Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Release Date: 6/4/2013
Length: 336 pages
Series?: The Testing #1
Genre: YA Dystopian
Source: E-ARC from NetGalley, ARC from Publisher
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
After the Seven Stages War, America is rebuilding. Communities are trying to grow crops in the damaged soil. They are struggling to repopulate and provide resources. In this world, the best and brightest high school students are the great minds that may solve these problems. Each year, top students from each community are chosen for The Testing. Those who pass The Test are admitted to The University, where they will advance science and later serve a community where their skills are needed.
No students have been chosen in Cia’s small community for over ten years. But this year, four have been chosen. Before they depart, most likely to never return to their community again, Cia’s father warns her. He passed the test years ago, but only remembers through his nightmares because all participants’ memories are cleared upon entering University. He warns her to trust no one – and to survive.
Since The Testing has oft been compared to The Hunger Games, I’m going to start off by addressing this: Yes. Yes, it is very much like The Hunger Games. But here’s the thing: I don’t care. I love a good, fast-paced dystopian. I have been looking forward to this book since December. There was a great possibility that I would be sorely disappointed from all the hype, but I TOTALLY wasn’t. I could not put it down. Once the true nature of the test (and the participants!) was revealed, there was no turning back.
Because…SPOILER ALERT…it’s not all pen and paper tests. This shit gets REAL.
People die. TRUST NO ONE.
And now I’d said too much. But you get the idea. Just a good ol’ oppressive government continuing to oppress its people in awful ways. Of course, there’s a definite set-up for a sequel. It is dystopian, after all. I’ve head the second book is called Independent Study or something. A tad cheesy, but oh well.
FINAL GRADE: A Loved it. Will be reading more. Don’t care if it can be called derivative, because EVERYTHING is derivative from something else. This was what it was supposed to be: fun, engaging, dystopian-y, and an easy summer read. Haters gon’ hate, but don’t listen to them. Just enjoy the book and don’t over think it.
Required Reading: Required for fans of The Hunger Games, dystopia, YA trilogies, adventure, and The Mysterious Benedict Society.
Library Recommendation: Buy it for middle or high school. Here’s your parental warning guideline: if you have The Hunger Games, you can have this. And you will want it, because it would be a great read-alike to offer to patrons who are fans.
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 2012
Length: 359 page; 7 hours and 29 minutes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher
I would have never picked this book up on its own. It never would have made its way to my radar without winning a 2013 Printz Honor medal AND a Stonewall Book Award (AND a Belpre!) this January. Oh, a Stonewall award, you say? Hm.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming-of-age book about two awkward Mexican teenage boys growing up in the 1980s. Aristotle (Ari) is closed off from everyone, even himself. Dante, though also awkward, is brilliant and surprisingly confident. The two meet at the swimming pool one summer and become fast, intense friends. Ari needs Dante’s blunt questions, and Dante needs a loyal, non-judgemental friend. But life gets complicated. Emotions get complicated. Ari must learn who he is.
This is a quiet novel. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and emotional. Remember when I raved over the incredible feelings I experienced in The Sea of Tranquility? I would say Aristotle and Dante gave me a similar experience. I feel in love with both of these boys, felt the tension, and wanted to give everyone around me hugs. I HAVE JUST READ THIS INCREDIBLE BOOK AND I WANT TO HUG EVERYONE. Yeah, it was like that.
The desert setting (El Paso, Texas) was an interesting feature of the story. Ari and Dante spend a lot of time driving out to the desert to look at the stars, often with varying combinations of friends or girlfriends. It essentially reminded me of every single Counting Crows album I own. Sometimes books have soundtracks in my head, but this connection was so obvious that I can’t help myself! In particular, the song “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” was fitting. It’s one of my favorite songs, but I can’t embed the video from Germany (you can check it out on YouTube if you’re interested). Anyways, it’s this stanza from the song that sums up the novel:
“We drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars
We stare up at the Palace like it’s the last of the great Pioneertown bars
We shout out these songs against the clang of electric guitars
You can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far”
Since the book won a Stonewall, it obviously gets the LGBT tag. But I can’t really say why, because that would be spoiler-tastic. Let’s just say it’s more coming-of-age than LGBT, which is exactly what I’m looking for. Being LGBT does not define a character or a person, is one aspect of a greater life lived. That being said, this is far and away the best YA LGBT book I have read to date. So kudos, Benjamin Alire Saenz — you deserve every single award sticker on the front of your book.
