When I read Need, I couldn’t get over the sneaking suspicion that many of today’s teens would probably be all too tempted to complete random tasks to win prizes without considering the implications of their actions. The fact that the tasks were done anonymously seemed like a perfect way to convince people to participate… But, then I read this book. And it made me wonder if the quest for fame might be a better way to snag this generation. With reality TV being as popular as it is, and with many teens already sharing nearly everything they do on various social media platforms, this book struck me as entirely too plausible. My only complaint? I wish I hadn’t started this book when I was so tired. It nearly killed me to put it down and to wait to finish it the next day!
Just imagine a majorly popular reality TV show that accepts “audition” videos from anyone who wants to seek both fame and fortune for completing dares of increasing difficulty. Viewers all assume that the show is being televised, so things must be on the up-and-up. I mean, they couldn’t possibly get away with running a reality TV show that really puts people in harms way… Could they? Vee sends in her audition on a whim, basically to prove to herself that she can. And, when her audition garners enough attention that she is offered a space in the competition, she decides to try it out. She figures she will just compete for a little while and get some cool prizes before quitting. But, then she gets swept up in the momentum of the competition. Before she knows it, she is in over her head and she isn’t sure whether there even IS a way to get out while she’s ahead.
Clare and Aidan are high school sweethearts who are about to head off to college. Though they care for [and maybe even love] each other, they aren’t sure whether they should try to stay together after they move 3000 miles apart — with Clare attending Dartmouth and Aidan attending UCLA. Starting college and learning to live away from their homes and best friends will be difficult enough, but trying to maintain a relationship without sacrificing the authentic college experience seems impossible… At least, to Clare it does. She is bound and determined to spend their last night in town revisiting all the places that had significance in their relationship so that they can say goodbye with enough closure to move on. Aidan still isn’t sure he’s willing to give up on their relationship. But will one last night provide him with enough time to change her mind?
Heartbreaking at times, but with plenty of moments of levity, this book is a roller coaster of emotions. Though I enjoyed Smith’s other books — The Geography of You and Me and This is What Happy Looks Like — I found that they were a little bit of a stretch. This story is a much more realistic scenario and I think it will likely resonate with more readers. If you’re unfamiliar with Smith’s books but enjoyed romances by Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han, you should definitely check out Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between.
I couldn’t believe how shocked I was when I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray. I mean, I had taken a world history class with “in depth” unit about WWII and didn’t really know much of anything about what Stalin had done — nor had I even heard of the [Soviet] Holodomor (roughly translated to “death by hunger”) that rivaled the well-known [German] Holocaust. After reading Between Shades of Gray, though, I felt like I had a much better grasp of WWII history… And then I read this book. How is it that there is yet another major piece of WWII history that has flown under the radar for so long?!?
Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never even heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I was stupefied to learn that OVER NINE THOUSAND people died in this tragedy. Prior to reading this book, I would have been willing to bet that the Titanic and the Lusitania were the two largest maritime tragedies of all time. Even when you combine the death tolls of those two ships, nevertheless, they only account for about a third of the losses of the Gustloff. I wish American ethnocentrism didn’t extend to history classrooms in which *world* history is being taught, but it seems pretty evident to me that the anti-Germany sentiment surrounding WWII and the lack of American passengers aboard the ship have both contributed to a lack of American attention. People from all walks of life [civilians, refugees, and soldiers] and of all ages [from babies to senior citizens] were aboard that ship. It was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions.
Thank goodness Ruta Sepetys! With her well-developed characters and gripping plots, Sepetys is providing readers with compelling stories that will also spread awareness of these previously unknown tragedies. Who knows? Maybe her books will even lead to better coverage in future history textbooks and classes. I can only hope that the multiple points of view provided by this particular story will resonate with readers and finally bring much-deserved American attention to the great number of lives that were lost in the Baltic Sea [almost exactly] 71 years ago.
Parker Grant is blind. Not just legally blind, but completely and utterly blind. She can’t see blobs of color or even tell the difference between light and dark. Why? Because her optical nerves were horribly damaged when her mom drove drunk and crashed their car. Parker was lucky, though, because she only lost her sight — her mom died in that crash. With the help and support of her loving father and her friends, and also in part because she was still a resilient/young kid, Parker managed to adapt very well to life without vision. When her dad suddenly died, the summer before her junior year of high school, though, it wasn’t quite as easy to transition again. Despite the fact that her aunt’s family came to live with her — so she could remain in the same house and attend the same high school — she felt so alone. Though they were technically “family,” it just wasn’t the same as living with her own parent(s).
This story probably sounds totally depressing as I have described it thus far, but please believe me when I say that it is not all doom and gloom and death. It was actually quite funny in parts. A lot of the story focuses on Parker’s budding love interest [Jason], her evolving friendships with her close friends, and the reappearance of her former friend/boyfriend [Scott]. High school is rife with drama as it is, and the fact that Jason and Scott became friends before Jason met Parker set the stage for plenty more. I loved Parker’s sassy, snarky, tell-it-like-it-is attitude, and I was further intrigued by the ways that standard teen angst could be compounded by a visual impairment. (Just imagine all the body language and other visual cues you’d miss!) I’d recommend this book to fans of Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts.
When I read this book, I was equally sickened and angered. I wanted to punch people in the throat… I wanted to flip tables… I wanted to lash out and scream at Aaron Hartzler for imagining a world in which a girl could be blamed for her own rape! The problem is, he didn’t have to imagine it. I don’t want to have to acknowledge that there are people in this world — in this country, even — who still feel more sympathy toward how a rape conviction might ruin the lives of the young men who perpetrated the crime than how the act of rape has already ruined the life of the victim. But, sadly, this book is not an indication that Aaron Hartzler has an over-active imagination but rather an echo of what happens in far too many communities — including Steubenville, Ohio — when a rape makes headlines. Much like his memoir, Rapture Practice, this book reveals that Hartzler has an uncanny ability for absorbing the realities of life in the American Midwest and translating them into realistic, honest, captivating stories.
If you work with tweens and teens, or if you are a parent, I highly recommend you read this book. Although I found it extremely unsettling to read and experience what happened to Stacey, I recognize that my personal comfort sometimes needs to take a back seat to reality. It is important to acknowledge the fact that many people in our society still choose to react with victim-blaming and cover-ups. It is important to question and to actively work to change this pervasive rape culture. And one of the best ways we can do this is to start an open dialogue with our children about the topics of sexual violence, consent, and the role drugs and alcohol play in this equation. Hopefully, books like this will help to start these important conversations and to change the hearts and minds of people who didn’t know better before.
Have a Safe and Happy New Year — and Happy Reading!
It’s really hard to put a label on this story. On one hand, this is a quirky story about a girl who is new to town and trying to figure out how she might fit in. On the other hand, it’s a mystery/crime novel in which a teenager thinks he might be able to prove a link between the kidnapping of a local girl and his own sister’s disappearance almost a decade ago. When the girl [Zoe] first meets the boy [Digby], it seems they might never get along. After all, Zoe is just kinda bored and trying to take everything in, while Digby’s a bit manic and often acts without thinking things all the way through. Digby frequently speaks his mind, to the extent that some people might find him rude, but I think Zoe found it rather endearing. After all, she didn’t *have* to join him in all of his crazy adventures… but she just couldn’t quite find a reason to say no.
Some people might think this book is a little too cliche, but I really enjoyed it. The fast-paced action and laugh-out-loud dialogue simply worked for me. Though the plot is nowhere near the same, I thought this book read a lot like Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick. Maybe it’s because it starts off in the middle of the insanity and then brings you back to the beginning to show how it all started? Maybe it’s because one character is just so over-the-top and the other is so straight-laced it’s hard to believe they could end up working together? I can’t say for sure exactly what it was, but I am happy to report that I absolutely LOVED it! This would be a really fun book to read during the school break next week. Last minute Christmas gift, anyone?!?
Devon Tennyson, much like this book, doesn’t fit neatly into any single category. She is reasonably popular, but not completely so. She has a crush on her football-playing best friend, Cas, but manages not to be completely ridiculous about it. She can hang with the guys, but she can also manage a shopping trip with the girls. And, though she isn’t completely obsessed with popularity, she is somewhat concerned about the impact her cousin Foster will have on her own social life when he comes to live with her family. Why? Probably because Foster is slightly awkward and just plain doesn’t care what other people think.
After his father’s death and his mom’s subsequent plunge into depression and drug addiction, Foster learned to focus his energy on taking care of his mother and himself. He had no time to waste on the frivolities of sports or hanging out with friends. When a gym class drill revealed Foster’s incredible natural talent for punting a football, nevertheless, Devon’s whole life seemed to flip upside-down. With Foster suddenly hanging out with the jocks, Devon started to worry less about how he might impact her own popularity and worried, instead, whether people would treat him well. This was a great story about what it means to look beyond stereotypes and outward appearances and to take the time to get to know people (including yourself) so you can appreciate them for who they truly are.