Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Plot Summary:
When Em woke up in complete darkness, she had no idea where she was or who she was. When she tried to move, something was holding her down and something was trying to hurt her. After fighting the darkness, Em emerged from her trap to an empty room and no idea where to go. What was worse, she noticed other "coffins" liker hers and that is when she heard the screams from the other coffin. After rescuing a girl who happens to have the same birthday as Em, they leave their room to stumble upon other coffins. Not knowing what to do, or where to go, Em tries to rescue other teens who may be laying in the coffins, which gets her nominated to becoming the leader of their group. As Em leads this small band of survivors through their concrete prison, Em and her teammates are being hit with flashbacks and memories from their previous lives, which means that somebody has to be looking for them or missing them. The only thing the group can't figure out is that all of them claim to be twelve years old, but, when they look at each other, they see bodies and faces of young adults and not children. Why would their parents leave them all alone? What exactly happened to them that would leave them abandoned in a tomb filled with dust and bone. As Em and the others explore this maze, not only do they learn that they are not alone, but their escape becomes more complicated and even more dangerous. Readers will not be able to put this book down and the end will leave them starving for more.


Critical Evaluation:
Per the author's request, which I completely respect, I will not divulge any major plot points as to not spoil the story for potential readers. I will instead comment on just how much I LOVED THIS BOOK! OMG! All I can say is that Scott Sigler has given us a gift because it conveys the ultimate power that is the Science Fiction genre. Compared to traditional Sci Fi stories, authors are adding another dimension to the character development that not only makes them accessible to non sci-fi readers, it makes the characters that much more human, which, in this genre, can be a good thing and a terrible thing. I had no idea whatsoever to expect from this story so I highly recommend that readers do not go into this book with expectations. If readers do, this will story will destroy those expectations for the better. I am actually going to be discussing this book with a bunch of teens so I am totally stoked to hear their thoughts and how they can relate to this story. I am going to pick up the sequel, Alight, and I can't wait to return to the crazy world that Em and friends are trying navigate and I am looking forward to their adventures.


Information about the Author:
According to Siglerpedia:

Raised in Cheboygan, Michigan Sigler's father passed his love of classic monster movies along to his son. His mother, a school teacher, encouraged his reading offering him any book he wanted. Sigler wrote his first monster story, "Tentacles", at the age of eight.
Sigler didn't travel far for college having attended Olivet College (Olivet, MI) and Cleary College (Ann Arbor, MI) where he earned a BA in Journalism and a BS in Marketing. Scott has had a varied career path having worked fast food, picking fruit, shoveling horse manure, a sports reporter, director of marketing for a software company, software startup founder, marketing consultant, guitar salesman, bum in a rock band, and social media strategist before turning in his corporate ID to write fiction full time.
Genre:
Teen Sci Fi, Teen Dystopian Thrillers

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Alive:
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
  • I Am Number 4 by Pitticus Lore
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com
“Suspenseful . . . [Alive] lives up to its hype, packing plenty of thrills.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Fascinating and intriguing . . . a cross between Lord of the Flies and The Maze Runner and yet . . . so much more.”—Fresh Fiction

“A ripping, claustrophobic thunderbolt of a novel, Scott Sigler’s Alive gives us an unforgettable young hero who must find the inner strength to lead without knowing where she is, who she is, and how bitterly the odds are stacked against her.”—Pierce Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Red Rising

“Sigler has created a wonderful and engrossing character in M. Savage. Strong and smart, but with the naïveté and misgivings of any teenage girl, she’s someone you’ll definitely want on your side when s**t hits the fan, which it most certainly does.”—Veronica Belmont, host of Sword & Laser

“A tense, unsettling page-turner of a story—both deeply strange and wildly compelling.”—Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker and Maplecroft

“From the first page I was hooked. The puzzle unfolds masterfully, right down to the last page.”—Dr. Phil Plait, Ph.D., author of Bad Astronomy

Alive by Scott Sigler

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Friday, May 27, 2016
Plot Summary:
It's graduation night and Thomas' bags are packed and ready for boot camp. Like his father and his brother, Thomas is fulfilling his duty by joining the United State Army. The problem is that he doesn't want to go because he doesn't want to end up like his brother Jake. When Jake returned from Afghanistan, everyone greeted him with a hero's welcome. However, Jake isn't the courageous hero that everyone thinks he is. In fact, Jake is a ghost who hardly says a word, doesn't take care of himself, and always carries around a mysterious black backpack According to Thomas, Jake will never be the same and his parents refuse to recognize that he is a broken man. Before going to war, Thomas worshiped his brother and was excited to follow in his footsteps. Now, all Thomas can think about is running away and never looking back until Mallory backhands her boyfriend at the party they are at. Thomas and Mallory haven't spoken in two years and when she asks him for a ride home, Thomas reluctantly agrees. What should have been an easy trip turns into a highway pursuit that will kick start a series of events that will take him all over town that will eventually lead him back to why he and Mallory lost touch and uncover the demons that have been haunting Jake. In this riveting story about a teen who just wants some normalcy, he will finally break down the walls that have been separating him from his family and Mallory, which is anything by normal.

Critical Evaluation:
I was unbelievably impressed with this story. I literally blew through this book in one night and I can't express how important this subject matter is given today's political climate. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Combat Stress are, categorically, the most detrimental mental illness' that plague the men and women in the armed forces.One thing readers will learn is that mental illness does not effect just the person experiencing the disease, it effects the family unit as well. For Thomas, he knows his brother is not well and his parents refuse to acknowledge this fact. What's worse is that his own father, a Desert Storm veteran, is the reason why Jake is not receiving the medical treatment he needs. Unlike Jake, many vets prior to 9/11 experienced PTSD, but there was never a campaign to advocate for treatment. Although Jake and Thomas' father believes that Jake will be fine when he "snaps" out of it; in reality, he will continue to deteriorate if he doesn't receive the treatment he so desperately needs. Although Jake's mental illness is the only part of the story, Thomas' fears are very real because a lot of vets are coming home broken and lost. Aside from his family problems, there's Mallory who is also in a bit of a downward spiral as well. In theory, readers will discover that both Mallory and Thomas have one thing in common: they want to run away from their problems because they are afraid. Given the events of the night, it's nice to see that they have gathered up the courage to not only confront their problems, but deal with the consequences that may follow. Bottom line: these teenagers turned into adults overnight and this story leaves readers asking "what happens next?"

