The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

the-girl-with-all-the-giftsBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Obit: Hachette Book Group, 2015
  • Edition, First Trade Paperback Ed.
  • Description: Paperback; 438 pages; 21 cm  
  • Interest Level: AD
  • Summary: “Melanie is a very special girl. Dr.Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius.’  Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.”  Retrieved from the publisher.
  • ISBN: 978-0-316-33475-4
  • Subjects:
    • Zombie outbreak
    • Survival
    • Medical Thriller

Reader’s Annotation: They never touch us unless they have to.  But she did, she stroked my hair, and I love her for that.

Plot Summary: The story begins in a strange sort of school where a small group of children are being taught by an even smaller group of teachers.  All of the children are kept in cells when they aren’t in class and if they are taken out, it is at gunpoint and strapped into wheelchairs.  They are never free and never given a chance to reach one of the guards or a teacher.  Melanie, a pale, clever little girl is the center of the story.  She is the girl with all the gifts; a Pandora in modern England.  And like her namesake, her gifts are better left ungiven but they are inevitable in the current circumstances.  For this is a dying England, caught up in an apocalyptic nightmare and the children in the class are more than students, they are possible keys to restoring the world as it was.  And while the school is an island of safety, it eventually falls to the chaos and sends Melanie and three adults out into the world in an effort to reach safety.  But there is no safe place in this new world; there are only Melanie’s gifts.

Critical Evaluation:  Zombie stories are everywhere in books and the media these days, and this book, soon to be a movie, is another example of the genre.  In some way, however, this one is quite different.  The plague is not supernatural and the dead do not rise.  No, this is the result of a fungal infection from some heretofore unknown fungus that suddenly appears and wreaks havoc on the world.  Carey creates a world in despair where a scientist performs horrific acts on small children infected with the fungus with the hope that she will find a treatment or cure or something to hold this intruder at bay.  He also creates other characters that are either very human and compassionate, or soldiers determined not to yield to any softer emotions that have disastrous results.  And of course, there is Melanie, who is a very believable little girl who takes joy from any little chance she has and who faces reality with the fatalism of someone who knows wishing doesn’t make things happen.  All of his characters, and the story itself, are compelling and well-constructed.  You want things to work out because he makes you care about them, even the ones who are not always very sympathetic, and that is good writing.  Carey has written a very human zombie book that any fan of the genre should read.

Author’s Brief Bio: Mike Carey is a British writer whose work spans comics, books, TV and film scripts, and radio plays. His novel The Girl with All the Gifts was an international bestseller, and adapted by Carey for the 2016 Colm McCarthy-directed film.  He’s written for DC and Marvel, including acclaimed runs on Ultimate Fantastic Four and X-Men, and with Peter Gross, Lucifer and The Unwritten. His books include Fellside, the Felix Castor series, and The Steel Seraglio (with Linda and Louise Carey).

Genre Designation: Science Fiction – Apocalyptic

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Biology – molds and fungus
  • Sociology

Book Talk Ideas:  What makes someone a monster?  When does doing the right thing become the wrong thing?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected. I had heard a lot of good things about this book and love zombie stories.


Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

monstrousBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: Hardback; 424 pages ; 22 cm  
  • Interest Level: 5-8 & YA
  • Summary: “Reminiscent of Frankenstein and tales by the Brothers Grimm, this debut novel stands out as a compelling, original story that has the feel of a classic.

