Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling



When I first read the premise of J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, I felt a bit skeptical of her new writing endeavor.  How could someone who had created such an intricate and magical world in Harry Potter write about a quiet England town?  Our frequent readers may also wonder why I am reviewing an adult novel on our YA book review blog, but so many of my high school students were reading this, or wanted to read it.  I was surprised when I started reading this book, how easy it was to disassociate this novel from the Harry Potter series.  I read The Casual Vacancy as a completely separate novel, almost as if it were written by an entirely different author.  I was not disappointed at all.  J.K. Rowling has, in my eyes, proved herself a capable and distinguished author, capable of spanning across genres and appealing to all audiences.

The town of Pagford is your typical quaint, small, close-knit community.  I don’t think it’s exclusively a British community.  I can see some of these characters and the lines dividing classes existing in any small town.  There are so many characters in this novel, and that may be hard to get past for some people.  But Rowling allows us to get into every character’s mind, and you are able to empathize with almost everyone.  It has been said that J.K. Rowling has created some of these characters out of people in her own life or past, and I believe that we all know a Howard Mollison, a Samantha, or a Krystal.  I have told my high school students repeatedly, that if you stick with it, you get to know the characters, and it is easier to remember who’s who. 

There has also been a lot of debate about the language, sexual content, and social issues throughout the novel.  Some readers might be shocked to read this in a J.K. Rowling, but let’s remember… it’s an adult novel, with adult issues and language. 

As for the ending, I do not want to include any spoilers, but I was saddened and disappointed by the ending.  I guess I had hope for some of the characters that never came to fruition, but I wasn’t left feeling completely hopeless.  There were definitely some changes, and even I would say catharsis, for several of the characters.  Though some of the issues, and writing, may be beyond that of many high school students, I’d say I would recommend this to a majority of the students.  Teenagers, I find, have a greater grasp and understanding of the adult world than we give them credit for.  Some, sadly so.  Though I would have preferred different outcomes for some of the characters, I understand why Rowling ended the novel as she did, and I found this to be as well-written as I had hoped.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

                                                                        Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi   

              Review by Janine
    Juliette has never known love, kindness or a gentle touch. Her whole life she has been feared for a power she doesn't want and can't control.  Her touch can kill.  After accidentally killing a person while trying to help them, Juliette's parents decide they no longer want her around and turn her into the authorities, where she spends the next three years of her life in an asylum.  Little does she know that she is being watched, studied by those that would want to use her to help control the world.  The reestablishment is ruthless, controlling the people: where they live, what they eat, what they do, everyone lives in fear. But the rebels are planning their own rebellion... one that will free the people and save the world, and with Juliette's help, anything is possible, but is it worth the price?
   I don't think that love is a strong enough word to describe my feelings for this book!!!! The premise was really great, but what really struck me was how drawn into the story you were right from the beginning.  You are introduced to Juliette while she is in her cell in the asylum, and you not only get her story (in bits and pieces), but are really able to read the state of her mind.  She is broken from years of not being loved or even being able to be touched.  Her carefully constructed world and  the barriers that she has constructed to save herself and everyone around her, begin to crumble when a stranger is brought into her room.  Although she doesn't know what is going on, she is about to be a pawn in a very complex game that she doesn't understand.  You, as the reader, are struck by not only how broken she is, but how naïve she is to the games that people play.  When she is pushed, which is in the presence of Warner, (the man who wants to save her and make her a weapon in the war to control the world) she channels all the anger and frustration that she has and totally becomes a "kick butt" character! She is the girl that we all would want to be in the face of fear and evil.  She is loyal and determined, strong but still unsure of herself. We ultimately go on a journey with her from a scared, naïve girl with a strong sense of right and wrong and a loyalty that goes unmatched to a girl who can do what she needs to do in order to protect her loyalties and herself.  I can not wait for the next book in this series, Unravel Me.  I feel like I was watching a movie and had to stop half way through.........  I am in luck with this one, though.  Only 13 more days to go, but who is counting!!!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

 The Pledge by Kimberly Derting

  Review by Janine

In this book we are introduced to the country of Ludania, a place where the class system and its rules are strictly adhered to at all times or punished with death.  Charlana and her sister Angelina, along with their parents, live in the country.  Life for them is lived simply as owners of a restaurant within the city.  The family, however, has a secret. Charlie and her sister both have unique abilities that would make them not only stand out but also become a target of the ruthless and evil Queen Sabara.  This puts her parents in constant fear.  As the rebels, who are trying to overthrow the queen, push further into the city and closer to defeating her, both sides have one common goal: find the next true heir to the throne.  One hopes to continue her legacy of evil, and one hopes to bring peace and hope to a country with none.
I must begin by saying that I really liked this book.  It was different from the other dystopian books that I have been reading lately.The premise of a country divided between an evil ruler and rebels looking to overthrow her and instate a new ruler, who not only has royal blood, but will be fair and kind, while being a strong ruler is nothing new.  I love that in this story the ruler is a queen.  The first born female to the reigning queen and her king, males need not apply!  The problem of the current queen, who is no heir to the throne, is the driving force behind the queen's ruthlessness to her people. She knows that part of her bloodline exists (as there is a line of the family that was banished generations before); the problem is finding an eligible and suitable queen in time.  I also found it interesting (in a good way) how this society was set up.  People were born into a class and that class is where you stayed.  To keep people of each class separate and to insure that the people of each class stayed within their class, each spoke a different language. There were also very strict rules for the interaction of the classes, any disobeying of these rules was punishable by death.  I just thought that was a clever way of devising a class system, and it made the book that much more interesting to me. When we meet Charlie and her sister Angelina, I thought of them as just regular kids (minus the fact that they each have a  kind of power).  They were not rebels, and they weren't acting as spoiled kids. Charlie is leveled-headed, protective of her sister, and while she does question her powers, she also accepts them for what they are and the weight that they carry.  Charlie knows that if anyone found out about them, much harm would come to her family and sister, so she deals with it the best she can.  Although, one should not mistaken her acceptance of her power, her class and any other part of her life as weakness.  She proves herself to be a strong, caring, smart and very powerful person.
  When we learn about the rebels and where they are hiding out, I had a flashback to Divergent (if you have read both, you will completely understand, I was just waiting for a waterfall!).  There were a few surprises but a lot of what happened you could predict as well.  I understand why things happened the way they did, but it still felt it a little predictable.  I still really enjoyed the book and am pretty excited to read the second one, which just came out!!