Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphina Bibliographic information

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (978-0-385-66839-2)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician who has just recently found a place in the royal court as a new assistant to the court composer. Her love of music encouraged her to defy her father and come to court even though she had been taught to blend in and hide since childhood as her mere existence is considered an aberration to both sides of her parentage. Her mother was a saarantrai; a dragon in human form. It wasn’t until her death and Seraphina’s birth that her father learned that the woman he loved wasn’t really a human.

Seraphina’s musical talents draw her into the inner circle of the Princess  Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucien Kiggs. As Seraphina’s knowledge about dragons becomes known, she finds herself in the unique position of helping Kiggs, who is also Captain of the Queen’s Guard, try to solve a mysterious murder. She has come into the world of court at a time of high drama; it appears that Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon just before Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon’s leader, arrives to celebrate the anniversary of a treaty between their two nations. Someone is trying to destroy that peace treaty and Seraphina may hold the key to peace – or to war. But the more time she spends with the observant Captain, the closer he gets to learning her terrible secret.

Critical evaluation

Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina, received a number of richly deserved accolades including the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel and the Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Seraphina was also a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada), short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK), and long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (“Seraphina”).

Hartman’s tightly spun plot tells the story of the musically talented Seraphina. Told through Seraphina’s voice, the reader is first introduced to a scared young woman afraid to be noticed. As the plot develops, however, Seraphina’s character is shown to be increasingly complex as the reader is given glimpses of the depth of her confusion and self-loathing about her dragon heritage as she relates memories of her childhood. This coming-of-age story follows a remarkable heroine on her road to self-acceptance.

The kingdom of Goredd has the flavour of the Italian Renaissance with the rich interest in the arts, opulent dress, and focus on politics. Indeed, Hartman has aptly developed two cultures; one based on humanism focusing on creativity, art and emotion and the other based on the founding ideals of the Enlightenment with its focus the intellect, reason, and objectivity. These two ideals are embodied in the character of Seraphina who, being half dragon and half human, is struggling to accept herself as something more than the monster that both societies view her as.

Reader’s annotation

Seraphina’s gift of music came from her dragon heritage. But, when a dragon becomes the main suspect in a royal murder, that closely guarded secret could undermine her growing relationship with Prince Lucien Kiggs, destroy her family and, perhaps, throw the kingdom into war.

Information about the author

According to her website, , Rachel was born in Kentucky. She has lived throughout the United States, England, and Japan and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has a BA in Comparative Literature but “eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books.”

Challenge issues:

  • none

Seraphina is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy fiction, subgenre: animal

Curriculum ties: none

Booktalking ideas:

  • Read the section where Seraphina is describing her garden
  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Conflict of the rational vs emotion
  • Use of music as a plot device
  • Fear of the “other”
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest:

  • 15 and up
  • Grade level 4.6

Why did you include this title?:

  • Canadian author
  • Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, Cybils Award,Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada),Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK),Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal
  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Rebel Heart by Moira Young

Rebel Heart

Bibliographic Information:

Young, M. (2012). Rebel Heart. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (9978-0-385-67186-6)

Dust Lands bk. 2

Plot Summary:

Rebel Heart, the second book in the Dust Lands series, follows Saba and her family’s attempt to move on from the deception and destruction sown in Blood Red Road. Lugh wants nothing more than to take their small family and start a new life at the Big Water. He wants to forget his time with the Tonton and all the misery they have lived through.

Saba, however, is being followed by too many ghosts to allow her to find peace. When a message comes from Jack, she decides to risk everything to find him and get him away from the Tonton. While hunting for Jack, Saba is reunited with another of her nightmares, DeMalo.

Critical Evaluation:

First person narrative is a common motif in young adult literature. This narrative mode has many benefits to an author. First, the immediacy of the telling can quickly draw a reader into the plot. It also a great way for an author to control the information the reader is receiving as the narrator’s understanding is limited to, and shaped by, his own experience and what he has been told. Young uses this technique to demonstrate the duality that exists in Saba’s character: she is strong and determined but vulnerable and filled with guilt.

