Hold Still, by Nina LaCour

I have to admit that the only reason I picked up this novel is because I had to read one last book for my YA class and the one I had picked was way too long. This one? Much shorter, but still wonderful. I’m very glad I chose this one.

Caitlin’s best friend Ingrid has committed suicide, and Caitlin is walking through life in shock. After a summer away from her hometown, she comes back to school to find that the things and people she expected to be there for her aren’t, but that there are some new friends waiting for her, when she’s ready. Then Caitlin finds Ingrid’s last journal, and her memories of Ingrid, and of her actions toward Ingrid, threaten to take over Caitlin’s life.

Caitlin’s emotions and actions are completely spot-on, as are those of the friends she makes and almost loses, and Ingrid’s handwritten diary entries manage to convey the same amount of feeling.

I love the direction that LaCour took with this premise – she gives the story some intrigue with the found diary and the words directly from Ingrid, but she makes sure that the real story is not the pain of Caitlin’s loss, but the pain of realizing that she can move on.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, by Jacqueline Woodson

Marie is a black girl living in southeast Ohio in a type of town people don’t often talk about – one where the rich people (relatively speaking) are black and the poor people are white. A new white girl moves to town and Marie thinks she’ll be one of the many who show up at school for a while and then leave before getting to know anyone, but Lena is different. The two unlikely friends forge a bond that lasts as long as it can, until Lena’s secret drives them apart.

Woodson makes an interesting comparison between Lena, whose too-loving father drives her away, and Marie’s mother, who walked out on Marie and her father to get some “air.” These two characters affect Marie’s life in drastically different ways, but both make her appreciate what she has left.

This is a very short book, and the pacing of the story suffers for it – I felt like too many things happened too quickly and I had a hard time figuring out how much time had passed between scenes. There is also little in the way of plot, which may deter readers who like a more action-packed story. However, Woodson’s treatment of sexual abuse and parental neglect in general is very realistic and simple, which I appreciated.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Maw Books Blog
My Friend Amy

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Almost Astronauts, by Tanya Lee Stone

A book about sexism and astronauts? Count me in!

Stone presents a narrative look at the 13 women who, in the 1960s, underwent the various astronaut tests taken by the Mercury 7 astronauts as part of an experiment to determine if women could be astronauts. She details the rigors of the tests and the determination of the women to pass them all – and the intense discrimination faced by the women at every turn. Using pictures from the women’s tests and other primary sources, including a letter on which Vice President Lyndon Johnson wrote that the push toward women in the astronaut program should be stopped, Stone makes a strong case for the courage and tenacity of these 13 women and pushes for women today to have the same qualities.

I had never heard of the “Mercury 13” and so learned a lot from this little book. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to be an astronaut (so, like, every child ever).

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Death of Jayson Porter, by Jaime Adoff

I absolutely did not want to read this book. I was looking through one of the lists of books from which I had to choose one for my YA class, and I saw this book, and I was like, no thank you. Kid from the projects has a crappy life and wants to commit suicide? Yuck.

But then I looked at the other books and realized they were all either a) books I’ve read or b) second or third books in a series. I was more irked at the possibility of reading a series out of order than reading this book, so I went with it. And it turned out not to be so bad!

The eponymous teen, as I mentioned before, lives in a not-so-good city in Florida, with his mother who beats him and brings around loser boyfriends who don’t give a crap about him. His mother’s friend got him into a decent high school, but that only makes things worse for him when he takes the cross-town bus to his job cleaning RVs. He wants to do something with his life, but he’s also drawn strongly to the railing outside of his apartment, the one that looks down over a long fall to the pavement. He wants to jump, more than almost anything, but at the same time he doesn’t want to die. Then, after a terrible thing happens that makes Jayson’s life even less delightful, he takes the jump.

