Only After Falling

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick (Book Review)

Journalist Eric Seven travels to Blessed Island for an article he’s writing. He plans to investigate strange rumors that he’s heard about the place— mainly, that the inhabitants live forever. The island’s people treat him warmly, and he’s immediately taken with a young woman named Merle. But Eric senses that some of the residents are trying to distract him from gathering information. He soon has difficulty remembering why he ventured to the island at all.

This book recently won the 2014 Printz Award, with reason. I loved Midwinter Blood, just as I loved Revolver. Both books are short and powerful. Sedgwick is a master storyteller, weaving his characters’ stories into a cohesive thread. The island’s history was fascinating. I felt the suspense, heartache, and bonds between characters. I loved the repeating motifs throughout, as well as the ending. I was tempted to start it again immediately from the beginning, which is something this busy librarian would usually never consider! If I was only allowed one word to describe it— beautiful. I highly recommend Midwinter Blood.

My Blind Date with a Book display!

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (Book Review)

This is an excellent, quality dystopia that takes place in the title city long after it’s referred to as New Orleans.

In 2025, the United States issued a Declaration of Separation from five southeast states affected by a string of devastating hurricanes over several years. The inability to control disease after these hurricanes led to a massive quarantine of the area, and a towering wall is installed. Thirty-one years later in 2056, Fen de la Guerre lives in Orleans, a city that endures despite its isolation from what are now called the Outer States.

People don’t survive in Orleans unless they belong to a tribe, which is determined by blood type. 16-year old orphan Fen belongs to the OPs (O-Positives), who along with the ONegs are carriers of the Delta Virus, but it doesn’t cause them harm. Other blood types are more affected by the virus, and as a result they require transfusions to stay alive. Because of this, a blood trade exists— O blood is highest in demand.

To keep peace among the tribes, Orleans is divided into territories. But at the start of the book, Fen’s OP territory is attacked by ABs. Fen rescues Lydia, the pregnant OP Tribe Leader, while watching her people and home burn to the ground. Lydia dies giving birth and makes Fen promise that she’ll care for the baby girl and give her a better life. Fen only has seven days before Baby Girl, like all newborns, contracts the Delta Virus. While trying to bring the infant to a safe place, Fen meets an outsider. Daniel is a scientist who smuggled himself over the Wall to work on a cure for the virus.

Told from alternating viewpoints, Fen and Daniel travel together in pursuit of their separate goals. Fen is an outspoken, no-nonsense survivor with expert knowledge of the Delta. Daniel is a scared, hopeful scientist who wants to end the disease that ruined so many peoples’ lives. This book is rich in its storytelling, strong plot, sense of place, and distinct characters. The story is both a frightful and captivating tribute to the surviving spirit of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Smith’s novel easily rises above other dystopias and new fiction for teens.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills (Book Review)

“In kindergarten I remember wondering why I had to line up with the girls when I knew I was a boy.”

This is an excellent, realistic story that explores a teen’s struggle with gender identity. Since Gabe announced that he’s transitioning from Liz, his family barely looks at him. At least he’s graduating in a few weeks and plans to move to a big city where he can pursue a career in radio. Plus he has Paige, his best friend since grade school, who supports his transitioning to the extent that Gabe wonders if she’s flirting with him. There’s also John, Gabe’s musical mentor, who helps him get a late hour radio show on the community station. Music is life to Gabe: “When you think about it, I’m like a record. Liz is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side— not played as often but just as good.”

Gabe names his show “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.” He charms the audience with his musical taste and assignments to perform harmless pranks around town. His groupies create a fan page on Facebook and post photos of their pranks in tribute to Gabe. Along with some attention from girls (other than Paige) and a chance to win a radio contest that could give him a full-time show, Gabe is enjoying his B side more than ever. But when someone outs him as Liz on the Facebook page, Gabe must deal with backlash from his fans and friends.

The characters are solidly drawn and are a pleasure to read, especially Gabe, Paige and John. The story is expertly crafted and delivered. Readers are sure to be enlightened by the emotions and other realities that transsexuals face— which are not only humorous, painful, and joyous, but also familiar to all, no matter your gender and sexual orientation.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler (Book Review)

This is a biography in which Aaron Hartzler describes growing up in an extremely religious household. His father works at a Bible College and his mom runs the Good News Club (religious teachings for children) once a week from the family’s living room. They attend church two nights a week plus Sunday mornings. Aaron and his siblings are taught that the Rapture will happen— Jesus will come back to judge everyone by their earthly actions, which will determine whether they enter heaven or hell. But as Aaron turns 16, he forms an interest in pop music and movies— both of which his parents do not allow. When he buys the Pretty Woman soundtrack as a present for the girl he likes, his father takes him out of the school play. This is devastating for Aaron, who loves acting even more than the forbidden music and movies he’s careful to keep a secret from his parents. Eventually he meets Bradley, whose house Aaron seeks refuge in as often as possible. Bradley’s parents are divorced but living together, and are so relaxed that they drink alcohol in their home. Aaron struggles with his faith throughout the book, as he often feels that his actions are not so awful that God would stop loving him.

This book contains very personal experiences from Hartzler’s childhood, and I felt total empathy for him throughout. This would be a good book for anyone interested in the lifestyle of an extremely religious family… or a young man’s struggle with his parents wishes and religious beliefs… or a teenager’s struggle with his sexual identity… or simply as an autobiographical coming of age novel.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Very Short Book Review)

Aliens have taken over earth. Cassie’s parents have died, and she’s traveling through the post-apocalyptic terrain, hoping to reunite with her younger brother. No one knows what the aliens (the Others) look like, and at this point many people think they could look like humans in disguise. Thus, Cassie prefers to be on her own. She encounters another person whom she hesitates trusting, but ultimately needs his help to survive and move closer to finding her brother.

I realize that the majority of reviewers loved this book. I couldn’t get into it. The storytelling was too slow and I didn’t care much about the characters. The romance seemed too abrupt… and I didn’t think the writing was very strong. This was clearly not the book for me. Many other reviewers who reacted negatively mentioned how excited they were to get their hands on the book, as there was a lot of pre-release hype. After they read the book and found they disliked it, this resulted in some very angry reviews. I’m not in this category, since I somehow evaded the hype. Although I cannot personally recommend The 5th Wave, I will still suggest it to those who may be interested as an apocalyptic sci fi that’s really popular, which a lot of (other) people love.

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