Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Title: The Memory of Light
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA fiction 
Pages: 325
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (Texas)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Vicky Cruz shouldn't be alive. That's what she thinks, anyway--and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the life wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she's never had.

Yet Vicky's newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up--sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide--Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn't know.

Review: Wow. This one is so good. And he wrote Marcelo in the Real World. Now I feel like I need to go and read his other two books!

This book is so beautiful in it's treatment of mental illness. I know beautiful doesn't quite seem like the right word, but I can't really think of another word to describe it. I feel like I understand the issues so much more after reading this book (though of course, there is so much more to learn), that I have had a glimpse into the minds of the depressed and ill. In the author's note at the end Stork talks about his own battle with depression and I am sure that experience helped him to write such a stirring and believable account.

I also feel that each of the characters is so necessary and well done. Each one brings something important to the story by way of their illness or reaction to someone else's illness. How to behave, what people feel, how it feels, and more. I think this book is such an important one for students to read and that it would a help to some who are struggling with their own demons or with those of friends and family.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Title: Does My Head Look Big in This?
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Year Published: 2005

Genre: YA fiction 
Pages: 360
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)Australia

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Amal, an Australian-Palestinian girl living in a suburb of Melbourne, makes the biggest decision of her life, to wear the hijab, the Muslim  head scarf, full-time. In spite of her parents' gentle warnings and the ostracizing that is sure to come from the other kids at her snobby prep school, Amal's decision springs from a deep sense of faith, and she is certain--well, almost certain--that she's ready to take this step.

But can she handle the taunts of "towel-head," navigate the wilds of a mad crush, and stay true to herself? Amal is sassy, intelligent, sensitive, and hilarious, and her journey of faith will take readers down an unexpected and very entertaining path.

Review: I have been meaning to read this book for years, but had forgotten about it until this summer. It seems to fit given the things being said by Trump in the media about Muslims. The book takes place in Australia, but really it could be any "western" nation with immigrants who look different from the majority population. So many issues get covered in this story without it sounding preachy at all. I do think our American students can relate and see themselves in the problems facing the characters.

Amal is a delightful narrater! She is smart and funny, which makes the tough conflicts and bullying in the book easier to read. She has smart comebacks and handles the nastiness well most of the time, but also has her moments of anger, fear, and sadness. She doesn't want to represent all Muslims and doesn't want to have to explain how Muslims can bomb and kill. She is tired of people stereotyping and treating her badly because she has chosen to wear the hijab.

I love the reasons Amal gives for her decisions. She shows that it is her decision (her parents are actually against it) and what it means to her to cover. I also liked that although she has decided not to date or get physical with a boy, she still has crushes and still wants to be liked. In fact, those moments are some of the best in the book: when Amal is a typical teenager. For that reason I also like her circle of friends: Leila, whose family is very strict Muslim; Yasmeen, whose family is very relaxed Muslim; Eileen, from a traditional Japanese family; and Simone, the overweight white girl. They cover the spectrum and so all their issues get heard.

While sometimes I felt like the author was using this book to make her point about immigration, how we treat others, bullying, etc, I didn't care! I enjoyed reading this book every moment.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

Title: One
Author: Sarah Crossan
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction (a book in verse)
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (FL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Grace and Tippi. Tippi and Grace. Two sisters. Two hearts. Two dreams. Two lives. But one body. Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins, joined at the waist, defying the odds of survival for sixteen years. They share everything, and they are everything to each other. They would never imagine being apart. For them, that would be the real tragedy.

But something is happening to them. Something they hoped would never happen. And Grace doesn't want to admit it. Not even to Tippi. How long can they hide from the truth--how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

Review: This book was recommended to me so I didn't even know it was written in verse until I sat down to read it! And I confess, I am fascinated by conjoined twins. Not that I think of it that often, but when the topic presents itself, I can't stop thinking about all the logistics and details of their lives. That is probably wrong of me, I know. And that's just what this book points out. We all feel it's our business to know. And it's not.

This book was really good. It is told from Grace's point of view, but I felt like I was hearing both her story and Tippi's. They want so much to have a "normal" life even though they know that isn't totally possible. It is also clear that staying together is important to them. And anonymity. Through their story of attending a regular school, dealing with family, and making new friends, I felt like I was beginning to understand their situation, to know what matters to them, and to hope for them.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review: First and Then by Emma Mills

Title: Frist and Then
Author: Emma Mills
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 267
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (FL)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy silently crushing on best friend Cas and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delvers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive jock Ezra right where she doesn't want them--first into her gym class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Review: Oh, this book was just what I needed this week! It's a quick read with good characters and a storyline that went places I didn't expect.

Devon has a "normal" life: she is pretty smart, has a best friend, has parents who are there and good, but not perfect, and she does okay in school. She isn't sure what she wants to do after this, her senior year, but doesn't seem too worried about all that. She also isn't very good at really seeing people; what they are going through. Because her life is mostly good, she doesn't relate to others who have crap going on or who have pasts that aren't easy. It doesn't mean she isn't sympathetic or empathetic, she just doesn't notice or seem to realize that others don't have the life she has.

The author did a great job of bringing people into Devon's life that show her other experiences and situations that are different from her own, but I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with it. It was gradual, gentle, and effective. The book is touching, funny, cute, and surprising. No wonder it has done well at my school's library!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Title: Conversion
Author: Katherine Howe
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA historical fiction and regular fiction
Pages: 402
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the back of the book): It's senior year at St. Joan's Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian,deciphering boys' texts: through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can't.

First it's the school's queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan's buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen--who's been reading The Crucible for extra credit--comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago....

Review: Such an interesting premise for a story. This book alternates chapters between 1706 Salem, Massachusetts and the witch hunts and modern day Danvers, Massachusetts and a string of girls who get sick. In her Author's Note, Howe says that she was inspired by the events in 2012 in Le Roy, New York (you can read a lengthy NY Times article about it here). I love that this is inspired by other literature and real life! Howe has done extensive research to be true to both stories, while creating a work of fiction. It adds to the authenticity that Howe herself is a direct descendant of three of the women accused during the Salem Witch Hunts.

This book was really well done and I liked that the author alternated the Crucible/historical sections with the modern; it made the parallels even more obvious. As much as life has changed, some things are still the same!

The main character, Colleen, is so stable. She is smart, a good friend, has sane parents, and I like her connection to the teachers, administration, etc in the school. She is a good central point for the story. I think high school students will really like this one as they can relate to the characters and will probably have read the Crucible or at least heard of the Salem witch trials.