Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I picked up this novel at ALA 2012 because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. I forced myself to read through to the end because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. As I read, I kept waiting to understand why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards. I read the final page, never understanding why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards.

The three literary components that this novel struggled with were show-not-tell, ambiguity, and characterization. The lack of development in all of these areas caused the plotline to fall flat.

Show-Not-Tell: Rule #1 of creative writing: show-not-tell.  Almost the entire story was a summary of events and people, robbing the reader of descriptive writing that connected her to the novel.  What little dialogue and description that was present was so inconsequential that it didn’t add anything to the plot or characterization.

Ambiguity: There was too much poorly explained randomness that the author tried to pull together in a “twist” at the end. Unfortunately, the twist was forced, and the entire build-up was poorly executed. For one, there was no natural flow. For another, it was completely unbelievable and far-fetched. Maybe the awkwardness was due to the author’s attempts to leave not-so-subtle hints throughout the story so that it would all “come together” in the end. I mean, I get what the author was trying to do. I really do. I could see it a mile away. Sadly, it didn’t work.

Characterization: There was none. For example, the majority of the novel was about Gabriel’s disappearance; however, the reader never got to know Gabriel enough to care. In fact, because of all of the summaries, the reader never adequately got to know any of the characters. **SPOILER**There was a moment of sadness when Benton committed suicide, but that quickly gave way to the realization that he was simply the catalyst for the roommate to spiral into madness.**  Again, show-not-tell. Make the reader care.

Too many loose ends and too little descriptive writing left this novel a disappointment. I know that this novel won the Printz and Morris Awards; however, those awards are based upon the opinions of 11 Printz Committee members and 12 William C. Morris committee members – hardly the majority of readers. As I’ve learned throughout my professional career, just because something wins awards doesn’t mean that it’s good. The reality is that this novel is disjointed and poorly developed, and I suggest readers find something else. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork

Pancho has nothing left but revenge. His mother died when he was young; his  father was killed in a tragic accident; and his sister's murderer is walking free. But, not for long. Pancho has a very clear and precise plan: find the  murderer and kill him. After that, Pancho doesn't care what happens to himself.  At least, he didn't until he met D.Q., a fellow resident of St. Anthony's Home. 

D.Q. suffers from a rare form of cancer that is rapidly killing him. As a  result, he decides to write the Death Warriors Manifesto in an effort to teach  others about the fullness of life. Struggling with his own set of issues, he  sees something in Pancho worth saving. As these two become unlikely friends, they learn about love, loss, and forgiveness during the last summer of the death warriors. 

This is simply a wonderful story about friendship. Of course, there is a love triangle, but Stork deals with it so succinctly that it adds to  the overall message instead of distracts from it. Also, this is the kind of  story that can easily fall into cliches and predictable subplots; luckily, the  author keeps it moving by connecting the reader with each character's struggles  and choices that they face when they approach a fork in the road that has  lasting effects.  

Something else that I appreciated without even  realizing it was the quiet mastery with which Stork conveyed this story. I am a bit tired of overly dramatic and violent scenes that some authors feel they need  to include to present the intensity of the moment. But, this author was able to  portray those same emotions (and intensity) simply by creating well-developed  characters who the reader felt like she "knew." For instance, he was even able 
to humanize the murderer so that the reader found herself struggling with  Pancho's desire for revenge. 

All-in-all, this novel is a realistic look  at a young man struggling for justice in his life. Just when he thought he was  all alone, someone reached out to save him - even when he didn't want to be  saved. Through it all, Pancho is provided choices, like all of us, and he must  realize that for every action, there is a equal or lesser reaction.  

A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Anetxu “Ani” Largazabalago is a twelve-year-old girl living in Guernica, Spain, during WWII. Although Hitler’s militant coups earn the focus of  the world, General Franco creates his own brand of civil war in Spain. With  Ani’s father fighting in Spain’s Civil War, her mother and she are left to fend  for themselves. Selling sardines door-to-door, and relying on the mercy of   others, leaves Ani’s mother bitter and Ani with few friends. However, little   does Ani know that her life is about to change. 

When Mathias Garza’s family moves to Guernica, Ani suddenly finds  herself in the middle of espionage. Even though her mother has always told her  that she is insignificant, she can’t help but feel as though she is contributing  something great by helping the underground resistance. 
Then, Nazi planes attack her quiet, little town, and Ani realizes  that no one is insignificant.

 Readers who enjoyed Zusak’s The Book Thief(2005) will enjoy this novel. Ani’s life in Spain dramatically mirrors Liesel’s life in Germany during the same period. The main difference is that Death tells Liesel’s story for her while Ani speaks for herself. Although the girls’ lives are very similar, I enjoyed reading Ani’s thoughts because it gave me an insight that I felt was lacking in my connection with Liesel. 

