Category Archives: contemporary

I am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff

i-am-the-weaponI would like to start off this post by apologizing for the lack of a post last week. I seriously thought I had posted something, but multiple curriculum nights and weeknight soccer games apparently broke my brain. To make it up to you all, and in celebration of my fREADom to read, I am going to post several reviews this week. I typically like to post multiple reviews during Banned Books Week, anyhow, so I’m going to keep the tradition alive with some “edgy” books.

Much like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which was the most challenged book of 2014 and yet *another* book I managed not to review even though I loved it), I fear that some readers will complain that I am the Weapon contains drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, violence, depictions of bullying, and that it’s “unsuited for age group” — whatever THAT means!  I honestly believe that we need to trust tweens and teens to make their own choice about what they’re comfortable reading, since their lives and their emotional needs vary greatly from person to person.  If they aren’t ready to handle a topic that comes up in a book, they’re most likely to simply set it aside and move on.  And if there’s something “too mature” in a book, it will often go over the reader’s head — unlike a movie that just spells it right out for ya!  I also firmly believe that experiencing the repercussions of unsavory/risky behaviors vicariously through characters in a book is a much safer than testing things out in “the real world.”  Wouldn’t you rather your children learned to have empathy for others by witnessing the repercussions of bullying in a book instead of blindly joining up with the bullies at their school because they didn’t really think it was such a big deal?  I know I would.

Ben, aka the Unknown Assassin, is a finely-tuned, teenage hitman.  He has been trained by “The Program” and reports to people he calls “Mom” and “Dad.”  Ben is not his real name, of course.  It’s just the name of his persona for this mission, and he will stop being Ben as soon as his mission is complete.  This mission is different than the rest, though, because it has such a short timeline.  Ben is used to taking time to find his mark, to get close enough to kill them, and then sticking around long enough afterward so as to not arouse suspicion.  But this mission is supposed to be completed in no more than five days.  Five days!  With such a high-profile target, this mission seems nearly impossible.  But, Ben is bound and determined to succeed.  He’s never failed before, and he doesn’t intend to start now.  Except…  Something about this mission feels off.  Not only that, but Ben also has feelings for the daughter of the mark.  The fast pace, action, and adventure are sure to lure guys in, and the romantic undertones are well-balanced enough to enrapture love-crazed teenage readers without turning off the people who couldn’t care less.  I definitely need to get my hands on the rest of this series!

Happy Banned Books Week!


Need by Joelle Charbonneau

Oh. My. Goodness!  Y’all have GOT to read this book when it comes out!  Sadly, people who are not members of a site like NetGalley might have to wait until the November 3rd release date to get their hands on Need — but, even then, it will be worth the wait.  I’d especially recommend this book to fans of thrillers like Lauren Oliver’s Panic.  I also think this would be a good book to present to your child when s/he asks for permission to start a Facebook (or other social media site) account.  Even though it’s a bit hyperbolic, this story does an excellent job showing just how easily social media brings out the worst in people and could be a great conversation starter about both bullying and personal accountability.

With the anonymity available through some sites, and the simple fact that confrontations aren’t happening face-to-face, cyberbullying has become a huge  problem.  Teens are known for being impulsive and self-centered; those traits are part and parcel of the whole adolescent experience.  So, imagine how easy it would be to convince teens to complete simple tasks in exchange for rewards.  Especially if they were able to name the rewards they wanted AND were able to complete those tasks anonymously.  Let alone the fact that they often had little-to-no information about how their task fit into the big picture.  I kept thinking to myself, “OMG!  Something like this could totally happen!”  Everything started out so simply and innocently but then quickly escalated to get completely out of hand — a bit like Janne Teller’s Nothing.  Do yourself a favor and don’t pick this book up until you have a few hours to read it uninterrupted.  Trust me!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Reality Boy by A.S. King

reality-boyGerald Faust has a touch more than your typical teen angst.  He has to deal with the fact that his one sister, Lisi, has left home [most likely never to return again] because his other sister, Tasha, is a complete sociopath and constantly tries to kill her siblings.  Sadly, their mom coddles Tasha and refuses to acknowledge the situation.  As bad as that is, though, it’s not quite as bad as the fact that Gerald is also infamous for being “The Crapper” on a Supernanny-like reality show when he was a child.  His mom originally called the show for help because Gerald’s rages would lead to holes in the walls, but he soon escalated to crapping everywhere to get people’s attention when Tasha’s assaults and antagonizing were repeatedly missed/overlooked and he alone was blamed for his anger management problems.  Now, Gerald’s stuck with no friends, continued anger management issues, and placement in a special education class that he doesn’t really need/deserve.  Right as he fears he is about to finally break, though, Gerald starts to become friends with a girl [from school and work] named Hannah who’s dealing with some family dysfunction of her own.

As terribly heartbreaking as it was to stand by and “watch” Gerald suffer at the hands of his sister and parents, I was grateful that his story ended on a note of hope.  It just makes me wonder, though — how *have* all of those kids who’ve been featured on shows like Supernanny been effected by their appearances?  Have there been any others who ended up as infamous as Gerald?  Or is this simply an embellishment of what could have happened?  (Man, I hope none of those kids ends up like Gerald!)  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed A.S. King’s Ask The Passengers and Chris Crutcher’s Angry Management.

Happy Reading!

