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.

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.”

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Plot Summary:
After a tragic accident, Arturo, Alma, and Maribel Rivera packed up their belongings and made their way to the United States. After months of waiting, a mound of paperwork, and a long journey, the Rivera's found themselves in the lovely state of Delaware, where Maribel could attend a special school called Evers. Life in Mexico was beautiful for the Rivera until the accident changed everything, especially the vibrant girl that used to be Maribel Rivera. Although Arturo and Alma gave up their prosperous life, and livelihood, their hope is to restore the daughter they thought they lost. When the Rivera's see their new home, it's not exactly the cozy home they knew back in Patzcuaro, Mexico. Despite not owning furniture, and other conveniences, Alma and Arturo are determined to make a better life for Maribel. What the Rivera's don't realize is that their entire apartment building is inhabited by a group of people who have similar stories and, as they get to know each other, take comfort knowing they are not alone in their struggles. In fact, when Alma and Maribel meet the Toro's, life was about to get more complicated and exciting when Mayor sees Maribel in The Dollar Store. In fact, for Mayor, it was love at first sight despite the fact that Maribel is different than the other girls from school. In this riveting and honest story told by eleven different voices, readers are invited to the lives of immigrants as the travel through the motions of leaving everything behind in pursuit of something better, even it the price is sometimes too heavy to bare. The ending will resonate with readers since all of us came from somewhere and realize the sacrifices that were made to give us the world they desperately wanted to experience.

Critical Evaluation:
My initial fear with this story is that it is told from eleven point of views. That's a lot of voices and stories to keep straight in my honest opinion. However, that is not the case with The Book of Unknown Americans. Henriquez is an incredible storyteller because every single voice and every single story was unique, inspiring, beautiful, and tragic. What seemed like a collection of vignettes, Henriquez managed to bring all of those stories full circle to create an incredible community and story. My absolute favorite scene was the impromptu Christmas party and I literally busted a gut when all of the neighbors, and the Riviera's, hear the song: "Feliz Navidad." Clearly, this was an American song because none of them had ever heard of it and talk about patronizing if everyone expects all Latin, Hispanic, and South American folks to know the song. This is just instance that make the book utterly amazing, but there are parts that really drove home for me because my own grandmother and family were interned at Manzanar. Arturo and Alma came to the United States to care for their daughter who was involved in a tragic accident. In many cases, a lot of people come to this country to seek out a better life for their children so this story isn't the first. However, their immigrating to the US was more than just finding a good school for their daughter: this story was about forgiveness and redemption. Alma and Arturo carried so much pain and grief over something they had no control over and I really do believe that is why people start over. For the Toro's, the had no choice to leave Panama, but the pain and the longing for Panama is what drives the wedge between Rafa and Celia. On the flip side, for the Maribel and Mayor, this move provided them the opportunity to feel love and accepted. There is so much going on with this story that it's impossible to cover every topic, but, let me assure, dear readers, this is an amazing story that will spark amazing conversation, especially with teens.

Information about the Author:
According to her website:
Cristina Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown AmericansThe World In Half, and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.
Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and AGNI along with the anthology This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers. 
Cristina’s non-fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Oxford American, and Preservation as well as in the anthologies State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Women Writers Reflect on the Candidate and What Her Campaign Meant. 
She was featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of “Fiction’s New Luminaries,” has been a guest on National Public Radio, and is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.
Cristina earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Chicago.

Fiction, Teen Contemporary Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Book of Unknown Americans:
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

“Vivid . . . . Striking. . . . A ringing paean to love in general: to the love between man and wife, parent and child, outsider and newcomer, pilgrims and promised land.” —The Washington Post

“Powerful. . . . Moving. . . . [Henríquez has] myriad gifts as a writer.” —The New York Times
“Passionate, powerful. . . . A triumph of storytelling. Henríquez pulls us into the lives of her characters with such mastery that we hang on to them just as fiercely as they hang on to one another and their dreams.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“Gripping, memorable. . . . A novel that can both make you think and break your heart.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A remarkable novel that every American should read.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Unfailingly well written and entertaining. . . . [Henríquez’s] stories illuminate the lives behind the current debates about Latino immigration.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lyrical. . . . This is a book about love, about how we seek to help those we love, sometimes with unforeseen and tragic consequences.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Powerful. . . Henríquez gives us unforgettable characters . . . whose resilience yields a most profound and unexpected kind of beauty.” —Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
“There’s an aura of benevolence in these pages. . . . Henríquez’s feat is to make the reader feel at home amid these good, likable people.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Characters are as vivid as they are resilient. . . . [The] story is told from Alma and Mayor’s points of view, but their voices are interlaced with tales of dreams deferred from the other tenants.” —Elle
“A lovingly woven portrait of how friendships sustain people, how people support one another, and how people make a home in unlikely places. . . . Henríquez offers up stories we need to hear and lets us sit with her characters in communion and even friendship.” —Christian Science Monitor
“Unforgettable: an important story about family, community, and identity, told with elegance and compassion.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
 “Passionate.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
 “Henríquez distills the vast sea of immigrant stories into a small apartment building community in Delaware. . . . Through Henríquez’s unadorned prose, these immigrants’ struggles ring clear, their voices rising above that din of political debate.” —USA Today
“An exquisite and profound novel of love, longing, and the resilience of the human spirit. . . . [These characters] leave an indelible mark on the heart.” —Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove
 “Henríquez allows the characters to speak for themselves. . . . The politics of immigration, while never explicitly argued, remain subtly in play, as do more existential matters affecting immigrants, such as the mixed national and cultural allegiances and affiliations between the generations.” —Chicago Tribune
“Distinctively compassionate and original. . . . Extraordinary.” —Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishings
 “[Henríquez is] a world-class stylist.” —Chicago Reader
“Beautiful . . . Cristina Henríquez introduces us to . . . vibrant lives, to heartbreaking choices, to the tender beginnings of love, and to the humanity in every individual. Unforgettable.” —Esmeralda Santiago, author of Conquistadora 
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Plot Summary:
After rescuing Alex from a horrible death, and bringing Kayla to the Underworld, Pierce has finally decided to be by John's side forever. However, now that they both have angered the Furies by reviving the ones the love, the Underworld is in danger of collapsing, which will ultimately bleed into our realm. In order to prevent that, John must quickly gather all the and ship them to their rightful after life, but the problem is that the Fates have abandoned him and the Furies are stronger than ever. When the boats approach the dock, John notices that the ships are barreling toward them and if they aren't stopped they will crash into the dock and all of those waiting will be lost. John's role is to secure the safety of all those souls, and, most importantly, Pierce. In a hast mood, John quickly dives in to the water to stop the boats from crashing into the them. Although Pierce begs him not to go because he would die, he quickly assures her he want and that he puts her in charge of getting everyone to safety. Not happy with this decision, Pierce does what she is told, but disaster strikes and the unthinkable happens: John Hayden is dead. Death deities aren't supposed to die, but, this time, John is not moving and he isn't breathing. Devastated, and angry, Pierce figures out what she has to do, but that means she must return to Isla Huesos to find a way to revive John. Meanwhile, Alex has been growing restless and is determined to bring his killer to justice and clear his father's good name, which means he is going with Pierce whether she likes it or not. In this final installment, Pierce must now face the Furies head on in order to save the man she loves. At the same time, she must find a way to not lose herself to her anger or more tragedy will strike.

