The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade
Genre: YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Call Number: Y Slade

This is a fast-paced adventure with a truly unique and sympathetic hero — Modo, a heavily deformed child rescued from a traveling freak show by a mysterious benefactor, Mr. Socrates. Modo grows up alone with only a nurse and an instructor for company, training in stealth, acrobatics, fighting, mathematics, history, politics, and he is not allowed to look into a mirror until he is five years old. His reflection horrifies him, but he learns that he has the incredible ability to shift his physical appearance to look like anyone else. This is when he learns he has been training to be a spy for the Permanent Association, a secret organization dedicated to protecting the British Empire. Though it strains him greatly, his shape-shifting ability makes him an ideal spy, if he can learn to use it properly. To see if Modo’s training has prepared him, Mr. Socrates drops him penniless in the middle of London, where he has to survive on his own. Modo, only fourteen years old, uses his training and abilities to start his own detective agency, wearing masks when he is not shape-shifting in order to blend in. Eventually, he is given his first assignment with the Permanent Association, teaming up with another young agent, Octavia Milkweed, and together they uncover a nefarious plan orchestrated by the Clockwork Guild to take over the British government. (I won’t spoil all of the Clockwork Guild’s diabolical plans, except to say that part of it involves a giant clockwork automaton waging war on the city.)

This story takes place in an alternative Victorian London that is smoky and atmospheric, with plenty of inventive steampunk science worked in seamlessly. The plot races along at a breakneck pace, but what I really love about this story is Modo – he is crafty but also compassionate, and his insecurity about his true appearance , especially after he meets Octavia, is heart-breaking.

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March-May Programs

I’ve posted some more details about upcoming programs in March, April, and May, including programs for Teen Tech Week and Free Comic Book Day. Check out the Programs tab for a list. More programs and additional details on some of these programs will be added to the site as they come.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: YA Fiction/Paranormal
Pages: 480
Call number: Y Oliver (it hasn’t come in yet, so put this book on hold now and you can get it in March — IT’S AVAILABLE NOW, March 8)

I really didn’t expect to like this book. The plot sounds like something out of an after-school special, like a Very Special Story about about appreciating your life or caring about others or not going to parties without a designated driver. The plot sums up easily: Samantha dies in a car accident Friday night on the way home from a party with her friends, but she realizes she has to relive the entire day when she wakes up in her bed to find it’s Friday morning again. As she lives Friday over and over, trying to figure out how to stop her death, she starts to notice things about her life, her friends, and her family that she never noticed before.

Instead of hating it, though, this book totally amazed me.

It isn’t sentimental or depressing or heavy-handed. It’s sad at times, yes, and it does have a message that is hard to ignore. Samantha starts out a little unlikable – she’s not a horrible person, but she’s self-absorbed and entitled. She has a comfortable life with a close-knit family, a popular boyfriend, and three best friends. She takes her popularity, and the perks that come with it, for granted, and she and her friends ignore and/or torment those lower on the high-school food chain. The thing is, she doesn’t seem to recognize their casual cruelty for what it is. It’s just the way things are in high school. But anyone reading will see the devastating effects their bullying has on others, particularly shy, quiet Juliet, who has been a long-standing target.

You’d think Samantha reliving the day of her death multiple times would get repetitive, but it doesn’t. Samantha’s death is a mystery that needs solving, and figuring out how and why the car accident happened (so that she can prevent it) unearths a whole bunch of secrets. She is constantly trying new things to get a different ending, and her decisions result in more and more deviations from the first Friday. Something as simple as being late for school instead of being on time has a ripple effect; something more substantial, like not going to school at all, make big changes (keeping in mind that it’s always Friday, of course, so certain scheduled events always take place whether Samantha is there or not).

The story ends up being a very intricate dance of action and consequence, and what’s most compelling is how Samantha’s story widens from being focused mostly on her to what’s going on around her. This gradual change is really important, because it shows how much Samantha has changed as a person (kinder, more compassionate, more aware of others, more outspoken) and it brings the circumstances leading up to her death into clearer focus (and a twisty set of circumstances it is).

Living the same day over and over is the ultimate learning experience. Overall, this book is about Samantha coming to realize what’s truly important and making her life one she can be proud of. Again, I know how this sounds like a Hallmark card, but Oliver manages to do it in a totally believable way without bringing the sap. Let me assure you, I am violently allergic to sap, so I really mean this. It’s moving, it’s meaningful, and I still can’t believe it’s a first novel. Wow.

New Books – January 2010

The backlog of books has been cataloged, so this list of new books for January is HUGE. Because of that, no book covers this time, but I’m looking in to making a Shelfari account for this blog so you can see the book covers and lots of other information on new books in the library. Let me know what you think of that idea.

Raven Summer. David Almond. Y Almond.
Led to an abandoned baby by a raven, fourteen-year-old Liam seems fated to meet two foster children who have experienced the world’s violence in very different ways as he struggles to understand war, family problems, and friends who grow apart.

Hero Tales, Vol.1. Hiromu Arakawa. Y Arakawa.
“Legend speaks of seven heroes, each one bearing the power of one of the stars of the Big Dipper. Two of these stars are constantly in conflict, destined to battle and throw the world into chaos…. Not that Taitou has ever paid much attention to old stories. Headstrong and defiant, he is the last in his village to complete his coming-of-age ceremony–a fact his sister Laila incessantly teases him about. When he is finally deemed worthy, he is presented with the Kenka Ranbu, an ancient sword that can only be drawn by a true hero. As the frustrated Taitou struggles to unsheathe the sword, a mysterious thief appears, making off with the blade and citing the legend of the Big Dipper. The stars have been set in motion, as Taitou sets off after the Kenka Ranbu and the truth of his own destiny.”–p.[4] of cover.

Candor. Pam Bachorz. Y Bachorz.
Oscar Banks is the son of the founder of Candor, FL, a town where the teenagers are controlled by subliminal messages. Unlike all other teens, he knows about the Messages and fights them with his own counterprogramming and secretly gets kids out of Candor, while pretending to be the model of perfection. When Nia moves to town, he is smitten by her tart attitude and ability to see through his perfect-boy front. He can’t stand to see her changed by Messages, and has to decide whether to help her escape and lose her or keep her close and risk discovery.

Rosie and Skate. Beth Bauman. Y Bauman.
New Jersey sisters Rosie, aged fifteen, and Skate, aged sixteen, cope differently with their father’s alcoholism and incarceration, but manage to stay close to one another as they strive to lead normal lives and find hope for the future.

Pastworld. Ian Beck. Y Beck.
In 2048, while visiting Pastworld, a Victorian London theme park, Caleb meets fellow teenager Eve, a Pastworld inhabitant who didn’t know she was living in a simulation and has no knowledge of the modern world, and both become pawns in a murderer’s diabolical plan that reveals disturbing truths about the teenagers’ origins.

Arch Enemy. Frank Beddor. Y Beddor.
Virtuous Queen Alyss, who has lost the power of imagination, and her murderous Aunt Redd battle for control of Wonderland.

Dawn. Kevin Brooks. Y Brooks.
Fifteen-year-old Dawn, who cares for her alcoholic mother, tries to suppress a painful childhood memory as she contemplates killing God, whom she blames for her father’s disappearance.

Peril on the Sea. Michael Cadnum. Y Cadnum.
In the tense summer of 1588, eighteen-year-old Sherwin Morris, after nearly perishing in a shipwreck, finds himself aboard the privateer Vixen, captained by the notorious and enigmatic Brandon Fletcher who offers him adventure and riches if Sherwin would write and disseminate a flattering account of the captain’s exploits.

Elphame’s Choice. P.C. Cast. YPB Cast.
Teenager Elphame has always had a restless nature. But now she’s drawn to a far-off castle and a sense of destiny. Once there, she finds the remnants of a great evil, and she must fight for the safety of her people.

Devil’s Kiss. Sarwat Chadda. Y Chadda.
Fifteen-year-old Billi SanGreal has grown up knowing that being a member of the Knights Templar puts her in danger, but if she is to save London from catastrophe she must make sacrifices greater than she imagined.

Click here for more new books

2010 Blue Spruce Award Winner

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is this year’s Blue Spruce Award winner.

For those of you living under a rock, The Hunger Games is one of those books that just took off in popularity and acclaim, and I highly recommend you read it if you haven’t already. It’s an excellent read, fast-paced, full of nonstop action and big emotion,and it’s a great mix of wilderness survival story, science fiction dystopia, and love story. The sequel, Catching Fire, is just as good.

Here’s a brief plot summary from our online catalog: In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.

By the way, the 2011 nominees for the Blue Spruce award are now available here. This is one of the only state awards that is chosen only by teens (yep, sadly, I don’t get to vote, but YOU do), and all you have to do is read at least three of these books. Then, find me at the library and tell me you want to vote, and I will give you a ballot you can fill out right then. It’s super easy! You have until January 2011 to vote, so check out the nominees and see if you’re interested in choosing next year’s winner.

Ask me more in the comments if you want, or e-mail, or find me at the library in person.