The Rundown-January ’17

areyoutheregodAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (reread)

This is what I wrote about the book the first time I read it:

“So I finally read this book for the first time, as a 22 year old. I must say, it didn’t really knock me off of my socks the way I thought it might. I mean, this is probably one of the most talked about and controversial books for pre-teens… and I thought it was just alright. Maybe if I had read it as an adolescent, it would have resonated more with me, but as an adult, it’s just another book. Now, if you wanna read it just to say you have, then go for it. It’s quick and easy, and not a horrible read.”

My most recent take was not super far off from my original thoughts. However, I did have some new insights as someone now more than twice as old as the protagonist. For one thing, it had more of a nostalgic feel. It took me back to my teenage days, when things were much simpler!

I was also able to pay more attention to the religious aspects of the story this time. Margaret has not been raised in any particular religion and is searching for her beliefs. She talks to God frequently and seems lost without having had any guidance in this area. It definitely makes a good conversation starter.

Overall, this book is definitely going to skew towards the female demographic. I doubt there are many adolescent males who want to read about bras and periods. Just saying.

VERDICT: I think this book is going to be another toss up. Based on my previous memory of the book, I would have considered it a definitive “no.” However, upon the rereading, I found more merit and can see more of the appeal.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (new read) 51taoalah7l-_sx334_bo1204203200_

This was another of those books that I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I was pleasantly surprised!

Gaiman tells the tale of Nobody “Bod” Owens, whose family is murdered when he is an infant. He is raised by several supernatural beings in a graveyard near his house, as the killer continues to search for him. We see glimpses of his life every couple of years, up through his time as a teenager.

There are lots of supernatural elements of this story, which at first was a little bit of a turn off. However, those elements became essential to the understanding of what was happening and, ultimately, the climax. It kept my attention, and the last “short story,” was a real page turner.

VERDICT: It’s hard to argue with most Newbery Medal winners, and this one is no different. It’s a unique and well executed idea, with a broad appeal. Even if supernatural tales aren’t your thing, I think you’ll find enough to keep you entertained.

lotf-front-coverLord of the Flies by William Golding (reread)

I had to read this book in high school and hated it. For some reason, this felt like a good time in the history of the world to read it again. Guess what? I still hate it.

I really did try to go into it with an open mind, but I just can’t get with it. I know there are plenty of people who like this book. I know there are important messages to be gained through this book. But it is sooooo hard for me to read.

I don’t feel like I need to go much into the plot of this book because it is well known. Just as a refresher though, a plane full of schoolboys crashes into an uninhabited island. They battle over who should be in charge and their natural inclinations take over. You can imagine the rest.

On the back of the current edition, the author of The Hunger Games said this is a big influence on her work. That makes sense, but for some reason, THG is much more palatable for me than this. It also happens to be one of my favorites, which is even weirder.

VERDICT: I guess it depends on what the criteria is for whether this is one of the best young adult novels of all time. I did not enjoy reading it at all, but I will give it a place on the list based on the theme and message it is trying to convey. If you do like this book, you should also give Conrad’s Heart of Darkness a try. It deals with the same theme.


The Rundown- December ’16

Thank you winter break for giving me time to read both of my books this month 🙂

the-wind-in-the-willowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (new read)

Okay, this is, by no stretch of the imagination, a young adult book. It is absolutely a children’s book. In addition, I think a book that plenty of people have heard of, but I doubt many have read.

To be honest, you aren’t missing much. I’m glad I had plenty of time to plod through this narrative, which could be quite boring at times.

The book’s chapters don’t always seem to connect with one another, even though they contain the same characters: Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. They act like people, but also retain traits of their animal selves, which is an interesting hybrid. The animal foursome has adventures, but some are of the “don’t try this at home variety.”


For example, Toad steals a car and when he is imprisoned for it, manages to escape by dressing like a woman and steals the same car again. What??!!

VERDICT: I don’t think this would appeal to any young adults that I know, and I really didn’t see the great appeal. Therefore, I would not include it on the list.


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (new read)Hobbit_cover

I have a confession: I was scared to read this book. When I think of Tolkien, I think of hundreds of made up names and places that I can’t pronounce or keep track of. I purposely read it during my break though so that I could have all the time I needed. I am happy to say that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought!

