Review Crew - book reviews by teens, for teens

Soul Surfer
Hamilton, Bethan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Soul Surfer" was very interesting to read. Sometimes it takes me forever to get into a story, but with this book I liked it from the first chapter. It is the story of a 13 year old ( I'm only 14) that loved surfing and when she was surfing one day, she was attacked by a shark and the shark bit her arm off! The main story line talks about how she dealt with her new life without an arm. I liked how she wasn't negative and she didn't give up on anything. I also liked how she changed so much, like all of the different stages she went through to get to the end of the story. I am going into the 9th grade.

Reviewer's Name: Sophia
You've Reached Sam
Thao, Dustin
2 stars = Meh
Review:

You've Reached Sam is a story about a high school girl named Julie grappling with the recent death of her boyfriend Sam. One day, after a week of Sam's death, Julie decides to call Sam to try and hear his voice for one last time. And to her surprise, he actually picks up. For some reason, Julie and Sam have this special connection even after death, but both Sam and Julie are aware that their time together is running out, and the phone calls won't last forever.
The plot of this story and its elements of fantasy intrigued me at first, but when I actually started reading, I was very underwhelmed. If I'm being honest, Julie as a character was very irritating. I understood that she was dealing with grief from losing a loved one, but when I read the flashback scenes, I slowly understood that Julie was always selfish and irritating from day 1. Adding onto an unlikeable main character were the "antagonists" of the novel. Liam and Taylor were some of Sam's childhood friends and we're told that they never really liked Julie in the first place. But after Sam's death, both of them blame Julie for what happened to Sam and are just overall cruel and unnecessarily racist to Julie's Asian friends. To be honest, Liam and Taylor were horribly written "villains." I could not understand why they were the way that they were, and it would have been much more interesting to hear their backstories with Sam and why they hated Julie so much. Sadly, Thao barely does any of this, and I wish he took the time to delve into Liam and Taylor's stories as well. Adding on, while I appreciated the representation of Asian and Asian-American characters in this novel, I feel like Thao barely did any research when writing about Sam's Japanese background. He talks about cherry blossoms and temples, and pretty much very basic facts about Japanese culture, and I wish he delved deeper into Sam's background, especially because Japanese culture has many interesting beliefs and traditions surrounding death that not many people have heard about. Adding on, I also didn't really like the way Thao incorporated scenes of discrimination against Asian people throughout the novel. To me, these scenes seemed very random and rushed. While I understood what Thao was trying to do, I feel like these scenes could have been more naturally incorporated into the plot, instead of seeming like these scenes were just there for added diversity.
Overall, this book to me was very overhyped. I didn't find myself shedding a single tear during this entire novel, even when every review was raving about how heartbreaking the story was. While the plot and the diversity of the characters excited me at first, I was left feeling very disappointed and I wish Thao did much more with all the potential that the story could have had.

Reviewer's Name: Michelle Y
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Vuong, Ocean
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a fictional autobiography written by Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong. It is written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese-American son to his illiterate mother.

To me, it was a surprise to hear that this novel was a work of fiction. The scenes constructed were so raw and real and written with so much emotion, that I automatically figured that this was a memoir. However, I later discovered that this book was fiction, with a couple of truths sprinkled in. I really loved the format that Vuong decided to use in this book because the letter format felt very lyrical and poetic at times. The book was refreshing and easy to follow, as opposed to the topics discussed in the book. As an Asian-American myself, there were many topics addressed in the novel that I could really sympathize and relate with, and while the subjects addressed could get pretty heavy and difficult to read through at times, I was grateful that Vuong took it upon himself to shed some light to many real issues and experiences. While I personally enjoyed the lyrical writing and could sympathize with the difficult subjects, I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. There are many scenes in the novel that could be triggering and too much to handle, and even I felt like I had to put down the book a few times to get a break. I would recommend that before anyone decides to read this book, they should look up the content and trigger warnings. However, those that do decide to start this novel will definitely not be disappointed.

