Monthly Archives: April 2013

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Jumping Off Swings

“I stretch my fingers across my belly and glide my hand back and forth, waving softly.  Sometimes I think I feel a hand reaching out for mine.  Or it could be a foot, kicking my hand away.  I wish I could tell the difference.”
-Ellie

Ellie has always used sex to gain confidence. She wants someone to care about her, and sex makes her feel like someone wants her. So when she and Josh mess around at a party one night, she thinks it’ll be like any other time. The last thing she expected was to get pregnant– but she did. Jumping Off Swings is told from the point of view of four different teenagers who are all affected by Ellie’s pregnancy and everything afterward. But whatever choice she makes will affect each of their lives in some way, and there’s no way to change it now.

This is one of those books that I enjoy reading, but wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. Pregnancy is the main conflict in the story, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then by all means read this book. But if you’re expecting anything more, don’t bother. Don’t get me wrong, Jo Knowles does a great job of writing this book, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something. Really, I don’t know what it is, but the book just seems a little empty.

Otherwise, it’s a great book. I applaud Jo Knowles for being able to tell the story in different points of view without making all of the characters sound the same. I noticed that’s something most authors seem to struggle with, but Jo Knowles makes it look easy.

Short review, yes, but it’s a short book. Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t exactly recommend it unless this is exactly the type of book you’re looking for. If it’s not, you’ll probably be disappointed by it.

-J

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls

“I could say I’m excited, but that would be a lie. The number doesn’t matter. If I got down to 070.00, I’d want to be 065.00. If I weighed 010.00, I wouldn’t be happy until I got down to 005.00. The only number that would ever be enough is 0.”
-Lia

When best friends Lia and Cassie begin a contest to see who can be the skinniest, everything goes downhill. After not speaking to each other for months, Lia discovers that her best friend has died. Now alone, Lia struggles to recovver from Cassie’s death and her ongoing anorexia before she disappears.

Although I really dislike the title, Wintergirls is one of those incredible heartbreaking books that you can’t help but read more than once. The story is extremely depressing, as is Lia’s eating disorder and self-harm, but in a way it’s also sort of inspiring.

I know this is a very, very short review, but there isn’t a whole lot to say. This is the most accurate portrayal of an eating disorder that I’ve found so far, along with numerous other struggles, so this should be your number one choice if you’re looking for a story about dealing with an eating disorder. Other than that, this is just an all-around good book and I believe it should be read by absolutely everyone. People need to understand the difficulties that others go through, and this would definitely show them.

-J

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Burned by Ellen Hopkins

Burned

“Real love finds you once, if you’re lucky.”
-Aunt J

Pattyn Von Stratten is the oldest of her family’s seven daughters, living in a gilded Mormon home. Her father a raging and abusive alcoholic, her mother succumbing to his every command, it is up to Pattyn and her oldest sister, Jackie, to care for the rest of the family. Pattyn, questioning numerous beliefs by her religion and her family, experiments by dating a boy behind her father’s back– only to get caught and sent to rural Nevada to live with her aunt for the summer. While there, she discovers the truth about her life and beliefs and sets out to become a new Pattyn.

This is and forever will be one of my favorite books, written by one of my all-time favorite authors. Ellen Hopkins is known for writing her novels using the unusual style of free-verse poetry. Basically, it’s just like a regular novel, but there are probably a maximum of fifty words per page, and the words are broken into stanzas, like any other form of poetry. When I read the first of her books I hated it, but I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy and admire her style. Especially with the poems that are set up in a read-between-the-lines sort of way– one or two words from each stanza are set apart from the rest of the text, so that you can interpret the story on that page in two different ways.

But the plot of the book itself is just as fantastic. There are so many conflicts and issues at hand that there is never a boring moment. But if you’re expecting a happy ending, do not read this book. Seriously, this book is majorly realistic and depressing. It may seem like everything will turn out okay in the end, but the ending will hit you like a ton of bricks. The first time I read this book, I definitely didn’t see it coming.

And if you like this one, you should really check out some other books by this incredibly talented author. So far, I only own four of her numerous published works, but I’ve heard the others are amazing and will definitely be checking into them soon. Also, the long-awaited sequel to Burned comes out in September; many more of Ellen Hopkins’s hugely anticipated books are to follow, so keep a look out for her upcoming releases!

-J

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Jay’s Journal by Beatrice Sparks

Jay's Journal

“Why so much hate in your mind when love is the only way to straighten things out?”
-Jay

This is the “real” diary of a teenager named Jay as he becomes interested in the occult, “edited” by Beatrice Sparks. The quotations may have given away that I think the validity of this book is utter crap. Sure, it may have been loosely based on a real diary, but I’m talking very loosely. And it’s not because I don’t believe something like this could happen, because I’m open to all possibilities; it’s the writing style that gives it away. First of all, another of Beatrice Sparks’s “discovered and edited” books I’ve read, Go Ask Alice, is written in the same exact way as this one. The constant repitition of words three times feels like it’s obsessive-compulsive. Constantly capitalizing or emphasizing certain words, random poems, and incredible vocabulary are not the things that you find in the average teen’s journal. Just saying.

Other than the unreal quality, I think it was an overall good book. Some parts were actually very creepy, which is why I tagged this book under horror even though I don’t think I’d consider it wholly horror. The same reason I tagged psychic, considering the powers of witchcraft and altering the future, etc.

There were some graphic rituals described with a lot of detail, so if you’re squeamish I’d suggest you to stay away from this book. Also, if you’re extremely creeped out by Satanism, demons, and all that fun stuff, don’t even go near this book. Honestly, it would probably scar you for life. But what else can you expect from a book about demonic cults?

-J

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline

““I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then?”
-Coraline Jones

After moving into a new home, Coraline discovers a door that leads to nothing but a brick wall. But later, when she returns to the door, she finds that it leads to something completely different: an entirely new world where the people have buttons for eyes and no one mispronounces her name. In this world, where animals can talk and her parents always have time for her, everything seems much better than reality. But everything is not what it seems…

You’re probably more familiar with the claymation movie based off of this book than the book itself. There are a number of differences between the two, although both are great. Neil Gaiman is an extremely talented and imaginative author, and I really enjoy reading his works.

If you remember the movie, the first thing that should come to mind is how scary it was. Even though I was eleven when I first watched it, I remember it as the most terrifying animation movie I had ever seen. Even my mother, who was probably thirty-five, was shocked at how disturbing it was. The book was significantly less scary, due to the lack of Other-Mother-turning-into-a-spider scenes. The illustrations in this book weren’t the most comforting, though.

-J

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders

“Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see.”
-Ponyboy Curtis

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends– true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. And when it comes to the Socs– a vicious gang of rich kids who enjoy beating up on “greasers” like him and his friends– he knows that he can count on them for trouble. But one night someone takes things too far, and Ponyboy’s world is turned upside down…

I copied that summary from the cover of the book because, let’s face it, my summary wouldn’t have done this incredible book any justice. Being a classic, you’ve probably heard of this book before– or at least the movie, or at the very least, the famous quote, “Stay gold,” from this book. Usually I wouldn’t be interested in “classic literature” at all, but this is one of my favorite books of all time.

While this may seem weird to some of you, I’m sure the avid readers out there will understand when I say I have a crush on a fictional character from this book, and odd as it may be, that character happens to be Two-Bit. It didn’t help when I saw the movie for the first time and twenty-one-year old Emilio Estevez was cast as Two-Bit in his first movie role. (He was amazing in that movie, by the way, and portrayed the character perfectly. Actually, all of the actors in that movie did.)

I’d better stop before I start gushing. I’ll end it on this note: go read this book as soon as you can. Go watch the movie right afterwards. And even if you don’t want to read this book, go watch the movie anyway. It’s perfection, and it’s full of gorgeous actors from the 80s (Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, etc), which just makes it that much better.

-J

*I just today noticed that this review didn’t post on Thursday when I wrote it. Sorry!

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Deadline by Chris Crutcher (with bonus list)

Deadline

“Love, in the universal sense, is unconditional acceptance. In the individual sense, the one-on-one sense, try this: we can say we love each other if my life is better because you’re in it and your life is better because I’m in it. The intensity of the love is weighed by how much better.”
-Hey-Soos

When Ben Wolf discovers he has a terminal disease and has only a year left to live, he decides to make his last year worth it. He decides against telling anyone, even his family, and against getting treatment, so he won’t have to spend his last year weak and bed-ridden. He also decides to spend this last year doing anything and everything he’s always wanted to do (or anything he can do within his small town).

I don’t think I could’ve saved a better book for last. It was unbelievably difficult to even find a quote for this post– there were way too many. Not only from the spiritual Hey-Soos (and no, I did not spell that wrong), but from countless others as well. You could literally flip to any page in this book and find a great quote.

There were so many things going on in this book, I don’t know where to begin. The last sentence of the description on the back cover says, “But living with a secret isn’t easy… What will Ben do when he realizes he’s isn’t the only person who’s keeping one?” And that sentence alone pretty much sums up the entire book. Almost every character Ben comes into contact with has a huge secret, or at least a big problem. And it is fascinating.

Now I’m rambling, and I don’t want to keep going in fear of giving anything else away, so I’ll end it on this note: Deadline is easily one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

And, finally, since I promised you a bonus list in the title of this post, and since I’ve finished all of my Christmas books, here’s

J’s List of Top 12 Best Books Reviewed So Far
*No particular order*

  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne — read it in a day, bawled, then watched the movie, bawled
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — I want to be friends with Patrick. Badly.
  • Saving June by Hannah Harrington — just all-around awesome, and I could only dream of going on a road trip as cool as this.
  • Deadline by Chris Crutcher — see above review 🙂
  • Going Bovine by Libba Bray — very weird, but very cool.
  • The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon — one of my favorite nonfictions.
  • Luna by Julie Anne Peters — a great portrayal of struggling with becoming transgender/dealing with BIID
  • Right Behind You by Gail Giles — Gail Giles is just perfect anyway, but this was my favorite of hers.
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher — after reading only one of his books, he became one of my favorite authors.
  • A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer — an incredible story of torture, determination, and survival.
  • Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess — an unpredictable ending that makes the whole book ten times better.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey — technically a classic, but still amazing. (Also, the movie was nearly just as good.)
I couldn’t bear to leave out two of these marvelous books, so I made it a top 12 instead of the usual top 10. Anyway, it took me quite a while to separate my favorites from the ones I just liked, so hopefully you all enjoy this list. Below is a much smaller list of the books I didn’t like as much. (Let the whining begin.)
J’s List of Top 5 Worst Books Reviewed So Far
*No particular order*
  • The Dream Where the Losers Go by Beth Goobie — stupid, stupid, stupid.
  • Candy by Kevin Brooks — didn’t live up to expectations at all.
  • Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger — could have been so much better than it was, plus the Christmas scene was dreadful.
  • Beastly by Alex Flinn — if you really want to know, read my review, but prepare yourself for some serious complaining.
  • The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford — so terrible, I didn’t even finish it. That’s why you didn’t see a review for it on here.

-J

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Aimee by Mary Beth Miller

Aimee

“I think they do it when they can no longer find a reason to keep going. When nothing in heir lives is good enough to balance out the bad. And they do it when they no longer have the courage to carry on past some recent painful experience. They commit what is, in the end, a desperate, final call for help, that is hopefully heard in time by someone else.”
-Marge

Even though Zoe has been cleared, nearly everyone she knows still believes that she killed her best friend, or at the least, helped her commit suicide. Aimee tells of Zoe’s life before, after, and during this horrible incident, and how she slowly found the strength to recover.

The writing style of this book was very… unusual. It somewhat reminded me of a Quentin Tarantino movie, because of how much it jumped around from past to present. Also, the main character/narrator, Zoe, didn’t even have her name mentioned until about ten pages from the very end of the book. It’s pretty odd to read a book where you don’t even know the main character’s name.

There’s only one real complaint I have about this book. Before Aimee’s death, she and Zoe would always hang out with a few other kids named Chard, Kyle, Jason, and Kates. After Aimee’s death, Zoe isn’t allowed to see them anymore, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be mentioned. The only one who keeps in contact with her afterwards is Chard. Zoe barely mentions the rest of them, even in her flashbacks, so we know next to nothing about her other friends. It’s as if they didn’t exist. Sorry, Mary Beth Miller, but if you’re going to introduce some characters, at least give us a little bit of reason. On the other hand, the rest of the characters’ development was great. Literally every character has something going wrong in their lives, and it’s really interesting.

Although excessively long, Aimee is an overall good book. It’s very emotional and can be triggering at points, so I’d advise you only to read it if you’re sure you can handle it.

-J

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Right Behind You by Gail Giles

Right Behind You

“I figured out that I can’t forget.  I can’t really forgive.  But I can live.  Live with it.  Like you live with a scar or a limp or whatever.  You always know it’s there.  It reminds you never to let yourself do anything so stupid and horrible and wrong again.  I step out of my rut, step again, and keep stepping.”
-Kip McFarland/Wade Madison

Nine-year old Kip McFarland set seven-year old Bobby Clarke on fire, and three days later Bobby died. Kip spent the next few years in a mental institution, trying to overcome his past and forgive himself for what he did. Now Kip is changing his name and moving across the country, where he will try to rebuild his life. But will his past let him go, or will it always come back to haunt him?

I know I’ve said this before, probably in my review for What Happened to Cass McBride? but I’m going to say it again anyway. Gail Giles is an incredible writer. And after reading three of her books, I think it’s safe to say she’s become one of my favorite authors. And if you’re interested in teen violence/crime novels, please be sure to check into her works.

Now, the actual story. Right Behind You is great in every way, shape, and form. The characters are lovable and fun, the kind of characters that you wish were real people. The main story is truthful and addictive, and you can almost feel your heart skip when someone says or does something that will have real consequences. You understand all of the characters’ motives, whether you agree with them or not, and you can identify it to real life oddly well.

Since I’m running out of unread books, after Aimee and Deadline are done I’ll start rereading. Some titles you have probably heard of (Thirteen Reasons Why, The Outsiders, the Divergent books), while others will probably be totally unfamiliar to you (Crash Into Me, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Rosebush). Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the reviews I’ll be posting and keep reading!

-J

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Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die

“Keep breathing. Just keep doing it. It’s easy. In and out.”
-Tessa Scott

Tessa Scott is a teenager who has been fighting lymphoblastic leukaemia since she was twelve. Knowing she isn’t getting any better and her time is running out, Tessa arranges a list of things she’d like to do before she dies. And starting tonight, she’s going out with her best friend Zoey to accomplish number one on the list: sex.

One of the reviews featured on the back cover of the book says “I defy anyone not to cry while reading this.” I’ve seen things like that on multiple books, so I just blew it off, even though I already knew it would be an extremely sad book. And I didn’t cry throughout the book… until it was nearing the end, and I began to tear up. Soon I was full-on crying, and then the book ended, leaving me feeling hollow.

And though I only finished this book about ten minutes ago, looking back at my reaction made me realize that in order to do that, this book had to be awesome.

From the beginning, I thought I was going to hate this book. The first few chapters of the book is just sex, drugs, and more sex, definitely not typical for a YA book. But I went along with it, and I’m so glad I did.

All in all, to me it wasn’t good enough to pass up the others and be considered a favorite, but it was still a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. And the review on the front is a hundred percent accurate: “A book that will make you happy to be alive.”

-J

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