Student Book Reviews: The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Since bringing my ARC of The Summer of Letting Go into my classroom, my senior girls have been passing it around quite a bit. It’s been such a favorite this year that three of my students wrote mini book reviews for Gae Polisner’s sophomore release.

Title: The Summer of Letting Go

Author: Gae Polisner

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

The Summer of Letting GoSummary (From Goodreads):

Just when everything seems to be going wrong, hope and love can appear in the most unexpected places.

Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca’s little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can’t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it’s possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she’d never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.

Student Reviewer: Alyssa

Student Review:

This book may turn some people away by the love story and what not, but what makes this story so interesting is the aspect nobody tends to think or talk about. The idea of reincarnation.

Francesca Schnell’s story of her brothers passing is absolutely heart breaking. Definitely not something you’d ever wish upon someone, especially a child. Her struggle through getting over it is never ending. Once Frankie Sky, a boy she babysits, comes into her life, everything changes. The fact that her brother could have reincarnated into Frankie Sky is something so unbelievable and makes you wish it could happen in your life. This books pursues a different way of making people knowledgable on the topic of reincarnation. The ups and downs and the adventure of finding this all out is a journey worth reading about. The love aspect of this book is just the cherry on top of it all for me. I give this five stars!

Student Reviewer: Morgan

Student Review:

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner ws not only a story of moving forward from the past, but also a story of love and friendship. I loved every part of this book, from the cute and daring personality of Frankie Sky, to the conflict Francesca faces in leaving behind the guilt of her brother’s death. I enjoyed the way the story would tie into other parts of the book with Francesca’s past and her younger brother Simon. Every page was entertaining and kept me hoping for more. When it came to tense parts, my heart would start racing as if the story were my own life. I consider this book the best that I have read so far and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in stories of friendship or stories about moving on from the past.

Student Reviewer: Kayla

Student Review:

I absolutely loved this book. It’s 316 pages long and I read it in two days, which never happens. The book takes you to multiple places, from a love story to a story about religion and different beliefs. As cliche as it sounds, I honestly believe this book changed the way I think. I grew up believing that heaven was the only way after death. This book opened my eyes to a whole new world. While I know The Summer of Letting Go is fiction, I connected with it it because I’ve been questioning things. It is a very insightful book that I would recommend to those who enjoy impossible love stories.

Student Book Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

WingerTitle: Winger

Author: Andrew Smith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Student Reviewer: London

Summary (From Goodreads):

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

Student Review:

Winger was the best book I have read this year! I loved the way the author made me feel as if Ryan was a real person. Andrew Smith did this by making the main character Ryan Dean draw doodles and pictures on how he was feeling or what was going on in his life. The doodles were always comical and made me laugh.

I believe that everyone would enjoy reading Winger, it was a quick read. The book had really short chapters which was wonderful, because it made the book easy to pick up and put down. Also, it allowed me to read the book faster because whenever I got spare time I could get in a quick chapter.

Not only did the author do an amazing job of making me feel emotions for these characters, but he made me feel as if I was watching them from afar. Just like a movie. Andrew Smith did an excellent job of describing the setting and made me feel like I actually knew the layout of the boarding school campus, Annie’s house, etc.

Great escape from reality. If you are looking for a light read that will put a smile on you face this is the book for you. The author Andrew takes you inside the mind of a 14 year old boy and it’s extremely entertaining. Winger was a good distraction and didn’t force my brain to have to do a lot of thinking.

Even the ending was eventful and extremely unexpected. I loved this because I thought the book was going to be a typical love story, but then is turned into a tragedy. Although it had me in tears I couldn’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Really loved this book and hope that other people will read it and fall in love with it like I did. I just could relate so easily with the book, because it is about the realities of a high school student. Even though they were at a boarding school most of the conflicts were common and can be found in every high school. I just thought this book was so great and hope others will too.

Student Book Review: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing ClubTitle: The Berlin Boxing Club

Author: Robert Sharenow

Publisher: HarperTeen

Student Reviewer: Ayla

Summary (From Goodreads):

Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew; after all, he’s never even been in a synagogue. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin don’t care that Karl’s family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by their attacks against a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.

Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons. A skilled cartoonist, Karl never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: family protector. And as Max’s fame forces him to associate with Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his boxing dreams with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?

Student Review:

In The Berlin Boxing Club, Karl, a young Jewish boy, becomes a boxer to defend himself from the “Hitler Youth” and figures out he wants to become even more than that. As he is trying to strive for perfection in techniques, he finds himself striving to protect his entire family from the SS and getting them out of Nazi Germany.

The Berlin Boxing Club was a perfect story to show how Jewish people were treated and how they personally felt during World War II. The novel was very sad and had an effect on me because Robert Sharenow made the feelings of the characters very lifelike and I felt the emotions of the characters. THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB would be perfect for almost anyone. Especially those who are learning about the Holocaust or learning about the push against Jews in Germany.

The characters in this book were perfectly put together. The most realistic character to me would be Karl’s mother. She goes into a depressed mood any time something bad happens in her life. The book starts right when the Jews are starting to be excluded from mostly everything and she will just lock herself in the bathroom and sit in the bath for hours. I think she would be a real character because she knew there was nothing she could do. The government and the police would have it however they wanted it and the rules were just not in her favor.

Also, I liked the character of Karl’s little sister. She was getting the worst out of all of the characters because she apparently looked like a Jew so there was no way she could actually hide the fact that she was one. She gets tortured in the book and it was realistic because she was tired of being the kind of human she was and she took it out on those who didn’t look like she did and they looked normal. Karl didn’t look Jewish so he got away with it longer than the rest of his family. I could almost relate to her because sometimes I wish I didn’t look they way I do, but don’t we all think that sometimes?

I loved all f the fighting scenes in the book. Karl becomes a great fighter and Robert Sharenow wrote The Berlin Boxing Club so all of the boxing scenes play like a movie in your head. All of the scenes were as if they came out of a Rocky movie. Every detail was thought of and every moment was captured.

This book was shocking and inspiring by the way it was written and the show of determination in the eyes of a young boy going through the worst part of his life.

Student Book Review: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck

While He Was AwayTitle: While He Was Away

Author: Karen Schreck

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Student Reviewer: Makenna

Summary (From Goodreads):

One year–he’ll be gone for one year and then we’ll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.

The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long-distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war–to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We’ll talk, we’ll email, we won’t let anything come between us.

I can be an army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn’t come home at all?…

“A tender and honest examination of love, longing, and loyalty in the face of modern war.”–Laura Ruby, author of Bad Apple

“While He Was Away is a wonderful love story with writing that is skillful and true.”–Amy Timberlake, author of That Girl Lucy Moon

Student Review:

The book While He Was Away by Karen Schreck is all about a girl and a guy.  The odds are against them when Penelope’s boyfriend, David, leaves to go to war.  He is in the army so Penelope and David’s relationship is being tested.  She has to keep herself occupied while he is away.  While Penelope is making friends, David is off becoming a different person.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I can relate to this book; it captured my attention.  I love how strong and faithful Penelope is to David.  It shows that there are some people in the world that can handle long distance relationships.

Another thing I liked about this book is how it can guide people through dealing with a long distance relationship.  Especially the kind where one is going off to war.  It isn’t always easy being positive but this book explains to people that it is really important.  It is also important to stay busy so you aren’t worrying all the time.

Even though I liked the characters and it is a great help for long distance relationships, there is a part that I don’t really like.  I dislike the ending because it seems like every book about military relationships always ends badly.  I feel like if people that can relate to and read While He Was Away, it will worry them.  Not all military relationships end badly; it just seems like people don’t talk about those as much.

Student Book Review: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman

A large part of my Young Adult Literature II class requires my students to write book reviews.  They’ve been looking at multiple reviews, written by multiple bloggers to help find a style that suits them best.  Today’s student book review was written by one of my seniors, Sara.  I’ll try to post their reviews on a regular basis until the end of the school year.

October MourningTitle: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Author: Lesléa Newman

Student Reviewer: Sara

Summary (From Goodreads):

WINNER OF A 2013 STONEWALL HONOR!

