400 posts categorized "Young Adult" Feed

Imposters: Scott Westerfeld

Book: Imposters
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Pages: 416
Age Range: 12 and up

ImpostersImposters is a new book set in the world of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras series (links go to my reviews), a generation or so after Tally Youngblood and her friends changed the world. Frey and Rafi are the motherless twin daughters of a powerful, ruthless ruler. Frey, the younger by 20-some minutes, is kept hidden. Only a few trusted advisors know of her existence. Her role is to provide protection for her sister. She is trained to kill enemies, and poses as her sister in riskier public appearances. Rafi is the public face, focused on politics, society, and her appearance. Despite their different roles, the two sisters are close, viewing themselves as two sides of the same knife. 

Imposters is Frey's story, however. When the leader of a rival city asks for a "visit" from Rafi, as a guarantee of safety during a business arrangement, Frey is sent in Rafi's place. Separated from her sister for the first time, and living more publicly (though incognito) than she has before, Frey blossoms. She develops an alliance, and possibly more, with rival scion Col Parafox. Then violence ensues and Frey and Col find themselves in peril and on the run. 

Imposters is the first of a new four-book series, and ends on something of a cliffhanger. The tone of Imposters is similar to that of the Uglies series, though the world has changed significantly in the aftermath of Tally's overthrow of the Pretties regime. Westerfeld explores the fact that freedom isn't the same as utopia. Corrupt leaders can arise. Tensions can flare. Scarce resources can cause conflict.

There are references to the pre-Pretties civilization (Rusties = our world), and there are rebels who long for the return of Tally Youngblood. As in the Uglies books, there are advanced technologies for surgery and generation of food and clothing. There are also advanced technologies for spying, and avoiding being spied upon. There are echoes of the Hunger Games series as well as the Uglies series (calorie blockers, for instance, to allow people to eat to excess).

But the premise of being a hidden twin, who no one knows about, is fresh and compelling. Frey is a strong protagonist, physically and mentally, one who is easy to root for. I found Col a little bit of an enigma, but hope to see his personality fleshed out more in future installments, along with those of some of the supporting characters. 

Imposters is a fast-paced read. I tore through it in a day. I didn't mind the unresolved ending because I was expecting it, but I do look forward to the next book. It's not necessary to re-read the Uglies series first to follow Imposters. Westerfeld provides just enough background to refresh the reader's memory. But it certainly couldn't hurt, for those who like to prepare. It's an engaging world in which to spend time. I am certain that fans of the Uglies series will enjoy Imposters, as will anyone who likes reading about Machiavellian conflicts set in future worlds. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Not If I Save You First: Ally Carter

Book: Not If I Save You First
Author: Ally Carter
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

NotIfISaveYouNot If I Save You First is a recent thriller by Ally Carter. 10-year-old Maddie, daughter of a senior secret service agent, is best friends with Logan, son of the recently elected President. The two children are inseparable and the White House is their fiefdom. After a near-kidnapping of the first lady, however, Maddie's dad moves her to a remote cabin in Alaska, with basically no outside human contact. Six isolated years and hundreds of unanswered letters to Logan later, Maddie is furious with both Logan and her father. When Logan is sent on a visit to the cabin as a punishment, she has every intention of making him pay. When Logan is kidnapped, however, Maddie finds herself with no choice but to go after her childhood friend. A thrilling chase and quest for survival follows, full of twists, turns, and tidbits about the Alaska wilderness. 

Maddie is a resourceful, if somewhat bitter, character. Her life in Alaska has taught her various survival skills, though she maintains hints of her previous glam-loving self (such as a bedazzled hatchet). She is more than a match for her enemies, but is vulnerable to Logan's charms. Logan, despite a reputation as a rebel, turns out to have some self-defense skills, too. Here's Maddie:

"... Maddie walked to the river and gathered the biggest rocks she could then placed them like an arrow, pointing the way. She piled a few smaller stones on top, just high enough to be noticed in a few inches of snow and ice, but not so high that they might topple.

Then Maddie lowered her hood. She brought her hand to the side of her face and pressed her palm against the largest of the rocks until her bloody handprint shone like an eerie beacon, announcing the world: Trouble came this way.

But trouble was Maddie's family's business, so she did the only thing that made sense. She followed it." (Page 89)

And here's Logan:

""So what's your name?" Logan wanted to sound casual, maybe crazy. A sane person would be terrified by now, he knew, ranting and rambling and promising to give the man with the gun anything he wanted. 

But Logan had learned a long time ago that there was nothing you could give a man with a gun to make him happy. Men with guns were only satisfied when they took. And Logan was going to hang on to the last of his self-respect for as long as he possibly could." (Page 101)

Not If I Save You First is a bit far-fetched in terms of the plot, but the details about survival in the Alaskan wilderness feel authentic. The conflict and growing attraction between the characters rings true, also (though I never really understood why Logan didn't write back to Maddy). Anyone who has enjoyed Ally Carter's other books while certainly want to give it a look, as will fans of teen survival or spy stories. Not If I Save You First is a fast-paced read that you'll want to devour in a single sitting - ideally on a warm summer day, or beside a cozy fire. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic 
Publication Date: March 27, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Time Bomb: Joelle Charbonneau

Book: Time Bomb
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Pages: 352
Age Range: 12 and up

TimeBombTime Bomb is a standalone young adult thriller about a high school bombing. The story begins with a brief scene in the afternoon in which the reader learns that several teens are trapped in the school, and that the bomber is one of them. The time frame then moves back to the morning, with short chapters from the perspectives of each of six kids. As the book progresses, the reader (and the other kids) has to figure out who the bomber is. Each of the six main characters has gone to school planning something desperate, but their individual motivations are only gradually revealed.

Time Bomb  reads as a combination of suspenseful thriller and The Breakfast Club. The carefully balanced diversity of the students (in terms of race, religion, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, popularity, and body types) struck me as a bit contrived, but the survival story and the mystery both held my interest. I did have a guess as to the identify of the culprit by mid-way through the book, but I wasn't sure, and I appreciated Charbonneau's continued planting of clues. 

In a ripped from the headlines touch, one of the kids is the daughter of a senator who is trying to enact legislation that "would require that students and teachers inform the administration if they thought someone in the school might be interested in doing harm to students, teachers, or school property. Any students reported would then have to hand over their passwords to social media and email accounts of face suspension and a potential investigation by federal authorities." (Page 7-8)

It's the interactions between the students, most of whom don't know one another prior to the bombing, that give the book its heart. This is constantly balanced with efforts towards survival, however. I do think that the combination works, and will keep kids reading. 

I'm not sure whether the timing of this book, released one month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will end up good or bad for readership. I personally had to wait a couple of weeks before I was ready to read it. But it certainly does offer insights into the struggles that are going on inside the hearts and minds of high school students, and the ways that some of them may respond. There are characters offering both windows and mirrors for any teen reader. I had a hint of the feeling that I had after reading Thirteen Reasons Why, that somewhere, some reader of this book might be inspired to reach out to fellow students. And if not, well, most will still enjoy solving the mystery, and wondering what they might do to survive. Recommended!

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Relative Strangers: Paula Garner

Book: Relative Strangers
Author: Paula Garner
Pages: 368
Age Range: 13 and up

RelativeStrangersIn Relative Strangers, by Paula Garner, high school senior Jules learns for the first time that she spent nearly two years in foster care when she was a small child, while her alcoholic single mother struggled. Since then, Jules' mother has stayed sober, if distant, and the two live a frugal existence. Jules can't help feeling a bit envious of her two best friends, Gab and Leila, who have much more stable, comfortable home lives. When Jules decides to track down her foster family, she finds Luke, five years her senior, who is thrilled to reconnect with his long-lost little sister. However, while Luke thinks of Jules as the sister whose diapers he helped change, Jules, with no memory of Luke's family, struggles to overcome a powerful attraction to her handsome "brother." 

Personally, I was a little uncomfortable with the "attraction to the brother-figure" storyline, though I understand that it was necessary to provide conflict to the story. Apart from that, however, I quite enjoyed Relative Strangers. Garner's characterization is strong, particularly when it comes to Jules. Jules positive breathes from the page, as do her friends, including Eli, a quirky gay barista who keeps pet rats. The relationship between Jules and her mother is nuanced, and really, none of the relationships in the book are one-dimensional. This is especially true for Jules' relationship with Gab and Leila, who are depicted as proton and neutron (completely solid bond) to Jules' close but still secondary circling electron. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Jules' voice:

"Dr. Hathaway put some money down on the table. "Pizza money, in case you're still hungry after you've eaten us out of house and home. Gotta keep those tapeworms thriving." He winked at us. I glanced at the cash on the table, thinking how many hours of work a few twenties represented to me and how they were nothing to the Hathaways, and the Wassermans, too. I cringed at myself for the money envy on top of the family envy, but apparently my coveting knew no bounds. When Leila's dad gave her a kiss on the temple, I wanted to crawl under the kitchen island with the copper-bottomed pots and fancy appliances and cry."


"Stepping outside was like receiving a hug from a benevolent deity. The sky beamed a blue of impossible vibrancy, and the air smelled of rain soaked earth and budding green life. Spudly, the Jenskins's basset hound, barked joyously at me through the fence as I passed by. Sun flashed in the water rushing along the drainage ditches on Elm Street. As I made my way through the neighborhood and into town, I buzzed with excitement and hope." (Chapter 6 - as Jules is about to meet Luke for the first time)

So we have vivid, evocative writing; strong characterization; and gender, religious, and socioeconomic diversity. Jules also has unusual interests (she loves everyday old things, like china and buttons). There's plenty of emotion (including a couple of sad things), without Relative Strangers being overly melodramatic. There are some aspects that make Relative Strangers better for high schoolers than middle schoolers (references to casual sex, smoking pot, sneaking alcohol from parents), but nothing that isn't realistic or thoughtful. In short, this is top quality young adult fiction all around. Recommended for teens and for adults who enjoy YA. 

Publisher: Candlewick Press 
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Your One & Only: Adrianne Finlay

Book: Your One & Only
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up

YourOneAndOnlyYour One & Only is a new post-apocalyptic dystopian novel for young adults by Adrianne Finlay. It's set in a future Costa Rican village populated by Homo Factus, the followup generation that was created after humans died off from the Slow Plague. Vispera is one of three villages, each populated by 10 generations of 10 clones each from nine models (900 citizens total).

Althea-310 is one of the 10 Althea models in her teen age group, nearly identical to her nine sisters save a scar on her wrist. She knows what she'll look like as she ages, due to the presence of eight older generations of Altheas. Representatives of each of the nine genetic models also take on similar attributes and jobs as one another. The citizens communicate orally, but also via a genetically enhanced system of bonding that causes them to feel one another's emotions. Althea-310's peaceful life changes, however, when she becomes emotionally involved with an "experiment", a boy named Jack who was cloned from 300 year old unmodified human DNA. 

I wasn't sure about this book at first - the premise felt like a particularly contrived dystopia. Why keep everyone identical? Why only reproduce by cloning instead of naturally? But Finlay won me over as she revealed (slowly) the answers to these and other questions. 

I think that teens will particularly like Your One & Only.  Cloning strikes at fundamental questions of identity, particularly when the clones are emotionally bonded to one another to the point of having scarcely any independence. This tension is set against a dramatic plot focused on survival, and one with a couple of unexpected twists. Your One & Only also has my favorite feature of dystopias, bread crumbs about the humans who came before (mostly in the form of books that Jack is given to read). 

The strongest feature of this book, though, is the characterization. Which is pretty impressive when you consider the similarities of many of the characters. It would be impossible not to empathize with Althea-310 and Jack. Other characters are a bit tougher to appreciate, but this keeps them interesting. 

One note about content. There are many references to the young clones "Pairing" with one another (having ritualized sex). Although there are no graphic details, I would still categorize Your One & Only more for high school than middle school because of this. The Pairing is a significant plot point, not just something mentioned in passing. There's also a note that the Pairings are always with "one female and one male." Sexual diversity is no more allowed in Vispera than genetic diversity. 

Your One & Only appears to be a standalone novel, although a certain ambiguity of the ending leaves open the possibility for a sequel. I would certainly read a sequel, interested to see where Finlay takes her intriguing characters and strong world-building next. Highly recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving young adults (and adults, too). 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Hanging Girl: Eileen Cook

Book: The Hanging Girl
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

TheHangingGirlI was interested in reading The Hanging Tree because I found Eileen Cook's prior novel, With Malice, suspenseful and compelling. Like With Malice, The Hanging Tree is full of twists and turns, and features a not necessarily likable protagonist. The Hanging Tree is told, mostly, from the first person perspective of high school senior Skye Thorn. Skye, who does fake tarot card readings to earn extra cash, is in serious need of money with which to move to New York after high school. Desperate, she gets involved in a kidnapping scheme. But, of course, things become more complex than Skye expects. 

I can't say that I really liked Skye, though I had a certain sympathy for her. Her less than responsible mother, who also claims psychic powers, gave birth to Skye when she was only 15. They struggle financially, and Skye has no expectations post high school. Skye envies her best friend, Drew, who has a more conventional life, and is headed to college. Skye's background to me almost felt like a YA trope (less the fake psychic part). But Skye is also a manipulator who uses her understanding of people to fake the tarot card readings, and plays her school counselor like a violin. She's been lying to Drew about money for New York, and soon she is lying to the police about the kidnapping of popular girl Paige. The fact that she is also lied to by her conspirator, Pluto, seems only fair, really. But here's a snippet of Skye's voice:

"Drew took a careful sip of the coffee we'd stopped to get on the way. Not that she was drinking real coffee: it was some kind of dessert in a cup. If you don't like coffee, fine, but don't pretend to like it by making it into a sugar smoothie." (Page 140)

Sections of the book are also told from the perspective of Paige, who writes diary entries from an isolated cabin. I did find these moving. Like this:

"I always thought I was brave, but now I realize it was only because there was never anything I really needed to be scared of." (Page 58)


"I've never been so aware of how many hours, minutes, and seconds fill every day. I've taken to doing everything slowly. Staying focused keeps me from losing control, from letting the panic take over. I keep my fear locked up, but I can feel it straining to get out. Its thin fingers scratching at the door, breaking it down, like something from a zombie movie. You know it's going to get out, and when it does, it'll eat you alive." (Page 109)

I don't want to say more, for fear of spoiling the book. This is one of those stories about which the less the reader knows, the better. Suffice it to say that I read most of this book in a single sitting on a Sunday afternoon, unable to put it down despite the distractions of my child's visiting friends. Anyone who enjoys twisty suspense in a high school setting will want to give The Hanging Tree a look. Recommended!

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Bodyguard Series: Chris Bradford

Books: The Bodyguard #1: Recruit, The Bodyguard #2: Hostage, The Bodyguard #3: Hijack, and The Bodyguard #4: Ransom
Author: Chris Bradford
Pages: 272, 224, 272, 224
Age Range: 10 and up

BodyguardBooks1to4Over the past couple of weekends I binge-read the first four books in Chris Bradford's Bodyguard series (helpfully released all together by the publisher for just such a purpose). The Bodyguard series is about a British teen named Connor Reeves who is recruited into a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian trains teens to act as stealthy bodyguards, especially for teenagers, providing a last line of defense that bad guys will never suspect.

The first four books actually consist of two separate adventures, each broken up across two books and marked by, of course, a cliffhanger in between. In both cases I found the first book, involving descriptions of training, as well as introduction of Principals (protectees), to be a little slow. The conclusions, however (books 2 and 4) were fast-paced and suspenseful. I read each of those in a single sitting. They have short chapters, and occasional surprising twists, making them a good fit for reluctant YA readers. 

