Reviews of Teen Books by Genre: Historical

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Lee, Mackenzi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Book Review: Between Shades of Gray
Sepetys, Ruta
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is an amazing book. So stark and unforgiving, written exactly like Siberia and the arctic circle. This isn't an autobiography but it sounds like it could be. I have no doubt that Lina's circumstances happened to thousands during Stalin's reign. The writing was so realistic I could feel the wind and the cold and every terrible thing that came with it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
The First Four Years
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The First Four Years is the last book in the Little House series. It does not read like a Little House Book. The style is completely different, which is probably because it was an unfinished manuscript which Rose, Laura’s daughter, never edited. A notable difference is that Laura never refers to Almanzo by his name; instead, she affectionately calls him “Manly.” Another thing that differs vastly here from the rest of the Little House books is the sheer amount of tragedy and hardship. At the end of the book everything goes wrong in a cascade of unfortunate tragedies. This book reminded me of Laura’s The Long Winter but without the rewarding change in fortune. The very end manages to be optimistic, but in real life things did not immediately get any better for Laura. However, if you are at all interested in the life of the remarkable Mrs. Wilder, this book is worth the read. I would recommend it not as a Little House book, but as more of an autobiography of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Caroline J.
Under a Painted Sky
Lee, Stacey
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Under a Painted Sky was just okay for me. The book was probably very similar to being on the Oregon Trail - every once in a while something exciting would happen but for the most part, you're on the trail with a long stretch of boring ahead of you! That being said, I really do like the fact that Stacey Lee used a "historical" setting to present two strong, multicultural female characters. Annamae (African-American) and Samantha(Chinese) came into each others lives at a critical time and in the end, they realize that you can choose your family. Also being accepted for who you are was a central theme. But I felt Under a Painted Sky was a historical novel with not much history. The story takes place on the Oregon Trail, and we do hear of some of the hardships of traveling that the pioneers faced, but Stacey Lee only did one mention of Native Americans in the book. One sentence about the Cheyenne. It's hard to believe that on the trail, they didn't encounter any Native Americans. I think this book will be popular with teen girls. They will love the romance!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa
Awards:
Armstrong and Charlie
Frank, Steven
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and grieving, but it includes a few moments of romance as well. As boys progress into their teenage years, these moments are sweet, but also emphasize the whirlwind of emotions and hormones about to befall all kids of that age.

The best part of Armstrong and Charlie is how the narrative splits between the two, titular boys. With the reader knowing the background of each individual, the reasons behind the biases and social friction come to light well before the boys realize that people are deeper than they appear on the surface. Somebody might be poor and act out in spite of it. Others might have family or personal problems that they’re hiding via and underneath a mask of toughness. Once we finally get to know someone, we find they’re not nearly as different as we once thought.

A fantastic book about 1970’s race relations that everyone should read, I give Armstrong and Charlie 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Help
Stockett, Kathryn
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is a novel that takes place in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi where racism is strong. The story goes between the perspectives of three different women who are all going through differing struggles. Aibileen is a black maid working for a white family, one of many families she has worked for. She is trying to cope with the her 24-year-old son’s death. Minny is also a black maid and a good friend of Aibileen.
Minny is searching for yet another job because she can not keep her mouth shut and says whatever she wishes to her white boss. She also fails to protect herself from her husband, Leroy, who beats her often as a result of his drinking. Eugenia “Skeeter” (as everyone calls her) has just returned from college at the University of Mississippi. She longs to write for a newspaper company in New York City, but she is stuck on her parent’s cotton farm where her mother is constantly bugging her about finding a man. Skeeter applies for a job at Harper & Row but is declined the job. However, Elaine Stein, an editor from Harper & Row, offers some advice to Skeeter. Skeeter is left to find a job in Jackson. She finds a job for the local newspaper, writing for the housekeeping column. Skeeter has never had to housekeep in her whole life, though. Consequently, Skeeter goes to the aid of Aibileen, who is the maid of her close friend Elizabeth. Aibileen cautiously answers Skeeter’s questions hoping that her boss, Elizabeth, will not become angry with her. Meanwhile, Skeeter ponders day and night about a topic she could write about. Finally, Skeeter comes up with an idea. She requests Aibileen’s assistance in writing about the black maids, known as the help.
After much consideration and reluctance, Aibileen agrees. Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny come together as a team to form the book that can change their lives forever. Together they create this book despite the many risks because of racism that they face.
I loved The Help and recommend to anyone who is searching for a funny and touching novel. The book also provides some information and background on the racism during the 1960's as the Civil Rights Movement unraveled. The book will keep you interested and wanting more. I felt I was constantly picking up the book and reading and was always rooting for the three main characters. I enjoyed receiving the story from the perspectives of Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny. I felt that the whole story was intriguing. I found nothing dull and have no negative comments or complaints. The Help is a good quality story that will keep you delighted and engrossed.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Maya K.
Genres:
silhouette of two figures against a sunset
Lee, Stacey
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I really enjoyed this book because it was such an adventurous and suspenseful story: just my type. The main character in this story goes through so much I know I could never endure myself, but she kept pushing through it all and made it out all right. There were so many surprising things in this amazing book that happened that I never would have guessed.

Under A Painted Sky was probably the best book I've read this year. Like all books, it had a little blunder here and there, but overall I absolutely loved it.

Reviewer's Name: Adelaide R.
Awards:
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Although it was a little hard for me to get into this book, once I did I was hooked. This book is about Scout, a 7 year old girl who is dealing with the hardship of her father having to defend a black man of rape in the 1940's. Along the way, Scout and her brother Jem meet Dill and they spend their summers together. Dill wants to get Boo Radley to come out of his house, and in the end, he does. With this book is the message to put yourself into others shoes to see how they feel. A classic book, great for anyone.

Reviewer's Name: Alex
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee may strike your perception as a seemingly uninteresting story. The book tells the tale of two young children in a sleepy Alabama town, and at face-value, the plot does not garner much intrigue. However, I was in the same situation when I was required to read this book in the spring of my freshman year at high school.
Indeed, while at first the story seemed boring, as I continued to carry on with reading, every turn of the page immersed me ever further into Lee’s timeless story.

As a reader, you share the emotions felt by Jem and Scout, two young siblings, as they learn the nuances of life in the prejudiced American South during the early 1900s. Not only was their community weakened by the economic collapse of the Great Depression, but also sickened by the bitter contempt felt among whites and blacks.

In the beginning of the novel, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and her brother Jem innocently play games with their friend “Dill” and enjoy life in Maycomb with their father, Atticus. During this time, they have little to no apprehension of the racial tension hanging in their society, but when their father, Atticus Finch, who works as lawyer, openly chooses to defend an African American in court, trouble arises.

Jem and Scout undergo a number of personal developments during the course of the novel. While at first, they carry with them a genuine and child-like innocence, the court trial their father has taken on exposes them to the racist indignity felt by their fellow community members. Jem and Scout struggle to balance their conflict between the social norms of Maycomb and the morals their father has instilled in them. With the trial’s end, Jem and Scout are lead to discover the imperfections of their society, and the ways with which they are forced to deal with them. As the reader follows along, they not only watch Jem and Scout change, but they too themselves are shaped through Lee’s captivating story.

Overall, I enjoyed most aspects of the book. Although some scenes I felt were a bit plain and unprogressive, these minor flaws were overshadowed by the powerful themes Lee expresses through the story. If you haven’t already read To Kill a Mockingbird, I would certainly give the novel a try. If not for the genuine enjoyment of reading the story, try this novel to feel the powerful emotions stirred from Lee’s literary masterpiece.

Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Ethan M
The Breadwinner
Ellis, Deborah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is very interesting because it talks about a girl who has always lived in the middle of a war in Afghanistan where all women and girls can't go outside unless the have a note from a male or a male accompanies them outside, well for this girl named Parvana her life changed when her father was arrested and the only other male in her family was her baby brother!!! Big problem huh??? Well the only solution her family found was for her to dress as a boy. Read about this amusing book called The Breadwinner.

Reviewer's Name: Kimberly
Awards:
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Duffy, Damian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Octavia Butler's Kindred broke so much ground both as a flawless time travel novel and visceral retelling of the slave experience. As an African-American author writing science fiction, her body of work changed the field while winning its top honors -- the Nebula and Hugo awards -- and the author herself was awarded a MacArthur genius grant. This graphic novel is an excellent introduction to her work, and is highly recommended for YA and adult readers alike.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee, Harper
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

To Kill a Mockingbird shows us that growing up can not always be as easy as it seems. Especially when you live in Maycomb, Alabama, and your father is a lawyer defending a black man. Scout grows up not knowing much about the real world it is not until the trial that turns the whole town upside down that she really discovers how the South is really run. I love how relatable the characters are to teenagers like us today. I love how simple the story line is and the literature is beautiful. It tells you simply how things should be, it states things blatantly through Scout's eyes. The only thing I did not like about the book is that at some points it was hard to follow the story line. Although the story is very simple it got more complex when reading further. I chose this book because I had heard from many people that this was an incredible book and decided to see for myself. The book itself did surprise me as it did have a rather twist ending that was rather unpredictable. The characters were extremely relatable, I could see that in certain situations I would have acted similarly. I would say that it is definitely one of the best book I have read this year or even ever for multiple reasons. It can relate to old and young and describes an issue that still exists today.
Reviewer Grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Sarah C.
Anna and the Swallow Man
Savit, Gavriel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In Poland in 1939, seven year old Anna's father went to work one day, never to return. As such, she finds herself learning to survive under the care of a stranger that she knows only as "the swallow man". Together, they escape Russian and German soldiers and travel the Eastern European countryside as they try to survive and make sense of the world that seems to be crumbling around them.

As this won the Odyssey Award (excellence in audio production) last year, I decided to give it a listen and I'm so glad that I did. The narration was excellent, but it would've been great even with a lesser narrator. This is a brilliantly written book that covers so much ground physically, metaphysically and metaphorically. Many things the Swallow man says or that Anna thinks are steeped in rich allegory and open for interpretation. Some of the things said are merely simple truths. Almost all of it feels somehow important and relevant. For example:

“The world as it exists is a very, very dangerous place.”

and

“Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive.”

and

“Normally, her mind was like a busy beach - all day long she would run back and forth, leaving footprints, building small mounds and castles, writing out ideas and diagrams with her fingers in the sand, but when the night tide came in, she would close her eyes and allow each wave of rhythmic breath to wash in and out over her day's accumulation, and before long the beach would be clear and empty, and she would drift off to sleep.”

That, folks, is how you write prose. Insert clapping emoji here.

Plotting takes the background as this book is all about character development and parables and life lessons. It's about the importance of language, and people, and what it takes to stay alive when there's a war on. It's about being human and growing up. It's about family and love and necessity. It's about war. It's brutal and human and tender all at same time. And it's very, very good. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
atonement
McEwan, Ian
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

A metafiction novel documenting the struggles of a young misinformed thirteen year old, Atonement by Ian McEwan provides an intense glimpse into the power of lying and the consequences resulting from deception. Briony, a British girl in the early twentieth century witnesses a crime she twists in order to fuel her intense jealousy. Her eagerness to fulfill her own desires corrupts and destroys her sister Cecilia and Robbie’s romantic life and Robbie is whisked away into World War II. Within the last chapter of the book, current Briony reveals the truth about her manipulation of the book in order to immortalize the love between Cecilia and Robbie, both who die as a direct result of Briony’s lies. I would recommend the book to anyone willing to read deeper and not take everything written on page as the truth.

Those who enjoy deep, complex, twisted plots would be captivated by Atonement. The seriousness of the crime and depiction of the same scene from multiple perspectives limits the prospective audience to those high school and older. Despite the book’s intriguing start, the ending infuriates many as Briony lifts the curtain to reveal her distorted depiction in order to repent for her guilt. Atonement fortifies the pang of a guilty conscious and the powerful repercussions that result from lying.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Alex K.
Shadow
Morpurgo, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Shadow was a very good book that I thought had essentials to make into a review. Shadow was about an eight-year-old named Aman and him telling his entire story of how he met Shadow, and why he wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Taliban (people who didn't like Aman's people) invaded his part of Afghanistan, so him and his mother needed to get out of his town after his grandmother died. Right before he left, a dog he named Shadow accompanied him. Throughout their journey, they needed to walk many miles to get to Turkey, a place where an airport is. However, cruel people started robbing the family of all of their belongings, and even their grandmother's jewels she left behind just in case they lost all of their money, which they just did. Even through all of the struggles, the family still pushed on.

Eventually, Shadow gets picked up by the military, who claimed it was their dog. Aman eventually got to England. I thought that this book was good because it gave an accurate demonstration of a loving relationship between a boy and a dog.

Reviewer's Name: Logan L.
Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyne, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I read this book in almost one sitting. It was very good and very sad. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, but that's my only complaint. I think it would make a good play.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
little women
Alcott, Louisa May
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Little Women, a classic novel by Louisa May Alcott invites the reader into the world of the four March sisters in 1861 during the Civil war, who were living in Concord, Massachusetts. The Marches were poor, but happy, and their father was fighting in the war against the South. Meg, the oldest, was the most typical woman of her sisters (at the time). A lover of luxury and good society, she was the most proper. Jo, the second oldest was a free spirit and loved to read and write. She was a complete tomboy. Beth was the second youngest and very sweet. She had a plethora of pet cats and loved music. Amy was the youngest, and she loved art of all kinds. Like her sister, Meg, she also loved luxury. Little Women follows their story for about 15 years.
Overall, the book was very interesting, but at some points, it became extremely long-winded and sometimes even boring. However, most of the parts were very interesting and entertaining. You grow attached to all the characters in the book. Little Women was a wonderful book, and I hope to read it again soon.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole B.
the boy in the striped pajamas
Boyne, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a historical fiction novel by John Boyne, invites the reader into the world of nine-year-old Bruno as he and his family move to a house near a Nazi concentration camp. The book starts off with Bruno discovering that he and his family are going to move so that his father, a Nazi, can work at a concentration camp. Reluctantly, Bruno travels to an old, small house in a neighborhood with no children. While exploring, Bruno finds a fence enclosing the concentration camp and meets a boy the same age as him named Shmuel who lives on the other side. Over the next year, they become best friends, realizing they have a lot in common. One day, Bruno decides to go with Shmuel inside the concentration camp where his father worked to see what it was like. Sadly, on that day, everyone in the camp was marched to a chamber where they were gassed, Bruno and Shmuel holding hands until the end.

The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, while sad, is a story worth reading. It inspires the reader to think about the Nazis and how terribly wrong they were. A bond is formed with both of the boys, demonstrating the heartbreak the Jews must have felt when their own friends and family were mercilessly killed. Fluffy and light at the beginning and heart-wrenching at the end, it is perfectly balanced. However, I would definitely not recommend this novel to anybody who does not like tragedies or anyone under the age of ten.

Reviewer's Name: Nicole B.
Awards:
Genres:
Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Many readers are immediately turned off by the immense depth and length of this classic (450+ pages). However, within the hundreds of pages, Steinbeck is able to create a realistic world with dynamic characters and an immersive story line. The book takes place during the Great Depression era, and the story follows the Joad family as they travel to California after losing their family farm. The story begins with the main character, Tom Joad, returning home from his time in prison. He quickly finds out that the Joad family farm has been repossessed, partly due to the Dust Bowl, and the entire family must travel to California in search of work. Along the way, the family meets and interacts with many characters facing the same difficulties of the Great Depression. Throughout the book, we see the hardships faced by these characters, which accurately correspond to the struggles of those during the 1930's. As an avid history nerd, I found myself quite intrigued by the story, since I was able to feel more connected to this tragic time in American history. Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and would strongly recommend it to someone who has an interest in history and enough free time to tackle this classic title.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Alex K.
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
Jacques, Brian
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to finish this book. It was hovering around a 2 (Meh) when all of a sudden the author gave it a left turn and I found myself in a good old fashion treasure hunt story. Like the 'Gold Bug' by Poe, it's full of great and cryptic clues to unravel. Fantastic!! The author gives us a taste of the 'Flying Dutchman' legend and then joins us with a young boy and his dog who are traveling a strange road through life. There's three books in this series so if you like the adventure - enjoy.

Reviewer's Name: Bruce

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