Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Have you ever felt like one of your friends had another side? Have you ever had a friend who you thought was a good student, kind, caring, and honest, but they shocked you out of your shoes by their behavior? If you answered yes to one or both of those questions, you will definitely find Bryan’s story relatable. Bryan was always told by his mother, “Focus on school. There will be friends later. The wrong friends bring drama, and I don’t want them rubbing off on you.” Then, one day, a kid named Mike showed up at Bryan and his family’s home, and everyone in his family was very fond of Mike.

That annoyed Bryan, until one day, Mike came for dinner and Bryan and Mike became really close after reading their superhero comics together. His mother and father loved Mike because of his good grades and they felt that he would be a good friend for Bryan. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Mike would do crazy things like cutting school by faking his mom’s handwriting and excusing himself from school and Bryan started to notice that Mike was jealous of him under the fake smiles that masked Mike’s face. Bryan felt pressured by Mike because he was afraid that Mike would call him soft or a mommy’s boy. Mike kept on getting Bryan in trouble, and Bryan learned that Mike was not the best friend choice for him. He started to become friends with people closer to his personality like Big Will. 

This book was so interesting and exciting that I couldn’t put it down and I finished it in one day. As I turned the pages, I was curious to see what would come next. As each minute ticked by, I fell more and more into this book. It really fed my passion for reading!  I think this book really shows that you should be careful with the people you become friends with because they can be very good, nice friends, but they can also get you in trouble like Mike did to Bryan in this novel. 

I really recommend this book to anyone who needs a good book to read because this novel will not disappoint. I rate this book a 10 out of 10 and this is definitely one of my favorite books that I have read recently.

-Mert A.

Tight by Torrey Maldonado is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

Most of us, hopefully, have never undergone a near-death experience. Or perhaps we have, but we didn’t see God. Wait, what?

Yeah, God. Don’t worry, though, it gets better! Because God, who apparently sounds sort of like Morgan Freeman, has a plan for you. A List–sort of like the grocery kind–that reveals five objectives you should complete to…well, make high school suck less, I guess. Confused yet?

Cliff Hubbard, loser extraordinaire, known by the student body as Neanderthal due to his enormous size (6’6″ and over 250 pounds), is thrown into an unusual alliance with incredibly popular quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman, after Aaron claims to have seen God and received His message while in a coma.

Cliff, whose axis is still spinning off center due to his brother’s suicide, is reluctant to join lame, uber-star Aaron on his quest to bring enlightenment to Happy Valley High School. Against his better judgment, Cliff does, which spirals into a Sermon Showdown against the Jesus Teens, countless trips to the principal’s office, raging teachers and lawn mowers, and an unforgettable school year–all driven by the divine nature of a possibly insane List.

First things first: this book’s humor is on point! To the mild alarm of my mother, I would burst out laughing at particularly well-timed paragraphs. Now, when it’s a forced sort of funny because the author obviously tried too hard, it verges on the edge of annoying. Norton, though, is clearly the master of the funnies; humor rolls off his writing effortlessly, slipped into the seams of dialogue, stitched imperceptibly in Neanderthal’s hilarious narration. What I’m trying to say here, ladies and gentlemen, is that this dude has talent!

Second: I absolutely love the friendship evolution between Aaron and Cliff. Norton builds up their relationship so meticulously, at the perfect pace, so that by the end of the book undeniably there exists an adorable bromance between the two. Aaron and Cliff are so incredibly relatable, each with their struggles and hardships, that they gradually reveal to each other. In subtle ways, they are able to remind us of what friendship truly means.

Even after I closed the book, I was thankful to be reminded by Norton of the gratitude we must hold for our friendships. Amidst all of the confusion and hatred in the world now, sometimes all you need is that one friend that makes you laugh until you cry, and will cry with you; the friend that will never question eating ungodly amounts of bacon with you for breakfast; the friend who you know will never judge you, no matter what you tell them; the friend that makes you feel, even if only for a fraction of a second, infinitesimally times better when you hold their gaze steadfast; the friend that you thank the universe brought you together, because you cannot possibly imagine living without them.

At first, I thought the book was going to be highly religious or somewhat “preachy” about life lessons, if you know what I mean: “Time heals all wounds! Hope is our saving grace!” I was wrong. Universal messages are presented beautifully throughout the plot, and I was impressed by the wide range of present societal issues that are presented throughout the story, such as homophobia, bullying, substance abuse. I loved how the story prompted me to become philosophical with it–did God really come to Aaron? Or was it the workings of his subconscious mind during his coma, stirring up the depths of his morality as he truly grasped the incompetency of his high school?

But what I truly enjoyed about this story is how touching it can be to the reader on a personal level. These characters are quintessential models of our suffering, loss, grief, and hidden struggles that we may not wish to reveal to the world.

To be honest, this YA fiction reminded me strongly of the novel Darius the Great is Not Okay. Both present messages about hope, of putting one foot in front of another, even when sometimes you feel as if you’re trying to tread through wet cement. Sometimes there’s this wide, yawning chasm of despair inside of us that cannot be filled, until we are drawn into the golden light of friendship and purpose–though probably not all of our callings are to save the future of our high schools.

But hey, do we have to sit around patiently and wait for our callings? God or no, is there any reason why we shouldn’t be the voices of change? This book reminds us that change starts with us, even if we might only be sleep-deprived teenagers in this big, confusing world. Though we may feel uncomfortable in our own skins, no matter how irreparable or insignificant we seem, we have graced this earth for a purpose…a purpose that may leave an imprint on the world bigger than Neanderthal’s size 14 shoes.

-Katharine L.

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is the author of many fictional books for children.  Most of his books were illustrated by Quentin Blake.  I have always enjoyed these books as well as the illustrations.  Dahl uses very inventive language, including interesting words such as “gnazzle,” “knid” and “snozzcumber.”  His books are very funny and full of entertaining nonsense.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about a boy named Charlie who lives in a small home with his poor family.  Willy Wonka, the owner of a famous chocolate factory, announces that five lucky children will be invited to tour his factory.  The children would be selected by finding one of five golden tickets hidden inside the wrappers of chocolate bars.  By sheer luck, Charlie receives one of the five golden tickets.  As the story unfolds, we discover the wild and zany rooms in Willy Wonka’s factory, and finally we learn the real reason why Mr. Wonka invited the children to his factory.

The BFG tells of a little girl named Sophie who lives in an orphanage.  Sophie is captured by a twenty-four-feet-tall giant, who takes her to a cave in a faraway land called “Giant Country.”  There she learns that the giant’s name is the “Big Friendly Giant,” or the “BFG,” for short.  The BFG is actually the runt of nine other giants, who are about fifty feet tall and are very wicked, unlike the BFG.  The other nine giants like to gallop off to different countries to gobble up about two to six people at a time.  Sophie and the BFG come up with a plan to put a stop to the other giants’ evil deeds.

In Matilda, a girl named Matilda learns how to read at a very young age, but her parents mistreat her and hardly even notice her talents.  When she starts school, Matilda encounters the giant, nasty headmistress named Miss Trunchbull.  The headmistress terrorizes the entire school until Matilda discovers special powers within herself.  This is my favorite of Roald Dahl’s books because of the charming characters and wonderful story.

Most of Roald Dahl’s books are about ordinary children who discover extraordinary things.  Dahl usually includes fantastical characters, such as man-sized insects and little people known as “Oompa Loompas.”  It is for good reason that his books are very popular and are considered classics for young readers.  I highly recommend these books to people of all ages.

-Oliver H.

The works of Roald Dahl are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

The recent representation of Asian-Americans in film and literature has been thundering the media. From the more obvious success of Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat to the smaller-rooted Netflix film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (and it’s soon-to-be sequel), the portrayal of Asian families has skyrocketed, building new stepping stones in which the small society of its own is rendered in society as a whole.

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s second novel, Picture Us in the Light, is a beautifully crafted story revolving around the Asian-American cultural hub in San Francisco. Picture Us in the Light follows eighteen-year-old Danny Cheng, as he struggles with his pursuit of artistic inspiration (post-college acceptance to an art and design school) and finding footholds in his graying, mysterious family life. Accompanied by long-time friends Harry and Regina, Danny unearths his family’s deep past piece by piece and discovering small realizations about himself and the relationships he has with those he loves most in his life.

As Danny jockeys with the slow, difficult reveal of his parents’ secrets and tries to find some balance over what he does and doesn’t know about his own identity, the audience is presented with the intense and haunting realities of global immigration. Every turn of the page brought a new feeling of suspense — each time we were given new information, the plot became more and more complex, heading a dozen different ways at once.

Being Asian-American myself, I found the story delightfully relatable in a small-scale way that it was powdered with concise “Asian insider” instances that I could relate to — the abundance of food, the hefty trips to Costco and Ranch 99, the intensive preparation for big exams.

The featured family in the novel, the Chengs, center the majority of their conflicts and victories over meals, which is extremely relatable to me in the way that family bonds over food. Just this seemingly insignificant instance opens up huge discussion for literary meaning (communion occurs over cuisine, perhaps?), but also exhibits how striking and intimately real the characters and situations Gilbert creates are.

Picture Us in the Light, published just over a year ago, is one of YA’s most down-to-earth and honest storylines thus far. Gilbert brings together shattering occurrences with the small moments of merriment, joining together two of our center emotions into a heart wrenching and, slowly, heartwarming book.

     So, as we are, picture us enchanted by Gilbert’s authentic and profound capability for storytelling.

—Keira D.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert 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.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your family left behind everything you knew and moved to a remote African village? Probably not, but that is the scenario that the Price family faces as they embark on their missionary trip to the Congo in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. There are five members of the price family. Nathan Price is a firm willed Baptist pastor, determined to right the “evils” of Africa. Orleanna is Nathan’s wife, and is lost in the identity of her husband. Their daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May each react to their new home in different ways- and to the tragedy which soon befalls them. The family gets more than they bargained for when their Baptist evangelist mission is swept up in the Congolese revolution, and the government- and their world- falls apart around them.

The Poisonwood Bible deals with a topic that is all too often glanced over in modern society: the effect of European colonialism. The Congo that the Price family visits is broken politically and economically. Additionally, it explores the idea of gender through Orleanna, who has lost her own identity and lives for her husband instead. The idea of voice is also thoroughly explored by Kingsolver, who rotates the book’s narration chapter by chapter. Sometimes the story is narrated by materialistic Rachel, other times by dedicated Leah, sometimes by five year-old Ruth May. The only member of the Price family who does not narrate is the father, Nathan Price, whose character can be vividly constructed through the insight of all of the Price women. Because such a diverse cast is narrating the story, not only is the book engaging, the reader is able to see every facet of the trials of the Prices in Africa- and see how each character reacts to a tragedy which befalls them, whether that be through denial or guilt.

This book is so valuable, and reading it is an experience in itself. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good read that is steeped in nuance and artfully written, in which political and religious references abound.

-Mirabella S.

The Posionwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Film Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

This amazing rom-com movie was released through Netflix on August 17, 2018. Normally, the thought of a romantic movie makes me cringe, but when I first saw the trailer for the movie, I was immediately hooked.

This movie is based on the book series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before written by Jenny Han. I personally have not read the books (but planning to read them later). This story has everything from romance, to comedy, to the important lessons every teenager should know not only life but love as well.

The movie is about a girl named Lara Jean Covey. She is half-American and half-Korean. Her mother passed away when she was young, so her father raises her and two other sisters (one older, one younger) by himself. Basically, the main plot of the story is that Lara Jean has these five letters. She writes them when she has a crush, “..so intense, [she] doesn’t know what else to do..” One day she finds that all the letters have been sent out… all FIVE of them!! The recipients of the letters are Peter Kavinsky, played by Noah Centineo (a dreamboat may I add), who is the hottest boy in school, John Ambrose from Model UN, Lucas from homecoming, Kenny from camp, and Josh, the boy next door (who is her older sister’s boyfriend).

The rest of the movie is just about how she handles the whole situation, and the lessons she learns along the way. I totally recommend this movie. It is an amazing movie with an Asian lead– which you don’t see very often.

Jenny Han’s novel, To All the Boys I Loved Before, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergent_cover

This is probably one of the most well-read books among teenagers. Personally, I’ve read the series multiple times not just because of its intriguing plot, but because of its interwoven themes that resonate with me every time I read it.

Divergent is a science-fiction novel centered around dystopian Chicago and its society, divided into five factions based on attributes of honesty, selflessness, bravery, peacefulness, and intelligence. The story takes a turn when Beatrice Prior, 16, makes a life-changing decision to live in a different faction. The catch is she must completely abandon her family and strive to fit in a world she is extremely unaccustomed to.

My favorite character is the protagonist, Tris. She is extremely intelligent, brave, and selfless, which is why she is called Divergent. In her society, being compatible for more than one faction is rare, but also dangerous. Tris proves to be exactly that because of her will to see things for what they are and make her own decisions. It was rewarding to watch her develop from a shy, quiet girl into a strong fighter that became a leader.

What made this book great was how realistic it seemed. It was eye-opening to read about a society that is so different from my own, yet not so far-fetched. It makes the reader wonder what it would be like to be a character in the book. And for me, that’s what made this book so good. I definitely recommend reading this book if you haven’t already.

-Meagan A.

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica is the inspiring story of true friendship. Nate Brodie is a massive Tom Brady fan. Because of that and his arm he is often called Brady. He plays quarterback for his school football team in Massachusetts. Nate starts feeling a lot of pressure when his dad loses his job twice, his mother has to start working two jobs, and one of his closest friends named Abby McCall starts going blind. This pressure affects Nate on and off the field, but Nate soon realizes that his pressure is very little compared to others. Abby then learns that she may have to go to a special school for the blind, and this harms Abby and Nate’s friendship even more. Nate hears about a throwing contest held by the Patriots, Nate’s favorite team. Nate decides to go to the event and see if he could win. The night of the contest comes quickly, and before Nate knows it it’s time to leave for it. At the contest, Nate meets his role model Tom Brady and wins the throwing contest. The prize is one million dollars which Nate offers to Abby for a surgery that could fix her eyesight.

-Emilio V.

Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Ethan Hawley is very satisfied with his life as a market clergy. He has a happy family but they are also unhappy with the amount of money that he earns. For me though, I think the best part of a family is not the amount of money that they have, but everyone loves each other.

Mr. Banker is a nice person but he sometimes can be a little snobbish and selfish. Although I would be ecstatic to have him as a friend because he is always there for you. I don’t know how a little girl like Ella Hawley can be so mature, but she acts like a grown-up woman to her dad Ethan Hawley.

The saddest part for me was when Marullo, Ethan’s boss got deported because he was an illegal immigrant. I really want to give him a pat on the shoulder because he is a very nice and kind person, it’s just that he doesn’t reveal his geniality very easily. It’s a winter when everybody has their own dissatisfaction, but at the end, a lesson can be learned: we should be glad about our life as always.

-April L.

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library