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 Russ was a highly recruited basketball star out in California, but after his parents’ murder he’s become withdrawn and eccentric, calling himself Boy21 and claiming to be from outer space.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.

 

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Review: The Loop by Shandy Lawson ~ YA “Groundhog Day”

TheLoop

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

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

 Verdict: A fun, suspenseful thriller that is most fun if you suspend your critical thinking about its many plot holes. It’s a quick read and definitely gives you back the right amount of entertainment for the time it takes to read.

Perfect for: People who like stories and movies that mess with time (such as the wonderful Before I Fall, “Groundhog Day”, “Looper”).  People who like fast-paced quick reads.

Summary: Ben and Maggie are destined to repeat the same two days in an endless loop – a loop that starts with them running into each other as strangers in a mall and ends with them getting killed by a relentless adversary. Can they alter enough small parts of their endlessly repeating experiences to break free of this deadly loop?

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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

Review Hacklet: Getting over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald ~ a fluffy antidote to hipster lit

She's covering her face for the shame of crushing on a pretentious hipster

She’s covering her face for the shame of crushing on a pretentious hipster

Verdict: An entertaining read. It’s like a palate-cleansing sorbet: it’s not the main course but especially if you’ve been reading more demanding books, it will lighten you up for the next challenge.

Perfect for: Fans of Sarah Dessen’s romances who want something more funny and even more light and frothy.

Summary: Sadie has been in love with her friend Garrett for, like, ever. But while he is away at camp, Sadie has an epiphany: she’s been wasting her life following Garrett around like a lost puppy. So she begins a program of detoxing herself of her crush in preparation for his return, with varying successes. Meanwhile, without Garrett around, Sadie makes some new friends and even resuscitates her friendship with her former BFF and neighbor, Kayla.

1 heart This book pulled a fast one on me! At first I was like, why does Sadie have the hots for Garrett? He’s such a pretentious hipster and she’s acting like one too. Am I supposed to like these people? But then Sadie has her epiphany and as she detoxes she starts to see Garrett for who he is, ie someone who would make Sadie feel embarrassed to watch Bring It On and Clueless (for shame!). When Sadie finally pulls out her copies of these DVDs I cheered. And chuckled. I thought McDonald did a great job showing how a crush can give you such tunnel-vision about a person and how easy it is to lose your own bearings when you like someone. It was nice to see Sadie struggling with how to show an interest in a guy with keeping her own identity.

I also loved seeing Sadie reconnect with her old friend Kayla, whom she abandoned as being “too regular people” when she fell in with Garrett. After just seeing all of Freaks and Geeks for the first time, it made me think of Lindsay and Millie and how awesome it was when Lindsay finally rediscovers what a good friend Millie is. The book also made me think about how Lindsay finally realizes that she doesn’t have a crush on sometimes-poseur Daniel.

1 scissors I mean, whatever, it was predictable and fluffy. It was in First Person Present Tense (*sigh*)(boo). I guess the only thing that really bothered me was that Sadie’s mom seemed a little bit two-dimensional. But I don’t think it really matters. This is a popsicle book, perfect for summer.  Garrett Delaney wouldnever want to read a book like this, which is recommendation enough 🙂

Review: First Comes Love – by Katie Kacvinsky ~ A YA love story with depth (that deserves a better book jacket and a better ending)

Don’t Judge This Book By Its Lame Cover

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

  Verdict: A touching look at the thrill of first love between two (mostly) non-standard YA characters. While the book treats its characters – and love – seriously, there is plenty of humor and fun here too. Why only three hearts? Well…some little things and some spoilers below in the hacking section…

Perfect for:  Readers who want to read a more mature and less fantastical version of Bridge to Terabithia or Stargirl. People who like romance stories, obvs.

Summary: Gray notices Dylan at his community college campus and wonders why this new girl is always acting so conspicuously weird and different from all the students who try to blend in (like he does). When they finally meet, Gray is both fascinated and repelled by this confident, strange girl, while Dylan feels it is her personal mission to get Gray to lighten up and have some creative fun. Over time they become friends – and more than friends – but can a relationship between such different people last?  The book is told in alternating first person narratives from Gray and Dylan.

 Just When You Thought You Had Another Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Brooding Loner Guy….

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