Friday, July 18, 2014

Historical Fiction: My Brother Sam is Dead

Historical Fiction: My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier

1. Collier, C. & Collier J. L. (2005). My brother Sam is dead. Bloomindale, IL: Scholastic.
2. Summary: Tim Meeker has always looked up to his older brother, Sam. After Sam returns from college, he informs his family that he plans to join the American Revolution by enlisting in the Rebel army. Sam’s parents, who are British supporters, are appalled. Tim soon realizes that he will have to choose a side- between the Revolutionaries and Sam or the Loyalists and his father.
3. Critical Analysis: My Brother Sam is Dead was a Newbery Honor book in 1974. The story is told from young Tim’s point-of-view. The story spans four years, where Tim grows from a boy to a young man. Tim is in the middle between his father, Mr. Meeker, a strong and stubborn man, and Sam, his older brother who is full of fresh ideas and youthful vigor. The majority of the novel focuses on this triangle. While Sam and Mr. Meeker seem to be constantly at odds, Tim is walking the fence between who he yearns to be like. “I asked myself what Sam would do if it were him…he'd do something daring. The most daring thing to do would be to track down Father…Then it came to me that even though rescuing Father was the daring thing to do, it wasn't the smartest thing. So I asked myself another question: what would Father do?” (p. 156).  Shuffling between Sam’s brash, courage and father’s practicality, Tim learns to judge situations himself and act in his own way.
Because this novel is set during the American Revolution, it is an excellent source of credible information. The story is revolving around one family’s experience with war; nonetheless, the story has a plethora of factual innuendos that show life during the 18th century. For example, there is a scene where Tim is in church and is explaining that the upper balcony is where the lesser people (blacks, Native Americans, and children) sit. This small statement opens the readers eyes to daily life in the American Colonies. In an epilogue, the Collier brothers explain their desire for historical accuracy. They go on to say that  the characters and setting were inspired by actual people and places.
Readers have mixed reviews about My Brother Sam is Dead. Posted in Goodreads, Stephanie Holmes calls this book excellent, “The joy of love and the tragedy of death, with the details of the history of our country are all in this book.”  And, I have to agree with Stephanie. The book is filled with themes and motifs that most YA books are lacking. To top it off, the book is a historical fiction novel that teaches while readers hear the story of Tim and Sam. Another Goodreads’ user, Adam, believes that the story is lacking a plot. I couldn’t disagree more. The plot is war and its effects on the Meeker family. So much is happening in this story.
Interestingly, the book has been challenged quite frequently in public and school libraries. According to an article by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the book has been challenged due to its inappropriate language, mainly the use of the word “damn”. However, the book has remained on the shelves because of its gripping story of one family’s experience with war and the courage it takes to grow into one’s own beliefs.
Adam. (2007, October 21). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from
Holmes, S. (2008, January 13). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from

National Coalition Against Censorship. (2009, February 26). ‘My brother Sam is dead’ kept in Muscogee school libraries. Blogging Censorship. Retrieved from

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Silence of Murder

Mystery: The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall

1. Mackall, D.D. (2011). The silence of murder. New York, NY: Ember.
2. Summary:Raised by an alcoholic mother, Hope Long’s life has not been the easiest, but it gets a lot harder when her brother, Jeremy, goes on trial for the murder of a beloved baseball coach. Jeremy has autism and has not spoken in twelve years. With the town convinced of Jeremy’s guilt, it is up to Hope and her two friends, T.J. and Chase, to unravel the clues and sift through the secrets to prove Jeremy’s innocence.
3. Critical Analysis: The Silence of Murder is Dandi Daley Mackall’s first mystery novel. It has received excellent reviews and was the recipient of the Edgar Award for best mystery novel. The story is told by sixteen-year old Hope Long. Hope and her eighteen-year old brother Jeremy are being raised by an alcoholic mother, referred to as Rita, whose dating life is always up and down. With a less than idea homelife, Jeremy and Hope have always been close. Jeremy hasn’t spoken since he was a young child. Hope believes it all began when Rita struck Jeremy after he informed her that God can sing. “She struck like a rattler, but without the warning. The slap echoed off Jeremy’s face, louder than the roar of the engine. “God don’t sing!” she screamed” (p. 4). Although Jeremy’s selective mutism is something that many people believe makes him insane, Hope knows different. Mackall does a phenomenal job portraying the love that Hope feels for Jeremy. Hope does not see Jeremy as crazy. In fact, the first 100 pages of the novel offer sweet recollections of Jeremy’s selflessness.
Although The Silence of Murder received many excellent reviews from entities such as School Library Journal and Booklist, there were a few reviews that found the book less than perfect. For example, Kirkus reviews found the characters and storyline too artificial, “the mean parents, bumbling defense lawyer and preening prosecutor all play to type, their characters flat” (Kirkus, 2011). I agree to an extent with this review. The defense lawyer and prosecutor were completely in line with all portrayed lawyers. And, although sweet, Hope’s love for her brother makes it seem he is perfect rather than real.
The Silence of Murder is a mystery. And, true to form, the novel offers twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing. The reader is presented with several good candidates for a suspect and plenty of motives for the killing. It appears that Coach Johnson, loved and admired as he was, was not the perfect man the community found him to be. Furthermore, the myriad of secrets that are uncovered unveil an ending that is both heart-breaking and surprising.

Kirkus Reviews. (2011, August 31). Review of The Silence of Murder. Retrieved from

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
1. Ness, Patrick. (2010). The knife of never letting go. Read by Nick Podehl.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio.
2. Summary: Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in a town of men.  The thoughts of each man and animal are audible to everyone in the form of Noise.  Todd is a month away from being a man when everything changes. Todd and his dog, Manchee,  discover a silence in the Noise. Todd realizes that this silence is something he must keep secret from the rest of the men in the town. However, a secret like that is impossible to keep when your Noise is broadcasted for the townsfolk to hear. Todd and Manchee are forced  to run  away from the only life they have ever known. Along their way, they discover the same eerily quiet hole in the Noise: a girl. Todd, Manchee, and the girl set off  on a journey to learn the truth in their existence.
3. Critical Analysis: The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Ness’s novel was the recipient of The Guardian children's fiction prize and was a starred review from Booklist and School Library Journal.  This highly acclaimed novel follows Todd Hewitt on a coming-of-age quest against the evil Mayor Prentiss.
The novel is told by Todd and unfolds very slowly. This was frustrating for me at first because I wanted to know the details to this New World. However,  the slow unfolding was very effective in the world-building that took place. Ness has created an entire world and civilization that the reader needed to discover. With the slow-pacing, the reader could build the bits and pieces into the plot.  And, even more, the slow pace allows readers to get to know the other main character, Viola. Viola was a part of a scout ship from another group of settlers headed to New World. While scouting with her parents, the ship crashed killing all but herself. Todd is very unsure of Viola at first.Their relationship truly blooms and grows as they battle for their lives.
Patrick Ness does not skirt around difficult issues- he has Todd tackle them head on. For example, when Todd flees for his life, he is given a knife , a "big ratchety one with the bone handle and the serrated edge that cuts practically everything in the world", to protect himself. Yet, Todd isn’t sure if he can use it or not.  The idea of killing to protect oneself is something that most people have thought about. Todd is unable to kill, it is what sets him apart from the others in the book. Another difficult issue that Ness beautifully addresses is the idea of loss. Todd lost his parents when he was an infant and was being raised by neighbors. After fleeing the town, all Todd has is  his mother’s journal (which he can’t read because he is illiterate) , the knife, and Manchee. Manchee is the most loyal of dogs. He sticks by Todd and protects him as much as he can. Todd suffers the greatest loss when he must sacrifice Manchee to save Viola. This is such a powerful part of the book because it signifies that Todd is no longer a child, but turning into a man.
Partick Ness’ writing is very clear. The diction reflects the way Todd, an illiterate teenager, thinks and talks. “I never ended up reading too good. Don’t matter. Ain’t nobody in Prentisstown ever gonna write a book” (19).  Todd is such a believable teenager. Although the plot can be somewhat deep, Ness adds in enough humor  (especially from Manchee) to take the edge off some of those more intense moments.

After the reader gets a handle on the characters and setting, the story takes off. Fans of dystopian fantasy will be enthralled by the New World and breathtakingly unique storyline.