Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mockingjay

Finally! Suzanne Collins' final installment in The Hunger Games series has probably been my most anticipated novel ever. I was crushed to learn that it would be released after I moved to Korea. I'm not joking when I say that getting access to this novel was one of my biggest worries about moving to the ROK. Luckily, there is an amazing English bookstore in Itaewon. All I needed to do was learn how to maneuver the subway so I could buy it.

I tried desperately (and successfully) not to be spoiled before reading Mockingjay. So I'm not going to give anything away in my review, except that I loved it. There was so much excellent action and so many surprises in this novel that I read it in one sitting. I feel like now I can go back and read it in a leisurely manner, knowing what happens to my beloved characters.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the mood at the end of the novel. How can everything be alright in a world where the Hunger Games exist? Collins stayed true to the trilogy's dystopian roots, while still not making the reader throw herself off a roof. Just read this book now!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Prep

I'm sorry, but I found the premise of Prep to be completely unrealistic. Apparently, Jake Coburn wrote the novel based on his time studying at different prep schools, "where he witnessed New York's privileged offspring form some of the city's most vicious street gangs".

I definitely buy that these kids have unlimited access to alcohol, drugs, and sex, which are all rampant in the novel. I also believe that some of them probably have anger issues, like anyone else. What I find dubious is that these prep schoolers are the true thugs of New York. I think all of the risky activities in Prep are all posturing and if any of these kids came across anyone truly dangerous, they would be in their chauffered cars immediately. So, I read this novel with a skeptical smirk on my face.

This weekend in the life of Nick, prep student and former thug, was not very interesting because it is profoundly boring to watch shallow, overprivileged people take taxis from party to party. I like to finish every book I start and this was a very short novel, but still I feel like I wasted my time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Color of Earth

Annyeonghaseyo!

In celebration of my move to Seoul, I read Kim Dong Hwa's graphic novel, The Color of Earth. This first entry in a trilogy tells the story of Ehwa, a young rural girl, and her mother, Namwon, a widow who runs a tavern.

Hwa focuses on the coming of age of Ehwa, who is naturally curious about sexuality. Over the course of seven years, she learns about how men and women differ, usually through innocent questions asked of her mother. Due to her business, Namwon knows more than most about the ways of men. In fact, she spends much of the book brushes off crude comments from her customers. When a traveling salesman passes through the village, she is offered a chance to love.

I found Namwon's honesty with her daughter to be refreshing, especially in such an isolated village in the past. This is definitely a book to read for yourself before sharing with any students, as some parents aren't as open as Namwon!

My favorite part of the book was the illustrations. Hwa juxtaposes two styles of drawing: the manga-like renderings of the characters and the nature that they live in. The scenes of the Korean countryside are absolutely gorgeous and so exciting to me. The amount of detail that went into these illustrations is staggering.

Hwa's use of natural metaphors adds so much to the narrative. Possibly due to the time period of the book, he uses flowers to describe women, describes the gingko tree and how it relates to human sex, and interesting fruits and vegetables to substitute for human anatomy! I enjoyed getting this insight into a slice of Korean history.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sweethearts

The cover of Sweethearts is absolute perfection. The simplicity of the cookie, the beautiful color choice, the font of the title (although the title doesn't fit the novel, in my opinion) are all excellent. I definitely chose to read this book based on its cover.

Sara Zarr's novel started off slowly, with Jenna going through her days of high school popularity trying to maintain her cool facade and constantly flashing back to an unknown traumatic event which led to the death of her childhood friend, Cameron. Suddenly, Cameron reappears and acts as a bowling ball, knocking down the pins of her carefully arranged life. When the readers learn what the event was, the plot picks up and we wish we hadn't learned Jenna and Cameron's secret.

I definitely skimmed the first few chapters but ended up enjoying Sweethearts and crying a bit at the end. The character of Cameron Quick made me think about how unfair it is for someone to keep reappearing in their loved one's lives, only to leave again. This led to the tailspin "Oh no, am I Cameron Quick?" I will be moving to Korea tomorrow (!) and have spent the summer visiting friends and family. I haven't exactly been dropping bombs or shattering existences, so I think I'm in the clear. Still, you've got to appreciate a YA novel that makes you question your lifestyle!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking For Alaska

Looking For Alaska handles themes too mature for my middle school library. Read it before adding it to your shelf, not only for content, but also because it is truly awesome.

