Tag Archives: YA

The Other Side of the Future (Review: “Gathering Blue”)

If The Giver blew your mind, it may further blow your mind to know that The Giver has sequels. As if the journey of twelve-year-old Jonas through the frightening truth about his seemingly perfect world weren’t enough, Lois Lowry has spun another tale. The Giver presented a futuristic world with no choices and an oligarchy enforcing “Sameness” to create a better world, but one with sinister secrets. There are indications, though, that Jonas’s community is not the only one. What about everyone else?

In Gathering Blue, we find out what is going on in the world beyond.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

A Halo with Some Smudges (Review: “The Possibilities of Sainthood”)

photo by throgers

We are all called to be saints. I’ll say that again, with help from St. Bernadette and a friend’s email signature, “I must become a saint. My Jesus demands it.” Most of us aren’t actively working on that, but some must be. In my never-ending quest for good Catholic YA, I picked up The Possibilities of Sainthood, by Donna Freitas. I was delighted. There may be hope for books about Catholic teenagers with problems yet.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

Flying High and Falling Fast (Review: “Mockingjay”)

photo by Daniel Dale

Dear readers, the end has arrived. That is, the end of this series of reviews has arrived. I dove back into the Hunger Games trilogy at the beginning of this calendar year, and I shared that journey with you all in my reviews of The Hunger Games and of Catching Fire. Moving at a speed matched only by my devouring Bumped and every Harry Potter book, I tackled Mockingjay and emerged, well, a little disappointed.

Read the rest (and beware spoilers) at Austin Catholic New Media.

The Heat Is On (Review: “Catching Fire”)

While I was home for Christmas, I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with my mom and sister. I loved it. It was one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen, because it didn’t strictly require knowledge of the first movie, but it built beautifully on what had been established. Reading Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, was a similar experience. It built beautifully on the first book (see my review of The Hunger Games here), but it is its own story as well.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

Playing with the Girl Who Was on Fire (Review: “The Hunger Games”)

I have read and reviewed the first book of The Hunger Games here before, but since my sister gave me the trilogy for Christmas, I decided to start by rereading the first book. It became a twofer, since I used that for this week’s review for ACNM, which is excerpted as follows.

photo by lj

This may be the hardest review I’ve written for ACNM. This is not because I didn’t read the book. I did; I’ve read it twice now, and I would never try to review a book I hadn’t finished reading. This is not because I didn’t like the book; it was amazing. This is because the book blew my mind, and because it has caused such a stir in the literary world. This book is The Hunger Games.

Before I read the first book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins back in 2010, I had been hearing about it for ages. I actually had important plot points from the second book spoiled, but that happened with A Walk to Remember, and I loved that anyway, too. I had some time to kill before a friend’s wedding rehearsal, so I decided to grab a chair in Borders and give the paperback one chapter before I decided whether to buy it. At the end of the first chapter, I immediately knew two things: I was going to have a tough time putting it down to get to that rehearsal on time, and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I’d finished the entire trilogy. As I mentioned in my first review, it was on.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

Presbyterian Lies and Literary Truths (Review: “The Wednesday Wars”)

As a happy Catholic who is involved in media, I try to keep my ears open for positive portrayals of religion in any setting: movies, television, and especially books. Religion in literature tends to be more honest than movies or TV. It’s very easy to toss a cross around a character’s neck or pan past some Hasidic Jews, making a comment and saying nothing at the same time. Books have to be more straightforward. I decided to get back to my beloved YA roots with this review, and I found an honest depiction of religion woven into a coming-of-age story well deserving of its many accolades.

The premise of The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt, drew me in (along with an enthusiastic review from a fellow YA addict who’s more A than Y). Holling Hoodhood, in addition to being saddled with a ridiculous name, also suffers the agony of Presbyterianism. In his 1960s junior high school on Long Island, half the class goes to Temple Beth-El for Hebrew school every Wednesday afternoon, and the other half (even Mai Thi, a Vietnamese refugee sponsored by CRS) goes to St. Adelbert‘s Parish. Left alone with his teacher, Holling reads and discusses Shakespeare. True to YA, he learns a lot about life at the same time.

Read the rest at Austin Catholic New Media.

Kaboom! (Review: “Beauty Queens”)

For the first time in weeks, I have a non-ACNM book review to post. I am a frequent reader of Forever Young Adult (FYA), a fabulous find via my college friend Sarah wherein I can hear about great and not-so-great YA books without having to read them. As a bonus, it is run by YA lovers who are actually older than I am, so I don’t have to feel like I’m the only mid-twenties creeper in the teen section at the library and Barnes & Noble. FYA has had a book club in Austin for quite some time, but it meets when I work. I didn’t have to work at meeting time this past Sunday, so I decided to grab the book (Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray) and go.

My reading experience was definitely marred by the breakneck pace I employed while reading. I bought the book on Thursday using a gift card from when I switched cable providers, and I dove in that day. I’ve never read a Libba Bray book before, but I had some idea of what I was getting into since her last book was about a teenage boy suffering from the human version of mad cow disease who hangs out with a dwarf and a fairy. The other members of the book club noted that Beauty Queens is not like Bray’s other novels, but I think I still got a decent sense of her style.

The bandolier actually has a couple dozen different shades of lipstick.

The premise of Beauty Queens is that a plane full of contestants for the Miss Teen Dream competition crashes on a deserted island, killing everyone except about a dozen contestants from as many states. What is a girl to do with a limited supply of water, no food, and almost no eyeliner? The problem is that every one has a secret, even the island itself. Beauty Queens is an over-the-top satire, which is evident from its omniscient narrator’s addressing the reader directly, the thinly veiled caricatures of boy bands and politicians, and the commercial breaks that come every few chapters. There’s nothing in this book that made me want to reread it or recommend it, but I did throw back my head and laugh a few times. In FYA terms, I might give this book my BFF charm, but I would never wear my half, and I’d be okay with that.

(Here be spoilers.)

The suspension of disbelief required to enjoy Beauty Queens is immense. I appreciated, though, that Bray acknowledged that by reminding us that Miss New Mexico still had a tray stuck in her forehead and by not revealing her name for a good reason. I missed a few of the satires (even J.T. Woodland, and that was staring me in the face), which is normal for me, but I managed to call the arrival of the Captains Bodacious 4 cast just before they appeared. I definitely expected them to come with secret TV cameras, though (and I was half right). Of course the two brown girls become BFFs; clearly they couldn’t just coexist. Of course the non-heterosexual girls hook up, because clearly no one can resist a hookup. Of course Adina meets a boy who challenges her hard-line feminism. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it hadn’t fit so closely into desert island/political thriller stereotypes. There was so little original humor and so many, many pages (nearly 400 in the hardcover). I also maintain that it dates the book to this specific historical moment, and not in a quaint Pride and Prejudice way.

Although Bray’s beauty queens were generally all hilarious, I liked some of the major ones much more than others. I got tired of Adina’s heavy-handed feminism. I didn’t want her to be so thoroughly used by Duff, but I didn’t like her, either. Neither Nicole nor Shanti offered any new perspectives on the misunderstood minority. Mary Lou’s story confused me; I thought it might become a paranormal romance parody, but she was really just a caricature of purity ring-wearers, which I found somewhat insulting. (I hate that waiting until marriage is somehow not an acceptable choice.) I liked that, even if Taylor was a witch, she was committed to something. That something was a beauty pageant, but she was in it until the bitter end. I also found her turn toward the insane fascinating. She reminded me of Hamlet. She was definitely unhinged, but she was smart enough to prepare and execute Plan B during the final showdown. Perhaps the Mind’s Flower darts just gave her the release from the pageant mentality she wanted all along.

Regarding the FYA book club, it was good to discuss a book with other people in person for a change. I haven’t done that since I left teaching. The loud, liberal opinions of some of the other participants reminded me that I definitely live in Austin, but I can’t stay in a like-minded bubble all the time. Reading Beauty Queens and discussing it was worthwhile at the very least because it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Just the same, I will be joining Goodreads’ book swap program and sending my (free) copy off to what is hopefully a home where it will be appreciated for more than its fantastic cover.

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