Monday, October 26, 2015

Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes

Most historical fiction novels are quite enjoyable. We can learn more about a period of history without having to stutter our way through a 700-page Social Studies textbook. Because it’s not that we don’t want to learn about the past, it’s that the resources available to us are long and tiring. Which is where great historical fiction stories come into play, complete with both information and a story line.

JohnnyTremain is not one of those great books.

In the 5th grade, the entirety of both classes was forced to read this book. Our teacher had never read it before but from the reviews, she was convinced that the book would go over nicely and would allow for intellectual discussion. We talked about it every week, slowly reading it chapter by chapter. And every time, our opinion would of the story would go down.

The summary doesn’t sound that horrible, just, you know, a book you read for class. Not all that great, but tolerable. The book is about a 14-year old apprentice living in Boston during the American Revolution. While making a plate or something out of silver for John Hancock, he injures his hand and is crippled for the rest of his life. Thus begins his journey of self-discovery, a cliché that apparently also applies to 18th century silversmiths.

This book features characters that nobody particularly cares about with problems that nobody cares about either. It’s an attempt to involve the reader in issues that just aren’t that relevant anymore. Nobody wants to read a book when they don’t understand the character’s motivation for doing something.

All I’ve got to say is that readers of Johnny Tremain, I’m so sorry. I sympathize. This book is a perfect example that even if you love to read and absorb every word around you, you have to (T)remain critical of what you’re reading.

Maja (Teen Blogger)

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I would generally describe myself as a fan of King's work; she is an author I highly recommend and Glory O'Brien's History of the Future may be one of my favorite books in general. Many of her works throw in magical realism/surrealism element and usually I think this works and makes her stories unique. Her newest book, I Crawl Through It, takes this fantastical element and runs with it. There are four main perspectives, Stanzi's (which isn't her real name), Gustav's, Lansdale's, and China's and these perspectives all exist in the surreal. Stanzi loves dissection, always wears a lab coat and her crush/best friend is building a helicopter she can only see on Tuesdays. Gustav is building the mostly invisible helicopter. Lansdale is a liar and her hair visibly grows by the day. And China has decided to swallow herself and is a walking set of organs. Gradually the reader is introduced to the real issues and traumas each of these characters are facing and have experienced. While, I have to say this was my least favorite of King's works, it still left me thinking about it after I put it down. Definitely not a light or casual read, but if you're interested in putting some work into your reading and looking for something completely different this may be for you.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

In our modern times, we often forget about the past. Primarily the last century or so. We choose to ignore the great and horrible deeds past generations have committed, maybe because we think they’re no longer relevant; they don’t affect us.

This might come as a shock, but what our ancestors did in times past has built the world we live in today. We don’t know what our lives would look like with a single historic event missing, but what we often discuss is the impact of World War II and the Holocaust. The Book Thief centers around the struggles of a young German girl who, as the title suggests, harbors a love for books and words. She recognizes the fact that words are more powerful than any gas chamber or concentration camp could ever be. Words are what allow Adolf Hitler to convince the German population to carry out the horrible things that they do. Words are a burden, but they are necessary to our survival.

The book follows the story of the girl through a unique perspective: literally the character Death. This allows for insightful observations to the story written in bold that completely transforms the voice of the story. The combination of Death's commentary throughout and the  intelligent voice of the girl (which tends to run off on tangents) make the book a notable narrative.

I found that the most shocking part is that as much as Liesel, the girl, loves books and words, at the beginning of the story is unable to read. Through hard work with her adoptive father in the middle of the night, she becomes an expert at the subject, going as far as stealing books (you know, being the book thief and all) from a burning bonfire and from the library of the mayor's home.

This book delves into the depths of the human mind spectacularly, exploring the thoughts of a young girl and how they relate to adult characters and even Death. It proves how even when we don't actively realize it, words are such an essential part of every single person's life.

Maja (teen blogger)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Romance in YA Novels

If you haven’t realized it by now, the main theme in the majority of Young Adult novels is romance. There’s always a couple or a love triangle or a crush around which the story is centered around. Without this, the plot is pointless. Which I find pointless.

Why is it that all of these books need to have love? There is an abundance of adult books without it; it’s just adventure and mystery and an actual story. The characters interact with each other to solve a problem and save themselves. It’s logical, but not emotionless. The emotion just isn’t love all the time.

I believe that the reason love is so prevalent in these novels is because it’s the emotion we’re the most familiar with at our young age. Everyone is loved by someone and everyone loves someone, and I think this is the age we begin to discover that. Authors can use that new life experience to draw us in, perhaps in hope of learning how to love right; how not to hurt people.

Every human being is capable of love, and so much of it is just a spiritual connection with another person, whether it be platonic or not. But because that’s so difficult to find- or better yet, keep- we want to savor it at a young age. We throw the word “love” around a lot. “I love my boyfriend! We’ve been dating for a whole two weeks!” We’re trying to grow up so fast.

Maybe that’s just because there’s so much pressure to be in a relationship it’s inevitable that we want to learn how to really be in one.  And really, whatever is in our lives is in our books. We want to read about ourselves and something we can relate to; something we can understand.

We haven’t grown up yet, but maybe that’s the point. At this time in our lives, we need to be immersed in any kind of love in preparation for adulthood. We’ll be loving till the end of time because that’s what makes the human species special. So we start not with our own loves, or own lives, but isn’t that the whole reason we read in the first place? To live someone else’s life?

Maja (Teen Blogger)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Infinite in Between

Five students are randomly thrown together at freshman orientation on their first day of high school; as their group activity they decide to write letters to their future graduation selves and meet up at the end of high school to read them. Infinite in Between is what happens to each of them in between. There's Zoe, displaced daughter of an actress going through rehab, Whitney, seemingly beautiful and perfect, but dealing with family discord and friends who aren't always friends, Gregor, who's in love with Whitney (despite not really talking to her), Mia, who's smart and awkward, but desperate to get out of town after graduation, and Jake, who's coming to terms with his sexuality after an incident at the end of junior high. Mackler has created an enjoyable and quick (at least quick for a 400+ page book) read, revolving around an interesting concept, with characters who change as each year passes, but with five different stories and four years of high school to get through it isn't always easy to be fully invested in the outcomes for any of them.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

So I happen to enjoy romance novels. There’s just something about taking a break from complete and total pessimism that seems to draw me in and turn me into a giggling mess. And yet, I do have to judge how far away the novel is from mainstream love stories. Hopefully miles and miles.
 I was in Glen Ellyn with my family a couple weekends ago, taking a stroll and looking into different shops, not actually buying anything but  just enjoying ourselves. And when I noticed the local book store, I headed straight for the Young Adult section. This book, Openly Straight, was one that looked moderately interesting so I wrote it down in my phone and made plans to get it at the library later. Let me just say, that was a good choice.
 The book revolves around Seamus Rafael Goldberg, or Rafe. He lives in Colorado, surrounded by family that strongly encourages him being gay, along with the rest of the decidedly untraditional town. (Think nuns on Segways.) His mom is president of the local Parents, Families, and friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG). His dad is obsessed with recording every single minute of Rafe’s life on his iPhone and showing the videos to absolutely no one. Rafe travels to different schools and talks about coming out. He’s accepted; something that doesn’t tend to happen when it comes to LGBTQ+ people.
 And yet, he’s tired of being the gay kid. There’s a barrier between him and everyone else. He has to watch his every move, making sure that what he does isn’t perceived differently than if he were “normal.” He decides that he’s had enough, which is understandable since everyone just wants to be normal (as if that really exists). So he transfers to an all-boys boarding school in New England with hopes of shedding the label and being accepted as simply a person.
 He doesn’t expect to fall in love but of course he does. I know, shocking. At an enormous school filled with boys on the other side of the country? Did not expect that one.
 In the end, he realizes that no one actually cares about anyone else. (Whoops, back to the pessimism.) No one is paying attention to what he’s doing because they’re too busy thinking about themselves. You’re not on stage with an audience watching your every move and judging you. You’re not a character written by producers, every bit of you extensively mulled over. You’re simply human, controlled by your own thoughts. So if no one else cares, why should you please anyone but yourself?

Maja (Teen Reviewer)