Teen ReviewSchool of CharmLisa Ann ScottPub 2-2014, Katherine Tegen Books
I don’t know a single person who was content with who they were as a preteen or early teenager. Those years are full of trying to find where you belong and what your true passions are. Maybe that’s why so much middle-grade fiction is about trying to fit in. Lisa Ann Scott’s School of Charm chronicles the story of Chip, a girl who’s literally, not figuratively, a tomboy in a beauty-queen world.
After the death of Chip’s father, her mother packs up the family and moves them from New York to North Carolina. They move in with Chip’s grandmother, a former beauty queen, and Chip’s sisters are sucked into the pageant world. But Chip has no desire to participate. When she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm – a place for beauty queens and tomboys alike – out in the forest one day, she meets girls and learns lessons that will forever change her perspective about herself and her family.
Chip’s grandmother serves as the villain. She’s a character that’s easy to hate, though her backstory (revealed late in the book) provides some explanation for her actions without excusing them. Chip’s interactions with Miss Vernie and the girls of the charm school are brilliant. Karen and Dana provide contrast to her character – Karen is girly and often flippant, and Dana is headstrong, providing Chip with challenging questions to ask herself. Many times their personalities mesh well, allowing them to discover their true selves. As the story goes on the girls’ personal struggles are revealed, and in those intimate moments with each other, they build each other up in ways they could never do on their own. The time Chip spends with these girls comprises many of the novel’s strongest points.
The story is very well put together, and the moral is excellent. Chip changes from a girl thinking she has to become someone else to be accepted by her family into to a girl who allows her inner beauty to shine. When she does so, it allows her family to see her for who she truly is, and they love her for it.
This novel has few weak points. The characterization of Chip’s mother is somewhat inconsistent; one minute she’s chastising Chip for being too much of a tomboy, and the next she’s defending her actions. Granted, by the end of the novel she’s completely focused her actions toward the latter, but in the middle of the novel it seems like she vacillates between the two extremes.
School of Charm is an excellent middle grade novel. The strong characters, plot, and morals combine to make something reminiscent of a Sharon Creech novel. It’s a fun story that gives the reader more than they expect, making this a book that deserves to sit next to the likes of Bloomability and The Secret Language of Girls.
- Rachel P., 18

Teen Review
School of Charm
Lisa Ann Scott
Pub 2-2014, Katherine Tegen Books

I don’t know a single person who was content with who they were as a preteen or early teenager. Those years are full of trying to find where you belong and what your true passions are. Maybe that’s why so much middle-grade fiction is about trying to fit in. Lisa Ann Scott’s School of Charm chronicles the story of Chip, a girl who’s literally, not figuratively, a tomboy in a beauty-queen world.

After the death of Chip’s father, her mother packs up the family and moves them from New York to North Carolina. They move in with Chip’s grandmother, a former beauty queen, and Chip’s sisters are sucked into the pageant world. But Chip has no desire to participate. When she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm – a place for beauty queens and tomboys alike – out in the forest one day, she meets girls and learns lessons that will forever change her perspective about herself and her family.

Chip’s grandmother serves as the villain. She’s a character that’s easy to hate, though her backstory (revealed late in the book) provides some explanation for her actions without excusing them. Chip’s interactions with Miss Vernie and the girls of the charm school are brilliant. Karen and Dana provide contrast to her character – Karen is girly and often flippant, and Dana is headstrong, providing Chip with challenging questions to ask herself. Many times their personalities mesh well, allowing them to discover their true selves. As the story goes on the girls’ personal struggles are revealed, and in those intimate moments with each other, they build each other up in ways they could never do on their own. The time Chip spends with these girls comprises many of the novel’s strongest points.

The story is very well put together, and the moral is excellent. Chip changes from a girl thinking she has to become someone else to be accepted by her family into to a girl who allows her inner beauty to shine. When she does so, it allows her family to see her for who she truly is, and they love her for it.

This novel has few weak points. The characterization of Chip’s mother is somewhat inconsistent; one minute she’s chastising Chip for being too much of a tomboy, and the next she’s defending her actions. Granted, by the end of the novel she’s completely focused her actions toward the latter, but in the middle of the novel it seems like she vacillates between the two extremes.

