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Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski [book review]

25 Feb

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*This review is based on an advance copy of the novel.*

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski will be published March 11, 2014 by Delacorte Press

Don’t Even Think About It opens in an intriguing manner: what if a group of high school students could suddenly hear the thoughts of everyone around them? Would this be a blessing…or a curse? The premise reminded me of one of my favourites — Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy;while he takes the idea into a dystopian direction, Mlynowski mines it for humour.

In Sarah Mlynowski’s novel, students gain the ability to hear everyone’s thoughts after they are injected with tainted flu vaccines. As these “freaks” discover others in their school with the same super power, they band together to help each other get through the initial shock, and ultimately decide to keep it a secret. There are some funny moments, and some cringe-worthy moments, too. The humour gets stronger as the story progresses and by the end, I was cheering for my favourite characters.

This is a light, easy read, although it took me a few chapters before I could discern all the characters. The reader is introduced to quite a few right from the start, but as you get to know them better, it’s easier to tell them apart. The author does a good job of recreating the claustrophobic social atmosphere of high school.

The writing is clunky at times, especially when the (collective) narrators interject with thoughts on how they wouldn’t have known various details at that moment since no one was there to hear the thoughts (but obviously they learned about it afterwards, since they can read each other’s thoughts).

If you’re looking for something quick and “fluffy” to read, this would be a fun choice.

Sensitive readers, take note: there is some swearing in the novel.

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Half Bad by Sally Green [book review]

15 Feb

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Half Bad by Sally Green
Publisher: Viking
Release date: March 25, 2014

Sally Green’s first novel is like a cup of black tea — the longer you stay with it, the stronger and darker it becomes.

Nathan is the son of a White witch and a notorious Black witch. After his mother dies, he is raised by his grandmother and half-siblings. White witches are the dominant group and the ruling council progressively strips away the rights of mixed-blood offspring like Nathan. As Nathan nears his 17th birthday, he must find a way to complete the ritual that will mark him as a witch and grant him his powers. If not, he will die.

The novel is written as a series of scenes and initially jumps back and forth between present and past. This mirrors the direction Nathan’s thoughts take throughout the days and years. It’s disjointed at first, but slowly, the reader begins to connect the dots and then the pace and suspense in the story builds.

Half Bad reminded me of the Harry Potter series, but is more sophisticated and darker in its approach. How much of a role does genetics play in a person’s behaviour? And how much is due to upbringing and the labels that other people spit out? Nathan has been persecuted his entire life and yet he still cares for people. But at what point will a label become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Green creates a rich, underground world of witches and magic. The characters are believable, vulnerable, and the imagery is just on the edge of unbearable. I love a well-steeped cup of tea, so naturally, I can’t wait to find out how Nathan’s story will unfold.

I highly recommend this novel to students in grades 8-12.

Drawn by Cecilia Gray [book review]

12 Feb

Drawn by Cecilia Gray is about a 16-year-old who is still dealing with being a teenager and her unique skill of being able to compel people to speak the truth.

Sasha Tanner has worked for the FBI for the past four years as its human lie detector. When the CIA needs her services, she heads to Brussels as an exchange student and follows leads to track down Kid Aert, a secretive and elusive graffiti artist. The novel progress quickly from the US to Sasha’s assignment in Europe and contains several plot twists as Sasha gets closer to uncovering who Kid Aert is.

Sasha’s character has a lot of potential — her power to make people reveal the truth, coupled with her mysterious origin make for an intriguing protagonist. At first, I didn’t like how parts of her history were told through the use of comic strips, but once I got to know her character more, I became interested in learning about her past. Perhaps switching the comic flashbacks into prose would allow for more insight into her character. By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew aspects of Sasha, but there were many gaps in her characterization and I wanted to know more about her.

This novel would be appropriate for grade 7 or 8 students.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

4 Jan

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Beautiful & heart-breaking: the opening image of Tiger Lily forever watching the shore for Peter’s return. 

I thought this novel was going to be a simple riff on the Peter Pan story. Instead, it is a raw, genuine tale about a girl who fell in love and never recovered. 

If you’ve ever had love and waited too long for its return, then this book will bring back those feelings of hope, betrayal and guilt.

Edit: This novel makes me want to re-read Wide Sargasso Sea (It has a post-colonial lit vibe to it.)

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