People often talk about “wrestling with vipers” as a metaphor for dealing with difficult people or situations. And, while Dill has had to face down plenty of “vipers” at school, he has also come face-to-face with actual poisonous snakes in his father’s Pentacostal church. After his father was sent to prison — not for endangering the welfare of his congregation with snake handling and poison drinking, but for charges of child pornography — Dill’s life only got more difficult. He and his mom had to figure out how to run their household and tackle the family debt without their main provider… And Dill’s mom literally blamed him for his father’s imprisonment. On top of the fact that his mom actually thought he was to blame, sharing his father’s name seemed to make the townspeople think he shared his father’s penchant for perversion. Thank goodness Dill had two good friends, Lydia and Travis, who stood by his side regardless of how the rest of the community treated him.
Other than hanging out with Lydia and Travis, Dill’s only escape was through music. And he even had to keep that a secret, since the only music his parents found acceptable was Christian music. (His ability to create so-called Christian explanations for the names of bands and artists was masterful, though, so he still managed to listen to bands like Joy Division.) The problem was that escaping into music and spending time with his friends weren’t helping as much anymore, since his senior year was being overshadowed by fear of the future. How could he possibly manage after Lydia went away to college — especially if she started to forget about him? Would he and Travis still be as good of friends without Lydia in the mix? And would he ever find a way to truly make himself happy while he still felt compelled to “honor his parents” and work to pay off their debts instead of going away to college to plan for a better life for himself? If you enjoy reading novels by John Green, A.S. King, and Sara Zarr, I highly recommend you check out Jeff Zentner.
Because I enjoyed Dashner’s Maze Runner series, and am not-so-patiently waiting for the theatrical release of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), I thought this seemed like an audiobook I should probably check out. I mean, what’s not to like about a fast-paced technological thriller, right?!? Much like in Ready Player One, a lot of this story took place in a virtual world. Rather than just using goggles and gloves to connect to that virtual world, though, the people in this story use “coffins” that provide their bodies with physical sensations to make it feel as if they are actually experiencing the sensations (both pleasure and pain) of the VirtNet.
Michael is a gamer who spends more of his time in the VirtNet than in actual reality. And, who can blame him? Most of his friends are people he has never met in real life, and his hacking skills mean that he can be better, faster, and stronger with only a few lines of code. Rumors begin to circulate about a “bad” hacker who is using his skills to trap people in the VirtNet against their will, which causes the victims to suffer brain damage and memory loss in real life. Shortly after meeting a girl who claimed to be a victim, Michael was contacted by someone from the government who asked him to use his hacking skills for good by tracking down the perpetrator. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah… Definitely not! If you want lots of action and adventure set in a high-tech virtual world, you’ll definitely want to read this one.
Growing up in Bed Stuy, NY, meant being surrounded by a lot of “bad” stuff. Ali knew about the criminal activity all around him — from fencing stolen goods to prostitution to dealing and using drugs — but he wan’t into any of that. His thing was boxing, hence his nickname. It wasn’t because he actually liked fighting or anything, though, but because he liked training. In fact, Ali wasn’t really into sparring at all and didn’t do particularly well in the ring. Aside from boxing, he mostly just wanted to hang with his friends, Noodles and Needles. Obviously, those are not their real names, but I’ll let you read the book to get the back story of how they got those nicknames. I will also leave most of the plot out of this review because I don’t want to spoil anything. Just know that there are plenty of teachable moments about family, friendship, loyalty, and choosing to rise above your surroundings.
I think what I liked the most about this story was how the author acknowledged the seedier side of urban life without glorifying crime and violence. Much like Greg Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, this book laid out all the best reasons kids should aim higher and also showed that it is possible to come back from bad choices instead of simply giving up.
I recently heard about this book from a colleague who thought it was a fantastic read, and then I stumbled upon an available copy of the audiobook only moments after talking to a patron about the [then] upcoming Diwali celebration… I figured it was a pretty good sign that this was a perfect time to check it out. (Happy belated Diwali, by the way!) I am *so* glad I that decided to go for it. Menon wrote a fantastic YA romantic comedy, PLUS she managed to do so while incorporating a lot of Indian culture and kept it from getting clunky or didactic. Not to mention the fact that the narrators were really great!
I think what I loved the most about this story was how authentic both Rishi and Dimple felt. I think it is likely that many American readers will find it easier to understand where Dimple was coming from — wanting to strike out on her own, follow her dreams, and choose her own career and life path instead of having her parents arrange a marriage to an Ideal Indian Husband. But I think there are surely some readers who will completely “get” Rishi, who is a hopeless romantic and believes that an arranged marriage is much more likely to lead to compatibility and lifelong happiness. At the very least, #WeNeedDiverseBooks so readers can be exposed to people from different cultures and better understand *why* people do things differently than they do. Since I have only known a few people whose marriages were arranged, it is still a largely foreign concept to me and I appreciated having another opportunity to learn more about this approach to love and marriage.
This book is about SO MUCH MORE than two families working toward uniting their children in an arranged marriage, though. One of the things I most appreciated was the way Menon depicted the struggle to stay true to one’s familial and cultural traditions while also forging one’s own path. I think many people can appreciate that, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, because it is such a universal struggle. While we might feel constrained by tradition, we also find comfort in what we’ve always known. And though readers may have different traditions and/or coming of age experiences than these characters, anyone with a working heart will surely feel #AllTheFeels when they read this story.
“I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life.” That was the beginning of the letter Cody received from her best friend, Meg — sent via email, with a time delay to ensure that her suicide had been completed before anyone could try to stop her. In that letter, Meg went on to apologize for the pain she knew she would cause the people who loved her but also to explain that she saw suicide as the only way to end her own pain. Something else she said in that letter, nevertheless, led Cody to question what actually led Meg to kill herself. She found it nearly impossible to believe that she had no idea her best friend would want to kill herself, and she set out to uncover the truth of whether this truly was a suicide or whether Meg had been somehow coerced.
I read this book a while ago, but actually forgot that I had read it when I was recently browsing through “available titles” on OverDrive… All I remembered was that I had loved Gayle Forman’s writing in If I Stay and Where She Went, so I checked it out. As I listened to it for a second time, though, I started to recall bits and pieces of the plot and felt compelled to keep listening in case there was anything else I had forgotten about the story. Then it hit me that this would be a perfect book to share when #SuicidePreventionAwarenessMonth and #BannedBooksWeek overlapped. Not only does this book inspire readers to think about and look for the possible warning signs of suicide, but it also helps to create a better sense of empathy for people who struggle with mental illness. Rather than calling people “cowards” or “selfish,” we need to recognize the sense of helplessness that mental illness creates. Hopefully, books like this will lead to a more open dialogue so that we can work to #EndTheStigma.
Devin never knew life before the Earth got too hot. All he knew of that time was what his grandfather told him. But, despite the fact that he grew up in the “after,” he wasn’t really aware of the hardships that affected most people. Growing up on the farm, he learned how to make due with what the animals and the land provided. As long as he and his grandfather worked hard, they had all they really needed. When his grandfather died, though, it became too much for a single person to manage. So, Devin set off to the city to see if he could find anyone to help him work the farm. For the first time in his life, Devin experienced true thirst and hunger. He was also exposed to the darker side of humans when he encountered people who were willing to hurt others and steal in order to survive as well as those who ignored the suffering of others.
After settling in with some other orphaned children who taught him to scam and scavenge enough to get by, Devin began to hear rumors about a special home for children. If the rumors were to be believed, it was a place in which children would have more than enough food and toys for all. Even better? There was a chance that the children could be adopted by families that could provide for them! Some of the orphans believed in this place, but others thought it was a mere fairy tale. When Devin met an older boy who promised to bring him to this home for children, though, he decided to take a chance. As it turns out, this home really did exist… but something was not quite right. This book is technically “middle grade” fiction, but teen and adult fans of dystopias should definitely check it out.
Danny Wright signed up for the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old because he felt compelled to both serve his country and to honor the memory of his father, who died while serving in the Army. At first, he was proud to wear his uniform and excited to get to train with high-powered guns… but that all changed only a short time after he finished bootcamp. Why? He was called in by the Governor of Idaho to help with protests in Boise (about a proposed new federal ID card) and things got very out of hand very quickly. One accidental shot turned into a firefight in which civilians were injured and killed, and people started making comparisons to the Kent State shootings that took place during a Vietnam War protest in 1970. Knowing that he fired the shot that started it all, and seeing how quickly people snapped to pass judgement when they did not have all the facts, he was glad that the Governor pledged to protect the identities of the guardsmen who were involved. But, how long would the Governor be able to protect them when the President of the United States of America was demanding answers?
I especially appreciated the way Reedy worked in both extreme news coverage and polarized social media reactions. I was impressed to see a YA novel tackle the very complex topic of federal government/federal laws vs state government/states’ rights, but the audiobook impressed me even more. Much like Countdown, this audiobook uses a variety of sound effects and multiple readers to create sound bites that mimic news broadcasts and to set apart the non-narrative portions of the book. The only “down side” to listening to this audiobook all at once (on a road trip) was that the “near future” setting seemed entirely too plausible and actually made me feel a little anxious as if I were really listening to the news.