Saturday, May 16, 2015

Teen review: Edgy fiction

All the Rage
by Courtney Summers
321 pages
Contemporary YA, not part of a series
Reading level: 10th grade and up

Reviewed by Patrick Castro, grade 11

All the Rage begins with Romy Grey, a fragile and vulnerable protagonist, who knows personally that the sheriff's son Kellan Turner isn't the boy he seems. Romy faces a band of bullies and is branded a liar, which only causes more stress. Her only safe haven is a diner where she works late shifts, which helps her to stay low. Summers kicks up the suspense when a girl goes missing after a party, and when news of Kellan assaulting a girl in another town gets out, Romy has to decide whether she will fight for the truth or feel responsible if more girls get hurt when she didn't speak up.

Hands down, this was one of Summers's best YA books to date: She has created a perfect yet flawed protagonist, with a message and also with perfectly woven suspense. I loved seeing Romy's growth in the novel and how she slowly starts to uncover what happened the night of the party. All the Rage is very much a character-driven novel and I think Romy was great for it.

Summers's writing was amazing in All The Rage. She wrote Romy's thoughts and emotions in such a simple, clean way that any reader could easily relate to what Romy was experiencing. In addition, the book had great suspenseful elements - for instance, when Romy was piecing together clues about who drugged her and wondering if she could open up to those close to her. Summers wrote a powerful piece of fiction here.

“He was planning to rape me -"
 "Why would he ever -"
"Because he knew he'd get away with it”

The message behind All The Rage is so accurate in today's culture, especially on issues of lying, bullying, and especially rape. These things are rarely talked about in schools or in real life, and I think they should be. The young generation needs to know the problems women face. It is real, it does happen, and Courtney Summers's depiction of a girl finding a way to break the silence of what happened to her is perfect. Everyone definitely needs to pick up All The Rage right now. It is such a poignant and mind-opening book, and will hit home for any reader. Easily one of my faves this year!

Editor's note: BPL doesn't own this book, but after Patrick's review, I will hasten to buy it! In the meantime, we do have three other titles this author has written.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Club Report--last of the school year!

The comments at the last meeting of our 10-12 Book Club were a surprise: We read two books, splitting the club down the middle between The Blue Sword, the high fantasy novel by Robin McKinley, and Meet Me at the River, the realistic novel with paranormal elements by Nina de Gramont. Eighteen of our 22 members were in attendance to talk about them. (Band and choir kept the other four away.)

Anarda and I had previously read them both; and we were a bit worried that the McKinley novel would be too high fantasy, while we thought the people who read the other book would really like it (we did!). Imagine our surprise when The Blue Sword got uniformly high ratings from every person but one, while Meet Me at the River was decidedly a "meh" selection! You just never know.

We are so proud of our eight seniors, who are heading off this fall to various locations: Derek to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Henry to Cal State Northridge, Susie to UC Berkeley, Erica to Northwestern University, Jordan to Mills College, Cameron to Glendale City College, Alyssa to Makeup Designory (MUD) here in Burbank, and Mason to Cottey College for Women in Missouri! What a diverse bunch! We are really going to miss you all!

There were 15 out of 19 members present at the last 6+7 Book Club, to discuss The Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkoski. This book may have had the widest spread of votes ever: There were five people who gave it a perfect 10, while there were two people who gave it a "really boring" three! That pulled the rating down to about a 7.75. Three people had liked it well enough to go on to read the two sequels already. Everyone liked the mechanical creatures, some liked the alternate-world historical characters and setting, but the detractors felt there wasn't enough action and there were too many characters and too much that was implausible in the plot.

We had a little extra time after our book discussion, so Anarda and I picked the club members' brains about things they would like to see at the library. There was consensus that a "Good Books" poster in the teen section would be a popular feature, including top recommendations in various genres and possibly with annotations. Some also liked the idea of "YA Recommendations," like you see in independent bookstores, where a staff member will write a little card and stick it in a book that's on display to tell why they would recommend it. We're hoping some of our book club members will write these for us to display in our sections! We also made a big long list (I won't publish it here) of books the club members would like to read over the summer or next year, which we will keep on hand for the August meeting.

