Jennifer D. shares this review:
If your birthday is also Valentine’s Day, you probably either love all things hearts and flowers, or hate every pink and red bit of it. The fact that Piper’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day means that she typically receives many heart-themed birthday gifts each year, but does not mean she believes in love. This year though, her best friends Claire and Jillian are determined that the three of them will not be alone on the most romantic day of the year. They devise “The Plan.” Some of “The Plan” involves things you might expect, such as hair highlights and new makeup techniques. Then the girls take things one step further.
When she’s not at school, Piper works at Jan the Candy Man, a candy store known for its creative confections. Piper, Claire, and Jillian borrow the kitchen one evening to make a new, special type of chocolate. A chocolate that incorporates the recipe Jillian found for a love potion. When the girls’ crushes start to notice them after eating the chocolates they are sure it’s coincidence—right?
Reading Love? Maybe is like watching a fun romantic comedy. You begin to root for the main characters in their struggle to find love. The subplots are also entertaining and even secondary characters have personality. Even Valentine’s haters will find something to love in this one.
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Laura shares this review:
Heart Transplant is a story about bullying that is both engrossing and heartwarming. In the opening narration, a kid named Sean takes down the movie clichés about high school life, where outsiders are able to rise above their social position when the popular kids realize they are a beautiful swan instead of an ugly duckling, or the beautiful girl learns about how great the nerd is on the inside and rejects her jock boyfriend. Sean is an outsider, and as such he is ignored by the more popular kids unless it is convenient for them to notice him. “The only time anyone ever saw us was when they needed someone to make themselves look big. By making us small.”
Sean is from a terrible, broken home. His mother has had a steady stream of live-in boyfriends, each of which she has insisted that Sean call “Daddy.” Her latest one, Brian, is vicious when he is drunk, which ends up being most of the time. Sean’s mother offers no protection from her boyfriend’s beatings. When she isn’t otherwise occupied, she takes her swings at Sean too. With no friends and rejected at home, Sean lives a sad existence.
When a drug deal by Brian goes bad, Sean comes home to two bodies. Before a social worker can take him off to a foster home, Brian’s father comes by the house and, seeing the child sitting alone, offers to take Sean in. Pop gives Sean what he has never had before: a home, with unconditional acceptance and protection. Living in a loving and supportive environment for the first time in his life, Sean begins to blossom.
But like many people, Sean begins to have problems in Junior High, despite his high grades. As kids begin to coagulate into social groups, Sean finds he doesn’t really belong anywhere. He’s different, the kind of person who gets rejected by every other group. When Sean gets picked on, everybody laughs. Ashamed to let Pop know what is happening, he tries to hide his bruises, but the old man isn’t so easily fooled. A problem that faces a child is a problem that faces their parent as well, and Pop is going to make sure that Sean has the skills to deal with this, and other challenges in life.
Recommended for young adults, their parents, and readers of graphic novels.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
In Tuesdays at the Castle, author Jessica Day George creates a setting that becomes a character. Castle Glower, identified as “The Castle,” is home to Princess Celie and the rest of the royal family of Sleyne. Living in a castle sounds pretty great, but what makes Castle Glower even better is that it is a magical castle. It will expand to create new rooms, make rooms that are no longer needed disappear, and even provide furnishings, all at its own discretion, of course. And it is a very opinionated castle. If it likes you, your visit to Castle Glower will be most comfortable. If not, your accommodations might look more like the dungeons, or The Castle might kick you out altogether. Furthermore, The Castle has views on who should rule. King Glower’s heir was chosen not by himself, but by The Castle.
You might think that such defenses would eliminate any concern about a hostile takeover from a rival kingdom, but that is just what happens. Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, along with his entourage of guards and sycophants, has weaseled his way into the castle under false pretenses. He is determined to take over The Castle and claim the throne. With the rest of her family missing and presumed dead, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, her sister Lilah, and Castle Glower must work together to mount a defense. Allegiances are questioned, and the siblings quickly learn that they can trust no one but themselves and The Castle.
I found this story to be very immersive and quickly became lost in the twists and turns of Castle Glower. The setting truly comes to life, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Well, how does The Castle feel about that?” Don’t worry, being concerned for the emotional well-being of supposedly inanimate objects is just a side effect from reading fantasy in general, and Tuesdays at the Castle in particular. This is the first in a series which continues in Wednesdays in the Tower.
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Noreen shares this review:
America Singer lives in llea, which was once the United States, but now is a country with a caste system, a monarchy, and lots of rebel groups. Her family is in the third caste, which is not great but is also not terrible. However, an opportunity to better their lot appears when the Palace sends out a call for The Selection. Each province can send one young woman to live in the palace and vie for the honor of marrying Prince Maxon Schreave. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the Bachelorette meeting royalty in a dystopian land. But, you want to keep reading.
America also has a secret. She is in love with Aspen, the son of a neighbor who is in a lower caste. They meet secretly at night in a tree house in America’s yard. Aspen is the sole provider for his family. He is constantly working and is always hungry. As America’s family keeps pushing her to enter the contest, Aspen seems to be withdrawing, indicating hat he has found another woman. America finally agrees to enter, and, of course, is selected.
The characters were interesting and constantly developing. Plus the descriptions of everyday life in the castle, including clothes and meals, were wonderful. The relationships among the women vying for the Prince’s hand provide humor and some intrigue.
Equally intriguing is the relationship that develops between America and Prince Maxon. She is completely up front with the prince about not wanting to win, while admitting that she’d like to stay, if only for the food and clothes. Prince Maxon is obviously interested. Enter Aspen who is now a military guard. America is caught between her feelings for Aspen and the Prince. How will it end? We need to wait for the next book.
The Selection ends with us waiting to see who America will choose and how it will work out. And I do want to know.
Check the WRL catalog for The Selection
Rachael shares this review:
As a longtime fan of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I picked this up as soon as I saw the subtitle. The book is told in free verse — but don’t be thrown if you are not a poetry lover – from Mary’s perspective about her young life from age 14 through her early 20’s, during which she ran away with the charismatic poet Percy Bysse Shelley to travel Europe with his coterie of fellow intellectuals and artists, and she wrote Frankenstein, before she was even 20 years old .
I fear this book won’t be very popular for those not inclined to pick up historical fiction, poetry, or the gothic classic, Frankenstein, but it is full of romance, scandal, and adventure in a format that doesn’t keep you waiting. The brief but dense poetic format offers one scandalous tidbit after another, and the title of each of the poems/entries make it easy to flip back to earlier moments in the story or character introductions. I would almost call this a celebrity gossip special, 19th century style, if it also weren’t so beautifully written, and didn’t so carefully explore Mary’s joys and struggles as a young woman who is intellectually voracious, determined to write, and in love with an inspiring yet unstable man (did someone say “bad boy?”)
I think young women will be able to relate to Mary’s growth as a young woman, as a writer, and in her relationships with others and the world; her strength and frequent acts of informed fearlessness also make her a character to admire. Hemphill’s choice to write this book about Mary’s formative years as a writer has offered the additional benefit of making her relatable by exploring the often raw and complicated formative years of young adulthood, and the strength and genius that is possible from them.
Although this book seems limited to the historical fiction and YA genres, it has much wider appeal characteristics. Teens who gravitate toward gothic and/or historical drama will find this an interesting and fast read, as will anyone who enjoys celebrity drama and scandal without a lot of excess prose. This also offers appeal to both teens and adults that appreciate YA realistic fiction about the struggles and revelations of young adulthood. Young women will also admire Mary’s self-determination, even though Mary’s love affair with Shelley may be questioned by today’s higher standards for the marital and gender equality in relationships. Adult fans of Philippa Gregory and 19th century English literature will enjoy this, as well as literature buffs who may enjoy the insight that this biographical fiction may offer into readings of Mary’s written work (I couldn’t help but constantly compare the monster/creator relationship in Frankenstein to the strained relationship between Mary and her adored yet rejecting father).
This book was interesting, packed with drama, and nicely written. I will share that there is a character list at the end of the book that may be helpful as one needs refreshing about the large cast of characters that populate the story. Enjoy this on a rainy day.
Check the WRL catalog for Hideous Love.
The Giver is a very interesting book, and is unlike what I have ever read before. It showed how being the same as everyone else is a bad thing, not a good thing. It teaches people how to copy others, but to be themselves.