Information about the Author:
According to his website:
Bryan Bliss is the author of No Parking at the End Times. He holds master’s degrees in theology and fiction and – shockingly – found a professional job that allows him to use both of those degrees. His political philosophy degree, however, is still underutilized. His nonfiction has been published in Image Journal, along with various other newspapers, magazines, and blogs. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children, both of whom wish he wrote books about dragons. Or wizards.
Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Issues, Teen War Stories

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Meet Me Here:

  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Something Like Normal by Trish Doller


Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

“Bliss keeps the pages turning with vivid, rich characters and weighty moments of self-discovery. With compassionate grace, Bliss plumbs the depths not only of Thomas’ heavy choices but also the impact of war on a personal level…Thoughtful, empathetic, and deeply stirring.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Bliss offers a well-crafted story about the people who come home from war damaged and the family members this affects. …A love story between brothers, the novel provides a touching glimpse of a different kind of courage.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Bliss’s novel address the push teens may feel after high school to do what is expected of them and not what they want…With a 24-hour intense timeframe and thoughtful discussion of PTSD, this title has elements of Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon and Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal.” (School Library Journal)

“Told over one night, Thomas’s story is both classic night-before-it-all-changes hijinks-parties, fighting, nostalgia, and unexpected friendships-and part darker, existential concerns connected to the realities of war. …The strong emotional impact will attract serious readers.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

“Bliss presents another thoughtful and penetrating family drama. …through meaningful encounters with friends and family, Thomas gains a deeper understanding of sacrifice, the power of brotherhood and community, and just how fine the line between courage and fear can be.” (The Horn Book)

Praise for No Parking at the End Times:“Bliss’s debut explores family, sacrifice, and the power of everyday faith with a deft and sensitive hand.” (The Horn Book)

“Bliss has worked with teenagers, and it shows—his characters are not stereotypical ‘teens’ but human beings who must face and overcome unique problems. A fine debut.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“This quietly powerful story of a young woman’s quest for deliverance in the face of parental failure, religious disillusionment, and self-doubt moved me deeply. I can’t wait to see what Bryan Bliss does next.” (Sara Zarr, author of National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl)

Meet Me Here by Brian Bliss

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Plot Summary:
When people think of Parker Grant, they think she is outspoken, intelligent, and incredibly brave despite the fact that she is blind. Parker wasn't born blind, but an accident that claimed her mother's life is the reason she can no longer see. Although Parker cannot see, she chooses to wear a scarf around her eyes simply to make a statement that she may be blind, but she isn't dumb. Along with her intellect, and sharp whit, Parker is passionate about running. Whenever Parker goes running, she uses her senses to navigate the streets pretty much freaks out her aunt  and most of the neighbors. Despite running the risk of literally running into things, Parker runs her heart out because it's her only chance to escape reality for a few moments. Life wasn't always easy for Parker, but, with the help of her devoted father, Parker has been able to overcome quite a few things. Unfortunately, life happened once again and Parker must now go on without her dad. Luckily for Parker, she has a group a friends who have not only been there since the accident, but have been by her side ever since her best friend betrayed her. Now a junior in high school, Parker must now face the past and not only forgive, but deal with the challenges that face her in the present and future. In this riveting coming of age story, Parker Grant must let go of all of the pain and learn how to trust and love all over again.

Critical Evaluation:
I am beyond impressed by Eric Lindstrom's craft. Not only did I devour this book in one night, the story has been stuck in my mind for over a week. Although this story is nothing new, it is told from the point of view that a lot of us cannot begin to understand. Parker Grant is blind and it happened in accident that claimed her mother's life. Although her mother should have never been behind the wheel, stories like Parker's are not new. Furthermore, with the loss of her father, Parker has never been more alone despite the unconditional love and support from her best friend, Sarah. Furthermore, with the return of Scott, all of the pain and anger that she has been trying so hard to bury is ready to explode. What I love the most about this story is that it's not a story about a girl with a disability, but about a regular teenager who is trying to mend a broken heart and just so happens to have a physical disability. By using her blindness as a back drop, Lindstrom conveys to readers that being blind doesn't affect a person's ability to love and feel. In fact, the only difference between a person who can see, and one who cannot, is sight. All of the characters in this story are so well done that it's not hard to love them because they represent some aspect of our own character whether we want to believe it or not. This is a beautiful debut and I can't wait to see what this author comes out with next!

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Eric Lindstrom writes Young Adult novels, including Not If I See You First, released December 2015, and the upcoming A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, coming January 2017, in English in the USA from the Poppy imprint of Little, Brown for Young Readers, and in the UK and the rest of the world from HarperCollins Children’s Books.

He has worked in the interactive entertainment industry for years as a creative director, game designer, writer, and combinations of all three. As Editor and Co-Writer for Tomb Raider: Legend he received a 2006 BAFTA nomination for Best Video Game Screenplay. As the Creative Director for Tomb Raider: Underworld he received a 2009 BAFTA nomination for Best Action Adventure Video Game and a 2009 WGA nomination for Best Writing in a Video Game.

He has also raised children, which led to becoming first a school volunteer, then a substitute teacher, then a part time kindergarten teacher, then getting a credential to teach elementary school, and most importantly the discovery that Young Adult books are awesome. It’s pretty much all he ever reads, and now writes, in his house near the beach on the west coast, with his wife and, yes, cats.

Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teens with Disabilities, Teen Romance

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Not If I See You First:
  • Running Dreams by Wendolyn Van Draan
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

* "Lindstrom's immersive portrayal of the dimension Parker's blindness adds to both atypical and everyday angst imbues his protagonist with mature complexity...An unflinching exploration of trust, friendship, and grief."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"The byplay between Parker and her friends is believable, and in creating a heroine whose drive for independence brings both risks and rewards, Lindstrom adds a note of complexity to his gripping depiction of how Parker learns to trust and forgive."―Publishers Weekly

"[Not If I See You First] possesses crackling wit, intense teen drama, and a lively pace that pulls readers in, as do the everyday details of Parker's world: spoken-word texts, clever methods of finding her way, and a guide runner who helps Parker when she considers joining the school track team. This unique coming-of-age tale is off and running from the start."―Booklist

"Characterization is fantastic-very few high school stereotypes, and lots of challenged expectations about mean girls, pretty girls, blind girls, fat girls, jocks, and coaches. Parker has just the right degree of acerbic wit to be likable even when she's bitchy, and when she falls apart, her insight into her own character is heartbreaking. And Scott?-oh, Scott, may your tribe of boys who respect boundaries and learn from mistakes increase. This will have broad appeal for readers who need to learn a thing or two about how to shepherd themselves and their friends through difficult times."―BCCB

"Lindstrom's realistic and humorous dialog breathes life into an eclectic cast of characters. Parker's relationships, including the one with herself, do not sugar-coat the mental struggles familiar to many teenagers. Readers will laugh through tears, with the novel ending on a note of hope and maturity."―School Library Connection

"Bursting with complex, lovable, and, best of all, real characters, Not If I See You First is a beautiful story about love, loss, friendship, and the difference between looking at and truly seeing. Parker Grant feels like a friend now -- a friend I want to laugh with, to cry with, and especially...to run with."―Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List

"This book is fierce, funny, and honest. And get ready for some of the most likable characters you've read in years."―Deb Caletti, National Book Award Finalist

"Parker Grant is unforgettable: vivid, feisty, and absolutely loveable. This book broke my heart, but left me smiling."―Fiona Wood, author of Wildlife and Six Impossible Things

"Not If I See You First is thoughtful and honest, with characters that made me laugh, cry, and surprised me at every turn. It's a book I'll recommend for years to come."―Kody Keplinger, New York Times bestselling author of The DUFF and co-founder of Disability in KidLit

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Plot Summary:
In the final installment of The Lunar Chronicles, readers read about the life of Princess Winter, the stepdaughter of Queen Levana. While Levana scours the universe for Cinder, Winter finally learns the identity of Cinder who happens to be her blood relative. More importantly, Winter continues to communicate with Scarlet, who happens to be an ally of Cinder. In order to take down Levana, Cinder, Kai, Wolf, Cress, and Thorne devise a plan that is not only dangerous, but could result in the their deaths. In order to infiltrate the Lunar Kingdom, Kai convinces Cinder that they only way they will get close to Levana is to go through with wedding. In other words, Cinder must bring down Levana at the coronation, which is not only risky, but could seal the fates of every Lunar and Earthling. Despite the danger, Levana must be stopped because she is the key to supplying the antidote to the plague that is destroying the citizens of Earth. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the crew, Levana is planning something even more evil and that is to not only destroy Cinder, but Winter as well. As Cinder and her crew uncover the horrors of Levana's rule, they learn the real reason behind her hatred for both Cinder and Winter. This is an epic conclusion to an amazing adventure where five young women must not only battle evil, but they must for the sake of those they love and hold most dear.

Critical Evaluation:
 I will admit that I am a huge fan. Not only is it genius to put a science fiction spin on fairy tail characters, it's even more awesome when they know how to fly space ships, hack networks, and be all around bad asses while maintaining their beautiful spirits. I was very, very happy with this conclusion because it did not end in a WEDDING! OMG! Thank you so much Marissa Meyer for providing a story for strong young women where they decide their fates, who they love, and how they will live their lives. This series will be a forever fixture on my book shelf because I want to read it with my future children where everything great in literature collide. Although Winter is not tough like Cinder or Scarlet, her strength lies in her kindness. Unlike Levana, the people love her not just for her beauty, but because of her gentle spirit. More importantly, Winter refuses to use her powers on her subjects, which is why she suffers from hallucinations. Winter literally dies a little with each episode, but she refuses to hurt her people. More importantly, her love for Jacin is so beautiful and his loyalty and love for her is so refreshing! One thing I got to had to Marissa Mayer is her ability to create beautiful couples. Although I am a huge Team Scarlet/Wolf, Team Winter/Jacin is my second favorite. All in all, this was a fantastic ending and I can't wait to read Marissa Meyer's next series!

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.
When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).
When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.
Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER is my first novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around too.

I now live with my husband and our three cats (Calexandria Josephine, Stormus Enormous, and Blackland Rockwell III), who go in and out, in and out, about eight hundred times a day. My favorite non-bookish things include Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, re-watching episodes of Firefly, and playing all manners of dress-up.
Genre:
Teen Fantasy, Teen Romance
 
Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 8 & up
 
Books Similar to Winter:
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Awards & Recognition:

“In this final book in the Lunar Chronicles, the stepdaughter of the wicked Queen Levana joins Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress to defeat the Queen and restore Cinder―aka Selene―as the rightful ruler of Luna. Yes, it's another one of Meyer's very fractured fairy tales, in which she offers a new amalgam of Grimm's fairy tales, science fiction, violence, women's lib, and romance. Our Snow White stand-in, Winter, is beautiful in spite of facial scars, kind to all she encounters, mentally fragile, and in love with her lowly guard, Jacin . . . Meyer's series has sold well and achieved a degree of acclaim. This conclusion's cinder-block size should only drum up further interest.” ―Booklist, starred review

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Plot Summary:
The only life Darrow has ever known is the dangerous life of a helldiver. As a helldiver, Darrow mines precious gases of Mars to help those on the surface create a world where every living creature can live on the surface. Known as the Reds, Darrow and his brothers battle the heat, flames, and pitt vipers of Mars to win a bounty of items that will benefit his clan. Although Darrow is content with his life, his father's ghost haunts him because he decided to "dance" and speak out against the the Golds; by speaking out against the Golds--you die. Although this has been going on very several hundred years, the Reds continue to what they do with no questions asked. When Darrow's wife, Eo, opens his eyes to the truth of their people, she asks him to do the impossible: create a world where their children can be free. Unfortunately, Eo pays the ultimate sacrifice that forces Darrow to make a choice: either continue living a life of servitude or fight. After being saved by the rebellion, Darrow has the opportunity to take his revenge, but ti required a lot more than dying. He literally has to change who and what he is. After infiltrating the institute that trains young Golds to become elite military leaders, Darrow not only has to work with these young men and women, he has to hide the fact that he is Red. Pierce Brown has written a story that not only defies space itself, it will take readers onto a journey where blood, whatever its color, will be spilled and the corruption that that has oppressed the blood races will be exposed.

Critical Evaluation:
As a new writer, Pierce Brown has set the bar high when it comes to amazing storytelling. Given the popularity of Dystopian fiction, Brown has created a world that is not only terrifying, but could very well be our future if we don't take care of environment and each other. Darrow's characters development is not only dramatic, but all of the trials that he had to endure have proven just how tough and tragic his character is. This story is definitely violent, but the violence portrays how this society functions. When Darrow realized that if he was going to pass his trials, he had to do one thing: conquer. If he was to complete his mission to not only be an elite military leader and savior for the Reds, he knows that he cannot let his desire to belong and be loved get in his way. What's heartbreaking is that Darrow has formed some amazing friendships with his fellows Golds, but, in the end, he has to destroy them if he wants to accomplish his mission. This story will probably try every emotion we have to not only portray the evils of humankind, but it dares to give us hope that Darrow will succeed. As Darrow progresses, it will be very difficult to see him struggle with some of the decisions he had to make for the sake of survival. Furthermore, his relationship with Mustang will pull at the heartstrings because it can only end in tears. This is a breathtaking story that will not only make your blood pressure rise, but you will be up in the late hours trying to figure out if Darrow has what it takes to succeed.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Pierce Brown spent his childhood building forts and setting traps for cousins in the woods of six states and the deserts of two. Graduating from college in 2010, he fancied the idea of continuing his studies at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a magical bone in his body. So while trying to make it as a writer, he worked as a manager of social media at a startup tech company, toiled as a peon on the Disney lot at ABC Studios, did his time as an NBC page, and gave sleep deprivation a new meaning during his stint as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign. Now he lives Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.
Genre:
Science Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Red Rising:
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

“[A] spectacular adventure . . . one heart-pounding ride . . . Pierce Brown’s dizzyingly good debut novel evokes The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and Ender’s Game. . . . [Red Rising] has everything it needs to become meteoric.”Entertainment Weekly

“[A] top-notch debut novel . . . Red Rising ascends above a crowded dystopian field.”USA Today
 
Red Rising is a sophisticated vision. . . . Brown will find a devoted audience.”Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A story of vengeance, warfare and the quest for power . . . reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“Fast-paced, gripping, well-written—the sort of book you cannot put down. I am already on the lookout for the next one.”—Terry Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of The Sword of Shannara
“Pierce Brown has done an astounding job at delivering a powerful piece of literature that will definitely make a mark in the minds of readers.”The Huffington Post
 
“Compulsively readable and exceedingly entertaining . . . a must for both fans of classic sci-fi and fervent followers of new school dystopian epics.Examiner.com

“[A] great debut . . . The author gathers a spread of elements together in much the same way George R. R. Martin does.”Tor.com

“Very ambitious . . . a natural for Hunger Games fans of all ages.”Booklist

“Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow: Pierce Brown’s empire-crushing debut is a sprawling vision.”—Scott Sigler, New York Times bestselling author of Pandemic
 
“A Hollywood-ready story with plenty of action and thrills.”Publishers Weekly
 
“Reminiscent of . . . Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games . . . [Red Rising] will captivate readers and leave them wanting more.”Library Journal (starred review)

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Tag :
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Plot Summary:
In Bone Gap, Illinois there aren't any mountains or hill...there is nothing but gaps. For Finn, Bone Gap is the place where his mother left him behind and trapped his older brother, Sean, forever. Finn is known as the Space Man who never looks anyone in the face. The thing about Finn is that he isn't clueless or empty-headed: he just has a hard time remembering faces. When Roza was kidnapped, Finn saw the man who took her, but, for some reason, he couldn't remember his face. Although everyone blames Finn for being unable to identify Roza's kidnapper, he never stopped looking unlike Sean. Just when he was about to lose hope, Finn sees the same man who took Roza and, when he tries tell the sheriff and Sean, no one believes him except for Petey (aka. Priscilla). Finn has had feelings for Petey for a long time, but, when the black mare mysteriously showed up in his barn, the mare finally brought him and Petey together. The problem is that Petey is the only face he remembers, which is strange because he can't remember his own face. As Petey and Finn dive into their relationship, Roza is trying desperately to escape from the man that took her, but something strange is going on because one moment she is in a house with unbreakable windows and then a castle out of a fairytale. What exactly is going on in Bone Gap where a person can be taken away in an instant and faces become unforgettable. In this riveting story where reality shifts, Finn must find Roza before it's too late.  

Critical Evaluation:
I really did not expect this story to turn out the way it did. My first impression is that it's a typical young adult mystery, but it intertwines mystery, fantasy, suspense, and romance into a story where two people who were lost and found again. I really thought Finn was in love with Roza, but it's actually quite the opposite. Finn literally brought Roza into his world so it's only natural that he would be the one to bring her back home. Roza and Finn have this relationship that isn't based on romantic love, but on a different kind of love that two lost souls need to find their place in this world. As for Petey, the love that Finn feels for he isn't only genuine, but forces Petey to realize that he loves her for who she is and not what she looks like. Love is the underlying theme of this story because it was the loss of love that made Finn and Sean's mother leave, but it was the want and need for love that provided the happiness and hope that everyone needed. I really didn't know what to expect when I read this story, but I am happy I did! 

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Laura Ruby writes fiction for adults, teens and children. She is the author of the newly-released YA novel BONE GAP, as well as the Edgar-nominated children's mystery LILY'S GHOSTS, the ALA Quick Pick for teens GOOD GIRLS (2006), a collection of interconnected short stories about blended families for adults, I'M NOT JULIA ROBERTS (2007), and the forthcoming middle-grade trilogy YORK. She is on the faculty of Hamline University's Masters in Writing for Children Program. She makes her home in the Chicago area.

Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Fantasy, Teen Romance

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Bone Gap:
  • The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie MacLemore
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

“It’s a novel about actual changes in worldview, and all its science and myth and realism and magic are marshaled, finally, to answer crucial questions about empathy and difference, and the way we see people we love.” (New York Times Book Review)

“BONE GAP marks Laura Ruby as one of fiction’s most original voices. She is capable of moving you to tears, terrifying you on deep and dreamlike levels, and making your heart shout with happiness. This book is magic realism at its most magical.” (E. Lockhart, author of WE WERE LIARS)

“Ruby’s novel deserves to be read and reread. It is powerful, beautiful, extraordinary.” (SLJ)

“With rich characters, captivating world building, and a stunning secret at its heart, BONE GAP is utterly bewitching.” (ALA Booklist (starred review))

“Cleverly conceived, and lusciously written.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“The real magic in Bone Gap is the discovery of love, an idea many stories misrepresent but Bone Gap explores with the utmost honesty and truth.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) (Starred Review)) 

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Friday, January 15, 2016
Plot Summary:
Mare is a Red and Reds are subservient to the Silvers. In Mare's world, if a Red does not find work he or she is conscripted into the army and sentenced to death on the battlefields. Mare is near her 18th birthday and all she can do is steal what she can to help her family. With all of her brothers in the military, the only one who has the talent to escape conscription is her younger sister Gisa. Although Mare is aware of her fate, she is biding her time with her best friend who has able to land a trade. However, when she learns that he lost his job before it began, Mare searches for someone who can help him escape conscription, but it's going to cost. While desperately searching for money to buy her best friend's freedom, she tries to steal from a stranger who, inadvertently, will become her savior, especially when the Scarlet Army strikes and Mare is captured and taken to the castle against her will. While at the castle, Mare witnesses the strength of the Silvers and, when she faces a fierce opponent, Mare releases a power she didn't know she had and neither did the royal family. In this tale of mystery, action, and romance, an ordinary girl learns that she is not only the key to changing her future, but her heart is torn in two between two boys who she can never be with.  

