Monday, November 17, 2014

My Book Obsession - the Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin

the Mara Dyer trilogy
by Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Final Book Release Date: November 4, 2014
I have been obsessed with Michelle Hodkin's debut series ever since I first read an early copy of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in June of 2011 and stayed up way too late because I couldn't stop reading and woke up too early after a late night because I needed to know what would happen. It instantly became my most often recommended book to all of my friends and students.

Instead of just sharing my thoughts about the final book, I've put my thoughts from all three books in the same place in the hope that if you haven't yet listened to my recommendation to read. this. book. now., this will inspire you to now that you can read through the whole trilogy at once (and not have to wait over three years like I did!).

When it all came full circle...RETRIBUTION
Mara Dyer wants to believe there's more to the lies she’s been told.

There is.
She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.
She should.
She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.
She will now.
Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.
Retribution has arrived. 
Oh how I love this series! The ending was worth the wait for Michelle to get it just right, and she did. There were expletives said, sections reread, mind blown, paragraphs & lines savored, questions answered, connections to the previous books, smirks on my face, cheers in my head, and fulfillment felt as I read through this final chapter in the Mara Dyer saga.

Where it all started...UNBECOMING
Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.It can. 
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed. There is.
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love. She's wrong.

THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is one of the most interesting books that I have read in awhile. It blew my mind, kept me on my toes, crawled under my skin, tugged at my heart, and won't get out of my head. It is a multi-layered story: part psychological thriller, part epic teen romance, part high school story, part mystery, part family dynamics, and part suspense. Oh, and I can't forget the slight paranormal tendencies (in the mental sense not creatures) underlying the events of this book. It is a page-turning, hard to put down, want to know what will happen and how the main character will figure it all out kind of book. It starts with a note from Mara setting up the premise that she's going to be telling you her story (under a pseudonym) of why her life is not normal. It's definitely a book you have to read with an open mind so you can just go with it. At times I thought, "oh, this is like ___" only to find out I was wrong, but I could definitely see the influences of other YA books, but done with unique twists. There are lots of "what is going on?!" and "did that just happen?!" moments, but that's what made it so much more readable.

Michelle Hodkin (a debut author!) has an engaging writing style that is a nice balance of descriptive, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, sarcastic, and intelligent. It just draws you in without even realizing it and you find yourself negotiating "just one more chapter before I go to sleep" fifteen times in a row until you can't keep your eyes open anymore. Parts of this book (especially the dialogue) were so smile to myself entertaining I found myself rereading them just to soak them in more and deeply process the subtle references and entertaining quality.

And the main character Michelle has written in Mara? Not the most reliable, or most sane, but she's got an awesome sass to her that I love, and underneath her insecurity and unsureness has a strength and integrity that drew me to her even more. Mara doesn't remember what happened the night the building collapsed and her friends were killed. One of the best parts of this book is the way that Mara's memories of that night start to come back to her. We get flashbacks through her dreams as she gets them - leaving us feeling as unsure as Mara does about what's going on - but eventually we finally get the whole story of that night and the story comes together really well. It's written in the way that makes you feel like the character is feeling at that point in the book - you'll be scared, hopeful, worried, confused, happy, and freaked out when Mara is feeling that way as you go through the story with her.

Should we talk boys now? How about my newest (and quite possibly best ever) literary crush - Noah Shaw. Really, after reading it, I sigh just hearing his name. I love, love, love Noah's character. He's got a great way of talking (and lots of hidden secrets to come) and interacting and being that is just captivating. The parts I found myself rereading the most were the interactions between Mara and Noah. Now, I should warn you, at first I was a little skeptical because he seemed like the stereotypical bad boy, insta-crush, jerk to girls, love interest character, but there's much, much more than meets the eye (or rumor mill as the case may be) with Noah Shaw. Don't let his early interactions fool you - there is an epic sort of romance that develops between Mara and Noah that will have you swooning by the end.

Secondary characters deserve a mention too - maybe because I have two brothers myself and am the middle/only girl, I really enjoyed Mara's relationship with her brothers - especially her older brother Daniel. He's great. He watches out for her, covers for her, protects her, and pushes her to get out there. I want a big brother like him. We also see Mara at her new school after they move out of state and meet her new friend Jamie. He is awesomely sarcastic and witty and good comedic relief. He also serves as commentary to set the stage for what's going on in the new school's dynamics. I enjoyed reading both Daniel's and Jamie's characters; I would have liked a little more of Jamie though.

This book all leads up to an ending that is unexpected and left me wondering What?! How did that happen?! It made me want to go back and reread the whole book with that new perspective and see if it changed my thoughts on earlier parts of the story. It ends at a point that added a final cliffhanger of a twist and left me hoping that there would be more - and there will be a sequel (thank goodness because I need answers!) You may feel a little off balance at the end of this one, but I truly think that's part of the reason that it is so good. I want my stories to surprise me once in awhile and this one was definitely surprising. Be on the lookout for THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in September!

When it left me dying for more...EVOLUTION
Mara Dyer once believed she could run from her past.She can’t.
She used to think her problems were all in her head.They aren’t.
She couldn’t imagine that after everything she’s been through, the boy she loves would still be keeping secrets.She’s wrong.
In this gripping sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the truth evolves and choices prove deadly. What will become of Mara Dyer next?

I'm not totally sure how to express my feelings about this book because there are so many! My immediate thoughts at the end of it included some unprintable words because I was so blown away. I obsessively loved THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER when I got an early read of it last year, and was eagerly anticipating reading the sequel, THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER, and was extremely lucky to be able to get an early copy loaned to me, and it completely lived up to the anticipation I had going into it. This was a strong second book that definitely matched up to my love of the first book.

