Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review: 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

Title: 17 & Gone (GoodReads)
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Page Count: 353
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: YA Mystery

Goodreads Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautiful, visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.

I had high expectations for this book. I recently read Suma’s Imaginary Girls, and I greatly enjoyed that novel. I expected the same level of beautiful and creepy writing that I found in that one. And to an extent I found that. The writing itself was creepy and beautiful. I could clearly see all the girls and the places Lauren went.

Sadly, that’s about the extent of my praise for this book, at least not without getting into spoilers. All I’ll say about the ending (really, the last third of the book, maybe a little more) was that I really liked it, and it mostly made up for the first half of the book. I nearly put the book down after 100 pages, and I have to say that I’m mostly glad I finished it.

That said, this book didn’t suck me in like Suma’s other novel. I felt no connection with Lauren, probably because she doesn’t really have much of a personality at all. We meet Lauren when she meets Abby, and after that she’s obsessed with learning more about these girls and figuring out what they want her to do and how she can stop herself from being like them. Once she meets the girls, I understand why she gets obsessed. The novel wouldn’t work if she weren’t. I still wish, though, that we got to see more of Lauren before she meets the girls. Her friends think she’s acting weird, but we don’t really understand why because we’ve never seen her acting normally.

This is also a novel where not a lot happens. As a lover of literary fiction, you’d think I’d be okay with that. Maybe I’ve been reading contemporary too long. Maybe this one just didn’t do a good job. Maybe I’m just not in the mood for a slow book. Whatever the case, I found myself bored with this book, particularly during that first hundred pages. I kept expecting the girls to talk to her or show her stuff and have her life be inconvenienced by them more than just “oh, I’m late for school.” I did eventually get all of that, but the beginning was a bit slow for me. I didn’t care what happened to Lauren or Abby. I didn’t really care why Lauren could see Abby. Really, after the first thirteen chapters, I took my bookmark out and decided to take it back to the library.

Obviously I had a change of heart. I’m not sure why I decided to give it another shot. The book did get better after that. We met more girls, most of whom I found more interesting than Abby. More things started happening. The novel got more surreal – in a good way. Lauren’s not the world’s most reliable narrator, but that just made things more interesting.

Overall: This books started out slow but got better near the end. I recommend giving this book a chance for yourself.


Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson (GoodReads)
Author: John Green and David Levithan
Page Count: 310
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Goodreads Summary:
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

From the first paragraph, I was hooked. A lot of people don’t like John Green because all his characters are the same or something, but since I’ve only read 1.5 John Green books (I’ve been halfway through Looking for Alaska for several months now), I wasn’t bothered by that. Besides, I like nerds who are interested in smart girls. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. But anyway…

This book is, obviously, about two guys named Will Grayson. I liked and disliked both of them. I found Green’s Grayson easy to relate to in the beginning because I, too, try not to care about things and try not to draw attention to myself. However, I also found his relationship with Jane a bit annoying. I liked Jane for the most part, and I hated that he couldn’t seem to make up his mind. I hate guys who only want what they can’t have, and I hated Grayson seemed to fit that description. However, I still liked him overall.

Levithan’s Grayson was very different. I thought the lowercase letters would bother me as I read, but it didn’t. This Grayson is much angrier than the other one. He thinks about killing people a lot, which I also found easy to relate to. There’s only one person in his life that makes him happy, and that’s a guy he knows from the internet. I really enjoyed reading about this Will Grayson. He makes a lot of stupid mistakes, and he’s extremely moody, but I still found his character interesting.

The most interesting character, though, was Tiny Cooper. Really, this book is more about him than it is about either Will Grayson. Tiny is huge and gay. He loves to sing. He has a new boyfriend every other day that he’s just madly in love with, and every time he gets dumped, it’s like it’s the first time. Some people might not like that he’s so in-your-face-gay, but I loved him. He’s more than just a happy face, and most of the best quotes in this book come from him. He tries so hard to make everyone around him happy. Yes, he’s extremely frustrating sometimes. But you know what? Everyone is.

I think that’s what I loved most about this book, actually. The characters were all incredibly flawed. They were selfish and whiny and angry. They made stupid decisions because they were afraid of facing the truth. They often put their own thoughts and feelings above those around them. And yet they were believable. They still cared about each other. They fought with each other and ignored each other, but they were still friends. They weren’t perfect, but they were realistic. It’s hard to write a bunch of flawed yet likeable characters, but John Green and David Levithan manage to pull it off.


Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Title: Across the Universe (GoodReads
Author: Beth Revis
Page Count: 398
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian

Goodreads Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

This is the tenth book that I’ve read in the last 2-3 weeks for my YA literature class, and it is hands down my favorite book that I’ve read so far. It may even be my favorite book this year. I can’t talk too much about the plot without giving anything away, but I can say that if you haven’t picked up this book, you should do it. It’s creepy and suspenseful and really makes you question what’s right and what’s wrong. I was a few steps ahead of the characters some of the time, but there was still a bunch of stuff that I was completely surprised by.

I really like the characters in this book. They’re interesting and have their own agendas. They don’t just do what’s expected of them. Even the “bad guys” have depth to them. I may not have agreed with them all, but I could at least see why they did what they did, and I really appreciate that in a book. I’ve read so many books where the antagonists are so one-dimensional, and it’s sort of annoying. This book was refreshingly different.

Part of what I loved most, though, was reading about the way these people live and drawing parallels to our own life. I guess that’s true of all dystopian novels, but it was especially fun in this book because it wasn’t quite as in-your-face as some of the others I’ve read. This is a book that is sure to start a lot of great discussions. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it.


Book Review: Split by Swati Avasthi

Title: Split (GoodReads)
Author: Swati Avasthi
Page Count: 280
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Goodreads Summary:
Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. Award-winning novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again?

This book was hard to read for several reasons. Of course, those reasons were also what make it great.

I didn’t like Jace. He was obnoxious and just seemed to cause trouble wherever he went. I hated how he treated Dakota, and I hated that he didn’t seem to hate this father as much as I did. I hated the violence. I hated that Jace and Christian had such a hard time talking to each other. I hate that Jace blew Mirriam off most of the time even though she was only trying to help him. I hated their mother for staying with their father all this time.

Of course, like I said, all of that is also why I loved this novel. It’s realistic. The characters seem like real people. They don’t do anything because it’s good for the story, or because it would be the easy thing to do, or the right thing. They’re scared and hurt. They make stupid decisions. I understand why Jace doesn’t want to date Dakota, but I also understand why he can’t just let her go. I understand why he and Christian have trouble communicating. I can understand why Mirriam’s concern might be annoying at first.

I still don’t really understand Jace’s relationship with his father, not once we learn more about what his father has done. But I guess that’s sort of the point, as well. Most of us just assume that if we had an abusive parent, we would hate that parent. Or at least I assume that. This book shows why it’s more complicated than that.

This book has great dynamic characters, and the writing is fantastic. I’m glad I read it. There is one scene, though, where the violence might be a bit much for those who are particularly squeamish. Just a heads up.


Book Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Title: Imaginary Girls (GoodReads
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Page Count: 348
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Literary horror/mystery

Goodreads Summary:
Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

You need a bit of background information on me before this review will make complete sense. I grew up in upstate New York, about an hour from where this book takes place (or at least from the real-world location this town seems to have been based on). We had to pass a reservoir to get to my mom’s friend’s house, a reservoir that had once been a town. I remember being super creeped out by the fact that there was a town under the water. I imagined all these dead bodies down there and was so afraid they would like float up to the top or try to drag other people down with them or something.

Flash forward seventeen years, and I pick up this book. About a reservoir on top of a town. A town where Ruby says people still live to this day. People who try to drag others to the bottom with them.

This book is basically my childhood nightmare come to life. It’s creepy. And sort of scary. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought it was as creepy/scary if I did not already have a fear of underwater towns. I don’t know. All I know is that I really, really liked this book.

But it’s not just the town and the water that I liked. I liked the characters. Or, rather, I often didn’t like them, but I was fascinated by them. Ruby is a really complex character. She comes across as this shallow person who only cares about makeup and getting guys to do whatever she tells them to do, but she also seems to love her sister more than anything. At the same time, though, there’s something incredibly creepy about her, too. I spent most of the book not knowing what to think about her. I’m still not really sure what to think about her. You’ll have to read the book to see what your opinion of her is.

Chloe’s interesting in a different way. She’s completely devoted to her sister, even when logic dictates that she not be. At the same time, though, her sister raised her, so her devotion makes sense.

I spent a good portion of this book confused, but it was a good confused. I trusted that the author would eventually provide the answers I was looking for. I still want to know more about Ruby, but I can safely say that most of my questions were answered. I didn’t come away from the book feeling cheated or anything.

The writing was also beautiful. I usually hate any sort of description in books, but this one was great. I could picture the town and the reservoir and their house. I could imagine myself in the water with Chloe at the beginning of the book. There wasn’t so much description that you get bored or anything, but there was definitely enough to make the book sufficiently creepy.


Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Title: Out of My Mind (GoodReads
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Page Count: 295
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: YA Contemporary

Goodreads Summary:
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don’t think she’s capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can’t, because Melody can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write.

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

This was a hard book to read, but it’s a book I’m very glad I read. Melody is one of the most interesting narrators I’ve ever read, and this book forced me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about children with special needs. It made me stop and think about all the times, as a school photographer, that I spoke to the teacher about the student and not to the actual student. I just assumed that if the student couldn’t talk to me and didn’t seem to respond that it couldn’t understand me at all and why bother speaking directly to that child?

I haven’t done this to be mean. I just think the alternative – what Melody has to deal with – is just too sad to think about. Imagine being the smartest person in your class but having everyone think you’re stupid because you can’t talk. Imagine throwing a fit because that’s all you’re physically able to do but have no one understand you. Imagine getting yelled at because your parents can’t understand that you’re not screaming to be annoying, you’re screaming to get their attention. Imagine being taught the alphabet over and over and over again because your teacher doesn’t even believe you can do anything else.

This was a very informative book, but it was also a heartbreaking one. It looks at the difficulties of being and raising a child with special needs. It’s inspiring but also realistic. It shows what these students are capable of while still being realistic. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to put themselves in someone else’s shoes for a while and learn both to be grateful for what they have and to be a better human being to everyone else around you.


Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Title: If I Stay (GoodReads
Author: Gayle Forman
Page Count: 234
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Goodreads Summary:
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she’ll ever make.

I absolutely loved this book. From the opening sentence, I was hooked. Mia and her family are just so realistic. Really, all of the characters are. That was definitely my favorite thing about this book. All the characters had their own distinct personalities. They all had their strengths and weaknesses.

Absent/abusive parents have become sort of a cliché in YA literature, so it was really nice to read a book where the parents were such a positive force in the main character’s life. It was also nice to read about a YA relationship with actual problems. I’m not talking about huge problems like one of them is abusive or addicted to drugs or anything like that. I’m talking about two good, regular people who love each other but still have fights. They don’t meet and instantly fall in love. They’re awkward around each other for a few weeks. They have fights. They struggle with planning for their future. They’re realistic, and I wanted things to work out for them so much more than I do with all these insta-love relationships I’ve been reading lately.

I also enjoyed the way this novel was written. It alternates between the present and the past. Some people might not like all the flashbacks, but I really enjoyed them. I loved getting to know her friends and family and seeing how all those memories influenced her decision making process.

Really, I’m not sure what more I can say about this book other than it was awesome and I think more people should read it. If I did not currently have like eight other books checked out from the library (with three more on hold that I need to get soon), I would be going out right now to get the sequel.

This is definitely a book that I plan on having on my bookshelf when I’m an English teacher – because that is apparently the main way I rank books now.


Book Review: Possession by J. Elizabeth Hill

I was very privileged to be able to read an advanced copy of this novel. If you haven’t already read the first book in this series, I highly suggest you do so. Here’s the review I wrote for that one:

And for those of you who might have forgotten (or didn’t know in the first place), this book is coming out TOMORROW! I’m so excited that everyone else is about to be able to read this book. I highly recommend it, and if you read on you’ll see why.

Also note that this review contains very slight spoilers for the first book. Read at your own risk.

Title: Possession (Mirrors of Bershan #2)
Author: J. Elizabeth Hill ( @jlizhill
Page Count: 214
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Fantasy

Goodreads Summary:
After binding themselves to each other through their magic, Faylanna Derrion and Tavis journey back to her ancestral home, Iondis, intent on restoring the estate to its former beauty. From the moment they arrive, they find the secret horrors of the place aren’t exhausted yet.

Faylanna finds an old journal of her father’s, one that shakes her understanding of her own past. Worse, Faylanna and Tavis are both nearly killed when attacked by one of the men set to guard the Ninth Mirror of Bershan, still residing at Iondis. In the aftermath, he disappears with the newly-found journal. Sure there is more to this event than they know, Faylanna and Tavis return to the capital, Rianza, for help.

More secrets await them there, ones kept for years by people Tavis never suspected. When the truth is revealed, it alters his present and future completely. Can he rise to the challenges this new fate presents him with or will the change be more than he can handle?

The truths each learn about themselves and those they thought they knew will test Faylanna and Tavis’ love for each other. Will they be able to endure the pain and chaos they face, or will it tear them apart?

