The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi

Told in third person from the perspectives of Izar, the adoptive son of a wealthy and avaricious owner of the oil company Ocean Dominion; and Coralline, a gentle mermaid who is an assistant at an apothecary, The Oyster Thief is a world of juxtapositions, of mermaids and men, water and fire.

When he is young, Izar’s adoptive father tasks him to invent underwater fire so that Ocean Dominion can scour the ocean floor for treasure while destroying the settlements of merpeople in the process. As is evident from this plan, the people at Ocean Dominion regard merpeople as lesser than humans–even monstrous. In contrast to Izar, Coralline is an apothecary whose goal is to heal and care for other merpeople.

Sonia Faruqi switches between the two characters to show how their lives run both parallel to and in contradiction with each other until their storylines meld together into one. The Oyster Thief touches on the concepts of true love and why people are not always how they seem. Coralline with her healing and Izar with his destruction seem natural enemies, yet they grow steadily closer to each other as the story progresses. I liked how Izar and Coralline’s actions are contrasted with each other by how differently each reacts in a similar situation.

The underwater world Sonia Faruqi builds is very well thought out; the merpeople’s food, customs, currency, and so forth are all considered, which makes the story more realistic. I thought the story was well-researched: for instance, species of algae and sea creatures, the physics of the underwater world, and scientific explanations for anomalies that occur (such as underwater fire) are specified. The incredibly logical explanations of the world help make the novel believable and sophisticated.

I did think that sometimes too much time was spent explicitly contemplating ironies or thematic concepts in the story that usually are interpreted by the reader, and many words are also spent giving a specific reason for a character’s actions. However, the novel’s concept is quite intriguing, and the many contrasts in the novel do lend themselves to a lot of irony that might require explanation.

I particularly enjoyed the characterization of the muses Pavonis, Altair, and Nacre (a muse is basically a merperson’s chosen companion, such as Coralline’s shark friend, Pavonis), as they are very developed and lovable characters.

In The Oyster Thief, Sonia Faruqi exemplifies how even the most contradictory matches–Izar and Coralline, poison and medicine, fire and water–can combine to form something healing and possibly incredible.

– Mia T.

The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman is about Stella Walker, a junior in high school. She is like most other teenage girls, but her whole life is shaken up once her older brother, Rob, returns from serving as a Marine. Her brother is suffering from PTSD, and a lack of resources from the VA means the family has to wait for counseling. Unfortunately, Rob gets agitated and punches a boy in the face at the mall after the boy was harassing a worker by saying “go back to your country.” In the politicized climate of the town mayor running from election, many say that Rob is a terrorist sympathizer. This extreme dialogue affects her best friend and family, who is Muslim.

Dealing with the turmoil of all this by running for class president, Stella must tell the right side of the story and be able to diffuse the tension. Anything But Okay is a powerful novel for teenagers to read because of the topics explored are a reflection of the ones in our community today. By telling the story in the point of view of Stella, the novel gives young adults someone  they can relate to and learn from.

This novel was different because of how relatable it is to society today. It gives a hypothetical, but startling, scenario, where lies fueled by speculation can spread like wildfire and do almost as much damage as one. I would recommend this book not only to teenagers, but adults as well to understand a fresh perspective about the political turmoil in the news.

-Anmol K.

Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Dragon Bones by Lisa McMann

The last book I finished before my winter break was Dragon Bones, part of the The Unwanteds Quest Series written by Lisa McMann. The story follows two young twins, Thisbe and Fifer. Thisbe has been captured by the evil Reviner and must be rescued. The story follows both girls, switching perspectives and showing the reader the struggles of both girls.

The climax of the story is when Fifer gathers a group of her friends, who try to find and rescue Thisbe. Everything is going as planned until the gang encounters the Reviner. Alex, Fifer’s brother and lead wizard, starts to fight the Reviner but is quickly overrun. Eventually, Alex is killed and because he is the lead wizard, once he is gone, all of the magic the group used no longer works. Without their magic, Fifer’s group loses all their fighting ability. They quickly lose their confidence and are forced to retreat, leaving Thisbe behind. Little do they know, Thisbe and a friend of hers that she met while captive, had already escaped and are trying to survive until help arrives.

Overall, I thought this book was very well written. I like how the author switched perspectives between the two twins, so you could see what was going on in each of their lives. The ending was cliche and expected, but that was the only problem I had with the book. I would rate this book a strong eight out of ten and would recommend the story to middle schoolers.

-Daniel C.

Dragon Bones and the rest of the Unwateds Quests series is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a story of the discovery of Narnia. Narnia is a fictitious land with castles and fauns. During World War II, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and Lucy move to live in the country with Professor Kirke. On a rainy day, while exploring the big house, Lucy finds a big wardrobe. Lucy steps into the wardrobe, and into Narnia. Narnia is a big snowy forest with several mythical creatures. Lucy encounters one of those creatures right away. Just as she steps into Narnia she sees a faun. A faun is a half human half goat.

The faun’s name is Faun Tumnus and invites Lucy to tea and Lucy accepts. While having their tea, the faun explains that Narnia has been enchanted by the White Witch so that it is always winter. Lucy then leaves Narnia to tell her siblings, but none of them believe her and continually tease her. Then one day Edmund sees Lucy go into Narnia and decides to follow her. When he gets into Narnia he doesn’t see Lucy anywhere, but instead meets the White Witch. The Witch tells Edmund that she is the Queen of Narnia. The Witch then proceeds to get Edmund on her side by feeding him Turkish Delight. The Witch also convinces Edmund to bring back the rest of his siblings. While heading back to the wardrobe, Edmund runs into Lucy. Lucy tells Edmund of the White Witch, but Edmund denies knowing anything of her. Even after this Edmund claims that Narnia is a silly lie. One day, while hiding in the wardrobe from housekeeping, all four children find themselves in Narnia. Faun Tumnus has been captured for treason, so the children must get help to defeat the White Witch from a lion named Aslan. They find Aslan and defeat the White Witch. The four children then become the rulers of Narnia for many years.

-Emilio V.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Image result for and the mountains echoed

If  A Thousand Splendid Suns shows how the situation of Afghanistan affects women and Kite Runner shows how the situation of Afghanistan affects children, then the more recent book by Khaled Hosseini shows how the situation of Afghanistan affects families. The story moves from a boy who gets separated from his sister and moves from person to person as the story of the boy and his sister continues until the sister is able to meet him again around fifty or sixty years later. However, the stories do not  focus on just this narrative, but also others that show how life affects ourselves- a man who meets another man in love with him, the daughter who does not realize how “good” her life is, a man who meets and becomes friends with a girl whose life was ruined. As we travel from not only Afghanistan and the United States, but also Paris and Greece, we see how lives around the world affect each other.

I usually love novels by Khaled Hosseini; after all, I really did love A Thousand Splendid Suns. However, I will admit that this was not his best novel. Does this mean that it was a terrible novel? No way! Jumping narratives may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it wasn’t for the fact that the characters knew each other, most of the chapters seem like stand alone ones. However, I do not like the fact that most of the chapters are stand alone, as some of them do not seem to have any kind of resolution. However, they do teach very important lessons that anyone can learn, such as being considerate of others, as everyone has a story.

Despite not being as good – in my opinion- as his other two novels, I would definitely recommend reading this book.

-Megan V

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is available at the Mission Viejo Library.