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.

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to Be is yet another example of a book this year that fails to disappoint me. After reading Sadie by the same author, once Cracked Up to Be was re-released in a new edition, I jumped on the chance to read it. (Pro tip: you can find the novel on the Barnes and Noble buy one get one 50% off tables!)

Cracked Up to Be tells the story of a once-perfect high school girl Parker Fadley, who has fallen from grace after witnessing a traumatic event, which you learn more about as you continue on throughout the novel. 

Courtney Summers has a way of fully immersing you in her stories, and making you keep your eyes glued to the pages, wondering what will happen next. There is always something revealed or teased during the end of chapters that make you become completely addicted to the book. The fact that the novel is 214 pages long certainly doesn’t help as well, with short and straight to the point chapters that led me to complete the book in three hours filled with  

The story revolves around the characters more than the plot and was something I in fact, really appreciated. Don’t get too excited by the mystery though, because to be quite frank, it was slightly underwhelming as well as the ending. But I am willing to overlook that for the sole point of my love to hate relationship with Parker Fadley.

There is something so captivating about unlikeable characters that completely captivates you. I very strongly disliked the main character Parker, but at the same time I was obsessed to learn what her deal was, and I believe that was exactly the purpose of her character. Needless to say, I frequently caught myself laughing at the crass jokes she makes, but feel a sense of dislike for the snide remarks she makes afterwards. 

This novel isn’t suited to everyone’s tastes, and a better representation of Courtney Summer’s work in my opinion is Sadie (I have also published a review on this book!), but Cracked Up to Be was an undeniable great read for me that I encourage you all to read!

Trigger Warning: the following topics are discussed and portrayed throughout the book such as rape, suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.

-Asli B.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The book starts off as Heidi is being brought to her constantly upset grandfather who has had nothing to do with her (yet) by her aunt Dete. Heidi, an orphan, was raised by her aunt after both of her parents died a long time ago. Heidi soon meets her grandfather, who seems to be very unhappy about this situation. He doesn’t want anything to do with the girl but nevertheless takes her in. 

Heidi is a very active and happy girl. This book is the story of her being raised in the Swiss Alps by her grandfather. ‘Heidi’ follows the main character and protagonist, Heidi. She attends school and plays in the mountains with her new found friend Peter the shepherd and her grandfather’s two goats.

I really enjoyed reading this book because of the amount of details that were put into it, like how something smells or feels. The book is definitely very interesting and I would highly encourage you to read it.

I would recommend you to read this book whether you do or do not enjoy reading classics. The storyline was great, the events that took place were exceptional, and the novel remains exciting throughout the whole story. 

This book remains as one of my favorite novels. It is a good book to read if you like calm yet active storylines and characters. I also liked that Heidi is very kind to everyone she meets, whether she knows them well or not.

I would rate this book 10/10.

-Peri A.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Love by Debbie Tung

Do you like books? How about graphic novels? If you are a bookworm who also enjoys graphic novels, this book is for you! 

This is an outstanding graphic novel. It is about a bookworm’s love for books. 

The main character, Debbie, leads a very interesting lifestyle. Books surround her everywhere and almost always. She sometimes finds herself walking into a book store saying things like, “Just a quick browse”, but then comes out looking like she bought a whole shelf of books. She is a huge bookworm. 

It dives a lot deeper into how some people have a different style than others, like how Debbie loves books, but other people prefer other activities. Here is one of my favorite comic strips from the book:

This story is filled with humor, while at the same time putting together an outstanding graphic novel. The main character loves to relax and unwind with a good book. It reduces her anxiety! Also, at certain times, Debbie must decide between either having something else, like food, or books. Her reactions to these situations are amusing!

Book Love is written and illustrated by Debbie Tung. Debbie Tung has also written Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and also recently published Happily Ever After (and Everything in Between). She is an introvert, similar to the character Debbie from her books. 

I really enjoyed reading this book because I love to read a lot. It made me feel happy and I liked how it is funny and easy to read but at the same time filled with great lessons.

I would recommend you to read this book. This is a perfect book for you to read, since it tells the funny and amazing story of a bookworm.

Also, here are some great reading tips:

Happy Reading! 

-Peri A.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

This is an amazing story. I highly recommend you read it. 

When Suzanne Swanson learns about how her former best friend, Franny Jackson, drowned during the summer, she is immediately convinced that there was something else that caused her death. Her mother’s explanation, “Sometimes things just happen”, Suzy believes, is not the truth. 

Suzy stops talking to everyone. She begins to think that silence is better than talking. It sometimes means more than someone’s words. 

Her search for an answer leads to many interesting facts and a possible suspect: jellyfish. Especially when she finds out so much about them during a school field trip visit to the aquarium. I also loved how this book features lots of amazing facts about jellyfish.

During Suzy’s research, she finds lots of different experts on jellyfish and decides that she should visit one of those experts and ask them to help her prove how her former best friend really died. More fueled than ever, Suzy is determined to help bring the truth into the light.

The book follows Suzy as she tries to find out the whole story and grieves this loss. She is devastated that, as she calls it, ‘The Worst Thing’ took place before she was able to make up with Franny for the terrible scene that unfolded thanks to Suzy.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I hope we can watch the movie soon. 

The Thing About Jellyfish has an amazing story and succeeds in making the reader want to keep reading more and more of the book. Filled with valuable life lessons and a wide range of character personalities, this best-seller is a novel you should read.

-Peri A.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley

With all that has been going on in the world as of late, I thought it would be a perfect time to recommend one of my favorite books.

Similar to The Hate U Give, All American Boys is a captivating story about racial injustice and while it was released quite a while ago, it has always maintained its relevance especially in today’s current social climate

Written by two authors and two different perspectives, All American Boys is about two teenagers, Rashard and Quinn, and how they will stand up for the racism that Rashard faces once he gets falsely accused of stealing in a grocery store and the many injustices he faces afterward. 

From the beginning, this book had something that as different from other fictional books I’ve read about racial injustice and one of which is dual perspectives. I absolutely adored the different points of view and the fact they were each written by different authors made them all the more enjoyable. With the dual perspectives, it gave the book a deeper meaning and showed how one part of the community could stay silent about the issues of injustice (Quinn’s) and how another community rallied for it. 

One of the main themes of this book is loyalty. From the catalyst event moving onwards Quinn deals with the fact that maybe his loyalty lies in the wrong people. For example, his best friends brother was the police officer that cruelly manhandled Rashard and escalated the situation that shouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place. Throughout the book Quinn is trying to hold onto the trust and security not only with his best friend but his brother, who he also has a close bond with. 

This story is so captivating and powerful that I finished it in one sitting. From start to finish I was hooked, and I can almost guarantee that you would as well. 

Though Rashard’s story though fictional is very much a reality for what a lot of people of color face. But in most cases, the victim doesn’t get justice. This book shows the privilege some people live in for their lives to continue as though nothing has happened. It also serves as a reminder that when something isn’t right to speak up about it. Advocate and speak out about stories of people like Rashard who can’t do it for themselves because “Rashard couldn’t come to school today.” 

In terms of reality, Rashard’s story would only be the tip of the iceberg. Racial inequality is still very much alive and is being brought up not only in fiction but in daily life. So stay aware and advocate!

-Asli B.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.