Book Reviews

All the Truth That’s in Me: A Review

allthetruthinmeFour years ago Judith disappeared from the small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago she came back with no explanation, no longer able to speak.

Shamed by her loss of speech and shunned by everyone from her former friends to her own family, Judith subsists on small glimpses of Lucas, the boy she has always loved, and the one-sided conversation she has with him in her head.

When homelanders threaten to attack Roswell Station, Judith is forced into action as she tries to save the town that has all but forsaken her. Her efforts to stop the invaders prove successful but also raise questions about Judith’s return to town and what she might have suffered during her time away.

Judith has survived these past two years well enough. In order to flourish, she will have to find her voice in All the Truth That’s in Me (2013) by Julie Berry.

All the Truth That’s in Me is Berry’s first novel written for young adults.

Written in the second person as Judith talks directly to Lucas, this novel is part mystery and part coming of age story. Sparse, short chapters and a stark narrative style make this novel ideal for fans of verse novels.

Berry situates the story in a quasi-historical, quasi-Puritanical society. While this environment works well for the plot (and indeed creates one of the only scenarios where Judith’s shunning would make sense) it is also a distraction that feels more like a shortcut in world building and research. While the society does raise questions about freedom and feminism especially, those questions become difficult to answer or even fully discuss with a lack of concrete setting.

Questions about setting aside, this novel does offer a taut and atmospheric story. Readers are thrown directly into Judith’s claustrophobic and often heartbreaking life as she struggles with cruel treatment and bitter memories.

Although this novel was a finalist for the Edgar Award, it is surprisingly thin on mystery. Answers are sought when Judith tries to unravel the secrets surrounding the disappearance of her friend (a girl who went missing near when Judith herself was taken) but the need to investigate is not especially pressing until the final act. A certain urgency is implied early in the story as the homelanders approach only to taper off in a similar fashion in the wake of the attack.

While there is mystery, All the Truth That’s in Me is really a meandering story about a girl trying to find herself (and her voice) after years of being lost–a story, it is worth mentioning, that is told quite well.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Truth That’s in Me by Anna Sheehan, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2013*

Book Reviews

Criminal: A Review

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoyNikki knows her life isn’t a dream come true. Even the thought of seeing her mother makes Nikki’s skin crawl. Her step-father is in jail. Nikki is a high school drop out.

But she has her friend Bird and her job at the hair salon.

More importantly, Nikki has Dee. Everyone tells her that Dee is no good but Nikki doesn’t believe that. Not really. How can Dee be anything but perfect when he looks so good and makes Nikki feel like this? He even has her initial tattooed on his chest.

When Dee does the unthinkable, Nikki is drawn into a crime that will shatter everything Nikki had taken for granted in her less-than-perfect life. After spending so much time wrapped up in Dee’s world, Nikki isn’t sure what it will take to stand on her own in Criminal (2013) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Criminal is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Awards for Young Adult Mystery.

In a departure from her lighter fare, McVoy presents a gritty, evocative story of life in the wake of a shocking crime. The novel bends notions of right and wrong while also artfully exploring the idea of complicity as Nikki comes to terms with her own role in Dee’s crime.

Nikki is a flawed, often naive, heroine who has tried to make the best of the blessed little life has given her. She turns a blind eye to Dee’s many faults. She makes mistakes. She is impulsive and quite foolish.

Despite these shortcomings, Nikki’s growth throughout the novel is impressive. While she does not always make the smartest decisions, Nikki is a survivor. Although Criminal is touted as a mystery the main story here is really one about a girl trying to find her way. Even with all of the obstacles she has to face, readers will close this book with a sense that Nikki will make it through.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

Book Reviews

Code Name Verity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein (find it on Bookshop) is a strange book in that, I’m not sure what I can actually tell you about it without ruining everything. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. The passenger and the pilot are best friends. One girl might be able to save herself while the other never really stood a chance. Faced with an impossible situation, one of the girls begins to weave an intricate confession. Some of it might be embellished, some of it might even be false. But in the end all of it is ultimately the truth–both of her mission and a friendship that transcends all obstacles.

Broken into two parts, Code Name Verity is a masterfully written book as, time and time again, Wein takes everything readers know and turns it upside down as another dimension is added to the plot and its intricate narrative.

If a sign of excellent historical fiction is believing all of the details are presented as fact, then the sign of an excellent novel might well be wanting to re-read it immediately to see just how well all of the pieces fit together. Code Name Verity meets both of these criteria.

With wartime England and France as a backdrop, there is always a vague sense of foreboding and danger hanging over these characters. There is death and violence. There is action and danger. And yet there are also genuinely funny moments and instances of love and resistance.

Nothing in Code Name Verity is what it seems upon first reading–sometimes not even upon second reading. This book is undoubtedly a stunning work of historical fiction filled with atmospheric details of everything from airplanes to Scottish landscapes. But what really sets Code Name Verity apart is the dazzling writing and intricate plot that Wein presents. Then, beyond the plotting and the details, there are the two amazing young women at the center of a book that could have been about war or flying or even spies but ultimately became an exceptional book about true friends.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Elizabeth about this book!

Book Reviews

Paper Towns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (kinda, sorta)

Paper Towns by John GreenI didn’t plan on starting my review of John Green’s newest book Paper Towns (2008) (find it on Bookshop) with a mention of Brotherhood 2.0, I really didn’t. But having finished the book I find that, really, it is the right place to start.

Back when I had a myspace page, a lot of my friends were authors, library types, and bands. One of those friends was John Green who posted a bulletin about a project he and his brother decided to start in January 2007. Having noticed that they communicated almost entirely through e-mails or instant messages, Hank Green decided that he and John should communicate for a year only through daily (except for weekends and holidays) video blogs. The rules are more elaborate, but that was the basic premise. Throughout the course of the year, John and Hank exchanged a lot of videos about two things: Being a Nerd Fighter, the true meaning of Awesome, and World Suck Levels. (Fans might also remember an entertaining Valentine’s Day post relating to pink wine.)

At some point during this crazy brilliant idea, John Green and Hank Green continued to work. For John Green that work was writing a book. And, maybe it’s because I now know more about Green, but reading Paper Towns kept bringing me back to those Vlogs whose themes seemed to have made their way into this novel to interesting (and entertaining) effect.

Now for some linkage: The original Brotherhood 2.0 videos can be found at Brotherhood2.com. (They also have their own channel on Youtube.) Since the vlog project’s end in December 2007, the Brotherhood 2.0 site has been reshaped into a  Nerd Fighter headquarters at Nerdfighters.ning.com. Last, but totally not least, you can find John Green’s site at Sparksflyup.com.

Now for some actual review:

Quentin Jacobsen has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar for most of his life. It’s hard to not love someone who is equal parts phenomenon, mystery, and adventure. With end of high school mere weeks away, Q is prepared to accept that Margo will always be closer to fantasy than reality.

All of that changes when Margo, dressed like a ninja, opens Q’s window and asks for his help:

Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting.

And so begins an eleven part, all-night odyssey that will change Q’s life, particularly–he hopes–how his life relates to the lovely Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Before Q can find out if everything will be different, Margo disappears–on its own, not an unusual occurrence. Part of being Margo Roth Spiegelman demands the occasional disappearance to plan and execute further adventures. The strange thing, the reason Q can’t pretend this disappearance is normal, is that Margo left clues. For him. As Q, with the help of his fantastically-written friends, tries to trace Margo’s path he finds more questions than answers, realizing that he might need more than clues to lead him to the girl he loves. He might need to revisit everything he thought he knew about Margo Roth Spiegelman, both the person and the phenomenon.

Paper Towns combines elements of a coming-of-age story and a mystery. Q’s search for Margo is, in many ways, just as important as working through the tedium and nostalgia of his last weeks in high school. The story is also very contemporary: the characters have (very clever) screen names that they use to instant message, a website not unlike Wikipedia (here called Omnictionary) finds its way into the storyline. Still, the timelessness of the story seems to ensure that this novel will not become dated as technologies change. Green’s inclusion of excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass also points to this book’s lasting power.

Like An Abundance of Katherines (2006), the writing here has a verve and wit that keeps readers’ attention and makes the book speed along. Although Green treads similar territory to his previous novels, Paper Towns remains unique and Q’s narrative voice is utterly his own. The tone here is also something new; a blend of a nostalgia and the jolt of the now as Green expertly moves between past tense and present tense narration to emphasize key parts of the plot.

Green won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2006 for his first novel Looking for Alaska. In 2007 An Abundance of Katherines (his second novel) was selected as a Printz Award Honor Book. I almost never make award predictions, but I think John Green might have a third Printz Award Winner (or at least Honor Book) in his future.

It took me longer to realize that there were two covers floating around for Paper Towns than it took me to actually read the novel. The first cover, yellow and bright, seems to be the primary marketing cover. But there is also a mystery second cover with a different photo and darker colors that was on my copy. Without revealing too much, I wanted to mention the Two Cover Strategy because it’s so apt. Margo is so iconic, so important, so multi-faceted, that it makes sense that she cannot be contained by one book cover.

*4/30/09 UPDATE: Paper Towns did not win the Printz Award I predicted for it, but it did win an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider