Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer

The 4th and final installment in the Twilight series was released last Saturday. My goal was to have it read before summer ends for me, and by the light o' my laptop I can see that I met that deadline by approximately 54 minutes. ;)

Breaking Dawn continues (and concludes) the story of Bella Swann and her involvement with the Cullens-a family of "vegetarian" vampires, or those who have sworn against consuming human blood. Bella's in love with Edward Cullen, and it is in this book that their choice to be together at all costs (in Bella's case, forsaking mortality) truly comes to fruition. Not only do their decisions affect their family, but also other friends and family members scattered worldwide. At one point even the Volturi (sort of like the vampire mafia) are involved, and in a nasty way.

There are HUGE surprises in this book, and more than once I got all hyped up as I put together some of the clues sprinkled throughout. I love how Meyer includes enough history from Books 1-3 to adequately wrap up the series. True Twilight fans will definitely receive the closure they need to say goodbye to the Cullens.

On an interesting note, a movie about the first book is due out in December, and rumor has it that Stephanie Meyer is rewriting the series from Edward Cullen's point of view. Clever, I think.

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

This is SUCH a "boy book!" Redwall is the story of a war between the good mice (and other woodland creatures) of Redwall Abbey and the army of the evil rat "Cluny the Scourge." Matthias is the main character, and hero of the book, who is on a mission to decrypt several messages left behind by the Abbey's predecessors in order to uncover the great sword of Martin the Warrior, and therefore secure Redwall's victory. It's sort of like Indiana Jones meets The Mouse and the Motorcycle, with a little bit of Lord of the Rings (animal style) in there as well.

There are about a gajillion battles between the two sides, and several interesting side stories involving a huge snake, a band of warrior sparrows, and a vegetarian cat. I did love that one of the key characters was named Jess!

The books were jam-packed with action, and were relatively clean. There's about 5 unnecessary d's and h's here and there. Overall, though, I'd consider it a good choice for a 5th or 6th grade boy.

Even though this is the first in the author's series of many other Redwall books, I probably won't be partaking of the bounty. I'm glad to know more about the series, for the sake of my students, but one Redwall is enough for me!

For more about Redwall:

- Redwall wiki

-Official Redwall site

-Redwall encyclopedia

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

First in a series of 3, this book is the winner of several prestigious literary awards (Hans Christian Anderson, John Newbery, Lewis Carroll, and Sequoyah Book Awards) and is on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. I finally got around to reading it this week, and I must say I was pretty surprised that it has ever been challenged. As a matter of fact, I had to do a little research to discover just why it was ever considered controversial in the first place. Before we go there, though, I better give a little plot synopsis...

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of three children's adventures through space and time travel. Meg and Charles Murry are looking to save their father from being entrapped by the Evil Black Thing, and Calvin is a friend who accompanies them. They meet three angels who help them on their journey (who give love and encouragement to the characters through Scripture quotations), and in the end are able to get themselves back safe and sound to planet Earth.

As far as the writing style goes, I'd have to say that it is a little too simplistic for the nature of the subject within. Of course, I'm reading this through eyes that have read Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, as well, so maybe at the end of the day it is more about my personal preferences than it is about the quality of writing here. Regardless of what I think, though, this book was highly controversial in its initial years of publication (early 60's). Wrinkle was considered to be a book that was "too different" from other books in 1962, and was rejected by over 20 publishers for that very reason. When I began to research the cause of all the fuss, it was mainly because Jesus Christ was mentioned in the same list as Copernicus, Einstein, Euclid, etc. as people who were fighting the Evil Black Thing. Despite the prevalence of Biblical Scripture in the plot and themes of this tale, L'Engle was heavily criticized for her "liberal Christianity." Hmm.

But even though I don't love A Wrinkle in Time as deeply as I do other works of fantastical fiction, I can wholeheartedly appreciate its apparent groundbreaking in the public's acceptance of books that are "different." Who knows? Maybe L'Engle's Wrinkle was inspiration for contemporary works of fantasy.

Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

Apparently vampires are all the rage for high schoolers and some pre-teens. The Twilight series, written by Stephanie Meyer, is about a group of Washington state teenagers...ordinary except for the fact that they just so happen to be vampires. The main character, Bella, falls for one of them (Edward Cullen), and the first 3 books in Meyer's series are about the ohsovery interesting adventures that follow the Cullen family. Yes, I realize that to say a series about vampires-especially one involving a love story between mortal and immortal-is good might seem strange. The thing about Twilight is that no plot synopsis or book review can truly do it justice. I myself raised my eyebrows and gave a weird look at the person who recommended it, and every time I try to tell someone about it, they give me that same exact look. I get it. Bear with me, though, because I am going to make an attempt here to explain.
The Cullens are indeed vampires, but have "renounced human blood based on moral grounds." Time recently featured an article (linked here) about Meyer's series, and in it I learned some pretty intriguing facts about the author and her characters. Her intended theme is the importance of doing the right thing regardless of what all the other kids are doing, and her books are free of the usuals that tend to plague young adult literature. There is no underage drinking, smoking, sex, etc. Edward and Bella rarely do anything beyond holding hands. Meyer actually shares in the Time article that she resists pressure to include intense sex scenes, because that is so prevalent elsewhere. She says that "you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It's harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just--wow."
But high school students aren't reading the Twilights because they are clean. They are reading them because of how incredibly well they are written. These stories take an ancient plot concept and give it a very fresh twist. The normal vampirish myths (intolerance for garlic, crucifixes, etc.) are debunked, but there is a pretty odd sensitivity to light that you'll have to discover for yourself. Meyer also does a fantastic job of planting little seeds of information in the first book that become huge branches of the plot in the second and third books.
So there ya go. This may not clear any at all of the confusion surrounding those vampire books, but al the very least now you'll know what the kids are reading!