The Elite by Kiera Cass

Caution: This review contains spoilers from book one, The Selection.

One aspect of this book that I liked is that it follows the first book, The Selection, almost seamlessly. When reading a sequel, I usually find that it takes me several pages or chapters to “get back into” the story, and I appreciated that The Elite begins more or less where The Selection ends.

America Singer is left with a position as one of 6 remaining Selected girls (known as the Elite), and a choice between her dearest Aspen and the charming prince Maxon.

I found this book to be darker than The Selection, with an expansion on the situation with the rebel attacks on the castle, Illéa’s history, and the conflict created by the caste system. As tension rises within the dwindling group of Elite, as the danger of the rebels becomes far more apparent, and as America discovers more about the founding of Illéa, the Selection no longer seems like a frivolous game.

I was a bit disappointed in the shift in America and Maxon’s friendship, though it might have been expected given the need for conflict in the story. The understanding and casual words that passed between the two of them in The Selection morph into a complicated, less transparent relationship as America’s feelings for Maxon become more apparent.

Because of her growing desire for Maxon’s heart, America grows mistrustful of him and the other girls, and she begins to make decisions that seem less measured than those she made before. I liked how America was kind and helpful to the girls in the beginning of the Selection, but in this book, as her feelings for Maxon grow, she begins to see them more as opponents. Though she maintains her courageous and strong character, America allows herself to be pulled further in to the competition, meaning more uncertainty and distrust.

Additionally, I did feel like some of the conflict between Maxon and America might have been unrealistic; if they truly loved each other, wouldn’t they trust each other more and be able to express their thoughts to each other? Nevertheless, I realize that America and Maxon are both filled with doubt and worry about the decisions set before them (for instance, America debates between Maxon and Aspen: princess or Six?), and are no doubt unsure of many things–even each other.

What I admired about The Elite as well as The Selection was that Maxon did not appear like some two-dimensional character. Despite his privileged position, he is still influenced and pressured by his father, and he feels great responsibility in his choice for a princess–he feels he must not only consider his own happiness, but that of his future people and his father as well.

If you enjoyed The Selection and are eager to follow America’s story further, this is the perfect book! Additionally, it leaves off with 4 Elite … Maxon’s decision draws closer with the close of the second book.

– Mia T.

The Elite by Kiera Cass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

 

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

This story discusses the oppressive nature of marriage, which I think is still very relevant even in today’s society. The United States alone has a divorce rate of 50 percent. The characters in this story think that marriage has stripped them of their individuality and independence. Personally, I don’t deny this argument, but I don’t completely agree with it either. Marriage is the bonding of two people together. Being married means that it is no longer simply a relationship that you are sharing with your spouse, but that there is heavy responsibility associated with that relationship. For a lot of families, women give their careers up to rear the children, which can be a huge sacrifice. I think this type of sacrifice eventually if not alleviated would lead to breakups and divorces.

On the other hand, this story also made me realize how the men in the family should take responsibility as well. The male character’s death not only did not traumatize his wife in the story but also made her feel a sense of relief. A lot of times the breadwinner of the house may feel exhausted after work, therefore demanding that his wife meets all of his needs voluntarily and mandatorily. Nevertheless, he is omitting all the house chores and child-caring the mother or females of the house have undertaken during the period when he’s gone to work. Hence, this story tells us that it is important for every family member to take a share of responsibilities and duties.

-Coreen C. 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel by American author Ernest Hemingway. The novel is about a Cuban fisherman who manages to hook onto the largest fish he has ever seen, which he struggles to haul in alive.

The novel begins with the old fisherman who had not caught any fish for the past eighty-four days. As a result, he is considered unlucky, and a young boy who used to fish with him together is no longer allowed to by his parents. The old man and the boy are very close, with the young boy often bringing the old man news and food.

The next day, the old man leaves early on his tiny boat, and he manages to hook onto the largest fish he has ever seen, an eighteen feet long marlin. Despite the fish’s massive size and strength, the old man is determined to catch the fish to end his unlucky period. The old man shows his determination after continuing to hold onto the fish for three days straight without sleep as it pulls his boat. With his determination, he eventually catches the massive fish after three days.

However, unfortunately for the old man, swarms of sharks attack his boat, eating the fish in the process, even though he desperately defends against them with everything he has.

