November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review “A Week of Mondays,” Monster Fiction, and More

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SLJ‘s teen reviewers cover Jessica Brody’s Groundhog Day–type YA, a monstrous tale, and more.

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BRODY, Jessica. A Week of Mondays. Farrar. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374382704. Gr 8 Up–Ellie’s an average good girl but when she messes up her relationship and gets dumped, she ends up reliving that day over again. In the end, she sees that what she needed and really wanted was right in front of her.

Well, I feel like the cover should have all her different looks, not just random looks. I feel like they should show her different school pictures. I love how she tries to make things right, but then she realizes that what she thought was right was all wrong!

It totally describes life and relationships for teenagers.—Madeline H., 15

ANOTHER TAKE

If anyone desires the title of best hater of Mondays it is Ellie. She has been reliving the worst Monday of her life over and over again just for her to realize that she can’t seem to keep her boyfriend, and he always seems to break up with her. Forget groundhogs, it is a revenge of the Mondays.

I like that for each of the Mondays, there is picture of Ellie with the look of the day. I think that the planner is also a nice touch showing the next day’s dates are changing, but the day isn’t.

I enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster that is living the same day over and over again. Not believing, trying to fix things and failing, doing something crazy just to get to tomorrow, giving up, and fixing the right things.—Samantha A., 15

GOSLEE, S.J. Whatever: Or How Junior Year Became Totally F$@cked. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626723993.
Gr 9 Up–
Mike Tate is excited for junior year. He has a great group of friends, a great family, and a great girlfriend. But then his girlfriend breaks up with him, and he starts to realize that he might not be straight. And this is only the tip of the iceberg in the comedy of errors that will become Mike’s junior year.

The cover of Whatever is hideous. It’s generic, and it looks like something you would do as a first Photoshop project in a high school photography class. It’s boring, bland, and there is nothing else to be said.

The most compelling aspect of this book is that the dialogue is actually fairly realistic. The characters sound like teenagers. They swear, but they don’t use ridiculous slang. They just sound like ordinary people. One of my main pet peeves with YA fiction is that so often the characters don’t sound realistic at all. However, in Whatever, the characters definitely did. They spoke like the sort of people one encounters on a daily basis in high school, and this was highly refreshing.

Whatever by S.J. GosleeHaving a bisexual main character was also equally refreshing, as bi characters usually show up in “issues books” rather than rom-coms and high school dramas.

The most disappointing thing about this book was that it felt so formulaic. It hit all the marks that most at least slightly comedic coming out stories do. There’s the “no way, I can’t be gay” main character, the supportive (read: pushy) female best friend, the surprise homophobic friend, the surprise supportive friend, and the-hate-to-love main relationship. It is territory that’s been covered much better in a lot of higher-quality books, to the point where I felt like I’d read Whatever before, even though it is a new release.

Additionally, there was a disturbing tendency for characters to handwave the main character’s bisexuality as a “phase” or him being “confused.” This went to the point of a major character telling Mike, the main character “no, you’re gay” when he told her he was bisexual. This just felt gross, creepy, and biphobic, which made the reading experience rather uncomfortable.

One of the weirdest things about this book was how much it felt like fanfic. Not in that it felt like the characters were borrowed from something, but in that it hit all the tropes of a generic High School AU. Additionally, the writing style, which was extremely low on physical descriptions, contributed to the fanficlike feel of the narrative. In all, Whatever was a rather odd and unfulfilling reading experience. Or maybe I’m just kind of sick of generic coming out realistic fiction stories when I look for LGBT fiction and want to read a fantasy novel or historical novel with major, plot important LGBT characters for once.—Ella W., 16

gray_gildedGRAY, Lucinda. The Gilded Cage. Holt. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627791816.
Gr 9 Up–Katherine and her brother, George, are swept away to the high society of England upon the sudden death of their obscure and previously unknown grandfather—a world very different from their farm in Virginia. But Katherine soon learns this new life is far from glamorous when her brother mysteriously drowns and despite everyone’s insistence that it was merely an accident, Katherine knows that foul play was involved– but who would believe a silly young girl on the verge of insanity with grief?

The cover did well to convey to the onlooker that the story takes place in the Victorian era, but any further reflection ends there. I personally don’t see how a woman in a navy dress facing an iron gate as snow falls around her is supposed to represent a murder mystery, but there may be some meaning that I fail to see. Regardless, I was not impressed with the choice of imaging.

The most compelling aspect of the story was the promise of a murder mystery, and it did not disappoint. Sixteen-year-old Katherine suddenly comes into massive fortune after the sudden death of her until recently unknown grandfather, only for her brother to drown shortly after their arrival to the estate. But who would believe a silly orphaned girl who claims foul play was involved when it easier to call it an accident?

The constant plot twists and cliffhangers had me burning through the pages with my free hand balled into a fist due to the suspense and social inequalities, but I do wish the story were a little more detailed, giving the characters more time to develop and keep readers guessing. Also [I would’ve liked if] the romantic moments [were] a little more believable.—Meghan S., 17

MILLS, Wendy. All We Have Left. Bloomsbury. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619633438.
Gr 7 Up–
This book is about two 16-year-old girls, Jessie and Alia. Both of them have a past over what happened in the 9/11 attacks.

I liked how the author used the 9/11 attacks in the story. What I didn’t like was the characters. The author wrote two stories about two girls. When I started reading the book, it was kind of boring. It started off with the story of Alia and it pretty much explained her morning and what she was going to wear.—Amy O., 18

ANOTHER TAKE         

All We Have LeftAll We Have Left is a story of family, forgiveness, and learning how to deal with the past. Taking place in both 2016 and 2001, it deals with the interconnected stories of two girls whose lives are dramatically impacted by 9/11 in very different ways.

The cover was okay, even if the color scheme was rather insipid. It’s a pretty generic “inspiring teen novel (TM)” cover, down to the purple and blue and the “oh-so-clever” double image that’s both a tree and the New York skyline. It’s utterly generic, and there’s really nothing else to say about it.

The most compelling element of this novel is that both of the characters’ points of view are quite complex. While Jesse’s decision to engage in hate speech is an utterly unsympathetic and disgusting one, she is portrayed very well as an ultimately good person who simply made a very bad decision that she is more than willing to pay the consequences for when she realizes what she’s done. Alia is also a very sympathetic character who behaves in a realistic manner in the face of the trauma of 9/11 and in her interactions with her parents, who she sees as overbearing. Considering that the novel is a character driven one, such sympathetic characters are a plus.

I was quite disappointed in this book because it seemed as if it was a middle-grade book that had been retooled for a high school audience, albeit not very well. The characters had high school student-esque discussions of sexual topics and relationships, but never swore, not even in interior monologues. I honestly do not know any student who would unironically say “eff you” unless they had some deep (and usually religious) compulsion against swearing. This does not seem to be the case with any of the characters in All We Have Left. Instead, they use substitute curses in an unrealistic jarring manner that jerked me out of the narrative every time one came up, and ultimately made the reading experience unpleasant. Additionally, the book was very much “Inspirational teen fiction (TM)”, and rather cloyingly uplifting at times.

To be quite honest, I actually found this book pretty dull, contrived, predictable, and juvenile. It seems more like a book that will be used in classrooms than something that teenagers will actually pick up, read, and enjoy. It’s just all kind of dull, and territory that has been tread before in better ways.—Ella W., 16

penaflor_unscriptedPEÑAFLOR, Lygia Day. Unscripted Joss Byrd. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626723696.
Gr 6 Up–From afar, it must look as if Joss Byrd has a perfect life. But up close, the life of a child actor can be hard and tough, as Joss has to remember again and again in her journey through the production of a new movie, The Locals.

I thought the cover was artsy but misleading. The book is about a sixth grader, but the girl on the cover looks like a high schooler. I liked the writing style. I thought it portrayed the way Joss would actually think in real life very well, because a lot of authors sometimes make younger characters sound more like adults. I also liked the setting; it was fun to imagine all the places in my mind as I was reading.

Some parts of the plot seemed a little weird to me. I think there could’ve been a little more drama around her dyslexia, because that didn’t really contribute much to the story other than making the lines harder to learn and memorize. I also thought it was strange how a lot of the cast and crew knew or must’ve suspected something was going on between Viva and Terrance but no one bothers to mention that when Terrance’s wife shows up. And I found it weird how Rodney stayed in character even when they weren’t shooting. And coming up and creeping out Joss and Chris would probably not be acceptable, especially if Joss was complaining and uncomfortable about it. Even if it’s to make his acting better, it just struck me as really weird. And Chris just meeting this random girl and having crew members and cast CHEER HIM ON to go sleep with her when he’s only in high school seems extremely weird to me. I know this is a lot of things, I just think the plot was a little off at times, like it could’ve been thought through better than it was.—Zoe D., 13

romney_MonsterROMNEY, J.P. The Monster on the Road Is Me. Farrar. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374316549.
Gr 7 Up–Koda is a boy living in a world with demons. Crows haunt the town of Kusaka playing with high schooler’s minds. A series of deaths lead Koda and his friends to face a merciless, eyeless demon in order to save the people of Kusaka.

The cover wasn’t as eye-catching as it could be. It looked like a novel about hunting. On the cover you could have something involving Japanese culture in it, like an illustration of Kusaka, or of Kotenbo.

The plot was very interesting, I loved the idea of crows haunting people’s minds. I really liked Moya, I was a little confused on what she was, (perhaps a goddess?), but I think that added some mystery to her.

I wanted to see more into Haru’s life and Yori’s life. But, overall the book as very good and I would recommended it to my friends.—Audrey H., 14

rubens_playlistRUBENS, Michael. The Bad Decisions Playlist. Clarion. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544096677.        
Gr 9 Up–
A teenager infatuated with drugs and girls is slacking off in school and making bad decisions that might lead him on the way to going to an Academy. But a stranger is now entering into this teenager’s life and maybe things might change.

The thing I like about the cover is I think that it truly speaks to what the book is about, with one thought bubble with a kid below it playing a guitar, which shows that this kid likes music but makes lots of bad decisions.

The plot is very straightforward. Austin Methune really has to focus on summer school, because if he doesn’t pass he’ll be going to an Academy. A stranger rolls into town and everything changes. I really like the plot because it really keeps you right on your feet with some interesting material. This book did not disappoint me in any way. Because unlike other books, this one was interesting at all times, with something new at every turn of the page.–Dante A., 17

SIROWY, Alexandra. The TellingSIROWY, Alexandra. The Telling. S. & S. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481418898.
Gr 8 Up–This book is about a small town island, and a high school girl dealing with her brother’s death. But then she starts to see reminders of him everywhere. I thought the cover was a little weird, but mysterious in a way that made you want to know what the book is about.

I thought that the plot was really interesting and made me keep on reading. Everything was so unexpected, but in a way that made sense. I thought that the ending was really crazy but satisfying if not a little bit violent.

I kind of wanted to hear more about Josh at the end, because the author portrayed it like the main character liked him and her stepbrother, but it wasn’t really clear what was happening between them at the end.—Kaitlyn H., 14

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