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.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bloor, Edward. Taken--3 1/2 stars out of 4
Literature often mirrors society’s joys, fears, and problems. I have commented previously about the increase of YA books with divorced and/or dysfunctional parents, and although Edward Bloor’s new sci-fi thriller Taken certainly contains stepparents and even ex-stepparents, the effect of death and divorce is only a subplot in this intricate offering. As in adult literature, because there is never a shortage of worries and anxieties in middlers’ lives, there has never been a shortage of good dystopian literature. Concerns cover the full range of teen and pre-teen angst, from loss of individuality and creativity (Lois Lowry’s Newbery-winning The Giver); concerns about environmental disaster and apathy about the future (Rodman Philbrick’s underrated The Last Book In the Universe); and fears about the day that Facebook meets Big Brother (M. T. Anderson’s cyberpunkish Feed). Taken is a capable entry in this genre, featuring strong social commentary on the separation of classes by contrasting the messy arrogance of the insulated super-rich with the Edwardian servitude of the masses.
Charity Meyers has been kidnapped, but she knows the drill: stay calm, expect the ransom to be paid, and do not cause trouble: “Because that’s what they teach us to do, to cooperate . . . Currency can be replaced. I cannot” (9). Charity’s normal life as the eighth-grade daughter of a super-wealthy doctor in 2035 mostly consists of poking fun at other rich kids with her best friend Patience, attending satschool with other rich kids across the world, and staying almost exclusively inside The Highlands, a Florida housing development with armed guards, security cameras, and its own stores and services. She lives with the neo-Edwardian maid Victoria and the armed butler Albert, and occasionally sees her father Dr. Hank Meyers and her ex-stepmother, obnoxious reality show star Mickie Meyers (imagine a marriage of Oprah and Jerry Springer), who films the issues in her life and broadcasts them to the world with rave reviews: “She is currently vidding a series called Living with Divorce. Once she has wrapped that project up I expect her to move on. But you never know. She is relentless” (20). Charity eventually learns that she has been kidnapped by a teenager who calls himself Dessi (after Haitian rebel Jean Jacques Dessalines) and a cold-blooded “doctor” named Dr. Reyes. When the rescue begins, things go terribly wrong, Charity’s world is turned inside out, and she doubts she will survive. Her GTD (Global Tracking Device, to track kidnapped children) has been removed, and people in her life are dying: “I thought about my own life ending in an instant . . . I felt myself sliding down into self-pity, and fear and paralysis. I couldn’t let that happen!” (109). However, things are not as they appear, and Charity will have many more revelations and shocks before this portion of her life ends.
I enjoyed Taken by Edward Bloor for the same reason I like Margaret Peterson Haddix’s work: it moves quickly, it has dynamic plot twists (that are sometimes fantastic), and it offers hope for the future by the end. I also enjoyed Mr. Bloor’s playful but realistic altering of everyday language; i.e. “derma” for skin, “currency” for money, and “sat” in front of any word for “satellite. ” Charity makes some major decisions at the end seemingly without proper consideration, but the reader has to know that she will ultimately decide as she does, so the climax is not without power. Taken is a fine addition to any middle-level science fiction collection, and readers of Haddix and James Patterson should find this novel a satisfying ride.


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