Popular high-school Senior Sam Kingston is looking forward to “Cupid Day” and flaunting the dozens of roses she will receive from her many admirers. It should just be another party, but then, she dies in a terrible accident. However, Sam wakes up again the next morning, and again, and again… She must relive her last day until she gets it right. Before I Fall is a fascinating story of love, death, and the power we have to affect the people around us.
There is no denying that from page one, Sam Kingston is an awful person. She frequently participates chanting “psycho” at the school cast out. Worse, she actually believes that others should just accept the way they are mercilessly attacked because she was once mocked in the third grade for blushing, as if blushing were the equivalent to being called a whore. The truth is that once she dies, I didn’t feel bad for her. In fact, I thought she got what she deserved. That is the beauty of this book. Sam is forced to reevaluate her life and come to terms with the kind of person she wants to be before she dies.
Plot wise, this book is Mean Girls meets Groundhog’s Day. My biggest problem with it though, was that it took both too far. Maybe I have just been incredibly lucky, but I have neither experienced nor encountered “crazy popular girls.” I find it very hard to imagine people that horrible “ruling the school”, and especially improbable that teachers would allow it to happen. Of course, there will always be malicious bullies, but Sam and her friends just felt like a hyperbole that went wrong. Even worse though, the Groundhog’s Day aspect nearly drove me crazy. This was particularly true in the beginning, when Sam is sickeningly awful. Reliving the same day over and over with few changes felt like literary torture. It may be that the writing is irritating because Sam herself was irritating, but again, it goes too far. Eventually, I started to enjoy it around day four, and fell in love with the book for the last three hundred pages.
Despite the painful start, I found the writing to be entertaining and fitting. The tone and diction mirror Sam’s transition from Queen Bee to reasonable girl. Before I Fall is a pretty quick read, especially given that many scenes are nearly exact replicas from earlier in the story.
Overall, I wish the beginning was easier to get through, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
“Your brain knows what to feed you: a Message rushes into your head. Covers everything else. No desire. No fear. No hunger, even. I sit again and open my bio book. Studying is your top priority.”
The town of Candor, Florida is perfect. In this perfect town, everyone strives to be more like Oscar Banks, the son of the town’s founder. However, his perfect grades, perfect friends, and perfect life are all a cover. Oscar knows that his father is bringing delinquent teenagers to Candor to brainwash them. With subliminal messages in the ever-present music, personalities are erased and everyone becomes compliant and respectful robots. Oscar has built a business, smuggling teens out of Candor before the Messages turn them. Yet, when Oscar meets Nia, everything changes. Will Oscar save Nia and never see her again, or keep her are risk exposure and further danger?
Though dystopian novels have become overwhelmingly abundant in YA lit, Candor’s premise is very different and refreshing when compared to its many counterparts. Brainwashing is an incredibly exciting, though chilling, subject that very few YA books have explored. The intriguing idea hooks the reader and offers the promise of an intricate and involved plot. Unfortunately, despite its exciting beginning, the plot does take a bit longer than necessary to pick up. However, once it does (at about page 100) there is no putting the book down; and the action-packed ending leaves the reader breathless and desperate for more.
The writing is fairly simple and easy to understand. Though it may be an easy read, I never found the writing became boring or irritating in its simplicity.
Bachorz does an excellent job building snarky, sarcastic, and interesting characters. She grows and develops the characters so well that even though I didn’t sympathize with, or even like, Oscar very much in the beginning, by the end I was on the edge of my seat rooting for him and hoping that he would be okay.
However, I would have liked to see more development of the people in the town outside Oscar’s family and close friends. It could have been very interesting to get both a broader and deeper view into how the Messages are affecting Candor.
Candor does an excellent job of raising questions about free will, what it means to be perfect, and how much of ourselves are we willing to sacrifice to achieve that perfection. I enjoyed how Bachorz weaves these big ideas throughout, giving what could’ve been just another YA dystopian a much deeper meaning.
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2013
WARNING: **** Contains Spoilers about Previous Books ****
In a dystopian society where love is a disease, a rebellion is rising. Lena has joined the resistance and fled into the Wilds. As the Invalids grow stronger, the government has no choice but to respond and acknowledge their existence for the first time. Love triangles and mundane action scenes are interwoven to create this perfectly mediocre novel.
Following the popular theme in current teen lit, the story is told from two perspectives: Lena and her best friend, Hana. This felt fairly random given that the first two books were only from Lena’s point of view. Though, of course, Hana’s portions of the book give the reader insight into the current society and juxtapose Lena’s life in the Wilds, it gets BORING! Most of her story is the telling of her daily activities such as taking a shower, going a hike, and sleepless nights. Until about page 300, Hana’s story is all but irrelevant and feels like filler.
This is the third, and final, book in a series, so there is a clear expectation for character growth and development. However, unfortunately, there is very little of either. Correction: the characters have grown to become more irritating. Lena became more shallow and whiny and all characters suffered from random bursts of unexplainable jealously. One character in particular lost any developments he had gained in the previous book and simply became a device to move the plot forward.
Oh goodness the plot! Though it started with some promise, it quickly became apparently that the story would be very slow to reach its climax, or any meaningful event for that matter. In the last hundred pages, the story begins to pick up and becomes exciting and interesting, a very pleasant chance. However for whatever reason, what could’ve been a very entertaining and fulfilling ending got crammed into about twenty pages and felt very forced. Then, before any resolution for the book, or series as a whole, could be reached the book stops!
Finally, the writing left something to be desired. With gems such as, “instinctively Coral and I duck instinctively into a darkened doorway,” it became slightly painful to read (Oliver, 205).
This was a very unfortunate ending to what began as a very promising series. I would still recommend reading Delirium, the first book, which has an fulfilling plot, compelling characters, interesting writing, and can stand on its own. But I regret to say, Requiem did not hold up!
This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl
Dutton Juvenile 2014
This Star Won’t Go Out is a collection of journal entries, videos, letters, and sketches of Esther Earl a 16-year-old who passed away to cancer in 2010. Her name may sound familiar, as she was the inspiration for John Green’s best selling novel The Fault in Our Stars. Her dream was to become an author, and now, after has gone, we have finally been given the chance to hear her story.
The writing is quirky and quick-witted while remaining truthful and touching. Esther is an expert when it comes to sarcasm. Her self-deprecating humor gives life and light to a story that is, of course, quite sad. Her writing and tone are casual; she is simply a teenage girl writing down her thoughts, often as a stream of consciousness. Esther’s story is not only told in her own voice, but interspersed with stories from her family and friends, including some snippets from John Green himself. This shows many moments that Esther did not document and gives insight into how the people around Esther saw her and were influence by her.
Do not be fooled into believing this is a “cancer book”. Despite being the auto/biography of a girl with cancer, and as cheesy as it sounds, it is the true-story of a full and mostly happy life. The purpose of this book is not to make the reader cry or feel pity, but to share memories of a short yet meaningful life that has touched thousands of people.
McElderry Books 2014
Ages: 14+ (High School)
WARNING: **** Contains Spoilers about Previous Books ****
Clary Fray and her boyfriend Jace Lightwood are Shadowhunters: half human and half angel, trained to fight against demons. Chaos approaches as Clary’s brother, Sebastian Morgenstern, turns Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. As Nephilim friends and families fall to the darkness, Shadowhunters flock to Idris for safety. Faced with sacrifice and loss, Clary and her friends fight the grim battle to secure the future of their world.
The highlight of this book is the lively and quirky cast of characters. Unlike many other series, the characters have continued to evolve and grow while still retaining their core personalities. With expertly written and hilarious dialogue Clare weaves an intricate web of love, loyalty, family, and betrayal, between the characters that leaps of the pages.
The plot itself revolves around the characters and their many dynamic relationships. Clare brilliantly entwines many facets of the fantasy world to include vampires, werewolves, faeries, demons, warlocks, and angel while maintaining a perfect balance of mystery, romance, fantasy, and action.
Though not written with particularly complex or extravagant diction, Clare’s writing is clear and fluid and never feels stalled or drawn out. The only exception to this was a seemingly slow start, which I did not personally bother me because of the character development that occurred in its stead. The story is told through the eyes of 8+ characters, but unlike many other novels that have attempted this, every character has a distinct and unmistakable voice that truly further gives insight into their thoughts.
My favorite part of this story, though it has become a point of contention, is how Clare chose to use this book to weave all three of her Shadowhunter series together. Drawing upon her prequel series (The Infernal Devices) to give closure to past story-lines and setting up her future series (The Dark Artifices), we as readers got a chance to expand our view of the Shadowhunter world beyond Clary’s immediate circle. I would, however, recommend reading all previous Shadowhunter novels before City of Heavenly Fire to enjoy and understand the plot to its greatest possible extent.