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

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Seventeen-year-old Mia Hall has everything other teenagers her age would want; a loving and relaxed family life, great grades, a charming boyfriend, and a supportive best friend. As a cello-prodigy, Mia awaits her soon-to-be acceptance letter to her dream university.

One snowy day, Mia and her family jam to their favorite songs in the car on the road. They had planned the perfect day-off. However, all goes wrong when an incoming car skids and crashes straight towards them. The moment stops and the reader waits eagerly, with palms sweating, to know what happens next through all of the author’s heart-wrenching details.

The novel follows Mia, in an out-of-body experience, as she has flashbacks on her life and loses the ones she loves. Her flashbacks are followed by heart-breaking scenes of her family and friends visiting her in a hospital while she is in a coma. The unspoken love between the Mia and her close ones makes the novel much more emotional.

The author’s style of switching between the past and present unfolds the significant purpose of a human life. The importance of sacrifice, family, love, death, and life all wrap up to tell Mia’s story. The conflict between choosing to fight endlessly to stay alive or fading away to the afterlife remains a mystery until the end.

Overall, this novel really opened my eyes and made me realize that life can change in an instant. No matter who we are, what we are going through in life, or where we are, death can take its toll. The author truly makes an important point about how fast life moves for the youth and the old. We should never take life for granted because this is all we have and there is only one shot at it.

Mia’s story emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. Our problem are just as big as we make them. However, just like Mia, our worldly problems are nothing in the face of death. Not all the readers of this book can realize that, but anyone who can relate will find its meaning. The novel, as well as the movie of If I Stay, moved me to tears and is one that sticks with you forever.

-Zohal N. 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

As one of Hemingway’s many classics, The Old Man and the Sea retells the story of man versus nature. Hemingway writes the novel in such a way that makes the reader urge for more.

The story begins with Santiago, an aged and experienced fisherman who has been out on the sea for 84 days with no luck of finding fish to catch. He is viewed as a lonely outcast to the rest of society, and his own apprentice is told to stay away from him. Santiago is even labeled as a word that means unluckiness in his native language.

Santiago’s character can be seen in today’s world in people who are still waiting for a win or change in their lives. Many individuals are still on their journey to reach their goals in life just like Santiago. Suddenly, on the 85th day, a large marlin takes the bait on Santiago’s hook that is 200 yards deep in the water. The marlin is massive and unlike anything, Santiago has ever seen in his years of fishing. Through the next days and nights, the marlin holds onto the line, but it is too heavy for Santiago to lift.

From breaking his wrist to cramping his whole body and not being able to sleep properly, Santiago risks everything he has to catch the great marlin and lift his pride. Finally, the marlin is caught, but Santiago admires and feels like he built a brotherly relationship with the animal.

Santiago’s story reflects the human relationship with nature that is filled with admiration and struggles. His character is not defined by his defeat or “unluckiness”, but rather his determination. It takes courage to endure pain and hardships.

Hemingway uses such symbolism and words that the novel requires an analytical mind to read. Every small detail is impressively used to build the theme of the novel in the end. This book can be read by anyone as young or as old because everyone is eventually lead to the same motif about life.

-Zohal N. 

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

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This novel was one I was required to read for school, but despite my apprehension when I saw how big it was, it actually turned out to be a great story that was captivating and an incredibly interesting read. The novel follows two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, specifically Adam Trask throughout his life. It is set mostly in Salinas Valley, California, where the Hamiltons live.

Adam’s early life is told through a series of flashbacks, where we see the impact of his father’s military career and his half-brother Charles’ jealousy. Adam was always his father’s favorite, and Charles, wanting nothing more than their father’s love, abuses Adam. Adam spends his young adult years wandering after a short time in the military before coming home, and when he does come home, he finds that his father has died and left him and Charles a significant sum of money.

At the same time, a girl named Cathy Ames is introduced, and from the beginning, she seems morally corrupted at her core. She is able to manipulate her parents into what she wants, she manipulates her teachers, her peers, and somehow is able to heap blame for evil actions onto everyone but herself. As she ages, she only becomes more vicious, killing her parents in a fire and using people as stepping stones to get where she wants. This inevitably goes wrong; a man beats her almost to death when he realizes she’s using him, and she is left on Adam and Charles’ doorstep. Adam falls in love with her, blind to her faults, and they move to Salinas Valley, where they meet Samuel Hamilton, intertwining the two families. They have two children, and the rest of the novel follows the children’s lives. 

East of Eden is one of those novels that doesn’t really have a climactic point; it’s more of a biographical story, following the complex lives of a few select people. One thing that I learned when analyzing this book in school was that Steinbeck intended this to be his own version of the story of Cain and Abel, and each pair in the novel reflects this: Charles and Adam, Cathy and Adam, Adam’s children Cal and Aron. However, the age-old story evolves into something greater here. While Charles and Adam were an accurate reflection of the original story, Cal and Aron are able to change it; Cal is supposedly “destined” to be the evil brother, but he realizes his wrongdoings and fights hard to correct them and correct himself.

The novel is a story of self-improvement and the way that the characters evolved really struck me as I read. East of Eden isn’t just a story highlighting a snapshot of someone’s life; I was in awe of what a masterpiece it is, portraying the best and worst of human life, teaching valuable lessons while keeping the story engaging.

-Adelle W.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This novel tells of Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher at his local high school, teaching some GED classes for extra money. One of his GED students, the high school’s janitor, Harry Dunning, writes a tear-jerking essay for his final, about how his family was killed by his alcoholic father and how he was crippled for life. 

A few years later, when Jake visits his friend, Al, at Al’s Diner, Al shows Jake a time portal in the pantry of his diner; Al, seems to have aged years within a day, explains that he had used the portal to travel back in time, and had lived years in the past before he developed cancer and had to return. 

The few rules to the portal are as follows:

  • Each trip to the past is a complete reset to September 9, 1958. Whenever you enter the portal, you’re undoing whatever you did the last trip.
  • Each time coming back from the past through the portal, no matter how long you stay, you come back two minutes after you left.
  • The past can be changed, impacting the future, but the past is also obdurate; it tries it’s very hardest to stop from being changed.

After Al shows Jake the ropes, he sends Jake on the mission that he had been unable to complete last time. From what Al has observed, everything bad in the world can be traced back to John F. Kennedy’s assassination; if Jake could stop the assassination, the world would likely be a better place. And if it wasn’t, he could always go back and reset it. 

Jake agrees to the plan, but adds a few elements of his own; he would drop by the Dunning household, and stop Frank Dunning from murdering Harry’s family. Then, he would wait until 1963, watching and monitoring the world around him, and stop Kennedy’s assassination.

The title of this novel definitely was the eye-catcher on the library bookshelf for me, in addition to its impressive size. The reality of life that’s starkly shown in this novel, contrasting the preposterous situation Jake enters into, is why I enjoyed it so much. He constantly feels the danger of discovery, injecting an underlying urgency into the story, but I also felt a wrenching desire for him to settle down when he finds a wonderful woman in a content little town where he could live a happy life in the past. 

There’s a sense of heroism to the story as well; armed with the knowledge of the future, Jake strives to do his best for the greater good of the world. However, the past is “obdurate;” he runs into so many obstacles when he tries to change things, ultimately causing more harm than good. It’s an excellent example of how good intentions do not necessarily bring good results.

-Adelle W.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep tells the story of adult Danny Torrance. Traumatized by the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel, he’s developed alcoholic tendencies like his father; however, when he settles in the town of Frazier, New Hampshire, Dan stops drinking and begins working at a hospice, helping dying patients pass on peacefully with his strong psychic abilities, or “shine,” earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

While he settles down, a girl named Abra Stone is born, and her shine is even more powerful than Dan’s. They sense and understand each other from when she is very young, all the way through most of her adolescence. 

They don’t see a need to actually meet until The True Knot, a group of people who feed off of shine, usually children’s, to keep themselves immortal, becomes aware of Abra’s immense power and comes for her. Dan and Abra together, along with a few friends in on the secret of the shine, work together to end The True Knot forever.

Dan’s character development was one of the first things that struck me deeply. No matter how much he swore to himself that he would never become like his father, he drinks and drinks, traumatized by the Overlook Hotel and afraid of his abilities. However, unlike his father, he realizes what he’s doing, and mends himself, using his abilities for good. 

Dan’s relationship with Abra was also an incredibly interesting element of this story. Despite never meeting before, the two psychics speak to each other like old friends when they actually meet, and Dan quickly takes on a fatherly role, helping Abra control her abilities. From the beginning, Abra is fundamentally good; though she makes mistakes and badly estimates some decisions, her actions are always for the betterment of others’ lives. 

After reading both this novel and The Shining, I would say that the sequel is more advanced and interesting than the original, although The Shining was crucial to setting the stage for Dan’s development and life. Doctor Sleep tells of the impact of psychological trauma, recovery from that, the use of power for good, and the development of family independent of blood relation. Some elements of the story are still chilling to the bone, as is Stephen King’s norm, but the novel overall develops the experience of life in addition to just the horror.

-Adelle W. 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ranger’s Apprentice series revolves around a boy named Will, an orphan taken in as a castle ward at Redmont fief, one of the fifty fiefs in Araluen. This first book follows his acceptance into the respected (and feared) Ranger Corps, the highly capable unseen protectors of the kingdom. As an orphan with no last name or memory of who his parents were, Will is set, along with his fellow wards, to be chosen by one of the Craftmasters and trained in service of the kingdom. 

However, Will’s skill set doesn’t fit any of the apprenticeships that his peers are chosen for. After Will climbs the tower up to the Baron’s office to try and find out his fate and the mysterious Ranger Halt catches him, he’s told that he would be most suitable for Ranger training. He learns to use the Ranger’s choice weapons, the bow, a throwing knife, and the specially made saxe knife, and learns the art of unseen movement, the key to a Ranger’s job in protecting his assigned fief. 

Meanwhile, Morgarath, the lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, exiled from Araluen, plots his revenge against the kingdom. Having been planning for 15 years, he begins to mobilize his army of monstrous Wargals and unleashes the terrifying Kalkara, huge beasts of war that can freeze a man with their eyes. When word of this gets to Araluen, the Ranger Corps are put on high alert. Will, Halt, and another Ranger, Gilan, set off to track and kill the Kalkara. The book ends with Araluen mobilizing for war with Morgarath.

In addition to Will’s journey towards becoming a Ranger, I was particularly taken with his interaction with Horace, one of the castle wards and one of Will’s long-time bullies. Horace is accepted to Battleschool, training to be a knight; however, since he was alienated as an orphan, many of the other knight apprentices begin to bully him, causing Horace, in turn, to lash out at Will. After Halt gets rid of the Battleschool bullies, the two boys reconcile their differences and become fast friends; they see past their conflict and find a true friend in each other. I learned something crucial from this: that hostility is often rooted in something that can be solved with listening and understanding.

I love this series because it can be enjoyed immensely by anyone of any age; Flanagan transformed stories composed for his son into 12 artfully written novels of heroism, humor, and friendship. I highly recommend this book and this series to anyone in need of a fun and satisfying read.

-Adelle W.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library