Through allowing Saba to tell her own story, Young depicts the typical flawed hero often associated with high fantasy plots. Young’s post-apocalyptic setting provides a contemporary feeling to the typical hero’s quest. In this, the Dust Land series follows a current trend of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels starring strong female protagonists which includes The Hunger Games, Legend, Shatter Me, and Divergent.

Saba has many similarities to the female protagonists in the books listed above. One of the main differences is her voice. Young’s future is one where literacy is limited; where the very language is decaying. As a result, Saba’s dialect is filled with misspelled words, contractions, and grammatically incorrect sentences. The result is jarring and uncomfortable to a reader used to novels following the rules and conventions of English – which is the point. This devolution of language is echoed in the harsh, barren landscape where Saba lives.

Reader’s Annotation:

Saba, now known as the “Angel of Death,” has successfully rescued her brother Lugh but at what cost? The sacrifices made have marked her and her brother. When a message comes from Jack, she knows she must risk going to New Eden to rescue him but New Eden has some more surprises for her – who is Jack really working for and what does she really want? Maybe there is a place for her in creating this brave new world – maybe she does not have to be its’ destroyer.

Information About the Author:

Although Moira Young was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, she graduated from high school in Winnipeg, Manitoba. After completing a history degree at the University of British Columbia, Moira attended the The Drama Studio in London, England. She had a short-lived career in theatre as both an actor and dancer. After retraining, she continued her stage career as an opera singer (“Moira Young”).

Blood Red Road was her first book.

Young was an avid reader in her youth. Explaining she said, “I was hungry for books, I devoured them. Libraries provided boundless food for my imagination, shelves full of ideas and thoughts and possibilities. I’d quite like to be buried in a library, there among the stacks” (“Moira Young: About the Author”).


  • Dystopian
  • Post-apocalyptic
  • Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • English – voice, hero tale
  • Companion book for dystopian unit

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read-alikes for The Hunger Games
  • Girls kick butt too
  • Unique narrative voices

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Lexile Level: HL420L

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Sex

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?:

I chose to include Rebel Heart for the following reasons:

  • Blood Red Road won the Costa Children’s Book Award, was a Cyblis Award Winner for fantasy and science fiction. Rebel Heart received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.
  • Moira Young is a Canadian author with a Winnipeg connection.
  • Dystopian literature is very popular right now.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Bibliographic information

Green, J. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books. (978-0-525-478812)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Lancaster knows she is going to die. She has been waiting for the inevitable for the last three years.  So far, the miracle drug, Phalanxifor has held the cancer at bay and she has found that she has a lot of time on her hands; time she fills sleeping and watching reality television. Her activities, or lack thereof, convince her mother that she is depressed and insists she attend a weekly Support Group.

Hazel finds the Support Group depressing until a gorgeous boy, Augustus Waters, attends with his friend Isaac. Augustus’ friendly overtures, although initially rebuffed, soon win over Hazel. Hazel finds the witty and charming Augustus fascinating; which concerns her because she sees herself as a grenade that will inevitably explode and hurt anyone close to her. Until now, she has kept her distance from everyone except her family to minimize the casualties she is going to cause.

As their friendship develops, Hazel shares with Augustus her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. Hazel’s dream is to meet the author, Peter Van Houten, and to find out what happened to the characters in the book. Augustus, who is also a cancer survivor, decides to use the Wish he received from the Genie Foundation to take her to Amsterdam to meet him. During the trip, Augustus and Hazel learn that not all stories have happy endings and that joy does exist even in a tragedy.

 Critical evaluation

In many ways Green’s book would make an excellent companion to Macbeth, from which the title is derived. Not only does Green consider the themes of fate and self-determination as Shakespeare does but he, like Shakespeare, uses humour liberally throughout his text. Green uses humour primarily to provide depth to his characters but it also adds an added level of tragedy to his tale. Also, like Shakespeare, Green uses character foils to further emphasize particular choices and attitudes of his characters.

Reader’s annotation

Hazel Grace Lancaster has been waiting to die for the past three years. In fact, she was about to die three years ago when a miracle drug, Phalanxifor, provided her a stay of execution. Now, she just has to figure out how to live while she waits for the inevitable. When she meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group she begins to realize that it may not take courage to die but it will take courage to live.

