Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

It's the future....the United States is now divided into eight territories.  The population is dependent on the most influential political group in the nation, protecting its most precious commodity - water.  While China is taking clouds from the sky, other corporations or desalinating and polluting the oceans, or damming up the precious liquid, only available to those wealthy enough to afford it.  Things taken for granted in the past - bottled water, swimming pools, blue oceans, polar ice caps - are now stuff of legend and history.  Now, most of the planet is covered with dust and endless hot days and nights. 

Vera and her brother Will live in the Republic of Illinowa, where dust prevails and water doesn't exist.  Their rations go quickly, and what there is of it is filled with chemicals, making people sick.  Nothing happens in their small town...nothing, that is, until Kai shows up.  He's different from everyone else.  He drinks crystal clear water, takes showers regularly, is escorted in a limo while others use their electric cars.  And he knows a secret that he only mentions to his new friends, Vera and Will. 

But suddenly, Kai disappears and Vera and Will find themselves being pulled into the intrigue of who wants Kai and where he is.  From gypsies to mobs to the most powerful people on the planet, the brother and sister set up against all odds to find Kai and in the process, finds out the truth about their world they live in. 

Stracher creates a dystopic world that depends on the one resource no animal, plant or human can live without, and he paints a picture of a parched earth struggling to survive.  The characters will reach readers, but it's the plot and action that will hold their attention as well as the descriptive writing that brings this bleak future world into the minds of those that pick up this book.  Another good addition to those who love dystopian novels.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

Mad Dog Maddie....that's what people called her when she got wasted.  Her alter-ego comes out and there's no stopping her.  That's why she's at Spring Meadows for eight weeks.  Her parents sent her there to dry up but how can she even try when it's like living in her worst nightmare?  She shares her space Jenna and Angela, but it's Trish that she's drawn to, and a friendship begins to develop. 

The girls share their stories, as well as their lives inside rehab.  They go to the movies together, confide in each other, and work to make it out.  Trish's rehab stint is nearly over, but the two promise they'll continue their friendship outside the walls of Spring Meadows.  After Trish leaves, Maddie is on her own....until she meets Stewart. 

There is no mingling between patients in Spring Meadows, but Maddie can't help it.  During the rest of her time there, she and Stewart become close, unlike any other person she's ever been with.  Maddie also knows she's putting her personal demons aside and vows to hold onto sobriety.  Life right now looks so much different and feels so much better than she could have imagined.  But now it's her time to leave...and also leave Stewart behind.  Again, another promise is made outside of rehab...

But it's those promises Trish, Stewart and Maddie make to each other that become problematic in the real world.  Maddie's friendship with Trish starts out well, but slowly takes a downward spiral when Trish tries to push past the damage she's done.  Maddie's family life is still hard for her to handle, but going back to school and trying to make it past the whispers and rumors is the most difficult.  And when Stewart gets out of rehab, it's into his arms that Maddie runs.

Sometimes though, the things you run from are the things you should run away from.  Maddie's life is a completely different one than when she left it to go into recovery.  Things are beginning to become clearer, including her wanting to graduate, making new friends instead of the ones she got into trouble with, and her love for Stewart.  Real life gets in the way, and are the lessons and treatment at Spring Meadows enough to keep Maddie's life in synch or will she turn again to the demons in order to cope with the stress she faces?

Blake Nelson is an author who crosses bounderies in genres.  This novel is realistically portrayed not only through the characters and their interactions, but also the situations each character finds themselves in.  A powerful story begins to unfold in parallel worlds pre and post rehab.  Blake doesn't sugarcoat Maddie's experience, but writes with gritty realism that resonates throughout the book.  Nelson gets the reader down to the level of the characters, and this is what makes this a remarkable YA book that flows and will quickly take the reader along for the journey. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Football is king.  At least, at Oregrove High School it is.  Coach has his best players on the field.  Scott, Tom, and Mike are the reigning trinity for the Knights.  Along with their coach, they are going to make sure they win the state title this year.  But coach has been recruiting, and it’s where he finds a diamond in the rough….Kurt.

Kurt, a product of foster homes is big, strong, and fast.  And he made a vow – he will never again be a victim.  He remembers what Crud Bucket did to him and Lamar, but it’s what happened to Lamar that has made Kurt who he is today.  

Walking onto the team, Kurt Brodsky tries to hide himself, but the scars on his face and his stuttering don’t help.  But with Coach on his side, the three kings welcome him with open arms.  Another warrior on the battlefield to help defend against the enemies, and target the weak….

Danny wants so badly to show his father that his sport isn’t just a hobby.  He works hard beside Bruce, Ronnie and the other gymnasts to become the best he can on the mats, and the high bar.  His suicide jump isn’t perfected yet, but when it is, he knows it’ll garner him some attention.  

He also knows that the gym, especially the weight room, should be avoided when the football players take over.  He’s not only seen how they bully the other, smaller students, but himself as well and will do anything to avoid a run-in.  And now there’s another one. 

But a confrontation does occur.  And what starts out as a small incident quickly becomes violent over time.  Danny witnesses what Scott, Mike and Tom do and so does Kurt, and it’s that incident that lays the foundation of right against wrong, right over might, and victimization vs. freedom.  

Cohen writes his first YA novel that’s powerful.  Gritty, realistic, intense… the reader will step into the halls of Oregrove and walk unseen with both Kurt and Danny as they struggle with themselves and those that surround them.  Cohen doesn’t sugarcoat in this book.  In your face…all of this describes how seniors, especially those that are privileged living in a small town, will act, think and speak like.  Written in alternate voices between Danny and Kurt, readers will experience the triumph and the tragedy Cohen’s written so well within this novel while dealing with issues like bullying, suicide, drug use, friendship, and redemption, what others expect from you and what you expect from yourself.  Excellent debut novel!