The Outsiders-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 4/5

This is a very well-known novel and has even become a required read in many middle/junior high schools across the United States. This story has a minor aspect of American history to it, and it has a number of key ideas such as friendship bridging the gap between rich and poor, honor can be found among the lawless, and that one’s identity must be found outside the influence of friends and family.

Interestingly enough, S.E. Hinton is a woman who published her debut novel under the guise of a man. In the 1960’s, women were still seen as unequal to men, especially in the great literary canon of American writers. Obviously, her novel transcends time and has become a great classic for young readers today.

Although never explicitly stated, this novel takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1965. In this coming-of-age novel, two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (So-sheh-s, short for Socials) are two rival groups divided by their socioeconomic status (the place/location they live in and the income their families have).

The conflict of status between the Socs and the Greasers is long running, and when Ponyboy, the main character (and yes, that is his real name), is jumped by some of the Socs after a movie, his older brother and friend come to his aid. The conflict continues when Ponyboy and fellow Greaser Johnny, come face-to-face with the Socs in a park in the middle of the night. After some snide remarks, Ponyboy spits at the Socs, egging them to try and drown him. Seeing that his friend is drowning, Johnny stabs one of the boys in order to save his friend, honor among the lawless.

Even though he was saving his friend, Johnny committed murder. Ponyboy, present for the death of the Soc, runs to his brother for help and advice. Together, Ponyboy and Johnny hop a train to a few towns away and find solace in a church for a few days. When Dally, one of the Greasers, comes to tell he boys that tensions are even higher after the murder of Bob the Soc, Johnny decides that perhaps things would be best if he just turns himself in.

When the three boys aim to head back to Tulsa, they notice that the church is on fire, and children on a field trip are trapped inside. Perhaps it is his guilt of murder, or perhaps is was the boy’s fault that the church caught fire in the first place, but some impulse drives Johnny to save the children, risking his own life for their own.

With Johnny’s sacrifice, he may not make it, and the tensions continue to boil between the two social gangs. Ponyboy not only loses more than one friend, but he gains numerous injuries from the planned brawl between the gangs. When his grades begin to fall, he finds solace in Gone With the Wind and the theme of death, and the purpose of life and doing something honorable.

Overall, the writing style is sophisticated in the writing itself, but it is also written to fit the attitudes of the characters, which makes the novel feel real. This book, being one of the required reads in many schools, demonstrates a number of social and global issues that we still have today, such as discrimination due to socioeconomic status and gang violence. These concepts are important for young people to have an understanding of so that they can form their own opinions and arguments with these issues as seen in contemporary society. Whether you are in 8th grade, college, or retired, I would say this book is worth the read, becoming one of the great pieces of the American literary canon.

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Tangerine-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 4/5

I had never heard of this book before finding out it was a part of the curriculum where I would be teaching. So, like any good teacher, I read the book ahead of time so that I would be prepared to assist students with their understanding, as well as their essays, for the novel. It took me a bit longer to read than I would have liked, but it was an amazing book for the middle grade audience, boys and girls alike. It demonstrates what fear can do to a person, as well as the bonds of friendship and family (or lack thereof).

Known as “Eclipse Boy,” Paul Fisher wears huge glasses that make him look like a bug. His seemingly strange incident of staring at an eclipse too long just does not seem to ring right with him though; something else must have happened when he was in kindergarten, but his memories are hazy.

Moving from Texas to Tangerine County, Florida, in Lake Windsor Downs, proves to be a vital test of friendship and family. Paul loves soccer, but he is always under the shadow of his older brother, Erik, who aims to be a star football player and is heavily backed by his father, leaving Paul a little less love and attention than is desired.

At Lake Windsor Downs Middle School, Paul aims for the soccer team, but his mother making and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for him because of his vision impairment causes him to be ineligible to play on a sports team (which is ridiculous). His ineligibility problem is solved when part of the school falls into a sinkhole (just a part of Tangerines strange weather/natural weirdness), and Paul ends up having to go to the rival school, Tangerine Middle School.

The Soccer crowd at Tangerine Middle school is almost thug-like, but when Paul befriends them, he finds a new meaning to friendship. He also asks his mom to not transfer over his IEP, because he wants to play soccer. When Paul is asked to do a report in science class with a group, he opts to learn about Tangerine growing from his friend’s brother, Luis.

Paul learns a lot about the labor hardships of caring for the fruit trees, but he also constantly lives in fear of his brother, because his subconscious keeps telling him his brother is a bad person.

When Paul witnesses something that could end up causing a murder, fear continues to instill itself within him, but his fear is enough to bring back his true memories, and to learn that his brother caused his blindness and not an eclipse. 

All-in-all a great middle grade read that demonstrates the importance of being different, as well as showing how those with some kind of impairment feel about being left out. It also shows what a family who favors one child does to the other, as well as what fear can do to someone psychologically. It is an amazing book that highlights a lot of important issues that young people should be aware and mindful of, while embedding the perfect amount of humor as well. Told in a journalistic style, this is a book that is well worth the read, especially for middle grade readers.

A Silent Voice-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Manga/Young Adult/Coming-of-Age

Rating: 4/5

This is a fantastic series that shows how rough bullying can be, what it can do to other people, oneself, and what it means to be a good human being. The back of each volume contains the following summation of the series:

“A very powerful story about being different and the consequences of childhood bullying…Read it.” –Anime News Network

“The word heartwarming was made for manga like this.” –Manga Bookshelf

Basically, this is an excellent read that highlights what being different means, the struggle that some families have when they have a member with some kind of disability, and what it means to be a true friend.

The first volume begins with Shoya, a bully who is reunited after six years with Shoko, a girl he bullied so horribly in grade school that she had to switch schools (again). While the main girth of the series follows the events of their senior year in high school, the first volume follows Shoya and Shoko. When Shoko enters Shoya’s class for the first time, she introduces herself with her notebook, explaining that she is deaf and that she would like to get to know her classmates through writing in her notebook.

Things seem okay at first, but Shoya makes a statement by yelling at Shoko, who sits in front of him, just a general yell to test if she really cannot hear. Some of his classmates find this rude and appalling, but as time passes, Shoko’s classmates, and even her teacher, begin to bully her. One girl is tired of Shoko asking what the teacher said (through writing), and begins to brush Shoko off as an annoyance. In choir, Shoko is off key, considering she can’t hear her own voice. This causes even more bullying, as students begin to write terrible things about her on the board in her homeroom. When a teacher offers to teach sign language for Shoko’s sake, nobody cares, except one girl, who becomes bullied because of her interest in sign language.

Shoya, following the lead of bullying that his groups of friends have evoked, eventually rips out Shoko’s hearing aid and destroys it. When school officials question the class, everyone points their fingers at Shoya, his friends and even the teacher who told him to stop the bullying but snickered at his own students remarks, all pointed their fingers at Shoya, not taking their own blame.

Shoya is neglected by who he thought were his friends, becoming the bullied in the same way as Shoko. After Shoko transfers schools again, Shoya enters high school with no friends, and blocking out everyone’s faces with a conscious X, as they are not important and do not matter to him.

Now, reunited with Shoko, who runs at first sight of Shoya, he aims to apologize and repair the wrongs he had done many years ago. He has Shoko’s special communication notebook, which was thrown in the water six years prior, and returns it to her. When she moves on with her life, Shoya aims to find out more about Shoko and wants to learn what it means to be true friends.

When Shoya somewhat grudgingly comes to the aid of a likewise ostracized classmate, they become friends, and discuss what it means to be able to call someone a friend. He also meets Shoko’s sister, Yuzuru, a girl who has chosen to look an act like a boy to defend Shoko from being bullied. Yuzuru does not approve of Shoya’s friendship or aim to make amends for what he did in the past. When she learns that Shoya learned sign language over the years so that he could better communicate when he met Shoko again, Yuzuru eases off, but only after she posts an article that puts Shoya in a bad situation at school.

Eventually, Shoya and Shoko reunite with some of the people from grade school, including those who were likewise bullies, as well as defenders, and together, they learn what friendship truly means.

This series has a great deal of drama, which demonstrates the human feelings we all have when we are harmed or choose to harm others, as well as the effects of bullying and how it can affect our mental state over time. This series was excellently written, powerful, and the beautiful art adds to the height of the reading experience. As an educator, I would recommend this to anyone and everyone in that it demonstrates how differences make us unique and shows how wrong and serious bullying can be.

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On a side note, the movie was recently released in Japan and will be showing for a select time in select theaters in the U.S. October 2017. The art of the movie and the vibrancy of the setting and colors makes it look amazing, and I am hoping the movie will convey the same message that the manga does, even though it will have to take out a number of chapters/scenes for the sake of time. I will also be looking for this as an English Blu-ray release…eventually!

The Golden Lily (Bloodlines #2)-Should You Read It?

Genre: Young Adult Paranormal/New Adult Paranormal

Rating: 4/5

This is the second book in the Bloodlines series and can also be classified as urban fantasy. While no one else I have seen will say this is a “new adult” genre novel, I place it there because the point of view character, Sydney, and potential love interest, Adrian, are 18 and 21 (or 220 respectively, which is a wobbly zone for being young adult versus new adult: So it’s both!

Just as great as the first novel, this novel picks up a month or so later. Sydney Sage, loyal alchemist and protector of the secret society of vampires (Moroi and Strigoi), aims to be an intellectual individual with at least some normal aspects of life. Her independent study teacher really begins to push her boundaries by having Sydney study small charms in witchcraft, on top of all her Alchemist work. It’s tough enough keeping Jill Dragomir, cousin to the Moroi queen, a secret, let alone adding witchcraft to the mix, and let’s not forget a new boyfriend!

Trey, a student at the boarding school Sydney is staying at, has found the literal perfect match for Sydney, a brainiac and lover of Greek and Roman history. When Sydney and Brayden begin their romantic relationship, they are both new to having another person around in a romantic way and are both a bit awkward about it.

When Adrian finds out, he love to make fun of Brayden, but could there be a hint of jealousy there for some reason? When Sydney offers to drive Adrian to meet his dad in a city a couple of hours away, she is drawn into lunch with them (at both her and Adrian’s misery) and sees firsthand just how Adrian’s father treats him. The drive back involves a slushee break to cheer Adrian up, but the small act seems to have greater impact than either of them anticipate.

The Halloween dance is ever looming, and the fashion designer that Jill had done some work for previously, continues to seek out and use Jill because she is perfect model material. The designer makes and sends beautiful costumes to Sydney and Jill in hopes of coaxing Sydney to let Jill model again, but to no avail. The costume Sydney receives is meant to be more of a Roman toga style, but resembles a flashy sexual dress that Sydney couldn’t ever imagine wearing (but she does). Adrian gets a glimpse and says she’s the most beautiful girl in the world, a comment she would rather have had from her boyfriend, Brayden, but does not get.

On top of all this good stuff, Sydney oversees Adrian, Sonya, and Dimitri’s experiments with spirit. They are aiming to find some link between spirit and the fact that a restored Strigoi cannot become a Strigoi again. During their experiments, Sonya and Sydney are attacked in an alley, and later, Sonya is actually captured as a known Strigoi by the Warriors of Light, a group once connected to the Alchemists.

The group, not believing Sonya to be back to Moroi form, aims to kill her. Sydney infiltrates their hideout with the help of Trey, a member of the Warriors, and is rescued by an organized group of Dhampir’s sent by Sydney’s superior. While Sonya is safe, something the leader of the Warrior said bothers Sydney, something about starting with Strigoi, but going after Moroi as well.

With a new threat on the horizon, Sydney finds that the Alchemist may be keeping a few too many secrets to themselves, and Jill may not be as safe as expected. With the mention of a name, Marcus, Sydney has something to go off of, to find a man who has seemingly left the alchemists and “broken” his tattoo.” On top of everything, Adrian finally admits his feelings, and while Sydney seems to feel the same way, she rejects him for the sake or tradition.

I absolutely love the pacing of this series as well as the conflicts. While there are ongoing issues that continue through the series (Such as Sydney and Adrian’s relationship, her family relationship, or what is going on in the Moroi world for Jill’s concern), there is always a plot that is contained within the novel itself. The books read very quickly, and the end always has some cliffhanger from the ongoing arcs that keep the reader itching for more. Mead’s craft is pretty good for the target audience, but I come across more typo’s and syntax errors in these books than I have seen in any other book for quite some time, which is one of the reasons I lower the rating of the novels. Despite how excellent these books are, I feel that I cannot give them a five just because there are more unique books or writers with better overall craft out there, but these are still some of my favorites, and I would highly recommend them! (And if you couldn’t guess by now, I would say YES, you should read this book).

The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This is the second book in the series, following The Lost Hero. It takes place simultaneously with the first one, but features different characters at a demi-god camp all the way across the country from Camp Half-Blood.

While the first book introduced some new characters to the series (Jason, Piper, and Leo), this book brings back our original hero, Percy Jackson, with a few new friends in tow (Hazel and Frank) as well as the return of old friends (Tyson!).

When Percy, like Jason in the previous novel, awakens across the country having lost his memory, is being chased by monsters. With the guidance of Lupa, the Roman wolf-goddess (rather than a Greek goddess), Percy finds his way to the California equivalent of camp Half-Blood, Camp Jupiter. Upon arrival to the new camp, Percy is attacked by even more monsters, Gorgons this time, and a lone woman is in danger. Using his power over water to create a whirlpool gains him the woman’s favor, but catches one of the guards (Frank) within. The brave hero that Percy is, saving the woman turns out to be a good thing, considering the damsel in distress is the Roman goddess Juno (the Greek goddess Hera).

With Juno’s approval, the son of Neptune, is welcome into the Roman camp, even though he is looked upon in a negative light for being a Greek demi-god. Despite the gods being the same gods in Greece and Rome even though they have different names, they are at war. Percy, having no memories, is told by Juno that he does have a chance at regaining his memories, but only if he can learn to be a hero again and survive the new challenges that will present themselves to him at Camp Jupiter.

Frank and Hazel, the guards who witnessed Percy fight the Gorgons, become fast friends of Percy. Routines and leadership are different than his own home camp, but with no memories, Percy would have nothing to complain of anyway.  As the camp misfits, the three become more than just good friends. When Frank’s father, Mars, tells the children of a prophecy, the three must set out as heroes to Alaska, free the god Thanatos within a certain amount of time, or die. Of course, the trio finds that freeing the god is a more viable option.

Along the way, the trio stops in Portlans, Oregon, where they can find the location on the giant in Alaska from the blind seer, Phineas. When he tells them to chase a harpy with red feathers and bring her back, they meet Ella, a pretty intelligent harpy who can memorize anything she reads, and ends up being rather a unique asset to the group later one. 

Rescuing Thanatos involves fighting the giant, Alcyoneus, in Alaska. The goddess, Gaea, is awakening from quite a long slumber, and she has some major plans to destroy the gods, along with the known world. With the defeat of one of Gaea’s seven giants, Hazel and Frank become true heroes, finding their own unique abilities.

When Camp Jupiter is under attack, the trio rushes back to California to save the camp. Hazel expresses her feelings for Frank, while Percy remembers Annabeth, and he knows they are coming, for seven heroes will save the world from Gaea. When a great flying ship called the Argo II arrives with Annabeth, among some of our heroes from the previous book, Percy and his demi-god heroes set out to save the gods, and the world, from destruction.

One of the things that I really enjoy about Riordan’s books is the diversity of the characters. In this particular novel, we are introduced to Hazel, who is of African descent, and Frank, who is of Chinese descent (rather than having a book with a bunch of Caucasians). He also goes into some interesting cultural aspects with their own heritage and how that heritage ties into their relation to the Roman gods.

All-in-all I enjoyed this book more than the first one, but I think that is because Percy, our hero from the previous series, has finally returned. One of the fun things about reading this is that Percy does not remember who he is, but we, the reader, do remember his adventures from when he was first taken to Camp Half-Blood, which makes it all the more exciting to see when and how he will remember, all while making new memories and facing new challenges. I think this book is worth the read (especially for a middle-grade audience) and has a lot of potential for the books that follow.

Bloodlines-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction/New Adult Fiction/Paranormal

Rating: 4/5

While this is a spin-off series from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, it can still be read as its own series. I would highly recommend reading the Vampire Academy series first anyway, because this book has a lot of references and characters that first appear in Vampire Academy. One of the characters in the later part of the series, a supporting character, takes on a leading role in this series, and the main character, Sydney, reflects upon events that happened with her and the vampires during the Vampire  Academy series. Also, I had trouble deciding whether this should be young adult or new adult, because the main characters are 18 and 21, but the other characters are high school age and the predecessoing novels are young adult, so I put under both, because I think college-age would like this novel too.

After Lissa Dragomir becomes the Queen in their society, her cousin, Jill, is in grave danger. With the Vampire rule that a ruling monarch must have a living relative to hold the position, Jill’s life is attempted at to remove Lissa from the throne. Told from the first person perspective of Sydney, the Alchemist must keep the peace while aiding to hide Jill in Palm Springs.

Alchemists find Vampires to be against nature, their very existence a foreboding thing against God. Sydney is frightened of their use of magic, abnormal beauty, and blood diet, but even more foreboding are the Strigoi. Strigoi are the evil, corrupt version of the Vampire community who live forever and enjoy killing, while Moroi are the mortal elites, and Dhampirs are half human half Moroi.

With Sydney finding her latest assignment acting as Jill’s sister at a boarding school in Palm Springs and keeping Jill hidden and safe, she also notices a number of things. One is that everyone loves her tattoo and thinks it makes her super intelligent so she doesn’t have to try academically. When other students begin getting tattoos that make them high or enhance them physically, Sydney suspects the misuse of compounds made by her own association: the Alchemists. The other thing that she notices is that a strange sting of murders has happened in the area over the last few years. Could there be any connections here?

The only local Vampire in Palm Springs believes that his daughter, among those murdered, was killed by some vampire hunters. The odd thing is, vampire hunters seem like a thing of myth, since it is part of the Alchemists jobs to keep the Vampire world hidden. When the attacks appear to be from a Strigoi, Sydney and Adrian investigate, only to find that something even more shocking than a Strigoi OR vampire hunter has been behind the murders.

To keep the human world safe from the Vampire world, Sydney must learn to face her fear of Vampire magic and mystery, and fight to keep her job in Palm Springs. Jill and Adrian have some interesting secrets of their own, but Sydney finds that even though they are Vampires, she can possibly call them friends.

I was a bit wary of this book at first, thinking it may not be as good as the Vampire Academy series, but it was an excellent read. Like I said, you can read it on its own, but I would highly recommend reading the Vampire Academy series first because of the number of events and character appearances. This book is amazing, and shows what happens to Adrian after his heartbreak with Rose. That being said, Adrian was definitely one of my favorite characters from the original series, and I am glad he was able to get his own story, because he is an interesting character, and the development of both him and Sydney is superb. I can’t wait to read the next one!

The Fever Code (Maze Runner Book 5)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Since The Kill Order was a somewhat lacking prequel to The Maze Runner series, I lowered my expectations for The Fever Code, but this book was interesting and fantastically crafted!

This story gives us the reveal to the mystery that readers have been wondering since reading The Maze Runner: how the maze was built! The novel starts with how Newt was taken from his family, along with his sister, who is also a candidate in the maze trials for group B (the all girl group).

Following this single instance of Newt’s capture, the rest of the story is taken in by Thomas’s third person limited perspective. When Thomas first came in, his name was Stephen, but WICKED used a sort of torturous shock therapy until his brain was ingrained with the name: Thomas.

We get to see a somewhat rushed version of Thomas’s childhood, when he meets Teresa, and how they get involved with the other guys, such as Chuck, Minho, Newt, and Alby. Thomas and Teresa are special, though, compared to the other children. They are the two from group A, designing the maze for the boys to study the killzone (the brain) to fight the Flare. Aris and Rachel are the designers of the maze for group B, the equivalents of Thomas and Teresa.

Once the mazes are built, the children start getting inserted into the mazes to begin the maze trials. Thomas, Teresa, and their buddy Chuck, begin to observe their old friends through the beetle blades. On top of Thomas’s and Teresa’s observational work for WICKED and the maze trials, they find that one of the leading officials has the Flare, and that he has been hiding it from WICKED. Since Thomas, Teresa, Aris, and Rachel are immune to the Flare, Dr. Paige sends them to remove this threat, among other suspected officials who are infected, before the whole facility and their killzone project becomes marginalized! The kids have never killed anyone before, and this mission will test their limits.

Jorge and Brenda, who appear in The Scorch Trials, make an appearance as well, explaining that the mazes are only the first trial, and that once the Gladers find their way out of the maze, all of them will then have to go through the Scorch.

When it is Thomas’s turn to enter the maze, those of us who have read the initial trilogy can figure out the story from there. His thoughts and feelings about going in demonstrate his feelings for WICKED, but Teresa still believes, no matter what, that WICKED is good.

Overall this was a fantastic book. I would recommend it more after having read the whole series first, BUT it could also be read as the first book for new readers going into the series. It was well paced and fun to see the characters in the WICKED facility before they ever entered the maze, and it was also interesting to see Jorge and Brenda and their involvement before Thomas meets them in the scorch. This was a great addition to the series, and it would actually be pretty fun to see another installment, if it can meet up with the standards set by this prequel!

On a side note: Don’t forget to check out Dashner’s worthwhile, internet adventure Mortality Doctrine trilogy, The Eye of Minds, The Rule of Thoughts, and the Game of Lives, wherever books are sold!