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Across the Universe

31 Mar

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is an excellent blend of dystopia, romance, and sci-fi. Teenager Amy is cryogenically frozen in order to join her also frozen parents on a 350 year journey to colonize a new planet. While Amy’s parents are considered crucial to the mission, Amy is simply “cargo”. So when she is mysteriously unfrozen 50 years ahead of schedule and facing life alone on the spaceship, she doesn’t know if she can keep her sanity.

The ship, Godspeed, contains a couple of thousand people and an “Elder” and “Eldest” as the leaders. The society is monoethnic and strangely complacent. Therefore Amy, with her red hair and strong feelings, is completely out of place. Her only friends are Elder (who is the only teenage boy on the ship) and one of the mental patients in the hospital.  When Amy begins influencing Elder to think for himself, Eldest clearly begins to want her dead. So when someone begins to murder the other “frozens”, Amy fears for her own life and the lives of her still-frozen parents.

Across the Universe is ambiguous, filled with detail, and a total page-turner. The sci-fi element was a welcome relief from the more common earth-bound dystopias, and is highly entertaining. Also, the romance between Amy and Elder is more Hunger Games-ish than Twilight-ish (and therefore actually believable).

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher: Razorbill (January 2011)

The Reapers Are the Angels

7 Mar

Zombies! Again! I seriously can’t get enough. The Reapers Are the Angels is crossover YA, and was actually written for adults. A great choice for us adult fans of YA, as the book features a 15-year-old protaganist (Temple) who is insanely tough and likable. I am somewhat reminded of Bone from Bastard Out of Carolina, only with zombies and way more fighting back.

Basically the near future exists of the “meatskins” and small surviving pockets of humanity. The meatskins are always a threat, but the hungrier they get, the weaker they get. Therefore it is possible to avoid being bitten as long as one stays away from cities and is on their guard at all times. Temple has managed to survive her 15 years, despite being an orphan, by being extremely realistic about the situation. She is haunted by the death of a young boy who may or may not have been her brother, but for the most part she stays alert and she keeps moving. However, along with the zombie threat, she manages to incur the wrath of a terrible man who is hunting her. She also picks up a “dummy” along the way – a man who is severely mentally handicapped – and she can’t bring herself to abandon him.

As many reviews mention, the book is true Southern Gothic, and comparisons to Flannery O’Connor are often made. The scenes where Temple sometimes sees flashes of humanity (grace?) in the zombies and hesitates to kill them are great. The scenes where she fights/kills rapists and mutants are even better!

I highly recommend this book, even for those non-zombie lovers out there – it just doesn’t get any better than this. The only problem is that my expectations are now too high for zombie fiction, and I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied again.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Alden Bell
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 2010)


25 Feb

Punkzilla is the story of fourteen-year-old Jamie, a skinny, hyper kid who went AWOL from military school and became a runaway on the streets of Portland. The book, told in a series of letters and in the first-person, follows Jamie as he tries to get to his brother in Memphis. His brother is dying of cancer, and he is a family outcast for being gay, but he is the only one Jamie thinks he can turn to for support and love.

Punkzilla recalls Jamie’s life in Portland, which includes drugs, stealing, and mild sexual encounters. It also looks back on the cruel and abusive father (“the Major”) that managed to turn away two of his three sons.

Overall this is a fast and interesting read, as Jamie is a complicated character. While his choices can often be unsettling (like doing meth and stealing), ultimately he is likable, and the reader will both fear for him, but also hope that he will find what he is looking for in life.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (December 2010)

Fat Cat

17 Feb

Okay, so we all know I thought this was going to be a book about a fat girl who moves into a cave to lose weight. Sadly, there is no cave. Just a girl who embarks on a school-year-long science project to return to the diet and lifestyle of our hominid ancestors. She gives up processed food and driving and (spoiler alert) she loses weight! A miracle!

Most of the book is about Cat’s anger towards her former best friend Matt for doing something really bad when they were in like 6th grade or something. It is also about her best friend Amanda who is unfailingly perfect and wonderful always.  The book is also about wanting snacks and not being able to have them.

Fat Cat annoyed me, and I feel guilty because it is a perfectly good book, but reading on every page about Cat wanting a candy bar or how great Amanda was or about homemade hominid-approved pumpkin bread was just too much for me. Also, I just want to say I don’t think what Matt did was that big of a deal. So there.

This book may be well-loved by those of you who are sick of dystopias, rich kids, moral ambiguity, zombies, etc., and who just want to read a book about a very nice girl who is nice to everyone, but as I was just telling Em, I’m sick of outcasts in books being so perfectly nice and wonderful (examples: Artichoke’s Heart, Parrotfish). Sometimes outcast are total jerks too (or at least they sometimes do mean or selfish things like not share their banana bread).   So are there any YA books with mean or at least complicated fat people? 

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Robin Brande
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 2009)

Dirty Little Secrets

7 Feb

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu is the story of a girl whose life is severely affected by her mother’s compulsive hoarding disorder.  Lucy spends most of her energy hiding what is happening in her home, and lives in fear of being socially ostracized by her classmates.  When Lucy comes home one night and finds her mother dead among the piles and the stench, she decides that calling 911 is not the solution.  Since the furnace stopped working anyway (meaning her mother’s body won’t rot too quickly), Lucy begins to try and clean up the mess before an outsider can find out the truth.

Omololu tells Lucy’s story with great detail and suspense.  The reader really gets a feel for what it is like to be a teenager living a double life of appearing normal but hiding a terrible situation at home.  The author worked professionally to help hoarders and their families, so this part of the book feels especially authentic.

Overall some aspects of the book seem a bit far-fetched, but Omololu manages to keep the reader grounded for the most part.  Dirty Little Secrets is a page-turner and a great read.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: C.J. Omololu
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (February 2010)

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

31 Jan

I know this book is kind of old (well, like five years old or something), but I kept hearing so much about it that I felt the need to pick it up.  The title is great, and seems to promise some romance etc…and I naively thought it would be something along the lines of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.  It is not.

Not that it isn’t a great book – it is.  I think it really captures the voice of an alienated and bullied adolescent who is also trying to be a good person and just get through high school.  It is just that Fanboy kind of annoyed me the entire time.

1.  He is really whiny and complains all the time.

2.  His whole fantasy of showing his graphic novel to an author at a comic book convention and being “discovered” is kind of dumb.  I mean, how easy is it to google “how to publish a graphic novel”.  I know Fanboy only had dial-up and it was 2005, but still…

3. The obsession with the hot perfect girl at school is kind of lame.  Fanboy gets some credit for finding Goth Girl attractive (well, post seeing her big boobs), but come on.  Why would someone like Fanboy want anything to do with the mainstream, wine-cooler-drinking  “senior goddess” Dina Jurgens?  I never found football-jock types attractive in high school. At least Goth Girl is with me on this one.

I want to read Goth Girl Rising (the sequel from Goth Girl’s point of view), as I think I will relate to it much more.

The book is hilarious, and really addresses a lot of serious stuff in an interesting way.  I think plenty of people will love it – I just feel the need to complain about the whole nerdy-boy obsessed with hot popular girl trope.  The only example of a nerdy, interesting girl going for a boringly popular guy I can think of is the beloved film Pretty In Pink.  Plus in the original ending Andie chooses Duckie over Blane, but test audiences didn’t like it.  Argh.

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Barry Lyga
Publisher: Graphia Reprint Edition (September 2007)

The Marbury Lens

22 Jan

Jack drinks too much and ends up getting kidnapped by a nasty pervert who also happens to be a doctor.  Jack manages to escape, but the experience haunts him, and he and his best friend Connor end up doing something horrible that they can never take back.  When the two of them travel to London to look at a boarding school they might attend, things begin to really get strange.

They meet some cute English girls, but Jack also meets Henry – a bizarre person with a pair of purple glasses.  Through the glasses Jack can see another world: Marbury.  Marbury is a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of mutants and death.  In Marbury, Jack has to take care of two other boys and himself.  Connor is also there, but in Marbury he is a mutant trying to kill Jack.  Oh, and there is a ghost that is involved with both worlds.

Overall the book is well-written, and the characters are appropriately complex.   The pace and the details are great, and the author is great at building tension.  There is a lot written about the way this book seeks to examine trauma and PTSD, but I think I read it more like a teenager: for the insane violence and general mayhem.  I am sure this is going to be made into a movie – it has to, as it would work so well in the world of Matrix/Inception-type films.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (2010)

33 Snowfish

16 Jan

When I picked it up, I didn’t even realize that 33 Snowfish is written by the same author as Punkzilla – Adam Rapp.  (Punkzilla is at the top of my to-read list).  Anyway, 33 Snowfish is told from the point of view of three characters: Boobie, Curl, and Custis.  Boobie is a silent pyromaniac, Curl a drug addicted prostitute, and Custis is an abused young boy who loves them.

Making up a sort of family, the three of them try to survive and protect one another.  This proves more and more difficult as they succumb to disease, the cold, and their horrible pasts.  In addition, Boobie ends up kidnapping his infant brother, and eventually it is up to Custis to keep the baby alive.

The story really focuses on Custis, who is racist, angry, and severely abused.  Yet he is also innocent and kind, and often seems like any other little kid. The book is short, brutal, and sometimes painful to read.  Overall, a great and interesting read.  A good break from all the vampires, rich kids, and dystopias.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (2006)

Water Wars

6 Jan

Water Wars, Cameron Stracher’s YA debut novel, is a dystopian view of the world if we ran out of water.  While a lot of books in this genre focus on oil or industry, water shortage is also a credible threat, and makes for an interesting plot set-up. The book focuses on Vera and her older brother Will, both of whom are trying to survive on limited food and desalinated (and contaminated) water from the government.  Their mother is sick and their father is helpless.  When Vera meets Kai, a mysterious and seemingly water-rich boy, she befriends him and tries to find out his secrets.  This of course leads to all kinds of adventures that include pirates, kidnappers, and the government.

While the first half of the novel is strong, and there are good supporting details (Illinowa is at war with Canada and Minnesota; synthetic food etc…), the “adventure” part of the story in which the characters are on the run feels rushed.  The details are lost, and the reader is propelled forward through a series of mishaps and successes. There is some mild romance, but nothing too crazy. Overall, the book is worth reading, and will go extremely fast.  This, however, may be its (minor) problem.

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Cameron Stracher
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (January 2011)

ARC received from author for honest review.

Some Girls Are

14 Dec

Regina is second in command of the popular clique at school. As a result, she has spent many years tormenting and teasing pretty much the entire student body. When her “best friend” Anna’s boyfriend tries to rape Regina, she mistakenly thinks her “friends” will be on her side. Instead, Anna decides Regina has been after her boyfriend for years, and that Regina is now out. Totally out. Suddenly Regina becomes the bullying victim of her former clique. She has nowhere to turn, having alienated the entire school. Everyone is glad to see her suffer, including her former best friend from before Anna took over Regina’s life. A relationship with a boy she used to bully is fraught with tension and anger, and Regina is very much alone in the world.

What makes this book unique is that Regina does not all of a sudden become nice. She remains somewhat mean and apt to hurt others on purpose. Her thoughts alternate between revenge and the fear of being alone. She is a realistic character, and provides a lot of insight into the mind of someone willing to do almost anything to be popular. Some critics complain that Regina does not grow as a character, but I think this is a good thing, as it seems so realistic. How often in real life do we see a teenager (or even adult) go through a complete moral turnaround just because of some consequences to their actions?

Regina also provides insight into the complicated nature of bullying. Namely that the mainstream media (which is obsessed with bullying in school right now-it used to be gangs) and many parents tend to see bullying as a black and white victim/perpetrator scenario. Some Girls Are presents the more nuanced revenge cycle in which figuring out who is the bully isn’t always so easy.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Courtney Summers.
Publisher: St. Martins-Griffin (2010)