Category Archives: middleschool

Book Review: The Lost Track of Time

The Lost Track of TimeThe Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Punny, clever, and creative, The Lost Track of Time offers an inspirational message to young readers. Its style is reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, so in a lot of ways it was nostalgic for me.

Leading lady Penelope dreams of becoming a writer, but her mother, who probably reads way too many blogs, just knows her future lies ahead in the fields of math and science. I can’t blame her for that line of thinking, but what irks me about her is her refusal to listen to her daughter’s ideas. They don’t share many of the same viewpoints when it comes to Penelope’s daily schedule, so when summer begins, Penelope’s plans include doodling and jotting down story ideas while her mother’s include filling every minute of every day with studying and productivity. Penelope desperately tries to prove to her parents she could become a successful author, but her tiring and overflowing schedule leaves her brain feeling muddled and dry, not to mention leaving her physically and mentally exhausted.

Penelope must find a way to get her creativity back while also proving to her mother and father she could have a successful future doing what she wants to do. Through her journey, she teaches some lessons imperative to anyone balancing a busy schedule. These practices are ones that always seem obvious, but they are ones that we often push aside in order to be more profitable.

1. You can’t make time, but you can and should reserve some time for yourself. I had to learn this lesson the hard way one semester when I was in college and trying to do too much for others while not doing enough for me. I worked for the newspaper, tutored student-athletes, took a full course-load, and was in a serious relationship. I was always tired, and although it did help me get where I am now, I’m lucky I only had to balance all that for 5 months. I constantly had bags under my eyes and had a short temper with everyone.

2. Time is both free and costly. We don’t pay money to have free time, but sometimes we do have to earn that free time by working overtime or putting in more work than usual in the hours we are at work. When we finally do get time to ourselves, we should make good use of that because we won’t get it back, so when we decide to binge watch The Office for the third time instead of visiting our grandparents, we need to ask ourselves which is more meaningful in the end. Spending hours with a book or my computer is usually more satisfying to me than spending hours at my grandmother’s watching Hallmark movies, but for someone who spends so much time alone, that small amount of time spent with family can bring about days and even weeks of happiness and memories.

3. The time is always now. There is literally no time like the present. Instead of saying, “In the future I will…” or, “One day I will…” we should get off our butts and do what we dream of doing. If we want to be a world traveler, we need to check our bank accounts, start packing, and look for the next flight to Iceland. If we want to be a writer, we need to stop being so afraid of failing and just start writing and asking for feedback because pretty soon now will be the past, and I don’t want to look back wishing I had spent my time more wisely. I realize not everyone knows what they want to do, even at 25. I feel like the world tells us we should know what we want to do before we get into college, but I’m starting to see that as a false speculation. These days people do not set out to be in a typical career that could be found on a card in The Game of Life. With so many niche markets, any random set of skills one possesses could ensure success and happiness in the right field. So maybe “getting off your butt” means being mindful of what your skills are and on the lookout for what it is you really want to do. Success is relative. We no longer need a world definition of success. If we decide we are successful, then we are.

Although it is middle grade fiction, if read with the right mindset, it could serve as inspiration for anyone who has pipe dreams and has yet to pursue them. Yes, the writing grew repetitive and tiresome, but the ideas will probably resonate because of it. If anything, Penelope has taught me we are all writers of our own stories, and we get to decide whether we are successful or not.

Goodreads Rating: 3.85
Recommended for: Pipe Dreamers, Timekeepers, Storytellers


Feed Review

FeedFeed by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Feed is set in futuristic America during a time of extreme consumerism. It features a group of teenagers who are connected to the Internet through an implant in their brains known as the feed. The feed was surgically placed within their brains and they have lived with it so long that their bodies now rely on the feed in order to function properly. Everything, even schoolâ„¢ and air, has been manipulated by consumerism. The teens in the novel brilliantly represent how stupid society has become because of the feed. There is no need to memorize or learn information because the feed is always there when they are having trouble figuring out a word or an answer to a question. Even the simplest of questions can be answered with the feed! Titus and his friends have grown up and been nurtured by the feed, but after a freak accident at a club on the moon, some choose to fight it and some go on as if nothing ever happened.

Every summary I stumbled across made me want to read Feed. The summary on Goodreads compared it to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and even Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, all authors that I adored who had bright minds and the foresight to notice society’s problems before they became the norm.

A few pages into Feed, I kept wondering when all its weird vocabulary would be explained and when Anderson was going to give us some type of context to help construct this world he created. I think I understand a few things after completing it, but I was left with way too many questions about Titus’s world. This was mainly due to the teenagers’ slang and limited use of real communication.

Two stars. This is a case of an excellent concept mixed with poor construction. It was, like, meg confusing?

It’s pretty safe to say that I disliked Feed and had a difficult time coping with its jarring slang, but while I was forcibly gulping down Anderson’s malfunctioned dystopia, I was careful to note how relevant the concepts in the novel were.

In fact, the more I discussed the novel’s take on society with others who’d read it, the more I found myself saying positive things about it. I was in a similar position when I read The Road. The experience from reading the book was much more enjoyable than actually reading the book. My mind was in a much better place after I finished Feed than it was at any point during the plot. The concepts I loved, but the writing style I could really do without. I love to read through the eyes of a protagonist who is descriptive, witty, and grows because of his hardships. Titus was unaware of the feed’s interruption of the world around him, and instead of fighting it like I kept hoping he would, he embraced it more and more even though it was killing Violet.

Feed is horrifyingly relevant. Although it was written just before our society became magnetically engrossed with our smartphones, Anderson had the foresight to identify the human need to connect to the world. Teenagers and the majority of young adults today spend hours playing games and socializing on their phones through the Internet. We may use the excuse that we need to feel connected to the world around us, but it seems more like an excuse to disconnect from socialization altogether. I agree that it is sometimes easier to spend time with our smartphones than it is to share face-to-face contact with our family and friends. Communication is hard; especially actively listening to someone else when we already have so much going on in our own minds. Smartphones allow us to respond to communication at our own convenience rather than at the moment in time when we are really needed. Our handheld devices have had a heavy influence on our society since they became more affordable and popularized. Although I’m grateful that I can carry a computer with me and aid me at my whimsy, it scares me think about how much we are crippling ourselves because of it.

I am still trying to figure out the underlying cause of my discomfort with Feed, but I think the majority of it came from the characters’ dialogue with one another, how little they grew throughout the book, and the choppy feed advertisements randomly scattered about and never explained. Although we couldn’t get quite the same effect from reading from any other point of view, I found myself continuously wishing the shrill teenage dialogue could have been integrated into the novel a little differently. I felt that it distracted from the importance of Anderson’s themes, which is one of the few redeeming qualities about this book.

I fell in love with the premise behind Feed and the ideas it enforced, but the style was a definite deterrent.

Goodreads Rating: 3.54
Recommended for: Young Adult; Science Fiction; Like Way Meg Teens

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The Iron Trial Review

The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My thoughts before opening this book: “Yes, I have reservations about this book “ripping” off of Harry Potter, however, there were plenty of books about magic that came out before the HP series. J.K. Rowling was not the first to write about worlds involving magic, and she will not be the last.”

After finishing the book, which only took me a couple days, I’ve been really wondering how I want to write a review of it and what points I would hit on. It would be easy to touch on the many parallels it had to the HP series, but that’ s been done and will continue to be done. Also, I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It was most definitely written for the same audience, and it will continue to be compared and most likely viewed in a negative light. That being said, I think there will be several people out there who will disagree with the following statement: It was a good book. Let me add to that: Despite the ever-so-obvious parallels to HP, it was good book, nonetheless.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain. Kids who like to read about fantasy worlds often read books in the same genre. Some of these include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Eragon series, and His Dark Materials series, among many others. Each of these books has similarities that cannot be ignored, which doesn’t have to be viewed as a negative characteristic. The Iron Trial is no different, however, I did think there were too many similarities between it and HP. Had I been the author of this charming, quickly paced book, I would have made sure that I either thanked J.K. Rowling for the wonderful inspiration or changed the obvious parallels so the bloggers and HP fans in the world wouldn’t constantly call me out for copying. I use “copying” lightly because The Iron Trial is NOT a carbon copy of HP, and I don’t want anyone walking away believing so.

This novel, told in collaboration by the esteemed Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, had some major plot differences that are worth noting. It was also not nearly as predictable as HP, which I can appreciate (even though HP is absolutely my favorite series of all time).

I would recommend this book to fans of the HP series because:
1. You need to read it and see the differences and parallels for yourself in order to make your own judgments.
2. It puts us older fantasy fans back into a child-like mindset and reminds us why we adored the genre so long ago.

For anyone who is still living in a cave and not familiar with the Harry Potter series, you actually have the advantage here and should go ahead and read The Iron Trial with no reservations. Following your completion of this first book, you should pick up Harry Potter and open your eyes. I do plan on reading the next book in the series in hopes that the plot continues to surprise me. My rating currently sits at a 3.5/5 (in my mind since Goodreads won’t give us half stars), but much of that rating is due to the fact that I thought there were many things left unexplained. As for reading a book that will be deemed by others to be an HP “knock-off”, I have no regrets. If you would go into this book with the mindset that it is HP fan-fiction, then you will probably love it.

I would love to discuss this book further, so feel free to comment and share.

Goodreads rating: 3.88
Recommended for: Harry Potter fans, Cassandra Clare fans, Middle Schoolers

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Book Love: The Running Dream

The Running DreamThe Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The overwhelming amount of love I have for this novel is making it difficult for me to write an accurate review of it. For me, someone who has been a runner through and through for more than half of my life, this was much more than just a book. I am by no means a realistic fiction reader, but sometimes I make an exception. Not only would I normally avoid a book about running due to the fact that most authors can’t relate their plot to what it’s really like, but I would normally stay far away from anything having to do with illness, amputated limbs, or any of life’s other physical woes. Despite all of this, I picked up The Running Dream. The Running Dream is about Jessica, a 400 meter runner in high school, whose track team suffers a collision on the way home from a meet. She loses part of her leg, and since her greatest passion and focus is on running, she’s devastated. Even though I knew that would happen based on the summary on the back of the book, it still hurt me to read it on those first few pages. The rest of the novel is Jessica’s journey back to the track, which is told in a really unique and profound way. So, here’s what Wendelin Van Draanen got right about running: You can’t keep a real runner away from it. Running is so much more than a sport, and most of the time, runners are competing against themselves. In this sense especially, the characterization was spot on. Sadly, this is a fact that many other writers ignore. This novel got it right in so many ways and is an exceptionally quick read with short chapters that make you want to keep on flipping. If you are a runner, you need to read The Running Dream because it is relatable, inspirational, hopeful, truthful, and loyal to the spirit of running. If you’re not a runner, you should read The Running Dream because it is heartwarming, thought-provoking, and encapsulating of so many YA themes. It deals with friendships, family relationships, and school struggles in the most realistic way. It teaches perseverance, identity, courage, and faith among other things. Whether you are an avid reader or one who is normally reluctant, you must give this book a chance.

Goodreads rating: 4.30
Recommended for: Athletes, Realistic Fiction Fans, Reluctant Readers

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