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!)

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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!

The Maze Runner- James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Book 1)

Review:  

I read this on my Kindle over the summer because 1. it was a lendable title, and 2. several of my students were reading it last school year.  This story was quite a bit different from the other stories I’ve read.  This is a very male centered book which I think is good because I have a harder time getting my boys interested in reading than my girls.  There is however a female character that enters part way through.  There is a survivalist element, a dystopian element, and it has a science fiction element.  It could be compared to Lord of the Flies.  

I probably wouldn’t teach this as a classroom read due to the fact that I didn’t notice any major literary elements (though there are some).  I would however, and did, have it in my classroom level.  I think this book would be appropriate for grades 6 and up.  It is probably a little young for upper high school but some might like it.  This is also the first in a series, and I believe is being made into a movie, so getting a student hooked on this might lead them into reading more and more!

The Lowdown: (from Scholastic.com)

Interest Level: 7th Grade

Grade Level: 5th Grade

Teaching Resources: SRC, AR

AWARDS:

2009 Kid’s Indie Next List “Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers”
2009 Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Books
ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Kentucky Bluegrass Award
ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
Charlotte Zolotow Award
Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award
Young Adult Services Division, School Library Journal Author Award
New Hampshire Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award
Florida Sunshine State Book Award
Texas Lone Star Reading List

Twilight- Stephenie Meyer

I realize I am a bit behind on reviewing Twilight, but I would feel like a failed YA blogger if I never got around to it.  So here it is, my take, on the now infamous Twilight.

I was prepared to not like it.  I resisted reading it for months.  I’m not a vampire person.  BUT OMG, I ended up totally engrossed.  I went to work slightly late a few days because I’d wake up and read another chapter or two instead of getting out of bed.  As a woman in her mid-twenties, I found myself swept back to all of my high school crushes and remembered how intense my feelings were, though I was the poster girl for unrequited love.  Reading how deep Edward and Bella’s emotions were for each other made me want to feel that.  In fact, I’m quite sure that if I don’t find an extremely good looking, old, vampire to fall in love with I will never be satisfied in any relationship.

I realize that perhaps this is not the most scholarly book ever written or most intellectually stimulating.  I don’t care.  It is a fun and interesting read.  It is not filled with inappropriate language or situations, and like the Harry Potter books did a few years ago is getting kids to read again!  There are many high quality high level words used throughout the book.  It is not enough to raise it’s overall reading level to that of seniors in high school, but I think that is good.  By interweaving some SAT/ACT level vocabulary words in to otherwise easily read text, it remains accessible to all readers, but still exposes readers to new and challenging vocabulary.

I wouldn’t use it in my classroom as a class novel, but I have no problem recommending it to students.  I would not recommend it to anyone not in middle school however, especially as I’ve heard the later novels do become a bit more sexual in nature.  I have mostly seen female students reading the books, but I did also have a male student reading them as well, so I could see some male students finding it interesting as well.

I have New Moon waiting for me, and I can’t wait to read it.  (Though I’ll admit, I cheated and saw the movie already.)  Stay tuned for a review of a book designed to encourage teens to look closely at the vocabulary in Twilight and to use it to prepare for college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT.

Ghostgirl- Tonya Hurley


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I do not usually comment on the “cover appeal” of a book, but as soon as I received this book in the mail I was instantly intrigued because of how cool the cover is.  The white background in the middle of the cover shown above is really clear plastic with a black silhouette on it.  The book seems luxurious, and the pages on the outside have silver on them.  

OK, enough about the cover.  The premise of this book is that a high school girl dies unexpectedly and before she gets the chance to go to the fall dance with her dream date.  She discovers however, that once she is dead she still has plenty of things to learn, and people to help.  There were several things that I specifically enjoyed about this book that I felt make it a little more unique.  One of those things were the quotes, poems, and song lyrics that were placed on the first page of each new chapter.  From Evanescence to Poe and Dickinson, they were all very interesting to read.  I also felt that the selfishness/self-centeredness of the main character was portrayed quiet realistically to how, lets face it, the majority of teens are.  I enjoyed the rest of the book though there were some lines here and there that I felt could have been excluded and made the book seem a little bit more high-quality.  I wish I could find my example again easily, but alas, I didn’t mark the page.  I wouldn’t use this book as a teaching tool, but I will be including it in my classroom library.  There is a little bit of discussion of teenage sexuality but there are no graphic scenes in it.  This is definitely a book that female students would enjoy rather than their male counterparts.  And I would say that any one from perhaps the 8th grade and up could read it.  IT’s easy enough for younger, but the sexual parts that are included to me, make it unsuitable for younger readers.

 

There is a website that goes along with this book and its sequel that comes out in just a few more days!  Visit Ghostgirl.com for more information.

 

I will be reviewing the sequel to Ghostgirl, Ghostgirl: Homecoming within the next few weeks I hope.

Kit’s Wilderness- David Almond


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Kit’s Wilderness is a novel that is very realistic but includes fantastical elements.  Kit is a 13 year old boy whose family has recently moved back to the town in which is grandfather grew up.  Part of the story revolves around Kit’s grandfather’s declining health and mental state.  I identified with this aspect of the story the most having gone through it with my grandmother for the last 3-5 years.  I think that a lot of students can identify with that as well.  The other big part of the story is the relationship between Kit and another boy, and their connection to the history of the town.  This is where ghosts and fantasy come into play in the story.  I liked the book, but generally prefer stories that have little to know fantasy in them- if they are supposed to be realistic stories.  I think this novel could be used in a classroom setting.  Teen boys may be inclined to enjoy this book as it is very male centered.  There is also a female character that plays a somewhat central role, so girls in class won’t feel completely left out. I’d say this book is good for a 7-8th grade classroom.

Awards:

A Michael L. Printz Award Winner
An ALA Notable Book 
A “Publishers Weekly ” Best Book
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Editor’s Choice
A Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year

A Step From Heaven- An Na


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This book reminded me of Kira Kira, as they both tell stories of Asian immigrants in America.  I found this book a little hard to get into, perhaps because it doesn’t focus on one time in her life but rather goes from Kindergarten through beginning college.  The story follows a Korean girl from Korea to America and the struggles that her family has adapting to a new culture.  I think that some immigrants will be able to identify to a lot of the story.  It is well written, but just didn’t keep my attention as well as other books do.  I was bothered by the lack of quotation marks- I know that seems silly but it did irk me for some reason.  I think this book could be used in a classroom- middle school most likely.  I would more likely suggest it as an independent reading book.

Awards: (For a full listing go here)

2002 MICHAEL L. PRINTZ AWARD

2001 National Book Award Finalist

2002 Children’s Book Award in YA Fiction – International Reading Association

2005 California Collections Selection

2005 Asian American Booklist, Grades 9 and Up, Read Across America, National Education Association

2002 Notable Children’s Book – American Library Association

2002 Best Book for Young Adults – American Library Association

2002 Children’s Books of Distinction Award – Riverbank Review

2002 Fanfare Book – The Horn Book Honor List

2002 Amelia Bloomer Project List

2002 White Ravens – International Youth Library of Munich

2002 Notable Books for the Language Arts – NCTE

2001 Editor’s Choice – Booklist

2001 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

2001 Best Books – School Library Journal

2001 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book Shortlist

2001 Best Children’s Books – Publishers Weekly

2001 Best Book – teenreads.com

2001 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children

2001 Top 10 Youth First Novels – Booklist