Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “YA fiction”

Jen K’s #CBR IV Review #40: Days of Blood and Starlight

This sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone continues the story and may even be better than the first one. Very impressive series so far.

Jen K’s #CBRIV Review #38: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Awesome book! Go read it now. Or read the review first.

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #30: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Everybody knows what happens in Twilight, right? Bella is an angsty sixteen year old who is pale and clumsy and Edward is an angsty 80 year old vampire who is pale but swift and strong and sparkles in the sun like a marble statue of diamonds, or words to that effect. They meet when Bella moves to Forks, Washington, where Edward and his “family” live because it’s so cloudy all the time that the sun can’t reveal their true sparkly identities…And they hunt bears and mountain lions rather than people. Bella and Edward develop an intense connection, but this might endanger her life because…he is a vampire who may not be able to resist his…urges.

Things I like about Twilight: Bella and Edward have conversations. They may seem trivial, but they are genuinely interested in each other and they like talking to each other and finding out about each other, which is refreshing considering in how many YA and other romance novels love at first sight happens and then there’s a complication and then things end happily and then you realise that the protagonists have barely spoken two words to each other EVER or been in the same room without exchanging a couple of cute lines and then jumping into bed together / cut to complication and separate angsting until the reunion as the end credits roll and you picture them like Elaine Robinson and Dustin Hoffman sitting on the bus staring into space as it rolls into the sunset all “right, what now? Will this ever not be awkward?” In the films, of course, the conversation was replaced with moody looks and lip-biting and stupid music.


Stuff that’s supposed to come across as romantic but is actually creepy as hell is perhaps endemic to a certain kind of YA literature – consider all the random fistfights and possessiveness in which Elizabeth Wakefield and Todd Wilkins were enmeshed in the Sweet Valley High series, for instance. Anyone else have any other examples? I’d be really interested. Or examples of the opposite, well-crafted and realistic and non-creepy relationships in YA lit? And if no one else has read SVH…I’ll get me coat.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #12: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell


Welcome to the 1980s, Carrie Bradshaw style! If you are like me, most of what you know about Carrie came from the HBO series Sex and the City. I never read author Candace Bushnell’s column in the New York Observer, and I have never read the book Sex and the City. Even with my simple knowledge based on Sarah Jessica Parker’s portrayal of Carrie, I was smitten with the character and her hapless-in-love cohorts. Most people know that Carrie is  Candace Bushnell’s alter ego, so that meant there has to be more to the story of Carrie than just her sexual and dating adventures as a grown woman. She had to start somewhere, and The Carrie Diaries takes the reader back in time to a place where Carrie was a senior, a virgin, and a non-published writer.

I admit I am a person seemingly stuck in nostalgia for the 1980s and many times, stuck in high school. As a teacher of high school students, I have perpetually been on the verge of graduation for twenty years now. I love to read a good high school novel. It is familiar to me because I spend at least 180 days a year in that mind-set so it is comfortable and rarely changes. There is always drama. There is always gossip. There is always that hope for goals and dreams coming true, if you can just get along with the popular crowd or avoid that bully, it will all be over come graduation. I enjoy thinking that at least the characters in the books I read can finally get out of town and make something of themselves in the big city. We all know how The Carrie Diaries will end: she will move to New York. She will become a published author. She still might not be lucky in love. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Candace Bushnell takes the reader back to Carrie’s senior year. Carrie is the oldest sister in a family of three girls, with an overprotective widower for a father. Carrie has a nice little collection of friends in this book, but I felt sometimes that Bushnell didn’t completely flesh them out, instead, picking a few here and there who were pivotal in helping Carrie reach her goal of making it to New York City. If I had not gone back and looked up those character names, I would’ve never remembered them, they were that forgettable. I couldn’t forget the new boy at school, Sebastian Kydd, who is handsome, wealthy, perfect, and trouble . I guess Carrie’s taste in the wrong  type of men was established at an early age. I didn’t forget the outrageously named characters who cause lots of friction in Carrie’s life with school and Sebstatian: Donna LaDonna and Lali Kandesie. Donna is the most popular girl in school and she is loved by many suitors and feared by everyone else, except Carrie. Lali is a longtime friend of Carrie’s, but we all remember how tenuous our high school friendships were when a boy was involved.

