Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Knockout Games by G. Neri [ARC]

Knockout GamesAfter reading and enjoying Surf Mules and Ghetto Cowboy, I was looking forward to seeing how Neri would handle this topic.  Once I downloaded the ARC and started reading it, though, I second-guessed my decision.  Some of the depictions of violence literally made me sick to my stomach.  When I got to the very first knockout, I had to put the book (well, Kindle) down and just read something else because I was so utterly disturbed.  I was talking to a friend about it and saying that I didn’t know if I could handle reading this story, but he reminded me that this is an important story to have available to teens and that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to finish this story would make me better able to recommend it to those who needed it.  After all, this isn’t a fantasy or science fiction story with gratuitous violence; this is a contemporary, realistic story about an actual problem in urban neighborhoods.  Real teens are “playing” the knockout game, and Neri’s story can help people — whether players or outsiders — better understand the factors that lead people to play and the faulty logic many players use to justify their participation.  People who don’t actually read the story might fear that Neri glorifies the game, but anyone who reads the whole book will understand that, though he humanizes the players and explains the motivations they might have in playing this deadly game, he makes it clear that their cop-outs and excuses do NOT justify their destructive actions.  So glad I made myself go back and finish this one.  Hopefully, the timely publication of this book will succeed in educating and deterring would-be players.

Happy Reading!

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!