Review Crew - book reviews by teens, for teens

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston, Zora Neale
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Their Eyes Were Watching God, written by Zora Neale Hurstson, is a contemporary fiction novel regarding the tale of Janie Crawford and her quest to find love. I like how the book introduces the characters in the beginning, after Janie's journey to find love, and then Janie tells her best friend about how she ended up where she was. Originally, her grandmother wed her to a man she was uninterested in. In fact, she was so uninterested in her husband that she ran off with another, more exciting man. The more she stayed with the exciting man, named Joe Starks, (she eventually married him), the more he hurt (physically/emotionally) her. Later, Joe dies, and she has little to no remorse over his death. A couple months later, she meets Tea Cake, and eventually falls in love with him. The part that I don't like about this book is that Tea Cake has a lot of warning flags, but they all seem to fly over Janie's head. I don't know if the author intended for the main character to be foolish or not, it simply shocked me how willing Janie was to devote herself to Tea Cake.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Lewis, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Moneyball, written by Micheal Lewis, is a narrative, nonfiction novel based on the miraculous 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics. Micheal Lewis was inspired to write about the Oakland A's because of the statistics behind the game. He realized that even though the Oakland A's had one of the lowest budgets in the MLB at the time, they were winning an unusually high number of games. What Micheal Lewis wanted to know was: why was the cost-per-win so low in comparison to other teams? Was the Oakland A's performance a fluke, or was it not?

Billy Bean, the general manager for the Oakland A's and his trusty statistician, Paul DePodesta can answer both. Billy realized that he had to look at the game differently to obtain an advantage over other teams. All the "good" players followed the money, leaving the unpicked players for the teams that could not afford the good ones. The problem was that Billy Bean could not afford the good ones. Paul DePodesta found a way to search through the seemingly useless pile of players to find stars. He realized that some player's traits, such as batting average, were overvalued in the market, while some, such as on-base percentage, were undervalued. DePodesta saw that a player, in the eyes of the market, with a low batting average was worth more than a player with a high on-base percentage. He realized that he could buy high quality players for less, and that is exactly what he did. I liked the book because it has interesting statistics in it, and it also highlights the ingenuity that went behind one of the best seasonal records in the MLB.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Angelou, Maya
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, written by Maya Angelou, is an autobiographical account of Angelou's childhood. When Maya is a young child, her parents divorce. After the divorce her parents send her and her brother, Baily to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their Grandmother, where her Grandmother, affectionately referred to as "Momma", runs a convenience store. Angelou, despite her self-consciousness, appears to have had a great childhood growing up in the store. After about five years, Angelou's dad unexpectedly comes in and takes Bailey and her to their mother, who was living in St. Louis. While there, Angelou is molested by her mother's boyfriend. The boyfriend is quickly murdered and Angelou feels responsible for the death.
I liked to book because Angelou highlights how anyone can do what they set their mind to, and even in bad situations a human can grow immensely.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Howl's Moving Castle
Jones, Diana Wynne
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Howl's Moving Castle is yet another exceedingly charming and wonderfully hilarious fantasy masterpiece written by Diana Wynne Jones. Set in the wondrous world of Ingary, it follows Sophie Hatter in her quest to undo a curse put upon her by the Witch of the Waste that has made her into an old woman. This quest will take her to the chicken-footed castle of Howl, a haughty and capricious wizard, rumored to consume the hearts of young maids. There, she will encounter magical doors, fallen stars, anxious apprentices, and adventure beyond her wildest dreams. Although she'll have to put up with the most annoying wizard in the world to experience it.

I love this book so much because it is the epitome of good fantasy while also spending about half the time blatantly making fun of the entire genre of fantasy. It's good fantasy because it really highlights the best parts of fantasy. It has all the spectacular world building, the whimsical setting, the spectacularly implausible situations, and the characters who treat all of this like normal, day to day life. This stuff is amazing, and its why fantasy as a genre is amazing. But because it is such standard fantasy, it spices it up by poking fun at all the things fantasy takes for granted. For example, Sophie is the oldest of three sisters, which she knows means she won't do much with her life. A huge chunk of her character is her believing she is plain and normal, because that's how fairy tale rules work: the oldest two sisters are examples or background characters, while the youngest shines as a future princess or a powerful sorceress. And its so funny! Because its something we all know, because it happens so often, and because of course the people that live in this world know the rules by now! Another bit that shines is when the characters attempt to use seven-league boots, a classic fairy tale item that allows the user to travel seven leagues with one step. But when the characters try to travel seven leagues, one of them keep accidentally taking an extra step. Because of course they would! If you're getting shoved across seven leagues, you're off balance, so you take an extra step to balance yourself out! Also, how many of us regularly take a single step? So about 3 pages of this book is just a highly relatable sequence of this character shuttling herself back and forth over fourteen leagues, desperately trying to take just one step. And it's hilarious.

Another bit that shines about this book are the characters, and just how human they are. I've already mentioned that characters in this book are aware of trends and realistically skilled, both of which are refreshing in fantasy stories. But they're all also flawed, and flawed in actually bad ways. After reading so many books with characters flaws being things like "too loyal" or "too pretty" or "too noble", I love how this book just has characters that can sometimes be the worst. The character this shines through is the wizard, Howl. He's not annoying to the protagonist because he's "too nice" or "too charming." He's annoying because he throws tantrums and gets slime everywhere and never answers questions and avoids too much work at all costs and is needlessly dramatic and constantly oblivious and carries around a guitar to impress women. He's an amazing character because he acts exactly like a twenty-something with amazing magical powers would. I also love how this quality also affects the female characters, especially Sophie. She can be brash and stubborn and aggressive. She gets turned into a ninety year old, and she's cool with it in like twenty minutes because she realizes she doesn't need to impress anyone anymore. She literally throws acidic weed-killer at Howl because he says something just a little too stupid. This book allows its characters to say stupid things and make stupid decisions, because everyone does that sometimes so everyone in this book will do it too. The level of human understanding that went into this book is astounding.
All in all, this is one of the most fun books I've read in a long time. I would recommend this to anyone who loves relatable characters, amazing fantasy, a good mystery, and a fun read!
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Eve
Genres:
The Trumpet of the Swan
White, E. B.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a childhood favorite of mine. The story follows Louis, a mute swan who travels across Canada to learn how to communicate and find his sense of self. He has to figure out how to adapt to his unique circumstances when no other swans have gone through the same thing. It is funny and unexpectedly educational about Canadian wildlife. Louis is such an entertaining and sweet character. There are occasional language choices that reflect the author's time period (vague stereotypes of Native Americans) but everything else is completely wholesome. Read this book if you have little ones or just want something lighthearted to read!
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Genres:
They Both Die at the End
Silvera, Adam
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

If you aren't prepared for a soul-crushingly beautiful read, don't pick up this book. In a world where everyones' death day is predicted with absolute accuracy, two teenage boys meet for one last day of life together. I admit to throwing this book across the room several times due to the intense, sorrowful nature of the story and feel that I am justified in doing so. Silvera writes a compelling love story with a melancholy twist; I feel that the plot is worth the tears that leaked from my eyes for days after finishing this book. I recommend this to anyone looking for a sob-worthy, artfully written story.

Reviewer's Name: Katherine
The Simple Art of Flying
Leonardo, Cory
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The somewhat thick juvenile book- The Simple Art of Flying- is a good read with someone who loves imagining what our pets really think. Their 'secret side'.

Alastair, the African Grey parrot, lives a dull life inside a pet shop with his bright, eager sister, Aggie. This somewhat sarcastic, yet hilarious narrator is the real reason for the book's amazingness. One boy who helps out at the shop, aspiring doctor and/or vet, Fritz, takes a shine to Aggie. He starts saving up his money to buy her. She thinks that Fritz means to buy both of them, and Alastair doesn't have the heart to tell her otherwise. A little while after Aggie is taken home with Fritz, an eccentric old woman by the name of Albertina Plopky decides to adopt Alastair, though he is very much against it. The book is mostly about his time at her home, while he devises plans on how to go and get Aggie. The book had a few plot twists that made it all the more surprising and enjoyable. One quirky habit Alastair has that adds to the plot and style of the book is: he likes to eat paper. From books, posters, or newspapers, he eats it, and somehow senses what the words are saying, and the story behind the strip. A good read for a rainy afternoon.

Reviewer's Grade: 7th

Reviewer's Name: Ruby
Awards:
Genres:
Food: A Love Story
Gaffigan, Jim
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I first read this book after it was recommended to me by a teacher, and needless to say, it instantly became a favorite.

Food: A Love Story is the second hilarious memoir by comedian Jim Gaffigan about - you guessed it - food. It covers the culinary distinctions throughout geographical regions of the United States, the difficulty of eating healthy in a world of delicious junk food, the conspiracy that lead to the creation of the Chimichanga, the shame at eating at McDonalds without children, and more. This book has it all. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who wants a good laugh.
Reviewer grade: 9

Reviewer's Name: Isabel
Genres:
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
DiCamillo, Kate
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures has to be one of my favorite books. Not only are every one of the characters realistic and wonderful, but the story carries a beautiful message as well.
Ulysses is a squirrel who was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and gained superpowers. Flora is a self described, natural-born cynic. Together, who knows what they can achieve?
Flora and Ulysses' personal journeys in the novel are sweet and never fail to impress me, and I especially like some of the more minor characters like Flora's polite and hopeful father and his philosophical neighbor, Dr. Meescham, whom likes to tell stories of her childhood in Blundermeecen.

"[We were] Always opening the door in the middle of the night and finding the face of someone you wanted to see. Well, not always. Sometimes it was the face of someone you did not want to see. But always, always in Blundermeecen you opened the door because you could not stop hoping that on the other side of it would be the face of someone you loved. And maybe, too, the face of someone you did not yet know but might come to love," is my favorite Flora & Ulysses quote, courtesy of Dr. Meescham. Despite this, my favorite character has to be our protagonist, Flora. She claims that she's a cynic, yet sees the good in others. She is independent, literate, and capable, and only occasionally yells out words or phrases that she deems appropriate to the situation, such as "Treacle!", "Seal blubber," or, "This malfeasance must be stopped!".

This is a book about learning to love others and the world around you, about the power in relationships, and the meaning behind words. One of the most powerful aspects of this book is seeing Ulysses find his voice and in turn, teach others to hope.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is one of Kate DiCamillo's more lighthearted books, but it still carries a wonderful theme and memorable characters, and for this, I give it 5 stars.

Reviewer Grade 9, age 13

Reviewer's Name: Isabel
Genres:
Scar Island
Gemeinhart, Dan
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Scar Island is a children's book written by Dan Gemeinhart.
The book begins with Jonathan, our protagonist, being taken to a juvenile detention center via boat by a sour captain and his more empathetic assistant, Patrick. The detention center is called, "The Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys" and houses boy criminals aged 8-14. It's reminiscent of Alcatraz, in that the inmates are housed on a rocky, miniscule island.
Jonathan survives a miserable night in the center, but the next morning, during a role call of sorts, every grown-up is killed in an ironic accident. The inmates have the island to themselves. They decide to stay awhile instead of going home, to take back time the boys lost under the late Admiral's boot. They rechristen the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys as Scar Island.
However, it all begins to go wrong when an older boy named Sebastian takes control of the facility and his methods of keeping order become increasingly cruel as the story goes on. Eventually, the boys must find a solution before the sea takes back what is hers.
Scar Island is a simple book, but well written. One thing that made the book memorable for me was that in the end, there were no bad guys. Everyone on the island was just a scared kid, trying to do what they believed was right. Unfortunately, the ending was much too abrupt for my taste, and the book didn't incorporate any heavy themes.
This book is a nice rainy-day read, and I'd recommend it for reluctant readers who like books about kids banding together to survive great odds.
Grade 9, age 13

Reviewer's Name: Isabel
You're the Only One I've Told: The Stories Behind Abortion
Shah, Meera, Dr.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

With all that goes on in the world, politically and socially, it is important to seek out resources and educate yourself on the topics you care about. This book was that for me. I like how the author used her credibility as a doctor to share facts about abortion while also opening up a platform for individuals to tell their deeply personal stories. This book is heavy and heartbreaking and empowering. I can't recommend it enough.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Love and Gelato
Welch, Jenna Evans
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is one of those books that gets better in the days after finishing it. Of course, the white-washed love triangle was a little stale, but I love a good romance in an unfamiliar city. The beginning of the story had so much potential, but I was slightly let down by the end. The last few chapters, which should be the best as each character frantically interacts to find their resolutions with others, just felt rushed. Here's where it gets good though. I love how the main character naturally found a true friend in her first days in Italy. I love how they find parallels around the city to her mother's own adventures there. Finally, I love how her mother's story, though rocky, helped Lina find her own path. If any of this sounds intriguing, try this book!
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Slay
Morris, Brittney
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book reminded me of Ready Player One in that it highlighted the potential for a better, or more chaotic, world of virtual reality. It was a cool concept and I liked the characters, but the plot was predictable and it just didn't speak to me. Slay is very real about the issues of racism within the online community, which is important to be educated on, but the serious topics mixed with an attempt at modern slang was odd. It is a nice book if you are bored, but not at the top of my list to reread.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
The Lying Game
Ware, Ruth
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In this book, you follow four childhood friends (shown from the perspective of Isa Wilde) as the secrets of their past actions come back to haunt them.
I was intrigued by the premise of the story, but for the most part, the story was pretty boring and predictable. The concept of a lying game in the past was interesting and I was excited to see how would play into the story. The secret about what happened almost 20 years earlier seemed really overplayed to me. What actually happened didn't really seem as much of a big reveal as I thought it would be. The final twist at the end of the book wasn't anything special and I figured it out pretty quickly compared to other stories. The ending was anti-climactic; by the end of the story, I wasn't invested. The characters were fine: originally, they seemed relatable and human for the most part, but as the story progressed, I grew to dislike a couple of the main characters. Their actions seemed abnormal and irritating, and even within the context of the story, I still couldn't get over it. This could have been a better book, but the payoff wasn't there.
Reviewer's Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Antwaan
When Breath Becomes Air
Kalanithi, Paul
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When Breath Becomes Air is an autobiographical, nonfiction, story of Paul Kalanithi, a man who has worked his whole life to pursue his dreams. Kalanithi is a top neurosurgeon-neuroscientist a couple years away from graduating medical school. Even before graduating, million dollar offers pour in for Kalanithi to head new, top research facilities. However, disaster strikes: lung cancer. Kalanithi talks about his progression from seeing people in the patient's chair to being the one in the chair. Throughout his journey, Kalanithi informs the reader of the life cycle, the importance of hard work, and most importantly, family and love.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
Prey
Crichton, Michael
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Here, you follow Jack Forman as he wages through his wife's unusual behavior and the nanotechnology her company created and developed.
For my first Crichton novel, I really enjoyed it. Watching Jack as he waded through his suspicious and the dangers he faces was a thrill to watch. While the characters themselves felt a bit bland, the plot, scientific mystery, and thriller aspects of the story make up for it. Learning about nanotechnology and different parts of programming was also fun to read, even if I didn't understand all of it. The pacing of the novel was done pretty well, from the beginning with Jack's wife, to the her place of work later in the novel. The way the danger was presented and changed was done well and kept me on my toes until the resolution. I recommend this for those who like thrillers and/or sci-fi.
Reader's Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Antwaan
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
Ender's Game
Card, Orson Scott
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ender's Game, written by Orson Scott Card, is a fictional account of an interplanetary war between the human race and aliens (known as "buggers"). The protagonist, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, is a young boy when he is selected to battle school, where the elite of humanity is sent to train in case of war. Ender quickly rises through the ranks and joins the Command School, where the elite of the elite train.
In the previous war against the buggers, one man's actions saved humanity, and that man's name was Mazar Rackham. For the upcoming war, Mazar Rackham refines Ender's ability to exploit weakness in the enemy. After the war (no spoilers here!), Ender learns of the importance of communication and trust.
My favorite part was the ending. Even thought it felt a little rushed, it was beautiful. It was filled with kindeness and hope for the future. I enjoyed reading the book because it challenged my vocabulary and helped me look at situations and misunderstandings in a different light. I would recommend the book because it teaches valuable lessons that the reader can apply to their own life.

Reviewer's Name: Finn
XOXO book jacket
Oh, Axie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

XOXO features a teenage Korean-American girl, Jenny, who plays cello and one night meets a mysterious boy named Jaewoo at her uncle's karaoke place. They end up going to a festival and Jaewoo leaves and never texts Jenny again. Jenny goes on but moves in with her grandma she never met in South Korea and finds Jaewoo is actually a k-pop star who goes to her new school. Throughout the novel Jenny and Jaewoo grow close and learn about the struggles of balancing the expectations that come with talent and love. I enjoyed the concept of k-pop mixing with the famous-common person trope as that is what drew me in initially, but the novel was very predictable and surface level. Throughout the book the characters didn''t have much character development, there's no plot twists, and the only interesting part and pro of the novel is the concept.

Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Tisha
The Giver book jacket
Lowry, Lois
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I picked The Giver by Lois Lowry because it is on the Skyview Middle School Battle of the Books list. All books from this list have been amazing, and this particular one has a main character with the same name as my brother: Jonas. I enjoyed hearing about their way of life, the simplicity yet complexity of it. I also liked how everyone knew when to apologize, and everything about their life and job. Each job in the Community is given to a person who seems they would enjoy it. However, as the book goes on, you see the compassion of the community, or lack thereof. This book was very surprising to me at first. But it was easy to guess what was going to happen in Chapter 20 after the events of Chapter 19. I do find it a not very relatable book, but it does remind me of history. Seemingly perfect, wealthy, kind countries with dark, gaping holes underneath the pretty exterior. The ending of this book, I feel, is incomplete. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

(Grade: 7)

Reviewer's Name: Ruby