Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson follows a young boy named Jess Aarons who aspires to be the best and fastest runner in the whole fifth grade. One day, a new family is moving into the old Perkins home and Jess meets the young girl, around his age, who is moving in with her family to the country. Leslie Burke is a city girl. She is strange to others, they say she dresses weird and she isn’t like all the other girls. Leslie and Jess then become friends over time during school. They talk about things and enjoy each others’ company. They spend their days together hanging out and they even create their own secret and special place just for themselves. A place where they can just be themselves and have fun together called Terabithia.

Together they ruled Terabithia, letting their imaginations roam free in their kingdom. On one morning, an upsetting and horrible accident strikes for the two kids. But because of this event, Jess gains the courage and strength to move forward. It shows Jess that he could be more than he thought he could be and it gives him a new goal and reason for living.

This story was beautifully written. The characters had great chemistry with each other and worked well. All characters, including the side characters, were well written and enjoyable even if we didn’t get to interact with them as much. The ending was unexpected and abrupt which I thought brought more impact on the story; especially since the accident can easily happen just like that in real life. Warning! This book is better for more mature readers because of the topics it will go over. Overall, I enjoyed this story very much even though it was a quick read. Even in such a short story, it got me attached to the characters and impacted me hard. I really enjoyed it and would recommend to those who would be interested.

-Nicole R.

The Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book Review: The Last Man by Mary Shelley

The Last Man, though a largely unknown work written by Mary Shelley, is quite a masterpiece. 

The book starts off with the importance of friendship, character interaction, and responsibility. Lionel (the main character), and his sister are orphans who first live a childhood of seclusion. However, they soon become friends of Prince Adrain, whose parents had known each other in their younger days. Though the depth of their camaraderie is somewhat unclear, the message sticks with readers as plot progresses. To illustrate, when I came across Lionel’s introduction to Adrian and the ties they began to form, it was crucial to take note of those moments in order to understand what was to come

(some vague spoilers will be mentioned in the next few paragraphs) 

Though the main topic of The Last Man is about annihilation, there are a few sections that precede the primary focus: Adrian’s illness, his revival of health through Lionel’s care, certain love relations and marriages occur, and the loss of love through the years. Therefore, observe these parts as a reader, and see what they might mean to you. It could significantly affect your perspective when the plague comes and begins to ravage the population. In hindsight, Mary Shelley adds these events prior to the disease in order to evoke certain emotions, whether it be sorrow, anguish, or pity. Books that make us feel are much more worthwhile than bland narration, as the miseries each character must endure allows such novels to feel closer to home, even if the cause of their pain is different from ours. To cry, laugh, and raise happiness are general sensations that enable authors to make the most of their craft. Anyhow, onto the plague.

The plague starts off in Eastern Europe and Asia, and eventually spreads to infect the Americas, Greece, and England (where the main protagonists reside). Therefore, a slow ruination of Lionel happens as he’s forced to witness the destruction of his countrymen. Moreover, as the illness consumes the globe, Lionel notices a shift in human behavior. He explains fear as a common reaction, an emotion so thick in the atmosphere that it’s as dominant as the air he breathes. In other words, he realizes that people are foolish to think themselves superior to the forces of nature. 

Before I come to a full resolution, a “character” that is hidden through most of the book, though which strikes me as significant, is Death. As described by Lionel, Death was a creature which originally came at night, a “thief which preyed on life.” However, as the plague began to plunder, it took on a new title – a conqueror. Therefore, Shelley’s creative attempts at figurative language gives room for the rise of certain themes, such as the truths of survival and existence. 

In short, The Last Man is about the realities of life, a reminder that we are expendable. 

-Emilia D.

Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

A fast-paced novel, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is a young adult fantasy novel that is the first book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Creating a whole universe, Bardugo immerses her reader into the Grishaverse, a world where some have powers that allow them to practice the Small Sciences.

Those who possess powers are called Grisha, and they are split further into orders: Corporalki, Etherealki, and Materialki. The Corporalki can manipulate the human body. Because of their power, Corporalkis are the most feared type of Grisha even though they can both help and harm a person. Mainly known as summoners, the Etherealki can manipulate natural elements. Being able to manipulate wind, air, and fire, these Grisha are crucial in any fight. Lastly are the Materialki, or Fabrikators. These Grisha can manipulate materials like metal, glass, and chemicals.

