Thursday, April 27, 2017

What we're reading: The asteroid is coming!

Reviewed by Anarda, teen librarian   

Before the asteroid, the teens in We All Looked Up, by Tommy Wallach, fell into the typical tropes of high school:
  • Simple-minded star athlete with beautiful, popular but shallow girlfriend
  • Slacker dude who hangs out with a crazy druggie/dealer friend
  • Athlete's sister, girlfriend of the druggie
  • Artsy girl labeled as a slut
  • Type A girl with super-strict parents (who is the only African American character in this otherwise white world)
But after they learned it was coming, and discovered the earth just might be in its path, well...what do you do when you know your life may end in eight weeks?

I followed the various collisions of these teens as they scrambled to make sense (or nonsense) of their lives, each in their own alternating chapters, and it works for the most part--the tropes evolve. I thought the story sagged a bit two-thirds of the way through, and a couple of the teens did not seem to expand much from their original conceptions, while the adults were barely present, mostly cardboard cutouts too easy to knock down. The ending, however, was good--not too American, which was a surprise.

My recommendation is that you also read Tommy Wallach's Thanks For The Trouble, a wonderful bookend to the question he asks in this book. It's a fine meditation on why life is worth living, and when it can stop being worth living. The title comes from a Leonard Cohen song, "Famous Blue Raincoat," and the idea that someone took the trouble to end someone else's pain, a stranger's no less, is inspiring.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Teen review: Library of Souls

Library of Souls
(Book #3 in Miss Peregrine series)

by Ransom Riggs
464 pages
Appropriate for ages 11 up

Reviewed by M.S. (11th Grade)

In the final installment of the Miss Peregrine series, Jacob and Emma have to travel through London as well as through various time loops in order to find their friends, who were taken by wights. They discover new types of peculiars and enemies, some of whom they have to work with in order to save their friends, who are trapped in the headquarters of the wights. While fighting their enemies, Jacob and Emma discover the horrors that await their friends and realize they are in a race against time.

Library of Souls is not as action-packed as Hollow City was; the plot focuses a lot more on the characters and their relationships. The book is still stressful and filled with adventure, which I really enjoyed because it never got boring. I enjoyed this book both the most and the least out of the entire series. I loved how it was written and how most of the book was about the characters and their own battles, but disliked that this was the final book. I grew attached to the characters because they were so complex and relatable. I applaud Ransom Riggs for writing such an enjoyable series that had a perfect and unexpected ending. I highly recommend reading this book, and I would rate it 5 out of 5.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What we're reading: Teens' Top Ten nominees

Every year about this time, a list of books is published by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). They are the nominees to become this past year's "Teens' Top Ten." These books are nominated by book club teens from 15 schools and public libraries around the country; the list is out from April until August, to give other teens ample opportunity to read the 25 or 26 (this year there are 26) nominated books to see which ones they like best, and then from August 15 until Teen Read Week in October, teens can go online to the TTT page on the YALSA website to pick their top three. From these votes, the ballot of 25 is winnowed down to 10 winners, which are announced during Teen Read Week.

Every year, we at Burbank Public Library make sure that we have copies of all the nominees for you to check out, and we publish a handy ballot so you can keep track of which books you read and what you thought of them, so that voting in August is easy. The ballots usually come out at the beginning of the Teen Summer Reading Program in early June.

I decided to get a jump on things by reading a few of these books now, and I just finished one called Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch.

The story parallels other YA books about teens who are sent away to boarding school for their senior year, or sent away for the summer, or sent anywhere they aren't particularly interested in going. In this case, though, there is a tragic reason for Lina to be sent to Tuscany this summer: Her mother, Hadley, just died of pancreatic cancer at a young age, and Hadley's dying wish was for Lina to get to know her father, who lives in Italy. This is news to Lina; it's always been just she and her mom, and her father was never discussed. But during Hadley's last weeks in the hospital, all she wanted to do was to tell Lina stories about her college years, which she spent in Florence, and the best friend, Howard, with whom she spent them. It isn't until after she's dead that Lina's grandmother reveals that this Howard guy is Lina's father.

