Category Archives: Young Adult Books

Book Review: UNDERLAKE by KIA HEAVEY

ISBN: 9780615956046 318 pages

ISBN: 9780615956046 318 pages

Rating=5/5 Stars

Suggested audience: 7th-12th grade female readers (there will be some boys that will like this)

Genre: Fantasy, light Christian fiction

I received a copy of this book for review from the author.

I challenge my students to read various genres every year even if they don’t normally like that genre. Generally speaking, I’m not a fantasy fan (which is odd considering that my son is named after a character from a fantasy book). I often struggle with the stories in fantasy. They just often come off as too unbelievable.

When I took this novel for review I was worried about a couple of things. First, how do I get through this thing if it ends up where most fantasy books do for me? In addition, I’m a guy, and this book screams teenage girl fantasy.

Well…all ended well. I really enjoyed this book.

Heavey’s writing is impressive. It’s rare that I pick up a young adult book that has such excellent word choice. I was seeing words that were new to me up until the end of the story. Usually, mass market YA has the same old boring word choice in the writing.

Underlake  has a very creative plot. Katie Welch is raised in the upper class of New York. She’s pampered, and usually her vacation plans involve some unique travel all around the world. She’s raised by a single mother who works for a fashion magazine. Katie floats among the self-appointed elite (just think anti-Christian, liberal/progressive snobs). But this summer’s vacation will take her and her mother to a remote farm town in rural New York. Katie is dreading the summer as she sees little value in the people and locale.

While in Underlake, Katie meets the mysterious but refreshingly old-fashioned and wise John Howe. Howe is directly tied into the fantasy element of the story. Without spoiling it too much, he’s been in and around Underlake for a long time. Teenage attraction ensues as Katie falls in love with this mysterious boy. I’m going to stop here with the story and hope that leaves you curious enough to go buy the book because I believe it is worth the investment.

I want to highlight a few things in the story. First, there is some discussion of sex in the book. Unlike much teen fiction which seems to be about teenagers “exploring” themselves (in some of the most unhealthy ways possible), Heavey deals with the topic in the way that I think many parents would be pleased with. Many of Katie’s friends, including herself, are encouraged by their parents to engage in high risk behaviors. They have a mentality that seems to permeate American society and pop-culture: pleasure over reason, fun over rational thinking. Katie sees the risks involved in these behaviors and is sick and tired of her mother just being her friend.

Second, Heavey weaves Christianity and the Catholic church into the story well. The book is not preachy at all, and I think would appeal to open-minded, respectful readers of faith and non-faith. Toward the end of the book Katie has some interaction with a long-time friend of hers from the city. I liked how Heavey showed how Christians are often improperly perceived and judged by many in our culture.

Katie laughed again, a sound so full of affection that it didn’t offend Michaela. “You don’t have to,” she said. “That works for me but it doesn’t have to work for you. The whole point is that we’re individuals. We shouldn’t feel so pressured to conform to what everyone else thinks we should be doing. We’re loved just the way we are. And I have plenty of fun, by the way.” she added.

Third, Heavey adds some interesting commentary on art through the story. Katie is an aspiring artist, but much of her artistry is missing something. Through Katie’s interactions with John Howe she begins to grow as an artist.

“But maybe, what you’re missing is that they’re really made of light [people and animals], and that the world around them adds the shadows. Maybe the light actually comes from them and the world takes it away, if that makes sense.” -John Howe, p.117

Underlake is a great contribution to YA literature. It’s a book that will get teens to think about things that matter. This book should be in your teenager’s library!

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Book Review: MICHAEL VEY 3: BATTLE OF THE AMPERE by Richard Paul Evans

michaelvey3Rating: 4 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Suggested Audience: Middle school to high school. Lower and reluctant readers tend to have quite a bit of success with this series.

This is the third installment in the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans. For those that aren’t familiar with it, this series is published by Glenn Beck‘s Mercury Ink. This series is a perfect example of what we should be doing as conservatives. There is nothing about this book that is political. At the core of the story are themes that any principled conservative would recognize; love of country; doing the right thing no matter the consequences; treating others with respect; courage and character.

Beck talks about this a lot on his radio and television show. Conservatives need to quit only playing the politics game. Liberals have been killing us with the culture for decades. Not all battles are fought at the ballot box. If you retake the culture, you will easily win the political contests down the road. It is books like this I intend to continue to highlight for teachers and parents. Readers are thinkers and leaders in development. Lots of books that ask kids to think about things that matter can significantly change the culture. The culture that many of them are currently immersed in is toxic. Stories like this ask them to think about values that will help them question and later fight that culture. This book belongs in your classroom along with the first two in the series. (Check out my review of Michael Vey 1 and Michael Vey 2.)

This book is not quite as good as the second book in the series. It is certainly not bad, but just didn’t quite rise to the same level for me as that one did.

The story takes off right where the second book ended. Michael and the other members of the Electroclan have destroyed one of the Elgen Starxource power plants in Peru. Lost in the Amazon and on the run from the Peruvian army, Michael must save his friends who have been accused of terrorism for destroying the power plant. At the same time, the evil Dr. Hatch is busy trying to take control of the ES Ampere, the flagship yacht of the Elgen corporation. The Battle of the Ampere is full of action and adventure that will keep readers highly engaged as Michael and the Electroclan race to save the day.

One of the things I love about this series, and I think it is a huge help for lower and reluctant readers, is that Evans writes the book in short chapters. The book is 307 pages, but it has 48 chapters in it. The book is also dialogue rich which makes for a quicker read.

My biggest criticism, and it drove me absolutely crazy, is that Evans overuses dialogue tags, and he has a terrible time finding a variety of words to use as dialogue tags. He said, she said, he said, she said, he said, she said… Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!! It’s a little strange, too. He has good word choice in most of  the writing. You also can tell he does a good job researching the books. They feel authentic. Also, I thought the climax and resolution of the book was a little too quick. It just felt like it could have used a little more development. But, hey, I’m just a voice out here in the wilderness who has never written a book, Evans has seventeen million books in print. :-)

If the Michael Vey series is not in your teen’s school library, personal library, or English classroom, it should be.

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BOOK REVIEW: The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman

wartoendRating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: Middle school through adult

Newbery winner Russell Freedman offers this quick 160-page summary of “the war to end all wars.” There is much to like about this book. It is loaded full of pictures that help to visually tell the story of World War I.

I have always wanted to know more about this war. Through all of my years of education I remember very little study on the topic. World War II was a result of World War I and Freedman does a good job explaining the connections to young readers in the last chapter of the book.

I was struck by how willing much of Europe was to enter this war. Freedman discusses this in chapter 3, “In the capital cities of all the combatant nations, the outbreak of war was greeted with emotional displays of patriotism. Crowds thronged the streets, singing their nation’s songs and cheering every military unit that passed.” On top of the excitement, many thought that the war would be very short. Freedman cites a young French student who was confident that the war would last only two, maybe three months.

One of the things I had a hard time wrapping my head around in this book was the massive devastation, misery, and loss of life that this war caused. Some battles saw the loss of what would be the equivalent of small cities in just days. During the Battle of the Somme one day saw 20,000 men killed and another 40,000 wounded. There were over one million total lives lost in this battle which lasted from July 1, 1916 to November 19. At the same place in 1918 another 700,000 were killed.

In addition to all the lives lost, there was much pain and suffering experienced by both sides. World War I saw the first effective use of poison gas in any war. Both sides of the war used gases like chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. Chlorine and phosgene stop the lungs from absorbing oxygen. Mustard gas burns and blisters the skin, causes temporary blindness, and floods the lungs which eventually leads to a lingering and painful death.

If you weren’t killed by a bullet or a bomb, and the poison gas didn’t get you, there was the inhuman conditions of trenches. “Officers and men alike shared their trenches with rats and frogs, with slugs and horned beetles that burrowed into the trench walls, with lice that infested every man’s clothing. Rats as big as cats scampered across sleeping men’s faces at night and chewed through their clothing to get at the food in their pockets….Blood-sucking lice, breeding in the seams of clothing, spread from one man to the next…Ninety-five percent of British soldiers coming off the line were infested with lice…Lice carried an infectious disease called trench fever…which put thousands of men out of action. Trench foot, a painful fungal infection, was brought on by standing in cold, wet mud for days…scores of men could not walk back from the trenches, but had to crawl, or to be carried by their comrades…Added to these indignities was the awful stench that hung over the frontlines…The reek from rotting corpses lying in shallow graves…”

Freedman does an excellent job of telling the story of the war with extensive quotes from people that actually experienced it. You could hardly go a page in the book without finding some actual person to confirm the author’s claims. I do wish that Freedman had made the book a little longer. I would have liked to see a little more depth on the political realities of the countries that led to the war. Overall, this is a great book for young adults.

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BOOK REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

betweenshadesofgrayRating: 5/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: Middle school to adult

I read this book back in February of 2013. For some reason, I never got around to reviewing it until today. This is an outstanding historical fiction book that covers a topic that is often missing in literature and history classrooms in American education.

Much young adult historical fiction from World War II is focused on America, Hitler, and the Holocaust. All pertinent and important topics, but I was really excited to see a story that focus on the atrocities committed by Stalin and the Russians. For whatever reason, the story of the evils of communism and the Soviets is rarely told to young adults.

Between Shades of Gray tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lina and her Lithuanian family’s forced deportation from their homes to a Siberian prison camp by Stalin and the Russians.

The story is at times heartbreaking as the evil acts of the Russian military officers remind the reader of the evils of German military officers during WWII. The Lithuanians were forcibly removed from their homes, herded into rail cars with little food or water, and sent thousands of miles to the Siberian prison camps. Along the way the reader is shown the worst of human nature as the Lithuanians are treated like human chattel by the Soviet military.

This is Septys first novel to be published. She wrote the book because her grandfather was a Lithuanian military officer. Many of his family was deported and imprisoned. This is an outstanding first attempt for this author. I loved the characters, and thought Sepetys did an excellent job with the first-person voice of Lina.

The novel focuses more on the human element and experiences of the Lithuanians. There is not an extensive amount of background on Stalin, the Russians, and communism in the book. Part of me wishes there was a little more on the topic, but I do think that the book does a great job of sparking a young adult’s interest in this part of the story of WWII. We need more books in young adult literature that tells this story. Throughout American history, and especially in post-secondary education, we have seen so many dupes that buy the nonsense that communism is benign and is and always was nothing to worry about.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

faultinstarsJohn Green’s book has been a bit of a literary superstar in the young adult book market. It has been on the New York Times YA Best Sellers list for 53 weeks. It currently has about 418,000 ratings on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Every adult reader I know who has read this book raves about it. After having read it, I think I would join in their chorus. And I’d go as far as saying this was my favorite book of 2013.

The Fault in Our Stars is about teenagers with cancer, so you know going into this book that it is not necessarily going to have a happy ending. The main characters are Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. The two meet at Cancer Kid Support Group and begin to fall deeply in love over the course of the story as they both grapple with the reality of their own mortality. Hazel and Gus are really strong and likable characters, and I thought it was a unique approach to have them both struggling with cancer in the story.

It’s rare that I run into a young adult book that presents me with vocabulary that is new, or for that matter, memorable. For you word nerds out there, the word choice in this book is like brain candy. Green’s writing grabs you pretty much from the beginning of the book, and holds you all the way to the very end.

This book is most appropriate for high school aged students. There is a little bit of mature content in the book, but t is nothing offensive or vile.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

 

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