Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teen Review: Things That Are and Things Hoped For

Our whole family enjoyed Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements so much that I borrowed its two sequels from the library, Things That Are and Things Hoped For. I enjoyed both books, although they’re not typical sequels.

Both books include the main character from Things Not Seen, Bobby, a fifteen-year old who wakes up one morning to find that he’s invisible. However, Bobby’s not the narrator – nor the main character – of either of the sequels.

In Things That Are, Bobby’s friend Alicia is the narrator, and two years have passed since she helped him when he turned invisible. Alicia has been blind for the past four years and has her own challenges to deal with every day. At the start of the novel, Bobby is away in New York City auditioning for college, and he meets another invisible person, William, who follows him back to Chicago. Bobby suspects the stranger may be dangerous, and he and Alicia worry about what to do about William.

Here, Alicia has her first conversation with William:

I whisper, “You and Bobby talked last night, about three in the morning, right?” I don’t know why I’m whispering.

“Ah – so he told you about that. It was closer to four. And, yes, we had a talk. More like a shouting match. And he jumped into a cab with his suitcase before I got to tell him what I think is happening, before I convinced him how much I need his help. I’ve got to help him understand what’s going on.”

And, even though I’ve got my hat and coat on, I shiver. Because I’m picking up this deep agitation, almost a hunger in the man’s voice.

This follow-up novel has the same elements of mystery, suspense, and science fiction as the first book, but this time we get to see the situation from Alicia’s perspective, as she worries about her relationship with Bobby and struggles to figure out the right thing to do about the William situation.

Things Hoped For follows a similar path. This time, the story takes place in New York during Bobby’s audition visit, and is told from the perspective of Gwen, another music student auditioning with Bobby. This novel deals with the same situation – Bobby’s encounter with the invisible William –but this time we see the inside story of what happened while Bobby was in New York, as narrated by Gwen, an intriguing narrator with her own challenges to deal with.

Both sequels feature Andrew Clements’ well-known talent for portraying real-life kids – older teens this time – in difficult situations. The mix of mystery, suspense, and science fiction makes these novels even better. If you liked Things Not Seen and want to read more about the characters, then you’ll enjoy both sequels.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Middle-Grade Review: Alabama Moon

Even though our sons are now 11 and 14 years old, we still love to read aloud as a family. The book we finished this week, Alabama Moon by Watt Key, ranks as one of our all-time favorites!

Ten-year old Moon has been brought up by his father, known as Pap, deep in the woods of Alabama, with little contact with other people or the outside world. Pap has a deep mistrust of the government and raised Moon on his own in their forest shelter ever since Moon’s Mom died.

When Pap dies suddenly, Moon is left on his own. His Pap taught him how to live in the woods independently and told Moon before he died that he should make his way to Alaska to find others like themselves. So, although he’s not sure exactly where Alaska is, Moon sets out to find it. But the outside world doesn’t approve of a 10-year old boy living and traveling on his own, and, before he knows what’s happened, Moon is in the midst of all sorts of trouble.

This book has all the elements of a great story: adventure, suspense, humor, and plenty of heart. Moon is a very likable character with amazing wilderness survival skills, but he’s completely unprepared to deal with constables, jail, orphanages, and lawyers. He makes some friends along the way, as he tries to figure out where he belongs in the world. Here, some of the other boys at the orphanage ask Moon about himself:

“They’ve got you all over the TV. We watched it in the rec room. They said you beat up a constable.”
“I didn’t beat him up good enough. He still got me. Threw my wheelbarrow in the swamp. Threw my hat in the road. Took my rifle and all my livin’ stuff.”
“Do you really live in a cave?” another boy asked me.
“No, it’s a shelter that’s built low to the ground.”
“What did you eat out there?”
“Coons and deer and stuff we grew. Things that came out of the forest.”
“Did you have to go to school?”
I shook my head. “Pap got me some books. I learned with him.”
“Can you read?”
“Yeah. Morse code, too.”
“They gonna take you to jail, or you stayin’ here?”
“I’m gonna bust out as soon as I find a way.”

The details of how Moon survives on his own in the forest are fascinating, and his escapades with the law are exciting and suspenseful. Moon is one of our favorite characters we’ve ever encountered in a book – spirited and independent but also kind-hearted. You’ll be rooting for Moon to find what he’s looking for: a place to belong.