Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

A couple of weeks before school begins several students come to their high school for various reasons.   Although they came to school for many different reasons, one of them came to place the bombs that beginning going off, trapping them in the school and causing them to rely on each other to get out alive.

I expected a quick survival story with the mystery being that the bomber is one of the main characters.  Who could it possibly be?!  While that is the main jist of the book, I found it bogged down by the laundry list of suspects who were just checking off every box for type of high school student - fat, black, Muslim, gay, closeted gay, angry outsider, and perfect girl.  Okay, so that wasn't surprising given what I expected from the book, but I rolled my eyes so hard when the bonding discussions started.  "Dude, even though I wasn't one of the ones who made fun of you for being Muslim, it never occurred to me to stand up to my friends.  I understand who you are now!" (Simulation of the message conveyed)  "But you're the most perfect girl in school - I never realized that even YOU could have problems!"  After The Testing I have moved Charbonneau to the top of my "to read" piles but this book completes the trilogy that will make me avoid her future releases.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How you Ruined my Life by Jeff Strand

When Rod finds out his rich cousin Blake is coming to live with them for three months he isn't thrilled but he doesn't expect it ruin his life either.  When Blake shows up he refuses to do any work for himself, takes over Rod's room, and uses mindgames that leave Rod not sure what's happening.  Worse, Blake is a perfectly nice boy to everyone else so it looks like Rod is the one causing problems.  Before long Blake is causing Rod to have problems at school, with his girlfriend and with his band.

This book is a comedy.  I feel like I should point that out because when you read my summary it could easily be the description of "Single White Female".  I was chuckling about Blake's "pranks" and Rod's funny narration at first but by halfway through I was weary of both.  There's no explanation for what Blake is up to until the end of the book and even that is unsatisfying.  As is the tidy wrap up between the two boys after all the gaslighting Rod has been through.  Messing with someone is a funny premise but at some point it is no longer funny and has just turned into psychological torture.  Still, I was willing to hang in there because I assumed there would be a big payday where Rod is vindicated.  Given all the mayhem Blake created - he really DID ruin Rod's life - the resolution is not enough.

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

 After several false starts, Brienna is just about to become a passion of knowledge - someone who is recognized as a master of his or her field.  As she nears the date when all the passions in her school hope to find a patron who will support them Brienna senses a change in her relationship with Master Cartier, her knowledge teacher.   Before they have a chance to investigate their feelings further, Brienna finds herself without a patron and remaining behind at school while Cartier leaves for the summer.  Brienna has been experiencing memories from an ancestor that indicate the location of a missing relic that would help regain the throne of the neighboring country for its rightful ruler.  When she mentions these visions to her headmistress she becomes a key player in a secret, dangerous plot to unseat the king on the throne.

That description doesn't do the plot justice because there's a great deal more depth and intrigue than indicated by my overview.  Brienna is a strong, straightforward character and I enjoyed watching her lend her all to the cause.  I've seen so many books that have the same plot over and over that I kept expecting there to be a big twist about her heritage or powers or abilities - and I guess there was something but it was not unexpected - but she is just a loyal girl who is willing to fight for what's right.  This world contains magic but it is not an active part of most of the story so I'd put this in the category of straight up adventure, and a fun one with a satisfying resolution.  My one issue is that the relationship between Brienna and Master Cartier gave me the heeby jeebies, especially after it was clear they liked each other but she called him "Master" on occasion.  That's probably an age thing.  I doubt my teens will feel the ickiness the way I did.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Evie is writing to her beloved older sister Cilla who was sent away by their parents after she became pregnant.  Evie's parents are strict Catholics who are trying to cover up Cilla's teen pregnancy by sending her to live with an aunt until the baby is born, then to boarding school afterwards.  Evie misses her sister terribly and writes to her almost daily talking about her life and hoping for big sister advice about her parents, religion, and her friendship with new girl June.  But Cilla never writes back, not even when Evie reveals more about how her feelings for June are developing into something more and how their parents seem to be breaking down. 

I liked this book but have a couple of issues with it that detracted from the story just a little for me.  First of all, I was having a hard time hanging in there while Evie wrote letter after letter with no response at all from Cilla.  And I know that's part of the point of the whole thing, but I was really disturbed by that.  And then when she finally does get a terse response, that was even worse!  The lack of reciprocal communication is a big factor in the book but I was pretty unhappy about it which really worked well to keep me intrigued so in the end, it's probably a good thing plot-wise.  But so frustrating!

My other smallish complaint is that there are a lot of issues packed into this story - teen pregnancy, religion, moving away from religion, developing lesbian feelings, and a couple other things I don't want to mention in case you haven't read the book yet because they're spoilers.  There were times when it felt like Petro-Roy was trying to take on too much but in reflection, I guess that all the other things that are happening would logically lead to a lot of questioning of religion.  

Despite these few things, I enjoyed the story and especially the slow development of Evie's feelings for June.  Their relationship rang so true to me, moving from a friendship to feelings of deeper caring in a very innocent way that is appropriate for their age.  But alongside those sweet, early romantic feelings are the fear of eternal damnation and the even more terrifying worry of having your parents hate you.  And given how Evie's parents reacted to Cilla's pregnancy, the fear of personal rejection would be even stronger in Evie than every non-straight person already feels when contemplating coming out to someone.  I was led to think about (again) some people's belief that being gay or trans is a choice and my response that I don't know why someone would choose to be discriminated against or oppressed or estranged from people they love.  Evie's worries are so clearly conveyed that I felt them growing throughout the book and making me tense IRL.  A real testament to the power of the writing and Petro-Roy's ability to pull me into the story.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier

Mapmaker and explorer Elias has just returned from his latest journey when he is drawn into a mystery.  Two identical maps that contain a riddle have been found and the style seems like that of Elias' father, except that his father has been dead for years.  While on a picnic with the two young princes of the kingdom all the guards were poisoned and the princes were kidnapped along with Elias' dad.  The boat on which they were taken was lost at sea and now the only remaining royal son, and Elias' close friend, is the king.  But these maps hint that the tragic story everyone knows might not be correct.  If Elias' father lived long enough to draw these maps, perhaps the princes are still alive as well.  But someone wanted them out of the way in the first place and as Elias and the Lady Mercedes begin secretly trying to solve the riddle of the maps, it's clear that someone is still trying to keep the secret.

I think I started getting invested in this story at the point when Elias, Ulises, and Mercedes visited the haunted forest and made their discoveries there.  From that point on things moved fairly quickly with attacks, murders, and revelations.  The problem is that I was at least 40% into the book before I got to the exciting section.  Up until that point I was dragging myself along, trying to figure out what any of this meant.  And even though I ended up liking much of the book, I still don't know a whole lot about our main character Elias so I wasn't invested in him at all.  I have the sense that he is an adventurous, exciting guy with a strong sense of morals but none of that was elaborated on as I would've liked.  I think I could've been really wrapped up in him if I'd known more.  Instead I was much more interested in Mercedes and Reyna.  This could be a great adventure with some tweaking.  For now, I just don't see my students being able to slog through the story to get to the adventure.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Last (Endling #1) by Katherine Applegate

Byx is a young dairne - a creature that resembles a dog and one of the ruling species in the world.  When she wanders away from her pack for just a minute she finds herself being hunted by poachers and helping to rescue a wobbyx.  Although she is only away for a short time, it is long enough for her entire pack to be massacred by a band of soldiers.  Now it appears that Byx is an endling, the last of her species.  But Byx's pack was actually in the process of migrating north to a place where rumor has it there is another dairne pack so is it possible she might not be alone?  With the help of a human girl, the wobbyx, and a panther-esque felivet, Byx sets off on a quest, pursued by several bloodthirsty enemies.

Most of Applegate's books leave me feeling warm and fuzzy, often in tears, so it was with great excitement that I pushed everything else on my "to read" list aside on the day this arrived at the house.  But here we are way too many days later (a bad sign right off the bat) and I'm neither warm nor fuzzy.  The Last just didn't grab me at all. About halfway through I pictured my review being "eh."  By the end of the book I just wanted to be done with it.  I have little patience for books where much of the "action" is the heroes running away from a villain and every time they stop to rest, they have to go again.  Obviously, other things happen along the way, but not enough to keep me very interested.  I think, however, it might sell very well to my die hard Warriors fans.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

As the title says, this is a nonfiction book.  In 2013 a non-binary teen named Sasha was riding home from school when an African-American boy named Richard set fire to Sasha's skirt resulting in second and third burns.  Richard was charged with a hate crime and faced being tried as an adult.  This book tells the stories of both teens up to the point of the crime and the effects on both of them afterwards.  Although the two sentence description of what happened seems clear cut, there is much more to be known about both Sasha and Richard and their families than you think at first.

I read through this book very quickly and found myself thinking about it after.  I believe we are supposed to feel some sympathy for Richard who comes from a relatively tough background but I wasn't feeling sympathetic at all for much of the book, especially when he tells the police that he's homophobic.  As his time in jail went on, however, I did begin to feel his pain and definitely the injustice of sending a teen to prison with adults.  And having worked with teens for 14 years, I know that they do a lot of stupid stuff with no thought of the consequences so I don't believe that Richard had thought clearly about what he was doing or what might result.  It also became clear that Sasha lives in a completely different world from Richard and one that is very insulated from day-to-day reality for a non cisgendered person so they are also not thinking about how much of society will react to their adornment - even though they ought to be able to dress however they'd like.  Slater manages to convey all of these complexities throughout the book but I do have issues with her writing style which is quite dramatic and pretentious.  And who are the three ladies present in court every time Richard appears?  Why bring them up if they're not going to be introduced?  If the story itself were not so compelling, I don't know that this book would be as highly praised as it is.