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Reading Between Classes

A unique perspective on YA Literature from a junior high teacher. 

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Dance of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between ClassesCover Impressions: I was not nearly as enamored with this cover as I was with the first. I like the coloring and the font, but there is something about the background image that feels overly photoshopped.The Gist: Following the events of Masque of the Red Death, Araby Worth finds her life in ruin. She is fleeing the only home that she has ever known, torn between the love of two men who have both betrayed her and desperately seeking a cure to the disease created by her own father. Facing enemies on all sides, she becomes a beacon of hope for those struggling to survive in the city and find a cure for the plague that has devastated them. Review:Dance of the Red Death picks up where Masque of the Red Death left off. I am always interested by books that draw connections from the work of Edgar Allan Poe. In this case, Griffin has taken inspiration from The Mask of the Red Death. She does an excellent job of creating the gothic feel of which Poe was a master. I have read a number of novels where this is attempted, and this is the only series where I have seen it done successfully. At the beginning, I found it very difficult to remember what had happened in the last book. I could have used a little more re-cap on the action thus far and the cast of characters. I was several chapters in before I was able to recall who everyone was. I also found it annoying that there were two plagues to be dealt with. I could not, for the life of me, remember which plague brought which symptoms or why some people were dying in minutes, some in weeks and a few seemed to be able to go on living for years. I was very happy to watch the growth of Araby. She started out with far too much dependence on the other characters and I found it frustrating to see her sit back and follow the boys. However, she eventually started to strike out on her own and became a heroine in her own right. This is a far cry from the suicidal teen who longed only for a drug fueled escape that we met in the first novel. The two love interests aptly served their role though, there was far less heat between either of them and Araby as there was in the first novel. I was disappointed with the ineffective use of April as a character. In the previous book, she was such a loud and boisterous character who added moments to smile despite the dark circumstances. In this novel, however, we lose much of her spunk and, despite Araby's insistence to the contrary, I don't really feel this connection between the two characters. Also.... SPOILER ALERT!!..........Her death was completely underwhelming! Why wasn't Araby there?! Not only do we get no emotional pay-off from the heartbreaking death of one of the central characters, WE DON'T EVEN GET TO SEE IT! What gives Griffin?? Ok, spoiler done...........Prospero was an excellent villain. He was cruel, malicious and more than a touch psychotic. I loved the use of the themed party rooms and Araby's challenge there. I do wish this element had taken a little longer to explore, especially as this is where we get the closest connections to Poe's masterpiece. The other villain felt less threatening and almost unnecessary. So much so that, at the moment, I cannot even recall his name..... something with an M....... Either way, he was barely featured and did not make much impact to the story at all.The blurb for this novel describes it as a conclusion, but, to me, things feel a little unfinished. I do hope that this is incorrect and that we will get to see Araby and Will fighting Elliot for control of the city. Bethanny Griffin does a great job of presenting a novel that has a wonderful gothic feel, an action filled story and a romantic element, while still maintaining a level of appropriateness for teens. Overall, a few missteps, but a good book, nonetheless.Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 13 and upGender: FemaleSex: KissingViolence: Gunplay, Knifeplay, TortureInappropriate Language: NoneSubstance Use/Abuse: Drinking

Openly Straight

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between ClassesCover Impressions: This cover is ADORABLE. I love the choice of tiffany blue for the background and the emoticon choices. I think this one will stand out on a shelf and is unique enough to intrigue potential readers. The Gist: Rafe's entire life has been colored by the fact that he is gay. He is comfortable with who he is, and is proud of what he is accomplished, but he really wants a chance to see what life would be like without the label. He gets his opportunity when he transfers to an all-boy boarding school in New England. Suddenly he is able to fit in with the popular jocks and experience a side of life he never realized he was missing. As Rafe begins to fall in love with one of his newfound friends he must face the predicament in which he has put himself - a lie allowed him to develop a beautiful relationship and the truth may destroy his love and his friendship.Review:Openly Straight featured a unique perspective. Rafe is "out" and in the public eye. His parents support him, he is an equal rights advocate at his school and even speaks to other youth on what it is like to be a gay teen. But, he often feels that this label places a barrier between him and his peers. He plays sports, but doesn't feel like part of the team. Other students and teachers constantly turn to him to provide "the gay point of view" and, despite his being out and available, he still doesn't have a boyfriend. With his entry to a new school, he finally has a chance to get rid of the label and remove the barriers - but it means leaving a big part of himself behind. I loved getting a chance to see the challenges that can be faced by a teen even if he is supported by his family and is part of a (fairly) liberal school. This novel featured a lot of fun and unique characters. Rafe and his friends are smart and witty and their comments and conversations often left me smiling, if not laughing. These are the types of characters that could easily carry a novel of their own and I often found myself wondering what they were doing when they were not with Rafe. My absolute favorite scenes were those with his parents. they were fun and quirky and wonderful examples of supportive parents - which is refreshing in a genre where absentee parents have almost become a cliche. I was also quite pleased that Openly Straight showed (if not featured) several gay characters and did a great job of breaking stereotypes.Openly Straight is not a book with a particularly strong plot. It follows a "will they, won't they" love story that was often sweet and romantic. Rafe did have a tendency to live in his own head and the introspection slowed the story considerably. This was really noticeable in the last 1/3rd of the book and resulted in an ending that was much more of a whimper than a bang. I also wish that it didn't contain quite as much swearing and sexual behavior as this limits me in which students I can recommend the book to. However, I really enjoyed the unique perspective that this novel provided and I was entertained by the fun cast of characters. Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 16 and upGender: BothSex: Kissing, Masturbation, Sex between TeenagersViolence: NoneInappropriate Language: Lots and Often: ass, shit, dick, shit, faggot, piss, bitch, fuck, retard, whore, slut, prick, cockSubstance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality - Elizabeth Eulberg This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between ClassesCover Impressions: The cover is cute, though a bit simplistic for my taste. I might prefer if it had something in the background, like a mirror that the lipstick was scrawled on...The Gist: Lexi has spent years catering to her 7 year old sister turned pageant princess. She sews, she primps, she meets the ever-increasing demands of her overbearing mother. She is known as the girl with the "great personality" and she is ready for a change. When her best friend challenges her to put some serious effort into her personality, she reluctantly relents, if only to prove that she is a hopeless case. Armed with perfectly coifed hair and fabulously fake lashes, she receives more attention than she ever dreamed, including one very cute guy - even if it isn't really the guy she wanted. As her world changes, she begins to doubt which Lexi is the real one: the beautiful girl, or the one with the great personality?Review: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality was a fun read with a few flaws. I loved the premise and the glimpse into the world of the sister of a pageant princess. Lexi had an interesting voice and I loved that she didn't buy into the whole pageant world. She was a but too whiney for my taste and she constantly lamented her lack of beauty (which was easily solved by a modicum of makeup - really, you're hideous and a touch of concealer fixes everything? I don't think so.) I thought the sometimes rocky but always backed by love, relationship between the sisters was pretty realistic. Even though it was sometimes painful to read about, so was the relationship between the divorced mother and her daughters. The mother was truly damaged and looking for validation in all the wrong places. At one point, she made a move so heinous that I was left feeling shocked and betrayed along with Lexi and it amped up my feelings of disgust and re-engaged me with the plot of the novel. Unlike the familial relationships, I didn't feel any real connection with either of the love interests but, to be fair, I don't think Lexi really did either. They mostly served as a backdrop against which she could make new discoveries about herself. Her friends, however, had a lot of unrealized potential. They were interesting, but fell flat and undeveloped while we followed Lexi through the "popular" world. The thing that irked me about this novel was the way in which Lexi preached to pageant parents at the end. Being in a profession where I, occasionally, come across entitled, know-it-all children, I found her lecturing to be very off-putting. Her experiences with her sister and mother give her an insight into the beauty and ugliness of the pageant world, but they do not make her an expert on each family's situation not do they give her the right to judge parents who have twice (or more) her life experience.Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is, ultimately, a cute novel with a good message about self-love that would be enjoyed by most teenage girls.Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 12 and upGender: FemaleSex: KissingViolence: Teen gets slapped by parentInappropriate Language: NoneSubstance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking


Speechless - Hannah Harrington Cover Impressions: The cover is cute and effective but needs something to make it a little more eye catching. I am happy to see a cover model that seems to reflect the main character, but would have seen a bit more red to her hair.The Gist: Chelsea has spent most of her teenage years playing sidekick to Kristen. In her climb to the top of the social pyramid, she has discovered and revealed secrets about most of her classmates. One night, a secret she reveals leads to consequences that she never expected and she is forced to re-examine her choices. She realizes that he root of her problem is her gossiping ways and vows to stop speaking. Abandoned by her friends, she must now find a way to survive the abuse and ridicule, without speaking a word. Review: I read Speechless in just a couple of hours last night. Now, I know, that doesn't seem remarkable to most readers, but you have to realize; I have a child, I have a husband, a home and a full time job. I have a thousand things vying for my attention during every minute of the day and I still read this book in one sitting. This story tells of a unique perspective: the popular girl who is part of something horrible and is able to see the error of her ways and actually take an action to become a better person. I loved that even though Chelsea had ruled with fear and ridicule as Kristen's second in command, she was able to see what a horrible person she had been and to recognize that her problem had come from being unable to keep her mouth shut. Her progression from popular princess to actual decent human being is not an easy or quick one. She struggles along the way, but, through her vow of silence, is eventually able to see herself and the people around her in a much more realistic light. I love watching a character grow throughout the book and by the end of Speechless, Chelsea is a much better person, able to see not only the flaws, but also the good in herself and others. The other characters are sweet, if a little underdeveloped. We have two love interests, one sweet and one superficial. Eventually Chelsea is able to distinguish between them and to make the right choice. We also have Asha, the kind and kooky girl who sees the potential in Chelsea and helps her find it herself. Naturally, we also have to deal with the "villians" of the story - Chelsea's former best friend Kristen, who honestly wasn't that nice to her to begin with, and the jocks who torture Chelsea as punishment for ratting out their friends. These characters, particularly Kristen, could have used a little more page time. There were glimmers of potential with her, but it wasn't really explored. The plot is not particularly fast paced. There is a party, some school issues, a romance, some personal growth and a school dance. However, it is very well written and Harrington does an excellent job of writing realistic teenage dialogue, though I wish she had gone a little easy on the vulgar language. Chelsea's journey to self-realization and her dedication to her vow are interesting enough to keep the plot moving and the friendships and romance that develops is sweet, without being overpowering. I would recommend this for most teenagers, but would warn that it includes vulgar language and sexual situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens.Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 15 and upGender: FemaleSex: Kissing, Talk of sexual actsViolence: Fist Fighting, Attack on a gay teenInappropriate Language: Piss, Shit, Bitch, Slut, Whore, Fag, Fuck, DickSubstance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Marijuana Use
Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher Cover Impressions: This cover is interesting in its contradictions. The background image had a romantic feel to it with the soft colors and lace. The foreground, however, features black tape and a stark font and red elements that stand out. I really enjoyed how the quote from Sherman Alexie feels almost like a piece of grafitti on the wall. The Gist: Clay Jensen, all around nice guy, is surprised by a mysterious package containing thirteen cassette tapes. When he begins listening to them, he is shocked to discover that they contain a message from Hannah Baker, his crush who recently committed suicide. Hannah has recorded thirteen tapes, for thirteen people and they must each listen and then pass the tapes on or a second copy will be made public. In listening to the thirteen reasons that Hannah took her own life, Clay learns more than he ever dreamed about Hannah and about the other 12 people on the list. Review:Thirteen Reasons Why was chosen by my students as a book club book. I set the schedule back in January unaware that it would become so topical. Just this past week, a local teen made worldwide headlines when she committed suicide. Rehtaeh Parson was allegedly raped by four of her peers while at a party. She spent the next two years being tortured by her classmates while her alleged rapists walked off scott-free. Rehteah attempted suicide and was