Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Reviewed by Melvi A.
Grade 11

Many stories attempt to bring to life the gloomy years of The Great Depression, yet few do it as well as Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This book tells the heart-wrenching story of two incompatible characters. George is small, witty, and intelligent, while Lennie is big and frightening, but has the mind of a small child. What makes them even stranger is the fact that they stick together at one of the loneliest times in history.

The book opens with George and Lennie stopping at a small pond to take a break. They are traveling to the farm they are going to work on next. At their previous farm, George and Lennie had to flee because Lennie got them in trouble, and George is still mad at Lennie about that. When they arrive at the farm, they meet Candy, Slim, and Curley. Candy and Slim are friendly to them, but Curley, the boss’s son, is jealous of Lennie’s size and picks on him. Curley’s wife is very flirtatious around everyone, and Lennie does his best to ignore her. One day after work, George reminds Lennie that they are saving money to buy their own farm, where they are going to raise their own livestock and crops. Lennie wants George to tell this to him as much as possible, because in this farm he wants to raise his own rabbits. Candy hears the story and tells them that he can help them collect the money, as he wants to live with them because he is becoming useless at the farm due to his old age. Now their dream seems as close as ever, but Curley’s constant bullying and his wife’s flirtations threaten to get Lennie in trouble, and ruin their American Dream.

I think the reader gets very emotionally attached to George and Lennie, which makes them remarkable characters. The plot is truly a mix of hope and desperation, which really brings to life those dark times. For example, George and Lennie’s hope is their own farm, but they are stuck working 11 hours a day for someone else. What eventually happens at the end was inevitable, but the author’s style of writing throughout the story convinces you otherwise.

I highly recommend this book to all readers. It tells you a lot more about The Great Depression than any textbook ever could, since it makes you understand it emotionally. It teaches the reader how loneliness can make a society so divided, so bitter, and so intolerant.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Avatars: So This is How it Ends by Tui T. Sutherland

Reviewed by Melvi A.
Grade 11

What would you do if everyone except you suddenly disappeared without a trace? In Avatars: So This Is How It Ends, five teenagers from different parts of the world must find an answer to that question. As they were going about their accustomed way of living, time seemed to stop, the Earth shook, and--when the mysterious event was over--they knew something was wrong. They can see no one around, just crumbling buildings and odd animals made of crystal. An ominous silence occasionally interrupted by terrifying shrieks has enveloped the planet. What’s worse, they are also hearing voices inside their heads.

As she was taking the subway to go home one night, Kali awakes from a short nap to find that the subway is completely empty, and New York City is in total silence. In Chile, Tigre finds himself far away from home in a mysterious forest full of otherworldly animals with no memory of how he got there. In Los Angeles, Venus, a well-known and loved pop-star, and Gus, a technician and fan, realize that they are the only two people alive after an earthquake. Finally, the powerful Amon in Egypt seems to know something the others do not and is completely satisfied with what has happened. There seems to be an unfathomable force driving these teenagers to New York City. Some give in to this force, some try to resist it, but all of them want to know why they are the only survivors of this apocalypse. The book follows the teenagers as they explore the unrecognizable world, encounter strange animals who seem to be telepathic and some secret societies who do not seem to contain normal humans, but only deranged lunatics. When the shocking truth is revealed at the end of the novel, there are many different reactions. For some of them, it was amazing news. For others, despairing news.

In my opinion, the characters in this book are extremely well-developed. They have diverse personalities and show different reactions to the end of the world. For example, Kali mistakenly thinks that she has made the people disappear, while Venus is foolishly worried about the fact that the media will photograph her hanging out with a fan. Their thoughts and actions are relatable and they prompt you to think if you would do the same thing if you were in their place. I also think the author does a great job of keeping the plot gripping even though it takes place in a boring, dead world, ruled by crystal creatures.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a big fan of science fiction and mystery novels. The author uses casual language, so the book can be quickly understood. I also recommend reading the second book, Shadow Falling, because, as you will find out, the story is not over at the end of this book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini

Reviewed by Leah H.
Grade 12

Be More Chill is told from the perspective of Jeremy Heere, a high schooler, whose one wish is to date Christine Caniglia. The only issue is that Jeremy is tragically awkward and unpopular and Christine is witty and decently popular.