The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. Because of his curse, girls sicken and disappear without a trace, and all live in fear. No one is allowed outside after dark. Night is when Kymera comes to the city, with a cloak disguising her wings, the bolts in her neck, and her spiky tail. Her mission is to rescue the girls of Bryre. Despite Kym’s caution in going secretively, a boy named Ren sees and befriends her . . . but what he knows will change her world forever.”  Retrieved from publisher at  

  • ISBN: 978-0-06-227271-3
  • Subjects:
    • Mythical Beasts – Fiction
    • Magic – Fiction
    • Fantasy – Fiction
    • Good vs. Evil – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: I am a monster; I know that.  But even a monster can be good, can do good, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Plot Summary:  Kymera wakes up to the tear-stained face of a man she comes to call father but who is in reality, her creator.  He has assembled her from bit and pieces of animals, creatures, and a girl he says was his daughter.  She is a monster, a Frankstein-like construct of unrelated parts but she is also an innocent who he trains to help him in his fight against an evil wizard.  She uses her wings to carry her to the city of Bryre where other little girls are dying due to the wizard’s curse.  She uses her spiked tail to put the guards and girls to sleep so that she can fly the girls to safety.  And she uses her strength to carry them back to her little home in the woods where her ‘father’ cures them and sends them to safety in another city, Belladoma.  But things are not as they seem, because her ‘father’ is the evil wizard and she was his first child victim.  The girls are not safe in a beautiful city by the sea but in terrible danger from a mad, evil king who has bought them to be sacrificed to another, less pleasant monster.  In the end it’s Kymera, a monster, who must face the real monster and save the kingdom.

Critical Evaluation:  Reviews for this book vary from very positive to not so much.  I found many of the complaints to be valid.  The story is a bit overlong and the failure of Kymera to realize that she is being used by the wizard is a little annoying after a while.  But overall, this is a really nice read.  The writing style is very effective, particularly in terms of character development.  Kymera is a true innocent.  She believes everything she is told, which is a trait it is later revealed by another character to have belonged to her original self as well. The author also manages to show you the other characters from Kymera’s point of view which makes it easier to accept the fact that she can’t see her creator for the monster he really is.  Some critics suggest the book moved too slow and takes too long to get to the point of the story, but I didn’t find it to be the case.  The character behaved in a way that was true to her character in every sense of the word.  It may have been frustrating for some readers but she wasn’t a brain surgeon before she was parsed into bits to be made into a creature.  She was a naïve, sweet, not at all worldly, little girl.  And at her monstrous core she remained that person through the story.  That is good writing and excellent character construction.

Author’s Brief Bio:  MarcyKate Connelly is an author and arts administrator living in New England with her husband and pugs. She’s a caffeine addict and voracious reader. Her MG fantasy novels, Monstrous and Ravenous, are available now from HarperCollins Children’s Books.  She has a new book, Shadow Weaver, coming soon.

Genre Designation: Fantasy

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Prejudice and bias toward those who are physically challenged

Book Talk Ideas:  What is a monster?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected. The story is compelling and intriguing, and Skottie Young did the cover art, which is beautiful.

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

a-thousand-nightsBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Hyperion, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 325 pages ; 21 cm
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: Based on Arabian nights. Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, so when she is taken to the king’s dangerous court she believes death will soon follow, but night after night Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, leading her to unlocking years of fear that have tormented and silenced the kingdom, and soon she is dreaming of bigger, more terrible magic, power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to rule of a monster. Retrieved from Follet Titlewave ( under title of book.        
  • ISBN: 978-1-48472-847-5
  • Subjects:
    • Folk Tales – Fiction
    • Middle Eastern Legends – Fiction
    • Religion – Fiction
    • Family Relationships – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: The king had taken 300 of the most beautiful girls in the land to be his wives and 300 girls had died.  Now he came to our village, seeking the most beautiful, my beloved sister but it would be me he took, so that she might live.

Plot Summary:  This book is a retelling of the story of Scheherazade where a nameless girl sacrifices herself to save her sister.  A cruel king, Lo-Melkhiin began a practice of choosing a wife from among the various villages and clans of his land.  When he came to the heroine’s village he had already selected 300 girls to wed and none had survived the wedding night.  How they died was a mystery to the kingdom, but each was seen as a ‘smallgod’ whose death insured the safety of her family and village; at least for a time.  The protagonist tricked Lo-Melkhiin into taking her instead of her sister who most considered more beautiful, and against all odds, she did not die.  Instead she survived night after night, distracting him with her stories and her very nature.  There was something about her that intrigued him and within in her was some kind of power that called to his own.  The king was, in reality, some sort of supernatural creature that had possessed the body of a good man using him for evil while reveling in the pain that evil caused both the kingdom and the soul trapped inside.  The heroine used her time to find this out and work to free them all.

Critical Evaluation:  This is not a perfect book.  The idea is clever and unlike many reviewers, I didn’t have a problem with the language the writer used to convey the nature of the society the story is set in.  In fact, I thought as a whole, that this was a really good book.  Certainly, there are flaws, but the flaws are more a consequence, I believe, of the writer trying not to give too much away and to maintain the sense of magic that is the underlying theme of the book.  The characters, especially the female ones, are solid and compelling.  You get a sense of the strength that the heroine has and her capacity for courage.  The other characters with the exception of the villain are less well developed and more one dimensional.  But, the book pulls the reader in and compels them to stay to find out how if the heroine succeeds in her quest.  And that is where the book actually fails.

A review in the Guardian ( sums it up well, “ . . . I now find myself hating the way things ended. I would have loved a better showdown – girl versus creature – and it sort of ruined the whole thing.”  The ending of the book was rushed and felt incomplete.  In the writer’s effort to maintain the sense of mystery she made the ending too abrupt and left the reader wondering just what actually happened.  And that is not a good thing.

Author’s Brief Bio: E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

Her books range from contemporary fantasy (The Story of Owen, Prairie Fire), to fairy-tale re-imaginings (A Thousand Nights, Spindle), and from small town Ontario (Exit, Pursued By A Bear), to a galaxy far, far away (Star Wars: Ahsoka). She has no plans to rein anything in.

Genre Designation: YA Fantasy

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Middle Eastern History / Culture
  • Ancient History
  • Arabic Mythology

Book Talk Ideas:  Would you give your life to save your sister or brother?  Or a friend?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected. I have always loved the story of Scheherazade, not to mention the symphony and this reinterpretation intrigued me.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo-songBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Harry N. Abrams/PanMacmillian, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 408 pages ; 22 cm; hardback.
  • Interest Level: YA; Lexile Level 850
  • Summary: “When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family–before it’s too late . . Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.”  Retrieved from publisher;       
  • ISBN: 978-1-41971-480-1
  • Subjects:
    • Fairies – Fiction
    • English History – Fiction
    • Family Issues – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: I know it’s crazy but that dolls keep talking to me, saying terrible, mean things. And more than anything else, I really, really want to EAT it, EAT it all up!

Plot Summary:  Theresa wakes up in bed, surrounded by a doctor, her mother and her father, all watching her with great concern.  She’s been sick again, after somehow falling into a millpond called the Glimmer and wondering home with a high fever.  Triss, as she’s called, doesn’t remember any of it.  In fact, she barely remembers anything at all about her life before the moment she woke up in bed.  What she soon comes to know is that there is one person who does not care about her and that is her little sister Pen who is desperately trying to convince everyone that Triss is not really Triss but some kind of monster.

Through many days of strange events and bizarre appetites, Triss realizes that things are not as they seem, that she is not what she seems, and that only Pen really knows what is going on.  Eventually they realize that they must work together to defeat a terrible foe and the efforts of their own parents in order to restore things to the way they are supposed to be.

Critical Evaluation:  Frances Hardinge has written a really good and slightly disturbing book about fairies, family relationships, and the power of love.  Aside from the obvious supernatural features of this story, the driving force behind the story is the relationship between Triss and Pen.  Pen has played second to her often sick sister, Theresa, who is doted on by their parents.  Hardinge hints that there is a bit of a Munchausen by proxy syndrome at play in the relationship between the parents and Triss which has contributed to the hostile relationship between the sisters.  But the ‘new’ Triss is different and doesn’t want to be the object of her parents obsessions and this leads to a more positive relationship between the children.

Hardinge does a wonderful job of creating two very real and interesting human beings in these two characters.  They are completely believable and relatable even considering the situation they exist in.  You know people like them, or did when you were a child and because of that, you care about them and about the story they are in.  This is an excellent book that draws you into a dark and wonderfully creepy place.