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

vanishing-girlsDara and Nick used to be more than just sisters; they were best friends.  Though they used to be practically inseparable, they don’t even speak to one another anymore.  The worst part is that Nick started to lose her other best friend, Parker, at the same time as Dara — all because he and Dara started dating.  One night, during a heated argument, the girls ended up in a car accident and that was the final straw.  Dara’s face and body were forever damaged, just like her relationship with Nick, and she keeps herself hidden away all the time.  Still, Nick is determined to fix things with Parker and Dara this summer.  Before she can even start to work things out, nevertheless, Dara disappears.  It could just be that Dara is messing around, but the disappearance of another local girl, 9-year-old Madeline Snow, makes Nick wonder if there might be something more to the story.  Will she be able to piece everything together?  Will the girls ever be found?  The answers might be more shocking than you can imagine…  Fans of Oliver’s earlier books Before I Fall and Panic are sure to enjoy her latest mystery/thriller.

Happy Reading!

Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

lies-i-toldI cannot believe it took me this long to get around to reviewing this book.  I mean, Michelle Zink visited our library more than a month ago and I finished the book not too long after… but, summer reading has been stripping my brain of functionality and I pretty much consider myself lucky to still be coherent at this point!  Michelle and I actually met back when my 5 1/2 year old daughter was only a baby, and we have stayed in touch ever since.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately since she just kicked off her new series of adult romance novels, writing as Michelle St. James.  (Ruthless is actually ranked #41 in romance right now on Amazon.  Go Michelle!)  Who knows?  Maybe I will even buy/read a book for “grown-ups” to find out what the big deal is?!?  But, I digress.  I haven’t read Ruthless — thinking about it just reminded me that I need to get my act together and review Lies I Told;-)

First off, I think it’s only fair to “warn” readers that this book isn’t a Gothic fantasy like the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy.  (If you’re looking for more Gothic fantasy, you should probably check out the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.)  If you’re into contemporary fiction, though, you will be pleased to see that Michelle Zink has made a seamless transition to that genre.  Grace Fontaine is a teenage girl with pretty much everything she could want: money, beauty, and a perfect family.  It’s just too bad that it’s all a lie.  The truth is that she and her brother have been adopted by con artists and trained to play their own parts in their parents’ cons.  Every time they move to a new town, they have to develop new identities and help their parents get close to the marks (aka victims).  For a long time, Grace convinced herself that she was OK with the arrangement.  She “knew” that her parents loved her and that the people from whom they were stealing were so rich they could afford to be conned.  When she starts to fall for one of her marks, though, she begins questioning everything about her life.  Though the plot isn’t *quite* the same, I recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye (which tells the story of a girl who takes on a new persona every time she moves to a new town).

Happy Reading!

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

this-is-where-it-endsI still cannot get over this cover! Even though I have way too much going on and don’t really have much time for reading lately, I saw the cover of this ARC and *knew* that I had to find the time to read it if my request got approved. (Thanks for the approval on NetGalley, Sourcebooks Fire!) Much like I am drawn to stories about serial killers, I am captivated by the stories of school shooters. Don’t get me wrong… I don’t worship mass murders or anything. I’m just so curious about how they could think like they do. I mean, I’ve gotten depressed and angry plenty of times in my life — but I just can’t conceive of ever getting to the point where taking the lives of other people would become an option, let alone seem like the right idea.

Imagine being dismissed from a normal/boring school assembly only to find that the doors to the auditorium were locked and someone who was hiding up on the stage has come out shooting. This story is told from the varying perspectives of several students affected by the shooting, both inside and outside the auditorium, for the duration of the terrifying 54 minute ordeal. I especially appreciated the perspective of the shooter’s sister. Though it took me three sittings to finish [because I was just too busy/tired and couldn’t find the time to read it straight through], this book begs to be read in a single sitting. People who enjoyed Nineteen Minutes and/or Give a Boy a Gun should check this one out. (Release date = 1/5/16.)

Happy Reading!

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

so-yesterdayI’m not quite sure how I read [and loved] Peeps, the Uglies series, the Leviathan series, AND Afterworlds but managed not to get around to this book until now…  I’m just special like that!  Though I felt the references to pop culture and technology definitely “dated” the story a bit, I think it is still relevant enough to recommend to today’s teens.  After all, society still cycles through “cool” fashions and trends.  And I don’t think many people really consider WHY and HOW things become “cool” — they just fall into the trap of wanting the next “cool” thing.  I encourage my kids (my biological children and the ones I work with) to question everything instead of just taking other people’s word for it.  I also encourage them to trust their own instincts and to find their own style instead of caring what other people will think.  As long as you’re not purposely trying to offend other people, I think you should embrace what you love and just go with it.  Hopefully, this story will help some tweens and teens see the light.

Hunter Braque was a “cool hunter.”  He was literally paid, mostly in free shoes, to report upcoming trends and fashions to a major corporation he called “The Client.”  (Throughout the story, Hunter left out the names of the brands/companies to which he was referring — but he gave just enough information that the readers could likely fill in the blanks on their own.)  Hunter actually worked for a woman named Mandy, who reported back to The Client after “cool tastings” (aka focus groups).  When Hunter met Jen, he just knew Mandy would want to meet her too and got her an invitation to a cool tasting.  Jen’s new perspective earned both Hunter and Jen an invitation to a super-secret meeting with Mandy, but then Mandy never showed up.  After hearing Mandy’s cell phone ringing from inside the abandoned building, Hunter and Jen broke in and found a stockpile of the coolest shoes they’d ever seen.  They weren’t sure what to think, but they were pretty sure Mandy was in trouble and that it had something to do with those shoes…  Action and mystery combine for a super-fun read that also questions the conformity and consumerism that run rampant in our society.

Happy Reading!