A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman is the best verse novel I have ever read.

This novel is based off of the, unfortunately, true story of a 21 year old, homosexual college student named Matthew Shepard. Matthew is out at the bar one night in October of 1998, in Wyoming. He is tricked by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. They convince him that they are gay as well and take him out to their truck. After he is in their truck, they drive in to a desolate place and beat the tar out of him. They beat him within an inch of his life and then left him to die, hung on a fence by a clothes line.

When I picked up this novel I thought, “This is going to be a boring documentary about a murdered man.” Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! It was indeed, about a man who was murdered but it’s not even close to being boring. This novel was the most attention grabbing, emotion jerking, amazing verse novel I have ever read, by far my favorite. It is beautifully written and it will make you feel something deep in your heart for Matthew Shepard, and all of the other people who have been brutally murdered for being gay.

This book is written in many different points of view and at first it confused me and I didn’t quite like it, but after I read the first 5 or 6 pages, I began to understand and then went back and read it again, this time understanding fully and I fell in love with the way that it’s written. I absolutely love how well all of the words just flow together and how she manages to capture every single emotion and thought of every object, person, and animal that she uses.

October Mourning: A song for Matthew Shepard is a very quick read; I finished it within an hour. But even though it’s a quick read, this chilling story will stick with you forever. I don’t think I will ever forget the descriptive, amazing poems in this novel. I will never forget the emotions I felt while reading this book, and I will never forget Matthew Shepard. His story will stick with me through out all of my life. I could read this book over and over and over again.

My favorite excerpt from this novel is as follows:

“THE FENCE
(that night)

I held him all night long
He was heavy as a broken heart
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart
His own heart wont stop beating
He was dead weight yet he kept breathing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn’t stop beating
The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
His face streaked with moonlight and blood
I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn’t stop blowing
We were out on the prairie alone
I tightened my grip and held on
I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone
Their truck was the last thing he saw
I saw what was done to this child
I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw
Tears fell from his unblinking eyes
I cradled him just like a mother
I held him all night long.”

Student Book Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

I realize That Summer by Sarah Dessen has been around for a while, but for some reason it isn’t the most popular Sarah Dessen title I have in my class library, so I decided to feature it on my blog today.  And what better way to feature it than with a student review?

My student reviewer today is Trista, who was in my YA Lit class last tri and also has me all year for Honors Sophomore Seminar.  She chose the books to movie project in YA Lit and took my recommendation to read That Summer and Someone Like You to go along with the movie rendition of both books, How to Deal.  She liked both books, so hopefully she’ll read more Dessen titles in the future :)

Title: That Summer

Author: Sarah Dessen

Student Reviewer: Trista

Summary (From Goodreads): For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She’s nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister—the always perfect Ashley—is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley’s reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.

That Summer is about an insecure 15 year old girl named Haven who is having a hard time dealing with her dad’s remarriage and her sisters marriage. She has learn how to let go and move on or she will never be happy. She realizes that life goes on and although thing may never be the same that doesn’t mean they will never get better.

Haven is the one character I can really relate to. She’s insecure about her height and the way she looks. She would rather live in the past when things were perfect than in the present and deal with her problems. Haven is very close to her mom and feels the need to protect her and keep her safe even though that’s the parents’ job. She’s there for her friend when she’s needed even though she has her own problems to deal with. Also I can relate to Haven because she doesn’t like to talk about her issues or anything she’s dealing with, she bottles up her feelings and takes them out on the people she loves.

I liked how realistic the book is about the divorce and remarriage of her parents. The thoughts going through Haven’s mind were very believable. She wasn’t dramatic or obnoxious about it. Her feelings were real and understandable. She felt betrayed by her dad for leaving her mom for that girl at his work. She also felt hurt because she wanted to believe that he would never do something like that.

I didn’t like how towards the end of the book she had a break down out of nowhere. Maybe she did have a good reason but it was not clear to me why she freaked out and ran away for the day. I’ve been through hard times too but I’ve never had a break down like she had at the mall. I did however laugh when she chased after the rude woman and threw the shoe back at her.

In the end I enjoyed reading this book. It’s not a book I would have picked on my own, but I’m glad I read it. That Summer is a good read.

Some Ilsa J. Bick Love via Student Book Reviews

When I was going through my YA Lit students’ book reviews to form this post, I didn’t realize at first that the two I chose were both for books written by Ilsa J. Bick.  Once I realized that, I decided to stick with these two reviews since I haven’t reviewed either book on my blog and also because both books are so vastly different.

Title: Drowning Instinct

Author: Ilsa J. Bick

Student Reviewer: Felicia

Summary (From Goodreads): There are stories where the girl gets her prince, and they live happily ever after. (This is not one of those stories.)

Jenna Lord’s first sixteen years were not exactly a fairytale. Her father is a controlling psycho and her mother is a drunk. She used to count on her older brother—until he shipped off to Afghanistan. And then, of course, there was the time she almost died in a fire.

There are stories where the monster gets the girl, and we all shed tears for his innocent victim. (This is not one of those stories either.)

Mitch Anderson is many things: A dedicated teacher and coach. A caring husband. A man with a certain… magnetism.

And there are stories where it’s hard to be sure who’s a prince and who’s a monster, who is a victim and who should live happily ever after. (These are the most interesting stories of all.)

Drowning Instinct is a novel of pain, deception, desperation, and love against the odds—and the rules.

Student Review:

Drowning Instinct is definitely a great book; I could never put it down and wanted to read it anytime I could. This book is good because everything seems so real and you see a teacher student relationship at a different level. This book explains how people can fall in love no matter what age and Mr. Anderson never took Jenna for granted and never tried to hurt her. I liked this book because it’s not the typical “creepy” old guy trying date a younger girl. Mr. Anderson liked Jenna for who she was and not her age. He made sure he was careful and made sure they didn’t get caught or get in trouble. This book was also different in a good way because in the beginning of the book it starts off with a good beginning and explains why she is using a tape recorder to tell her story. I personally loved Jenna as a character because I understood her and could relate to her. I also loved this book because I got so connected with their relationship they had, and the way Ilsa J. Bick wrote it made it seem so realistic. Drowning Instinct has a very well matched cover to the book and I really like when the covers of books go along with the story.

There weren’t very many negative things in this book besides how serious Jenna’s life was.  It seemed like five different YA novels put into one book. Another main thing I didn’t like was that this book almost made it seem alright for Jenna and Mr. Anderson to have such a serious relationship. I don’t think its anywhere near right for people to have relationships like that and this book kind of made me change my mind about that and I don’t really like that because it’s illegal.

Drowning Instinct is very far from being even close to bad. Ilsa J. Bick gets you so connected with the characters and you don’t want to put it down. This book teaches you a very good lesson about love and trust. I suggest everyone read it if you haven’t!

Title: Ashes

Author: Ilsa J. Bick

Student Reviewer: Noah

Summary (From Goodreads):

It could happen tomorrow . . .

An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling post-apocalyptic novel about a world that could become ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation.

Student Review:

At first I was rather reluctant to read this book. At the time I had a lot of school work and didn’t have time to read. Truth be told,I was just being lazy. I read the first chapter and set the book down. Though I believe it was Epictetus that once said, “No great thing is created suddenly.” This quote rings very true with Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.

Though I wasn’t gripped at the beginning of the novel I quickly became absorbed in the story of Alex, a teenage girl with a brain tumor and the camping skills to keep her alive. The book quickly changed from being a “What’s going to happen next?” book to a “What’s going to happen next?!?!” and after that I was hooked like an addict.

With it being a survive the zombies (Changed) and survive the wild book (And I do love these types of novels) I was exultant to find out that it wasn’t the whole premise of the novel. There was an element of romance which was quite refreshing in this story.

I warn the people like me, with very vivid and active imaginations, that this book is very horrid at points and can be rather disturbing due to amazing description. However, I still request that you read this book because it is brilliantly written and planned, and I do believe you would enjoy this novel.

Student Book Review: Dramarama by E. Lockhart

One of my freshmen, Torey, decided to take my Y.A. Lit class and planned on doing her project on dark mysteries.  She knew that’s what she likes and wanted to stick with it, so I helped her find a variety of titles that fit under that category.  We were pretty close to the end of the trimester, however, when Torey told me that she wanted to switch her project.  Normally that might make me really worry for that student, but I could tell that she was serious about it and would accomplish her goal.  Torey told me that she wanted to read something different, something outside of her comfort zone.  Quite a few of her friends read books about love and relationships, and she didn’t know if she wanted to go that far, but she was looking for something on the lighter side, maybe something funny.  I don’t remember what she ended up trying first, but I went through my shelves and handed her a tall stack of books to sort through.  Torey ended up reading a variety of “quirky” books, one of which being Dramarama by E. Lockhart.  She ended up putting together one of the best PowerPoint presentations I’ve seen in my Y.A. Lit classes!

Title: Dramarama

Author: E. Lockhart

Student Reviewer: Torey W.

Summary (From Goodreads): Two theater-mad, self-invented fabulositon Ohio teenagers. One boy, one girl. One gay, one straight. One black, one white. And SUMMER DRAMA CAMP. It’s a season of hormones, gold lame, hissy fits, jazz hands, song and dance, true love, and unitards that will determine their future –and test their friendship.

Student Review:

Dramarama, written by E. Lockhart, consists of friendship, homosexuality, love, jealousy, and of course the performing arts. Douglas, aka Demi, is gay, black, and an outcast, but is something different when he is on stage. Sarah, aka Sadye, is straight, white, 5’10, and also an outcast. When she gets on stage you never know what to expect out of her, it’s either good or bad. When these two teens become best friends with several things in common, they find themselves given the opportunity to attend Wildewood’s School of Performing Arts summer program and they are totally in. Will Demi and Sadye stick together till the end?

Dramarama was a book way out of my element. My general type of genre that I enjoy reading is mystery. The reason I chose to read this book is because the title and cover caught my attention right away and I also read it because I simply wanted something new. Before reading the summary my brief thought about the book would be about literal drama. For example, high school rumors, girl-on-girl crime and scenarios along those lines. And yes, I admit I was totally wrong. The format of how Dramarama is written is great, I really enjoyed it. It is all written in first person, but the font changes when Sadye turns on her tape recorder (you will understand why when you start reading the book). Nothing was extremely terrible about the story or characters, the whole story involved both kinds of drama, theater drama and literal drama.

I would definitely recommend Dramarama to girls in general. If you like love with a little bit of hearts being broken then this is for sure your kind of book. Also to anyone who loves plays, acting, anything in that category this book is for you as well. It’s such an easy read and I couldn’t stop reading it because there was so much going on at all times.

Student Book Review: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Teaching in trimesters isn’t really my favorite for a variety of reasons, but I love that it allows me to teach so many sections of my Y.A. Lit class.  The 8th section is wrapping up right now, and I can’t wait to see all of my students’ trimester projects.  My student reviewer today, Allison, chose to study Sara Zarr for her project.  If you aren’t familiar with Sara Zarr, she’s an excellent contemporary Y.A. author who currently has four books available: Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, Once Was Lost, and How to Save a Life.  Including Allison, two other students have researched her and read her books for their projects, all of which turned out great.  Allison is an outstanding student, so I’m really looking forward to her presentation.

Title: Sweethearts

Author: Sara Zarr

Student Reviewer: Allison

Summary (From Goodreads): As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another’s only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she’s lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she’s popular, happy, and dating, everything “Jennifer” couldn’t be—but she still can’t shake the memory of her long-lost friend.

When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.

From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts.

Student Review:

Being a single mother is a hard task, especially when your child doesn’t fit in. This is all about Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick, two kids who were outcasts at their school. They had a friendship most people will never have because they were each other’s only friend. Then one day Cameron doesn’t show up to school, and the school bullies tell Jennifer that he died. Jennifer is lost without Cameron and doesn’t know what to do without him.

Eight years later, Jennifer’s mom gets married and Jennifer changes her name to Jenna Vaughn. She lives a pretty normal life at her new school, with her awesome boyfriend, thin body and amazing friends. When Jenna gets a mysterious note on her birthday, everything in her new life goes backwards. She goes through a journey that changes the way she sees things, and she finally realizes what was actually going on to Cameron all those years ago.

I liked how Jennifer/Jenna changed throughout the book, it was neat seeing what her old self was like compared to her new self. Also I really liked when Cameron came back into the story. I liked the character of him when he was a child, but I really liked the way he had grown up and matured since he was gone all of those years.

At first I couldn’t read this book. I started it and just decided that I couldn’t get into it. But I had read all of Sara Zarr’s book so I thought that I should give this book another try. So, I picked it back up, and I actually got into it. It was enjoyable to read because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

I think that anyone would like this book because it is not gender specific or anything like that. Jennifer/Jenna is the main character, but there are a few boy characters included such as Ethan and Cameron. I would refer it to someone who likes seeing characters who have internal struggles, but overcomes them. Since Jennifer grew up poor with a mother figure who wasn’t always there I would suggest it to anyone who has family problems.

Student Book Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

I assigned the second set of book reviews in my Y.A. Lit class, which means it’s time to feature a new student book review.  My student, Zach, was telling me about books he’s read and enjoyed when we were discussing his trimester project and thinking about potential books to read.  Once he mentioned enjoying The Picture of Dorian Gray, I immediately handed him Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber.  I wasn’t sure if it would be for him, but based on his book review and his book talk, I know he enjoyed it.

Title: Darker Still

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber

Student Reviewer: Zach H.

Summary (From Goodreads):

I was obsessed.

It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I’d ever seen–everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable…utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike.

There was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame.

I’ve crossed over into his world within the painting, and I’ve seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked–bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Manhattan. Unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.

Student Review:

Everyone has believed in the concept of spirituality at least once in their lives. Well, even if one is not a believer currently, they will become one after reading Darker Still. I was drawn to this book originally because I had heard that it was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s groundbreaking novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Having enjoyed Wilde’s novel not even a month before, I was eager for a new twist on the story. By the time I finished this book, I determined that it wasn’t only a unique twist on Wilde’s story, but surpassed it in terms of an engaging story as well.

Darker Still follows Natalie Stewart, an eighteen-year old girl who has been mute ever since her mother died years earlier. Over time, she feels extremely drawn to a painting of the handsome Lord Denbury, who supposedly committed suicide. However, Natalie comes to find out that Denbury is still alive and trapped in the painting, having fallen backwards into a plot that is so much bigger than simple magickry. At the core of this captivating tale is a very engaging plot which I would love to elaborate upon, but sadly can’t.

Besides the plot, the characters were what really sold the story in Darker Still, especially Natalie, Denbury, and Mrs. Northe. For instance, seeing the whole events of the story from Natalie’s point of view was quite fascinating, mainly due to the fact that, being mute, she sees the world and handles interactions differently from the average Jane. Denbury, on the other hand, provides a tender and loving air that exudes strength even when things seem most dark. Additionally, Mrs. Northe serves as an excellent supporting protagonist as her knowledge of most things supernatural makes her the perfect helper to both Natalie and Denbury despite the increasingly dark situation.

Despite how good the plot and characters are, like all great novels, Darker Still does have its occasional drawbacks. For example, some of the characters, such as Maggie, are so wooden and unimportant that I feel the novel could have gotten along perfectly well without them. I was also disappointed that Natalie’s father wasn’t fleshed out too much considering the fact that her mother is dead. If the novel could have focused just a little bit more on Natalie’s relationship with her father, I would’ve felt just a bit more emotionally attached. Additionally, I didn’t like how the whole novel is basically a diary kept by Natalie recounting the events because it sometimes it showed a feeling of emotional detachment from Natalie. Not always, but just enough.

Despite these significant shortcomings, Darker Still is a very good book. The often disturbingly detailed imagery and prose leaps off of almost every single page. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good, mystery, or even supernatural fiction. Darker Still is a novel for everyone.

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