Information about the author

An award winning author, John Green has written Looking for Alaska (2006 Michael L. Printz Award, An Abundance of Katherines (2007 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book), Paper Towns (2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery) and The Fault in Our Stars (2013 Odyssey Award Audiobook)

Green stays connected with his readers through his video blog, Brotherhood 2.0, that he operates with his brother.

Genre: Reality, Tragedy

Curriculum ties: English curriculum – good companion book to Macbeth and Hamlet – concepts of fate and self-determination

Booktalking ideas:

  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Tragedy/humour
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest: 

  • 13 and up
  • Grade reading level 5.5

Challenge Issues

  • Premarital sex

Why did you include this title in the books you selected?:

John Green is a popular young adult author who creates realistic stories without the sensationalism found in many problem novels. He develops quirky characters that are relatable with teens and his liberal use of humour is often used to emphasize serious issues. Although realistic, his novels are hopeful, which can balance some of the more grim young adult literature found in collections.

Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Bulletin

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City-of-a-Thousand-Dolls1 City of a Thousand Dolls  by Miriam Forster

Bibliographic information:

Forster, M. (2013). City of a Thousand Dolls. New York: HarperTeen. (978-0-06-212130-1).

Plot summary:

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls as a young child. The City of a Thousand Dolls is a place where orphan and unwanted girls are placed as infants or young children. There, they are trained in one of the eight houses to be musicians, healers, courtesans, and wives of nobility. Nisha arrived at the City too old to be placed in any of the Houses and so her place is somewhat tenuous as she belongs to none of the Houses but has trained in most of them. Over time, she found a place for herself as a servant and assistant to the Matron of the City.

She is now old enough to take part in the Redeeming. During the Redeeming, a person can claim a girl as an apprentice or a wife by paying a specified price, which is intended to compensate the City for her training. Nisha knows her chances of being chosen are slim but when she catches the eye of a young noble, she begins to dream that he will speak for her and she will be able to leave the City of Dolls for a new life. Nisha’s dreams are further imperiled when she catches the eye of another, who is willing to purchase her as a slave prior to the Redeeming; something that could happen because of her murky past and lack of connections.

When a series of murders threaten the security of the City, Nisha bargains to try to solve the mysterious deaths in exchange for her own freedom.

Critical evaluation:

Forster allows Nisha to tell her own story choosing to use first person narrative. This convention is common in both mystery fiction and in young adult literature. By using this convention, the author allows the reader immediate access into the thoughts and feelings of her protagonist; a successful technique when writing for a teen audience. Using first person narrative is also traditional in mysteries allowing the reader to uncover clues at the same time as the narrator.

The plot of the story follows many of the conventions found in fantasy writing; a mysterious heritage, unknown protector, and magical creatures. There is little new in this. Forster’s novel is successful, to a large measure, because of her well-thought out setting. By setting her story into a South-Asian inspired context, she is able to bring the real issue of a controlled family size policy found in China with a culture of undervaluing girls to her fantasy. These concepts provide a very modern context for the fictional City of a Thousand Dolls. To this, she has added the details to provide further foundation to her story; the girls being trained for specific tasks by the different houses, which provides some excellent secondary characters for Nisha to interact with.

Reader’s annotation:

Nisha must solve the murders occurring in the City of a Thousand Dolls to save her own life and the life of her friends. While trying to uncover the mystery, Nisha soon learns that there is more to her own story than what she was led to believe when she was abandoned at the gates of the City years below. Do the nomadic Kildi play a role in the murders? And what do the tribe of cats who call the City home know of the present mystery and her own murky past?

Information about the author:

City of a Thousand Dolls is the debut novel by Miriam Forster. In her blog, Dancing with Dragons is hard on Your Shoes, she describes herself as a “recovering barista” and “a bit of a hermit.” She is currently working on a companion book.


  • Mystery
  • Fantasy
  • Romance

Curriculum ties:

  • Social justice issues
  • World History – China: one child policy, India: caste system

Booktalking ideas:

Reading level/interest:  13 and up

Challenge issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book in the titles chosen?:

  • City of a Thousand Dolls was recommended by an avid teen reader who appreciated the originality of the setting and characters that wraps a tradition fantasy theme of a young protagonist finding out she is special and in the process becomes a hero. I included it because of the mystery elements.