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Young Adult

Young adult titles are books written with a teen audience in mind.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

February 10, 2021

“You start being kind to yourself, making decisions that are best for you, not best for everyone else. You look around at the people in your life, one by one, choosing to hold on to the ones who make you stronger and better, and letting go of the ones who don’t.” 

Samantha McAllister might seem like a normal highschool girl, but something people don’t know is that she has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which fills her with anxiety and rapid thoughts, when all she wants to do is focus on fitting in with the popular group. But one day, she meets a girl named Caroline who introduces her to a place called Poet’s Corner: a secret and hidden room in the back of their school, where a group of students go every week to write poetry and encourage one another to embrace ways of expressing themselves through writing. By surrounding herself with a new community, Samantha finds herself curious about a boy named AJ who seems very familiar. Could she finally overcome her fears from just a small bit of change, or will Poet’s Corner become a bigger deal in her life than she expects?  

Every Last Word was a touching and beautiful story because of how easily Tamara Ireland Stone grasped the concept of finding oneself within the daily challenges of being a teenager, while at the same time taking a realistic approach to the struggles someone deals with when having a mental disorder. I loved how Stone could write a book about literature as an art form, and how it can help people survive tough moments in their lives without realizing it.

In the very beginning of the book, Stone includes a flashback of Samantha handling an OCD attack when she was young. I found this effective because I was able to understand who the lead character was and the struggles she was facing in advance of when the plot line started. Whenever the setting changed, Stone always knew how to use the right words to captivate her audience into different moments. The word choices throughout the book always had a purpose, and the depth of the story was complex but easily understandable. I found it interesting how I could learn important life lessons—not just through the protagonist’s experiences, but from how Stone incorporated them metaphorically for the readers, too.

I find it best when a realistic fiction book is written in first person  because it makes personal moments more relatable for me. Stone provided this perspective for her readers, which gave me a better glimpse of Samantha’s thoughts and how they were triggering her to act around other characters.

The pace of this novel was perfect. It moved along steadily without jumping to conclusions too quickly. Each chapter was unpredictable. Stone knew how to bring excitement to her audience by making the tone appear non-suspenseful. This seemed to catch me more off guard when the plot would turn. I definitely recommend reading until the end, because the conclusion left me stunned. 

Overall, this story was inspirational and gifted me with a whole new perspective on the world around me. I have realized how much other people’s lives affect our own because of how we silently learn from one another each day. Samantha taught me that we don’t just build each other up with our voices and actions, but with the experiences we have as a society, too. I rate this book a ten out of ten and at some point, I hope everyone is able to read this novel about a girl’s life, which will change yours for the better.  

Sophia

Hyperion, 383 pages


Warcross by Marie Lu

The online black market has exploded in activity ever since Tokyo billionaire, Hideo Tanaka, created the virtual reality world of Warcross. Each day, millions of people across the globe join the server to play, buy, sell, trade, or just see the world as a different reality.  For young New Yorker Emika Chen, this futuristic world is not just an escape from her troublesome life and infinite debt, it’s also her only source of income as she hunts and hacks to survive. Emika’s life drastically changes overnight when she hacks into the competitive Warcross Championships, with the ambitious goal of stealing a valuable power-up in front of two hundred million people. Will she succeed in paying her debt, or will the eviction notice on her apartment door reach her first? Packed with constant adrenaline, this book will leave you wishing there were more pages to read.

As readers follow Emika Chen while she finds her way through the crowded neon streets of Tokyo, they will share her feelings and thoughts, allowing the author, Marie Lu, to carefully craft a plot woven with mystery and full of unexpected turns—right up until the end.

Readers will tear through Warcross, not just because of its fast pace, but also because Lu will leave them hanging at the end of each addictive chapter: a shared trait with Lu’s popular Legend series. Lu blends text messages and depictions of Warcross life bars into her captivating plot, giving readers an exceptionally personal experience: something lacking in other examples of the science-fiction genre. 

As she dives right into the action in the present tense, and makes sure that every word on the page is a necessary part of this futuristic world, Lu succeeds in flawlessly introducing and developing new characters all while she keeps readers intrigued. The reader will find that Lu does not overwhelm with many different characters, but instead focuses on developing and giving the backgrounds of the small band of individuals. This allows the reader to have a deep connection with the characters. Just after finishing the first chapter, we know Emika’s job, how she gets around, the fact that she is poor, where she lives, and how she ended up having six thousand dollars in credit card debt.

I recommend this thrilling science-fiction novel from experience—as someone who has read many books in this genre. I have immersed myself in Warcross’s smart and intriguing plot multiple times for the sole reason that I want to be in Lu’s world again. Every science-fiction fan out there should pick up this addictive book. Trust me: Warcross will blow your mind and leave you wanting to go back and reread this ten-out-of-ten.

Aymeric

Penguin Young Readers Group, 353


The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Two years ago, Amadou and Seydou left their home in Mali, West Africa, to find a job and earn money for their family. Instead, they were brought to the Ivory Coast and sold into slavery on a cacao plantation. The work is dangerous, and the child slaves are beaten and starved if they don’t meet the unclear quota. The bosses promise they can return home when they pay off their debt, but Amadou has never seen anyone being released from the farm. One day, a girl is brought to the camp: thirteen-year-old Khadija is defiant and determined to escape. Amadou had lost all hope of ever going home, but her willful spirit makes him start thinking about the outside world again. When Seydou’s life comes under threat, Amadou sees no other choice but to attempt an escape.

This realistic fiction novel was incredibly effective. I was awed by the conditions that Amadou and the other children had to work in, and there were times when I got emotional while reading. The present-tense narrative makes the reading experience very moving and captures the child trafficking and labor plot in a very powerful way. I couldn’t put the book down as I followed Tara Sullivan and her three characters in The Bitter Side of Sweet through their journey  to freedom—finding an unexpected friendship—in this page-turning book.

This novel completely changed my view on chocolate. To learn that cacao farmers would resort to using children as slaves because the pay was only two dollars a day was shocking. I had no idea that because cocoa is a crop grown primarily for export, around 65% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown, so has the demand for cheap chocolate. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income well below the poverty line. As a result, the farmers often resort to the use of child labor to keep from going out of buisness. I was stunned to learn that the chocolate that I love and have enjoyed almost all of my life has come at the expense of child slaves.

“I have no idea why we grow these seeds, no idea who wants them. Why have so many trees growing the same thing? The bosses never talk about it; they only say that the seeds leave our farm and go to the coast, where someone else buys them. For what? I asked once, but they all shrugged. No one here knows. All we know is that people in the city want these seeds, so we grow them.” 

The Bitter Side of Sweet opened my eyes to see the different cultures and the different levels of poverty and education around the world. I found it interesting that no one on the farm even knew what the seeds were for, let alone what chocolate was. It was strange to me that the people that worked farming these seeds had never tasted their own product. I feel that I am unbelievably lucky to live in America, a rich country where there is no need for slavery, with with laws that prevent child labor. This novel made me rethink my views on my life, and how fortunate I am to be born here.

Sullivan wove together a fast-paced book that made me feel like I was right there with Amadou, enslaved on a cacao plantation, fighting to stay alive. The visual language painted the action of the story in my mind, and even though I have never been to the Ivory Coast or West Africa, I felt like I had been alongside Amadou for years. If a reader did not know anything about the Ivory Coast or a cacao plantation, he or she could still follow the main plot of the book because of Sullivan’s vivid descriptions of each scene.

