Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “young adult fiction”

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #09: Answer Me, Answer ME by Irene Bennett Brown

In my online library, a quote described Answer Me, Answer ME as “An excellent portrayal of a young woman’s search for her true identity, a compelling story with just the right elements of mystery and romance.” Sounded like a potentially good, young adult book to me. I was sadly disappointed.

I listened to the audiobook, but I don’t think that made a difference to my experience of the story. I can’t imagine even the best narrator in the world making me anything but sorry I wasted my time. The only difference is that I didn’t notice that the second “me” in the title is written “ME” until looking it up to write this review.

A young woman, Bryn Kinney, is on her own after her grandmother’s death. Now at only 18 years old, she is wondering if her grandmother, the woman who raised her, was really in fact her biological grandmother at all and if she has any other family out there somewhere. She has never known who her parents were, so she sets off an a quest to search for answers about her past.

Read the rest of the review at Loopy Ker’s Life

Krista’s #CBR4 Reviews #70 – 72

Keeping myself caught up, here are three more reviews. I am so close to my personal goal of 75 books!

70. A Time to Embrace by Karen Kingsbury
Karen Kingsbury’s novel A Time to Embrace is the second in a two-book series (I reviewed A Time to Dance, the first book in the series, almost two years ago). This was available at my library and while I liked the first one, I received it for free in return for a review and didn’t enjoy it enough to by the second. So free from the library = a good way to finish out the series!

This book picks up right where Dance leaves off — the Reynolds are newly in love after coming incredibly close to getting divorced. They are still dancing together, taking the cheesy metaphor from the first book to a new dorky level (they literally dance together by taking lessons that involve lots of ridiculous laughter from Abby). Life is going great until a tragic accident (how seriously cheesy of me to write that cliche!) almost undoes all of the restoration God has brought. [You can read the rest of my review by clicking the link to my review blog!]

71. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles is the story of Julia, who is a young girl when “the slowing” starts. Suddenly, and without any reason given or able to be found by scientists, the world is turning more and more slowly each day. By the end of the book, the natural day (period of light) and natural night (period of dark) are weeks long. This is a book of what happens to one young girl as her world is thrown into chaos — literally. Okay, so… when I shut the book after I finished it, the first thought I had was “I can’t tell if I love or hate this book.” [You can read the rest of my review by clicking the link to my review blog!]

72. Son by Lois Lowry
In Son, we meet Claire, who is a few years older than Jonas (remember him from The Giver?) in the same community. At 12, she is chosen to be a birthmother, the least honorable but very much needed of jobs. Something goes wrong with her delivery and she is reassigned from birthmother to work at the fish hatchery. Claire feels compelled to know her son, though, and volunteers at the center where children are kept until the Ceremony of the Ones. Her son, Gabe, is the baby from The Giver who has a hard time adjusting and goes home each night to sleep at Jonas’s family’s house. When she finds out that Jonas and the baby have escaped the community, Claire boards a supply ship and escapes, too, in hopes that she can find her son, but the boat she is on capsizes and she washes up on the shores of a distance village. What happens next is her search to find her son before it’s too late. [You can read the rest of my review by clicking the link to my review blog!]

– Krista

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #21 Divergent

Maybe I was in a bad mood. Maybe I was in a cynical one. Maybe reading it while looking out over the pristine reflections of Glacier’s Lake MacDonald as part of a nerdy quartet of readers (including my wife, and a friend I’ve had since Pre-School), but for whatever reason I felt supremely let down by Divergent.

Try as I might, I could not shake the sensation that I was reading a mash-up of popular other works. It was as if author Veronica Roth took the influences of The GiverHarry Potter, and The Hunger Games and squeezed them all into one volume: children assume career roles at a young age (in this case based on the apparently exclusionary values of selflessness, honesty, friendship, intelligence or bravery), a sorting ceremony defines their lives, they are banned from association with rival factions, they must train and be ranked, friendships lead to dangerous adventures and to be unlike the others is to risk everything. I never managed to fully suspend my disbelief and appreciate the story for the fun of it, it was like looking at the blueprints of Versailles and never the building itself.

More problematic is how vague and undefined the heroine is. (While writing this I had to google her name.) Beatrice Prior seems to hold the fate of her world in her hands, but is plagued by far more doubt than her Fantasy-world predecessors (Hermione and Katniss). But that doubt is never really dealt with or examined as indicative of her character. Instead her reflections offer a superficial glimpse at her point of view before throttling ahead to dwell on another action-packed training sequence. And as the story breaks from education and training into full scale rebellion, the action blurs together so quickly that what happens (and why) isn’t altogether clear.

I can see how a lot of readers can latch on to the story (hopefully it’s pulled a few students away from the Xbox this summer): the action, the subtle growth of romantic affection (even if the foreshadowing gives away the endgame early on) and the feeling of partisanship and ideological entrenchment all too common in today’s society. Except I don’t buy that entirely either. Roth’s characters seem to willingly accept that they must be beholden to one value and living in accordance with that value at all costs (even the heroine Beatrice, is told early on that she could be smart or brave or selfless, the idea of being ALL isn’t even considered, Beatrice herself sees this as a flaw not an asset). To be sure there are ecological mavens and right-to-life die-hards, but I also know eco-fiends who get a giddy thrill out of Monster Trucks and fundamentalists who cordially engage with people of all faiths and walks of life. Taking the “which faction do you belong to quiz” at the back, I could not possibly limit myself to one. Philosophy is not a black-and-white affair, nor does the silent majority in our world live that way. Even in the future, I have to believe that our human will to individuality would rapidly explode any such utopian suggestion before it could go wrong.

I give credit to Roth for capturing the interest of readers around the country, for inspiring conversations and fandom a new. Any book that can inspire this much passion among fans (and detractors like me) is notable. But a popular mash-up does not a classic make.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #20 November Blues


I have already read and reviewed Draper’s Tears of a Tiger, this time I moved on to the author’s slightly thicker series The Jericho Trilogy hoping for something that might be as challenging as Tears of a Tiger was engaging.

November Blues jumps in on the middle of the story as November Nelson learns that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, the father is out of the picture and November has to struggle first with the secret of her pregnancy and then with the facts of delivering a baby to term. Her friends and family weave a web of story lines around her, so that while her drama is front and center in the book, there’s a lot of other story lines (backstabbing, drug dealing and a football season) to digest at once and while some might feel like these story lines come from another world, there’s something for practically everyone to connect to.

Draper’s great at capturing the cadences of a teenage conversation: nobody is staggeringly erudite, and dumbfounded silences are a natural fit amid awkward adolescence. Most notably, unlike Tears of a Tiger where characters kept their feelings masked from readers through the shifting narrative perspectives and diverse styles of writing, November Blues digs in to the heart and mind of people attempting to survive a life shaking event.

While the complexity of the writing won’t provide much challenge to teenage readers (or adults) and the story telling style is far more simplistic than the interweaving perspectives of TearsNovember Blues is still a book that I would  bet on as a sure fire success among uncertain readers.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #18 Tears of a Tiger

This entry marks the last step in my search for books that would fit my students request for “stuff with more DRAMA” (emphasis theirs)

By the end of this last year, after a lot of pondering (and some pretty blunt student responses) I realized that DRAMA meant intense, life-altering events or emotions that revolve around relatable, personal issues.

Sharon M. Draper may be the best provider of DRAMA today. With multiple series and two powerful trilogies, she has managed to create tangible communities that captivate young readers. In the process she’s racked up awards, becoming a perennial favorite for Coretta Scott King awards

Tears of a Tiger offers a DRAMAtic story through a hodgepodge of sources. Letters, English class assignments, phone calls and newspaper articles, each take a turn in telling the story of a young athlete named Andrew Jackson, whose drunk driving accident killed teammate and friend Robert Washington. His friends look on as Andrew attempts to control himself and cope with his grief, but a culture of stoic silence allows emotions to boil up just behind the words we read until another explosion is bound to occur.

As a protagonist, Andy shows a quiet depth to his friends and remains somewhat unknowable even to the readers. He doesn’t want to come out and emote all over the page with his angst and sorrow, but a practiced eye can see his problems and connect. The unique style of storytelling gives readers a number of ways into each character’s emotions. Without devolving into maudlin monologues, the author sets up the character’s feelings and uses familiar “teenager lingo” to communicate the plot. All this enables Draper to spin our focus off of “imagery” or “figurative language” and back to issues of depression, alcohol abuse, as well as the social pressures and expectations placed upon young black men.

There are times when Tears of a Tiger‘s concentration on “teenager lingo”and abandonment of typical novel imagery work against it (especially since the teenager lingo in question dates back to 1994). The style of writing is a nice contrast with typical English books, but doesn’t seem to provide the same rigor that other books might. Impressed as I am with Draper’s thematic work and creation of DRAMA, I may keep looking for more complex texts to include in the curriculum.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #17 Chains

This entry marks step two in my search for books that would fit my students request for “stuff with more DRAMA” (emphasis theirs)

For a while I thought that DRAMA meant personal turmoil, inner struggle and conflict. I’m not so old that I have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager, with all the private doubt and fear coursing through your veins on an hourly basis. So perhaps my students, who care so much for protecting and understanding themselves, thought of DRAMA as a subtle, internal tug-of-war.

I’ve written before about the author Laurie Halse Anderson, a woman called by some critics: “the Reigning Queen of Teenage Angst”. While her most popular and prevalent books remain modern stories of endangered young women. But a recent run of historical fiction, beginning with Chains, has given her a different audience, and a different setting to play in, even if the power of her protagonist’s internal struggle remains the same.

Embedding herself in revolutionary America, Anderson establishes a powerful heroine in Isabel Gardner, a girl no more than 12 who has lost her mother, father and cares for a younger sister in the grips of epilepsy. And while that, in and of itself, is enough to recommend her as a superb role model for young girls, the fact that Isabel is also struggling to free herself from the bonds of slavery adds a powerful element to the character and the story.

Anderson, as usual, does not accept an easy or stock answer to questions of right and wrong, just or unjust. Though Isabel suffers under slave laws and a petulant mistress, she finds solace in the compassion of people both white and black, working class and landed gentry, immigrants, indentured servants, rebels and British officers. The subtle interplay of individual personalities eventually creates a complete portrait of New York City in 1776 through the eyes of one slave.

Isabel’s struggle is clearly different from Anderson’s other protagonists, and so is her internal struggle. The physical pain or visceral emotions experienced by Melinda in Speak or Lia in Wintergirls is not as apparent for Isabel. Instead hers is a a familial despair borne of the situation and her inability to protect and nurture the one family member she has left, and a philosophical disbelief that the right thing to do is ignored by far too many people.

Whether students appreciate that philosophical struggle in the same way they acknowledge the physical pain or visceral emotions of other protagonists, I cannot say. Nor can I say whether or not young readers will push through Isabel’s formal language. Having learned to read and speak from concerned owners, she shows a grammar school appreciation of proper speech, which can seem alien to the modern day short hand of contractions and elisions. I am thoroughly convinced that Chains is an excellent text, worthy of study, though perhaps not among readers for whom contemporary language or general abstractions is a challenge.

But again, I’m afraid that Chains with all its subtlety, philosophy and internalization with an historical time period doesn’t quite meet that desire for DRAMA

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #13 Pick-Up Game

You can read this review in the context of my Quest for Curricular Satisfaction at my personal blog.

While The Kayla Chronicles (my previous review) follows a familiar novel structure, Pick-Up Game invents a far more complex intersection of ideas and stories. The basketball-centric collection of short stories seemed like it could appeal to my students (particularly given the tonnage of desktop backgrounds on student laptops and fervor of Durant V. LeBron V. Kobe V. Rose arguments).

A host of popular and prolific young adult writers let stories flow as they follow the action at a New York City public court on one particular summer day. Characters come and go with some staying on the court for two, three, seven stories at a time. But the perspective shifts and the diversity of New York is on full display as African-American, Caucasian, Vietnamese, Native-American, Female and Hispanic characters bring their unique voices into the story-telling.

No one story is a slam-dunk (apologies for the painfully obvious cliche), but they work together beautifully as a team (which is actually a better way to play the game). Each one adds to the depth of the story that came before, until you have a solid connection to Post 9/11 New York, the gender gap in athletics, the way art enhances sport (and vice-versa), and ultimately: the complexity of collaborating with diverse people.

The ScruffyRube’s #CBR4 Review #12 The Kayla Chronicles

You can read this as part of my summer long “Quest for Curricular Satisfaction”–and learn everything you never wanted to know about how a teacher chooses his English class curriculum–at my blog.

It’s a sad stereotype that girls are readers while boys are doers. That has not always been my experience, plenty of my male students lug fiction in the crook of their arm, and plenty of girls tell me that they can’t possibly read between basketball and hockey practices. So The Kayla Chronicles seemed like a genuine possibility for some of my more reluctant female readers (especially since so many revel in the world of cheering and dance team-membership that provides a focal point for the story), but I’m not quite sure what it would be for the boys.

Author Sherri Winston gives a convincing, if formulaic, story of a shy girl coming into her own. In a few pages practiced readers of young adult fiction can pick up on some of the major conflicts and plot points that will percolate throughout the story. There’s not much that sets the story apart: generations, families, friendships, the tension between popularity and tradition, between athletics and academics; everything you’ve come to know and love (or at least expect) in youth fiction.

But where Winston (and The Kayla Chronicles) stands out is in the creative application and analysis of feminist perspectives. Rather than settling for a standard coming-of-age narrative, she weaves a debate about the nature of feminism through a few carefully chosen character. I can see a lot of merit in using a story about maturity to show the development of a personal philosophy as much as the development of an individual’s personality. Winston deserves plenty of credit for tackling such issues regardless of the expectations that come along with the young adult genre, even if other parts of the book are firmly focused on meeting those expectations.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #10 Wintergirls

You can read this and other thoughts on teaching books to tumultuous teenagers on my blog

Reading another best seller by Laurie Halse Anderson (“the reigning queen of teen tumult” according to Newsday) prompted a lot of those thoughts. As my students read Anderson’s most famous novel Speak, I read the more recent but equally affecting novel Wintergirls. And as my students mulled the weighty “what-if”s of how they would live with the traumatic experience of personal abuse, I wondered just how many of them were living with other secrets.

Anderson has a great sense of how silent and secretive teenagers can be, how they occasionally isolate themselves as they start to work their way–independently–through life, and just how often they are dragged through an uncaring, dismissive and apathetic adult world. And so it goes with Wintergirls. 

Lia and Cassie, young, successful and capable of more are driven to greater and greater levels of altering their appearance through eating disorders. They do this not out of vanity or ego, but because of their social circumstances and (especially) their relationship. In her most compelling choice, Anderson lets her narrator [Lia] offer a voice for both her genuine pleas to change and her intense determination to get thinner, and thinner.

As effective as this narrative choice is, it also minimizes the sympathy that a reader might feel for Lia. Whereas the hero of the Speak, Melinda, seems to be a distraught victim, Lia is a willing accomplice to her own pain. To those unfamiliar with eating disorders or depression, Lia’s insistence that she continue destroying herself might seem intensely aggravating. To those who recognize peers, friends or students in the plot, it becomes deeply demoralizing. The emotional reaction for all readers makes the book powerful, moving and deeply engaging–even if it’s not the most appealing topic to spend your free-time with.

genericwhitegirl’s #CBR4 Review #6: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, kids are creepy. What can take a horror movie to the next level? A creepy kid. Remember the kids in The Shining? That boy who would make his finger talk and say “redrum” over and over? Or those twin girls? What about The Others? Or The Sixth Sense? Or all those other movies I haven’t seen because they have creepy kids in them and I’m too scared to watch them? Who doesn’t agree that dolls are creepy? And why were garbage pail kids so popular back in the day? Creepy kids. Has anyone seen the teletubbies? Weirdest shit I’d ever seen.

Having said all that, what drew me to this book was the eerie picture of a girl floating on the cover. The picture looks real, and it looks old. Which brings me to another creepy device…old stuff. And this is a black and white photo, so it’s old. At least, it looks old. After I did some asking around, I realized the book’s premise is based on several photos that the author obtained. They are an eclectic bunch of pictures, many of which involve amateur photo tricks like the picture of the girl floating on the cover. Some of the photos don’t involve any kind of trick, per se, but they’re just strange, out of context images. And a lot of them involve kids. Creepy kids. Riggs uses these photos as inspiration for his story, and every now and then, he’ll describe a character or a scene, and voila! On the next page is a picture of just what he is describing.

So what’s the deal? The story is about Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather, who fled to Wales during WWII. His grandfather grows up in a home with other children, who are all special in some way. Set in modern times, Jacob finds himself delving into his grandfather’s past and visiting the orphanage to better understand the strange tales he heard growing up. Although the orphanage and its inhabitants are from the 1940′s, Jacob finds a way to connect with his grandfather’s past.

It’s difficult to get more detailed without giving anything away. But the book is basically a mix of X-Men/sci-fi/fantasy all in one. My reaction to the book was a little mixed…as it is with creepy kids in general. I’m a bit put off, but intrigued at the same time. Although I was more intrigued than put off in this case. I felt the incorporation of the photos was creative, but contrived at times. I could see the author thinking, “How do I get this photo into my narrative?” and then making up a random scene just to make it work. That took me out of the story a couple of times, but I was still excited to see what photo would be next and it definitely made the tale more visual for me. The story definitely fits a young adult genre though, which I find (except in a few cases) can dilute the potential of a story (if that makes any sense to anyone other than myself).

I agree with many others who have reviewed this book – the pictures are creepier than the story itself; and the tale is somewhat immature and underdeveloped.  But despite the mixed feelings, if you like fantasy stories or are a YA fan, you may get a kick out of this one.

Read The Blist for more reviews by genericwhitegirl.

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