MILA 2.0

If you enjoy books like I Am Number Four, Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, or even Cinder by Marissa Meyer, MILA 2.0 might be the book for you.

This first book in Debra Driza’s thrilling series introduces readers to Mila, a sixteen-year-old girl who has just moved with her mother to Clearwater, Minnesota. A short while ago, Mila’s father was killed, but Mila has only a few, fuzzy memories of the life she once had. Despite this, Mila is trying to make a life for herself in this small town. She’s trying to make friends and fit in, especially with popular girl Kaylee, and she’s even getting to know the new guy at school, Hunter. Everything changes, though, when her friend gets reckless on the road one day, and Mila is sent flying…

The accident should have ended Mila’s life or, at the very least, caused her serious bodily harm. Instead, she barely has a scratch…except for a little problem with her arm. When Mila, Kaylee, and Hunter examine what they expect to be a horrendous wound, however, they see something that none of them expected. Wires, tubes, and a weird, milky fluid are present where there should be muscle, bone, and blood. What is going on, and what could it mean for Mila?

Mila soon discovers a horrifying truth about herself (and the reason why her “memories” are so fuzzy). Her “mom” reveals that Mila isn’t exactly human. She’s an android, created in a lab to be used for military defense. When Mila’s mom, or co-creator, realized just how human Mila was becoming, she stole Mila, a billion dollor government investment, and went on the run. She wiped Mila’s memories of her time in a military compound and implanted new memories of a life growing up as a normal girl. If that’s the truth, though, why is Mila having disturbing flashbacks of white walls, experiments, and torture? Just what was done to her before the grand escape, and what will the powers that created her do to get her back?

Mila and her mom soon figure out that someone is after them, and they’ll do anything to capture Mila, so they go on the run once again. But what will happen when their latest escape plan leads them right back into the vile clutches of those who sought them in the first place? What will become of them? Will Mila accept her android nature and turn away from everything that made her human? Will she have a choice?

When Mila comes face-to-face with her creators and their continued work, she’ll have to rely on both her machine capabilities and human emotions (which some perceive as liabilities) to avoid her termination and her mom’s elimination. Can she pass the horrific tests set before her, or is it already too late? Is anyone willing to help her, or does everyone see her as nothing more than a disposable machine, incapable of real feeling or emotion?

Well, Mila is about to show everyone just what they’ve created, and one thing is certain. Nothing will ever be the same.

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Just like The Adoration of Jenna Fox, I think MILA 2.0 could generate some interesting discussions of bioethics, technology, and how far science should go. I’m a bit of a conspiracy nut, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some government–and I’m not saying which one–was experimenting a bit with android technology or other forms of artificial intelligence. Are these things being used for defense? I don’t know (and a big part of me doesn’t want to), but I’m sure it’s being considered. What implications could this have? Just how “human” would these machines be, and what could that mean for their effectiveness? What should be considered when terminating one of these projects? It’s difficult to wrap my mind around all of it, and books like MILA 2.0 often raise questions that even I had not thought of. I’m hoping others will feel the same.

Deep, ethical questions aside, I think MILA 2.0 is a great example of science fiction for the young adult crowd. Mila is a strong character, coming to terms with her abilities and what she is. She doesn’t, however, let these new, unexpected truths define her. Sure, she’s an android, but her “humanness” is what really makes her special. She uses what others perceive as deficiencies to her advantage, and that often gives her the edge she needs. All readers can learn something from that.

In my opinion, MILA 2.0 is a great addition to middle grade and young adult collections. It’s an electrifying read that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s also, like I mentioned, the first book in a series. The second book, MILA 2.0: Renegade, is now out, and there’s also a prequel novella, The Fire, available as a free ebook download. I’ll get to these as soon as I finish up a few other obligations.

If your interest has been piqued at all, I urge you to give MILA 2.0 a try. For more information, check out the author’s webpage, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also like the trailer below from HarperTeen. (It doesn’t give much away, but it’s worth a look!) Happy reading!

Ungifted

Ungifted by Gordon Korman is about a young troublemaker who mistakenly gets transferred to the school for the gifted in his district. I’m coming to this book with the experience of someone who was in the gifted program at school. (Unlike the situation in this book, we didn’t have a separate school…just separate classes.) In many ways, it was a lot easier to identify with the “nerds” in this book that it was with the “normals.” Throughout middle and high school, I was never interested in attending school dances, I found most of my classmates to be vapid troglodytes, and I wasn’t all that concerned with being popular. I thought it was a lot more fun to get good grades, be in the band, and make my parents happy. (Yes, I know this makes me a weirdo.  I’m cool with that.) To this day, I have trouble understanding “normal” people (and I think they could say the same about understanding me).

Having said all that, I think Ungifted is an excellent read for anyone–nerd or normal–who has ever felt out of place. Even the main character, Donovan, has moments where he doesn’t fit in. When you boil this book down to its most basic idea, it’s all about being comfortable in your own skin and finding balance in your life. Even though this book is geared mainly toward middle grade readers, I think its message is one that we could all stand to learn.

Donovan Curtis’ middle name should be “Trouble.” He can’t seem to stop himself whenever the opportunity for mischief arises. Usually, he can get out of the messes he makes…but this time is a little different. All he did was hit a statue with a stick. How was he to know that the statue actually had two parts…and one of them was loose? Could he have possibly predicted that a large metal globe would careen down the hill at school and crash into the Hardcastle Middle School gymnasium during a big basketball game? Probably not…but all of it is his fault, and he knows that a severe punishment is coming.

…or is it? Donovan knows that it’s just a matter of time before the superintendent calls him to the office for the punishment of a lifetime. Finally, the call comes…but it’s not exactly for what Donovan was expecting. It seems that there was a little mix-up, and Donovan is being transferred to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD). No detention.  No community service. No paying for the damaged gym. No, thanks to a paperwork snafu, Donovan is being moved to a school for gifted students. Nevermind that he’s not what any teacher (or parent, sibling, friend) would call “gifted.” While everyone is a little perplexed by this news, Donovan sees it as his chance to escape from the trouble he’s caused at Hardcastle Middle. After all, if he’s not there, it’ll be a lot harder for the superintendent to find him!

On Donovan’s first day at ASD, it becomes pretty clear that he doesn’t belong there. He doesn’t excel in any subject, and he spends more time in the bathroom than anywhere else. Both his teachers and his fellow students question why Donovan was placed at ASD. Soon, though, Donovan makes a place for himself at this prestigious school (that has much cooler, expensive, and newer stuff than the “normal” school down the road). Maybe what the high-IQ crowd needs most is a little dose of normal!

Donovan brings new life to his ASD homeroom. He convinces the class to give their robot a name. He shows them that playing lots of video games might give someone some mad skills in operating said robot. He gets his very pregnant sister to provide the class with a much needed human growth and development credit. He introduces one genius to YouTube (which may or may not have been a mistake). It’s also thanks to Donovan that his new friends get to experience their first school dance. (It doesn’t end well.) Even though Donovan knows he’s not really one of them, he feels more at home with his genius friends than he ever did with his trouble-making buddies at Hardcastle.

Even as he’s starting to fit in at ASD, Donovan’s past is closing in on him, and it’s just a matter of time before it’s revealed that he’s responsible for destroying the Hardcastle gym. What will happen to Donovan? And how will it effect his placement at ASD and the friendships he’s created there? Is Donovan really as “ungifted” as everyone seems to think, or do his gifts lie outside the realm of academics? Read Ungifted by Gordon Korman to learn how one kid can bridge the gap between “nerd” and “normal.”

As I said before, this book is a great read for anyone who’s ever struggled to fit in. The story is told from multiple perspectives–kid and adult, student and teacher, nerd and normal–so every reader should find something to relate to in Ungifted. I think this book highlights that everyone has gifts. Some are just more obvious than others.

Adults–specifically educators–will be struck by the educational inequalities in this book. It’s very plain that the smart kids get the newest, best stuff, while everyone else has to make do with old, worn-out buildings, substandard cafeteria food, and inadequate resources. (I’m sure most educators can think of a school or two that gets all the best stuff while the rest of us try to figure out ways to work with what we have.)

Ungifted would be a welcome addition to any upper elementary, middle, or even high school library. It’s a must-read!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Last night, I finished a truly captivating book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  I must admit that I may not have read this book had I not recently seen the trailer for the movie based on this book.  The movie, Hugo, looks entrancing, and I knew that I just had to read the book before I could allow myself to see the movie (which opens on November 23rd).  Even though the book is an intimidating 533 pages, I flew right through it.  (Of course, it helped that half of the pages were filled with illustrations that both moved the story along and made it come alive.)  It also didn’t hurt that this book has a kind of steampunk feel to it, and I am quickly becoming enamored of all things steampunk.

In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we are introduced to Hugo, an orphan, timekeeper, thief, and wonderer.  Hugo spends his days and nights in a busy Paris train station, keeping the clocks in working order for his uncle, who has seemingly vanished.  No one notices Hugo, and he does his best to keep it that way so that he doesn’t end up in an orphanage or someplace even worse.  He simply keeps the clocks running, pilfers food where he can, and works on the mechanical man, or automaton, that provides a connection to his father.

In Hugo’s quest to get the automaton working, he steals parts from toys.  As is usually the case, Hugo gets caught in the act by the toymaker.  But the old toymaker doesn’t react to Hugo’s thievery the way one would expect.  In fact, he grows sad when he sees Hugo’s precious notebook, and, after a bit of drama, he even lets Hugo help in the toy shop.  Could the old toymaker be keeping secrets of his own?  Hugo and Isabella, the toymaker’s goddaughter, soon join forces on a quest to find out about the toymaker’s past and his mysterious connection to Hugo’s mechanical man.

Can Hugo and Isabella uncover the mystery of the mechanical man?  What will they discover about Isabella’s godfather?  Join them as they travel through walls, a train station, movie theaters, libraries, and the streets of Paris to unlock the truth.

I haven’t come close to describing how wonderful this book is.  The narrative is as enchanting as the illustrations.  It’s no wonder that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal.  I just hope the movie is just as awesome as the book.

If you’re interested in seeing the movie adaptation, Hugo, here is one of the theatrical trailers.  I’d love to hear from you about how the movie stacks up to the book.

Return of the Dapper Men

It’s not often that I review graphic novels, but I had to make an exception for this one.  Return of the Dapper Men is a stunning book that will appeal to readers of all ages. (I fully intend to purchase a copy for my elementary school library.)  Children, teens, and adults will find something to love in this enchanting tale.

Jim McCann’s evocative words paired with Janet Lee’s amazing visuals combine to create not only an astounding graphic novel but also a breathtaking work of art. The imagination is stimulated by this story, and, in my opinion, that is the mark of all great art and literature.

Return of the Dapper Men, while showcasing the essence of steampunk fantasy, also brings to mind such favorite tales as The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and other beloved tales. When a book is in such company, it is no wonder that it won this year’s Eisner Award for best graphic album.

I know I haven’t really told anything about the actual story here, and that is intentional. This is one you need to experience for yourself. I hope you will find the journey as magical as I did.