Beat Strong My “Mortal Heart”

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Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Three weeks ago I had PRK done on my eyes. Tired of wearing glasses, I was willing to take the chance at blindness to not have to wear glasses or contacts anymore. My surgery went lovely, but I was confined to my house to allow my eyes to heal. However, this did not stop me from trolling on Edelweiss to see what the newest ARCs were. On Wednesday I literally screamed when I saw that Edelweiss had the Mortal Heart available. THE THIRD BOOK IN HIS FAIR ASSASSINS WAS AVAILABLE. Calm my beating heart!!! I immediately put my request into Edelweiss and sent a message to my library’s teen librarian, notifying her of its arc existence. Screaming like school girls on Facebook, we both anticipated approval. I was approved within 24 hours, and I downloaded that book faster than a gaggle of girls running to meet One Direction. Then, I did not nothing with it. My eyes were killing me and all I wanted was sleep.

Fast forward two weeks later and the teen librarian is about to kill me. She was not approved. Apparently, I was in the last group to be approved, as the publisher has decided to promote the book and hype up its release date. Lackadaisical in my reading, I barely made a dent in this mammoth of a book.  Realizing that my life was in jeopardy if I didn’t finish this book, I put my butt in a seat and started reading it. I was determined to finish the book before April 1st. Forget homework (something that I would later regret)!

Annith has been at convent since her infant days. Trained in the dark arts of Mortain, Annith has watched as all her friends, including Ismae and Sybella, be sent out to serve Death and his will. Annith, now the oldest at the convent, awaits when she will receive her first assignment. But alas, the convent has other plans for her. Livid, Annith takes her own fate into her hands and leaves the convent. She soon encounters an adventure that makes her question everything she has learned.

What I loved about this series was how LaFevers gave each character their own distinct voice and personality. Annith’s character, although one of the best trained at the convent, is very naïve. Unlike Ismae and Sybella who came from brutal and traumatic pasts, Annith has only known the convent. Her approach to the outside world is very different. Her actions and her reasoning shows a sheltered woman.

The only misgiving I had, but not really, was that I was able to guess the outcome of specific events and the identity behind certain people. This did not discourage me from finishing the book. I question if other readers will foretell these events.

Finally, I love how LaFevers interweaves a deeper meaning into the story. The biggest one I saw was that you don’t have to follow an organization’s teaching and instructions to serve a higher being. This theme seems to be a threaded among all three books. There are also multiple themes that would make this series great for book clubs.

Mortal Heart is a satisfactory conclusion to the His Fair Assassin’s Trilogy. It hurts my heart that I cannot anticipate another book in such an original series, but I applaud her for knowing when to wrap-up a series. Bravo!

Something Old With A Twist

Many of us have been subjected to reading at least one classical book in our lifetime. I remember reading “Animal Farm”, “Pride and Prejudice”, and “Jane Eyre” in high school. Some of us embraced these books with loving hands, while the others threw the books aside and sought Spark Notes. However, today’s teachers are noticing that literature classes do not have to be solely focused on the classics. They are now embracing newer literature for their students. It is not uncommon to see The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and  The Kite Runner in a today’s curriculum. Many educators are discovering that modern day literature, including young adult novels, can successfully address complex and enlightening themes. Bonnie Ericson, author of Teaching Reading in High School English Classes, states “To limit our selection of novels, especially to the ‘classic’ novels, is to tell our students that all these other texts, perhaps the students’ preferred types of reading have less value.”

 Young Adult

99561 Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book is perpetually checked out from my library. Either patrons are seeking more John Green books or students are currently reading it for class. I placed my hold almost three months ago and had to check-out the audio, because the book still had not arrived.

Miles Halter’s life has been uneventful. Wanting some change and excitement in his life, he opts to attend his father’s alma mater, Culver Creek Boarding School, where he hopes to find greater meaning in his life.  Upon his arrival, Miles receives the nickname of ‘Pudge’ and meets Alaska Young and Chip “The Colonel” Martin. He soon learns how to smoke pot, drink, and pull elaborate pranks. However, with one night, Pudge’s life is forever changed.

Everyone always discusses how amazing Looking for Alaska is for contemporary young adult literature. I guess there must be two camps, since I did not think the book was earth shatteringI found Pudge to be extremely whiny, and I was not emotionally attached or blown away by Alaska. Yes, I thought she was extremely smart, but I didn’t quite get her. I also didn’t see any deepness to her character.  I did LOVE The Colonel. I wanted to be The Colonel’s friend. He was brilliant without the moodiness and seemed to understand life.

I became peeved when Pudge despaired and contemplated his relationship with Alaska. I did discuss my feelings and questions with a teen librarian and she pointed out that Alaska was one of those girls who is nice to everyone. Nice is translated into “she likes me” to a 16-year-old boy. Hence, Pudge’s attachment to Alaska. Put into this perspective, the characters’ actions and emotions made way more sense.

I do think that Green does a fantastic job of raising questions. I liked how he really never answers the big “why” question. I also LOVED the “masturbation” and speaker scene. I won’t go into detail, because I want the reader to experience them firsthand.

Overall, I do believe this is one of those books that readers need to create their own voices for the characters. The narrator was not necessarily bad; I think his voice diminished some of the larger parts of the book.

Adult Book

5107 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

When I finally finished The Catcher in the Rye, my first thought was, “Holden Caulfield needed some Xanax.”  Well maybe not Xanax, but he needed something.

The only premise I got from the book was that Holden thought everyone around him was full of crap. What I took away from this book was that Holden was full of crap and didn’t see it. He gets expelled from boarding school and then decides to leave before his parents find out about his expulsion. He tramps through New York City and meets with people from his past and complete strangers before eventually “returning” back to his family.

Holden does attempt to address some deeper issues, but I just could not connect with his character. There are people who rave about how they connected with Holden’s angst. I wanted him to go get help. I think even 15-year-old me would have been like, “What is wrong with this kid?”

My opinion is that teachers probably could find a newer book that conveys teen angst with a much more likable character.

After reading these two books, I would be interested to see which book students gravitate towards more. It would also be interesting to do this experiment in a college setting to see if the students respond the same way.

Recommendation Pairings

Classic: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

New Retelling:

18049084 Noggin by John Corey Whaley

He’s alive!!! AGAIN!!!! Travis Coates died from cancer five years ago. Willing to take a chance on science, Travis agreed to allow doctors to decapitate his head and attempt to reattach it to a donor’s body. Although the procedure is successful, Travis  must learn not only how to adjust to a new body, but to a life, including  friends who are now five years older than him, that has moved on without him.

This is an absolute amazing book. Whaley has created a thought-provoking, enlightening, and hilarious book that will have readers wanting more. It is a modern-day loveable Frankenstein.

 

Classic:  The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

New Retelling:

12291438 The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

As the daughter of renowned scientist Dr. Moreau, Juliet Moreau had a comfortable life, until rumors of her father’s monstrous experiments reached the public’s ears. Now 16-years-old, Juliet is completely alone. Her father’s location unknown and her mother dead, Juliet fends for herself by working as a maid. However, when Montgomery, her father’s assistant and Juliet’s old childhood playmate, appears in London and knows the location of Julie’s father, Julie has the opportunity to face her father on his island of madness.

Classic: Romeo and Juliet

Retelling:

51fUgqNZ8fL If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

When Elisha and Jeremiah first meet, it is immediate attraction. However, Jeremiah is African-American and Elisha is Jewish. Fearing that their love will not be accepted, they keep it hidden from their families until it is too late.

A beautiful and simple retelling of Romeo and Juliet with modern day issues.

 

Additional Recommendations

Classic: The Odyssey by Homer

New Retelling: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Classic: The Wizard of OZ

New Retelling: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

 

 

Jailhouse Blues

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With 500 prisoners for every 100,000 residents, the United States penal system currently holds about 2.4 million inmates. This number has quadrupled since 1980 and has created a debt-sucking hole for its civilians. It costs taxpayers $21,00o to incarcerate the average prisoner for a year at a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 for a maximum-security prison. However, most of these facilities are not overrun with murderers and rapists, but inmates who committed a drug offense. Those in for homicide only make up 1% while drug offenders make up 51%.[1] Furthermore the system is racially unjust. There have been numerous articles and research about the racial injustice of the penal system. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, tackled this controversial topic. She discovered that white students use heroin and cocaine seven times the rate of black students and crack at eight times the rate of black students. However, 80% of those sentenced for cocaine/crack laws are African American.[2]

Besides these statistics, the United States also manages a juvenile justice system. Like the adult penal system, the juvenile justice system is also broken. Despite the dropping rates of youth crime, the juvenile system continuously increases its inmates. Furthermore, studies have routinely shown that incarceration of youth is more expensive and less effective than rehabilitative and educational approaches.[3] Many authors have attempted to tackle this controversial subject. Some, such as Susan Kuklin and Richard Ross, approach from an informational standpoint, while others-Walter Dean Myers and Paul Volponi-enlighten their read readers through fictional accounts. Most of these books have no issue with getting in their readers’ faces and forcing them to contemplate how should the justice system be handled. However, it is up to the readers to make that decision.

Young Adult Book

3466294 No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

In No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row Susan Kuklin takes her readers onto death row. Interviewing and recording six different stories, Kuklin presents teens sentenced to death. However, Kuklin routinely highlights specifics about each case. We learn about teens who were lured into committing a violent act by following an older sibling and friend. Some even took the downfall so their loved one could remain out of jail. Others were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Majority of the young men interviewed believed they deserved to be punished and make no excuses for their actions. What is unfortunate is that many of these inmate are serving a life sentence for a crime they committed at 13.

It is very evident that Kuklin is against the death penalty and presents facts of why.  Readers are pushed to question if a young teen should be punished for the rest of their lives for something they committed in their early teens. Many of the teens she interviewed also expressed remorse at the actions they took. The book is not necessarily groundbreaking, but Kuklin presents these cases in a way that demonstrates that life isn’t black or white.

This would be an interesting bookclub book because of the issues presented. However, the group would need to be willing to agree to disagree, as the book has a controversial topic.

Adult Book

15779249 Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross

This is an extremely fast but captivating read. For five years Richard Ross traveled across the country and talked with children and teens in the juvenile system. Taking over a 1000 pictures in over 250 facilities, Ross attempts to show the grim and destitute conditions of the juvenile system. Ross captures children in different facilitates and inserts interviews with the pictures. Furthermore, he includes facts about the juvenile system. Facts include how many girls in the system have been sexually abused and how a child may be placed in the system for refusing to eat a bagel. The book might be simple, but it is impacting.

I would probably recommend this book to be a companion book for a novel about incarcerated youth. I think students might enjoy discussing the situations. It might also reach reluctant readers with its lack of text.

Gurnee’s FYA Book Club

842087 Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Before he was an award-winner children’s author, Jack Gantos was pot-smoker drug smuggler. In 1971 Gantos was seeking literary enlightenment through adventure. Gantos eventually said yes to smuggling over 2,000 pounds of hash in exchange for $10,000.  His luck ran out when the authorities caught up to him.

The bookclub really enjoyed this book. At 192 pages Hole in My Life was an extremely fast and enjoyable read. Gantos’ life is extremely interesting. Most of the club was shocked that his parents allowed him to live alone during his high school years. We also discussed how Gantos continuously ran into trouble but miraculously came out unscathed.

I thought the book fit pretty well with my incarcerated youth unit. We discussed if Gantos had deserved his original lengthy sentence. In addition, many of the parents were appalled by the lifestyle that Gantos had lived. Two expressed concerns that they did not want to their teenage sons to read this book, as they were afraid they would be influenced to particpate in the same activities. This sparked an interesting conversation. We discussed how reading statistics have routinely shown that children who read about events are less likely to participate in those activities than those who do not read.

Recommendations

44184 Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Written in the style of a movie script, Monster takes its reader into the trial of a Steve Harmon. Convicted of assisting in a convenience store hold-up and murder, Steve reflects on how one mistake can impact his life.

This would be a great read aloud in a classroom. Teachers will also have the opportunity to investigate an unreliable narrator.

7099273 The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

Two boys are born into similar backgrounds. Missing fathers, similar crews, and troublesome circumstances lead both boys potentially down the same path. However, decisions and choices will take one boy to a successful career and the other to a life sentence.

6314763 Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman

In 1993 Piper Kerman smuggled drugs from the United States to Brussels out of love. 10 years later and with only weeks away from her crime expiring, Piper was indicated on drug trafficking and money laundering crime. For 15 months, Piper has to learn how to navigate prison life.

Orange is the New Black has been turned into a successful Netflix series.

Other Recommendations

Riker’s High by Paul Volponi

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

 

[1] Ezra Klein and Even Soltas, “Wonkbook: 11 facts about America’s prison population,” The Washington Post, August 13, 2013, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/13/wonkbook-11-facts-about-americas-prison-population/.

[2] Morgan Whitaker, “Criminal Injustice: The Percentage of African-Americans in Prison.” MSNBC, September 23, 2013, accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.msnbc.com/politicsnation/criminal-injustice-the-percentage-african.

[3] Alex Piquero and Laurence Steinberg, “Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration of Juvenile Offenders: Public Preferences in Four Models for Change States,” MacArthur Foundation, December 11, 2007, accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/WILLINGNESSTOPAYFINAL.PDF

Beam Me Up!

I am one that normally does not gravitate towards science fiction books. I don’t discriminate against these books. I just prefer contemporary fiction. So it always surprises me every year when a science fiction book tops my favorite books. It might be the possibility of futuristic worlds or the ability to speculate human actions and behaviors, but I am normally captivated with what is going to happen to the characters in these books. Like fantasy, science fiction takes its readers to new or different worlds. While I could discuss specifically the awesomeness of science fiction, I want to jump into a very large debatescience fiction versus dystopia.

According to the world wide web, authors, and readers, there is a difference between science fiction and dystopia. Some place dystopia as a sub genre of science fiction, while others argue that dystopia can be completely separate from science fiction. I used to be in the class that dystopia was a sub genre of science. As a fellow facebooker wrote, “Anything that takes place in the future or a parallel universe = Science Fiction.” However, after taking a Facebook poll and talking with an author, I have migrated to the class that dystopia does not have to be classified as science fiction.  Let’s take a look at the definitions:

  • Science fiction can merely be a world that is different from our world. The world is not necessarily dystopia or utopia.
  • Dystopia is a world traditionally controlled by totalitarian forces and the masses are oppressed.

There are some authors who argue that dystopia is an off-shot of science fiction and people are afraid to call it science fiction. I can agree with that discussion point. However, I also talked with Ilsa Bick, the author of Ashes trilogy, and she said that technically not all dystopias are science fiction. She gave two great examples. This was her argument:

For example, if you set a novel in a country where the prevailing government has been overthrown, you can turn it into a dystopic novel, but it doesn’t have to take place in the future nor must it be science-fiction. You could make the argument that books that take place in private academies, where the students have no recourse to anything outside the school, are also just dystopia novels.

Her statement completely turned my reasoning upside down. It made me stop and think about how  genre classification cannot be classified neatly. My reasoning for this discussion is to make other readers aware of the differences. I’m also open to any debate about how people perceive these two genres.

Young Adult Book

375802 Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

In a futuristic society the world no longer relies on adult soldiers, but gifted children to fight their wars. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is the third child in his family. Conceived in hopes of being the perfect mixture of his volatile brother and empathetic sister, Ender is accepted into Battle School, where he will learn to perfect his skills to be a general for Earth.

In today’s libraries, Ender’s Game is normally found either in the juvenile or young adult section. However, when it was first published in 1985 it was written for an adult audience. This is quite noticeable in the themes that Mr. Card explores. The largest and most contested theme is the violence. Almost every aspect of the book revolves around violence. Ender must defend himself physically against violent bullies, his brother is violent, the alien invasion is violent, and the Battle School teaches acceptance of violence. Ender struggles with balancing his empathy and achieving the goals of what is expected of him.

What I thought was so great about this book was how the themes were so thought provoking. This was would be a terrific book for a book club. Even though Ender is six when we first meet him, the events that he experiences create fantastic discussion points. Readers can discuss violence, compassion, innocence, relationships, humanity, and the characters themselves.

I would strongly recommend listening to this book. The narrators did a fantastic job!

Adult Book

6320534 Under the Dome by Stephen King

This was my first Stephen King novel, EVER! I’m kind of ashamed to say that it took me 27 years to finally read a book of his. Thankfully, a good friend mentioned that I should give this one a go for my independent study.

In Chester’s Mill, Maine everyone is enjoying a beautiful fall day. A woman is taking flying lessons, a man is mowing his lawn, and a man is hitchhiking out of town. All of a sudden a dome drops around the town. Some people are killed instantly, while others are fatally injured. The town soon must grapple with a potential dictatorship, multiple deaths, and the strange meaning behind the dome.

I might have just become a Stephen King fan. I quickly learned two things about Stephen King:

1. He goes all the way with his storylines. I’m pretty sure his story contained way more gruesome deaths and details than all The Hunger Games books combined. I kept thinking, “Is he going there?! Yes, he did!!!”

2. He has no problem killing off main characters. I would be intently listening to the story and then scream aloud when a character I loved was killed off.

The fact that Mr. Stephen King is willing to take these steps in his writing scared the living daylights out of me. Why? Because I could see how any town could become a Chester’s Mill. Mr. King develops his characters realistically, allowing the reader to see all the dimensions of how people respond in a crisis. Mr. King gives us villains,  mentally-ill, heroes, and everyone in between. I absolutely hated some of his characters. I wanted the dome to lift back up and fall down on specific people. A true sign that the book is well-written, in my opinion, if I could develop such a strong dislike of a fictitious characters.  Favorite characters are also not immune to the chopping block, which I appreciated.  In real-life situations good people do not always outlive evil. I’m sure that if George R.R. Martin and Stephen King got to together and wrote a book it would be DEATH TO ALL!! 13-best-game-of-thrones-memes-spoilers--L-cGNFBR

There is also a strong possibility that the book would only be one page long because Martin and King would have killed everyone in the first paragraph.

Besides the characters, King does a superb job of setting the plot. He masterfully crafts  world-building in an enclosed town. King slowly reveals each layer of the town without overwhelming the reader, hence why the book was over a 1,000 pages. It is extremely frustrating when authors throws 20 characters at the reader in the first ten pages. It does not give the reader the time to process who is who. I enjoyed learning about the characters and their history with each turn of the page. I would suggest that if someone has a hard time keeping characters straight to give the audiobook a chance. Normally, the narrator will do different voices, allowing the listener to discern who is who.

My only pet peeve with the book was who was controlling the dome. Under the Dome is what I would call social science fiction. It is set in present day with an element of science fiction. The book revolves more around speculative human behavior than futuristic technology. I’m not going to give anything away, but I kind of scratched my head when the citizens discovered who controlled the dome. I was slightly disappointed. My reaction was, “That’s it?!” I would be completely open to discussing with other readers on their thoughts about the ending.

I would probably only give this book to a teen who is avid reader and willing to take the challenge of reading this door stopper.   Reluctant readers would most likely be turned off by the thickness, but I might be able to bribe them with all the gruesome details.

Recommendations

9969571

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wade Watts lives in the year 2044. Trying to survive his life’s grim conditions, Wade passes time by playing in the virtual world of OASIS; and like everyone else, he seeks the hidden clues to the fortune of  OASIS creator James Halliday.  Until one day Wade finds the first clue and the virtual world is thrown into upheaval.

24770Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

In Tally’s world everyone becomes beautiful upon their 16th birthday and joins the city of the young and beautiful. Ecstatic, Tally is counting down the weeks until she receives her own procedure. However, Tally’s opportunity is completely stopped when her friend Shay decides to run away instead of becoming a “pretty.” To proceed with the procedure, Tally must find Shay and turn her in.

32145Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

This might not be a futuristic book, but it discovers how science intersects with death. Mary Roach explores how cadavers are used in the name of science. From crash dummies to facelift dummies, the dead become science experiments.

Additional Recommendations

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

 

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I had a really hard time coming up with a blog title for this week’s review. Am I discussing hard topics? Death?  Realistic situations? Technically both of these books fell into all these categories. I decided to go with “Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Depressing YA books are now all the rage. Forget vampires! Give us dying teens, depressed teens, and teens dealing with the hard stuff. Some people might complain that teens are not ready for these subjects, but the immense popularity of these books with all age levels suggest otherwise. The popularity has further increased with people gravitating towards John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. 

Teen librarian, Susan Steider, commented that Green has become the modern-day Lurlene McDaniel (For all those under the age of 25, Lurlene McDaniel writes super depressing stories about teens). The Fault in Our Stars has commenced a dying teen craze in YA books.  It seems like every month there is another dying teen book being released. A few titles are Maybe One DayThe F- It ListSomebody Up There Hates You, and Side Effects May Vary. Don’t despair, teens dying are not the only popular ones. Technically, traumatic events with teens have always had a following. Speak and My Sister’s Keeper have remained fairly popular years after their original published dates.

Some have argued that these books appeal to teens, as teens experience the turbulence of hormones and emotions. However, what sparks my attention is why adults are gravitating towards these depressing and turmoil-filled pages. Are they wanting to relive their teen years, or are the books speaking to something deeper in them.

Known as ‘sick-lit’, these books speak to both teens and adults while promising to leave the reader emotionally drained and ‘devastated’. Some fear that by placing these books in the hands of  impressionable teens that society will soon be filled with suicidal and self-harming teens, while others go as far as to say that teens should not be reading these books alone.[1] I’m going to pooh-pooh at this thought. Teens are going through a variety of emotions. Most just want to be understood and want to understand what they are going through.  Just because I read every single Lurlene McDaniel in 6th grade did not mean that I wanted to die of cancer, lose a loved one, or suffer a traumatic incident. Assistant professor at Knox College, Barbara Tannert-Smith mentions in her article that teens are attracted to these novels because of self-identification with the suffering protagonist.[2] However, this type of literature can be seen as a safe place where teens can explore these topics. Michelle Pauli states that “The rise of young adult means we are able to explore ‘the darkness’ with the safety wheels on.”[3] It seems that adults are gravitating towards these books for the intensity as well.

This past August author, Malindo Lo, asked adults #whydoadultsreadya on twitter after contemplating it on her blog. Many adults posted their reasoning behind reading ya, but some of the responses included:

“I enjoy the immediacy of the stories and the sense of being at the beginning of the path of who you’ll become,” Tweeted by @sesinkorn

“I love the intensity of 1st time experiences, experimentation, & growth that we’re told to stop doing as adults,” Tweeted by @sarahockler

“To understand the youth. But really, because I like the stories, and it’s easy to read. Raw, earnest, beauty.” Tweeted by @sara_r_l

As it appears, adults enjoy the good ya book for multiple reasons.

 

Young Adult Book

11870085 (1)The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

You might have noticed by now that many of the books that I’m reading are ones that I have put off for some time. Again, The Fault in Our Stars falls into this pile. When it first came out I had read to page 20 and then left it sitting on a counter until it was due back at the library. The book was soon receiving all sorts of hype. My Facebook was filled with people lamenting that nothing would measure up to this book. People on Goodreads were raving about how it was the best book they had read in a long time and etc. I still was not interested. I finally had to pick up the book for Forever Young Adult Book Club meeting. I went in not wanting to be part of the bandwagon. I wanted to be a rebel. I failed miserably.

A quick summary. Hazel is dying of cancer. She knows it. Her parents know it. Even her non-existent friends know it. Hoping to make the best of a seriously crappy situation, Hazel attends college and support groups to maintain some resemblance of normal life. However, Hazel’s life is soon sent into a tailspin when Augustus Waters walks into support group one day. Hazel and Augustus soon forge a relationship filled with love, laughter, tears, death, and the universe.

First thing’s first, I thought the relationship with Augustus and Hazel was “nice.” I wasn’t blown away. I have read plenty of YA romance novels and the only difference was that they both had cancer. What blew me away was the deepness and thoughtfulness these characters displayed. Some have argued that teens don’t talk that way, aka deep intelligence, but Hazel and Augustus are not your normal teens. For one, they have cancer. Their perspective on and life death is going to be drastically different from the teen who spends his/her time at the mall. However, why can’t teens have philosophical thoughts. Give the characters a bit more credit.

What was so profound for me were the things they discussed that made complete sense. The narcissism people display upon their impending death. How people’s mark on life tend to be the scars they leave on others. How grief reveals someone’s character. And my personal favorite, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”

The book is a 4 for me. Despite my love of its philosophical moments, the book did have its failings. Augustus parents kind of drove me nuts. It is apparent they do not fully understand him, but the way they responded at the end kind of had me scratching my head. I also wish that Green would have left Peter Van Houton in Amsterdam. I would have been perfectly content with not knowing his story.

I normally do not like to re-read books, but I want to reread the The Fault in Our Stars to ponder the meaning of life.

Book Club

Zion read The Fault in Our Stars for their February book club. Three quarters of the staff absolutely loved this book. Our tween associate even reread because she loved it so much. However, the love was not shared with everyone. One associate thought it was meh and the other thought Mr. Green had another agenda. We had a very heated argument about the purpose of the book. We decided to let the FYA group settle the debate.

The club was actually split 50/50. Some really enjoyed it, whereas others were more meh about it. Our biggest discussion was what was John Green’s ultimate focus of The Fault in Our Stars. The jury’s still out, but it made for an insightful discussion.

The one interesting thing is that Zion’s FYA group decided that they had had enough of depressing YA lit. They requested that Elsie pick some happier books for the club. Apparently, sick-lit is not all the rage for adults. Elise decided to scratch Thirteen Reasons Why. She replaced it with the fantasy book, Cruel Beauty.

 

Adult Book

16151178The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Have you ever LOVED a book and raved about it the minute you put it down? You don’t even want to think about picking up another book because you want to bask in the greatness of it. Then, you revisit it a few days later and realize that it is kind of forgettable? This is what happened to me.

The Sea of Tranquility is a 2014 Alex Award. This is particularly awesome because it means that the book has been deemed a good cross-over for young adults and adults. I thought it would be a good fit with The Fault in Our Stars because of the tragedy element.

Nastya Kashnikov is the new girl at school. Filled with secrets and hiding a deep tragedy, Nastya hides behind heavy makeup and revealing clothing. She also refuses to talk.

Josh Bennett is an open-book. Losing almost everyone in his family to death, Josh is all alone and everyone knows it. Avoided like the death plague, Josh is relatively content in his own world.

However, it takes one word from Josh and a night run from Nastya for them to form an unlikely relationship and eventually, a romance.

When I finished reading this book, I shouted from the mountain tops. The book had been cruising at 3.5 to 4 stars and then I finished it. I thought it was solid 5. The ending took my breath away. However, I started to think about the ending and I became confused. I even contacted the author on Twitter and started a discussion on Goodreads. Thankfully, I received clarification. This dropped my original rating from a 5 to a 4. Now that I’m writing this review, I realize that I’m having a hard time recalling the book.

What I remember is that the plot slowly developed. I enjoyed that reader got to see Nastya and Josh’s relationship grow. Unlike most YA novels where the main character’s love life is instantaneous, this relationship had to be felt out. We are also provided glimpses into the Nastya’s accident and its aftermath. This helped propel the story along.

What I did not like about this book was Nastya’s family. What family would give up on their child after a traumatic accident. Maybe I come from a different family, but my family definitely would not have been content with me moving away from them. Nastya’s sudden silence is also very disturbing. Once she stopped talking it seemed liked her parents were like, “We are done. Move in with your aunt.” This seemed completely unrealistic for a family that was tight-knit before an accident.

I do believe that the major characters were done somewhat well. Those who did not have a significant role were in the background, while the major characters were fleshed out. One reviewer on Goodreads did have quite a few things to say about this book. She also mentioned something very interesting about all the characters. They were all beautiful and talented. Every.Single.One.Of.Them. This made me go “Huh, she’s right.” Unfortunately, I cannot think of any other aspects that really stood out to me.

Overall, I still would hand this book to a teen and/or an adult. I think both of age groups would enjoy the storyline, even if isn’t completely memorable.

Recommendations

8621462A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Have you ever had a monster invade your dreams and no matter how hard you try to escape, the monster always returns? For Connor O’Malley, a monster has invaded his dreams and life. During the day Conor battles his emotions about his mother’s cancer and at night, it is a monster from dreams. To escape the clutches of this monster, Conor must only speak the truth.

6609549By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

After years of bullying, Daelyn is ready to give up on life. She has attempted suicide several times and each time has failed until she stumbles across a site that will help her successfully complete her goal. As she prepares for her “final journey,” Daelyn begins to recall memories from the past and begins to distance herself from her family, only to discover that a potential friend may destroy all her plans.

11330361A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

On June 10, 1991 Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped on her way to school. Captive for 18 years, Jaycee endured sexual and psychological abuse from her captors. She eventually bore two children to her kidnapper. It was not until August 26, 2009 that Jaycee was finally free.

I’m going to forewarn you this isn’t the most well laid out book. Jaycee’s thought pattern tends to jump sporadically, but her story demands to be heard.

 

Other Recommendations

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

The list can go on with this topic. Feel free to ask me for more recommendations.

 

[1] Tanith Carey, “The ‘sick-lit’ books aimed at children: disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, self-harm and suicide…,’  Mail Online, January 2, 2013, accessed March 29, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2256356/The-sick-lit-books-aimed-children-Its-disturbing-phenomenon-Tales-teenage-cancer-self-harm-suicide-.html.

[2] Barbara Tannert-Smith, “Like Falling Up into a Storybook”: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2010): 395-414. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed March 29, 2014).

[3] Michelle Pauli, “‘Sick-lit’? Evidently young adult fiction is too complex for the Daily Mail,” The Guardian, January 20, 2013, accessed April 1, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/04/sick-lit-young-adult-fiction-mail.