Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keystone Books- A New High Interest/Low Vocabulary Series

Over the last 10 years or so, High Interest/Low Vocabulary books have grown in demand as a tool for attracting struggling and/or reluctant teen readers.

This past February, Dundurn Press, a well-respected Canadian publisher with an already solid YA line launched their new high interest series branded as Keystone Books. The first two books released in Februrary, and the third will be available early in the fall of 2011.

The two books, while drastically different from one another are both excellent in quality, and worth reading.

The first book is a new entry from Red-Maple Award nominee Marina Cohen. Like her previous book, Mind Gap is a terrific thriller with high boy appeal, and a fast-moving plot that will keep kids turning the pages.

Protaganist Jake is a fourteen-year-old boy on the verge of going wrong. He's been gambling in school, drinking and partying, and he's becoming involved in gang activity. One night, he receives a text message from a friend inviting him to a flash party on a subway train at St. George Station. He knows that he'd be letting his mother down by going, but sneaks out anyway.

A train pulls into the station that already has a party going on, but it is far from the party he expected. The train is a ghost train, filled with ghostly and somewhat terrifying passengers, and unless he does something to change his path, it looks like this is one train he'll never get off.

I enjoyed Ghost Ride, but this is an even better book. The story is like A Christmas Carol meets The Sixth Sense movie, and there is a definite twist. The train lets Jake off in his past, present and future, and he discovers just how much they are intertwined. He also discovers that he isn't the only one affected by his actions, and that the conceqeunces are felt by people he cares about.

The second novel is Accomplice by Valerie Sherrard, and is much more of a contemporary, edgy story for teens. Accomplice is narrated by Lexie, a seventeen-year-old Vancouver teen with a secret. Her boyfriend is a heroin addict, and it's her fault. She pushed him to try it at a party. They both did in fact. But she got sick, and he got addicted.

The story is dark, and edgy and suspenseful, and the author does an excellent job of illustrating the impact of drug use on teens without being preachy or predictable. Lexie acts as an enabler because she feels responsible. She also still cares about Devlin, and despite the fact that she's with a new guy now, she can't let go. I really enjoyed how much of what's going on inside Lexie's head is fleshed out for the reader, and there are definitely a lot of surprising, lip-biting moments as you wonder how she'll break free of the sprial she's in. There is some mild swearing, and I know that some of our middle-school customers have shied away from this one, but it's a great read.

At the time of this writing, the publisher has not been able to supply an exact reading level on these titles, but I'd say they're comperable to the Orca Soundings- around a grade 4 level with interest level 12 and up.

In the children's book world in particular, it often takes a while for a new series to get noticed and to pick up steam, but if you have kids who enjoy the Orcas and are wondering what to give them next, or just for a quick, stand-alone read that isn't part of a trilogy, I highly recommend giving these two books a try.