Divergent- Veronica Roth

Review:  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t super excited about this book.  It was one, like Twilight that I knew many teens were reading and had been made into a movie.  I also had seen it on lists saying “If you liked The Hunger Games then you might like…”  When I found it cheap at Marshall’s I figured I’d pick it up.  Well, consider me a convert.  I LOVED IT.  I guess I really can’t get enough of the dystopian YA genre! I found the concept different, loved the Chicago references, and enjoyed the variety of characters.

If I used this in the classroom I’d probably use it in a 9th grade class and as a quick- not overly in depth novel study.  I think there’s a lot to the book, but there are other books that I think make better class reads.  I’ve seen middle school students reading it, and that’s probably fine, but there are some sexual undertones that may or may not be appropriate depending on their maturity.  That said, I really really admire the way Roth handles intimacy between Tris and Four.

Have you seen the movie?  I haven’t made it out there quite yet!

The Lowdown: (from Scholastic.com)

Interest Level: 8

Grade Level: 9 (What?! A YA book whose grade level is higher than the interest level!  Praise be!)

Counting to D- Kate Scott (ARC)

Counting to D

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Counting to D by Kate Scott.  This book, which is set to be released on the 11th of February, was a fun read.

The main character, Sam, is a teenage girl with Dyslexia.  She is also highly gifted in math and has far above average listening comprehension skills.  While the focus of the book is on how Sam navigates through her school work with her learning difference the story also looks at many other difficulties that teenagers face.  There is a bit of a love story, different friendships, and sub plots on mental illness as well.  What I really liked most about this book is it makes you think about people you know and the challenges they might face that you don’t even know about it.  It is not preachy but helps students realize that different isn’t necessarily bad, and special ed doesn’t mean stupid.

This book is a very easy read and isn’t demonstrative of many different literary techniques so I would be unlikely to use it as a whole class read.  However, I would absolutely have it on bookshelf and encourage students to read it.  It would be a great book to have students read and then conduct a research project based on it.  I think the interest level of the book would be 8th grade and higher due to some frank discussion of sex- though I think that was done exceedingly well!

Added bonus: If you have Amazon Prime you can borrow this book from the Kindle Owners Library FOR FREE!!  Check it out!

Beauty Queens- Libba Bray

Beauty Queens

Review:

This was one of the books I downloaded onto my Kindle to read while on vacation this summer.  It was by far my FAVORITE summer read.  I   found this book to be laugh out loud hilarious and ended up reading excerpts aloud to my parents while we were on a 12 hour car trip.

The story follows a group of teen beauty queens who have been stranded on a desert island.  The cast of characters is incredible.  Girly girls, pretty boys, gay, straight, transgender, black, white, and more.  The references to current pop culture are abundant and cleverly done.  Bray examines our cultural norms in such a way that we can laugh at ourselves.

This book is definitely a book for females.  There are some strong discussions about sexuality that are extremely well done, though may make some young people who have not yet started to explore that area of themselves uncomfortable.  For that reason, and for many of the references I think this book is best suited for older high school students, and even first or second year college students.  I would be comfortable having it in my classroom.

This really makes me want to go back and read Going Bovine, Bray’s Printz winning novel that I never finished.

The Lowdown: (from Scholastic.com)

Interest Level: 9th grade

Grade Level: 5.3

AWARDS:

A 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in Young Adult Literature

2012 Audie Award Winner for Best Narration by the Author

2012 Audie Award Nomination for Best Teen Audiobook

Just Another Hero- Sharon Draper

25

Just Another Hero (Jericho Trilogy, The)

The Review:

The third book in Draper’s Jericho trilogy, Just Another Hero didn’t quite grab me nearly as much as The Battle of Jericho, and November Blues.  The back of the book immediately tells you that there is going to be an incident involving a gun in the story and for the better part of the book I was waiting for that.  On one hand that was good as it built some sense of suspense.  I kept wanting to turn the page to find the action.  However, after the incident occurs I wish Draper had spent more time examining the aftermath.  How did everyone change due to the experience?  It wasn’t a bad book at all, but I just thought it could have gone a little further.  I’d definitely include this  in my classroom with the rest of the trilogy but I would not teach it as a whole class novel.

As with most of Draper’s books this will appeal to girls and guys alike, urban students, and those in likely 7th grade and up.

The Lowdown (Via Scholastic)

 Interest Level : Grades 9 – 12 (I would include 7-8)

Grade Level Equivalent: 4.8

Includes: Scholastic Reading Counts! Quiz , Accelerated Reader Quiz

 

13 Reasons Why- Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

Review:

I had so many people suggest this novel to me that when I saw it on a clearance shelf I had to buy it.  I then decided it would be my gym read… this was probably a poor choice as it took me forever to finish, but I am glad I did.  The story follows a teen boy who has found 13 tapes in the mail.  They were recorded immediately prior to a classmates suicide and explain how many different events affected her.  There is interest and intrigue and you find yourself really invested in finding out what happens.  Why does he have the tapes- how did he contribute to her depression, to her ultimate suicide?  I think this would be a great discussion starter.  Too often our students don’t realize the affect that they can have on others.

This book is definitely a high school level book.  There are discussions of alcohol use, sexual encounters, sexual assault and other serious topics.  However, there are CLEAR consequences to these actions that I think are appropriately handled.  I think it would make a great classroom read.  The main character is a male, but the suicide victim is a female so I see it appealing to both genders.

The Lowdown (Via Scholastic)

Interest Level :Grade 9 (I would include 10-12)

Grade Level Equivalent: 3.2

Includes: Scholastic Reading Counts! Quiz , Accelerated Reader Quiz

CLICK HERE FOR A DISCUSSION GUIDE!

Awards: (List from official website)

New York Times Best Seller Publishers Weekly Best Seller

California Book Award Winner

Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA)

Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers (YALSA)

Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults (YALSA)

Borders Original Voices finalist

Barnes & Noble – Top 10 Best for Teens

International Reading Assoc. – Young Adults’ Choices

Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice

Book Sense Pick – Winter

Chicago Public Library Best Books

Association of Booksellers for Children – Best Books

State Awards – Winner (voted on by students): Florida, Kansas, Kentucky

Also, for further reading about using this book in your classroom, and or other resources for dealing with the topic of bullying, check out the July issue of NCTE’s English Journal…

English Journal, Vol. 101, No. 6, July 2012

Happy Reading!

Perfect Escape- Jennifer Brown

Perfect Escape

Finally another review!  My copy of Perfect Escape is an ARC that I received in the fall at the NCTE convention.  I decided to read it on my vacation since it said it was being released in July- wouldn’t you know I just looked and it was released yesterday!  The day I finished the book!  I love it when timing works out like that!

Anyways, onto the review….

Review:  Perfect Escape had me engaged from the beginning to the end.  It is the story of a girl named Kendra and her brother, Grayson.  Grayson has severe OCD and anxiety issues that have affected the entire family.  However, as the story begins we find out that some of Kendra’s problems have nothing to do with him.  The novel centers around the “perfect escape” that Kendra attempts and the relationship between the brother and sister.  There is a bit of mystery involved and a strong desire to find out what will happen next.

From my knowledge of anxiety disorders and OCD which is limited the book seems to do an accurate job of portraying a young (20) male suffering from the disorder.  I think this book really opens your eyes as to what having a mental disorder that is so debilitating might be like, for the individual who is diagnosed, and some of the people closest to them.

Based on the content of this novel I think it would be appropriate for 8th grade through 12th.  There are a few four letter words, but nothing extreme.  Within the story there is some discussion of romantic relationships but there are no explicit scenes.  I don’t think I would use this as a whole class novel but I would definitely put it on my classroom bookshelf and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to students.  It may appeal more to females, but I could see teen males enjoying it as well.

The Lowdown:

RL: My guess is about 4th grade
Interest Level: High School

Click Here for An Educator’s Guide!

Jennifer Brown has two other award winning YA books, Hate List and Bitter End that I’d like to check out now too!

Paper Towns- John Green

Paper Towns

Review:

I have been looking forward to reading Paper Towns by John Green since it came out but never got around to it.  While I was at NCTE 2011 in Chicago I had the opportunity to stand in line and have John Green sign a book.  They were selling Paper Towns at a discounted price so I jumped at the opportunity!  I’m so glad I did.  I’ve read other books by Green, An Abundance of Katherines  and Looking for Alaska and enjoyed both so I wasn’t surprised that I liked Paper Towns as well.  I really enjoyed that there was a male protagonist that seemed relatable and that there were significant characters that were male and female which should make this a book that can appeal to all teens.  The book follows one boys quest to find his neighbor, a beautiful girl, whom he has admired for years.  There is quite a bit of mystery and suspense in the novel which appealed to me.  This was not an easily predictable book.  One other thing that I really liked about this book was the including of poetry from Walt Whitman- I like to think that perhaps it will not only expose teens to another form of writing but spark an interest in it as well.

I do not see myself using this book as a classroom read in the future but I would put it on my classroom book shelf.  There is some talk of sex and drinking but in a frank and realistic way that does not glorify it or condemn it.  You will find some “inappropriate” language in the book but again it’s well places and not gratuitous in  nature.  Scholastic labels this book as being a 9-12th grade interest level and I agree.  The characters are seniors in high school and I think the content makes it a high school level book despite it’s lower reading level.

The Lowdown (Via Scholastic)

Interest Level: Grade 9 – Grade 12 (I agree with this)

Grade Level Equivalent: 5.5

Lexile® measure: 850L

Educational Materials Available: SRC! Quiz, AR Quiz

Awards:

2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery