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

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.

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