I actually really enjoyed this story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit who accompanies a band of dwarves on their quest to reclaim treasure from the evil dragon Smaug. It chronicles their journey and all the challenges they face along the way. It even continues past the point where I thought it would end! Tolkien really has a way of pulling the reader into the story when it’s least expected.

If you enjoy fantasy, you will like this book. Not only is the story itself excellent, there are so many fantastical characters: hobbits, dwarves, dragons, goblins, trolls and even elves!

VERDICT: This was a perfect selection for the list. It’s a great book about self-discovery on top of everything else.

**If you’re worried like I was, you might want to try watching the first movie (it’s a trilogy) to see if you can follow it. I can’t wait to go back and watch the whole trilogy and see what they added!

*You can read Ashley’s review HERE*

The Rundown- November ’16

511ytvbz02l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Grey King by Susan Cooper (new read)

True confessions: I was SO BORED during the first half of this book. It took me forever to get through. Add to that the Welsh names and terms, and it was a struggle.

I also found out, as I picked it up to read, that it was Book 4 out of a five book “sequence.” Although a quick recap and prologue was given in the beginning, it felt a bit like picking up Harry Potter right before the final confrontation. There wasn’t enough background for me to be really excited when the climax finally happened.

The Grey King is #4 of The Dark is Rising sequence. Will Stanton has discovered he is the last of the “Old Ones,” who are dedicated to saving the world from evil. In this particular book, he, along with some family members and friends (including the son of King Author?), work together to achieve a defeat of the titular character.

With all I previously said though, I really enjoyed the second half of the book, once the action picked up. It was a great little fantasy, with all the typical things you would expect.

I think many kids would enjoy this book, but I would recommend starting at the beginning of the sequence, so that everything that happens makes sense.

VERDICT: To truly be one of the best, the whole book needs to be on point. For that reason, I would not include this on the list.


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (new read) monster

I’m not sure where to begin with this book. I guess the first thing to know is that Patrick Ness wrote this book based on an outline from Siobhan Dowd, an author who passed away from cancer almost ten years ago. It’s all explained in an Author’s Note at the beginning, and I feel that Ness evoked her spirit as he wrote this book.

It was incredible– heartbreaking. Deceptively easy to read for such a difficult subject. Conor’s mother is ill and he has nightmares every night.  One night, he wakes to a real life monster, but not the one in his dreams. It tells Conor  he called it, and it wants to know his truth.

When “the truth” is finally revealed, it was like a gut punch, and then a release. It is the single most therapeutic thing I have seen or heard since my father died.  I can’t really talk about it much without giving away some of the story.

I will say this: if you have had someone close to you die after battling a long term illness, you  need to read this book. I think young adults choosing to read this will be greatly moved.

VERDICT: Yes. Yes. Yes. This book has jumped in my top 10 of all time and I plan to read it again several more times in my life.

**Just yesterday, I saw they have made a movie from this! I must admit, I am kind of worried, since I loved the book so much. I hope they gave it the reverence it deserves. Anyway, you should read this before you go check out the movie!

to_kill_a_mocking_birdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)

Is there a person on this planet who hasn’t read this book? Even if you didn’t choose to read it yourself, chances are, you’ve read it for school at some point.

Since the first time I read it, I have said this is my all time favorite book. It’s been many years since the last time I picked it up though, so I was kind of nervous reading it again! I was afraid it wasn’t going to live up to what I remembered.

I needn’t have worried too much. I have read multitudes of books since then, and this still solidly sits in my top five. I do find it interesting how my views towards it shift as I get older. Thinking about some of my more recent Challenge reads, such as Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, this also deals with some heavy issues. I think part of the widespread appeal is the story is palatable to most and relatable to all.

 There were so many details of this story that I forgot, and they were nice surprises as they came up. I did forget how much the “N-word” came up though–off-putting, but necessary. Part of what I love though is the wise words Atticus has, and some of the realizations Scout and Jem come to:

“…before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” (105)

“…you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life…no matter who he is…that white man is trash.” (220)

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? “(227)

VERDICT: Of course this should be on the list. Every person should read it at least once in their life, and being a young adult is the perfect time!

The Rundown- October ’16

frindleFrindle by Andrew Clements (new read)

This is another book I had never heard of before this list. I am somewhat familiar with the author though.

Nick Allen loves to, as the back blurb of the book says “liven things up” at school. It may be in the form of a prank, or it may just be his epic ability to lead teachers on a tangent. However, his fifth grade teacher is a no-nonsense kind of woman, so he has to think especially hard to figure out what to do. He finally decides on creating a new word, frindle, and embarks on a quest to spread it to his fellow classmates. Did I mention his new teacher loves the dictionary? His plan soon escapes his reach though and we see the ramifications.

I enjoyed this book a good bit, and flew through rather quickly. I think there’s some good messages in it about perseverance and believing in yourself. It also shows the powerful relationship that can occur between a teacher and a student, in many different ways.

I would say this book skews toward the younger end of the list and I’m not sure kids would want to read it much past elementary school.

VERDICT: I don’t really think that this book should be on the best 100 young adult book list. It’s a good book, but I just don’t think it packs the punch of some of the other titles.

**Click HERE to see Ashley’s take on this book!**

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (new read) 510g3ts61jl-_sx334_bo1204203200_

I can say one thing for Kate DiCamillo: she is a very imaginative storyteller. I was eager to read this after enjoying her other entry on the list, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. However, I found that this shared much more in common with her first book, Because of Winn Dixie.

Rob and his father live at a Florida motel after Rob’s mother passes away from cancer. His father forbids him to ever talk about her or even mention her name. In addition to that, Rob has a skin condition that draws unwanted attention from others and he is forced to stay home from school. Needless to say, he doesn’t really have any friends, until one day he meets a girl named Sistine. That also happens to be the same day he discovers a caged tiger in the woods behind the hotel. Coincidence?

What a strange little book. The imagery DiCamillo conjures is breathtaking, but odd. I was certainly invested in the characters and what was going to happen to them. It stirred up lots of emotions, both good and bad. The best part of this story though, for me, comes from the title of the book. I can’t really tell much without spoiling some of the story, but it’s parallel to some advice that Rob is given in the book that is just beautiful!

VERDICT: This one is a toss-up for me. I certainly liked it, and I would encourage others to read it. I just don’t know if it screams “best of.” Why don’t you give it a try and let me know what you think?

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (new read)

51zcs5bmbyl-_sy344_bo1204203200_I gotta say, I wasn’t looking forward to this one when I found out it was a graphic novel. After reading it though, my outlook completely changed!

This book tells three different stories: the first is of Jin, the only Chinese American student at his school before another boy from Taiwan moves there and tries to befriend him. The second story is about Danny, an All American boy whose Chinese cousin comes to visit and effectively destroys his life. The third tale is about the Monkey King, who has mastered many disciplines and wants to take his rightly place with the highly immortal. All three characters feel isolated for different reasons, and must reach out for help to get out of their situations. The three stories intertwine beautifully at the end.

The themes of stereotypes and isolation are woven throughout. In each story, we see how the characters are treated and perceived based on their heritage. It brings to light unpleasant truths in a palatable manner. This selection is certainly for the older end of young adults, but I think it’s more likely to reach people in this format. It was so easy to read!

VERDICT: The Asian point of view is sorely underrepresented on this list and I think this entry effectively shares it. It made this reader think about the portrayals I’ve seen and how they’ve shaped my opinions. I thought this was a great book and definitely agree with its inclusion on the list. I can’t wait to read Yan’s other entry for this challenge!

The Rundown- September ’16

4115psz4mgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Boyproof by Cecil Castellucci (new read)

This one was completely new to the point that I never even heard of it before this list came out. It didn’t take long to see why.

Boyproof is the story of Egg, a science fiction obsessed misfit who has little room in her life for boys, or anybody for that matter. She takes her name from the lead character of her favorite movie, Terminal Earth, and dresses as closely to her as she can get away with. One day, she meets a guy named Max and starts to wonder if all of her thinking has been wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought this book was fun to read. It was written in a diary format, so all the events were in easily digestable chunks. It was also set in Los Angeles, where both of Egg’s parents were in the movie industry. That led to frequent pop culture references and talk about their work, which I loved, of course!