So, in Shadow and Bone, the majority of the events happen in the war-torn Ravka. Ravka has been plagued with war for years suffering the loss of citizens and patriotism. However, this war with their northern and southern countries is not their biggest problem. Long ago, an ancient Grisha Shadow Summoner ripped a gap in the center of Ravka, thus creating the Shadow Fold.

The Shadow Fold stretches from the northern to southern borders of Ravka, splitting Ravka into west and east Ravka. An ugly scar on the map, the Shadow Fold is pitch-black and filled with lethal monsters called volcra. When the Fold was first created, a prophecy mentioned the only thing that will destroy the Fold is a Sun Summoner. More detrimental than the war, the Shadow Fold prevents the full might of Ravka from coming together to restore power, peace, and patriotism.

With all of the background information covered, the main character can now come into play. Drafted into the military, Alina Starkov is a cartographer at the beginning of the novel. Along with her life-long best friend Malyen “Mal” Oretsev, they both plan to make a crossing through the Shadow Fold. However, when they enter the Fold and a volcra attacks Mal, Alina lets her true light shine, literally. To save her friend, light explodes out of her, burning away the volcra. Stunned at what just happened, the Etherealki bring the skiff back to east Ravka and take Alina to the Darkling.

Hearing of this impossible light, the Darkling drags Alina to his tent to receive an explanation. A descendant of the Shadow Summoner who created the Shadow Fold, the Darkling commands all Grisha. When the Darkling coaxes the light out of Alina once more, Alina, the Darkling, and Mal realize that they have the prophesized Sun Summoner in their midsts. From this event, the rest of the trilogy kicks into gear, and Alina’s adventure never stops.

Even though this fantasy world seems complex, Bardugo’s ability to simplify and condense information allowed me to fly through these books in a couple of days. This trilogy leaned more towards the easier side of reading, but the plot lacked no excitement or surprises. I would most definitely recommend this book series, along with her other Grishaverse books, Six of Crows duology and King of Scars series. These books provided me with some of my favorite characters to date, and I hope people at least try them out! Happy reading!

(Only if you’ve read the series) Which team are you on, the Darkling, Mal, or Nikolai?

-Katherine L.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is an incredibly interesting and, at times, deeply unsettling novel on just how far humanity will go to suppress what it doesn’t understand.

The book is set in a dystopian future- the United States has become a massively powerful republic, and all news coverage and media are centered around a single event: the “War,” which the Republic is winning. It centers around a seemingly ordinary firefighter named Montag- but in this universe, firefighters do not put out fires. They light them, burning down houses which contain contraband items, usually books.

On one such night, Montag witnesses one woman refuse to leave her house, choosing to burn with her books- and is unsettled. How important must books be if she is willing to die with them? From the smoldering wreckage of the house, Montag takes a single book home with him. On his way home, he meets a teenager named Clarisse, who is out alone, walking in the night. Clarisse expresses the beauty of the night, and how the fallen autumn leaves “smell like cinnamon.” Montag is again deeply uncomfortable- primarily because he himself never thought to look up at the night sky or focus on the smell of fallen leaves. Soon, wracked with guilt about his crime of taking a book, Montag decides he will simply read a few pages to satisfy his curiosity, and then burn the book. But what he finds will change his life forever….

I, personally, have a love-hate relationship with this book. The dialogue is clumsy, the expositions are vague, and the setup and lead-ins for the plot are often simply nonexistent. However, what makes Fahrenheit 451 so memorable is the ideology rather than the imagery. There are indeed some beautifully-written passages where Bradbury fully lives up to the term “author” and beyond- but the idea that the slow eradication of culture and eccentricity is the individual citizen’s fault as much as it is the government’s really rings true in today’s society especially.

-Vaidehi B.

Fahrenheit 451 is available for checkout at Mission Viejo Library. It is can also be downloaded for free on Overdrive.

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

In the vast city of Golvahar resides a princess named Soraya, forced to be hidden away from the public eye. Cursed, she was born with the ability to kill any living being with a mere touch. Her yearning to be a part of her family and society flourishes with the years she stayed concealed in the gardens, watching everyone’s lives from a far distance. But all changes when a demon creature (div) who holds the knowledge to break her curse is captured and being held in the palace dungeon. A beau who perceives her past the poison running through her veins vows to help her but to what extent will she go to get what she desires? And will the choices she makes conform her into the monster she always tried not to become?

This enthralling tale of self-discovery and will power kept me hooked from the very beginning. Melissa Bashardoust takes stories from Persian mythology and makes a fascinating queer fairytale with many elements from Sleeping Beauty. The secrets told in the most unexpected times compels the readers to think deeper into the true meaning of “monster” and what it takes to be a hero. Told in the perspective of Soraya herself, we see the loneliness she had been through firsthand, allowing us to relate to and perhaps find ourselves in her story.

-Saanvi V.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The first time I read The Book Thief was when the book was given to me by a family friend years ago. The second time was for school, to analyze it in English class. The third, and so far last time, was a few weeks ago. Every time I have read it, it has always been very enjoyable.

The novel takes place in Germany during the Second World War, a time of great tragedies and massive casualties for both soldiers on the battlefield and civilians at home. That tone is accentuated by the choice of the author Markus Zusak to have the narrator be the personification of Death himself. Death is not merely cold and unforgiving as society often perceives him. His character is far more solemn and sympathetic to the struggles of the characters.

And who are the characters? Well first there is the main one: Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is adopted by foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. There is also Max Vandenburg, a Jew who hides in the Hubermann household, and several other more minor but no less interesting characters. 

Zusak does an excellent job of developing these characters and making the reader develop an emotional connection with them. Even Rosa Hubermann, who often seems rough and abrasive at the beginning, grows on the reader as the book goes on. That emotional connection makes all of the struggles and tragedies that afflict the characters throughout the book all the more heartbreaking.

Along with the theme of mortality and struggle is the theme of reading. Throughout these hard times, Liesel often finds an escape by reading several books. Liesel uses reading to connect with the ailing Max Vandenburg. The Nazis, being the antagonists of the book, often burn books that question their regime. The theme of reading contrasts sharply with the theme of mortality. Reading offers hope to the main characters while they deal with the trials and tribulations they are faced with.

And how relevant is that theme? The past year has been a struggle for all of us, and we often found reading as an escape from the problems we dealt with. During the beginning of the pandemic, when it felt like society was shutting down, we used reading to give us a glimmer of hope and as an escape from the stress of world events, just as how Liesel uses reading in the book.

Thus, The Book Thief, a book written a decade and a half ago remains relevant to the struggles we face today, and remains one of my favorite books of all time.

-Adam A.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

This book was one of the first books that made reading more interesting for me, as it started off with some background information about how nine children, referred to as Garde, were tasked with saving Earth after their home planet, Lorien, was destroyed from the evil Mogadorians, from the planet Mogadore, that are planning to take over Earth, with mentors known as Cepan tasked with helping the Garde realize their abilities. Each of the nine were separated, however the Mogadorians have already killed three of the Garde. The story takes place in the narrative of Four, who takes on many aliases before the story but settles with the identity of John Smith, and his Cepan Brandon takes on the name Henri.

When I go back and read this book, I love how they always make it clear that John feels like an outcast compared to the rest of the high school kids in Paradise, Ohio, the city and state that he and Henri settle in, as he feels alone in this new school and doubts who he can trust to stay alive. Along with the emphasis of Four being a new student, he also deals with common high school issues that people deal with today, such as a high school bully in Mark James, a crush in Sarah Hart, and a best friend in Sam Goode. Although Four is meant to be a defender of Earth, the author does a very good job in humanizing Four and his struggles to balance his duty of survival and his personal life, relating to many teens in high school today who have to balance school, sports, and personal life.

Also, throughout the story, I found it interesting how John and Henri clash in their different viewpoints of the path moving forward. Although Henri feels endangered after his life was nearly taken while looking for answers on the Mogadorians, John wants to stay in Paradise, as he feels a strong connection and love for Sarah and a closer friendship with Sam, as Sam has little connection with his family. Since Sam finally has a friend in John and treats him like family, it is understandable why John does not to leave and argues with Henri. I found this similar to how kids often have to move schools due to their parents getting new jobs and moving houses and possibly even states, and have to leave friends behind. The tension between John and Henri over this decision is clear, but in the end, Henri supported John’s decision and fought to protect John like a father, even sacrificing his life to save John.

Overall, this book is a good read and worth taking a look into, as everything comes full circle in the story. I believe that high school students in particular would really enjoy this novel, as it highlights struggles to fit into a new school and make new friends, something that really shapes a high school experience. However, what always pushed me into reading this novel over and over again was how John perfectly fit into normal high school life and struggles, despite his difference in origin and powers. This kickstarted my interest in the Lorien Legacies and helped me find more interest in exploring all the possibilities in new books, which I believe will do the same for anyone that reads this book in the future.

-Lawrence B.

I Am Number Four by Patticus Lore is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, 1):  Stewart, Trenton Lee, Ellis, Carson: 9780316003957: Amazon.com: Books

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a classic mystery and adventure book, that I would highly recommend for you to read! The style of this book is similar to Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate events, and comes in a series for you to read! The book’s main characters are four young kids named Reynie, Constance, Sticky, and Kate. The book features only Reynie’s thoughts and insights, which is one downfall of the book. Personally, I would have enjoyed reading the book from all the character’s points of view.

Reynie is an orphan who has always felt out of place at his orphanage. Reynie decides to take a test from a mysterious sign he saw in his town, where he meets the other three kids who also happen to be orphans that passed the test. Shortly after, they meet Mr. Benedict, a strange old man who invites all four kids to help him with a secret mission. If you want to hear more about this thrilling story, you’ll have to pick up your very own copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society!

-Anusha M.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is a great choice for readers who like calm, adventurous stories. This novel is about a spoiled, rude, sour girl named Mary Lennox. Her parents don’t ever pay any attention to her as she spends her childhood being raised by servants and constantly changing tutors. When a cholera outbreak leaves many in her town dead, including her mother and father, she is sent to live with her uncle.

A private, secluded and upset old man, Archibald Craven takes Mary in. Mary no longer has everyone to do her bidding, and she must get used to not being the most important subject to every one. Although Mary tries to find out more about her mysterious uncle, his constant journeys away from the house and the timid servants keep her from discovering much.

I liked this book because not only is Mary trying to discover her real self, but there are always questions the reader wants answers to that come gradually throughout the story. As the story progresses, I enjoyed meeting different characters and seeing them develop during the story, especially Mary and one of her new friends.

The author is able to develop the plot very well so that the book is more enjoyable to read. While reading the book, I was faced with many interesting discoveries. I liked how the book doesn’t reveal too much about something until it actually happens or is discovered by the characters and doesn’t make it too hard to keep track of all the different characters, their actions, and their thoughts.

I would rate this book a 10/10.

-Peri A.

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher CollierJames Lincoln Collier |  Scholastic
This is the cover of the book My Brother Sam is Dead

My Brother Sam is Dead is a historical fiction novel that takes place from 1775 to 1779. This book is all about the Revolutionary War and how it impacted the daily lives of those living in the Colonies. The story revolves around a young boy named Tim Meeker, and his brother Sam. Sam believes in the Patriots and longs for freedom from England, while Tim, being the ripe age of 12, is not quite so sure.

As the story progresses, It becomes painstakingly clear how difficult war makes life for the innocent. With the growing gap between Tim’s father and brother and Tim’s growing curiosity, this gorgeous tale evolves into something deeper than just a book. As the economy falls and hardship after hardship is forced upon the Meeker family, Collier and Collier make it apparent as to how they feel about war.

This story touched me deeply. After I finished, my whole perspective on the war changed, which is what I think the authors wanted. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a short but deep read. It is truly astonishing how much a book can impact us.

– Apoorvi S:)

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.