Audiobook Review: Girl at War by Sara Nović

Audio Review

Girl at WarTitle: Girl at War

Author: Sara Novic

Narrator: Julia Whelan

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12th, 2015

Interest: Alex Award Winner

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

Audiobook Review: Julia Whelan has become one of my favorite audiobook narrators, especially after listening to Gone Girl last year. Her voice is really easy to listen to and she does a pretty good job changing it for different characters and even using various accents. I decided to listen to Girl at War because it won an Alex Award and also because I don’t have a physical copy (yet). Plus, Julia Whelan as the narrator was an automatic win. It was nice to hear the names and words pronounced correctly since I know I’d butcher them if I read it myself. It was hard at first not hearing Amy from Gone Girl, but after listening for a while that went away and Ana took full form for me.

Book Review: Girl at War is about a war I know little about even though I was alive during that time period. I’m thankful that this debut exists because more readers, especially teen readers, need to know about more wars in history. Our sophomores have an independent reading war poetry unit that requires them to read a novel dealing with war. I’m going to share Sara Novic’s novel with those teachers in my department so they can consider adding it as a recommended book.

There are other qualities that make me want to recommend it to the teachers in my department. The writing it beautiful and full of emotion. I don’t know anything about Sara Novic, but I imagine based on the story she’s written, that this war hits close to home. The end of Part I had me crying and many other scenes caused me to tear up as well. I wish I had a physical copy while I listened because there were plenty of scenes that I wanted to mark based on the writing alone. Girl at War is full of vivid imagery and smart writing overall.

If you’re looking for a novel that will pull at your heartstrings and make you aware of a war, that in my mind hasn’t been covered enough, look no further than Girl at War. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sara Novic’s novels. Even though this is a short review, please don’t let think that I didn’t love this book, because I did. I couldn’t get enough of the audio; I was completely enthralled and connected to the characters.

Book Trailer Thursday (149)–Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner

Book Trailer Thursday

Ellen Hopkins shared this book trailer on Facebook yesterday. After watching it I knew I had to share it here and make sure I buy a copy. I’m also going to share it with my department since it will be a perfect fit for our sophomore war novel unit.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner is a graphic novel that released from Disney-Hyperion on April 15th, 2014.

GaijinSummary (From Goodreads):

With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he’s sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Koji’s story, based on true events, is brought to life by Matt Faulkner’s cinematic illustrations that reveal Koji struggling to find his place in a tumultuous world-one where he is a prisoner of war in his own country.

Review: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

Title: If I Lie

Author: Corrine Jackson

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: August 28th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Contemporary

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

This year has been a big year for war-related contemporary YA.  When I found out about Corrine Jackson’s debut, If I Lie, I knew I had to read it and I’m really glad I did.

I don’t know what it is about serious contemporary YA novels, but I love them.  I’ve realized that my class library is full of them.  If I Lie is serious and emotional, but there’s a nice mix of humor and warmth as well.  Jackson covers some heavy issues like varyious forms of bullying.  Quinn’s turned into a pariah and deemed a traitor after a compromising picture of her cheating on her boyfriend is spread across the Internet.  The cyber bullying is a primary focus, but it’s present enough to give a reader pause.  Quinn is bullied constantly.  Her locker is violated, her friends have abandoned her, and she’s called names over and over again.  I was shocked that she handles it as well as she does.  I would hope that a military town would act differently, but in this war-ridden climate it’s easy to believe what happens to Quinn.  Most of the humor comes from Quinn’s interactions with the war veteran, George, she spends time with.  I loved his character because he’s really caring but he’s sharp and witty too.

After around 50 pages or so I started wondering where the story was going to take me.  Corrine Jackson sets it up so we discover the big secret early on, but the full picture and background of it is broken up throughout the story.  Once I realized that was happening I understood the pacing better and enjoyed it.  Besides bullying, Quinn’s life is paralleled with her mother’s life.  Her mom faced a similar situation as Quinn which haunts Quinn regularly.  She feels like she’s lived up to the town’s expectations that she’d be just like her mother.  So along with flashbacks to before the picture was taken and spread around town, we get flashbacks to when Quinn was still with her mother and what happened at home.  The flashbacks are written well and easy to identify when reading.  I’m picky about that when I read a book like If I Lie.

Readers who enjoy Courtney Summers or books like Speak will most likely enjoy If I Lie.  It’s a quick read full of heart with a main character who, despite what everyone around town thinks, is incredibly loyal.  I predict it will be popular in my classroom since there’s so much students can relate to.  Readers who have tough relationships with their parents will connect with this.  Readers who have been subject to bullying and gossip will connect with this.  Readers who have fallen for the wrong person will connect with this.  If I Lie is a strong contemporary debut and I look forward to reading more of Corrine Jackson’s work.

