By: Sydney Kaplan ’18, Ms. Katie Dickerson, Gia Matika ’18, and Ms. Vicki Schwoebel
Sydney’s Book Reviews:
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
By Becky Albertalli
Genre: YA Fiction/LGBTQIA+ Fiction
Written in 2015, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a coming-of-age novel written by Becky Albertalli that centers around closeted gay sixteen-year-old Simon Spier. Simon has a close-knit friend group and a nice family life. He enjoys participating in his school’s musical productions. He also likes to communicate with a boy known to him as “Blue” through email. When Simon accidentally forgets to log out of his email account on a school computer, another student, Martin, finds out Simon’s secret and blackmails him, threatening to out Simon. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda beautifully chronicles the struggles Simon faces as a closeted gay teenager. It is an excellent read; not only is it an LGBTQIA+ young adult novel, it is hilarious, entertaining, heartwarming, thought-provoking, and relatable. I will never forget reading this book–home alone, sitting in the kitchen drinking tea, looking at Tumblr, and smiling from ear to ear. A film adaptation of the book called Love, Simon is coming out in March 2018.
By Mary Shelley
Genre: Gothic Fiction/Horror Fiction/Soft Science Fiction
Originally published anonymously in 1818, Mary Shelley’s fantastic work of literature, Frankenstein, has been re-published multiple times. Frankenstein (the creator, his creation is referred to as “the Creature”) is a fascinating and terrifying portrayal of the human psyche. Seduced by his desire for greatness and knowledge, Dr. Victor Frankenstein fashions a horrible being out of dead people’s body parts. Frankenstein is an excellent representation of human nature and the things we struggle with: greed, power, knowledge, truth, and death/loss. The tale of Frankenstein is worth a read – although, I would say, wait until senior year.
By Neil Gaiman
You may have seen the 2007 film adaptation of Stardust, a novel written by Neil Gaiman, as a child. The novel itself, published in 1999, is very different from the film (although both are very good in my opinion). The story at first takes place in April of 1839, but then fast-forwards to seventeen years later, around October of 1856. Set in the town of Wall, England, as well as in Faerie (and a kingdom within it, Stormhold), Stardust centers around a young man named Tristran Thorn. (In the film, it is spelled and pronounced as Tristan). Unbeknownst to him for the majority of his young life, he is not just human. Tristran is part Faerie, as his mother is from the Faerie side of the stone wall that separates it from Wall, England. During his journey through Faerie, Tristran grows tremendously and meets an incredible cast of characters, including but not limited to: Yvaine, Captain Shakespeare, and the brothers of the Stormhold Royal Family. Stardust is a captivating story, filled with wonder, magic, evil witches, and so much more. Believe me when I tell you that although it may sound like such, Stardust is not a children’s book.
Ms. Dickerson’s Book Reviews:
By Omar El Akkad
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
It’s 2074, and Philadelphia–along with the rest of the East Coast–has fallen into the ocean because of global warming. Texas and California have been returned to Mexico. The nation’s capital has moved to Columbus, Ohio. When the government decides to ban petroleum, the South secedes, causing a second Civil War. Against this backdrop, readers meet Sarat, who, after her father’s death, is forced to move to a refugee camp with her family. As Sarat gets older, both she and her siblings get involved in various aspects of the Civil War and the Southern resistance. If some of this sounds a little too close to home, that’s likely because it is. Akkad examines current politics and other global issues by layering his book with allegory and forces Americans to take a critical look at their own role in other countries.
Monsters of Templeton
By Lauren Groff
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
I’ve read a few of Lauren Groff’s books, and this, though her first, is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. The novel follows Willie, a twenty-something who finds herself in a few troubling situations, leaves graduate school, and returns home. There, she is tasked with tracing her family lineage to find her father’s true identity. Willie’s story is interspersed with fake historical documents from her ancestors, chapters narrated by a group of runners, and images of the family and the monster that’s discovered in the local lake.
The Hate U Give
By Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult
The Hate U Give has been at the top of the New York Times Bestseller Young Adult Hardcover book list for 48 weeks, which is one of the many testaments to its appeal. Another is the fact it is in the process of being turned into a movie with an all-star cast like Amandla Stenberg, Common, and Issa Rae. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter, a young black girl who tries to balance her home life versus her private school life, her first relationship, and her family discord. On top of all that, Starr witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil. She must decide whether to testify against the policeman who shot him. There’s something for everyone in Starr’s story. Sure, you could wait until the movie’s released (though no date has been given), but, let’s be honest: the book is always better.
