Book Review: The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Book Review: The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

YA, dystopian

This is actually a review for the first three books in the The Selection series. America, a nothing 5 in the caste system of Illya, puts her name in for the selection, a competition to marry the next Prince of Illya. She gets.. ahem… selected to join and leaves her secret boyfriend and family behind. This is a chance to earn some money for her poor family and to, potentially, move up in her world. She will have an elevated caste for even participating.

The idea of a Hunger Games type competition to marry a Prince had me cringing a bit. But this title moved along and I was interested to see where it went. I am glad I continued because books 2 and 3 were more about America’s personal growth and understanding of her complex and unfair world. She learned about the history of the country through banned books and played a major role in educating the equally in-the-dark future King to the inequities outside the plush palace. Books 2 and 3 were highly redeeming. Book 4 is about their daughter and seems to be more romance than I care for.

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Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: Hyperion
2012

YA, historical fiction

A female spy (code name: Verity) during World War II is captured in France and held, interrogated, and tortured in a hotel-turned-prison. The first part of the book is her written confession of how she came to be falling out of a British spy plane in Nazi-occupied France. She says she is a turn-coat coward, giving codes her Nazi interrogators. I guess I just had a hard time liking her at first. The second part of the book is told from the point-of-view of Verity’s best friend, Maddie (code name: Kittyhawk). We pick up from the point where their plane crashed and Verity had to jump. Maddie spends weeks looking for her and we slowly begin to see overlaps in their story and several truths are revealed. We are then reminded that the first part was Verity’s written “confession” and not actually her POV at all. They were simply words she was writing. A whole other level of her story, and more importantly, her rebellion and determination are revealed which dramatically changed how I felt about Verity.

What started out to be what I thought was a slow read, I had a mind-blown moment when everything came together. I thought I had made the mistake of listening to it on audio. There were several names and abbreviations that didn’t make sense to me that I thought might have been better to physically read. It turns out that all of those get explained during Maddie’s POV. There is also a brief part where we bounce back-and-forth from Verity to Maddie POV that was well done on audio.

I don’t usually put too much stock into people saying it is a book you will need to read twice (I think my threshold for that is pretty high), but this one definitely is. I want to go back and find the clues I didn’t even realize I was missing.

I fear that the slow beginning might have lost some readers. I remember reading some reviews saying as much, thinking it was just a book about friendship. While it is a rare YA book without romantic entanglement that really focuses on the friendship and love between two women, sticking with it until the end gives it a much deeper, more important meaning.

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Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born ChineseAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: First Second Books
2006

YA, graphic novel

Second-generation child to Chinese immigrants, Jin wants to fit in at school. He perms his hair to look more like the blond curly-haired boys in his class. While Jin’s story is playing out, another story told in the form of a horrible sitcom about white teenager Danny whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee comes for a visit. Danny is embarrassed by the way Chin-Kee dresses, talks, eats, and acts. And a third story about The Monkey King from a Chinese folktale is being woven throughout.

In the end, the three tales come together, though I don’t want to go too much into this as it is so beautifully done in the book. Jin is discouraged from showing interest in a white girl in his class because he is Chinese. This sets off an extreme need for Jin to want to distance himself from his Chinese friends, his culture, and identity. It is revealed that Danny’s story is really how Jin sees himself after this encounter. He purposefully sabotages his relationships with his friends to push them away. It turns out that one of his friends was The Monkey King in human form come to Jin to help him be true to himself.

This was an uncomfortable read, but an important one. At times I was sickened by the extreme negative racial stereotypes portrayed by Chin-Kee which, I know, was the point. Now that Yang has been named by the Library of Congress as the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, I felt like I finally needed to get around to reading this.

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Book Review: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Book Review: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

ya, fantasy, magical realism

Henry and Flora. Chosen at birth to be players in an ill-fated game by Love and Death. Worlds apart in Depression-era Seattle, Flora is an African American jazz singer and pilot. Orphaned as a young girl, she yearns to be among the clouds but is tethered to earth by the need to care for her grandmother. Henry is also an orphan but in a much more stable situation as a white boy with a wealthy adopted family, a job, and a college scholarship. As characters, Love and Death tug on strings to find out who will win the game? With our players live and have love or lose and both perish?

I read this as part of a YA for Adults bookclub at my local library, though that category is questionable. I wonder if this might actually be more appropriate as “New Adult”, a genre that I haven’t gotten into yet.

I thought the writing was beautiful most of the time, but I slogged through this. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that December is such a busy time I didn’t have any good pockets of time for reading a lot. I kept coming back to it, but it was slow going. Everyone in our book club reported the same thing, too.

I had a hard time caring about Love and Death. If I am going to be reading about star-crossed lovers, just let me read about star-crossed lovers. I don’t need some meaningless “game” and puppet-masters. And yet, Love and Death are actually who this book is about, right? Flora and Henry remain fairly static as far as characters go… and we know star-crossed bit is familiar. Death certainly gets the most movement as a character.

