Quick Summary: This is a novel set during the time period of the American civil war, but in the story, during the war, the soldiers become the undead, and through bites, they contaminated more people. In the years that follow, teens of color are put into combat schools to learn to be attendants for wealthy white people. Jane McKeene is a teen participating in the combat training program, but when she is abruptly shipped off to a settlement out west, she discovers even more challenges in their unstable world.
My Take: I loved this novel. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it because "zombie books" aren't typically my favorite, but I adored Jane's forthright, courageous character from the beginning, and I was captivated by the horrendous circumstances put in place by the white, privileged people in power in the society.
My conclusion: This is a powerful read - fast moving with rich characters and complex circumstances. Jane McKeene is one of my all-time favorite YA characters - she's clever, sassy, and determined. Most importantly, I love the way that Justina Ireland provides insightful commentary on the ways that American culture has systemically and mercilessly oppressed people groups in order to further the causes of the few privileged people within the society (who use their privilege to maintain the hegemonic social structure) and the fierce bravery of those who stand against that structure. 4/5 stars.
Teaching Tips: This would be an awesome book to use for lit circles. It is a great read for teens and would work well in any class from grades 9-12 (and could be handled by some middle school students as well). As far as lit circles go, this book could be in a group with other books about the civil war era, but it could also fit nicely with books about oppression, justice, and the power of young people to change the world around them.
Podcast Highlights: I particularly loved the discussion about Jane as a protagonist who is more complex and real than many of the female teen protagonists we see in dystopian or apocalyptic YA novels. I think Sara was right that Jane is more real and richer in depth than many of the female protagonists in YA novels.
My Take: These books were fascinating to read. I was captivated by Reading People, and I learned quite a bit about my own personality, especially in the chapter on highly sensitive people. I'd Rather Be Reading was a playful and interesting examination of the reading life and its manifestations.
My conclusion: I loved both of these books, and they were so fun to discuss with my podcast co-hosts. It's fascinating to think about your personality, and it can be a helpful way to connect better to loved ones and to live a more fulfilling life. The bookish essays within I'd Rather Be Reading were such a joy for my book-loving heart.
Podcast Highlights: It was both fun and illuminating to discuss the books (and our personalities!) with Jen and Sara. We learned all sorts of things about ourselves, and it was such a joy to explore our bookish loves in our conversation together.
Quick Summary: In this episode, we discussed three of the choices for Global Read Aloud this year. If you're unfamiliar with Global Read Aloud, it is a movement focused on connecting classrooms around the world through shared reading experiences. Below are the summaries we wrote for each of the novels we discuss in the podcast.
Podcast Highlights: It was so fun to discuss all three of these books with Jen and Sara, and I loved hearing their perspectives.
Quick Summary: In this episode, we’re discussing Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. It is a story about Jason Dessen, a physics professor, husband, and father, whose life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and transported to a different world--one where his wife is not his wife, his son is not there, and he is profoundly successful as a physicist and has accomplished seemingly impossible things. As Jason struggles to figure out what is real, he works to find his way home. The protagonist must face the fragile nature of his reality as he struggles to reunite with his family and his world.
My Take: This was a fast-paced sci-fi book that grabbed me and kept moving. There are parts that were truly mind-blowing. Some of the details of the plot itself left me a bit perplexed, but it was a good read overall.
My verdict: The premise of this captivated me. As things unfolded, I found myself a bit skeptical of some of what came, but it was really enjoyable and fast-moving. 3/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: There were lots of quotes I enjoyed in this fast-paced novel.
Teaching Tips: While I would not teach this whole class, it could work in lit circles. It could also work well in a creative writing class since the narrative structure is fascinating!
Podcast Highlights: I loved/ felt mortified by listening to us try to work through some of the theoretical physics that are completely foreign to us! It's always humbling to discuss something completely outside of one's field of expertise. My cheeks are burning now just thinking about it!
Quick Summary: It is a story about 3 siblings, separated at birth by either adoption or being placed in foster care, finding each other in their teens and navigating the complicated relationships in their lives: both adoptive and biological. The book is told through multiple perspectives, alternating through each sibling’s point of view. Grace just gave up her own daughter, after getting pregnant at 16, and discovers that she has two biological siblings she’s never known about. She reaches out to Maya, who is dealing with her own parents’ struggles and always feeling a little bit on the outside. Together, they find Joaquin, who has spent his life bouncing through the foster care system. As the book progresses, these three siblings discover each other while also learning more about themselves, their biological mother and the connections they never expected to experience.
My Take: Benway did an amazing job of exploring so many different angles and perspectives on what it means to be family. She integrated some hard truths about adoption, racial dynamics, and tensions between adopted children and both their birth mother/ parents and their adopted parents, but she houses those truths in tenderness and compassion. It's a powerful story, and I love the narration from three different, distinct siblings.
My conclusion: Overall, I absolutely loved this novel. Benway took on so many issues with her characters, and each narrator's voice was unique and so lovable. I did struggle a with the plausibility of some of the events, but that did not stop the overall impact of the novel. 4/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: Jen's pick, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, sounds like an awesome book, and it sounds like it hits on issues of family and race dynamics that I find fascinating and important to consider in our society.
Teaching Tips: This would work so well as a lit circle choice. It's a powerful read for students but would be a little long to move through whole class. However, the issues this book raises (such as what constitutes a family, why mothers opt to give up babies, and how to navigate relationships) would work so well with a wide array of other complementary books.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved the points that were made about adoption and the difficulty of giving up a baby because I think that highlights the issues that Benway raises about why mothers have to make those hard choices. I also loved the discussion we had about siblings and the amazing dynamics of sibling relationships.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.