Summary: 16-year-old Cameron doesn’t care much about anything. But being diagnosed with mad cow disease solves that problem.
Review: Utterly, positively funny. The wit and sarcasm drips off every single page of this book, so much so that I became immune to it after a while. I tend to prefer the brand of funny that hides around the next corner and startles a laugh out of me.
Maybe I would have felt differently if I had started out liking the main character. But he is so incredibly apathetic at the beginning that I didn’t feel compelled to care in return. Then about halfway through, I did start rooting for him.
Because guess what? When Cameron started to care about what was going on around him, I started to care too. And it didn’t hurt that the Don Quixote parallels meant I could relive my English major days.
I enjoyed this book, although it was just alright for me. Could be I wasn’t in the right mood when I read it. Here’s a taste so you can decide whether it’s right for you:
The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.
I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.
Like Career Day? Really? Do we need to devote an entire six hours out of the high school year to having “life counselors” tell you all the jobs you could potentially blow at? Is there a reason for dodgeball? Pep rallies? Rad soda commercials featuring Parker Day’s smug, fake-tanned face? I ask you.
But back to the best day of my life, Disney, and my near-death experience.
I know what you’re thinking: WTF? Who dies at Disney World? It’s full of spinning teacups and magical princesses and big-assed chipmunks walking around waving like it’s absolutely normal for jumbo-sized stuffed animals to come to life and post for photo ops. Like, seriously.(less)
Summary: Most people think Terra is beautiful, until they see the port-wine birthmark on her cheek. Surgery won’t remove it, makeup can’t cover it up all the way, and her father certainly won’t let her forget it’s there.
Review: From the first sentence, this story firmly planted me in Terra’s shoes. Terra’s experience will make you realize how focused we are on a single definition of beauty—who has it and who doesn’t. When I was a good ways into the book, I was out at a coffee shop and standing in line. I caught a kid staring at me, and immediately my hand flew to my cheek. There’s no birthmark on my cheek, but the book made me feel for Terra’s situation so completely that for a split second I thought otherwise.
As if dealing with stares and nasty comments from strangers weren’t enough, Terra’s home situation will break your heart. Her dad is verbally abusive and controlling, almost beyond belief. Terra copes well enough by writing him off, but her mom copes by overeating. This subplot, while powerful, felt a little over-the-top at times. In some scenes, Terra’s mom was just a little too pitiful, and I didn’t believe she was really that weak.
The other reason I didn’t connect 100% with this book is the amount of internal dialogue where Terra explains what she’s feeling. When it comes to internal dialogue, I’m in the camp of less is more. Terra would explain the same emotional struggles over and over again, and I found myself skipping over those parts to get to the action.
But the harsh reality of Terra’s struggles kept me grounded in the story, and the romance felt genuine. This was a good read, just not a favorite for me.(less)
Summary: High school senior Nora and her best friend are lab partners in biology, but for some reason their teacher makes a new seating chart with only weeks left in the year. Nora gets stuck with the new guy who she feels simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by.
Review: This book was lucky to get even a 1-star rating from me. The star it did earn is based purely on the writing—which I thought was good for the most part save for some repetitive internal dialogue—and nothing to do with the actual story.
Because I hated the actual story.
Nora’s love interest, Patch, is downright abusive to her, but she keeps coming back for more. It’d be one thing if through the relationship, she learned to assert herself or learned that she doesn’t deserve to be treated that way or learned anything about herself, actually. Nope.
Nora can tell he wants to hurt her, at least emotionally if not also physically. And it seems to make her want Patch all the more.
Maybe I just need to get over it. After all, it’s just a story. A bit of candy in book form. At least it gets kids to turn off the TV and read.
But…is it “just a story”? Here’s a quick snippet from a book called Influencer, which looks at behavioral science research to determine what motivates people to change their behavior.
Entertainment education helps people change how they view the world through the telling of vibrant and credible stories. Told well, these vicariously created events approximate the gold standard of change—real experiences… We can use words to persuade others to come around to our way of thinking by telling a story rather than firing of a lecture… A well-told narrative…changes people’s view of how the world works because it presents a plausible, touching, and memorable flow of cause and effect that can alter people’s view of the consequences of various actions or beliefs.
Meaning? Stories matter. Lectures from parents and teachers, not so much. Stories—and the messages they carry—break through where nagging doesn’t and make a real impact.
The impact books like this and Twilight will make—are making—scares me. Not because I imagine girls will finish the book, set it down, and think to themselves “Golly gee, I’d sure like to find me an emotionally abusive boy.” The problem is they won’t think about it. They’ll get caught up in the story, which will leave an imprint on their sensibilities.
I wish this were just an irrational fear of mine. Unfortunately, research has proven this is exactly what happens. Again, from Influencer:
Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because they transport people out of the role of critic and into the role of participant. The more poignant, vibrant, and relevant the story, the more the listener moves from thinking about the inherent arguments to experiencing every element of the tale itself. Stories don’t merely trump verbal persuasion by disproving counterarguments; stories keep the listener from offering counterarguments in the first place.
So why did this book get my dander up? Because this is the message it mainlines to girls: A boy who abuses you is hot. The reason he abuses you is he truly loves you. If you put up with the abuse long enough, he’ll prove his love to you and it will all be worth it.(less)
Summary: 16-year-old Gretchen doesn’t fit in at The Manhattan School for Art and Music, something weird is going on between her parents, and her best friend seems to be avoiding her.
Review: This one was just okay for me.
I was liking the story until about halfway through when the action slowed way down. I’m not spoiling anything you can’t get from the Amazon description—and maybe I’m outing myself as a jaded old married lady—but in particular, I could have done without the pages of reflection on the male anatomy.
The pace picks up again in the last 30 pages or so. But after no real action for so long, it seemed like everything wrapped a little too neatly.
Here’s a taste so you can decide for yourself. Gretchen is talking to her best friend, Katya, about a guy named Titus:
Later that afternoon, Sanchez the gym teacher makes us play dodgeball, which leaves bruises all over my legs. I’m not that fast, and I get hit a lot. Titus hits me twice.
“Do you think it means something?” I ask Katya after gym, sitting on the locker room bench in a towel.
Katya is naked in the shower like that’s a normal way to have a conversation. She’s washing her hair like she’s just everyday naked in front of people.
Well, we are everyday naked in front of people. Gym is five days a week, shower required. But anyway, Katya is having a naked conversation like it doesn’t even bother her, which it obviously doesn’t—even though she’s not built like a model, just regular.
The locker room is so cramped and tiny that I can feel the warm spray of her shower water on my knee as I’m sitting on the bench.
“It would have meant something if we were sixth graders,” says Katya, scrunching her eyes as she rinses out the shampoo.
Summary: Three stories, each about a different girl and a kiss. And no ordinary kiss, either. These kisses carry a dangerous promise to forever change the girls’ lives.
Review: I must read more by this author. Soon after I started this book, I was jotting down page numbers of quotes left and right. When I hit page 100 and had filled up an entire post-it with page numbers, I decided I’ll just have to reread this someday.
These stories are weird, but deliciously so. They reminded me of Pretty Monsters, which I also loved.
The only reason this book didn’t get 5 stars from me is that the ending of the first story let me down a bit. I wanted more conclusion, but I don’t read many short stories so I’m probably just not calibrated for them.
Here’s a taste for you from the first story about a girl named Kizzy whose grandmother has just passed away:
Sometimes Kizzy imagined her grandmother knife-fighting her way down the long tunnel of death, but mostly her daydreams were of a very different nature. She daydreamed of slow-dancing with Mike Crespain and of sitting on his lap at lunch while he hugged her around the waist instead of Sarah Ferris, his knuckles resting lightly against the underside of her breasts instead of Sarah’s. She daydreamed about having slim ankles like Jenny Glass instead of peasant ankles like the fetlocks of a draft horse. About smooth hair instead of coarse hair, sleek hips instead of belly dancer’s hips. About a tinkling laugh, and a butterfly tattoo, and a boy who would tuck his hand into her back pocket while they walked, and press her up against a fence to suck her lower lip like a globe of fruit.
That’s hot. The next paragraph is even better, but I would’ve had to give you more background to the story.
Summary: Fire is part-human, part-monster. The monster part of her makes men wild and full-fledged monsters crave her blood. The human part has to cope with having the power to enter people’s minds and bend them to her will.
