Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

NogginWith all of the attention The Fault in Our Stars has been receiving lately, many people are looking for read alike books.  I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the same category, since it is magical realism as opposed to contemporary realistic fiction.  (If you’re looking for another realistic contemporary read alike, you should check out Somebody Up There Hates You.)  Despite the magical realism, though, I think many TFiOS fans will find that Noggin is “close enough” in that it’s a smart and funny book that challenges your preconceived notions of the world around you.  Also, Travis Coates is a teenager who had cancer.

Because Travis Coates’ body was riddled with cancer and the treatments weren’t proving to be effective, he didn’t really have many options left.  He could continue trying every experimental treatment possible, which often left him weak and ill; he could give up fighting and try to enjoy the time he had left; or he could go rogue and let some scientists cut his head off, cryogenically freeze it, and hope they could develop the technology to successfully reanimate his head on a donor body.  Although they didn’t think they would have the technology to reanimate him before all of his friends and family were very old or gone altogether, Travis liked the idea of dying on his own terms.  Potentially living again would just be a bonus.  Imagine his surprise, then, when we wakes up and finds out that it has only been 5 years since he “died.”  He’s still 16, but everyone he knows and loves has aged 5 years, and nothing is at all as he left it.

Happy Reading!

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup CloudsAfter her boyfriend’s death, Zoe is so overcome with guilt that she finds it hard to function.  People assume that her reclusive behavior is owed to the fact that she’s grieving for Max, and she finds that their sympathy actually makes her feel even more guilty.  In an attempt to unburden herself, Zoe decides to confess to Stuart Harris — a Death Row inmate in Texas who was listed on a website of prisoners seeking pen-pals.  She thought writing to Stuart would be a good idea for a few reasons — 1. he killed his wife and would likely understand what she’s going through, 2. he is in the United States while she is in England, and 3. she could use a false name and address to avoid being turned in to the police.  (Yeah.  Her name’s not really Zoe.)  Through her letters to Stuart, which she writes while hiding out in the shed in her backyard, readers learn about the events that led up to Max’s death and why she feels responsible.  I’ll admit that I found myself getting a little frustrated at times, but I don’t think it was poorly done or anything.  I was just too impatient and wanted to know what happened!  I recommend this one to people who enjoy a little romantic drama with their mystery.

Happy Reading!

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

between shades of grayToday’s I Read YA Week post is supposed to be “If Movies Were YA,” so I am posting about a book that I think should be turned into a movie.  Between Shades of Gray is a story that I think should be required reading for all high school students when they study world history, though I think a movie might do a better job of increasing awareness overall.  As I listened to this audiobook, I kept thinking, “This needs to be the next Schindler’s List.  Why is it that everyone talks about the horrors of the Holocaust and nobody ever talks about the Soviet Holodomor?”  I mean, I didn’t even know the term Holodomor (which roughly translates to “death by hunger”) until this book inspired me to do a little research.

I remember briefly covering Stalin and being taught about his “purges”… but I think we pretty much glossed over it on the way to an in-depth study of the Holocaust.  I mean, I definitely didn’t recall that the total death count was right up there with the Holocaust.  It is estimated that somewhere between 3 and 60 million people died during the Holodomor, with many estimates putting the death toll at around 7 million people.  SEVEN MILLION!  People talk about the Holocaust all the time.  They lament the fact that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews and another 5 million people [including Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled people, and Gypsies] under Hitler’s rule.  There are numerous Holocaust museums and memorials in addition to a Holocaust Remembrance Day.  But, no one really talks much about what Stalin did.  My Facebook feed doesn’t “blow up” once a year to remind me of what Stalin did.  And that is a crying shame.  Some people may debate the death toll and ask, “Was it genocide?”  But, regardless of the exact number and the terminology you use, there is no debating the fact that millions of people died under Stalin’s regime.

I appreciate the author interview at the end of the audiobook, in which Ruta Sepetys explained her personal connection to the story, and I love that the official website for the book includes resources like a book discussion guide and a video of Ruta Sepetys discussing the novel.  I’m glad that this book has started to shed some more light on the Holodomor , and I can only pray that this light shines brightly, and widely, from here on.

Happy Reading!

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsI’m thinking I Read YA Week is a perfect opportunity for me to catch up on some blogging…  and I may even actually use my Twitter account to tag my posts!  ;-)  Day 1 is supposed to be something I recommend, and this book definitely fits the bill.  I have read several of E. Lockhart’s other books — my favorite of which was probably The Boyfriend List — and I was over the moon when my friend Molly got me the ARC of this book.  Although I slacked when it came to posting a review, I handed it off to a friend immediately upon finishing and was happy to hear that she passed it along as well.  This book has legs!

Cadence has spent every summer of her life on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts with her entire extended family.  Hired help does all the work while the family enjoys a life of luxury and leisure.  She missed last summer, which she spent in Europe with her father, but she is back and trying to piece together what happened two summers before.  All she knows is that she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and now suffers memory loss and crippling headaches.  No one in the family is supposed to talk to her about it because it upsets her and then she ends up forgetting anyway — the doctors have decided it’s best if they let her recover those memories on her own.  I almost couldn’t get over the shock of what had happened when her memories finally sorted themselves out, and I was in awe of how well everything that seemed so strange finally fell into place.  This is a great summer read for people who like mysteries and don’t mind shedding a few tears.

Happy Reading!

