Category Archives: YA Book Reviews

Dear friend: I finished that book today, and I loved it!

It is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school.  More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating.

There is more to the jacket description, but I feel that these two sentences captures enough of the feeling of the book. I could literally not put this book down.  I usually have a hard time with books that are written as journals or letters because I feel that there is just too little description about the rest of the world outside the protagonist’s mind.  However, this was not one of those books.  Charlie really brings the rest of the characters from the book alive, delving into their daily interactions.  Many times (until the next date popped up on the page) I would forget that I was reading a series of letters.  And Charlie doesn’t just explain his friends and his family.  He also gives vivid descriptions of himself and his struggle with depression, which strikes hardest around his birthday.  You see him grow from this grief stricken kid to a young person who isn’t afraid of letting his feelings show.  And this makes him stronger.

If ever there was a book written for teens on what high-school can be, this is it.

Extra tidbits:

This is going to be a movie!! And according to the IMDb website, Emma Watson has already been casted as Sam, with Logan Lerman as Charlie.  I can’t wait to see some trailers for this!

Logan Lerman on Emma Watson and their love for “the perks of being a wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

 

 

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What if you could see a person’s death reflected in their eyes?

I think I would be a lot more messed up than Jem.

Since the day her mother died, Jem has known about the numbers.

Numbers that pop into her head when she looks into someone’s eyes.  They’re dates, the numbers.  Dates predicting death.

Burdened by such grim knowledge, Jem avoids relationships.  Until she hooks up with Spider and decides to take a chance.  But on a date to London, Jem forsees a chilling chain of events.  The city’s a target.  The clock’s running out.  The countdown is on to a blowup, and her world is about to explode!

This book was pretty good.  More of a 3/5 than the 4/5 that it has been touted on all the blogs as being. The book begins with a tiny backstory of Jem and her heroine addicted mother.  Jem has always been able to see the numbers reflected in people’s eyes, but she hasn’t always known what they mean.  It isn’t until she discovers her mother’s body in their bedroom on the day that she has seen in her mother’s eyes for years that she finally puts two-and-two together.   Now in foster care, we meet her in London as a very angry, antisocial teen who refuses to look people in the eyes.  She also refuses to let people get close to her.  After all, what is the sense of getting emotionally attached when you know that the person is going to be gone in a year? Why bother?

However, her very tall, energetic friend Spider doesn’t let her get away with this once they become mates (that’s slang for friends).  He gets under Jem’s skin and even manages to get her to agree to a date around London.  At the London Eye, Jem discovers that the people around them all have one thing in common.  The date of their death…and that date is today.  This causes a chain of events that forces Jem and Spider on the run, and forces Jem to open up and begin to trust other people.

For a thriller novel it’s alright.  As long as you can manage to get past Jem’s tough, superficial crust and into the girl who emerges in the last half of the book, you’ll like it.  Although I will admit to feeling a little lost when all of a sudden the tough, “I don’t need anyone” girl turns into a whining, weak city girl while they are on the run from the cops.  Although I have read reviews that state that this made Jem more believable.  True… but not within the short time frame that is given.  She’s been living with her anti-social self for 15 years, which means that she knows how to take care of herself.  However, after being put on Britain’s most wanted list, she suddenly gives up almost all the decision making responsibilities to Spider and cries about how her ankles hurt after 6 minutes of walking on gravel.  Her reason?  Because it isn’t concrete…

Nope, doesn’t fly with me.

But I love how the ending leads up to the second book.  That definitely deserves props. I’m hoping that Chaos lives up to its reputation!

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“It is quite a risk to spank a wizard for getting hysterical about his hair.”

For those of you who recognize this line, you will be in the same category as I and hundreds of other readers of fantastic children’s fantasy are in.  Dianna Wynne Jones fans.  Some of us could even be called obsessed.  The title is a quote from Howl’s Moving Castle, the classic novel of wizards, war and true love.  I can’t even count the times I have read this book, and then later watched the film produced by Hayao Miyazaki.  It is quite simply favourite book alongside Michael Ende’s, The Neverending Story.

Which is why I was devastated on Saturday when I learned via a twitter feed from The Book Smugglers that Dianna Wynne Jones has passed away.   The Guardian has put up a wonderful obituary on their website.  If you want to read it and possibly learn more about Dianna Wynne Jones, click HERE.

She influenced so many modern children writers and created many smiles with her books.  Rest in peace.

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Will Grayson Will Grayson

It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets.  When fate delivers them both tot he same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurling in new and unexpected directions.  With a push from friends new and old – including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire – Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.

Let me say that this book wasn’t what I expected it to be.  I was expecting a typical YA novel, and I was a bit leery of the co-authorship of this book.  In my reading adventures, co-authorships usually end up crashing and burning.  And despite what all the reviews of this book had touted, I wasn’t really ready to believe that this book was amazing.

Can I apologize to John Green and David Levithan for even thinking that?

This book was absolutely stunning.  I read it in a single night, literally as soon as I got off of work.  I have this really annoying (for drivers and other pedestrians) ability to read while walking, on the skytrain, and traversing crowds down stairs.  I could probably read while practicing yoga, although I have yet to test this theory out.  Anyways, where I was going with this is that I only use this super-reading ability when a book is absolutely stunning and I cannot put it down lest I miss something.

Will Grayson is a normal teen boy with one stupendously gay best-friend Tiny, who pretty much runs most of Will’s days.  And there’s also Jane, the girl in their small group who Will has on again/off again feelings of attraction to.  When Tiny begins planning the school’s biggest musical debut Tiny Dancer, Will is dragged out of his two rules: 1) Don’t care too much and 2) Shut up.

will grayson is a depressed, medicated wreck who hangs out with maura during the day, and talks with the love of his life Isaac at night… except that he’s never met Isaac.  they met online and have been talking over the internet for the last year.  when they finally have the chance to meet, things don’t go quite as will had planned…

Tiny Cooper is just epic.  No more need be said.

I won’t say anymore because I think I’ve hinted at enough things that just have to be experienced by others when they read this book.  I will say that I definitely cried somewhere in the vicinity of chapter 7.

Overall, I think that this book is important for young people… regardless of their sexual orientation.  It is a book about relationships, about trust, about love.  Young people will be able to read this book and think to themselves, “Hey, I’m not the only one with these problems.”  Or maybe it will help them realize that even the guy who is always helping others out might every now and then need help as well.  Go Tiny!

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

After a lot of false starts, I finally finished The Book Thief!

It is 1939 Nazi Germany.  The country is holding its breath.  Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow.  It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.  So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read.  Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times.  When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

I honestly don’t know why it took so long for me to get started with this novel.  I think it may have been an overload of Nazi-Jew themed books as I had previously read The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay (both of which I absolutely adore!!).  As well, I had just finished reading Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago in which the narrator is also death.  So between the three, I may have been a bit burnt out.

But that doesn’t explain the lack of interest I had in my second and third attempts.  Finally, on the fourth attempt I managed to get past chapter 2.  And all of a sudden, the book went from “meh” to “Where did that come from?!!”  This book is brilliant.  The combination of death being the philosophical, guilt ridden narrator who is watching the life of Liesel pass by in colours and words, and the actual story of Liesel is just too good to miss.  I’m awestruck at how much this book stayed with me after I finished reading it.

I love too, how Zusak defined the narration of Death.  This wasn’t a chapter switch type of narration where one narrator has the first chapter to talk, and the second narrator has the next chapter.  No, no.  Zusak decided to get creative and spunky.  Death’s narration isn’t separate from Liesel’s life… it is a part of it.  Woven into the chapters of her story with bold ink and little asterisks, Death jumps in whenever Death feels that an action of Liesel’s needs deeper explanation (or parts of her story), when Death is witnessing a part of Liesel’s life… or when Death feels that an action, a death, was undeserved (which saddens him).  And that’s about all the description I have for this bit of brilliance on Zusak’s part.  While some may find that this is “jarring”, don’t let it stop you from reading.  Eventually you will be converted.

Will I recommend this book?  Definitely.

Exerpt:

It was Max’s arrival, revisited.

Feathers turned to twigs again.  Smooth face turned to rough.  THe proof she needed was there.  She was alive.

The first few days, she sat and talked to him.  On her birthday, she told him there was an enormous cake waiting in the kitchen, if only he would wake up.

There was no waking.

There was no cake.

A Late-Night Excerpt

I realized much later that I actually visited 33 Himmel Street in that period of time. It must have been on the few moments when the girl was not there with him, for all I saw was a man in bed.  I knelt.  I readied myself to insert my hands through the blankets.  Then there was a resurgence – an immense struggle against my weight.  I withdrew, and with so much work ahead of me, it was nice to be fought off in that dark little room.  I even managed a short, closed-eyed pause of serenity before I made my way out.

 

Markus Zusak talks about The Book Thief

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A Quick Review of Love Drugged by one of our own staff!

I was so excited when one of the staff members @ SGSS agreed to write a quick review of Love Drugged.  She absolutely loved it (and judging by the hits on my quick blurb of Love Drugged, lots of others are interested!)  Here is what she had to say about this novel.  Again, thanks so much to our staff here @ SGSS who regularly give me feedback on the novels that we bring in!