So now Lina is off to visit him; but there is some understandable resentment, since all she can think about is, where the heck was he for the past 16 years, and why is she just finding out about him now? When she arrives at his house (which is located inside the boundaries of the American graveyard for the armed forces in Italy, where Howard acts as a sort of historian/caretaker), his co-worker presents her with a journal that her mother sent over, a journal that Hadley kept during her college years, and with its help and that of a cute and friendly half-American half-Italian boy next door, Lina begins to make sense of just what led to her conception.

While I started out thinking the author was being quirky just for the sake of being quirky (although I have to admit I have fantasized about living in a little house inside a graveyard--there's one in the Hollywood Forever cemetery they use to store tools, but I always thought it would make a cool secret retreat), and found the protagonist initially just too TOO sulky teenage girl, the book quickly grew on me. I empathized with the degree of her grief over her mother, liked the device of the diary, loved all the details about Florence, hoped Howard would finally get something out of life that he wanted, and tolerated the little romance. The romance was probably the thing that put me off the most, simply because it was sooooo insta-love (c'mon, she knows him for five days?!),'s Florence, there's gelato and pastry and pasta and statues and art and cathedrals, so who could help it, right?

I think teens who enjoyed Stephanie Perkins's book, Anna and the French Kiss, would love this, as would fans of Maureen Johnson's Little Blue Envelopes series, and the book is written in a manner that is entirely appropriate for middle-schoolers, although older teens will enjoy it too.

Next I'm going to try The Diabolic, by S. J. Kincaid, a book set in the future when people have moved outward across the universe to other worlds, and have created creatures from human DNA who are programmed to be the world's most loyal bodyguards. Diabolics are not considered human; but when one is required to masquerade as her mistress, and begins to experience feelings she shouldn't be able to have, she starts to wonder whether that's true...

Look for the Teens' Top Ten ballot starting June 5 at the library!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Teen review: Hollow City

Hollow City
(Book #2 of Miss Peregrine series)
by Ransom Riggs
396 pages
Appropriate for ages 11 up

Reviewed by M.S., grade 11

Jacob Portman and his peculiar friends have escaped the clutches of their enemies, the hollowgasts and wights, and headed  for London in order to find a peculiar person who can help their caretaker,  who is trapped in the form of a bird. On their journey, they discover other groups of peculiars who assist them, and they also learn how dangerous the hollowgasts  and wights have become. While trying to protect each other and dodging death,  the group of peculiars face difficult tasks while Jacob discovers his new abilities and learns that he may lose his girlfriend, Emma, another peculiar.

Hollow City is definitely the most action-packed and stressful book of the Miss Peregrine series. With new surprises and battles to face, this book kept me entertained for the three days I spent reading it. Once again there is a plot twist, but it is even bigger than the one in the previous book. Hollow City was written beautifully and sets up the third book,  Library of Souls, perfectly. Be sure to have tissues when you read this; ­­you may need them! I highly recommend reading this book,  and I would rate it
5 out of 5.

Editor's note: These books are also available as e-books, audio books, and as graphic novels!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Teen Review: Peculiar Children!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Fantasy, adventure
352 pages
First of a trilogy
Appropriate for ages 12+ (brief cursing)

Reviewed by M.S., grade 11

Jacob Portman is a simple teenager with rich parents living in Florida. Jacob decides to travel to an island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather grew up, in order to find out more about him and the people with whom he lived. Jacob discovers the home his grandfather lived in had been destroyed, and also that the people he lived with were children with peculiar abilities. By chance, Jacob is able to find these children and discover that they are much more dangerous than they seem.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the first novel of a trilogy and one of the best books I read in 2016 (and I read more than a dozen). It depicts life as a teenager and takes readers on an exciting journey full of action, young love, and a plot twist that caused me to put the book down for an hour to process it. The characters are incredibly complex, to the point where you can relate to nearly all of them because they are so realistic and multi­dimensional.

