YA – Ready Player Two

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player Two. Ballantine Books, 2020. 978-1-524-76133-2. 370 p. $28.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Wade Watts has won the contest. He’s rich, he’s famous, he’s living the life of his dreams? Inheriting billions of dollars and taking control of GSS has left Wade wrapped up in a lavishly padded but empty life. With robotic staff at home and avatars inside the Oasis, Wade very rarely interacts with actual, physical people. While the rest of the High Five move on, creating great lives and names for themselves, Wade is left behind. That is until the unexpected happens and the High Five are thrown back together again, with a new race to save the Oasis. One with even greater consequences than before.

THOUGHTS: Ready Player Two is as much an action-packed whirlwind as the first. Readers will delight in meeting friends, old and new, that change the face of humanity.

Science Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Wade Watts has just won James Halliday’s contest and, along with his friends, the high five, has become one of the new co-owners of Gregarious Simulation Systems. As James Halliday’s heir, he now wears the robes of Anorak while in the Oasis, giving his avatar Parzival unlimited power. Days after winning the contest, Wade also discovers a new technology called ONI (Oasis neural interface) which has never been released to the public. Halliday specifically left this technology to his heir, and Wade, along with his co-owners Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, has to decide if the world is ready for this technology. Only Art3mis objects, and soon the world starts experiencing the Oasis in a new and improved way. Wade quickly becomes addicted to the new ONI experience, and lives a very solitary life, always waiting to get back into the Oasis. However, when a new quest is revealed, similar to Halliday’s egg contest in the previous installment, Wade needs all of the help he can get, from both old friends and new, and Parzival must once again step up to the challenge to save the Oasis while keeping ONI users out of danger.

THOUGHTS: The futuristic setting of both Ready Player One and Ready Player Two doesn’t seem as unrealistic as it did to me when I first started this series. One of the benefits of the Oasis is that people can interact safely without the fear of spreading disease, and they often reference a terrible flu that killed millions before the Oasis became so widely used. Since so many of our interactions in 2020 were virtual, it makes me wonder if something like the Oasis will be in our future as well. I’m glad this book picked up right where book one left off, and the events that transpired after didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me either. Readers must remember how young Wade Watts is, and after inheriting everything from James Halliday in the previous book, it only makes sense that he’s not always going to make the right choices after becoming a billionaire overnight. Mostly, I loved all of the 80s pop culture references, especially the John Hughes planet inside of the Oasis! It was a nice wrap up to events set in motion in Ready Player One, and a perfect book to read during these primarily virtual times.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – War Stories

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

YA Fiction – Disappeared; Warcross

Stork, Francisco X. Disappeared. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-0545-944472. $17.99. 326 pp. Gr. 7-12.  

Stork’s latest novel shows the effects of secrets, crime, socioeconomics, and morality on journalist Sara Zapata and her brother Emiliano in the harsh “spiderweb” of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Sara is committed to her work and to her weekly column on the “Desaparecidas”,the disappeared girls, ostensibly killed or hidden in the sex trade.  Sara and her best friend Linda always followed the safety rules for young women in their town; never travel alone; always tell friends when and where to expect you, and always carry extra taxi fare.  Yet not long ago, Linda became one of the disappeared girls, leaving not a trace.  Sara is relentless but stalled in finding answers and torn when her bosses tell her to stop the column due to an encrypted email threat directed at Sara and her family.  Sara is no fool; she knows that quietly powerful people think nothing of her life and everything of their drug and sex cartels, but she is thrown by the war within her.  Can she live knowing she was the cause of harm to her brother or mother?  Can she live knowing Linda could be alive but enslaved while Sara did nothing?  Dare she continue, when trust is broken at every turn?  Meanwhile, Emiliano is troubled, wanting to prove himself worthy of wealthy Perla Rubi and her lawyer father, Mr. Reyes, and tired of being smart about business but still poor and struggling.  The Reyes’ lifestyle is exactly what he wants for himself, his mother, and his sister.  So when he is offered a business boost from Mr. Reyes himself, respectable on the surface, but undermining the community, he, like Sara, is torn.   Stork brilliantly, even softly, portrays their individual anguish in chapters told from their alternating points of view.  Make no mistake people will be hurt.  It Sara’s and Emiliano’s choices that determine who those people will be: Linda and her family? Perla Rubi? Themselves? Mama? Former or future drug addicts? Where does it the spiderweb end?  THOUGHTS: This is a riveting look at moral determinations when even the monsters have humanity, and humans can become monsters so easily.  “Maybe the bad people look more like the good people” (115).  A fascinating, insightful, and top choice for middle and high school.  

Mystery; Suspense      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

 

Lu, Marie. Warcross. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 978-0-3995-4796-6. 368 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12.

In the future, millions login and play Warcross every day, a virtual reality game that for many is a way of life. Teenager Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who gamble illegally in the game. During a Warcross championship, Emika takes a risk and hacks the game but accidentally glitches herself into the championship and is seen by everyone watching. Emika is shocked when the young and handsome creator of Warcross, Hideo Tanaka, offers to hire her to look into another hacker who could compromise the future of Warcross. Emika goes undercover and enters the championship as a Wild Card player and discovers someone is planning to sabotage the game. As she digs deeper, she uncovers a vindictive plot that could not only compromise the future of Warcross but could hurt those she loves. THOUGHTS: Marie Lu’s newest title should find a niche with fans of Ready Player One, but also appeal to fans of her immensely popular Legend series. Warcross is a smart, thrilling read for older middle school and high school students.

Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Lu, Marie. Warcross (Warcross #1). G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-399-54796-6. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 – 12.

Not so distantly in the future, Emika Chen, a struggling teenage hacker, works as a bounty hunter to make ends meet. Recently, she hasn’t been doing so well, and Emika is behind on her rent by several months and down to her last few meals. When her newest bounty catch falls through, Emika makes an impulse decision to hack into the Warcross Championships with the plan to steal a valuable power up. When she accidentally glitches into the game and is visible – to millions – Emika catches the attention of Warcross’s billionaire creator, Hideo Tanaka. It seems like her problems are about to vanish, as she now has an incredible job offer, but all isn’t as it seems, and Emika’s success may also be the downfall of Warcross.  THOUGHTS: Marie Lu’s newest book will reach a vast group of readers – gamers, dystopian/fantasy/mystery fans, as well as fans of Marie Lu’s previous books. This thrilling fast-paced gaming world will have readers anxiously awaiting book two.

Fantasy   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

MS Fiction – Same But Different; Save Me a Seat; Josh Baxter

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Peete, Holly Robinson, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete.  Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0545-094689. $17.99. 183 pp. Gr. 5-12.

This insightful book presents the life of twin siblings, Charlie, who has autism, and Callie, who does not.  Through their separate voices, readers learn the difficulties of labels, of being the “special” one, of being the savior, of hating having “two moms.”  The love between Charlie and Callie is real, and they repeatedly voice their understanding of one another, despite not truly understanding everything the other experiences.  This is a work of fiction based upon the lives of brother and sister Ryan and RJ Peete; their mother provides the opening and closing letters.  The statistics she gives are sobering: one in sixty-eight children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and an estimated fifty thousand of those turn eighteen annually (no pagination).  We all know and some may teach, or live with, a person with autism.  This book gives any of us a chance for greater compassion and understanding and patience for all of those involved.  Extensive resources section.  THOUGHTS: This book or excerpts from it could be used in language arts for examples of multiple perspective novels and a springboard for writing from various perspectives.  It could be used in counseling, learning support, or social sciences classes to explore societal interaction and friendship.  It may perhaps be most helpful to the siblings of those with autism, due to the unique status that autism brings to them and their families.  Pair with The Reason I Jump (2015) for another insider’s look at autism.  

Realistic Fiction (Autism)         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

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Weeks, Sarah and Gita Varadarajan. Save Me A Seat. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-84660-8. 216 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-7.

Ravi and Joe are both kids in need of a friend; Ravi is a new student who just moved to New Jersey from India, and Joe is a quiet kid whose twin best friends moved away over the summer. It might seem like they would naturally gravitate towards each other, but Ravi was top dog at his school in India, and Joe is used to being the last one picked in gym class. He’s also used to bully Dillon Samreen and his sly brand of cruelty. Ravi thinks that Dillon will be his new best friend, but Joe quickly realizes that Ravi is just the next target for Dillon’s bullying. Both boys have a tough start to their fifth grade year for different reasons, but they come together for a common purpose and realize that they’re not so different after all. This is an excellent, quick read that alternates between Ravi and Joe’s perspectives and includes a glossary for each boy (especially helpful for Ravi, who uses a lot of Indian words in describing his food, home life, etc.). THOUGHTS: Another winner from Weeks and newcomer Varadarajan; Ravi and Joe are as real as fifth graders come and your students will find themselves in the midst of a very believable elementary school tale.

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

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Brown, Gavin. Josh Baxter Levels Up. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0-545-77294-5. 172p. $12.99. Gr. 3-7.

For the third time in two years Josh is new at school. Understandably, Josh is tired of being the new kid and having to make new friends. His mother is working extra long hours since the loss for Josh’s father. At this point Josh would rather play his video games than meet people. Poor midterm grades lead his mother to lock away all of his video games and equipment. Maya becomes his writing tutor at school, and eventually he contemplates asking her to the school dance. Having a fight with the star football player, Mittens, causes Josh the most time in punishment but takes Mittens out of the big game. During difficult moments, Josh thinks how his favorite video game characters would react to the situation. Peter, the student who sticks up for Josh in his fight with Mittens, invites Josh to play Smash Bros. with him, Taniko, and Chen. Josh joins the video competition team and leads with the newly added sports games that he loved playing with his later father. Will they be able to defeat Mittens and his team? THOUGHTS: Tie into English with types of narrative and conflict. After each chapter there is a chart of Josh’s health, lives, and new skills unlocked. At different times in the novel readers can see the heart symbol to see the level of health for Josh.  The book has real heart as Josh struggles with the loss of his father and his belief that his seemingly perfect older sister did not struggle with the loss of their father. Ideal for all gamers, sport stars and everything in between type of readers.

Realistic Fiction    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

New YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi…Silver in the Blood; Armada

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George, Jessica Day. Silver in the Blood. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-431-2. 358 p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Dacia and Lou are cousins, best friends, and debutantes in New York around the turn of the century. They know little about their Romanian ancestors, the Florescus, just that their mothers left Romania in their late teens and never returned. As they turn 17, Dacia and Lou travel to Romania to meet their mysterious grandmother, Lady Iona, as well as the rest of the Florescus clan. The family matriarch is demanding and harsh but lets the girls in on a family secret; they are descended from a long line of shape shifters who can turn into the Claw (wolf), the Wing (bat), and the Smoke (mist). Lady Iona demands that the girls use their powers to aid Prince Mihai, a descendent of the Dracula clan, to overthrow the current throne. While Lou is empowered and embraces her gift, Dacia struggles to find comfort with her new powers. Unnerved by their grandmother’s demands, the girls find Prince Mihai to be cunning, manipulative, and deadly. Teaming up with two gentleman with secrets of their own, Lou and Dacia find courage in themselves and within one another to go against their family. THOUGHTS: This historical fantasy set in 1897 is a worthy addition to any teen section looking for strong, empowered female characters.  

Fantasy (Paranormal)        Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

 

armada

Cline, Ernest. Armada. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015. 978-0-8041-3725-6. 349p. $26.00. Gr 9-12.

Self described “full-time geek” Ernest Cline takes on aliens in his sophomore title. Zack Lightman’s life revolves around sci-fi videogames, books, and movies. His late father left him a journal listing all of his favorites, and Zack explores them all to feel connected to his dad. Zack day-dreams of his favorite video game, Armada, so when he sees the same spaceship from the game outside of his school, he knows it must be his imagination… right? Wrong. Soon Zack is swept up into an impending war with an alien species, and must use his video game skills to fight the enemy. The truth about his father’s past, the world’s long standing fight with aliens, and why we really play video games are all revealed through the course of the story. Pop-culture references seem a bit forced at times, but younger science fiction fans won’t be fazed. THOUGHTS: Critics and readers will inevitably compare this to Cline’s immensely successful debut, Ready Player One, but it’s best to read Armada as it’s own title to fully enjoy the story.

Science Fiction Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Video Games and Society…a new series from Reference Point Press

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Video Games and Society (series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 80 p. $32.00 (hardcover), $28.95 (single-user ebook); $39.95 (unlimited user ebook) Gr. 9-12.

Bjornlund, Lydia. The History of Video Games. 978-160152-7462
Nakaya, Andrea C. Video Games and Youth. 978-160152-7509
Netzley, Patricia D. How Do Video Games Affect Society? 978-160152-7486
Netzley, Patricia D. Video Games, Violence, and Crime. 978-160152-7523
This series aims to shed light on the history and effects of video games, and it does so admirably.  The History of Video Games covers how games developed (Pong, Atari, Donkey Kong and more), changed (arcades to home consoles to Wii to apps), and what the future may hold (virtual reality).  Video Games and Youth considers the costs and benefits of widespread video game use.  How Do Video Games Affect Society? explores popularity of games, research, effects on health and learning, and the regulation of games.  In this book, Netzley summarizes the conflicting research by focusing on the complexity of factors impacting the mind of a violent person, arguing that “most people who play video games do so without problems, complaints, or an urge to commit real-life violent acts.”  Video Games, Violence, and Crime shares research findings that video games can increase violence and crime, especially among individuals with long-standing emotional or behavioral issues.  While not deliberately graphic, the described violence (including mass shootings) is nonetheless chilling.  The short 80-page titles are well-written, with more text than illustrations; photos included are well-placed and not filler material.  Excellent for research or casual reading.  Includes solid resources, source notes, and index.
794.8; Video Games        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School