Audacity

Audacity

Audacity by Melanie Crowder is a novel (based on a true story) told entirely in verse.  I’m not always the biggest fan of books in verse, so I was a little hesitant about this book.  However, my interest was piqued when I realized that this was (inspired by) the story of Clara Lemlich.  I had read a picture book about her with my students, and was looking forward to seeing what further information there was in a longer book (and one that is for older readers).

This turned out to be a great read!  I still wanted more info when it was done (0ne of my problems with books in verse is that they always seem too short to me and I am left wanting more!).  But I appreciated the additional information at the end that explained more about the historical parts of the book.  It was also really interesting to read the interviews with Clara’s family members at the end, and to have this important historical figure be presented through the eyes of children and grandchildren.  It made her very human!

Melanie Crowder
Author Melanie Crowder

The words in Audacity, as well as their placement on the page, are obviously very carefully chosen.  Because the story is told in verse, each word is important, and there are no extras.  In addition, the form of verse fits this novel well.  It seems that the more confined form of the writing is fitting for the story of a girl who is confined in her role – first at home, not being allowed books; then in America, having to work to support her family even though she is young enough to be in school; then at work, not being treated fairly by her bosses.  The carefully chosen words also seem important for a girl who loves books and education and who understands the power of words.

Honor Girl

Honor Girl

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash is a graphic memoir of one summer of the author’s life spent at her annual camp.  I really loved this book!  The relatively simple drawings portrayed an enormous amount of feeling, and even though this is not usually the style I am drawn to, it is the absolute perfect fit for this story.  Maggie was able to create amazing facial expressions with a small number of lines, and I really felt the emotion through the pages.

I think this book is a great way to get teens interested in memoir if they aren’t already – for one thing, the graphic novel format is so accessible and engaging.  For another, the story is sweet (and a little bit bittersweet) and very relatable.  This book would also be a good introduction into writing memoir; showing how you can take the events of one period in your life and weave them into a story.

Maggie Thrash
Author Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl is a wonderful example of a graphic novel – the words and images work beautifully together and the panels flow well from one to the next.  I think it is especially important in the case of this particular one that Maggie Thrash both wrote and illustrated it.  Since it is autobiographical, it seems she was able to infuse so much of herself into the words and images, and that helped to make them go together seamlessly.  There is a lot that is conveyed in images alone.

The colors and palette of the images also complement the story well, and give the whole thing a sort of dreamy haze of memories, while still letting the reader feel present in the story.

I am a huge fan of graphic novels, and this one has quickly become one of my favorites.  I would definitely recommend this as part of any teen library collection (and think it’s fantastic for adults, too!).

 

Salt to the Sea

 

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is such a good book!  This is the second book I have read by Ruta Sepetys, and she is a phenomenal author.  Everything of hers is so well written!  One of the things that I thought was so fantastic about this book is that not only is the fictional part of the story really well done, but the historical part is fascinating.  Despite being the largest maritime disaster in history, I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff and its sinking.  As soon as I finished this book, I started Googling to find out more!

I loved this book so much that the next book I picked up (which I did end up enjoying) I felt resentful towards at first, because it wasn’t Salt to the Sea, and I still wanted to be in that story!

RUTA SEPETYS
Author Ruta Sepetys.

From what I can tell, the book is faithfully historically accurate.  In the research I did after reading, much of what I saw was included in the book.  But it was woven in to the story in such a gripping way that it seemed like it was effortlessly part of the story, rather than trying to cram facts in to make them fit.  It is really beautifully done.

The setting is absolutely integral to the story, given the time that these events took place.  The characters are believable, and you find yourself rooting for them (well, most of them, anyway).  The social issues of the time are incredibly relevant to the story, especially the racism and genocide.

This book is such a moving portrayal of events in our history that many people know nothing about.  Since finishing the book, I have asked a number of people if they have heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and none have (and then I rave on and on about this book!).  I would highly recommend this book – certainly to anyone who likes historical fiction, but also to anyone who likes a gripping, imaginative, heart-wrenching tale.

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman is a powerful and moving look at mental illness. I have read a fair number of Neal’s other books, and this one is quite different from those I have read. So if you are a Neal Shusterman fan, I would go into this book without expectations of what you think you know about his writing – this one will defy them!

Challenger Deep is realistic fiction, but because we are in Caden’s head, there are things that seem fantastical, or things where we can’t tell what is reality and what is not.  In some ways this is a difficult book to get into, because at the start of the book there is nothing to ground the reader.  We jump right in with Caden and struggle, as he does, to sort fact and fiction.  But it is definitely worth sticking with it, because the story is so touching.

Neal Shusterman
Author Neal Shusterman

This book has believable characters and there aren’t the stigmas or stereotypes often associated with mental illness.  The problems the characters face are realistic, and how they handle those problems is realistic as well.  Although the story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, given the circumstances, it has a hopeful and satisfying conclusion.

