Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Overall Rating: 3.75/5

Quality of Prose: 3.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 3.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When found by a detective on a resort in Mexico, Jule’s (possible spy/possible super hero/possible murderer) story unfolds in reverse chronological order and her many secrets are revealed.

My Favorite Quotes

“To be a physically powerful woman–it was something. You could go anywhere, do anything, if you were difficult to hurt.”

“‘Shut up, little girl, you’ve said enough.’ ‘Stop, little girl, don’t hit, use your words’–and shut up at the same time. They squash you. They want you to be small and silent. Good was just another word for don’t fight back.”

“‘The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.’ –Charles Do Bos”

What I Loved About It

If you read my review of Lockhart’s other mystery/suspense/thriller We Were Liars, you’d know I was really really impressed by Lockhart’s prose and her GIGANTIC twists in that novel. Because of that, I was really really looking forward to reading Lockhart’s newest novel. I was ready for another twist, and I must say this book definitely delivered. The twist in this one is crazy and, while not completely unexpected, definitely blew me away.

Lockhart’s prose in this novel isn’t quite as impressive as that in We Were Liars, but it’s still really good and she has a really really unique talent in creating a protagonist who is, for all intents and purposes, (SPOILER ALERT) an evil, identity-less murderer and yet who the audience really sympathizes with.

The fact that the story is told in reverse chronological order is another testament to E. Lockhart’s literary genius and really makes the story a lot more suspenseful and intriguing. I can’t even imagine how hard it was to write a novel like that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: E. Lockhart. Is. The. Bomb.

I really did enjoy reading this book. However, I found myself being fairly confused when the book ended (which, to be fair, was probably Lockhart’s intent). The book ends rather abruptly and left me questioning A LOT of what happened throughout the book. To be fair, I could definitely see the structure and narrative of this novel being too confusing for many of my lower level readers and just complex enough for my more advanced readers.

What My Students Could Learn From It

The unique structure of the book would be great for teaching text structure and how a text’s structure affects the narrative itself. It’d also be a great book for teaching about the unreliability of narrators. Jule, the protagonist (IF THAT’S EVEN HER REAL NAME), is, after all, not the most trustworthy source for information and even by the end of the book, many of the mysterious details of her life and character are still not revealed or clarified.

The book also has a lot to say about gender roles and expectations , as well as identity, and could foster a really interesting conversation amongst students about those things.

And of course the violent, murder-y bits of the story would provide plenty of intrigue for the kids. They eat that stuff up.

Advertisements
One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 2.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When Simon Kelleher, the writer of the school gossip blog, dies in detention, the other four students who were with him–all of which have secrets to protect–are the prime suspects.

My Favorite Quotes

“’The first seven years of the Joshua tree’s life, it’s just a vertical stem. No branches,’ she told me while we were hiking. ‘It takes years before it blossoms. And every branching stem stops growing after it blossoms, so you’ve got this complex system of dead areas and new growth.’ I used to think about that, sometimes, when I wondered what parts of her might still be alive.”

one of us is lying

What I Loved About It

I have to be honest, I have never gotten into murder mystery, suspense/thrillers. I typically stay away from genre fiction as a whole. I don’t read much sci-fi, I don’t read romance, I don’t read mysteries. But I heard from a friend that this book was great, and I wanted to try something new. And I was definitely not disappointed. I really enjoyed reading this book.

McManus is great at keeping her readers engaged. Each character has multiple secrets that are revealed throughout the novel at exactly the right moments to change your view on who killed Simon and to keep you reading. For this reason, it was hard to put this book down. She handles the suspense, the romance, and the character development (all four of the main characters really grow throughout the novel and that’s rare for a mystery novel with four protagonists.) really really well.

Though this book didn’t make me super emotional or stay with me for days after finishing or blow my mind, it was a fun read and it had more depth than I’d expect of a YA mystery/thriller. And I think my kids would really, really like it.

What My Students Could Learn From It

This book reminds me a lot of Thirteen Reasons Why because of its likability but also because of the clear cut lessons it teaches teens.

There are clear morals to be learned when reading One of Us Is Lying. Don’t make judgments about people. Don’t define yourself by the relationships you’re in. Be kind to people because you never know what they’re going through and how the things you say or do might affect them. Be honest with the world about who you are. Don’t cheat. Don’t gossip. Don’t lie. Don’t sell drugs. Though I typically prefer books with more ambiguity and depth, I definitely see the draw of a book like this as a teacher.

And like I said, my kids–and yours–would absolutely love One of Us Is Lying.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Vera Dietz struggles to cope with the mysterious death of her best friend, Charlie Kahn, and the legacies their parents left for them.

My Favorite Quotes

“The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.”

“I knew his [parents] wouldn’t believe us or care. There was a reason Charlie was such a bright blazing sun. He came from endless cold, black space.”

“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

“Which Zen guy said, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That’s how I feel without Charlie. Like one hand clapping.”

please ignore vera dietz

What I Loved About It

Man oh man oh man did I love this book. It’s a coming of age classic in the vein of Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now, and I’m appalled that prior to downloading it from my local public library’s app, I had never heard of it.

Through writing that is equally sharp and beautiful, witty and painful, A.S. King tells the story of Vera Dietz, a girl coping with grief, guilt, and growing up. Though Charlie is already dead at the beginning of the book, King uses flashbacks to create a tragic hero in Charlie, whose abusive father, close and mysterious relationship with a neighborhood pedophile, and impossible love for his best friend, Vera Dietz, make him a tortured, lost boy. And the fact that Vera couldn’t save him in the end, no matter how much Charlie and Vera wanted that to happen, makes this book one of the most emotionally cutting–and realistic–books I’ve read in years. I finished the book during my planning period and sat alone in my classroom bawling about the injustice of life and death and how trapped Charlie felt by his own decisions in the end. You could definitely say this book gave me all the feels.

And then, of course, there’s Vera, whose dad is a former alcoholic and whose absentee mother is a former stripper, and who wrestles with the weight of Charlie’s death, the fact that she didn’t stop it, and the fact that she hasn’t told anyone what really happened the night he died. She’s one of the most complex, relatable, and wittiest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in a young adult book.

Through these characters–and with brief asides from the perspective of Vera’s dad (and his many flow charts) and the town pagoda–King is able to write a coming of age story that tackles the big question, “What is your original face, before your mother and father were born?” (this is the book’s epigraph), all while also exploring issues related to alcoholism, reputation, drug abuse, pedophilia, domestic abuse, social responsibility, and identity.

What My Students Could Learn From It

A major lesson this book can teach is about social responsibility. My students’ collective life motto is “snitches get stitches” and A.S. King spends so much time in this book discussing whether it’s actually our responsibility to be a snitch. Here’s a great example of one of the many times the protagonist, Vera Dietz, rants about the problems with this outlook:

“I mean, I ignore plenty of stuff, like school spirit days and the dirty looks I get from the Detentionheads while I try to slink through the halls unnoticed. But there’s something about telling other people what to ignore that just doesn’t work for me. Especially things we shouldn’t be ignoring.

Hear that girl in your class is being abused by her stepfather and had to go to the clinic? Hear she’s bringing her mother’s pills to school and selling them to pay for it? Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Mind your own business. Don’t make waves. Fly under the radar. It’s just one of those things, Vera. 

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong in our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.” (p. 43)

My students have got to learn that it is their responsibility to make the world better than it was when they entered it, that they can and should help each other and strangers and their friends and enemies. Charlie died because no one ever called the cops on his dad, on the pedophile John, because Vera didn’t save him when he asked to be saved, because no one wanted to be the one who told. This is a lesson I don’t want my students to learn the hard way. I also want my students to see that they don’t have to become their parents, a fate Charlie was convinced he couldn’t avoid, that they can forge a new path for themselves, like Vera was committed to doing.

Shadowsong: A Novel by S. Jae-Jones

Shadowsong: A Novel by S. Jae-Jones

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 1/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 7 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

After leaving her husband, the Goblin King, and the Underground behind, Leisl struggles to adjust to life above ground, renew her relationship with her brother, and live without her husband and true love.

My Favorite Quotes

“For love is our only immortality, and when memory is faded and gone, it is our legacies that endure.”

shadowsong

What I Loved About It

This book disappointed me SO MUCH. I don’t know if you remember my review of Wintersong, its prequel, but I freaking loved that book. It ranks fairly high on my list of favorite books of all time. And I was pumped to return to the beautiful world Jae-Jones created in the sequel. But to be honest, when I first heard that there would be a sequel, I didn’t really understand why. The story of Liesl and the Goblin King seemed to be resolved by the end of Wintersong. It felt like reading a stand alone novel, not the first book of the series. So I was really curious where the plot of Shadowsong was going to go. And once I started reading, I realized that the plot wasn’t going to go anywhere. Honestly. This entire book, NOTHING HAPPENS. Until the last 30 pages. I’m not even exaggerating. If I told you the plot of this book in detail, every important plot point I’d tell you would be in the last 30 pages.

It’s super evident that Jae-Jones wrote Wintersong as a stand-alone novel, but that when it was picked up by the publisher, they required her to write a sequel, even though it was completely unnecessary. It’s just another example of the young adult publishing world turning every single decent book into a long, drawn out, and unnecessary series because it makes them more money. And I hate to be so negative about the sequel to a book that I loved so much by an author who I deem to be incredibly talented, but this book had few redeeming qualities. The world of the Underground, which was the incredibly interesting setting of the first novel, is not visited in this novel until the last few pages. The prose was less musical and impressive (perhaps because the musically-inclined protagonist was going through a long period of musical writer’s block in this novel), and the Goblin King, who was such a complex and compelling character, wasn’t in this book like AT ALL (or, again, not until the last few pages). All the things I loved about Wintersong were lacking in Shadowsong, and none of the new story elements were remotely compelling. It was, in a word, disappointing.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Nothing really.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

For A’s entire life, A has inexplicably started each day in a new body, taking over another person’s life against their will and against A’s as well, but when A inhabits Justin’s body and meets and falls in love with his girlfriend Rhiannon, A starts taking foolish risks to be close to her and wishes for a body of A’s own and a normal life.

My Favorite Quotes

“What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity?…The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations–all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.”

“This is the trap of having something to live for: Everything else seems lifeless.”

every day

What I Loved About It

Levithan’s prose is great, beautiful and striking and poignant. Though you’d think A’s incorporeal nature would make A (I’m avoiding gender pronouns because A has no gender because A is bodiless so my wording is necessarily awkward, sorry.) a character that is difficult for readers to understand or relate to, A is an incredibly sympathetic and even venerable character (I’m not sure I’ve ever described a young adult protagonist as venerable, but A’s just a really different, refreshing brand of protagonist–in all the best ways). Though A and Rhiannon’s relationship is incredibly unusual and the trials they face because of A’s amorphous nature are–admittedly–abnormal, Levithan is able to expertly depict the pain and joy of first love through their relationship.

But in Every Day, Levithan’s not just telling the story of first love. He’s telling the story of all of us, of humanity itself. A has lived as every type of person with every type of idiosyncrasy and every type of problem. Through A’s unique life, Levithan is able to address illness, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual orientation, the dangers of being too beautiful or too overweight, the fluidity of gender, grief, reputation, family, love, and most of all (and perhaps best of all), what makes a human human. Is it a mind, a consciousness? Is it our bodies? Is it our genders? All of the above? None of the above? I found myself thinking about gender, consciousness, and humanity in completely different ways while reading it. And yet it never once comes across as didactic or preach-y, or even predictable. Every Day is just such a meaty, thought-provoking, and unique novel.

What My Students Could Learn From It

The biggest thing I (and all of my coworkers) want my students to learn is empathy, and Every Day is uniquely qualified to do that. A book wherein the main character literally walks in the shoes of so many different kinds of people and learns so much about the trials each of them face–and the trials all of us face–is unmatched in its ability to teach students how to have compassion and empathy for those different than themselves. And, like I’ve already said, Every Day can get kids to think about innumerable teen issues in different ways. I just can not praise this book’s quality enough.

 

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4/5

Quality of Characters: 4.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 2/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 2 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Juliette has been stuck in an insane asylum because of her unique ability to hurt and even kill anyone her skin touches–whether she wants to or not–for 3 years, but everything changes when the Reestablishment, the governing body that took control when the world was destroyed by climate change, decides they want to use her abilities in the war.

My Favorite Quotes

“The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”

“Hope is hugging me, holding me in its arms, wiping away my tears and telling me that today and tomorrow and two days from now I will be just fine and I’m so delirious I actually dare to believe it.”

“I always wonder about raindrops. I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors. I am a raindrop. My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab.

 shatter me

What I Loved About It

From the very first word, sentence, paragraph, and page, I loved this book. Mafi’s writing is poetic, riddled with metaphors, and truly beautiful. You can see just a few of these beautiful metaphors in the quotes I included above, but the whole book is full of them, and man am I a sucker for novels that read more like poetry. The metaphors and crossing out of various sentences throughout the novel (you can see an example in my third favorite quote above) help to portray the scattered mind of the narrator and protagonist, Juliette, in a way nothing else could.

And what’s perhaps even more impressive is that this is a young adult dystopian novel that is beautifully written. I hate to be a Debbie Downer about young adult dystopian fiction, but with the exception of Ally Condie’s Matched series and now the Shatter Me series, I’ve yet to read any that are poignant or exquisitely written. Sure, they’re fun to read, exciting, and great to turn into movies with hot male leads (I’m looking at you Theo James!), but are rarely books with diction that makes me swoon. But man oh man is Shatter Me different. Mafi’s prose in Shatter Me is more in the realm of Margaret Atwood than Suzanne Collins and is all the better for it.

And yet it still has all the things that make young adults love dystopian fiction. It’s got great romance, action, suspense, a powerful hero, an even more powerful heroine, and the ever-present love triangle of all dystopian books. But the action, suspense, romance, and characters in Shatter Me are much better than that of the average dystopian book. The plot of this book is unexpected and not at all predictable (as most dystopian books admittedly are), with so many unexpected twists and turns your head will truly (forgive me for the cliche) be left spinning. It’s one of the most exciting and beautifully-written books I have read in awhile.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Though I love this book so so much, I must admit there’s not a ton kids could learn from Shatter Me. I think it’s just one of those novels that make kids love reading and appreciate poetic language. Which, in my opinion, is enough.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 2/5

Quality of Story: 1.5/5

Quality of Characters: 2/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Betrothed to the Demon Prince from birth, Nyx travels to his enchanted castle to be his bride and to get close enough to him to kill him and free her people from his captivity.

My Favorite Quotes

“I had been waiting, all my life, for someone undeceived to love me.”

(You can tell by the quality of this quote (or lack thereof), that there were no impressive or notable quotes in this novel that I loved.)

cruel beauty

What I Loved About It

I usually love fairy tale retellings and I especially love Beauty and the Beast, but this particular retelling just seemed contrived and far-reaching. If it wasn’t marketed as a retelling of beauty and the beast, I probably wouldn’t have even guessed that it was meant to be one. The only similarities are that the heroine is locked in a castle with a seemingly evil man who she eventually falls in love with. The comparison stops there.

The whole hermetic magic part of the plot and the mysterious and magical castle setting just seemed so silly to me and put me off from the very beginning. The plot itself seemed tortuous and gratuitous and not the magical and intriguing fairy tale retelling I expected. I also didn’t find the Demon Lord or his mysterious shadow, Shade, to be attractive characters.

The whole time I was reading this book, I thought of my favorite folk tale retellings, Wintersong and The Wrath and the Dawn (if you haven’t read them, go read them right now. Right now!), and how I wished Cruel Beauty was more like them. I honestly didn’t even know this was a book people actually read and liked (I checked out the Kindle copy from my local library’s app after reading the summary and had never heard of it before then) until I looked at Goodreads after reading it. I honestly don’t see the appeal at all.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Nada.