Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.


Read-a-Likes:

 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

Action, diversity in YA, families, Fantasy, Favorites, gay characters, mental illness

This is a funny combination of fantasy and realistic fiction for a group of seniors in high school whose town seems to face some type of fantasy end-of-the-world scenario every few years: vampires, ghosts, mystical deaths. Besides trying to survive strict parents, these teens need to simply survive.

In the heart of the novel is Mikey and his family – overbearing mom with dreams of becoming a US Congresswoman, alcoholic dad, a recovering anorexic sister, and a little sister who all adore and is a typical 10 year old in love with a boy band.  His school friends are a small group consisting of the missionary’s beautiful African-American daughter whom he has liked for years, a gay friend with a Goddess as a grandmother and who has the ability to communicate with all felines and also has healing powers, and his older sister Mel who is repeating senior year, due to the anorexia the previous year.  This is a mix of the quirky, well written, TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fantasy elements and a modern story of families and friends. Trying to survive high school cliques and demanding parents is hard enough, but with the occasional mystical mystery, teenagers dying far too frequently, and hoping the high school isn’t blown up (again) makes this a comical read.

The group takes on a few newcomers as more weird things occur across town: dead dear coming back to life, blue light shooting through the sky, and more Indie kids die each day.  I love how the chapters bounce between Mikey’s narration of his high school life and family and a factual account of how the Immortals invade the town – and the Finns, Satchel, Kerouac, etc find their demise.  As they get closer to graduation, the weirdness and deaths continue and finally Jared admits not everyone can be a hero and perhaps the friends should just survive and get out of town after graduation.

Other elements: alcoholic father, anorexia, OCD, gay characters.  After graduation, as the friends sit observing their high school burning after the Immortals blew it up, a touching realistic thought comes from Jared, you know – the 1/4 God who can heal animals and people – and that is that everyone has stuff in their lives to deal with, whether it’s illness, being one of the Indie kids, or being a deity.  Since Ness can bounce between reality and this sort of fantasy element so well, it comes off light and humorous at times, but there is a deeper lesson.   Teenagers who feel out of place, will find a comfort in this group of friends and the town that seems to have unfair luck with soul eating ghosts, vampires, and Immortals.  I laughed a lot, I found the friendships real and loyal, and I also enjoyed the plot-within-a-plot of the Immortals and Indie kids.

Breathe – Sarah Crossan

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breathe

“Breathing is a right, not a privilege, so I’m stealing it back” –  a great first line.   Oxygen in the atmosphere gone.  Great way to begin!

Our trio of narrators have different experiences living in the Pod where air is available to its citizens- at a cost.  While Alina is a pretty kick-awesome, strong, independent, lead character trying to find a better future out of the Pod, Bea and Quinn are more typical High School students focused on family and friends.  In a world where only Premiums have oxygen on a needed bases, Bea and Alina and their families (Auxiliaries) pay for Oxygen with their taxes, or extra fees when needed.  As you can imagine, life is not easy when the most necessary thing costs money and you are poor and concerned for every breath – such is the life for Bea and her family.  On the other end of this society are the Premiums, the elite, and those who can afford additional oxygen tanks not merely for survival, but for extracurricular activities: jogging, making out, even jubilant laughter – such is the life for Quinn, Bea’s best friend.  Soon Alina, Bea, and Quinn are out of the Pod of society and in the Outlands and the story of how man destroyed trees, the ocean, and led to the lack of oxygen is explained.

Years ago, when the levels of oxygen decreased and the planet nearly died, the population grew desperate as they died off.  As chaos grew, the company Breathe created a lottery for those allowed into Pod to try and survive.  Life is stuck, decades later, still in the Pod under the dome, using Oxygen tanks bought from Breathe and everything – and everyone – outside of it died.  Oxygen is created by those in charge but necessarily bought by everyone.  There are no trees or oceans, or fairness in deciding who gets the tanks.

Of course the struggle for power between Breathe (the company making people dependent on oxygen) and the Resistance (Alina and the rebels who are not only fighting against Breathe, but secretly growing trees in the Outlands) affects our trio quiet personally and they must accept new truths as well as changed relationships. This is another story of a government deciding the restraints and freedoms for its citizens based on a class system [not a big surprise for YA whose readership are mostly teenagers who constantly struggle for more power].  However, an additional power struggle, not focused on in many YA books is mentioned by a fierce, filthy, strong, old woman (a drifter living in the Outlands) who teaches our young female characters a thing or two about courage and love – and equality. Perhaps more YA doesn’t focus on sexism and inequality for fear of being deemed a “girl book”, but Sarah Crossan sneaks in a truth most books, even with the strongest female characters don’t showcase to its underage readers.  (It also doesn’t go unnoticed that two of the narrators are female and there are strong female characters throughout (I’m holding out hope that Quinn’s mom becomes one in the end)).   When Bea comments how nice the freedom must have been back then  – when air was free – Maude Blue takes this moment to school Bea on the reality of life:

 It weren’t that way.  It ain’t never that way.  People is people and greed is greed.  There weren’t never a time of true equality. Women didn’t play in that stadium and get the same crowds as the men…. Freedom and equality is myths, girls.  You should learn that now” (194)

Once the battle between the soldiers and the Resistance is underway, and the aftermath of it, this story – which already has a great pace – really gets exciting.  It reminded me, though not as bold or as heartbreaking, of the action packed chapters of Mockingjay or the final battle in Harry Potter, and since Breathe has a sequel I am sure the future action will only increase…. one can hope it’s as bold in action as it is in taking on climate issues and equality.

Sequel – Resist

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

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anna

I keep reading books that people ask if it’s believable…. so yeah, I read about meteor’s knocking the moon out of orbit; alien invasions; rich kids with a private island off the coast of the Hamptons and now a plot of a 17 year old going to a foreign school in Paris.  So, not so much my senior year of high school, but for the wanderlust folk who also like a bit of self-deprecation a ‘la Bridget Jones …… this is your book 🙂

Anna was suddenly told that her senior year would be abroad and without any say in the matter, she is packed up and living in a 10 x7 foot dorm room with walls as thin as band-aids.  Thankfully, she falls into a group of internationals quite fast and struggles mostly with beginner’s French and the occasional bout of homesickness.

This is a light, girly – yet funny, novel (series) after I read The 5th Wave, which is enjoyable, but one that I started mostly because I have the series in my library and I feel I should know all of my series before matching them to a young reader.

This is cute, a bit too cute with the perfect boy with the cute British accent who speaks way more maturely than any 18 year old and sees to fit every stereotype of a young European crush.  But if you can get over that dream guy who notices too much, apologizes for infringing on her bookshelf, and seems too-good-to-be-true….. then it’s a great story about studying abroad in Paris.  In other words, the preteens will love it (and him).

Totally fine for young readers – a brief drunken night between St. Clair and Josh, but the resulting hangovers certainly don’t put drinking in a good light.  Of course when Anna comes home for Winter Break she is surprised that her life moved on without her: friends, a crush, even her family.  She is surprised “home” is now Paris and not Atlanta.

This portrays both the homesickness and the excitement with living abroad accurately – when I did it, we were told to expect a “W” of highs and lows.  The group of friends is honest with fights, jealousy, annoyances, and inside jokes.  I actually liked the group dynamics the best.  In the end though, of course Anna gets the guy- but it doesn’t happen easily and she has to navigate through hurt feelings, insecurities, and teenage angst.

So yes, a perfect YA European romance.  There’s mention of sex, two occasions of drunkenness, bullying and rumors, and a sick parent.  But there is also realistic friendship and honest dialogue.  14 and over if you are worried about the drinking, but I think it’s fine for under 14’s for those already reading YA.

Series: Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After

Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matison

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since

No, not Kelly Clarkson, but a story of a girl and her missing best friend, Sloan.  Well, actually the missing family of her best friend when all three disappeared.  Emily’s own family are distracted playwrights for the summer so the convenience of their obliviousness is a bit obvious while Emily goes about the tasks of Sloane’s “to do” list.

The list doesn’t scream “live your life”, but that’s the point: things Emily has been too scared to do before.  Some items she doesn’t know what they mean – meeting Mona.  Who is Mona? – and other’s she understands – riding horses.  Emily is terrified of horses.

As summer progresses, Emily tries to understand the list hoping that if she completes it, she will learn answers to Sloane’s disappearance.  Along the way, she makes new friends and gets a little braver – with the help of Frank, the cute popular boy who helps Emily check off the tasks on Sloan’s list.  In trade, Emily helps Frank with his running.  The dialog between these two is easy and honest on their daily jogs as is the ease of their building friendship. The new group of friends Emily finds are sort of the best part.

Soon Emily accomplishes half of her list and there is still no explanation to where Sloan has disappeared.  The only thing I didn’t care for was Emily’s guilt for not doing something [illegal!] Sloan wanted her to do years ago – while the list and main point of the novel seems like a fun, happy, scavenger hunt type of game…. this memory makes Sloan’s “list” seem more peer-pressure and made me pause.  But it picks up again with true friendship, loyalty, and explanations.

In the end, we find answers to where Sloan has gone and learn that a simple “to do list” was much more to a summer than entertainment.  For Emily it was finding her courage and true self –  much more important than a simple order of objectives.   I think Sloan’s a little selfish and a bit of a demanding friend (which you’ll learn in flashbacks), but Emily grows a backbone in the end and finds true friends who help her accomplish the list.  And she and Sloan reconnect, but I’m glad Emily found some self-esteem along the way.

Friendship wins in the end.  “She was my heart.  She was half of me.” … but should this girl really be half of Emily?  It’s a cute plot, but friendship shouldn’t be 80% one sided all of the time.  Emily finds better friends throughout the story in my opinion.  I don’t romanticize bossy, peer-pressure, control freaks.