The Kill Order – by James Dashner (2012)

The Kill Order

Imagine our world having disaster after natural disaster. First the sun unleashes solar flares over much of the planet, instantly killing a large segment of the human race and coating the earth with residual radiation. The climate becomes unstable, and natural disasters follow, causing additional loss of life. The food supply becomes very limited, and people are starving. To top it all off, a strange virus is intentionally released by an unknown group, causing insanity and death.

Teenager Mark is the main character, followed by Trina, his best friend. They are in a subway tunnel when a tsunami approaches, and are rescued by Alec, a retired military man and Lana, also military. From that point on, they band together for survival. It’s obvious that Mark and Trina don’t stand a chance without the brain and braun of Alec, who becomes their protector.

The majority of the book is detailed action, blow-by-blow descriptions of how they fought for their lives. At every turn, there is someone attempting to kill them. Mark and Alec come close to being hung by a fringe religious group living in the woods. All around them, people are going insane and dying from the mysterious virus.

This dystopian novel was written for the young adult audience, but the storyline is extremely dark and grim. There is no order to society, and it’s every man for himself. Only the strongest survive. People will do anything for food, even killing children to eat. Mercy killing becomes a solution to the mayhem.

Although this is part of a very popular young adult series, I really cannot recommend it to anyone. While it did not contain any vulgar language – which I appreciated – the novel was so full of violence and despair that it leaves readers with the impression that death might be better than life. My opinion: life has enough negativity in it without reading depressing books like this. Look for something better to read.


Hope Was Here – by Joan Bauer (2000)

Hope Was Here

Hope may not know who her father is, or where her mother is, but at the age of 16, she is plunging ahead with life. It’s summertime, and she and Aunt Addy leave Brooklyn to take jobs at a diner in a small Wisconsin town. Addy does the cooking, while Hope is a waitress. She loves being a waitress, and throws her whole heart into the job. The owner, G.T., is struggling with leukemia, but decides to run for the office of mayor. It isn’t long before the townsfolk become like family to Addy and Hope.

What I enjoyed most in the story was the strong character of Hope. She started life with some serious disadvantages, but didn’t consider herself a victim, or expect anyone to pity her. She just accepted life, worked incredibly hard, and kept a positive attitude. I also liked the way the author made a humble job like waitressing sound like the most satisfying job in the world. Perhaps she waitressed as a young woman and had good memories of her work. Whatever motivated her to write “Hope Was Here”, this book reminded me that life is what we make of it.


Excerpt from chapter 15:

But when you’re in food service, you understand that sometimes you’re making up for people in your customers’ lives who haven’t been too nice. A lonely old woman at the counter just lights up when I smile at her; a tired mother with a screaming baby squeezes my hand when I clean up the mess her other child spilled.

You know what I like most about waitressing? When’s I’m doing it, I’m not thinking that much about myself. I’m thinking about other people. I’m learning again and again what it takes to make a difference in people’s lives.


Other books by Joan Bauer:

“Best Foot Forward”

“Rules Of The Road”

Full Ride – by Margaret Peterson Haddix (2013)

Full Ride

Becka is just an ordinary 8th-grade student, until the day her father is arrested on federal embezzlement charges. It’s hard to believe that the loving man she believed her father to be is actually a criminal. Becka and her mom suffer through the shame and embarrassment of the trial, then relocate five hundred miles away under assumed names. Starting life over as someone new is much harder than they thought it would be, but they manage to keep their past a secret for three years. When Becca gets to her senior year in high school, she hopes for a full-ride scholarship to pay for college. But applying for financial aid may reveal her family secret.

Although this is a fictional tale, it conveys the agony of family members left behind when their loved one is caught and sentenced to prison. Kids are ridiculed by their classmates. Spouses are scorned by co-workers. News reporters hound them. Their finances are trashed, as they spend most of their money on court/lawyer costs. They might lose their home, and start over somewhere else, at a much lower standard of living. Society feels little sympathy for the family, rationalizing that surely they must have known about the crime, and perhaps were even participating in it or benefitting from i.

Margaret Haddix was inspired to write this book after visiting a juvenile detention center in Ohio to talk about the importance of books and reading. The detainees asked her to consider writing a book about imprisonment, and this is the result. It may not be quite what the young people she spoke with were anticipating in a book, but it portrays how difficult it is to be the family of someone imprisoned. Whether you are a teenager or middle-aged or older, this is a great book to read.

Lunch-Box Dream – by Tony Abbott (2011)

Lunch-Box Dream

The retro feel of this book cover caught my eye, and the description sounded like a good story with some substance to it. It is set in 1959, just when the Civil Rights movement was simmering. The book jumps back and forth between two families, one black and one white, each with their own unique problems. Bobby is the main character. In addition to his parents having marital problems, he and his brother Ricky can’t stand each other. Bobby and his brother and mother are on a three-day road trip, driving their grandmother back to Florida. Along the way, they stop at Civil War battlefields because Ricky is obsessed with history, especially the Civil War. Ricky and Bobby are always arguing and fighting with each other. In contrast, the black family is tight-knit and loving. Their struggles come from outside the family – racism and prejudice when they are out in public. Their 10-year-old son Jacob goes missing and they are hysterical with fear that Jacob has been kidnapped or killed.

The story had such great promise, but just seemed to fizzle out. I thought at some point the two families would meet, that Bobby and Jacob would be talking to each other, that there would be some sort of conclusion that we all struggle with the same things regardless of our skin color. But the families actually never interacted with each other, making the story seem disjointed. Also, there was just too much bickering and fighting and angry words in Bobby’s car. Too much negativity in a story can kill it, and I think it  ruined this story. This is a book I should have passed on.

Restoring Harmony – by Joelle Anthony (2010)

Restoring Harmony

I have been trying out some young adult/teen authors lately, and this book caught my eye. The story is set in the future – 2041 – and straddles the United States and Canada. The world’s petroleum has been mostly used up, and what little remains is strictly administered by the government. Most ordinary people can no longer use their cars. Almost everyone has shifted over to mass transit – buses, trains, and subways. Horses and bikes are also used to get around. People have returned to growing their own food if possible, and trading goods or bartering services. Molly is a teenager living on a Canadian island with her family, helping out with the farm.

Word comes that Molly’s grandmother in the U.S. has had a stroke. Telephone is gone and internet service is limited, but they manage to get through to the hospital, only to have the video-call dropped in the middle of the sentence: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Buckley is d -”. Was the nurse trying to say “discharged from the hospital” or “deceased”?

Unable to re-connect to the hospital for days, they finally decide to send Molly to Portland, Oregon to see if Grandma is still alive, and to check if Grandpa would like to move in with them. (Her older sister is busy planning her wedding, her father needs to take care of the farm, and her mother is in the later stages of a high-risk pregnancy.) So Molly leaves the island, sneaks across the border into the U.S., and laboriously works her way toward Portland in search of her grandparents.

I loved the way this novel was futuristic without being dystopian or science fiction-y. It really portrayed the way our continent could be in 25 years if we lost our easy supply of gasoline. Our reliance on cars fueled by inexpensive gasoline keeps our society going and our standard of living quite high. Most people would have an extremely hard time adjusting to the stay-at-home, fend-for-yourself lifestyle described in this book.

I also really liked the character of Molly. She didn’t whine and complain about the hardships of life, or that she had been sent on a difficult mission. She just did the best she could, handled obstacles as they came up, and never stopped showing love for her family. Organized crime, drinking, child neglect, and some violence are part of the storyline, so I would recommend it for readers over the age of 12.

As Easy As Falling Off The Face Of The Earth – by Lynne Rae Perkins (2010)

As Easy As Falling Off The Face Of The Earth

“An avalanche of mishaps” is how I would sum up this humorous novel. It begins with Ry, a 16-year-old guy on a train bound for camp. When the train stops in the middle of nowhere for repair, Ry gets off to stretch his legs, then meanders off to explore. Bad decision. Before he realizes it, the train fires up and rolls away – without him. All he has is a cell phone with a nearly-dead battery. He tries calling his parents, who are on vacation, and his grandfather, who is supposed to be dog-sitting for a neighbor, but there is no answer. Where is everyone?

Ry manages to walk to a small town, where he meets an eccentric guy named Del, who takes him under his wing. Most of the story consists of Del and Ry’s travels here and there in their attempt to connect with either the parents or the grandfather, who seems to be missing. Most of the tale is told from the viewpoint of Ry, but occasionally the the grandfather or the two dogs take over telling.

This book was hilarious! I loved the interaction between Ry and Del as they went through one mishap after another. Some of the minor characters were fantastic. My favorite was Carl, the blind vet that they bummed a ride with. The hair-raising ride with him had me laughing till I almost cried. Although the book was written less than a decade ago, it had the feel of an earlier era, when people didn’t mind helping out someone they met on the street, and would just drop what they were doing to be a good neighbor. It was ridiculous enough to be unrealistic, but adventurous enough to keep you constantly reading until the last page.

In Between – by Jenny B. Jones (2007)

In Between

Katie Parker is in the lowest spot of her life. Her dad has been gone for a long time, and her mom is in prison now. She’s been staying in a temporary housing facility for adolescents, but now is being assigned to a foster family. James and Millie Scott, the foster parents, live in a small town with the ridiculous name of In Between.  The Scotts have bought a decrepit old theater, and are preparing to do the stage play “Romeo And Juliet” in about a month.

Katie doesn’t feel like she fits in, either in the Scott’s household, their church, or the town’s high school. James and Millie, as well as crazy grandma Maxine, do everything they can to help her adjust to life with them. But Katie holds everyone at a distance, figuring that she’s just in between one place and another, so it’s better not to get too close to anyone.

The two things I loved most about this book were Katie’s character, and the wacky grandma Maxine. Katie’s character was spot on for a kid who is without parents; you really felt her sense of alienation from everyone. Maxine was someone who truly tried to understand Katie without being condescending. Even though they were about fifty years apart in age, they developed a unique friendship. This is a great story about overcoming the things in life that drag you down, and building a new life.