She’s So Dead To Us

After that very serious and difficult to write review of Lois Lowry’s Son, I need a fun brain break. And the perfect book for a fun brain break? Kieran Scott‘s She’s So Dead To Us. Now, that’s not to say that this is a dumb book. It’s not. It’s full of great stuff to think about… but it’s also just really enjoyable.

http://www.amazon.com/Shes-So-Dead-Hes-Trilogy/dp/1416999523/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352508305&sr=1-1&keywords=she%27s+so+dead+to+us

In this book, the first in a trilogy, protagonist Ally is forced to move back to the town where she grew up – and is now an outcast. Why? Because her dad pretty much screwed the families of her very wealthy friends out of a lot of money, so all of her old friends totally hate her for what her dad did. Plus Ally has moved back with just her mom, her dad having left the family out of his own shame, and they’re living on the poor side of town.

As if this isn’t all hard enough to deal with, there’s a new family living in her old house, and their son, Jake, is downright dreamy. And he’s now friends with all of Ally’s old friends. While there are undeniable sparks between the two of them, all of these social issues are bound to come between them. Luckily they each give their own POV in the narrative, so we get insight into what they’re both thinking throughout the trilogy. It’s pretty awesome.

These books are great for the high school crowd and enjoyable for the rest of us, too. As I was doing some research for this post, I discovered that Kieran Scott also writes under some pen names, and I’ve actually read TONS of her books when you take the pen names into account. But it brings me to ask this question: WHY would an author write under a pen name if it wasn’t a secret??? Any thoughts?

Anyway, ENJOY this trilogy! It’s so fun.

~Melissa

The World of The Giver

One of my very favorite books of all time is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It’s a classic. It’s fun to teach. It makes you think. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to get it out of your head, always popping up to make crazy connections with controversial current events. I’ve had many conversations with former students about The Giver several years after I’ve taught it to them. The book is alarming to say the least, but I feel like it’s ultimately hopeful. At this point, after teaching it for 10 years to over thirty separate classes, I’d say I’ve read it 12-15 times. I just really, really love it.If you haven’t read it, you MUST.

As Lois Lowry has published companion novels to The Giver, I’ve read them eagerly. They’ve been good, but not quite as amazing as The Giver. Of course, for me, it’s hard to live up to the standard set by The Giver. In Gathering Blue, we see a different community that’s equally as strange with a female protagonist named Kira. Definitely worth reading. In The Messenger, we see yet another community that is less strange, more free, and has specific references to some of the main characters from The Giver. (I’m trying not to give away spoilers. I want you to read these if you haven’t already, and I refuse to spoil the ending of The Giver for anybody.)

Now, I thought this would be the end of The Giver books. And it was a good ending. So imagine my surprise when I discovered a fourth and final book, Son, in this weird little series was being published! I pre-ordered my copy immediately and set about waiting. Impatiently.

Now, I’ve already admitted my extreme love of the original Giver book and how hard it would be to live up to its excellence. So it’s impossible to detach myself from that and truly JUST read Son without all of my previous Giver experience.

In a nutshell, Son was not what I’d hoped. It tied up all the loose ends left dangling in the previous three books, gave another viewpoint (and we all know how I love alternate POVs) of the community from the Giver, and wrapped it all up with a pretty little ending. You’d think all of that would be GREAT. You’d think I’d be HAPPY.

The thing is, Lowry’s books have always been a little mysterious and ambiguous. She has said in interviews that she MEANT for the ending of The Giver to be hopeful, but she wanted the reader to think about the ending and come up with the characters’ futures for themselves. And so I did. A lot. Jonas and Gabe and The Giver and the Community have been moving forward with their futures in my head for over 10 years. In my head, they’re all happy and successful and have become better people after going through their conflicts. But then Lowry comes along and wraps her version of their futures up into Son, and they didn’t match with what was in my head.

So I guess what I’m saying is that if you read all four books now, you’d probably think Son is perfect. If, like me, you read The Giver ages ago and you have deep emotional connections to it, you might want to avoid it… but you probably won’t because the thought of another Giver book is pretty irresistible. So just brace yourself. If you’re interested in reading an interview with Lois Lowry about Son, you can find one here. It’s interesting, for sure, to hear her motivations for writing Son… but at the end of the day I still wish she hadn’t. Sorry if that’s harsh.

I also stumbled upon this article about a possible movie version of The Giver… I don’t know if I could handle that, either! :)

Enjoy the worlds Lois Lowry has created in these books!

Shades of London: The Name of the Star

Ok, I really, really, really like Maureen Johnson. She’s a wonderful, quirky writer and she makes me laugh on twitter. For real, you should follow her on twitter. Trust me.

I haven’t quite read all of her books – our county library doesn’t own some of her earlier books, and my book money only goes so far. But, most of what I have read is pretty girl centered (in a good way) and perfect for the teen girl market.

When her latest book, The Name of the Star, originally came out (the original cover is the older looking one with the creepy black and white ghosty guy) I was excited to read something from Johnson that didn’t necessarily fit into her typical book category. It didn’t disappoint. At all.

The Name of The Star has the perfect amount of mystery and creepiness balanced with lots of fun. I love Maureen Johnson’s voice in her books – that playful quirkiness always comes through. It’s like you can just tell she’d be really fun to go get some coffee with. Anyway, in this book, London is being terrorized by someone who is copying the Jack the Ripper murders. The protagonist, a teenage girl from Louisiana studying at an English boarding school, is named Rory. She’s instantly likable and easy to identify with as she navigates this mystery.

What I like about this, too, is that it IS the first in a series of books called Shades of London. The next book, The Madness Underneath, comes out in February. BUT this is not like those series where you can’t stand to wait for the next one, even though you’ll definitely look forward to it. The Name of the Star has a resolved, finished feel to it. It’s perfectly satisfying, and it’s good to know there will be more of them.

You can click here to be taken to the Barnes and Noble site for this book if you want to order. (I’m not endorsed by BN or anything. It’s just one of my happy places.) On that page, you can preview the first part of the book by clicking on the book cover. They also have a cool preview of Book 2 in the series so you can check it out. Enjoy… I know I did!

~Melissa

The Summer I Turned Pretty

As the weather turns cold and we’re all starting to wish summer would hurry up and roll around again, I find myself recalling events, settings, and characters from this trilogy of Summer books by author Jenny Han. They’re so much fun and full of sweet, romantic longing. As far as content (language and sexual) goes, I think they’re fine for 7th grade and up.
Belly, the protagonist, is pretty self absorbed and her self confidence is horrid, but I identify with that… Don’t all of us struggle with those things some? I’m not really a fan of characters that have their acts together more than I do. Anyway, I liked Belly, and I liked the other characters. I’d love to spend time with them all in real life, which is how I know an author has really made characters believable and honest and real. I loved the setting and am thoroughly jealous of people who get to spend entire summers at the beach like that. The only thing I didn’t like was that it ended. And, if it had to end, it could have at least ended with a freakin kiss. The rest of the trilogy doesn’t dissapoint in the romance department, though – if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to escape to a different place for the summers and experience having your choice between two boys (and what girl hasn’t?) then you’ll love these books.
Han has recently been working on a new trilogy beginning with Burn For Burn, which just came out this summer. It was great. I was a little disappointed in the end because it was a HUGE cliffhanger that left me wishing I had just waited until all three were published before starting. If you don’t mind cliffhangers, though, you should definitely check out Burn For Burn. Like, now.
Enjoy!

Friday Favorite: Jenny B. Jones

I’m trying out a new Friday blog feature – Friday Favorite. I’ll share some of my favorite books, authors, coffees, and whatever other favorites I feel like sharing. Ha!

For my very first Friday Favorite, I’m highlighting author Jenny B. Jones. I stumbled upon one of her books two summers ago while in a Christian book store. It was on sale and part of a promotional thing to get people hooked onto her Charmed Life series, and it most certainly worked for me! I am a Christian, but I tend to not like very much “Christian Fiction” because it can be SO preachy. Anyway, that’s why the sale was enough to entice me to try So Not Happening out. 
I could not have been more pleasantly surprised! It was in line with my beliefs AND not preachy or cheesy AT ALL. In fact, Jones has a great voice that comes through in all of her characters – she in smart, sarcastic, witty, hilarious… I could go on, but just trust me. I bought and devoured every one of her books, both YA and Adult, and have loved every single one of them. Everybody that reads one of her books after hearing my recommendation comes back with absolutely glowing reviews. 
So the first one I want to highlight is the Charmed Life books, which have been conveniently repackaged into one volume. This volume includes So Not Happening, I’m So Sure, and So Over My Head. In these books you follow the protagonist, Bella, a high school city girl (YAY for city girls!) that gets transplanted to rural Oklahoma through a series of unfortunate family events. She goes through all kinds of troubles as you’d expect, and even manages to find herself solving crimes. I read these as separate volumes and went insane having to wait for the next book (because of course I wasn’t smart enough to just buy all three when I happened upon the first one on sale), so I’d highly recommend just buying this one, all inclusive volume. You won’t be sorry.
The other title from Jenny B. Jones I want to specifically mention is There You’ll Find Me. It’s probably my very favorite of hers, which is really saying something, because I love them all. In this one, though, we get to follow Finley Sinclair, an 18 year old girl who’s already been through a lot in her life, as she goes to Ireland to follow her older brother’s travel journal. She meets a famous actor but doesn’t go all crazy for him like most girls would and, of course, there’s great romance in the book. Just writing about it here has me wanting to reread it again!
I highly recommend all books by Jenny B. Jones. You can find her Amazon author page here: http://www.amazon.com/Jenny-B.-Jones/e/B001JP850C/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1351478714&sr=1-2-ent
She’s also fun to follow on twitter – https://twitter.com/JenBJones 
Enjoy!
~Melissa

How To Save A Life

Sara Zarr is one of those authors that seems to touch my heart with her words in a way that is unforgettable. This is especially evident in her most recent book, How To Save A Life, which just recently came out in paperback.

In HTSAL, we get to see two very different points of view of the same adoption story line – a pregnant teenage girl contemplating giving her baby up for adoption, and a teenage girl in the family she chooses to adopt her baby.So many good things are happening in this book – alternating viewpoints (which I love, if you haven’t noticed by now), hugely relevant subject matter for so many teenagers and their families, and this compelling story of love and compassion that simply must be read.
While the subject of teen pregnancy might seem like a high school only topic for some parents and teachers, Zarr is able to handle this topic without sensationalizing it – I’d be perfectly comfortable with having this in my middle school classroom, which is at a pretty conservative school. On the flip side, this book is written so well that high school and college readers wouldn’t feel at all like they were reading a young readers type of book.
I’m really a huge fan of Sara Zarr, so I’ll be highlighting her more completely in a Friday Favorite coming up soon. For now, though, I wanted to give How To Save A Life its very own blog shoutout because it’s just that amazing.

According to Zarr’s website, the paperback version also has an exerpt from the next book she has coming out, which I’m anxiously waiting to get my hands on. Go buy it now! AND… I just found a contest for the new paperback edition. Enjoy!

~Melissa

Dangerous Pie

As an English teacher, nothing makes me happier than seeing my students really connect with and enjoy a book that I’ve forced upon them. This book, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, is one of the few books I’ve ever taught that literally EVERY student liked. Unfortunately, I’ve switched grade levels and don’t get to teach this book anymore, but I still recommend it. Constantly and quite forcefully.

Jordan Sonnenblick has a way of storytelling in this book that can have you laughing through tears, putting yourself into situations you hope you’ll never have to face, but that you’re happy to accompany his characters through. In it, we follow Steven through the journey of his eighth grade year. He’s a skinny dork with glasses and braces, a hopeless crush on the hottest girl in school, a total band geek, and a little brother that ends up turning his whole world around. While this book does have a main character with cancer, it’s not a book about cancer. It’s about growing up and going through crap that makes you better for having lived through it.

The fact that this is Sonnenblick’s first novel is amazing to me. I’ve read most of his other books, which are good too… but not quite as magical as this one is. The companion/follow-up to this, Notes From The Midnight Driver, is a close second though. Just the first chapter had me laughing out loud (I guess the death of porcelain lawn gnomes will always be funny).

If you haven’t read any Sonnenblick, you should. And you should start with Drums. This is literally one of the best books I’ve ever read. Enjoy!

Side note to English Teachers: Don’t let the fact that this is modern YA keep you from teaching this book – not everything has to be old to be good. There’s a ton of rich text in this that make it VERY appropriate to teach in a 7th/8th grade classroom, and also a lot of interesting author’s craft stuff (like his unique way of handling dialogue that switches at the very end of the book) that goes right along with Common Core Standards. It’s all kinds of awesome.