We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

We All Looked Up is probably one of the books that I’ve read the most during quarantine. “we all looked up” tells the story of the entire world having two months- two months to live, two months until the asteroid would inevitably collide with Earth. We All Looked Up follows four main people, Peter, Eliza, Andy, and Anita. Peter, the stereotyped jock, wants to become a better person and make an impact. Eliza, the typical shunned rebel, finds companionship in others, one being Andy, a person who’s only passion seems to be music. Finally, Anita, who’s parents put immense pressure on her to be the best, finds peace in singing.

I enjoyed We All Looked Up because it felt real and not sugar coated. We All Looked Up covered many topics, such as suicide, but also didn’t have to have a miracle ending to be a good and entertaining read. We All Looked Up feels raw, capturing the emotions that are experienced during intermediate/high school, the fear of growing up, the drama that can happen, and the fear of the unknown. I highly recommend We All Looked Up to those who enjoy realistic fiction and young adult novels.

-Kelsie W.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Reviewing Advanced Placement Classes

As the we approach Spring Break, the long awaited and very much dreaded AP season has begun. It’s time to bring out the Princeton and Barron’s review books and cram the last eight months of knowledge into our brains. As a high school junior, those feelings of stress, panic, and anxiety that accompany the months of April and May have become very familiar. I have taken a total of eight Advanced Placement classes, four of which I am currently taking. As the school year comes to a close and incoming students are deciding on their course selections for the following schools year, I would like to review some of the Advanced Placement classes that I have taken in hopes of aiding some of you in your decisions.

Human Geography

This class was by far the most eye-opening and useful AP class that I have ever taken. I took this class my freshman year, as most students do. This course is the foundation for all AP history courses. So, if you’re thinking about taking European, United States, or World history, I would highly recommend taking Human Geography. The books used for European, U.S, and World History assume that the reader has taken Human Geography or has knowledge of the terms and concepts that are central to the course. All in all, this class was super interesting and was fairly easy. The AP exam is one of the easiest that College Board offers since it is mostly taken by freshman. If you are an incoming freshman and want to try out AP classes, I would highly recommend taking Human Geography.

European History

European History has been my favorite history class so far. Not only is the history of Europe itself extremely fascinating, but I had an excellent teacher. Unlike U.S. history, the time periods and units in the European History are easily distinguishable and easy to remember. The course covers a variety of areas, including a study of European art and literature. Because the course has a strong emphasis on European art, I would highly recommend taking Europe History in the same year as Art History. The two go hand in hand and expand on the curriculum taught in each course. Because of he Documents Based Question, Long Essay Question, and Short Answer Questions, European History is definitely a huge step up from Human Geography. I enjoyed the challenge that it presented; however; if you’re not a fan of writing and reading, I would not recommend this class. Due to the pandemic, I did not take the European History exam as normal. Instead, we were given a single DBQ, which was fairly. Overall, I would recommend this class if you like to read, write, and are excited about history.

Art History

Art History was a very interesting class. My teacher formatted the class very differently from most art history teachers; however, his method was much more engaging and fun. To be completely blunt, I am not artistically inclined and have never been. I’m sure others love to appreciate art for its beauty and meaning, but I found the material somewhat boring at times. I felt that this class was somewhat useless for me. On the bright side, I can now identify works of art when I am out in public and can tell you the school of art, artist, and the materials that the artist used. I would recommend this class to anyone looking to boost their GPA or to those that need to fulfill their VAPA requirement but are artistically challenged. It is a fairly easy class that mostly requires memorization.

Chemistry

AP Chemistry is by far the hardest class I have ever taken. Up until this class, there had never been a class that I truly thought was impossible at times. Although it may seem impossible, AP Chemistry is totally doable with great deal of studying and hard work. I would recommend this class to those that are more mathematically and logically gifted. If you performed well in Honors Chemistry and are looking for a challenge, I would definietly recommend this class; however, do be warned that Chapter 17 is horrible.

Spanish Literature and Culture (Spanish 5)

Unlike Spanish 4, this class is primarily reading and writing. Basically, every week, we are assigned a new story, discuss the story, respond to questions, and write and essay on the story, all in Spanish. I would recommend this class to you if you have very strong skills in Spanish, specifically in writing and reading. As the year progresses, the stories become increasingly more challenging and complex in language and meaning. Even as a Spanish speaker, sometimes these stories seem a bit difficult to comprehend. However, if you dedicate time to understand these stories, you can definitely do well in this class.

All in all, I have had a great experience with with Advanced Placement classes and would recommend them to anyone looking to challenge themselves. They are a great way to learn, obtain college credit, boost your GPA, and look great on transcripts for college applications in the future.

-Yvette C.

Film Review: Moxie

Netflix’s new teen movie Moxie largely fails in its potential and is decent overall, but still has something important to offer. Directed by Amy Poehler and based on a book of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie is a high school movie whose aim is to discuss feminist topics.

The movie follows shy 16 year-old Vivian (Hadley Robinson) who begins anonymously making zines calling out the sexism in her school after meeting the valiant new girl Lucy Hernandez (Alycia Pascual) who won’t back down to sexism so easily. Later on, the two girls along with some friends made along the way form a group called Moxie, which actively challenges the problems the group faces.  

Throughout the movie, Vivian encounters many challenges. From dress codes to more serious offenses, the movie aims to discuss a wide-range of topics in feminism but fails to do so in an effective way. Because it’s so ambitious and eager to take on all of these topics within a 2-hour time frame, the movie can’t explore them in ground-breaking depth, creating a touch-and-go effect. 

The overwhelming amount of content here also detracts from the development of the characters as well, leading most of them to appear underbaked. Several times during the movie, there seems to be an attempt to explore these characters in more depth, but there’s never any further discussion later on. The marginalized identities of some of these characters seem to suffer from the same problem as they get caught up in the fray of inclusivity and are hardly ever discussed despite being involved in the Moxie group. 

But even though Moxie is rough around the edges, when I first watched Moxie, I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting yet another poorly written Netflix high school movie with the same overdone cliches, and even though Moxie is a lot of those things, I was happy to see a teen movie eager to spread a powerful and important message rather than a televised Wattpad fanfic.

While the movie’s received a lot of criticism online, most of which I’d agree with, I still think it’s important to acknowledge that its existence is a good thing. Not many movies are willing to even attempt discussing these topics or providing the amount of representation this movie did. So to that I give it props as a good next step for future movies that want to delve in these topics too. 

The one good thing about the movie is that it’s different. It tries to discuss something important which is always something worth thinking about. So for those of you at least interested in the movie, I’d still encourage watching it and forming your own opinion of the movie and how it handles these topics. 

-Elia T.

Be More Chill By Ned Vizzini

Are you a teenager who feels like they don’t fit in, or like you aren’t cool enough to date your teenage crush?  Do you run with the geeky crowd but pine away wanting to be a part of the popular crowd?  Do you need to be more chill? If so, this is the perfect book for you.  Be More Chill was published June 1, 2004 by American author Ned Vizzini.  It is a modern take on the perils of what can happen when you are not true to your authentic self.  Be more Chill is a hilarious yet mature read with adult themes that is not appropriate for all teens.  However, Vizzini’s message is attention-grabbing, so much so that Be More Chill was adapted as a musical with original music and lyrics by Joe Iconis.  Be More Chill, the musical, premiered off Broadway in 2015, followed by a Broadway run in 2018.  Unfortunately, plans for London and Chicago productions have subsequently either been cut short or cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  

Be More Chill (Broadway Tie-In) by Ned Vizzini, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Ned Vizzini’s novel, Be More Chill, is a story about a highschool boy named Jeremy Heere.  Jeremy is an outsider and a loser amongst his popular classmates.  He is bullied and picked on by his peers and has only one true friend to console him, Michael Mell.  Michael is also part of the loser crew but unlike Jeremy he is happy, content, and comfortable with himself.  Jeremy dreams of dating his crush Christine Canegula, but unfortunately cannot work up the nerve to approach her.  Jeremy obsessively looks for a way to get Christine’s attention without making a fool of himself.  Despite his notion that signing up for the school play is a “sign-up sheet for getting called gay,” he decides to go for it as a ploy to get Christine’s attention.  He quickly learns that Christine’s focus is on the school play and not on Jeremy.  Hurt and defeated, Jeremy is vulnerable to taking advice from his worst enemy and tormenter, Rich Goranski.  Rich gives Jeremy a “get cool quick” scheme.  Rich tells Jeremy about a top secret experimental pill created by Sony called a SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor).  Rich explains that the pill size supercomputer can teach you how to be cool and convinces Jeremy that, if he swallows the SQUIP pill, he will no longer be a loser.  Jeremy gets his hands on a SQUIP and mayhem ensues.   Jeremy finds himself the popular center of attention.  He attends all the cool parties and finds himself making out with all the hot girls.  At first Jeremy loves reaping the benefits of the SQUIP, but soon he learns that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Bad behavior has lasting consequences.  At risk of losing his best friend and losing  any chance of connecting with the girl of his dreams, Jeremy has to make tough decisions and repair the damage that his SQUIP intoxication creates.   

Amazon.com: Be More Chill (9780786809967): Vizzini, Ned: Books

Be More Chill is a satire of the teenage high school experience as told from the perspective of an overly awkward, dorky, and anxiety-prone Jeremy.  It is mostly hilarious because Jeremy’s character is over exaggerated to the point of being almost ridiculous.  In some ways the story is sad because Jeremy is so paralyzed by his lack of self esteem that he can’t approach the girl he loves and is willing to trade his best friend for being cool.  He seems pathetic.  The concept of a pill sized super-computer as the “drug of choice” for transformation is interesting especially as it reveals to Jeremy that we do not win when we are not true to ourselves.  I feel like this is a lesson we all know and have read and re-read from a variety of perspectives. Ned Vizzini couches his version of the lesson in mature themes including drugs, sex, and violence that are at times shocking and disturbing.  That someone thought to turn this into a musical seems equally as shocking but also brilliant.  Unfortunately, the novel’s end is abrupt and a disappointment, as there is no real redemption for Jeremy.  The reader is left feeling that Jeremy has really learned very little and is still, unfortunately, a loser. 

-Johnson D.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini is available as a free download through Overdrive.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Being able to fit in if you have branded clothes or that new car is a misconception. There are many tropes that even people who claim not to judge fall into. Juniors capture the truth behind most teenagers’ lives. It’s not as exciting and daring as most movies portray where you have the classic high school hierarchy. No QueenB, strapping jock, and that nerdy dork who nobody is friends with.

The protagonist, Lea, is a 17-year-old girl who struggles with a new move and all the feelings that come with it. Her situation is unique because she feels that her family is a charity case for others to pick at and use to feel better about themselves. Even her close friend Whitney says that there is a constant judgment on her even though she’s extremely rich.

While this isn’t a dark depressing read, it hit closer to home more than I thought it would. It was refreshing to read something more relatable where not everything works out. Lea doesn’t get the boy, there are fights with friends and family drama (On a more realistic level). An oddly satisfying end didn’t feel like a tear-jerker or a heart-wrenching cliffhanger. I recommend this for a quick easy read that’ll make you feel more insightful at the end.

-Coralie D.

Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

One of Us is Lying is about four high school seniors, who are all quite stereotypical people in a high school, the jock, Cooper Clay, the prom queen, Addy Prentiss,  the “nerd”, Bronwyn Rojas, and the delinquent, Nate Macauley. However, when the four of them meet in an unfair detention, along with Simon Kelleher, the self-proclaimed “omniscient narrator” and person in charge of the gossip app named “About That”, which talks about the school’s gossip, although only using initials. 

However, the detention quickly turns into a crime scene when Simon dies due to a peanut allergy, with all the epi-pens in the nurse’s office mysteriously gone. All four of them are later questioned, when the police find that Simon had drunk a large amount of peanut oil prior to his death. They all deny knowing anything, though. Later, all four students are separately called to the police station and told that before his death, Simon had queued up a post which details each of their secrets- Cooper used steroids for his baseball performance, Bronwyn stole tests, Nate is dealt drugs, which violates his parole, and that Addy had cheated on her boyfriend. With the police putting pressure on them, and more and more media coverage, the four of them band together and take the investigation upon themselves. 

The novel is very interesting, and I thought that there were many plot twists and it’s quite fun to try to piece together the mystery as more and more information is revealed. It’s also enjoyable to see the different characters grow as people, seeing Addy become her own person, and see Nate and Bronwyn grow closer together. I definitely recommend One of Us is Lying for those who enjoy murder mysteries and those who enjoy piecing together different pieces of information throughout the book.

-Kelsie W.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Book/Musical Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen is a popular Broadway musical created by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul. Its powerful storyline, incredible soundtrack, and the talented cast has made it the winner of six Tony Awards and a favorite of theater aficionados across the world. Dear Evan Hansen is also very unique and innovative, as it addresses issues such as teen suicide, depression, and social anxiety. It speaks to the audience in a new, powerful way and has increased awareness of the mental health struggles that people of all ages may be facing. Dear Evan Hansen has been re-made by numerous off-Broadway production groups across the world and has also been adapted into a novel in collaboration with Val Emmich.

