Noggin by John Corey Whaley

NogginNoggin by John Corey Whaley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Noggin starts out with a crazy sci-fi premise: Travis Coates, a 16-year-old boy dying of cancer, has his head cut off and frozen in the hopes that one day, there will be a cure. Most people think this was just his way out of, but it actually happens, and Travis comes back – his head attached to a new (taller and stronger!) body.

While for Travis, it’s only been a long nap since he last saw his friends and family, for them it’s been five years, and they have to adjust from mourning Travis to celebrating the “miracle.” And while Travis’ birth certificate might say he’s 21, he’s still a high school student, only now he doesn’t know anyone in his class. Some things haven’t changed – he has to retake his math class for one. But other things will never be the same. His father is never home, working crazy hours that may be a cover for something else. His best friend, who shared his deepest secret when he thought Travis was dying, is now wishing that secret had stayed dead. And his girlfriend Cate, whom Travis truly loved, has fallen in love – and gotten engaged – to someone new.

While the premise is pure science fiction, this story is really about a regular boy in a regular high school, and how he copes with love and loss. It’s authentic and funny and made me cry, and I’m eagerly waiting to see what Whaley comes up with next.

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The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

The Caged GravesThe Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s 1867, and Verity Boone is leaving her home in busy Worcester, MA to go live with her father in rural Catawissa, Penn., where she will marry Nate, a neighboring farmer who won her heart through his letters and gifts of poetry. But when she arrives in the country, she doesn’t find the romantic reunion she was expecting. Her father is distant and busy with farm work, and Nate is nothing like his letters (which were were written based on suggestions from his sisters) and more interested in her father’s farm than her. Worse, she finds herself the subject of town gossip and rumors. Some of it is based on jealousy – Nate was one of the few eligible men left after the Civil War – but other nasty rumors reach her about her late mother and her family’s mysterious past.

Then, as Verity walks through a local churchyard, she discovers the graves of her mother and aunt, buried outside the cemetery walls, and enclosed in iron cages. As Verity tries to discover the stories of her mother’s life and death, and find the reason for the cages, she unearths more than she expected, with tales of witchcraft, strange deaths, and stolen Army gold. She also finds herself in a love triangle as she tries to deal with her complicated feelings about the semi-arranged marriage that she agreed to.

Salerni creates honest, relatable characters, especially Verity, a strong-willed girl with progressive ideas, who is not afraid to stand up for herself and for what she believes. And just as in life, most of the characters are more complicated than they appear at first, including Nate. A spooky, don’t-put-it-down thriller.

Ms. Schoen

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The Art of Secrets, by James Klise

The Art of SecretsThe Art of Secrets by James Klise

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Saba Khan is the daughter of immigrants, and a quiet, tennis-playing, scholarship student at fancy private school in Chicago. When her apartment burns down, in what looks like an intentionally set fire, it triggers an outpouring of support from the school community (and an unexpected boost to her popularity).

Or at least it starts off that way. When a donation to a charity auction for her family turns out to be an extremely valuable work of “outsider art” questions start popping up: just who set the fire? And does Saba’s family deserve all the money the art auction will bring in?

While this book does get you thinking about race, class, charity, and teenage drama, it’s not as heavy as it would seem to be. It’s actually quite funny, with a whodunit feel to it. Klise tells the story through a mix of journal entries, texts, newspaper articles, emails, interview transcripts and narratives, an unusual approach that keeps the story moving as the point of view switches between multiple characters.  Klise doesn’t quite give you the solution to the mystery, and leaves some questions unanswered, but that does give you something to think about afterward.  — Ms. Schoen