Students Want to Know Corrine Jackson

Have you added If I Lie by Corrine Jackson to your TBR piles yet?!  I did as soon as I read the summary because it sounds fantastic!  I’m thrilled that she volunteered to be interviewed by my students because they’re now just as excited to read If I Lie as I am.  I hope you enjoy this interview with Corrine Jackson; I know my students are eager to read her responses.

Summary of If I Lie (From Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

** Corrine Jackson’s Website **
** Follow Corrine Jackson on Twitter **
** If I Lie releases on August 28th, 2012 from Simon Pulse **

Ashley B:

  • Are you from a small town?
    I was born in a town that is hardly a blip on the map. It had one stop light, the population was less than 1,000, and it takes up all of a half mile. My family moved to southern California when I was very young, but I used to go back to Haxtun, Colorado to visit my father. The simplicity of that place has stayed with me. I once rode a lawnmower down the sidewalk at age six, the only restaurant in town gave Dum Dums suckers to all the kids, and a whistle blew at noon every day to tell the grain factory workers that it was lunch time. Everyone knew everyone else, and sometimes I daydreamed about a swimming through the piles of grain. Those are the kinds of things I think about when I write about small towns.
  • Does the military play a role in your life?
    My uncle did two tours in Vietnam. He was mentally ill the rest of his life and spent a lot of time at the VA Hospital. I also have an honorary uncle who fought in Vietnam. The stories I’ve heard from them and my family definitely had an impact on my writing and the inspiration for IF I LIE.

Alexis K.:

  • What goes on with this other guy to make her do what she does?
    Sh. I can’t tell. Honest. It would ruin the book for you if I gave away all the secrets.
  • Does this other guy know her boyfriend?
    Yes, he’s a close friend. In fact, he’s Carey’s BEST friend. Scandalous, right? Things aren’t always what they seem to be, though.


  • When you started writing this book, did you expect it to get published?
    At first, I didn’t know what I had. I couldn’t figure out where to start the story and wrote about six different beginnings to IF I LIE. The problem was that I knew how I wanted to open the book, but it required me to weave flashbacks and memories throughout the story. I was taught that flashbacks are like your mom wearing Crocs – something she should know better than to do. But then something clicked and I figured out how to weave those moments in so they felt natural. After that, the pieces fell together and I thought I had something that might see a bookshelf.


  • As an author, what do you feel is the most important aspect of your work?
    I think it’s important to do my best to get the story “right.” For me, this means doing a lot of research. In IF I LIE, Quinn is from a military town and her father is a Marine. Quinn is also working with a Vietnam Vet on the Veterans History Project, which is a project run by the Library of Congress to record the stories of our soldiers. I was sick that I would do this experience an injustice. My publisher sent IF I LIE to the Veterans History Project, and my greatest fear was that they would tell me I was off base. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and I’m proud to know that they were very touched by the story.
  • Who’s your favorite author?  What do you like about his/her work?
    Laurie Halse Anderson. Hands down. SPEAK blows me away, and I used to read sections of WINTERGIRLS to inspire me while I was writing IF I LIE. She’s brilliant at symbolism and voice. I also love her willingness to play with structure. For example, SPEAK is told in a journal format and WINTERGIRLS has an awesome use of strikethroughs and repetition that mirrors the internal angst of the narrator. Most of all, I find her use of language to be borderline poetic at times, and I love to sink into some of her lines and reread them. She makes me feel things when I read her work and that is a huge gift.

Sarah W:

  • Do you like the cover?
    I couldn’t imagine what the cover would look like. My main request to my publisher was that we stay away from girls in pretty dresses. I thought that would make light of the story or make it seem like a different kind of book than it is. My editor emailed me the cover while I was at my day job. My coworkers gathered around when I opened it, and I cried like an idiot. I think it’s so beautiful and mirrors the heart of IF I LIE in a way that surprised me. The black-and-white photo is both stark and full of emotion, and I could hug the designer for giving me that cover.
  • Have you ever been cheated on?
    Not that I could prove, but I had strong suspicions once. The fact that I couldn’t trust my boyfriend was enough to wake me up, and I ended up breaking the relationship off. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t stay with someone who didn’t respect me. I believe cheating causes a lot of damage. Beyond the pain it unleashes, cheating can break up families and leave kids growing up in a single-parent home. We should make t-shirts that say, “Cheating Sucks. Don’t Do It.”