Reviewer's Name: Michelle Y.
The Love Hypothesis
Hazelwood, Ali
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The Love Hypothesis is a cute romance novel that takes place in an academic setting. Olive, our protagonist, is a PhD STEM student attending Stanford, and Adam, her love interest is a professor at the college. I was initially a little hesitant about this book because while the age gap between Olive and Adam isn't concerning, their power dynamic is. Conveniently, however, it is revealed that Adam is not one of Olive's professors and manages another section of students. Even though Adam and Olive were never really "teacher-student," it still made me a little uneasy, especially since the two attend the same college. The novel basically establishes its plot through Olive and Adam having a fake relationship together. Adam needs this fake relationship to convince his higher-ups that he's not leaving Stanford and has put down roots, in order to unfreeze funds needed for his research projects. Olive, on the other hand, needs a fake relationship to convince her best friend Ahn, that she has no feelings for a boy she had gone out on a couple of dates with, after realizing Ahn is interested in the same boy herself. In order to persuade Ahn to pursue her feelings, Olive strikes up this fake-dating deal with Professor Adam Carlsen, thus leading the two of them into a real future together.

The Love Hypothesis, in my opinion, has everything critical for a good, cheesy, romance. The fake-dating trope, many sweet situations, and a love interest who seems cold and cruel on the outside, but turns out to be a softie just for Olive. While the novel may have the right ingredients for a swoon-worthy romance, however, there was something missing. Olive as a protagonist was a very 2d character and was someone I could not find myself relating to or even being interested in. While it was refreshing to see a female woman lead pursuing a career in STEM, there was nothing else all that interesting about Olive. I also didn't like the author's choice of using the topic of sexual assault only as a plot device, in order to bring the story forward and the characters closer.

On the other hand, Adam was a classically written love interest. Strong on the outside, and soft on the inside, he had all the criteria needed for a typical male lead in a romance novel, and while it may seem overdone to some, I think Adam was a great portrayal of such traits.

Overall, The Love Hypothesis was an interesting romance novel, and I enjoyed its academic setting and some of the scenes involved. However, there were a couple of aspects of the story that could have been tweaked to make the story more enjoyable. In my opinion, many romance-lovers would probably enjoy this novel, but I found myself wanting more.

Reviewer's Name: Michelle Y.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Brashares, Ann
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

My mom told me about this book because she said me and my friends reminded her of this book. I really liked this book because of how close they all were. And because of all of the adventures they all take but they are still best friends. I thought the idea of this book was epic because even though they were not the same size, they pants somehow looked perfect on all of them. And they used the pants to stay close. And tell each other about their adventures. It was very easy to read and imagine like I was right there with them.

Reviewer's Name: Sophia V.
Book Cover: Before the Broken Star
King, Emily
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The fact that Everly has a clock heart that sometimes stalls is the perfection metaphor for this book. Although it's a very enjoyable book with many redeeming qualities, it's clunky and certain decisions baffled me.

The main plot of the book is that Everly's family was killed when she was young by Markham, who tried to kill her as well. She only survived because of her uncle building her a clockwork heart. Overall, the plot is solid. She intentionally gets arrested to get close to Markham, and ends up on the isles near the dangerous thornwoods.

Character wise, Everley flip flops between being an interseting and bland protagonist. Just saying that she wants revenge and is angry at her would be murderer isn't exactly compelling. However, when the story takes the time to explore how she's closed herself off, her character is actually pretty good. Sadly, this only happens about three times. Jamison (Everly's love interest) is almost always bland. He only gets angry (or feels any non supportive emotion) once. Yet, all of this is par for the course with YA novels, it's time to talk about what sets this book apart.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)
Markham is the lost prince of Everly's favorite fairy tale. He accidentally mortally wounded his wife and is banished to the mortal releam with eternal life. The only reason he killed Everly's family is becuase her father tried to keep him from the forest where his love lies in a magical coma. Sounds interesting? It is, but there are two major problems. One: most of the characters completly ignore that he killed two innocent children and tried to kill a third. It's almost comical how Everly shouts about his war crimes while everyone kisses his feet. I just wanted everyone to see his true colors so the dissonance would end. I got my wish in the worst way possible. Two: turns out all that complexity was a lie. He actually just wanted power and no longer cared about his wife. Pure evil villians are wonderful. Sympethetic villians are also wonderful. However, you can't just set up a complex villian for half the book and wimp out last second.

