Tag Archives: YA novels

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: 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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Free Reading Friday: Call Me By My Name

Call me by my nameI am not generally the kinda person to pick up a book about football. Scratch that, I’m not the kinda person to pick up any book about sports. It’s nothing against sports or the people who like them, but sports have never been my thing. I don’t like to watch them or talk about them. And I certainly don’t like to read about them.

However, Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley is on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list for 2017, so it means it’s also on my must read list. It’s actually one of the last books I had to finish off the list and I might have left it at the end of my list because it’s a sports book.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for all things sporty, I did enjoy this book. Bradley manages to make a topic I find uninteresting, actually interesting to me through his character driven narrative. I liked the characters of Angie, Tater and Rodney, and because I liked them, I wanted to read about what they went through, even if that was football practice or football games. Bradley manages to create believable, empathetic characters whose literary lives mattered to me and made a real impact on me.

I’ll admit it, when I read about the final football game in the book, my eyes started to well up. Since I was in the middle of class (it was silent reading time), I knew I couldn’t cry. My seniors would NEVER let me hear the end of it, but I wanted to and I was in serious danger of letting it happen.

Although I thought a few of the character’s had pretty sudden “epiphanies” about their former notions on race and race relations, I’m glad that Bradley didn’t let every character be completely won over by Tater as it would have made the story unrealistic given the time period. However, I will admit that despite what I consider a pretty decent grasp on American history, I couldn’t help but be repeatedly shocked at the amount of overt racism found in the town Bradely created. Not because I didn’t realize such overt racism existed, but because the book takes place in 1970/1971, only five years before I was born. I’m sure it came as such a shock to me since the book is set in Louisianna and most of my childhood was spent in Southern California, which is quite a different atmosphere. Still, it is so insane to me to believe that so much still had to be fought for by Tater and Angie. It broke my heart and was very sobering.

Not long before I finished this book, one of the teachers in my department commented that she needed more book suggestions to give to her male students who were struggling to find good books to read. She was a bit disappointed that John Green’s latest protagonist was female as she admires Green and was hoping for a male narrator. Even before I finished Call Me by My Name, I added it to a list I created of quality books for teens, especially boys who are struggling to find male protagonists to relate to. While I believe this book is a good read for any teenager, I think it may have a bigger impact on teenage boys who often struggle to find their voices in the books they read.

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Free Reading Friday: NEED

NEEDI grabbed NEED by Joelle Charbonneau because it is one of the Eliot Rosewater book nominees for the 2017-2018 school year. One of my goals this year is to read all of The Rosie books. I didn’t really have any idea what the book was about before I picked it up. All I knew was that a student had returned it to the library after only reading 50 pages or so and said it wasn’t for them.

I’m not sure what that student was talking about, because I found the book pretty darn compelling. I love that the book starts off by establishing the difference between a WANT and a NEED. In our society today, we’ve gotten so used to having our needs met that we tend to say we need things that we definitely just want. I know I am as guilty as everyone else. I say I need a new fitness tracker, but I don’t. I have one that works just fine. And even if it didn’t, it’s certainly not a NEED…it’s a want.

As the characters find out in this book, there is a big difference between a WANT and a NEED.

Kaylee, the main character has a definite NEED, even though it’s not for her. Her younger brother needs a new kidney and not only is she not a match, but when her father finds out about his son’s disease, he disappears without getting tested.

Enter her best friend Nate, who’s just found out about a social media website called NEED. The website offers the promise to “join your friends in discovering how much better life can be when you are presented with an anonymous way to express your thoughts and are given the tools to get the things you need.” The premise of the website is simple: Ask for something you NEED, then do a little task the website asks of you and your NEED will be fulfilled.

Nate’s brother gets an iPhone and all he has to do is send friend requests to 5 of his friends to join the website, which is open only to students at their high school. Sounds great, right? Such a simple act for such a great reward.

Of course as Kaylee knows, nothing really comes for free. Although skeptical, she asks for what she needs: a new kidney for her brother.

As the story unfolds, students are asked to do more and more to fulfill their needs. One boy, spurned by the girl he likes, agrees to leave a package anonymously on her doorstep. He thinks nothing of it, as he believes he truly needs the acne cream, which he is convinced is the reason he was spurned, and leaving a package he’s not allowed to look in is really no big deal. Of course, he doesn’t know about her nut allergy or the nuts in the cookies.

NEED is a compelling story that explores the depths people will sink to when they believe they are anonymous. It also explores the idea of taking responsibilities for our actions, what we truly need versus what we merely want and the dangers of social media, all of which are excellent topics for a YA novel.

As someone who has been teaching teenagers for twenty years now, I have seen just how dangerous and addictive social media can be for teenagers and I think this book is one that will not only resonate with teens, but hopefully make them stop and think about their activities online, their own culpability for their actions and the way they treat their peers.

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Free Reading Friday: Replica

Replica 1I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan. My best friend and I share a love of YA fiction and she suggested Oliver to me several years ago. I started with the Delirium series and have been hooked ever since. I especially appreciate that Oliver has not gotten herself stuck into one type of writing. While the Delirium series is dystopian, Before I Fall and Panic all take place in the real, modern world. She hasn’t even pigeon-holed herself as just a writer of YA fiction as she also has her adult novel Rooms, which is a ghost story of sorts, but securely set in the very real world.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect with Replica, but I was instantly pulled in by the cover. Not only is the book decorated in a really cool duel toned book jacket with bright butterflies, but depending on how the book is flipped, it tells two different, but intertwined stories. I’ve never read a book like this before, and even if Oliver had not written it, I might have picked up a copy because the concept was so cool.

One half of the story is the story of Lyra, a “replica” living at the Haven Institute. From the very start of the narrative, Lyra tells the reader that she is not human, but a replica (clone), made at Haven. Lyra’s story chronicles her life in Haven as well as her escape from Haven and her connection to Gemma, the main character of the book’s flip story.

Gemma is a teenage girl living with very strict parents in North Carolina. She and her best friend April call themselves “aliens” because they’ve never quite fit in with the other kids in their class. She feels ostracized from her peers in part because of her history of childhood illnesses, in part because of her parent’s strict eye on her and in part because she is teased for being overweight and a “freak.” Gemma also feels disconnected to her parents, especially her father, who she feels has never really loved her. After a strange incident that links her father to a mysterious place called Haven, she goes on a quest to find out just what her father may be hiding from her.

Although the two stories stand alone as completely separate stories, they also intertwine in very key moments to make a bigger, more complete (and compelling) story. Although I liked both stories on their own, I definitely felt pieces were missing at times. I was particularly dissatisfied with the ending to Lyra’s story…that is until I read Gemma’s and both stories were completed.

Well, as completed as the first book in a series can be. Oliver definitely sets the book up for more to come.

Although readers can technically read the stories in either order, there is definitely a reason that the words run down the spine correctly when Lyra’s story is the first one (and the reason there is a bar code on Gemma’s story). The book is more complete and more rewarding if Lyra’s story is the first one.

I cannot wait for our school library to get a copy of this book because I know my students will be lining up to read it. I also cannot wait to read the next book in the series, Ringer, which just came out.

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Free Write Friday: The Epidemic

the epidemicI really like the concept of this book series by Suzanne Young. I also greatly enjoyed the very first book in the series, The Program. For those not familiar with the series, it is yet another offering from the dystopian YA genre. In the world of The Program, suicide has basically become a communicable disease. The Program exists to save kids, in a very Minority Report way, who are potential victims. It’s a very interesting concept and I greatly enjoyed both the characters and the plot.

After the first book though, it’s been a bit downhill for me. Not only did the plots get decidedly more convoluted with every book, but keeping the books in order–considering how similar the titles and cover art all are–is next to impossible.

Because they couldn’t have been written and released in the order of the actual series. That might be too easy. Book one came out in 2013 and book two followed the next year. But then, came book .5, a prequel to the series, followed by book 2.5. then book .6 and finally, at least until this date, book 3. Are you confused yet? Because I sure as heck am.

Jumping back between the stories of Sloane, Realm, and Quinlan–some of whom never meet and have no direct connection, is disorienting.

On top of all that, book .6, The Epidemic, also has a convoluted plot which is hard to keep track of.

One consistent issue I have with the entire series is the element of romance in it. I have no problem with teenagers having relationships in books. I understand why teen characters have sex in books (they do in real life too). What I don’t understand is the overwhelming number of characters in this series who have found their true loves/soul mates before they even hit 18. It is unrealistic, to say the least. Granted, considering that in this series suicide is contagious and can apparently be passed from one person to the next just like a cold virus, I guess anything is possible.

That’s another issue I have with this particular book. In this book, Young basically tells readers that there is a patient zero for this suicide disease and that merely talking to her causes people to become suicidal. Again, more than a bit far-fetched.

The ease in which the main characters are able to escape at the end of the book lacks major believability for me, especially when books 1-2.5 are taken into consideration.

Still, I want to see how it ends, so I’ve just started book 3 (the title of which is so generic that it evades me now).

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