Tag Archives: High School

People Hate People by Ellen Hopkins

At a time when hate has become a common occurrence where children are being held in detention centers while their parents are deported or bombs are being sent through the mail to high profile individuals or a synagogue has become the target of gunfire during a religious ceremony, these events, whether sanctioned or not, are the result of mistrust and resentment towards those who are not considered a part of main stream society. Nationalism (versus Patriotism), a part of the Make America Great Again Community, has become an accepted way of life for too many in the United States to the point where some individuals feel justified in acting out their feelings of hatred towards those they resent – for whatever reason.

Ellen Hopkins uses this darkness as the theme for her newest YA novel People Kill People. In her introduction she decries the rise of gun violence in this country and attempts to explore the reasons why someone might pick up a gun with the intent to do harm. Her unique style of combining freestyle poetry and introspective narratives introduces the reader to a group of struggling teenagers whose lives intersect through their reactions to their individual situations. Each faces varying issues, some dire others seemingly innocuous, but all internalized and possibly life changing.

We have seventeen year old Grace; her homeless boyfriend Daniel; Daniel’s half brother Tim, a skinhead; and Tim’s good friend Silas who is stalking Grace but finds solace in Tim’s cousin, the badass Ashlyn; Grace’s sister Cami who is a teen bride married to Rand with a two year old son Waylon; and Grace’s former best friend Noelle who was seriously injured in a car accident as a result of the shooting which killed Grace’s father. Their interactions create a story which ultimately leads to a shameful calamity.

I personally found this book difficult to read. The details were so tragic, the choices at times devastating, the introspections so negative I was left with a depressed view towards life, grateful that my own trials seemed trivial by comparison. This is definitely not a PG book since the dark subject matter  includes violence, sex, and numerous deplorable activities. Yet these subjects, while fictional, are based on real life events which occur too often in society, so I suppose they need to be addressed and discussed by the upcoming generation if attitudes have any hope of changing for the better.

Hopkins unique style provides smooth transitions as we “Slip into” each character’s skin and then “Fade out”,  helping us understand the motivations behind each of their choices.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult

Not only do I live in the same neighborhood as Dr Bernard Slepian, my son went to school with his children. As PJ entered third grade, there was a letter at his desk from the child who had been in that seat the previous June. This class assignment, in this particular case, was bitter sweet, since the welcoming words were from a boy whose parent had only recently been murdered by a sniper out to destroy another abortion doctor. His beautiful home with the large picture window in the normally crime free town of Amherst, outside Buffalo, NY, was the perfect site for a certain type of target practice. While the perpetrator was caught, the damage was done and those three boys and loving mother lost a dedicated father, husband, and doctor.

No matter how many clinics are closed or doctors are castigated, abortion will never be eliminated. If it can’t be done legally, there will be those who find illicit means to get the job done. We are currently at a crossroads, with the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice whose vote might finally overturn Roe vs Wade or severely limit its reach. I have watched as the rights of women to find affordable reproductive care (which goes way beyond the topic of abortion) have been eliminated along with the planned parenthood centers who provide Pap Smears, mammograms, prenatal and postnatal care, treatment for symptoms of menopause and other women’s health issues. There are other uses for hormone treatment besides birth control, yet, for some, the right to life of a fetus takes precedent over everything – even the life of the doctor who works in the field. With this mindset, it is no wonder that the maternal mortality rate (death of the mother in childbirth) has actually doubled over the past twenty years, especially in the minority community. Shocking!

That is why A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult is such a timely piece of literature. Here is an issue which has dogged the country for years without coming to a full resolution with both sides continuing to fight for what they feel is justice. This is also a concept where there is no legitimate compromise, since each side is firmly committed to their opinion which literally represents life or death. Where, to some, even birth control or the morning after pill to prevent pregnancy and the hated abortion, is unacceptable.

Piccoult attempts to present both sides of the issue via the story of a hostage situation at a Woman’s Health Clinic, where the authorities are trying to garner the release of the captives before anyone else gets hurt. To complicate matters, the chief negotiator discovers his daughter is amongst the prisoners, and he must do everything in his power to keep the situation from escalating including keeping the SWAT Team at bay. This is one of those backwards stories (with the ultimate conclusion as an epilogue) where the ending is the beginning and we count down the hours to slowly discover what motivated the events to unfold in this manner. There are a lot of “whys” to be discerned as the countdown begins.

While the topic is fascinating, the characters interesting, the issues compelling, I find this writing mechanism confusing. Perhaps it’s because I’m directionally challenged, but I like my books to be mostly chronological. The backwards recitation also requires alot of repetition which I find annoying at best. While I understand the desire to apply a new approach, this topic is too important for games.

However, I don’t want to dissuade you from reading this book. Piccoult has a way of bringing important issues to the forefront and this is a dialogue which remains vital for our society, especially with so many visible cases of misogyny and the resulting Me, Too Movement.

While for me this was a three and a half star book, I’m giving it a four star rating due to its relevance to upcoming legislative events. I’m looking forward to some interesting discussions. Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Heart in a Body of the World by Deb Caletti

The only Recently there was a fire which killed a young boy, a member of my extended family by marriage. It was a horrendous accident where no one was to blame, but everyone was left feeling a sense of guilt – a series of “what if’s”.

When a tragedy like this happens, how do you move on? Deb Caletti explores this very presumption in her novel A Heart in a Body of the World.

While not this particular scenario, our heroine Annabelle is dealing with a situation which is beyond her coping abilities. She tries to pick up on her previous routines, but life after trauma just isn’t the same. Some little irrelevant detail reminds her of what she is trying to forget until all she wants to do is run. So that is just what she does, starting in Seattle and making strides towards Washington, D.C. despite her overprotective mom pleading with her to return home where she can be monitored (although there are others who are sympathetically cheering her on). Her grandfather follows in his mobile home – a safe place to recoup for the next day’s travels across a somewhat brutal terrain. Her little brother sets up a GoFundMe page with friends, teachers, and family members, even total strangers, donating cash to show their support. While she can’t change the past, at least Annabelle can have some small control over her life – complete with blisters, aching feet, as well as sore muscles to show for her efforts. The further she travels, the stronger her “statement” and everyone starts to take notice.

While the reader isn’t privy to the actual ordeal responsible for such a strong response until the end of the book, we are wrapped up in the emotional dilemma which motivates this footrace across the United States. This one will appeal to both teens and adults.

Four stars and a thank you to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan

Squirrels falling from the sky, a ten year old stalker, problems with parents, and a friendship torn apart over a girl – these are some of the elements of the YA novel All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan. Yes, the Chrystal Chan who has adapted many old time favorites for the Manga Classics series.

Chan tackles numerous social issues such as drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, child abuse, runaways, suicide, racism, gun control, all wrapped up with the normal teen angst thrown into the mix. To push things up a notch, there is a group of dangerous wild animals on the loose (ones you normally only get to see in the zoo or on a safari) who are actually attacking and killing the local citizens.

This is Ronny’s story, told from his point of view and it’s full of anger. Furious at his dad who is suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, Ronny yearns for the days when he had a real father who actually participated in the family. Suffering the results of a gun shot wound from a suicide gone bad, Ronny watches his pop, the one person he used to admire, shuffle around in his bathrobe doing nothing except sleep and watch TV. With a mom who has to work long hours to pay the bills coming home spent and using medication to erase the reality which is now her life, Ronny has to pick up the mantle of adulthood and taken on the responsibility of the household. A fifteen year old still in high school, he does the home repairs which they can’t afford, watches out for his younger sister Mina, and, in his limited spare time, hangs out with George, the girl he worships from afar, and his best friend Jello, a photography buff. On occasion he even attends school. Oh, let’s throw into the mix the factor that Ronny is mixed race and has to deal with those who object to the shade of his skin. This is one bitter boy.

I can see this book as one of those after school specials for kids. There’s a lot going on and the melodrama would lend itself to a visualized format. From the reader’s perspective, it was difficult to empathize with such a rude, nasty teen who has a bone to pick with the world and doesn’t pull back the punches (at times quite literally). Yes, he has it rough, and yes, he does show some redeeming characteristics when dealing with the troubles of his sister’s friend Sam, but overall he’s a jerk (I had another word in mind but I’ll keep it PG). Since Ronnie is the person telling the story, his attitude tempers the entire piece, forcing the reader to experience his cruel attitude towards life, ultimately directed at his father. Not my cup of tea. As a minor annoyance, the “little” sister Mina, supposedly a genius, is actually ten, but treated more like a six or seven year old. I was actually glad when she ditched the orange ensemble and started dressing more appropriately.

This one showed potential, but it definitely needed some pruning of the subplots, an upgrade to the attitude of the protagonist, and additional depth added to the characterizations.

2 1/2 stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

When I think of The Lying Game by Ruth Ware I picture four fifteen year old school girls sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of an old sinking house in The Reach, a home in a tidal estuary located near the coastal village of Salten not far from the English Channel. What a life they had spending time together swimming, laughing, and joking, breaking the school rules until they were finally caught and expelled, although little did the supervising nun know the extent of their misdeeds. Of course to tell would be breaking the rules of The Lying Game, a fun way to put one over on people of authority.

Here it is seventeen years later when Kate texts her three former dorm mates, Thea, Isa, and Fatima, with three words – I need you, and off they all come, back to the scene of the “crime” to face up their youthful indiscretions. Unfortunately, they’re not quite sure exactly what really happened way back when. Yet that’s what they are about to find out as the story unfolds, told by Isa with flashbacks about their Sophomore year at Salten Academy, dwelling on the days they hung up out with each other and Luc, Kate’s half brother, while Kate’s father, an artist, drew what he saw, even if their attire was questionable, especially on those hot, skinny dipping days. This ultimately compounds their troubles, but it’s how they deal with these issues that will determine their future, for better or for worse, as details are revealed and the repercussions of the events which occurred that fateful summer are in danger of ruining their lives.

While the premise showed potential, as a psychological thriller, this one is a little less than thrilling. There’s quite a bit of repetition along with a meandering plot and a climax that, while unexpected, isn’t really totally unpredictable. The reader could easily have figured out a lot of this stuff before the big reveal and the subsequent wrapping up of events, although there were some unanswered questions which didn’t have an adequate resolution. This is not a happily ever after sort of book, but we do get some closure, even if various actions didn’t seem to make sense or, at the very least, are a stretch. However, this book is a good character study on the effects of a guilty conscience as each girl tries to make peace with their dark secret, one which at the time sounded like their only viable option. Some editing might have made this a more exciting read.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang

Anda’s family has just moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, not far from the Grand Canyon, and now she finds herself at a new school. She’s an ordinary teen, kind of on the chubby side, finding a place with the group of kids who play Dungeons and Dragons during their free period. Since computers are her thing, Anda is taking a programming course where Liza McCombs from Australia comes to speak with the females in the class. She’s in the process of organizing a guild, exclusively for girls, to play Coarsegold Online, a MMRPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game). It seems that women players have a tendency to hide their gender behind male avatars, afraid to show their true selves for fear of discrimination. This guild is looking to induct women into its fold if they pass the three month initiation. Anda is all in, as long as her mom lets her use her credit card to pay the twelve dollar a month fee.

Anda’s avatar, Kali Destroyer, represents her inner voice – bold, beautiful, with bright red hair and skills galore. She soon levels up as she masters the game play. Inside the MMRPG, Kali teams up with Sarge (Lisa) and they begin to destroy the Gold Farmers who are illegally mining for valuable objects which are then sold to other players for profit. Unfortunately, the profit is a big business, and the Gold Farmers are actually abused Chinese workers who are forced to work long hours for little pay. Anda befriends Raymond who wants to learn to speak better English. He’s about her age and works the overnight shift, but his previously injured back is causing problems. Thinking she can help she advises he go on strike to get some health care (just what her own dad’s union is doing with his company). Unfortunately, this advice only gets Raymond fired. To top it off, Kali Destroyer has been earning money by her antics and her mother cuts her off from the Internet, afraid that she’s in danger. Liza also suspends her (and Lisa) for not following the gaming rules. Anda feels responsible for Raymond’s troubles and looks for ways she can contact him and help him out of his difficulties.

Disclosure: I’m not a gamer, although my son has enjoyed the gaming experience participating in various leagues although not an MMRPG.

There are a lot of positives in the graphic novel, In Real Life by Cory Doctorow. Number one is the colorful illustrations by Jen Wang and the fact that the characters are portrayed as real people, not ones with Barbie Doll looks. Anda has insecurities, but grows stronger as Kali Destroyer, building confidence to the point where she proudly dies her hair red. The girl power is a plus. There is also a bit of a lesson, details given by Cory Doctorow in a forward, letting the uninitiated know about Gold Farmers, a real phenomena. Anda’s attempts to assist her friend are noble, even when they backfire. After all, this is a book for teens who need to know that they have a voice in this world. However, the resolution to the storyline, although rectifying the situation, is unrealistic at best. I also question the entire premise that a school would allow someone like Liza to solicit gamers to her league.

Given all that, I feel that the intended YA audience will enjoy this book, especially the fact that an average high school student becomes the hero, no matter how impracticable the ending. Gamers need to have their existence avowed.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher

Unless you are playing during March Madness where a lose is an automatic ejection from further play, there are two pathways to winning a basketball tournament. You can win your way to the top spot, or you can lose and play the other losers into the winner’s circle.

That’s the way Annie Boots prefers to win, by playing the other losers then besting the winning team in Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher. This route may take a little longer, but it gives her a better chance of meeting up with her family. Perhaps her life is a metaphor for the loser’s bracket, since her deadbeat mom, Nancy can’t quite get her act together enough to keep her dysfunctional family intact. Annie ends up in a foster home where the Howard’s (Momma and Pop) are able to provide her a decent lifestyle. Unfortunately, her slightly older sister Sheila is not so fortunate, being bounced between foster families until she became a parent herself. Little Frankie seems as messed up as his mom and his quirky habits also make him an unlikely candidate for a loving home.

Despite Annie’s assured pathway to success, she can’t forsake her biological family, even if Pop pushes her to do just that, but if her mom or sister just show up at a game, then who can blame her for meeting up with them. The draw of blood is just too strong and no threat can keep them apart, even though everyone agrees that Nancy is a bad influence with her frequent shoplifting and drug use. Sheila isn’t much better and often foists Frankie off on her sis. Luckily Momma doesn’t mind and even has a bunch of playthings stashed away for his frequent visits. They just have to watch for meltdowns where he smears his excrement as if it were caulking, a little habit which is less than endearing. Both Annie and Frankie inexplicably need that link with their birth mothers to stay whole, even though a fresh start would be better for their mental health.

Chris Crutcher has the pulse of today’s youth, so when you find his name on any book, you know that it will be a worthwhile read. He creates complex scenarios reflecting the tangled, mixed up lives of the average teen, many from families which also have a convoluted trajectory. While the main characters in this book are white, Annie’s friends represent the diversity found in the average urban high school. There needs to be more YA books which reflect the nitty gritty of teen life and not the dream family dynamics, which even when their flaws are portrayed are still too far from the norm.

Crutcher, not afraid to show the underside of life including the warts, still finds a pathway to a realistic, yet hopeful conclusion. Warning: This one is full of four letter words reflecting the language commonly heard outside of public settings. Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.