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by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Book Basics: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough  

Published: April 2015, Arthur A. Levine Books 

Genre: YA, romance, historical fiction  

Page Count: 336 (hardcover) 

Star Rating: ★★★★ 

Recommended For/If You Liked: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

This review is basically going to be me freaking out about how much I loved this book. You’ve been warned. 

Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra… the fate of any pair of star-crossed lovers you can think of throughout history has been influenced by Love and Death as they play their Game, one that inevitably ends with Death taking both players. Now, in 1927 Seattle, the players are Henry, a white orphan with a talent for music and Flora, a black orphan, talented jazz singer, and pilot. Can Henry and Flora beat the odds and let Love claim a victory, or will Death win, as per usual? Only the strength of their love will determine the winner.

I loved how Martha Brockenbrough wrote the characters of Love and Death. There was this excellent mix of human emotions that they showed and their seemingly divine interventions in the Game that made them not quite human, but not quite gods either. (This element is what makes the book similar to The Book Thief or The Night Circus, but though the idea wasn’t original, the author took the idea in an entirely new direction).  Also, Love was written as male and Death as female, so their characters destroyed gender stereotypes, which made them even more awesome. The other characters were also stunningly written, but I enjoyed the development of Love and Death the most. 

The book’s setting (rainy Seattle, 1927) contributed beautifully to the plot and mood as the characters struggled with issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty. These external struggles further complicated the characters’ internal struggles of love and loyalty and staying true to oneself. Martha Brockenbrough did a fantastic job writing these tough issues in a way that made the reader thoughtful and reflective. The writing in the book was very good and it flowed nicely and was very suspenseful: I read the book in one weekend and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days on end. There were, however, some scenes that felt unnecessary and the romance wasn’t written quite as well as it could have been- I didn’t love Henry and Flora’s romance as much as I wanted to. (Honestly, I enjoyed the romance between two of the supporting characters ((no spoilers!)) more than that of Henry and Flora.)

In the end, this was a fantastic book- one that I would definitely reread and am absolutely going to buy at my next trip to the bookstore. Despite a few minor complaints, this book was heart-achingly written and I would absolutely recommend it. 

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by: 
Emily, Teen Contributor

Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Bynes was dedicated to "All those who finally stand up for themselves," and is an incredible story of pain, fear, trying to do your best, and friendship. 

Eric "Moby" Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes have been friends for a long time, and are bonded by their deformities: Sarah has horrible burn scars over her face, neck, arms, and hands from a childhood incident involving boiling water, and Moby is incredibly overweight. They are inseparable as friends, so when Moby joins the school's swim team and begins to shed some pounds, he frantically tries to eat more to maintain the friendship he treasures and Sarah's respect. However, as soon as Sarah gets wind of this, she demands he stop. 

When Sarah is hospitalized and stops speaking entirely, Moby stays by her side to help her recover and get back on her feet. When she reveals to him the horrible secrets of her past, he sticks with her. With the aide of his swim coach, he even manages to get her back to a safe place. 

This book is extremely suspenseful, and encompasses fierce religious debates, attempted suicide, buried secrets, shady characters, intense dialogue, and knife wounds. Though the language gets a bit confusing at times, this novel is a must read. Not only a touching story of friendship, it also addresses a lot of issues that teens wrestle with today, about their beliefs and trying to do what is right, when you don't know what that looks like. This book really makes you look at what you believe, what kind of person you are, and what you would do stuck in the character's shoes. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes should definitely be added to your reading list!

by: 
Sophia, Teen Contributor

Genre: Sci-Fi

Would I Recommend: Yes

Series Number: 3 books

A book whose post-apocalypse plot is not only detailed and descriptive, but a distinct twist on the end of the world as we know it, Partials, by Dan Wells, gives a hectic glimpse into our future. Well written with a unique plot, though slow and dry in portions, this novel passes the time and offers an alternate reality whose characteristics are not far from improbable. If patient, reading the novel pays off with unseen changes and an ending that leaves you asking unanswered questions and running to the sequel.

If your into an action-packed sci-fi novel with a hint of romance and mystery, try Partials.

Check out the Partials Series.

by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Book Basics: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell  

Published: 2015, St. Martin’s Griffin 

Genre: YA, fantasy, romance 

Page Count: 528 (hardcover) 

Star Rating: ★★★★★ Your New Favorite Book 

Recommended For/If You Liked: Fans of Rainbow Rowell & Fangirl, as well as readers suffering from PPD (Post Potter Depression) and Drarry shippers. 

Short Summary: Simon Snow (who is, according to a prophecy, “the Chosen One”) is in his final year at the Watford School of Magicks. But his roommate and arch nemesis, Baz has mysteriously disappeared; the sinister Insidious Humdrum is growing stronger; magic is rapidly disappearing from certain spots across the UK; and the Old Families and the Mage’s supporters are at each other’s throats. Simon’s last year won’t be anything he expected. 

What I Liked: First off, I want to clarify a few things. If you’ve read Fangirl, then you know that the main character, Cath, writes fanfiction about a character named Simon Snow who’s penned by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie. Carry On is the full story of the characters that we meet in Fangirl. So, who exactly is writing Carry On? Is it written from Cath’s perspective, or Gemma T. Leslie’s?  As Rainbow Rowell says on her website, “I’m writing as me”.  I’ve heard Carry On described as Harry Potter fanfiction, but while there are parallels to the Potter universe, the characters are completely new and reimagined (and you don’t need to read Harry Potter to understand this story.)  One more thing: you don’t need to read Fangirl to read this book, but I highly recommend Fangirl. Okay, now for the review.

There are so many things that I loved about this book I don’t even know where to start. I almost like the development of this magical world more than the development of the Potter magical world- and that’s coming from a diehard Potterhead. This world was much more simple, and I liked that a lot; it left the reader to focus on the main plot line rather than trying to figure out how the World of Mages works. The character development was exceptional, and though they live in a fantastical universe, they were so, so real. The romance was perfectly written (as in all Rainbow Rowell novels) so folks, prepare yourselves for another addition to your OTP collection. I loved how Rainbow Rowell also included an interesting take on social classes, ethnic classes, sexuality, and self-discovery as they were all subtly incorporated into the story.  

What I Didn’t Like: Literally nothing. I’ve seen some complaints from other readers that the romance distracted from the main plot line, but it’s a Rainbow Rowell novel. What’d you expect? 

In Conclusion: I haven’t read a book I loved this much in a long time. The writing, the romance, the magic...this book was magic. READ IT. You’ll love it. 

Don't forget to check out my blog for more YA book reviews! 

by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Genre: mystery, romance

Star Rating: ★★★½ Borrow It 

Recommended For/If You Liked: 13 Reasons Why, If I Stay. For fans of romance and Gayle Forman.  

Short Summary: Cody and Meg have been best friends since kindergarten. But when Meg goes off to college, leaving Cody stuck in their small town in Washington, and drinks a bottle of industrial poison, it shocks everyone, including Cody. So Cody decides to embark on a quest to find out why Meg, of all people, would kill herself. Along the way, she finds new people, love, and answers about Meg’s death that aren’t at all what she (or anyone else) expected. 

What I Liked: The writing and descriptions were excellent, as they are in all Gayle Forman books.The romance (if a little cliché) is perfectly timed, another thing that Forman excels at in her other books. But here, Forman outdoes herself with Cody’s self-discovery. Cody’s changes over the course of the book are astounding, and these make her seem even more real as a character. That was another thing I liked: Cody is very real. She doesn’t come from a big city, her job (cleaning houses) isn’t glitzy, and she calls her mother by her first name and has never met her father. The relationships in this book were also very complex, and not just the romantic ones; Cody’s relationship with her mom, Meg’s parents, and Meg’s former roommates were all developed beautifully. 

What I Didn’t Like: Despite all this raving, there were a few major things that brought down the rating of this book. First off, the plot was a little dry and it often felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. Secondly, the romance, while well written, felt like an unnecessary sideshow, detracting attention from the main story. Lastly, Meg’s character seemed all-too-familiar, and the fact that Cody was always overshadowed by Meg made their friendship too much like the one in Since You’ve Been Gone, a book I read this summer.   

In Conclusion: Though this book was very well written, the three things I mentioned above were its fatal flaws. In the end, I liked it and it had a good lesson, but it could have been better written. Nevertheless, Forman’s fans will like it, and though it’s not all it could have been, it’s still a good book. 

 

Don’t forget to check out my blog for more YA book reviews & recommendations!

Find more titles by Gayle Forman here.

by: 
Jasmine, Teen Contributor

At 17 years old, S.E. Hinton managed to write one of the most memorable and accurate novelistic depictions of what it’s like wanting acceptance and belonging as a teenager. The Outsiders, Hinton’s first novel, remains as one of the best-selling young-adult novels of all time. 

Written for teenagers, about teenagers, and by a teenager, The Outsiders captivates its audience with memorable characters (who are memorable for more than their obscure names) and climactic drama, and it leaves the reader with the message of what a blessing it is to be naive, innocent, and young (or, as the book puts it, staying “gold”).

The story centers around the aftermath of a “rumble” between two opposing gangs: the Socs, who are the “rich kids,” and the Greasers, the kids on the wrong side of the tracks. The two gangs are comparable to the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story (1957). Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year old member of the Greasers gang, gets tossed into a fast-paced whirlwind of events when one of his friends causes an uproar in the Greaser-Soc rivalry.

This book is extremely well written. The gripping plot progresses fluidly, and the scenes are skillfully sketched out with important and illustrative details before any event unfolds; this helps the reader grasp onto any component the author conveys. The characters are thoroughly represented with flaws and interests, which causes the reader to imagine them as real people dealing with real problems. 

The Outsiders still sings a similar song about the trials, violence, and difficult decisions in a youth’s everyday life, despite the differences between 1965 and today.  This book makes us realize how important it is to “stay gold” and preserve innocence. The Outsiders is a must-read for teenagers and adults alike.

Check out The Outsiders here

 

by: 
Allison, Teen Contributor

Last  book I read: Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

What is it: A book with pictures and stories, like a graphic novel. It is a collection of funny stories and observations from the author. 

Why I read it: I wanted something funny, and this one looked funny on the cover and was in the area with other comedy. 

What I thought of it: I thought the illustrations were really funny and added a lot to the book. It was a fast read but I thought it made me laugh a lot. I looked up her blog later.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes. I think some of my other friends would think this is funny too.

Find Hyperbole and a Half here

Submit your own quick review to [email protected]

by: 
Caitlin, Teen Contributor

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 

Book Basics: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 

Copyright: 2015, Balzer + Bray 

Genre: YA, LGBT, coming-of-age, 

Star Rating: ★★★½  Borrow It First, Then Buy It 

Short Summary: When sixteen-year-old Simon Spier’s secret emails fall into the wrong hands, he has no choice but to go along with being blackmailed, out of fear of his entire Georgia high school finding out that he’s gay. As Simon struggles with keeping his secret, he falls more and more in love with Blue (the guy he’s been emailing) and becomes more and more curious about Blue’s true identity, knowing that Blue is one of his fellow classmates.    

What I Liked: This book was absolutely adorable. Like seriously, Simon and Blue’s emails made me squirm and squeal on the inside, it was so cute. Reading the book is like watching baby animal videos on YouTube: it’s just so cute it makes your heart explode. Becky Albertalli did an excellent job of writing Simon and Blue’s relationship and developed it very nicely, even though it was all online. Cuteness factor aside, the main characters were very well developed and there was an awesome message about stereotyping and how  the “default” person shouldn’t be straight and white.   

What I Didn’t Like: Overall, the writing could have been a bit better. At times, the plot felt a little dry, like it wasn’t going anywhere, and it kind of went in circles. A lot of the supporting characters were undeveloped, which was unfortunate, as they were really awesome people, just not really awesome characters. 

In Conclusion: This was a super cute book. As I said before, the writing could have been better, but it had a great central message, and it’s always good to see diversity in YA novels, especially romance novels. If you like romance novels or you’re looking for something different, or you just want something fun and light to read, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is ADORABLE.  

