Category Archives: Young Adult

Book Review: Where Things Come Back

This debut novel by John Corey Whaley has been making its way onto all kinds of must read lists that I have come across.  It is the winner of both the Michael L. Printz award in young adult literature and the William C. Morris Debut award from the American Library Association. While it is a darkly comic book, Whaley does a remarkable job of creating realistic, multidimensional characters and weaving together different story lines to create a unique story about religion, family and friendship.

Cullen is a 17-year-old boy growing up in a small Arkansas town where somehow, despite best intentions, everyone seems to end up coming back, stuck in this small town.  Now even the supposed extinct Lazarus woodpecker has come back, but amidst the woodpecker frenzy Cullen’s 15-year-old brother goes missing and everyone is left wondering if he will ever be found and make his way back.

There was a sense of foreboding and suspense that propelled me through this book.  I enjoyed the sprinkling of book titles that Cullen dreams up and records throughout such as, “#78:  It Is Not a Sin to Kill a Woodpecker” and “#82:  Five A.M. Is for Lovers and Lawn Ornaments”.  I think young adults will identify with Cullen as he struggles with how to relate to others while wading through a family tragedy and growing up in a small town.  Like many others, I look forward to reading more by this new author.

Title:  Where things come back

Author:  John Corey Whaley

Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

ISBN:  978-1-4424-1333-7


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Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

I stayed up late last night finishing this incredibly sad book and all I can say is, “What a disappointment!”  I was not at all pleased with how the author chose to end this book.  My mom and I have often discussed the ending to a good romantic comedy movie.  The basic plot line is often similar:  boy and girl meet, fall in love, something happens to tear them apart, boy and girl get back together and live happily ever after.  The difference between a not-so-great and great ending is that a great one will show boy and girl’s wonderfully heartfelt reunion and you are left feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.  In the not-so-great ending they allude to the reunion but you don’t get to see or feel any of the warm and fuzzy stuff.  I bet you can guess what happens in the bad endings… boy and girl don’t get back together.  So without giving anything away, this book did not have the great ending I was looking for.  After trudging through such a heart breaking story I was really waiting for the great payoff in the end and, sigh, it wasn’t there.

Currently nominated for several awards, this historical fiction novel tells the tale of a young, budding, Lithuanian artist named Lina.  The year is 1941 and the soviet secret police are deporting her family along with thousands of others.  Lina, her brother Jonas and her mother embark on a horrifying journey over thousands of miles and over the span of several years.  Lina secretly documents the injustices through her writing and art to share with the world what is happening and in hopes that her messages will somehow make their way to her father who has been sentenced to death in a prison camp.  Along the way Lina will learn about love and forgiveness and the strength needed for survival.

This novel was written by the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and includes a note which provides more information about the plight of the people in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during the Soviet/German war.  While I may have disliked the ending, it would be hard not to truly appreciate this book for the insight it brings to those unfamiliar with this piece of history, as well as the messages of love and forgiveness that are embodied by Lina’s mother.

Title:  Between shades of gray:  A novel

Author:  Ruta Sepetys

Publisher:  Philomel Books

ISBN:  978-0-399-25412-3


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Book Review: The Hunger Games

I actually read the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy two summers ago.  However, with the release of the movie tomorrow (I have tickets for a 10 a.m. showing!) I thought it the perfect time to promote this fantastic book!

In a futuristic world of North America, Katniss must fight to the death in order to survive the Hunger Games and provide her family and district with the food and money it desperately needs.  The annual Hunger Games, a televised event watched by all, are a punishment to the districts for a rebellion attempted years ago.  Now each year a boy and a girl from the twelve districts are chosen to compete by surviving in the wild in a gladiator-style fight.  Will Katniss survive on her own?  Will she be able to kill Peeta, the boy from her district who once saved her family from starving?  This book is a fast paced and filled with, not only suspense, but questions about political tyranny, love and friendship.

“The Hunger Games” is by far my favorite book in the trilogy, but I highly recommend reading all three books.  I have to admit one of my favorite aspects of this book is the enticing love triangle (also why I loved the Twilight Saga) that is set up between Katniss, Peeta and Gale.  I happened to read this book while in the middle of my graduate program for Library Science so I have an extensive amount of materials I created to accompany this book.  Check out my practicum website to find a week-long Hunger Games Program for Middle School, readers advisory, and a book talk accompanied by a promotional Glog.
Title:  The Hunger Games
Author:  Suzanne Collins
Publisher:  Scholastic
ISBN:  9780439023481

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Book Review: A Monster Calls

This powerfully moving book is about loss and coming to terms with grief.  This dark story features thirteen-year-old Conner who has awoken from his nightmare.  It is the nightmare that started when his mother first began her cancer treatments and the one that he can not fathom telling anyone about.  However, he awakens to face a new kind of monster, an ancient creature made from the old yew tree in the back yard.  The monster continues to visit Conner at seven minutes past midnight, sharing three stories and demanding only one thing of Conner… his story, his truth.

The original idea for this story comes from Siobhan Dowd, an acclaimed young adult author who died from cancer before finishing this book.  Patrick Ness was given her beginning and continued to write the amazing and deeply sad story of young Conner.  Glossy pages are filled with dark drawings and sketches that contribute greatly to the overall feel of the story.  See the drawings come to life in this book trailer.

This was a difficult book for me to read due to the recent loss of my father to cancer.  Many tears were shed while reading, but I was impressed with Ness’s ability to tackle the complexity of feelings that children face when dealing with the prolonged sickness and death of a parent or loved one.

Title:  A monster calls

Author:  Patrick Ness (Siobhan Dowd)

Illustrator:  Jim Kay

Publisher:  Candlewick Press

ISBN:  9781406311525

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Family, Fantasy, Young Adult


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Book Review: Drawing From Memory

This graphic novel is Allen Say’s own autobiography that follows his journey from a young child who loved to draw and read comic books to a young artist during WWII who became an apprentice under Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist.  Allen was shunned by his father at an early age who didn’t understand or value his artistic talent.  When his parents separated, Allen was furnished with his own apartment at the age of 12 as a quiet place to study (and create art!)  Both the historical context and the relationships Allen forms on his quest to developing and embracing his love for art make this an intriguing book to read.  The author’s note at the end of the book includes real photographs and some follow-up notes as to what happens to Allen later in life.

Today, Allen Say lives right here in Portland, Oregon.  He is a well-loved and respected artist who has won the Caldecott Medal for “Grandfather’s Journey” as well as a Caldecott Honor and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for ” the Boy of the Three-Year Nap”.

Title:  Drawing from memory

Author/Illustrator:  Allen Say

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

ISBN:  978-0-545-17686-6


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Book Review: Forge (Seeds of America, #2)

At the end of Chains (Seeds of America, #1) the reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions and I was eagerly awaiting my copy of Forge, the second book in the Seeds of America Trilogy.  Book #2 picks up right where the action stopped, however, I was a little disappointed to find out that this book is not told from the perspective of Isabel.  Part of the reason I fell in love with the first book was due to the amazing character found in Isabel.  Isabel does make an appearance, however, Forge is largely about the experiences of her friend Curzon.

Curzon Smith is a young slave who finds himself, yet again, enlisted in the war.  Alongside the other soldiers he must fight for survival through a bitter winter at Valley Forge, while also trying to go undetected as a runaway slave.  Both Curzon and Isabel must continue to navigate through treacherous times, trying to decipher whom they can trust and what it takes to become truly free.

While I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first.  I am still looking forward to book #3, Ashes, due out later this year.  I kept thinking that my husband, who is an actual history buff and very interested in war-time and ammunitions would find this a really interesting read.  Anderson continues in her tradition of beginning each chapter with an excerpt from an actual letter, newspaper article or advertisement from the time period, lending an authenticity and a sense of how these fictional events could have really played out.

Title:  Forge

Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

ISBN:  978-1-4169-6144-4


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Book Review: Inside Out and Back Again

This is actually the first book I have read that is written completely in verse.  I wasn’t sure if I would like the format, believing that there couldn’t be as much detail to draw me into the story.  I was wonderfully wrong.  This amazing story spans one year in the life of 10-year-old Ha and is drawn from the author’s own experience leaving Saigon during the Vietnam war and landing in Alabama.  Along with her mother and three brothers, Ha must flee her home and everything she knows.  They spend a long journey on a boat with little food, no bathrooms and two mats to share among the five of them.  Eventually they secure a sponsor in Alabama and Ha must learn to navigate her way in a new world.  There is so much to love about this book.  Ha is a spunky little girl who in the first two pages is angered by the cultural tradition of only allowing male feet to be the first to walk through their house after the new year so she makes sure to awaken extra early and sneaks just her big toe out of the bed she shares with her mother and presses it to the floor.  The friendship that develops between Ha and her neighbor, a retired teacher who tutors the family and welcomes them with open arms is touching while the prejudice they face from others is painful.  This is the first (hopefully not the last) book written by Thanhha Lai and the winner of the 2011 National Book award.  It is recommended for grades 4 through 8 and I think would make a wonderful read aloud due to the richness of topics and feelings to be discussed.

Title:  Inside out and back again

Author:  Thanhha Lai

Publisher:  Harper

ISBN:  978-0-06-196278-3


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