I adore Michelle Hodkin, but I finished this book feeling like she's a diabolical genius of a writer. It surprises me that she wasn't a writer before this, and I hope she continues to be one for a long time. Maybe that's part of the reason that I enjoy her writing so much, it came from a spark of an idea for a story, and because her background is diverse, there's a spark to the writing that just really clicks for me. The way the writing is paced, the intelligence to it, the unreliable narrator, the mood, the witty banter, the uncomfortable suspense of not knowing what's going to happen, the love and support of family, the heart at the center of this chaotic psychological thriller, and, yes, the romance, all grabs me and doesn't let me go. I read 544 pages in two days (and those were teaching/working days!) because I just couldn't stop reading. It's a long book that doesn't feel long. It's a sequel that keeps the story moving, but is interesting in its own right. So much was revealed in this book about what's really going on with Mara and Noah and everything that happened. I appreciated that we were given so much information and many questions were answered, but some still are not and more were created that make me anxious to see where this is all headed.

Interestingly, I didn't think this book had as much of the creepy feeling as the first one, but it definitely had suspenseful and psychological tension to it. Favorite characters were back, and new intriguing ones were introduced. Family support and love is still central to the relationships that hold Mara together. And I can't forget the romantic storyline between Mara and Noah Shaw, which because of their unique abilities, becomes even more difficult for them to manage. At its heart, there are questions of truth, reality, trust, faith...all the things that make for a conflicted character who is just trying to hold it all together against odds that seem stacked against her.

As much as I loved this book, there was one thing bugged me. There was a clue fairly early on to a twist that seemed so obvious to me, and Mara is very intelligent, and so it seemed like she should have realized it, but I guess she is dealing with quite a bit of psychosis stuff at this point, so I should cut her some slack for not catching it. I'm still thrilled there is going to be a third book, THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER, coming in 2013, especially after the twists and reveals of the ending of this book! Not sure how I'll be able to wait so long!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Where I'll Be - #NCTE14 & #ALAN14

This week I'll be heading to National Harbor (outside Washington, D.C.) for my annual trek to the NCTE Annual Convention. This year will be my 4th time attending the National Council of Teachers of English convention, and my 3rd time presenting. It's one of the most meaningful professional development experiences of my year because not only are there great sessions to attend with gurus in the field of E/LA education, but I have the opportunity to network and continue developing relationships with the amazingly supportive publisher reps who recommend books to bring back for my students, and also a chance to see my edufriends - people I've gotten to know over the year's through my PLN on twitter and now consider friends, even if we only see each other in person a few times a year at conferences. I always feel exhausted, but reinvigorated after attending NCTE. I come back with ideas of things to try in the classroom and ways to improve my teaching, validation of the goals I've set for myself professionally and the growth I'm aiming for, and lots of new and upcoming books to share with my students.

The most exciting part this year is the session I am co-chairing with Sarah Andersen for the second year in a row (it was such a success last year, we're hoping to make it an annual session!). We created a session with roundtables of authors with their editors to talk with teachers about their writing and revising process in order to help teachers take on more of an editor role with the student writers in their classrooms. I heard so many ideas to take right back to my classroom and start implementing last year, and I can't wait to hear what this year's group of authors and editors will have to share that will impact my teaching.

Thank you to all of the amazing publishers who support their authors and editors in attending to make this session possible!

If you're going to be at NCTE, I'd love to see you there (or around anywhere)! Please come say hi if you spot me.
The start of the ALAN Workshop is like English teacher's Christmas, and the energy in the room is equivalent!
Then, on Monday and Tuesday, I get to spend two days listening to author talks and panels discussing YA literature at the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE) Workshop. This is always one of my most anticipated events of the year, and not just for the awesome box of books we get upon arrival (over 40 this year!) but because it's a nice wind down from the craziness of running around at NCTE and I always hear things I can bring back to share with my students and things that remind me why I'm passionate about this field and why I do what I do to get books into the hands of adolescents.  This year will be my 7th straight ALAN Workshop - I can't wait!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Busy Reading, New Role (Chair)

I've been busy reading, very busy reading, but there hasn't been as much time to blog about the books individually because of an exciting new role I've taken on and the reading I've been doing related to it. It became official this weekend!
The Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) Children's Literature Committee is a group of WI education professionals who read widely in an effort to create a master recommendation list of the best books published each year [Sept of the previous year through Dec of the current year] for students based on quality, kid appeal, and value for teacher use. We create two lists: Picture This! (picture books) & Just One More Page! (chapter books up to 8th grade).

I joined this committee last fall, and I'm thrilled to be taking on a new role as the Chair! This weekend, we had our last meeting of the year to discuss and decide on our final lists. Our lists are not revealed publicly until the WSRA Convention in February, but I am excited that every convention attendee (approximately 3000) will receive a copy of the lists this year, and afterwards, it will be posted publicly to share (watch for that post in early Feb!). 

With the changeover and new direction we are heading in for these lists as we work to grow the presence and increase the usefulness, this is a transitional year for us, but I'm proud of the work this group of ten people has done in trying to help teachers, librarians, and parents sort through the wealth of children's books released this past year in order to make recommendations. We selected 120 titles for our Picture This! list and 92 books for Just One More Page! 

So that's where I've been, what I've been working on, and what I'm been focused on lately (outside of my teaching work). I've read over 416 books so far this year (106 of which were novels) - I've upped my picture book reading game considerably. Now I'm anxious to get to those 2015 advanced copies that I had to hide away to avoid temptation until we finished our work on this year's lists!

What would make your list of some of the best books released in 2014?