Getting Caught Up: Spring Reading

I haven’t been keeping up with my book reviews, but I have been reading as much as I can. Now that I’m on summer break it should hopefully be easier to read more and blog more. I figured now is a good time to fill you all in on some of the books I read this spring.

I’m going to write brief reviews and am including the Goodreads link so you can see the summary.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley (Goodreads): Novels featuring war, soldiers, boot camps, and more have been really popular lately for obvious reasons. When I learned about Rites of Passage I was instantly intrigued because Sam McKenna is a girl joining a previously all male military school. As I’m sure you can imagine, Sam is faced with more than her fair share of conflicts. Because of this I was often mad, dismayed, and frustrated while listening. Sam’s a strong and independent character, however, so I completely admired her and how well she fought to overcome the many obstacles she faced. There’s also an element of romance in the story, which definitely had me swooning from time to time. Rites of Passage is going to be a big hit in my classroom next school year.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Goodreads): The first thing I need to mention, is that middle school libraries should consider adding Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir to their collections if they haven’t already. I always recommend reading a book first before adding it to a classroom or library, especially at the middle school level, but this memoir is set during Maya’s 8th grade year. She learns so much about self-esteem, friendships, family, and finding herself that readers of any age will relate. I haven’t bought a physical copy yet, but I will this summer so I can share this with my students next school year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads): I’m afraid to admit this: I couldn’t get into Throne of Glass. I met Sarah at a dinner during NCTE in the fall, though, and after talking to her I had a good feeling I was going to enjoy A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was not wrong! Feyre is fierce and intelligent. I loved that she goes after what she wants and that she’s so loyal and protective of her family. There is a heavy amount of romance in Maas’s first installment of this series; I found myself blushing as I read one particuarly steamy scene while reading during class. Fantasy lovers who are looking for more mature fantasy while still hanging out in the world of YA will thoroughly enjoy this. The imagery is lush, there’s plenty of action, and the story is engrossing. I can’t wait to read the second book!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Goodreads): It’s been at least a month since I finished reading this, and I still don’t know where to begin my review. I own all of Nova Ren Suma’s books, but this is the first I’ve read. Her writing is beautiful and vivid and really pulled me into the story. The story itself is so richly layered, I had to purposely slow down my pace so I could take it all in. Honestly, it’s a difficult book to explain without giving too much away. Readers who enjoy magical realism, mystery, and character driven novels will enjoy The Walls Around Us.

Audiobook Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Audio Review

99 DaysTitle: 99 Days

Author: Katie Cotugno

Narrator: Allyson Ryan

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: eARC received from the publisher / audio received via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

Audiobook Review: I decided to read 99 Days via audio despite having the eARC mostly because of how much easier it is for me to listen to audiobooks at this stage in my life. I’m trying to keep up with blog tour reading requests and my own personal reading desires, so sometimes I’ll take the easiest route and experience a book via audio. Also, I’ve recently been contacted by Scribd to give their platform a free one month trial and figured, why not? Katie Cotugno’s book was right there and I’ve been wanting to read it. The stars aligned and I made it happen.

At first I wasn’t quite sure about Allyson Ryan as the narrator. She doesn’t really sound like a teenager to me and sometimes her voice went a little flat, but somehow that worked for Molly’s character. Molly is sometimes a tough character to like so it worked for me that I didn’t always like Ryan’s voice. A number of people have abandoned this book because of the content and characters, so I think those readers should give the audio a try. It’s not my favorite audiobook because of the narrator, but I enjoyed the story itself.

Book Review: Like I said, 99 Days has been receiving a lot of criticism, mostly because the story features characters who cheat on one another. Honestly, I don’t think those reviewers are being fair. I 100% understand being against cheating, but I think we have to recognize and remember that even though it’s ugly and messy, it happens more often than we’d like it to. For that reason, I think Katie Cotugno deserves more credit for writing this book. She could have written another story about a guy or a girl getting cheated on, but instead she wrote it from the point of view of the person being unfaithful. This is a young adult novel and young adults are going to connect with Molly, Patrick, and Gabe for one reason or another. Every reader deserves to find her or himself in a book even if that book contains subject matter that some readers don’t like.

