16 December 2011

Best Book for Teenage Boys

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (March 1, 2012, Amulet Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene

There are some books you read for intellectual purposes. Books with layers of meaning, making you think deeply about the philosophy of life and how you’d like to live yours. Books that make you cry or laugh, or generally change the paradigm you view the world through. They’re usually layered with intense words, phrases that provoke thought whether or not the reader wants them to.

Then there are books like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Even while it includes all of the themes, despite the main character arguing that it absolutely doesn’t, it is a book that is fun to read. It definitely is not one of the books that you would see on a high school curriculum, even though students would probably relate to it more than Macbeth or Of Mice and Men. The best part is reading it right as the semester ends, as a glorious rebuttal to all that learning they made you do for fifteen weeks.


Greg Gaines gets through high school by maintaining connections with everyone, not enough to make friends, but enough to make sure that he is bullied by no one. As a flabby kid with a rat face, he thinks that this is the best way to survive until graduation day. Of course, he does have one friend, a guy named Earl with whom he makes movies. Gloriously bad movies.

He’s going through his senior year with the best of luck. He’s at the top of the food chain and there is nothing to stop him. Until his mom tells him that his ex-girlfriend, Rachel, has leukemia. Greg is convinced that this means nothing to him, especially since there relationship ended years ago. Still, Greg starts hanging out with Rachel to appease his mother. Earl, of course, tags along. As his relationship with Rachel develops into real friendship, he is cornered into making her a film, one that showcases how good his skills are. Greg’s senior year veers from being about invisibility to everyone knowing who exactly he is, whether he likes it or not.


William Wordsworth attempted to change poetry, to write it in “the language of man” for all to enjoy it. Jesse Andrews takes this a step further and writes in the language of a male teenager. The interactions between Earl and Greg are exactly the way that my lunch table used to talk, the innuendos, the overabundance of swearing, and the general grunts being able to be deciphered only by others the same age. Greg’s mindset is exactly the one that I saw a lot of people take in my high school, where they avoided bullying by avoiding friendship. From the moment I started reading his narrative, I clicked with Greg as if he attended my senior year with me.

Greg is a character that constantly insists that the book contains absolutely no themes. From the beginning to the end, he is reassuring the reader that he has learned absolutely nothing from this experience and the book is just a waste of time. He actually insults the reader for continuing passing through the pages instead of setting it down. It’s just so funny, but doesn’t distract from the fact that he actually had changed from knowing Rachel.

In all, the book is one that I’d recommend not only to those who read often, but those who normally don’t read. If you have a teenage boy in the house that hasn’t picked up a book since Captain Underpants, then Me and Earl and the Dying Girl might be the novel to trick them back into reading AND enjoying it.

13 December 2011

Heartbreakers Heal Hearts, Too!

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten (December 27, 2011, HarperTeen)
Review by Kelly Lucas

Once upon a time, a girl was playing around on Goodreads and saw a title by a favorite author. That title was The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers and that author is Lynn Weingarten. From that moment, I knew I HAD to read this book. No, seriously, I continued to pester Lynn and her publisher about Advanced Reader Copies until that fateful day: the day Lynn told me that I was receiving an ARC.*

Even though I was in the middle of reading two other books at the time, had loads of GRE studying to do, and my room was a mess, I began to read it right away. This almost never happens. I buy a book and it sits on my shelf for the next year before I have time to read it. Seriously, I *still* haven’t read The Last Little Blue Envelope and it’s been on my shelf since May. These things take time. Except, I had been waiting for SSH for almost a year, if not more.

The title doesn’t give you much and the summary on Goodreads is very vague. I had no idea what was going to happen in this book. I knew these girls were heart breakers, and I knew Lucy had recently had her heart broken, and this is why I love this book. LOVE. Not past tense, present. Reading SSH was such a joy to my day that I wish I was still reading it. Lynn’s voice in Wherever Nina Lies was so different from what I normally read. I fell in love with her writing then. Lynn has the gift of a story teller, except more so. You may think you’re sitting down with her books, but she’s actually there with you. She sits you down, cuddles underneath the blankets with you, and tells you the story like she had lived it herself.

