Tuesday, April 07, 2020

The Threshing and A Game of Fox and Squirrels

Grahl, Tim. The Threshing.
February 18th 2020 by Story Grid Publishing
Copy graciously provided by the author

In a world where a lack of food has led to severe restrictive measures and a drastic partitioning of society, Jessie is fairly lucky. Her family has just enough to get by, but she chooses to spend her time hacking into the system and stealing points from people while they are plugged into the system earning these points, and therefore vulnerable. When she is caught, she is given two choices. She can either be Shamed, becoming one of the Numbered and bringing a life time of hard work on herself, or go to Aeta to train, bringing more honor and points to her family At Aeta, she would then compete for the country's faction in the Threshing, which supplies more provisions to the winning country. She chooses to be Shamed. The mayor brings her to a public forum, shaves her head, and has the people stone her. Afterwards, she is taken to the Numbered quarters, where she learns from 83 and 61 what her daily life will be like. The Numbered clean up after people while they are plugged in, so it's not a pleasant job. Jessie rebels and runs away to see her parents, who don't want to lose her the way they lost her brother Randy. She is found, and manipulated by the mayor into going to Aeta. The plan is for her to go through Trainings, compete for a spot on the final team by going through the Severing, and then, if she makes it, representing her country in the Threshing. She is the Coder, and works with Medics and Comms teammates Alex and Ernst. Although her Training is cut short, she does well at the Severings, although she approaches them in unconventional ways. President Marcus is impressed with her skills, but he holds the secret to her family tragedy and does not have her best interest at heart. Will Jessie be able to win the Threshing so that her country doesn't starve? And will winning really make a difference in Jessie's own life?

Packed with action and spinning with twists and turns, The Threshing plunges the reader into a dystopian future reminiscent of Landon's The Limit, Price's Starters or Klavan's Mindwar. While the details of the current social situation are not explained right away, it's clear that the lack of food has turned countries against each other and created treacherous power struggles peopled with villains. Jessie, being twelve, is primed to use her hacking skills to make things right, restore her family, and even bring down the president, if that is necessary. 

83 and 61 (who is sent to Aeta with Jessie, where he goes by Harry) are especially interesting characters who weave in and out of the story. They share valuable insights with Jessie about what is going on, but are also good about saving her when she doesn't listen to them! Az serves as a formidable foil to Jessie's angry and anti-establishment character; he thinks her antics will cause the country to lose the Threshing and be deprived of resources, but he also grudgingly admires her skills. 

Like Dashner's Eye of Minds, Faulkner's Brainjack, Kincaid's Insignia, and Reedy's Gamer Army this book incorporates technology and integrates it into the human system in a terrifying way. The market for dystopian novels that heated up with Collin's The Hunger Games can still support new titles about futuristic societies that have devolved into chaos but can be saved by young adolescents. Unfortunately, this is published by a small press in paperback and available through Follett Library only in an audio version, but this would make an excellent gift for a strong middle grade reader who wants to experience a world even more dysfunctional than our current Corona Virus affected one. 

Brallier, Max and Holgate, Douglas. June's Wild Ride (Last Kids on Earth #6)
April 7th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy graciously provided by the publisher

June gets separated from the rest of the group and has an adventure with Globlet that involves a baby Wrecker and a weird owl creature named Johnny Steve who thinks he is an expert on human behavior. Books like this are the reason that during the Corona Virus social distancing (I'm writing this on 3/20 and haven't been outside my neighborhood for a week!) I feel like I should cordon off my street, set fire to an overturned car, and impose martial law on my neighbors. (Who are, disappointingly, all out cleaning their garages and vacuuming their vehicles.)

I also looked into the Netflix series a bit, which seems okay. I'm not a fan of animated shows; I may or may not have told my children that watching cartoons triggered seizures in adults, so I would be in the next room if they needed me.

This series is wildly popular with my students, and I'm just sad that we aren't in school, because one of my favorite things to do is to check out books to students before they are officially published!

From Goodreads.com:
"Told from June's point of view--and set between the shattering events of The Midnight Blade and the upcoming 6th book in the series-- June's Wild Flight brings new characters, high-stakes action, and stunning revelations in an adventure that could only be June's. An essential Last Kids story that readers won't want to miss!

The Midnight Blade ended with a shocking twist: a long-missing villain has returned and now has an army of the dead at his command! Jack, June, Quint, and Dirk have battled the worst kind of monsters, zombies, and cosmic servants, but an endless horde of animated skeletons is next-level.

While the kids plan their next move, an unexpected threat emerges and June gets separated from her friends, dragged miles away from Wakefield to a town overgrown with monstrous vines and never-before-seen creatures. Drawing on her post-apocalyptic survival and action skills--and with the help of some odd new companions--June attempts to make her way back home. But not before she uncovers critical information about the mysterious "Tower." Information that the future of our world may hinge upon . . ."
Reese, Jenn. A Game of Fox and Squirrels
April 14th 2020 by Henry Holt & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Samantha's father's violence ends with her sister Caitlin's arm being broken, the girls are moved from their California home to their Aunt Vicky's in Oregon. Samantha is sure that this is a temporary stay, and that they will be home in time for the new school year, but this is unlikely. Caitlin is upbeat and tries to please her aunt and her aunt's wife, Hannah, but Samantha has more difficulties settling in. When Aunt Vicky gives her a card game with foxes and squirrels, Samantha is surprised when the main character, a fox named Ashander, comes to life and promises to help her find the Golden Acorn that can take her back home. Ashander requires sacrifices to make him happy in order for him to help Samantha, so she ends up sneaking around a lot and doing things that aren't quite helpful. She doesn't want to listen to Vicky that she is safe and loved, but when she finds out Ashander's true colors, she realizes that her new family has her best interests at heart.
Strengths: I really liked the aunt and her wife stepping up to help with the girls, and they were definitely a model of love and care. The details about the abuse were just enough, and it was good to see a positive representation of a case worker. Caitlyn's eager-to-please attitude was interesting to see. There are a growing number of students who enjoy card games, and it's a good combination to have those entwined with a fantasy world.
Weaknesses: Ashander was more evil than I suspected at first, and the illustrations remind me of something from a 1980s or 1990s book that I can't quite remember.
What I really think: This is not quite the flavor of fantasy for which I have been searching. My fantasy readers are very specific, and my readers who ask for books about difficult family situations often will not read fantasy books. While I loved Powell's The Game of Triumphs, to which this is very similar, I can't get students to check it out. This would be a good choice for readers who liked Appelt's Maybe a Fox or Pennypacker's Pax.
Ms. Yingling

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