unRequired Reading Blog

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

What, another dystopian YA novel? Yes, but Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is so fresh and involving that even the most jaded reader is sure to enjoy it. 

Teenaged Nailer is a ship breaker, one of the poorest of the poor who eke out a living dismantling rusting oil tankers along the Gulf. He’s still small enough to crawl through the ducts in search of copper wire, which he retrieves and turns over to his crew boss. His drug-addicted father is an unpredictable force, and Nailer considers his friend Pima and her mother the closest thing he has to a real family. 
 
After a hurricane sweeps over the coast, Nailer and Pima discover the wreck of a high-tech clipper ship hidden in an inlet. As they scavenge for food, money and anything else that can turn their luck, they discover the body of a beautiful and clearly rich young woman. Just as Nailer contemplates cutting off her finger to steal her rings, her eyes open.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

 As The Strange Case of Origami Yoda begins, Tommy has two questions and two questions only. Those questions?  Is Origami Yoda for real? Not real as in he exists, but for real as in can this seemingly wise finger puppet predict the future? And secondly, is the advice Yoda has given Tommy (despite Origami Yoda being voiced by Dwight, the strangest kid in school) good advice or will it result in school wide humiliation? With these two questions in mind, Tommy begins a case study of the Origami Yoda - how he got his start, the kid behind it, and all the situations in which Yoda has been used for aid at McQuarrie Middle School. 

The book has cool illustrations and little details throughout – think Diary of a Wimpy Kid format – and they really capture the personalities of the characters in the book. There are more than a few funny Star Wars references that fans will delight in as well.   The writing and story really drew me in because the reader is able to ponder each situation and draw his or her own conclusion on the wisdom being dispatched by Origami Yoda. The author, Tom Angleberger, has captured the unique personalities and challenges faced by the middle-school crowd in a realistic and humorous way.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

What would happen if you met someone who had the exact same name as you? Would you examine them, looking for any similarities and differences desperately trying to figure the other one out? Two high school students from suburban Chicago are about to find out, and both of them are Will Grayson in Will Grayson, Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan.

One lives by two rules: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut Up. By following them, Will has made it through life without too many bruises. Unfortunately, his best friend Tiny Cooper is royally wrecking everything for him. Royal is appropriate for Tiny, a gigantic queen who just happens to be the school’s best football player and the writer/director/star of his own biographic musical, Tiny Dancer. This, along with Tiny’s constant attempts to get Will to go out with their mutual friend Jane, is exactly the kind of attention that Will does not want.

Ranger’s Apprentice 1: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Ever since he was a small boy, Will, hero of The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (Book 1 of The Ranger's Apprentice series), has dreamed of Choosing Day and the moment he can start training as a knight. Will, along with Horace, Alyss, Jenny, and the other castle wards raised by Baron Arald’s generosity, is now 15 years old, and about to leave the familiar confines of the castle to start his career apprenticeship. The other wards have obvious talents that will translate easily into their apprenticeships: Horace, a muscular boy and natural athlete is destined for battleschool; willowy and sophisticated Alyss for the Diplomatic Service; and friendly, food-loving Jenny to Master Chubb’s kitchens. Will’s destination is harder to predict, for where will this tree-climbing, wall-scaling teen fit in?

It turns out that Will is not selected for battleschool, but rather to become the apprentice of Halt the Ranger, part of an enigmatic group of men who use camouflage, superior bow skills, and secrecy to achieve their missions on behalf of the King. Over the next few months, Will’s disappointment over battleschool changes to grudging respect for Halt and the grueling training that the Rangers undergo to become proficient in their craft. He also starts to see in the quietly competent Halt the father figure that he has been without for his childhood.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

The plot of Charlie Higson's The Enemy reads like an inverted fairy tale: one day, everyone over the age of 16 starts getting sick. Some of them die early on, and others leave their families voluntarily to try to protect them. The unlucky ones become something else: boil-covered, dim-witted zombies whose only goal is to consume flesh.

The kids who are left behind face incredible odds against their survival. The older ones are responsible for eluding the zombies, taking care of the young ones, and finding food in a precarious world where there is little left of anything, including hope. The Enemy follows groups of kids in London-- particularly, the "Waitrose kids," so named for the supermarket that they have secured and defended for the last year. They are lead by Arran, a natural leader who is both sensitive and fearless; defended by the gifted fighter Achilleus; and kept peaceful by Maxine, the second in command. But their resources are running low, and "the grown-ups" (their name for the zombies) are becoming more daring, picking them off one at a time.

One day a strange boy in a multicolored coat appears at their gate, bringing them tales of a peaceful life that another group of kids has made for themselves at Buckingham Palace. Allegedly, the kids live in security, where they are well-fed by the fruits of their own garden. He invites the Waitrose kids to join them, and they decide to embark on the dangerous journey from Waitrose to Buckingham Palace.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This is Week 12 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. To see all of the reviews, click here.

In Kathryn Erskine's "Mockingbird," Caitlin’s world is black and white, and she likes it that way, whether it’s her view of life or her meticulous monotone drawings. Since The Day Our Life Fell Apart when her brother Devon was killed in a school shooting, she and her widowed father keep to simple routines. This is important to kids like Caitlin, a fifth grader with Asperger’s Syndrome. Clear boundaries make it easier to cope, especially when she’s trying hard to follow her counselor’s advice to Look At The Person and Mind Your Manners. 

As I followed Caitlin through her days at school – meeting with the school counselor when she has a TRM (Tantrum Rage Meltdown), trying dutifully to make friends even though she prefers to be a “team of one” – I began to see the world as Caitlin does. She may be socially inept and literal-minded, but she also has a startling gift for humor and truth-telling. 
 

The Daughters by Joanna Philbin

This is Week 11 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Imagine that your mom is a world-famous supermodel or actress, like Angelina Jolie - constantly surrounded (and hounded) by the paparazzi. What would your life be like? How would your parent’s fame shape your own childhood, teenage years, and adult hood? This is the premise of The Daughters by Joanna Philbin, a new young adult novel that explores growing up in the shadow of fame, and it how alters (and in many respects doesn’t change) the trials and tribulations of the teenage years.
 
The Daughters follows the life of Lizzie Summers, daughter of a famous supermodel, and Lizzie’s two best friends, Carina and Hudon, daughters of a billionaire media mogul and pop star, respectively. In many respects they are just like many 14 year-olds, trying to navigate through high school academics, crushes on boys, and changing relationships with their parents. But in other ways, their parent’s fame is almost like another character to explore in the book, drawing constantly unwanted attention. 

Philip K. Dick and History Unrealized

The late Philip K. Dick's works were one of the strongest influences on science fiction writers in the first decade of the 21st century, including the fields of alternate history and paranoid thrillers.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

This is Week 10 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a page-turning story of star-crossed teenage love with a Southern gothic twist and a side of magic.

In the town of Gatlin, South Carolina, everyone knows everybody's business and nothing exciting ever happens, unless you count the annual re-enactment of a local Civil War battle. Unbeknownst to the residents of Gatlin (at least most residents) beneath the thick Southern accents and Spanish moss lurks a whole other magical world, one of hidden underground libraries, voodoo and deadly family curses.

Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate bridge the gap between these two worlds - two worlds that were never meant to meet.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver opens during one particularly brutal winter, when the wolves in Mercy Falls, Minnesota are starving. Desperate to eat, they pull an eleven-year-old girl off of her tire swing in her back yard. As they begin to pull at her clothes, she catches the beautiful, golden eyes of one of the wolves and they both connect in an inexplicable way. The golden-eyed wolf saves her life, defending her from the pack.

Fast forward to the present, and that same girl, Grace Brisbane, is now in high school. She has a few good friends at school and a pair of scatterbrained, distracted parents. What particularly grounds her is watching “her wolf” who lives in the forest behind her house. What Grace doesn’t know is that the wolf is named Sam, and he turns human in the warm weather and stays a wolf during the cold.  Sam and Grace’s worlds collide when a local boy is believed to have been killed by the wolves, and the town launches into a full-scale wolf-hunt. The tension is heightened by the fact that each time Sam changes into a wolf it becomes less likely that he will change back into a human. He has to struggle after each change to throw off the wildness, the dreams of howling and blood on his lips.