That's enough negativity though. Let's talk about what this book does right. There's just this sense of whimsy throughout the book. Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise, (Everly has a clockwork heart after all) but when there's also a dark/oppressive atmosphere, it doesn't seem like it can work. The book really shines once they arrive at the other world. The imagination in those scenes really made me smile. I mean, the fairy alone could have carried the book.

If you're looking for a nice fantasy read, pick up Before the Broken Star. However, if you're looking for something truly complex, that will make you think for hours afterwards, try something else.

Reviewer's Name: Rose J.
The Handmaid's Tale
Atwood, Margaret
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Handmaid's Tale, written by Margaret Atwood, is a fictional account of Offred, who is a handmaid that lives in a dystopian society. A handmaid is a woman whose purpose is to have a child. Offred is conflicted with her job; she is separated from her lover, Luke and her child, thinking that they are dead but hoping they are alive. The new government slowly took away power from females until the females are essentially powerless. I chose the book because my Aunt recommended it to me. One thing I liked about the book was that the ending was essentially left to the reader's judgment. As a male, it gave me helpful insights to events that are happening right now that I never would have thought about.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Looking for Alaska
Green, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

“Looking for Alaska” is a book about Miles Halter, who is searching for the “Great Perhaps” in his life. So, to find the “Great Perhaps” he enrolls in the Culver Creek boarding school. While at school he makes new friends and grows out of his shell into the real world. One of the friends that he makes is Alaska Young, who is a hurricane unto herself and she pulls Pudge (Miles) into the real world and eventually makes him face the truth about how bitter the world can be. But she also captures his heart, making everything feel worse once tragedy strikes. But once tragedy strikes, nothing is the same anymore.

I could not put this book down. The format of the book is so fun and it cuts out useless parts of the book. Also, the way it separates the ‘before’ and the ‘after’, was a very smart way to organize the book. The writing was pretty good and felt honest about how teenagers live their lives. Sometimes something would happen very suddenly in the book but the book would keep going, so I would have to reread parts to fully understand what just happened. You get to see into Pudge’s mind and even though he is a jerk sometimes, you do get attached to him and the people that he cares about. Personally, Pudge was a very relatable character and then Alaska was the person that I want to be. Dr. Hyde was one of my favorite characters and I think that he was a good teacher. The plot and the pranks were very well thought out and I did not see the event coming ( the one that separates the ‘before’ and ‘after’). I think that the event was also very well thought out because of how common it is but also how you never think that it will happen to you, showing a life lesson, technically. Overall, this is a great novel, with uncensored teens, a few life lessons and great characters.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
Awards:
House of Leaves
Danielewski, Mark Z.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

