science fiction

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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readyReady Player One
Written by Ernest Cline
Published by Broadway Books on June 5, 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia
384 pages
 

The year is 2044 and the world isn’t a pleasant place. Extreme famine, war, homelessness, and energy shortages are just a few concerns. Teenager Wade Watts’ only escape is when he’s connected to the virtual world OASIS. When he’s in OASIS, Wade can be whomever he desires, attend high school virtually, form friendships, and most importantly is in a utopia-like world.

His poor living conditions may change when he learns about an OASIS contest to win billions of dollars. James Halliday, the founder of OASIS, creates a virtual treasure game to win the billions. The prize is far from an easy task to find. It is hidden within clues and puzzles. Halliday was obsessed with everything about the 1980s, so all the puzzles somehow connect to the 1980s. Wade masters all the arcade video games, movies, television shows, and anything about Halliday’s life growing up in the 1980s. Wade is the first to find a clue, but there are now challenges. He learns that some players are out to kill in order to win the prize and control the OASIS. The only way for Wade to survive is to continue playing the game. Is his 1980s knowledge enough to win? How does the real world connect to the virtual OASIS?

Ready Player One was a very fun and entertaining read! If you enjoy video games, movie and television trivia, and a look back into the 1980s then you’re sure to enjoy this book. I didn’t play video games, but the terms were easy to follow. The OASIS in 2044 really doesn’t seem that far away as today in 2014. We often hide in our own ‘worlds’ behind Facebook, constant web searching, dating sites, and texting to name just a few. There’s a balance between the real world and virtual world. Wade has this same problem in Ready Player One. Let this book remind you that it’s okay to unplug ourselves from the virtual world and enjoy each other in real time.

Book Review: Among the Free (Shadow Children #7)

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Among the Free (Shadow Children #7) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on April 25, 2006 
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Adventure, Dystopia, Political
Ages: 10+, 208 pages 
 

*potential spoilers*

Among the Free is the final book in the Shadow Children series. At first I thought the title itself was a spoiler, since it states  that individuals are ‘free’. However, the title isn’t at all a spoiler. In this previous books of the Shadow Children series, the reader gains insight into the hardships of third children remaining hidden and who exactly to trust when actions take place. Also, there are different lead characters to gain perspectives. I was very pleased that Luke was the focus character just as it started in book one, Among the Hidden. It was as though the series came in full circle. In Among the Free, Luke is still in the Population Police as he attempts to remain out of sight however they select him for a group activity where he closely works with the Population Police. Events occur when Luke defies orders and runs away from the Population Police. Eventually, Luke stumbles into a village where he soon learns that the Population Police are no longer in power and everyone is free. Luke is skeptical and doesn’t believe the freedom that he views on television, so he travels to the headquarters himself. He indeed does find individuals rejoicing and chanting about freedom. However, conflict and disagreements occur when individuals cannot decide how to reform the government. There is chaos when individuals overuse their new freedom. Are the individuals truly free from the Population Police? What do people desire in their government? Is it possible for citizens to even agree?

I thought Among the Free‘s main plot tackles major political issues. It shows how citizens react to drastic government changes. This book can be used in social studies classrooms while teaching about real life situations in the news with government power conflicts. Unlike the previous books, there’s really no violence in Among the Free. The plot is quite complex and younger ages may not fully understand.

When I first read the Shadow Children series I wasn’t expecting to write a review for each book. I enjoyed the new story idea  and how the characters handled their situations. I’m actually surprised that Amazon lists this series ages eight and up, because the concepts are complex and there is some violence in the books. However, age isn’t a defining factor for whether a book is appropriate for a child. I suggest to read this series.

Book Review: Among the Enemy (Shadow Children #6)

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Among the Enemy (Shadow Children #6) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix 
Published by Aladdin on May 17, 2005
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Adventure, Dystopia
Ages: 10+, 240 pages 
 

In this sixth installment in the Shadow Children series, Matthias from Among the Betrayed (book #3) is the main character. The book begins when the Population Police awaken children at school and take them away where they will work for their country. Matthias, along with his friends Percy and Alia, stay together and attempt to escape. Events occur that causes them to be free from the Population Police, however Percy and Alia are now injured. Matthias witnesses a fight between the Population Police and rebels. Without realizing it, Matthias rescues a Population Police officer who takes Matthias under his wing back to headquarters. Matthias is now in the middle of the place he fears most where he enlists to become a Population Police officer himself. While at headquarters, Matthias discovers that there are hidden individuals secretly planning against the Population Police. Matthias must decide who to trust and how to act in such a threatening environment that without careful steps may lead to disaster.

I enjoyed Among the Enemy, but yet again I was slightly disappointed that there was a new lead character. I really had to refresh my memory, since Matthias was only mentioned in book #3. However, I understand that the Shadow Children series is different from other series, because the problem evolves around an entire society not just one character. The reader gains a new perspective as we learn how different individuals handle the problems. Although, I prefer to follow events through a few constant characters throughout the series. I now have only one book to read in the Shadow Children series.

 

Book Review: Among the Brave (Shadow Series #5)

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Among the Brave (Shadow Children #5) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix 
Published by Aladdin on April 27, 2004
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Science Fiction, Dystopia 
Ages: 10+, 240 pages 

*Warning potential spoilers for previous Shadow Children books. *

The tragic end of Among the Barons (book #4) left Luke and his friends with more questions about who to trust and uncertainty about their futures. Luke escaped death when his friend, Trey, safely rescued him from harm. Trey is also a third child who remained hidden until he attended Hendricks School. He never considered himself brave or heroic. However, after his dramatic rescue to save Luke all his friends now view him with increased control and bravery. Trey doesn’t at all feel brave, instead he feels as though he was just lucky in a dangerous situation. After Trey’s friends left him alone at the Talbot’s house his goal is to remain hidden. Soon Trey has the courage to walk to the neighbor’s house that is also Luke’s home. Trey discovers Mark, Luke’s older brother, who is determined to find Luke. Mark and Trey begin an adventure to find and rescue Luke, although it’s hardly an easy task. They find themselves at the Population Police headquarters where Trey impersonates an officer. Even though Trey is at the center of individuals he has feared his entire life, Trey still doesn’t believe that he is brave. What exactly makes a person brave? Does Trey have what it takes to rescue others?

Among the Brave was similar to Among the Betrayed (book #3), because Luke isn’t the main character. Trey is mentioned in previous books, but the reader learns more about the character. I have mixed feelings about this aspect in the Shadow Children series. I enjoy developing a relationship with the lead character and additional characters mixed into the plot. However, the Shadow Children series highlights different individuals each effected by Population Police and laws. So although I don’t feel a strong connection with each character, I still enjoy learning about each individual’s struggles. I enjoyed looking at new aspects to what defines bravery, because Trey’s bravery may not have been the bold ‘standard’ yet events let his characteristics shine.

Book Review: Among the Barons (Shadow Series #4)

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Among the Barons (Shadow Children #4) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Aladdin June 1, 2003
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Ages: 10+, 208 pages
 

For the first twelve years of Luke’s life he had always been Luke, until he received the fake I.D. and he became Lee Grant. Soon Luke adjusted to being Lee at Hendricks School for Boys. He never fully wanted to declare himself as Lee, however he was able to no longer remain hidden. Suddenly, Lee’s younger brother, Smits Grant, desires to also attend Hendricks. Luke doesn’t understand why Smits wants to attend the same school, because Smits understands that Lee died. The Grants are barons who are rich and powerful and receive anything they desire. Smits finally attends Hendricks with his personal bodyguard and demands special accommodation, such as his own room and different food from the other students. Luke’s not sure if Smits can keep the secret that Lee has in fact died. Luke must now live in more lies as he pretends to be Smits brother. Can he trust Smits and his bodyguard?

I enjoyed Among the Barons just as much as the other Shadow Children books. This book becomes complex with more characters and new perspectives. Luke’s character evolved as he’s been out of the shadows for a few months. There were story plots that surprised me just as the previous books.

 

Book Review: Among the Betrayed (Shadow Series #3)

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Among the Betrayed (Shadow Children #3) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix 
Published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing on June 1, 2002 
Genre/Topics: Dystopia, Adventure, Science Fiction 
Ages: 10+, 160 pages 

 

This is the third book in the Shadow Children series and it takes a turn from the previous books. In the first two books, Luke is the central character, but in Among the Betrayed, Nina Idi is the main focus. Nina attended a girl’s school similar to the boy’s school. At the end of book two, Among the Impostors, Nina and Jason were arrested as traitors for falsely turning in third children to the Population Police. Now Nina is in prison and must state exactly what occurred or she faces death. However, the prison guard makes a deal for her to betray other imprisoned third children to learn more information about them. When she meets the children she discovers that they are much younger than her. Nina isn’t sure who to trust and whether she should betray the others.

I enjoyed Among the Betrayed, but I was slightly disappointed that Luke wasn’t the main character. However, I think the series’ theme is complex and additional character perspectives add to the plot. Personally, I thought the book was slow at times. Nina’s prison time is descriptive and harsh at times, so I suggest age ten and up. I’m ready to read book four. (I love when I don’t have to wait for the next book to be published.)

 
 

Book Review: Among the Impostors (Shadow Series #2)

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Among the Impostors (Shadow Children #2) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Aladdin on December 21, 2001 
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Adventure, School Hazing 
Ages: 10+, 172 pages 
 
 

For the first time in Luke’s life he is no longer hiding with the help of a fake I.D. He’s enrolled at Hendricks School for Boys where he must attempt to blend in, because if he’s discovered as a third child the Population Police may kill him. As soon as Luke arrives at Hendricks there is constant teasing and hazing from other classmates. Luke doesn’t know where his classes are, sits alone, and often must follow the orders from others. He begins to get homesick and whispers his name, since now he is Lee Grant. Luke cannot tell the students apart, gets lost in hallways, and doesn’t understand why the school has no windows. One day while wondering the halls Luke notices an unlocked door to the outside. Will Luke have the courage to understand the secrets at Hendricks?

I enjoyed Among the Impostors perhaps even more than Among the Hidden. There are new situations, problems, and characters for the reader to discover. The book surprised me even when I thought I knew what was happening. I’m ready to read the third book in the Shadow series.

Book Review: Among the Hidden (Shadow Series #1)

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Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) 

Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by  Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on September 1, 1998
Genre/Topics: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Adventure
Age: 10+, 153 pages 
Book Awards: Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2002),Sunshine State Young Readers Award for Grades 6-8 (2001), ALA’s Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (1999)
 

Luke has never gone to school, left his house, or met any other individual beside his family. He lives in the attic and cannot even look out windows. Luke is a third child who lives in the shadows. He must remain hidden, because he lives in a society where there can only be two children. If a third child or anyone attempting to hide a third child is discovered then the Population Police can punish by death. One day while peeking through the attic vents he notices a face in the neighbor’s window. Is it another third child who must stay hidden? How will Luke respond to the face?

I really enjoyed this book, because it had an interesting and unique plot. It contains government context and perhaps mature ideas. The book ended on a great cliffhanger and I’m ready to read the next book in the series.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

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Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

Science Fiction,179 pages

I thought Fahrenheit 451 was a good book to start Banned Books Week. The story describes a future society where books are forbidden and firefighters are required to burn all books they encounter. The title refers to the temperature that paper burns. People don’t have their own ideas and don’t discuss what they feel, instead their life revolves around picture walls (television screens) that become their family. One firefighter, Guy Montag, begins to question what are inside the books and why others want them burned. He meets a girl who tells him in the past books weren’t burned and people weren’t afraid. He also meets a professor who tells him about a time when people think. Montag’s fire captain states that without books there are no conflicting thoughts, so it keeps people happy. Montag joins others in the hopes to preserve knowledge and ideas in books.

A futuristic society where books are forbidden is scary and unfortunately it occurs. Perhaps not as bold as burning a house that holds books and written material, but just the act of challenging or banning a book creates a threat that individuals cannot think freely. It’s not possible to make everyone happy, since we all have different ideas. When you shut books you are then shutting minds that creates ignorant people in a society where they can’t think fully for themselves.

Montag’s viewpoint at the start with burning books:

   It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. …He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparking whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

- Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

Montag’s viewpoint gradually changes after meeting the girl and witnessing a woman stay in a burning house with her books.

     There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

- Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)

Professor discusses the power of books with Montag.

     There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Reasons for being challenged:

Fahrenheit 451 was never exactly banned, but the book itself was censored into different editions to please others. Words, such as hell and damn were eliminated. Another incident changed a drunk man into a sick man. An interesting twist occurred in 1992, students at a school in Irvine, California, recieved Fahrenheit 451 with blacked out words that others thought were inappropriate. Parents complained and the censored copies were no longer used in the classroom.

References:

Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds by Dawn Sova

100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature by Nicholas Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn Sova