Showing posts with label young adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young adult. Show all posts

Friday, July 17, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven


Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Source: borrowed from Jennifer at The Relentless Reader

Summary from Goodreads

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.


My Review:

I was all over the place with this book.  In the end, it did get a thumbs-up from me, but I had quite the journey getting there.

My initial impression of All the Bright Places was that it's a perfect fit for John Green fans.  It's hard not to be reminded of The Fault in Our Stars, as Violet and Finch (both depressed and "damaged" in their own ways) meet at the top of a bell tower, contemplating suicide for different reasons.  They manage to get off the ledge, and so starts a quirky romance between the two.  It's that careful mix of sad-but-funny that made me want to compare it to TFIOS right off the bat.

After that first reaction, though, I started to have a bit of trouble with Finch.  I just couldn't understand his character's MO.  His suicidal ideations seemed almost flippant, almost as if he was trying out the whole suicide idea just to see if he could add to the odd reputation he had at school.  (I would like to stress that I am not implying that real-life suicide victims take that action as an attention-seeking behavior.  Just that Finch, in the way his character was written, seemed to have no solid reasoning behind/basis for his suicidal thoughts, which made it hard for me to make sense of him, as the reader.)  Finch started to come off as over-the-top for over-the-top's sake, which made me lose interest a bit.

However, the novel takes quite a turn in the last third.  The mental health and family issues that Finch is dealing with become much clearer, putting his past actions into a more focused context.  Many of the funny/humorous elements of the text begin to fade, as Violet starts to realize what Finch is really all about.  In the end, I was left with a conclusion that was far more poignant and emotional than I ever expected at the book's beginning.

In hindsight, I know that Niven's treatment of Finch's character early in the novel was intentional.  By the end of the book, I felt bad about my initial impression of Finch as cheeky or superficial, as he was clearly behaving in such a way to keep his family and friends in the dark about his problems.  This, combined with the maddening lack of attention from his immediate family, creates a perfect storm--and herein lies your biggest lesson from this book.  Niven manages to fool the reader about Finch's true nature, just as Finch is fooling all of his closest contacts.

All the Bright Places is a young adult novel, but one with a message.  It has much to say, and Niven has found an impactful way to say it.  This isn't exactly a feel-good novel, but the way it approaches suicide and mental health makes it worth any reader's time.

What's the last book you read that had, not a plot twist, but a good character twist thrown in?  Someone who turned out to be not at all what they originally seemed?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King


Title: Please Ignore Vera Dietz
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
 
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?


My Review:

This was the second pick made for my local MOMS Club book club (our discussion of Wonder went great, by the way!).  It was actually based on a suggestion I made, because I mentioned Ask the Passengers as an option, but the other ladies wanted us to pick something that we all hadn't read, so I decided another A.S. King novel might be fitting.  This one won the Printz Award, so safe bet, right?

I finished this book several days ago, and I'm just writing my review now because I needed time to let it soak in.  Despite that, I'm still feeling unsure of my final review.  So let's break it down by the good and the bad.

The good: I instantly took to Vera as a protagonist.  She's a bit of a loner, but she's got an attitude and thinks for herself, which is nice to see in a high schooler these days.  That's not to say that she always makes good decisions, but she's not a crowd-follower, so she's got that going for her.

The way the story is laid out makes it hard to put the book down.  Vera is a the primary narrator in the present time, but she also backtracks and gives you the history of her relationship with Charlie and her parents.  That history plays a major role in her present situation, so you're always wondering what details will be revealed next.  In between Vera's past/present narrative, you also have first person accounts from her dad, Charlie, and the Pagoda (an odd rundown landmark in her town).  I am generally a fan of multiple POV novels, and in one way it works because it keeps you on your toes--you never know what each new perspective is going to reveal.

The bad: Even though the multiple POVs did well in terms of building suspense, use of two of the four perspectives irked me as a reader.  First was the Charlie POV.  As indicated in the book's description, Charlie has died before the novel's start.  So when his POV is used, it is from him in the afterlife (his chapters open with "A Brief Word From the Dead Kid").  I think I've mentioned before that I do not like when authors use an unnatural perspective like this, because to me, it feels lazy (for lack of a better word).  Like, "Hmmm, how can I convey what Charlie was feeling in this situation while he was alive?  It's difficult to do it from Vera's POV...oh wait, let's just bring him back from the dead!"  I'm sure that's not actually what A.S. King's thought process was, but as a reader that's all that I could think when I read Charlie's chapters.

I also was not a fan of the chapters written from the Pagoda.  I get that these sections had a bit of deeper meaning, which I can appreciate, but...thoughts transcribed from a piece of architecture?  It was too far out there, and as a literary device it didn't work itself seamlessly into the narrative for me.

After breaking down the good and the bad, I'd say that I appreciated Please Ignore Vera Dietz for its core storyline and message.  However, the multiple POVs did not entirely work, and took away from the central action of the novel.  King definitely went out on a limb with her unique use of perspective, but for me, that attempt fell short.

Are you generally a fan of multiple-perspective novels?  Do you have specific books in which they did (or didn't) work for you?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio


Title: Wonder
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
Source: borrowed from a friend

Summary from Goodreads

August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside.

But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?

Narrated by Auggie and the people around him whose lives he touches forever, WONDER is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.


My Review:

In the past, I've often heard people describe various books as "tearjerkers".  And when I heard that, I would usually laugh, because I am not much of a cryer when it comes to my reading selections.  I generally reserve my tears for two things: personal issues, and videos of soldiers coming home and surprising their unsuspecting kids in school assemblies.  (RIGHT?!?!?)  But cry while reading a book?  NEVER!

Guess what?  Wonder is a tearjerker, y'all!

Wonder starts out from the perspective of our protagonist, Auggie, and it's hard not to love him from page one.  Having lived with a horrible facial deformity for his entire life, he is wise beyond his years (with an uncanny ability to interpret the world around him), but also harbors all of the insecurities and fears that you'd expect from a ten-year-old, let alone one who deals with being ridiculed on a daily basis.  I wanted to give him ALL THE HUGS by about page five.  His parents are pretty great too--you quickly see how lucky Auggie is to have such loving, funny, and protective parents.

However, I got even more enjoyment out of the chapters that were told from the perspective of his sister and several of his classmates.  The foundation of this novel is laid when you see how Auggie views himself--but that perspective becomes much richer when you understand how others see Auggie.  He and his classmates are at such a difficult age--the start of middle school is full of popularity contests, everyone is making or breaking a reputation, and trying to figure out if their inner image matches their outer image.  These challenges are made even tougher when ten-year-olds are faced with a classmate like Auggie.  Is it more important to be "cool" or to be friendly?  And is being friendly the same as being a friend?  (And does that matter to the person you're being friendly to?)

It's also interesting (and at times, sad) to see how the kids are influenced by their parents--not every parent is going to encourage their child to take the higher road, unfortunately.  This book was obviously written with young adults as the target audience, but as a parent, I also took a lot away from this in terms of the lessons I'd like to teach my kids about accepting and helping others.

And yes, I confess.  I cried.  During the last few pages.  (cue Usher)

It was worth the tears.  I hate it when this term is overused, but I think it's appropriate here: Wonder is going to hit you in the feels.

Wonder is the first book that my MOMS Club book club is reading together!  Any advice for us as we convene for the first time next week??  And of course...if you've read Wonder, what did you think?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giveaway and BANNED! Book Review: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous


Title: Go Ask Alice
Author: Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: September 14, 1971
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life. 

Read her diary. 

Enter her world.

You will never forget her. 


For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.


My Review:

That's right, it's one of my favorite literary weeks--BANNED BOOK WEEK!  During this event each year, Sheila at Book Journey hosts a little celebration on her blog, and this is the third year that I am participating.  It's a great excuse to explore the world of banned books and read some good ol' blacklisted literature.  You can check out my Banned Books Week reviews from the last two years here: Flowers for Algernon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  READ ALL THE BOOKS!


Alrighty, let's pipe down and review Go Ask Alice.  This book has been on my TBR for years--so many years that I finally added it to my "30 Before 35" list last year, in an effort to make sure I finally read it.  I thought the premise sounded interesting, especially because the diary was reportedly written by an actual anonymous teenager who suffered through a drug addiction.  This reminded me a lot of Crank by Ellen Hopkins (a fiction novel based on her daughter's real-life drug problems), and I was eager to get a different perspective on this issue.

However, pretty early in the book, I started to feel like something was a bit off.  Alice (the protagonist) was awfully preachy and introspective for someone with such a serious addiction.  On the days when she was sober, she was quick to reprimand herself for her behavior, and to explore the many moral ramifications of her actions.  This seemed unusual, given the tone of other addiction memoirs I have read.  At first, I chalked it up to the influences of a different era (this book is from 40 years ago, after all).  But then I was also a bit bothered because Alice's drug encounters always escalated so fast.  It was never just her getting high with her friends.  It was "I got high, and then I also got raped, and then suddenly I was selling LSD to 9-year-olds." 

I don't doubt that these types of things can happen when people truly sink into addiction, but for Alice, it was pretty constant to the point of feeling farfetched.

Finally, some Googling put this in a clearer perspective.  Apparently the author of Go Ask Alice isn't very anonymous at all--the author is Beatrice Sparks, who at the time of the book's release was a social worker and member of the Mormon faith (she has since passed away).  She was originally credited as just an "editor" of the book, but after some questions arose regarding the true identity of "Alice", it became clear that much of the book was written by Sparks herself.  Hence, preachy tone and conveniently trumped-up circumstances, meant to warn impressionable teens of the dangers of drugs.  (You can read more about the Sparks allegations here,)

After delving into that information, the often-banned status of Go Ask Alice became even more interesting to me.  Because first: why would parents and teachers want this book banned, if it's entire purpose is to warn teens away from drugs?  I suppose they're taking the abstinence approach--if we don't talk about drugs or sex or alcohol, then they'll just never do them!  (Yeah, let me know how that works out for you.)  And second: isn't it intriguing that this book was banned for drug/sex/etc references, when the REAL crime here is the authenticity of the writing?  It seems rather criminal to me that this is sold to teens as a real girl's diary, when in fact it is the work of a 40-something youth counselor.  Teens today are pretty savvy, and I'm guessing that many of them could see right through this writing.

Despite the crime against literary humanity that Sparks committed here, of course I (as always) feel that this book should not be banned.  There are other tales of drug addiction, written with more authenticity, that would be more likely to get through to modern-day teenagers.  However, the basic intent of this book (to show kids a "worst case scenario" for such behavior) is admirable, and if it keeps even a few teens away from these poor choices, then who can argue?

Have you read a banned book lately?  Check out the top 100 most banned books HERE.

Without further ado, it's GIVEAWAY TIME!  Let's celebrate banned books together!  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the banned book of your choice (from this list, limit of $15).  Giveaway is international, as I will be shipping through Book Depository.  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen


Title: Someone Like You
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: May 1, 2004
Source: won in a giveaway

Summary from Goodreads

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she's carrying his baby, she was devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it'll never break--because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever.

My Review:

I won this book in a giveaway sometime last year, and I profusely apologize to the blogger who sent it to me (along with another Dessen novel)...because I didn't make a note of it, and I haven't a clue who it was at this point.  Sorry, fellow blogger!  Please reveal yourself if you happen to read this!  :)

This review will be rather short, because Someone Like You struck me as very run-of-the-mill, cliche young adult lit.  That's not to say that it's a bad book.  I think it will appeal to YA audiences, especially the younger age groups in that market (late middle school/early high school).  But there's nothing unique or memorable here--I will likely forget this book within a couple of months.  (I will put money on it, especially because I've read two other Dessen books in the past--This Lullaby and Lock and Key--and couldn't tell you the faintest detail about them.)

Wow, that's not really the best way to get you interested in this novel, is it?  Like I said, despite it's blase feel as a whole, I still had fun reading it.  Halley is negotiating relationships with a lot of different people here--her mother, her best friend, her boyfriend, etc.  I liked that Dessen didn't always make Halley the "good guy" (and conversely, her antagonists were not always the "bad guys").  Halley screwed up just as much as they did.  Lots of teachable moments here for the teen audience.

That said, the ultimate outcomes were very predictable, and the ending was rather disappointing.  I felt like it ended a bit too early--the characters all went through a rather momentous event, and then it just ended.  I don't mind open-ended conclusions (as you all know), but this one was too clunky, not purposeful.

Overall: a nice way to pass the time, but Someone Like You isn't anything to write home about.

This was my fourth pick from the TBR Book Baggie! My next pick from the baggie is:

The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson!

I have no idea how I got this book on my shelf.  I think it was from a publisher, long ago?  But it's not an ARC, so I'm not entirely sure.  Ah well, looks interesting anyway...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.


My Review:

I heard crazy hype about this book for the last few months.  "It's the next Gone Girl!" they said.  "You won't believe the twist!" they said.  Plus, the summary (above) is reminiscent of the book jacket for Chris Cleave's Little Bee, which basically tells you absolutely nothing about the novel, and implores you to never tell anyone else about the novel before they've read it.  (In Little Bee's case, that description is entirely justified, so of course this piqued my interest.)  I had to see for myself.  To the library!

After waiting it out at #63 on the hold list, I finally got my chance at We Were Liars.  And I do see why this book is so hype-worthy.  From page one, you just get the sense that something is...off.  I wasn't sure if it was the protagonist (Cadence), her family, the setting (a secluded private island), or all of it.  But something was wrong, and I couldn't put my finger on it.  That eerie feeling compelled me to plow through the book at top speed...and yes, the climactic twist made it worth it.  It's one of those sudden plot changes that makes you want to go back and re-read the entire novel, because OH MY GOD, how did you not figure it out sooner?