In the first book, Connor learns that his father, who died when Connor was eight, was a military bodyguard who died in the line of duty. This understanding, combined with the Guardian program's offer of help for Connor's ailing mother and aging grandmother, pulls the boy in. He is, of course, a natural, though he makes mistakes, and has rivalries with the others from his team of Guardian trainees. He also struggles once or twice with flirtatious interest from his Principals (who are attractive teenage girls in both stories), though he also is interested in Charley, a wheelchair-bound slightly girl from his Guardian team.   

The books offer a fair bit of luxury, with descriptions of the trappings of rich, beautiful, powerful people. These are set against dangerous elements, including terrorists and pirates (the two primary types of organizations that kidnap the children of rich, powerful people, of course). While I personally found the descriptions of Connor's training less than enthralling, young readers who have read fewer adult thrillers than I have will likely find them more interesting, with tidbits about alert levels and self defense. And certainly young readers will be on the edge of their seats at the dramatic climaxes of both storylines.

The Bodyguard series is aimed squarely at fans of the Young Bond series and other relatively PG thrillers. It's timely, with a focus on terrorists and other dangers. There are deaths, but none of them (besides that of Connor's dad) are heartbreaking. There are plenty of guns and other weapons, as well as miraculous tech tools (bulletproof t-shirt anyone?). In short, these books are pure summer reading fun for kids age 10 and up. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving middle schoolers.  

Publisher:  Philomel Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Into the Hurricane: Neil Connelly

Book: Into the Hurricane
Author: Neil Connelly
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

IntoTheHurricaneInto the Hurricane by Neil Connelly is the story of two troubled teenagers who meet  in a lighthouse on Shackles Island, Louisiana as a major hurricane looms. Green-haired Max has absconded from New Jersey with her father's ashes, planning to release them at the lighthouse. Local boy Eli is haunted and berated by the ghost of his dead sister, Celeste, and is considering killing himself to end the visions. Things don't go as planned for either teen when they encounter first a violent backwoods family/borderline religious cult and second, Hurricane Celeste. 

Into the Hurricane is a survival story, full of perils and twists. But it's also a character study into two damaged kids, and a look at the redemptive power of second chances. Into the Hurricane is told in alternating chapters from Eli's first-person viewpoint and Max's limited third-person viewpoint. I suspect that this format would work well as an audiobook with two narrators, especially given the different regional accents of the two characters. 

It's not clear whether Eli's sister's ghost actually appears to him, or whether (as seems more likely), her presence is a manifestation of his guilt over his role in her death. The circumstances of this death are a mystery revealed only slowly through the course of the book. Max's relationship with her stepmother, though less dramatic, is also revealed gradually. Both teens are working on understanding themselves, even as they seek to understand each other. 

Connelly's bio says that he "weathered five hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana" and this authenticity of viewpoint does come across in his representation of the storm. Details about the wind and waves, and the storm's destruction, fill the book. Here's a snippet, from Eli's viewpoint:

"The wind picks up, just a bit, like the storm's decided I'm worth noticing again, a genuine threat to the way she wants things to be. I clutch the metal, press my body and face into the beam. She's pulling at me good now, blowing at me from the front and sucking from behind. I close my eyes and think what Sweeney said before ended that deer's suffering. When a thing has got to be done, it's best to get on and do it." (Page 110-111)

My favorite quote in the book is this one (with an ellipsis to remove spoilers):

"Maybe the Shacks just makes people crazy. Chemicals in the air, some ancient voodoo curse. But when I think about the kind of folks who live out here--the Odenkirks (backwoods family), Sweeney (quirky local veteran), me--there's hardly a sane one in the bunch. So maybe back when she lived in New Jersey, Max was something like normal. Or at least as normal as a girl with green hair can be. Whatever the case may be, this thing she's doing now..., that's certifiably insane. So make no doubt about it. She's one of us now." (Page 172)

I like this quote because it captures the fact that none of the characters in the book are exactly stable. But they all fit together, with the hurricane, to form an intriguing story. Into the Hurricane is a great pick for those who enjoy survival and natural disaster type stories, but it's more than that, too. Max and Eli, facing the storm, undergo a tremendous amount of personal growth in a short period of time, in a plausible manner. I recommend Into the Hurricane for anyone who enjoys suspenseful young adult fiction or books that make readers think. And shouldn't that be just about anyone? Into the Hurricane is well worth a look, and has a great cover.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

And Then There Were Four: Nancy Werlin

Book: And Then There Were Four
Author: Nancy Werlin
Pages: 416
Age Range: 13 and up

ThereWereFOurWow. Nancy Werlin's And Then There Were Four is a suspenseful young adult novel that had me on the edge of my seat. It's about five teens, brought together under misleading circumstances, who are thrust into peril. While I can't say I found all of the details completely plausible, I was nonetheless riveted. And Then There Were Four reminded me a little bit of the Lois Duncan suspense novels that I loved as a young adult, albeit with more detail and with a more modern sensibility (social media plays an important role, a major character is gay, there's some racial and socioeconomic diversity, etc). 

And Then There Were Four is told in alternating viewpoints by Saralinda, who struggles with a couple of physical challenges, and Caleb, who struggles with the apparent presence of a secondary personality that does bad things. Saralinda's chapters are told in a first person viewpoint with an occasional stream of consciousness lack of punctuation, while Caleb's are in an unusual second person viewpoint. This makes it very easy to tell the narrators apart. Here's Caleb:

"I could not have done this, you think. Could I?

Unsteadily, unsure, you get to your feet. Did you maybe rig something? Somehow? On the root? During the daytime? No, that's crazy. Also, you haven't had any intervals of blank time recently. But then again, you've never realized you've had an episode until you're confronted by proof." (Page 31, ARC)

And here's Saralinda:

"I wish she wouldn't criticize my reading about which she knows nothing because she doesn't read novels, my books are excellent and some have romance yes and also they have themes and interesting people in them and so much to learn. And if I were going to die (am I going to die? (I would not care about requesting a last meal, I would request a last book that is how important books are." (Page 332, ARC)

The characters are all interesting and complex, and the relationships that they form are realistically difficult, but made strong by common trauma. I don't want to say more here, because this is a book you should experience knowing as little about it as possible. Just trust  me. And Then There Were Four is book that will make readers think, and certainly keep readers turning the pages. I'm glad that I was able to read it over a 24 hour period, in two sittings, and suggest that other readers try to do the same. Highly recommended, and an excellent YA thriller for summer reading!

Publisher: Dial Books (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Thirteen Reasons Why: Jay Asher: A Review Reissue

Book: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 256
Age Range: 13 and up


Nearly 10 years ago I wrote a review from an advance copy of Jay Asher's book, Thirteen Reasons Why. Since then I've followed Jay's journey with the book through his blog and Facebook. [He toured the 50 states to discuss the book with students, for example.] Recently I've heard a fair bit from other parents (who have older children than I do) about the Netflix series based on the book. I thought it might be useful for me to re-post my original review of the book. I have not watched the TV series, though if my daughter was a teenager, I am pretty sure that I would watch it with her.  I have not updated or edited this review, though if I was writing it today as a parent, I would probably have responded a little differently. Anyway, without further ado, here are my 10-year-old thoughts on Thirteen Reasons Why:

Thirteen Reasons Why is an unusual and fascinating book. Author Jay Asher starts with an intriguing premise, then tells his story via a complex dual narrative structure. He juggles a large cast of characters, and maintains near-constant suspense. Although the book isn't due out until mid-October, I've already seen considerable buzz about it. Having read the book, I can understand why. It's one of those rare books that I finish, and then immediately want to turn back to the beginning to read again, to double-check how all of the puzzle pieces fit together.

Thirteen Reasons Why is narrated by Clay Jensen, high school junior. One day Clay receives in the mail a box containing seven audio cassettes (13 sides) narrated by Hannah Baker. Hannah is a girl from Clay's class who he was interested in. She recently committed suicide, and left a significant "what if" in Clay's heart. The remainder of the book follows Clay's progress in listening to the tapes as he walks around town through one very long night.

Hannah's voice is interspersed with Clay's, as he listens and reacts. Hannah's text is in italics. I did occasionally get confused between whether Hannah or Clay was speaking, but as I was reviewing from the ARC, I would imagine that this is easier to distinguish in the final printed text.

Hannah dedicates one side of each cassette tape to a person, and a reason that put her on the path to suicide. Clay knows (because he has received the tapes) that one of the installments will be about him. A large part of the suspense of the book centers on Clay's fears about what he could have done to contribute to Hannah's despair.

Clay's reactions to Hannah's revelations, of cruelties and misunderstandings and missed opportunities, intensify the emotional impact of her words. We feel for Hannah as Clay feels for Hannah, and we feel for Clay having to make his way through the tapes. There's a constant "if only" refrain to the whole thing, too. If only Justin hasn't started everything off on the wrong foot. If only the teacher hadn't let down his student. If only ...

In addition to being a suspenseful and intriguing novel, Thirteen Reasons Why is a laser-focused magnifying glass, through which we examine the microcosm of high school. More specifically, through which we examine the way that kids treat one another, often carelessly, and the sometimes overwhelmingly high emotional cost. This isn't a "message book". The fully drawn characters and their experiences come first. But underpinning their story is a series of warnings about how not to treat people. I think that Thirteen Reasons Why would make an excellent discussion book for high school students. I think that parents should consider reading it alongside their kids.

But the discussion potential is not the reason to read this book. Instead, read it because the characters are so strong that they positively breathe from the page. Read it because by the time you finish, you'll care about Hannah and Clay as though they were your friends. Read it because the narrative structure is utterly engaging (as well as technically impressive). I also confidently predict that once you start this book, you'll read it because you can't not read it. Highly recommended for ages 13 and up. The alternating male/female narration makes this book particularly accessible to both female and male readers.

Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Source of Book: ARC from Razorbill and the author
Other Blog Reviews: youngadultARCS, The Loud Librarian, Through the Studio Door, Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Chatboard
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman, Tales from the Rushmore Kid

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Possible: Tara Altebrando

Book: The Possible
Author: Tara Altebrando
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

ThePossibleAs was the case with Tara Altebrando's The Leaving, I picked up The Possible to check it out and then just wanted to keep reading. I read it in one sitting on a sunny Sunday afternoon (when my daughter was, luckily for me, engaged elsewhere). The voice of 17-year-old Kaylee hooked me initially, and then the book's puzzles kept my attention. Kaylee, though being raised by loving adoptive parents, lived with her birth mother, Crystal, until she was four years old. That's when Crystal went to jail for the murder of Kaylee's younger brother, Jack. Crystal has also been infamous as a teenager, when she was the center of a series of odd incidents. When a podcast producer named Liana Fatone decides to do a true crime series about Crystal, Kaylee finds herself swamped by questions. Not least of these is, if Crystal in fact had the psychic power of telekinesis, does Kaylee? 

Kaylee's quest to understand, and possibly visit, Crystal is blended with more typical teen issues, such as a crush on a boy she barely knows, and a possibly shifting relationship with a long-time male close friend. The junior prom looms, as do regional softball championships (Kaylee is a pitcher). The possibility of telekinesis interferes, one way or another, with all of these things. Did Kaylee guide the last pitch of a perfect game with her mind? Could she, just by wishing it, make her rival fall down? Tara Altebrando walks a fine line with this book, keeping such things possible, but unclear.

Here are a couple of early snippets to give you a feel for Kaylee's voice:

"Aiden's smile was crooked, but the rest of him was all right angles. It was seriously like he'd been built with flesh on LEGOs and not bones." (Page 4, ARC)

"Ordinary was driving around, newly licensed, with Aiden and Chiara in a town like Rockland County, New York, where the men had long commutes to the city that they complained about and the women mostly stayed home to raise the kids even after the kids were already raised.

Ordinary was softball and homework and test prep and violin lessons and yearbook committee and college visits and GPA freak-outs and everything-you-do-from-now-on-affects-where-you'll-go-to-college and daydreaming about Bennett Laurie and waiting for life to become something real and not something that parents and teachers and admissions boards and coaches were in charge of." (Page 7, ARC)

Kaylee is definitely not perfect, particularly in how she stereotypes other students, and unabashedly goes after a guy who is dating someone else. But she is three-dimensional and sympathetic. Her unusual situation is intriguing. Readers will keep turning pages both to understand what's going on and to  make sure that things work out ok for Kaylee. The Possible is, in short, a perfect blend of realistic and suspenseful YA, suitable for both reluctant and more avid readers.High school librarians will definitely want to give this one a look. Recommended, and one that I really enjoyed!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Bionic: Suzanne Weyn

Book: Bionic
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

BionicBionic is a fast-paced YA title with an intriguing premise. Mira is a high school junior who has a promising future ahead. She's a top lacrosse player, sings in a band, and is thinking about college. When a horrific car accident leaves Mira severely injured, her plans seem to be derailed. Then the opportunity to become a research subject for a government project involving bionic limbs run via a chip in the brain changes everything for Mira again. But will she change too much to feel human anymore? 

I found that Weyn's spare text kept this book bearable, even when I was reading about Mira's first person suffering. Mira is in and out of consciousness at first, and this gives the reader a break, too. Mira's entire accident and initial hospital stay takes place over only two chapters - the surgery and physical therapy are covered, but not in much detail, and with the tedious bits skipped over. Like this:

"I have a new respect for toddlers. This is work! Frustrating, exhausting work. It's demoralizing and humiliating not to be able to do the  most basic of activities. I can't stand, walk, or even control my new arm. By the end of the day, I'm once more in tears." (end of Chapter 2)

"I thought the day would never come, but today Carol pushes me to the front door in my wheelchair. Mom is right behind me, loaded down with all my suitcases.

When Carol stops inside the front door, I lean heavily on my crutch and pull myself to standing. The weeks of exercises I've done with Raelene have built up my back and abdominal muscles to the point where I can hold steady and not tumble forward." (start of Chapter 3)

The rest of the book is about Mira's recovery and increasing level of bionic capabilities. There's a bit about her frustration with the recovery and her changed situation (no more lacrosse team, etc.). There's some understandable depression on Mira's part, but also introspection. Like this:

"Sitting by the living room window, I notice the patterns in everyone's days. The same people come and go at the same times. Old Jim next door walks his dog, Rusty, every morning at eight, then again at five. A day-camp bus drops the same two small kids off at four every afternoon. The mail carrier drops the mail in our box at two every day. In just two days I've got their routines nailed. Even the birds and squirrels show up at more of less the same time. I've never realized before how much of life is lived from habit." (Chapter 6)

Shown slowly over the course of the book, we see how the chip in her brain affects Mira's emotions and self-perception. And how her changes affect the people around her (best friend, boyfriend, bandmates, family). I liked the fact that Mira had a single mother, dedicated but struggling, and a younger brother with autism. As a mother, I can't even imagine how Mira's mother managed, but as a reader with an eye out for diverse family situations, I appreciated this one. I particularly liked the fact that Mira's brother, though clearly different, was able to do things to help her as the book progressed. 

Bionic is a quick read with a premise and writing style that will keep readers turning the pages. It would make a good choice for reluctant teen readers, particularly those with a yen for speculative fiction. Recommended for libraries serving high schoolers. [There's nothing that I think would make it objectionable for middle schoolers, but it feels more like a high school book to me.] The theme of reinvention (and then further reinvention) should resonate with teens. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).