Author’s Brief Bio:  Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.  Retrieved from

Genre Designation: Horror and Fantasy.

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • World War I
  • English Literature / English myths and legends
    • Changelings
    • Fairies

Book Talk Ideas

  • What if you knew something terrible but no one would believe you?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected. Once again I was attracted first by the cover art which is really a little disturbing.  The book, however, lived up to the cover by being a little scary, somewhat creepy exploration of a modern retelling of English fairy tales.

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai (illustrator)

47-roninBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Dark Horse Books, 2014
  • Edition, First
  • Description: Hardback; 151 pages : chiefly color illustrations ; 22 cm
  • Dewey Designation: 952 RIC (I changed it to 741.5 RIC since it was essentially a graphic novel)
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: The story of the 47 Ronin is a classic Japanese tale that epitomizes the traditions of the Samurai Class of Old Japan. It is the story of 47 samurai made Ronin (or masterless) by the dishonorable actions of a servant of the Shogun which resulted in the death of their master, Lord Asano.  The loyal 47 spend a year pretending to accept the situation while waiting for the chance to redeem both themselves and their lord through vengeance.         
  • ISBN: 978-1-59582-954-2
  • Subjects:
    • Japanese History – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: They left their homes, their loved ones, and their futures.  For 47 men the cost of loyalty was very high.

Plot Summary: Sometime during the 18th century in Feudal Japan, a young lord (Asano Naganori) was goaded into attacking an official in the Shogan’s court named Kira Yoshinaka.  The punishment for such a violation of protocol was death; Lord Asana was ordered to commit seppuku, which is ritual suicide by sword.  The samurai who served Lord Asano, realizing the injustice of the sentence and the culpability of Kira Yoshinaka in Lord Asano’s death, vowed revenge against the corrupt official they held responsible.  For a year they pretended to not care about his death and to not hold Yoshinaka responsible, but in reality they were plotting and planning.  They acted in way they made people believe they were without honor.  They left their families and became ronin, or masterless samurai.  They were held in contempt by all who knew them.

But it was all an act.  For a year they endured humiliation to lull Kira into believing himself safe from reprisal by Asano’s retainers, so that he would be reachable when the opportunity arose to restore their lord’s honor, and their own.

Critical Evaluation:  This is one of my favorite stories from history.  Certainly, it is not one that most westerners would find to be a heroic example of human behavior, as it involves revenge and murder.  But if you consider it for what it is, a story of men who placed their honor and their regard for their leader to be more important than anything else, it is an exceptional example of human behavior.  Regardless of how others might see it, their loyality and devotion to justice and fairness desires to be remembered and respected by people today who place more value on money than honor.

And this graphic presentation does an excellent job of giving young people today a chance to learn about this story and the traditions of Japan that lead 47 men to behave as they did.  The book is well-written and beautifully illustrated.  The story is presented in a rich and complete manner even though it is abbreviated in length due to the vehicle used to present it.  The story is a moving one and the book’s visual and written components do an excellent job of revealing that.

Author’s Brief Bio:

  • Mike Richardson, born June 29, 1950, is an American publisher, writer, and Emmy winning producer. In 1986, he founded Dark Horse Comics, an award winning international publishing house located in Milwaukie, Oregon. Richardson is also the founder and President of the Things From Another World retail chain and president of Dark Horse Entertainment, which has developed and produced numerous projects for film and television based on Dark Horse properties or licensed properties. In addition, he has written numerous graphic novels (including the 47 Ronin) and comic series, such as The Secret, Living with the Dead, and Cut.  He has also co-authored two non-fiction books: Comics Between the Panels and Blast Off!

Genre Designation: Graphic Fiction / Japanese History

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Japanese History & Culture

Book Talk Ideas

  • What is honor? What does it mean to you?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected: I have always been interested in Japanese history and learned about this story many years ago.

