Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)

Summary

An unlikely teenage romance between two misfits: Eleanor (the overweight girl with flaming red hair and strange clothes) and Park (the comic-book-loving half-Korean boy).

Review

Eleanor and Park and terribly awkward, endearing characters and their story is sweet and tragic. I liked it, but I wasn’t blown away by it either.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Comic books
  • Bullying
  • The Smiths
  • Young adult romance
  • John Green
  • Abusive stepfathers

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Summary

Scout Finch is a young girl growing up in the segregated south in the 1930s. Her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who takes a case to prove the innocence of a black man accused of rape.

Review

To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and I reread it in preparation for Go Set a Watchman‘s release.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Classics
  • Racism
  • Injustice
  • Coming of age stories
  • The American South in the 1930s

The Thief

The ThiefThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Summary

Gen is the self-proclaimed world’s best thief — he even succeeded in stealing from the King himself — but his bragging has landed him in prison. Now the King’s Magus wants Gen’s help with the nearly impossible task of stealing a lost artifact.

Review

I felt so-so about The Thief. It has a decent story (though it was slow in the beginning) with an interesting protagonist, but it’s definitely intended for a younger reader. I’ve heard that the sequel, The Queen of Attolia, is better, so I’ll give it a try to see how it compares.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Anti-heroes
  • Fantasy worlds
  • Middle grade to young adult books
  • Plot twists
  • Newbery Honor books

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Summary

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is an awkward teenage cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Trying to rise above the poverty-stricken, self-destructive world he grew up in, he transfers to an all-white high school outside the reservation.

Review

True Diary has been banned for including profanity and subjects like racism and masturbation. I like Alexie’s response:

I certainly respect any parent’s right to determine what their child is reading. They don’t get to determine it for a whole school or community, but that said I was the only Democrat in my high school. I went to high school with a bunch of extremely Republican Christians (in other words, the kind of people who generally seek to ban my book) and let me tell you — those conservative Christian kids and I were exactly alike. I was publicly inappropriate, they were privately inappropriate. All this stuff that is controversial is stuff that kids are dealing with on a daily basis.

True Diary CartoonTrue Diary is semi-autobiographical; Alexie estimates that it is about 78% true. While it covers some sad and serious topics, it’s also funny and something young readers should relate to. Junior’s diary is interspersed with his hand-drawn cartoons, which give life to the story.

I didn’t love it, but I think True Diary is worth reading. It definitely was written for a young audience, though — best suited for teenagers.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Native American culture
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Coming of age books
  • Stories with illustrations

A Wrinkle in Time

If I read A Wrinkle in Time in my childhood, I forgot about it, so I thought I ought to read this beloved sci-fi/fantasy classic.

Summary

A Wrinkle in TimeMeg is an awkward teenager whose father mysteriously disappeared years ago while on a top secret mission for the government. Together with her five-year-old telepathic savant brother, Charles Wallace, and their new friend, Calvin, she gets caught up in an adventure to save her father, who has been lost in time and space.

Review

Keeping in mind that A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book, I felt like it was a let down.

The book was very black and white, good vs. evil. The Christian influence was too heavy-handed and I didn’t like how the book ended with a quick, love-conquers-all conclusion.

Another part of the problem was with the characters. Meg was whiny and self-loathing. Charles Wallace’s abilities and use of language were weird and unbelievable. Calvin was largely forgettable except for his strange, over-the-top praising of the Murray house.

That said, there were some good things about the book. Having a young, female, math-loving protagonist in a sci-fi/fantasy book in 1962 is pretty awesome. Unlike your typical hero, she’s also full of faults, which makes her feel more relatable. I also like how Meg’s view of her father changed from an omnipotent idol who can fix any problem to a flawed, uncertain person like her. That’s a fairly deep thing to have in a children’s book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The battle of good (light, love, guardian angels, individuality) vs. evil (dark, black, cold, conformity)
  • Christian themes
  • Space and time travel
  • Narcoleptic fortune tellers
  • Illusions of delicious turkey dinners
  • Faceless tentacle creatures

And if you like A Wrinkle in Time, there are four other books in the series.

Ready Player One

Given the growing popularity of audiobooks, I thought it was time to give them a try. I read an article, I Regret Reading These 5 Books (Because I Should Have Listened to Them Instead), last month that helped me select Ready Player One for my first audiobook experience.

Summary

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline is set in 2044, when most people spend their time in the OASIS, a massively multiplayer online virtual reality simulation. When the creator of OASIS dies, it is revealed that he left the key to his vast fortune hidden in the OASIS, protected by a series of riddles and puzzles inspired by 1980’s pop culture (an obsession of the creator’s).

Review

Okay, so Ready Player One isn’t a great piece of literature, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting concept. It’s written for young adults, which is odd because it’s meant to appeal to people who experienced the 1980’s. I was born too late to really experience the 80’s, but I was still familiar with some of the movies, video games, and music mentioned in the book.

The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He did an awesome job narrating and it was funny to listen to him refer to himself as a “geezer” in the book. 😛

If you’re a fan of 1980’s pop culture (particularly, science-fiction and video games), I’d recommend giving the book a try — especially in audiobook form. As for audiobooks in general, they definitely seem like a convenient way to read (especially while commuting or doing housework), but I enjoy the experience of reading myself better, so I think I’ll stick to eBooks and print books for now.

Allegiant

AllegiantSummary

Allegiant is the 3rd and final book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It begins right where Insurgent left off, but it is written from the perspectives of both Tris and Four. Motivated by the old video they found, Tris and her friends decide to see what is going on in the outside world, beyond the fences that surround Chicago.

Review

Like the two books before it, Allegiant is a very quick, easy read in spite of its 526 pages, but it’s my least favorite in the series.

I was initially excited to see the viewpoints of both Tris and Four in Allegiant because I thought it would offer some new insight, but I quickly changed my mind about that. The two characters’ voices sound so similar that they are essentially indistinguishable and I often forgot whose perspective I was reading until context clues reminded me (or I went back to the beginning of the chapter to check). I think it’s obvious why Roth chose to use two perspectives, but I really wish it had been done differently (besides, isn’t it a little spoilery to start using two perspectives in the final book?).

The romantic relationship between Tris and Four continued to feel cheesy and shallow, especially with the eye-roll-worthy jealousy element. “OMG, you were talking to a pretty girl?! You must be cheating on me!”

I was also disappointed by the book’s biological/political explanation for why things are the way they are, which seemed far-fetched. I generally like my dystopia to be more plausible.

Without getting too spoilery, I know a lot of people were disappointed with the ending of the book, but I was actually okay with it. I was mentally prepared for it and I think that character’s actions were in line with who that character was.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsSummary

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is  about a 16-year-old girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster who is battling thyroid cancer. At the support group her mom forces her to attend, she meets a 17-year-old boy named Augustus Waters, who lost his leg to osteosarcoma.

Hazel and Augustus hit it off immediately. Hazel finds Augustus charming and ridiculously good-looking and he tells Hazel she reminds him of Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta — beautiful with a dislike for authority. The two fall in love and bond over a shared appreciation for a book called An Imperial Affliction, which ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence.

The story takes Hazel and Augustus through the emotional highs of love and the lows of impending death… and even on a trip to Amsterdam to ask the author of An Imperial Affliction what happens after the story ends.

Review

Overall, I liked The Fault in Our Stars. Sure, the characters may be pretentious and the monologues unrealistic, but I thought it was cute and heartwarming and, of course, tragic.

Here’s one thing that really bothered me, though: every time I read “Augustus Waters,” I couldn’t help but think of Aurane Waters, the handsome admiral from A Song of Ice and Fire. 😛

So anyway, I think The Fault in Our Stars is best suited for its intended audience (teenagers), but adult YA fans may enjoy it, too.

Movie

The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars comes out in June. The trailer is below:

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who play the star-crossed lovers, are also going to act as brother and sister in another big YA movie, Divergent, which comes out in March.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeSummary

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a first-person narrative by a 15-year-old autistic boy named Christopher.

Christopher is brilliant at math. He knows all the prime numbers up to 7,057 (and he numbers his chapters in sequential primes, rather than sequential integers), he excels at logic puzzles, and he pays great attention to detail.

Although Christopher is certainly capable intellectually, he has social and emotional issues. He has difficulty relating to other people, he can’t stand to be touched (even by his parents), he hates the colors yellow and brown, and he closes his eyes and groans when he gets overwhelmed.

After Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog murdered outside, it becomes Christopher’s mission to solve the case. Motivated by the dog’s murder, his love of Sherlock Holmes, and his teacher’s encouragement to write a story, Christopher begins to tell his story in the form of a mystery novel.

Review

I heard about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when I saw it compared to Flowers for Algernon, which I read last month. Both books are narrated by disabled men. In the case of The Curious Incident…, the narrator is a boy with autism (Asperger’s); in Flowers for Algernon, the narrator is a man with a low IQ who quickly transitions into a genius and back again. Both stories had special meaning for me, because I have cousins with autism and a grandpa with Alzheimer’s. While Flowers for Algernon was a much more emotional read for me, both books were fascinating because of their unusual perspectives.

Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

Although the book starts out as a mystery about who murdered the neighbor’s dog, the real heart of the book is in seeing things through Christopher’s point of view. I really enjoyed how he tried to make sense of the world and I was thrilled when he mentioned the Monty Hall problem, which is a favorite logic puzzle of mine.

Perhaps also worth mentioning is that the story takes place in England, so there are lots of British terms and phrases (for example, “maths” instead of “math”). I even had to look up a few things like “snooker” and “orange squash.” 😛

Insurgent

InsurgentSummary

Insurgent is the 2nd book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It picks up right where Divergent left off, after the attack against Abnegation. The factions are on the brink of war and Tris and her friends are caught in the middle of it.

Review

Insurgent is very much a continuation of Divergent. It’s a fun, action-packed book that was a quick read in spite of its 500+ pages. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the series (at least so far), but it’s entertaining and enjoyable. I still wish Roth would’ve toned down the romance/melodrama, though, because it detracts from the main story. Also, for someone who has an aptitude for Erudite, Tris sure acts illogically sometimes.

I liked that I got to see more of the other factions and that, by the end of the book, Tris had been to all 5 faction headquarters. The factionless, who were only mentioned in the first book, also played a bigger role in the sequel. While there is still no word on what is going on outside Chicago, the end of the book did at least reveal some information about the founding of their isolated society.