Tuesday, September 27, 2011

All Good Children

Austen, Catherine. All Good Children. Custer, Wash.: Orca Book Publishers, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit: http://catherineausten.com/books_agc.html]

We've gone too far treating children like they're precious when actually there are billions of them in the world and most of them are good for nothing.
Yikes, right?

In a future not far from our own, Max is struggling to maintain his independence while everyone under the age of 18 is turning into some kind of zombie. The scary, do-what-you're-told kind, not the fun, brain-eating kind. They're being changed in the hope is that this program, called NESTing, will make sure that no child is "good for nothing." They will all be good doing what they're told.

All Good Children is a great book. The world that Austen has created really is a whole lot like ours could be in, oh, 50 years (or less). The majority of the population is desperately poor and living in cars they cannot afford to fuel. The (what we now call) middle class minority works in some capacity with the booming elder care industry. Everyone has an RIG that connects them constantly to entertainment, work, communication, whatever (ie, it's what iPad aspires to be). A chemical spill has created a whole region's worth of people born with physical deformities...that compete on a reality TV show. The cities are dangerous places, and everyone has moved to gated communities (actual communities rather than housing developments) for their own safety. That they've given up a whole host of civil liberties in exchange for that safety bothers almost none of them. They even give up the right to know what vaccinations are being administered in their children's schools and why their children suddenly have no discernible personalities. It's cool though, because they're just so darn well-behaved.

Max is not well-behaved. He never has been, and if he has anything to do with it, he never will be. He, along with his best friend Dallas, struggle to maintain their own thoughts and personalities while pretending to be perfectly "good children." Their struggle was awful, but their friendship was great.

The fact that Max's mom is Black and his father was white is not a constant issue, but it is an important one. In their own community, it is a non-issue (or it's supposed to be), but outside is another story. Without the visual aid of their father, Max's mom is always eyed with suspicion while traveling with Max and his sister Ally.

This is a really plot-driven book, which makes it hard to review; I don't want to give too much away.

Though it is published by Orca, it is not technically a hi-lo (high interest, low reading level). It's appropriate in both areas of measurement for the 12 and up set. It is, however, about a couple high school seniors and could be used as reading material for the same. I think it will be great for reluctant readers and dystopian lovers alike.

All Good Children comes out in in hardback in October!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Texas Gothic

Clement-Moore, Rosemary. Texas Gothic. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/10612398]

When Amy agreed to ranch-sit for her aunt, she envisioned a quiet, normal summer relaxing and feeding the goats. Unfortunately, her sister Phin, along with all of Phin's half-magic half-physics experiments, are also spending the summer at Aunt Hyacinth's ranch. And the goats climb trees. Amy has been balancing her normal self and her white magic family her whole life, so she's not going to let Phin and some misbehaved goats ruin her summer. The ghost that's taken a liking to her from the next ranch over, on the other hand...

There are two things that Clement-Moore does fantabulously: community and swoony guys. The ranch town in which Amy and Phin are spending their summer is great. It's not the setting, really, that's great; it's the people in it. They make this small town believable. There's the crazy grandad, the close-minded town folk, the local pothead, the nerdy college students, the local "royal" family, and the brooding son of those royals. We don't get to know all of these characters well; this is not a crowded book. And yet, these are not stock characters. Altogether, they are the town. They give the town a feel and a history. They make it a place. The town bar and the community picnics are just where they hang out.

And then there's the guy. Le sigh. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have a weakness for rugged folk who wear cowboy hats unironically. But even if that's not your thing, this guy is sooo great. Ben McCulloch, literally the guy next door, is so swoony and angsty and responsible and gentlemanly. I fell for him, and hard, long before Amy figured out why Ben made her feel both frustrated and fluttery at the same time. Mark, one of those nerdy college students, isn't so bad either. His sweet and awkward flirting with Phin is so cute! The best part about both of them, though, is that they are both completely devoid of cheese. There is no heavy-handed romance talk or gazing into one another's eyes.

So the guys and the cast of characters are what made Texas Gothic great for me. Amy and Phin's relationship, the complicated ghost story, the small town rumors and legends, and the ranching drama were all added perks for me. These aspects of the story were just as strong as the ones I loved, and they might be what makes this a great book for you.

Book source: Philly Free Library

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