Dear Evan Hansen follows the life of its title character, who struggles with extreme social anxiety. His therapist recommends that he writes letters to himself, discussing the positive aspects of the day. At school, Evan has few friends but develops a crush on a girl named Zoe Murphy, who becomes the subject of many letters. Zoe’s twin brother, Connor, has a reputation for being rebellious and aggressive and is angry when he finds Evan’s letter about Zoe in the school printer. Connor takes this letter with him, leaving Evan in fear of what he may do with it. A few days later, Evan finds out that Connor committed suicide later that day with Evan’s letter still in his pocket. This causes Connor’s family to believe that Connor and Evan were close friends, which develops a bond between Evan and the Murphy family. Connor’s mother feels guilty for his death, whereas Zoe struggles to feel grief due to Connor’s awful behavior towards her and their family. With the help of his friends Alana and Jared, Evan starts the Connor Project, which is an online community dedicated to remembering Connor’s life. As Evan grows closer to Zoe and the Murphy family, he begins to drift away from his mother, Heidi, and his old friends. Alana and Jared find out that Evan never really knew Connor, and threaten to share this information with the Murphy family. Evan then claims that the letter to himself was actually Connor’s suicide note, which gets posted to the Connor Project. As a result, many begin to blame the Murphy family for Connor’s suicide and they become the subject of hateful, threatening messages. Evan realizes he must come forward and confess and tells the Murphy family about his deception. He explains that he did it because he believed it would help them cope and because he felt like he needed friendship. Later, he also reconciles with his mother, who promises she will help him through his pain and always be there for him. 

A year later, Evan contacts Zoe, who agrees to meet with him at the orchard that has become Connor’s memorial. Evan apologizes again, and Zoe forgives him, telling him that he brought her family closer together. After Zoe leaves, Evan writes himself one last letter in his mind while looking around the orchard and reflects upon what he has learned from this experience and the impact the Connor Project had on people across the country.

Dear Evan Hansen is an incredibly powerful musical and book that really speaks to today’s younger generations. Not only does it help readers learn empathy for those dealing with mental illness, but also provides solace for those who are experiencing something similar to characters in the book. It has encouraged people to reach out to others and offer one another support and friendship during difficult times, because, in the words of Evan Hansen, “we’re not alone, none of us.”

-Katie A.

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

This New York Times bestseller has quickly become, needless to say, a very popular book.  Murder mysteries themselves are a commonly-read, yet thrilling genre and this book falls into the category of the classic “who did it” scenario.

 One of Us Is Lying begins on a regular Monday at Bayview High School where five students are all in detention. However, what would have been a usually boring, uneventful detention session swiftly becomes a high-profile event, as one of the students, Simon, ends up dead. Though this student is known quite well, his reputation is not the best, to say the least, as Simon is known as someone who spreads rumors and secrets about people, often revealing extremely personal, uncomfortable truths.  It makes sense that many people would have a reason to dislike, or even hate him, but the real question is: does anyone truly want Simon  dead?  After all, other than his exposing, gossip-ridden app, he is an otherwise harmless teenager. That being said, if someone did want him dead, then that would mean that the most likely suspects were probably in the same room as where he took his last breaths. 

Interestingly enough, McManus switches the character point of view with almost every chapter, meaning you get an inside scope within the minds of each student. This makes it an enjoyable challenge for the reader to decipher clues as to who is guilty, because each person’s side of the story and perspective on the matter is different. None of them seem obviously malicious, though. So it’s left a guessing game until the end of the book. In my case, I was still debating between a few different characters until the end of the book when the answer was revealed to me, and I ended up being wrong entirely, which I think goes to show that McManus created the plot in such a way that it was hard to tell.

Is it Bronwyn, the smart, goody-two shoes girl with a perfect academic record? Is it Nate, the leather-jacket wearing drug dealer with a mysterious past? Is it Addy, the sweet, beautiful girl, famous for her long locks of hair? Or is it Cooper, the quiet baseball jock?

Read it and find out!

-Aisha E.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It 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

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The young adult novel, Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell, is a heartwarming, but the soul-wrenching story about two sixteen-year-olds in Omaha, Nebraska from 1986 to 1987. The unique red-haired girl catches the heart of Park by merely sitting beside him on the bus. Their slow love sparked when she secretly reads his comic books, believing that she was sly enough to not get caught. Over time, Park noticed and decided to allow her to borrow his comic books.

However, at home, the young girl finds herself dealing with family issues revolving around poverty, so she ends up keeping to herself. She is terrified by her abusive stepfather and fears for her future to end up like her mother’s. Her thoughts are mostly clouded with judgment about her weight, which affects the way she thinks about her relationship with Park.

On the other hand, Park is trying to get through high school by being popular enough to not get teased but also finds it hard to fit in. He becomes an outsider, like Eleanor, but within his own house. His father and brother both have a liking towards sports and trucks, however, Park feels himself attracted to music and books.

The book duals between the narrative of Eleanor and Park, thus allowing the reader to connect with both of the characters. Teens can deeply connect to both characters, from the way they think to the way they act. The duo rides an emotional rollercoaster, taking the reader with them every step of the way.

Rowell does an exquisite job in taking in the attention of the reader and leaving them wanting more with this romantic, light read.

-Anyssa P.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive