Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book #59: Stolen

Book #59: Stolen by Lucy Christopher
5/5 stars

This is a novel I read for my YA literature class, and I won't soon forget it. Stolen is written as a novel-long letter from a victim to her kidnapper and it's unlike anything I've ever read. It not only dares to speak the entire time in the second person (using "you" instead of "I" or "he/she"), but it also treads the controversial topic of Stockholm syndrome: when a kidnapping victim has positive feelings toward his or her captor.

The story is a letter from 16-year-old Gemma to the man who kidnapped her: Ty. She was in an airport in Bangkok when Ty, a seemingly charismatic, mysterious guy not too much older than her drugs her coffee and kidnaps her, bringing her to the middle of the desert in Australia, miles and miles away from anyone or anything. Ty has set up a little place for them to live, with running water and enough food to last years. Gemma is angry with him for taking her, though besides initially drugging her, Ty never hurts her.

The story gets really interesting as Gemma (and the reader) start to develop feelings for Ty that aren't hateful. He has been through a lot in his life, and tells Gemma about it, and why he had to take her. Parts of his story made me think of Native Americans, because he is so dedicated to the land, and smart about how to use it. Gemma begins to struggle with her feelings toward her kidnapper. He must be a bad guy right? He took her away. And yet...he seems so gentle, and he genuinely cares for her, in a way that isn't creepy as she once thought. Is she suffering from Stockholm syndrome? Or is Ty really just not a bad guy?

This debut novel from Lucy Christopher had me hooked from the beginning. The second person narration is a little weird at first, but I got used to it. I was confused about my own feelings toward Ty's character. I felt that I had to hate him, and I tried so hard to, but sometimes my feelings were swayed. The novel really makes you think, long after you've finished, and it poses some interesting questions about Stockholm syndrome. Having recently read another novel about kidnapping that was extremely different, Stolen was a refreshing new kind of novel that blew my mind until the last page.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book #57: Wintergirls

Book #57: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
5/5 stars

If Laurie Halse Anderson's name rings a bell, it's probably because you've read or at least heard of her famous novel, Speak. This YA novel is just as insane and wrenching, perhaps even better because of its creativity. Wintergirls takes on a tough teen topic: anorexia.

The story follows Lia, whose once best friend has just died (this isn't a spoiler, you find out on page 1!) mysteriously in a motel room alone. Lia hasn't talked to Cassie in a long time, but the girls had known each other since they were young, so Cassie's death is hard to deal with obviously. A few factors make it even harder to accept: Cassie called Lia 33 times during the weekend of her death, leaving desperate messages each time that Lia cannot bring herself to listen to all the way through. Cassie was suffering from bulimia when the girls were friends, and they bonded even more over their eating disorders (Lia is anorexic). Lia has a terrible support system, if you can even call it that. Her mother is a busy doctor, her father a busy professor, and her stepmother just doesn't get it. Oh, and Lia is also haunted by Cassie's ghost, day and night.

Over the course of Wintergirls, Lia tries to come to terms with her friend's death, and if she is indirectly responsible for it. Simultaneously, she is living a nightmare of anorexia. She had been in a hospital and clinic previously for her eating disorder, where they made her gain weight until she was just over 100 lbs. She has to maintain a certain weight in order to stay at home, so she has fixed the scale without her stepmother knowing. She is losing weight but despite her dedication she is constantly hungry. Even though she has been anorexic for a while, the desire to eat never subsides; if anything it gets worse.

This book may sound absolutely depressing, and I can't tell you that it's a happy, light story. It's dark and real and scary. But it's also amazing to behold and beautiful to read. Laurie Halse Anderson explores interesting choices in her novel, like making the chapter headings look like numbers on a scale, and listing calories in parenthesis after any food item that is mentioned in the novel, to represent Lia's thought. For example, if she is surveying the dinner table and looking at the different foods, after each food is listed, Lia is counting the calories. If there is butter on the toast, she adds more calories, etc. And the numbers are pretty exact, which is frightening, considering how meticulous Lia is about food.

Also, the writing in the novel is haunting and poetic, unlike anything I've read in a YA novel recently. “This girl shivers and crawls under the covers with all her clothes on and falls into an overdue library book, a faerie story with rats and marrow and burning curses. The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close.” This quote is just a small example of some of the amazing writing choices Anderson has made in Wintergirls. This novel was absolutely incredible and eye-opening. It's great to see authors tackle such tough, scary subjects in a real way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book #56: Dark Places

Book #56: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
5/5 stars

I took a short break from YA lit to check out the amazing Gillian Flynn's second novel, Dark Places, published in 2009. I liked it even better than her first, Sharp Objects, and I FINALLY got a hold of her most recent novel, Gone Girl, so expect a review of it soon!

Dark Places is a dark, occasionally graphic, novel about a woman named Libby Day. She is the sole survivor of a horrifying night in which her mother and two sisters were murdered...well the sole survivor except for her brother, Ben, who is now in jail for life after being convicted of the murders. Libby was just seven years old at the time of the tragedy, and her testimony is attributed to being key in Ben's conviction. Now, almost 25 years later, Libby's monetary fund from supporters and well-wishers for the Day baby is almost gone. She has never worked a day in her life, but now might be the time to start looking for a job. Libby is disgruntled and still never quite healed from the tragedy that struck her family.

Soon after Libby gets the news about her dwindling bank account, she receives a call from Lyle, a young guy who is calling on behalf of the Kill Club. If it sounds sketchy...that's because it is. The Kill Club is made up of people who are obsessed with famous murder cases, so much so that they have meetings where they talk about the murders and actually purchase "souvenirs" that come from people related to the case. Lyle invites Libby to come speak at a little convention that the group is having, and the only reason she goes is because she desperately needs the money.

Upon arriving at the convention, Libby meets many people who are convinced that her older brother, Ben is innocent. They have many theories about who the real killer is, including Libby's deadbeat dad, Runner, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to in years. There is even a group of women who have a Free Ben club and who often write to him in prison. They demand that Libby retract her damaging testimony from 25 years ago, which they claim Libby was coached to say in the first place. Libby is disgusted and confused, but when she finds that she can make some money out of this situation, she strikes a deal with Lyle. She will do some investigating of her own, and talk to some of the key figures and suspects surrounding the murders...for a fee. As Libby delves into her past and begins to uncover secrets she never knew about, she starts to doubt Ben's guilt, and wonder who else might have actually torn her family apart.

This novel was a crazy read and I loved it! It's very dark and touches on subjects that are controversial such as Satan worship and pedophilia, but it is not in a way that makes you feel sick or super uncomfortable; it's all part of the story and it's there for a reason. Dark Places had a ton of suspense and kept me guessing until the very end what exactly happened that night. There are flashbacks every other chapter to the hours leading up to the murders, and they are in different perspectives, including Patty's, the mother, and even Ben's perspective. Little clues are given in these flashbacks but it's up to the reader to put them all together before the surprise ending blows your mind. Loved this novel, and can't wait to read Gillian Flynn's latest, to see if it's even better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book #55: Black Duck

Book #55: Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle
5/5 stars

So normally I hate Historical Fiction. With a burning passion. I've never been much of a history buff, which is probably why I don't usually like reading about how life was during the Holocaust (depressing), down on the ol' plantation (boooooooring), or fighting in the Revolutionary War (boring AND depressing). So, you can imagine when I got the assignment to read Black Duck, a historical fiction novel, for my YA literature class, I died a little inside. I knew by the groans in the classroom that I was not alone in my hatred of historical fiction. However, my professor warned us that she'd turn us at least a little bit in the direction of tolerating historical fiction, and I hate to admit it, but she was right about this book.

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle is an adventurous account of a young boy living dangerously close to rum runner territory during Prohibition. It might sound a little boring at first; after all, I am among those who dread reading about the Great Depression period. However, this novel bordered on a pirate novel, except for the fact that all of the thievery and secrecy happened on land.

Ruben and his best friend Jeddy are walking along the beach one day when they find a body. The man has been shot and washed up on the shore! The two friends search the man for any kind of ID, finding nothing except an old tobacco purse (which Ruben takes) and a few other odds and ends. When they go to tell the local police (one of which is Jeddy's dad), it takes the police hours to show up, by which time the body is gone without a trace, leaving Ruben and Jeddy looking like liars.

Finally, word gets around that the body was discovered by the Coast Guard, and that the man was involved with rum runners. During this time, alcohol was illegal, so people would buy liquor from other countries, in this novel mainly Canada, and have it shipped to the coast by boat in the dead of night. It turns out that there are warring gangs who are fighting for territory and trying to conduct massive "business transactions" on the beaches right near where Ruben lives. The most famous, or perhaps infamous, rum runner boat is the Black Duck, which has escaped the police and Coast Guard innumerable times.

As the novel goes on, Ruben becomes wrapped up in the rum running scandals, since he was the one to discover the body. Inside the tobacco case is something that many different rum runners want desperately. And since they're already breaking the law by importing and selling liquor, these men aren't above breaking some more laws to get what they want from Ruben.

I wish I could tell more about the story but obviously I can't give it away. I'll just say that what follows is some great adventures that are reminiscent of pirate stories, and action that barely stops. The story is narrated by a much older Ruben, telling his tales to a young, aspiring reporter, who reminds Ruben a lot of himself.

I said it before and I'll say it again: I usually HATE historical fiction, so I did not expect to like this book in the slightest. I picked it up reluctantly, expecting to struggle through it, but I couldn't put it down. The short chapters and exciting action sequences made for a quick, and entertaining read. I can't say I'm sold on historical fiction, but this novel did lean me in the direction of liking it a little better.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book #54: Forever...

Book #54: Forever... by Judy Blume
5/5 stars

After reading the often banned book Go Ask Alice, I was excited to explore more infamous banned books over the years. I figured I should definitely see what all the buzz was about concerning what may be Judy Blume's most famous (or perhaps infamous) banned book, Forever.... Originally published in 1975, this YA novel "has been the frequent target of censorship and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number seven" (Wikipedia). Why has this book been challenged so often? The big "S" word: sex. Apparently adults think that teenagers don't know about things like sex and birth control, and/or don't need to be reading about them. However, besides the fact that this book was an entertaining story of high school relationships, it's informative, and that's something that teens need.

Forever... is the story of high school seniors Katherine and Michael. They're mid-way through the school year, looking forward to college and the future. When they meet at a New Year's party, there is an instant connection, and shortly after, they begin dating. As high school-aged kids will, they explore the ideas of love and sexuality together. There are a few graphic descriptions within the novel, but it's probably not anything that most high school students haven't heard about. Forever... goes into depth about love and how it may or may not tie into sexuality. Katherine struggles with being apart from Michael whenever they're not together, and says that she is in love with him, something that her parents doubt, or don't want to believe.

This was a quick read (I read it in one day), yet it was definitely worth it. It's definitely not the kind of book that could be read or taught in a school setting, but I think it's important for high school students to read about and understand different aspects of being in a relationship and what they are and are not comfortable with, as well as how quickly relationships can change. I don't think that this book (or any for that matter) should have been banned. I think that some kids are not mature enough to handle the content, but those who are will find not only a good story about the ups and downs of young love, but an informative novel that tells it like it is, yet encourages caution and intelligence.

Note: If you read and liked Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky, which is a more recent version of Forever..., you will probably like this novel, and vice versa. I read Anatomy of a Boyfriend in high school, and plan to re-read it soon after reading this novel to see how they compare.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book #52: Go Ask Alice

Book #52: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
5/5 stars

This novel, printed in 1971, was challenged and censored quite often over the years for its mature content, which made me want to read it even more. I am very into reading banned books lately, because I don't think that books should ever be banned. Children should not be handed books that would scar them due to the mature content, but I believe that books should be available to everyone.

I was interested in this novel also because it has no listed author. An editor's note in the beginning of the novel claims that this was the true diary of a young, anonymous girl, and that names and places have been altered to protect all those involved. However, the novel is listed as a work of fiction. Upon finishing the novel, I did some research about it. Apparently in the 1970s when it was first published, Go Ask Alice was marketed as a nonfiction YA book. However, over the years there has been much speculation about a woman, who claims to be only the book's editor, possibly having written the fictitious novel herself. Regardless, the novel is absolutely incredible and worth reading whether or not the author is truly the author of these diaries.

The protagonist of this novel doesn't have a name. The title comes from a Jefferson Airplane song apparently (one with which I am not familiar). However, for clarity's sake, I will refer to her as Alice in this review. Alice is 15 at the start of the novel, and the whole book is comprised of her diary entries over a couple of years. At first, Alice is living a basically normal teenage life: some days are pretty good, some days are filled with angst. Her family moves when her father is offered a new job at a college, and Alice hopes that life will be better for her in this new town. When it turns out that this is not true at all, she is isolated and sad for most of the remaining school year.

When Alice visits her old town during the summer (her grandparents still live there), she runs into a popular girl from her old school, who is surprisingly a lot nicer to her than she used to be. After talking for a while, the girl invites Alice to a party she is throwing and Alice is delighted to go. While there, the kids play a dangerous party game involving LSD, which Alice doesn't realize until she is already flying high. She believes that what everyone has told her about drugs can't be true, and that she may try a few other substances just to see what they're like, and then be back to normal.

But of course, life doesn't go as Alice planned. From that night on, she starts a battle with an inner demon that will not let her go: addiction. She is flung in and out of her addiction over the course of the novel, and her diary entries let the reader look through a window into Alice's mind, as she battles herself for months and months and her life begins to crumble around her.

Go Ask Alice reminded me a lot of the verse novels written by Ellen Hopkins (i.e. Crank, etc.), though since Go Ask Alice came first, perhaps that's where Hopkins got some of her inspiration. Despite how it may sound, this novel is not entirely depressing. The subject matter is absolutely dark and mature, but there are times when Alice fights back hard against the darkness inside her, giving the reader hope that she may in fact overcome her addiction. This novel is terrifying but intriguing, and I wouldn't have guessed for a second that it is over 30 years old. I finished it in one day, if that is any indication of how quick and fantastic a novel it was. It shocked me till the very end, and left me deep in thought. Rather than censor books like this, I believe that we should encourage high school students to read them, and learn the terrible truth about what choices like Alice's can do to a person. It's no wonder this book became so famous (or infamous); it's definitely worth reading and it won't let you go right away once you've finished it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The First 50!

Finally, I'm halfway to my goal of 100 books in a year! For those who don't know, this isn't in a calendar year (I wasn't smooth enough to think of this in time haha), but from 3/1/12-3/1/13. So I'm about on schedule, halfway through right now. Here's the list of the first 50 books I've read this year, and if I reviewed them on the blog, the titles are click-able links in case you missed that post! Feel free to ask about any of the books if you're interested! I have listed the date I finished the book, title and author, and rating out of 5 stars. I'm looking forward to reading the next 50 and sharing them with everyone! Be expecting a lot of YA lit this half, because I'm reading a lot of it for my classes, but some fabulous adult books as well! Happy reading!

1. 3/6 Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip 5/5 stars
2. 3/8 The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne 2/5 stars
3. 3/12 The Big Bad Wolf (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
4. 3/14 Fat Pig a play by Neil LaBute 4/5 stars
5. 3/20 London Bridges (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
6. 3/26 The Beach House by James Patterson and Peter DeJonge 5/5 stars
7. 3/29 The Garies and Their Friends by Frank Webb 2/5 stars
8. 3/30 Summer and Smoke a play by Tennessee Williams 4/5 stars
9. 3/31 Cloaked by Alex Flinn 4/5 stars
10. 4/5 The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks 5/5 stars
11. 4/9 Mary, Mary (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
12. 4/11 Eurydice a play by Sarah Ruhl 3/5 stars
13. 4/11 Cross (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson
14. 4/15 Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson 5/5 stars
15. 4/18 The Pact by Jodi Picoult 5/5 stars
16. 4/23 Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo a play by Rajhiv Joseph 3/5 stars
17. 4/24 The Glass Menagerie a play by Tennessee Williams 5/5 stars
18. 4/25 Double Cross (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
19. 5/6 The Shadow of Your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark 5/5 stars
20. 5/11 Cross Country (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
21. 5/15 Cut by Patricia McCormick 5/5 stars
22. 5/16 Sold by Patricia McCormick 5/5 stars
23. 5/23 Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult 5/5 stars
24. 5/29 The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark 4/5 stars
25. 5/30 Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeffrey P. Lindsay 4/5 stars
26. 6/4 Looking for Alaska by John Green 5/5 stars
27. 6/6 Divergent by Veronica Roth 5/5 stars
28. 6/10 Mad Women by Jane Maas 4/5 stars
29. 6/12 The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 4/5 stars
30. 6/17 In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip
31. 6/18 Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James 3/5 stars
32. 6/21 Death in the Classroom by Jeffrey Berman 4/5 stars
33. 6/27 Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult 5/5 stars
34. 6/30 Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick 5/5 stars
35. 7/4 Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper 4/5 stars
36. 7/6 I, Alex Cross (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
37. 7/12 Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer 5/5 stars
38. 7/14 Insurgent (sequel to Divergent, #27) by Veronica Roth 5/5 stars
39. 7/19 Insatiable by Meg Cabot 5/5 stars
40. 7/24 A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly 4/5 stars
41. 8/2 The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron 5/5 stars
42. 8/4 Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks 5/5 stars
43. 8/9 Overbite (sequel to Insatiable, #39) by Meg Cabot 4/5 stars
44. 8/12 Dearly Devoted Dexter (sequel to Darkly Dreaming Dexter, #25) by Jeffrey P. Lindsay 4/5 stars
45. 8/14 The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks 5/5 stars
46. 8/22 Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn 5/5 stars
47. 8/26 Paper Towns by John Green 5/5 stars
48. 8/30 Cross Fire (an Alex Cross novel) by James Patterson 5/5 stars
49. 9/4 The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 5/5 stars
50. 9/6 The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult 4/5 stars

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book #49: The Fault in Our Stars

Book #49: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
5/5 stars

"Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book." Hazel, The Fault in Our Stars, pg. 33.

I'm sorry to be reviewing two books by the same author in a row, but if my review of Paper Towns didn't convince you that John Green is a modern master of literature, pay close attention to this review, or be prepared to miss out on one of the most amazing books of your reading career.

I had heard that The Fault in Our Stars was amazing from a few different people, and I didn't doubt it since what I have read by Green has been nothing short of awesome so far. This book, though it was published this past January, is catching like fire because it's probably the best thing Green has written so far. For those interested in the title, it comes from Shakespeare's Julius Cesar, the full quote being: "The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

As my Young Adult Literature professor put it, "no one can write a novel about kids with cancer like John Green." Ahhh there it is, the "C-word". But do not fear readers! I agree that only Green could craft such a wrenching, yet hilarious and overall beautiful novel about such a subject. The main character, Hazel, is a 16-year old girl who has basically been slowly dying for years from cancer. She had a miracle a few years earlier where she was basically on the brink of death from the disease, but kept on living. She is not healed, and is on oxygen 24/7. However, she is doing her best to live life as best she can, which most of the time means sitting at home with her mom and watching reruns of America's Next Top Model and re-reading a book with which she is in love called An Imperial Affliction.

When Hazel is forced into a support group with a cliche, ridiculous leader who wants everyone to get touchy-feely about their feelings and whatnot, she dreads the meetings, and spends them communicating with her half-blind friend Issac through sighs of boredom and frustration. However, one night, Issac brings a friend with him - a one-legged GORGEOUS cancer survivor who is also Hazel's age: Augustus. He approaches Hazel after the meeting and the two become fast friends, finding many similarities between themselves despite some definite differences.

The Fault in Our Stars follows the story of Hazel and Augustus, two young people who have seen and been through far worse in their 16 years than most of us will in a lifetime. Together they struggle with questions about their lives and diseases, but more importantly, they try to experience life as just two teenagers finding out about themselves and one another. They each have a witty sense of humor that kept me laughing, even at the "cancer jokes" they swapped. As Hazel says of her own favorite book, The Fault in Our Stars " not a cancer book, because cancer books suck" (pg. 48). The book is less about cancer than it is about the lives of Hazel and Augustus and their relationships with one another and the other characters. It's hard to explain the plot without giving lots away, so all I can say is READ IT! I did cry a few times over the course of the novel, but I also smiled and laughed aloud. And I thought, deeply. Hazel and Augustus, like all of John Green's characters, are more than just one-dimensional teenagers concerned with the latest celebrity breakups and the new popular song. They are smart, really really smart, and witty, and a little jaded, and just absolutely incredible to read about. Of the now three John Green novels that I have read, this is by far my favorite. I know that it's a classified Young Adult novel, but I feel that anyone, no matter how long ago his or her teenage years are, can appreciate this work of brilliance.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald