Meh. I teach teenagers. I am of the opinion that most adults think that teenagers are stupid and mindless but, in actuality, a lot are wonderful human...moreMeh. I teach teenagers. I am of the opinion that most adults think that teenagers are stupid and mindless but, in actuality, a lot are wonderful human beings who make me smile every day.
That being said, even I found these characters to be pretentious and annoying as hell. The entire story should have been about the MC's triplet sisters.
Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime Author: Kirsten Miller Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin) Release Date: February 21st, 2013 Rating: 4/5
Cover Impressions: I...moreTitle: How to Lead a Life of Crime Author: Kirsten Miller Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin) Release Date: February 21st, 2013 Rating: 4/5
Cover Impressions: I like the cover art but I feel they could have done more with the graffitti concept. It isn't something that would jump off the shelves for me. I do, however, really appreciate the quality of the physical copy. The slipcover paper is thick and has an almost gritty feel to it and I love that little surprise when I grab a book off the shelf and it feels different from everything else.
Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime is not at all what I expected. Like many reviewers, I had anticipated that the author would approach this topic from a humorous point of view. Instead, we have a story that include some incredibly dark elements. Our main character, Flick, comes from an abusive household. He is living on the streets after the death of his younger brother, Jude. Flick is an accomplished pick pocket appears to be trying to prove something to himself. He is close to another homeless teen, Joi (pronounced Joey), who runs an unofficial shelter for kids but still keeps her, and all others, at arms length. Flick's greatest desire is revenge on his father, the man who beat him mercilessly and who, Flick believes, killed Jude in a fit of rage.
The story plays out at the prestigious Mandel Academy, a school that, on the outside, appears to be a safe haven for impoverished youth but, in actuality, is a prison that requires them to become predators to survive. The school intends to benefit from "saving" these children by putting their new found criminal skills to use in order to gain an even tighter stronghold on the resources of not only the country, but the entire world. Flick joins the school with the aim of surviving long enough to get intel on his father and then insure the man's destruction. What he doesn't count on is the horror and depravity that he will discover within the walls of the Academy.
Title: The Lure Author: Lynne Ewing Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) Release Date:...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Title: The Lure Author: Lynne Ewing Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) Release Date: February 11, 2014 Rating: 4/5
Cover Impressions: Interesting, I think they could have made better use of the graffiti element and the color is a little hard on the eyes.
The Gist: Blaise Montgomery has built a reputation for being fearless in the face of danger. Living with her grandmother on little more than welfare and social security has left her longing for a different life and a family that can protect her from the dangers of the neighborhood. She finds that in Core 9 a fearsome gang that promises to open up a new world for her. Blaise faces a brutal initiation and is quickly chosen to act as bait for rival gang members so that Trek, the head of Core 9 can exact his revenge. This new position offers her prestige and power, but also places her in a dangerous situation from which she may not escape.
I read this book in a day. With a 2 1/2 year old running around. That is serious high praised. I was shocked when I went on Goodreads to see the low reviews and from people who claimed that they didn't understand why these characters made the choices that they did. I don't think that assessment is fair. Yes, you hear stories about kids who grow up in these kinds of neighborhoods that escape the violence and make a better life for themselves but, do you know why they are such compelling stories? Because they don't happen very often. The characters in The Lure were faced with a limited set of choices and a life that kept dealing them one hard blow after another. The more I learned about each girl's set of circumstances, the more saddened I became.
The Lure features some pretty gritty scenes of violence. I was very interested to see this portrayal of gang life from a female's perspective and that it featured the different initiations and roles that females could take on. I do wish that there had been more development to show why girls do join these gangs. As a reader, I suspected where the plot was headed eventually, but we did not have a great deal of time between Blaise's initiation and her being thrown into a very violent situation, in order to see the prestige and perks that would have drawn her to this life in the first place.
I also wish there was a little more character development. This might have been accomplished by alternating the narration among the four girls. I truly felt for each one of them and their situation, but I would have liked to know more about them personally. Ditto with the two love interests. I loved the scenes between Blaise and Satch and was genuinely rooting for a happy ending for the two of them. Speaking of endings, I did find this one to be a little anti-climactic. There was a great deal of running from place to place followed by a choice that I never really expected these characters to make and one that left me questioning what the repercussions would be.
Overall, The Lure offered a gritty glimpse into gang life and the sense of hopelessness that overtakes many of those thrust into that life. It has some flaws, but is certainly worth a read.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Talk of sex Violence: Gunplay, Knifeplay, Intimidation, Rape and Gang Rape Inappropriate Language: Bitch Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Selling and use of Drugs (less)
Title: Ketchup Clouds Author: Annabel Pitcher Publisher: Brown Release Date: November 12th,...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Title: Ketchup Clouds Author: Annabel Pitcher Publisher: Brown Release Date: November 12th, 2013 Rating: 5/5
Cover Impressions: I was not aware until just now, but this appears to be a novel that was published in the UK and now is being released in North America. The top image is the original and the bottom is the new cover (as far as I can tell). I have got to say, they certainly got it right with the second cover. It is really unique and interesting. I love how it almost looks like one of those weird baby-posed-as-if-he-is-standing photoshoots.
The Gist: Ketchup Clouds begins with a letter to an inmate on death row. Zoe (real name withheld) is writing to Stuart Harris - convicted killer of two - in order to confess her crimes to someone who might understand the depths of her betrayal. Through her letters, she reveals how she became involved with two brothers and the consequences of her playing with a pair of hearts.
Review: I was first intrigued by Ketchup Clouds because the synopsis offered an interesting persepctive - that of a teenage girl, writing a convicted killer in order to confess her own role in a tragedy. The letter format is interesting and the narrator's voice is unique. She speaks very matter-of-factly, even though she is clearly burdened by her secret. Naming herself Zoe, the main narrator shifts backward and forward in time in order to describe her present guilt and her past transgressions. This roundabout way in which Zoe tells her story adds suspense in a very natural way, without interrupting the flow of the narration.
As a character, Zoe seems like a typical teenage girl. She feels oppressed by an overbearing mother and burdened by the constant fighting between her parents. In an effort to gain some independence, she begins lying to her parents and this theme permeates the book as more and more untruths get Zoe into more and more trouble. I very much enjoyed the realistic portrayal of a modern-day family. Zoe has two younger sisters, one who is deaf and enjoys the bulk of her mother's attention and one who is not and has begun acting out. The parents argue over some very serious issues, but we do get to watch them work together to create some sense of harmony. I did feel that this particular portion of the story was a little too easily solved and I am not sure that, beyond the scope of this story, the family would remain intact.
There was also a character whose behavior gave me serious pause. Sandra, Max and Aaron's mother. Throughout the "presentday" portion of the narration her actions become more and more erratic and alarming. She called Zoe far more often than is appropriate and would show up unannounced. I realize that she is being portrayed as the grieving mother, but I simply could not understand why Zoe's parents did not step in and deny her access to their child. I also found it incredibly creepy that Zoe was writing this story to a convicted murderer on death row. It was particularly upsetting when she began describing her sexual exploration. I couldn't help picturing this grown man and how he would react to these descriptions of sexual play among teenagers. It was more than a little unsettling for me, particularly because I teach teenagers Zoe's age.
I really enjoyed Pitcher's writing style and the unique idea behind this particular story. Sign me up for her next book!
Age: 13 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Heavy Petting Violence: Fighting, Death by Drowning Inappropriate Language: Tits, Bitch, Bastard, Slut, Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, (less)
Cover Impressions: I like the strange breaking of the silouette on this cover but it doe...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: I like the strange breaking of the silouette on this cover but it doesn't give much information about the subject matter. I would love to see something with a little more powerful imagery to represent the powerful story.
The Gist: Freakboy is written in verse and tells the story of a seemingly all American teen boy who is struggling with gender issues. Through the narratives of Brendan, his girlfriend, Vanessa and his friend, Angel we get a special insight into the struggles of transgender teens and those people that love them through it all.
Review: I will admit, this is my first time reading a book in verse. It had seemed a little gimmicky to me in the past and, even in Freakboy, the writing style takes some getting used to. Some of my issues may have come from the fact that the advance ebook that I received was either a) pretty poorly formatted or b) just didn't get along with my Sony Reader. Once I had pushed through 20 or 30 pages, however, I did start to understand the appeal of this type of writing and even highlighted a few passages that made me stop and think. It is clear that Clark chose each word carefully and really got a feel for how they would fit together. I did dislike some particular elements, like the word art, which didn't quite format on my reader, but they can easily be overlooked.
I think the author made a fantastic choice in following three characters and choosing those characters to represent several individuals who are affected by transgender issues. We have Brendan, the questioning teen, Vanessa, the devoted girlfriend and Angel, the teen support worker who has been there. I was particularly fond of Angel. She ha been through the absolute worst that life could possibly throw at her and had emerged on the other side with an intact sense of self and a strong support group. I was very happy to see this perspective and I hope that her message of "paying it forward" will be inspiring to young readers. I also really liked the relationship between Brendan and Vanessa. Vanessa was so devoted to him, in a way that was clearly unhealthy, and which she realized by the end, and he was just so completely and utterly lost. There were several moments during Vanessa's passages where I wanted to shake her and several during Brendan's where I was left thinking "Yes! I am so glad that the author put this struggle in the book!" There were also characters that I absolutely loathed, but that were all too realistic in a world where cruelty is at least, tolerated, or at worst, celebrated. Characters like the wrestling coach remind us why the kind people in this world must be extra kind because the mean people in this world are particularly heinous.
Clark clearly knows her subject matter and is able to write about teenagers in a way that is realistic and respectful. I love that in Freakboy there is no tidy ending. There is hope, but there is no perfect solution. It is clear that these characters, like real teens with these issues, will continue to struggle and to grow, but that they have a chance at a happy life, with people who love them.
I had my doubts about a book written in verse, but Freakboy won me over.
Age: 15 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Sex between teenagers, Some vulgar talk of sexual activities Violence: Beatings, Inappropriate Language: Tits, Bitch, Fag, Ass, Pussy, Piss, Dyke, Dick, Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking Other Issues: Prostitution
"Pinning girl thoughts to the mat and gaining control of my brain."
"Do I want to do her, or do I want to be her."
"I wanted to beg her for more words but was scared they'd hurt."(less)
Cover Impressions: I like the colors and the illumination on the path but there isn't an...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: I like the colors and the illumination on the path but there isn't anything about this cover that will make it stand out from the other YA mysteries on the shelf.
The Gist: Having been arrested for the third time in a year, Allie's parents decide to send her to Cimmeria Academy. There are, however, a couple of problems. First, Allie has never heard of this school and her parents won't tell her so much as where it is. Second, Cimmeria doesn't actually specialize in troubled youth, they are a school for rich kids, of which Allie is NOT. When the mysteries at the school start to pile up along with the list of the injured, Allie finds herself in a world far more dangerous than the life of alcohol, drugs and crime that she left behind.
In Night School, Daugherty plays a long game of "I can't tell you" and "Now is not the time" and, even by the end, doesn't really reveal anything about what is going on. This appears to be yet another book in which everything must be kept from the super-special main character in order to keep her safe, except not knowing any of the secrets is the reason that she is constantly putting herself in dangerous situations. I sincerely hope that the series does not continue in the same track. I despise books that dangle the Ihaveasecret carrot and never reveal a thing. If the second book had not already been released, I would be PISSED. As it is, I will be starting the next book, but if they continue to play the withholding game, I will just end up skimming to the end.
In beginning, the main character gives in far too easily. Allie is set up as this bad girl with serious attitude. She rebels against any authority figure and has been arrested several times. But the minute she is taken out of her comfort zone she does everything she can to fit in. When she reaches Cimmeria, she immediately changes the way that she dresses (couldn't she make the uniform her own?) and stops wearing makeup, at several points she actually revels in how much happier she is now that she has assimilated.
Naturally, Night School features they oh-so-overdone typical teenage love triangle. However, I can actually see the appeal of both characters (if you pretend that one particular, almost rape scene didn't exist - Allie appears to, so we might as well *scoff*). There are some swoonworthy make-out scenes but nothing that is too racy for the target audience. The female sidekicks are decently fleshed out and have their own issues to deal with. I liked both Jo and Rachel and enjoyed that there was some addition drama and conflict with them. I am hoping that they get further attention as the series continues.
Oddly, I kept expecting for something supernatural to jump up, but instead there was some strange story about a secret corporation that runs the world. Perhaps this says more about my own reading habits than about the book itself but I found myself putting together small tidbits and theorizing my own supernatural elements (chased by something that growls - Must be a werewolf! Murals depict fight between good and evil - Maybe the Night School kids are actually angels and/or demons! MC keeps spilling secrets to one character - She must have secret powers!). Did anyone else notice this? Or has anyone does this with other books? Basically, I am looking for confirmation that I am not alone in this strange behavior.
Even though Night School had enough of a mystery to keep me reading, I found myself a little disappointed at the end. I was really expecting more of a twist, some kind of revelation that would make me clamor to read the next book. Instead, I am approaching Legacy with trepidation and if the author somehow fenagles her way out of having the mother reveal some of the truth in the beginning of the next novel, I am out!
This novel does include some swearing/mature scenes but not all that frequent and nothing that would prevent me from recommending it to most teenagers.
Teaching/Parental Notes: Age: 13 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing Violence: Murder by Knife, Fires, *Almost* Rape scene Inappropriate Language: Dick, Bastard, Bitch, Asshole Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking(less)
Cover Impressions: This cover is very pretty and I am loving that there is just a hint o...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: This cover is very pretty and I am loving that there is just a hint of cleavage (nothing distasteful).
Review: The Bookstore is the story of a young woman who escapes England for the excitement of New York. While completing her degree, she meets and falls in love with a suave and wealthy man. When she finds herself pregnant and jilted, she takes a job at a local bookstore and contemplates the path that her life has taken. It is a story with very little action and a plot that meanders through scenes that compel the reader to smile or grimace, rather than to laugh or cry.
The love interest/future father was a truly despicable character. From the first few scenes, I found myself hoping that he would meet a timely demise. Unfortunately, Esme's infatuation with him and her inability to see how badly he was treating her, made me dislike her whenever they were on the page together. To be fair, at least Mitchell managed to make an impression. The Bookstore features an almost entirely male cast and I did have some difficulty keeping them straight. I could never remember which characters worked in the store and which were homeless men thrown in with some type of attempt at social commentary.
The Bookstore itself, The Owl, is what piqued my interest in this title. I was hoping for a magical realm full of interesting characters. However, I found the scenes within the store to be some of the most tedious. The author had an unfortunate habit of referencing obscure authors and artists that I found pretentious. I often ended up skimming during those parts.
The ending of The Bookstore was unsatisfying. There is some character growth, but no real closure and I am still unsure as to how Esme is managing to support herself and her child without being deported. This novel is nice for a slow read in a park/at the cottage but simply did not have enough action to distract me from the other demands on my time. (less)
Cover Impressions: This cover is ADORABLE. I love the choice of tiffany blue for the bac...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: This cover is ADORABLE. I love the choice of tiffany blue for the background and the emoticon choices. I think this one will stand out on a shelf and is unique enough to intrigue potential readers.
The Gist: Rafe's entire life has been colored by the fact that he is gay. He is comfortable with who he is, and is proud of what he is accomplished, but he really wants a chance to see what life would be like without the label. He gets his opportunity when he transfers to an all-boy boarding school in New England. Suddenly he is able to fit in with the popular jocks and experience a side of life he never realized he was missing. As Rafe begins to fall in love with one of his newfound friends he must face the predicament in which he has put himself - a lie allowed him to develop a beautiful relationship and the truth may destroy his love and his friendship.
Review: Openly Straight featured a unique perspective. Rafe is "out" and in the public eye. His parents support him, he is an equal rights advocate at his school and even speaks to other youth on what it is like to be a gay teen. But, he often feels that this label places a barrier between him and his peers. He plays sports, but doesn't feel like part of the team. Other students and teachers constantly turn to him to provide "the gay point of view" and, despite his being out and available, he still doesn't have a boyfriend. With his entry to a new school, he finally has a chance to get rid of the label and remove the barriers - but it means leaving a big part of himself behind. I loved getting a chance to see the challenges that can be faced by a teen even if he is supported by his family and is part of a (fairly) liberal school.
This novel featured a lot of fun and unique characters. Rafe and his friends are smart and witty and their comments and conversations often left me smiling, if not laughing. These are the types of characters that could easily carry a novel of their own and I often found myself wondering what they were doing when they were not with Rafe. My absolute favorite scenes were those with his parents. they were fun and quirky and wonderful examples of supportive parents - which is refreshing in a genre where absentee parents have almost become a cliche. I was also quite pleased that Openly Straight showed (if not featured) several gay characters and did a great job of breaking stereotypes.
