Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Secrets of Bearhaven/ The Girl Who Owned the City

25582786Rocha, K.E. Secrets of Bearhaven
January 5th 2016 by Scholastic Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there

Spencer Plain is well aware that his parents study bears and help to rescue ones that are being abused, but he had no idea of the extent of their involvement until they go missing... and he ends up in Bearhaven. Here, the bears are fitted with a voice translator and can communicate with humans! Spencer meets Professor Weaver, his wife Bunny, and their daughter, Kate, and has to work with the bears, as well as his uncle, to find out what has happened to his parents. In the meantime, they have to try to locate the bear Ro Ro and her cubs who have been kidnapped by the evil Margo to be used in the horrifying bear baiting at Grady's Grandstand. 

I'm not a fan of talking animals in books, but Secrets of Bearhaven drew me in with its fast-paced narrative, sympathetic characters, and enjoyable world building. No time is wasted in getting Spencer to Bearhaven-- the book even starts with his exciting entry and then goes back to lay more groundwork for us, which is a brilliant way to start a middle grade book. Spencer doesn't blink (at least not for long) when the bears can speak to him, and the readers are also able to easily suspend disbelief. 

The details of life in Bearhaven are delightful-- honey and berries for breakfast, salmon and green salads for dinner, cozy homes, and even Cadillacs adapted for the bears to travel in. The villains are deliciously evil, and the back story of Margo in particular is well done, since she is the villain behind Bearhaven being started. 

While Spencer's parents are missing, we do end the book with some hope of where they are, and I imagine that the series will continue until they are found. 

For readers who enjoyed Iserles The Taken, Hughes The Unnaturals, or Hunter's Seekers, Secrets of Bearhaven is an intriguing look at what skills are necessary to succeed in rescuing bears who fully conversant in English as well as Ragayo. Rolling boulders-- who knew it would be such a handy skill?

Nelson, O.T. and Jones, Joelle. The Girl Who Owned a City
13022967April 1st 2012 by Graphic Universe 

After a virus kills all of the adults in the world, Lisa and her younger brother Todd are trying to survive. Lisa has found supplies and travels around in a car to find more, but other children have turned to marauding hordes and are terrorizing the weaker children. Lisa gathers everyone in her neighborhood, and soon they have a thriving community-- until a gang burns it to the ground. The group then takes over a local high school and fortify it. When things start to go well, Lisa gathers more children, gives them all jobs, and generally keeps a tight hold on things. One small error is all it takes, though, and after she is shot by a rival gang, the entire city is in jeopardy. She recovers, but is then kidnapped by the gang, and manages to escape by sheer force of personality in standing up to its leader. 
Strengths: One of the original dystopian books for middle school students, and not a bad one. The graphic novel version will be gobbled up avidly; the illustrations are very nicely dark and New Millenium, even though there are some nice shout outs to the original publication date in the architecture and cars.
Weaknesses: Like any graphic novel, there is a ton of information missing. 

What I really think: I need to reread the novel; clearly, I read this in middle school, because I had an elaborate fantasy where I was in charge of a community at my own school. I got to live in the principal's office. Interestingly, there was still electricity in my fantasy, and the school was right across from a shopping mall, so supplies were not an issue. And there were no evil marauding hordes. I hadn't realized how much my own daydreams had been influenced by this book!

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