February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review the Latest from Kwame Alexander, Deb Caletti, and More

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Our young adult reviewers tackle the latest offering from Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, and Deb Caletti’s Essential Maps for the Lost.


ALEXANDER, Kwame. Booked. HMH. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544570986       
Gr 6 Up–
Nick loves soccer, and it’s the only thing that is going right in his life. From his parents’ divorce to a bully and a crush, Nick is having trouble pulling things together.

I liked the cover because it didn’t reveal too much about the book, just that it was about soccer. I also like how the soccer ball is made of words and the character is just a shadowy silhouette.

I liked the fact that it was written in poem format and it was worded very smoothly. Booked is a story that shows the reality of middle school. The first-person writing is very captivating and well worded.

I think some parts of the book didn’t explain enough about what was happening but otherwise I liked it.–Veronica C., 12


If you love sports, love teenage girl/boy “drama,” and just the teenage world in general, then this is the book for you. This book is about a boy and his best friend who are soccer players and how one of the boys goes after his crush like another “romance” novel. I think you can guess how it ends.

The cover of the book really drew me into reading it. It’s all white with a green soccer player made out of words which really connects into the content of the book because the main character has to read and study new words daily.           The plot and characters were very typical: a boy, his best friend, and a girl. Except there was no fighting over the girl. I was disappointed on how the book was laid out. There was not even 200 words per page. The book looked thick from the outside and I was excited from reading the back and the cover but it only took me like an hour to read.

I think the author could have put more words on the pages and expanded on the boys’ future. Also I wish he could have talked more about his schooling life and expanded the school day in the book.—Joseph W., 16

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie BerryBERRY, Julie. The Passion of Dolssa. Viking. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780451469922
Gr 7 Up–In 13th-century Provence, the wounds of the Albigensian Crusade are still raw and open as the Church attempts to stamp out heresy once and for all. Eighteen-year-old Dolssa di Stigata is, by all accounts, a sheltered and ordinary high class girl, but to the Church, she poses a danger. Persecuted for claiming to have a mystical relationship with Jesus Christ, she flees execution to hide among a family of sisters in the village of Bajas. But the relentless hand of the Church will not be stayed so easily, and if Dolssa is discovered, her saviors and their entire village will be destroyed.

The Passion of Dolssa is definitely one of the best YA historical novels that I’ve read in ages. There is a clear commitment to trying to evoke the period in history throughout the narrative, and no one displays overtly modern attitudes, something that is far too common in YA hi-fi. There’s also an amazing afterword, comprehensive pronunciation guides and glossaries, and an excellent bibliography. In addition, the “found document” format works very well for this story about hiding history and rewriting it to fit your needs. The testimonies especially were an engaging aspect, and probably one of my favorite parts of the book, as well as the repeated use of contrasts between the Provence and Toulouse of the troubadours and the Provence and Toulouse torn apart by sectarian violence and genocide in the name of God. Use of differing perspectives and views, including those of the novel’s villains, ultimately made The Passion of Dolssa an extremely powerful and arresting book. It felt much more like the average adult historical fiction novel than something for young adults, as it makes excellent use of shades of gray and multiple perspectives, as well as not shying away from the brutality of the Middle Ages and the Crusades.

I was surprisingly disappointed with aspects of The Passion of Dolssa. The main one was the absolutely gratuitous use of Old Provençal/Occitan and Latin where English would have sufficed. While writing place names the way they would have been written in 13th-century Languedoc and throwing in the occasional word now and then adds to flavor and interest, having every page practically covered with random Old Provençal and Latin gets distracting, jarring, and irritating. If the characters are speaking Old Provençal in-universe, having them randomly pepper their dialogue with Old Provençal makes it look like they’re speaking English while throwing in random foreign words. Additionally, the use of multiple perspectives in the novel didn’t always work, as one narration (Botille’s) was disproportionately used. I would have preferred if there was much more of a balance among her chapters, Lucien’s, and Dolssa’s chapters, and the testimonies. Using mostly Botille’s narration made Dolssa and Lucien come off as rather flat, which was very unfortunate.

I really did enjoy The Passion of Dolssa, especially because the thirteenth century in France is something I’m very interested in. While heavy religious themes might make this book unpalatable to some, it’s not really Christian Fiction (TM) and is definitely worthwhile if you’re interested in medieval concepts of spirituality, femininity, and the crossover of both. As YA historical fiction, it’s not to The Kingdom of Little Wounds levels of spectacular, but it is definitely an enjoyable read for anyone interested in female mystics of the Middle Ages or the Albigensian Crusade.—Ella W., 16

SLJ’s Starred Review: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Brennan_Tell the Wind_BRENNAN, Sarah Rees. Tell the Wind and Fire. Clarion. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544318175.
Gr 9 Up–
Set in futuristic world of New York City, the city is divided into Dark and Light sections depending on the magic types of people who live there. This is based on a A Tale of Two Cities. There’s a girl and she has light magic and there’s a love triangle.

The cover was the most enticing part about the book, I thought. The looming reflections of lit skyscrapers gleaming over the dark waves of a city was a picturesque way to get me interested. The cover reflected the contents easy enough—the light of the city in the starkness of night.

I found the main character slightly annoying at times, I never quite knew which side she was on, but she seemed glamorous and yet burdened enough to relate with. I liked the evil, snarky, sassy, witty character of Carwyn. I found him oddly likable and slowly adopted him as my favorite character.    The whole doppelganger thing confused me. Who saved who? Did Carwyn save Ethan or vice versa? If Carwyn did save Ethan, how did Carwyn’s baby form even get used? What happened to Ethan’s mother? Did Penelope kill Aunt Leilah? Is Carwyn really dead? How did Marie get taken in the first place? Wouldn’t that have been illegal? This got super confusing at the end, with several questions left unanswered, even if I did like the evil characters best. And the love scenes were cliché.–Sam G., 15

Caletti, Deb. Essential Maps for the LostCALETTI, Deb. Essential Maps for the Lost. S. & S. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481415163
Gr 9 Up–Sometimes crazy things bring people together. In Mads and Billy’s case, it was a suicidal mother and an early morning swim.

I liked the plot and the setting. I liked the plot because it was well thought-out and unique, and I liked the setting probably because I live near Seattle and I could relate and see the images of some places they talked about, which is nice when reading a story.

I think at certain points, some things were unclear, for example, I didn’t know Harrison was Mads’ cousin, I thought he was her brother. But then she mentioned not having siblings and I was a little confused. But that’s really small and nit-picky.—Zoe D., 13

SLJ‘s Starred Review: Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti

McNeal_Incident BridgeMCNEAL, Laura. Incident on the Bridge. Knopf. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375870798.
Gr 8 Up–A very touching book that really hits the heart, but only once you’ve read past the slow beginning. A young girl struggles to find her way, everybody knows bits and pieces of her story and who she is, but who really knows what happens on that night if everybody only knows parts of who she truly is.

The cover reflected the book perfectly. When I saw the bridge in the background I thought it was just a random picture, but once I started reading, I realized it was the Coronado Bridge in Cali, which put me in the actual setting. The boat and the gentle hand in the water set the offset and mysterious tone of the book. Good stuff.

Every single character in the book has something that is easy to relate to—especially the main character when she gets into her personal emotions.

The climax of the story seemed to be all over the place. When I first began reading it was difficult figuring out where this story was even going.–Isabella S., 17

Watkins_Great Falls_WATKINS, Steve. Great Falls. Candlewick. April 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763671556.
Gr 8 Up–This book shows that deep inside every brother there’s love. And it shows lots of action, like war problems and what family can and would do for you.

On the cover, I like the texture and the blue navy colors, and how the title is in big letters like a stamp. The book is great. It shows brotherhood and adventures.—Victor C., 18   

WOLTZ, Anna. A Hundred Hours of Night. Scholastic. Apr. 2016. Tr $ 17.99. ISBN 9780545848282.
Woltz_Hundred Hours_Gr 9 Up–Imagine being trapped, facing threats, judgment, and fear; and then imagine running from all that and seeing New York for the first time ever. This was Emilia’s predicament, and she came on the worst possible day.

I really liked the cover of this book; it’s very reflective upon how the book is. I saw it in the library and was instantly curious.

The book was perfect. I’m kind of really into the mechanics of storytelling, and one of the best tools, I think, is character development. I liked the use of it in this book a lot. At the beginning, they were just a lot of broken people, but in the end they fixed each other.

I also really loved the writing style. It was relatable and beautiful all at the same time.   This was an especially wonderful book, I hope a lot of people love it as much as I do.—Rachel F, 15

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