February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review War Books: Mythological, Historical, and Emotional

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A very good friend of mine who is known for his reader’s advisory advocacy often says that if real life is hard to understand, you can find a way to cope with it in a book. Teens often feel like they are misunderstood, and at war with the rest of the world. These fiction titles will give them some strategies for coping on and off the battlefield of adolescence.

Mortal GodsBlake, Kendare. Mortal Gods. (Goddess War, Bk. 2). Tor Teen. Oct. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780765334442.

Gr 9 Up—For the first time ever, Cassandra and Athena have a mutual goal: to kill the remaining gods and goddesses that have taken refuge on Mount Olympus. And if they could just figure out how to work together they might be able to accomplish it.

Forewarning: this book is not for the squeamish; it thrives on gore and dark subject matter. But what else would you expect when reading about the death of gods? This book is beautifully written, with tons of suspense and a touch of romance. I loved Antigoddess, the first book in the series, and Mortal Gods lived up to the high expectations I had set for it.

The way irony is used in this series is what makes it so unique. Blake’s combination of irony and Greek mythology makes for a thought-provoking read.

Fans of Kendare Blake’s first series, “Anna Dressed in Blood” (Tor Teen), are going to love this one. Just as dark and gory as its predecessor, the “Goddess War” series is a must-read.——Alexis C., age 18

Crowe, Chris. Death Coming Up the Hill. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544302150.

Gr 9 Up—1968. The war in Vietnam rages on. For Ashe Douglas, it’s only one of two wars in his life. With another, more personal war raging on between his parents, and the growing political tensions regarding the larger war in Vietnam, Ashe grows increasingly aware of the casualties of both wars, and the nature of the strained relations at home and in Vietnam. With the arrival of a politically opinionated and outspoken love interest for Ashe, things reach a boiling point—and he realizes both wars might just claim another casualty.

TDeath Coming up the Hillhis is perhaps the best idea for a book in a very long while. In its thoughtful and introverted narrative, it mirrors the tone and voice of Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. However, in its brilliant and calculated use of structure through haiku, it truly becomes as unique and thought-provoking as any other piece of poetry. The manner in which the author conveys the harsh realities of both wars can only be described as innovative and incredible. The voice of a introverted and observant narrator brilliantly contrasts the personal nature of the “war” between his parents and the impersonal yet far-reaching nature of the war in Vietnam. The use of this sort of narrator in this respect also highlights the political associations of the characters as well, paving the path for future conflicts and at the same time establishing a great backstory for the conflict between Ashe’s parents.

While the primary issues this book deals with are the Vietnam War, the political questions it inspired, and the toll a divorce takes on a child, the book also tackles (quite effectively) other problems such as racism, the nature of war, and political rifts that form in the wake of world- altering events. The book, because of its complex undertones and brilliant writing, will remind readers of other books such as A Farewell to Arms and, in its hidden meanings, The Great Gatsby. The author uses his poetic license judiciously, especially in the last few chapters, but as these same chapters offer perhaps the clearest perspective of the main character on the ideas discussed in the novel, all is forgiven.

There are two different compelling aspects to this book

1. While you are reading it, through its brilliant story design and perfect use of language, it brilliantly fleshes out the characters, their personas, the ideas and the conflicts that take place in the book. This alone is usually enough to merit a read.

2. However, after reading the novel and understanding why Crowe structured the novel in haiku, you realize that this book, although it talks about a certain event through narration, is truly a piece of poetry, due to its radical and innovative design and structure ( the aforementioned haiku form). The way that the author grants each SYLLABLE a profound meaning truly shows the skill of the writer and effectively forces readers to grant the book the title it deserves: ART. This is by far the most compelling aspect of the book, not because it outweighs the theme and story of the book in any sense, but because it has never (to my knowledge) been done in this form (a book) before.

This is recommended for readers with a sophisticated enough worldview to understand the ideas and themes discussed in the book. Fans of  The Perks of Being a Wallflower and perhaps even The Catcher in the Rye, along with readers of books like A Farewell to Arms would appreciate the ideas discussed in the book.—Ehsan J., age 15

McBride, Susan. Very Bad Things. Delacorte. Oct. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780385737975.

Very Bad ThingsGr 8 UpVery Bad Things is a mystery/horror novel about a girl named Katie who gets tangled up in a murder case. Her boyfriend was supposedly the last one seen with Rose, a missing girl, before she was killed. The weird part is, her boyfriend remembers nothing of the night.

I thought Very Bad Things was a well written book. The pace was good and there was mystery to it, but I didn’t feel like I was left completely in the dark. The suspense kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire book. I think the summary of the book doesn’t do it justice. Going in, I had very low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised.

It’s really not like any of the other murder mysteries I’ve read. The aspect of Tessa and Peter, and Tessa lying about him being alive, was a great plot twist. The premonition was there, leading up to the big reveal, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was going on, just like Katie. I thought that part of the book was very well done.

I read the entire book in a day, I liked it so much. It was a very fast read. I’m not usually one for mysteries—I actually try to stay away from them—but I highly enjoyed this book. I think it’s a good read for both boys and girls. Anyone who likes a good mystery or a suspenseful book would really enjoy reading this.—Jordan T., age 13

Zail, Suzy. Playing for the Commandant. Candlewick. Oct. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763664039.

Playing for the CommandantGr 8 Up—Fifteen years old and in the midst of World War II, Hanna is a talented pianist—and Jewish. Her world is rocked when her street become a ghetto, then her family is arrested and sent to a Jewish work camp. When offered the opportunity to be a pianist for a German commandant, Hanna seizes it to avoid death. In her new world, Hanna struggles with the horrors of the camps and also with falling in love with the commandant’s son.

This is a pretty good book! It shows a different glimpse of World War II through the reality of camps and also of the Germans’ utter cruelty to Jews, and the few Germans who support the Jews in secret.

Playing for the Commandant is vivid, for better or for worse. I was able to connect well with certain characters, especially Hanna and Karl. While not brilliant, this is a moving book which can help you truly feel the brunt of the second World War.—Emma, age 18

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  1. Paul Kepper says:

    Death Coming up the Hill looks really good. I have heard of it just not read it yet. Vietnam era books are some of my favorites as I grew up in that era. I have recently read Hearts, Minds and Coffee by Kent Hinckley, kenthinckley.com for it’s info. Although it is fiction, it’s got a very true feel!

  2. Please consider reading NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Jan. 2014, Merit Press) which recently received a 2014 Military Writers Society Award in the YA category. Like A SEPARATE PEACE, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER takes place off the battlefield and deals with the effects of war on families for generations. Reviewers are calling it “history with a twist” because it is written in two points of view, that of a WWII Japanese soldier who hid on Guam for 28 years after the war ended, and that of a 15-year-old Chamorro boy who discovers a family secret about an atrocity against his mother during WWII Japanese occupation. The story takes place during the Vietnam war. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER also fills the #We Need Diverse Books category.