Review: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Title: Twerp

Author: Mark Goldblatt

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: May 28, 2013

Source: Netgalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary

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Summary

It’s not like I meant for Danley to get hurt. . . .

Julian Twerski isn’t a bully. He’s just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade–blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he’s still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can’t bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.

Review

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt lets the reader read the journals of the sixth grader Julian Twerski. His English teacher offers him the option of keeping the journals and writing about the incident that caused him to be suspended. Using the journal as a writing device is just brilliant. It lets the reader see into Julian’s life. It leads us to the incident that they are ultimately supposed to be about but not before the reader is ready to know what it is. To learn about his hopes and fears. Julian is so smart and funny but has the same problem many 12-year-old boys do. He doesn’t really understand girls. He sometimes makes bad decisions that backfire in horrible ways.

In each chapter, Julian tells a story of something that happens in his life. He talks about writing a love letter for a friend. Of course, this goes all wrong and the girl thinks he wrote it. Julian is unsure what to do in this situation and ends up going to his sister for advice. Julian worries constantly about no longer being the fastest kid in school. This is so important to him and it builds up to a final showdown at the Track and Field Day. Julian, as an adult, would likely look back on these two events and realize they are not all that important in the scheme of things. Yet, at twelve they are huge events and it feels real that they effect him the way that they do.

Eventually, we find out what Julian did to be suspended. It is ultimately shocking because by this point, we have gotten to know Julian. We know that he is a sweet kid that obviously made a huge mistake. It makes the story that much more difficult to read knowing that he is not just a bad kid. That he should have known better.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt is a touching coming-of-age story that will transport you to 1969. It is well-written and an enjoyable read. I would highly recommend it to young readers (especially boys) because it is engaging and teaches a powerful lesson. Take charge, be yourself, and speak up when you know something is wrong before it is too late.

I was provided an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Summary and cover image from goodreads.

Code Name Verity By Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Title: Code Name Verity

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: May 15, 2012

Source: Library

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Summary

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Review

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a very special book. The writing is exceptional and the way both stories are told is so unique. The focus is on the friendship of two brave women who are still able to laugh in an impossible situation. They are still able to have a clear head in a literal life and death situation. That even in the face of torture,  are able to sacrifice for the good of the whole.

Code Name Verity is a must read for those who wish to be challenged by a book. I want to be careful not to give anything away, because this book contains many twists and turns, Code Name Verity is just brilliant. An author being able to write about WWII era planes in a way that held my interest, just shows how strong the writing is. You can feel what they feel and it can be heartbreaking. Through all of the action, and there is a lot of action here, the relationships are what truly stands out. The French family who risk their necks, literally, to help rescue prisoners to a woman who sees the talent in another and makes sure she is able to fly. Through the horror of war, we see the real strength of character. The way we can help make the world a better place by standing for our convictions and making difficult choices.  

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein deserves all of the accolades it has received and is a must read. It is haunting and brilliantly written. It is an emotional and powerful story that I highly recommend. 

What You Will Find

  • Friendship
  • Strength
  • Action
  • Intrigue
  • Twists and turns

Cover image and summary from goodreads.

Being Henry David By Cal Armistead A Review

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

Title: Being Henry David

Author: Cal Armistead

Publication Date: March 1, 2013

Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen

Source: ARC from 2013 Debut Author Challenge ARC Tour

Challenge: 2013 Debut Author Challenge

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Summary

Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything –who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank” and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of–Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead’s remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

 

Review

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead starts off when Hank wakes up in Penn Station in New York City. He cannot remember how he got there or who he is. The only clue he has to hold on to is a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. With Walden being Hank’s only clue, he sets off on an adventure to find out who he is.

At its heart, Being Henry David is a coming-of-age story where the main character literally does not know who he is. Cal Armistead uses Henry David Thoreau and the town of Concord to help Hank explore what it means to be him. How he fits into his world and to bring him to a place where he uncovers the mystery of who he is and where he comes from. The people Hank meets in Concord help him a great deal to explore the simplicity and truth of Walden and how it relates to why Hank is unable to remember.

The story begins to unfold as Hank starts to remember bits and pieces and he is forced to confront his problems. He learns that you cannot run away or disappear but have to face issues head on. Ultimately, there is redemption and forgiveness but there first has to be truth.

I really enjoyed Being Henry David and found it to be a unique story with lots of depth. It is truly a strong debut and I have high hopes for any future works by Cal Armistead.

What You Will Find

  • Finding Yourself
  • Redemption
  • Mystery
  • Friendship

Cover image and summary from goodreads.

 

Pantomime By Laura Lam A Review

Pantomime by Laura Lam

 

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Title: Pantomime

Author: Laura Lam

Publication Date: February 5, 2013

Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Source: Netgalley

Challenge: 2013 Debut Author Challenge

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Summary

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilization long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Review

Caution, the review below does contain spoilers.

Pantomime by Laura Lam tells the story of Gene, a noble who is born as a hermaphrodite and her life is spent being told how to behave and shuttled to countless doctors and specialists. The chapters alternate between Gene, in the past, and Micah, in the future, and tell the story of how Micah ends up a circus performer in R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic. The alternating stories gives the reader a feel for the dichotomy that is living without a clear identity. Gene is suffocating living as a girl and when she learns of her parents forced medical intervention, she knows she can no longer live this life.

Pantomime by Laura Lam captures the magic of the circus through Micah as someone who watches and later becomes a performer. There is a magic that starts to shatter the longer Micah stays. The impressive ringmaster is nothing more than a drunk and the magic is old technology that is all an illusion. At times, there are glimpses of real magic, such as a projection seemingly speaking to Micah, that no one else can hear, but we only really scratch the surface here. I wish there was more meat to the what is Micah/Gene and where he came from, than we get in Pantomime.

Pantomime by Laura Lam is very well-written and for anyone who is fan of the circus, they will be charmed by the descriptions here. The feel is fantastical and very light like the aerialist that Micah becomes. For me, it could be a bit slow at times but the ending certainly made up for that. Overall, Pantomime by Laura Lam is a lovely debut that I would recommend reading. It has a very different feel than many Young Adult books and leaves the reader with lots to think about.

 

What You Will Find

  • Magic and Beauty
  • Dealing with difficult issues
  • Strong lead
  • Tragedy
  • Finding yourself
      The cover image and summary are from

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Nobody But Us By Kristin Halbrook A Review

Nobody But Us By Kristin Halbrook

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

Title: Nobody But Us

Author: Kristin Halbrook

Publication Date: January 29, 2013

Publisher: HarperTeen

Source: ARC from the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Tour

Challenges: 2013 Debut Author Challenge

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Summary

Bonnie and Clyde meets IF I STAY in this addictively heart-wrenching story of two desperate teenagers on the run from their pasts.

They’re young. They’re in love. They’re on the run.

Zoe wants to save Will as much as Will wants to save Zoe. When Will turns eighteen, they decide to run away together. But they never expected their escape to be so fraught with danger….

When the whole world is after you, sometimes it seems like you can’t run fast enough.

Nobody But Us, told in alternating perspectives from Will and Zoe, is an unflinching novel, in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, about survival, choices, and love…and how having love doesn’t always mean that you get a happy ending. Described as “beautiful, heartbreaking, and exhilarating” by Kody Keplinger, author of The DUFF, Nobody But Us will prove irresistible to fans of Nina Lacour, Jenny Han, and Sara Zarr.

Review

This review contains spoilers please read at your own risk.

This is a really difficult review for me to write because I wanted to love Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook but I just could not. There are quite a few reasons why and they start with Will. From the beginning, he rubbed me the wrong way. His dialogue is difficult to read (the frequent use of the word aint is grating to me), he is controlling and violent, and he reacts the wrong way in just about every situation. Later in the book when we learn more about the terrible tragedies that have filled Will’s life, his behavior is more understandable but it takes a long time to get to that point and it still did not excuse his over-the-top behavior. In a book billed as a love story where 90% of the book centers around two characters, disliking one can make for a difficult read. Had I not received this book as part of the Debut Author Challenge ARC Tour, I would have put it down knowing it just was not for me.

I do not know if I am just not the target audience for Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook but it really left me cold. I did not believe the love story. Will and Zoe seem like two small children who are making huge mistakes. It is difficult to understand why Zoe could so easily make excuses for Will and his violent outbursts. Yes, Will had a horrific time growing up and it is tragic, but he overreacts violently in most situations. I think most 15 year olds would find this kind of behavior frightening, not loveable. I know that Zoe growing up with constant abuse probably has a different definition of normal behavior than most, but she seems to be able to have normal relationships with some people (her best friend Lindsay and a librarian that takes a special interest in her) that I found this perplexing.

The second half of the book did pick-up. It gets much more exciting and believable. The insights into Will’s life, meeting the women who his mother abandoned him with and learning more of his story is helpful. It gives us a better picture of how Will got to where he is. The complete lack of stability makes it understandable that he is unable to react normally to any situation. I love when Zoe starts to think for herself and make her own choices. She is by far the smartest of the two and a lot less annoying. She, I actually felt sorry for. Living with an abusive father who killed her mother in a small town where everyone knows, but no one does anything to help her, is completely tragic. At 15, that is more than anyone should have to deal with. Zoe proves herself to be smart but her age belies common sense and I kept yelling at her to get away from Will because being with him is a terrible mistake.

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook does bring up interesting issues such as the effects of living in foster care can have on a child. How some, especially those who are not yet adults, could see that running away would be a better solution to being in a foster home. That small choices can lead to catastrophic conclusions. It may be my age but connecting with Will and Zoe was difficult for me. I do think that Kristin Halbrook is a talented writer whose next book I would read.

 Cover image and summary from goodreads.

 

 

 

 

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why By Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher

Publisher: Razorbill

Publishing Date: October 18, 2007

Source: Library

Goodreads

Summary

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a powerful book that deals with teen suicide. We begin the journey with Clay, who listens to the tapes Hannah made. From the beginning, we know that Hannah is dead which is such an interesting device because there will be no saving her. With each tape, you feel that you are with Clay,waiting to find out what he did to help propel Hannah to kill herself. Clay seems like a nice guy and talks about how much he cared for Hannah. He has regret because if he had only known how serious it was, he may have done everything differently.

The book is inventive in having a character who has died as a narrator. The writing style of switching back and forth between Hannah on the tapes and Clay in the present, helps propel the story forward. Hannah is with Clay as he gets through all of the tapes. Clay’s heart breaks as he learns about the betrayal and horrific situations Hannah faced. Hannah shows us how each choice we make can influence those around us.

Thirteen Reasons Why deserves all of the praise it receives. It is a beautiful book that can broach the difficult subject of teen suicide while being entertaining and in the end, hopeful.

If you are the parent of or are a teen, has a book ever helped you discuss a difficult topic?

Summary and cover image taken from goodreads.