Sunday, December 27, 2015

Currents - Jane Petrlik Smolik

Title: Currents
Author: Jane Petrlik Smolik
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2015 (Paperback) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 318 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: December 22, 2015
Finished: December 27, 2015

From the back cover:

Old Mistress doesn't make Bones' life easy. When the eleven-year-old finds her real name in the plantation owner's slave registry, she tears it out. She decides to set her name free by placing the slip of paper in a bottle and setting it afloat on the James River.

The bottle drifts across the Atlantic and lands on a beach in England where twelve-year-old Lady Bess finds it. As her conniving stepmother pilfers their estate piece by piece, Bess saves her mother's pearl-encrusted cross. She seals it in the bottle with Bones' name, and the ocean currents carry it back to America.

The bottle makes its way into the hands of twelve-year-old Mary Margaret in Boston. She keeps Lady Bess' heirloom safe in the bottle until she and her family figure out a way for it to change all their lives.

The is uplifting tale proves that every action has an impact - even across oceans.

I love it when historical fiction for kids is done well, especially from the point of view of girls and women in history. This book definitely falls into that category, and was quite an engrossing read.

We begin in 1854 on a plantation in Virginia. Bones is a young slave girl who knows how to read, courtesy of Miss Liza, the master's daughter. When Bones finds her birth record and her real name in a book in the library, she decides if she cannot be free, at least her real name will be, and she rips out the page and places it in a bottle in the James River. Lady Bess on the Isle of Wight finds it a year later. When her stepmother tries to sell off the family's possessions and tries to frame Bess' friend Harry for it, Bess manages to rescue both her friend and a piece of jewelry gifted to her by her mother. The bottle with Bones' name and Bess' cross finds its way to Mary Margaret in Boston, the daughter of Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. Mary Margaret is a gifted writer and longs to go to school, but with a sick little sister her family needs her work earnings. The lives of all three girls are intertwined by the end and it's quite nice to see how the author weaves the stories together.

The author really did her homework for this. Not only did she research plantations and the lives of African slaves in the 1850s, she also had to research Irish immigrants and the potato famine and how they were treated when they immigrated, as well as the lives of the English gentry and explorers into British colonies. This was a veritable treasure trove of historical information. The stories for each girl start out a bit slow, but then quickly develop to the point where I was genuinely invested in the outcomes and was really rooting for all three in their individual sections.

A really engrossing historical fiction middle grade read about girls in the 1850s from various backgrounds and circumstances.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the portraits of the girls are against the background of the ocean with the bottle. I also like how the portraits look realistic as opposed to overly cartoon-like.

Need - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: Need
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 335 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Thriller
Started: December 18, 2015
Finished: December 27, 2015

From the inside cover:

What do you really need?

One by one, the teens in Nottawa, Wisconsin, join the newest, hottest networking site and answer one question: what do you need? a new iPhone? Backstage passes to a concert? In exchange for a seemingly minor task, the NEED site will fulfill your request. Everyone is doing it. so why shouldn't you?

Kaylee Dunham knows what she needs - a kidney for her sick brother. She doesn't believe a social networking site can help, but it couldn't hurt to try.

Or could it?

After making her request, Kaylee starts to realize the price that will have to be paid for her need to be met. The demands the site makes on users in exchange for their desires are escalating, and so is the body count. Will Kaylee be able to unravel the mystery of who created the NEED network before it destroys them all?

I fell in love with the author's previous series, The Testing trilogy (The TestingIndependent Study, and Graduation Day) so when I found out she had a new one-shot book coming out, I knew I'd be picking it up. Unfortunately the book didn't quite deliver in the way I was expecting.

The premise is promising: a town where a new social networking site appears exclusively to the teenage inhabitants, the site promises to grant requests they submit if they fulfill certain conditions, and the heroine of the story has a brother with a failing kidney and needs a transplant with no willing donors. Bang, I was hooked and read on waiting for this story to blow me away. But a couple key things got in the way.

First off, I teach teenagers, they are not as stupid as some people think. There is no way an entire school of them (especially the older ones) would fall for the premise of the NEED network in the first place, let alone get so swept up in it that people would start dying. Not realistic at all. Most kids know nothing in life is free and are suspicious of anything claiming otherwise. I could buy a handful, maybe 20-30 max out of a whole school buying into the concept and spreading mayhem in real life, but not close to 700 like the book explains. Nuh-uh, would not happen. So my suspension of disbelief was already not co-operating by this one fact alone.

Second of all, the creation of the NEED network itself and why it was created isn't realistic either, at least not in a modern setting. I can't divulge much for fear of spoilers, but it goes into the tin-foil hat conspiracy territory. I could've bought it under different conditions (sic-fi or dystopian setting where there are few limits placed on governments for example), but not in the modern setting the author chose.

Thirdly, there were way too many points of view. There are 10 different points of view in the entire book, starting out with Kaylee and alternating between various other characters. I could barely keep track of them all let alone identify with them. I understand the way the story is structured one would need to look at a point of view or two beyond the main protagonist (Kaylee) to see the motivations of the others involved in the NEED network, but having 10 is overkill, 2-4 would have been more manageable if done well.

A great premise but not executed well for the reasons above. I know the author is capable of great stories, so I will just assume this one was a fluke and wait for her next book.

Thoughts on the cover:
Well done in my opinion. Kaylee's face is on one side with the title down the other. It's hard to tell in a picture but there's computer-type font goings across the cover with all the "needs" the users wrote on the website, which is quite a nice touch.