The Abyss Surrounds Us

Necessary Info:

Synopsis: 

The modern world has been altered due to climate change which caused floods to wreck the world and cities to be submerged. Because of this, the government has decided to redistribute the land into smaller sections to ensure that governments can take care of their people, but with the influx of water on the planet, pirates have taken to the seas, choosing to live outside of government rule. To combat this new societal threat, the government created a new weapon called a Reckoner, a metal-plated genetically-engineered monster infused with animal DNA that is larger than a semi-truck and trained to destroy any ship that threatens the ship they’re imprinted to protect.

Cassandra Leung (Cas), the protagonist of the story, has always wanted to be a full Reckoner trainer, but although she began learning to train the monsters as a child, she has never had full control of them as they defend ships against the pirates that roam and pillage the seas of the NeoPacific. At 17, Cas finally gets her chance. She is named the trainer of Durga, a large turtle-resembling Reckoner who’s in charge of a cruise ship, an easy ship to protect. But, instead of smooth sailing, something happens to Durga, and Cassandra is captured by a pirate ship helmed by the evil and complicated, Santa Elena, and her crew of equally complex mutineers. Somehow, Santa Elena has captured a Reckoner of her own and needs Cas to raise it in order to level the playing field on the high seas.

Cas is held as a prisoner-like entity on the ship (she doesn’t get special privileges, but she isn’t locked up) and comes to meet the various members of the crew that includes a group of five teenagers (Chuck, Code, Lemon, Varma, and Swift) who are in the running to become Santa Elena’s successor. Each of the trainees has a special skill that has caught the captain’s eye, but Swift is at the head of the ranks, which is why Elena gives her the most difficult job of all – to ensure the Reckoner is raised properly and that Cas doesn’t try to flee. If Swift fails at either task, her life is also at risk.

The bonding of Cas and Swift’s lives creates a relationship that neither girl anticipated, and it forces Cas to rethink all she knows about pirates and their lives on the sea. There is much more to the world than what she learned as a citizen of the Southern Republic of California, and she doesn’t realize just how privileged her life has been until she is forced to look at the lives of those who live differently.

What I like most about the novel is Cas’ consistent musings about the gray areas of morality. She has learned how to train Reckoners to kill pirates and destroy their ships, which she sees as ethically just because of the stereotypes surrounding pirate life and the laws that society has put in place that specifically target pirates. Once on the ship, however, she is presented with the argument that she is just as ruthless as the pirates, possibly more ruthless, because although the pirates pillage and plunder for a living, at least they only kill in self-defense – the people on the ship who do not resist are allowed to live. Additionally, Cas struggles with where she belongs in the world. She thinks the ‘right’ thing to do would be to flee the pirate ship and go back to her family, but in a society where they give trainers a cyanide-type pill before setting out to sea just in case they are captured by pirates (literally, her father gives her the pill and tells her to take it because she holds special trainer secrets), it’s hard to know where home is. Lastly, she struggles with her relationship with Swift. Swift is her captor, but she is also the girl who saves her life.

Diversity Elements:

  • Women are the prominent characters in the novel – the captain of the ship is Santa Elena, who took control of her ship with a baby on her back; Cassandra’s mother is the engineer of the monsters, while her father trains them; Swift seems to take the lead position in the contest to become the next captain of the ship
  • Diverse Characters:
    • Cassandra (Cas) = Asian, lesbian girl
    • Swift = white, lesbian girl
    • Varma = Hindu boy;
    • Chuck = Pacific Islander girl;
    • Lemon = Aleutian?
    • Captain Santa Elena = ambiguous in race/ethnicity, but she’s described as having brown skin
  • There’s a father who is raising four children and taking care of his mother. He can’t work because he’s taking care of everyone, so he relies on outside funds to help him to take care of the family, which turns the trope of the single mother on its head.

Science: 

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Future Shock

Necessary Info:

Synopsis:

Elena is 17-years-old, and she is about to age out of the foster system – her mother is gone, and her father is in prison. She has an eidetic memory that she hides from the wold, and with no money for college and no job (although she is trying), her prospects for the future are slim. This all changes when the Aether Corporation randomly selects her to embark on a mission that will change her life, especially since they are offering more money than she ever thought possible. She and four other young people are sent on a mission to the future to take note of everything they see and/or find and bring the information back to the present. The only catch is that they are not to look up any information about their future selves. But, once they arrive in the future, most of the group discovers that they no longer exist.

Secrets, teamwork, betrayal, and friendship are all elements discussed in this novel, and although it’s short in comparison to other young adult literature, the fast-paced story and first-person detail from Elena’s perspective creates a bond between the reader and the characters in the story. It’s not a traditional sci-fi novel because even though the technology is advanced, there’s not a lot of information on how it got this way. This is understandable, though, because the entire story takes place over about five days, with most of the story within one 24-hour period. It does have some dystopian elements in that the society is greatly surveilled to the point where even small items (like the size of a pen) can be tracked by the government, and there is the staggering disparity between the wealthy and the poor (Future-Adam’s house vs. the Wombat’s).

What I like about this novel is the mystery element. I was trying to figure out who was responsible for the young people’s future erasure throughout the novel, and the tension that builds during certain moments was pretty amazing. I also really liked Elena’s character because she had faults that she tried to suppress instead of confront, something I think many of us do. I felt like there was a lot to her character other than her exterior. I also appreciated the author hinting at the racial prejudice Elena faced. When she applied for the job at the beginning, and when she meets Adam’s mother, it’s easy to tell that people often judge her because of what she looks like. Lastly, I liked how the setting was in the future, but it wasn’t so far in the future that it was completely unbelievable.

I was disappointed by the fact that Elena needed a boy to tell her that she didn’t have to be like her father, though, and I also hated the fact that many of the other characters were underdeveloped. I feel like there was so much more the author could have done with Elena’s allies. The most information I had about them was in the conversation they all had about why they accepted the Aether Corporation’s offer, but those stories alone prove that the author could have delved more deeply into their identities.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is a young Latinx woman;
  • Diverse secondary characters such Chris (Black young man) and Zoe (Asian, young, bisexual woman)
  • Almost all of the main characters are in the foster system, and each has a different perspective of the environment, but all want better for themselves and for their future.

Science: 

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Pure

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Julianna Baggott 
  • Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic pure
  • Pages: 448
  • Age Range: 14-17
  • Grade Level: 8-12
  • Lexile: 680L
  • Publication Date: 8 February 2012
  • If you want to buy it, click here.
  • TW: There’s talk of suicide and physical abuse in the book, and although they aren’t topics that the author dwells upon, it’s something to look out for if that is a trigger.

Synopsis:

A large bomb has hit Earth, and everyone except those in the Dome have been affected by the Detonations. Millions have died, and the people who are left on the outside have been left to die in the fallout. Those in the Dome are known as “Pures” by those on the outside. They were untouched by the Detonations, and many have no idea what it’s like on the outside because propaganda has hidden the truth. The main character, Pressia Belze is 15 and lives in the back of a deteriorated barber shop with her grandfather. Her hand is fused with a doll’s head, and her grandfather’s neck is fused with a fan, both were holding these items when the bomb dropped, and everyone who is living on the outside of the dome is either fused with an object (like Pressia), with nature (there are people fused with rock or trees), or with other people (there are things called Groupies, so named because a group of people are now fused together). If that’s not bad enough, when children turn 16-years-old, they are taken from their families by the OSR, a revolutionary group who wants to overthrow the Dome and the destroy the perfect people inside who have left them for dead. This group uses the adolescents as new soldiers… or as target practice.

Alternatively, we have the Dome, where the other major character, Partridge, lives. His father is the leader of the Dome, and his brother was a “super-recruit” for the academy, so his last name has a lot of weight. But, although he lives a pretty good life away from “the wretches” (what they call people on the outside), he’s unhappy. He hates his father. His brother is gone, and his mother is dead. On top of that, his genetic coding is not working properly. In this place, all young boys goes through a genetic coding process to enhance their skills – they are quicker, more intelligent, etc. His brother was the perfect specimen for these enhancements, but he is not, and his father hates it. One day, his father makes a statement that may mean his mother is alive, so he takes that information and decides to leave the Dome and find the one person who he knows cares for him.

The story is full of twists and turns, and there are many questions that this book puts forth: How malleable is history? Can beauty exist without ugliness? Is it better to live in a cage of ignorance or live in the freedom of a harsh reality?

What I like most about this story was the “beautiful barbarism” of it all. The world that Pressia and Partridge inhabit is dark. I thought The Hunger Games was dark, but it has nothing on this story. There is pain, loss, and sadness throughout the story, and there were times when I had to step away because I was in my feelings a little bit (the mothers’ scene was heart-wrenching and triumphant simultaneously). But, the story was beautifully written; the messages about society and power were clear, but not didactic; and the intensity of emotion was electric. I never thought that there could be beauty in a man who has a scarred face and live birds (flapping and all) fused to his back. Baggott showed me that you can find beauty in the unlikeliest of places.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character, Pressia, is Japanese and Scotch-Irish;
  • The race of many other characters is ambiguous, which I liked because I was able to imagine them in my own way

Science: 

World Cultures/History

Survivors of US Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina – “Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku downloadpeople”
  • Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Dystopian
  • Pages: 383
  • Age Range: 12+ according to Publisher’s Weekly
  • Grade Level: 7-12
  • Publication Date: 8 April 2014
  • If you want to buy it, click here.

Synopsis:

The story is set in the future, some 300 years from now after human greed and focus on technology caused an environmental catastrophe that has destroyed the Earth as we know it. Humans have survived, but due to the disaster, “accords” have been written and new government entities have formed to regulate existence and ensure that humans don’t go overboard and destroy the planet ever again. Ashala Wolf, the protagonist, is the leader of The Tribe (called Illegals by dominant society), a group of young runaways who have special abilities and are ostracized because the dominant society believes that their abilities offset “the balance” in the world. Set in a futuristic time, the teens work against a system that despises them because they are inherently different, and they fight against this system in order to force those who are generally accepted to question the society that has forced these teens to live a life of seclusion in the forest.

Fulfilling her position as leader, Ashala makes the decision to be taken into custody by the evil Neville Rose in an effort to save her friends. She is pitted against Neville’s creation,  “the machine”, a device that extracts significant memories from a person’s subconscious. Neville intends to use the machine to locate the other runaways in an effort to eradicate them from the planet because he believes that those who are different don’t have a place in the future of society – the children’s special abilities are “unnatural”, so they must be destroyed. Ashala’s job, then, is to not only save her friends, but ask those in society an important question: “Does a person with an ability belong to the Balance?”

What I like about this novel is not only that the main character is a part of the Indigenous population, but also that the forest itself is a character with as much consciousness, life, and vibrance as the human characters. For example, before Ashala and her friends can live in the forest away from the society that imprisons them, they must ask the forest for refuge and vow to protect it, showing that the forest itself has agency that exists with and without human intervention.

I also like that the story took me on an unexpected journey. At the beginning of the story, I truly disliked Ashala’s consistent empathy for characters who were her enemies, specifically Connor, the guard who captures her and takes part in her interrogation. But, as I continued reading, I realized that there was so more to the story than the author gave me initially, and I was pleasantly surprised by the way the story turned out. Of course, I don’t give spoilers on this page, but there’s much more than meets the eye in this story, and I appreciate Kwaymullina for offsetting my expectations in the best way.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is a young Indigenous woman;
  • Diverse secondary characters such as Georgie Spider (tribe member) and Rae Wentworth (Doctor in the detention center)
  • Ashala experiences trauma with the loss of her sister, and there is a short discussion of seeking psychological help for panic attacks and coping. I think this is a diverse element because it shows that seeking assistance for trauma is sometimes necessary and ok.
  • In this story, racial segregation and discrimination is a thing of the past (as noted in the story), but the themes and deep feelings associated with discrimination due to differences is still prevalent.
  • Australian Aboriginal culture is interwoven throughout the novel by including the concept of Dreamtime

The diversity of the characters is shown through the characters’ racial makeup, and I love that the characters are flawed and nuanced. For example, Ashala is known for her extreme empathy for others, but there are times when I feel like this empathy impact was over-the-top. But later, there is discussion about how she was so filled with hatred over the loss of her sister at the hands of the government that she almost loses it and exacts revenge, wishing to kill anyone that may have had a hand in causing her this pain.

Additionally, this is considered an “Aussie” dystopian story, but I feel like there are so many aspects of the novel that can be used to promote cross-cultural discussion about the oppression that exists for diverse populations; how uniques family dynamics and friendships can go beyond blood, race, and/or other identity markers; how allies can assist in liberation/emancipation from oppressive forces; and how the ignorance of those who are not oppressed can restrain diverse populations.

Science: 

 

World Cultures/History

Aboriginal Dreamtime

Other Reviews:

Time Trap

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Micah Caida – in the author bio, it says that Micah Caida is a melding of two
    minds. What they mean is that two authors 17369278came together and chose this name to represent the two of them – Mary Buckham (Invisible Recruits series) and Dianna Love (Belador series)
  • Pages: 342
  • Age Range: 14+ according to YA Books Central
  • Publication Date: 20 January 2014
  • If you want to buy it, click here. At the time of this review (4/18/17), the first book is free through the Kindle app.

Synopsis:

Rayen is a 17-year-old girl who has no idea where she came from, what she knows, who she knows, or how she got where she is. This detail truly effects the entire story because she can’t answer basic questions about her heritage or family even though she does remember some things, like what an elder is or how to defend herself.

Rayen wakes up in the middle of a desert in New Mexico with some beast-like monster chasing her. Eventually, though, she gets away from the monster, is found by local authorities, and is taken to a special boarding school for extremely intelligent children. Because she doesn’t know who her family is or where she came from, the school commences to do a blood test, and while she waits for the results, she is sent to a computer class.

In this class, she is paired with the misogynistic and slightly racist, Tony, who detests having her as a partner. They go to an old computer room to begin looking for computer parts to use for the completion of their project. Once there, they run into Gabby, the girl with the colorful ponytails who seems to have janitorial duties for some reason (it’s alluded to, but we don’t know exactly why she’s receiving this punishment). Suddenly, the three of them get sucked into a computer that catapults them into the future. But, will they be able to make it home, and will Rayen ever find out who she really is?

What I liked most about this novel is that it was different – completely different from pretty much any book I’ve read this year. There’s a mix of science fiction, dystopian, and fantasy concepts, so there are great technological advancements, a society in ruins because of something (they didn’t fully explain how the world got to what it’s like now, but they hinted that a man-made virus could have caused the turmoil), and there is also some innate, spiritual, magical elements as well. The author(s) use this first installment of the series to build their futuristic world, and I must admit that some things were confusing (I re-read various parts multiple times to come up with a visual of the plants, the animals, the people, etc.), but using descriptors to create the picture was a fun endeavor.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is a Native-American woman;
  • Gabby – secondary character – is Asian
  • The futuristic people are various colors – blue, brown, etc.

The major diversity aspects were in Rayen and Gabby’s racial makeup, and I don’t think their races/their cultures added to the depth of the story. The racial information only gave Tony fodder to make insensitive jokes, and Gabby seemed a little stereotypical to me. I would have liked to see more done with the racial aspect to provide more nuance. But, I also think that stories like this paired with more accurate portrayals of diverse identities are necessary to bring to the conversation to discuss how authors could enhance their racially diverse characters.

Science: 

Social Studies/Government/History

Art

Although I don’t have any links to take you to for this, the world built by Caida is colorful and magical, and the descriptions provide just enough detail to give a general visual of the beings in this world. I think it would be awesome to have English teachers team up with art teachers to create visual representations of this world.

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Panther in the Hive

Necessary Info:

  • Author: Olivia Cole (She’s Super Awesome BTW) 41bTTnxn0hL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_
  • Pages: 472
  • Age Range: This is a hard one. The main character is 21, but based on reader
    response on Goodreads, many readers believed her to be younger in age. I also thought that although she portrayed some traits of an adult, her presence was very adolescent in nature,  so I would recommend it for older adolescents (and of course, I recommend all YA to adults). Publisher’s weekly says it’s for ages 12+, though, but I would say read it before you recommend it.
  • Publication Date: 31 March 2014
  • If you want to buy it, click here.

Synopsis:

Tasha is a 21-year old Black woman living in Chicago. She works at the mall, loves Prada, and kills zombie-like creatures bent on ending her existence. In this story set in in a futuristic, but not so distant, society, California has seceded from the US, walking sidewalks replace the concrete ones, and people pretty much live in mega malls.  A for-profit healthcare system creates a two-tiered hierarchy of citizens – those who can afford it and those who cannot. But, a glitch (I’m still not sure about whether or not this error was intentional) may prove that those who were unable to qualify for the healthcare fared better in the end.

What I liked most about Cole’s novel is that the character spoke to me. I’ve always wondered if I would still worry about certain things if I lived in a dystopian world – Would I care if my armpits stunk? Would I wonder what my appearance was like? Would I risk death to get a hold of some deodorant and toothpaste? I’m not saying that every person would or should think about those things if the world was ending as we knew it, but I also think it’s important to show that thinking about them is a possibility. Too often, I think that in trying to show that girls don’t have to be princesses, writers create characters that are extremely anti-stereotypically feminine. Why can’t a girl like lipstick and kick butt? Why can’t she miss her flat iron as she sweats from running away from killers? Seeing female characters living unapologetically, whatever that may be for them in the context of the novel, is refreshing. I feel like if there were ever a zombie apocalypsse, I would be like Tasha, with my Wusthof in hand.

Diversity Elements:

  • The main character is an African-American woman;
  • Secondary characters are mostly people of color – women and men;
  • Nuanced identities for diverse characters

This book is full of women of color literally fighting a system that has marginalized them. Even when a character is present only for a short time, their story is still told. They have names, they have stories, they have dynamic identities.

Science: 

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On the Edge of Gone

cover-for-on-the-edge-of-goneNecessary Info:

  • Author: Corinne Duyvis
  • Pages: 468
  • Age Range: 14-17
  • Lexile: HL640L
  • Publication Date: 8 March 2016
  • If you want to buy it, click here.

Synopsis:

Denise is a sixteen-year-old Dutch and Surinamese autistic girl from the Netherlands who attempts to save her family by securing their place on an escape ship after a comet hits the Earth. Problems abound, however, because her drug-addicted mother often makes mistakes, her sister has not been found, and she has no idea whether her father has survived. To add to this drama, Denise has no skills (that she knows  of), and the ship only takes in those who have “some use.”

What I liked most about the books is the fact that each of the characters make decisions I don’t like. I know this is odd to say, but I think about it this way: so many times there are characters who make the “right” decisions and think the “right” things more often then not. This book is not like that. It is a great study of character in that tough choices are presented by various entities (the captain of the ship, Denise’s mother, Denise’s sister, other survivors), and Denise battles with her options, good and bad.

Diversity Elements:

  • The protagonist is an autistic, mixed-race, female adolescent;
  • There is a secondary/tertiary character who is a trans woman;
  • Minor characters = a little person, an autistic adult woman, people in wheel chairs (briefly mentioned), people from various races

It is one of the most diverse casts of characters I’ve ever seen, and although there are many aspects of diversity addressed, it doesn’t feel forced or put out on display. In literature, most aspects of diversity are presented as issues – if it’s about trans people, its about how they “cope”; if it is about women in a male dominated realm, their gender is consistently recognized. Here, however, diversity is mentioned; it is discussed; it is part of the story, but it doesn’t drive the story specifically. Denise is autistic, and it definitely affects her life and how she manages her changed environment, but the main issue is how to ensure her and her family’s survival.

Science: 

  • Sustainability – The escape ship is called a generation ship, one that is supposed to be able to sustain life for multiple generations. Multiple questions arise, for example: (1) How would different populations affect the different nutrients needed? (2) What are the odds of crop failure and crop success in a non-traditional environment? (3) How much more of one crop would be needed if a different crop fails? (4) How many people could protein bars feed and for how long? (5) Could a farm be sustained aboard a ship for generations?
  • Standards that could be addressed: 
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.8
      Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.9
      Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.

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