Category Archives: book reviews

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

 

boy nobodyBibliographic Information:

Zadoff, Allen. Boy Nobody. New York: Little , Brown and Company, 2013 (978-0-316-19968-1).

Genre:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Spy thriller

 

Plot Summary:

When a young assassin is given an assignment to kill the father of a girl he is falling for, he begins to reconsider the choices he made in his past.

Critical Evaluation:

Zadoff has created a likeable and realistic character in his teenage killer. Unlike many spy thrillers, Zadoff takes the time to explore Benjamin’s past and the decisions he made to bring him to this point. But, the author doesn’t wallow in the past. He keeps the plot moving with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing with just a drop of romance for some spice.

I am looking forward to the sequel.

Bottom Line:

Worth adding to a high school library collection. Likeable main character struggling with his choices. Full of action and twists and turns.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Young Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
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An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

abundance of katherinesBibliographic Information:

Green, J. (2008). An abundance of Katherines. New York: Speak. (9780142412022)

Plot Summary:

Colin Singleton is worried that he is a washed-up child prodigy and will never make genius status. And he was just dumped by his girlfriend, Katherine the 19th. So, he and his friend, Hassan, decide to go on a road trip to Chicago. On the way, they stop at Gutshot Tennessee for a tour of the gravesite of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. While there, they are invited to stay and interview help with a local history project. Colin also meets Lindsey, a girl whose name is not Katherine.

To be a genius, Colin knows he has to create something new so he decides to create a formula to determine how long a relationship will last.

Critical Evaluation:

Abundance of Katherines is a quirky book with an abundance of unique and complex characters. It can be enjoyed for the humour at this level, but it is a book that will speak to readers at other levels as well.

At one level it is a book about finding meaning in one’s ordinary life. A teacher at my school has a quote above her whiteboard that reads, “What will you do with your one special life?” This is a question that Colin, Hassan, Lindsay, and Hollis are all grappling with; although they would debate the “special”. Indeed, it is the reason why Hollis (Lindsay’s mother) hired the boys. Colin and Hassan spend a lot of time interviewing people as part of the local history project because the town is dying and there is a desire to create a living record of their time and space.

Colin also obsesses about leaving a mark. The idea that he is washed up and will never be anything more than a child prodigy is abhorrent to him. He has worked very hard to be special. Not only did he study all the time in high school but in his free time he still anagram and studies languages and codes. In short, Colin does not easily fit into society. He does not pick up on social cues or react to people as expected.

Hassan is another character who is having difficulty finding where he fits in the world. Since he cannot decide what to do he chooses to do nothing. He has chosen Judge Judy over attending college.

In other words, Colin and Hassan are not feeling connected with other people. They hover at the edges of other people’s social lives. Green emphasizes this separation by using a third person narrative structure. He limits the point of view to Colin but does not allow Colin to tell the story thus separating him for the readers.

Colin’s back story is very important for the plot development in the present. He needs to go back and analyze his past relationships so that he can look for patterns. And that is another interesting theme of the book. The patterns in math, of which there are many demonstrated in the novel, are understandable. Colin’s difficulties with relationships are partially due to the fact that they are not explainable with a pattern.

Information About the Author:

An award winning author, John Green has written Looking for Alaska (2006 Michael L. Printz Award), Paper Towns (2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery) and The Fault in Our Stars (2013 Odyssey Award Audiobook)

John Green was born August 4th, 1977 in Orlando, Florida. Green stays connected with his readers through his video blog that he hosts with his brother called VlogBrothers.

For more information about the author, please visit his website or check out VlogBrothers

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction
  • Interpersonal relations — Juvenile fiction.
  • Self-perception — Juvenile fiction.
  • Mathematics — Juvenile fiction.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Reviews:

  • Pattee, A. S. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. School Library Journal, 52(9), 206.

“As usual, Green’s primary and secondary characters are given descriptive attention and are fully and humorously realized. While enjoyable, witty, and even charming, a book with an appendix that describes how the mathematical functions in the novel can be created and graphed is not for everybody. The readers who do embrace this book, however, will do so wholeheartedly.”

  • Dobrez, C. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. Booklist, 102(22), 75.

“The idea behind the book is that everyone’s story counts, and what Colin’s contributes to the world, no matter how small it may seem to him, will, indeed, matter.”

Awards:

  • 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Rebel Heart by Moira Young

c_rebelheartRebel Heart, the second book in the Dust Lands series, follows Saba and her family’s attempt to move on from the deception and destruction sown in Blood Red Road. Lugh wants nothing more than to take their small family and start a new life at the Big Water. He wants to forget his time with the Tonton and all the misery they have lived through.

Saba, however, is being followed by too many ghosts to allow her to find peace. When a message comes from Jack, she decides to risk everything to find him and get him away from the Tonton. While hunting for Jack, Saba is reunited with another of her nightmares, DeMalo.

First person narrative is a common motif in young adult literature. This narrative mode has many benefits to an author. First, the immediacy of the telling can quickly draw a reader into the plot. It also a great way for an author to control the information the reader is receiving as the narrator’s understanding is limited to, and shaped by, his own experience and what he has been told. Young uses this technique to demonstrate the duality that exists in Saba’s character: she is strong and determined but vulnerable and filled with guilt.

Through allowing Saba to tell her own story, Young depicts the typical flawed hero often associated with high fantasy plots. Young’s post-apocalyptic setting provides a contemporary feeling to the hero’s quest. In this way, the Dust Land series follows a current trend of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels starring strong female protagonists which includes The Hunger Games, Legend, Shatter Me, and Divergent.

Saba has many similarities to the female protagonists in the books listed above. One of the main differences is her voice. Young’s future is one where literacy is limited; where the very language is decaying. As a result, Saba’s dialect is filled with misspelled words, contractions, and grammatically incorrect sentences. The result is jarring and uncomfortable to a reader used to author’s following the rules and conventions of English – which is the point. This devolution of language is echoed in the harsh, barren landscape where Saba lives.

I thought Blood Red Road was great. Rebel Heart follows a typical pattern for a middle book in a series; it is setting up the elements for the conclusion. Some things are left unsettled and it raises more questions than it answers. So, in other words, you need to read it if you want to know what happens next but it just can’t stand on its’ own.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

code name verityWhen a female spy is captured by the Germans in France during World War II, she is tortured until she agrees to tell everything she knows about the Allied plans. Her “confession” takes on a journal-like tone as she talks to and about her jailers. Through her writing, the spy peels back a corner of her own prison thus allowing the reader to understand her own courage, pain, and despair.

A secondary plot develops as she relates how she came to France and her concerns that her pilot, her friend Maddie, may have been killed when their plane crashed. While divulging England’s military secrets, the story of two very different young women growing up in English emerges.

It should be noted that often, one can discuss the literary aspects of a novel without giving away the twists of the plot. This is one novel where that is very difficult to talk about the book without spoiler alerts. Wein was very creative in her development of her plot. This is one component that would be well worth discussing as would the use of voice in a narrative.

Many writers fall into the trap of wanting to tell their reader too much. The omniscient narrator does allow the writer to convey requisite background material needed to advance the plot to the reader quickly. This technique, however, can often distance the reader from the character (which may be an excellent technique depending on the story). A much more difficult task is to have the protagonist tell the story with a believable voice. The reason this can be difficult is that much of what is important to the plot must be inferred or naturally infused into the conversation or action of the tale. Wein decided to tell the story through the papers her protagonist was forced to write. This act suggests an implicit censoring and bias must be present while still being true to that character’s personality and voice. Code Name Verity is an excellent example of this type of narrative.

