Book Review: The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

scorpio_racesKate Connolly, also known as Puck, is in danger of losing her house. Her parents both died several years ago. Gabe, her older brother, is leaving the island and going to the mainland, leaving Puck and her younger brother alone. The only solution Kate has is to ride in The Scorpio Races.

Sean Kendrick, the most famous rider in the Scorpio Races also has high stakes for winning the race this year. His boss, Benjamin Malvern, owner of practically all of the island, has changed things up this year. Sean has never been so desperate to win.

The Scorpio Races is the story of these two young adults who live on Thisby, an island whose lives revolve around the capaill uisce, the deadly water horses. The Scorpio Races are the main attraction of the island, where riders compete to control their horses and to win the race. Not everyone will survive. Puck and Sean cannot both win.

To be honest, I enjoyed this novel greatly. It seems to have a dark storyline, but I was fascinated by the mystical water horses and captivated by the parallel stories of Puck and Sean. Unlike many teen novels I have read, this book did not have much romanticism; it was pretty clean. Additionally, though somewhat subtly, this book had a message of the feminist movement, since the Scorpio Races were a male-dominated event until Kate arrived.

Overall, I found this novel to be a good read. It is definitely different than most books you could pick up from the shelves, but I would certainly recommend it.

– Leila S., 9th grade

Book Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

running_dreamThe Running Dream is a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. It follows the story of a high school girl named Jessica who loses one of her legs in a school bus accident. This would be a tough experience for anyone…but Jessica is on the track team. She doesn’t just love to run – she considers running just as important as breathing! This book takes us through Jessica’s emotions, her mental and physical challenges, and her extraordinary journey to her “new normal” life.

I’m not a runner. In fact, I am more of a creative mind than a physical one. I wasn’t sure I could fully get into this book, but I could, and it was an awakening experience. Not only did it make me eager to experience the feeling of running so adeptly described by the author who is a runner herself, but I learned so much about life and its challenges.

There are just so many life lessons that The Running Dream takes the reader through. It is a worthwhile read for anyone, of any age. Empathy, compassion, and respect shine through as the reader learns that humanity shines through when understanding others.

(This book does not carry any inappropriate content and really is suitable for any age. It also has been awarded the Schneider Family Book Award; “it honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”)

-Danielle L., 7th grade

Book Review with Music Pairings: The Left Behinds and The iPhone that Saved George Washington by David Potter

left_behindsThe Left Behinds are three kids whose parents are too busy to spend time with them.  So, they spend their Christmas with their Social Studies teacher at their New Jersey school.  But things take a sharp turn when Brandon starts messing with a MacBook.  While Mel and Bev are trying to stop him, their iPhones start acting up.  A whirl and a pop later, they find themselves next to a weird guy that looks oddly like George Washington.  And that’s not all.  General Washington has a gunshot wound to the chest.  They look at their surroundings and become aware of a barn with hay but no horses and a raging snowstorm outside.  What just happened???

The Left Behinds:  Brandon, Mel, and Bev go on a wild journey in time travel in 1771.  No.  Let me rephrase that.  Mel goes on a wild journey to save history, while Bev and Brandon are held hostage by the Hessians.  Right when this twist began, I thought of the Disney song, “Small World,” because it indicates that we do, in fact, have a small world after all.  In this setting, I believe we have a small past, present, and future world.  While these worlds cannot combine, the morals and lessons transcend the time periods.

As the story continues, Mel takes advice from Dr. Benjamin Franklin and rides across the river from Pennsylvania to New Jersey with the Continental Army through harsh winter storms.  I was reminded of another song.  “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas because of the struggle to find peace.  The song portrays General Washington’s effort to not rest until the colonies are safe from the Hessians.  The army gains victory; however, Mel, Brandon, and Bev find themselves tangled in yet another incident.  What will the Left Behinds do next?

I would rate this book a 9/10 for its historically credible story line, but I would have preferred the language to be less sarcastic.  This review is from an advance reader copy, so be sure to check it out January 15, 2015!

Maya S., 7th grade

Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

and_there_were_noneIf you were to receive a vague letter that enticed you to an island for a pretext, would you still go? Such is the situation in the thrilling page-turner, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, ten people from different walks of life each receive a letter for a different purpose to go to Indian Island. But all of them have one thing in common: they all are indirectly involved with a person’s death.

In their rooms, at the mansion, each person has a framed copy of the poem: “Ten Little Soldiers.” After having dinner the first night, they all are in the living room when a gramophone announces each person’s name and whom they indirectly murdered. On the same night, Anthony Marston takes a sip from his drink and starts choking, an eventually dies. One by one each guest is murdered, and the guests who are still alive realize that the murderer is amongst them.

I thought this book was awesome. It was a real page-turner and I did not want to put it down. If you are looking for a great mystery-murder novel, then this book is recommended for you. As you read the book, you try to figure out who is the murderer. After you suspect one person, they turn out to be the next victim. This aspect of the book was fascinating to me. I won’t give much of the ending away, but the way the person executed their actions was improbable. Advised for anybody who loves suspense, read And Then There Were None.

-Anmol K., 8th grade

Book Review: Magyk by Angie Sage

magyk_coverOne cold morning, Silas Heap, Ordinary wizard, finds a baby in the snow on his way home. Upon returning to the Ramblings, where he lives, he is confronted by ExtraOrdinary wizard Marcia Overstrand, who tells him to call the baby his own. Over the next ten years, Jenna, an orphan Princess whose mother was assassinated, is raised by the Heaps as their daughter in place of their “dead” seventh son. Until one day, when Marcia returns to take her to a safer place after hearing that a spy caught wind of Jenna’s existence, fearing that they may come to finish her off.

This book has become one of my personal favorites. I have great expectations for the rest of the books in the seven book series, being in the order from second to last, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, and Fyre. There are many likeable characters, including but not limited to Jenna herself, Boy 412, Aunt Zelda, and the Boggart. One of the more interesting parts of the plotline is that one of the main characters doesn’t know who they really are until the very end of the book. I would recommend this book for people who are in fourth to eighth grade. It deals with a lot of Magyk (not a misspelling), is entertaining, and, at some times pretty amusing. I, being someone who enjoys fantasy novels, would give this book a ten out of ten and two thumbs up!

-Linna C., 8th grade

Book Review: Four by Veronica Roth

fourI have been following the Divergent series for a long time and I was so excited to finally get a copy of Four.  I’m sure many of you have heard, read, or watched the Divergent series.  It follows the adventure of the heroine, Tris Prior, whose life is intertwined with the mysterious Four.  The fourth book of the series goes through the Divergent experience through Four or Tobias Eaton’s, eyes.  I highly recommend if you have not finished reading the series to do so before reading Four.

In the novel Four by Veronica Roth, we find out what really happened between Marcus Eaton and Tobias Eaton.  We see what caused Tobias to choose Dauntless as his faction and new home.  Veronica shows us Four’s true feelings about Tris Prior. We also find out about the old rivalry between Four and Eric.  The book bounces from major events in Four’s life. We see his childhood, his life as an initiate at Dauntless, and his personal undercover mission to see what the Erudite want with the Dauntless.  Many of these events are already known or assumed by the readers of Divergent but it is awesome to know what actually happens.  But the most interesting part that I didn’t think about and almost forgot about was when Tobias meet his mother again for the first time.  It was interesting to see his reaction to actually having a mom who has just been hiding in the Factionless.

I think this book was a really fun and it was quick read.  I finished it in 5 days.  It is not my favorite Divergent book because it was just revisiting major events and you basicay knew what is happening and what will happen but it was a great novel to get lost in.  To revisit the world Veronica Roth created but in Tobias’ perspective was interesting.  If you liked the Divergent series and haven’t read Four yet you should definitely read it.

-Erika T., 8th grade

Get Ready for Mockingjay

mockingjay_coverYes, it is that time of the year– November is the month that the Hunger Games movies always seem to come out. Mockingjay, written by Suzanne Collins, is the last volume of the Hunger Games trilogy. Seems to the readers that the games are over. But we are mistaken.

Katniss has identified her new position in District 13; she is the rebel. During the second Hunger Games, Katniss and some other fellow participants were removed from the Quarter Quell. However, Peeta is still missing, meaning that he is under the sharp eyes of the Capitol. Soon, some rebels find Peeta. Peeta has unfortunately been brainwashed, and now sees Katniss as the enemy of this entire situation.

Since the movie is releasing this Thursday, November 20 at midnight, I will not discuss the plot of the story any more. The movie is only the first part of the novel, and I do not know how far the writers will go based on the storyline.

I am very excited for this movie. I think that since Mockingjay is broken into two parts, the film will be extraordinary due to the clear oversaturation of events in the novel for it to be made into one film. Are you excited for this highly-anticipated movie? What are your thoughts on how well the Hunger Games movies represent the novels?

-Nirmeet B., 11th grade

Book Review: The Fire Seekers by Richard Farr

fire_seekersYou’ve heard the stories repeated, every religion and culture has a different way of telling them, it’s the story of the end of the human race…  Set in modern times, ancient Gods are rising, mass disappearances of people are occurring and a terrorist organization named the Seraphim is at large. 17 year-old Daniel Calder, who has a famous archeologist for a father and America’s top business woman/mountain climber for a mother, has a journey to take in order to save the human race. He has to connect the dots and discover what humanity has been denying since the very first civilizations. In this witty, fast-paced tale, Daniel must rediscover secrets long lost and find out the mystery behind the Fire Seekers.

I noticed that I kept mixing this book up with other series because the voice used by the author is similar to those of Rick Riordan, James Patterson and John Flanagan.  These happen to be some of my favorite authors.  This is a suspenseful mystery novel that relates life in other countries to that of life on American soil.  This story really helps the reader appreciate the circumstances they live in and realize all the bad things in the world that they don’t have to partake in. The reader will get a deeper look at human society in which there are problems that can and can not be fixed. Though this novel is fictional, it rings with truth.  I enjoyed the themes that occur throughout the book including world religion, mythology and childhood independence.

-Evan G., 6th grade

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

pushing_the_limitsAnybody out there want a romance story that is good, but not as cheesy as Twilight or as heartbreaking as Romeo and Juliet and The Fault in our Stars? Well, you’re in luck!
To start the story off, Echo is a good girl. She gets good grades and has given up art, both are which to please her father. That’s when she has to tutor bad boy Noah, who can get grades if he tries, skips class, smokes weed, and has slept with just about every girl in the school. But both of them are hiding something. Like why does Echo have scars that people whisper about and cause her to wear long sleeves even in summer? And why in Noah in foster care with his two friends Beth and Isaiah, especially without his adorable brothers?
This book is really good. While a main part of the plot is about a certain love relationship (hint: Echo and Noah), there is also the realistic fiction of what goes on in the real world, so it’s not cheesy at all. Also, this couple helps each other get through the problems that they are facing.
Additionally, this story actually ends well, with the couple living on and not dying.
Like all romance books, it has a well felt story. In  this case, it’s the good girl and bad boy meet, good girl and bad boy do not want to admit that they like each other, and good girl and bad boy confess their love story.
Literature wise, it is well written, with the author using both points of view and teaching some “school” stuff, such as a little Spanish.
Finally, the author tells of the common lesson that love can happen unexpectedly.
Please check it out; this book is awesome!
-Megan V., 9th grade

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

jane_eyreUnfortunately Jane Eyre would never become the best seller it once was, if sold within our time. It holds four-hundred odd pages of description-infused writing (hardly any of which is possible to hold in concentration for the average teenager of our generation), a heroine and love interest who both do not seem particularly attractive, overt religious themes mixed in with heavy-handed moral preaching delivered by the author, a plain love story (with a few plot twists thrown in for dramatic affect), etc., etc.

And yet…it has become a story adored by generations, one that has ascended to the lofty consideration of a classic.

Fortunately for me, that meant I was subjected to read this in school, which in turn meant I was definitely not allowed to read it at just face value.

Perhaps two years ago I picked up the book in attempt to immerse myself in a classic for the summer, and at the time, I was incredibly disappointed. Reading it as my impressionable, naïve, opinionated teen self of a few years ago (that I like to think was the Sophia of the past) Jane was a meek protagonist, who was incredibly boring when held up to the “empowered” female protagonists of today. I saw her as too clingy to her outdated morals, and unable to follow “her heart” for love within the book. Predictably I only read through the first half of the novel before sucumbing to complete disatisfaction.

And wow, I was wrong.

Now with two more years of life experience under my belt, along with a hefty dose of analytical interpretation from the English class this assignment was given for, the truth has been revealed in stark comparison. Jane Eyre is actually (when read properly between the lines as well as through its many intricate layers) a compelling and interesting story of 19th century female independence and empowerment, created light years ahead of its time.

It was even considered revolutionary within its time, author Erica Jong stating (of Jane Eyre), “When a book is beloved by readers and hated by contemporary critics, we should suspect that a revolution in consciousness is in progress.”

Jane Eyre is aware of her self-worth. She knows what her morals are, and she stands by them (and unlike many others she sticks to them regardless of the final outcome of her decision). She doesn’t follow the advice of others advising her against marriage, the first time, because she is prudish or caged up or weak unable to sway for love (the mindset I believed before), but instead because she is standing strong for herself, standing by her own integrity and her own beliefs.

Charlotte Bronte masterfully subverts many literary tropes of her time, and of our own. The things that made Jane so unappealing for me before-she was far from perfect (or rather she did not have imaginary flaws seen by only herself; she was completely real, and completely subjected to the human flaws we all have), she was not beautiful which allows her to fall into a relationship with Rochester not based on appearance, but instead due to her true self, not one hidden behind a façade of perfection and beauty.

One of the other things that surprised me after becoming fully immersed in the novel-the dialogue and characters still appear fresh and witty in their interactions. The plot is as intense and immersing as a YA novel of today.

And if you can put aside your phones and your short attention spans for a period of time its 461 pages are filled to the brim with intense gothic imagery and mood, as well as beautiful compelling plot points and twists-things you wouldn’t expect from a novel published 167 years ago.

If you have the time and dedication to read between the lines, perhaps you’ll begin to understand the revolutionary nature of this novel-perhaps even revolutionary for our time.

-Sophia U. 12th grade