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review: “hate list” September 1, 2009

Posted by Katie in reviews.
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(Yay! “Hate List” is now available wherever books are sold! Give my library another week to process it.)

hatelist

Hate List by Jennifer Brown.
Little, Brown // ARC // 416 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC provided by the publisher.

It’s been five months since Val’s boyfriend Nick brought a gun to school and open fired in the school cafeteria. Val’s been painted as part of the problem because the names of the targets Nick shot at were all on their “Hate List.” Shot herself, she spent the summer hiding out, but has decided to return to school to complete her senior year. Her friends have left her, her enemies are suddenly hanging around, and the school is reciting the party line that the shooting has built their community, that hate has disappeared. Val’s stuck in a maelstrom of feelings as she tries to come to terms with the shooting and her place in it.

I was a freshman in high school when Columbine happened. I was a sophomore when we started practicing “Code Red” drills. I was a sophomore when someone brought a gun to my school and was only suspended. We didn’t make the news because no one was shot.

I knew that reading this book would be difficult for me. I didn’t realize exactly how much I needed to read it though.

Val’s story is told in newspaper articles, in flashbacks, and in present tense. Her feelings are real, tangible, and I was caught up in her own turmoil, in her own confusion.

This novel is about more than a school shooting. It is about the aftermath, the new school rules, the media attention, the media spin, and hate. And bullying. And cliques. And everything that adults like to pretend doesn’t exist in high school, everything that adults like to chalk up to as “adolescent behavior.”

I have long since believed that adults need to open their eyes.

This book is accessible, and I hope that adults will find it as well as teens. I’m already thinking about doing a book club feature, pairing this with a non-fiction read.

A must buy for YA collections.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Jennifer Brown

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review: “a map of the known world” July 27, 2009

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amapoftheknownworld

A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell.
Scholastic // Hardcover // 272 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Starting high school is a nerve-wrecking experience for most, but for Cora it’s downright upsetting. Cora’s brother Nate was killed in a car accident months before and she got through the school year. But now she will be in Nate’s school, with Nate’s friends, and sitting in classes taught by Nate’s teachers. Cora puts all of her energy in her art — her talent is making maps. But when art class is invaded by Nate’s best friend who is the lone survivor of the car accident, Cora’s world changes again.

It’s been weeks since I’ve read this book, but I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about it. I think my problems with the book begin with Cora and her personality. She’s grieving and hurting because of her brother’s death and her family’s subsequent collapse, but I don’t understand a lot of the reasons why she has trouble articulating her feelings. (Whereas, in Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” I understand exactly why Melinda can’t say what’s bothering her.)

Parts of this book were very moving and well-written, but overall it was a bit choppy in writing style. I had a hard time getting into the book, and a hard time believing a lot of relationships. (Particularly the relationship between Cora and her mother. Cora’s mother goes from suffocating in one instant to understanding that Cora needs to grow in another.)

Even though this wasn’t my favorite book of the year by far, it’s a good book to have in my library’s collection. There was no swearing, no sexual relations (just mild kissing scenes), and it dealt with some serious issues. A great book to give younger teens who want serious content without worrying about inappropriate material.

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Lisa Ann Sandell

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review: “willow” July 24, 2009

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Willow by Julia Hoban.
Dial // Hardcover // 336 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through this book. This is such a hard subject to read about, and I have a queasy stomach. I shouldn’t have worried. Hoban’s writing and characterization make this a captivating read.

After a tragic car accident that kills both her parents, Willow moves into her brother David’s house. She blames herself for the car accident because she was the driver and has a hard time adjusting to her new life. Willow also has a secret — she cuts herself to deal with her pain. When a fellow student, Guy, finds out about it, Willow’s world will change all over again.

This book is well-written, and I expect that it will find places in a lot of teen libraries. I think it’s more believable than Patricia McCormick’s Cut, if only because the majority of teens who cut are undiscovered, the majority of teens who cut keep it a secret. Like Willow.

I was angry at Guy because he knew and he didn’t do anything about it. But then I think back to when I had friends who cut and that when I didn’t have the ability to do something about it, I just stayed and listened and tried to support them/tried to counsel them into stopping. My problem with Guy was my own anger at myself, at my 15-year-old self.

I think that the most powerful things that books can do are offer further insight into our own lives. I think that’s why this book was such a great read for me — because I could not only sympathize with Willow, but because I got so angry at Guy.

Other reasons to love this book definitely include Willow’s complex relationship with her brother David. I love books that handle sibling relationships realistically and I think this book was spot-on.

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review: “if i stay” July 22, 2009

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ifistay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman.
Dutton // Hardcover // 208 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Mia’s life is up in the air. Literally. She’s doesn’t know where she’s going to college, she doesn’t know where things are going with her boyfriend, she’s just been in a car accident, and she has no idea where she is. Caught somewhere between life and death, Mia thinks about her life and worries about where it is going. She hovers around her own body in the hospital, watching her friends and family cope with the accident, while she tries to decide if she should stay.

A lot of this book is told in flashbacks. I still to this day remember writing teachers telling me how this isn’t allowed and wouldn’t be published. Well, Gayle Forman has proven them wrong. The flashbacks are handled beautifully and really allowed me insight to Mia’s predicament. I loved the connection Mia has to her cello and her music. I’ve played violin since I was ten years old (fifteen years now, yikes!) and either Forman has played an instrument or someone in her family has or she’s the best writer in the world.

I had one major problem with the book and that was the falling domino in Mia’s decision. I do not believe that’s what would tip the scale for me. I also know that a lot of my teen readers had a problem with the ending as well. Most of them do not believe they would have made the same decision. (I know that’s awesomely vague for those of you who haven’t read the novel, but what are you waiting for?)

This is a great book and I could easily see it finding a place on teen bookshelves for years to come. Give it to readers who liked both “The Lovely Bones” and “My Sister’s Keeper.”

Amazon
SWAN catalog
Gayle Forman

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