April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review the Latest from Erin Bow, Gary Schmidt, and More

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

The reviewers of the Kitsap (WA) Regional Library YA Book Group laud upcoming titles by Erin Bow, Gary Schmidt, A.S. King, and others for their diversity, heartrending twists, and thought-provoking endings.

scorpionBOW, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. S. & S. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481442718.
Gr 9 Up–To maintain peace, the world’s leaders have to willingly give their children up as hostages, and in the case war is declared, these hostages will be killed. The hostages have stayed quiet, but on one fateful day they’re awoken by the newest member’s screams.

I found the whole concept compelling, but what made me love this book was that Greta loved Xie. She first assumed she was romantically attracted to Elian but learned it was only friendship. I found that connection the most enchanting and realistic. It’s that point that has made me recommend this book to all my friends already. It’s extremely hard to find novels this diverse (ethnicities, gender, sexuality) so it was refreshing and a large hook. Also, the quote “it was his screams that awakened me, not his kiss,” is one of my favorites. I remember it at random times and have such a strong connection, it’s a beautiful line and I truly loved the story.

The description of the book was very disappointing. I was extremely close to never looking or thinking of this book again when I read the phrase, “But everything changes when a new hostage arrives, a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has been taught.” That made be believe this would be yet another story about a proper girl who falls in love with a bad boy and her whole world changes. Of course I was VERY pleasantly surprised when I read it, but I know many who wouldn’t have given it the chance. I recommend mentioning that his scream woke her up, and that SHE changed everything, rather than saying he’s the cause.—Mara S., 17

Kacer Stone on a Grave_KACER, Kathy. Stones on a Grave. Orca. Sept. 2015. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781459806597.
Gr 8 Up–Sara, an 18-year-old orphan living in Canada in the 1960s, is thrust into the real world after her orphanage is burned down. With only a small clue about her past, she searches for the pieces to put the mystery together. The cover gives a great representation of the book. I love the Star of David necklace on the cover, since it is a big part of the story. The most compelling aspect of the book is the writing style. It was written beautifully. Something I didn’t like about the book is the relationships between characters. Some of it was surreal and forced. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Hard to top it!—Sam B., 14

DOD-YA-ICrawlThroughIt-KingKING, A.S. I Crawl Through It. Little, Brown. Sept. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316334099.
Gr 9 Up
–The cover looks interesting, and relates to the struggles that the teenagers have in the book. The plot was interesting, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters, but I couldn’t follow the plot. For me, it was really confusing. I know that the book is written in a style where everything isn’t supposed to be taken literally, but I couldn’t understand what was going on a lot of the time.—Adelaide M., 14


Four teenagers are juggling the anxiety of school and the weight of past trauma and are desperate to get away from it, but no one is listening. They finally realize that the only thing they can do is face it head-on. I liked the simplicity of the design on the cover. It was eye-catching and thought-provoking. The cover showed what the characters wanted to escape, but didn’t show what the book was about. This book would be hard to portray, so the cover is good enough. I liked the idea of the characters escaping in an invisible helicopter to a different world. The book needed more explaining. King expects you to jump straight into the deep end which leaves you confused.—Elisabeth L., 12

MCLEMORE, Anna-Marie. The Weight of Feathers. St. Martin’s Griffin. Sept. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250058652.
Gr 7 Up
–Lace Paloma knows that the Corbeau family is dangerous, that feathers grow from their scalp like hair, and that they work black magic. Cluck Corbeau believes the same of the Palomas, but on the night that their town’s adhesives manufacturing plant has a deadly explosion, both of them may have to rethink the animosity between their families as they do the impossible: fall in love.

weightoffeathersThe cover of The Weight of Feathers is rather nice, although a bit bland. It’s rare for me to see white covers, especially well-designed ones. However, this book has a fairly boring cover, and the white/black/red color scheme is uninspiring and dull. I tend to like silhouette covers, but this one is a textbook example of how to make one uninspiring. The embracing couple on the top of the cover could be anyone, and the font is nigh-illegible. There is a line between whimsical and hard to read, and this title’s cover font falls squarely on the hard to read side. Otherwise, the cover is so boring that nothing either good or bad can be said about it.

The most compelling aspects of the novel are the writing style and the world-building. McLemore builds a world where magic is seething just under the surface, never quite materializing, but still there, almost tangible in the very air. The writing conjures visions of old-fashioned towns and circus arts, and paints everything with a sheen of sequins and greasepaint. Even when I got bored with the cliché love story and felt like the novel was guilty of bait-and-switch, I was able to keep reading and enjoying due to the writing and the tightly wound world. The worlds of the Palomas and Corbeaus are so different yet so similar, and you can feel the tension in the air. The family dynamics are also beautifully illustrated.

I was highly disappointed with everything about this book except the writing. I went in expecting magical realism with a strong connection to the performing arts. What I got was a cliché YA romance with both magical realism and performing arts clumsily tacked onto it. There is magic, certainly, but it’s only wound into the backdrop, rather than the characters. The characters themselves are dull. I’ve seen similar characters in countless other YA novels, to the point where one could change their names and they would be identical to the character you switched their names with. It led to a very boring reading experience, because while the novel is marketed as romance, it’s also marketed as a magical realism piece, and it’s really only barely so. It’s just a disappointing cliché romance, and really should not be compared to Romeo and Juliet as only the feuding families are remotely similar to that work.

The Weight of Feathers contains many untranslated words and phrases in Spanish and French. While these add to the atmosphere, the novel would benefit from a foreign-language glossary. I was able to follow the sections in French with ease, but that’s because it was really simple French and I’m currently taking French in school. I’d assume the Spanish is the same, but I couldn’t follow any of it. Someone who neither studies nor speaks either language would probably be unable to follow these portions of the novel.—Ella W., 15

firebug of balrog country_OPPEGAARD, David. The Firebug of Balrog County. Flux. Sept. 2105. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780738745435.
Gr 9 Up–Mack Drunswald burns things to get over the grief of losing his mother to lung cancer.
When I saw the book I didn’t feel connected or interested in any way, but my librarian wanted to know my opinion on it. I hated the cover because it was hard for me to read and I had no idea or clarification what a firebug was. Maybe the flames on the sides were supposed to help, but I was still questioning it.

It took me like half of the book to figure out it wasn’t an actual bug—it was something inside of a person pushing you to burn stuff. Then there was the slow moving plot and the traumatic cliché of a main character recovering from loss (in this case it was a mother who had died of cancer at 37) and the college girlfriend who didn’t seem significant. Overall, the book was just really boring. Sorry, but that’s how I felt.—Sam G., 14

SCHMIDT, Gary. Orbiting Jupiter. Clarion. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544462229.
Gr 6 Up–A story of love, friendship and family, Orbiting Jupiter follows the life of Joseph, as he struggles to find his daughter while living a normal life with his new foster family on a farm. A heartwarming story, this book is one you’ll never be able to set down, urging you to turn the page to find out the next chapter of Joseph’s life, as sad or happy as it may be.

orbiting jupiter_Everything about this book was just amazing. I loved the plot, for it contained many surprising and tear-jerking twisters that made the story so much more interesting, making it almost impossible for me to set the book down. The setting was awesome as well, I loved the fact that Jack’s family lived on a farm that reflected the olden days, with milking cows, homemade everything, and collecting sap from trees. The path to Joseph and Jack’s school was also very well thought-out and visualized for the reader, including so much detail about the church and the pond along the road.

The characters were very well-rounded, each having their own traits that formed who they were and what made them unique. I loved getting to know each and every one of them better at every page turn, but especially Joseph. His character was so complex and beautiful. All the emotions he felt and pain he suffered. He just seemed so real. I loved the connection of him and Madeline to Mary and Joseph from the Bible, which was only hinted in the book and not stated, but I could tell it was there.

The writing style in the book was also amazing. I loved Schmidt’s descriptions and word choice; they really lit up the writing and made it more interesting for me to read. I also liked how Schmidt chose the story to be narrated from Jack’s point of view, since the whole story was focused around Joseph. This left times of mystery for what was going on when Jack wasn’t present in the drama, but always resolved in a brotherlike passion that Jack felt for Joseph from the start.

Overall, this book was amazing, and I am so glad that I got to read it! Nothing about this book disappointed me! It was amazing, a great read!—Zoe D., 13


Schmidt snags you with this painful book and drags you through the story of Jack, a farm boy, and Joseph, a broken teen with a three month old daughter named Jupiter…. But Joseph always knows where his little Jupiter is, even when clouds cover the twinkling sky.

I thought the cover was perfect! It had the mood of the story nailed, and the orange writing made it seem more… melancholy. Schmidt captured my attention and didn’t let go until the last page. The story was so sad but realistic, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who has had experience with teenage pregnancies or they may be found hours later, sobbing their heart out (just like me). Every part of this book was stunning— except the end. The way the conflict is resolved in the end, in my opinion, is a little lazy of Schmidt. I can’t help but feel that Joseph’s story was cut short – I know it seems naive, but I couldn’t feel satisfied until some sort of happy resolution occurred.–Juliette S., 13

anatomy of curiositySTIEFVATER, Maggie, Tessa Gratton, & Brenna Yovanoff. The Anatomy of Curiosity. Carolrholda. Oct. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781467723985.
Gr 9 Up–I like the beautiful and colorful display of leaves, and birds, and flowers on the cover. However, this design has little to nothing to do with the actual contents of the book. It is somewhat related to the flower bombs in the second story, but birds are never mentioned. One of the stories is about drowning and is quite morbid.     I loved the writing style in each of the stories, but I have to say, the first was my favorite. Its characters were beautiful and lovable and its ending was touching. I was disappointed by the amount of sexual content.

This book is a compilation of three beautifully crafted stories combined with sincere and helpful writing advice from the pros.—Audrey C., 13


SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.


  1. I appreciate the comment on the sexual content of this book. As a middle school library supervisor in a public school I have to be cautious of what I purchase. I’ve purchased books in the past that sound appropriate based on the reviews only to find out later that some mature content wasn’t mentioned. With tight budgets it is good to know ahead of time so I’m not losing money with a questionable purchase.