Matched by Ally Condie

Bibliographic Information: Condie, A. (2010). Matched. New York, NY: Penguin.  ISBN: 0525423648.  384 pages.

Plot Summary: Cassia lives in a “Society” where everything is decided for her and the rest of the members by Society Officials.  From her meals to her wardrobe, everything is predetermined, thus lessening the potential “stress” decision-making might cause Society members.  When Cassia was young she did not think much of the lack of self-determination in her life.  Now, she is 17, of age to be given her “match,” her ideal life mate that Society Officials will choose for her, as determined by algorithms and scientific data.  At the match ceremony Cassia is happy to be matched with her close childhood friend, Xander.  Their match is an unusual one, as the scientific method of determining matches makes it statistically unlikely that both people in a match will be chosen from the same Borough, but Cassia and Xander are that exception, and they are both pleased.  They are each given a “match microchip” to view on their “ports” once they return home.  Match microchips contain information about your match, so you can get to know your match better.  Even though they have known each other for years, Cassia puts the microchip into her home’s port.  And then something unpredictable, irregular, and seemingly erroneous happens, which, in a society built on predictability, regularity, and precision, stuns Cassia.  While watching the match microchip about Xander, a face other than Xander’s flashes on the screen.  And she knows who it is: Ky Markham, a boy who cannot be matched with anyone, because he has been classified an “aberration” by the Society because of some unsanctioned actions that his father took.  And Cassia knows Xander is the match for her, or is he?  Ever since his face appeared on the screen, Cassia cannot stop thinking about Ky, and the Society Officials are trying desperately to recover from this error.

Critical Evaluation: As far as Dystopian novels go, Matched is a great one.  Condie weaves intricate details of a freedomless, future society with the authentic thoughts and feelings of a 17-year-old girl.  Matched is its own novel, with nods to the dystopian novels, particularly The Giver and The Hunger Games, who have come before it.  The voice of Cassia is strong and clear as she struggles with her feelings, her obligations, and her new found perspective on the society she has lived in and followed the rules for all of her life.  The reach of the Society’s control is demonstrated again and again, by small events in addition to the larger ones.  For example, Cassia receives an artifact from her grandfather for her matching ceremony.  Artifacts have mostly been disposed of, as they are considered unnecessary, but her grandfather has held on to this one, a metal compact, from Cassia’s grandmother.  In a tiny, unnoticeable compartment Cassia finds a small slip of paper with a bit of a poem written on it.  Most poetry has been eliminated from Cassia’s society, except for a few works that have been archived.  This bit of a poem was on an older type of paper, and Cassia was fairly sure that if she put the paper in the incinerator at her home, Society Officials would be able to determine that a foreign, even forbidden, object had been incinerated.  She could get her whole family in trouble for burning a wisp of paper, so she finds another way.  And this way of thinking, this trying to outsmart Society Officials, continues as Cassia starts to see her way of life differently.  This book is accessible for teens of all ages and its message leaves much to be discussed and considered.

Matched was favorably reviewed and received several awards and honors.  Matched is a New York Times Best Seller, was named number six on YALSA’s 2011 Teen’s Choice Top Ten, was on the 2011 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Readers and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers lists, and was on Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2010 list as well.

Reader’s Annotation: Cassia lives in a “Society” where everything is determined for her and the rest of the members of the Society.  So, when something unplanned happens, when there is a glitch, Cassia is stunned out of her rule following and starts looking for the truth.

Information about the Author: Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who keeps her license current, as she says, “just in case,” (Condie, 2011).  She lives outside of Salt Lake City, UT with her husband and three sons.

Matched is the first book in a trilogy, something I did not know until I was doing research for this blog post.  The second book of the trilogy is Crossed, which was released November, 1, 2011, and the third, and final, book of the trilogy is scheduled to be released in November 2012.

Genre: Science Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Dystopia

Topics Covered: Freedom, Choice, Love, Conformity

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Would you choose to be matched or to be a single?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 18

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? I found out about this book from a classmate in this course, I was excited to read it because it was fairly current, and I had not heard of it before.

References

Condie, A. (2011). Bio. Retrieved from http://www.allysoncondie.com/bio/


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023483.  384 pages.

Plot Summary: Reality TV.  A competition.  A game.  Contestants fight for scarce resources, form alliances and betray each other, suffer harsh physical environments, confront situational challenges created by the people running the game.  But this is no ordinary reality TV show.  The stakes are much higher.  Win and you’re set for a life of comfort and wanting nothing.  Lose and you’re dead.  And so go the Hunger Games, which take place in the future in a country called Panem, a ruined land that was once North America.  “The Capital” of Panem is a place of excess and great power, as compared to the 12 districts, poor, isolated, and remote, under its control.  It is from these districts that the 24 contestants of the Hunger Games are randomly chosen, one boy and one girl from each district, chosen from all children ages 12 to 18.  When her beloved little sister, Prim’s, name is pulled out of the glass ball for district 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place.  Volunteering is unusual, but not against the rules, so Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, a boy she knows from the town, are off to the capital to prepare for and participate in the games.  There can only be one winner.  How will Katniss play the game?  Will she make it out alive?

Critical Evaluation: The Hunger Games is at once gripping and disturbing, compelling and stark.  Collins manages to bring humanity to inhumane circumstances.  Relationships within the Hunger Games are naturally fraught with mistrust and uncertainty; Collins skillfully presents the complexities of these situations.  The book raises questions about what price is worth paying for survival and what price is worth paying for someone you love.  Collins has created in Katniss, a character with an unusual amount of depth and complexity, leaving readers relating to and empathizing with her one moment and wondering what she could possibly be thinking the next, but always, right there with her.  The book also presents a bleak look into a possible dystopian political, social and environmental future.  With ever-unfolding drama and danger, this is a book most readers will not be able to put down.  Not for the faint of heart, due to its weighty – and brutal – subject matter, The Hunger Games is crammed with topics for thought-provoking class or book club discussions.

Reader’s Annotation: When her beloved little sister, Prim, is chosen, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take Prim’s place in The Hunger Games.  The Games, run by the government, are a brutal competition, broadcast live throughout the country, where the winner of 24 contestants is the only one who comes out alive.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy and was published in 2008; the second book is Catching Fire and the third is Mockingjay.  The Hunger Games have won Collins great acclaim, selected honors include: YALSA 2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008 Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of the Year, 2008 The New York Times Notable Children’s Book, School Library Journal‘s Best Books of 2008.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine yourself in the Hunger Games: Paint a picture for listeners, using Collins’ words, of the scene and the challenge.  Ask, “what would you do?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.  Additionally, The Hunger Games has received many honors, some are detailed above in “Information about the Author.”

Why is this book included? A young adult collection without The Hunger Games would by incomplete.  The Hunger Games is well-written, compelling and exciting, but there is more to it than that.  The Hunger Games has the potential to make its readers think and grapple and even debate with highly significant philosophical, ethical, political and societal issues.  There is a lot of substance packed into this one book.


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023491.  391 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review discloses the ending of The Hunger Games.

Plot Summary: In Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to district eight and begin an obligatory Victory Tour throughout the districts.  Katniss is still uncomfortable with, but getting used to, being the center of attention with her stylists and interviews and public appearances.  Katniss and Peeta’s survival of the Hunger Games makes them heroes with many in the outer districts, but Katniss’s manipulation of the games to end up with two victors leaves the capitol angry, and perhaps even vengeful.  When President Snow visits Katniss’s home in Victory Village, he makes it clear that the only way to assuage the capitol’s fury is to make sure all the people of Panem believe that Katniss is desperately in love with Peeta, thus explaining her defiance.  But, Katniss’s relationship with Peter is more complicated than ever and her best friend, and potential love interest, Gail does not help matters, as he seems to be distancing himself from her more and more.  And there are rumors that Katniss and Peeta’s Hunger Games performance has sparked talk of rebellion in the districts.  She survived the Hunger Games, can she survive this next chapter of her life, filled with uncertainty and, just as in the games, the constant fear of punishment by the capitol.

Critical Evaluation: Catching Fire was a much-anticipated follow up to the New York Times Bestseller and hugely popular The Hunger Games.  Though Catching Fire contained many of the most compelling and inspiring characters of The Hunger Games, and it was an interesting story, it did not quite measure up in excitement and suspense to its predecessor; though it is still a worthy read.  Admittedly, it would have been a difficult task for Collins to write book two of the trilogy with the same level of energy and tension as the first.  Catching Fire satisfies the reader’s need to find out what happens next, as Katniss and Peeta return to District Eight and begin their lives as “victors.”  Catching Fire is by no means slow moving, though the pace is more subdued, in parts, than the pace of The Hunger Games, probably due to the fact that much of Catching Fire takes place outside of the arena.  Collins introduces, in Catching Fire, additional – and intriguing – plot twists, and readers’ understandings of the main characters deepen.  There is still plenty of action and adventure and excitement, and The Hunger Games fans will need to read Catching Fire, so that they can then go on to read the final book in the trilogy: Mockingjay.   Critics were mixed about Catching Fire, and, while it did receive many positive reviews, there were others less complimentary.  Also, Catching Fire’s list of honors is significantly shorter than The Hunger Games’, but they include: Time Magazine’s #4 top fiction book of 2009, People Magazine’s #8 Best Book of 2009, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year for 2009.

Reader’s Annotation: When Katniss and Peeta return home after their Hunger Games victory, more awaits them than they expect.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

Catching Fire is the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games is the first and the third is Mockingjay.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would you go about proving that you are passionately and deeply in love with someone when this is not true?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? As a sequel to The Hunger Games, I had to read Catching Fire to find out what happened next.  I expect other readers of The Hunger Games will feel the same way, so the entire Hunger Games trilogy deserves a place in a quality young adult collection.


Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.