Everland by Wendy Spinale

everlandBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Scholastic Press, 2016
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 312 pages ; 22 cm
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: Gwen Darling and her siblings have survived the bombs, a deadly virus outbreak, and an army of Marauders bent on abducting the war’s youngest victims. But when Captain Hook snatches her sister, Gwen will stop at nothing to get her back, even if means sacrificing her own life. In Everland, the only way to grow up is to survive. Retrieved from .
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-83694-4
  • Subjects:
    • Children and Warfare – Fiction
    • European History (Alternative) – Fiction
    • Viral Outbreaks – Fiction
    • Survival Stories – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: I don’t care if I have to fight Captain Hook myself, I’m getting my sister back.  They took my mom and my dad, but they won’t get Joanna.

Plot Summary: In an alternate history world, a Germany ruled by the evil Queen Katherine, dubbed the ‘Bloodred Queen’, has waged war against the world.  A group of her soldiers known as the Marauders, led by her son Captain Hanz Otto Osward Kretschmer – also called Hook – attacked London and inadvertently bombed a research facility releasing a virus that has killed all or most of the adults in England and which has begun to spread around the world.  Hook is desperate to find a cure as his mother is starting to show signs of the illness.

At the center of this situation is a young girl named Gwen, her little sister and her little brother, who are struggling to survive in a world without adults and at war, while avoiding the Marauders who are kidnapping any child they find to perform experiments in order to  find a cure for the virus.  They seek a child who is already immune as a result of the vaccination she received from her scientist mother, a woman who is being forced to help Hook. After her sister is kidnapped by the Marauders, Gwen finds an ally in a boy named Pete, who is adept at avoiding and thwarting Hook, and they work to rescue her.

Critical Evaluation: One of the current trends in literature is the re-imagining of old works or of fairy tales and myths.  This books falls into the first category in that it is a retelling of Peter Pan, set in a steampunk like world whose history is very different from what really happened.  It is an interesting idea.  Making Peter a survivor of an apocalyptic viral outbreak who is at once trying to not get sick, to care for other young survivors, and undermine the attacks by an evil teenaged, German officer who is the story’s version of Captain Hook.  Wendy is played by Gwen who has been orphaned by the war and trying to keep her remaining family safe and together.  All of the critical elements of the original story are there in one form or another.  What’s missing is the chemistry needed to make the story work.  The writing is alright but it’s not that interesting of a read.  Despite the potential the story drags and fails to pull the reader into the world the writer has created.  It is not a bad read just not a good one.

Book Trailer:

Author’s Brief Bio: Wendy is a former Disneyland actress and online journalist. She currently lives in the Bay Area with her husband, three sons, and the best four-legged writing partners ever, Odie and Alex. EVERLAND is the first in a three book series with a fairytale cast in a steampunk world.

Genre Designation: Fantasy Dystopian Fiction

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • History
  • Science

Book Talk Ideas

  • How does warfare affect children?
  • What could you do to find food and shelter when there are no adults around to help you?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:



Why this book was selected: I was attracted to the retelling of Peter Pan in a steam punk version, and the cover is awesome.

The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth

the-killing-jarBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2016
  • Edition: First
  • Description: 346 pages ; 22 cm; hardcover
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: “’I try not to think about it, what I did to that boy.’ Seventeen-year-old Kenna Marsden has a secret.” Retrieved from
  • ISBN: 978-0-374-34137-4
  • Subjects:
    • Paranormal – fiction
    • Horror – fiction
    • Family Conflicts – fiction

