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Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

Harper Collins March 2014 ISBN: 9780062014559

Small town life can be a desperate life.  There is often not a lot to do, so teens get creative – which brings us to Panic.  Panic is a game that only seniors can play.  It takes place over the summer and those who announce themselves as contenders are given a series of challenges to complete.  Last one standing wins the pot of cash that has been collected all year long.  But when people are desperate, and money is involved, friendship can be thrown out the window, backs will be stabbed, and occasionally someone may lose their life.  Bring on the Panic.

Publishers Annotation: Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

The Review:

I sincerely loved this book.  In part because it is such a spot on depiction of the desperation of small town life – that overwhelming desire to escape at all costs, to flee.  It is also such a harrowing depiction of extreme poverty for one of our main characters, Heather.  Heather lives in a trailer, then literally on the streets, and winning Panic is her only chance for survival.  She needs the cash in a very desperate way.  We see her living out of her car, washing up in gas stations, scrounging for food.  Holy crap did this break my heart.

But Panic is also a thrilling read that escalates into some twisted commentary on the lengths we are willing to go to in order to win.  So it is intense, exciting, and – in the immortal words of James Patterson – unputdownable.  

I have read some online criticism about the fact that the police don’t step in and intervene earlier, but I have lived small town life and am never surprised by the local population’s ability to look the other way until way too late.  There was one element that was a stretch for me involving exotic animals, but we have all read about those types of stories in the news so I went with it.

Online Lauren Oliver has done a lot of speaking out and sharing help information about childhood poverty and homelessness (linked below), which definitely goes along with the themes in Panic.  As I said, the thing I loved most about this book was the rich, authentic and nuanced portrayal of both small town life and the desperation felt by those living in poverty.  The thrilling action is icing on the cake.  I think this one will be a big hit and many teen readers will identify with what is happening and why in the story.  Pair this with Dare Me by Eric Devine.

Awareness/Resources for Teen Poverty, Hunger, Disabilities, and Children of Alcoholic Parents

Teen Homelessness and Hazing Awareness

More on Teens and Poverty at TLT:

Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please?
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty

Working with youth who live in poverty

Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like

Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry

Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries
Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does

Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand


Book Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Today is finally the day, Requiem is here.  Because Christie was nice enough to get me an ARC at ALA Midwinter, I have read it.  And yes, I loved it. (My letter to Lauren Oliver after having read Pandemonium, book 2 in the Delirium trilogy).

They have tried to squeeze us out, to stamp us into the past.

But we are still here.

And there are more of us every day.

Requiem tells us not only the story of what happens with Lena (and Alex and Julian), but of Hana.  This time, Hana gets a voice.  And her story is really quite well done and touching.  I have always loved the friendship between Hana and Lena, flawed though it may be, but seeing what happens to her after she is cured is really quite interesting.  In many ways, the story of Hana turns out to be the best part of Requiem; heartbreaking, thoughtful and an important catalyst for what happens next.

In fact, this inside look at the cure is really quite important for our story, it provides balance and insight that we needed to contrast with the life of Lena.  And Lena’s story continues to play out in interesting ways as well.

“This is the strange way of the world, that people who simply want to love are instead forced to become warriors.” – Lauren Oliver, Requiem

The politics really explode in Requiem, and it is interesting.  There is a subplot involving electricity that is nauseating but insightful; it really illuminates the lengths that some will go to grab a hold of and keep power – at any cost.  There are some very obvious and relevant current parallels here.  The politics of Requiem, of the entire series, are very interesting to me – and relevant.  And discussable.  It may be hard for us, as readers, to understand the idea of the cure, but it is very easy to take this removed look at politics and see how it applies to the world that we live in today.

“Take down the walls.
That is, after all, the whole point.
You do not know what will happen if you take down the walls; you cannot see through to the other side, don’t know whether it will bring freedom or ruin, resolution or chaos. It might be paradise or destruction.
Take down the walls.
Otherwise you must live closely, in fear, building barricades against the unknown, saying prayers against the darkness, speaking verse of terror and tightness.
Otherwise you may never know hell; but you will not find heaven, either. You will not know fresh air and flying.
All of you, wherever you are: in your spiny cities, or your one bump towns. Find it, the hard stuff, the links of metal and chink, the fragments of stone filling you stomach.
And pull, and pull, and pull.
I will make a pact with you: I will do it if you will do it, always and forever.
Take down the walls.”
Lauren Oliver, Requiem  

This Part is Spoilery for Books 1 and 2, Not Requiem

One of the interesting thing that Oliver does here involves the love triangle.  Of all the elements of the story, this was my least favorite.  I was angry that Alex wasn’t really dead.  Not because I didn’t like Alex, but because I thought it would be such a bold storytelling move and I didn’t want another love triangle.  I don’t think that Oliver goes into what happened with Alex while he was away enough, but she does manage to set up an effective triangle.  Somehow, it is more believable than most of the triangles I have encountered, in part I think because there is history with Alex as opposed to the insta love.  So while Alex comes back angry and distant, that solid love foundation was already there making the triangle so much more believable.  More importantly, throughout the story you really aren’t sure what is going to happen, who Lena will end up with.

“Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe we are driven crazy by our feelings. Maybe love is a disease, and we would be better off without it.
But we have chosen a different road. And in the end that is the point of escaping the cure: We are free to choose.
We are even free to choose the wrong thing.”
Lauren Oliver, Requiem 

Where Oliver excels as a storyteller is in her use of language and her development of characters.  Lena changes a lot over the course of our series, and you see those changes occur. You hear her being self reflective as these changes occur and really think about them, sometimes after the fact, but she has a thoughtfulness about her.  For me, the idea that we need freedom, even if it means having the freedom to make mistakes and wrong choices, is one of the most important messages that we can give our youth, and the message is delivered powerfully in this series.  There are mistakes made, but it is important that we have the freedom to make them – and learn from them.
“This is what amazes me: that people are new every day. That they are never the same. You must always invent them, and they must always invent themselves, too.”
Lauren Oliver, Requiem  

All in all, this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  I will miss Lena and this world.  4 out of 5 stars.

Join us for the Requiem Twitter chat on Friday, March 15th at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. #TLTDelirium

Because Love is a Deadly Disease: The REQUIEM ARC giveaway

So, here’s the situation.  If you followed TLT last year, you know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver.  I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote here a love letter.  I dragged my family across the city to meet author Lauren Oliver.  Christie went to ALA Annual with one instruction: Do Not Come Home unless you bring me an ARC of REQUIEM by Lauren Oliver.  Which she did. (Who loves you Christie? That’s right – ME!)

BUT THEN . . . I turns out that neither Heather or Christie have read Delirium.  Insert for shame face here.  It’s like, I have somehow failed them.  So, we are going to be doing a group reading and discussion.  Please join us.

The first week of February: read Delirium and join us on Friday, February 8th for a Twitter chat.  We’ll see what Heather and Christie – and YOU! – think of book one in the series. #TLTDelirium, 2/8/2013 (time TBA)

The second week of February is Harlequin Teen week, so you’ll have 2 weeks to read PandemoniumWe’ll have a Twitter chat on Friday, February 22nd to see what everyone thinks. #TLTDelirium, 2/22/2013 NOON CENTRAL, 1 Eastern

Then in March, we’re all about the Requiem.  Live Tweetchat Friday, March 15th at NOON Eastern. #TLTDelirium

To help facilitate this discussion of one of Karen’s favorite YA book series, we’re giving away a copy of the ARC for Requiem.  That’s right, I am going to give you Christie’s copy.  Not mine, don’t be silly.  We are opening the contest today and it will run through Saturday, February 9th so that we can get that copy into your hands.  The CAVEAT is, you have to do a book review for us after you read it.  I can do it but it would probably go like this: Oh I loved this book so much . . . . Or, what?! How could it have ended that way?! See, I am totally not a reliable source at this point in the game.  But don’t worry, I will share with you all the feels as I read the book.

And you did hear, right? They are going to be making Delirium into a TV series.

All the info you need to enter the contest appears below.  Don’t let the amor delirium nervosa get to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Take 5: Weird Science

I recently received a special grant from my Friends of the Library grant to update our YA collection.  They tacked on an additional $500.00 with the challenge that they wanted me to add more math and science related books in the collection.  So the challenge was this: Can you find some YA titles that talk about science and math?  Here are my Take 5; 5 ya titles with enough science to meet the bill but action, adventure and more . . .

For nonfiction titles, I am a huge fan of the Basher Science books (found here).  They are definitely aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum in terms of layout and design BUT you can’t beat them for their simple, straightforward presentation of the information.  They won’t give you in depth information for a report, but they will help you understand the basics and serve as a great ready reference tool for your basic questions.  I bought a collection of these for my tween at home for a really good price through the Scholastic book fair (which I love and The Mr. hates because of what it does to his wallet).

In addition, here are 5 of my favorite YA fiction titles that have just enough science in them to fit the bill and get teens thinking while providing quality thrills, chills and just a dash of romance.

Unwind and Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
This is a great dystopian read with a look at what a future where parents can decide to “unwind” their children may look like.  In Unwholly, out this year and amazing, they also dabble in creating a modern day Frankenstein.  Unwind is one of my favorite dystopians, out before dystopians were all the rage.