I don’t think that people fully understand the impact that WWII had on the world. We often focus on the horror of concentration camps – as we should – but there were many, many other victims to Hitler’s hate. As a result, Gonzalez presents a different perspective of the many layers that made up this war by focusing on the children who became orphans because of senseless attacks.

This novel drags in a few places, but, overall, it is a pleasant read. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, but I found myself unable to put it down during the last few pages. Although the events in the novel are devastating, the author does a good job of communicating hope without diminishing the cruelty of events.

ARC provided by Radom House (Thank you!)
Publication Date: October 9, 2012

Unwholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman

One year after Connor, Risa, and Lev escape Happy Jack Harvest Camp, they find that their lives have greatly changed. Connor has replaced the Admiral as the commander of the Graveyard; Risa struggles with her place in Connor's heart as well as in the Graveyard; and Levi is under house arrest, ministering to wayward youth as part of his plea bargain. 

Enter Subplot #1: Starkey is a storked teen whose parents decide to unwind him, but he escapes and finds himself in the Graveyard. Starkey is extremely similar to Roland (cunning, strong, power-hungry, etc.), and wants to take over Connor's job. 

Enter Subplot #2: **SPOILER**Cam is the Frankenstein-like creature that Proactive Citizenry creates from multiple unwind parts. They want to create the "perfect" human from perfect human parts. To be successful in "humanizing" Cam to the general public, the group decides he needs to show that he can be loved. Unfortunately, Cam has set his eyes on Risa, and what Cam wants, Cam gets.

 Enter Subplot #3: Nelson is the Juvi Cop who Connor tranqued with his own gun in UNWIND (2007). Through a series of internal monologues, the reader learns that since that day, Nelson's life has been a living hell. He was ridiculed by his peers to the point that he lost his job, his marriage, and his life as he knew it. As a result, he's made it his mission to catch AWOL Unwinds and sell them to parts pirates (there is a black market for unwind organs). Guess who he blames for his downward spiral? Yep, Connor. Guess what his mission is throughout the book? Yep, to catch and kill Connor. 

Enter Subplot #4: The Anti-Divisional Resistance is a group of activists who are openly anti-unwinding. They are supposed to provide the Graveyard with necessary provisions such as food, water, clothing, and sanitation so that Connor no longer has to send unwinds to fulfill work orders. The ADR also has a new mission: save tithes. The group poses as parts pirates as they attack vehicles transporting tithes, kidnap them, and work to deprogram them from being brainwashed. Guess who their poster child is? Yep, Levi. 

Enter Subplot #5: Miracolina is a tithe who gets "rescued" from her harvest, and she's ticked. She has no desire to be saved, and she can't stand Levi. Because Levi sees a lot of himself in Miracolina's resistance to the truth, he decides that he's going to save her whether she wants him to or not. 

Enter Subplot #6: **SPOILER**Trace is Connor's right-hand man, but he's playing both sides to the middle. Although he seems loyal to Connor, he's actually working for Proactive Citizenry and feeding them information about the Graveyard. 

Enter Subplot #7: Proactive Citizenry owns everything and everyone (i.e. Juvie Cops, Government, Media, etc.) has a secret agenda that Connor and Trace are trying to crack. This group is the one pushing unwinding, and Connor wants to find out how to dismantle it and save lives.

There are more subplots, but I'm tired, and I need to get to my evaluation. 

First of all, I love UNWIND (2007). It is my favorite book, and I teach it every semester in an effort to explore the value of human life, personal responsibility, and manipulation (government, religious, and media). One of the things that makes UNWIND such an amazing read is that we get to know each of the characters as well as witness complex situations that they struggle to overcome. We fell in love with Connor, Risa, and Levi because the author helped us invest in them. This book, however, contains so much action and so little depth that the reader doesn't really connect with anyone. There are too many subplots and too little character development, which makes the storyline seem forced and disjointed. 

Readers who enjoy a lot of action will gravitate to this book because it seems as though there is always something going on, but readers who want a book that’s similar to UNWIND will be disappointed. The only thing
similar is the names of the characters.  

ARC provided at IRA 2012
Publication Date: 8/28/2012

The Selection Book #1 by Kiera Cass

The only thing unique about this novel is the cover. 

Set after the fourth world war, futuristic America, now known as Illea, has implemented a monarchy that functions off of a very stringent caste system. Although people from different castes are allowed to marry, it is highly frowned upon since it means a demotion as well as harder living arrangements (i.e. less food and natural resources). But, none of this matters to America Singer, whose family makes its living through the arts and set at level five in the system. America is secretly in love with Aspen, a six, and impatiently awaits the day that they can be happily married. 

Aspen and America's relationship seems to be going perfectly until the Selection occurs, a lottery designed to find a wife for Prince Maxon. When America's name is selected, her family is ecstatic; however, she has no desire to even meet the spoiled, entitled prince because she already has the man of her dreams. But, when Aspen suddenly breaks things off and tells her that they have no future, she decides that she owes it to her family and herself to participate in the games. 

This story has been said to be the Hunger Games meets ABC's  television show "The Bachelor." Not even close. Although this is the first novel in a trilogy, there is little to no plot or character development that keeps the reader interested. In addition, what little plot exists is so contrived and predictable that the reader is left bored even when there are rebel attacks, which are never really explained, on the palace and the girls' lives are supposedly in danger. Therefore, unlike the Hunger Games, there is little to no action, which causes the scenes to become repetitive. A few times, America quarrels with Celeste, the mean girl of the group, but even this is forced and expected. Overall, this novel is a poorly written romance that masquerades as a dystopian novel.

Avoiding Plagiarism by Pearson

Oftentimes, as teachers, we are expected to know all of the rules of plagiarism if we are going to "catch" students in the act. The only problem is that there are ambiguous rules and assumptions that we have to interpret and hope our students don't ask us to explain or prove. This book lays everything on the line; it is a very straightforward, precise explanation of what counts as plagiarism and why. In addition, it goes through numerous examples to show how to recognize the various types of plagiairsm in writing as well as ways to avoid them through attributions and citations. This is an excellent resource for every writer, and it is now a required text for my students. No more excuses.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

"Well, how many people do you think live perfect lives, son? Aren't we all victims of something at some time or another?" - Granddad Harry (p. 

Lucky Linderman lives a pretty dysfunctional life. He's grown up paying homage to a grandfather who never came  home from Vietnam (MIA); he has an emotionally absentee father because he's never gotten over the disappearance of his own; he has a mother who would rather swim laps than face her crumbling marriage; and he has Nader McMillan relentlessly bullying him. His father's solution is to "ignore it" while his mother quietly hopes that the bullying goes away. After Nader's latest assault that leaves Lucky's face mangled goes unpunished, and Lucky's father is moved to inaction, his mother's flight instincts kick in. She's taking him to Arizona to visit family and get away. 

When Lucky and his mother arrive in AZ, he finally meets his Uncle Dave and his crazy, pill-popping Aunt Jodi. Things in AZ aren't too different from his life back home; his mother still swims laps, Lucky still dreams about his Granddad Harry, and his Aunt Jodi is convinced that Lucky is suicidal. While trying to dodge Aunt Jodi's helpful interventions to have him committed, he meets Ginny, a beautiful, hair model who suffers from demons of her own. The more that Lucky gets to know about her, and the others, the more he realizes that only he controls his destiny and Nader's days are numbered.

A.S. King takes the emotional struggle of bullying and empowers her charcter in a way that is believeable and 
triumphant. As she weaves the story of the missing grandfather throughout, the reader experiences all of the underlying issues that impact Lucky's ability to deal with Nader. I really liked how King doesn't sugar-coat everything. Instead, she shows that everyone has demons, but it's how we face them that has the greatest impact.

A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Love, love, love this series. I gave this to my six-year-old because she's just learning to read, and she can't put it down. She has favorite sections that she'll open to, and she'll just giggle over and over again.

The illustrations and storyline are so cute that parents shouldn't be deceived by all of the pink within the pages. Even my nephews love reading about this spunky mouse who can't help but be in the Christmas spirit. The plot is fun and deals with the struggles that most kids have when they get caught up in the commercialism of gift-giving (and receiving). Through the witty banter between the narrator and Babymouse, readers not only get to laugh, but also get to think about what's really important during this holiday season.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Há is a ten-year-old girl living in South Vietnam with her mother and older brothers when she and her family barely escape the fall of Saigon in 1975. As they board the ship to America, Há knows that she will never see her papyrus tree again, she will never see her friends again, and she will never see her MIA father again. As her family settles into its new life in Alabama, Há tells of the promise of democracy giving way to acts of racism as well as the kindness of a few overcoming the hatred of many.

Thanhha Lai weaves a simplistic, yet emotional, story that provides a new perspective for how the Vietnam War changed people's lives forever. Told in free-verse, the reading is fast-paced and easy to comprehend. My only complaint is that this young adult National Book Award winner, which is slated for 8-12 years old, is clearly children's literature. Although I enjoyed the storyline in
the context of children's literature, the reading is too simplistic to be categorized as young adult literature. It makes me wonder if this novel was pushed into the NBA pool by cronyism. Decide for yourselves.

Little Rock Girl, 1957 by Shelley Tougas

My daughters and I found this book during a trip to the library, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to share history with them as well as talk about the destructive nature of racism. The first thing that they noticed from the cover was Hazel Bryan's distorted face as she spewed racial slurs at Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. My response to them was, "Isn't it terrible that this young girl will always be remembered for her hatred towards another person?" And, one daughter responded, "She should have tried to be Elizabeth's friend." Such a simple response, yer so few people could fathom it in 1957.

As I read this book with my daughters and explained the Civil Rights Movement, they were appalled that people were beaten and murdered simply because they wanted equality. Although the book isn't written to be emotional, there were times that I caught myself choking up at the sheer cruelty that people, "Christian" people, showed African Americans during this time. To know that Elizabeth Eckford was fifteen at the time, and grown adults (mothers, even) shouted to string her up in a tree to prevent her from entering Central High School, makes my skin crawl.

I know that many people like to pretend that racism doesn’t exist today. Maybe minority women aren’t kicked off of buses anymore for refusing to give up their seats, but racism exists in many forms. I just hope that there are enough of us teaching our children to look at the content of a person’s character rather than the color of skin to offset the consuming hatred that fuels bigotry.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula is a creature that possesses many powers including mind-control and seduction. He uses his mysticism to lure Jonathan Harker to his castle in Transylvania in order to finalize his plans to infiltrate British society and feast upon its Victorian ideals. Unfortunately, he has to play by certain rules. For instance, he cannot leave his "unholy" soil, he cannot cross running water, and he cannot enter without being invited. Regardless of his limitations, he's able to find faithful followers who will help him seek and destroy his prey no matter how pure and how safe she might feel.

Set in the late 1800s and incorporating many Freudian concepts, DRACULA (modeled after Vlad the Impaler) addresses issues of sexuality, feminism, and immigration. This text is written in a series of letters (epistolary) from the perspectives of the main characters: Mina, Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing, Seward, and Lucy. Unfortunately, the reader never gets to learn Dracula's perspective, which is a true weakness of the novel. In addition, this novel takes WAY too long to implement any kind of suspense or tension, which leaves the reader bored. The most tension I've felt, in fact, comes when I'm trying to avoid certain topics with my students that they inevitably bring up and want to discuss. I probably won't teach this novel again

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

After the sudden death of her father, her rock, seventeen-year-old Jill is trying to cope the best way that she knows how – by unleashing her anger and self-loathing on everyone around her. During the ten months following the accident, Jill has managed to alienate her friends, her boyfriend, and her mother in a feeble attempt at self-preservation. While she is busy living in her downward spiral, her mother decides to fulfill a dream that she and her husband shared. She wants to adopt a child and give it a loving home. When Mandy, the “human incubator” arrives, Jill must learn that loss comes in many forms. While some people lose the ones they love, others lose things like innocence and security. As everyone awaits the baby’s arrival, their lives begin to intertwine and they learn that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.

 Zarr has a very poignant writing style. Each of her characters has a distinct voice and personal perspective that adds to the depth of the story being told. This is a story about a lot of things. One of the main things is looking below the surface to see the core of something. While Jill hides behind anger, piercings, and dark eyeliner, Mandy hides behind her angelic looks and quiet compliance. They’re mirror images of each other, each suffering silently. However, although Mandy seems slow and ignorant, she’s honest with herself while Jill can’t quite seem to do the same. 


Although I enjoyed this book, I was a little disappointed that everything worked out perfectly in the end. Even people who want to spread kindness to people who are less fortunate tend to experience some form of resistance. It was almost as if the mother was too perfect. She never seemed to get upset, and she was more than willing to comply with unreasonable demands (i.e. no adoption agreement, the father of the baby). Although I like novels to end on a hopeful note, I also like them to be realistic. Even the love triangle was quickly and pleasantly resolved, where no one got hurt and no one was upset. 

But, still, despite the ending, I think that the overall message is important. People need to extend kindness. Every action has an equal or lesser reaction. Why not have that action be kindness? Who knows? Maybe it could save a life. 

I Hunt Killers (#1) by Barry Lyga

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is the son of the most notorious serial killer of all time. While growing up, Dear Old Dad taught his son valuable lessons, such as how to clean blood stains, how to slice through skin, and how to think like a serial killer. Now, several years after his father's apprehension and conviction, Jazz is trying to lead a normal, teenage life in the same small, close-knit community that his father committed his final two murders. But, when women start getting murdered, and the killer is copying Billy Dent’s gruesome MO, Jazz is the only one schooled enough in the mind of a sociopath to help the police. The only problem is that Jazz isn’t sure that being around the victims won’t trigger his own need to kill.

For people who enjoy TV shows like Criminal Minds or CSI, this is an exceptional read. The novel doesn’t go into detail about the killings. Instead, the plotline focuses on the inner workings of the mind of a killer. I know that several people were disappointed that there wasn’t more action and scenes with the murders taking place – they were always described after the fact – but with this type of story, it really would have taken away from the psychological aspect.

There were a few times that Jazz’s constant whimpering about being destined to kill got old, but Lyga did a good job of using his spunky girlfriend Connie to call him out and voice what the reader was thinking: “Either put up, or shut up.” From that moment forward, Jazz became a stronger character for me.

This novel alludes to multiple brutal killings and gives details about nailing bodies to a ceiling, vaginal and anal rape, and other forms of brutality. Because of this information, readers need to be mature; however, leaving it out would have taken away vital details from the story. Lyga wanted to show the cruelty to Billy Dent's murders without shifting the focus away from Jazz. Part of Billy's cruelty was making his child watch, and participate, in a number of killings.

I know that Mr. Lyga conducted research to add authenticity to his novel, and his painstaking efforts show. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because I’m intrigued with how the mind works, and the mind of a sociopath is probably one of the most mysterious to explore. I will definitely check out the sequel.

Deviant by Adrian McKinty

Danny Lopez's family has relocated to a quiet Colorado town where he gets to attend an experimental school centered on teaching discipline to children who need "guidance." Some of the rules include school uniforms, including white gloves for sanitation, a rigid teaching script that's read to students and repeated daily, and no socialization among faculty and students- ever. As if this wasn't weird enough, Danny finds himself recruited by secret student organizations determined to find the serial cat killer. As the clues mount up, and the killer becomes more bold, will he make it out alive?

I rarely give one star, but this middle grade novel was...not good. In fact, I made myself finish it even though I wanted to put it away less than halfway through. The book opens with a very eerie and cryptic cat killer in the process of sacrificing a cat, which grabbed my attention right away. Unfortunately, there was nothing after that scene that prompted tension or suspense because the characters and plot became very mundane. I think that part of this is because the author tried to have too many subplots (romance, conspiracy, teenage angst)in an effort to distract the reader from being able to identify the killer; however, it simply caused the story to go on meaningless tangents rather than weaving a tale of suspense.

Another problem with this novel was that the characters were extremely shallow. The plot would allude to struggles in characters' pasts without really using those to let the reader get to know them on a deeper level. To use a teacher phrase, the author did a lot of "telling" and not "showing," which is pretty boring. Most readers don't want to have an event summarized for them; they want to experience it with the characters so that they can build a connection. These characters were two-deminsional at best.

The ending had a lot of action in it, but by that point, most readers can already figure out who the killer is, so the climax falls flat. Even when there was a twist at the end, if readers pay attention to contextual details, it's not too difficult to see it coming.

Overall, this novel had an interesting concept but poor execution.

Venom by Fiona Paul

Cassandra “Cass” Caravello is a fifteen-year-old contessa living in Renaissance Venice whose elite life is suffocating. Outwardly, she benefits from wealth, prestige, and an arranged marriage. Inwardly, she recoils from her life being meticulously planned out for her. She wants to escape the social mores that plague society. She wants to choose her own destiny. She wants…freedom.

When Cass accidentally discovers the mutilated body of a young courtesan, she is forced to find the killer before he finds her. With the aid of Falco, a handsome artist who seems to mysteriously appear whenever she needs help, they plunge into the darkness of elite society. As more girls turn up dead, they begin to unlock the mystery of who might be friend and who might be foe.

**Note: For people who love this book, love the author, or find great pleasure in commonplace romances where they know exactly what will happen before they read a word, you probably want to stop reading.**

Characterization: Cass is a shallow, dislikeable character. She spends most of the book whining about her life being planned for her. When she isn’t obsessing about how unfair life is, she’s obsessing about Falco – a character that we know nothing about, even after 431 pages. Probably the most disturbing part of Cass’s character is that the author attempts to use her to convey a strong female character bucking Renaissance conventions towards women; however, all she seems to think about is making out with Falco - or her fiancé Luca (another character that’s never developed), which undermines the whole “strong female” thing.

Cass’s constant need for male companionship wears on the reader. Scene after scene she suspects Falco is the real killer (or at least an accomplice), but within a paragraph, he will smile at her, and she will change her mind because of his kissable lips or taunt muscles.

Cass is supposed to be fifteen years old. There is no way. Her language, actions, and the basic context of this novel make the fact that she’s fifteen completely unbelievable. In fact, as I read, it seemed more plausible that she was at least seventeen or eighteen while Falco should have been in his early twenties. This leads me to believe that this novel might be geared more towards adult readers rather than young adult.

Plot/Context: The book jacket promised a romantic suspense thriller. By definition, this book meets those guidelines; however, there was no originality to the plot at all. On more than one occasion, I felt as though I was reading a Harlequin romance novel that my grandmother had snuck to me while I was in high school. Just like Harlequin novels follow formulaic character and plot outlines, this novel did, too. There was little suspense, and the romance was really lust disguised as “love.” In fact, “lust” WAS the plot.

Love Triangle: There was indeed a love triangle, but I could care less who won Cass. In fact, I was hoping that she would be killed off so that both men could find someone with some substance.

I gave this novel two stars because the author managed to keep the identity of the killer a secret until the very end. Of course, the killer was so random that I almost forgot that that person was in the book. Which leads to another frustration. This book is 431 pages of cliché and predictable storyline. To quote my student, “Someone needed to grab a scalpel and carve a plot out of all of those pages.”

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Hope is a twelve-year-old girl who walks in on her fourteen-year-old sister, Liz, holding a gun, and contemplating killing herself. When Lizzie is institutionalize, Momma goes off of the deep end, even more so than when Daddy died. As Hope unravels the mystery as to why Liz would want to kill herself, she realizes that her Momma has secrets that she’ll go to any lengths to keep buried.

The biggest distraction for me while reading this novel was the writing style. I have read Lynch-Williams’ The Chosen One (2009) and marveled at her beautiful, powerful, and poignant descriptive writing that draws the reader into the world of the novel and makes her connect so strongly with characters that she feels what they feel. Which is why this novel was a disappointment. I teach creative writing, and simply because someone can arrange a series of simple sentences into a poetic format does not make it good poetry. Not only that, but this format really took away from the “meat” of the story.

The story is told through Hope’s eyes as she flashes back and tries to remember things about her sister, Liz. Unfortunately, the content of the novel is so sparse that the reader never feels like she gets to know Liz at all. Instead of connecting to Liz like I did Kyra (The Chosen One, 2009), I simply felt sorry for her for having the mother than she did. While I spent days agonizing over the events that happened to Kyra, I closed Glimpse (2010), said to myself, “Man, that mom was really messed up,” and, then, picked up The Perks of Being s Wallflower (1999) to shake off my annoyance.

I like reading books in verse. Some of my favorites are by Ellen Hopkins and Stephanie Hemphill. I also know that it’s becoming the new “fad”in the writing world. Unfortunately, not everyone can execute it well. This book should have been in prose and it would have blown everyone away. Description is Carol Lynch Williams’ strength.

You Don't Know Me by David Klass

John lives a life of survival. People look at him and see a quiet kid who goes through the motions, but no one really knows him. No one knows that he longs for a father who abandoned his family, he lives with “the man who is not my father” who beats him regularly, and he loves Glory Hallelujah who seems perfect in every way. The only one who sees through the façade is John’s band director, Mr. Steenwilly, who encourages him to seek help when he notices bruises. Even though John knows what “the man who is not my father” will do if he ever tells, he finds strength in Mr. Steenwilly’s belief in him. Knowing that someone cares gives John the courage to fight back when “the man who is not my father” takes it too far and threatens to kill him.

Klass writes a very realistic portrayal of abuse and the secrets that victims carry with them out of very real fear. Told from the first person POV, and almost with a Faulknerian style, the reader gets to see events, people, and John – himself – through an unfiltered lens. Also, the author refused to describe the main character so that it could be anyone. We make a lot of assumptions; however, we rarely know what’s really going on in people’s lives simply by looking at them - hence, the recurring theme of “you don’t know me.”

Although some people may find the stream of consciousness distracting, I felt as though it added authenticity to John’s voice by contrasting the John that people saw on the outside with the real John that lived inside of his head. Another aspect that added authenticity to this novel was that no one was perfect, and each person had their own version of reality.

The benefit of this novel is that it provides a window into young adults suffering from abusive homes. The goal isn’t to demonize the mother for not knowing, victimize John for suffering, or immortalize the teacher who tried to help. The goal of the novel, to me, was to show what the many facets represents. Kids don’t always act out when they’re in pain. Sometimes, they simply fade into he background. In fact, there’s a scene in the novel where Klass depicts an algebra class where students are so insecure about being called on that they purposefully wear clothing to blend in with posters on the wall. That’s what abuse victims do throughout life. If they become invisible, then the hope is that the abuser won’t be able to land that hit, and no one will be able to see the permanent bruises left behind.

Prey by Lurlene McDaniel

McMillian High School has a new history teacher, and she causes quite a stir. Lori Settles is young, smart, and sexy. Sporting skin-tight clothing and stiletto heels, she quickly becomes the center of attention for every male in the school. However, she sets her sights on her fifteen-year-old student, Ryan Piccoli. She makes plans to have him-mind, body, and soul. She's developed her plan and executed it perfectly, only she didn't expect someone to find out...

This novel deals with the taboo subject of teachers having affairs with their students. It addresses very real issues of "consensual" sex and when someone is considered a predator. It also introduces the very real conflicts that vistims feel when they try to work through the "love" that they have versus the violation that others tell them that has occurred. Unfortunately, the author doesn't really address the after-effects of abuse as well as she could, which leaves the story incomplete.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

When he was twelve, Josh Mendel had a very adult affair with his twenty-four-year-old history teacher, Eve. Now, five years later, Eve is being released from prison, and Josh has mixed emotions. Was he really molested? Or, was it a consenual realtionship? Why did his parents force him to press charges and ruin everyone's life? As he relives those secret moments from his past, Josh shows that when the lines between teacher and student get blurred, bad things happen.

Barry Lyga addresses the taboo subject of teachers being sexual predators. Against the backdrop of a middle school setting, he takes a stark and honest look at how authority figures draw in susceptible students and abuse their power. Although many readers are turned off by the predator being a woman (because it plays into stereotypes), Lyga's goal is to effectively show the devastating effects of sexual abuse, which he does - regardless of gender. As Josh works through his conflicting emotions about Eve being released and takes on the guilt for everything that happened five years prior, Lyga shows that circumstances aren't as cut-and-dry as people like to pretend.

This book will make readers uncomfortable. It should. It doesn't gloss over sexual abuse. (And, teachers who have affairs with students ARE sexual predators.) Instead, Lyga walks the reader through the process that predators use to lure their victims and keep them silent through guilt and shame. This book goes into sexual detail and doesn't glamorize the inapporpriate relationship between Josh and Eve, which adds to its validity and importance. Instead, it faces it head-on, and makes the reader think about how every action has a lesser or greater reaction. Just because we refuse to talk about something, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Rage by Julie Anne Peters

Johanna only wants one thing - Reeve Hartt. Reeve consumes her thoughts, her dreams, her reason for living. With an intensity that borders obsession, Johanna makes it her mission to make Reeve hers before their senior year is over, which gives her approximately fourteen days. Through a twist of fate, the two girls are thrown together, and they ignite a passionate love affair that turns abusive. Throughout the novel, the reader experiences the emotional roller coaster of their turbulent relationship, and learns that the line between abuser and victim is blurred when everything hinges upon RAGE.

Peters gives an honest view of an abusive relationship, and the manipulation and lies a victim tells herself to keep from facing the truth. Disturbing.

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

It’s been one year since Lucca’s death. One year since a horrible
accident changed Brooklyn’s life forever. As she continues trying to pick up the pieces after her boyfriend’s death, another tragedy strikes on the one year anniversary: Gabe, the driver of the car that killed Lucca, and Brooklyn’s friend, gives up on life. Unable to live with the guilt of surviving when he killed his friend, Gabe overdoses and ends his pain.

Nico is Lucca’s older brother. He gets to live in the house that feels the constant anguish of Lucca’s absence. Instead of turning to drugs or partying to deal with his sorrow, Nico runs. He runs to block out the world. He runs to block out his parents’ disappointment. He runs to block out the guilt he feels for being alive when his brother’s dead. He runs until…Lucca’s ghost gives him a mission: help Brooklyn.

Soon after Gabe’s death, Brooklyn begins having nightmares about him. She thinks they’re simply dreams until Gabe starts visiting her when she’s awake.

In this companion to I Heart You, You Haunt Me (2008), Schroeder explores the effects of survivor’s guilt. Each character in this novel is either directly or indirectly impacted by the death of Lucca and Gabe, and she shows that time knows no limits to sorrow. What makes this novel so effective is the fact that she addresses this issue from multiple perspectives (parents, siblings, friends, and boyfriend/girlfriends).

Although this novel is categorized as young adult, I truly believe that people of all ages could read it and glean meaning from its pages. If anyone has lived through loss, they can connect with the struggles of Brooklyn, Nico, and the parents. Depression is very real, and it’s usually gradual.

Each aspect of death has its own tragedy that people must work through. Just because people look “fine” doesn’t mean that they are. Sometimes, as a society, we don’t know what to say to people who are suffering, so we say nothing. Schroeder’s book shows us that, to make a positive impact, sometimes all we have to do is give someone a hug and ask, “How are you doing?” Then, listen.

I love this book; it is heartfelt and simplistic in its depiction of loss. However, for readers who like more description, more drama, and aren’t poetry fans, they probably won’t find as much enjoyment from this one as I did. Still, I think that everyone should give it a try.

**This novel can stand-alone, but the first one is good, too. 

Through to You by Emily Hainsworth

Every day is a challenge for Camden Pike because his girlfriend Viv was his entire world, but it's been two months since his life changed forever. Two months since the accident. Two months of maintaining her shrine. Two months without holding her.

While visiting the site of the accident one night, Camden notices an eerie green light and a girl on the other side calling his name. He soon learns that the green light is a portal into a parallel world where Viv is still alive. Determined to have her back, Camden ignores the fact that the Viv he lost in his world isn’t the Viv living in the other one. As the portal begins to shrink, secrets unfold and obsessions turn deadly.

Emily Hainsworth’s debut novel is a breath of fresh air. Through her portrayal of a grieving young man, she captures the realistic and complicated internal conflicts that he undergoes while dealing – or not dealing - with his girlfriend’s death. Hainsworth effectively makes Camden a flawed character who must work through multiple issues: his father’s abandonment of the family, his absent workaholic mother, his fall from grace as the football star, and his emotional instability. All of these issues lead to the guiding theme of this novel, which is “What if?” What if we’d chosen something different?

All of us are presented with choices, and based upon those choices, we follow a certain path. Camden is no different. What he discovers in the parallel world is that the same people exist, but their different choices led them to different futures. For instance, instead of giving up on football when his leg was shattered, the other Camden pushed himself to overcome the injury. As a result, even though the “real”Camden’s initial goal for entering the other world was to reunite with Viv, he also realized the possibilities for what he could accomplish if he refused to give up. He had to realize that he possessed the strength within himself to do great things – without Viv.

Nina is the girl that Camden meets the first night that the green light appears. Although he doesn’t recognize her, she knows him from her world, and she serves as his guide – a conscience, almost – as he works through his love and loss of Viv, as well as his renewed discovery of her in the other world. Nina has secrets and she holds the key to Camden’s happiness, but she also wants him to make the discoveries on his own.

The ending of this novel is so bittersweet that I’m STILL thinking about it. There are so many ways that I wanted it to go, but Hainsworth executed it so beautifully that there was only one way that it could end. I love, love, love this book, and I’ll probably reread it in the near future because I didn’t want it to end.

ARC Provided by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Publish Date: October 1, 2012

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Briony Larkin has a secret. Stepmother warned her never to tell. Or, she would surely die. But, she can no longer keep the secret because the Boggy Mun is plaguing people with the swamp cough, and Rose, her twin sister, is its next victim. Besides, Briony owes Rose her life. She's indebted to Rose for what she did to her. It was her anger that summoned the wind that made Rose fall and hit her head, never becoming "quite right" after that. That's what evil girls do.

Briony Larkin is a witch with the second sight that allows her to see the Old Ones. Briony Larkin is also dangerous. She must keep her emotions under control so that she doesn't hurt others like she did Rose and her Stepmother. But, as Eldric Clayborne - the boyman who seems to see inside her soul - and she grow closer, she's finding it harder to control her emotions.

Since this novel was a National Book Award Finalist, I really wanted to like it. In fact, the entire time that I was reading, I kept searching for things that I could gush over. Unfortunately, I didn't find any. The basic premise of this novel was intriguing, but the execution was off. For instance, the storyline was difficult to follow in a lot of places because Briony (the narrator) would go on random tangents that reminded me of reading a Faulkner novel. The only problem is that the rambling usually had nothing to do with the point that she was trying to make. Instead of being a literary device, this became so distracting and frustrating that I wanted to stop reading. In addition, for people who aren't familiar with folklore and mysticism, all of the Old Ones and their functions became confusing; it didn't help that most of their functions weren't adequately explained and

I love folklore and mysticism, and I was really disappointed in this novel. I'm not sure if I'd built it up because of the CHIME/SHINE (Myracle, 2011) debacle, but it was a tedious read. I know that there will be others who love it, who will make me second-guess my judgement, but it's not one that I would recommend to

From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender

What would you be willing to give in order to have everything you've ever wanted? Money? Your time? Your soul?

Kasey is finally home from the mental hospital, and she's having a difficult time making friends. Afterall, who
wants to be friends with a girl who was possessed, and tried to murder her parents? Hesitant to build a new relationship with her little sister, Alexis decides to hang back to see if Kasey can survive the "survival of the fittest" atmosphere of high school on her own.

When Kasey's group of outcasts create the Sunshine Club, and find themselves at the center of popularity and acceptance, Alexis gets suspicious and joins. She quickly finds out that they've conjured a creature named Aralt who promises riches and fame in exchange for their souls. As the club grows and approaches "graduation day," strange things begin happening and people start dying. What once seemed like a harmless
agreement to become popular has turned into a coven of young girls willing to kill to keep thier evil master happy.

I was wary to read this novel because I wasn't sure that Alender could repeat the intensity of the first novel; however, she skillfully drew upon the elements of her first novel to create an entirely new plotline. Although it dragged in a few places (i.e. Alexis's relationship issues with Carter), the majority of the novel built suspense through folklore, urban legend, and people's worst nightmares. Very few people can write effective supernatural suspense thrillers that maintain intensity throughout a novel, let alone a series, but Alender is one of them. For instance, book two ends with so many options that her third BAD GIRLS DON'T DIE is sure to be just as unique. I cannot wait for her to write it!

*This can be a stand-alone novel.  

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Something dark and sinister is on the hunt. During a tumultuous Calcutta night in 1916, a brave English lieutenant saves a set of twins from "it" before losing his life in an effort to protect them. Unfortunately, the monster refuses to give to up, and will stop at nothing to possess them. Time is on its side, and
as the children grow into young adults, they find out that their days are numbered.

This is a fun, quick read that has just enough suspense to keep the plot moving. Althoughit isn't as scary as what hard-core horror fans might like, and it's pretty cliche, there were a few places where the hair stood up at the base of my neck.