Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cinder is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella. There are plenty of Cinderella retellings but this one presents a unique world with great villains. The Lunar queen’s ability to change people’s emotions and actions, as well as use glamour to change her appearance, is intriguing and she’s portrayed as the perfect icy queen. Cinder’s stepmother is similarly well done; the moment when she sends Cinder essentially to her death as a plague volunteer is powerful. Some of the plotting, however, felt heavy handed. Often hints of plot points or reveals came too soon before the actual important plot point or reveal so that it was obvious what the author was trying to set up. Similarly, I could predict (SPOILERS ahead!) that Cinder was the Lunar princess by page 50 yet it’s supposed to be the big reveal of the book. On the other hand, some plot elements felt as if they were pulled, sometimes nearly word for word, from a traditional version of Cinderella. With predictable plot elements in both the unique retelling aspects and traditional expected parts it was difficult to get pulled into the story.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
This was just the most delightful middle grade—and historical, my favorite! The middle grade voice is perfectly appropriate, and despite so many bad things happening to cute Miss Malone, the tone is hopeful and uplifting.
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
This is a bittersweet story about Louise, the older of two twins, who feels that her twin Caroline gets everything—a better education, her mother’s love, even her friends. The setting of a small island off the coast of Maryland during World War II added a nice bit of historical detail to very timeless themes. Louise’s anger is so spot on to the tween experience and the reveal of when Caroline triumphs over Louise, (SPOILERS ahead) especially by marrying Louise’s best friend, is heartbreaking.The religious basis for this novel (the title is taken from a Biblical passage and it is important for the sibling rivalry) was surprising and I’m not sure if it would appeal to a modern audience. Recently I heard that it was mentioned at the A Wrinkle in Time 50th anniversary celebration that that novel wouldn’t be published today because of the religious aspects and The Hunger Games wouldn’t have been published then because of the violence. Although Jacob Have I Loved is not nearly as old as A Wrinkle in Time a 21st-century reader’s lack of education or interest in religion could turn them off to reading this novel or, at the very least, cause the Biblical references go over their heads. I have to admit—for three quarters of the story I was waiting for a boy named Jacob to show up and for Louise to fall in love with him!