All that said, young readers will get a lot out of this book. There is much to chew on between the racial, class, social justice, and historical aspects. And it certainly is a new take on the star-crossed lover tale. I would have loved this book as a tween after getting my fill on the film Romeo + Juliet.

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Book Review: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Book Review: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

When I Was the GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

YA, realistic fiction

Ali is a good kid living on a rough block. He stays out of the bad stuff, helping his mom who works 2 jobs with his younger sister and being trained to box by their family friend, Malloy. He has two friends, brothers nicknamed Needles and Noodles. The stories behind their nicknames are pretty interesting parts of the plot that I don’t want to give away here.

The three friends get their big break, an invitation to one of the hottest parties in their neighborhood. While there, a misunderstanding escalates quickly requiring Ali to put practice his boxing skills. The friends have to deal with wounds, both physical and emotional, when dealing with the aftermath of that night.

I picked this up as part of a YA for Adults Book Club through my local library. While a slow read at times, this book provides a brief glimpse into the life of an urban black teen… the troubles and the realities they face. Unless that is your existence, it can be difficult to understand or empathize. Ali’s parents, though both very distant, play a huge role in Ali’s life. Despite their situation, his parents have clearly given him a good foundation to know better than to get into some of the bad things that surround him. And as we discussed in book club, it is interesting how big his parents’ role is considering in many YA books the parents are barely part of the story.

I am really glad I got to know Jason Reynolds here and hope to pick up his newest book, The Boy in the Black Suit.

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Book Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Book Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It EndsThis Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
To Be Published Date: January 2016

young adult

The plot of this story takes place in less than an hour. At 10am the principal finishes her speech to the entire student body in the auditorium. As everyone gets up to leave, they realize that the doors have been locked from the outside. At 10:05 someone starts shooting. What takes place over the next 54 minutes is revealed through the eyes of five characters as we discover the unfortunate events that lead up to this horrible situation and how they each deal with it.

Honestly, it pains me to not be able to give this a better review. This is such an important subject for youth to explore as our country sees more and more school shootings. But there were flaws that kept it from becoming fully engaging for me.

Being dropped in medias res as we are, we don’t have a chance to get to know these characters which makes it more difficult to feel for them other than horror for the situation they face. I imagine that we get a minute-by-minute telling so that we feel we are there in the situation, too. But having no understanding of the situation, that perspective is lost on us.

On the other hand, Nijkamp has to do a lot of development over the course of this book while giving the play-by-play of the shooting which takes away from the intensity of the situation. For instance, at one point one of the perspective characters goes out of his way to make sure one of the cheerleaders sees him leading a student to safety because he has been trying to work up the courage to ask her out for some time. This didn’t add to the story or this character, it felt inappropriate, and completely unrealistic.

I was intrigued by the real-time telling and multiple perspectives but really wish this had been carried out differently.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced readers copy!

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Book Review: What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Book Review: What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be / Some Girls AreWhat Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be / Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

publisher: St. Martin’s Press

YA

Man, being a teenager is hard. Reading these brings back so many memories. Luckily I didn’t experience some of the things these girls experienced. Flailing, feeling like what your peers think is the most important thing in the world, feeling like no one understands you, not having anywhere to turn… those are universal teenager experiences that this book, really these two books, address.

In Cracked Up To Be, Parker Fadley was once one of the golden children of her high school. Popular and feared, she was captain of the cheerleading team and part of a power couple with Josh. But the pressure to keep it up, to be perfect and meet expectations, gets to her. When she has an experience that shakes her perfect world, she doesn’t respond very well. She shuns everyone and is destructive to herself. Cracked Up is all about her coming to terms with what has happened and finding a new ground where she can be herself and be happy.

In Some Girls Are, Regina Afton also goes from top to bottom when her big-girl-on-campus “best” friend Anna’s boyfriend Donnie tries to rape Regina at a party. Regina turns to a girl she bullied for being overweight who tells Anna that Regina slept with Donnie and they proceed to destroy her. They create YourSpace pages for hating on Regina and spread vicious rumors. Regina responds the only way she knows, by fighting back. When she again turns to some old friends who she destroyed to get win Anna’s approval, she realizes how it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of “fun”.

I picked up this title because of the recent book challenge to Some Girls Are at a high school in South Carolina. Here is a BookRiot article about the challenge: http://bookriot.com/2015/07/30/girls-…

The response by the Internet was fantastic! Over 800 copies of the book were donated and sent to the local public library who gave out copies to the teens in the community: http://bookriot.com/2015/07/30/girls-…

Summers lays out a no-sugar-coating of how tough it can be in high school. It continued to amaze me how clueless these girls’ parents seem to be. They had to face these battles completely alone. Luckily, through all of the horrible times they faced, they both seemed to have a beacon of hope in a friend. These are not easy books to read but provide an honest look at bullying and pressure as a teen.

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