Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: The Opposite of Hallelujah

Title: The Opposite of Hallelujah
Author: Anna Jarzab
Teen Reviewer: Irina Kustoskaya
Rating: 4.7/5 Stars

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab is a realistic fiction novel about Carolina “Caro” Mitchell, your classic 16-year-old high school girl with relationships, great friends, and a generally happy life. However, once she learns that her estranged sister of 27 is moving back to live with her and her parents, her life is turned upside down. Can Caro learn to accept her sister and deal with her own life at the same time?

This book features a very captivating twist to the trite tale of an estranged family member moving back in. When I first skimmed this book, I was expecting a soap opera full of overly dramatic fights and hookups, but I was very wrong. This is a captivating story that explores the more controversial topics, including religion. To clarify, this book is very open about the delicate matter of vocation and religious isolation, and it is actually extremely well researched. I am not one who knows much about religion and extreme religious dedication, so this was eye-opening. There is much thought behind this story as well, and the emotion is carefully weaved in among the eloquent expression of teenage nature and romance, which is also delicately, yet perfectly, worded. The plot was also quite well rounded. Basically, this was an exceptionally written book.

What really appealed to me about The Opposite of Hallelujah was the surprising fact that the story was extremely relatable. There are numerous ways to relate to either the plot or the characters- the range of choices is formidable. Whether it’s the fiery personality of Caro or the Mitchell family situation or Hannah’s life choices or even Caro’s dynamic romances, there is sure to be something that everybody can at least be sympathetic to. It was quite surprising, actually- many authors usually do not completely nail the characteristics of a teenager, but this was the closest as one could get. It’s like Caro is a perfect reflection of a real-life girl, which adds a lot of authenticity to the story. The situations and conflicts in the story are realistic as well, but the effects are amplified, creating an appealing read.

Another dynamic of this story that I thought was worth mentioning was the diverse use of polar characters in the story. It seems, at first, that everybody has their opposites (Caro’s parents, Caro and Hannah, Caro and Father Bob), but eventually, the black and white transcends into more grey areas for characters, which creates a humanlike dimension to each persona.

This story, in my opinion, is one of those stories that has to, in some way, affect you. Not dramatically, but speaking from a psychological point of view, it is one that should. It is intriguing, actually. The sheer events and the amount of inner conflicts in the story defines the plot. The book itself is very easily written- it has its sarcastic style and moderately descriptive events, but this is one of those books that if you wish to truly comprehend it, you should sympathize or at least think over the events in the characters’ lives and impacts in their lives. The book itself just makes you want to think and analyze the situations (well, it made me, anyway). Some very powerful messages lie here as well, from a religious point of view and an average point of view. These are also the types of messages that are very relatable to teenagers; and they are not the cheesy ones.

This book has its pros, definitely, but with every pro come the cons. First off, I found that the enigmatic character of Hannah Mitchell turned out to be erratic. She was an inconsistent character, straying from her designated (and expected) personality, but not necessarily for the better. Her remorseful, depressed and calm nature is usually her main appearance, but she does have her episodes of unnecessary rage and random happiness, which I find to be unfitting with her character. I cannot blame the author- a character with severe depression and an eating disorder is not exactly a breeze to create. She is a developed character, just not quite consistent with herself. Another little con of the story is that Caro seems to be the perfect girl that people envy, despite her somewhat selfish nature. Caro is, in a word, lucky; she has a car, is in all advanced classes at school (and does very well),  has the best boyfriends, best friends, loving parents, is allowed to party and drink, and is pretty good looking. Who wouldn’t want all of that? Her life events in the story do seem to mask this fact, but fact is, she is one lucky girl who does not realize it and, often times, does not appreciate it. Other than that, this story is really a captivating read.

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab is a very thought-provoking read. I would recommend this to anyone in highschool or around that age- it is the best time to understand it, in my opinion. It is an easy story to contemplate- no college-level vocab in there or anything super difficult! It is just one that you really should pore over a bit in order to fully understand the extent of the circumstances. It also eloquently explores the religion of the Roman Catholics, in case you were interested in reading a little about that (the point of view is Catholic- Caro’s family is religious). I easily read this book within two days- I read mine on Kindle, and it is close to 300 pages in length, so it is not like Twilight long. I really recommend this book to you guys- it is seriously an addicting read!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: One Shot Away

Title: One Shot Away
Author: T. Glen Coughlin
Teen Reviewer: Tim Wood
Rating: 2.5/5

One Shot Away, by T. Glen Coughlin, is a story of three seniors in New Jersey who wrestle for their high school. The captain of the team, Jimmy O'Shea, is looking to get a scholarship so that he can wrestle in college, but his father, who is forced to steal so that he can pay bills, takes Jimmy with him while stealing some lumber. Now Jimmy has to decide whether or not he should tell the cops while at the same time keeping together the wrestling team. Diggy Masters is trying to live up to his older brother's legacy, but is set back when he's beaten by a new wrestler, Trevor Crow. Diggy now needs to choose who will come first, himself or the team. Trevor Crow's dad just died, and he comes into the season with something to prove: that he can compete. Along with this, he needs to deal with his mother's choices for their lives and decide whether he will go along with it or not.
Though this book is a great read and has many positive sides, there were some things that I did not like about it. I thought that the Coughlin did a great job of combining the various conflicts together into a cohesive unit. He did it in a way that didn't make it too hard to understand, but it also wasn't at all predictable. Another thing that Coughlin does well is to use examples that really show the conflict between Diggy and Trevor. He shows the story and doesn't just tell it. Also, through these examples he reveals certain personality traits and qualities of each character. Coughlin makes the reader understand the motivations behind each character and what drives each character to make their decisions. One thing that I did not like about the story was that the only actual wrestling scenes came at the beginning of the book. There was action, but I assumed before reading that the book would include several different wrestling matches or tournaments. Also, the book almost felt incomplete. I don't think the book has much of a resolution. Many of the conflicts presented in the beginning of the book are not resolved, though a few are. Lastly, I did not like Coughlin's explicit language and vulgarity. Throughout the book there are many uses of inappropriate language or behavior. I did think it helped explain each character's situation and feelings, but I do not think it added a lot to the overall plot of the story. As a result, I would not recommend this book for younger readers. But I would recommend it to young adults who enjoy wrestling and to those who enjoy conflicts that deal with high school, and in some case college, social issues and difficulties. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island

Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Teen Reviewer: Shannon Finney
Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan is a fantasy novel told from the perspective of several different residents of the enchanted island where the story takes place. Rollrock Island has a strange variety of inhabitants, including ‘mermaids,’ who are women that are transformed from the seals that breed at the shore, and the men that are held captive by their mystical beauty. The woman responsible for all the magic that takes place is Misskaela Prout the witch, who was tormented all her life because of her hideous appearance. She learns the secret of luring the sea-maid out of a seal, and soon figures out how to make her living off of the ruin of the men who succumb to their exotic charms. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader witnesses the island transform from a traditional, Irish fishing community into a place that is full of despair, depression, and debt. 

Lanagan’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and full of breathtaking imagery. I was very much engaged by the story, and could picture myself there on the island as I read. The story is told from several perspectives; from different residents of the island that seem to be unrelated, at first. One thing that may be confusing to some readers is this changing point of view, but that all gets cleared up by the end of the novel. In fact, this unique way of telling the story contributes to the depth of the novel, as the narrators come from different generations. This allows the reader to study the island, (that becomes a character in of itself,) as it slowly changes under the witch’s spell. 

Overall, I fully enjoyed The Brides of Rollrock Island, a beautifully written novel with excellent character development and a unique, enchanting story-line. As someone who doesn’t normally like fantasy novels, I found Margo Lanagan’s tale of magic, transformation, and despair to be an exciting read that I couldn’t put down.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Code Name Verity

Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Teen Reviewer: Brittany Palandra
Rating: 5/5 stars

Two British women land in France, a pilot and her passenger. They are best friends. And they are a sensational team. Verity is an English- sorry, Scottish- spy who was working in Nazi-occupied France, captured by the exact organization she was plotting against during her trip. A prisoner of the Gestapo, she strikes a deal with the captain. She has 2 weeks to make her confession, written on as much paper as she needs. As she tells the story of her treason, Verity reveals how she became friends with the pilot who dropped her, Maddie, and how the two of them ended up in the midst of a war. She uncovers her fears, along with her thoughts on war, courage, and coping. She knows that she’ll die anyway. She just hopes they’ll be easy on her.

Well, this was certainly a remarkable story. A remarkable story told from the point of view of a remarkable woman. Verity wasn’t excessively brave or strong. Just resourceful enough that she didn’t need to be. Verity wasn’t above acting like scum, losing her dignity, to ease her way through the prison. So when she faces a situation with a grim and permanent ending, all she can do is try to ease it with this confession. What I like is that although she’s this clever spy, she can be defeated. The torture actually works. The kerosene in her hair and cigarettes against her neck break her down. Because no one can sit with a brave patriotic face while the enemy cuts your tongue, breaks your teeth, and sticks you with pins incessantly. It was gritty and realistic.

Verity and Maddie tell conjoined stories, and you need the both of them together. The novel wouldn’t mean anything with only Verity’s confession or only Maddie’s notes. Maddie fills all the holes we were left with after Verity tells her story. It had glorious closure, the kind you often feel you need but never get in some of those emotionally wrecking tales of endless uncertainty. The story is a happy, satisfying one in the end.
 5/5 stars.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Blood

Title: The Book of Blood
Author: HP Newquist
Teen Reviewer: Mikaela Palandra
Rating: 4/5 stars

From ancient mythology to blood transfusions today, blood plays a huge role in our lives. And that’s exactly what this book is about. It takes you through time, back when people thought releasing blood could cure illness to the past hundred or so years when we have actually discovered what blood’s all about. The author explores the relevance of blood, clears up some common misconceptions, and covers a broad number of topics relating to blood. It provides you with plenty of interesting facts on the incredible liquid that flows through you constantly, keeping you alive.

This non-fiction book provides a span of information on blood. It does have its fair share of plain old facts, but it also talks about blood in animals and mythology, things you may not be as familiar with and I found to be the most interesting parts. The book keeps from being dull for too long with random facts, like explanations on blood types. The author does a good job with getting you to understand basic information about what’s going on. It’s an interesting read, exposing you to a lot of new information without being overwhelming. The layout is not too dense, which makes it a less intimidating read. I would have enjoyed a bit more information on the understanding of blood nowadays than the basic description, but it got across the facts well, and it does teach you something new. Basically it’s a good, fun book, especially for someone who finds science as fascinating as I do.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: The Diviners

Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Teen Reviewer: Kinsey Manchester
Rating: 5/5 stars

Evie O’Neill has been kicked out of her home because she is just too big for such a small town. Her parents send her to her Uncle Will’s in the fabulous New York City, and Evie is absolutely thrilled! She can’t wait to hit up the great stores, get into the new fashions, and go to every rocking party that the city hosts. After all, it’s the 1920’s and New York City is home of speakeasies and the greatest performers you could ever meet. Soon, Evie is reunited with her friend Mabel, hanging out with one of the prestigious Ziegfield girls, and even being in the company of a few fine boys. The only downside is that her Uncle Will owns and operates the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult- more commonly known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. The Museum is not doing so well, and Evie takes it upon herself to help it out. When the city is plagued by a series of ritual, occult murders, Evie and her Uncle find themselves right in the thick of it all. Evie can help to solve these murders with a special talent, but it means revealing a long-kept secret and opening up old wounds. As the story continues on, more characters have strange connections and it all leads up to a dramatic finale. Can Evie save the city from the killer, save her Uncle’s museum, and keep herself out of trouble?

When I first got this book, I was overwhelmed. The book is almost 600 pages long and I was worried that I would get horribly bored and lost somewhere in the middle. Let me assure you that I enjoyed every single page of this book. The setting was absolutely amazing- even though it was set in the 20’s, I always understood what was happening. The setting added to the feel of the story, the creepy and scary tone that the whole book had. I liked that Libba Bray would alternate with a disturbing murder scene and then a dashing party! The variety made it better. The characters were wonderfully depicted and I thought the author did an amazing job describing them and helping the reader to understand them. Each character (and there were many) had their own story and purpose. I liked Evie, despite her occasional selfishness and immaturity. Sometimes I wanted to shake her, because she is 17 and doesn’t act it all the time, but in general, I really liked hearing her story. The Diviners often shifts points of view, and sometimes unexpectedly, but it never left me feeling confused, as some books with multiple points of view can do. The plot was exciting, and pulled me in from the first page. The action continued throughout the book so that I always wanted to keep reading. It was full of many twists and turns. This book was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and it has something for everyone. It’s part historical fiction, supernatural, murder mystery, and even a little love story mixed in there. Warning, though: don’t read this book when you’re home alone at night because it can get pretty intense.