The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Daisy Whitney The Mockingbirds

332 pp.  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  2010 ISBN: 9780316090537

Summary (from the publisher): “Some schools have honor codes.  Others have handbooks.  Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way–the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds–a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl’s struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone–especially yourself–you fight for it.” 

First of all, I was hooked from the very first page.  Alex wakes up naked in a boy’s bed and doesn’t know how she got there.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt for a character so quickly before, but I instantly wanted to jump in and help Alex.  Thankfully she has a supportive roommate and a caring older sister.  What happened begins to dawn on Alex, but she doesn’t want to admit right away that she was raped.  When she gets back to her room and eventually begins telling her story, she’s taken to visit her sister who tells her about the Mockingbirds.  This is where I start to feel torn…

**Beware of some spoilers.  I needed to include some spoiler info to fully explain myself**

Fortunately, I’ve never been in Alex’s position, but I can still understand her hesitation to admit what happened and take action.  It didn’t stop me though from yelling at her to tell the police.  After taking some time to consider her options, Alex chooses to seek out the Mockingbirds to punish her rapist.  I respect Alex’s decision, and I understand why the story is written this way.  But as a teacher, I think about teens reading this novel.  Not all teens have the alternative Alex does.  So what should they do if they read this novel and want help outside of the police?  Thankfully, Alex does confide in an adult.  And that moment was written so honest and beautifully I teared up.  I was reading this part during SSR in front of my class, so I had to hold back any real tears.

That was my only issue with The Mockingbirds.  It’s a book I couldn’t put down, nor did I want to put it down.  Daisy Whitney has a wonderful vocabulary and grip on how teens interact.  The relationship between Alex and Martin is incredibly believeable and paced perfectly, which is really important.  Alex doesn’t feel comfortable allowing herself to fall for someone after her rape, so she battles with her emotions.  Once she and Martin begin spending more time together, their relationship unfolds naturally.  They might be one of my favorite realistic fiction book couples actually! 

Another reason I’m excited about The Mockingbirds is how it ladders with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  This isn’t about racial injustice, but about injustice in general.  Teenagers have a better sense of what’s right and wrong than we give them credit for.  It’s horrible that the students at Themis Academy didn’t feel that they could count on the administration, but it’s admirable that they created their own system for justice with checks and balances.  The entire concept behind this book is brilliant.

I highly recommend teens, guys and girls, and teachers alike read The Mockingbirds.  It’s begging to be discussed.  It’s bound to become a classic.

You by Charles Benoit

 Charles Benoit You

223 pp.  HarperTeen (Harper Collins).  2010 ISBN: 978-0-06-194704-9

Summary (From the publisher): “This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.

You’re just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can’t be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?

There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them? Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late? Think fast, Kyle. Time’s running out. How did this happen?

You is the riveting story of fifteen-year-old Kyle and the small choices he does and doesn’t make that lead to his own destruction.

In his stunning young-adult debut, Charles Benoit mixes riveting tension with an insightful—and unsettling—portrait of an ordinary teen in a tale that is taut, powerful, and shattering.”

You worked for me as a young adult lit reader, but it worked for me even more as a teacher always on the look-out for great guy books.  I’m going to be book-talking this book like crazy, but the cover alone will help draw in readers; it’s what grabbed my attention!  The cover fits perfectly with the story and is incredibly intriguing.  As soon as I started reading, Kyle reminded me of so many of my male students.  It’s sad but true.  It doesn’t take much for a student to end up like Kyle; a few missing assignments can drop a grade enough that it feels impossible to bring up.  Then the nagging parents enter the picture, that is if they’re even involved.  When grades start dropping privileges begin flying out the window.  When all of this adds up, students often fall through the cracks- especially boys.  I have boys like this in my classes and I’m constantly trying to find books for them to read and ways for them to succeed.    You is going to be a huge hit with my boys.

Guy readers will enjoy this (and girls too!) because they’ll be able to relate with Kyle.  Even if you haven’t been in the same position as Kyle, most teenagers can relate with parents constantly lecturing and asking questions.  They can relate to liking someone but not knowing how to act on it.  They can relate to feeling frustrated in class.  Kyle, unfortunately, is dealing with all of this at once, plus some.  I just wanted to reach out and help him.

I love the pacing of this novel.  Benoit wrote a fast-paced, suspenseful novel.  The very first lines should hook everyone: “You’re surprised at all the blood.  He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.  He’s surprised, too.”  I couldn’t put this down after that first page.  I absolutely devoured this book; it was done in about four hours or less.  Amazing! 

If you’ve read Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Right Behind You by Gail Giles or Breaking Point by Alex Flinn,  you’ll enjoy You by Charles Benoit.  This is a five star novel that begs to be read and discussed.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Andrea Cremer Nightshade

454 pp.  Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers Group).  2010 ISBN: 978-0-399-25482-6

Summary from the publisher: “Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she’ll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters’ laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything—including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?”

Inside and out I completely love this book.  I fall for books quite often, but there are only a few I’ve read that leave me wanting to keep reading and reading and reading.  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is one and Nightshade is another.  There’s something magical about the writing style, the setting and the characters.  Andrea Cremer’s writing is both easy to read and very engaging.  The setting is near Vale, Colorado at Mountain School, a school for werewolves with some priviledged humans mixed in.  It has the perfect mix of magic and mystery, plus the normal teenage drama and hormones.

Because I am a character junky, I need to start a new paragraph to discuss why I love the Nightshades and the Banes.  Calla, the alpha of her Nightshade pack, is down-to-earth and protective of her pack.  She’s also a low-key girl that prefers jeans and a t-shirt over  a skirt and heels.  Can’t say that I blame her for that!  Ren is her future mate and fellow alpha.  He’s strong, dark and handsome.  He’s also quite the “ladies man.”  Despite Ren’s many love interests in his time before the union, he honestly cares for Calla.  Calla knows its her duty to be with Ren and gets weak-kneed when she’s around him.  But she’s also developing an inappropriate crush on the newest human at Mountain School, Shay.  This sets up a delicious love triangle.  Surprisingly, I can’t decide whether I prefer Ren or Shay more.  Ren is protective of Calla, sometimes to a fault, and very jealous.  But he’s also greatly concerned over her well-being and working with her to create a strong, unified pack.  Shay is intelligent and vulnerable.  But he’s strong-willed and romantic with a mysterious background to boot!  Decisions, decisions.  I can definitely say that Nightshade is full of well-written sexual tension.

Andrea deserves much praise for the research she put in for this novel.  From her bio, I know that she’s earned her Ph.D in early modern history and it shows.  This story required historical research and it’s obvious that legitimate research was performed.  I’ve read in blog interviews that Andrea put a lot of thought into her characters’ names, which I love.  If I ever get the guts to write a book, I will follow suit.  I’ve looked up some of the names like Seamus and Nightshade, and I’d like to learn more about the other names used.  These sorts of details add so much dimension to a story.

Now for the appearance of Nightshade.  The cover is gorgeous!  I love the purple and touch of shimmer under Calla’s eyes.  The model portraying Calla looks beautiful yet fierce, just like Calla herself.  The frayed edges of the pages make me feel like I’m reading one of the books Shay swiped from his uncle’s library.  The shifting moon marking a new chapter is brilliant, but I’d like to know more about the alchemical symbols marking each chapter as well.  I’m always thinking of my students when I buy a new book, and it was no different when I  bought Nightshade.  I showed my students the cover and all the fine details I just mentioned. They were immediately intrigued.  I even asked the boys in my classes if they’d want to read this.  Most of them said they think it looks like a cool book.  I asked them about the color of the cover, and they weren’t hindered by it.

Overall, Nightshade receives 5 out of 5 stars and major props for Andrea!  I was sad to finish because I am completely hooked on the story.  Book 2, Wolfsbane, is at the very top of my I Can’t Wait to Read list.  Nightshade gets my highest recommendation 😀

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Jandy Nelson The Sky is Everywhere

276 pp.  Dial Books (Penguin Group).  2010  ISBN: 978-0-8037-3495-1 (Hardcover)

(From the publisher) “Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.”

I need a moment to gush- I couldn’t get enough of this extraordinary novel!!  Of course I want you to read my review, but seriously, just go buy this book.  I’ll wait for you to get back, I promise 🙂  The Sky is Everywhere is a drop what you’re reading right now and start reading this instead kind of book. 

To start, I need to bring up Jandy Nelson’s writing style.  Her bio on the back flap says she has a degree in poetry and it’s evident in her writing.  The story is beautifully lyrical and easy to read.  I especially enjoyed the poetry included that’s written by Lennie.  It’s creative and honest; it’s a great representation of what a talented teenager might write.  Imagery is always important in novels and the imagery Nelson creates is spectacular.  “The flower is blooming again in my chest, this time three seconds from bud to showstopper.”  Is it possible to read this line and not visualize a girl falling in love? 

Considering my love of great characters, I must mention Lennie.  She is deep, conflicted, and talented.  Lennie is a talented poet and clarinetess, both of which give her an emotional outlet to deal with Bailey’s death.  Lennie’ poetry is personal and therapeutic, but she writes these poems on anything she can (i.e. paper cups, tree limbs) and leaves them for people to discover.  Even though Emily Dickinson kept her poems hidden and private while she was alive, Lennie’s poetry reminded me of Dickinson’s poems.  Both wrote poetry in response to their observations of the world around them.  Lennie’s poetry is written according to how she’s feeling now about her trials in love and her feelings about Bailey’s death.  It’s also written reflecting on her different interactions and conversations with Bailey. 

The Sky is Everywhere will speak to teens in multiple ways.  Not all teenage girls will relate to a love triangle like Lennie’s, but many will relate to feeling like the second fiddle to a sibling or friend.  One of the biggest conflicts of the story is about Lennie climbing out from under Bailey’s shadow.  Bailey didn’t try to make Lennie feel sub-par, but Lennie still felt that way only she didn’t truly realize it until after Bailey’s death.  Now Lennie is left to wonder if she’s better than second chair clarinet and good/beautiful enough for a spectacular boy like Joe.  Lennie is a richly layered character that readers will easily respond to.

Overall, I without a doubt give The Sky is Everywhere five stars.  Jandy Nelson has proven herself as an enormously talented new author.  I eagerly await for her next novel!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger

Kody Keplinger The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

277 pp.  Poppy/ Little, Brown and Company.  2010  ISBN: 978-0-316-08423-9

(From the publisher) “Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.”

I.  LOVE.  This.  Book!!  Yes, some people may not be able to handle Bianca and all of her sarcasm and cynicism, but considering one of my best friends in high school could have been her twin, I totally understand her.  Bianca sure is angry at the world, but with everything that’s going on in her life, I don’t blame her for being a little “snarky.” 

When Wesley first referred to Bianca as a DUFF I was utterly shocked.  He disgusted me and I wanted to punch him for Bianca; I completely understood her hate for him.  After that, who cares if he’s a charming hottie?!  But with all the frustrations dominating Bianca’s life, and as much as she wants to think “she’s fine,” she ends up making out with him during their next encounter to relieve some stress.  Once this “enemies-with-benefits” thing starts, I was concerned about Bianca.   Starting a physical relationship without strings attached isn’t a healthy outlet.  But Bianca, along with all the girls that will and should read this, discover the consequences and other ways to handle stress.  On the lighter side, I really enjoyed Bianca and Wesley’s banter.  Bianca isn’t afraid to be herself around him, cynicism and everything.

Young adult novels almost always include the main character’s best friend(s), but it’s rare to see something as true-to-life as Bianca’s friendship with Casey and Jessica.  The dynamics of their friendship is dead on– the jokes and conflicts, for example.  They genuinely care about each other and look out for one another. 

