Reviews of Teen Books
I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.
So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.
Oh my goodness, Apollo, you strange and beautiful basket case. I was laughing all through this book, marking pages to shove at my friends... You know the drill. The Greek-mythology-centric Percy Jackson series as a whole helped me through some dark times when I was younger, and this first book of Rick Riordan's new "Trials of Apollo" series is delightful, just as I remember "The Lightning Thief" to have been back when I really, really needed it. (It's only missing Mr. D -- I've always especially liked Mr. D. Maybe he'll show up in the next one?)
Anyway. You know how in Greek folklore, Apollo gets stripped of his powers sometimes when he gets his king/dad, Zeus, angry? That's happened again in this series, only now it's all happening in modern day New York... Where the rules to everything are way different than what Apollo's used to... Annnnd he's not used to acne or helplessness, either, both of which he has to deal with as an awkward teen apparently named "Lester." It's the sparkly god of the sun/music/so many things's turn to go on actual quests again instead of waving demigods off on them... And he's very, very sad about it.
Some familiar faces from the Percy Jackson series have appeared so far in "The Hidden Oracle," but I would say it's definitely its own series with unique sources of pathos. Something I always loved about the Percy Jackson books is their empathy, the way people can redeem themselves, the way characters can still be heroic despite/because of their flaws... And that is STILL HERE, operating now through the protagonist, given the centuries worth of mistakes a now-human Apollo has to grapple with. I definitely liked "Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer" -- the Riordan book that came out a bit before this one -- but it didn't click with me in nearly the same way as Apollo's shenanigans. "The Hidden Oracle" felt like a fresh and self-aware remix of old ideas and settings from Percy Jackson, all told through a recently fallen god's wonderful, WONDERFUL narration. Yes, if you want something completely different than Percy Jackson this might not be the best place to look. But if you want to see the Percy Jackson universe through refreshingly new and oh-so-Olympus-y eyes, this may be perfect for you!
To sort of sum things up: I think this is a great kids' book, engaging and fast-paced and written with a light and goofy sense of humor, just like those original Percy Jackson books. (Sometimes the humor does get VERY goofy, so go in warned, but other times it's clever and tongue-in-cheek. Funny guy, that Apollo. Versatile.) Beyond that, though, I...a grown adult...am 100% buying the next book for myself just as soon as it comes out. I know that doesn't necessarily mean EVERY mythology-loving adult equipped with a suitably goofy sense of humor would also enjoy this book, but I know for a fact plenty of others have the same plan.
I was hesitant to read this book because of previous reviews I had read about it and I didn't think it was as bad as everyone said it was. It is a great book and very well written, but if you do plan on reading it then don't read the last 50 pages (They contribute next to nothing with the overall story and just cause lots of tears). The story itself is very, very good. Tris and Tobias have to escape the city and go past the fence. Only once they are out there they find that their whole city was just an experiment to try and fix a mistake made hundreds of years ago by people who didn't know any better.
Tris, and the group she came with, have to save the outside world before they can save their previous home. There is a lot of fighting and struggles because the world beyond the fence is vicious and cruel. Tobias is at odds with himself as he finds out secrets in his DNA, secrets he wasn't entirely ready to know.
Reviewer Grade: 8
This book is about Tris and Tobias trying to stop Erudite. There's a lot of tension between friends and family as the dauntless splits in half. Traitors side with Erudite and the rest take refuge at Candor headquarters. Jeanine Mathews results to murder as she starts to kill dauntless every two days that go by without a divergent turning themselves in. There is definitely a lot of internal struggles with Tris as she tries to overcome her grief with the death of her parents and Will. Her and Tobias have some conflict too as they try to come to an agreement with how to handle the Erudite situation.
Reviewer Grade: 8
I loved this book! It is way better than the movie. It is about Beatrice Prior, a 16 year old girl. In her world there are 5 factions in which most everyone belongs. She is apart of abnegation, the selfless faction, but doesn't feel that she is selfless enough so she decides to switch to dauntless, the brave faction. The book is about how she has to over come her inner cowardice and pass initiation. If she does not pass then she becomes factionless and will spend the rest of her life homeless and begging for food. The only thing that is holding her back is that Tris is divergent and if your divergent in this society then you are basically as good as dead. She has to keep her secret a secret while also managing to remain in a safe place in initiation. It also has some romance as her instructor, Four, tries to help her become better at fighting. The book has a lot of action and keeps you on the edge of your seat through the whole thing.
Reviewer Grade: 8
Clary Fray is a completely normal girl, except that she saw three people brutally kill someone. Not only did she witness a vicious killing, but somehow no one else can see it but her. Then suddenly her mother is kidnapped and she is attacked by a demon. Clary gets sucked into a world full of monsters and shadowhunters, an elite group of people tasked with protecting humans. In order to save her mother from Valentine, the man who wants to murder downworlders and innocent children, she must team up with Jace Wayland, a very talented and young shadowhunter. I could absolutely not put this book down!!There was so much action and just enough romance that this book will probably always be one of my favorite books ever! I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys fiction.
Reviewer Grade: 8
Anyone who has enjoyed The Lunar Chronicles would totally love this book. It definitely changed my perspective on Levana and helped me to understand her personality more when I read Winter, the last book in the series. The book talks about why she wears her glamour all the time and what scarred her face.
It also covers what made her so evil and vicious. Not only that, but it explains what compelled her to attempt to kill her niece, Princess Selene.
This book is a must read with the whole Lunar Chronicles series and helps to understand both sides of the story.
Reviewer Grade: 8
Two men, George and Lennie, wander aimlessly throughout the West Coast of the United States during the Great Depression, looking for any kind of job.
Lennie is a large, strong, migrant worker who, unfortunately, has a mental disability. Whereas George is a skinny, quick-witted man who cares for Lennie. Lennie’s mental disability and his uncontrollable strength causes the two of them to lose every job they get and get driven out of town. George does everything he can to keep Lennie out of trouble, partly because he promised Lennie’s Aunt and partly because he cares for Lennie; and Lennie tries to stay out of trouble, for their hopes of owning their own farms drives both of their motivations. Finally, they are able to find work on a small ranch in Soledad, California and actually make friends with many of the workers. Their dream of accumulating enough money to own a ranch is close, but Lennie’s disability could cause them to lose even this job.
Reviewer Grade: 10
The Chicago World’s fair, also known as The World’s Columbian Exposition, was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 meant to counter France’s world fair and give Chicago back its fame, and even though it was not yet completed when opened, it proved to be a phenomenal success. The Devil in the White City follows the life and story of two interesting men:
Daniel Hudson Burnham and H.H. Holmes. Burnham is the famous architect who directed the construction of the fair and Holmes was a psychotic, but genius and seductive, serial killer who used the World’s fair to lure his victims, almost always women, to their death. Although their lives different, their stories and accomplishments are intertwined and connected, which Larson seeks to condense. With a meager three years to build the fair, and setbacks such as the death of his partner, weather, and health issues, Burnham struggles to finish the fair on time, more or less make it better than France’s.
Meanwhile, Holmes uses his persuading words and charms to commit fraud, acquire debts he never plans to pay back, and worst of all be able to kill and dispose of human bodies with ease. Burnham’s and Holme’s stories never connect in the beginning, and they never meet each other, but as Larson explores the events of 1890-1893, the connection between them becomes clear.
Reviewer Grade: 10
This poem book is really well written. It has a unique poem style with just as a unique narrator. This book is about a girl named Jackie growing up in the 1960's-1970's. She has to deal with the hardships of not being treated well because of her skin color along with other things going on in her personal life. The author of this book did a really good job at putting these dilemmas that Jackie faces in the mind of a little girl. I would have rated this book 5 stars if it wasn't so dry in the middle. You get sucked in right from the start but then in the middle of the book, it gets a little boring. But don't give up on it, it picks up later on and has a fantastic ending.
Reviewer Grade: 8
SPOILER ALERT! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so of course I dug getting to learn more about Harry and his friends. I was very interested in the Scorpius/Albus relationship but hoped there had been a bit more about Scorpius's relationship with his father. I was mildly annoyed that Draco and Harry became friends and even that Draco showed a sensitive side. However, I liked how devoted he was to his son, just like his mother had been so devoted to him. The final chapters with Harry bonding with Albus didn't interest me much either. But still a good read and a great fix for my Harry Potter withdrawals. I would like to see it as a play.
During a softball game in Brooklyn, New York in 1944 between two different Jewish sects, Danny Saunders hits the ball and smacks the pitcher, Reuven Malter, right in the face knocking him out. Reuven is sent to the hospital, and when Danny comes to visit him to apologize Reuven rejects his apology. Partly because he was mad at Danny, and partly because they were of a different sect.
Eventually, Reuven forgives Danny and they develop one of the strongest friendships ever seen. Unfortunately, Danny’s and Reuven’s fathers develop a dislike towards one another, and Mr. Saunders forbids Danny from associating with Reuven. Their friendship grows distant, but after almost a year or two it seems like, Danny is allowed to speak to Reuven and they begin to repatch their friendship. During their friendship, Reuven sees a lot of Danny’s life and he finds out that Danny doesn’t want to be a Rabbi, but his father wishes him to. This book is a phenomenal classic and tells the story of how two friends from different, hostile backgrounds are able to have a friendship as strong as Lewis and Clark. I recommend this novel to those interested in Jewish background, but it is a book that everyone can take something from.
The One by Kiera Cass is the third book in the Selection series. In this book prince Maxon of Illea has to choose a princess and wife from the Elite. Will Maxon choose America or will he choose another?I would rate this book a four out of five because at some points it was a bit redundant, but the romance between America and Maxon was breathtaking and sucked me in. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes romance and dystonia. I am in eighth grade and I am 14.
In the small town of Gavaldon every four years two children are taken by the mysterious Headmaster. One of the children taken has a heart of gold, the other is evil beyond belief. The people of Gavaldon say that they are taken to the School for Good and Evil where they will be prepared for their own fairy tale, and end up on the pages of children's books. This is the dream of Gavaldon's most beautiful girl Sophie, for she dreams to become a princess and have a happily ever after. Though this is the opposite for Agatha, the hermit of Gavaldon, for she wants to spend the rest of her life in her cozy graveyard with her cat and only friend (Sophie). Will their wishes come true, or will their worlds be completely turned around? I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 because I found that some parts were a little to predictable but the rest was amazing. I would recommend this book to any one who likes fantasy. I am in eighth grade and I am 14.
One night, Christopher Boone is walking around his neighborhood when he finds his neighbor’s dog dead, in her front yard, with a pitchfork sticking out of it. Christopher is now determined to investigate and write a book about who killed the dog. Unfortunately, Mrs. Shears, the dog’s owner, accuses Christopher of killing her dog and he is sent to jail for a few hours.
Eventually, Christopher’s dad comes to get him, and tells him not to investigate the incident of the dog’s death. Keep in mind, Christopher has a disability similar to Asperger syndrome and it is somewhat omitted at the beginning, but eventually, it’s obvious he has a disability even if it's not directly mentioned in the book. Christopher defies his father’s orders and continues to investigate the dog’s death, asking neighbors about the dog, questioning Mrs. Shears. His father constantly restricts him from doing so, but Christopher is determined. As the investigation goes on Christopher is able to find out that his supposedly “dead” mother is alive and also he finds out who the killer is. Haddon’s work is amazingly written and I recommend the novel to those who enjoy subtle mysteries with rising conflicts.
After her parents split, Georgia girl Nolie Stanhope finds herself spending her summer in a mysterious town called "Journey's End" in Scotland while her father investigates a mysterious fog (known as The Boundary) that's plagued the local village folk for centuries. Nolie is pretty excited - in addition to some sweet international travel, she's an avid ghost enthusiast, and feels like the summer might be promising in that department. And she is pretty immediately proven right! When Nolie and her new Scottish friend Bel see a weird dude walking down the beach, they think they've seen a ghost. Have they? And why is the Boundary suddenly moving closer to shore?
This was a pretty great MG ghost story. The setting is wonderful - Scotland sort of lends itself to mystery, and Hawkins imbues the village of Journey's End with a ton of charm, personality, and a touch of creepiness. Both of the lead characters, Bel and Nolie, were pretty well fleshed out with distinctive and likable personalities. Their friendship, while quickly formed, was believable and would be a great example for young girls. There's a bit of bullying and some exposition about the effects of divorce, so some important relatable issues are addressed. The Boundary itself is a fantastic and appropriately creepy mystery centerpiece. Really, my only complaint is that there was a ton of build-up to a mystery/ghost story that was pretty quickly and too easily resolved. But I'm a tough customer when it comes to middle grade reads, and overall, this one was pretty great so I'll go with the 4 star rating. I'll definitely be booktalking this one with sixth graders in the fall.
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.
All humans are different: some are talented, some are smart, and some are just successful, but some are not any of those. But why? Malcolm Gladwell sets out to determine why some people are successful and why some are not and also what factor do all these “celebrities” have in common. Most of us believe it's sheer talent and determination that makes someone successful, which is true since you need to be talented and have strong work-ethic, but Gladwell proposes another theory: when you are born. Your birthday apparently determines whether you are successful in your career and even your life, according to Gladwell. It may sound crazy, but the evidence is undeniable and Gladwell’s explanations are truly phenomenal and well-thought out. However, there's more than that: Gladwell reviews the life of geniuses such as Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and Chris Langan and determines why those people are classified as “geniuses,” he explains that a lot about becoming successful isn’t talent or IQ, but it’s the coincidental opportunities you get at, somehow, the perfect time. I love this book and Gladwell obviously did his research, I recommend this book to all readers since everyone is an outlier.
Reviewer Grade: 11
Chris Kyle was nothing more than a simple Texan man who loved hunting and rodeos. All that changed in 1999 when Chris signed up for the Navy SEALs and began BUD/s training. From that moment on, Chris Kyle vowed to protect and fight for his nation, even putting country before family. American Sniper is an autobiography written by Kyle himself, as he talks about his childhood, life before, and after becoming a SEAL. He records life on the battlefield of Fallujah and Ramadi, but also the relations he had with his teammates, both alive and deceased. Kyle is acknowledged to be one of the deadliest snipers’ in American History with a count of 160 confirmed kills. This is one of the most well-written and amazing novels I have ever read and for anyone who didn’t know, Chris Kyle was killed on February 2, 2013 on U.S soil by a former marine, which makes this book all the more honorable and, for lack of a better word, sad. When reading this, you can actually know what the life of a SEAL, or even a militant at that, was like but also that Chris Kyle was an amazing man who gave so much for so little.
Reviewer Grade: 11
Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a hybrid human/monster called an "Arcanic", as she tries to free fellow Arcanics from human cruelty and avenge her mother's death at the hands of a powerful group of human witches. Oh yeah, and Maika herself keeps turning (at least partially) into an old-world style monster that kills almost everything in its sight, regardless of whether they are friend and foe. As we follow Maika in her quest for revenge, we get flashbacks that inform us of her motivations and murky past.
This was definitely one of my favorite graphic novels of the year.
Maika is a layered anti-hero with a disability (she's missing an arm). I liked her more and more the more I learned about her. She's not shy about killing people, though, hence the anti-hero label. In fact, she's probably more of a villain than an anti-hero, but that really only added to the story for me. I mean, this title earns its "M" rating. It's very very bloody. Maika does not do nice things to her enemies.
The art was GORGEOUS. SO PRETTY. I'm fairly new to graphic novels, but this just might be the best art that I've seen. The cover is actually relatively simple compared to the insanely intricate steampunk/art deco panels on the inside. Art lovers, check this book out for the artwork alone (but be prepared for a rather gory experience).
So even though I very obviously loved this title, it was not perfect. Like in many graphic novels, there is little by way of introduction to the characters, and you are just thrown right into the story with background info being filled in later. Because the world-building was so complex, I found myself having to read certain parts several times (or having to revisit prior pages/storylines). This could just be a me thing because I have this problem in a lot of graphic novels, but I also found some of the action scenes to be incomprehensible.
I can't believe I almost forgot this amazing detail, but there are talking cats. You know what makes almost every story better? A talking cat.
This was definitely an excellent read. Graphic novel fantasy lovers, you would be remiss to not check this book out (but stay away if you don't like blood). 4 stars.