Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga

my_heart_black_holesMy Heart and Other Black Holes follows the journey of 16-year old Aysel as she plots her own death over the course of several weeks. Aysel is determined to die, she’s more afraid of what will happen if she lives than of the certainty of death, and she only has one thing holding her back. Aysel is worried that she might not have the courage to end her life by herself. She finds her solution on a website called Smooth Passages in the form of a boy name FrozenRobot (also known as Roman). Roman has his own baggage and his own reasons for wanting to die, but they both want the same thing in the end, to end their lives.

Over the course of several weeks the pair spends more and more time plotting their way out. As their plan becomes more concrete, it also starts to become more uncertain if it will reach fruition because Aysel starts to question everything about her future plans. Throughout the course of the book, Aysel and Roman go through a lot of character development that makes them very believable characters and makes for a very good read. The thing that really makes this book stand out though, is that it deals with suicide and depression in a very realistic and raw way; it doesn’t romanticize these feelings, but it doesn’t discount them either. Given that this is a YA novel, I think that this is a very important thing.

The way the plot develops is also nicely done, from the onset of the book we know that Aysel and Roman both want to die, but we don’t full know why, but as the plot moves forward we get bits and pieces until we can see the full story. Neither Roman nor Aysel know the full reason behind the other’s desire to die at the begging so both the read and the characters get this information together and it really draws you into the story. Roman and Aysel’s interactions with their family members is also very well done and interesting to watch develop and change. Roman’s mom and Aysel’s brother were my two favorite family members and I really enjoyed seeing how their actions influenced Roman and Aysel.

As a whole My Heart and Other Black Holes is a very powerful book that has a lot of emotion behind it and dose a wonderful job dealing with suicide and depression. The book ends on a hopeful note and is great read for anyone high school and up.

-Angela J.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

abundance_of_katherinesAn Abundance of Katherines by John Green is phenomenal book that is about a boy who has only dated girls named Katherine. The book starts with a boy named Colin who is introduced to be a child prodigy. He has just had is heart broken by his nineteenth girlfriend named Katherine. Colin is extremely upset, so his friend Hassan convinces him to go on a road trip.

After convincing both of their parents, they go on the road trip. They stop in a town called Gutshot where they are offered summer jobs and a room to live in. The women who offers them these jobs has a daughter named Lindsey. Meanwhile, Colin is set on the fact of finding an equation that will predict the future of any relationship.

Eventually, Colin finds that he is attracted to Lindsey. However, Lindsey already has a boyfriend. Anyone who has read any John Green books in the past would certainly be interested in this book and it is a wonderful book that I would recommend to everyone.

-Melika R., 9th grade

 

Book Review: The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

running_dreamThe Running Dream is a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. It follows the story of a high school girl named Jessica who loses one of her legs in a school bus accident. This would be a tough experience for anyone…but Jessica is on the track team. She doesn’t just love to run – she considers running just as important as breathing! This book takes us through Jessica’s emotions, her mental and physical challenges, and her extraordinary journey to her “new normal” life.

I’m not a runner. In fact, I am more of a creative mind than a physical one. I wasn’t sure I could fully get into this book, but I could, and it was an awakening experience. Not only did it make me eager to experience the feeling of running so adeptly described by the author who is a runner herself, but I learned so much about life and its challenges.

There are just so many life lessons that The Running Dream takes the reader through. It is a worthwhile read for anyone, of any age. Empathy, compassion, and respect shine through as the reader learns that humanity shines through when understanding others.

(This book does not carry any inappropriate content and really is suitable for any age. It also has been awarded the Schneider Family Book Award; “it honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”)

-Danielle L., 7th grade

Book Review: We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

we_were_liars“Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure…We are the Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know.” (3)

With its thought-provoking title and captivatingly blurry cover-photo, I expected We Were Liars to be an interesting read. That being said, the book largely exceeded my expectations.

We Were Liars is told in the first person point of view and bounces back and forth from summers past to present. These snippets of information provide the reader with a detailed history of the Sinclair family; along with a deeper understanding of the protagonist’s character and motives.

This contemporary, realistic YA novel contains stories of criminal activity; childhood adventure; constant action; uniquely limited friendships; forbidden romance; excruciating loss; unconditional love; utmost regret; what it means to belong; and the truth regarding mental inadequacy.

One specific facet of this story that I liked was the humor; strategically placed between solemn moments of the novel, We Were Liars had me laughing out loud in the middle of English class. The comedy utilized is clean, spontaneous, John Greenesque, and (in other words) inexplicably hilarious.

“‘Don’t look at my troll feet,’ says Gat suddenly.

‘What?’

‘They’re hideous. A troll snuck into my room at night, took my normal feet for himself, and left me with his thuggish troll feet.’ Gat tucks his feet under a towel so I can’t see them. ‘Now you know the truth.’

…‘Wear shoes.”

‘I’m not wearing shoes on the beach…I have to act like everything’s okay until I can find that troll. Then I’ll kill him to death and get my normal feet back. Have you got weapons?’

‘No.’

‘Come on.’

‘Um. There’s a fire poker in Windemere.’

‘All right. As soon as we see that troll, we’ll kill him to death with your fire poker.’

‘If you insist.’” (72)

Another aspect of We Were Liars that I came to enjoy was E. Lockhart’s particular style of writing, which is notably similar to Tahereh Mafi, author of the Shatter Me trilogy. Occasionally their prose transforms into free verse and then back again like a flicker of poetry, in a fashion that successfully mimics the subconscious rant-like thought process.

“I plunge down,
to rocky rocky bottom, and
I can see the base of Beechwood Island and
my arms and legs feel numb but my fingers are cold. Slices
of seaweed go past as I fall.
And then I am up again, and breathing.
I’m okay,
my head is okay,
no one needs to cry for me or worry about me.
I am fine,
I am alive.
I swim to shore.” (142)

Liars is truly a roller coaster full of unexpected twists, sharp turns, and gut-wrenching drops; I guarantee that you will be kept on your toes as Cadance strives to recover her past, no matter what that might mean or whom it may affect.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read, particularly fans of John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, Ally Carter, and Libba Bray.

-Danielle K., 9th grade

Book Review: How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr

how_to_save_a_lifeJill MacSweeney, a seventeen-year-old trying to find her place in the world, desperately wishes for her life to go back to normal. But ever since her father passed away, she can’t help but feel angry at the world and isolate herself from everyone who tries to support her—her boyfriend, her best friends, even her own family. And when her mother chooses to adopt a baby, Jill feels as if she’s trying to replace a lost family member. Can she accept her mother’s decision and embrace this sudden change in her life?

Mandy Kalinowski, on the other hand, has experienced firsthand what it feels like to grow up unwanted and be raised by a mother who never actually loved her. So when the nineteen-year-old Mandy becomes pregnant, she vows to provide a better life for her baby and find someone who will love her for who she is. Will Mandy be able to overcome her doubts and fears to find that “perfect” family for her and her unborn child?

Written by Sara Zarr, How to Save a Life is a novel that teaches readers about the meaning of life and love. Jill and Mandy are two distinct characters who both show signs that they are “lost.” In the end, they unexpectedly realize that they need one another in order to “find” themselves again. Since I normally prefer the sci-fi, dystopian, action/adventure genres, this realistic, heartfelt fiction book was not in my usual range of interests at all. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I decided to read this book. However, it turned out to be much more than what I expected. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone over the age of fourteen (due to some explicit language), even if you aren’t a fan of realistic fiction like me!

-Kaylie W., 10th grade

Book Review: Rumble, by Ellen Hopkins

rumbleRumble is the latest novel by Ellen Hopkins, who is personally one of my favorite authors.

Like all of her books, the story is told through a series of free verse poems. The story is told from the first person point of view of Matthew Tuner, a teenage atheist whose life is in shambles in the wake of his younger brother, Luke’s suicide. Rumble‘s main topic is about religion and faith, or lack thereof, but it also covers other issues such as, bullying, suicide and the effects that it has on those left behind, book banning, and issues relating to the LGBT community, and even touches a bit of PTSD.

Like all Ellen Hopkins books, this book comes with a message and to convey it there may be some content that some readers may be uncomfortable with. The recommended age as provided by the publisher is 14 and up (9th grade and beyond); however, I personally think that mature middle schoolers may be able to handle it.

