Defiance: A Post-Apocalptic YA Tale of Survival / by L. R. Burkard. (Pulse Effex series, 3) 10.16.2017

Lilliput Press     ISBN 9780998966304

YA     Grade 10 and up     Rating: 4

With Defiance, L. R. Burkard concludes her story of three teen girls (Andrea Patterson, Lexie Martin, and Sarah Weaver) living in a post-apocalyptic United States. The story is told through their viewpoint, as they experience life after an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disaster.

Over the course of the three books, the girls grow from spoiled, self-centered girls to mature young women, capable of holding their own in a world very different from what they knew. They learn to value simpler things, to work as a team, to see value in life as it now exists. In the face of foreign soldiers, nuclear strikes, and guerrilla armies, the girls learn to adjust to life beyond survival. They make the best decisions they can, given the circumstances, relying on God to get them through the darkest of times. Can they face these times with defiance and carve out a new life for themselves?

Burkard excels at telling an engaging story; the first-person point of view helps to create real characters the reader can relate to, even if the reader doesn’t agree with their choices. Unlike the earlier books in the series, in Defiance other characters’ points of view are added to the girls’ voices in the narrative. Andrea and Lexis have teen romances, but their relationships are chaste. Adults will find it a clean read (no drugs, alcohol, or sex) with no graphic violence, and it may cause them to think about how they would face such a disaster.

Recommended for public and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Pulse (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016), and Resilience (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

A Teen’s Guide to the 5 Love Languages: How to Understand Yourself and Improve All Your Relationships / by Gary Chapman. 10.12.2017

Northfield ISBN 9780802414359

YA Grades 7 and up Rating: 5

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, is joined by Paige Haley Drygas in this book aimed at teenagers and their relationships.

Chapman builds on the concepts he first wrote about in the first book: (1) service, (2) words, (3) gifts, (4) touch, and (5) time. The premise of A Teen’s Guide to 5 Love Languages is that if someone is speaking our primary heart language, we feel loved. Everyone wants to be loved but how we want to be loved is different. By learning about one’s primary language, it is easier to learn another’s language. We tend to show our love through our primary language, but that might not be the way others experience love.

The authors apply these languages to a teen’s relationships: friends, dating, and family. By understanding one’s primary language, a teen can strengthen their friendships, decrease conflict, socialize comfortably, connect more deeply with others, and lessen relationship drama, especially when dealing with anger and forgiveness.

A Teen’s Guide is a short but practical book–less than 200 pages. It has a number of illustrations, quizzes, reflection questions, main points set in a different font and type size (making them easy to find), and everyday examples to demonstrate different dialects of these languages. For example, words have the following dialects: appreciation, encouragement, praise, and kindness. For the language of words: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Recommended for teens and young adults, school libraries, and public libraries. Sixteen young adults and teens wrote reviews praising this book–although it is aimed at a teen audience, adults and parents could benefit from reading it.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Arena / by Holly Jennings. 10.11.2017

Random House ISBN 9781101988763

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4 (Not Recommended)

Among virtual reality athletes, Kali Ling is the best. She glorifies in killing other gamers and putting on a bloody show for her fans. But as soon as Kali unplugs and returns to the real world, she feels out of her element. The celebrity life barely tides her over—provocative photoshoots, screaming fans, drugs, and extramarital sex—until she can return to the game.

Her handler dubs her first female captain in RAGE tournament history and life couldn’t get better…until she wakes up next to her overdosed lover/teammate.

The VR organization hides his cause of death, and Kali is traumatized by how cruel reality can be. Their new teammate seems to be nothing more than a pretty face, but Kali knows he’s hiding something.

With the pre-season ending and the fight for the RAGE championship beginning, Kali must reunite her team before she goes from the top of the gamer world to the bottom. But when you die hundreds of times like Kali, the bigger battle may be remembering which world is the real one.

Holly Jennings’s Arena paints a picture of the famous lifestyle that leads readers to understand why many celebrities turn to substance abuse and scandal to survive. Kali begins as a selfish, unlikeable character but develops into a dynamic teen who fights to overcome her addiction to the VR world by committing to a greater cause. Her teammates, though unchanging, are solid supports for Kali’s development, and the ominous pressure from her fans and the RAGE sponsors provide enough resistance for the change to seem challenging.

While this book cannot be recommended because of vivid violence, descriptive sex scenes, extreme substance abuse, and overuse of obscenities, the story arch for this Alex Award-winning novel is phenomenal. Through beautifully descriptive language, the book shares the dangers of virtual reality and great reasons behind why we should place our identity in more than the opinions of others and our jobs. Readers will feel compelled to hunt for overlooked atrocities and seek ways to correct them.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

The Only Road / by Alexandra Diaz. 10.4.2017

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481457507

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

When you’re a kid, the most you should have to stress over is doing your homework, and the biggest fear should be a zit in the middle of your forehead just before your birthday party. Not so for 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela.

The Alpha Gang has targeted them to become new members–an order, not a choice. The death of Jaime’s cousin and Angela’s brother Miguel remains engraved in their memories, fresh and tangible proof of what will happen to them too if they refuse to join.

Alexandra Diaz’s realistic and tense drama takes us into the heart of Guatemala and the depths of despair as one close-knit family makes the gut-wrenching decision to send the two children away–in order to save their lives.

The money for the “fees” to travel to El Norte, sewn into the waistband of Jaime’s pants, weighs heavily upon him, along with the realization that his family has plunged deeper into debt for his sake. Now their future–and his–depends upon his making it to the United States. Jaime and his cousin dodge rogue border guards and endure hunger, thirst, fear, prejudice and hostility as they travel illegally from Guatemala into Mexico and then, hopefully, into the United States.

In an age of peoples displaced due to wars and catastrophes, and controversy over immigration issues, this title serves as a reminder of the reasons why many leave their countries for the dream and promise of America. The Only Road, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, reminds the reader that sometimes flight is the only option, and that love, at times, demands great sacrifices.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II / by Albert Marrin. 9.19.2017

Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780553509366

YA (Adult) Grade 7 and up Rating: *5

Mastery of the subject matter and thorough research make Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II a must-read for everyone.

Albert Marrin skillfully balances facts, first-hand narratives, news clips, photos, and illustrations to present a comprehensive and insightful account of the uprooting and internment of Americans of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His writing is clear and concise as he explores the foundations, historical events and racial attitudes of both America and Japan that culminated in war between the two nations. In addition, Marrin details the role that the news media played in stirring panic that encouraged animosity toward the Japanese-Americans.

The author also references similar experiences of other groups throughout history–for example, the forced removal of Native Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Laws of the 1880s, and the racism against African-Americans that led to the Civil Rights Movement. Lovers of history, moreover, will recall the English Only Movements that have surfaced at various times in the United States in order to protect and secure the country from foreigners, as well as the expulsion of Mexican-Americans in 1929-1936, who were blamed for taking American jobs.

Uprooted challenges readers to grapple with thought-provoking questions. How do we ensure the liberty of each citizen during wartime? Should race and religion exist as factors when determining a nation’s security? Should the media be held to a higher standard of accountability in its news coverage? These questions are all the more relevant today as the nation continues its war against terrorism and as the world becomes an increasingly multi-cultural environment.

Albert Marrin reminds the reader of the importance of studying history. It not only informs us about the past, but also helps us decide about the future. We can learn from our collective knowledge and experience.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration / by Linda Barrett Osborne. 9.11.2017

Abrams Books For Young Readers ISBN 9781419716607

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

This Land Is Our Land will help readers gain a thorough understanding of the history of immigration in the United States. The information is presented chronologically beginning with the European colonization of the Americas and continuing through contemporary times. The book covers the origin of anti-immigrant behavior, the changing immigration policies of the United States government throughout history, and the reasons immigrants came to America. Also included are the accomplishments of immigrants who successfully integrated into American society, along with the challenges immigrants faced upon their arrival.

The deeply researched and thought-provoking subject matter is enhanced not only by the numerous illustrations that are accompanied by short, explanatory captions, but also by the excerpts from immigrants and a variety of other notable sources. There is an excellent amount of supporting material in the back matter, including an appendix that explains the difference between visas and green cards and a detailed timeline of immigration history. Under the Notes section are sources for all of the excerpts, and the Selected Bibliography lists books for students who are interested in learning more about the history of immigration. Credits for the sources of the illustrations are listed, and this is followed by an index.

Linda Barrett Osborne has written an insightful and eye-opening book that sheds light on why immigration is a controversial issue. Osborne addresses opposing viewpoints on the immigration policy in the United States and provides explanations for questions, such as these: Should immigrants be welcomed into our country? Should they be recognized as viable members of our society? Osborne also goes into detail as to why the United States has a diversified population, the political issues surrounding the diversity, and why there are conflicting attitudes in this country towards immigrants. The book is extremely well-organized and user-friendly for students. It is an excellent edition to a school library and a valuable resource for students to use in a research paper or project.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided / by Diane Guerrero. 9.7.2017

Henry Holt ISBN 9781250134967

Adult (YA) Rating: 4

In the Country We Love is a compelling and heartfelt memoir of the plight of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Diane Guerrero has first-hand knowledge of the challenges immigrants face when they come to America to begin a new life and of the devastating effects of deportation. She was born in the United States to undocumented Columbian parents. With courage, humor, sincerity, and a moderate amount of profanity, she shares the story of her life from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood, and the ways in which her attitude toward life have been shaped by her experiences from her growing up years.

Guerrero’s parents not only worked for low wages in menial jobs to make ends meet, but they were also persistent in their quest to become American citizens, only to have crippling blows dealt to their efforts. Guerrero’s childhood was overshadowed by the constant worry that her parents could be taken away at any moment. Guerrero’s fears came true at the age of 14 when her parents were arrested and shortly thereafter deported back to Columbia. She moved in with family friends so she could continue attending Boston Arts Academy, a performing arts high school.

Fearful of rejection as a performing artist, Guerrero chose to follow an academic path in college. During this time, her life spun out of control. She dealt with major financial debt, emotional fallout from her parents’ deportation, depression, self-cutting, and excessive drinking. After seriously contemplating suicide, she started seeing a therapist, who Guerrero believes was sent by God to help her overcome her fears and doubts. Subsequently, she enrolled in acting classes, and through perseverance became a recurring actress in two popular television shows.

The black-and-white photographs and quotes from novelists, poets, singers, and other notable individuals add to the powerful message Guerrero recounts about the toxic stress and its long-lasting impact on children of undocumented parents. The book concludes with an overview of immigration policy issues, the importance of immigration reform, and a list of resources for Americans who are interested in advocating for change in the current immigration system.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

March series / by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. 9.1.2017

March: Book One / by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. (March, 1)

Top Shelf ISBN 9781603093002

March: Book Two / by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. (March, 2)

Top Shelf ISBN 9781603094009

March: Book Three / by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. (March, 3)

Top Shelf ISBN 9781603094023

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Congressman John Lewis and his co-authors present a graphic novel series about a critical time in our nation’s history: the civil rights movement.

March is an autobiographical account of John Lewis’ life, starting with his life as a sharecropper’s son and continuing until the Civil Rights Amendment is signed. The story reflects the ups and downs of the civil rights movement and its major figures. Readers will encounter Rosa Parks, Presidents Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, and others.

Book One starts with his life as a youth in Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the start of the student rights movement, and their efforts to bring about change through nonviolent sit-ins and the opposition they faced.

Book Two continues with the Freedom Riders in the deep south. Their courage in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and more draws the attention of powerful allies, among them Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Twenty-three-year-old John Lewis is thrust into the national limelight as the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Book Three concludes as Lewis leads his fellow activists to face intimidation, violence, and death, as they bring civil injustice to the forefront. They use nonviolence to launch a series of campaigns to register millions of black voters in time for the presidential election.

