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

Maternity Leave Reading

I started the school year on maternity leave unfortunately. Thankfully I have an amazing sub! Despite not working, however, reading hasn’t been the same since Jack was born. I’ve been trying to listen to more audiobooks since that’s often the only way I can experience a book right now. I have been able to read a few books though.

Since time is a huge commodity right now, and since I REALLY miss blogging, I’ve decided to write some quick reviews about what I’ve read since Jack was born. I’d also love to get some audiobook recommendations since I know I’ll be listening to those even more than I normally do. I like listening to them while I’m feeding Jack in the middle of the night or when he and I are out and about. It’s good for him to hear the audiobooks as well since it will add to the vocabulary he’s exposed to.

What I’ve Read:

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga (Goodreads): This is the third (and I’m guessing last) book in the I Hunt Killers trilogy. Let me tell you, it is SO GOOD. And SO INTENSE. Jack was sleeping pretty much all day for the first couple weeks so I had a little more time to read and was able to finish this. Barry Lyga knows how to write a gripping murder mystery. My seniors last year loved these books so much that one of them emailed me a week before this released (September 9th) to find out the official release date so he could buy it. There are plenty of twists and turns that I wish I could bring up, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Game, you might want to revisit the last chapter or two because Blood of My Blood picks up right where that left off. Read this trilogy!

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Goodreads): I bought this book a couple nights before Jack was born because I’ve read so many positive reviews and because of the comparison to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So many of my seniors last year loved Perks, so I’m positive my group of seniors this year will enjoy this book as well. Personally, I thought Perks was just an okay book. It didn’t resonate with me like it has with my students, but I really liked Love Letters to the Dead. I listened to this and thoroughly enjoyed the narration. This is an audiobook that I could listen to and relax. The narrator’s voice is soothing and really fits Laurel. The story is written as a series of letters to a few famous dead people and through these letters we understand Laurel better. We also understand her sister and her relationship with her sister better as well. I definitely recommend this one.

What I’m Reading:

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (Goodreads): If I didn’t have Jack, I would have read this book in one sitting. I was hooked immediately, but unfortunately I don’t have time right now to just sit back and read for hours. Jamie is an intriguing character and although I’m only halfway through, I have some suspicions about what might really be going on in Jack’s life. This will be a popular title when I return to work.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Goodreads): I still haven’t read The Bell Jar, but I’m really curious about Sylvia Plath and really enjoy reading books that are about her or are inspired by her work. Belzhar is one of those books and thanks to Penguin, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the audiobook. The narrator is perfect for Jam, although sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing the voice for her male characters. Belzhar is another story of grief, but it has an interesting twist that I predict will engage quite a few of my students. I’m *this close* to finishing it. Jack and I need to go for a walk so I can listen to the last twenty minutes or so.

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller (Goodreads): If you haven’t read any of Trish Doller’s books then you’re missing out on excellent books. This is her third book and it doesn’t release until June 2015. I’m so thankful to have received an ARC of this already and will certainly write a full review of it once I’m finished. I’m reading it now because Trish is part of the NCTE session I’m co-chairing with Jillian Heise. Plus, it’s a Trish Doller book and there’s no way I can let it sit unread. I’m about 100 pages in right now and the mystery part of the plot is coming together. I value sleep more than I ever have before, but The Devil You Know is so good I’ve been reading instead of napping when the chance arrives. Add this to your TBR list if you haven’t already.

Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Open Road SummerTitle: Open Road Summer

Author: Emery Lord

Publisher: Walker Childrens

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Interest: Contemporary / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I originally received a copy of Open Road Summer when I was at NCTE in Boston. I added it to my classroom library before I read it because I knew my girls in class would probably love it, so I figured I’d read it over the summer. Sadly my ARC went missing during the school year and I never found it. After tweeting about this, Emery Lord saw my tweet and offered to be a “book fairy” and replace my missing copy. I’m thankful she did for multiple reasons, one of them being because it gave me the opportunity to read a truly enjoyable book!

I have absolutely nothing against reading edgy YA, but sometimes it’s nice to read something light and sweet. Open Road Summer isn’t without its true to life conflicts, but it’s not a book that kept me on edge. Lord has written a book that I’ll feel very comfortable offering to both my incoming freshmen *and* my seniors; it will easily appeal to both grade levels. It’s not uncommon to start a school year with “young” freshmen who may not be ready for a heavy romance filled with conflict. Open Road Summer will work well for those students who want to read about love and summer and friendship. My seniors are a different story. They also like to read about love and summer and friendship, but they generally have more life experience and will appreciate Reagan’s history. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations and don’t apply to all freshmen or all seniors.)