FINAL GRADE: A Read it. It is a little slow at the beginning — Ari is a hard narrator to connect with, but that is by design (he can’t even connect with himself!). Honestly, I should just read every Printz novel because they are always stellar. This isn’t an action-packed, surprise-twist kind of novel. It’s not a romance or a trilogy, and there are no kick-ass female protagonists to be found. But it’s good. It gets the Tara stamp of approval.
Required Reading: Required for anyone interested in Mexican authors, books set in Texas, coming-of-age novels, literary fiction, fans of The Sea of Tranquility, and, of course, readers of LGBT fiction.
Library Recommendation: Put it in a high school library. As always, I would put it in my middle school library, but I’m a rebel. There are references to drinking, drinking and driving, sex, sexual feelings, and drug use. However, the parents presented in the novel are excellent representations of involved, realistic parents. I think all of the above issues are discussed by the parents with their children at various points in the novel.
Thoughts on the book? What was your favorite 2013 award-winning novel?
Title: Where Things Come Back
Author: John Corey Whaley
Publisher/Year: Atheneum, 2011
Length: 228 pages
Genre: YA literary fiction
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Winner of the 2012 Printz Award
A giant woodpecker. A missing brother. An African missionary. Where Things Come Back is the story of each of these. All of these. It’s one of those stories where three seemingly different tales weave together to create one narrative.
First, the woodpecker. Lily, Arkansas is an in a tizzy because one man, a Mr. John Barker, has sighted an extinct woodpecker. The Lazarus woodpecker, to be exact. Everyone in town, especially the media, is a buzz with talk of the woodpecker and hopes for confirmation. The local motel, a cheeseburger, and even a hairstyle are all named after the woodpecker.
Second, the missing brother. One day, Gabriel Witter disappears. His brother, Cullen Witter (our protagonist) is left to deal with the situation and search for meaning in what has happened. Cullen’s also trying to date and manage his friendships in small-town America. He’s also a little skeptical of the whole woodpecker business. Basically, he’s searching for answers.
And finally, the African missionary. Benton. He’s a got a crappy home life, and his mission isn’t quite helping him find the answers he’s searching for. He’s in a crisis of faith.
I’ll admit, it took me some time to get into this novel. In fact, I think it took me a couple of months and a couple of tries to keep going. The main conflict wasn’t apparent and I couldn’t tell where the story was going. Maybe the woodpecker thing just didn’t intrigue me. I don’t know. But once I got about 1/3 of the way in, I had to admit that John Corely Whaley knows what he’s doing. It’s a coming of age novel set in front of a mystery. It’s Cullen’s story, but it’s also Benton’s story. It’s biblical allusion out the wazzu.
If YA fiction has a “literary fiction” genre (which I would argue that it does), this novel would be among the small number of novels in that group. That’s why it won the Printz. For me, the book gave me a “WOW” moment at about the 80% mark, when I really didn’t know what was going to happen. For the first time in the novel, I felt fear. The quiet, crafted story entered the arena of suspense, and I was hooked. I dropped everything and read to the end. It all made sense and it all came together and I barely even saw it coming. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Whaley, for that.
FINAL GRADE: A Well written and memorable. Unpredictable. Solid, steady, and beautiful. I give books As for different reasons: the thrill ride that was Divergent, the slow-burn romance of The Sea of Tranquility, and the thought provoking/edgy Every Day. When I think of those books, I know Where Things Come Back must be among them. Excellent writing, multi-dimensional characters, phenomenal plot, and a killer ending. This novel may be short and it may be a little difficult to get started, but trust me: it’s worth it.
