Panic by Lauren Oliver

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Panic by Lauren Oliver

In Carp, population 12,000, there’s not much for teenagers to do, especially in the summer.  That was true until someone invented the “survivor” type game called Panic.  All incoming seniors are eligible to participate and announce their intention by jumping off the jagged ridge at the old quarry into the natural pool at the bottom.  Everyone puts a dollar per school day into the pot, and at the end of the summer, one winner takes everything.  Naturally, there are about six totally frightening, and sometimes deadly, challenges that will eventually determine the winner.  You must admit that it makes summers in Carp pretty interesting.  The story is told from alternating perspectives.   Heather never expected to play Panic, but will now do anything to win and be able to get away from her party girl mother who barely even took care of her and her little sister Lily.  Dodge, on the other hand, has planned to enter and win Panic since his older sister was nearly killed in the final challenge two years ago.  His goal to to get revenge on that year’s winner’t little brother, who is a favorite to win this year.

I loved this book, even though it is a total break from Lauren Oliver’s earlier dystopian series, Delirium.  It is told in a format that separates the book into dated chapters, really keeping readers tense.  The action feels non-stop, but realistic for this type of story.  Oliver fleshes out the important characters, without spending much time on the peripheral ones, although learning a little bit more about Heather’s crazy mom would have been interesting.  I’m sure this title will be a hit with all types readers, especially those looking for a realistic-feeling,  heart-stopping read.

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Our Review

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Everything makes sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba horny.  His girlfriend Shann.  Thinking about his best friend Robby’s hot mom.  Considering getting drunk for the first time on the bottles of wine they found on the roof of the local liquor store.  Even his buddy Robby.  As Austin tells the readers his “history,” he weaves in tales about his Polish relatives, trying to show how the past connects to the present, sort of like an absurd historian who smokes too much weed.  But for the most part, Austin is stone sober and life is incredibly dull in his small Iowa town.   That is until the unstoppable killer praying mantises start trying to take over the world!   Through a strange series of weirdly connected circumstances, the DNA for the “Unstoppable Soldiers,” as Austin calls the six-feet tall insect-like  killing machines, gets out of its container and begins to create the bizarre strain of mercenaries.  Because everything is interconnected for Austin, his girlfriend’s insane uncle created in his laboratory before he took off for South America.  And in Austin’s words, all they  “wanted only to f**k and eat,” creating some pretty strange scenes since there is only one female and they two things they like to do sort of get mixed up.  

Although it may sound serious from this description, the story is really full and black humor, Austin’s foul mouth, and his constant obsession with sex.  Even though the story is off-the-wall and outrageous, author Smith looks at some serious question: teen sexuality, gender questions, scientific ethics and bullying.  I would recommend this title to fans of Andrew Smith’s other books, Kurt Vonnegut fans, and anyone looking for a humorous, yet racy, book.

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Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tyler Miller has always been a nerd, but his graffiti spray painting prank the previous spring has changed his life in more ways than he could have ever expected.  He’s spent the summer doing mandatory community service which involved heavy physical labor, in addition to a part-time job landscaping.  He begins his senior year tan, muscled and with a dangerous reputation from his stunt the previous year.  He is definitely not the same invisible kid who fly under the radar at Washington High.  He even has his own probation officer he needs to check in with monthly.  It’s not just the popular students who now notice Tyler, but the beautiful queen bee Bethany Milbury, has taken a sudden interest in him.  That she happens to be his stressed out, workaholic dad’s boss’ daughter doesn’t deter Ty in the least.  Everything goes wrong, however, after a party she insists on Tyler attending where she gets so drunk, he ends up driving her and her bullying brother home in their own Jeep.  The next day suggestive photos of a nude Bethany are posted online, and everyone, even the cops, are sure Tyler was the culprit.

I liked this book so much, maybe even more that Anderson’s classic Speak.  It’s told entirely from Ty’s perspective in the first person point of view, and the writer has captured the voice of a smart, insecure and suddenly infamous teenage boy lost in a desperate situation.  His inner dialog is absolutely spot on.  “The short independent film Bethany Milbury Hates Tyler Miller was playing on a constant loop in my head,  I tried everything to drive it out: watched MTV, listened to music as loud as the volume dial would let me.  I even tried beating my head against the wall.  It left a dent, but it didn’t stop her voice from mocking me…”  What I especially liked about the book was that none of the characters were stereotypical, and the father was even extremely flawed.  They reacted in realistic ways to the books many issues, with an ending that felt real, intead of contrived.  I highly recommend this title to all teen readers looking for an engaging and realistic story.  Fans of Anderson’s other titles will be especially pleased that Speak wasn’t her only great title.

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted  by  Susanna Kaysen

 

The author’s memoir of her teen years in the 1960s focuses on the time she spent in a mental hospital. She had already attempted suicide by overdosing on 50 aspirin when she was committed by a psychiatrist after telling him she needed a rest. She describes the routines, levels of privilege patients can earn, her roommate and other patients, as well as her own state of mind. As she gains a better understanding of  herself and reality, she earns more privileges, finally gaining her release from the hospital. At the end of the book she looks back over that time in her life, trying to figure it out and draw some conclusions. While this book is not long, it offers much to think about.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book is unlike other titles I’ve read by Anderson, except in its brilliant and captivating writing.  This story of an unusual family with unique hardships is headed by Andy Kincain, a veteran of several Middle East tours with severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  It’s so bad he has trouble keeping a normal job, and was a long distance truck driver for a number of years while his daughter Hayley travelled with him.  He’s been “home schooling” her while on the road, but has decided that she needs to be at a real school for her senior year so he moves them back to his family home.  Although Haley lived there as a young child, she has few memories of the time.  Her plan in their new home is to keep Andy safe from his own drugging and drinking and nightmares.  When he had one of his attacks, “the past took over.  All he heard were exploding IEDs and incoming mortar rounds, all he saw were body fragments, like an unattached leg still wearing its boot, and shards of shiny bones, sharp as spears.  All he tasted was blood.”  No wonder the guy drank and used drugs to dull the memories!  All Hayley is worried about is keeping things on a even keel at home.  She’s not out to make friends or go to college,so when she meets Finn when is taken aback by their mutual attraction.  Maybe it’s not too late to find some kind of “normal” after all.

This book was sensitive and compelling.  Anderson does an amazing job with both the character of Haley and her father; readers will feel like they are a part of this dysfunctional family.   I think readers who like stories about families, their problems and Laurie Halse Anderson in general will adore this title.  I would not be surprised if it ends up getting nominating and winning a number of young adult book awards this year.

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Imagine present day Great Britain in a totally different and alternate reality. Because Great Britain has been at war with Russia more than 100 years over the Crimean Peninsula, the government has established the Special Operations Network (Spec Ops) to deal with mundane crime matters, like Literary and Art crime, to free regular police for more standard cases. Literaary Detective Thursday Next, a veteran of the Crimean War, is working on a case involving the theft of the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, but the case containing it isn’t broken or open and nothing was recorded on the video surveillance camera.  Thursday is recruited by a much higher Spec Ops unit to help identify and track notorious criminal Archeron Hades, whom she knew as a lecturer in college. In addition, due to fluid borders between reality and literature, Thursday and other people are able to travel between literary works and reality. Other subplots and characters include Thursday’s zany inventor uncle, her father who hopscotches through time on the run from the ChronoGuard, the mystery of who really wrote Shakespeare, and more. Fans of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series will be thrilled to find another author whose invented world rivals Ankh Morpork. This novel is witty, engrossing and wildly inventive. The best news is that Fforde has written more Thursday Next novels!

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The One by Kiera Cass

the one

The One by Kiera Cass

This much anticipated conclusion will not disappoint fans of Cass’s first two best-selling books in this series.  America Singer is one of the last four girls left in the competition to become Maxon’s wife and princess of Illea.  She and the prince have still not shared their deepest feeling with each other, and naturally this will lead to problems.  Speaking of problems, the Northern and Southern rebels are still around creating trouble, but readers will learn some surprising information about the rebels that may change the fate of the country.  There are lots of plot twists here to keep readers on the edge of theirs seats, too.

This title ties up all the loose ends neatly, with a satisfying conclusion.  I highly recommend this to fans of the series’ first two installments.  Fan of dystopias and romances will also enjoy the fast-paced story.

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