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In trying to think of something these three books have in common, apart from being YA, I realized they each feature a ring in a significant role. Purity rings, a sailor’s earring (sadly cut off), and a ruby ring stolen more times than I could keep track of.

Pure Pure by Terra Elan McVoy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to teens (especially girls) looking for stories about friendships or stories that deal with issues of faith in a realistic way. The book is never didactic – in fact, one of my favorite elements was the way Tabitha is devoted to her faith, even though her parents are not particularly religious. She questions things and tries to be open-minded, but holds to her principles.

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Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady (Bloody Jack, Book 2) Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady by L.A. Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
You can forgive the Bloody Jack books many things – unlikely plot points, melodrama, last-minute twists – because they have so much else going for them. I can’t think of another historical fiction series that’s as lively and comic, and I can’t imagine reading them any other way than as audiobooks. Start with Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy. I know I’ll roll my eyes when I hear what Jacky’s up to next, but I also know I’ll enjoy the ride.

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Finnikin of the Rock Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m sorry, Finnikin. I wanted to love your story. I wanted to be swept up in your struggles to return your people to their homeland, to figure out what role you would play, to find your family, to love despite all the obstacles. I just wasn’t. You can blame A Conspiracy of Kings for being too fresh in my mind and forcing me to compare the two of you, if that makes you feel better. But I just never invested in the characters, and the landscape never came alive in my mind. I kept feeling on the brink of truly caring, kept waiting for that moment that would pull it all together for me, but for all Marchetta’s subtleties, I felt like I was constantly being told how things were instead of shown. I think I’ll go reread Jellicoe Road now.

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Escape Under the Forever Sky Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

First of all, good job to the designer on this one – the paper feels nice, the size is slightly squarer than most chapter books, there are lovely designs on the first page of each chapter, and the colors of the cover and endpapers reflect the world of the book nicely. Well done.

But on to what really matters for kids picking up this book – it’s a quick, tense read. It’s easy to imagine yourself in Lucy’s position – how restricted you’d feel if you were someplace exciting but not allowed out to explore – even though most of us don’t have ambassadors for parents. She love, love, loves African animals and dreams about encountering them in the wild. She gets her opportunity, but not without consequences.

Her kidnapping is handled nicely by Yohalem – it’s scary but never truly disturbing. You believe her life is in danger and that she must escape to stay alive, but the kidnapping is political and doesn’t have any creepy overtones that would make the story inappropriate for kids (I’m thinking middle school, although it could go younger for kids who wouldn’t be freaked out by the premise).

Lucy is an appealing character, but the book is much more driven by the plot and by the setting. Readers interested in African wildlife or Ethiopia will find this a real treat – and the crazy part is getting to the end and finding out which events were actually based on a real story. I won’t tell, but it was one of those plot points that would seem completely unrealistic if it hadn’t actually happened.

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