Monday, October 29, 2012

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Delacorte Press - October 6, 2009
384 pages

Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. When the elevator opens, he finds out that there are others where he has woken up. These boys (yes, they are all boys) call themselves the Gladers as a reference to where they live, a place called the Glade. Thomas feels a connection to the Maze that is attached to the Glade and thinks that he is born to become a Runner, who travel the Maze every day trying to solve it. The next day, the first girl comes to the maze, and she comes bearing a mysterious note.

Here is one thing I am going to tell you right away; there were 72 maximum boys sent there, one every month, and yet they've only been there two years. This drove me crazy through the majority of the book, and so I'm going to tell you this, because though it's revealed at the end it isn't too much of a spoiler; a large group were sent at first. This is the first book in a planned series, so I was pleasently surprised to see how much of an ending there was. Of course, it wasn't a real ending, but more was resolved than other first books in a series. The book moved a little slowly in the beginning, so it felt rushed towards the end. The characters were not too well-developed, and Thomas would get out of a pinch too easily. Another thing I'm tiring of in fiction is when somebody's arrival changes it all, e.g. The Hunger Games. Give me a protagonist who's totally ordinary and who is just trying to figure out things like everybody else, without any special powers.

Grade: B-

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham
Hodder and Stoughton - May 25, 2010
263 pages

Theodore Boone is only thirteen years old, but he's a lawyer. Well, he thinks that he is. He knows every policeman, judge, lawyer, and court clerk in the city. When a murder shakes the town of Strattenburg, where Theo lives, the defendant is about to walk free. A witness has seen the crime in action and has enough evidence to convict the defendant, but as an illegal immigrant, he is petrified of the police coming to arrest him. Theodore Boone now must decide what he should do to make sure that justice is served.

This novel is riddled with inconsistencies, sexism, and false suspicions about eighth graders. Theodore Boone can name off all of the intricacies of Animal and Bankruptcy Courts, but yet has no clue of certain criminal court terms despite all the time he claims to have spent there. Theodore's school is segregated between boys and girls, and only the boy's Government class is allowed to watch the trial. The eighth grade girls don't seem to have any idea of what to do and rely on Theo to help them with their lives. Grisham thinks that no eighth graders would be interested in having boyfriends or girlfriends and that "they were assured they'd think differently later". What's later? Senior year of college? However, later, when the popular girl needs help in Animal Court, it's revealed that she has a new boyfriend every month. I now point to the beginning, where it says this book was published in 2010. In close to present-day Strattenburg, only half of eighth graders have phones, and they're all flip phones. With all of these things, there's little time to reveal an issue many readers had with this; there is no ending. In fact, almost nothing happens through the course of the book. So little happens that to fill pages the Animal Court and Bankruptcy Court subplots are thrown in. The second book is an entirely different plot. So apparently "no ending" is the ending.

Grade: D-

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press - February 1, 2009
208 pages

The young adult version of Swanson's 2006 work Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, this book starts out with the following notice: "This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic and come from original sources: letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books and other documents. What happened in Washington, D.C., that spring, and in the swamps and rivers, forests and fields of Maryland and Virginia during the next five days, is far too incredible to be made up."

Chasing Lincoln's Killer may be a book for young adults adapted from a book for adults, but it succeeds in possibly one of the greatest challenges of this feat; not talking down to the younger audience that it is now for. Another successful endeavor in Chasing Lincoln's Killer is the way that it is presented; instead of being bogged down with minute details and various alternate ideas, it is presented in the same manner as a fictional thriller. As this is nonfiction, I cannot say anything on "plot", "characters", or "setting", but the subject choice is excellent matter, as many more books are devoted to the time leading up to Lincoln's assassination than books devoted to the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Philomel Books - April 15, 2010
224 pages

I'm not going to try to attempt to make this a good synopsis, so I'll just copy from what the inside cover tells you. I repeat, this is what they actually marketed to people.

In Caitlin's world, everything is black and white. Anything in between is confusing. That's the stuff her brother, Devon, always explained. But now Devon is dead, and her father cries a lot. She wants to help her dad--and herself!--but as a ten-year-old girl with Asperger's syndrome, she doesn't know how.
     She turns to textbooks and dictionaries, easy for Caitlin because they're full of facts in black and white. After reading the definition of Closure, Caitlin knows this is just what she and her father need. And she is determined to find it. In her search, she discovers that not everything is really black and white--the world is full of colors, messy and beautiful. Caitlin and her father can have Closure and Empathy, too.
     A warm and loving book that gives young readers a rare glimpse of a very special world and a brave and very special girl.

The synopsis should have been enough to deter you from the start. If you can tell by the cover, this book actually won an award. Several comments have been raised, and I'll bring to light two of them. First, the book is attempting too much at once. This is beyond true; it's trying to be how a community deals with a school shooting, how a girl copes with Asperger's, and how a family copes with loss of a family member all at once. Now, this would have been perfectly fine if it weren't for the fact that for the first one hundred and fifty pages or so, Caitlin does nothing important. She spends all of her time refusing to talk to people, crying about her dead brother, and crawling in a "hidey-hole" that her dead brother made for her. Also, the book's language appears cutesy and inauthentic. The author tries to make the voice sound like a child, but talks down to them instead. In addition, the narrator claims to have an adult reading level at age ten and is the best artist in the state of Virginia; nobody can compete with this, and youth especially are going to be deterred from how far above the protagonist is. One especially annoying thing I found about this was the fact that the language characters used were not in quotation marks, but rather in italics. Another irritating thing about the writing was the fact that words Caitlin was interested in were capitalized (Heart, Closure, and Empathy I remember right off the bat). All in all, there is little good in this book.

Grade: F

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Misery by Stephen King
Viking - June 8, 1987
320 pages

Paul Sheldon has finished his last historical romance novel featuring the heroine Misery Chastain, and he is finally freed from her forever, having killed her in the last novel. Now he has finished his new manuscript, Fast Cars, and feels that he can truly begin his writing life. When his car crashes and he is rescued by Annie Wilkes, she tells him that he will not be released from her home until she writes her back to life in a new novel just for her.
Meanwhile, Paul realizes that he has become addicted to a drug she gave him called Novril. He needs to shake his addiction and free himself from her oppression.

A friend gave me the book The Stephen King Story while I was reading this, and while it was horribly out-of-date, it had interesting insight into this novel. Apparently fans did not like The Eyes of the Dragon (those fans are crazy) because it was not horror. Therefore, the fact that Paul feels chained to the character of Misery Chastain by his fans, who hate any other book he tries to create, is a metaphor for King feeling chained to horror. That being said, I was thoroughly pleased with this novel. It moves much faster than most other Stephen King books, which is a major complaint that I have. The characters are fully developed even in the limited space, and the plot is strong. This is one of King's stronger works.

Grade: A