The Sun is Also a Star ~ Nicola Yoon

“We’re undocumented immigrants, and we’re being deported tonight. Today is my last chance to try to convince someone – or fate – to help me find a way to stay in America. To be clear: I don’t believe in fate. But I’m desperate.” ~ Natasha

“There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. […] I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m experiencing right now. The only slight (possibly insurmountable) problem is that I’m pretty sure that Natasha is not.” ~ Daniel

Natasha is an undocumented immigrant whose family moved to New York from Jamaica when she was eight. Her life is here, in the US, but today is her last day before she gets deported. Instead of packing or saying goodbye to the only place she calls home, Natasha departs on an adventure to try and stop her family’s deportation.

Daniel is the second son of Korean immigrants, their second chance at having a son graduate from “second-best school,” Yale. Today is his Yale interview; the first step towards becoming a doctor, a career Daniel has zero interest in. On his way uptown, Daniel notices a cute, African-American girl dancing her way down the street. He’s hooked.

Once they meet, Daniel and Natasha spend the day together exploring New York City, falling in love, and most importantly, trying to stop Natasha’s deportation. Along the way, they learn about each other’s families, their dreams, and themselves. In her novel, Yoon presents two contrasting yet honest portrayals of children of immigrants in the United States and their search to find out who they are and who they want to become.

The novel is made all the more interesting because each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, focusing mainly on Natasha and Daniel, while also providing the perspectives of other minor characters – or the universe – on the events of the day. Because of this, Yoon is able to show how a variety of characters in the same city – even family – can experience the world so differently. Somehow, these characters’ stories are all interconnected though, implying that fate might actually exist, no matter how little Natasha believes in it.

Advertisements

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

clockwork.jpg

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

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

we are ants

When Henry Denton is abducted by aliens, he is given the opportunity to prevent the destruction of the earth by pressing a button. Unfortunately, Henry’s worldview is clouded by recent tragedies in his life: his father leaving his family, his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and his boyfriend’s suicide. During the 144 days he has left to make a decision, Henry embarks on deep self-reflection and analysis of the world around him as his friends and family try to convince him that not only is the world and life precious and worth saving but Henry is too.

Shaun David Hutchinson’s book is driven by Henry’s inner monologue which encompasses an examination of our world that is deep and true. Henry has a harsh, cynical voice that many young readers have. Melodramatic teens have often considered or even wished for the possibility of the end of the world. Hutchinson introduces a protagonist who is faced with this question and hesitates.

Teens will appreciate Henry’s wit and sarcastic approach to the world. Science Fiction fans may be disappointed to find that this book is less about alien abductions and is more of a thoughtful and complex 451-page defense of why life is worth living, merely using the urgency of the alien apocalypse as a backdrop to underscore this analysis. More imaginative readers or those interested in science, history, and politics may be thoroughly amused by Henry’s wild yet insightful hypotheses for how the world will end. If taught in a classroom, these theories will also spark an interesting conversation about human relations and geopolitical systems. Readers should be aware and cautious of difficult and triggering themes in this book such as suicide and sexual assault.

Students who began reading the book with a rose-colored view of the world will reach the end with empathy and an appreciation and awareness of the darkness in the world. We Are the Ants inspires looking beyond the blanket “I’m fine,” encouraging introspection and hypervigilance. No one is fine—not even the perfect popular boy in school. For those who were cynical prior to reading this book and see Henry’s voice as a reflection of their own worldview, they will be greeted with an ode to all that is beautiful and complex about this world. Though it might seem obvious to some that the protagonist should press the button, Hutchinson simultaneously defends Henry’s point of view while underlining all the nuanced ways the world is beautiful and worth living.

By: Naana Obeng-Marnu

Hutchinson, Shaun D. We Are the Ants. Simon Pulse, 2016.

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.

 

 

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

rehost2016913a5c7dcc9-6afd-4a16-b6eb-3b98632b12c7

“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.

Thirteen Reasons Why

ThirteenReasonsWhy

Have you ever gotten a package in the mail that you didn’t expect? Did you feel excited? Curious about what someone might have sent you unprompted? Well that is exactly what happened to Clay Jensen. Returning home from school one day he finds a package addressed to him with no return label on his front porch. Upon opening it he finds thirteen cassette tapes with recordings from Hannah Baker, a girl at school he has loved from afar for years. There is just one catch – Hannah Baker killed herself a few weeks earlier. And the first tape says Clay is responsible.

This novel follows Clay over the course of a day as he listens to all thirteen tapes, desperate to understand his role in this tragedy. Hannah leads him through her time at high school, starting as the “new girl” when she moved to town up to the day before she committed suicide. Each tape tells a story dedicated to someone she holds responsible for her decision – both classmates and teachers. The stories depict moments, seemingly insignificant to outsiders but which hold great weight to Hannah. Clay walks the neighborhood, tracing Hannah’s footsteps to locations associated with each tape. A local ice cream parlor, the English classroom they shared, the house of an infamous party. As the sky gets darker so do the tapes until all Clay wants is to forget what he has heard. The secrets run deep and are raw with emotion, Clay will never look at his fellow classmates the same way.

The novel reads quickly with each chapter associated with one tape that ultimately weaves together to form the final story of Hannah Baker. As the reader become invested in Clay Jensen’s story the suspense to uncover his role in all this keeps the pages turning. Clay learns not only secrets from these tapes but also the power of rumors and individuals have on the lives of those around us.

By Grace Molino

Citation

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light

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 Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once” (125).

A sixteen-year-old who was diagnosed with cancer at a young age, Hazel knew that she was running out of time. But when her mother forces her to attend a cancer patient support group, Hazel meets a cancer survivor, Augustus, who changes her perspective on life forever. Hazel and Augustus quickly connect with each other through their struggles, their sense of humor, and their love for literature. Just when she thought she was ready for her fate, Hazel comes across a totally unexpected kind of beauty in life – love – and she’s not ready to let go anymore.

In this beautifully written novel, John Green explores the power of love and demonstrates that love trumps all, even when life seems hopeless. Green also highlights the importance of family and friends in terms of providing support for adolescents, especially for those who need to fight for their lives. Whether you’re a teen or an adult, if you’re a believer in love, then this novel is a must-read for you. If you don’t believe in love, then this novel is also a must-read for you, for it will undoubtedly change your perspective and enlighten you about love’s great potential. This heartbreaking yet heartwarming story will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride filled with both laughter and tears.

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world… but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices” (313).

By: Isabel Kim

Green, John. The Fault In Our Stars. Penguin Books, 2012. Print.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day Photo (DL)

“Everyday I am someone else. I am myself—I know I am myself—but I am also someone else. It has always been like this.”(Levithan 1)

In David Levithan’s unique and captivating novel Every Day, the protagonist, a sixteen year old named A, wakes up each morning in the body of another person. Every day, A must adapt to a new life, assuming a new name, family, and set of challenges to navigate while attempting to keep the life of the host as normal as possible. Nothing in A’s life is constant or stable, and a sense of profound loneliness grows with each new day and identity. One day, however, A makes a special connection with a girl named Rhiannon, and soon both of their lives are changed forever.

As A travels from one identity to the next over the course of the story, readers are briefly introduced to a number of different characters that adolescent readers may relate to on a personal level. Mental illness, physical disabilities, loss, and family conflicts are just a few of the challenges that A encounters day to day in the bodies of these various sixteen year olds. Additional themes central to the story and A’s own set of challenges as a changing individual include romance, difference, belonging, gender and sexuality, morality and justice, and sense of self.

All adolescent readers can learn something from A. Among many other lessons, A teaches readers the power of compassion and human connection at times when it feels like the world is against you. A recollects, “If you stare at the center of the universe, there is a coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other”(320). An unconventional and captivating romance novel dealing with so much more than just two everyday teens, Every Day provides readers with a new, more open-minded perspective on identity, love, and sense of self.

Source Cited: Levithan, David. Every Day. New York: Ember, 2012. Print.

By: Liza