Speaking of Reagan, I’m glad Emery Lord chose to write this from her point of view. I love how protective and loyal she is to Dee (only people who know Lilah really well call her that) and how much she’s trying to move on from her past. Another thing I enjoyed about her character is that she reminded me of some of my friends, but I could also see myself in her. She’s a well-rounded character. On the outside Reagan is fierce and protective of those she loves, but underneath it all she’s vulnerable and hesitant to let anyone in. She makes mistakes and learns from them. I would, for the record, absolutely love to read stories from Dee’s and Matt’s points of view because they are both genuine and fun characters with interesting lives.

Once I finished reading this and gave it my rating on Goodreads, one of my followers on the site asked me if it’s really worth reading and how the music scene was portrayed. First of all, I absolutely think it’s worth reading. Emery Lord is an author that I’ll be keeping an eye on so I can read more of her books. I thought the question about the music scene was an interesting one because I honestly hadn’t considered it. Dee works hard to maintain a wholesome image because that’s who she really is and she wants to be a positive role model. She faces unfortunate drama and rumors because of the paparazzi, but other than that the drama she deals with mostly has to do with her personal relationships. It’s another reason why I think my more innocent readers will appreciate Emery Lord’s debut.

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterTitle: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Author: Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: August 14th, 2014

Interest: Series / Author

Source: ARC received from a friend (Thank you, Lea!)

Summary (From Goodreads):

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins is going to receive a ton of well-deserved hype, so I’m going to try and keep this review simple. Basically, I LOVED it. I felt like I was waiting forever to finally read it and it was worth the wait.

I adore Stephanie Perkins’s writing and how she crafts stories that combine romance and self-discovery. Isla and the Happily Ever After balanced this perfectly. I really liked reading about Isla and Josh’s budding relationship and about Isla trying to learn what she wants to do with her life after high school. Like so many high school students, Isla doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her life. Trying to decide which college to attend and what to do after high school are major conflicts for plenty of high school students whether they’re in a relationship or not. Stephanie Perkins wrote a real love story with real conflicts.

In high school I felt pretty confident about what I wanted to do as a career and where I wanted to attend college, but I really connected with Isla in other ways. As I was reading I could identify with how she felt about relationships and the ways she reacted to things. Her character really came alive on the page for me. I let one of my former students borrow my ARC before she leaves for college for the school year and she told me she felt really similar to Isla as well. I have a feeling I’ll have quite a few “Islas” in my classroom this year and beyond.

If you haven’t read any of Stephanie Perkins’s books, I highly recommend that you do. You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, but it helps if you do simply because you’ll avoid tiny spoilers. Or in Isla and the Happily Ever After’s case, kind of a big and ohsocool spoiler. And that’s all I’ll say about that :)

Review: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

The Murder ComplexTitle: The Murder Complex

Author: Lindsay Cummings

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: June 10th, 2014

Interest: Dystopian / Sci-fi / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

An action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a dystopian/sci-fi novel, so when I was at Barnes & Noble I decided to buy The Murder Complex. I’m happy with my purchase because I know it will be a hit with my students, especially those who like The Hunger Games, Legend, Blood Red Road, Divergent, and the like.

Before I get into how Lindsay Cumming’s debut will appeal to fans of other popular dystopian/sci-fi novels, I need to go over a couple areas. First, I like that we read this story from both Meadow’s and Zephyr’s points of view. I do hope, however, that in the second book their voices are more distinct. I only knew who was speaking based on the chapter headings, their situations, and when Zephyr would use words like “flux” and “skitz” to swear. It was nice understanding more of the world and story since we can read from both points of view, but I didn’t feel a connection to either character. I didn’t really worry about them or care for them like I have for characters in other novels. The constant action and mystery kept me reading more than the characters did.

The setting and the concept, however, are interesting and what sets this book apart from the rest. I can’t go into too much detail here without giving away major plot points though. I’d like to learn more about it in the second book . Hopefully these two pieces along with the character development and voices will be stronger.

It’s difficult to find a dystopian novel now that hasn’t been influenced by the major players published before it. Sometimes that turns me off more than other times when I’m reading, but this time around I appreciated it simply because I can tell The Murder Complex has been influenced by so many of my students’ favorites. It will help me lead them to another series once they finish one or while they’re waiting for a book in a different series. I’m going to break the comparisons down by book for this part of my review.

