After almost a century of war against the insectile alien “Buggers,” Earth’s military forces are running out of options. They begin a search for the next great general, identifying children with great potential and taking them to Battle School at a young age. Ender Wiggin is the best chance Earth has—and he may be the last. The youngest of three extremely intelligent children, Ender is the goldilocks fit—not too cruel, not too kind, and just creative enough to change military tactics. At the delicate age of six, Ender is sent off-world to Battle School as their youngest recruit, and must quickly climb the ranks and master complex tactical and physical games in order to become a commander in the war, which is quickly coming to a head.
Ender’s Game is considered a classic among science fiction titles for young adults, but many of the themes transcend that age and remain applicable to adults. The children (the Wiggin children in particular) are all hyper-intelligent and speak as logically and as sophisticatedly as (if not more than) their adult counterparts, easily discussing military tactics and political issues. The writing is focused primarily on plot, with short interludes of dialogue between high-ranking military officials, and is not bogged down by description, which helps the novel to move quickly and span multiple years. Ender and the other children at the battle school are possibly too advanced to be believable, yet they fit well into the genre and remain memorable and sympathetic. Overall, this novel by Orson Scott Card is an engaging, fast read for fans of science fiction or stories of heroic children.
This young adult title will make you cry both tears of joy and anguish as it explores the themes of racism, child abuse, and high school bullying. T. J. Jones, an adopted high school senior of mixed race, takes it upon himself to stop the quarterback of the football team from bullying a mentally challenged student. His plan, which involves creating a new sports team full of misfits, has wonderful highs and stunning lows. It is edgy, but rewarding.
I listened to Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk on CD (read by Brian Corrigan).
Ari has always been a bit of a loner. He’s an unofficial only child, with twin sisters in their late twenties, and a brother in prison no one talks about. He’s always been close to his mother, but his father, who served in Vietnam, barely speaks. During summer break before his junior year of high school, Ari meets Dante, an unusually open boy who offers to teach Ari how to swim. Over the summer, the two become good friends, until a car accident and an act of heroism change their lives and their relationship.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a very well-written and charming book that gives unique insight into the life of a teenager, especially one caught between two cultures (Mexican and American). Ari is one of the most well-rounded characters I’ve encountered in some time, and I enjoyed reading how he worked through his many issues with his family, with Dante, and even with Dante’s family. This works well as a piece of LGBTQ literature for those who don’t read much of the genre or don’t enjoy the usual coming out stories. Instead, this presents a story about friendship and accepting each other, as well as accepting one’s self.
Benjamin Alire Saenz’ book has won many big awards in the last year, including the Printz Honor, YALSA Best Fiction Top Ten, and the Stonewall Book Award—all of which are well-deserved!
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother after being kicked out of the house a year earlier by her stepfather. Park is a half-Korean teenage boy who doesn’t quite fit in with his peers. When Eleanor starts at the local high school, she sits next to Park on the bus, and after a rough start, the two begin to get to know each other through comic books and music. Set in the 1980s, this is a great love story, but it’s not the kind of meet-cute one might expect; instead, this is a story of realistic love in the midst of unfortunate circumstances.
Rainbow Rowell does a great job of balancing the two characters and giving equal time to their perspectives, even switching between the two for chapters or as little as a single sentence at a time in order to show both sides of a given situation. The audiobook employs two narrators to help differentiate between these characters and really bring the characters to life, making them feel like close friends.
The author also does well to balance the love story with the more serious issues of bullying and abuse and difficult home situations. Eleanor & Park is a book for fans of Rowell’s other novel (also new in 2013) Fangirl, and especially readers who enjoy the co-written books by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, which share similar themes, characters, and multiple perspective formats.
In Rainbow Rowell’s newest book, we meet Cath, a freshman in college whose greatest pleasure in life is writing fanfiction about Simon Snow—an 8-book popular fantasy series (think Harry Potter). While Cath is famous online for her fanfiction, in real life she’s the shy half of twins, who prefers staying in most nights, and now has to adjust to college life, making friends, and writing her own fiction, not to mention starting her first real relationship. Fangirl is a fun read, full of witty dialogue, wonderful characters, and a sweet, innocent romance. When you’ve reached the end, you’ll wish there was more to read.
The story takes place in an alternate 1985, where Thursday Next, intrepid Special Operative battles an arch-villain who’s kidnapping characters from classic literature. As a member of the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network, she pursues literary crimes such as forgery, plagiarism, manuscript theft, and the abuse of literary characters.
In Japser Fforde’s world, matters of literature receive the kind attention we reserve for professional sports or Hollywood celebrities. The novel is fun and diverting with a great arch-villain and an intrepid heroine.
Full of literary allusions, this is a good novel for readers of classic fiction. People are able to pop themselves into novels, while fictional creations are able to escape into the real world. There is also a funny bit where a production of Richard III is done with boisterous audience participation à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Eyre Affair is the first of seven in the Thursday Next series (the next is Lost in a Good Book).
This eerie short story will make you question your faith in any long standing traditions. The whole town has gathered for the annual lottery, but no one seems too happy about it. There is a general uneasiness about the crowd which Jackson masterfully cultivates until the final shocking moment. You will never look at your neighbors the same again. Check out The Lottery today.
The Age of Miracles is a moving story about coming of age during a time of great uncertainty in the world. Eleven-year-old Julia navigates the trials and tribulations of middle school while the Earth’s rotation has begun to slow. As Julia deals with the loss of friends and the joy of a first love, birds begin to drop dead from the sky and daylight lasts 48 hours. Emily Janice Card does an excellent job of narrating Karen Thompson Walker’s haunting and beautiful prose. This is a must read that will stay with you long after you have finished.
I was excited to read Out of the Easy after I finished Ruta Sepetys‘ first novel (and if you were discouraged by the depressing nature of Between Shades of Gray, this one isn’t quite as dark). Her sophomore effort features Josie Moraine, a strong, spunky teen trying to improve her circumstances in 1950s New Orleans. Surrounding Josie is a colorful cast of characters from all walks of life.
I love the way Ruta Sepetys writes a story, but she always leaves me wanting just a little bit more. In both Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy, there are a few plot points I wish she had addressed. Overall, though, I highly recommend her novels – while they’re classified for teens, I think people of all ages will fall in love with her characters and settings.
Check out Jennifer’s review of Between Shades of Gray.
Louis Sachar’s Holes is a young adult book with short, bite-sized chapters that make you want to read the whole thing in one sitting—and you do. It follows young Stanley Yelnats who is unjustly sent to a correctional facility in the desert, most likely on account of a 100-year-old family curse, where he is forced to dig holes to “build character.” Every detail in the book is intertwined into a well-crafted plot which bounces back and forth between the present and past. It has quickly become one of my favorite books.
After you read the book, be sure to check out the movie version of Holes.