John Green is the master of young male dialogue. Parents: if you want to know what your teenage son talks about with his friends, look no further. Green's characters are always the funny, slightly awkward guy with a heart of gold. As in Paper Towns, the main character, Miles, is obsessed with a quirky and destructive girl, this time named Alaska Young.

Looking For Alaska is set in a boarding school, one of my favorite locations. The removal of parents and the need to drive anywhere really speeds up a narrative, in my opinion. Miles begins at Culver Creek by falling in with a crowd of hilarious misfits: the Colonel, Takumi, and the always reckless Alaska. These are the friends that you wish you had in high school, inspiring pranks, sharing literature and trivia, and seeking adventure at every turn.

Green's story counts down to a tragedy and then counts back away from it, a narrative device that goes practically unnoticed until you have reached the climax and are on the other side of what will be the pivotal event in the characters' young lives. The plot of the novel is entertaining, but the true beauty of Looking For Alaska is in the small moments that Green absolutely nails.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

This World We Live In


Something I haven't mentioned in my reviews of The Last Survivors series are the covers. They are amazingly scary and keep bringing me back just to stare at them. I also adore the titles for being long and haunting. Susan Beth Pfeffer's trilogy will stay with me for a long time.

This World We Live In picks up a year after the moon has been knocked closer and devastates the planet. In a way, it is a fan's dream come true because it brings the two families from the previous books together and gives the reader more information on how they have fared. Since I am reading this several years after publication, I wonder if this was always Pfeffer's intention, or if readers were crying out for more on Alex and Miranda. I like to think it's the latter.

In this final novel, we return to Miranda's diary and how she copes when her absent father returns with his second wife, their baby, and the Morales kids in tow. Some things remain the same: Miranda's mother is still a pain, everyone is still obsessed with food, and Horton the cat is still alive (seriously, how has some starving wanderer not eaten him yet?! Gross but true.) This novel, however, features some romances...although none are particularly romantic. Pfeffer is realistic here; if the world is ending, you aren't going to be choosy about who you love. This leads to interesting interactions and drama. This World We Live In has surprising twists until the very last page and an ambiguous ending. I hope that means this isn't the last we will hear about these characters.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Dead and The Gone

When the moon got knocked closer to Earth in Life As We Knew It, Miranda and her Pennsylvanian family manage to survive as the world collapses around them. In the companion novel, The Dead & The Gone, the reader gets the perspective of Alex Morales, a New York City teenager. If there was ever an argument for why it's better to be a country mouse, it is this novel.

I really liked learning about the post-disaster world that Susan Beth Pfeffer has created. While I thought that NYC was swept away in the first book, it makes sense that the news reports could be wrong. Alex faces situations that Miranda does not: the high population means that there are bodies everywhere, the danger of looters and people stealing from bodies, and coping without any adult figures (except a mean old priest!)

While I enjoyed The Dead & The Gone, I didn't love it the way I loved the first novel in the trilogy. Miranda's story was told in diary form, while Alex's story is in the third person, which distances the reader from his feelings. I also didn't enjoy the characters as much as Miranda's family. Alex seems like a good guy, but neither his ultra-religious sister Briana nor his whiny, spoiled sister Julie are likable. I kept wishing he would ditch them and find a safe place to go! Still, I know that my male students will enjoy this novel more than the first and everyone will be clamoring for the final installment in the series.

PS. It's Dystopian August!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dramarama

Dramarama is a fun, light read to take to the beach, on a plane, or to the park. I brought it with me to all these places and was able to easily pick up the story of Sadye and Demi, two drama-loving misfits from Ohio that head to performing arts summer camp. Their paths diverge when Demi discovers his star power and Sadye struggles when her talent doesn't match her drive.

E. Lockhart packed her novel with lyrics and references to tons of musicals. I used to love theatre when I was in middle school and was excited to hum the songs that I knew. Thanks to the author's website, I also have a list of new songs to download. Even though most kids I know don't have any musical theatre knowledge, the story is interesting enough to hold them. I especially enjoyed the recorded conversations between the two friends, already planning for when they are famous. It's that kind of bravado in Lockhart's characters that always wins me over.