May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review Whodunits, Gina Damico’s “Wax,” and More

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

From compelling mysteries to wacky horror, our young adult reviewers give their takes on Gina Damico’s latest, a sci-fi thriller, and Rahul Kanakia’s dark comedy about a high-achieving teen trying to get into college.

Cozzo_How to KeepCOZZO, Karole. How To Keep Rolling After a Fall. Feiwel & Friends/Swoon. Aug. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250079282.
Gr 7 Up–The book gives you a point of view from the other side of a cyberbullying incident and it makes you realize disabilities and mistakes don’t define you. The cover was interesting. I feel it didn’t do much for the story. The beach scenery was a very small aspect of the book, and the wheelchair on the cover says the opposite about what the book has to say about people with disabilities. The book talks about how wheelchairs and disabilities don’t define people.

I loved how it told the story from the other side of a cyberbullying incident. You hear a lot about victims, but no one tells the story of the bully. It makes you realize a bullying situation hurts both people, and sometimes bullies do things without realizing the repercussions. The main character Nikki Baylor struggles for months after the incident and it leaves her with no friends, expelled from school, and her own family is ashamed of her. The book makes you look at a situation from a different angle and that’s really eye-opening. I really enjoyed the writing style and the honesty the author included.

The beginning wasn’t as strong as the rest of the book. The first chapter didn’t pull you in, but I’m glad I read the book all the way through because it was an amazing story overall.—Jane E., 13

Damico_WaxDAMICO, Gina. Wax. HMH. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99.  ISBN 9780544633155.        
Gr 8 Up–
Poppy is trying to recover from her embarrassment on television, but that is hard to do in small-town Paraffin, VT. Famous for its candle factory, it is often bustling with tourists. But then Poppy discovers a wax room with a strange old lady, multiple lifelike wax figures, and a disturbing secret that could endanger everyone Poppy knows and loves. This is a story full of horror and suspense that keeps you turning the pages, wondering what will happen next.

I like the melting wax on the cover because it implies that they are running out of time, which in the book, they are. Also, I thought that the use of the word “paraffin” as the town’s name was clever, since paraffin is a type of wax.

THE SUSPENSE! I loved the horror and freaky parts mixed in. For example, when Poppy first meets Madame Grosholtz and she blinks one more time at the Viking statue at the end of this meeting. “And the Viking blinked back.” AAAAAAHHHH!!!! I nearly screamed I was so spooked! Moments like this are what kept me turning the pages late into the night.

I thought the ending was a bit rushed. I get that the author is trying to make you infer about who it is, but there was no explanation. What happened to Jill? Are Poppy and Dud married?

Cool Note: I actually looked up the name “Grosholtz” online. The author actually used part of the biography that comes up in her story! Don’t look it up before you read the book (it will spoil part of it for you).—Eleanor C., 14


This book shows the importance of friendship and love and sticking up for yourself and others. I fell in love with this book!!! It left me always wanting more, was hard to put down, and had a perfect ending.

I liked how she reads the last of the candle and is able to bring Dud back to life. Also how Dud pretended to be bad so he could help Poppy save the town.

No disappointment. It was a really good book. The ending was great.—Asia R., 15

Hartinger_Three TruthsHARTINGER, Brent. Three Truths and a Lie. S. & S. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449601.
Gr 9 Up–If you like Gretchen McNeil’s Ten or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this book is definitely for you. While it is not nearly as gruesome, the same mysterious aspect and whodunit theme is there. Hartinger takes you into one of the most intricate stories of all time that will have you hooked like I was through very end.

The cover is very straightforward, and honestly, a tad boring, not exactly eye-catching. Then again it doesn’t turn you away either. It does reflect the contents because Three Truths and a Lie is a game the group of friends play at the cabin.

My favorite part of this book is the mysterious aspect. Almost the whole book you have the “”whodunit” theme, similar to that in the book Ten, which of course was inspired by And Then There Were None. All of the drama and suspense was fantastic. I read the book all in one day, that’s how hooked I was.

Another impressive part of the book that I loved is that the book’s text is spaced well, making it easy and welcoming to read. Also, I think it’s cool how the whole story takes place in a single weekend. The circle writing at the end was another nice touch. And I must add that the ending is one of the best and most intricate endings in all of the books I’ve ever read. I really would like to commend the author on how he set up the book.