However, this book was SO predictable. You can probably already tell from my brief synopsis what’s going to happen. For better or worse, it’s worth noting.

VERDICT: Cute book, but I have no idea what it’s doing on a “Best of” list.


Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (reread) 

rollofthunder1This is a book I remember liking as a young girl, but I mostly remembered the sentiment and overall theme, not much about the plot.

Upon reading this as an adult, I LOVED it. I wish that every person in America would stop what they are doing right now and read it. That is not an exaggeration. The point of view represented in this story is so needed right now and would give many people insight into what they still don’t seem to understand.

The story is told from the point of view of Cassie Logan, a 9 year old black girl living in Mississippi in the early 1930’s. She lives with her parents, three brothers, and grandmother. We see the Logan family in their day to day life– the challenges they face at school, at home, even in their attempts to buy things that are required to live.

As I saw someone mention online, we read and hear lots about slavery, and the civil rights movement, but we don’t always study much about the in between. This story enlightens much of that era, and it’s not always pretty.

VERDICT:  I can say, without hesitation, that this book should be included on the list. I even venture to say it should be considered in the top ten. The important subject matter, little heard point of view, and well written prose all warrant its inclusion.

**I couldn’t let the Logan family go after just one book. I also reread the two novels that succeed this one: Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis. I was able to reread my own 20+ year old copy of the latter. By the end, Cassie is a 17 year old young woman, and it’s amazing to read the transformation. The saga is alternately heartbreaking and uplifting, and I’m so glad I was able to reread these with fresh eyes.


The Rundown- August ’16

Another reason I love my new job: I was able to read three books this month, even with school starting!

16616258._SY540_Everyday by David Levithan (new read)

The blurb I read about this story is what made me want to pick it next. “A” is a genderless, soulless being that inhabits a different body each day. A is aware of what happens to it, and has its own feelings and opinions, but no body to call its own.

Each day A wakes up in a new body. They are all about the same age and live within a few hours of each other. Because of this, sometimes A is able to see people from multiple perspectives. A traditionally tries not to become very involved in the life of the person it inhabits, until he falls in love with a girl named Rihannon. Then all bets are off!

This was a really interesting book, and definitely a new take on the “freaky friday” syndrome. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen after A broke its own rules and became attached to someone it met for a day.

VERDICT: I think this book has a wide appeal and is unlike any other story I can think of. It was also really easy to read and full of suspense, which I adore. I’m going to agree with its inclusion on the list!


Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (reread) BridgeTerabithia6

I know I read this book in fifth grade for class. I have no memories of whether or not I liked this book, only the tragedy of the book. Something that did surprise me is that there was a good bit of swearing, which makes me wonder if this book was read aloud and the teacher skipped over those words 🙂

Jesse doesn’t have many friends until Leslie moves to town. They bond over their outsider status and create their own magical world called “Terabithia.” At times, their conversations seem much more mature than their ten years, but then you think of all the things they’ve been through in that amount of time.

I don’t want to completely spoil it for those that haven’t read it, but I think most of the reason it is so widely praised is because of its not-so-happy ending. Kids are able to go through it without having it happen to them in real life.

VERDICT: This Newbery Medal winner earns its place for helping children deal with their first dose of tragedy.

*Check out Ashley’s review HERE*

231804The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (reread)

I went from one tragic read to another. However, this one skews to the older crowd. It’s very raw and realistic. I found out after reading that the author wrote it in high school! That makes it all the more impressive.

It has remnants of West Side Story, in that there are rival gangs in a big city around the same time frame. The Socs and the Greasers are divided by their socioeconomic status. The “outsiders” are the Greasers, and that’s the group whose lives we get an indepth look at, thanks to Ponyboy Curtis, our narrator.

It is amazing the relevance that this book still has today. Some of the details could easily be changed and you would swear it was written about life as it is now. It has such a timeless quality.

The importance of this book and the insight it gives cannot be overstated. It peels back the layers of both groups of teenagers and examines their motivations for the things they do, as well as the circumstances surrounding them.

VERDICT: As heartbreaking as this book is, the importance of understanding where others come from is a universal truth that all young adults need to be aware of. Definitely should be included!