Critical Evaluation:
I will say that it took me a second to get into this story because the plot is similar to other stories I have read such as the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Despite these similarities, I soldiered on and I finally got into the stories towards the end of the book with a plot twist that made things interesting. Since this is a trilogy, there isn't a whole lot of character development, but the villains are absolutely fantastic! The Queen and Evangeline are absolutely terrifying and awful. As for Maven, I really got attached to him so I am still holding out for him to be the hero.  After finishing the story, I am a little curious to see what the next step is especially now that Shade, her elder brother, is back. Other than that, I wasn't completely blown away the story other then the fact that Silvers are almost mutant-esque and the Mare is a higher breed of mutant. I will say that there is plenty of action and the love story arch is actually a minor arc, which is nice since a lot of teen fantasy needs the love arc to attract readers. With that said, this would actually be a good title for guys and girls to read if they can get past the cover of the book. All in all, I would recommend this book to any reader who likes these types of fantasy stories.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college.
Currently I’m revising the second book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.

Genre:
Teen Fantasy, Teen Romance

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 8 & up

 Books Similar to The Red Queen:
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

“A sizzling, imaginative thriller, where romance and revolution collide, where power and justice duel. It’s exhilarating. Compelling. Action-packed. Unputdownable.” (USA Today)

“Aveyard weaves a compelling new world of action-packed surprises... inventive, character-driven.” (Kirkus)

“A volatile world with a dynamic heroine.” (Booklist)

“Breakneck pace and engaging characters.” (School Library Journal)

“ [Aveyard] sets her audience up for a gaspworthy twist that reconfigures nearly every character’s role and leaves Mare with no one to trust but herself... This blend of fantasy and dystopia will be an unexpected and worthy addition to many genre fans’ reading list.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

“Fascinating world building... Readers will be intrigued by a world that reflects today’s troubling issues concerning ethnic inequality, unfair distribution of wealth, pollution, warfare, political corruption, and the frightening power of the media.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)) 

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Plot Summary:
Caden Bosch is caught between two worlds. In one world, he is part of crew led by a captain obsessed with the Marinas trench (aka Challenger Deep). In the other world, he is a teenager who can't sit still and unable to shake the idea that someone is trying to kill him. Whether he is conversing with a the treasonous parrot that would do everything to overthrow the captain of the ship, or walking at all hours of the day around the neighborhood, Caden can't escape the feeling that he is trapped and has no way to escape. As Caden gets to know his fellow shipmates, he realizes that he has met these people before and, when he alienates his friends at home, he realizes that something is going on and he has to find out why everyone is abandoning him. As time goes by, the fear and the dread becomes more real especially when he is appointed cartographer by the captain AND learns that the ship, itself, is alive and wants to know everything that happens on board. The closer they get to Challenger Deep, the more treacherous the journey has become. Moreover, Caden's parents have  become increasingly concerned with the fact that he hasn't been honest about his whereabouts and his overall behavior. Just when he thinks he has found a way out, Caden is suddenly captured and taken to a place he doesn't want to be. Fortunately, for Caden, this place not only helps him decipher the mystery behind his mission to Challenger Deep, but to figure out if someone is out to get him. In this gripping story about one boy's struggle with his own mind, readers will see how fragile we are and how we need to recognize that certain behaviors need to be addressed in order to help those we love and care about. Bravo, Neal Schusterman for winning the 2015 National Book Award!  

Critical Evaluation:
As a librarian, youth advocate, and reader, I cannot express how necessary and needed this book is. Not only is time for a real discussion about mental illness, it is time to take a stand and help young people recognize the signs and symptoms and understand that there is no shame in asking for help. For Caden, schizophrenia is so powerful that it not only clouded his judgement, but it almost destroyed him when he decided to go down Challenger's Deep. What saved Caden is that his parents noticed how disconnected he was and decided to place him in the care of professionals who know how to treat this illness. Not only is Schusterman spot on with his descriptions of Caden's treatment, he provides three point of views that include: Caden's delusion, reality, and his family's helplessness. What most people don't realize about mental illness is that it affects not just one person, but that person's support system. As reader's read about Caden and his battle, they not only see the ugliness of mental illness, but they will also see the power of Caden's spirit, especially when soars out of Challenger Deep and back into the arms of those he loves. Anything is possible when we find the strength to overcome the darkness within us by asking, and accepting, help from those around us. This is such a powerful story that will bring reader's to tears, but it will also provide hope that if we are stricken with mental illness we can defy the call to Challenger Deep by choosing to ignore the call. If not, knowing that we can get the help we need to by recognizing the signs and telling someone.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Award-winning author Neal Shusterman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he began writing at an early age. After spending his junior and senior years of high school at the American School of Mexico City, Neal went on to UC Irvine, where he made his mark on the UCI swim team, and wrote a successful humor column. Within a year of graduating, he had his first book deal, and was hired to write a movie script.
In the years since, Neal has made his mark as a successful novelist, screenwriter, and television writer. As a full-time writer, he claims to be his own hardest task-master, always at work creating new stories to tell. His books have received many awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, as well as garnering a myriad of state and local awards across the country. Neal’s talents range from film directing (two short films he directed won him the coveted CINE Golden Eagle Awards) to writing music and stage plays – including book and lyrical contributions to “American Twistory,” which is currently played in several major cities. He has even tried his hand at creating Games, having developed three successful “How to Host a Mystery” game for teens, as well as seven “How to Host a Murder” games.
As a screen and TV writer, Neal has written for the “Goosebumps” and “Animorphs” TV series, and wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie “Pixel Perfect”. Currently Neal is developing an original TV series with his son, Jarrod, and adapting Tesla’s Attic with co-writer Eric Elfman for TV as well.
Wherever Neal goes, he quickly earns a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. Much of his fiction is traceable back to stories he tells to large audiences of children and teenagers — such as his novel The Eyes of Kid Midas. As a speaker, Neal is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give Neal a unique approach to writing. Neal’s novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor.
 