House of Leaves is a story within a story within a story. In short, it is a collection of writings, put together by an amateur tattoo artist after retrieving the notes from a dead blind man's apartment, notes about a documentary that may or may not have existed, a documentary that details one family and their house that is far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is a desperate mess, a mile-high pile of unreliable narrators' unreliable writings collapsing in on themselves. It is a horror, not about a haunted house or a monster in the dark, but about the things that haunt us and the monsters inside our minds. It is a book that pushes the idea of what a book can be. It is gibberish, illegible, unreadable. And it is one of the most gripping books I have ever read.
I was glued to this book when I got it. It was one of the first real horror books I have ever read, and yet it betrays every idea of what horror should be. It is long and rambling and pretentious, going off on random tangents and strange digressions at the drop of a hat, but it still made my skin crawl. After I first bought the book, I quickly realized that I could not read it when my parents weren't home. It's something about the abruptness of horror after so long without it, or maybe its the unsettling words before that put you in the headspace where every shadow looks like a death omen. It's likely also something about the way the book chooses to directly address the root of all fears. It isn't about a house invasion, it's about the primal fear that comes when the comforting becomes unsafe. It isn't about surviving in a dangerous or extreme environment, it's about the bone deep terror of being somewhere you don't belong. It isn't about a monster, it's about the monstrous things this world has to offer, and how that monstrosity can creep into our very bones. This can be seen in the way the horror of the book is never named or explained. There is no ritual or legend, no handy expert or trusty guide. Even if a character manages to escape the horror, the horror still exists, because it has always existed.
Despite the beautiful prose, rich imagery, and startling effect this book creates, there are definitely some problems. The main issue is the inherently illogical structure and plot of the novel. This is obviously intentional on the authors part, since the book, and its characters, are meant to be a challenge to understand. The book is filled with rambling, nonsensical footnotes that can take up pages at a time. Words will go in different directions, appendices will stretch on for hours, entire chapters will be devoted to academic nothingness. This strangeness also weaves its way into the plot. While the documentary's story is mostly straightforward (although it, too, dissolves near the end) the ramblings of the amateur tattoo artist bringing the story together are crude, strange, abrupt, and often incomprehensible. There is a lack of catharsis, of any sort of understanding of most of the characters, and this can be very confusing and frustrating.
All in all, this book was a difficult yet rewarding read. I'd definitely recommend it for older readers, and would instruct any attempting to read it to get the physical version, read however feels comfortable, and go to the appendices when directed. I'd also recommend it for any lovers of horror, mystery, or a story in unique format.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Eve
Genres:
Oathbringer
Sanderson, Brandon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Oathbringer is the third installation in the amazing Stormlight Archive. With their homeland overrun by "Voidbringers" (or is it...🤔), Dalinar Kholin and co must find a way to end this Desolation without being wiped from Roshar, and without the help of the Heralds of the Almighty, or the Almighty himself. Urithiru, the city of the Knights Radient, has a new, unwelcome occupant that is mimicking acts of violence that happen in the tower city. The city conceals more knowledge that no one knew, including an unpleasent fact about humanity's orgins on Roshar, their "homeworld".

Reviewer's Name: Kai
The Lost Hero
Riordan, Rick
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

“The Lost Hero” is the first book in the “Heroes of Olympus” series, which takes place after the “Percy Jackson and the Oympians” series so it is recommended that the Percy Jackson series is read before reading this book. The book is about three demi-gods, Leo, Jason, and Piper that find their way to Camp Half-Blood. The three half-bloods end up going on a quest together. Leo Valdez during this book learns new and weird things about his past, he also loves machines and flirting. In my opinion he was the most relatable character in this book of the three main characters and was very lovable. Jason wakes up on a bus and has no idea who he is but all he knows is that something is not right. In this book Jason is not very relatable because of his absence of memory, so we don’t learn many not quest related things about him but he was still an enjoyable character. Piper has secrets and her life is turned upside down during this book. She is relatable at times but Leo is still by far the most relatable character in this book. So the three demi-gods go on a quest together to stop the start of the end of the world and learn a lot of things along the way.

“The Lost Hero” was a good book. While reading I did have to look at my political map of the U.S.A. to make sure I understood where they were going. The plot and quest were overall pretty easy to follow but the book feels a little slow at times. The mythology was very well integrated into the story. The writing style was descriptive and I enjoyed the book being in third person rather than first person, like in Percy Jackson and the Olypians. The book felt really well thought out and it fits really well with the rest of the books in its world. The book had fun small plot twists that I didn’t see coming. You will get attached to the main characters, especially Leo Valdez. I liked how it ended, it wrapped up the story with more to come nicely. The small bit of French in it was easy to understand even if you don’t speak french. Overall, it was a good book and a good start to a series and a wonderful addition to the Percy Jackson world.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict's Double Life
Jenkins, Tiffany
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I picked this book because I follow the author on Instagram, her page is called Juggling the Jenkins. She is very real and down to earth and talks about her book online. The book is her real life story of her adult life. She talks about how hard her life became after she went to jail for being a drug addict. The stories of the things that happened to her while she was in jail, made me cry! I think she is a very strong woman and reading her story made me want to be better. I am going into the 9th grade.