The book starts out in a community where everything is the same. Jobs, families, and houses are all assigned. Joys and tragedies, such as snow, war, or sunsets, were all taken away. The only person who even knows of such things is known as the Receiver of the memory. Eventually, as the Receiver grows older, he will die, just like anyone else. The people cannot lose the memories, so they must transfer them to someone else.
A boy named Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver. As Jonas learns more and more about the past and how things used to be, he begins to want to be like that now. While Jonas was pondering about what to do, he stumbles upon a book about the art of Receiving. Jonas learns that if he, as a Receiver, crosses the border into another community, the memories will return to the people living in his community. In the middle of the night, Jonas leaves his community and runs away. The government tries to find him and stop him, but it was too late, he had gotten too far away.
I would definitely recommend this book.
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Jan shares this review:
As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”
Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.
Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.
Second Fiddle is an exciting adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it. It will be a great start for conversations.
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Rafe had just started middle school and had decided to make it a great year. He wanted to fit in with the cool kids, unlike in the previous years. In order to do so, Rafe decides to break some rules. He pulls the fire alarm, sells gum to other students, and he even decides to run around the school without any clothes on! The school’s administration becomes fed up with it and decides to expel him for the rest of the year. At first, Rafe was excited for a break from school until he found out that he was required to go to summer school.
To find out what happens next, you have to read the second book, Middle School – Get Me out of Here. I enjoyed reading this book because it shows how most middle school students act, while keeping it comedic.
I would recommend this book to all middle school students, especially those who enjoy reading comedies.
Check the WRL catalog for Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Jessica shares this review:
Frank Ross, a fair-minded farmer living in Arkansas in the 1870s, tries to intervene when a barroom fight breaks out one day in Fort Smith. One of the fighters, Ross’s own farmhand Tom Chaney, takes the opportunity to kill and rob the farmer. Chaney then flees on horseback to Indian Territory.
Ross’s fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie is angry. She is beyond angry. She wants blood and she wants justice. She is going to hunt down the man what done kilt her pa.
Mattie is not stupid. She is stubborn, impatient, and unforgiving, but she is not stupid. She knows she can’t go blazing off into the frontier without help, so she goes in search of a man with enough grit to get the job done. The man who matches that description is the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, technically on the side of the law– he is a U.S. marshal– but of very questionable repute. You don’t kill twenty-three men in four years without getting some rough edges.
Slightly more respectable is a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has his own reasons for tracking Tom Chaney, but Mattie doesn’t want him interfering with her search– and LaBoeuf doesn’t want a teenaged girl interfering with his search. It is under a very uneasy truce that the girl, the ranger, and the marshal agree to pursue the outlaw together.
If you’ve seen the John Wayne movie adaptation (1969) or the Coen brothers adaptation (2010), you know what’s coming: adventure, and lots of it. There are bandits. There are fight scenes. There are more fight scenes. There are galloping horses and perilous injuries and there are snakes, lots and lots of snakes, all conveniently gathered into the pit that Mattie falls into.
I have no idea if True Grit is typical of its genre– I’ve never read another Western except for Brokeback Mountain, which probably doesn’t count– but you don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to like it. It’s an easy and fast read with tons of action. There is a lot of subtle humor that comes by way of Mattie’s contrary disposition and her colorful idioms. Children and squeamish readers would find the violence to be too intense, but it’s a great read for teenagers and adults who love a good story and who aren’t bothered by a few rattlesnakes.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It is the spring of 1768 and Matt’s father has just left him alone in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. He is on property his family has purchased in Maine territory, in a cabin he and his father just finished building. Matt’s father is making the return trip to Massachusetts to bring the rest of his family to their new home. He leaves Matt to protect their land, tend the crops, and prepare for the family’s return. Matt expects to be alone for six weeks, perhaps a bit more. Things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Matt faces many obstacles during his time alone – a thief, bees, bears, and a dwindling food supply. He is unsure whether the neighboring Indians are friend or foe, until they come to his rescue one day. Though they do not get along at first, Matt slowly builds a friendship with Attean, an Indian boy about his own age. This friendship might turn out to be the most important in Matt’s life.
It is an excellent story and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award. Classics are classics for a reason and this one is definitely worth revisiting.
Check the WRL catalog for The Sign of the Beaver
Jan shares this review:
A misfit is a great subject for literature, because the character’s life story creates inbuilt dramatic tension before the plot even begins.
And what a misfit we meet in Limpy the cane toad!
He lives in Queensland, Australia, where introduced cane toads are an ecological disaster and Australians are attempting to exterminate them. As a misfit Limpy not only is a member of a hated species, he also has a “crook leg” that was run over on purpose by a truck, which makes him hop around in circles when he gets excited.
At first Limpy doesn’t believe that humans hate cane toads and it takes numerous attempts on his life before he believes it. He notices that humans do love some animals, especially the three Olympic mascots: the platypus, the echidna, and the kookaburra. To further his ambition of cane toad/human harmony Limpy and his cousin, Goliath, go on a madcap adventure to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, to try and become mascots as well. Along the way they meet many quirky characters, from talking mosquitoes and rats to a kind human athlete (who, unfortunately, doesn’t understand what they say).
The humor is exaggerated and slapstick, but Limpy is an anti-hero that many people will be able to relate to. He is basically a decent person (cane toad?) in a world that doesn’t appreciate his inner beauty.
Since I come from down under, I especially enjoyed “having a squiz” at the glossary of Australian words. I can attest that the words are accurate as my grandmother used to say many of them (dubious looks from my American colleagues notwithstanding).
Although it is aimed towards younger audiences, Toad rage is a quick and funny read for teens and adults. And you never know, you may just learn some bonza new words!
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When Evie’s mother passes away, she and her father move from Michigan to New York, and take over an old orchard that no one can coax to grow. It stands dead, blackened and withered, and is thought by locals to be cursed. It has been that way since the disappearance of another young girl named Eve, the daughter of the orchard’s former owner. When this Eve’s father set off to find the original site of the Garden of Eden, he abandoned his pregnant wife, Eve, and her brother Rodney. Upon his return, Eve refused to forgive him, and is thought to have run off. But the trees never grew again.
New to town, and still mourning her mother, Evie wanders into the cemetery across from the orchard, and meets Alex, a boy who claims to be a ghost. While Evie is skeptical at first, she grows to believe Alex’s claim. Soon, however, there are other, even more unbelievable, perhaps magical things to comprehend. Rodney left behind a single seed, a gift for Evie. This seed, and two others like it, were brought back by Rodney’s father from the purported site of the Garden of Eden. The first of these seeds was planted by the other young Eve, immediately before her disappearance. Could Eve’s disappearance be tied to these seeds? Are they really from the Garden of Eden? And what would happen if Evie planted one? Fantasy and reality blend, the seed takes Evie and Alex to a magical place. But the story takes a turn. Everything is not as it seems, and soon Evie must race to put things back as they should be.
Check the WRL catalog for the availability of The Garden of Eve.
Abby shares this review:
In the last couple of years I have discovered how much I enjoy graphic novels. This format contains stories that run the gamut of literature, with the benefit of interesting, beautiful, and funny illustrations. In the same way that the illustrations in a children’s picture book contribute to the story so that the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, graphic novels do the same thing for more complicated storylines. The shorts in The Eternal Smile are all about escape, in one way or another.
The first, “Duncan’s Kingdom,” begins with a classic fantasy gambit—a knight of the realm is sent off to kill a great enemy of the kingdom, but he is plagued by a mysterious dream. In his dream, which is told without text, we see the back of a woman, sitting at a table, an old-fashioned glass soda bottle sits next to her. In the realm of the enemy, Duncan discovers a bottle that looks the same, bearing the label “Snappy Cola;” he’s mystified by this bottle and what it might mean. The artistic style of this story is fairly realistic, but with some stylized elements. The colors in the day time scenes are warm, tones of red and dark yellow predominate; but the scenes that take place in the evening are cool, in grays and purples. I especially like the way that Duncan is drawn in classic hero style, with a small dimple in his chin.
