Book Review: The Vicious Deep, by Zoraida Cordova

vicious_deep_coverThis book review is part of series of reviews written by students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for their 7th grade English classes.

Have you ever imagined what it feels like to drown? The cold water rushing into your lungs. Being dragged under. Having waves crash over you, tossing you in what we water-people call “the washing machine.”

Scary thought, right? That’s why we have lifeguards. Tristan Hart knows this more than anyone else in his lifeguard troop. The Vicious Deep is a hair-raising, spine-chilling, heart-warming novel about a young man named Tristan Hart and the incredible transformation he undertakes to become one with the ocean… and its residents. Zoraida Cordova has outdone herself in this epic composition of friendship, danger, suspense and fantasy. “This is, by far, one of my best works,” says Cordova. “When I imagined the storyline for this novel, I wanted something…different. I wanted to take something normal, and twist it until it becomes something people would be interested in.” And that is exactly what she did.

The Vicious Deep is a novel that has to do mostly with friendship, fantasy, and above all, the OCEAN. In my opinion, the author was extremely good about keeping the fantasy part fairly realistic. Instead of making it a princess-style fairytale, she turned the story into something a person my age, or older, would want to read. Also, the author did an amazing job with the descriptions of Coney Island and the ocean. They made me actually feel like I was walking down the Island Boardwalk on a summer day, or swimming in the blue-green water. Also, in my opinion, the author did an excellent job of bringing themes into the story. She didn’t talk about the theme for too long, only mentioned it once or twice to get the readers thinking about it. Overall, I believe that Cordova did an excellent job with this book.

The characters in this book are, by far, some of the best characters in any novel I have ever read. The way Cordova describes them: “She has long, curly, shocking red hair that reached down to her waist, and the same eyes I do: Electric green. Her pursed pink lips and furrowed brows mean only one thing: I’m in trouble” (238). But the best part of the book, in my opinion, is when she describes Coney Island and the Boardwalk: “The blue-emerald water, the soft yellow sand, the old wooden boardwalk with its rickety old rides… this is Coney Island. This is home” (13). Overall, the author uses descriptive language that stands out in a time when authors just skip the descriptions and move on to dull plot and storyline.

In conclusion, The Vicious Deep is an amazing book that I would recommend to anyone over the age of 11. It has excellent themes and morals, and comically describes the incredible transformation that happens to the unsuspecting lifeguard Tristan Hart.

-Katie T., 7th grade

Book Review: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

narnia_coverThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a compelling story that is filled with fantasy, adventure, and plenty of space for imagination.

It was written by the extolled author C.S. Lewis, published in 1950, and dedicated to Lewis’s goddaughter, Lucy Barfied. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a part of a book series that would be come to be known as the Chronicles of Narnia. This story at the beginning is set in England during World War II. Then it takes the main characters, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, to another world called Narnia.

In the book, there are many incredible creatures, animals, and people such as the jaunty fauns, elated dryads, serene naiads, talking beavers, and amiable Father Christmas. Because they are there, an element of magic is added to the story. It shows the readers that not only humans have to be in control.  C.S. Lewis also shows some of the Christian beliefs and the story of Jesus Christ because Aslan represents Jesus Christ. When Aslan dies to save Edmund, it is like how  Jesus died to save the people on Earth. Also, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the about having compassion and forgiving others.  This is shown when the Pevensies Children forgive Edmund for betraying them to the White Witch. Incredibly, Aslan goes to die in Edmund’s place, which shows how Aslan had compassion for Edmund, even though he is perfectly innocent.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has much fantasy and adventure that allows to reader to explore their imagination while they read an amazing story.

-Sarah J., 8th grade

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

beautiful_creatures_coverSixteen-year-old Ethan Wate is a normal boy living in the same normal town he has lived in his whole life. All he has to worry about is getting to school on time and making sure Amma doesn’t get mad at him for not eating all his food. Recently, his mom died in an accident, and his dad shut himself up in a study, but that was really the only excitement Gatlin got. Well, that was true, until something not normal rolled up in a hearse on a not normal day.

Ethan Wate knows the story behind Macon Ravenwood; the horrible story that haunts people. He never thought that he would one day meet his niece or even the man himself, but he did. With that hearse, came a curse and a girl. Lena Duchannes is an almost sixteen-year-old caster. When she turns sixteen, she will either be Claimed by the Light or the Dark. She doesn’t know what will happen or how it happens, but when she moves to Gatlin, she soon figures it out with a little help from Ethan. Ethan saw her and knew she was the girl of his dreams, literally. He soon found out that when you fall in love with a caster, your world changes too.

Beautiful Creatures is an absolutely amazing book written by two incredible authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. They told a story of love and betrayal. It has many surprising secrets and a twist ending you will never see coming. I would definitely recommend this book to teens and young adults. I give this book a five-star rating!

-Sabrina C., 8th grade

Book Review: Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut

galapagos_coverThere is an archipelago, six hundred miles from the western coast of South America, isolated from the rest of the world. For some, this remote location is a destination sought in the pursuit of relaxation, others engaged in the hunt of research. Yet most uniquely, this island chain is the focus for a novel written by one of the 20TH century’s greatest authors.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos, his eleventh elongated tale, remains a true example of his characteristic cynicism and caustic humor which have long attracted a devoted audience, including myself. At a rather superficial level, Galápagos is extremely humorous for those with an attraction to keen wit. Yet upon delving further into the text, one comes to grips with the more profound revelations Vonnegut has to offer. At its deepest level, Vonnegut prophesizes, criticizing the society celebrity-worshipping cult of “big-brained” buffoons that he observes. This is where Darwin comes into play; Vonnegut incorporates evolutionary ideas to suggest that our noggins have outgrown their necessity, and have driven us into despair. And so, as our author predicts, we shall regress to the animalistic state of furry ocean-dwellers.

Vonnegut’s scattered scenes mimic the geography of the story’s setting, and while occasionally disorienting, they lead to a comprehensive narrative regarding the tale of the crew of the fictional Bahía de Darwin who take on a sort of Noah’s Ark as the survivors of the human race. Stranded on the island of Santa Rosalia, the outcasts ultimately are the ancestors of a new species that inhabit earth, which Vonnegut continuously visits a few thousand years in the future. In this way, the only true antagonist of the story, the brain, is victorious.

While not a challenging read, Galápagos is advanced in its writing and revelations, but should be intriguing to any curious teen. There is no doubt that Vonnegut sparks some compelling questions: What is our relationship to the rest of creation? Are the fittest really the ones who survive? Have our brains become the enemy? Surely the author has his own opinions and predictions, but we are not necessarily compelled to agree. Rather, Vonnegut seeks to entertain us, his rhetoric present only under jocularly sardonic remarks and plot.

-Sebastian R., 10th grade

Book Review: Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

whale_talk_coverThis book review is part of series of reviews written by students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for their 7th grade English classes.

Outcast, loner, misfit… these high school boys have to come together to make a winning swim team. Whale Talk was an excellent book written by Chris Crutcher who won the annual Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1997 recognizing his significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.

I’ve never been in the situation T.J. Jones was in, but the author Chris Crutcher made it feel so familiar. I almost felt like I was there when a teenage boy from Cutter High School decided to take a risk and help a team of misfits overcome their differences to find their place in a school that has no place for them. The Cutter All Night Mermen swim team struggle to form their own identity and believe in themselves.

T.J. Jones is a powerful character that is the base of the story. He is a high school boy, who has to start a swim team to please his favorite teacher. He perserviers through tough times and helps everyone commit to become better swimmers. He is the glue that makes this story come alive with compassion and love for helping others.

Chris Coughlin is the reason I love this book; it is amazing how one person who starts out shy as a blade of grass in a field can mold into someone so amazing. “He laughs again, as if he’s never considered the idea of Chris Coughlin the stud” (83). There is a lot more going on than just a swim team overcoming their differences and Chris Coughlin and T.J. Jones tell you all about it.

A young girl named Heidi comes into the story about half way through and is another reason the book Whale Talk is so intriguing. She goes through so much for only being about 9 years old, but she has to adjust to difficult circumstances and forget her past to move on through her future.

The Cutter High School Mermen go through a lot of experiences, losses, and hardships through the course of the book. T.J. Jones helps them all put aside their differences such as having one leg or being overweight and to come together as a swim team but also a family. They learn things about others that they didn’t know but also themselves.
Whale Talk is filled with many interesting characters such as T.J., Chris, and Heidi, which makes this story seem so much more realistic and fascinating. Here’s how Mr. Simet the coach of the mermen described T.J. Jones: “Mr. Simet says I look like Tiger Woods on steroids” (17).

T.J., Heidi and Chris are all great characters but I would say the most important character that shapes the idea of this story is T.J. Jones’ father, Mr. Jones. He might not be the main character, but definitely the most important. This brave souled hero risked his life for a young girl who has to go through many hard times in her life. Mr. Jones is absolutely a critical character in this book. Self-sacrifice plays a big role in this book. But Mr. Jones doesn’t simply try to teach heroism and self-sacrifice; it is just a trait that he has that slowly bleeds onto others while being around him.