Review: I was a tad bit bummed to find out we wouldn’t be seeing the next round of steaminess from Katsa and Po in this book. But I need not have worried because parts of this story rivaled a sauna.
This book was a little slow getting off the ground, but it picked up in the second half. Part of that is that I had trouble clearly seeing Fire’s motivation in the first half.
What saved it for me and why I kept reading—aside from the yummy bits, of course—was that the world Cashore created is completely engrossing. I mean, monsters?! But I totally bought it from page one.
Also, did I mention the romance comes in the ever-so-delicious flavor of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet?(less)
Summary: After 17-year-old Ben’s dad announces that he’s gay, Ben rebels by skipping school and doing drugs. Then his dad decides they’re moving from the city to a small town in Montana. Trying to fit in while sporting a mohawk turns out to be the least of Ben’s problems.
Review: I wanted to love this book. I did love several aspects of it, and I am glad I read it. But it wasn’t one of my favorites.
What I loved:
* The grit—The tough conversations between Ben and his dad were so real they were almost painful to read at times. In a good way. * The issues—Homophobia, child abuse, abandonment. The book takes on big-ticket issues with a capital I, but it didn’t feel like a thinly veiled morality play. * The funny—Here, Ben is about to go on a date with a country girl, and he’s asking his dad’s boyfriend Edward for advice. Edward starts off with what he knows about the girl’s dad:
“If I remember correctly, he’s a very harsh man, and one not to cross.” He thought for a moment. “Yes sir, no sir, thank you, please, nice to meet you, Mr. Johan, firm handshake, look him in the eye, and for God’s sake don’t eye her boobs, even accidentally, unless you’re at least a mile from the house. Men have shotguns for a reason around here.”
I nodded, soaking it all in. Fear gripped me, but love would climb any mountain. “One more thing.”
“What is baling hay, anyway?”
He laughed. “And you thought you worked hard yesterday. Poor child.”
But here are the things that got in the way of me loving this book through-and-through:
* Backstory frontloading—The first chapter was s-l-o-w. I almost put the book down. I once read a tip in a writing book that you should cut your first chapter, start with the second, and sprinkle the first chapter backstory in later only if necessary. This book might have benefited from that trick. * Internal monologue—Not everywhere, but in certain spots I felt like I was getting Ben’s entire thought process. * Melodramatic tendencies—As the story started to wrap up, a few scenes came off as a bit cheesy for my taste. * Kiss offscreen—Maybe this is just because I’m a girl that this bugged me, but the first kiss between Ben and the girl he’s interested in happened…offscreen! It’s this offhand comment in the narration. Bummer!
None of these issues were huge, but they all pulled me out of the story and got in the way of me connecting on a deeper level to the book.(less)
Summary: Every winter, 17-year-old Grace watches the woods behind her house for a wolf with yellow eyes—her wolf.
Review: Love at first sight can be a pesky little thing. Especially when you happen to fall for a guy who’s missing a few key chromosomes. Poor Grace.
I devoured this story of species-crossed lovers. And unlike most stories with alternating points of view, I felt an immediate connection to both Grace and her wolf, Sam.
But it also left me wanting more. Grace’s entire existence was wrapped up in Sam, and she didn’t seem to have much of a life outside of her yearning for him. All-consuming love, I don’t mind. But for me, it’s even more powerful if a girl is her own person with her own dreams and aspirations outside of being with a certain guy/wolf/vampire.
Still, I will be reading more by this author because the writing was engaging. Here’s a taste from the opening:
I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves. They were licking me, biting me, worrying at my body, pressing in. Their huddled bodies blocked what little heat the sun offered. Ice glistened on their ruffs and their breath made opaque shapes that hung in the air around us. The musky smell of their coats made me think of wet dog and burning leaves, pleasant and terrifying. Their tongues melted my skin; their careless teeth ripped at my sleeves and snagged through my hair, pushed against my collarbone, the pulse at my neck.(less)
Summary: After 6 months of happiness, Zoe’s boyfriend Henry dumps her so he can focus on his band. But Zoe thinks—no, knows—he’s made a huge mistake, and she sets out to win him back.
Review: Jack Tumor was an impulse pick from the library that paid off. This impulse pick, not so much.
From the very start of the book, the main character was over-the-top psycho, with a capital CRAZY. She just could not function on even the most basic level.