I absolutely loved The Bitter Side of Sweet; I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is in need of a powerful realistic fiction novel (for readers ten and above). I would rate this book a ten out of ten; there was never a dull moment where I wanted to skip a scene, and it always kept me on the edge of my seat. Readers that have read Prisoner B 3087 by Alan Gratz and Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys will love this novel, as well as other books by Tara Sullivan, such as Treasure of the World and Golden Boy. The Bitter Side of Sweet is a must-read, and I guarantee that your perspective on chocolate will be forever changed.

Lilly Mae

Putnam, 322 pages


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

That’s where I found Blue’s post. It just kind of spoke to me. And I don’t even think it was just the gay thing. I don’t know. It was seriously like five lines, but it was grammatically correct and strangely poetic, and just completely different from anything I’d ever read before.”

Simon Spier is gay, but he hasn’t come out yet. The only person he can talk to about it is Blue, the pen-name of another sixteen-year-old boy who goes to Creekwood High. Simon and Blue have been emailing back and forth ever since the August before junior year, when Simon found Blue via a social media post and felt he just had to know him. Through their emails, they tell each other the big, important things about their lives, but they’ve chosen to stay anonymous, at least for now—with secret email accounts, pen-names, no clues about who their friends are, or anything overly specific about school. 

But when Martin Addison logs onto a school computer after Simon, finds his secret email account, and is cruel enough to take a screenshot, he threatens to reveal Simon’s sexual identity to the entire school. All Simon has to do to prevent this is help him land a date with Abby Suso, who happens to be one of Simon’s closest friends. For Martin Addison, this seems like no big deal. But to Simon, everything—and everyone―he cares about most is at risk. His junior year just got a lot more complicated.

In Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli writes from Simon’s incredibly well-crafted perspective. Readers will feel as if they are in the head of a real teenage boy. Nothing about the tone is ever robotic, forced, or stiff. The audience will love the honest, humorous, socially- and emotionally-aware voice of Simon. He is observant, with a clear and strong perspective on his world. The chapters alternate between Simon’s first-person narrative and his emails with Blue. This is a strategy that I haven’t seen in many books, but in this case it’s extremely effective, as the reader learns more about both boys through their intimate, heart-warming, and often hilarious email chain. There is playful teasing, countless jokes, ingenius typos, and effective all-caps usage between Blue and Simon that keep the emails fresh, funny, and interesting. Because readers don’t know Blue’s real identity, these chapters give readers a chance to learn about the way he feels: Simon and Blue are always truly honest with each other.

And they aren’t the only strong characters in this book. Martin, although readers will be upset with the way he acts, is developed well; he has a distinct personality, and visibly grows throughout the narrative. Nick, Leah, and Abby are some of the best friends a reader will find in a contemporary realistic fiction novel. Nick is caring, funny, and a complete constant in Simon’s life. Leah and Simon’s relationship is perfect because they fully get each other. There is nothing forced about their friendship. I loved the bond between Abby and Simon because they only met at the beginning of the school year, and they are already super close. Abby is gentle, kind, easy to talk to, and always knows how to cheer Simon up when he’s upset.

Simon’s parents are also crafted well. In some young adult books, these characters are just there because the protagonist has parents, but in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, they have their own well-crafted character development. Something that Simon struggles with is that he feels like his parents have a set idea of who he is, and if anything about him changes it’s always this super huge deal. Simon’s sisters, Alice and Nora, are also exceptional characters. Nora is quiet, but shows huge love for her siblings, and Alice is an incredible big sister who Simon and Nora both adore. It’s refreshing to read about siblings who have such strong relationships. 

Readers will never feel bored or wish to skip ahead while reading. This is because the problem is introduced on page one, the chapters aren’t too long, and as time goes on, Simon and Blue continue to grow closer—and both Simon and the reader will be aching to find out Blue’s true identity. Readers will find themselves constantly guessing at who he might be, which will result in a completely satisfying conclusion, executed just right.

Albertalli has an amazing eye for detail, clear from reading a few sentences of her novel. Every new setting is described in a fresh, original way, and I found myself often thinking, Huh. People do that all the time, because not only does Albertalli have great sensory diction, she is also aware of the way people act, and that shows. This is reflected in the dialogue as well, which is realistic, funny, and mirrors every character’s individual personality.

Albertalli has written a variety of other titles, including Leah on the Off Beat, which is the phenomenal sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, starring Simon’s best friend, Leah, and Love, Creekwood, a third book in this series. She’s also authored What if It’s Us, co-written with Adam Silvera, and Yes No Maybe So co-written with Aisha Saeed. I would recommend anything by Albertalli, even the titles I haven’t yet read, because she is just so good. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was also made into a movie that came out in 2018, called Love, Simon. It stars Nick Robinson and has gotten many good reviews. I am eager to watch it soon.

This story deals with many themes, including romance, sexual identity, friendship, and the importance of doing the right thing. Personally I believe that all of these themes are important to learn about, and it’s exciting to read more books with LGBTQ+ protagonists written by an author who is skilled at giving them a voice. I have learned a lot from entering into the head of Simon Spier, and I think anyone who picks up this novel will, too.

I would rate Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda a ten out of ten and recommend it to anyone twelve or older—it does have a fair amount of swearing—who enjoys books with romance, a bit of mystery, an abundance of humor, and a protagonist you can’t help but love.

Isabelle

HarperCollins Publishers, 303 pages


Crossover by Kwame Alexander

“A loss is inevitable

like snow in winter.

True champions

learn 

to dance

through 

the storm.”

Seventh grader Josh Bell plays basketball with his twin brother, Jordan, and they are exceptionally talented. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad was an Italian League basketball player. They are very close with their father who taught them how to play and comes to all of their games. But after Jordan meets a girl he likes, he stops paying as much attention to his brother, so Josh decides he has to get his focus back onto basketball and claiming the championship. However, there are a few unexpected hurdles on and off the court that could make winning difficult.

Alexander wrote Crossover as a free-verse novel, which is when the whole story is told through free-verse poems. This is very effective because it really slows readers down and focuses them on each individual poem, which makes readers catch more of the theme and plot and makes the story more enjoyable. This book is in the realistic sports fiction genre, and it was interesting to see that because it was mostly sports focused in the beginning of the book, but near the end it switches to almost all realistic fiction. The plot is not full of action, but there are no slow parts in the story.

Crossover is written in first person from the point of view of Josh, which allows Alexander to show how Josh feels about everything in the book involving the conflict between the twin brothers. I found this effective because it made me side with the protagonist, Josh. I thought that Alexander added strong diction during the basketball games that he put into the book, which made them suspenseful and fun to read about. 

I would recommend Booked by Kwame Alexander to readers who enjoyed this book because it is a different free-verse novel by the same author, and the plot is fast. I think that Alexander made the themes different, and that made them both enjoyable. Alexander also wrote Rebound, which I have not yet read.

I think this book had an enjoyable, fast-paced plot, the characters were relatable, and the writing was very easy to follow. I thought it was one of the best sports-related books I have ever read before, and I read many in this genre. I would rate this book a ten out of ten, and I would recommend this book to anyone because it is not just a sports book—it’s intriguing and fun to read.                                                

Aidan

Houghton Publishing Company, 237 pages


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

February 4, 2021

“In despair, he left that farm and came to Bone Gap when it was a huge expanse of empty fields, drawn here by the grass and the bees and the strange sensation that this was a magical place, that the bones of the world were little looser here, double-jointed, twisting back on themselves, leaving spaces one could slip into and hide.”

