Grade range: 9-12 Genre: Young Adult Literary Merit: Very Good Characterization: Excellent Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Aysel and Roman meet throughGrade range: 9-12 Genre: Young Adult Literary Merit: Very Good Characterization: Excellent Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Aysel and Roman meet through a website called Smooth Passages which is a forum for people who are planning to commit suicide. Roman (user name FrozenRobot) posts a request on the Suicide Partners page of the site that catches Aysel’s eye because he lives in a small Kentucky town not far from hers. The two connect, meet face to face, and decide that they will commit suicide together. Roman has one requirement: he wants to do it on the anniversary of his sister’s death, which is just twenty-five days away. As the date approaches and the two spend more time together, Aysel begins to question whether suicide is the right answer for either of them.
Aysel and Roman are an unlikely pair in many ways. Partly due to her Turkish ethnicity, Aysel has always felt like an outsider in her small Kentucky town. Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother remarried and started a new family while Aysel continued to live with her father. After her father commits an unspeakable crime, she moves in with her mother and feels like an outsider even within her own family. Roman, on the other hand, is an all American teen who is a talented basketball player, popular and well-liked at school. But when his sister dies, he blames himself and retreats from friends and family into a deep depression. Both characters are well developed, and their desire to understand each other’s motives for wanting to commit suicide help the reader better understand their mental states and why they would want to take such a drastic step. The trajectory of their relationship is uneven and believable but satisfying in the end.
Each chapter begins with the number of days left until the agreed upon date of April 7th. This creates a sense of tension and foreboding that keeps the reader engaged in the story. Though the subject matter is dark, Wanga manages to infuse some humor through Aysel’s wry sense of humor and sarcasm. The novel concludes in a way that manages to be both realistic and hopeful. The end matter includes resources for teens who are struggling with depression or having thoughts of suicide. Highly recommended for fans of intense realistic fiction. ...more
When the orphanage where he lives burns down, fourteen year -old-Leo and three of this friends make their way to New York City. But after two years of When the orphanage where he lives burns down, fourteen year -old-Leo and three of this friends make their way to New York City. But after two years of living in an abandoned building and earning money by picking pockets, Leo is beginning to feel ready to change his life and find a more respectable way to live. After the Mayor – leader of the small gang of boys who left the orphanage together – convinces Leo, Murph, and Boris to pull a high stakes con that ends badly, Leo knows for sure it’s his time to go. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to walk away, but after several setbacks Leo lucks into a job as an assistant to a magician called The Great Barzini. Barzini, who is a close friend of Harry Houdini, has a plan for a new show the highlight of which will be a twist on the bullet a catch, a trick made famous by a former friend of Barzini’s. The life of a magician’s assistant is a huge improvement from living as thief, but there are mysteries surrounding Barzini that make Leo nervous, and his old life doesn’t seem to be done with Leo just yet.
The Bullet Catch was a pleasant surprise. My expectations were set low by the cover, which depicts in very mundane artwork a magician onstage shuffling cards while someone else (his assistant?) peaks out from behind the curtain. I don’t think it would appeal to any audience really, but it certainly doesn’t look like a YA book. Chances are slim to none that any teen would see this book cover and even bother to pick it up to read the jacket. The publisher’s website recommends it for grades 4-6 (which I don’t agree with), but I can’t really see the younger set being intrigued by it either. The smaller font size and lack of white space look more like the pages of a book written for an adult audience. The main character’s age, occasional moral ambiguity, and the focus on his past criminal activity make it a book most suitable for a slightly older audience in my opinion.
Having said all that, I think the Axelrods wrote a pretty good book that very few people will read for the reasons mentioned above. Leo is a likeable character, who sometimes makes bad choices, but wants to do the right thing and be a respectable person. Many of secondary characters, particularly Barzini, have depth and struggle with their own internal conflicts. The setting of early 1900s New York City is well developed, and they do a good job of inserting the reader into the world of magicians, illusionists and spiritualists. A few of the plot twists strain credibility a bit, but it was exciting and engaging enough to keep me turning the pages. The conclusion was a bit abrupt, and readers will have to be satisfied with a few loose threads that don’t get tied up completely. Overall, this is solid historical fiction that I would heartily recommend if not for the aesthetic issues mentioned above that will make it a difficult sell to a teen audience. ...more
The word that comes to mind to sum up this book is generic. You would think that the setting, a remote village in the mountains of Finland, would addThe word that comes to mind to sum up this book is generic. You would think that the setting, a remote village in the mountains of Finland, would add a unique twist to this action novel, but so little detail is given that the place of the novel just feels like a generic wilderness. The main character Oskari is a part of a tribe that has a coming of age ritual in which the boy must go out into the wilderness and kill something with the ceremonial bow. The animal that he kills is supposed to represent what kind of man he will become. Not much more detail is give about the Tribe and its rituals beyond that, so again it has the feeling of a generic version of a white person’s idea of what native people might do. Because Oskari is smaller and weaker than the other boys his age, no one (including his father) thinks that he will succeed in killing anything. However, Oskari stumbles upon something much bigger and more important than simple wildlife. He stumbles upon an escape pod containing the President of the United States! The President has been sold out by some of the people he trusts most in the world, and it’s up to Oskari to help him escape the vaguely Middle Eastern man who is now hunting him.
Though this novel is jam packed with action, I didn’t find it all that exciting. Action movie tropes abound, and the characters are all very two dimensional. Many of the plot twists strain credibility. From what I gather, this is a novelization of a movie that recently came out, so that could drum up some additional interest. Optional purchase where adventure and survival fiction is popular with the middle school crowd. ...more
This will be fine for teens who are looking for a fluffy romance without much complexity. I was bothered by some inconsistencies in the characters, buThis will be fine for teens who are looking for a fluffy romance without much complexity. I was bothered by some inconsistencies in the characters, but readers who are interested in a swoony love triangle may be pulled in. This author got her start on Wattpad which will be an additional draw for the many teen readers and writers who are active on the site....more
The first review is mine. The second is from Laura, a senior in the NWHS student review group.
Grade Range: 9-12 Genre: Historical/Science Fiction LiterThe first review is mine. The second is from Laura, a senior in the NWHS student review group.
Grade Range: 9-12 Genre: Historical/Science Fiction Literary Merit: Good Characterization: Good Recommendation: Recommended as optional purchase
The Ghosts of Heaven is made up of four stories each very different in setting and style, but all connected by the motif of the spiral. The author states in the introduction that the stories can be read in any order but they are seemingly presented chronologically with the first taking in prehistoric time, the second during the period of witchcraft trials in England, the third in the early 1900s in a New England mental hospital, and the last on spaceship bound for a planet that the five hundred sleeping humans on board hope to colonize. In each of these stories, the spiral is present and seems to represent both an essential component of life as well as a descent into evil and madness.
Each of the four stories is written in a style that reflects the content and the setting. “Whispers in the Dark” is written in verse and it is reminiscent of early Native American literature with its focus on humanity’s interaction with nature and animals as well as the importance of the tribe and the role that each individual plays. The focus is on the hunt and the ritual that the main character must perform in order to help her tribe be successful. “The Witch in the Water” focuses on a witch trial brought about by fanatical religious leader who has come to the village to “exterminate evil.” The story itself and the style bring to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s depiction of the time period. “The Easiest Room in Hell” has a distinct Edgar Allan Poe vibe complete with an unreliable narrator, mental institution, and characters who are deranged on many different levels. It definitely succeeds in being creepy. “The Song of Destiny” is space travel science fiction pure and simple, and it’s a highly engaging story, the best of the four in my opinion.
All in all it was an interesting book with some definite highs and lows. The spiral motif that was the connection among the stories seemed forced and unsubtle to me. Each time it came up, it had the effect of taking me out of the story rather than reinforcing the theme. This might appeal to teens who have an interest in literary fiction, but those teens are often more interested in reading books written for adult audience as opposed to YA. Recommended as an optional purchase.
Student Review: Review by: Laura P (12th grade) Grade Range: 7th Grade and up Genre: Historical Fiction / Magical Realism / Sci-fi Literary Merit: Very good in parts but not consistent Characterization: Again, very good in parts but not consistent
Review: The Ghosts of Heaven takes the reader through four different stories, one set in Prehistory, one in the witch hunts, one in a 1920s asylum, and one in the distant future. The story centers around the concept of spirals and helixes, and how they are intrinsic not only to human nature, but to the entire natural universe.
My opinion of this book is incredibly mixed. Overall, I enjoyed it, but there were parts that I just about couldn’t stand. The entire second quarter, for example, I found tedious. At the end of it I felt like I didn’t know or care about any of the characters, and I could have guessed the entire plot after the second chapter. The other quarters, though, I adored. I thought the characters came across very well and the plots kept me for the most part on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t put this book down at parts, though at others it was all I wanted to do.
The one thing that tied all of these pieces together was the concept of a spiral or helix. Every quarter featured a character who became obsessed with these shapes after coming across them at every turn and becoming convinced that there was some deeper meaning in them. I found this entire concept to be melodramatic. In most cases, the mention of the spirals simply took away from the otherwise wonderful narrative. The only quarter that they were believable in was the third, and that was only because the obsessed man was clinically insane. Even then it was a stretch.
Recommendation: This book is great for anyone looking for something different, or anyone at all intrigued by the concept. What I recommend if you’re on the fence is starting with the third quarter, as it is written in a familiar style and, in my opinion, the best of the four. ...more
My review is followed by a student review by sophomore Danielle.
Grade Range: 10-12 grade Genre: Realistic Literary Merit: Good Characterization: Good RecMy review is followed by a student review by sophomore Danielle.
Grade Range: 10-12 grade Genre: Realistic Literary Merit: Good Characterization: Good Recommendation: Recommended
For as long as he can remember, Alex has felt more like a girl than a boy. It’s like there are two Alexes sharing one body, and, ever since he stopped taking his pills, the feminine Alex is finally in the driver’s seat. Starting over at new school allows Alex to present herself as a girl for the first time. However, the other Alex is still lurking inside and is depicted as a separate entity with his own thoughts and feelings. Alex’s parents are not exactly happy about their teenage son identifying as a female. Though the story is told mostly from Alex’s first person point of view, the reader gets some insight into Alex’s mother’s perspective through her posts on a parenting website. In this way, the reader learns early in the novel some details about Alex that even Alex is not yet aware of. Alex was born intersex, and the doctors advised his parents to keep a journal tracking his behaviors in order to decide if he had more masculine or feminine tendencies. Eventually, they began treating him with hormones so that he developed as a boy. For some reason, Alex’s parents keep this a secret even when he opens up to them about feeling like a girl.
Alex’s dislike of her mother is extreme, and the posts that she writes lend credence to Alex’s assessment of her as crazy, cold, and unloving. In one post she states, “I look at Alex and I don’t think I love him. I know that if we had a normal child our lives would be so much better.” She seems to have mental issues of her own, flying into hysterics whenever life gets difficult. When she realizes that Alex has stopped taking the hormone pills, she starts crushing them up and putting them in her food without telling her think that this will “fix” Alex. Unlike Alex’s mother who is awful from beginning to end, Alex’s father shows development throughout the book. When Alex tells them that she identifies as a girl, her father’s response is to pack a bag and leave. He does eventually come home and seems to be trying to connect with Alex, but it’s definitely a two steps forward one step back situation. Perhaps the most damning evidence against Alex’s parents is that they never tell him the truth about being born intersex. The only helpful adult in Alex’s life is Mr. Crocker, an attorney that Alex hires to help her procure a new birth certificate that identifies her as female instead of male. It is through Crocker that Alex learns that she was born intersex.
The novel ends abruptly with several plot threads, such as Alex’s mother sneaking drugs into her food, still left dangling. Other aspects of the conclusion strain credibility. Ultimately, the reader is left with a sense of hope for Alex though it is clear that it isn’t going to be an easy road.
This book was difficult to review. It was a difficult book to read. On the positive side, there are many teens who struggle with issues like Alex’s, and it’s good for them to see a character who is dealing with these concerns. On the negative side, there were some definite plotting issues, and some loose ends that needed to be tied up. Though I certainly had sympathy for Alex, I didn’t entirely connect with the character. This novel is most appropriate for mature teens who enjoy intense, realistic fiction.
Student Review by Danielle (10th grade) Alex As Well is about Alex, an intersex child who is struggling to find out who she is and where she belongs in the world. After deciding that she is a girl, she struggles against society, her parents, and her inner voice that seems to a boy. The plot is whirlwind of activities, lending a point of view to Alex’s mother through her mom support group, and also dealing with the matter of Alex’s sexuality.
Overall, I thought the book had an excellent plot, starting out, and the author definitely knows how to structure her sentences. I do not believe, however, that the book was very well thought out. It seemed to me that all the author was trying to do was add more conflict, but she never ended up resolving any of it, except the spat between Alex and her father. The book did have a climax, but it didn’t have a falling action, as far as I could tell. The book just…ended. There was resolving of issues, where there really should have been major discussions on, and the characters, which were complex at first, grew steadily more simple as the book continued. They were angry, Or confused. Or they just didn’t understand. They were one sided, with no further development. I would still recommend this book (beginning at ninth grade – the ideas of intersex and sexuality may be too controversial and complex to anyone below a certain maturity level) to anyone who was having a major struggle understanding people with this particular condition....more
Student Review By Jayla (Grade 11) Grade range: 9th-12th Genre: Young Adult Literary Merit: Excellent Characterization: Very Good
“The Last Time We Say GStudent Review By Jayla (Grade 11) Grade range: 9th-12th Genre: Young Adult Literary Merit: Excellent Characterization: Very Good
“The Last Time We Say Goodbye” by Cynthia Hand tells the story of Alexis (Lex) as she deals with her grief over her younger brother Tyler’s suicide. Her friends walk on eggshells around her, she broke up her boyfriend, and her mother’s a mess after losing her son. And Lex is haunted by the guilt of a decision she made that could have changed everything.
I immediately fell in love with Lex. She’s in all honors classes, and applying to MIT. She’s aware that she’s a geek but she embraces that and has friends that are just like her. Lex is strong girl for what she has gone through but she’s vulnerable at the same time. But I would say that her one fault is that her view on life is too scientific. She has to find the logic in everything she deals with. She has trouble believing in love due to the fact that her parents are divorced. This book tells a wonderful story about grief, about the pain of losing someone close to you, about all the things you could have done to help them. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s dealing with the loss of someone important to them. (Be prepared to start sobbing by the end of the book). ...more
3.5 stars...pleasantly surprised. The cover and the synopsis did nothing to make me want to read this book, but I'm reviewing the sequel, so I thought3.5 stars...pleasantly surprised. The cover and the synopsis did nothing to make me want to read this book, but I'm reviewing the sequel, so I thought I should at least give this a skim. I ended up reading the entire book and really enjoyed it. There are some familiar tropes here but with an interesting twist. It had a good mix of character development and action. If they can get past the generic and unappealing cover, teen fans of dystopian sci fi and zombie novels will eat this up and be anxious for the second book.
Student Review by Corey (gr 12) Grade Range: 9th-12th Grade Genre: Science Fiction Literary Merit: Excellent, a very well written book. Characterization: Excellent! In a world where a diet drink called “ThinPro” causes all of its drinkers to go insane, Velvet Ellis tries to live a normal life with her mother and her little brother. When Velvet tries to find her mother who is contaminated, otherwise known as a ”Connie,” she looks in what seems to be a kennel set-up where the “Connies” are being treated like dogs. When she does find her mom, she doesn’t recognize her at first; in fact it takes her a second time looking at her mother for Velvet to even realize that it’s her mother. Velvet takes her mother out of the kennel and tries to live a normal life like she did before, but her mother is still contaminated so it’s hard to go back to the old way of living. Contaminated is a fast paced story full of suspense that had me on the edge of my seat constantly. The story does not dwell on one topic for too long, it keeps moving at a pace that is very appealing to me. For example, when Velvet was in the kennel the story did not dwell on that part too long, even when Velvet realized who her mother was. I was always on the edge of my seat wondering “What’s going to happen next?” The only thing about the book that I think could be improved is the cover because it did not really draw me in, but the story inside the cover was great. I would recommend Contaminated to anyone looking for a suspenseful read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. ...more
Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time. After being abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, Billy drifts in time through various parts of hBilly Pilgrim has become unstuck in time. After being abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, Billy drifts in time through various parts of his life focusing heavily on his experiences in a POW camp after WWII. Historical fiction mixed with science fiction mixed with elements of a psychological novel, and oh yeah, partly true as it is based on Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters." This is an apt description. It’s easy to see why this has become a “classic” especially in the category of war (or, more accurately, anti-war) novels, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (not that any book ever is really). I can’t say that I necessarily enjoyed this book (so it goes), but I am glad that I finally read it. And it was interesting to look at Goodreads and see what my friends thought and actually discuss the book with several of them who vividly remembered reading and loving the book when they were in high school. Clearly it has the power to resonate with a lot of people. I definitely recommend it for those students with an interest in American literature as it holds an important spot in that cannon....more