Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer

There were rumors about Arthur “Boo” Radley. Stories about why he went to jail and to why he never came out of his house except at night. One day, Scout, Jem, and Dill all decided to try and get Boo Radley to show himself. They wanted to see him. Boo wouldn’t come out, but he left different objects in the notch of a tree for the three kids to find. Before the kids could give Boo a thank you note, the notch in the tree was cemented over. It seemed that someone didn’t want them to meet Mr. Boo Radley.

The story that involves Boo Radley is from one of my favorite books when I was in 7th grade (Do you know the title?). Harper Lee’s character named Boo Radley kept coming to mind as I read another book that also has a major character that no one gets to see.

In, The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer, Twelve-year-old Gable Culligan Pace has lived with his uncle Vernon in his simple home cradled within a valley west of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, north of Roanoke County. We find that Gable, or Gabe, has lived with his uncle for nearly two years. Before that, Gabe was shuffled between many different foster homes ever since he was two years old- when his mother disappeared. Gabe never knew his father. Social services tried to find Gabe’s only living relative, his uncle Vernon, but he wasn’t an easy man to find.

Uncle Vernon might as well have been a ghost to his neighbors. He lived a life of a recluse, away from civilization as much as he could. In some ways the mailbox by the dirt road was the only connection Uncle Vernon had with the outside world.

You might think that Uncle Vernon is the one that reminds me of Boo Radley, but he can’t be. He’s dead.

After his first day of school, Gabe discovers Uncle Vernon laying “motionless on the floor, flat on his back.” “Gabe stood by his uncle’s work boots and softly called his name. Vernon, a veteran, had had his left leg amputated below the knee during his final tour in Vietnam, thirty-five years before. Gabe saw that the fake foot wasn’t angled quite right to the rest of his uncle’s body.” Uncle Vernon’s skin was cold to the touch.

You can imagine the terror, fear and anguish Gabe experienced in that moment. Yet, he didn’t call for help. Gabe spent hours crying and wondering what to do. That night Gabe kind of half dozed with his head buried into the kitchen table. When it turned daylight he noticed a fly on his uncle’s cheek and “Gabe’s eyes widened in terror as the fly walked into his uncle’s nostril. Gabe wanted to scream…” Somehow Gabe collected himself and covered his uncle with a blanket, grabbed his backpack and closed the door as he “headed off to his second day of sixth grade.”

When Gabe returned home from school he hesitated by the mailbox, probably wondering what in the world he was going to do and if he could even go through the front door again. Then Gabe did something unexpected. He opened the mailbox. Uncle Vernon was the only one that was allowed to open the mailbox. Inside was a green envelope addressed to Mr. G. C. P. Inside was a note that said:

“I have a secret.”

“Don’t be afraid.”

Gabe was even more afraid. There wasn’t anyone around to help him. So, he stepped into the house and put down his backpack, turned on every light. “His uncle’s body, leg prosthesis and all, was gone.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Roar by Emma Clayton

Before I start, take another look at the cover. You'll notice two kids looking at a wall with giant guns at the top. Is the wall keeping them in, or something else out?

In the Roar, by Emma Clayton, Mika is having difficulty distinguishing between what is real from what he is dreaming. Mika's parents think he has a sleep disorder and definitely a sleepwalking issue (p.85). They think Mika's restless nights reveal that he is still trying to deal with the disappearance of his sister Ellie. Ellie has been missing so long that his parents and the police are convinced she’s dead, but to Mika there is a sense of awareness that Ellie is still alive, a sense that comes from an invisible bond, which is hard to describe, but only that bond a twin sibling can possess.

One of the reasons for Mika's sleep disorder is a reoccurring nightmare disturbing his sleep. The dream involves an image of a heartless man with only a TV for a head. Listen/read the dream carefully and see if you know what it means.

“Lurking in the shadows of a place where dark walls seemed to press in all around was a man in a black suit with a television for a head. It was an in-between moment, a moment in which nothing much happened, and yet it was horrible. The man’s face flickered in black-and-white on the curved glass screen and his eyes gazed blankly out of it as if he were feeling nothing, as if he had no soul. He just stood there in the darkness crushing a bird in his hand that was struggling feebly to get away.” (p.285)

Mika's story is set in the future and his earth is in bad shape. The human population is in jeopardy. Extreme flooding, animal and plant species nearly wiped out, and a type of plague or virus infecting the remaining animals that cause them to attack humans are just a few of the challenges facing life on earth. Mika and most of the others that have survived live behind a protective barrier wall to scratch out their meager existence. Except for a few privileged people that can live a life of luxury in the golden turrets, life has been difficult.

Besides what happened to the animals, something else is terribly wrong. For decades there haven't been any human children born, that is until Mika's generation. Mika's generation is like a generation of miracle babies. They are all about 12-13 years old when the story begins. At the beginning of the school year a strange request is made by all of their teachers. All students age 12-13 must drink some kind of fitness drink as part of their daily school routine. All families with 12-13 year-olds are then told that the drink will make the children better, stronger and smarter.

Remember Mika's nightmare? The heartless man with a TV for a head? He is real. He doesn't really have a TV for a head, but the man is not exactly alive the way you and I are. The best I can say to you is he really does have living tissue. He is a person in the flesh and blood, but whether or not he has a soul is another matter. Mika does need to feel worried about him. The man who caused his sister's disappearance is the same man who would like nothing more than to crush Mika like a bird in his hand.

There is one secret I'll share. The man without a soul is afraid of Mika, but he's counting on Mika never finding out why until it's too late. As long as he can make Mika afraid of him, that is all that matters.

Why does the man with no soul want Mika to be afraid of him? What does Mika possess that scares the heartless man? Does the man with no soul have any information about Mika’s sister Ellie? And finally, why does Mika and the rest of the kids age 12-13 have to take a fitness drink every day? What's in it? What could the drink possibly be for?

If you like wild rides and future technology terrors, I would like to recommend, The Roar, by Emma Clayton.

(As I hinted, there are some technology terrors in this book. How would you like it if your parents could determine if you were lying to them simply by waving a scanner over your brain? That should scare a few of you. If you are a science fiction fan you'll probably like some of the technology mentioned in the book. However, there doesn’t seem to be much completely new science fiction anymore. What was science fiction a few years ago scientists are already doing today. Some of the technology we have today already freaks me out. Scientists today can put you into a type of MRI scanner and look at your brain activation patterns and identify what you are thinking. They can tell if you are lying and if you have been someplace by showing a video of the place and detecting the recognition patterns in your brain. Take a look at the CBS story on 60 Minutes about how technology can be used to read our minds.)
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