The Art Of Getting Stared At

cover artLaura Langston’s novel The Art Of Getting Stared At is a heartfelt character story. It explores the opposing pressures women face. Sloane has a step mother who wants her to focus more on her appearance and a mother who thinks that putting any effort into beauty makes you shallow. Both women are judgmental, and make assumptions based on appearances. Sloane has to learn for herself that taking pride in how she looks is ok but she can’t let her image define her or distract her from her more meaningful endeavors. This struggle becomes urgent when discovers she has an illness that causes her to lose her hair. She doesn’t want to care about how people see her, but this change in her appearance makes her very self-conscious and shakes her confidence in other areas of her life.

With an emotional story that will have teens examining their priorities, this novel has compelling characters and excellent writing.


The Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat is not about religion, so don’t let that influence your decision about reading it. If you like historical fiction, human rights stories or character based fiction this will catch your attention.

I have a weakness for novels in verse. There’s something about the way it flows that draws me in. I read this in less than two hours, but an easy read doesn’t mean a frivolous one. Heavy subject matter is explored in the text.

Pignat followed the popular trend this year of using multiple narrators so we have a varied perspective of the plantation. Sometimes when books do this it is confusing or unpleasant but Pignat has created such distinct voices that it works beautifully in this case. The book also has an imprint on the top indicating which character is speaking in any given chapter so if you don’t read it in one sitting like I did, you can come back to it and know who’s head you’re in.

Stories of slavery are always sad, but Pignat infuses her novel with hope and bravery. Yes reading about a time when humans treated one another so poorly can make us cringe at the faults of humanity, but the spirited Phoebe and Shad remind us there is good too. Doctor Bergman, the Canadian character, takes risks to help others.

This is a book that could be read in schools to celebrate Black History Month or to discuss human rights. If you are looking for an engaging way to introduce teens to the underground railroad, this is a book that will capture the attention of both literary enthusiasts and reluctant readers.

Winners of CLA Young Adult Book Award

The winners of the award I chaired this year have officially been announced today so I’m free to tell you all how amazing they are!!

The official press release is on the CLA website.

The winner is This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

The honour books are:

I wrote the blurbs for the press release so you have a taste of my thoughts but I have also linked each of the titles to my more detailed reviews.

There are some fantastic Canadian authors and awards like this help us raise awareness of their books. I hope public libraries, high schools and teens will invest in these books.

The Shadow’s Curse

Amy McCulloch’s sequel to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow had many of the elements I loved in the first installment. The unique ways she incorporates magic into her fantasy world continue to impress me. There remains something profound about being literally bound by your word and being haunted by broken promises. She takes this further in the sequel, with pieces of the ones who break the oath going to comfort and protect the jilted party. It recognizes that there are layers in people, and that a part of someone didn’t want to break their promise and would do anything not to hurt the one they have hurt. Beautiful metaphors all over this text.

I found the nomadic people’s view of the city dwellers and farmers interesting. The idea that they had captured and enslaved the land in an unnatural way makes the reader think about modern life from a new perspective.

Many of the characters are misguided and make foolish, selfish or reckless decisions. It’s didactic in the way they recognize their mistakes and in many cases atone for them. However, it’s written in such a way that it is not a boring lesson on keeping your word, or being careful who you offer your loyalty to. There are moments of suspense and exciting action.

I think this would make an excellent role playing video game. There would be shadows and consequences based on the player’s choices within the game. The setting would be beautiful and the fight scenes or sage tricks would be challenging.

I think with some editing this duology could have been one great novel. I’m not convinced it needed to be two and would strongly have preferred they work better independently if there had to be more than one book.

Saving Houdini

Micover artchael Redhill’s novel Saving Houdini is a fun, old-fashioned time travel tale. There’s a nostalgic tone throughout the book. Instead of missing the technology and luxuries of his time Dash soaks in the wonders of the past. There’s a nice steady pace, with details about flavours and smells that enhance the train-jumping action.

This book was submitted to me as one targeted to teens, but I would argue it is best suited for pre-adolescents. 10-12 year-olds will enjoy it the most. That’s the age where kids (especially boys) develop an interest in magic tricks and dream of running away for an adventure, but know deep down they’d miss their family. The novel is perfectly suited for them, with a glimpse of a famous magician behind the scenes, and adventurous kids their age getting into a little trouble. There’ s nothing in this that would be inappropriate for a younger audience, and I think they would enjoy it more than most teens. However, if a young teen was looking for a clean read with time travel, magic tricks or friendship I would recommend it to them.


Kenneth Oppel is one of those authors that I always look forward to when I have a daunting To Be Read pile that I must review. His book is often the treat I give myself as a reward for slogging through the ones I’m less enthusiastic about.

His activecover art imagination is apparent in the wondrously complex and fantastical train that forms the setting of the novel Boundless. Imagine a train that has the class divide of the Titanic, with luxurious lounges and restaurants followed by crowded steerage. This clash of the social statuses would be enough of a setting but not for Oppel. He adds a circus and a booby-trapped funeral car fit for a pharaoh.

The landscape surrounding the train is filled with even more outrageous and interesting things. Many creatures from North American legends play a role in the tale.

Oppel’s adoration of the classics in seen once again in this book. In his other series he explored the young life of Victor Frankenstein. In this novel he takes an interest in the picture of Dorian Gray. His new interpretations of well known works is interesting in that most of his readers will be too young to have read the originals; so his versions become their truth. People tend to bond with the first version of a story they hear.

His sense of adventure has not dwindled. Train jumping, police chasing, avalanche falling action fills the story with an urgency that slows only for the boy to wonder at the injustices that he was unaware took place on his father’s train. Will is much like the princess in old tales who learns about the peasants she once took for granted but now feels a responsibility towards.

This is a good book, as anticipated. I think it will be most popular with older children and young teens.

Playing With Matches

cover artSuri Rosen’s debut novel demonstrates a talent for narration. The quick witted observations of the narrator reminded me of Gilmore Girls (a show I adore). The writing flows, in an easy conversational manner that will work for reluctant readers.

The novel explores the difficulties of finding love. It shows readers the extra challenge that finding someone within a small faith community can be, especially with the added pressure from family to settle down when you’re young. The dishonesty,divas, and other dilemmas are cause for both distress and amusement. The protagonist is impulsive and irresponsible but has many endearing qualities.

I’m skeptical about the wisdom to rush back into to dating after a broken engagement, the hasty proposals, and many other tidbits of advice that she offers with some success to her “clients”. Perhaps the reason for so many broken engagements in the story is people didn’t get to know each other first?

It was an amusing read, with a writing style I enjoyed. I think it will be most popular with Jewish teen girls, but you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. Red Sox fans will probably find more in common with the characters as well.

Raging Star

Mcover artoira Young completes the trilogy that began with Blood Red Road in Raging Star.  The novel has many of the same faults and accomplishments as the other books in the series.

The writing style is unique. Some will admire it but others will struggle following dialogue not separated by quotation marks, perspective that jumps without headings that indicate it will, and understanding terrible grammar and spelling that is intentionally faulty to develop setting and character.

The protagonist is a tough, sometimes selfish and cold survivor who is thrust into the role of leadership. She may appeal to fans of Katniss Everdeen. Her tactics to tear apart the enemy establishment are both intelligent and sloppy. She inspires the people to do what needs to be done, at great cost.

This is a dystopian adventure drama with a touch of romance. It will pull at the heartstrings of fans of the series, and concludes in a satisfying manner. The book will make most sense, and be enjoyed more if the series is read in sequence.

Where I Belong

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Tara White’s novel Where I Belong is a paranormal twist on historical fiction. Dreams guide an adopted teen to her birth family. She connects with her Mohawk roots around the time of the Oka uprising. This is a quick read that deals with the struggle of identity as many teen books do. It has both excitement and sweet family moments. The psychic dreams are full of First Nations imagery and symbols.


cover artChris Struyk-Bonn’s novel Whisper speaks loudly about many issues. It explores treatment of disabled children in a dystopian world where birth defects are growing in numbers but not in acceptance. The children are defined by their deformities and exploited as slave labour. Prejudice, abandonment, neglect, pollution, child prostitution, and unethical farming practices are all subjects explored.

Whisper’s hardships and adventures comprise a compelling plot, original characters, and thoughtful reflection. The description of her feelings towards her music, and it’s impact on others is symbolic of how art can help people communicate what they have difficulty putting into words. The value of art is also seen in Jeremia’s sculptures that are treasured by everyone.

Identity is a struggle throughout the novel. Whisper does not feel she belongs in any of the many places she lives. She is too ugly, too talented, too strange, too successful, too wild, too civilized…. The difficulty of finding the balance is something I think will go over well with teens who often are at a stage of figuring out who they are/want to be.

The pacing was a bit uneven. It lagged in a few places that could have been edited. However, the novel as a whole is successful in that it was entertaining but makes you think about the real world as well as the imaginary one it creates.

I think the most powerful and important part of this novel is Whisper’s refusal to hide who she is. She accepts herself and embraces her difference without allowing them to define her.