Wonder by R.J Palacio

From Goodreads:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

wonder

Inspired by all the other ‘Auggies’, Palacio wrote this Wonderful funny, contemporary, junior fiction book about a boy born with a facial deformity.

Divided into eight parts, August’s story is told by a variety of intertwining characters:  August himself, Via (his sister), Summer (his friend), Justin (Via’s boyfriend), and Miranda (Via’s old friend).  Some perspectives were a curious addition, as I didn’t feel they were completely necessary to provide insight into August’s struggles.  I was expecting to come across the bully’s (Julian) point of view, and hoping for August’s parents.  Sadly, I was disappointed.

I loved reading about August’s loving and supportive family. The dynamics are interesting, especially with the insight to Via’s feelings of neglect and the special bond with her grandmother.  Coming second to August all the time would be extremely difficult. However, being born with a facial deformity would be even more challenging. I think August’s enduring spirit and his ability to poke fun of himself is what readers will fall in love with.  Although it is classified as ‘junior fiction’, it has an important message of acceptance, fitting in, inner beauty and bullying that makes it a great read for all ages.

As the story closes, the uplifting ending was just a tad too perfect and a little unrealistic.  However, the overall warm message about courage and love really tugged my heart strings so I’m willing to let my critiques go. I know everyone has their own insecurities (often not as obvious as August’s) but it’s a nice reminder to ‘always try to be a little kinder than necessary’ to all those you come in contact with.

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

From Goodreads:

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

forgive me

I picked up this advanced reading copy (to be released August 2013) at OLA this past January.  At first, I noticed the interesting cover, and then I recognized the author, Matthew Quick (author of Silver Linings Playbook).

I found the book to be an honest, yet difficult read. The storyline boils down to a day and half of Leonard planning a murder/suicide. Immediately, I found Leonard to be a very unlikable pessimistic character until we finally learn why he has such hatred toward his classmate, Asher.  Leonard demonstrates all the warning signs of suicide (change in appearance, giving away possessions) and only his teacher Herr Silvermann and elderly neighbour Walt seem to notice.  His family situation saddened me.

His teacher recommended that Leonard write letters from the future to help him imagine his future and serve as a reminder that his life can get better. Although I think the idea behind it makes sense, I didn’t enjoy the inclusion of his sci-fi letters. I found them so out there and I’m not even sure how that could even help him as it won’t even come close to resembling his true future. Also, the letters were never explained until after the first one, so I was very confused when I first came across it.   I also didn’t enjoy the over use and length of the footnotes. I have never seen such lengthy footnotes; some take up the majority of the page.

Overall, I think a lot of reluctant readers (especially teen boys) would enjoy this book.  It is a contemporary read that includes: curse words, a WW11 Nazi handgun, threat of violence, a mysterious Holocaust teacher, and the questioning of religion and adult happiness.  I found the ending very fitting and true to the story and characters, even if it wasn’t the happiest.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

aris

Wow. What a beautiful book.  I’m so happy its receiving recognition as one of the best LGBTQ young adult novels out there.  There is so much honesty in the characters and story that readers can’t help but become emotionally involved in Ari and Dante’s relationship.  It is truly a coming of age story of two Mexican American teens trying to find their place in the world.  Told from Ari’s perspective (and a couple of letters from Dante), readers feel Ari and Dante’s love, pain, and heartache. Although the book explores sexuality and identity, Saenz also includes important themes of family and growing up. Both Ari’s and Dante’s family’s played a huge role in their lives. It was so heart warming to read about open, accepting families with unconditional love for their sons. It’s no wonder the boys were ‘crazy’ for their parents- I would be too!

Overall, this moving book will appeal to anyone who has ever felt different. There are many mysteries in life; one of the biggest is figuring out who we are and how we fit in the world.  I think this quote from the book sums it all up nicely:

 “Somewhere toward the end of the shift we all started singing U2 songs. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Yeah, that was a good song. My theme song. But really I thought it was everybody’s theme song.”

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Love is awkward, Amelia should know.

From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.

Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Through a year of befuddling firsts—first love, first job, first party, and first hangover—debut author Laura Buzo shows how the things that break your heart can still crack you up.

love and other

I so adored this coming of age, young adult romance book. Originally published in Australia as Good Oil, Love and Other Perishable Items has been nominated for several literary awards, including the William C.Morris YA Debut Award Nominee (2013).

The book is organized by journal entry titles. Both Amelia and Chris’ distinguished voices are heard as the point of view switches back and forth between them. Using Amelia’s journal and Chris’ purple/black notebook, readers are shown the inner thoughts of both characters over the same period of time. It becomes evident early on that smart, naïve, ‘youngster’ Amelia is hopelessly in love with older Chris. Although many teens are likely to relate to having a crush on an older guy, it was Chris that I identified with the most.

In Chris’ letter to Amelia outlining all the things he hates, I could relate and understand almost all of his points. He writes, ‘Bottom line is- I can’t run my own race. I’m constantly checking what’s happening in the other lanes’. Honestly, this is something that I continue to struggle with. I work every day on counting my blessings, and trying not to compare myself to others. I could also connect with Chris’ limbo stage of being in between life stages. It was probably one of the most confusing and stressful times in my life and I am oh so happy it’s over.

Amelia’s and Chris’ refreshingly unique relationship allows for intellectual conversations on household responsibilities, feminism, and tons of English classic books like Great Expectations and the Great Gatsby (insert librarian bonus points here).

In the end, I wasn’t sure how Amelia and Chris’ story would conclude. I think the bittersweet resolution was the most realistic ending Buzo could have written. Add a dash of Australian slang, and you have one wonderful refreshing book on family dynamics and first love.

 

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