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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Realistic

The Memory of Light
Stork, Francisco X.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I've read many teen fiction books, but this book was by far the most honest about dealing with mental issues. There are no easy answers and it is a hard process to fight through. The main character Vicki really wants to be normal, but she is having a hard time dealing with school and her parents. She decides to commit suicide. She is discovered and rescued. She commits herself to a local mental institute to see if she can find a way to deal with her depression. Once there she meets other teens that are also dealing with difficult mental issues. Having dealt with depression in my own life it is nice to see that books are being published about mental health issues, especially books that target teens. The descriptions of how depression affect Vicky were really well done. I will say that there are some moments of teen angst, but overall the book was excellent.

Reviewer's Name: Jean
Genres:
After You
Moyes, Jojo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

It’s been 2 years since Will Traynor’s death. Louisa Clark traveled for a while, but now she is stuck in a bad job and just treading water. Even surviving a fall from the rooftop of her apartment building doesn’t shock Louisa into wanting to experience more of life. Louisa joins a support group to deal with her grief and develops a relationship with the paramedic who saved her. However, it’s the arrival of teenage girl with a link to Louisa’s past that sets her life into a spin and changes it in more ways than she could ever have imagined. After You, Jojo Moyes’ sequel to Me Before You, is a well-written, realistic look at dealing with grief and all the curves life throws at a person. Fans of the first book will feel like they are catching up with an old friend. Be prepared to cry and laugh out loud as you spend more time with this loveable character.

Reviewer's Name: Milissa
The Mortifications
Palacio, Derek
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Mortifications follows the Encarnacion family from Cuba to Connecticut and then back to Cuba again. Soledad's husband, Uxbal, is heavily involved in rebel groups resisting Castro's regime. She doesn't want her children growing up in that environment, and eventually she decides to take them and leave for America without her husband. Uxbal tries to hold her daughter Isabel captive, but she threatens to cut his son's throat if he doesn't let her take both their children. They escape successfully, but the incident leaves deep scars on everyone in the family. Soledad eventually begins a new relationship with Henri Willems, a Dutch man trying to cultivate Cuban tobacco in the US, and all the while she and her children drift further and further apart from one another as they try to adjust to their new lives.

The Mortifications is a leisurely-paced book and it draws rich portraits of all the characters: Soledad, who takes her children from Cuba to America to protect them but finds herself haunted by a lost marriage and country; Isabel, who took a vow to her father to remain chaste until she could have rebel children for his militia, and who later joins a convent in an effort to keep this vow; Ulises, a student of classical literature who feels abandoned by his mother, father, and sister alike; Willems, who is haunted by the idea that his tobacco holds the ghosts of the slaves his family once owned in Haiti; and many more minor characters who are written with equal depth and sympathy. It was a genuine pleasure to read -- beautiful writing, very introspective, and with enough humor to keep it from being too relentlessly depressing. That being said, it's a very (and I mean very) slow-paced book and is focused more on the internal lives of the characters than any cohesive plot, so that might be frustrating to readers looking for something with a little more structure. I would give it 3.5 stars, in large part because the writing was absolutely gorgeous.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
If I Was Your Girl
Russo, Meredith
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Earlier this year, I read If I Was Your Girl, and it is one of the most timely books I have ever encountered. Meredith Russo’s tale of a young girl moving to a new town is so much more than your standard teen romance.

Amanda just moved to Lambertville, a small Tennessee town where the big events are high school football games and church socials. She’s nervous about getting a fresh start for her senior year of high school, but she quickly makes a handful of friends. However, she’s hiding two big secrets. One, she attempted suicide while she was at her old school. Two, Amanda is transgender. Amanda is not expecting to fall in love, but encountering Grant, a young man with secrets of his own, leaves them both struggling to be honest with each other.

Amanda’s parents are separated, and she moves from a larger city where she lived with her mother to a small town where her father is still coming to terms with his daughter’s identity. If I Was Your Girl tells Amanda’s story almost flawlessly, interweaving flashbacks to her old life and helping the reader understand Amanda’s reasons for transitioning and her acceptance in her new home. Meredith Russo blends some of her own life experiences into Amanda. As readers, we’re shown an incredibly deep look. We see the psychological effects, glimpses into the recovery from the surgical procedures, and her experiences with a local support group prior to the move.

As has been mentioned in many reviews of this book, If I Was Your Girl covers a fairly easy take on transition. Amanda knows from a young age who she is, and has no trouble covering the costs of hormone therapy and various surgeries while she is still young. It’s an idealized version of transition, and it is important to note that this is currently quite rare in reality (I personally was waiting for tragedy to strike throughout my read, because everything seemed to be going too well). This is also noted by the author. “I’m worried that you might take Amanda’s story as gospel, especially since it comes from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be.” However, this does not diminish the importance of a book by a transgender author, starring a transgender character, and featuring a transgender model on the cover in a year when transphobia is at a terrifying high.

All in all, I loved this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Is it perfect? No. But it’s a much-needed beacon of hope in what has been a very dark year for LGBT+ folks around the country.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Genres:
Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Chbosky, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book was surprising good! It was very well written and told from a fascinating narrative viewpoint. The book is written as a series of letters which serves the story line well. It wasn't overly adolescent so it appeals to both teens and adults. Charlie is optimistic and sees beauty in the world. I also liked that he listens to great music and reads great literature, which allows the reader to check out the titles he mentions. Great book!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Wonder
Palacio, R.J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This review contains spoilers.

This is the second time I've read this book. I got more out of it this time. It helped to google Auggie's condition to see what he would have looked like. There were a few chapters about friendship, betrayal, and bullying, that were so powerful I got misty-eyed. I liked that the school ultimately accepted him and loved him. I also liked Via's friend's storyline. Perhaps my favorite part was at the end when he got the award and said that they saw something exceptional, but he just saw himself as a normal kid. But hey, he'd take the award if they wanted to give it to him. :-)

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Booked
Alexander, Kwame
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Nick Hall has everything going for him: he's doing well in school, he's got a solid flirtation going with his crush (or...limerence as it were), and most importantly, he made the soccer travel team. And so, of course, everything starts to go wrong. His parents separate, he starts to get bullied and his best friend ends up on a soccer team 30 miles away.

Booked is absolutely in no way the type of book I would normally pick up, but despite that, I thought it was fantastic. It's a sports fiction novel written in verse neither of which are my thing, but man, I get why Crossover won that Newbery if it was anything like this. In very few words, Alexander manages to develop complex characters, create humor, and develop and subsequently neatly (a little too neatly, perhaps, but hey, it is a book for kids) tie up several plot lines. Oh! And the words! There is a fun little subplot in which Nick's dad wrote a dictionary, and it leads to some really awesome word play. I also learned a few new fun vocabulary words to throw around.

Anyway, my final thought is really just...wow. I'm impressed. I'll definitely be booktalking this one. And even though, like I said, it's not my thing AT ALL, I'll probably read Crossover, Alexander's other book. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Zevin, Gabrielle
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is the perfect summer book! It is a feel-good character centered book. A.J. Fikry is a young widower who isn't coping very well with the death of his wife. He owns and operates a bookstore that he seems not to care about, and is very judgmental about the books he sells and reads. Then one day his life changes when a baby is left for him to care for. A.J. transforms. He loves the baby and gives his all to her. He develops friendships and even falls in love again. But with all good books, there is a little twist! You will have to read it to find out! I highly recommend this book as a vacation book or if you just need a change of pace from what you usually read.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Awards:
Genres:
A Brief History of Seven Killings
James, Marlon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A very heavy, difficult book to get through, in part because it was written in dialect, which always takes some getting used to, but largely because it was so relentlessly depressing that I couldn’t read it for too long of a stretch. A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the fictionalized story of the (factual) 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley, referred to throughout simply as “The Singer”. Told from a staggering number of different perspectives, ranging from the young would-be assassins themselves, to the unemployed daughter of a middle-class family pretending to be pregnant with Marley’s child in an attempt to get out of the country, to a CIA agent assigned to keep communism from spreading to Jamaica, it’s a grueling, violent read, but there’s a lot worth hearing. The story begins with the assassination attempt, then jumps forward to sections set in the 1980s and 1990s, with close attention to Jamaica’s changing political scene and the lasting mark that violence leaves on the characters. The writing is strong and Marlon James does an excellent job juggling the huge cast (though if you’re like me you’ll probably have to refer back to the character list provided at the beginning of the book at least a few times). I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word, but I felt like I got a lot out of it, and it was certainly a deserving winner of the Man Booker Prize. I will say that the word “brief” in the title is a bit of a stretch -- it weighs in at 688 pages. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Book Review: East of Denver
Hill, Gregory
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I can relate to the subject matter of this book as I live in Colorado and my dad has dementia. I fully enjoyed the storyline and the writing style. The characters and situations were realistically portrayed and the subject matter was not in any way sugar coated. I actually expected it to be more of a heartwarming tale of a small town pulling together to help the main character and his father. But that's not how this book rolls, and I'm glad for it. But the part of me that needed a happy ending gives this book 4 stars instead of 5.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
Highly Illogical Behavior
Whaley, John Corey
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the middle of school one day, Solomon Reed took off all of his clothes (save his boxer shorts) and climbed in the school fountain. He went home from school, and then he didn’t leave his house again for the next three years. But aside from the agoraphobia that led to crippling panic attacks, he was pretty happy.

Enter Lisa. Even though she hasn’t seen Solomon since the day he climbed in the fountain, she’s thought about him a lot. So when the opportunity to get a scholarship to the school of her dreams hinges upon an essay about her experience with someone with a mental illness, she decides she’s going to do whatever she has to to become part of Solomon’s life. But as she and her partner Clark become closer and closer friends with Solomon, she realizes that “fixing” Solomon may not be possible, or even something that she wants to do at all.

This is the second John Corey Whaley book I've read (Noggin being the other one), and his books will now be automatically put on my TBR list - he's funny, he has a simple and accessible way of writing, and he manages to pull at your heartstrings while usually making a really good point. I actually liked this one better than Noggin, which is saying something, because I quite enjoyed that read. The mental illness angle is a hugely interesting one, and Whaley doesn't fall into the same trap that some authors do in which their character is magically healed by the end of the book. Ultimately, this is a coming of age tale for Simon and Lisa, and it's a great one. The character development supersedes the plot, which is fine, but it's the reason that I didn't give the book 5 stars.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of any age who enjoy contemporary fiction, John Green or Sarah Dessen. 4 stars - I really really liked it (maybe that's 4.5 stars).

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
All American Boys
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Rashad Butler, ROTC student, budding artist, and black teenager walked into a local corner store to get some chips one day. A lady next to him getting beer tripped over something and fell into Rashad. Next thing Rashad knows, he's on the sidewalk getting crap beat out of him (in a loses consciousness/internal bleeding sort of way) by the white policeman installed at the corner store.

Quinn Jones, a white boy, witnesses the entire thing. And the policeman who beat up Rashad for no discernible reason? Well, that's Quinn's bestie's big brother, Paul. And Paul was almost like a big brother to Quinn growing up, as Quinn's dad died in Afghanistan when he was only 7. So Quinn has some thinking and deciding to do - does he betray Paul (and this is how its put to him by Paul) and quell the truth, or does he go to the police?

All American Boys is obviously a social justice book, and it's a timely and important one. I tried to read it, but didn't get very far due to having trouble with the vernacular (it didn't feel authentic), but when I listened to it? Wow. The narrators were fantastic. It was powerful, and made me cry on my way to work several times. I was left with the overall impression that everyone should read this book - if I were a teacher, I'd teach it in my classroom. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here
Breslaw, Anna
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scarlett Epstein writes fanfic for her favorite show, Lycanthrope High (think...Buffy. Or maybe Teen Wolf or something). But when Lycanthrope High is cancelled, Scarlett goes into a teensy tailspin, and tries to find value in new/exciting things.

My feelings about this one are very mixed. For the most part, I think that Scarlett is a very likable character. She's witty, sarcastic and feminist, but she does make inconsistent and sometimes bizarre decisions. For example, wants to get out of her small provincial town, but won't do a thing about it. She would constantly complain about how she was going to graduate high school
and be stuck working at Target or something, but then she got terrible grades out of what seemed to be laziness. No sympathy for ya there, girl. Her internal monologues were generally spot on and funny, and she's definitely the best part of the book. Aside from her bestie, Avery. I really liked Avery. Oh yeah, and her much older neighbor Ruth was freaking great. I loved Ruth.

The love interest was the woooooooorst, I had no idea what she saw in that jerk. It felt realistic though, I guess most of us probably date a few jerks in high school. And college. And post-college. Anyway, all parts featuring Gideon (her love interest) made me want to toss the book across the room.

Finally, the story is interspersed with Scarlett's fan fiction, which was...reaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllly bad. Like almost painful to read bad.

Oh, and there is a plot line involving Ruth which you see coming from like 293874832787 miles away and it ends up reading like an after school special.

Anyway, while this book had a TON of problems, it was saved by a (mostly) likable cast of characters and some really funny lines.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Don't Breathe a Word
Cupala, Holly
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Wow. This book sucked. Stifled teenager runs away from loving family to escape abusive boyfriend. Why did she do this? Because she met a homeless boy whom she thought could 'save' her from this situation. Seriously?! How about having the abused girl save herself?! Homelessness is romanticized as she becomes part of a loving rascally unkempt band of misfits. Okay folks, let's get this straight. Being homeless sucks. If you have a loving family, like the main character does, there is no reason at all to be homeless. The main character is annoying and overly melodramatic. In fact, all of the characters are two dimensional and stereotypical, without exception. The symbolism is pedestrian and heavy handed. Even the "shocking" elements of the story seemed to be put in there as if the author was thinking,"Ooh, this is shocking! Let me put it in here to prove how edgy this novel is!" The ending was contrived and very unrealistic for a supposedly realistic novel.

Usually I won't finish a book this crappy, but I felt compelled to do so in this case just to have the satisfaction of skewering it. I do feel better having done so.

E-format only, thankfully.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Jacob Have I Loved
Paterson, Katherine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

You know, I love Katherine Patterson. Bridge to Terabithia is my all-time favorite children's book. This book just didn't affect me the same way. Maybe it was the subject matter, I don't know. It was well written, just was missing the magic. But it's still worth a read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins
Paterson, Katherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Very good, as all Katherine Paterson novels are. A quick read, and like her other novels, it shows rather than tells. My only problem with the book was the ending was too abrupt for my taste. I would have liked for it to be longer and show her life with her grandmother and the effects of Courtney's visit.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Lock and Key
Dessen, Sarah
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I'm not a teen, so I'm obviously not the target audience. The first half of this book was very good and even made me cry. The fact that Ruby's sister was so brave and protected her in her quiet way was very powerful. I loved how her experience protecting Ruby shaped her career and life's purpose. However, once the book got beyond that point it devolved into the naval gazing so common in teen fiction. Too much introspection and obvious symbolism explained by the narrator made for a tedious second half. If the author could have kept up the power of the first half, this would be a 5 star review.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
Book Review: Kira-Kira
Kadohata, Cynthia
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book was so beautifully written. It was sparse and clean, but so powerful. It made me cry. I highly recommend this quick read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Mosquitoland
Arnold, David
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When she discovers that her mother actually is sick back in Cleveland, Mim steals a thousand dollar emergency cash fund from her stepmother and hops a Greyhound bus headed north. The details of Mim’s personal story are revealed through the reflections she writes in her journal. Her musings are frequently funny, super snarky and make the motley crew she meets along the way more memorable.

She says of her bus driver:
“I’ve only known two other Carls in my lifetime—an insurgent moonshiner and a record store owner—both of whom taught me important... life lessons.
In my book, Carls are a top-notch species”.

On the bus, the thousand-mile journey takes a few turns that Mim could never see coming. Then she must define what it means to be a Mim.

Reviewer's Name: Renee
Genres:
Dumplin'
Murphy, Julie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I could really relate to Willowdean who does not have a skinny body yet decides to enter the local teen pageant. It takes a lot of guts for her to enter and it challenges her relationship with her mom who runs the pageant. Willowdean also works with Bo who likes her a lot, but she has a hard time believing it since she is her own worst critic of her weight. I love books with unique and complex characters and Willowdean is definitely that! Highly recommended.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Genres:

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