Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

It’s impossible to be able to tell what exactly is going to change your life.  It could be a phone call, a letter, an email, an offer, a random conversation… or it could be a gigantic flying piece of rock jetting into your room and splitting your house in half.  This is exactly what happens to our protagonist, Alex, while he’s alone in his room playing on the computer when his parents and little sister are visiting extended family.  In just a second, Alex’s life goes from typical and predictable, to absolutely out of control.  As it turns out, a supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park has erupted, which has caused Alex’s hometown (900 miles away) to be plunged into darkness and nightmarish chaos.  At first, Alex assumes he should wait in his neighborhood for his parents to return, but when that is no longer an option he heads out to look for his family, and discovers that his hometown is not the only place affected by the eruption.

I can barely begin to describe what this book did to my brain.  I couldn’t stop talking about it with my friends for days after I finished it.  I read it in about one sitting while I was on the train back to school, and it absolutely blew me away.  It also scared the crap out of me, because there is actually a supervolcano in Yellowstone, and it will eventually erupt, and all the scary/intense/life-threatening things that happen to Alex and the people he meets will probably happen to everyone who is alive during the supervolcano eruption.  Yikes.  Mullin obviously put a ton of effort into the research he did for this book, and it shows.  That’s sort of what makes it so terrifying. In the afterward, he explains all the research he did, and I almost didn’t want to read it, because I didn’t want there to be proof behind the horror.  But I did, and I don’t regret it, because I love knowing how smart and thoughtful authors are.  Makes me have hope for myself.  Anyway, besides the realistic terror, I was super impressed by how each character we meet (including Alex) is entirely whole.  Even if we only see them for a chapter or less, each character is beautifully written and carefully thought out… even the frightening ones we never wanted to meet.  Watching Alex’s journey from a bit of a smart-mouthed brat, to a strong, brave, caring, three-dimensional young man is also astounding and fun to be a part of (even when some of the events that may trigger this change in him are a little disturbing).  Oh, and I can’t forget the badass powerhouse Darla, who Alex meets along the way and develops feelings for.  She is hands-down the best character in the book, because she is brilliant, strong both emotionally and physically, resilient, and doesn’t take crap from anybody (especially Alex).  The two make a fantastic team you root for until the very end.

It’s hard for me to place an age on this book, because although the reading level is probably at 12 or 13, the violence is so realistic and prevalent.  I’m serious: there is quite a bit of violence in this book, and although I believe almost all of it is necessary, it’s still pretty gory.  For that, I’m going to stick with 14-15 for this one.  This is the perfect book for teens who love dystopian/disaster novels with a strong male and female lead.  Though, to be honest, it’s basically a must-read for everyone.  I still can’t get past how much effort went into crafting this piece of fantastic literature.  Mullin is an up-and-coming novelist we should all keep our eyes on!

“Ashfall” by Mike Mullin has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman since childhood. Even when she completely ditches him for the popular crowd, he can't seem to shake this feeling. But Q is a smart, reserved young man, while Margo runs their high school and is a total badass. It's obvious the two aren't meant for each other.  Until one day, Margo appears at Q's window late at night and invites him on a trip of justice. She wants to fix and ruin a couple things (or people) through brilliantly thought-out pranks.  Q agrees and quickly begins to realize that the Margo everyone, including himself, sees is not the real Margo. Margo might not be this beautiful, untamable creature. Maybe she's lonely and depressed and has no clue about any of her life.  After this outrageous and pivotal night is over, Q can't wait to once again be a part of Margo's life.  But the next day Margo is gone, and Q is sure she's left clues as to how to find her.  With his best friend Radar in tow, Q begins his quest to recover where Margo is hiding, and who she really is.  Is she the wild, gorgeous, fantastical leader, or the sad, scared, lost little girl?  And will Q find her in time for her to still be alive?

Let me get this out of the way now: John Green is a wonderfully talented author.  I whizzed through "Paper Towns" being so empathetic to Q and thoroughly intrigued by Margo.  The whole idea of who we see when we look at people, and who they are behind the mask is portrayed beautifully by Q's inability to let go of his childhood image of Margo and Margo's desperation for people to both see and not see her.  After finishing, I questioned my own way of assessing people through what they've said to me and their actions, and I wondered if any of that was real.  Who are the people around us? Who are they to their parents, their friends, their lovers? Are they the same person to everyone? If not, is that okay? Are we all liars?  These are the kinds of questions Green brings up throughout "Paper Towns."  But Green also looks at the selfishness of identity, and the struggle to satisfy our own sense of self. Is what we want ourselves to be more important than what others need us to be? Is there a middle ground? Green creates Q and Radar and Margo each with similar and different wants and needs and allows them to all intertwine and crash.  Readers of any gender (as far as I can tell, since Q is a boy and I am a girl) will be able to understand and sympathize with Q's frustration and obsession and desperation for finding Margo and discovering how important it is to find out who she actually is.

"Paper Towns" is the perfect novel for ages fourteen and up. Both the beginning trip between Q and Margo and the road trip with Q and Radar are incredibly engaging and have the perfect amount of hilarity, seriousness, and teenage crises. You won't be able to stop thinking about the book until you finish it.  All the questions running through Q's brain will run through yours, too, and you won't be able to help looking at your own world differently.  Green wrote a simply inspiring piece that every teenager should pick up.

"Paper Towns" by John Green has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Buy "Paper Towns" on Amazon now!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Kidnapped. Abducted. Stolen. Any way you put it, it's not good. When sixteen-year-old Gemma steps away from her parents in an airport to grab a coffee, she finds herself face-to-face with a familiar stranger who kindly pays for her drink.  After some chit-chatting, Gemma is ready to go back to her parents, even though the stranger is not only kind, but also beautiful and intriguing.  But before she has a chance, her body feels light, her mind seems a million miles away-- she's been drugged, and she won't be returning to her parents.  Ty steals her away to Australia where he hopes they can stay together forever.  Gemma, on the other hand, doesn't want to be stranded in the empty Australian outback with her captor, and will do anything to get away, or die trying.

The best word I can think of to describe "Stolen" by Lucy Christopher is "captivating." I know, it's a bit of a pun, but it's also true.  Christopher wrote the novel from Gemma's point of view as a letter to Ty, and investing myself into the conflicted world of Gemma's mind was absolutely riveting.  Watching her need to get home, need to get away, but also discover who Ty really is as a person (instead of just a stalker/kidnapper) was definitely a roller-coaster. You're with her every step of the way. You understand her fear, you understand her desperation, but you also understand her basic need to learn more about her captor.  Getting to know Ty as a character was sad, difficult, and so worth it.  Gemma describes Ty's looks, personality, past, life, everything so well, and without having to literally describe any of it.  Christopher is a master of show-don't-tell.  Also, the land is a character.  Ty and Gemma are in the middle of nowhere in Australia-- no people, no houses, no buildings, except for what Ty created.  Because of Ty's obsession and love of the land, the desert, the sand, the trees, the animals, the plant-life, etc. are all a part of the story.  Without this exact setting being included in such a fundamental way, there would be no story.  Our two main characters couldn't have their story any other place.

This is a book for ages thirteen and up. The intensity of the situation is not so high that a young teen would be too upset by it, but it's still an intense situation. Following Gemma along in her letter to Ty is just unbelievably heartbreaking and powerful.  Every thought that runs through her head, you can understand and be on the same page with.  The pacing is wonderful, and you don't learn too much too quickly, and events occur at a solid rate.  For those of you who love reading about strong women in frightening situations and/or fantastic character development and/or the grey area between good and evil, then this is an absolute must-read. There's nothing like reading a story in which you get such a well-rounded and deep understanding and view of more than one character.

"Stolen" by Lucy Christopher has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Buy "Stolen" on Amazon now!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer

Imagine the moment when you realize that someone you love dearly may have committed a crime too terrible to comprehend. This is what happens to Abby Goodwin when her sister, Maya, is questioned for murder.  Abby has always been the "good" daughter, and Maya has always been the druggie, the drop-out, the lazy daughter unhealthily interested in her sexy tutor... the sexy tutor who will eventually find himself face-down in a creek.  Abby goes through everything trying her damnedest to prove that her sister is no murderer, just led off the beaten path, but every clue keeps leading her right back to Maya.  Is someone planting the evidence, trying to lead Abby down the wrong path, or can the terrible suspicion be true?

I don't know what is with me and suspense novels lately.  I think it's just that when suspense novels are done well, they are done really well, and ho-ly crap "The Deadly Sister" done well.  This is another example of a book I literally couldn't tear my eyes from.  I had never read anything by Eliot Schrefer before, but Scholastic's YA branch This Is Teen has this "book suggester" that suggested that I would find this book to be awesome.  And it was right. The reader is constantly in Abby's head feeling and coping with everything she needs to feel and cope with.  She is a sympathetic character you trust and don't mind being around, and you can't help but feel so sorry for her whenever she tried to prove Maya innocent and runs into yet another piece of evidence that doesn't look too good.  I don't think my heart rate slowed down even for a second (and neither did Abby's). The story twists and turns regularly, so the reader never quite feels safe within the story, but doesn't twist and turn so suddenly that we have to deal with whiplash.  Schrefer expertly uncoils the tale of Jefferson Andrews' murder steadily, leaving the reader constantly on-edge and trying to compute every possible outcome, just as Abby is.  As for the ending, I won't say anything except "wait... what... how... fgeuywhfksdmlkfeg."

If teens fourteen and up are looking for one of the best YA thrill-rides of their reading lives, then they absolutely MUST read "The Deadly Sister." Schrefer is a gem of an author, the kind you just so rarely get to read, but when you do, you couldn't be happier with the result.  His creation of Abby and Maya especially is so brilliant and captivating, which is great because you spend a lot of time with those characters.  I had a moment of "wow, that is ridiculously impressive" after realizing that Schrefer is a man. What can I say? I'm a sucker for men who can write female characters beautifully.

"The Deadly Sister" by Eliot Schrefer has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Buy "The Deadly Sister" on Amazon now!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

What would you do if you one day woke up and couldn't remember a thing about yourself? Sure, you could remember the days of the week, your mother's birthday, and even a Shakespearean sonnet, but nothing about yourself.  This is exactly what happens to Jenna Fox.  One day, Jenna wakes up in a mind that she doesn't quite register with, in a body that seems just a little off.  She has no memories of the life she had before waking up, and was simply told that she was in a car crash a year ago and was lucky to be alive.  But Jenna doesn't feel very lucky as she stumbles around in her own mind trying desperately to put together pieces of her past. She tries to figure out why her parents won't tell her why they've moved from Boston to California, why her grandmother seems to hate her, the real reason behind her not being allowed to go to a real public school, when she'll get her memories back, and so many more questions about her past and current self.  In a suspenseful, twisted end, Jenna realizes exactly what her parents have been keeping from her...

I remember sitting down and reading this entire book in practically one sitting, only taking time to eat and give my brain a break (which just needs to happen sometimes with any book). I was absolutely hooked to Jenna and her story, and spent the whole time thinking about possible endings and secrets, and enjoying every minute of being inside Jenna's confused and conflicted head.  I also had a lot of fun guessing what time this book took place, and I decided that it's in the "not-so-distant future." Pearson did a wonderful job not giving the reader too in-your-face clues that this is definitely not the world we live in right now.  Jenna talks about new technology as if it's existed forever, and doesn't draw the reader's attention to the fact that we, as  readers, don't necessarily understand what she's talking about.  It's so refreshing to read a sci-fi novel that doesn't constantly have "HEY I'M GOING TO MENTION THIS THING THAT DOESN'T REALLY EXIST AND THEN EXPLAIN IT TO YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE OBVIOUSLY CONFUSED" and the like. I like figuring things out for myself. It's also refreshing to read a sci-fi novel that isn't in your face about how sci-fi it is. Thank you, Mary Pearson. Then there's the thoughtful (and frightening) exploration of identity without memories.  Who are we if not the lessons we've learned, and the memories we keep?

This is a suspenseful ride for teenagers fourteen and older (give or take). Pearson crafts a fantastic piece of work filled with hidden secrets that pull you every which way until finally presenting you with the powerful ending. After I was done reading, I just sat there and took a good twenty minutes to process what just happened.  It's a book that makes you think about the use of technology, medical ethics, identity, and where our world is heading when it comes to what humans are rapidly learning to do with science (and how frickin' scary that is).

"The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary Pearson has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Ever heard of it? No? Well everyone at the elite boarding school Alabaster Prep has... including the naturally curious and uncommonly bright Frankie Landau-Banks.  Although everyone knows about the secret society of the most promising and and rich male students on campus, no one has ever tried to question it.  Once Frankie realizes she can't belong to the Bassets or even discuss the existence of the Loyal Order with her supposedly-Basset boyfriend, she decides to use her cunning, scheming mind to manipulate the Loyal Order to do her bidding.  By using an anonymous online identity, Frankie turns the Loyal Order completely upside down, but there's always a price to messing with the powerful.

With a satirical and anti-sexist/anti-classist feel, "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" is a book that everyone can read and relate to. The narrator is an omnipresent 3rd person who tells the story in a very matter-of-fact and straightforward manner, telling this somewhat peculiar story without a hint of sarcasm or judgement.  I laughed and laughed throughout the entire book, and also felt a sense of pride when Frankie did anything that pushed the sexist limits of her peers, teachers, and parents.  However, Frankie is by no means a flawless hero.  There are times when she is ruthless, egocentric, and stubborn, but those qualities just make her an authentic character that you continue to root for.

I'd say this book is perfect for ages thirteen and up, but there are plenty of in-jokes for adults who might like to pick it up as well (for example, Frankie's affection for P.G. Woodhouse). E. Lockhart has written quite a few books, and each one is absolutely fantastic, but "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" truly takes the cake with its phenomenal presentation, original characters, quick pacing, and lively, engaging narrator.

"The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" by E. Lockhart has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Buy "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" on Amazon now!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan

These days, it's not easy getting into a school of prestige.  You need to stand out, be better than the best, be more than interesting.  This is something both Finn and Chloe understand, and so they devise a most intense, insane, and ingenious plan to get themselves into the colleges of their choice: fake a kidnapping. What school would say no to a girl who was kidnapped, and her best friend who found her? That would be one hell of an entrance essay.  But as I'm sure you can imagine, things don't go exactly according to plan.

"Accomplice" is a dark tale that will thrill and fascinate readers ages fourteen/fifteen and up. It's a book full of suspense, dark comedy, and a satirical look at what students feel like they are expected to do in order to be different and interesting enough to be admitted into higher education.  It takes the feel of a comedy-of-errors story, and turns it into something bleaker... more nightmarish. Corrigan does a fantastic job keeping the voice of Finn (our narrator) very real and relatable, and you will unwaveringly be on her side for the entirety of the novel. Throughout everything Finn puts herself through, you remain her cheerleader, hoping beyond hope that each obstacle in her way is one she can pass.

This is a brilliantly crafted story that somewhere down the line becomes less upbeat and funny, and you're not sure where the seamless flip happens. I could not for the life of me put it down. If you are looking for a gift for your teenager who likes books that aren't flat-out disturbing, but are still a little creepy and suspenseful, then you absolutely must get them this book.

"Accomplice" by Eireann Corrigan has the Abigail T stamp of approval: this is legitimate young adult fiction.

Buy "Accomplice" on Amazon now!