Love Drugged

By James Klise

Woodbury Press, Minnesota, 2010

Jamie Bates is a bright and unusually perceptive 15 year-old at Maxwell High in Chicago, and it is through his eyes we are viewing the typical, unusual, happy and tragically sad world of an upscale urban high school.  The clubs, the cliques, the good teachers, the other teachers, the drama and the drudgery will all ring so familiar to those readers who are there now and those of us who have been there and care to remember.  Mr. Klise obviously remembers vividly what it was like and his portrayal of Jamie is heartbreakingly true.

Jamie’s struggle involves his sexuality and his valiant effort to try and become like everyone else or what he believes everyone else is like.  He pursues this even to the serious endangerment of his own health and life.  His story teaches us all an invaluable lesson:  trust in the world to accept and value you as you are.  Jamie had to go through some incredibly painful trials before he learned that neither his parents nor his friends would drop him when they found out he was gay.

This is a powerful story for any young person struggling with his or her own identity and sense of self because the word “gay” could stand for all kinds of things we feel  make us different or that we feel we need to hide.  In hiding his true self and his secret, Jamie almost lost his life, but by trusting in his parents and friends and coming out, he found  his “self” perhaps for the first time.  Poignant and painful, this is almost a parable for teens and adults alike.

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore @ SGSS

Deadly Grace

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill.  As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.

So, I first read this book because I had read somewhere online that the story was quite similiar to the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I loved the books by Suzanne, and based on the high turnover of the books from the library, the boys liked them as well.  So I bought the book on my Kindle in order to pre-read it before I put it on the “to get” list.

Now, despite the female lead and some sentimental parts (which were also in Mockingjay so I wasn’t too concerned) I felt that the story wouldn’t scare away any boys who picked it up.  In fact, there was so much action that I hardly noticed the “mushy” parts at all!  “Perfect,” I thought to myself.  “The boys will get caught up in this action!”

So we ordered it… without my looking to see what the cover looked like… and in my experience with books, covers do make a difference.

Now, let me start with a comparison of the cover of Mockingjay (strong, confused, love-stricken girl lead)

Now, I’m not an expert on graphic design by any means.  However, this cover is wonderful in that it is so… simple and not just marketed for female readers.  The soft blue colour isn’t going to scare off the boys.  There isn’t some girl on the front cover with windswept locks.  There aren’t flowers all over the place.  Basically, this a book that a boy can read in public and not feel embarrassed about reading the book that looks like a YA romance. Nice job gods of book covers!

And here are two of the cover designs for Graceling (strong, confused, love-stricken girl lead)

The cover on the left is the UK cover.  The cover on the right is the US cover.  I love them both, and we have the US cover.  But I’m a girl, they appeal to my “Ooh, pretty!” genes.  To me, these covers seem to be marketed for just the female market.  They don’t seem to cater to the boys in the way that the US covers of the Hunger Games trilogy did.  The first thing one of the boys said, before even knowing what the story was about, was, “Ma’am, this is so girlie.”  He didn’t have a clue what the story was about.  After filling him in on the plot line, and letting him know that the story wasn’t terribly girlie, he did take it out…

So that is my gripe about the covers.

The story itself was well written.  Katsa is a believable character who we see develop from this girl who is controlled by her uncle, and her fear of her actions, into her own person.  She learns to handle her Grace in an acceptable way and uses it to defend instead of destroy.  She also develops emotionally.  She begins to allow people to become close to her outside of Raffin, including the Graced fighter Po.  Katsa also learns that the only one who can control what Katsa does is Katsa.  Katsa learns to control her anger at her uncle which allows her to finally escape the psychological prison that he has kept her in for years.

I asked one of the boys what he thought of it when he brought it back.  He said that he liked it, but the thing with Katsa being so affected by Po’s eyes was “weird Ma’am.  I don’t get it.”  Fair enough. I thought that it was a little strange too how she seems to be so caught up in Po’s eyes.  Very Bella and Edward.  But if that’s the only criticism that he had, then I’m happy enough.

If you want to know more about Kristin Cashore or her books, check out her blog HERE.

Other Important But Important Info

Reading Time: 1.5-3 hours (this was hard to judge as I was reading this in-between bus transfers and coffee breaks)

Re-Readability: 5/5

Rating: 4/5 (the eye thing just reminded me too much of Twilight)

Price: Chapters- $11.99/ Amazon – $9.99 USD/ Kindle – $8.59 USD

Side Note for Libraries: If there is a book trailer of a book that I’m posting about, I always include it…. however, the trailer for Graceling by HMH Childrens (the publisher) is just terrible!  I would not use it to promote this book.

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