The Wednesday Wars
Young Adult / October 12, 2017

Author: Gary D. Schmidt. Summary: Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Bernadette: Surprisingly good! The first-person narrator, a teenage boy, is very authentic, from his occasional cluelessness to his flashes of insight and wry understanding of the high-school ecology he lives in. The characters around him become…

Hex Hall
Young Adult / August 22, 2017

Hex Hall #1. Author: Rachel Hawkins. Summary: Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father—an elusive European warlock—only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. (Published summary) My Thoughts: Bland. Pretty boring. I may be spoiled by all the epic fantasy I read, but I just wasn’t drawn into the story-world; there’s no particular world-building and the characters seem petty and dull. I do think it’s all right to use a pre-existing set up, like basic werewolves and vampires, without any extra worldbuilding, so that you can jump straight into your story and focus on the action without explaining anything; or even just because you like that world. It does run more risk of being boring, though, especially when the action focuses around a strange on-off romance/attraction and a ghostly grandmother whom we all (except the main character) know is up to no good….

Belzhar
Young Adult / August 21, 2017

Author: Meg Wolitzer. Summary: If life were fair, then Jam would still be living in her house in New Jersey and would be spending time with her cool English boyfriend Reeve. Instead, she’s at a home for troubled, genius teens. This special school is known for teaching a class on one book. Jam is chosen to take this class and the book that will be analyzed is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Additionally, the students have to keep a journal in which they are supposed to confront the truth and resolve issues from their past. Will Jam be able to overcome her traumas? (Published summary) My Thoughts: I wonder what you call this genre… not exactly magical realism, but that almost feels closest. Not fantasy. Not realistic. Hm. Anyway. I like the genre type, and the pacing and suspense throughout the story was quite good, but the main character aggravated me. I don’t want to spoil the whole ending, but I was severely disappointed to find out her real backstory. Content Review: Sexual Content: “Among us only Hannah Petroski had an actual, long-term boyfriend. The two of them were really serious, and had almost had sex.”/ ‘Seth put his…

Just Listen
Young Adult / June 19, 2017

Author: Sarah Dessen. Summary: Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store. This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.   (Goodreads Summary) My Thoughts: Realistic-fic has never been my personal preference, especially not in YA, but I do read it from time to time. And as par for course, Just Listen wasn’t a favorite from the books I’ve read recently, but I did like it. The main arc for Annabel is learning to speak up, to tell the truth but almost as importantly just to say something, anything at all. And I know that’s an important lesson to learn. I know because it’s something I can always stand to hear again, because I have friends who could stand to hear it…

Holding Up the Universe
Young Adult / March 20, 2017

Author: Jennifer Niven. Summary: Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone. Until he meets…

Speak
Young Adult / January 28, 2017

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson. Summary: Melinda’s place in the high-school hierarchy was set before she ever set foot in the building. Because of the shame of calling the police on a wild summer party, none of her friends will speak to her, and Melinda is alone except for the friendly new girl. Confused by her own thoughts, wounded by past events and despairing of any hope for highschool, Melinda isolates herself further, withdrawing into her mind and becoming more and more silent. Unless she can find new depths of resolution within herself she will vanish into the background for the rest of highschool – or perhaps collapse in on herself under the confusion and depression she fights. My Thoughts: There’s no gorgeous prose or rich-drawn multi-character arcs or exciting action scenes. Nothing I might normally look for. But that’s partly why the power of this painful, plain, and even occasionally funny story caught me. It’s told in a teenage girl’s voice, a girl I can identify with and imagine being, even as she retreats into silence and confusion. By the time it was revealed what had really happened to her, I had already guessed – but this didn’t abate the…

Twisted
Young Adult / January 19, 2017

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson. Summary: High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world. (Goodreads summary) Content Review: Sexual Content: Boy ogles some girls in bikinis who are conducting a car wash. “I wasn’t supposed to think about that [death], but it was like porn. The idea would sneak in, and then I was off.” Narrator is aroused by a pretty girl. Narrator: ‘Hannah pealed off the shirt Mom made her wear and revealed a scrap of fabric that was just barely keeping her boobs under control.’ Girls all over the highschool dress very scantily one day, and the boys are…