Book Review: Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor_parkWhile browsing Sparknotes one night for help with homework, I was lured into the “fun section.” You know, the section where you can find information about celebrities, current events, and popular books. Well, I’m very glad I did, because there was an article on great books to read during the summer. Eleanor & Park was near the top of the list. The comments on the book were mostly positive, so I decided to give it a try.

Guys, this book is really, really good. It’s funny, exciting, and relatable on so many levels. Eleanor & Park follows the lives of two teenagers in high school as they go through all of the awkward stages of love.

It’s not a typical, boring, lovey-dovey type of love story, but rather it is raw and honest. Both Eleanor and Park struggle to find their respective places in the world, and both have issues with their parents (problems I think most teenagers can easily relate to).

The story is told in a dual-narrative style, with both Eleanor and Park sharing their opinions on the events taking place.  I usually don’t like this type of narration because it can easily become repetitive and boring.  However, Rowell manages to keep it fresh, without rehashing scenes that the reader already knows about. Overall, the book was very enjoyable to read, and I definitely recommend it!

-Amanda D., 12th grade



Short Story Review: The Offshore Pirate, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

offshore_pirateAfter reading both The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, I decided that F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors.  While I do find some of the plots of his stories to be a bit slow at times, his writing style more than makes up for lack of action.

After checking out Flappers and Philosophers, a collection of short stories written by Fitzgerald, I flipped to the first story and was immediately hooked.  The Offshore Pirate is a story of youth, lust, and adventure.  Fitzgerald’s description of tiny islands off the coast of Florida are enchanting and beautiful.  If you guys don’t believe me, then take a look at this quote from the book:

“Taking her hand he led her out into a broad stretch of hard sandy soil that the moon flooded with great splendor. They floated out like drifting moths under the rich hazy light, and as the fantastic symphony wept and exulted and wavered and despaired, Ardita’s last sense of reality dropped away, and she abandoned her imagination to the dreamy summer scents of tropical flowers and the infinite starry spaces overhead, feeling that if she opened her eyes it would be to find herself dancing with a ghost in a land created by her own fantasy.”

Is that beautiful or what?  It is a short story, so I feel like giving out any of the plot would sort of ruin the adventure that is this book, so please just take my word for it.

If you like writing that will make you feel warm and fuzzy and magical inside, read The Offshore Pirate!  It only takes about an hour to read (if you’re a sloth-speed reader like me) and is more than worth the sixty minutes.

-Amanda D., 12th grade

How to Improve your SAT Critical Reading and Writing Scores

glasses-272401_640As a high school junior, I have grown to realize the importance of the SAT, and have searched for hours for ways to improve my scores.  From my own experience, reading is ridiculously helpful in improving critical reading and writing scores, so I thought I would provide you guys with a list of books that are both rich in SAT vocab, and enjoyable to read.

Leonardo di Caprio and Carey Mullligan in a still from The Great Gatsby1.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors of all time.  I love him because he writes about the 1920s, which is pretty much the most interesting era of all time, and his writing style is beautiful.  The Great Gatsby is one of those rare books that I actually recommend reading after you see the movie, as it makes the plot much easier to understand and hey, looking at Leo DiCaprio for three hours isn’t all that bad either.

2.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding:  This was my favorite book that my class read during sophomore year.  It’s a fictional expose on the concept of civilization and it is interesting and terrifying all at once.  I definitely recommend this book if you are a fan of survival stories, adventure, or even horror.

brave_new_world3.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:  This book was required reading for my sophomore year, but I would have read it even if it wasn’t required.  Brave New World is a book that predicts how our future society will look, and also uncovers the startling faults in our own present-day society.

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:  I can sum up all the reasons I love this book in two words: Atticus Finch.  Atticus is one of the main characters in the book and is pretty awesome.  He is one of those silent-but-deadly literary heroes that are so hard to find in books nowadays, and that makes me love him even more.

catcher_in_the_rye_cover5.  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This book is amazing because it is written exactly the way I think: sarcastically, honestly, and caustically. (Like how I threw in an SAT vocab word?)  Holden Caulfield is one of the most famous literary characters of all time, and you should definitely read the book to find out why.

6.  Animal Farm by George Orwell:  This book is a satire on the Russian Revolution, as different figures of Russian history are represented by farm animals.  The great part about this book is that it will help you learn grammar and a little bit of history at the same time!

Other books that I haven’t read yet, but are rich in SAT vocab include:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Have you guys read any of these books yet?  What did you think of them?  Are there any other books that helped you with your SAT studying? Reply in the comments and good luck on your SATs everyone!

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Reading for Fun


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I think we can all agree that reading for fun has declined in popularity over the years.  I believe this may be partly due to the widely-held opinion that those who read for fun are “antisocial.”

This irks me a little.  I find it really annoying how the general populace believes that those who read for fun do not have any lives.  I read for fun.  However, I am also an International Baccalaureate student, a coach for a local running program, an avid watcher of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and an involved friend. I have several interests outside the world of reading and overall, I would call myself a fairly busy and social person.

Just because I read for fun does not mean I have never had a boyfriend, or a job, or a social life.  I simply read because I enjoy it.  It helps my writing and critical thinking skills, and also serves as an escape, just like music, movies, or television.

According to the New York Times, reading literary fiction can actually help boost social skills.  During an experiment conducted by the students at New York’s New School for Social Research, those who read literary fiction performed better on tests measuring emotional intelligence and social perception than those who did not read often.  In other words, reading can actually make you more social.

Now, I am definitely not saying you have to read 24/7 and never see the light of day.  I am saying that as teenagers, we all need to try new things and find our places in the world, and reading can help you with that.  It’s all about balance.

Have you ever been labeled as antisocial because you read for fun?  What’s your opinion on this? Sound off in the comments!

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Book Review: Paper Towns, by John Green

paper_townsIn continuing my mission to read every John Green novel known to man, I invested my time in Paper Towns.  This book follows the life of high school senior Quentin Jacobsen and his mission to find his first love, Margo, after she mysteriously disappears.  Margo is adventurous and exciting, and acts as a nice foil to Quentin’s shy and reserved personality.

As cheesy as this plotline sounds, Paper Towns was actually an interesting story filled with mystery, comedy, and a break-in to Sea World.  While the ending is somewhat disappointing and frustrating, everything leading up to it is exciting and enlightening.  This story is humorous, yet has dark undertones as it reveals faults in humanity and society.

What I learned through reading this book is that Green is an expert at creating relatable teenaged characters.  In Paper Towns, the main characters are worried about their future, but also concerned with living in the moment.  As we all know, these two tasks can be very difficult to balance.  In Paper Towns, Quentin teaches the readers how to balance the two, and how this combination of enjoying adventure and preparing for the future helps us to discover ourselves and what we want out of life.

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

abundance_of_katherinesAn Abundance of Katherines is a young adult fiction novel written by one of my favorite authors of all time… John Green.  It follows the life of Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who has been dumped 19 times… all by girls named Katherine.  After graduating from high school, Colin and his best friend Hassan decide to take a spontaneous road trip to help Colin get over his recent breakup.

Now, if you have read Green’s more popular works like Looking For Alaska or The Fault in our Stars, you may be worried that this book will also be slightly depressing.  That’s what I thought anyway.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this book was simply a funny coming of age novel and not a depressing romance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska, but An Abundance of Katherines was a nice break from Green’s more dramatic novels.  Colin’s sarcasm and lack of social skills add to the book’s lighthearted nature, while at the same time help to deliver a clear and fascinating message.  (I won’t spoil that message for you because it’s pretty much the whole point of the book.)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone interested in coming of age novels, or anyone who wants a book that is able to cheer them up in one page.

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Book vs. Movie: Catching Fire – A Different Perspective

catching_fire_book_movieDisclaimer: I know there is already a book vs. movie post about Catching Fire on here.  I just thought it would be nice to give you guys a review from a different perspective.

Attention lovers of the Hunger Games, dystopian fiction, and Josh Hutcherson everywhere!  If you have not seen “Catching Fire” the movie, or read Catching Fire the book, I suggest you run out to your nearest bookstore, and buy this book and a movie ticket to go along with it.  If you have already read the book and are worried that the movie will not live up to your expectations of this literary masterpiece, do not be afraid.  “Catching Fire” the movie was just as good as Catching Fire the book.

Now, I know what you all are thinking. “Books are always better than the movies they are made into.  Why is ‘Catching Fire’ different?”  I’ll tell you why.

#1. The dialogue in “Catching Fire” the movie is almost word-for-word the dialogue in the book.  It was like the scriptwriter had the book open next to him the entire time he was writing the script.  I really appreciated this, as I felt like the writers really took into consideration the fans of the book.

#2. Josh Hutcherson actually has lines.  Now, I know some of you are Liam Hemsworth fans.  Yes, he is attractive, but I prefer Josh Hutcherson. (Don’t judge me.)  In the “Hunger Games” movie, he barely had any lines. This sort of ruined the movie for me.  However, in “Catching Fire” he was able to live up to his full acting potential, and fully embody the character of Peeta.

#3. The arena is flawless.  Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t read the book, let me just say it was exactly how I pictured it.  My friend agrees and she is basically the harshest unpaid movie critic out there, so trust me on this.

#4.  Even if you haven’t read the book, you can still understand the movie.  This was a problem I had with the first “Hunger Games” Movie, as my friends who hadn’t read the book had no idea what was going on and were constantly whispering in my ear the entire time.  Wait, so does Katniss actually like Peeta?  Why are they making such a big deal over this loaf of bread?  Wait, seriously, does she like him or not?  Why is everyone forced to watch the games?  Just tell me already, does she actually love Peeta or not????  Needless to say, I appreciated my friends actually understanding what was going on in “Catching Fire.”

Regardless if you are die-hard fans of the books, or first time viewers, I strongly suggest you get off your butts and take a risk and see this movie!

-Amanda D., 11th grade

Book Review: Possession, by Elana Johnson

possession_coverPossession, a dystopian fiction novel written by Elana Johnson, follows the life of narrator and main protagonist Violet (Vi) Schoenfeld.  Vi is a free thinker, which in the world she lives in, makes her a dangerous outcast.  She soon finds herself caught in a love triangle between bad boy Jag and her best friend Zenn.

One of the best things about this book is the plot.  With twists and turns on every page, it was definitely interesting.  The characters were also captivating, and fairly relatable.  In addition, the book is narrated in a way that teenagers would speak today, which made it even more relatable.

However, that being said, the book was somewhat disorganized.  Most parts were extremely difficult to follow.  With dystopian fiction, one of the most important things the author needs to do is lay out the setting in a way the reader can easily understand.  Despite my eagerness to learn more about Vi’s world, I found myself let down and confused at the lack of description.

Overall, this book had a nice, captivating plot, but was relatively difficult to follow.  If you are interested in the genre of dystopian fiction, I would recommend reading this book for the plot alone.  However, do be cautious as you may, like me, become frustrated at the lack of organization throughout the novel.

-Amanda D., 11th grade