Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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Overall Rating: 96%

Relatable Characters?

Yes!

Epic?

Yes!

Funny?

Hilarious.

Moving?

At times~

Sad?

Maybe a little.

“‘One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us,’” says the protagonist of Cassandra Clare’s steampunk fantasy novel Clockwork Angel (Clockwork 71). Set in 1878, the novel follows sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray as she is thrust into Victorian London’s supernatural Downworld—kidnapped by the Dark Sisters while travelling to London to live with her brother Nate. The Sisters torture Tessa in the name of preparing her for their master, the Magister. Threatening to harm her brother, the Sisters force Tessa to train her ability to Change: a power Tessa didn’t know she had that allows her to shapeshift into and touch the thoughts of any person whose possession she holds. Saved from the Dark Sisters by a group of demon-slaying warriors called Shadowhunters, Tessa agrees to assist the Shadowhunters with their investigation of the Pandemonium Club in return for their help finding her missing brother.

Clockwork Angel features a skillful balance of action, romance, humor, and insight that will likely capture the attention of any teenage reader looking for a compelling, thoughtful read. Although readers may take a couple of chapters to become accustomed to the fantastical world Clare has created, the world-building in Clockwork Angel is smoothly integrated into the narrative so that there are no major info dumps; the reader naturally learns about the Shadow World along with the protagonist.

When I first read Clockwork Angel in middle school, the novel’s witty dialogue, heart-wrenching scenes, and unexpected plot twists kept me turning pages. Rereading the novel for the second time since then was like returning to old friends. Clockwork Angel remains one of my favorite novels because the characters express sentiments that really resonate with me— serving as great mirrors in which I can see myself. Sharing my belief in the power of stories, Will, one of the Shadowhunters who saves Tessa from the Dark Sisters, notes how books can help readers become better equipped to face reality (Clockwork 164). I really appreciated seeing my love of reading reflected through both Will and Tessa especially because their fondness for books is so integral to their individual characters and relationship with each other.

Exploring important topics like identity, family, discrimination, and intolerance, Clockwork Angel is a strong start to The Infernal Devices trilogy—a series that gets progressively better with each book.

By Celina Sun

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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How much does your upbringing affect your ability to follow your dreams?

For a young woman like Josie Moraine, her dreams have been limited by circumstances out of her control. Growing up deep within the French Quarter during the 1950s, Josie Moraine seeks more than what her setting offers. She dreams of education, friendship, social status, and money, but is restricted by her life’s harsh realities. Josie cannot escape her upbringing; in New Orleans, she will always be the daughter of a prostitute.

Rita Sepetys’ Out of the Easy is a gripping read that follows Josie’s struggle to her achieve her dreams and rise above her expected life path. Despite its complicated nature, Josie is determined to overcome her mother’s reputation and influence, and ultimately make a name for herself. Through her passion for reading, Josie is exposed to stories that highlight the possibilities of life beyond the French Quarter. She also is highly aware of the danger that exists within the Quarter, particularly within the brothel she was raised in.

One of Josie’s greatest aspirations is to attend college. After a chance encounter with a wealthy college student named Charlotte, Josie feels deeply inspired to achieve higher education and break out of her sleazy reality. Through Charlotte’s influence, Josie becomes obsessed with the idea of attending Smith College alongside her new, elitist friend. However, Josie needs resources she does not have in order to make it happen. Now more than ever, Josie is faced with morally challenging decisions that could significantly change her life for the better or the worse.

Out of the Easy grapples with relevant themes surrounding sacrifice, morality, family ties, and aspirations, which makes the book likable to many. Despite Josie’s unique upbringing, she continues to face relatable teenage social problems. Josie’s character experiences love interests, bullying, and pressure to fit in. Young adults reading Out of the Easy will relate to many of Josie’s feelings and reactions, but also be intrigued by Josie’s out of the ordinary lifestyle. Readers who have a fascination with New Orleans’s French Quarter will also greatly enjoy the book. Sepeteys’ historical research provides the story with details that increase the book’s accuracy and enhance the plot. Overall, Out of the Easy is a fascinating read that highlights important themes, while also telling a compelling and unique story.

By Anna

Sepetys, R. (2013). Out of the easy. London: Penguin Books.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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What if you couldn’t see war happening around you, but you could hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it?

What if everything you believed to be wrong, suddenly became right?

Does morality still exist in wartime? Can kindness survive?

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See explores these poignant questions and more by telling the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner, a blind French girl and young German soldier, respectively, as each struggle to survive the immense horrors of WWII.

After fleeing war-torn Paris, Marie-Laure and her beloved father find refuge at the seaside home of an allusive great-uncle. She can hear the waves crashing just outside the window, and excitedly awaits the day when her father will bring her to feel the sand beneath her toes. After her father leaves town for what is promised to be a short trip and never returns, however, Marie-Laure must for the first time in her life, navigate the world on her own, and in the meantime, discovers she is harboring a dangerous secret.

While Marie-Laure is confined to the walls of Saint-Malo, Werner’s career as a member of Hitler Youth and later, as a Nazi soldier, takes him from a German orphanage across Europe and eventually, to the home of Marie-Laure’s great uncle. As their two journeys collide, Werner faces the moral dilemma of following his heart or his training, leaving the fate of Marie-Laure – and her secret – in his hands.

A masterfully written tale of perseverance, All the Light We Cannot See will have adolescent and adult readers alike considering questions of morality, loyalty, and love, in a truly powerful way that transcends time and space.

By: Mia Rotondi

Full publishing citation: Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York, NY: Scribner, 2017. Print.

 

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Before he was a leading human rights activist, who was Malcolm X?

X: A Novel tells the story of young Malcolm X—born Malcolm Little and later also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz—as he copes with his father’s death, his mother’s being taken away, and the inevitable separation from his siblings. The story opens with sixteen-year-old Malcolm boarding a bus from his home in Lansing, Michigan to Boston, where he plans to live with his half-sister Ella. The novel follows Malcolm through his adventures in Boston and Harlem while incorporating flashbacks to his younger years.

Though the novel is a fictionalized account of Malcolm X’s younger years, the tales of the world of jazz, zoot suits, conked hair, girls, and drugs runs very close to the narrative of the activist’s early life as described in The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

At its core, X: A Novel is a story about a young black man trying to make sense of a deeply racialized 1940s America. It is co-written by Kekla Magoon, author of How It Went Down, and Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X. This novel is a must-read for anyone who wishes to learn more about the man who has inspired generations of people in the U.S. and abroad.

By Bruna

MLA Citation: Shabazz, Ilyasah, and Kekla Magoon. X: A Novel. Candlewick Press, 2015.

The Book Thief

9780399546440Have you ever wondered how Death sees the world and human experiences?  Markus Zusak, in his 2005 New York Times bestselling novel The Book Thief tells the story of a young girl’s experience in World War II Germany from Death’s perspective.  Zusak even weaves passages from Death’s diary throughout this heart wrenching tale.  This is the story of Liesel Meminger, “the book thief”, who steals books at pivotal moments of her life.  The Hubermann family take Leisel in as a foster child during the war.  They love her in their unique ways.  It is the father, Hans Hubermann, who teaches Liesel to read after her nightly nightmares.  Eventually these new family bonds are even more cemented when they begin hiding the Jewish Max Vandenburg, an old family friend, in their basement.  Liesel and her best friend Rudy, lean on each other to survive the hardships and horrors of German adolescents coming of age during this war.  They steal food when they are desperately hungry, they watch in horror as Jewish concentration camp victims are forcibly marched through their town, and they face loss.  

This novel asks: “Can a person steal happiness?” (370).  What does it mean to “steal”, and when is it justified?  The theme of stealing is explored through its many examples in the story.  Liesel steals books and food.  Death “steals” lives.  The Nazi army “steals” fathers and sons from German families.   Another theme present in this book is the power of words.  Once Liesel learns to read, words from her stolen books save her.  She even reads them out loud to her neighbors during bombings.  She also grows to understand the power of Hitler’s words and both loves and hates words at once.  “The words.  Why did they have to exist?  Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this.  Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing.  There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better” (521).   

Markus Zusak’s unique and beautiful writing style quickly pulls the reader into this story. His descriptions are rich with vivid detail.  Scattered throughout the text are Death’s reflections about circumstances, which gives the author license to explore things in such a unique way.  In one moment, Liesel discovers a shot down American pilot and Death is there.  “…Liesel came even closer, and I can promise you that we recognized each other at that exact moment.  I know you, I thought.  There was a train and a coughing boy. There was snow and a distraught girl.  You’ve grown, I thought, but I recognize you” (490).  Some sections begin with a bold “featuring” section that lists important incidents in the chapter.  There are places where in bold and stared type, there is a big thought or in all caps a “SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH” that reveals something significant about a character or hints at a future event.  Similarly, dictionary definitions appear throughout the novel in bold type and link thematically to the story.  As he hides in the basement, Max begins to create picture books for Liesel, and pages of these stories appear in the novel as well.  

Fans of historical fiction will love this book!  World War II has been explored in so many historical fiction novels and films; but, never in this way.  Markus Zusak presents characters and stories here that bring a unique perspective on this tragic historic time.  It is a story that stays with you after you finish reading.  

 

By:  Courtney Stephens

 

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

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For Sammy and Andy — two boys on the Oregon Trail — there’s nothing but open land between the beginning of their journey in St. Louis, Missouri and the gold that awaits them in California.

Or, at least that’s what they want people on the trail to think. In Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Sammy and Andy are actually two girls, Samantha and Annamee, hiding under a layer of clothes and self-taught swaggered walks who are running from the law.

The concept of Under a Painted Sky is absolutely fascinating and something that will entice any curious reader. The novel is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Samantha who, after murdering her landlord in an act of self-defense, befriends the landlord’s 16-year-old slave, Annamae, as they desperately leave to St. Louis in search of a future. Samantha is off to find a man a family friend who might be able to help her in California. Annamae, on the other hand, is out to look for her brother, Isaac, who has been sold as a slave at a town called Harper Falls. Neither girl knows exactly what they’ll find on the trail, but both of them know that a heading west would lead them to the right direction, so both head onto the dangerous Oregon Trail as disguised as boys.

On the trail, Sammy and Andy, meet three young cowboys, Peety, Cay and West who befriend them almost instantly. The boys are fun and light-hearted, providing much-needed relief to the tense situation introduced at the beginning of the novel. They also serve as essential allies on the trail, providing Sammy and Andy with supplies, transportation and a sense of protection.

But Sammy and Andy never quite leave the cowboys’ side, though, neglecting their ability to form a true bond of friendship with each other. Both Sammy and Andy spend too much time trying to prove themselves to the three cowboys to really care about what direction the other is heading. While each cares for the other, their relationship lacks depth that makes this statement near the novel’s end come off as forced: “When God took away my father, he gave me a sister. She taught me how to be strong, how to thump my tail” (366). 

A romance develops between the two girls and two of the cowboys — a touch to the novel that comes off as unnecessary and distracts readers to what Under a Painted Sky could have become — a novel about two friends who remain together, despite hardships the trail presents them. The novel’s romance is just one of the many things the novel — from developing friendship, defying gender norms, and taking characters through tough situations — tries to accomplish but ends up falling flat because it is trying to do many different things at once. 

Under a Painted Sky had some really good instances that can help teach readers about intersectionality. The idea that Samantha, as a Chinese American girl, and Annamae have to deal with being women of color on the trail introduces complexities regarding both of their identities. Both girls openly accept their identities, rather than seeing it something as an impediment (beyond the physical appearance of being boys). Because of this, Under a Painted Sky can be a worthwhile read for someone who is interested in adventure, particularly with people of color leads. But the novel’s disappointing lack of development between the relationship between the two main characters may simply leave readers wanting something the novel is unable to provide. 

By: Lauren Aratani

Lee, Stacey. Under a Painted Sky. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9780399546440Imagine if Death were a person.

What might Death sound like?

What might Death have to say?

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief tells the story of thirteen-year-old Liesel Meminger, a German girl searching for the right words to capture the horrors of WWII that she witnesses. Narrated from the perspective of Death, The Book Thief explores themes of friendship, war, the resilience of the human spirit, and the capacity for compassion.

After finding an ominous book left behind at her brother’s funeral, Liesel embarks on a journey full of secrets that eventually leads her to discovering the indestructible power of words. With her childhood best friend, Rudy, by her side, Liesel’s penchant for mischief gradually transforms into a means for survival, and with the help of her foster father and a dangerous visitor in the basement, Liesel begins to find her own voice in the piercing silence of 1939 Nazi Germany. From breaking into the mayor’s house to feeding passing by Jews as they parade towards Death, Liesel is just as fearless a book thief as she is a friend and daughter.

The Book Thief reveals a community utterly destroyed by incessant fear, even before the first bomb is dropped. With its crude yet captivating illustrations, the novel depicts the war’s true devastation, as Death leaves no side untouched. Though at times a distressing read, The Book Thief serves as an invaluable addition to the genre of Adolescent Literature, as it uncovers the uncontainable devastation of violence, the importance of story-telling, as well as the incredible bonds that can form between parents and their children, friends, and even enemies.

By: Mia Rotondi

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Anniversary ed. Sydney: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Print.