Burned by Ellen Hopkins

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BurnedEllen Hopkins writes fiction in a non-traditional manner, which is epitomized in Burned, the story of Pattyn Von Stratten, a confused and growing young woman brought up among pain and fear. Her father, a war veteran and devout Mormon, is addicted to Johnnie Walker Black and abuses Pattyn’s mother, while also leaving psychological scars on his five daughters. Her family life pushes Pattyn away from his rules and warnings. With the help of some deceptive students from her school, Pattyn experiments with alcohol and sexual desire. When her father catches her drunk and without much clothing, Pattyn is sent to live in Nevada with her aunt J. Aunt J, who proves to be very different from her hypocritical brother, shows Pattyn the power of loving and being loved. In Nevada, Pattyn instantly falls in love with Ethan. While learning about the harmful effects of chemical experimentation in the desert and discovering her maturity into womanhood, Pattyn realizes that she has found a haven with Aunt J. When she is forced to move back home with her abusive father, Pattyn knows that she must make a choice and face the consequences of her actions.

Instead of traditional prose, Burned is written in poetic form, which makes for interesting aesthetic aspects and a quick read. Although the plot line is not particularly fascinating or original, the lyrical format makes Burned unique and unusual. I really enjoyed this new take on storytelling from Pattyn’s perspective.

Pattyn’s story is not exceptional, but it tells a truth about the hypocrisy of many religious people and the hidden home lives of many that cannot speak for themselves because they live in fear. Ellen Hopkins is a genuine writer that portrays real-life situations through the eyes of a defiant and self-sufficient young woman who changes often throughout the novel.

I would recommend Burned to anyone that enjoys honest stories about young women or books written in a poetic form.


Rating

Plot: 2/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 3/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 6/10

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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WonderR.J. Palacio examines the issues of body image and self-esteem in the novel Wonder. Ten-year-old August has struggled with these issues his entire life because his appearance frightens other people. In a fantastically unfortunate turn of genetics, August has several visible birth defects that have shaped his appearance even after countless surgeries. After being homeschooled due to the surgeries in his youth, August’s family decides it would be best to send August to public school for the first time. When he enters the fifth grade, August really learns of the astoundingly mean capabilities of children. He is ridiculed, mocked, silenced, and shunned from most of the rest of the students, but August’s kind and funny personality make it possible for him to make a few genuine friends. While August struggles with his self-image, his sister Via struggles with her own identity, which has finally become separate from August’s appearance. In the end, August’s looks make him the target of kids from another school, and his own classmates back August up and begin to understand his genuine nature. In the end, August’s school awards him for making an impact on the people around him and for exhibiting incredible bravery in the face of cruel individuals.

Wonder, although perhaps a bit idyllic in the end, demonstrates the power of one single person to make a difference. August’s story is one of acceptance and love (even self-love) despite outward appearances. The characters, including August, Via, the school bully Julian, August’s friends Jack and Summer, and his parents, are all legitimate and redeemable.

R.J. Palacio writes August’s story from the perspective of several different characters, which gives the reader an insight into each of their impressions of August and their behaviors. Wonder is an adorable, sweet tale about one boy that changed his community with kindness, and I adore this story.

I would recommend this book to young people struggling with identity and body positivity.


Rating

Plot: 3/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 5/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 7/10

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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The Perks of Being a WallflowerAn epistolary bestseller about the pain of adolescence and repressed memories, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower exceeded expectations. The story of Charlie’s first high school experiences are told from Charlie’s perspective in the form of letters to an unknown recipient only referred to as “friend.” After dealing with the suicide of one of his best friends, Charlie struggles through entering high school without friends, but determines – with a characteristic positive attitude – to experience as much as he can. Charlie meets some older students: step-siblings Patrick, a flamboyant and outgoing young man referred to as “Nothing,” and Sam, an experienced and kind girl who takes a liking to Charlie. Patrick and Sam introduce Charlie to lots of new people and things, including drugs, girls, and music. Although Charlie works hard to live as fully as possible, he still experiences bouts of depression and pain that he can’t explain. When Sam shows sexual interest in Charlie, however, he comes to a painful, traumatic realization about his past that he must deal with.

Chbosky’s poignant language, which shines through Charlie’s voice, is quotable and has endured through the years since Perks was written. The integrity with which Chbosky portrays the ups and downs of high school life makes Charlie’s kind and selfless spirit believable and accessible for readers. The beautiful characterization creates enviable friendships and touching moments between Charlie and his friends.