Welcome to Bone Gap, a small town in Illinois where Finn is called names like “spaceman” and “roadkill.” His mother left him, and soon after a mysterious girl named Roza shows up out of nowhere. Everyone quickly learns to love her more than any of the people they have grown up with一especially Finn’s older brother, Sean. Then Roza is taken just as mysteriously as she arrived, and only Finn saw who took her. The people of Bone Gap do not believe him. But soon after, he recognizes the man at a fair, talking to someone just out of sight. Will Bone Gap believe him now? Or will he need to find who’s making the deals with the devil?

When I started reading this book, I couldn’t stop. The way Laura Ruby keeps the narrative in third person, but incorporates Finn’s thoughts, helped me see the whole world of the novel instead of just observing through Finn’s eyes. This book is told from alternating perspectives with no set pattern. This will keep the readers interested because they will want to follow every storyline. 

When Roza “magically” shows up she doesn’t speak English. I think Ruby made this choice to create another reason for no one to like her at first. She also looks like she has been living in the sewers and has a possibly broken toe. Finn’s brother, Sean, is a doctor in training, and he fixes her up, but Roza wants Finn to do it, not Sean. Soon after, she is taken. Ruby uses Roza as a MacGuffin 一a device for moving the plot forward一 because everyone wants her back. Finn describes the man that took her with language like, “He moves like a corn stalk.”Because the people of Bone Gap don’t believe him, he is left with guilt for not trying to save Roza—only the guilt is for his brother, because ever since she has been gone, Sean has been distant and uncaring. And the one thing Finn needs is a family. 

Ruby makes this book engaging by always having a little spin between each perspective so readers want to keep going to find out the true full story. She makes it seem like Roza is being held against her will, but based on what we know from Finn’s perspective, anything could have happened. That kept me engaged with the plot, and in the high-intensity scenes I couldn’t put the book down. 

With the weird and twisted characters, Ruby makes her audience think by keeping the characters’ secrets. Then, when they reveal them, everything readers thought we knew is changed. Because this book is third-person, we only think through one person at a time, so when we are with Finn we don’t know what is happening in his brother’s mind or in Roza’s mind. This keeps the book fresh and new with no repeated scenes.

Overall, I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys realism with a twist or thrillers. I rate this book a ten out of ten and appreciated its allusions to the Orpheus myth. This is a very special book, and I have never read anything like it before. If you read this novel you will not be disappointed.

Nestor

Balzer + Bray, 368 pages


The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha and her family are immigrants from Jamaica, who moved to New York City when she was eight years old. She only has one day left before she and her family are deported to Jamaica, leaving the world she has created behind. Natasha decides to walk the depths of Times Square to distract her from this reality, when her life almost flashes before her eyes: a car comes speeding towards her. Luckily Daniel, a boy who is living under his parents’ expectations to become a doctor and with his not-so-nice brother Charlie, is in the right moment at the right time and saves Natasha from getting hit. Daniel doesn’t leave Natasha’s side after the incident, as he gets a different feeling that he has never felt with anyone else he’s ever met before. Daniel is convinced that he can make Natasha fall in love in just one day. Although he has a lot of hope for his unheard-of plan, Natasha is not one to believe in “love at first sight.” She prefers sticking to the facts and research. Natasha may not believe in love, but Daniel is on a mission to convince her otherwise with the only day they’ve got left together.

I had a great experience reading The Sun Is Also a Star. Although it fell under the genre of contemporary realistic fiction, it wasn’t like any other book I’ve read before. One of the key elements I loved reading throughout the book was how Nicola Yoon structured the character development between Natasha and Daniel. The two have awkward and tense energy between them initially, but as they start talking more, readers can see them warming up to each other, making it feel as though they’ve known each other for the longest time. The development of them individually is fascinating, too. Natasha starts out skeptical and always seems to be on edge. But when she meets Daniel, he helps her loosen up a little bit, making her feel more comfortable and at ease as she gets to know him better. Yoon has Daniel lack a lot of confidence to start out. His parents want him to be a doctor even though that’s not the path he wants to go down. He’s also used to Charlie always being rude to him, but he would never stand up for himself. I found it satisfying when Daniel slowly starts gaining confidence as he sticks up for himself against his brother and tells his parents he doesn’t want to do what they want him to do—all because he met Natasha. If Natasha and Daniel hadn’t met, they would still have these insecurities to struggle with.

I liked how Yoon structured the narrative because one essential feature for any book is having multiple perspectives to create a balance with different characters, instead of having it told through one character. This creates more depth and can be easier to understand. I found the way Yoon crafted the different chapters interesting. Most of the chapters alternate between Natasha and Daniel’s perspective, but some chapters include side characters that the two meet throughout the story, and some chapters are written as meanings or definitions that have to do with the situation Natasha and Daniel are in. This intrigued me because I’d never read a book like that, but I really enjoyed it. It created more clarification that was essential for the book. I also found it different how Yoon chose to have varying chapter lengths, from two words to six full pages, which was unexpected to me but added suspense and wonder about what the next chapter will say, which I thought was smart for Yoon to do.

The pace of the book was neither fast nor slow. It was a pace that was perfect for me because I never felt bored, but I also didn’t feel rushed or caught off guard while reading. It’s rare to find a book with a pace that is perfectly fitted for the reader such as myself. With this in mind, reading did not feel like a chore or homework because Yoon kept the situation alive and exciting throughout the entire story, making it difficult for me to put the book down whenever I came to a new chapter, which I admired greatly. I rate The Sun Is Also a Star a very strong ten out of ten because it was everything I could’ve wanted in a book: an intriguing title, two main characters in their teens finding their own way in life, a complex setting like New York City, an effective main problem spread evenly throughout the entire story, suspenseful action that kept me on the edge of my seat, and a satisfying ending that fit perfectly. 

I recommend The Sun Is Also a Star to fans of Yoon’s other book Everything, Everything, contemporary realistic fiction lovers, and ultimately anyone who’s looking for a detailed story to get hooked on. The Sun Is Also a Star is also “The #1 New York Times Bestseller,” was one of the National Book award Finalists, and is now a major motion picture. Readers will not regret reading this masterpiece of a story.

Emma

Ember, 344 pages


Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

February 3, 2021

Creekwood is a wealthy town, and for most people it’s the perfect place for their perfect family—not for Leah. Her mother is struggling with work, and Leah’s not sure about her mom’s new boyfriend, Wells. Plus, it’s senior year, and things are changing: everyone is looking at colleges that are way out of Leah’s price range, and her feelings for her long-time classmate Abby are becoming something more than friendship. As the school year goes on, more starts to happen. Abby breaks up with her boyfriend (which makes Leah surprisingly happy), and Leah gets a boyfriend, Garrett (who she decides to ignore). She can’t help feeling that her world is changing. Leah has to survive the ups and downs of senior year. Will she make it?

 In Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli develops Leah and her supporting characters to be lifelike. Most of the situations Leah is put in happen to many kids, and it is cool to see a book that has so many connections to the real world. Readers will want to dive right into Creekwood High School’s drama and gossip, and they will immediately fall in love with Leah’s quirky personality. They will also enjoy Albertalli’s way of making the characters’ dialogue super realistic. I felt like I was inside of the book listening to the characters talk to one another.  

The novel is written in first person, which gives readers a sense of what Leah is thinking all the time. It is crucial that Albertalli did this because, without Leah’s thoughts and feelings, the book would be bland, and readers would find themselves wondering what is going on in Leah’s head. 

I found that the pace of Leah on the Offbeat was fast, but it had some parts that were slow on purpose, so the moments they described were more special. At some points in the end there were a couple of suspenseful moments where readers will not be able to put the book down.

One choice of Albertalli’s that was effective was how she made the antagonist Leah herself. Leah is self-conscious about her body and is nervous about telling people that she is bisexua, even her best friends, and I think that readers will gain knowledge about how some kids are not comfortable coming out to their families. Leah on the Offbeat clearly shows how hard it can be for kids to tell the people that they love one of the most important things to them. Leah’s rose as the antagonist of her own story will show readers that it is hard to tell people how you feel. 

Leah on the Offbeat was definitely a ten out of ten read for me. With all these effective features, how could it not be? Albertalli has written other amazing books that readers will enjoy: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the first book in this series. It focuses on Leah’s friend, Simon, and it’s a great book. Albertalli also wrote What if it’s Us, a wonderful book about a summer romance. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary realistic fiction and to someone who is looking for a heartwarming romance novel that will make readers fall in love with Leah’s story. 

Kestrel

Balzer + Bray, 339 pages


Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”

This is a world where the government believes in “unwinding,” a way of disassembling criminals or unwanted children from ages thirteen to eighteen without killing them, as an alternative to abortion or disowning. Meet Connor—a seventeen-year-old “troublemaker” who found out about his unwind order, Risa— a sixteen-year-old orphan and a talented pianist that lives in a state home, and Lev—a thirteen year old born into a religious family, who was planned to be tithed (a religious way to give back to God, willingly unwound soon after their thirteenth birthday when they become eligible for unwinding) and is proud about it. Readers follow along as the trio teams up to evade the Juvey-cops and attempt to end the practice of unwinding for good. 

The gripping novel Unwind by Neal Shusterman is written in third-person omniscient, focusing on Connor, Risa, and Lev. I thought this was effective because when the characters split up, readers could follow each of their stories and know what they are thinking and feeling. It shows the reader opinions of other characters that are relevant to the story and how their opinion of unwinding changes throughout the book. Shusterman also includes excerpts from news articles that inform the reader of what laws the government is passing. 

This fast-paced book keeps the reader guessing at every turn. Shusterman leaves each chapter as a cliffhanger, making the reader try to predict what will happen to the characters. He also includes allusions to real life events.

The themes of this story are morality and injustice because the plot revolves around the idea of unwinding an unwanted, which will lead the people to rethink their opinions on the laws in this society. The audience will experience the characters questioning their own beliefs and their way of living. If unwinding existed, would you stand up for the runaway unwinds? Would you go AWOL or accept your unwinding?

I rate this title a ten out of ten and recommend it to anyone who would like to read a fast-paced sci-fi dystopian thriller about unequal treatment and morality. There are three other books in this series: Unwholly, Unsouled, and Undivided. Shusterman has also written multiple other books, including The Ark of a Scythe Trilogy, The Skinjacker Trilogy, and The Star Shards Chronicles. I have only read the first two and enjoyed them almost as much as Unwind. I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes a page-turner that makes the reader stop to think about what the world might become.

Nico

Simon & Schuster, 335 pages


Strange Birds by Cecelia Perez

Ofelia Castillio: a journalist in training. Cat Garcia: an animal activist. Aster Douglas: the gifted baker. Lane Distani: the lonely artist. It all starts with a note, stuffed into three random backpacks. These mysterious, anonymous letters guide Cat, Ofelia, and Aster into the backyard of Lane’s lavish mansion. The recipients follow their instructions up the rickety ladder and into the artist’s treehouse. After a few introductions and explanations, the girls form their own troop, attempting to stop the use of a feathered hat in Cat’s former Girl Scout troop, the Floras. The four new friends journey through the streets of Sabal Palms, Florida, bringing awareness to the mistreatment of birds. What will these twelve-year-old girls have to do in order to stop the Floras? What measures will these outcasts take? 

In Strange Birds, Cecilia Perez creates four remarkable characters, each with her own view of life. Even though these girls are as different as can be, that won’t stop them from fighting for what’s right. Each chapter is full of new possibilities and plot twists as the girls discover adventure around every corner. Whether it’s sticking fifty plastic flamingos in the Floras’ front lawn or stickering Brownie boxes with their motto, “Return the Feathers”. 

Perez writes in third person, with the chapters alternating among the four girls. As I was reading, I noticed that the pace was quite quick, and I had to slow myself down so I could enjoy all of the small details she included.  The book is written in a friendly tone that will make the reader fall in love with the characters. With their differing personalities, anyone could recognize themselves in one of the four girls. 

Bird cruelty is hardly ever talked about, especially in books. Perez blended real-life problems with the events of her fictional characters’ lives seamlessly. Writing about such a broad subject isn’t easy, but I loved how she used four twelve-year-olds to express her feelings and bring awareness to a big problem at the same time.

I would rate this book a ten out of ten for its diverse characters and captivating plot line. Readers of all ages will connect to each and every one of the characters—because we are all Strange Birds.

Sarah

Kolika, 350 pages


Champion by Marie Lu

Daniel “Day” Alten Wing is a teenager who used to live on the streets as the government’s most wanted and dangerous criminal. Since those days, he has changed to become the most-liked person by the people in the government and is in a high-ranked military position. June Iparis is around the same age as Day and, after figuring out what happened in her brother’s death, was made one of the Princeps-Elects. June and Day have very strong stories about how they got to be the way they are: both have gone through sacrifices and loss of family. 

Champion is the third book in Marie Lu’s Legend series, and it has a very high-tension plot, with the main problem being that the colonies are angry at the government because they have accused it of spreading a deadly virus, which it doesn’t yet have a cure for. The colonies decide they must threaten to attack and destroy the government. The government stands no chance if it’s attacked, so it needs the cure fast: the colonies have helicopters and well trained soldiers. So Day has to risk his brother’s life—who is the last of his family members left—if he wants to save their country, because the scientists found that the virus started from Eden, Day’s brother.  

This book is written in first person perspective, and each chapter alternates between the two voices, which I thought really worked well for knowing what both Day and June are thinking, even when they are split up, or what their thoughts are when thinking about each other. 

One thing I think Marie Lu did well was that each character that made an appearance added to the plot. There weren’t any characters without a purpose in the book. The author has a very strong bias towards the two main characters, which makes readers almost feel their problems and issues with the virus, as well as their work at jobs they do. I found this very effective, and it helped me enjoy the book more. 

The genres of this novel are science fiction, strong, fast-paced action adventure, with a good mellow mystery as the Plague virus spreads and characters work to figure out a cure for it. The book also features chase scenes, some violence, and an unexpected romance between the two main characters. All of this combines to create a wide range of types of books. It is very similar to the books earlier in the Legend series, so I would recommend reading this right after reading the others. It is a good page-turner and really the audience into the story. 

I rated this book a ten out of ten and really liked the action-packed scenes of antagonists and protagonists facing off, and would recommend this book to anyone who has read the other books in the series or Marie Lu’s other series, Warcross. The tension that Lu has built up in Champion makes any reader want to keep reading. 

Owen

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 339 Pages


The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

March 6, 2020

“One kid. One crime. One chance to make things right.”

Arthur Owens grasps a stone cold brick in his hand and hurls it at a garbage picker’s head. Luckily for Arthur, the wind has picked up, and the brick hits the man in the arm, knocking him into the street. Ever since Arthur lost his dad things haven’t been right, but the judge doesn’t care, he wants to send Arthur away forever.  But the Junk Man offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service, working for him. Arthur is given a wonky shopping cart and a list of the “Seven Most Important Things”: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. Arthur is curious about what the Junk Man will do with this “trash” that could potentially change his life. 

In The Seventh Most Important Thing, Shelley Pearsall crafts a remarkable story of how one person and one idea change a life forever. However, this book does have some mysterious aspects to it—it is kept a secret as to what the Junk Man is doing with the “trash” until Arthur starts working with him in his garage. As the reader, it is fun to experiment with theories as to what might happen next. During the novel, the reader may notice how Arthur’s character changes over time, through his family that surrounds him as they are struggling and as he continues to work for the Junk Man, instead of going to juvenile detention.

The Seventh Most Important Thing is written in third person and is contemporary realistic fiction. As a reader of this book, the pace could sometimes get a little slow, and it was harder to read, but I encourage others to keep pushing through: it will pay off. 

This book also has a fascinating real-life connection. The Judge reveals the Junk Man’s real name in the court session—James Hampton. James Hampton was an American folk artist from Washington, D.C., who worked as a janitor, but secretly built a large assemblage of religious art from scavenged materials, known as “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.” It’s currently on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

Pearsall has also written two other books—Trouble Don’t Last and Jump Into The Sky. Both have been strongly reviewed on Publishers Weekly and Booklist, looking like great reads. Trouble Don’t Last won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2003. 

I would rate this book a ten out of ten and recommend it to anyone who loves to see the power of one mistake turned into something unimaginable. 

Piper

Yearling, 288 pages


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

March 3, 2020

Lara Jean needs a plan. But it is currently hard to make one, as she is mastering driving, watching her older sister leave for college in Scotland, waiting for her single father to come home from late shifts at the hospital and taking care of her younger sister, Kitty. One fact about Lara Jean: when she has a crush, she crushes hard. She thinks about what he’s doing, or if he likes Cherry Coke, or if maybe he’ll ask her to the Valentine’s dance. So she starts writing secret letters to the boys she’s liked. When she writes, she writes like he’ll never read it. There’s no filter between Lara Jean’s brain and her pen. This means that when her precious letters get sent out, it feels like the end of the world. 

There are five letters, five boys: Kenny from camp; Lucas Krapft, who is gay; blue-eyed John Ambrose McClaren; Josh, her next door neighbor (who is also her older sister’s boyfriend); and finally cocky, shamless Peter Kavinsky, who’s dating Lara Jean’s  popular ex-friend, Genevieve. 

Jenny Han writes with a seamless, distinctive flair. The diction is on point, and the little unique details she incorporates help paint pictures in the reader’s mind. Han took into consideration how to round out each character and give him or her depth by the end. The book’s genre is mostly contemporary realistic fiction, but with a slight “who dunnit?” vibe as Lara Jean’s readers puzzle over how the letters were sent.

One aspect I took away from this book was the flawless transition from Lara Jean’s reflections to the present. The structure of this book is broken up between the present or Lara Jean’s perspective, and there are a couple chapters where Lara Jean explains important information and helps set the stage for the reader. The reflection was the main character speaking to the reader, informing them of past events, and the present was Lara Jean’s present. Strategies like these are effective and help the plot to move along.

Lara Jean will surprise her audience every step of the way. When readers first experience this main character, they might find her timid or spineless, but throughout the book, Lara Jean grows as a character and gains confidence. I enjoyed how Han developed her character and thought about how she could grow and blossom.

I also appreciated the character of Peter Kavinsky, the overconfident, popular jock. When the story starts, audiences may find him very smug and self obsessed, but as he spends time with Lara Jean, they both help each other—Peter brings out Lara Jean’s confidence, and Lara Jean draws out Peter’s emotional past, and helps him through it.

This novel is a must read. I rated it an eleven out of ten, and I would recommend it to anyone above twelve who likes romantic comedies, contemporary realistic fiction, or a bit of love and a touch of adventure. I especially loved the ending in this book: the suspense and romance all in one create an edgy, exciting novel filled with choice.  

Readers  will adore Han’s beautifully crafted book and crave more. There are two follow ups—a second and third book—and the whole series follows Lara Jean through her adventure-filled high school experience. Be sure to pick up this novel, as it will leave you speechless.

Freida

Simon & Schuster, 368 pages


Divergent by Veronica Roth

Futuristic Chicago is split into five factions. Each  one is designed to maintain a happy, healthy, hard working community that balances all of the strong human traits. Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior has lived in Abnegation her whole life; they’re the faction that values selflessness above everything else. Now, Beatrice has the opportunity to decide her own fate, and choose which faction she truly belongs to. But when her aptitude test goes wrong, Beatrice discovers that she is in great danger and has a big decision to make.  Will she choose selfless Abnegation and stay with her family and all she’s ever known? Or should Beatrice betray her family and her faction, and choose one of the other four? It’s faction before blood, after all. Beatrice makes a decision that leads to some terrifying, nerve wracking, and suspenseful moments, all to find out where she really belongs.

Veronica Roth creates a dystopian novel with constant suspense, each chapter fast-paced and exciting. Readers will find themselves wondering what faction they would belong in, right along with Beatrice, who now goes by “Tris”. Each page has strong sensory diction, making it easy for the reader to follow along and imagine all of the unexpected buildings, people and places in this futuristic world. Roth writes in a dramatic tone, which adds to the plot and will have the reader wondering, What’s next? Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and the reader might be completely unsure of what could happen in the coming chapter. 

Tris will surprise at every step of the way. She was once a quiet girl who kept her eyes down, but through the effective first person narrative, readers will watch her become brave, strong, and intelligent. This narrative shows every thought and feeling Tris experiences, explaining why she made each and every daring decision. 

This leads into the theme of Divergent, which explores how humans act, and how no one fits into one category. Tris is unsteady and unsure of herself, but as the book goes on, the reader will realize along with Tris that she does not have just one trait. She has lots of important qualities that make her who she is, which she will realize eventually. Readers will follow along with Tris as she makes friends and enemies for the first time, falls in love, and learns just how imperfect her society is.

Tris, her friends Four and Christina, and many others face their fears, learn new skills, work together, discover secrets about their society, and stand up for themselves and others. Each character has an intriguing story, and distinct personality. This book will have readers rooting for an assortment of characters, at different moments throughout the book.

I rated this book a 10 out of 10 and enjoyed every detail and description. There are two other books in this trilogy, Insurgent and Allegiant, and I am sure they will be as thrilling as Divergent. I would recommend this book to anyone ages eleven and older, because there are a few gory scenes. Anyone who enjoys suspense, friendship, and dramatic and dangerous scenes will love this book. You will empathize with Tris for her daring and kind personality, and completely enjoy her perspective.

Isabelle

HarperCollins, 487 pages


Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were tight. Being the outcasts in elementary school meant they had to stick together through the toughest times. As best friends, they could never be split apart. Suddenly, without notice, Cameron disappeared and was never seen again, leaving Jennifer all alone in a world full of choices. 

Now, in her last years of high school, Jennifer is known as Jenna, the popular one, with new friends and a boyfriend. But she doesn’t feel like her true self anymore. How could she push the memories of Cameron away when he was the only one who saw her for who she really was? And what would happen if he reappeared? 

I loved how Zarr could write about a touching relationship between a girl and a boy without making it romantic. She created such a nice bond between the both of them, starting from when they were little and giving readers vivid sensory images of how they grew up together. Throughout the book as  Jenna gets older, Zarr connects all the puzzle pieces along the way to reveal how Cameron disappeared.

There’s depth and emotion in this book, especially in how Jenna and Cameron get to relive their childhood memories together and feel nostalgic for the old times once they are finally reunited. They are a strong duo, and it is nice to watch them grow as people when they are together. 

I enjoyed the pace of this book because it wasn’t slow, and it wasn’t fast either. I think Zarr wanted her audience to savor the moments in time and intrigue us more and more every chapter.   

