I thought this book was kind of like a Davinci Code for tween and teen readers. There is a lot of mystery, tons of action, and a “bigger picture” that readers catch glimpses of throughout the story. (This is the first in a series.) Although I feel this book probably could have been edited down to be quite a bit shorter, I think the fast-paced action is likely enough to keep even reluctant readers turning pages. Plus, the movie rights have been bought by Reliance Entertainment and Kintop Pictures, so I have a feeling this book will be in high demand as soon as the trailer starts making the rounds.
Will West’s parents constantly remind him to be as average as possible. They won’t tell him why, but they think it is very important for him to fly under the radar. So, he stays in the middle of the pack in cross country, he gets average grades, and he doesn’t do much else. All his careful calculating is wasted, though, when he slips up and scores off-the-charts high on a national standardized test. As a result, he gets invited down to the principal’s office for a meeting with a woman named Dr. Rollins, who extends an offer for a full scholarship to a secret, elite prep school… and men in black also start following him. When his mom starts acting like a robot/zombie and his dad sends strange text messages, Will decides he needs to run for it. With the help of a local taxi driver, who assumes Will is on the run from the police, he makes a mad dash for the airport — where he boards a plane for the secret prep school with the hope that he will soon begin to make sense of what is happening to him.
I made it a point to listen to this audiobook last June because it had been added to a local summer reading list. Since I had already been thinking about reading it, I didn’t even feel like I was doing homework as I sometimes do when I am trying to familiarize myself with summer reading titles. How lovely! While I am willing to admit that it wasn’t quite what I expected, though I can’t quite put into words what exactly that means, I was far from disappointed.
Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather’s outrageous stories about strange children with amazing powers — like invisibility, super strength, and levitation — as they looked through pictures from the home in which his grandfather had been raised. He believed his grandfather when he was very young but, as he got older, started to think that the pictures “proving” their peculiarities looked so fake. After all, what sane person would believe that there was a girl with a mouth on the back of her head and another who could float like a helium balloon? Still, it was kind of fun to imagine. That is, until the day his grandfather called him absolutely terrified about being unable to find his guns when the monsters were coming to get him. When Jacob found his grandfather’s body in the woods, and saw something he couldn’t explain, he had to decide whether he would choose to believe in the bizarre stories his grandfather had told him or if his grandfather had simply been suffering from delusions or dementia. And only one thing would set his mind at ease — a trip to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Fans of this book should be happy to learn that movie rights have been sold to 20th Century Fox. According to Ransom Riggs’ blog, Tim Burton is set to direct and the screenplay with be adapted by Jane Goldman [who also wrote the screenplays for X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, and The Woman in Black]. IMDB has a projected release date of July 31, 2015 but no further information. I, for one, am pretty excited to see how this develops.
18-year-old Becky Randle, a recent high school graduate, works for a local grocery chain and lives in the trailer she inherited when her mom died (from complications of diabetes/being morbidly obese). One day, Becky thinks she hears her mom’s ringtone and, while searching for the phone, unearths a phone number on a scrap of paper inside an otherwise empty jewelery box. She wonders if the phone number has anything to do with the cryptic thing her mother said on the day she died — “[S]omething is going to happen to you. And it’s going to be magical.” So Becky decides to take a chance and calls the number. It’s almost too good to be true when the person on the other end of the line offers her $1000 and a plane ticket to New York City, but she has nothing to lose and decides to check it out.
Upon her arrival in NYC, she is brought to see fashion designer Tom Kelly, who offers to make her three dresses and to transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky doesn’t believe him at first, but her best friend Rocher uses some extremely colorful language to convince her to go for it. (Rocher’s expletive-laden exclamations were often hilarious, and one was so good that I actually pulled over and recorded it with my cell phone so I could later play it back for my husband. AFTER the kids had gone to bed, of course!) Anyhow… Tom comes through and works some sort of crazy magic and Becky really is transformed! She becomes Rebecca — who is tall, thin, and gorgeous, with perfect skin and hair. She can eat anything she wants without gaining an ounce, and this gives her loads more confidence than Becky ever had. The only problem is that Rebecca needs to fall in love and get married within a year or everything will go back to the way it was before.
I was initially going to read this by myself, but I had to keep stopping to read things out loud to my son because he kept asking, “What’s so funny?” After a few chapters he asked me, “Can you just start over and read that book out loud to me? It sounds really good!” Well, I couldn’t say no to that! And, I must say, even though this book is cataloged as YA, it really didn’t have anything in it that made me uncomfortable reading it out loud to an 8-year-old.
15-year-old Jennifer Strange works as the manager for Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Since wizidrical power has been dwindling for quite some time, wizards are reduced to using their power for more mundane purposes, like delivering pizzas and rewiring houses. Jennifer spends her time and energy trying to find enough work for the Kazam employees, but demand seems to be drying up just as quick as magic. Until, suddenly there is a magical surge and people start whispering about the possibility that Big Magic is involved. When “precogs” start picking up on the impending demise of the last dragon, Maltcassian, everyone in the UnUnited Kingdoms starts going mad about claiming a portion of the untouched Dragonlands — and Jennifer learns that SHE will become the Last Dragonslayer. Reluctant to believe that she will have to kill Maltcassian, since he hasn’t yet done anything to break the Dragonpact, Jennifer does her best to wield her power as Last Dragonslayer with integrity. This book has a winning combination of a strong female character with a good moral compass and plenty of wry humor. I can see this book being a hit for fans of Harry Potter who want a lighter fantasy read.
This was one of those audiobooks where I didn’t really feel like I completely “got it” but I kept on listening anyway. It won a 2014 Printz Honor, so I figured it must have literary merit even if I wasn’t feeling it, right? Either way, I now have the ability to “booktalk” it to any library patrons who might ask what it’s about, and that is always key.
Standish Treadwell lives in an alternate reality in which “the Motherland” [England?] is in a race to the moon and operates much like WWII Germany — with ghettos of people segregated from the rest of the population and forced to work in labor camps for mere scraps of food. (Especially since I had just listened to Rose Under Fire, the constant deprivation and brutality definitely reminded me of the Holocaust.) He lives in Zone 7 (one of the poorest areas) with only his grandfather, since his parents ran away in an attempt to escape the totalitarian regime. Standish attends an all-boys school in which teachers openly favor kids from well-to-do families and those who come from families of government informants. It’s not uncommon for kids to pick on or beat up on one another, and teachers often discipline via corporal punishments like caning. Though he seems to be concerned that he has a learning disability of some sort [dyslexia?], Standish is quite clever and determined to figure out a plan to stand up to his government for the good of all mankind.
Just as it took me WAY too long to get around to listening to this audiobook, it has taken me WAY too long to post my review… Not cool, Chrissie. Not cool! (Especially since it won a Printz Honor and that should have been excuse enough to post about it.) I need to do something about my back log of books to be reviewed, and some of my readers are on February break this week, so I need to get down to business and start pumping out some extra book reviews. Enjoy!
Eleanor & Park takes place in 1986, so it is technically “historical fiction” to the teens I serve today… I mean, they weren’t even BORN yet! (Wow, that makes me feel old!) Though it was fun to reminisce about big hair, bold makeup, “Walkman” tape players, and phones on a cord, this story was not a fluffy look back on the 80s. It was a touching story about how one person can make all the difference when the whole world seems to be against you. About how halting conversations about shared interests, like comic books and music, can open the door to friendship. And about how a barely-there friendship can blossom and turn into love. Park’s family is “Leave it to Beaver” perfect, and he is relatively popular at school. Eleanor’s home life is horrid and the kids at school take great pleasure in bullying her about her clothes, weight, and unruly red hair. And yet, Park can’t help himself. He doesn’t care what everyone else thinks about “his” Eleanor. He only knows he will do whatever it takes to try and make her happy.
To be completely honest, there was only one thing I didn’t like about this book… It ended! Seriously, though, I *really* hope that the ending was not just a “form your own opinion about what happened” thing but, instead, left it open for a sequel. A girl can hope, right?!? ;-)
I usually hate admitting when something makes me feel this stupid, but I just have to share this crazy story with y’all. I got about half way through Living With Jackie Chan and actually got into a conversation with a friend about how much I love Jo Knowles’ books before I realized this was a companion book to Jumping Off Swings! Seriously… I was telling her about how Jumping Off Swings affected me so much that I literally could not put the book down before I finished it, woke my husband up with my crying, and then had to go in and cuddle with my sleeping son [at 2am] before I could calm down enough to sleep. (I was pregnant for my daughter at the time, so I guess you can blame some of it on the hormones too!) When I started to describe this story, I stopped talking mid-sentence and said, “OH MY GOD! Josh is the guy from the first book!” Yeah… I’m quick like that! Maybe it wasn’t mentioned in the book review I read when I ordered this book? And, I know I didn’t read the book flap before starting to read the book when I picked it up off the shelf… But, still, I loved Jumping Off Swings so much that it’s hard to believe I forgot the character names and also didn’t put two and two together when I first started this story. /sigh
Living With Jackie Chan is a continuation of Josh’s story. After getting Ellie pregnant, he feels like a horrible person and finds it difficult to move on with his life. His Uncle Larry agrees to let Josh live with him while he finishes high school. And, while starting over in a new city with a “clean slate” seems like a good idea, Josh finds it impossible to embrace this fresh start. Even if no one at the new school knows what happened last year, HE knows what he did and can’t manage to forgive himself. Fortunately, Uncle Larry convinces Josh to help out with his karate classes at the local YMCA — which provides Josh with a positive new focus and a chance to make a new friend, Stella.
