The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I recently finished the newly-released prequel to the well-known Hunger Games series, written once again by author Suzanne Collins. I loved the original trilogy so much and consider them among my favorite books, so, as you can imagine, the idea of a prequel was very exciting. Originally, the Hunger Games series was set in a post-war, dystopian era in the country of Panem, and the setting in this book is no different, other than the fact that the events within it took place earlier in time. 

Panem is divided into twelve districts of people with the Capitol as the grand center and overarching control over all. The point of the Games is to allow each district to remember their overwhelming powerlessness against the Capitol, as every year two tributes from each district  between the ages of twelve and eighteen are reaped and then forced to fight to the death in a gruesome, twisted show of entertainment, similar to ancient gladiators, while the rest of the country watches them live on television. 

Now, contrary to popular belief, this book is neither about Haymitch or Finnick, who were both characters from the original trilogy who would have indeed had interesting backstories, but rather about another intriguing character: President Coriolanus Snow. Snow was never a central character in the original trilogy, so we know little to nothing of his backstory and character, other than the fact that he is considered the trilogy’s corrupt villain, in the form of the cold, menacing leader of Panem. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes explores Coriolanus as to what he was like as an eighteen year old Capitol boy. From the very beginning, you can easily see how this young man will inevitably rise to power. 

This book, though often going at a slow pace, gives you insight to what life was like before Katniss ever came into the picture, and before the Games were the lively, twisted events that they were, as Coriolanus is a mentor. Funny enough, Coriolanus ended up being the mentor of the girl tribute of District Twelve, Lucy Gray. This was much to Coriolanus’s dismay, as being part of the Snow family entails a sense of superiority and importance, and being given a tribute from poor and lowly associated District Twelve is nothing short of a slap in the face for him. 

The concepts this book presents are interesting, the plot featuring many twists and turns, and there many notable characters throughout the story.  You never quite know what will happen on the other side of the page. The story unfolds slowly, but with very sharp bumps in the road. I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoyed the other three installments of the series.

-Aisha E.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road Jack Kerouac Quote poster The Beat by Redpostbox ...

“On the Road” is a novel by American Beat writer Jack Kerouac, first published in 1957. The novel, mostly autobiographical, loosely structured and episodic, depicts the absurd life experiences of a group of young people and reflects the spiritual emptiness and muddled state of postwar American youth widely regarded as a classic of the hippie movement and the beat generation in the 1960s. “On the Road” is the the protagonist Sal’s pursuit of personality along with Dean, Marylou, several young men and women across the continental United States to Mexico. They drank too much, talked too much about Zen in the East, blocked cars when they got tired, slept in villages, and wandered from New York to San Francisco. At the same time, the book embodies the techniques of improvisation and spontaneity that the author advocates: the natural flow of thought, counter-plot, heavy use of slang, colloquial language, long, ungrammatical sentences, and extensive references to American social and cultural mores. On the other hand, the book shows the mountains, plains, deserts, and towns in the vast land of United States.

Like the beat generation in real life, the characters in “On the Road” are rebellious young people who defy political authority, secular ideas, traditional morality and law. In the oppressive and depressing society of the McCarthy era, these young people felt unbearable oppression and bondage and were always looking for relief. They are frantically speeding back and forth across the vast continent as they seek instinctive release, self-expression, and spiritual freedom. Their addiction to drugs, sexual indulgence, and jazz music were also, to a larger extent, extreme manifestations of their search for soul liberation. “On the Road” isn’t just about how these young people are challenging mainstream culture, venting their frustration, and trying to break free of its constraints. That is to say, it is not just about denial, but more importantly, it is also about these young people’s painful exploration of new ways of life and beliefs. Perhaps the most profound thing about Kerouac is not so much the extreme life experiences of the beat generation, their rebellion and pursuit, their nirvana and misery, but his reflections on the beat movement itself. It is this kind of thinking that best illustrates the spiritual pursuit and endless transcendence demonstrated by Kerouac and the beat writers.

-Coreen C.

The Morning Watch by James Agee

Image result for the morning watch james agee

This is a short autobiographical novel composed in 1947 and was finished by the author in 1950. Being at the age of puberty, John Huston, a young boy at a Christian boarding school experiences teenage isolation, curiosity, and priggishness. I thought that he was a very pitiful boy at first who was blindly sent to the boarding school because his parents half-abandoned him.

However, my pity for his family background did not stop me from reading this book due to my interest in his bewilderment in the faith of God. It just seems to me that he kept on telling himself he belongs to God when internally there is a turmoil of atheism stirring, stimulating him to commit actions of blasphemy.

-Coreen C. 

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book was one I randomly picked up mainly because the cover art was interesting and seemingly had nothing to do with the synopsis. (I later discovered that the tent on the cover was intricately woven into the plot, which took me by surprise.) The story line intertwines the lives of three girls from three time eras: Adri from 2065, Catherine from 1934 and Lenore from 1919.

2065: Futuristic Adri is prepping to take a one-way trip to Mars in hopes of finding a feasible way for human life to prosper there. As she trains for her flight, she stays in Kansas at her distant cousin’s house. Here, she finds a journal and letters of a girl that lived there over one hundred years ago, thus leading to a puzzle of the past that Adri is determined to solve.

1934: Living in Kansas during the treacherous Dust Bowl, fear and unpredictability of the future sinks its claws into Catherine’s family and lover. She must overcome all odds and find the strength to do what she deems right to save the person she loves the most. Even if it means running in the opposite direction of everyone’s advice and never looking back.

1919: Lenore struggles to recover from the impact of World War I and the loss of her brother by keeping her chin up and sending letters to her best friend. She decides to move to America in hopes of finding a better, happier life but obstacles make her journey nothing less than arduous.

I thought there was no possible way these three girls could have anything in common, especially if they’re all from drastically different time periods. However, Jodi Lynn Anderson found a clever way to link them all together, while highlighting the balance between family and friends, fate and adventure. All the pieces clicked into place seamlessly and made for a beautiful plot.

Midnight at the Electric was one of those books I couldn’t stop reading and once I finished, I had to take a minute to gather myself before continuing on with life. I definitely recommend this book to those who want something mysteriously intriguing but also touching and easy-to-read!

-Jessica T.

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian follows almost-16-year-old, Daria. Proudly Iranian-American, she is not ashamed of her heritage, which is different from the clique she and her friends have dubbed as the “Nose Jobs,” whose leader used to be Daria’s best friend. Daria and her friends nicknamed themselves  “the authentics” because they see themselves as real and honest. They have a great vibe in their group, and feed off each other very well. Daria’s family is another major part of this novel, and they also love and support Daria. Despite having normal, familial disputes, she values her parents. One day, she is researching her ancestry for a school project and this leads her on a journey that will forever change her life.

This novel had many different aspects, and these all came together in a beautiful way. Family was an important subject in this book, and was depicted realistically by Nazemian. He not only showed the celebrations and happy times of the family, but he included the hardships and troubled times the family faced as well. The way the family changes and grows throughout the course of the novel is done well. More than the family, Daria grew and matured into a young, intelligent lady. Facing hardship, I admired how she did not allow for anything to get to her on her self-discovery. In addition to depicting the coming of age of Daria, the author also includes commentary about Iran that enhances the novel. Overall, this is a great novel and provides the reader with an interesting outlook of life.  

-Anmol K.

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be download for free from Overdrive

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

Image result for the outsiders bookIf you can visit Oklahoma back in the 1980s, you might have seen the gangs called the Greasers and the Social. Greasers, earn their name from the grease used to style their hair–enough to supply you to cook with for about two days. Life is unfair? No, it’s just too far to the Social, for their parents feed them money every day so that they are too full to stand up, walk to the fridge and grab a piece of bread to eat as lunch.

Ponyboy Curtis, whose parents died when he was little, lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry. One day, after going through a drastic fight with his brother, he ran away to the park with his friend Johnny. After witnessing the frantic Johnny killing a Social member, a rival gang, Ponyboy realized that life is going to smash him as hard as it can on the face.

