Friday, September 5, 2014

What we're reading: Drama + ESP

Don't Even Think About It, by Sara Mlynowski

How would you describe this book? Gossip Girls meets paranormal fiction? Some New York high school sophomores get their annual flu shot, and apparently it's a bad batch with an unexpected outcome: A day later, they can read minds. The phenomenon has a few limitations--they have to be in pretty close proximity, and you can block them by putting somebody else's head (or a wall) between you--but otherwise, everyone's thoughts--including each others', of course--are open to them.

It's a great title, and a fun idea--think of all the possibilities! If you could read the minds of those around you, what would you do? How would you use your special powers? (and would you use them for good or evil???) But...although the story was cute and fun, and using the side effects from vaccinations was a clever premise (given all the stuff in the news about this), it was also predictable, and a little bit silly. It's not a bad book, could have been a lot better.

First of all, these characters are supposed to be in high school, but a lot of their interactions and dialogue read more like immature middle schoolers (especially considering they are New York high-schoolers, presumably more sophisticated than most), so the voices didn't ring true for me.

Second, they are all so completely self-obsessed!!! Nothing intrudes into their worlds other than their own singular angsty drama. Granted, having ESP would take some getting used to, some settling in, some probing of the boundaries, but…we never see them out in the world reacting to the thoughts of non-related others--it's all about themselves. Does he like me? Oh no, now I know for sure. Are they judging me? No, I'm not even on their radar, which makes me happy and sad at the same time. Oh boy, if I sit next to the smart guy, I can get all the right answers on the test! Wow! It would have made the phenomenon much more interesting if they had, say, encountered and outed people with nefarious plans, or eavesdropped on the local politico to see if he was sincere or something.

Perhaps (I would really like this) the author has plans to broaden the canvas in the sequel? These characters would be a lot more interesting as telepathic crime-fighters (in their after-school hours), for instance, than they are as the insular gossip-obsessed clique we saw in this book. I'll check back when/if it comes out.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teen blog: Series

Dark Triumph
by Robin LaFevers
385 pages

Second in the "His Fair Assassin" trilogy
High school reading level

Reviewed by Farah M., college girl!
When Sybella arrived on the doorstep of St. Mortain half mad with grief and despair, the convent sisters were only too happy to offer her refuge--but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons. However, her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally so. But when Sybella finds an unexpected ally, she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for.

After reading the first book, Grave Mercy, I had high expectations of this book and I wasn’t disappointed. What I loved was that this book wasn’t about Ismae but about Sybella and her story. This surpassed the expectations I had held after reading Grave Mercy, since I wasn’t as attached to Ismae as I am to Sybella. She’s a strong assassin and woman who needs to discover her heart while away from her tyrant of a father. And discover it she does. Along her journey, there are those who follow her who worm their way into her heart and aide her in her acceptance. The language used for both novels was also amazing; it was exciting reading a text that wasn’t common English. Like any book, Dark Triumph has a set of characters you will grow to love and hate, who will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions on every page and chapter.

I highly recommend this book, along with the first book, Grave Mercy. I found them both to be entertaining to read and unique each in its own way. It is also beneficial that these two books don’t necessarily need to be read in order, because each book is based on a different character. However, I know some people would think otherwise and it’s enjoyable either way. Make sure to look out for LaFever’s third installment, releasing on November 4th. It's called Mortal Heart, and is written from Annith’s perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Teen review: Coming of age

Reviewed by Melody, grade 11

Winger, by Andrew Smith, is a young adult book portraying the journey of growing up, being a rebellious teenage boy, and surviving all the confusion that comes with it. The main character, Ryan Dean West, resides at a boarding school where he is two years younger than everyone else in his grade. Not only is he the youngest, but he is also the smallest on the rugby team, which evidently leads to a certain amount of bullying. However, this school year he decides things will be different. His self-doubt won’t stop him from being determined to convince his best friend Annie that he is no longer the “little boy” she’s always considered him to be. Nonetheless, he realizes his careless mistakes will make convincing Annie that they are meant for one another much harder than he thought. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, he must survive being roommates with his biggest bully. Ryan Dean West will take “go big or go home” to a whole other level. He will prove to his bullies how courageous he truly is, as well as to anyone else who decides to confront him. The book totals 439 pages and is not part of a series.

This story is pretty easy-going at first, but underneath all the jokes, there is tragedy and learning to live with the post heartache of it. I did not necessarily dislike this book, but I definitely didn’t love it. I fell somewhere in between. This book is mainly intended for a mature audience due to the fact that Ryan Dean gives his point of view through the eyes of a teen boy coming of age. This could be a little disturbing for young female readers. I personally could not relate to most of what Ryan Dean endured, so this is perhaps the main reason for my not loving it. I did constantly find myself anticipating what would happen next, which is always a pleasant component in a book, especially since many books contain foreseeable endings. In addition, there are comic strips included in the story, which portray more of Ryan Dean’s persona and make the story much funnier. However, my absolute favorite detail of this book is how accurately Ryan Dean’s character is interpreted. He acts exactly how an average teenage male his age would.

I would recommend this book to a mature teenage audience, someone who enjoys an honest yet funny story about being a real 14-year-old and how difficult yet exciting growing up can be. This book does contain language and actions that could be inappropriate for readers younger than high school level. I would rate this book a 3 out of 5 stars, only because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Nonetheless, this book is certainly worth reading, and the ending is a complete shocker!

Editor's note from Anarda: I will add my two cents' worth. First, I need to make a disclaimer: I am not a teenage boy, nor have I ever been a teenage boy, so I am placing myself in the hands of the author with the hope that he will enlighten me about young men coming to terms with their increasingly complex inner world. That said, Andrew Smith did connect me with the misery and self-deprecation, ,joyfulness and hope of Ryan Dean--and yes, Ryan Dean's exploits made me laugh and cringe. I agree with this reviewer that the book is intended for a high school audience, but I also think a lot of male and female readers out there will give this book an enthusiastic thumb's up. This was one of my favorite books of 2013, and I would recommend that those who enjoyed this book might want to check out King Dork by Frank Portman (and you thought you were the only one who hated Catcher in the Rye!). If you really want to go on a strange ride or two, Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens and Passenger (DIRE, DARK, DISTURBING HORRORS, completely surreal and nothing like Winger--but I found them ultimately rewarding) and A.S. King's Reality Boy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What we're reading: Realistic fiction?

I picked up Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian, read a few pages, put it down, and came back to it a few days later, because of a misunderstanding that I want to share with you, so you don't go there too! In the first chapter, the author refers to a part of Vermont as the "Northeast Kingdom," and since I had never heard anyone refer to it in this way, I mistakenly assumed that this was a dystopian novel set in the future when America had been broken up into kingdoms. Not so! Apparently this is a common nickname for a certain part of Vermont. I was reluctant to read yet another in the long line of dystopian tales (haven't dystopia gone the way of vampires yet???), so I put it off; but the prose was powerful enough to tempt me to come back to it after I finished the other two books I was planning to read, and then I figured it out.

But in a weird way, this IS a dystopian novel, in the sense that it takes place in the wake of a disaster, and new lives have to be constructed. It is about one 17-year-old girl who is the daughter of a Vermont nuclear power plant engineer. He gets the blame for a reactor meltdown that turns 30 square miles of the state into a radioactive wasteland (there are rumors that he was drunk at the time of the accident), and she experiences, pardon the pun, the fallout. Her mother also worked at the plant and was present when the explosion took place, so in one moment Emily becomes an orphan and is simultaneously homeless (forcibly evacuated from the contaminated zone), and notorious for being the daughter of the most hated people in Vermont. The book does not take place in the future: It is realistic, it is present-day, and it is chilling.

Emily's story is told in first person in a disjointed, random style, and shows so clearly how one person can create a story from her own self-involvement that may be largely untrue but that makes perfect sense in the light of her incomplete information. It highlights the tragedy of how young people's lives can just fall through the cracks of our society, and no one notices or cares, or if they do, it's not enough. It highlights the courage (and foolhardiness) that street kids must have in order to survive.

It also shows (for me) that allowing any part of our energy strategy to rely on nuclear power is sheer insanity.

Finally, the book showcases the brilliance of Chris Bohjalian's prose, characterization, and storytelling skills. This is somehow the first book of his that I have read (which is surprising, considering he's written 18 others!), but it definitely won't be the last.

I am reviewing it here because although it is being marketed as an adult book, I think older teens would be enthralled by it. I hope that someone thinks to nominate Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands for the Alex Award this year--it's the perfect candidate. You can find it on the New Book Shelves at all three libraries.

(Recall that the Alex Awards are given yearly by the American Library Association to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.)