Tag Archives: high school

Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It's a keeper!

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It’s a keeper!

Is there anything more bittersweet than the final book in a series you love? I’ve been eagerly anticipating The Raven King, the fourth and final book in the Raven Cycle, but once it was in my hands I had a flash of ambivalence. If I read it, it would be over, and I didn’t want it to be over!

Needless to say, I read it anyway. (Stop here if you haven’t finished the first three books!)

It has been nearly a year since Blue first saw Gansey’s spirit walking on the ley line with all the others destined to die. She and Gansey have kept their relationship a secret from Adam to spare his feelings, and Blue has resisted the temptation for a kiss that could prove fatal to her true love.

Ronan tries to dream something that will save Gansey, with unexpected results. Soon he and the others realize that a sinister darkness is overtaking Cabeswater and infiltrating Ronan’s dreams, a force that’s even capable of possessing Noah. Ronan and Adam, as the Greywaren and Cabeswater’s magician, work together in a dangerous effort to stop the destruction. In the process, Adam learns more about Ronan’s secrets and starts to rethink his own vision of the future.

Gansey places all his hopes in finally finding the tomb of Owen Glendower and using the promised wish to save them. The one person who might be able to provide answers, Blue’s long lost father, Artemus, maintains a frustrating silence on this question, although he must know more than he’s saying. When he does open up to Blue, his revelations help her understand herself and why she’s always felt so out of place.

Maggie Stiefvater’s love for her characters shines through in every page, which only increases the tension as the end approaches. How can this possibly end well for anyone? Rather than spoiling it, I’ll just say that the resolution is satisfying without taking any shortcuts that might feel like cheating after the four-book build-up.

I will really miss these extraordinary characters, the lush atmosphere of magic, the teenage limbo of longing for the future while fearing the loss of everything you cherish in the present. In their own way, these books truly are magical.

Genre: Magical YA that even a jaded middle-aged adult can love.

Read it if: You love stories of transcendent friendships and prophecies fulfilled; you have ever wished you could live inside a tree; you read and loved the first three books (obviously.)

Skip it if: You dislike teenagers, magic, nature, etc.; you haven’t read the first three books.

Movie-worthy: At this point I think it would have to be a TV series rather than a movie. No way could you cram all this into a couple of hours. It certainly has the potential for some gorgeous visuals (and I would love to see opening credits based on the author’s cover art.) Okay, can someone make this happen please?


Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Where did I get this book? I won it from a fellow blogger!

Where did I get this book? I won it from a fellow blogger!

TifAni FaNelli, the distractingly capitalized protagonist of Luckiest Girl Alive, has worked hard to reinvent herself. At 29, TifAni (now known as Ani, pronounced “AH-nee”) has a successful career as a magazine writer in New York. She’s engaged to a good-looking guy from a wealthy family, and she diets (i.e., starves) herself into the most fashionable outfits with ruthless dedication and an eye on her wedding dress.

Despite her success, Ani’s fashionable veneer hides a black hole of bitterness and cynicism. It gradually becomes clear that something in her past damaged her in a way that she believes is irreparable. The cause of that damage, the events that occurred at her high school during her freshman year, will be the subject of a documentary, and Ani plans to use the opportunity to finally tell her side of the story.

The novel alternates between Ani’s increasingly shaky grip on her life as the start of the documentary approaches, and 14-year-old TifAni’s brutal introduction to the cruel realities of the social hierarchy at her new private school. It is difficult to watch as TifAni makes terrible choices in her pursuit of the popular kids’ approval. As it turns out, this is only a prelude to the true tragedy at the heart of TifAni’s transformation.

Ani is not an easy character to ride along with. She can be profoundly unpleasant and manipulative to the extreme, so focused on winning the admiration of others that it seems uncertain she even knows who she really is or what she would want if no one else could see her. She hopes to show the world how far she’s come by participating in the documentary, but ultimately, she reveals more than she intended.

Genre: Suspenseful dark fiction.

Read it if: You think Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep would have been better with more violence; you are a fan of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places; you really hated high school and would like to imagine how it could have been even worse.

Skip it if: You are sensitive to depictions of sexual assault, gun violence, or eating disorders; you prefer likable protagonists; you were hoping the title meant this was a light, cheerful read (hint: it’s ironic!)

Movie-worthy: Honestly, it would be hard to watch.




Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

Where did I get this book? The library.

Where did I get this book? The library.

In The Fever, Deenie Nash is a sophomore at Dryden high school, where her father teaches history and her older brother Eli is a star hockey player. Deenie’s mother has been out of the picture for years, since an affair led to divorce. She lives three hours away, but those three hours might as well be an ocean.

