Posted in Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty (Harcourt, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10-14

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is the first book in a a science fiction/fantasy adventure series, taking place in an alternate New York City around the turn of the 20th century. Magic exists in this world, and each immigrant group has their own magic that they bring to the New World with them. Inquisitors, a branch of the New York Police Department, patrol to make sure magic is not being abused.
Thirteen year-old Sacha Kessler, who lives in the Lower East Side with his family, has the gift of seeing magic; for this, he is recruited into the NYPD, as an apprentice to Inquisitor Wolf; his fellow apprentice, Lily Astral, is from a wealthy New York family and is an entitled snob who rubs Sacha the wrong way almost immediately.

Inquisitor Wolf, Sacha and Lily are put on a case involving death threats to Thomas Edison, who is creating a witch-detectiing machine – every magician in New York City has a reason to want him dead, but as they delve deeper into the case, things become more complicated for Sacha, who sees the case leading back to his neighborhood – and possibly, his own family.

The book is compulsively readable, with well-drawn characters and an interesting alternate New York setting. Moriarty offers a new way of glimpsing life into the Jewish immigrant experience in turn of the century New York; this book would be good companion reading to a unit on immigration in America as it allows for many areas of discussion wrapped within a solidly enjoyable fantasy setting. Some may struggle with the many Yiddish terms, but context should answer most questions. A paperback edition may consider a guide to terms for some readers. Black and white illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer add to the moody feeling that permeates much of the novel.

Chris Moriarty has an Inquisitor’s Apprentice website set up that provides information on the series and on the actual New York City of the time, with photos and information about key individuals that appear in the series, like Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. There is author event and contact information as well. He blogs at SFness.com about his own books, other author’s books, and offers writing advice. His website features his writing about science fiction and cyberpunk, along with other science fiction subgenres.

Posted in Fiction, Middle School, Puberty, Tween Reads

Book Review: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1970)

Recommended for ages 9-12

This Judy Blume classic follows sixth grader Margaret Simon, whose parents move her from their home in New York to the suburbs of New Jersey, and her search for an identity as she goes through puberty. The book has received numerous awards, including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year (1970). In 2005, the book made Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels List.

Margaret meets new friends and they quickly form a secret club called the PTS’s – Pre-Teen Sensations. They have to wear bras to their meetings and they talk about boys, school, and most importantly, when they’re getting their periods. Nancy, the ringleader, makes Margaret uncomfortable with her superior attitude and concern over these things; she’s afraid she’ll be the last to get her period and be made fun of.

Raised without organized religion, Margaret has a very personal relationsihp with God and talks to him whenever she needs a comforting ear. She tells him her insecurities about puberty and her frustration with her family. With the other kids in her neighborhood identifying as either Christian or Jewish, Margaret struggles to know God in one of these faiths, but comes up empty; she asks him, after visiting both a synagogue and a church why she can’t “feel him” the way she does when she talks to him.

I loved this book when I was in sixth grade and re-reading it now, it holds up, mainly because the heart of the story still exists. Mean girls may appear bigger than life now, but Nancy was definitely a pioneering mean girl; Margaret is the Everygirl that we all identified with – insecure about ourselves, insecure about our place in school and our families, and just trying to figure it all out. Blume¬†weaves all of Margaret’s insecurities together to create a solid, realistic character that girls can all identify with. Nobody does puberty like Judy Blume.

Judy Blume’s website¬†features the usual author fare; there is a bio, interview questions, even autobiographical essays. She offers advice on writing and has a section on censorship – she is a very well-known advocate for the freedom to read – and her “Reference Desk” section provides interviews and an index of articles and information about Blume.