Daphne's Book Reviews

Daphne Nhuch is a Senior at Redwood High School. She is an incredibly avid reader and passionate dancer. She loves giving book recommendations to her friends and is excited to share her opinions more widely and give more people a chance to find books that they will love. Thanks and enjoy!    

If I stay by Gayle Foreman

Dutton Juvenile 2009

ISBN: 0525421033

201 Pages

Ages: 14+

Rating: A-

 

          Mia has it all: a perfect family, a rock-star boyfriend, and a likely acceptance to Juilliard for her amazing talents on the cello. Her problem is the possibility of having to choose between going to Juilliard or staying in Portland with her boyfriend. However, one car ride changed it all. Suddenly, she is faced with the nearly impossible choice, the only one that matters anymore: Will she stay?

            This is an incredibly poignant story that will touch your heart in ways that few books are capable. It speaks to the fear that perhaps we could suddenly loose everything. It makes us reevaluate how we live our lives, and see what really matters in the end. Like many books about death or dying, it feels incredibly personal and realistic.

            If I Stay is beautifully written. The writing is fluid and simple while remaining profound and intimate. Despite its dark and intense tone, it never feels over the top or angsty. Told completely through Mia’s inner monologue, it is impossible not to immediately fall in love with all of the characters. The story alternates between the past and present, weaving together seamlessly. Though it is a fairly short book, Foreman accomplishes as much character growth in 200 pages as many authors do in twice as many.  In each chapter, we learn more about Mia, Adam, and her family understanding the complexity of the choice she must inevitably make.

             Beliefs of an “afterlife” are not shoved down the reader’s throat. In fact, it isn’t really mentioned at all. If I Stay is more our own ability to control our lives, and even our deaths, than about death itself.

Find If I Stay at the Library 

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

image

Harper Collins 2011

ISBN: 0062085484

338 Pages

Ages: 14+

Rating: A

            264 days alone. 264 days of silence. A lifetime without human contact. Juliette Ferrars’ touch is lethal. She’s been locked up in a psychiatric hospital She has imprisoned herself in her own mind,  and her own guilt is torturing her into insanity.

          Outside, the world is crumbling. Disease is rampant, the climate is erratic, and food and water shortages are killing the population. The Reestablishment has taken over, promising a better and brighter future, ensuring safety. However, as public unrest grows, they may be changing their minds about Juliette. They want to use her poisonous touch to turn her into their own weapon. She must choose to either become the Reestablishment’s greatest asset or fight against them in a war for a better world.

            The plot is incredibly compelling and unique. On the surface it may appear to be another YA dystopian stereotype, but inside it is so much more. At the core, it’s the story of a broken and powerless girl and her growth into independence. Because it is told in first person, we get an incredibly deep and moving account of her living with depression and many other psychological disorders. Her life illustrates the importance of human connection, and what could happen to us if we were to loose it. It is not particularly fast-paced, but the dialogue and content are so gripping that the story never feels to be dragging along.

         The characters were all very distinctive. Because there are so few of them, we get an in depth and detailed understanding of each one. The character growth and development expertly executed and becomes key to the storyline.

           However, what stood out the most to me was the beautifully crafted writing. Though Shatter Me is a very quick read, Mafi’s style is more elevated and mature than most YA novels. The descriptions are vivid and engaging, and never overdone.Most of all, she was able to capture Juliette’s thoughts and crumbling mental state in an exceptionally innovative way: showing both her deepest thoughts, and the ones wishes were true.

“You’re getting a cellmate roommate,” they said to me. “We hope you rot to death in this place. For good behavior,” they said to me.“Another psycho just like you. No more isolation,” they said to me.

 As the trilogy progresses, the story and characters only grow and become even better. A highly recommended read!

Find Shatter Me at the library. 

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Schoolastic Press 2014

ISBN: 0545654572

Ages 14+

Rating: A-

            Cole St. Clair is the ex-lead singer of NARKOTIKA (and a werewolf). Cole has just moved to Los Angeles to write his first album in two years. However, he has really only come to L.A. with one thing in mind: Isabel.  Isabel Culpeper is trying to rebuild her life, hide her emotions, and “not give a damn”. With the power to either save each other or tear each other apart Isabel and Cole struggle with the ghosts of their pasts and attempt to create a better future.

           This book was an incredibly welcome and unexpected surprise. Sinner feels like a gift from Stiefvater to Wolves of Mercy Falls fans. Despite this, I was wary that by returning to this series Stiefvater was beating a dead horse and extending the already perfect story too far. My doubts were quickly put at ease.  Instead of continuing the Sam and Grace storyline, this one turned its attention to Cole and Isabel, characters that still had a lot of room to grow and evolve. The story is completely character driven and told from their alternating points of view. Though, as I have previously mentioned, this method is overused in YA literature, Stiefvater truly uses it to the benefit of the story and the reader. Cole and Isabel both are complex and intensely guarded characters. Reading through their eyes is the only way to empathize and fully understand them. Though at times, they may get a tad too angsty, it always  makes sense given their situation and personalities. 

              The plot itself is neither a grand hero’s journey nor a clean-cut romance arc. There is no obvious climactic scene or massive battle. Instead the intricacy and depth of the characters and their relationships keeps the story moving forward.  Replacing flashy fights with the internal struggles of the characters gave the story more gravity and made it much more interesting.

                Though Stiefvater’s writing is not complicated or difficult to read, the issues discussed throughout the book elevate it beyond simple YA fiction. Stiefvater gives us a first-person window into the struggles of addiction, depression, divorce, and suicide. The mixture of the harsh reality, romance, and a dash of fantasy blended perfectly to create a very three-dimensional and unique story. 

Find Sinner at the library

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

image

 HaperCollins 2010

 ISBN: 0061726818

 470 Pages

 Ages: 12+

 Rating: B-

            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. 

Find Before I Fall at the Library

Candor by Pam Bachorz

 image

EgmontUSA 2009

 ISBN: 1606840126

 249 Pages

 Ages 11+

 Rating: B

“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. 

Find Candor at the Library

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

image

HarperCollins Children’s Books 2013

ISBN 0062014536

391 Pages

12+

Rating: C-

            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!

Find Requiem at the Library

This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl

image

This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl

Dutton Juvenile 2014

ISBN 0525426361

430 Pages

13+

Rating: A

            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. 

Link to find This Star Won’t Go Out at the Library

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

McElderry Books 2014

Pages 752

ISBN-13: 9781442416895$24.99

 Ages: 14+ (High School)

Rating: A

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.

Link for City of Heavenly Fire at the Library