"Wake" by Lisa McMann

When Janie Hannagan is eight years old, she has a strange thing happen to her: her and her mother are on a train, on their way to visit her grandmother, when Janie is sucked into the dream of a man sitting in the seat behind her mother. Janie doesn’t realize what she witnessed at first, but as the years go by, she realizes that anytime anyone is sleeping near her, she is at risk of losing consciousness and becoming a witness to their dreams. This “curse” of hers is constantly disrupting her life- at school, she’s surrounded by sleepy teenagers, and at risk of getting dragged into a dream state and falling out of her chair.

Witnessing her friends’ dreams allows her to learn their deepest secrets and fears, against her will. She learns who has a secret crush on who, who has a very unhappy home life and even how her best friend lost a brother in a tragic accident that she’s never mentioned.

Enter Cabel Strumheller, a fellow classmate with a bad boy reputation, who starts noticing Janie. In the beginning of their high school career, he was known as a drug user and a flunkie. However at the start of senior year, he’s hardly recognizable- gone is the long greasy hair and the cigarette smoking; Janie and Cabel start hanging out and there’s a definite connection between them.

However, there are still rumors….Janie’s best friend Carrie informs her that Cabel is hanging out with Shay, a “druggie” at their school, and he’s been partying with her on the weekends. There was even a drug bust, and Cabel was arrested along with everyone at the party. Janie is crushed, and swears off Cabel. However, he tells her that it’s not like it seems, and promises to one day explain everything to her.

A few times Janie falls into Cabel’s dreams and while they are not good dreams that clear him of wrongdoing, they are confusing and Janie is filled with doubt. What is Cabel involved in? And why does Janie get the feeling that there is something very sinister going on at her high school?

 

"Wolf by Wolf" by Ryan Graudin

*Wolf by Wolf" is the February pick for the Meet The Author Book Club that meets the first Monday of every month - new members are always welcome! We'll be Skyping with Ryan Graudin on Feb 6 from 6-7 PM.

Meet Yael, a concentration camp survivor. She spent her childhood in a concentration camp, and endured horrific medical experiments. It is the result of these experiments, and the way they changed her on many different levels, that lay the basis for the story.

Fast forward to 1956, to a world where the Axis powers had won World War II. The Third Reich and the Japan Imperial army are the most powerful nations on the planet. Despite hundreds of assassination attempts by the Resistance, Adolf Hitler remains in power.

The Axis powers put on a motorcycle race every year, called the Axis Tour, where the riders must race from Germany to Japan. The winner has a fancy ball thrown in his or her honor, and both Axis leaders attend.

Yael escaped from the concentration camp while she was still young, and was found by members of the Resistance. She wholeheartedly joined their cause, determined to help stamp out the evil that had taken over much of the world. She has a “gift” of sorts that is perfect for helping the Resistance, and winning the race is crucial to the plan. However, the Axis Tour is no easy feat- it’s a long, exhausting race fraught with peril, mostly from attacks and sabotage by the other riders. It takes all of Yael’s strength, skill and cunning to make it to the end, and her moral compass is tested along each step.

The ending is shocking, and yet, obvious at the same time. It will immediately make you want to grab the second book and continue reading Yael’s story.

 

National Book Award Winner "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a fantastic, often gut-wrenching story that weaves some of the darkest parts of American history, with a smattering of the author’s imagination. Colson Whitehead started this book with the thought: what if the underground railroad had not just been a network of safe houses and secret places for slaves to hide out along a northern route to the free states, but also operated along an actual underground railroad system?

Cora is a fifteen- year-old slave on a Georgia plantation. In the beginning of the book, you learn her family history- her grandmother, Ajarry, was kidnapped in Africa and became a part of the slave trade across the Atlantic ocean. Cora’s mother Mabel, was the only child of Ajarry’s who survived to adulthood.

When Cora was eleven years old, Mabel ran away. Even though an exhaustive search was done across state lines by slave catchers, she was never found. Throughout the book, Cora reflects on her mother’s abandonment and as Cora is put through horrific trials of life and death in her fight for freedom, she feels nothing but hatred for the woman who left her behind.

Cora is first approached by a fellow slave named Caesar, with a plan of escape. At first Cora refuses, but shortly afterward is subjected to a horrible punishment and she decides she’s ready to risk flight. Cora and Caesar find a “station” and a conductor and get as far as South Carolina. They find some luck at a progressive medical center, and are given housing, education, and medical attention. However, after some time, the real, sinister nature of the medical center is revealed and Cora is forced to flee.

At the same time, there is a slave catcher by the name of Ridgeway that is relentlessly pursuing Cora. Her mother Mabel has forever eluded Ridgeway, and his rage over that is directed at Cora and he will stop at nothing until he finds her and returns her to the plantation in Georgia she escaped from.

Once again, Cora finds a trapdoor which leads down to the railroad system and takes another rickety train northward. In North Carolina, Cora is forced to spend many months hidden in the attic of a family that takes her in. Cora falls ill at one point and they are forced to bring her downstairs to nurse her back to health. That is when the housekeeper turns in the family for hiding a runaway, and Ridgeway catches up with Cora.

There is one mystery solved by the end of the book: Cora always marveled at how her mother escaped, and just left her young daughter to fend for herself. Mabel’s story is explained in a haunting conclusion that completely changes the reader’s feelings about her.

The Underground Railroad immediately grabs your attention and you find yourself immersed in the world of 19th-century America that Colson has recreated. The bits of Colson’s imagination that are sprinkled throughout the book are so in tune with true history that they mesh perfectly into the story. It is often graphic without being gory- with just a few words, he can paint a horrific picture that leaves you heartsick. The Underground Railroad is both a haunting history of pre-Civil War United States, and one woman’s courageous journey to freedom. Cora is determined and incredibly brave, a true heroine that the reader will root for from the beginning.

           

 

 

"The Masked Truth" by Kelley Armstrong

Review by Cat Gerson

High-schooler Riley Vasquez is haunted by two big tragedies that have impacted her life: the death of her father eighteen months ago, and then a babysitting gig gone wrong where the parents were murdered by an intruder before they left the house.

Months later, she’s still struggling with the feelings of guilt and shame (she feels like she was a coward for hiding under the bed with the child, despite the fact that that action saved both their lives).  Her mother signs her up for a weekend at a therapy camp for troubled teens.

Riley and five other teens start their weekend off with group discussions and it becomes apparent that another teen, Max Cross, is the group’s smart-alec. Little does Riley know, but Max is there because he was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The action in the book starts off right in Chapter 2, when a bunch of men in masks show up and tell them it’s a hostage situation. One of the teens comes from a very wealthy family, and the hostage takers inform them that they are after his father’s money. But...is that the truth?

At one point the kidnappers lose control of the situation, and everyone scatters throughout the building. Riley and Max end up working together to survive, and soon there are clues that there is something else going on, and the kidnappers have a much different agenda. What is really going on? 

Throughout Riley and Max’s struggle to survive while they are hunted by the bad guys, the chapters alternate between their point of views. During Max’ chapters, the reader gets a poignant look into the doubt, confusion and fear that has taken over his mind since being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Is what he’s experiencing really happening, or did his meds stop working again? Is he really seeing that, hearing that, or is his mind playing tricks on him again?

And then there’s Riley- who can’t get over the survivor's guilt that has invaded her mind since the death of the Porters. Her grades are falling, and she has to push herself to get through each and every day.

However, when the bullets start flying and Riley and Max end up working together, it’s the best mix. They both have the courage that the other one needs, and together they figure out that it is not a hostage situation at all, but that the kidnappers are there for someone else. And they are no longer interested in keeping people alive.

Thirty-six hours into the nightmare, Riley and Max manage to get out of the building and find help. Riley wakes up in the hospital to learn that everyone thinks that Max staged the whole thing and he’s about to be charged with murder.  But when they set out to prove Max’ innocence, they discover with horror that the kidnappers aren’t done with them yet.

This book is action packed and also a bit of a love story. Kelley Armstrong does a fantastic job interpreting survivor's guilt and schizophrenia, through a teenager’s eye.  Riley Vasquez and Max Cross are strong, well-rounded characters that you will root for from the beginning. 

Click here to find this book in the library catalog.