Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix (4 out of 4 stars)--
If you are a science fiction or conspiracy theory fan, I have a great series for you! It's long enough to be engaging for quite a while, but it never gets stale or boring. Starting with the book Among the Hidden and continuing through several titles beginning with "Among the . . ." Margaret Peterson Haddix has created a believable, plausible, but terrifying vision of the world and its social problems.

In the future world portrayed in this well-crafted, suspenseful series, Luke Garner is an illegal child. Due to overpopulation and food shortages, no family may have more than two children. But Luke is a third child, and if he is discovered, the Population Police will eliminate him. There are others like Luke, and throughout the series, he meets and works with them to try to change the law, and sometimes merely to survive in a world in which omnipresent spies are paid to turn him in and have him terminated.

I am a big sci-fi fan, and I haven't read material this good since M. T. Anderson's Feed. I am on the edge of my seat every time I read one of these books, and the last one, Among the Free, was just released, so the series is now complete. If you like sci-fi, read this series.

Titles in the series:
Among the Imposters
Among the Betrayed
Among the Hidden
Among the Barons
Among the Brave
Among the Enemy
Among the Free

Loving Will Shakespeare--by Carolyn Meyer (3 out of 4 stars)--
It is 1564 and a baby boy is born in a small English village. One of the community members present to pay her respects is an 8-year-old peasant, Anne Hathaway. Through an amazing turn of events, this bold young girl will grow up to marry that much younger genius, William Shakespeare. Their relationship is chronicled in this book, and if you like historical fiction, especially of the Elizabethan era, you will certainly appreciate and enjoy Loving Will Shakespeare, the latest historical offering from Carolyn Meyer, the author of Mary, Bloody Mary.

This novel chronicles Anne Hathaway's harsh childhood, leading up to the age of 26 when she marries Shakespeare. Since very little historical information is available about Hathaway, the author invents a life for her, complete with an evil stepmother and her equally evil stepsister, a best friend and confidante who hides a dangerous secret, and a series of minor affairs leading up to her somewhat hasty marriage to William Shakespeare. This invented life feels true because of Meyer's considerable historical knowledge. She has written about this period before, and her experience is evident. The local color and flavor she includes in this novel, particularly the rites and rituals surrounding holiday celebrations, are stunningly portrayed. I had never heard of the ritual of the pea and the bean, so I learned something new, and you will too.

My main problem with the novel is the misleading title. Although Shakespeare does pop in and out of the novel, it probably should have been called The Life and Loves of Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare is a very minor character and I wanted more from him; it was his name, after all, that attracted me to the book. However, I still enjoyed the novel, especially the parts in which Meyer describes the mores, values, and traditions of the working class Elizabethans.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (3 1/2 out of 4 stars)--
Jeremy Fink is a few months away from his 13th birthday when he receives a mysterious box in the mail. he and his best friend Lizzy open it up and it says, "To Jeremy Fink to be opened on his 13th birthday" and it claims to contain, "The meaning of life." The box is sent to him from a law office, but it is really from his father, who died four years earlier. It contains 4 keyholes that require 4 separate keys, but Jeremy and Lizzy do not have the keys and must search all around New York and New Jersey for them.

I really liked this book. I related to Jeremy and his insecurities; he seemed very real to me, a person who grew in a Northeastern city. Fans of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Gilda Joyce will definitely enjoy the brash and bold Lizzy, and they play off of each other like the Odd Couple. I will confess that there is some philosophy that gets a bit long after a while, but I like that metaphysical stuff anyway, so it didn't bother me a bit. You may not share my taste, however, so beware.

This is a very funny, but also poignant, look at the struggles facing young adolescents. I heartily recommend it.