The Murder Complex and Legend by Marie Lu:

  • The first big comparison is that in both books we’re reading two different point of views. Also, we’re reading a male and female POV in each book which adds additional appeal to readers.
  • The second big comparison is that the main characters in both books should be at odds with one another for various reasons but they’re drawn together. I like the relationship between Day and June in Legend much more than the relationship between Zephyr and Meadow. Zephyr and Meadow have insta-love and I still don’t understand why. I do like, however, that their relationship doesn’t dominate the story. Readers looking for a book without a lot of romance will appreciate that.
  • Meadow is strong and devoted to her family just like June is.
  • I think The Murder Complex is more similar to Legend than any of the other books I’m going to compare it to.

The Murder Complex and Blood Red Road by Moira Young:

  • The strongest comparison to this book is that Meadow and Saba could cause some serious damage to their enemies if they ever paired up in a book. They are fierce.
  • The settings in both books are stark and dangerous.

The Murder Complex and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Young:

  • Meadow is extremely protective of her little sister Peri just like Katniss is protective of her little sister Prim. They’re even both named after plants (or names connected with nature).
  • Zephyr has been drawn to Meadow longer than Meadow knows, much like Peeta and Katniss.
  • Meadow doesn’t want to be involved in this conflict, much like Katniss doesn’t want to be involved in the Hunger Games. It boils down to both protecting their families and doing what they feel is inherently right.

Hopefully these comparisons will help you connect Lindsay Cummings’ debut with readers. If you want to recommend this book to a middle school student, however, I suggest reading it first. There are a number of bloody and violent scenes that don’t go beyond YA, but they may upset sensitive readers.

Review: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar BoysTitle: The Scar Boys

Author: Len Vlahos

Publisher: Egmont USA

Release Date: January 21st, 2014

Interest: Realistic fiction / Music

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

A severely burned teenager. A guitar. Punk rock. The chords of a rock ‘n’ roll road trip in a coming-of-age novel that is a must-read story about finding your place in the world…even if you carry scars inside and out. 

In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay–help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and test scores–Harbinger (Harry) Jones goes way beyond the 250-word limit and gives a full account of his life. 

The first defining moment: the day the neighborhood goons tied him to a tree during a lightning storm when he was 8 years old, and the tree was struck and caught fire. Harry was badly burned and has had to live with the physical and emotional scars, reactions from strangers, bullying, and loneliness that instantly became his everyday reality. 

The second defining moment: the day in 8th grade when the handsome, charismatic Johnny rescued him from the bullies and then made the startling suggestion that they start a band together. Harry discovered that playing music transported him out of his nightmare of a world, and he finally had something that compelled people to look beyond his physical appearance. Harry’s description of his life in his essay is both humorous and heart-wrenching. He had a steeper road to climb than the average kid, but he ends up learning something about personal power, friendship, first love, and how to fit in the world. While he’s looking back at the moments that have shaped his life, most of this story takes place while Harry is in high school and the summer after he graduates.

I can’t remember how The Scar Boys was brought to my attention as a book to read, but I’m happy that it was. It’s a book that my musicians and music fans will adore, but it’s also a book for my students who are looking for a solid story. I’m surprised more of my Goodreads friends don’t have this on their to-read shelf.

Something I liked most about Len Vlahos‘ debut is Harry’s voice. It’s distinct and one that caught my attention right away. He’s writing a college essay and decides to go way beyond the 250-word limit. I’ve read books like this before, but Harry’s story is quite different. As I read farther into The Scar Boys I realized that I was spending more time in Harry’s head than I typically do in a novel. I noticed that I wasn’t reading a lot of action scenes and a lot of dialogue; I was perfectly okay with that. It was refreshing.

Readers will really get to know Harry. They’ll get to know his fears, his desires, his taste in music, and more. His scars have left him severely deformed and insecure, but music becomes an outlet for him. Like music does for many people, it helps Harry escape and connect. The coming of age story arc ties in perfectly with Harry and his growth as he participates in the band. Being in the band puts Harry in scenarios he may not normally confront like learning to stand up for himself, putting himself in front of a crowd, and taking a risk on love. Without the band, I think Harry would have stayed hidden within himself.

The Scar Boys reminded me of what a Chris Crutcher book would be like if he wrote more about musicians than athletes. So if you enjoy Crutcher, books full of music references, road trips and more, then I recommend reading this.

Review: The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

The Break-Up ArtistTitle: The Break-Up Artist

Author: Philip Siegel

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Release Date: April 29th, 2014

Interest: Contemp / Debut author

Source: ARC received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash.

Some work at the mall.

Becca Williamson breaks up couples.

