Tag Archives: Young Adult (YA)

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: Love, Simon

love-simon-114713l-600x0-w-1e95bb68Love, Simon starring Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Talitha Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Miles Heizer, Joey Pollari, Clark Moore, and Drew Starkey

Fox 2000 Pictures/Temple Hill Entertainment, 2018. Rated PG-13

Synopsis: Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his friends, family, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity. – from IMDB

As a book worm, I’m understandably skeptical when it comes to movie adaptations of novels, but I appreciated the depth of the plot and that it conveys the same main premise of the novel without diverging off in a completely different direction. I’ll refrain from waxing poetic about the differences between the book and the movie, but I will say that some of the truncated events made the story somewhat easier to follow. I liked that the movie shows how Simon and Blue’s email exchange begins and some of their earlier emails to each other, the latter of which isn’t included in the earlier editions of the book. I was a little disappointed that the talent show at the end of the book wasn’t included in the movie, but I appreciated the alternative ending since it takes you to the same climactic moment. I also had to have a little bit of a laugh at the fact that the high school musical was ‘Cabaret’ since the story deals with issues of racism and sexism and is really quite dark in contrast to Simon. I was a little confused by the addition of Mr. Worth (even though I love Tony Hale), but I suppose they needed another adult to fill out the screenplay. The cast themselves is nothing short of fun and I liked seeing the new faces of other up and coming thespians. Robinson is a delightful mix of confident and awkward as the titular Simon, and for me, perfectly conveyed the excitement of being in a new relationship and having an inner battle with who he really wants to be. The movie stand alone well on its own, so if you haven’t read the book before seeing the movie, you needn’t worry. It’s a high school drama love story about coming out that will be enjoyed by romantics and non-romantics alike.

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Turtles All The Way Down Review

turtles_all_the_way_downTurtles All The Way Down by John Green

Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0525555360

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for one of my book clubs and I figured it was time I got around to finally reading Green to see what made him so popular.

Why I finished it: I fully expected an emotional punch from Green, being familiar with the premises of most of the rest of his body of work. I did get the emotional punch I was expecting, but the book didn’t hit me the way I thought it would. Aza suffers from extreme anxiety and depression issues and the thoughts that worm their way into her brain make it often impossible for her to seem like she is anything but self-absorbed and maybe a little out of it – something, I am sure, thousands of readers experience every day. What gets me about Aza is her mental illness and that’s really the beauty of the book. Green, who also suffers from mental health issues, reaches past Aza’s issues on the surface and really confronts what it can be like to live with a mental health disorder. He doesn’t stigmatize the issues, nor does he go at it from a purely clinical angle like most of the rest of popular media. The readers gets the feeling that he is writing from the perspective of someone who has been there, someone who has reached into the deepest, darkest places in our brain, past all of the hangups and insecurities, and helped us find a light at what seems to be a gradually shrinking tunnel. Turtles truly captures what it is like to be stuck in your own head, with no real language or emotions with which to describe how we are thinking or feeling. I’m so happy that Green wrote a book like this because I think it will better help us understand how those with mental disorders are suffering and gives us insight about how we can best show our love an support. For more cool John Green Stuff, check out his website – the vlog is pretty awesome.

Other related materials: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; Paper Towns by John Green; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; An Abundance of Katherines by John Green; Looking for Alaska by John Green; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephn Chbosky; Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow; Every Last Word by tamara Ireland Stone; A List of Cages by Robin Roe; Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

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The Hate U Give Review

the_hate_u_giveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Balzer + Bray, 2017. 978-0062498533

Synopsis: Starr Carter and her childhood friend Khalil are on their way home from a party when the pair are pulled over by a police officer. The traffic stop takes a turn when Khalil is shot and Starr becomes the only witness in what rapidly escalates into a hate crime. In the aftermath of Khalil’s death, Starr must decide whether she will use her voice to speak out or to stay quiet and deny that she was even there.

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for my online book club.

Why I finished it: Given current events, this book and its subject matter hit me as a rather poignant commentary on how society treats each other. As a white girl that grew up in middle class neighborhoods, I didn’t relate to Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in a neighborhood known for its crime and drug dealers. Yet, the differences in our races and backgrounds didn’t prevent me from understanding the struggle Starr is going through. Even before the shooting turns things upside down, she had to find a way to separate her home life and her school life – she lives in a questionable part of town but her parents have enrolled her and her siblings in an affluent high school whose primary population is rich white kids. Plus, her boyfriend is white, something she knows is not going to go over well with her father. The numerous cultural references to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Starr’s favorite show), Harry Potter, Friday, and a slew of (mostly) nineties rappers help ground the reader – Thomas is giving us something familiar to latch on to in order to better relate the circumstances in which Starr finds herself. I thought it was especially apropos that Thomas used Tupac lyrics to push the main theme of the story: “…The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the [butt] when we wild out”  (Thomas, 17). Pretty mind-blowing. So, really, if we think about all the forms of hate in the world, I think that it’s definitely a combination of nature and nurture, because we learn from both our immediate family and from our neighbors and friends. It makes one think about what we ourselves are putting out into the world that could end up biting back at us later. Granted, we cannot always show the compassion and kindness that we would like, but I still feel it’s an important message in a world that seems to be turning on its head as of late. It’s a powerful story about bravery and our ability to cope with tragedies in our lives.

Other related materials: Want by Cindy Pon; Flame in the Mist by Renèe Ahdieh; The Inexplicable Logic of My LIfe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera; 27 Hours by Tristina Wright; Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; Queens of Geek by Jen Wildle; Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert; American Street by Ibi Zoboi; Dear Martin by Nic Stone; March books by John Lewis; Monster by Walter Dean Myers; Slam! by Walter Dean Myers

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The Testing Review

The-Testing-Revised_510x510The Testing (The Testing, Book 1) by Joelle Charbonneau

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-0547959108

Synopsis: The Seven Stages War has ravaged much of the world and its resources, and it is up to the next generations to find ways to live in a hostile land. On her graduation day, sixteen-year-old Malencia (Cia) Vale hopes to be chosen for The Testing, an elite competition that will guarantee her entrance into University. When she is chosen, she is excited but scared, especially after her father warns her not to trust anyone on the eve of her departure. Armed with a few personal belongings and the broken nightmares of her father’s own Testing experiences, Cia travels from her home in the Five Lakes Colony to the capital of Tosu City and into a challenge that will test her both mentally and physically.

Why I picked it up: I had a friend that read it and liked it. Plus, I had to see for myself how much of a Hunger Games rip-off it actually was.

Why I finished it: I won’t deny that there is a plethora of similarities between The Testing and The Hunger Games – young woman is chosen for a ‘competition’ and travels to the capital city with a friend from home and is entrenched in a mental and physical battle to survive with other candidates to earn a top spot in an elite class of ‘warriors’ – but despite these similarities with its dystopian cousins, Charbonneau has given the reader a story about how our personal successes define us. Right off the bat, Cia has a lot to live up to because her father was a Testing candidate himself, though he doesn’t remember much of the experience. When he finally divulges to Cia the nature of his memories, the fragmented nightmares that haunt him when he closes his eyes, she begins to see The Testing in a different light. She struggles with whether she will take her father’s advice, especially when her childhood friend Tomas seems to have taken an interest in her. She struggles with whether or not she can stand the pressure of The Testing, especially when candidates start to drop out one by one. Charbonneau’s setting comes off as a hybrid of Collins’s, Roth’s and Lowry’s (The Giver) dystopian worlds, but the way she has described the end of the world is much more comprehensive, tying in elements that are currently affecting us: earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, bombings, and other man-made and natural disasters that threaten our way of life. Charbonneau presents the reader with a world that is not as cut and dry as it originally seems; there is always something else hiding under the surface, some other ulterior motive that drives our protagonist to keep going to discover what could be behind the seemingly happy faces of the antagonists. It is just as engrossing, exciting, and nail-biting as The Hunger Games, but the twist at the conclusion presents a much darker, much more sinister ending that makes the reader realize just how wicked the world can be.

Other related materials: Independent Study (The Testing, Book 2) 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; 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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Insurgent Review

insurgentInsurgent by Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegan Books, 2012. 978-0-06-2024046

Synopsis: After the mass simulation that resulted in the death of most of Abegnation, Tris, Four, Marcus, and Caleb join with the rest of the Abegnation survivors seeking refuge in the Amity compound. But once she is there, she learns the real reason behind Erudite’s attack on the Abegnation: the Abegnation had secret information that they were going to release to the public and it turns out Jeanine Matthews will do anything she can to get her hands on it. Tris wants more than anything to be able to stop her, but she’s starting to learn that her Divergence is going to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Why I picked it up: Well, after the ending of Divergent, I wanted to know if Jeanine Matthews would get what was coming to her. Also, I had someone spoil it for me and I needed to know if they were right about the ending or just pulling my leg.

Why I finished it: It’s hard for me to read/watch something where I know the ending because I get bored after a while – which is why I hate spoilers. That said, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book any less had the ending been a surprise. Roth is much more show and tell in this novel, showing the reader inside the Amity, Candor, and Erudite compounds and gives us a little more insight as to how the leaders are elected and their duties, but still feels like we are in a massive bubble for no apparent reason. And while the reasoning behind the how and why society came to be in futuristic Chicago is still a little fuzzy, Roth decides instead to focus more on the people, their motivations, and how each of these characters seem to fit into the larger picture. Tris isn’t the only Divergent and she’s still struggling with the notion of divergence along with the guilt from the events at the close of the previous book and her changed relationship with Tobias/Four. So much of the history and the planning of the next move are done through the dialogue, which is perfectly fine, but I was often bogged down by the conversations and the clumsiness of some of the exchanges, especially between Tris and Four. She spends a lot of the book arguing with him (and some other characters) about this, that, or the other thing without much resolution and as a result, no one ever seems to be on the same page. Roth is less wordy with her staging, but it still seemed like there were miscellaneous limbs in awkward places. And though we do reach a climax at the close of the book, it lacked the same punch as its predecessor. It’s an ending that encourages a conversation about human nature and how it plays a key role in steering us in whatever direction we happen to find ourselves going, which in many ways is reminiscent of what my teachers were trying to get across when I read 1984. Unfortunately for Roth, those that came before her are much more concise with their wording and their message.

Other related materials: Divergent by Veronica Roth; Divergent (movie); Allegiant by Veronica Roth; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau; Independent Study (The Testing, Book 2) by Joelle Charbonneau; Graduation Day (The Testing, Book 3) by Joelle Charbonneau; Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner; Matched books by Allie Condie; The Giver by Lois Lowry; Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry; Feed by M.T. Anderson; Gone by Michael Grant; Uwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman The Mind Readers series by Lori Brighton; Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer; The Selection books by Kiera Cass; Under the Never Sky books by Veronica Rossi

 

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Two Boys Kissing Review

twoboyskissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-0307931900

Synopsis: Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I will read anything David Levithan writes forever.

Why I finished it: This book definitely deserves the glowing reviews its received: it’s poignant, heartbreaking, and full of hope. Each of the couples in this book represents a stage every relationship – gay or straight – goes through: the nervous getting-to-know-you, the continual desire to know every little thing about the other person, the still trying to be friends even after things are over, and everything in between. It’s a story about the struggles we encounter on the way to becoming ourselves, the way we want others to see us, the way that we have to let ourselves open up to someone we want to be close to, the way we support our friends. The chorus of those who came before gives the reader insight as to what our characters face, what generations of men and women after them will face: the adversity, the challenges, the hurdles people will overcome in order to be together. The real story behind the kiss is just as exciting as Levithan’s fictional re-telling, and while records can be broken, the message sent sticks in our minds. It’s a message that says to me that we’re all people, we all deserve to be treated with the same respect, we all deserve to have our voices heard. It’s a message that stays with the reader long after the book has been put down, and will continue to resonate with readers after us.

Other related materials: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Every Day by David Levithan; Every You, Every Me by David Levithan; The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan; How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan; The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Álire Saenz; Just Between Us by J.H. Trimble; Where You Are by J.H. Trimble; Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trimble; Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez; Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez; The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. daforth; Something Like Summer by Jay Bell; Something Like Winter by Jay Bell; Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell; Something Like Spring by Jay Bell; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg; Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington

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