Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mini-Reviews for YA Titles.

In the last few months of 2012, I was flying through some YA titles like it was my job. Since I normally don't review YA, I always feel awkward posting big posts devoted to those titles. I also get a bit a apprehensive about writing about books by people who are still alive and kicking (perhaps due to the hilarious comments on my post about Christopher Paolini's Inheritance cycle-the comment in all caps slays me. I died when I first read it).

Anyway, the best way to touch on some of the YA titles I read is to do some mini-reviews (mainly just my thoughts on each book) so that I can remember what I read, and see if you shared my thoughts. :)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I enjoy John Green, but hadn't gotten around to buying and reading this title. After talking to a few students about Green, they told me I needed to go read this one, so I bought it. I wasn't sure what to expect being that it is a compilation novel between two writers (and I haven't read anything else by Levithan), but I definitely wasn't expecting what I got.

In many ways I was surprised by the novel. It seemed a lot more...aggressive than the other work I've read by Green, but the characters were pretty true to what I'm used to. As for the story, it was hopeful, sad, and funny all at once. Tiny Cooper is one of those characters that sticks with you because of the insane amount of eccentric, but he was still real because I knew a kid just like him in high school. :) I also like both Will Graysons to varying amounts. In all, it was a fun and fast read, but not one of my favorites for the year.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This was one of those books that I saw everywhere on the blogs a couple years ago, and I marked it down as a title to read at some point in the future. I managed to read it in one long sitting one weekend night after I impulsively downloaded it to Homer (my Nook).

I've read Oliver's Delirium and Pandemonium (and I'll read the third book this year, even though book 2 ended with a cheap ending), so I was familiar with her writing style. I was really curious about her ability to tackle a contemporary style.

I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed the novel. Working with teenagers...I see all too often how their poor decisions change the way others view them. That's one of those things about being a teen-struggling through the perceptions of those around you and living with the consequences of your actions. I particularly liked how Oliver tackled that issue by having the main character relive her last day alive over and over again until she learned...and I also think she was successful in transforming that main character from someone I despised to someone I cared about. And, if I recall, Oliver got me to stay up past 2 to finish the book, so that's something. :)

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Matt and I went up to his parents' log house for a few days after Christmas, so I went to the bookstore the morning we left to spend my gift cards. This happened to be in the used section, and it was a complete impulse buy. I figured it would be a fast read while we were on vacation, and I was completely right.

The only author in the collection I was familiar with was John Green, but Maureen Johnson is an author I've been wanting to read (I follow her on twitter and she is hilarious). Of the three mini-stories in the collection, I actually enjoyed Johnson's the most. That was also a disappointment since hers came first.

Anyway, the premise of the collection is fun-the characters weave in and out of the three stories and actions done by one have an impact on the others. They were cleverly woven together, but I wasn't in awe of the final product. Johnson's story was by far my favorite. It was funny and spot on, and while there were some things I was questioning in the plot, I liked the characters and story the best.

Green's story was funny. The best scene in the entire book is with his three main characters as they attempt to drive their car up a snowy and icy hill. I had to read it out loud to Matt. However, I started to get bored as the story went just felt too familiar to me. I figured out during the course of the story that Green always manages to write about a trio of characters...and I even stopped reading to google it on my phone. Looks like I'm not the only one to come to that conclusion!

Lastly, Myracle's story just grated on my nerves. I felt no sympathy for the main character and wanted to smack her upside the head for most of her story. I also felt the pacing was off and imbalanced.

In all, it was a good diversion, but I'm glad I only paid a couple dollars for the collection.

The Heroes of Olympus (The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena) by Rick Riordan

I read the Percy Jackson series a couple years ago and enjoyed them, so I've been collecting these (and the Kane Chronicles which I have yet to read) for the last couple of years.

I have to say that I enjoyed these a LOT more than the Percy Jackson books. Not only are the characters more mature, I think Riordan's writing is better. However, I still have some issues with some of the pacing and the same plot techniques used in the books. Granted, I know these are usually labeled MG and that kind of formula works for that age group, but as an adult reader, I wanted to say enough already! I say that in jest because I really did enjoy the stories!

I think Riordan is very skilled at what he does. He manages to weave the mythology into the books so seamlessly that it makes me smile (as someone who is teaching mythology). I enjoyed the fact that he brought in the Roman version of the gods and that the problems and characters are more complex. I can't really say more than that without giving away big plot points!

These were definitely some of my favorite fun reads from the year, but I'm a bit bummed that the fourth book won't be out until the fall. I can't wait to see how it ends. :)

If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman

A student was reading If I Stay for her book project, and since it was one of those books I had written down at some point, I figured I should read it.

I was not at all prepared for the emotional depth of these two books. I knew the premise (Mia and her family are in a massive car accident. Her parents and younger brother die in the accident, but she is in a coma and must decide to either stay or leave to be with her family), but I was not prepared for how sniffly and choked up I became as I read. The story was heartbreaking and as Mia reflected on her life and the decision she had to make, I was pulling for her, but in which direction, I can't say. I also felt for her boyfriend as he struggled to see her and speak with her. The second novel takes place a couple years later and is from her boyfriend's point of view. In it, he struggles with what happened and the result of "where she went."

Both novels were incredibly moving and touching. And, I can't believe I'm saying this, I think I actually preferred Where She Went over If I Stay. It also grabbed me and made me weep like I haven't in some time. I think it is a true testament to Forman's writing ability to pull out that kind of emotion in a reader! I know she has a new book coming out this month, and I will be definitely reading it.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly won me over a few years ago (I think right before I started blogging) with her book called A Northern Light. The writing was incredibly beautiful and intricate for a YA novel, and it was an instant favorite. So, I've been meaning to read this one since it came out, so it was another purchase in my day after Christmas book shopping spree (I do wish I had purchased it earlier, since I'm really not a fan of the cover-big faces don't appeal to me-but that's petty).

I was not disappointed. In fact, Revolution was one of my favorite books of the year, and a great way to end 2012 (I finished at 9pm on the 31st). The story is about two girls-Andi and Alex-who live 200 years apart from one another, but that have a lot in common. Andi's story (the modern character) was one that grabbed me instantly. She was a perfect "angry teen" protagonist, but with good reason. I also enjoyed her connection to classical music and the emotion she felt whenever she played (I feel the same way when I play). I also loved the historical elements of the novel and the diary from Alex. I think it was a new and different way to have that realization for Andi without the influence of a therapist or close friend (or boy. Because teenage boys are all kinds of sensitive, don't you know). And while the novel definitely went there near the end, it was well-done and interesting. I also have some ideas about whether Andi really went there (I don't think she did, but I can't say more without plot spoilers). But, by the end, I was in love and I am ready to go buy all of Donnelly's adult titles because I need more of her beautiful way with words. She is a must-buy for me and an author I need to recommend to my students.


  1. I enjoyed Before I Fall too, there was much more to it than I was expecting. Revolution sounds good!

  2. I'm actually enjoying the Heroes of Olympus series better than the Percy Jackson series, too! Which is saying a lot, because I loved the original Percy Jackson books! Have you read any of the Kane Chronicles? I've read the first 2 and bought the 3rd when it came out, but haven't gotten to it, yet (hoping to do so soon). I'm enjoying this one, too, because it's teaching me a lot about Egyptian mythology. Part of the fun for me is learning (or re-learning) so much about mythology. The Heroes series is great because it helps me do what I've always had trouble doing - connecting Greek with Roman mythology.

    Ah, and you haven't read any other Levithan?! I love his work. Boy Meets Boy is my favorite, but Every Me, Every You is also fantastic. I enjoyed The Lover's Dictionary (experimental, but all his stuff is, in a way) and The Realm of Possibility, too. I haven't had a chance to read his latest, Every Day, yet, but many people say its his best so far. Anyway -I definitely think you should read some more of his stuff, it's great. :)

  3. I so loved Before I Fall! Wanted to keep it but passed it on to my teen granddaughter. Glad I did since she really liked it :)

  4. I still really want to read "Before I Fall!"

  5. LOVED your review of the Inheritance cycle. I had to comment, even though the original post was years ago. I think it's crap too.

    And I saw Rick Riordan a couple of months ago! He's from San Antonio and he spoke at the local museum. My girls each got a signed book (not personalized, there were hundreds of people) and a t-shirt. He was an absolute hoot, told funny stories about writing when he was a kid, etc. I hope you get the chance to see him someday.

  6. I had the exact same reaction to Before I Fall! I read a lot of YA, but I don't read a ton of contemporary YA, so I wasn't really planning on loving Before I Fall (and I don't love Lauren Oliver's other books), but I adored it. It was one of my favorite reads of 2011, honestly. It's really stuck with me since I read it almost a year ago and I tell a lot of people to read it. I agree with everything you said about it here!

  7. I'm happy you liked Before I Fall and If I Stay. Those books were so painfully realistic to me (even though those things weren't happening to me) I loved them, and would love to reread again.