For more than thirty years, William Sleator has thrilled readers with his inventive books that blend real science with stories that explore our darkest fears and wishes. His House of Stairs was a groundbreaking book for young adults, and was named one of the best novels of the twentieth century by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Critics call his writing "clever and engrossing . . . and just plain fun" (Booklist) and "gleefully icky" (Publishers Weekly). He divides his time between homes in Boston and Thailand.
Sleator (House of Stairs; Hell Phone) misses the mark with a dystopian near-future thriller that takes the doctrine of "No Child Left Behind" doctrine to extremes. The eponymous test (it "not only left kids, it got rid of them") is the all-important XCAS, and to prepare for it, students learn nothing except how to take tests; however, those who fail it cannot go to college and are barred from high-paying jobs. These have-nots are literally stuck in traffic, spinning their wheels for hours before they can reach any useful destination. Luckily Ann Forrest, the feisty heroine, can walk to and from school. When her do-gooder father, a home health aid, aggravates Mr. Warren, the mega-rich owner of the housing project where Mr. Forrest works, the Warrens send a minion on a motorcycle to attack Ann. Meanwhile Ann discovers that the Warrens also own the company that publishes the XCAS. Coincidences pile up and overload the plot: Lep, a Thai immigrant who works for the Warrens, has proof of their corruption and will do anything for Ann, who is also his classmate; a newspaper reporter just happens to witness Ann's attack; etc. Stiffly executed and obvious in its conclusions, this is more premise than story. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 7-9-In the (seemingly) not-so-distant future, the divide between the rich and the poor is greater than ever, with the wealthy having private helicopters and mansions, and the poor stuck in endless traffic and living in projects. Standardized tests determine which kids will be allowed to go to college and have a decent life. Ann's father works for Warren, the slumlord who owns the projects; when he tries to get the residents to rebel, Tony, the building manager, threatens Ann. Warren also owns the company that publishes the tests and has connections in Washington. Lep, a Thai immigrant, is asked to do illegal and dangerous things for Tony in exchange for the test answers. When Lep and Ann discover how much corruption is behind the tests, they decide to take action, thus putting their lives in danger. While the characters are somewhat flat and the writing is often repetitious, the plot is fact paced with short chapters that end in cliff-hangers, allowing the book to be a good read for moderately reluctant readers. Teens will be able to draw comparisons to contemporary society's shift toward standardized testing and ecological concerns, and are sure to appreciate the spoofs on NCLB. Although the novel wraps up too neatly, it still may be an inspiration for teens wishing to change their political/social environment.-Marie C. Hansen, New York Public Library Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.