Perks is an intriguing story with hints of mystery as to Charlie’s past and mental illness. The letter format creates the feel that the speaker is writing directly to the reader, which creates an exceptional connection to Charlie’s character. This novel is a beautiful story that tackles difficult subjects with a genuine voice and careful honesty.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in adolescent development or stories with internal dialogue.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 5/5

Characterization: 5/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 8/10

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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The Maze RunnerThe Maze Runner portrays a small corner of James Dashner’s concept of a dystopian society. The dazed and defiant main character wakes up in an elevator with no memory of his past life besides his name: Thomas. Thomas is soon lifted out of the elevator and into the light of day by several boys. He has been brought to a place called the Glade, where all of the boys sustain their own livelihoods and perform tasks to continue living in fear of what lies beyond the walls. The Glade is surrounded by the Maze, where globulous mechanical creatures called Grievers lurk. The Runners, a special force of the strongest boys in the Glade, run the Maze every day and try to find a way out. Thomas determines that he can find a way out of the Glade, and decides to become a Runner. However, the others soon become suspicious of Thomas because he seems to be too familiar with the area. To make matters worse, the first girl appears in the elevator a few days later, and Thomas can communicate with her telepathically. Thomas and the girl, Teresa, eventually realize that they are special because they have the ability to find the way out of the Maze. However, Thomas fears that what lies outside could be even more sinister than their trapped existence inside the Maze.

The Maze Runner is a unique take on a tired genre. The drama of life in the Glade and Thomas’s mission to save everyone from the Grievers make the book intriguing, but the diction and storytelling fall somewhat short. There are several unexpected slang words used frequently by the characters, and the boys in the Glade all seem to be selfish, frightened, and cryptic. In addition, the setting is poorly described and difficult to picture.

I had a hard time getting through The Maze Runner, and the ending did not live up to my expectations. The dystopian genre has become clichéd, and although Dashner attempts to portray a new version of our future, The Maze Runner is still unoriginal and not quite creative enough.

I would recommend The Maze Runner to those that enjoyed other dystopian series such as Divergent and The Hunger Games.


Rating

Plot: 3/5

Language/Voice: 2/5

Characterization: 2/5

Readability: Moderate

Overall Quality: 4/10

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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SpeakSpeak, an internal dialogue about struggling with a secret, brings to life Laurie Halse Anderson’s incredible ability to portray the teenage mind. Melinda Sordino begins high school as the most hated ninth grader at Merryweather High. Everyone seems to blame Melinda for the presence of the police at a big party over the summer, but no one knows why she called them. The only person that will talk to Melinda is Heather, the new student from Ohio, who desperately wants to be in one of the popular cliques at Merryweather, the Marthas. Melinda has names for all of the cliques, and she mocks them in her head mercilessly, but she desperately wants to be accepted. While Melinda deals with her isolation, lost friends, her apathy for schoolwork, and the deaf ears of her absent parents, Melinda begins to stop talking, and she bottles everything up inside. She cowers at the sight of the popular Andy, who she nicknames “It,” but she can’t seem to tell anyone why. As her ex-best-friend Rachel begins to show affection for Andy, Melinda realizes the necessity of her testimony of what really happened at that summer party, and she must find her own voice before she can speak out.

Although Melinda’s story is dark and she is full of shame, her voice is honest and hilarious. Because there is very little dialogue in Speak, the reader is able to connect on a much higher level to Melinda. She is cynical, sarcastic, and funny, under a veil of secrecy and pain. Melinda’s secret constantly eats away at her, and the reader feels her confusion and disillusionment with the rest of the world, who seem to turn a blind eye to Andy’s monstrosity.

This novel speaks to the issue of victim blaming, the hypocrisy of the public school system, and the difficulty of finding a place in the world at a young age. Adolescents carry the burden of a transition to adulthood, which is made even more difficult when adults turn a blind eye to the real-life issues they deal with on a daily basis. Speak encourages dialogue between young people and adults. Anderson encourages self-expression and the power of camaraderie through Melinda’s spunky voice, a blocky form of prose, and intense characterization.

I would recommend Speak to all young adults making the transition to maturity, parents, teachers, and counselors.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 5/5

Characterization: 5/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 9/10

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to TerabithiaKatherine Paterson’s middle-grade book about the power of friendship will warm your heart at any age. When Jess Aarons determines to become the fastest runner in the fifth grade, he does not expect to come in second place to a girl. Leslie Burke moves in next door to Jess, and even though they rival each other at running, they soon become best friends. Leslie is very different from anyone at Jess’s school. She has money, a huge imagination, a big vocabulary, and no television. Although they do not have many other friends at school, they find a secret place in the woods, which they call Terabithia, where they can confront their real-life bullies in a beautiful fictional world. Leslie helps Jess use his imagination to go on fantastic adventures in Terabithia, where he can unashamedly show his love for art. They become inseparable and learn wonderful new things together, until disaster strikes and Jess is left alone in Terabithia. Jess must remember Leslie’s ability to see the most beautiful things in life, even after she is gone.

Bridge to Terabithia is a simple, lovely story that highlights the importance of loyalty and imagination in the face of adversity. Although Paterson’s language is easily readable, the speaker’s voice is far from juvenile. This novel deals with grief in an unorthodox way that even young people can comprehend and relate to.

Jess and Leslie’s love for one another is adorable and heart-warming, and their friendship is a beautiful one for which all middle schoolers strive. My copy of Bridge is falling apart from the myriad of times it has been read since I was ten years old. This novel is timeless and can be relatable for all ages.

I would recommend Bridge to Terabithia to anyone that has experienced death or grief, and to any middle grade students interested in fantasy stories.


Rating

Plot: 3/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 7/10

Every Day by David Levithan

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Every DayIn this touching, lovely novel, David Levithan explores issues such as identity, body image, young love, and the confusion of adolescence. Every Day follows the life of A, who wakes up in the body of someone new every day. Nothing is constant in A’s life, and this is the way it has always been. A tries their best to keep the lives of the people whose bodies they inhabit as constant as possible in the short time they are living their lives. However, when A wakes up in Justin’s body, something is different. A meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon, and instantly falls in love. A chooses to break all of their rules about using someone else’s body for their own means, decides not to act as Justin would, and takes Rhiannon on a romantic date to the beach. From that day on, A makes an effort to use the body in which they wake up to find Rhiannon and make an impression upon her. Eventually, he goes to a party in the body of Nathan, a clean-cut, intelligent student, in order to get to Rhiannon, and begins an email relationship with her. However, when the real Nathan wakes up on the side of the road, he tells the press that he has been possessed by the devil, and pursues A with a vengeance. A must convince Rhiannon to love them for who they are without regard to the body they inhabit while fending off Nathan’s spotlight.

David Levithan’s ability to tackle tough subjects in such an honest and simple way is unparalleled in young adult literature. The fluidity of A’s identity is beautiful and unique, and could teach young people an important lesson about diversity and acceptance. A inhabits the bodies of people of all genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, weights, appearances, and more. We see into the lives of a drug addict, a suicidal girl, an obese boy, and even Rhiannon herself.

A’s eloquent voice makes poignant comments on our standards of beauty, the power of love, and the anguish of unreturned affection. Every Day is a compelling story with elements of social critique, a fantastic bodiless protagonist, and wonderful storytelling techniques. I read this novel very quickly because of the simple prose and page-turning plot twists. Levithan’s story is easily relatable because of the faceless, fluid voice of A, even when the concept of a bodiless soul is not realistic.

I would recommend Every Day to young adults interested in exploring their own identity and what that means to them.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 5/5

Characterization: 4/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 8/10

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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The Ocean at the End of the LaneA fascinating, colorful novel about memories and childhood bravery, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane went above and beyond the normal fantasy story. A man, now divorced and with grown children, returns to the home where he grew up and feels compelled to pay a visit to the house at the end of the old farm road. The man is drawn to the duck pond behind the Hempstock’s farmhouse, which his childhood friend Lettie had once convinced him was an ocean. However, Lettie and the other strong Hempstock women were no ordinary family, and they seemed to know things that no one else knows, like the thoughts people have, how to make a full moon all the time, and how to cut time out of existence. Sitting at the “ocean,” the man begins to remember things from his childhood that had slipped his mind since he was seven. He recalls the unimaginable danger that took place in his old neighborhood and the frightening monsters and sights from which Lettie once saved him.

Neil Gaiman’s imagination knows no bounds in this compelling story of innocence and true friendship in the face of monstrous threat. The heartfelt account of childhood recollections is mixed with an unforgettable fairy-tale-esque depiction of a fantastical world our eyes cannot see.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story with incredibly accurate characterization, an honest narrator, and a surprising allegorical aspect. This book will really make you think – about the world beyond yourself, human capability in the face of danger, and more. The Ocean will take you on the ride of a lifetime through the lens of the man’s nostalgic thoughts, but it’s difficult to be certain at any time if the events are just childhood fantasies or a factual telling of the improbable Hempstocks.

