April/May/June ’16 Update – Ashley

Yeah, I know… It’s kind of cheating, but life happens!  I’ve also read the second book in the Percy Jackson series, which I still love!  🙂

* Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (reread) – This is a book that I read for the first time many, many years ago.  It wasn’t one that I revisited often, but I always remembered being beezus-and-ramona-book-cover-author-beverly-clearyfond of it.  I was excited to see it on the list and to have the chance to see if it lived up to my memories.

Here are the basics: Beezus is the big sister.  Ramona is the little sister.  Beezus is trying to grow up and do typical ten-year-old things. Ramona doesn’t get it and wants to do typical preschool things.  This causes predictable, yet amusing, mishaps.  They’ve got the underlying sisterly love thing going on, but that doesn’t mean they always have to like each other, right?

My Take: What a fun book!  Easy, but fun.  And classic.  And  relatable and non-intimidating.  It was such a relief to read a book from this list that wasn’t heavy and didn’t require a whole lot of depth in thought.  But yet, this is easily the most I’ve identified with any book in this challenge so far.  I mean, who can’t relate to classic older-younger sibling dynamics?    However, one of the 100 best YA novels of all time???  If best = classic, absolutely!  If best = most forward/moving/provocative?  Not so much.  Not a clear choice for me…

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

 

* The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (new read) – Everything I knew about this book excited me from the beginning – it was one that I was looking forward to reading as soon as we found “The List.”  The title, the premise, the cover art… everything abwesting gameout it appealed to me.

Samuel W. Westing, mysterious millionaire, has died.  One of the sixteen (seemingly random) tenants of the Sunset Towers is the heir to his fortune.  In order to claim their inheritance, the group is divided into teams of two and then given a check and a clue.  They are tasked with using those clues to uncover the murderer among them.  The first to do so will win the remaining Westing fortune.   As the teams gather more and more information, secrets are uncovered, relationships formed, and motives questioned.

My Take:  Really wasn’t a fan of this one… It was fine.  I think my main issue was that I didn’t like or care about any of the characters.  They were well-developed in the sense that we came to know different layers of them throughout the story, but that didn’t ever change my feelings towards them.  I also found the supposed mystery element lacking.  It was infuriating to know “the answer” the whole time, but still suffer through the characters’ ridiculous attempts to solve it.  I certainly don’t think this one belongs on “The List.”  How ’bout a good ol’ Agatha Christie instead?

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (new read) – I was very hesitant to read this book.  I had heard such high praise for it, that I assumed there was no way it’d live up to the hype.  I wanted to enjoy it so badly that I worried that I had jinxed myself.  Of course, in the end, I had nothing to fear!

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Set in Germany during the second World War, this is the story of Liesel Meminger, who lives with foster parents after a devastating separation from her natural family.   At only ten years old, Liesel is still a child, but yet old enough to notice the horrors happening all around her every day.  She struggles  to understand the very grown-up world she’s living in, all while trying to hold on to her childhood.  She ends up finding comfort in the words of stolen books and the friendship of the Jew hidden in her basement.  What results is a story of self-empowerment and a gut-wrenching, emotional testimony to the power of the written word.

My Take: This might be my favorite challenge book so far!  The writing is absolutely brilliant.  It took me a minute to adjust to the unusual narration, but then I was hooked.  For me, the best part was the development of Liesel’s relationships throughout the story.  Each one was so perfectly complicated and beautiful.  Plus, as  reading teacher, I love any story that speaks to the oft-unnoticed power of reading and writing!  This was one of those “I-can’t-put-it-down-until-I-finish” books.  It went everywhere with me until I was done – car, purse, pool, lake…  Worthy of a spot on this list?  Without a doubt.  This is one I will come back to over and over again!

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

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March ’16 Update – Ashley

At this point, my blog posts may seem arbitrary and haphazard, but if you look closely, I think you’ll notice a trend… My posts fall very much in line with when we have breaks from school – Thanksgiving/Christmas, Spring Break, Summer Break.  That, my friends, is no coincidence!  That being said, I’ve had a very successful Spring Break 2016, reading-wise!

* The Giver by Lois Lowry (reread) – This is a book that I actually read as a “young adult” myself and remember loving.  I read it again in my Children’s Literature class at USC and still loved it.  As a matter of fact, several years ago for Christmas, I loaned my grandmother a bag of young adult books that I thought she’d enjoy reading.  She has always “passed down” books to me that she read and thought I’d like, and I wanted to do the same.  I used my “unique” love of YA literature to share some books with her that she had never read.  This was the first book I put in that bag.the giver

The Giver introduces us to a society where things seem to run like clockwork.  Every person serves a specific purpose, performs specific tasks, and lives in a very specific way.  Everything in this society is decided by “The Elders” – including who you marry, which child you will raise, and which position you will serve within the community.  In this society, there is no pain or suffering of any kind.  No one questions the way things are… until Jonas receives his job assignment as Receiver.  This will make Jonas the one person in the community who holds the memories of what life was like before “Sameness.”  In his training sessions with the former Receiver, now The Giver, Jonas experiences memories filled with the most wonderful feelings and sensations – weather, happiness, love.  But he also bears the burden of receiving less-desirable memories, like war and starvation.  Jonas begins to wonder if living this life of “Sameness” is really worth all the sacrifices that came with it.

