Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “YA”

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #52: Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

I made it!!!!  I knew I could read 52 books in a year (and probably do most years), but I wasn’t sure about the reviews.  I started off the year strong, refusing to allow myself to start a new book until I finished the review for my last novel.  As the year wore on, though, I began to fall behind, and I’ve stayed behind ever since.  I still have a bunch of books on my “to review” list, but I’m happy to have made it to 52.

Every You, Every Me re-affirmed my love for David Levithan after the slightly disappointing Are We There Yet?  The novel is quite different; it’s focused around a series of photographs, and Levithan claims that he wrote the story as the pictures came to him from photographer Jonathan Farmer.  Main character and narrator Evan begins finding photographs and realizes quickly that they are being left purposefully for him and that there is some connection between the pictures and his missing best friend, Ariel.  Evan tells the story, but he’s telling it to Ariel even though she’s not around anymore.  The novel presents two mysteries: what happened to Ariel and who is leaving the pictures.  Evan knows what happened to Ariel, and he alludes to it frequently, but the reader has to wait to find out.  Both the reader and Evan get caught up in the mystery of the pictures, and we begin to question Evan’s reliability as a narrator and his sanity at points.  When he writes to Ariel, he strikes out words and sentences as he composes his story, which could be annoying, but I found it to be an interesting look into Evan’s thought process.  I rushed through the book because I was so caught up in solving the mysteries, but I would have liked to have gone back and re-read it both with and without the crossed-out words to see how they changed the story.  When I finished the book, I recommended it to some of my co-workers as a possible book to read with our lower-level students because the book is easy to read but geared toward teens.  It’s been criticized a bit for being too angsty or “emo,” but I really liked it and I think most kids would too.

I was completely engrossed in this novel and had a hard time putting it down.  I deal with emotional teenagers all the time, so maybe my tolerance is higher than most, and I loved that the novel’s style felt new and interesting.  I plan to read it again soon to see what I missed in my first rushed reading.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #50: Paper Towns by John Green

John Green’s Paper Towns is about a boy’s quest to find his missing neighbor, the lovely Margo.  Quentin has had a crush on Margo for most of their lives, and when she disappears, he can’t seem to let her go.  His quest to find her takes him through nearby “paper towns,” housing divisions which were plotted but never fully developed.  Living in Florida, Quentin has quite a few paper towns to choose from.  Like all of Green’s novels, this one was well-written and interesting, but I found myself a bit frustrated by the characters.

Margo was probably the most frustrating.  She’s an angsty little thing who’s run off several times before, which explains why Quentin is the only one who seems really concerned about her disappearance.  He manages to get his best friends involved, but he’s really the driving force behind the search.  Really, she seems a bit selfish and manipulative, and I was torn between feeling sorry for Quentin and being upset with him for his obsession with her.  I ended up liking his friends much better than Quentin himself, especially Radar, whose parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas.  The relationship between Quentin, Radar, and Ben was, for me, the highlight of the novel.  They seemed like real teenaged boys, and their sarcastic affection for each other was sweet.

There were a lot of fun moments in the novel, and, as I said, it was very well written.  I just wish I’d liked the characters more, but I guess their flaws made them seem more real.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #46: Are We There Yet? by David Levithan

Continuing my David Levithan mania, I picked up Are We There Yet?  Sadly, through no fault of the novel itself, I didn’t enjoy this story as well as the other Levithan novels I’ve read.  Really, it’s not the book’s fault; I just couldn’t relate to the characters as well.  I sympathized with their problems, but their experience is so different from my own that it was hard to really understand them.  Also, any book probably would have paled in comparison to Boy Meets Boy, so it was even more unfortunate that I read this one after that one.

Anyway, the novel is about two brothers, teenaged Elijah and grown-up Danny, whose parents “trick” them into taking a vacation in Italy together.  The brothers are very different from each other, and neither one really knows what to do with the other.  Uptight, hardworking Danny doesn’t understand his free-spirited little brother, and Elijah can’t figure out why Danny is so focused on work.  The relationship becomes even more strained with Elijah meets a young American woman who is also staying in Italy and begins spending all of his time with her.  Danny warns his brother to be cautious with his emotions, but Elijah falls hard for the girl.

