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: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

catcher_in_the_rye_cover“The mark of an immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” -Wilhelm Steckel

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye, although highly controversial, is no doubt in my opinion a work of art. Most people who have read this book either love it or hate it, and if not properly read and analyzed, it’s completely understandable if you hate it. On the surface it’s a boring story about a whiny teenager moping around New York City, but really its so much more than that.

Holden Caufield tries to mask his sensitive and delicate true character with a crude and uncaring persona, and with deep reading, it’s apparent when his real character bubbles its way to the surface. He travels around New York City revealing bits and pieces of his true identity as the book progresses. While he reveals information about his character, we also learn about his past, which you are taken back to beginning in almost the first chapter. All in all, I greatly appreciate this book and I hope more people will enjoy reading it.

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

-Sara S., 11th 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: Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor_parkWhile browsing Sparknotes one night for help with homework, I was lured into the “fun section.” You know, the section where you can find information about celebrities, current events, and popular books. Well, I’m very glad I did, because there was an article on great books to read during the summer. Eleanor & Park was near the top of the list. The comments on the book were mostly positive, so I decided to give it a try.

Guys, this book is really, really good. It’s funny, exciting, and relatable on so many levels. Eleanor & Park follows the lives of two teenagers in high school as they go through all of the awkward stages of love.

It’s not a typical, boring, lovey-dovey type of love story, but rather it is raw and honest. Both Eleanor and Park struggle to find their respective places in the world, and both have issues with their parents (problems I think most teenagers can easily relate to).

The story is told in a dual-narrative style, with both Eleanor and Park sharing their opinions on the events taking place.  I usually don’t like this type of narration because it can easily become repetitive and boring.  However, Rowell manages to keep it fresh, without rehashing scenes that the reader already knows about. Overall, the book was very enjoyable to read, and I definitely recommend it!

-Amanda D., 12th grade



Book Review: The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

joy_luck_clubInsightful, heart-warming, and beautifully crafted, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club portrays mother-daughter relationships that must endure both generation and culture gaps. Each of the four Chinese-immigrant mothers narrates their past of growing up in China and immigrating to America. They also describe their struggles to raise daughters who won’t forget their Chinese heritage and values, as well as the legend of their mothers. On the other hand, the four American-born daughters strive to separate themselves from their mothers and find their own identities in America.

While reading, you will learn to be open-minded, as this will allow you to enjoy and understand the intended overall meaning of The Joy Luck Club. The novel teaches many important lessons that include being accepting toward different cultures, never judging someone from just their appearance, appreciating your parents, and being grateful for all of the opportunities we have in America. Many countries’ cultures are very different than the American culture, so we must always respect their customs. In addition, each daughter views their mother as weak and embarrassing to be around in the beginning. Once they begin to listen and see their mothers in an entirely different light, they discover that their mothers have experienced and sacrificed a lot for them to grow up and have a better life. This also leads them to be thankful for all the opportunities they are able to have, unlike their mothers, who grew up in China. All in all, both mother and daughters learn to discover the true meaning of love and come to accept each other for who they truly are.

I would definitely recommend this touching novel to anyone over the age of fourteen, since some mature topics are discussed. I especially recommend The Joy Luck Club to mothers and daughters because it will remind you of the significance of the unbreakable relationship and how important family is. Amy Tan is a remarkable author, and through her writing, she is able to weave a series of short stories into one complete, fulfilling novel.

-Kaylie W., 9th grade

Book Review: Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes

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

Book Review: Ruby’s Slippers, by Tricia Rayburn

rubys_slippersRuby’s Slippers by Tricia Rayburn is a realistic-fiction novel depicting a girl named Ruby moving all the way from rural Kansas to Florida because of a grandmother she barely knows.

Ruby Lee, who had never heard of Facebook, seen a video on YouTube, or downloaded a song from iTunes, is suddenly thrust into Coconut Cove where her new school is much nicer compared to her old one back in Kansas. The school is about ten times bigger and has a very nice auditorium.
On the first day of school she does not only manage to embarrass herself with a metal lunchbox, but also manages to make enemies with the most popular girl in school, Ava Grand.

Despite the trouble of being the new kid at school, Ruby also has to prepare for the upcoming talent show, Citrus Star, where participation is mandatory. Not having any friends, Ruby is unable to partner up with anybody. Miss Anita, the school’s performance director, helps Ruby join the dancing group Constellation. Ruby is thankful for her help, but her relief is eradicated when she realizes who is in the group- Ava Grand and three of her friends. Going to her first rehearsal, Ruby begins to have fun against all expectations. I do not want to give away the ending, but it has a surprising twist I did not see coming.

Overall, the book was decent. There were both pros and cons in the book, especially with how Ruby handled different situations. For example, I liked how Ruby supported her Mom when she was looking for a job. Although, I did not like how Ruby was completely clueless in some situations in the story, that she could have easily handled. At the same time, I did not like how sometimes in the book, the author took time to describe simple things. On the other hand, I felt like the ending was good and gratifying. This book is great for kids aged 9-12.

-Anmol K., 7th grade

Book Review and Music Pairing: Counting By 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting_by_7sCounting by 7s is a heartfelt novel about a genius girl who is an “angel” to many.  Willow Chance, a 12-year-old girl going into middle school has a natural green thumb.  She made chemical analysis of bee poop at the age of seven.  At the age of eight, she raised a baby green parrot and later set it free.  The story opens with her driving up to the driveway of her house to find a police car.  However, she rewinds and tells about her past.  She has always been “highly gifted” and has yet to meet a teacher who understands her or has understood her teacher, for that matter.

Fast-forwarding to the present time, the story transfers to her parents’ perspective.  Her mom is at the doctor getting a small dimple on the left side of her chest checked out.  This dent turns out to be a tumor, and she learns that she has cancer.  On the drive home, in the middle of an intersection, Willow and her parents’ world completely falls apart.  The only thing unharmed was a sign that clattered down saying, “SAFETY FIRST!  Tell me how I’m doing.  I am truck number 807.”  Ironic.

So, when Willow comes home that night, she becomes an orphan.  Though she is immediately taken in by her brand new friend’s mom, Willow feels her life is going downhill.  At this point in the story, I thought of the song “Someone Like You” by Adele.  Although Adele is singing about a relationship between her and her boyfriend, I thought about the song differently.  Willow will never find parents who replicate her deceased ones.  This part of the story was very emotional for me.  Sloan does such a fine job of displaying this mourning that you begin to wonder if her own life inspired this story somehow.  If so, I hope she was able to find “someone like you.”

The resolution, as expected, repaired Willow’s situation, and she was very happy.  Two people came together and made her ends meet.  This is the kind of story that I enjoy.  The narrator expressed Willow’s true feelings.  I feel as though Holly Goldberg Sloan wrote this from her heart.  If this novel was made into a film, the song “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles should be played.  It represents the theme of “life is a winding path” well.  The lyrics “nothing is real” explores what life would be like with no permanent future.  It could be bad.  Or it could be good.

I would rate this story 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for its sincere message.

-Maya Salem, 7th grade

Book Review: I Even Funnier, by James Patterson

i_even_funnierWARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t read I Funny, you may want to skip this for now…

In this sequel to I Funny, Jamie Grimm comes back with a bang.

After winning the competition for Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic in Long Island and in New York, next up is the competition in Boston. But before that, he still has to deal with Stevie Kosgrov, bully extraordinaire, and goes on a date with Gilda Gold to a movie theater. Joey Pierce and Jimmy Gaynor, Jamie’s best friends, come along as well. While at the theater, Gaynor treats all of them to popcorn, and lots of other things with cash that “his mother gave him.”

However, Kosgrov comes along and ruins everything, and Jamie and Pierce find out that Gaynor got the money from stealing out of people’s lockers. After all of this, Jamie goes to the competition in Boston. There, he gets trampled by one of his former idols and finds out that Judy, who came in second at the competition in New York, is back for round two. Does he win? Read more to find out!

I liked this book a lot, maybe even better than the first one! A few new characters are introduced, and as mentioned in my review of I Funny, there is a crossover for a few pages where Rafe Khatchadorian(Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life and others) meets Jamie Grimm! Also, there are slightly more jokes than in the first volume, and there are better jokes as well. Overall I would give this a 9.5 out of 10- not perfect, but fantastic all the same.

-Linna C., 7th grade

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

catcher_in_the_rye_coverI’m sure many other bloggers-along with myself- have read The Catcher in the Rye in our English classes. The Catcher in the Rye is the story of Holden Caulfield- a lost, confused, and depressed teenager who struggles to find hope after a traumatic experience. Holden believes that he presents himself as confident and “suave,” but instead the reader sees his insecurities. Although this book has been banned from public schools previously for its “adult” content, I found that many people have enjoyed reading it.

First, I’ll mention my favorite things about this book. I love the unique writing style that Salinger gives Holden. It’s easy for today’s teens to read this book that was written in the 1950s because of Holden’s slang and habits. (Not to mention it was the perfect book to read after Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities! That’s some language to decipher 😉 My favorite character, however, is Holden’s younger sister Phoebe. Even though she is introduced late in the novel, the reader can see that she has a special place in Holden’s heart. She is around ten years old, intelligent, creative, and independent. She also acts as Holden’s mother since their own mother becomes a nervous wreck after the terrible event. I just love reading the parts with Holden and Phoebe because his character changes completely and you can tell that he truly loves and wants to protect his little sister.

Some parts of the book are definitely mature because Holden falls into bad habits when in a state of depression, but I do think that these situations contribute to the story. This book deals with many issues including: depression, suicide, loneliness, and phonies. Holden constantly tells the reader how much he hates phonies (people who act a certain way to get what they want or to please others) and yet as the story progresses he too tells little lies and exaggerates to build up his character.

All in all, I recommend this book for high schoolers (as this is a mature read) because it makes you look at life in a new perspective. Salinger’s book steps outside the box and causes you to think about yourself and others, have more respect for people, and accept others’ differences from a popular society.

~Kelsey H., 10th grade