Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of current and classic Children’s and YA literature.

#BookReview of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler


Junior Minerva Green and senior Ed Slaterton are over.  Done.  In order to get over her ex-love and explain to him why they broke up, Min is returning a box of momentos she hoarded over the course of their two-month relationship.  The novel is one long, sad break-up letter from Min to Ed, split into chronological segments based on the artifacts illustrated and detailed events that led to the couple’s destruction.  I use the word destruction so dramatically because that’s how Min comes across–annoyingly, but relatably, dramatic.  This was definitely not one of my favorites, but I finished Handler’s Printz honor book a week ago and I am finding Min Green and Ed Slaterton…indelible.  Every person can relate to this story about falling in love, heartbreak, miscommunication, cheating, and the painful realization that love doesn’t always last forever.

Handler’s story has inspired me to learn more about classic and independent films (almost all references in the text are over my head) and he has renewed my interest in oddball cookbooks.  Kudos.

why we broke up

#BookReview of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


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I know I’m very behind on reading and reviewing this historical gem, but since Louis Zamperini passed away a little over a year ago, I figured it was finally time to make this one a priority.

First, I was impressed by how well-researched this biography was.  Laura Hillenbrand has real talent for finding nitty-gritty details and seamlessly weaving them into a beautiful narrative.  Unbroken reads like a novel, making it accessible to those who struggle through most non-fiction.

Louis Zamperini was born in Torrance, CA in 1917.  He spent his childhood causing mischief, stealing, and being the most unruly child ever encountered.  His older brother, Pete, told Louie something that would carry him through the roughest times of his life: “If you can take it, you can make it.”  Pete began training Louie for the track team.  With Pete’s coaching, Louie became the fastest high school kid in America.  He succeeded in qualifying for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he raced the 5000m event and earned 8th place before enlisting in the army, where he became a bombardier. Louie’s plane crashed on a rescue mission, killing all but two others in his crew.  The men spent 47 days adrift at sea before being captured by the Japanese.

I finished Unbroken at 11pm on Saturday night because I HAD to finish it.  I couldn’t leave Louie in those camps any longer.  We were wasting away on the raft together, suffering on Execution Island, fearing for our lives at Ofuna…but all the while, Louie never gave up.  He was defiant and held to his incredible strength and, even when we thought we wouldn’t survive another minute, Louie persevered.  A few weeks ago I came across a Buzzfeed article titled “31 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” with Unbroken making the list.  All the heartbreaking news lately about random and school shootings and ISIS attacks inspired us in the library to create our own list and display titled “74 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”.  The list includes our favorite titles that remind us of the goodness in humanity.  Our collection includes books by Nicholas Sparks, some Laurie Halse Anderson, non-fiction by Fr. Jim Martin, and many more.

On Sunday, I had to see the film directed by Angelina Jolie.  Yes, reading the book before seeing the movie practically guarantees disappointment, but I had to know what many people’s only impression of Louis Zamperini would be.  Honestly, the film didn’t do Louie’s story justice.  I found myself commentating throughout the entire movie about Louie’s childhood mischief and the horrors that were left off the screen.  Poor Chris had to sit through my rants (He says that they made the movie better, but I think he’s humoring me).

Louis Zamperini was an inspiration to all.  Most of us will never know the smallest fraction of the pain that he experienced as a prisoner of war in World War II, and we can’t empathize with him, but we can recognize his unbelievable spirit and draw strength and comfort from his story.

Review of Dryland by Sara Jaffe


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Life is mundane for Julie Winter, an average sophomore living in Portland, Oregon in 1992. She wanders the local craft fair regularly with her best friend, Erika. She cuts captions for the yearbook. She avoids parental interest like the plague.

Until one day when senior swim captain Alexis notices Julie. Julie’s broad shoulders and long frame are perfect for swimming. Plus she has a brother, Jordan, whose legend whispers from every trophy case in the school. Julie is suddenly included–she’s on the swim team, asked to be a photographer in yearbook, and finds herself invited to parties that she would never have dared to attend before. Or wanted to, for that matter. Except for the fact that Alexis will be there.

Jaffe’s writing is a sweet combination of Julie’s narration, objective correlatives, insightful descriptions, and understated sentences. The tale is incomplete, reading like a snapshot of Julie’s sophomore year of high school with little context or hint of what happens next. It is a perfect excerpt of teen awkwardness: confused sexuality, the search for identity, and family troubles. Recommended to adults looking to rediscover teen years and to teens looking for literary companionship.

Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman


…Still drying my eyes from this one. Adam Wilde, new-fangled rockstar, spews raw emotion with every thought and action leading up to his reunion with Mia Hall, a music lover of the Classical Cellist kind and the first and only love of his life. The first book, If I Stay, was told from Mia’s perspective: the novel opens with the car crash that smote her entire family, save herself. Adam’s racing thoughts, confusion, and heartache resonate following the couple’s breakup when Mia leaves Oregon for Juilliard. Though he has the life every aspiring star craves–celebrity girlfriend Bryn, record deals, two Grammys, sold-out shows–Adam finds himself on pills and smokes to temper the pain of an inexplicable void, a void that even his beloved music can’t fill. How can you let the person you love go at the time you need each other most? After more than three years, Adam still finds life wanting. He sees her eyes every time he closes his own. Her voice is only a memory, but he can’t stop himself from listening for it.

You’re really rooting for this guy, even though it’s clear that Adam is reaping what he sowed during those heart-wrenching moments before Mia began to wake from her coma. His whirlwind of emotions is realistic without superimposing on the plot, which is an allegory for his own life journey. Mia drags Adam on a scavenger hunt of her favorite NYC haunts as an introduction for Adam and her own farewell to the city she loves; Adam revisits key memories, interprets Mia’s words, and puzzles out the truth about their breakup, traveling on his own scavenger hunt of self-discovery. In both novels, Forman’s deftly transforms his character from the concerned “man”; to the rockstar “guy” on the brink of mental collapse; to the genuine person that Adam always has been. Where She Went is a complex and wholly satisfying work of YA literature.

Review: Through to You


Camden Pike is still reeling from the car crash that should have killed him instead of his girlfriend, Viv. He spends most of his time on the street corner where she died, chain smoking and dwelling on the past. She should never have been taken from him. As months pass and he continues to resist help from his therapist and his mostly-absent mother, Cam finally becomes fed up and throws his zippo (a gift from Viv) into the bushes by the memorial. When he returns to retrieve it, he notices a glowing green light and hears a voice. A girl appears through a portal, cast in the creepy green light. Her name is Nina, and she’s lost; Cam’s world looks and feels the same as Nina’s, but it’s very different. Cam helps her home only to discover that in Nina’s world, Viv’s alive. How can he resist seeing her again–being with her again? Despite Nina’s warnings and begs to avoid her, Camden can’t help sneaking away to see her; but he’s not very happy when he learns the truth about the crash.

This book had so much potential. Camden’s rough cursing and angst seem forced; there was definitely a better way to convey his grief and anger than Hainsworth’s approach to dialogue. After reading this, I would love to see this in a series of letters to Viv from Camden. It would give readers a real opportunity to get inside Cam’s head and hear his raw emotions with a specific audience in mind. I wish there had been more about Cam’s life and Nina’s, too, in the book. A lot of it was Cam recovering from the crash and sorting out his feelings, which was great, but there’s more to life than that. What about family? Friends? Future plans? Cam was mostly having a psychotic episode during this book. I didn’t find too many redeeming qualities in him as a character. The science fiction element was unfulfilled, too. More exploration with the idea of other worlds and portals would have spiced this up a bit. Overall, an entertaining read, but for a more substantial love story, try some Nicholas Sparks.

Review: Spark by Brigid Kemmerer


In this sizzling sequel to Storm in the Elemental Series, Gabriel Merrick destroys everything he touches–including anything flammable. His family and friends are Elementals, too, meaning they each have some control over an element. But Gabriel’s element is fire, the most volatile and terrifying to manipulate. And when fires mysteriously begin all over Annapolis, MD, Gabriel is the prime suspect. While he struggles to harness his powers, Gabriel is in danger of failing high school. He has leaned on his twin brother, Nick, for Math homework and tests since middle school, switching places so that Gabriel’s teachers never know the difference. This new Math teacher knows his tricks, however, and forces Gabriel to own up to his education.

In a moment of confusion on a surprise Math test, Layne Forrest, the unimposing and forgettable girl sitting next to Gabriel, fixes his test for him and offers to help him catch up. Gabriel has more in common with Layne than he knows; she has a devastating history with fire, too. Readers follow their romance as it unfolds over a span of two weeks, falling in love with the characters and feeling first love all over again.

Gabriel’s frustration with school, friends, and his abilities are easy to relate to. We’ve all felt overwhelmed, wishing our responsibilities were someone else’s problem. It’s encouraging to watch Gabriel begin to make the right choices for himself and those closest to him as he grows as a person and in love, discovering his identity and place in the world. A solid paranormal romance to warm the heart.