Tag Archives: High SChool

Book Reviews
February 14, 2012 posted by Kiona

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters — Meredith Zeitlin

Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great – her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey Finkelstein and Co. (her three best friends, Cass, JoJo, and Em) are entering their freshmen years of high school and they all have big plans, though none as big as Kelsey’s. She plans to score a starting position on the varsity soccer team, finally date her long-time crush now that his perfect girlfriend’s out of the picture, and otherwise make herself known. The only problem is, the world seems to be conspiring against her. Obstacle after obstacle leaps up, forcing Kelsey to try even harder to make her freshman year special — even though it would sometimes be easier to stop trying and instead fade into the background.

I love Kelsey Finkelstein. Normally, I hate fourteen-year-old protagonists. Authors have a habit of writing young characters as much more juvenile, immature, and clueless than I remember being at fourteen and that always bothers me. But Kelsey Finkelstein is one of the most realistic fourteen-year-olds I’ve ever seen — she’s the high school freshman I wish I was and she’s the girl I can still relate to her today. She’s witty, sarcastic, and she makes so many of the same mistakes we all make — the mistakes we have to make in order to get through high school. And she can also be petty, stupid, and immature. And I loved every minute of reading about her life.

Zeitlin does a great job of making each of her characters stand out. It took me awhile to notice the difference between Em, Cass, and JoJo, but after awhile I realized they weren’t your typical stock-best-friends of the protagonist. They each had their own interesting personalities. But the secondary character that really grabs my interest is Kelsey’s mom. She’s just such a mom. Everything she says makes me laugh, especially since I remember my own mom saying a lot of the same things. And Kelsey’s responses to her mom are spot-on and hilarious. You’ll love the mother-daughter exchanges and possibly find yourself taking turns groaning along with either Kelsey or her mom.

My only problem with this book  is the lack of an overarching conflict. There are a lot of small, secondary plots and twists that keep the reader engaged. The pacing is extremely fast and has you eagerly flipping pages; none of the chapters are too long, boring, or unnecessary. But by the end of the book, when I asked myself what the story was about, all I could come up with was that it explored Kelsey’s first year of high school. This seems like kind of a broad subject for a book. But, like I said, it’s not something I noticed until the end of the book, due to the fast pace and abundant conflict. Regardless, Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters is an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud read that’ll leave you smiling and wanting to reminisce about your favorite high school moments.

Pages: 288
Publication Date : March 2012
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Format: ARC
Rating : ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: “It’s like the worst day of my life just became the best day of my life. Jordan Rothman just climbed a flight of stairs with the sole purpose of inviting me to a party? If the floor of the subway station weren’t so disgusting, I think I’d totally faint.

Book Reviews
February 21, 2011 posted by Christina

Other Words For Love – Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

“Ari Mitchell feels invisible at her Brooklyn high school. Her hair is too flat, her style too preppy, and her personality too quiet. And outside school, Ari feels outshined by her beautiful, confident best friend, Summer. Their friendship is as complex and confusing as Ari’s relationship with her troubled older sister, Evelyn, a former teenage mom whose handsome firefighter husband fills Ari’s head with guilty fantasies.

When an unexpected inheritance enables Ari to transfer to an elite Manhattan prep school, she makes a wealthy new friend, Leigh. Leigh introduces Ari to the glamorous side of New York – and to her gorgeous cousin, Blake. Ari doesn’t think she stands a chance, but amazingly, Blake asks her out. As their romance heats up, they find themselves involved in an intense, consuming relationship.

Ari’s  family worries that she is losing touch with the important things in life, like family, hard work, and planning for the future. Meanwhile, Summer warns her that what she feels for Blake is just an infatuation. No real love. But Ari’s world is awash with new colors, filled with a freshness and an excitement she hasn’t felt in years.”

———–

For this review, we’re doing things a little differently. Never has a debut novel been so sought after by almost every member of the yaReads team and had us all in a flutter, so it seems fitting that we bring you a joint review of Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s Other Words For Love.

Ivy: Holy Guacamole!  Two days after, I’m still thinking about Other Words for Love.  It was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  For an urban fantasy lover like me, it’s a breath of fresh air to have read something as real and believable as this book.  It could be your sister, friend, or neighbor’s story.

This is an easy 5 stars.  Outstanding debut Ms. Rosenthal!

Rating: : ★★★★★

Kiona: Other Words for Love is an emotional roller-coaster. Throughout the book, my opinion of Ariadne was ever-changing. In the beginning, I like her. She’s the relatable underdog: a pretty girl often overlooked due to the beauty of her best friend. She’s a hard worker, gets good grades, and is passionate about art. She also pretty much takes care of her out-of-control older sister’s son, which is very altruistic of her considering her sister, Evelyn, treats her like crap. I admire Ari’s inner-strength and ability to look past others’ flaws.

But then she meets Blake and he essentially eclipses the sun of Ari’s world. To me, Blake is a decent enough guy, but I was annoyed by his constant use of the word, “ nice” Anytime she considers doing something he doesn’t like, he makes her feel guilty by saying, “That wouldn’t be nice”. And while Ari is blinded by love, it’s easy to see how much control Blake’s father has over Blake’s life, which just shows how weak Blake is. I understand that that’s the point Rosenthal is trying to convey – that Blake isn’t actually the picture-perfect guy Ari thinks he is. Love interests don’t have to be likable for a story to be likable. But I was disappointed in Ari – who is such a smart girl – for not being able to recognize the signs of Blake’s imperfection and weakness. So halfway through the book, I began liking her less and less.

The middle is also when the story stops being relatable. I lost all respect for Ari when she dropped her friends and focused her entire world around Blake. I know first loves can be all-consuming, but Ari doesn’t have a particularly thriving social life. Yet she still drops Summer, a friend since childhood, and Leigh, a girl who could really use a friend, and she never really repairs these friendships. When Blake dumps her, Ari stops caring about school, her appearance, her nephews, SATs, and even considers suicide. While I’ll admit this happens to some girls, I definitely don’t feel like that it’s the norm. I had to put this book down several times so I could collect my emotions. While I admire that the author can illicit such emotions, I think she did so at the cost of alienating the reader from the protagonist. The ending makes me feel slightly better, but it’s not enough to redeem Ariadne in my eyes.

That being said, I think the writing is superb and Rosenthal clearly knows New York City very well. The descriptions of the city sound genuine and really ground Other Words for Love in the specific time period Rosenthal chose (1980s). I really enjoyed the detailed glimpse in the city and Rosenthal’s exploration of a dysfunctional family is very intriguing. I definitely enjoyed the psychological aspects of this novel, but while I think this is an interesting take on first love, I don’t think it’s a story many girls will be able to relate to.

Rating: : ★★★☆☆

Christina:  There are so many different ways to promote books these days. The one way that I completely trust is when everyone (with nothing to gain for doing so) is buzzing about a book as enthusiastically as they were for Other Words For Love. So I’m with Ivy on this one – I completely loved it.

The characters in this book were incredible. Each character was unique, so well fleshed out and had these realistic personalities with both virtues and flaws. Some characters you’ll completely hate and others you’ll grow to understand. Some of them were even quite cruel at times like Evelyn and Summer, who would say certain things that would make me go – GAAAAAASPPPPPPPPPPP! OHHHHH, she did not just say that!  I wanted to dive into the pages, step beside Ari and serve them a swift kick to head for how they acted. This just goes to show how invested you become in these characters and Ari’s story.

What really hit me was just how authentic I felt the emotions expressed in the book were. Everything Ari felt, from her elation at being with Blake, to her eventual heartbreak just felt so so real. Her feelings in the end might seem dramatic but if you’ve ever been heartbroken that’s exactly what it’s like – the colors fade to gray, food seems pointless and you’re stuck in a rut you don’t bother to get out of. I loved how the way Ari felt meant that she perceived the statue of Saint Anne differently – it was very clever and so true.

The part that particular struck me the most me while Ari’s world was falling apart, she felt like all the hard work she’d done up to that point, not just in school but in life, had counted for nothing because of a slip up right at the finish line. For me that was the part where I raised my hand and said “Oh I have been there” Which I think a lot of girls will feel the same about quite a few sections of the book.

If there was a flaw in this book I can only say it was the blurb – it gives too much away. I’ve omitted the last paragraph of the blurb in this review because it basically gives half the story away and I was able to have a good guess about what would happen in the rest. BUT! Despite that, the story’s execution was superb and even though I’d already been told what would happen it didn’t make it any less interesting or heartbreaking or amazing, which proves just how great this book is.

Ari’s life in New York in the 1980s was completely fascinating to read about, in particular to note what has changed and what is still the same. Even after finishing it I couldn’t stop thinking about this story for days after. I was so proud of Ari and what she managed to accomplish in the end, her experiences made her so much stronger. Sign me up for every thing Lorraine Zago Rosenthal writes next. Highly, highly, highly, recommend it.

Rating: : ★★★★★

Two out of the three of us loved it, the other, not quite feeling it. Which side of the fence are you on?

Pages: 354
Publication Date: January 2011
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Challenge: Historical Fiction/Debut Author
Average Rating: : ★★★★½

Teaser Quote: “I was looking out the window, checking for neighbors and hoping to give them something to see, when I felt Blake’s hand on my chin. I looked at him, at his straight nose and his perfectly carved lips, and felt his finger move back and forth on my skin. Don’t ask me, I thought. Just do it.”

Good Oil – Laura Buzo
Book Reviews
August 3, 2010 posted by Christina

Good Oil – Laura Buzo

“From the moment 15-year-old Amelia begins work on the checkout at Woolworths she is sunk, gone, lost…head-over-heels in love with Chris. Chris is the funny, charming, man-about-Woolies, but he’s 21, and the 6-year difference in their ages may as well be 100. Chris and Amelia talk about everything from Second Wave Feminism to Great Expectations and Alien but will he ever look at her in the way she wants him to? And if he does, will it be everything she hopes?”

The majority of books for teenagers are not written by teenagers. A funny thing happens to people once they leave their teens, the older they get the more they forget what it’s really truly like to be a teenager and this shows in a lot of authors’ writing. This is not the case in Laura Buzo’s Good Oil.

Amelia Hayes has just gotten a job at the supermarket and it doesn’t take long before she gets a crush on her charming (and much older than her) staff trainer, Chris Harvey. While Amelia is trying to find her identity and place in life, Chris is struggling to find the meaning in his life. The story switches perspective between the two as we watch their friendship grow and as Chris changes his view of Amelia from a protégé/little sister type to someone he could consider as a potential girlfriend.

Amelia is in the 10th grade and to her, boys are the brainless creatures who push her around on the school bus and who are otherwise only after one thing. Chris is in his final year at university and battling the girlfriend drought while he still licks his wounds over his previous relationship one year prior. For her the supermarket job is a way of gaining independence, for him though, it’s a dead end.

Amelia is unlike any girl Chris knows and is always amazed at how her mind works, she makes him question his own thoughts and the way he thinks. They exchange letters of things that they hate, while Amelia thinks her mum has been screwed over by feminism, Chris hates the injustice of people getting everything in life while he struggles at the bottom.

It’s not hard to relate to either of these characters, not because it’s written in the first person or because they’re similar to you in age, but because at some point, you were them. It’s what makes this story feel so incredibly real because  you were (or still are) Amelia, you were friends with an Amelia, you were Chris or you were in love with a Chris, these characters are so real they might as well be people you already know who just happen to be in a book.

It goes without saying that this is a well written book. The story is engaging and the dual narration adds depth to the storyline and has so many subtle details that come together to create this image of what being a young adult is really like, not what people think it’s like. Also, it’s the kind of book that makes you feel just a bit smarter for having read it, it really gets you thinking. It contrasts the different lifestyles of families, friends and social classes as well as making you consider the issue of feminism, without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook.

This isn’t your typical love story; it’s honest, bittersweet and insightful with the characters lending you their lives to let you look into your own.

Pages: 283
Publication Date: August 2010
Rating:: ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: “Penny has suggested to me a few times that I might like to get a grip on reality. You know, accept that getting together with Chris is unlikely in the extreme and stop torturing myself. I wish I could. It would make sense.”

Book Reviews
July 24, 2010 posted by Christina

Eighth Grade Bites: Vlad Tod – Heather Brewer

Junior high really sucks for thirteen-year-old Vladimir Tod. Bullies harass him, the principal is dogging him, and the girl he likes prefers his best friend. Oh, and Vlad has a secret: his mother was human, but his father was a vampire. With no idea of the extent of his powers, Vlad struggles daily with his blood cravings and his enlarged fangs. When a substitute teacher begins to question him a little too closely, Vlad worries that his cover is about to be blown. But then he faces a much bigger problem: he’s being hunted by a vampire killer

Vlad Tod hasn’t had the easiest life. Orphaned three years previously, he lives with his later mother’s best friend Nelly, a nurse, in the quite town of Bathory. He’s the favoured target of bullies, embarrasses himself in front of his crush and now his favorite teacher has gone missing….Oh, and he’s half vampire, and his strange new substitute teacher possibly knows his secret…

Until recently Vlad thought he was the only vampire left until a recent string of disappearances makes him realize that not only is he not alone, but someone’s after him. Vlad is also only just discovering his abilities, since his vampire father died before he could share his knowledge, Vlad is on his own as he comes to understand just what he can do as well as the fact that among his kind, being a half vampire is not just unique, but unheard of.

Eighth Grade Bites is the first book in the Vladimir Tod Chronicles. Like most first books in a series we’re introduced to the characters and storyline with the promise of the big action happening later down the line. Don’t get me wrong, the last chapters of this book have action but this book mostly sets up the foundation for the next installments.

Vlad himself is a good character and besides the vampire aspect he’s a typical fourteen year old boy. He’s got his best friend Henry, he’s shy around girls and isn’t the biggest fan of school. It would have been good to see him explore his powers in a bit more depth; we touch on the fact that he can read minds, hover and has a telepathic connection to Henry after biting him when they were eight. He’s a believable character who’s still coming to terms with the loss of his parents and is slowly growing into his personality.

The storyline itself felt a bit brief and at the end the events happen quite suddenly. At points, time goes by quite fast and we skip over weeks and months without realizing it so the pace feels a bit odd with things going at an even pace in the beginning then picking up a lot of speed towards the end. The book, at 181 pages isn’t very long so a lot of the story didn’t have the kind of development it could have had particularly when we get a look into the vampire world Elysia.

This story has a lot of potential and I have a feeling it really picks up in the following books. I’d recommend it to the younger readers in the YA category, particularly for the boys, it has the right length, right amount of action, horror and humor to ease them into reading.

Pages: 181

Publication Date: August 2007, scheduled for release in Australia August 2nd 2010

Rating: : ★★★☆☆

Teaser quote:  “Morning, sunshine”
Vlad blinked at her. “Morning, sulfuric acid”
“Pardon me?”
“Well isn’t it kinda wrong to call a vampire ‘sunshine’?”

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty
Book Reviews
July 21, 2010 posted by Morgan

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

This is the story of Amelia and Riley, bad kids from bad Brookfield High who have transferred to Ashbury High for their final year. They’ve been in love since they were fourteen, they go out dancing every night, and sleep through school all day. And Ashbury can’t get enough of them.

Everyone’s trying to get their attention; even teachers are dressing differently, trying to make their classes more interesting. Everyone wants to be cooler, tougher, funnier, hoping to be invited into their cool, self-contained world.

But they don’t know that all Amelia can think about is her past — an idyllic time before she ran away from home. Riley thinks he’s losing her to the past, maybe even to a place further back in time. He turns to the students of Ashbury for help, and things get much, much worse.

In the tradition of the gothic novel, this is a story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femmes fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future’s come to get you.

Before you begin reading The Ghosts of Ashbury High, put all those expectations you may have about how a book is written on a shelf somewhere. You can pick them up later when you’re back to reading regular books.

Good. Now that that’s done, I can tell you about Jaclyn Moriarty and the Ashbury High books (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie). These four books aren’t sequels, but they do revolve around the same high school and involve characters who tend to appear in most or all of the other titles. Moriarty’s narrative is often told through letters, school assignments, meeting notes, blog posts and comments, emails, and more, making it a. sometimes difficult to remember that the narrator may not always be reliable and b. really, really fun to read.

The opening of The Ghosts of Ashbury High sets the scene for us: it’s the final year of school for Em, Lyd, Cass, Toby, and the gang. But this year, two new students appear: Riley and Amelia. And no one knows from whence they came. (Cue scary music here.) The bulk of the entries that make up the book are school assignments the students have written—and considering the assignments are to write a gothic retelling of the first term and ghostly retelling of the second, the reader is never entirely sure what’s true (did a ghost really start typing into Lydia’s computer?) and what’s the students’ flexing of their creative muscles.

Em makes it her mission to unravel the mystery surrounding the ethereal Riley and Amelia, and most of her homework assignments and blog posts involve her musings on the two new students. In typical Em fashion, they’re hilarious. Meanwhile, Lydia is dealing with the aftermath of her breakup with Seb and her parents’ weird relationship by throwing spectacular parties, while Toby has taken to sorting out the meaning of black holes and the life story of an Irish convict who was sent to Australia several centuries earlier. (Trust me, it all ties in to the story.)

And then, of course, there are Riley and Amelia themselves. Their background is a mystery, revealed with carefully placed (and misplaced) breadcrumbs that lead us back to their real stories near the end of the book. I loved them. Then I hated them. Then I admired them. Then I worried about them. And then I ended up realizing they were only a small, small part of the message Moriarty is sending with this book: about second chances, and redemption, and friendship.

For a gothic novel/ghost story, The Ghosts of Ashbury High sure is funny. It’s also wickedly smart, wholly engrossing, and has found its way on the top of my “must re-read” pile. It’s a shame to me that Moriarty isn’t more well-known here in the U.S., and I’m making it my mission to change that. You should join me.

Pages:496

Publication Date: June 1, 2010

Rating:: ★★★★★

Teaser quote: “There was the creeeeeeaaaaking of a door. (The door to the common room opening.) We turned as one, the three of us. And I think that we felt chilled to the bones. (In all honestly, I myseld did because the open door was letting in a draft.) For there, in the dooray, they stood: Riley and Amelia. I knew, at once, that it was they.”