2015 by HarperTeen
ISBN – 9780061134111
Genre – Realistic Fiction? Fantasy? Mental Illness
Age – High School
Caden is a high school student. He is quite a good student. His friends and family start to notice changes in him though. He seems to space out more, his emotions aren’t like they used to be, and he seems to lack interest in the things he previously enjoyed. He is sinking more and more into his own mind, in which another story is unraveling. He is on a ship that is heading to the Marinas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. He is the artist on the ship. But things aren’t always as they seem and he must be careful about who he trusts.
This one took some time to get into, to understand what was happening. It was so involved in a world that I couldn’t possibly understand. Then, all of a sudden I could. This book is a deeply personal account of living with mental illness. It is full of brilliant drawings done by Shusterman’s son, who suffers from schizophrenia. Caden seemingly moves back and forth between his two different realities. I liked that although the story of him on the ship seems to be so fantastical, it has so many parallels to what was happening in real life. The choices he had to make were so similar. On the ship he had to choose if he believed what the captain was telling him, or if he wanted to go rogue. This was also a choice he had to make in his real life. Would he be able to have faith in those who supported him, or would he sink deeper into his own delusions and paranoia? Maybe I’m not spot on, but I think this one may be hard to ever completely understand without being in Caden’s shoes. Maybe not even then. It made me think, and feel, and all the good stuff a book should do. Go Shusterman, and congratulations on the award!
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
2015 by Candlewick
ISBN – 9780763668181
Genre – Biography
Age – High School, Adult
6 stars (on a scale of 5)
Dmitri Shostakovich was an incredible musician by a very early age. By the time Hitler and his soldiers surrounded Leningrad, Shostakovich was writing well known symphonies. The siege went on for an incredible amount of time in which more than one million citizens died. Hitler blocked food and supplies from entering the city. People died in the military, they froze to death, and they starved. The tragedy is unimaginable. M.T. Anderson writes a beautiful and detailed account of Shostakovich throughout his life, but focusing on the time of the siege. He writes about how an entire city faced intense hardship, and how they came out in the end. His focus on Shostakovich allows readers to have a glimpse of the pain that one man experienced, and how his actions affected his city and the world. He used not only his music, but his name to inspire hope around the globe. He faced backlash and criticism, but he never gave up. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is by far Anderson’s greatest work (in my opinion.) Books like this are change the genre of nonfiction for the better. It was full of historical information, but his ability to portray personal accounts so well, made me relate to a time and a place that seems so distant. I can’t say enough good about this book. I have chills just thinking about it. Gah!
We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316251020
Age – High School
Genre – Biography, Humor
Josh has not had the best luck with girls, in fact, his only girlfriend was in the 8th grade. It lasted less than a day. This is not for lack of trying. So Josh goes back to all the girls he tried to date to find out what went wrong.
This book is full of hilarious stories that brings me back to the most awkward years of my life. Dating can be tough, but Josh seems to struggle a bit more than others. As a result of a major illness, he is left with one foot, and has a prosthesis for the second. I loved the way he shamelessly talked about all of the silly mishaps, some having to do with his prosthesis, and some just having to do with his shy personality. I think it takes a brave person to go back many years to learn about your mistakes, but I think there is a lot to be learned from an act like that. Josh writes with humor, and unfaltering honesty, and it make this an easy story to follow. In a way it kind of seemed like the real life version of An Abundance of Katherines. I thoroughly enjoyed this one! ***SPOILER ALERT*** Worry not folks, he got married last year! He is also hugely successful, so good things…those who wait. Yes.
Serafina and the Black Cloak
2015 by Disney•Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484709016
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Elementary, Middle School
Serafina lives with her Pa on the Biltmore Estate. Her existence is a secret, and none of the residents are allowed to know about her. She has quite a sense of adventure, and explores the estate to her heart’s content. But the rule is that she must never go outside of the grounds. Then children start disappearing from the estate and Serafina thinks she knows who is taking them. There is a man that trolls the corridors in the night, and he wears a black cloak. Serafina must stop him before he steals her or her new friend.
I thought this book was slow. The plot seemed so exciting, but it just wasn’t able to keep my attention the entire time. I liked Serafina, she was quiet, adventurous, brave, and vulnerable. She reminded me a bit of how I might have been had I lived hidden away in a giant estate in my childhood. I liked the concept of defining oneself. Serafina had many questions about her past, and she was very concerned about how the answers may define her future. I think there is a powerful message hidden (not so much) about choosing who we are and who we can become. My biggest complaint is that the book wasn’t more exciting.
This Monstrous Thing
2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
ISBN – 9780062382771
Genre – Horror
Age – High School
The wounded are being put back together with clockwork parts. They are shunned from society, and those who care for them, are working illegally. In the midst of all this, Alasdair’s life is shattered by his brother’s tragic death, and so he does what some men have dreamed about and others have nightmares about. With the help of his friend Mary, he brings his brother back to life. But something isn’t right, his brother has returned a shell of his former self. Alasdair is forced to put the life he dreamed of on hold to help his family business and to take care of his brother that he has hidden away. He is able to balance everything, until a strange book about bringing a dead man back to life is published. The city of Geneva begins a massive manhunt for the reanimated monster as well as the evil genius who brought him back. Aladair’s father is arrested, his mother has disappeared, and he must find a way to hide as well. Who will pay the price for everything that has happened?
I thought this book was pretty fantastic. It wasn’t a huge leap of a retelling, but it gave an interesting perspective. I enjoyed the inclusion of Mary Shelley into the Frankenstein story, and her fictional biographical story. I thought that the demonstration of the fear of industrialization was a nice touch. It felt steampunky, without being overly so. I liked the idea that there is good and evil in everyone at some point in life, and we cannot be categorized by “eithers” and “ors.” It was a great portrayal that showed that life is not black and white, but there are many shades of gray. I didn’t want to stop reading this once I got started. I just wanted to know what happened. There is so much mystery and so many underlying plots, but they were worked together in a practically seamless manner. I can understand the criticism that the dialogue was not set in the proper period, but I didn’t mind. Honestly, I just don’t have much bad to say about it!