The Plain Janes

313162The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg is an exciting graphic novel geared mostly towards teen girls.

Rebellion, art and friendship are explored through the familiar “new girl” trope but go beyond typical high school drama. The story is framed by a terror attack. Jane’s character evolves because of the trauma.

I thought the mother’s overprotective anxieties were realistically smothering and anxiety inducing for Jane. Jane’s obsession reminiscent of  While You Were Sleeping    makes sense given her need to connect with someone who shared her experience.

A quick, enjoyable read for teens looking for realistic fiction in graphic novel format.

Graffiti Knight

Graffiti Knight

It’s not too often I hear about World War 2 era stories that are from the perspective of Germans. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it, but I really enjoyed it. Graffiti Knight is an interesting view of life in Germany following the war. The kids deal with hunger, violent oppressive police, mistreatment of their older sisters, and depressed or alcoholic parents. Young reader’s will enjoy the protagonist with a rebellious streak and good heart. The balancing act of keeping his independence, standing up for his people, and staying out of trouble creates a suspenseful tale that exposes the grittiness of the past.




cover art of pandemoniumPandemonium is the 2nd book in the trilogy that began with Delirium. If you haven’t read that, go do so before reading this.

It seems like a long time since I stepped into Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world where the book of shhh badmouths love as a disease. However, I had no trouble getting reacquainted with the setting or characters. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how the novel jumps back and forth in time but I thought this was expertly executed. It was helpful that she used chapter breaks to jump in the timeline, because you couldn’t skim and miss that it was happening.

Oliver writes about grief in an eloquent blunt fashion that makes it impossible not to relate to the loss being experienced.

grief is like sinking, like being buried. I am in water the tawny color of kicked-up dirt. Every breath is full of choking. There is nothing to hold onto, no sides, no way to claw myself up. There is nothing to do but let go.

Let go. Feel the weight all around you, feel the squeezing of your lungs, the slow, low pressure. Let yourself go deeper. There is nothing but bottom. There is nothing but the taste of metal, and the echoes of old things, and days that look like darkness ( )

Her prose is full of imagery and powerful emotion.She spends a page describing tree fungus and concludes;

that is what hatred is. It will feed you and at the same time turn you to rot.(pg 166)

Not long after that she has a character describe midnight as smelling like paper, connecting memories of scent to present experience and highlighting the human experience that the people in her fictional world give up for a sense of safety.

Pandemonium argues our humanity is deeply linked to our emotions and attachments. When her friends receive the “treatment” separating them from that side of theirselves she considers them dead. Without the ability to love or hate they are no better than zombies in her eyes. The surgery wipes away the spark that defined them, even as they lived in fear of it.

Depression and hopelessness are explored through the passing of time;

the hours here are flat and round, disks of gray layered on top of the other. They smell sour and musky, like the breath of someone who is starving. They move slowly, at a grind, until it seems as though they are not moving at all. They are pressing down, endlessly down.(169)

This quote is deceptively bleak in a story that is filled to the brim with hope. Even when she has every reason to be disillusioned with her cause Lena tries to see from the perspectives of others and keeps her wits about her.

it occurs to me, then, that people themselves are full of tunnels: winding, dark spaces and caverns; impossible to know all the places inside of them. (276)

She understands better than many of her fellow Invalids that people are complex creatures and not easily slotted into categories such as enemy or ally.

As a bookworm I enjoyed the parts about banned books and the power of reading.
On books

some of them are webs; you can feel your way along their threads, but just barely, into strange and dark corners. Some of them are balloons bobbing up through the sky: totally self-contained, and unreachable, but beautiful to watch.
And some of them-the best ones- are doors. (172)

Pandemonium is definitely worth reading, and I can’t wait for book 3!!

Signs of Martha

*I received Signs of Martha by Sarah Raymond as a submission for YABA

One problem with this novel is that the back cover tells you just about the whole story, so there are zero surprises. There are no twists, which is a shame because an artistic character like Martha should have some twists in her life. I think Raymond did a good job at portraying the frustrations of rural teens. Martha feels trapped by her boyfriend’s plans, and I think is justifiably wigged when he makes a big purchase without consulting her. Martha doesn’t have much opportunity to explore her options or develop a voice of her own, so I understand why she lashed out with her art. I felt like the plot made for an interesting start to a story, but not a story in itself. I wanted more to come of everything. I wanted more emotion from John. I wanted Martha to speak up. I wanted more…

Rules of Attraction

Today’s Review: Rules Of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Rules of Attraction (Perfect Chemistry, #2)The Premise
Rules of Attraction is about Carlos, an ex-gang member who is sent to live with his brother to try to start a new life. At first he has no interest in following rules because he thinks his brother is conforming, abandoning his Mexican heritage and being whipped by his girlfriend. When Carlos is framed for drug dealing he is sentenced to live with a sponsor family and take part in after school therapy group for at risk teens.

This is a sequel to Perfect Chemistry but I didn’t read that I found that Rules of Attraction stands alone nicely

The Narrative

The chapters alternate between Carlos’ POV and the perspective of Kiara, the daughter of his sponsor parents. This is the most successful use of alternate perspectives I can remember reading. In Shiver it was an OK tool to see both sides but Sam and Grace (the characters in that story) did not provide the striking contrast that Carlos and Kiara do.

Carlos is hostile, suspicious, critical and stubborn. It’s very clear from his chapters how he feels about his situation. Carlos’ thoughts about the violence and poverty of the past are necessary to frame the story and explain his rebellious nature.  .

I think Kiara’s perspective makes this book more accessible for middle class or upper-class girls. I think a lot of the high school girls who read this won’t be able to relate to Carlos and the hostility of his POV, so seeing him through Kiara’s eyes helps them feel more connected to the story. 

Watching things unfold from both sides is a wonderful experience, especially because Elkeles avoids too much overlap.

Character Development

Even though I knew Carlos would be a tough guy who turned out to have a sweet side Elkele’s layering of his character was well written. The overall effect was predictable, but the intimate moments where he let down his guard were heart-renching! He felt like a real person, shaped by his experiences. He is incredibly flawed but an awesome person all the same. At first even though I felt bad for him I didn’t like him much. He was too cocky but at the same time had no ambition beyond maintaining his tough image. NOT someone I would normally be attracted to, but he won me over!

Kiera is someone I’d want to be friends with. She’s smart, self-conscious, a good sister, adventurous and brave. Carlos is surprised that she is not afraid to get her hands dirty when working on her car, cooking, hiking or playing sports.

Kiera’s father and Alex are the only two secondary characters that I felt were fully developed. Others like Madison (a girl interested in Carlos), and Brandon (Kiera’s brother) had some meat but many like Tuck were just token stereotypes. I think you get more about Alex in Perfect Chemistry.

Amazing things about this book

  • Carlos and Alex are proud of their Mexican heritage. Elkeles uses Spanish in their dialogue, talks about their homesickness for authentic Mexican food and they argue about what it means to be Mexican.
  • They are not exaggerating when they say the romance in this book is smoldering. The make out scenes are really sexy, the heat between the characters is believable
  • It does a good job at showing that moving and not wanting to be a drug dealer anymore isn’t always enough. I think people scoff at those who feel trapped in those situations, saying they could leave if they wanted, but the way Carlos is forced into the gang scene again is terrifying! Elkeles shows us the mindset of someone in that situation
  • The cover art is fantastic. I think I should make a mural or something out of gorgeous YA covers.
  • Carlos’ transformation doesn’t feel too forced. He doesn’t go from bad ass to good guy in a matter of pages, he makes connections with people, sees possibilities, dares to dream beyond the present because he’s given better options he hadn’t considered possible

Important to have in a library collection because

  • Deals with gangs, drugs and sex, and I think at risk teens or any teens really should be able to see these harsh realities in fiction. It’s also great for them to see that it’s not a dead-end if you want more
  • Diversity of characters. Mexican characters are prominent and gay characters are featured, I think having minorities represented in your collection is really important.
  • A female character who fixes cars and does typically masculine things while maintaining her femininity. I’ve gotten in a few feminist arguments this week haha so I’m happy to see a woman who doesn’t need to be rescued constantly in YA
  • This is going to popular and in demand, so libraries should respond to this demand

Fabulous book overall, even if I found the epilogue to be a bit much.