Nirvana by J. R. Stewart

Blue Moon Publishers, 2015

It feels like a long time since she was a rock star in a college girl band. When the world changed Kenders had to choose. She could stay on her own in a world that was rapidly falling apart or marry Andrew and go with him to the Barracks, to relative safety and the continuation of Andrew’s scientific work. But nothing is simple in the Barracks. To stay, Kenders has had to sign on to a security job under the Corporal, and six months ago he gave her the word that Andrew was dead.

Kenders won’t believe it, she can’t, especially since she keeps encountering Andrew during her visits to Nirvana, the virtual reality world that everyone in the Barracks is allowed to access. Now the executives who run the Barracks are pressuring Kenders to sign and acknowledgement of Andrew’s death, and Kenders is in a secret race to find out if he’s alive or if the Andrew who visits her in Nirvana is as virtual as the environment around her.

This is the first book in a dystopian trilogy.

I read Nirvana as an electronic Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Blue Moon Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey

Sourcebooks, Inc., 2015

When Allie’s sister Leah commits suicide, Allie is devastated—who wouldn’t be? But Allie takes the death especially hard because Leah and Allie had made promises, in fact, they had a suicide pact. Now Allie is utterly bereft and can’t understand why Leah would go without taking her adoring younger sister with her. With her parents a mess and all the usual high school confusions with friends, enemies, and loyalties—not to mention the pressures of getting into college—will she ever be able to put together the pieces of her sister’s last days? And what about her own shattered life? Can she put it back together again?

Stacie Ramey does a masterful job of presenting Allie’s myriad of emotions in an incredibly turbulent time. The Sister Pact is a ride through dark days, rays of hope, and the return to despair. Allie is making hard decisions in every aspect of her life. Her decisions are often bad ones, mistakes that anyone might make as a teenager, but most especially a grieving one. And Allie seems to be the last one to know that despite it all, she is strong, stronger than her sister ever was.

I loved this book for the unshirking portrayal of Allie’s pain, and that of the people around her. I loved it for the realistic ways the teenagers failed one another and tried to save one another. It is a book I would have loved as a teen because the story gives the reader a chance to examine each decision, each emotion, each solution with Allie and evaluate whether that choice would work for them. It left me cheering for Allie and I think it’ll leave you cheering, too.

I received a free electronic advance reader copy of The Sister Pact from Sourcebooks Fire and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Numbers by David A. Poulsen

Dundurn, 2015.

Andy Crockett has no luck. He doesn’t fit in to any of the popular groups at school — he’s not even officially part of the group of misfits he hangs out with. He nearly had a steady girlfriend, a girl he really liked, but he managed to blow it, and now she hates him. Fortunately, grade ten is starting to look like it might be a lot better than grade nine now that Andy’s managed to score the coolest teacher in school for social studies.

Mr. R teaches his students to question everything, including popular portrayals of history. But when he teaches the unit on World War II, Andy will have to think long and hard to decide who and what to believe, especially when his actions could mean the difference between the harm or the safety of someone in town.

I chose this book to read and review because I found the premise so compelling. What would happen if one of the social studies teachers in a school was a Holocaust denier? Especially the cool teacher that had all the kids’ respect. What a great question! I’m still contemplating it after reading the story. Mr. R. uses some really powerful activities to get the kids thinking along the lines he’s planned, he’s a master manipulator, and he understands the cynicism of teenagers well enough to mold their thinking.

Though these aspects of the plot intrigued me, I was disappointed in Andy, the main character. He was so ignorant that I kept being surprised that he was in high school. His peer pressure and hormone-infused interactions with others seemed realistic enough, but I had trouble imagining that any kid in North America would get to grade 10 without having learned something about World War II or even about religions other than Christianity.

I can’t say I enjoyed reading Numbers. It’s not a happy or particularly redeeming story. Nonetheless, I think the story poses many important questions, and that perhaps, if it is read and discussed, many of the issues raised could lead to conversations on ethics that would truly engage middle school or high school students.

I received an electronic Advance Reader Copy of Numbers in exchange for an honest review courtesy of the publisher, Dundurn, and NetGalley.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Balzer and Bray, 2012

Meg and Minnie take a popular classmate up on an invitation to what’s expected to be an epic house party on an isolated island. But the storm has begun even before they step off the ferry, and it’s not simply wind and rain. The girls find themselves marooned on the autumn island with eight other teenagers, and someone is killing them off one by one. Meg has always felt she needed to protect Minnie, but now Meg’s protection takes on another meaning altogether as she tries to discover who is killing all the kids.

Ten went on sale this summer, and as soon as I heard that it was based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None I knew I had to buy it. It’s a fun read, especially leading up to Halloween. It’ll keep you up reading and wondering if anyone at all is going to make it out alive.