Teen ReviewHidden GirlShyima HallPub 1-2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
When she was eight, Shyima Hall lived in Egypt, with the struggles of poverty and an abusive household. Who would’ve thought that it could get any worse? Until the day her parents sold her into slavery as compensation for her older sister Zahar’s theft of money. Hidden Girl is the story of Shyima Hall’s demoralizing experiences.
Shyima spent five years in bondage with her captors. As time went by, Shyima still retained hope that someone would get her out of this terrible situation. She  was forced to take care of the captors’ five children, do the dishes, make the beds, scrub the bathroom, and cook for the family—often after everyone else had gone to sleep. When they went on family trips, Shyima would watch everyone else have fun. For example, during the summer she would take the kids to the swimming pool and watch them swim. Her captors had neglected to teach her how to swim, as well as keeping her uneducated. She never went to school.
Shyima’s parents didn’t know how cruel her captors were to her. Shyima wasn’t allowed to see her parents or the rest of her family. In fact, her captors threatened to hurt her family if she tried to run away. The family keeping her prisoner used verbal abuse towards her and Shyima couldn’t stand up for herself. All the while, she dreamed of being rescued 
Then, on April 9th, 2002, Shyima was saved from slavery after an anonymous call to the police.
When the police arrived at her captors’ front door, the captors said Shyima was a cousin visiting them, and wouldn’t let the police inside. Shyima was scared because of the lies they’d told her—that if she told the police the truth, they would hurt her family. Even though her family sold her into slavery, she still loved them.
Hidden Girl is a stirring biography. It showed that, even in the darkest times, light will find a way through. I believe that this book is a true masterpiece, which really moved my soul. Shyima’s writing is raw and honest. I had no idea slavery is happening still today, and it made me not take my life for granted. I hope everyone reads this book, so that everyone is aware of this problem. I hope that Shyima achieves her dream of becoming an ICE agent, so that she can help others.
- Nisi S., 18

Teen Review
Hidden Girl
Shyima Hall
Pub 1-2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When she was eight, Shyima Hall lived in Egypt, with the struggles of poverty and an abusive household. Who would’ve thought that it could get any worse? Until the day her parents sold her into slavery as compensation for her older sister Zahar’s theft of money. Hidden Girl is the story of Shyima Hall’s demoralizing experiences.

Shyima spent five years in bondage with her captors. As time went by, Shyima still retained hope that someone would get her out of this terrible situation. She  was forced to take care of the captors’ five children, do the dishes, make the beds, scrub the bathroom, and cook for the family—often after everyone else had gone to sleep. When they went on family trips, Shyima would watch everyone else have fun. For example, during the summer she would take the kids to the swimming pool and watch them swim. Her captors had neglected to teach her how to swim, as well as keeping her uneducated. She never went to school.

Shyima’s parents didn’t know how cruel her captors were to her. Shyima wasn’t allowed to see her parents or the rest of her family. In fact, her captors threatened to hurt her family if she tried to run away. The family keeping her prisoner used verbal abuse towards her and Shyima couldn’t stand up for herself. All the while, she dreamed of being rescued

Then, on April 9th, 2002, Shyima was saved from slavery after an anonymous call to the police.

When the police arrived at her captors’ front door, the captors said Shyima was a cousin visiting them, and wouldn’t let the police inside. Shyima was scared because of the lies they’d told her—that if she told the police the truth, they would hurt her family. Even though her family sold her into slavery, she still loved them.

Hidden Girl is a stirring biography. It showed that, even in the darkest times, light will find a way through. I believe that this book is a true masterpiece, which really moved my soul. Shyima’s writing is raw and honest. I had no idea slavery is happening still today, and it made me not take my life for granted. I hope everyone reads this book, so that everyone is aware of this problem. I hope that Shyima achieves her dream of becoming an ICE agent, so that she can help others.

- Nisi S., 18

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 ReviewFirecrackerDavid IsersonPub 5-2013, Razorbill
“My grandfather likes to to say, ‘The only time you are ever truly alone is when you are dead.’”  Thus begins the snarky, fast-paced novel Firecracker by David Iserson. The plot is like no other. The main character is a sassy billionaire. And the setting: posh Connecticut. From the beginning, this book is destined for success.

