Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: Teens as Sci Fi Soldiers(ish) – When YA Lit meets The Bourne Identity or Red Dawn (or even 12 Monkeys)

When we read The Hunger Games, we like to think to ourselves that we know that would never happen – who sends kids out to kill? But the truth is, there are countries all over the world where children are in fact forced to become soldiers and fight for causes they know little about and are forced to serve at the whims of adults. But it can’t happen HERE we say – but what if it could? What if it did? Here’s a look at some cool science fiction stories where teens are manipulated by adults to become soldiers or mercenaries of some kind. They’re pretty cool books to read, but they also make us a little bit uncomfortable because we would like to think there is no possible way it could happen . . . but the truth is sometimes people in power will go to great lengths to keep that power. Like all good science fiction, these titles create absurd sounding scenarios to make us think about real world truths. And these titles ask us to think about things like free will and determination, nature vs. nurture, the role of government in our lives, and what lengths we are (and should be) willing to go to in order to keep ourselves – our country – safe.

I Become Shadow by Joe Shine
“Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.” (Publisher’s description)

As an action/thriller, this is a fun story. There is a lot of interesting subtext about free will. I was surprised by some of the decisions characters made at the end, which would make for some great discussions. There is also some very interesting subtext about addiction that could make for great discussion. And of course it asks the age old question: what lengths should we go to in order to protect our future. This is an interesting read.

 

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Julliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.”

I really like this book a lot. Because they fear she MIGHT in the future become violent, Davy is removed from her normal life and put in a situation with people who are in fact very violent. This is a look at the age old nature vs. nurture argument. It is also an interesting discussion about the prison system as every day we see minor offenders placed into jail who then become more violent offenders because they are forced to try and survive in the prison environment. And then there are some twists that make this book fit the list but I’m not going to elaborate. Just take my advice and read this book, it’s really good. The next book, Unleashed, comes out in February 2015 from Harper Teen. 

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
“Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.” (Publisher’s description)

In my review earlier this month I note that there are a couple of flaws with this book, but in terms of readability it is a lot of fun. The tagline itself describes Tabula Rasa as The Bourne Identity meets Divergent. There are, once again, lots of interesting discussions to be had about science ethics, free will and autonomy, and the role that adults can play in the lives of teens. High on readability and survival, it’s a good read.

Blackout by Robison Wells
“Laura and Alec are trained terrorists.
Jack and Aubrey are high school students.
There was no reason for them to ever meet.

(Publisher’s description)

This is one of those books I really would have liked to have seen get more love; it is really under-rated. It’s got your post-apocalyptic virus plague scenario, a dystopian government, some X-men like superpowers, teens conscripted into government service, and a dash of terrorism mixed in to make it an almost perfect reflection of modern fears. In my earlier review I said, “Blackout definitely excels as a thriller.  I highly recommend this book.” So let’s give this book the love it deserves.

Reboot by Amy Tintera
“Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).” (Publisher’s description)

Teens who are essentially “zombies” – though definitely not traditional zombies – are stripped of their rights and forced to serve as a government clean up crew to help protect the remaining humans from those that reboot. This is another one of those titles that I want to see get more love because it is such an interesting twist on zombies and is a compelling metaphor for discrimination, something we’re talking a lot about these days. What makes us human and does one group of people’s rights trump those of another? Like all good sci fi, this can be read on multiple levels and can lead to some interesting discussions. Read my earlier review here. The sequel Rebel is out now for your reading pleasure.

Book Review: Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin

Tagline: The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Back Cover Copy: 16-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa – a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze, with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

Karen’s Thoughts:


On a purely entertainment level, this book is a lot of fun. We open in a hospital room where some type of dangerous procedure is being done. The lights flicker. Mysterious stuff is left in the hands of Sarah. Then a blizzard hits and all hell breaks loose. There is a cat and mouse game in a tight location with a fairly minimal number of players. Like the Bourne Identity, it’s a lot of fun with a touch of mystery. The action sequences are mesmerizing, especially when our teens stumble upon a group of war survivors in the hospital who they must interact with in very delicate ways in order to help them understand that they are not the enemy.

The plot, however, starts to unravel as we realize who Sarah is and why, exactly, it is that a fleet of mercenaries have been sent in to hunt her down and extinguish her. In the end it just didn’t pack an emotional punch; Sarah herself, who she really is and what has happened, doesn’t seem to be threatening enough to justify all the hullabaloo that came after her. It’s a lot of expensive, life threatening, secretive assassination attempts for – well, nothing that seems worth all of this effort.

The James Bond Villain Effect

Tabula Rasa also suffers from the James Bond Villain Effect. You know how in a James Bond movie (yes, I’m old, keep reading) the villain has Bond right there in his trap and if he would just kill him already he would win but NOOOOOOOOOO the villain has to prove his villainy by discussing his plans? Yeah, that happens here. There’s a big ole’ info dump in a room full of people held captive by the villain and it would have worked much better if Lippert-Martin could have revealed all of this information more organically in the story. And there is no tension in this scene because we all know that how these scenes end.

