Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jane Eyre: the graphic novel by Charlotte Bronte

Book:  Jane Eyre:  the graphic novel
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Publisher:  Classical Comics
Year:  2008
Reason I read it:  I had to read 2 graphic novels for my YA lit class and I’ve never gotten around to reading “Jane Eyre” but I’ve always wanted to.  It was win-win.
My grade:  B+

Jane Eyre is a plain, determined and intelligent child. Orphaned and poor, she is adopted by her Aunt and Uncle Reed. The death of Uncle Reed allows her unpleasant aunt to send her away to a grim charity school, where she continues her harsh upbringing, but is given the education that finally frees her. Once old enough, she becomes a teacher and takes the role of governess in a large manor house, where she falls in love with her employer. But Rochester is hiding a secret that, when revealed, forces Jane to choose between following her head and her heart.

Both critically acclaimed and immensely popular, Jane Eyre dealt with concepts of class discrimination, morality, equality for women, and freedom of choice. Designed to encourage readers to enjoy classical literature, Jane Eyre The Graphic Novel stays true to Brontë's original vision. The book includes 125 pages of story artwork (by the legendary comic book artist, John M. Burns) and fascinating support material detailing the life of Charlotte Brontë.

My Review

I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read “Jane Eyre”.  I’ve wanted to for a while but I just never seem to get around to it.  So, when I went to the library and saw this sitting on the shelf in the graphic novel section, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I liked this graphic novel.  It uses Bronte’s original text for the dialogue and of course, the illustrations tell the rest of the story.  I’m not going to review Bronte’s original story, because that sort of speaks for itself.

I liked reading the graphic novel format of the classic.  Especially with the original text being used, I felt like I wasn’t cheating quite as much.  Although, I think that I missed things with the graphic novel format, because there were times when I was a little confused or the story felt choppy or abrupt. 

However, I do think that I now have a basic understanding of the story and I could carry on an intelligent discussion with someone about the book.  I also think that the graphic novel gave me enough outline of the story that if I picked up the book now, it would flow more easily and I could probably read it more quickly.

Both of those reasons would be good enough to use a novel like this with a class of high school students.  If our goal is to expose students to literature, this graphic novel does that.  The average American teenager is just not going to spend hours poring over 18th century British writing.  It’s just not going to happen.  But if a teacher could show a class just how good the STORY is, then students who are not serious at least get exposure to the novel and more serious students may then be inspired to move on the actual novel.

I still don’t think that the comic form is going to get any 17 year old boy excited about “Jane Eyre”, but a comic version might get them excited about “Hamlet” or “Beowulf” or some other equally gory, sword-fighting sort of tale. 

Classical Comics is a publisher from Great Britain and they offer lots of titles, including Shakespeare, Dickens and many other classics.  They come in several varieties such as Original Text, Quick Text(the full story in modern English) and Shakespeare graphic novels also have an option called Plain Text, which is the entire play translated into “plain English”.

I think this is a great, fun way to introduce students to classic literature in a way that helps them understand it.  In my opinion, it’s better to read “Macbeth” in comic book form than to never read it at all.

I gave this novel a B+.  I enjoyed the story and it was a fast, easy read, but I still felt like I missed some of the story.  In August, I’ll probably be picking up “ Jane Eyre” proper.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Book:  American Born Chinese
Author:  Gene Luen Yang
Publisher:  First Second
Year:  2006
Reason I read it:  I had to read 2 graphic novels for my YA lit class.  This one was a Printz Award winner and an ALA Top Ten.
My Grade:  A

A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax. 

My Review

Wow!  Just, wow!  My head is reeling from the epicness that is “American Born Chinese”!  First, I have to say that this book is funny.  Really funny.  There were so many funny parts, I was in stitches a good portion of the time.  There were 3 separate stories, or so I thought.  There was a story about a young boy named Jin who is the American born Chinese boy.  There is a legend about a Chinese monkey king.  There is a story about a white boy named Danny who has a Chinese cousin named Chin-kee.

Yes, Chin-kee…..obviously a play on the horrible racist term. And he is the stereotypical Chinese person and personifies every single bad stereotype.  The book is full of that sort of thing.  Like when Jin calls his friend an “FOB” for fresh off the boat!  There are lots of references to the mixing of cultures and how difficult it is to grow up Asian in a white society.

The book is very quick to read because it is a graphic novel, so I found myself constantly turning pages.  Yet, it is very interesting to read and quite entertaining.  I kept wondering why there seemed to be 3 separate story lines.  Then, wham!  What does the author do?  He combines them and packs a huge punch of an ending that left me reeling!  I couldn’t believe that he could use that much humor and entertainment to bring the novel to an end with such profundity.  It was amazing.

Gene Luen Yang, I bow to your greatness.

This book was a solid A.  If you’re looking for a quick read, that’s funny and entertaining but packs a whopper of a message, “American Born Chinese” is the book for you!

Girl by Bart Bare

Book:  Girl
Author:  Bart Bare
Publisher:  Canterbury House
Year:  2010
Reason I read it:  Required read for my YA lit class
My grade: D-

After her mother dies, Loren Creek, a precocious 14-year-old, flees the foster-care system in Tennessee by moving to North Carolina. With the help of a curmudgeonly mountain man, she manages to evade detection by assuming the identity of a boy. Having studied dance and gymnastics at her mother's insistence, Loren has a lean, muscular appearance, which allows her to easily pass as a boy when she enters high school. She reluctantly becomes the kicker on the school football team and grows popular with boys and girls alike, causing some stressful, confusing, even dangerous situations.
Meanwhile, Loren's foster-care guardian takes her disappearance personally. He won't give up until he finds her and places her with what he considers a good family. A confrontation is inevitable.

My Review

Where to start?  There were so many problems with this book.  First and foremost, it needs an editor.  Badly.  Someone was very comma happy, but seriously, even my 13 year old knows that commas are not used to separate the subject and the verb and she writes in text speak most of the time.  There were quotation marks missing all over the place.  In addition to a usage editor, someone needed to edit the writing style as well.  Too many long, drawn out descriptions and lots of choppy dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, the use of the dialect was a little too much.  It was very distracting.  I’m from the region and it felt overdone to me.  I don’t know.  Maybe in other places people think that we really speak that way, but for a young girl to be so “precocious” and intelligent, she really sounded like a backwoods redneck.  I didn’t buy it.

I also had a hard time buying the whole premise of the book.  I don’t understand why it was ok to live with Grandpa Gragg away from her home, but she left the last foster family immediately, even though they seemed nice and grandparent-like as well.  She wasn’t on her own in NC any more than she was on her own before.  I thought she wanted to live alone on her farm, so this just didn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Another part that was difficult to believe is the fact that she was born and raised on a backwoods farm in Tennessee that she learned to tend to all alone, but there was a state-of-the-art dance and gymnastics room there that her mom used to teach her about dance and gymnastics.  Oh, and her mom was too sick to do those things herself but could teach the daughter.  Now, I’m a former dance teacher and my daughter was a competitive gymnast.  You don’t teach those things if you can’t do them yourself because you have to demonstrate them.
In fact, there were so many instances of this sort of thing that I found myself just laughing at the book most of the time.  I pretty much skimmed it in order to finish it.  Then the ending was totally lame and laughable.  They find the dad after all these years?  And they live happily ever after and he marries the very judge whose daughters have been helping Loren “hide” for 2 years?  And she stays in NC with Grandpa Gragg?  What happened to her beloved farm in Tennessee?

Puh-lease!  Sparkly virgin vampires are easier to believe in than this book’s story.

This book is a D-.  It should probably be an F, but I didn’t read it closely enough to do that.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it and so I give it the benefit of the doubt with a 70.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kick by Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman

Book:  Kick
Authors:  Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Year:  2011
Reason I read it:  This is one of 8 required reads for my YA lit class
My grade:  C

Kevin Johnson is thirteen years old. And heading for juvie. He's a good kid, a great friend, and a star striker for his Highland, New Jersey, soccer team. His team is competing for the State Cup, and he wants to prove he has more than just star-player potential. Kevin's never been in any serious trouble . . . until the night he ends up in jail. Enter Sergeant Brown, a cop assigned to be Kevin's mentor. If Kevin and Brown can learn to trust each other, they might be able to turn things around before it's too late.

My Review

This book had an interesting premise.  Walter Dean Myers, prolific YA writer, paired up with a teen fan to write this book.  Every other chapter is in a different point of view, with Ross Workman writing the POV of the teen and Myers writing the POV of the adult police officer.

The book is not very long and the writing is fine, even from the teen fan, but there’s just not a lot going on.  There are descriptions of games and the whole mystery of why Kevin was driving at age 13 with his friend Christy in her dad’s car.  Of course, the story progresses through the eyes of both characters as they grow closer and learn to trust one another.

I was very disappointed by the ending.  I’m still not sure why Kevin didn’t tell someone what the real story was to begin with.  I kept reading because I wanted to know what had really been going on that night and when I found out, it felt anti-climactic at best.

I think this is a good book for middle school boys who like sports but don’t like reading.  It’s short and fast-paced with lots of descriptions of soccer games.  More serious readers will probably be bored by it and high school students will not find a lot to which they will relate.

My grade is a C.  The book was ok, but it was nothing to write home about.  I honestly expected more from such a legend of YA lit.  It makes me wonder if I should bother with any of his other books.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book:  Twisted
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher:  Viking
Year:  2007
Reason I read it:  I had to choose 2 books for my YA lit class that deal with “teen issues”.  This one deals with how to become a man.
My grade:  A+

High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world.

Twisted, the acclaimed Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a very controversial subject: what it means to be a man today. Fans and new readers alike will be captured by Tyler’s pitchperfect, funny voice, the surprising narrative arc, and the thoughtful moral dilemmas that are at the heart of all of the author’s award-winning, widely read work.

My Review

I’ve wanted to read some LHA books for a while, and honestly, “Speak” was the book I wanted to choose, but it has a publication date of 1999 and my professor wanted books with dates from 2001 to now, so I had to choose something else.

The thing that grabbed me about this book was the summary on the inside of the front of the book jacket.  It said:  “Everyone told me to be a man.  Nobody told me how.”  And that was it for the summary.  I thought that was extremely intriguing and also very timely.  There is a lot of research out there now about the mixed messages that boys are getting about what society expects them to be.  There is also a lot of research in education about how boys are falling through the cracks and smart boys are not achieving and boys who struggle are dropping out altogether.  I hoped that this book would give me some insight into the mind of a teenage boy.

I got that plus so much more in this book.  I hate to say it, but I’m actually glad that I had to choose this book instead of “Speak”.  I still want to read it, but I loved the way this book helped get inside the head of a teenage boy.  I’m not sure how a female writer was able to do that, but I felt like she captured the voice perfectly.

This book is about Tyler, a former geek who pulls a prank to get noticed and ends up getting arrested.  Over the summer, he is forced to do a lot of manual labor as part of his community service and he also experiences a growth spurt.  So, he starts school the next year with height, muscles and a tan and is suddenly not the geeky outcast he was before.  Everything should be perfect for him now, right?

Wrong!  Tyler has a distant, angry father who always puts him down, a doting mother who drinks away her problems and a still geeky best friend.  He is constantly thinking about death and dying.  The most popular girl at school starts to like him, which should be a good thing, but it’s a bad thing.

Of course, like any 18 year old boy, he is constantly thinking about sex.  So when a drunk Bethany comes on to him at a party, he thinks it’s a dream come true.  But, like the good guy that he is, he realizes that he’s not going to take advantage of a drunk girl and rebuffs her.  She gets mad and goes off with other people.  Through a series of various events however, Tyler ends up driving home Bethany and her drunk brother and his friend, who just so happens to be the same football jock that Tyler had roughed up earlier in the week for picking on his best friend.

The next day, a bunch of nude pictures of Bethany show up on the internet.  The police show up and Tyler finds out he is the prime suspect.  Needless to say, things go downhill from there for Tyler.  In fact, they go all the way to rock bottom for him, until he has to come to terms with his own life and decisions and try to learn for himself what it means to be a man.

This book was unbelievable.  First, I can’t believe how well LHA was able to get inside of Tyler’s head.  I felt everything that he did, and being inside the head of an adolescent male is not always the most comfortable place to be!  She never shied away from tough issues or controversial subjects and there were many moments where I held my breath, hoping that Tyler would make the right decision.

This book was also on the challenged book list for 2010, probably because there is a very graphic scene of almost suicide.  It was disturbing, but in the best sort of way because it was so thought-provoking, gritty and honest.  I almost cried when it was over.

I think this book was an amazing journey of one young man’s quest to determine for himself what sort of man he will be.  It will take your breath away.

My grade?  Nothing but an A+ will do for this one.  Do yourself a favor and go read this book now.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Title:  Just Listen
Author:  Sarah Dessen
Publisher:  Viking Juvenile
Year:  2006
Reason for reading it:  I needed to choose 2 books that dealt with “issues” in teen fiction.  This one deals with eating disorders and date rape.
My grade:  A+

Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything"—at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help,maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

My Review

To say that I am stunned would be a gross understatement.  This book blew me away.  I have always avoided Sarah Dessen, thinking that she was sort of a fluff romance writer for teens.

I could not have been further away from the truth in any way, shape or form.

This book was both heart wrenching and heartwarming.  I didn’t think that was possible for a book, but this book gets top marks in both of those areas.  It was honest and haunting.  It made me cry, it made me smile and it made me stop and ponder things.  It made me think a lot about what goes on behind the mask of our families.

My heart ached for Annabel.  At the same time, I wanted to sometimes shake her and make her actually stand up and react to something.  She was very real, though.  I think there are a lot of teen girls who get caught up in following a stronger personality, even when they don’t necessarily agree with what that person is doing or asking them to do.  I see it all the time.  I even see it in myself, this attempt to avoid conflict at all costs.

I loved Owen as a character. It was nice to see him teach Annabel how to be a stronger person.  He is flawed with his anger management issues, but he is good for her.  Of course, she’s good for him as well.  She teaches him to reach out to others and together, they both become better people.

I had a hard time putting this book down.  I kept wanting to see Annabel finally step up to the plate and DO something with all the issues in her life.  I was thrilled when she was finally able to do that.  In fact, I was thrilled to see her whole family come to terms with their issues, open up and deal with them.

I loved the way Sarah Dessen started this novel after the “event” that precipitated everything and then builds a story while giving the reader glimpses into the past and what led up to the present situation.  I think she did a fabulous job of balancing out the past and present to keep building to the climax of the book.  It was just enough information to keep me interested and yet, yearning for more information. 

I liked the ending a lot.  It was not a happily ever after and they were all friends again forever and ever.  But it was happy and hopeful and realistic.

I think this book was excellent at showing how a family grappled with an eating disorder and how a young woman struggled with coming to terms with an almost rape.  I should warn readers that even though the would-be rape gets interrupted, there is a description of what happens.  It is not graphic, but it is disturbing.

I have to give this book an A+.  It took on difficult issues and dealt with them in an open and honest way while weaving a fabulous story of love, growth and acceptance.  It has definitely changed my perception of Sarah Dessen and I will be reading more of her stuff in the future.

Oh, and I loved it when Owen punched Will.  Just sayin’……

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing with Matches by Brian Katcher

Book:  Playing with Matches
Author:  Brian Katcher
Publisher:  Random House Children’s Books
Year:  2008
Reason I read it:  It is a required read for my YA lit class
My grade:  A

Some guys are born handsome, but seventeen-year-old Leon Sanders has a mug that looks like it should be hanging in a post office with the caption “wanted for shoplifting and credit card fraud”. Thanks to his twisted sense of humor, he’s managed to go from nerdy to unknown. Leon’s new locker neighbor is Melody Hennon, an unfortunate girl whose face was horribly disfigured from a childhood accident. When Leon takes a chance and makes her laugh, he discovers that underneath the scarred skin, Melody is a funny, smart, and interesting person. Leon never predicted that he and Melody would become good friends…and maybe more.

Although Leon second-guesses his own growing feelings for Melody and worries about what people will think of the two of them dating, he’s happy to have someone in his life who treats him like he’s special. But when Amy Green, cheerleader and Leon’s long-time crush, asks him out, his devotion to Melody hangs in the balance. Leon tries to find a way out of this dilemma without hurting anyone, but soon realizes–a little too late–that playing with someone’s heart is as dangerous as playing with matches.

My Review

This is really a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I HATED this cover and when it arrived as one of my required reads, I was sort of dreading it.

I am sooooooooo glad that I had to read this book!

Now, I understand why this was a YALSA Top Ten pick.  This book was wonderful.  It was poignant, bittersweet and heart wrenching.  I loved Leon, then I wanted to punch him and then I felt sorry for him.  I loved Melody.  I felt sorry for her, then I rejoiced with her, then I got angry for her and finally, I was thrilled to see her think highly of herself.

Leon is the main character in this book, but the whole cast of characters is incredible.  The rude and crude twins are so funny.  I loved Samantha, the militant feminist and Rob “one of 10 black kids in the school” is such a conundrum.  Dan is the devil worshipping weirdo, but he may be my favorite secondary character.  Of course, Melody is a show stealer in this book.  The characters were so rich and often they were laugh out loud funny.  At first, I felt sorry for them as the group of outcasts, but of course, in the end, they turn out to be the better group of people.

This book is about Leon’s growth, but it was nice to see the growth that EVERYONE made in the novel.  I’m not sure how Brian Katcher managed to portray that, but even the twins were able to refrain themselves from making rude comments to Melody and in the end, they all were able to see past her outside scars.  What was especially touching was how Leon started to realize that there was more to all of his friends on the inside and by the end of the book, this group of seeming misfits had grown closer because of Melody.

I loved the ending.  It was perfect.  

I am so afraid of giving too much away with the plot.  Is it cliched?  Yes.  Does that make it any less wonderful?  No.  I think that it is realistic and the author seems to capture the voice of a teenage boy perfectly.  Leon’s inside running monologue was humorous and often very one-track.  Of course, he is a seventeen year old boy!

This book does have some references to sex, since that’s all seventeen year old boys think of, really.  However, there is no portrayal of sex, much to Leon’s chagrin!  There is a smattering of language, but it’s tame.  There is some underage drinking and smoking, but it’s not glamorized or described in great detail.  It just is there.

My grade for this book is an A.  It was an exceptional story about an exceptional group of friends who learn to see themselves in a better light when they open up to another outcast.  I thought it was inspiring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vampire Academy Book 1 by Richelle Mead

Book:  Vampire Academy
Author:  Richelle Mead
Publisher:  Razorbill
Year:  2007
Reason I read it:  I have to read 2 challenged/banned books for my YA lit class.
My grade:  C+
St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school; it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's; the very place where they're most in danger...

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi; the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires make Lissa one of them forever.

My Review

For my second challenged or banned book, I chose “Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead.  It is the first in a series of books.  It was banned at Henderson Junior High School in the Stephenville, Texas Independent School District in 2009.  In a move that has to be a first in the history of book banning, the school district banned the entire series, including the books in the series that were not even written yet!  I am not certain who started the challenge to the books, but they were challenged and removed because of references to sex and nudity in the book.

This book received favorable reviews from both VOYA and Booklist.  It was also a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers in 2008 and an ALA Teens’ Top Ten book in 2008.  On, the book has 4.26 stars out of 5.  It’s not an award winner, but it’s not the type of book that wins awards.  It’s just a book for pleasure reading.  About vampires.

Honestly, I’m not sure what got the censors so upset about this book.  I thought it was a little silly and a little vapid in parts, especially at the beginning, but the “sex and nudity” was not really that bad.  The main character seemed to have a sort of slutty reputation, but the reader discovers that she is technically still a virgin.  However, there are no descriptions of her exploits except for a couple scenes of making out.  There is one nudity scene where the main character almost has sex, but there is no real description of it, other than saying that she thought it was about to happen.  Of course, two paragraphs later, the reader discovers that Rose and Dimitri were both under a compulsion spell of lust.  There is talk about one of the friends who had sex for the first time with a boy she dated for several years.  However, for a book that is about seniors in high school, this seemed rather tame.  And it's tame compared to the talk I hear in the high school where I teach.

There is a little bit of language in the book, but definitely less than 15 curse words are used in the whole book, unless you consider "badass" a curse word.  It is a lot tamer than “Forever” by Judy Blume, which I consider a classic YA coming of age story.  I suppose the difference is that Judy Blume discusses sex and the consequences that result in making the choice to have sex.  In this novel, it’s just sort of thrown out there.  I think that is because this is an adult author who decided to write YA.  Authors who always write YA deal with sex and sexuality differently.

I think it would depend on the maturity level of the middle school reader as to whether or not this book is appropriate.  There was really nothing in it that would prevent me from handing it to my 13 year old, except for the fact that the first half of the book is trying too hard to be cool and teenager-y.  My objection to the book is that it was slow to begin with, hard to understand at first and used the word “badass” way too many times, in my humble opinion.  Can’t the author find another way to describe someone?  Really?  Also, the main character was smart alecky, self-centered and rather stuck on herself and her abilities.  She could throw some punches, but she lacked strength of character.  Lizzie Bennett was a strong female character.  Rose Hathaway is just a poseur.

I probably would not have finished this book if it had not been one for my class, but I’m glad that I did finish it.  At a certain point, the plot hooked me and I was able to overlook the fact that I hated the main female character and the fact that the author was trying too hard to sound like a teenager.  I still don’t like Rose, but now I want to see what happens to the rest of the characters.  Some of the secondary characters were more interesting.  I loved Christian and I think Lissa will end up being interesting, as well as Mason.

My grade for this book would be a C+.  I still don’t understand why the censors felt this needed to be removed for sex and nudity.  If I had removed it, it would have been for trying too hard to be hip and showing an appalling lack of depth in the main characters.  That’s the REAL problem in this book. 

I'm still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about with this book series.  I've read much better YA series than this one.  And yet, I will probably read the second one. : ) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Book:  Unwind
Author:  Neal Shusterman
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Year:  2007
Grade:  A++

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end.

Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

My Review

Holy horrific future, Batman!!!!  This novel left me speechless.  It was riveting, disturbing, action-packed and thought-provoking.  Like “Schindler’s List”, this is one of those experiences that will never leave you.  I am positive that I will think of this novel for years to come.  There will be scenes that will never leave my brain.

Nor should they.

The most disturbing part of this novel is that I can imagine a world in which this actually comes to be.  After all, if our world can allow the Holocaust to happen, the genocides of Bosnia and the Sudan, why would this unwinding concept be so hard for people to accept?  Even in our own country, we have people killing doctors in the name of life and people clamoring to try juveniles as adults and sentence them to death.  Why not just unwind them instead?

Obviously, I’m not serious, but this novel gives one pause to think. 

I read this novel as part of my YA lit assignment.  I had to choose a novel that had been challenged or banned.  This novel was challenged in Montgomery County, Kentucky during the 2009-2010 school year.  It was removed from classroom use and the approved reading list, but was retained in the school library.  It was challenged by a group of parents who asked for the removal of five novels because of what they felt was offensive content.  They claimed that the novels, including “Unwind”, were not suitable for discussion in a coed high school class and that the novels were not rigorous enough for a college prep course of study.  The superintendent removed it because it was not on the pre-approved curriculum list.

This book was a starred review from School Library Journal and was recommended by Library Media Connection.  It also received very favorable reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal.  It was also named a YALSA Quick Pick in 2008, which is a list of books for reluctant readers.  It was a recipient of the Sakura Medal for Middle School Book in 2009 and was a nominee for the Florida Teens Read award in 2009.

I am having a hard time trying to figure out why this book was challenged as being offensive.  Obviously, everyone should be offended at the idea of adolescents being
“unwound” and harvesting their body parts.  But we should all be offended by the Holocaust and students still read about that.  Book burnings are offensive to me, yet I still read “Farenheit 451”.  Students also read “Lord of the Flies”, “1984”, and “The Jungle”.  If something is disturbing and offensive to us, it is also thought-provoking.  “Unwind” is definitely disturbing, offensive and thought-provoking.

Which makes it a great novel for discussion.

I think that the parents that challenged this book were parents who don’t want their kids exposed to any ideas that are different from the ones they are taught at home.  This book is a great choice for a college prep class because it would be a very fast novel to read, yet it could inspire deep thinking and debate.  Students would have to examine so many issues while discussing this book.  It would be perfect for a Paideia or Socratic seminar.

This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.  I could only hope that one of my daughter’s teachers would choose to teach this book.  After all, education should be all about food for thought.  Neal Shusterman has provided a feast with “Unwind.”

I gave this book an A++.  This book was amazing.  On a side note, I did find out that there is a sequel planned for this book called “Unwholly” with an expected publication date in 2012.  That piece of news made my whole week!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

Book:  The Iron Daughter
Author:  Julie Kagawa
Publisher:  Harlequin Teen
Year:  2010
My grade:  B

Half Summer faery princess, half human, Meghan has never fit in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her.

Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.

My Review

I’m not sure how I feel about this series.  Well, that’s not right.  I like it a lot, but I don’t love it.  I guess I had heard so much about it that I thought it was going to just bowl me over.  There is one thing that makes me want to keep reading.

Robin Goodfellow.

Yes, I would have to declare myself a member of Team Puck!  I was prepared to love Prince Ash after all the reviews I’ve seen talking about how wonderful he is.  I suppose he’s good looking (at least according to his description) but he’s just another brooding, emo bad boy.  I’m kind of tired of those.

Also, I don’t like Meghan very much.  She is too whiny. And she overreacts to everything.  I’ve had enough of whiney after Bella Swan.  Step up to the plate, girl!  Use your powers and stop being a damsel in distress!!!!

I definitely plan on reading “The Iron Queen”.  I still love the way Julie Kagawa has given a twist to the world of faerie.  I can’t wait to see what happens to the Iron Court.  Also, these books are very fast reads.  They are action-packed and fast-paced, so I can at least get through Meghan’s whining and Ash’s brooding pretty quickly.  Of course, Puck never disappoints!  In this second book, he is still charming and full of mayhem and mischief.  I’m very curious about how he will deal with the choice Meghan made at the end of the book. (which I won’t give away, of course.  No spoilers!)

Grim is still a main player in this book and I’m still loving him.  He may be the best character in the book.  Who would have thought that a cat would steal the show!  There is also another character that I ended up loving who was a total surprise in this book.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I think that teens will like this series.  It reads quickly, has an interesting plot and many teenage girls will love the brooding prince of the Unseelie Court.  Of course, I hope that some of them will also love dear Robin Goodfellow.  Again, if you haven't read a lot of faerie books, this is probably not the book to start with.  Or else keep Wikipedia open while you read!  Fans of Holly Black and Melissa Marr will like this series.  I think it is actually superior to both of those authors.

I won’t get to read “The Iron Queen” until August when my YA lit class is finished, but I am anxiously awaiting to next part of the story.   And it’s ok if Meghan doesn’t want Puck.  She can just send him to me.

On a note that has nothing to do with the actual story, I have to say that at least this cover was better.  Yes, this is nitpicky.  

I give this book a B.  I liked it, but it lost some points for brooding and whining overloads!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Book:  The Iron King
Author:  Julie Kagawa
Publisher:  Harlequin Teen
Year:  2010
My grade:  B+

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home. 

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

My Review

I keep hearing so much about this series, so when my YA lit professor assigned us to read 2 books from a series, I figured I’d give this one a go.

I really, really liked this book.  I was hoping I would love it, but I didn’t.  Still, it was a good read and there are parts that I do love.

The story seemed to take off from the very beginning and I really liked that.  I have to read a lot of books this summer, so I can’t really take lots of time for a slow-starting novel.  This novel just dove right in and started with the action and that was really nice.

I loved, loved, loved Robin Goodfellow.  Yes, the Robin Goodfellow.  I don’t want to say too much more than that because I don’t want to spoil it, but his character is great!  He’s fun, mischievous, snarky and wonderful.  Plus, he’s red-headed.  And I have a soft spot for gingers.

I really enjoyed the way this author played with fairy folklore.  Of course, she has the Seelie and Unseelie courts and in addition to Puck, we get to see Queen Mab, Queen Titania and King Oberon.  But then she takes the rest of fairy lore and turns it completely on its head.  Again, I don’t want to spoil for anyone, but it was very interesting to see how she played with the mythology.

The other thing that I liked a lot was her description.  She uses such vivid description that it is very easy to picture everything in the world, yet she doesn’t spend 4 pages describing a group of trees. 

There were parts of the story that seemed to evoke Alice in Wonderland.  There are some references to falling down the rabbit hole and then there is Grim, the cait sithe , who seems to be rather like the Cheshire cat.  He’s another character that I just loved!

Now, many people seem to be totally in love with Prince Ash and I can see his attractiveness, but he didn’t seem to be that great to me.  Honestly, I liked most of the other characters better.  He is like the silent, brooding bad boy, but he seemed to lack depth.  I’m not sold on him.  At all.

I think that people who like to read books about faerie/fey and other paranormal books will like this series.  If it’s a reader who is just beginning to read paranormal, this is not the best book series to draw them in.  You need to be a little familiar with fairy lore in order to understand and appreciate much of this book.
On a side note, I HATE the cover!  The girl looks like she’s sporting a bad chick mullet from the 80’s.  Seriously?  They couldn’t do any better than that?  Where’s a beautiful cover like so many other YA books? 

My grade for this book is a B+.  I thought it was well-paced, very descriptive and a good adventure story.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Starstruck by Cyn Balog ARC Tour

 First of all, I would like to say a great big "TY" to Yara over at Once Upon a Twilight for including me in this ARC tour.  Yara, you rock!  The blog tour button is clickable, so you can see other reviews of this book.  Just click on it and it will take you to the OUaT blog and the tour stops.  Now, on to the book review!

Starstruck by Cyn Balog

Gwendolyn "Dough" X doesn't think she has much going for her—she carries a few extra pounds, her family struggles with their small bakery in a town full of millionaires, and the other kids at her New Jersey high school don't seem to know that she exists. Thank the stars for her longtime boyfriend, Philip P. Wishman—or "Wish." He moved away to California three years ago, when they were 13, but then professed his love for her via e-mail, and he's been her long-distance BF ever since.

At the beginning of her junior year, though, Wish e-mails that he's moving back to Jersey. Great, right? Well, except that Dough has gained about 70 pounds since the last time Wish saw her, while Wish—according to his Facebook photos—has morphed into a blonde god. Convinced that she'll be headed for Dumpsville the minute Wish lays eyes on her, Dough delays their meeting as long as she possibly can.

But when she sees Wish at school, something amazing happens. He looks at Dough like she's just as gorgeous as he is. But Wish is acting a little weird, obsessed with the sun and freaked out by rain. And the creepy new guy working at the bakery, Christian, is convinced that there's more to Wish's good looks than just healthy eating and lots of sun. He tells Dough that a mark on Wish's neck marks him as a member of the Luminati—an ancient cult of astrologers who can manipulate the stars to improve their lives. Is Wish and Dough's love meant to be—or are they star-crossed?

My Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book.  Cyn Balog has been on my TBR list for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to any of her books.

I am definitely going to make time to read them now.  Starstruck blew me away!

I’m not sure exactly what it was about this story that was so wonderful.  One thing I loved is that Dough is such a normal girl.  Not even normal, really.  She’s overweight and not popular.  I get tired of these books where the main character is supposedly “plain” and “non popular” for some mysterious reason, yet they are also beautiful and flawless.  In this book, we see why Dough is not popular.  She’s overweight, suffers from self-confidence issues and is a geeky, smart girl. 

The story with the mystery behind the transformation of Wish was a great storyline.  But even better was the real transformation of Dough from a wallflower to a girl who embraced herself as she was and started to like herself and be more confident.  The supernatural element of the story almost felt secondary to me, but I was perfectly ok with that.

Another appealing part of the book was how real the characters felt.  I teach high school and I’ve seen every one of those characters in my high school!  Ms. Balog managed to capture the high school stereotypes realistically.  It didn’t feel forced and the dialogue didn’t feel like she was trying too hard to write “teenagese”. 

I think this book will have a lot of teen appeal.  Many of the teens that I teach who read are those sort of geeky, smart girls!  This is a story that is perfect for them because they can see just how life-changing it is to embrace who you are and not worry about it.  It is also a very quick read.  It jumps right into the story without too much background being given and it sucks you right into the action.  I can see teen readers gobbling this one up.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book is that I wish I had gotten more information about the Luminati.  It felt like a plot device that was never brought to fruition.  It left me frustrated that I never really understood exactly what they were and how the whole thing worked.

I have to give this one an A-.  It’s an inspiring story that’s easy to read, has a nice paranormal twist to it and is inspiring to all of us “normal” people out there.  The minus is because I think the Luminati story line was under developed.  Regardless, it’s a nice, quick summer read that will leave you feeling happy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Book:  A Curse Dark as Gold
Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine
Year:  2008
Genre:  YA  Fairy tale retelling
My grade:  B+
Upon the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Charlotte struggles to keep the family's woolen mill running in the face of an overwhelming mortgage and what the local villagers believe is a curse, but when a man capable of spinning straw into gold appears on the scene she must decide if his help is worth the price. (description from

This book is a reworking of the Rumplestiltskin tale of Grimm fame.  It is set at the birth of the Industrial Revolution.  Although it never actually states the location, one assumes, based on dialect, that it probably takes place in England or Scotland.  It is the story of 2 girls, recently orphaned, who have inherited a textile mill from their father.  The mill is rumored to be cursed and the oldest daughter, protagonist Charlotte Miller, will stop at nothing to save the mill from ruin.  It has elements of historical fiction woven together with many supernatural fairy tale elements.  There is a dash of romance, some spookiness and a cast of secondary characters who are all wonderful on their own.

This book was awarded the Morris for debut authors by the ALA, probably because of the flawless way in which the author weaves together all the elements.  At the end of the book, it was a completely believable tale that provided a little something for everyone:  history, fantasy, horror, romance.  The author created a rich world and filled it with even richer characters.

For me, however, there was a rather large drawback, however.  It would have been easy to give up on this book because the story is very slow to start.  The author almost provides too much background information and it is easy to want to simply put the book down because of the slow pacing.  Readers who stick it out will be rewarded with a fantastic tale of love, loyalty, betrayal, secrets and the supernatural.  In the end, I loved the book, but at first, I wasn’t sure that I would make it to the end.

I loved the characters in this book.  Charlotte is a wonderful, strong female lead.  Uncle Wheeler is funny and Rosie has a lot of spirit.  The mill workers were wonderful and you can’t help but love them all for their loyalty to Charlotte and the mill.  And Randall Woodstone!  Swoon!  He may rival Mr. Darcy……ok, probably not, but he is fabulous!

I actually like the twist on the tale with the identification of Rumplestiltskin and the curse.  I think that it is a much more satisfying story and ending than the original Grimm Brothers version.  So if you decide to give this one a try, stick with it for 4 or 5 chapters before deciding to put it down.  In the end, you won’t be sorry!

My grade is a B+ because the story ended up being fabulous, but it lost points for the slow start.