A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Like many great stories, this one begins…WITH A MURDER. When a young woman turns up murdered at the hotel where Mattie works, Mattie begins to rethink her future. A young girl in 1906, Mattie is expected to find a good husband, settle down on a farm, and become a mother. But her love of words spurs dreams of going to New York city to attend college and become a writer. Matt must decide between the obligations of family, society, and her heart.
What struck me most about this story was the character dynamics. Mattie is a relatable protagonist and her friendship with Weaver is gorgeously written. All of the characters are well rounded and have unique personalities. The book is full of tragic truths and social issues that are still relevant today, but also the promise of hope and perseverance. I often found myself angry at the injustices the characters faced. However, I ended the book satisfied and thoroughly romanced by Donnelly’s story. This is a good book for YA fans of historical fiction.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Young Matt has spent his life living quietly on the edge of the Opium fields. Watching the world through his windows, he has little understanding of what lies beyond the safe walls of his house with Ceila, his devoted caretaker. But everything changes when he’s discovered by the children of Alacrán family, heirs of El Patrón, the lord of the Opium empire. Uprooted from the fields, Matt and Celia are brought to live in the Big House. There, Matt discovers he is the clone of El Patrón, born from science. To everyone else in the Alcrán line, the boy is a monster. So as Matt struggles to understand the world and his place in it, he must also navigate El Patrón’s ruthless family and their fight for power. Underlying it all is a secret Matt may not survive.
If you like subtle science fiction, this book is gold. Farmer seamlessly blends sci-fi with realism and current culture. It’s fast paced without feeling rushed thanks to her quick and casual style. I admit, I had to peek at the family tree at the beginning of the book a few times because there are so many characters, but I loved them. Despite his unique circumstances, Matt was easy to sympathize with and developed nicely. I especially enjoyed the development of his vicious rival, Tom. Through it all, readers are challenged by the ultimate question: What separates monsters from men, and men from the animals? I recommend this book for YA sci-fi lovers.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Readers follow the thoughts of Billie Jo and life in the Panhandle in the time of the Dust Bowl. She struggles with her desire to stay on the land with her family and her dream to play piano on a grander stage. After being hit by a tragedy more powerful than the storms, Billie Jo and her father must find a way to live with themselves, each other, and the dust.
I enjoyed this children’s/ YA book. It’s an odd combination of historical fiction and poetry that blends together beautifully. It flows easily and the format makes for a quick, seamless read. The characters were surprisingly well rounded for a story written in first-person poetry. Sad, charming, and hopeful, Billie Jo’s voice is strong throughout. Her affection for the piano and her friend, Mad Dog, are uplifting even through the tragedies she faces.