Critical Evaluation:
In this explosive conclusion, Pierce has finally come to terms with her destiny and, to be honest, I wasn't jumping for joy. As much as I love the fact that that Cabot was able to turn this rather disturbing myth into an actual love story,  I just didn't quite get crazy happy with this installment. I will definitely say that Cabot had a whole lot going on in this novel and it almost made my head spin! I definitely hate saying this, but I wish there a fourth so readers could spend a little more time with Thanatos because that myth is definitely worth exploring a little more. Secondly, when we discover the secret that Piece's mom had been hiding all these years was also worth exploring a little more.Either Cabot was in a rush with finishing this story, or really, really didn't want to write a fourth book, I just didn't get everything I was expecting as the ending. Don't get me wrong, I love, love, love all of the characters because they are all so beautifully crafted and they all have quirks readers will relate to. A part of me wants to go back and read the original Persephone/Hades myth simply because I want to know if Persephone really loved Hades; unlike Pierce, Persephone didn't have a choice and had NO CLUE that Hades wanted her. I think that some might see Piece being reckless with her wanting to stay with John, but we have to admit she at least had the choice and wasn't spirited away while picking flowers on morning. In fact, we need to keep in mind that John wasn't born a God (like Hades), but forced into his role so he was once a mortal man who knew how to love. Despite all of the hits and misses with the Persephone/Hades myth, Cabot did a beautiful job re-creating the story to make it more about love rather than possession. All in all, this series was enjoyable and I would have preferred a wedding rather than baby talk in the end (Pierce is still 17), but, when you are the Queen of the Underworld, you have loads of time on your hands.

Information about the Author:
According to her website:
After working for ten years as an assistant residence hall director at New York University (an experience from which she occasionally draws inspiration for her best-selling Heather Wells mystery series), Meg wrote the Princess Diaries series, which was made into two hit movies by Disney. While over 25 million copies of Meg’s nearly 80 published books have been sold in 38 countries, Meg’s most proud of the letters she’s received from fans thanking her for helping them to overcome their “dislike of reading.”
Some of Meg’s fan favorites include the 1-800-Where-R-You? series (which has been reprinted under the title Vanished and was made into the Lifetime series called Missing), as well as All-American Girl and Avalon High (on which an original Disney Channel movie was based), and several books told entirely in emails and text messages (Boy Next Door/Boy Meets Girl/Every Boy’s Got One). A fourth book told in this format, The Boy is Back, will be published by HarperCollins in 2016.
Meg’s first ever adult book in the Princess Diaries series, Royal Wedding, will be available in Summer 2015, along with an installment of the series for younger readers, From the Notebook of a Middle School Princess. Remembrance, a new book in the Mediator series, will be available in 2016.
Meg Cabot (her last name rhymes with habit, as in “her books can be habit forming”) currently lives in Key West, Florida with her husband and various cats. If you see her husband, please do not tell him that he married a fire horse, as he has not figured it out yet.

 Teen Romance, Teen Fantasy

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Awaken:
  • Cress by Marissa Meyer
  • Everytrue by Ashton Brodi
  • Beautiful Redemption by Margaret Stohl & Kami Garcia
Awards & Recognition:
From Booklist:

While the souls of the dead stack up in the Underworld for want of a boat to take them to their final destinations, 17-year-old Pierce and her boyfriend, John, Lord of the Underworld, find themselves Earth-side in the middle of a hurricane, in a fight to defeat a corrupt developer whose son is possessed by Thanatos, the Greek personification of Death. All the while, Pierce and John are pursued by the Furies, bent on destroying the Underworld by killing off its lord and his consort. This is the concluding title of Cabot’s Abandon trilogy, loosely based on the Persephone myth, and readers will definitely want to read Abandon (2011) and Underworld (2012) first. Action rather than characterization moves this clever, agreeable tale along to a neatly negotiated ending, and the author keeps a light touch while dealing with dead people, judgment, and the consequences of getting involved rather than standing on the sidelines. Recommend to those who liked Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy titles or Cabot’s own Avalon High (2006). HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-seller Cabot wrapping up a trilogy? This ought to go out like hotcakes, so make sure you’ve got a full stack. Grades 7-10. --Cindy Welch

Awaken by Meg Cabot

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Plot Summary:
Some people believe in the concept of reincarnation, or rebirth, but for Travis Coates he was literally brought back to life with the help of a scientific procedure that's still in its infancy. Prior to his procedure, Travis was diagnosed with Lukemia and, despite chemotheraphy, Travis' body was losing the battle against the cancer. When it seemed that all was lost, Dr. Saranson, from the Saranson CEnter of Life Preservation, approached Travis with an unusual proposition that could help him overcome his illness and live a long and healthy life. However, there was one small catch: his head would be removed from his ailing body and then cryogenically frozen for an unspecified amount of time. Although this was Travis' only option to live the life he wanted, he and his parents made the decision to go through with this procedure. Granted, Travis had come to terms with his death, he didn't expect to wake up five short years later with a brand new body and instant fame. What was supposed to be the happiest time of his life, Travis learned that he is the second successful body transplant and must face a whirlwind of praise and condemnation. Furthermore, Travis had to face the stark reality that, during his cryogenic slumber, everyone he loves has moved on with their lives, leaving him in same exact place he left five years ago: repeating tenth grade and no one to share it with. Granted, Travis has found a new friend in Hatton finally re-connected with his best friend, Kyle,  he learns that his girlfriend, Cate, has not only moved on with her life, but is engaged to another man. Instead of letting her go, Travis embarks on a journey to not only get his life back, but also get the girl he loves back. The only problem with this scenario: what if he fails and refuses to let go? Readers will laugh and cry as the read about a second chance at life that isn't exactly the second chance we all want.

Critical Evaluation:
I am absolutely astounded with how funny and profound this story is! If readers have read John Corey Whaley's debut Where Things Come Back, this is definitely a different direction, but, nevertheless, a solid story that conveys what an amazing writer Whaley is. Travis Coates is an average teen who has a family that loves him and two best friends he can't imagine living without. Sadly, when he is diagnosed with Lukemia, the fight for his life only strengthened the bond between him and his friends and he refuses to go out without a fight. Travis is an amazing young man who loves fiercely and unconditionally. Although Travis' fight with cancer is only part of the story, readers will see just how difficult his transition is when his whole life came crashing down on him within a few months. Along with Travis' journey, readers will see what the last five years have done to his best friend (Kyle), his girlfriend (Cate), and his parents. I will admit that my heart sunk as the truth unfolded and all I wanted to do was dive into the pages and just hug Travis. In many ways, Travis was the one who agreed to have his head frozen, but, at the same time, he didn't take into consideration what the future may hold. Honestly, I think all of us would react the way Travis did because we just expect our loved ones to wait for us and make sure nothing will change. Well, sadly, for Travis, everything he knew didn't last the test of time and now it's time for him to make a new life. Despite the fact that he had his head removed, crycogenically frozen and transplanted onto a donor body, this is a coming-of-age tale where a young man must face five years of growing pains in a matter of months and, ultimately, learn to overcome his hardships by learning learn to let go and embrace the unknown.

Information about the Author:
According to his website:
JOHN ‘COREY’ WHALEY grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he learned to be sarcastic and to tell stories.  He has a B.A. in English from Louisiana Tech University, as well as an M.A in Secondary English Education. He started writing stories about aliens and underwater civilizations when he was around ten or eleven, but now writes realistic YA fiction (which sometimes includes zombies…). He taught public school for five years and spent much of that time daydreaming about being a full-time writer…and dodging his students’ crafty projectiles. He is terrible at most sports, but is an occasional kayaker and bongo player.  He is obsessed with movies, music, and traveling to new places. He is an incredibly picky eater and has never been punched in the face, though he has come quite close.  One time, when he was a kid, he had a curse put on him by a strange woman in the arcade section of a Wal-Mart.  His favorite word is defenestration.  His favorite color is green.  His favorite smell is books.  He currently lives in Los Angeles. 

Where Things Come Back is his first novel.

NOGGIN, his second novel, is out on April 8, 2014. 
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Humor

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & Up

Books Similar to Noggin:
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Every Day by David Leviathan
Awards & Recognition:
"Travis Coates has lost his head—literally.... [A] wonderfully original, character-driven second novel. Whaley has written a tour de force of imagination and empathy, creating a boy for whom past, present, and future come together in an implied invitation to readers to wonder about the very nature of being. A sui generis novel of ideas, Noggin demands much of its readers, but it offers them equally rich rewards." (Booklist, November 2013, *STARRED REVIEW)

"The madcap story of a boy who loses his head and finds it again. . . . Readers will recognize the Printz winner’s trademark lovable characterizations. . . . They’ll also recognize the poignantly rendered reflections on life, love, death and everything in between. . . . Whaley’s signature cadence and mad storytelling skillz are worth every page. A satisfyingly oddball Frankenstein-like tale of connectivity." (Kirkus Reviews, February 2014)

* "Travis Coates has his head surgically removed and cryogenically frozen after he dies (of leukemia at age 16)...five years after his death, technological advances allow doctors to attach his head to a donor body that's taller and more muscular than the original.... Travis's comic determination to turn back the hands of time...is poignant and heartbreaking. His status in limbo will resonate with teens who feel the same frustration at being treated like kids and told to act like adults." (Publishers Weekly, January 2014, *STARRED REVIEW)

"Whaley’s sweet and raunchy first-person narrative provides a thought-provoking look at the notions of self-awareness, the nature of identity, and the angst of a very special teen. The lively, conversational style will engage teen readers in search of an unusual, but relatable, character. At times hilarious and heart-wrenching, Noggin, with its eye-catching cover art, belongs in all library collections serving young adults." (VOYA, February 2014)

"Readers will find it easy to become invested in Travis's second coming-of age—brimming with humor, pathos, and angst—and root for him to make peace with his new life." (Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2014)

"Travis Coates, 16, is dying of cancer, so he accepts an offer from a cryogenic group to have his head removed and frozen with the hope that it would be attached to another body in the future and he could be reanimated. Five years later, he "wakes up" with a new body and is still 16. . . . The premise of the story is interesting. . . . The author does a good job of describing the emotions and reactions of all of the characters." (School Library Journal, March 2014)

* "What is it like to be frozen, à la Ted Williams, never believing you'll really come back--and then you do? That's the preposterous premise of John Corey Whaley's novel, conveyed with realistic emotions that keep his narrator, Travis, grounded, and the story credible--and also highly entertaining--for readers. . . . Whaley makes his hero's implausible situation absolutely convincing. The questions lurking behind Travis's sometimes rash actions plague all teenagers. . . . Ultimately this insightful story explores the challenges of intimate relationships and managing expectations. Whaley asks teens to think about the life they want to make for themselves." (Shelf Awareness, April 2014, *STARRED REVIEW*)

"NOGGIN is an incredibly imaginative way to examine the universal feeling of longing to return to the way things use to be…. Far from predictable, NOGGIN contains a few twists to keep readers guessing, but the real heart of the book is the hang up on the past--the feeling that if you could just remind someone you loved how things used to be, old feelings would quickly return. It also focuses on larger issues, like how to deal with the weight of other's expectations, and how to get a friend to be true to themselves. NOGGIN is a novel about trying for a future very different from the one you planned, and learning to be ok with the change. Funny and relatable, fans of Whaley's first novel WHERE THINGS COME BACK won't be disappointed." (Teenreads.com, April 2014)

“The premise of John Corey Whaley’s young adult novel “Noggin” – outlandish as it is – has such wonderful resonance. . . . Whaley has a gift for detail. . . . He can be very funny. . . . And, like [John] Green, he can choke you up.” (New York Times Book Review, May 2014)

"A graceful combination of raw heartbreak and biting wit (including plenty of head puns) guides Travis through [his] existential search for life's meaning and survival. . . . While the novel's premise may be straight out of Hollywood, Travis' voice could not be any truer. Fans of John Green will welcome this smart tearjerker." (BookPage, April/May 2014, Top Pick)

"We weren't sure what to expect from this one, but were pleasantly surprised by honest, funny and incredibly likeable Travis. As a walking miracle, he should be grateful, but he struggles with feeling out of step in his own life. Noggin is filled with loving relationships that remind us that even with the kindest people and the best intentions, life is complicated." (Justine Magazine, June/July 2014) 

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Plot Summary:
Hank Chu lives a fairly normal life; his mother works for a wealthy woman and his father owns a grocery store in Chinatown. What Hank doesn't realize is that his father harbors a secret that can be traced back to the time when China was no longer ruled by the emperor. Although Hank loves his father, he knows that his mother does not, which is why she never smiles. However, when his mother is taken hostage after a bank robbery, the Anchor comes to her rescue and gives her the idea that her son will not be like his father: he will be a superhero! Although Hank has no desire to be superhero, be obliges his mothers hair brained ideas along with many, many cuts and bruises thanks to Uncle Wun. Just when things could get any more difficult, Hank does something that will cost him dearly because he wanted to protect his family. Just when he is about to give up, his luck changes when an ancient guardian called The Tortoise arises, asking Hank to live in his shadow; what Hank didn't know is that the Tortoise saved his father by striking a deal that literally saved his father's life. Now that Hank has made a deal with Tortoise, Hank has decided that he must be a superhero to not only bring down a criminal empire, but bringing the man how hurt his family to justice. The Tortoise is on the case and readers will instantly fall in love with this underrated superhero.   

Critical Evaluation:
I absolutely, positively loved this story. In fact, I had no idea that the Green Turtle existed and I am tickled pink that Asian Americans have been represented in the long time awesomeness of comic books! What I love most about this story is how readers can easily relate to Hank. What I also relate to is Hank's mother because I see the same unconditional love and desire for him to be the best in my own mother. I also adore Hank's father because he really was Hank's rock and superhero despite all the secrecy. When readers learn all about Hank's family history, it is obvious that he Hank had a two very obvious choices to make: hide in the shadows and do what was expected or take his fate into his own hands and stand up for what is right. When I think of the Green Turtle, I am instantly reminded of Captain America because both of these two characters have the purest hearts and strong sense of wrong and right, which make them lovable and incredibly admirable. Another great aspect of this story, like Steve Rogers' super soldier serum, Tortoise makes a deal with Hank to make him bulletproof as long as Tortoise can live in his shadow. Like any superhero, there must be a sidekick and Hank has one in Tortoise. Armed with a guardian, and a strong will to seek out justice, Hank was reborn, which conveys the overall theme in this story: never accept of life of cowardice and taking a stand against injustice. More importantly, never confusing justice and vengeance, which plagues all of us, especially superheroes.

Information about the Author:
Gene Luen Yang
I began making comics and graphic novels over fifteen years ago.In 2006, my book American Born Chinese was published by First Second Books.  It became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album – New.In 2013, First Second Books released Boxers & Saints, my two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion.  Boxers & Saints was nominated for a National Book Award and won the L.A. Times Book Prize.
I’ve done a number of other graphic novels, including the comics continuation of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. This has been a thrill because I’m a HUGE fan of the original series.
In addition cartooning, I also teach.  I’ve taught high school computer science for almost two decades.  I also teach creative writing through Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Sonny Liew
Sonny Liew is a Eisner-nominated comic artist and illustrator whose work include titles for DC Vertigo, Marvel, First Second Books, SLG and Disney, along with the Xeric-awarded Malinky Robot. He currently resides in Singapore, where he sleeps with the fishes.

Teen Graphic Novels

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to The Shadow Hero:
  • Captain America Series
  • Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

*"Yang and Liew reinvent this character in a brilliant homage that finally allows the Green Turtle to get his long overdue face time." - BCCB, STARRED REVIEW
*"There's plenty of humor in this lively, entertaining adventure story . . . At its heart, though, this book is a subtle comment on China's changing cultural landscape and growing multiculturism in America. A lovingly tongue-in-cheek homage." - Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"The insight into Chinese mafia and 1940s American superhero comic book culture is wonderful." - VOYA
"Award-winning author Yang and artist Liew tackle a lesser-known aspect of history, breathing new life into the Green Turtle, a 1940s comic book hero . . . A creative take on the superhero genre." - School Library Journal
"Abundant humor, strong characters and cracking good action." - The Horn Book
"A golden-age comic superhero returns with a brand new Asian-American origin story . . . An entertaining and intelligent response to classic superhero stories." - Kirkus Reviews
STARRED REVIEW: "Racism, romance, humor, and identity all play important roles in Yang and Liew’s evocation of Hank’s life in pre-WWII San Francisco as they create an origin story that blends classic comics conventions with a distinctly Chinese perspective." - Publishers Weekly
Praise for Boxers & Saints:
“Read this, and come away shaking.” --Newbery Honor-winning author Gary Schmidt
“Masterful.” --Dave Eggers 
"Remarkable.” --The New York Times
“At once humorous and heartbreaking.” --The LA Times
"Epic.” --The Washington Post
Monday, October 6, 2014
Plot Summary:
Life for Quincy and Biddy has not been kind. According to Quincy, she used to be smart until her mother's boyfriend hit the side of her head with a brick and that is why she is a Speddie (Special Ed student). Despite being "slow," Quincy is quick on her feet and keeps her guard up because she won't let anyone hurt her again, nor will she allow anyone keep her from achieving her dreams. As for Biddy, she is "moderately retarded" due to a lack of oxygen to the brain and abandoned by her mother. Although she was raised by her grandmother, Biddy has never known kindness, or been loved, and constantly picked on by other people because she is heavy and "slow." The only thing in common that Biddy and Quincy have is that they are in the same life skills class, but, now that they have graduated, they are part of  new program that will make them roommates because they are no longer in foster care. For Quincy, she sees Biddy as a silly fool and treats her that way. However, as Quincy gets to know Biddy, she learns that Biddy has been through a whole lot worse, including the fact that Biddy had a baby she was forced to give away. With a new home, and new life with Miss Lizzy, Quincy and Biddy are off to a rocky start. However, all of that changes when Quincy finally understands what it's like to be Biddy and decides to let her guard down in order to heal. For Biddy, she finally hones her abilities to love unconditionally that it forces her to overcome her fears in order to protect those she loves. In this emotional roller coaster, readers will learn the horrors of reality where two girls must stick together in order to success and survive.

Critical Evaluation:
Gail Giles is a phenomenal writer and I was truly moved by this story. Although the language and the dialogue she uses can be somewhat confusing for some readers, it will come to them organically as they progress through the story. Both Quincy and Biddy have intellectual disabilities due to two very different situations: Quincy suffered a head injury and Biddy was born with moderate retardation. However, both girls have very distinct personalities where Quincy is always angry and Biddy is always fearful. Although tragedy is what brings these two girls together, they are able to heal and overcome their fears by relying on each other. With that said, I will warn readers now that rape is described and discussed, but it needs to be addressed because thousands of young girls (with or without disabilities) are assaulted every year. What makes this act even more disgusting is that them boys who did this to Biddy and Quincy knew they were incapable of defending themselves and easy to intimidate. This is not acceptable, especially when it comes to people with disabilities. Giles story is an honest depictions about girls who are forced to face the world alone and its heart breaking. Despite the ugliness that surrounds these girls, there quite a few beautiful moment makes them shines hope for Biddy and Quincy. I just love the fact that Quincy can cook Because, of all things, this is one act that don't require using her fists or sharp tongue. For Biddy, her knack for cleaning goes very deep , psychologically, but it helps her cope with her issues, but her maternal instinct is what makes her the perfect companion for Quincy. I was absolutely devastated when I heard Biddy's story, but she as the only who could Quincy in her time of need. Although Quincy doesn't, initially, tell Lizzy about her assault, she gathers all her strength and courage to tell her and they report the assault to the police who, contrary to what Biddy and Quincy think, they actually took this report seriously. this story has such phenomenal character development because Biddy is actually able to walk outside without her coat and Quincy finally lets people help and love her. So much happens in this tiny book and its mind blowing!!! Be sure to have a box of tissues at your side and be prepared to have one hell of a conversation with your friends, mentors, and family members.

Information about the Author:
According to her blog:
Born in Galveston, Texas, raised in LaMarque, Texas, went to school in Nacogdoches, Texas, lived for years in Lake Jackson, Texas, taught high school in Angleton, Texas. Is anyone picking up a pattern here? After three fabulous in Chicago, Illinois, I moved to Fairbanks and then Anchorage, Alaska, and yes, it was COLD! As of August, 2004, I'm back in Texas, Yee Haw!
[I am married to] Jim Giles—husband, best friend, love of my life. Josh Jakubik—son and hero. Hunter and Chase Jakubik—grandsons. Dawn Jakubik—terrific daughter in law.

Teens with Disabilities, Teen Issues, Teen Contemporary Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Girls Like Us:
  • Stuck in Neutral by Terrie Trueman
  • The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

In compelling, engaging, and raw voices, 18-year-olds Biddy and Quincy, newly independent, intellectually disabled high-school graduates, narrate their growing friendship and uneasy transition into a life of jobs, "real world" apartments, and facing cruel prejudice. ... Biddy and Quincy share deep secrets and narrate lives heartrendingly full of anger, abandonment, and abuse... But with the help of patient Elizabeth and the support they gain from each other, they are empowered to move forward with strength and independence. Giles offers a sensitive and affecting story of two young women learning to thrive in spite of their hard circumstances.
—Booklist (starred review)

Giles’s background teaching special education students informs this blunt, honest, and absorbing story about two young women overcoming challenges that have less to do with their abilities to read or write than with how society views and treats them. In short, alternating chapters, the girls narrate in raw and distinct voices that capture their day-to-day hurdles, agony, and triumphs. The "found family" that builds slowly for Quincy, Biddy, and Elizabeth—with no shortage of misunderstandings, mistrust, or tears—is rewarding and powerful.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The story is told with both gentleness and a humor that laughs with, not at, the two girls. ... [T]he warmth, conflict and mutual caring that develop among Quincy, Biddy and elderly Miss Lizzy is authentic and genuinely moving. A respectful and winningly told story about people too often relegated to the role of plot device—bravo.
—Kirkus Reviews

The book gives memorable voice to underrepresented young women.
—The Horn Book

Girls Like Us is a quick, enjoyable read that is hard to put down. The author draws readers in with deep, meaningful characters who play on sympathies. ... The book is well written, with believable scenarios and dialogue most readers will enjoy. Girls Like Us will remain with readers long after they finish this story.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Plot Summary:
Auggie (August) really wants to go to school with kids his own age, but that won't happen because he doesn't look like the other kids. Born with facial deformities, Auggie has always dreamed of being normal because normal is average and normal is "nothing special." When Auggie's parents tell him that he has been accepted Beecher Preparatory, Auggie is terrified of the idea that he will go to school with kids he doesn't know; according to Auggie, it was one thing to meet kids when he was much younger since they didn't know any better, but, now, kids will know that he is different, which means he will be open to ridicule. Although Auggie and his father are against it, Auggie's mother believes it will be good for him since she is terrible at fractions and it's time that he gives middle school a chance and make new friends. Reluctantly, Auggie agrees to meet with the principal (Mr. Tushman), but he wasn't counting on a tour and meeting students from his class. Although everyone seemed really nice, Auggie knew they were freaked out about his face except for Jack Will. Charlotte was really helpful, but it was Jack Will who seemed genuine. When the first day of school arrived, Auggie was nervous and he new that people would react to his appearance so he kept to himself until Summer joined him at his empty lunch table. Is it possible that there are kids out there who don't mind his face? Even Jack Will joined them at their table so Auggie, for the first time in his life, had friends. Told from alternating point of views between Auggie, Jack Will, Via, and her friend, Justin, readers will learn how Auggie is not just special because of what he looks like, but how he makes people feel and just how challenging that can be for those who torn between wanting to be his friend, but are worried about what others will think.

Critical Evaluation:
What makes this story amazing is that it's a story for everyone. All of us, at one time or another, have known, or seen, people like Auggie and Julian. I have an older brother who has a learning disability so when Julian, and company, would say awful things about Auggie I wanted to throw the book across the room because I was soooo mad! I also wanted to cry my eyes out because all Auggie has ever wanted is to be normal, but, what also angers me, is that he IS NORMAL! This story conveys how fear of the unknown can have a very negative effect on people, especially when we don't teach our children to accept people for who they are and not what they look like. Honestly, who cares that Auggie's face is different, but, to a child, this is a life changing experience. If readers have the opportunity to check out, or buy, the special edition of Wonder (that has a chapter from Julian's point of view) it makes sense why he behaves that he does. However, his bullying is not at all acceptable and it's obvious where it comes from when his own mother demands the expulsion of Mr. Tushman for not following "protocol" in regards to Auggie's admission into Beecher Prep. Moreover, when Julian's mother said that Beecher Prep was not an inclusion school, I wanted to ring her neck. Another reason why this book is amazing is that Auggie has the most amazing support system, which, sadly, not all kids (like Auggie) have. Even with Via's outburst, she realizes that Auggie needs his family because everyone is so quick to reject him because of his looks. Lastly, I loved the dynamics of Auggie's friends and how most of the kids had evolved after the "incident" and how they got tired of Julian harrasing Jack and Auggie. This is a great story where adults and children can come together to not only talk about real tough issues like bullying, and tolerance, it is also about teaching, and learning, the power of empathy and kindness. This book is timeless and I can't wait to read it to my own children some day.

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
I live in NYC with my husband, two sons, and two dogs. For many years, I was an art director and book jacket designer, designing covers for countless well-known and not so well-known writers in every genre of fiction and nonfiction. I always wanted to write, though. I kept waiting for the perfect time in my life to start writing, but after more than twenty years of designing book jackets for other people, I realized that the perfect time would never really present itself. It's never the perfect time to start writing a book. So I  decided to just go for it. Wonder is my first novel. And no, I didn't design the cover, but I sure do love it.

Tween Fiction, Tween Issues

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 5 & up

Books Similar to Wonder:
  •  The One and Only Ivan by Kathryn Applegate
  •  Freak the Might by Rodman Philbrick

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

"Wonder is essentially ... a wonder. It's well-written, engaging, and so much fun to read that the pages almost turn themselves. More than that, Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways, delivering in August Pullman a character whom readers will remember forever. Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it." - Nicholas Sparks, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Slate.com, October 10, 2012:
"Wonder is the best kids' book of the year."

Entertainment Weekly, February 17, 2012, The Top 10 Things We Love This Week:
"In a wonder of a debut, Palacio has written a crackling page-turner filled with characters you can't help but root for."

The New York Times, April 8, 2012:
"Rich and memorable...It's Auggie and the rest of the children who are the real heart of 'Wonder,' and Palacio captures the voices of girls and boys, fifth graders and teenagers, with equal skill."

The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2012:
"What makes R.J. Palacio's debut novel so remarkable, and so lovely, is the uncommon generosity with which she tells Auggie's story…The result is a beautiful, funny and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation.”

The Huffington Post,
March 1, 2012:
"It's in the bigger themes that Palacio's writing shines. This book is a glorious exploration of the nature of friendship, tenacity, fear, and most importantly, kindness."
January 2013: "I think every mother and father would be better for having read it. Auggie's parents -- who are never named in the book, and don't even get to narrate a chapter of their own -- are powerful examples not only of how to shelter and strengthen a child with heartbreaking facial anomalies, but also of how to be a loving advocate to any kid."

The London Times, The Top 100 People to Watch in 2012:
"The breakout publishing sensation of 2012 will come courtesy of Palacio [and] is destined to go the way of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then some." 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Plot Summary:
Known as the son of the most notorious serial killer, Billy Dent, Jazz has been trying to live a normal life for the past four years--he even has a girlfriend and a best friend. However, when the body of a dead woman shows up Lobos Nod, Jazz can't help but investigate the crime scene because who would know crime scenes more than him? The thing about Jazz is that he didn't learn about his father's crimes from a report...his father actually brought him to the murders and forced him to watch. Although Jazz seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders, what he fears the most is the very idea that he could end up just like his father. When Jazz approaches G. William (the officer who captured his father and has tried to help Jazz live a normal life) about the victim, he is instantly told to mind his own business because not every dead body conveys a serial killer is on the loose. However, this body isn't just another dead body; the victim was found naked and missing three fingers where the killer "accidentally" drops the middle finger for police to find. There's something not right about the whole thing so Jazz and his best friend, Howie, break into the morgue to look over the corpse and Jazz' theory is starting to make sense when he noticed the bruising on her knuckles and the lack of it on her back. Despite being careful, Jazz and Howie are caught while "investigating" Jane Doe and the killer continues his rampage and, unfortunately, his pattern is awful familiar, which Jazz starts to believe that his father has returned. The only problem with this theory is that Billy Dent is locked away in solitary confinement so this must be copycat killer and, with copycat killers, they bound to make a mistakes. As Jazz continues to struggle with his own identity, and the fact there is a serial killer on the loose, he continues his own investigation because if could actually catch the killer, he will not be able to redeem his name, but prove to himself that he is nothing like his father. However, his nightmares continue to haunt him and Jazz starts to think that he isn't as innocent as everyone thinks.

Critical Evaluation:
WOWZA! I really don't have any other words to use to describe how amazing this book is. Although the subject matter may not appeal to everyone, Lyga is an incredible writer who knows to capture his audience. I will admit that I am a super huge fan of Criminal Minds [ a fictional television show focusing on a unit called the Behavior Analysis Unit (BAU)] where a lot of the terminology and descriptions are very familiar. However, to the unknowing reader, they will learn a lot about criminal investigations and what really defines a serial killer. Along with the murder and mayhem aspect, there is some serious character development going on this story because Jazz is concerned about his future and the prospect that he could become his father (i.e., the feelings and urges he has when approaches people). There has been a long debate about murders being genetically programmed to kill, but, in this case, Jazz was raised by a maniac that forced him to watch kill. I can't imagine what it's like being Jazz because he is constantly haunted by his father's words, actions,  and advice. Jazz really didn't have a chance at a normal life because of his father so I have to hand it to him for being so well adjusted. Than again, according to Jazz, serial killers can blend in perfectly with society, but what sets him apart from people like his father is his empathy. He stood up to Howie's bullies and made a friend for life and he genuinely loves his girlfriend despite the fact her father hates him. Serial killers, from what we learn, are narcissists and utterly selfish so Jazz doesn't "fit the profile" yet he is still paranoid that it's not real or genuine. What's troubling Jazz  is that he has no faith in who he is because he feels responsible for Billy's victims. No matter what Connie, Howie, or G. William say, nothing will ever be good enough until he brings this copycat down. The question is: how much is Jazz willing to risk to prove he isn't a serial killer. This novel packs quite a punch and I can't wait for the sequel!

Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
After graduating from Yale with a degree in English, Lyga worked in the comic book industry before quitting to pursue his lifelong love of writing. In 2006, his first young adult novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, was published to rave reviews, including starred reviews from Booklistand School Library JournalPublishers Weekly named Lyga a “Flying Start” in December 2006 on the strength of the debut.
His second young adult novel, Boy Toy, received starred reviews in SLJPublishers Weekly, and KirkusVOYA gave it its highest critical rating, and the Chicago Tribune called it “…an astounding portrayal of what it is like to be the young male victim.” His third novel, Hero-Type, according to VOYA “proves that there are still fresh ideas and new, interesting story lines to be explored in young adult literature.”
Since then, he has also written Goth Girl Rising (the sequel to his first novel), as well as the Archvillain series for middle-grade readers and the graphic novel Mangaman (with art by Colleen Doran).
His latest series is I Hunt Killers, called by the LA Times “one of the more daring concepts in recent years by a young-adult author” and an “extreme and utterly alluring narrative about nature versus nurture.” The first book landed on both the New York Times and USAToday bestsellers lists, and the series has been optioned for television by Warner Bros./Silver Pictures.
Lyga lives and writes in New York City. His comic book collection is a lot smaller than it used to be, but is still way too big.

Teen Mysteries, Teen Suspense, Teen Horror

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to I Hunt Killers:
  • The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

"I Hunt Killers is an out-of-control hearse with one busted headlight, blood on the grille, a madman at the wheel, and laughter pouring out of the open windows... Climb in, buckle up, and go for a ride."—Joe Hill, author of Horns andHeart-Shaped Box

* "A superb mystery/thriller that explores what it's like to have a monster for a father...but it's Jazz's internal conflict about his exposure to his father's evil that adds extra dimension and makes the book shine."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"I adored this book. The mystery pulls you in from the first pages, and Jazz is a more chillingly charming protagonist than Dexter Morgan."—Cassandra Clare, author of the Mortal Instruments series

* "Lyga brilliantly combines the feel of a true crime story with mystery, adventure, and psychoanalysis."—VOYA, starred review --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Plot Summary:
After a near death battle with the Darkling, Alina was spirited away from the Little Palace to the darkness of the underground White Chapel. Although she is weak, Alina is struggling with her confinement and suspects that the Apparat is keeping her locked up for his own advantage. However, after a coup, led by Mal and company, they escape the underground in search of Nikolai despite the fact they have no where he is or if he survived the battle at the Little Palace. Fortunately, Nikolai is a lot stronger, and cleaver, than anyone could have imagined so it should have been no surprise that he would rescue Alina and the others after encountering Second Army deserters. More importantly, while Alina spent months convalescing, Nikolai managed to create ever more extravagant machines, which takes our heroes to the most elaborate hideout ever: the Mountains. As Alina continues to struggle harnessing her powers, she is also battling the conflicting feelings about Mal and the Darkling. However, when Baghra tells Alina her life's history, it only makes sense why the Darkling is the way he is. Moreover, Alina is had to deal with the fact that if she succeeds, as is the Sun Summoner, she must join Nikolai, the heir to the Ravkan throne, to keep her not only keep Ravka safe, but say goodbye to the only man she has ever loved. As the group continues their search for Morozova's last amplifier (the Firebird) they set on a journey that will not only reveal the true origin of the final amplifier, but the sacrifice that Alina will have to make to earn it's power. There is a huge plot twist so get ready for the "HOLY COW" moment.

Critical Evaluation:
As much as I love this series, I was a little disappointed with how this series ended. IN many respects, I thought the story was rushed and could have used more plot development since the author actually revealed the history about Morozova, Baghra, and the Darkling. Although loved the fact that Alina and the Darkling could communicate with one another, especially when he revealed his real name and his feelings, there really is room for a fourth installment where Bardugo could expand upon Darkling's  inner turmoil. Personally, as a reader, I would prefer to have this struggle in the story because it would make his death that more memorable because, beneath the power hungry exterior, is a lost soul who wanted his country united, but went about it the wrong way. Granted, Baghra did explain that she was responsible for his ways, but I really wanted more drama and turmoil! What I did adore about this series is that all of the characters in this story have equally good and dark sides; the Darkling, at least for me, was not only appealing, but his loneliness pulled at my heart strings because, in the end, he really did love Alina and it was only natural that he would die because of her. The back story to Morozova was not only interesting, but actually deserves it's own story where readers can get the full story that not only shows how Mal, Alina, and the Darkling are connected. In my opinion, this love triangle is much more enticing than the Edward, Bella, and Jacob triangle (at least the Darkling didn't try to imprint on Alina's Child). In the end, Mal, Alina, and the Darkling where destined to meet, love, and, ultimately, experience some sort of loss and Bardugo delivered on that promise. Despite wanting more, the story ended the way it should and I was so happy to know that Alina got the happy ending she deserved. 

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

Leigh Bardugo is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she’s lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band. Her new book, The Dregs, arrives fall 2015.

Teen Fantasy, Teen Steampunk

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Ruin & Rising:

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com

"The magic Bardugo invents will surprise and delight readers." - The Horn Book
"Readers won't be able to turn the pages fast enough to the conclusion that will generate much discussion." - Booklist

"Once again, Bardugo is a master at building an action-packed fantasy with extraordinary world-building and complex characters . . . Fans of the first two books will not be disappointed." - School Library Journal

"Triumphant . . If opener Shadow and Bone was a magical coming-of-age story and middle-volume Siege and Storm was a policial thriller, then this third book is an epic quest. . . Every time readers may think she's written herself into a corner, Bardugo pulls off a twist that, while surprising, will keep them turning pages furiously." - Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Posted by Deborah Takahashi
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Plot Summary:
Karou has taken the rebellion from Thiago with the help of Ziri and walks a very thin line with the rest of her comrades. Meanwhile, Eliza's past returns to haunt her and is trying desperately to figure out why the Seraphim and Jael have come to Earth. For Akiva, he has to find a way to convince the remaining Misbegotten that by joining the Chimera they will be able to end Jael's tyranny and reclaim Astrae. For Zuzana and Mik, they remain at Karou's side to help her resurrect Chimera who were slaughtered by Thiago for defiance.  When Akiva returns with the Misbegotten, tensions are high especially when they are told that chimera and serigraphs will be fighting side be side. Although Akva and Karou are holding on to their dream with both hands, things start to fall apart when insurrections arise and allies betray them. With a plan in hand, Akiva and Karou will have to go to Earth to stop Jael from bringing earthly weapons to Eretz, but with one small catch: no more blood will be shed and that proves difficult with Liraz who wants Jael's head on a platter. What should have been a rock solid plan, turns to dust when Akiva is pushed into the Earthen portal with Karou, leaving Ziri and Liraz behind to fight off the Dominion, which leaves him devastated. However, with Karou by his side, they must sneak into the Vatican to convince Jael to leave peacefully, which doesn't exactly goes to plan. Lastly, when Eliza's past is exposed, she spins out of control and the only ones who can save her are Zuzana and Mik. Who exactly is Eliza and why is she linked to all of this. Moreover, after using Sirithat, the Stelian Queen, Scarab, is on a mission to find and destroy Akiva because his powers have the ability to not only bring an end to the Continuum, but release an evil that is laying patiently in the dark. 
Critical Evaluation:
HOLY COW! EPIC! Thank you jury duty for keeping me locked in a room with nothing better to do than devour this final installment. I was kinds of worried, at first, that if Taylor introduced any more characters, my head would spin. However, Eliza's story is essential in tying the series together. I will also admit that I am so unbelievably happy that Eliza, whose ancestors originated from a biblical story that's only recognized in Ethiopia, is, indeed, African. Honestly, as much as love YA fiction, it's still hard to find stories where there are important characters that are of multiple ethnicity so BRAVO Laini Taylor for including a part of biblical history that readers may not familiar with. Although the characters in this story relate to Christian mysticism (angels and demons), Taylor doesn't bash readers over the head with the idea of heaven vs. hell. In fact, what she does is pose the simple question of other realms being spliced together, unintentionally, through time and space. When readers find out about the faerers and the cataclysm, everything will make sense. More important, readers will learn the real reason why the Serpahim and Chimera loathe each other and it is a bit unsettling. Although the Stelians are seen as ambivalent and selfish, they actually bear a burden that forces them to not pick a side because they are trying to pick up the mess that the Magi started thousands of years ago. I did find myself hurrying through the book because I just wanted Akiva and Karou to have a happy ending; however, Taylor's decision to include final part of the story with the Stelians I think was a great way to not leave any loose ends. Granted, readers will be left for another installment, Taylor actually leaves enough room to begin a whole new series that could easily pick up where Akiva and Karou left off. Great story and I did tear up when Akiva and Karou finally went home together. Amazing trilogy and I can't wait to see what Laini Taylor has planned next!

Information about the Author:
According to Amazon.com:
Laini Taylor is the author of the National Book Award Finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, as well as the novels Blackbringer and Silksinger. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter.

Teen Fantasy, Teen Supernatural Romance

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to Dreams of Gods & Monsters:
  • Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
  • Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Awards & Recognition:
From Amazon.com:

*In the final book of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Taylor revives the strong interweaving of reality and fantasy that gave the first story such cross-genre appeal."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[An] ambitious, gorgeously edgy drama lit up by its coruscating characters and prose."— Kirkus

"New revelations, characters, multiple love stories, and constant plot twists and suspense will not disappoint Taylor's many fans."— Booklist

"For all the well-made trappings of fantasy and horror, the patchwork amalgamation of myth and legend, the machinations of plot, and the colorful menagerie of ensemble characters, this story remains, at heart, a romance-clear-eyed, tender, and satisfying."—The Horn Book

*"Though readers will be loath to leave this world behind, the trilogy ends with a sweet buffet of just deserts; the best balm for the bereft may be to start the series again from the beginning."—The Bulletin (starred review)

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Posted by Deborah Takahashi

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