Do the characters in this novel make poor choices? Yes. Do they make poor choices over and over again? Yes. For me, this heightened the story and made those characters stand out on the page. I like flawed characters; they’re interesting and engaging. So many times I cringed over Molly’s decisions, but I also recognized that she’s just finished college and is at an age when she’s going to make mistakes. I think one of the best parts about her story is that she learned from those mistakes. Her entire summer was about figuring out who she is and how and who to love. She needed to figure out how to make friends and how to trust her mother again. She needed to figure out what she wants out of college. Molly figured out much of those problems, but it wasn’t a neat and tidy process that resulted in a gift with a big fat bow. She stumbled, she lost friends, and she learned some important lessons about life and relationships.

Personally, I couldn’t stand Patrick for most of the book and could not understand Molly’s attraction to him. Gabe has a little more going for him, but even he didn’t always seem right for Molly. Molly struck me as an insecure teen trying to find her way and in need of positive attention. I know teens like Molly and I know they’ll appreciate what Katie Cotugno wrote.

I do, however, like Molly’s close friend Imogen. She’s the type of friend I think most people desire because she’s loyal and honest.  She stands by Molly and sticks up for her as Molly endures endless slut-shaming, but she also calls Molly out when she thinks she’s making a huge mistake. People need friends like that in their lives because they keep us balanced. I’m glad Cotugno wrote Imogen’s character the way she did.

Another element to the story I enjoyed is the summer atmosphere. I can’t wait for summer and warm weather and reading on my deck, so listening to 99 Days while I drove to work in the morning literally brightened my day. It felt like summer while I read this even though the temps weren’t quite summer-ish.

Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Things We Know By HeartTitle: Things We Know by Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: eARC from the publisher / Purchased hardcover

Summary (From Goodreads):

When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Jessi Kirby is hands down one of my favorite authors of realistic fiction. Every one of her books pulls at my heart strings and Things We Know by Heart is no exception. I literally cried within the first two pages.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the inclusion of different quotes relating to hearts at the beginning of each chapter. Some of the quotes are profound, many are scientific, and others are dealing with love. I especially appreciated how each quote specifically connects with events in the chapter it begins. Unfortunately I didn’t mark some of my favorite quotes like I now wish I would have.

I also really liked Quinn and Colton; they’re simply incredibly likable characters. Sometimes books dealing with the loss of a loved one will feature characters trapped in the past, but Quinn isn’t like that. She’s understandably afraid to move on from Trent, but she shows growth and allows herself to let go and try new things when she’s with Colton. Both characters shine when they’re with each other and I couldn’t help but fall for both of them.

There were times when I was uncomfortable and tense while reading Things We Know by Heart, but that’s natural considering the plot. Quinn already knows Colton before actually knowing him. She’s at an unfair advantage in the relationship and as a reader I kept waiting for the moment when that would come to light. So of course parts of the story are predictable, but that never drew away from my complete and utter engagement and enjoyment. I rooted for Quinn and Colton the entire time I read this book, especially as I stayed up until close to midnight on a school night so I could finish reading their story. I may have even shed some tears as I read the last 10-15% of the novel.

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby made my heart swell. It’s one of my favorite books of 2015; I hope you’ll read it soon if you haven’t already.

Review: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Sophomore Year is Greek to MeTitle: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me

Author: Meredith Zeitlin

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A laugh-out-loud high school adventure set in Greece, perfect for fans of Meg Cabot.
 
High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she’s devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona’s mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks… but no thanks. 
 
In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.

I adored Meredith Zeitlin’s debut, Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, so I was thrilled when I learned about her sophomore release, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me. Zona Lowell charmed me just as Kelsey Finkelstein did.

I want to quickly note that Zona attends the same school as Kelsey, and Kelsey does make a brief appearance, but you do not need to read Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters before reading Sophomore Year is Greek to Me. I do, however, strongly recommend that you read both books!

Zona is a character with goals and plans, both revolving around her role with the school newspaper. Her driven personality was one of my favorite parts of this book. Being part of our high school’s newspaper and yearbook classes is basically the equivalent to having a part-time job. By the time those students are seniors, they are more talented, goal-oriented, and career focused than I could have ever dreamed to be when I was their age. Zona is a character that these students will respond to quickly for those reasons. She’s also enjoyable because her life in Greece forces her out of her comfort zone which in turn helps her learn how to handle life’s hiccups.

I’ve always wanted to visit Greece; reading Sophomore Year is Greek to Me allowed me to live vicariously through Zona. She travels to different towns, experiences the night life, and even has a rustic “old country” experience. Admittedly, I would have spent much more time at the beach than Zona did, but I loved seeing more of Greece through her eyes.

The summary says this is a book that will make you laugh out loud. I giggled a few times, but I think readers will be disappointed if they’re looking for a “funny” book. Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters made me laugh out loud and is one I had to students who want to read something funny. I wouldn’t hand this to those students necessarily. It has it’s funny moments, but I think this is more fitting for readers who want a story about a character finding herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sophomore Year is Greek to Me and hope you’ll enjoy it as well. I’m looking forward to reading Meredith Zeitlin’s future books.

Blog Tour Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage pub coverTitle: All the Rage

Author: Courtney Summers

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Release Date: April 14th, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From the publisher):

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything-friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time-and they certainly won’t now-but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

Where do I possibly start with this review? All the Rage by Courtney Summers is a book just about everyone should read. Are you a girl? You should read it. Are you a guy? You should read it. Are you a teacher? Are you a counselor? Are you a parent? You should read it. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

Courtney Summers addresses an important issue–rape culture (and much more, actually)–and she doesn’t sugar coat it. Rape isn’t described in detail or anything, but it doesn’t need to be because this is more than about the act of rape. Readers understand how horrific rape is without “witnessing” it. Those who read Romy’s story will understand that, but (more?) importantly they will also experience the emotional trauma after rape and the backlash from a community who refuse to believe the truth.

All the Rage quoteAs I said, Summers doesn’t sugar coat anything in this story and Romy being written as a flawed character highlights that fact. Romy is suffering deeply after being raped by Kellan Turner and being relentlessly and mercislessly bullied by her former friends and community. She has become withdrawn, angry, and self-conscious. She’s afraid to grow close to anyone again and let her guard down. Consequently, she’s put in situations and gets herself into situations that made me cringe and feel a multitude of emotions. Courtney Summers is often brutal when she writes her characters, and with good reason. If Romy did everything “right” after her rape, I don’t know if this story would have affected me as much. First of all, what is the “right” thing to do in the aftermath of a rape, especially when no one in your town, especially the sheriff, believes what you’re saying? What is the “right” way to act towards kids in school who slut-shame you because you were raped at a party where you were drinking and having a good time? I wanted Romy to tell that sheriff what-for and I wanted her mother to demand she be treated like a victim. I wanted Romy to stand up to her former friends. But that’s not really what happens (in All the Rage and in real life). And it’s hard to read.

I do want to stress, however, that Romy is a fighter. She has a hell of a time figuring it out and helping herself, but she’s trying nonetheless. Her relationship with Leon is a prime example of how much she wants to get her life back. I’ve read a review or two where this relationship was criticized, but I like the addition of the Leon and what he adds to the story. Romy has a difficult time letting herself relax around him and allowing him to see who she really is. She’s so guarded and wounded, Romy can’t understand why he wants to be close to her. Unfortunately this causes additional conflict for Romy, but it’s a conflict that truly illuminates her pain, fear, and trauma. Readers gain an understanding of how rape affects inter-personal relationships.

I did at times have a tough time following the organization of the story. I love how captivating the beginning the book is, but it leads to “Two Weeks Before” and eventually jumps back to the present. For about 60 pages or so I was trying to get my footing and figure out exactly what was going on. My “got it” moment came during SSR in class one day and from that point forward I didn’t want to put the book down.

All the Rage is Courtney Summer’s first hardcover published book and it’s worth every cent. I encourage you to read this, buy this, and share this with others. It’s been added to my classroom library and already been borrowed by more than one eager reader.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Summers lives and writes in Canada, where she divides most of her time between a camera, a piano and a word processing program. She is also the author of What Goes Around, This is Not a Test, Fall for Anything, Some Girls Are, Cracked Up to Be, and Please Remain Calm. 

