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.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Overall Rating: 90%

Relatable Characters?

Meh.

Cute?

Yes!

Funny?

Sometimes!

Moving?

Could be?

Sad?

A little

Lemon trees from one’s dream materialize overnight in one’s room. Cuckoo clocks house talking cuckoo birds that fall asleep and forget the time. Croquet is played with flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs as balls. The world of Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is full of fantastic, impossible things. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Heartless tells the backstory of the Queen of Hearts, featuring Meyer’s take on why the character becomes the “blind and aimless Fury” that Carroll portrays (Meyer 4).

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7Heartless follows Catherine Pinkerton whose passion for baking sustains her dream of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid Mary Ann. In the Kingdom of Hearts, however, women have no place in the world of business because societal rules and norms are modeled after Victorian England’s, and baking is not considered a suitable job for Cath, the daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove. Cath nonetheless endeavors to realize her dream, all-the-while grappling with her parent’s wishes for her to marry the King of Hearts and become queen.

Exploring the impact societal norms and parental expectations can have on one’s life, Heartless also illustrates issues of privilege and class divide and raises questions about what actions are just, what love justifies, and if some events are not certain individuals’ faults but fate’s.

Heartless’ rich world-building and colorful cast of characters make for a very immersive read that both those familiar and unfamiliar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will enjoy. In addition to reimagining staples like the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter, Meyer incorporates elements of other works like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” into Heartless and introduces original characters like the charming, funny, considerably swoon-worthy new court joker of Hearts, Jest.

However, not everyone may appreciate the substantial role romance plays in the novel, and I personally found it hard to like Cath. I didn’t always agree with how she handled situations, and her behavior and inner monologue, while authentic given the societal context, was off-putting at times—reflecting classist notions.

Nevertheless, my entrancement with the novel’s world and desire to learn what causes Cath’s transformation from aspiring bakery owner to heartless queen compensated for the few issues I had with Cath’s character and certain plot points in the story. Overall, I found Heartless to be a worthwhile read.

By Celina Sun

Meyer, Marissa. Heartless. EPUB ed., Pan Macmillan, 2016.

 

 

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

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“I stare up at this house. It’s my father’s home too. It’s my home, they tell me. But right now, all I can see is a large cinder box that traps me inside.”

Naila is about to graduate high school in Florida and start a prestigious combined medical program at a University a few hours away from home with her best friend, Carla and boyfriend, Saif. Her ultra-conservative, Pakistani parents don’t know about that second part though. Naila is not allowed to have a boyfriend, let alone hang out with boys. Her parents will choose her future husband. Naila has been lying to her parents for a year about Saif, but when she sneaks out to Prom, her parents catch them together.

Livid, Naila’s parents decide to leave for a last minute, month-long family trip to Pakistan days before her graduation. Once there, Naila finally meets her aunts, uncles, cousins, and actually finds herself enjoying her time in Pakistan. However, unbeknownst to Naila, her parents have decided to arrange her marriage within the next few weeks and don’t intend for her to return to Florida with them. Naila struggles to fight against her parents’ wishes as she comes to terms with the fact that her core values and beliefs conflict with those of her parents.

This is the story about the dissonance between immigrant parents and their children’s values. Saeed shows how far parents will go in order to do what they think is best for their children, as well as the difficulties children of immigrants face in making sense of their different identities. This novel plays with themes of immigrant families, coming home, arranged marriage, and resilience within the poignant and emotional story of a teenager learning to stand up for herself. Naila’s story is one that is unfortunately more common than we realize, but Saeed’s take on it offers a unique and more accessible perspective.

Trigger Warning: instances of rape and physical abuse.

Saeed, Aisha. Written in the Stars. New York: Speak, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016. Print.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Mendacity Tree is the stuff of legends – whisper a lie to it, spread the lie around, and the tree will bear a fruit uncovering a secret.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge is an enjoyable read full of mystery, heartache, and chills. It tells a story from the perspective of Faith, a 14-year-old girl full of wonder and curiosity about the world. Her father is a reverend and a renowned natural scientist, and all she wants is to help him with his work and learn.

The book opens with Faith and her family moving to Vane Island. After secretly digging through her father’s papers, Faith learns that the family is escaping a scandal back in their hometown of Kent, where stories are circulating that her father is a fraud. Though the family is initially well-received by the townspeople, attitudes quickly change when news of the Reverend’s scandal reaches the island. Tensions are high, but no one will tell Faith why.

One night, the Reverend takes Faith out on a mission at night to find caves she had seen earlier. When they return to the house, he swears her to secrecy, tells her that he must go out again, and asks her to lie to everyone about his whereabouts. He never returns.

When the Reverend’s body is found, the townspeople believe that he committed suicide, but Faith is convinced her father was murdered. Looking through his journal, she learns of the Lie Tree, and she embarks on a new mission to unravel the secrets behind her father’s death.

Set in the Victorian era, the novel is thoroughly feminist. Throughout the book, men tell Faith that it is scientific fact that women are less intelligent because their brains are smaller. They tell her that women are unskilled and incapable and that the only thing a woman can be is “good.” Faith is extremely frustrated because she is clearly intelligent and wants the same opportunities that men are afforded, but the men around her refuse to provide her with anything other than women’s duties. As the novel progresses, it introduces strong women who have learned to wield power in a patriarchal society while Faith gains confidence in her intellect.

I also appreciated the way the novel handled the dichotomy between religion and science. It was a great imagining of the upheaval that was caused by the publication of The Origin of Species. While some scientists staunchly believe in the Bible as a historical record, others are more swayed by the book’s theories and the recent discoveries of fossils. The Reverend wants to know the truth about the origin of the world and humans, but he also feels great despair from the thought that everything he believes might be wrong and that humans might be much more insignificant than they seem. It’s touching and confusing at the same time.

On the other hand, some of the book’s drawbacks include its slow pacing at the beginning. Additionally, though the Reverend is Faith’s father, I didn’t completely understand her idolatry of him – going so far as to think of him like God sometimes – when he, like any other man, berated her for not staying in her place. Faith also displays an ignorance of her position as a woman of relative privilege. It can be hard to relate to the characters, so some readers might find the novel irrelevant.

Overall, I would recommend this book to readers curious about life and attitudes in the Victorian era and those looking for a dose of mysticism. It’s a true mystery that kept me curious until the end.

Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree. Amulet Books, 2016.

By Hattie Xu

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7“Nothing before you counts,” he said. “And I can’t even imagine an after.”

She shook her head. “Don’t.

“What?”

“Don’t talk about after.”

“I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you, too…. That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.”

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a tale of young love that is a dynamic and heart-warming read.  Using witty, candid, and thoughtful language, Rowell explores the unique love that exists in the confines of high school while also exploring the impact of family and personal history.  Following the typical chain of events of a real high school relationship, Park and Eleanor meet on the school bus, have English class together, and struggle through the same school bullies and woes of gym class.

Although a high school love story may seem like a fairly typical premise of a young adult novel, Rowell defies the high school sweetheart archetype by creating complex protagonists with personalities and histories full of nuance and mystery.

Eleanor and Park’s family backgrounds at first appear insignificant to the relationship, but prove to be the most important component to understanding their future as a couple. Eleanor grew up in a broken and dysfunctional family. Stricken with poverty and harmed by abuse, Eleanor was never exposed to healthy love. Park however, grew up in a stable and supportive household with parents who love each other and care for their family. With two wildly different homes, the love that Eleanor and Park develop gains nuance and surprise. Getting to know the real Eleanor and the authentic Park builds a plot that keeps the reader constantly discovering new things about the characters’ identities and how each learns to love.

The intense backgrounds, and the effects it has on Eleanor in particular is atypical to many high school love stories, but it is precisely what makes this book so successful. The inclusion and acknowledgement of the effects of family dynamics adds a dimension to the narrative that is often missing in young adult novels, but that is crucial in creating a more complex and relatable character.

With a universally relatable theme of adolescence and love, the book is fitting for all ages. For older readers, the story provokes a sense of nostalgia for youth while enhancing the reader’s own appreciation for young love, even imbuing the reader with a sense of hope.  For younger readers, the experiences are relatable for most and will evoke empathy in all. In sum, Eleanor and Park is a must-read for anyone who has ever been in love, who is still looking to find the one, or has the real belief that personal background is important to acknowledge and explore.

By: Anna Fireman

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. Print.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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“You can have anything…once you admit you deserve it” (180).

This idea runs throughout Meredith Russo’s novel, If I Was Your Girl. Protagonist Amanda Hardy has recently moved to a small town in Tennessee to live with her father and graduate high school. She must navigate a new school, make friends, get a boyfriend, and reconnect with a father she hasn’t spoken to in six years. But Amanda’s biggest struggle and secret in her new town? She’s transgender.

 If I Was Your Girl is powerful because it deals with this topic head-on. The novel has frequent flashbacks to Amanda’s past, dealing with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage (which she feels is partially her fault), early stories of realizing she would rather be female, her depression and suicide attempt, her transition towards taking estrogen and getting surgery, going to therapy, and getting bullied and viciously beaten. Russo doesn’t skim over details: instead, she strives to explain why Amanda felt the way she did, the effects a critical community can have, and even the painful process of dilation in order to create a vagina.

The author, Meredith Russo, shares a lot of similarities with Amanda: She is also transgender, was born in Tennessee, and was beaten for being trans. This adds a lot of credibility to the novel and makes it more compelling. Today, there’s a lot of debate about transgender individuals, especially in regards to bathroom usage and whether being transgender is a mental disorder. If I Was Your Girl is a great way to learn more about the transgender community—and although you may feel uncomfortable at times, that uncomfortableness is important.

In addition to everyone who wants to learn more about being transgender or who is transgender, If I Was Your Girl is, at its heart, a love story, and will appeal to all fans of romance. Amanda falls in love with football player Grant, who has his own secrets to hide. She has never been in a relationship before, and the reader gets to see her progression towards being more confident as well as the progression of her and Grant’s relationship. But it’s not just a love story in terms of romance: If I Was Your Girl is also the story of how Amanda and her father learn to love each other again after Amanda begins to live as female, how Amanda’s friends learn to love her regardless of what Amanda’s birth sex is, and how Amanda, ultimately, learns to love herself.

Amanda’s story is complex. She deals with intersection of being transgender and living in the South, religion, and parental acceptance. Amanda’s friend explains to her, “people in the South are addicted to the closet…Everybody’s too afraid of going to hell or getting made fun of…so they can’t even really admit what they want to themselves” (164). Amanda herself deals with trying to maintain her faith. And Amanda’s mother, while accepting, still struggles with what she sees as the death of her son; when Amanda argues, “I’m still me,” her mother responds that “It ain’t that simple” and “I know I’m supposed to say it is, but it ain’t” (186-187). I found these aspects to be thought-provoking; Russo shows that nothing is as simple as it seems, and the novel contains many twists and complications, which keep the novel from falling into tropes or stereotypes.

This novel is powerful and important for transgender youth, above all. Russo said she wanted to “help transgender youth who feel alone and not accepted in any community by giving them a relatable heroine who is fun, interesting, and empowered” (Edwards). I think she certainly achieved her goal, and that the story of Amanda will grab you and leave you thinking long after the last pages.

By: Grace Layer

Edwards, Lynda. “Chattanooga transgender woman lands $100,000 book deal.” Times Free Press 27 January 2015. Web. 17 April 2017.

Russo, Meredith. If I Was Your Girl. New York: Alloy Entertainment, 2016. Print.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

“We fold our immigrant selves into this veneer of what we think is African American girlhood. The result is more jagged than smooth.”

-Ibi Zoboi, Author’s Note

American Street by Ibi Zoboi–a Haitian immigrant author–begins with opportunity and heartbreak as Fabiola Toussaint finally makes it from Haiti to America while her mother is set to be deported back.

Fabiola soon discovers that her aunt and cousins who sent for them have absconded their Haitian heritage to become fully “Americanized.” As the sole representative of her culture, Fabiola becomes “Fabulous,” a brave teen who approaches the challenges of inner city Detroit with the magical realism of her Haitian Vodou culture. Her desire to bring her mother back sees her navigate love, loyalties, and problems in her community.

Zoboi’s first novel is brilliantly written, vividly transcribed in the magic of Fabiola’s culture. That being said, it also very quickly degenerates into some disappointingly obtuse stereotypes of black American girls–including superficiality, perpetual female in-fighting, using drug dealing as the only legitimate source of income, and cyclic (almost valorized) domestic abuse. As honest as this may be to many personal experiences, including perhaps Zoboi’s, I found the text too often offensive and problematic for young people looking for a window into the black and immigrant narrative. It was offensive not at the inclusion of these themes, but in its treatment.

As the son of a Jamaican immigrant woman, I was looking for a mirror to validate some of my own family’s experiences between Canada and America. This book did not provide that; Fabiola valued family loyalty and selfish personal relationships over justice in explicit and problematic ways. Young people looking for a window into immigrant culture will entirely miss the narrative of hard-working Caribbean men and women that was the story of my family and my first generation peers’ families. There must also be more done in a novel like this to explicitly take issue with the horrific domestic abuse in teen relationships seen in the story.

I wish this text could intentionally and consistently problematize these stereotypes more, as Gene Lang did in American Born Chinese. Alas, the text was a bit too ambitious with other themes–like romance, culture shock, family loyalty, and (somewhat) police brutality–to significantly question these facets.

I recommend this book for young people looking for accounts of diverse experiences and magical realism narratives, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it for an accurate or healthy portrayal of immigrant (or black American) subcultures.

By Kashmeel McKoena

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. New York, NY: Balzer Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2017. Print.

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.

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes…By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

~~

Arnold “Junior” Spirit barely walks through the entrance of his local high school, located in the Spokane Indian Reservation, before his geometry teachers convinces him to transfer to the wealthy Reardan High. At school, Junior struggles to fit in as an impoverished Indian in a predominantly white classroom. At home, members of his tribe, including his long-time buddy, Rowdy, call him a traitor for leaving the Spokane Reservation. In this hostile environment, Junior must discover, decide, and (at times) change his mind about who are “assholes” and who will bring love into his life.

From the opening line of the book, Junior’s voice is engaging, welcoming, and powerful. As a reader, I really felt like Junior was a close friend, directly talking to me. The book is peppered with silly cartoons that help pace the novel, and the resulting mix of words and drawings would be especially compelling for a reader that is easily bored by long paragraphs.

What I appreciate the most about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that it doesn’t hesitate to address a myriad of “taboo” personal issues—alcoholism, abuse, racial discrimination, poverty, eating disorders, mental illness, and more. Books will often address only one (if any) of these topics, ignoring the fact that many of Juinor’s struggles go hand-in-hand. While the book highlights the systemic injustices that American Indians face, it never employs a self-pitying tone. Instead, Junior’s love of basketball, cartoons, and his classmate Penelope keeps the narrative humorous and meaningful.

For teens that relate to any aspect of Junior’s multi-faceted identity, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is supportive and inspiring. For teens that don’t relate, Junior’s experience provides an essential window into the semi-autobiographical life of an American Indian teenager.

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown and Co., 2007. Print.

By Sally