I highly recommend reading this book, and I would rate it a 5 out of 5.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

6+7 Book Club Report for April

For April's meeting of the 6+7 Book Club, 14 of us discussed Among the Hidden, the first book in a seven-book series called "Shadow Children," by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

The story is about a future dystopia in which food is scarce and a totalitarian government has put into place a population law that allows families to have only two children. The protagonist of the first book is a third child who was conceived by a farmer and his wife shortly after the law was enacted; they really wanted more children and figured the law would be a passing thing, but it turned out not to be, so their third son, Luke, has been a complete secret from the world since birth.

As the story begins, the forest around Luke's family's farm is being chopped down to make way for a massive real estate development of luxury homes designed for the "barons" (the upper class elite), so Luke's few freedoms (working in the fields or hanging out in the barn or the yard) have been further curtailed to the point where he is a prisoner in his own home, hardly daring to poke his nose out of his attic bedroom. And then one day, while looking at the neighborhood through a conveniently placed vent in the attic, Luke sees a shadowy form moving around in the house next door when he knows for a fact that none of the four family members are home, and he discovers that he's not the only shadow child in the neighborhood.

The reaction to this book was distinctly mixed. There was one absolute fan, a majority in the middle of the pack, and three who disliked the book. The fans liked the premise, and thought the characters were approachable and sympathetic, while the others felt the book was too short, and felt more like a chapter in a larger work than a book that could stand on its own, even as a part of a series. A few people stated their intention to continue reading the series, but over all, it wasn't one of the club's favorites, and got a fairly low rating of 6.25 out of 10.

Next month's book, for our last meeting of the school year, is The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman; although I wouldn't dare to anticipate reactions, I'd say that a book whose opening line is "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife" is bound to be popular!

Since we didn't need to spend time choosing a new book (we choose September's book at a special August meeting), we went around the circle and book-talked all the books we are reading. What an eclectic group of readers we have! Soon they will get the chance to book-talk at Book Café, during the teen summer reading program on June 6!

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, May 9.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Guest review: Caraval

by Stephanie Garber
407 pages
Fantasy fiction
First book in a series
Reading level: high school

Reviewed by Farah, one of our "Millennial" friends, and a member of the Genre X book club

Caraval is a tale of two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella, who escape their cruel father when they enter the dangerous games of Caraval. Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance in which the audience participates, are over. However, this year Scarlett finally receives an invitation; but this is soon followed by the revelation of secrets about the true nature of Caraval, whose sole target this year is her sister Tella!

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game.

First of all, what attracted me to the book was its stunning cover, which is smooth to the touch and renders the title as part of a star, like Caraval should be. Cover aside, you’d want what followed to be just as attractive, and it was, with an elaborate design, a map, and various letters. 

I was impressed by this book. It had a unique style, concept and execution, all of which kept me hooked until the end. Although it’s not (specifically) a competition, it plays a game with the reader, and the writing paired with the characters combine to create a thrilling and exciting ride. What I loved about it is that there’s growth in this book. There’s no sort of “learning before the character” types of situations, because we learn WITH Scarlett, and become engulfed in the action of it, which keeps the reader on her/his toes. This novel kept me guessing, like any show you’d watch on TV. Stephanie Garber did an amazing job, by never letting us know for sure what will happen next. This novel was magical and written somewhat like a fairy tale, which I adored. There is romance in this novel,but it wasn't overbearing or the sole focus of the story. It was sweet, yet we always focused on the plot.

This novel is part of a series. This one was published this year, but I do recommend to read the next ones in the series. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed in it if you loved this one. I give this book a 4.5 out of 5.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Calling High School Age Writers!

The Northridge Review is a literary and arts journal, produced by students in the creative writing program at California State University Northridge.

Founded in 1962 as a campus publication of student work, Northridge Review now seeks to broaden its scope and join the larger literary community by moving to an online format and publishing exceptional student work alongside established and emerging writers from across the globe.

The journal encourages submissions of timely, provocative, and innovative Prose, Poetry, Drama, and Art that pushes boundaries in subversive, disruptive, or other challenging ways.

For details or to submit your work, visit:

Submissions for the Fall 2017 online issue will close April 19, 2017.