Further, one of the most important aspects of a realistic historical novel is that it is historically accurate. Although I am not a historian, it does appear that Wein did her homework. At the back of the book she provides an author’s note (Author’s Debriefing) in which she notes where she explains how history becomes fiction. She also discusses her research and provides a bibliography of additional reading for the interested reader.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Four friends take a bottle to the river to secretly share. While enjoying this respite from school, a dare ends in the death of a friend and a subsequent cover-up of the events to save the survivors from expulsion. When Miss Dovecott, an English teacher who sees Alex as a fledgling writer, starts asking questions about the accident, Alex confesses his confusion and guilt in a journal he hides in the library as he tries to deal with his accountability and feelings of guilt. As he reviews the events leading to the tragedy Alex starts to question if the death was really an accident.

Jenny Hubbard has taken a tragedy and, by using the convention of a journal, has created a tightly coiled, emotionally charged tale that looks at the greys that can exist between truth, fear and self-preservation. The result is painful, beautiful, and in the true sense of the word, terrible. The use of poetry and references to other literacy works adds an additional depth to her tale.

This one is worth reading, gentlemen.

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

So, can we be brain jacked?

Brain Jack is an excellent addition to the very strong list of technology-driven books written for teens lately. The plot is focused, the characters are well-developed, and the setting is tomorrow. Falkner has taken the real concepts of gaming addiction, brain-computer interfaces, and computer security and weaved them a great tale.

Sam is a techno-nerd whose idea of fun is hacking into impenetrable computer systems. When his latest hack lands him in Reckton Hall Juvenile Detention Center, he doesn’t realize that he has just become part of a bigger game. If he can hack his way out of Reckton, the rules of the game will change and he will be one of the players.

Red Glove by Holly Black

 My main complaint with Red Glove is the cover. It is always hard to convince young men to read books when the cover appeals more to the ladies. Gentlemen, this book is about a guy – Cassel Sharpe – and a family of curse workers. Don’t let the cover fool you – it is worth picking up.

If you like realistic fantasy that has humour, action, and interesting twists, this series is one you should try, but read the first one, White Cat, before picking this one up. The characters are quirky, the plot is quick and entertaining.

Don’t want to say more than that in case you haven’t read the first one.

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

 Well, it isn’t often that I am so completely split about a book. I must say Leverage was well written with characters that are well-formed and realistic. The story is a compelling look at steroids, bullying, and football – all that should make it a perfect fit for my school.

BUT

I just think Cohen went too far and that is a pity because it won’t get the word of mouth press it should. By taking the plot over the edge he has limited his audience. I understand the violence, although I think it may be excessive. I am more adverse to the way that the major characters deal with it. So, I won’t be suggesting this to my teens. I don’t think it should be recommended without a cautionary note.

Chime

 I downloaded Chime from my public library a few weeks ago. Now, I have to say that I am not usually an audiobook user because I get impatient with how long it takes to get through a book I have to listen to. I also get frustrated with the limited number of options some books provide in devices that can be used to listen. In this case, I had to download it to my computer, which is difficult to carry on a run. Enough of that rant.

I loved the flow of narrative in this interpretation of the book. The narrator, Susan Duerden, is perfect and the story is compelling. Briony’s first person narrative allows the reader to feel her confusion and pain while building suspense. A great addition to a great list. Strong characterization and a setting that becomes an integral part of the story, it’s well worth reading. Will not be a hit with my teen guys, unfortunately.

A Monster Calls

  I purchased this book for our library shortly after it was published on the strength of the Chaos Wallking trilogy. I didn’t have a chance to read it, however, as life got very complicated with my father and father-in-law struggling with some health issues. They died recently within a month of each other.

I finally read it last night. Perhaps it would be better to say I sobbed through it last night. All I can say is that reading A Monster Calls was an exquisitely painful and, ultimately, cathartic experience. I will be adding to my own collection of must reads.

I hope it gets all the attention it richly deserves.

A Monster Calls book trailer