Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Safekeeping: A Novel of Tomorrow, by Karen Hesse (Feiwel and Sons, 2012)

Release date:  September 18, 2012

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Karen Hesse is one of my favorite middle-grade novelists, and I particularly admire her historical fiction such as the Newbery-winning Out of the Dust, Stowaway, and Letters from Rivka.  So I must admit I was curious to see what she would do with the dystopian genre which continues to swamp the YA releases in the wake of the Hunger Games phenomenon.

I was not disappointed in Safekeeping, set in the near future in Hesse's home state of Vermont.  Seventeen-year old Radley, who lives a comfortable upper-class existence with her parents (her mom is a famous photographer) is working as a volunteer in a Haitian orphanage when all hell breaks loose in the US.  The president has been assassinated, the radical APP has taken power, and the government is cracking down on any dissidents.  When Radley arrives back in the US, she discovers she doesn't have the proper travel documents, her cell phone is dead, as is her credit card.  When she finally arrives home and finds her parents missing, she decides to flee to Canada--on foot--traveling largely by night, stealing food out of dumpsters to survive, and evading other travelers.  That is, at least until she meets a young girl traveling with her dog--the three of them join forces to travel to Canada and to try to make a new life there. Can they rely on the kindness of strangers?  And will Radley ever see her parents again?

Writing in the first person, Hesse blends her signature spare and poetic prose with a generous number of haunting black and white photographs, taken by the author, to create a riveting survival story of two young girls who learn to rely on each other, as well as anonymous strangers (an elderly woman farmer whom the girls dub Our Lady of the Barn).  They learn how little they really need in terms of material possessions, as long as they have companionship and love and someone to care for.  Throughout, Radley remembers her family and the orphans of Haiti, and ties their stories to her own.

I was somewhat disappointed in the last part of the novel, which I felt wrapped up the political upheaval in the US too easily, without allowing us to understand what had really happened and how the situation resolved itself.  However, since we are seeing the situation through Radley's eyes, the author might have felt that too much explanation of the political background was superfluous to the character development.

Still, this is an excellent novel--perfect to recommend to fans of The Hunger Games, the Among The Hidden series, and other dystopian books.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fourth Musketeer--Back from Africa

lilac breasted roller--national bird of Botswana
I've been on a bit of a blog hiatus since I came back from Africa about a month ago. Although I was tempted to stay in Africa and start my own bookmobile (I think I read a novel like that once upon a time), I'm back in California working my two library jobs, teaching my daughter how to drive, and enjoying our current heat wave (NOT!).

However, I've been badly bit by the safari bug after my trip and can't wait to go back to Africa.   I had a fabulous trip to Botswana's Okavango Delta, Zambia (Victoria Falls), and South Africa (Cape Town).  We were so lucky to see fantastic wildlife in Botswana, including cheetahs, lions (mostly very sleepy), leopards pretty much every day, hyena, jackal, wild dogs, zebra, giraffe, elephants, antelope, wart hogs, lots of wonderful birds, and beautiful scenery--it was hard not to go around singing all the songs from the Lion King, in fact!  No bugs or snakes, by the way...apparently too cold at that time of year in Botswana.

Mother cheetah and two cubs hiding in the grass

leopard cub in a tree
sleepy lion....

After our safari in Botswana, we visited Victoria Falls, where we not only admired the stupendous scenery but also rode in the bush on a huge African elephant, took a microlight plane over the Falls, and took a safari walk where we saw a rhino and her baby a few feet from where we were walking (with a guide who carries a rifle, just in case...)

Here I am in the microlight, with Vic Falls underneath!  That's me in back (and a licensed pilot in front)

In Cape Town, I enjoyed delivering a suitcase full of children's books I had brought from California to Help2Read, a grassroots literacy organization that uses volunteers to go into the schools in both Cape Town and Johannesburg to help struggling readers. I had found Help2Read through Books for Africa, an American non-profit.  I came laden with some of my personal favorites such as Captain Underpants as well as many easy readers and picture books.  I know the books will go to good use in classrooms in schools around Cape Town.

delivering books in Cape Town
If you'd like to see more photos from my trip (with my 42X zoom I felt like I was a photographer from National Geographic!) feel free to check out my Smilebook which has a selection of the best of the photos from the trip!

Hope all my blog friends have been having a great summer...I'll be posting more soon on some of my recent reads.

Enhanced by Zemanta