As for the story itself, it follows the life of Matthew Tuner, Matt, in the months after his brother’s suicide. Not all of the information is given at the start, we almost right from the start know that Matt is an atheist, despite dating a girl who is extremely devoted to her faith, and that his younger brother, Luke, was driven to commit suicide due to undying bullying and harassment he faced. The reader is not given the exact reason for the bullying right off, but hints are given. Fairly early into the book the reader is given the reason, and I apologize in advance if anyone views this as a spoiler- Luke was gay.

Throughout the first half of the book, parts of an essay that Matt wrote are included throughout poems; the essay is his feelings about God and why he doesn’t believe there is anything after death. It is clear that he can’t understand how there could be a God (especially because of the view that God is a source of undying love) when his brother was bullied simply for being who he was by Christians, in the name of their God. A large portion of the storyline deals with Matt coping with the loss of his brother and exploring his lack of faith, but there are other parts of his life covered as well.

Other than the fallout of losing Luke, Matt also deals with his relationship with his girlfriend Haydan, his undetermined relationship with his friend Alexa, and his mother and father’s struggling relationship, as well as other issues. The relationship between Matt and Haydan was quite interesting to me. I had never really thought that two people who varied that drastically in their religious views could even have a shot at a relationship, and though I won’t say whether or not they stay together in the end, their relationship certainly made me look at this differently.

What really impressed me about this book was the sheer number of topics that are touched on and the depth with which they’re handled. I thought this would be mainly a novel about religion versus lack of religon and about trying to find forgiveness and a way to move on in the wake of a family tragedy. While it certainly was this, it was so much more as well.

Rumble did a very good job covering topics such as bullying, suicide and the effects that it has on those left behind, book banning, and issues relating to the LGBT community, and even touches a bit of PDST. The story did a very good job conveying Luke’s story– how he faced bullying just for being who he was, and why he felt suicide was the only option. Matt’s feelings about how he could have stopped Luke’s decision, and even how he may have played a part it in, are conveyed very well. Rumble also briefly explores PTSD, and while this was a brief plot point, it was an important one and well done.

What topic that really stood out to me was how the book brought up book banning. In it there was a motion to remove The Perks of Being a Wallflower from the school district. There were a lot of interesting arguments for both sides explored in Rumble, but what really made an impression on me was when Matt expressed the opinion that people needed books like Perks not just to speak for them, but also to speak to them. I feel like Rumble is a book that does both of these beautifully, for people on both sides of the issues covered.

Rumble is a brilliantly written book that was more amazing that I could have ever dreamed of. It did a stunning job of covering a vast array of subject matter, and ultimately conveying a message of forgiveness.

-Angela J.

Book Review: Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes

bronx_masquerade
I never seemed to fit in…
People hate me…
No one understands who I really am…
They all think of me as something else, which is not who I really am…
I wish they could see me as what I am…

     Have you ever felt as though you didn’t belong because people judged you based on what you did and not on your true self? Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Devon, Shelia, Raymond, and fifteen other teenagers have felt it too. That is, until they took a class that changed their lives forever.
Their group of eighteen contains a teen mom, a shy artist, a girl who thinks that changing her name would change her identity, a really good basketball player, a guitarist preacher, a dyslexic, and many other people that are underestimated because of something about them. However, their high school English teacher convinces them to try out “Open Mike Friday,” where the class can go up and share a poem that they wrote. Soon, their stories unfold, first with a story through their view, them a short poem that shows the self beneath them.
One such poem explains the book perfectly, as it is by a jock who loves poetry, and wrote the title as Bronx Masquerade:

“…[T]here’s more to Devon than jump shot and rim… I dare you to peep behind these eyes, discover the poet in tough guy disguise. Don’t call me jump shot. My name is Surprise.” (Page 32)

I liked this book a lot, and felt overwhelmed with awe by the time I got to the end. It was well written, and Grimes had a creative style of presenting the plot, with a short story of one of the eighteen characters, then a poem written by them.
Additionally, the book sets a situation with kids who have some type of modern teenage problem, being anything from being way too pretty, to having a drunk dad who beats their child up. Either way, some kids could find comfort in this book, knowing that they found kids their age who share their feelings of a problem similar to theirs.
If you are a poetry fan or a poet yourself, there are more than eighteen poems in the book, all well written with a deep meaning.
Most importantly, these kids never gave up, even when their problems were at the peak of being the worst. The book teaches us to never give up.
I’d ask you to try it out yourself; you might feel a connection with one of the characters.
-Megan V., 9th grade