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.

 

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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.

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Overall Rating: 3/5

Quality of Prose: 3.5/5

Quality of Story: 3/5

Quality of Characters: 3.5/5

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

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When best friends Dave and Julia started high school, they created a list of “Nevers,” cliche high school rites of passage that they refused to participate in, but as high school comes to a close 4 years later, they decide to complete every item on the list, including #10, “never date your best friend.”

My Favorite Quotes

“Love traveled, it ran, it covered ground, eager to see more, do more. It was two people keeping pace with each other.”

“Human beings are more or less formulas. We are not any one thing that is mathematically provable. We are more or less than we are anything. We are more or less kind, or more or less not. More or less selfish, happy, wise, lonely. Just like things are rarely always true or never true, we aren’t ever exactly one thing or another. We are more or less.”

never always sometimes

What I Loved About It

Never Always Sometimes is an enjoyable read, a light-hearted novel that encapsulates the fervor, fear, and nostalgia of the last months of high school in a way that few other novels do. It didn’t change my life or give me a book hangover like all my favorite books do, but I definitely had fun reading it.

Alsaid’s prose is great. Though it wasn’t immediately evident, Alsaid’s characters are fleshed out and interesting. While reading the first half of the book (from Dave’s perspective), I was not a fan of Julia. And then, just like that, Alsaid changes perspectives  and you get to read Julia’s side of things and you quickly find she is just as complex and likable a character as Dave. The switch in point-of-view certainly makes the book more interesting and enjoyable. And though the book’s plot is all about cliches, the novel itself refreshingly avoids all the high school coming-of-age romance cliches. Its ending is unexpected and real and bittersweet, much like the ending of high school itself.

What My Students Could Learn From It

This isn’t really the kind of book you read to give you a new perspective or to change how you think or feel about something, so I can’t honestly say my students could learn much from it.

But I do think it’s a great, perfectly nostalgic coming of age novel for kids to read in the months leading up to their high school graduation. I also think reading Never Always Sometimes could make kids realize that while they shouldn’t avoid all the typical high school rites of passage like Dave and Julia tried to, it’s important to remain an individual when everyone around you is content to conform (which, in case you don’t remember, is high school in a nut shell).

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 3/5

Quality of Characters: 2/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 1.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 5 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When Emmy’s childhood best friend, Oliver, returns home after being missing for 10 years because his father kidnapped him, Emmy & Oliver reconnect, fall in love, and learn to be true to themselves despite what their parents want for them.

My Favorite Quote

“I just hugged him and didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say. Sometimes there just aren’t enough words to fill the cracks in your heart.”

emmy

What I Loved About It

It’s a really interesting premise, exploring the aftermath of a biological parent kidnapping situation. I also thought Oliver was a really interesting character that kept me reading so I could learn more about him. But I thought that Benway kept something that could have dove really deep into some serious issues (I mean just imagine being kidnapped by your own parent while your other parent searches everywhere for you without you knowing. That is some messed up stuff!) very lighthearted and surface level. Emmy and Oliver fall in love and Emmy learns to tell her parents the truth about who she is because of him and that’s all nice and fluffy, but OLIVER WAS KIDNAPPED BY HIS DAD and why is this book so light and chill considering its subject matter?

Also, why does it mostly center on Emmy? I found myself caring very little about Emmy’s petty “I just want to surf but it’s dangerous so I can’t tell my parents about it” drama. Oliver was kidnapped and is trying to adjust to life with a mom that he doesn’t know because his dad took him from her and he misses his dad and this is some heavy stuff but for some reason it isn’t given the proper amount of heaviness in the novel. It also ends in a very happy “life is good” kind of way, and I just don’t think it’d be that easy for Oliver to adjust and cope after dealing with something like that.

I also feel like Benway’s prose is really good sometimes, and other times is trying way too hard to be funny or deep or relatable, and to me the trying-too-hard-ness was really obvious and took away from the book as a whole.

Overall, I liked this book. It was entertaining and fun. But the problem is that I don’t think it should be a fun book considering the subject matter.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Be true to yourself. Don’t just become who your parents want you to be, but forge a new path for yourself. All that tired teen trope jazz. Nothing much deeper than that.