I did enjoy learning about Carrie’s senior year in high school, and I was surprised to learn she was once a competitive swimmer. I never got that vibe from her in the TV series. I wish that Bushnell had explored the death of Carrie’s mother and how that affected her life. I almost think that Bushnell intended to write more on Carrie’s life prior to Sex and the City‘s timeline, but now the CW has the new series, The Carrie Diaries scheduled to air in 2013, so I don’t know what Bushnell intends to do with Carrie. I am interested in how this new TV series will be presented and if Carrie Bradshaw will appeal to a new generation of viewers.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #11: Tears of a Tiger, by Sharon Draper


Tears of a Tiger is a young adult novel that grips your interest from the first page, a newspaper article from November 8. A seventeen year old star basketball player from Hazelwood High, Robert Washington, is killed in a horrific automobile accident, but he wasn’t the driver. The driver was his intoxicated friend, Andrew Jackson. The article paints a grim portrait of the wreck and painful death Robert endured as he was trapped in the car, burning to death.

Robert’s suffering was great, but Andrew is living with the guilt of his destruction of the dead and the fallout that affects the living. Andrew’s inability to grieve and cope affects everyone with whom he comes in contact.He’s not the only person suffering from the aftermath of the accident. Two other boys were in the car, too, B.J. Carson and Tyrone Mills. But B.J. and Tyrone have other things in their lives to deal with on top of the sadness surrounding Robert’s death.  What about Robert’s family? Andrew’s family and his girlfriend, Keisha? The pain is too much for all of them.

The book is written through a series of letters, articles, homework assignments, and dialogues. All the characters weigh in on the loss of Robert and Andrew’s downward spiral. The characters are real; they joke and dream like most teenagers. The story is timeless and heart wrenching. Even if you aren’t a teenager, you can identify with the story and the world created by Sharon Draper.

I read this book with my high school students in May. When they first looked at the cover, they scoffed at it, thinking it was a baby book. Yet, when we listened to the audiobook and read along in the text, you could’ve heard a pin drop every day and every class period. Tears were shed and there was so much meaningful discussion about the book and the characters. The book spoke to them and moved them because they felt the story. I know it’s not Shakespeare or some other dead white dude that is supposed to be important, but this book made an impact and I’ll be reading it again with this year’s students, and expect that same magic.

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Divine Wind, by Garry Disher


The Divine Wind is is a young adult historical fiction novel that I am currently reading with my high school students. I read it before they did, and I was entertained by the plot and character interactions as well as the multiple examples of conflict. So far, students have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

The setting is Broome, Austrailia both before, during, and after World War II. Broome is a seaside town with a mix of culture and ethnicity. The narrator is Hartley Penrose, a seventeen year old son of a pearl master, Michael Penrose. His family also includes a sister, Alice,  and an English born mother, Ida Penrose. Hartley has a friend and love interest, Mitsy Sennosuke, a Japanese girl whose father, Zeke works for Michael Penrose as a pearl diver.

With war looming in the background, the cultural and ethnic differences begin to rise to the surface causing all types of conflict between families and friends. My students are half-way through the book and have found so much to discuss about relationships: can you choose whom to love? What if your parents don’t want you to be together because of race/ethnicity/culture? Can a relationship survive multiple challenges? We have discussed cultural differences of the English, Australian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. We have discussed the conflicts of the expectations of the time period and conflicts between countries in war time.

Garry Disher has so many little nuggets of historical and cultural information. I was not familiar with Broome, Australia past or present. I did not know what pearl divers did. I had no idea what the Register of Aliens was. Yet, I found myself exploring the Internet for information about Australia, stumbling upon the NFSA Film Australia Collection on YouTube. I’ve read countless informational articles about Australia’s beginnings and its geographical landscape, looked at Google Maps Streetview to see Hartley’s viewpoint at Cable Beach, and what Chinatown looks like in Broome. I’ve investigated the newsreels of the time, the music, fashion, and movies that might have been playing in the tin-topped cinema of Sheba Lane. I’ve share that information with my students and it has brought the text to life for them.

I think the book is interesting and entertaining. Disher’s language is plain, but he has some statements and sentences that are meaningful on multiple levels.  I recommend the book for light reading and it shouldn’t take long for you to enjoy it. All the outside research is purely optional.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Reviews #53 – 60: YA Fiction

53. My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

My Swordhand is Singing

I’m a big fan of Marcus’ books, I’ve read most of his novels for teenagers and this is probably my third favourite (second is below and first is
Midwinterblood which I reviewed properly on my blog here.) This is a wintery, fast-paced story of family, myth and vampires (the scary, not sparkly, kind). Peter is a very engaging hero and his relationship with his father incredibly moving, especially at the end. There are plenty of twists and turns and some wonderful supporting characters. Marcus also directed a superb theatre experience of a section of Swordhand for the Pop Up Festival in London this year which was phenomenal – there’s a video of bits of it on his website.

Blood Red, Snow White54. Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

As I said, this is my second favourite of Marcus’ books and another wintery setting – this time in Russia. This is the semi-true story of the author Arthur Ransome and is an intricate and moving fairy tale within a fairy tale as Ransome’s stories and his own story wind around each other and around communist Russia, politics, spies and romance. I really enjoyed the way Marcus plays with the stories within stories and found it refreshingly different for a YA novel. Marcus has visited my school a few times now and also helped me out with my dissertation but I’m pretty sure I would still have loved this if I had never met him!

55. Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig

Jimmy Coates

This is the action packed first book in the series about Jimmy Coates, a kind of teenage Bourne. It’s engaging from the very start, with lots of action and suspense and is insanely popular with my students at school – particularly Y7 & 8 boys. The final action sequence is very unputdownable with some unexpected twists and lots of conflicting loyalties. Jimmy is an incredibly likeable hero – he was chosen by one boy as his literary best friend in a recent Book Club activity where we picked our literary family trees (which was so much fun). Again, Joe has visited my school and did a wonderful session for my Y7s where he asked them for ideas for stories and wove them all together in front of them, and had them in stitches whilst doing so.

A Monster Calls56. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This was a re-read and I reviewed it properly when it first came out last year here. Since that review, A Monster Calls has won a whole heap of awards over here in the UK including the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal, both of which I was lucky enough to be invited to take some students to. Red House is a wonderful award because it is voted for by the children and they get to be a big part of the process and also the ceremony day. We got to go to London and have lunch with all the nominated authors and illustrators and have photos taken etc. and the two Y8 girls I took had an amazing day, so thank you Red House. Carnegie is a lot more industry-y with not many children invited, which made it awesome for us to get tickets, and there were amazing canapes, but it was also a bit less child-friendly and bit more networky. It’s such a prestigious award though that me and the four students I took were just super excited to be there, we got to see the winner announced and hear Patrick’s speech and get photos with him afterwards as well as meeting the shortlisted authors who were all lovely and happy to sign books for my students (and me!).

57. Just In Case by Meg RosoffJust In Case

I’m a big fan of How I Live Now, Meg’s first novel, but thought that The Bride’s Farewell was a bit too Hardy-esque and melancholy for it’s intended audience (I reviewed it here). Whilst I didn’t love this as much as How I Live Now (even though this one won the Carnegie in 2007), I thought it was intelligent, thought-provoking and engaging. Our hero decides that Fate is wreaking havoc in his life after his baby brother nearly falls out of a window and decides to change his name and complete personality to try and give Fate the slip. Meg’s writing is wonderful in this, we here from the perspectives of several characters including his baby brother in a particularly clever and emotive way. This is a serious book that doesn’t patronise teenage readers and I imagine will really connect to their struggles in deciding who they really are.

What I Was58. What I Was by Meg Rosoff

I did like this story of friendship and first love and I always find Meg’s writing beautiful but I just wasn’t as engaged emotionally as I wanted to be. It does capture wonderfully the wistful longing and constant second guessing you get when you meet someone  and the exploration of growing up and gender is clever and subtle. It’s basically the story of a boy who goes to a stern coastal boarding school and meets Finn who lives in a cottage by the sea. It’s a lovely study of memory and freedom and self and I struggle to articulate why it didn’t quite connect with me the same way How I Live Now and Just In Case did. A key element of the story is that we don’t know a great deal about Finn because we see through our protagonist’s eyes but between that and not actually getting that much about our protagonist beyond his opinions about Finn I think I just lacking a bit of engagement with the central relationship. But the quality of Meg’s writing is undeniable and I would recommend it to fans of hers.

59. The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen PetersThe Secret Hen House Theatre

This is a perfectly serviceable family story for younger readers about a girl who dreams of writing and starring in plays whilst also dealing with the death of her mother and her family’s farm running out of money. If it had been a bit shorter I would probably be a lot more positive about it but it’s just too long for a simple story with a bit too much faffing around in the first half of the book. But, I imagine it will be enjoyed by girls between about 8 – 12, particularly those with a love of animals or drama. There’s a good balance of family drama and adventure but probably could have done without a subplot to do with some boys at school which didn’t add much. A pleasant but flawed read.

Billy Dean60. The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond

Definitely my favourite on this list; David is a phenomenal writer and Billy Dean is no exception. The story is written in very short chapters from the perspective of Billy and as Billy can’t read or write well, it is written semi-phonetically which does take a while to get used to but creates such a powerful voice for Billy. The basic plot is that Billy was born during the bombing of his town and that has allowed him to hidden away as he is the secret child of his mother and the corrupt town priest. The first third of the story is before Billy is introduced to the world and is heart breakingly beautiful as he negotiates the occasional visit from his father and wrestles with what life is all about. The rest is when he is brought back into the bomb-ruined town and forced to work for the medium contacting the dead for the bereaved. The story is incredibly powerful and jaw droppingly beautiful and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is intricate, careful and wonderful.  It’s currently on the Carnegie longlist for 2013 and I hope to see it on the shortlist.

” I am entransd. I am enchanted by the byuty of the world. I wark throu lejons of the lovely living things. I wander in the relms of lite.”

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #14 – Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anne Elliott

I might have a problem.  I can’t stop reading Austen-adjacent books.  This one follows little Miss Darcy after Lizzie and Darcy are married and they’re all living at Pemberley.  She’s keeping a journal of her daily life, which isn’t terribly exciting.

Georgiana is now old enough to be “out,” but isn’t really interested in getting married, because she’s still so damn shy.  Lizzie is working with her on that, and she’s getting better, but she’s not quite there.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh has decided that Georgiana should be married, and of course is sticking her big nasty nose into everything, presenting a very unsuitable suitor.

Meanwhile, Georgiana realizes that she’s in love – with Colonel Fitzwilliam, her much older cousin and guardian. I really don’t like this, I think it’s an awful idea.  But I guess some people (including the author) were shipping them (?!). I don’t mind the cousin thing, it’s the whole “in loco parentis” deal that he’s had over her since Mr. Darcy (senior) died. Them being in love is just creepy to me.

Georgiana does some growing up in this book, which is entertaining enough. Elliott writes fairly well, and definitely kept me engaged in the story. It’s a fine addition to the collection of any Austen-phile.

ElCicco #CBR4 Review #50: Never Fall Down – A Novel, by Patricia McCormick


You think you never can get used to a thing this sad, kid dying, but you do. You think maybe you want to die also. But you don’t. You not living. And you not dead. You living dead.

This YA novel, nominated for a National Book Award this year, is a fictionalized account of the life of Arn Chorn-Pond, a real person who survived the killing fields of Cambodia. Arn was 11 when the Khmer Rouge came to power. His family, like all the others in his town, was forced out of its home, separated and put to work in rice fields under brutal,  inhuman, often deadly conditions. Some 2 million Cambodians died under Khmer Rouge oppression. Arn’s story is both painful and powerful. The author worked with him in telling it and uses his voice (including grammar and syntax) to bring it to life. Despite the fact that this is youth lit, McCormick does not flinch from vividly depicting the horrors of the labor camps. Yet she also captures Arn’s compassion, intelligence and the strength that helped him to survive and then learn how to live again.

Arn was the sort of kid who just seemed lucky or perhaps had always been street savvy or world-wise. As a child before the war, he managed to get extra money for himself and his family by selling ice cream and gambling. He kept himself alive in the camps by learning to play an instrument and mastering songs that the band played to entertain the Khmer Rouge elite as well to cover up the sounds of death at the work camps. He marvels at his own unusual luck while he sees others dying horrible deaths, and like the other children, he learns not to show any emotion about it because to do so meant certain death for yourself. But Arn never lost his compassion. He tried hard to protect other kids and some of the adults around him.

The years of the Khmer Rouge regime brought death every day. Arn saw children fall down in the fields and never get up again. He saw prisoners brutally put to death by an axe blow to the skull and then he had to help push the bodies into burial pits. He saw Khmer Rouge slice the livers out of prisoners and eat them. He learns that even members of the Khmer Rouge live in fear because they could be denounced at any moment. Arn also learns that he is capable of killing. By the time the Khmer Rouge have fallen, Arn is about 15. He has found his way to Thailand and a hospital/orphanage for Cambodian children, and there he meets an American who takes him and others back to the US. But Arn still must come to grips with the killing fields and the horrors he endured, the horrible things he had to do to survive. The description of his first experience in the US as a high school student, taunted both by the white American students and by other Cambodians, is absolutely heartbreaking. But the story of how Arn uses his story to educate others and learn to live again is simply beautiful and brought me to tears.

Today, Arn is known not just for his story but for the great works he has done on behalf of children in war-torn nations, especially in Cambodia. While the details of the killing fields may be hard for teens to hear (they were hard for me and I’m 48 and have a background in Soviet history), imagine how hard it must have been for a child to live them. This is an outstanding book that educates the reader about a shocking and brutal episode in 20th century history, but also demonstrates the amazing resilience and indomitable spirit of one person who came through it. McCormick, whose previous works have likewise been nominated for National Book Awards and other prizes, does a masterful job of presenting this story in a way that is suitable for a younger reader without pandering or watering down the material. It is a great novel period. Read it.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #27: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Well, this book just immediately catapulted itself to the very top of my list of best YA books of all time.

Seriously. This book is perfect.

Daniel Handler, you are a GOD. I loved your work as Lemony Snicket, of course (A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my favorite children’s series ever). But this? This was just unreal.

Basic plot summary: Min, a quirky girl, falls in love with Ed, a jock. We know from the first page that they break up by the end; the question is, how? The story is told as a letter from Min to Ed, written as she goes through a box of mementos from their relationship. The book is gorgeously illustrated, with each little thing in the box getting its own picture. It’s beautiful, and it matches the stunning writing perfectly.

I just can’t even express how intense this reading experience was. I think it’s because everyone, male or female, has had an Ed. The circumstances might have been different, but the essence is the same: everyone had their heart broken at least once as a teenager. This book portrays that universal experience so well that it was like a punch to the gut to read. Never before have I read a book that captures the head-over-heels puppy love that only teenagers get, or the crushing devastation that comes with the realization that it’s not meant to be. Reading this was so raw and so real and so painful, but that’s what makes this book so beautiful. I knew what was coming–about halfway through, I could just sense the logical conclusion–but it still killed me when I got to the end, when it all comes crashing down around Min’s ears, and all I wanted to do was cry for her, because I knew exactly what she was feeling. It was a powerful experience and still gives me an ache in my chest when I think about it.

Do yourself a favor and go get a copy of this. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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