In Real Life
By Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
Anda loves to play online games. When someone comes to speak to her class about an all girls gaming clan on Coursegold Online. She learns how to fight evil and be a leader in her game. Then she befriends a gold miner, a person who illegally collects gold and other valuable objects and sells it to players who don’t want to earn their rewards. She realizes that not everything is what it seems to be on the surface, and that each player is a person behind a computer. Can she manage to balance the real world and her gaming world?
I loved the illustrations in this book. They felt like a melding of Manga and more Americanized illustrations. I liked the story behind the illustrations as well. It can be easy to forget that content and personalities on the web have real people behind the front. I also enjoyed the bit of political content, and I believe that the internet is a very powerful tool for networking and spreading awareness. It did seem to be wrapped up quickly and neatly, which seemed a bit unlikely. But overall, I sped through this and ate it up.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
By Susan Kuklin
Several teens share their story of their gender identity. I liked this book because it gave different scenarios. There were the more well known male to female transition and the female to male transition, but also more fluid transgender situations. I think this is a great book for those teens feeling like this is or might be what they are going through. It can be a great support for those who are struggling through the process. I found this book incredibly interesting, learning about the thoughts and feelings of teens who are struggling in this. I loved that the book included stories that ranged in situations. You could tell that some still struggled incredibly, and some were much more comfortable in their transitions. I think it successfully demonstrates that this really can be a process mentally, physically, and emotionally. I have handed this book to several teens who may really relate, and they all seem to become instantly engrossed. I am so glad there is a resource like this available.
*As a side note, I recently had a teen ask me for only fiction books about transitioning. My teen stated that every nonfiction book on the topic had “giveaway words” on the cover, and wouldn’t allow her to inconspicuously explore the topic. As I went through the options, I realized that this was the case. And although I love the idea that some teens are out and proud, I recognize that some need a way to be able to explore their feelings in what they feel is safe.
In a world were there are white witches and black witches, Nathan is caught in between. His white witch mother fell in love with his black witch father, who has cause the death of many other white witches. Now he must live as an outsider, he feels like he is a white witch inside, but his outside makes it obvious that he is not. The Council of White Witches repeatedly makes laws that keeps half-codes and black witches apart from their own white witches. He is no longer allowed to travel freely or talk to other white witches. Nathan struggles with his identity, his family and friends, and his desires for the future.
This has been on my to read list forever, and I could just never get into the idea of this book. So this year I put it on my MUST READ LIST, and I am glad I did. While it probably wasn’t in my top books of all time, it was a fast and interesting read, and it definitely ended on a cliffhanger, so now I’ll have to read more. I didn’t love any single character as individuals, but as a group, I thought they made a cohesive team. The plot moved quickly and stayed interesting the whole way through. I though this was very much in the ilk of many of the paranormal romances that came out during the same time, but it refreshingly did not have an overwhelming romance in it! I thought the world building was lacking in most places, and I felt like I really wanted more in some scenes. I feel like I have no idea what the surroundings were. Although I think there could definitely be some improvements, I am giving this a higher rating because it was a fast and enjoyable read. I am hoping that Green progresses as a writer through this series.
A Little In Love
Susan E. Fletcher
Eponine comes from a family that does not have much. They make most of their money by stealing, her sister and her are sent out on a daily basis and chastised if they come back empty handed. No one is ever kind in her family, especially not to their kitchen slave Cozette. One day Cozette is swept away to a better life, and Eponine’s life take a turn for the worst. Her father kills a man and they must go on the run for 6 years. When they finally settle down in a tenement in Paris, Eponine learns of love, friendship, and kindness. She also learns about sacrifice, and what she is willing to do for those she cares about.
This is a retelling of Eponine’s story from Les Miserable. I haven’t read or seen Les Mis, but I was still able to understand the story. I can only imagine that it would have made even more sense if I had. I listened to this on audio book, and I loved the narrator, although her accent did not sound French, her pronunciation of the French words, names, and places were great. Her voice really embodied all of the different characters, and feelings. The story was slow and hard to get into at first. Nothing really happened for a good long time into the book. Luckily the world, character, and relationship building was wonderful. I loved the descriptions of the countryside of France and the streets of Paris. So while this wasn’t a heavily plot based book, by the end I really felt like I was immersed in the story. The raw emotion was incredibly portrayed, it was like I was feeling them as well. This was a joy to listen to if not riveting storyline, but I am not sure how well I would have enjoyed reading the actual book. For me, half of the fun was the narration.
All We Have Left
In 2001: Alia is a Muslim American high school student who faces the ordinary problems of most high school girls, learning how to get along and compromise with her parents. They don’t always see eye to eye, and she feels like her parents have trouble accepting what is important to her. She goes to visit her dad at his work to try and reason with him, but while near the top of the World Trace Center, the unthinkable happens.
Today: Jesse lives with her parents and the ghost of her brother who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Her parents relationship has been decimated, her father drinks and is consumed by anger. His anger begins to wear off on her, when in an impulsive moment she decided to graffiti the Muslim Peace Center.
These two stories are told in alternating perspectives. This format allows us to transcend time and clearly see the differences and the similarities in the two girls. The way it was written really adds to the gripping horror and suspense of the situation. The description of people’s stories, fears, and feelings were very real and very heartbreaking. As an adult that is old enough to clearly remember that day, this book deeply touched me. So much so, that I plan on using it for a book club at the library this fall. I think it is an important topic that teenagers should know about. It seems to me that a lot of modern policy and conflict stemmed from this event. I think there are so many important messages in this book including diversity, family, friendship, ambition, acceptance, love, and fear. This book made me so sad and so happy all at the same time.
