Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Perks of Being a Wallflower

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
-Bill Anderson

Surprise review! I borrowed this book from a friend yesterday, and finished all but 20 pages in one day. Yes, it was that good.

I’ve had this on my to-read list on GoodReads since the day I saw the commercial for the movie, though I had no idea what it was about. I knew I heard about it, and if they were making it into a movie, that was automatically enough for me to want to read it. I had high expectations because of all of the good things I’ve heard about it, and it didn’t disappoint.

Charlie is a freshman in high school and makes friends with a group of seniors after his best friend Michael commits suicide. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 90’s, so there are countless references to 80’s and 90’s music, movies, and TV shows. Charlie is also a big reader, so the book mentions many English literature books.

Since this book is about life in high school, there are so many topics involved, which makes it perfect for anyone. I laughed, I cried, I felt the characters’ emotions– which is more than I can say for most of the books I’ve read. This is a truly unique novel that definitely deserves every bit of hype that it gets, and I can’t wait for the movie to come out on DVD. In my honest opinion, everyone should read this book, even if it’s not your style. You won’t be disappointed.

-J

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Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real World

“How do we go about living when there is so much suffering?”
-Marcelo Sandoval

Marcelo Sandoval is a seventeen-year old with a rare,�mild case of autism. He goes to a school for kids with mental disorders and is about to start his summer job caring for the theraputic�horses that are housed there. But then his father decides that Marcelo should try to join “the real world” and work for his law firm, in exchange for letting him stay at�the same�school for his senior year instead of going to a public school like his father wants. While there, he makes friends with people in the workplace, and eventually discovers a photograph of a girl with a disfigured face. Marcelo sets off to help this girl he doesn’t even know in any way he can, even if it means risking everything.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that I can’t believe it’s Scholastic. When I think of Scholastic, I think of school-friendly language and subjects. Marcelo in the Real World was anything but. For one, Marcelo’s mom’s best friend discusses sex with him, a conversation that takes up nearly a chapter. Also, his coworker Jasmine has an extremely vulgar father. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this sound a little unusual for a school-distributed company?

Now that that’s over, I can get to what I really think of the book. Marcelo in the Real World is definitely something. The fact that it’s told in first person point of view is incredible, because it takes you inside the mind of a semi-autistic teenager. Francisco X. Stork’s narration of Marcelo is spot-on and amazingly thorough. The supporting characters were well-developed, even the ones that only show up for a chapter or two. There wasn’t much action or excitement, so I’m skeptical on whether I’d recommend it to a friend, but it was a wonderful book that should not be judged by its cover.

-J

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Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Elsewhere

“People, you’ll find, aren’t usually all good or all bad. Sometimes they’re a little bit good and a whole lot bad. And sometimes, they’re mostly good with a dash of bad. And most of us, well, we fall in the middle somewhere.”

This book was not at all what I expected. This being a book exclusively about the afterlife and yet nothing to do with religion, I was intrigued immediately. And honestly, I have to say everything in this book makes complete sense. It actually makes me wonder if Gabrielle Zevin truly knows what happens to us after we die, and has decided to share it with us.

At the age of fifteen (almost sixteen), Elizabeth “Liz” or “Lizzie” Hall is hit by a taxi and killed. She awakens on a boat with another girl about her age, unsure of what’s going on and desperate to find what happened. Finally, they arive in Elsewhere, the afterlife where everyone ages backwards until the day they become infants again and are reborn into the world.

I was this close to crying at the beginning and the end. Liz’s pug Lucy tells the story of Liz’s death at the very beginning, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. And, of course, the endings of great novels make me tear up, and this is definitely a great novel. Although I know there’s nothing like reading a great book for the first time, I have no choice but to re-read this book again and again until I’m sick of it. Like I usually say about wonderful authors, I can’t wait to read some of her other works and I’m especially excited to read her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, another of the many unread books that currently sit on my shelf, waiting.

-J

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Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Love is the Higher Law

“The secret to living long is to have something to live for.”

Well, it’s a little late, but I promised you a review within the next few days and here it is. This is the only 9/11 book I’ve ever read, and I’m having some mixed feelings. Like I said in my review for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I’m really not too interested in history-related books, so this is a little new to me. Okay, here we go.