Reviewer's Name: Sophia
Make Your Bed
McRaven, William H.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Make Your Bed" is a very inspiring book. I really liked that the author was in the Navy snd wrote this book based on a speech that he gave at a college graduation. The thing that I liked most about the book were all of the advice he gives that everyone, even teenagers, can make little changes in your life that can change how you feel about yourself and your life. It reminds you that even if your life is not going the way you want it to, you can always take small steps towards being happy. I am going into the 9th grade and I think my friends should read this.

Reviewer's Name: Sophia
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Andrews, Jesse
2 stars = Meh
Review:

How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad is the name of the first chapter in this book and this was enough to catch my attention and make me want to read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. This book is a story about a boy named Greg and his friend Earl who are both seniors in high school and enjoy a hobby of making not- so- great movies with his dad's old camera. Greg has a philosophy that if you don't make friends in high school then you can't make any enemies either, so he pretty much flies under the radar and only hangs out with Earl. That is, until one day, his mom forces him to become friends with his elementary school ex- girlfriend Rachel who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
When I picked up this book, I had really high expectations because the first sentence of the synopsis on the back was "this is the funniest book you'll ever read about death" which set my standards very high, but when I got into the story, I found the humor to be subpar. Greg is an overall shallow character and I found myself waiting for him to reveal some deeper level of character that did not include jokes about alien barf and the attractive girls in his grade and I was disappointed when he didn't. I did however, find the way that the book was written intriguing because Greg was writing the book himself and would address the reader directly which I think helps you to become more involved in the story. However, the way that he wrote himself made Greg very unlikable in my opinion, which could have been the point, I am not sure. Overall I was a bit underwhelmed by the lack of empathy Greg had towards his friend and how bad his jokes could be at times. I think if you really wanted to make the argument that this book is about embracing yourself and not being ashamed of your interests, you could but it would be a bit of a stretch. If you are looking for a quick, lighthearted read with lots of jokes about random things and an insight on a teen boy's mind, you may want to give this a shot, and depending on your type of humor it could be a very enjoyable book.
Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Makenna
The Stand
King, Stephen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

One of King's earliest and critically acclaimed books, a superflu ravages the planet, leaving a minuscule remainder of the population to pick between two opposing factions.
This book was a lengthy trip to follow, but it was pretty good. The characters were my favorite part of the story, as most of them were nuanced and developed. Seeing them interact with each other and/or their environment really pulled me in. The story, overall, was also good, but there were spots that didn't bring me the same enjoyment. The ending was anti-climatic and seemed forced, and it didn't flow with the setup before hand. Speaking of flow, the story was very slow. Characters acted and did things, but they also didn't. After the beginning, nothing really happened conflict wise. It all seemed like set up without much driving force aside from the attraction to the two fractions. In context with the story, it makes sense, but it still seemed boring at points where characters either weren't developing or were just there for a purely plot reason. Still recommend a read (especially with how it connects with his other works), but not the best I've read.
Reviewer's Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Antwaan
Screenwriting is Storytelling
Wright, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

“Screenwriting is Storytelling” written by Kate Wright, forwarded by Arthur Hiller, is a diverse, and engaging introduction to screenwriting with many lessons in plot and character development. Evaluating dozens of popular movies and providing insight into the art of creating a story, Wright gages screenwriting past simply making a scene eligible to an actor or director and expands the concept to the very origin of a script, the story. From this, Wright not only guides the reader through the process of making a handsome script, she as well includes the detailed aspects that create a subtle, yet concise, deeper meaning of a story.

