Friday, May 28, 2010

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (Penguin - Firebird) is set in a futuristic Zimbabwe where Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are kept safe from gangs in their parents' house--at least, until they escape for a little adventure. Once on the outside, the children are kidnapped and sent to the plastic mines, giving you just a hint of the tension between technology and the natural world of the story. Three detectives--the Ear, Eye, and Arm of the title--are enlisted to find them, but can they do it when the kids don't exactly want the adventure to end? At least, not before they figure out that their lives are in danger...

This is one of those books that I find pretty hard to review, and pretty hard to sell to friends. But here's a quote from the teen heroine: Tendai was reading Sun Tzu's Art of War, and Rita had the writings of Julius Caesar. "Who cares how the Romans built their roads?" she grumbled. "They should have all stayed home and had orgies." That's not a line you'd see in too many young adult books, you have to admit--and though it's not representative of the plot, it's a hint that this book won't be quite what you expected.

I really enjoy this story, and I think it's one of Nancy Farmer's best, inspired by the many years she lived in Africa. One thing that I think makes this a difficult book to get others to pick up is the cover art; while I don't have a recommendation, necessarily, I don't think that any of the covers for this Newbery Honor have been able to reflect the adventure within. Some, I think, focus too much on the adults and not enough on the teens for this type of book. The bottom left is my least favorite, and I think the least appealing; I own the one on the bottom right; the top left might make me think it was published well before the mid-90s; I think I like the top right best, but I wish it balanced the mask with the hint of the science fiction setting a little more. Here's a sampling.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The River - read in 2004

The RiverThe River by Gary Paulsen (Random House - Yearling)
I can't even begin to tell you how much I adore Hatchet, much less its updated cover. Or perhaps I can: I haven't read it in years, but as a kid I was absolutely fascinated by the tale of survival, particularly because I knew that the area around where I grew up was treacherous and lacking in edible resources. Brian's story of surviving a summer on wit and a few plane crash items still sticks in my memory. The River is Hatchet, redux, but The River, which I read in under an hour, just isn't quite as satisfying. Brian's Winter and Brian's Return, by the same author, might be better alternative reads for alternate endings for Hatchet, detailing a scenario in which Brian deliberately visits the wilderness and in which Brian is not rescued in the summer, respectively.
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