Category Archives: Mystery

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Standard

Little Brother

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, ISBN: 9780765319852

Overview: Marcus and his friends are captured and detained by the government after a terrorist attack on San Francisco. They suspect him of having a secret online hacking presence, which he does, but cannot prove anything. So they let him go but warn him they will be watching. When Marcus gets out, his world has changed. His best friend was not released, but the government refuses to admit that they have him. The government is now monitoring everyone, through their computers and cellphones, even the toll passes that log where people travel. If someone is shown to have “abnormal” habits, they are stopped and questioned. Marcus feels violated and angry about the new state of order. So he decides to fight back the best way he knows how. Using his hacking and online networking skills. He amasses a large following and causes more work for the government while also trying to expose the injustices of this new system. But the government keeps getting closer to finding him out and Marcus doesn’t know who to trust.

Critical Evaluation: I had a hard time with this book. I really liked it, but it reminded me of how similar this is to the world we already live in. It raises really valid points on the security vs. privacy debate. Basically, how much of our privacy are we willing to give up to be safe? And do these new policies actually make us safer, or just more afraid? Doctorow raises really interesting issues in this book, about a world after a catastrophic attack, the kind of mentality that can take over, and the injustices that can happen, all in the name of security. While there are voices in the book that argue in favor of increased security, like Marcus’ dad, this is never really seen as a valid opinion. As the book continues to develop, and Marcus’ dad finds out that his son was tortured in the name of this security, his opinions shift dramatically.

Characters from the government organization NSA are seen as almost villainous, getting pleasure from the torture they inflict, or at least not feeling any remorse about it. I would have liked to see more depth to these characters, but I think it is easier to demonstrate the ultimate message of the book with more clear cut good and bad characters. On the other hand, I think we see at a couple of points that Marcus starts to question some of his tactics, and wonder just where the line is between activism and attack. And that is a question that is not really addressed in this book. Maybe there is some reference to it in the sequel. Or maybe that is one the reader is left to ponder on his or her own.

Reader’s Annotation: Marcus is arrested and detained during a terrorist attack on San Francisco. He knows the government is watching him, so he decides to challenge the new culture of surveillance with a couple of tricks of his own.

Information about the author: Cory Doctorow is Canadian born. He started selling fiction when he was 17. One of the first stories was called “Craphound,” hence the name of his website.  He has a comic character based on him (perhaps the ultimate honor)! He is featured in the webcomic xkcd and flies around in a hot air balloon in the blogosphere wearing a red cape and goggles.

He is well known as one of the founders of the popular blog BoingBoing. Forbes Magazine named him one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers.” He now lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Dystopian

Curriculum ties, if any: This would tie into discussions about civil liberties and technology.

Booktalking Ideas: Teens should be aware of privacy issues we are having on a national level already, and surely have strong opinions about their own privacy. So I would emphasize that part of the book. I think a lot would also appreciate the mischievous, prankster nature of some of the things that Marcus does.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Because of the violence, language, and sexual situations, I think this is a better read for an older teen.  School Library Journal recommends this book for grades 10 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language
  • Sexual situations
  • Drug Use

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

Violence is a central part of this book, and liable to make a fair number of people uncomfortable. The detailed descriptions of torture and predatory security tactics fit that description. Again, as we’ve said before, teens do experience this situation in real life, therefore, it is important for it to be represented in literature. And this book has definite potential to help teens think about what they would do in a similar circumstance.

Why did you include this book? : This was one of the required reads for the class, and unfortunately one of the only books I think I read that could be considered science fiction.

Reference Page:

Cory Doctorow. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow

Cory Doctorow author page. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow

Advertisements

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Standard

I am the Messenger

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak ISBN: 0375830995

Plot Summary: Ed’s first good deed is when he helps to stop a bank robber. After that, he starts getting Aces in the mail with cryptic instructions for who to help next. Couple that with a couple of thugs that occasionally visit to rough Ed up and make sure he completes the tasks, long hours driving a taxi, his smelly and emotive dog, and being love with his best friend, Audrey, and you’ve got Ed’s life as it has become. Completing the tasks feels mostly good, allowing him to meet a sweet old lady who just needs company or unite two brothers, but Ed has no idea who is sending him these playing cards and he’s not sure he’d like the reason behind them.

Critical Evaluation: Though not nearly as powerful a read as “The Book Thief,” this is still a well written and enjoyable story. When we meet Ed, he seems perfectly content with the way his life is. He lives in a tiny house, drives a taxi underage, and spends lazy nights playing cards with his similarly low achieving friends. But he feels worthless, and simultaneously unable to change that. The cards, accompanied by the thugs sort of force him to take action. Character development is very clearly supposed to be a focus of this book, with both Ed and the people he helps growing as people throughout the story. It’s not often that you read a book where nearly all the characters do that. I especially liked a scene with Ed and Audrey’s boyfriend. This is a guy that Ed has looked down on somewhat because of who he is to Audrey, but here you see each tentatively trying to understand the other.

The other element that caught my attention is the rising action of the story. There are slower moments of the book, but these are nicely interspersed between sequences that are faster paced and even gripping. I think this story is well suited to a lot of action because, though there is a climax to the story, and somewhat of an escalating of tasks, Ed has exciting adventures throughout the story. All of these individual stories he becomes involved in coalesce and escalate into the final mission, which is both to find out who is behind these playing cards, and how to improve his life long term. Even after the action has slowed, the resolution was still satisfying to me because there are many personal elements for Ed to work out. I got a good mix of answers to all my questions, but also an understanding that the story would continue to progress and change after the book ended.

Reader’s Annotation: Someone is sending Ed Aces in the mail with lists of people that need help in some way. Who is sending these messages, and what do they want with Ed?

Information about the author: Markus Zusak was born in 1975 in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of numerous books, most notably “The Book Thief.” This book, “I am the Messenger” was published in 2002.

His first three books were all published in Australia and garnered a number of awards there. “The Book Thief” topped bestseller lists all over the world. “I am the Messenger” won the 2003 CBC Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and the 2003 NSW Premier’s Literary Award (Ethel Turner Prize), as well as receiving a Printz Honor in America. Markus continues to live in Sydney, Australia.

Genre: Mystery

Curriculum ties, if any: None in particular.

Booktalking Ideas: I would emphasize the friendship in this story, because it adds humor to the story. This is particularly good for boys who enjoy mysteries, as I think they will identify with Ed, and maybe understand the involvement of violence more.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  The main character is 19 in this book, and already has a full time job and an apartment. Teens should still enjoy the mystery, and that, even though he is older than them, he doesn’t have his life figured out either.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language
  • Sexual situations

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

The violence is somewhat important to the storyline because it makes Ed’s actions more impressive. The ultimate theme of doing good things for others should make up for that. As for the language, I believe that it makes the book more believable and authentic.

Why did you include this book? : I read The Book Thief and really enjoyed it, and wanted to try something else by him. This was also the first mystery I read for the class.

Reference Page:

Biography for Markus Zusak. Goodreads. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/11466.Markus_Zusak

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Standard

Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman ISBN: 9780375866562

Plot Summary: When Prince Rufus is murdered, all signs point to dragons. This strains tensions between the dragons living in the city and the humans, who are already suspicious of the peace treaty. Seraphina has been instructed by her father to not draw attention to herself so as not to expose the fact that her mother was a dragon. But she is compelled to help the investigation, along with Prince Lucian, who is smart and shrewd enough to discover her secret.

Critical Evaluation: The setting of this book was well realized. This is set in a fictional town, where dragons and humans live side by side. Details about the way this world works, rules, and culture are given through the experiences of Seraphina. She talks about how her dragon mentor does not have to wear the bells customarily worn by dragons because he is a scholar. In her travels she goes through many different areas of the city, from the nice, human area she and her father live in, to the ghetto-like neighborhoods where more lowly creatures live. As musical assistant to the court composer, Seraphina is privy to a lot of conversations and different levels of the society. So she knows how dragon brains work differently than humans, which was fun for me to notice in her own actions. She also hears and sees how people treat dragons. All of this combines to create a world that is vivid and believable.

There is a sequel in the works, and some important details are left up in the air at the end of this book. The particular mystery at the focus of this story is resolved, but I was frustrated not to have a better resolution for other subplots. I think that is just the burden I must carry for having read an engaging and interesting story.

Reader’s Annotation: Dragons and humans have been living together somewhat peacefully, but the death of Prince Rufus and the signs that a dragon did it throw everything in the balance. Can Seraphina help Prince Lucian discover who’s behind it, without revealing her own dangerous secret?

Information about the author: Rachel Hartman was born in Lexington, Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature. Instead of getting a graduate degree, Rachel spent her time drawing comic books.

She has lived in a variety of places, like Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She currently lives in Vancouver, British Colombia with her family. “Seraphina” is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Curriculum ties, if any: It could be used to discuss acceptance of people different from yourself.

