Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tough Stuff: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

There are some books that you initially read the blurb about and the first thing you think is... "Why on EARTH would I want to put myself reading that? I read to escape the ugly things of this world not become entrenched in them!" or you say "I just don't think I like 'that kind' of book.

That is exactly how I felt when I saw this book at Barnes and Noble. I saw it a few times there, at Wal Mart and at Target when I finally decided to read the first chapter at Barnes and Noble.

The first chapter turned into an entire reading of the book in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It was riveting.

Thirteen Reasons Why
Hannah Baker wasn't exactly the prettiest girl in school, but she wasn't the ugliest either. She wasn't the smartest, wasn't the dumbest, wasn't the most popular, and she wasn't the least popular. And to Clay Jensen she was perfect just as she was. Which is why he was shocked when two weeks ago she committed suicide. He didn't understand. They weren't dating but they were kind of friends, and there had been one night where he thought he might have the guts to tell her how he felt. Now though he knew, there would be no more chances.
One morning Clay finds a box filled with cassette tapes sitting on his porch. He finds a cassette player and when he puts the tape in... he can't believe what he hears. It's Hannah. Hannah cracking morbid jokes, Hannah mocking her own situation and the situation she has now put others in. Hannah made recordings before she died... about why she did it. She had 13 reasons and people that she felt lead to her demise. These tapes are to be delivered to thirteen different people to listen to and then pass on.

It sounds like the most depressing book in the world but you will be surprised by Hannah's demeanor. She makes witty jokes and has a biting commentary about the events in her life. Some of the "reasons" she gives are heartbreaking and others you wouldn't think were a big deal until she lets you in on the big picture effects. It makes you take a look at the things you have done and said in your life... what little things in your life you may have done that hurt others.

This is a great book for kids in middle school/ high school because it CHALLENGES them to think about the things they do and say and the effects their words/actions have on others

That's all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tough Stuff: Laurie Halse Anderson

Back when I was in middle school I remember hearing about a book that was being passed around about a very taboo subject. When you are in middle school taboo can mean just about anything but in this case, it was about something heartbreaking and true.

Due to traumatic events that are not revealed until later, Melinda Sordino doesn't really talk. She is now in high school and things are not looking up. In fact she hates it. It seems that nothing and no one REALLY cares about anything. Though she doesn't really talk to others she does a LOT of internal monologuing.

As you read it and hear "Melinda"'s voice ring out in all of her clever observations you find yourself wishing she had written for your school newspaper.

Melinda does enjoy one class in high school. Art. She is a tremendous artist and this year she has been assigned... trees. She will not only paint them, but sculpt them, collage them, and anything more it takes to become fully entrenched in the beauty of a tree. As you can imagine Melinda is initially not very happy about this... but things change. She comes to realize more about herself as her art progresses and the strength it takes to be brave and most importantly "Speak" about what has caused her to become silent.

This book his funny and heartbreaking and BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN! Laurie Halse Anderson has a fantastic YA voice in her writing!

Lia's estranged best friend Cassie is dead. Though she doesn't know the specifics she knows that the girl she hadn't spoken to in months called her 33 times the night she died alone in a hotel room.
Their estrangement came after Lia and Cassie began a deadly contest... "I swear to be the skinniest girl in school" one would say, "Skinnier than you" said the other. This pact will change them both forever and its a book you cannot put down.
Since writing Speak, Anderson has done other work, however, it wasn't until I heard about Wintergirls was I excited to read any of her other work. As I said before Anderson has a heart for young people and the voice of a young person. She writes this book in diary format and when you see a young girl dialoguing every calorie (even just in her mind/journal) it reminds you of the dangers you only have seen before on Lifetime.

Laurie Halse Anderson is ENTIRELY worth reading and her books address issues that make you think and introduce conversations that are tough but necessary.

That's all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tough Stuff: After by Amy Efaw

There are hard hitting topics that never get mentioned or talked about. There are terrible things that teenagers do that adults don't know how to respond to. In this series of posts I'll be mentioning books geared towards teenagers that deal with "tough stuff": suicide, abortion, eating disorders, gang violence, and rape. We can't pretend that this kind of stuff goes over teens' heads. These books approach the issues and give understanding and show preventative measures.

Devon is an athlete with Olympic dreams. She is a straight A student and known for being a responsible member of her community. Despite being raised by a single mother who constantly seemed to have priorities other than raising her daughter, Devon is a model student. That is until the day her world is changed. Devon stays home sick from school and is on the couch disoriented when her mother comes home. Cops knock on the door informing Devon's mother that they found a baby in a dumpster nearby and asks if they could have a look around the apartment.
Devon has done the unthinkable and the question this book answers, what happens After? She is in a detention center and going through a court trial for attempted murder. How does her defense make a case? Why did she do it? At what lengths does she go to deny it all... even to herself?

This is an incredible read. It is absolutely riveting, you can't stop turning the pages. I have to say that it is a gut-wrenching topic but it is SO fascinating to see Efaw's take on it. We get to see what lead Devon to this even if it is heartbreaking you begin to understand her and even relate to how she felt. Brilliantly written!! It is a dark book with a dark subject but ultimately a worthwhile read.

That's all for now!

Signing Off,

Reader Girl

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sci-Fi Books We Love: Ally Condie's Matched

Back from a five day hiatus and ready to talk about a delightful book I reread over the weekend. I was in Illinois and spent an evening reading my book. Also I just found out today that I will be teaching eighth grade next year and could not be happier about it! Now onto our next bout of Dystopian Fiction!

Book I: Matched
Cassia lives in a world where society finds your optimal "match" and starting at age 17 you have the possibility of being matched. Cassia knows the probability of being matched on your birthday is miniscule. So you can imagine Cassia's surprise when she is summoned right after her birthday to go into town with her mother and father to be matched. Cassia finds relief in the fact that her best friend Xander has also been summoned, the matching ceremony generally finds the matchees a bundle of nerves. When it is Cassia's turn to be matched she goes to the stage and waits for the screen to light up with her match because chances are he lives in another community and has to be shown on a screen by satellite, and the screen turns black. It turns black because her match is in the room. When they call Xander's name Cassia can hardly believe her luck. She goes home to look at Xander's match card and when she opens it... it is not Xander's face she sees but another boy from her community, Ky. An official comes to tell her that the officials made a mistake and give her Xander's card. According to the official and Cassia all is remedied. However, she begins to notice Ky and it seems for the first time he also begins to notice her too. It seems the community can match everyone with unparalleled accuracy however when they make a "mistake" what does that really mean for Cassia, Ky, and Xander? Do you have choices or is everything chosen for you?

I can't wait to see what happens next in Condie's next
installment coming out November 2011!

Book II: Crossed

That's all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sci-Fi Books We Love: Veronica Roth's Divergent

In my previous post I mentioned the growing trend of dystopian novels in Young Adult Fiction. However I failed to explain what dystopia is. Dystopia (according to Wikipedia) is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Essentially not really a perfect world but darn, if it doesn't try to be.

I think the trend is because we are coming upon a very weary generation. We have a group of kids who it seems have never seen their nation at its finest. Politics have been uniquely polarized in the last 10 years which leads to a more moderate counter-culture coming up. They are weary of siding with anyone because in their eyes both sides have done wrong. Statistically we have more students growing up in single parent house holds and the sense is that there is something wrong and broken in families. The economy has been a roller coaster the last ten years and I think our students are looking for answers.

Dystopian novels are author's answer or word of warning to these students. As the Hunger Games presents, don't give up your personal freedom for "bread and circuses" or as the Uglies that outward beauty is not a sign of achievement. I like that our students are getting a dose of something of substance. What is your answer to this broken world? I'd tell you mine, but you'd guess, its the only Answer.

Book I: Divergent
Set in Chicago many years from now Beatrice Prior's world is divided into five factions: Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honest), Amity (Peaceful), and Erudite (intelligent). We meet Beatrice Prior as she enters the most important decision of her young life. She must choose which faction she will spend the rest of her life with. Her family is Abnegation, they are selfless, she envies her mothers natural selflessness and while it doesn't come naturally to her she is thankful for the harmony in which she lives. The day before the choosing ceremony she goes into a simulation which will tell her what faction she is most naturally akin to. For most people the simulation narrows there choice to one, but when Beatrice goes in for her simulation her world is changed. We follow Beatrice as she chooses her faction and learns just what it means to be Divergent. We also begin to see the fabric that binds these factions begin to fall apart. The factions were meant to rid the world of evil by focusing on virtues but it seems that corruption is hard to keep away in any world. You will love Beatrice and her kickin' attitude! You will be horrified at Eric, wish for friends like Christina and will and you will sa-woon for Four! ENJOY!

That's all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sci-Fi Books We Love: Scott Westerfeld Uglies

About three years ago I was sitting in one of my education classes in college and talking about books with some of the people around me. It was a teaching Reading through Literature class and we had a habit of talking about the books we really liked. The girl behind me said she had just read this series that had blown her mind.

The series was called "Uglies". It's a series of four books its another book of what has come to be known in the YA World as Dystopic Fiction or Dystopian Fiction. The librarian at a local middle school and I noticed the overflowing bounty of books like this and we took a minute to think "why would these books be so popular now"?

Its a question I will answer in my next blog but for now.... The books!

Book I: Uglies
The book opens and we meet Tally, a young girl desperate to join her friend Peris in New Pretty Town. However Tally is only fifteen and thereby, an ugly. She will receive surgery to be turned pretty when she reaches sixteen. When you are sixteen you are given an operation in which doctors decide what your face will look like, they make you symmetrical, thin, and they give a show stopping beauty. She longs for that day and spends time making up what her new face would look like. Tally longs for the days when she and Peris would turn tricks together. Uglies have a habit of playing all sorts of pranks and tricks that are very "bubbly". However when she meets Shay, another Ugly with the same birthday as Tally, everything changes. Shay also like to play tricks that are very "bubbly" however hers consist of going to something called the "Rusty Ruins" and meeting a very mysterious boy named David. Shay has an entirely new adventure in store for Tally that she isn't exactly ready for because Shay wants something Tally has never even considered. Shay doesn't want to turn pretty. Shay thinks she is fine just the way she is... the question is, can she convince Tally that there is a choice? What in fact is the real cost of beauty?

Book II: Pretties
Again we find ourselves in the company of Tally, Shay, Peris and a few new friends including the strikingly handsome and unique looking Zane. Tally finds herself in New Pretty Town. She is happy all the time and loves going to the latest parties in the coolest outfits. However she also has a desperate desire to join Shay's Pretty Town clique, The Crims. Crim is short for criminal and they are of the few pretties who still play tricks and have adventures so that they can feel "Bubbly". She finds herself left with Zane a lot and comes to see him as an ally of sorts. He is the one person who understands her internal conflict sometimes. He understands that sometimes its like you think more clearly when you have a certain rush of adrenaline and he wonders what it would be like to feel that way all the time. He and Tally set out on a mission to find a way to feel the "clarity" that being bubbly brings them. It is then that they meet some old friends who can tell them all about the clarity they have been missing.

There are two more books in the series "Specials" and "Extras" neither of which I can really talk about without giving too much away about the first two!

They are exciting books that really take a look at the importance of finding beauty in what is real and natural.

Thats all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sci-Fi Books We Love: Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games

Alas the blog I've been waiting for: The Hunger Games. If I have talked to you at all in the past year I'm sure I've mentioned this book series to you. Its like you can't quit "paying it forward" with this book. My sister recommended it to me and at first I refused thinking "oh no, it's not my kind of book". FALSE. It is the type of book for ANYONE who enjoys using their eyes!

Even if you think "I'm too smart", "too old", "too out of touch", or "too cool" for these books... YOU ARE WRONG. They are not for "Harry Potter" lovers or for "Twilight" lovers. In fact these books stand alone and create a VERY unique and exciting adventure!

Book I: The Hunger Games
Basically the United States no longer exists. What used to be known as North America has been separated into thirteen districts and "The Capital" also known as Panem. The Capital is located near California and the districts follow after that with District 12 being in Appalachia. Seventy-four year prior to the books beginnings District 13 led a rebellion with all the districts against The Capital. In response The Capital wipes District 13 off the map. "As a reminder to the rebels" of their previous disloyalty, each year The Capital takes two tributes from each district, one boy, one girl, ages twelve to eighteen, to compete in something known as "The Hunger Games". The Hunger Games are a fight to the death, but not in a gladitorial sense. It is a fight for survival. "The Games" take place in what is described as a vast arena, ANYTHING can be in the arena, it may be a jungle, a desert, a forest, or something entirely different. The last one alive, "wins". This seems like a simple enough plot, but there is SO much more to it! Before the games start the people of the Capital "get to know" their tributes through interviews and training scores. If the crowd likes you, you might be able to get help in the arena. For instance if you are injured and need medicine, "sponsors" can send in the appropriate medicine to try and ensure your survival. Secondly, for people to know what you need in the arena, they have to be watching you. Which leads to what I find to be almost the most horrifying of all. The Hunger Games are televised LIVE and all of Panem is REQUIRED to watch and to show The Capital's sick mind, the people of the Districts are likewise forced to celebrate the Hunger Games. This story follows Katniss Everdeen as she steps into the arena, leaves her lifelong friend Gale Hawthorne behind, and steps toward her District male equivalent, Peeta Mellark.

Book II: Catching Fire
I can't give too much about this book away in the summary so I will simply state a few words. This book follows what happens after the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games, in fact it is what they call the Quarter Quell as it is the Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games. In the first Quell the Districts voted on which of the children of their district to send into the arena (i.e. almost certain death), in the second Quell four children were taken from each district instead of the usual two, and you will be amazed when you find out what The Capital has cooked up for this Quell.
This is my favorite book of the Hunger Games trilogy. I asked any of my friends who read it it to text me when they had an "OMG AAAAH" moment, I think I got at least 5 from each person.

Book III: Mockingjay
I literally don't think there is anything I can say about this book without giving the first two away. So all I will say is... this book will leave you feeling as one of my friends described "happy, sad, empty, mad, I don't know what I feel right now". Ally Carter (author of the Gallagher Girl books and Heist Society) described the sensation as #Mockingjaycoma which is ENTIRELY understandable. After reading this book you are emotionally drained. Some see this as a negative, I however STRONGLY believe it to be a good thing. I love that a book can make me FEEL as much as Mockingjay (and all the Hunger Games books) did.

Why I LOVE that kids are reading it:

This book takes a look at what happens when people look only for "Panem et Circenses" or "Bread and Circuses" in their lives. Its the idea that everything is a game if you want it to be or if it benefits you. It makes you take a good hard look at the value of a human life and what the price of freedom means. I love that kids as young as ten and eleven years old are falling in love with these books! I think it shows the desire of students to care for something real!

Thats all for now!

Signing off,

Reader Girl