Friday, February 19, 2016

Teen review: Alternate History

Front Lines
by Michael Grant
540 Pages
Fiction / alternative history / historical fiction?
Grade recommendation: high school

Reviewed by Kira T., grade 9

What if women had been allowed to fight alongside men during the deadliest war in history? Michael Grant answers this question through his novel, Front Lines, which follows three teenage girls who enlist in the United States Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Rio Richlin fights on the front lines to avenge her sister; Frangie Marr learns to be a medic to keep her family off the streets; and Rainy Schluterman, a Jewish girl, trains in an elite intelligence unit in hopes of bringing down Hitler.

The wide array of characters and different plotlines all compiled into one story make for a lengthy read. The book covers many mature topics, including sexism, racism, and (as you would expect from a book centered on World War II, alternate history or not) violence. Some chapters depict the battles in such graphic detail that I was left a bit stunned, though I was all the more anxious to read what happened next. There are also aspects of psychological struggle, especially from Rio’s chapters, in which the characters fight to keep their sanity amidst unimaginable terror. As a result, this book can be a bit heavy in terms of mature themes, so I wouldn't recommend it to grades 8 and younger. However, the gritty plot of Front Lines made it quite hard to put down. The more I learned about the horrifying situations into which the characters were inserted, the more I could relate to and root for them throughout their remarkable journeys.

The characters, specifically the three protagonists, are what truly made the book an incredible read for me. Every character has a unique background and personality, so the reader should be able to find at least one with whom they can really connect. I was also captivated by the character development exhibited by all of the girls. It was incredibly rewarding to see how far the characters had all matured by the last chapters. 

Overall, I would rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I do, however, encourage the reader to remember that while Front Lines is a fictional, alternate history novel, thousands of women actually did bravely fight for the United States during World War II. 

Editor's note: For those interested in the details of that last statement, here are short biographies of eight of those women, and here is a great resource (the National World War II Museum website) about more of them. This book was just published at the end of January, so while we have ordered it, it isn't available at the library yet, but will be soon! (just in time for Women's History Month in March)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What we're reading: Techno/Mystery

After hearing good things about it from various librarians and also having it proposed as a possible book for 10-12 Book Club, I decided I had to pick up and read Lock In, by science fiction writer John Scalzi. It was my first book by this author, who is a favorite with several people I know, and the build-up was so big that I was afraid I'd be disappointed--but I wasn't. I loved it! It may be my first Scalzi book, but it definitely won't be my last.

The story is kind of hard to explain: There's this virus, which is called Haden's Syndrome (named after the First Lady, who was one of its sufferers), and it affects different people in different ways. Some get it and recover with not much more than chills, fever, and a headache. Some get it and recover but have certain genetic changes that give them abilities (more on that in a minute). But for the unlucky one percent (5 million in the United States), the virus causes a condition called "lock in." The person is still alive, fully aware, but locked in his or her brain with no ability to communicate, and the brain has ceased to be able to tell the body how to function. Basically, these people are immobile, and completely helpless.

Because some of the people who suffered this were so high profile, buckets of money were thrown at solving the various challenges to help these people. There are two solutions for them:

1. The people who recover but have "abilities" are called Integrators. They are able to let the locked-in people "borrow" their bodies. They are still fully aware, and are able to push the locked-in person's mind out again if they don't like the use to which their body is being put.

2. Sophisticated and versatile robots (called "threeps" after C3PO) are designed, and the locked-in people can project their minds into these robots, and therefore move around and interact in society as if they have a real body.

So--25 years later, now imagine someone is murdered, and you are the detective trying to solve the case. Who, exactly, committed the murderer? If the suspect is an Integrator, it could be them...or it could be the person using their body at the time. If the murder was done by someone inhabiting a threep, who's to say who, exactly, that was? Two detectives--one a former Integrator, the other a Lock In riding a threep--are on the case, but it looks like it's going to be bigger than even they imagined.

The book was a delightful combination of sci fi/techno/mystery--it reminded me in some ways of Isaac Asimov's 'Lige Bailey and Daneel Olivaw murder mysteries, but younger, wittier, fresh. I loved the complexity created by people who could jump from threep to threep and thereby travel anywhere a threep was waiting for them, or Integrate to "ride" in someone else's head/body--it made it difficult to solve crime, that's for sure. We should definitely read this for book club!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Tuesday night, February 16, please join us for a lecture by noted blues and rock historian Bob Santelli, Executive Director of the Grammy Museum, about the music that was the key element in the civil rights movement, used to rally the nation and energize the fight for freedom.

The program is at the Buena Vista Library, 300 N. Buena Vista Street, and begins at 7:00 p.m.

This is a teen program, but all are welcome! Those students whose teachers have offered extra credit may pick up proof of attendance slips at the end of the program.