All posts by Marty Mason
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – June 13, 2022
Check out what our teen volunteers are reading! You may find your next excellent summer read here 🙂
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015)
Reviewed by Diya
In the novel All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey experience the hard truths of mental health that many teenagers in high school experience today. Niven tells the story through both Theodore and Violet’s eyes.
The two meet on top of a bell tower trying to take their lives. However, the two save each other and quickly become friends. Their friendship takes a romantic turn and they find themselves falling for each other. This gut wrenching story mercilessly unwraps the unfortunate truth behind the struggles of depression and suicide. As soon as I read the first page, I fell in love with both Theodore and Violet. Theodore is an individual that makes me smile, and his energy seems to radiate through the words in the book. Violet’s character is relatable because she experiences a lot of internal struggles that are very common in high school, and it is refreshing to read about how she deals with them. The two seem perfect for each other.
After reading this novel, I feel as though Theo and Violet will always be in my head because this book has had such an impact on me. I am left wanting to read more and I seem to want every detail of Theo and Violet’s relationship. Niven did a masterful job with creating a beautiful story that had me sobbing and laughing simultaneously. After reading this book once, I read it again because it is truly that amazing, and I felt as though I needed more. I would recommend this book to high schoolers who enjoy reading about love as well as heart-break.
Push Girl by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love (2014)
Reviewed by Roshni
Does anyone want a thrilling new book? The book is based on a true story. I would recommend the book Push Girl by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love. The main character Kara was known as the most popular girl. She had a great group of friends, a perfect boyfriend, and ideal life. That all shifts. Her parents start arguing, her boyfriend is toying with another girl, and her friends are not listening to her. To cope with all the negatives in her life, she decides to blow off steam and attend a Friday night party. That night changes her life forever.
If you are into coming-of-age novels, this book would be perfect for you. All of the characters are relatable to different high schoolers today. For instance, there are characters with a wide variety of interests, ranging from musically inclined to mathematics enthusiasts. One aspect of the book that caught me off guard was that the setting reminded me so much of Chelmsford, as it is a small suburban town where everybody knows each other.
Please check out this excellent book! You will not regret it.
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2013)
Reviewed by Claire
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a fantastic YA murder mystery. Cassie Hobbes is different from most kids in many ways. Most kids can’t tell you everything about a stranger just by looking at them. Most kids’ parents weren’t murdered by a still unknown killer. And most kids aren’t recruited by the government to join a special group of kids solving cold cases. Well, that’s exactly what happens to Cassie one day while she’s working at the diner.
When she’s approached by a man claiming that he works for the FBI, she doesn’t know what to think. Especially when he seems to be aware of her ability to profile people, and her mother’s mysterious murder. Cassie is suddenly pulled into a world even stranger than the one she already lives in. The FBI moves her into a house to live with other kids who have abilities like hers. There’s Lia, a girl who can catch anyone in any lie, and lie just as easily. There’s Sloane, who knows every number, statistic, and probability that could ever be known. There’s Michael, a boy who can read people’s emotions like they’re books and often uses that talent to get into trouble. Finally, there’s Dean. He’s a profiler, like Cassie, but seems to want absolutely nothing to do with her. All of them are supposed to work on cold cases, but one active case keeps coming back to them.
I love this book, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I love each of the characters in the
book, since each of them is interesting in their own ways. I especially like Dean and Michael because the two of them have an interesting way of dealing with their struggles. Reading about all of the Naturals (the name for the five kids due to their natural abilities) and their adventures in the house made it impossible for me to put the book down. Whenever the characters went anywhere, it was interesting to see how their different abilities affected how they interacted with the environment around them. They saw things in each different place that other people wouldn’t, which helped get a good idea of the setting and characters in the story. I loved the plot in the book since I was always wondering what everyone would do next. I couldn’t wait to get to the end of the book, where the mystery would hopefully be solved. I would definitely recommend this book, and the rest in The Naturals series. All of them are amazing, and I loved reading every single one.
New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
Reviewed by Sanya
New Kid is a great book for students in middle school. This book is a great way to show readers how it feels to be new, and since it’s a graphic novel the pictures help visualize everything.
New Kid is about a kid named Jordan who is going to a new school. Jordan is interested in drawing and wants to go to an art school but his mom insists on him attending a more academic prep school. His dad makes a deal with him – if Jordan doesn’t like the school he’s in by 9th grade he can switch. Jordan’s dad also has some concerns with the diversity in the school and how some teachers act, but his mom wants him to have a good education in that school and doesn’t think art school will be good for him. Jordan starts to make friends but some people, both teachers and students, treat him unkindly.
I give this book a 5/5 stars rating because it was an overall good story and it was interesting. My favorite character in this book might be Jordan’s dad. He wasn’t a huge part of the story but he really understood Jordan and made the deal about the art school, which was my favorite part of this book. It makes the reader wonder if Jordan ends up going to art school. Jordan’s mother was strict about him going to this specific school so that also makes the reader wonder what will happen if Jordan switches schools.
Like I said, this is a great book for middle school students and you should definitely consider reading it too!
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
Reviewed by Braneeth
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel surrounding the life of Janie Crawford, all the
way from from a teenager to middle-aged woman. Throughout her life Janie deals with many expectations, whether that be from her friends and family, or from society as a whole. Her life journey is a story of her battling between these expectations and her own aspirations and dreams.
Her life is filled with tragedy, starting with the forced arranged marriage she enters into at the age of 16. She goes through three marriages during her lifetime, seeking true love in each of them. It is only within the third she finds the relationship she is looking for, but even within this magical relationship lies tragedy.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite novels for a couple of reasons. First
the language of the book uses the southern dialect of the time that many books fail to portray, giving the reader a unique sense of place and time. Secondly, the book’s protagonist Janie is such a relatable character – she is definitely not perfect and throughout the novel she makes her own mistakes, while also facing external conflicts as well. Her ability to push through and learn from past relationships is one thing that makes her so interesting. Janie also serves as a role model in the sense that she refuses to be denied by what other people expect of her – though at first she is forced into a relationship she doesn’t want to be in, afterwards she follows her own path regardless of others’ opinions.
For all of these reasons, I would definitely recommend this book. The book is a little
mature with some of its topics and therefore I would say maybe it’s not suitable for younger readers. However, for young adults and onwards I would say it’s a great read and would definitely recommend it.
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – May 14, 2022
I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)
Reviewed by Diya
Jandy Nelson’s novel I’ll Give You The Sun, published in September of 2014, is a marvelous and devastating story of two twins and their bond. Jude and Noah were the best of friends when they were young, but a series of tragic events and people forced them apart. Noah struggles with his sexual identity when he meets Brian, and Jude struggles with her personal identity as she enters her teenage years. Both Noah and Jude’s lives are consumed with art, but when tragedy strikes, their love for art is tested. Amidst their developed hatred towards each other, they both make some unacceptable decisions, but they must learn to forgive each other and themselves. The two must find their way back to each other and become best friends once again.
I loved reading about Noah and Jude because each of their perspectives were so unique
and both of them were so lovable. Their personalities aided the plot as it developed, and their distinct differences kept the story interesting. This novel deals with love, addiction, and loss which are all topics that are applicable to teenagers today, making this a perfect book for young adults. I would definitely recommend this book to people who love stories told from several perspectives with bittersweet endings.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014)
Reviewed by Sriya
What is a feminist? This is the question Ngozi Adichie tackles in this brief nonfiction book based on a TED Talk she gave in 2012. Many people seem to believe that feminists are radical man-haters. She argues that this is completely untrue, and proceeds to back her argument with facts and data. According to google, feminism is “a range of social movements and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.” Ngozi Adichie makes a sound argument that by this definition, feminism is a battle for equality.
She discusses how in today’s society, many people are under the impression that feminism is essentially the belief in female supremacy, when it is in fact the fight for equality between all sexes and gender identities. Without knowing the true definition of the word feminism, it can be misinterpreted in various situations. Ngozi Adichie does an excellent job of clearing up this misinterpretation by explaining what feminism is, who is considered a feminist, and establishes that, “we should all be feminists.”
I highly recommend this short read for anyone who is interested in learning more about feminism and other social justice movements.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Reviewed by Braneeth
The Great Gatsby is a novel that takes place in 1900’s New York, specifically a suburb of Manhattan where the wealthy live. The novel follows young Nick Carraway who narrates a story of the romance between his cousin Daisy and a mysterious newcomer to town, Jay Gatsby. Though at first Gatsby seems the average rich man, his mysterious past is revealed throughout the course of the book. The plot is further complicated by Daisy’s arrogant husband Tom, who despite having an affair of his own, shows a clear hatred towards Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby is a much more complicated novel than what meets the eye. The
author, Fitzgerald, uses the slightest of details that go a long way towards understanding the characters. Each character has their own motivations, and their individual agendas combine to create a very mysterious plot. Furthermore, Nick proves a frustrating narrator, only revealing bits and pieces of the full story leaving readers in suspense. Befitting a book filled with mystery and rumors, readers are left to fill in parts of the story with their own imagination.
I would definitely recommend The Great Gatsby to any young adult reader. Not only is it
one of the most interesting novels I’ve ever read, but it also addresses many important universal themes. Some of these themes include the effect of time on relationships, societal norms, as well as the American Dream. For younger readers, the book may be a little too subtle with its details, but that does not mean it would not be a good read for them.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (2012)
Reviewed by Cynthia
A Face Like Glass, which was written by Frances Hardinge in 2012, is a fantasy novel located in a beguiling underground city called Caverna, whose residents can only learn facial expressions if craftsmen known as Facesmiths teach them how to do so. It follows Neverfell, a 12 year old girl who lost her memories and was taken in by the distrustful cheesemaker Grandible, who lived in tunnels isolated from the dangerous world and forced her to wear a mask. One day, a Facesmith named Madame Appeline visits them, and Neverfell, feeling a connection to her, decides to sneak a gift of some of Grandible’s magical cheese to her. However, Neverfell learns that her actions put Grandible in danger, and when she chases a rabbit to a secret passage leading outside, she decides to try to fix her mistake by recovering the cheese. Neverfell learns that her mask was to protect her because she is different, as her face is expressive and reflects her exact thoughts, and she becomes entangled in the heart of a grand plot as she attempts to uncover the secrets of her past and the dubious world.
I fell in love with the imaginative plot and intriguing aspects of the world of Caverna. It was so bizarre, as it included wines that can erase parts of your memory and certain items that can extend your lifespan for hundreds of years, yet at the same time, it felt real and incredibly deep. Neverfell had to navigate a dangerous and unfair world where the elites murdered each other regularly, a single silly mistake could result in execution, and the labor of powerless drudges fueled the world. The characters, their motivations, and their developments were spectacular, including the antagonists, and I loved the uncertainty of whether friends were foes or foes were friends. Being in a world full of lies with her personality made Neverfell prone to manipulation, as she was naïve and trusting, but she was also clever and resilient and ended up changing people’s lives. Neverfell’s development and transition from innocence to disillusionment to maturity was extremely well done. The writing was so engrossing; at first it seemed too descriptive, but I grew to enjoy its elegance and creativity. I especially adored the descriptions and similes, which painted vivid pictures in my mind, and I experienced so many emotions while reading this. There were so many thought-provoking lines. Even with the darkness, there was so much hope throughout the story. It was fast-paced with many clever, shocking twists, and I loved how it made my mind think and consider perspectives and possibilities. Fantasy lovers seeking an interesting world and thrilling adventure will enjoy this fantastic book.
Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards (2021)
Reviewed by Claire
Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards was published November 2, 2021, and is a
New York Times bestseller. On Cleo’s 18th birthday, she finds an odd box in her bathroom. She was the only one in the house, and her parents were away. Everyone else claims that they aren’t responsible. This mysterious box invites her to partake in a scavenger hunt. It would be fun if the clues weren’t reminding her of her dead boyfriend, Declan. He had died a year before on a group rafting trip. The clues all have to do with him and their relationship. Then, she starts to get phone calls with Declan’s voice. Cleo believes that Declan is the culprit. However, whoever they are, wants revenge, and Cleo has to finish the hunt before anyone else dies.
This book was incredible, and I enjoyed reading every bit of it. There were always more
twists and turns, more things to figure out and discover. My favorite character was Hope’s
brother, Connor. He was always loyal to Cleo and believed her when others didn’t. It was
interesting to imagine Cleo going through this hunt, discovering clues and trying to solve them before the clock ran out. The story takes place over a few days. It shows how much time they have left until whoever runs the hunt says their time is up. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a good mystery. There is something new at every turn, and the book is incredibly well-written. This author also wrote Five Total Strangers. I haven’t read all of this book, but from what I read, it was good. I would say to check this one out as well.
New Story at the Story Walk!
The days are longer and brighter – what better way to enjoy them than visiting the Story Walk at Sunny Meadow Farm! A new story has been installed, just in time for us to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage this May!
Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh is a simple story about a grandfather planning and looking forward to the special day he gets to spend with his granddaughter. It has been hailed as “a poignant celebration of multi-generational, unconditional love” (Shelf Awareness).
Read the story one page at a time as you walk along a simple trail. This is a fun family literacy activity that is great for all ages. Be sure to sign the guest book, and stop by the Children’s Desk to tell us all about your StoryWalk experience!
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – April 2, 2022
Check out the latest reviews from our teen volunteers! 🙂 If you’re in grades 7-12 and interested in writing reviews for our website, check out our Virtual Volunteer Training!
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do By Amy Morin (2014)
Reviewed by Abigail
This self-help book follows a therapist who just faced a great loss of a loved one. Morin discusses the obstacles she faced in her life, especially during the grieving period, and covers how she improved her mental health. This story teaches what traits strong people don’t have, and pitfalls that people fall into that can negatively affect their mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. Morin also covers how to surpass those challenges. The book also offers action items on how to improve the quality of one’s life, and how to become more at peace with oneself and increase life satisfaction.
This is one of the first self-help books I’ve ever read. This book has helped me so much in acknowledging negative elements in my mind, and how to prevent them from interfering from my inner peace. I found this book to be very useful, and the explanations for each section understandable and effective. The book is highly effective as it also offers action items for what a person can do to become mentally stronger than they were before.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1998)
Reviewed by Claire
Among The Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix was originally published March 1, 1998, and is a dystopian YA novel that takes place in a future where the government has taken
drastic measures to prevent overpopulation. Parents are only allowed to have two children, and having more than that is illegal. Luke is a third child. He’s been in hiding his entire life and now can’t even go outside. New houses are being built where his woods used to be, so he can no longer go outside without risking being seen. Luke had never met another kid before, besides his brothers, especially not another third child. Then, he sees a girl next door, in a house where two boys live. Her name is Jen, and she’s a third child, just like Luke. Jen wants third children to have rights and is not afraid to stand up to fight for them. Jen has a plan that she’s sure will give rights to third children everywhere. However, her idea is dangerous, and Luke doesn’t know whether or not he is willing to put his life on the line. Now, Luke has to decide whether or not to come out of the shadows or stay hidden.
I loved reading this book, and I enjoyed every page. I loved the characters in this story and how they all thought and acted differently. Jen and Luke were two completely different
people, and it was interesting to see the two of them together. Jen was fearless and willing to do anything to stand up for the rights of third children. She never really liked following the rules and often broke them. Luke, however, was timider and hesitant to stop hiding. He followed the rules and listened to his mother. The setting is described well since Luke spent a lot of time observing his surroundings. With him no longer being allowed to go outside, he watched the other houses on the block and talked about the other families that lived there. The setting was developed through his observations and description of the outdoors, something he often did as he had little else to do. I would recommend this book and all of its sequels. This is the first book in the Shadow Children sequence and is worth reading.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (1982)
definitely recommend it to any reader. Not only does it have its own fantasy world with its own cool components, similar to the world of Harry Potter, but the combination of magic and nonmagic is a pairing that hooks readers. As a side note, it also has a sequel, plus a different trilogy that takes place in the same world but with a different plot (the Shadow and Bone trilogy).
popular for almost three or four years, which just serves to show how appealing the story is. Not only is it great due to its interesting fantasy world, but it displays deep character development and feelings, which many fantasy novels fail to do. The book is packed with romance, anger, joy, and triumph. It delves deep into emotions that are relatable to readers in the modern world, regardless of the setting of the book itself.
Reviewed by Joe
Elantris, the debut novel of Brandon Sanderson, is a masterpiece of fantasy. After the fall of the great city of Elantris 10 years prior, the nation of Arelon has struggled under its merchant king, waiting for the day his likable and passionate son takes the throne. They can only hope that he can take the throne and save Arelon before the militant theocracy of Fjordell turns its sights on the country once protected by the quasi-deific Elantrians that ruled it. Weaving multiple storylines into each other with expert precision, Brandon Sanderson could not have done any better with Elantris.
Among many compelling side characters, Elantris focuses on three separate perspectives. The first is that of the crown prince Raoden. No matter the situation, Raoden manages to look on the bright side of life, and his thorough style of thinking solves many problems others see as impossible. The next perspective is Sarene’s, the princess of Teod, a country to the north of Arelon across an ocean. She journeys to Arelon to marry Raoden to increase the diplomatic relations of their respective countries, but few things go according to plan. The last perspective is that of Hrathen, a high priest of Fjordell, who has been sent to convert the people of Arelon to Shu-Dereth, so they can better be absorbed into the Fjordan empire. However, this assignment is different from the last country he converted, and unexpected obstacles arise.