Openly Straight is not a book with a particularly strong plot. It follows a "will they, won't they" love story that was often sweet and romantic. Rafe did have a tendency to live in his own head and the introspection slowed the story considerably. This was really noticeable in the last 1/3rd of the book and resulted in an ending that was much more of a whimper than a bang. I also wish that it didn't contain quite as much swearing and sexual behavior as this limits me in which students I can recommend the book to. However, I really enjoyed the unique perspective that this novel provided and I was entertained by the fun cast of characters.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Masturbation, Sex between Teenagers Violence: None Inappropriate Language: Lots and Often: ass, shit, dick, shit, faggot, piss, bitch, fuck, retard, whore, slut, prick, cock Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute, though a bit simplistic for my taste. I might pref...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute, though a bit simplistic for my taste. I might prefer if it had something in the background, like a mirror that the lipstick was scrawled on...
The Gist: Lexi has spent years catering to her 7 year old sister turned pageant princess. She sews, she primps, she meets the ever-increasing demands of her overbearing mother. She is known as the girl with the "great personality" and she is ready for a change. When her best friend challenges her to put some serious effort into her personality, she reluctantly relents, if only to prove that she is a hopeless case. Armed with perfectly coifed hair and fabulously fake lashes, she receives more attention than she ever dreamed, including one very cute guy - even if it isn't really the guy she wanted. As her world changes, she begins to doubt which Lexi is the real one: the beautiful girl, or the one with the great personality?
Review: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality was a fun read with a few flaws. I loved the premise and the glimpse into the world of the sister of a pageant princess. Lexi had an interesting voice and I loved that she didn't buy into the whole pageant world. She was a but too whiney for my taste and she constantly lamented her lack of beauty (which was easily solved by a modicum of makeup - really, you're hideous and a touch of concealer fixes everything? I don't think so.) I thought the sometimes rocky but always backed by love, relationship between the sisters was pretty realistic. Even though it was sometimes painful to read about, so was the relationship between the divorced mother and her daughters. The mother was truly damaged and looking for validation in all the wrong places. At one point, she made a move so heinous that I was left feeling shocked and betrayed along with Lexi and it amped up my feelings of disgust and re-engaged me with the plot of the novel. Unlike the familial relationships, I didn't feel any real connection with either of the love interests but, to be fair, I don't think Lexi really did either. They mostly served as a backdrop against which she could make new discoveries about herself. Her friends, however, had a lot of unrealized potential. They were interesting, but fell flat and undeveloped while we followed Lexi through the "popular" world.
The thing that irked me about this novel was the way in which Lexi preached to pageant parents at the end. Being in a profession where I, occasionally, come across entitled, know-it-all children, I found her lecturing to be very off-putting. Her experiences with her sister and mother give her an insight into the beauty and ugliness of the pageant world, but they do not make her an expert on each family's situation not do they give her the right to judge parents who have twice (or more) her life experience.
Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is, ultimately, a cute novel with a good message about self-love that would be enjoyed by most teenage girls.
Age: 12 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing Violence: Teen gets slapped by parent Inappropriate Language: None Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute and effective but needs something to make it a little more eye catching. I am happy to see a cover model that see...moreCover Impressions: The cover is cute and effective but needs something to make it a little more eye catching. I am happy to see a cover model that seems to reflect the main character, but would have seen a bit more red to her hair.
The Gist: Chelsea has spent most of her teenage years playing sidekick to Kristen. In her climb to the top of the social pyramid, she has discovered and revealed secrets about most of her classmates. One night, a secret she reveals leads to consequences that she never expected and she is forced to re-examine her choices. She realizes that he root of her problem is her gossiping ways and vows to stop speaking. Abandoned by her friends, she must now find a way to survive the abuse and ridicule, without speaking a word.
Review: I read Speechless in just a couple of hours last night. Now, I know, that doesn't seem remarkable to most readers, but you have to realize; I have a child, I have a husband, a home and a full time job. I have a thousand things vying for my attention during every minute of the day and I still read this book in one sitting.
This story tells of a unique perspective: the popular girl who is part of something horrible and is able to see the error of her ways and actually take an action to become a better person. I loved that even though Chelsea had ruled with fear and ridicule as Kristen's second in command, she was able to see what a horrible person she had been and to recognize that her problem had come from being unable to keep her mouth shut. Her progression from popular princess to actual decent human being is not an easy or quick one. She struggles along the way, but, through her vow of silence, is eventually able to see herself and the people around her in a much more realistic light. I love watching a character grow throughout the book and by the end of Speechless, Chelsea is a much better person, able to see not only the flaws, but also the good in herself and others.
The other characters are sweet, if a little underdeveloped. We have two love interests, one sweet and one superficial. Eventually Chelsea is able to distinguish between them and to make the right choice. We also have Asha, the kind and kooky girl who sees the potential in Chelsea and helps her find it herself. Naturally, we also have to deal with the "villians" of the story - Chelsea's former best friend Kristen, who honestly wasn't that nice to her to begin with, and the jocks who torture Chelsea as punishment for ratting out their friends. These characters, particularly Kristen, could have used a little more page time. There were glimmers of potential with her, but it wasn't really explored.
The plot is not particularly fast paced. There is a party, some school issues, a romance, some personal growth and a school dance. However, it is very well written and Harrington does an excellent job of writing realistic teenage dialogue, though I wish she had gone a little easy on the vulgar language. Chelsea's journey to self-realization and her dedication to her vow are interesting enough to keep the plot moving and the friendships and romance that develops is sweet, without being overpowering. I would recommend this for most teenagers, but would warn that it includes vulgar language and sexual situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens.
Age: 15 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, Talk of sexual acts Violence: Fist Fighting, Attack on a gay teen Inappropriate Language: Piss, Shit, Bitch, Slut, Whore, Fag, Fuck, Dick Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Marijuana Use (less)
Cover Impressions: This cover is interesting in its contradictions. The background image had a romantic feel to it with the soft colors and lace. The...moreCover Impressions: This cover is interesting in its contradictions. The background image had a romantic feel to it with the soft colors and lace. The foreground, however, features black tape and a stark font and red elements that stand out. I really enjoyed how the quote from Sherman Alexie feels almost like a piece of grafitti on the wall.
The Gist: Clay Jensen, all around nice guy, is surprised by a mysterious package containing thirteen cassette tapes. When he begins listening to them, he is shocked to discover that they contain a message from Hannah Baker, his crush who recently committed suicide. Hannah has recorded thirteen tapes, for thirteen people and they must each listen and then pass the tapes on or a second copy will be made public. In listening to the thirteen reasons that Hannah took her own life, Clay learns more than he ever dreamed about Hannah and about the other 12 people on the list.
Review: Thirteen Reasons Why was chosen by my students as a book club book. I set the schedule back in January unaware that it would become so topical. Just this past week, a local teen made worldwide headlines when she committed suicide. Rehtaeh Parson was allegedly raped by four of her peers while at a party. She spent the next two years being tortured by her classmates while her alleged rapists walked off scott-free. Rehteah attempted suicide and was placed on life-support, eventually being taken off by her heart-broken parents. Her death has shocked the world and led to a call to action for police, lawmakers, teachers, and parents.
Thirteen Reasons Why tells a very important story: that of a girl who feels alone and without hope and that of the people left behind wondering what they could have done. It is important to note that there were no big tragedies in Hannah's life. Her suicide was the result of rumors, innuendo and "the snowball effect" that made her feel unloved and unwanted. Those of us on the outside often find it difficult to recognize this and are unable to see the impact that a thousand small actions can have on a person's life. Through this story, we are prompted (without preaching) to be better people, to consider the impact of our words and actions and to truly see the lives of those suffering around us.
Thirteen Reason's Why features a dual narrative that seemlessly blends Hannah's story with that of Clay as he spends one painful night making his way through the tapes and through Hannah's life. This writing styles was risky, but it plays very well and each character is able to add events and elements to create a seamless story that compels the reader forward. The reader walks with Clay, and with Hannah, willing each person mentioned in the tapes to act differently and change the outcome, pleading with them to take notice. As a teacher this was both painful and thought-provoking.
Books like this are the reason that I am coming to love YA Contemporary Fiction. They jump start conversations and critical thinking. It is my sincere hope that, in reading this book as a group, my book club will be able to open the lines of communication and help each one of them to understand the importance of treating each and every person they meet with kindness and compassion. And if one of those students truly understands how Hannah feels, I hope this book, and our discussion, will help them find one person who can positively impact their life. It is time for an open dialogue in schools and this is a fine place to start.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Voyeurism, Masturbation, Petting Violence: Rape, Suicide Inappropriate Language: Slut, Ass, Dick, Bitch, Pissed, Shit Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: This cover is so pretty. I love the backdrop of stars and the slightl...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: This cover is so pretty. I love the backdrop of stars and the slightly blurred image of the circus. The colors are muted and add to the ethereal quality of the image. I'm not usually a fan of the almost pencil thin font, but in this case I think anything bigger would have covered too much of the night sky.
The Gist: Lexi Ryan has lost everything, her best friend, her father, her home and her future. She spends her last few dollars tracking down the last known whereabouts of the mother who abandoned her - a traveling circus. Once there, Lexi works hard to make a life for herself with jobs that range from cleaning cages to telling fortunes. Just when she is starting to settle in, a piece of her past shows up out of the blue and Lexi must finally face the demons that thought she had left behind.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed That Time I Joined The Circus. It is a wonderful coming of age story that was surprisingly poignant. Lexi is dealt a seriously devastating blow. She loses her father, her best friend and her home all in the same night. Facing a remarkably different future than the one that she expected, one would expect her to wallow in self pity, but Lexi Ryan is not that type of girl. She is strong, independent and determined. She sets off on a journey to find her mother, unsure of the outcome or destination. When she finds that her mother is not at the circus as she expected, Lexi pulls up her boots and finds a way to be useful. She does have a tendency to be self-deprecating, but it never bothered me in the way that it does with most characters. Perhaps because she is never whiny about it and is willing to work hard to support herself rather than to rely on others. There are also some great secondary characters who, and I hope the author is thinking along the same lines that I am, could support their own stories in upcoming books.
This is not a particularly fast-paced story and there is very rarely a sense of urgency, but, for some reason it kept me enthralled from the very first page. I think the setting played a strong role in that. The backdrop was beautiful and whimsical. I have read a few books set in circus' before, but none made it feel like a home for the characters in the way that this one did. The constant musical references added charm and character. By the end, I was searching each song on youtube and listening to it for the entire chapter. In fact, if you check out the author's website, you will find a chapter by chapter playlist as well as one that includes all the music played outside Lexi's fortune teller trailer - have I mentioned how I LOVE when authors include these little extras?
Full disclosure: YES, ladies and gentlemen, this story did have multiple love interests. BUT, they did not form your typical love triangle and the resolution felt right and very mature. The one thing I do wish is that there had been more development of Lexi's relationship with her father. If I had gotten to see a little more of their home life I think that the rest of the events in the story would have had a little more of an emotional impact.
I have to give cudos to J.J. Howard for writing a book that involves late teenagers, relationships and some (possibly) sexual behavior, but without including anything that would make me pull it from my classroom shelves. From one teacher to another, thank you.
Given the beauty of this debut novel, I will be sticking around for anything and everything Ms. Howard writes in the future.
Age: 13 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, Allusion to more Violence: Fist Fighting Inappropriate Language: None Substance Use/Abuse: None(less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is very cute. I love the use of the headphone cords to make...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is very cute. I love the use of the headphone cords to make the '&' symbol and the colors are muted but work well together. Not sure about the all lower case letters, perhaps an homage to how Eleanor writes? The English teacher in me cringes nonetheless.
The Gist: On Eleanor's first day of school she immediately stands out from the crowd with her bright red hair and strange clothing. The bus is a battlefield with clearly drawn lines but a cute Asian boy named Park begrudgingly makes room in his seat. Over the course of the next few weeks they tentatively explore each others taste in comic books and music. As they draw closer and closer together, Park begins to realize that Eleanor's standoffish demeanor has a lot to do with a rotten home life and some serious insecurities.
Review: Eleanor & Park is a sweet love story with some genuine feeling, real problems and the typical teenage angst. The main story was about how the two characters, admitted misfits among their peers, found one another through comic books and music and fell in love. But the story in which I was more interested was the tragic home-life that Eleanor endured. Having been sent away once by her abusive step-father and frightened mother, Eleanor is terrified that she will be thrown out again. Where she once stood up for her mother and tried to end the abuse, she now huddles with her brothers and sister in their bedroom, trying to stay quiet as church mice. Rowell did an excellent job of portraying the sense of helplessness that a teenager can feel when stuck in an abusive household as well as the burden that younger siblings can pose on someone not ready to take on that role. I was more than a little disappointed that the adults in Eleanor's life clearly knew of her situation and did nothing, but I can see how this too is based in an all too frequent reality.
The love story, on the other hand, was a little more common. I did enjoy that Eleanor and Park didn't even like each other right away, no insta-love here! They fell for each other more slowly than is typical of contemporary fiction and I enjoyed watching as they made small sweet gestures towards one another. Some of the passages became a little difficult to get through, particularly when Eleanor doubts and demeans herself. Occasionally, this comes off in much the same manner as a teenager who posts a clearly flattering picture of herself on Facebook with the caption "I'm so ugly!" in a transparent ploy for attention. The relationship also becomes all-encompassing at a remarkable rate. Very quickly after they meet, Park starts to cancel plans with friends and remarks that "He wasn't going anywhere without Eleanor." I never enjoy reading about teens in this type of relationship - it just doesn't seem healthy.
The characters are interesting, despite the almost constant self-deprecation. Eleanor clearly stands out from the crowd but does little or nothing to change this fact. There are sparks there that make me believe that in a different household, she could be a strong and confident individual. Park also doesn't see his own good qualities and the pair rely on each other as a reflection of their own self-worth. They make connections through comic books and music, dress differently from their peers and shun the usual small town entertainment. Eleanor occasionally gets a witty line or two but the real character who made me smile was Park's mother. She doesn't like Eleanor at first, and makes no secret of it, but eventually warms when she learns of the home situation. It is clear that she loves her son and want's what is best for him. Her dialogue is written in broken English and her command over her boys and her husband made for a character that I truly wish had gotten some more page time.
My one concern with Eleanor & Park is the frequent and varied use of inappropriate language. I understand the desire to use swear words in a YA novel to give it an authentic feel, but I think here there was a bit of overkill. Nearly every second page contains a swear word and some of those chosen are quite vulgar. I am not sure that I could, in good conscience, recommend a book with the four letter C word to any of my students.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, Light Petting Violence: Spousal Abuse, Neglect Inappropriate Language: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Dick, Bastard, Jesus, Slut, Bitch, Cum, Fag, Cunt Substance Use/Abuse: Alcohol Abuse, Smoking, Underage drinking, Marijuana Use (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is not particularly attractive and I don't feel it will sta...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is not particularly attractive and I don't feel it will stand out on a shelf. This is unfortunate, because the story that is held within it's pages would never blend in and deserves to be highlighted appropriately.
The Gist: As a child, Carey was spirited away by her meth addicted mother to a camper in the woods. Suffering abuse, mal-nutrition and the ever-aching cold, she manages to carve out an existance for herself and her sister, Jenessa. When two strangers enter the woods and claim that their mother has left them for good, the two girls are brought back to society and must learn a whole new way of life. As the girls attempt to put the past behind them, Carey finds she cannot escape not only what was done to her, but the horrific things that she has done.
In If You Find Me, we are introduced to Carey and Janessa. Carey has spent most of her life attempting to survive in the most awful of circumstances and raising Janessa in the absence of their mother. Carey has one of the most incredible voices that I have encountered in quite a while. As the narrator, Carey's speech patterns are authentic, using colloquialisms and speech patterns, without becoming gimmicky and distracting. Her sister also plays a very important role in the narrative. Neglected and suffering from selective mute-ism, Janessa still manages to steal the hearts of everyone that she encounters - readers included. Though, I must admit, I found it a little hard to believe that a child born and raised in the woods would not find this new world at least a little overwhelming. Rounding out the cast are Carey's father, his wife, Melissa and her daughter, Delaney. The relationships of the entire family are well written and realistic. Carey and Delaney certainly do not get along right away and there are some moments where I wanted to strangle the spoiled princess, but, eventually, we do get a glimpse of the situation through Delaney's eyes and are able to see how Carey's kidnapping has impacted the lives of all of those left behind.
Carey and Janessa's story is a heartbreaking one that is often difficult to read. Having had a child, I find these books hit me much harder now than they ever did before. They also remind me to think about the secret struggles that my own students might be dealing with at home. The book begins with the girls "rescue" and their history is only revealed through references and flashbacks. I found this style very effective as it starkly compares the struggles of Carey's new life (trying to fit it, bullying and homesickness) with those from her old life. I was very glad that the author chose to portray Carey's longing for the woods and her desire to run back there as a result of the human condition to find beauty in almost any situation and the fact that it was the only home Carey had known for such a long period of her life.
If You Find Me is not an easy read, but it is one worth the effort. If you are considering it for a younger audience, please take note below - this novel contains some disturbing descriptions of child abuse and rape and needs to be read with a certain level of maturity.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Sex between teenagers Violence: Child Abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), Neglect, Kidnapping, Rape, Gunplay. Inappropriate Language: Ass, Shit. Bitch Substance Use/Abuse: Meth use, Underage Drinking, Smoking (less)
Cover Impressions: Not a big fan of the cover. The imagery itself is kind of bland and I...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: Not a big fan of the cover. The imagery itself is kind of bland and I think that having the author on the cover is a little cheesy.
The Gist: Carson Phillips is determined to escape his small town and gain early acceptance into Northwestern University - the first step on his way to becoming the editor of The New Yorker. But, just being brilliant and maintaining an impeccable GPA isn't enough anymore. In order to stand out from the crowd, Carson starts a literary magazine, but in order to get submissions, he must resort to blackmailing his fellow students
Review: From the very first line, I loved the main character. Carson Phillips is snarky and snarly and too smart for his own good. He is surrounded by people who either ridicule him, hold him back or downright sabotage him. I loved reading his dialogue with the other characters, but the introspection tended to get a little repetitive and droning.
The other characters helped support the story without stealing the spotlight. I loved Carson's dedicated relationship with his Grandmother. Having watched a grandparent suffering with altzheimer's, I found his interactions based in reality - from the hope that springs forth on the good days to the humor that can be found in the smallest moments and the devastation that comes from the worst of days. I also enjoyed the complex relationships that Carson had with his parents and wanted to shake/strangle both of them (at one point I was actually screaming at stereo because I was so mad at his mother's actions).
The writing is much tighter than I expected from a first time author who is, primarily, an actor. Except for those moments of lagging introspection, the plot moved quickly. I was with Carson every step of the way and felt his consternation with every setback. The one thing that did lose me was the ending. Naturally, I can't really speak of it without giving anything away but, suffice to say, it left me asking "the fuck dude?" and wanting to call up the author, begging for a re-write.
Overall, I really enjoyed Struck by Lightning and am looking forward to seeing how the film version holds up.
Age: 13 and up Gender: Both Sex: Instance of sex between teacher/student - no description Violence: Bullying Inappropriate Language: Lots Substance Use/Abuse: Marijuana Use (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is what first drew me to this book. I loved the image of th...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is what first drew me to this book. I loved the image of the letter and how it was a little faded and travel worn. The scratched in lettering and the blood add an element of mystery and an interesting edge.
The Gist: When Ben befriends a young boy who had lost a brother, he never thought that this decision would change the course of his life. When Jimmy reveals just how deep his feelings are for Ben, the town erupts with anger that a gay boy might be living among them. Ben struggles with his feelings of anger at having been duped and obligation to the boy that he cares about. When those responsibilities reach from beyond the grave, Ben tries distance himself from question, while at the same time attempting to seek out a killer.
Review: The Sin Eater's Confession had a lot of flaws. Firstly, the main character was despicable. He was unlikeable, cowardly and an all around lame-ass human being. Whenever given the chance to prove himself and make a decision that might actually benefit someone else, he took the selfish way out. He seems like a very intelligent young man, but the entire book is based around the stupid decision that he continuously makes.
The writing featured a great deal of conjecture in the main character's head. This was boring. repetitive and, ultimately, pointless. We were forced to tag along for the ride as Ben whined about his horrid little life with parents who love him and a looming admission to Yale, when it was abundantly clear that other characters had actual important issues to deal with. The book also featured frequent graphic descriptions of suicide and murder. These were crass and disturbing. While the use of this language appears to be intended to be edgy, it comes off as gruesome instead.
I never really understood the point of the big cover up conspiracy. It felt like page after page where nothing really happened and, in the end, nothing was resolved. This book just did not work for me. Even with the issues that I had, all could have been redeemed with a killer psychological and surprise ending - but that simply wasn't the case.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Some description of naked bodies Violence: Child abuse, Murder, Graphic descriptions of a dead body Inappropriate Language: Piss, Ass, Jesus, Shit, Fuck, Bastard Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: Meh. Not something that would ever grab my attention except for the n...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: Meh. Not something that would ever grab my attention except for the name John Green.
The Gist: During his first day at Culver Creek Boarding School Miles "Pudge" Halter meets the strange in enigmatic Alaska Young and nothing will ever be the same.
Review: Looking for Alaska is split into Before and After some mysterious event. It is difficult to discuss this, and difficult to write a review without giving away the big event - so I will try to discuss other factors.
I had some issues with this novel. I loved The Fault In Our Stars and was looking for the same type of connection with the characters. However, I didn't find it here. I found the characters to be generally unlikeable. They were not particularly friendly or caring. They drank a lot, smoked a lot and swore a lot. They didn't really seem to DO anything. The teen angst dial was a little too high and I found it difficult to feel anything for the characters or their situation.
This is not the novel for a reader who wishes for a great deal of action - there is very little. What you will get is page upon page of teenagers waxing philosophically and asking big questions about life. I will admit, I kept waiting for the big reveal - for some piece of evidence that would answer one of the main questions that the plot poses, but I guess that is much of the point. There are never adequate answers in these types of situations and the living must simply attempt to go on living.
Perhaps as a teenager, this would have more resonance. However, as a jaded 30 year old teacher - it falls flat.
A note on content: this is another book that I find frustrating in that the language/sexual content prevents me from recommending to my students.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Petting, Talk of Masturbation, Vulgar Sexual Language Violence: Death by car accident Inappropriate Language: Shit, Christ, Fuck, Ass, Bastard, Piss, Bitch, Dick, Pissed Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Smoking, Marijuana Use Other Issues: Suicide, Child Abuse (less)
Cover Impressions: Yuck. The colors are horrid. The image is bland.
The Gist: Chronicles a year in the life of Arnold Spirit as he attempts to reconci...moreCover Impressions: Yuck. The colors are horrid. The image is bland.
The Gist: Chronicles a year in the life of Arnold Spirit as he attempts to reconcile his life as the only Indian in a white school and the only traitor on his reservation.
Review: Books like this are particularly difficult to review. These are the books that tend to get glowing 5 star reviews and are frequently listed as one of the Top YA books of ALLLLLLL time. I tend to find myself disappointed in these books. While I enjoyed this book I did have some issues that would stop me from either recommending it to my students or using it in my classroom. It was certainly well written and I can see the raw nature appealing to young readers. The character of Arnold was amusingly self-deprecating and honest. He did not shy away from embarrassing topics and was very frank on some touchy issues. His relationships were flawed, but felt very real. A great deal of the plot centered around basketball - which I will admit, bored me a little simply because I do not like sports. At all. But, I can see how this would appeal to (particularly male) students.
I did feel uncomfortable at times with what I couldn't help but think of as Indian bashing (though I am sure some other readers will wholeheartedly disagree with me). It seemed that Arnold painted nearly all the Native Americans on his reservation as drunken and violent. It bothered me that he was so easily accepted and loved by the white students at his new school, while he was still seen as an outcast on the reservation. The deaths in the story came very abruptly and, as we had spent very little time with those characters, did not have the emotional impact that they could have.
From a teaching standpoint, I had a problem with the very casual use of some very strong language, particularly, of homophobic slurs in every day speech. I realize that this happens, I realize that it is a realistic portrayal of the way that many teens speak. However, I do not feel that this is something that should be treated as mainstream. If we continue to treat this behavior as "normal" how can we ever expect it to stop?
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Talk of Masturbation Violence: Fist-Fighting, Death by Car Accident, Death by Gunfire, Death by Fire Inappropriate Language: LOTS!!! Substance Use/Abuse: Alcohol Abuse(less)
Cover Impressions: The cover grabbed me enough to make me take a look at the synopsis, s...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover grabbed me enough to make me take a look at the synopsis, so that is something. I like the graffiti feel of it, but would prefer for it to be a little more gritty, like an image taken from an overpass - raw and real.
The Gist: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children chronicles a few, particularly eventful months in the life of Gabe, a teenaged transexual boy. Gabe was born Elizabeth and has recently "come out" to his parents about his true sexuality and his decision to stop hiding. He has also begun working on a late night radio show which forces him into the spotlight and endangers himself, his friends and his family when some people decide that Gabe would be better off staying hidden.
