November 17, 2017

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From the Bell Tower to the City Gates, Teens Review Titles by Kristen Simmons, Jennifer Niven, and More

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Our teen reviewers offer up a big dose of contemporary coming-of-age fiction, with just a dash of dystopia. The featured titles touch on teen suicide, PTSD, sexism, mental illness, and more.

The ForgettingMAGGI, Nicole. The Forgetting. Sourcebooks Fire. Feb. 2015. 352p. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781492603566.
Gr 7 Up—A girl with a weak heart receives a heart transplant. However, when Georgie wakes up, she quickly discovers that this new heart has changed her. She is no longer the person she used to be. In order to figure out why, she must recruit someone from her donor’s past and involve herself in something bigger than she realized. I read this in basically one day—seriously. This was such an incredible book that I found it impossible to put down, and when I was forced to put it down, I quickly rushed through whatever it was I was doing to keep reading. I was kept in suspense the entire time and the ending completely shocked me. Not only that, but I was really emotionally drawn to it. I felt like I had a real tie to both Anna and Georgie because of the memories Maggi replayed. The imagery was also really great when the memories were replayed as well as when they visited Anna’s apartment. I also loved how there was a slight romance, but it wasn’t overplayed and dramatized. The ending was absolutely perfect and I loved how the rest of this book flowed.

I really liked how the book would switch into some of Anna’s memories when Georgie ventured into places that she had once been. It gave me more of an emotional tie to them and helped me understand and empathize with what was going on. I think everyone should read this book if they’re into mysteries or just into books about a girl trying to find herself.—Sophie, age 15

Niven All the brightNIVEN, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Knopf. Jan. 2015. 400p. Tr $15. ISBN 9780385755887.
Gr 10 Up—Violet and Finch’s separate life paths first converge six feet above the ground, on the four-inch ledge of their school’s bell tower. When the two are then paired up for a geography project, they begin to heal from past tragedies and slowly bond as they learn to see what is wonderful about their native Indiana, and about life. But some demons simply can’t be avoided, and the desire to live can in itself be fatal. The true mark of a well-written book isn’t a shocking ending; it’s when the story has an ending you can see coming from a mile away, and yet when it transpires, it still breaks your heart. Niven’s foreshadowing and the book’s description was such that I knew what major plot point would occur even before I started reading, but I kept reading anyway because I was that invested in the story. And even though I could predict many important occurrences in the book, Niven constantly surprised me with her execution of the plot points I expected and the introduction of several smaller plot twists that I didn’t anticipate.

I also appreciated Niven’s emphasis on characterization—every character was fleshed out to some degree, sufficient for their role in the novel—and her humane but accurate depiction of mental illness. Finch’s symptoms were not sugarcoated or romanticized; they were simply there, clearly a part of him but by no means defining him. My one complaint is that the beginning of the book moved rather slowly; however, this was less of an issue the second time I read it, as many of the small details mentioned throughout the introduction become important later on. Though I enjoyed the protagonists and the romance between them, I was most compelled by Finch’s individual story line. Violet was a good and wonderful person in her own right, but it was Finch who drew me in, partly because of his charisma and partly because I could see how hard he was fighting to stay awake, to stay alive. Niven documents his descent into instability in such a way that readers can clearly see what is happening, and yet we never stop hoping that somehow, he’ll find a way to overcome his illness just as he helped Violet to overcome her grief and truly live life again.

I would recommend this book for teens and adults, particularly fans of Rainbow Rowell, Ned Vizzini, and John Green. All the Bright Places has many parallels with Eleanor and Park by Rowell, though the two novels ultimately differ in tone and theme.—Emily L., age 17

RodriguezRODRIGUEZ, Cindy. When Reason Breaks. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2015. 304p. Tr $17. ISBN 9781619634121.
Gr 9 Up—The focus of this title is on two teenage girls struggling with normal high school situations, like relationships, but also with unusual family issues and depression. I think that a lot of young adult books should be about mental illness, depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, etc. because these are common things that teenagers face. But the people who write these books have to go about it in a certain way because such a depressing story can deter readers very quickly if there are not uplifting and unique moments. This book might have had the potential to become as popular as Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why (Penguin, 2007) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Pocket, 1999) but it needed some editing.

The book has no uplifting points until the end, and it is often hard to understand the characters’ thoughts and emotions during certain parts because these were not well written, and key plot points were not set up earlier in the story. For example, there was no mention that Emily and Kevin were having sex, and then all of a sudden Emily has a pregnancy scare. Also, Emily shows signs of depression, but there was no big push over the edge to the point where she would commit suicide. Same goes with Elizabeth, since we are supposed to believe that she is the one that attempts suicide; there needs to be a bigger explosion with the whole story being published in the paper that would make us think Elizabeth would commit suicide. It was pretty obvious that it would be Emily who would attempt suicide in the first place—I realized it within a few chapters. Many aspects of the story needed to be expanded and delved deeper into.

The most compelling aspect was that we knew one of them would commit suicide, but the book doesn’t reveal who until the end. There were also excerpts from the girl’s suicide note and journal so the reader could try to figure out which girl it was. Also the fact that the book talks about depression was a compelling aspect for me since I enjoy reading books that talk about mental problems. Fans of 13 Reasons Why, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay (Dutton, 2009), and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (Little, Brown, 2002) would enjoy this book.—Monica, age 17

SIThe Glass ArrowMMONS, Kristen. The Glass Arrow. Tor Teen. Feb. 2015. 336p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780765336613.
Gr 9 Up—In this dystopian society, girls are bought and sold to keep the population stable. Aya, who was raised in the wilds to be independent, is stolen from her family outside the city gates to be sold to a man and bear him children. Here, she is extremely problematic and constantly tries to escape and return to her family. She is kept in confinement and meets an enigmatic Driver whom she befriends. But inevitably, Aya is sold and she needs to escape while she still can. This book was amazing. Truly amazing. I couldn’t have loved it more. Simmons weaves beautiful and dynamic characters together in a believable and terrifying setting. She masterfully captures these characters and shows their sides to the story and I loved that. Everyone in this book is dynamic and multidimensional—with every page the audience is riveted and sees another point of view. Alongside the well-developed characters is a strong plot that explores racism, sexism, sexuality, religion, doubt, and mental health.

This book could easily be made into a series and heavily marketed, and I would love to see more of it, but I also love that the ending leaves it in a place where there doesn’t have to be sequel, thus differentiating it from other YA dystopian literature. I can’t explain enough how terrific this book was. Everything was compelling. I kept reading because I wanted to, because I couldn’t put it down, because it was amazing. I would recommend this for anyone who likes dystopian literature, obviously, but I’d also recommend it for anyone who loves good characters, a good story, and a beautiful and tender romance without all the angst we so often face. Actually, I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to experience a world so terrifying and beautiful and real that they’re scared that it might become real.—Alexandra, age 15

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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