Elantris, Arelon, and its capital city of Kae are where the majority of the story takes place. The struggles of the people of Arelon, and the even larger hardships of those in Elantris, are well displayed. The world is living and breathing, not a perfect fairytale of a nation. Not stationary either, you can see the effects of what’s happened in the past, influencing the characters and plot in the present day.
At first, there seem to be three separate plots, following Raoden, Sarene, and Hrathen. However, they quickly intertwine, and the actions of each and every character influence the others. The overarching plot changes every chapter, twisting in ways you wouldn’t think possible. Sanderson assembles a jigsaw of a story that comes together bit by bit, everything a mystery in the future but so clear when you look back on it. The novel culminates in the most intense ending chapters I’ve read, with a reveal that broke everything I thought I knew about the masterful system of magic exhibited in the book.
Overall, Brandon Sanderson is one of the best writers I’ve found, and this is one his best books. Each time I read one of his works, they just seem to get better. Elantris deserves a full 10/10.
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – March 9, 2022
This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter (2018)
Reviewed by Diya
In the novel This Heart of Mine, C.C. Hunter does a beautiful job of exploring young, heart-throbbing love through the eyes of both Matt and Leah. Because Leah suffers from a heart condition that forces her into carrying around an artificial heart, she is an outcast in school – a feeling many teens can relate to. Matt, on the other hand, is part of the popular crowd in high school, along with his twin brother, Eric.
However, when tragedy strikes the twins, Eric is found dead and Leah’s life is saved. Leah finds herself in an odd but incredible relationship with Matt. The two set off on a journey to reveal the truth about Eric while simultaneously falling in love.
This novel is sure to evoke sorrow, joy, rage, and sympathy. Hunter does an exceptional job of creating a page-turning masterpiece while every detail sucks the reader deeper into the love-filled thriller. I would recommend this young adult novel to those who enjoy reading about romance and tragic events. The characters honestly portray the ups and downs of young love which make the story realistic. All in all, This Heart of Mine is a relatable and enthralling story of a beautiful connection that may not have been found if it weren’t for tragedy.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)
Reviewed by Braneeth
Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is one of the most popular fictional, mythology-inspired books of all time. The series follows Percy Jackson, a human whose father, Poseidon, is one of the most powerful of the Greek gods. Inheriting his father’s power over the sea, the book follows Percy’s adventure throughout the world to heal the tension between the Gods of Olympus, as well as a fight against a sinister but mysterious force. Along the way he meets other demigods, both friends and foes, who help contribute to Riordan’s world of mythology and magic.
Many older teens now are familiar with Percy Jackson – it may have been one of the most popular series of our childhood, second only to Harry Potter. Not only is it a series of 5
action-packed books, but it is unique in the sense that it combines the modern world and Greek mythology into one. The book is filled with real Greek mythological ideas including monsters such as the Minotaur and Medusa, ranging to weapons such as Zeus’s lightning bolt. The buildup throughout the series also makes for a very gradual but intense plot, all leading up to a great finale in the fifth book of the series.
It is important to understand that the book is mostly targeted to younger teens, and not the older age group. The book can be a bit simple regarding its plot and tone, which can make older readers feel a little out of place. However, for younger readers who are interested in mythology it is definitely a must-read. If you enjoy this first book, make sure to read the rest of the series, as well as Rick Riordan’s other books.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (2015)
Reviewed by Lily
I had heard lots of great reviews of Everything, Everything, so I decided to read it. This book, written by Nicola Yoon, is a romance with a twist. The main character, Maddie, has SCID, meaning she is allergic to virtually everything. Because of this, she has never been outside of her house, never been around anyone other than her mom or her nurse, Carla. But then, a boy her age moves next door, and her world changes forever. Maddie instantly falls for Ollie, looking through the window. They email each other, and eventually he is able to visit her. As per usual teen romance novel, both are equally perfect, and choose love over simple logic. Maddie’s mother is very protective, because Maddie’s dad and brother died in a car crash when she was little.
Throughout the story, Maddie learns what it means to have nothing, and everything. She decides to run away to Hawaii, one of her lifelong goals to visit. Ollie comes with her, but her mom doesn’t know. But in Hawaii, she has an allergic reaction, and is rushed to the hospital, and everything changes with a surprising plot twist. The story completely changed directions, which frustrated me. I felt betrayed, like what had been building up the entire plot had been thrown away.
I enjoyed this book, because I felt it was very well written. It made me think about what it would be like to never go into the “real world”. I feel like it was sort of relevant to today, because even though I’m not sick, we’ve all lived this experience of staying home during the pandemic. I am not a huge fan of romance novels, or “love at first sight”, but I liked the unique aspect of Maddie’s disease. One of my favorite quotes from the book was “Everything is a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you.” This quote really stuck with me and made me reflect on life. This book made me feel a lot. I feel like the words in the book were very carefully chosen. However, I was a little lost at the end and thought the story could have been better without the plot twist. In spite of this, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011)
Reviewed by Akhila
The book Divergent by Veronica Roth is set in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic version of Chicago. In this society, people are divided into five factions characterized by their virtues: Dauntless – bravery, Erudite – knowledge, Amity – friendship, Candor – truth, Abnegation – self-sacrifice.
The story revolves around the main character, Beatrice (Tris) Prior, as she struggles to find her identity after not fitting into any one faction. After she takes a test, her test results show that she is “divergent,” meaning she doesn’t fit into a single faction. At her Choosing Ceremony, she ends up choosing to join Dauntless. In Dauntless, she starts training and makes friends with other Dauntless recruits, including Christina, Will, and Tobias. They are put through numerous physical and mental tests to rank their abilities and skills. Tris is soon faced with a crisis, when one day she wakes up to see everyone acting as if they were being controlled by an outside force. Tris fights alongside her friends and family to protect the people she cares about from mind control.
This book was super entertaining and thrilling. I loved Divergent, and the remaining books in the series as well. In Divergent, Tris experiences love, pain, and betrayal, and is faced with violent situations. She faces struggles and hardship in her friendships, family and romance. This book is one of my favorites and I definitely recommend it!
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – February 9, 2022
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus (2017)
Reviewed by Samrah
One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus is an incredible book that I could not put down. This book has an amazing plot twist that will really surprise you at the end. This is a very popular book – the majority of this book is mystery, with a little romance sprinkled in too.
One afternoon five kids with very different personalities stay together after school for detention for something they claim to not have done; their names are Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, Cooper, and Simon. Unfortunately, Simon has an allergic reaction, is sent to the hospital, and does not survive. To give you some background information, Simon is an outcast who has a website that exposes his classmates’ secrets. He is severely allergic to peanuts. These four classmates are now accused for the murder of Simon and it’s predicted that “one of them is lying”
Each chapter gives the perspectives and thoughts of a different character, which really contributes to the story. Although these completely different people are going through a rough time, bonds and friendships are made among them. I also love learning the truths and backstories of each character. Again, there is a plot twist at the end that really made my jaw drop, so I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a surprise ending.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Reviewed by Lily
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of schoolboys and their fight for survival. These British boys attempt to govern themselves while marooned on a desert island. It’s a gruesome read, and might be too disturbing for some readers.
I was excited to read this book, because I had heard plenty of positive reviews and praise for it. I especially thought the concept was interesting, and I have loved similar-ish books like The Hunger Games series. But in reading The Lord of the Flies, I was disappointed. I was expecting a suspenseful plot that would keep me on edge. Instead, I felt it was just too confusing.
It could be partly because it was written almost 70 years ago, but the text didn’t really speak to me. In fact, I didn’t grasp the entire pig’s head/lord of the flies plot point. I had to look up a summary of the book afterwards to make sure I was understanding it. The fact that I had to do this is a sign to me that the book wasn’t very well written.
One thing I found difficult about reading this book is the characters. There were so many boys, I found it impossible to keep them straight. Their names blended together, and the dialogue often didn’t notate who was speaking. There was almost no character growth. By the time I closed the book, everyone was the same bully they were at the beginning.
In conclusion, I was not the biggest fan of this book. The plot was slow, and I felt no connection to any characters. If you want something similar, I would recommend other classic novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.
I am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai (2013)
Reviewed by Anika
The book I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai is a story about an eleven-year old Pakistani girl who experiences great turmoil as a result of the Taliban banning the one thing that mattered most in her life: her education.
Before the Taliban took over, Malala’s daily routine was studying at Khushal School, coming home, doing her homework, and helping her mom (Toor Pekai). She was able to go outside and enjoy playing with her brothers, Atal and Khushal, and her best friend, Moniba, without hearing bombs or gunshots.
After the Taliban took over, chaos reigned in the northwest region of Pakistan, including Malala’s home in Swat Valley. Malala’s school eventually closed because of the surrounding violence and the repressive laws preventing girls from being educated. When the chaos reduced and Khushal School reopened, only little girls who were under the age of ten were allowed to go.
This situation did not stop Malala, though. Malala hid her books and secretly attended school with some of her friends. Malala had the support of her father and the school principal, Madam Maryam. Malala’s dad eventually organized a meeting for Malala to speak up about her rights for education with an interviewer. This interview was leaked to the Taliban, and officials were so furious that their only goal for the time being was to kill Malala. All of this chaos was unfolding while Malala’s mother was trying to find a safe place for their family to flee to.
A couple years later, after Malala’s exam day at school, she got on the bus to go home. The bus ride was smooth but suddenly a Taliban soldier stopped the bus. He got on the bus questioning who Malala was with a gun in his hands. Once he saw her, he pulled the trigger releasing three bullets – Malala was shot in the head. On October 16th, Malala woke up in a hospital in Birmingham, UK. She was stuck in the hospital for several days with people constantly visiting her. Once she was able to leave, she received a gift for her sixteenth birthday, which was to give a speech in the United Nations about how strongly she feels about education toward girls and women. This inspired many people, myself included.
The reason I love this book so much is because it is very inspiring and it’s an emotional rollercoaster through this young woman’s life. She endures great trauma, but gains support for her cause and creates a good life for herself and her family in spite of it. I highly recommend checking it out.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
Reviewed by Sanya
This book review is for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol is a great book to read during the holidays!
This book is about a man named Ebenezer Scrooge, a really mean and grouchy man who hates Christmas. He’s really mean to others in his town and the people who work for him. This all changes when a ghost named Marley comes to visit. Marley tells Scrooge that 3 more ghosts are going to come to change his life. (Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.)
I loved this book and I think it’s a great story for kids in elementary and middle school. My favorite character would probably be the ghost of Christmas future. If I say why it will spoil the story so you should definitely check this book out to find out why, and decide on a favorite yourself! This book tells a great story and I think you should read it too!
Teen Volunteer Book Reviews – January 19, 2022
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (2015)
Reviewed by Braneeth
The Blackthorn Key is a novel that takes place in medieval England and is about young Christoper Rowe, an apothecary’s apprentice. Under his master, Benedict Blackthorn, he learns not only to prepare medicines and herbal remedies, but also to form dangerous substances such as poisons and gunpowder. However, when apothecaries across London are found murdered in their shops, Christopher and his master are suddenly put in a precarious situation. Eventually Master Benedict is murdered, leaving it up to Christopher to solve the mystery of his master’s assassins, and save London while he’s at it. The plot is filled with murder, mystery, and an all-powerful weapon sent by God himself.
The Blackthorn Key is the perfect mystery – it consists of tragedy, suspense, and an engaging protagonist. Christopher is inexperienced but intelligent at the same time, leading to a roller coaster of a ride. Furthermore, the setting of the book in medieval times contributes to the overall intrigue and suspense of the novel. The book also introduces heavenly powers, specifically the Archangel’s Fire, a substance that can be produced by apothecaries that is unstoppable. The combination of humans and angelic weapons gives the antagonists a dangerous edge, which makes a great contrast to the perfect protagonist.
Overall this book is a great mystery that has no major flaws. It’s definitely best for young teens interested in mystery and murder novels.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994)
Reviewed by Sanya
The book I’m reviewing is called The Giver and it was written by Lois Lowry. This story is about a boy named Jonas who lives in a “perfect” community with his “perfect” family. At the age of 12, kids get assigned jobs and Jonas got selected for the best job out there. During his training he learns the horrible truths about his community and plans an escape.
This book was extremely interesting with all of its plot twists. While you read this book you can never imagine what could happen next. The author describes everything in the book really well so you wouldn’t think anything bad could happen when plot twists occur. My favorite part of this book would have to be when Jonas starts to realize how his perfect community was actually terrible. My favorite character is the Giver. It doesn’t tell you his real name in the book but that’s what everyone calls him. The Giver was the one to teach Jonas about the horrible truths and helped Jonas plan an escape.
This book is amazing at showing the reader that too much perfection can be a bad thing, and in this case it was. I give this book a 10/10. I loved it and I hope you will consider reading it too!
Shades of Simon Gray by Joyce McDonald (2001)
Reviewed by Vaanya
The book Shades of Simon Gray, written by Joyce McDonald was published in 2001. You experience a sad journey while reading this book. The author has an amazing imagination and her descriptions of the setting and characters are impeccable. She takes time to inform the reader about the characters’ personal lives, and describes each character’s life in 1-2 chapters. The story will take you on a journey that you would never want to experience.
Simon is a computer geek. He knows everything and loves learning even more about computers. In his town there is an ancient legend about a man named Jesse being hung from one of the branches of the old center tree. Everyone sees Simon as a perfect and innocent child, but when three kids from his high school ask Simon to help them cheat on all of their high school exams so that they can get their dream colleges, Simon helps them by printing out the test answers using his computer skills. He only does it so that he can spend more time with one of those three people. Every day he feels like they are going to be exposed and caught, and he lives like a sleepless zombie. One night he goes out to catch some fresh air by the lake. He later wishes he had never done this because the events that unfold makes Simon’s life a living nightmare for him and his friends.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)
Reviewed by Claire
The Maze Runner by James Dashner is a fantastic YA dystopian novel. The story begins with a boy named Thomas waking up in a metal box. He can’t remember anything, except for his name. He’s brought up to a bunch of boys, who show him their home, which becomes his. They live in the Glade, a place surrounded on all sides by a giant maze. No one has ever escaped, even though they send Runners (the ones who map the maze) every day. Thomas is told that they don’t go into the maze alone, and that no one goes in at night. Every month, a new boy comes in the box with supplies, and that’s how it’s always been. Then, soon after Thomas arrives, the box comes up with a girl, and a note. There are no supplies with her, and the note tells them that no one else will ever join them in the maze. Many of the Gladers blame Thomas, though he can’t remember this girl, or what she could mean to him. The kids in the Glade have to escape the maze, and fast, before they get killed. They also have to figure out how, and why, they are in the maze.
I think that the characters are believable, and I definitely had favorites. I really liked Minho, the head of the Runners. He’s funny, and he’s not rude or whiny. My absolute favorite, though, is Newt. Newt is Thomas’s friend, and my favorite by a mile. He has a sarcastic streak, and isn’t rude to every single person, even though he’s in a horrible situation. Thomas is the main character in the story, so the book mostly follows him trying to lead the Gladers out of the maze. Another main character is Teresa, the girl who came up with the note. I’m not the biggest fan of either of them, and they both just seem to rub me the wrong way. However, the characters are well-developed, and every characters’ actions made sense. The Glade is a great place for the story, since it’s beautiful and horrible at the same time. It’s both a prison and a home for the kids, and you can see that in the way that it’s described.
I would definitely recommend this book, since it’s exciting, fun, and had me interested through the entire story. I would recommend reading the rest of the series, but I haven’t read any other books by this author. However, the entire series is fantastic, and I suggest that you read all of the books.
New Story at the StoryWalk!
If you’re looking for a nice outdoor winter activity, head over to Sunny Meadow Farm and enjoy the new story at the StoryWalk, The Red Apple by Feridun Oral.
“On a cold winter’s day, Rabbit leaves his burrow in search of food, but all he can find is a single red apple hanging far out of reach. Rabbit tries and tries to get his animal friends to help him reach it, but none of them can manage it. When they accidentally wake Bear from her hibernation, they all work together to figure out a way to get what they want.”
Read the story one page at a time as you walk along a simple trail. This is a fun family literacy activity that is great for all ages. Be sure to sign the guest book, and stop by the Children’s Desk to tell us all about your StoryWalk experience!
Teen Book Reviews – December 15, 2021
Our teen volunteers continue to amaze me with the wide range of books they read and their candid, well-written reviews. Check out the latest installment below!
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (2014)
Reviewed by Braneeth
The Iron Trial is a fantasy novel written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and is the first out of five in the Magisterium series. The book tells the tale of young Callum Hunt, the son of two elemental ages that is about to undertake the Iron Trial to decide whether he will learn magic at the Magisterium. While almost everyone is excited at this prospect, Call has been warned by his father to fail, as he blames magic for the death of Call’s mother. The Iron Trial and the events that follow begin to reveal Callum’s origins and past, weaving a plot of mystery and danger.
The Iron Trial has all the elements of a great fantasy novel. It’s almost Harry Potter-esque
in the sense that it has a whole background of magic, as well as its very own school of Magic. The antagonist keeps readers hooked with his ominous persona, and the protagonist and supporting characters are interesting and humorous as well. One concern with the book is the age group it appeals to – the book uses simpler vocabulary and plot development, resulting in it being a book appealing to younger readers. Though the book’s simplicity may result in some readers staying away, it certainly does deserve a chance. Its setting is quite unique, but still does possess the elements of a good book. A unique setting, captivating plot, and interesting characters all make the book a worthy read. If you do enjoy The Iron Trial, make sure to keep reading through the rest of the Magisterium series.
City of Bones Book by Cassandra Clare (2007)
Reviewed by Claire
The City Of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, was originally published on March 27, 2007, and is about Clary Fray, a girl whose whole world got turned upside-down when she met the Shadowhunters. They are warriors who fight demons, and keep the world safe. Jace, Alec, and Isabelle are all Shadowhunters who Clary watch commit a murder. Clary is pulled into the world of demons, vampires, and werewolves, when she herself is attacked by a demon. Not only is she attacked, but her mother goes missing. The Shadowhunters are very interested in Clary, as she shouldn’t even be able to see them, and the demons shouldn’t be interested in her. Now Clary has to figure out how to find the man who kidnapped her mother, and survive the dangers of the shadow world.
I really loved reading this book, and loved the characters in it. I had a lot of favorite characters, since so many of them were really fantastic. The setting was described in such a way that I could picture walking with Clary and the Shadowhunters. The plot was fantastic, and the story moved at a good pace. I never felt like anything was being rushed, or lasted longer than it needed to. Each character’s actions in the story made sense for their personality traits. I would definitely recommend this title. It has fantastic characters, a great plot, and is all-around a great book. If you like this book, I would also recommend reading the other books in this series, as they are also incredibly fun to read.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green (2012)
Reviewed by Lily
The Fault in Our Stars, written by John Green, is a 2012 young adult novel. The plot follows the love story between cancer patients Hazel and Augustus. After seeing many praising reviews, I figured I would adore this book, and it would most definitely change my life.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me. First of all, I felt nothing for these protagonists. I saw no difference between Hazel and Augustus, and it was like they were the same person (but not in a good way). Both characters seemed too perfect, and acted nothing like real people. The two were prone to suddenly bursting into long, philosophical, and poetic speeches. For example, Augustus comes up with this right on the spot “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”
Apart from the characters, I think the book was pretty well written. The plot was interesting, and I enjoyed Hazel’s quest to contact Peter Van Houton. It didn’t stand out very much, but it wasn’t bad.
Overall, this book wasn’t my cup of tea. But I know plenty of people who would enjoy it,
especially those who like romances. This is perfect for fans of All The Bright Places and Five
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (2011)
Reviewed by Joe
The Alloy of Law is the first book in the Wax and Wayne trilogy, set in the same world as the Mistborn Trilogy, three centuries later. Scadrial is on the verge of modernity, with industrial-age firearms, electricity, and skyscrapers in the enormous city of Elendel. While technology is advancing, magic still infuses the world, and Waxillium Ladrian is able to wield it. After Wax’s uncle dies and passes the entire Ladrian House to the former lawman. When Wax returns from the Roughs, he is caught up in the swirl of political intrigue and a plot to bring the capital city of Elendel to its knees.
The three main characters of The Alloy of Law are Wax, his sidekick Wayne, and Marasi, the daughter of Lord Harms, leader of a house with more money than reputation, who wishes to join the constabulary. All three characters had their strengths and flaws, and Wax was much more a flawed character than most protagonists are. He has had trouble readjusting to city life, and it is shown in Sanderson’s writing. Wayne, however, is my personal favorite, due to his nonchalant approach to almost every situation.
The world of Scadrial and the city of Elendel weren’t entirely well developed. There is a map of the country and a city map of Elendel, and I appreciate it when authors include maps in their books as it helps me visualize where locations are in relation to each other. The time period was amazing, and I enjoyed the industrial/steampunk setting more than most fantasy settings I’ve read.
The plot itself was masterfully written, with most of the story focusing on Wax and his sidekicks attempting to uncover devious plots by the criminal underground of the city, but with interludes every-so-often giving the reader small tidbits on what the crime gangs are doing. It eventually wraps up in an amazing resolution, and just when the reader assumes Wax has won, the epilogue reveals that the roots of the operation ran deeper than what Wax, Wayne, and Marasi dug up.
Overall, The Alloy of Law was one of the best books I’ve ever read. It incorporated everything I like about fantasy and mystery, and Sanderson’s style of writing is one of my favorites. Before you read The Alloy of Law, consider reading the Mistborn trilogy, as it provides background information about how Scadrial and Elendel came to be, as well as being works of art. I would rate The Alloy of Law a full 10/10. It has become one of my top five favorite books.
Teen Book Reviews – December 3, 2021
December is here, and the reviews keep rolling in! See what our teen volunteers have been reading & enjoying. You may find your next great read here!
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (2012)
Reviewed by Claire
The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken, was originally published December 18th, 2012, and is about Ruby, a girl with incredible powers. Years ago, a disease began to spread, one that only affects children. Kids began to die, and there was no cure. However, the government claimed to find one, and asked parents to report if their kids showed any symptoms of the disease. The government would then take the kids and put them in camps. The government wasn’t really worried about the kids who died. Instead they were, and still are, more worried about the kids who live. Those who survive the disease gain extraordinary powers. There are five different powers, with Green being the least dangerous, to Orange being the most. Ruby is an Orange, which means she has mind powers. She has been at a camp for years, hiding the truth about her abilities. After an organization breaks her out, she runs from them, and meets a group of kids. Chubs, a Green with extreme intelligence. Zu, a Yellow with powers over electricity, and Liam, a Blue with telekinetic powers. Together, they attempt to find a safe place for kids like them.
I really loved the characters in this story, as they all seem to be very different, and realistic. Some of the characters aren’t my favorite, but I really like Zu. She’s quiet, and seems really nice. It seems like she and the other kids have been through some tough times. The setting changed a lot, since the characters traveled. However, they were usually in the same van. When they were out of the van, I really loved the world that was created, and how interesting it seemed. The world is kind of post-apocalyptic, with lots of abandoned cars, and deserted roads. I loved the plot of this story, and thought it flowed really well. The pacing was good and the story didn’t move too fast. I would definitely recommend this title, since I was invested from the beginning to the end. However, some of the story focused on romance. Those parts weren’t my favorite, but they didn’t take up too much of the story. I would definitely recommend reading the sequels if you like this book!
Stolen Time by Danielle Rollins (2019)
Reviewed by Cynthia
Stolen Time, which was written by Danielle Rollins in 2019, is the first book in the science fiction time travel trilogy, Dark Stars. It follows Dorothy, a sixteen-year-old con artist living in Seattle during the year 1913, and Ash, a former WWII pilot living in a future Seattle in 2077 that has been devastated by earthquakes and is submerged in water. Due to her current con, Dorothy is about to be forced into a marriage with a wealthy man, but she escapes from her wedding into the forest and finds a strange aircraft that crash-landed, stowing away on it. However, the aircraft is actually a time machine piloted by Ash and invented by a missing professor that he was searching for in order to find a way to help their city and prevent Ash’s approaching, foreseen death. When Dorothy is brought to the future where she finds a clue to where the professor could be, she, Ash, and a small group of other time travelers embark on a dangerous journey back in time to find the professor, but because a gang that terrorizes people called the Black Cirkus is also searching for him, they must find him soon.
Normally, I don’t read time travel books because I don’t like how confusing they can be, but this book was really engaging. The concept was smart and interesting, and there was a clever plot twist that left me shocked yet helped me understand the situation more. The book is filled with comprehensible explanations, well-constructed settings, and flawed yet lovable, dynamic characters, including the villains who don’t seem to be completely evil due to their heroic ideals. I love how the cunning, curious, and determined Dorothy, who always fended for herself and had difficulty trusting others due to how she was raised, grew to value others. Also, I love how Ash, who tried to stay away from love due to his visions of being killed by a white-haired girl that he fell in love with, ended up developing feelings for Dorothy because she wasn’t supposed to be in their time and didn’t fit the description of the girl he would fall in love with. The amazing relationships between characters and interesting questions of the limits of time travel really drove me through the story. Teens who enjoy time travel or just enjoy grand stories with lots of adventure and cool character development in general should read this book, but be prepared to get the next books because the story leaves you craving more.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Reviewed by Sriya
The book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is much more than it seems. This 342 page book is filled with the story of Scout and Jem Finch growing up, facing the realities of the world, and ultimately losing their so-called innocence. The characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are: Scout and Jem Finch, young and curious siblings and the children of Atticus Finch, a strict but reasonable lawyer; Dill (not the pickle), a curious and clever boy who moves to town and befriends the Finches; and Boo Radley, a man that lives on their street. To Kill a Mockingbird is essentially a coming of age story. It also covers topics such as racism, death, and rape; which may be uncomfortable for some readers.
As was unfortunately normalized in the 1960’s, the Finch family was very racist and prejudiced mainly towards black people. Throughout the book, Scout and Jem come to realize that these microaggressions and racism are extremely harmful. At the beginning of the book, Scout, Jem, and Dill believe that The Radley House (in which Boo Radley lives) is haunted, and Boo is some type of evil man. The events in the book and Boo’s kindness ultimately leads them to think differently. Atticus tries to tell the children to not judge a book by its cover, which once again, they realize at the end of the book.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird is really a metaphor for innocence. The events that occur in these children’s lives help them see the world in a grown up way and clear any misunderstandings or prejudices they have. To Kill a Mockingbird is a renowned classic that I believe everyone should read, especially for those transitioning from middle school to high to school. To Kill a Mockingbird will help you see the world differently, it is a book that people from ages 12 and above would enjoy.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
Reviewed by Sriya
This October I got to thinking – October means it’s Halloween time, Halloween time means vampires, and vampires mean that the book Twilight will be making a well marked return. As you probably know, or can infer from the previous sentence, the book Twilight is a story about vampires. But it’s not any old vampire horror story, it’s a masochistic love story between 100 year old vampire Edward Cullen and 17 year old Bella Swan. I’m going to be honest, I read this book all. the. time. As boring and cliche as it might be, you have to appreciate Meyers’ respect for detail and her deep descriptions of the setting and characters. Although Twilight’s plot line is about as creative as dressing up as a cat for Halloween, the immense amount of detail put into the book makes it one of the most iconic Young Adult Novels.
As aforementioned, the basic plot of Twilight is that a gorgeous vampire who hasn’t felt love in his 107 years of being falls in love at first sight with the new girl in town, Bella Swan. Why was he so attracted to her, you ask? Well to put it frankly, it was because he wanted to eat her. Yeah I don’t even have to go into the details to explain how wrong and creepy that is. Quite frankly, Twilight is more of an obsessive vampire and his human girlfriend than a love story. Twilight is the Romeo and Juliet of teenage romance, forbidden, unrealistic, and completely crazy. Perhaps it’s these characteristics of the novels that makes them so appealing to readers. But, no matter how much I diss it, Twilight is a must read. The combination of vampires, humans, romance, and adventure makes a truly unique piece of literature that cannot be replaced in Young Adult Fiction.