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Young Adult – Serious Issues

This category applies to YA titles that address serious issues and themes.

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.  


Hyperion, 383 pages

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

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.


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.


Ember, 344 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.


Sourcebooks Fire, 311 pages

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

February 5, 2019

 I have seen movies of prisons but never one like this. This is not a movie about bars and locked doors. It is about being alone when you are not really alone and about being scared all the time.

Sixteen-year-old black teen Steve Harmon is on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit, because he was in the wrong place when the crime was committed.

This exciting story about a stereotyped boy will leave the readers on their feet, anxious to read more about his story behind bars, and his story of trying to plead not guilty. This book tells the story of a simple black teen in a poor neighborhood trying to find his way through being misunderstood by every person in his town, including his own family.

This novel was nominated for the 1999 National Book Award for young people’s literature. It won the Michael L. Printz award in 2000 and, in the same year, was named as a Coretta Scott King award winner, as well.

Myers wrote his masterpiece as a screenplay, because Steve’s life long dream has been to be a movie producer. Myers devloped the screenplay as Steve’s perspective because writing it is the only thing that keeps Steve Harmon less anxious while in jail. This means that the book isn’t just the normal novel of the main character’s perspective. Instead it is the protagonist’s screenplay. This made the book a quick read because it was like a movie script rather than a regular book.

This novel tells a story of racism, gangs, drugs, prison, and misunderstanding, which fits Steve Harmon’s situation. Steve evolves through the book—with identity crises, mild depression, anxiety, and in the end, a better outlook. He gets to think about his life from a whole different perspective since he is on Death Row, and he didn’t think he would be living it much longer, which I thought was really interesting.

If you like books about the misunderstanding and injustice that can come from prejudice like Monster by Walter Dean Myers, you might also like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or All American Boys by Brendan Keily and Jason Reynolds. Similarly if you’re read and liked these books, I’d encourage you to give Monster a try.

If you like reading screenplay formatting, and thinking about big ideas like misunderstood crimes, prejudice, and judgment because of a race this is a good book for you. I rated this book a ten out of ten and recommend this book to anyone who is eleven or older.


HarperCollins, 281 pages

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

March 16, 2018

Racism is a problem that always seems to circulate through our society— no matter how many improvements we make as a country. It isn’t just rude remarks, or a racial stereotype. Racism is toxic and can consume a whole nation. But Dreamland Burning shows that, no matter the era, one brave person can change many lives.

Rowan Chase had no idea that the choice to investigate a century-old murder on her property could lead to the discovery of brutal, racist truths from the past. As she learns, she realizes the similarities between modern day issues and history’s conflicts.

Meanwhile, Will   Tillman is living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the roaring twenties. As he witnesses racism, he becomes aware of the harmful actions geared towards the black community. He sees how children are put in danger by racist minds. Will knows that racism is wrong and is afraid of it at first. But when a certain, defiant friendship ignites, he feels the need to help those in danger, even if it means risking his life.

Latham’s purpose in writing this book was to show the parallels between contemporary America and the past. She used the thrill of a mystery to keep the story moving and connect the two eras. She included both clues from Rowan’s discovery, and from Will’s life. As the lives of these two start to intertwine, the clues slowly add up. Latham sets up false information in both time periods so clues don’t always match, creating an unpredictable outcome. Readers don’t know the truthful information until the secrets are unveiled. This unusual mystery not only lets the reader follow the story of the detective but also chase the characters who are living the mystery.

Rowan starts out as a naive teenager who has yet to experience the harm of the world. William has been taught that whites are superior and has never second guessed his father’s words— until he is turned aghast by the unfair actions of white men. Latham develops the characters similarly and illustrates the way that change occurs in one’s actions based on events in his or her life. When writing, Latham had to carefully ensure that the characters and plots developed at the same rate. If she moved one faster than the other, then the mystery would be revealed prematurely.

Dreamland Burning gives the reader more than enough: a page-turning mystery, ideas to ponder, and relatable protagonists coming of age. It is clear that Latham has thought about how the present depends so much on the past. She has contemplated the recurring issues that haunt our society and knows that this unconventional mystery will urge the reader to consider these concepts as well.


Little Brown, 365 pages

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Josef is a Jewish boy living in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. With the fear of being sent to concentration camps, he and his family board a ship headed for the other side of the world. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and chaos infecting her country, she and her family get on a raft hoping to find safety in America. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With the land being destroyed by violence, he and his family set out on a long journey toward Europe. All of these kids go on unimaginable journeys to find refuge. They have to face many dangers, but their courage will help them survive into tomorrow. Although the kids are separated by continents and decades, their stories all have an interesting way of coming together at the end of this novel: Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Even though this book contained three stories, Gratz told each effectively using a strong third person perspective and descriptive dialogue to make reader feel like they were there with the characters. Each character’s story would switch to another’s at the end of every chapter. Gratz made each chapter less than ten pages, so his audience wouldn’t forget what happened to any of the other characters in previous chapters. At the beginning of a chapter Gratz tells the character’s name, the place they are in, and how far away they are from their home. By doing this he made it easy to never lose track of where the characters are in the world.

What made the book the most interesting was how Gratz wrote the book so realistically— I felt like I was there with the characters. I could see their facial expressions, and I could feel their emotions. Everything he was describing in the book I could easily picture in my head. Gratz made it easy for me to understand what it was like to be a refugee in different times. He incorporated cliffhangers throughout, so I never wanted to put the book down.

What made this novel especially effective for me was how it changed my view on the refugee crisis across the world. I used to think refugees were like migrants, but Gratz showed me what it was like to be a refugee and how hard it is to be forced to leave your home and fight your way to another country to be safe. This book also revealed the problems some countries have and what effect those issues have on citizens. This story demonstrated how long refugees have been around and the struggles that they go through on their journeys.

Gratz hooked me throughout this historical fiction book: in three different times, with three different stories, from three different kids, with one goal in common— escape. I hope you will love Refugee and its story of courage and hope because this book has a rating way above 10.


Scholastic, 317 pages

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

February 2, 2018

Rashad Butler is a black teenager living in a small town. He’s never done anything wrong—never broken the law or gotten into trouble. But that’s not what the cops see. They see his clothes and the way he walks. They see the color of his skin.

Quinn, a white boy, stands and watches as the man who raised him drags a black boy onto the street, and throws him against the ground. He is paralyzed with emotion. It obviously isn’t right, but he doesn’t know what to do. The police officer—the man beating his defenseless classmate—is his best friend’s brother. So at first, Quinn pretends he didn’t see anything. He pretends that nothing ever happened—but secrets can’t be controlled for long in this usually quiet town.

Quinn can’t stay silent. He will be a part of the encounter no matter what, but it is up to him to fight for his own beliefs—up to him to go against the people he cares about. He will be the one who decides which side of history he’s on.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely alternate perspectives in All American Boys: Reynolds writes in the voice of the black boy, and Kiely narrates the white boy. This results in two contrasting personalities, and writing styles, that both have a lasting effect on readers. The author’s decisions to form personal connections— between Quinn and the police officer, and the readers with the characters—were effective, because they developed a relationship between readers and the protagonists, then threw conflicts and hurdles at the characters, resulting in a thoughtful novel.

This book educates readers about one of the biggest issues we still face in our country today: police brutality. Two authors display the stark differences between the lives of two boys—one black, one white, both American—in our contemporary world. Reynolds and Kiely show—through two resilient characters—that racism is still alive in our country, and it’s waiting for us to make a change. These authors explore themes of racial justice and standing up for your own beliefs, while bringing characters to life in this inspiring novel.

This novel informs readers about current events, but still has a gripping plot that will keep its audience flipping the pages. I rated it a ten out of ten, and would recommend it to any fan of realistic or historical fiction. Anybody who wants to learn the hidden truths of our country will enjoy this thoughtful story.


Simon & Schuster, 310 pages

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

January 29, 2018

I blink through my tears as Officer 115 points the same gun he killed my friend with, at me.

Starr is a teenage girl who witnesses someone that she cares about die in front of her eyes: her best friend, Khalil, is killed by a white cop, even though he doesn’t do anything wrong. The police officer pulls both of them over and asks Khalil for proof of insurance, licence, and registration. Khalil questions, “Why did you pull me over?”  Then the cop tells him to get out of the car and to lie against it, so he does. When Khalil looks into the car to ask if Starr is okay, the cop assumes that he is looking for the gun, which  he  thinks is the black hairbrush in the side pocket of the car door. The officer’s instinct is to shoot because he thinks Khalil was grabbing the “gun” in the car door.

From there, everything gets worse. For instance, the police officer begs that Starr  be interogated. She finally goes just to find out that the only questions they are asking are about Khalil’s life and what he might have done wrong: not about that night or about what Starr saw, heard, or felt.

Thomas crafts this book well: I love how she used the perspective of a girl who lives in a neighborhood where there are gangs, turf wars, and drug dealers. Starr also has to deal with the problem of going to a completely white school where no one really understands what it’s like where she lives. I also like how Thomas didn’t just focus on racism toward Starr and Khalil. She also included the racism expierienced by Starr’s friend, Maya, who is Chinese American.

Thomas included an effective secondary character, Devante. He echances the story and makes it stand out more. Devante gets treated like Starr’s family because one of the leaders in a gang is hunting him because he stole 5,000 dollars to protect his family. Starr and her family shelter Devante and keep him safe.

If I were to rate this book on a scale of one to ten I would definitely choose ten because I like how Thomas focused on Starr’s life throughout  the whole book and didn’t switch perspectives. I thought that made the book intriguing to read. Starr’s point of view made a strong impression on me. I like how Thomas structured this novel in present tense because it makes readers feel as if they are with Starr, rather than writing in past tense, as though this already happened.

Another feature I like about The Hate U Give is that it’s  a book where readers can’t predict what happens next, therefore it makes it a real page-turner that also raises important issues about society.


Balzer & Bray, 444 pages



Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

January 27, 2017

Amari’s life had once been perfect: engaged to the man of her dreams, blessed with an adorable little brother, and living in a beautiful African village. But one summer day in 1738, this changes forever. Amari is captured from her home and brought to South Carolina to be sold. On the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic, she meets an older woman, Afi, who encourages her and lets her know that everything will turn out right. After spending a year at the plantation Amari realizes that being a slave is not what she wants for her life. She makes many friends that treat her like family, but after a tragic event Amari chooses to escape with two of her friends: Polly, the indentured servant, and Tidbit, the cook’s son.

I enjoyed how Sharon Draper wrote this novel in third person; each chapter focused on a different character, either Polly or Amari. Draper also wrote from family history, knowing that made the plot more believable. Her diction was amazing throughout the book­–it felt like I was reading poetry because every sentence was so concise, which made it a quick read.

The only aspect that didn’t work for me was how the author developed Polly; Draper made her a very stuck up, self-centered character, who didn’t add to the book. This made me look forward to reading the Amari chapters more than the Polly chapters.

I loved that this book was written about a hard, unexplainable time in America’s history, but wasn’t completely focused on the horrors of slavery. If you’re over twelve and are interested this time period, you would love this book. Over all, this optimistic historical fiction novel is a must-read, so pull out that Someday List and write down Copper Sun by Sharon Draper.


302 pages, Simon Pulse


Second Chance Summer, by Morgan Matson

February 23, 2015

second+chance+summerAfter Mr. Edwards receives terrible news, his family decides to go on a last- minute trip to their old lake house in the mountains of Pennsylvania. However, his daughter, Taylor, is not thrilled to travel back to the Poconos. She tends to run away whenever faced with a difficult situation— that’s exactly what she did five summers ago, when she was twelve.

Getting a job at the local pool snack shack forces Taylor to work with her nemesis and former BFF, Lucy Marino, almost every day. She remembers why Lucy is mad and knows that she deserves whatever silent treatment Lucy gives her. Life grows even more complicated when Taylor runs into her new next-door neighbor and ex-boyfriend Henry Crosby.

I was hesitant to pick up the book because it was so long, but it wasn’t slow at all. I didn’t even notice its length, and before I knew it I was halfway through the book. I couldn’t put it down— to the point where I got caught reading in math class. Matson’s writing style includes a lot of flashbacks to five summers ago when the incident occurred. I loved to read these because it slowly pieced together what exactly happened all those years ago and why everyone is so mad at Taylor.

This read was one of the best contemporary realistic fiction young adult novels I have ever read. The way that Matson compiles so many layers of problems into the book is fascinating. The theme of this novel is the importance of friends and family and the help and motivation they give you through tough times. From trying to rebuild lost friendships and relationships to dealing with siblings and a dying father, this novel is a masterpiece of creativity.

I would rate this book a solid twenty on a scale of one to ten. People that enjoy Second Chance Summer would also love her two other novels: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour and Since You’ve Been Gone. Sadly, these are the only other books Matson has written so far. I eagerly anticipate her next book.

Overall this read is filled with humor, joy, and heartbreak with twists and turns in each chapter. Once you’re into it, you don’t want to finish it. Anyone that is lucky enough to read this book will take it to heart and think, What would I do in this fatal situation?


Simon & Schuster, 468 pages


The Beach, by Alex Garland

February 13, 2012

Debut novels, it seems to me, are either fantastic or ghastly. The Beach, written by twenty-seven-year-old Alex Garland, is one of the fantastic ones. It is a gripping novel, narrated in flashbacks and dreams. It is horrific; it is marvelous.

Richard is a traveler staying at a hotel on the Ko Sanh Road in Bangkok when he first hears of “The Beach.” Right away, three things happen: Richard meets Etienne and Françoise; a man called Daffy Duck who is staying at the hotel slits his wrists; and a map of Thailand marked with an “X” is tacked to Richard’s door. The “X” is The Beach, which is supposed to be a contemporary utopia.

The genre of this novel is dystopian fiction, but there’s also a lot of action-adventure and mystery. It was a compelling and thrilling read that I could not put down.  I would recommend this book to any seventh or eighth grader who wonders if a perfect community can actually exist. Just a warning: Richard and the other characters swear with astonishing frequency and vulgarity, and violence is not glossed over. That being said, The Beach is one of my ten favorite books.

Character development—of lack of same—can be an interesting plot device. Garland does not waste many words on the majority of those who inhabit The Beach. I thought that it was kind of strange at first, until later on, when Richard brings up the matter himself, and I realized why.

One other thing I found to be unusual: Mr. Duck, the man who kills himself, visits Richard in his dreams. Again, it seems like Rich is just hallucinating, and it’s an irrelevant detail. But as I said, it’s very difficult to predict anything with this novel—the conclusion was a complete surprise to me.

What I like most about this novel is that everything matters. Even seemingly insignificant details end up playing a major role later on, as the plot thickens. The visuals are also stunning, and the tone in which Garland writes, or Richard flashes-back, foreshadows what will happen next.

Garland wrote The Beach in short, choppy-at-times chapters that echo how his character is remembering events. They are titled with obscure phrases such as “Cab!” that don’t make any sense until you’ve finished the half-page to four-page passage.

I can’t say anything about the theme. It is hinted at throughout the novel but only fully revealed in the conclusion, which ends up being an effective approach, as it left me with a lot to muse about.

I rated The Beach a ten out of ten. I loved the element of mystery and its fast pace. I loved the characters Garland wanted me to love; later I hated them. I laughed, and I would have cried if it hadn’t been such a satisfying end. Anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction must read this novel: it’s amazing.


Riverhead Books, 436 pages

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The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

In this unforgettable book, Maureen Johnson creates a plot like no other. First, Rory Deveaux moves to a London boarding school. Then she realizes that a series of horrifying murders that have been occurring in the city are all in a radius of a couple of miles. There is something even more unusual about this string of bloody deaths. The serial killer is mimicking the style of Jack the Ripper, who terrorized London in 1888 in a similar fashion. The modern-day murderer is going to lots of trouble to get the details down to the same place on the same month and date. “Rippermania” becomes the “thing” to chat in fear about. Rory and Jerome, the boy that she likes, are acting a little too brave, visiting the murder crime scenes, trying to get ahead of the police, figuring out who the “new” Jack the Ripper is and Johnson definitely gets you wondering, “Is this really possible?” You, too, become part of the adventure.

Knowing previous books that Johnson has written, I was a little unsure at first about this one. Unbelievably girly covers and shockingly candy-coated plot summaries were her style before The Name of the Star. But I took a leap, trusted Johnson, and hoped that this book was different from the others. I love high-action, edge-of-your-seat books, and this one filled those expectations, as well as giving me a fun, brief history of what people do know about the real Jack the Ripper. No page was boring.

