The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

grave

I don’t understand where all the hype and praise for The Graveyard Book is coming from.  How can a confusing book that lacks plot explanations win the Newbery Medal?  Did I miss something? Although the first chapter immediately grabbed my attention, it slowly started going downhill for me. Characters are introduced and frequently disappear. Each chapter read like a short story, which made plot events difficult and confusing to connect.  Readers watch Bod grow from a baby to a teenager, yet so many gaps were left open and unexplored.

I wish Gaiman provided more detailed explanations, especially the motivation behind the murder of Bod’s family. After waiting so long to find out, I was so disappointed in the brief reasoning!  Also, am I the only one that had trouble piecing together Silas and Miss Lupescu’s world? It took me forever to figure out what they were and what they did.  I would have liked to read more about their world, variations of the dead, and the Honor Guards.   Same goes for the Jacks of All Trades. I have so many questions…

Lastly, in my opinion it is not suitable for the target age group (middle graders).  In the first chapter, a family is slaughtered. Scary black and white imagery, hell, ghosts, vampires, and murders all add to the dark tone throughout.  Nightmare inducing for sure!  Therefore, although the book had an interesting premise, it won’t  be my first recommendation to middle school patrons.

 

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman (If I Stay #1)

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

if i stay

Seven years ago, I lost a friend to injuries sustained in a car accident. She too, was in a coma and fought her hardest to stay with us. Ultimately, she lost the battle two weeks later. Clearly, this was an emotional read for me.

As the sole survivor in a car accident that killed her parents and brother, Mia now lies in a coma.  In first person narrative, she chronicles her life with retellings of important events  (first recital, meeting her boyfriend, etc.).  She continuously switches between past and present in deciding whether to live or die. In the present, she exists as an invisible observer; a spirit that watches over her body and observes the impact of the accident on her family and friends. There is an extremely heartbreaking scene with Mia and her grandpa where he recognizes her pain and tells her that he understands why it would be okay if she chose to pass on.  I couldn’t imagine being in Mia’s situation and as a reader, I wasn’t sure what her final decision would be.  You have to read the book yourself to find out!

Music has an overwhelming influence on Mia’s life and plays an integral part of the story. Music is the constant thread that ties aspects of Mia’s life together.  Although I don’t play an instrument seriously (I pick up my guitar every now and again), it was interesting to hear how she perceived situations with her musical lens, especially the very intimate scene in which Mia and her boyfriend pretend their bodies are instruments to play.

Overall, If I Stay is a quick, intense and moving book.  There are no chapter headings; instead the story is organized by time.  Mia’s grim diagnosis fluctuates constantly so every second truly counts.   I will definitely be continuing this emotional read with book #2, Where She Went. 

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

 

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

 

mad

Although I’ve never read H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr.Moreau, the book jacket synopsis of a Gothic thriller appealed to me. With elements of suspense, action, mystery and romance, I was immediately immersed in the story. The atmosphere and setting of a remote jungle island only added to the creep factor. Juliet’s father, the mad scientist, Dr.Moreau, makes for a perfect villain. I found it super easy to hate him (especially for his misogynistic views). His disturbing creature creations were so vividly described, that I fear I will come across them again in nightmares.

In terms of pacing, the plot does have some slower periods in the middle, which consists of walking/running through the forest, but for the most part, it held my attention. However, I could have done without Juliet’s love triangle, and her back and forth indecisive thoughts between Montgomery and Edward. Shepherd included a couple of predictable twists, but the last one caught me completely off guard. The action ramped up in the end…. eventually leading to the ultimate betrayal.  Personally, I don’t see the need for a sequel, but there is one in the works (expected publication January 2014). Recommended to those that like dark, twisted, Gothic reads.

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

 

There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

if you finddd

Many of my latest reads have featured terrible, dysfunctional families, but I think Carey’s mentally ill and drug addicted mother takes the cake. The level of neglect and abuse will break your heart.   From the very first page, we learn of Carey and her younger sister, Janessa’s sad and miserable living situation, consisting of: canned beans, clothes that stink of cat urine, and an abandoned cockroach filled camper in the woods.  But that’s not even the worst part…

Throughout the divided three parts (The End, The Middle, The Beginning), Carey hints at the trauma they’ve endured as the “white-star night”.  It’s not until the last few pages that readers learn what really happened the night Janessa stopped talking.  Warning—this violent scene was really difficult to read.  Despite this, If You Find Me is truly a story of resilience and the power of sisterly bonds. After being discovered by a social worker and Carey’s dad, the sisters are able to overcome unimaginable horror and adjust reasonably well to new life.  There were peaks of happiness and hope that were fully welcomed in this book of dark and traumatic events.

Overall, If You Find Me is a quick 245 page read.  Murdoch hooks the reader in within the first couple paragraphs and takes them on a haunting emotional journey that uniquely explores identity and family. A recommended read.

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