That said...after I finished my speed-reading of the novel and had time to calm down after that rush of an ending, I did pinpoint a few things that I was a bit iffy on.  I can't go into too much detail (spoiler-free zone), but despite the amazingness of the big ending, I realized later that there were an awful lot of convenient details that caused that twist to happen.  Things that were ignored by the characters (or the author) that allowed that big event to be possible.  Thus, it all felt a little too neat, given the gravity of the circumstances.  I think this, more than anything, identified the book squarely in the YA genre for me, rather than giving it the ability to overlap with adult fiction.  I'm not trying to trash YA, but in general, those books tend to wrap things up more cleanly for a younger reading audience, versus the ambiguity that is more typical in adult novels.

This convenience factor was the only significant downside for me.  A smaller caveat was the overly-dramatic style of Cadence's narrative--she was always melting into puddles or bleeding on someone (figuratively, of course) and I started to roll my eyes a bit at the unnecessarily theatrical descriptions that were fairly constant in the text.  However, these did get less glaring as the novel went on, likely because the plot action picked up to a pace that started to match her emotional upheavals.

Final verdict on this hit novel of the summer?  Yes, I think you should read We Were Liars.  It's short and fast-paced, great for a beach read.  And the twist is 100% as good as the critics say.  Stylistically, it leaves a bit to be desired, which places it below a suspense novel like Gone Girl for me.  But if you want a novel that's going to keep you on your toes, it's an awesome pick.

Have you read We Were Liars this summer, friends?  What did you think?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A long reflection on the relative merits of Book Shaming.

I'm sure most of you have heard by now about the ever-so-controversial article written by Ruth Graham at Slate.com on June 5.  It's called "Against YA", and to quote its sub-heading, the basic premise is: "Read whatever you want.  But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."

Yes, Ms. Graham's message to adult readers is FOR SHAME if you enjoy YA novels.  They weren't written for you (in fact, they are way below your level), and it's cringe-worthy for you to advertise the fact that you read them.

I've read countless blog post responses to this article by now.  The general reaction seems to be outrage (unsurprisingly).  No one wants to be judged for their reading choices, and given the popularity of YA novels among all age groups these days, Ruth Graham sure hit a nerve by attacking this particular genre.

However, unlike many of my blog colleagues, I'll be honest and admit that my initial reaction was not a seething rage at the injustice of what basically amounts to Book Shaming.  I know, THE HORROR!

Let me explain.  Yes, deep down my gut reaction was to feel upset by one reader telling another reader that their chosen literature is not acceptable.  I read what I want, dammit!  No one tells me otherwise!

HOWEVER.

I was immediately stopped in my tracks by the thought that I, also, am a Book Shamer from time to time.  You see, I make NO secret of the fact that I lose a little respect for readers who tell me that the 50 Shades trilogy is among their favorite books of all time.  And honestly, if a fellow 30-year-old told me that Twilight was the best thing they've read in the last decade, I'd be giving them a bit of the side-eye.

So why is it not okay for Ruth Graham to get judgy, but it's OK for me to be judgy?  I spent much time on this conundrum.  The struggle was real, peeps.  And for me, it comes down to two things.

NUMBER ONE: Some books are not well-written.  I am kind of snarky when people say that they love those books.

Because let's be honest: 50 Shades of Grey, its subject matter completely aside, is not winning any awards for awesome writing, grammatically or stylistically.  I haven't read the whole thing, but I've read enough to make that determination with some authority.  It is the paper equivalent of online fanfic, and it shows.  Thus, it is hard for me to take it seriously when someone tells me this is their favorite book.  At least expose yourself to authors that make better use of a thesaurus before you put this in your hall of fame.

YA novels are generally not poorly written.  Ruth Graham may not think the subject matter is at an adult level, but you can't argue that the writing is downright awesome in many cases.

NUMBER TWO: Once adults reach a certain age, I begin to expect that they've become a somewhat well-rounded reader.

This is kind of related to number one, in that I expect other adults around my age to have read MORE than just YA (or sci fi, or chick lit, or historical fiction, pick a genre).  And perhaps this point makes me more judgy than the first point does.  But if I find myself talking books with someone my own age, I guess I'd be surprised if they told me they never branched out beyond one genre.  I'm not saying you should be reading Moby Dick or War and Peace to be considered "well-read".  But you never tried anything beyond Jodi Picoult or Emily Giffin?  As much as I love those authors, I'm a little surprised.

I suppose what it comes down to is this: if you've read novels in a bunch of different genres, and you still think Twilight is your favorite, be my guest.  That's your opinion, and even if I don't share it, it's yours and OWN IT, GURRRRL.  But if your reading repertoire is 99% Twilight, Divergent, Matched, etc. and you declare them to be the bastions of modern literature...yes, I find myself being a wee bit judgmental.  Because how can you know something is a true favorite, if you've never really tried to pair it against anything else?  (And no, the Bronte and Thoreau you were required to read in high school don't count.)

So, as for Ruth Graham: at its core, no, I don't agree with her article.  Shaming someone just for reading YA, because you find it too simplistic for adult minds, seems extreme, outrageous, and yes, overly judgmental.  Even if you think YA is below the reading level of an adult, isn't it ridiculous to make adults feel ashamed when they choose to delve into this genre?  You glean different details and meanings from YA as an adult than you do as a teenager, and that alone makes it worth trying once you've reached an older age.

However--if she was aghast at adults who read YA and only YA (or only any one genre)...I might be a little more sympathetic.  Because why pigeonhole yourself?  Isn't there something to be said for being a well-rounded reader?

I guess my subheading should be "read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed if you never try anything different."

What do you think, readers?  Am I being a total judgy mcjudgerson here?  Have you ever been a "book shamer"?  What are your thoughts on the article?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: Fallout by Ellen Hopkins


Title: Fallout (Crank trilogy #3)
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads: (SPOILERS from the first two books)

Hunter, Autumn, and Summer—three of Kristina Snow’s five children—live in different homes, with different guardians and different last names. They share only a predisposition for addiction and a host of troubled feelings toward the mother who barely knows them, a mother who has been riding with the monster, crank, for twenty years.
Hunter is nineteen, angry, getting by in college with a job at a radio station, a girlfriend he loves in the only way he knows how, and the occasional party. He's struggling to understand why his mother left him, when he unexpectedly meets his rapist father, and things get even more complicated. Autumn lives with her single aunt and alcoholic grandfather. When her aunt gets married, and the only family she’s ever known crumbles, Autumn’s compulsive habits lead her to drink. And the consequences of her decisions suggest that there’s more of Kristina in her than she’d like to believe. Summer doesn’t know about Hunter, Autumn, or their two youngest brothers, Donald and David. To her, family is only abuse at the hands of her father’s girlfriends and a slew of foster parents. Doubt and loneliness overwhelm her, and she, too, teeters on the edge of her mother’s notorious legacy. As each searches for real love and true family, they find themselves pulled toward the one person who links them together—Kristina, Bree, mother, addict. But it is in each other, and in themselves, that they find the trust, the courage, the hope to break the cycle.
Told in three voices and punctuated by news articles chronicling the family’s story, FALLOUT is the stunning conclusion to the trilogy begun by CRANK and GLASS, and a testament to the harsh reality that addiction is never just one person’s problem.

My Review:

As with any review of a second or third book in a trilogy, I shall warn you: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS from book #1 (Crank) and book #2 (Glass).  You can check out those reviews here and here.

Got that out of the way?  Good!  On to Fallout.

Fallout is quite different from the first two books in this trilogy.  I almost think of Crank and Glass as one big, long book, because they are both told from Kristina's perspective and have very little lag time in the time periods between the two novels.  However, Fallout is about 17 years removed from the second novel, and is told from three perspectives: those of Kristina's oldest kids, Hunter, Autumn, and Summer.  So, Fallout definitely stands out as a bit of a change-up in the trilogy.

In the beginning, I wasn't sure I liked this change in perspective.  After being so immersed in Kristina's POV for 2 books, I was feeling too disconnected reading from her children's view.  Also, the first two books, though technically fictional, were based on fact, whereas this book is entirely fictional (the real-life "Hunter" was only 13 when this was written, not 19 as he is in the novel).  I could feel that switch in authenticity just a bit, because at times, it felt like Hopkins was trying too hard to prove a point.  What I mean is: each child had very obvious ways that they were affected by Kristina's behavior.  Hunter had anger issues, Autumn had OCD and panic attacks, etc. and this laundry list of "typical" outcomes from being raised by an addict didn't seem to flow naturally within the plot.

However--as I got to know the three protagonists more and more, their individual histories started to blend a bit better.  I fell into their lives more easily.  By the end, each character felt like a well-rounded person, and not just a poster child for the effects of drug abuse.  Plus, Hopkins comes up with a pretty genius way to bring their stories together at the end, right alongside Kristina's, which tied things up nicely (even if their futures still seemed uncertain).

An added bonus is that the children's stories are interspersed with fictional news articles that catch you up on the lives of some of the side characters introduced in the first two books.  Adam from Crank, Brad and his kids from Glass, etc.  This was a nice addition to the central story.

Overall, despite my uncertain start, Fallout may have been the best of the three in this trilogy.  The changing perspectives allowed me to see the first two books in a bit of a different light, while also highlighting the tidal wave of ill effects that Kristina brought down upon her friends and family during her drug addiction.  Even though this book, of the three, is the most "fictional", I still find it sad that Hopkins wrote this often-depressing projection of the future based on the terrible battle that her own daughter is (still) facing with meth.

Just like with the first two books--I highly recommend this trilogy.  And if you read the first two, your experience is definitely not complete until you finish Fallout.

Readers, what's the best trilogy you've read lately?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source: won in a giveaway hosted by Jessica @ The Firefly Book Loft

Summary from Goodreads

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

My Review:

Hear ye, hear ye!  I bring you the 3,209,577th book review of The Fault in Our Stars!  I know, I know, let's try not to get too excited.

I put this book off for SO LONG.  Just so much hype, you know?  Although at this point, I have no idea why I put off hyped-up books.  Am I really afraid they won't live up to it?  Because that has not been my experience, like AT ALL.  I didn't get into Harry Potter until the third or fourth book was out...and then I became a total groupie.  I felt like the last person ever to read Gone Girl, and it was AMAZING.  The list goes on.  And I'm happy to add The Fault in Our Stars to it.

A lot has already been said about this novel, so I'll try to keep this short.

Honestly, I was afraid that people were mostly in this one for the romance.  I kept hearing about Hazel and Augustus, and how amazing they were, and *eyeroll eyeroll eyeroll* (because that's what I do with literary romances).  But for me, it wasn't about their romance per se (though I can see how that would make the teen set swoon).  It was their relationship as a whole, romantic or no.  Hazel and Augustus play off of each other so well.  Their dialogue is whip-smart and funny without feeling contrived, and they just have this chemistry that comes alive for you on the page.

Secondly, the writing.  I know that's a really generic thing to talk about, but John Green wrote this book so well, it made me a little depressed.  I know, you're like, what the?  Why are you upset about this?  BECAUSE.  Like so many avid readers, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book myself one day.  But then you read a book that's written as well as TFIOS, and it makes you say, "WELL CRAP.  I can never, ever, ever write anything with even half the mastery of the English language that John Green has used here, so goodbye, sweet writing dreams."  Seriously, John Green, way to just ruin it for all of us.  I would insert a really excellent quote from the book here to illustrate my point, but there are JUST SO MANY that you might as well read the thing rather than listening to me quote all of it.

I could get really lengthy here, but I'm going to try to put the brakes on.  A few more quick things: the ending was not predictable.  You WILL get emotionally involved with the characters.  There is an amazing balance between humor and sadness that John Green manages with impressive skill.  Pretty sure I've never laughed so much during a book about cancer before, and yet this is still one of the heaviest novels (emotion-wise...it's only 300ish pages, not that kind of heavy) that I've read in a while.

The obvious conclusion here is that The Fault in Our Stars lives up to the hype.  Every last bit of it.

Readers: what's the last super-hyped book you read that was worth the publicity it received?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: Glass by Ellen Hopkins


Title: Glass (Crank trilogy #2)
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: August 21, 2007
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Crank. Glass. Ice. Crystal. Whatever you call it, it's all the same: a monster. And once it's got hold of you, this monster will never let you go.
Kristina thinks she can control it. Now with a baby to care for, she's determined to be the one deciding when and how much, the one calling the shots. But the monster is too strong, and before she knows it, Kristina is back in its grips. She needs the monster to keep going, to face the pressures of day-to-day life. She needs it to feel alive.
Once again the monster takes over Kristina's life and she will do anything for it, including giving up the one person who gives her the unconditional love she craves -- her baby.
The sequel to Crank, this is the continuing story of Kristina and her descent back to hell. Told in verse, it's a harrowing and disturbing look at addiction and the damage that it inflicts.

My Review:

As with any review of a second or third book in a trilogy, I shall warn you: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS from book #1 (Crank).  You can check out my Crank review here.

Got that out of the way?  Good!  On to Glass.

This review won't be terribly long, because Glass is similar to Crank in so many ways.  It is told from Kristina's perspective again, in verse, but this time she's given birth to her son Hunter, and she's been clean for a while as a result.  She's trying hard to be a good mom and finish her high school education.  Unfortunately, that doesn't last long, as she gets reintroduced to drugs via crystal meth.  The results are, as you'd expect, disastrous.  And I'd say Kristina's descent into drug-fueled mayhem is about 1000 times worse this time around, because now there's an infant thrown into the mix.

The transition from Crank to Glass is so smooth, you'll feel like you've just continued reading the same book.  Kristina's voice is very similar, her drug-induced disasters reminding you of her past mistakes.  However, the big difference here is that in Glass, Kristina no longer struggles as much between her "Kristina" and "Bree" personas.  She has very nearly given herself over to "Bree" completely...or at least, Bree wins out much more easily than she ever did before.  There's a sense of hopelessness that is much deeper than what you'll experience in the first book.

As with Crank, Glass hits you that much harder when you realize that it's based on a true story--that of Ellen Hopkins' own daughter, Cristal.  When I went to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, Hopkins indicated that Crank is about 40% fact, based on her recreation of Cristal's slide into addiction.  However, Glass is even closer to the truth, as Hopkins was able to discuss this period of her daughter's life directly with Cristal in between prison sentences.  I won't tell you all the other updates she gave about Cristal's life (I'll save those for after the last book, so as not to spoil this one), but hers is a very upsetting story indeed.  Hopkins illustrates that sadness in great detail through this trilogy.

If Crank was good, I daresay Glass is better.  Not light reading by any means, but these are important books, especially for those struggling with addiction (or those who know an addict).  Stay tuned for book #3, Fallout...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: Crank by Ellen Hopkins


Title: Crank
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: October 1, 2004
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the "monster," the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or "crank." Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne'er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: "there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree." Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won't, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.


My Review:

OK, I'm going to start with three quick, random points before I get to the actual review.  First: this book is 537 pages long, and I devoured it in less than 24 hours.  (Reminder: stay a home mom. Two young kids. Barely enough time to tie my own shoes most days.)  IT'S THAT GOOD.

Second: this is a book about a girl who develops a meth addiction in Albuquerque.  What, exactly, is the deal with meth in Albuquerque?
Breaking Bad? Anybody?
Third: you may have guessed it...this is YA, another read from an author that will be at the Rochester Teen Book Festival.  I was especially excited to see Ellen Hopkins on the list, because I've heard buzz about her novels for years now.  However, this is the first one I've ever picked up.  And now I know that the hype is justified.

Crank is written from Kristina/Bree's perspective, in verse.  At first I wasn't sure about a book that was written as a poem, but I didn't have to be worried at all--the poetry is not lyrical or rhyming, so it's not like 500+ pages of singsong-type storytelling.  But the poetic structure is still essential, because it makes Kristina's story more...edgy, somehow.  It illustrates her journey in a way that regular ol' prose would not.  (Also explains my ability to read this in a day...short lines of verse, way easier to read than dense pages of paragraphs.)  Overall I think this was an awesome structural choice by Hopkins, and it definitely makes the book stand out in a crowd.

Aside from the poetic structure, Crank is powerful because Kristina's downward spiral into drug-fueled hell feels so disturbingly realistic.  (And sadly, that is likely because it is based on Hopkins' own daughter, who battled a terrible drug addiction for many years.)  Kristina is not an underprivileged girl, a troublemaker, promiscuous.  No, she is a straight-A do-gooder, no boyfriends to speak of, walking the straight and narrow.  And this makes her downfall that much more horrific.  It's like that saying about the traffic accident that you drive by and can't look away--that's what reading Crank feels like.

This book is raw, emotional, sad...and I'm already a third of the way through its sequel (Glass), with the third installment of the trilogy (Fallout) waiting on my nightstand.  DEVOUR THIS.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: Croak by Gina Damico


Title: Croak
Author: Gina Damico
Publisher: Graphia Books
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex's parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape.

But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can't stop her desire for justice - or is it vengeance? - whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again.

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?


My Review:

Yet another great young adult read in preparation for the Rochester Teen Book Festival!  So far I have really lucked out with the awesome authors I've been introduced to as I work my way through books for the event.

I saw Croak doing the blog rounds back when I started my little webspace here in 2012.  I remember seeing a lot of good reviews, but at the time I wasn't in much of a YA mood, so I skipped it.  However, when I saw that Gina Damico was going to be at TBF, I figured it was time to give this book a try.  Admittedly, I was a little skeptical at first...this is borderline with the YA paranormal genre, which I have been HIGHLY leery of since Twilight.  But I'm happy to report that my reservations were unfounded.

Croak gave me so much to love.  First you have Lex, your highly volatile, rude, humorous, and smart protagonist.  She has a harder core than most other teenage main characters, which is probably why I liked her so much.  Plus, she does have a love interest in this novel, but thankfully it's not all schmoopy-doopy, which I cannot stand in YA books (OMG, Bella and Edward, give me a BREAK).

But the very best thing about Croak is the world-building.  Damico has come up with one of the most interesting interpretations of the afterlife that I've ever encountered.  It does make me laugh a little--the idea of a tiny town in the Adirondacks where Grim Reapers live, quietly storing the souls of all the dead as unassuming hikers and tourists live around them.  But Damico gives it such a clear backstory that it's hard not to find it believable.

The only bummer about this book?  I had no idea (until the end) that it's part of a TRILOGY!  GAHHHHH.  Here I was, expecting a nice wrapped-up ending, and instead I earned myself a cliffhanger and two more books on my TBR list.  Ah well.  Given how much I liked Croak, I'm definitely going to have to track down Scorch and Rogue (books 2 and 3) ASAP.

Don't fear the reaper, readers!  Have you read any books that have interesting interpretations of the afterlife?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: Ask The Passengers by A.S. King


Title: Ask The Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

My Review:

Oh man, I forgot how much I enjoy a really good, fo' serious YA novel.  I read a few in the last year or two, and they were okay, but many are so focused on angsty boy-meets-girl plotlines that they felt more like fluff reads than anything else.  But then I got my socks knocked off by Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, so I decided to follow that up with Ask The Passengers.  GREAT CHOICE.  This is the first time I've read anything by A.S. King, but it certainly won't be the last!  And I'm now very excited to meet her at the Rochester Teen Book Festival in May.

I hereby declare that this book should be required reading for adolescents.  Not just those that are questioning their sexuality, but ALL teens.  Because Astrid goes through some pretty awful bullying as her sexual identity becomes more public.  I sometimes lose sight of the fact that not everyone grows up in an area like mine, where views on the LGBTQ lifestyle are generally accepting.  (I say generally because...as we all know, there are haters everywhere.  Unfortunately.)  I had friends that came out in high school, and it didn't create nearly the ripples (more like tidal waves) that Astrid has to face in the close-minded community of Unity Valley.  This book is great for any teenager in the midst of their sexual-identity journey, as well as those who want to understand how to better support their friends and family members going through such an exploration.

What makes this stand out in YA LGBTQ literature?  Number one is Astrid.  She is such a great character.  She's often snarky and sarcastic, despite the difficult issues she's constantly facing.  Plus, her frank discussions about sexuality are refreshing (and the primary reason why I think all teens should read this).  I love her habit of "sending love" to the passengers of airplanes that she sees flying above her.  At first, I didn't know what to make of that ritual, but I like how King uses it as a way to explore the relationship problems that many of the passengers themselves are facing (she often segues to little side-stories about the passengers that Astrid has "sent her love" to).  This whole idea gives the book a unique premise, something more than your average YA novel.

GAH, you guys!!  Are all the Rochester TBF authors going to be this good?  Ask The Passengers was an awesome read, and has made me want to be all BFF-like with the YA genre again...for a little while, at least.  :)

Readers: have you read any other books that tackle teen LGBTQ issues in a powerful way?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson


Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: March 19, 2009
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.


Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.


My Review:

I was going to start off by telling you that this novel is "heavy" reading, then realized that could be seen as inappropriately punny.  So please trust me and take it in a completely no-pun-intended way when I tell you this is HEAVY STUFF.

I read Anderson's Speak many years ago, and I remember thinking that it was especially hard-hitting compared to other YA novels I had read.  I get really turned off by young adult novels that are too fluffy or romance-based, probably because I know that when I was a teen, that didn't feel reflective of my age bracket.  Adolescence seemed to carry more importance, and as an adult, I like it when YA authors have an appreciation for that feeling.

Anderson is one of the authors at the Rochester Teen Book Festival this year, so I decided to delve into another one of her books before the event.  Wintergirls gets fantastic reviews, and now I know that it's for a very good reason.  Anderson certainly has a talent for shining the light on difficult teenage issues, in a way that provides good reading for both YA and adult readers.

What stands out here?  Tops would have to be the imagery in Anderson's writing.  Her use of metaphors/similes is impressive, because done the wrong way, they could make the novel seem like it's trying too hard.  Instead, the way they are inserted in Lia's internal dialogue makes her words feel more...true, in a way.  They illustrate exactly how much her anorexia is making life crumble at her feet.

But the core of Anderson's success here is simply the clarity with which she is able to write about anorexia and bulimia.  This is, without question, the best fictional account of eating disorders that I've ever read, the one that has the truest understanding of those conditions.  When I say that this book could be life-changing for teenagers struggling with body image issues, I am not being grandiose.  That's a fact.

Wintergirls is easily one of most outstanding YA novels I've read in a very, very long time.  Get on it!

Readers: have you read any other books that tackle eating disorders in a powerful way?
 
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