Love is the Higher Law focuses on the New York City area during 9/11. There are three sides to this story: Claire, who is in school when it happens; Jasper, who sleeps through it, oblivious to the situation; and Peter, who witnesses the attacks firsthand. Their separated stories are told, and eventually the three meet (Claire goes to school with Peter and meets Jasper by chance, and Peter and Jasper had a date planned for that night before they knew) and their stories mix.

This is a great book, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my thing. I know there’s not a lot of 9/11 YA novels out there, and I’m really glad that I found one and read it. But now I know it’s not my type of book. I do like that David Levithan mixed so many elements into one book, and it kept my attention through its very short span. If this is the kind of book you’re into, definitely read it, and if it’s not, at least give it a try.

-J

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Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

Shattering Glass

“We’re all imprisoned in different ways.”

This is the kind of book that surprises you without surprising you. For example, in Carrie by Stephen King, you get excerpts from the book Sue wrote after the incident mixed in with the actual story. In Shattering Glass, you get quotes taken from characters and acquaintances of characters after the incident. So, yes, it kind of tells you what is about to happen, but somehow you don’t expect it anyway.

Rob Haynes is the most popular student in his school. He has control of everything, including his posse, and knows how to get whatever he wants. So when Rob sees some kids picking on Simon Glass, the biggest loser in the school, he decides to challenge himself and make Simon popular. Soon Rob realizes he is no longer in control, and as Simon becomes more and more popular, he begins to turn against everyone who got him this far, including Rob.

My summary probably made Rob seem like the good guy, but I feel that he isn’t. Even from the start, I didn’t like him at all. Honestly, he seems like the male version of Allison from the Pretty Little Liars series to me, and if you’ve ever watched the show or read the books you already know that’s not a good thing.

Anyway, I’ll stop with the references and just get to the point: this book was awesome. I have two other unread books by Gail Giles that I’m already excited to read, and by the premises of those books I can tell she’s a crime and violence kind of writer. The book I’m reading now is fairly short, so be ready for another post within the next two days. Adios!

-J

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“Despite the mayhem that followed… nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.”

Wow. This book is just… wow. I read it all in two sittings, with no regrets whatsoever. Usually I despise history, or anything history related, but I’m officially interested in Holocaust/WWII/concentration camp books.

Almost everyone who noticed me carrying around this book today said they had watched the movie and cried. As of now, I haven’t seen the movie (I say “as of now” because I’ll be watching it in about an hour when I convince my mom to rent it for me), and I didn’t know much about the book, either. There isn’t much I can say without spoiling anything if you’re planning on reading it, because this book was extremely surprising to me, so I’ll just copy the summary from the back of the book:

“If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.

Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one.”

Well, there you have it. From that kind of description, all you know is the main character’s name and that he discovers a fence. And that’s the best you’ll get out of me, because I refuse to spoil such a great book for anyone who doesn’t know what it’s about. If there’s one book you read this year, please make it this one. You won’t regret it, and it’ll change your view on things you never thought could change.

-J

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted

This was a fairly quick read, less than 200 pages and only took me two days to finish, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. Susanna Kaysen has a serious talent to make a memoir read through like fiction, and to not overly detail like most nonfiction authors do. Being a nonfiction book, there isn’t much of a plot to talk about, other than that Susanna Kaysen is living in the mentall illness ward of McLean Hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and depression. The book tells about her stay in the hospital and the other girls that live there with her, and her struggles with coping with her mental illnesses.

I’d heard so many good things about this book before I started it, so I immediately had high expectations. Just as I predicted, Ms. Kaysen didn’t let me down: she delivered a rich, intriguing story that really shows you what it’s like to cope with numerous disorders. This, along with Mary Forsberg Weiland’s autobiography Fall to Pieces, is currently my favorite nonfiction book, and I’m sure to read it over and over again for years to come.

-J

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Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Parrotfish

Angela has always felt uncomfortable in her own body. She came out as a lesbian last year, though she felt the term still didn’t describe her very well. Now, Angela has decided to become Grady, a guy, in order to feel more comfortable. But once the decision is made, everyone at Grady’s school distances themselves, turning Grady’s high school into torture. Grady makes friends with a nerdy kid named Sebastian and develops a crush on the most beautiful girl in school, and uses their friendship to try to feel accepted once again.

I don’t know any transgenders in real life, but I knew someone through the internet with gender dysphoria, so I can somewhat understand this subject. I could make a few connections between Angela/Grady and Connor, so Ellen Wittlinger had obviously done her research. Books that deal with people who have trouble fitting in have always been some of my favorites, and this book deals with that topic greatly.

The parts of this book that didn’t deal with that topic, though, were kind of dumb. I won’t go into too much detail in case of accidental spoilers, but Grady’s family’s Christmas traditions seemed way too kiddish to me. Grady convinces his dad to let him rewrite the script of their yearly production, and in my opinion, reading the production was near torture. I know it was supposed to have a sort of acceptance theme to it, but I truly hated it and I know in real life nobody would react well to watching it.

My other problem with this book was that I didn’t like any of the characters very much. It made the book pretty difficult to read, since I usually find at least one character I either love to death or can very much relate to, even in books I hate.

Overall, half of the book was great, the other half not so much. If you guys have any feedback at all for me, I’d love to hear it!

-J

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

My god, what a wonderful book. This is my first time reading anything by Chris Crutcher, and I have to say I’ve been missing out. His writing style is absolutely amazing, and I will definitely be looking into more of his work in the future (once I’ve finished the rest of these 39 books I got for Christmas– one of which is another Chris Crutcher book that I can’t wait to read). I’ll try not to spend this entire post gushing about him, though, and get into the review.

I can’t be positive, but I believe Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes may have become my favorite of the books I’ve received for Christmas (so far, at least). The story revolves around Eric “Moby” Calhoune and his best friend Sarah Byrnes, two of the biggest outcasts at their school due to their appearance. Eric is easily the most obese kid in their junior high school, and Sarah Byrnes has burn marks across her face and hands after pulling a pot of boiling spaghetti onto herself when she was three. Since then, she’s insisted everyone call her Sarah Byrnes instead of Sarah, so nobody will be tempted to make a pun out of her name.

The first quarter of the novel shifts back and forth between Eric’s junior high memories of his friendship with Sarah Byrnes and present time. Now, Eric has lost a lot of weight from joining the swim team and Sarah Byrnes has been put into a hospital after refusing to talk for a prolonged period of time. Eric visits Sarah Byrnes every day, hoping to bring her out of the state she’s in, but when she finally starts to talk again, nothing is the same.

Reading this book has been the best decision I’ve made in the new year. The story deals with so many topics– abortion, abuse, suicide, religion– that it’s pretty much for anyone. Although I’m really not a religious person, my favorite character was Ellerby. I spent the bulk of this book wishing he was a real person and that I could know him. I don’t know how else to describe why, other than that he’s just awesome in every way. I would absolutely love to have this kid at my high school.

All in all, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a truly thought-provoking and suspenseful read, and I would definitely recommend it, no matter what your preference is.

-J

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Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Girl in the Arena

Let me just start off by saying I have no idea how to describe this book. It doesn’t seem dystopian, but at the same time it does. It’s not a love story, but it’s somewhat about love. It’s just so hard to explain this book, so please bear with me while I try my best.

In a world where gladiator-style fighting is the most popular sport, Lyn is a celebrity. Her nickname, “the Daughter of Seven Gladiators,” comes from the fact that her mother remarried seven times, each time to a gladiator that she lost in the arena. Lyn’s current stepfather, Tommy, has a big match coming up against an extremely gifted fighter; she is so worried that she lends Tommy her dowry bracelet for good luck. When Tommy is killed in the arena, his opponent picks up the bracelet, forcing Lyn to marry him by law– unless she fights him herself.

Girl in the Arena was a lot better than I expected it to be, and full of action. Throughout the book, Lyn is faced with so many problems, including the death of her seventh stepfather (which, by law, means that her mother cannot remarry), caring for her autistic brother Thad, and training with her best friend Mark (whom, I believe, she has feelings for). Just when you think she’s solved a problem, another one pops up in a consistent cycle of suspense.

I’ll go ahead and recommend this to any fans of The Hunger Games series, in case you didn’t expect how similar they seem.

-J

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