Monday, January 27, 2014

Book of the Month--January

Hi everyone!  I've decided to start a new custom on Blog For (Teen) Book Lovers.  At the end of every month, I'll post about one Book of the Month--my favorite book that I read during a given month.  For January, the book I'll be writing about is called Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (but since that's a bit of a mouthful, let's call it Aristotle and Dante) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 
For a book that is at least ninety percent teenage angst, Aristotle and Dante was an amazing read.  It covers a wide amount of themes, including homosexuality, racism and, well, the secrets of the universe, but the genre is purely realistic fiction--no doubt about it.  Narrator and main character Ari is the antonym of his best friend Dante--where Ari is tough, Dante is emotional, and where Dante's family is close knit and open, Ari's is covering up a dark past incident that no one will tell him the whole story about.  Still, Dante and Ari bring out the best in each other, and they stay friends through hospital visits and crises of identity.  Dante and Ari slowly discover the secrets of the universe, right up until the shocking and touching final scene.                                                                 This book was an interesting read for me.  I'm a realistic fiction girl, but Dante and Ari are nothing like me--they're both Mexican boys from Arizona, struggling with things that I haven't even begun to think about yet--so you'd think I wouldn't be able to relate to them.  But somehow, Sáenz's writing style--a perfect blend of frankness and imagery that was almost poetic in it's beauty--pulled me into the story and found me wanting to stand by Ari's side as he struggled with his race, family history and even sexuality (but I've said too much).  
Aristotle and Dante is no easy read.  It's a little dark, a little sad, and it's very mature, but I assure you that you won't regret sticking it out with Ari, because the final message of the book is one of pure, innocent hope.  I'm a natural speed reader, so going back and really listening to what Ari was saying was difficult for me, but I was so glad I did.  The revelations Ari and Dante make rang so true that I wanted to have them next to me, just to talk, so I could share even more in their wisdom.  I think that we all want--no, need--to know the secrets of the universe.  I'm grateful to Ari and Dante for helping me along the way. 

"Do you think it'll always be this way?"
"I mean, when do we start feeling like the world belongs to us?"
I wanted to tell him that the world would never belong to us.  "I don't know,"  I said.  "Tomorrow."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It's rare to find a book that is completely fantastical--and yet you believe every word.  The Future of Us is that kind of book. It's set in the 90s, when computers are just beginning to be a household staple, and the story begins when Emma installs a CD-ROM to her new computer.  When she logs on, she finds herself on Facebook--fifteen years in the future--seeing what her life will be like through her future self's friends and statuses.  She calls over her best friend, Josh, and they figure out that not only can they see their futures, but they have the power to change them--sometimes easily, sometimes not.  As Josh and Emma continue to refresh, they become obsessed with their ever-changing futures, jeopardizing their friendship in the process.  They realize that after seeing their futures, things will never be the same.
Most time travel or future-spying books are almost unreadably confusing.  Somehow, I could easily follow along with Josh and Emma as they navigated.  It had to have been the hyper-realistic writing style--I could imagine my friends, or even me, staring at the computer with them--that made The Future of Us so approachable.  It's gripping, too--you can't take your eyes off the page as Emma and Josh slowly become slaves to their futures.
The Future of Us is a contradictory novel.  It's fantasy, but it's realistic.  It's romantic, but in some ways it's very dark.  It's sci-fi, but not so much that someone like me, who's known to be hilariously not-techy, can't understand it.  Beyond that, it has a narration style that I find fascinating, with Josh (written by Jay Asher, author of the amazing book 13 Reasons Why) telling his side of the story and Emma (written by Carolyn Mackler) telling hers.  I can't think of any specific genre lovers, even the most fanatical, who wouldn't be into this book.  
This book truly covers every base.  Nuanced narration style--check.  Every genre in the book--check.  Lovable characters that you wish you could reach into the book and protect from harm--check.  Utterly gripping, equal parts scary and cool plot--check.  Finally, there are an endless amounts of things to think about like the idea that “One little ripple started today could create a typhoon fifteen years from now.”  How can we ever know what the future will be like?  Maybe the future's inevitable elusiveness is what makes this book such an enthralling read.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Childhood Favorites

There's few things more comforting than curling up with a book that you loved when you were a kid.  I liked many books, but I picked these four as the ones that still seem as magical and meaningful to me now as they did then. These are all classic books that opened up worlds to me--some (numbers two and three) remain titles I'd cite as two of my all-time favorites--and I hope they'll inspire you to relive books you loved during a time that you may have forgotten.  Maybe you'll even discover a new favorites here--it's not too late to fall in love with these wonderful stories.

1.  Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
There happen to be six books in the Mary Poppins series (I've only read the first four).  All the books are wonderful works of fantasy--there's a new story in every chapter and each is more engaging and implausible than the last.  You may recognize some chapters from the Disney movie (also a great film), although don't be surprised at some parts (including Mary Poppins' not-so-cheery disposition) that are unique to the book.  I think that the magic of Mary Poppins lies in the fantastic happenings of the stories--each just believable enough to make you think, just a little bit, that you wouldn't mind a Mary Poppins of your own.
The quote: "'Don't you know that everybody's got a Fairyland of their own?'"

2. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
I can't quite say, truthfully, that I fell in love with this book.  In this case, I fell in love with a character.  Peter Pan was dashing and impish and enchanting--I could fully understand why Wendy followed him to Neverland that fateful night.  This book contains a parade of lovable characters, so whether you're a Wendy or a Captain Hook, there'll be one for you.  Peter Pan is the rare story that is lighthearted, but while still confronting some tough themes, such as the nature of responsibility.  Mostly, it's a tale of love and triumph--and don't we all need more of that?
The quote: “Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” 

3.  Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll 
Alice In Wonderland is a kooky, colorful story of an imaginative girl who falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a mysterious world called Wonderland.  Part of the thrill of Alice In Wonderland is the fact that everything is fair game in this strange world (think pig-babies, haughty caterpillars, mad tea parties, and, of course, smiling cats) and you follow along with Alice eagerly, holding your breath to see what Wonderland will hold for you next.  It's fun to live, at least for a little while, in a world that has no limits, and Alice In Wonderland is as inexhaustible as they come.
The quote: “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

4.  The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène Du Bois
The Twenty-One Balloons is an adventure of the purest kind--it has diamonds, a mysterious island, volcanoes, earthquakes, and lots of balloons.  The back cover of this book contains what is quite possibly the most riveting, gotta-read, need-to-know premise I've ever seen.  A man aspires to, in a year, cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon.  So how does he end up, three weeks later, with twenty hot air balloons--and in the Atlantic?  Enough said.  You will not be able to put it down.
The quote: “Half of this story is true and the other half might very well have happened.”

Childhood, and these fabulous books, hold an undeniable magic and thrill. I'll leave you with Alice In Wonderland's famous riddle:  Why is a raven like a writing desk?  Better tell me in the comments, because I haven't the slightest idea.

Did I leave your favorite out?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Every Day by David Levithan

Hi everyone!  I'm back with a new layout and a new (well, slightly amended) blog name.  I'm going to be focusing more on books for teens--and that doesn't mean the cliched "Teen Books" that we all find so disgusting!  Think more books that will interest a teenager and really get them thinking.  As a teenaged writer and reader, I've realized that as much as one can love reading, when you've got school, homework and myriad responsibilities, it's hard to find a book to read, and even harder to find time to read it. So allow me to help you out.
In David Levithan's Every Day, main character A has a remarkable, unheard of, unexplainable situation.  He (gender is unspecified, but for the sake of this post I'll go with male pronouns) wakes up every day in a different body, living someone else's life for 24 hours.  The person whose body and life he inhabits is always his age, (sixteen during the course of the book) and they have always lived in the same general area.  A has never known why he is this way or even what he is.  Fearful of being locked up, he tells no one about his situation.  Then, one day, A falls in love with Rhiannon, a sweet and caring girl who, underneath her prettiness, is deeply insecure.  Suddenly he's twisting the rules he's created for his situation and doing wild, dangerous things just to see her again.  As he engages in a seemingly hopeless quest to win Rhiannon's heart, one thing becomes inevitable--that he will be caught.  And when he is, he attracts the attention of one very sinister character that offers A a difficult choice.
Let me just say that at first glance, Every Day was not my kind of book.  The plot just seemed so fantastic that I wasn't sure if I would like it at all.  So I was shocked when I finished this book, and I wanted more--immediately.  What made Every Day so incredibly grabbing (in every way--let's just say that I had a great deal of trouble resisting the urge to take it to the dinner table) had to have been A's unique voice.  His persona was a combination of incredibly wise and incredibly scared, as he's in the unusual predicament of having no control--none at all--over what happens to him.  Or maybe it was Levithan's genius for crafting new, fascinating worlds and situations as often as A woke up in a new body.  Either way, I was hooked.
Is there anyone who would dislike Every Day?  I don't know.  By all means, if you don't want to be dazzled by a story craftsman as wonderful as Levithan, stay away.  But this book really does appeal to all genres--it has realism, fantasy, romance, and it manages to touch on some tough teen issues such as drug addiction and depression through the characters A inhabits.  Levithan really seems to understand the ethos of A's fateful line: "We all contain mysteries, especially when seen from the inside."  Ain't that the truth?