National Book Award/Finalist

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: 
Albertalli, Becky
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Have you ever felt out of place? Felt that you were hiding who you really were, or a big part of you? Incorporated with themes of self acceptance as well as humor, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is for you. This book tells the story of Simon, a junior growing up in a small, conservative town. He is gay, and has not shared it with anyone and is not ready to yet. Keeping up a relationship via email with a boy with the pen name Blue, he accidentally leaves his email logged on in the school they both go to. When a boy named Martin finds this email, he blackmails him. Help Martin win over his crush (one of Simon's closest friends), or get revealed on one of the most personal things a human can have, their identity and sexuality. Keeping up this correspondence with his crush, turning more flirtatious daily, while hiding from a close group of friends, is sure to cause all kinds of trouble.

I love this book, because it is full of heavy topics, along with humor and adorable romance. This is recommended to anyone learning about such controversial themes, and to a lower reading level audience, because it is a very easy read. However, the more mature the better, because many cuss words and descriptions of romance are used in this book along with imagery on underage drinking and more. If you have ever felt like you don't fit the description of the normal human being, check out simon vs the homo sapiens agenda today.

Reviewer's Name: 
Anna C.

Book Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: 
Albertalli, Becky
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Becky Albertalli's novel "Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda" is a wonderful coming of age book that shows the hardships of being different in high school. Simon Spier is your average high school student. He has a close group of friends who he loves, he gets decent grades, loves participating in theater, but he keeps a secret about himself from all of those around him.
"Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda" is a great story for those who love love, drama, and just being a teenager. Truly a story for the ages.

Reviewer's Name: 
Maddie K.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is succh a good book. PLEASE READ IT. If you are into fantasy you would love to read this book it has so much element to it. With all the creativity J.K. Rowling put into this book its was just amazing!

Reviewer's Name: 
Haylie

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

It is a good book. I like it because the characters are funny and it has a sense of wonder. The main character is Harry. He starts out living under his uncles stairs then soon learns that he is a wizard. He then is sent to Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry where he makes new friends and learns magic. He then learns that the sorcerer’s stone is in the school and someone is trying to steal it. That is why I believe that book is good. I would recommend it if you are looking for a fantasy.

Reviewer's Name: 
Ethan H.

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale
Author: 
DiCamillo, Kate
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Taking place in Florida in 1972, Raymie Clarke is trying to win the Little Miss Florida Tire competition in hopes of getting her father, who has left town with another woman, to see her picture in the paper and return home. Along the way, she meets two girls who are also entering the contest, and falls into an unlikely friendship.
I loved this book. It was superbly written and Raymie's voice was so believable as to think she was a real girl. It's a bittersweet book, so beautiful and filled with longing, determination, and a bit of magic. I've read other books by Kate DiCamillo but this one is my favorite. I'd love to see this as a movie. 5 stars!

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn

Book Review: Far From the Tree

Far From the Tree
Author: 
Benway, Robin
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Putting up her baby for adoption after getting pregnant at 16 left Grace sad and something missing in her life, something that her adoptive parents could never fill. Grace's longing to find her own birth mother increased, but she was unreachable, and Grace was heartbroken, bullied, and alone. Then, Grace discovered she had siblings. Maya, a 15 year old spunky and bold brown haired daughter in a family of redheads, was adopted by rich parents who only months later had their biological daughter, Lauren. Joaquin, a 17 year old bounced around in the foster care system for all his life, with many failed foster parents and one failed adoption. When his current foster parents express their interest in adopting him, Joaquin is scared of having a rebound of his younger days. With a longing for someone else to call family, Grace reaches out to her biological siblings. They bond quickly, sharing interests in odd food combinations and growing closer due to their shared genes. However, each sibling still keeps their own secrets among the laughter the share. Maya hides from telling about her mother's alcohol addiction, Joaquin won't tell his siblings about his previous failed adoption, and Grace is scared about telling her siblings about her pregnancy and baby.
Grace expresses her interest in finding their birth mother to secretly attempt to fill the hole her baby made in her heart, but neither Maya or Joaquin want to participate after the betrayal they experienced. Meanwhile, Lauren, Maya's sister, is scared about Maya not wanting to be with her anymore when Maya gets closer to her "real" siblings. In this heartbreaking, bittersweet, and empowering book, Robin Benway perfectly captures what is really means to be family.

Reviewer's Name: 
Anna C.

Book Review: Home

Home
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book is not some trite, feel-good, cliche-gushing, sappy-ending kind of book. I'd say rather, Robinson portrays a little love for Flannery O'Connor in her writing. But a reader must remember that an author writes this way, not always to be dark for darkness sake (like Poe), but to sketch the world as she believes it really is. Home portrays the world as a messy place, with the messiest of all places on earth being the human heart.

Jack Boughton has wandered the world for 20 years as the wayward son of a faithful pastor but returns back home, just before his father passes away.
Jack relives much of his childhood as he returns to this home he has been gone from his whole adult life. Here he must face the remembrance of not belonging to something lovely, something he was and still is cut off from. He sees how a darkness in his heart has kept him from the light, the warmth, the fondness of family love. He has been a heartache to his parents and this he hates. But hating oneself is not the same thing as redemption; neither is regret; neither is simply making a physical trip to one’s childhood home, nor caring for your father for the last few weeks of his life. Reminiscing with your little sister and visiting all your old haunts, no, none of these things alone makes for redemption. It is much more complicated than all of that, and can only happen in the heart. Like many good books, the reader is not given a pat, 5-step plan. The path is left ambiguous. But we are only given hints. Jack whispers one of the deepest longings of every human heart, when he says to his father under his breath, “Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (From Genesis 27:34)

There is no tidy reconciliation scene between father and son, although Jack at one point tries to fake a change in his beliefs to ease his father's last days, but his father sees right through it. However, before the book ends, Jack receives a blessing from his namesake, his father’s best friend, and this is where the unexpected power to both forgive and to claim a promise, pierces through the binding darkness that Jack on his own could never have escaped.

A father who loves unconditionally a wayward son, and a life-long family friend who intercedes between a father and a son who love each other but can't understand each other, these two things are among the strongest forces on earth.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Housekeeping

Housekeeping
Author: 
Robinson, Marilynne
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

How can the deepest loss be quantified? What happens in the heart of a little girl when her mother drives off a cliff after leaving her and her sister alone at Grandma’s? How does such a girl become a woman? Who does she grow to be?

In the achingly beautiful prose that only Robinson can craft, the reader comes to taste a small portion of the fear, the ache, the loneliness that is the human heart. All these emotions find their representation in the haunting landscape that surrounds the forsaken town of Fingerbone. The defining feature of this town, next to its remoteness, is a great, icy lake. A train full of many passengers, including the young girls’ grandfather, once plunged off the bridge into that lake. Her mother also drove her car into it.
By staring into it, Ruthie sees everything lovely swallowed up. As she grows older, she finds herself bound to the same hopelessness that drove her mother into there. She begins to feel the pull.

Ruthie’s aunt Sylvie, now her guardian, represents the living dead.
Although she has never tried to drown herself in the lake, Ruthie begins to realize more and more that the cold lake is where Sylvie’s heart lies. She begins to see Sylvie as a representation of what her mother would be like if she had never driven off, but wished everyday that she could. What Ruthie needs as she comes of age is someone to bring her into the light. She needs someone to be the mother she never had: to delight in her and think that everything she does is adorable. But true to real life, the longing that Ruthie has is never realized and she resorts more and more to the cover of darkness.
This is a book that stares loss in the face for what it truly is. When one gives one’s life over to darkness, the ripple effects are so devastating, so tragic, so destructive, that a little girl can be forever derailed. And what can be more heart-rending than that?

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor
Genres: 

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
Author: 
Doeer, Anthony
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot.

Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was a little challenging to track the timeframes for some of the subplots, but the impact of the book was still the same. The author was able to paint a vivid set of lives set on opposite sides of a global conflict. From the blind French girl forced to survive on her own to the prodigious German boy with a penchant for radios and STEM, their internal and external conflicts were prime examples of gripping and engaging storytelling.

While there didn’t seem to be one primary driving plot in this book, the addition of the handful of subplots worked in concert to create a gem of a story (har har). These subplots were natural to the characters that embodied them, which helped to produce an amount of realism that held everything together. Everything just made sense, and even the semi-tragic ending was a satisfying end that left no subplot or loose end untied.

A beautiful piece of prose worthy of its Pulitzer, I give All the Light We Cannot See 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Author: 
Sanchez, Erika L.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Julia was happy that her older sister Olga fulfilled the role of "perfect Mexican daughter." Prim and proper, Olga always did what she was told and followed the rules. During Julia's junior year in high school, Olga was run over by a semi-truck and killed. After Olga's death, Julia is surprised when she finds some scandalous items in Olga's off-limits room. As Julia tries to learn more about her dead sister, she finds herself learning more about her family, friends, and ultimately, herself.

YA contemporary fiction is not really my thing - I went on a reading spree of this genre recently as I was reviewing my Goodreads "read" list from 2018 and realized that I have read zero books in this genre. Because I need to read it for work, I decided to go with award winning books and/or authors from a different background than myself. This book, a National Book Award finalist about the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the US, met that metric and appealed to me on the diversity front. I gave it a go, and was quite pleasantly surprised.

Julia is an extremely sympathetic character, and not just because she does fairly well in the face of a lot of adversity. Her voice is at times raw and honest and at other times snarky and hilarious, which really worked for me. Even though we don't have a lot in common, I was able to connect with Julia and I really cared about her and her story.

There's a lot of character development as Julia slowly learns more about her family members and their pasts, and there's just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning.

In addition to being a good coming of age story, this book covers some really important topics. Obviously, there's a lot about grief and how we grieve differently. Julia is suffering from depression, and the book is not shy about discussing her mental illness. The end of the book is followed by a section entitled "Mental Health Resources." Moreover, I learned a bit about some aspects of Mexican culture, and I got to take a peak into the lives of folks who had recently immigrated into the US from Mexico.

Considering this wasn't really my thing in the first place, I quite enjoyed it! Readers of contemporary YA will like this one - its got a touch of romance, a likable protagonist, and loads of substance. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - National Book Award/Finalist