BZRK by Michael Grant
Nanotechnology: What can we do with it? What should we do with it?  This is a great guy read.  Mature content.  I am looking forward to the sequel, I really liked this one.  Read my full review here.

Virals and Seizures by Kathy Reichs
A group of teens live on a secluded island where their parents are all scientists.  Like those meddling kids from Scooby Doo, these teens just can’t keep their nose out of things and in the process of trying to solve an old missing persons case they find their lives forever changed – literally.  This series is popular with my teens.  I read book 1 and it was a decent read.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
In this vision of the future, each body is born with two souls with the expectation that only one of them will remain.  The recessive soul is expected to “settle.”  But what happens when they don’t?  Is there a scientific cure?  I just finished this book and will be reviewing it in a few days.  In the end, it is definitely recommended.

 Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Can we alter teenagers, cut the part out of them that makes them able to love?  In Lauren Oliver’s brilliant dystopian, the future has declared love a disease and all teens undergo a surgery that renders them cured from its curse.  Moving, brilliant, and thought provoking.  This is a must read.

And of course, Origin by Jessica Khoury.

What’s on your list of ya lit with a hint of science?  Share it with us in the comments.

Top 10 Tuesday: From Beyond the Grave

In the end, life inevitably always ends in death. Death and taxes you know.  A lot of teens can avoid the taxes part, but they often get to the death part too early, especially in teen fiction.  But death is a funny thing, and you don’t always stay dead.  Or you hang out in limbo while you wait to learn life’s GREAT LESSONS.  So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of books that tell their stories from beyond the grave, where teens come back to make things right, fall in love, or just haunt the people who made their lives miserable.  They are not always ghost stories, because you don’t have to be a ghost to haunt someone.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” (Lauren Oliver)

The idea for this Top 10 list came as I was reading Before I Fall the other day.  Here, Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident on her way home from a party, and yet she keeps waking up to repeat this day over and over again.  The question she must ask herself is why: What happened on this day that she is supposed to change?  Before I Fall is an interesting book because in the beginning, our main character is really not that likeable.  And yet, as she relives this day over and over again she comes to understand who she is and tries to find a way to make it right while she still has a chance.  It is an interesting story about bullying and how we affect those around us. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The remaining books on our Top 10 list involve teens telling their stories from beyond the grave through unique storytelling devices or living as ghosts to continue their tale . . .

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher)

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes the choices make you.” (Gayle Forman)
“You can obsess and obsess over how things ended- what you did wrong or could have done differently- but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything. So really, why worry?” 
(Jess Rothenberg)
“New Orleans is a city that’s defined and therefore haunted by its past.” (Paula Morris discussing Ruined at http://www.bookdivas.com/interviews/2010/03/interview-paula-morris)
“Dear sir: twelve hours is as twelve years to me. I imagine you in your home, smiling, thinking of me. That I am your heart’s secret fills me with song. I wish I could sing of you here in my cage. You are my heart’s hidden poem. I reread you, memorize you, every moment we’re apart.”  (Laura Whitcomb)
“and if we can change
things that have
already happened
if those planes can fly in
uneasy formation
if that splinter moon
can blow away the shadows
then anything,
anything at all.”  (Jaclyn Moriarty)
“Great. Not only do I have an angry spirit guide, but an angry spirit guide with a vindictive streak and an unnatural knowledge of show tunes. Better and better already.”  (Stacey Kade)
“I started wondering about how someone would feel if they got a letter from a dead girl; what if the relationship between the two had been bad? Then my head was off into why had the relationship been bad. The novel started to form.” (Gail Giles discussing Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/authors/stories_behind/storygiles.html)
“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.”  (Alice Sebold)
Now it’s your turn, tell us your favorite stories of teens speaking beyond the grave and trying to right wrongs.  Don’t forget to tell us what your favorite title on the list is.

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Recs of the Week

Every week here at TLT we declare a book our REC OF THE WEEK.  These are our favorites that we recommend you check out ASAP.  And because I like to pretend I am an artist (“I’m not an artist, I just play one on my blog.”), I like to come up with a unique pic that somehow captures the spirit of the book. Or at least makes you want to look into it further.  For our first Top 10 Tuesday, we bring you our Top 10 Recs of the Week.

Join us each week to see what the new Rec of the Week is going to be and what original graphic we will create for it.  Want to learn more about the books mentioned above?  Just click on the picture and it will take you to our review.  Check in to TLT for new book reviews, library information, Why YA? posts and more.  Just because a book isn’t our rec of the week doesn’t mean we don’t love it.  Sadly, it turns out there are only 52 weeks in a year.  You can read all of our 2012 book reviews here and find more books we love and think you should read ASAP.