Category Archives: High School

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

PUBLISHER: Philomel; Penguin Audiobooks

LENGTH: 352 pages; 9 hrs, 51 min

SOURCE: purchased (audio)

SUMMARY: Click here to read from author Ruta Sepetys’s website.

REVIEW: This story, on the surface, seems quite different from Sepetys’s acclaimed Between Shades of Gray. Looking more closely, there are thematic similarities that resonate with readers regardless of setting or background of the characters. Josie Moraine, just like Lina, must rely on herself to “be the change she wants to see in the world”. Even though Josie is already out of school, the story is indeed a coming-of-age tale that also touches on social class, betrayal, homosexuality, and guilt.

With a detailed and unique cast of characters, Sepetys drops readers into the seedier side of New Orleans in the early 1950s. Josie’s mother is a prostitute who is self-centered and neglectful of Josie. Josie has a “created family” of supporters through the brothel and the surrounding community. With one decision to omit part of the truth surrounding one of her bookstore customer’s recent visits, Josie finds herself tangled in a web of deception that leads to her mother abandoning her to leave with an abusive boyfriend, Josie considering the life of a kept women which she swore she would never live because of her own mother, and having to choose between her dream of a college education or saving her mother’s life while dooming her own.

The intricacies of character and social class in this book are commendable. Cokie, Willie, and Jesse are unique and provide the perfect contrast to Charlotte and Charlotte’s world. The story itself seemed a bit burdensome in its development. Once Josie keeps the information about the watch to herself, it seemed to take quite a while to discover exactly how that decision would impact her plans to join Charlotte at college. The climax is predictable and Willie’s ultimate rescue of Josie seemed unavoidable. However, the decisions and experiences that Josie must work through ring true and young women on the cusp of independence will identify with Josie’s willingness to take risks as well as her reservations about venturing into new territory.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

LENGTH: 352 pages

SOURCE: audiobook

SUMMARY:In asociety  where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would “unwind” them Connor’s parents want to be rid of him because he’s a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev’s unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family’s strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can’t be harmed — but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

REVIEW: I originally heard great things about Shusterman’s Everlost series and wanted to read those books. (I still do.) Then there was a sale on for one of his other series: the Unwind Dystology. In the beginning the narrator, Luke Daniels, bothered me. I’m fairly picky about narrators when listening to audiobooks so I almost stopped listening. However, Shusterman’s story-line was so engrossing that I stopped caring about the narration and just wanted to get to the next plot event. I’m sure if I had been reading it in paper, I would have stayed up all night to finish it. Where to begin?

The premise of the story is scarily believable: abortion outlawed, unwanted and “troubled” children harvested for parts, religious fanatics thinking that offering their children as sacrifices will win favor with their god. There are so many parallels to things that are really happening in our society that if one doesn’t pause while reading it, I would worry more about the reader than the author. As the characters discover what their individual and social boundaries are that they refuse to cross, the reader begins to question his own boundaries and how far he might go or refuse to go in similar situations.  Connor, Risa, and Lev couldn’t come from more different backgrounds, yet they are all fighting for their lives. Survival is the great equalizer.

BRIDGE: If used in the classroom, this book could be used to discuss ethics on multiple levels: personal, theological, societal…so many options. This would also be a good way to delve into those really difficult questions about when life begins and when is one an “adult”? Does the day between 17 years old and 18 years old really make that much difference? Even with all the philosophical questions that emerge from the story, the ultimate question that the characters and readers will ask themselves is: Regardless of how much time we are given, how do we truly live?


19 May 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YAIt’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
The lovelies at thought this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus: anyone reading and reviewing books in children’s literature. It can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels – you name it in the world of kidlit and it’s in! I love being a part of this meme and hope you do, too! I encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we’re reading. We hope you join us! Read more:

Completed in the last several weeks: I finished Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal. Finally. I’ve been planning on reading it for ages and finally got around to it. It took a while to get going but once it picked up, I couldn’t put it down. I also finished Holly Black’s Doll Bones and Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore on audio.

Up Next: I just began The Real Boy by Anne Ursu of which I’ve heard wonderful things. I am also in the middle of Christopher Moore’s Fool on audio. I have listened to it before but Euan Morton’s narration of Fool and Serpent of  Venice are pure genius. Next up in my audio queue is Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris. It’s getting close to summertime…my summer reading will hopefully broaden and multiply.

Flashback Friday: Fool by Christopher Moore

PUBLISHER: William Morrow Paperbacks; Harper Collins Publishers Audio (originally published Feb. 2009)

LENGTH: 352 pages; 8 hours, 41 minutes

SOURCE: purchased audio

SUMMARY:  (via A man of infinite jest, Pocket has been Lear’s cherished fool for years, from the time the king’s grown daughters—selfish, scheming Goneril, sadistic (but erotic-fantasy-grade-hot) Regan, and sweet, loyal Cordelia—were mere girls. So naturally Pocket is at his brainless, elderly liege’s side when Lear—at the insidious urging of Edmund, the bastard (in every way imaginable) son of the Earl of Gloucester—demands that his kids swear their undying love and devotion before a collection of assembled guests. Of course Goneril and Regan are only too happy to brownnose Dad. But Cordelia believes that her father’s request is kind of . . . well . . . stupid, and her blunt honesty ends up costing her her rightful share of the kingdom and earns her a banishment to boot.

Well, now the bangers and mash have really hit the fan. The whole damn country’s about to go to hell in a handbasket because of a stubborn old fart’s wounded pride. And the only person who can possibly make things right . . . is Pocket, a small and slight clown with a biting sense of humor. He’s already managed to sidestep catastrophe (and the vengeful blades of many an offended nobleman) on numerous occasions, using his razor-sharp mind, rapier wit . . . and the equally well-honed daggers he keeps conveniently hidden behind his back. Now he’s going to have to do some very fancy maneuvering—cast some spells, incite a few assassinations, start a war or two (the usual stuff)—to get Cordelia back into Daddy Lear’s good graces, to derail the fiendish power plays of Cordelia’s twisted sisters, to rescue his gigantic, gigantically dim, and always randy friend and apprentice fool, Drool, from repeated beatings . . . and to shag every lusciously shaggable wench who’s amenable to shagging along the way.

Pocket may be a fool . . . but he’s definitely not an idiot.

BRIDGE: This book is an amazing adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The major trepidation I have in recommending it as a Bridge Book is the raunchy nature of the humor. There’s really no other word for it – the sexual situations and language are definitely R-rated. However, I still feel it would be a great Bridge book for college students studying Shakespeare. While the focus of the blog is usually MG and YA literature, this book will provide great discussion topics for Shakespearean scholars and fans alike. Explorations of character, plot development, thematic elements…they’re all there even though the book is a crazy mash-up of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies and the low-rent version of Elizabethan England.

Moore provides extensions of characters and blends cynicism, sarcasm, erotica, and tragedy seamlessly. His Lear is jut the right balance of crazy and desperate. The daughters are as conniving as one would expect them to be with just a touch more venom because they are given more feminine confidence. While Pocket seems to be a creation entirely of Moore’s mind, he melds nicely with Shakespeare’s traditional characters. It is easy to believe that the Black Fool existed and dispensed levity and wisdom in balanced measure to keep all of Shakespeare’s characters in line. Moore tends to stay true to the cadence and language, for the most part. Of course, there’s superfluous cussing, and I’m not sure if  the f-word existed in the 13th century but, as all cuss words should, they add humor and emphasis in all the right places. Fans of The Bard will not go wrong with this racy version of one of literature’s most beloved tales. Just be warned: the faint of heart need not apply.

Afterword: Euan Morton’s narration of this tale on audiobook is superb. The different accents and tonalities used to represent different characters is impeccable. The pacing and emotive narration is beyond compare and I have no doubt that, had I read the text first, I would have been far less enamored of Moore’s tale. It is not to miss for fans of audiobooks.

Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

569f9-6a016760e4a142970b016305153154970d-piPUBLISHER: HMH Books for Young Readers

LENGTH: 320 pages

SOURCE: library book

SUMMARY: Fanboy has never had it good, but lately his sophomore year is turning out to be its own special hell. The bullies have made him their favorite target, his best (and only) friend seems headed for the dark side (sports and popularity), and his pregnant mother and the step-fascist are eagerly awaiting the birth of the alien life form known as Fanboy’s new little brother or sister.

Fanboy, though, has a secret: a graphic novel he’s been working on without telling anyone, a graphic novel that he is convinced will lead to publication, fame, and—most important of all—a way out of the crappy little town he lives in and all the people that make it hell for him.

When Fanboy meets Kyra, a.k.a. Goth Girl, he finds an outrageous, cynical girl who shares his love of comics as well as his hatred for jocks and bullies. Fanboy can’t resist someone who actually seems to understand him, and soon he finds himself willing to heed her advice—to ignore or crush anyone who stands in his way.

REVIEW: Strong, individual characters propel a familiar coming-of-age story. Fanboy is cynically sarcastic and his voice is familiar to those of us who have endured the persecution of bullies and felt that there was NO WAY our parents could understand the crap we had to put up with every day. Fanboy’s passivity is counteracted by Kyra’s ferocity. His defense mechanism is his imaginary List while Kyra goes straight for her attacker’s jugular with vitriolic condescension. Fanboy is taken aback by Kyra’s aggression but readers can sense his awe and envy at her ability to seemingly not care – about anything. With her encouragement, Fanboy begins to take action for himself instead of letting others take action around and against him.

While the characters are familiar and juxtaposed quite nicely, I felt that the pacing could have used a little better balance. The introduction of the characters and conflict seemed to take almost half the book. By the time they got to the mini-ComiCon, I had almost given up reading. But the last third of the book makes up for whatever lag in action there might be in the beginning.  The step-facist redeems himself, offering an olive branch to Fanboy and taking him to the comic book show. Fanboy responds in kind and one begins to think that their family might just make it through the hell of adolescence.

I enjoyed Lyga’s I Hunt Killers and initially felt that Fan Boy and Goth Girl was quite a bit different. However, while the topics are markedly different, stylistically they are quite similar. There is a honesty to the writing in Fanboy’s and Kyra’s assessments of their lots in life. Lyga does not flinch from telling the hard truths about what it’s like to grow up and find yourself labeled as OTHER. Fanboy and Goth Girl battle themselves as much as they do those who malign them and it is that stark reality that makes the tale grisly and gripping at the same time. And what makes readers long for the next chapter in their adventures.


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