By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
I don’t usually have a hard time enjoying the books I read to keep up with YA/MG publishing, but there are times when I go out of my way to finish a series or read the latest from an author I really like. Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that I choose to keep up with.
I wish these books had been out when I was in high school and that I had been aware of them. As much as I loved this story, I think I can generalize about Sarah Dessen’s books a bit in my reviews. She does such a good job of showing characters that aren’t perfect and are human. They think about boys and sex and clothes, but they also think about school and jobs and college and eating and driving and awkwardness. They also tend to deal with less than perfect families. We all struggled with being a teen (must be an echo in here, I just said that in my last review too) and Dessen gives teens a way to see that it’s all normal. Plus her writing is just so good; it’s so easy to fall into the story and hope it will never end.
I think The Moon and More was particularly wonderful because it’s about that last summer between high school and college (or whatever is coming next). I remember that summer. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Emaline’s summer really throws her for a loop. She was so sure about what was coming and it all changes, a disorienting experience we all share.
In reflecting back on my teen years, I always feel like I didn’t deal well with the confusion and hormones and relationships, everything that came with those years. Even though Dessen’s girls aren’t perfect they do tend to have a certain togetherness that I wish I had had as a model for how to deal with situations. Emaline is no exception to this and it made me love the book that much more.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.
At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
I have to admit I only found out about this book because it was a movie. That we watched. Before I read the book. It was a totally fabulous movie too. Which is why I picked up the book.
I talked a bit before about books-into-movies and I have to say this falls into the category of the book and movie were equally good. Since the book came first it deserves credit for the great characters and their development, but the movie really brought a few key scenes to life for me. Plus it had a great soundtrack.
That being said I really loved this book. You get into Craig’s head in a way you can’t in a movie and his struggles are so relatable. He’s got more intense anxiety than most people, but we’ve all been teens and I think what Craig goes through isn’t all that far removed from what we all experienced. The doubt about ourselves. The pressure to fit in, to do well, to seem like we have our sh*t together.
Craig’s a good guy though and so are the people he meets. They’re all suffering but Craig sees them for the people they are not just their neuroses. They also act as a catalyst for Craig to crawl his way out of his depression and anxiety. A lot of the people there won’t get better. Ever. And Craig recognizes this and decides he doesn’t want that or himself. All in all, a great story about self-discovery and choosing the light over the darkness in all of us.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
I have to admit I am a sucker for books written by Nigerian authors and/or set in Nigeria and that is the reason I picked up Akata Witch. I suppose if I had to booktalk this in a few seconds I would call it a Harry Potter read alike. But I feel kind of like I’m copping out comparing this book to Harry Potter.
It definitely shares a number of similarities. The four kids are wizards and witches. Sunny, the main character, was unaware of her abilities/ties to the magical community. There is a lot of learning about the power within yourself and your own inner strengths. There is also some good friendship material. It even kind of dragged in the same way I felt the first Harry Potter book did toward the beginning. But for some reason I just preferred these kids and this magical community to the Harry Potter one. Probably because I’m a sucker for Nigerian books.
All that aside this was a fun read. The story was pretty compelling and exciting. I loved that it felt very grounded in Nigerian culture and especially its traditional magic. I cannot speak to how closely it mirrors Nigerian magic, but it certainly feels authentic. Really this is what made Akata Witch stand out to me more than any other wizarding book (I’m looking at you again, Harry Potter). The depth of the culture really made the story more vibrant. And there was the added conflict of Sunny and Sasha feeling torn between being American and Nigerian. That just made the book feel more mature to me than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Sunny is a likable girl and she’s a pretty quick study so I never felt like shouting at her to stop being so naive or dense (I had that experience with a number of other books I read this summer). The other kids are fun too and possess enough sass and cheek to make them interesting, believable, but not exasperating.
All in all a fun book.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.
I liked this one as much as Ship Breaker. It was a bit of the same and a bit different in terms of the story arc. The characters were all deeply flawed but likable. There was plenty of action but also heart. I love love love Tool. He’s a “good guy” but not a good guy and I love the ambiguity of it all. It makes it very real.
Okay, that’s done. Can we talk about the paperback cover for Ship Breaker and the cover for The Drowned Cities. Oh my god they suck. I’m not the type of person who is embarrassed to be seen with a book because it’s cover it terrible and I wouldn’t be embarrassed by this one. But let me tell you, if I hadn’t loved Ship Breaker I would not have picked this one up.