Astrid Kreiger always gets what she wants . She was raised a spoiled brat in an uber rich family whose business is making nuclear warheads. She lives in a rocketship in her backyard and is rich, sassy and snobby. She has never had friends, and always has a plan and an attitude to match it. But, what happens when money can’t buy her back into boarding school?

‘We think you should go to the public school,’ Dad said. This was just a horrible, mean thing to say. Just hearing the words ‘public school’ out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which not coincidentally is exactly how public school smells).

And so, Astrid goes to public school. At public school, nobody cares that she is a billionaire. She’s at the bottom of the food chain and sinking lower. Faced with the challenge of cheerleaders and the prospects of alliances with Lucy “Haireater” and “Gay” Noah, has Astrid finally met her match?

Not only that, Astrid is stuck in a heavy bet with her therapist. And the prize? A ticket back to boarding school. Her only requirement is to do three nice things for other people. Should be easy, right? Not as easy as Astrid thinks. Will she kindly win her way back to the elite, or will she be stuck in public school forever?

The first thing I have to say about this book is that David Iserson is a hysterical writer. Even though Firecracker is his first book (wow!), he is currently a screenwriter for the hit shows New Girl and Saturday Night Live. I think that some of the humor he uses writing for these shows comes through in his novel writing. It’s also clear that he’s a screenwriter because his style is very cinematic: intricate and modern, but at the same time thoughtful and well-written. Firecracker is written in a close third-person, and Astrid’s thoughts are funny and realistic.

Even though Astrid is my favorite character, Iserson makes the other characters just as funny as she is. Lucy, a girl Astrid has a reluctant alliance with, is kind of a naive character. She thinks she’s friends with the whole school, even though they laugh behind her back. She is so sweet she makes your teeth hurt, but you never see her teeth because she is always chomping on a piece of her hair. 

Pierre is from a very obscure European country and always wears Gucci tracksuits. He has an enormous crush on Astrid, so he follows her from her boarding school and enrolls in her public school. He thinks he’s her boyfriend, but Astrid is too busy to tell him to go away. So, he’s her fake boyfriend.

Noah? Well, the only way to describe him is “weird”. He wears tuxedos to school and gets bullied by other kids. He’s genius-smart, though, and Astrid takes him under her wing. But, is there more to Noah than nerd and tux?


The last significant character is Astrid’s grandfather. He’s the mastermind of their nuclear warhead company, and is rich and selfish. He only cares about himself and, maybe, Astrid. He teaches her to get in trouble, push the limits, and basically do whatever she wants because she’s rich. I want to say he’s evil, but really he’s not. He might use people and push everyone around, but he loves Astrid a lot, and I think that is what matters.

Astrid’s hysterical character, a complicated but enriched plot and a detailed, classy setting work together to snag you into to this fast-paced, sassy novel. I loved this book and I hope you do too.
Abby C., 14

Teen Review
Firecracker

David Iserson
Pub 5-2013, Razorbill

“My grandfather likes to to say, ‘The only time you are ever truly alone is when you are dead.’”  Thus begins the snarky, fast-paced novel Firecracker by David Iserson. The plot is like no other. The main character is a sassy billionaire. And the setting: posh Connecticut. From the beginning, this book is destined for success.

Astrid Kreiger always gets what she wants . She was raised a spoiled brat in an uber rich family whose business is making nuclear warheads. She lives in a rocketship in her backyard and is rich, sassy and snobby. She has never had friends, and always has a plan and an attitude to match it. But, what happens when money can’t buy her back into boarding school?

‘We think you should go to the public school,’ Dad said. This was just a horrible, mean thing to say. Just hearing the words ‘public school’ out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which not coincidentally is exactly how public school smells).

And so, Astrid goes to public school. At public school, nobody cares that she is a billionaire. She’s at the bottom of the food chain and sinking lower. Faced with the challenge of cheerleaders and the prospects of alliances with Lucy “Haireater” and “Gay” Noah, has Astrid finally met her match?

Not only that, Astrid is stuck in a heavy bet with her therapist. And the prize? A ticket back to boarding school. Her only requirement is to do three nice things for other people. Should be easy, right? Not as easy as Astrid thinks. Will she kindly win her way back to the elite, or will she be stuck in public school forever?

The first thing I have to say about this book is that David Iserson is a hysterical writer. Even though Firecracker is his first book (wow!), he is currently a screenwriter for the hit shows New Girl and Saturday Night Live. I think that some of the humor he uses writing for these shows comes through in his novel writing. It’s also clear that he’s a screenwriter because his style is very cinematic: intricate and modern, but at the same time thoughtful and well-written. Firecracker is written in a close third-person, and Astrid’s thoughts are funny and realistic.

Even though Astrid is my favorite character, Iserson makes the other characters just as funny as she is. Lucy, a girl Astrid has a reluctant alliance with, is kind of a naive character. She thinks she’s friends with the whole school, even though they laugh behind her back. She is so sweet she makes your teeth hurt, but you never see her teeth because she is always chomping on a piece of her hair.

Pierre is from a very obscure European country and always wears Gucci tracksuits. He has an enormous crush on Astrid, so he follows her from her boarding school and enrolls in her public school. He thinks he’s her boyfriend, but Astrid is too busy to tell him to go away. So, he’s her fake boyfriend.

Noah? Well, the only way to describe him is “weird”. He wears tuxedos to school and gets bullied by other kids. He’s genius-smart, though, and Astrid takes him under her wing. But, is there more to Noah than nerd and tux?

The last significant character is Astrid’s grandfather. He’s the mastermind of their nuclear warhead company, and is rich and selfish. He only cares about himself and, maybe, Astrid. He teaches her to get in trouble, push the limits, and basically do whatever she wants because she’s rich. I want to say he’s evil, but really he’s not. He might use people and push everyone around, but he loves Astrid a lot, and I think that is what matters.

Astrid’s hysterical character, a complicated but enriched plot and a detailed, classy setting work together to snag you into to this fast-paced, sassy novel. I loved this book and I hope you do too.

Abby C., 14

Teen ReviewSomebody Up There Hates YouHollis SeamonPub 9-2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
After the immense success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, it was only natural that other authors would venture down the same path: cancer-afflicted boy and girl meet, and despite doomed fates, fall for each other. Hollis Seamon’s Somebody Up There Hates You does this. But while Green’s novel has the perfect balance of cynicism and sweetness, Seamon’s focuses too much on being edgy, blinding the audience to its true message.
Richard Casey is a cynical and dirty-minded teenager dying from cancer, as is the fierce and witty Sylvie. Being the two youngest patients in Hospice, they naturally form a fast friendship, which quickly develops into something more for them both. Neither of them wants to die, and together they come up with ways to make their last days memorable.
Like many novels, this had the potential to be a great book. The characters are strong, and the premise is great. The thing is, Seamon spends way too much of the book trying to appeal to teenagers by being edgy. There are multiple sexual scenes in this book, and while I’m not a person who normally cares for that sort of thing, usually I can get through it. These seemed particularly explicit for a young adult novel, though, and truthfully, I felt extremely uncomfortable.
The most ridiculous part of the novel (slight spoilers ahead) was when Richard and Sylvie had sex, and Richard said he wouldn’t “go into the details” because he’s not “that kind of guy.” Excuse me? He didn’t seem to have a problem sharing every last detail when a girl gave him a blowjob, or when he came very, very close to sleeping with Sylvie on two other occasions. And to make things even better, on the next page he ends up describing it, anyway. Apparently Seamon’s novels for adults are explicit, as well. Maybe this is just how she prefers to write, but this excessive sexuality just makes her seem like a weak writer.
Other moments in the novel fall flat, too. Each religious character is presented as nothing more than a bad stereotype of his or her religion. Subplots (such as the one about Richard’s unknown father) lack development.
Given the great potential of this book, it did not live up to expectations. Though it’s most likely that Seamon was just keeping with her typical style of writing for adults, I don’t think she fully realized that she was writing a young adult novel this time. It’s not that sex scenes in YA novels are taboo, it’s just that there’s no need for them to take up a fourth of the novel. After a certain point, they’re detrimental to the overall theme, and in the case of Somebody Up There Hates You, that’s exactly what happened.
Rachel P., 18

Teen Review
Somebody Up There Hates You
Hollis Seamon
Pub 9-2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

After the immense success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, it was only natural that other authors would venture down the same path: cancer-afflicted boy and girl meet, and despite doomed fates, fall for each other. Hollis Seamon’s Somebody Up There Hates You does this. But while Green’s novel has the perfect balance of cynicism and sweetness, Seamon’s focuses too much on being edgy, blinding the audience to its true message.

Richard Casey is a cynical and dirty-minded teenager dying from cancer, as is the fierce and witty Sylvie. Being the two youngest patients in Hospice, they naturally form a fast friendship, which quickly develops into something more for them both. Neither of them wants to die, and together they come up with ways to make their last days memorable.

Like many novels, this had the potential to be a great book. The characters are strong, and the premise is great. The thing is, Seamon spends way too much of the book trying to appeal to teenagers by being edgy. There are multiple sexual scenes in this book, and while I’m not a person who normally cares for that sort of thing, usually I can get through it. These seemed particularly explicit for a young adult novel, though, and truthfully, I felt extremely uncomfortable.

The most ridiculous part of the novel (slight spoilers ahead) was when Richard and Sylvie had sex, and Richard said he wouldn’t “go into the details” because he’s not “that kind of guy.” Excuse me? He didn’t seem to have a problem sharing every last detail when a girl gave him a blowjob, or when he came very, very close to sleeping with Sylvie on two other occasions. And to make things even better, on the next page he ends up describing it, anyway. Apparently Seamon’s novels for adults are explicit, as well. Maybe this is just how she prefers to write, but this excessive sexuality just makes her seem like a weak writer.

Other moments in the novel fall flat, too. Each religious character is presented as nothing more than a bad stereotype of his or her religion. Subplots (such as the one about Richard’s unknown father) lack development.

Given the great potential of this book, it did not live up to expectations. Though it’s most likely that Seamon was just keeping with her typical style of writing for adults, I don’t think she fully realized that she was writing a young adult novel this time. It’s not that sex scenes in YA novels are taboo, it’s just that there’s no need for them to take up a fourth of the novel. After a certain point, they’re detrimental to the overall theme, and in the case of Somebody Up There Hates You, that’s exactly what happened.

Rachel P., 18

Teen ReviewIf You Could Be MineSara FarizanPub 8-2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
If You Could Be Mine is a passionate and touching story about Sahar and Nasrin, two teenage girls who are deeply in love and not willing to let go of each other. It’s set in Iran, where being gay is committing a crime and risking your life. Everything seems to start to crumble when Nasrin is betrothed to marry to an older man. Will Sahar and Nasrin make it through all the obstacles in their way or will they give up? Sara Farizan’s debut novel is partially autobiographical, based on her experience of being gay and the daughter of Iranian immigrants.
If You Could Be Mine is a ride full of hope and bravery. It’s such a powerful and moving story because of all the obstacles Nasrin and Sahar have to overcome, like their religion, and the fact that being with each other is a sin. If the police find them, they could be beaten or killed. Also, if their  parents find out that they’re together, they could get kicked out of their families like other gay kids often are. If they decide to stay  together, it would show how powerful love is. But when Nasrin is betrothed to marry Reza, who deeply loves her — as well as Sahar loves her — it puts Nasrin and Sahar’s love to the ultimate test. If You Could Be Mine is very educational in this way: it opens the reader’s eyes to other people’s beliefs, and the struggles of being gay in Iran.
Sara Farizan’s writing is very detailed but it flows. The way she describes the characters’ feelings comes to life on the page! Especially emotions: sadness, longing, passion, wanting. I truly felt like I was in the book, immersed in the story of the two girls. One particular scene depicts two gay boys being hanged and was very intense to read. That scene created the mood for the whole book. 
I enjoyed If You Could Be Mine so much, I would give it two thumbs up! To anyone who loves learning about new cultures, I would truly recommend it — to teens and adults alike. It’s not just a story about two teenagers, but about the difficulties of being gay in different cultures, and how different people have different beliefs. Sahar’s and Nasrin’s love for each other is not an easy conflict to solve, which leads to them having to make a major sacrifice. They don’t have a happy ending, but it’s realistic, and it leaves you  wanting to learn more about this topic.
- Nisi S., 16

Teen Review
If You Could Be Mine
Sara Farizan
Pub 8-2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

If You Could Be Mine is a passionate and touching story about Sahar and Nasrin, two teenage girls who are deeply in love and not willing to let go of each other. It’s set in Iran, where being gay is committing a crime and risking your life. Everything seems to start to crumble when Nasrin is betrothed to marry to an older man. Will Sahar and Nasrin make it through all the obstacles in their way or will they give up? Sara Farizan’s debut novel is partially autobiographical, based on her experience of being gay and the daughter of Iranian immigrants.

If You Could Be Mine is a ride full of hope and bravery. It’s such a powerful and moving story because of all the obstacles Nasrin and Sahar have to overcome, like their religion, and the fact that being with each other is a sin. If the police find them, they could be beaten or killed. Also, if their  parents find out that they’re together, they could get kicked out of their families like other gay kids often are. If they decide to stay  together, it would show how powerful love is. But when Nasrin is betrothed to marry Reza, who deeply loves her — as well as Sahar loves her — it puts Nasrin and Sahar’s love to the ultimate test. If You Could Be Mine is very educational in this way: it opens the reader’s eyes to other people’s beliefs, and the struggles of being gay in Iran.

Sara Farizan’s writing is very detailed but it flows. The way she describes the characters’ feelings comes to life on the page! Especially emotions: sadness, longing, passion, wanting. I truly felt like I was in the book, immersed in the story of the two girls. One particular scene depicts two gay boys being hanged and was very intense to read. That scene created the mood for the whole book.

I enjoyed If You Could Be Mine so much, I would give it two thumbs up! To anyone who loves learning about new cultures, I would truly recommend it — to teens and adults alike. It’s not just a story about two teenagers, but about the difficulties of being gay in different cultures, and how different people have different beliefs. Sahar’s and Nasrin’s love for each other is not an easy conflict to solve, which leads to them having to make a major sacrifice. They don’t have a happy ending, but it’s realistic, and it leaves you  wanting to learn more about this topic.

- Nisi S., 16

Teen ReviewStarry NightsDaisy WhitneyPub 9-2013, Bloomsbury
Sacrifice is necessary in love. What you hope and dream about never comes without letting go of things along the way. It could even be that the very thing you’re searching for is what you will ultimately have to give up. No one wants to imagine that. No one even wants to consider that maybe the love they’ve finally found isn’t beneficial to what’s right. This is the beauty of Daisy Whitney’s Starry Nights. It asks the question: Just how much are you willing to give up for the greater good? 
 Having lived in Paris his whole life, Julien is a romantic. He loves spending his time drawing and giving tours at the Musee d’Orsay. At night, he witnesses paintings come to life. One in particular catches his eye, a painting of a girl named Clio. Against all good sense, Julien and Clio fall in love. But as their love grows, paintings around the world begin to fade and fall apart. The two quickly realize that giving each other up is the only way to save the paintings. They are faced with the dilemma of whether or not they can make that choice. 
 Daisy Whitney has crafted an utterly enchanting story. She beautifully describes the Parisian setting, and when she talks about paintings coming to life, it’s like falling under a spell. Maybe it’s just the notion of paintings coming to life in Paris that makes the story beautiful, or maybe it’s the simple, elegant prose. Either way, the story is one of spellbinding beauty.
 However, the ending might leave some readers feeling cheated. I’ll be vague in order to not give away spoilers: the end of the novel is a bit of a cop-out. Sure, it’s the ending everyone probably wants, but it’s not the one that the story needs. There’s a way for the novel to end bittersweetly, and by not giving the story the kind of resolution it deserves, Whitney ends the book happily, but with a feeling of dissatisfaction for the reader.
 This is a genuinely good story, though, and Daisy Whitney is a rising force in the YA world. Starry Nights establishes her as someone to watch, and rightly so. A novel full of enchantment and mystery, this is an excellent piece of work, even if the ending might be a bit of a cheat.
- Rachel P., 18
 

Teen Review
Starry Nights
Daisy Whitney
Pub 9-2013, Bloomsbury

Sacrifice is necessary in love. What you hope and dream about never comes without letting go of things along the way. It could even be that the very thing you’re searching for is what you will ultimately have to give up. No one wants to imagine that. No one even wants to consider that maybe the love they’ve finally found isn’t beneficial to what’s right. This is the beauty of Daisy Whitney’s Starry Nights. It asks the question: Just how much are you willing to give up for the greater good?

Having lived in Paris his whole life, Julien is a romantic. He loves spending his time drawing and giving tours at the Musee d’Orsay. At night, he witnesses paintings come to life. One in particular catches his eye, a painting of a girl named Clio. Against all good sense, Julien and Clio fall in love. But as their love grows, paintings around the world begin to fade and fall apart. The two quickly realize that giving each other up is the only way to save the paintings. They are faced with the dilemma of whether or not they can make that choice.

Daisy Whitney has crafted an utterly enchanting story. She beautifully describes the Parisian setting, and when she talks about paintings coming to life, it’s like falling under a spell. Maybe it’s just the notion of paintings coming to life in Paris that makes the story beautiful, or maybe it’s the simple, elegant prose. Either way, the story is one of spellbinding beauty.

However, the ending might leave some readers feeling cheated. I’ll be vague in order to not give away spoilers: the end of the novel is a bit of a cop-out. Sure, it’s the ending everyone probably wants, but it’s not the one that the story needs. There’s a way for the novel to end bittersweetly, and by not giving the story the kind of resolution it deserves, Whitney ends the book happily, but with a feeling of dissatisfaction for the reader.

This is a genuinely good story, though, and Daisy Whitney is a rising force in the YA world. Starry Nights establishes her as someone to watch, and rightly so. A novel full of enchantment and mystery, this is an excellent piece of work, even if the ending might be a bit of a cheat.

- Rachel P., 18

 

Teen ReviewEnrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His MotherSonia NazarioPub 8-2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
In the young adult adaptation of her book Enrique’s Journey, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the true story of a Honduran boy named Enrique who faces hardship from a young age. His father leaves the family. Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, sells tortillas and candy on the street, earning fistfuls of change at the end of the workday. Every night, she tells Enrique and his sister, Belky, to sleep on their bellies so that their grumbling stomachs won’t wake them up. To feed her children and pay for their education, she reasons that she needs to work in the United States. She assures five-year-old Enrique that she will return in a few years and then pays a smuggler to take her across the U.S.-Mexico border. Enrique is inconsolable. Even years afterward, as a teenager, he still cries “¿Dónde está mi mami?” 
She has never returned. 
After years of gang violence, poverty, and drugs, a teenage Enrique decides that he cannot live in Honduras any longer. He chooses to make his way to the U.S. to find his mother in what his peers now call la guerra sin nombre, “the nameless war.” Every town is a battle or a blessing: some villages curse and turn in migrants, others give them food and shelter. Enrique narrowly dodges la migra, immigration police who sometimes collaborate with gangs to rape, torture, and rob migrants. 
On one day of his journey, a villager of a town just outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, sees Enrique limping along freight train tracks. Enrique’s body is a Pollack painting of purple and black bruises. His right eye is crimson, his left eyelid drooped shut. His upper lip is split. A sweater he finds on the tracks to use as gauze has soaked up so much of his blood that dabbing his gashes with it only makes him dirtier. By nothing short of a miracle, locals find him, spoon a meaty broth into his mouth, and dress his wounds. On his last train, Enrique was beaten up, stripped, and robbed by gangsters. The villagers shake their heads but aren’t surprised. Hundreds of thousands of migrants like Enrique ride on freight trains that pass through their town. After they fix him up, they send him on his way and hope that he won’t end up in an unmarked grave. 
Nazario follows Enrique’s eighth attempt to cross the border in acute detail. With her lively imagery, we are riding every freight train, clutching every roll of bread, and ducking under every tree branch. We, too, are amazed by the deserts, forests, and beaches that dot the landscape. We meet nine-year-old migrants in a church who are looking for their mothers, as well. And yet, even through his constant and unbelievable peril, Enrique still dwells on universal teenage questions: Where is my life going? What will I be when I grow up? He wonders about his girl back home, María Isabel. Does she love him? If she is pregnant with his baby, will he be abandoning it like his own mother abandoned him? He can only hope that the U.S. will give him a second chance. He doesn’t stop searching for his mother because, really, he is searching for dignity and control over his own life.
Whatever a reader’s stance on immigration, it is clear that Enrique’s Journey points out the flaws of American immigration policies, some of which deny undocumented immigrants the right to rent housing, seek higher education, and obtain a job in select states. Many immigrants face de facto racism and economic strife: they typically receive lower pay than natural-born citizens, and a study by the Pew Research Center found that Hispanic household wealth dropped more than that of any other racial or ethnic group during the recession. 
Enrique’s Journey also challenges our ideas of family, and for that reason especially, is a very emotionally difficult book. It asks us what it means to be a good parent, sibling, or spouse. Is it right for a mother to leave her family for years if being apart guarantees financial safety, or does a parent’s presence provide the only kind of safety that matters? What are the causes of Enrique’s struggles: his family dynamic or the corrupt government that fosters it? 
As a journalist, Nazario typically refrains from interacting with her subjects, however she cannot help but sympathize with and support Enrique and his family in this book. Perhaps one of the most striking components of Enrique’s Journey is the inclusion of Nazario’s own story in it. Her original publication of Enrique’s story in the Los Angeles Times is instrumental to reuniting Enrique, Lourdes, and Belky on one of Spanish television’s highest-rated talk shows. 
“I am not a brave person,” Nazario explains in the prologue, “I avoid danger if possible.” Yet, to write the book, she found the courage to trace Enrique’s steps across Central and North America. She rode freight trains for thousands of miles. She spoke with the villagers, priests, and medical workers who crossed Enrique’s path. Unlike him, she had the luxury of checking into a hotel and purchasing food when she couldn’t handle the migrant life. But even so, the constant fear of rape and hunger stayed with her for months. As much as Enrique’s Journey is a feat in its reevaluation of the American Dream, it is an incredible tale of the lengths to which a journalist will go to get the full story.
- Shannon D., 17
 

Teen Review
Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother
Sonia Nazario
Pub 8-2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers

In the young adult adaptation of her book Enrique’s Journey, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the true story of a Honduran boy named Enrique who faces hardship from a young age. His father leaves the family. Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, sells tortillas and candy on the street, earning fistfuls of change at the end of the workday. Every night, she tells Enrique and his sister, Belky, to sleep on their bellies so that their grumbling stomachs won’t wake them up. To feed her children and pay for their education, she reasons that she needs to work in the United States. She assures five-year-old Enrique that she will return in a few years and then pays a smuggler to take her across the U.S.-Mexico border. Enrique is inconsolable. Even years afterward, as a teenager, he still cries “¿Dónde está mi mami?

She has never returned.

After years of gang violence, poverty, and drugs, a teenage Enrique decides that he cannot live in Honduras any longer. He chooses to make his way to the U.S. to find his mother in what his peers now call la guerra sin nombre, “the nameless war.” Every town is a battle or a blessing: some villages curse and turn in migrants, others give them food and shelter. Enrique narrowly dodges la migra, immigration police who sometimes collaborate with gangs to rape, torture, and rob migrants.

On one day of his journey, a villager of a town just outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, sees Enrique limping along freight train tracks. Enrique’s body is a Pollack painting of purple and black bruises. His right eye is crimson, his left eyelid drooped shut. His upper lip is split. A sweater he finds on the tracks to use as gauze has soaked up so much of his blood that dabbing his gashes with it only makes him dirtier. By nothing short of a miracle, locals find him, spoon a meaty broth into his mouth, and dress his wounds. On his last train, Enrique was beaten up, stripped, and robbed by gangsters. The villagers shake their heads but aren’t surprised. Hundreds of thousands of migrants like Enrique ride on freight trains that pass through their town. After they fix him up, they send him on his way and hope that he won’t end up in an unmarked grave.

Nazario follows Enrique’s eighth attempt to cross the border in acute detail. With her lively imagery, we are riding every freight train, clutching every roll of bread, and ducking under every tree branch. We, too, are amazed by the deserts, forests, and beaches that dot the landscape. We meet nine-year-old migrants in a church who are looking for their mothers, as well. And yet, even through his constant and unbelievable peril, Enrique still dwells on universal teenage questions: Where is my life going? What will I be when I grow up? He wonders about his girl back home, María Isabel. Does she love him? If she is pregnant with his baby, will he be abandoning it like his own mother abandoned him? He can only hope that the U.S. will give him a second chance. He doesn’t stop searching for his mother because, really, he is searching for dignity and control over his own life.

Whatever a reader’s stance on immigration, it is clear that Enrique’s Journey points out the flaws of American immigration policies, some of which deny undocumented immigrants the right to rent housing, seek higher education, and obtain a job in select states. Many immigrants face de facto racism and economic strife: they typically receive lower pay than natural-born citizens, and a study by the Pew Research Center found that Hispanic household wealth dropped more than that of any other racial or ethnic group during the recession.

Enrique’s Journey also challenges our ideas of family, and for that reason especially, is a very emotionally difficult book. It asks us what it means to be a good parent, sibling, or spouse. Is it right for a mother to leave her family for years if being apart guarantees financial safety, or does a parent’s presence provide the only kind of safety that matters? What are the causes of Enrique’s struggles: his family dynamic or the corrupt government that fosters it?

As a journalist, Nazario typically refrains from interacting with her subjects, however she cannot help but sympathize with and support Enrique and his family in this book. Perhaps one of the most striking components of Enrique’s Journey is the inclusion of Nazario’s own story in it. Her original publication of Enrique’s story in the Los Angeles Times is instrumental to reuniting Enrique, Lourdes, and Belky on one of Spanish television’s highest-rated talk shows.

“I am not a brave person,” Nazario explains in the prologue, “I avoid danger if possible.” Yet, to write the book, she found the courage to trace Enrique’s steps across Central and North America. She rode freight trains for thousands of miles. She spoke with the villagers, priests, and medical workers who crossed Enrique’s path. Unlike him, she had the luxury of checking into a hotel and purchasing food when she couldn’t handle the migrant life. But even so, the constant fear of rape and hunger stayed with her for months. As much as Enrique’s Journey is a feat in its reevaluation of the American Dream, it is an incredible tale of the lengths to which a journalist will go to get the full story.

- Shannon D., 17

 

Young ReviewerThe Secret IngredientStewart LewisPub 6-2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Stewart Lewis, author of The Secret Ingredient, is a very descriptive author. He described every aspect of this culinary coming-of-age novel down to the last detail. I could picture everything in my head as I devoured the story.
You may have guessed by the title that this book is going to be a lot about food. Well, it is. This book is about a girl named Olivia who has been cooking basically all her life. She has two dads and a brother who, like Olivia, is adopted. Her dads might lose their restaurant and are stressing out about their house because they might lose that, too.
Other than that, Olivia is very happy with her life, except for the fact that she doesn’t know who her birth mother is. But with help from a psychic, and her best friend Lola, Olivia has never been so close to finding her birth mother’s identity. This book is a huge mystery about who Olivia’s birth mother is, whether the psychic is right, and what will happen to Olivia’s dads’ business. You never know what’s going to happen next! 
At first the book, to me, wasn’t that good. But then the second time I read it, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the pages. This book is one of the best books I’ve ever read! The greatest thing about it is that there are a lot of important life lessons, like to “always stay positive in the worst moments.” That’s what Olivia did! There are also a lot of inspirational and original quotes that Stewart Lewis put together. They’re just one of many reasons why you won’t forget this book.   
- Isabella R., 11

Young Reviewer
The Secret Ingredient
Stewart Lewis
Pub 6-2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Stewart Lewis, author of The Secret Ingredient, is a very descriptive author. He described every aspect of this culinary coming-of-age novel down to the last detail. I could picture everything in my head as I devoured the story.

You may have guessed by the title that this book is going to be a lot about food. Well, it is. This book is about a girl named Olivia who has been cooking basically all her life. She has two dads and a brother who, like Olivia, is adopted. Her dads might lose their restaurant and are stressing out about their house because they might lose that, too.

Other than that, Olivia is very happy with her life, except for the fact that she doesn’t know who her birth mother is. But with help from a psychic, and her best friend Lola, Olivia has never been so close to finding her birth mother’s identity. This book is a huge mystery about who Olivia’s birth mother is, whether the psychic is right, and what will happen to Olivia’s dads’ business. You never know what’s going to happen next!

At first the book, to me, wasn’t that good. But then the second time I read it, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the pages. This book is one of the best books I’ve ever read! The greatest thing about it is that there are a lot of important life lessons, like to “always stay positive in the worst moments.” That’s what Olivia did! There are also a lot of inspirational and original quotes that Stewart Lewis put together. They’re just one of many reasons why you won’t forget this book.   

- Isabella R., 11

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

Calling teen reviewers! 
We need a smart, incisive, well-written review of the book you see above. Are you smart? Incisive? A good writer? Then you are the right person to review this book.
EMAIL US: reviews@mcnallyjackson.com
The first person to ask will be the person to get it. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Calling teen reviewers! 

We need a smart, incisive, well-written review of the book you see above. Are you smart? Incisive? A good writer? Then you are the right person to review this book.

EMAIL US: reviews@mcnallyjackson.com

The first person to ask will be the person to get it. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!