Posted in Uncategorized

Science Comics takes an up-close look at Plagues

Science Comics: Plagues-The Microscopic Battlefield, by Falynn Koch, (Aug. 20017, :01First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626727526

Recommended for readers 8-12

The latest issue of Science Comics introduces readers to Bubonic Plague and Yellow Fever – no, really, they’re characters in this volume – a white blood cell, and a scientist charged with studying pathogens via simulation in order to “recruit” them to help fight disease. Kids learn how the body trains white blood cells – leukocytes – to fight infection and will meet the different kinds of leukocytes on the job. We also get a closer look at different germ classifications, bacteria, viruses, and fungi: it’s a biology class in the form of a graphic novel. We learn about scientists who studied germs, meet a black plague victim (yikes), and see the evolution of disease prevention from medieval times to the present.

Science Comics have been a valuable addition to my nonfiction collections since First Second introduced the series. They’re comprehensive, breaking a wealth of detailed information into readable, digestible panels. The art never disappoints, blending fun artwork like germs with personalities and detailed cross-sections and diagrams of cells, and historical representation. A fictional narrative wraps around the nonfiction information, creating a comfortable reading and learning environment for voracious and reluctant readers alike. A brief glossary provides definitions for terms that appear throughout the book, and there is a timeline outlining milestones in the fight against disease. Footnotes provide further reading for those interested in learning more.

I’m a big proponent of comics in the classroom, and books like Science Comics are why. There’s solid, scientific information presented in a way that never talks down to readers, yet manages to make complex subjects accessible to kids and adults alike. I learn something new every time I pick up a Science Comic.

Author Falynn Koch also wrote the Bats Science Comic. You can read her blog, see more of her illustration, and see a calendar of her appearances at her website.


Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Not just the flu: Pandemic

pandemicPandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca, (July 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510703902

Recommended for ages 12+

This is the paperback release of the 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner for the Atlantic region.

Liliana used to be an outgoing, top student. Until the whole thing with Mr. B happened; now, she’s withdrawn, her grades have plummeted, and her outlook has changed from a glass half full to the glass being smashed on the floor. Only a few people know what happened, and she’s lost some friends over it, but Lil has bigger problems right now: there’s a fast-spreading flu going through her New Jersey town, and friends and neighbors are getting really sick. Her medical journalist father is in Delaware covering the disease’s early stages, and her mother, on business in Hong Kong, is unable to get a flight back home when everything hits. Lil is on her own, and she’s terrified. As the disease marches through her world, she’s got to reach deep down inside herself and become the person she once was to survive.

Pandemic is a good read. It moves fast, has good characters, and puts them in a scary situation that’s all too real for a lot of us watching the news these days. Lil is on a journey without realizing it. Readers don’t know her before the incident with a teacher, but we see her go from a withdrawn, depressed teen to a strong young woman who can think, organize, and act to keep herself and the people around her as safe as she can, all while facing terrifying odds. I love a good, strong heroine, and was really appreciative that Yvonne Ventresca gives readers a take-charge main character who’s flawed but recognizes the need to push forward.

If you know readers who love a good plague story (minus zombies here), add this one to your shelves. For readers who want the gripping lead-up to dystopia, but minus the government-run aftermath.

Pair this with your cataclysm books: Chris Weitz’s The Young World series, Em Garner’s Contaminated books, and Lex Thomas’ Quarantine series are some good starts (and make Pandemic look like everyone’s getting off easy).

Edited to add: Holy cow, I sent this to publish too soon. Yvonne Ventresca’s author page has links to a Pandemic Pinterest board and an educator’s guide. Make sure to check it out!

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Post-Apocalypse New York, run by teens- Chris Weitz’s The Young World

youngworldThe Young World, by Chris Weitz (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $19.00, ISBN: 9780316226295

Recommended for ages 14+

The Young World takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York City. A sickness has wiped out young children and adults, leaving only teenagers to fend for themselves in this new world. When you turn 18, you develop the sickness and die, too. Jefferson, left in charge of the Washington Square tribe once his brother dies, sets out with key members of his group to find information on what caused the sickness, hoping to find a cure. The trip will take them throughout New York City – and other tribes that are dangerous in their own right – and beyond, as they discover secrets and experiments that lead to the rise of the Young World.

It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Author Chris Weitz knows how to stage a teen story: he’s directed films like Twilight: New Moon, American Pie, and About a Boy. He has a good grasp on the teen voice, and the novel itself is told effectively in alternating first-person narratives between Jefferson and his childhood friend and would-be love interest, Donna. In a world where kids and adults are dead, teens – at a tumultuous time of life to begin with – are left to forge ahead on their own. We see different social classes and races handle things very differently, and the factioning of Manhattan, particularly Grand Central, is fascinating. The characters are well-developed, each with his or her own distinct voice. Secondary characters, particularly Brainbox – the brains of the Washington Square tribe – are nicely fleshed-out through Jefferson’s and Donna’s eyes. I felt that Donna struggled a bit to find her own voice, but hits her stride mid-novel.

The story reminds me of 12 Monkeys meets The Warriors. (This is a good thing; I love both of those movies.) I’m interested in seeing where the next book – The New Order, publishing this July – takes things.

Check out more about The Young World at Little Brown’s page.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode keeps the pressure on!

contaminated2Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode, by Em Garner (Egmont, Sept. 2014), $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843567

Recommended for ages 14+

Contaminated 2 picks up right where Contaminated left off – the government is closing in on all the Connies, taking them – and sometimes, their families – away to testing facilities. Horror stories abound. Soldiers routinely test citizens for any sign of contamination, whisking them away if even the propensity for contamination shows up.

Velvet, her sister Opal, her boyfriend, Dillon, her mom, and an elderly neighbor are living in Velvet and Opal’s home, scavenging supplies from nearby homes and trying to live on the quiet and stay off the government’s radar. Her mother is showing huge improvements, including conversation, cleaning, even cooking and knitting. Life is still hard, but Velvet knows they have more than so many.

It can’t last, though – soldiers come and burn down the house to smoke Velvet and her family out. She finds herself a test subject in one of the labs she’s heard horror stories about, where a doctor puts her through test after test. As Velvet – and readers – figure things out, the book becomes all-consuming. Will Velvet escape? What secret are the doctors hiding? Will anything ever be the same again?

The fantastic character development we got in Contamination continues here in Mercy Mode. Velvet grows as a character, but we start getting more information about her parents, which really fills in some gaps. I would like to have learned a little more about what caused her mom’s improvement, which tends to be explained away as “remarkable”, but that’s not an issue that will affect your enjoyment of the book; rather, it’s fodder for book discussions that SHOULD take place after reading this series.

Is there going to be a third in this series? The way the second book leaves off, it could go either way. But man, do I have a wish list of things that I want to see if there is.

Em Garner’s author page has links to social media and information about her books and appearances.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Uncategorized

Contaminated: A YA tale of horror and infection

contaminatedContaminated, by Em Garner (Egmont USA, 2013). $9.99, ISBN: 9781606843543

Recommended for ages 14+

If losing weight was easy, everyone would be thin – or so the saying goes. But when the diet drink ThinPro hits the market, no one can argue with the results – it tastes pretty good, too, so people are drinking the stuff like it’s Gatorade. One huge problem, though – to keep up with demand, the manufacturers start messing around with the formula, and it becomes tainted with something like Mad Cow Disease. And that something makes holes in people’s brains, contaminating them and turning them into rage-fueled maniacs.

Contaminated begins in the aftermath of this outbreak that left most of the US decimated. The Contaminated – called “Connies” – have largely been put under control by the government; first, through forced lobotomies, now, through the use of collars controlled by electrodes put into captured Connie’s brains. Velvet, a 17 year-old who lost her father and mother to the Contamination, has been struggling to take care of herself and her 10 year-old sister ever since the outbreak. She constantly checks the neighborhood kennel, where Connies have been released to be claimed by family members, for her mom. One day, she finds her and brings her home.

The thing is, the government is keeping a lot of secrets now, and there are whispers that the Contamination isn’t under control. Connies are being taken into custody again, whether or not they’ve been claimed by family, whether or not they’re contained by their collars. Velvet struggles to keep her family together and her mother hidden, especially when Velvet realizes that her mother is improving. As her Pennsylvania neighborhood becomes more and more of a police state, how will she keep her family safe?

This isn’t a zombie tale, the walkers aren’t back from the dead. It’s an infection tale, rooted in a concern over what we’re putting in our bodies and what this stuff really does to us. The infected are rage-zombies, if anything; they lose the ability to connect with society and just want to inflict violence. We get the story through Velvet’s eyes as she lives through the fallout of the infection. She’s a teenager forced into adulthood too fast, with a 10 year-old sister who frustrates the hell out of her, but whom she loves and clings to for a sense of normalcy in the middle of insanity. She fights to keep her sister in school, even though she questions what the heck school is going to do for anyone now, in this new era humanity is in. She works awful jobs to keep her family afloat. She has the added burden of caring for her mother, a shell of a woman retrieved, like a stray animal, from a shelter. It’s a tense story, it’s a story of survival, and finally, it’s a story about family.

Short story: I LOVED this book. While Velvet is the only character that is really developed, she’s all we really need, because it’s HER story. The situation? Frighteningly plausible and will make you look at that weight-loss drink a lot more differently. If you’re into post-apocalypse stuff, grab this book, but don’t expect Walking Dead scenarios with walkers taking bites out of people in the streets. Like the best zombie stories, this is a story about how humans cope with the end of their world.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Horror, Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

The Wrenchies – adolescence is terrifying.

wrenchiesThe Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple (:01 First Second, Sept. 2014). $19.99, ISBN: 9781596434219

Recommended for ages 14+

In a dystopian future, adolescence is terrifying. Only the kids are safe – adults live in fear of the Shadowsmen, a group of mindless monsters who hunt down teenagers and attack them with horrifying, tentacular fingers that penetrate their minds and leave them changed – walking nightmares. The Wrenchies, a gang of kids who band together against the Shadowmen, meet Hollis, a sad, lonely boy who has a charm of sorts that allows him access to the Wrenchies’ world, a parallel universe from his. The story also includes a subplot with a man named Sherwood, who is somehow tied to both of these universes and to the Shadowmen.

I didn’t love the Wrenchies – more often than not, I was lost as to what was going on. It took me a good part of the book to realize that there was a parallel universe, and I never really felt that I “got” the entire story. I just didn’t connect with it, nor did I connect with Dalrymple’s style of art. This would be a great read for a teen/YA post-apocalyptic fan who prefers a less linear storyline. There’s violence and language aplenty, which may give some parents pause – it wasn’t an issue for me, but my younger ones don’t usually seek these types of books out.


Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Quarantine 3: The Burnouts brings the post-apocalyptic trilogy to a tense end

quarantineQuarantine 3: The Burnouts, by Lex Thomas, Egmont USA (2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843383

Recommended for ages 14+

The third book in Lex Thomas’ post-apocalyptic series continues the story of Will and David, the brothers from McKinley High, where the kids are quarantined in the wake of a disastrous infection. Lucy, the last of the group from the previous book, is still inside – for now – trying to survive, and Hilary, who’s finally, completely, snapped, brings a reign of terror with her as she takes control of the school and all the gangs within it.

The publisher has called this series “Lord of the Flies in a 21st century high school setting”, which is spot-on. The kids inside the school have split into factions that fight to survive life inside the school. It’s a no-man’s land where children will do whatever they are forced to in order to make it to “graduation” – when the disease breaks and they can leave the building, assimilating into life on the outside.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s got action, fantastic pacing, strong characters, and pulls no punches in its storytelling. There are references to sex, pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence throughout the book, so if any of these are issues for readers, this isn’t your book. It’s a powerful, gut-wrenching book that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read.

The world in Quarantine isn’t safe inside or outside the McKinley walls – on the outside, there are those who want to destroy what the citizens have put together. They want to destroy the school and destroy the disease that rages on within its walls. The citizens on the outside – the families of the children inside – have to fight to stay alive and keep their kids alive.

The book hits shelves on August 22nd. In the meantime, check out the first two books: Quarantine: The Saints and Quarantine: The Loners and get ready.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Teen

Ann Brashares The Here and Now gives us time travel and dystopia.

cover35542-mediumThere Here and Now, by Ann Brashares. Random House Children’s (2014), $18.99, ISBN: 9780385736800

Recommended for ages 14+

Ann Brashares, author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, gives us a well-constructed story with dypstopian elements, time travel, and a race through the past, present and future to stop a terrifying future.

Prenna is a 17 year-old Traveler – she, her mother, and a group of her people came to our present time to escape a future where a blood plague ravaged the population. The Travelers live under a restrictive list of rules that appear to exist more for their power-hungry leaders rather than the actual good of the people (or the Natives – people in the right timeline – that the rules are supposed to protect). When Prenna finds herself growing closer to her friend Ethan, she starts questioning not only the rules, but the entire structure their society was built on – and she and Ethan find themselves drawn into a race against time to put a stop to the dismal future from which Prenna came, all the while pursued by the leaders who want to silence Prenna, possibly for good.

The Here and Now has elements of The Giver – the post-apocalyptic society governed by rules really spoke to me – and is one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I needed to know what was going to happen next; Ms. Brashares constructed a compelling narrative with enough mystery to keep me going for that famous “one page more”. Within the overall story structure, there are mini-mysteries that the two teens have to unravel to get the next piece of the puzzle; add to that the internal conflict Prenna feels at duty to her family and the love she and Ethan feel for one another, and you have a great read for teens that can spawn interesting conversations about the implications of time travel: what would happen if you went back in time and changed things, even if they were for the better? What kind of society would develop if a blood-borne plague spiraled out of control? More than a teen romance, The Here and Now offers the opportunity to draw teens into complex conversations about the world around them.