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From the Stacks to the Shelf: How This Reader Became a Librarian and an Author, a guest post and giveaway by TRACKED author Jenny Martin

Like Star Wars? Speed Racer? The Fast and the Furious? What if I told you there was an awesome new science fiction title coming set in the future and featuring a female racer . . . Pretty awesome, right? Jenny Martin is a school librarian who is about to have her first book, TRACKED, published. Today she talks with us about becoming a librarian and an author. She’s also giving away a TRACKED swag pack that includes a bag, key chain and t-shirt. Meet Jenny Martin.

I grew up in an isolated, scrappy little Oklahoma town. When I say ‘isolated,’ I mean that for many years, we were three hours away from the nearest Wal-Mart. (Okay, maybe only two and a half, as the crow—or the speeding pickup–flies.) And when I say ‘scrappy,’ I mean that our parents and grandparents had managed to build something lasting in the middle of nowhere—a place rooted in red dirt, thriving despite April Storms and August heat, stalwart against the relentless cycle of oil boom and bust.

Back then, in that tiny town, we didn’t have a lot of things. No Starbucks. No malls. No monster cine-plexes.  But we had at least one thing going for us—we had libraries.

And those libraries shaped my life. They directly impacted both sides of my career—as an author and as a school librarian.

In truth, the call of the stacks began in early childhood. I think of our first Carnegie Library, one of the grandest buildings in the county, an oasis just off Main Street. As a kid, I was a lot more interested in the unassuming basement shelves of its children’s section than the brightly painted twisty-slide and monkey bars outside. Sure, the local Lions’ Club did a terrific job on the playground equipment. I just preferred spending my time nose-deep in fictional worlds.

There, in our public library, I met an extraordinary book pusher and kid-confidante, Ms. Kay Bell. Ms. Bell introduced me to my first home-run reads; armed with ghost stories and science fiction and fantasy novels, she whet an appetite I’ve never been able to sate. What’s more, she never batted an eye at my reading choices, even when I checked out too-tough adult books or the audiobook of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Headless Cupid yet again, for the seventeenth time. (Cassette tapes! Back then, so cutting edge!)

Yes, Ms. Bell was the first to meet me at the door to literacy. But other librarians, each in their turn, helped me fling those gates wide-open. I remember our 5th and 6th grade librarian, Ms. Jackson, who encouraged our young writers’ club, and who introduced me to Ms. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. In Junior High, there was Ms. Christner, whose fiery passion for Walter Dean Myers kindled something in me, and pushed me to try new genres. And let’s not forget the high school librarians, Ms. Castor and Ms. Millard, who helped us all get through four years of English papers and Oklahoma History research and Humanities projects.

TRACKED author Jenny Martin

These libraries, they welcomed me, a too tall, too silly, too brassy girl who didn’t always fit in or say the right thing. The resources I found inside these safe havens…be they on the shelf or even in micro-fiche…each novel and poem and biography stretched me, and taught me to look beyond myself and at the same time, to slip deeper into my own imagination. I can’t help but credit my hometown for this. Somehow, among the cattle ranchers and oilrig roustabouts, there was a collective desire to make learning a priority and invest in newfangled resources, even during the leaner years. These everyday, plainspoken folks saw the value in building windows to the larger world, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

I’m grateful because they shaped me into who I am today, an author-slash-librarian. Because when it was time for me to go back to school and choose a new career, I knew what to do. I knew who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Ms. Bell and Ms. Christner, or at least one of their 2.0 counterparts. I wanted to tend that same gateway and escape, to keep the doors open wide, for students of my own.

And that is what I did. I dove into school librarianship and worked hard to finish that MLS. All those hours reading scholarly articles and polishing term papers on topics like ‘intellectual property’ and ‘authority control.’ It nurtured the practitioner and the academic in me, and I have no regrets. But I never forgot the little girl who loved The Headless Cupid, and the teen who loved drafting short stories. Today, I still honor her, too.

Now, by day, I serve as a library media specialist–in a big city district, and in a school I love dearly. Working full-time on a flexible schedule, I collaborate with teachers to push great reads and model good practices and design new learning experiences. By night, I clack on the keyboard, writing and rewriting, until the right stories finally surface.

One of those stories—my YA debut—is just almost here, and I couldn’t be more excited. And curiously enough, wouldn’t you know it…to write it, I had to slip back to childhood, to memories of long hours in the local library. There, rooted in my small town’s heritage…in the worn, clothbound stories of breakneck land rushes and claim-staking runs for homesteads on the frontier, a seed began to grow. Of course, I drew on my love of science fiction–those movies and novels played their part, too. And how could they not? A certain small town librarian had recommended so many of them.

From that mix—in part, from my time in the stacks—my debut was born. Tracked is the story of a young driver, who amidst intense galactic conflict, rockets from street racing obscurity to pro-circuit stardom, sideswiping corporate empires and leaving them crippled in her wake. But it is also the story of too small, too reckless, too brassy girl who lives on an isolated, windswept, fuel-driven planet. A girl who doesn’t always fit in or say the right thing. A girl named Phee–fierce and fearless and flawed–who’s primed for adventure, and who can never stop dreaming of other worlds.

And while Phee may get to blast her way into some of these faraway places, I get to visit them all. By day, they sit beside me on the library shelves. By night, they hide inside my laptop. And always, they live in my heart.

Swag Pack Giveaway:

Do the Rafflecopter thingy below to be entered to win an awesome TRACKED themed swag pack courtesy of Jenny Martin. It includes a bag, key chain and t-shirt. Open to U.S. residents only please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Fast and the Furious gets a futuristic twist in this action-packed debut!

On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that seventeen-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?

May 5, 2015 from Dial Books. ISBN: 9780803740129

Meet The Author:

Jenny is a librarian, a book monster, and a certified Beatle-maniac. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son, where she hoards books and regularly blisses out over all kinds of live and recorded rock. Her debut YA novel, TRACKED, will be released in 2015 by Dial, an imprint of Penguin.

November is Science Fiction Month

November is Sci Fi Month.  Here is a look at all of our Science Fiction (in any way imaginable) related book lists.  Also, be sure to join us the week of November 17 – 22 for Doctor Who Week.  We’ll have a variety of guest posts – several a day – where we talk about our favorite Doctor.

Aliens: They’re Here: Science Fiction with actual aliens

Apocalypse Survival Tips from YA Lit

Assasins: Teenage Assassins in YA Lit

Bioengineering (Frankenstein 2012: YA lit with bioengineering)

Dragons (some fantasy, some science fiction)


Epidemics list 1 and list 2 

Environment: Earth Day Dystopias

Fairy Tales (twisted, of course) and Cinderella Retellings (some fantasy, some science fiction)

Politics: A look at the (abuse of) government in YA fiction

Science: STEM Girls, books with female main characters rocking science and math

Science Fiction (see also Weird Science below)

Space, the final frontier (Science fiction that actually takes place in space)

Spies Like Us

Tech:  Teen Tech Week: More than just a game and More Teen Tech Week

Time Travel 

Weird Science


If You Like . . . Try . . .

Buffy then try these  list 1 and list 2

Doctor Who then try these: Basically Read

Sherlock: It’s Elementary

The X-Men then try these: You Could Have Been an X-Men

Middle Grade Fiction

Great Reads for Middle Grade Readers

Creepy Reads for the MG Crowd

Take 5: Science Fiction That Actually Takes Place in (Gasp) Space (a list with apparently 10 titles on it in honor of The Hitchhiker’s “Trilogy”)

When I was reading These Broken Stars, I was a little giddy because here was a science fiction title that actually took place in space.  There has been a lot of science fiction published lately, but a lot of it tends to be more Earthbound involving new tech (think the awesome BZRK series by Michael Grant) or speculating about grim post apocalyptic futures (every 3rd YA book title published in the last 5 years it seems).  So I loved that These Broken Stars had a genuine in space Science Fiction setting.  Here are a few other titles for you if you want to read more books that take place in space or on a planet other than Earth.

Here is the list, in no particular order what so ever.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

It’s a mystery.  In space.  And a very good one.  Check out this series.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

A group of teens are selected to go to the moon for 172 and bad stuff happens.  This book reminds me a lot of the vibe you get while watching The Ring or the Grudge.  In other ways, it’s a little scary and tense.  Which is good.

Feed by M T Anderson

They went to the moon for spring break, it turned out to suck.  That is actually a paraphrase of the first line of this epic book about a future world where you connect to the Internet directly into your brain.

Helium-3 series by Homer Hickam

The author of the Rocket Boys writes this series about a mining colony on the moon, a deadly mission, and secrets that can destroy it all.

Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

You have probably heard of this one recently.  Maybe you have seen the movie ads.  A boy.  Space aliens attacking.  Ender is our only hope. There is actually more to the story as it is the first book in a series if you want to keep reading.  Card also tells the same story from a different point of view in Ender’s Shadow.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A part of the Time Quartet, which is one of the best things ever written.  Ever.  Meg and crew journey through time and space to find her missing dad.  There is also now a graphic novel version.

Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis

Everyone knows he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.  But did you know that C. S. Lewis wrote a space trilogy?  It begins with Out of the Silent planet in which Dr. Ransom is kidnapped to be a human sacrifice on another planet but when he escapes, he finds this planet is more alike than different than our own.  Not technically YA, but it is so good.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Addams

Don’t Panic! This is one of five books in this, um, trilogy?  Journey around the galaxy.  Meet dolphins and mice.  Learn the importance of the number 42.  Laugh a lot.  Don’t forget to grab your towel.

The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy

Rain boards a spaceship thinking she is set for the Edge, only to discover that the spaceship is a host for an underground slave ship.

Ever Expanding Universe by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

In the past, they used to ship pregnant teens off to an “aunts” house until they delivered.  What if we sent them to space instead?  Oh and hey, what if we stole their babies to repopulate?  Yeah, Elvie isn’t sure she wants to be a mother, but before she can decide she needs to find her way off this ship being attacked by aliens and her baby’s father?  Book 1 in the series is Mothership, funny.

Bonus: All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
This is my favoritest short story ever.  And yes, favoritest is totally a word.  A group of kids live on a planet where the sun only comes out once every so many years.  One of the girls has seen the sun, she remembers what it looks like because she recently came from Earth.  The other students are jealous and bully her.  Then, the day the sun is supposed to come out, they doing something terrible.  You can read the story here.

Add your favorites in the comments.

Take 5: Teen Tech Reads (Karen’s picks)

This week is Teen Tech Week! So we’ll be sharing some of our favorite tech reads, tech resources and more. Please share your favorites in the comments, we love to hear what others are reading, doing and thinking.

Here are 5 of my favorite tech reads. Okay, it is technically six because I include both books in this companion series.  Others are simply the first in a newly developed series.

 Take 5: Teen Tech Reads

BZRK by Michael Grant
Nanotechnology runs amuck. Resistance is futile as competing factions race to utlize nano technology in ways that can enslave the human race.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
Doctorow presents an eerily too possible vision of the future where your access to the Internet is taken away if you violate copyright laws.

Starters by Lissa Price
In the future, the Enders can rent your body in an attempt to try and resist aging. 

Human.4 and The Future We Left Behind by Michael Lancaster
What if we were simply a large scale computer program being used by a more advanced race? And what if you didn’t make the upgrade?

Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch
Hirsch combines the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy in this world that is divided by a rift. One side is tech, the other is magic. 

Please share your favorite tech reads in the comments. I love finding new books to read. Also, if you have read any of my faves, please tell me what YOU think of them.

Take 5: Sci Crossover Authors for YA Looking for More

If your teens are like mine, once you find a voracious reader you cannot keep them satisfied  and if they’re in love with a particular genre they will STAY there until all option are exhausted.  While we’ve been talking about ‘new adults’ in YA, teens crossing over and back into the adult section is nothing new, but many times I’ve found that they want help finding a title or an author that they’ll really like- a series that they can get into.  Here are 5 of my go-to authors for teens that are craving Science Fiction and Fantasy who have devoured everything in the teen section.  

A word of warning, however- since these ARE adult books, there will be adult content. Sex (married and unmarried), GLBTQ content, battles, fighting, etc., on an extent that may not be in teen science fiction/fantasy books.  You know your reader, so recommend appropriately.

The late Anne McCaffrey

Readers that love dragons and new worlds love to jump into the world of Pern and The Rowan series.  If you’re worried about how they might take to it, you can start out with The Harper Hall Trilogy (Dragon Song, Dragon Singer, and Dragon Drums) which can often actually be found in YA Collections as the protagonists are teens themselves.

Mercedes Lackey

Creator of many worlds, I’ve had huge luck with her Valdemar books when teens have tired of the semi-heraldic fantasy science fiction books.  The protagonists all have magic of a sort (mind or physical), and there are evil empires and villains at work.  Her first books may be too violent for some readers (physical war crimes), but the newest series The Collegium Chronicles should be perfect for readers wanting something to expand into.

Kim Harrison

For those who have devoured the witches and vampire novels in YA, but may not quite be ready for Charlaine Harris’ True Blood series (I’m not ready yet, no matter how good they look on TV LOL), there is Kim Harrison and her Hollows series.  A witch, a vampire and a pixy form a detective agency and then comes werewolves and other paranormal beings into the mix.  Readers will definitely be looking for their next itchy witch fix.

Terry Pratchett

Nation was a Printz honor book, and his Discworld series has won numerous awards and touched many lives.  Dealing with the diagnosis of Alzheimers, Pratchett has assured the world that his legacy will live on in the hands of his daughter, which is reassuring to his numerous fans.  Borrowing from some of the greatest minds (Tolkien, Shakespeare, and others), his Discworld will engross lovers of high fantasy from the first pages.

Jim Butcher
I’m not sure who was more upset in our house when Sci Fi (SyFy, my bad) cancelled The Dresden Files, That Guy or myself. I love the contemporary with magic world that Jim Butcher creates, and loved the portrayal that was going on TV.  For teens that see magic in the every day, and want their magic combined with mystery, this is one of the best series around.

January 2013 Releases

Here’s a look at what new releases I am reading in January 2013

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow
Hitler’s troops are marching across Russia and 12-year-old Ivan has joined a secret group fighting against the Nazis.  When he meets Zasha and Thor, he knows that he must save them and stop them from becoming weapons of war.

Return to Me by Justina Chen
Tagline: And there it was again, the troubling notion that I barely knew the people I loved.
Rebecca’s life is upturned when her family moves and dad takes off.

Gabriel Stone and the Divinity of Valta by Shannon Duffy (Middle Grade)
The first title from Month9Books, a new YA imprint focusing on speculative fiction.  Gabriel Stone finds a crystal that transports him to strange new worlds, literally.

The Dead and the Buried by Kim Harrington
This line really says it all: “I was living in a murder house.”  There are ghosts, mysteries, swoony guys and a cute little brother.  Christie G. has read and is writing her review as we speak.

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
It is 1923 and Jade Moon is a headstrong, reckless girl; something that is not valued in Chinese girls.  But when her father and her find the chance to move to America, they discover that freedom isn’t always what they think it is, especially for Chinese immigrants.

Catherine by April Lindner
Chelsea sets off to New York to try and find her missing mother, Catherine.  In a dual voice narrative, we learn about the great and obsessive love of Catherine and Hence while Chelsea tries to understand what could make a mother leave her daughter.  A modern day mystery, this is a play on Wuthering Heights.

Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer
Princess Victoria is destined to be the queen of England.  Meyer bases this work of historical fiction off of Queen Victoria’s own diaries.  This is not only a sweeping love story, but an intimate look at one of England’s most beloved queens.

Whatever After: If the Shoe Fits by Sarah Mylnowski (Middle Grade)
Mylnowski continues her Whatever After series with a little twisted Cinderella.  What’s Cinderella going to do with a broken foot? The Tween and I love this series and can’t wait to read this next title.

Altered by Jennifer Rush
Tagline: When you can’t trust yourself, who can you believe?
Anna lives with a group of genetically altered boys who are poised to be secret government weapons. They soon find themselves on the run, fleeing for their lives and Anna has discovered she has a secret connection to one of them, Sam. They must find out what that connection is in order to survive.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder
Tagline: Love found her. Now it won’t let her go.
Rae has always dreamed of having a boyfriend like Nathan, but is he really the dream guy she thinks he is?

Then You Were Gone by Lauren Strasnick
Two years ago Adrienne’s best friend walked out of her life.  One week ago she left a desperate message asking for help.  Adrienne never called her back.  When Dakota disappears and leaves behind a rumored suicide note, Adrienne can’t help but wonder.  Can Adrienne find and help Dakota, or is it really too late?

Other titles I can’t wait to read this month:
Prodigy by Marie Lu, the sequel to Legend
Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Archived by Victoria Schwab
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Prey by Andrew Fukuda, the sequel to Hunt

What are you looking forward to in January?

Book Review: What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

“Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath.” – Kat Zhang, What’s Left of Me

In pregnancy there is a phenomenon known as vanishing twin syndrome; sometimes a pregnancy starts out with twins and one of the other twins simply seems to disappear early in the pregnancy.  Old wives tales, and some horror stories, have suggested that the one twin is absorbed into the other and they compete for dominance.  I believe years ago Caroline B. Cooney wrote a book with this premise.

“I was terrified. I was eleven years old, and though I’d been told my entire life that it was entirely natural for the recessive soul to fade away, I didn’t want to go. I wanted twenty thousand more sunrises, three thousand more hot summer days at the pool. I wanted to know what it was like to have a first kiss. The other recessives were lucky to have disappeared at four or five. They knew less.”
Kat Zhang, What’s Left of Me

But what if every body was born with two souls and we called them Hybrids?  By the time you turned a certain age you were expected to say goodbye to one soul while the other took dominance.  And what if some of the souls didn’t want to go away (or settle as it is called here)?  That is the premise of What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang.

Meet Addie.  She has a fearful secret.  Inside her body lives not one soul, but two.  Eva exists inside her and the two have frequent conversations with one another.  At this point no one knows the truth – they have never settled.  Children who don’t settle are taken to institutions to be “fixed”.  Outside of the US borders hybrids still exist, but inside a sort of peace has been afforded by creating a rigid society in which hybrids are no longer encouraged.

Addie and Eva think they are doing a pretty good job of keeping their secret until they discover that there are others like them.  Soon they are captured and taken to a facility where they are held prisoner.  It soon becomes clear that the people in charge are conducting experiments on these children and Addie/Eva must fight their way out of the facility, while fighting for control of their body, if they want to survive.

This is some seriously cerebral science fiction; Addie and Eva spend a lot of time in dialogue inside their head.  It’s a slow, though very interesting start. The action picks up once they are inside the facility, but unfortunately I can see a lot of teen readers giving up on this book before it gets there, which is unfortunate.  There is a lot of discussion to be had surrounding What’s Left of Me.

The Two Faces of Eva
I can’t tell you that this is what Zhang intended, but as I kept reading What’s Left of Me I thought about Carl Jung and the idea of the Shadow Self.  There is that part of us that we present to the world around us, our outers selves.  And then there is our inner self, that part of us which we hide.  I think teens especially do a lot of this as they try on different roles and try to fit into the various different parts of their lives.  Eva and Addie reminded me not so much as two souls inhabiting one body, but of the various parts of ourselves that we choose to show depending on the situation we are in and the company we are with.

The Ethics of Science
A big theme that keeps coming up in the books I have been reading lately revolves around the ethics of science.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there is some interesting discussion to be had regarding the limits of science and what we can, and should, subject people to with or without their consent.  And there is some definite non-consent happening here.  Because I spend a lot of time reading in the Autism community, I know that there are some who believe that the government is trying to put either nanochip tracking devices in our vaccines or use the vaccines as a sort of population control.  In the past, US citizens were subjected to radiation, agent orange and more without their consent.  The idea of government using science to control its people without consent is not a new one, but it is definitely one that we need to keep happening; especially since teens are now developing their ideas and opinions regarding democracy, the limits of government, and the ethics of science.  Sometimes we use the what ifs in Science Fiction to remind us to live ethical lives.

This is a Character Piece
At a time where ya lit is filled with lots of action and adventure, it is interesting to get back to the thinking roots of Science Fiction and examine the inner lives of characters.  In What’s Left of Me, we get an inside look at what it means to be an outsider and what it means to live in fear of your secrets.  This is a slowly developing look at a very rich inner life; at times the cast of characters seems small and almost claustrophobic, but it also affords us that intimate look into the inner self that I mentioned before.  Interestingly, even though you definitely get to know the main characters intimately, I didn’t necessarily have strong investment in them, not the way I did some of the supporting players.  And speaking of characters, there are some interesting twists on a love story has some of the non-dominant souls fall in love with one another.

What’s Left of Me has a stunning cover and interesting premise that I think will definitely lure teen readers; but I’m not going to lie, it is hard for me to think that MY teen readers will finish this book.  I hope I am wrong, I hope that the thought provoking concept and the haunting prose will keep them reading.  I think that like Addie and Eva, there are two faces to What’s Left of Me: The underlying themes are thought provoking and compelling, but sometimes the execution moves just a little too slowly. Pair this with The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

What’s Left of Me (Hybrid Chronicles book 1) by Kat Zhang. Published by HarperTeen 2012.  ISBN: 0-06-211487-7

I really wrestled with this book, so if you have read it please share your thoughts in the comments.

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.

Book Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die (front cover blurb)

The Fountain of Youth. The Holy Grail. It seems like we are always on the quest for immortality.  But what if scientists had found the answer in a simple flower found deep in the rainforest?  In Origin by Jessica Khoury, they have – but at what cost?

Origin by Jessica Khoury
Razor Bill, 2012
ISBN: 978-59514-595-6
“I am told that the day I was born, Uncle Paolo held me against his white lab coat and whispered, ‘She is perfect.’ Sixteen years later, they’re still repeating the word. Every day I hear it, from the scientists or the guards, from my mother or my Aunt Brigid. Perfect.” – First lines, Jessica Khoury

Pia is an immortal, the first of her kind.  Bred through several generations at a secret scientific facility called Little Cam, she is perfect – at least that is what she has always been told.  But her secret comes with many costs, one of which is that she has never left the secret lab that she calls home.  She has never seen the world, never played with children, never learned history.

“You are immortal, Pia, and you are perfect . . . ” (p. 1)

Like all teenagers, Pia yearns for freedom; but freedom is not something that is given willingly when people have devoted their lives, staked their scientific careers and invested billions of dollars in creating you.  So like a lot of teenagers, Pia sneaks out.  In the jungle, she meets a tribe of locals that dance wildly, believe fiercely, and live together with a connectedness she can only dream of.  Her destiny has always caused her to feel like an outsider, even in the place that she calls home, because she knows there are none like her.  Having seen this glimpse into another life, Pia becomes conflicted about her purpose.  This conflict grows as she falls in love and learns about the costs associated with her immortality.

“Freedom. It’s as intoxicating as any drug, a rush of adrenaline through my body.  Wild Pia and Tame Pia merge; fear is overwhelmed by heady exhilaration.  I am one.  I am free. I am so captivated by the emotions inside me that I don’t even see the boy until we collide.” (p. 75)
Origin is full of action, adventure, self-discovery, betrayal, redemption, and more.  But at its heart, it wrestles with one essential question: what are the ethical limitations of science?  It is often said that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should: Should we strive for immortality?  And at what cost?  Origin is a great springboard for this discussion because Pia is both a person and an investment, and although we have not yet cloned or created individuals in a lab, we are already wrestling with questions of this nature regarding DNA (Staking Claim to Your DNA in Wired magazine).  Pair this title with the nonfiction title The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for a fascinating science and ethics discussion.
Origin by Jessica Khoury is a good, thought provoking read.  3.5 out of 5 stars and definitely recommended for teens and library collections everywhere.  This is also an interesting look at life in the Rainforest regions and a look into science (there are some good scientific discussions), and there is enough of a love story for those who like a little love with their action – and there is plenty of action.

Origin by Jessica Khoury.  Published by Razor Bill Books in 2012.  ISBN: 978-1-595-6.  A 2012 Cybils nominee in the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category.

Pair this with Endangered by Eliot Schrefer for an adventurous look at science and life outside the US.

Book Review: Gravity by Melissa West

“President Cartier is the smallest of the five, so petite she looks almost like a child in an adult’s chair. Her brown hair curls in perfect waves, just like Lawrence’s. Her olive skin shows her age, creasing in fine lines across her face, the heaviest lines around her eyes. To her right sits Alaster Krane, the European president, known for his stunning height and overpowering attitude. His skin and eyes and hair are as black as the night sky. Down the table to President Cartier’s left are the African and Asian presidents. The African president is the only other female, and her skin is as fair as mine, but while I have nearly black hair, hers is fiery red. The Asian leader sits quietly. He’s always quiet, as though he prefers to think more than speak, a quality I wish some of the other leaders would possess. His looks are perfectly symmetrical, and I imagine he was very beautiful when he was young.

Then my eyes drift to Zeus, my breath catching. He stares into the screen, ominous and powerful, like he knows so much more than any of the others. I’ve never met him, and I pray I never will. I study him as though I’m seeing him for the first time. Long white hair that must reach the center of his back. Eyes like a predator. He looks human, like Jackson and the other Latent Ancients, but now that I’m looking at him closely I realize that nothing about him is warm. From his expression, to his face, to his posture. Everything about Zeus oozes danger. I clear my throat to push back my fear.
They begin with the regular stuff—the laws of the treaty, discussion of amendments (there never are any), and a reminder of our responsibilities as humans. I almost scream for them to get to the attack. Law looks as tense as I feel.

Finally, President Cartier focuses on the main camera, her face solemn. “Today, there were four attacks across the world, one in each of the four governing territories. We believe the actions were that of a vigilante Ancient group. They have all been apprehended, returning our world to safe order.” She turns to Zeus. “Mr. Castello, to your knowledge, can you guarantee there are no other threatening groups, and furthermore, do you agree to maintain our peaceful separation until coexistence can safely commence?”
“Vigilante Ancients?” Law asks, but I’m too shocked to respond. Because Zeus Castello has just walked off the stage.

The leaders jump up. One yells after him.

The screen cuts to black.”

Evidently we as humans do not learn our lessons from history very well, because in Melissa West’s Gravity human-kind nearly destroys itself with nuclear war.  Enter The Ancients, an alien race who steps during the aftermath  and offers to restore our shattered planet, for a price- that once a human turn ten, they participate in The Taking, when The Ancients come at night through the trees and take antibodies from their human hosts so that they can become acclimated to Earth and survive.  

In 2140, seventeen year old Ari is daughter of the Engineer Commander of the Americas, and has her life laid out before her.  She has been studying to become an OPS agent, training for the day when she will take over for her father.  Her future as wife to the future President of the Americas has been secured for her by their parents.  Yet her life changes on the night when she discovers that the Ancient assigned to her isn’t some strange being after all- it’s one of the most popular boys in her school.  Jackson and her accelerated training soon make her question everything she’s ever known- that the Ancients are a plague, that they are intent to destroy mankind, and that humans must defend at all costs.  And as a single choice changes Ari forever, can she choose human or Ancient, or will she have to?

I really enjoyed Gravity, and it was a quick read.  Ari is more of a humanist (if that can be the word when you’re talking about humans and aliens) than you are lead to believe in the beginning, and a lot of readers will compare and contrast her to dystopian heroines Katniss from The Hunger Games series and Tris from Divergent series, and it’s a fair comparison, as Ari has both good and bad points.  Gravity ends on a whale of a cliffhanger, leaving readers definitely wanting more.  Secondary characters Lawrence and Gretchen add to the mix, and I really want to see what happens with them as well.  I did see some of the twists coming, but readers will be engrossed.  And for those who like their science fiction with romance, there is plenty to go around; absolutely a hit with readers who like love twists with their sci-fi, but might be a turn-off to readers who want more straight out action.  

Definitely good for libraries, and a good pairing for The Host by Stephanie Meyer, Starters by Lissa Price, or Across the Universe by Beth Reevis if you want to delve into the replacement/alien factor.  Recent and hot dystopias would be The Hunger Games and Divergent while older readers could be edged  into Wells’ War of the Worlds (oh, what an awesome book/movie night, even if you did the most recent one with HIM ), and David Weber’s Out of the Dark.

Gravity gives you no room to breathe AT ALL, and I really like that in a book sometimes.  Ari is really a complete character when you think about it.  You’re lead to believe that she’s a hard military operative in her father’s domain, but secretly, I think she would be more at home in her mother’s world of chemistry and advancement.  The fact that she looses her patch, discovered that her Ancient is the most popular boy in school, and everything she’s been taught may be a lie and she is still going is a huge plus.  She’s not reacting the way that you would expect with the build-up of her training, which keeps a reader guessing- there’s the love interest (which I really hope is explained the way I imagined it works in the series), the shock of what’s really going on in the Engineering and Chemist facilities with the Latent Ancients that have been discovered (think the movie District 9), and then her seemingly foreshadowing dreams.

And the twists aren’t just with Ari- there are twists between Lawrence and Gretchen, Lawrence and Jackson, the different viewpoints of the history of the Ancients and the Humans, on and on and on.  It’s definitely a fast and gripping read.  The only drawback would be that there is definitely more love stuff than some of my readers would like, so it will be a hard sell to some of them.  Others will eat it up.  And the fact that there is someone (at least at the beginning of the series) who is willing to learn first and shoot later is something to be excited about in a dystopia.

Gravity by Mellisa West. Published November 20, 2012 by Entangled Teen. ISBN: 9781620610916