A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this post-apocalyptic fantasy starts off with the murder of the main character's father and the kidnapping of her twin brother. Saba is then kidnapped and forced to cage fight, causing the death of many opponents (though the fights aren't described in detail). There are additional deaths with arrows, near-misses in a raging river, and a scary nighttime ambush by giant worm creatures. It seems that everyone except the main characters and their enemies is addicted to a drug called chaal or grows it as a slave. Stubborn Saba is hard to like at first, but she's brave and resourceful, and after a while she learns to accept the help of friends.
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What's the story?
After Saba watches her father killed and her twin dragged off by mysterious robed men, she vows to save her brother at all costs -- and all on her own. But her 9-year-old sister, Emmi, won't be left behind. The little girl becomes bait after kidnappers drug Saba, drag her into the desert, and force her to cage fight: If she escapes, they'll kill her sister. Of course, if she loses three times, she'll die anyway. In the cage-fighters' prison, Saba learns more about the mysterious robed men and the disturbing reason they want her brother. If she's going to save him, she needs to get to the hidden Freedom Fields before midsummer. Enter a group of women robbers called the Free Hawks and a cocky male cage fighter named Jack. Saba needs them all, whether she likes it or not.
Is it any good?
Saba, like the book's intentionally messy grammar, takes some warming up to. She's mean to her sister, doesn't seem upset enough over her father's death, and is determined not to accept help from anyone. Oddly enough, it's her cage fighting that starts to make her real and likeable. Suddenly she's cunning, confident, and just plain awesome. As she hatches a daring escape plan, the book hits its stride. The action scenes are great all around; they keep readers on the edge of their seats without gratuitous gore. Saba's love interest has just enough secrets and swagger to keep things interesting, and the minor characters who join the quest all bring out more good in Saba.
There's still a bit that's unexplored here, including the what and why of Dustland. Even so, this is a great effort for a first-time author, and readers will be eager to see the next two installments.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of books about a dismal future for the human race. Why do you think they appeal so much to teen readers? What does this book have in common with other dystopian novels?
While there isn't gratuitous gore, there's a lot of violence in this book. Does the fantasy setting make it any easier to handle? Is it different to read about violent acts than it is to see them in a movie or video game?
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