November 18, 2017

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Teens Review “The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily,” “Holding Up the Universe,” and More

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blood-and-sandALLEN, Becky. Bound by Blood and Sand. Delacorte. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781101932148. Gr 9 Up—This book is awesome. It’s about a girl who is bound by a curse to obey whatever anyone else tells her to do. But then she finds magic and a way to save the dying kingdom.

On the cover, I like the colors, which made me notice the book, and I like how it helps me visualize the characters trekking through the desert.

I really liked the characters and plot. Jae and Tal had so much personality, and it really made me feel what they were feeling in the moment. The plot made me never expect what would come next and kept me reading. The ending was a great conclusion and made me satisfied.—Kaitlyn H., 14

BROWN, Skila. To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party. Candlewick. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780763678111. Gr 7 Up—Mary Ann Graves and her family are traveling west with the Donner party, hoping to have a better life in California. When the snow comes before they expected it, the members of the Donner party struggle to survive the freezing climate and find enough food to live.

I did like the cover. It gave me a feeling of being lost in the snow. It was not a vibrant cover, which reflected a sense of the harsh and hopeless situation of the Donner Party. It didn’t reflect the contents very accurately, however. Mary Ann Graves, the main character, was never off by herself as the cover suggests. On the cover, the other people are among the trees in the distance. In reality, Mary Ann was always near at least one other person. The cover is also a little misleading because it is only snowing at the end of the book. Most of the book is not about how the Donner party survived after being caught by surprise in the snow, but about how to survive the heat crossing most of America.

The most compelling aspect of this book was the different poem styles. The book is written in verse. The use of a variety of poem styles instead of just writing in free verse helped propel the book forward and placed emphasis on certain messages in the poems. It added a creative element to the text that put an original spin on a story that has been retold many times.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. The cover and title made the book look like it is about Mary Ann surviving without food when she and her traveling party get snowed in on the mountains. This did not actually happen in the book until the end. It was much too delayed. Most of it was describing her passage through agonizing heat across America. Most of the book described the ever-changing color of Mary Ann’s dress as it faded. An excessive amount of the book was dedicated to her dress, and not nearly enough to the larger struggles that the group faced.

to-stay-aliveThe author also seemed to feel obligated to have romance in the book. When you are making a dangerous trek across the country and then stuck starving in freezing conditions, you are probably not going to be very focused on romance. This felt very strained and awkward in the story. Any real romance between Mary Ann and another member of her party has not been historically proven, and either way, it could easily not have been mentioned at all in the book.

The choice to write this book in verse made it impersonal, which might have been a bad decision for the topic. This is the type of experience that is best told in a very active writing style. Writing in verse made Mary Ann seem a little too separate from her story. Choosing Mary Ann as the protagonist changed the story from the classic tale of the Donner Party because she wasn’t with the Donner family for the entire trip. This made her story more unique, but separate from some of the decision-making that lead them to be stuck in the mountains. During the journey across America, hardly any of the families became friends. Most of the time they gossiped about each other. This may have happened in the real journey, but by the end of the story, it seems like at least some of them would try and help each other.

For most of the book, there was no real danger. Even when they were walking with wagons of food and they still had possessions that they were trying to bring across the continent, almost no one was kind or honest with each other. Because everyone was so hostile towards each other the entire book, the story never seemed to resolve itself, or get any better because people were killing and banishing each other all along the way.

The end of the book definitely could have been more forcefully written. It hardly felt like they were in danger when they resorted to cannibalism. They even still had food from the journey, but preferred to save it, and they were still hunting deer. The members of the Donner party refused to share food with each other. The women spent the time quilting to stay warm, and the men stood around with axes wishing they could chop something, but having no real need to. I doubt that the real Donner party acted so helpless before they turned to cannibalism.—Olivia C., 15

12-days-of-dash-and-lilyCOHN, Rachel & David Levithan. The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily. Random House. Oct.
2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780399553806. 
Gr 8 Up—It’s been almost a year since Dash and Lily started dating, but all has not been well since we left them in Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Lily’s beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, and his recovery has taken a toll on her family. With only 12 days to Christmas, Dash takes it upon himself to help Lily recover her Christmas spirit and find some happiness after a year of hardship.