BOOK LINKS

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/125002191X

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/all-the-rage-courtney-summers/1119182775?ean=9781250021915

Books-A-Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/All-Rage/Courtney-Summers/9781250021915?id=6229825482952

IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250021915

Indigo: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/all-the-rage/9781250021915-item.html

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/all-the-rage/id921442373

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Courtney_Summers_All_the_Rage?id=UyudBAAAQBAJ

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/all-the-rage-12

AUTHOR LINKS

Website: http://courtneysummers.ca/

Tumblr: http://summerscourtney.tumblr.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CourtneySummersAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/courtney_s

Instagram: https://instagram.com/summerscourtney/

Review: First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano

First There Was ForeverTitle: First There Was Forever

Author: Juliana Romano

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: April 14th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author / Friendship

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Prettyand Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door, Juliana Romano’s expressive debut is an absorbing and bittersweet story about first love, first loss, and the friends that carry us through it all.

Lima and Hailey have always been best friends: Lima shy and sensitive, Hailey funny and free-spirited. But Hailey abandons Lima to party with the popular kids and pursue Nate, her disinterested crush. As their friendship falters, Lima and Nate begin spending more time together. And before Lima knows what she’s feeling, she and Nate do something irreversible. Something that would hurt Hailey….if she knew it happened.

Lima thinks she’s saving her friendship by lying, but she’s only buying time. As the secrets stack up, Lima is forced to make a choice: between her best friend forever, and the boy who wasn’t meant to be hers.

A number of my students will ask me to help them find books that deal with friendships, and I often struggle to think of titles worth recommending. Usually when my students are inquiring about a friendship book, they aren’t looking for a book heavy with romance. Many of the contemporary titles I read feature friendships, but many of those titles are also heavily focused on a romance.

I appreciate how much emphasis Juliana Romano puts on Lima and Hailey’s friendship. They’ve always been best friends, but their paths are veering away from one another and consequently their friendship is falling apart. This is common in friendships and consequently something many teen readers will identify with. This part of the story line was frustrating for me to read at times, however, because Lima keeps trying to retain her friendship with Hailey even though Hailey begins to treat her poorly. I wanted Lima to stand up for herself.

Part of the reason, I think, that Lima has a difficult time standing up to Hailey is because of her growing feelings for Hailey’s long-time unrequited love, Nate. Lima can’t get over the guilt she feels for developing feelings for him and that he may have feelings for her, too. This part of the story is where the majority of the focus falls, and that disappointed me. Conflicts like this happen in friendships, so I think it deserves to be part of the story, but I wanted there to be more focus on Lima and Hailey. I didn’t want the Lima-Nate dynamic to overshadow the problems in Lima and Hailey’s friendship because there was already enough there without focusing on the love triangle. It would have been interesting to see Lima discover herself without Hailey and without a love interest.

I did, however, really enjoy the setting. Juliana Romano created a captivating California setting for First There Was Forever. At times it felt like the setting was a character in the novel because it was so vivid.

The blurb says First There Was Forever is perfect for fans of The Summer I Turned Pretty and My Life Next Door, but I don’t know that I would hand this to readers who just finished either of those books. This debut fits better with Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer and Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti.

Audio Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

 

Audio Review

All the Bright PlacesTitle: All the Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

Narrators: Kirby Heyborne & Ariadne Meyers

Publisher: Knopf

Release Date: January 6th, 2015

Interest: Contemporary / More than one point of view / Depression & mental illness / Debut author

Source: Audio received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
 
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Includes a PDF Help Line Resource Guide and a Note Read by the Author.

Audio review: I decided to listen to the audio for All the Bright Places because my friend was listening to it and enjoying it and because I don’t always have time to sit and physically read a book. I’ve discussed this lack of time to physically read here at the Nerdy Book Club blog. Anyway, overall I enjoyed the audio. Both narrators sound like teenagers–which is something I’m often critical about–and I felt their emotions. This is a very emotional debut novel and I think the narrators’ ability to convey these emotions so vividly is a large reason why I enjoyed this book so much. Finch and Violet are suffering deeply and I empathized with them so much that I ugly cried on my way to work one morning while listening to this. I’ll admit, though, that I wasn’t sure how much this book was pulling me at the beginning. Thanks to the publisher and Listening Library, I have an excerpt of the audio for you.

Book review: First, I commend Jennifer Niven for writing a book that deals with mental illness, depression, and suicide. These topics simply aren’t openly discussed enough when they should be. Niven has included a wonderful author’s note at the end of the book where she writes about her personal reasons for writing All the Bright Places. I wish this note was at the beginning of the book, even though I understand why it isn’t, because I don’t think students will read it. They too often ignore important additions like this, often because they simply don’t realize that they should pay them any attention. But this is a note that they should pay attention to, especially if they’re suffering or know someone who is.