Genre:
 Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Issues

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Challenger Deep:
  • Inside Out by Terry Trueman
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

“A brilliant journey across the dark sea of mental illness; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.” (Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak)

“Haunting, unforgettable, and life-affirming all at once.” (Booklist (starred review))

“An adventure in perspective as well as plot, this unusual foray into schizophrenia should leave readers with a deeper understanding of the condition.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Clearly written with love, the novel is moving; but it’s also funny, with dry, insightful humor. Illustrations by the author’s son Brendan, drawn during his own time in the depths of mental illness, haunt the story with scrambling, rambling lines, tremulousness, and intensity.” (Horn Book (starred review))

“Teens, especially fans of the author’s other novels, will enjoy this book. VERDICT This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

“A powerful collaboration...[Caden’s] story turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won’t easily forget.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A thoroughly realistic story...Both male and female readers will find this compelling while acquiring a deeper compassion and understanding. ” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

“Shusterman does a masterful job...The intensity of living inside Caden’s mind makes this a wrenching read.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review))

Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Monday, December 7, 2015
Plot Summary:
When Cody got the email Meg committed suicide, her world imploded. Meg and Cody have been best friends since they were kids and now Meg is gone. Why didn't Meg tell Cody that she was so unhappy? Meg's sudden demise was not only devastating for Cody and her family, it just didn't make any sense. In fact, Meg and Cody had big plans so there is no way that Meg would every take her own life the way she did.

Unwilling to accept that Meg intentionally meant to commit suicide, Cody dives into the chaotic world that her best friend lived in. More importantly, when Cody confronts the man who broke Meg's heart, her mission to unravel the mystery behind Meg's downward spiral reveals unsettling details involving a support group and a dangerous mission to confront those murdered Meg. The ending will shock readers to the core, but, more importantly, this story conveys the battle that Cody is facing, internally, and how this whole outcome occurred by forces that no one could prevent without knowing, first hand, what was going. This book will have readers firmly planted in their chairs until the very end. 

Critical Evaluation:
This books is mind blowing. I don't think I have ever read a book so fast in my life and it was not only heartbreaking, but it paints an accurate portrayal of what depression can do when we don't seek they help we need. No one really knows why mental illness occurs, but it is something that should never be taken lightly. What Forman does here is that she sheds light on how depression doesn't just affect individuals, but what it does to those around us. Cody never knew that Meg suffered from depression and, as readers will learn, was because Meg's family decided NOT to tell her. I will say that this angered me because depression is something no one should ever feel ashamed of. Depression is a real illness that affects millions of people all over the world and, although it can't be cured, it can easily be managed with a combination of cognitive therapy and medication. I, myself, suffer from depression, and I am so glad that Forman wrote this story to tell teens that if they are struggling with bouts of sadness and hopelessness, suicide is NEVER a solution; if someone says otherwise, they are not a friend and they are certainly not someone, or something, who cares about them. I will say that they way Cody managed to track down the person who communicated with Meg was definitely reckless, but it revealed the danger of online communities where seriously sick people can pray on the weak. What I hope readers take away from this book is to not only be careful with online communities, but don't be afraid to ask for help when they are at the end of their rope. Depression is not a sign of weakness, but an illness that needs to be treated. This story is a cautionary tale for teens today, which is a conversations that must be discussed. 

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:

I’m a woman. There seems to be some confusion about my gender, which I find disturbing if you’ve seen my author photo.

I used to be a journalist. My first job was for Seventeen magazine. You can see some of my articles here.

When I was little I wanted to grow up to be the sun. I was devastated to learn this was not a career option.

Adam from If I Stay was inspired by my husband, Nick. No, you cannot meet him.

Willem from Just One Day/Year was inspired by some Dutch guy who dumped me. (Willem is my revenge.) No, you don’t want to meet him.

I bombed my SATs. I still did okay in life.

I was once an extra in a Bollywood movie. (And yes, that’s where I got that part of Just One Year from.)

I have been to 64 countries. I used to travel a lot. I once wrote a book about it. Favorite country visited: India. Least-favorite country: Tonga. (Sorry, Tonga.)

I can bake a batch of cupcakes from scratch in under 20 minutes.

The worst job I ever had was as a data-entry clerk. Honorable mention to hotel maid and traveling flower seller girl.

I have learned, and forgotten, three foreign languages. Regretfully, French is not one of them.

I took three years off to travel before college.

As a teen, I was so obsessed with Molly Ringwald that I started biting my lip like she did and now I have a permanent scar. And this is why I am a YA author.

Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Mysteries, Teen Suspense

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to I Was Here:
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

"I Was Here is a pitch-perfect blend of mystery, tragedy, and romance. Gayle Forman has given us an unflinchingly honest portrait of the bravery it takes to live after devastating loss." —Stephen Chbosky, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“Irresistible tear-jerker” —New York Times

“A heartbreaking novel about coping with loss from the bestselling author of If I Stay” —People
"As she did in If I Stay, Forman offers an introspective examination of the line between life and death, and the courage it takes to persist."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Forman sifts through Cody’s shifting psychological landscape with a sure and delicate hand, developing a character that readers will recognize themselves in. . . a relevant book as well as an absorbing one.” —BCCB, starred review

"Part tautly paced mystery, part psychological study of suicide and its aftereffects. . . An engrossing and provocative look at the devastating finality of suicide, survivor's guilt, the complicated nature of responsibility and even the role of the Internet in life-and-death decisions." —Kirkus Reviews

"Suicide has always been a subject in YA literature, and to her credit, Forman handles it sensitively and gracefully, raising important issues of the ethics and morality of the subject. The combination mystery and love story is sure to reach a wide readership and excite essential discussion. . . This latest offering should generate massive teen interest." —Booklist

"Cody's struggle with grief and complicity is intense and affecting up until an emotional gut-punch of a conclusion. Once this compelling case is closed, what remains is a haunting, elegiac tale about enduring and understanding loss. " —The Horn Book

"Teens will clamor for this latest offering from the author of If I Stay." —School Library Journal

"Hugely popular Forman, author of the acclaimed If I Stay among others, has another best seller here. This novel’s strength lies in its depiction of main character Cody, a young woman torn by conflicts but sustained by her own sense of purpose." —VOYA

“Takes tragedy, guilt, friendship, inspiration, heartache, and bravery and mixes them all up in a blender of feelings” —Bustle

Praise for If I Stay and Where She Went:

“Beautifully written.” —Entertainment Weekly

“An achingly gorgeous portrayal of rejection and rekindled love.” —USA Today

“A page-turner, tearjerker and romance all in one.” —BookPage

“Pitch-perfect...a moving, skillfully crafted novel.” —VOYA, starred review

Praise for Just One Day and Just One Year:

“Offering mystery, drama, and an evocative portrait of unrequited love, this open-ended novel will leave fans eagerly anticipating the companion story.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Readers were enthralled with Forman’s If I Stay books, and now she’s captivated them again as they fall in love with her characters in Just One Day.” —NPR’s The Roundtable

“As satisfying as both of these books are, readers are going to wish for a third.” —Booklist

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Plot Summary:
During one hot summer in Texas, Aristotle met Dante. Aristotle is loner who doesn't say much and Dante, who is quite the opposite of Aristotle, kick start an unusual friendship that will revel they have more in common other than their philosophical namesakes. Although Aristotle has been pestered by his mother to make friends, Dante was so different from the other guys he know that he took a leap a faith and befriended Dante. As he gets to know Dante, Aristotle finally acknowledges that the he has issues. For example, why did his parents not talk about his older brother? Why doesn't his father ever talk about Vietnam? More importantly, why is he unable to allow himself to have feelings for other people? These questions never bothered him before, but, Dante, who is so charismatic and honest with himself, ignites something within Aristotle to want more.

 As their friendship evolves, Aristotle introduces Dante to his family and it ended up being a blessing in disguise: The Mendozas and the Santanas form a familial friendship, Aristotle's father is smiling and talking again, and Dante's parents adore Aristotle. Just when things started to look up for Aristotle, the accident changed. Why did Aristotle do what he did and why does he try so hard to push Dante away? Furthermore, what lengths will Aristotle take to protect his best friend? In this incredibly lyrical, and honest, tale about two friends is a journey about self-discovery, forgiveness, family, and love.

Critical Evaluation:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz has written a masterpiece. Not only is this a story about two boys discovering who they are, butwhat their choices and actions will reveal about their world. When I first started reading this book, I didn't know what to expect and I can honestly say that I have never felt so hopeful for the youth of today. In other words, the revelation that is revealed in this story will not only help questioning teens like Aristotle, but inspire other teens to stand up for who they are just like Dante. Saenz is an amazing writer who not only knows how to develop  his characters, but the plot takes the reader on an incredible journey that is not only cathartics, but eye-opening for others. I would definitely recommend this book to teens who are not just struggling with their identity, but teens who feel they will never find their place in world. Whether your straight, gay, trans, red, yellow, brown, or black, everyone struggles with who they are and, luckily, there is always someone who will be able to help piece together the puzzle that is who we are. Although the ending of this story will leave readers begging for a sequel, I have no doubt that Aristotle and Dante found exactly what they are looking for in life and from one another.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Benjamín Alire Sáenz studied at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver Colorado, the University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium, the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Iowa and Stanford University where he was a Wallace E. Stegner fellow in poety. While at Stanford, he also pursued his doctoral studies in American Literature. He has studied philosophy, art history, theology, creative writing and literary studies with a focus on twentieth century American poetry.
In 2005, Cinco Puntos Press published his first young adult novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood. The novel was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Americas Book Award, The Paterson Prize, and the JHunt Award. Sammy and Juliana was also named one of the top ten Young Adult novels by the American Library Association and was also named one of the top books of the year by the Center for Children's Books, Captial Choices, The New York Public Library and the Miami Herald. HarperCollins has just released Sammy and Juliana in a paperback edition and has been released as an audio book from Listening Library (Random House). His second young adult novel, He Never Said Goodbye, was published by Simon & Schuster and won the Tomas Rivera Award in 2009. His most recent young adult novel, Last Night I sang to the Monster has won critical acclaim will be published by Simon and Schuster in the summer of 2008. His next young adult novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster. 

Genre:
Teen LGBTQ Fiction, Teen Fictions, Teen Lit for Guys, Teen Romance

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson bu John Green and Davis Levithan
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Yaqui Delgado Will Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

* "A tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

* "Authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice." (School Library Journal, starred review)

* "Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author's gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

"Sáenez writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenez does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other...those struggling with their own sexuality may find it to be a thought-provoking read." (Booklist)

"Sáenz has written the greater love story, for his is the story of loving one’s self, of love between parents and children, and of the love that builds communities, in addition to the deepening love between two friends." (VOYA)

"Ari’s first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance." (The Horn Book)

"Primarily a character- and relationship-driven novel, written with patient and lyrical prose that explores the boys’ emotional lives with butterfly-wing delicacy."--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Sáenz is a master at capturing the conversation of teens with each other and with the adults in their lives." (Library Media Connection, Recommended)

"This book took my breath away. What gorgeous writing, and what a story! I loved both these boys. And their parents! Don't we all wish we had parents like theirs? The ending - and the way it unfolded - was so satisfying. I could go on and on...suffice it to say I will be highly recommending it to one and all. I'm sure I'll reread it myself at some point. I hated having it end." (James Howe, Author of Addie on the Inside)

"I’m absolutely blown away. This is Saenz's best work by far...It’s a beautiful story, so beautifully told and so psychologically acute! Both Ari and Dante are simply great characters who will live on in my memory. Everything about the book is absolutely pitch perfect...It’s already my favorite book of the year!" (Michael Cart, Booklist columnist and YALSA past president)

“Benjamin Alire Saenz is a writer with a sidewinder punch. Spare sentences connect resonant moments, and then he knocks you down with emotional truth. The story of Ari and Dante’s friendship widens and twists like a river, revealing truths about how hard love is, how family supports us, and how painfully deep you have to go to uncover an authentic self.” (Judy Blundell, National Book Award-winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied) 
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Plot Summary:
When the economy crashed in 2008, Eailing, Iowa turned into a ghost town when the Eailing mall went out of business. For Austin and Robby, the mall is now Grasshopper Jungle where they spend most of their time skating through the abandoned structure and hanging out in the alley to smoke cigarettes. Although the mall is gone, the most popular places in town is the consignment store, From Attic to Seller and Tipsy Cricket Liquors run by Johnny McKeon, who is the grandson of the infamous Dr. Grady McKeon (Grady McKeon started out with defense contracts and eventually moved into manufacturing household items). Austin and Robby have been best friends for quite some time and they have an unbreakable bond that is confusing Austin quite a bit. However, Austin is dating Shan McKeon, Johnny McKeon's stepdaughter who he loves very much and want to get physical with. In fact, Robby taught Austin how to dance just so he could ask Shann out so why is Austin attracted and in love with both of them? Austin is struggling with some very issues and the only person he can rely on for advice is off is in Afghanistan fighting terrorists and he has no idea how to talk his father about his predicament. Meanwhile, after getting beat up for the last time, Robby and Austin uncover a secret that Johnny McKeon has been hiding in his office, which contains the recipe for world annihilation. However, the ones responsible for releasing the end of the world were the same people who have terrorized Robby and Austin, which takes Robby, Austin, and Shann to an underground shelter called Eden, beneath the McKeon mansion. What did Grady McKeon invent that would warrant this massive underground shelter and how the heck are Robby and Austin going to solve this rather "giant" problem? The answer is: paintball guns, blood, lemur masks, and whole lot of cigarettes.   

Critical Evaluation:
Wow. Where do I begin! Although the bigger picture is about saving the world from giant mantis' and staying alive, there are two additional stories going on at the same time that reveal the insanity of the human existence. Between Austin's story, readers will learn about the Szerba family and how everyone's individual story, and struggles, reflects upon Austin and contributes to his dilme: is he gay or straight. I will honestly say that amongst the absurdity of the giant bugs, introducing the story of a teen boy questioning his sexuality is not absurd at all. In fact, this whole story is about the various types of love that we all encounter and that love has very different outcomes. For example, Austin loves Robby in a way that is unconditional and never ending (it transcends love for family, friends, etc.) and, as for Shann, Austin's love is passionate and sexual that also goes beyond friends and family. Although Austin does daydream (frequently) about a threesome between him, Robby, and Shann, I believe Austin wants to bring these types of love together to make him feel complete. In many ways, readers will empathize with Austin, in the sense, that he wants to feel whole. Granted, if Austin didn't have to worry giant bugs taking over the world, I believe he would have found someone who could satisfy him on both levels and not just one, bu, alas, it just wasn't meant to be for Austin.  However,  Austin has diverted all of his strength and attention into the upbringing of Arek so maybe it doesn't really matter in the end. This is such a complicated, emotionally driven, testicle-laden and crazy story of today's adolescent males that kind of makes me glad I am a woman and a grown-up
.
Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several Young Adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Grasshopper Jungle (2015 Michael L. Printz Honor, 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Carnegie Medal Longlist) and Winger. He is a native-born Californian who spent most of his formative years traveling the world. His university studies focused on Political Science, Journalism, and Literature. He has published numerous short stories and articles. The Alex Crow, a starred novel by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, is his ninth novel. He lives in Southern California.

Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen LBGTQ Fiction, Teen Dystopian Thrillers

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Grasshopper Jungle:
  • Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • I'll Give Your the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

A literary joy to behold. . . . reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, in the best sense.”
The New York Times Book Review

"This raunchy, bizarre, smart and compelling sci-fi novel defies description – it's best to go into it with an open mind and allow yourself to be first drawn in, then blown away."
Rolling Stone

“[Grasshopper Jungle] reads more like an absurdist Middlesex… and is all the better for it. A-”
Entertainment Weekly

 “Nuanced, gross, funny and poignant, it's wildly original.”
The San Francisco Chronicle

“If you appreciate kooky humor, sentences that bite, and a nuanced understanding of human beings’ complicated natures and inexplicable actions, then you, too, will love Smith’s bold, bizarre, and beautiful novel.”
The Boston Globe

“The end of the world comes with neither a bang nor a whimper but with a dark chuckle and the ominous click-click of giant insect mandibles in this irreverent, strangely tender new novel by Andrew Smith. This but hints at the intricately structured, profound, profanity-laced narrative between these radioactive-green covers.”
The Washington Post

“Andrew Smith’s writing grabs you. He takes phrases and turns them into recurring motifs that punctuate the story, until by the end you start to expect them, maybe even mutter them to yourself. And the way that he takes all these seemingly disparate plot strands and weaves them together is masterful… Once you get lost in Grasshopper Jungle you won’t want to be found.”—Geekdad.com

 “No author writing for teens today can match Andrew Smith’s mastery of the grotesque, the authentic experiences of teenage boys or the way one seamlessly becomes a metaphor for the other.”
BookPage, Top February Teen Pick

"A meanderingly funny, weirdly compelling and thoroughly brilliant chronicle of ‘the end of the world, and shit like that’...a mighty good book."
Kirkus, starred review

"Filled with gonzo black humor, Smith's outrageous tale makes serious points about scientific research done in the name of patriotism and profit, the intersections between the personal and the global, the weight of history on the present, and the often out-of-control sexuality of 16-year-old boys."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Original, honest, and extraordinary… pushes the boundaries of young adult literature."
School Library Journal, starred review

Grasshopper Jungle plays like a classic rock album, a killing machine of a book built for the masses that also dives effortlessly into more challenging, deeper regions of emotion. Above all else, when it's done you want to play it all over again. It's sexy, gory, hilarious, and refreshingly amoral. I wish I'd had this book when I was fifteen. It almost makes me sad that it took twenty years to finally find what I'd been looking for.”
—Jake Shears, lead singer of Scissor Sisters

Grasshopper Jungle is a cool/passionate, gay/straight, male/female, absurd/real, funny/moving, past/present, breezy/profound masterpiece of a book.  Every time you think you've figured it out, you haven't.  Every time you're sure Andrew Smith must do this, he does that instead. Grasshopper Jungle almost defies description because description can only rob the reader of the pleasure of surrendering to a master storyteller.  Original, weird, sexy, thought-provoking and guaranteed to stir controversy.  One hell of a book.”
—Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of the Gone series

“I found myself saying over and over again, ‘Where in the heck is he going with this?’ all the while turning the pages as fast as I could. Mostly I kept thinking, This was a brave book to write.
—Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series

“Andrew Smith is the bravest storyteller I know. Grasshopper Jungle is the most intelligent and gripping book I've read in over a decade. I didn't move for two days until I had it finished. Trust me. Pick it up right now. It's a masterpiece.
—A. S. King, Printz Honor-winning author of Ask the Passengers and Please Ignore Vera Dietz

“In Grasshopper Jungle, it’s as if Andrew Smith is somehow possessed by the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut. This book is nothing short of a brilliant, hilarious thrill-ride that is instantly infectious. But, the most beautiful thing about Grasshopper Jungle has nothing to do with the absurd or out-of-this-world. It is the deft hand by which Smith explores teenage love and sexuality that is truly breathtaking. In writing a history of the end of the world, Smith may have just made history himself.”
—John Corey Whaley, Printz Award-winning author of Where Things Come Back

“Grasshopper Jungle is about the end of the world. And everything in between.”
—Alex London, author of Proxy

“Austin’s narrative voice fizzes with catchphrases that keep the reader on track as he dives into history and backstory. His obsessively repetitive but somehow endearing style calls to mind Vonnegut and Heller. This novel approaches its own edge of sophisticated brutality, sensory and intellectual overload, and sheer weirdness, and then jumps right off.”
BCCB

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Posted by Deborah Takahashi

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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