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Under The Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi


 

The Story:

In a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, society has divided into two groups: the Dwellers and the Outsiders. Seventeen-year-old Aria is a Dweller, and she lives inside a genetically and environmentally controlled enclosed city called Reverie. She and her friends spend their days in virtual-reality Realms, where they can safely experience anything they could ever want, whenever they want. Nineteen-year-old Perry is an Outsider. He and his tribe live in the primitive and savage outdoors, under constant threat from rival tribes, diseases, and violent electrical storms. When Aria is exiled from Reverie, she thinks she's as good as dead--the Dwellers refer to the outside as "The Death Shop" for a reason. Perry has been cast out by his tribe over an unfortunate accident in his family. The two of them could not be more different from each other. The two of them each find that the other is the key to their own survival and redemption.

The Scoop:

Under the Never Sky is the imaginative and page-turning first book in a new series that will appeal to high-school aged fans of sci fi, dystopian fiction, AND romance. The two worlds that exist in this story are a study in contrasts. One is based in virtual reality with such a dependance on technology that people have nearly lost the capacity to use their senses on their own. The other is a harsh and primal hunting society with no modern conveniences. Some high-ranking members of this group have highly developed senses that enable them to see, hear, or smell at almost magical levels. As representatives of their respective groups, Aria and Perry are opposites who must learn to work together to accomplish their goals and learn to recognize that between them, there are really more similarities than differences. A touching and solid relationship eventually develops between these two characters, and sex is implied but never directly referred to. There is violence as Perry and Aria fight (literally) to survive in the wild, with several bloody confrontations between them and members of enemy tribes. Perry is a skilled hunter and kills both humans (regretfully) and animals with a bow and arrow. Aria is involved in a frightening assault and fire that kills a friend of hers. While there is a nice degree of resolution at the end of this story, the stage is well-set for the second book, and readers will be eager to get their hands on it.

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The Fame Game, by Lauren Conrad
 



 

The Story:

In the hot TV reality show L.A. Candy, nineteen year old Madison Parker was the best frenemy of nice girl Jane Roberts. Now Jane has rejoined the real world, and Madison is moving on to a new show, The Fame Game, that will hopefully be even bigger and better. It should be Madison's time to finally shine in the spotlight by herself. But Madison may have to share the spotlight with another nice girl, Carmen Curtis, who is the daughter of Hollywood royalty and much more of a natural in the Hollywood glare than Madison is. Is there enough room at the top for both of them? And if Carmen weren't enough for Madison to worry about, her oh-so-embarrassing past isn't finished catching up with her yet. If she wants to reach the heights she has in mind, she's going to have to figure out how to dodge everyone who is trying to bring her down, and look good while she's doing it!

The Scoop:

The Fame Game is a very readable guilty pleasure by reality TV star Lauren Conrad. The fact that Conrad herself is a reality TV star lends a voyeuristic dimension to her books, leading the reader to wonder just how much in her stories is perhaps autobiographical, and to believe that much more the behind-the-scenes details that she offers up about the unreal business of reality TV. This book is the first in a new series spun off from Conrad's first trilogy, L.A. Candy, this time following character Madison Parker as she moves into a new TV show. It's an interesting twist, as Madison was the least likable character in the L.A. Candy books, but readers will have a better understanding of Madison's personality, seeing things from her point of view. There are again four girls' lives chronicled in The Fame Game, and their characters run the gamut from sweet and naive to prickly and conniving. Not surprisingly, consumerism abounds, as image and brands are king in this fame-hungry Hollywood. An interesting ethical question comes into play when one character is not considered the proper girlfriend for an up and coming male star, so the agents collude to create a fake relationship between him and one of the Fame Game co-stars. One character's long-lost father comes back into her life, reuniting what is left of her fractured family and filling a void for her, though his re-appearance ultimately is too good to be true. Physical interactions between the characters are very tame, and there is occasional graphic language (f-ck, sh-t, b-tch, a-s). There is a cavalier attitude throughout about the use of alcohol. The female characters are all nineteen, but drink casually as if there is no drinking age. There are hints that one character has a preoccupation with her size and may have an eating disorder. Teens might enjoy a conversation about the societal values that reality TV promotes, and the idea that fame does not necessarily go hand in hand with any particular talent or skill.
 

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Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys
 



 

The Story:

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is taken from her home in Lithuania by the Soviet military, along with her mother and brother. Thrown onto cattle cars with many other Lithuanians, her life changes overnight. While her train travels farther and farther away from home, she worries about the fate of her father, whom she glimpses on a separate train. Slowly, she and her traveling companions cover 6,500 miles packed tightly together, traveling north to Siberia and crossing the Arctic Circle. Lina never could have imagined that things could get worse, but when they finally arrive at their destination (a labor camp) that is exactly what happens. Forced to work in unthinkably cruel conditions for a single piece of bread each day, Lina fights with the others to survive, and finds an outlet for pain in her drawing. Lina is determined to make it out alive, no matter what how hard that may be.

The Scoop:

Between Shades of Gray is a haunting and beautiful book about a time in history unknown to many people. This is a story based on the author's own family history, about Stalin's own genocide during World War II. While the Nazis were rounding up Jews and putting them into concentration camps, Stalin was secretly doing the same to the people in Lithuania and many other Balkan countries. It is a story of great loss and suffering, and the subject is grim, but it also a story about perseverance, compassion, family, and loyalty. The historical information in this book is informative but never boring, and it is a gripping read. The circumstances of the characters' lives become horrendous. People, including children, die of disease. Others are beaten and shot, their bodies tossed off the train or impaled against a building with a cautionary note from the Soviets. In these desperate times, the characters are forced to make some hard survival decisions. Lina's mother is offered a chance for a better life working as a translator, but refuses out of loyalty to Lithuania and her people. Lina suffers greatly as a result of this decision but she and her family never regret it. Another character is forced into a life of prostitution to save her son, but rather than judge her, the other Lithuanians pity her. The bond that emerges among these strangers who become family is heart-warming and shows the very best of humanity in contrast to their inhumane surroundings. They help each other and stand together, even when it means giving up their only bread ration for the day. Time and time again, most characters make tough, morally correct decisions even when it can (and sometimes does) cost them their lives. There are references to Soviets sexually abusing the female laborers. A man asks Lina, "Have they gotten to you yet? Between your legs?" Lina's train car is (incorrectly) labeled "Prostitutes and Whores." Her breast is grabbed on her way into a group shower. Language is mild (b-stard) and a sweet and innocent kiss occurs. Though the subject matter is sad, Between Shades of Gray is a story of love and endurance. Even those who are not fans of historical fiction will appreciate this beautifully written, fast-paced, and important read. The publisher's recommended age is twelve and up, but only mature readers at the younger end of the spectrum will get the most out of this book, which provides a great opportunity for discussion about war and genocide and to learn about a piece of history that is often overlooked.
 

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Girls Don't Fly, by Kristen Chandler
 


 

The Story:

Responsible Myra is one of six children living with her family in their busy Salt Lake City, Utah home. She helps her working parents care for her four younger siblings while attending her senior year of school and working at her own job. Life gets even more hectic when her pregnant sister moves back home from college and needs taking care of, too. When Myra's "perfect" boyfriend dumps her out of the blue, she is thrown for a loop. Dazed, confused, and more than a little mad, Myra becomes bolder in life choices. Swearing to no longer be a doormat, she quits her job, and competes for a scholarship to study wildlife in the Galapogos islands. The stakes are high--if she wins, this could be the beginning of a bright future for Myra. If she loses, she just might be stuck in Utah forever.

The Scoop:

Girls Don't Fly is a great read about a girl going after her dreams with a lot of hard work. Myra is a very responsible eighteen-year-old girl who is on track to sacrifice her own future to help her family with their needs. She is truly a positive role model as she is a kind person with a bit of spunk, is very smart, loves science, and is exceptionally loyal. Myra mentions that although she was with her boyfriend for over a year, they did no more than kiss, and this was a bit of an issue for him. One of the reasons that Myra gives for her chastity is not wanting to follow in her mother and sister's footsteps by getting pregnant before getting married. Some mild kissing occurs, and there is some infrequent language (sh-t, b-tch). Overall, this is an engaging and satisfying read. For a teen book, it is very wholesome, and will especially be enjoyed by young teen/older tween girls.







 

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The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith
 



 

The Story:

Four minutes late. Four minutes late for a flight she doesn't even want to be on in the first place. Hadley is headed to London for her father's wedding to Charlotte. Not only has she not been speaking to her father, but she has never even met her stepmother-to-be. Being stuck at JFK until she can get on the next flight affords Hadley the chance meeting of a lifetime. Oliver is British, he is a Yale student, he is on her flight, he is in seat 18C--Hadley is in seat 18A. Coincidence? Fate? True love? Maybe, maybe not--but it sure is going to be interesting to find out.

The Scoop:

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is an engaging and charming speed read. Hadley is an immensely relatable and likable character. Her father went off to Oxford for a semester's teaching position and never came back. Her parents divorced, and Hadley is pretty sure her new soon-to-be stepmother Charlotte is the reason why. Hadley struggles with some anger and animosity toward her father that she comes to terms with over the course of the book. Divorce and having parents moving on with new relationships is central to the storyline. A character's death is also important, though it has taken place prior to the start of the story. Meeting Oliver and having an instant connection with him catches Hadley off guard, and the two become very close, very quickly. When they meet up again in London, they lean on each other for support as sparks fly between them. Teen girls will thoroughly enjoy this sweet love story, and will be sorry to see it end so soon.


 

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