I found it interesting how Zarr made the book two different genres: teen fiction, which gave readers the relatable moments of being a teenager throughout the whole story, but it was also a mystery because each step she incorporates flashbacks that Jenna keeps having from when she and Cameron were young. Little by little, readers figure out why Cameron disappeared, which I thought was cool because it felt like I was solving my own mystery. 

Overall this book was touching, and the theme was relatable for me. It was nice that it was in first person so readers could be in Jenna’s perspective and read about her thoughts and feelings as time goes on. If you’re the type of reader looking for a book that is a heartwarming story about two best friends split apart, I think this is the right book for you. 

Sophia

Little Brown, 217 pages


Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

“So if your name is Margaret Campbell, I’ve got one spare ticket for a train journey from New York to San Francisco…”

When Hugo orders tickets for a train ride across the country for him and his girlfriend, Margaret Campbell, he believes this trip will be a great way to take a break from his regular life as a sextuplet who does everything with his three brothers and two sisters. They are even applying to the same college! But disaster strikes when Margaret dumps Hugo right before the trip. Since the tickets are non-refundable, and Hugo needs an escape from reality, he has to find another Margret Campbell to go on this trip with him.

This is when Mae, a movie and filmmaker walks into Hugo’s life. Mae tried applying for her dream school of film but unfortunately gets rejected. When she discovers the e-mail Hugo sent out in search for his travel partner, she decides it would be a great opportunity not just to get away from her stressed out life, but to make a new film interviewing strangers on the train, asking what love means to them,- hence the title of the book.

A lot happens to Hugo and Mae in only one week on a train, Even chemistry sparks between them, leaving unexpected plot twists, shocking news, and an intrigued reader wanting to read more.

I enjoyed Smith’s writing very much. She never failed to leave me on the edge of my seat. The way she wrote and the very new and unfamiliar topic she wrote about never bored me. I always wanted to find out what happened next.

Field Notes on Love persuaded me that anything is possible and that anything can happen when, where, and how you least expect it. For example, the connection Mae and Hugo have in only one week on a train is unreal. At the end of the week, they exclaimed how it felt like they’ve known each other for years, making the reader feel that way as well, which is what I love about a good book. It can make the reader feel like they’re right there in that moment with the characters, which I admire greatly.

Right now I am reading another one of Smith’s books called This is What Happy Looks Like, which is part of a series, so I am looking forward to reading more of her books, and other readers will too.

I would rate this book a ten out of ten due to the fact that whenever I picked up this book, it felt like I wasn’t in my house or I wasn’t at school anymore. Instead I felt like I was right there with Hugo and Mae experiencing the world with them, which is really amazing with just a book. If you’re looking for an exciting and heartfelt book with shocking plot twists and the ability to never put it down, this book is for you. Enjoy reading about this amazing adventure!

Emma

Delacorte Press. , 271 pages


Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Willowdean Dickson is a regular, Dolly Parton-loving girl living in the small town of Clover City, Texas. People around her comment on her size-even her mom, who Willowdean does not get along with. Willowdean works at Harpy’s with Bo, who likes her as more than a friend, though after they kiss she starts to doubt herself. But when the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant comes along, Willowdean enters to prove that you don’t have to be perfect to be in a pageant. Along the way she will discover more about herself and the meaning of friendship.

In Dumplin Julie Murphy not only developed a strong main character, she crafted amazing side characters like Millie Millachuck, a girl who wanted to enter the pageant since she was a  little girl. She has a big personality and is always happy. All of Murphy’s characters have unique stories about their lives, which makes the book even more enjoyable.

The themes of Dumplin are the importance of friendship, romance, and being yourself. Being yourself is very important throughout the book because most of the characters are figuring out who they are… Murphy made the book perfect for readers who are learning to be themselves and to never doubt yourself.

One theme that I took away from this book is that friends are important, and they always have your back. Friendship is something that everyone should have, and Willowdean’s friends are the perfect friends: funny, kind and quirky. Murphy made the relationships and friendships seem totally real, so readers can relate to this book, which I think is a key factor that all books should have.

Murphy also wrote a second book called Puddin, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It was pretty slow moving for me, and even though Millie was one of the characters, the other girl, Callie Reyas, was not a strong character. Her personality was the original “girly girl,” which made me frustrated because in Dumplin Murphy did a really good job. I was not impressed with Puddin.

If you are a reader who enjoys books that are relatable, fun, and just plain amazing you have to read this book. The pace of the book is fast. Murphy ends some of the chapters abruptly, so you will say “just one more chapter.” The audience for this book is maybe twelve to … well, any age. It’s good for adults, too. I would rate this incredible book a ten out of ten. I did not mention this before but this book has been made into a pretty good movie that surprisingly is kind of like the book but a little less detailed. I recommend reading the book first because why not?

If you are a romance fan this book would be great for you, it has the perfect amount of romance throughout the book. I hope you read the wonderful Dumplin by Julie Murphy and love it as much as I do.

Kestrel

Balzer + Bray, 369 pages


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

February 29, 2020

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person and why.” 

Aza looks like just your average, high-school-attending, homework-worrying, friendship-building, teenage girl, but on the inside, her mind is at war: part of her wants to hide away from the world, its germs, and everyone in it. The other part of her wants to have a boyfriend, hang out with her friends, and have fun. Her OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) gets in the way of everything she wants. As John Green takes the reader along in Turtles All The Way Down, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, discover that there is a missing millionaire, with a sweet reward for whoever finds him, and he’s the father of Aza’s childhood crush: Davis. Aza and Daisy meet with Davis, immediately the friendship between Aza and Davis blossoms, and Aza’s interest is returned. The sweet touch of first love in this novel will warm the audience’s hearts and have readers aww-ing at each moment. As Aza and her friends discover more of Davis’s missing father, they realize something else may have happened entirely.

Aza’s enthralling journey is written in the first person, so it feels as though Aza is talking directly to the reader. This novel will speak strongly to audiences who deal with or know people who deal with mental disabilities. Green has OCD, and a reader will know that how he writes about Aza’s thoughts is accurate. He mentions the stress she endures, and how it feels like her thoughts are spiraling down, indefinitely tightening. But, along with helping the audience understand those with mental disabilities better, this book will also show anyone the struggles of popularity, friendship, relationships, family, and what the definition of ‘normal’ is. Green writes about the last issue with such clarity and sureness that it will change readers’ perspectives on the idea of that topic.

Throughout the novel, Aza describes how she thinks she isn’t in control of her life, and how someone is writing her story, which is ironic because someone is. It’s an amazing way to put the reader into Aza’s perspective, and therefore be more understanding of her conflicts.

Now more on Aza’s friends: Daisy—her name says it all. A flower, wild and sweet. Daisy helps Aza bloom out of her spiral of worries and thoughts and shows her ways to get around her OCD. The audience will find Daisy a relatable supporting character and be reminded of how strong friendship can be. Then there’s Davis: he’s kind and is always looking out for Aza and overcoming the obstacles that he faces with her OCD. His father is a missing millionaire with a ten thousand dollar bounty on his head, and his mother has been dead since he was a kid, so Davis is empathetic to anyone who has hardships in their life. Davis is an adorable character that readers will become connected to, and will cheer on throughout the title.

This novel is so robust and moving that any reader will feel the power of Green’s thoughts and work when they read it. He successfully shows the capacity of true friendship and first loves, while stirring in hints of mystery, and readers will fasten themselves to each character and be pulled along for the ride. Anyone would adore this engrossing novel. I rated this book an obvious ten out of ten, and I’m sure any reader would, too. So what are you waiting for? Go to your closest library or book shop, or even Amazon will do, and get Turtles All The Way Down. I promise you won’t regret it, and soon enough you will be carried off into the fascinating universe Green has constructed.


Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

Fifteen-year-old Felton Reinstein has a lot going on. He lives with his mom and brother. His dad committed suicide when he was five, and his mom is still recovering. Felton’s best friend Gus left for the summer to live with his ill grandmother in Venezuela, and Felton has to take over his paper route. In a physical fitness test at his school he had a better running time than everyone else. This leads to the football coach recruiting him to play on the schools football team with all the people who have made fun of him for years. Suddenly, he has to learn to learn to fit in on the team at the same time as dealing with everything going on at home with his mom. This summer Felton has to learn a lot of new things he’s never done before.

Geoff Herbach writes in the first person in Stupid Fast, with shorter chapters: each one telling a story about what is happening in Felton’s life. This is interesting because the reader sees what he does in every situation and how he learns each time. Herbach shows every part of Felton’s life, good and bad, and that makes it hard for the reader to predict what was coming next in the book because it is so up and down.

I liked how Herbach made the book fast paced because there were a lot of smaller problems throughout the book. These were not hard to follow because they all affect the main problem and how he deals with it.

Stupid Fast is the first of a three book series by Herbach. The second book is called Nothing Special, which I have not yet read, and the third book is called I’m with Stupid. I have read I’m with Stupid, and I enjoyed it, but it does get a little repetitive throughout the book. It’s not like Stupid Fast because it’s a completely different plot with new characters and problems, though still focused on Felton. But it just seems like he does the same thing over and over again in each situation, and that’s why I liked Stupid Fast better out of the two that I’ve read—because of the character growth that Herbach includes.

I rated this book a ten out of ten and would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys sports fiction with some realistic fiction mixed in. It is a fast paced book with some humor and is not like most other sports books because it has a completely different plot and engaging characters that all add something new to the problem.

Aidan

Sourcebooks Fire, 311 pages


Winger by Andrew Smith

In Winger by Andrew Smith, Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain Academy, who has no trouble in class. This novel is about his complicated social life. He goes through love, betrayals, and much more, all while dealing with the corruption of his roommate, Chas Becker, who is constantly ruining his relationship with his crush, Annie Altman.

But those are not the only characters in Winger, there are more people like Chas on Ryan Dean’s rugby team that get him to try stuff like alcohol—one of them being Kevin—which makes Annie very angry with him. There are people like JP, who was his friend but betrayed him by inviting Annie to dances, parties, and more. And there are people like Megan who has a crush on Ryan Dean and tries to sabotage his relationship. Ryan Dean’s social life is all-out warfare.

But my personal favorite part of this book is how Smith developed a deep theme of the importance of Ryan Dean’s relationships, but at the same time, kept the novel light-hearted by adding humor wherever he could. For example, Ryan Dean says,

“I’m sorry for what I did, Chas. I apologize. A guy should never have to go through the kind of crap I did to you, I know you’re probably still going to kill me but at least I got that off my chest.”

Then I put out my hand for him, and he shook it.

“You have guts, winger. But I still hate you.”

Fair enough.

“I hate you to Chas,” I said, and smiled.

There are a lot of other hilarious parts in the book that are much more funny than this one, but they may not be appropriate for this book review. This is an ages 14+ book and is not for younger kids because of mature humor and themes.

With that out of the way, another conflict Smith included in his novel was to put Ryan Dean in a complicated setting and place. He lives in Opportunity Hall, or O-Hall for short, which is the place where the “Bad Kids” go. He got in there for stealing a teacher’s phone, but the issue isn’t that he is there, it’s that actual bad kids are there, like Chas and Kevin. So he is also facing the corruption of these kids’ attempts to further ruin his social life.

Overall, this book is great for a reader who would like to see drama from a boy’s eyes, or wants a deep theme but also to have a good laugh. This book is a ten out of ten, and there is a sequel, Stand Off which continues on to Ryan Dean’s senior year and is even funnier than the first. I hope you enjoy these two books!

Jackson

Simon & Schuster, 439 Pages


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

February 14, 2019

When a fifteen-year-old artist, Lina, is ripped from her home in 1941, all she can think about is her father, who has been separated from her brother, mother, and her. While she grieves for him, she is also terrified for her own life, as she makes her way through Russian territory to slave away with limited food and rest at work camp after work camp. She attempts to send her artwork to her father to let him know she’s alive—in hopes he will receive it and understand it’s from his daughter. As she and her family take on an incredibly harrowing journey, she learns the most powerful values are strength, love, and hope.

I fell in love with the characters in this book, especially the main character of Lina. She is developed flawlessly as a strong young lady who can fend for herself, even in the tough environment that holds her captive. She and her brother are unlike any other brother-sister pair I’d ever heard of or seen. Their cooperation and support for each other is heartwarming and will keep readers invested throughout the ups and downs of the conflict.

The plot was extremely suspenseful and fast-paced. The storyline is interesting because Lina and her family are constantly being moved from camp to camp, and the audience will want to follow them on their journey. I loved how Sepetys ended each chapter on a suspenseful note; this was another aspect that added to the fast pace.

Although Between Shades of Gray is a work of fiction, it is well researched, and Sepetys includes many details about World War Two. She describes specific places in Russia and Poland, where the work camps were, and exactly the cities they traveled through.  This made the book plausible and more enjoyable to read, knowing that it could have happened in real life.  

Lina’s art was a wonderful addition to the plot, because the reader is always curious about whether her art will reach her father, and if it did, how that would affect her story. It also helped develop Lina as a character, because the artwork gave her a passion that added to her personality.

Sepetys has also published two other historical novels that are just as compelling as this one: Salt to the Sea and Out of the Easy. I have only read Salt to the Sea, but it easily became my favorite book of the year. Between Shades of Gray is a must-read, and I guarantee that your perspective on war and violence will be forever changed.

Kate

Philomel Books, 338


Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

When I learned the Spanish word for succeed, I thought it was kind of ironic that the word exit is embedded in it. Like the universe was telling me that in order for me to make something of this life, I’d have to leave home, my neighborhood, my friends.

Jade is a junior in high school—but not just her local high school on the south side of Portland, Oregon. Instead, she goes to St. Francis, a private high school that she travels to by bus. Every day she leaves the projects, where she lives with her mom, who works as a housekeeper to keep them fed, and E.J, Jade’s uncle, who is a local D-Jay.

She goes to St. Francis where there are only a few black girls, and she feels like an outsider with her lack of money. This is where she figures out about a mentorship program, Woman to Woman, which she only joins so she will get a scholarship. During her first meeting she is the only mentee without a mentor, so Jade leaves embarrassed and angry at Maxine. Her mentor Maxine has her own problems and tries to make up for missing the meeting. Now Jade must struggle to forgive Maxine fully and express her real feelings about how she thinks the  mentorship program could do better, keep her grades up to please her mom, and learn Spanish in the hopes of getting picked to go with her school to a foreign country with their study abroad program: an opportunity she is convinced she will get.

Renée Watson used first person in Jade’s perspective through the whole story, which I thought helped me as a reader to understand the struggles that Jade goes through in every day life and her thoughts and feelings about the events that change her in this work of fiction. I thought that Watson did a good job making the character development very clear with Jade. Jade started the story very insecure with herself, her race, her size, and how poor she is—especially compared to her classmates at St. Francis. Over time she is slowly able to get over these things and be a stronger protagonist in multiple ways.

Watson crafted this title so that it included many obstacles at the same time. Some of the settings for these were home, school, Woman to Woman, and with her friends. This helped me as a reader to get a full experience of who Jade is as a person in all different scenarios.

I think readers that enjoyed The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas would enjoy Piecing Me Together because they have a similar plot: both girls are struggling to have their voices heard and fit into their mostly white private schools while dealing with home and school problems. I found the pace of this title to be slow in some spots where Watson described a whole day instead of skipping over parts that were irrelevant to the plot, but other than that this book was well written with an intriguing protagonist that readers would ride her emotions beside. This title won the Newberry Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award. Anybody who wants to read a story about one of the many struggles young African American people still face today and some of their history would enjoy this work of realistic fiction. To me this book has a rating way over ten.

Ruth

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 261 pages


The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Jack Whitmore lost control in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, after stumbling away from a party, Jack is kidnapped by a man posing as a doctor, named Freddie Horvath. Freddie keeps Jack trapped in his van. The van’s windows are painted black so Jack has no idea where he is or what is happening to him, and Freddie beats him repeatedly. One day Freddie leaves for a few hours, Jack sees his opportunity, escapes, and runs home. I enjoyed how Smith continued to circle back to this reference throughout the book; it brings a sense of reality and an awareness of the past to Jacks journey.

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith then takes us to England. Jack and his friend Connor are leaving their home in Glenbrook, California, to visit a boarding school that Jack’s grandfather attended. Once Jack arrives in England, he decides to go to a local pub. When he is at the pub he meets a stranger named Henry. After they share a few drinks, Henry tells Jack about a mysterious pair of glasses. He then gives Jack the glasses and says they will take him to a place called Marbury.  Marbury is a world not under, above, or even next to ours – it’s another dimension. Marbury consists in a separate reality. Curious, Jack decides to use them. He looks through the glasses and discovers Marbury and sees the bloody war that is currently taking place. As the days pass, Jack starts finding it harder and harder to put the glasses down, until the point where going to Marbury becomes an addiction. I thought that the way that Jack gets strung to the lens and he has to balance them with reality added another aspect to the book to contribute the craziness of the novel and its conflict.   

Then readers are introduced to Seth, a ghost that lived and died in Marbury that Jack mysteriously sees frequently when he looks through the lens. Except something is special about Seth: unlike all the people that live in Marbury, Seth has the ability to cross from Marbury into reality. Jack finds Seth taunting him, announcing himself with the distinctive sound of roll… tap tap tap. Jack meets two boys, Ben and Griffin Goodrich, who accompany Jack and his trip through the endless void of Marbury. Marbury is tearing Jack’s thoughts apart piece by piece; it starts to interfere with Jack’s relationships outside of Marbury: his and his best friend Connor’s interaction, and his overall time outside of Marbury. Smith impressed me by intertwining the narratives of Seth, Jack, and Connor.

I would recommend this book to anyone thirteen or above due to consistent PG-13 content. There is a sequel to this book, called Passenger. I found that Passenger was slow and was not a good read. I abandoned Passenger midway through due to the lack of these elements. But that did not limit my enjoyment of the first book, and I hope that readers try The Marbury Lens.

Sam

Feiwel and Friends, 370 pages


What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

February 11, 2019

In New York City, you only see people once. At least, that’s what Ben—a New York native in summer school and recovering from a break-up—thought. Arthur believed it too, but he held his hopes out to see the boy of his dreams again in the city of his dreams. In What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, two sparklingly different voices take on a bumpy relationship while supported by comedic allies and challenged by crumbling friendships.

Arthur thinks of New York in terms of Broadway: a tourist, he fantasizes about a perfect romance full of singing and dancing.
Sometimes I feel like New Yorkers do New York wrong. Where are the people swinging from subway poles and dancing on fire escapes?

Meanwhile, Ben hardly notices the city at all.
Arthur catches me staring at him.
“Oh. I’m being an obvious New York noob.”
“You are. It’s cute. You still have the tourist glow. I can’t remember what it’s like to be wowed by Times Square. Or anything in New York.”

Since Arthur is in a rough patch with a friend back home in Georgia—that started the night he came out—his main support system lies in Namrata and Juliet, his fellow student interns at the law firm with him who advise him throughout the book. Ben has his lifelong friend Dylan at his side, and Dylan’s new girlfriend Samantha. They provide constant laughs to both Ben and the reader alike. With each boy armed with a back-up squad to assist in the mutual search for each other, the story is infinitely more genuine.

Albertalli and Silvera did a wonderful job at progressing the plot quickly so as to keep readers actively on their toes. Never was there a dull moment where I wanted to skip a scene. Every chapter is funny, refreshing, and affectionate, whether in a platonic, romantic, or parental way. There are cliffhangers and risky do-overs and emergencies and new experiences that surprise the reader every step along the way to the satisfying conclusion.

This book is by far the funniest novel I’ve ever read. There are one-liners delivered when you least expect it from characters you least expect and longer stories that had me in tears. Even when rereading sections, I continue to crack up.

Along with its comedic scenes, What If It’s Us is packed with tender moments spent together or apart that make this book even more special and give it a depth that humor can’t solely provide.

This rare gay teen romance holds a special place in my heart. You will fall in love with Ben and Arthur for their fun quirks, and root for them from page one.

Calla

HarperTeen, 433 pages


Legend by Marie Lu

Daniel Altan Wing’s (Day’s) family thinks he is dead. In reality he is the Republic’s most wanted criminal. After failing his trial to become a Republic soldier, he is sent off to the labor camps and is expected to die, but manages to escape. When he returns to his hometown he sees a plague symbol on his family’s door and takes action. He raids the hospital and, during his escape, throws a knife at Captain Metias Iparis, allegedly killing him.

June Iparis is the first person ever to score a perfect 1500 on her trial,  but soon after joining the Republic’s force she finds her brother, Metias Iparis, dead. Enraged, she starts planning to chase down and get revenge on Day. During her search, she is dragged into a fight, stabbed, and taken in by a boy on the street. What she doesn’t realize is that Day is hiding in plain sight. Will she figure it out? And if she does, what will she do?

Readers will love the way Marie Lu develops both of the main characters in this work. In the beginning June is very naïve about the republic and the world outside of it, but as the story progresses she becomes increasingly aware of the problems in the world. Day, on the other hand, is very skeptical of the Republic throughout the entirety of the novel, but as the book continues he becomes more tuned into the problems outside of the Republic, as well as the ones inside of it.

The perspectives switch between a character inside of the government and a character fighting against it which is an effective feature as it gives readers the point of view of each side: their opinions and how they see the issues within their cities and outside of them. Lu also avoided showing the same scene from each character’s perspective, which let the story continue at a fast pace and kept the reader engaged throughout  the entire book.

The first person narrative  that Lu used was extremely effective as it helped the reader focus in on the complex issues faced by both characters in the novel. This also helps readers delve into the minds of the characters and really understand what is happening in each of their lives at the moment.

Lu did a great job of explaining all the rules in the new world of the Republic within the first few pages so that she could get directly into the plot of the book. Since the whole novel takes place in a world similar to ours, but with a much more advanced civilization and a different set of rules for the citizens, Lu had to teach readers everything about the new world in order for the plot to be understood.

At the end of this book I found myself rushing into the sequel, Prodigy, and the final book, Champion. I rated this book a ten out of ten and would recommend it to fans of Divergent, by Veronica Roth, as there are some similarities in the plot and genre. Be ready to enter a new world from the perspectives of June and Day with a gripping plot that will not let you put the book down.

Henry

Speak, 352 pages


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