Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Annie. Beyond Me. Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-43789-9. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.
This novel written in verse is about eleven year old Maya who lives in Japan with her American mother and Japanese father. Follow Maya as she lives through the events of March 11, 2011, the day a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Maya and her family are among the lucky ones who live outside of Tokyo, far enough away from the center of the earthquake, tsunamis, and subsequent radiation leaks. As Maya sits by and watches her family do things to help, Maya feels helpless. Rescuing a cat that she finds out was abandoned after the quake, planting radiation absorbing sunflowers, and making 1,000 paper cranes with her friend Yuka help to give her a purpose as she waits for the next aftershock to hit.
THOUGHTS: This book is told from an eleven year old’s point of view and really highlights the stress and worry kids feel when a natural disaster happens. I like that Maya’s mother helps her find ways she can help in a crisis.
Contestants on the new virtual reality television show Cut Off have their own reasons for competing. Part I begins with contestant interviews as each player is introduced at their current location on a remote island. Readers get to know River, a natural survivalist whose parents died in a car accident; Cam, who feels responsible for her little brother due to their mom’s is incarceration; Trip, whose technology is what makes the show’s virtual reality experience unmatched; and Liza, who seems to know a lot but isn’t inclined to share much about herself. As the contestants are forced together to survive, they begin to realize that they may be more cut off than they signed up for. When technology begins to fail and fears become real, they have to rely on each other to survive. But they signed on to compete for a one million dollar prize, and they each have fears, some that may be too difficult to overcome.
THOUGHTS: Told in several parts this action-packed adventure begins with meeting basic survival needs and evolves into a high tech world of survival. Fans of stories like Warcross by Marie Lu, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Eye of Minds by James Dashner, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline will get their tech adventure fix in this stand alone title.
Science Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Burg, Ann E. Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-54069-7. 313 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.
Gertrude Quinn is a spirited young school girl, looking forward to singing at Decoration Day. Daniel Fagan is planning a summer spent outdoors, maybe even sneaking a swim in at the private late at the top of King’s Mountain. Monica Fagan is looking forward to traveling the world, especially if it means she’ll leave Daniel and his pranks behind. Joe Dixon is waiting for the perfect moment–the perfect moment to tell his father he isn’t working at the company store but instead bought a newsstand, and the perfect moment to propose to his true love, Maggie. William James has been collecting words for a long time, and he’ll get a chance to use them when he reads an original poem at Decoration Day. George Hoffman wishes his pa would let him quit school so he can go to work to help his family of 10. In Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown, Ann E. Berg tells a tale of the lives that were being lived before the disaster on May 31, 1889, that took the lives of more than 2,200 people, including 99 entire families and 396 children. We follow six main characters as they prepare for the Decoration Day celebration, disappointed by the rain but oblivious to the calamity about to unfold. We see the flood as experienced by these characters, and we also witness the aftermath. The flood is the catalyst, but it is not the main character. Instead, Burg has chosen to tell a tale of lives lived, lost and saved.
THOUGHTS: The character development and storytelling will attract students who may not know about the Johnstown flood, and it will likely encourage students to read more about this catastrophe.
Historical FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD
Bowling, Dusti. The Canyon’s Edge. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49469-4. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.
Are you likely to die in this situation? is a question Nora asks herself often after surviving a shooting at a restaurant on her birthday which claimed her mother’s life. Nora and her dad trek into a canyon in the middle of the desert one day to get away from life for a few hours and spend time doing what their family loved to do – hike and explore. But when a flash flood suddenly strikes, Nora’s dad is swept away moments after saving her life. Nora is now left with absolutely nothing, not even her backpack, and must battle her inner demons and various canyon hazards to find her dad…. and a way out. Alone in the desert Nora must overcome her past in order to save her future.
THOUGHTS: A must have for your collection and for fans of Hatchet! Finally a story where a female protagonist overcomes the odds in a survival story. Bowling brings the emotion in this novel in verse and teaches us that we are more capable than we think. Bowling wrote this book to honor a family of nine that perished in a flash flood a day after she visited the same spot with her family.
Oliver, Ben. The Loop. Chicken House, 2020. 978-1-338-58930-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.
The Loop. The high-tech prison serving adolescent death-row inmates is a unique hellscape. With torture every night and isolation most of the day, these juveniles are the dregs of society, committers of crimes so unspeakable as to be sentenced to death before they ever turn 18. But one thing can “save” them; choosing a ‘Delay’ extends their sentence by 6 months. Another 6 months to live, but only if they partake in scientific experiments including experimental surgeries, that’s assuming they survive. Everything runs like clockwork, down to the minute the same thing happens every day. Until it doesn’t. Until the rain doesn’t come. Set in a society where the government has the control, even over the weather, what will happen when things go awry, when the people revolt?
THOUGHTS: A thrilling-fast paced dystopia, The Loop will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.
Fighting to Survive. Capstone, 2020. $26.49 ea. $161.64 set of 6. 64 p. Grades 5-8.
Braun, Eric. Fighting to Survive in the Wilderness. 978-0-756-56187-1. Dickmann, Nancy. Fighting to Survive Animal Attacks. 978-0-756-56184-0. Dickmann, Nancy. Fighting to Survive World War II. 978-0-756-56188-8. Raum, Elizabeth. Fighting to Survive Being Lost at Sea. 978-0-756-56185-7. Raum, Elizabeth. Fighting to Survive Space Disasters. 978-0-756-56186-4.
Readers looking to experience action-packed true stories will want to pick up the latest titles in Capstone’s Fighting to Survive series. Each volume features multiple stories (some from in the past; others from more recent history), of individuals and groups fighting to survive potentially life-threatening situations. This reviewer had the opportunity to read Fighting to Survive Being Lost at Sea. Chapters related tales of those experienced adventures on the ocean, from being aboard the Titanic, to surviving a U-Boat attack during WWII to a present day tale of a teen on a round-the-world sailing trip who encounters difficulties. Sidebars highlight points of interest and historical facts. The text is accompanied by photos, paintings and maps.
THOUGHTS: This engaging series is a worthy purchase for libraries serving upper elementary and middle school students. Each action-packed tale will have readers on the edge of their seats wondering how the individual/group will ultimately survive. These volumes would also pair nicely with fictional stories of survival.
Korman, Gordon. War Stories. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-29020-2. 231 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.
No matter how many times his father tells him that war is not a video game, 12-year old Trevor Firestone refuses to believe it. Not when his video game seems to line up with what his great grandfather has told him about his experiences in World War II. So when his G.G. has an opportunity to return to France as the guest of honor at a celebration commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory in Europe, Trevor can’t wait to tag along. But even before they leave the United States, there are hints that G.G.’s time in France was not as described. It seems some people remember him differently and would rather he did not return for his hero’s welcome because they see him as anything but a hero. With chapters alternating between present day and 1944, Korman increases the tension the closer Trevor and his family get to Sainte-Régine. G.G.’s stories of war, which had always seemed so exciting to Trevor, start to turn somber, and when the truth is revealed, Trevor will have a better understanding of the price of war.
THOUGHTS: Korman does an excellent job of taking the glamour out of war for students who may experience it only through video games. Ultimately, this is a well-told story about the importance of family.
Realistic Fiction Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD
Lake, Nick. Nowhere on Earth. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 978-1-984-89644-5. 292 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.
Emily would do anything to protect her little brother, Aiden, even stowing away on a bush plane when the men in black start following him around town. But crashing in the Alaskan wilderness wasn’t in the plan. However, the rapid arrival of men with guns, shooting at them, propels Emily into action. She, Aiden, and Bob, the injured pilot, head out across the dangerous landscape, trying to put distance between themselves and the hunters, making their way towards safety. The book opens with the plane crash and the adrenaline doesn’t let down. Emily’s and Aiden’s backstories are revealed as the story unfolds, including Emily’s tempestuous relationship with her parents. Emily does come to appreciate the myriad survival lessons her ex-special-ops father taught her, as well as the beauty of the Alaskan territory, but deeply resents her parents for moving from Minneapolis and forcing her to leave behind her beloved ballet. The book begins as an adventure-survival tale, but then evolves into so much more, including a massive plot-twist and several thought provoking ethical issues. A few threads could have been more fully developed, including a hint that the plane crashed due to sabotage, but readers will be forgiving.
THOUGHTS: This hard to pigeon hole book should find a home with a wide variety of readers. Perfect for those who prefer a book that grabs you from the first page, but also gives satisfaction to readers looking for some depth.
McCrina, Amanda. Traitor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-31352-4. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.
War is not clean and neat, and McCrina’s Traitor masterfully portrays the emotional and ethical wreckage it causes. The two-pronged storyline begins with Tolya, in July 1944. A young soldier in the Soviet army during World War II, Tolya keeps his head down. With his Ukranian father executed as a traitor, and his mother shot for being Polish, his loyalties do not lie with the Soviets, but he enlisted because he was alone and hungry. When he shoots his unit’s political officer during an assault on a young woman, it’s only a matter of time until the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, arrest and shoot him. However, when he is whisked away, it turns out to be an extraction by the Ukranian Insurgent Army, who are looking for a sniper to assassinate a high ranking Soviet officer. The alternate plot line begins in June 1941, following young Ukranian Aleksey who is attempting to break his Ukranian nationalist hero father out of a Russian controlled Polish prison prior to the arrival of German troops. As life deteriorates in the Polish city, an injured Aleksey and his brother, Mykola, find themselves in the care of the Polish Resistance. Both plotlines highlight the confusing disintegration of loyalties as the Germans advance into Russian territory. While the Russians had allied themselves with the Polish resistance earlier in the war, now they are actively hunting and killing them. Astute readers may pick up on the connection between the two plotlines early in the book; most will unravel it deeper into the story, hindered by the profusion of characters with unfamiliar names. But the ultimate moral of the story is that there are no winners in war. Readers’ hearts will ache for the profound loneliness of both Tolya and Aleksey, as they cannot bring themselves to trust anyone. Ultimately, it seems, everyone’s goal is to just survive. A character list and an outline of military units at the end of the book are extremely useful to readers in keeping the complex stories organized.
THOUGHTS: This outstanding historical fiction story highlights a lesser known corridor of World War II. The era is presented in deeply humanistic terms, highlighting the psychological toll war causes on those caught up against their will. It can be a challenging read with dozens of characters and multiple factions to keep straight, but the reward is magnificent. Hand this stunning book to Alan Gratz fans who are ready for something more mature.
You Choose: Can You Escape? Capstone Press, 2020. $24.49 ea. $97.96. set of 4. 112 p. Grades 3-7.
Braun, Eric. Could You Escape Alcatraz? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57392-3. Doeden, Matt. Could You Escape the Paris Catacombs? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57394-7. Hoena, Blake. Could You Escape a Deserted Island? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57395-4. —. Could You Escape the Tower of London? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57393-0.
Reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80s, this series takes you on a survivalist journey to various locations. Each book in the series offers 3 paths with 41 different choices and 18 possible endings. This reviewer had the opportunity to choose a path through the Paris Catacombs, 100 feet below the cities of Paris. The path started with a choice to explore the catacombs as a young worker in the 1700s, a modern-day tourist, or as a rescuer of a group of teens lost in the labyrinth. Written for younger adventurers, this is an enjoyable book for grades 3-7 as you get to choose your own destiny during your journey. Filled with photographs of the actual catacombs and artists renderings of Paris, this adventure series is sure to delight students.
THOUGHTS: This is a great modernized version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that many of us grew up with that will delight this generation of readers. A great read for reluctant readers since the text is not overwhelming and the chance to read the book several times to create new endings will entice them to read more.