Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Young Adult Literature’ Category

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

In Fiction, Young Adult Literature on January 30, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Let it be known: there’s nothing pretty about cancer. We find hope in the hearts of its victims, in their battles, their narratives. Hope for survivors, for the spectacle of life as aprocess with which we are all intimately involved. As main character Hazel Grace’s father notes, “the universe just wants to be noticed.” And how we wish for it to notice us back. You’ll read this book in a sitting or two—one afternoon if you’re voracious for heart-wrenching sadness and side-splitting humor. Though the narrative is fictional, it reads like a memoir and you become wholeheartedly invested in the characters and their families as though they were sharing the air with you—your lungs struggling alongside Hazel’s. Read this book quickly and lend it to a friend; it’s the kind of read that’s meant to be shared. Against the unforgiving, unrelenting ailment of cancer, there is still life to be lived, experiences to enjoy, and awkward teenage sex to have. Indeed, The Fault is not in ourselves, but In Our Stars. But stars do not have ultimate authority over our lives and choices, and it is in ourselves which we must find purpose, passion, and happiness.

-Eric Ellis

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Paper Towns by John Green

In Fiction, Novel, Young Adult Literature on November 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Have you ever driven beneath the electric, orange glow of streetlights in the middle of the night and felt invincible? The openness of the road both comforted and alienated you as you slowly glided to your destination a light-year away. Can you recall the delightful panic that swept over your body when you found yourself somewhere you shouldn’t have been? Words became whispers while footsteps turned treacherous. And you must remember that whirlwind of a person who carved themselves upon your soul yet dissolved at your touch? Such is the story of Q, the well-raised son of two well-raised therapists, who has the (un)fortunate circumstance of living next to Margo Roth Spiegelman. The perfect girl. Just out of reach. Until she the night she climbs through his window and is suddenly tangible. But what happens when the dawn comes and the fairytale ends and the particles which compose her body disperse into the atmosphere? What will be paper, and what will be reality? Paper Towns is a romp through the last few weeks of a high school education. At its center sits Q, a detective in love, hypnotized by an enigma. And with his incredibly colorful friends, he makes the journey to find the town made of paper and the girl who is not.

-Maddie Eckrich

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

In Fiction, Young Adult Literature on May 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Germany glows with the Führer’s bonfires. Stealing a book is an act of defiance and hiding a Jew is an act of treason. Everything, it seems, is punishable by death. He is coming. He knows when, where and why. You cannot escape.

But in a book narrated by Death himself, dying is the least punishment distributed. Even getting through the book is a kind of punishment. You started this, now you have to finish it. Death knows how this ends, and still he has a sense of humor. Sometimes his secrets slip out.

It doesn’t hurt any less.

This is a book about 40 millions deaths costumed in the story of a little girl, her friends, her family, and the Jew they hide in the basement.

The worst punishment? The laughter through the tears as the final pages turn. Because even as the words snap, whip, and beat the reader with the butt-end of a rifle – even as the world is swamped in Nazi red, white, and black – the reader smiles. Because this is a story about a little girl holding Death at bay, looking him in the face and smiling while the world burns in his wake.

-Jay Cullis

Wild Things by Clay Carmichael (reviewed by Jay Cullis)

In Young Adult Literature on June 2, 2010 at 6:05 am

Kids only see one side of the adulthood coin. They watch their parents. Their teachers. Relatives. Constantly observing, they see only the side endeavoring at authority. They rarely glimpse the other side, the one clinging to childhood – or the side that’s scared as hell. Or lonely. The side that misses mom and just wants someone close.

Jaded beyond her eleven years, Zoë is taken in by her uncle – a quiet sculptor who welds and bends metal but can’t seem to mend his own broken heart. Setting aside suspicions, Zoë discovers trust: First with the ragamuffin cat hiding under the porch, later with the adults who buoy and balance and orbit with subtle grace.

Good children’s authors deal from both ends of the deck. Up her sleeves Clay Carmichael’s got aces aplenty. She succeeds in the details: The wooden box of small carved animals. The smell of the still. The sounds the cat hears while hiding in the crawlspace below the church.

And in the voice of a girl who’s slowly turning over the coin of adulthood and polishing off the grime we find a uncompromising story – rough around the edges of a graceful, grateful center.


-Jay Cullis 


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“Guest Punch,” by Jay Cullis: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

In Young Adult Literature on May 16, 2009 at 2:14 am


Much has been made about how appropriate a children’s book is that begins on the massacre of a family. Without hesitation, though, I’ll steer my students – fourth-grade and up – toward Neil Gaiman’s Newberry-lauded novel.

Because in a world where a murder demands blood splashed across the screen and fear is assumedly born in gory, saw-blade terror we need books like this. Yes, it starts with a grizzly murder. But it’s a most patient, poetic murder: balanced on tiptoes more sure-footed than the toddler who escapes the blade and wanders up the road to the titular hilltop cemetery.

The murderer pursues, of course. But Nobody Owens is safe so long as he walks the headstones. He lives and learns from the sundry creatures of the night who adopt him, Mowgli-style. He spreads his wings and flies too close to the sun his night-haunting guardians avoid. And we are there with him as he explores the sprawling graveyard, navigating the pitfalls and joys of growing up in a scary world.

Because what’s scarier than living? Puberty? Heartbreak? Naïveté and betrayal?

Surely no vampire, no witch, no werewolf. But it’s the living that becomes the goal, when you live among the dead.