Really Good Books About Real Life

Stephen Chbosky.  Ned Vizzini.  Sarah Dessen.  John Green.  What do all of these have in common, you ask?  Aside from being some of the best Young Adult book authors of all time, these four authors all write novels that deal with real teen lives.  I personally love books that deal with real life.  At the top of my teen novel list are The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, which is now a movie, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, also a movie, all Sarah Dessen books, three of which were adapted into a movie called How to Deal, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- the movie version comes out this June.

perks_coverThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is officially my favorite book and movie.  I may be a bit biased because of this, but, I am telling you, anyone who reads this book will fall in love.  Extremely well written, containing characters you feel connected to, and ending with a surprising plot twist, I recommend this book a thousand times over to anyone who will listen.

kind_of_a_funny_story_coverIt’s Kind of a Funny Story is an excellent showcase of problems teens face everyday that really should be pointed out.  I watched the movie before realized there was a book (I know, shame on me) and, surprisingly, the movie does the book justice.  I know this is rarely the case with all of the “artistic” changes that take place when a movie is made that is based off of a book, but, with this cast, I don’t think anyone can complain.  Anyways, this book perfectly showcases the ups and downs of a teens life.  The downs include depression, suicide, and mental wards while love and friendship fill the ups.

truth_about_foreverEvery single Sarah Dessen book I have read has left me wanting to read another.  Unlike some authors, Dessen does not write series, but single books that stand by themselves.  And, for a little fun fact, there is always at least one small detail that connects one of the books with another.  For example, she often has a main character run into a minor character from a different book or includes a location that is the main setting of another book, but is just a shop that is passed by and commented on by the character in your book.  It may just be me, but whenever I realize she is connecting her books, it makes me feel like an ultra-fan for noticing.  Some of my favorite books by her are Keeping the MoonThis Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Lock and Key, Along for the Ride, and What Happened to Goodbye.  

fault_in_our_stars_coverAnd finally, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  This is the only John Green book I have read so far, though I want to read more.  Once again, stupid library-goers are hogging books.  Anyways, this book is definitely a  tear-jerker.  I was sobbing alone in my room when I finished this book.  Now that I have warned you, I can get to describing the amazingness of the novel.  First of all, it is the most well-written book I have ever read.  Green seems to seamlessly weave together teenage “language” (if it can even be considered a language) and eloquent phrases.  Second, you begin to love the characters the moment you meet them.  Lastly, who doesn’t love a good romance?  Overall, this is one of my favorite teen romance novels to date.

I don’t mean Hollywood “real life.”  I mean REAL life problems that are not glorified or made unrealistic because they become too nitty-gritty.  That could be the reasoning behind why I enjoy these books so much.  I feel like too many authors make a happy ending just so they don’t have to go too deep.  But that is what makes these so great.  You can connect with these characters because they are going through the same things you may be experiencing.  Besides, life isn’t always a happy ending, so why should books always have to have one?

– Kaelyn L., 10th grade

Never Give Up: An Interview with Author Christina Baker Kline

kline“Never give up” is what Christina Baker Kline advises those of us who are aspiring writers. “[And] to be sure to also have a [backup] skill, doing something that you really like . . . Before I could make a living as a writer I also knew that I could be an editor or a teacher… [Writing a book] takes a long time and you aren’t earning that much money from your writing so you need something else to do that you really like. So for me that’s editing and teaching. For me those things are also a very nice complement to writing because it involves both.”

As a guest of Mission Viejo Library, Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, came to speak at the Council Chamber last month.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person and attending her interesting historic presentation on orphan trains.  Although Orphan Train cannot be classified as historical fiction because the story switches back and forth from the present to the past, Mrs. Kline says her novel is factually accurate except for one small detail:  A horticulturist informed the novelist that there is no such thing as a pink crocus!

orphan_trainFor those who may not be aware, orphan trains were part of American history from 1854 through 1929 and affected as many as 200,000 to 250,000 children.  Because these orphan train riders often thought they were “the only ones” and because they felt ashamed of their past, they just didn’t talk about this part of their lives.  Even Mrs. Kline’s husband didn’t know his own grandfather had been one of these orphan train riders!  But now as more and more families are doing genealogy studies, this history is coming out.  Soon, we will all come to know about this important part of our country’s history.

Much like her book subject, Mrs. Kline is a very interesting person.  Born in Cambridge, England, she moved to America in her youth, living in the South and on the East Coast.  She obtained her BA in English at Yale, her MA in Literature at Cambridge University, and her MFA at the University of Virginia!  Mrs. Kline has worked as a personal chef, caterer, an editor, a published author of nonfiction and fiction, and a university teacher.  Along the way, she met and married David Kline and together, they are raising their three boys. Amazingly, Mrs. Kline apologized for not having her hair styled for the presentation because she had been climbing up to the Hollywood sign that morning!

As you can see, Mrs. Kline is a very accomplished woman. I can’t wait to read her book Orphan Train!  (Please be advised that Christina Baker Kline cautions young readers about page 150 as it contains mature content.)

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: The Lives We Lost, by Megan Crewe

lives_we_lostThis month, I am reviewing the sequel to The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe. The book, The Lives We Lost, begins when the main character, Kaelyn, and her friends discover that the deadly virus that starts with “flu-like” symptoms has spread far past their small quarantined island on the East Coast, and has now reached the rest of America, and possibly the world.

Kaelyn subsequently finds a vaccine in her late father’s lab that she heard him talking about before he died. She knows that she must set out to find someone who can replicate this vaccine to save humankind as we know it. However, as Kaelyn and her friends set out, they realize that the journey they are taking is long and dangerous, and the few people who are not infected with the virus will do almost anything, even kill innocent kids, to get their hands on the vaccine.

This is a great read, especially for teens who enjoy apocalypse and dystopian novels. Due to the content of the book, I would only recommend it for kids ages 13 or 14 and up, but even though the book can be graphic, it is a page-turner.

Both The Lives We Lost and its predecessor end with cliff hangers foreshadowing another book in the series. While I wish that Ms. Crewe had added another hundred pages or so and just finished the second book instead of leaving the reader hanging, I am looking forward to reading the third in the series.

-Will R., 9th grade

Book Review: Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer

nightshade_coverThis book is actually has a prequel series and the first book’s title is Rift. After I read Rift, I fell in love with this world. Rift took place in 1401 so there are castles and knights. Within the kingdom there are special types of knights that protect from outside invaders, such as monsters from a different dimension. Later, after the war that happened in the prequel series, the actual book starts.

A girl named Calla isn’t a ordinary human, she’s a Guardian. Guardians are like werewolves that protect the kingdom from seekers. Calla has had her whole life planned out for her because she’s the alpha of her pack; she would marry the other alpha from the pack Bane, named Renier, also known as Ren– and then their packs would merge together after the Union. The Union was the day Calla and Ren would become married. Calla goes to a school called the Mountain School, which is ordinary.

One day she and her packmate and best friend, Bryn, go out to watch the grounds, like a normal Sunday, but she and her friend see a boy being attacked by a bear, so she saves him, which is against the Guardian law. After that scene she thinks that it’s the last time she’ll ever see him, but when she goes to school she finds out that the boy, Shay, starts to go to her school too.

Day after day she starts straying from her destiny, and she doesn’t know who to trust. Does she trust Shay enough to figure out the truth within the lies she’s been fed all her life, or does she go with Ren and continues to be part of the world she grew up in?

-Meagan R., 8th grade

Fictional Worlds I’m Glad are Fictional

Books have a way of taking us to new and exciting places, and a lot of times those are places we wish we could go visit. Places like Hogwarts and Camp Half Blood are places that captures a reader’s heart and make you wish you could just jump through the pages and join in the adventure– and yet there a few fictional worlds that I am very glad are just that… fictional.

hunger_games_coverPanem – The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

While the The Hunger Games is a great trilogy full of action and excitement, the country of Panem is one I’m glad exists only on paper. The thought of being entered into a drawing and forced to fight to the death at such young ages is something that I am glad I don’t have to worry about. Even though the concept that drives the story is something that I’m sure almost everyone would be against if it was implemented in society, there is something that makes it incredibly alluring to read about. The huge disconnect between the Capitol and the districts is something that in a way is reflective of our own government, and I think this is part of why readers are drawn to strongly to the story. This draw is further enhanced by Katniss’s incredible drive to protect those she loves, something which also aids in making the story relatable. Overall, the world of Panem is one that we can love to hate.

giver_coverThe Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver takes place in an unnamed, futuristic society that at first glance is a utopia. Everything in this world is designed to make life as pleasant and convenient as possible; everyone is always polite, there is no war, no sickness, essentially everything unpleasant about life has been eliminated. Through reading the book and following the story of Jonas, the child who has been given the job of the Receiver of Memory at the Ceremony of Twelve (12 is the age at which children get their assignments, or roles they will play in the society), the reader begins to see that this utopia comes with a price. By eliminating all negatives aspects of life the society has really eliminated what makes people, people, something that Jonas learns while receiving the society’s collective memory. The Giver is a great reminder that even though life can be painful and unpleasant at times, it is these struggles that make life great in the long run.

fahrenheit451_coverFuturistic America – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The world of Fahrenheit 451 is another world that could be considered a utopia, however its flaws are more readily visible than other stories that feature utopia societies that dissolve into a dystopian society as the story progresses. In the society portrayed in the book people lives are all about quick gratification and easy living, they don’t think for themselves or having meaningful conversations, rather they settle for cheap thrills like driving their cars far too fast and letting technology essentially brainwash them into confirmatory. The biggest thing that sets the world of Fahrenheit 451 apart from our world is that books are illegal and fireman start fires, not stop them. Books are burned to prevent the spread of ideas and keep society uniform. With this restriction of thought it’s easy to see why that is a world better left on paper.

Overall, while there are many great fictional worlds that I would love to visit there are some that I am certainty glad are safely contained on the pages of books.

-Angela J., 12th grade

Book Review: Go Ask Alice

go_ask_aliceGo Ask Alice, an anonymously written “journal” has recently been receiving a lot of attention from teenagers looking for a fun, easy read.

The book is about a girl growing up in the late 1960s, struggling through her first year of high school in a brand new city. On a short trip back to her old town, she tries LSD for the first time at a party. After she’s introduced to her new world of drugs and parties, this new life follows her when she returns home. Months pass and as her life is spiraling out of control, the reader takes an adventure through the life of a typical sixties teen.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a story with an interesting plot, and a creative writing style. This book is impossible to put down and I couldn’t help myself from finishing it in one sitting. The reader never learns the character’s name, which adds a lot of mystery to the plot and makes it even more interesting. Of all the books in the “Anonymous” series (including Jay’s Journal, Lucy in the Sky, and Letting Ana Go), I believe that Go Ask Alice is the most well written and most interesting of the four.

-Sara S., 10th grade

Book Review: Magyk, by Angie Sage

magyk_coverLooking for a new fantasy novel? Magyk by Angie Sage is the beginning to an amazing series that rivals Harry Potter. Like your other favorites, it includes magic, wizards, evil and a perfect touch of humor.

In a peaceful castle, the queen gives birth to a baby girl with violet eyes. An assassin breaks in to assassinate the two, but fails to kill the infant princess, who is spirited out of the castle. Meanwhile, the Heap family of wizards welcomes their seventh son. Pronounced dead, baby Septimus Heap is taken away in the night. Soon after, Silas Heap, the father, adopts an infant abandoned in the snow (hmm). Ten years later, an assassin returns to finish the job, forcing the princess, Silas, the ExtraExtraordinary Wizard, and some others to flee the area. They seek refuge in the forest, evading the Hunter. What will happen? As we like to say, find out!

This book is particularly interesting because it doesn’t have one specific main character. Sage follows the thoughts of multiple characters throughout the book. In fact, it even details the lives of the antagonists, including the Hunter and evil necromancer. In this way, Magyk is a very unique and creative book. We even get the novelty of exploring the life of a millipede. Sounds like your kind of book? Light humor is mixed into the storyline, so that you can laugh out loud every once in a while. The entire story is written in a lighthearted tone, so it feels very casual and fun to read.

For a veteran reader of fantasy novels, this book will be especially delightful. It’s not difficult to read, yet interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. There are several more books in the series for you to enjoy, so get started quickly. We know there are lots of wizard books out there, but Magyk is one of the most unique and fun to read.

-Phillip X., 8th grade

Winter Olympics 2014


2014 Winter Olympics logo designed by Guo Chunning

This year, the twenty-second Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia. A very well known location, Sochi is on the Black Sea’s coast. The name “Sochi” comes from the river and the place of the Ubykh’s tribe. Most of Sochi is covered in the mountains of the Western Caucasus. Sochi also happens to be the heartland of tea. In the early 1900s, many settlers adopted an agricultural occupation to grow tea. It soon became the most popular beverage in Sochi. Before long, the Russians had created their own brand of tea: Krasnodarsky tea. It is the most famous Russian grown tea. Also, it is the one of the most “northern” tea you can find.

In anticipation of these games, many news broadcasters were filming segments on the Winter Olympics, during and after the games. In the Winter Olympics many sports are competed for, such as: Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Cross Country Skiing, Curling, Figure Skating, Free Style Skiing, Ice Hokey, Luge, Nordic Combined, Short Track Speed Skating, Skeleton, Ski Jumping, Snowboard, and Speed Skating. In this year the standings were: Russia for 1st place, Norway for 2nd place, Canada for 3rd place, United States for 4th place, and so on.

The Winter Olympics are a great way to get together with your family and friends to watch sports that involve dedication, sacrifices, and snow! And even though the Olympics are now over, you can still enjoy winter sports through some good reads. Try these:

  • Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler (ice skating)
  • Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill (ice skating, ice hockey)
  • Girl Overboard by Justina Chen (snowboarding)

Did you watch the Olympics? What was your favorite part?

-Nirmeet B., 10th grade

Event Recap: The Digital Bookmobile Visits the Mission Viejo Library

Digital bookmobile photo by Leila S.Some rainy weather on Saturday, March 1 could not keep the 140+ eager visitors from stopping by the Digital Bookmobile in the Mission Viejo Library parking lot. The event took place from 10 am to 4 pm. The Digital Bookmobile is an 18-wheel truck, sponsored by OverDrive, which is full of interactive devices to teach others about the digital media technology.

The truck featured several computers where visitors were encouraged to explore different kinds of media. Guests could browse the available selection of digital materials and preview eBooks or listen to a song! An informational video was showing on a television screen to further elaborate on how to use the OverDrive digital library. In addition, there were knowledgeable staff members available to answer any questions and walk visitors through the process of downloading an app onto their device(s), signing onto the library, and borrowing an eBook or audio book.

Digital Bookmobile interior photo by Leila S.Depending on the device you wish to use for viewing or listening to your digital media, it is recommended that you download the OverDrive Media Console app. From there, search for an eBook and click to borrow and then finally to download it. Your item will be checked out for two weeks, after which it will automatically expire, unless you renew it. And for all you avid readers, this means no late fees!

Also, posted on the walls of the truck were interesting facts and statistics, including:

“The first electronic text ever created was a copy of the Declaration of Independence.”
“The United States has more public libraries the McDonald’s.”
“1.1 billion people go to the library every year, compared to 204 million tickets sold to sporting events.”
“The most popular eBook categories: 1. Romance 2. Business 3. Historical Fiction 4. Suspense 5. Self-improvement.”

The Bookmobile was launched in front of Central Park, New York six years ago. Ever since then, the Bookmobile has been traveling to libraries and schools all around the country. The Bookmobile can also be found at festivals and other book related events. This year, the Bookmobile’s focus has been merging educational reading with entertainment related reading. Their target audience is pretty much everyone, since there is such a wide range of books and other media that can be accessed digitally, which is appealing to all ages. Digital Media Event Specialist Katie Yap explained that “the goal is to promote getting free eBooks and audio books from your library on pretty much any device, such as smart phones, tablets, computers, laptops, and e-readers.” When asked how people use the library’s “virtual branch,” Katie responded that “for most tablet (owners), it’s reading. And then (on) smart phones, they want to do audio books, because it’s so easy to connect it to your stereo and listen to it while you are stuck in traffic or doing errands.”

Overall, this event was quite informational. I have already downloaded the app and browsed the wide selection on Mission Viejo Library’s “virtual branch,” the Southern California Digital Library. In addition to all the media they already have, Katie Yap explained that OverDrive is now looking into putting textbooks and other educational resources online so that students can work on those research papers even when the library is closed!

– Leila S., 8th grade

Book Review: Fahreinheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

fahrenheit451_coverFahrenheit 451: the temperature at which books burn. Books: the very objects that cause all the evil in this world.

This is what Guy Morgan used to think whenever he was out his job as a fireman, which was to burn books. However, that all changed when a girl started asking questions that didn’t matter to him before. Soon, he starts seeing things questionable, such as killing a woman who wanted to die with her books.

Through master science fiction writer Ray Bradbury comes a story from the 1940s of a world that is set in our timeline and would stir up an internal “fire” in the heart of book lovers anywhere.

Even though Fahrenheit 451 is a very old book, it can be very appealing to teenagers. For example, one of the characters gets you to look at objects through a different perspective. Secondly, there is action, where the main character is in a rush to run, hide, or just get something that can save his life.

Whether you are a fantasy fan or an action lover, Fahrenheit 451 is a book that you would treasure for the years to come, especially since one of the characters says something that I personally would never forget as a book lover:
“[M]agic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garmet for us.” Dr. Faber page 83

Megan V.

Eighth Grade