23 Minutes by Vivian Vande Velde

Bibliographic Citation:
Velde, Vivian Vande. (2016). 23 Minutes. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press. 978-1629794419.

Plot Summary:
Zoe is a teenage girl with a complicated past and an ability to sort-of time travel. She can relive events she wants to change, but only 23 minutes of them & it rarely changes things for the better. One day Zoe happens upon a bank robbery and knows she has to do whatever she can to help.

23minutes

Image from Amazon.com

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I am a lover of realistic fiction. You generally won’t find me with my nose in a fantasy or science fiction book. No wizards or vampires for me. But this book, though far from realistic, sucked me in. True crime is perhaps my favorite genre of all time, so it is likely that the crime scene tape reflected in the eye of the person on the cover is what got me, but nonetheless I read AND enjoyed the book. It sat on my desk for well over a month before I picked it up and then I read it cover to cover in about 2 hours. I genuinely liked both Zoe & Daniel, the main characters in the story. Zoe is a little bit different, but you like it probably because the story is told from her point of view. I don’t know if it is possible to hate a main character in a YA novel because you’re inside their heads basically, but moving on. Daniel is likable because he is just so darn nice, and always wants to help. They’re both heroes in this story for their unwavering desire to put other people before themselves. Zoe has the ability to walk away, and just can’t do it. She puts herself in harms way over and over again to try to save Daniel. She could’ve played it back that one time and just left it at that, but she didn’t. Daniel trusts a total stranger who sounds like a lunatic, and in a way sacrifices himself and his own safety for these other people. It would’ve been easy for both of them to just distance themselves from it all, and they can’t just do it. It is noble of them. Stupid at times, but admirable. The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt like the ending was a little cheesy. I don’t think Daniel would’ve bought Zoe a phone in real life, maybe a watch but not a prepaid phone. But then again, this isn’t real life because there aren’t 23 minute time travelers just popping in and out of certain events. Or are there?

Nominations:

  • Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) Quick Picks
  • 2016 Cybil (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) — Young Adult Speculative Fiction division

Author Info:

Vivian Vande Velde is the author of over 30 books ranging from picture books to books for adults. Her work has won several awards including School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (Never Trust a Dead Man), the Edgar for best young adult mystery (Never Trust a Dead Man) and the Anne Spencer Linbergh Prize for fantasy ( Heir Apparent).

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Bibliographic Citation:
Schmidt, Gary D. (2015). Orbiting Jupiter. New York, NY: Clarion Books. ISBN 978-0544462229.

jupiter

Image from Amazon.com

Plot Summary:
Orbiting Jupiter tells story of Joseph, a young, troubled teenage father, who has never seen his daughter. After being placed with a foster family he learns what he’ll do for the people he cares about and what it really means to be a family.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
Orbiting Jupiter is a short, easy read that will move you to tears. This book was recommended to me because it is sad and it definitely delivers the emotions. The story is told by Jack, Joseph’s foster brother and he is the perfect narrator because he roots for him from day one. As I’ve mentioned before, literature for children and young adults tends to always have a happy ending, this story does too — which I like — but it felt very predictable to me. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it ends the way you probably think it will once you start reading. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, but it is what it is. I’ll recommend this book to my students who are specifically seeking out a book that will make them cry.

Awards and Honors:
Capitol Choices 2016
Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2015, Middle Grade
Booklist Best Young Adult Books of 2015
ALA Notable Books for Children 2016, Older Readers
VOYA’s Perfect Tens 2015; 2016 Winner, Notable Books for a Global Society
CCBC Choices 2016, Fiction for Young Adults
2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Young Adult Fiction
ILA Young Adults’ Choices, 2016 Reading List

Author Info:

Gary D. Schmidt is the author of more than 15 books and the recipient of several awards. His book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys won both a Newbery Honor Award and a Printz Honor in 2005.  Additionally, in 2008 his book The Wednesday Wars was also a Newbery Honor Award winner.