placed on life-support, eventually being taken off by her heart-broken parents. Her death has shocked the world and led to a call to action for police, lawmakers, teachers, and parents. Thirteen Reasons Why tells a very important story: that of a girl who feels alone and without hope and that of the people left behind wondering what they could have done. It is important to note that there were no big tragedies in Hannah's life. Her suicide was the result of rumors, innuendo and "the snowball effect" that made her feel unloved and unwanted. Those of us on the outside often find it difficult to recognize this and are unable to see the impact that a thousand small actions can have on a person's life. Through this story, we are prompted (without preaching) to be better people, to consider the impact of our words and actions and to truly see the lives of those suffering around us.Thirteen Reason's Why features a dual narrative that seemlessly blends Hannah's story with that of Clay as he spends one painful night making his way through the tapes and through Hannah's life. This writing styles was risky, but it plays very well and each character is able to add events and elements to create a seamless story that compels the reader forward. The reader walks with Clay, and with Hannah, willing each person mentioned in the tapes to act differently and change the outcome, pleading with them to take notice. As a teacher this was both painful and thought-provoking. Books like this are the reason that I am coming to love YA Contemporary Fiction. They jump start conversations and critical thinking. It is my sincere hope that, in reading this book as a group, my book club will be able to open the lines of communication and help each one of them to understand the importance of treating each and every person they meet with kindness and compassion. And if one of those students truly understands how Hannah feels, I hope this book, and our discussion, will help them find one person who can positively impact their life. It is time for an open dialogue in schools and this is a fine place to start. Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 16 and upGender: BothSex: Voyeurism, Masturbation, PettingViolence: Rape, SuicideInappropriate Language: Slut, Ass, Dick, Bitch, Pissed, ShitSubstance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph - Robin LaFevers Cover Impressions: I really like the covers for this series. Grave Mercy had a beautiful scarlet color, but I think the muted colors here are much more fitting for Sybella, as is the background of a dark corridor rather than a grand castle. Her work is better suited to the shadows.The Gist: The His Fair Assassin series continues with the story of Sybella. Having escaped the fear and madness of her father's house, Sybella finds a new home at the convent of St.Mortain. Having been trained in the deadly arts, she is just beginning to find her way back to herself when the political ambitions of her father forces the convent to send Sybella back into his arms. The brutality and unpredictable rage of her father, coupled with the unhealthy obsession of her brother threatens to drive Sybella mad until she embarks on a mission to free an important prisoner and, in doing so, finds an unlikely ally.Review: Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by Grave Mercy. I loved the premise of assassin nuns trained in the deadly arts, but was turned off by the breadth of the political intrigue and Ismae's accursed conscience. In the wings, however, waited Sybella. She was such a mysterious and interesting character that it made me long for the release date of Dark Triumph. I am happy to say, Sybella does not disappoint. She is certainly bloodthirsty, (and one point she even mutters "I am in desperate need of killing something.") and she does not often worry about the moral implications as Ismae did. While Ismae faded a little when the love interest was introduced, Sybella railed against him, taking every opportunity to comment on how ugly he was.The romantic angle in Dark Triumph was much more palatable for me than it was in Grave Mercy. Beast and Sybella seem equally well matched and neither comes to love the other easily. There was a point at which Beast seemed to have developed an unhealthy desire to rescue Sybella, but that passed and they were placed on equal footing once again. For his part, Beast opened Sybella to a world of compassion that her upbringing had denied her and I really enjoyed how she developed in his presence. This book featured much less political maneuvering than its predecessor and this makes for a much faster paced plot. Beast and Sybella's lives have been closely intertwined for many years and the revelation of her secrets adds an air of mystery to the story. There are also a number of exciting battles and the introduction of an interesting new cast of characters. While this book moves the overall plot along and sets up for the final in the series, it also provides a satisfying ending to Sybella's personal story.I will definitely be waiting with baited breath for the final installment in the His Dark Assassin series for more of Sybella but, as I remember very little of Annith, I am also excited for a story that follows her and one that finally reveals the secrets of the convent.Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 15 and upGender: BothSex: Kissing, Allusion to incest, one instance of consensual sex - not explicitViolence: Torture, Rape, Swordplay, Knifeplay, a number of murders including one disturbing (for me) scene featuring the death of an infantInappropriate Language: Whore, Piss, BastardSubstance Use/Abuse: Drinking
A Corner of White  - Jaclyn Moriarty This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between ClassesCover Impressions: At first glance, this cover looks like just another contemporary romance but, after finishing the book, I can appreciate the little touches. Madeline's outfit is exactly as described in the book - a whimsical plethora of colors. I also love the sparkle and light that gives an ethereal quality to the letter and the wonderful colors reflected in the falling leaves. The one thing that I do miss is a reflection of Elliot, but perhaps that is just because I preferred his side of the story to Madeline's. It is also worth taking a look at the actual hardcover underneath the book jacket - it is covered with the colors of Madeline's jacket and boots and is imprinted with the image of the umbrella and falling leaves. These touches are beautiful and unexpected. The Gist: Madeline and her mother have run away from their privileged life for one of struggling to make ends meet in Cambridge. Elliot lives in the mysterious Kingdom of Cello and is on a desperate search to find his missing father. The two begin communicating through letters that they fit through a rare gap between the worlds and weave their two lives together in ways they never imagined possible. Review:I will admit, A Corner of White was almost a did-not-finish for me. This book got to a very slow start. Almost the entire first half was a sluggish slog. At about this point, I went back to the reviews on Goodreads and saw that most reviewers had commented on this and said to hang in there. So I did, and, I am so happy for it. In the beginning, the writing style took some getting used to and the characters were quirky if a little too well informed for their age. This type of book will require a patient reader and not all teens will fit this bill, however, the payoff in the end is entirely worth it.Moriarty's characters endear themselves to you slowly. At the beginning I wasn't particularly fond of Madeline and I didn't entirely see the point of Jack and Bella. By the end, I enjoyed their strange obsession with aura's and horoscopes and could see the important role that they played in Madeline's growth and development. Incidentally, I really hope that their peculiar interests are incorporated into Cello's world in further books. Even Madeline had outgrown her whining and become a character that I could continue to follow through this series. I enjoyed Elliot from the very beginning. He was strong and independent while holding an important place within his community. I was very glad that the relationship between him and Madeline never crossed into the romantic and I hope that is something that does not change further into the story. Jaclyn Moriarty is certainly an author who shows rather than tells. While this is an admirable trait among writers it also means that it takes quite a while to get a clear understanding of the way that the world of Cello works, particularly the threat of Colors. She occasionally pushes our understanding forward through the inclusion of newspaper articles, books or police reports. I will admit, I still don't quite understand the mechanics behind catching and using spells, but I assume this will be revealed in the next installement. One thing that I did love to see was the incorporation of scientific knowledge and history into the storyline. It would be interesting to see the reactions of my grade 8 students were they to read this book while studying our Optics unit which covers light and colors. A Corner of White also featured an unexpected twist or two that were refreshing and kept me engaged for the second half of the book.As I noted previously, this novel gets off to a slow start but ends with a resolution that is satisfying while also successfully setting up for the next book in the series. Unfortunately, I cannot discuss too much of what makes it such a good ending without spoiling the entire plot, I only wish to tell you that if you are reading this review while in the middle of the book, as I did, keep going. If have not started yet, remember to let the story develop around you - it is worth it. Teaching/Parental Notes:Age: 13 and up (readers must be patient enough to get through the slow beginning)Gender: BothSex: KissingViolence: "Color" attacks that maim/killInappropriate Language: AssSubstance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Smoking, Discussion of Alcoholism

A Child Called 'It'

A Child Called It  - Dave Pelzer > Read for a class during my Education degree.

A Vision of Murder (Psychic Eye Mysteries, Book 3)

A Vision of Murder - Victoria Laurie This series keeps getting better and better. I love Abby's cool wit and stubborn streak.

Demon Mistress (Otherworld, Book 6)

Demon Mistress - Yasmine Galenorn I really love these books. Switching narrators in each book keeps it fresh and allows you an insight into each sister that you couldn't get otherwise and keeps me waiting for each installment. Though I do wonder at why is it that whichever sister is narrating is suddenly the one in charge! This book followed Menolly, the Fae turned vampire. I really like this character, not as steamy as Camille but not as crybaby as Delilah can be (very much looking forward to her growing into her powers!). All three sisters can kick ass and take names and are great characters to watch. Can't wait for the next book!P.S ***Spoiler alert: Menolly finally takes her hair out of the braids!!!

Where There's a Witch (Bewitching Mysteries, No. 5)

Where There's a Witch - Madelyn Alt Terrible! I was very excited to read the next installment in this series and was utterly disappointed. The main character, Maggie, has made no progress whatsoever. Her boring lack of a love life is excruciating to read about and is completely her own fault! If she would get out of her own way we might be able to add a little steamy romance to this storyline but instead she insists on being loyal to a man who has clearly moved on already. The clues to the story's mystery were literally spelled out for her but she is unable to put two and two together. This lack of vision and her self pitying "I'm just a run of the mill empath" is infuriating and left me screaming at the book when her own life is threatened by the killer and she STILL thinks it was someone else! I truly hope the author can improve these issues when the next book is due because I do not want to give up on a series that held such promise in the past.

The Seventh Witch (Ophelia & Abby Mysteries, No. 7)

The Seventh Witch - Shirley Damsgaard Another great book from Shirley Damsgaard. A really fun read.

Twilight, True Love and You: Seven Secret Steps to Finding Your Edward or Jacob

Twilight, True Love and You: Seven Secret Steps to Finding Your Edward or Jacob - Louise Deacon Um, What. The. Fuck?

Tempted (House of Night, Book 6)

Tempted  - P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast Couldn't finish it, the series has gotten too ridiculous.

Bite Me: A Love Story

Bite Me - Christopher Moore As the third book in this series, Bite Me, simply does not live up to the standards set by its predecessors. A considerable chunk of the character's time is spent trying to find one another, Jody trying to find Tommy, Tommy trying to find Jody, Abby trying to find either or both of them. This does little to enhance the plot and seems to be used more as a device to show the passage of time. When they finally did find one another, the characters were flat and boring. I missed the banter that left me laughing out loud in the previous novels. I was disappointed by the lack of interaction between the main characters as well as the lack of time spent with minor, but interesting, characters like the Animals and the Emperor. These characters had been points of hilarity and insanity earlier in the series, but, in this book, seem tired and bored. Overall I was disappointed to see the series end this way. If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, then by all means, venture into this book in order to see how the characters fare. But, if you are choosing just one of his books to try, may I recommend Lamb or A Dirty Job instead. Either of these novels will show Moore in a much better light.

The Awakening (Darkest Powers, Book 2)

The Awakening - Kelley Armstrong I am a huge fan of Kelley Armstrong but I am finding this series a little hard to love. Perhaps though the fault of her editors, there is not enough description for my liking. I find it difficult to picture the scenes because there aren't enough details provided. The main character, Chloe, is likable enough, but she is just blah. There is nothing outstanding about her character, her intelligence or her actions, she simply seems to be along for the ride. For the second time in this series, the reader has been left only a few scant details about what is really going on behind the scenes and little or no closure for the characters. Since this is being billed as a trilogy, I was expecting much more action and much more information. I can only hope that the third book with have enough of both to satisfy the readers.