Reviews of Teen Books by Genre: Historical

A Brief History of Seven Killings
James, Marlon
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Little is known about the attack on Bob Marley on December 3, 1976, but Marlon James re-creates the incident as well as the characters before, during, and after the attack on the singer's life. Including over 70 characters, the story follows the first perspective of gang members, CIA agents, affairs, journalists, and others as the way of life in Jamaica spans from the 1970s to early 1990s.
This book is packed with colorful characters, story, and the way of life present in Jamaica back in the late 20th century. I enjoyed reading about the characters and how they revolved around The Singer (Bob Marley) and each other. For an incident that people know little about, James is able to create a wonderful picture about the possible involvement of various parties, the situation that influenced it, and what may have happened afterwards.
However, a (personal) issue I had with the book is the way it is written. Since the many characters are from Jamaica in the late 1900s, I had trouble understanding their dialect as they spoke. One character in particular, Bam-Bam, was especially difficult for me to understand, and this made it difficult for me to go through the story smoothly. Another problem I had was the layout of the text. Everything is in big blocks of text and dialogue is written in a way that I find odd and unorthodox. While there is nothing wrong with having a unique style, especially for the characters and story, it made it hard for me to understand some parts of the story and drew away from the experience I had with the book.
If you're into more realistic and introspective fiction, this could be worth your time.
Reviewer's Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Antwaan
Songbirds
Lefteri, Christy
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Songbirds is about the disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus--women who had no choice but to leave their families in Sri Lanka or Vietnam or the Philippines and find work as maids in the homes of Cyprus's wealthy class. Nisha, whom the story centers on, is a Sri Lankan woman who has faced much loss. She comes to Cyprus, leaving her daughter behind, and becomes a mother figure for Aliki, the daughter of a somber, grieving widow named Petra. Though Nisha has such an impact on the people around her, especially Petra and Aliki, she is merely seen as a maid, overlooked, taken for granted. In a parallel plot line, Yiannis is a poacher who hunts songbirds for a living. He and Nisha have a secret relationship, which would jeopardize everything if discovered by Petra, and when he finally tells Nisha about the poaching, she is deeply disappointed in him, though Yiannis doesn't stop his senseless killing of songbirds. One night, Nisha goes missing. What ensues is a long, agonizing search in which the police refuse to do anything and Petra begins to realize that she relied on Nisha for nearly everything and didn't appreciate her while she was there. Petra and Yiannis team up, determined to find out what happened.
In my opinion, this story could've been told so much better. The metaphor of the songbirds was far too loud and became redundant and irritating. Lefteri could've more effectively woven together the plot lines of Petra and Yiannis without being so blunt with her metaphor. However, I did find it very interesting--and saddening--to learn about the missing domestic workers of Cyprus. Just as in The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Lefteri brings to light real issues that go beyond news coverage and should be talked about but somehow aren't. These maids are just as human as anyone, having sacrificed lives in their home countries for the benefit of their families. I would have enjoyed this novel more if the pacing had been faster and the plot hadn't been so repetitive; the characters also weren't the most likable.
I wouldn't necessary recommend this book, but the premise is worth knowing.

Reviewer's Name: Alexa
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Hugo, Victor
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an early 1800s novel following the trials and tribulations of several characters living in 15th century Paris. Quasimodo, the famous hunchback, struggles with his unrequited feelings for the mesmerizing dancer Esmeralda, and competes with other characters to win her love. This story is likely best for ages 14+, since it has some difficult words and is written in an old-fashioned style. I believe the heartfelt and memorable ending is the best part of this book, and recommend it to anyone looking for an exceptional classic!
Reviews Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Audrey
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This Book Is truly a classic, this I book that we've all read either as a assignment or for fun. This book was set in the Jazz era of New York, this novel tells the story of a self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby and journey to finding the love of his life Daisy Buchanan who also is a very wealthy women. In this novel we start out with a man named Nick who is also Daisy's cousin, he is basically the narrator of it all. He walks us through how he met Jay, and their journey finding daisy. Throughout this story we go through happiness, loss, and love, and it all unfolds out to be a really great novel. So if you like a tragic love story, I think this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: Makaia
Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Pride and Prejudice is an 1813 classic novel that follows Elizabeth Bennett, an outspoken and bold woman for her time, and her journey through romance with Mr. Darcy, an anti-social and cold man. I really enjoyed this novel, and although the plot sounds pretty generic, I found myself falling in love with the characters. I especially liked seeing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's romance unfold, and the clear chemistry between them was also exciting to read about. Both of the characters were well written and I liked the enemies-to-lovers trope the novel followed. Seeing Mr. Darcy opening up and being able to understand why he was the way he was, was also very satisfying.
Overall, this classic novel is a classic for a good reason, and for anyone who enjoys a good healthy romance, with actual depth, Pride and Prejudice is the book for you.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Hunting Prince Dracula
Maniscalco, Kerri
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the second installment to the Stalking Jack the Ripper series, this time we follow Audrey and Thomas to Romania, mainly to escape the grief and memories that London contains, but also to attend one of the best schools of forensic medicine. However, Audrey and Thomas are once again thrown into another murder mystery, this time facing Vlad the Impaler.
Even though the plot of this novel seemed interesting enough, like the first book of this series, I still couldn't find myself connecting to Audrey or Thomas at all. Both of them just seemed like the stereotypical cookie-cutter fantasy romance interests, with no dimension and no personality. While I enjoyed some of the interesting cultural legends and information about Romania, I felt like the novel was going way too slow. I couldn't find myself getting into it, and none of the characters really interested me and kept me focused on the novel. Once I practically forced myself to finish the book, I didn't find myself thinking about the book ever again. There was nothing interesting or unique about the novel and all the characters just seemed like the same characters that I've read about over and over again in the fantasy genre. The murder was also pretty generic and simple to solve, so there wasn't much suspense or build-up. Overall, I could see why some people would like this book, but it wasn't for me.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Johnny Tremain book jacket
Forbes, Esther
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

If you like historical fiction or love tales of friendship through rough times, Johnny Tremain is one of those books you need to add to your reading list. Johnny Tremain is set during the revolutionary war as Johnny starts work as a blacksmith until an accident where he then turns to a more political job. Johnny also works alongside his friend Rab, who wrote for the Boston Observer and through the book, the two become close friends, working alongside each other throughout the revolutionary war. It can be a slow burn at times, but once the action picks up, it picks up highly and it is a very fascinating book to read. I love the very close friendship built between both Johnny and Rab and how it adds to their characters as the book progresses as characters who build off of each other is a favorite trope of mine. I did wish the book ended a bit differently as well, but it is still an amazing read for anyone of any age, whether you love historical fiction or not.

Reviewer's Name: Alexis
These Violent Delights
Gong, Chloe
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book does a wonderful job of educating readers about history of the 1920's in Shanghai while still being an action-packed and entertaining story. The plot of two gang heirs clashing as they each work to solve the mystery of an unleashed monster in the city is unique and captivating. I love the devotion of each character to protect their loved ones and battle the conflict of values in Shanghai. This book also keeps readers on their toes. The moment I felt like the story was predictable, it proved me wrong! The longer read is worth it for being immersed in these characters' experience. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Lightning Strike
Krueger, William Kent
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Lightning Strike is an excellent thriller. Cork O’Connor lives in his hometown of Aurora. Everything is normal and is going smoothly, until Cork discovers a dead man in the forest. It is deemed as a suicide. But Cork and his father have their own suspicions. Can they uncover the truth before it’s too late? I liked the setting and enjoyed the suspense. I chose this book because the book jacket captured my attention, and I wanted to find out what happens next. Cork O’Connor is curious about what took place, and also is great young sleuth. I appreciate Cork’s determination to solve the mystery. Lightning Strike was a great read and I would highly recommend it.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Ananth
Horton Halfpott book jacket
Angleberger, Tom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Horton Halfpott is a comedy novel about a kitchen boy's life, love, and mystery. Horton Halfpott follows its titular character as he navigates the cruelty of the nobles, a new-found crush, and the investigation of a stolen "Lump". The book's core is its comedy, with a narrator adding to each movement with foreshadowing and direct acknowledgement of the reader. Targeted for kids ages 8-12, the humor is clever but not so much as to confuse a younger audience. Characters are likeable and the main characters are well-developed considering how short the novel is. Although the mystery's conclusion is evident to the reader, watching the detectives' and antagonist's plans in work adds an element of tension to the book, especially during the second half. The only major issue I had while reading was pacing. Most chapters are quite short, and the book could easily be reduced from almost 50 4-5 page chapters to 15 longer chapters. With such short chapters comes some whiplash as certain characters take control of the perspective for a page or two before the reader swaps to a different character. This had some jarring results, especially around the 3/4 mark of the book.

Overall, Horton Halfpott is a great story with some formatting problems holding it back from being a fantastic one. This story is still a worthwhile read for pre-teens, however.

Reviewer's Name: Locke
Baby & Solo book jacket
Posthuma, Lisabeth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Baby & Solo is a story about friendship, heartbreak, movies, and The Things That Are Wrong with us. It follows Joel, fresh out of treatment for years of mental illness and ready to begin his life. He applies for a job at the local ROYO video, and finds himself thriving with a clean slate, especially around the enigmatic and acerbic Nicole "Baby" Palmer, someone who might be his first real friend. But as life begins to spiral out of control (as it usually does) he finds that he might need to face his past if he ever stands a chance of moving forward.
This book was brilliant. I have no other words for it. From the first chapter, the startling humor and charm of our protagonist kept me turning pages. And as the cast emerged, with Baby especially being a breath of fresh air in a world so choked with mediocre or boring female characters, I found myself unable to put it down. This book is around 400 pages, and I sped through almost all of it in one night, it was that gripping. The first thing I have to commend this book for is its heady sense of life. Some books merely create the illusion of life in its characters and story, but this one felt more like a movie (ironically) where I could almost see the character's faces, hear their voices, and bask in their triumphs or tremble before their struggles. Something about the rawness of the characters made me more attached to a book about teenagers from the 90s who worked in the equivalent of a blockbuster than any contemporary iPhone using, slang abusing teenage stereotype from the 21st century. Another thing that's amazing about this book is the prose. For one, I didn't expect it at all. It was a funny book, a sort of dark-comedy, with a loving attachment to Star Wars and laughable hatred of Dirty Dancing. I didn't think there'd be some parts of this books with absolutely gorgeous writing, that could take you from laughing to nearly crying with a few well-placed, beautiful lines and startling deep writing. Another thing: this book is really sad. But not a cheap, overworked kind of sad. It's the sadness that seeps through the snarky lines and hilarious antics. There's a melancholy to this book that soaks into almost every page, and genuinely makes you realize that life is a tragedy for these characters, and that their triumph is being able to smile through it. The ending nearly broke my heart, but the promise of moving forward, the promise of getting better, kept me smiling through my tears.
I could rave about this book for hours, but I don't want to give a single thing away, because I desperately want the very few people who read this review to read this book. All in all, this book is astounding. I would recommend it to absolutely anyone, but especially those that like quick humor, fantastic characters, 90s nostalgia, and books that tears your heart apart while putting it back together.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Eve
The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A classic novel about the "American Dream," and the qualms of social classes, this 1925 based story is centered around four main characters. Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, and Daisy and Tom Buchanan. This novel was written in a way, where all four of these characters come from different social classes and walks of life. We are given insight into the personal lives, fears, and secrets that each of these characters carries with them, and as we slowly begin to know all of these characters' stories, Fitzgerald immediately throws us for a loop. The Great Gatsby unearths every little dirty secret every character in this novel hides and turns all of our familiar characters into something much more sinister. The Great Gatsby speaks volumes on the importance and issues of social classes, and the so-called "American Dream." All in all, a highly renowned classic, The Great Gatsby lives up to its fame and delivers beautifully written lines and shocking twists.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Heidi book jacket
Spyri, Johanna
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a story about a young orphan girl who is sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. This story was very enjoyable and enchanting to read, and I particularly liked reading about the day-to-day activities that occurred in the Alps, and the people who Heidi met. I loved the mountain setting of the novel, and it made the story feel very cozy and lovely. The bonds that Heidi made with her cranky grandfather, and many other friends she made in the mountain were very heart-warming and wholesome to read about. Even though this novel is labeled as a children's story, the novel had some valuable morals littered throughout it, and in my opinion, the plot could be easily enjoyed by all ages. I'd recommend this classic to anyone who likes an easy, but heartwarming read.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
The Outsiders book jacket
Hinton, S. E.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