Required Reading: Required for anyone who doesn’t typically like YA, high school teachers, and fans of contemporary novels. Stay away if you need vampires or intense action to enjoy a book.
Library Recommendation: Strongly recommended for high school. I would skip it for my middle school library (I just don’t think it would interest them).
What do you think of Printz novels or the category of “literary fiction” in YA?
Title: Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Author: Jonah Berger
Publisher/Year: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/1/2013
Length: 200 pages/6 hours and 54 minutes
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Source: Review copy from Simon & Schuster
Contagious is about why things go viral. Jonah Berger divides the book into chapters based on his six elements of why things catch on, devoting each chapter to the explanation and examples of each element. The elements are social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value, and stories, and Berger calls this the STEPPS model. Nothing here is rocket science, but the examples are entertaining and the material thought-provoking.
As a book blogger, I found this book particularly interesting. Not only am I interested in promoting my own work, but I’m also part of a chain of promotion centered around authors, publishers, and books. Berger is very clear in noting that the first element for a contagious idea is that it must be a good idea. With blogging, this is how we have conversations about posts being original (instead of memes) and interesting. With books, we all know how a truly good book almost sells itself! But it’s more than that. I was particularly smitten with Berger’s coverage of word-of-mouth advertising. I never realized just how hard it is to promote such advertising and just how valuable it is. As book bloggers, thats EXACTLY what we do for publishers.
It’s like I knew that, but I didn’t. I didn’t realize how it important it is. How cool it is that I, by reading one little book and spending thirty minutes writing up a review for my thousands of followers, am really doing something. It’s the reason my email inbox is flooded with requests from self-published authors to read and review their books — word of mouth can’t be bought. Even a negative review is valuable. So, Jonah Berger, thank you for making me feel important!
FINAL GRADE: A I give this my top grade for being a pleasant listening experience. Not too dense, not too dry, not too long. It’s a perfect audiobook for the car or for working out. Accessible for the non-business majors among us. And for bloggers — definitely an interesting read! I also wrote a similar review for this book over at Bookkaholic, so hop on over to that if you want to know more.
Required Reading: Required for all my book blogging friends. Especially if you don’t normally like audiobooks, as this is a good gateway audiobook.
Library Recommendation: You could put this in a high school library, but it would probably be unnecessary. It’s perfect for a public library or e-book collection, though.
Title: A Million Suns
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher/Year: Razorbill, 2012
Length: 386 pages
Series?: Across the Universe #2
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian/Romance
Source: Purchased from the Nook store
Look to the left.
Then to the right.
Then left. Then right. Up. Down. Spin your head in circles.
That’s how many plot twists are in this book.
A Million Suns is the sequel to Across the Universe, and it’s even better than the first book. Lately it feels like second books in trilogies have been grossly disappointing, so this was a pleasant surprise. Amy and Elder are still trying to figure out the mysteries of The Godspeed in order to fulfill the ship’s mission of reaching Centuri Earth. Amy is trying to follow a series of clues left by Orion regarding a decision only she can make. Elder struggles with his new leadership position on the ship, managing rebellions, food shortages, and the emotional issues resulting from the elimination of Phydus. Every time I thought I knew what was happening, there was another twist or turn. It was one of those books that I started reading at bedtime, and kept on reading until I finished at 3am. Yeah. That kind of book.
The most interesting aspect of this book, and the trilogy as a whole, is that we actually see the struggles of rebuilding a power structure in a society. The moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Elder are complex. His age and lack of experience don’t help his situation, and he realizes that he may not have all the answers. So many of the issues faced on the ship parallel issues in our own society (do the people in the hospital deserve a share of the limited food supply when they aren’t working?). There are a lot of YA dystopias out there that deal with fighting oppressive power structures, but this is the only one I know of that shows the reality of forming new ones in times of crisis. It’s fascinating.
And for those of you not interested in the government-y stuff, don’t worry. Between the mystery, the twists, and the romance, there’s something for everyone. Revis takes into consideration possible doubts about this relationship and makes it work. It’s a trilogy, so the romance is still developing. The best part? NO LOVE TRIANGLES. So thank you for that, Beth Revis. I’m sick of these love triangles all hyped up on teenage hormones and swoony, troubled boys filled with electric chemistry. Seriously. One swoony, troubled boy filled with electric chemistry and hormones is plenty for me. Especially because all the girls in the other books picked the wrong boys and I actually like Elder. He’s good people.
FINAL GRADE: A Revis, you won me over. I liked Across the Universe, but I LOVED A Million Suns and I can’t wait for Shades of Earth (though by the time this review posts, I’m sure I will have already read and reviewed it!). Dystopian lit is my favorite genre, so it’s no surprise that I’m a fan, but this series is even starting to stand out at the top of the list. I know, I know, I’m a little over the top with my praise for the one…but I just liked it that much.
Assigned reading: Assigned to anyone who read Across the Universe, as well as fans of dystopia, romance, sci-fi, outer space, kissing, mysteries, and explosions.
Library recommendations: Appropriate for middle school or high school. Be prepared to point readers to Plato’s Republic when they finish!
What’s your favorite dystopian trilogy?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are talking about the books we constantly recommend. This is almost similar to my favorite books, but represents the books I think others might call a favorite, too. I probably sound a little like a broken record, but here they are:
Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most
1.) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I love this book because it looks like the kind of sci-fi that might typically turn my friends off, but there is so much surprising amazing in there. I think pretty much everyone can enjoy the story.
2.) Looking for Alaska by John Green – John Green is my homeboy. I should probably walk around recommending The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ll stick with my personal fav of his, Looking For Alaska, as my go-to Green novel of choice.
3.) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – I like non-fiction, so if I have a friend who seems non-fiction-y, or who I think needs to start dabbling in the genre, I recommend this.
4.) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – It’s such a powerful book.
5.) The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – More recent, but the number of times I’ve recommended it in the past three months has been insane. I usually recommend it as a YA book for people who think YA is not as complex at adult fiction.
6.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Because it’s fun. It’s adventure. It’s a great “can’t put down” kind of book.
7.) Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger – Another recent book. I think books that are fresh in my brain get more “rec” cred than some of the older ones. I recommend this book because I need other people to read it so we can talk about it.
8.) Every Day by David Levithan – An incredibly thought-provoking book. I recommend it to anyone who works with teens, as it can be a great book for teaching about empathy.
9.) Unwind by Neal Schusterman– If The Hunger Games was the book I was reading three years ago, claiming it was edgy and awesome, Unwind totally has that spot in my life now (even though it’s old than The Hunger Games). Imma need the Hunger Games folks to put down that book, and walk over to the real dark side.
10.) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – Though Ruby Oliver is my favorite, Frankie Landau-Banks is a better introduction to my favorite author. This is a fun, funny standalone novel with a feminist twist and a good message. Plus I always hope it inspired people to try Ruby Oliver.
Which books are you always recommending?
Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher/Year: Square Fish, 2006
Length: 240 pages
Format: Graphic novel
Date Read: Spring 2010
A graphic novel with three seemingly different plotlines that all come together at the end. A quick read, I would like to read it again to make it all come together better.
American Born Chinese weaves together three tales of identity. In the first, Jin Wang just wants to shed his Chinese identity and fit in as an American. The second is the tale of the Monkey King, who wants to become a god. The third is the comedy of Danny and his ultra-stereotypical Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Each story is told in pieces, showcasing the parallel themes until the twist ending(s). Though the novel focuses on Chinese identity, the themes of fitting in and accepting/rejecting/refining identity are universal, which is why it has both wide appeal AND a fancy Printz Award sticker on the front.
Like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, this is a book that both appeals to teens through the artwork and clever storytelling AND through the depth of the themes expressed. As a graphic novel, the bright colors, clear text, and humorous pictures instantly draw readers in. In fact, the whole thing is a quick read and quite funny. Gene Luen Yang isn’t afraid to play with stereotypes and then crush them completely. If anyone out there thinks graphic novels lack depth, hand them this book — it will challenge those stereotypes, too.
FINAL GRADE: A There’s a reason this one beat out all of the traditional novels for the 2007 Printz award, y’all. The way these stories comes together will blow your mind a little bit, and that alone is worth it. Toss in the other stuff I mentioned above, and I’m sold. Recommended for reluctant readers and anyone who is struggling to fit in. Also recommended to every middle school teacher I know — this would be a great book for a classroom read. High school kids would get a lot out of it, too. As stated above, I also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t typically like graphic novels.
Have you ever wanted to shed your identity and become something you’re not?
Title: Etiquette & Espionage
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: 2/05/2013
Length: 309 pages
Series?: Finishing School #1
Genre: YA Steampunk
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Feminist Reads Challenge
You guys. YOU GUYS. This. Book. Is. Awesome.
I can’t tell you how fabulous it was to both reeeeeealllllyyy look forward to a book AND not be disappointed by the hype.
Etiquette & Espionage is the story of Sophronia, a mischieveous girl sent to finishing school, only to learn that “finishing” has two different definitions. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, the girls learn curtseys and proper dress, but they also hide simple objects in their petticoats to use as deadly weapons. Sophronia spends much of her time sneaking around the floating school, figuring out what her shady classmate, Monique, is up to while trying to stay out of trouble.
This book is lovely. Absolutely lovely. And different from what I typically read. So this review will be a little different, because I’m just going to highlight the things I loved:
This was my first experience with the genre. Though jarring at first, I was quickly enamored with the imagination involved in every detail! The Victorian technology made for fabulous mental images throughout the story. TAKE ME UP IN THE AIR SHIP, I’M SOLD!
A STEAMPOWERED MECHANICAL PET DOG, y’all. First, I want one. Second, it’s the most fun pet ever in a book. Sophronia feeds him coal and he burns it in his belly!
Soap is a boy who works in the boiler room of the airship, aka a “sootie.” He and Sophronia quickly become buddies, and their friendship is super cute. Soap was easily my favorite character in the whole book, wonderfully charming and helpful, with an adventurous streak. I can’t wait to get to know him better throughout the series.
The Feminist Slant
Loved seeing the strong women here. They are educated, polite, and ready to defend themselves at a moment’s notice. Sneaking around and curiosity are even encouraged. I love that these ladies not only put up a cunning fight against random attacks by flywaymen while traveling, but also see the flywaymen coming and calmly formulate a plan in their fancy dresses before the attack occurs.
Oh, Gail Carriger. It took me a few chapters to get used to the universe and the very formal tone. These ladies are proper ladies, and they speak like proper ladies. Delicious adjectives abound. However, the humorous, tongue-in-cheek moments are plentiful! Two of my favorite bits, which I think sum up the writing quite nicely:
“Below that was written a list of particular skills, which in Henrietta’s case appeared to be ‘Parasol manipulation, hairstyles for concealment, ballistics, quiet footsteps, fast waltz, and rice pudding.’”
“She was about to enter a ballroom certain to contain much in the way of distracting fashion and other tempting sparkly bits.”
No love triangles
In fact, romance isn’t even the focus. I have a hunch it might come into play later on, but for right now it’s about friendship and finishing. Refreshing! I don’t know how long the series is going to be, but it seems like Carriger is focused on romance in the long term, letting Sophronia have fun and just be fourteen right now.
FINAL GRADE: A I can’t wait for the sequels, I will be reading more. What a delightful, fun, imaginative, intelligent read! There’s not much more to say than that…just go read it!
Required Reading: Required for all of my 20-something friends looking for a fun YA recommendation from me. Also required for fans of steampunk and Gail Carriger’s adult series, The Parasol Protectorate (set in the same universe).
Library Recommendations: Put it in your high school library. I’m on the fence about the middle school library, since it is all very PG in nature…it wouldn’t hurt, but I think it’s geared more toward high school.
What are your thoughts on the steampunk genre? Love it? Hate it? Don’t understand it?