Lucy is fifteen and in love her boyfriend, Alex. Typical, yes? Let’s continue. First day of sophomore year, she approaches Alex and, ohmygoodness, he breaks up with her. Lucy does what any girl would normally do, runs to the bathroom and cry. What Lucy didn’t know is that three girls have been paying a bit too much attention to her.

Olivia, Gil, and Liza invite her into their group to do one thing: make a boy fall in love with her in seven days and then break his heart to collect the tear. The catch? Once Lucy breaks a heart and drinks the magic potion, her heart will be unbreakable. Who would really say no to that? Lucy decides to go along with their plan, but use their magic to win back Alex instead.

Lucy is your typical 15-year-old girl who just had her heart broken. She wants to fix it and get her boyfriend back. While she’s very smart, she’s also a bit naive. Olivia, Liza and Gil are seniors and wish to share their knowledge of boys and how to make these boys not only like, but fall in love with Lucy. Lucy is using them while they in turn are using her. Honestly, they’re nut-jobs. If three girls had told me they had magic to make boys fall in love with them, I would have done the same thing Lucy did. Lucy was hurt and did not have another option. I felt for her because I had been there, not only when I was 15, but earlier this very year. I connected with Lucy as if I was her. This hooked me in and made me keep reading. I wanted to know how Lucy would get Alex back and if she really would. I wanted to know how she tackled the secret sisterhood and their witchy ways.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned from this book about love. After dealing with a cracked heart, I was starting to heal. While it is a bit of a paranormal tale, I view it as a bit of a dating journal as well. No girl likes to have a broken heart and this book is your magic potion.

*That day’s joy ALMOST matched my joy for Pottermore. ALMOST. 

UPDATE: I totally forgot to tell you guys that we're doing a CONTEST. Just follow our blog and comment on THIS post and you'll be entered to win a copy of The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers! What else! I'll leave it open until the end of this year [Dec. 31, 2011]! 


Congrats to Allison for winning! But stay tuned for more contests throughout 2012!

02 December 2011

Pass Me a Bottle of Yorick as I Reread This

Croak by Gina Damico (March 20, 2012, Graphia)
Review by Kenzie Helene

From the very first sentence, Croak drags you into the life of Lexington, a teenage girl living in New York City. Lex had always been a good kid. She got straight A’s, was a hall monitor, and followed all the rules. That is until she started getting uncontrollable bouts of anger and hurting the other students in her school. When the principal threatens to expel her on the last day of junior year, her parents offer to send Lex to her Uncle Mort’s farm for the Summer, hoping it will change her attitude. It certainly does, but how is Lex supposed to get used to living with a group of Grim Reapers?


Gina Damico, the author, does amazing things with the cast she presents in her novel. Uncle Mort is an uncle I wish I had in my family, with crazy hair and motorcycle. Oh, and he’s a Grim Reaper. While readers get to meet Lex, her twin Cordy, and Uncle Mort, they also get to meet other famous people who have drifted onto the afterlife, like Edgar Allan Poe and a few dead founding fathers while Lex and a group of friends venture into the afterlife. Each of them has their own quirks and faults that makes them not only more realistic, but fun to read.

While the characters in Croak are imaginative, it is the setting that truly evokes a response while reading. Croak is a small town in Upstate New York. When people from other states picture New York, they picture big skyscrapers, great shopping and important landmarks. Upstate New York is nothing like that. There are cows and farmland and during the Winter months, a lot of snow. However, Croak is nothing like the traditional Upstate New York town. It’s small on the outside, but just like the TARDIS*, it’s bigger on the inside, a private world that visitors are forced not to notice. The description of their personal twist on alcohol, Yorick, and their pack of death-finding jellyfish just make me want to visit. Unfortunately, Croak has their own methods of making tourists leave.

Lexington battles the constant fear that what the Grims do is wrong. Grim Reapers are not allowed to interfere with death or take the soul of anyone who isn't dead, but Lex can't help but feel that if she were to kill murderers, rapists, and other criminals, the world would be a much better place. The power to control death is a heavy one and brings up the question of what would the reader do if placed in the same situation. The saying about absolute power is that it corrupts absolutely.

While I’m absolutely distraught because my copy of Croak has been returned, I can’t wait for it to come out in March. I’ll be waiting at the bookstore to get a physical copy into my hands. As a fellow upstate New York-er, I am more than hoping that Damico might come and sign this awesome book near here.
*Doctor Who Reference, a time traveling spaceship that is bigger on the inside.

02 November 2011



As an avid Lynn Weingarten fan, I absolutely adore this trailer. It is the perfect amount of suspense and knowledge.

I can honestly say I cannot wait for this book to come out. I've had my heart broken a few too many times and this book helped greatly.

My review will be up NEXT MONTH as we prepare for the MONTH OF LYNN WEINGARTEN AWESOMENESS!!

Get excited y'all. 'Cause it's gonna be awesome.

29 September 2011

I'd Suffer Through an Apocalypse to Get the Next Book!

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick (September 6, 2011, EgmontUSA)
Review by Kenzie Helene

When a book is attempting to instill fear in me, there is one thing that always works: being realistic. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies aren’t going to send shivers up my spine, but the idea of nuclear war or science gone wrong will leave me aching for a nightlight and my teddy bear. Ashes made me want more than a nightlight and it totally beat out the monsters hiding in my closet. In fact, it made the monsters under my bed want to crawl underneath the covers to hide with me!

Alex is just trekking across a mountain and trying to come to terms with her parents’ deaths when an electromagnetic pulse destroys all the technology that the world has become used to. Some people crash down to the ground, dead on the spot, others turn into malicious cannibals that have lost their humanity, and the rest are spared. Except being spared doesn’t make life any easier. With all electronics disabled, communications are down and so are chances of survival.


As a firm fan of the Saw movies, Ashes freaked me out. There were a few scenes that were described in such detail that I started to worry that I’d be eaten next. During these scenes, I’d try to put the book down and watch something cheerful, but the plot would beckon me to the next point, urging me forward, despite my dismay at the gore.

Alex is everything I’d hope to be in a desperate situation. She thinks rationally and makes decisions that the reader can understand and sympathize with. While she tries to blot out her emotions entirely, she cannot achieve it and it makes the book a touch more realistic to see her suffer because of contradicting feelings. Partnered with eight year old Ellie, who has been forced to mature quickly, and a young soldier, Tom, the characters remain dear to your heart while reading.

Be warned, Ashes is the beginning of a trilogy. While I’m looking forward to both Shadows and Monsters, waiting has never been my strong point. If you’re like me and will end up begging the author for hints, small passages, and leaks from the next book, you might be better waiting to read the whole series in one go.

With so many new dystopian-esque novels being released, Ashes cuts away from the cloth to reveal something that is so authentic that you’ll find yourself wandering online to order a stockpile of supplies.

28 August 2011

Author Interview: Victoria Schwab Talks Near Witch and Narwhals!

As many of you already know, I’ve been obsessed with The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab for a very, very long time. And now it is HERE, and I am so happy, I keep hugging my copy and dancing. I hope you are all reading YOUR copies right now.

Before The Near Witch was among us, when I was still a quivering mass of excitement while I waited for its release, I asked Victoria to stop by for an interview, and she was sweet enough to oblige!

Laura: Victoria, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview! I know you're terribly busy and very stressed with touring and edits, so it means a lot that you'd take time out of your schedule to do this. I am head over heels for The Near Witch, and I know I could talk all day about my love for it. What would you like readers to know about The Near Witch?

Victoria: The Near Witch is not really paranormal romance, but it's not really high fantasy either. It's a fairy tale, and fairy tales exist in this odd, wonderful gray space between genres. It's a tale of witches and ghosts, of trust and fear and magic and strangers. I hope people pick up not knowing what to expect. Too clearly these days by the time we've lifted a book from the shelf, we think we know what we're in for. I don't want people to know. I just want them to read. Maybe for a little while, the world goes away.

Laura: What has been your favorite author experience to date, and what part of being a newly-published author are you looking forward to the most?  

Victoria: Oh man, I'm not sure I can pick. It's been so surreal, having authors I respect, and whose work I love, treat me as an equal, chat with me, welcome me into their world. I hope I never get used to it. I will say that I'm a huge Laini Taylor fan, and the first time she spoke to me on Twitter, I might have done a dance in my kitchen.

Laura: I consider myself a student of cover art, which is a nice way to say that I spend a lot of time staring at covers and analyzing them. A lot of time. How well do you feel The Near Witch's cover expresses the story?

Victoria: My favorite part about The Near Witch's cover is actually its lightness. It's by no means a light story, but it's whimsical, even in its dark moments. It's an odd cover, especially for paranormal/fantasy, which tends toward dark palettes, but I love it for that. The Near Witch is different, and the cover is different. There are these faint gloss filigrees you can only see when you get close, and I love that, too. It's meant to draw you in. A little unassuming, perhaps, but up close, layered. I like the think the book is like that, too. Plus, the moorscape on the back makes my heart happy.

Laura: In The Near Witch, the setting is a vibrant and active part of the story. Was Near or the moor inspired by a real place you’ve visited?

Victoria: I've spent a bit of time in England (the north of which is most often associated with moors) but Near was a mix of things. The isolated, airy feeling inherent in fairy tales, the rolling, tall-grass hills that make land like sea, the weedy, unkempt wild and the old stone and wood, stacked-together structures. I wanted the tangled feel of it all.

Laura: Which character came first, Lexi, or the Near Witch, and did one inspire the other?

Victoria: Lexi came first of the two, but Near and Cole preceded both. The first things I knew of the book were the town and the stranger, but I heard them described in Lexi's voice. The Witch came last :)

Laura: projects are you working on now? This is an obvious ploy to trick you into telling us more about your mystery project, Vagabond Puppies.

Victoria: Haha, it will take more than that to get me to spill about Vagabond Puppies. But I'm just about to start edits on my next contracted book, The Archived. The only way we've been able to describe it so far (the mash-up is constantly twisting and changing) is Buffy meets The Shining meets If I Stay. Believe me when I say I CANNOT WAIT to share more. As for Vagabond Puppies... my lips are sealed.

Laura: Do you have a favorite drink or snack for when you’re writing?

Victoria: TEA. Tea and some form of baked good, preferably a cookie, to go with it :)

Laura: Who are some of your favorite authors? And can you tell us which books you think nobody should miss?

Victoria: It is a long, and ever-growing list, but always at the top are Neil Gaiman, Laini Taylor, Suzanne Collins, Patrick Rothfuss...

Laura: You have a whole army of narwhals...what is their mission? Should we be afraid?

Victoria: YES. BE VERY AFRAID. My narwhals wander out into the world and whisper witchy things ;)

Laura: The Zombie Apocalypse has begun: What is your strategy for survival?

Victoria: Eat as much sugar as humanly possible. I've heard zombies prefer salty over sweet.

Laura: That is very good advice... *opens bag of cookies*

You can pick up this brilliant book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. OR, PREFERABLY, from your favorite indie bookstore! Really, you should order this book last week because it is just that great. I can't stop giving it out at the library.

Thank you again for stopping by, Victoria!

19 August 2011

Let's Add This to the Curriculum

Tankborn by Karen Sandler (October 1, 2011, Lee & Low Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene

It is rare that I come across a book that I would love to teach. I'm not headed out to be a teacher, or to make lesson plans of any sort, but there have been a few times that I've come across a book so perfectly written that it is made to be in a classroom. A book that has lessons that need to be taught with a plot that can capture the heart of a high school student set against reading. Tankborn is one of these novels.


Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-human. Loka, Kayla’s planet, is run on an archaic caste system, one where GENs are the lowest tier. In her fifteenth year, Kayla  is given an assignment that she is told will make her happiest in life because of the skill set she was engineered with. Kayla is sent to take care of Zul Manel, an old trueborn, but before she can go, a series of codes is downloaded into her annexed brain and upsets the course of her future.


Tankborn brings up the biggest question in history (and literature): what does it mean to be human? Is being human having the traits that we consider to own as ours? Is it being able to think past biology, to make decisions based on reasoning deeper than the need to breed and pass on genes? Or is it DNA and DNA only? By providing the best medical care that we can, are we somehow taking away what makes a person human? Tankborn questions all these  theories and how far we should go in genetic engineering if we wish to remain on top.

Beyond the idea of humanity itself, Tankborn delves into the controversial subject of religion.
Trueborns and lowborns have kept the one thing that unites Islam, Christianity, and Judaism by believing in a Lord Creator. Kayla and other GENs, however, believe in a different religion, one ruled by the Infinite. Tankborn makes readers question the origin of religion and rediscover why they believe in their faith, or why they do not.

Author Karen Sandler has come a long way with this plot, starting Tankborn off as a play and eventually adapting it to the brilliant novel it has become. Tankborn’s plot is enrapturing. The first fifty pages go a bit slow, but all of it is needed to show the reader the language style and lifestyle that is on Loka. By the end of the book, you’ll be thinking in terms of GENs and trueborns more than proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Her characters are built so solidly that you could reach out and bop them on the head when they make bad decisions. Sandler spent quality time with these characters, learning about them and talking to them enough that it feels like she’s writing about her best friends more than make-believe people. Each character’s motivations and confusion is documented within the pages, revealing the inner turmoil they go through. Devak’s, Zul Manel’s great grandson’s, mental war between enjoying Kayla’s company and having been taught that GENs are lesser is fully understood by anyone who has ever been confronted with a new idea. Mishall’s, Kayla’s best friend’s, bewilderness about the sketchy people she works for makes the reader squirm with sympathy. Kayla’s self esteem issues about her looks is something any teen can relate to. All these intimate problems make reading Tankborn feel more like a memoir than fiction. When a book is loved, the writing is so much better and well thought-out. Tankborn was obviously loved to pieces.

Whether you read every day or once a year, Tankborn is a book that you need to run out and get.** And if you love it, make sure to share it with a friend.

** On October 1st, of course!

12 August 2011

A Candor Would Say This Book is Awesome!

Divergent by Veronica Roth (May 3, 2011, Katherine Tegen Books)
Review by Kendra Zartmann

I never heard any pre-release news for Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was only because an awesome bookstore owner clued me in that I even picked up the book. She asked me to trust her, that Roth's writing style was spectacular and that she would be a big name by this time next year. I am so glad that she told me about this book and that I trusted her judgment*. I'm usually disappointed from books that are compared to big series, like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but Divergent definitely rose to the challenge. This book was utterly marvelous.


Divergent takes place in a world that is meant to be black and white and where shades of gray are not tolerated. There are five groups: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. Upon reaching adulthood, people are put through a test to see which group they belong to and are allowed to pick which one they'll spend the rest of their life in. Beatris was born an Abnegation, but quickly discovers she doesn't fit into any group fully and is told to hide the fact that she tested as a Divergent.

Upon choosing her house, Tris meets Four. Four and Tris immediately connect, but it isn’t until later that Tris figures out how they’re so similar. The answer leads her into the middle of a battle she never thought would happen.


The main character, Tris, is likable and realistic with her flaws and natural conflicting emotions. Roth focuses on the idea of being true to your own personality versus family loyalty in this novel, a problem that many teens have to go through. While Tris' mother is accepting of her change in house, Tris' father feels deep betrayal and refuses to talk to either of his children. Roth shows both possible outcomes of defying your parents' wishes in a realistic way, making the novel relate to teens who have experienced either situation.

Roth shows two characters who are divergents, rather than a whole group of them. While this does give readers the notion that no matter what they are going through, they aren't alone, it also has the issue of having to hide it among a large group that wouldn't understand. With a lack of more divergents in the book, it gives the punch of man versus society that some dystopian books are missing.

The plot develops with every chapter, never letting the reader put it down until every page has been read. I would sincerely recommend not picking up this book until you had a few hours to dedicate to reading the entire thing through because you would skip a class just to find out what would happen next. Roth's writing refuses to let you out of the grasp and makes you become Tris, a young girl who has to drag up courage out of no where and become a hero.

Divergent jumped from a book I had never heard about to one that would put into my top ten favorite books within a few hours. Just one read and you'll be craving to pick the book up again. But be warned, it's the first in the series, and the wait for the next one might just kill me, since it likely won’t be out until May 2012.

* Always listen to your librarians and booksellers. They know what books are awesome and give great recommendations.

08 July 2011

24 Days, 1 Hour, 9 Minutes, 13 Seconds

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (Release Date August 2, 2011; Disney-Hyperion)
Review by Laura Beutler

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

But there is a stranger. Lexi sees him outside the window. He fades away like smoke.

The next night, Near’s children begin to disappear from their beds. The town blames the stranger, a boy Lexi names Cole. For some reason, she trusts him. He insists on helping Lexi find the missing children. As they search, they realize the Near Witch is more than a story told to frighten children.

Whose whispers does Lexi hear on the moor? What is the Near Witch? What has taken Near’s children? Lexi must find the answers to these questions before tension in Near drives the town to do the unthinkable.

I knew The Near Witch was something special when I read this sentence, “The wind on the moor is a tricky thing.” It gave me chills. To say that Victoria Schwab’s novel is “amazing” would be pretty close to saying that the Grand Canyon is “a decent-sized hole in the ground.” I think if Victoria spent the rest of her life writing instruction manuals, we would all fight over those manuals and sit reading them, engrossed. That’s how amazing Victoria is. The Near Witch is a magnificent debut. I can hardly believe it is a debut. Victoria’s writing is lyrical and flows effortlessly. With every richly-imagined landscape and every living, breathing character, I was pulled deeper and deeper into The Near Witch, until the only way to catch my attention was to grab my arm and shake me.

This caused some problems at work.

I found myself thinking about characters, like Lexi, her uncle Otto, her mother, her little sister, as if each were a real person. When Lexi was threatened, I wasn’t just worried about what might happen to her, I was afraid of the people who threatened her. The characters had come alive for me. Each had quirks; each had flaws. What I loved the most about every character was that no single person was “good” or “bad.” The characters were people, capable of kindness and cruelty. Very rarely does a novel achieve this feat with EVERY character; minor characters are often overlooked. But Victoria Schwab makes it happen for each character, with details emerging even in footprints left behind by a little boy. I applaud Victoria here; she truly impressed me. And she made me cry at the circulation desk several times, which is the mark of an exquisite novel*.

The setting of The Near Witch also stands out. The town of Near is like an island, the moor surrounds it like an ocean. We have no idea what lies beyond the moor, giving the story the kind of timeless, place-less feeling all great fairy tales have. Hansel and Gretel could have been lost in the woods near my house, near your house, or in Germany or China, and Lexi’s story has much the same tone. I loved the way Victoria slowly built up tension until it felt as if Near had walls that were slowly closing in around you. Soon I felt as trapped as Lexi did, longing for her nightly escapes to the moor. Late in the novel, it was only when Lexi was outside of Near that I could seem to breathe. At that point, I was blatantly ignoring parts of my life (like meals) in order to keep reading. I’m also obsessed with settings (like cities or forests or MOORS) acting as characters in novels. The moor that surrounds Near is FASCINATING. Anything more than that would be spoilery. You’ll have to find out what I mean when you read the book (and you MUST read the book**).

I love books, all books, but rarely do I find one that I adore so much as I did The Near Witch. I read it three times, back to back, and when my Netgalley copy was about to expire and VANISH from my life, I read it one more time, savoring every word, because I knew it would be months before I got my hands on The Near Witch again. If you follow me on Twitter, you know how obsessed I am with this novel. I LOVED The Near Witch. I have already shoved aside other books on my Favorites Shelf to make a space for this one***. I even dusted! This way, if I ever stop reading it, my copy will have a special place. Love Patricia McKillip and Neil Gaiman? Make room on your bookshelves for The Near Witch!

*Beautiful writing makes me cry.

**This is a requirement, not a suggestion.

***What, you don’t have a Favorites Shelf? I just don’t understand you.

03 July 2011

Yellow Tastes Like Sunshine

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson (September 1, 2011, Carolrhoda Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene

The line between having the reader understand the plot and connect with the protagonist is a subtle one when the narrator is unreliable. R.J. Anderson, however, is accomplished at using the unreliable narrator as a tool in her new novel, Ultraviolet. From the very first page, Ultraviolet hooks you right through the gut and pulls you into a story that is fresh and mesmerizing. You're presented with a character who is flawed in a way that compels you to sympathize with her. Simultaneously, you’ll be awed at Alison’s increased senses, due to her sensory disorder, synesthesia. When she describes the sound of red, or how the number fourteen is seductive, you just have to smile and wish you could experience the the world and its values in the same way. At the same time, you mourn with Alison because of how hard it is for others to comprehend what she's going through. Alison is a strong main character, despite the fact the reader doesn't know whether she's completely sane or not.

Plot Summary Time!

Alison wakes up in a mental hospital after claiming she killed a popular classmate, Tori. The problem is that she remembers dissolving her, which is clearly not possible. While in the institution, she battles with her increasing problems with synesthesia, which the doctors tell her is just her brain blending her senses together. Colors don't actually have sound. It doesn’t help that her mother is starting to find her dangerous and doesn’t want her at the house. She also struggles with doctors who seem to be against her, until a new doctor shows up, understands Alison, and claims to know what happened to Tori.

Throughout the book, Alison feels that she must hide her synesthesia in order to fit in. She loves her extra senses, but has been taught that being viewed as different can ostracize a person. This relates to a lot of teenagers who feel the need to hide their differences in order to fit in and remain included in all those reindeer games. Anderson uses synesthesia to show an exaggerated difference that separates Alison from both her family and peers; a difference that is hard to hide. Young adults reading Ultraviolet feel the ultimate connection with Alison, since most people have traits they choose to conceal, whether it’s a disorder, their sexuality, family issues, or anything else in between.


Doctor Faraday, who starts to convince Alison that her synesthesia is a beautiful talent, is written so the reader is pulled into his words and believes in him as Alison does. Just as the reader burns and hurts with her every time her mother cannot understand that Alison has no control over her ability, no way to shut it off. The characters are written to haul the reader into a story that relies on the connection between them and Alison.

Along with strong characters, this book offers a solid plot. Each plot point leads into the next one perfectly, leaving no strings to pull on. Still, the book remains unpredictable until the finishing chapter. Despite having a clean and wrapped up plot, the reader must decide whether or not to trust Alison’s narrative. Managing to do both of those is an admirable feat for any author, but Anderson pulled it off and made it look easy.

After finishing Ultraviolet, I feel significantly deprived of the senses I felt while reading. I want the characteristics of numbers back. I want to be able to read it for the first time again. I’ve been walking around for days envisioning what color my food would taste like, or what shapes certain music would bring out. It was odd that Alison constantly describes things that taste good as blue, but also intriguing because there aren't many edible things that are naturally blue. Sure, you have blueberries and blue potatoes, but that's really it. Ultraviolet challenges the way you think and encourages you to reevaluate things that you would have considered disorders to instead be gifts, but also makes you re-imagine your senses and how you perceive the world. It is not just about rethinking how to use our hearts or our heads or eyes, but how to use our fingers, our tongues, our nose and ears to the fullest extent.

24 June 2011

You Probably *Should* Read This Book

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski (June 2011; HarperCollins Publishers)
A review by Kelly Lucas

If you know me, you’ll know that I tend to not... think before I do. So when I heard the title for Sarah Mlynowski’s newest book was Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have), I was, in a word, hooked.

I wanted to know what these ten things were and why they shouldn't have done them. When I want to know something, it will eat at me until I know. So on the train home the day I received Ten Things We Did at BEA, I opened it and started reading.

1 girl + 1 non-boyfriend boy + no pants = Kelly intrigued

I turned to page two and read, “why was I in bed with boy who was not my boyfriend without any pants on?” Okay, I was going to love this story. Besides the fact that my friends and I have a joke that I hate wearing pants, I knew April was my type of girl. The type of girl I would totally be friends with.*

While the first few pages are a great introduction to the story, the scene Sarah sets first actually takes place near the end, so as the chapter ends, I was full of questions. What was going on here? Why wasn’t April wearing any pants? Where was the boyfriend? As much as I loved Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have), it started out slow. Sarah took time to set up April’s story - and she has good reason for it.

Ten Things We Did is almost every 16 year-old girl’s dream world. April Berman’s father and step-mother are moving to Cleveland, but she doesn’t want to leave her Connecticut school, friends, or boyfriend. So her father agrees to let her stay and live with her best friend, Vi.  But Vi’s mother is the lead in the tour cast of Mary Poppins, which has just left to launch from Chicago! So with a lie to April’s father here, and a lie to Vi’s mother there, the girls begin living alone.

This is why April’s back story is important. We need to learn all about April’s life before she really starts living with Vi. Honestly, I was impatient. I wanted the goods! I wanted April to be alone with her boyfriend for them to have sex! I wanted to know why there was a strange boy in April’s bed! I wanted to know who this strange boy was!

So, I pushed through the back story, and like with every other
Mlynowski book, I finally became addicted.

OMG, you guys. This book is super-mega-foxy-awesome.

I am very grateful that Sarah took her time with the pace of the first 100 pages, because all those details we learn are so important to the mystery, suspense, and joy that the end brings. Since I finished the book before the official pub date (Thanks, BEA!), I kept recommending it to my friends. This past week, I was very happy to receive this text: “omfg just finished ten things! amazing!!”

And it is at that. Actually, “amazing” may not even be the word. Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) reminds me so much of The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen and 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Pure, honest, fresh... innocent. Can I say it’s innocent when April and Vi harbor a felon (#7)? Well, it is. Ten Things We Did is not just a love story; it’s a story where the main character grows up and learns that sometimes it’s good to do things you probably shouldn’t.

Sarah takes us on this crazy and funny story of the first time a teenager lives alone. It’s a dream world, right? April and Vi throw crazy parties (#8), cut school (#3), and of course, lie to their parents (#1). Nothing could go wrong. Right? Think again. With responsibility comes consequences.

Someone’s got to do the laundry...  

Living away from your parents is...well...not always fun. Sarah captures the honesty in what it is like to live away from your parents for the first time and the mistakes that are made. The little things Mom and Dad always do are now April and Vi’s responsibility. While Vi is used to it, April isn’t and it comes as a bit of a shock. Still, she’s unique, quirky, slightly awkward, but most of all, fun; all of these character qualities translate into a wonderful story. I laughed, I cried, I worried, and got to drool over two boys vying for April’s affection. These characters come alive in Sarah’s writing. Y’all know what I’m talking about, right? April’s story flows so perfectly. She is an amazing character and I loved her from page one. Sarah gives each of their character’s their own life, their own story, their own secrets, and their own individual voice. She doesn’t just create wonderful main characters, but wonderful, realistic supporting characters as well. Their voices are so diverse but stay consistent. Noah, April’s boyfriend, is written perfectly. He acts exactly like a 16-year-old boy and leaves you guessing and wondering from, again, page one. Why wasn’t he in the bed with her?

That, I think, is how a character should be written. You want to be friends with truly great people and characters and April, Vi, Marissa, Noah, Hudson and Dean are truly great characters.  You not only read about the crazy party, you’re there too, and get to (#9) help judge the Mr. Teen Universe Contest (yes, a MALE BEAUTY PAGEANT. I am not lying.)

We’ve all done things we probably shouldn’t have, but just like Sarah wrote in my copy, “DO IT!”

So go do something you probably shouldn’t**. It’s good for the soul.

And if you still want to know who was in bed with April, well... read the book. =)

*    Please don’t judge me.
**  Except if it’s illegal.  Illegal is BAD.  Do only LEGAL things.