This is a good story for young adults to read.  For those who struggle with mental illness, it is a mirror where they can see their story told.  For others, it’s a window to see into the life of a character with mental illness, and to empathize.

The fact that Neal Shusterman’s son went through some of the same things that Caden did makes this book especially poignant.  His son Brendan’s drawings complement the story well and are a nice addition. In the end, despite the sadness and hardships, this book really feels like it is about hope and familial love.

This Strange Wilderness

This Strange Wilderness

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon is a biography of Audubon for YA readers.   I really enjoyed this book!  It is well and concisely written, and while it’s not exciting per se, his life is definitely one that keeps you interested!  Author Nancy Plain manages to weave in the parts of history that overlap with Audubon’s life (such as the French Revolution and the Trail of Tears) in a way that shows their significance and impact on his life, without doing them a disservice.  This is not easy to do!  It’s hard to address enormous topics like that that have books of their own written about them, yet still stay true to the story you are telling.  I thought that Nancy accomplished this well.

Nancy Plain
Author Nancy Plain

I would recommend this book as a great companion book to Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt.  I think that they would be really good to read together, to see how the real book (The Birds of America, by Audubon) is used in Gary Schmidt’s fictional story.  I also think that if you have readers who like nonfiction more than fiction, you could start them on This Strange Wilderness and then suggest Okay for Now (or vice versa, for those who prefer fiction!).

Strange Wilderness Illustration
Northern Mockingbird

The book is filled with illustrations and photographs.  There are 27 reproductions of Audubon’s paintings for The Birds of America, as well as several from his follow-up book, The Viviparous Quadrupeds.  In addition, there are paintings done by other artists, paintings he’s done of his family, various sketches of his, and a photograph of his childhood home.  The bird paintings that were chosen to be included all beautifully illustrate the various parts of John James Audubon’s life that Nancy Plain describes to her readers.

Most Dangerous

MostDangerousCover1

I just finished Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.  This book is edge-of-your-seat exciting, and really well done.  Of course, I wasn’t surprised – I’ve read Bomb, also by Steve Sheinkin, and was blown away by that as well.  Steve has really mastered the art of narrative non-fiction.  I used to always think of myself as someone who didn’t like nonfiction – it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that it was because of the types of nonfiction books I had been exposed to, rather than anything inherent in nonfiction.  I was an avid reader as a kid and teen – I gobbled up every book I could get my hands on.  Some of these were nonfiction, such as memoirs.  But I only thought of nonfiction as the boring texts I had to read at school. Steve’s books should be included in any library that serves young adults so that librarians can steer reluctant nonfiction readers their way.

SteveSheinkin
Author photo by Erica Miller

Most Dangerous has more than 40 pages of additional information at the end, including works cited, source notes, photo credits, and an index.  Steve is very thorough with his research, and it really shows in his writing.  He presents the facts, pulled from various sources with different points of view, and lets those facts speak for themselves.

The book is filled with photographs and copies of important papers that support the text and enhance the reader’s experience.  Each one is a reminder that this story is completely real.  (And sometimes I needed that reminder – there are parts of this story that are hard to believe!).  It just goes to show what they say is true – sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction!

The epilogue of the book really got to me, where Steve talked about Edward Snowden, and his actions in light of Daniel Ellsberg’s story.  It is both encouraging to know that there are people in this world who will risk everything to balance out the immense power held by our government – and also scary that in some ways, history is repeating itself, even after all we have learned about the “secret history” of the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg
Photo of Daniel Ellsberg from Rolling Stone.

Bellweather Rhapsody

Bellweather Rhapsody

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is actually an adult book, so you may be wondering why it’s showing up on a blog about young adult books!  That is because this book is what we would call a good ‘crossover’ book.  That is, it is a book written for adults that teens would probably enjoy if they are interested in reading adult books.  Bellweather Rhapsody is a 2015 winner of the Alex Award, which is an annual award given by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) “to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults” (from the YALSA website).

This book weaves together traditional aspects from the murder mystery genre (anniversary of a murder! an old hotel! trapped in a snowstorm!), with both specific references to and imagery of The Shining, as well as high school camp and band geek stories to create an entirely original piece.  Spoiler alert here – although the book is written with the possibility that it is a ghost story, it is completely realistic fiction, which it takes most of the book to discover.  I loved this because the author was able to play on our stereotypes of various genres to set up our expectations, making the end almost more unexpected than anything supernatural could have been.

kate-racculia
Author photo by Sage Brousseau.

The characters are realistic and believable (even Viola Fabian, which is saying something!), and Kate does an incredible job of showing her readers the back stories of each character, as well as their wishes and motivations.  She also deftly manages to show the greys that each person is made of – that not everything is black and white, and each person is made of both good and bad parts (although some certainly have more of one than the other!).

There are two main thing that set this book apart as adult rather than young adult – the first is parts of the story being told from the adults’ points of view, and the second is that despite the relatively happy ending (given the circumstances), there is an air of melancholy throughout the book.  Neither of these things are typically found in YA, but both enhance this particular story.

MARTians

MARTians

MARTians by Blythe Woolston is sort of your standard dystopian future with a highly original twist.  First of all, it appears to be a stand alone book (a sequel could certainly follow, but it doesn’t seem set up for one).  In addition, (spoiler alert), Zoë doesn’t save the world from a corrupt government.  This story is told on a smaller scale, where our heroine is not “the chosen one,” but rather anyone.  She is struggling to live her life in what her world has become, rather than completely overhauling the world as she knows it.  This is so vastly different from most YA dystopian books!

Another thing about this book – and something that makes it more frightening in some ways than other books of its type – is that this feels like a very, very near future.  The consumerism, what happens with the government and the news, and the trajectory from school straight to a big box store all feel like things that are already happening.  MARTians hits alarmingly close to home, and it’s not hard to imagine that if we continue on the path we (as a country) are headed down, that our future could easily resemble Zoë’s reality.

BlytheWoolston
Author Blythe Woolston

There were a lot of things the book didn’t address in detail – references to things like “Sexual Responsibility,” the relationship between Zoë and AnnaMom, what happened to coworkers that went missing, etc – that normally would have bothered me.  Usually I want both explanations and closure, and yet somehow this just worked with the feel of MARTians as a whole.  It’s almost as though part of the point of this book is non-closure.  It is just a glimpse into part of Zoë’s life; a social commentary on where we are headed, without trying to wrap the whole thing up in a neat bow.  And it really works here.

Six of Crows

Six-of-Crows

This book.  THIS BOOK!  It was FANTASTIC.  This is the first of Leigh Bardugo’s books that I’ve read, despite the fact that her Grisha Trilogy has been on my “to read” pile for a really long time.  I loved this book so much that as soon as I finished Six of Crows I immediately picked up Shadow and Bone (the first book in the trilogy) and started reading it, because I was just not ready to leave the incredible fantasy world Leigh had created.

grisha-trilogy-covers

The world in which Six of Crows is set pulls just enough from our conceptions of different parts of our own world to give us a basis on which to build our understanding of the settings and characters, all while being an entirely new and magical place. The characters certainly seem to have skills and abilities that make them seem more adult (I kept feeling as though the characters were older, and then being surprised when their teenage ages were mentioned).  However, this didn’t bother me when I reflected on it – in the world that these characters are living it, it is either “grow up fast and gain the skills to survive” or perish.  And these characters are definitely survivors!

One of the reasons I loved this book so much is that I have just really been on a fantasy kick recently, so this book hit the spot.  But it also combines much of what I love – excitement, adventure, a touch of romance – all while being well-written and beautifully crafted.  I’m a sucker for heist stories, and this has become one of my favorites.  But I’m also very character-driven when I’m reading, and the action and plot did not at all take away from the characters – they are all fleshed out and interesting, and we gradually learn their backstories which helps us to both understand their motivations and really care about them.

There is only one problem I have with this book – its sequel doesn’t come out for another 7-ish months, and I want to read it RIGHT NOW!!!  🙂

Leigh Bardugo
Photo of Leigh Bardugo from her website.

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01

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Illuminae-Author-Photos-credit-Christopher-Tovo
Author photo by Christopher Tovo

I loved this book! I did not want to stop reading it. This was partly due to the suspense and building drama and my need to know just what was going to happen! And partly due to the unique format the book is written in – with each page changing and different, it was hard to talk myself out of reading just one more email or transcript or looking at the diagrams that were coming next.

One of the things that I most appreciated about this book was the empathy I felt with each character (literally each one, no matter how small a role) and the humanity that the authors managed to give each and every character. Frequently, in end-of-the-world, things-blowing-up, all-out-war types of books, it seems easy to let the deaths pile up without meaning. But in Illuminae, names and stories and backgrounds are given to even the minor characters who die, and I ended up feeling the blow of each of these deaths. Amie and Jay were able to make you understand that the deaths weren’t just numbers piling up, but people, all without encumbering the story or slowing down the plot. A remarkable feat!

The sci-fi world that Amie and Jay created is entirely believable, because although the world is filled with “unbelievable” things (living in space, artificial intelligence with feelings, an airborne pathogen that results in, essentially, zombies, and more!), it is based enough in science that we are familiar with, that it really doesn’t seem too far from what could, potentially, happen. The story is detailed, there is consistency within the story, and – most importantly – we understand and empathize with the characters. The humanity is the same, no matter how different this future, sci-fi world has become.

This is a book that I will be recommending, because it is well-written and unique and thoroughly enjoyable – I can’t wait for the next one!

Illuminae Interior