On the other hand, T.J. teaches teamwork to the fellow swimmers and people he is around. The whole swim team including him learn many things about themselves and how Teamwork is a big aspect of their lives. Through relays and the long bus rides back to school the group of misfits have slowly come together. Water polo plays a big role in my life and I know that you always have to work together as a team to succeed.
Mr. Jones, the silent hero of the book, teaches T.J. that violence isn’t always the answer and that you should stand up for what is correct and friendship is key. He takes in a lonely family helplessly trying to get away from a cruel husband and father and helps them find their way and get back on their feet.

If you want to know what goes on with the Cutter High School Mermen and how they come together and everything that happens on the way you should read Whale Talk and enjoy the story of a group of misfits brought together by T.J. Jones.

-Erin T., 7th grade

Characters We Carry With Us

Do you carry
Your characters with you,
As you
Carry on?

Do you keep
them in your pocket
or hold them
in your heart?

I do.

They are there
To relate to.
To learn more about.
To understand.
To be understood.
To make life,
Make sense.

I carry my characters with me.
I hold them in
My heart.
They are my friends
And I carry them
With me.

Your favorite books, the ones that sit in a place of honor on your bookshelf, are the books that you have read more than a million times because something about them feels right– they feel like home. They feel like home because of the setting. They feel like home simply because they have been read and re-read more times than you can count. But sometimes, they feel like home because of the characters. We can turn to these books and know that when we immerse ourselves in their pages that we will be with old friends.

Often the characters we love the most have been with us the longest. They come from the books we loved as children. Sara Crewe from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, Winnie Foster in Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, Hattie Owen from Ann M. Martin’s A Corner of the Universe, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March form Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the daughters and families of Heather Vogel Frederick’s The Mother-Daughter Book Club series, any of the girls in the American Girl series, and- of course- Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (and every other character in those books) from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are all examples of beloved characters and the list could go on. We love them as children but as we grow older we can understand them in new ways as we experience life.

As you go about your life do you ever find yourself thinking, “Oh, so this is how that character felt when…” or “this person reminds me of a certain character in that book
or maybe even “I wish I could be more like this character?”” I do. One of the best parts about reading is that as we read, we gain something that can never be lost. C. S. Lewis said that “We read to know we are not alone.” How true this is! In books we see characters with stories, with problems, with feelings, that are just like ours. We realize that we can relate to them, and the loneliness is lost in realization that someone else, fictional or not, understands. Am I alone in admiring Sara Crewe’s bravery, determination, or heart? Am I alone in admiring Jo March’s will to better herself or her individuality? Am I alone in admiring Harry Potter’s courage, loyalty, and love? I don’t think so. These traits are something that everyone admires and are one reason we love these character so much– we hope to be like them.

These characters, or friends, teach us lessons about life and help us understand the world. They can always be relied upon to be there to return to, whether you are upset or simply miss them. As J.K. Rowling said, “The stories we love best do live in us forever so whether you can come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

I believe that characters too, will also always welcome us home because they never truly leave us.

-Stephanie R., 11th grade

Book Review: The Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans

michael_vey_coverThe first volume of the Michael Vey series, The Prisoner of Cell 25, is a thrilling novel that will keep you interested until the last and final word. Michael Vey is a teen with unusual powers. As he goes on an adventure, he meets new friends, shares new bonds, and gains new experiences. Michael learns of his powers and meets others like him.

In the beginning, Michael runs into the bullies Jack, Wade, and Mitchell. After Wade attempts to pants him, he gives them what they least expect, a shock. Witnessed by a cheerleader named Taylor, who mysteriously is similar to Michael, they get together with Ostin, Michael’s best friend. They learn of the similarities of both Michael’s and Taylor’s powers in that they are both “electric” children and the three of them form a club, The Eletroclan.

Just as Michael’s luck gets better, he and Taylor are invited to a mysterious academy called the Elgen Academy. The two of them grow more and more suspicious when they learn of the mystery behind why they both have electrical powers. When Taylor mysteriously disappears one day after school, and Michael and Ostin are witnesses to an unusual event where Michael’s mother disappears, Michael and Ostin accompanied by Jack and Wade go together on an adventure that will change their lives forever.

This book is a true action-packed novel that will leave you wanting more.

-Danielle T., 6th grade