Finch’s suffering, especially, broke my heart. Niven takes us through his cycle of depression and his efforts to avoid it. Violet is suffering at the beginning of All the Bright Places, and she is for much of the novel, but while Finch is falling deeper and deeper, we watch Violet begin to climb out of her depression. I was concerned about the depiction of their relationship, though, and whether it’s a misleading portayal because of how light they are. The tone didn’t seem to fit the seriousness of the situation, but my mind did change as I continued reading. And really, there isn’t any reason why someone suffering from depression can’t have moments of lightness with another person, right?

The reason I didn’t give All the Bright Places a five star rating, however, is because I couldn’t look past some plot holes. Finch’s mother and family are the biggest problems I have with the story. They’re just so absent and oblivious. I know that not all families are aware or choose to be aware. I get that. But some of the inaction seemed more like it was included to drive the plot forward more than anything else. I want to say more, but to say more, I would have to spoil the book and I don’t want to do that. I had a conversation about this yesterday afternoon with Jenn Fountain as she was finishing the book, and I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. It made me SO ANGRY that I was yelling out loud at the book while driving to work on the same day that I was ugly crying. It wasn’t pretty when I pulled into work that morning.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading All the Bright Places. There are flaws, but overall this is a book that should be read and discussed. I don’t think the comparison to The Fault in Our Stars is very accurate, but I agree with the comparison to Thirteen Reasons Why. If I’m only thinking about characters, then I guess Eleanor and Park is a good comparison, but I’m not sure that I would hand this to a student who just finished Eleanor and Park and was looking for something just like it.

Audiobook Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Audio Review

Gabi, a Girl in PiecesTitle: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Author: Isabel Quintero

Narrator: Kyla Garcia

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Release Date: October 14th, 2014

Interest: William C. Morris award winner / Diversity / Contemporary

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014

Named to School Library Journal Best Books of 2014

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Isabel Quintero is a library technician in the Inland Empire. She is also the events coordinator for Orange Monkey and helps edit the poetry journal Tin Cannon. Gabi is her debut novel.

“Mrs. Andersen, would you consider yourself a feminist?” That question came about during a To Kill a Mockingbird discussion in class that stemmed from a student bringing up the way Aunt Alexandra pesters Scout about acting like a lady. I wasn’t expecting my student to ask me that question and I wasn’t sure how to respond. But I had just finished listening to Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and kept thinking that it belongs in a women’s lit class or something. Isabel Quintero has written an incredibly smart book with an authentically teen protagonist.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is written as a series of diary entries that tell Gabi’s story during her senior year in high school. Her best friend is pregnant, her other good friend has opened up about being gay, her life at home is difficult, and she’s questioning herself constantly. She likes boys. She likes kissing boys. She wonders if this makes her “a slut.” Gabi has many thoughts and feelings about what girls should and shouldn’t do. What they’re expected to do. What makes a “good girl” versus a “slut.” This dialogue she has with herself is so important for teens to read and consider. Our culture needs to seriously think about and discuss these gender definitions, expectations, and double standards, so I’m doubly happy that Isabel Quintero’s debut won the William C. Morris award this year. I may not have known about her book otherwise.

If you’re an audio fan, then I highly suggest listening to this book. I have an extra appreciation for the audio since I was able to hear the Spanish words and the proper pronunciation. I know I would have butchered them if I was trying to read them myself, despite my few years of high school Spanish courses. Kyla Garcia was a great choice as a narrator because her voice sounds young. Gabi’s voice is very realistic as a teenage character, so I’m happy the narrator’s voice matches that as well. Also, Kyla Garcia adds so much emotion to Gabi’s words. I felt what Gabi was feeling and was completely drawn into her story as I listened.

I also need to comment on the poetry. I wish I could take Gabi’s poetry class. I enjoy reading poetry and often wrote it when I was in high school, so I found myself really connecting with Gabi as she read poetry and discovered herself through her own poetry. I’d like to seek out some of the poems Quintero included in her novel so I can find a way to use them in class.

Isabel Quintero is an author to watch; I hope she writes something again soon because Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a stunning debut.

Newbery Award Winner Book Review: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderTitle: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 18th, 2014

Interest: Verse novel / Guy appeal / Diversity

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

This is the first year that I’ve read many of the books honored and awarded by the ALA Youth Media Awards. To say I was thrilled by this revelation is an understatement. I’m incredibly behind on my reviews, so I’ve decided to *finally* write the reviews for the books which won or were honored.

Newbery contenders aren’t often on my radar since I teach high school students, so the fact that I read two out of the three books blew my mind. I was sitting in my pajamas watching the live stream since we had a snow day and I threw up my arms and cheered when The Crossover was announced as the winner.

Kwame Alexander’s newest release has been on my radar for quite some time for many reasons despite its younger audience. I adore novels written in verse and have been waiting to find one that appeals to boys. The Crossover is the book I’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching freshmen or seniors, the boys in those classes often want to read a book with a story line revolving around sports. The fact that I can now offer them a “sports book” that’s written in verse is really exciting. The Crossover will hopefully be the exposure to verse novels that these students need.

Speaking of the verse, Kwame Alexander’s verse impresses me just as much as Lisa Schroeder’s does. It’s rhythmic and smooth and even visually appealing. The verse in Brown Girl Dreaming is beautiful, but the writing in The Crossover bowled me over. It’s playful, it’s poignant, and at times it even rhymes. It’s a prime example of why I love novels written in verse.

In years past I’ve noticed that many of the books honored at the ALA Youth Media Awards aren’t always books that my students will immediately gravitate to. The books honored this year are more accessible. The Crossover may have won the Newbery, and Josh may be a twelve year old character, but this story is one that appeals to a wide range of readers young and old. Many readers will connect with Josh and his close relationship with his twin brother. Readers will empathize with Josh as he faces the dilemma of choosing between family and sports. As he realizes how truly important family is. I can’t wait to share this with my students.

Sylvia Plath fan? Then read these

I don’t think I was introduced to Sylvia Plath until I took one of my teaching secondary English courses. We read her poem “Mushrooms” without knowing the title and had to try and figure out the title, the author, the topic, etc. without knowing anything besides the words on the page. It was a fun activity and one I’ve done with my own students every time I teach poetry.

I became more interested in her a couple summers ago after reading a Michael L. Printz honor book about her life. And I have yet to read The Bell Jar, but I plan on listening to the audio. Anyway, whenever I find a new YA title that connects with The Bell Jar or with Plath in some way I’m instantly drawn to it. I realized today that I’ve read a few books like this which is why I’m listing them here. Maybe this post will help you add to a poetry unit or Plath-related lesson. Or maybe you’ll simply want to read some books that I highly recommend :)

The book that started it all–

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (Goodreads): I reviewed this Printz honor book a couple years ago and you can read the review here. Like I said in the review, I already knew about how her life ended, but this book still made me cry. I’ve been interested in her ever since.

Your Own, Sylvia

The book that made me want to read The Bell Jar

And Then Things Fell Apart by Arlaina Tibensky (Goodreads): I reviewed this title the same year I reviewed Your Own, Sylvia. Tibensky’s debut didn’t get enough coverage considering what a great book it is. I think I was actually supposed to read The Bell Jar for a quick (and absolutely horrible) three week undergrad history course that I took after the course where we read “Mushrooms”, but I didn’t read it. Shhh…Don’t tell anyone 😉 It’s amazing what a bad class and a bad teacher can do to a book and a student, but that’s for another post. Anyway, Keek’s story is one that I raced through and “sofa king” loved (read the book and you’ll get that :)).

And Then Things Fall Apart

The book that surprised me–

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Goodreads): I really didn’t know much about Belzhar before I read it besides the connection to The Bell Jar. I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the audio when Penguin offered and am so happy I did. I liked Wolitzer’s YA debut because she added a twist of magical realism (although you may read it as realistic). I think it will lure some of my fantasy fans in class and hopefully help them find enjoyment in realistic fiction. Jam is an authentic character who makes mistakes and grows from her mistakes. Her life at The Wooden Barn and her Special Topics in English class have really made me curious about Wolitzer’s connection to The Bell Jar. And P.S. the audio is great. A friend told me that Wolitzer chose the narrator; she made a fantastic choice!

Belzhar

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