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
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.

Genre:
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.

Genre:
 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. 
Genre:
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.

Genre:
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

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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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