One book a…Thousand Words

Brown, Jennifer. Thousand Words. New York:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-0316209724. 288p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.


The premise of this book is so timely and appropriate for high school students today. High school sophomore Ashleigh loves her senior boyfriend and while drunk at a party, she is encouraged by her friends to send him something so he does not forget her at college. She decides on the spur of the moment to send him a full frontal nude photo of herself even though she is a virgin. What happens next is an absolute nightmare as the photo is sent out to practically everyone in the school as a result of a bad breakup and her friends who trash Kaleb’s house and truck. The story, told through her time working on her sixty hours of community service and flashbacks, really gets to the heart of the matter of the dangers of drinking and sexting and how it not only changes her life, but also the life of her ex-boyfriend who is charged with distributing child pornography. Ashleigh loses her parents’ trust, coach’s respect, friends, and reputation. We are there with her as she attempts to rebuild her life with the help of an unlikely new friend, Mack. The title comes from the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, but as Ashleigh also learns, it does not tell the whole story.

Realistic                               Marian Kohan, Erie School District

The book does not come off as overly preachy as it highlights an important issue that too many of our teens are engaging in and the possible worst case scenario that could result.  One of the students who read the book liked it but thought it seemed too contrived and went overboard on the consequences for the teens. Another thought that there was no way a girl who was not having a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, and really didn’t want one, would send a nude photo of herself—drunk or not. To her the story lacked a ring of truth but she did like how the story was told and wanted to read more about Ashleigh’s new relationship with Mack.

You Look Different…In Real Life

Castle, Jennifer. You Look Different in Real Life. New York: Harper, 2013. 978-0-06-198581-2. 355p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Justine was six years old when she and four of her classmates were selected to be the focus of a documentary focusing on the lives of a typical group of kindergarteners.  Five years later, a follow-up film documented their evolving friendships, personalities, interests, hopes and dreams.  Now as the teens reach the age of 16, the time has arrived to document them for a third film.  Only this time, Justine is uncertain if she wants to participate in the project.  An outspoken youngster, she was the undisputed star of the prior documentaries.  But at 16, she is disappointed in the choices she has made and the boring direction her life seems to be taking.  She’s not the only film participant whose life hasn’t turned out the way they imagined.  The five teens, once close as children, now seldom speak.  Close friendships have broken and families have disintegrated.  Some of the five have embraced their minor fame, while others have sought to reinvent themselves in reaction to their portrayals in the films.  When filming on the third movie commences, the five teens are sent by the film directors on a weekend retreat.  Forced to once again interact, will the teens come to some type of understanding about the fracturing of their relationships and their future?
Realistic                       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

I would rate this book three stars (out of five).  The plot of the book seems to have been inspired by director Michael Apted’s Up documentary series which started in 1964 with a group of children and has revisited them every seven years until present day.  (In America, this documentary series is usually shown on PBS).  In a documentary film, it is relatively easy to follow multiple storylines.  In a novel, it becomes a bit more problematic.  Having to follow the evolving storylines of five characters did cause the plot to lose focus at times.  However, there were sections and scenes within You Look Different in Real Life that were quite powerful and affecting.  The reader does gain perspective on how participation in reality films/shows could alter the life of a child/teen and those around them.

YA Fiction 2013 – Starglass


North, Phoebe. Starglass. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. 978-1442459533. 448 p. $17.99. Gr 7-12.


Terra has been raised aboard the massive Asherah, a space ship that holds what’s left of mankind after an asteroid destroys the Earth. With a passion of art, Terra is disappointed when on her 16th birthday, she is assigned a job as a botanist, securing an unsatisfying future. As the Asherah descends upon it’s destined planet, she finds her friends and family slipping away, as well as the life she knows, and wonders her path in life. One night wandering the ship, Terra witnesses a guard murdering an innocent man, and is swept into a secret rebellion that makes her question those she knows best, and those in power. North’s vivid writing and strong characters will delight dystopian fans of the City of Ember and Across the Universe series.

Science Fiction (Dystopian)           Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Fiction 2013 – Splintered

Howard, A.G. Splintered. New York: Amulet Books, 2013. 978-14197-04284. 371 p.  $17.95 Gr. 7-12.

Alyssa Gardner is afraid.  As the great-great-great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell, or “Alice in Wonderland,” she’s spent her life knowing that her family is not quite right.  In fact, her mother has been institutionalized since Alyssa was five, after injuring Alyssa’s hands with scissors, cutting flower-tops while declaring “off with their heads!”  Now Alyssa is hearing—and desperately trying to drown out—the voices of ordinary insects and flowers, too.  She’s afraid she will share her mother’s fate, or worse.  But she catches enough of the voices to realize that if she can locate the door to Wonderland and go “down the rabbit hole,” she may be able to find the cure for the curse that is upon her family.  It could mean freedom for herself and her mother.  Sprinkle in Jeb, a devoted semi-boyfriend, and Morpheus, a dark new love interest in Wonderland, and you add romance to the spooky, surprising twists on a well-established favorite.  Buy where fantasy and romance are desired in one novel.

Fantasy (Alice in Wonderland); Romance                 Melissa Scott, Shenango High School


The Madness of YA Fiction 2013

Johnson, Maureen. The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, Book 2). New York: G.P. Putnam’s, 2013. 978-0-399-25661-5. $17.99. Gr. 7+.

In this follow-up to the Edgar Award nominee, The Name of the Star,  Rory Deveaux has survived her attack by “the Ripper”.   As Rory tries to adjust to life in Bristol, miles away from Wexford and her friends, she learns that her survival not only left her with a mean scar, but also a terminus.  Only this time the terminus is not a cell phone; she has become the terminus.  After weeks of therapy, Rory’s therapist suggests that she return to London and school to help with her healing.  Rory knows something’s up when, in the middle of the night, Stephen, head of the secret Shades police, takes her from Wexford to the London underground.  As Rory’s “gift” is displayed, an inner struggle begins, a struggle that leads her to Jane, a new therapist who helps Rory overcome herself, but does she really?  Maureen Johnson once again brings to life the paranormal world of the Shades, the secret ghost-fighting police force, while manipulating Rory’s teenage world of school, boyfriends, friendships, emotions, and growth.  This is a great novel to pair with exploration into the paranormal, cults, Greek mythology, and teenage maturation issues.

Fantasy (Paranormal)                         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln Jr/Sr High School, Ellwood City

I really enjoyed the first novel in this series, The Name of the Star.  I found Johnson’s grasp of character intertwined with the paranormal only added to her grasp of the plot and the conflicts within and around Rory.  Although I enjoyed this second novel, I did not enjoy it as much.  If I had to rate it it’s about a 4 out of 5 stars.  It was good, but it lacked the intrigue of the first novel.  The Madness Underneath focused more on character than plot. It was somewhat angsty, but still delivered enough interest in the characters and story to want to finish it.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Shades of London series because Johnson can really do something amazing, and I’m hoping she does.  Happy Reading!