 

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We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Bibliographic Citation:
Nielsen, Susin. (2016). We Are All Made of Molecules. New York, NY: Ember. ISBN 978-0553496895.

molecules

(Image from GoodReads.com)

Plot Summary:
We Are All Made of Molecules tells the story of of a blended family through the eyes of the children, Stewart and Ashley. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom fall in love and move in together, but Stewart and Ashley could not be more opposite. Ashley has a secret and cares too much about appearances to give her new stepbrother a fair chance, but they bond when he comes to her rescue.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I enjoyed reading this story because Stewart, Ashley, and their parents seemed to be authentic. While Ashley isn’t always that likable, she is believable. Her sass, her concerns, her conversations are all within the realm of possibility for a girl her age and mindset. The best thing about these characters and this story line is that it is not a love story. Literature for children and young adults tends to always have a happy ending, this story does too — which I like — but it wasn’t cliche about it in my opinion. I like that *SPOILER ALERT* Stewart and Phoebe don’t magically fall in love and start dating. That would seem forced. I like that everyone comes around and that the blended family starts to feel more natural, but I didn’t want it to feel predictable or cliche. It really didn’t. As an adult reading any YA lit there are parts where you don’t buy into it as much because you’re really not the intended audience, but it was still enjoyable. I will recommend this to my students who aren’t big love story fans.

This book is heartwarming and has a strong message. There are some more mature scenarios and language, but it is a complex story that is worth reading.

Awards and Honors:
Longlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal, UK
2015 Governor General’s Literary Award Nominee, Children’s Text
Winner of the 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award
2016/17 Texas Lonestar Award Nominee
2016/17 Georgia Peach Book Award Nominee
A USBBY 2016 Selection for Outstanding International Books
2016 Canadian Library Association Honor Book, Young Adult Novel category
2016 OLA Red Maple Award Honor Book
2016 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award Nominee
2017 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee
2017 Rocky Mountain Book Award Nominee
Kirkus Reviews “Best Teen Books of 2015”
Quill & Quire’s “Best Kids’ Books of 2015”
The Globe 100’s “Best Books of 2015”

Author Info:

Susin Nielson is the author of 4 (soon to be 5!)  books. Her work has received a hefty amount of praise including many starred reviews and two IndieFab Awards, one for her novel Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom and the other for her first novel Word Nerd.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Bibliographic Citation:
Lockhart, E. (2014). We Were Liars. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0385741262.

(Image from Amazon.com)

(Image from Amazon.com)

Plot Summary:
We Were Liars tells the story of summer vacations with The Sinclair family, a miserably well to do bunch with their own private island. The narrator is Cadence “Cady” Sinclair, the oldest grandchild, who is trying to unravel a personal mystery.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I don’t want to say that We Were Liars was short and sweet because it really wasn’t sweet at all, but it was short and I really enjoyed it. I had it sitting at the top of my stack of books for weeks and finally picked it up yesterday. I read it quickly but I was ready to see it end. Mysteries aren’t really my thing and I could only go so long wondering what the heck happened to Cady to make her lose her memory before I would get bored. I feel like you discovered the truth once and for all at the perfect time.

I thought this book was written really well. It had a unique and fresh voice. I enjoyed how Lockhart interwined the fairy tales Cady was writting or bouncing around in her head between chapters. I thought it was interesting. This book just seemed smart to me. I like how everything came together. Every character was so distinct and authentic. It seemed like they were real people and the author was telling us something that maybe actually happened. It was a quick read, and it was difficult for me to put down.

I read a really bitter, hateful review for this book on Amazon that really aggravated me. I didn’t know how this story was going to end, but once I finished it there were so many signs that this was where it was heading. I cried at the end though. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I keep picking sad books. I really liked all of the main characters, well the Liars anyway. I rarely like every main character, but I liked Johnny, Mirren, Gat and Cady almost equally. Gat, of course, was my favorite. I think I was the saddest for him more so than anyone else. Harris, the grandfather, was a stingy, old man on a power trip and I think he should’ve died instead of the grandmother (that’s not a spoiler by the way). His daughters, Carrie, Bess, and Penny are annoying characters. But I guess they needed to be for the story to go the way it went. There are a few things I questioned in this book or “saw coming”, but I just attributed it to the characters being spoiled, pretentious trust fund babies who are clueless about everything.