Jayson writes in a stream-of-consciousness style, which would normally annoy me, but I got used to his rhythm pretty quickly and was very intrigued by his thought processes. I was rooting for Jayson throughout the novel, even when I knew it wouldn’t help. The ending is a little too convenient for my liking, but I guess a completely depressing novel wouldn’t sell as well. 🙂

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Catalyst, by Laurie Halse Anderson

This was my first Laurie Halse Anderson book, and maybe I chose the wrong one, because all I’ve been told is that she’s awesome and this book was okay. Suggestions?

The story: Kate is a senior who made a huge mistake in only applying to one school — MIT. Oh, boy. So she’s freaking out about whether or not she’ll get into college, and lying to her friends and family about getting into other schools, and also generally worrying about getting through the school day, as you do in high school. She thinks her problems are pretty bad, but then the house of a girl she doesn’t really like catches fire and Kate’s dad (a pastor) decides to take that family on as a big project, and now Kate and this girl, Teri, are sharing a room. This makes Kate’s life worse, of course, but she also starts to see how maybe her problems aren’t quite so bad.

I was all right with the story most of the way through; I thought it was fairly realistic and I could empathize with Kate’s “good Kate, bad Kate” inner struggle. But then… then another terrible thing happens and the story just goes completely off the rails and I don’t even know what’s going on and then BOOM there’s a sickly sweet ending, much like in The Last Exit to Normal. Barf.

Please, give me a different one of her books to remove this one from my brain?

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Last Exit to Normal, by Michael Harmon

Ben Campbell is having a rough life — after his dad came out of the closet three years ago, his mother ran off and left him behind with this man that Ben no longer understood. He rebelled, with the pot-smoking and the getting into trouble and the suspending of his license, but eventually his dad figured out the best punishment, and now Ben is off with his dad and his “momdad” to his momdad’s mother’s home in Montana. Fuuuuuuuuuuuun. Strict parents, hick bullies, and bigotry abound, but Ben also finds a kid that reminds him of himself and a sweet girl that he wants to marry, so maybe it’s not all bad?

I liked this book, for the most part, but I did not like its rather saccharine ending and some of the more unrealistic bits of the story. It’s really just that age-old story of city kid goes to the country, learns some responsibility and hard work, and becomes a better person, but with an added gay dad twist, and it’s good for what it is, but I’m not a big fan of that plot in general.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

This is probably a weird book to be my first introduction to Bill Bryson, seeing as how I understand him to be more of a travel writer than a science writer. But I can’t say no to a book about science, can I? No, no I can’t.

Bryson covers all sorts of scientific knowledge and endeavors, from astronomy to physics to biology to geology to those crazy guys way back when who studied all of these things at once! And he does it very accessibly; he explains things in simple language and breaks down numbers like 1025 to 10 trillion trillion, which I thought made a lot of sense. Of course, after you see enough of these numbers, and enough of Bryson’s segues to the simple language, you can get a bit tired. But focus on the fact that you’re getting the DL on how crazy those scientists are, and you’ll be much happier.

One thing that really bothered me was Bryson’s lack of footnotes… I mean, he had some descriptive ones, telling you more about a particular person or concept, but he didn’t have any that related directly to his facts. When I got to the end of the book, I realized that he has endnotes, sort of, that provide the sources for at least some of his more interesting facts, but by the time I got there I couldn’t remember what pages and sentences I had questions about! Highly disappointing.

And, for a book that’s meant to help answer questions of why scientists believe things, there are a lot of facts that are just presented as truth without any real reason why, especially in the archaeology and paleontology sections. Bryson does often mention that these facts are estimates and guesses, but I was left with a sense that everything was made up for funsies and I’m not sure that’s what I was supposed to think.

However, for all the problems I had with the presentation, I did learn a lot of new things I didn’t know before and I certainly have a stronger interest in learning more about these various sciences than I did before, so Bryson did a good job, there! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in science (but probably not to anyone who really hates it).

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Death Note Vol. 1, by Tsugumi Ohba

My first manga! I’m growing up so fast!

So I had to read a manga for my YA class, and I was like… hmm. I know nothing about manga, except that sometimes it becomes movies or TV shows. Conveniently, my dear husband watches many of those movies and TV shows, and so when I showed him the list I had to choose from, he was like, “I’ve seen this… and this… and this… and this…” Delightful! And, being married to me, he sort of knows what I like, so he picked a couple and gave me a brief overview. A tough choice later, I ended up with Death Note.

At first, I was like, “Ohhhhhhhh goody.” I had forgotten what I’ve disliked about all of the anime I’ve watched — that everything is made REALLY OBVIOUS. I was quoting passages of tedious exposition to Scott and saying, “Would you say that in real life? No you would not.” He apologized for making me read a crappy book, but now I apologize to him, because I plowed through this book and pretty much immediately grabbed the next one from the library. It is so engrossing.

The premise is that there’s this death god dude who is really bored and so he drops his “death note” down to Earth. It lands in Japan, where a high-school kid, Light, picks it up and is like, “Suuuuuure, Death Note description. I totally believe that if I write someone’s name in here they’ll die, and that if I specify the manner of death it will happen. Uh-HUH.” Then we skip ahead a few days and find out that Light didn’t just try it out, but is now a prolific murderer of bad guys of all sorts. He thinks that this will be awesome, and that people will start being good for fear of being murdered, and that eventually he will be able to rule over a world of good people. The police and a shadowy figure called only L think that they should probably stop this crazy serial killer.

It’s good stuff. It’s fast-paced and engaging and I forgive the terrible bouts of exposition because they are balanced by a really neat ethical problem and a thrilling plot line. I’ve got a bunch more books to read for class in the near future, but you can bet you’ll be seeing Death Note Vol. 2 up here soon enough.

Rating: 9/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Japan, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb

Oliver Watson, Jr., is an unpopular, overweight, not very smart seventh grader. Well, at least he wants you to think that last part. In reality, he is the titular genius and also rich and powerful, though he gets other people to stand in for him because little kids can’t sign contracts and stuff. You know. Red tape. He absolutely does not care what his father thinks of him, but when he finds out that his dad was once class president, Oliver decides to run. To taint his father’s memories of it, of course. But it’s not as easy as it seems… Oliver has to deal with opponents and bribe the administration all while working on expanding his evil empire and getting a nice, tasty grilled cheese sandwich. Life is tough!

Yes, this book is that weird. It’s also pretty entertaining. What kid didn’t wish she had a fake toilet full of candy in his school, or that he could listen in on the romantic goings-on in the teachers lounge? Seventh grade would have been so much more fun! So Oliver is fun, and even pretty realistic outside of the evil genius stuff. He’s just a kid who wants to be someone else. And Lieb does a good job of plotting — he throws a few twists and turns in there that I didn’t see coming, but that make perfect sense in hindsight, which is definitely a skill. Oh, and there are pictures of important things and also footnotes, and you know how much I like footnotes.

I would totally give this book to my little brother to read, if I didn’t think he’d go getting ideas. Maybe after his class elections.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

What a beautiful book. I listened to this on my commute, which was possibly a bad idea because my tear ducts get a little overactive when potentially sad things are happening.

Yes, this is a fairly depressing book. It’s about a teenage girl who gets into a horrific car accident with her family, and has an out-of-body experience while the doctors are keeping an eye on her unconscious and beaten-up body. She watches her family and friends as they come in to see her and as they interact with each other, and she reminisces about her life to this point — how she started playing the cello, how she started dating a super-cool rockstar, how she was anxious about her future, etc. She also wonders if she’s strong enough to try to keep living, which is what that title is all about.

I was often expecting there to be some sort of twist that would show that Mia’s life wasn’t as normal and nice as she thought it was, but that never happened. I appreciated that, in the end — it made her choice that much more difficult, and made her seem more real to me, as a person who has been lucky enough to have a fairly easy life.

And the narrator is awesome. I highly recommend listening to this book.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Maw Books Blog
biblio+chic
My Friend Amy

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.