Book Review: Can I Play?, by J. Dillard

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

Would you change everything for the chance?  In Can I Play?,  that is exactly what Keli Stennes does when she moves from small town girl to big time reality.

J. Dillard created Keli with a rare desire for volleyball, meaning she will do anything she can to reach her goal: a volleyball scholarship. This novel captures Keli’s journey as she meets decisions and bumps into problems, that involve people surrounding her in her life.

I have never read a more inspiring and motivational book. Not only has it taught me more about volleyball, but the desire and motivation from Keli, the main character, is unreal.

This story takes place near the Cascade Mountains, where there are school rivalries between small towns and big cities. Two schools, the Falls City Mountaineers and Dallas Dragons are rivalries in almost all sports. Falls City is the small town in which Keli exchanges for the Dallas school. Keli still lives in Falls City, but drives to Dallas everyday for school. This new city is a big step up for a small town girl.

Keli Stennes is a whole-hearted girl who has volleyball written all over her. She is the Queen of the Jumps, meaning she can jump higher than anyone else on blocking. She is an aggressive 5’11” outside hitter who can hammer the ball almost straight down during games. “She fed her the ball every moment she could with the same results… kill after kill”(pg.191). She is a loving girl who supports her single mother and grandfather since her father’s death. Keli also has respect for everyone around her. She is very friendly to her old and new classmates and teammates. Keli’s mom, Cindy, helps her make the right decisions to guide her life in the right direction. Cindy is always right by Keli’s side with love and support as she goes through her journey, becoming a fonomanal volleyball player. Growing up in Falls City, Cindy is used to the “tight population of 800” (9),  but when Keli changes schools, it opens a whole new world she’s never been in, pushing her to meet new people. Being a widow, Cindy tended to feel lonely at times but started to find love again after reuniting with an old friend.

Ashley is the best setter in the state, and also Keli’s best friend. Ashley faces some difficulties of her own and thankfully has Keli to catch her when she falls. Like Keli, one of Ashleys parents pasted away when she was a little girl. But her dad and Keli’s mom oddly enough became an item. Ashley has always been a Dallas Dragon. When she and Keli met each other at summer camp, they instantly became close and she is the one who convinced Keli to change schools. All is well when they both get on varsity until Ashley’s cousin becomes very sick and ill due to bad decisions with dangerous people.

Back at Falls City, Kelli was the celebrity star of the team. After being convinced by her best friend to change schools, her “old” friends turn on her and she makes new ones. But then she is stuck with the terrifying decision to choose between two boys,  one “she knew her whole life (and) a true real friend”? (242). As Keli makes her way onto the Dallas varsity team she goes to  the coaches office every day after school to receive advice and knowledge to improve her game. She also even takes instruction from Ashley, her best friend who is the setter on the varsity team as well. Suddenly Ashley’s cousin Greta becomes sick due to fooling around with a boy she was forbidden to see. But after she heals, all is good, there is peace between schools, but now there is a new problem. A BIG one.

Through my eyes, the theme of the story was to never be afraid of failure. I think this an important theme because a lot of us are always afraid to either be ourselves, put ourselves out there, or take risks because we don’t know what the outcome will be. Life is about being yourself and letting others put themselves out there and not to judge them back. This captures the story through my perspective.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. I like how it is about my passion volleyball. Keli is a girl who has an incredibly rare desire for the game. It is truly an inspiration. The way the varsity girls played the game in the novel made me think I can do anything if I set my mind to it! I would recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about volleyball. Reading this book reminded me why I love the game so much.

-Nia M., 7th grade

Book Review: The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan

lost_hero_coverIn The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, a teenage boy named Jason ventures through the USA accompanied by Piper and Leo, his two closest friends. While trying to save the goddess Hera, these children are chased and attacked by a number of monsters and demons who were sent by the earth goddess Gaea. Jason is also on a quest to find his true identity, to find out why he was sent to America, and where he was before. Jason has no recollection of his life before being dumped on a school bus in the middle of a field trip to the Grand Canyon.

In this thrilling tale, secrets will be spilled, narrow escapes will be made, and identities will be told. I give this book a 9.5 out of ten because of its amazing descriptive detail and many “on-the-edge-of-your-seat” moments.

Rick Riordan has written two sequels to this book: The Son of Neptune and The Mark of Athena. The next book in the series, House of Hades, comes out in October. I am currently reading the Son of Neptune which is also a great book that I recommend and I plan to read The Mark of Athena once I am done with this book. Rick Riordan is a great author and I have enjoyed many of his other series, like The Kane Chronicles and The Olympians.

-Kyle H., 7th grade

Book Review: See What I See, by Gloria Whelan

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

The amazing story of endurance and troubled relations, See What I See was so very interesting because of the well thought and creative plot. Gloria Whelan, writer of See What I See, brings a lot of feeling to her story and makes it emotionally appealing to everyone.

I found this book even more intriguing because of my favorite character, Kate Tapert. This young girl creates an even more unpredictable set-up and her reactions alone are what I continue to read for. Kate was accepted into an art majoring college, miles away from her trailer home and she needed a place to stay. Her only choice was nothing but to stay with her long-forgotten, divorced dad for the year. As she continues to pursue her dream to be a famous artist, Kate has the attitude of a pickle jar and a heart of gold.

Dalton Quinn, Kate’s father and a very famous painter, is also one of main problem-makers in Kate’s life. After disappearing and falling seriously ill, Dalton falls deep into his hole of miserableness and loss. He receives numerous letters and paintings from his beloved daughter not bothering to write one back. When Kate moves into his house without notice, he becomes even more stubborn and ill. His personality is stubborn and he repeats to Kate, “I don’t need anyone to do things for me, certainly not an amateur artist…” (Page 43). His illness takes over him and leaves Kate to wonder if it was alright to leave her father home alone during the day or continue to attend art school. His attitude is one that stands out and catches my attention.

Ms. Tapert is the mother of Kate and waitress at a hotel restaurant in Connecticut. After her husband left her and ran to another state, she’s been working everyday as a waitress and collecting tips to pay off the rent on their trailer house. She is as stubborn as Dalton and even replies saying, “I’m not going to move into a house paid with Dalton’s money” (Page 16). Even with a chance to receive some of Dalton’s money, Ms. Tapert is too proud to receive any amount. She’s always reluctant and despised even the idea of her daughter moving into Dalton’s house.

The complicated relationships of all these characters make a vivid scene that greatly impacts each other. Gloria Whelan did a wonderful job creating different situations where opposite personalities and ideas combine to create one. As you read on you can figure out the relationship of the family altogether and how Kate would figure out how to manage her life and dreams at once.

Woven throughout the book, Gloria Whelan has added in the idea of pursuing your own passion and finding your own path to complete it. Staying determined and accepting the many challenges is one of the great lessons that I learned from reading this book. Kate Tapert was used as a great example for this and everyone can find some way to relate to her.

Gloria Whelan did a great job explaining each scene and its story really captivated each moment. Read Gloria Whelan’s See What I See to see if Kate really does stick to what she loves, and what her father truly thinks about Kate and her mother. I encourage everyone to read this because it is truly inspiring and has a strong moral in it. See What I See is a great book to read during your own time and to learn more about what your own passion is and seeking it.

-Alice L., 7th grade

Book vs. Movie: Life of Pi

life_of_pi_book_vs_movieI saw this movie on the deck of a cruise ship during spring break in the Caribbean. Not exactly the ideal spot to watch a movie about a boat sinking in the ocean! But I loved the movie so much that when I got back from my break, I immediately began reading the book Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

Watching the movie immediately drew me in to Pi’s world, and I just had to read the book! Let me just give you a taste of what this phenomenon is all about. Life of Pi tells the story of an Indian boy named Pi, who loves animals and God. His family decides to move to Canada, and on the way, their ship sinks leaving Pi on a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a giant Bengal tiger. The second half of the book is about Pi’s struggles to survive in the middle of the ocean. Pi learns to abandon his vegetarian ways, train the tiger, and become a master shipman.

