Tag Archives: Young Adult (YA)

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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Mockingjay Review

MockingjayMockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, 2010. 978-0439023511

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Katniss Everdeen is only sure of a few things these days: her name her age, her participation in the Hunger Games, that District 12 is gone, and that President Snow has Peeta. But there is a way to save him: become the Mockingjay, the symbol that the rebels will follow in their continued fight against the Capitol, and continue to participate in a game that she doesn’t know how to win. Can she survive the inner battle with herself in order to survive the rebellion and rescue Peeta?

Why I picked it up: That cliffhanger at the end of Catching Fire was just mean, and I felt like I needed to see that Katniss was going to recover after everything that has been happening to her.

Why I finished it: Very few books have made me openly weep like this one did. I think I spent most of the book in tears because it is a very emotional story, and these characters that we have been gunning for since day one have suddenly had their lives thrown into a chaos that few of us will ever know. Katniss is literally losing her mind because of the trauma and the drugs she is on while in the hospital, where she spends about 30% of the book. Gale is trying to support her the best that he can and her sister is making an attempt to understand the new reality of their lives, but the effects of losing Peeta and watching him deteriorate on live television proves to be just enough to keep her motivated to cooperate as the Mockingjay. But the reader also knows that Katniss is going to be faced with another decision: does she go with Gale or stay with Peeta? She knows that both men have their merits and both have been good friends to her, despite her stubbornness, but something like love has never been at the forefront of her mind. Not to mention that she needs to reconcile her feelings about the lives that have been lost over the last two books and (for lack of a better term) her survivor’s guilt. Collins has told Katniss’s story with a sort of innocence amidst the brutality of the new world order. We like Katniss because she’s at her very core she is a fighter, not necessarily with her fists or her words, but in the actions she takes to protect those she cares about. She fought to survive after her father died, she fought to survive her first Hunger Games, she fought to make it out of the arena in the Quarter Quell, and now she faces a battle with Snow and with herself. We do not often see children go to war, but Collins’ work shows us a brutal reality in which all men and women are soldiers, gives us a glimpse of the true horrors or war, and makes us understand that the fighting does not stop when a soldier returns home. While I am sad to see the characters end their story, I am satisfied with how the series is concluded. And if you are prone to crying through books as I am, read it with a box of tissues.

On a side note, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a very well crafted memoir about child soldiers in Africa that sheds some light on some of the same subject matter I found to be quite powerful and that I highly recommend.

Other related materials: The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins; The Hunger Games (movie); Catching Fire (The Second Book of The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (movie)The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (movie); The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau; Independent Study (Book 2 of The Testing Series) by Joelle Charbonneau; Graduation Day (Book 3  of The Testing Series) by Joelle Charbonneau; The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins; The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth; The Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau; Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix; The Giver by Lois Lowry; Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams; Maze Runner books by James Dashner

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Little Brother Review

Little-BrotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow

Tor Teen, 2008. 978-0765319852

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Marcus Yallow, aka w1n5t0n, thinks he has the system figured out and how to stay one step ahead. After all, he’s hacked into the school computers and outwitted their surveillance system in order to sneak out. But when Marcus and his friends find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, they are apprehended and held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on charges of terrorism. When he is finally set free, he realizes just how little he knows and how much more he will have to learn if he is going to fight back.

Why I picked it up: I had classmates in library school that RAVED about this book and how it was just awesome, so I figured I should see what they were talking about.

Why I finished it: I won’t go so far as to say that the book is amazing or anything, but it’s definitely important and it makes you think about just how safe we are. Hackers are a part of our everyday lives and I don’t know about you, but I don’t give it a second thought because I know that there will always be people out there keeping an eye on how we gather and use information – both for good and for evil. Marcus thought that he was paranoid before he was detained, but being a government hostage changes his mind about how much the surveillance is hurting rather than helping people. He gives himself a new name and creates a new life for himself online, hoping to tell people about what the government is doing and what he wants to do about it. In doing so, he unwillingly creates a group of loyal followers that makes him feel like less of a Robin Hood and more of a target. As a narrator, I liked that Marcus takes the reader inside his head and explains exactly what technology he is using and how it could be potentially dangerous. He’s giving the reader food for thought, and understanding the tech he is working with helps us gain a greater understanding of our own tech and just how reliant we are on it. The afterword pieces written by security technologists, hackers, and cypherpunks are making me take notice of the world around me and helped me really re-evaluate the surveillance around me, much in the way Marcus did. It’s an engaging, fast-paced novel that techno-geeks and non techno-geeks alike will appreciate.

Other related materials: Homeland by Cory Doctorow; Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow; For the Win by Cory Doctorow; In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang; Feed by M.T. Anderson; Don’t Turn Around by Michael Gagnon; Don’t Look Now by Michael Gagnon; Don’t Let Go by Michael Gagnon; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd; The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd; 1984 by George Orwell; Reamde by Neal Stephenson

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The Carbon Diaries 2017 Review

carbon_diaries_2017The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd

Holiday House, 2010. 978-0823422609

Synopsis: With the government cracking down more heavily on carbon rationing, Laura Brown finds herself caught up in the underground resistance while studying at University and still trying to keep her band dirty angels together. But when the band is on a European tour, Laura and her bandmates are drawn even further into the revolution when they witness firsthand the corruption about which the band always sings. Now Laura has a choice: will she hide in her room or will she join the fight?

Why I picked it up: I enjoyed Laura’s account of the carbon rationing in 2015 and I wanted to see just how much had changed since she last kept a diary.

Why I finished it: Laura’s life seems like it has gotten even more crazy since her last diary entry on December 31, 2015: she’s squatting in a flat in London since her parents’ home was repossessed, she’s juggling two love interests, and she’s having a hard time trying to focus on her studies with so much chaos going on in the city. But she’s still the same charismatic narrator that struggles with doing the right thing and what will help her feel like she’s really herself. The thing I love about the journal entries is that the reader is completely drawn into Laura’s mind and into her world, like we’re having an extended conversation with a close friend. We share her victories, her struggles, her lows, her highs, her hopes, and her desires as she takes us through a year in her life. 2017 promises a lot of changes for Laura from the get go, and by the time the year is through, the reader can see the definite change in attitude and self that Laura has gone through. There are references to her previous diary that I couldn’t place, but that’s likely because it’s been three years since I read the first book. As an American with only a vague familiarity with London geography, I found myself wishing for a map insert to which I could refer while I was reading – but that’s what Google is for, I suppose. As with the first book, there is a helpful glossary at the close of the book to help with some of the less familiar terms and slang, for those of us Yanks who aren’t in the know. It’s a riveting, action-packed, page turner that draws the reader in and makes them think about the social changes that are happening around us and what it is that we can do to help. Viva la Revolution!

Other related materials: The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd; Momentum by Saci Lloyd; The Roar by Emma Clayton; The Whisper by Emma Clayton; Empty by Suzanne Weyn; The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn; The Bar Code Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn; The Bar Code Prophecy by Suzanne Weyn; The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch; The Darkest Path by Jeff Hirsch; No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz; The Compound by S.A. Bodeen; Rash by Pete Hautman; Shipbreaker by Paolo Bagcigalupi

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Under the Shadow Review

UTS_Cover_Final-1Under the Shadow (Children of the First Star, Volume 1) by J.M. Kay

BooksEndependent, LLC, 2014. 978-0988768765

Synopsis: When Jason and his classmate Daniel are kidnapped by a strange alien robot called the Archivist, both boys find themselves at the mercy of the mysterious Shantar Anar. Back in the small town of Ashton, the boys disappearance sparks a search that will uncover old feuds and reopen old wounds from a similar case years before. Will Jason and Daniel be able to convince the Shantar Anar to bring them back to Earth or will they be stuck traveling across the galaxy?

Why I picked it up: DeeAnn Veeder of BooksEndependent emailed me to tell me about a new science fiction release and I told her I would be happy to review the book. Plus, I love a good sci-fi thriller.

Why I finished it: This book reminded me so much of the science fiction classics – Fahrenheit 451, Ender’s Game, Star Trek, and basically anything written by Isaac Asimov. It’s a story that explores the gray area of the world, the notion that there is no clearly defined good and evil in the universe against the backdrop of overcoming personal tragedies. Jason is convinced that his life has gone downhill ever since his father died. Daniel is convinced that Jason could be the new friend he desires since most of his other classmates basically ignore him. Both boys aren’t exactly thrilled to be stuck on a spaceship, light years from home, with their lives at the mercy of a mysterious being named Esan, but while they wait for their fate to be determined, Jason and Daniel are finding that they are learning something about themselves as well as about each other. Meanwhile, the families and the classmates they have left behind struggle to make sense of the disappearance of Jason and Daniel, but the loss of the boys is doing more to tear the community apart rather than bring it together. Kay draws on the works of science fiction godfathers, bringing the reader from middle America to the far reaches of space, and makes the unfamiliar seem, well, just as unfamiliar as it has always been. I appreciated that he took what the reader already knows about the genre and sort of makes fun of these notions and ideas, noting that things are not always what they appear to be, that we should never assume we know what is truly right. The narrative bounces between Jason, Daniel, and the Archivist, and Jason’s mother Anne, Police Detective Coregon, and classmate Ashlyn. It gives the reader a 360˚ view of a complex plot that takes us on an unexpected adventure out of our comfort zone and further into ourselves, asking us to test our notions of what we think life should be and what value we place on lives other than our own.

Be sure to check out the link for a chance to win a signed book or a $15 Amazon Gift Card!

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Other related materials: The Monolith: Science Fiction Short Stories, Volume 1: Where the Circle Ends edited by Kristy Leissle and David Nixon; The Monolith, Volume II: Everybody Dies edited by David Nixon and Kristy Leissle; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card; The Giver by Lois Lowry; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams; Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson; The Maze Runner books by James Dashner; Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov; I, Robot by Isaac Asimov; Dune by Frank Herbert; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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