The next story is drawn in a style reminiscent of the old Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck adventures. “Gran’Pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile” features a money-grubbing frog, his two equally greedy granddaughters, and his hapless assistant, Filbert, who does all the real work despite his pronounced stutter and obvious fear of his employer. Greenbax’s goal is to have a golden pool, filled with money, so deep that he can dive into it without hitting his head. Filbert is his ideas man, relentless in his search to find Gran’pa Greenbax his next “get rich quick scheme.” At the end of his rope, Filbert brings them all to the desert to view “the eternal smile,” the name he has given to the smile-shaped anomaly in the sky. Greenbax is furious, but then decides to build a “Church of the Eternal Smile” to solicit donations from parishioners to fuel his greed. The church, however, does not operate as smoothly as he expects.
The final story in this collection is “Urgent Request”; the characters are very stylized, rounded figures rendered in shades of black and grey on yellow paper. Janet is a low-level programmer for CommTech and her shyness is evident. The text is spare, but the story unfolds with details added by the illustrations. Shortly after Janet is turned down for a promotion and humiliated by her boss, she receives an urgent request from Prince Henry Alembu of the Royal Family of Nigeria, asking for her banking information so he can send through a wire transfer of funds. Readers will recognize this as one of the classic email “phishing” scams to bilk people out of their hard earned money. What Janet does in response is as surprising as it is fascinating.
Just as words combined with pictures make a whole greater than the sum of their parts, these three disparate stories work together to create a thought-provoking book. The Eternal Smile is a quick read and readers who have read Gene Luen Yang’s Prinz award-winning young adult novel American Born Chinese will recognize both the drawing style and exploration of identity. Derek Kirk Kim is the author of Good as Lily, which is also in our collection.
Check the WRL catalog for The Eternal Smile.
Jennnifer D. shares this review:
It’s just about flu season, so it’s the perfect time to read a book about what could happen when you get your flu shot. Getting a shot is not the most pleasant experience, so here’s a little incentive. It might just give you ESP.
After getting their flu shots, twenty-two students of Bloomberg High School can suddenly read each other’s minds. Everyone’s thoughts are on display. Unfortunately, knowing that people can read your mind can make you think of all the things you’d least like others to know. That time you cheated on a test. That time you cheated on your boyfriend. These teens quickly learn that they don’t want to know what their parents, teachers, and even best friends really think about. Not that there aren’t benefits: better grades, better relationships, better futures. It’s easy to be the smartest person in the room when you know what everyone else is thinking.
Secrets might be a thing of the past for these students, but they all have one big secret to share. In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” The chances of twenty-two keeping a secret are next to nothing. Soon everyone from their parents to the CDC knows about their abilities and it’s time to decide. Whose thoughts do they want in their heads for the rest of their lives – their own, or everyone’s?
Check the WRL catalog for Don’t Even Think About It.
Thirteen-year-old best friends, who describe themselves as “two lobes of the same brain,” visit an eccentric uncle at his Vermont mansion, and in the tradition of such vacations, end up in peril. Gregory, the smart-alecky one, warns his friend Brian that Uncle Max is eccentric, but it becomes obvious when they arrive and he has the butler burn all of their luggage. Uncle Max prefers that boys wear knickerbockers and speaks like a character out of Dickens.
Exploring the house, the boys discover a curious board game without any rules but with a layout that seems to correspond to the old, Victorian house and its grounds. As the boys solve puzzles, the board expands to reveal more pathways and tests. It’s no Candyland, though… more like Zork, with gruesome monsters lurking in the dark, trolls, and a mysterious stranger with a bladed yo-yo. Someone really should have taught these boys not to get involved in a magical game before they know the rules… or the stakes.
A bit like Narnia by way of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, this first book in a series has marvelously despicable villains and writing that combines a real sense of malice with a wicked, nutty sense of humor.
I liked the friendship in this book. The boys are very different, but they “get” each other; Gregory’s off-the-wall sense of humor is balanced by Brian’s quieter, deep-thinking approach to problems. They may get on each other’s nerves, but neither doubts that the other will be there when it counts.
The ending has some nifty twists and sets the story up to continue in three more books.
Check the WRL catalog for The Game of Sunken Places.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Kate DiCamillo’s work has always been quite popular, but The Magician’s Elephant is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.
One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?
The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Magician’s Elephant
When I decided to read Linger, I was both excited and a bit cautious. Shiver, the first book in this trilogy, was amazing and, in my opinion, it set a new standard for teen fiction dealing with Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and whatever. Would Linger live up to my expectations, or like many second, third and fourth books in a series, would it just rearrange the characters and problems ultimately telling the same story over and over? What a wonderful surprise to find that Linger is as compelling, beautifully written, and enjoyable as the first book.
Sam and Grace are still two teenagers grappling with teen problems as well as the new reality that Sam will no longer shift from human form to wolf. His internal struggle with this is amazingly believable. Grace is struggling as well, with a strange illness and with the angst of not yet being 18 and totally free to make her own choices. These are real teens who have teen problems, but who also have the determination to fight for what they want.
Isobel, a somewhat minor and unlikable character in the first book, becomes a major player in Linger. As with all of us, she too is a complex teenager whose façade of sarcasm and anger starts to crack, making her another real teen who is vulnerable and struggling with life. Stiefvater accomplishes this while retaining Isobel’s feisty approach to reality. And then there is Cole, a new character, as complicated and real as the others.
While Grace’s parents have previously been pretty nonchalant about Grace’s activities, in Linger they start reacting to some situations in a more stereotypical parental way. All of this makes all of them very real. Most people are much more complicated than they seem at first, and Maggie Stiefvater has created characters with whom we can all identify on multiple levels.
Linger is filled with subtle foreshadows and clues that let the reader speculate on the future of Grace and Sam. But somehow the author has provided just enough surprises as the reader reaches the conclusion of the book, to keep you both reading, wondering, and worrying about these people you have learned to like, respect, and love.
After reading the last page, I marveled at how much I enjoyed the book. I certainly look forward to checking out the final book of the trilogy, Forever.
Jeanette shares this review:
Sometimes, I come across a book that I immediately determine to read. Winter’s End was one of these. The gloomy cover with the solitary hooded character in a wintry landscape, a slight splattering of blood across the top, made this book irresistible. Novels in which seemingly powerless characters do their best to survive and bring down an unjust authoritarian regime are among my favorites. I figured that since it was originally in French and translated into English, it might be a story of broad appeal.
Helen and Milena are orphaned teenagers at a prison-like all-girl boarding school during the oppressive reign of the Phalange. Helen’s depression gets the best of her, so she requests a visit to her assigned consoler, and names Milena as her companion. The girls will be allowed out of the school for three hours. If they do not come back in time, another student, Catharina Pancek, will be punished by being placed in isolation until the girls return.
On their way to the consolers’ houses, Helen and Milena meet two students from the boys’ school, Milos and Bartolomeo. The four exchange names and construct a way to keep in touch by sending notes through the Skunk, a man who takes care of laundry for both the boys’ and the girls’ schools.
Consoler Paula and her little boy Octavo are the closest thing to a family Helen has known. They welcome Helen into their home for a few hours. Octavo shows her his homework while Paula fixes hot chocolate and delicious baked potatoes. When Helen’s visit is over, she goes to meet Milena. Instead of her friend, she finds a note saying, “Helen, I’m not going back to school. Don’t worry. I’m all right. Ask Catharina Pancek to forgive me. Milena. (Please don’t hate me).”
That is how the book starts. The four students escape from school, Milena and Bartolomeo together at first, followed several days later by Helen and Milos. On the run, the students learn about their parents: how and why they died and what they themselves can do to revive the dormant resistance movement against the Phalange. The story is told from multiple points of view: from Helen’s, Milena’s, Milo’s, Catharina’s, and from one of the Phalangist hunters sent to find them.
There is nothing clichéd in this book. The hunters use trained dog-men—genetic combinations more hound dog than man—that can walk upright, hunt, and use limited speech. There is a race of humans called cart-horses or horse-men, who take pride in finishing any task they’re asked to do or die trying. Milena’s beautiful singing voice plays a prominent role in the novel, as does Milos’s training and skill in Greco-Roman wrestling. It is the age-old struggle of a determined group fighting against a powerful regime, but the cold, repressive society Mourlevat has created is unique and darkly fantastical.
In reading this novel, I found myself immersed in the oppressive world Mourlevat created. I would recommend it to young adults as well as to adults who enjoy dystopic fiction but don’t require complex romantic relationships in their reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Winter’s End