We Were Liars

we were liarsCadence Sinclair comes from the perfect family – beautiful and wealthy – with their own private island off Cape Cod.  Each summer the Sinclairs gather there, each family ensconced in their own lovely home.  Cadence and Johnny and Mirren (her cousins) and Gat (a friend) have been inseparable since they were small children.  They are the “Liars”.  Until the summer when Cadence is fifteen and is involved in a mysterious accident, leaving her with memory loss and debilitating migraines.  Over the course of the next two years Cadence struggles, through a haze of pain and pain killers, to understand what really happened that summer.  When she returns to the island for the summer of her seventeenth year Cadence finds that much has changed, but will she find out why?  And what really happened during that lost summer?

I loved the romance between Gat and Cadence, which had both moments of sadness and sweetness.  Cadence’s depression and frustration as she struggles to recall the lost summer, while dealing with her difficult and odd family, was poignant.  While the book addresses issues of class and wealth, the issues surrounding dysfunctional families and friendship are far more central to the story.

So, the ending.  I didn’t see it coming.  And it was horrible, shocking, and touching.  If someone asks me about it, I guess I’ll have to be a Liar…

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 240
Publication: Delacorte Press, May 2014


Graphic Novels

will & whitWill (Wilhelmina) is dealing with a lot.  Her parents died in a car accident last year and she’s developed a fear of the dark that she combats with a creative hobby – creating lamps out of nearly anything.  Living with her aunt, and helping her run an antique store, Will is looking forward to a summer of hanging out with her friends.  But when Hurricane Whit comes to town and causes a massive blackout, Will has to face her fears, and herself, without the aid of her lamps.

This is a far more “girly” graphic novel than any I have read previously, and would be a great way to introduce girls to the genre, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for boys too.  Will’s struggles with her friends, her fears, and the loss of her parents are ones that can be universally understood and appreciated.  The illustrations are bold and flow seamlessly with the use of dark and light and shadows adding depth to the story.  Will’s story is one of courage and is full of heart, showing that there is always light to be found, even when it is darkest.

Title: Will & Whit
Author: Laura Lee Gulledge
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Graphic Novel
Pages: 192
Publication: Amulet Paperbacks, May 2013

marchJohn Lewis is a Congressman and a key figure in the civil rights movement.  This graphic novel is the first in a planned trilogy telling the story of Congressman Lewis’s life.  The book begins with Lewis’s participation in the Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing (the Bloody Sunday of the civil rights movement), but that story does not get completed in this installment.  Instead, it moves forward in time, using President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 as the framework for the story, Lewis looks back on his life, what it was like to live under segregation, and the journey that has led to this moment in history, sharing it with several young boys who are meeting the Congressman.  From his time as a child on the farm, to his meeting Martin Luther King, Jr.,  through to his use of nonviolent protest at department store lunch counters in Nashville, this graphic novel tells a moving story of the first part of this man’s personal history while never losing sight of the larger historical context.

Title: March: Book One
Author: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Genre: Non-Fiction, Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Publication: Top Shelf Productions, August 2013

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

yaqui delgadoWhen Piddy has to move to a new high school things in her life take a turn for the worse.  Some girls tell her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass and that she better be scared, because what Yaqui wants, Yaqui gets.  Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is let alone why she would hate her.  It could be that Piddy’s not Latina enough, with her light skin and her good grades.  Or it could be that she shakes too much when she walks.  It might be because Yaqui’s boyfriend is watching the shaking.  Or it could be all of those things, or none of those things.  In the end it doesn’t matter, because Piddy’s life gets overtaken by fear and justifiable paranoia.  And she knows she can’t tell anyone, it will only make things worse.  But when Yaqui finally catches up to her, the marks show, videos go viral making it impossible for her to show her face at school, and she can’t keep it a secret for much longer.

But the horrific bullying and the very real fear and depression that accompany it are not all there is to the story which contains wonderful secondary characters.  There is Piddy’s strong mother who is struggling alone to raise her daughter, and do right be her, while Piddy struggles to understand her mother and know more about the past and her absent father.  There is Lila, an adult refuge for Piddy and her mother’s best friend.  Also strong and sassy, with her line of boyfriends and her cosmetics business, Lila struggles with helping Piddy without keeping secrets from Piddy’s mom.  And there is Joey, a troubled boy with a troubled family, a friend from Piddy’s childhood, and the place where Piddy goes looking for love when her life is overtaken by hate and fear.  And of course, there is Yaqui Delgado herself, acting out on her own fears, overtaken by anger and desperation.

This may be the best book I’ve read in a long time.  Gritty and real, sad and funny, harrowing and triumphant, I loved every moment of it.  Full of sadness and strength, humor and hope, hate and love, the story captivates, makes you weep for Piddy and pray for her survival.  And while the ending is satisfactory, it is not perfect.  But it’s fitting, because life is not perfect, and it certainly isn’t fair, but fairness has little to do with survival.

Title: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Author: Meg Medina
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Publication: Candlewick, March 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box

boy on the wooden boxThe author, Leon Leyson, was born Leib Lezjon in Narewka Poland.  He was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and forced his family into the Krakow ghetto.  Courage, determination and luck would leave him a survivor of the ghetto and his next stop – the Plaszow concentration camp.  But ultimately it would be his name on a list, Oskar Schindler’s list, which would save his life, the life of his parents, and the lives of two of his siblings.

Leon was the youngest child on the list, and the only one to publish a memoir.  He tells the story as only a child survivor can, through the eyes of innocence, a combination of fear and confusion.  A child who at the end of each horrific day only wants his mother.  More amazing than his strength, courage, and survival is the seeming lack of bitterness or anger in his telling of the story.  He does not give the Nazis that final power over his life as he comes to California, becomes educated, serves in the military, marries, works, and raises a family with love and dignity.

A perfect way to introduce students to the atrocities of the Holocaust, the book is appropriate for middle school students and teens, giving them a glimpse of the atrocities suffered by children their own age in a story that is ultimately filled with kindness, heroism, and hope.  But this is more than a book for kids, this biography is a moving story for adults, providing a unique perspective.  Beautifully told, this is also a beautiful book, with photographs of Leon and his family as well as photos of Oskar Schindler and his list.

Title: The Boy on the Wooden Box
Author: Leon Leyson
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Young Adult
Pages: 240
Publication:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 2013

The Caster Chronicles

The Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl is set in Gatlin, South Carolina, a small southern town where nothing ever changes, but things get interesting when Lena Duchannes comes to town.  The new girl at school is automatically an outcast at Jackson High, especially since she is living with her crazy recluse of an uncle, but for some reason popular and athletic Ethan Wate is drawn to her.  Lena is a spellcaster, bound by an ancient curse to be claimed by either Dark or Light, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Spoiler alert!  It is too hard to discuss the remaining three books in the series without giving away some of what has happened, although I do my best to limit the reveals, but consider yourself warned!

beautiful darknessIn the first book of the series, Beautiful Creatures (which I reviewed here), Lena chooses her own fate, deciding that there is both Light and Dark within her, causing chaos in the spellcaster world.  Now in the second book, Beautiful Darkness, Lena, drowning in grief, guilt and uncertainty, starts keeping secrets and starts keeping company with her Siren cousin Riley and the mysterious John Breed.  But Ethan will follow her anywhere and starts on a quest through the Caster Tunnels to bring Lena home, accompanied by his best friend Link and the new Keeper-in-Training, Liv.

The quest brings a new sense of adventure and exploration to this novel, while Link’s humor and the welcome addition of Liv keep the characters fresh and fun.  Of course, the climatic ending leaves enough unanswered questions to make readers want to come back for the next installment of the series…

Title: Beautiful Darkness
Author: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2010


beautiful chaosIn Beautiful Chaos, Gatlin, and the spellcaster world, have been turned upside down.  Ethan and Lena have made it home to a town filled with locusts, violent storms, and record-breaking heat.  And a world where spellcasters’ powers are misfiring and wreaking havoc.  Ethan is affected too – finding himself plagued by dark dreams and seemingly losing parts of himself.  Suddenly he doesn’t like the same foods and can’t remember the names of people he has known his entire life.  What is happening?  And what sacrifice will be required to fix the order of things?  Because nothing comes for free…

Lena is back home and back as a regular part of the story and as almost-annoying as in previous books.  Suffering a bit from middle-book-in-a-series syndrome, this is not the best in the series, but it’s climatic and awful ending makes readers push on to the final installment.

Title: Beautiful Chaos
Author: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 528
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2011


beautiful redemptionUntil he meant Lena, Ethan had spent most of his life dreaming about getting out of Gatlin, but now all he wants to do is find a way back.  In Beautiful Redemption, Lena is willing to sacrifice anything, including the safety of those Ethan left to save, to bring him home.  Full of puzzles, new characters and the return of old, Ethan will find that there are no free rides, and no way to have everything you want.  A bittersweet ending to a tale full of love and magic and sacrifice.

Overall, this is an engaging and fast-paced series.  Many of the characters – Macon, Marion, Liv, Link, Riley, Alma – make it worth the trip and override the potential frustration with Lena.  For fans of YA series full of love, danger, climatic endings, and magic this is a must-read.

Title: Beautiful Redemption
Author: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2012