Category Archives: Young adult

Young Adult – Sweet Venom

Grace is excited to move to San Francisco, but a little nervous at the same time. It doesn’t help that she’s suddenly seeing terribly monsters everywhere. Monsters that no one else seems to notice, until the day another girl appears, chasing the monster – a girl who just happens to look exactly like her. Grace always knew she was adopted, but now she’s not just an identical twin, but a descendant of the Gorgons, destined to fight mythical monsters?

This was a quick, eventful read, a solid book without being stellar. While the attitudes of the girls are completely different, and what let me tell them apart, their voices were a tad too similar. Bumped also features identical-twins-separated-at-birth with both girls giving us their first person narrative, but in that book the girls had distinct speaking styles, whereas here they did not.

The general idea – descendants of the Gorgons fighting monsters – was good, if not terribly inspired. I think my general inability to muster up any true enthusiasm has to do with a trend I’ve been seeing in a lot of YA books lately: the desire to create an entire series waters down each individual book. I think this book should have been merged with its sequel to create a stronger work. Nothing really happens here, it’s all set up for the next book in the series, filled with foreshadowing and several obvious attempts to set up the characters for action-packed adventure later on, but with no real payoffs in this installment other than the girls meeting one another.

That being said, it’s still a fun read, and the second in the series will no doubt have legions of fans eagerly awaiting its release.

Young Adult – Divergent

When Beatrice reaches the age of 16 she, like all others her age, is given a test to determine which of the five factions she most fits into. Although the choice of which faction to join as an adult is hers alone, the test can help to solidify a choice. To Beatrice’s surprise, her results are inconclusive. She’s divergent – capable of fitting into several of the factions. This makes her dangerous to the people in charge, and she desperately hides her divergent nature. Joining a faction and renaming herself Tris, she tries her best to fit in with her new surroundings, but danger lurks around every corner and Tris must fight for her life while wondering who to trust.

This book was fast-paced and a quick read that kept me turning the pages. I never really doubted whether Tris would end up with the mysterious young man she becomes attached to, but then I can’t think of the last time I was ever in doubt reading this sort of young adult book. There were several aspects that made me question some of the underlying logic of the factions, but they are spoilers, so I won’t detail them here. In the end, I would recommend this book to fans of dystopian young adult fiction. There is enough action that boys would most likely be interested, but it is clearly being marketed to girls.

Young Adult – Okay for Now

Doug Swieteck is less than thrilled about having to move to “boring Marysville”. Far from his familiar New York, moving to Marysville presents a whole slew of new problems for him, while not erasing any of his old problems. After all, his family is moving with him. Over the course of the next year Doug reluctantly comes to make friends with the spunky Lil Spicer, and to become a part of the community, much to his own surprise.

This was a wonderfully written book. Doug’s voice was spot on, and I really felt like we were in the mind of a defensive eighth grader. The way that he chooses to reveal or hide information from the reader was masterfully done. Even at the end, there are still several aspects of family dynamics that remain implied rather than directly stated. We can understand Doug and his family as much as by what’s left unsaid as by what is revealed explicitly.

That being said, the plot of the book occasionally disappointed me. This is the sort of book that should be relishing the small details of life in Marysville: getting a job, learning to draw, developing a relationship with the people in town. Therefore the plot elements that stray from this – such as the Broadway incidents or the two sudden out-of-nowhere medical emergencies – really jarred me out of the world of the book, and interrupted my pleasure in the reading. This would easily be the best book I’ve read all year if it were not for the uneven feeling that the extremes of the plotting introduce. Instead, it “merely” makes my “extremely good” list.

Young Adult – Babe in Boyland

At first Natalie is devastated when her formerly popular Ask Aphrodite high school advice column is bombarded with negative email from boys accusing her of just writing what girls want to hear without understanding how boys think at all. Then she realizes they are right: she has no idea how the male mind works. Asking boys the big questions is no help: they either get defensive and clam up or tell her what they think she wants to hear. As part of a madcap scheme to win a journalism award, Natalie manages to weasel her way into an all-boy’s boarding school for a week – disguised as a boy.