  • Who would you recommend this book to?
    The reactions from my male and female readers so far are pretty balanced, so I think that both boys and girls will like it. It’s kind of heavy and emotional, but I wouldn’t really call it a “girl” book. I think the topics it covers are pretty universal and not unique to any gender.
  • Who is your favorite character in the book?
    Aside from Quinn, I love George. He’s a Vietnam Vet that Quinn gets forced to work with at the VA Hospital. He’s grouchy, flirts with all the nurses, and cheats at cards. I love the scenes with Quinn and George because they have fun and don’t take any crap each other. He can make Quinn laugh when she feels like crying, and that’s a valuable trait in a friend.


  • Do you think “cheaters” in real life are really abandoned by friends because of what they did/have done?
    It depends on the friends and the community. If you’re in a military family or dating/married to a soldier, cheating is considered deplorable. In all the interviews I did and the research I conducted, everyone agreed that cheating on a deployed soldier makes you the scum of the earth. When a soldier goes to war, they are comforted by the thought of the family waiting for them at home. In that community, it’s considered a betrayal to abandon that person. Outside the military (and maybe some religious communities), though, I think that friends will often choose sides. Some friends will stick by the “cheater,” and others won’t.


  • What does the title have to do with the book?
    Good question! Quinn is keeping a major secret to protect her boyfriend. She can tell the truth and free herself from the town’s condemnation, or she can lie to protect her boyfriend. She is constantly asked to choose between her boyfriend and herself, and she struggles to act with honorable when her sacrifices add up to more than she can take. What would you give up for someone you loved? Would you lie to protect them at great cost to yourself? That’s what the title is about.


Memorial Day Reading: Y.A. Novels Featuring Soldiers and War

Memorial Day is a day to be thankful for the soldiers, past and present, who have served to keep us safe.  I also know that many of us have today off, so I decided to feature some Y.A. novels that feature soldiers and/or war.  I have a mix of books I’ve read and want to read, books that have been around for some time, and also some that are releasing in the near future.  If you can add any titles to my list, I’d love it if you leave me those titles in the comments!  My male readers in particular love war novels, so I’m always looking for suggestions to add to my class library.

Novels I’ve Read:

Refresh, Refresh: A Graphic Novel by Benjamin Percy, James Ponsoldt, Danica Novgorodoff (illustrator) (Goodreads): I decided to start with a graphic novel since we just discussed them during last night’s #titletalk.  This is probably the most popular graphic novel in my classroom right now.  It’s about a group of boys whose fathers are all serving in Iraq.  They don’t have role models readily available, so they’re trying to figure out life and how to grow into adulthood on their own.  We see them constantly refreshing their email just in case they receive a new email from their father.

Heroes by Robert Cormier (Goodreads): This is historical fiction based during WWII.  Francis has returned from the war, but he no longer has a face after he fell on a grenade.  Heroes deals more with Francis trying to move on after the war, the mental effects of being severely disfigured, and Francis plotting to kill his childhood war hero.   Just like most of Robert Cormier’s books, he mixes character motivation and psychology into a blend that manipulates the reader because while we know killing someone is wrong, you can’t help but feel for Francis.

Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen (Goodreads): Soldier’s Heart is a historical fiction novel set during the Civil War that works for both middle grade and Y.A. readers.  It’s about a boy who enlists at the age of 15 because he doesn’t want to miss out on this experience.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, but I remember plenty of battle scenes as Charley tries to survive the war.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads): Patricia McCormick is one of my favorite authors because she takes so much time researching her topic, which is obvious in Purple Heart.  I like this novel because we watch Private Matt Duffy trying to recover from a war wound and also trying to regain his memory.  He receives the Purple Heart, but he doesn’t remember exactly what he did to receive it and something’s nagging at him to make him feel like he doesn’t deserve it.  We get a glimpse of how soldiers recover and are sometimes rushed back to the field to continue serving.  Purple Heart is a very real book that allows readers to see a different side of the war than what’s portrayed in the media.

While He Was Away by Karen Schrek (Goodreads): I’m including While He Was Away because even though we aren’t following a soldier, we’re following Penna’s life after her boyfriend, David, leaves to serve in the military.  I think this would be a good read for those who have a significant other serving and either want someone to relate to or maybe they want to know what to expect.  Penna’s story is a little different because she really only had David while they were dating, but now that he’s in Iraq, she has to branch out and start making friends and moving on with her life while she waits for him to return.  We do, however, get glimpses of what David’s going through via Skype chats, emails, and phone calls.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (Goodreads) (My Review): I’ve read 40+ books so far in 2012, and Something Like Normal is still in my top three favorites.  It’s told from a guy’s point of view, it’s current, and it’s authentic.  Travis is home on leave from Afghanistan and not only is he dealing with troubles at home, he’s desperately trying to cope with PTSD after seeing his best friend die.  We’re not watching him fight the war, but we’re there for his nightmarish flashbacks.  We’re watching him fight himself.  This releases on June 19th, and I REALLY hope you buy it.  I plan on buying multiple copies for my classroom.

Novels I Want to Read:
I’m including the summaries since I haven’t read these books yet, but I will say that I’m pumped about If I Lie!

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads): Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads): An exciting, eye-catching repackage of acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers’ bestselling paperbacks, to coincide with the publication of SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH in hardcover.

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren’t the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads): A powerful new novel about the heroics and horror of war from Walter Dean Myers, whose bestselling book FALLEN ANGELS celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, that’s the code name. But the young men and women in the military’s Civil Affairs Battalion have a simpler name for it: WAR.

In this new novel, Walter Dean Myers looks at a contemporary war with the same power and searing insight he brought to the Vietnam war of his classic, FALLEN ANGELS. He creates memorable characters like the book’s narrator, Birdy, a young recruit from Harlem who’s questioning why he even enlisted; Marla, a blond, tough-talking, wisecracking gunner; Jonesy, a guitar-playing bluesman who just wants to make it back to Georgia and open a club.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (Releases August 28th, 2012) (Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.


Review: In Honor by Jessi Kirby

Title: In Honor

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 8th, 2012

Interest: Author / Sophomore Reading Challenge

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): A devastating loss leads to an unexpected road trip in this novel from the author of Moonglass, whose voice Sarah Dessen says “is fresh and wise, all at once.”

Hours after her brother’s military funeral, Honor opens the last letter Finn ever sent. In her grief, she interprets his note as a final request and spontaneously decides to go to California to fulfill it.

Honor gets as far as the driveway before running into Rusty, Finn’s best friend since third grade and his polar opposite. She hasn’t seen Rusty in ages, but it’s obvious he is as arrogant and stubborn as ever—not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Despite Honor’s better judgment, the two set off together on a voyage from Texas to California. Along the way, they find small and sometimes surprising ways to ease their shared loss and honor Finn’s memory—but when shocking truths are revealed at the end of the road, will either of them be able to cope with the consequences?

Have you ever started reading a book and knew right away that you were going to love every single page?  That’s how I felt when I started reading In Honor by Jessi Kirby.  I can’t explain what about a book wins me over when I have this experience, but I’m happy about it nonetheless.  I felt similarly when I read Jessi Kirby’s debut Moonglass as well.  Her writing draws me in and doesn’t let go until I’ve finished her book.

I love that In Honor starts with Honor describing taps being played and the 21-gun salute.  If you’ve been to a funeral when taps has been played and the salute is given, then it’s easy to relive it while reading someone’s experience.  It’s an emotional experience which becomes an emotional reading experience.  I don’t have an immediate family member serving, but I have former students serving, I have cousins serving, I’ve had friends serving.  I may not know what it feels like to lose a brother in the war, but I can certainly empathize with Honor and Rusty as they navigate through their grief.  In Honor is an emotional read, but it’s balanced with love, hope, and humor that many readers will appreciate.

The road trip setting gives In Honor a lighter mood despite the circumstances which I really appreciated because it made the emotional scenes even more powerful.  Road trip books are entertaining because characters are forced to interact with one another, given the close quarters, which provides more character development and insight.  Honor pretty much wears her heart on her sleeve, but Rusty is harder to read.  Honor and Rusty don’t get along very well and the tension is palpable, but there’s something just beneath the surface that lets the reader know that there’s more to Rusty than meets the eye.  Besides the fact that I had a character crush on him, I really enjoyed watching his character grow and discovering his secrets as their journey to California progressed.  He and Honor are learning more about each other, but they’re also learning about themselves through this entire ordeal.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but reading In Honor made me wish I could either live in Texas or at least visit Texas.  I love living in Michigan, so maybe I just wish I could have gone to Texas years ago and met a cute guy like Rusty?  I don’t know, but the whole southern atmosphere described was alluring.  I have been to Sedona (a pit stop Honor and Rusty have to make), so I know how beautiful it is and really want to make a return visit.  More than anything, I think this awkward paragraph just goes to show how well Jessi Kirby created the atmosphere and setting of In Honor.  So many elements of this book won me over and made me feel like I was there with Honor and Rusty.

If you take anything from this review, know this: In Honor is a book that will resonate with readers.  The characters are dynamic and true and ones you’ll wish you could meet in real life.  Jessi Kirby wrote a wonderful debut, but her sophomore novel, In Honor, is even better.  Without a doubt, In Honor will be extremely popular in my classroom and I really hope you read it.

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