I love this book!!! I really, really think this is going to be a big seller!—Marianne M., 15

enter title hereKANAKIA, Rahul. Enter Title Here. Disney. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484723876.
Gr 9 Up–Reshma Kapoor seems like she has it all. She has affluent software engineer parents and is near the top of her high school class in Silicon Valley. However, it isn’t enough. Reshma knows she must go to Stanford and later to medical school, despite her lack of interest in the latter. She decides that she must write the next great YA autobiographical novel in order to get into Stanford, and pursues a normal life (friends, a boyfriend, parties, and sex) in order to have something to write about.

Reshma discovers that she has dug herself into a moral and psychological hole because she measures her worth by her grades and sees her “friends” and family as means by which she accomplishes her goals. She leaves the journey towards college for a journey towards recovery in her search for a good ending.

This book is NOT for readers in the thick of the insanity known as high school, but it would make very good required reading for seventh and eighth graders who are already worried about it and are seriously talking about going to Stanford. If they read it in discussion groups, they could take away some important insights like the fact that one shouldn’t care too much about college, plagiarize, abuse prescription drugs, or sue people. It also would be a good book for parents whose children are either much too young for high school or who have already safely landed in college to read as a humorous, full-blown criticism and analysis of our country’s sordid treatment of race and education.

I liked that the cover looked like someone’s typed notes instead of an image. The cover reflects the contents in that the book is composed of the protagonist’s diary entries, to-do lists, and notes for a novel.

Reshma is refreshingly amoral and depressingly broken. She has no problems with blackmailing her Adderall dealer or playing the race card when her school changes the way they weight GPAs and her English teacher gives her a C on her poem. She successfully sued her high school for $50,000. Despite other characters’ impressions, Reshma is NOT the product of a “tiger mom” but a product of the screwed-up American educational system and societal norms. Kanakia only shows the reader Reshma’s perspective, which makes it interesting to imagine what the other people in her life are seeing.

My main problem with this book was that its setting, plot, and characters were far too close to my own life for comfort. While I was reading this book, Reshma’s grade obsessions reminded me that I should have been studying Calculus instead.

The arc of the story is that of Reshma’s descent into an academic and social Heart of Darkness, complete with an Adderall overdose, meaningless relationships, and a lawsuit against her school AGAIN. Though I think Kanakia tried to distance Reshma’s story from mainstream affluent high school life with the lawsuits, shameless plagiarism, and a therapist who has a very tentative grip on sanity himself, it still painfully reminded me of this year’s all-nighters and college applications.—Angela K., 17

Stokes_VicariousSTOKES, Paula. Vicarious. Tor.  Aug. 2016.  Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765380944.
Gr 9 Up–Winter Kim and her sister Rose are recorders for ViSE, a tech that allows people to experience terrifying stunts, such as skydiving, by recording the neurological responses that are experienced. But when her sister is killed in a horrible murder, Winter’s world is shattered. She sets out to find her sister’s killers, but something doesn’t add up.

I really loved the cover! It was perfect for the book. The only thing, I have to say is that the metal platform the girl is crouched on is at an odd place in relation to the background.

The most compelling aspect of Vicarious was the mystery and suspense of the plot. Strokes masterfully pulled the clues together in a complex web that kept me on the edge of my seat.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was how at the very end Winter too readily believes she has a mysterious brother, which is all too convenient for the plot. I think it would have made more sense if there was this mysterious brother AND Kyung framed Winter for the murders. –Juliette S., 14


This is a book with the most unexpected ending you can imagine. It’s got martial arts, diving with sharks, virtual reality, and a break-in.

I think it’s a little weird how the person is sitting on a platform over an ocean on the cover. It looks a little bit fake. But it does reflect the contents, and the colors, yellow and black, remind me of caution tape and danger, which is what the story is kind of about.

I really liked the plot. How the girls were saved and put into a new life, with a different kind of danger. The plot twists are crazy, and the end is a little confusing, but once you get it, it’s so unexpected. How is that really possible?—Kaitlyn H., 13

West_Kingdom of AshWEST, Hannah. Kingdom of Ash and Briars. Holiday House. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823436514.
Gr 8 Up–This is an amazing story about a young peasant girl with magic who is faced with a choice; give up her power to shapeshift and live a relatively normal life or keep it and live her life protecting and serving mortals.

I liked how mysterious and spooky the cover looks. It’s really beautiful. I like how it shows the gate of the Water, and how the main character has two sides.

I liked the characters the best. They all had unique personalities that made you feel their emotions, and really helped make the story amazing. I love watching the characters change over the book as a result of the conflicts they face and people they meet.—Kaitlyn H., 14


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.