A Time to Dane – Padma Venkatraman

diversity in YA, novel in verse, religious

Veda is a trained prodigy in bharatanatyam dance.  In India, she is well respected as a skilled dancer.  When a bus accident results in the partial amputation of her leg, she not only loses the ability to dance, but also her connection to the story of the dance and its significance to her culture.

Trying to overcome the unfairness of the accident is only part of her struggle, she must learn that her identity as a dancer must change or disappear altogether.  Knowing dance is in her heart, she finds strength to not only begin dancing using her prosthetic leg, but to begin many aspects of her life again.  Helping her along is her lovely grandmother who has supported Veda in dance and life and Jim, the American doctor who fixes and teaches Veda how to use her new leg.  Veda is strong and resilient and when her dance teacher refuses to continue teaching her, she finds another dance teacher who isn’t put off by her disability.  In fact, it’s at this new studio where she meets Govinda, a young dancer and dance teacher, who treats Veda as an artist.

This is a story about more than dance, but the spirituality of dance cannot be ignored.  It’s as important to the story as any character.  This is a beautiful novel about healing the mind, body, and spirit.

Everywhere in Everything

Everywhere, in everything, I used to hear music.                                                                        …

in the scents of cumin, coriander, and red chili.                                                                   Wrap my arms around Paati’s plush body.                                                                                   At night I’d hear music                                                                                                                         in the buzz of hungry mosquitoes                                                                                           swarming outside my mosquito net, …

In the grey-green hospital room                                                                                                 silence                                                                                                                                         stretches.                                                                                                                                      (42-43)


Changling – by Phillipa Gregory


An heiress denied her inheritance, a priest on an inquisition, and the survival of Christendom is at stake.  Phillipa Gregory certainly does her research and while I’ve never read one of her adult books, I found this YA to be as good as any BBC period piece.  Very detailed characters, creative plots, and full descriptions of what life was like in Medieval times whether you were a nun, servant, or nobleman.  Gregory’s writing is more mature than most YA books but that is due to her successful writing career for adult books and also a welcome change from dystopian or realistic fiction.

I’ve had a few students read this series and they have all returned loving it – boys and girls, so that’s impressive as well.

The Story:

Luca is a priest who the monks pull out of bed one night and he is questioned.  His habit of questioning, reading, and investigating has made him stand out and when he fears he will be tried for heresy, he learns he is, in fact, going on a mission for the Pope  – to find the truth in tales and occurrences that seem to show the end of days is at hand.  His travel mates are a servant (often the voice of reason, but more often some comic relief) Freize and priest who gets the orders and keeps record of their findings.

Next we meet Isolde, a lady whose father has just died and whose brother is about to ship her off to a nunnery.  With her she takes a few belongings and her friend/servant Ishraq – a woman skilled and instructed by scholars, not a slave, but a childhood friend who Isolde’s dad brought back from travels abroad.  Ishraq has powers and skills we learn throughout the book.

The men meet the ladies when they are sent to the nunnery to investigate strange stories and hallucinations of the nuns. When it appears the newly appointed Isolde and Ishraq are to blame for witchcraft, Luca must learn the truth.  The story continues as the group travels to the next village assignment and come across a superstitious town who has captured a believed werewolf.   Luca, and crew, are always able to find the truth, and in between these investigations for the church we learn  more about our 5 travelers and see their relationships grow.

This is not historical fiction, Gregory is quickly to explain, since none of these characters are based on real people – unlike her adult books – but these are all fictional characters based on research.  It’s a neat alternative if you are sort of into historical fiction or like medieval times.

Click here to see The Order of Darkness’ Website

Series continues with Stormbringers and Fool’s Gold

The Dead and the Gone (The Last Survivors #2) – Susan Beth Pfeffer



This is a parallel story-line of The Last Survivors.  As the second of the series, it is not a continuation, but an introduction to a new family trying to survive in the world after the meteor hit the moon out of orbit. As tsunamis hit, electricity disappears, and shortages of food are the new life for the Morales family, 17 year old Alex becomes the family patriarch.  Alex is a teenager who finds himself suddenly in charge of his younger sisters Bree (16) and Julie (12).  Their father is missing after traveling to Puerto Rico and their mother is missing after taking the subway to her job.  Neither parent have been heard from.

This story skips all the environmental developments that Life as We Knew It offers and focuses more on the family.  After reading the first in the series, where life was much more difficult than in this one, it seems a completely different life in New York verses middle America.  I kept reading waiting for the same destitute to hit the Morales family, but no…. schools stayed open, lunches given, and the food distribution that arrived at the very end of the first book was introduced in the middle of this second installment.  I didn’t understand how on the coast, life was better, when the tsunamis should have affected them more.  Also – where were the volcanoes and earthquakes [ok, so they were mentioned, but not a lot]?

Finally an explanation comes as to why New York is surviving better than the rest of the country – privilege and even saving the art, books, the United Nations, etc.  Depending on the part of town you lived in people were more well off than other parts of New York City.

This has less environmental-based action than the first in the series, but has a much darker tone when Alex gets the flu and hallucinates Hell and then Heaven (and comments of the dead) and the final chapters with the family trying to survive.  They are a very devout family, the children all go to Catholic school, so if you don’t want an element of religion – skip this one.

Much like the first in the installment, at the end of this one there is an element of hope.

14 and over

Next in the series: The World We Live In