Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Chapters synopsis: Legend holds that Glendower, a vanished Welsh king, sleeps  beneath the hills until he’s needed. The first person to find him  will be granted a wish-either by seeing him open his eyes, or by  cutting out his heart.

Gansey has it all-family money, a car, time for extracurriculars  and friends-but he’s always loved the tales of sleeping kings. He  thinks he’s found one, too, or at least the area where one might  be: in the town of Henrietta, Virginia. And the best way to be  there is to attend the prestigious Aglionby Academy for Boys.

Blue is the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia,  but is too practical to believe in things like spirits or true  love. Her policy is to stay away from Aglionby boys…but it may be  that one in particular can change her mind about magic, and maybe  even love.

What a disappointment. This book had the coolest premise and started off brilliantly.  Yet, with every turn of the page, I became less and less interested.  This was my second attempt to read the book. Back in July, I gave up on this book after a couple of chapters.  After continually hearing about how fabulous it is, I figured I must have missed something and picked it up again.  Unfortunately, I remain one of the few that just don’t understand the high praise!  I really pushed myself to finish this time and struggled to make it halfway through. With so many books on my to-read list, I am officially giving up.  I found the shifts in narration confusing, the amount of back and forth between history lesson and actual story annoying, the plot dull, and the writing style too descriptive (ultimately affecting the pacing of the story).  Most of the time, I struggled to piece everything together and understand what exactly was going on.

Overall, I remain one of the few that hoped for more. Although I didn’t enjoy The Raven Boys, this book was highly praised and received many starred reviews including, Publishers Weekly that raved, “It’s a tour de force of characterization, and while there is no lack of event or mystery, it is the way Stiefvater’s people live in the reader’s imagination that makes this such a memorable read.” Booklist praised-“[T]he book is marvelous, for not only is it filled with marvels, it is also a marvel of imagination and, more prosaically, structure. Rich, too, in characterization, this fantasy/mystery rises to the level of serious literature, leaving readers hungering for more.” Therefore, I still urge you to pick up Raven Boys and let me know what you think!

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Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.

The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death–and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Before I fall by Lauren Oliver was one of those books that have forever been on my ‘to-read’ list.  Described by many as a cross between ‘mean girls’ and ‘groundhog day’, I wasn’t super motivated to be transported back to my high school days where popularity was key, and rumours ran rampant. However, I must admit that I was missing out on this wonderful, thought provoking book! It is based on heavier subjects like death, suicide, and bullying, yet also touches on peer pressure, eating disorders and dysfunctional families too.

This is a rather lengthy book (470) pages, with only 7 chapters (1 for each day Sam re-lives). Sam has seven opportunities to understand what went so wrong, and how she can make it right. She fails miserable the first couple of times, but slowly begins to self reflect and understand how her actions can affect other people. Readers follow her path to redemption and along the way experience a wide range of emotions (frustration, anger, hope, etc.). 

I wasn’t sure how Oliver would be able to keep multiple days lived over and over again from being repetitive. Yet, she does this effortlessly.  There are different choices and events to give Sam the opportunity to make a difference.  Sam is by no means a perfect character, so her character growth from the beginning to end is believable.

There were so many lines and quotes that I loved, but my favourite was:

“So many things become beautiful when you really look (p. 344)”.  This book truly reminds us that our actions do affect others and to not take life for granted.  A recommended read for all.

 

 

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Inspired by the Nickleback song ‘If everyone cared,’’ this heartbreaking, emotional book is an absolute must read.  The book jumps between the past (day of school shooting) and present (the aftermath).  Also included are newspaper style articles that serve to give readers background information about the injured and slain students.

Although based on the school shooting, the book is mainly character driven.  Valerie struggles with her identity after her boyfriend uses their ‘hate list’ to kill classmates. By adding layers of dimension to the characters of Valerie and Nick, Brown made it impossible to classify them.  At some points, I saw them as victims of bullying, other times, as the perpetrator.  I guess that’s the whole point though—everyone has good and bad in them.  Throughout the story, I really felt for Valerie (despite her total selfishness).  Her awful parents made me so angry! The majority of time, Val is so broken and sad that I couldn’t help but wish for healing and recovery.  However, it’s likely that Val will never fully recover after that experience. To me, the open-ended conclusion to the story was a perfect ending.

Although I loved this book, I’m still wondering about Nick’s mysterious friend, Jeremy. Who exactly was Jeremy and did he have any influence on Nick?  Readers are told that they were spending more and more time together before the shooting. However, after the shooting he just disappears. Why bother introducing him at all?

Unfortunately, school shootings are an all too real tragic experience.  I definitely teared up a bit, especially during the graduation ceremony scene. This is not light read, but I would recommend this thought-provoking book to anyone.  No wonder it made multiple award lists, including:  YALSA best books for young adults, and School Library Journal’s Best book of the year.  Check out more reviews below.

 

“[A] riveting debut.” (starred review) (Publishers Weekly )

“Startling, powerful, and poignant.” (starred review) (School Library Journal )

“This novel ought to be the last written about a fictional high school shooting because it is difficult to imagine any capable of handling it better . . . A story that is as sensitive and honest as it is spellbinding.” (starred review) (VOYA)

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