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STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

SCARS book cover

Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

HUNTED book cover

Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.


Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Great Middle Grade Books

Wild Ride: A Graphic Guide Adventure


Wild Ride: A Graphic Guide Adventure
by Liam O'Donnell, illustrated by Mike Deas
Orca Book Publishers,(October 30, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1551437562
ISBN-13: 9781551437569

My rating:

[Marcus reading aloud from Devin's diary:]
"'And then there's Marcus Ashmore. His dad is that dude from the TV who tells us that we don't care enough about the environment. The only thing Marcus cares about is that his MP3 player batteries are charged. I hope the bears eat him first.' Eaten by bears? That's not very nice, Devin."
"Yeah, poor bears. You'd probably make them sick!"
"Playtime's over, Marcus. I've worked with your father many times, Marcus. I don't think he'd be too pleased about what you did to Devin."
"As if he'd care about what you would think. You k now what my Dad used to say about you government types? Never trust a man who brings a briefcase to the woods."
--Wild Ride by Liam O'Donnell, illustrated by Mike Deas, p. 4.

In Wild Ride one kid and two teens--Devin, Nadia, and Marcus--get on a small plane to join their parents in the wilderness of B.C., along with two adults--Mr. Wiley and the pilot. The kids' parents are there to assess the potential environmental damage that a paper company could make to the valley if they log it, and Mr. Wiley is a government official who is sent to make a report of their findings. But on the way there, their plane goes down, killing the pilot--and because their plane was off course, no one will no where to look for them. The four band together--but then Mr. Wiley's secret is uncovered, and he turns on the kids, leaving them to die in the wilderness. The children have to survive on their own and find a way to contact rescuers. Middle-grade readers will have a lot of fun with Wild Ride; it's an engaging, fast-paced story in full-color graphic novel/comic book style, with detailed survival skills built in.

The opening pages are slow--they set the background, told us where we were, who the characters were, and a bit of backstory. I would have preferred a more engaging opening. Still, after that page, we dive into the story. The bulk of the story moves quickly. Most of the text is dialogue (read in dialogue bubbles), which increases the pace of the book. There are also text boxes, some that give a short summary of previous events, others that double as dialogue, offering step-by-step survival skills.

Kids who enjoy learning or daydreaming about surviving in the wild or survival skills will really enoy the detailed instructions for various survival skills, such as what to pack in a survival pack and why, how to set a broken limb in the wild, how to safely cross a river, and much more. These details will also appeal to kids drawn to books such as The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook; learning these skills in a fun and engaging way may give some children increased confidence in living in the world. There's a kind of thrill of learning the details, how to survive. The detailed descriptions of what to include in a pocket survival kit will likely inspire some readers to make their own, and the step-by-step instructions of how to make a backpack out of just a blanket, some twine, and stones, may also encourage readers to try it out on their own.

O'Donnell (Blackbeard's Sword: The Pirate King of the Carolinas, Duncan: A Brave Rescue) inserts bits of humor into the text, which makes the story more enjoyable, and there is often great tension. The characters don't feel very rounded, but they each make visible changes throughout the course of the story, learning from their experience, and each of them have a moment of heroism. I was glad to see that Nadia, the girl character, was the most calm and cool-headed in a crisis, knowledgeable, and brave; she provides a good example. Mr. Wiley starts off as a layered character, with some depths to him, but he becomes a bit of a flat villain. Still, he moves the plot forward. The text itself is plain and at times almost clunky--there is no poetry here--but the story is enjoyable. Dialogue moves from believable and modern, to sounding preachy or just a means to insert information. The chapters end with great cliffhangers, encouraging the reader to turn the page.

The plot is simple, though there is an added layer of intrigue when it becomes revealed that one of the adults has taken a payoff from a large paper company to ensure that the company can log the area. He adds greater tension to the story. However, I found it unbelievable that the youngest boy, Devin, couldn't put the very obvious clues together; this made the story lose some credibility for me. Still, Devin's obtuseness may increase some readers' enjoyment when they can see what Devin so clearly can't.

O'Donnell skillfully sprinkled small background details or foretelling details that added credibility to the character's actions or knowledge, or later events, such as Nadia knowing so much about survival skills because she was a lifeguard for three years, or Devin knowing about bears because of the book he's been reading. This last detail also suggests the power of books--that they can be used to help one survive--a great message for any reader.

The step-by-step survival details sometimes stop the story, feeling like slightly too much information or almost like learning within what is supposed to be fiction, and yet the details are intriguing. When the details were placed as dialogue, they sometimes became almost unbelievable, especially in times of crisis (such as the forest fire). O'Donnell also used other, more creative methods of inserting the information, some of which worked particularly well and felt seamless with the story, such as the close-up of the book Devin was reading, or having Marcus read aloud the instructions for the mirror signal.

Deas' illustrations feel very kid-friendly, with a kind of childlike innocence, strong character expressions and body language, and a comic-book appeal. The color scheme changes as the scenery and weather does, giving the feeling of lush greenery, a cold blizzard, smoke and heat of a forest fire, and more. The illustrations on each page are divided up into panels of varying sizes, and this variation brings some visual freshness as well as the fun of a comic book. The illustrations also show a nice multicultural mix of characters.

Through the illustrations, the reader at times gains an added information that the characters don't have, which adds to the enjoyment and tension of the story, such as the knowledge that Mr. Wiley was watching and listening in to Devin's conversation with his sister about the letter he found, or when he sets the fire.

The illustrations are pleasing to the eye, showing so much and adding to the story. A few times, though, there were details that, had they been more vivid than fuzzy, would have added to the poignancy of the story and text, such as when they were talking about the mountain having been striped bare.

I think Wild Ride will appeal to many readers--readers who love adventure or survivalist stories; readers who like learning about survival tips; reluctant readers (there is a lot of text for a reluctant reader, but the illustrations help the story come alive); and readers who want a fun, quick story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wild Ride. Recommended!

-Added May 14, 2008

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