This was silly and cheesy and filled with as many surprises as your typical peanut butter sandwich, but it was also fun. Did I for a moment believe that Nat and her friends could have gotten away with this? No. But I still enjoyed going along for the ride.

The characters were all stock pieces: the genius that has no social skills, the jerky jock, the callous rival, the incredibly hot kid from a tough background that is “unexpectedly” sensitive and sweet. The only character that truly felt realistic was the drama teacher who tries awkwardly to have a heart to heart with the disguised Nat, believing him to be gay. (And I’m not sure why more people did not come to this conclusion. I think it would have made for a more interesting book that could have explored more than just the trite “boys are more complicated than they appear; girls have to stop trying to be something they’re not to attract boys” message.)

Will this win awards? Not likely. But will it amuse for a few hours? Absolutely.

Young Adult – Five Flavors of Dumb

Piper’s senior year of high school is so far shaping up to be rotten. Her best friend has moved across the country, leaving her alone. Worst still, however, Piper sees her long-cherished dream of going to the Deaf college Gallaudet going up in smoke after her parents decide to use her college fund to pay for Piper’s younger sister’s cochlear implants, an operation that Piper is not convinced Grace needed. If her parents are so thrilled that Grace is able to hear now, what does that say about how they think about Piper’s Deafness? When Piper very uncharacteristically runs her mouth off, declaring that she could get the high school band Dumb a paying gig in a month in exchange for part of the money, she has a lot riding on the outcome. Too bad the band can barely play or barely stand one another…

This book was excellent. I really enjoyed the ways in which Piper had such concrete ideas of who people were – from her parents to her brother to the band members – and how those ideas were slowly changed, allowing Piper to realize that people in general are far more complex than they may at first appear. Piper’s change of viewpoint was gradual enough that it felt real to me, particularly the excellent characterization of Piper’s evolving relationship with her father. Highly recommended.

Young Adult – Replacement

cover image Mackie has always been odd. He’s allergic to iron, can’t enter the church’s consecrated ground, and is deathly pale. His family, all too aware that the strange are easily persecuted, has made it their life’s mission to keep Mackie as invisible as possible. Mackie himself is more than happy to blend into the shadows, even as he realizes that he is becoming more and more ill as time goes by. So he is reluctant to talk to Tate, a girl at his school whose sister has just died.

People in the town of Gentry are willing to look the other way when children begin suddenly sickening and dying for no apparent reason. Tate’s insistence that it was not her sister that died, but a replacement is not welcome news to anyone – specifically not to Mackie, who is trying as hard as possible to pass for normal. But slowly Mackie becomes sucked into Tate’s anger and frustration at the town’s denial, forcing him to come to terms with his own past and his complicated family relationships.

This was a very strong fantasy book for teenagers. It will appeal to both male and female readers. There’s just enough tension between Tate and Mackie to keep fans of the paranormal romance happy, but unlike so many of the Twilight-inspired paranormal books on the shelves these days, the focus is far more on plot and character relationships in general than it is on possibilities of romance. Mackie has a lot of hard choices to make, and a lot of realizing that as much as he has always been an outsider, he has also inspired loyalty in his friends. (Though my one major quibble with the book was that Mackie really isn’t a very good friend, particularly to the very loyal Roswell.)

Young Adult – Pathfinder

Rigg has spent all of his 13 years living in the forest with the man he calls father. His father spends that time teaching Rigg not just how to trap the animals they skin for a living, but also how to speak multiple languages, the basics of physics, and as much history as Rigg can cram into his head. He’s also taught Rigg as much as he can about Rigg’s unusual ability to see the paths of all the living creatures. Much of this information Rigg can’t see the use of, but when Rigg’s father dies unexpectedly, telling him to seek out the sister Rigg didn’t know he had, the teachings of his father are suddenly a matter of life and death.

Rigg accidentally stumbles across another unique ability: with the help of a friend, he is able to not just travel through time, but to change the past as well. It will be up to Rigg to master as many of these talents as possible as he soon finds himself in a dangerous position: half of the empire wants to crown him king, while the other half wants to kill him.

I enjoyed this book, and the fast pace made me want to stay up late to finish each chapter … and then the book. Overall, I recommend it, though there were a few quibbles, mostly with character development, or the lack thereof. There are several tragic events that I felt the characters did not spend enough time grieving, and the characters remained basically unchanged throughout the story. However, the tight focus on plot and the excellent world-building easily carry the story.

Matched

Cassia has lived her entire life in the Society, and is grateful for the many ways in which the authorities make life easier for all citizens. Using advanced computer models, the officials match each person not only to the perfect job, but also to the perfect person: anyone who wishes to get married is Matched.

Since it is unusual for Matches to come from the same City, Cassia is both shocked and thrilled when she is partnered with her best friend Xander. But when she tries to access the datacard she has been given, another face flashes in front of her. The officials insist it is a mistake, that the other boy, Ky, is not even eligible to be Matched, for mysterious reasons. Cassia tries to believe them, but as she is driven by curiosity to spend more time in Ky’s company, she starts to realize that Ky, like Xander, is special to her.

This book was more than just a teen love triangle. In fact, that aspect of the book was fairly tame, as it seemed obvious to me who Cassia was going to end up with. Rather, this is a book about choices, about who should get to make the choices, and the reasons why we might allow others to make our choices. I liked that even at the same time that Cassia is questioning the way the Society is run, she also acknowledges the ways in which it achieves worthwhile goals such as safety and prosperity for all. So many dystopian societies are portrayed as completely corrupt and evil, leaving the reader to wonder why the citizens would ever participate. Here the author makes it clear that for most people the Society is providing them with exactly what they want, what they need, and what makes them happy. It’s only the outsiders, the people like Cassia, that are beginning to feel the constraints of a world that is slowly sinking.

Young Adult – Intertwined

Aden’s life up to now has been tough. Since he was a baby he’s had four souls living inside his head, and the chatter and noise they create have made it hard for him to live a normal life. Instead, he’s spent the past sixteen years being shuffled from foster home to mental institution to juvie and back again. It doesn’t help that each of the souls has a special power, from raising the dead to time-travel, and that Aden himself has no control over when or where they will use these powers.

Aden is trying very hard to make his newest group home work out when he stumbles across a town girl named Mary Ann. Normally Aden is too distracted to pay much attention to girls, but this girl is different. She makes the voices go away. No more souls in his head, at least when she’s nearby. But why does she have this effect on him? And can she help to free the souls that have been trapped with him for his entire life?

There was a lot going on in this book, perhaps even a little too much. The summary above is already intriguing, even before I begin to mention werewolves, vampires, and epic Love Against The Rules. But if you are willing to just sit back for the ride, the book is willing to race with you.

The writing stumbles occasionally, but the plot rockets forward. The relationships will appeal to fans of the increasingly popular paranormal romance, while the action will keep the non-romantics entertained. The ending leaves itself wide open for a sequel, which I will be looking forward to.

Young Adult – Changeover

Laura has always been a little bit different. She gets “warnings” before life-changing events, such as the day her father moved out of the house. But there’s nothing she can do to change things. Then one day, a “warning” day, her little brother Jacko becomes the victim of a ancient evil, and suddenly Laura is the only one that can stop the evil being from killing her brother. Desperate for help, she turns to the Sorry, a local boy that she has known for years is a witch.

This book is nearly thirty years old now, but it is still a thrilling read. If it were not for the outdated cover art, I suspect that many of today’s teens would not even realize that the story is old enough to have been read by their parents. Since Laura’s family has very little money the lack of expensive electronics makes sense, and any slight changes in slang or fashions can be explained away by the New Zealand setting.

I had a few problems with Sorry’s behavior. Not necessarily with his actions, because I felt that he was very real and his actions made sense, but with Laura’s re-actions. There were a few times that I felt she should have been more upset, or more strongly uncomfortable, but perhaps that is simply me projecting how I would have felt in that scenario. By the end of the book I thought their interactions were spot on. While the main plot of the book is tied up with a bow, there remains an entire other chapter that looks at the ways in which Laura’s relationships amongst her family and friends have changed. I thought the way that her maybe-romance with Sorry was handled was done perfectly. The uncertain-certainty of what will happen in the future is much more appealing than ending the story with a passionate embrace and vows of “forever”.