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.
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: 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.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
Quick Summary: Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is a YA fantasy novel the centers on three characters who live in Orisha, a fantasy world loosely based on the author’s Nigerian heritage. This world that has lost its connection to magic. Zélie is one of the maji, individuals blessed with a connection to the gods who could do magic. The other two narrators are siblings, the children of the king who killed an entire generation of maji and who banished magic from the kingdom. Amari, the princess, has quietly struggled to meet her parents’ expectations through a lifetime of trying to fit in and to resist her desire to leave the castle. Inan, the prince, has done everything his father wanted, becoming a captain in the military who will enforce magic’s banishment. All three characters struggle with conflicts that have no easy answers, particularly as they come to know each other and their unique, hidden challenges.
My Take: Man, I loved this book so very much, and it was really tough to realize that I'll have to wait a long time for the next book to be released. I was enthralled by Zélie from the start--I loved her stubbornness and her loyalty to Tzain and her father. Her dedication to her mother's memory was powerful, and I appreciated the struggle she had throughout the novel to reconcile the damage magic could do with the way that it could give power to the powerless. I found Amari's and Inan's perspectives intriguing as well, and I appreciated the way that all of their lives wound together as the novel progressed.
My conclusion: I'm a fantasy lover in general, and I've been long overdue for a great fantasy read. I had extremely high expectations for this novel and could not wait for it to be released. Often, it's tough for a novel to live up to those expectations, but in so many ways, I thought that Adeyemi delivers. Adeyemi manages to tell a phenomenal story that is compelling and gripping while also making it a socially conscious commentary on the struggles within our contemporary society. That is hard work, but she pulls it off with finesse and seeming ease. 5/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: I was so interested in the text that Sara shared, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. With that kind of recommendation, I want to make sure that I read it soon! I also love Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison so very much. Jen sharing that one made me want to read it again.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great option for lit circles. As we discuss in the podcast, it would work well as an option along side of other socially conscious books that are taking on issues such as racism and police brutality more directly with realistic fiction. I love how this book takes a different angle on these complex issues our society is facing.
Podcast Highlights: I so appreciated what Jen said about Amari's quiet strength, and I thought Sara's commentary about the backstory she created for Saran was fascinating. I most especially appreciated how we all found different things about the book interesting, but despite those various perspectives, we each loved it. That speaks to the strengths of the novel. I can't believe it's Adeyemi's first novel! I'm so looking forward to the rest of the series.
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.