Jeremy only has one friend, idolizes the popular people, and gets bullied. All his attempts to fit in only exacerbate his ostracization, until one of his tormentors, Rich, tells him about his SQUIP. SQUIP, a Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor from Japan, sits in his brain and tells him how to be cool. Seeing this as his opportunity to date Christine and finally fit in, Jeremy follows Rich's instructions and gets his own SQUIP. The SQUIP helps Jeremy learn how to talk to girls and turn his former tormentors into friends, but it also strains his relationships.

The characters are a little 2D and cliche in the beginning due to Jeremy idolizing them, but they become more well-rounded once Jeremy stops putting them on a pedestal and becomes friends with them. Rich is an excellent example of this because he’s just a bully to Jeremy at the beginning, but it’s revealed that he used to be dorky, and his SQUIP made him bully Jeremy to become popular, and they end up becoming friends. Christine is also a well-rounded character. She’s sensible, witty, determined, and doesn’t fall for all the cliche things the SQUIP has Jeremy do and say.

Although some parts at the beginning are painful because of how much Jeremy overthinks things, I would still recommend Be More Chill to people who struggle with social anxiety because it teaches a great lesson of self-acceptance. I would also recommend this to those who are fans of the musical based off of the book. I would however not recommend this to anyone under the age of 13, as it is a YA book.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott

Reviewed by Alyssa G.
Grade 12

Five Feet Apart is a beautiful and emotional book following seventeen-year-old Stella as she faces the everyday challenges of Cystic Fibrosis. Stella’s life is centered around her routine treatments and her desire for self control. Stella is immediately intrigued when she meets Will, another Cystic Fibrosis patient with a sharp wit. There’s just one problem— CF patients cannot go within six feet of each other without risking cross infection, a life-threatening danger. Because of this, both Stella and the hospital have strict rules for the two to maintain a safe distance of six feet apart. Despite the physical distance, Stella and Will grow impossibly closer as they do their in-hospital treatments together. However, Stella’s self-imposed boundaries begin to crumble as her and Will begin to fall in love.

This book is beautifully written. Reading from the perspective of both Stella and Will allows the reader to follow the story in an interesting way, understanding how the characters feel about each other before they realize it themselves. Despite the wildly different lives they have, it is easy to connect to Stella and Will.

This book is a roller coaster of emotions. Will's charming humor and witty remarks will make you laugh, and the characters' impossible struggles will make you cry. The plot of Five Feet Apart is absolutely amazing. The ending is fitting, yet unexpected, and it had me in tears.

Rachael Lippincott makes you feel like you are experiencing life with the characters. You share their hopes, dreams, frustrations, and struggles. I would highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with chronic illness, looking for a whirlwind romance, or searching for an engaging book.

Also available in audiobook, ebook and eAudiobook.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

Reviewed by: Gianna M.
Grade 9

The first paragraph of Dear Evan Hansen does have a catchy grabber, and makes the reader want to continue reading the book. The book is about Evan, a boy with anxiety who writes letters to himself as part of his therapy program. One day, a classmate of his gets a hold of Evan's most recent letter. Connor, the classmate, thinks the letter is a prank on him and takes it home. Connor kills himself the next day, and his parents think that the letter is from Connor to Evan. Evan then has to pretend that he was friends with Connor, by creating a fake string of emails.

The character development in 'Dear Evan Hansen' is excellent, with Evan realizing what really matters and becoming more brave. His characterization is also very well-done, and the reader can relate his struggles. The supporting characters are very unique, and are very well written.

I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with identity, loneliness, or social anxiety. The book has a great plot, rounded characters, and a great lesson about honesty. This is also a great book for anyone in their teens.

Librarian note: This novel is based on the Broadway play of the same name. The libretto and the Broadway cast recording are also available to check out at the Winter Park Public Library.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst and Paula

Reviewed by Samantha T.
Grade 10

Starworld delves the reader into the lives of two girls, a loner and a popular girl, who unexpectedly become friends. They find an escape in each other from their difficult and harsh lives, but feelings for one another soon develop into feelings for more.