Becca knows from experience the damage that love can do. After all, it was so-called love that turned Huxley from her childhood best friend into a social-world dictator, and love that left Becca’s older sister devastated at the altar. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Becca strikes back—for just one hundred dollars via PayPal, she will trick and manipulate any couple’s relationship into smithereens. And with relationship zombies overrunning her school and treating single girls as if they’re second-class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even Becca’s best friend, Val, has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, Becca receives a mysterious offer to break up the most popular couple in school: Huxley and raw football team’s star player, Steve. To succeed, she’ll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date—starting rumors, sabotaging cell phones, breaking into cars…not to mention sneaking back into Huxley’s good graces. All while fending off the inappropriate feelings she may or may not be having for Val’s new boyfriend.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist would be easy.

The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel is light-hearted and full of snark and wit. There were plenty of parts in the book that made me laugh out loud. Here are a couple examples that made me laugh while reading the ARC:

From page 104 of the ARC: “Everything Ezra says needs cheesy background music and sparkles. I wonder if his mom read him greeting cards as a baby

From page 216 of the ARC: “Am I missing the girl gene that forces me to aww whenever I see something corny? Or was there a mass lobotomy I wasn’t invited to?” 

I think those are both solid examples of Becca’s snark. There were times when I felt she was a little too cynical, but overall I had fun reading this.

Every year I have a sizable amount of students, both male and female, who don’t want to read love stories. This is a book I’d hand them. Sure, there’s some love in the story of course. It’s about Becca breaking couples up! But it’s more about Becca figuring out what love means while not being in a relationship. It’s about the relationships she has with her friends and family.

I think one of the reasons I liked The Break-Up Artist and why I think my students will is because it felt true to high school. I don’t remember there being as many couples in my high school as Becca’s, but I remember feeling like everyone was finding a boyfriend and going out on dates besides me. High school is such a restricted bubble that it’s not wonder I felt that way. I can’t imagine it’s that much different now for my students. I don’t know of a break-up artist in the school where I teach, but I hear about the relationship drama on an almost regular basis. I think Siegel did a nice job capturing that same drama in Becca’s story.

Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTitle: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Author: Jenny Han

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Interest: Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

I love it when I find the right book for the right moment. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han was that book. I’m not sure what it is right now, but lately I’ve only been interested in reading contemps that are on the lighter side. Lara Jean’s story couldn’t have fit any better.

I’ve never read any of Jenny Han’s books, but after reading this I’ll be sure to get my hands on the rest of her books. I really enjoyed Lara Jean’s story because her voice is very much that of a junior in high school. She’s a little on the innocent side of the spectrum, which I found to be a breath of a fresh air. That innocence fits her character perfectly because she’s basically been raised by her older sister since her mother died. Lara Jean is very much a middle child who works hard to be responsible like her father and older sister want her to be and her younger sister needs her to be. She also spends a great deal of time thinking about Margot (her older sister), focusing on two of the guys in her life Josh and Peter, and taking care of her little sister Kitty and her dad.

Lara Jean’s focus on everyone else added well to the conflicts of the story, but it also drew away from her character. By the end of the story I knew I really liked the book and want to read the second one, but I don’t feel like I know Lara Jean as well as I think I should. I know that she is devoted to her family. I know that she’s a romantic at heart. I also know that she wants to take risks. But I don’t know as much about her personal interests and passions besides her family and close friends. I really hope to learn more about her in the second book which is currently titled P.S. I Still Love You.

While I wanted to know Lara Jean a little better, I did love the cast of characters in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Kitty is absolutely adorable and a great addition to the story. She’s one of the reasons why Lara Jean’s family works so hard to keep their Korean traditions alive despite the fact that their father isn’t Korean and that their mother has passed away. I liked both Peter and Josh, but I think I enjoyed Peter’s character just a little bit more. He along with Kitty added a nice amount of humor to the story.

I do have to admit that I’m not wholly satisfied with the ending, and I know I’m supposed to feel that way. Sure, it fits with the story, but it left so much unanswered! Some pieces of the conflict are resolved at least. I’m really happy there’s a sequel, but I really wish I didn’t have to wait until 2015 for it!

I’m not sure how many of my students will be able to read my copy of Jenny Han’s latest before the school year ends, but I know it will be a big hit next school year.

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsTitle: We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Release Date: May 13th, 2014

Interest: Contemp / Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple months now trying to decide the best way to write it. I’ve decided that I’m going to keep this incredibly simple and quite vague. After book talking this to a couple different classes, I’m confident that the less you know, the better off you are.

First of all, telling my students what I just wrote above about it being best to not know much about this book has sold many of them. I’ll read them the summary, tell them that, and read the first chapter so they can get a feel for E. Lockhart’s writing and the story itself. We Were Liars sells itself.

Speaking of Lockhart’s writing, it’s gorgeous and lyrical. I’ve always appreciated her writing, especially the way she wrote The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but her writing in We Were Liars has been taken to the next level. Maybe even to the next two or three levels. It’s writing that I wanted to savor while also making me want to read faster. E. Lockhart has crafted an intriguing novel so full of suspense and wonder that I had to keep reading even late into the night on a school night. (Full disclosure: I really love my sleep, so staying up late to read on a school night doesn’t happen all that often.) The level of mystery and suspense brings me to my next point.

There is SO MUCH HYPE about We Were Liars and all the mystery and suspense (and deservedly so!). This is where I’m going to start being extra vague. You want to go into this book blind and not know why there’s mystery and suspense. It will ruin it because it ruined it for me. I focused too much on things I read in reviews and didn’t let the story happen. Take me on my word that this book has beautiful writing and it will make you want to keep reading, so make sure you start reading this when you have time to spare. You may find yourself confused at times and that’s okay. Just keep reading. And let’s chat when you finish because I’m sure you’ll want to talk to someone about this book. I sure did.

And there you have it. Probably the vaguest review I’ve ever written, but I’m sure this is the best way to go about it. I thoroughly enjoyed We Were Liars and love discussing it with my students. I can’t wait to chat with some of you once you read it, too. It’s a book that will probably stick with many of you for a while after finishing it.

Review: The Taking by Kimberly Derting

The TakingTitle: The Taking

Author: Kimberly Derting

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: April 29th, 2014

Interest: Author / Science Fiction

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A flash of white light . . . and then . . . nothing.

When sixteen-year-old Kyra Agnew wakes up behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip, she has no memory of how she got there. With a terrible headache and a major case of déjà vu, she heads home only to discover that five years have passed . . . yet she hasn’t aged a day. 

Everything else about Kyra’s old life is different. Her parents are divorced, her boyfriend, Austin, is in college and dating her best friend, and her dad has changed from an uptight neat-freak to a drunken conspiracy theorist who blames her five-year disappearance on little green men. 

Confused and lost, Kyra isn’t sure how to move forward unless she uncovers the truth. With Austin gone, she turns to Tyler, Austin’s annoying kid brother, who is now seventeen and who she has a sudden undeniable attraction to. As Tyler and Kyra retrace her steps from the fateful night of her disappearance, they discover strange phenomena that no one can explain, and they begin to wonder if Kyra’s father is not as crazy as he seems. There are others like her who have been taken . . . and returned. Kyra races to find an explanation and reclaim the life she once had, but what if the life she wants back is not her own?

The Taking by Kimberly Derting hooked me right away, just like her The Body Finder series did. It’s full of action, suspense, romance, and features a strong female protagonist.

If you’ve read The Body Finder series then you might agree that it’s a supernatural story. The Taking, however, I consider to be more science fiction. Just yesterday I was at lunch with a group of girlfriends and we were discussing what we like about fantasy and science fiction, so I brought up this book (besides the fact that I had just finished it and wanted to discuss it). My friend Beth said that she likes her fantasy to be grounded in reality since she’s a realistic fiction reader. That aspect is something that I love about Kimberly Derting’s writing; it feels like realistic fiction even though there’s a supernatural/sci-fi element involved. The Taking is sci-fi light and would be great for readers who are new to science fiction or unsure about it. There’s talk of alien abduction and other elements that reminded me of the X-Files, but it’s balanced with romance and regular teen issues.

Something I’ve brought up in past reviews is insta-love. Sometimes it works for me and sometimes I can’t stand it. Kyra’s instant and unexplainable attraction to Tyler worked for me. When Kyra is returned, she’s understandably confused and overwhelmed. When she meets Tyler again, only five years older now, she’s shocked. He looks quite a bit like Austin, but he’s different and he accepts her. Tyler grounds Kyra and I think it’s what really connects them. Considering Kyra’s circumstances, this insta-love made sense in the story and was fun to read.

Reading The Taking was fun because there’s so much action and suspense. There are some really surprising “I can’t believe that just happened” moments. Those moments kept me reading so I could piece everything together. I didn’t encounter any lulls in the story, so I’m planning on handing this to my readers who need a lot of action to keep their interest piqued. It’s hard to go into too much detail about some of the more suspenseful and surprising moments without spoiling the story.

Overall The Taking is an exciting first installment in a new series by Kimberly Derting. Just as I expected, I finished this book and wanted the sequel right away. I hope you’ll add it to your TBR list this spring/summer!

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