Review: I chose to request this galley because I have read so little YA fiction that features trans characters. As a teacher, I am always trying to find ways to better understand the struggles that my students might be going through and I hoped Beautiful Music for Ugly Children might provide some insight. This was one of the books high points. It was interesting and sometimes moving to watch the characters as they struggled with Liz's decision to start living as Gabe. There was some conflict between he and his best friend as she tried to decide what their new relationship would look like and where the boundary lines lay. There was also a struggle in his parents that I, as a mom, could understand. Having raised Elizabeth from a little girl, her parents displayed feelings of anger, disbelief and guilt as they struggled to accept her as Gabe and to change the way that their family interacted. It is easy for books like this to try to do too much and to make a complete 180 from emotional wreak to warm, loving family, but I feel like Beautiful Music for Ugly Children didn't make this leap and that it showed, instead, a believable level of growth on the part of the parents.
This novel had some great potential and it touched on some very important themes. However, I feel that it could have done more. There was the underlying threat of violence but this never felt entirely real. If the author had chosen to start off small and build toward the ultimate showdown, I think it would have felt more realistic. There was also the tendency for things to be a little too easy. There just happens to be an automatic audience to a brand new radio show that is so enthralled by the DJ's music choices that they take on tasks to please him? There just happens to be a radio contest looking for a young, fresh DJ to launch their career? The transgendered kid comes out and is immediately embraced by his (hot) best friend and pursued by his (also hot) classmate? Opportunities seemed to fall in Gabe's lap and things were a little too convienent for my taste.
I also had a little trouble connecting with the character of Gabe. I liked him, sure. But I didn't really CARE about him. There was something I couldn't put my finger on stopped me from emphasizing with him. Perhaps it was the length. This is a short novel, and there was A LOT crammed into those pages. That didn't leave a lot of room for character development or back-story. I really would have preferred if the novel started with Liz, a closeted transgendered kid, and then chronicled her transition to Gabe and coming out to her family and friends, rather than to have started after all that occurred.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children fell short of my expectations, but was still a good read that provided some insight into the feelings of a teen in transition.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Either Sex: Kissing, Talk of Erections, Allusions to Sex Violence: Threats, Sexual Violence, Attack with a Baseball Bat Inappropriate Language: LOTS! Bitch, Ass, Dick, Shit, Carpet Muncher, Goddamn, Jesus, Pussy Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking, Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute. I love that it represents New York without relying...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute. I love that it represents New York without relying on the predictable and cliched images that are so often used.
The Gist: When Dash finds a mysterious red notebook tucked onto a shelf at his favorite used book store, he is faced with a set of dares. These challenges reveal tidbits about the author, Lilly and encourage Dash to set some dares of his own. As they pass the notebook back and forth, Dash and Lily learn a little about each other, and a lot about themselves
Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares starts off with a really interesting premise: two teens, who have never met, are drawn together through dares and challenges set in a notebook that they pass back and forth. Having never visited New York (but always longed to go) I loved how the adventure carried the characters through some iconic (and not so iconic) sites in the city. The fact that it takes place at Christmas, and Lily's love for the season, made me really wish I was reading it during December and I think it would be a great holiday read.
Dash and Lily are both great characters, but in very different ways. Dash is intense and brooding, with a vocabulary that will give any reader a reason to dig out their dictionary (or download a new app). His manner of speaking was a little pretentious and stopped me from really rooting for him. I also think that it would put off some readers, particularly teen boys. Lily, on the other hand, is sweet and positive. Her happiness is infectious and really helps set that holiday mood. I had a lot of fun watching her rebel a little and loved that we saw some growth by the end.
I enjoyed the first half of this book much more than the second half. The dares and challenges were entertaining and kept me wondering about what the kids would come up with next. However, once they finally met each other, I lost some interest. Things became awkward and more unbelievable. I also got a little annoyed with watching the characters continuously get in their own way and was sort of hoping for a less expected ending. Despite these issues, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares is a fun, quick read that I think would be a great pick for the holidays.
Age: 15 and up Gender: More suited for teen girls Sex: Kissing Violence: None Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Shit, Hell, Prick, Douche, Bitch, Whore, Piss Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: Meh. Not a fan. The color is awful and clashes grossly with the "Reco...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: Meh. Not a fan. The color is awful and clashes grossly with the "Recorded Books" bands. I am not a fan of the all small letter title and author name, nor of the odd picture in the corner. It all feels a little hipster to me and I'm not sure that I am cool enough for it.
The Gist: Charlie is starting his first year of High School. Feeling more than a little scared, he begins writing letters to a mysterious reader and chronicles the life of he and his newfound friends. His letters are filled with astute observations and a frank openness that allows a rare glimpse into the mind of a sensitive, damaged, and troubled young man who is struggling to find himself.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of those books that I think I enjoyed more as an audio book than I would have as a physical book. The narrative is told through the letters that Charlie writes to a mysterious reader. This format would appear to be rather limiting but it actually works quite well in allowing an in-depth glimpse into the mind of a very intelligent, but damaged young man.
Charlie does not view the world the way that an average 16 year old would. He feels things and notices things that others would simply pass by. He is also maddeningly selfless, to the point where he allows others to hurt him, rather than speak out against their actions. Below the surface, however, lies a font of anger and the possibility of violence. Charlie is the type of character that you want to hug. Entering is world makes me wonder about my own students and what issues they might be dealing with that we can never see.
The other characters were so fascinating and compelling that I am a little disappointed in never being able to see their side of the story. I would actually be very happy if Chbosky were to write two companion novels chronicling that one year of high school but from Sam and Patrick's points of view. The reason I chose to finally read this book, was because of the trailer and the casting of Emma Watson as Sam. Having finished the book, I can now say that I am very much looking forward to seeing the movie and I hope they do these wonderful characters justice.
I would like to note that this is not a book that I would place in my junior high classroom. There are many instances of drug use, sex and violence that would make me recommend it for an older audience.
Age: 16 and up (AT LEAST!) Gender: Both Sex: Masturbation, Rape, Molestation, Heterosexual Sex, Homosexual Sex Violence: Fighting, Rape, Suicide Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Queer, Faggot, Pussy Substance Use/Abuse: Marijuana use, Smoking, Underage Drinking, Use of LSD(less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute and would definitely appeal to a teen audience. The...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is cute and would definitely appeal to a teen audience. The imagery charmingly hints at a kiss and the colors are eye-catching.
The Gist: Tink Aaron-Martin is not your average teenager. After being grounded (again) she forgoes the moping and whining typical of her age and instead escapes with her laptop up her favorite tree and proceeds to write an encyclopedia of her life.
Review: This novel has a very unique style. The narrative is woven throughout encyclopedia entries like: MegaMall, Haywire and Virgorama. Some of the entries serve only as amusing interludes while others move the plot forward. This effect took a little getting used to, and I must admit that as the novel went on, I found the frequent footnotes less endearing and more distracting.
The story itself has some fantastic bones. Tink is a special young girl with a not so nice best friend, two brothers, one who is autistic and one who is just annoying and parents who seem to forget that she exists. However, by the end of the story there isn't a great deal of progression. We see some growth in the family, and Tink *sort of* lets go of her friendship with Freddie Blue but I don't really feel that Tink changed as a person or that she accomplished anything other than winning "The Boyfriend Race".
Though I had some problems with the narrative, I do feel that this novel would appeal to a middle grade audience. I can see a number of my students enjoying the alternative writing style and sharing Tink's quirky sense of humor.
Age: 9-12 Gender: Female Sex: Kissing Violence: Accident involving a car Inappropriate Language: None Substance Use/Abuse: None (less)
Cover Impressions: For regular readers of YA romance, this cover is sure to please. The...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: For regular readers of YA romance, this cover is sure to please. The models represent the characters well, the scene is hot and steamy and the backdrop and font add a touch of edge and interest. For me, as an often reluctant YA romance reader, it is a little too run of the mill to match up with the phenomenal writing that I expect from the author of Pushing the Limits.
The Gist: Beth Risk is constantly trying to save her mother. When she comes to the rescue once again, she ends up in jail and is bailed out by her uncle on one condition - that she leave her friends and mother behind to come live with him. Under her uncle's watchful eye, she tries to make a place for her in a town that she thought she had left behind and finds love in the most unlikely of places - with the town's golden boy. Ryan Stone appears to have it all, but is dealing with a seriously fragmented family and trying to decide if the future that he has worked so hard for is his own dream, or his father's.
Dare You To had some pretty big shoes to fill. Katie's last book, Pushing the Limits, easily made my top ten of last year. While the follow up is enjoyable, it is not nearly as strong as its predecessor. I found the characters this time around to be harder to connect with. I liked Beth from the previous novel, but her dogged determination to rescue her mother was hard to watch. Ryan, however, I really didn't like. He claims to be a gentleman who insists that men treat women with respect, but from the very first scene he showed that (particularly through his "dares") he is just as capable of demeaning women as the next guy. My dislike did fade as the book went on, but it made the first half a little difficult to get through.
I was glad to see that the whole dare thing was put to bed fairly quickly and that it didn't result in the expected cliche (a la She's All That and a thousand other movies). The connection between Beth and Ryan was HOTTT, though I could have done with a little less on again, off again. I was also happy to see some depth of Ryan's character once we begin to learn a little more of his family situation. McGarry really knows what she is doing with character development. Dare You To shows a nice juxtaposition between the "golden boy" and the damaged girl and explores how both of their lives are challenging even though only one appears so from the outside. Beth begins as the complete badass that we remember from Pushing The Limits but sees some considerable growth by the end. The scenes with Beth and her mother were heartbreaking, terrifying and made for some real excitement to what is not a particularly action fueled plot.
Dare You To was not a particularly weak book, but it did take me a considerable amount of time to get through. I am chalking this up to my difficulty connecting with the characters and my inability to immerse myself in a plot that is mainly about the romance between two teenagers. I would still recommend this as a strong contemporary romance for those students who love that genre.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, intercourse between teenagers (not graphic) Violence: Physical Fighting, Child (Teen) Abuse Inappropriate Language: Ass, Fuck, Dick, Bastard, Whore, Slut Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking, marijuana use, heroin use (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is ok. It doesn't even come close to showing what a great b...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is ok. It doesn't even come close to showing what a great book this really is. I am happy to see that Noah and Echo are pictured as described (even down to the long sleeves - though I would like to have seen her in gloves). The lighting is well done, but I'm not sure this one would stand out very well on a shelf.
The Gist: Overnight, Echo Emerson went from Miss Popularity to the High School Freak and no one knows why. The horrible scars on her arms prove to Echo that something awful happened that night, but she can't remember. Under the guidance of a new therapist, she meets Noah Hutchins, a boy who is not only dark and dangerous, but just as damaged as she is. Fighting their undeniable attraction, they set out to reveal each other's secrets. In order to do so, they must each let their guard down and let the other in.
Review: Jumping on the Awesome Book Band Wagon in 3...2...1... WEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!
Confession time: were it not for the amazing reviews from other bloggers, I never would have picked up this book. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction and I tend to steer clear of books that appear to focus mainly on a romance ESPECIALLY if they throw out the words "soul mates" or "destiny" (which the UK version does - right on the cover). But Pushing the Limits, is not one of those books. Yes, the romance is a big factor, but it loses center stage to some wonderful character development with a smattering of mystery.
McGarry has a remarkable skill in writing broken characters. Echo and Noah both had moments that forcibly grabbed me and threw me into their world. It is not often that a book can evoke such a strong emotional response in me, but this one succeeded. There were several instances where I blinked back tears or fought the urge to shake somebody (usually Echo's parents). The two main characters felt so real that I could easily picture them sitting in my classroom, trying to be invisible, while I sit behind my desk trying to think of a way to reach them. Those are the type of students that break your heart - when you can see so much potential being smothered by so much pain. As characters, Echo and Noah are always compelling, often raw and never boring. They carry the story and have the kind of chemistry that makes the reader's heart race right along with them.
I was impressed by the manner in which McGarry tackled the relationships not only between Echo and Noah but between all of the characters on the periphery, especially Noah and his brothers and Echo and her parents. It was heartbreaking to watch Echo interact with her "friends" and family as she struggled to meet their demands and win their love and to stand by while Noah spent supervised visits trying to maintain his connection to the two little boys who were his whole world. Throughout the novel, I was pleased to see a great deal of growth in both characters, but a realistic journey to it. There were struggles, there were setbacks, and, in the end, there were issues that weren't exactly solved, but where steps had been taken down the right path.
The writing in Pushing the Limits is clean (though I wish Noah would have laid off the siren and nymph comparisons) and the plot moves at a steady pace. In character driven novels such as this it is easy to let action and excitement fall by the wayside, but the truth behind Echo's scars is revealed in such as way as to keep the reader engaged. As Echo's memory returns in snatches, we begin to see the true horror and sadness behind what happened to her and how broken her family truly was. In splitting the narration between Echo and Noah, McGarry ensures that each chapter leaves the reader wanting to turn one more page, read one more line until, if you are like me, you have finished the entire book in just a few short hours.
The only mark against Pushing the Limits is that the sexual nature and vulgar language would prohibit me from recommending it to my Junior High students, though I highly recommend it for teens over 16 and adult lovers of YA novels.
Katie McGarry has earned a fan for life. I have already listed Dare You To (Beth's Story) as to-read and will count down the days until it's eventual release sometime in 2013.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, Sexual Acts, Vulgar Sexual Language. Violence: Fist Fight, Drugging, Attempted murder Inappropriate Language: Varied and Often: Fuck, Tits, Dick, Ass, Shit, Bitch, Jesus Christ, Pussy, Slut, Bastard, Whore
Cover Impressions: I do not believe that this cover would stand out on a shelf. It is no...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: I do not believe that this cover would stand out on a shelf. It is not particularly unique. As for connection with the plot, the cover model doesn't look unhealthy or troubled and her expression does not evoke much of anything in the viewer.
The Gist: Sethie Weiss is determined. Determined to be the perfect, sort-of girlfriend for Shaw. Determined to ace the SAT and have her pick of colleges. Determined to control her body and watch the number on the scale drop lower and lower. She suffers from body dis-morphia and examines the other females around her, noting their perfect bodies and lamenting her own flaws. Sethie revels in feeling hungry and will resort to any means necessary to get rid of every last ounce of fat.
Review: The Stone Girl offers a glimpse into the mind of a girl not yet in the extreme danger zone but still, suffering from some major body (and self esteem) issues. While the book tackles a very serious and important issue, I don't feel that it accomplished anything that hasn't already been achieved by its predecessors.
The writing itself is very choppy and the sentence structure just doesn't work. The author seems to have an aversion to pronouns and sprinkles each paragraph with an abundance of names
"Sometimes he calls Sethie's father, who lives in California, for the money, as though it's the absence of a man that's making Rebecca late. But Sethie knows that like Shaw, Rebecca can't always be hampered by dates and times. Though her lateness isn't smooth the way Shaw's is. Rebecca's lateness is always messy, choppy, harried. Sethie knows the landlord would love an excuse to evict the tenants of 12A, Rebecca and her daughter, Sethie, the quiet girl who no one would have guessed might be a troublemaker."
This quirk is very jarring and interrupts the flow of the writing. I also question the choice of third person narrative for this subject matter. It is difficult to truly get inside Sethie's head and near impossible to see any type of growth by the novel's end. Were we able to experience more closely with her, we might have gotten a better understanding of the way her mind works.
As a character, Sethie is not particularly likeable. We are constantly reminded that she is smart, but never get to see this in action and instead are forced to watch as she makes a myriad of bad decisions and lets herself be led around by the males in her life. I think I might have preferred the story if it had begun prior to Sethie's involvement with Shaw. That way, we could have seen her as a determined (if damaged) individual and would have been able to lament at her downward spiral. I did enjoy her budding friendship with Jane but the character seems to serve no other purpose. The other secondary characters are pretty forgettable, in fact, I had to keep going back in order to remember their names and Sethie's mom plays the chiche absentee parent who doesn't seem to have a clue what is going on with her daughter (or at least doesn't have the guts to do anything about it).
Despite these issues, the book was a sold 3 stars for me. That is, up until the ending. I don't want to give too much away, but it was simply too easy. Nothing had happened to make me believe that Sethie was about to take a step in the right direction and even her mother didn't make any brave moves toward saving her daughter.
As a final note, several times throughout the novel, Sethie mentions how lectures, books and articles on the subject of Anorexia and Bulimia had served as instruction manuals.
"Sethie is reading a memoir by a girl who was both anorexic and bulimic. She gets some good ideas from it ..."
"The only thing Sethie had ever gotten from these articles is tips on how to be better at dieting"
This is a personal fear that I have in putting books like these in my classroom. The last thing that I want to do is further aid a student in their self-destruction.
Due to the content and sexual nature, I would not recommend this book to my students and would probably steer them towards a book on anorexia that had more in the way of characterization.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Female Sex: Described, but not graphically. Violence: Self-harm Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Ass, Fuck, Jesus Christ, Asshole Substance Use/Abuse: Cigarette Smoking, Pot Smoking, Use of Cocaine, Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: I will be honest, the cover didn't wow me. It was the title and synopsis that got me interested. Perhaps it looks different on the...moreCover Impressions: I will be honest, the cover didn't wow me. It was the title and synopsis that got me interested. Perhaps it looks different on the physical copy, or perhaps there is some symbolism behind the cover image that I missed. Either way - do not judge this one by it's cover!
The Gist: Valerie wanted to throw a fun party and maybe flirt with her crush. She didn't know that within 24 hrs she would be labeled as The Rape Girl and that she would lose her friends, her reputation and her sense of self.
Review: Rape Girl is one of those rare books that wraps it's tendrils around my heart and refuses to let go. I read it in pretty much one sitting, over a few hours and am still left with an overwhelming need to re-examine and discuss it. I want to make my friends read it, I want to bombard the author with my questions and, more than any of those, I want to get multiple copies for my classroom.
The first few chapters of this book are divided into Before and After. This is incredibly effective and reflects the way that many victims will always structure their memories. While we follow Valerie's rape and the aftermath, we do not get the graphic descriptions that can be common in other books on this subject and this allows it to maintain appropriateness for teens. Throughout this novel, we are privy to Valerie's inner thoughts and feelings as her friends desert her and her family struggles to deal with their own sense of guilt. The pain from each of these people is palpable and poignant.
The actions on the part of Valerie, her mother, best friend and even her rapist feel incredibly realistic. At one point, we hear from this young man and my stomach turned to ice simply reading his justifications for his crimes, knowing that a person with this deluded sense of entitlement as a man will most certainly assault another woman. While his words are chilling, they seem typical of a person who has convinced himself that he has done nothing wrong. I was also seriously disturbed at the actions of the principal. As a teacher, the thought that a man in that position could so blatantly side with the perpetrator of a rape makes me ill.
Rape Girl has easily made my list of top books for 2012 and is one that I highly recommend to both teens and adults.
Age: 13 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing, Talk of Sex Violence: Rape - No Graphic Descriptions Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Fuck, Ho, Dildo, Ass, Whore, Shit, Bastard Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is simple, clean and to the point. It isn't something that...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is simple, clean and to the point. It isn't something that would normally attract me to pick up a book, but after having read it, I like it.
The Gist: Jeff has been sentenced to 45 days in a psych ward following an attempted suicide. Despite his insistence that he is not a "nut job", he must endure therapy and group with other kids that society has deemed disturbed. As time goes on the patients start to seem less crazy - or is it that Jeff is becoming more so?
Review: Suicide Notes is one of those books where I never really know where to start with the review. Each chapter follows a different day of Jeff's 45 day sentence and this works really well to keep the story flowing. Jeff is funny, self-deprecating and an all round little shit. But a loveable little shit. As the narrator, he spends the beginning of the book lying to his doctors, himself and, consequently, the reader. His sessions with Dr. Cat Poop were laden with humor and thinly veiled disdain and it was compelling to watch as Jeff's walls broke down and he became tired of lying all the time.
The secondary characters are fascinating in and of themselves. As Jeff opens up, we begin to learn more about these characters but they continue to hold a sense of mystery. We watch them struggle, make breakthrough and suffer setbacks. No one is miraculously "cured" and we are left to wonder what happened to them upon release.
This novel deals with some pretty heavy issues, Suicide, Arson, Drug Use, Sexuality and Self-Hate to name a few. I fully admit that while I would allow my own children to read this one once they reached a mature age, I would not recommend it to my students due to the frank talk of sex, description of sexual acts and description of attempted suicide. As an adult reader I can appreciate the realism and sincerity behind many of these scenes but I would be concerned that many parents might not share this view.
Age: 16 and Up Gender: Both Sex: Masturbation, Groping, Oral Sex. Violence: Suicide and attempted suicide, Inappropriate Language: LOTS: Fucking, Suck my Cock, Retarded, Fag, Jacked Off, Pissing, Queer, Bitch, Dick, Asshole, Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Talk of Drug Use(less)
Cover Impressions: The cover is simple, but fitting. I like the incorporation of the tit...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The cover is simple, but fitting. I like the incorporation of the title as part of the amp and the use of the often overlook, puke-green color.
The Gist: Jasmine Kiss has fled the stifling world of academia and an overbearing father for the streets of Santa Cruz and the chance to lose herself in her music. When the perfect opportunity of a place to stay and a spot in an up and coming band lands in her path, Jasmine has to fight her way in and convince both the band, and herself, that she belongs.
Review: Jasmine is the kind of character you want to hug, hand a cup of tea and tell "oh sweetie, you are so young". She comes from a privileged background and, at the beginning, comes off as a 17 year old princess who doesn't realize how good she has it. I will be honest, I sympathized with the father. You have hopes and dreams for your children and then they turn around and make the choices that you think will lead them into pain and trouble. Of course, as the story wore on and I learned more about dear old daddy (particularly him telling Jasmine she was lucky to be plain looking) I began to see where she was coming from. This is not a story of action and suspense, it is a story of friendship and growth. I felt honored to watch Jasmine learn some life lessons and come into her own as a musician.
This is the type of novel that smacks of REAL. The characters have major flaws, they make real, teenage mistakes and (sometimes) own up and learn from them. The love interest made my heart flutter and remember how exciting those exploratory days were, when excitement and nerves melded together and made butterflies dance inside your stomach. There were no real "villains" but even the characters that I disliked could be seen as having bigger issues at play. I was particularly glad that, while Jasmine does learn and grow from her experiences, she does not change into a whole new person and we know that she still has a ways to go.
The one thing about this book that I could not relate to was the music descriptions. I know NOTHING about music, I am a casual listener at best and I found myself skimming some of the sections where the band played and Jasmine's each and every move on the guitar was recorded. This is a personal issue, I know. I can, however, imagine those to be the favorite parts of someone who does "get" music and understands the lingo. I do wish this book could have somehow been bundled with a soundtrack so that I could have connected what I was reading with what I was hearing.
This book should appeal to budding musicians and anyone that enjoys well-drawn characters with a dash of romance. It should be noted (as described below) there are some scenes and language that may not be appropriate for those on the younger end of the Young Adult spectrum.
Teaching/Parental Notes: Age: 16 and up Gender: Will probably be more appealing to girls. Sex: Spoken about, alluded to, but not actually described. Violence: None Inappropriate Language: Douches, Jacking Off, Giving Head, Fucking, Pricks, Bitch Substance Abuse: Smoking, underage drinking(less)
The Gist: In the wake of 9/11 two boys struggle to make sense of the world and each other. Craig is still in love with his (sort of) ex-boyfriend but, despite himself, is falling for quiet and reserved Lio. Lio is a cancer survivor and still reeling from the loss of his twin brother. The boys cling to one another in tragic circumstances and develop an intense relationship that teaches them about longing and love.
Review: Wow. This one was surprising. The reviews for this one have been fantastic. Nearly everyone on my Goodreads list who has read it, has loved it. And I .... didn't. I just didn't. This is my second foray into Hannah Moskowitz's writing and I think it is just not for me. Her characters are a little too quirky to be real, her plots are a little too plodding to keep me interested and her storylines tend to include elements that make me cringe (though the ones in this particular book were a lot easier to take than in Teeth. Perhaps, I am too mainstream for this type of writing. I feel like I need a pair of ironic glasses and some beat up Chuck Taylors just to understand what message Moskowitz is trying to send in her novels. For example, one character was scared of a sniper, one was not. We have random killings with no real purpose other than to give the two main characters a reason to skip school and then the snipers are caught (in the last line of the book noless) with no clear effect on the plot. I know, I know, the message was about love - but it didn't really feel that way. The two boys just seemed to be playing at love and enjoying a remarkable sense of freedom from parental supervision (what the hell parents?).
Clearly, this book resonated with a lot of people. I think that perhaps my time spent teaching ACTUAL teenagers makes me extra cynical when fictional teenagers seem too mature, too precocious and too intense or damaged.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Sex between teenagers Violence: Sniper shootings (several victims, including children) Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Shit, Fuck, Slut, Cock, Piss, Jesus Christ, Faggot, Pussy, Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking (less)