The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

ForestofHandsTitle: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan

ISBN: 9780385736824
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 320
Price: $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Horror
Interest Age: 14 and up
Lexile Level: 900

Annotation: Orphaned Mary seeks to find out what lies beyond the walls fences of her village.

Plot Summary: Imagine a future where your world consists of the village you live in surrounded by the Forest of Hands and Teeth – a forest that contains the Unconsecrated, zombie-like creatures that crave living human flesh. One bite from the Unconsecrated on a living human will turn them and they, in turn, become an Unconsecrated. This is Mary’s world. A world where the village she lives in is led by the Sisterhood and the fence, the barrier, between the forest and the village is protected by the Guardians. A world where the people are taught to dedicate themselves to the Lord (God) and that their purpose is to live, to continue (basically reproduce) so humanity can survive. Mary questions this existence. When she was young, her mom use to tell her stories of life prior to the Unconsecrated passed down from generations; stories of tall metal buildings and an endless ocean untouched by the infection. When Mary goes to live with the Sisters after her mom is infected and toss out into the Forest, the truths that she grew up learning from the Sisterhood begin to unravel. Mary begins to ponder of a life outside the fence walls and when the fence is breached, her whole life, and that of her friends, is thrown into chaos.

Critical Evaluation: When I first heard the summary of this novel, I immediately thought The Village (the movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan). The similarities with The Village is basically the plot – a village surrounded by woods/forest that people cannot enter because it contains dark creatures that will kill you and then the main character stumbles upon something that threatens to unravels that whole infrastructure of the village, etc. Carrie Ryan’s dark, post-apocalyptic novel is raw and ominous with an honest, brutal look at human nature, faith, love and hope. There were times when the story felt repetitious especially the constant see-saw love triangle with Mary, Harry and Travis and certain scenes could have been spiced up but, the layers of themes in this story make this a book worth discussing.

Author Bio: Carrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series and the co-author of The Map to Everywhere. She lives with her husband, two cats, and a rescue mutt in Charlotte, North Carolina. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Zombies, Postapocalyptic, Love Triangle, Survival

Challenge Issues: Both School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly give this book starred reviews. PW stated “Mary’s observant, careful narration pulls readers into a bleak but gripping story of survival and the endless capacity of humanity to persevere . . .Fresh and riveting.” Additionally, the book’s popularity led to a potential movie.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Name of the StarTitle: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson

ISBN: 9780399256608
Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 368
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback) $9.99 (audio)

Genre: Paranormal, Mystery
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 710

Annotation: On Rory Deveaux first day in London, a murderer struck mimicking Jack the Ripper.

Plot Summary: Aurora “Rory” Deveaux has spent her life growing up in a small town in Louisiana where gators are common and she’s surrounded by her quirky family members from her aunt who runs an angel business to her uncle who owns eight freezers and doesn’t believe in banks. When her parents get a job teaching in England, she gets a choice to stay or go. Rory decides to go and she arrives in London at the worst possible time. The day she lands in London is the same day a murderer has struck London. Not just any killer, but one that is copying the work of Jack the Ripper. All anyone can talk about is the Ripper copycat and despite the presence of cameras everywhere, there are few leads and even fewer witnesses. Until Rory sees a man one night the same night a body was found. Soon she gets caught in the middle of “Rippermania” and a very top secret police force.

Critical Evaluation: In short, The Name of the Star, takes a gruesome topic (Jack the Ripper) and ghosts spinning it in Johnson’s trademark clever and humorous manner. To elaborate, the Jack the Ripper plot line could easily veer into the macabre with elaborate details about the killer’s methodology, victims, etc. yet it never gets that way. There is touches of grim, but Maureen Johnson also infuses the story with humor that it balances out. I also enjoy the way Johnson approaches the ghost mythology. It’s unique and believable – well, as much as ghosts are. I also enjoy Johnson’s characters. Rory’s voice is comical, strong, and unique. Her tangents about life in Louisana and her quirky family levy the chilling atmosphere set by the strange murders. However, Johnson doesn’t put her eggs in one basket. I really enjoy my time with her cast of secondary characters from Claudia, the field hockey loving house-mom, to Charlotte, the prim head girl. Additionally the way romance is handled is a bonus. It is not girl-meets-boy and “I’ll love you forever” kind of romance, which seem to dominate YA literature. Rather it’s “you’re cute so let’s just make out since it probably is one of the more normal things going on in my life right now”. The romance does not dominate the story line.

Author Bio: Maureen Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven young adult novels, as well as several coauthored works. She lives in New York City and spends far too much time online. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Jack the Ripper, Ghosts, London, New Kid, Boarding School,

Challenge Issues: The Name of the Star has been nominated for various state awards and garner positive reviews including this from VOYA “Although the author mines some familiar tropes here, like snooty boarding schools, ghost busting, and seeing dead people, she does so with enough flair that nothing seems tired or recycled. Best of all, although some threads are left open for the rest of the series, the main story is concluded thoroughly enough to let this novel stand on its own, something that is rare in the series-laden literary landscape of today.”

Draw the Dark – Ilsa J. Bick

Draw the DarkTitle: Draw the Dark
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

ISBN: 9780761356868
Publisher: Carolrhonda Books
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 338
Price: $16.95 (hardcover) $9.95 (paperback) $19.99 (audio)

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 790

Annotation: Christian Cage’s vivid visions led him to dark secrets the town has been hiding for years.

Plot Summary: In Winter, Wisconsin, there are some things best forgotten. A murder in 1945. The near-suicide of an elementary school teacher. The disappearance of Christian Cage’s parents. Christian doesn’t want to forgot. He has obsessively drawn and painted their images since their disappearance. However, that is not the only images he draws. For some reason, he can hear and illustrate the thoughts of those around him. Voices from the sideways place tell him their deepest fears and when he draws it, they die. When strange swastikas show up painted on buildings and people start dying, fingers are pointing to him. Soon waking nightmares consume him as he dreams of WWII events from the eyes of a young Jewish boy. Driven to understand, Christian starts researching long-forgotten events in Winter, Wisconsin during WWII.. events that many believe are best left buried.

Critical Evaluation: In this story, debut author Bicks weaves 1940s American into the life of contemporary teen, Christian. As Christian sleepwalks and draws, he is pulled into the town’s past. Into a history that many would like to keep buried. I was amazed at the skill Bicks had in combining the historical with the fantastical to build a suspenseful mystery. She didn’t veer off into too much history, though I probably wouldn’t have minded, nor did she overdo the fantasy. It was just the right mix of both to move the story along.

While I initially picked it up for the historical elements, it was hard not to care about Christian Cage. His parents disappeared as a child and he was raised by the town sheriff. Due to the rumors about the disappearance of his parents and an unfortunate suicide of his first grade teacher (which some of the townspeople blame him for), he grew up pretty much a loner. The only thing he cares about is his art and finding a way into the ‘sideways place’. Christian is a gifted artist, but his gifts extend beyond his drawing skills. He draws the things people fear the most. Their deepest, darkest secrets that they lock away. So he isolates himself from people. To keep them from getting hurt. To stop himself from unintentionally hurting other people.

Draw the Dark is a great book. Once I started, I lost myself in Winter, Winconsin as Christian attempts to figure out the messages his blackouts and dreams are telling him. Ilsa J. Bick definitely created a intricate mystery that will engage readers, both male and female.

Author Bio: Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, former Air Force major, and now a full-time author. Her critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels include Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and Ashes (a 2011 VOYA Perfect Ten). Ilsa currently lives in rural Wisconsin, near a Hebrew cemetery. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon. (from Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Nazis, 20th Century US History

Booktalking Ideas: Nazis in America, Supernatural, Small town mystery, creepy dreams, secrets

Challenge Issues: Draw the Dark has received favorable reviews from a variety of review sources including a star review from School Library Journal. Additionally, Bick’s provides a new historical perspective of US involvement in WWII that rarely is covered in history.