I truly hope teenage girls read this novel.  There is so much to be learned about self-esteem and the perception of yourself and others.  Once Wesley calls Bianca a DUFF, that’s all she can think about.  But doesn’t everyone feel like the ugly friend once in a while?  Despite Bianca feeling this way, all I focused on was how smart and dynamic she is.  She notices things about the people around her that most miss or ignore completely.  Then there’s Wesley, he’s the popular rich guy who has it all.  But as Bianca spends more and more time with him, she learns that maybe his life isn’t so perfect after all. 

The DUFF is one of the best books I’ve read, and I absolutely can’t wait to read another novel by Kody Keplinger.  I’m even more impressed by this novel after learning that Keplinger is only 18 years old!!  Talk about impressive!  Once I started reading this, I couldn’t put it down even though I had a stack of papers to grade.  In fact, I was sad when I finished because I wanted to keep reading 🙂  Congratulations on a job well-done, Ms. Keplinger!

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden

Denise Jaden Losing Faith

377 pp.  Simon Pulse.  2010 ISBN: 978-1-4169-9609-5 (P’back)

(From the publisher) “A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie’s sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie’s world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don’t line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night…a secret that puts her own life in danger.”

Is there anything I didn’t like about Losing Faith?  Absolutely not!  I LOVED this novel!  The characters are wonderfully developed and the story is richly layered. 

This story is about losing a sibling, but the story has so much going for it that readers will be able to read this and relate whether they’ve experienced a loss or not.  The main character, Brie, is an honest character that many will relate to easily.  The story focuses on how she deals with Faith’s death, and finding answers, but it also highlights her relationships with her parents, friends and teachers.  Brie’s friends and boyfriend don’t know how to act around her anymore, so she’s stuck trying to act normal in an anything but normal situation.  How does someone go back to being breezy with her best friend?  Or go right back to making plans to go farther with her boyfriend?  It’s easy to understand how she feels.

The story itself is completely addicting.  I started reading and the next thing I knew, I was almost 150 pages into the book!  There are plenty of unanswered questions about Faith’s death, and no one, not even Brie’s parents, will talk about it.  Brie’s search for answers, and the perfect pacing of answers uncovered, is why Losing Faith is so “unputdownable.”  Jaden didn’t give us new answers and more questions regarding Faith’s death too fast or too slow; the timing was absolutely perfect.   

If you like Speak or Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson or Hold Still by Nina LaCour, you won’t go wrong by reading Losing Faith.  I can’t say enough positive things about this book; get your hands on a copy soon! 😀

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Kelly Creagh Nevermore

543 pp.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers.  2010  ISBN: 978-1-4424-0200-3 (Hardcover)

(From the publisher) ” ‘And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore! ‘
— from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

At once an homage to one of America’s greatest writers and a page-turning psychological mystery that is equal parts horror, humor, and romance, NEVERMORE is the story of Varen — a Poe-fan and goth — and Isobel — a cheerleader and unlikely heroine. When a Lit. project pairs the two together, Isobel finds herself steadily swept into Varen’s world, one that he has created in his notebook and in his mind, one where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel slowly learns that dreams can be much more powerful than she’d ever expected, and that pain and despair come in all sorts of shades. As labels of “goth” and “cheerleader” fade away, she sees more in Varen than a tall, pale outcast, and a consuming romance is braced against the ever-clearer horror that the most terrifying realities are those within our own minds.

When Isobel has a single chance to rescue Varen from the shadows of his own nightmares, will she be able to save him — and herself?”

This is an awesome story with an original plot; I never expected to find a book using Poe’s influence in such a creative way.  Poe’s writing is dark and eerie so it compliments Varen’s character very well.  We discover Varen’s love for Poe when he and Isobel get paired up for their American author research paper.  Besides the enjoying Poe’s influence on the mood of the story, I really liked reading excerpts of his works as Isobel did and learning more information about his mysterious death.  It’s obvious that Creagh really did her homework when writing Nevermore.  And I have to admit, as an English teacher, I was pretty excited when Isobel encountered a scene that took place in Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado” because I teach that to my freshmen this trimester.  I can’t wait to tell them about this book!

As Isobel becomes more involved with Varen and the project strange things start happening to her.  This element of the story and Creagh’s well-timed clues and pieces of foreshadowing kept me turning the pages.  I was hoping to finish this before school officially started, but since I didn’t, I decided to make SSR last a little while longer so I could read more during school! 

I am really impressed with the way Isobel’s school atmosphere is portrayed.  At times I felt like I was reading a contemporary realistic novel and not a paranormal fantasy.  I was never a cheerleader, but I did participate in sports and many of my friends were cheerleaders, and Creagh’s description of the team and the coach are pretty accurate.  I know many coaches that won’t let it slide if you miss a practice, and the “catiness” of the girls is accurate too.  I’m sure teens will appreciate how true-to-life the high school side of this book is.

My only complaint about Nevermore is that I started to get really confused around the last 150 pages or so.  Isobel is learning more about Varen and the strange things happening around her, but new and confusing details and settings were added at the same time.  I wish we would have known the truth behind everything a little sooner, or maybe had more clarification on what exactly was happening to Isobel and Varen during that part of the book.  (I’m trying my best to avoid spoilers, so I’m sorry if this isn’t clear enough.)  Besides that, I loved this book and I’m looking forward to the second one.  I know my students want to read this because a couple of them have already asked to borrow it when I put it on my shelf on Monday!

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Kiersten White Paranormalcy

335 pp.  HarperTeen.  2010  ISBN: 978-0-06-198584-3  $16.99

(From the publisher) “Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.

But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.”

Paranormalcy, how much do I love you?  Let me count the ways…  First, I need to add on to Lisa McMann’s quote on the cover of the novel.  McMann says “The most refreshing paranormal debut of the year.”  I’d like to add on that this is the most refreshing paranormal fantasy period.  There are have been so many paranormal stories out there, and yes many are excellent, but this one stands out. For example,  Evie isn’t living in a regular neighborhood and meeting some vampire at school.  Instead, she’s actually working for an agency that “bags and tags” paranormals, and she carries a pink taser that she so fondly calls “Tasey.”  It’s nice to read a story like this with a fresh setting and perspective.

Second, being the character junkie that I am, I want to meet and hang out with Evie.  She’s definitely tough, being able to take down werewolves and all, but she’s a pink-loving girly girl too.  Evie’s been living at the agency for most of her life, so she’s missed out on the true school experience.  She’s been living vicariously through her favorite teen drama.  Evie’s lonely living at the agency and working all the time, and knowing how awesome she is makes me feel for her and want to hang out with her even more.  I know that sounds goofy because she’s just a character in a book, but Kiersten White did a phenomenal job creating a character that’s so incredibly likeable. 

Another plus to this story is the development of the plot.  There are paranormals mysteriously dying, leaving Evie to try and figure out what’s going on.  While this has the potential to make the story serious and intense, White maintains a lighter mood throughout these events.  Evie keeps up with her witty comments and flirty side while still trying to solve the mystery.  Again, it’s refreshing to read a plot that while mysterious, still has a light side.  To add on to that element, each chapter ended with a cliff-hanger of sorts.  I couldn’t just stop at a chapter like I normally do; I ended up spending most of my Sunday on the couch reading because I couldn’t put it down.  I had to know what was going to happen to Evie and how the paranormals were dying.

This is a fast-pace novel that left me wanting more.  I eagerly await for more novels by Kiersten White, with more about Evie!  If you haven’ read this yet, you’re missing out on something great!

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins Hex Hall

323 pp.  Disney Hyperion Books.  2010 ISBN: 978-1-4231-2130-5  $16.99

(From the publisher)  “Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father — an elusive European warlock — only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.”

Hex Hall is most definitely “unputdownable.”  I was in love as soon as I started reading and Sophie uttered her first sarcastic comment.  Sophie underestimates herself and has a knack for getting into awkward situations, but her wit never fails.  I laughed out loud so often at her remarks and thoughts that I started marking them with post-its.  One of the best is when she describes her very pink Hex Hall room: “But this room looked like it had been decorated by the unholy lovechild of Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake.”  Sophie’s roommate, Jenna, is a vampire and when discussing how Jenna feeds, Sophie learns that she drinks from blood pouches.  How does Sophie respond?  With humor of course!  “Awesome.  Like a bloody Capri Sun.”  This dialogue runs throughout the novel which made the story even more fun to read.

The plot is absolutely addicting.  Sophie is sent to Hex Hall because she tried using magic and failed miserably.  Now she’s at a school filled with witches, shapeshifters and faeries who have all done the same in varying degrees.  Sophie’s drawback is that she barely knows anything about the life of a prodigium so we learn right along with her.  Once Sophie begins learning more about the prodigium way of life, the plot twists again, and she’s faced with a coven of hateful witches.  Oh wait, you thought that was it?  Nope, the next twist thrown our way is that something is attacking fellow classmates and Jenna is the #1 suspect.  Can you understand why I love this book so much?!  Most of these plot twists happened at the end of the chapter so I had to keep reading.  

Rachel Hawkins is incredibly gifted and I can’t wait to read the second novel in this series, Demonglass.  I can easily see her becoming one of my favorite authors because of her clever use of humor and her wonderful development of characters.  I highly recommend reading Hex Hall.  In fact, I just might read this out loud to my first trimester students 🙂

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver Before I Fall

 470 pp.  Harper Collins.  2010 ISBN: 978-0-06-172680-4  $17.99

Samantha Kingston has it all: a hot boyfriend, great clothes, popularity, beauty.  What she doesn’t have is tomorrow or the day after that.  Samantha wakes up on February 12th, Cupid Day, excited to receive more roses than most, attend an awesome party, and just maybe lose her viriginity to her boyfriend.  Everything goes terribly wrong when she and her friends leave the party and get into a horrific car accident.  Sam wakes up thinking she’s had the worst nightmare of her life, only to find out that it’s February 12th– again.  She has the chance to repeat the day she dies seven times and make some important changes. 

Before the school year ended I saw one of my freshmen, a converted “non reader”, reading this.  Any time one of my students is reading something new I check into it.  I was mostly intrigued by Jay Asher’s quote on the cover “You’ll have no choice but to tear through this book!”  I’m a huge fan of his novel Th1rteen R3asons Why so Before I Fall was added to my TBR list until I discovered the 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  Now a third reason to read it!  So before Keith and I left for Oregon, I went out and bought it to read on the plane 🙂 

As soon as I started reading I was hooked; I think I read 100 pages in less than hour.  Even though Samantha is a down-right nasty girl, I couldn’t help but continue on.  Sam feels she deserves her high ranking status at her high school, and for everyone else beneath her, well, life just isn’t fair.  Gag!  I hated girls like that in high school.  This is the genious of Lauren Oliver.  Because Samantha is so horrible, I needed to know how she was going to fix her wrongs by repeating the day she died.  Will she quit following everything her best friend, Lindsay, says and does?  Will she give Kent the time of day?  And poor Juliet Sykes…  These are things I had to know. 

The problem I have with this book is mostly the length.  Before I Fall shouldn’t have been much more than 300-350 pages.  Yes, Sam’s repeating the day seven times.  Yes, changes are made and truths are discovered.  But the writing, while beautiful and engaging, began to grow repetitive.  Each time Sam sees Juliet, Juliet is described pretty much the same way: “She’s pretty.  She looks like a model.  Her skin is perfectly clear and white…”  The first couple times this scene, when Sam really sees Juliet, is repeated I can understand her awe.  But each day?  Little details like these are the reason I had a hard time finishing this novel.  It has nothing to do with the story itself, but the excessive amounts of detail.

Overall I recommend reading this.  Readers will learn the importance of compassion and understanding, while (hopefully) realizing how unimportant the materialistic side of life is.

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