The information presented is told in comic strip format, drawing the reader into the drama preceding and surrounding the 1963 March on Washington. Each volume is drawn in black and white, to emphasize the lines between white and black in the society at the time.

March received critical acclaim from several sources: the Coretta Scott King Honor Book 2017, ALA Notable Book, YALSA’s Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and several more. Young adults and adults alike should read this. Written as a memoir by one who was involved with the ivil rights movement for more than 50 years, it presents history in a digestible form and fills in the gaps found in textbooks.

Recommended for school and public libraries, for teen and adult readers.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Die Young with Me: A Memoir / by Rob Rufus. 8.31.2017

Touchstone ISBN 9781501142628

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

Die Young with Me is a candid and heart-wrenching memoir of a teenager whose life is changed dramatically when he is diagnosed with cancer.

Rob Rufus lives with his family in Huntington, West Virginia. He feels like an outcast in the rural town and has no real goals in life. However, his attitude changes when he and his twin brother, Nat, are introduced to punk rock. The two 13-year-old boys are so enthralled with the music they acquire instruments and turn the basement of their house into a practice space, so they can form a punk rock band. It takes a few years for their dream to turn into a reality, but once they succeed the band starts playing local gigs with Rob as the drummer.

Just as the band is on the verge of getting a big break that could give them national recognition, Rob sees his world turned upside down. He is 17 and diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

The course of treatment requires both chemotherapy and surgery. Rob candidly shares not only the horrific physical side effects he experiences due to the treatments, but also the roller coaster ride of emotions he goes through. He vacillates between feeling angry, terrified, frustrated, panicked, downhearted, anxious, and lonely. At the same time, he steadfastly refuses to give up hope that he can beat the disease. He also describes how family members and friends deal with their own stress when someone close to them is being ravaged by a life-threatening disease.

The key element behind Rob’s surviving the nightmare of a debilitating disease is the inner strength he draws upon that comes from his music and the determination to get strong enough to play the drums again. The support of family and friends, prayer, and items Rob considers good luck that pertain to punk rock and Christianity are also important in helping him in his challenging fight to survive against overwhelming odds. The book includes cigarette and marijuana smoking, drinking, a bit of sexual innuendo, a trip to a strip club, and an excessive amount of profanity.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth / by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raul the Third. (Lowriders, 2) 8.29.2017

Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452123431

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

It seemed like an ordinary day at the car garage until the earthquake hit and the cat disappeared. Searching frantically, Lupe Impala and her partners, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria, follow a trail of paw prints that lead into a giant corn maze where the trickster Coyote informs them that their pet, Genie, is being held prisoner in the underworld. Can they trust Coyote?

Determined to rescue Genie at all costs, the fearless trio power up their earth/space vehicle and plunge full-speed into a volcano and down through the earth’s rocky layers until they reach the center. If they find their cat, returning home in their hi-tech car will be a cinch. They just have to wrestle and defeat the god of the underworld who holds Genie prisoner. No, not the Greek god Hades–the giant Aztec god, Mictlantecuhtli!

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, second in Cathy Camper’s Lowriders series, has a suspense-filled rescue plot that engages readers with humorous word plays and puns while teaching earth science. The Spanish vocabulary spread throughout the story (defined in a glossary) and the depiction of diverse protagonists give voice to other cultures and validate characters that Hispanic children can relate to. Raul the Third’s graphic illustrations of skulls, skeletons, bones, and gods introduce Aztec world views.

This is a highly entertaining read, with Lupe Impala like a Latina version of Miss Frizz (of the Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen), teaching important concepts and creatively overcoming obstacles.

From a Christian perspective, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth could engender discussion of the God of the Bible and His care for all creation, in contrast to the capricious and antagonistic natures of other deities. The story invites readers to explore ideas of love and sacrifice, and challenges them to reflect on how much they would be willing to risk for someone they love.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