Illegal Chocolate And Mafia Princesses In Great Dystopian Hunger Games Read Alike

All These Things I've Done (Birthright, #1)

Gabrielle Zevin is coming to my library for an author visit.  All These Things I’ve Done is my favorite book of hers I’ve read so far.  16-year-old Anya is the daughter of notorious mafia boss, Leonyd Balanchine.  He and her mother were murdered so it is up to Anya to take care of her special needs older brother, Leo and her little sister, Natty.   Their legal guardian is Galina, their bedridden grandmother who is in extremely poor health.   It is the year 2083 where water is scarce.  Chocolate and caffeine are illegal.  Very few people have cell phones and if you want to send an email you have to pay first.  The Balanchine crime family deals in chocolate.  They were chocolate makers before it became a banned substance.  The book brings up interesting discussion points about what could be made illegal and why.  She goes to catholic school where she meets and adorable new boy named Win.  Win just happens to be the son of the new and very ambitious Assistant DA.  You can see where this is going.   Anya is a strong female character who makes difficult choices to keep her brother and sister safe.  Readers who love The Hunger Games will enjoy her.  She reminds me of Katniss with her ability to made personal sacrifices for the people she loves.  Zevin did a great job world building to create this dystopian future and characters I cared about.  Adult readers who like The Sopranos will like this mafia tale.  Galina reminds me a little of Livia Soprano in that she could have been a strong mobster in her own right.  I enjoyed this star crossed lovers romance.  Book 2 in the Birthright series, Because It Is My Blood, comes out on September 18th.  I look forward to getting my hands on it to find out what happens.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Why do you think chocolate is now illegal?
If you could make something illegal what would it be and why?
Talk about the differences between Win and the boys Anya is used to.
Anya knows she may have to give Win up to protect her family.  What would you do?
Talk about the vintage clothes.  What would you want to keep in your closet?
Anya and her friends do not have cell phones or texting. What do you think that is like?  How would that change your relationships?
The book takes place in the year 2083.  What do you think it will be like then?
Compare Anya with Katniss from The Hunger Games.

Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens Is Snarky and Hilarious!

Beauty Queens

So a bunch of beauty queens crash land on an island.  It sounds like the beginning of a great joke.  Instead it is the premise of Libba Bray’s fantastic book, Beauty Queens.  Bray is one of my favorite authors.  She never disappoints!  The contestants of the Teen Dream Pageant are stuck on an island, hoping to be rescued.  At first they practice their talents and show numbers, but then realize they need to figure out to survive.  Bray’s snarky writing makes for a hilarious read.  She does a bit of a character study on each of the surviving beauty queens.  Very few of them are what they seem and they all have secrets.  It does remind me of Lost in that way, not to mention the whole island with secretive people on the other side thing.  The most famous Teen Dream Beauty Queen is Ladybird Hope.  She is an inspiration to several of the girls and her shameless self worship and ambition is very funny.  The Mo Mo B. Cha Cha dictator character is priceless.  Bray also sprinkles commercials for beauty products throughout the book that are outrageous.  I love the way many of those products become weapons as the story unfolds.  The reality shows are equally outrageous but not to far away from what we watch now.  Which is pretty sad.  She not only makes fun of beauty queens but has created a wonderful satire on our popular culture and what it means to be beautiful.  I love the idea of girls really finding themselves once they are separated from popular culture.  I read this book right after reading, Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.  Reading both of them together was a rich experience.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Talk about the advertisements and what techniques they use to get someone to buy their products.  Talk about commercials they like.

Discuss reality TV.

Talk about Mary Lou’s sister’s romance where she says, “And she wanted so much to make him happy that she forgot how to make herself happy.” (pg. 171)

Discuss this passage, “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves.  Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” (pg. 177)

If you were stuck on an island what are the three things you would want with you?

Discuss what it means to be a “between person.” (pg. 191)

Discuss this passage, “…sometimes the truth does not set you free.  Sometimes, it was a hard, lonely prison of a place to be.” (pg. 191)

Discuss this quote from Taylor, “I think I was always in the jungle.  Before.  It was always there.  I think I had to come out here to find the answer.” (pg. 352)

Talk about Ladybird Hope and her quest to make girls mimic her and be perfect like her.

Have any of the teens been involved with pageants?  What was it like?