Booktalking Ideas: This will appeal most to readers of fantasy and those who like dragon stories. It is frequently compared to “Eragon” so I might mention that. I would also emphasize that this is a mystery and has intrigue and action.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Seraphina is sixteen in this story. She holds a full time job, which I think older teens will identify with more. Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for ages 12 and up, and School Library Journal for grades 7 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Minor language
  • Minor violence
  • Drinking

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

None of the potential issues with this book come up very often. I would be surprised if this book was challenged, but that being said, it has positive messages for women, as well as on being honest and doing what is right. It also meets the recreational needs of teens.

Why did you include this book? : I had heard good things about the book and wanted another type of fantasy to highlight.

Reference Page:

Hartman, R. (2013). Bio. Retrieved from http://rachelhartmanbooks.com/about/

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Standard

Image

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, 2012, ISBN: 9780316125840

Plot Summary: Jazz has never lived the life of an ordinary teen. His father was a prolific serial killer who raised Jazz to follow in his footsteps, until four years ago when he was finally caught and put behind bars. But Jazz’s problems don’t end there. Now he fends off nosy reporters, takes care of his senile and sometimes dangerous grandmother, tries to stay out of a foster home, and deals with his own complicated relationship with violence. Then someone starts replicating his father’s crimes and Jazz feels compelled to find the killer, even if it puts himself, his hemophiliac best friend, and his girlfriend in harm’s way.

Critical Evaluation: This book was engrossing and difficult to put down. Characters are well thought out, complex, and sympathetic (with the exception of the nosy reporter perhaps). Jazz seems totally believable, as someone struggling with not only being a teenager, but also what he has been taught by his father and his own dangerous urges. The book focuses more on Jazz struggling with his internal drama at the beginning, but there is plenty of plot development to keep the story moving. There is one element of character that left me confused: at one point, Jazz talks about how he could never hurt his girlfriend, Connie, for some specific reason that was not necessarily romantic, though I never felt like that reason was fully developed. Perhaps the sequel would shed more light on that.

As the reader is drawn into Jazz’s inner turmoil they are also drawn into the drama unfolding in his town. For me, I’d say character development played a primary role, but was closely followed by plot and the rising action that takes place as Jazz works to solve the mystery. It becomes more and more difficult to put the book down the further into the story gets, as murders keep happening and Jazz continues to unearth clues to find the killer.

As far as expert reviews go, Kirkus says, “Readers of Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver novels (I Am Not a Serial Killer, 2010, etc.) will find echoes of them here, though the writing is not as tight and the creep factor is lower. Also, the certain-sequel open ending is a bit of a letdown.” I will say that I wished for a more conclusive ending to the story, but will be happy to continue on the journey for at least one more book.

Reader’s Annotation: Jazz’s serial killer father is behind bars, but someone is recreating his crimes. The whole town suspects Jazz, so he must expose the killer himself, but what if some of his own violent tendencies surface in the process?

Information about the author: Barry Lyga is the author of many young adult novels, such as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Mangaman. He was born in 1971 in Southbridge, Massachusetts. As a child and teen, he was obsessed with comic books, even though the adults around him discouraged that interest.

He majored in English at Yale, where he looked at comic books from an academic standpoint. He then went on to work for Diamond Comic Distributors. He now lives in New York. His first book was published in 2006 and his writing is highly regarded by critics and teens alike.

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Curriculum ties, if any: None.

Booktalking Ideas: I think this book would fit well with other creepy ones, especially the Shades of London series (the first book is also about a copycat killer) and could be construed as mystery as well. I would also highlight the friendship between Jazz and Howie, as well as their quirky humor.

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 17, and there are somewhat detailed descriptions of murder victims, so I would recommend this for more mature readers. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus recommend this title for 15 year olds and up. School Library Journal and Booklist list it as appropriate for grades 9-12.

Challenge Issues:

  • violence
  • some sexual situations

Defense strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For “I Hunt Killers”, I would argue that this is an important title to have in the collection because it presents insight into how people struggle with doing the right thing and giving in to urges. I also gained insight into the way a serial killer thinks, so I think it might give the reader a heightened awareness of potential warning signs and maybe keep them safer. It’s also an empowering story, that demonstrates what a teen is capable of accomplishing, but it doesn’t glorify disobeying adults; Jazz faces a lot of danger and gets in trouble quite a few times for his involvement.

Why did you include this book? : This title is a thriller and mystery, so it represents the broad spectrum of genres in YA fiction. I also appreciate that it deals with a teen struggling with emotional issues and the scars left behind by a very troubling childhood.