Posts tagged ‘scholastic’

January 18th, 2011

Gentlemen by Michael Northrop; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Gentlemen

Author: Michael Northrop

Published: November 1st, 2010 by Scholastic*

Number of Pages: 240

Rating: 3/5


Official Review:

Gentlemen is not the book I thought it would be. With the many surprises and course changes throughout, my mind tripped over itself as the story unfolded. However, it was Mike that caught my attention with his rugged and unexpectedly thoughtful voice. Northrop does an outstanding job of creating characters who are nearly the opposite of how they originally appear – characters who I gradually learned to love or love to hate. At the very least, Gentlemen is a book that will keep you on your toes.

Synopsis:

Micheal, Tommy, Mixer, and Bones aren’t just from the wrong side of the tracks–they’re from the wrong side of everything. Except for Mr. Haberman, their remedial English teacher, no one at their high school takes them seriously. Haberman calls them “gentlemen,” but everyone else ignores them–or, in Bones’s case, is dead afraid of them. When one of their close-knit group goes missing, the clues all seem to point in one direction: to Mr. Haberman.

Gritty, fast-paced, and brutally real, this debut takes an unflinching look at what binds friends together–and what can tear them apart. [From Goodreads]

Review:

This book definitely surprised me – in all the right ways.

Namely, the main character. I did not expect Mike to be the clever, funny, intelligent boy that he is. He does a fabulous job of hiding his potential and intuitiveness. I loved reading his rough but unarguably thoughtful and contemplative voice. He’s a kid made up of contradictions. He wears a stereotype like a badge, but is anything but on the inside.

That’s not to say he’s a perfect person. He does some terrible, terrible things. He’s dark and his priorities are skewed. I wouldn’t want to know him personally. So, while I thoroughly enjoyed reading about him, I’m glad I we’re not actually acquainted.

Gentlemen is primarily a murder mystery, even if it was the main character that awed me. The plot is interesting, but it would be nothing (in my opinion, anyway) if it weren’t for the fabulous way that Michael Northrop weaves Crime and Punishment into the story. As Mike sat in his English class, turning over possibilities in his head, I was absorbed in the actual proceedings of the class. I’ve been eager to get my hands on a copy of Crime and Punishment ever since.

As the mystery unfolds, the boys’ suspicions travel from person to person, but invariably return to Haberman. What they claim are clues are sketchy at best, but once an idea is thought of, it’s hard to shake. I spent a majority of the book full of anticipation because, despite the unreliability of the evidence, it’s still convincing. I floundered and wondered alongside the characters.

It’s not until the boys take matters into their own hands and act that nervousness overpowered my anticipation. I wanted to crawl into a hole and close my eyes until the book was over. My apprehension mirrored Mike’s. In just a few pages, the many possible endings are eliminated, and the conclusion is inevitable (and dreaded).

Though Gentlemen is anything but cheery, I appreciated the hard-hitting honesty. The characters who did wrong are duly punished, and those who did nothing at all are let free. My mind did trip over itself, but I realized in the end that everything unfolded as it should have and everyone lands in the right place. I was also pleased by the fact that the book induces thoughts on various odd-ball subjects that I might not have pondered otherwise.

I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for something that will keep their minds alert and ready for anything, particularly something out of the ordinary. I would certainly consider it a great book for discussion and book clubs.

I must warn you: You will be surprised, you will be upset, you will feel a little queasy. It’s a roller-coaster.

Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy!

December 13th, 2010

You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: You Are Not Here

Author: Samantha Schutz

Published: October 1st, 2010 by Scholastic

Number of Pages: 224

Rating: 4/5

Review Sent to Scholastic*:

Samantha Schutz’s You Are Not Here perfectly encapsulates the confusion, denial, and stubborn grief that its main character feels after the death of the boy she believes she loves. This book is my first exposure to novels in verse, and I can say with a surety that I won’t hesitate to read another. Emotionally penetrating and beautifully written, the book will no doubt resound with readers and stay with them through any turbulent time of their lives.

Synopsis:

Annaleah and Brian shared something special – Annaleah is sure of it. When they were together, they didn’t need anyone else. It didn’t matter that their relationship was secret. All that mattered was what they had with each other.

And then, out of nowhere, Brian dies. And while everyone else has their role in the grieving process, Annaleah finds herself living outside of it, unacknowledged and lonely. How can you recover from a loss that no one will let you have? [From Goodreads]

Review:

This book surprised me countless times. Once when I received it and found out that it’s in verse, again when I found that, despite some oddities and bits of it that “really aren’t my thing,” I enjoyed it.

The verse was enjoyable all on its own. I loved having the ability to breeze through forty pages in moments. Reading verse is so much fun. It’s like a game! (That’s my nerdiness poking its head out from beneath the sand.) The book was written so perfectly that it flowed powerfully and swiftly, crashing by gracefully.

The content of the novel was sometimes unlike what I prefer, but it was fairly clean and not too specific when it came to the more sexual scenes. I must say, however, that I wouldn’t be comfortable with recommending this to my book club without requesting parents’ permission. You Are Not Here discusses some serious topics and important problems that require the scenes that are included in the book.

Annaleah is the perfect main character for a story such as this. Her feelings and, occasionally, the lack thereof are what carry the story. On the other hand, I didn’t feel as though I knew her very well. I only saw her at her weakest for a majority of the book. I could never get a clear idea of what she was like in different settings or under normal circumstances. I wish that I could understand not only her feelings, but her.

It was clear to me from the beginning that Annaleah’s relationship with Brian was wrong and bound to be hurtful on so many levels, but to Annaleah it evidently wasn’t. She romanticized the dead. It was fascinating (and depressing) to read about her dreams and fantasies that were often nightmares to me. The slight sick feeling I felt then only made the better feelings later on sweeter.

So, while I have no doubt that Brian was not an upstanding guy, and I have less respect for him as a result, I understand why he was necessary to Annaleah’s growth. Mistakes are essential to the accumulation of wisdom. The consequences of mistakes are important for comparison. As Annaleah makes better decisions and meets more impressive people, the consequences bring so much more happiness – happiness that is strong and sure, not weak and half-imagined.

Ethan and Annaleah’s other friends prove to be great people full of genuine concern. The moment Ethan appeared, the development of their relationship was pretty predictable, but it was welcome and most definitely an important part of Annaleah’s recovery.

Another featured relationship was the one between Annaleah and her mother. And her father. Oh, goodness, her father. The fragments we’re fed as readers concerning Annaleah’s father are interesting, until we learn more – and suddenly they’re fascinating.

I have such an ideal relationship with my parents that it can be mind-boggling to think of different sorts – relationships between kids and parents that are so not ideal that they can be somewhat frightening. The reparative scenes between Annaleah and her mother form a love story you can root for.

In the end, the book was satisfying and hardy, disturbing and pitiful. I recommend it to anyone who wants a quick read that will also make them think and wonder – and odd combination, but a great one. You Are Not Here is certainly special.

*Thanks for the review copy!

September 7th, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Published: August 24th, 2010

Number of Pages: 400

Rating: 5/5

Yes, I lied. You may put me in time-out, but that would entail my losing computer privileges, and you would be left waiting for the review. I’m going to pretend that sounds like a loss to you and continue writing.

I truly wasn’t going to write a review of Mockingjay. I simply couldn’t fathom how I’d be able to take my scrambled and deranged thoughts and relay them in a sane way. However, I’d forgotten that Scholastic was sending me a copy for review. So, for Scholastic’s case, a review of the third and final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy – Mockingjay.

Quote: BABY SPOILER-ALERT

“President Snow says he’s sending us a message? Well, I have one for him. You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that?” One of the cameras follows as I point to the planes burning on the roof of the warehouse across from us. The Capitol seal on the wing glows clearly through the flames. “Fire is catching!” I am shouting now, determined that he will not miss a word. “And if we burn, you burn with us!”

Review:

Mind-boggling. Gripping. Horrific. Beautiful. Haunting. Magnificent. Epic. – These are all adjectives I can imagine seeing and hearing in regard to every book in The Hunger Games. Yet none seem to encompass the incredible massiveness of the appreciation many of us have for them. Each individual book blew my mind, made me shudder, and made me yearn deeply for more. They are simply astonishing.

And yet I felt, and still feel, disappointed with Mockingjay.

Not because it was bad. Not because it wasn’t wonderful. It was fantastic. However, I think we all had something we expected from this book. Not everyone of us could be satisfied entirely, and the only one who truly needed to be satisfied was Suzanne Collins. I hope and like to believe that she’s happy with and proud of this trilogy that has shaken readers around the world.

I, however, found flaws with the book (in my opinion) that dampened the experience for me.  I believe the way things played out is exactly what the ending needed to be. I am satisfied with what happened. Just not precisely with the way they happened.

For example, it seemed to me that many if not all of the most gripping and potentially-stunning parts of the novel were summarized. Why are we asleep again? Why are we blacking out? Oh, yeah, so that all the awesomeness can be relayed to us later. I was highly aggravated by the fact that so much was skimmed over (and some seemingly unimportant things were given loads of “screen time”), particularly when the parts skimmed played a huge role in the character or plot development. Many scenes were anticlimactic in this way. I was left wondering how this happened or why this happened, or what Katniss’s thoughts on the matter were. I’d missed them because, oh yeah, I’d been knocked out of the story. I was certainly frustrated at the end. Why in the world was so much of the ending summarized? How can that happen after we’ve read through three books to get there?

The summarization was my main problem with the book, but alongside that was the feeling that this book could seriously have used one hundred more pages. In fact, these issues go hand in hand. So much was happening in such quick succession and important parts were being summarized. If events had been fleshed out a bit more to clearly relate the happenings of the book and the turmoil-filled world of Panem, I would have been very pleased.

Collin’s prose has developed beautifully since The Hunger Games. In an interview I read of hers, she mentioned that descriptions – and other things aside from dialogue – were something she was still learning about. As any true HG fan knows, Collins was primarily a screen-writer. I noticed the improvement. The prose was flawless and the voice so very Katniss.

But a different kind of Katniss.

Our dear girl from the Seam with the sack of illegally shot meat? So very, very changed. Which is completely understandable. What a life she’s had the past few years. What nearly insufferable things she’s gone through. Bleakness has shadowed and hung over her since the reaping at which her sister’s name was called. It’s a grievous thing to think that someone so young should go through things that no one – at any age – could really handle. How could she remain unscathed? Impossible. And yet it’s still depressing and heart-wrenching to follow and be in the head of a Katniss that has been beaten down. With a stick, with a broom, with a  metal rod, with the force of the most powerful government in her world, she  has been whipped. And it shows. I felt so disheartened some of the time to feel the difference in her, to feel her occasional hopelessness. But I cheered for her. Every happy moment was bliss. Every good time made me ache with happiness for her. It made me glad to read of her laughing, but there was still the weight of the omnipotence of her enemies.

Aside from Katniss, the world was pretty bleak, even more so than it had been in the previous two books. Underlying all that, however, was the promise, if small, of monumental change. That promise powered through the book and kept spirits up. At multiple points (and particularly at the quote above), I jumped where I sat and felt this indescribable urge to move. To make a difference and stand beside these fictional characters fighting for a world so much better than the one they were living in. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I felt that urge to do something deeply. This book, this entire story, is inspiring.

The characters we’ve loved throughout the trilogy are put through torture – mental, physical, and emotional. Betrayal rounds every corner and heartbreak hovers overhead, but the story is beautiful. What happens to various characters, and the things some of them say, make you feel so strongly. Feel anything. And books that accomplish that are powerful.

I love The Hunger Games trilogy. I feel as though no other Young Adult series will surpass it for years. The books have shaken people. They’ve made people fall in love with characters, with story, and with messages. I firmly believe that Mockingjay is a great ending to all this wonder.

I simply wish it wasn’t ending so soon.

Thanks, Scholastic!