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Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard not to just repeat what John Green says in his NYT book review of Eleanor & Park, because as is usually the case, I am in full agreement. Rainbow Rowell has created a touching and luscious romance framed by the gritty reality of what it’s like to be both poor and heavy, or mixed-race and different, and in high school in Omaha in 1986. Eleanor is overweight, has lots of freckles and bright red, frizzy hair which she has to wash with dish soap because her family can’t afford shampoo. She dresses in an eclectic, clownish wardrobe in part to hide her size, but also because dressing from Goodwill requires creativity and a unique sense of style. She has just returned from a year of exile in another home because her alcoholic, abusive stepfather threw her out. She lands on the bus next to a “stupid Asian” Park, who despite his unfriendly reception to her unwelcome presence on the bus was the only kid willing to allow her to sit. Park is half Korean, half Irish and comes from a loving family with deep roots in their lower-middle class Omaha neighborhood. Park’s history grants him relative immunity from the relentless school bus bullying, but his love of comics and punk music and his sensitive nature isolate him. As Eleanor begins to take refuge in reading Park’s Watchmen comics over his shoulder, Park surreptitiously slows his page turns to accommodate her reading pace. This is the start of something beautiful, as their bond over comics, and later music, and much later over one another’s physical presence grows and intensifies. Rowell perfectly captures the earnest and breath-taking emotions of early first love and yanks the reader along with her characters for that perilous roller-coaster ride. The language in the book is sometimes graphic, but always true to the characters, the era and the situation. The writing is well crafted. My only complaint is that some of the dialog and manners of speech are scripted for today and not 1986 (e.g., things like ending a sentence with “right?” or emphasizing single words with periods like, “Prom. As if.” I was young in 1986. We. Didn’t. Do. That.)  Read this book if you want to know what it feels like to fall in love when you’re 16. It’s awesome. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Student Review:A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin (reviewed by Cameron M.)

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea is classic fantasy at its finest, and it’s one of my favorite reads in the genre. It follows the adventures of Ged, a wizard in the titular world of Earthsea, through the beginnings of his adventures. From his first exploits in sorcery on his small home island to the great university of Roke to high adventure across the islands and seas, Ged gains power, wisdom, and maturity beyond his years- though not without a cost or misadventures along the way. A Wizard of Earthsea has some of the greatest characters and settings I have ever encountered in fantasy: realistic enough to relate to and immerse in but fantastic enough to escape to and marvel at. LeGuin conjures images of dragons, magic, and heroes beyond compare, all while tying the novel down to the little, everyday struggles of a man making his way through a big, strange world. The characters are down to earth and while their conflicts may involve great dangers and struggles, their motivations are very real. Rivalries, pride, and self-discovery are prime motivations for Ged and his acquaintances, and they bring the characters’ struggles that much closer to reality. Despite this, fantasy isn’t for everyone, and if you’re looking for something gritty or romantic look elsewhere (though I’d still recommend giving it a try). A Wizard of Earthsea is high fantasy adventure at its finest, and I strongly suggest reading it whether you are a long-time fantasy fanatic, or just looking for something new to read. ~ Student: Cameron M.

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Student Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith (reviewed by Katherine B.)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Want to read a detective novel, but too lazy for Doyle or Cristie? For a short, sweet, and heartwarming book, pick up Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Smith’s novel has all the elements of a great mystery- a first-rate protagonist, a compelling plot, and an unforgettable ending.

Mma Ramotswe, the story’s protagonist, is a middle-aged Botswanan woman who decides to start a detective agency after her father’s death. Mma Ramotswe drives from one mystery to the next, solving each through intuition and resourcefulness. Most of the mysteries are lighthearted and witty, but one is more serious. Gradually Mma Ramotswe uncovers more information about it, and eventually is able to confront a face of her country’s sinister problem.

Even though many chapters don’t feature much action (e.g., ‘Mma Matsuki Deals with the Mail’), The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is very entertaining. Mma Ramotswe comes up with a clever solution to each problem she’s given, which becomes even more interesting against the Botswana backdrop. The most mundane chores, like driving to meet a client, become infinitely more exciting when a snake glides up into Mma Romotswe’s car and she has to decide what to do about it.

Also, the novel is narrated with a very straightforward, understated voice. It says enough to provide humor and interest, without saying too much and impeding the flow of plot:

“’Have you been in my house before?’ he asked, knowing of course, that she had not. ‘Have you been to one of my parties?’
That was a lie as well, she knew. Mr. Patel never gave parties, and she wondered why he would pretend to do so.
‘No.’ She said simply. ‘You have never asked me.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said, chuckling as he spoke. ‘Then I have made a big mistake’”(99).

Although this isn’t all in the quote, this book is sad, sweet, funny, and beautifully honest- and the story’s simple, sincere voice captures this perfectly.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a cheerful, uncomplicated novel, or a painless mystery book. Despite its title, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency isn’t at all a girly book, and I recommend it highly to both girls and boys in search of a light read. ~ Student: Katherine B.

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Student Review: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (reviewed by Maria H.)

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, captures young readers’ interest by the characters for fighting for life and falling in love. Not only is this book a page-turner but also takes the reader on a journey through the life of a young girl with cancer. Hazel, one of the main characters, struggled with thyroid cancer that spread through her lungs since she was little. There is a tug of war that her parents win and make her go to a support group. At the support group she meets a young man Augustus close to her age that used to have cancer. Later on in the book Hazel and Augustus kindle a romantic and passionate relationship that leads to an intrigue with love. Reading more into the book, a relationship between the reader and the characters develop. The ending of the book has a little ironic twist to it. The Fault In Our Stars is a romantic novel with a tragic ending. This book gives the reader a sense that life comes with curveballs. I admired how the author kept the narrator Hazel herself. Hazel and Augustus were very believable because it was as if a girl told to story herself. In the very beginning when Hazel and Augustus meet each other he ignores that she has cancer and only admires how beautiful she is. In that point of the book I could already tell that Augustus had a true love for Hazel. The book connects to young readers as their journey through the book hopes to find love that lasts between Hazel and Augustus. I made a personal connection with the book because we both shared a tragedy. I would recommend this book to other readers because it captures a great interest. ~ Student: Maria H.

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Student Review: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (reviewed by Sarah A.)

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only thing better than a wild, passionate love story, is one written in rich, beautiful language and by a woman with a fascinating history. One such story is found in Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, published in 1848, the year before her death at age thirty. This book is an intriguing page-turner with a startling plot and realistic characters who interact in surprising ways.

Bronte’s style throughout this book uses language similar to most writers of her time, with complex sentences and accents which are a challenge to decipher. The simple country setting of the story provides a smooth backdrop for the story’s drama involving Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, her lover, and their families. The characters are each complex and unique, with personalities that change as they age throughout the book. Catherine and Heathcliff are raised in the same family, though they are not siblings, and as they mature their shared struggles and desires bring them to realize their deep love for each other. When the two lovers meet at the climax of the book to finally proclaim their love for one another, Heathcliff exclaims: “‘Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you – oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?’” (197-8). Their love is so powerful, and the mysterious outcomes of their lives leaves the reader moved and somewhat remorseful.

I thought Wuthering Heights was a beautifully crafted love story in which every character’s fate was precisely realistic and touching. Any strong reader with a taste for old literature and engrossing stories should certainly pick up a copy of Wuthering Heights. ~ Student: Sarah A.

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Student Review: Proof of Heaven, by Eban Alexander (reviewed by Zachary R.)

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the AfterlifeProof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine the afterlife. What is it? Could it be like what we think it is? Or possibly could it be something else? There are very few people in this world who have experienced the afterlife and are back to share what it was like; one being Eben Alexander, the author of Proof of Heaven. Proof of Heaven is a novel about a man, Dr.Alexander, who suffered from a life-ending disease of Bacterial Meningitis. Eben was doing his daily practice of a neurosurgeon, and that disease of bacterial meningitis soaked into his brain and took over his body. He soon became ill and went into a coma. While he was in that coma, he went into his afterlife. He lived it, felt it, enjoyed it, and most of all remembered it. A couple days later, he miraculously came back to life and totally healed. Now, Mr.Alexander is able to explain what the afterlife was like and can give us valuable and essential information as to what to expect. As some might say that his information is invalid and not believable, since Eben doesn’t remember everything; the author really elaborates on how everything was. My favorite part about the book is how miraculous a recovery he had. Just from going from almost dead to writing and publishing a book is very inspirational. Eben Alexander is one of the only people to have this happen to them and the fact that he is a doctor is ironic. I believe that anyone who wants an interesting and inspirational read should consider this book. It was awesome! ~ Student: Zachary R.

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Student Review: Animal Farm, by George Orwell (reviewed by Caitlin C.)

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel is short, easy to read, and a classic, so I enjoyed it. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a fable about a farm that was taken over by the animals. Throughout the book the animals run into problems like betrayal and hypocrisy.

The book begins with the Manor Farm’s revolution and transformation into the “Animal Farm.” Although the point of the revolution is to have a farm that was run by animals devoted to equality, the pigs of the farm continually deceive the other animals into thinking of scenarios that are obviously untrue. The pigs even create a maxim that “All animals are equal/ But some animals are more equal than others”(148). Even though the pigs tell the animals lies, the animals are so naive they believe it.

Orwell’s style is very straightforward and simple to understand. Orwell never uses frivolous vocabulary or subtle symbolism that make the writing difficult to interpret. I like this book as a quick read because it allowed me to think about the morals and its reflection of politics instead of having to decipher text. Animal Farm’s plot connects to revolutions in countries around the world, but specifically to the Russian revolution that lead to the Stalin era. While simple to read, this book made interesting connections to real political situations that have happened in history.

Animal Farm is simple and a modern classic, so I recommend it. ~ Student: Caitlin C.

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