Like Levithan’s other books, this novel is well-written and the characters were realistic and interesting.  As an only child, though, I had a hard time empathizing with the characters.  The main conflict is the one between the brothers, and I felt sorry for them but just couldn’t really understand the ups and downs of their relationship.  Like I said, though, this is my problem, not a problem with the novel itself.  I imagine most people would enjoy it more than I did.  I still love Levithan’s work, and the next one of his novels I read was fantastic.  Hopefully, I’ll get to that review before the end of year.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #45: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up begins with the thump of a box dropped on a porch.  The box contains the mementos of a relationship and a letter explaining the items and tracing the course of a failed relationship from its tentative beginning to its heart-breaking end.  Each chapter opens with a lovely picture, drawn by Maira Kalman, of a memento and a portion of Min’s letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed.  Min, short for Minerva, works her way through the items chronologically, so her explanation of each item also helps us understand her relationship with Ed.  She starts with a bottle cap from the dark beer they drank at her friend’s “bitter birthday” party, a party at which popular, athletic Ed was an uninvited an unexpected guest.  Although they move in different circles in the rather strictly divided world of high-school society, Ed and Min strike up a conversation that ends with him asking for her number.  To her surprise, Ed calls and asks her out, and they share a magical first date at the independent movie theater where movie-obsessed Min spends a great deal of time.  After the film, they spot an old woman they suspect is the lead actress from the film they just watched, and they surreptitiously follow her around the city trying to determine whether or not she really is who they think she is.  After that first night, though, their differences begin to emerge as they struggle to balance their very different lives.  Min starts hanging out at basketball practice to watch Ed after school instead of going to the coffee shop with her best friend.  Ed tries to spend time with Min’s friends, but he clearly doesn’t fit in with them.  No one thinks they can make the relationship work, which makes Ed and Min all the more determined to find a way to stay together.  Of course, as we know from the title, it doesn’t work in the end, but despite the fact that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, I was completely engrossed in it.  Handler does a wonderful job of capturing what it’s like to be a girl in love, and Kalman’s illustrations add a lot to the story.  It’s a story that is unique and yet feels familiar because, regardless of the particulars, nearly all of us have felt the heartbreak of a first love gone wrong.  It’s so familiar that there’s now a website dedicated to the novel where you can write your own break-up story.  Handler’s more famous for the Lemony Snicket novels for kids, but here he proves he’s equally adept at young adult literature as well.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #44: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

I picked up David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy immediately after reading Will Grayson Will Grayson, which Levithan co-wrote with John Green.  Before I get to the review, though, a funny side story – I got this at the library in my very small very conservative town, and as I tried to use the self-checkout, I got a message saying that this book, alone among the stack of books I was checking out for myself and the little pug, couldn’t be borrowed using the self-checkout option.  I was worried that it was “flagged” somehow because it’s about gay kids.  Living with conservatives can make a person paranoid, you know?  Anyway, it was just a smudgy bar code (so they say), so I didn’t have to go all Lamda Legal Defense Fund on the poor librarian.  Anyway, the trouble was worth it because this was one of the best YA romance stories I’ve ever read.

Boy Meets Boy is set in a fictional town that I wish was real.  The local high school’s cheerleaders ride Harleys, the star quarterback is a six-foot-plus transvestite called Infinite Darlene, and the narrator’s homosexuality is accepted as a matter of course by just about everyone.  Paul, the narrator, has lived his whole life in this comfy little town and has been friends with Joni since grade school.  When Paul meets newcomer Noah, he instantly falls for him, but his attention to Noah is distracted by his assignment to “architect” the school’s annual dance, Joni’s new relationship with a boy Paul can’t stand, his ex-boyfriend Kyle who suddenly wants back into Paul’s life, and his friend Tony whose parents are religious zealots (they live in the next town over, not in Paul’s idyllic gay-friendly community) who have a very difficult time accepting Tony’s homosexuality.  The beauty of the novel lies in the descriptions of young love: the giddiness of those first few touches, the aching insecurities and self-doubts, the sweetness of quiet moments together.  Because Levithan creates an accepting community, Noah and Paul’s story is just a love story in which the characters happen to be gay rather than a gay love story.  It highlights the universality of the experience without making a big deal about it.  Though the novel is set in the present day, the fictional town feels like a vision of the future if the future works out the way I hope it does.

Obviously, I loved this book.  I read it twice in quick succession because I wanted to stay a while longer in Paul’s world, and Levithan’s description of young love was so spot-on that reading it was almost a visceral experience.  For those of us a bit (or a lot) beyond the age of the target audience, the novel is a nice reminder of the highs and lows of high-school romance.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #43: Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

As I continue making my way through the novels of John Green, it’s occurred to me that I don’t really have a favorite genre, expect maybe YA fantasy, but I have several favorite authors.  I tend to get obsessed with an author, read everything he or she has written, and then flounder around for a few weeks or months until I find someone new. It means I don’t read as much variety as I should, but I also rarely get stuck with books I don’t like.  So, my new John Green crush let me to the novel Will Grayson Will Grayson which Green co-wrote with David Levithan.  The book is creatively written, darkly funny and deeply sad, and one of my favorite John Green novels so far.

The novel alternates between two teenaged boys named Will Grayson who live near Chicago.  They take turns narrating chapters, and it’s easy to distinguish between the two because one Will Grayson capitalizes correctly and the other doesn’t capitalize anything.  Caps Will, whose parts were authored by Green, is a fairly privileged straight kid whose best friend is a very large and very gay kid named Tiny.  Tiny is constantly falling in love and getting his heart broken, and caps Will is always helping him pick up the pieces.  Because of his own experiences and Tiny’s, caps Will has sworn off love, but he finds his resolve wavering as he spends more time with Jane, a fellow member of their school’s Gay Straight Alliance.  Lowercase will lives with his single mother and has a best friend named Maura, but his relationship with Maura has suddenly and inexplicably become strained and difficult.  Lowercase will retreats into a burgeoning online relationship with Isaac, a boy he’s never actually met.  The stories come together when both Will Graysons find themselves in the same sex shop.  Caps Will has been abandoned by Jane and Tiny because his fake ID didn’t quite work out as planned and made him only 18 instead of 21, and lowercase will was supposed to meet his online crush for the first time at the shop.  From there, their stories continue to intertwine even though they tell them separately chapter by chapter.

In the hands of lesser writers, the novel’s dual narrator format might have interfered with the story or been just a cheap trick, but both of these authors are very good at writing stories about teenagers.  The two Will Graysons are fully realized characters, and their stories work well told side-by-side this way.  The end of the book gets a little crazy, especially as Tiny works to produce and direct his autobiographical musical Tiny Dancer, which is well received in a way that no gay-themed theater production would ever be received in a real high school, but the basic topics here – love, friendship, trust, betrayal, etc. – are skillfully written to be believable.  This was a good book that continued my John Green love and inspired a mini-affair with David Levithan as well.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #40: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Having read The Fault in Our Stars, I decided to continue working my way through John Green’s novels.  The title An Abundance of Katherines was appealing, so I chose it next.  I liked it just as well, and maybe a bit better than, The Fault in Our Stars.

The main character of An Abundance of Katherines is recent high-school graduate Colin, a child prodigy who never quite managed to live up to his potential.  He’s smart, but he has to work hard at it and is desperate to find some break through theory or idea that will make his mark on the world.  He also has a rather strange dating history and has just been dumped by his most recent girlfriend, Katherine, the 19th girl of that name whom he has dated.  To help Colin out of his Katherine-based depression and to have an adventure before they go off to college, Colin’s friend Hassan drags him out onto a spontaneous road trip with no set destination.  Passing through Tennessee, the boys see a sign advertising the resting place of Archduke Ferdinand.  They decide to investigate and find themselves in a small town called Gutshot being given the official tour by Lindsey Wells, the girl on duty at the convenience store where the tour begins.  They form a friendship with Lindsey who invites them home to meet her mother, Hollis, who owns a string factory, the primary employer in Gutshot.  Hollis offers Hassan and Colin a job and a place to stay, and they take her up on the offer.  In between interviewing the older residents of Gutshot for Hollis, Colin gets to know Lindsey and her boyfriend, also named Colin but nicknamed TOC (The Other Colin) by Hassan, and tries to have a “Eureka” moment by creating a formula that will predict the future of a relationship.  Using his own experiences with the Katherines, Colin works on his formula and deals with his increasing interest in Lindsey.

Overall, the book is a really excellent example of the teenage romance genre.  It’s funny and smart enough to be interesting even though the romance part is not exactly ground-breaking.  The relationship between Colin and Hassan is, in my opinion, the best part of the novel.  They talk to and treat each other like real guy friends.  Green’s ability to create believable, intelligent teenagers is among the best in the YA fiction I’ve read.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #39: King Dork by Frank Portman

I read about Frank Portman’s King Dork on Pajiba when news came out about the movie rights.  It seems like a film version is imminent, so I thought I’d better read the novel soon.  I checked it out the library one afternoon, and later that evening I was annoying my husband by reading passages out loud.

The novel tells the story of sophomore Tom Henderson who’s struggling, as most kids do, to make it through high school with minimal psychological damage.  In the beginning of the novel, Tom’s descriptions of high school and his analyses of the various personalities contained within were so dead-on that those were the sections I read to my husband who is also a teacher.  Portman did a fantastic job of capturing the dark side of public education and the reasons why so many kids are disaffected by the whole thing.  By the end of the novel, the story had veered pretty far away from reality, but the beginning set the scene so perfectly that the twists felt believable even though they were so extreme.

Tom’s analysis of high-school society centers on what he calls the Cult of Catcher in the Rye.  In his opinion, all of his teachers are just looking for the next Holden Caulfield.  As a result, Tom holds a grudge against Holden’s character but ironically is quite similar to Holden himself.  He’s just as disaffected and fed up with society as Caulfield is.  With his friend Sam Hellerman, Tom spends his days making up new band names, designing album covers and song titles, and then moving on to a new band name before actually creating any music.  One day, Tom discovers some old books that belonged to his father, a police officer who died six years earlier.  Tom feels that there is some mystery surrounding his father’s death and thinks that by reading the books, he may uncover some clue.  His obsession with his father’s books frustrates him but eventually leads him down some interesting paths, and Tom eventually stumbles across some of the answers to his questions quite inadvertently.

The novel’s twists were a bit of stretch in spots, but the novel was funny and engaging.  I will be interested to see how it works as a film if it gets made.

Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #36: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I’m not sure how I missed John Green until now.  A student recommended his books, and I began with The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s been a few weeks since I read it (I’m, ahem, a bit behind on my reviews), and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve worked my way through all of John Green’s books at my public library, except for Looking for Alaska, which is always checked out and has a waiting list.

The Fault in Our Stars focuses on 16-year-old Hazel who has terminal cancer but whose life has been extended by a miracle drug.  Hazel’s mother tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy in Hazel’s world by forcing her out of the house and into college classes and a cancer support group for teens.  Hazel doesn’t necessarily buy in to the whole idea of the support group, but she befriends a boy named Isaac there, and the two of them spend a good deal of time rolling their eyes together.  At one meeting, Isaac brings a friend, Gus, who takes a liking to Hazel pretty quickly.  Hazel has a difficult time dealing with Gus’s attention and giving in to her feelings for him; to her parents she confesses that she feels like a “time bomb” because she knows she has a limited amount of time left and wants to keep from hurting other people when she goes.  This is especially difficult with Gus because he has already lost one girlfriend to cancer.  Eventually, though, the two bond over Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, which is also about a girl with (of course) cancer.

Obviously, this isn’t what you’d call a feel-good book, but it feels genuine.  The characters are a bit too wise at times, but they are kids who’ve had to grow up fast, and it’s nice to read a novel in which the teenagers aren’t vapid morons and the parents are good people who try hard to love and support their children the best way they know how.  I’m  really glad I picked up this book and finally found my way to John Green; his books are the kind of books I’d want my own kid to read if he were a bit older.

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

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