Despite all the madness that has been happening in the Middle East and Africa in my lifetime, I don’t pretend to know much about the culture of those who come from these chaotic areas. Thus when I caught sight of The Red Pencil in Barnes & Nobles I was instantly drawn to the premise. This story is about Amira who is a twelve year old girl living in Darfur. Her greatest wish to to learn to read and write, however she lives in a society that believes that women should only dream about becoming wives and mothers. Events take a heart wrenching turn when Amira’s village is attacked by the Janjaweed and they are forced to leave everything behind. It is Amira’s dream that gives her the strength to move beyond the tragedy and hope for a better tomorrow.
This book is written beautifully in prose form and includes unique illustrations. I really enjoyed reading this book and it went by quick. The author’s main goal is to open the eyes of the suffering of those who have experienced war and as a result are left to live in refugee camps with meager supplies. Her tale is one of humanity and gives a face and a name to the hundreds of men, women, and children we see on the news. I am really excited to add this book to my classroom library with the hope that it will help my students open their eyes to the world around them.
Here’s another book that my students ended up picking out for me. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard was the number one choice that my after school book club picked out. When I went to pick up the copies for my kids, I noticed that this book was high up there in the YA literature world. It was singled out in almost every book store I went to as a number one pick for teens, and articles online are already starting to call it the next Hunger Games. After reading it, I wasn’t blown away by it like I was when I read the Hunger Games, but I will admit that it was really good.
It is very reminiscent of Collins’ books (the setting takes place in the future, the weaker members of society are being oppressed by the more powerful members, a strong heroine is chosen by fate to represent the change for her oppressed people), but it definitely has its own thing going on. Where as HG was purely science fiction with a huge emphasis on the dystopian genre, The Red Queen has a significant fantasy element mixed in with the futuristic dystopian feel. So much so that sometimes you forget that it’s supposed to be futuristic because of all the fantasy lingo that’s going on. You might not think that would work, but strangely it does!
I will admit that at first Mare (our main character) rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like she was written a little too angry. I felt like I was being force-fed her hatred. Over time, her personality seemed to mellow out to a degree and I ended up liking her along the way. She starts off so tough that you think that she is going to one of those girls who won’t ever admit that they were wrong purely out of pride. That changes when you see her using her head to make the best out of a bad situation, especially when she knows she’s been beat. I gave The Red Queen four solid stars. While I don’t think it’s anywhere good enough to earn five stars, the story had me hooked and the intrigue of the world that Aveyard created was fascinating.