Sequels can be tricky. You need to keep fans interested in characters they’ve already gotten to know, and you have to keep the story moving forward. Many authors fail to do this.

J Elizabeth Hill does it brilliantly.

I don’t usually enjoy reading about what happens after the love interests get together. I usually find the story boring after that. That’s not true with this book. The characters didn’t just fall in love and suddenly not have any problems anymore. In fact, they seem to have more problems now than they did in the first book, even though they don’t love each other any less.

I love Faylanna and Tavis, separately and together. Tavis got a bit annoying with his “I have to protect you” mantra, but for once a book features a protective guy who actually has a reason to be protective, and he’s not a jerk about it like so many of the other love interests I’ve read about lately, so I couldn’t really blame him for feeling that way. And Faylanna doesn’t just sit there and let the guys take care of her. She’s strong and determined to take care of herself. It was nice seeing how they could both be really stubborn but still so supportive and loving at the same time.

I also loved the supporting characters, all of whom have as much depth of personality as the main characters. We learn so much more about the rest of the cast in this novel, and I loved it. Even characters who are no longer physically present are given more depth, which was unexpected but great.

Really, the character development is just fantastic, and these characters are what really drive the plot forward and kept me glued to my Nook. I had to learn more about them. I had to figure out how they would react to certain events. I had to make sure they were all going to be safe.

This book was a lot darker than I was expected, but it definitely fit, and I really enjoyed reading it. There were also several moments where I was laughing out loud. So this book definitely covers a range of emotions, which is awesome.

Also, the writing was fantastic. The writing was great in the first book, too, but I enjoyed it even more in this one. The words flowed so naturally, and the events progressed in a reasonable fashion. I was never stuck wondering what had just happened. We also get to see part of the story from Tavis’s point of view this time, which I really loved. It was great being able to see things from both of their points of view.

Really, the only slightly negative thing I have to say about this book is that it didn’t have the same sense of urgency that the first book had. Almost from the beginning of the first book, you knew something bad was going to happen, and you had to keep reading to figure out if everything would be okay. There’s still a lot of that in this book, but it comes later in the novel. I still really liked it, though, and this wasn’t a big negative for me at all, as I tend to prefer character-driven stories anyway.

Overall: If you like fantasy novels with really strong, well-developed characters, you definitely want to read this series, as it seems to just get better with each book.


Book Review: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Title: Mockingbird (GoodReads
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Page Count: 232
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary MG

Goodreads Summary:
In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful. Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

This is one of the books that the sixth graders I was working with last semester were reading. I had never read a book about someone with Asperger’s before, so I was really intrigued. When I learned I had to read 24 books for my YA literature class, I hurried to pick up this one (even though it’s technically MG, not YA). I read this book in one sitting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book is told from Caitlin’s POV. I don’t have Asperger’s, nor do I know anyone who has Asperger’s, so I can’t say for sure that this book was completely accurate, but it certainly seemed like it was. Caitlin’s thoughts and actions didn’t always make sense to those around her, but Erskine does a great job at getting inside Caitlin’s head and making her “strange” actions make perfect sense.

I can’t really think of anything that I didn’t like about this book. I would have liked to know a bit more about the other characters in the book, but since it was told from Caitlin’s point of view, we wouldn’t really get those details. I did appreciate, though, that Erskine was able to make the other people’s emotions clear to the readers, even if they didn’t always make sense to Caitlin.

This book does a great job of getting inside Caitlin’s head and allowing readers to understand the reactions of someone who isn’t always easy to understand. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who wants to put themselves in someone else’s shoes – a concept Caitlin struggles to understand.


Book Review: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer (GoodReads)
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Page Count: 218
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Historical MG

Goodreads Summary:
In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

The premise of this book is sort of stupid. The girls’ mother abandoned them, so their father decides to send them out to spend the summer with her, even though she clearly doesn’t want them there and they don’t want to be there. I understand why the plot of the book needed them to be there, but it didn’t seem entirely realistic. Of course, this book was also written for late elementary/middle grade students, so I guess that can be forgiven.

Still, once you get past that, the book was really enjoyable. I wish we learned a bit more about the Black Panther movement, but I still learned some. This book brought up a lot of interesting questions about identity and power. It was a fast read, and I think it would be a great addition to a middle grades classroom. Even as an adult, I enjoyed this book.

The best part of this book, though, were the characters – mostly the sisters. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern acted and sounded like real sisters. They knew just how to annoy one another but still looked out for each other overall. Their emotions always seemed real and understandable, even if I didn’t always agree with them. I really enjoyed getting to know them.