How about an example, lest you think I’m being unfair? In the first chapter, Zoe calls her boyfriend Henry at their normal time of 9 pm. He doesn’t answer. So she calls one of her friends, then another, to discuss what might be going on. Here’s a snippet of her second conversation, with her friend Shannon:
“I know you,” Shannon continues. “You’ve already turned this into Something Meaningful. Nothing’s happened. He didn’t answer his phone, that’s it.”
“But in six months?” Zoe can hear the whine in her voice. “In six months we haven’t missed a nine p.m. phone call.”
“Zoe.” Shannon only uses Zoe’s full name when she means business. “I’m not saying things look good, but you have no proof that things are bad either.”
“Maybe I can get proof,” Zoe says in a measured voice.
“I could go over there, just happen to be walking by.”
“Or I could quickly peek in the windows. I’d only have to see Henry to know what he’s feeling.”
This is on page 4. Her obsession only ramps up from there. Later, she does “just happen to” walk by. And worse.
We’ve all experienced a touch of the crazy in our dating lives. But this is extreme. And the way that it’s presented, I often had the feeling I was supposed to be laughing at Zoe’s ridiculousness. That didn’t exactly help me empathize and connect with her. Zoe is a caricature, not a character.
The mechanics of the writing were fine. I just didn’t care about the main character. The only reason I finished reading it is because I got caught holding a napping toddler without another book to switch to.(less)
Summary: 17-year-old Josephine Alibrandi is forever in trouble with the nuns at her Catholic school, her grandmother, and her mother. So maybe it’s a good thing her biological father has never wanted to meet her.
Review: I thought it might be good to start with a note I wrote to this book:
Dear Book by One of My Favorite Authors,
I wanted to love you. I wanted to sing your praises like I have for your sisters. But I’m not sure we’re a good fit.
Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed our time together. It’s just that I probably won’t be calling you again.
Can we still be friends? Best, Kelly
I loved parts of this book, but I didn’t fall in love with it on the whole. In this book as in Marchetta’s others, you can’t beat the romance story lines and the wit.
In general, though, I felt like this book lacked the subtlety that made my heart go pitter-patter while reading Marchetta’s two later novels. A lot of chapters seemed to end with a “moral,” and that wore on me. In addition, some of the dialogue came across as forced. At one point, Josephine apologizes to her mom, and I just couldn’t picture it.
Still, if you are a Marchetta fan—and I wholeheartedly am—you should read this, her first novel. It may not live up to the bar set by her other two novels, but it’s a good read nonetheless. Here, Josephine is sitting on stage at an inter-school event, preparing to deliver a speech:
Seated on my other side was Jacob Coote from Cook High.
Cook High is a public school in the city area. Because it’s the closest school to us, we don’t get on well with them. We think they’re better than them. They think we’re the biggest dags in the world.
When we were young, they would throw things out of their bus windows at us, and in Year 10, on the last day of school, Jacob Coote and about ten of his friends, male and female, blocked both entrances of a lane we cut through to get to our bus stop. Twelve of us were bombarded with eggs and rotten fruit and vegetables. Everyone said that one day we would look back on the occasion and laugh.
“What are you going to talk about?” he whispered in my ear.
I moved away, hoping nobody had seen him speaking to me. My friends think he’s gorgeous. His hair is brown, shoulder length, not cut into any particular style, and his eyes are green and they always seem to be laughing at you.
He grinned, and by the way his lips were twitching he looked like he was trying to control a laugh. I knew he recognized me from the lane.
“Didn’t I once squash two eggs against your glasses?” he asked.
“I’m flattered you remember. I tripped over a rubbish can, you know, and cut my hand on some broken glass.”
“Oh, come on. We were suspended for that. We didn’t go to school for six weeks.”
“Very funny. We had six weeks’ holiday after that.”(less)
Summary: 17-year-old Jenna has been in a coma for over a year. Now she’s awake, but her parents have moved her to the other side of the country, her body doesn’t feel quite right, and her grandmother hates her.
Review: This book was one of my top 10 favorites of 2009. Why?
* Unnerving story revealed a little at a time? Check. * Forbidden romantic interest? Check. * Hints at the direction our society could be heading without coming out and making a “speech”? Yes!
This is an early scene from the book, with Jenna, her mom, and her grandmother Lily:
I push my empty glass away and announce, “I’m going to school today.”
Mother drops her pencil and stares at me. Lily stops beating her eggs.
“I assume I didn’t graduate during the year I was in a coma, so I still need to finish, right?”
Mother hasn’t spoken. Her mouth is open and her head shakes slightly, like my words are ricocheting around inside. Somehow, I find it amusing.
“There’s two village charters within walking distance—I checked the directory on the Net—and the Central Academy is just a short drive.”
“You can’t drive!” The words shoot out of Mother, and then she says more calmly, “School is out of the question. You’re still recovering—”
Mother stands. “I said school is out of the question. Period.”
I hesitate, but then stand, too. “And I say it isn’t.”
Mother is shocked into a marble stance. Neither of us speaks. Finally she looks away. She sits back down. She picks up her pencil. She is calm, smooth, practiced, the mother who seems to know where we are going before I do. “Go to your room, Jenna. You need to rest. Go. Now.”
I am seething. Outraged. Incensed. The words. They’re finally bubbling up in torrents just when I need them.
But the will. It is waning. Mother says I should go to my room. Go to your room, Jenna. Go to your room.
Summary: 15-year-old Virginia is fat. Her mother judges her, her father judges her, and everyone at her Manhattan private school judges her. Except for a boy named Froggy.
Review: Virginia is a girl whose spunk inspires you to root for her. The story interested me enough to keep reading, but in the end I didn’t love the book.
This is another case where a character’s young voice wasn’t my thing. I’m considering going back to plot all my book ratings against the main character’s age to see if I find a trend. Any excuse for another spreadsheet!
I also want to try another book by this author—one with an older protagonist—and see if I connect with it better. Any suggestions?(less)
Summary: Anna is getting what she’s always wanted—a summer vacation at the beach with her best friend Frankie. Frankie comes up with a game to find summer romance by meeting a new guy every day, and she convinces Anna to play too. But Frankie doesn’t know that Anna already met the guy she wants—Frankie’s older brother Matt, whom Anna can’t let go.
Review: This is what I get for not checking any reviews of this book or even the jacket blurb before I started reading it. Because it’s not exactly a light romance, like I had expected.
But it turns out that fact is what I like best about the book. As I read, my throat was thick with Anna’s grief for Matt and the guilt she felt for wanting to move on—and even worse, for actually moving on.
The ending tended toward melodrama in parts, but overall this one was a good read.(less)
Summary: 17-year-old Micah lies to everyone. First she said she was a boy, then a hermaphrodite, then the daughter of an arms dealer. So when her secret boyfriend Zach disappears and she says she’s innocent, why should anybody believe her?
Review: Woo boy. This story sinks its teeth into your throat and gives you a good shake every few minutes just to make sure the puncture wounds are good and deep.
I couldn’t read it fast enough.
Micah doesn’t want you to root for her, to be on her side. She keeps pushing and pushing and pushing you away. But if you stick by her, if you keep listening, you’re in for quite a story.
Want a taste?
"The second day Zach isn’t at school, I wear a mask. I keep it on for three days. I forge a note from my dad to say I have a gruesome rash and the doctor told me to keep it covered. I carry the note with me from class to class. They all buy it.
My dad brought the mask back from Venice. It’s black leather painted with silver and unfurls at each corner like a fern. The silver is real.
Under it, my skin itches.
They tell us Zach is dead during third period on Thursday."(less)
Summary: 12-year-old Jonas lives in a utopian community with no crime, no unemployment, no problems at all. But when he gets chosen as the one and only Receiver of Memories, he starts to learn the dark secrets of his small world.
Review: The world in this book reminded me a bit of the movie Pleasantville.
I loved reading about this creepy world and Jonas’s journey to uncover the truth. I think the only reason I didn’t rate this an all-time favorite is that at 12 years old, Jonas was a little young for my taste. I like my main characters to be solidly in their teens, upper if possible. Or if they’re younger, I like them to be extra sassy (like 15-year-old Daisy).
This is probably because as a teen, I was about as dynamic as a baked potato. I wish I had been cool and self-aware and sarcastic. So I like to read about characters who are all that and more—not like my boring, starchy teen self.
Still, I am glad I read The Giver. I can see now why it’s considered one of the classic YA dystopias.(less)