It’s been a really long time since I’ve read a fantastic book. I mean, since high school has started, my free-reading as a whole has dramatically decreased, but even the books I have read haven’t lived up to my expectations. This year, I’ve been reading more for myself. It was actually the trailer for Love, Simon that caught my eye. I immediately wanted to see the movie, but I have a rule. Any movie that’s based on a book has to be read before watched. I’ve stuck to that rule for as long as I can remember, and I wasn’t about to break it.
I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in about a week. The book itself was so compelling to me, even if I didn’t have a comparison, and it was one of the first books in a while that I picked over Netflix. I felt that Albertalli did an extremely good job writing the book with her detail and character choices. All of the characters were compelling, and I couldn’t wait to find out who Simon’s pen pal was. I became invested in Simon’s journey and wanted the best him. Admittedly, I cried multiple times reading the book. Granted, I’m a crier, but it was emotional.
The book set the bar extremely high for the movie. I saw it just a day or two after I finished the book, so the details were fresh in my mind. My thoughts on Love, Simon? Fantastic movie. I criticized it at first because it doesn’t line up exactly with the plot of the book, but aside from a few aspects, it pretty closely follows what Simon goes through. The book, of course, has more detail, but I still felt drawn into the characters and the story. It was also really fun to see the different locations to make the viewer feel more in it. I would absolutely recommend the movie to a friend even if they haven’t read, and vice versa. It was the best book I’ve read and the best movie I’ve watched in a long time. My overall take? The book is always better than the movie, but the movie was pretty great too.
Katie F., EO Blogger
Fantasy is a hard genre to write. A lot of different fantasy series end up being the same storyline with different names and predictable endings. But not with The Traitor's Game. While the plot is a little cliche, Jennifer A. Nielsen has done a wonderful job on this book. I have to admit I’m kind of biased because the Ascendance Trilogy was amazing and I’ve been idolizing this woman since 2012, but I swear I’m being impartial here.
The characters in this book were great. The first person point of view switched between the character Kestra, a highborn girl being threatened into betraying the family she barely knows and the cruel ruler they support, and the character Simon, a former servant and orphan turned rebel. The first person point of view definitely deepened the characters and I think did great things for the story. Switching between narrators can always be risky though, it’s a hard thing to get right. Sometimes the switching point of views can get confusing or cause the reader to get bored of one character's point of view, making parts of the story drag on. But in this case, though I did slightly prefer the parts told by Kestra, I think it was very well done. I also really appreciated that Nielsen finally gave us a kick-ass female main character.
Any good fantasy novel has to be able to touch in on inner conflicts other than just the exterior wars and magical battles, and Nielsen does it so well. The characters were struggling with moral obligations and their changing beliefs just as much as they were dealing with assassination attempts and spying in castles. I love Kestra’s passion to do the right thing and her intelligence. I love Simon’s dedication and bravery.
This book is full of twists and turns, lots of drama and suspense - and a little romance. All of which is so important in fantasy novels. This is something this author has always been really good at, and I think it really comes across in this novel. It ended on a great note, too. Not such a cliffhanger that drives you crazy for the years it take for all the sequels to be released, but it left you intrigued and wanting to read more. The execution of this story was completely dynamic. I’m personally so excited for the sequels to come out and to read the rest of this series.
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 400
Publisher - Scholastic
Author links - http://jennielsen.com/
Grace C., EO Blogger
Trigger Warning: this books contains sexual assault
I just finished The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis and I’m honestly gonna admit it’s now one of my favorites. The writing was absolutely awe-inspiring and often left me closing the book for a few minutes to ponder a thought presented by the main protagonist, Alex.
17-year-old Alex (my fave) suffers from a lot of mental issues after the murder and subsequent finding of her horribly mutilated and, as she discovers, sexually assaulted older sister. Her thoughts and feelings discussed throughout the book are incredibly insightful and full of a kind of child-like innocence, but coupled with the outlook of someone who knows and has seen first hand the horrors of the world most people never get to know about in their whole lives. McGinnis portrays this beautifully, so much so that I slowly fell in love with a character you learn in the first page of the book has killed someone and felt no remorse for it. Yes, it’s worse than it sounds.
The book deals HEAVILY with themes of sexual assault and rape culture, so if you’re not cool with reading 300-400 pages of that sorta thing, then I’d say this book is a no-go, but if you want to see heroic female characters fighting rape culture and objectification from their male counterparts, as well as an adorable romance and a main character whose lesbianism isn’t mentioned more than three or so times throughout the book (because she’s there for plot development not queerbaiting), I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who would like to read it!
To find out more about the author, visit her website:
Julia T., EO Blogger
There’s a pause on the other end. Suddenly, I realize that I’m mouthing off to one of the world’s most powerful people -- to my idol, someone I’ve watched and read about and obsessed over for years, someone who had changed my life. Across from me, Keira watches the phone intently as if she could see what Hideo’s expression looks like. I swallow in the silence, afraid for a moment.
“I have a job offer for you,” Hideo replies. “Would you like to hear more?”
When hacker/bounty hunter Emika Chen is offered a job as a professional player in Warcross, the virtual reality video game played by almost everyone in the world, she has no idea what she is in for. The game’s creator, Hideo Tanaka, confesses he wants her to be a player so that he can use her skills to weed out another hacker, one that has been causing some problems in the game. She’s overwhelmed by the Tokyo scene, fame, money, the adrenaline rush of the game - and a little romance, too.
However, as the game progresses, she realizes she’s in deeper than she thought. More information is uncovered, leaving her wondering who the bad guys really are and what is actually going on in Warcross. Navigating power structures, sleazy deep web encounters, and her own emotions, Emika comes to a startling discovery and makes an even more surprising decision.
NY Times bestselling author Marie Lu’s Warcross is an intense, fast-paced read that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, but also asks some important questions. In a world where technology is becoming more advanced and all-encompassing, what are inventors’ ethical obligations? Are ethics objective or subjective? When faced with a decision between someone you care about and a moral you hold, what should you choose? What would you choose? Readers will find themselves mulling over these dilemmas and more long after they finish the book.
Damien D., E.O. Smith Blogger
“it’s dark now, & not just because my visor is misted; when u turn at 17,500 miles an hour the night comes on u like a switch, & now i’m in a total absence of light that feels metaphorical in a much more horrible way.”
Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.
Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.
But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.
Satellite is a real masterpiece. Nick Lake’s use of text speech instead of proper grammar in writing the entire novel is a distinctive literary choice, shows the reader how the main character thinks and feels. Not with proper punctuation but how we naturally talk. In doing so Lake takes a completely unrelatable situation in which Leo is presented as an experiment, and uses his writing to make it feel relatable.
Not only through the text speech style does Lake convery that extreme reliability however. Leo’s quest into breaking out of the box he had been put into, that experiment forced upon him at birth, it makes his character seem real, it makes him seem like everyone else just trying to be himself in his own special circumstances. In making Leo seem like all of the rest of us despite his unusual circumstances, Nick Lake successfully makes the reader feel connected to a completely obscure character.
The other characters also make a great addition to the plot. Each character has their own level of reliability and with that their own level of importance to the story, but one thing is for sure, every character has a purpose, they are not just unnecessary plot devices but real characters with real feelings and a real importance in Leo’s overarching story.
It is true that the unusual writing style and the initial slow pace does make the novel hard to read at first, but the well-woven plot and the amazing characters really makes Satellite a book worth reading.
“There is no divine plan, no destiny, no life after death, and no compensation for what you lose. There is only here and now. There is only what you’ve done and what you are going to do. And if you can own up to every moment and take responsibility for your life and shape it into something beautiful and kind and generous - if you can do that, you’ve discovered what it means to be strong.”
The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out. Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don't know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she'll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight. As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She'll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.
This is Lianne Oelke’s first novel and I really liked it. It was very different and original. I thought it was cute and exciting and it also touched in on some deep and important topics which can be hard to successfully fit into one novel.
The main character Jane has left her high school and now has to complete her senior year at her local community college and decides to move out of her parents' place. Jane has been raised in a devout Christian household, and recently Jane has been having doubts about God and struggling. She signs up for an advertised small campus reality show that’s being produced by a student for a project. I really liked that it was set in a college setting instead of a high school setting. I thought it made the story already different compared to a lot of other YA novels and brought more diversity of ages and people to the story.
The Reality Show aspect, I admit, I had expected to be kind of cheesy. But it actually ended being exciting and interesting and bringing a lot to the story. It was called House of Orange, it had a bunch of different little challenges and had some really cute and funny moments that lightened up the story. I wish there had been a few more challenges, though.
This story touched on some very sensitive topics along with having many light-hearted scenes as well. As I mentioned before it talks a lot about how Jane lost faith in God, but it also discussed a lot of other mental health subjects like suicide, depression, etc. So I think that’s something to be aware of going into reading the book.
The character Jane was witty and completely hilarious. The story was full of dry humor. I quickly and easily connected with her as a character. I thought she was very well portrayed and that she was an interesting character. Her love for psychology was a super interesting part of the book. I wish there had been more of it! The characters other than Jane were hard for me to connect at first, but after a little bit they developed more. I wish the beginning had been a little less slow and that I could of got into it a little more quickly, but that doesn’t last too long and was far from unbearable.
By far my favorite part of this book was its format. It was written as Jane’s journal and though it can be a tough way to write, it was executed very well. I think that it made many characters, especially Jane, a lot more accessible.
Even though this book started a little slow and had a few chunks of text with little development or excitement, they were mild and overall didn’t effect the story too much. I think this book was excellent and a great read. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a YA novel that deals with more mature topics or a novel that feels a bit more polished and structured than other contemporaries out there.
Grace C., EO Blogger
“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
From the moment I first picked up The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and skimmed the description on the back, I knew it wouldn’t be like any of the other books I’ve read recently. From the first page, Thomas skips unnecessary introductions and plunges the reader into the life of Starr Carter, an African American teen struggling to survive in her rough neighborhood, while also trying to fit in at her suburban prep-school. At first, I had trouble connecting with Starr; after all, my life as a privileged, middle-class, caucasian girl is nothing like hers. But, it didn’t take long for the tough persona she puts on around her neighbors to slip away, allowing me to see her for who she really is: an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. The more relatable Starr became to me, the more I fell in love with the book. Because of the privilege I’ve been surrounded by all my life, I had never really thought much about the stories in the news about shootings in inner-city neighborhoods. I never questioned what could be happening behind the scenes of the stories about police brutality. Angie Thomas tells the side of these stories that usually goes untold, while keeping it relatable and realistic. I could imagine that I was with Starr when she was riding home from a party with her friend Khalil, that I too watched as he was shot and killed by a police officer after being pulled over for speeding. I felt like I was with her as she struggled to handle her grief and anger, and I was cheering her on when she decided to fight for justice. Every time Starr made an effort to be brave despite her fear, I also felt empowered. My favorite part about The Hate U Give is how it portrays such a weighty issue so honestly and beautifully, while still leaving a smile of my face. For a book with such a somber beginning, it avoids slipping into a “dark” territory by including a constant message of hope, loyalty, and love.
Abby S., EO Blogger
One week. That's all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future--decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.
Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he's run away, but Jessie doesn't believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river--the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.
As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie speaks up about the harassment Chris kept quiet about and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie's town who don't like the story she tells, who are infuriated by the idea that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris’s character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats.
Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that’s happening while he’s gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.
I was lucky to have a chance to speak to author Kim Purcell last week - here's what she had to say...
Bethany: Why do you write?
Kim Purcell: Well, with this particular book I had to write it because it was such a personal story for me because it was based on one of my best friends who disappeared. So this book in particular I wrote because I had to, and the story just sat inside me. Even though there are a lot of books on suicide, I didn’t feel like enough addressed the feeling of guilt and how the body reacts when someone is suddenly gone from your life and how the brain sometimes wants to create that person standing beside you. It happened to me so I wanted to mirror that in a story.
I also wanted to talk about mental health and suicide. I wanted to send the message to kids that even though there are a lot of books out there that say, “It’s your fault, you created this,” it’s really not. We all do the wrong thing at times, and we don’t need to beat ourselves up over it. Also, terrible things happen to all of us and it’s normal to feel sad, but if we’re getting suicide thoughts, the brain isn’t working right. There's usually some kind of component where the brain’s biochemistry is off so it’s important for kids to realize that there is nothing wrong with them if they are feeling those thoughts, but they do need medical help.
I think there is way too much stigma against brain problems. You know, if we have any other problem in any other part of our body, like if we have a leg problem, “Of course you have to see a doctor,” but once it’s your brain, the response is different. Sometimes it’s not functioning properly, which is so easy to happen. For example, hormones and lack of sleep can turn it off, which happens a lot for teens. All kinds of things can throw off brain chemistry so it’s really important to get help when it happens. And when it happens, it’s not a big deal, you can get it back on track just like how you can get any part of your body back on track, but, somehow, we want to treat the brain like it’s a different thing, and I feel that that really needs to be addressed. The stigma towards getting help is still there, and we need to get rid of it. That’s why I was super passionate about this book and had to write this book.
Bethany: Racism is a prevalent theme in the novel as well, as Jessie is the only one in her town in an interracial relationship, and she receives a lot of prejudice for that. What would you say to someone that was facing prejudice for being in an interracial relationship?
Kim Purcell: Any form of love is great to me. I would want anyone to fall in love with anyone they want. It sucks when people look at you funny, and when you have moments where you’re like, “Whoa, did that person just do that?” But you shouldn’t let other people’s biases stop you. I also feel that it’s super important for you to put yourself in the other person's shoes with regards to the bias they are facing. In an interracial relationship, your experiences are different. Understanding this is super important.
Bethany: Suicide is a huge theme in the novel as well, but no spoilers here. What would you say to anyone who was thinking of taking their own life?
Kim Purcell: Well, I would really just beg them not to do it, because I think, from my own experience, if you wait a day, and you wait a week, and you reach out for help, it really does get better. If it isn’t getting better because of brain chemistry issues, a doctor can prescribe medicine so it can get better. I feel that therapy sometimes is not enough, and so I just think it’s important to look at all different avenues and to recognize, “Yes, it super sucks this way of living with my brain feeling so miserable,” but there are lots of ways to solve that problem without saying, “End.”
Sometimes we get into a cycle of negative thinking, especially about ourselves. There are lots of methods to stop this cyclical thinking, but the first is recognizing it’s just a thought, not truth. You can say to yourself, “Ok, hello thought. I’ve seen you before, and I’m just going to put you in this imaginary garbage can in my brain.” And then you replace it with a better thought. Just marginally better is fine. Then another negative thought comes and you put that in the garbage can, and replace it with a better thought. And you start the upward spiral.
When you do start to feel better, hopefully you can reach out to other people and help them move through it too because many people go through that in their life, and, actually, quite a small percentage take their life as a result. I would like to make that percentage smaller.
Bethany: I saw on your website that you teach yoga and meditation to teens to help them to gain peace.
Kim Purcell: In Brooklyn, I taught yoga at a juvenile detention center for awhile with this organization called Yoga for Youth. Now, when I teach creative writing, I often combine it with a little meditation exercise. I prefer to post a very short three-minute meditation on my Twitter or Instagram, and I’ve learned from working with teens that three minutes is way more than most teens are doing and it can really help with stress and anxiety.
Bethany: So what advice would you give to teens dealing with daily stress from like school or work because I know that so many people just deal with school-related stress from getting a lot of work. I deal with it, and all my friends do too.
Kim Purcell: I just think it's good to look at where all this stress is coming from. Most of the time, it’s fear-based. We think, “I’m going to get an F, and then I won’t get into college and then I won’t get a job and then . . .” It is totally counterproductive. It’s negative spiral thinking. And it’s not true.
A lot of kids are dealing with anxiety because of school. I think it comes from parents too, especially for high achieving kids, who are at high risk for suicide or depression. And all this stress is for nothing. Marks are not that important in the end. I’ve met a lot of people in my life who are very successful, and almost none of them had top grades. I know parents don’t want to hear this, but I think it’s more important how you feel about yourself as a person and what kind of compassion you have for others.
If people look up all their heroes and look at what they did in school, they typically did not get good grades, but they did have a vision and passion. They were not lazy, didn’t watch TV all the time. They focused obsessively on the thing they loved. So, if you’re getting stressed about marks or tests, maybe shift the focus to what your passion is. Then you’re not stressed and you’re really fired up and don’t care about how much work you have to do or how much studying you have to do. Let’s say you want to find a cure for cancer, your passion becomes learning everything you can about cancer and science. You’re not stressed. You're thinking, “Wow, it’s so cool.”
I also think teens should get off of phones and screens, and do whatever thing makes them feel truly joyful. I have a 13-year-old, who loves to write, so whenever she gets stressed, I just say, “Go write in your story,” and so she writes in the book. She also loves baking, so sometimes I tell her to go bake something. I think it’s important to go do something you love as a break from stress.
Bethany: This book combined my two favorite genres: romance and mystery. What’s your favorite genre?
Kim Purcell: Weirdly, I love thrillers, and I really get into fantasy novels too, but I have a pretty wide range. I like books that make me laugh or cry.
Bethany: Who are some of your favorite authors who you draw inspiration from?
Kim Purcell: In terms of realistic contemporary fiction, I really love Jason Reynolds. When you read his books, they're such page turners and beautifully written. Jason Reynolds’ books have taught me so much. I especially love All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. Brendan Kiely’s point of view from the white character helped me figure out how to portray white bias in This is Not a Love Letter and Jason Reynolds’ point of view character taught me about creating a rhythm with your words and incorporating the body language of power. I also love Kate DiCamillo - her books have a little bit of fantastical weirdness in them, which I really like. I also just read Denton Little’s Deathdate. I was just dying laughing because it’s very funny. A. M. Jenkins wrote Repossessed, and that’s another hilarious books. I thinks she’s super brilliant. She wrote Damage too. It's about depression, and I think it is the best second person book I’ve ever read. Jennifer Castle is an incredible writer too. She wrote the Beginning of After and has Together at Midnight coming out. I read about 10 books a month, so I read constantly because it fires me up and teaches me so much about how to be a better writer.
We would like to send a huge thank you to Kim for spending some time with us!
Bethany L., EO Blogger
“You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”
How could I not love a Maggie Stiefvater book? Every scene, character, aesthetic, or setting is gorgeous and original. All the Crooked Saints is no exception. Its romantic and mysterious. Owls and roses and cacti and tumbleweeds and Elvis and cockfights and miracles. It was very different than her usual books, though. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, The Raven Boys series, and (my personal favorite) The Scorpio Races were all AMAZING, but All the Crooked Saints brought something new and interesting and I really enjoyed it.
Obviously Stiefvater's specialty is magical realism, and this book is a great example. Set in the dusty Colorado desert, the Sorias run a ranch where they produce miracles to those they call the pilgrims. They give them the miracle, the miracle exposes their inner darkness, and then they have to deal with it. But the pilgrims usually take a while to figure out their darknesses, and during that process, they can’t contact the Sorias, which gets a little difficult when they’re all living in such close quarters.
I really loved the point of views in this book. It is told in third person and, though the description on the inside cover mainly focuses on Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel, the story itself stops in on the lives of people all throughout this story, throwing in a few flashbacks and really deepening the characters. It felt almost like a story was being told to you by some old man, it keeps making pit stops and is told in a slow almost rambly unorganized way that works SOOOO well, and leaves you feeling warm and homey.
My only real complaint is that I wanted more. I wish this were a series rather than a stand alone so that we could have a chance to learn more about some of the characters, but the epilogue did a really great job of closing out the story. That doesn’t however mean that I’m not going to wonder forever about Daniel’s childhood, and Beatriz and Pete’s romance, and how Joaquin found his love for music, and my lord, WHAT HAPPENS TO DARLENE AND HER ROOSTER? But that’s just because I have a mildly concerning obsession with Maggie and with books in general. But that’s beside the point.
This was a warm, folksy, quirky, and wonderful read, and it is definitely worth your time.
Published by Scholastic
Ages 14 and up
To find out more about the author: https://www.maggiestiefvater.com/
Grace C., EO Smith Blogger
Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi is a memoir about life as an Iranian immigrant to the US, but it is also an account of being a teenager that anyone can relate to if they have fought with their parents, had friends who don’t understand them, or struggled with grades and SAT prep. As an Iranian American myself, I connected especially closely with Saedi’s story and loved how she discussed the overlaps and differences between her Iranian and American identities -- she was proud of her family, but at the same time wanted to be more like her friends, a dilemma most people our age have experienced.
Even though every immigrant group in the States faces unique issues and experiences, this book is a good read because it addresses a lot of negative stereotypes about immigrants and Middle Eastern people. It is also written in a way that does not force information on the reader, but brings it up in a natural, fun manner with excerpts from her old diary. Because Saedi’s writing is so approachable, I think anyone who picks up this book will get something out of it, and may finish the book with a more open mind toward some issues.
If you are left interested in learning more about Iranian culture or history, https://bahai-library.com/walbridge_history_culture_iran is a good source!
Published by Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
Author info - http://sarasaediwriter.com/
Damien D., EO Smith Blogger