Deenie has two best friends, Lise and Gabby, but the friendship dynamic has changed since Gabby has grown closer to a newcomer named Skye. Meanwhile. Lise, once the pudgy tag-along friend, has blossomed into a stunning beauty over the summer. When Lise collapses in class, struck down by a frightening seizure, her case is the first of a building wave of terrifying sympoms that seem to target only the younger girls at Dryden. As one girl after another succumbs, panic spreads among parents and the community demands answers.

Lise’s mother vocally insists that the recently administered HPV vaccine is to blame. Others claim the vivid green algae bloom on the off-limits lake is the cause. As the crisis spreads, Deenie finds herself at the center of the drama.

Which, let’s face it, is where every teenage girl’s life takes place anyway. Even within the swirling panic, Deenie is mostly concerned with the state of her friendships, the choices she’s made, the secrets she’s keeping. For me, and probably many other readers of my generation, the name Deenie instantly triggered memories of Judy Blume’s novel of the same name (the scoliosis reference later in the book clinched it.) Like Blume, Megan Abbott explores the shifting relationships between flawed parents and children, between siblings and friends, at a time when every choice seems pivotal and life-changing.

Presumably to help relieve the suffocating crush of teenage girldom, the novel’s point of view alternates among Deenie, her father, and her brother. Her father, Tom, refuses to give in to the rising anti-scientific hysteria yet has deep-seated fears of his own, stemming mostly from his experience with Deenie’s mother, Georgia. Eli, meanwhile, watches the girls around him from a bemused distance, uncertain what to do with their unsolicited advances, the anonymous photos on his phone. He tries to focus on hockey to the exclusion of all other distractions, but he is a part of their world whether he wants to be or not.

At times, The Fever feels like a nightmare as murky as the algae-carpeted lake, a high-school crucible of communal madness. The ending provides clarity, but speaking as the mother of a future teenage girl, not much in the way of reassurance.

Genre: Pyschological teenage thriller.

Read it if: You loved Megan Abbott’s earlier novel, Dare Me; you like your Judy Blume with a big dash of Lois Duncan; you enjoy an atmosphere of dread.

Skip it if: You are looking for confirmation of your wildest anti-vax fears; you prefer to avoid reading about teenage sexuality; you have a teenage daughter and you’re easily freaked out.

Movie-worthy: In the right hands, this would make a great thriller.




Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

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This Song Will Save Your LifeNormally when I read YA I tend to gravitate toward science fiction and futuristic dystopias, but I made an exception for Leila Sales contemporary YA novel This Song Will Save Your Life. Why? Because I love music and completely agree with that old Nietzsche quote: Without music, life would be a mistake.

I’m sure Elise Dembowski would second that. Elise, a sophomore in high school, has a talent for quickly learning new things, yet the one thing she can’t seem to learn is how to make friends. The kids at her school either don’t know her, don’t want to know her, or don’t want her to make it through a day without knowing how much they despise her.  During the summer before her sophomore year, she devotes herself to studying what it means to be cool: watching movies, reading fashion magazines. Still, when the new school year begins, nothing has changed. In a moment of desperation, Elise cuts herself and makes a phone call that will trigger some major changes in her life, for worse and, eventually, for better.

I doubt that I’m the only one who can relate to Elise when she says that everyone else appears to have read some secret manual on how to be normal. I wish this book had been around when I was in high school to give me some perspective: it could have been worse.

Elise does some crazy things: takes long insomniac walks through her town in the middle of the night, goes home with an older guy whose motives are suspect. Ultimately, she finds her center and is able to filter out the way that others see her, the things they say about her, and keep that separate from what she knows to be true about herself.

While there may be some elements of fantasy wish-fulfillment in the plot, it didn’t take anything away from the power of the story. I do wonder if today’s underground warehouse kids are really listening to the Smiths and putting up Trainspotting posters in their bedrooms–that sentence could have been written when I was still young enough to attend an underground warehouse party. The publisher has helpfully posted a playlist here if you want to check it out.

Although I know this book was written with teens in mind, it mainly made me very glad I’m no longer in high school. Middle age looks pretty good by comparison.

Genre: Contemporary music-loving YA

Read it if: You love music but hate(d) high school; you wonder what the deal is with that weird kid; you are the weird kid.

Skip it if: You are a parent and the thought of your sixteen-year-old daughter sneaking out every night to DJ at a warehouse party full of older kids drinking alcohol triggers an immediate panic attack.

Movie-worthy: The movie of this would certainly have an epic soundtrack.


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