A week prior to starting The Name of the Star, my brother rented a Sherlock Holmes themed movie after watching, and loving, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which I also thought was a spectacular movie. This second film had a plot based on the actual Jack the Ripper of 1888. This is when I started to become more anxious to find out who this horrifying man really was. The Name of the Star finished my Jack the Ripper phase because it was so satisfying. I didn’t want any other story to change how I saw him. Even if you have no interest in the subject of Jack the Ripper, I advise you to give it a try.

So many wonderful aspects of this book made it a favorite. First, the setting and plot build up. I liked how the prologue is short and Johnson stuffs the problem into two well-written pages, which gives the book a fast-paced effect and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I think this is hard and takes a lot of work. Good job, Johnson.

I also enjoyed the map of London at the beginning of the book. Sometimes a map is included in a cheesy fantasy novel, but this one gave me a sense of place and also set me up for the geography of the buildings, places, and crime scenes. Having visited London myself, it was interesting to see how close I’d been to all the murders scenes of 1888. It gave me a thrill to connect the plot to a personal experience.

I recommend this book to anybody who is looking for suspense, mystery, and a fabulous ending.

Publisher: Penguin, 372 pages


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The Rock and the River, by Kekia Magoon

June 20, 2011

MagoonIn The Rock and the River, fourteen-year-old Sam Childs has to decide if he wants to be the rock or the river.  Sam lives in Chicago in 1968 during the Civil Rights Movement.  His father, Roland Childs, is a civil rights activist that speaks against violence.  Sam’s brother, Steven, known to Sam as Stick, is in a group called the Black Panthers who believe in self-defense.  Then things start to get rough at home: Steven/Stick moves out, their family friend Bucky get assaulted by cops, and the Civil Rights protests start to get violent.  With the sudden change of events, Sam now realizes he cannot be both the rock and the river, and he has to decide which he would rather be.

Kekla Magoon has a very specific writing style.  She uses lots of sensory details to create a movie in your mind.  Here’s a example of a sentence with great thought feelings and sensory details that put you in the character’s shoes:  “Seeing that gentle smile, beneath all the blood and the sound of the beating, hits me hardest…”  The details in the book really helped create a sense of action.  Since the book is about Sam developing as a character, the details in the book show his movement.  The thoughts and feelings make you feel the same way as the character.  These are some of the great techniques the author uses to make this a engaging title.

Sam, the main character, is very timid through out the book but learns how to be his own person.  Sam is shy around new acquaintances, but he is very close with his brother Steven/Stick.  Sam looks up to Steven as a role model.  He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but does not want to disappoint his father by doing what his brother has done.  He doesn’t want to break up his family even more.  But by the end of the book, Sam finds his own way.  Read the book and find out if Sam ends up as the rock or the river.


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Crackback, by John Coy

May 2, 2010

crackbackIn the beginning of this first-person narrated novel, Crackback, John Coy makes the main character, Miles, seem like a pretty normal high school football player.  Then his friend gives him some caffeine pills, which for Miles is like a gateway drug into steroids, which he takes after friends on the team pressure him bulk up for college scouts.  And that’s when his life starts to change, as pills and other types of steroids, like Danabol, get stronger and Miles increases the dosages.

I think that Coy made the characters seem real by giving them the attributes of real-life people of their age, not like the stereotype of jocks and cheerleaders.  The story throughout the book seems like it could really happen,  Miles goes to parties, sees friends, and responds to peer pressure.  In real life, however, I don’t think the end would have been as extreme or as predictable.  I think the easy theme that anyone could figure out from reading the back of the book is don’t do steroids.  But a different theme I found is don’t give in to the temptations of drugs at all, because you almost never get away with it and it messes up your life.  I do wish that Crackback were a little more different from other sports books, because, as in many others, it was easy for me to predict the moment of truth or the ending.

Overall, on a rating of one through ten, I would give Crackback a nine, only because of how predictable the plot was.  But it was a great story anyway.  If you read and like Crackback, then I would recommend Box Out, also by John Coy, because it is similar, only about religion, not steroids.  I also recommend Raider’s Knight by Robert Lipsyte.  It deals with steroids, except the main character gives in much easier and tries stronger steroids,

Crackback is a quick read at 201 pages.  I suggest this novel for sports fans from sixth grade through high school, but non-sports fans will also like it and get into the story.


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