I absolutely LOVED Code Name Verity, so I had a feeling that I would enjoy this book too. Enjoy feels like a wrong word to use, though, considering all the terrible things that happen. The story is narrated by young Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot who got lost, landed in the wrong airfield, and ended up a Nazi prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Though there was so much more to the Holocaust than Rose ever could have seen or experienced in her abbreviated stay in the one small portion of that one particular women’s camp, the horrors still added up rather quickly. I was especially sickened to hear the details behind the medical experiments that were done on the “Ravensbrück Rabbits.” I think readers who haven’t yet learned about the Nazi doctors and the Nuremburg Trials may find these details especially disturbing, since I found it hard to listen to even though I already knew a lot of what had been done. Despite the darkness she revealed, though, I found it heartening that Wein managed to shine a spotlight on the friendship, generosity, and hope that helped so many people survive against the odds.
It’s evident that Elizabeth Wein was very thorough in her research, and the author’s note at the end of the story was a lovely added bonus. I especially liked hearing about how Wein’s stay at European Summer School at the Ravensbrück Memorial site affected her. (You can read journal entries about this stay on her website — http://www.elizabethwein.com/my-visit-ravensbr%C3%BCck-august-2012.) There were only two things that I honestly didn’t like about listening to the audiobook. One was that I had to pull over to cry a couple of times. (That happened with Code Name Verity, too, so I came into the story expecting it would happen again.) The other was when the narrator jarred me out of the story by saying “skuh-lee-tle” as she described the survivors of the concentration camps. I re-played that sentence probably 4 or 5 times before I realized she had mispronounced the word “skeletal”… All of Wein’s tireless research to get the story right, and everyone involved in the audiobook production missed this egregious mispronunciation — and not just once, but twice! /sigh
When people ask Richard Casey what’s wrong with him, he likes to reply that he has SUTHY syndrome. He waits an uncomfortable beat and then explains that SUTHY stands for “Somebody Up There Hates You.” After all, what other reason would there be for a 17-year-old to be in hospice care with a terminal cancer diagnosis? If I hadn’t already read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I may not have believed it was possible that Seamon could have written so much humor into this story. Between Rich’s wry sense of humor and his bumbling romance with a girl named Sylvie [the only other teen in the hospice unit], I laughed out loud often enough that my cat gave up on falling asleep in my lap — and that never happens! If you already read TFiOS and need something to hold you over until the movie comes out in June, you will probably enjoy this story too.
Carey grew up to be a remarkably mature teenager. That’s not exactly surprising, though, if you consider the fact that she spent much of her childhood raising her little sister, Jenessa, in a broken-down camper in a national forest she affectionately referred to as The Hundred Acre Wood. Although her mom frequently ran off and left the girls to fend for themselves with little more than a meager supply of canned beans, she still managed to brainwash Carey into believing that she was better off living in the squalor of the camper than if they had stayed with her father. She had Carey convinced that her father was physically abusive and that leaving was the only way to protect themselves. I thought it was quite clear that Carey’s mom was lying about her father and that she had major mental health issues — after all, what sane mother would leave two little girls to fend for themselves in the woods? Still, I recognized how easily Carey could have been manipulated in that situation and understood why she just *had* to believe that her mother had the best of intentions, regardless of what her actions indicated. After the girls were found by Carey’s dad and a social worker, based on clues in a letter from their mother, Carey had a hard time adjusting to life in the “real world.” She did her best to help Jenessa adapt, but she also did her best not to reveal the harsh realities of what life had been like in The Hundred Acre Wood and why, exactly, Jenessa suddenly stopped talking about a year prior to their discovery. Though I readily admit that this was an extremely difficult read at times, I can happily report that the ending left me feeling hopeful.