The novel follows Sam Jones and Zoe Miller as they both struggle with family issues and school life. Loner Sam has difficulty dealing with her mother's OCD and a lack of a father in her life. Zoe has to struggle with the fact that her mother has cancer, she’s adopted, and that her disabled brother is going to be sent away to a facility. They unexpectedly become friends and they find an escape in each other and the world of text messages that they created. They develop a strong friendship that soon grows into feelings of beyond just that.

The characters within Starworld are well-rounded and thought out. For example, Zoe Miller is adopted and her entire life she tries to be a people-pleaser so that she can prove to her family that she isn’t a liability and that she belongs with them. Zoe struggles with wanting to be her complete self due to the fact that she wouldn’t make others happy if she did. Within the book, Zoe has to face difficult decisions that makes her choose between making her family happy, her friends happy, or Sam happy.

I highly recommend this book due to the fact that it has a wonderful lesson that it teaches you. Starworld’s message is that you can’t make everyone happy, but you should always strive to make yourself happy. Books similar to this are The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta and Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Reviewed by Gianna M.
Grade 9

The line "In the beginning, there were two suns and two moons" makes the reader want to find out what this means, and what/who the suns and moons are. This opening is effective in catching the reader and making them want to continue reading.

Hattori Mariko is the daughter of a powerful man in ancient Japan. While she is on her way to meet her betrothed, her caravan is attacked and lit on fire. After escaping the assassins, Mariko is kidnapped by the Black Clan, and has to disguise herself as a boy to remain safe. But is everything she knew about her family really the truth?

Flame in the Mist has very interesting and well-rounded characters, such as Hattori Mariko. Mariko is a disgraced member of a powerful Japanese family, and does not give in to anything or anyone. She is characterized as strong-willed and brave when she remains seated inside a blazing carriage to avoid being detected by assassins. After escaping them, she is caught by a dirty man who is attracted to her, and she stabs him in the eye with her hair pin. Hattori Mariko acts with regard for her morals, and values all lives equally.

Flame in the Mist by ReneƩ Ahdieh is a very entertaining novel with a positive, clear message. This book is a great read for young girls, as it is a story of female empowerment, but can be enjoyed by anyone of any gender. I would give it a four out of five, and I am planning on reading the sequel, Smoke in the Sun. This is also an excellent book to read for anyone interested in Japanese culture, history, and/or folklore. The author's heavy usage of Japanese terms such as 'shinobi no mono' and 'kagemusha' can provide the reader with a better understanding of the Japanese language and terminology.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Reviewed by Ben F.
Grade 12

Kate Thompson arrived home one evening to find her home burnt to the ground, her every possession destroyed, and her father hanging in the front lawn, a bloody rose carved into his forehead. The villainous Rose Riders killed him for a single book, a journal Kate finds is her only clue to the circumstances behind her pa’s murder, holding old secrets and whispers of gold.

Fueled only by the desire for revenge, Kate tracks the Rose Riders down under disguise, slaughtering them one by one with her inherited pistol, but her hatred has blinded her caution; a quick way to die on the brutal Western plains. Reluctantly enlisting the aid of some old family friends, Kate and company set off to end the Rider’s reign of terror, avoiding devious traps, savage Indians, and struggling to outwit the crafty gang. As the group becomes a family, Kate begins to question her motives; How far can this vengeance road take her?
I picked this book up as part of the Winter Park Public Library’s ‘Pitch Perfect’ collection, in which a book is assigned a theme song that sums up the overall plot. The cooperative song was Imagine Dragon’s anthem hit “Demons”, a piece that elegantly sums up the inner turmoil inside our heroine, as she finds her heart shifted by the handsome ranch hand whose help she so hesitatingly accepted.

The book itself is extremely well written, and the Western frontier has never felt more gritty, hard, and alive. While many of the stories elements may seem predictable to those familiar with the traditional Western novel (a rowdy barfight, or an Indian ambush), the plot remains elusive, and the final twist was refreshingly intriguing.

As a Young Adult book, and due to its theme of bloody murder and justice, Vengeance Road is recommended to more mature teens over 13. Fans of western dramas, renegade heroes, Westworld, or cowboy shootouts will particularly enjoy this in-your-face justice run.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me From Robots, Traitors and Missy the Cruel by Jennifer Brown

Reviewed by Amal P.
Grade 6

Luke's school is the most losing-est school in history. Luke really does not care about this. He would rather be playing video games with Randy, and ignoring his big brother Rob. Then Luke is forced to join the robotics team.

The people in the robotics team were Mikayla, Jacob and Jacob, Stuart, and Missy the Cruel. Mikayla does everything with her toes. Jacob and Jacob are not twins, but they do everything together. Stuart is the person who loves sunflower seeds. Missy the Cruel is Luke's bully since when they were both 6 years old. There is also Lunchbox Jones. He stays hidden every day during robotics class, but when everyone heard the news that Missy the Cruel was going to another school, all the people in robotics said they quit the team except for Luke and Lunchbox Jones. All of a sudden Luke makes a speech in front everyone saying that we shouldn't quit the robotics team, and we should continue the robotics team. Then the next robotics class, he saw Lunchbox working on the computer and testing the program on the robot. Luke then asked him why he was there. Lunchbox Jones replied that he decided he would take a shot at robotics, because of Luke's speech. Mr.Terry the coach of the robotics team came in, and saw Lunchbox Jones working with Luke on the robot. After more weeks it finally comes to the last day before the competition. The other people joined the robotics team after they saw that the robot could do a lot of stuff. Then everyone started changing the program, and ruined the perfectly built program. Luke got so mad, because Lunchbox wasn't here, and their teammates ruined the whole program. Soon it is time for the final part. Could Luke correct the program and win the competition, or lose the competition by making errors?

My opinion on the setting, conflict, and characters would be that the setting most of the time repeats, so I don't like that part about the book. Most of the time setting will be Forest Shade Middle School My opinion on the characters on this book would be that the characters have interesting talents. For example, Mikayla does everything with her toes. These talents are really weird which makes the book seem funny. There wasn't much conflict in this book, but they argued over what to name the robot.

I would recommend this book to others, because this story has great humor and creative parts in the story. Also this book has a theme, and it is to be scared of no one. If Luke hadn't made his big speech Forest Shade would have lost a lot of money for the robotics team. Overall this is a great book, and I recommend this book to others.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Taggerung by Brian Jacques

Reviewed by Ben F.
Grade 11

Stolen away from his true family at Redwall Abbey as a babe by the vermin Juskarath clan, otter Deyna has grown up amongst villains his entire life, groomed and trained since his kidnapping to become the legendary Taggerung; the future leader and greatest fighter in the clan. Vermin life has been simple among the Juskarath, but when Tagg cannot kill another clan member, he leaves to discover his true heritage and become the noble warrior he wishes to be. Torn between his fake vermin father and the kindred calling him through visions, Tagg sets off to discover his origins, meeting and aiding creatures he comes across, but his peaceful travels are dampened by an elite vermin band determined to eliminate him. Joined by harvest mouse and chronic liar Nimbalo the Slayer, the two set out for the gates of Redwall and Tagg’s remaining family for one last battle against his past.

Taggerung is a story of anthropomorphic animals and warriors, set in an old English setting of peaceful villages, grand battles and dangerous, wild heroes; an important notation to any reader unfamiliar with the works of Brian Jacques. With that said, Taggerung is a grand epic of one hero who knew he was more than his villainous given identity and risked everything to prove it. The plot unfolds steadily, almost tediously, yet is more than satisfactorily rewarding to the patient reader.

This is a book for the patient, coming in at just over 300 pages, as well as for animal-lovers, fans of wolf-fiction, older English writing, classic hero-villain warrior tales, medieval settings, furs, and the odd therian. Recommended to those over 13, though the story was originally crafted by Jacques for even younger readers; you may choose at your discretion.