A Romeo & Juliet for the modern American scene… without the daggers and poison of course.

 

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Something In Between, by Melissa de la Cruz (2016)

Opening line: “First you have to hollow out.”

Jasmine is starting her senior year and things are working out perfectly. She’s captain of the cheer team, she’s on the road to valedictorian, she met a cute boy at the hospital where she volunteers, and her school counselor just gave her the best news ever: she’s won a highly prestigious award, the National Scholarship Program, which will pay for her entire college career at any school of her choice. She can’t wait to get home to tell her parents, but when she does, they don’t react the way she expects. After all, she didn’t expect them to have even bigger news.

Jasmine isn’t going to be able to accept the scholarship, her parents tell her, because she doesn’t have the necessary documents. In fact, she doesn’t have any documents. The green cards Jasmine believed her family had are fictitious. Jasmine’s family moved to America from the Philippines when she was nine, and California is the only home she really remembers. But after their temporary work visas ran out and their green cards fell through, they’ve been secretly flying under the radar. With Jasmine starting to apply to colleges, though, under the radar isn’t going to be an option too much longer. Now what?

To add to the stress level, enter in Royce Blakely, aforementioned cute boy, who Jasmine quickly falls head over heels for. The sweetness and kissing in their romance is definitely swoonworthy and sent my old-married-lady heart a twittering. The only problem is, Royce is the son of Senator Blakely, the California congressman who is leading the crusade against the new immigration bill that would allow her family to reapply for green cards and, eventually, citizenship. The Blakelys represent everything her family is not: wealthy, well-connected, blonde Americans. Jas is sure their relationship — and likely her future as an American citizen — is doomed.

I loved the complexity the author brings to what might otherwise be a sweet, light-hearted teen romance. She’s definitely brought the romance — mild enough for middle school libraries, but knee-weakening enough for YA romance fans — and there is so much MORE to dig into as well. The story of the undocumented immigrant family is relevant and timely and offers a very different picture of what that means than many readers may be familiar with. Additionally, the relationships Jasmine has with her family is fantastic. I LOVE the dialogue that happens in Jasmine’s house, particularly with Jasmine’s father. His one-liners had me cracking up! (In fact, these family relationships reminded me of the ones in The Hate U Giveanother one I loved this year.)

Finally, I loved all the quotes de la Cruz provided at the beginning of each chapter to kind of set the tone. I was amazed at how apt they all seemed to be, and have added some new favorites to my list.

2.5 stars.

 

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Finding truth while being lost

51w1vnrjk9lThe Distance Between Lost and Found, by Kathryn Holmes (2015)

Opening line: “The laughter starts as a low murmur.”

Hallelujah Calhoun has found herself back at a church youth camp, after an extended absence from all youth group activities. Although the reader isn’t clear about what happened exactly, we know that it involved the preacher’s son, Luke, and extremely disappointed parents. We know that since, Hallie has quit choir, has lost her friends, and has retreated inside herself. But now she’s back at camp, hiking through the Smokey Mountains, and every moment in the same vicinity as Luke and his cohort is excruciating.

There is a new girl at camp, however, named Rachel, who is outgoing and attempts to befriend Hallie. When she and Rachel and Jonah (Hallie’s friend prior to the Luke incident) find themselves separated from the hiking group, Rachel is insistent in hiking back to camp, and Hallie and Jonah agree to go with her. But when they reach a Y in the trail, they choose the wrong path, and soon are completely lost. Day turns to night turns to morning and night again, and days  go by without any sign of rescue. Before long, their situation turns dangerous, and they have to rely on each other entirely if they are going to have any hope for survival.

I struggled to get into this one. I found myself dreading finding out what actually happened between Hallie and Luke, while I was simultaneously somewhat bored by the tedium of their being lost in the woods. Nothing was particularly wrong with the novel, I just wasn’t immersed. But THEN, for the last 150 pages, I simply could not put it down. The intensity of their situation picks up, we finally hear the full story of “the incident” (don’t worry middle school librarians, it’s early-teen friendly, and even a healthy way for teens to explore early romantic pressures), and we are able to see some hope among their desperation.

Hallie’s story is wonderfully relateable, and I will definitely recommend it to my kiddos.

2 stars

Imperfect romance in the City of Love

Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (2010)

Opening line: “Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.

Anna’s divorced parents decide she should spend her senior year at a boarding school in Paris. Why? No one’s sure, especially not Anna. And she’s not too thrilled about it either. She muses that she perhaps would have been thrilled by the option of a year in Paris, but not by the demand. After all, she has a bff, a job, and a cute boy to pine over all back in Atlanta. Instead, she’s in the City of Lights with not a friend to her name and the most minimal knowledge of French (we’re talking oui and merci).

Fortunately, her next door neighbor in the dorm is super nice and Anna has a group of friends almost immediately. Also fortunately, there’s a super cute, british-accented boy who is part of said friend group. Unfortunately, he already has a girlfriend AND the friendly next door neighbor is also in love with him.

You might be thinking, this sounds a bit formulaic and a bit cheesy, and you’d be right. It is that. And it might be easy to write this one off as just that. However, as a girl who pined after a boy who had a girlfriend during her own senior year in high school, this felt SPOT ON emotionally. The constant confusion of liking him, feeling guilty for liking him, feeling sure that you and he would make a much better couple than him and his current girlfriend, feeling inadequate for not being enough for him, etc. And I think teenage readers will connect to these feelings as well.

Not high-brow, inspiring literature, but relevant and fun escapism romance. 1.5 stars

Epic musical turned teenage dystopia

Legend, by Marie Lu (2011)

Opening line: “My mother thinks I’m dead.”

Today’s post is brought to you by a student recommendation. That’s right, folks, one of my 8th graders recommended that I read this book! I love that I have students and I love that they recommend books for me to read and I love when I love the book as much as they did!

My obsession with dystopian YA lit continues in this debut novel by Marie Lu. According to the author blurb at the back, Lu was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Miserables one afternoon. As one of the many who are anxiously awaiting the soon-to-be Hugh Jackman movie version, this is an interesting bit of information to go into the story knowing.

As in Les Mis, Lu presents us with two main characters whose opposition is inherent: the criminal and the law. June is a fifteen year old military prodigy while Day is a fifteen year old vigilante. The story is set in future Los Angeles after the Republic has taken control, and although he doesn’t work with the organized revolutionary group, the Patriots, Day is actively rebelling against the military government by destroying their planes, vandalizing their offices, and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Meanwhile, June was born into an upper-class military family and her 1500 perfect score on the Trial (a series of tests taken at age 10 to determine your future) pushed her quickly up in the ranks.

There is little reason for June and Day to meet. That is, until June’s older brother Metias is killed and Day becomes the prime suspect.

Now June is out for revenge and she’ll stop at nothing to hunt down her brother’s murderer to bring him to justice. But what if Metias’ murder isn’t quite as it seems? Or more, what if the government she has spent her life training to defend is not as respectable as she was made to believe?

Full of intrigue, nail-biting suspense, and a little bit of romance, Legend is added to my list of recommended books for readers who liked Hunger Games. It, of course, is the beginning of a series, of which the next installment, Prodigy, is due out in January.

2 stars

A long time coming

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (2001, originally published 1847)

It happened. I finally finished Jane Eyre. After starting it almost three months ago (you’re not the only one, slw) and renewing it twice, I turned the final page this morning. I had originally sought out the book because of the impending feature film with Mia Wasikowska. The trailers reminded me of how much I love time pieces, like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Sense & Sensibility, the list can go on and on… The costumes and language and romance always makes me feel like I’m in a completely different world (which is nice when I am banging my head against the wall after reading the tenth article on social responsibilities of libraries and information services). It seemed that the movie would be the perfect excuse to read the book.

In my head I had always classified the Bronte sisters with Jane Austen, although academically, I knew that Austen was in the Romantic period, and the Brontes in the Victorian period. But in my mind, they were all British female authors from a long time ago when corsets were making waists tiny and men’s trousers gave us all a pretty picture. I was surprised, then, when I started Jane Eyre and found a completely different environment.

For those of you who have not read it, a quick synopsis: Jane, an orphan living with her terrible aunt and cousins (think Cinderella), has a strong imagination, or so she is told, that allows her to perceive ghosts/spirits/evil to the point where she makes herself ill. Her aunt, anxious to be rid of her, jumps at the chance to send her away to school, where she lives for many years, as a student and then a teacher. But after teaching for two years, Jane becomes bored and answers a call for a governess position at Thornfield Manor, where she is greeted by the housekeeper and a young energetic French girl, Adele. It is quite a while before Jane meets her employer, a dark and handsome man (obviously), Mr. Rochester. Secretly, Jane finds herself falling in love with him (duh), and much to her surprise, he seems to return the feeling. But strange things start happening at Thornfield: one night Jane saves Mr. Rochester from a fire in his room; on another she keeps watch over a wounded friend of Rochester’s while he attends to the mysterious assailant; and once Jane wakes to find some strange creature in her room trying on her things. And the whole time, the reader is like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? At least…I was. And when you do find out what’s going on, you’ll still be like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

Despite the fact that it took me three months to read (I had about 12 other books to read during that time, I promise!), this classic text is a page-turner, spurred on by Jane’s somewhat sassy narrative in which she often addresses the reader directly, justifying the somewhat unbelievable events of her story to make them utterly convincing. I’m glad I stuck it out, even though the MOVIE NEVER CAME TO MY TOWN. Guess I’ll have to wait for the RedBox, and in the meantime, watch the trailer over and over.

2 stars