That One Time, When a Character Said Incredibly Racist Things and It Just Didn’t Make Sense in the Context of the Rest of the Book

And then there was this disturbing piece of dialogue that happened at the beginning of the story that just whipped me right out of the story. The set-up: Sarah has just been intercepted by the teen boy computer hacker with an agenda of his own as mentioned in the back cover synopsis. He offers her an MRE, which is a pre-packaged, dehydrated meal that survivalists and the military use.

The boy: “Make me something, too. Not the beef enchiladas, though. They taste like Mexicans.”

Sarah: “Aren’t enchiladas supposed to taste Mexican?”

The boy: “No, I mean they taste like actual Mexicans. Unwashed ones.”

Then he realizes that he is talking to a girl who probably does in fact have some Mexican heritage in her, not that she would know because she has no memory of who she is. After an awkward conversation about whether or not she could be Mexican, they both decide that maybe he should stop talking now. He replies, “Yes, maybe I should, before you decide that I’m some huge racist jerk and not just an awkward idiot who was trying to be funny.” (pages 70 and 71).

It was a very odd exchange of racist dialogue that didn’t seem to fit his character and in fact never comes up again. It was completely irrelevant and unnecessary to THIS story as I read it and was so jarring that it took me right out of it. The author may have been trying to introduce a way for our characters to discuss Sarah’s background since she was literally a blank slate, but it would have been nice if she had done so without perpetuating a damaging stereotype. It should be noted that this is an ARC so maybe some of this dialogue has changed.

But Yes, Teens Will Like It

In terms of action, there is plenty of it here and as I mentioned, it’s a fun read. But when you get right down to the guts of it, the character development underwhelms, the motivation underwhelms, and the James Bond villain is a definite weak spot. The thing is, I think none of that will matter to teen readers who just want to read an action story with survival elements, which it delivers in spades. The action is good, there are some tense scenes, and I wanted both of our main characters to survive. So I give this one a very mixed and conflicted review.

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lipper-Martin comes out in September 2014 from EgmontUSA. 978-1-60684-518-9.

I received a copy of this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Take 5: New Titles Coming from EgmontUSA

Get Happy by Mary Amato

Publisher’s Description: In this poignant, realistic, contemporary YA by a state master list star, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Gayle Forman, a young songwriter builds a substitute family with her friends in place of the broken family she grew up with.

A hip high school girl who loves music, writes songs, and is desperate for a ukelele, learns to her shock that her father did not abandon her years ago and has been trying to keep in touch. She begins to investigate him, only to discover that he has a new life with a new family, including the perfect stepdaughter, a girl who Minerva despises

Karen’s Thoughts: I simply love and adore Guitar Notes so I am very much looking forward to reading this. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a title that mentions Sarah Dessen and understands how glorious she is.

Publishes October 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60684-522-6

BZRK Apocalypse by Michael Grant

Brief Synopsis: A war is raging at the nano level as a group headed by evil geniuses tries to get control of nanotechnology and politics to create a world that fits their idea of utopia. Teens are being enlisted for their gaming ability to control the nanotechnology but now they have to figure out what side is the good side, or at least the less bad side, and see if they can stop the war before madness sets in.

Karen’s Thoughts:  This is a really good, thrilling series that reminds me a lot of Michael Crichton. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion.

Publishes May 8, 2014. ISBN: 9781405263467

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin

Publisher’s Description: The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

Karen’s Thoughts: You just read the part where it said “The Bourne Identity meets Divergent” right? Yeah, sign me up for that. Also, I’m all in for a female Bourne.

Publishes September 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60684-518-9

Amity by Micol Ostow

Publisher’s Description: For fans of Stephen King and American Horror Story, a gruesome thriller suggested by the events of the Amityville Horror.

Inspired by a true-crime story of supernatural happenings and gory murders, Amity spans two generations and beyond to weave an overlapping, interconnected tale of terror, insanity, danger, and death.

Karen’s Thoughts: The cover, the subject matter – teens (and me) are always looking for more horror and this coming out in the fall sounds like a no brainer. Plus, they recently announced they would be making another Amityville movie starring Disney star Bella Thorne. Should have some high interest.

Publishes August 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60684-156-3

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Publisher’s Description: A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820’s Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father’s assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they’re letting on.

Karen’s Thoughts: Look, I used my high school graduation money to buy the complete works of Poe, so I’m all over this. Here’s a look at some more YA lit inspired by Poe  

Publishes September 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60684-463-2 

Edited on 4/02/2014 because I had the UK version of the BZRK Apocalypse book up. The one you see now is the U.S. version.