School of Charm is an excellent middle grade novel. The strong characters, plot, and morals combine to make something reminiscent of a Sharon Creech novel. It’s a fun story that gives the reader more than they expect, making this a book that deserves to sit next to the likes of Bloomability and The Secret Language of Girls.

- Rachel P., 18

Teen Review
He Said, She Said
Kwame Alexander
Amistad Press, Pub 11-2013
Novels with dual narratives are interesting. They take one story and tell it from the point of view of two different characters, often lending the story much more depth than if it had been told from a single point of view. Such is the case with He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander, a novel that takes two polar-opposite students and throws them together to fight for a common cause.
Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls is the number one college football recruit in the country. Claudia Clarke is a straight-A, Harvard-bound student. They first meet at a party, where Omar tries (and fails) to flirt with Claudia, who has zero desire ever to speak with him again. When their school  cuts the arts department and lays of many teachers, though, they join together to lead protests, and find themselves falling for each other.
The thing I loved most about this book was how it showed such overwhelming support, from an entire student body, for the arts. In my school, I see such contempt and disrespect for literature, art, and music. It hurts. But for a novel to show even those who, themselves, may not participate in the arts coming together in support of them was sort of beautiful. And honestly, if that were the only thing this book did right, it would be enough.
As it happens, though, Alexander’s story does a lot of things right. The banter between the characters is hilarious, and the story is in many ways relatable, particularly in the way Alexander portrays high school love. The book could have done without the interspersed acronyms of “LOL!” and “OMG!” but otherwise, it’s pretty well written.
The development of Omar’s character is probably the highlight of the entire novel. He begins the story as a shallow, self-professed “playa” only concerned with football and girls. In fact, he begins the protests as a way to impress Claudia, but he quickly begins to realize his own passion for saving the arts. By the end of the novel, he’s actually a halfway decent guy.
Overall, He Said, She Said is a really fun book. In the style of all the great teen novels, it has plenty of laughable and heart-wrenching moments. Kwame Alexander definitely has a future writing teen novels.
- Rachel P. , 17

Teen Review

He Said, She Said

Kwame Alexander

Amistad Press, Pub 11-2013

Novels with dual narratives are interesting. They take one story and tell it from the point of view of two different characters, often lending the story much more depth than if it had been told from a single point of view. Such is the case with He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander, a novel that takes two polar-opposite students and throws them together to fight for a common cause.

Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls is the number one college football recruit in the country. Claudia Clarke is a straight-A, Harvard-bound student. They first meet at a party, where Omar tries (and fails) to flirt with Claudia, who has zero desire ever to speak with him again. When their school  cuts the arts department and lays of many teachers, though, they join together to lead protests, and find themselves falling for each other.

The thing I loved most about this book was how it showed such overwhelming support, from an entire student body, for the arts. In my school, I see such contempt and disrespect for literature, art, and music. It hurts. But for a novel to show even those who, themselves, may not participate in the arts coming together in support of them was sort of beautiful. And honestly, if that were the only thing this book did right, it would be enough.

As it happens, though, Alexander’s story does a lot of things right. The banter between the characters is hilarious, and the story is in many ways relatable, particularly in the way Alexander portrays high school love. The book could have done without the interspersed acronyms of “LOL!” and “OMG!” but otherwise, it’s pretty well written.

The development of Omar’s character is probably the highlight of the entire novel. He begins the story as a shallow, self-professed “playa” only concerned with football and girls. In fact, he begins the protests as a way to impress Claudia, but he quickly begins to realize his own passion for saving the arts. By the end of the novel, he’s actually a halfway decent guy.

Overall, He Said, She Said is a really fun book. In the style of all the great teen novels, it has plenty of laughable and heart-wrenching moments. Kwame Alexander definitely has a future writing teen novels.

- Rachel P. , 17

Teen Review
Magisterium
Jeff Hirsch
Pub 10-2012, Scholastic
Jeff Hirsch came onto the writing scene last year with The Eleventh Plague, a dystopian novel set in a futuristic war- and disease-ravaged America. His second novel, Magisterium, tells the story of Glenn Morgan, a girl living in a world where, one on side, everything is as it seems—yet just beyond her reach is a land where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred.Glenn’s mother abandoned her family when she was six years old. Ten years later, at sixteen, Glenn lives with her father, a man driven mad with obsession for his untitled Project in the Colloquium, the part of the planet not destroyed by the mysterious Rift. Glenn dreams of being sent on a mission to explore 813, a planet thought capable of sustaining Earthling life. She worries about leaving her father, though. Glenn is a very practical girl, so when her father announces that he’s finished his Project, and that will bring her mother home from the other side of the Rift, she doesn’t believe him. But when he’s arrested for his Project, she begins to wonder if maybe there’s more to it than she first thought.With her friend Kevin, Glenn crosses the border into a world she thought was destroyed. It is full of mystery and magic; not at all like the practical, scientific world of the Colloquium. Still, throughout it all, Glenn can’t accept the wonder of the Magisterium. Eventually, she realizes that her beliefs may affect many lives, and she must choose whether to believe in the magic of the Magisterium, or to stay within the mindset of the sensible Colloquium.Hirsch’s prose isn’t fantastic, but when it comes to crafting characters and driving a story forward, he shines. Even when the book slows down, Hirsch moves it continuously forward. It’s heartening, as parts of the book had the potential to lag. But Magisterium’s characters are well-developed, making it easy to love them, and easy to follow them.Magisterium is a novel that, truthfully, probably shouldn’t have worked. The dystopian genre is one that includes many overused, predictable tropes, many of which are present in Magisterium. However, Hirsch is able to take classic tropes (such as Absent Parent, An Accident That Changed the Course of the World, etc.), and utilize them to his advantage. He twists and changes them so that they’re fresh, all while executing deep character development and excellent pacing. Even though he’s still new to the literary world, Hirsch is quickly proving himself a capable writer. Magisterium is a book that I think many will look toward as an example of how to take old ideas and make them new.
- Rachel P., 17

Teen Review

Magisterium

Jeff Hirsch

Pub 10-2012, Scholastic

Jeff Hirsch came onto the writing scene last year with The Eleventh Plague, a dystopian novel set in a futuristic war- and disease-ravaged America. His second novel, Magisterium, tells the story of Glenn Morgan, a girl living in a world where, one on side, everything is as it seems—yet just beyond her reach is a land where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred.

Glenn’s mother abandoned her family when she was six years old. Ten years later, at sixteen, Glenn lives with her father, a man driven mad with obsession for his untitled Project in the Colloquium, the part of the planet not destroyed by the mysterious Rift. Glenn dreams of being sent on a mission to explore 813, a planet thought capable of sustaining Earthling life. She worries about leaving her father, though.

Glenn is a very practical girl, so when her father announces that he’s finished his Project, and that will bring her mother home from the other side of the Rift, she doesn’t believe him. But when he’s arrested for his Project, she begins to wonder if maybe there’s more to it than she first thought.

With her friend Kevin, Glenn crosses the border into a world she thought was destroyed. It is full of mystery and magic; not at all like the practical, scientific world of the Colloquium. Still, throughout it all, Glenn can’t accept the wonder of the Magisterium. Eventually, she realizes that her beliefs may affect many lives, and she must choose whether to believe in the magic of the Magisterium, or to stay within the mindset of the sensible Colloquium.

Hirsch’s prose isn’t fantastic, but when it comes to crafting characters and driving a story forward, he shines. Even when the book slows down, Hirsch moves it continuously forward. It’s heartening, as parts of the book had the potential to lag. But Magisterium’s characters are well-developed, making it easy to love them, and easy to follow them.

Magisterium is a novel that, truthfully, probably shouldn’t have worked. The dystopian genre is one that includes many overused, predictable tropes, many of which are present in Magisterium. However, Hirsch is able to take classic tropes (such as Absent Parent, An Accident That Changed the Course of the World, etc.), and utilize them to his advantage. He twists and changes them so that they’re fresh, all while executing deep character development and excellent pacing. Even though he’s still new to the literary world, Hirsch is quickly proving himself a capable writer. Magisterium is a book that I think many will look toward as an example of how to take old ideas and make them new.

- Rachel P., 17

Author Interview
Writing a first novel is hard. Writing a first novel that’s good? Well, that’s actually rare. Jessica Khoury has managed to do it. Her novel, Origin, (out in September from Razorbill) is receiving rave reviews. It’s the story of a girl who’s grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest. On the night of her seventeenth birthday, she escapes.I had the chance to ask Jessica some questions, by email, about how she came up with the story, and some of the ideas behind it.
by Rachel P., 17
RP: What inspired you to write Origin? JK: Origin was inspired by a single image that came into my mind one day as I was taking a walk: a girl trapped by glass walls and surrounded by jungle. I was so intrigued by her that I ran home and began the first chapter that day! RP: Did the story start out as one thing and slowly change into something else, or did you have everything planned out from the beginning? JK: For the original draft, I had the whole thing planned from the beginning. The story was a complete picture in my mind. However, over the months of editing I did, it gradually changed and grew—but the original vision is still there. RP: Which character was your favorite to write? JK: I had a lot of fun with Alai, Pia’s pet jaguar—because, c’mon—who doesn’t want a pet jaguar? RP: Origin differs from most other sci-fi novels in that it’s set in the present. Why did you choose this setting? JK: I wanted the story to feel real and immediate, as if it could be happening right now. And with a setting as evocative as the Amazon, I didn’t need to set the story in the future to make it feel like another world; the junge provided mystery and beauty enough.  RP: Do you think that the experiments done at Little Cam are feasible, whether now or at some point in the future? JK: Certainly the ideology driving the experiments is real—as evidenced in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s. As for immortality itself? Only time will tell! But I do believe there are many cures and medicines to be discovered in the Amazon, and to learn those, we have to talk to the people who live there—tribes like the Ai’oans in Origin. And we have to preserve this precious resource from being destroyed if we are going to mine the real treasure of the Amazon—which is the history, folklore, and medicinal knowledge which is in danger of being lost. RP: What underlying themes did you try to weave into your story? I tried to highlight themes of mortality, morality, family, love, and redemption—but I think that there will be as many themes in Origin as there are readers of the book. No two people ever read the same book, really—everyone walks away from the book with something different.RP: Are any of the characters inspired by real people?JK: Eio’s foster sister Ami is inspired by my little sisters, who are 7 and 9 years old. They were definitely in my thoughts as I wrote Ami’s scenes, as I tried to think of what little sisters that age will do and ask. RP: Do you think that Pia ever travelled the world after the story’s end? JK: That’s a question I will leave to readers. Pia’s story begins in my imagination, but I want it to end in yours!  RP: What are some of your favorite books? JK: I have so many! But it’s often the books I grew up on which still stick with me today—books like Redwall, Ender’s Game, Inkheart, and Bridge to Terabithia.
RP: If you could change anything about Origin, what would it be?JK: Well, there are some sad parts I wish had not happened—can’t tell you which (spoilers!)—and I’d take away some of the hard things Pia goes through if I could. But then, of course, there would be no story…

Author Interview

Writing a first novel is hard. Writing a first novel that’s good? Well, that’s actually rare.

Jessica Khoury has managed to do it. Her novel, Origin, (out in September from Razorbill) is receiving rave reviews. It’s the story of a girl who’s grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest. On the night of her seventeenth birthday, she escapes.

I had the chance to ask Jessica some questions, by email, about how she came up with the story, and some of the ideas behind it.

by Rachel P., 17


RP: What inspired you to write Origin?

JK: Origin was inspired by a single image that came into my mind one day as I was taking a walk: a girl trapped by glass walls and surrounded by jungle. I was so intrigued by her that I ran home and began the first chapter that day!
 
RP: Did the story start out as one thing and slowly change into something else, or did you have everything planned out from the beginning?

JK: For the original draft, I had the whole thing planned from the beginning. The story was a complete picture in my mind. However, over the months of editing I did, it gradually changed and grew—but the original vision is still there.
 
RP: Which character was your favorite to write?

JK: I had a lot of fun with Alai, Pia’s pet jaguar—because, c’mon—who doesn’t want a pet jaguar?
 
RP: Origin differs from most other sci-fi novels in that it’s set in the present. Why did you choose this setting?

JK: I wanted the story to feel real and immediate, as if it could be happening right now. And with a setting as evocative as the Amazon, I didn’t need to set the story in the future to make it feel like another world; the junge provided mystery and beauty enough. 
 
RP: Do you think that the experiments done at Little Cam are feasible, whether now or at some point in the future?

JK: Certainly the ideology driving the experiments is real—as evidenced in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s. As for immortality itself? Only time will tell! But I do believe there are many cures and medicines to be discovered in the Amazon, and to learn those, we have to talk to the people who live there—tribes like the Ai’oans in Origin. And we have to preserve this precious resource from being destroyed if we are going to mine the real treasure of the Amazon—which is the history, folklore, and medicinal knowledge which is in danger of being lost.
 
RP: What underlying themes did you try to weave into your story?

I tried to highlight themes of mortality, morality, family, love, and redemption—but I think that there will be as many themes in Origin as there are readers of the book. No two people ever read the same book, really—everyone walks away from the book with something different.

RP: Are any of the characters inspired by real people?

JK: Eio’s foster sister Ami is inspired by my little sisters, who are 7 and 9 years old. They were definitely in my thoughts as I wrote Ami’s scenes, as I tried to think of what little sisters that age will do and ask.
 
RP: Do you think that Pia ever travelled the world after the story’s end?

JK: That’s a question I will leave to readers. Pia’s story begins in my imagination, but I want it to end in yours! 
 
RP: What are some of your favorite books?

JK: I have so many! But it’s often the books I grew up on which still stick with me today—books like Redwall, Ender’s Game, Inkheart, and Bridge to Terabithia.

RP: If you could change anything about Origin, what would it be?

JK: Well, there are some sad parts I wish had not happened—can’t tell you which (spoilers!)—and I’d take away some of the hard things Pia goes through if I could. But then, of course, there would be no story…

Teen Review
Drama
Raina Telgemeier
Pub 9-2012, Graphix, $10.99
You may not be familiar with Raina Telgemeier. If you are, then you know that she’s the woman who brought four of The Baby-Sitters’ Club novels to life through graphic novels. She also wrote and illustrated Smile, a graphic novel about her middle school and early high school years. Being familiar with her other works, I was excited to read Drama, and it definitely scored in many places. This book dealt with a controversial issue, though, which I’ll disclose thoughts on later on in the review.
Drama, like Ms. Telgemeier’s other works, is a graphic novel. It tells the story of Callie, a theatre-loving seventh grader who is working on her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. After kissing the boy she’s liked for quite a while, he sort of rejects her, leaving Callie upset. Then she meets Justin and Jesse, twin boys who are in the eighth grade, and the three immediately spark a close friendship.
As with all of Ms. Telgemeier’s books, the art is exquisite. Her illustrations are absolutely wonderful. The way she captures human emotion in her drawings is truly brilliant. Honestly, even if you don’t like the story, the book is worth keeping solely for the sake of its illustrations.
As I mentioned earlier, this book dealt with a controversial issue: homosexuality. Some people have a problem with it; others do not. If you don’t have a problem with homosexuality, then I think you’ll love this book. If I were to look at the book from the point of view of someone who is accepting of the issue, then I would love this book.
If, however, you are a person who does have a problem with homosexuality, then you may not love the book as much, seeing as how it is a fairly vital point to the plot. I will say this, though: to Ms. Telgemeier’s credit, her book does not in any way criticize Christians or other people who do not endorse homosexuality. Being a Christian myself, I very much appreciated that.
All in all, Drama is a good read. The plot is intriguing, the illustrations are stunning, and I do believe that it’s possible for anyone to enjoy the book, no matter what your personal beliefs are. Though Drama is, in my opinion, not Ms. Telgemeier’s best work, it and its characters will have a place in my heart.
-Rachel P., 16

Teen Review

Drama

Raina Telgemeier

Pub 9-2012, Graphix, $10.99

You may not be familiar with Raina Telgemeier. If you are, then you know that she’s the woman who brought four of The Baby-Sitters’ Club novels to life through graphic novels. She also wrote and illustrated Smile, a graphic novel about her middle school and early high school years. Being familiar with her other works, I was excited to read Drama, and it definitely scored in many places. This book dealt with a controversial issue, though, which I’ll disclose thoughts on later on in the review.

Drama, like Ms. Telgemeier’s other works, is a graphic novel. It tells the story of Callie, a theatre-loving seventh grader who is working on her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. After kissing the boy she’s liked for quite a while, he sort of rejects her, leaving Callie upset. Then she meets Justin and Jesse, twin boys who are in the eighth grade, and the three immediately spark a close friendship.

As with all of Ms. Telgemeier’s books, the art is exquisite. Her illustrations are absolutely wonderful. The way she captures human emotion in her drawings is truly brilliant. Honestly, even if you don’t like the story, the book is worth keeping solely for the sake of its illustrations.

As I mentioned earlier, this book dealt with a controversial issue: homosexuality. Some people have a problem with it; others do not. If you don’t have a problem with homosexuality, then I think you’ll love this book. If I were to look at the book from the point of view of someone who is accepting of the issue, then I would love this book.

If, however, you are a person who does have a problem with homosexuality, then you may not love the book as much, seeing as how it is a fairly vital point to the plot. I will say this, though: to Ms. Telgemeier’s credit, her book does not in any way criticize Christians or other people who do not endorse homosexuality. Being a Christian myself, I very much appreciated that.

All in all, Drama is a good read. The plot is intriguing, the illustrations are stunning, and I do believe that it’s possible for anyone to enjoy the book, no matter what your personal beliefs are. Though Drama is, in my opinion, not Ms. Telgemeier’s best work, it and its characters will have a place in my heart.

-Rachel P., 16

Teen Book Review
Son
Lois Lowry
Pub 10-2012, Houghton Mifflin, $17.99
Anyone who’s familiar with children’s literature has no doubt heard of Lois Lowry. She’s won two Newbery Medals, one for Number the Stars and another for The Giver, and has written a multitude of other children’s books. Chances are, you’ve read a Lois Lowry novel, and if you have, then you probably noticed how brilliantly it was written. Son is no different. The final book in the Giver series, it ties everything from The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger together in a way that only a superb author like Lowry can.
The book starts out in the same community where The Giver takes place, and is told from the point of view of Claire, a girl who was selected to be a Birthmother. Claire is in labor when the book starts, and we quickly figure out that she’s having trouble delivering. Forced to deliver via C-section, Claire is put to sleep, and when she wakes up, she finds out that the baby has survived, but she is unable to give birth again. She is reassigned to work in the Fish Hatchery. Claire is given a limited amount of information about the child she delivered, only being told that she had a son and that he was the thirty-sixth child delivered that year. She later uses this information to inconspicuously visit him in the Nurturing Center.
Not long into the book, it is apparent that Claire’s son is, in fact, Gabe, the child that plays a large role in The Giver. Claire begins to love Gabe, and longs for the times she can visit the Nurturing Center to see her son. Then one day, Gabe is gone. Those who are familiar with The Giver recognize this as the time Jonas takes Gabe and they flee the community. Devastated by this loss, Claire vows to find her son, and does whatever she has to in order to see him again.
Ms. Lowry always writes her characters with a level of depth that is much too rare in children’s novels. When Claire begins to feel the loss connected with losing Gabe, I felt empathy. I can’t go into too much detail here without spoiling anything, but there were multiple times, while reading, when I felt the exact same thing the characters felt. When a book can make you feel that way, it’s a special thing.
Being a fan of The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger, I was thrilled to see so many of the characters from those books appear in Son. It was also interesting to learn more about what the Birthmothers do in the community where Jonas, Claire, and Gabe are from. For the most part, loose ends are tied up very nicely.
That being said, the only complaint I have about Son is that there were a few unresolved issues. Some relationships that Claire developed on her journey to find Gabe, she had to cut off, and I would’ve liked some closure on them. I know, I know–a complaint that small is petty. Still, it would’ve been nice to know what happened.
Truthfully, Son is an outstanding book that is a great conclusion to the Giver quartet. The characters are beautifully crafted, the story brings everything full-circle, and it is just an overall great way to end the series. Fans of the Giver books will most certainly not be disappointed.
-Rachel P., 16

Teen Book Review

Son

Lois Lowry

Pub 10-2012, Houghton Mifflin, $17.99

Anyone who’s familiar with children’s literature has no doubt heard of Lois Lowry. She’s won two Newbery Medals, one for Number the Stars and another for The Giver, and has written a multitude of other children’s books. Chances are, you’ve read a Lois Lowry novel, and if you have, then you probably noticed how brilliantly it was written. Son is no different. The final book in the Giver series, it ties everything from The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger together in a way that only a superb author like Lowry can.

The book starts out in the same community where The Giver takes place, and is told from the point of view of Claire, a girl who was selected to be a Birthmother. Claire is in labor when the book starts, and we quickly figure out that she’s having trouble delivering. Forced to deliver via C-section, Claire is put to sleep, and when she wakes up, she finds out that the baby has survived, but she is unable to give birth again. She is reassigned to work in the Fish Hatchery. Claire is given a limited amount of information about the child she delivered, only being told that she had a son and that he was the thirty-sixth child delivered that year. She later uses this information to inconspicuously visit him in the Nurturing Center.

Not long into the book, it is apparent that Claire’s son is, in fact, Gabe, the child that plays a large role in The Giver. Claire begins to love Gabe, and longs for the times she can visit the Nurturing Center to see her son. Then one day, Gabe is gone. Those who are familiar with The Giver recognize this as the time Jonas takes Gabe and they flee the community. Devastated by this loss, Claire vows to find her son, and does whatever she has to in order to see him again.

Ms. Lowry always writes her characters with a level of depth that is much too rare in children’s novels. When Claire begins to feel the loss connected with losing Gabe, I felt empathy. I can’t go into too much detail here without spoiling anything, but there were multiple times, while reading, when I felt the exact same thing the characters felt. When a book can make you feel that way, it’s a special thing.

Being a fan of The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger, I was thrilled to see so many of the characters from those books appear in Son. It was also interesting to learn more about what the Birthmothers do in the community where Jonas, Claire, and Gabe are from. For the most part, loose ends are tied up very nicely.

That being said, the only complaint I have about Son is that there were a few unresolved issues. Some relationships that Claire developed on her journey to find Gabe, she had to cut off, and I would’ve liked some closure on them. I know, I know–a complaint that small is petty. Still, it would’ve been nice to know what happened.

Truthfully, Son is an outstanding book that is a great conclusion to the Giver quartet. The characters are beautifully crafted, the story brings everything full-circle, and it is just an overall great way to end the series. Fans of the Giver books will most certainly not be disappointed.

-Rachel P., 16

Teen Review
Belles
Jen Calonita
Pub 4-2012, Poppy, $17.99
Jen Calonita is known for her chick-lit books that are not only fun and funny, but also have a certain amount of heart that appeals to readers. She’s best known for her Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, though her two stand-alone books, Sleepaway Girls and Reality Check are not at all unpopular. I’ve read almost all of her books, so I was very excited to begin Belles - and it most certainly did not disappoint.
Belles takes place in Emerald Cove, North Carolina and is told from the point of view of two different girls, Mirabelle “Mira” Monroe and Isabelle “Izzie” Scott. After Izzie’s grandmother’s Alzheimers becomes serious enough for her to be placed in a nursing home, Izzie is sent to live with her long-lost Uncle Bill and his family. Mira and Izzie honestly couldn’t be more different: Mira is the daughter of a state Senator, and is the definition of a southern belle. Izzie is from Harborside, which isn’t exactly the classiest place in the world to live, and is definitely more of a tomboy. The two have the potential to get along, but mean girls and cultural differences put a wedge between their potential friendship.
There were many aspects of Belles that I loved. I really liked the relationship between Izzie and Mira’s older brother, Hayden. It’s not at all romantic, but Hayden is just down-to-earth and all-around great guy. Hayden is proof that being rich doesn’t equal being snobby. He’s a friend to Izzie when no one else is, and I really liked that.
As a general rule, I like when books have a villain you love to hate. Belles has that. Savannah, Mira’s best friend and the most popular girl in their grade, is mean and manipulative. Even though she comes off as the stereotypical rich brat, there’s a layer to Savannah that causes her to stand out. The book’s other main villain is Lucas, Bill Monroe’s campaign manager. He puts on the façade of being smooth and charming, but in reality, is just as devious as Savannah.
A more technical aspect of Belles that I liked was the imagery. Calonita paints a picture in the reader’s mind of a small, well-to-do Southern town that feels real enough for you to reach out and touch. I loved the descriptions of Emerald Prep, the school that Mira, Izzie, and Hayden all attend. I also loved the descriptions of the outfits the characters wore. It honestly creates a world that feels real.
The only thing that could’ve possibly been improved upon were certain aspects of Mira’s character. I liked her, but honestly, the girl doesn’t really think things through. She’s not stupid, but she cares too much about what others think. Luckily, she gains a little bit of a backbone by the end of the book. I’m hoping she’ll get stronger throughout the rest of the series.
To sum it all up: I loved Belles. I love how it has the perfect balance of chick-lit frippery and heart. I love the characters, the setting, and the story. Really, I love just about everything about it. It’s safe to say that I’ll be sticking around for the rest of the books in this series.
- Rachel P., 16

Teen Review

Belles

Jen Calonita

Pub 4-2012, Poppy, $17.99

Jen Calonita is known for her chick-lit books that are not only fun and funny, but also have a certain amount of heart that appeals to readers. She’s best known for her Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, though her two stand-alone books, Sleepaway Girls and Reality Check are not at all unpopular. I’ve read almost all of her books, so I was very excited to begin Belles - and it most certainly did not disappoint.

Belles takes place in Emerald Cove, North Carolina and is told from the point of view of two different girls, Mirabelle “Mira” Monroe and Isabelle “Izzie” Scott. After Izzie’s grandmother’s Alzheimers becomes serious enough for her to be placed in a nursing home, Izzie is sent to live with her long-lost Uncle Bill and his family. Mira and Izzie honestly couldn’t be more different: Mira is the daughter of a state Senator, and is the definition of a southern belle. Izzie is from Harborside, which isn’t exactly the classiest place in the world to live, and is definitely more of a tomboy. The two have the potential to get along, but mean girls and cultural differences put a wedge between their potential friendship.

There were many aspects of Belles that I loved. I really liked the relationship between Izzie and Mira’s older brother, Hayden. It’s not at all romantic, but Hayden is just down-to-earth and all-around great guy. Hayden is proof that being rich doesn’t equal being snobby. He’s a friend to Izzie when no one else is, and I really liked that.

As a general rule, I like when books have a villain you love to hate. Belles has that. Savannah, Mira’s best friend and the most popular girl in their grade, is mean and manipulative. Even though she comes off as the stereotypical rich brat, there’s a layer to Savannah that causes her to stand out. The book’s other main villain is Lucas, Bill Monroe’s campaign manager. He puts on the façade of being smooth and charming, but in reality, is just as devious as Savannah.

A more technical aspect of Belles that I liked was the imagery. Calonita paints a picture in the reader’s mind of a small, well-to-do Southern town that feels real enough for you to reach out and touch. I loved the descriptions of Emerald Prep, the school that Mira, Izzie, and Hayden all attend. I also loved the descriptions of the outfits the characters wore. It honestly creates a world that feels real.

The only thing that could’ve possibly been improved upon were certain aspects of Mira’s character. I liked her, but honestly, the girl doesn’t really think things through. She’s not stupid, but she cares too much about what others think. Luckily, she gains a little bit of a backbone by the end of the book. I’m hoping she’ll get stronger throughout the rest of the series.

To sum it all up: I loved Belles. I love how it has the perfect balance of chick-lit frippery and heart. I love the characters, the setting, and the story. Really, I love just about everything about it. It’s safe to say that I’ll be sticking around for the rest of the books in this series.

- Rachel P., 16