Archive for ‘Best of YA’

April 2nd, 2011

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Revolution

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Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Published: October 12th, 2010

Number of Pages: 496

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis:

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel A Northern Light, artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart. [From Goodreads

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Quote (and because I can’t resist, you get three quotes!):

I don’t like hope very much. In fact, I hate it. It’s the crystal meth of emotions. It hooks you fast and kills you hard. It’s bad news. The worst. It’s sharp sticks and cherry bombs. When hope shows up, it’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt.

There is only one thing I fear now-love. For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.

Cry your grief to God. Howl to the heavens. Tear your shirt. Your hair. Your flesh. Gouge out your eyes. Carve out your heart. And what will you get from Him? Only silence. Indifference. But merely stand looking at the playbills, sighing because your name is not on them, and the devil himself appears at your elbow full of sympathy and suggestions. And that’s why I did it….Because God loves us, but the devil takes an interest.

Review (which I encourage you to read, though the quotes above are evidence enough that you should read the book):

I received a copy of this beautiful book last October, just days before the release date. You’d think I would have read it already – after all, who can resist something so obviously focused on France? – but the size of this thing! It was daunting. However, after all the fabulous things I’ve heard about Revolution in the past few months, I couldn’t pass it on my way into my room without stopping, picking it up, and apparently, devouring it.

Revolution is a striking book. It exceeds expectations in almost every imaginable way. The setting, the premise, the mystery, the characters, the complex relationships and wild range of emotions – every aspect of a good book is magnified, improved, steroidal.

First of all: FRANCE.

Yes, in all caps. FRANCE.

This book has a lot of it. Not the language, really, but the feel, the atmosphere, the setting, foods, and history – it’s all so very French. I learned so much from this book without feeling like I was being taught. I eagerly looked forward to every bit of historical information. This book gives you the French Revolution so up close and personal you can see the blood staining the guillotine.

The main character, Andi, is phenomenal. I loved that her deep misery and biting attitude took root in something worthy of such terrible aftershock. Once I understood what she and her family had gone through, I could comprehend and sympathize with her general instability and the different ways her family members grieve. Her past literally haunts her, but that terrible past also does just what it was meant to – it molds her. She might be desperate and miserable at the beginning of the book, but it soon became evident that the horrors she struggles through have a purpose. Andi’s such an intricate person, and I found she’s incredibly likable for someone so rugged.

Relationships are the core of Revolution. All sorts of them. Father-daughter, siblings, friendship. There’s reluctant love, dutiful love, lack of love, romantic love, and just about every other type you can come up with. It’s such a dark and mysterious book, so I was surprised to think back and realize that it really does revolve around love. Andi’s relationships are so strained you’re waiting for them to reach their limit and snap – heck, you’re waiting for her to snap. There’s such contrast between, say, her relationship with her father and that with her little brother, but both of them play crucial roles.

Honestly, though, it wouldn’t be fair to focus solely on Andi, her story, and her relationships because this book is as much about Alex, the doomed teenage girl of the eighteenth century, as it is about Andi. Alex’s story begins with the end. You know instantly that she’s walking a tight rope while wind is crashing against her. She doesn’t have much time left, yet she’s bursting with the need to write down all that she’s gone through, particularly her relationship with Louis-Charles, or the lost prince of France. Alex is Louis-Charles’ companion and is charged with keeping his spirits up by the queen herself. Alex’s story takes place during the French Revolution, so clearly being charged with the happiness of the prince isn’t in her best interests.

Though Alex’s story is the more suspenseful of the two and I’m sure I was meant to be completely enthralled, her story is actually the only thing I had trouble with. I was definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY interested. Her diary is stuffed with gloriously fascinating bits of French history, retellings of horrific events, cunning people, and a beautifully told love story (not a romantic one). I wish I could tell you what it was that simply didn’t cut it for me, but I can’t. Alas, all I know for sure is that I found myself occasionally waiting her entries out, excited to get back to Andi. I have no idea why this was the case, but it was.

(I’m looking at the word count of this review now and freaking out. How on earth can I include everything I want to? A super long book requires a long review! Bear with me, please.)

The most delectable thing about Revolution is the way it’s all done. This book would have amounted to so much less in the hands of someone else. Jennifer Donnelly’s prose and style transform this book from an interesting story to a magnificent one. There are lines that I couldn’t resist reading to my mother. There are lines that made me stop and reread. I love it when I come across a book that just wows me and reminds me why I love words with the passion that I do. They have impact. They have force. They can make you feel and experience things you’d never have felt or experienced otherwise.

I’ll admit that the fact there’s some time-travel in the book escaped me. I suppose I knew it at one point, but I was definitely taken by surprise when Andi suddenly wound up in 1795. Not the sort of thing you expect after four-fifths of the book has passed with her snug in the twenty-first century. However, it was a sweet surprise to have the book take an unexpected turn so late in the game. My favorite character was suddenly in my favorite era! It was a little odd, but definitely a fun little romp. (That was the understatement of the week.)

Oh my goodness! Have I not yet mentioned there’s a love story (a romantic one this time)? What? No! My bad. Those of you who were losing interest due to the lack of mushiness, come back! There is indeed a love story, and it is, indeed, awesome. It’s simple, relatively smooth, and is everything you’d want it to be. The romantic plotline does include the only super predictable and cliché moment, but I think every book should be allowed one. The boy also has a really neat name (bonus!).

Revolution is, well, revolutionary. I reveled in every moment. Beautiful passage on top of beautiful passage, heart-wrenching moment on heart-wrenching moment, Jennifer Donnelly has constructed a story – wait, no, two stories – so captivating that 472 pages feels like 150.

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June 27th, 2010

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Jellicoe Road

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Author: Melina Marchetta

Published: September, 2006 by HarperCollins

Number of Pages: 432

Rating: 5/5

Quote: Please excuse the long quote. I excerpted the entire prologue because it’s brilliance at its purist. Read it. And then read the book, because you’ll be aching for more. Also, this particular bit isn’t from the POV of Taylor (the main character), but from a book within the book that plays a key part in the story.

My father took one hundred and thirty two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of kilometres away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, ‘What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?’ and my father said, ‘Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,’ and that was the last thing he ever said.

We heard her almost straight away. In the other car, wedged into ours so deep that you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. She told us her name was Tate and then she squeezed through the glass and the steel and climbed over her own dead – just to be with Webb and me; to give us her hand so we could clutch it with all our might. And then a kid called Fitz came riding by on a stolen bike and saved our lives.

Someone asked us later, ‘Didn’t you wonder why no one came across you sooner?’

Did I wonder?

When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe Road like they’re some kind of garbage, don’t you know?

Wonder dies.”

Review:

There’s something incredibly fantastic about a book you don’t read. It’s an entirely different experience to look at a page and not see words, but pictures – a world that feels so real it could be mistaken for this one. The moment you open the covers of the book and find your place, you are no longer sitting in your living room, on your bed, or in the car. You are living the story.

Jellicoe Road transports you into the world of Taylor Markham, a seventeen year old girl attending Jellicoe School (which, coincidentally, resides right next to Jellicoe Road. See how that works out?). At least, she has been since Hannah Schroeder took her under her wing after her mother abandoned her when she was eleven in the bathroom of the 7-Eleven on Jellicoe Road.

Life at Jellicoe School is consistent, something that Taylor was in dire need of for most of her childhood. It’s not until it’s Taylor’s turn to be head of her dorm and for the territory wars between the Townies, Cadets, and Jellicoe School to resume. Not until Jonah Griggs, head of the Cadets and the occasional pain in the butt, returns for the summer and Taylor is forced to confront their all-too-public past.

When Hannah leaves town suddenly on top of all else, Taylor’s problems seem to expand. Not only must she work worry about Hannah, but Hannah’s manuscript – a story of five friends who lived on Jellicoe Road years before – seems to be taking on a life of its own. And it soon becomes apparent that Taylor’s inexplicably tied to these five friends in the story.

This novel is magic. Its words woven together into something soft, warm, and beautiful. You’re comfortable inside it. Melina Marchetta is a phenomenal writer, and I’m dying to read more of her work. She enchants you with the seamless ease of her words. Sentences flow beautifully from one to the next to the point that you’re not reading word by word or sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph, your reading moment by moment in the story.

I particularly loved the excerpts from Hannah’s book. The moments we spent with the five were splendid. By the time Jellicoe Road was finished with, I was satisfied with Taylor’s story but dying for more of the five’s. I could happily have read an entirely separate novel dedicated solely to them. Both captivate you from moment one. In fact, the prologue of the novel (the quote above) is part of the five’s story and clearly amazing. I’ve read it multiple times because its perfection never ceases to startle me.

Taylor is a great main character. I understood her enough to feel for her, root for her, and be able to like her even when she irritated me (which wasn’t too often). There wasn’t a moment at which I felt like pinching her and telling her to open her darned eyes and see what’s in front of her. Her character enhanced the experience rather than extracting from it. She had some blissfully clever lines, too.

I think the most wonderful thing about the novel was the depth of the story. So many emotions swim murkily beneath the surface of this novel. I laughed, I laughed more, and in the end, I cried. The feelings were so palpable. I could touch them if I reached out my hand.

The characters throughout the novel are as real as the people crowded around me in this plane (and I mean, really, really crowded). I could practically smell them. This book is run by characters. They have the final word in everything. The plot relies on their actions, their feelings. I loved the banter between the friends, particularly between Santangelo – current leader of the Townies – (love. That. Name.) and Griggs. If not for the story or Marchetta’s writing capabilities, read this story for them. They deserve your attention and the love that you will inevitably have for them.

Jellicoe Road is a work of art. The emotion that seeps from every page pries away any guard you have against it until you succumb to the feelings as well. The characters will creep into your being and steal a bit of you away for safekeeping. The writing will seduce you. Live this novel. It’s worth the emotional risk.

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April 13th, 2010

Looking for Alaska by John Green; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Looking for Alaska
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Author: John Green

Published: December 28, 2006

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: 5/5

Quote:

So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

Review:

This is a book that is everything. Everything that we believe matters and everything that we think doesn’t but really does. It encompasses all and displays all for its reader to see.

Love, hope, forgiveness, sorrow, uncontrollable fury, suspense, resignation, laughter, sarcasm, rebellion, idiocy, mind-boggling questions. Everything that makes literature interesting, that makes characters lovable or hate-worthy or simply intriguing. Everything that makes life. And it’s all in Looking for Alaska; inexplicably contained within roughly two hundred and fifty pages and two pieces of shiny, thumb-print stained paper.

Pudge (honestly, I can’t remember his real name), an ironically lanky sixteen-year-old boy, becomes set on discovering the Great Perhaps and decides to go to a boarding school miles and miles from home. There, he meets the Colonel (his roommate), Takumi, Lara, and Alaska Young.

Alaska is a fascinating girl. The kind that holds the answers to all the questions you’re dying to ask her but absolutely refuses to give them. She frustrates Pudge, befriends him, and “makes” him fall in love with her. She’s a pain in the butt and she’s a miracle. She’s bubbly and mopey. The only thing predictable about her is her unpredictability.

But that’s all Before. Before the After. Before the Moment. When Alaska goes and does something unpredictable.

That’s when the sorrow, the hatred, and the guilt arise. Everything seems to be rolling downhill, so swiftly that Pudge has a difficult time assessing where he is before he’s somewhere else entirely. Piecing together bits of Alaska’s character, answering seemingly unanswerable questions, etc. become necessary for Pudge – and the rest of the people Alaska has affected – to keep on functioning.

And this book is incredible. It belongs in the YA literature hall of fame.

John Green’s style of writing has ultimately become one of my favorites. He can embody great meaning in so few words. It’s astounding. He isn’t afraid to speak philosophically on occasion and does so in a way that any teenager could understand. This book is thought-provoking. Literally provoking. It’s like an itch. Or a tick.

Every character in Looking for Alaska is amazing. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I loved most of them, and the few I “hated”, I loved to hate. It’s a win-win for the reader. Especially wonderful was the main character. His voice was strong, and every word, every action, was in character. His likability is inarguable. He was intellectual at times but entirely a sixteen-year-old boy. I also appreciated that all of the main characters were smart in their own way. Of course, they made stupid decisions as well, but I imagine they could talk incessantly and not bore you with ridiculous gossip. They were witty, clever, and entertaining. I would think I’d stepped into some sublime world if I could only carry on a conversation with them (and technically, I would have had to, as they are fictional).

I did have a problem with some of the content, though. There was way too much swearing for my taste, and the “F” word became pretty frequent. If I ever lend this book out (which I certainly will), I’m going to search the pages for ridiculous profanity and scribble it out. I don’t enjoy writing in books, for the most part, but my tolerance has a limit. There was also a scene I skipped over completely. It was revolting (pages 126-128, approximately).

Now that I might have entirely talked you out of this book, let me rewind and say that, yes, these kids make some really crappy, naughty decisions at times, but they are good people. Wonderful people. Just skip the bits of crap (especially pages 126-128!).

Looking for Alaska is a masterpiece. It’s $8.99 price at Borders is an outrage, but ideal, considering how many people want to read and reread it. I’m certain that I will read this book dozens of times before my dying day.

Frankly, it’s just one of those astounding reads. It’s a greatly affecting story, one that readers will love and eat up for years. It’s amazing, how simple love is. Love for books especially. It’s just there, undeniable, unfaltering. Thrilling.

Read Looking for Alaska. Sure, you might want to find a scribbled-on copy. Make sure to censor as much as possible. But the story’s beneath the cuss words and occasional nastiness. The characters are there, too. Uncover them and let them breathe. They’ll speak to you.

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