Tag Archives: genre: coming of age

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Review

simon_vs_the_homo_sapiens_agendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0062348678

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for one of my book clubs that thought it prudent to read it before the movie hit theaters.

Why I finished it: The romance was definitely cute, but what really stuck with me was the underlying commentary about judging by appearances. Simon’s continual frustration (among other things) is regarding defaults, how we make assumptions based on a personal or societal norm and how the assumptions are not always true. To put this a little bit more in perspective, we do this as readers. We envision characters to be a certain way –  for example, white and straight – unless we are first given some sort of description or qualifier about the character. Simon and his classmates make default assumptions about each other as well, and the point Simon (and I) seems to be driving at is that we can’t judge people based on what feels comfortable to us. We should be able to embrace people for who they really are rather than what we want them to be. We can’t make assumptions based on appearances. Simon has chances to open up about his sexuality, but he’s constantly worried about how it will impact his relationships and whether or not the situation feels right. He has to play up the appearance his friends and classmates have of him, and yet, he knows that being out comes with its own problems with which he isn’t quite ready to deal. Albertalli is sending a message of cautious tolerance to her readers, something that is a big deal in today’s society. Think differently about people and be open to change, be open to being honest about yourself and your beliefs because things can get better.

Other related materials: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli; Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli; What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera; More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz; Every Day by David Levithan; Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan; Autoboyography by Christina Lauren; A Boy Worth Knowing by Jennifer Cosgrove; The Dangerous Art of Blending In  by Angelo Surmelis; Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg; Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

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Feature Presentation: Moana

uk_moanaMoana starring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel Hall, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, and Alan Tudyk

Walt Disney Animation Studios, 2016. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Moana Waialiki is a sea voyaging enthusiast and the only daughter of a chief in a long line of navigators. When her island’s fishermen can’t catch any fish and the crops fail, she learns that the demigod Maui caused the blight by stealing the heart of the goddess, Te Fiti. The only way to heal the island is to persuade Maui to return Te Fiti’s heart, so Moana sets off on an epic journey across the Pacific. The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. – from IMDB

I’m always a fan of ancient cultures and myths being woven into our more modern tapestry. In a lot of ways, I feel like this puts us more in touch with the world at large and gives insight into where we came from, and perhaps more importantly, where we will go. There’s also something to be said about the message that while it might be uncomfortable to leave home/safe spaces/the familiar, we can achieve even more both personally and culturally when we stray off a beaten path. I’m reminded of the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history”. In many respects, Moana is a well-behaved young lady: she desires to do what is best for her people and to follow the path that has been determined for her. And yet, she is still plagued by the classic dilemma of doing what is right by her family and doing what she feels is right for her, to help her become the woman she wants to be. Clearly her desire to get in touch with her voyager roots and venture beyond the island reef wins out, or this would have been a short movie. And like the Disney heroines before her, there’s a couple of musical numbers that assert her confidence in her decision to venture out on the ocean and the uncertainty of the success her journey may or may not bring. She still has moments of despair, but it is her stubbornness and quick wit that help her push through the obstacles that hinder her voyage. Despite the range of reactions to Moana, I feel like the film did a credit to the Polynesian culture and made it come even more alive for the viewer. I liked that native dialects were used in some of the songs and that the animators made trips through the islands in the South Pacific to do their research. It’s a coming-of-age story that encourages us once again to discover who we are inside and how we can share our purpose and passions with the world around us.

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Teen Boat! Review

teenboat_1Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green

Clarion Books, 2012. 978-0547636696

2004 Ignatz Award Winner for Outstanding Debut Comic (Teen Boat #6: Vote Boat)

Synopsis: Being a teenager is bad enough. Between trying to fit in with the right group at school, finding the right clothes to wear, and dealing with acne, things are pretty complicated. But whatever normal teenagers have to deal with, Teen Boat’s got it worse: not only is he a teenager, he’s a teenager that can turn into a small yacht. In theory: awesome! In reality: maybe not so much.

Why I picked it up: A friend of mine who is a teen librarian loved it and her kids really loved it too.

Why I finished it: This book is totally ridiculous, but totally real. Yeah, people don’t turn into boats, but life is still rough for teens and the sentiment is perfectly captured in this comic. Part after-school special, part Saturday morning cartoon, Teen Boat! takes on some of the hard hitting issues: what to do when you are pressured into being the host boat for a cool kids party, how to maybesortakinda woo the girl of your dreams, dealing with an overprotective best friend, finding a job, learning to drive, even how to handle being boat-jacked by pirates. Okay, so, at least a couple of those things don’t happen every day, but there’s always something similar…except maybe when it comes to the turning into a boat part. The silliness and the humor are part of the charm, and really part of the reason we’re drawn to comics: they are (mostly) chock full of weird circumstances that take us away from reality. Green’s art mimics the sort of Saturday morning style, combining bright colors with thick outlines. It’s a style that lends itself well to the story: quirky without taking itself too seriously. Roman and Green’s combined powers create a magical tale that will take you on a nautical journey through adolescence as you have never seen before!

Other related materials: Teen Boat!: The Race for Boatlantis by Dave Roman and John Green; Astronaut Academy books by Dave Roman; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Sidekicks by Dan Santat; Bone series by Jeff Smith; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel; Cleopatra in Space books by Mike Maihack; Lunch Lady books by Jarrett J. Krosoczka; Lumberjanes books by Noelle Stevenson, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis, and Shannon Watters

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House Arrest Review

house_arrestHouse Arrest by K.A. Holt

Chronicle Books, 2015. 978-1452134772

Synopsis: I didn’t mean to do it.

Okay, maybe I meant to do it, but I did it cause we needed the money for my brother.

Y’know, cause he has this trach in his neck to help him breathe. And the meds are expensive.

Mom thinks I don’t know about the money problems, but I do.

Since dad walked out…well, what would you have done? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t, cause I know you’d be lying.

I just wanted to help. I just wanted to help.

Why I picked it up: The premise of the story intrigued me and I like novels in verse.

Why I finished it: It’s somewhat appropriate that this novel was written in verse because it makes the reader and Timothy consider things about the world – most notably the hardships we all go through and the lengths to which we will go to help those who are closest to us. We ponder the kindness of strangers and the feelings of fear and uncertainty. We acknowledge the support of friends who will come to our aid when they see us struggling. Timothy may begin the story feeling like a screw-up, but we see him gradually transform in the year he is keeping a court-ordered journal. While the reader will note that he never really expresses a desire to repent for his crime, we do see him working toward finding solutions that will allow for him to keep his family together. His desire to redeem himself and the difficulties he has with staying out of trouble almost prove more than he can handle, an internal conflict that Timothy struggles with throughout most of the book. I also find that we ‘see’ a different side to the story when the author uses poetry instead of prose. Not only are we really getting inside Timothy’s head, we are given room to form our own opinions and interpretations about whether or not he will or has reformed. The reader can set their own scenes as they read each of the entries over the course of the 52 weeks chronicled in the novel. Holt also asks the reader to consider their own relationships with the people around us, to think about those things for which we will fight and which battles we will choose. It’s a powerful and poignant look at a boy who, although he could be considered a delinquent, is navigating life the only way he knows how.

Other related materials: Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; So B. It by Sarah Weeks; Knees: The Mixed-Up World of a boy with Dyslexia by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Joe Rossi; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Paperboy by Vince Vawter; Tangerine by Edward Bloor; Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen; Ghost of Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

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Stormstruck! Review

stormstruckStormstruck! By John Macfarlane

Holiday House, 2015. 978-0823433940

Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Sam overhears his parents talking about their elderly and infirm Labrador retriever, Pogo, he’s convinced they plan to have the dog put down. To save Pogo, Sam sets sail with the dog in a fourteen foot boat for an island off the coast of Maine. The elements conspire against them as they move from one danger to another: fog, near decapitation by a tugboat cable, a storm at sea, a lurking shark and the loss of their boat. Sam summons courage and ingenuity to meet each new challenge, helped along the way by Pogo’s loyalty, a one-eyed cormorant, a retired ornithologist, and a lifetime of good nautical advice from his older brother. As he battles nature’s fury, Sam is finally able to come to terms with what he has truly been running from: his brother’s death in Afghanistan. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’m an animal lover and dog (read: fur person) owner and I know how hard it is to be faced with losing a pet.

Why I finished it: This story starts out suspenseful and manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout the duration of the book. Sam’s adventure takes us out onto the open sea and out of our comfort zone. It was hard not for me to feel anxious and worried while I read, turning page after page, hoping for something positive to happen in the midst of repeated fallbacks and misfortunes. It’s hard not to admire his perseverance, pushing onward even though the elements are continually conspiring against him. I liked that Macfarlane uses sailing terminology without going through a lengthy explanation of what the phrases mean; it assumes the reader is intelligent and shows off the author’s credentials as a sailor. For the unattained (like myself), here’s a couple of helpful links to maximize your understanding of jibs, masts, sails, and the like. It’s an adventure-packed story that tugs at our hearts and challenges our mind.

Other related materials: Old Wolf by Avi, illustrated by Brian Floca; Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner; The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog by Frances Sackett; Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Tornado by Betsy Byars; Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls; Hatchet by Gary Paulsen; My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George; Old Yeller by Fred Gipson; Sounder by William H. Armstrong; Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn; Malcolm Under the Stars by W.H. Beck, illustrated by Brian Lies; Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff; Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey; The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall; Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff; Paperboy by Vince Vawter

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Indepedent Study Review

independentstudyIndependent Study (The Testing, Book 2) by Joelle Charbonneau

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. 978-0547959207

Synopsis: Now that Cia and her friend Tomas have passed The Testing and been enrolled in the University, Cia believes that perhaps the testing is over. She will be able to study and work hard toward becoming one among the new generation of leaders for the Commonwealth. But her fragmented memories of her Testing are coming back to her, haunting her, and her desire to stay under the radar means ignoring the truth. She wants to be a leader, but being a leader means making sacrifices. Cia has to decide which sacrifices to make in order to keep herself and her loved ones safe as she races to find a way to expose the corrupt nature of The Testing.

Why I picked it up: There was a preview chapter in The Testing and after that teaser, I knew I had to keep reading to see if Cia would fully regain her memories.

Why I finished it: Charbonneau completely draws us into Cia’s world by juxtaposing the chaos and corruption of the government and the outside world with Cia’s faint glimmers of hope that there is a solution to every problem. Cia is learning to recognize what tasks are solvable and which are not. She is learning that every challenge comes with a lesson, with consequences for herself and those around her. The secrets and lies that she is uncovering could mean that there is more behind The Testing than just a power struggle, but the fragments of information that she uncovers only leave her with more questions than answers. I have to again praise the power of the first person narrative: though is gives the reader a limited scope, it endears us to the narrator, making the story much more believable because we are able to “hear” it firsthand. The reader may only see the narrator’s perspective, but Cia as a narrator has beautifully illustrated her world and her struggles so that we are able to put ourselves in her shoes. Another thing that I like about this series is that it gives us an accurate picture of where the world could go, given the current state of our natural resources, technology, and world leadership. It’s adding elements of environmentalism in with the political so that the reader is given an almost 360˚ view of where society has gone, to what means of survival we have been reduced. Independent Study has a surprising depth that challenges the reader to ponder what choices they would make, what kind of leader they would seek to become if they were put in the same situation. It’s a stirring midpoint that, while it starts off a little slower, gives us a foundation for the events to come.

Other related materials: The Testing (The Testing, Book 1) by Joelle Charbonneau; Graduation Day (The Testing, Book 3) by Joelle Charbonneau; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins; Divergent by Veronica Roth; Insurgent by Veronica Roth; Allegiant by Veronica Roth; The Giver by Lois Lowry; Maze Runner books by James Dashner; The Mortality Doctrine books by James Dashner; The Partials Sequence books by Dan Wells, Matched books by Allie Condie; Legend books by Marie Lu; The Young Elites by Marie Lu; In the After by Demitria Lunetta; In the End by Demitria Lunetta; The Razorland Trilogy by Ann Aguirre; The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

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Sunny Side Up Review

sunny_side_upSunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Graphix, 2015. 978-0545741668

Synopsis: Sunny is sure this is going to be the best summer ever and she’s super psyched to be taking a beach trip with her friend Deb. But instead of a fun trip, her parents send her to Florida to spend a month with her Grandfather. Which would be fine…if he didn’t live in a retirement community…full of other old people…and it’s not even near Disney World. Plus she’s pretty sure this has something to do with her older brother, Dale, and that incident on the Fourth of July…which wasn’t her fault, right?

Why I picked it up: Holm’s books are super popular with tween girls and they have come highly recommended by a number of classmates.

Why I finished it: The subject matter in this book was somewhat unexpected, but it deals with a very real issue that affects families across the country. I only know of a handful of books for this age group that address substance abuse, and the message that comes across in Holm’s story is that it is important to speak up when you feel lost and confused. It’s difficult for families to talk about such heavy topics, but (if you’ll excuse the phrase), the struggle is very real. Sunny struggles with having to keep certain things that she sees a secret from her parents while the reader can assume that her parents are also struggling with trying to find help and how to talk to Sunny about what is going on. We see Sunny trying to make the best of the situation, most notably in a dinner scene in which she breaks the tension by talking about a school project. But what’s most important is the gradual understanding of the situation that makes Sunny more able to address her feelings about it. The narrative skips back and forth between Sunny’s time with her grandfather and the months leading up to her somewhat impromptu vacation, slowly setting the stage for the reader as we, like Sunny, come to terms with the situation and the realization that no one is at fault. This semi-autobiographical book is a poignant look at a girl who wants to be there for her family but doesn’t know how, and carries the message that it’s okay to ask for help. For some more resources on substance abuse, check out drugfree.org and the Substance Abuse Resources for Families website.

Other related materials: Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm; Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin; illustrated by Raina Telgemeier; Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson; Unicorn on a Roll: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson; Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson; Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce

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