Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Our cover looks a little different
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Book 1)
Patrick Ness
Dystopian science-fiction

In one book, I suddenly have a new favorite author. Patrick Ness has written a series that captured my imagination and held it hostage until I was finished, with a world so well-built that you'd be hard pressed to not visualize every single aspect. When the book wasn't in my hand I couldn't help but wonder about it, and every time I'd close my eyes I was transported to it. This hasn't happened since I first read The Fellowship of the Ring.

To write a book review with more than what the back cover's summary provides would be to rob you of some truly shocking surprises. Suffice it to say that Todd, the story's protagonist, finds the facts of the world around him slowly unraveling, as new truths weave their way into his understanding. In a world where everyone's thoughts are laid bare for all to hear (and see), there are no secrets. It's with this basic certainty that the discovery of a patch of silence is the catalyst that propels Todd and his faithful dog Manchee into this new world where the rules don't necessarily apply anymore. 

"Todd and his faithful dog Manchee" is a phrase that might have turned me away from a book in years prior, but that's not the case here. In fact, every single character is so well-developed that even this relationship is grounded, and Manchee is just as crucial to the story as any of his human counterparts. I often find that characters develop too quickly or not at all, and Todd is definitely an exception to this. His development is believable. When your world gets turned around, there is no sudden epiphany that makes everything better. No. You struggle with it. You fight against it. When you accept it, it's only a tacit acceptance that you might eventually struggle against again. This is the case with Todd, and every other character. 

Be warned: the language could be an issue. Ness writes Todd's dialogue to mirror how he sounds. And Todd is illiterate, so you can only imagine; but please allow yourself to get past this. Even this decision plays into the larger themes of the novel and, eventually, the trilogy. There's also a few violent scenes that might be too much for some readers. Barring this, I highly recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go. 

NOTE: Recommended for mature readers only. 

Book Review: The Outcasts

The Brotherband Chronicles: The Outcasts

John Flanagan
Fantasy; Adventure

When I knew John Flanagan would be coming to Smith Middle School, I knew I'd need to quickly get caught up on his work. With my semester of Grad school winding down, and my workload ramping up, I struggled to find time to do so. I had a choice to make: start with The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, chronologically the first of his books, or dive right in to The Brotherband Chronicles: The Outcasts. I chose both, but I realized that he'd be promoting the latter series's newest release, so it was with Hal and the rest of the Herons that I decided to take flight. And it was a fine choice.

Botherband refers to a competition in which the young men of Hallasholm in Skandia (think Scandinavia) must participate. At the end of the trials, the winning team is given great honors, but all emerge with a set of compatriots for future exploits.  Like Will from the former series, Hal is different from the rest of the people of his nation. His ingenuity sets him apart from the rest of the town, and his Brotherband companions - albeit with different strengths - are no different. Stig, his stubborn best friend, is the muscle of the group; Ulf and Wolf are a hilarious set of twins who know no limits; Edvin is the studious one; Ingvar is the blind giant; Jesper can surreptitiously sneak around; and Stephen can mimic any sound or or voice. Each is given moments to shine in a way that doesn't feel too contrived. Hal's mentor-of-sorts is Thorn, whose past is mired by how we encounter him at the beginning of the novel- a drunkard without direction. With Thorn's advice and the knowledge of each members' strengths, Hal and his Brotherband face the challenges of the competition against some serious competitors, with each test more difficult than the one before. When I realized the novel would be structured around these events, I thought I was faced with a  predictable novel; however, Flanagan flipped a lot of my predictions on their heads, with some contests ending earlier than I would've thought possible, and some being resolved in very unlikely was. This lack of predictability, coupled with his urgent pace and well-developed characters, made the adventure all the more thrilling. It also helped that he provided nautical terms at the beginning of the book. 

This first novel is filled with adventure and makes for a good introduction to the world created by Flanagan. While most of the conflicts and the majority of the plot are driven by the Brotherband challenges, there is an ominous undercurrent that is realized at the end of the novel, propelling the Brotherband into further exploits in the novels that follow. My favorite character in the book is Thorn, whose redemptive arc is one of the best I've read in a long time, and whose mentorship of Hal calls to mind some of the better mentorships in literature, yet remains wholly unique and complex. 

I highly recommend this novel for fans of fantasy and adventure, or anyone who likes a cerebral main character. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reading Survey


In order for us to match you with the best texts, it's important that we learn about your preferences. It's best to read about topics you like first, then you can more easily transition to newer texts!

Click this link to take the interest survey.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Welcome to the Media Center

Welcome to the Smith Middle School Media Center blog!

My name is Mr. Graña and I'm the new School Librarian/ Media Specialist/etc. Lots of different titles, buy you can just call me Mr. Graña. I taught Language Arts for 6 years before I made the move to librarianship. It's not too large of a leap, but it was a very conscious decision I made early on so that I could work with more students.

So why is it called the Media Center? Well, the space will be used for more than books- we'll have collaborative spaces; creative spaces; learning spaces where teachers can run classes; computers and other devices to access digital resources; and of course books! So naturally the term library doesn't quite fit perfectly anymore. With that in mind, don't be too surprised if you hear myself or someone else still call it the library.

I look forward to meeting everyone and getting to know more about your reading preferences so we can make the Media Center the best possible experience for you!