The cover of The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily was rather generic, and honestly, nowhere near as cute as the original cover of the first book. Still, it does fit with the melancholy yet Christmasy feel of this rather sadder sequel. It may not be the most beautiful cover in existence, but it does fit and it isn’t eye-bleedingly bad, so there’s that.

I love the original Dash & Lily deeply. In sixth grade, I must have read it at least five times. It never fails to capture me with its cuteness, lovable characters, and festivity. This much-delayed sequel is no different. It’s got the same cast of great characters, the same festivity, and the same cuteness, but it’s also a more melancholy, more mature-feeling Christmas story. It feels like everything about the characters, time line, and plot has matured and developed, and I love that. It’s exactly how you do a one-year-later sequel and make it fun to read. Even if this one moved me more towards tears than toward laughter, there was still an understated humor to it, and the characters were the ones I knew and loved, so for all the differences, this is a great sequel.

I was only disappointed with the fact that this book was much sadder than Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. However, that wasn’t actually too disappointing, because I feel like it worked better as a sequel that way. It was its own story, not a tired rehash of all the aspects of the previous book, and that was wonderful. Additionally, I did find Lily a bit more obnoxious than I remember her being, but I think that might have something to do with the fact that this book really solidifies her upbeat nature as a coping mechanism, and that hits a little too close to home. Otherwise, it was all I could ask for and more.

This really was a wonderful sequel. However, some parts of Lily’s character hit really close to home, which was rather painful, and a lot of the book’s dramatic situations involving ailing grandparents and parents having relationship issues were equally painful to read about because of how familiar they are to me. However, the romance and comedy were wonderful, and I actually made several audible “awww” noises at particularly cute parts. It’s different from Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, but The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily is a great sequel, and a sequel that a book like Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares deserves.—Ella W., 16

something-in-betweenDE LA CRUZ, Melissa. Something in Between. Harlequin TEEN. Oct. 2016. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9780373212385. Gr 6 Up—When Jasmine is qualified for a huge scholarship, her parents are forced to reveal that she isn’t a real citizen, and they could be deported. Her parents get ready to move back to the Philippines, but Jasmine won’t give up or lose hope.

I really like the layout and colors on the cover. It would be hard to display parts of the plot so I’m glad they went with this design.

I really liked this plot. I thought it was interesting since I never knew you could go to high school without having citizenship. It was a look into poverty and what happens there.

This book was really inspirational to me because she never gives up or loses hope.—Elizabeth L., 13
DESPAIN, Bree. The Immortal Throne. Carolrhoda. Oct. 2016. Tr. $18.99. ISBN 9781512405835.  
Gr 9 Up—Haden has been banished to the mortal realm shortly after being hit with Cupid’s hate arrow, black poison pulsing through his veins, every minute sucking out his ability to feel any sort of emotion at all and his only hope of saving both himself and those trapped in the Underworld. Meanwhile, Daphne, stripped of her powers, is bound to Haden’s former servant Garrick, who has crowned himself king and will stop at nothing to get his hands on the object of Hades’ immortality in order to unleash a sinister force upon the other realms, making even the dead souls shudder.

the-immortal-throneHaving long awaited this final installment to the “Into the Dark” series, I feel that the cover does not fully encompass all that I have experienced along the journey this story has taken me on. There is just something about a poor Photoshop job of a couple holding hands in an obscure, purple forest that seems two-dimensional to me. I understand that it was supposed to portray a romance with the theme that love is stronger than any other force in the universe, but by Book Three, one would assume that the series is known well enough for the artist to put in more of an effort. When in a bookstore, everyone forgets the classic saying about judging a book at first glance, and had I not been previously invested in the series, I would’ve been unimpressed and walked right by it.

I was originally drawn into the series with its promise of a modern take on Greek mythology, and I was not disappointed. However, I was dragged into the maddening wait for the sequel on the premise of brewing war and blossoming romance, and now again with the sheer agony of an abrupt edge of a cliffhanger involving the end of the world as we know it and the characters themselves left on the brink of destruction.

The overall plot, especially the climax, was both thrilling and compelling. Although, in the beginning, there was a snag that had me balling my fists in frustration: in the previous book, one of the main characters was poisoned by a magical arrow that had the opposite effect of Cupid’s famous icon. It destroys the ability to feel anything at all, and to quicken the wrap-up of the story, they experience the symptoms in a matter of days instead of the predicted couple of months. That being said, the other characters decided to pick this particular moment, in the midst of this tragic phenomenon, to sit down, to analyze their options, and, most importantly, to wait instead of acknowledging that they are in a race against the clock to find the cure! Other than that, as I am a sucker for happy endings, I was satisfied.—Meghan S., 17

star-warsJOHNSTON, E.K. Star Wars: Ahsoka. Disney Lucasfilm. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781484705667. Gr 7 Up—Ashoka Tano, Jedi padawan, struggles to keep the secret of her Jedi training from The Empire and her dearest friends. But as The Empire starts to mess with her friends, will she join their rebellion at the risk of exposing her secret?

On the cover, I liked the picture of Ahsoka, but my one problem with it is that her light sabers are green when in the book it says that her new light sabers are white.

I liked the interesting narration in the multiple locations. The leaps in time in the plot were very confusing and made some highlights in the book very fast and disappointing.

This book was good, but not as good as other books I have read.—Peter B., 12

MORRILL, Lauren. My Unscripted Life. Delacorte Press. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780553498011. Gr 7 Up—Knee-weakening Milo Ritter embodies what many girls dream of in a boy while incredibly relatable Dee Wilkie is someone you can easily picture yourself as. These two fall adorably for each other while Milo is shooting a movie in town, and after getting rejected from an art school, Dee is looking for a big distraction, which she finds in both helping out on set and in the handsome Milo.

my-unscripted-lifeThe cover is sweet—a nice picture. It’s good that the cover is not embarrassing as many young adult romance novels have very embarrassingly vibrantly designed covers. Many people I know (including myself on occasion) feel the need to hide the covers of such books.

Dee Wilkie is refreshingly relatable and totally perfect for the story. She’s well-developed, interesting, and head-over-heels for Milo, who is unfortunately a bad idea on all fronts. However, the way Dee reacts and handles things, even down to her behaviors and language, are surprisingly similar to those of myself and my peers. Yet again, Morrill has found the exact way a young person like Dee would be, and conveyed it stupendously on a page! This is scarcely done so well in the world of young adult, so it is wonderful and makes me so happy to see Morrill continue to churn out characters like Dee!

The only thing that I would say could improve this book would be the writing style. Personally, I often prefer a more descriptive style in my novels, but either way I loved this book!

My Unscripted Life is an incredible second book from Lauren Morrill after her first novel, The Trouble with Destiny. I read both and would certainly say that I think she really found her stride in this newest novel. While I enjoyed The Trouble with Destiny immensely, I have to say My Unscripted Life is my favorite of the two. Characters, plot, and setting all contribute to this being what I believe to be Morrill’s best book so far. I expect great things to come.—Charlotte L., 15

NIVEN, Jennifer. Holding up the Universe. Alfred A. Knopf. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780385755924. Gr 9 Up— Jack, a popular teen at MVB high school, has a secret: Jack suffers from prosopagnosia, which means he can’t recognize the faces of anyone he comes across. Libby, once the World’s Fattest Teen, is now striking back at the bullies who want to make her a living humiliation just because she’s large. When they meet under uncomfortable circumstances, their lives will never be the same, as they come to realize they have more in common than they think, and maybe they each have a shot of saving themselves from themselves.

holding-up-the-universeI don’t think the cover reflected the contents of the book as much it could, even though I liked the simplicity. I like the covers that Jennifer Niven usually gets, like the one for All the Bright Places, because it was cute and deceptive (in a spectacularly good way). This cover was okay, the design was simple, but it didn’t weave into the contents as well as it could.

I loved the appealing conflicts of the characters. Both Libby’s battle against bullies for her weight and Jack’s struggle with prosopagnosia kept me pulled to the book until the end. There was not a sad, sobbing-filled ending like I was expecting after having read All the Bright Places, so that was a sweet surprise.

The writing style was easy to follow along, everything was cut and dry, told how a story should be. And the plot was realistic and actually made you think about the characters instead of just absorbing their feelings. It was a nice breath of fresh book.

There was nothing to be disappointed about. I really love Jennifer Niven and how she straps me in for emotional roller coasters so I have nothing to complain about.—Sam G., 15

SEDGWICK, Marcus. Blood Red Snow White. Roaring Brook. Oct. 2016. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781626725478. Gr 9 Up—Russia 1917: The tsar has been overthrown, and journalist Arthur Ransome is in St. Petersburg watching the old order fall. Caught between the Bolsheviks and the British government, he must decide what side he falls on, and just how much he is willing to sacrifice for love.

I despise the cover of Blood Red Snow White. It does not fit the novel at all, and looks like it should be slapped on some subpar teen fantasy novel rather than an excellent piece of YA historical fiction. There is nothing nice about it except perhaps the title font, and even that is on the bland and uninteresting side. However, when there are so many positives about this book, I do not wish to waste words griping about the cover, so I will move on to the more preferable aspects.

blood_red_snow_white_coverIt’s hard to pinpoint the most compelling aspect of Blood Red Snow White, because the entire book is just so good. It’s well-written, highly engaging, and sticks with you after you read it. The historical notes are impeccable, as is the fact that instead of being simply historical fiction based on Arthur Ransome’s life, it also draws inspiration from his writings to create an intricate evocation of the man. I’ve always wanted to get my hands on a copy of Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales, and now I’m even more determined to do so, because the beginning part of this novel (and the part most inspired by Old Peter’s Russian Tales) is so glorious and beautifully written. The writing of this novel in general blew me away, as it conveyed so much emotion and so much wonder and was simply a joy, a delight, and an emotional thrill ride to read. Arthur’s relationship with Tabitha was especially emotional to read, as it’s a beautifully crafted depiction of a father-daughter bond, albeit one that is slowly disintegrating.

I did not find this novel disappointing in any stretch, but I do feel like one has to have a fairly solid grounding in the history of the Russian Revolution to truly appreciate it. I’ve been into Russian history since elementary school, particularly with regards to the Revolution, and so while I could follow the history behind the narrative, I’m not so sure that this would be the case for everyone, even with the author’s notes. Additionally, the characterizations occasionally felt a bit flat, particularly in the case of Evgenia. This was majorly disappointing, because Arthur felt so real, so flawed, and so alive. Evgenia felt mostly alive, but occasionally veered towards cardboard, which was highly unfortunate.

I grew up with Ransome’s books. My mom read me the entire “Swallows and Amazons” series, and I survived my dismal experiences with sailing lessons by pretending to be various characters from those novels. For me, those books will always represent an integral part of my childhood, in the same ways that Harry Potter, The Hobbit, “The Lord of the Rings”, Jenny and the Cat Club, and pretty much everything by Eleanor Estes do. Coming across Blood Red Snow White was an incredibly exciting moment for me, as I love “Swallows and Amazons,” Russian history, and Marcus Sedgwick’s books. I’m so thrilled that this book lived up to my expectations. For recommendations of similar novels, I’d probably suggest Daphne Kalotay’s adult novel Russian Winter, though that one focuses more on Stalin’s Russia than on the Revolution, and Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a memoir that is a personal favorite of mine. For the more historically minded individual, Suzanne Massie’s Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia is another excellent nonfiction book about Russia. However, fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy might also find a great deal to enjoy here. And of course, I heartily recommend it to any and all “Swallows and Amazons” fans.—Ella W., 16

TAN, Shaun. The Singing Bones. Arthur A. Levine. Oct. 2016. Tr. $24.99. ISBN 9780545946124.  Gr 5 Up—I would tell Tan that he has made a beautiful book. Along with the little sculptures inside, when I first got this book, the cover intrigued me immediately. Having not read/heard all of the Brothers Grimm tales, I wanted to know how they would be interpreted. To say the least, I was very happy. The sculptures are oddly cute, and they make me want to have them, they are so contrasting. And that’s what I love about this book. It’s different.
This book is entertaining. If you’re a fan of the Brothers Grimm, this is definitely a book for you to check out. With interesting stories and engaging characters this is a pleasure to read.

I read parts of this book to my friends. They loved how weird it was!—Madi G., 13

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