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt KillersI have always been intrigued by serial killers.  I am so utterly fascinated, in fact, that I managed to scare a student worker at my college library during my freshman year.  You see, I used to go during my [6-hour-long] breaks between Tuesday classes to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz in the media lab.  One week, he asked what class I was studying for.  When I replied that it was “just for fun,”  he practically threw the video at me before running and hiding in the back office!  Luckily, I happened to meet him at a later time through some mutual friends and I was able to set his mind at ease.  Up until I had the chance to explain myself, he called me “the creepy serial killer girl” and worried that I was studying up so I wouldn’t get caught!  Though I no longer frequent the library to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers, I have watched enough of them (and reality-based shows like Crossing Jordan, Law & Order, Castle, and Criminal Minds) that I have a frighteningly thorough knowledge of serial killer pathology and the methods of the law enforcement officials who try to catch them.  When one of my teens told me about this book, therefore, I knew I had to read it.

Though he is pretty average and a fairly nice guy, most people in town wouldn’t be surprised if Jasper Dent was secretly a serial killer.  Why?  Because his dad, Billy Dent, killed into the triple digits by the time he was caught.  Everyone seems to be afraid that Jasper is a killing spree just waiting to happen; well, everyone except his best friend, Howie, and girlfriend, Connie.  So, after a dead body shows up in Lobo’s Nod, Jasper is determined to help the police.  Even though Sheriff G. William Tanner does his best to dissuade his involvement, Jasper keeps insisting that he needs to help — because he’s sure it’s a serial killer [even though the police don't think so], because he knows how serial killers think, and because he wants to clear his own name.

I was enjoying this audiobook so much that I jokingly told my husband I was going to make him listen to it when I was done.  He agreed that it sounded good, so we decided to actually start it over (even though I was at 96%!) and listen to it together on our weekend roadtrip without the kids.  We finished all but half an hour by the time we got home and we couldn’t imagine leaving it for later… So, we listened while we unpacked our bags and sorted laundry!  Since then, I have read the prequel (an e-novella) and downloaded the second audiobook from OverDrive.com.  The third book comes out in September on the day after my birthday.  Coincidence?  I think not!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican [ARC]

brutal youthThis was one of the most messed up books I have ever read.  (I don’t mean that as an insult, by the way.  I am referring to the content, not the writing.)  It was like driving by a terrible car accident — you know you shouldn’t look, but you just *have* to see for yourself what’s going on.  And although I did think it was a bit hyperbolic, it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility either.  I mean, the Catholic Church is pretty well known for brushing things under the rug and covering things up to save their reputation, so why wouldn’t it be possible for a Catholic school to have insane hazing issues and major problems with student discipline in general?  Let alone the fact that there have been so many darn hazing stories in recent years — many of which involved high school students and adults who looked the other way.  Part of me wanted to reach into the story to slap the snot out of the so-called adults who let the insanity continue, and part of my wanted to stop reading in case something truly horrific happened because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle it.  I think this story is like a more modern version of Lord of the Flies – only with adults who just stood by and watched everything unfold.

Happy Reading!

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

being henry davidImagine being 17 years old and randomly waking up on the floor at Penn Station with no memory — not even your own name.  “Hank” awoke with only the clothes on his back, $10 in his pocket, and a paperback book.  I put Hank in quotes because it wasn’t his real name; it was just a name he assumed because he needed to think of a name quickly and the book he carried was Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  When the police came over to settle a scuffle between Hank and a mentally ill man who was trying to eat his book, he told them his name was Henry David…  I mean, it would probably have been a little awkward to try and explain to the police that he didn’t know who he was — and Hank wasn’t sure whether it would be good or bad to be figured out and sent back home.  I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of amnesia, and I needed to know who Hank really was and why he lost his memory, so I was hooked from the start.  Although it was frustrating to experience things from Hank’s side, not knowing what had happened, it helped me to get into Hank’s head and to better appreciate his heartbreak as his memories began to return.  I thought this was a brilliant story about personal discovery and self-forgiveness.

Happy Reading!

Aside

It’s so funny how things work out sometimes.  After finishing this audiobook two days ago, I saw [yesterday] that the author was featured in a CNN article about 10 visionary women!  I am taking this as a sign that I need to post … Continue reading

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach [ARC]

fat boy vs the cheerleadersIn honor of Teen Tech Week, I decided to review a book that I read as a digital ARC.  (If there are any teachers/librarians out there who would like to get digital ARCs, by the way, I highly recommend checking out Edelweiss and NetGalley.) Though I was reluctant to use an e-reader, I really have come around.  Though I still prefer “real” books, I am learning to appreciate my e-reader — especially when it means that I will have a better chance of receiving, and sometimes even instant access to, a review copy!

I don’t recall where I first saw the cover of this book, but I was intrigued by both the title and the cool cover.  I wanted to find out more about it and whether it might be a good fit for my library’s YA collection, but I couldn’t find any professional reviews.  So, I decided to get a digital review copy from Edelweiss and read it myself.   I am SO glad I did!  I loved the main character, Gabe/Chunk, and thought the unique way the story was told — in the form of a written statement/police interview — worked surprisingly well.

Gabe’s “friends” call him Chunk [a reference to a character from an 80s cult classic, The Goonies], and he has long accepted that moniker.  After all, he is fat.  Huge.  Beyond hope.  After his mom left, he and his dad both began to feed their feelings.  One of Gabe/Chunk’s biggest problems is his addiction to soda — but the money from the soda machine in the school cafeteria helps to fund the school pep band, so he is OK with wasting his money and drinking all the extra calories… until the day he finds out that they’ve been bamboozled.  Without public knowledge, the school board decided to take the money from the soda machine and give it to the cheerleaders for a new dance squad!  Gabe/Chunk decides that he is not only going to enlist the help of his friends to win back the money for the band, but he is going to let his grandfather [a former champion body builder] help him win back his body.  Though I admit that the description sounds like it could get a little preachy, I am pleased to report that this story was often hilarious and that Gabe/Chunk had an authentic teen voice.  I’m definitely hoping for more from this author.

Happy Reading!