THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

You may ask yourself as you see this blog post title, why on earth would Liz write about The Hunger Games? Doesn’t she know that this book has been huge for over 10 years, with multiple movies based on the trilogy? Well, I reread The Hunger Games last week, and I was compelled to write about it BECAUSE I FORGOT HOW AMAZING IT IS.

I chose it to read with my newly restarted High School Book Club – I figured it would be a crowd pleaser, plus I don’t feel comfortable discussing a book so brutal with middle schoolers (even though I’m sure many of them have read it). I very quickly realized that this book is one of the best young adult books I have ever read in my life, 5 stars all the way.

I’m not going to get into a detailed summary, here’s one if you need it. I just want to say, Katniss is a super cool, tough, conscientious protagonist, and every minute I spent reading about her and the world she inhabits was a minute well spent. If you have not yet read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, you definitely should. I can’t imagine a middle or high schooler (or even adult), not thinking it was great. Plus the prequel is coming out this spring!

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I’ve been on a graphic novel kick lately (plus I always love a good memoir), and the latest one I’ve read is I Was Their American Dream: a Graphic Memoir by Malak Gharib. This is a book that I could really relate to, as Malaka is only a couple of years younger than me, so certain things she mentions from her childhood and teenage years were exciting to read about (i.e. zines). She writes about having a Muslim Egyptian father and a Catholic Filipina mother. Her parents divorced when she was young, but she grew up experiencing both cultures. The book is not only about the immigrant experience, since her parents were both first generation American immigrants, but also about race, specifically being mixed race. Malaka had a hard time finding where she fit in as a teenager, although this is something I think most people can relate to in some way.

This book was not only a fast and fun read, but important – as immigration, race, and culture should always be a topic that we can all always learn more about. Not only is this book great for teens, but adults will love it as well.

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STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly

As 2019 comes to a close, I’ve been furiously working away at the Mock Printz Award Books, as the awards will be held in less than two weeks. I finished Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly last night. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and this was a great one. This is the story of Cinderella, but told from one of the “ugly” stepsister’s point of view. It begins with Isabelle cutting off her toes to try to fit into the glass slipper, which of course doesn’t work out – her feet begin bleeding, and her stepsister Ella is freed from the attic room she has been locked in.

Isabelle and her sister Tavi have been cruel to their stepsister Ella for several years, due to jealousy and also at their mother’s insistence. She wants them to marry well, and every suitor prefers the beautiful Ella.  The townspeople turn against Isabelle, her sister, and mother after Ella becomes queen, even burning down their house. There is a fight in the background of the story between Chance, Fate, and a Fairy Queen, all trying to help or hinder Isabelle as she tries to save her family, stop a terrible war, and make amends with her stepsister.

Jennifer Donnelly does a great job really making Isabelle, Tavi and Ella, complicated characters – none are totally good or evil. Isabelle is a strong, smart, and caring girl, who has made mistakes and is trying to be better in the future – something we can all relate to. A great book for all teens and adults interested in fairy tale retellings.

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How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox has been on my radar since the spring because of all of its many starred reviews and appearances on best lists, but I have to be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading it till this week. Why have I not wanted to read this very well written book? It can be very depressing at times. Biz sees her dead father on the daily, but both her real life and her imaginings start to unravel pretty early on. She suffers from similar types of mental illness as her father, but has mostly hidden it for years from everyone. She retreats from most of the world after a chain of events that are triggered after she nearly drowns at the beach. Things only get worse when she goes on a search for her father, who has stopped appearing to her. However, this forces the people around her to find her the intense help she needs, and the book ends with hope.

As much as I fought reading this book, I really liked it – Biz was likable, relateable, funny, and also made you feel such empathy towards her. The book takes place in Australia, and it was very interesting learning about the different areas and reading about different things there (i.e. kangaroos). I completely understand why this book has as much buzz about it as it does. I would give this book to older teens or adults, that want to read books that portray people living with mental illness.

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LAST PICK by Jason Walz

I have been in a bit of a reading slump, picking up things and not finishing them, which I think is more about me being distracted by the holidays and just life in general than about the quality of the books I’ve been choosing. Well, I am officially out of the slump as of today, because I have finished my teen book club’s next selection – Last Pick by Jason Walz. It’s a new post-apocalyptic graphic novel, in which two teens (twins Sam and Wyatt) are trying to find their parents who were taken by aliens a couple of years prior. Aliens are now in charge of Earth, they collect people that they find useful and send them somewhere, although by the end of the book we don’t know where or why. The next book in the series will be out shortly, and I definitely intend on reading it.

It was a fast moving, easy to read, fun graphic novel that will have high appeal. I have my book club this Monday evening, so I’m expecting (hopefully I didn’t jinx anything) rave reviews. A great read for younger and older teens.

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A few weeks ago I read The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. I haven’t read one of her books in years, but a colleague said that it was one of her favorite YA books of the year so I decided to give it a try. It was pretty awesome, definitely in my top 10 YA books I’ve read this year.

The book is definitely fantasy, and very brutal. In the very beginning Jude’s parents are murdered by her mother’s husband (she faked her own death and ran away while pregnant – then had two more children by another man). He may be violent and horrible, but he has a special Fae honor, so he takes his own daughter and his wife’s two additional daughters to raise them all in Faerie. The book then picks up a few years later when Jude and her twin sister are older teens. They both have been totally drawn in to the allure and eccentricity of Faerie (which is beautifully described), even though it’s super dangerous and they don’t fit in. The book follows Jude as she tries to find her place, getting herself embroiled into a crazy royal family fight for the throne.

A lot of the teens I speak to love fantasy, and as long as they don’t mind how violent it is (most won’t), they will really enjoy this book. It’s filled with lots of interesting creatures, and who doesn’t love that? Definitely a great book for any high school student or adult that loves fantasy and twisty-turny plots.

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DAMSEL by Elana K. Arnold

I just finished Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, a Printz honor book of 2019, and wow, I totally get why it is so highly regarded. This book is not your typical fairy tale, even though it initially sounds like it. A prince must kill a dragon and rescue a damsel in order to become king. This is the way it’s been done for generations, as far back as anyone can remember. Prince Emory is no different, and he very quickly and successfully kills a dragon, rescues a damsel, and returns to his kingdom. 

The book initially starts from the prince’s point of view, but it gets really good and exciting when it switches to the damsel’s. She is totally confused and has no memory of her life before, but trusts the prince and takes him at his word – she was in danger and he has rescued her. At first he seems great and kind, but things change pretty quickly, and she realizes that he is not as wonderful as he thinks he is. The rest of the novel follows Ama as she tries to recover her memory, keep Emory from harming her pet lynx, and to carve out some control/joy/peace for herself in this new life she finds herself in.
I think this book would be great for mature high school students and adults, for lovers of fairy tales, and for people who have want or need of books with a theme of female empowerment.
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