The Rundown- July ’16

Sachar_-_Holes_CoverartHoles by Louis Sachar (reread)

My first reread of 2016!

I read this book for the first time back in college for my children’s literature class. I should have known I would love it. Louis Sachar is the author, and he wrote one of my faves from when I was little: Sideways Stories from Wayside School. One way I heard this book described was as a “mystery comedy novel,” which I like! It also has elements of a tall tale woven throughout.

Stanley Yelnats, a 14 year old boy, is wrongly accused of stealing a famous baseball player’s shoes and is sent to Camp Green Lake in lieu of jail. His misfortune, as all that happens to his family, is blamed on his “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather”. He is dubbed “Caveman” upon his arrival and spends his days, along with the rest of Tent D, digging five by five feet holes. If anything interesting is found, they may get the rest of the day off! The camp is run by The Warden, with day to day operations being split between Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski: not the team you want in charge of your well-being. We see Stanley’s journey, along with the rest of his group, as they try to figure out just what might be interesting enough to get The Warden’s attention. In addition, we also find out some history of Camp Green Lake and of Stanley’s family.

This is just a totally fun book. It’s easy to read and keeps you guessing! Not to mention, the way Sachar weaves the background stories into the main narrative is magical. It was a wonderful reprieve from the foul language and depressing subject matter that I’ve been reading recently.

VERDICT: No question about it—this should absolutely be on the list! With broad appeal, and a unique story, it stands out as a wonderful piece of young adult fiction.

**This is a rare case in which the movie does the book justice. I encourage you to check it out too!


The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart (new read)510cd0w1aUL

Another great summer read!

This is a classic “save the world” adventure featuring four children, who are identified by a series of tests as having exceptional qualities needed for the task set out by Mr. Benedict. Kate, Reynie, Constance, and Sticky are sent to a school run by evil Mr. Curtain. By working together, they must stop his plan for humankind. Of course, you must read the book to find out what that plan is, and if they stop him!

This story was a real page turner. Lots of suspense and twists, which kept me reading, as the book was close to five hundred pages! I think it would appeal equally to boys and girls, and a myriad of ages.

I know this review is short, but I feel with this particular story it’s better not knowing what you’re getting into!

VERDICT: I loved this book and think it totally deserves to be on the list. I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series down the road.

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!

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! **

The Rundown- June ’16

Happy summer! I think I tried to make up for all the books I didn’t read earlier this year by reading them all in June 😛

wrinklecover9A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (new read)

I still don’t know what I just experienced.

A Wrinkle in Time is fantasy, science fiction, and spirituality all rolled into one.

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin, are sent out on a journey to find their father. To put it simplistically: with the help of a colorful cast of characters, they travel through time and space to defeat the evil thing that lurks.

And that is very simplistic. There are lots of things about this book that I can’t explain and frankly, that I don’t completely understand. I think that’s part of the appeal though. It was easy to get lost in the story and want to know what was going to happen next—because I couldn’t possibly predict it!

I appreciated the fantasy aspects of the story the most. Most of the science fiction elements bogged me down a little, but I liked the explanation of the title. A cool concept! The spiritual parts came mostly near the end, and it didn’t seem like they really fit with the rest of the story, but it wasn’t distracting enough to take away from it entirely. The variety does broaden its audience. Depending on the kid, I could see someone reading this for the first time all the way from upper elementary to early high school!

VERDICT: I honestly can’t name one other book I’ve read that is anything like this (not even ones that include time travel). For its pure uniqueness, this book deserves to be on the list!

*Once again, apparently this book is the first in a “time quintet” written by L’Engle and she even has written books beyond that featuring the same family. Therefore, you have lots of options to continue if you love this book!


Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (new read)5113IWSiaoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I had never heard of this book before the challenge, and was only vaguely familiar with the author. When I read the synopsis, it sounded interesting enough. Little did I know what a rollercoaster ride I was about to take!

TJ is a multiracial teenager who lives with his white adoptive parents in an almost all white town in Washington state. Although he has a lot of athletic prowess, he doesn’t participate in any school sports, much to the chagrin of the athletic community at his school. When he decides to start a ragtag swim team, he puts an even bigger target on his head.

I’ll admit, I initially was turned off by this book. The language and plot got raw really fast. This is a book with a lot of “issues.” Adoption, special education, racism, elitism, abuse, bullying—it’s got it all. As I settled in though, I got invested in the characters and what was happening to them. I laughed. I cried. I cringed. It made me think of some of my students I’ve had throughout the years, and how they will turn out when they’re older.

I would say this book skews older based on the subject matter and language. I wouldn’t recommend anyone under 14, at the very youngest to read it. At the end of the book, it had a list of accolades it had received, and the first one listed was that it was one of the ALA’s most challenged books when it came out. They seemed very proud!

VERDICT: This is one of the times I wish I knew what criteria was used to pick these books. I don’t know that this is a book that I think every young adult should read. It does bring in some perspectives that some people may never encounter, so in that way I guess it makes for a good entry. It’s a toss-up for me.


N24680The Pigman by Paul Zindel (new read)

Even though I’d heard of this book many times, I had never read it and had no idea what it was about. Long story short, this book is about two teenagers, Lorraine and John, who unintentionally befriend a middle aged man, who comes to be known as “The Pigman.” The story details their friendship over the course of a few months, with chapters that alternate the point of view between the teens.

I can’t really tell you too much more about the plot without spoiling some things. What I will say is that ultimately this book is depressing. I did not enjoy reading it because I kept waiting for something bad to happen. The friendship was odd in general, and I don’t even know that someone would write a book of this manner today. The main character also reminded me of my dad in some ways, and that made me sad.

This book is on lots of high school required reading lists, which is unfortunate, because the last thing teenagers need is to be forced to read depressing literature, with all that angst going around!

VERDICT: Like I said, I’ve heard praise for this book many a time, but I just don’t see it. I think it’s really strange and don’t understand the motivation for writing it, unless it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale. I threw it on the floor when I finished it because the ending made me so mad!


The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (new read)838771._UY200_

So, I originally put this on my “reread” list, but after beginning it, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it. I think I got it mixed up with another title, The Chocolate Touch maybe. This is another book that is on lots of required reading lists and, in many ways, I can see why.

Although it was quite easy to read, the first half of the book was hard to follow. There are SO MANY CHARACTERS and the chapters would jump around and not have the same characters in consecutive chapters. They also had similar names and characteristics, so it was hard to keep track.

At its heart, this is a story about nonconformity. However, it takes a long time to get there. Trinity High School is a Catholic all boys school where they have a “secret” society called The Vigils. Jerry Renault is a freshman, new to the area, who gets tapped for one of the society’s infamous assignments. What unfolds is fairly unsavory.

The second half of the book reminded me somewhat of Lord of the Flies, though in a more formal setting. It presents questions like: Should you fall in line because it’s easy? Or should you do what you think is right, even if it’s hard? What about the repercussions?

VERDICT: I think it’s very telling of the time period in which it was written (1970s), but I think it’s still relevant today. What a great think piece for teenagers and a springboard for discussion and self-reflection. Although it wasn’t immediate, I do think The Chocolate War has earned its place on the list.


I’d love to know what y’all think of these books! Have you read any of them?

The Rundown- April ’16

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (new read)Hatchet1

Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of survival stories. That probably explains why I never read this book when I was younger, even though I had plenty of opportunity.

Hatchet is a story about a thirteen year old boy named Brian who, on his way to visit his father, goes down in a plane crash. The pilot dies and he is forced to go at it alone. We read all about the trials and tribulations he goes through as he tries to survive on his own.

Kids could actually learn a lot from this book as far as wilderness skills go. It details the processes of trying to start a fire, how to obtain food, and making a shelter.

Although I didn’t care for the subject matter, in general, it was a well written book. It seemed realistic as far as I could tell and the epilogue at the end even put some specific names to plants and animals that were described in the story. It’s also a great lesson in perseverance.

VERDICT: I will go ahead and agree that this book has earned its place on the “best of” list. Between the story itself, the realism, and the social/moral dilemmas presented, I think it’s a well rounded book. It has a fairly broad appeal.

**If you find that you really enjoy this book, there are apparently at least four sequels that feature Brian, so you could read a whole miniseries if you want!