We have 10 members promoting into the 8+9 Book Club next year, leaving nine in this club. But we will fill it out with people moving up from the 4th and 5th Grade Book Club, I'm sure.

The last 8+9 Club meeting was small, due to band and choir concerts at a couple of schools, with only six in attendance, but we had a lively discussion of Sarah Cross's book Kill Me Softly. Three people liked it a lot, while the others felt that the combination of insta-love and excess teen angst detracted from what could have been a clever fairy tale retelling. The book ended up receiving a rating of 7.5, with a 10, a 9, an 8, four 7s, and a 5. (If you're doing the math, Anarda and I voted too.)

There is only one person promoting from this club into 10-12, which leaves nine behind, but since they will be joined by 10 from the 6+7 Club, that will make this club larger next year.

No new books were selected for any of the clubs--we will have a joint meeting of all three book clubs in August, introduce new members (those coming in from 5th, and those promoting up to each club), and pick our books for September.

We hope everyone in book club will bring their expertise in book-talking to Book Café at Teen Meetup in the Burb, our teen summer reading program, to show others how it's done. Sign-ups begin June 1 (go to and look for the link), and the club runs June 14 through July 24. We'll be talking more about it here on the blog any day now! And check out the new pages (tabs at the top of this page) especially for summer reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Teen review: Historical fiction

It is a rare thing to discover a novel so beautifully brutal that it makes you want to photograph every page so that you never forget a word of it, but The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, did just that in 550 pages. Being a work of historical fiction from the point of view of a German girl during the Holocaust, one often expects to read of a bleak life. However, The Book Thief is a strangely hopeful novel, which makes it all the more tragic.

Liesel Meminger moves to Nazi Germany in 1939 to join a new family after her family experiences difficulties and losses, and in this time discovers books, which quickly become her kryptonite. She encounters kind and hateful people and even recruits a best friend, Rudy. Her new family is full of secrets and they only grow more with Liesel's company. Liesel develops new passions, and follows them until there's nothing left. At a young age, Liesel Meminger and her family face more life then most people will ever know. She steals books and in that steals the reader's hearts.

I believe maturity has more of a role as opposed to reading level, considering the pain expressed in this novel. I know 7th graders who loved this and 30 year old men who adored it. I recommend 7-11th graders to read this book. I personally loved this book, but after discussing with a few others I was told that the narration was a bit confusing, as Death is the narrator. This book is not part of a series, and I give it a 4.5/5 rating. (Only because I'm saving my 5.) I recommend this novel.

Reviewed by LK, grade 9

Editor's note: I hear the movie was good as well! You can check that out, as well as the book, the audio book, and the e-book, from Burbank Public Library!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Teen review: Pendragon!

Reviewed by Brett Fragosa, grade 9

The Merchant of Death

In D.J. Machale’s 10-book Pendragon series, The Merchant of Death is the first book. This sci-fi/ fantasy will have you intrigued within the first few chapters of its 372 pages. The plot revolves around a 14-year-old Bobby Pendragon, who used to live a normal life with his friend Mark Diamond and girlfriend Courtney Chetwynde. It begins when he goes on a trip with his mysterious Uncle Press to an abandoned train station. There they are met by another strange and malevolent figure known as Saint Dane. They escape from him and enter a small room on the railway tracks. There, Bobby is whisked away in a brilliant light to an unknown territory named Denduron. Once he arrives with his uncle, Press is captured. Bobby meets new people of the Milago, a mining village. He makes friends with Osa, a kind older woman, and Loor, a feisty rough and tough girl. With their help, Bobby and Press must stop a war that is to be fought with a very deadly weapon, and to counter the evil known as Saint Dane.

I personally would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy books. This book is probably about a sixth-grade reading level, even though I was able to read it in the third grade with minor difficulties. To me the Pendragon series will always be my favorite, and it was because this book sparked my interest with its great plot and character development, especially with Bobby having to deal with the fact that this is now his life. The cover is not terrible, but from a glance it lacks interest. I would rate this book a 4 out of 5. Not my favorite of the series but definitely worth reading.

The Lost City of Faar

The Lost City of Faar is the second book of D.J. MacHale’s series. It is an excellent sequel to its predecessor. It continues with the same fantastic fantasy genre. At a not-too-long 385 pages, it makes good use of every page with every thrilling detail.

This time around, after his first adventure on Denduron, Bobby Pendragon heads home, only to find that his existence has been completely wiped away. He learns more about this higher power called Halla, but not without infinitely more questions. Bobby and Press then head to a new territory known as Cloral, an ocean world with floating cities called habitats (very similar to Water World). Here they meet new allies, and once again encounter the demon, Saint Dane. It is up to the so-called Travelers to beat this man and save all of the territories.

If you enjoyed the first book you are sure to love this one. With the right amount of action and even political reasoning, this book is sure to please anyone with a liking for fantasy novels. Like the one before, this is also at about a sixth grade reading level. I’ve always enjoyed books like this where the world is covered in water and only floating cities have made it to see the future. This time the cover has a little more depth to it, and I quite like it. I would rate this book a solid 4 out of 5. Not the best, but definitely great.

The Never War

With the third installment of the Pendragon series, D.J. MacHale has yet to disappoint. The Never War takes a drastic turn from Sci-Fi fantasy to alternative history/time travel. However, it is still a great read. Taking place after the events of the second book, Bobby Pendragon and the Traveler from Cloral, Vo Spader, must head to First Earth, where Saint Dane is. First Earth is just Earth, but in 1937. While there, Bobby makes new friends, including the Traveler from First and Third Earth, and even a pilot for the coast guard. The Travelers must stop Saint Dane in his sinister plot to destroy Halla. Is it possible to stop as dramatic an event as World War II?

This time around D.J. MacHale gives this novel a good change of pace, from fantasy to historical fiction. If you read the last two, this is worth reading, even though it is quite different. Also, unlike the last two, this is about a seventh grade reading level. I don’t think is that outstanding of a novel, but it is by no means a bad one. The cover is about average. If you were to just look at it, nothing would stand out. I rate this book a 4 out of 5. Far from my favorite, but still good.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Teen review: Classic

The Old Man and the Sea is a 1952 novel by the Nobel winner Ernest Hemingway, and speaks of the dedication and commitment that is necessary for success. Hemingway’s novel has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has been widely acclaimed as Hemingway’s "most vivid and iconic novel." Although it has only 127 pages, Hemingway’s mastery of the written word allows him to fit a riveting plot and story line into a limited format.

In The Old Man and the Sea, the experienced master fisherman Santiago of Cuba has been on a “salao,” which is considered to be the worst form of bad luck: Santiago hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. His luck keeps getting worse, to the point that Santiago’s apprentice, Manolin, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with Santiago. But Manolin goes to Santiago’s hut every night to prepare food and to talk about American Football. Feeling his luck changing, Santiago sails north the next day without telling anyone where he will go. During his sailing on the vast blue ocean, Santiago often thinks about how unprepared he was for the journey. He also often dreams about his childhood of watching magnificent lions on an African beach.

The Old Man and the Sea was originally published in Life magazine, and within two days of its publication, five million copies of the magazine were sold. The novel deals with such themes as determination, failure, bad luck, and destiny in such an interesting way that instead of reading like fiction, it feels like a private diary. I would recommend the reading of this novel to those in grades 7 to 12, because it is a story that will no doubt inspire people to work hard and to never let negativity overpower them.

Reviewed by Basil, grade 9

Editor's note: We typically do not publish reviews of books that are required reading in the high school curriculum, because we want you to submit reviews of books you read by choice; but since Basil is in grade 9--before this becomes required reading--he chose to read this on his own, so it meets the criteria!