Author: Scott Westerfeld
Published: 23rd September 2015
Goodreads Rating: 3.76 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2015
The author of the Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld, has teamed up with co-writers Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti to create this exciting whirlwind of a young adult novel. Many people wish they had a superpower, but what if there really were people with them? Zeroes is a story about a group of teenagers with special gifts, but these unique abilities may be more dangerous than you imagine.
The superpowers in this novel are not as conventional as the famous comic heroes. Some can control crowds with their minds or destroy electricity, and one blind character can even see through the eyes of others. Collectively these teenagers are called the Zeroes, but only amongst themselves.
Despite how cool it may seem to have these powers, their gifts can get them into trouble. One of the teens, Ethan, accidentally finds himself involved with drug dealers and a bank robbery, resulting in the police taking an interest. Whilst trying to get him out of this mess, the rest of the team causes even more trouble, making things worse and eventually leaving Ethan in a life-threatening situation.
Told through six different characters, the reader gets the opportunity to learn about the individual powers and how each person deals with them. The novel is fast-paced with an explosive ending – literally. It is almost impossible to put it down. With an equal mix of male and female characters, it is suitable for all readers who enjoy Young Adult fiction. You will find yourself wanting more.
Author: David Arnold
Published: 3rd March 2015
Goodreads Rating: 3.88 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2015
Now and then, a book comes along that renders you completely unable to explain how much you loved it. Mosquitoland is one of these. Sixteen-year-old Mary Iris Malone – although only her mother can call her Mary, so please refer to her as “Mim” – has had enough of her new life in Jackson, where she has moved with her Dad and Step-Mother. She is angry at her parent’s divorce and wants to see her mother, so that is exactly what she intends to do.
It is 947 miles from Mosquitoland – that is Mississippi to the average person – to Cleveland, Ohio, where Mim’s mother is. Mim’s objective is simple: “Get to Cleveland, get to Mum.” However, her reasons are beyond difficult to explain. On her journey, Mim attempts to clarify her reasons by writing letters to an unknown character named Isabel in her journal. Yet these letters are not the only significant parts of this story.
Taking a bus to Cleveland seems like a straightforward mission, but for Mim, many detours are in store. Events that could potentially ruin someone’s trip provide Mim with the opportunity to make new friends, examine what it means to love, and confront her demons. By joining up with two extraordinary characters along the way, we, as readers, get the opportunity to explore the lives of others experiencing similar situations to Mim and thus question how we define love and loyalty.
David Arnold writes with a certain amount of intelligence, making this book a pleasure to read. Although a young adult novel, Mim’s astuteness makes her appear older than she is, yet not in a way that alienates the target reader. Mim’s perceptions give the reader the ability to view life in a way they may never have thought about before. Arnold has managed to put unexplainable feelings into words, which are guaranteed to make the reader sit up and exclaim in delight that someone has finally understood their personal, complicated feelings.
Although the storyline in Mosquitoland only covers five days, so much happens, making Mim’s trip more of an odyssey. The ending, however, is not completely satisfying. By no means is it a bad ending, but it leaves so many questions unanswered, such as what happens to Mim’s new friends, Beck and Walt? Do they get a happy-ever-after? It is almost frustrating that we will never know.
As indicated at the beginning of this review, it is impossible to put into words how good this book is – but let us say this: Mosquitoland is sure to give top Young Adult authors, such as John Green, a run for their money.
Alice Takes Back Wonderland
Author: David D. Hammons
Published: 26th September 2015
Goodreads Rating: 3.57 out of 5
Reviewed: November 2015
When a book starts with “‘Do you know fairy tales are real?’ asked the cat,” you know you are in for a magical ride. Nearly everyone knows the tale of the seven-year-old girl from nineteenth-century London who falls down a rabbit hole and spends a day of madness in the magical world of Wonderland. In David D. Hammons’ version, Alice was a young girl from twenty-first-century Missouri. On her return to the real world, she was diagnosed with ADHD and Schizophrenia and forced to believe that the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter were figments of her imagination. But ten years later, a white rabbit appears and leads Alice back to the world where nothing makes sense.
All is not well in Wonderland. The Cheshire Cat is dead, and the Ace of Spades is in charge. Barely anything is the way Alice remembers. Everything looks far too “normal” and similar to the real world. Ace is determined to remove the wonder from Wonderland and create a place where madness is forbidden. Alice has a big fight on her hands as she tries to end this former playing card’s tyrannous reign and restore Wonderland to its original insanity.
Alice Takes Back Wonderland is not purely a retelling of Lewis Carrol’s famous story. Although many well-known and loved characters appear in this book, so do others from a variety of fairytales: Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and various tales from the Brothers Grimm. As readers will discover, all is not exactly as it should be for these characters either. Despite the contrasting, magical stories, Hammons has imaginatively merged them all, resulting in a humorous Young Adult novel.
Although mostly focused on the goings on in Wonderland and the other fictional locations, it is also a subtle metaphor to describe what Alice’s life had been like back in present-day America. For a decade, Alice was forced to take medication to help her understand the difference between reality and fantasy. It got rid of most of the nonsense thoughts she picked up during her first visit to Wonderland. In a way, that is what the Ace of Spades is doing to characters he believes are mad. He is taking the wonder out of them, just like the pills took the wonder out of Alice.
Lovers of fairytales will love this book, especially those who grew up reading Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. In some ways, it is a continuation of the original tale, yet in other ways, it could be viewed as an alternative way the story could have gone. Primarily targeted at young adults, Alice Takes Back Wonderland is much darker than Carrol’s version and combines a mix of real life with fantasy. It also goes to show that no one is too old for fairytales!
Author: Michael Grant
Published: 16th January 2016
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 out of 5
Reviewed: January 2016
Michael Grant, mostly known for the Gone books, is back with this groundbreaking new series, Soldier Girl. This first book, Front Lines, begins in 1943, shortly after the Americans entered World War Two. Whilst a historical novel, Grant has fictionalized it with an alternative situation where women were allowed to join the American army. This tale, told by an anonymous woman, follows three teenage girls through their experiences in the early part of the war.
Rio Richlin, 16, Frangie Marr, 18 and Rainy Schulterman, 18, all volunteered to train as soldiers and play their part in the war effort. Being female, none of them believed they would be placed on the front lines, shooting and killing enemy soldiers. The first half of Front Lines describes the discrimination they faced during their training from their male contemporaries, whilst the second half, set in Tunisia, reveals the true horrors of war.
Grant did not solely focus on the gender controversy. Two of the characters had other traits that were widely discriminated. Firstly, Rainy was Jewish, and although anti-Semitism was not on such a grand scale in America, there were still occasions when she witnessed negative judgments of her religion. Secondly, Frangie was black. At this time in America, there were still many people who detested black people and thought of them as a subclass. Frangie was placed in a segregated section of the army specifically for “nigras.”
Front Lines ultimately reveals that in situations of life and death, everyone is reduced to a raw being – everyone is the same regardless of race, gender or beliefs. Grant illustrates that women can be just as strong as men and that people who are usually looked down on deserve the same amount of respect as the average person.
Whether due to its female voice, or the fact that Grant is writing with young adults in mind, this story was a lot more interesting and relatable than a large chunk of historical war novels. Despite the allusion to dates and chronological events, it was almost like reading something set in the present day.
Ultimately, there was not much to dislike about this book, although perhaps some of the love interests were unnecessary. I highly recommend this book to young adult readers. Although a fictional account, it educates the reader on the horrors of war and the bravery of soldiers. While nothing can compete with first-hand experiences, Front Lines gives a good sense of World War Two action.
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published: 5th March 2007
Goodreads Rating: 4.15 out of 5
Reviewed: February 2016
Your son says the bullying was unbearable. But his revenge was murder. What would you do?
Nineteen Minutes is perhaps Jodi Picoult’s most controversial novel, as well as one of the longest. Many things can happen in nineteen minutes, including a school shooting resulting in the deaths of ten people. This is what happens at the beginning of this book, leaving hundreds of teachers and students emotionally scarred for the remainder of their lives. Picoult explores the reactions of a community whose ideas of safety have been shattered, the grief of the victims and their families and, perhaps most importantly, the heartache of the parents of the shooter.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Houghton has had enough of the bullying he has endured throughout his entire school life. He has no friends, is constantly miserable, and possibly suicidal, so on a typical morning in March 2007, he decides to permanently fix the situation. But why did he go to such extremes? What circumstances in his life led to firing a gun as the only solution?
As the evidence is gathered in the lead-up to the court trial, many characters question their own involvement in Peter’s life. Firstly, there is Josie Cormier, a straight-A student who swapped her childhood friendship with Peter for popularity and her boyfriend Matt, a particularly aggressive bully. Secondly, there is Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother, who destroyed her friendship with Peter’s mother after finding their five-year-old children playing with guns in the Houghton’s basement.
If Peter’s father had never owned a selection of hunting rifles, would Peter ever have thought of guns as a way out of his predicament? On the other hand, Lacy Houghton blames herself for not noticing how badly her son was suffering, not just at school but at home as well, where he had to live up to the memory of his saint-like older brother who died in a car crash the previous year.
Naturally, a tragic event such as this changes people, but not always in a negative way. Relationships begin to blossom as characters realize how close they were to losing the ones they love. Alex takes a step back from her demanding job to comfort Josie in the aftermath, thus feeling closer to her than she ever had before. Alex, a single mother, also opens herself up to a romantic relationship, something she has had no time to seriously consider up until now. All the while, Defense Attorney Jordan McAfee, who some readers may remember from Salem Falls, fights a losing battle to get Peter acquitted by arguing and prying into Peter’s emotions to discover his reason for committing murder.
What I like about Picoult’s novels is that there is more to them than a simple storyline. While the story plays out and plot twists happen, the reader is learning something new. In Nineteen Minutes, Picoult provides insight into midwifery, psychology and economics – things that are not synonymous with the shootings.
Readers will constantly question whose side of the story they are on. Hundreds of people grow up being bullied and will understand how Peter felt, yet they would not pick up a gun. Likewise, by putting themselves in the victims’ shoes, readers will think about how they would feel in the same situation. Yet, would anyone be willing to admit that they made someone else’s life a living hell? There is no easy conclusion to Nineteen Minutes; someone will always lose. Nevertheless, Picoult’s fantastic writing skills provide an enthralling story of love and loss.
I cannot recommend this book to readers in general due to the nature of the themes found in the story. Gun crime and school shootings are sadly still an occurrence in the present time, particularly in America. There are thousands of people who have been affected by such an event, whether directly or indirectly as part of a local community. Some readers may find Nineteen Minutes challenging and upsetting, which is why I will not encourage everyone to read this book. Yet, Picoult has excelled with this novel, and it would be a shame for people not to read it. Fans will not be disappointed with her writing and will love all her characters, possibly even Peter!
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