My Take: One of my all-time favorite books!  Without question, this book belongs on any and all lists for young adult readers.  This is the book that first exposed me to the world of young adult, dystopian novels – still my favorite genre!  The world created by Lois Lowry seems so comforting at first, so idyllic, but that image is shattered as we delve deeper in Jonas’ training and realize at what cost this society was created.  As a reader, I feel increasingly disturbed at the injustice that these people were facing unknowingly.  In general, I do not like having things decided for me – I like to make decisions for myself.  Imagining a world where that is not tolerated sets me on edge.  In a weird way, this book seems to have foreshadowed the generation of children we are now meeting.  As a society, we are becoming less and less comfortable with allowing our children to feel pain (physical or otherwise).  We don’t want anyone to feel too special or excluded, so we give everyone a trophy.  We are so terrified of our children making a mistake that we tell them every move to make, never allowing them to figure it out on their own.  We are raising a generation that can not think for themselves.  Are we heading for a world where we blindly accept what others tell us what to do and think?  Where we are so afraid of pain and failure that we make joy and success obsolete?  Food for thought…

** Look here for Tiffany’s review of the same book. **


* The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (new read) –
 I’ve been saving this one for a good, long break because a) the text itself is longer than many others on this list and b) I was pretty sure it was going to be good one and I didn’t want to have to rush through it.  Well, it was a good one, but I didn’t need to worry about waiting for a long break because it ended up being an (essentially) 24-hour read!

LightningThief2014The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and chronicles the story of how young Percy Jackson from NYC came to discover his status as a demigod, or half-blood.  This discovery leads to many new adventures, filled with a cast straight out of Greek mythology.  Along the way, Percy meets new friends and learns things about himself that he never imagined possible.  Ultimately, at just twelve years old, Percy is tasked with preventing an all-out war between the three most powerful gods: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.  Will Percy, with the help of his friends,  be able to muster up the courage necessary to undertake such an important mission?

My Take:  I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.  I will, without a doubt, be purchasing the rest of this series ASAP!  It was very well-written yet accessible, which doesn’t always go hand-in-hand.  I definitely think this book earned it’s spot on the list, for a number of reasons.  First of all, I think any book that makes people, especially young people, want to read is worth its weight in gold.  That’s what Harry Potter did for our generation and I could see that being the case with Percy Jackson as well.  Secondly, I see endless value in this book – both academically and personally.  Reading it made me want to go back and reread all those Greek myths that I read back in middle school.  I could easily imagine this book (and perhaps series) being used in classrooms everywhere – the possibilities are nearly infinite.  The characters are well-developed, the plot provides ample opportunities for discussion and comparisons to traditional Greek lore.  That being said, I could also easily imagine this being a great just-for-fun read also!  Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read so far in this challenge – HIGHLY recommended!

October/November/December ’15 Update – Ashley

Yeah, so…. clearly, my “free time” during the school year is very limited, hence the lack of reading.  😦

** A second note… This draft has been saved since December…  Guess I should probably publish it…

* Monster by Walter Dean Myers (new read) – This is one of the books from the list that was immediately intriguing to me.  I hadn’t heard of it before, which surprised me because it was published in 1999 and won  several notable awards.  The premise of the story also appealed to me, as do so many stories of social injustice and civil rights.  Despite being attracted to this book from the beginning, it was the onslaught of recent events involving black teenagers and police officers that really inspired me to finally open the book.

Monster-Walter-DeanSteve Harmon is sixteen, black, and in jail facing a murder conviction.  Monster follows Steve’s trial through two unique perspectives – one, journal entries recorded by Steve throughout the trial and two, a movie script Steve is writing about the trial in order to help him process what’s happening.  Steve maintains his innocence in the crime, despite a number of other participants who claim his involvement.  His journal entries and movie script flashbacks provide additional background information, while also moving the plot forward.  The most riveting aspect of the novel for me however, was Steve’s self-reflection throughout the process.  He is labeled a “monster” by the prosecutor and begins to wonder if that’s how he is seen by the world.  He relives particular moments leading up to the murder, seemingly trying to decipher his own actions and evaluate his every move.  Even at the end of the story, after the verdict is handed down, Steve’s journey of self-discovery is continuous.

My Take: An important book to read, for sure.  I think the content is incredibly important now, in that it challenges some notions that need challenging in terms of social justice and our legal system.  I can see this book as an excellent starting place for classroom and/or dinner table discussions.  I also think the book is worth reading for it’s unique format alone.  As a teacher, I want students of all ages to understand that not all books look, feel, or sound the same.  Walter Dean Myers chose to write this book this way for a reason – it really provides some humanity to a character labeled as a “monster” from the outside.  As the reader, we get exclusive access to Steve’s thoughts, fears, worries, and self-doubt.  The irony is that this is the part of Steve that the jury deciding his fate never gets to see, yet it’s also the part that makes him more relatable and raw, which made me believe in his innocence far more than any evidence provided by his attorney.

** Look here for Tiffany’s review of the same book. **

September ’15 Update – Ashley

So… the title of my post may be a bit confusing.  September Update?  Isn’t it currently November?  Yes, yes it is.  Fear not, I know what month it is and, no, I don’t plan on skipping October either.  Truth be told, these books were both read all the way back in September… I just haven’t had the time to do the blog post until now!  On a related note, look for an October post coming in the very near future…

* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (reread) – I couldn’t even tell you, with any accuracy, how many times I have read this book in my lifetime.  Let’s just say that my copy is “well-loved.”  I absolutely adore Roald Dahl and every book/story he’s ever written.  This was definitely a reread that I was looking forward to and enjoyed thoroughly!

0140328696Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the story of young Charlie Bucket, who along with four other youngsters, wins the prize of a lifetime – the opportunity to tour the famous (and mysterious) chocolate factory in town!  The owner of the factory, Willy Wonka, is equally as famous and mysterious and has plenty of surprises in store as he opens his doors, which have been sealed shut for so long.  The characters in this story are rich with details and really come to life on the page.  Charlie is a boy that most of us can relate to, and one with whom we can all empathize. He is poor in a way that most people can’t even begin to imagine, but with a family system that is far richer than many will ever know.  Hard-working parents who will sacrifice anything to care and provide for their loved ones, aging grandparents who are living life vicariously through their precious grandchild, and a young boy who, at such a young age, already has such a deep understanding of what’s really important in life – these are characters that we, as a reader, can really “get behind” and understand.  So, to read a story where the good guy (the really, really good guy) gets what he deserves is a beautiful thing.  Plus, who doesn’t fantasize about exploring a huge chocolate factory, not to mention one as magical as Willy Wonka’s???

My Take:  Without a doubt, this book is worthy of inclusion on this, and any other, list!  I think Roald Dahl’s style of writing is absolutely delicious (pun only slightly intended) and that this is a book that can be appreciated at any age.  The quality of the character depictions in and of itself is worthy of a book study at a higher level.  A must-read for children and young adults everywhere!

** Look here for Tiffany’s review of the same book. **

* The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (new read) – Well, this is one of the first books that I purchased after Tiffany and I started this journey.  It seemed like exactly the kind of book that I would get into and I was really pumped that it was a series.  That was why I waited so long to start reading it – I wanted to make sure to have the time – ha! – to read more from the series if I liked the book as much as I thought I would…  I should not have worried so much.   : / 9780805080483

The Book of Three is the first book in the Chronicles of Prydain series.  It tells the story of Taran, who carries to not-so-prestigious title of Assistant Pig-Keeper.  When Hen Wen (the future-telling oracular pig he’s in charge of) runs away, Taran seeks to find him which sends him on a dangerous journey involving the ominous (and creepy!) “Horned King.”  Along the way, a motley crew of characters joins Taran on his quest, which seems to keep changing throughout the story.  The story concludes with a battle between good and evil, but (spoiler alert) the main character isn’t even awake for it!

My Take:  Ugh.  This was difficult for me to get through.  The character names alone were burdensome enough to make me want to put the book down.  I didn’t really care about any of the characters either, which is always a serious struggle when it comes to reading a book (or watching a TV series… ask Tiffany about Breaking Bad!)  I am so torn here.  I wanted so badly to like this book.  Even afterwards, I did additional research and found out that one of the subsequent books in this series was named a Newbery Honor book and the final book won the Newbery…  It appears that I am missing some appeal here, but no, in my opinion, I would not put this book on the all-time-best list.  😦

July-August ’15 Update – Ashley

Yep, I’m combining July and August…  I have been so slack!  Well, to be fair, I’ve been anything but slack in most other areas of my life over the summer, but taking care of all those things meant that I neglected my reading!  Well, here’s what I’ve got and I will do my best to catch up.

* To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread) – I chose to read this book over the summer, because, well… were you awake during Summer 2015?  Harper Lee and Mockingbird were all over the news, thanks to the long-awaited release of her follow-up novel, Go Set a Watchman (actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird, ironically).  There was all kinds of commotion and uproar in the court of public opinion upon discovery that Atticus Finch (a main character from Mockingbird) is revealed as a racist in Watchman.  Let it be known, Go Set a Watchman is officially on my must-read list.   Until I read it, I won’t comment on the controversy.  🙂

tokillamockingbirdOn the off-chance you haven’t already read To Kill a Mockingbird, let me give you a run-down.  It tells of young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, a young girl who, along with her brother Jem, must navigate childhood in 1930’s Maycomb, Alabama.  This is made increasingly more difficult as her father, Atticus Finch, is appointed to take on the defense of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a young white woman in town.  The plot is beautiful, stirring, and thought-provoking.  It moves quickly, spanning three years total, but never feels labored or lacking.  The characters are complicated and rich, starring in subplots that are equally as compelling as the primary storyline.

My Take: Without a doubt, one of the best books of all time and definitely worthy of its spot on this list.  It is beautifully written and provides unlimited opportunities for discussion and deep thinking.  Additionally, I think the message remains as important today as it was when the book won the Pulitzer in 1961.  What is really special, for me, about this novel is that we are seeing everything through Scout’s perspective.  I think it’s inspiring  to read about something as heavy as racism from a child’s eyes.  It serves as a reminder that prejudice isn’t something that we are born with – it’s something that is (or is not) instilled in us by those with whom we surround ourselves.


* From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (new read)
– I’m going to be honest with you… if you promise not to laugh.  I have always gotten this book confused with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  I guess it’s the “Mrs.” in both titles?!?!  Regardless, I picked up this book thinking it was going to feature rodents.  Imagine mymixed-up-files surprise when it wound up doing nothing of the sort!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tells the story of Claudia Kincaid and her younger brother Jamie, as they embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that begins with running away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Once there, their journey takes a different turn as they discover a mystery in need of solving.  Along the way, their lives become entwined with the narrator, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who becomes an important piece to their puzzle.  What entails is really a journey of self-discovery.

My Take: What a fun little book!  By all means, an easy read, yet simultaneously profound in its simplicity.  The message within is one you have to marinate on, one that resonates after spending some time reflecting on the book.  How nice to read a book with a message that doesn’t slap you in the face.  As to whether or not this is one of the 100 Best YA Novels?  Jury’s still out…  I have a few more books to read first!  🙂  It’s a good book, but I’m not yet convinced it’s one of the best of all-time.

June ’15 Update – Ashley

Wow!  Can you tell it’s summer break?  Both books read and blog post complete and it’s not even the last week of June!  I actually leave for Mexico next week – time to decide which books I’m packing!  But, first, my reads in June….

* The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum (reread) – Fun Fact about this read: the copy I read was actually the copy given to me by my parents when I was nine years old and participating my my first “real” stage production – as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz!  After that, theatre became a really big part of my life (including being my first major), so this particular show/book was kind of a big deal for me.

The imageWonderful Wizard of Oz tells the tale of the fantastic journey one girl takes from her home in gray and gloomy Kansas to a beautiful but mysterious land full of bright colors, strange creatures, and magic.  Her only hope of returning home to her family lies with the much-talked-about, yet never-seen wizard, who lives in the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road.  Along the way, the girl (Dorothy) encounters a scarecrow,  a tin man, and a lion, who quickly become companions on her journey – each hoping to get what they most want from the storied wizard.  However, as with any journey tale, the road to the Emerald City is fraught with danger and surprises.  The foursome meet many friends – and enemies – along the way.  Among these enemies is a very wicked witch who is willing to go to any lengths to stop Dorothy and her friends in their quest.

My Take:  It pains me to say it, but I feel very confident in saying that this is one of those books that is actually better known as a movie.  As a matter of fact, I had completely forgotten how incredibly different the book is from the movie (which I begrudgingly admit to being more familiar with)!  Typically, books are much more extensive than films, and the same can be said for these two.  However, I have to say – I think the movie does a better job of reeling the audience in and adding details to scenes in order to make them come alive.  In the book, everything was kept very succinct.  Of course, there is so much more that happens in the book that you never see in the movie, so…  it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Overall, it was an entertaining story and definitely a classic.  Worth reading, but also worth watching!

* The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (new read) – This book has been calling my name since we first found “the list.”  Of course, the title itself is interesting…. then you stumble upon the author’s name and can’t help but smile.  So, I bought it in that first mass purchase of books back in February.  It’s been sitting on the shelf next to my bed since then.  Now, it’s a little lengthier than some of the other books I’ve read so far, which explains why I hadn’t read it yet…  During the school year, most of my #yabookchallenge reading happened at the very end of the month and this particular book seemed too daunting at those times.  However, in June (with all of Summer Break in front of me)… I jumped at theimage chance to read it!  (Turns out that it wouldn’t have mattered… I finished this book in a matter of hours!)

From the very beginning, the only word I can really think of to describe this book is fun!  The title, the author’s name, the warning on the front of the book (“Read this book – if you dare!”), the repeated warnings on both the back and first few pages of the book…  Everything about it screams FUN!  The Name of This Book is Secret tells the story of two young friends (an unlikely pairing, as seems to be the case in most great YA novels…) who stumble upon a big secret and the various escapades they go through trying to learn more.  The author is completely bent on not revealing too much of the real story – for all the danger it might put the reader in (!) – but that just adds to the fun.

My Take: One of my favorite new reads so far!  This was a very entertaining book – it was easy to get lost in and just enjoy.  Did I mention that it’s fun?  😉  Now, as my disclaimer… Don’t go into this book hoping for some deep, moral revelation.  Don’t start reading it thinking that you’re reading the next great American classic.  There are some themes and topics within the story that could lead themselves to interesting conversations, but this is a book to read … just for FUN!

May ’15 Update – Ashley

So… another late post, I know!  But school is officially out for the summer, which (in theory) leaves a lot more time for reading, so here’s to that!

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (reread) – Full disclosure: this was not my first “reread” of The Hunger Games…  Or my second…  Actually, I’ve read the entire series at least three times.  Yeah, I’m one of those groupies.  Sorry, not sorry.  I read this book for the first time back when I was in graduate school.  One of my friends in class was always talking about the series and insisted that I just had to read the books for myself!  At that time, I had yet to realize my love for  YA novels – specifically YA dystopian novels – but, after reading The Hunger Games, I could no longer deny it!

0-439-02348-3For anyone new to the series, The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the post-apocolyptic and dystopian nation of Panem.  Panem is divided into thirteen Districts in varying states of poverty and desolation, all surrounding The Capitol, which is seemingly all-powerful and full of ostentatious luxury.  Years ago, the thirteen Districts joined forces in a failed attempt to defeat The Capitol.  In the process, District Thirteen was completely obliterated and The Capitol felt need to further establish their supreme authority in Panem.  As a result, they established “The Hunger Games” – an annual pageant where a young girl and boy from each of the twelve remaining Districts is sent into a deadly arena where only one can return – alive and victorious.  Through a series of events, our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is sent into The Hunger Games as the female tribute from District Twelve.  The first book in the trilogy tells the story of her time in the Games, fighting to stay alive without losing her sense of self along the way.

My Take: Without a doubt, this book series, belongs on ‘the list.’  In it’s simplest interpretation, the book is an easy and (it feels wrong to say this about a book that features children killing children) pleasurable read.  The entire series is extremely well-written, with characters that are as complex as they are entertaining.  However, for me, the best part is the layers of meaning within the story.  I have a particular soft spot for dystopian novels because of the “what if” factor…  What if something like this were to really happen?   What if this (in any sense) is what the world is really coming to?  I am also very drawn to the characters in this particular series – their motivations, the sides of themselves that they choose to show and those they choose to hide from other, the factions of people they represent in our current reality, and what parts of myself I see in them.  If you haven’t already, READ IT!!!

* A Separate Peace by John Knowles (new read) – At the beginning of this journey, I went online and bought a stack of “challenge books” off of Amazon to add to my collection.  (I have a vision of having an entire shelf – or two, or three – of just the 100 books from this challenge once we have completed it…)  I tried to pick a variety of books from the list to purchase with my first order – some I had already read but didn’t own a copy of, some I had been wanting to read for some time, some I had just heard about and felt instantly drawn to, and some “dark horses” that didn’t really jump out at me from the list – mostly, because I didn’t want to leave all those for the very end of this journey.  A Separate Peace was one of those “dark horse” purchases.  The premise sounded decent enough, but I can’t honestly say I was super-excited to read it.  And, let’s face it, that cover is just a little bit depressing…  However, I can honestly say that I go into every new book wanting to love it and this book was no exception – I was hoping that I was going to kick myself later for not looking forward to it.

A_Separate_Peace_cover

This story takes place during the early 1940’s at the beginning of World War II and features the friendship between introvert Gene and exuberant Phineas (Finny) during their tenure at Devon, an exclusive boys’ boarding school in New England.  The two are an unlikely pair – the studious soon-to-be-valedictorian and the natural athlete with a penchant for mischief and a knack for working the room.  One summer, their unique bond is challenged in a way that neither of them saw coming – and the aftermath comes with its own struggles as both boys attempt to discover themselves in this coming-of-age tale.

My Take:  I did not kick myself later.  I found myself wanting so much more from this entire story.  It was fine enough, but I felt very much “set up” for something that never climaxed.   Every time I turned the page, I thought “This is it!  The *big thing* is going to happen now and the entire pace of this story is going to drastically change.”  That theory only led to more disappointment.  It was not a particularly challenging read, although definitely a bit wordy for my taste at times – entire sections were sometimes skimmed to avoid the endless comparisons and descriptive language.  Now, to be fair, the underlying message is powerful and profound in its own right, but I can only imagine about a thousand other ways we could have gotten to that message in a more moving manner.  According to its jacket, A Separate Peace is a “masterpiece” and has been a bestseller for over thirty years…  They’ve also made not one, but TWO, movies based on the book – one, as recently as 2012.  Maybe I am missing something, but I would never read this book again and it certainly won’t be one that I recommend to friends or insist my children try as they get older.   I’m so confused!  Who out there has read this?  Am I totally off-base?

April ’15 Update – Ashley

First of all, let me apologize for the “lateness” of this post…  My brother is recently engaged and I spent most of the month of April helping my mom get ready to host their engagement party.  Unfortunately, that put young-adult-novel-reading-challenges on the back burner, but that just means I got to spend all of Mothers’ Day weekend reading… and I won’t complain about that!!!  So, here’s what I read this  “month”…

* The Hobbit by JRR  Tolkien (reread) – The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorite books and holds a very special place in my heart (although my students will tell you that’s true of every book I’ve ever read!).  One of the reasons I will always treasure this book is because it was also my dad’s favorite book.  My dad and I typically have a lot in common, but my interest in reading was always somewhat foreign to him – until I was assigned this book in my middle school English class.  I knew I would love it, as soon as I heard how much he had loved it!  (It was the same with listening to Aerosmith…)

Hobbit_coverThe Hobbit is a classic journey tale – complete with an main character who begins the story as an underdog: under appreciated by those around him, including himself.  Inevitably, through the course of his unlikely adventure, he winds up proving his worth tenfold and discovering things within himself that, of course, had been there all along and only required dire circumstances in order to discover.   The story takes place in Middle Earth, a fantasy land that is home to all manners of mythical beings – elves, dwarves, wizards, trolls, and the titular hobbit.  This hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is a creature of comfort and takes great pride in living a life full of routine and simple pleasures.  That all changes the day that he is called upon to be a part of a — quest to the distant Lonely Mountain, in order to help reclaim the long-lost dwarfish treasure, stolen and still guarded by the dragon Smaug.  So, along with a dozen — dwarves and a great wizard, Bilbo embarks on a long and often treacherous journey across the wild lands of Middle Earth, full of goblins, giant spiders, and many other strange creatures.

My Take: To be honest, I would have been highly skeptical of this list had it not included The Hobbit!  I absolutely love this book – and the trilogy that follows – for it’s imagination.  It’s one of those books that you can be easily lost in, a book that makes you want to live in this magical land and know these magical beings.  Unfortunately, I think that’s a desire that is lost on our current  generation.  I don’t want to sound cynical, but it does seem as though the only worlds children are currently getting lost in are those controlled with a handheld device.  I love my cell phone, computer, and television as much as the next person, but nothing will ever compare to the escape provided by a book like The Hobbit.  Required reading for all!!  🙂

* The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (new read) – Well, I figured it was probably time for me to pick this one up, although I admit I was a little nervous because of all the hype with the movie release.  What if it didn’t live up to my now exceedingly high expectations?  What if all the hoopla was disproportionate after reading it for myself?  What if, after hearing about how I will need a box of tissues to make it through the book, I have become too ready for the impending sadness and don’t cry?  But, alas, by including this book on “the list,” TIME made my decision for me – it needed to be read.  Also, for background purposes, I have a general rule to not see movies based off books unless I have already read the book, so none of my review has been tainted by the movie!

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that The Fault in Our Stars is a story centered around two teenagers at different points in their journey with cancer.  Augustus (“Gus”) is in remission after having lost his leg to a bout of Osteosarcoma.  Hazel is in the midst of her battle with terminal thyroid and lung cancer, after experiencing a “medical miracle” that will only serve to lengthen her short lifetime.  Hazel’s life expectancy may be grim, but that doesn’t keep her from falling in love with the “hot boy” she meets in her dreaded support group.  What follows is the story of two teenagers who are living in a horrible juxtaposition of worlds – children by age, yet adult by circumstance.  They are teenagers navigating the complicated territory that is a first love, only to have it further complicated by an unavoidable truth that is far beyond what they should have to understand so young.  This story is less about the specific plot points and more about the uncountable ways that our lives intertwine with others – those who are immediate and yet others  that we don’t realize.

My Take: This story is in equal parts beautiful and maddening – both aspirational and depressingly honest.  There were moments when I wasn’t sure whether or not I was enjoying the book at all.  It was an easy enough read, but “listening” to the existential musings of two teenagers as they ponder life, death, and their purpose on Earth was hard.  Hard because I tend to dislike existential musings in general and hard because it seems cruel  that children should ever be in a situation that prompts that kind of thinking.  On the flip side, I wish that more people could have even a sliver of that kind of awareness, as it could serve an important purpose in our mostly self-centered society.  Clearly, I am majorly conflicted about this particular title and, as such, agree with its placement on “the list.”  If it can cause so much internal dialogue for just one person, imagine the possibilities in a room full of young adults who are figuring out their own place in life!

PS – I didn’t cry.  :/

March ’15 Update – Ashley

* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reread) – I think this is probably only the second time I’ve read Huck Finn.  I know I read it once in high school for a Lit class (as evidenced by all the margin notes in my copy), but I doubt I’ve read it since then.  After reading two (relatively) current/modern books in February, I thought I’d switch it up a little in March and read a classic.  I remembered enjoying Huck Finn, so I thought I’d start there…

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn chronicles the journey of young Huck Finn down the Mississippi River as he escapes his less-than-satisfying life with an alcoholic father and overbearing widow.  Along the way, he is joined by a slave named Jim, who has run away in order to seek life as a free man.  As the title suggests, their travels are interrupted by many an adventure and the constant fear of being discovered and returned to their miserable former lives.  Their adventures range from comical – Huck dressing as a girl in an attempt to retrieve information, to terrifying – being trapped aboard a shipwreck with a crew of murderous thieves.  The secondary cast is made up, almost entirely, of horribly unsavory characters who are more interested in furthering their own agenda than in being decent human beings.  The redemption in this story comes in Huck’s growing realization about how terribly people treat one another.  His conscience begins to guide his decisions, causing some significant inner turmoil between what he feels and what he’s been taught is right.

My Take: To be honest, this book was extremely uncomfortable to read at times.  As an adult, I can see how Twain was using the book as catalyst for social commentary, but even so, the rampant racism and blatant cruelty that prevails throughout the text was a tough pill for me to swallow.  Of course, in a story where one of the main characters is a runaway slave, I was prepared for some of that, but there were few subpopulations that weren’t denigrated at some point, including a scene where con artists pretend to use some rudimentary form of sign language in order to run a scam – just one of many scenes where I physically cringed while reading. In addition to being uncomfortable, this book was also difficult to read because of all the dialect Twain uses.  He even writes an explanation at the beginning of the novel of all the different dialects he included.  Because the language was so unconventional – and written phonetically – I essentially had to read the novel “out loud” to hear what the characters were actually saying, as it was difficult to interpret on sight alone.  This book required a LOT of concentration…  For example, I just opened up to a random page and here is a direct quote: “‘I tuck out en shin down de hill, en ‘spec to steal a skiff ‘long de sho’ som’ers ‘bove de town…'”  As hard as that was to read, it was even tougher to type – autocorrect does NOT like Twain’s use of dialect! This story is a classic for a reason – the story definitely makes its point.  I love a book that keeps you thinking and questioning humanity and our greater purpose.  This is not a book that I would refer to someone for some light (or necessarily enjoyable) reading, but I think it’s a book everyone should read at some point for discussion and perspective.  For that reason, I think it serves a different purpose on this list than others, but deserves its spot regardless.

* The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (new read) – As soon as I saw “the list” of YA books we have now committed to reading, I knew this book was going to be one of the first new reads for me.  This is the first book (“Book the First”) in the A Series of Unfortunate Events… series.  I had heard about these from kids at school and knew they had made a movie from it.  Other than that, and the information I gathered from the series title, I admit I knew little to nothing about the actual plotline, etc. However, I was intrigued and had wanted to read them for a while, so now seemed like a perfect time – especially after spending almost the entire month wading through Huck Finn!

The_Bad_BeginningBeing the first book in a series, A Bad Beginning had the important job of introducing the readers to all the main characters and providing their backstory for those characters.  In this case, we meet the Baudelaire siblings – Violet (14), Klaus (12), and Sunny (infant) – and learn about the tragedy that led to them becoming orphans.  For a storyline that revolves around these children as orphans, however, we are given minimal information about their lives prior to their parents’ death.  I found that surprising, but did appreciate that the “action” didn’t take forever to come around.  Regardless, after losing everything they’ve ever know, the children are forced to live with their uncle, Count Olaf, in a digesting, dilapidated house on the “other side of town.”  This is where I began waiting for the story to turn around… Count Olaf is an awful man, whose singular goal seems to be to get ahold of the Baudelaires’ inherited fortune – by whatever means necessary.  I assumed that, with such a forthright and obvious villain, there would be some change in circumstances that would change his heart and the seemingly heartless man would learn to love and care for his long-lost, orphaned relatives.  Well, {spoiler alert} that doesn’t happen.  The author warns you from the beginning – this is not a happy story and there is no happy ending.  On that note, I was not disappointed.

My Take:  Oh my…  I have such mixed feelings about this book.  Yes, it was entertaining.  It held my interest and was easy to read.  I can see why the kids have enjoyed it.  The plot moves quickly and doesn’t dawdle on insignificant details.  However, I thought the character development was definitely lacking.  Aside from feeling sorry for the siblings, and the obligatory interest I had in them as children, there was nothing in this book that made me really care about them.  Again, I was rooting for them because they were, obviously, the good guys, and also because they were kids going up against a big, bad adult, but I was never attached to them as characters.

My bigger issue, however, was with some of the content in this book.  There were several situations in this book that seemed completely inappropriate for a children’s (or young adult) book.  Part of that was crucial to the plot, so I won’t divulge that here (on the off chance that you will choose to read this book later), but that was the part that baffled me even more…  The part I considered most inappropriate was not some throw-away scene – it was a crucial plot point, which meant the author had to intentionally design the entire book around something I think should never have been mentioned.

This is the first book on the list that I am going to say doesn’t belong.  I won’t be reading it to my children – that’s for sure!

So… who else has read these books?  What were your thoughts?  Do they belong?

February ’15 Update – Ashley

Nothing like the last day of the month to do my monthly update, right?  February was a very hectic month, so unfortunately most of my reading was postponed until the end of the month.

Here’s what I read:

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (reread) – This was my second reading of this particular book.  The first time I read it was actually in college for a Children’s Lit class.  I remember loving it the first time and the second time was no different.

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Bridge to Terabithia centers around the friendship between its two main characters – Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke.  The two are unlikely friends, but their mutual awkwardness and shared tendency to behave “differently” from the status quo is enough to create a lasting bond.   Together, they create their own magical land, the namesake Terabithia, where they go to escape their ordinary, if not depressing, lives.  The story takes a turn when tragedy strikes Terabithia and Jess is forced to deal with things far beyond his ten or eleven years.  At that point, it’s probably best to just go ahead and grab your tissues.

My Take:  Finding Bridge to Terabithia on “the list” was no surprise.  This is one of those books that makes you reevaluate life and love.   I appreciate that this book, written for very young adults (preteens even), touches on some very heavy topics in a way that is super-relatable.  Being a teacher of young children allows me to read these kinds of books through a completely different lens.  I see the Jesses and Leslies of the world every day in my own classroom – the kids that don’t quite “fit in” because maybe their family is a little bit different or they interested in something considered unusual for their age, gender, whatever.  I’ve seen the way their lives change when they find that one friend with a common soul who understands and accepts them as they are.  I want that for every child.  It also makes me sad to think about how many kids out there are like this, but never find that one friend who will change their life…  Overall, this book is an easy read with a big message and definitely worth the minimal time it takes to read.  I dare anyone to try to get through the whole thing with dry eyes!

* Frindle by Andrew Clements (new read) – I have to be honest about my deciding factors for reading this book first off of my (lengthy) new read list.  #1) I totally judged the book by its cover.  Those kids holding that pen… so cute!  Plus, the cover also included a review hailing it as a “hilarious” read, which I was ready for after sobbing my way through Terabithia.  #2) It was the shortest of all the new reads I just ordered and I was running short on time for my first monthly challenge (aka I started reading it this morning).  Just felt like I needed a disclaimer about my true motivations…  <insert sheepish look here>

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Frindle is story about young Nick Allen who has a knack for causing minor “disturbances” at his elementary school – things like transforming his third grade classroom into a tropical paradise… and getting his first-year teacher to buy into it!  However, after meeting his all-business fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Granger), Nick’s escapades seem to be in jeopardy.  That is, until he spontaneously decides to create a brand-new word: frindle (to name the object formerly known as a pen).  His seemingly harmless prank catches some steam and soon the word has grown beyond Nick’s control.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Granger is doing everything in her power to thwart frindle-users everywhere.

My Take: First of all, I love lovelove the character of Nick!  I love the way his mind works and that his portrayal does not stay true to any one stereotype.  He’s smart, but not nerdy.  He’s unusual, but not a “weirdo.”  He’s a bit mischievous, but not mean-spirited.  Secondly, I love that this book, written for elementary- and middle-schoolers, isn’t focused on the social issues they may face at school, but rather on a child’s growing curiosity and innovation.  So many books directed at this audience tend to deal with those social issues (admittedly important in more than one way), but I feel like we have a generation of children who need to know that creativity is important too.  I feel like they need permission to take risks and to think outside the box, and more importantly, to want to have an impact beyond their immediate scope.  Frindle at first glance is a funny story about a silly, made-up word, but the implications of what Nick created reach towards a greater purpose and hint at what can happen when kids make up their mind to change even one small part of their world!  This book left me smiling and inspired to think big…  Another easy, but worthwhile, read!

So… what do you think?  Has anyone else read Terabithia or Frindle?  Do you agree with my reviews?  I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts!

Now, I’m off to decide on what to read in March…

Happy Reading!  🙂