Book Review: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

outsiders“Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

This book is about a fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his life since he “stepped out of the movie theater with two things on his minds, Paul Newman and a ride home.” He lives on the east side of the town Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Greasers live, with his two brothers Darry (Darrel) and Sodapop Curtis. On the west side of town was where the Socs (pronounced so-shiz) lived.

Greasers are like street punks. They wear t-shirts, jeans, leather jackets, and boots or Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. They listen to Rock n’ Roll singers like Elvis Presley. They love hot rod cars and put grease in their hair to look cool. Each Greaser is in a gang. Ponyboy is in a gang with his brothers, Dally (Dallas) Winston, Two-Bit (Keith) Matthews, Johnny Cade, and Steve Randle.

Socs, short for Socials, are the rich kids in town. They wear Madras shirts and have Mustangs for cars. They like to yell “GREASER!” when they drive by a Greaser and also jump (attack) Greasers. The main Socs in this book are Cherry (Sherri) Valence, Marcia, Bob (Robert) Sheldon, Randy Adderson, and David.

I feel like this book is more for 8th grade in my opinion because of the violence. This book is also a movie and a old TV show!

-Kate B., 7th grade

Book Review: Shadow Horse, by Alison Hart, and Its Sequel, Whirlwind

shadow_horseShadow Horse starts out with a teenage girl named Jasmine Schuler, who has to go to a court hearing for juvenile delinquents. She is accused of assaulting Hugh Robicheaux, the owner of High Meadows Farm, where Jas and her grandfather had lived. She attacked Hugh since she knew that he had killed his own horse, contrary to the story that Hugh recounted about how Jas’ grandfather had killed the house.

After proven guilty in the court room, she must now go live with her foster parent, Miss Hahn, for 45 days. And during that time, she must find evidence to prove that Hugh had killed his own horse. In the meantime, she learns to accept living on the run-down Second Chance Farm, and she even finds a horse at an auction. The discovery of this animal drastically influences the mystery.

I thought this first book in the two-book series was pretty good. However, in my opinion, the real action of the series doesn’t start until the second book.

whirlwindIn the second book, Whirlwind, Jas goes to her next hearing. Hugh strangely shows up there and threatens Jas to keep quiet about her suspicions. This second book becomes a lot darker than the first. An investigator is hired to help with the case. Jas’ relationship with a farm volunteer is growing. Also, Hugh has a spy somewhere on the farm, who is reporting everything about Jas to Hugh. But who is the spy? And how will they get to the bottom of the mystery and stay safe in the meantime?

What made this book unique was the unusual circumstance that brought Jas to Second Chance Farm. Who would have ever thought that a girl guilty of assault on a horse farm would spend her probation days at another horse farm? However, had that not happened, Jas would never have had an opportunity to try to solve the mystery. In the end, it was better for her to be on probation, despite the obvious drawbacks of the situation, like curfew hours.

If you love horses or murder mysteries, or a combination of both of these, then you would enjoy this book series. I would recommend these books for younger teens, since they are relatively basic reads. However, they have a good plot, and once the action starts, it is quite a captivating series. I felt it was pretty realistic, especially since the reason behind Hugh’s actions is unfortunately something that could happen in real life. Overall, I really enjoyed reading these books, and would rate them 4 out of 5 stars.

-Leila S., 8th grade

Traveling to My Favorite Book Settings

I love traveling! It is something my family and I have always done, and we love to connect our reading to our trips. I am so thankful to my family for all of the amazing experiences that inspired me to write this blog.

plum_creekThe first book series that I can recall reading is the Laura Ingalls book series. Just like so many little girls out there, once I read the first book in the series, I was hooked! After I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek, my family and I went on a summer trip to the actual Plum Creek that Laura Ingalls played in! While we were there in southern Minnesota, we also drove down to South Dakota to walk around the Ingalls’ homestead and dirt-covered sod house that Laura’s Pa built. To top it all off, we also attended a reenactment of the Ingalls’ lives with actors and actresses in the middle of a giant field! They were spectacular and a trip like that really made the book come to life!

I have also read many books that take place in England because I love the classic style of Old English writing. Some of the books I have read include Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Clinnard Barnhill; and Doomed Queen Anne by Carolyn Meyer. The novel At the Mercy of the Queen takes place in Hampton Court in England.

hampton_courtI actually got the opportunity this past summer to visit and tour the grounds where Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII entertained guests! The rooms were so decorative and ornate, and the reenactments with professional Shakespearean actors were perfect! I definitely recommend taking a day to see Hampton Court if you are planning on travelling to England!

Rebecca also takes place in England, but as this is a mystery novel, the stormy coasts of England is the setting. I love the descriptions in the novel of the “miserable” weather of England (though naturally as a Californian, I love it). I got to see part of the English coasts by train and ferry, and of course, both views were breathtaking! After my trip to England, I want to read even more novels set in the beautiful country, and I might even want to live in England someday!

I have had the chance to go to some gorgeous places and stand where some of the most amazing characters and historical figures have stood. The next place on my list to visit is Prince Edward Island, the setting of my favorite book series of all time: Anne of Green Gables.

I hope this blog has inspired you to explore the world with your favorite books in your suitcase! Please post a comment telling me places you’ve been or would like to go based on some of your favorite reads!

-Kelsey H., 10th grade

The Importance of Feminism in Literature

A few weeks ago in my English class, a student asked, “Why are all the books we’re reading this year written by women?”

I thought to myself that this question wouldn’t be asked if we were reading books written by men, like we usually do.

The representation of women in the media is important and influential. Women in literature are especially important, whether they are characters or authors. Women are grossly underrepresented in the media and it’s time we changed that.

harry_potter_coverAn example of why feminism is needed in the media, especially in the literary world, is that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, was told by her publicist to use the pen name J.K. Rowling because if she were to use her full name, Joanne Rowling, she would not sell as many books because women do not sell as many books as men as a result of society’s prejudices against their gender. Women are still not equal to men in this day but equality can be achieved step by step if we take the necessary steps.

Young girls and boys need female characters that they can look up to. Young girls as well as young boys need to know that female characters can achieve just as much as male characters can. It is important for children as well as adults to see the potential of female characters.

The majority of main characters in books are male. Female characters are usually used as minor characters or love interests. When female characters are love interests, they are reduced to just that. They become surface-level characters, who exist solely to be a love interest.

catching_fire_posterOn the occasion that female characters are well developed or portrayed as strong, they are detached, unemotional, and cold. If women are to be strong, they are not allowed to have any emotions because they are considered to be a sign of weakness. An example of this is Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins She is a strong female character yet she shows little to no emotion. If she was head over heels in love with Peeta or Gale, would she still be considered to be a “strong female character?”

Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers was asked, “So, why do you write these strong female characters? to which, he replied “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Feminism is still relevant today– issues of equality still exist and will continue to exist unless we do something about it. People in the media such as authors and directors have the power to create complex characters who can defy gender and social norms and to break the barrier of inequality.

-Sarah B., 12th grade

Book Review and Music Pairings: Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah

chinese_cinderellaThis was the most devastating book I have ever read!  This is the story about the torturous life of a little Chinese girl.  When she was born, her mother had a serious fever and died.  From then on, she was treated as the ‘bad luck child’.  Things got worse when she was four years old.  Her father remarried, and her step-mother was cruel, barely even noticing her.

Time passed until her first week of kindergarten where she was honored to be the ‘best student of the week.’  She got this award week after week, month after month.  Nobody congratulated her except for her kind aunt.  She and her aunt bonded and was the closest person to her.  Her aunt comforted her when nobody cared about her.  Then we learn the little girl’s name was Adeline.  Her father was very rich, but little Adeline shared only a tiny room with her aunt.  Unexpectedly, four of her siblings and her parents went on a trip.  It lasted almost a year!  When they were gone, it was paradise to be free of their strictness.  However, when they returned, Adeline learned that she and her family were moving to Shanghai.  Adeline was devastated.

In Shanghai, she attended a fantastic school and made a friend.  This became her new home where she felt  most comfortable.  However, her step-mother prevented any friends from coming over. Adeline’s home life was horrible because she lived on the third floor of the house in one room with all of her siblings.  The second floor was just for her new mom and father and their step children who received all of the attention.  No one from the third floor was allowed to enter the second floor.  During this part of the book, Adeline truly felt abandoned.  This reminded me of the song “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.  It is as if Adeline had fallen into that ring of fire.

As depressing as Adeline’s life was, there is a bright spot in which she felt she could accomplish anything and escape her past.  The author does a great job engaging the reader.  If this book was turned into a film, during the credits the song “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner should be played.  It really depicts Adeline’s interactions with her cruel step-mother, Niang.  I really liked this book but was frightened to know that this is a true story.  The author, Adeline Yen Mah, lived this life and survived.

-Maya S., 6th grade

Book Review: Gone and Divergent

I recently have discovered multiple new series that I have enjoyed, as well as great books that stand alone on the bookshelves. I have been trying to read all 100 books on NPR’s list of top teen books.

Some of my recently discovered favorite series are Gone by Michael Grant and Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I have only read the first book in the Gone series, coincidentally also called Gone, because some other library-goer is taking forever to read the only copy of the next book and is, rudely interrupting my reading schedule.  Ranting aside, this book is seriously ah-mazing.  I have grown to love the end of the world, apocalyptic type books like The Hunger Games and this is at the top of my list.

gone_coverIn the blink of an eye,  everyone disappears.  Gone.  Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.  Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.  It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen and war is imminent.  The first in a breathtaking saga about teens battling each other and their darkest selves, Gone is a page-turning thriller that will make you look at the world in a whole new way.

I repeat; AH-MAZING.  Makes me want to re-read it.

divergent_coverAnother post-apocalyptic book, as mentioned above, is Divergent by Veronica Roth.  In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives.

For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.  During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Both of these series are must-reads.  And, if you have a lot of time on your hands, go through the 100 book list from NPR and pick out what sounds good.  I promise, all of these are worth reading.

– Kaelyn L., 10th grade

Series Introduction: The Brotherband Chronicles, by John Flanagan

brotherband_chroniclesIn The Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan, a young band of outcasts come together to compete in contests of strength, speed, and skill as groups and individuals. It is a great honor to win out of three teams that compete. Those who pass become warriors of the wolfships.

The Sharks, the Wolves, and the Herons will face off in the most exhilarating competition in all of Skandia. Boys will become men, and from men they will become warriors. The young boy Hal will use his brain to help the team as well Stig with his order issuing, Ingvar with his strength, Jesper with his speed, Ulf and Wulf with their ship skills, Edvin with his survival instincts, and Stephan with his impersonations. This team would be unstoppable. But the two other teams are stronger, faster, and mean. It will take their combined effort to ensure that the Herons come out on top. If they work together, they will not fail.

Later, the Heron’s task is to guard the Andomal, Skandia’s most prized treasure. They failed. But in earnest, they take after the pirates that stole it. With the help of an old sea warrior named Thorn, the team must get the Andomal back, and with it, their dignity in Skandia.

If you have read the Brotherband books, what did you think? Post a comment about how amazing the books are and also your favorite character in the stories to show other readers the characters’ personalities.

-Kyle H., 7th grade


Book Review and Reflection: The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

winners_curseIn the aristocratic society where Kestrel resides, superiority is a universal attribute and war is the national obsession. A key character once tells her, “A kestrel is a hunting hawk,” to which she replies unconvincingly, “Yes. The perfect name for a warrior girl.”

Being the only child of the highly respected Head General, Kestrel is required to enlist for the army before her twentieth birthday, when citizens of Valoria must decide to marry, or they will be drafted into the military. Kestrel has a knack for battle strategization, and her father wishes to work with her, despite the fact that if she enlists, she will have to give up playing the piano, which is viewed upon as a slave’s task. But is she really willing to sacrifice her one real passion—music—in order to please her father?

When she purchases a slave sold as a singer at a local auction, society begins to speak. They had anticipated that she would be in the army already, not being caught sneaking to and from the music room, in re a disinterested low class citizen.

Consequently, Kestrel and her father strike a deal: by spring, she will be married, or her father will get his way and she will be enlist; both forms of life-long commitment to which she is opposed. However, she decides that this agreement is better than the alternative scenario, and inevitably succumbs to his blackmail and manipulatively selective choice of words.

Even though the most frequently used idiomic cliché remains to be “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” we all do, admittedly. [It has been scientifically proven that “within a tenth of a second of seeing a person for the first time, we have already made a series of judgments, not just about attractive they are, but how trustworthy they are, how assertive they are, how funny they’re going to be. We’re built to make these snap judgments about each other because at some point in our history, it was necessary for our survival to do so. And now, we build even more signals into the way we style our hair, the shoes that we wear, the socks, the clothes, tattoos and piercings, all a way to give cultural cues about what kind of person we are.” (Hank Green)].

We are all awash in this excessively unrectified and undoubtedly precedented subconscious appeal to the visually representative; we make all these initial and usually incorrect assumptions that are solely based on superficiality and appearance so often that we are no longer aware that we are being superficial. I was discussing this disappointing fault of our underling human lives with one of my closest friends not too long ago (a bit ironic, as we live in Orange County) and he laughed and then said to me: “It is not a question of whether we are superficial. It is a question of to what extent; myself, of course, being of no exception to this philosophy.” This is something, I think, that was conveyed as a theme throughout this book, as it was definitely something that I took away from it.

I, subsequent to my superficial examination, expected The Winner’s Curse to be an anticipatable, contemporized attempt to reconjure the simultaneous romance and tragedy of a Shakespearean drama lo the many, many authors that have tried—and failed—to do just that (although I did enjoy Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle and Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub). In a nutshell, this book is not a poor attempt to recreate the irreplaceable story of Romeo and Juliet like the cover so obviously suggests.

The Winner’s Curse contains love and violence; separation and companionship; countless lies and recoverable truths; manipulation and forgiveness. It addresses the differentiation between what is expected of us—or what people want for us—and what we, for ourselves and what we love, aspire to become. It is that passion; that thing that we do solely because we love doing it, despite what society tells us we should be doing instead, that shapes us into the individual person that we will one day become.

I am really appreciative that I was given the opportunity to “pre-read” an advance copy of this book just before it was published; thanks to Mission Viejo’s Teen Librarian, Allison, for supplying me with that opportunity. It’s now available in bookstores everywhere. I would also like to congratulate those of you who actually succeeded in reaching the end of this incessant rant and would like to apologize for its unnecessary length and depth.

-Danielle K., 8th grade


Book Review: Skinned, by Robin Wasserman

skinned_coverSkinned is the first book of a sci-fi trilogy, set in a future where science has perfected a way to download a person’s personality and memories into an immortal mechanical body.

After her body is destroyed beyond repair in a car accident, 17-year-old Lia Kahn’s wealthy parents pay for her to become a “mech.” Lia’s new life poses unexpected problems when her friends reject her, believing her to be an inhuman impostor of her former self, and hate groups protest her very existence. She encounters a group of mechs who shun mortal life and live together for protection, and must choose between her old friends and family or the company of others like her.

I really liked the worldbuilding of this book. Many futuristic dystopian novels feature civilizations with impractical societal rules that are unlikely to develop in our world’s future, and are used mostly as a plot device (no art ever! the government matches you up with your spouse!). However, the world of Skinned is more of a decayed version of our own: there is still a democratically elected government, but they have little power compared to the huge corporations that own everything. People are even more addicted to technology and entertainment. And outside of the comfortable suburbs where Lia lives, the majority of the population starves in crime-ridden cities or works under harsh conditions in corporate-owned towns. Lia lives her life preoccupied with popularity and consumerism, and only starts thinking about the bleak state of the rest of the world once she sees the cities for herself and befriends mechs who grew up there. Her greater awareness of the problems of her society parallels her character development from a spoiled and judgmental girl to a more mature person trying to change the world. Though Lia has several love interests over the course of the trilogy, romance never overshadows the plot and equal focus is given to Lia’s changing relationships with family, friends, enemies, and the corporation who built her.

I would recommend Skinned to anyone 14+ (for language and thematic elements) who likes sci-fi and dystopian books such as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.

-Miranda C., 12th grade

Book Review: Alabama Moon, by Watt Key

alabama_moonHave you ever fantasized about residing in the woods? Have you ever envisioned hunting for every meal you need? How about constructing your own dwelling from trees with your own hands? In the book Alabama Moon, by Watt Key, audacious and juvenile ten-year-old Moon Blake has resided his entire existence in the woods with no external connection except for Mr. Abroscotto, who owns the local general store.

After his father succumbs, Moon knows that he has to pursue the last instructions of his father to go north to Alaska. Heading to Alaska, Moon’s journey is stopped precipitously when a policeman catches him. As he battles his way through the outside world he has never known, he comprehends that going to Alaska will not be easy. Read the rest of the novel to see if Moon makes it to Alaska or not.

I would recommend this book to kids who dream of an adventurous life in the woods. I admired how Moon overcame impossible obstacles with his positive spirit. He is a great role model for children everywhere. A funny part was how Moon had never eaten “normal” food and he enjoyed every meal he ate, even though it was sometimes jail food. The only questionable aspect of the book was Moon’s father’s reasons for living in the woods was not that clear, even though it stated that he went to Vietnam. Overall, the book was outstanding, and a great read for somebody craving adventure.

-Anmol K., 7th grade