Teen ReviewThe Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-WongL. Tam HollandPub 7-2013, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Three tropes that clue a reader in to the fact that they’re reading a coming-of-age novel are: A lonely teenager confused about his or her past, a rebellious action that gets the attention of the main character’s parents, and a journey to discover who he or she really is. Coming-of-age novels tend to be written in a serious tone, but The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland differs from the rest. Though it’s a coming-of-age tale, this book tackles teenage angst in a more lighthearted way than most.
Vee Crawford-Wong is a half-Chinese, half-white high school sophomore who has never really wondered about his past. That is, not until his history teacher assigns his students to each make an in-depth family tree. The project presents a problem for Vee, as his parents never talk about their parents and their lives growing up. So Vee makes his paper up entirely, thus beginning a mess he never imagined getting into.
The story follows Vee’s attempts to meet his grandparents in China, with a subplot of his time managing the girls’ basketball team. The two plots intertwine more than you’d think – the trip to China is a more literal representation of his journey to find himself, and his time as basketball team manager shows a more subtle transition from a hormonally-charged boy to a clear-thinking young man. Vee’s development is subtle along the way, but by the end of the story, it’s easy to see how far he’s come.
That being said, this isn’t a stellar novel. The prose is great, but the story itself lacks structure. At times, the book seems to divert onto points that add nothing to the story – useless moments that delay momentum and take away from the story as a whole. The ending is abrupt, not providing adequate information to satisfy the reader. (Who knows? Maybe this was intentional fodder for a sequel.) There was hope for this book to be really great, but minor details prevent it from achieving its potential.
As a whole, The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is maybe slightly better than average. Holland’s style keeps the book going but serves as a disguise for a poorly put-together story. It’s not a novel that you’d regret reading, but then again, it’s not a first-choice novel, either.
 
- Rachel P., 18

Teen Review
The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong
L. Tam Holland
Pub 7-2013, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Three tropes that clue a reader in to the fact that they’re reading a coming-of-age novel are: A lonely teenager confused about his or her past, a rebellious action that gets the attention of the main character’s parents, and a journey to discover who he or she really is. Coming-of-age novels tend to be written in a serious tone, but The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong by L. Tam Holland differs from the rest. Though it’s a coming-of-age tale, this book tackles teenage angst in a more lighthearted way than most.

Vee Crawford-Wong is a half-Chinese, half-white high school sophomore who has never really wondered about his past. That is, not until his history teacher assigns his students to each make an in-depth family tree. The project presents a problem for Vee, as his parents never talk about their parents and their lives growing up. So Vee makes his paper up entirely, thus beginning a mess he never imagined getting into.

The story follows Vee’s attempts to meet his grandparents in China, with a subplot of his time managing the girls’ basketball team. The two plots intertwine more than you’d think – the trip to China is a more literal representation of his journey to find himself, and his time as basketball team manager shows a more subtle transition from a hormonally-charged boy to a clear-thinking young man. Vee’s development is subtle along the way, but by the end of the story, it’s easy to see how far he’s come.

That being said, this isn’t a stellar novel. The prose is great, but the story itself lacks structure. At times, the book seems to divert onto points that add nothing to the story – useless moments that delay momentum and take away from the story as a whole. The ending is abrupt, not providing adequate information to satisfy the reader. (Who knows? Maybe this was intentional fodder for a sequel.) There was hope for this book to be really great, but minor details prevent it from achieving its potential.

As a whole, The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong is maybe slightly better than average. Holland’s style keeps the book going but serves as a disguise for a poorly put-together story. It’s not a novel that you’d regret reading, but then again, it’s not a first-choice novel, either.

 

- Rachel P., 18

Teen Review
Here Where the Sunbeams are Green
Helen Phillips
Pub 11-2012, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99
Hello! The book I am reviewing is called Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green by Helen Phillips. This is her first children’s book. I will give you a summary. Happy reading.
Mad and Roo are two siblings who are scared because their father has disappeared. Their father studies birds and has gone away looking for birds in the rainforest. When Mad, Roo, and their mother go to see him for an appointment, he appears not to care about them. Mad and Roo suspect that something is wrong and they find out the people who are employing their father are secretly forcing him to kill almost extinct birds against his will. Together, with their friend Kyle, they make a plan to tell the public what is really going on.
I struggled to find something good to say about this book even though I really wanted to like it. Some of the problems that I found were that there were very long breaks between exciting events and even when something exciting did happen, it was usually predictable with no element of surprise. I wouldn’t really recommend this book. It is a slow read. 
If you like birds, feel free to pick up this book to read. The survival of the almost extinct species may inspire you to want to read further.
This book may not be an incredible pick for me but there are so many other books out there I know you will find one that you will want to read.
-Noah P., 11

Teen Review

Here Where the Sunbeams are Green

Helen Phillips

Pub 11-2012, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99

Hello! The book I am reviewing is called Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green by Helen Phillips. This is her first children’s book. I will give you a summary. Happy reading.

Mad and Roo are two siblings who are scared because their father has disappeared. Their father studies birds and has gone away looking for birds in the rainforest. When Mad, Roo, and their mother go to see him for an appointment, he appears not to care about them. Mad and Roo suspect that something is wrong and they find out the people who are employing their father are secretly forcing him to kill almost extinct birds against his will. Together, with their friend Kyle, they make a plan to tell the public what is really going on.

I struggled to find something good to say about this book even though I really wanted to like it. Some of the problems that I found were that there were very long breaks between exciting events and even when something exciting did happen, it was usually predictable with no element of surprise. I wouldn’t really recommend this book. It is a slow read.

If you like birds, feel free to pick up this book to read. The survival of the almost extinct species may inspire you to want to read further.

This book may not be an incredible pick for me but there are so many other books out there I know you will find one that you will want to read.

-Noah P., 11

Teen Review
A Dog Called Homeless
Sarah Lean
Pub 09-2012, Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99
A Dog Called Homeless is about a girl named Cally who starts seeing her dead mother at the graveyard a year after she died (also her dad’s birthday), but nobody believes her. Soon after, she starts seeing her mom wherever she goes, and a large grey dog that appears whenever her mom is there. I think A Dog Called Homeless is a very profound book because it really does show that you can connect with somebody without speaking. This book is very similar to The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford because the two authors come up with unique plots that take place in the country.At Cally’s school they start doing sponsored silence. Nobody thinks that she can be quiet but clearly they’re wrong because Cally takes it a little too far and doesn’t speak for a whole month. Soon after, Cally finds out that her and her dad and brother are going to move. She takes it as a misfortune (but of course she dosen’t say it), but then she meets Sam and his mom, Mrs. Cooper. Sam is blind and deaf, and it makes Cally feel more reassured because she stopped talking, but she can’t talk to him anyway because he is deaf. They find a way to communicate and become good friends. The grey dog seems to appear more often and her bond with the dog becomes strong. Cally decides to name the dog Homeless because he was right across the street from a man that had a sign up that said “ homeless”.  But her dad does not want to keep the dog so Cally has to see him secretly.I think this book was very profound and unique. I think that the moral of this book is that you can communicate in strange and different ways but still be able to connect to the past. I think that it also shows that if you‘ve lost somebody that meant a lot to you, you can always find a link to them. I think  the author combined all of these troubled characters into one great book.I think that, overall, this was a great book, and I think it really shows that there are links to almost everything, and in this case the link was a dog. Unlike other books, all of the characters who appear in this book are troubled in their own way. An overall 10/10.
-Diana R., 9

Teen Review

A Dog Called Homeless

Sarah Lean

Pub 09-2012, Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99

A Dog Called Homeless is about a girl named Cally who starts seeing her dead mother at the graveyard a year after she died (also her dad’s birthday), but nobody believes her. Soon after, she starts seeing her mom wherever she goes, and a large grey dog that appears whenever her mom is there. I think A Dog Called Homeless is a very profound book because it really does show that you can connect with somebody without speaking. This book is very similar to The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford because the two authors come up with unique plots that take place in the country.

At Cally’s school they start doing sponsored silence. Nobody thinks that she can be quiet but clearly they’re wrong because Cally takes it a little too far and doesn’t speak for a whole month. Soon after, Cally finds out that her and her dad and brother are going to move. She takes it as a misfortune (but of course she dosen’t say it), but then she meets Sam and his mom, Mrs. Cooper.

Sam is blind and deaf, and it makes Cally feel more reassured because she stopped talking, but she can’t talk to him anyway because he is deaf. They find a way to communicate and become good friends. The grey dog seems to appear more often and her bond with the dog becomes strong. Cally decides to name the dog Homeless because he was right across the street from a man that had a sign up that said “ homeless”.  But her dad does not want to keep the dog so Cally has to see him secretly.

I think this book was very profound and unique. I think that the moral of this book is that you can communicate in strange and different ways but still be able to connect to the past. I think that it also shows that if you‘ve lost somebody that meant a lot to you, you can always find a link to them. I think  the author combined all of these troubled characters into one great book.

I think that, overall, this was a great book, and I think it really shows that there are links to almost everything, and in this case the link was a dog. Unlike other books, all of the characters who appear in this book are troubled in their own way. An overall 10/10.

-Diana R., 9

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 Book Review
Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
Chris Colfer
Pub 7-2012, Little, Brown, $17.99

Hello Reader! 
This book you are about to approach is called The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. I hope that, when you get this book, you will love it the same way I did. I also hope that, in this book, you will have the same happy approach I have.
In this book, two normal kids have a Grandma and Dad who used to read stories to them from a book called The Land of Stories. When these two children (twins – Alex and Connor) get older, their Grandma gives the book to them. Alex reads some of the stories and wishes she were there. The two children get sucked into the land of stories but after that happens, can they get back home? 
I really liked the Land of Stories because it points out a few things in fairy tales that you might not have understood, and it makes sense of them. Like, I never understood how three princesses could marry Prince Charming. In this book, it says that all three Prince Charmings are brothers called Chance, Chase, and Chandler. They have a brother who they think died, called Charlie. 
I also liked how, even though this book is fantasy, the characters still have feelings. Like how Alex cries when a witch tells them a sad story, and how, when they get sucked into the book, they don’t know where they are, and the characters feel scared. 
An interesting part was when they made Snow White’s evil stepmother sound nice. They said that, when she was younger, she was left on someone’s doorstep and they had to raise her. She liked them, and she fell in love. On the day of her marriage, the enchantress came and said “she is my daughter”. The townspeople did not have proof that she was not the enchantress’s daughter, so they had to give her up. The enchantress made her a slave but she found her true love at last, and they began passing notes to each other. The enchantress noticed and put her true love in a mirror, and the evil stepmother spent her whole life trying to find a way to get him out. She could not find someone with magic strong enough. Her heart was broken. 
I hope what you read today will change your feeling for fairy tales, and will make you want to read this book as much as I did. I hope it will help you want to learn more about fairy tales, and I especially hope that you will read and love The Land of Stories like I did.

- Luisa P., 8

Teen Book Review

Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Chris Colfer

Pub 7-2012, Little, Brown, $17.99

Hello Reader! 

This book you are about to approach is called The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. I hope that, when you get this book, you will love it the same way I did. I also hope that, in this book, you will have the same happy approach I have.

In this book, two normal kids have a Grandma and Dad who used to read stories to them from a book called The Land of Stories. When these two children (twins – Alex and Connor) get older, their Grandma gives the book to them. Alex reads some of the stories and wishes she were there. The two children get sucked into the land of stories but after that happens, can they get back home? 

I really liked the Land of Stories because it points out a few things in fairy tales that you might not have understood, and it makes sense of them. Like, I never understood how three princesses could marry Prince Charming. In this book, it says that all three Prince Charmings are brothers called Chance, Chase, and Chandler. They have a brother who they think died, called Charlie. 

I also liked how, even though this book is fantasy, the characters still have feelings. Like how Alex cries when a witch tells them a sad story, and how, when they get sucked into the book, they don’t know where they are, and the characters feel scared. 

An interesting part was when they made Snow White’s evil stepmother sound nice. They said that, when she was younger, she was left on someone’s doorstep and they had to raise her. She liked them, and she fell in love. On the day of her marriage, the enchantress came and said “she is my daughter”. The townspeople did not have proof that she was not the enchantress’s daughter, so they had to give her up. The enchantress made her a slave but she found her true love at last, and they began passing notes to each other. The enchantress noticed and put her true love in a mirror, and the evil stepmother spent her whole life trying to find a way to get him out. She could not find someone with magic strong enough. Her heart was broken. 

I hope what you read today will change your feeling for fairy tales, and will make you want to read this book as much as I did. I hope it will help you want to learn more about fairy tales, and I especially hope that you will read and love The Land of Stories like I did.

- Luisa P., 8

Teen Book Review
Liar & Spy
Rebecca Stead
Pub 7-2012, Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99
SPOILER ALERT! WARNING: There are spoilers in this review.
Hello readers! I just read Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and I loved it, and I can’t wait for you to read it too. She has written two previous novels: When You Reach Me and First Light.. This book has a slightly different tone but it is still very good. I will give you a summary of this book and tell you why it is so good, and the few tweaks I would add, too.
In the beginning of the story, we meet Georges, the main character. Georges is sort of sad about moving to a new apartment, so he is in a lousy mood. His family isn’t helping very much – he only ever sees his dad because his mother works odd hours at a hospital. At school he is constantly bullied, but soon he meets a boy named Safer. Safer claims to be a spy. Georges likes to be around Safer and his family where he feels, appropriately safe! Safer soon tells Georges that he is spying on a man named Mr. X. Mr. X is up to some criminal activities, and soon, Georges is helping Safer on all of his missions. He always looks out for Safer when he sneaks into Mr. X’s apartment. But one day, Georges discovers that Mr. X is really a nice person. Safer has just been tricking Georges the whole time. Georges feels like Safer hasn’t been very honest with him. He starts to make friends at school, starts dealing with life, and eventually revisits Safer, and makes him his friend again.
This book was really good. Any Rebecca Stead fans or anyone who loves a story about friendship told in a great way should read this. One thing that I loved about the book was the concept it made you think about. It made me think about what friendship is and how far you are willing to go for your friends. When Safer tries to take Georges on missions where he doesn’t feel safe, like keeping an eye out for Mr. X, Georges sneaks into Mr. X’s apartment and it made me think about how far you can go to be someone’s friend. It definitely made me think about friendship in a different way. Another thing I love about this book is how it has a surprise ending. I never expected Georges to make friends. And I definitely didn’t expect that Safer would play such a complicated trick on Georges. I knew something fishy was going on but I didn’t think it would go so far. The ending is really good and very surprising.
One thing I would that I would change is the amount of detail. There are some characters that you don’t really need to know. Like Bob English, whose only purpose is to reveal the absurdity of the English language to Georges.
Although there are some flaws in this book, it is really good in the end. I want you to know that this book is one that you should really read if you are stuck in a hard friendship. I bet it would make you feel a lot better. And even if you aren’t, you should still read it. You will know why I want you to when you do!
- Noah P., 11

Teen Book Review

Liar & Spy

Rebecca Stead

Pub 7-2012, Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99

SPOILER ALERT! WARNING: There are spoilers in this review.

Hello readers! I just read Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and I loved it, and I can’t wait for you to read it too. She has written two previous novels: When You Reach Me and First Light.. This book has a slightly different tone but it is still very good. I will give you a summary of this book and tell you why it is so good, and the few tweaks I would add, too.

In the beginning of the story, we meet Georges, the main character. Georges is sort of sad about moving to a new apartment, so he is in a lousy mood. His family isn’t helping very much – he only ever sees his dad because his mother works odd hours at a hospital. At school he is constantly bullied, but soon he meets a boy named Safer. Safer claims to be a spy. Georges likes to be around Safer and his family where he feels, appropriately safe! Safer soon tells Georges that he is spying on a man named Mr. X. Mr. X is up to some criminal activities, and soon, Georges is helping Safer on all of his missions. He always looks out for Safer when he sneaks into Mr. X’s apartment. But one day, Georges discovers that Mr. X is really a nice person. Safer has just been tricking Georges the whole time. Georges feels like Safer hasn’t been very honest with him. He starts to make friends at school, starts dealing with life, and eventually revisits Safer, and makes him his friend again.

This book was really good. Any Rebecca Stead fans or anyone who loves a story about friendship told in a great way should read this. One thing that I loved about the book was the concept it made you think about. It made me think about what friendship is and how far you are willing to go for your friends. When Safer tries to take Georges on missions where he doesn’t feel safe, like keeping an eye out for Mr. X, Georges sneaks into Mr. X’s apartment and it made me think about how far you can go to be someone’s friend. It definitely made me think about friendship in a different way. Another thing I love about this book is how it has a surprise ending. I never expected Georges to make friends. And I definitely didn’t expect that Safer would play such a complicated trick on Georges. I knew something fishy was going on but I didn’t think it would go so far. The ending is really good and very surprising.

One thing I would that I would change is the amount of detail. There are some characters that you don’t really need to know. Like Bob English, whose only purpose is to reveal the absurdity of the English language to Georges.

Although there are some flaws in this book, it is really good in the end. I want you to know that this book is one that you should really read if you are stuck in a hard friendship. I bet it would make you feel a lot better. And even if you aren’t, you should still read it. You will know why I want you to when you do!

- Noah P., 11