Gia’s Book Reviews:
The Art of Racing in the Rain
By Garth Stein
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Philosophy
The Art of Racing in the Rain is an absolute masterpiece. Garth Stein offers us a whole new perspective of the human condition, told to us by Enzo, a labrador mix. Enzo tells the story of Denny, a racecar driver, and his family, and recounts his life on his last day on earth, sprinkled with bits of humour and tenderness that one might not expect from this sort of narrator. As he recounts ups and downs in his own voice, readers understand the troubles with Enzo’s loyalty and love for Denny and his daughter, Zoë. After a tragedy, Zoë’s grandparents step into their roles as the antagonists of the story, and we gain bits of wisdom as we follow Enzo through his life. Garth Stein is an American author who was inspired by a film from Mongolia, where there is a belief that a dog’s next incarnation is a human. He himself is a racecar driver, and semi-retired after crashing in the rain.
By Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction/LGBTQIA+
Goddess tells the story of Julie D’Aubigny, a master fencer and star of the opera. On her deathbed in a church, she recounts adventure after adventure to the priest who sits next to her, hoping she’ll repent before she dies. She tells stories of her lovers, which include men and women, old and young, as well as her adventures as an expert in a sport traditionally for men. Making friends and enemies at the famous Opèra in Paris, Julie’s story will keep you on your toes and begging for just one more tale. I read this book over the summer after borrowing it from the library, and I didn’t want to return it when I finished. My own copy now sits next to my bed for easy access to a piece of history that I hope will not be forgotten. Gardiner writes the story in a way that’s engaging and includes all the recorded history about this amazing woman, and even include notes about her research and the details she made up herself, so you can not only enjoy the story, but discover a part of history–a woman who threw society’s rules out the window and truly made her mark on history.
Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Genre: Science Fiction
Ready Player One dives deep into virtual reality, where most of Earth spends their time in a free, international game, called the OASIS, with sensory stimulants that make the user feel the experiences rather than just see them. The main character is Wade Watts, a player who goes to school online and is a genius when it comes to the game and its creator. Full of references to 80’s movies and video games, the story simultaneously is a blast to the past and a taste of the future. The story is detailed and exciting, and while most people won’t understand each and every line that pays homage to the 80’s, readers can still enjoy the riddles and plots that are explored by the characters. Readers stay fascinated with every step. When there’s a break in the action, Wade keeps us interested with hard choices and wry humor perfectly suits the tone of the novel. A movie adaptation is coming out at the end of March, and we can only hope it lives up to the book.
Ms. Schwoebel’s Book Reviews:
Turtles All The Way Down
By John Green
John Green’s long awaited new novel is here, and it’s his best one yet. Sixteen year old Aza and her best friend Daisy take notice when local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears. The reward for information in his case is a hundred thousand dollars, and Daisy is sure their sleuthing will lead to clues and ultimately to the reward. After all, Aza spent summers at “sad camp” with Russell’s son, Davis, after his mom and her dad died, so reconnecting with the Pickett family isn’t hard. As Aza and Davis reconnect and begin to fall for each other, Aza’s ever-present anxieties and compulsions begin to spiral, and readers are shown what it’s like to live everyday consumed by claustrophobic, obsessive thoughts. Aza’s voice is raw and heartfelt, and Green also throws in a hefty dose of nerdery and humor that will win over teen and adult readers alike. Green’s latest is an unflinching, honest look at mental illness that is at times challenging to read, but will linger with readers long after finishing.
By Stephanie Garber
Scarlett and her sister Tella have lived their entire life on the island of Trisda, secluded from the rest of the world. Eager to escape her tyrannical father, Scarlett is excited when he arranges a marriage for her–and thinks only of taking Tella with her. One night, a mysterious sailor convinces Tella to leave, and Scarlett feels compelled to follow. She finds herself wrapped up in Caraval, a magical event that blurs the lines between performance and game, often with deadly results. Scarlett is now a player in Caraval, and she must find Tella, who has been kidnapped by Caraval’s strange creator, Legend. Scarlett must solve cryptic puzzles and navigate the deadly terrain, unsure who is a player and who is an actor, while fighting off feelings for the mysterious sailor. Caraval is thrilling, mysterious and unique; it’s unlike anything else on YA shelves. Stephanie Garber’s debut will enchant any fantasy, sci-fi or romance fan, and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat at the book’s conclusion.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
By Julie C. Dao
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng has lived with her cruel aunt Guma for her entire life and is often beaten for stepping out of line. Xifeng is resentful and often dreams of running away with her secret lover, Wei. While she and Guma embroider for a living, Guma assures Xifeng that her destiny is much greater–she has seen in the cards that Xifeng’s beauty and cunning will one day get her a powerful position in the kingdom, but only if she embraces the dark magic deep inside her. One day after a particularly horrific beating disfigures her face, Xifeng and Wei set off for the Imperial City, hoping that Xifeng can enter the Empress’s services as a lady-in-waiting and eventually fulfill her destiny. As time passes, Xifeng struggles to maintain friendships, navigate the treacherous eunuchs and concubines at the palace, and also with the darkness lurking under her skin. Xifeng is a complex anti-heroine whose character will linger with readers long after the last page. Dao’s debut is a polished and masterful Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White’s Evil Queen. This is a beautiful, lush story with complex and diverse characters that will delight readers.