He eventually returns home with nothing except the skeleton of the fish, collapsing onto his bed from exhaustion. The next day, the skeleton of the fish, still attached to his boat, draws crowds of people, fishermen and tourists alike, who are amazed by its size. Through all of this, the old man simply sleeps calmly, while the boy returns to take care of him, deciding he will fish with the old man despite his parents forbidding him to.

Ultimately, despite that The Old Man and the Sea is a classic, I would not recommend it due to its boring plot. The novel does contain some symbols, and the old fisherman represents Hemingway’s view on life, described as Hemingway’s “code hero.”

-Josh N. 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Written in a time where topics such as mental illness were considered taboo, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a revolutionary novel. Catcher in the Rye tells the story of a teenage boy named Holden Caulfield who struggles to find his purpose and place in society while grieving the death of his younger brother Allie. Allie had died when Holden was only 13 years old, and 3 years later, this traumatic event still greatly affects Holden’s cynical view of society and life itself. Holden’s experiences in an upper-class family and in the boarding schools he has spent most of his adolescence in have shaped his view of adulthood and the “phoniness” of society in general. He views childhood as something precious, and adulthood as a dark world of phoniness and monotony. Spending time in all-male prep schools has also caused Holden to question the meaning of masculinity and what it means to be a man.

After being expelled from his third school, Holden decides to go to New York City alone and encounters characters he deems as “phony,” such as Sally Hayes, Bernice, Sunny, and Ernie. Holden resents these characters for their lack of authenticity and superficial interests. His search for someone who is innocent and genuine leads him to his younger sister, Phoebe. It is then revealed that Holden wants to be “the catcher in the rye,” or someone who is there to catch children playing in a field from falling over the metaphorical cliff to adulthood. Holden’s obsession with the preservation of innocence stems from the loss of his younger brother, Allie, and can be seen in his reluctance to see old friends and the museum he used to love as a child. Holden is scared of change, and of seeing those he once adored older, more mature, and, in Holden’s mind, “phony.” These experiences bring Holden to a point of emotional exhaustion and distress, which climaxes at the end of the novel when he watches Phoebe and other young children on a carousel at the New York Zoo. This display of pure innocence and joy brings Holden to tears, yet he feels truly happy for the first time in the story. The entire story is told from Holden’s perspective a year later, as he is talking to a therapist in a mental hospital. The reader never truly gains closure on Holden’s future but is left to finish the story in their own minds.

Thousands of readers have resonated with Holden’s character, and are grateful for the genuine voice of J.D. Salinger and the connection they feel with Holden. Many speculate that Holden is a reflection of Salinger himself, influenced by the traumatic events that plagued Salinger’s own life. This novel has forced readers to question societal influence and what is truly important in life. Salinger has given a voice to the cynical internal monologue many shares with Holden and brought to light countless issues that were never truly discussed or recognized in the time during which Catcher in the Rye was written.

-Katie A. 

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater

Lizard Music is another hilarious book by Daniel Pinkwater.  This one is about a boy named Victor from a town called McDonaldsville.  Victor’s parents are away on vacation and his older sister is out camping even though she is supposed to be looking after him.  Since his parents are away, he can watch television late at night.  One night, something strange happens.  The television begins to show lizards performing jazz music.  This is mysterious because nothing about lizards appears in the television guide.

Victor later finds a man known as “The Chicken Man,” with a trained chicken named Claudia who helps Victor discover where the lizards come from.  They set off for a place called Invisible Island.  This is where the lizards broadcast their own television channel.  Their island has been drifting toward Victor’s hometown, and the weather is just right for Victor’s television to pick up their signal.

I enjoy reading about Victor’s wacky tour through the island.  For example, he is introduced to the House of Plants.  The house has a tree called the Truth Tree, which shakes its leaves and emits a loud noise whenever someone is telling a lie nearby.  Victor also enters the House of Memory.  In this house, whatever Victor thinks about appears in the room.

This book is a favorite of mine because of its quirky and random humor.  Daniel Pinkwater is a very unique author but I think his books can appeal to a wide audience, as long as you are not looking for a serious read.

-Oliver H. 

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Selection by Kiera Cass

When you open the pages of this book, you enter the country of Illéa, a post-World War IV America. It’s led by a king, not a president; formed of provinces, not states; and populated by eight castes, each number related to different trade and status (one being the most privileged). The story begins at a prominent time in Illéa–a Selection in which 35 girls from any caste are given the opportunity to be the princess of Illéa (which would raise them to the status of a One) and the wife of the young Prince Maxon.

Reminiscent of The Hunger Games, full of romance and humor and extravagance, and populated by a set of dynamic characters, Kiera Cass’ The Selection is an entertaining and satisfying read.

Although lacking the violence and seriousness of The Hunger Games, The Selection parallels Suzanne Collins’ book in some ways. In both novels the citizens are separated into classes, the highest class wealthy and lavish and seemingly frivolous; and there is a “lottery” to select people for a nationwide, televised event. Because of these similarities, if you enjoyed The Hunger Games this may be a book to consider; however, the books differ in significant ways as well–one way being the more romantic focus of The Selection.

I liked how the romance in this novel did not seem forced; the characters were strong and independent, which made any romance believable. The main character, America Singer, lives in a family of Fives, and she does her best to support her family. What I liked about her character was that she does not place as much importance on the caste system, and she has little desire to elevate her caste as long as she and those around her are content. She loves people for their personality and values rather than their image or caste. Her determination to remain herself no matter who is watching is also an admirable trait.

Most of the characters seemed well-rounded and believable, especially because of the rich backstories readers are either informed of or tantalized with. I did feel like some of the 35 Selected characters were not expanded upon, but in retrospect 35 characters would take a while to develop, and I understand how the introduction of the formation of all the characters could have shifted the focus of the story and its readers.

Along with romance and dynamic characters is the theme of judgment. The caste system in itself causes judgment among the characters–each caste is expected to work in a certain field, such as art, acting, or physical labor. The Selection addresses the inequality across Illéa as well as the barrier judgment causes, whether the judgment is towards a One or an Eight. It’s interesting to see the lives of those in the palace–the Ones–and though they live with abundance and frivolity, they have the onerous job of running a country. Furthermore, Prince Maxon presents himself quite differently than the stuck-up, spoiled prince America initially imagines him to be. On the other hand, Prince Maxon starts to understand the hardships of the lower classes–hardships he had previously been oblivious to.

If you haven’t read the book yet or are now planning on it, I want to mention that The Selection is the first of a series of five. While I was reading, I was expecting the answers to “who wins the Selection?” “What is the mysterious backstory of Illéa?” and “why is the palace in danger of rebel attack?” to be answered by the end of the story, but they weren’t. However, I didn’t find the ending of the story very disappointing; it set up the next book as an intriguing and exciting continuation to the story of America, the Selection, and Illéa.

– Mia T.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available as a free download from Overdrive

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This book is not for the faint of heart. It contains very graphic and mature scenes and themes, but nonetheless, it’s a beautiful book. 

Sadie tells the heart-wrenching story of a girl trying to get revenge for her sister’s death. It’s told through her own narration, and through a podcast following her trace. 

As a non-avid reader of mysteries/thrillers, this book was nothing like what I had expected. Although it could be a bit slow at times, what is lacked is made up of impact. This book hits so hard, and it’s important to recognize these types of actions as something that sadly is a part of society today. 

As you learn more about Sadie and what she’s been through, and the stories of the people she meets, you find everything that happens is the absolute worst things imaginable. Society is a gruesome and horrible place, and reading this book gave me biggest reality check I ever could’ve gotten.

The most horrible thing is, that these predicaments are what some people live in, it’s all they know, and that thought repulses me. The idea that people can relate to this piece of work is truly a reflection of the worst parts of society today. 

But all that aside, I highly recommend reading this book. Again, it gave me every sort of feeling imaginable and left me wondering about each and every one of the characters we had the honor of meeting. The podcast format for some chapters is such an ingenious idea and executed so well, I regret that I read the physical copy and not the audiobook. 

Our main character is the strongest and most resilient person I’ve ever read about. She has been through so much in her life, and as the book goes on and on, the situation gets worse and worse. Sadie is such a broken and mistreated character that everything she does, and everything she goes through is remarkable to me.

In short, if you want an impactful read, this is it.

If you’re struggling with anything that Sadie encounters or is going through in this book please reach out for help. You are not alone. 

    National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 

    National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

    National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

-Asli B. 

Sadie by Courtney Summers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive