Review: Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan ~ vamps, zombies, BFFs

Do we look like we are from a small city in Maine? Um, yes this clubwear was made by LL Bean, can't you tell?

Do we look like we are from a small city in Maine? Um, yes this clubwear was made by LL Bean, can’t you tell?

Good story - Let's hack it and make it great

Good story – Let’s hack it and make it great

Verdict: This book is a light-hearted twist on teen vampire romances without being mean-spirited or satirical. It was a quick read, and while it wasn’t relentlessly silly, it was by nature not all that substantive. With a couple of hacks, this book could have been a bit more polished.

Perfect for: Anyone who wants to read a lighter, funnier, yet not sarcastic take on Twilight. Readers who don’t need romance to be the focus of the story, and who may be more interested in friendship dynamics.

Summary: Set in a small city in Maine within an alternate American history, vampires are a fact of life. They generally keep to their own section of town, and there are strict laws in place preventing vampires from draining human blood or turning people into vampires without their consent. Our main character is Mel, a fiercely loyal friend who throughout the novel tries to help her two BFFs with different vampire-related issues. Continue reading

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Review Hacklet: Boy 21 by Matthew Quick ~ The Little Prince in Basketball Shoes

boy21_cover

The cover is weird before you read it but becomes perfect after you’re done

 

Summary: The book is narrated by Finley, a white Irish kid in a rough, mostly black town close to Philly. He lives for basketball, even though as point guard, he’s a role player and doesn’t get the big scores. He’s a quiet, reserved kid, just trying to keep his head down so he doesn’t get mixed up with either the Irish or black drug dealers or gangs. At the start of his Senior year, his coach puts him in charge of a new kid, Russ, who’s moved to town to live with his grandparents after his parents were murdered. Russ was a highly recruited basketball star out in California, but after his parents’ murder he’s become withdrawn and eccentric, calling himself Boy21 and claiming to be from outer space. Boy21 ominously believes he will soon return to space and rejoin his parents.

Finley accepts Boy21’s eccentricities and heeds his coach’s command to help him and convince him to play basketball again, even though it might mean that Finley would lose his spot on the team to the much more talented Russ. The book is really all about Finley trying to walk many thin lines without making a dangerous error: helping Boy21 without fearing the possible competition; being friends with a black guy while living in the Irish part of town; balancing dating his longterm girlfriend Erin with dedicating himself fully to basketball; staying on the good side of the gangsters and mobsters without being pulled into that life. These razor-edged tightrope walks and the shortness if the book makes this a gripping, tense read.

1 heart  I loved this book from the beginning, but then got mad at it and then got un-mad at it and then I loved it again. I was mad because I was feeling clever about 40% of the way in, when I made the connection between the character Boy21 and the Little Prince, but then about 60% of the way through the book, one of the characters referenced The Little Prince and I felt less clever, and just a bit anxious about Boy21’s detached claims that he would soon be leaving planet Earth for the cosmos. I was also worried the book would end up being a blatant adaptation of Saint-Expury’s work. I started waiting for the metaphorical snake. But it soon became clear that the author was only giving the slightest homage to The Little Prince, and the story went in its own odd direction. So in the end, I got to feel clever again for noticing the connection and gratified by the story’s surprise ending.

I loved the eccentricities of Boy21 and how Finley easily takes them in stride, and loved seeing their friendship develop. There was a lot at stake, both in the present of the narrative and because of the brutal back stories of the characters that you find out later. I loved the unpredictable nature of the story, and the quirks of all the characters. Some people seemed turned off by the “weird” hard-to-classify nature of this book, but that’s exactly what made me love it.

1 scissorsThe only thing I couldn’t quite buy was that Finley and Erin had been dating for years, and were Seniors, but seemed to not have proceeded past making out and holding hands. It’s not that I think this was bad, it just seemed a little unrealistic that two fit, athletic teens who love each other wouldn’t be having a more intimate relationship. In some ways, I think it was a fine choice to not have that be a distracting element to the story, but it was just a little difficult to believe and made me wonder why Quick made this choice. We know that Finley is repressing a lot of emotions, but is this supposed to part of it? Or was Quick trying to make a point about how Erin and Finley were best friends first, and that their friendship was the most important element of their relationship? I actually did feel taken out of the story a little by what I perceived as something so unrealistic.

 

Review Hacklet: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres ~ A harrowing teenage memoir

Jesusland_cover

Sister & Brother…..before the &h1t hit the fan

Verdict/Summary: Being a teenager is hard enough, but Julia and David Scheeres really had it rough. Readers will empathize with seventeen year old Julia’s honest voice as she remembers her strict upbringing in rural Indiana, her horribly dysfunctional childhood, her traumatic introduction to sex, her conflict between wanting to fit in at school and her desire to defend her beloved adopted black brother David from racial taunts, and her stubbornness of spirit after being sent to a totalitarian religious reform school in the Dominican Republic.

1 heartIt’s really hard to put this one down because you want to know if Julia and David turn out OK. Continue reading

Review Hacklet: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell ~ Love with high stakes

Q: Could this cover be more perfect?  A: No. No, it could not.

Q: Could this cover be more perfect?
A: No. No, it could not.

Verdict: An 80’s-nostalgic love story between two outcasts that can be easily appreciated by teens (and older) today. It has Romeo and Juliet undertones and references, but manages to avoid cliché or senseless tragedy.

Perfect for: Readers who love tales of romance between relateable, realistic characters; Aficionados of alternative 80s music and 80s comic books.

Summary: Set in Omaha in 1986, Eleanor, a new student at her high school, is instantly deemed to be a mockable outcast due to her unruly mop of red hair, “fat” body, “weird” clothes, and her redneck stepdad and rundown house. Park is socially in limbo: his dad is a strapping white guy veteran with generations of roots in the area, but his mom is from Korea; usually Park is tolerated or ignored by his classmates, but other times he becomes the target of teasing because of his Asian features.  Park tries his best to exist under the social radar, but when Eleanor ends up as his school bus seatmate, he fears that he will be associated with her and therefore be teased as relentlessly as she is. Over the weeks, however, Park’s empathy for Eleanor begins to outweigh his fears and he begins to make small gestures of friendship.  Eventually the two find that they have more in common with each other than anyone else they know. But can they let a relationship develop in the hostile social environment of their high school? And can Eleanor risk the wrath of her controlling, alcoholic stepdad?

Continue reading

Review: Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins ~ A PG Look at Child Soldiers in Burma

I wish the publisher had been brave enough to show Burmese children on the cover instead of "whitewashing" them into shadows

I wish the publisher had been brave enough to show Burmese children on the cover instead of “white-washing” them into shadows

Only one element needs hacking

Only one element needs hacking

Verdict: This look into the life of child soldiers in Burma (aka Myanmar) without all the gritty, traumatizing realities of war makes this book appropriate for younger readers (age 10 and up). As it is fiction, the book is more an allegory about keeping one’s humanity in an inhumane situation than it is an accurate portrayal of child soldiers. It’s a simple yet rewarding story. Recommended.

Perfect for: Younger YA readers or readers curious about the life of child soldiers, or about other cultures.

Summary: The first section of the book is narrated by Chiko, a bookish fifteen-year-old boy who lives in a major city.  His father, a doctor and scholar, has been in prison for some time for being a suspected enemy of the state for owning English books. Lured downtown by an advertisement that claims the government is recruiting people for teacher-training, Chiko is captured by the army and brought to the jungle to be trained as a soldier. Continue reading