness.
From the Publisher: "In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, Shorty, a poor, fifteen-year-old gang member from the slums of Site Soleil, is trapped in the rubble of a hospital and as he grows weaker, he has visions and memories of his life of violence, his lost twin sister, and of Toussaint L'Ouverture, who liberated Haiti from French rule in 1804."

While this is certainly good coverage of how horrendous the results of this natural disaster were, and the extra historical perspective was interesting, this was not abook for the middle grades. The language is "gritty", and the narrative a bit confusing. A glossary of unfamiliar words would have helped.

Read a more complete review of this title at
YA Books Central , The Happy Nappy Bookseller, The Fourth Musketeer, or Totally Bookalicious.

Walker, Brian F. Black Boy, White School.
From the Publisher: " When 14-year-old Anthony "Ant" Jones from the ghetto of East Cleveland, Ohio, gets a scholarship to a prep school in Maine, he finds that he must change his image and adapt to a world that never fully accepts him. But when he goes home he discovers that he no longer truly belongs there either. "

I had high hopes for this book, but the language and drug use make it one that I am not comfortable handing to students. I saw that one of my students was reading Ellen Hopkins' Crank, and when I asked her about it, she said that she really liked it, but SHE didn't think it was appropriate for a middle school library. She also admitted it would have been weird if I had handed it to her. More in-depth reviews at Bloggin' 'Bout Books, Good Books and Good Wine, Whatchamacallit Reviews, and A Book and a Hug.

Simmons, Kristen. Article 5.
Ember and her mother are just trying to survive in a futuristic society where the Bill of Rights is no longer and the law of the land is the Moral Statues. A terrible war has destroyed most of the major cities, and people are cramped together in the surviving areas, so to cut down on the fighting and lawlessness, the Federal Bureau of Reformation (known as the Moral Militia) has taken over, randomly arresting people, who never come back. When the Moral Militia shows up at Ember’s house, they haul her mother off because she had Ember without being married, and Ember is sent to a reform school as well. To make matters worse, one of the arresting officers is Chase, a former neighbor with a difficult past. Ember loved him. He eventually helps her break out of the school, after she is nearly killed for exposing guards’ misbehavior, and the two take off on an erratic cross country quest to find her mother. They hope that they can find someone to transport Ember to a safe house in an abandoned part of the country so that Chase can get back to his position before being considered AWOL, but they run into all sorts of problems. Chase has promised Ember’s mother that he will take care of her and get her to safety, so even when she runs from him, he finds her and helps her. Post apocalyptic problems constantly arise-- can the two get along well enough to save themselves? I feel a second book in the offing.
Strengths: For futuristic dystopia, this is very strong, plus has a touch of romance. Plausible reason for the change in government, reasonable portrayal of the groups and individuals Ember is fighting, enough bad things happening to people that students will be intrigued.
Weaknesses: All I could think was “Man, I’m too tired to live in a dystopia. Let me be killed in the first strike, because otherwise I’d just be hiding in my house/hovel/cardboard box.” All of the running just made me tired! Students will not have this problem.


  1. I've been wanting to read Ember - thanks for the heads up. I also feel the same way about dystopian - let me be done for at the beginning :)

  2. I really appreciate hearing about the appropriateness of the books you review for the middle school audience. This is a difficult thing to gauge w/o actually reading the book yourself before purchasing, and I feel you are a reliable source of info about this. Thank you!

  3. Article 5 sounds so good! Can't believe I haven't heard about it before. Thanks for the heads-up.