Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Harry’s story is intriguing and tragic, yet despite that, I couldn’t keep reading. Maybe if I had been reading it instead of listening to it I might have been able to finish it. The concept is interesting: a man is part of a special group of people who relive their lives over and over again retaining the knowledge and memories from their previous lives. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep my interest. Almost halfway through, I am still not sure exactly what the conflict in the story is. I thought there was something to resolve with his biological father, but no – that happens early. Then I thought it might be about how to avoid the reliving lives thing. Again, no. I kept going because I thought maybe Harry was looking for his one great love. No. Ultimately the thing that clinched my quitting it was the endless passages of existential self-introspection. Paragraphs and paragraphs of wonderings about the meaning of time and the meaning of life. Even more paragraphs of scientific hypothesizing about how time works and the scientific, moral, and historical implications of changing history. I couldn’t take it. Perhaps I’ll go back to it at some point, but for now it goes on my Abandoned list.

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Review: George

George
George by Alex Gino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the most important book I’ve read this summer-maybe the most important book since Speak. George is certain of her identity but uncertain about all her family and friends’ reactions. With the help of her friend Kelly, she is able to navigate letting the world know that she is a girl. There are so many students who need this book and families who could benefit from the insight provided by the 1st person narrative. While George is a 4th grader, any age reader could read and appreciate this book, making it an excellent crossover novel and invaluable resource. George is lucky that her best friend is so understanding and the revelation provides clarity to her brother Scott’s confusion about George’s personality. George’s “village” is slower to understand, which is realistic, and as George’s mother says, there is a long road ahead of all of them. But what a powerful message to kids that owning your identity is ok and speaking out and making oneself heard is the best way to understanding those we live with. I can’t wait to offer this book to my students and POSSIBLY help them discuss and understand that no matter how differently we are all made, it is truly important to BE WHO YOU ARE.

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Review: Winger

Winger
Winger by Andrew Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent look into the mind of an adolescent boy in all his sexually charged, self-doubting glory. Ryan Dean is endearing and aggravating at the same time. The Annie plot-line is predictable but sprinkled with good banter. The conflict involving Joey builds subtly for the second half of the book while Smith does some superb distraction with JP. West’s eventual self-actualization is a bit far-fetched for a 14 year-old but the fallout from the climax hits home. Learned a bit about rugby and how little guys and girls really differ emotionally. Can’t wait to get my hands on Standoff.

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Review: Incarceron

Incarceron
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unbelievable world building and dueling narration make this a can’t miss. Incarceron is a centuries-old self-contained, idealized prison that has become a Lord of the Flies-esque battle for survival for its inmates. I wish the differences between the Civicry and the other groups of inmates had been explained better. The immensity of Incarceron is clear but vaguely mapped. I would have liked a bit more concrete description of the “lands” within Incarceron. Perhaps that will come in the sequel.

Lots of cliffhangers to keep readers turning pages. Claudia is a strong-willed character who is rightly suspicious of her father, The Warden. Finn knows he doesn’t belong with the Winglord and the Comitatus but isn’t sure where to go instead. I enjoyed this reversal of gender roles. Fisher does a good job of weaving the two worlds together and leaves myriad possibilities of exploration and resolution for the sequel.

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Back in Books

I’ve been MIA…I know. I’ve been changing jobs (gifted education specialist) and taking classes and raising kids and updating a house and doing life. Don’t worry – I’ve been reading all this time, but writing reviews and sharing my book journeys with you all has had to take a back seat to my professional changes and development. But I’m back and, while I still want to make suggestions about how to connect YA books to more classic texts, our classrooms have come a long way since I started this adventure. YA is more accepted than ever before in our nation’s schools even if it is still the “black sheep” of the literary family. I know there are still books being challenged out there, but we’re making progress. I don’t think it’s as important as it used to be to link a YA novel to a classic in order to feel like we’re justified teaching it in our classrooms.

I will continue to review books, but I’m taking a bite-sized approach to my reviews. Who needs to read all my words anyway when there are so many books out there and so little time to read them? I’m still reviewing for authors, but I’m being picky. And I’m still teaching, planning, grading, mothering, wifing, and all the other roles that go into being me. Missed being here and excited to get back in the groove.

Review: Monument 14

Monument 14
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another good one in the newest YA movement that depicts the actual apocalyptic event instead of just the civilization that develops after the catastrophe. Clever of Laybourne to strand the children in a super store and so not having to endow any of them with unrealistic abilities or skills (like archery) they wouldn’t have had in a technology dependent society. I enjoyed the realistic aspect of the event itself-weather anomalies paired with seismic events causing human’s own hubris of chemical weaponry to put the final horrific spin on the disaster. The children and teens must use their ordinary talents to keep themselves alive in an extraordinary situation. Most of the story rings true and the ending leaves readers wishing they immediately had the next book on their bedside table.

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Review: The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally, a new twist on the idea of fairy tales and princesses! Chainani blends humor and cliche with a fresh setting and plot. In Agatha and Sophie’s world, children are kidnapped by the School Master and taken to a school that trains them to either be good or evil. Blond, fair Sophie is thrilled to be one of the kidnapped kids from her town. Her dark, brooding friend Agatha is taken as well, but both girls are surprised when Sophie is sent to the School for Evil instead of the School for Good. What ensues is a bumbling adventure through both Good and Evil’s campuses that at once embraces and mocks the cliches of traditional fairy tales. Now the two friends have been pitted against one another in the ages-old good vs. evil battle and the only thing that’s certain is it will be one wild competition. Fairies as campus guards, a two-headed dog/wolf as bickering professors, and the mysterious School Master make for a delightfully adventurous and funny romp on a new path through familiar territory.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and just began the second book, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes. Polly Lee’s narration of the first book is brilliant; I keep hearing her voice in my head as I read the second.

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