The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

Bibliographic Citation:
Henry, A. (2016). The Girl I Used to Be. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 978-1627793322.

april henry

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Plot Summary:
Olivia aka Ariel’s mother was murdered when she was almost too young to remember. Most people thought her father did it and then disappeared. Fast forward fourteen years when some new evidence now shows that her father and mother were likely killed at the same time. Now Olivia works to uncover the truth. But can she piece it together before the killer finds her?

Analysis & Personal Opinion:
If you know me, you know crime is my thing. Murder? Yep, I’m interested. Okay, that sounds weird but still true. I’m not sure how this book sucked me in, but it did. I read it pretty fast because curiosity and suspense were taking over. I really liked it too, and I’ve recommended it to several of my students who are fans of crime and mystery.

Olivia/Ariel is your average character. I didn’t think she was too far fetched in her actions usually, and if I was in a similar situation then I might’ve acted the same way she did. Sometimes I felt like she asked too many questions and was either making herself look suspicious or obvious, but nonetheless it made for a good story. I haven’t read any other April Henry novels — I know, I know — where have I been — but now I want to! One of my coworkers today said, “Something terrible always happens to a kid in all of her books!” So now I’m curious.

Read if you like: suspense, crime, murder, mystery

Awards and Honors:

  • The ILA (International Literacy Association’s) Choice List
  • Edgar Award finalist
  • Anthony Award finalist
  • South Dakota high school award finalist
  • The Texas Lone Star reading list
  • The Banks Street Best Books list
  • Winner, Oregon Spirit Book Award
  • Best books of 2016 by Multnomah County Library.

Author Info:

April Henry is a New York Times-bestselling author of 21 mysteries for teens and adults. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.


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.


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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?


  • 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).

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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

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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.

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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

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Bibliographic Citation:
Nelson, Jandy. (2014). I’ll Give You the Sun. New York, NY: Dial Books. ISBN 978-0803734968.


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Plot Summary:
I’ll Give You the Sun follows artistic twins, Noah and Jude, on two very different journeys of self-discovery and understanding. Told in alternating voices and timelines, this book is one of a kind. Noah’s story is told at age 13, while Jude’s is told at 16. The pair is inseparable until puberty arrives and competition begins to separate the two. In the thick of it all, an unforeseen tragedy strikes and drives them further apart.

I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever had the privilege to read. And that’s what this really was, an honor, to spend some time with The Sweetwine family. To fall in love with Noah and Jude and Oscar and G. This was an easy read, so I’m embarrassed that it took me three weeks to finish it. Not because I wasn’t interested or because it wasn’t beautiful and perfect, but because I was tired and busy. However, once you get in it, like REALLY in it, no amount of sleep deprivation or other responsibilities will keep you away from this book.

The characters are complex, but are not difficult to identify with at all. It is fast paced despite going back and forth between two different timelines. There is a lot going on in this book that the average reader might not know anything about (like surfing, or famous artists, or fatal diseases), but it doesn’t feel like it’s over your head. You learn through Nelson’s storytelling, but not in an academic kind of sense. I’ll Give You the Sun is still very much escape literature. Oh man, does it feel like an escape.

I enjoy when art makes me think. I’m a sucker for quotes and all things feel-y. I like a good cry and I like to be moved. I like when things make me feel maybe just as much as I like it when they make me think. I think the turning point for me in this book, the moment when I realized I had to read and read until I fell asleep or finished it, was page 221 — “Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you’ve been in before — you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of the drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to”. Something about that just SPOKE to me. As did many other parts of Jude’s story, and honestly, that was weird because in the story of my family, my older sister is the Jude. I’m very much a Noah.

This book made me tear up so many times at the end. It doesn’t just make you think about love, it makes you feel love. It floods you with emotion practically nonstop. It is happy and it is tragic. It is funny and it is harsh. It is magical. If I had to divide the world to find my split-apart, I would do it. I would definitely give away the sun.

Awards & Praise:

Winner of the 2015 Michael L. Printz Award
Winner of a 2015 Stonewall Honor
A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2014
A TIME Top Ten Young Adult Book of 2014
Boston Globe Best Young Adult Novel of 2014
Huffington Post Top 12 Young Adult Book of 2014
A 2014 Cybil Award Finalist
A 2015 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book
A 2015 Topo Ten Rainbow List Selection
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2014
A 2014 Booklist Edtior’s Choice Book
A Top 25 Young Adult Novel of 2014

I’m back!

Sorry for the delay. New posts are on the horizon!

Reviews coming soon (probably not in this order):

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

Bibliographic Citation:

Green, J. & Levithan, D. (2011). Will Grayson, Will Grayson. New York, NY: Speak. ISBN 978-0142418475.

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Plot Summary:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson follows high school students in the Chicago area both named Will Grayson. The two find each other on their own but end up sharing a common, but very different love, of the same person, Tiny Cooper.

Critical Analysis:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson was an easy read (I read it in about 7 or 8 hours on a slow day at work), and it was a cute story, but it isn’t — brace yourself — in my Top 10 Best Books Ever category (see previous post for more information). I read it because I had just read Looking for Alaska and the whole world seems to be in love with John Green at the moment so I thought I’d give it a shot. I wasn’t disappointed but I’m not in love with it either. I checked it out from my local library but when I got home and actually read the synopsis I was disappointed. I thought to myself that I should’ve read that before I brought it home because I was sure I was going to hate it. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good musical as much as the next gal, but I couldn’t imagine reading about one. I’m glad I was wrong.

Maybe it is because I’m from Louisiana, and I’ve only ever taught in Texas but I cannot actually imagine a school funding a musical about LGBT relationships. Sadly, I doubt anything like this would happen at the high school where I teach now. They don’t even have a GSA and it’s 2014. Can you believe that?! Anyway, I’m glad that Tiny’s school did, I think our kiddos would all be better off if we showcased diversity a little bit more, but I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that it happened and this isn’t a book set in the future. If this is how things really are in Chicago schools, let me know and I will be sure to add it to my list of potential places to relocate to one day. So it might just be my frame of reference, but I found the book to be a little far fetched because of that.

The characters were simple and easy to relate to for the most part. Jane is pretty awesome, probably my favorite character in the story. I’m also very fond of both WG’s parents. I really enjoyed that this book is told in alternating voices. Since Green and Levithan are both the authors, each one writes as a different Will Grayson. I thought that was pretty cool although I’m not sure which author wrote which Will. The different voices was a welcomed change to my typical novel choices. Basically, if you want a book you can read quickly, you enjoy YA literature, and you aren’t one of those people offended by homosexuality, then you might want to check out this book. It’s pretty decent. You probably won’t be disappointed.