June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Welcomes New Teen Reviewers

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What do teens really think about the YA books that are published for them? A group of seniors from The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria (TYWLS) in Queens, New York, will be sharing their candid thoughts on recently published and upcoming YA books in our monthly Teen Reviews column.

TYWLS is an all-girls school serving grades six to twelve that focuses on providing students with real-world projects that develop 21st-century skills needed to succeed post-graduation. Coordinated with the help of humanities teacher Valerie Sawicki-Bellomo, this review writing project will give the teens at TYWLS the opportunity to study the genre of review writing, write for an authentic audience, and produce work on deadline.

Additionally, one of the requirements of this project is to write a case study on a controversy in the world of publishing. “Through this work, students consider reviewer responsibility. In other words, they consider how important it is to read with race and gender in mind and to avoid celebrating books that reinforce negative stereotypes,” says Sawicki-Bellomo

Below is the first batch of reviews by our new group of teen reviewers.

BOGNANNI, Peter. Things I’m Seeing Without You. 336p. Dial. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735228047.
Gr 8 Up–This book revolves around the protagonist Tess Fowler exploring teen angst, young love, and loss. Through Bognanni’s descriptive writing style, the book has a bittersweet effect on readers. It starts out with Tess finding out that Jonah, her online boyfriend, has killed himself. She drops out of her boarding school and lives with her father for the time being. Tess struggles to let go of her obsession with Jonah. Readers quickly find out that Tess hadn’t really had any other purpose or source of happiness other than Jonah. She spends all of her time stalking Jonah’s Facebook page and sending him messages of all the things she is “seeing without him.” One day she gets a message that turns her whole life around.  Tess spends the remainder of the book searching for the reason as to why she fell in love with Jonah.

I like how over the course of the book she explores ways of finding her self-worth; that definitely was beautifully expressed. One thing I didn’t exactly see as important was why Tess constantly mentions her mental instability, to a point where it began to lack narrative purpose. Also, in the middle, I felt as though Tess’s circumstances were gradually getting less believable. She faced minimal consequences after constant lying, drinking, drug use, and traveling without her father’s consent. Although she was 17 years old and had a plethora of money, I wish the book had been a little bit more realistic.

Overall, I feel as though the book was very moving and relatable to my life. Bognanni’s creativity and ability to really develop a strong unique character made this book one of my favorite reads. Tess’s humorous yet angsty personality caused me to get upset the second I read the last sentence of page 332 because I just wanted to hear more. Truly an awe-inspiring piece, but if you aren’t a fan of plot twists, this book is not for you. I would definitely recommend it to teenagers from the age 13 and up because of the drug references and inappropriate language.—Habeeba Y. 17

CHACK, Erin. This Is Really Happening. 240p. Penguin/Razorbill. April 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780448493589.
Gr 9 Up–Erin tells her story throughout this book and reveals who she was and is today. She describes the struggles and hardships faced throughout her whole life and how they made her feel. She writes about her struggle battling cancer and defeating it and how that phase in her life will always be a part of her. She describes her personal story with readers and talks about how cancer affected her life and the way people saw her. It is a great book about facing your struggles and taking them in a positive way because it does lead to living a positive life.

I really liked the cover because it looks very realistic. The cover spoke to me and really dragged me to opening it up and reading it.

I loved the plot and the characters because they were so nicely written about. Telling her story and how she overcame her struggles really made me feel more empowered as a person due to her success. Having this plot put many things into perspective and leads readers to want to know more as the story goes on. The characters were so funny and sweet, I wanted to meet them in real life. The way they were written about made me feel like I wanted to meet them—just to see how similar they are to the persona I made up in my head as I read.

The author chose to use a conversational tone throughout her writing, which really intrigued me and kept me wanting to read more. I felt like I was a part of the book and the story lines that were in the book. I did not get bored and felt like I was the only person the author was telling their story to.

I wish Chack changed the way she started the book. Reading the first chapter did not have me ready to find out the real person behind the story. It wasn’t until the third chapter when we started to know the character and her story. I wish the author would switch the order of the first and second chapters. I would have made much more sense if it were that way because it does not confuse readers who are trying to understand what is going on.

That is the only thing I wish was different, but all in all, this book was amazing I really enjoyed it as a person who does not read often; I did not want to put the book down. I recommend reading it 100 percent.—Sarah R, 17

KOSTAKIS, William. Sidekicks. 304p. Harlequin Teen. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0373212620.
Gr 9 Up–Ryan, Scott, Miles, and Isaac were all friends, but after Isaac’s tragic death they come to the realization that their relationship was as weak as a twig. Ryan, Scott, and Miles are seen throughout the book reliving and explaining their experiences with Isaac’s death. As readers grow with the characters, they witness and learn more about the characters’ personalities and interests. We learn that, Ryan, is a champion swimmer and facing troubles with coming to terms with his sexuality. Scott is a “rebel” who most of the time is seen comforting Isaac’s mother and spreading true information on Isaac’s death in a community that propagates lies and rumors about the event. Miles has autistic and takes the time to cut together shots of Isaac he has from previous film projects to make a film dedicated to him. It is obvious that these three friends are not really friends, but they can only merely tolerate each other. Kostakis definitely achieved writing a novel that beautifully explores the feelings of grief, confusion and struggles teenagers face while growing up.

The cover of the book is extremely intriguing and is what caught my eye at first. Yes, I did judge a book by its cover but I did a great job because this book lived up to its expectations. The cover shows three characters separated into different spaces. One character is placed on the top left, the other is displaced at the bottom with a hood on and in the middle is a man standing with glasses. It is unique because the cover is red and orange, the colors remind me of fire, which to me means that the story’s theme is serious. It shows three different people all in unique poses. It is intriguing to readers because of the alert color.

One thing I wish the author changed is that although the reading was easy to get through and not too difficult, at times, I saw myself drifting and losing interest in what was going on. The author’s decision to tell each character’s personal experience of what happened after Isaac died led the book to feel repetitive. Each experience started to be very similar because of how many times I heard it being re-encountered. Besides those few annoyances, I found this book to be very intriguing and a good way to pass time.—Khadija M, 17

LOCKHART, E. Genuine Fraud. 288p. Delacorte. Sept. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780385744775.

Gr 9 Up–This is about a mysterious female agent named Jule West Williams. In the beginning of the story, readers are able to recognize that Jule is on the run, but we are not told why yet. Throughout, readers are taken through Jule’s character and her past life of crime. After being introduced to the many facades Jule presents, eventually, her true colors become apparent.

The cover of the book did not catch my eye much; the blurb is what initially pulled me in. As I went on to read, the reverse chronological order that the book uses to tell Jule’s story made me more and more confused. I had a hard time putting the events together and understanding when exactly they took place. With this structure, by the middle of the book, you can already predict where the book is heading, which makes the ending less climatic and fun to read. I, personally, like a good suspense factor and it was disappointing that a book of this genre did not have that.

One thing I really loved about Genuine Fraud was the character development. At first, I was opposed to Jules and did not feel an automatic connection one would usually feel with any other main character. Eventually, I felt a special connection to Jule as she opens up and slowly reveals the things she has done. The readers will find a connection to Jule that makes them feel like they have committed the crime alongside Jule.

Overall, this is an interesting book. Lockhart uses a very distinct format to develop the story: starting at the end. Although at times this can get confusing, in crucial moments, the plot hooks the readers in so that they will want to read more and continue to see how the story unravels. I would say this book is worth the read as long as you can keep up with the structure.—Tatyana V, 17

PORINCHAK, Eve. One Cut. 256p.(Simon True). S. & S./Pulse. May 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481481328; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781481481311.

Gr 8 Up–This book displays the truth behind a murder case in California and how looks can be deceiving. Porinchak’s narrative follows five teenage boys in the mystery of how Jimmy Farris was stabbed and murdered in a fight that cost him his life. The story shows each boy in his journey through the unjust criminal system and how one impulsive mistake can alter the rest of one’s life.

The cover is all black with red lettering and did not appeal to me. Instead, what piqued my interest was the title—ONE CUT. It was straight to the point and related well to the context of the story line: Jimmy’s murder trial. In a way, the title and picture of a knife on the cover gives a vibe that automatically makes potential readers think of murder.

My favorite kinds of novels are those that are based off on true stories that accurately depict the events that took place, and this one is exactly that. The author did a fantastic job with making me connected to a specific character through how she created their personalities. I was able to determine which character was speaking when the book switches among all five perspectives. I also enjoyed the route the author chose to take with the whole murder case. Instead of specifically focusing on the details of the murder, she paid close attention to how each boy was affected by the trial and how one hasty decision can determine the rest of your life.

One thing I did not particularly enjoy about the book was the author’s word choice. I was expecting the book to sound more sophisticated and detailed. She used very easy to understand language, and at some points it seemed as if someone of a younger age wrote the book. The overall concept and plot of the book made up for the author’s writing. It is possible that the author wrote this way on purpose in order to appeal to teenagers who don’t read books.

Overall, if you truly enjoy not only learning about murder but how the criminal justice/prison system treats teens or first-time offenders, then I recommend this book to you. I also think this would be an interesting read for those who like relatable and plausible stories like I do. The author did a great job in making sure the boys’ story was taken seriously and not manipulated in a way that would just make money, which I greatly appreciated.—Billie T, 17



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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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