Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Young Adult”

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.


Malin’s #CBR4 Review #102: Easy by Tammara Webber

When Jacqueline is dumped by her preppy boyfriend two months into her sophomore year at college, she’s suddenly forced to re-examine her life choices. She has no friends outside the circle of their mutual ones (, she’s stuck at a university she followed her now ex to, and she’s failing a class for the first time in her life because she’s gutted after the breakup and can’t stand the thought of seeing her ex several classes a week. After a party, not long after the dumping, one of her ex’s frat brothers try to rape her, and would’ve succeeded if she hadn’t been rescued by a mysterious stranger, who luckily happened to be crossing the parking lot and witnessed the assault.

Jacqueline manages to get her econ professor to let her make up the missing midterm, and promises to attend tutoring sessions to catch up on the missing work. She doesn’t tell anyone about the attack, not wanting to make a fuss. While she’d never really noticed the cute guy who rescued her, she now seems to run into him everywhere. He works at the campus Starbucks, he sits in the back row of her econ class, more busy sketching than taking notes. Her roommate designates Lucas the mystery man as the perfect rebound guy. Jacqueline strikes up a flirtation with Lucas, but is also trading bantering e-mails and texts with her new econ tutor. Is she really ready for a new relationship at all, and which guy is the right one for her?

Another one of the Young Adult nominees for the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, this one caught my eye because my friend Erica read it and rated it highly. As one of the subplots deals with sexual assault and the aftermath of that, this could be a difficult book for some to read. The frat boy who attempts to rape Jacqueline continues his threatening behaviour, and spreads lies about her alleged promiscuity following her breakup. He also goes on to rape another girl, and Jacqueline has to decide what to do about coming forward so he can be charged with the attacks.

Having defined herself almost entirely as Kennedy’s boyfriend since early high school, Jacqueline is forced to take a long hard look at her life after he suddenly dumps her, and she doesn’t like what she sees. With the exception of her room mate, most of their mutual friends take his side, as he is the handsome, popular frat member, while she is the independent, arty girl who never quite fit in. Jacqueline is very good at double bass, an unusual instrument for a woman to play, and tutors local high school kids as a part time job. She could’ve applied to a music conservatory, but followed her boyfriend to university instead. Lonely and adrift, things get even worse when she’s attacked. She doesn’t want to tell her room mate, who’s dating the attacker’s best friend. The description of Jacqueline’s loneliness and self doubt is very well done. You kind of want to slap her for being so trusting, naive and oblivious that she meekly followed her douchebag boyfriend to college, but you also feel sorry for her, and can’t help but want her to succeed in turning her life around, preferably with a hot new boyfriend and some new, better friends.

Once her attacker actually rapes someone else, Jacqueline has to come forward and admit that she was attacked as well, and the book deals with the difficult situation many rape victims find themselves in, trying to prove that the sex was not consensual. Jacqueline and her room mate start taking self defence classes, and all the things they do to help her feel more empowered and safe again were very well done.

Jacqueline’s struggle to become a stronger, more independent person were in many ways more interesting than the romantic subplot. To begin with, Lucas is pretty much the hot, dashing stranger. She’s not sure if she likes him because he rescued her from a traumatic situation or whether there’s something more there. He’s very secretive about his background and past, and to begin with there’s a few complications and misunderstandings, that thankfully get resolved fairly quickly. The romance angle is good, but the main reason to read this book is for the character growth in the protagonist. Although if rape and sexual assault are bad triggers for you, it might be best to give it a miss.

3.5 stars

Cross posted on my blog.

pyrajane’s review #48: Switch by Carol Snow

Are you in the mood for some light paranormal YA?  Switch is one of those couch reads that you can breeze through quickly on some lazy day.  It’s not the kind of book that stays with you, but it’s an interesting premise.

Switch over to my blog for more.  (Get it?  Switch???  I’m clever!)

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #6 Falling For Hamlet, by Michelle Ray

Ashes of laughter
The ghost is clear
Why do the best things always disappear?
Like Ophelia
Please darken my door.——“Ophelia”, The Band

I know what you are thinking. Shakespeare sucks. I hate Shakespeare. I can’t understand Shakespeare. But what if Shakespeare didn’t suck? What if I could tell you a story to make Shakespeare not so intimidating? Can you, for a moment, get past the thous, thees, iambic pentameter, and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? Stop for a moment and think of the story of Hamlet, the prince, not in just the confines of the play.  Here, I’ll start, you just read: Once upon a time, there was a man and woman, and they had a son. The father’s name was Hamlet, Sr., the mother was Gertrude and they had a kid named Hamlet. Hamlet was a college student. Hamlet had a girlfriend, Ophelia. One day he loved Ophelia, the next day he said he never did.  Sounds simple enough, right? It really is that simple; however, you are a modern reader, and sometimes the everyday stuff is just not exciting enough for you, is it? How ’bout I fancy it up a little bit: Hamlet Sr. is the king of Denmark, his wife, Gertrude, is the queen and that makes Hamlet, Jr. a prince and they are loaded. That’s better right? What if Hamlet Sr. dies under mysterious circumstances, then in less than two months, Hamlet Sr.’s brother, Claudius, marries Hamlet Sr.’s wife. The son, Prince Hamlet, is all confused because one, his dad is dead and Hamlet Jr. should’ve been the next king, and number two, his uncle is now his step-dad and his mother is now his aunt? Plus, his girlfriend, Ophelia, a commoner, well, she’s acting all hot and cold, rejecting his letters, acting all coy. She may even be a pawn in an attempt to spy on him. What is up with that??? Suddenly, it seems compelling, intriguing, disgusting. And a story like this can easily be thoroughly modern.

I’ve found a book for you, anti-Shakespearean: Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray takes a modern spin on the tale of Hamlet, placing it firmly in the 21st century and telling it from the point of view of one tragic character from Hamlet who has never gotten a fair shake: Ophelia, the girlfriend of Hamlet. Ray establishes a compelling story and creates an Ophelia who is strong willed, but Ray keeps most of Shakespeare’s story intact. Told as a first person narrative from Ophelia’s point-of-view, Falling for Hamlet places the action properly in Denmark, but the story is filled with references to celebrity mania that is ever present in our daily lives with gossip shows and papers obsessed with royalty, celebrity, and pseudo-celebrity. In Falling for Hamlet, the Danish royal family is followed by paparazzi at every turn, and many events play out on live television. Ophelia is a celebrity by association and the pressure and flashing lights take their toll. These people are not exactly like us; sure they like to lie and love, but Shakespeare never told us common tales of common lives. Ray’s presentation of the pressures of fame is very plausible and her choice to keep the characters out of our league is wickedly entertaining.

I’ve often pondered what Ophelia really thought about her relationships with her father, brother, and boyfriend. I’ve wondered if the king and queen of Denmark thought that Hamlet was slumming with Ophelia, simply sowing his royal oats. Shakespeare was a master at writing such excellent lines for his characters, leaving much of it up to interpretation by the audience. Shakespeare gives us so little and so much about Ophelia, but we never know why she did what she did in his version of events. We only know her as a pawn and a tragic flower, ruined and drowned, with barely a Christian burial.

In Ray’s version, Ophelia is very much alive and very much a fully developed character. She is a girl in love and she is dating a hot prince. She is a celebrity in her own right. Certainly, she still does what many teenage girls do, and she puts up with Hamlet’s insanity and mood swings, as well as the doubt and the uncertainty of the relationship she has with Hamlet. Ophelia is the observer and reporter of what happens in the castle with Queen Gertrude and the new king, step-dad-uncle, Claudius. Ophelia submits to questions from detectives investigating the death of Hamlet, Sr. Ophelia is also caught in the expected tug-of-war between what her father and brother want from her, and what her lover wants.  Ray fills in all the gaps and tries to answer all those questions that you may have asked about Ophelia’s life: what is she thinking? How does she really feel? How deep of a relationship does she really have with Hamlet? Even with all the invented details, Ray does not stray too far from her source material. The sexual tension, the violence, the betrayal– it all remains.

I was thoroughly entertained by Falling for Hamlet; it is a good read. I would recommend it for young adult readers who just may seek out the text of the play or even the movie versions. I also suggest the book for older readers looking for a good story who already possess some knowledge of Hamlet.  I do believe for a different age group, an author could have explored gender issues and sexuality more in depth, but this story, while not necessarily a classic, is valuable in its own right.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #101: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Echo (named for a Greek nymph) Emerson used to be one of the popular girls in school, dating one of the stars of the basketball team. But one night two years ago, her life changed drastically, leaving her nearly dead in the hospital with horrific scars all down her arms and she doesn’t even remember what happened, only that it has something to do with her mother, who is now kept away by a restraining order. She hates going to therapy, she hates that her father is having a baby with her step-mum (who used to be her babysitter). She desperately misses her older brother, who died on a mission in Afghanistan two years ago, and now her father is threatening to sell the car he wanted to restore. She needs to get a job, so she can make enough money to complete her brother’s project, she wants to discover what happened to her, and she wants everything to return to normal.

Noah Hutchins had a stable and loving family, until his life changed drastically when his parents died in a fire. In school, he’s known as a girl using loner, a stoner kid with no prospects. Only his closest friends know that he’s been in and out of a series of shitty foster homes, and desperately wants to be reunited with his two younger brothers, who he barely ever sees, because he was judged emotionally unstable when he punched his abusive first foster father. If he’s to have any hope of gaining custody over his little brothers when he turns 18, he needs to improve his grade point average drastically, get a good job, a place to live and  hopefully discredit the foster parents now raising his brothers. He would give anything for his life to go back to some kind of normal.

The new school therapist, Mrs. Collins, decides to give Echo a job tutoring Noah. She promises Noah increased visitation with his brothers if he promises to shape up, and despite his deep mistrust of social workers and authority figures, he has no choice but to agree to his plan. Unfortunately, because of some misguided verbal exchanges with Echo, the tutoring job might not be something she’ll feel comfortable sticking with. Both teenagers are deeply vulnerable and very wounded, extremely mistrustful of the adults around them after facing bitter disappointment again and again. On the surface, they have nothing in common, but once they start talking, they’re drawn to each other like moths to a flame.

The book is written in alternating points of view, so the reader gets to follow both Echo and Noah closely. While the book blurb made me expect a fairly run of the mill high school romance, where now outcast good girl loses her heart to the resident bad boy, the book proved to be a lot more than that, and a lot better than the back cover makes it sound. Katie McGarry writes very believable teenagers, and both protagonists have gone through hell. It’s completely understandable that they feel angry, and helpless and desperate, and long for a return to the pleasant, normal lives they used to have.

The full back stories for both characters are gradually revealed, and it keeps the suspense up. Noah and Echo team up to try to get access to their files in Mrs. Collins’ office. Echo can barely sleep and is plagued with horrific nightmares every time she does sleep. She wants to know the full story behind her “incident” without having to gradually remember it through therapy, convinced that if she just knows the whole truth, she’ll find peace. Noah wants the name and address of his brothers’ foster parents, convinced that they’re being mistreated, and determined to prove it, so he can win custody over them as soon as he comes of age. It’s obvious to the reader that these are dreadful plans, but you still go along for the ride, hoping that the characters find closure and some sense of relief towards the end.

I received an ARC of this from Mira Ink through NetGalley, and am sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. Not at all the cliched teen romance I thought it at first, it’s a beautiful story of two damaged people finding each other, and helping each other through a difficult time. It’s currently a finalist in Young Adult Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012, and available in hardcover or e-book.

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 94-99: I’m nearly done with a double Cannonball, you guys!

So in the middle of October, I once again took part in the 24-hour Read-a-thon, and I’ve obviously been reading (and re-reading) books since then, but I’ve been falling behind on my blogging. So here’s a big catch-up post, and hopefully, within the week, I will have read and blogged a double Cannonball. I only set out to do a single one this year, and as a result, it seems that completing twice the amount became less of a chore.

94. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. I suspect I would have loved this more when I was younger. 4 stars.

95. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The first book I’ve read of hers. It won’t be the last. 4 stars.

96. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I know it’s been reviewed so well, so many times on here, and I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up before. 5 stars. By far the funniest book I read this year.

97. A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Yet another historical romance,  surprising no one, I’m sure. “The one with the hot vicar” as Mrs. Julien dubbed it. 4 stars.

98. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated books of the year for me, this turned out to be something completely different from what I’d expected. 4 stars.

99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. So is it wrong that I was more charmed by the film? The 14-year-olds I teach, love it, though. 3.5 stars.


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

Caitlin’s CBR4 #49: Every Day by David Levithan

Here is a book about a teenager who wakes up every day as a different person. The complications arise when A falls in love with a girl, Rhiannon. I’ve never read anything by just David Levithan (I did read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-wrote with John Green), but I liked this book a lot. He has a very similar style to John Green.

You can read my full review here.

Caitlin’s CBR4 #44: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Zombies are on the loose in 1800s Pennsylvania. Poor Eleanor Fitt starts off trying to find her missing brother, but ends up in league with the Spirit-Hunters, trying to fight necromancer-influenced zombies. All this while having to deal with a spend-thrift mother who wants to marry her off to any rich man that moves, and the tortures of a corset.

You can read my full review here.

P.S. This has another great trailer:

Caitlin’s CBR4 #24: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

I really loved this young adult retelling of the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name. It’s very gothic and creepy, all about a girl who attends indulgent parties while the rest of the world dies of a horrible plague.

You can read my review here.

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