Tag Archives: Young Adult

Book Love: All the Bright Places

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” -Finch

Niven offers two complex main characters to her readers. Violet, who lost her older sister and best friend in a car accident the previous year, and Finch, who has been labeled a freak by his peers and thinks about suicide almost daily. Both characters have been created to complement one another, yet travel in opposite social circles at school.

Their story together essentially begins when they save each other. Before you start thinking this is your typical love story of when the popular girl and alternative boy realize they have something in common, it’s not. Yes, the reader can tell the two will fall head over heels for one another and have to fight against the currents of high school in order to stay together, but the story is so much more than that and thus, deserves more credit than that. (This is coming from someone who absolutely does not care for romance and is not fooled by the usual YA themes.)

The reason I think this works is because, based on the author’s note, it is semi-autobiographical. Niven speaks from a place of loss and is able to flesh her characters out because of that. She creates characters who are so real, I could think of a match from my high school for every one of them.

Finch has the urge to be someone and make life count, but he also has the urge to end his life. Violet is coping with the death of her sister Eleanor and has given up on a lifelong dream because of it. Both have come to a place that I know we’ve all been before. Their attraction to one another moves beyond surface level rather quickly, and Niven creates a romance for them that anyone would envy. Finch is smooth despite the fact that he’s trying to figure out who he is and how he wants the world to see him. Violet is confident and smart, however, Finch is the better character when comparing the two.

One message I think Niven wanted to get across is that judgment is unavoidable. Every time we wake up and go out into the world, someone is there to offer a reaction to what we do. Something Niven does excellently is consider how we perceive ourselves compared to others’ perceptions of us. Most of us (especially girls) are too harsh on ourselves and are overly critical of our image and how others might react to it. For those of us who are self-aware, we are hyper sensitive to how people respond to us in person and on social media. Other people’s reactions to us are cues to continue or discontinue our actions. In turn, a lack of attention can offer the same. We are encouraged by positive attention and likes rather than our own personal viewpoints about how we look or how well we pull off a certain style or outfit. Rather than Niven having her female lead, Violet, be worried about these things, she fleshes these uncertainties out with Finch.

This book really brought me back to my teenage years, which were full of anxiety and worries about labels. Finch shares the same worries, as I’m sure most teenagers do. Finch’s worries expand further than the typical teenage worries, which provides the major premise for the book, which is suicide. I hesitate to say it’s a book surrounding suicide because I think Niven’s goal in writing it was to teach us how to live and how to truly explore life.

“I think I got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something.” -Finch

Finch and Violet teach each other how to search for meaning in their lives and in people. We look different to everyone we encounter, whether we meet them on a screen or in real life. It’s not the days we remember, but the moments. We have to live for these good moments and throw out the negative ones, and we have to just be careful with how we treat others. We must display love even to those we dislike because people remember those moments. They remember how they were treated years and decades later. We linger on each other and allow others to stay with us even without meaning to. We have to shed the negativity and live in the light, allowing it to flow through us at all times.

Goodreads Rating: 4.20 Praise It
Recommended for: Strugglers, Stragglers, Wanderers, Virginia Woolf Quoters
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Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying GirlMe and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was shocked I enjoyed this as much as I did, especially since I’m not a nihilist and I think meaning can be found everywhere in our lives if we only choose to look for it. Overall, I would give it a strong 3.5.

This book was brutally honest about a difficult subject {cancer} that many writers have used as a means to tell a good story and get the tears rolling. Jesse Andrews, however, did not even get close to making my eyes water and somehow managed to force a different perspective of life into my worldview.

When people, especially young people, pass away, we like to think they were loved and will be dearly missed by the world. This thought helps ease our depression and boost our confidence when we’re battling the giants life throws our way. Yes, we’d like to think we have made a profound impact on the world and people around us and haven’t gone unnoticed by everyone, but with all the uploads, downloads, selfies, advertising, and noise encircling everyone’s brains, there isn’t much room for everyone to care about everyone else. Most young people seem to only have enough energy and time to care about themselves and a select few other people, especially those in high school. Because of all that noise, there are invisible people, who often enjoy being reclusive and going unnoticed, walking among the attention-seekers of high school hallways.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores the idea that an invisible person can’t really be missed all that much. A true but unpopular opinion. Not all true ideas are popular ideas. People tend to avoid overly sad stories about people who didn’t make anything out of their lives, but I think it’s important for people to obtain all perspectives in life. Not all lives are full of meaning. Some people don’t try to make the most of life and don’t positively affect the people around them. Sad, but true.

Greg reminds me of most humans. We try to seem like we’re “good” people, and even if we are “good” by society’s standards, we still are selfish almost 100% of the time. We have to be in order to survive. Another unpopular truth. It’s not something most people would even admit to themselves, much less to the entire world via a young adult novel. I’ve encountered this way too many times to count. I try to put off the vibe that I’m sweet and care about the world, and I really do care about most aspects of it, but most of the time I’m only looking out for myself. I only care about the world when I feel like caring about it. In my heart I have bad thoughts about lazy people and obnoxious people and fill-in-the-blank people. I like to think we all have a person or group of people we can’t really stand, but in truth, there are only about 0.5% of people who unselfishly care about the world. That may be a high estimation, too; I’m just guessing here.

I enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl because it was witty, quick, and truthful, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for any of my students or other young adults. Although I didn’t respect Andrews’s writing much, he at least spoke some truth and made me laugh. It was enjoyable enough with all its hilarity, but I really just liked it because it was a genuine account of teenage life. Andrews produces the idea that not all teenagers think too deeply about their lives, even those faced with cancer. I would think someone facing the possibility of death at a young age would, but who really knows? I respect a good story that is hopeful and creates meaning for those who have been affected by cancer (like The Fault in Our Stars), but I can also respect a novel that is the opposite of that.

Goodreads Rating: 3.6
Recommended for: Nihilists, People who like to compare books to movies

Book Review: Legend

15753977Legend by Marie Lu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Legend attempts to shed light on what would happen if we had socialized medicine, relied on family history or test scores to determine our future (ha!), and did not put a cap on how many terms an elected official could serve as leader of our nation. In Legend, America is divided in two ways: Colonies vs. Republic and rich vs. poor.

Legend is told from two different perspectives, which seems to be happening more often in literature. June and Day come from two different parts of the same world and are featured with similar intelligence and skills. I favored June’s actions over Day’s, however, both characters were annoying and the plot was abrupt. The text would be flowing smoothly for awhile, useful imagery scattered here and there…and then Day would say something to provoke an eye roll from me. If it hadn’t been such a fast-paced read, I would have put it down. I want to like Day, and I appreciate what he stands for. Although he’s revolutionary, which is what the world in Legend needs, I only like him when his mouth his shut. His overconfidence in his abilities and in his looks are his hubris, and overconfidence is not something I find attractive in a character.

June I am much more on board with. With her upbringing and family status, she was born to be a government agent, but according to the government she works for, she asks too many questions. She causes too much trouble. This is why we, the readers, love her, though. June’s character saves the book for me. Although she was born into the Republic and expected for it to be perfect, she gets a shock early into the book that causes her to refocus. Maybe her perfect, cozy world is not as it seems. As June learns about the destructive power the Republic holds, her perspective helps the reader to understand Lu’s simple dystopian society a little more.

One major problem I had with this series is we’re thrust directly into the action of the novel without much knowledge of the world in which the plot takes place. We know it’s divided and is completely unfair, but that’s about it. Lu does not construct enough of her world before the action ensues, and for this and for her annoying characters, I had to give it a 3/5. There were too many rough patches for me to issue a higher rating, but about halfway through, where most books tend to fall apart, Legend picked up and came together some. Had this not happened, I was more than prepared to give it a 2/5.

From a kid’s perspective, I can see this book holding a higher weight, but for me, it does not live up to the hype. Most likely, I will still complete the series despite the lack of joy this book gave me. It was entertaining enough, and I am anxious to see how Lu’s world crumbles in Prodigy. I also tend to favor the middle book in any series, so I’m hoping for more from book two.

Goodreads Rating: 4.19
Recommended for: Dystopian Lovers, The Politically Minded, Action Packers
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Book Love: Uglies

Uglies (Uglies, #1)Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uglies is a noteworthy novel set in future America, and it is targeted at young readers, specifically teenage girls. Understanding this, I changed my original 3 star rating to 4/5 stars. Its target is for people who are the characters’ ages, but it has been a satisfying read regardless of its lack of sophisticated writing and vocabulary. It was a little too cut and dry for me, and for some reason Westerfield felt the need to spell all of his character’s consequences out in black white, giving the reader no time to think about them or make their own analysis of what was going on. This may prove to be frustrating for more advanced readers, but I think most young people have something to gain from reading this. In the early chapters there is a little humor, but as the book goes on we encounter some romance, too. With beauty as the topic, romance was something I was expecting, so it didn’t bother me as much as it usually does.

At the ripe age of 15, Tally Youngblood’s world is simple. You are ugly until you become pretty. Scott Westerfield’s dystopian society values beauty above everything else. Everyone is taught at a young age to understand the way biology works and what our human species has found most attractive throughout our lives on this earth. It is a normality to put one’s self and others down with verbal abuse based on looks, and modifying one’s face and body through facial recognition software is no trickier than searching Google. The young uglies (12-16 year-olds) live together apart from their parents until they are old enough to receive the operation, keeping them away from all that teen angst and a lot of important familial emotions.

Westerfield’s world parallels the joy of turning 16 amd attaining the freedom to drive with the accomplishment of having an operation to become perfectly pretty and without physical flaws. His world is high-tech, complete with hoverboards, hovering buildings, and interface rings, which allows voice command to be directed to the technology surrounding his characters (similar to Siri). When we meet Tally, she is an impressionable young trickster a few months away from her surgery. She has been brainwashed by her city and education system, never thinking anything her world hasn’t wanted her to think and anticipating her upcoming operation more than anything else before. She resembles most 16-year-olds in that she is passive to society’s influence on her. She is not stupid, however, she is not a freethinking person either. Until Shay comes along.

Shay’s radical ideas are what invokes her flight from Uglyville into the Smoke, a place outside the city where most people would never dream of venturing. Her leaving causes the local authorities to question Tally about Shay’s disappearance. Tally tries to protect Shay’s choices like she promised, but the authorities threaten her with her long awaited operation. Tally thought she was playing it safe by not following Shay into the Smoke, but Shay’s plans to run away have made more of an impact on Tally’s life than she ever expected. Now Tally is faced with a life-changing decision: break her promise to Shay and become a new pretty or remain an ugly for life.

This may seem like a simple decision to some, but within these choices lie heavy consequences. There are secrets to be revealed, real people living their lives happily in the Smoke, and important themes about beauty within the pages of Uglies. Insecurities about one’s looks and changing body plague the thoughts of teens and young adults alike, making this an indispensable novel in the YA genre. Although major facial reconstruction is not something most people pursue today, we are accustomed to fitting our young children with braces, pinning back ears, and teaching girls how to reach a higher standard of beauty with makeup. True, these modifications aren’t nearly as life-altering as turning into a pretty, but they show our society isn’t immune to the anxiety that comes with how the world sees us.

Tally’s high-tech world presents an unrealistic standard of mass-produced beauty that’s hard to match with real natural beauty’s inconsistencies, and as the story opens up, Westerfield’s community in the Smoke proves to be worthy competition. He shows her what natural maturity looks like and forces her to take the world more seriously. The Smoke isn’t the extreme opposite of Uglyville, but it does provide her with a sense of what real problems look like and the rewards hard work and sincere relationships can bring. Going into the wild, Tally was more than ready to reveal the Smoke’s location so she could have her operation, but where she was looking to become pretty and party it up in New Pretty Town, she begins to appreciate the hard work and beauty of nature. Making a decision about whether to become pretty or not becomes harder as the book goes on, and up until the last page, I was still unsure of what Tally’s fate would be.

Goodreads Rating: 3.87
Recommended for: Young Adult Readers, Girls, Dystopian Lovers
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Book Love: Eleanor & Park (Contains Spoilers)

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Nothing ever ends” or “I love you”?

No matter which was written on that postcard, I think the meaning is clear.

Understandably, a lot of readers were upset by Rowell’s ending, and although I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Really, Rainbow?” after I finished, I am happy with how she left it. Unfinished. I like to think that she couldn’t tear herself away from the characters or relationship she created. I like to think that she couldn’t imagine just one ending to their story (because maybe it has no ending) and she decided that it would be a disservice to her readers if she planned out an ending for them. She wasn’t afraid to let her readers choose their own paths. She also managed to give us some hope. There is still one question sitting at the forefront of my mind, though. What took her so long to write him back?

I have to commend Rowell for creating something so unforced and right. For creating something worth reading and for managing to put love, which is sometimes so unexplainable, into words.

I can see this novel being extremely influential to a lot of teens who don’t exactly fit society’s mold and don’t really want to. Eleanor wasn’t different for the sake of being different; she was just being who she wanted to be and being her truer self, which happened to be a very “unconventional” young lady. I had so many friends like her in high school. I can’t help but look back on the dust jacket and wonder if Rainbow sees a bit of herself in Eleanor as well. More and more lately I’ve wondered just how much authors place themselves within their characters. In my opinion, John Green seems to do it often (Paper Towns & Looking for Alaska).

Even though I loved Rowell’s story, I’m going to be frank on why it didn’t receive five stars from me. I found her characters believable, but I never really got a good grip on how Eleanor looked, apart from the big red hair and outfits suggesting she got dressed in the dark. Her peers in the book make her out to be ugly, but Park doesn’t seem to care because he cares about everything else. So, Eleanor is “so ugly”, but Park used to date Tina, who is supposed to be the hottest girl in school. It seems like a big switch. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it’s a stretch. For awhile I assumed Eleanor looked just like Rowell. The collector’s edition had pictures on the inside covers if anyone wants to check those out.

Another thing I found perplexing was the difference between Richie and Tina. All the blame is slated toward Tina the whole time even though we know Richie is a pain at home. Tina bullies Eleanor on the bus, Tina used to date Park, and Tina messes with Eleanor in gym class almost every day. Obviously, we believe wholeheartedly that Tina is out to ruin Eleanor’s life. But wait, don’t forget about Richie! I find it hard to believe that a grown man with the ability to ruin her life in other ways would take the time each week to sneak into her room and scribble mean things onto her textbooks. It’s just another stretch that I can’t get over. Richie had to break up Eleanor and Park’s happiness somehow, but I feel like it could have been easily done in a number of other more plausible ways.

This is what made it just a four-star book for me. Nonetheless, I was captivated by Rowell’s story and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to other young adults. I plan on reading Rowell’s other books, and I think she’s a terrific storyteller.

Goodreads rating: 4.16
Recommended for: Teens, Misfits, 80s Kids

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