The eyes are just weird. The font is pretty ho-hum. The scratchy effect layered over the picture kinda works, but the hardback cover for Ship Breaker was perfect. It looked like the title was carved into one of the ships on the beach. It worked with the story and it didn’t tell you how to picture anything. Now I can’t get those eyes out of my head while I read these books. Also, I didn’t know what city was the Drowned City. Not for quite some time and it was pretty cool to try and pin it down. But if I hadn’t read the ebook version (or had looked more closely at that crappy cover, something I avoided doing) I wouldn’t have had that pleasure.
So please ignore the cover and read this book. It’s so worth the time.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.
That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.
On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Love is awkward, Amelia should know.
From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.
Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?
I wasn’t totally bowled over by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I guess it wasn’t as swoony as I thought it would be, but I think because it wasn’t it felt more authentic.
What I found really fascinating about this book was the fact that it felt like both a YA novel and a NA novel. Amelia is definitely young and in love and her story is very much the story of a young adult. But the book alternates between Amelia’s narration and Chris’s journals. Chris is struggling with much more “adult” problems.
Personally, I connected more with his story than with Amelia which speaks to my getting older, not the quality or appeal of the book. Chris just had his heart broken. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. His friends are growing up and getting jobs, houses, moving in with their significant others. He and Amelia are clearly good for each other and, age aside, would make a great couple, but they are in such different places in their lives. I think these struggles are pretty universal for 20 somethings, at least they have been in my circle of friends, including age differences making relationships difficult (although not quite to this extent!).
Even though I am not the target audience, I can see this story connecting with my high school self. I wasn’t especially interested in boys my age, like Amelia, and would have found someone as fun and interesting as Chris very appealing. Being naive and inexperienced as Amelia is, I also would have not understood how problematic a relationship would have been. All in all, a fun and interesting read even if it wasn’t my favorite I’ve read for The Hub Challenge. This would make a fabulous summer read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.
I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).
One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!
Why wasn’t there a hold list on this book when I requested it?! Everyone needs to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book. It was awesome.
Drama really spoke to the awkwardness of middle school/early high school romance. Some people are more experienced or in relationships; some people are questioning their sexuality; some people are interested when you aren’t (and vice versa); some people aren’t there yet; you can’t drive so your parents have to. It’s just all so, well, dramatic. Despite the fact that it’s all mostly wondering about crushes and quick kisses, I didn’t find myself wanting to roll my eyes at its relative purity, which I attribute to the sentiments and actions being very organic.
I was totally a drama nerd in high school and I imagine, had I been in drama in middle school, this would have been the story of those years. Although I was not nearly as confident, mature, or self reflective as Callie in some regards. But despite the fact that she felt a bit older than middle school it still seemed in line with the novel. As if she was someone a middle school reader could look up to or emulate without her actions appearing overtly didactic.
Even if you are or weren’t a drama kid, this book really speaks to the middle school experience. Plus the graphic novel format makes it very accessible even for the most reluctant middle school reader. Sure the format and story aren’t really for everyone, but Drama should be!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom. After all, her mother and her older sisters had gotten pregnant as teenagers; from an outsider’s perspective, it was practically a family tradition. Gaby had ambitions that didn’t include teen motherhood. But she wondered: how would she be treated if she “lived down” to others’ expectations? Would everyone ignore the years she put into being a good student and see her as just another pregnant teen statistic with no future? These questions sparked Gaby’s school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react. What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.
In The Pregnancy Project, Gaby details how she was able to fake her own pregnancy—hiding the truth from even her siblings and boyfriend’s parents—and reveals all that she learned from the experience. But more than that, Gaby’s story is about fighting stereotypes, and how one girl found the strength to come out from the shadow of low expectations to forge a bright future for herself.
This book would make a nice companion to Girlchild in some ways. It read a bit like the real story behind that book, minus actually living in a trailer and the sexual abuse.
I thought The Pregnancy Project had a really wonderful message about being your own person and defying stereotypes. As a librarian, I can see championing this message with patrons or students. Like Gaby says, sometimes all it takes is one person to be there for you, cheering you on. I agree with Gaby that you don’t need to be beholden to what other people think or what the statistics tell you and this is a great story for that message.
However, the book also felt very young. Or rather, Gaby sounds very young and inexperienced. She can be endearingly preachy in the way that only adolescent girls can be. I don’t think this is a bad thing, I was certainly that way in high school, as were a lot of my friends and I love her optimism. Part of my issue is just me as a reader coming to it from the other side of my twenties. I’m not exactly the targeted audience for this book.
While I found myself agreeing with her on a lot of points, such as how problematic shows like 16 and Pregnant are, I also think there is a lot more nuance to the topics she tackles. Nuance that you come to see with time, age and experience. Teen pregnancy isn’t always about simply taking a breath and not “going all the way”. There are a lot more emotions and baggage and history that can get tangled up in sex that someone in their teens (and far beyond) may not be able to disentangle. I was really glad she pointed out that abstinence is not always a realistic method of birth control.
Her brief discussions of abortion were another place I think she addressed things as too black and white. I also didn’t feel the topic was especially germane. While she may be pro-life, not everyone is. Abortion a touchy subject and I think it is also a very personal choice. Even if it wasn’t a choice she would have made, many girls do make it to avoid the gossip, lowered expectations, limitations and general disappointment she faced. I think by putting it down she detracted from her own message of being non-judgmental.
As a side note, I think this was a fabulous, if over-the-top senior project. The school where I was working does a similar project although the time allotted to it is much much shorter. Every year I found myself wishing students would choose something more than cake baking and decorating. I don’t think everyone needs to go to quite the extreme of faking a pregnancy, but I do think making a difference and really learning something would be a great goal.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Gaby’s perspective is something I would be very interested to hear in another 10 to 15 years and once she’s become a mother herself.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
Okay, despite reading the blurb about this book, I thought this was going to be a fantasy novel set in another world. Maybe I was mixing it up with blurbs about The Scorpio Races (which I don’t actually think is set in another world, either), but I was very wrong. And also very confused for the first few pages. Every time something modern and familiar popped up, like a car, I would think, oh I guess they have that in this world.
I was also prepared to dislike this book mostly based on the fact that the main character’s name is Blue. I hate it when authors come up with names that are different. I know they usually do it for a reason, but it just always makes me think some overwrought teenager named them. Thankfully The Raven Boys won me over after the first ten pages, which, incidentally was the point at which I thought, hey wait a minute, this is set in our world. Palm to forehead.
The characters in this were all really unexpectedly complex, even if they felt a bit young to me (which I think is more a function of my getting older than anything). Blue especially had a few really naive moments that I probably had as a teen. Besides being a group of misfits, they’ve got a lot of baggage that makes them a bit mysterious and interesting. Plus they’re on a quest to find the corpse road to raise a legendary king and I am all for dark, atmospheric quests.
I loved that Gansey was so manic about this quest, even to the point that he built a model of the city in his living room and keeps a journal of ephemera. If I ever go looking for something, I want to do those things. Adam was a bit infuriating for being so principled about leaving his family. I’m not really sure how true to life his refusal to seek help was just so he could do it for himself, but it also made him rather admirable. Blue seemed a little flat to me at first, but I think she has a lot going on under the surface and some of her plot points (her mother and Neeve, her father) will surface later in the series. I would guess she’ll be the one to change the most by the end of the journey.
Ultimately, though, it was Ronan I really loved. He’s got tons of baggage, but his f#%&-you attitude was refreshing. Punch first, ask questions later. He is clearly intelligent and even though it was a bit ambiguous at the beginning, he is clearly a good person. And he has a pet raven. Anyone with a pet raven is awesome in my book. Read this article about it, you will agree. Judging by the cover of the next book and it’s title, he’ll play a much bigger role.
I think another reason I connected with this book was because I went to a private school that was predominantly wealthy. I was not, so the way Blue and Adam feel awkward about money and infuriated by some of the feelings of entitlement rang pretty true for me. On the other hand, I was really irritated by Gansey beating himself up over comments he would make about money. I always felt that the reactions of Blue and Adam (and others) were not so much about Gansey being insensitive (self-confident doesn’t necessarily equal entitled) as it was about how they were misinterpreting his naivete about money as entitlement.
One of my favorite YA blogs, Forever Young Adult, read this book for their book club and has an awesome post about predictions for the next book in the series, The Dream Thieves. You can read that post here and be sure to scroll through the comments.
It could have been the creepy scene in the graveyard or the entanglement of love and death for Blue that sucked me in. Maybe it was the mystery surrounding it all. Or maybe it was the Tarot card readings and fortune telling. Or maybe it was Gansey’s neurotic obssession with the spirit road and his journal stuffed with ephemera. Or all those things. Whatever it was I am hooked.