Reader’s Annotation: A moment of rage, white hot and justified, changed Kenna’s life forever. A moment of passion and a dry, twisted husk lay where a 10-year boy had stood.
Plot Summary: When she was 10, Kenna Marsden was exposed to just how hideous the world and its inhabitants can be. A stray cat and her kittens, being hidden and cared for by Kenna and her twin sister Erin, is killed by a neighbor boy with a history of cruelty. Kenna catches him later and confronts him as he is about to kill another butterfly in his killing jar. She grabs him and moments later he is dead at her feet.
Years later Kenna arrives home to discover her mother murdered and her twin sister near death, both at the hands of the father of the boy she had killed. He had always believed she had killed his son and had taken his revenge by killing her loved ones before killing her. She kills him and in the process she restores her mother and sister to life. Faced with an impending police investigation, Kenna mother whisks her away to a mysterious town called Eclipse which her mother tells her is where they actually come from and where Kenna can get the help she needs. But is this a refuge or a place of greater danger?
Critical Evaluation: This book has an interesting idea but it is presented in a way that doesn’t feel true or believable if you accept the premises being offered in the story. The character kills another, thoroughly terrible child, and her mother, who knows why this has happened acts as through she broke a plate. She is given vague warnings about never using her ‘power’ again and grows up not using it but also with a distant relationship with her mother who instead of helping her keeps her in the dark about who and what they all are. Her mother’s incomprehensible inaction eventually leads to terrible consequences for Kenna and her mother and sister. All of the holes in the story are result of the writer failing to create believable characters who act in ways that make sense even in a paranormal setting. Some writer of paranormal fiction seem to think the fantastical nature of the story means they don’t have to make sense in regard to how characters react to events or to each other. It is sloppy and disrespectful to write this way not only of the genre but also toward the readers.
Author’s Brief Bio: “Author and screenwriter, Jennifer Bosworth, grew up in a small town where there was nothing to do but read and get into trouble. She did plenty of both, which led her to a career writing about people who get into trouble. Jennifer and her husband recently escaped from Los Angeles and are now hiding out in Portland, Oregon with a couple of long-legged dogs. In her spare time she can be found watching horror movies and dreaming of starting her own hippie commune, where there will be many goats.” Retrieved from
Genre Designation: Horror/Paranormal Juvenile Fiction
Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Mythology

Book Talk Ideas:

  • Have you ever been so angry with someone that you wanted to kill them?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:

    • Potential Issues
    • Violence between children
    • Murder
    • Cults

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected: I selected this book because it has a cool cover and the story sounded interesting.

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

the-passion-of-dolssaBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Viking, an Imprint of Penguin Press (2016)
  • Edition: 1st Edition
  • Description: 478 pages : map ; 22 cm; hardcover edition
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: “Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.” Retrieved from
  • ISBN: 978-0-451-46992-2
  • Subjects:
      European (French) History – Fiction
      Religious History, i.e. Inquisition and Christian heresies – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: What’s a girl to do when the love of her life, who whispers in her ear so many lovely and wonderful things, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God? What is she to do when he tells her to share his message and the Inquisition is in town?
Plot Summary: In the 11th century Europe a young noblewoman is touched by God. She hears the voice of Christ and is compelled to talk to others about what she hears. But this is a time of Inquisition in Italy when anyone who believes or acts in ways that the Church doesn’t agree with is considered a heretic and put to death. Dolssa is such a person. As a result she is arrested, along with her mother who is burned to death moments before Dolssa as a means of encouraging Dolssa to confess. But instead she escapes with the help of a unseen savior and flees into the countryside.
Weeks later, near death she is found by another young woman on her way home from a trip. This woman is one of three sisters who have used their skills and wits to build a life for themselves in a small coastal village. Botille, the middle girl, finds Dolssa and convinces her younger sister and a grumpy young man to help her save the girl, from starvation and from the Inquisitor who is searching for her. The remainder of the story deals with how she impacts the lives of all those around her, both for the good and for the bad.
Critical Evaluation: This is an extremely unique example of young adult fiction. Historical novels are a difficult genre to write for young adult readers because they often view it as boring and out of touch. And while this book will be hard-pressed to find an audience, I believe that anyone who does read it will be moved and enlightened both about the situation these young women find themselves in and about how much people are the same no matter when or where they live.
In terms of the writing style, it is not as smooth as I would like. The beginning has parts that are written as one side of a conversation Dolssa is having with various interrogators, where the remainder of the book is written in first person from Botille’s point of view.
Author’s Brief Bio:

  • ”Julie Berry grew up in western New York. She holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. All the Truth That’s in Me (September 2013, Viking) was Julie’s first young adult novel. It earned five starred reviews and garnered widespread critical praise. It was nominated for the Edgar Award for Young Adult Mystery, and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal (UK), and was the recipient of the 2014 Silver Inky award, the Whitney Award for YA, and the Westchester Fiction Prize. Julie is also the author of seven other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. Her works appear in international versions worldwide. Prior to becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing.”
  • Retrieved from
    Genre Designation: Historical Fiction

Possible Curriculum Links: European History and Religious History
Book Talk Ideas: If you had a friend in trouble, how far would you go to help them?
Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected: Too often we forget how dangerous something like religion can be and why a secular government is so important to human rights and freedoms. It’s something that most kids today don’t realize and books like this help them reconnect to the past in a way that can help them stay safe in the future.

War Brothers: the Graphic Novel, written by Sharon McKay & illustrated by Daniel LaFrance

war-brothersBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Annick Press Ltd., 2013
  • Edition,
  • Description: 163 pages : chiefly color illustrations, color maps ; 25 cm
  • Interest Level: YA
  • Summary: “When fourteen-year-old Jacob is brutally abducted and forced to become a child soldier, he struggles to hold on to his sanity and the will to escape.” Retrieved from
  • ISBN: 978-1-55451-489-2
  • Subjects:
    • Child Soldiers – Juvenile Fictions
    • Uganda – Juvenile Fiction
    • Friendship – Juvenile Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: Thrown into a nightmare of murder, warfare, starvation, and abuse, three young boys struggle to survive.  Their choice is simple: become the monsters they fear and hate, or risk all to escape.

Plot Summary:  This book is a graphic novel presentation of the full-length book by Sharon McKay of the same name.  It follows the story of three boys, Kitina Jacob (the protagonist), Tony, and Paul from their arrival at a Ugandan boarding school for boys called the George Jones Seminary for Boys and their eventual return from the nightmare that engulfed them.  The first night they were at the school it was raided by the Lord’s Resistance Army lead by a man named Kony.  The army was largely composed of men and women who, like the three boys, had been kidnapped by Kony’s men and forced to fight in his army.  The boys where brutalized, over-worked, forced to fight, and starved.  Any infraction or resistance was punishable by beatings or death.  The first night in the army they were forced to beat another injured child to death or be killed themselves.  In this army, any weakness was punishable by death as it was an affront to God.  Despite the odds against him, Kitina struggles both to survive and remain a good person, but the battle is as difficult and dangerous as the story is deeply moving and affecting.

Critical Evaluation:  Overall, there are few flaws in this book.  It does what a graphic novel version of a longer book should do; it makes you want to read the full version but also makes you fear doing that because it will leave the reader marked by knowledge no person, especially a child, should ever know.  The art work is not refined but almost child-like in a way that makes the characters even more tragic.  The use of color is bold but muted, mirroring the colors associated with Africa; deep reds, sienna, black and greens.  The children are pined in a way that suggests hunger and pain without making that suffering blatant.  You see the horror of Kitani world through his eyes and you understand not just his fear but his deep failure to understand how someone could do the things that those in control of him do.  It is a terrible thing the writer and the artist are showing the reader and not something soon forgotten.

Author’s Brief Bio:  Montreal born author Sharon E. McKay is well-known for her novels for young adults including Charlie Wilcox, Charlie Wilcox’s Great War, Esther and four novels in Penguin’s “Our Canadian Girl” historical fiction series.  Her most recent works for young adults include War Brothers, a story of child soldiers in Uganda and the winner of the Arthur Ellis Award. . . .  In January 2008 Sharon was accepted into the Canadian Forces (War) Artists Program or CFAP. She is the first children’s writer to hold the title. In March 2009 she went to Afghanistan to, in the words of the program description, “capture the daily operations, personnel, and spirit of the Canadian Forces.”

Genre Designation: Modern Historical Fiction

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Africa – Uganda
  • War – Impact on children

Book Talk Ideas:

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected:  I selected this book because of the topic.  It is a grim story but one that people should be aware of as it is still happening around the world.  Children are the victims of many different kinds of abuse and it is a problem that will not go away until we as a species decide to make it go away.

The Stars Never Rise / Rachel Vincent

stars-never-riseBibliographic Information:

  • Classification: Fiction (Dewey: -Fic-)
  • Publisher, Date: Delacorte Press, 2015.
  • Edition,
  • Description: Hardcover (Library Binding), 361 pages; 22 cm.
  • Interest Level: YA; Lexile Measure: 900
  • Summary:
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-99153-0
  • Subjects:
    • Religion – Fiction
    • Possession – Fiction
    • Survival – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: Your little sister is pregnant, your mother – who was apparently a demon – lies dead at your feet by your hand, and the cops are at the door.  What’s a girl to do?

Plot Summary: In a world ruled by a catholic-like church with very rigid rules and regulations, Nina Kane is struggling to take care of her family by both adhering to the rules in public and skirting when necessary.  In order to survive she must often sneak out at night to augment her family paltry income by doing laundry for other people.  During one of these midnight runs she is attacked by a Degenerate, one of the demon possessed monsters whose attacks have decimated mankind and left a cruel, strict church in charge.  She is saved by a strange boy with brilliant green eyes who is much more than he seems.  Although she was saved from the monster, her life is about to change permanently and terrifyingly.  She simultaneously finds out her little sister is pregnant, that her mother is one of the monsters, and that she, herself, is a natural exorcist, one of the few who can banish the demons back to hell or wherever it is they come from.  Now she must learn what she is and how to use her new abilities to save her sister, herself and a band of new friends all while trying to save the world.

Critical Evaluation: The ideas behind this book are both interesting and sadly, relevant in today’s world.  The author does a good job of creating a main character who faces the struggles in her life with courage and humor.  The way she deals with her financial issues, with other people, and with her family, feels real and believable.  She is neither weak nor overly courageous.  She isn’t a hero; she is a survivor.  But beyond her, the other characters are shadows whose actions are not clearly understood; they are very one dimensional.  Her main love interest is a body-hopping creature whose existence she completely accepts after just a moment of concern of his incorporeal nature.  That is not a realistic reaction and it is symptomatic of one of the problems with the writing; the character behaves in ways she shouldn’t.  She is a pragmatic person, cautious and determined to take care of her family; it is the core of her personality.  In order to move the story along the writer seems to ignore the nature of the person she has created and that is a problem.  This could have been a really good book that examined the issues surrounding the role of religion in governments and how ordinary people deal with the problems such a society presents but it descends into insignificance by trying to do too much to fast.  Even if you accept the supernatural aspects of the society and the characters as real, the story doesn’t ring true.

Author’s Brief Bio:  “Rachel Vincent is a former English teacher and an eager champion of the Oxford comma. She shares her home in Oklahoma with two cats, two teenagers, and her husband, who’s been her # 1 fan from the start. Rachel is older than she looks and younger than she feels, and she remains convinced that writing about the things that scare her is the cheapest form of therapy—but social media is a close second.”  Retrieved from

Genre Designation: Fantasy & Magic and Horror (Juvenile Fiction)

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Religion and Government
  • Religious mythology

Book Talk Ideas:

  • What kind of government do you live in?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


  • Booklist (May 15, 2015 (Online))

Retrieved from

  • Publisher’s Weekly (June,2015 (online))

Why this book was selected?

I selected this book because I was interested in the issues surrounding a society where the government and the church are one and the same.  Any current society where religion takes the place of a non-secular government has almost invariably experienced the persecution in one form or another of any member of the society who acts outside of the established norms, often with deadly consequences.  This is a reality that is reflected in this book and is a lesson that needs to re-learned over and over by humankind.