Saturday, August 3, 2013

Teen Review: The Hunger Games (yes, again!)

The Hunger Games is a sci-fi dystopic novel by Suzanne Collins. It was written in 2008 and is the first in the world-famous trilogy. The Hunger Games takes place in the future in Panem, a nation where North America once existed. It’s told from 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s point of view. The 374-page book really takes off in District 12, where the tributes are being chosen to participate in the 74th annual Hunger Games, a “game” in which one boy and one girl from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to compete in a gruesome battle to the death against more than 20 other kids. At first, Katniss's 12-year-old sister, Primrose, "wins" the lottery and is chosen to compete, but Katniss volunteers, taking her sister's place. A boy in Katniss's grade, Peeta Mellark, is chosen as the boy tribute. The two are then sent off to the Capitol, where they are mentored, interviewed, and then thrown into the arena with 22 other kids around their age. In previous years, only one victor per game has come out alive, but could this year be the exception if love is involved? The “star-crossed lovers,” Peeta and Katniss, test this, but not for the reasons you’d think.

I am in 9th grade and I would put this at a 6th-12th grade reading level despite the violence that happens in the arena.

I enjoyed the book because of its originality, if that makes sense. I was just fascinated that someone could come up with an idea like this, where the government actually punishes its people for rebelling by enclosing 24 teenagers in a controlled environment until only one is left standing.

I also enjoyed how constant the action was. I guess the fact that it was a battle to the death helped play a role in this, but honestly, I couldn’t put the book down. Each chapter gave me a reason to stay up all night and finish the book (which I did).

I’d definitely give this book a 5/5. The Hunger Games is the total package because of the drama, violence, love triangle, concept, plot, writing, and so much more. I could go on, but I think you’re only reading this to see if The Hunger Games is actually worth the trip to the library or bookstore. So to answer your question, yes, this book this one of my favorites and I highly recommend that you read it.

Reviewed by Anonymous, 9th grade

Editor's note: We have multiple copies available at each library branch of this book plus the two sequels, due to just such enthusiasm for this series! We also have the audio book, the DVD, a CD of "songs from District 12," the official Hunger Games movie companion, and the unofficial cookbook! We're all about the Hunger Games here in District Burbank.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Teen Review: Friendship at Auschwitz

A review by M.G. Lewis, ninth grade

If you’re in the mood for a quick read that will leave you heartbroken and teary-eyed, then you might want to check out The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. This 213-page work of historical fiction has dark themes and events for the majority of the story; however, it is told from an eight-year-old’s perspective, so the dark events are either not confronted directly, or misinterpreted. It is more the overall message and situation that is haunting. Due to this, as a ninth-grader, I would put The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which stands alone as having no prequels or sequels relating to it) at a 9-12 grade reading level.

This book takes place in Germany during the time of World War II, and is told from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy, Bruno. Due to Bruno’s young age, he does not understand the majority of what is happening around him, including the violence and discrimination. One deduces that Bruno’s father is the Kommandant (German for "Commander") of the famous concentration camp, Auschwitz. Like I’ve said, Bruno does not understand this; however, anyone with a fair knowledge of the Second World War can easily deduce the situation. While living in the Kommandant’s quarters, Bruno decides to explore the long plain of grassy fields next to his house, which contains a gate that Bruno’s parents have told him specifically not to tread near. But one day, Bruno meets a boy about his age on the other side of the gate wearing what looks to Bruno like “striped pajamas,” earning the novel its name. Bruno does not understand that this is a Jewish prisoner, and neither of the boys really understand that they are supposed to be enemies; this book tells the story of the friendship that ensues.

Despite it being a work of fiction, this story is hauntingly realistic, and can really open up one’s eyes to what it must have been like for children in Germany during World War II. Bruno’s naive essence is something I think the child in all of us can relate to, and be empathetic towards. I would recommend this book to anyone who is emotionally strong enough to take a not-so-happy plotline with an even less happy ending. Despite the emotional scars it has given me, I would give The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a 5/5 rating.

Editor's note: The library also owns this as an audio book, and has the DVD of the film.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Teen Review: Liars!

“Oh my gosh, did you watch Pretty Little Liars last night?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t believe that she was A!”

“I know! And the ending!”

“I still can’t believe it!”

Right away, you know exactly what these two are talking about. More than half of the girls at my school, maybe even some of the guys, watch the show on ABC Family. However, not as many have read any of the books. The show is actually based on a book series by Sara Shepard. Both share the name Pretty Little Liars.

The series started in 2006 when Shepard published the first book of 16, Pretty Little Liars. This 304-page mystery takes place in Rosewood, Pennsylvania. The book has the perfect introduction, immediately taking you back to the night that Alison DiLaurentis, the blonde teen who pretty much ruled Rosewood by blackmailing people, disappeared. She ran off after a fight with a friend, Spencer Hastings, while at a sleepover with their other friends, Hanna Marin, Emily Fields, and Aria Montgomery. Alison disappeared and was declared missing, but was found three years later, dead. Although her body was taken to the grave, the secrets she knew about others were not. Someone known only as “A” somehow knew most of the secrets that Alison had kept, whether they were her own or others'. This person was now blackmailing the four girls who were Alison’s best friends when she was alive--Spencer, Hanna, Emily, and Aria--through text messages, signing each only as “A.”  Though the girls had drifted apart over the years, they were brought back together when A showed up. The story is told from the four girls’ points of view, allowing the reader to see into each girl’s thoughts.

I think that the reading level would be 8th grade up because of the language used and the discussion of murder, bullying, eating disorders, the desire to seem perfect, and underage drinking, although I started reading the series three years ago when I was in sixth grade.

I give this book a rating of 5, and recommend it to anyone because the story focuses on real problems that teenagers face today, while at the same time telling a fictional story of the impact of Alison DiLaurentis’ death on Rosewood, Pennsylvania. For example, the story doesn't only focus on Hanna Marin, the girl whose best friend was murdered, but also Hanna Marin, the girl with the eating disorder. In my eyes, this allows the reader to relate to any character on a more personal level, leaving the reader wanting more. I know I can’t wait to read the next book!

Reviewed by Anonymous, 9th grade

Editor's note: We have some of the books, and we also have Seasons 1-3 of the TV series available for checkout should you need to catch up!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teen Review: Gothic Romantic Classic

A review by M.G. Lewis, ninth grade

If, up until this point, you have lived your life believing that old, classic novels are a bore, you may want to read a little book called Jane Eyre, by the one and only Charlotte Bronte. This is a fictitious novel written and set in the nineteenth century that strongly highlights the moral and ethical strength a woman can possess – but that in no way means that you have to be a woman to read it! Due to its formal style of writing and somewhat dark overall themes, as a ninth-grader, I would place Jane Eyre at a 10-12 grade reading level. This 524-page novel is not part of a series; however, if you enjoy it, Charlotte Bronte has written plenty of other novels, stories, and commentaries.

Jane Eyre follows the life of a young woman from childhood up until the days she is a young adult working as governess for a little French girl. Jane finds herself to be the definition of a "plain-Jane," and although she does not have high self-confidence, she makes up for it ten times over with her hard work, high morals, and strict sense of ethics. When faced with choosing between what is right, and what is easy, Jane always chooses the high road. Throughout her life, she is faced with many struggles and adventures, including meeting the wealthy, interesting, somewhat mysterious Mr. Rochester, who is the master of the house where she is a governess. Although faced with other adventures along the way, the story centers around the growth of the unusual relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Among all the female protagonists I have encountered in my day, I would rank Jane as the strongest and most likable. She is relatable on a plethora of levels, and I think many, if not all, young women would agree with me. But whether or not you are female, I guarantee you will appreciate and respect Jane. Boy or girl, young or old, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, and most certainly give a 5/5 rating.

Editor's note: This book has also been made into a movie multiple times, with this version being the most recent.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Teen Review: Curiosity, Dogs, and Autism

A review by M.G.Lewis, ninth grade

One of the best, most curious books I have ever come across is appropriately entitled The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. It is a 226-page fictitious young adult novel told from the perspective of a teenage boy with autism. Being the sibling of a teenage boy with autism, I find this book and the author’s style of writing extremely accurate. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has a surprisingly easy, light flow to it that makes me consider this novel a page-turner. However, the overall plotline and underlying themes are dark and mature. Being a ninth-grader, I would put this book at a 7-12 grade reading level. This novel is not part of a series, nor does it appear to be a book that would have a sequel written to it.

This book follows the story of a high school student with Asperger's living in England: Christopher. The story begins with Christopher finding the dead body of his neighbor’s dog, and thus the story of his investigating the dog’s death ensues. Along the way, Christopher discovers things he never expected to – and never wanted to.

I have to say that after 14 years of living with a brother who has autism, in my humble opinion the author grasped the concept of what it must be like inside an autistic teen’s head as brilliantly as a typically developing human being can. His execution of the styles and mannerisms of the autistic mind was spot-on. Not to mention, he created a story with enough twists and turns to make me finish the book in a matter of days.

The reader feels sympathetic towards Christopher, and may even feel empathy. (Heaven knows you don’t have to have autism to be socially awkward!) I personally fell in love with this Englander, and I think anyone with a heart and an ounce of sense will feel the same. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to see what it is like inside the mind of someone whose whole world is different from theirs, or anyone who enjoys a good story. A 5/5 rating is definitely necessary.