Book Review – Pandemonium

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver Source: http://www.laurenoliverbooks.com

If you haven’t read Delirium yet, wait to read this post. This is the sequel, and it’s impossible to write about it without spoilers.

Pandemonium picks up where Delirium left off. Lena has escaped Portland into the Wilds, and is trying to heal – physically and emotionally – and find her place among a group of “Invalids” who have taken her in. Eventually Lena is given an important role in the resistance; she is assigned to watch Julian Fineman, son of the president of the DFA (Delirium-Free America, a group whose purpose is to promote the Cure). This assignment takes Lena, as well as a number of her friends from the Wilds, into the middle of a DFA rally in Times Square. When an attack happens at the rally, Julian is taken into an old subway tunnel. Lena follows, and soon finds herself fighting for her life.

This book was written differently than Delirium, with each chapter alternating between “Then” and “Now” – Lena’s adjustment into the Wilds, and her role in the resistance. At first I wasn’t too fond of this layout, but as the story went on, I appreciated it much more, and I can’t imagine it written differently. I wasn’t as compelled to read the first few chapters as I had been in Delirium, maybe because of the alternating settings, but there came a point where I found myself thinking, “Ok, just read this next chapter so you can get back to ‘now’ to see what happens!”

I didn’t like this book better than Delirium, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, period. This was more of an adventure, and very action-packed compared to Delirium. Lena’s narration was perfect again. Lauren Oliver has a way of describing things and telling a story in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily think of, but it’s exactly right; I feel like her writing is poetic but simple. This had another one of those cliffhanger endings, and I couldn’t resist a trip to Barnes and Noble the day after I finished, to get the third book. Which I just finished… 🙂

Overall, if you loved Delirium, it’s a good idea to read Pandemonium. And pick up Requiem while you’re at it, trust me.

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Book Review – Send

Send by Patty Blount

Send by Patty Blount

Send, by Patty Blount, is one of the new young adult novels that I recently picked up on a Barnes and Noble shopping spree. I feel a need to make sure I am reading a wider variety of books so that I can give student recommendations more easily. I know that I need to find books that would appeal to boys, and this seemed like it might be a good choice.

Send focuses on the aftermath of bullying. Daniel Ellison is starting his senior year at a new high school where no one knows his history, and he must keep it that way. No one can find out that he spent time in a juvenile detention center at the age of thirteen for causing a classmate’s suicide. So when he arrives at school on his very first day and sees a fight about to happen, Daniel must make an important decision. Does he walk away and allow a boy to be bullied, or does he step in and stop the fight, risking the discovery of his past? Going against the voice inside his head, he decides to try to stop the fight. Daniel’s decision to step in creates his reputation and sets the tone for the rest of his school year. This decision also leads Dan into an initially unwilling friendship with Julie, a girl who watched him stop the fight, and who seems to know that he has a secret.

I had never heard of this book before I saw it on the shelves, so I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading it. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, the story line was very realistic and I feel like as the narrator, Daniel is a character that teens can easily relate to – especially boys. It was refreshing to see a story from the perspective of a (former) bully, and to get an idea of how deeply those poor choices affect such a person years later. Many people may think that a bully has no regret for the way they have treated others, but in Daniel’s case this isn’t true. His guilt and remorse is clear throughout the story and they are what drive many of his choices. My only complaint about the novel was the voice inside Daniel’s head, which I mentioned briefly in the synopsis. Daniel literally has a voice that he hears in his head, and with which he converses. While the role of this inner voice is very important to the story, I feel like it became distracting. Overall, though, I felt like the book was a very worthwhile read. When I find myself thinking of a book and its characters days after I have finished reading it, I know that I’ve found a good one.

Would I recommend this book to students? Yes. My only hesitation would be adult language and a brief adult scenario – again, as a teacher, I am often careful in what I tell kids to read; I don’t want to suggest anything their parents wouldn’t approve of! 🙂

Book Review – Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

This book has been on my to-read list for years, and I’m not quite sure why I never got around to it before now. Luckily, with a new job as an eighth grade reading teacher, I feel a much greater need to get through the Young Adult and Teen books that I’ve been meaning to read. This was one of the first I checked off my list.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, is a story about a teenage girl named Hannah who commits suicide. Rather than leave a suicide note, Hannah leaves cassette tapes with recordings of herself speaking. On the cassette tapes are thirteen stories – thirteen reasons why she felt the only choice left to her was suicide. Each story centers around a separate person who she has had interactions with, mainly in school. Hannah has arranged to have the cassette tapes mailed to the first person mentioned on the tapes, with instructions for that person to mail them to the second person and so on, until the tapes reach the final person who was “responsible” for Hannah’s death.

What becomes apparent as the stories unfold is how one small action or choice can have such an influence on a person’s life long after that original action. One joke or rumor can lead to a misguided idea and impression of a person, and this impression often dictates how that person is treated by others. Unfortunately, even the truth from the affected person can be overlooked in favor of stories that match more closely to the pre-made judgements.

Hannah’s stories begin with a boy who Hannah kissed (and only kissed) – her first kiss. The story her classmates hear instead, is that there was more than kissing. Although Hannah insists on an innocent kiss being all there was, her reputation is set. It is from this one simple exaggeration that everything else spirals and snowballs.

Although the plot focuses on Hannah’s stories from her cassettes, there are actually two narrators – Hannah and one of the people who receives the tapes, a boy named Clay. While two narrators can sometimes become confusing, I thought it worked well for this book, because we saw Clay’s immediate reaction to Hannah’s stories and her remarks. For me, it made the book even more powerful.

I feel like this story does a very good job of showing us that the way we treat people does make a difference; it does have an effect on them. We may think we are only teasing, or that we are harmlessly passing on a story, but that story or that teasing remark may be one of countless others that a person is dealing with. What stuck with me after I finished, was the fact that almost every person Hannah mentioned on her cassettes treated her in a way that matched their expectations. Hardly anyone took the time to get to know Hannah, and to form their own opinions of her. How many of us do this in our own lives?

Each time I finish a young adult/teen book, I consider if it’s a book that I’d like to include in my classroom library or that I can recommend to my students. This is certainly a book that I think my (students’) age group should read – my only hesitation is that there is some more “adult” matter. I’d need to make sure I recommend it to a student who can handle it, and who can focus on the story as a whole, taking the proper message from it.

Book Review – The Book Thief

 

As soon as I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak last night, I knew that I would do a terrible job of coming up with a concise synopsis. There is so much to the book that’s important that I don’t know where to start. But I will try.

At the age of 9 and living in Nazi Germany, Liesel Meninger watches her brother die aboard a train. They are with their mother, on the way to the foster family that will be caring for Liesel and her brother, but Liesel doesn’t quite understand why her mother is giving them up. Before they reach their destination, they must stop to bury her brother in a cemetery along the route and once he is buried, Liesel finds a book in the snow near his grave – The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Even though she can’t read, Liesel takes the book with her to her new home with Rosa and Hans Hubermann. It is Hans that helps Liesel learn to read and ignites her love of reading, sparking an interest in books which will lead to more thefts.

As she grows into her new life with the Hubermanns, Liesel becomes good friends with a neighbor boy and shares many adventures with him – from stealing books to stealing apples from farmers. It isn’t until the Hubermanns take in a Jew and hide him in their basement that Liesel’s life begins to change in a deeper way. Through the friendship she forms with this man, she eventually realizes how powerful her knowledge of words truly is.

I honestly don’t even know how to begin to describe how I felt about this book except for saying that I loved it. Aside from World War II and Nazi Germany, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began reading it. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get into it, but once I got through the first few chapters, I was hooked. To be honest, I didn’t really feel that emotionally involved for much of the book. Yes, I reached parts where I was thinking, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen to him/her?” or, “No! Why would you do that??” but I didn’t find myself thinking of the characters randomly throughout the day.

Until I reached the last 100 pages.

All I will tell you is that I lay in bed last night with the intention of reading a few more chapters and finishing the book today. And then I found myself turning page after page with tears streaming down my face. And now I keep thinking of everyone in that book as if I actually knew them. I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to give anything away. I should mention, though, that the narrator does give away the ending towards the middle of the book, and even though you know that you know the ending, it doesn’t really make it any less surprising.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was that it really showed these characters in a different way than what I’m used to, but I can’t quite explain why it was different. Maybe it was the style of writing, which seemed almost poetic. I’ll stop going on and on about it. Do yourself a favor and read it.