In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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Image credit: http://www.amazon.com/In-Dark-Wood-Ruth-Ware/dp/1501112317

Started: October 22

Finished: October 25

Genre/*Category: Suspense Fiction/Adult Fiction that could appropriately appeal to YA Readers

Published: August 2015

Awards/Honors: New York Times Best Seller, USA Today Best Seller, LA Times Best Seller, Entertainment Weekly Summer Books Pick, A Buzzfeed “31 Books to Get Excited About this Summer” Pick, A Publishers Weekly “Top Ten Mysteries and Thrillers” Pick, A BookReporter Summer Reading Pick, A New York Post “Best Novels to Read this Summer” Pick, A Shelf Awareness “Book Expo America 2015 Buzz Book” Pick

Pages: 320

Themes: Murder Mystery, Relationships

Rating: 4 Stars

Age/Interest Range: As mentioned above, this title is marketed as Adult Fiction. I believe the interest (and appropriate ) age range could be 9th grade and up.

There is a British vibe out of the gate with this read, and I loved that! Nora (a struggle writer) gets an invitation for a bachelorette party (Brits refer to this as a Hen Party). The bride-to-be, Clare,  is an old high school friend that Nora hasn’t been in touch with for nearly a decade. Nora is not invited to the wedding…and finds her bachelorette party invite quite strange. Upon noticing another friend on the guest list, the two decide, VERY MUCH ON A WHIM, to attend together.

The party location is a remote, modern “cabin” set in the snowy woods. The party has been organized by a very eager-to-please (newer) friend of the bride, Flo. Awkwardness ensues upon entry of the beautiful, glass home.

Clare refers to Nora by her high school name: Lee. (Lenora is our main character’s full name.) When the two finally meet after such a long time, it is announced why Clare has invited Lee (Nora)… After this initial blow , the hen party continues pretty much as planned.

Until someone ends up shot.

This was easy to get into and for me, a quick read. The plot is not mind-blowing suspenseful, however, it is entertaining. A great debut by Ware. I will make an effort to be aware of her next book…Ware “has” me as a reader.

In a Dark, Dark Wood just came out this month, and it’s already on many must read, great reads, and bestseller lists. This out-of-the-gate buzz will ensure this title’s accessibility; high school girls will find their way to it. That being said, I consider this book age-appropriate for high schoolers. The main characters are in their mid-20s, and content is appropriate.

Overall Literary Merit: Average. As stated, I anticipate this title to be extremely popular and accessible, due to its (marketing) literary comparison to Gone Girl (Flynn) and Girl on the Train (Hawkins). Its “fame” may carry it further than the writing alone would have…

Classroom Possibilities: High School Library and Classroom Library worthy.

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Rest-Just-Live-Here/dp/0062403168

Started: October 19

Finished: October 22

Genre/*Category: Science Fiction

Published: October 2015

Awards:

Pages: 336

Themes: Coming of Age, Overcoming, Relationships

Rating: 3+ Stars

Age/Interest Range: 8th grade and up

I loved A Monster Calls, so I thought I’d try another Patrick Ness book. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: This book was a little confusing at the beginning. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I had faith in Patrick Ness, and so I pushed through my confusion (which, by the way, worked itself out). But I’m not sure a struggling reader would do that. This book may be for a stronger reader who loves a mashup of reality and science fiction.

The setting is current, however, the world has been “taken over a few times” by vampires, soul-eating ghosts, and the undead. THIS KIND OF INFORMATION is just thrown into the text in an uber-casual way.  At the beginning of each chapter, there is a very brief paragraph that talks about a whole other ordeal going on in the town. This “whole other ordeal” is mysterious and describes things like Messengers, Immortals, a search for a permanent Vessel, etc. Ness is trying to build a second story line via these short intervals, and it IS creative… but if you aren’t the kind of reader who keeps pushing through, even when you aren’t sure what you’re reading – You may just find this weird and hard to comprehend.

The rest of the “regular” part of each chapter follows Mikey. He has a group of friends and they are all seniors at the local high school. Their lives are very similar to normal high school lives, but they have lived through “when the vampires came” (a few years back), and one of Mikey’s friends, Jared, is 1/4 god. Jared is also a huge football player and gay. One of the clicks at school is “the indies.” Indie kids are the hipsters of the day, and have strange names like Satchel and many boys named Fin.

The book starts with one of the many Finns being found dead in the woods.

The night a Finn was found, Mikey and his friends saw a bright blue light glowing from the woods. They report this to the police, who do not take them seriously. The friends know something weird is starting up again (it was vampires last time), but no one of authority will listen to them. The deaths of more indie kids follow, one at a time…

Mikey has a crummy home life. Dad is a drunk and mom is running for public office and doesn’t have much time for mothering. Mikey’s sister, Mel, has suffered from anorexia/bulimia and had to miss an entire year of school as a result of her struggle. Because of this, Mel and Mikey are now in the same grade and hand out with the same group of friends. Mikey suffers from OCD and at the beginning of this book, it’s starting to flare up again. Mikey and Mel’s issues both stem from all the poor parenting…

As Mikey’s group of friends are trying to figure out their last months of school (and having mixed feelings about their unknown futures), they are simultaneously trying to figure out what is behind the killing spree of indie kids. This adventure is laced with the aforementioned beginning-on-the-chapter short spurts of narration of Messengers,  Immortals. Portals and Vessels…

I enjoyed this read, but it will not appeal to a variety of readers. I think the title’s story line would have made a better PG-13 movie. Many characters and plot issue just don’t feel right on page.

I recommend this for 8th and up due to the more-than-a-few mentions of casual same-gender sex involving main characters.

Overall Literary Merit: Not low, but not high either… Because of the incredible writing in Ness’s other books, I’m probably being generous here.

Classroom Possibilities: High School Library and Classroom Library worthy.

This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

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Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/This-One-Summer-Mariko-Tamaki/dp/159643774X

Started: October 18

Finished: October 19

Genre/Format/*Category: Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction

Published: 2014

Awards: 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, 2015 Michael L. Printz Award Book, New York Times Bestseller, 2014 Governor General’s Award (illustration), New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2014, 2015 Eisner Award, 2015 Canadian Library Association YA Book Award, New York Times Editor’s Choice, LA Times Book Awards Finalist,, BCCB Blue Ribbon Title, SLJ Best Book of the Year, Kirkus Best of the Year, YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, ALSC Notable Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice Title, Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year, Horn Book Fanfare Title, The Onion AV Club Best of the Year, Kirkus Best of the Year, Booklist Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth, Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize

Pages: 320

Themes: Coming of Age, Self Awareness

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 9th grade and up

Only child, Rose, and her family go to the same cabin near the lake every summer. She has a best friend there, Windy, who is 1.5 years younger than her. This year is starting out a little different though: Rose’s parents are passively arguing upon arrival… Their arguing somewhat allows Rose to fly a bit under the radar.

Rose and Windy have been “summer friends” for the past 5 summers, but this year their conversations/curiosities includes some new topics: their (potential) boobs, boys, pregnancies. Their conversations flow in and out of what feels realistically fitting for their age.

Young Rose becomes a bit obsessed with a high school boy, Duncan, who works at the close-by convenient store/movie rental place. Rose and Windy attempt to impress Duncan by renting rated R slasher movies and, because they are hanging there so much, overhear “teenager conversations.” One particular conversation about a teen pregnancy, involving Duncan as the father, gets Rose very curious…

Rose is caught in that young-but-not-a-baby-anymore phase in her life. She thinks she is ready for more (scary movies, talking about sex), but she’s clueless about what is coming out of her mouth. No one will talk about these topics with her because it would seem age-inappropriate.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki capture this weird, confusing, familiar experience perfectly with words and illustrations!  And I believe it’s THIS that makes this graphic novel so award winning. Illustrations are both detailed and generalized, and this artfully mirrors conversations between characters. This also reflects realistic conversations between parents with children at this age. It is a conundrum to discuss scary or mature topics with children in pre-adolescence.  Add to that martial issues, and what you have is a very common (yet unspoken) family situation.

This story shows the impact and affect of being exposed to topics a child isn’t quite ready for, and how kids (attempt to) process what they don’t understand. Rose and Windy remind us of just how hard  pre-adolescence is (or was). This graphic novel superbly exemplifies this universal truth in anyone’s childhood experience.

Overall Literary Merit: High

Classroom Possibilities: First of all, this title has been awarded highly and in my opinion that makes it classroom (high school in this case) worthy, hands down.  That being said, this is not a title to shoot from the hip with – Careful planning and prep would make this title most useful, academically speaking. Because of all the awards won by this title, there are ample lesson plans, video interviews, guest blogs, (etc!) online. I found this one most interesting:  http://forum.teachingbooks.net/2010/08/guest-blogger-mariko-tamaki/ .

5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

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Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/5-1-Holly-Bodger/dp/0385391536

Started: October 18, 2015

Finished: October 19, 2015

Genre/#Category: YA/Dystopian/Poetry Prose/Narrative Prose

Published: May 2015

Awards: None YET

Pages: 244 pages

Themes: Totalitarianism, Oppression, Will to Survive

Rating: 4+ Stars

Age/Interest Range: 7th Grade and Up

India, 2054. Females are outnumbered by males, 1 to 5 as a result of gender selection laws that backfired three generations ago. Through the years, the valuable women of Koyanagar have found a way to dominate, and by so doing, implemented a 5-day spouse selection process that takes place annually, on a stage in front of an audience.

The purpose of this spouse selection process is to (APPEAR to) give all boys a chance for marriage, despite social caste.

The story is told in two different formats, by two separate people. Sudusa is a young girl and it is now her turn to chose a husband. Her words appear in beautiful narrative poetry prose. Sudusa means “Obedient” and although she seems to be this, her inner voice is anything but. Her grandmother is a head political figure, and Sudusa is expected to behave a certain way, and to select a certain caliber of husband. …Even though her selection is (SUPPOSE TO BE) by chance.

All Sudusa wants is to NOT be apart of the illusion any longer.

Kiran’s viewpoint is told in a narrative format, but not in prose. He comes from a low caste, and has been selected as one of the 5 boys to compete for Sudusa’s hand in marriage. He does not want to win; He wants something better for himself than to JUST be a husband to a spoiled girl. He finds this competition humiliating and unfair.

Kiran knows he’s just on stage as a prop.

One of Kiran’s competitors is Sudusa’s distant cousin.  Sudusa knows that her political head figure grandmother has set this up – another contributing factor toward the illusion of choice. By marrying her cousin, Sudusa’s grandmother’s debt will be paid.

Debt being paid with a girl? Girls are still being used as money and leverage. This was the very thing the selection process was suppose to eliminate!

The opposing viewpoints of Sudusa and Kiran are also split into Parts. Parts denote the five days of the competition (i.e. Day 1, Day 2). Sudusa’s prose voice is written with onomatopoeias and shadowed fonts, all to show emphasis. This is the exact opposite of Kiran’s narrative. His is plain, nothing fancy. This dramatic affect mirrors their place in society.

As the competition comes to a close these two realize they have more in common than they originally thought. But, does that mean they should marry?

Selflessness is a commodity in limited supply in the country of Koyanagar. With some unexpected support, Kiran and Sudusa just may get a life of their choosing.

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom Possibilities: This is most definitely junior high/high school library and classroom library worthy! The title provides perfect examples of how format can take a story deeper, make a tale more interesting, and assist character development. This is Holly Bodger’s first attempt at YA literature; Sharing her story with students could prove motivating to aspiring writers. Additionally, Bodger’s website if full of helpful classroom info! Check it out – http://hollybodger.com/teachers/

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/We-Were-Liars-E-Lockhart/dp/038574126X

Started: October 14, 2015

Finished: Oct 17, 2015

Genre/*Category: YA Literature/Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Published:May 2014

Awards: GoodReads Choice 2014 Winner for Best YA Fiction Literature

Pages: 225

Themes: Isolation vs Conformity, Relationships, Surviving

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 8th grade and up

Cadence Sinclair is wealthy. Crazy wealthy. Her family owns an island. An ENTIRE island, with four huge homes and a full wait staff, located near Martha’s Vineyard. And her family spends the whole summer there…

That basic description is what kept me from reading this book over the last year. I did not want to read about privileged youth complaining about cell service and having self-centered conversations. I thought reading something like this would equate to watching an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Well, I was wrong.

No one who recommended this read told me there would be dramatic/violent/mysterious tones, woven with narrative fiction, and dashes of prose. No one told me there would be literary connections to Wuthering Heights and fantastic short stories/allegories full of fantasy, myth, metaphors.

I was just told, “There’s an awesome twist.” But that alone just doesn’t do this read justice! I conclude there is far more to this novel than just “the twist.”

…However, that twist is perfectly done. PERFECTLY.

The whole story is told from Cadence’s perspective. By page 5 you get your first taste of the aforementioned gruesome dramatics. Cadence explains how she felt when her dad put his last suitcase in his car (because he is leaving her and her mother): “…[he] started the engine. Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth. It tasted like salt and failure.” Graphic and dramatic, spoken like a real teen!

Every summer Cadence’s maternal family escapes to the island. This year, Cady and her mother are running away from the pain of being left. However, this isn’t a linear story line… Out of the gate Cady is referring back to their 8th summer (aka. Summer eight), when Gat joined the original 3 older cousins, and the four of them are known as the Liars.

Gat is an aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew, and he is brought to the island to just simply offer his mother some help with watching over him. Gat is Indian, and this alone makes him very different from The Sinclair Family. Grandpa, the founding father of their family’s fortune, is the least welcoming of Gat. So when he walks in on Gat and Cady kissing during summer fifteen, a subtle comment takes  the story line down a most mysterious, unfamiliar, and nonlinear road.

And I think it’s THAT crazy, interesting, and unexpected non-linear road that confines reviewers/recommend-ers to just defining this book as “having a great twist.”  To say anymore is too difficult!

All I CAN say is this: Suspense drives this unique story…and Lockhart’s great writing is the fuel.

Overall Literary Merit: Moderate to High

Classroom Possibilities: A must-have for high school library and classroom library shelves! Lockhart’s YA writing is engaging and DIFFERENT. This style could be studied and/or used as an example/model in any high school ELA classroom.

The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by C. Riddell

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Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sleeper-Spindle-Neil-Gaiman/dp/1408859645

Started: October 13, 2015

Finished: October 13, 2015

Format/*Category/Genre:  Novelette, Classic Fairy Tale Literature Mash-up, Fantasy

Published: 2013

Awards: None that I could find, but I found this surprising.

Pages: 70

Themes: Jealousy, Good vs Evil, Courage

Rating: 4 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 9th Grade and Up

Maggots, and dwarfs, and sleeping sickness, OH MY! If you “get” Neil Gaiman, you will easily enjoy this novelette. The illustrations and classic fairy tale themes will draw you in, and if you’re like me you’ll want to stay.

“…the flesh went rainbow colored and the carcass began to stink and crawl with blueflies and maggots. Now she butchered the larger animals midwinter…”

Yum? Okay, this hand picked line doesn’t have a lot to do with the story, but this gives you an idea of what you’re in for with Gaiman’s writing. There’s nothing too gross to describe.

So what is this story actually about? Three dwarfs (of “The Seven” is implied) and a Queen (Snow White – again, implied) set out on a mission to stop a magical sleeping curse that is spreading across the land. Rumor has it that A witch! A bad fairy! An enchantress! cursed a baby princess over 80 years ago at her birth celebration feast. This baby was doomed to prick her finger at age 18 and sleep forever. Any of this sounding familiar?

The deviation from the stories we are familiar with includes the aforementioned spreading magical sleeping sickness. The curse is causing people/animals to just…fall asleep. They don’t age, they don’t starve, but they do talk in their sleep and some even change positions to get more comfortable. People are succumbing to the curse by the thousands, and the curse is getting closer and closer to the Queen’s homeland. The Queen is suppose to wed in just hours, and she is not excited about this. So she and her 3 dwarf friends head off to investigate the spreading jinx, thus postponing her regal wedding.

The black and white sketch-like drawing technique fits perfectly with the numerous cobwebs needed to communicate the lengthy sleeping. The intermittent gold embellishments draw your eyes to insane details and features. The vellum book jacket adds depth and mystery, and don’t get me started on the hyper detailed end pages! The illustrations are an essential piece of the story. Gaiman’s descriptions are brought to life via Ridell’s art.

I appreciated the lack of a prince in this story, who typically sweeps in to save the day. The unexpected twists and subtle ambiguous-ness heightens this books literary merit. If  you aren’t a Neil Gaiman fan, well… Have you tried The Ocean at the End of the Lane? The Graveyard Book? Definitely give those two a chance before cracking this open. I suggest this not because I don’t think The Sleeper and the Spindle isn’t a quality read, I just think this story is more valued after having a taste for Gaiman’s writing style.

Overall Literary Merit: SOME, and if a teacher is a lover of Gaiman then, HIGH

Classroom Possible Uses: Picture books (or heavily illustrated novelettes in this case) have purpose in a high school literature classroom. This book would provide a great example of how well-known story lines have potential to be reworked. Additionally, Gaiman’s books, with the inclusion of this title, provide a great example of writing STYLE.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

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Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Unfinished-Life-Addison-Stone/dp/1616953608

Started: October 8, 2015

Finished: October 11, 2015

Category/Genre: Narrative Fiction, Mystery, Faux-Biography, Visual Art in Contemporary Fiction

Published: 2014

Awards: A Capitol Choices Selection; An Autumn 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List Selection; A Junior Library Guild Selection; A School Library Journal Top Fiction Pick; A Romantic Times Top Pick and Finalist for Book of the Year; A Booklist Top Ten Arts Book for Youth; A Chicago Public Library Best-of-the-Best YA Book of the Year; An Amazon Best YA Book of the Year; A YALSA 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection

Pages: 241

Themes: Coming of Age, Mental Illness, Identity Crisis, Interpersonal Relationships

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 9th Grade and Up

The visual art component of this book is as confusing (at first) as it is engagingly imaginative. The first page is a photo of a New York Daily News article, reporting on the recent and mysterious death of Addison Stone. Following this image is a prologue by author Adele Griffin, in which she explains the purpose of the novel: To interview people from Addison’s life and to research what lead up to her untimely and unexplained death.

Confused yet? I know. It took me a moment to figure this out.

This IS a work of fiction. You will have to remind yourself of this, at least thru the first 10 pages. On page two, Adele Griffin (yes, the author) puts herself into the tale, and by doing so, (what seems like) a very real story begins to unfold.

Momentum is gained in the first pages when the interviewees describe a fight that happens at Addison’s funeral. The only thing anyone at the funeral can agree on is that it’s very weird that two particular boys (past love interests of Stone’s) do not make an appearance to pay their respects. This leads the reader to wonder who are these two boys, and did one of them kill Addison?

Via private interviews, Griffin unveils Addison to the reader. We hear from old friends, new friends, boyfriends, her family, fans of her artwork, her mortician… Add to this, the installations of visual art: Addison on art magazine covers, images of her artwork, candid phone pics. (All of these images are cited with things like “courtesy of the estate of Addison Stone,” or whoever owns/has agreed to submit the images.) On-page video clips of Addison herself lets the reader hear from her point of view.  The clips, the numerous interviews, the cited images –  all these things fuse together something fresh and idiosyncratic, to say the least.

Each person interviewed describes Addison a bit differently, however strangely enough, the different explanations seem to describe a very real Addison. She was carefree, she was controlling. She was generous, but she was a thief. She was extremely guarded, but she was natural at one-on-one. These conflicting personalities were what seemed to fuel her artwork. When her 1st grade teacher asked her how she created an astonishing drawing, Addison tells her, “It’s from behind my eyelids.” At 6 years old, she claimed to see more behind her eyelids than what’s in front of them.

At 16, she starts to hear the voice of Ida in her head, which leads her to attempt suicide. After rehabilitation, her parents’ ignorance and dysfunction does not allow them to understand her artist potential. When she returns to school, Addison starts entering art contests and wins. With the help of some teachers, she gets into a New York Art Institute at age 17. What follows is the teetering balance of  her art, her relationships, her troubled mind, and her very public reputation.

You will pick up this book because it’s very different. You will gobble down the whole thing because you won’t be able to help yourself. After learning about Addison’s life so intimately, you must find out what happened to her on that night and who is to blame.

Overall Literary Merit: Because of unique format and credible honors/awards, yes there is decent amount Literary merit.

Classroom Possibilities: The title definitely earns a place on high school library and classroom library bookshelves. It would be a great title for the student who “just hasn’t read anything good lately.” This will get them back on track! The very cool visual art format itself is Lit classroom discussion worthy, to say the least.