I was very intrigued by this book that I couldn’t put it down for a second. But it’s absolutely incredulous to imagine teenagers killing somebody but still survive after all these streaks of dangerous events. But if it’s me, I’d rather behave well and listen to my older brothers because they are my only family members and I know that they love me so much like my parents.

-April L.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

Waste of Space by Gina Damico

Most children dream of becoming astronauts and going to space. Even though most of us do not go to the moon, the dream of going to space is always there. In the book, Waste of Space, the dream comes true for ten teenagers. The production company, DV8, needs a new television show, and they come up with Waste of Space.

The premise is to send ten teenagers to space in a spaceship, where they will live together for an indefinite amount of time, and will have to deal with everybody aboard the ship. In reality, however, the teens will be taken to a sound stage in the middle of the New Mexican desert. DV8 is own by an ambitious, young man named Chazz Young who would do anything for his shows to get views. Working with NASAW (a different group of scientists from NASA), Young is able to produce a show that leaves a lot of people wanting more along with a lot of questions.

Picking this book, I was enticed by the summary of the book. The book is not written like a normal novel because it is a compilation of evidence by an investigator. It is like this because contact with the kids is lost in the middle of their time aboard the “spacecraft.” Initially, I just thought it was going to be a story about the kids finding a way back to earth, but it was different from the typical story about people finding their way home. Instead of being an adventure in “space,” the novel is a mockery of American television and culture. The portrayal of the teenagers and the way Young handles the various issues of his show make fun of reality shows in America, and the seriousness some people have when watching them. Another layer to this story was the mysteriousness of the NASAW organization. This aspect made the story more complex and mysterious. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a satirical take on America with a layer of mystery and adventure.

-Anmol K.

Waste of Space by Gina Damico is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski is a science fiction novel about a competition organized by NASA among the brightest, gifted young adults from across the globe. One of these great minds belongs to seventeen-year-old, Cassandra Gupta. She has been training for a chance like this for her entire life. She is at the top amongst her classmates, but she must compete and be better among the others, who are of her caliber. The winner of the competition will be chosen to join astronauts on a secret mission.

Cassie is determined to be the one to go on that mission. As part of the training, everybody has to go through various physical and mental tests. Through the competition, Cassie discovers things about herself and others around her. When the time comes to chose someone for the mission, NASA picks someone who, in their eyes, will be the most successful.

The plot of the book was what enticed me to pick up this book to read, and I am glad that I picked it. With a great main character, the book kept me reading it till the end. Cassie is head strong and determined, which is the driving force behind the plot of the book. Also, she is able to keep going past her limitations; this is true, especially when she is in life and death situations. With a surprising ending, this book will be sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

-Anmol K.

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles all the Way Down, a novel by John Green, tells the story of a teenage girl named Aza who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. After one day becoming involved in the search for a fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, she is reunited with an old childhood friend: who happens to be the aforementioned billionaire’s son. Despite the search for Pickett taking the spotlight as the guiding force of this powerful novel, the resulting work of fiction depicts a battle with mental illness sharpened by author’s personal struggles with OCD.

As Aza balances her fear of the human microbe, school, a budding relationship, and a criminal hunt, she begins to discover that in her own struggles, she has withdrawn from the world around her. The entire work highlights the value of life, much in the way past John Green novels tend to do. However, Turtles all the Way Down stands out from the rest of Green’s work. It obviously rings with his unique writing style and emotionally moving qualities, but also coursing through the veins of this work is a level of authenticity that makes it relatable to our very human nature.

As a personal fan of John Green, I came across this book expecting it to be incredible. I was not let down in the slightest. I could talk about the character development that enriches the plot of the story. I could talk for hours about how the comic elements of this novel are balanced with sharp, relatable reality in a way that triggers emotion within the darkest recesses of your brain, even as the main character discusses Star Wars fanfiction. I could even talk about how despite the obvious focal point of the novel being a criminal investigation, every other element of the novel becomes a tapestry of woven word and plot, with each string tugging and guiding the next into forming a textile of humor and sadness. But I digress. Simply, this book is a must read anyone who wants to read a funny, emotional, page turner of a novel.

-Mirabella S.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive