Gone Series Review

gone_coverOn a seemingly normal day, the town of San Perdido is suddenly hit with a phenomenon that results in everyone over the age of fifteen disappearing…all adults are just simply gone! To the confusion of the remaining children, a giant force-field now surrounds the entire area of Perdido Beach, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.

Abandoned and frightened, the children are exposed to the threat of conflict, danger and death, and life with no adults or form of authority. With no electricity and phones and televisions no longer working, the town becomes a prison for the “surviving” children who must find a way to maintain order amidst the chaos. To top it off, the children start developing strange powers, some even deadly, that causes extreme manipulation and sides to be chosen. The ensuing fight becomes a catastrophic battle for survival, while the thought of time running out looms over everyone—because the day you turn fifteen is the fateful day you disappear, just like everyone else.

Written by Michael Grant, the Gone series is breathtaking young-adult series that’s packed to the brim with mystery, action, suspense, and (of course) romance! The books are titled: Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear, and Light. In my opinion, the series is fast-paced and frighteningly gripping, for Grant is able to successfully write a dark, brutal account of a world of children with no authority that describes the death and moral dilemmas they must face.

The characters are all complex yet relatable, because they are all kids, just like you and I, who are struggling with the reality of the world they are thrown into. Even though there is some mature content, especially in the last three books of the series, I would certainly recommend the Gone series, which can be considered a modern-day Lord of the Flies, to those over thirteen years who are fans of The Hunger Games and hard-core dystopian-science fiction admirers!

-Kayle W., 10th grade

Author Interview: Samantha Van Leer

off_the_pageHave you ever wished you could live in a different place? A different world? How about inside your favorite book? This is precisely the concept behind Between the Lines, a fantasy novel co-written by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer. However, this is not just a lighthearted fairy tale; readers quickly learn that “happily ever after” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Off the Page – a companion novel to Between the Lines – will be available soon in bookstores everywhere. I was given the opportunity to ask Samantha Van Leer about her experiences and goals as a teen author.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I ever formally decided I wanted to be a writer. When I was little I used to tell my mom I wanted to be like her when I grew up, but since my childhood I have named many other jobs I aspired to have. However, I have been writing poetry and short stories for as long as I can remember. I think I was just born with writing in my blood and somehow found myself in the career of a writer. I still don’t even consider myself an author. I feel like a really lucky girl who has somehow managed to get a lot of awesome people to read her work.

What draws you to the fantasy/fairy-tale genre?
I’ve always loved the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tales because they aren’t the sanitized Disney versions – they are brutal and dark. The idea of a fairy tale filled with so much suffering and strife makes the concept of “happily ever after” that much more desirable and that much more incredible if it is attained. I try to reflect that in my books. I don’t want my characters to just be given their happily ever after; I really want them to earn it.

How do you balance writing with school and other activities of being a teen?
That is a very good question. It isn’t easy. This year I’ve managed to jump out of classes into cars to go to New York City for an interview, or a meeting at Random House, or a photo shoot, and then drive back to school that night to be up and ready for my 9 a.m. class the next day.
My sanity comes from amazing friends and a meticulously mapped-out schedule. I feel like I can get anything done if I plan out every second of my week. As long as I stick to the schedule, nothing can go wrong! My friends are incredibly supportive and loving. They’re great at getting me out into the happy college zone after a long week of work.

What do you consider to be the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest part of writing is actually sitting down and writing. I could name 500 other things I could do at any given moment instead of writing, but I have to ignore them and take the time to focus and simply write. My mom always says, “You can edit a bad page; you can’t edit a blank one.” It’s true. It’s better to work with a total mess than to have a wordless page at the end of the day.

How does having an acclaimed author as a mom give you a unique perspective into the life of a writer?
I think I’ve gotten to see how informal the writing process can be. It’s not as if authors sit in their business clothes, in their fancy offices, typing out their novels till their fingertips burn off.
The truth is that authors wear their pajamas. They write between watching episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” And when they’re stuck, they eat candy and stare into space. It’s not a beautiful job. It creates a beautiful thing, but by no means do you look great doing it.
I also learned that publishing means a lot more than just the writing of the book. There is so much that goes on to promote it – from interviews to Q&As like this one – so that readers actually know your book has hit the shelves.
Writing isn’t just about sitting down and typing. It involves the planning that makes a great story, and it involves the promotion that gets that story read.
Writing books together is a very collaborative process. How did you and your mother divide up responsibilities?
We honestly split the work 50/50. We sat beside each other for eight hours a day, writing. We would talk back and forth while my mom typed. She might say a sentence, and then I would jump in with the next one. Sometimes we said the same exact sentence at the same time, which was both awesome and totally creepy.

Who is your favorite author?
I think the queen of teen-girl YA is Sarah Dessen. She just gets all those dramatic teen-girl feelings and perfectly bottles them into a single book.

Which character’s point of view did you enjoy writing from the most?
I loved writing scenes that involved Seraphima. She is a hilarious spin on the classic Disney princess. She was born and bred royal, but she has no actual skills to keep herself alive on her own. As for the three main narrative voices, I liked writing Oliver the most. It was really fun to imagine what trouble he’d get into in the real world.

Were any of the characters ­inspired by actual people?
Some. The science teacher, Mrs. Brown, was inspired by one of my teachers in high school who also had an addiction to self-tanning. Many of the names of the characters in our story are also pulled from reality: Delilah is named after one of my donkeys; Oliver is named after one of my dogs. And Mr. Elyk, the math teacher, is named after my brother Kyle, who is also a math teacher.

What advice do you have for aspiring teen writers?
Finish your work, even if you get bored by it. One of the hardest things in writing is getting to the end of your story, poem, etc. Even if you have other ideas popping up in your head, you should try to finish the piece you’re already working on, or else you’ll end up with a hundred half-told stories.

This piece is also available on teenink.com and has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine. Come meet Samantha Van Leer and Jodi Picoult in Mission Viejo this Saturday, May 23rd, when they speak about their latest book… Prince Oliver will be there too! More details here.

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

steelheartWhat would happen if suddenly, hundreds of random people across the world got incredible super powers including flight, control over the elements, invulnerability, precognition, and hypnotism?

David Charleston has spent his whole life researching these super humans, or Epics as they’re widely called, and may finally get his chance for revenge on the Epic who killed his father, Steelheart. But if it’s going to work, he needs the help of The Reckoners, a group of undercover agents who kill off Epics by using technology, wit, and sometimes their own two hands.  Oh, and it helps when they’re facing their imminent death with absolutely no chance of survival. But even so, Steelheart is the toughest target that they’ve ever gone after and it will take everything that they’ve got, and a little more, to have a chance at taking him down.

I enjoyed reading this incredible book, because, like Gone by Michael Grant, it provides many deep ideas with little explanation, giving the reader a larger impact over how they picture the story.  It was extremely fun to read and extremely hard to put down.  I loved this book so much that I finished it the day after I got it.  I recommend this book to comic nerds, and fans of Gone, Doctor Who, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, Divergent, I Am Number Four, The Giver, and any other science fiction novel.  The only problem is that, once started, it will be practically impossible to think about anything else until you’re done, and even then, you’re going to want the sequel!

-Evan G., 6th grade

Book Review: The Kite Fighters By Linda Sue Park

kite_fightersFlying wind, fighting kites, floating line.

1473, in Seoul, Korea, two brothers are excited for the New Year kite celebration, which means kite fighting. Both have the passion, but each has different skills. The elder, Kee-sup, can build a kite fit for a king but cannot handle a kite much less fight with it. The younger, Young-sup, knows how to “speak” to the wind and kite, which allows him to control kites with ease. Unfortunately, with a new year comes growing up and Kee-sup officially becomes an “adult,” which strains the brother’s relationship. During this time, Young-sup befriends the king of Korea, which brings a new conflict between the boys and their loyalty to their father and the king. Yet this doesn’t stop the boys from doing what they truly want to do for the kite festival.

The Kite Fighters is one of my favorite books that I have read over and over again. There is a huge theme about the relationship between brothers. Unfortunately, to fully understand the story main conflict, it is necessary to have  knowledge of the strict honoring system in Asian culture. Despite this, I love how the author manages to write a captivating story combined with the uncommonly written Asian history. There is also a great theme of how very different people can become the most unlikely of friends. This is a perfect book for any age. It’s not a high action fierce or  fighting story, but it brings a good tale of family and friendship. This, of course, is only what I think, so decide for yourself if it’s a book for you!

If you would like to read my review of another book by Linda Sue Park, A Single Shard, click here: https://mvlteenvoice.com/2014/06/19/book-review-a-single-shard-by-linda-sue-park/

-Sarah J., 9th grade

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

between_shades_grayBetween Shades of Gray is not your everyday World War II book. For example, Hitler and the Jewish people are not the main characters. Instead, this novel focuses on Joseph Stalin. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Stalin. I thought that Hitler was the only thing going on during this war. Maybe you thought so, too. If so, this is a fantastic historical fiction novel which provides another side of the conflict. It was not only Jews who were affected during this time frame.

The story follows Lina Vilkas and her family through the hardships they face after being deported from Lithuania. After months of travel, in a crowded train car, they are brought to a place much different than Lithuania, and here they are forced to work every day, with a small piece of bread as their payment. After some time, the family is again transported. However, this time to a much harsher climate, where surviving is even more difficult. They face disease, severe weather, the deaths of close ones, and brutal treatment from almost all of the NKVD guards. Through it all, Lina keeps track of what happens in journals and drawings, in hopes that she might one day contact her father again.

This novel is very touching. I would not recommend it if you are sensitive to the somewhat graphic treatment of death in this novel. Stalin’s repressive measures against his people and the imprisonment and execution of “enemies of the Soviet people” were heavy themes throughout the book. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about this important part of history.

My favorite part of the novel was the very end. You’ll have to read it for yourself to understand, but the epilogue was a perfect conclusion to this novel.

-Leila S., 9th grade

Book Review: The Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls

summer_monkeysThe Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls is a novel about an inquisitive boy of 14 years named Jay Berry who lives on his family farm in Oklahoma. Jay Berry has a twin sister who has special needs due to her crippled leg. His parents and grandparents are trying to save enough money for the treatment of her leg. One day, Jay Berry discovers a group of monkeys at the river bottoms while in search of the family cow; he then informs his grandfather about his discovery. His grandfather explains to him that the monkeys had escaped from a circus truck after it was in an accident.

Seeking to earn the award for capturing the monkeys, Jay Berry has his eyes set on the $100 monkey, and will also get $2 each for the smaller ones; with the money, he hopes to buy a .22 gun and a pony. Devising numerous methods to abduct the monkeys, Jay Berry has great trouble trying to do so, because the most valuable monkey, named Jimbo, acts as though he is human; Jimbo protects the other smaller monkeys like a mother protecting her babies, which makes Jay’s mission much harder. To find out what happens to Jay Berry and the monkeys, read this amusing novel.

I enjoyed this book, with mixed feelings about it. Set in rural Oklahoma, I liked the book because of the way the author described in detail the attempt of apprehending the monkeys. Jay Berry’s character was interesting, and I loved his perseverance and how he was not discouraged from capturing the monkeys. Although the book had an intriguing plot, the execution could have been improved. Recommended for 8 year-olds and above, I might have liked this adventurous book better if had read it in Elementary school. Overall, a great, quick read for somebody looking for a simple, heartwarming story.

-Anmol K., 8th grade

Book Review: Hunger by Michael Grant

hungerThree months after all the adults disappeared in the blink of an eye, 15 year old Sam Temple is holding together what remains of the city, but as food starts to become scarce, the problems start to pile up.  From children developing superhuman abilities to a powerful entity hungry in the dark, what’s left of society is starting to crumble.

Sequel to the best selling novel GoneHunger is an emotional and deep story that deals with the stress of leadership and overall guilt.  The first book ended in major suspense and this book has followed its lead.  I originally picked up Gone because it seemed very similar to a book I loved called The Young World by Chris Weitz who had come to speak to us bloggers at the Mission Viejo Library/City Hall last year.

Hunger has been a fascinating sequel. It takes the reader away from everyday drama and stress by wrapping them up in this malicious world. This helps the reader to appreciate their own life so much more after they put this book down.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a temporary distraction from their own life as it is riveting, interesting and easy to get stuck in. I enjoyed this book and am already starting the next one in the series, Lies.

-Evan G., 6th grade