The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

scorpionTwo posts on the same day! Go me!

Here’s a book that I just finished.  Like, 15 minutes ago just finished, and I though I’d better blog it right NOW while I’m already here!

The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian future-style book, though you don’t get the full impact of how strange the world has become until late in the book.  You get to go through the plot alongside the main character, learning as he learns, which led me to gasp out loud and make I’m sure what were ridiculous faces as I read this in class.  (My students think it’s funny when I read because I cannot keep my reactions to myself.)

This is a very twisty sci-fi novel about..well, it’s about a lot of things.  It’s about a boy, Matt, who is the clone of a man called El Patron, a terrible and powerful drug dealer in a country called Opium that runs along the border of the US and Mexico.  Matt has been grown in order to be spare parts for El Patron as he ages and become sickly.  Matt is actually the 9th clone in a long line of clones, and his time is running short.  Clones are considered no more than livestock, so he is treated poorly and has few rights.  Luckily El Patron favors him, so he is allowed an education and other privileges.  There is a dark undercurrent to this book, which made it super intriguing to read.  I knew things had taken a turn when Matt found himself in an “orphanage” where one of the mottos was “work is freedom” which sent chills down my spine.  “Work is freedom’ is a saying posted at many of the Nazi concentration camps during WWII and I remembered it immediately from going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. last year.  There is a sequel to this book that I now *must* read.  I’m curious to know if Matt can overcome his own DNA or if he will give in to a history that is his by default.  Will he become what he must be destined for, or will he rise above his fate?  An interesting note from the author at the end expresses some of the moral issues that the book touches on, too. So good.

The House of the Scorpion has an AR level of 5.1, though I think it reads higher due to its science fiction characteristics, where you just have to press forward and trust that what you need to know will be explained to you in time.  Because it is complex, it is worth 15 AR points, an indication that you’re looking at a heavy plot.  Read this if you are a fan of other dystopian series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Giver.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code-name-verityHappy new year! Did you meet your reading goal for 2013? Did you set a new goal to challenge yourself in 2014?  I missed my goal by just 3 books, but will challenge myself to fit in 5 extra books this year.  I use the website to track the books that I read, and it’s pretty neat because it shows all of your reading statistics for each year.  For example I can see that my numbers were lower when I was back in school, that they went up sharply after graduation, and that I fell short last year.  It also helps me keep track of the books that I plan to read, and planning to read is almost as fun as the actual reading!

At the very, very end of 2013 I discovered my Book of the Year.  This book is a little higher than a “middle reader” book, though it is considered a level 6.5 in AR.  I would say this is more of a “young adult” book, towards the 8th grade and up end of things, but I wanted to note it here because it is so amazing.  Add it to your own TBR (to be read) list for when you have learned more about World War II.

Code Name Verity is a story of two girls who become friends while they are both working for Britain’s Royal Air Force.  One is a pilot and one is a radio/communication specialist and both are more than they seem.  The book is told by both characters after the girls are separated during a mission they undertake together.  Their story is complicated, sometimes graphic, and definitely surprising.  It’s a spy thriller, a mystery, an action/adventure book, and a book of deep love and friendship.  I can’t tell much more than this for fear of spoiling anything.  There is some technical information about various types of airplanes of the era that I found interesting, but I know others found dry and difficult.  When you get deeper into the story, you understand better why those details were included, but you don’t need to let them drag you down.  Just keep reading!

I read this book in 2 days over winter break, opting to stay in my pajamas ALL day because I was so involved in the story.  It was that good and I didn’t want to stop reading just to get dressed so I could continue reading.  That didn’t make sense to me!  Teachers like to enjoy their vacations, too, so I made sure that I got one full and complete day that was just for me.

Code Name Verity has an AR level of 6.5 and is worth 15 points.  The point value gives an indication that this book will have a complicated plot, and it does require some basic knowledge about WWII, though it will also explain some things along the way.  It is very dense reading, and not a book that you will be able to read casually, so be prepared to dedicate the necessary time and care to this title.  It does have a sequel, Rose Under Fire, that came out in 2013, but I haven’t read that one…yet.