Thursday, February 21, 2013

FLASH REVIEWS: YALSA's 2013 Hub Reading Challenge, Check-In #1

I keep getting distracted by other books (and work, and school, and life in general), but I have managed to make a little headway into those 25 books I pledged to read for the Hub Reading Challenge. So far, I've discovered some great YA books—and I finally got around to reading Code Name Verity, one of last year's most buzzed about books.

So anyway, here's a quick look at my progress so far:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Greg's strategy for surviving high school is to stay under the radar. He doesn't want true friends but maintains a superficial sort-of-friendship with every group in the school, from the jocks to the Goth kids. Of course, none of the other groups is meant to know that he is "friends" with the others. In a school full of cliques, Greg is Switzerland. But when his mom pushes him to befriend (or refriend) a classmate recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, his plan goes to hell. Suddenly, Greg is facing uncomfortable, emotionally charged situations and he has no idea how to react. Even worse, people find out about his secret filmmaking hobby. This book is far from the sad, angsty teen "cancer book" you probably expect from the description. Biting, frequently crude humor and a strong narrative voice make Jesse Andrews's debut novel a truly compelling read. Greg's lack of self-awareness and total cluelessness about the male/female dynamic reminded me of Brent Crawford's Carter Finally Gets It. While the characters of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl aren't exactly endearing, they are nuanced, believable, and incredibly well-grounded in the novel's Pittsburgh setting.

Boy21 by Matthew Quick
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Finley is used to being an outsider. He's the only white guy on his high school basketball team and he doesn't have much to say, even to his longtime girlfriend. But in a town ruled by gangs and the Irish mob, that may not be such a bad thing. Then his basketball coach encourages him to befriend a new student. Russell is really a basketball phenom from an elite private school in California, but he claims to be an alien called Boy21. This is a unique story, subtly told. The writing is clear and simple, perfect for reluctant readers, and the characters and relationships are well-drawn and compelling.

Cool fact: Quick is also the author of the adult novel The Silver Linings Playbook, the film adaptation of which is nominated for several Academy Awards this year (including Best Picture and a Best Actress nom for Jennifer Lawrence, otherwise known as Katniss Everdeen). The Awards will air this coming Sunday.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Rating: 3/5 Stars
When Sunday Woodcutter befriends an enchanted frog, she has no idea that her new friend is really Prince Rumbold of Arilland, the man her family blames for the death of her brother Jack. This reinvention of the "Frog Prince" fairy tale is full of twists and frequently intertwines with other fairy tales, yet it is a wholly original story that stands on its own. Personally, I felt that Sunday and Rumbold's relationship need more development. Also, although some of the fairy tale tie-ins were amazingly clever, sometimes the multitude of fairy-tale references became overkill, stealing focus from the main story. Still, I am eager to learn more about some of Sunday and Rumbold's relatives in the next installment of the Woodcutter saga.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Genre: Historical Fiction/Suspense
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Probably the least said about this book plot wise, the better. Suffice it to say, it is about friendship, espionage, and courage. When a teenaged spy is captured by the Nazis, she agrees to confess everything. It is then up to the reader to read between the lines of that confession and discover the truth of who "Verity" really is. Incredibly compelling and carefully plotted, with convincing historical detail, this is a multi-layered tale well worth reading.

Next up: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which my blogging partner Lucinda has already read any enjoyed. (So you know a Dual Review will be coming soon!)

For those of you participating, how many titles have you checked off your list so far? Which is your favorite book so far?


Anonymous said...

Boy 21 seems to be an interesting read, especially for young folks.

Tracy said...

I hope you'll give it a try, Anonymous. It has depth without being overly complicated—in text or concept. Definitely a good pick for reluctant readers.

Bethany said...

I just finished Code Name Verity a few days ago. LOVED IT!!!! I couldn't put it down, which is a sign of a great book. The format (2 parts, 2 characters)was masterfully done. I wasn't satisfied by the ending, but it was still a superbly written book, one that I will highly recommend.

Tracy said...

Yay! I'm always glad to hear when someone loves a book :) The ending wasn't the mindblower I was hoping for, but the build up was excellent.

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