I loved this brief but poignant book, and would recommend it to those that enjoy fantasies like A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) or those looking for a simple but touching read.


Rating

PLOT: 5/5

LANGUAGE/VOICE: 4/5

CHARACTERIZATION: 5/5

READABILITY: EASY

OVERALL QUALITY: 9/10

The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow

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The Book of Daniel

I would categorize E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel in the historical fiction genre. Typically, when we think of Communism and the atomic bomb, we think of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – the couple executed for committing espionage and passing information about the A-bomb to the Soviet Union. The Book of Daniel is not about the Rosenbergs, but a couple whose situation was eerily similar: the fictional Paul and Rochelle Isaacson. However, the novel is written from the perspective of the Isaacsons’ son Daniel. Daniel describes what life was like as a child of the Isaacson household, his parents’ political statements and meetings, and the horrors he experienced while watching his parents flounder under the watchful eye of the entire nation. Daniel also gives the reader glimpses into his current life while writing the memoir as a Columbia graduate student in the 1960s. He portrays through graphic imagery how the execution of his parents affected his and his sister’s entire adult lives.

Doctorow’s novel paints a brilliant picture of scattered images from Daniel’s memory. From the horrific image of his parents convulsing on the electric chair to Daniel’s violent abuse and manipulation of his wife, the incredible imagery in Daniel is not for the faint of heart. In addition, Doctorow does not writes in chronological order. Scenes from Daniel’s childhood are juxtaposed with his current life story as a married adult. There is no evident pattern with the timeline of the story, which can make the events difficult to follow, but Doctorow’s style of relating scenes from his parents’ trial to his time spent writing his dissertation creates a much more immersive and interesting storyline. Doctorow also switches the narration between first and third person, which creates an unreliable narrator and a confusing switch between intimacy and separation with the Daniel.

While The Book of Daniel is in no way a work of nonfiction, there are several very real details that mirror the events of the Rosenberg case, which creates in the reader an intense illusion of reality. In addition, the effects Daniel portrays in his own language and his descriptions of his sister’s slow decline into insanity are absolutely understandable for someone who went through such an appalling childhood.

E. L. Doctorow has conceived an incredible story in The Book of Daniel in which a troubled young adult tells the events leading up to and including the execution of his beloved parents – events that will follow him for the rest of his life. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history and historical fiction.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 5/5

Characterization: 3/5

Readability: Difficult

Overall Quality: 9/10

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

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Before I Die

Before I Die is a young adult novel in which sixteen-year-old Tessa faces death without merely addressing the unfair and heartbreaking nature of teenage cancer. Tessa writes an ambitious list of things to do before she dies, including sex, drugs, and breaking the law. Though her single father, a kind and worried man, grows wary of this list and its implications in Tessa’s life, his daughter is determined to get what she wants with the help of her flaky and carefree friend Zoey. In the midst of crazy expectations for the list, as well as the unexpected complications that come with terminal leukemia, Tessa does not expect to find love. However, her neighbor Adam gives her this wish in the wonderful and topsy-turvy final months of her life. Tessa’s Before I Die list will make readers realize the beautiful experiences that await those who face even the darkest of times.

Jenny Downham’s witty and brutally honest character seizes life in a way that most of us never will. In death’s shadow, Tessa manages to show readers that she is still fully alive. The characterization of Tessa is as complicated as human beings can be. Though the other characters remain somewhat one-dimensional, Tessa is a wonderfully complex and (understandably) confused adolescent.

Before I Die is, without a doubt, a tear-jerker. The beautiful and tumultuous love story between Tessa and Adam, as well as Tessa’s bucket list – both of which must inevitably be cut short – will leave you grief-stricken. However, I read through this book in one day because it is such a compelling, believable, and touching story. Without fixating on the depressing theme of death, Jenny Downham shows us how to face the unfairness of it all with humor and incredible mutual experiences to remember until the day you die.

This is not simply a cancer story, and the novel contains concepts that are universal. I would recommend Before I Die to those that want a book to make you feel something and to young people that need a small idea of what it is to be completely alive.


Rating

Plot: 4/5

Language/Voice: 4/5

Characterization: 2/5

Readability: Easy

Overall Quality: 6/10