The almost rigid, scrupulous manner Wright orders a story into, can be a well-fit reference book for those who have no issue abiding by a stricter structure, but can also be a downside for those who prefer a more Dan Harmon approach—following a simple guideline—with room for some wiggles.

Either way, the information Wright provides is undeniably useful. I’ve found a deeper appreciation for film/story genres that—frankly—I’ve never been much a fan of, and it’s through the arduous journey of creating a script from the ground-up, that a story can be truly appreciated, which Kate Wright does a fantastic job at being the tour guide.

Reviewer's Name: Sofia
Genres:
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga #1)
Peterson, Andrew
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I first discovered this book in fifth grade, when my teacher read this amazing book to us. She had told us that it had songs and poems in it, and that she would sing to us, provided that we chose it for our read aloud book. Needless to say, we all wanted to hear our teacher sing. And we were introduced to the wonderful world of Aerwiar and its amazing creatures and characters, which include fearsome Toothy Cows and a crazy man called Peet. Reading it again as a teenager, I enjoyed it immensely for the second time, because of the suspense, humor, and creativity inside.

Ordinary siblings Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igby have lived in Skree, in the small town of Glipwood all their lives. Nine years ago, a Nameless Evil (called Gnag the Nameless), along with the despicable, lizard-like Fangs of Dang, took over both the Shining Isle of Anneria and Skree and now rule it with cruelty and oppression. But there is a secret in little Glipwood. A secret more dangerous than even the Fangs themselves.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey
Genres:
Alice Through the Looking Glass - A Matter of Time
Jablonski, Carla
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Alice has traveled back to Wonderland! She and the other characters must find what has made the Hatter go inexplicably mad, or in his case, sane. And there is another mystery afoot. A mystery that had started before Alice came to Wonderland in the first place. Your actions and decisions affect the story, as you can choose to be Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, or the White Queen, at different times in the story, including future and past...
A choose your own adventure, this book is entertaining for a light read. I enjoyed the different perspectives and whimsical ideas, but as I was reading through to the last ending, I found myself a little bored. I suppose this is because parts of story between the four characters were exactly the same, but told as "Alice said," instead of "I said," for example. I also think that it would have been more interesting if the book had differing interpretations of the same ideas depending on the character being played. However, I did enjoy making decisions for the first characters I chose, because the story was new to me, and I couldn’t predict what I needed to do. But after the first two, I could tell exactly what decisions would lead me to the right places, because the first characters had already finished the story based on the other two's actions.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey
Genres:
Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus
Bowling, Dusti
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I enjoyed this book a lot.
Aven has done many things that could be hard for most people, like keeping a tarantula, learning guitar, and horseback riding. But perhaps the most impressive part of Aven's accomplishments is the fact that she did it all in the absence of arms, which she had been born without. This book is the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, which is just as good, following the adventures of Aven as well. In her first months of high school, she experiences bullies, fake friends, real friends, lies, truths, and many difficult choices. And she lives to tell the tale of many Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus.
I liked Aven's perseverance and her refusal to let anyone destroy her happiness. She is very caring, and she likes to help out, but she also has a great sense of humor. I also liked the way the author described how the characters were feeling without an outright statement.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey
Pembrick's Creaturepedia
Pembrick, Ollister B.,
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is delightful, despite being only 122 pages (including the author's note, which I also enjoyed immensely). It is presented as a dictionary of quirky, imaginary creatures found in the Wingfeather Saga, which is also by Andrew Peterson. It's filled with elaborate drawings of such creatures, which I deeply enjoyed looking at. The descriptions consist of short stories of "Ollister B. Pembrick"'s encounters with the animals, and his opinions on their demeanor, weaknesses, and even taste. It is very fun to read and I would recommend this to anyone looking for something to cure their boredom. I also enjoyed the made up words in this book such as "quickitude" and "dogths" (a unit of measurement involving dogs). This is an excellent, strange little book that is definitely worth opening.

Reviewer's Name: Kelsey
Genres: