I really got spoiled by my August books. They were some good ones!
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (new read)
This book was a pleasant surprise. I was not familiar with it, but have come to find out it was widely praised upon its release… and I get it!
Cullen is a teenager in a small Arkansas town that gets turned upside down when a visitor claims to have seen a species of woodpecker believed to be extinct. As you would expect, media, tourists and birdwatchers descend upon the town all summer. During this time period, Cullen’s younger brother disappears without a trace.
Parallel to this, we also read the story of a young missionary in Africa losing his way. Don’t think they go together? Neither did I, but boy did Whaley do a fabulous job of tying the two together! The ending was unexpected and thrilling.
I thought this was a really well written book, both in the prose itself, and in the structure. It sucked me in quickly and held me to the end. I think lots of young adults would relate to the themes of this book and see parts of themselves within each of the characters.
VERDICT: This gets a definite recommendation from me. It doesn’t take too long to read either, so you should pick it up when you have a few days!
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (new read)
This was another great one! It’s based upon the real life murder of Grace Brown in 1906, which was also chronicled in an adult novel called An American Tragedy.
Mattie Gokey is the oldest of four girls, whose older brother left home and mother has passed. She helps her father run their farm in upstate New York, but dreams of going away to college and becoming a writer. She is finally able to get a job at The Glenmore hotel for the summer to help raise money for her family and her studies. She soon gets mixed up in a couple’s tumultuous relationship, which ends with the death of the woman. Mattie begins to read the letters that the young woman asked her to dispose of and becomes interested in solving her death.
In general, I enjoyed this book and was eager to solve the mystery too. The only downfall was the back and forth of the chapters. They flipped between the present and flashbacks, but it was difficult at times to determine the timeline of some events. But that is honestly a small quibble.
VERDICT: This is another book I think deserves a place on the list. I love when an author is able to write about a historical event with a more personal (even if fictional) touch!
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (new read)
This was a completely different kind of read. It is a collection of science fiction short stories. And it is weird.
There were some very unsettling stories in this collection. The creepiest ones had to do with children turning on their parents. However, they were also some really interesting ones, including “The Other Foot,” in which Mars has been settled by black people who escaped the horrors of the Jim Crow south. Keep in mind this was written in 1951, well before the Civil Rights Act! Another one has to do with a space crew chasing (who they believe to be) Jesus from planet to planet, trying to finally see him for themselves.
I liked some of the stories, but some were boring or, as previously stated, disturbing. My biggest qualm though is how this is considered “young adult.” The stories were clearly written about and for adults, although I’m pretty sure I was required to read one or two of these in high school.
VERDICT: I’m going to vote no on this one, as I don’t see it in the young adult realm, and the stories are too hit or miss.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (reread)
I don’t really remember my initial reaction to this book when I read it a few years ago, but I think I liked it pretty well. Upon the rereading, I probably enjoyed it a bit less.
Christopher is a teenager that the reader assumes is on the autism spectrum (although it’s never stated in the book.) He is upset that his neighbor’s dog Wellington has been killed and is determined to find the person who did it. We see the story through his eyes, as he is writing it as his own novel. That means unconventional things like prime numbers as the chapter numbers and entire sections about math problems.
I liked the overarching story, but it got boring at times when Christopher went off on a tangent that went too long. Most of the time they weren’t too distracting, but the lengthy asides didn’t move the story along enough.
VERDICT: This one is somewhat of a toss up, but I do think it’s an important book in the fact that we get to hear from a voice that is not commonly heard. Any kid that feels like they’re not “normal” in some way, probably relates to Christopher as someone that doesn’t always fit in. That’s crucial to be able to find that relationship.
**I also read Boxers this month, but will wait until I read the companion volume Saints, to write the review.