 

Don’t forget to check out my blog for more YA book reviews & recommendations!  

Check out Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda here.

 

by: 
Melissa, Belmar

The time has come to vote for your top 10 favorite titles of 2015! Voting for the 2015 Teens' Top Ten is now open through Teen Read Week (Oct. 18-24). There are 24 titles to choose from or you can nominate your favorite book that didn't make the list. Not sure about some of these titles? Take a look at the book trailers to see for yourself. 

 

 

by: 
Aurora, Teen Contributor

Everyone has certain core traits that can be used to describe them at any point in their life so far, and likely will be continue to being a key part of their personality. Some people are kind, or funny. Some people are bossy. Some are athletes or artists. Others are animal lovers. I am a reader. I have read more books that I care to admit, and if there is such a point of reading too much, I have reached it. I was the kid who would stay up way past their bedtime with a good book. I was the kid who would get grounded from reading. However, I don't own all that many books. I go through so much material that it has never made any sense for me to buy books, because they last me maybe a week. So, any of the books that I own are books that I have loved so much that I needed to have on my shelf, either to reread and reread and reread again, or to give to my friends to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to read these books.

I tell you all of this because it is difficult to put into just a few words how spectacular these next two books are.

The first one is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This one starts out with Charlie, getting ready for his first year of high school, writing letters in his journal to a friend. This friend isn't real, in the strictest sense. He is someone that Charlie has invented who will just listen to him, and understand him, because "[he] needs to know these people exist." This creation of this partial friend gives the book a completely honest feel--all of Charlie's emotions, everything he is going through, it is laid out for you to see. He is lonely, lost, and confused. And every single ounce of those emotions, you feel it. And you feel his joy, and desire to fit in, when he meets Patrick and Sam, two seniors, who teach him about music and friendship. This book is about growing up and learning who you are. It's about music and literature and life and love. It goes through his first year of high school, and to me, it is just one of the best books ever written. And, though I cannot believe that I am about to say this…the movie actually does the book justice. Part of that is due to the strong musical component, which comes across much better on a screen, and the other part is because I adore Emma Watson. This is a book for anyone who is starting high school, especially if you have ever felt like an outsider. TRIGGER WARNING: this book goes into some heavy topics, which is half of what makes the book as amazing as it is, but if you are sensitive, I might stay away from this book.

The second book is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is lighter than Perks, so I love it in a completely different way. Without a doubt, out of every single book that I have ever read, this one resonates with me the most. Center to the story lays Cath, a girl starting her freshman year of college with her twin sister, who has been her best friend and partner in crime for years. But, suddenly, Wren doesn't want to be her roommate, and worse, doesn't really seem to share their lifelong interest in the Simon Snow books, about a young boy who goes to wizarding school. When I read this book, I happened to be a freshman in college, where all of my friends had gone off, and I stayed close to Lakewood. I might, perhaps, also share a certain obsession with Simon Snow, I mean Harry Potter. So, this book means a lot to me on a personal level. However, it cannot be said that this is the only reason that Fangirl is an amazing book. For one, Rainbow Rowell is a phenomenal author. She writes characters that I automatically fall in love with, and creates relationships that are beautifully real. From Cath's strange roommate (and based on stories from my friends, those are really the only kind) to Cath's inability to leave her room for dinner, so she ends up living on energy bars, this book is funny. But because of her relationship with her sister, her father, her mother, the book has its serious notes. Honestly, this book is perfection, and I am not doing nearly a good enough job at telling you why you should read it. But, as an added incentive, Rowell is writing Carry On soon, the last book in the Simon Snow series. This will be a treat to anyone who loved Fangirl, which, in my opinion should be everyone who has read Fangirl, and anyone who is unusually obsessed with stories about wizarding schools (meaning most everyone who has read Harry Potter).

So, whether you are going to high school or college for the first time, or simply want a good book to start off the school year, there is no doubt in my mind that The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fangirl are two of the best books for those purposes, or really just for reading.

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