If you're looking for an awesome book that makes you truly fall in love with its characters, you've found the right novel with The Outsiders! Meet Ponyboy, a greaser living in 1950s Tulsa, Oklahoma with his two brothers: Sodapop and Darry and all of his friends including troublemaker Dallas Winston and his best friend, Johnny Cade. The boys are all stuck in an intense turf war with the richer kids also known as the Socs, but will they find a way out of the intensity or will life only get rougher for them? I absolutely loved the characters in this book, you will grow to love their fun personalities and their strong bond, showing that family is not just connected by blood but by love. I also enjoy how this book focuses a lot on the differences economically during this time, showing that the 50s weren't just poodle skirts and milkshakes, but also difficult for those who couldn't afford to be rich. If you want a book that will leave you on the edge of your seat, wanting more, don't overlook the Outsiders for a minute.

Reviewer Grade: Senior/12th

Reviewer's Name: Alexis
Stalking Jack the Ripper
Maniscalco, Kerri
2 stars = Meh
Review:

To start off, I would say that I can see why many people enjoy this novel. Following a young woman during the Victorian era in London who studies anatomy and enjoys dissecting cadavers, I can see why this would be interesting to read about, especially since during this era, it was a bit taboo to hear of a woman studying anatomy, much less, dissecting dead bodies. I have to admit that the plot of this novel did intrigue me, especially when I read that somehow, Audrey Rose Wadsworth-- the said woman who has a knack for dissecting, would find herself involved in the case of infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper. However, the characters really made this story fall flat for me. Audrey was pretty much your typical "not like other girls" protagonist, and the author seemed very insistent in enunciating that Audrey was definitely NOT like other girls. This pretty much came in the form of having Audrey being intelligent, snarky, bold, and disliking typical "girlish" topics such as boys and dances and the such. While Audrey may have been a promising character, I really didn't like how the author made traits such as being intelligent or bold seem so unique, as if "other girls" did not carry any of these completely normal characteristics. Even more so, the author made pretty much every other female character in this story (with maybe the exception of one), seem very ditzy and typically "girly" and feminine, utilizing these other girls to make Audrey look better. While Audrey wasn't a character I particularly hated, I didn't really enjoy the way she was written. Adding on, the love interest in this story, Thomas Cresswell, was also boringly generic. Other than helping Audrey solve the murders of Jack the Ripper, Thomas didn't really add much to the story. His character was just as cliche as Audrey's, him being sarcastic, mysterious, and handsome-- not to mention the token tortured backstory he had, which seems very prevalent in many male love interests. I'll also add that Thomas wasn't a character I hated either, he was just a very flat one, and pretty boring to read about. While I've read some novels that also contain love interests with traits like Thomas and liked them, I'll have to say that Thomas was definitely not one of these. I wish the author, while also writing about how snarky and mysterious Thomas is supposed to be, gave him more dimension. Audrey and Thomas both felt like very token characters, ones that we've seen and heard of before, making both of them not really seem like people, and more like a walking stereotype. Overall, while this novel had a intriguing plot, the generic characters made the story fall flat for me.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Little Women
Alcott, Louisa May
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, an American classic, is one that rightfully deserves all of its fame. A coming of age story that follows four sisters living in poverty, I truly enjoy stories such as these, that slowly follow a "true to life" plot. I love how this novel unraveled each sister as a 3d character and worked through small, but super realistic day-to-day conflicts, while also addressing large societal issues at the time. Published in 1868, I enjoyed the issues this novel shed light on during those times, especially concerning stereotypes and the rights of women. Not being too preachy and upfront about these issues, I enjoyed how gracefully Alcott addressed these conflicts, utilizing the plot to weave these issues into, making the messages pack much more of a punch. Comparing this novel to other classics, however, I'd say that Little Women is not a very difficult read, and the novel is fairly simple to digest, which is something that I enjoy, especially in classics. I would recommend this novel to anyone since it's pretty much a globally known piece, and I think that every message in this novel holds value and merit to life now, as well as it did back then.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Echo Mountain
Wolk, Lauren
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Echo Mountain is a fascinating read which follows the harrowing life of Ellie, a young girl living during the Great Depression. After her family is forced to leave their town due to economic challenges, they move to a remote mountain, and learn to live off the land. However, when her father is injured, Ellie must learn to grapple with her situation, and take her of her family. One day, she encounters a strange older lady living in shambles nearby. Although she is at first frightened, she discovers that the woman, who she had believed to be a witch, is actually quite helpful in saving her bedridden father. This book is a fast, easy read, and great for any teen in need of a weekend pick-me-up. I think all adolescents can relate to Ellie's struggle between growing up and acting like a child, so I highly recommend Echo Mountain.
Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Audrey
Echo book jacket
Ryan, Pam Muñoz
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Echo" is a fun fantasy book that follows the journey a harmonica takes. It is about the musical people that interact with the harmonica and their journeys, showing how powerful music can be. We meet so many fun people that are going through hard times. We meet Friedrich, a young German boy living in Germany at the beginning of Hitler's career, Mike an orphan who would do anything for his brother, and Ivy, a girl confused by why social concepts are the way they are. The only thing that connects them is the harmonica. The story of the harmonica starts at the very beginning of the book and ends at the very end, making it an underlying second plot/ backstory.

"Echo" is a very fun fantasy/historical fiction book. The beginning intrigued me and was very good at capturing readers. When it gets to the middle parts when we are following different characters it does sort of feel like it is dragging on, but this is made up for with the ending. The ending was beautiful and made me so happy. Pam Muñzo Ryans writing is always so descriptive and it was great at describing music and how it feels in this book. You get to see major historical events' effects on some of the people that it would affect the most. It is a book that makes you think not only about what has happened in the past but also about the small things in life. I liked the backstory about the harmonica, it made the journey that much more special. There were some moments when we were left in the dark, aka cliffhangers and they were full of suspense. The ending as said before was beautiful, it brought everything together and resolved the suspense from the cliffhanger. Overall, this book is great. It has fantastical parts, historical parts, and musical parts, all with great writing.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
Passing book jacket
Larsen, Nella
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Passing by Nella Larsen is a classic novel following Irene Redfield and Clare Bellew. The novel follows the timeline of the Harlem Renaissance and delves into themes of 'white-passing' amongst the black community.
Irene, the narrator of the novel considers herself to be a very levelheaded, calm, thoughtful woman, who looks out for her children and is a perfectly attentive wife. Clare Bellew on the other hand is Irene's childhood friend, and her personality is much more colorful than Irene's. When Irene and Clare reunite after many years, we delve into their complicated relationship and clashing personalities.
Passing is a novel that illustrates what the standards of beauty really are and educates readers on the logistics of what passing of as white can mean for a black woman back in the 1920s.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, as 'white-passing' was something I wasn't super aware of, and barely even knew it was a phenomenon in the 1900s. Larsen also created a very interesting dynamic between Irene and Clare and crafted very realistic characters. I enjoyed reading Irene's inner monologues, as it's pretty rare to see an author build up very dynamic characters, that are also painfully human. I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone, as it contained lots of powerful messages and themes, without coming off as cliche or overdone.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Pony
Palacio, R.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I truly enjoyed this book! The story follows a 12-year- old boy named Silas whose father becomes involved in a counterfeiting scheme against his will. Silas is told not to follow him when he is taken, but when a horse shows up at his door, he takes it as a sign and sets off on an adventure with his ghostly companion, Mittenwool. The love that Silas has for his father and the means he is willing to use to save him cause the reader to become attached to the young boy and root for him throughout. I give this book five stars for the masterful storytelling used by the author to draw you in, and it uses a simple story to convey a deep message through the love and courage that Silas demonstrates on his adventurous expedition through the wilderness. All in all, I most definitely recommend this book to anyone of pretty much any age from about sixth or seventh grade through high school as a fun read that pulls at your heartstrings a little. Enjoy!
Reviewer grade 9

Reviewer's Name: Aubrey