My students ask me all the time to recommend books that are sad. This one is going on my list.

Quick summary:
Pacing? Perfect.
Characters: Likeable? Yes. Relatable? No.
Things to remember: This is a YA book. While it can (and does) appeal to older audiences, remember the characters are teenagers and this was written for teenagers.
Should you read it? Sure, why not.

Author Info:

Emily Lockhart is the author of several books including children, YA, and adult titles. Her book Disreputable History was a Printz Award honor book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of the Cybils Award for best young adult novel.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Bibliographic Citation:
Alsaid, Adi. (2015). Let’s Get Lost. New York, NY: Harlequin Teen. ISBN 978-0373211494.

Plot Summary:
Let’s Get Lost chronicles Leila’s epic, cross-country road trip from Louisiana to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. Along the way she meets four individuals, Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia, all with whom she shares an adventure. Leila’s journey to the Northern Lights includes falling in love, going to jail, chasing love, and trying to cross the Canadian border illegally. You won’t discover her true motive for the journey until the end.

(Image from Amazon.com)

(Image from Amazon.com)

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
Let’s Get Lost is a good story. I enjoyed reading it, and I read it quickly. All of the characters are easy to relate to, and are quite likable. Leila is sweet, beautiful, and mysterious at times. Hudson is a southern gentleman whose innocence makes him attractive. Bree is an orphaned rebel runaway who introduces Leila to her wild side. Despite, getting our beloved Leila arrested, Bree is an okay girl. You don’t hate her or anything. Leila seems to be really fond of her, and at the end of the story that makes more sense as to why that might be. Elliot is just Elliot. He’s not anything special. Same for Sonia.

What I really didn’t like about this story is that I just couldn’t believe some of it. Leila is seventeen-years-old and her aunt agrees to let her leave and drive from Louisiana to Alaska ALONE? I just couldn’t imagine that actually happening. *SPOILER ALERT* Lets put ourselves in the aunt’s position. Her sister is dead. Her brother in law is dead. Her other niece is dead too. All at the same time, suddenly, just gone. All you have left in this world of your sister and your extended family is Leila, but yeah sure go ahead and leave on your own. See where I’m coming from? Not believable. Bree’s story is more believable because she ran away from home. They didn’t grant her permission to set out into the great unknown unsupervised. Sonia also leaves the country and goes to wedding and her parents don’t even know about it. Sure, she isn’t alone. She’s with her boyfriend’s family but her parents were just unaware she was leaving the country? Maybe that’s not outside the realm of possibility for people who grow up near a border but I can’t imagine crossing state lines in high school without my parents knowing (actually that did happen once) but leaving the country entirely is far-fetched, at least to me.

Other things I don’t like, *SPOILER ALERT* I don’t like how Hudson just shows up in Louisiana at the end of the book. I think that’s too cliché. I feel like he would’ve sent a letter to the campgrounds way before he just set off in search of this mystery girl he met one time. I was glad, however, that she didn’t arrive in Fairbanks to find him there waiting on her. To me, that would’ve been ridiculous. And lastly, I feel like what the book was missing is some kind of connection between Leila’s four new friends. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Do you want to know my prediction? Honestly, I thought the entire book that she was going to die and that Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia were going to all go to her funeral randomly (don’t ask me how they were going to be notified of said funeral, I didn’t think that far out) and meet each other and share awesome Leila stories about how she changed their lives. But womp womp, all that happens is Hudson comes and tells her, yeah you’re right I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. And then you never hear from Bree, Elliot, or Sonia ever again. . Honestly, I did enjoy this book even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

Author Info:

Adi Alsaid is the author of two novels. Let’s Get Lost is his debut novel and it was a YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee in 2015. His other novel, Never Always Sometimes, was nominated as a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2015

Beowulf by Gareth Hinds

Bibliography:
Hinds, Gareth. 2007. Beowulf. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763630233.

Plot Summary:
Beowulf is set in a kingdom during the “the days of old” in Denmark. The battles the book depicts in both text and illustration will draw the reader in because of the marvelous and seemingly impossible feats Beowulf faces. The book has three “books” inside of it all of quests and obstacles for great Beowulf to face and overcome. For twelve winters the villain, Grendel, ruled a banquet hall and devoured any trespassers until Beowulf wounds him in battle. Grendel hides and knows his days are numbered until Beowulf chops off his head and presents it to the king. Later Beowulf faces another villain and is fatally wounded in his attempt to save the people.

Critical Analysis:
Beowulf is the main character in the book and although it is an ancient tale, the readers adore him and cheer for him because he is a hero like many heroes we celebrate today. Beowulf is a man who is almost super man in his abilities to defeat evil and his fearlessness in battle. While the story is obviously fantasy and the villain is a monster, its similarities to modern heroic tales make it easily identifiable for readers. Like many similar tales of heroism, it is a classic story of good prevailing over evil. However, in the last part where Beowulf battles The Worm, which appears to be more of a dragon or serpent, he is fatally wounded and in a sense sacrifices himself to protect the people. For any readers who have seen the most recent Batman trilogy movies by Christopher Nolan they will recognize this, respect it, but unfortunately may not like it.

What I liked best about this book is the style in which it was written. I read Beowulf in high school and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed this version as a graphic novel. Additionally, this book was a much quicker reader than any other version of Beowulf I’ve heard of. For reluctant readers, that makes this version a dream come true. The author’s note at the beginning states, “This is a colloquial translation, and we have attempted to strike a balance between easy readability and the poetic drama found in our favorite verse translations.” While this book still uses terminology like “thou” or “thee” it is easy to follow and understand.

PERSONAL OPINION:
I know teachers seem to love this epic tale, but not me. Ever since a high school ELA teacher of mine obsessed over it years ago, I have been turned off to it. While I certainly enjoyed this version more than any other I’ve been exposed to, it was still Beowulf and it was still not for me. However, I am certainly a proponent of graphic novels as they seem to open up some literature to groups who would otherwise be disinterested. So if you’re a teacher who is thinking of reading Beowulf, perhaps you should consider this option for your reluctant reader students.

Review Excerpts:
No awards were found for this title.

“The book makes a gorgeous whole…the long, wordless battles reproduced on glossy, high-quality paper are particularly noteworthy…. This offering will have high appeal for many, particularly fans of video games and action movies.” – Booklist

 “This epic tale is exceptionally well suited to the episodic telling necessary for a successful graphic novel….Hinds’s version will make this epic story available to a whole new group of readers.” – School Library Journal

“A first-rate horror yarn… Hinds stages great fight scenes, choreographing them like a kung-fu master.”  – The New York Times Book Review

“Gives young readers the Geatish warrior as the hypermuscular, hard-hitting proto-comic-book superhero he’s always been… With treatments like this available, honors English may never be the same.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Retells the old tale as a series of dark, bloody, chaotic clashes… A strongly atmospheric alternative.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The epic tale of the great warrior Beowulf has thrilled readers through the ages — and now it is reinvented for a new generation with Gareth Hinds’s masterful illustrations. Grendel’s black blood runs thick as Beowulf defeats the monster and his hideous mother, while somber hues overcast the hero’s final, fatal battle against a raging dragon. Speeches filled with courage and sadness, lightning-paced contests of muscle and will, and funeral boats burning on the fjords are all rendered in glorious and gruesome detail. Told for more than a thousand years, Beowulf’s heroic saga finds a true home in this graphic-novel edition.” – Goodreads

“The book follows a poetic approach rather than using prose and at first glance the text may not seem to be directly linked to the images around it. On careful inspection though, the reader finds that the images tell a story by themselves, often times embellishing details that the poetic text glosses over; the details of battle, for instance.” –Blogcritics.org

Connections:
It is suggested that this version of Beowulf will appeal to a whole new group of readers. In a high school ELA class that reads Beowulf, the teacher may allow the students to read the version of his or her choice. Because Beowulf is an epic poem with no known original author, there are a variety of formats available to readers. By giving the students a choice, the teacher opens the door to differentiated instruction, and makes the content accessible to a wider range of students. Additionally, when reading another epic poem or classic, the teacher may have the students rewrite the story into a graphic novel like Beowulf.

Beowulf’s publisher, Candlewick Press, also provides a number of resources for teachers related to this book. These can be found at: http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/0763630225.btg.1.pdf

Other graphic novels by Gareth Hinds:
King Lear (978-0-7636-4343-0)
The Merchant of Venice (978-0-7636-3024-9)
The Odyssey (978-0-7636-4266-2)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bibliography:
Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2003. Speak. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0439640105.

Plot Summary:
Speak follows Melinda Sordino, an incoming high school freshman who is dealing with more than the usual high school drama. At a party before school starts, her whole life changes. She spends the rest of the year dealing with the aftermath and trying to avoid it until she finally speaks the truth.

Critical Analysis:
Melinda is a character that everyone can root for and identify with. She is trying to find her place in high school, and at the same time dealing with the transition from sexual assault victim to survivor. Readers who have spent one day in high school can relate with the cliques and the struggle to find where you belong in the place called high school. While, this book is about Melinda and her life including parties, home, and school it is really set in Merryweather High School and the state of mind that comes along with being a high school student. Merryweather is no different than any other high school, but unfortunately Melinda is experiencing extra difficulties. Anderson provides just enough details for the reader to get the high school experience all over again without overloading them with unneeded information.

Melinda is a young sexual assault survivor who keeps the truth bottled up inside of her. She is attempting to forget about what happened to her by not talking or thinking about it, but her attacker is everywhere. Your heart constantly aches for Melinda as she is faced with the disapproval from her peers who have no idea what she is going through. Finally, after suffering too long in silence, she tells her secret.

Speak is written to be relatable to young adults. The target audience is listed at 12-17 but I think it is geared more toward readers with some exposure to high school. Those who have attended high school will find the setting and characters to be authentic and believable. As you turn page after page and delve deeper into what Melinda is going through, it becomes clear that the overall message seems to be that growing up is tough but don’t give up; you’ve got so much in front of you.

PERSONAL OPINION:
I love this book. Have I mentioned that I LOVEEEEE this book? Prior to being in education, I did a lot of philanthropic work for teen dating violence and sexual assault awareness so Speak has long been a favorite of mine. Edgy topics and tough subjects have been making more of an appearance in young adult literature in recent years and Speak definitely fits that bill. Despite the heavy nature of the book, it is genuinely enjoyed by its target audience. The author does an excellent job of portraying the gravity of the situation without being too graphic. If you’re interested in a potentially emotional read, you may want to give this book a chance.

Review Excerpts:
Awards:
Printz Honor Book
National Book Award Finalist
Edgar Allen Poe Award Finalist
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Booklist Editor’s Choice
Horn Book Honor List Winner
SLJ Best Book of the Year winner.

“Anderson perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and one teen’s struggle to find acceptance from her peers. Melinda’s sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.” –Booklist

Connections:
Speak would lend itself well to some sort of read aloud lesson because of the way the text is divided into events like Halloween and sometimes parts about specific groups like the cheerleaders. This book was made into an independent film with the same name in 2004 starring Kristen Stewart. Since this book tackles stuff tough issues I think it is an essential read all high school students. Some schools participate in activities called common reading experiences (sometimes called shared reading experiences) where specific cohorts of students will all read something at the same time and have a shared common experience. I think this book would be an ideal fit for all incoming high school freshman to read together perhaps in the summer before school starts. There could then be some break out discussion activities at freshman orientation.