YA Books

Mare’s War by Tanita Davis

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Mare's War

Grades 6-10  Marey Lee Boylen, known as Mare, is not a typical grandmother. For Octavia and Talitha, the prospect of a forced, cross-country road trip with their unpredictable grandmother is daunting, even if the mode of transportation is a red sports car. The already tense family relations quickly deteriorate as an argument erupts over Tali’s use of headphones and Mare’s smoking. After the two agree to a no headphones-no smoking pact, Mare passes the time by sharing stories about her youth in rural Alabama and her service in the 6888th African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. What follows is a powerful story of a young woman’s struggle for independence and her strength in the service of her country in the face of racism and segregation. For Mare, the Women’s Army Corps is both an opportunity and a reminder of the realities of race relations in 1940s America.

Davis tells the story in a series of alternating chapters. Headings of “Then” and “Now” differentiate Mare’s narrative from younger granddaughter Octavia’s reflections on the trip. Mare is strong, colorful character. But the secondary characters are equally compelling. Each member of the 6888th is an individual, from practical Peaches, who helps Mare learn to properly make a bed for inspection, to Ruby, the city girl from Texas who can’t boil water. The diversity of African-American experiences is reflected in the descriptions of these women. Mare’s granddaughters are strong, young women in their right whose respect for their unusual grandmother grows over the course of the trip. The chapters written from Octavia’s point of view will help draw young readers into the story, Davis’ vivid descriptions of Mare’s exploits will hold their attention.

Mare’s War grew out of Davis’ search through military records for information on her own grandmother. Through this story she sheds light on a little known era of American history and reminds readers of some of the unsung heroes of the war. Interested readers will find resources for further information in the author’s acknowledgements. This book would make an excellent addition to any library’s collection of multicultural resources. But it deserves to be read because it is, quite simply, a wonderful book.

Book trailer available here: Mare’s War book trailer

Birth of a Killer by Darren Shan

Shan, Darren. Birth of a Killer.Little, Brown & Company, October 2010.

“Are cobwebs a treat where you come from?”

So begins Larten Crepsley’s meeting with the mysterious Seba Nile, a meeting that sets Larten on the path to becoming a vampire. How did Larten come to be hiding in a crypt, eating cobwebs when he had started the day as a child laborer, not so different from all of the other children he knew?

The day started as any other, with Larten rising early to have a few moments of peace before his mother’s yells woke his siblings and cousin, Vur. After a hurried breakfast of watery porridge, Larten and Vur headed to work at a silk factory run by the cruel foreman Traz. But Larten’s world was turned upside down when Traz, in a fit of temper, killed Vur. In a haze of despair and anger, Larten struck back, killing Traz. Forced to flee the city with no supplies, Larten sought shelter from a storm in the only dry place he could find, a crypt. Little did he expect that someone, or something, else had already sought refuge there.

Birth of a Killer chronicles Larten’s experiences first as a vampire’s assistant, including his own introduction to the Cirque du Freak, and later as a new vampire. The action moves quickly, often skipping ahead years. Readers looking for an in depth examination of life as a vampire’s assistant may be disappointed as the book moves from highlight to highlight, focusing on milestones in Larten’s journeys. After all, the author has 200 years to cover in just four books.

Shan’s vampires are violent creatures of the night, yet this book stops short of being a true horror story. Fans of the Cirque du Freak series will consider this prequel a must-read. But Birth of a Killer stands on its own and those who have not read the original series will still enjoy this story of dark beings of the night.

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