It happened! It really happened. The Rochester Teen Book Festival has been on my calendar for so long that I didn't really believe it would ever happen. But yesterday, Mr. S joined me, six of my students, and five of my colleagues for an AWESOME day of book nerdery.
I'll be blogging about the festivities and some of the gems of wisdom from the authors whose panels I attended as the week goes on (and, heads up, I have an awesome giveaway planned!) But today, let me share my thoughts on a few more books by authors who were present yesterday.
What I Read This Week:
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ok, now I feel pretty dumb. I won a copy of this ARC from Claire LeGrand back in the fall, and didn't get to it until just now. D'oh! I think I just hadn't really heard much about it, and it was hard to compete with the zillions of recommendations from my blog pals that I can never stay on top of.
But Alexandra Bracken will be coming to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, so I finally picked this one up. And I'm a little bit glad I waited to read it...but only because I hate waiting to read sequels to books I love, and at least now I won't have so long to wait!
From the beginning, The Darkest Minds grabbed my interest. The snapshot of camp we see before learning a little more about Ruby, the protagonist, is strange and fascinating. Ruby's story is riveting and sad: when she was in the fourth grade, the other kids in her class started to die. It turned out, the kids were dying all over America. Before long, she was rounded up by Psi Special Forces, a brutal military unit, and brought to camp. From there, we jump back to the present: six years later, at sixteen, Ruby is still in camp. And that's where the real action begins.
Ruby's story reminded me of several other books I've read and enjoyed. There's the creepiness and special powers of Graceling, the kids-banded-together-for-survival elements of books like This Is Not A Test and Monument 14, and the layers upon layers of evil organizations found in nearly every dystopian/post-apocalyptic story. But it didn't feel old or re-hashed; it felt like a fresh take on elements I enjoy. Ruby and her friends were great characters--the kind of characters where you start to go, "Oh, my favorite is definitely..." and then you stop because you realize you can't pick. But I loved Suzume and Chubs a whole lot. Also Liam. Yikes.
Anyway, if you enjoy awesome, messed-up worlds with memorable characters, pick up The Darkest Minds . For a book of its size (thick!) I flew through it. I hope you do too!
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Original review here; in a nutshell: fairy-tale retelling with cyborgs, evil moon-people, sassy androids, and a dreamy prince. Stay tuned for my review of the sequel, Scarlet, next week. (So far: it's also awesome.)
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sara Zarr is, hands down, my favorite author of contemporary YA. She has such a knack for identifying the thoughts and feelings and stray observations that make a character seem real, and using them to build characters who feel different every time. Her stories have romance in them, but that's rarely the main event--her characters also have families (real, interesting families that matter, not families-as-story-obstacles) and friends and pasts. This isn't to say that I don't love a fun romance where the parents butt out and make room for all the kissing stuff, but there's something so alive and compelling about Sara Zarr's worlds.
Sweethearts has, to me, the most interesting premise of any of Zarr's books (excepting, perhaps, her latest). Jenna Vaughn is popular and pretty, with the right friends and a gorgeous boyfriend. But hidden away inside her is Jennifer Harris, the girl she used to be. You know the one: the girl with cooties and a lisp, overweight and dressed in secondhand clothes, who spends recess reading a book or walking lonely circles around the playground. The girl with no friends.
Except, Jennifer Harris did have one friend: Cameron Quick. Cameron had his own troubles, but he managed to reach into Jennifer's world and save her from her loneliness. Then, without warning, he disappeared--apparently for good. Without her only friend, Jennifer did what she needed to do to get a fresh start in high school as Jenna.
But, in the fall of her senior year, Cameron returns. Jenna is forced to question everything: friends, family, boyfriend. Ultimately, Cameron's return helps Jenna to see things from a new perspective, and refine her sense of identity one more time.
I appreciate the very authentic scale of the events in this book. As much as Cameron's return blows Jenna's mind, nothing that happens as a result feels like magic. Jenna's friends and boyfriend are...not awesome. But they feel like many of the people I knew in high school--fun sometimes, supportive sometimes, scattered and unreliable in the way that teenagers are. They aren't villains. They're mostly kind of self-centered but I think they really like Jenna. Jenna's stepdad is awesome, but within the parameters of being a caring authority figure. Jenna has real, important relationships with her mom and stepdad, and those relationships actually change over the course of the book. This is the kind of contemporary that resonates with my lived experience in a way that makes me really love it. Highly recommended.
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