Tag Archives: YA fiction

Teaching Tuesday: Audiobook Sync

Two years ago, our school librarian, who happens to be one of the best people I know (and my school BFF), introduced me to Audiobook Sync. It is a free summer audiobook program for teens. Although I only found out about it in 2016, it has actually been around since 2010.

The purpose of the program is to offer a variety of books to teens to expose them to a world of both fiction and nonfiction as well as give them the opportunity to enjoy books in audio form, something many of them are probably not familiar with. The program has offered classics like Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Macbeth as well as modern books by popular YA authors such as David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, Ruta Septys Between Shades of Grey and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, three of my personal favorites. Audiobook Sync also offers some pretty amazing non-fiction like this year’s The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, and last year’s The Witches, Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff and The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker.

The program is pretty simple. Each Thursday, two books are offered for download. Students have one week to download the books to their devices before they disappear forever and two new books show up. Once downloaded, the books themselves never vanish. No matter if it takes students two days, two weeks, two months or two years to finish the books, as long as students don’t delete the books, they are theirs to keep and listen to as many times as they’d like.

When I first heard about the program, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I LOVE books. I love actual paper books that I can hold in my hands. I love the smell of them. I love the fell of them. I love their decorative covers. I love the satisfaction of seeing my progress every time I turn a page. I was a reluctant to convert any of my books to digital format and held out against a Kindle for way too long. However, once I got used to digital books, I realized how amazing they are when traveling. Instead of filling my beach suitcase with four or five books, which take up valuable packing real estate, I can load up my tiny Kindle and read those same books on a device that fist in my coat pocket. It took me awhile to convince myself that if I could convert to digital books, I should give audiobooks a chance.

I won’t lie, one of my biggest reasons for holding out was that I was worried I wouldn’t really be “reading” the books. I had many conversations with my fellow bibliophiles about whether or not listing to books was cheating. They all assured me that it wasn’t and that being a lover of theater, I might actually appreciate the theatrics that go into many audiobooks. I sighed and downloaded my first audiobook, 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith.

I WAS HOOKED!

After listening to some pretty amazing books, including I’ll Give You the Sun, which became one of my all-time favorite YA books, I rushed back into school in July and raved about the program to my students. Since we are on the balanced calendar, there were still four more weeks of the program, which meant 8 more books that my students could download.

While not every book is amazing (some due to content and some due to mediocre performances), I have found some truly amazing books using this program. I have even gotten our school librarian to buy paper copies of many of the books so that I can book talk them and get them in the hands of my students.

 

If you are a teacher with reluctant readers, a parent looking for a way to get your kids interested in books or a teen who wants something fun to do this summer, check it out. There are still five more weeks in the program for this year (it is ending a bit earlier than usual this year) and still some amazing sounding books to download.

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Free Reading Friday: Genuine Fraud

Genuine FraudIn E. Lockhart, I have found a new favorite YA author. I first found her last month when I finished We Were Liars. I actually picked up the book because I accidentally confused her with another author I like. The only reason the mix up happened is because they both use the initial E in place of their first name.

It turned out to be a very happy accident as I really enjoyed We Were Liars. I read it in less than four days, which considering I was also teaching a full load, is impressive.

Genuine Fraud took me even less time. I started it yesterday afternoon and in less than 24 hours I’d finished it. I was initially confused when I read what appeared to be chapter 15 first. Was 18 the title of the chapter? What an odd title. But then, as I finished up the section, I noticed that 17 came next. And since 18 was dated “Third Week in June, 2017 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico” and 17 was dated “End of April, 2017 London,” I realized Lockart was, in fact, telling her story in reverse order. And I was thrilled about it.

Although I’ve seen the movie Memento, I’ve never actually read a book told in reverse order. I’ve read tons of books that begin in medias res or at the end only to circle back around to the beginning, but not one that goes all the way backwards, at least until the final chapter of the book, which is, in fact 19.

I love the way Lockhart unravels the story, because it is a great way to show the unraveling of her main character, Jule…or Imogen…depending on what part of the story it is. Her story has so many twists and so much psychological drama that I am still only like 95% sure that I know who the narrator is. Or at least who the narrator thinks she is. Regardless of who she is, the title of the book is apt because she is, without a doubt, a very authentic fraud.

This book reminded me in parts of The Talented Mr. Ripley and in parts of Single White Female. I also love the weaving of the superhero story and Jule’s interpretation of herself as the hero of an action movie. I also love the fact that she explains how she is not the action hero everyone expects her to be, and not just because she is not white, male and rich. I also love that it is hard to figure out when, if ever, Jule is being genuine.

I’m not usually a reader of mysteries and suspense, but this was one that I could not put down

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Free Reading Friday:Flawed

FlawedFlawed by Cecelia Ahern is yet another dystopian piece of YA literature that has found itself onto my shelf. It’s starting to feel like this is the only genre of YA being put out lately. Given all the problems currently facing our world, I get why the genre is so popular. I saw a great meme online the other day basically telling older generations that they cannot be surprised that a generation of kids raised on Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen and Tris are standing up, speaking their minds and rallying for change.

While I know a lot of “adults” would like to dismiss these young voices and pretend they are too ignorant and uniformed to really know what they are talking about, I fear those same adults are going to be greatly put out when they realized just how smart, informed and motivated today’s youth are. Literature is a powerful tool and these kids and young adults have grown up with literary heroes who have shown them time and time again that they can stand up not only to adults, but to unjust governments. Their literary heroes topple worlds. Is it any surprise they want to as well?

My latest read, Flawed, is a book with a clear message. In case the reader happens to miss it, Ahern even lays it out in the acknowledgments: “None of us are perfect. Let us not pretend that we are. Let us not be afraid that we’re not. Let us not label others and pretend we are not the same. Let us all know that to be human is to be flawed, and let us learn from every mistake made so we don’t make them again.”

While this message definitely rings true in this book and I think this is Ahern’s main message, the way she goes about delivering it speaks volumes to issues currently playing out in our world. Celestine North, the main character, lives in a world where people who are judged to have “flaws” in their moral character are literally branded and forced to live almost like modern day lepers. In addition to the government, which creates and enforces criminal code, Celestine’s world also has a Guild, whose job it is to enforce morality to ensure everyone in society is perfect. Those who step out of line from the morals deemed acceptable by society are tried, found guilty (only one person has ever escaped a guilty verdict) and are shunned by society. The shunning goes so deep, that giving any kind of aid to a Flawed person is a mark of being flawed.

The Flawed have visible brands, have special seats on public transportation, are not allowed to keep their children, can have only one luxury item a week, must eat a completely bland diet, cannot leave the country, have curfews and have to check in with what is basically a parole officer (called Whistleblowers) for the rest of their lives. In short, although they have committed no actual crimes, those who are deemed morally flawed are treated worse than criminals who get to serve their time and move on.

In the reinvention of public shaming that has come with the invention of social media, this system of being forever punished for moral failures seems a scary reality.

The book focuses on the corruption of the Guild and how one voice, and not surprisingly, the voice of a teenage girl, could expose that corruption and bring an end to it.

This is the first book in the series and I enjoyed it. There is definitely better dystopian lit out there, but considering all of the very public debates over morality and the way politicians are trying to force their morality on the world, I think it is a very timely and very interesting idea to explore. I think teenagers will relate to it and enjoy Celestine’s story.

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Free Reading Friday: Before the Devil Breaks You

Before the Devil Breaks YouBefore the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray has me torn. Part of me is seriously disappointed that I didn’t get all the answers I was seeking. The other part is thrilled that this series is going beyond trilogy.

When I was given this book for Christmas, I assumed it was the last of a trilogy, so I started it expecting closure. As I neared page 500 though, I realized there was no way it could wrap up and there would have to be more.

The first book in the series, The Diviners, is one of my favorites. Because the series is by Libba Bray, I assumed it would be YA fiction, as everything else I’ve read by her is. However, this series takes a much darker turn and has slightly older characters, which I think takes it out of the YA sphere. It’s hard for me to quite categorize. Supernatural thriller might be the closest I can get. No matter how it is categorized, I loved the first book.

Book 2, Lair of Dreams, was good, but I found myself struggling through it at times. Not because it was complicated, but because it got dense at times in a way I found boring at times.

Number 3 completely makes up for it though.

This chapter of the journey gives even greater insight into Evie, Sam, Theta, Ling, Memphis and Henry, although Theta, Memphis, Evie and Sam get a lot more time. This seems fair as Ling and Henry were the real focus of book 2.

This book goes into more detail about the nefarious Project Buffalo. Readers learn more about the fates of Evie’s brother James, Sam’s mother Miriam and the potentially evil Bill Johnson.

The big bad in this book is the King of Crows. He is diabolical and ready to destroy not just the Diviners, but the entire world. This book offers powerful glimpses of him, but I have a feeling Bray will show us his true evil in the next installment.

This book does leave readers burying some well-known characters. It also leaves the majority of the characters in true peril…which is a great place for the next book to pick up.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that it brings to light some of the truly ugly pieces of outer country’s history, which are frightening parallels to what is going on today in our country. The pursuit of eugenics and the idea of purifying blood to make better Americans by getting rid of inferior races is not only a realistic portrayal of our past, but also a scary look into where some of our disturbing current beliefs about immigrants are.

In addition, Bray brings up the idea of what makes a patriot. All too often the term patriot gets used to justify horrific actions and beliefs and Bray explores just how dangerous this term can be and how grossly it can be manipulated.

I think this book is a perfect reflection of what is going on politically in America right now. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. This book reminds readers of this.

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Free Reading Friday: Ringer

ringer 2I definitely enjoyed Ringer, the sequel to Replica by Lauren Oliver. Just like Replica, this is a flipped book. This time, however, the reader starts with Gemma’s story. It’s probably no shock that despite his promises to reform, Gemma’s father is still the treacherous business man who’s willing to do anything to forward his agenda, including selling out Lyra and Caelum. It should also come as no surprise to anyone who read Replica that Gemma and Pete go off to find Lyra and Caelum to warn them about the danger they are in and as is characteristic for them, arrive just a bit too late.

This time around Gemma gets to experience the world of a Replica, the world she was technically born to. Taken out of her ivory tower and forced to live in an abandoned airport with hundreds of other Replicas, far too many of whom share her face, she gets a better understanding of Lyra’s life and what her life should have been. She also gets tangled up with the seemingly innocent Calliope.

On the flip side, Lyra finds herself once more running from the dreaded Suits. She finds what she thinks is a life line with her former doctor, but as is true of most things in this series, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Especially not for a girl who has grown up thinking she is a clone.

RingerLike many books that deal with human cloning, Oliver’s work brings up the ethical questions about how far science should be allowed to go. I particularly liked her portrayal of Doctor O’Donnell, a scientist who clearly believes everything she is doing is for the betterment of society. O’Donnell believes the ends justify the means and that the advance of science is worth the cost of human lives, especially because she is able to detach herself from the real humanity of those lives being taken.

This book also takes an interesting look at a problem I first really examined when I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–should scientists be able to use biological components without permission from the people they are taken from, especially if they profit from them. Is it right for pieces of people to be licensed, replicated and sold off?

Personally I find these topics fascinating. And while answering these questions is not the central purpose of the novel, I like the fact that Oliver is introducing these questions to YA readers because the current generation of YA readers will no doubt have to make some of these very hard ethical calls in their lifetime.

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Free Reading Friday: Inherit Midnight

Inherit MidnightYet another Rosie nominee is checked off my list! Only 3 more to go…so I’ll finish the 2107-2018 list off in just enough time for the 2018-2019 list to be revealed. That’s only slightly disheartening as it means: more books!

I really enjoyed Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers. Granted, I thought the love story was a bit too immediately perfect and even the main character of Avery seemed a bit one-dimensional at times, but it was still a fun book to read and I think teenagers will especially enjoy this YA mystery novel.

The story centers around Avery, the black sheep of the family who has spent her entire life being spurned by her very wealthy, very haughty extended family for being the product of her father’s affair with the nanny. Since her mother died in childbirth and her father is an alcoholic, she is raised by her slightly cold grandmother who has unrealistic expectations of both family honor and duty. She does not allow Avery any freedom and when Avery sneaks out to go to a perfectly innocent party with her friends, she is shipped off to a truly horrible boarding school.

However, the story does not center around her misadventures at boarding school, but her grandmother’s inheritance contest. Her grandmother, who no one has seen lately, has taken ill. In an attempt to find the most worthy heir, she sets up a contest, which she is constantly monitoring, that everyone who wants to be the heir must compete in. The rules are strict and the contests all center around knowing the family’s long and prestigious ancestry, something Avery’s grandmother has been trying to instill in her family members her entire life. It seems that only Avery paid much attention though.

As Avery agrees to compete in the competition not for the money, but to find out more about her past. With the help of Riley, the 19-year-old son of her grandmother’s lawyer, Avery is whisked away on adventures across the globe in a race to solve puzzles and survive her family members, because someone is sending her threatening notes and texts.

Although it is a bit predictable, I found myself wanting to find out how Avery was going to solve each task and which of her family members would be eliminated after each task. Conveniently, Avery’s grandmother, who is very stuffy and obsessed with her prestigious family is also a big fan of reality TV. So Avery’s journey is part Survivor and part Amazing Race.

For anyone who likes a mystery, especially one geared at a YA audience, this is a great book.

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Free Reading Friday: Unbound

I pickedUnbound up Unbound by Ann E. Burg in part because I liked the cover and in part because it is a novel in verse. I’ve read several novels in verse over the last few months and I have really developed an appreciation for them. I love the fact that authors are able to not only articulate brilliant plots, but also create characters with amazing depth without the long rambling sentences and paragraphs of most novels.

Books like Unbound remind me that Shakespeare was right, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

The journey that Grace goes on to obtain her freedom is one of bravery and inspiration. Although fictional, Burg does a great job of making the reader feel the true peril of the lives of runaway slaves.

Although I have read several fictional and true slave narratives, Burg still managed to introduce me to new information. I knew about slaves escaping North with and without the help of the Underground Railroad, but I’d never heard about people escaping by going even deeper into the South. I had no idea there were runaway slaves who escaped by living in the Dismal Swamp. This is a fascinating bit of history I now want to know more about.

I wish Burg would have given the reader a bit more of a look into Grace’s life of freedom in the swamp, but the narrative is still complete without it. The point is that Grace and her family will still have to endure hardships, but at least they will be able to get through them together and on their own terms. Though they may not follow that famous North Star, they still find their freedom and their home.

Great read for young adults. I actually plan to recommend it to my students, but only after my son, who is 10, finishes it.

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