The Assassin Game
Cate resides at at boarding school on a very isolated island. Each year, the students of the Guild play a game called Killer. Mush like the game Assassin, one person is picked to be the killer, and the others must try to stay alive, and try to guess who the killer is. Most years the game is lighthearted, and funny, which is why the school administration turns a blind eye. But this year is different, people are getting seriously hurt and even killed. Now the members of the game must try to figure out who the killer is before they get hurt.
I thought this book was pretty good. We have all played this game before, but it was interesting to think of it as such a big production. I recall walking around a room, shaking hands and giving a little tickle to the wrist if I was the murderer. I liked some of the examples of how people could get “murdered” that were light and fun, but it definitely took a dark edge quickly. The end was not exactly what I expected, but not quite surprising either. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the characters. They were unrelateable, and not really very likable either. I thought there was a lack of world build, but it didn’t seem to big that big of a deal, since this book was mostly plot based. I was guessing until the end, but I didn’t seem to care 100%. Overall, pretty good, I just hoped for more from the cast.
Exit, Persued by a Bear
Hermoine is captain of her cheerleading team. Unlike most cheerleading teams, this one is the main event. They are the biggest sport in their high school. In the Summer before her senior year, their squad returns to the yearly cheer camp. Everything is going fantastically, until someone hands her a drink at the dance, and things go black. She is found the next morning on the shore of the lake, exposed and alone, with a very fuzzy memory of the night before. This is the story of how Hermoine copes. She has to come to terms with the fact that nothing will ever be the same again, while fighting to not let the situation take control of her life.
To me this book was very showing of how different people handle trauma in different ways. It seemed completely unrealistic at first, until I realized that. It also showed me that I have no idea how I would react to certain situations in which I have never been. Hermoine handles her situation with the only grace she knows how to have. Her strength is incredible, and her ability to look at the things that are most important (to her) are astonishing. She is lucky to have the support of her family and (some of) her friends. I was really impressed by the fact that she outwardly and inwardly struggled with the horrible events, but that she was insistent to not have those events swallow her whole. This may not be your typical written rape story, but it is one way for the story to unravel. In this subject, I think it is important to show that there is more than one scenario.
Blood Red, Snow White
Set during the Russian Revolution in 1917, Arthur Ransome, a young British journalist, has traveled to Russia in order to write fairy tales. What he finds is that there is much more to do, see, and experience than what he originally had expected. He becomes very deeply immersed in the politics of Russia, and the surrounding areas. He becomes many things to many people, but it seems that he still tries to hold on to his fairy tale life in a world where happy endings aren’t so common.
I thought this was a wonderfully written book., as I think about everything written by Marcus Sedgwick. It weaves the realistic with the ephemeral, and it does so in a way that makes them seem like the same story. The characters, especially Arthur, are multi-dimensional and strong. I love historical fiction, so this is right up my alley. My biggest concern with this book, is that it may not be marketed towards the right audience. I can’t see teens being overly excited to read this story, or to finish it once they have started. It also doesn’t really feel like a fairy tale retelling, so much as a story with a dusting of the magical and mystical within. Although I thought it was a solid work, I am not sure it will find a place with its intended audience.
Girl in the Blue Coat
Hanneke is a purveyor of black market items during World War II in Amsterdam. She is able to provide for her family with this second job. She also sees it as a tiny way that she can rebel against the Germans. One day a customer of hers asks her for an extraordinary favor. She wants her to find a Jewish girl who she was hiding in a secret room in her home. The girl has vanished without a trace, and the only clue seems to be that she was wearing a blue coat.
Part history, part mystery, all thrilling. This time period is my favorite to read about. Although much of the content is completely horrifying, you can see the brightest stars in the darkest of nights. I like to look at the absolute and utter selflessness and kindness in those people who were willing to stand up against the Nazi Regime. This book really shows the mindset of those people. It demonstrates the constant fear that they must live in to do what they know is right. The characters in this book are so strong and brave, despite their fear, they do the right thing every day. Okay, other than the WWII setting, I loved the mystery of this book. Combine these two things and you get such an intense real world suspense. I was very happy with the ending, for reasons I can’t explain, because I am anti spoiler, but if you read it and freak out, don’t judge me, it just felt right. This one really got my feelers moving, and oh the end. If I could give it 8 thumbs up, I would!
Whisper to Me
Sex workers are going missing without a trace, the media is calling the perpetrator the Houdini Killer. Then Cass finds a human foot on the beeach. All of the traumas in her life come flooding back in when she begins to hear a voice after this discovery. The voice is mean, it insults her, threatens her, and forces her to hurt herself. While in a psychiatric facility, she meets Paris, a beautiful, outgoing stripper who also hears voices. She takes her under her wing, and introduces her to a psychologist who thinks he can help her with her voices. Things seem to be getting better. Cass has a crush on the boy who is renting an apartment from her dad, and he is beginning to notice her, the voice is beginning to be under control, and for the first time, she feels like she has friends. Then Paris disappears while working a bachelor party.
There is so much going on in this book, but it is all woven together so wonderfully. It is written in the perspective of Cass. She has broken the heart of the boy who lives above her garage, and she is writing a letter to him to explain EVERYTHING! While being exhaustive of the summer, her past, her feeling, and hopes of the future, it still manages to be suspenseful. I really liked the characters. They were so human, and inherently flawed. Every single person had their own demons to battle. Some were graceful, and some were not, but throughout the book you could see everyone struggling to come to terms with less than pleasant pasts. I loved the ending! However, I will be so angry at the ending if at anytime in the future, Nick Lake makes a sequel. I would like to mention what an interesting insight this book gives on hearing voice(s). I learned a lot of things about how and why they manifest, and what alternative treatment options are available. After reading In Darkness, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s not often I feel like I am at the edge of my seat for a 500+ page YA novel. Kudos!