The story is dripping with imagery that is so vivid it will make your mouth water. Life of Pi is so powerful that I had dreams about giant whales, tigers, islands, lifeboats, and sunsets for practically a week! I have such an appreciation for Yann Martel because of Life of Pi. He is the most amazing author ever, and definitely deserves all of the awards he received!

In the movie Life of Pi, however, the ending is such a Hollywood ending that I feel bad for Yann Martel. Yann Martel specifically wrote the ending to show the brutal truth of life to the readers, and if you want to find out his lesson, then you’re just going to have to read it yourself! If I personally was directing the movie, I wouldn’t dream of changing the ending, because that is the whole point of the story. However, Ang Lee did do an amazing job because the scenery was beautifully artistic, casting was perfect, and computer graphics were out of this world, though, so I did still really love the movie, just not as much as the novel.
Anyways, I know that this review doesn’t even begin to express how amazing this story is, and it cannot possibly live up to Yann Martel in any shape or form. Life of Pi is the most amazing book I’ve ever read– literally, I found myself bawling my eyes out at some points! I want more than anything for everyone to read this book! You will never see tigers, humans, the ocean, animals, religions, or life the same ever again. Yann Martel strikes you with so much wonder and awe it is unbelievably breathtaking.

Please feel free to comment below as I know there will be many since this is such a renowned book!

-Kelsey H., 9th grade

Manga Review: Loveless, vol. 3, by Yun Kouga

loveless3For those who have read ALL the reviews I’ve written of this series (see volume 1 and volume 2) and still think this book series isn’t interesting, you have to read the third book. This is where it starts getting intense; were we meet a member of Sempimal Moon.

The book starts off again with Soubi fighting Zero. Of course, the fight goes on but we first see Soubi’s true skills. This is where the first real mature violent content comes into play: Zero almost defeats Soubi; they step on his hand and hammer a nail into his hand. Being the fact that he is a beast when it comes to fighting, Soubi uses a frost spell that completely freezes them. As explained earlier, Zero and the others feel no pain, almost nothing at all– so they have no idea when they get hurt. That is their downfall; they get frostbite and have no idea. This, instantly ending the fight; of course good guy Soubi lets them stay at his house. If they lost, the person who sent them would not let them back at the school so they had nowhere else to go.

This is possibly the best of the three books so far. The combat is really good and I mean there fantastic. Once you get the hang of how they use the attacks with their words and how the partner system works the story is fantastic. Of course the minor amounts of mature content is still there; I didn’t notice nearly as much in this book as the rest of them, but a fair warning never hurt.

After all, I give the book a solid 9/10. A must-read if you like the series and a great reason to start reading it. Making the series get better is hard to do.

-Cameron S., 12th grade

Event Recap: Teen Writing Workshop with Alyson Noël

teen_writing_workshopEarlier this month, an exceptional author came to Mission Viejo City Hall to talk about the basics of writing a story.

Alyson Noël is a very well-known author who writes books for young adults. She started her career as a flight attendant, but after the incident of 9/11, she became a writer. Since she was twelve years old, Alyson dreamed of being a writer. The Immortals, The Soul Seekers, and The Riley Bloom Series were some of the many books she has written.

Alyson Noël began her presentation by telling the audience about her early life. Her family was very poor and she took writing classes to benefit her writing when she was a teen. Her first book, Faking 19, took Alyson fifteen years to write. She kept on revising the book since the New York publishers kept rejecting it because it did not include a conflict. Now, Alyson Noël has written a lot more books that have been sold in a million copies, written in about fifty languages, and sold to an estimate of thirty countries.

Alyson also gave the audience many tips about writing. She explained that all stories need characters that transform, have goals, and have motivation. In addition, she advised that every plot must have a conflict and a theme. In my opinion, her speech was very inspiring and informative. She said that writing is harder than it looks, and there is nothing more intimidating to a writer than a blank page.

In addition, Alyson Noël recommended some books on writing such as Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story by Robert McKee, and On Writing by Stephen King.

For those who do not like to write or are not very good at writing, Alyson Noël’s speech might change your mind!

-Riley W., 6th grade

Book Review: The Lost Sun, by Tessa Gratton

 Are you interested in the upcoming Thor movie, or any other movies associated with the other Asgardians, such as Odin or Loki? If so, then The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton is the perfect book for you.This book is the first book of The United States of Asgard series, where the Norse gods rule alongside humans in America. For example, Odin is the vice president–always. However, when the most popular god of them all, Baldur, disappears, Soren, a warrior with an uncontrollable power of strength, and Astrid, a celebrity prophet, go on an expedition to find him. Even so, Soren learns that saving this god could change his destiny, but could also make him lose the things that he loves the most.

In my opinion, I thought that this book was a very great book, with a high rating of 9/10 points. In it, Gratton shows off her excellence by:

  • Retelling the myths for people who don’t know Norse mythology,
  • Doing some clever renamings of American places and times,
  • Describing very good details for each setting,
  • And writing some very surprising twists for the readers, including a very unexpected but satisfying ending.
I would recommend this book to fans of Norse mythology or of any Rick Riordan book, such as Percy Jackson or the Kane chronicles.However, readers should note that since Soren is the narrator of the story, he talks about some things that might be a bit upsetting for others, such as having a power that seems very great, but is actually the world’s worse curse. In the beginning of the book, he says that he and his mother had “both dreaded the day Dad’s curse would flicker to life” (Gratton 1) inside of himself. However, readers should learn now, if they haven’t learned already, that anything you have is a gift, rather than a curse.

Finally, Gratton creates some unforgettable characters whose stories share some key vaules and morals that are important in everyone’s lives.

-Megan V., 8th grade

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

flowers_for_algernon_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 wondered what it would be like to live in a world where you don’t know how to read, write, talk correctly, and have people stare at you like you’re stupid? Flowers for Algernon is a great book that immerses you in the life of someone who has all of those disabilities. In Flowers for Algernon, our brilliant author Daniel Keyes takes us on an ambitious walk through a disabled persons shoes, all the while trying to incorporate them into everyday society. He first thought of writing this book when he met a challenged young man and thought how good it would be if there were techniques to help him and others like him. Flowers for Algernon visits the point of view of how a disabled person might feel about this transition, rather than just how we might feel about it.

Charlie Gordon is 32 years old and lives by himself in a small New York apartment. All his life he’s struggled with a severe learning disability keeping him stuck at simple, and simultaneously making him a social outcast. Charlie has always desired to be smart to gain his mother’s approval, but he simply couldn’t retain knowledge. Coincidentally he is part of a research study where he takes basic tests and writes progress reports everyday so they can observe his development. “Dr Strauss says I should rite down what I think and remember and every thing that happins to me from now on. I don’t know why but he says its importint so they will see if they can use me. I hope they use me because Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart” (3).

In the lab, Charlie befriends two key people: Dr. Straus and Alice. Alice is Charlie’s best friend, motivational coach, helper, and first love. She is also Charlie’s first step into having a social relationship. Dr. Straus is the person who takes Charlie’s progress reports and analyzes them. He observes Charlie in therapy and examines his maturity.

One day the lab has Charlie race a mouse called Algernon in a maze. Much to Charlie’s aggravation Algernon beats him every time. The reason for Algernon’s success was entirely due to an operation performed on his brain, which super charged his intelligence and problem solving skills. Realizing Charlie would be a perfect candidate for this surgery, Dr. Straus hoped to test it on him as the first human specimen. Charlie eagerly jumps on this opportunity and the surgery is performed. Afterwards Charlie can’t see much of a difference, but little by little his intellect progresses; so rapidly in fact that he even surpassed his doctor. Unfortunately, our mighty mouse Algernon starts to display signs of digression. “When he found himself moving along the unfamiliar path, he slowed down, and his actions became erratic: start, pause, double back, turn around and then forward again, until finally he was in the cul-de-sac that informed him with a mild shock that he made a mistake. At this point, instead of turning back to find an alternate route, he began to move in circles squeaking like a phonograph needle scratched across the grooves” (212). Charlie fearfully starts to wonder if the same fate is inevitable for him… “What eludes me is the reason for his regression-is it a special case? An isolated reaction? Or is there some general principle of failure basic to the whole procedure? I’ve got to work out the rule” (213).

Flowers for Algernon is cleverly written from the perspective of the writer as though it is the main character’s journal. I really enjoy the fact that I can physically see Charlie’s intellectual progression in writing throughout the book. It really made his character come alive in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Flowers for Algernon also made a bold clarification between social disabilities and mental disabilities, as people sometimes assume they are one and the same. I highly recommend this phenomenal book, as it will give readers a fresh perspective on the true motives behind helping people adapt to our society. Is it really for our benefit, or for theirs?

-Jake K., 7th grade

Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

my_sisters_keeper_cover“In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister.”

The first sentence of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult shows how special the book is. The author seems to have a talent on catching the sensitive problems of teenagers. Maybe we should put away all the awards that this book earned first and look at this interesting book itself.

First, the book uses days to separate each chapter, which this book starts on a Monday and ends on a Thursday. In each chapter, different characters tell the story in their prospective and finally connect the whole story. We can see how each character think and change through out the book, which is a very important element of the story. Jodi Picoult didn’t write these characters– she brought them to life and recorded their story.

The main character, Anna, is not born by chance. She is a medicine that is scientifically planned, so she can donate her blood and organs to her sister Kate, who has leukemia. Who is she? The youngest daughter, or just a shadow of Kate?

I think this book is suitable for teenagers around 13 years old and above. I will rate this book 10 out of 10, yes. Every character has their own emotional life that even a single word can touch deeply in your heart, and somehow you will find out that there is a part of you that is similar to them. And together we will see this 13-year-old girl fights her battle for her existence; together we will see how this war ends.

“In the end, though, I did not kill my sister. She did it all on her own.”

“Or at least this is what I tell myself.”

-Wenqing Z., 11th grade

Book Review: Peeled, by Joan Bauer

peeled_coverHildy Biddle is a writer for her high school paper, The Core. Their rival newspaper is the local paper, The Bee. And when the Ludlow house in Banesville, their town in Upstate New York, begins to scare the townspeople, both papers try to get the whole story. The only problem is that the editor of The Bee seems not to be giving the public the truth, and Hildy Biddle is trying to do just that.

A new counselor takes over the high school paper, and the reporters receive advice from a professional journalist. Hildy Biddle learns what a reporter must do: Ask questions and prove everything.

Meanwhile, strange things start happening in the town. Weird signs show up at the Ludlow house. An attempted break-in is suspected, then a possible murder occurs on the property. In addition, a psychic arrives in town and begins putting stories into people’s heads, claiming she was called to the town by the ghosts of the Ludlow house.
In order to find the truth of the whole ordeal, Hildy Biddle starts calling people all over related to the mystery.

The story is both realistically spooky and engaging as Hildy attempts to explain and report about all the strange occurrences. Will she successfully peel back all the false layers to expose the core in Peeled, despite all the challenges thrown her way?

I would recommend this novel to younger teens, but older teens may enjoy the story as well. I would rate this book pretty highly, as I enjoyed the plot twists and the surprise ending.

-Leila S., 8th Grade