YA Back to School Read ~ We Are All Made of Molecules

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There aren’t many traditional back-to-school tales for young adults. So I decided to focus on some of the tough topics and social skills teens face instead. (There are, however, a ton of new-kid-at-school tales and boarding school adventures (for MG too.) Tune in next week for a grand list of my favorite school books for a few suggestions to get you started.)

Stewart, 13, is at a loss. His mom has passed away and it seems his hopes for a sister to round out their family just aren’t going to come to pass. But then his dad tells him they’re moving in with Caroline, the woman he’s been dating recently, and her daughter, Ashley. So even though he has to change schools, leave the only home he’s known (and all the memories he built there with his mom) and work through all the adjustments with his therapist, maybe things won’t be so bad.

Ashley, 14, isn’t exactly thrilled when her dad announces he’s gay and her parents get divorced. To make it worse, her dad is living in the guest house in the backyard and her mom’s new boyfriend and nerdy son are moving in. But she will not let any of them ruin her standing on the school social ladder where she mostly reigns supreme.

Told in alternating chapters from the two points of view we see the turmoil of two very different kids trying hard to fit in and find their way in their new realities. Stewart is a little more easy-going and genuine, getting the brunt of Ashley’s anger and hurt thrown his way but as things progress he proves his mettle to her (and everyone else) as they work through some brutal issues at school and home.

There’s a lot going on here (bullying, theft, underage drinking, death, learning differences, peer pressure, sexual orientation, divorce, prejudices, just to name a few) but it happens naturally and seamlessly and never seems heavy or preachy. You love, hate, pity and admire each of the characters in turn. There are moments of humor that make you laugh out loud and moments that make you think (and if you’re a baby like me, you’ll probably even tear up a bit!)

Molecules book review

We Are All Made of Molecules

Written by: Susin Nielsen

Number of Pages: 248

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2015

Age Range: 12-15

Rating: 4/5

YA Book Review ~ Ready Player One

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I married my husband under false pretenses. In his online dating profile, he mentioned that the last book he’d read was The Hunger Games. Naturally I assumed that meant he’d read others as well…but no. He’d only read that one to see what his teenage daughter was into and that’s pretty much the only book he’d read outside of a classroom during his whole adulthood. I’ve been doing my darndest to change that ever since.

On our honeymoon we bought a copy of The Martian after seeing the movie and started reading it out loud to each other each night. He loved it (as did I.) It was the perfect vehicle for proving to him that books aren’t boring. We’ve read about 20 books together since then. Some hits, some misses, some fiction, some non, some of his choosing, some of mine. One of our latest successes was Ready Player One.

Cline’s writing reaches out and grabs you from the very first page. His dystopian world is all too believable and since the hubs is a huge video game fan and was a teen in the 80s all the nerdy references were just icing on the cake.

In the year 2044 the world is a dark and overpopulated place. Most people seem to spend the majority of their waking moments inside the OASIS, a virtual reality video game world created by James Halliday. When Halliday dies he leaves clues to a treasure hunt hidden within the OASIS. The solver of the riddles will become controller of Halliday’s company and vast fortune.

Wade Watts lives in a trailer in the stacks (the definite wrong side of the tracks) and has been obsessed with Halliday for as long as he can remember. When he becomes the first person to find the first clue the virtual becomes very, very real. Now he’s up against some of the most obsessed, powerful and dangerous people in both worlds and he enlists the help of some unlikely allies to figure everything out.

There’s intrigue, adventure, romance, humor, and 80s throwbacks galore. Anyone who lived through the 80s (or knows anyone who lived through the 80s) will appreciate the references to Monty Python, PacMan, Star Trek (all iterations), WarGames, Dungeons and Dragons, Ray Bans, Indiana Jones, John Hughes, HR Pufnstuf, and Rubik’s Cubes just to name a few. Even if you have no idea what any of those things are you’ll still get caught up in the story and cheer for the underdogs right up to the very last page.

Steven Spielberg turned this into a movie that was released this past spring, and last week it was released on Blu-ray. We literally finished the book in the parking lot of the movie theater 20 minutes before watching the show and that may have ruined the experience for us. We both came away highly disappointed that it didn’t stick more closely to the book. It was entertaining but it lost so much with the changes they made (surprising since Cline was involved with the screenplay and producing.) We want to give it another shot now that there’s a little bit of space between the book and the viewing. But I’m curious…have any of you both read the book and seen the movie? What did you think? Should we give it another go?

Regardless, if you’ve got a video game addicted teen (or husband :)) you might want to give this one a look. And let me know if you’ve read anything similar I could pass on to the hubs to try.

(P.S. We’re always looking for suggestions of books to read together so please be sure to send some our way!)


Ready Player One book review

Ready Player One

Written by: Ernest Cline

Number of Pages: 375

Publisher: Broadway Books, 2011

Age Range: 13+

Rating: 5/5

Young Adult Book Review ~ Truly Devious

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.   

When I was working at the library I spent a good part of my day reading the new books that came in in order to be able to recommend them to patrons. I breezed through multiple picture books a day and then at least one middle grade and one young adult book each week besides taking books home for my personal reading. I wish I had that kind of time to devote to reading these days but no such luck. And unfortunately it’s been the young adult books that have slipped by the wayside. And with the diminished numbers I’ve not found as many amazing books to shout about. But this one redeemed everything. I couldn’t put it down.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter disappeared from the millionaire’s lavish mountaintop retreat and private school in Vermont. His wife’s body was eventually found but not before he’d paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom. His daughter remains missing and while someone confessed there were too many questions left unanswered and the case remains cold to this day.

Enter Stevie Bell, high school junior, who has been admitted to the Ellingham academy because of her obsessive interest in the case and in studying detective work. Her classmates are equally focused on their various pursuits; an artist who’s spent the bulk of her life in a commune, an internet video star, an inventor/engineer, an author and more. But they’re not all the innocent students they’d like each other to believe and when one of them ends up dead Stevie is forced to question her instincts and everything she thinks she knows.

Told in alternating chapters between Stevie’s day in/day out routines at school and flashbacks to the events of 1936 I was riveted from page one. Be warned, there is no conclusion in this volume. This is the beginning of a trilogy so you’ll have to wait (but hopefully not too long!) before getting all the answers.

Truly Devious book review

Truly Devious
Written by: Maureen Johnson
Number of Pages: 416
Publisher: Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2018
Age Range: 12+
Rating: 4.5/5

Young Adult Book Review ~ They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End Book Review

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They Both Die at the End

Written by: Adam Silvera

Number of Pages: 384

Age Range: 14 and up

Rating: 4/5

In a not-too-distant future, Death-Cast, a group that is somehow able to forecast the exact date of a person’s death, calls each person just after midnight on their End Day. This gives people the chance to take advantage of many organizations and companies that create once-in-a-lifetime experiences, offer discounts and help provide for the end of life.

Two very different teens in New York both receive their calls and set out to try and reconcile a few things before they die. Mateo’s a bit of a recluse who needs to say his goodbyes to his best friend and her daughter and his comatose father but his anxieties continue to plague him even in the face of death and he ends up back in his apartment, alone.  Rufus is in the midst of beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend (with the help of a few of his gang) when he gets his call and then dashes from his fake funeral leaving his friends to deal with the cops that show up. They both sign onto the app, Last Friend, which connects them with each other and their differences balance each other out leading to a day filled with sky diving, karaoke, soaking in the sites and food of the city, making amends, saying goodbye and falling in love.

Yes, they really both die but there’s a lot of living, philosophical discussions and food for thought crammed into their last day.  And as the two guys face their mortality, their life choices and what it means to live and love the reader can’t help but face those same questions about their own lives.  It’s definitely eye opening and would make for some fabulous discussions among reading groups.