Poisoned Apples

Title: Poisoned Apples

Author: Christine Heppermann

Release Date: Available

Poetry and YA aren’t usually two genres that mix, with the exception of a few authors such as Ellen Hopkins. So, naturally, as a poetry buff, I was intrigued when I heard of the premise of Christine Heppermann’s Poisoned Apples.

The book is a compilation of fifty free-verse poems that cleverly twists classic fairytales to depict the emotional and physical struggles of becoming a teenage girl. While many of the poems, such as “If Tampons Were for Guys,” are lighthearted on the surface, underneath, all of the poems all brilliantly satirize society’s construct of beauty and its physical expectations for women. The humor is dark and twisted, yet honestly portrays the inherent hypocrisy and sexism present in society today.

Powerful black and white images of young girls make Heppermann’s message even more powerful. Often simple and elegant photos of girls in plain, long dresses, the images represent society’s expectation of innocence and purity that Heppermann so brilliantly satirizes in the book.

Although it is a short read, Poisoned Apples is a brilliant work of satire, and a compelling read, even for those who are not fans of poetry.

Reviewed by Danielle

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The Kill Order

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Title: The Kill Order

Author: James Dashner

Release Date: Available

The world was in chaos. Sun flares had ravaged the earth, destroying civilization as it had been known. However, there were a few who had survived the disaster. Mark, Trina, and Alec were among these survivors, and had been living in a settlement in the mountains. Nothing had returned to normal, but they finally felt at peace for the first time in their community.

But who knew that a small dart could change the world they had come to accept? Out of nowhere, an aircraft called a “Berg” arrives, and strange people fire darts randomly at the civilians. To their horror, the darts appear to contain a deadly virus that is wiping out most of the population. To make matters worse, the virus seems to be mutating. Thus, Mark, Trina, Alec, and the rest of their gang are determined to find answers, but only if they can prevent themselves from getting infected.

In this thrilling, action-packed precursor to the Maze Runner series, James Dashner depicts a gruesome world in which survival is a constant struggle. Just as he has done in the Maze Runner series, Dashner fills the novel with heart-pounding action and adventure that render it impossible to put down. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who is a fan of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or any dystopian thriller.

Review by Danielle

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Dark Companion

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Title: Dark Companion

Author: Marta Acosta

Release Date: Available

Jane Williams used to be a typical charity case: orphaned and poor, living with an abusive foster parent in the slums. But all of that changes when she receives a scholarship to the prestigious Birch Grove Academy for girls, and is all of a sudden uprooted from the only life she has known and thrust into the life of the privileged and glamorous. She is soon introduced to the headmistress’ son, Lucian Radcliff, who is unlike any other boy she has ever met.  However, he and other members of the community may hold a secret that is darker than Jane could ever imagine.

It’s hard to say much about this book without spoiling it, as the main plot twist doesn’t occur until about halfway through. However, I will say this: this dark, gothic-style novel is full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on edge throughout the story. Because it takes until about halfway through the novel to realize what the shocking secret about the school is, the reader literally cannot put the book down due to the anticipation.

Marta Acosta does an excellent job of drawing the reader in, from the appealing yet mysterious looking cover that immediately caught my eye, to the way she drops a huge plot twist on us halfway through the book. I highly recommend this book to all, but especially to those who enjoy gothic era novels and fantasy.

Review by Danielle

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Love Letters to the Dead

Title: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Release Date: Available

Young Adult novels often seem to tackle the same emotions and experiences—love, heartbreak, and the transition from youth to adulthood. But few books truly capture the complexity and depth of the emotion of grief—Ava Dellaira’s breakout novel, Love Letters to the Dead, is an exception. The premise is simple, yet innovative: in her freshman English class, Laurel is asked to write a letter to a dead person. The whole novel is thus structured as a series of letters to famous people, all of whom died too young: Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, and River Phoenix, among others. The letters detail Laurel’s experience navigating her way through complicated friendships and a blossoming romance, while dealing with the overwhelming grief over the death of her sister and role model May.

While the plot sounds cliché, the fabulous writing is truly what makes the novel stand out. Stephen Chbosky, author ofThe Perks of Being a Wallflower, couldn’t have put it better in his quote on the cover: “Love Letters to the Dead is more than a stunning debut. It is the announcement of a bold new literary voice.” Dellaira’s voice is unique and refreshing and is one of the few young adult novels that accurately captures the voice of an adolescent. It, at times, feels as if Dellaira bottled up the jumble of emotions that teens experience and spilled them onto the page in an intentional disarray. Laurel doesn’t have a deep understanding of her emotions and it often makes her seem naïve and unpredictably moody, but truthfully, this couldn’t have captured the actual experience of adolescence more accurately. Hardly any 14-year-old girl understands the complex inner workings of her own mind, and part of growing up is not only the physical maturation, but also the mental one, which Dellaira fabricates brilliantly for Laurel. In the beginning, Laurel seems almost childishly naïve and immature, and by the end, she finally begins to understand and accept the grief she is experiencing over the tragic loss of her sister. However, she also still lacks a complete understanding of her tidal wave of emotions, and only begins to conquer her grief, which gives the novel so much more realness and believability.

I’m almost certain that Chbosky’s quote was intentionally included on the front cover, as the book, while it still maintains its own unique voice, is comparable to the depth and complexity of the emotions explored in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Like in Chbosky’s novel, although outwardly the story seems like the “typical high school experience”, Love Letters to the Dead deals with the reality that there aren’t just three emotions in adolescence—love, heartbreak, and the sudden realization of one’s adulthood—but rather that often we can’t even categorize what we are feeling as a specific emotion. Grief is not always necessarily just grief—it can be anger, frustration, and guilt, all at once and I have read few other novels that explore the complexity of each of these facets of emotion. Dellaira’s novel was the first I have read in a while in which it was difficult to convince myself that the author was not in fact a teenager, because her understanding of the whirlwind of emotions that come along with becoming an adult was insightful and deep, yet no so much that the voice of the novel sounded like an adult psychoanalyzing a teenager.

Review by Danielle

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Out of Nowhere

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Title: Out of Nowhere

Author: Maria Padian

Release Date: Available

Immigration is one of the most heated topics right now in our country. In Out of Nowhere, Maria Padian recreates this debate of morals within an idyllic town in Maine that is receiving an incredible influx of immigrants from Somalia. They are fleeing from their war-torn homeland and are thrust into American culture with only a basic understanding of the language. Some people in the town are cold and hostile towards the newcomers and some community members are even expressing racism towards the predominantly Muslim population of immigrants.

Tom Bouchard, a senior in high school and the captain of the soccer team, experiences the effect of the immigration firsthand when a few Somalis join his soccer team. These new players are so exceptional that the team is experiencing a winning streak for the first time. Their star player is Saeed, whose skills advance the team to play against and beat their rival, Maquoit, but when his eligibility to play is questioned, the whole season is put on the line.  Meanwhile, a brush with the law over vandalism lands Tom community service hours, which he spends tutoring Somali children, and where he meets Myla–a quirky, hip college girl who runs the tutoring center.

Maria Padian writes eloquently in this moving book about cultural acceptance among young people. Every teen should read this book because it shows that it is possible for a community to come together and become accepting to immigrants. Although they are unwelcoming towards the Somali immigrants in the beginning, Tom and his team slowly learn about Somali customs and traditions and their experiences as a team bring them all together as friends. I highly recommend this book for anyone of any age, especially if one is interested in contemporary issues based around racism and cultural acceptance.

Review by Danielle

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Splintered

Title: Splintered

Author: A. G. Howard

Release Date: Available

Everyone has heard the story of Alice in Wonderland. That is, everyone knows Lewis Carroll’s version of the story. But what little Alice really saw when she went down the rabbit hole is a far cry from what the enchanting tales have told audiences for years. And Alyssa Gardner, Alice’s great-great-great granddaughter, is seeking the truth behind the classic adventures. Ever since Alice’s journey, madness has been in her family. In order to outrun her fate, Alyssa must follow in Alice’s footsteps and discover the truth behind the twisted tales in Wonderland.

It doesn’t take long for her to find out that Wonderland is full of dark, powerful magic that she could never have predicted. Alyssa is accompanied into Wonderland by her best friend and crush, Jeb — soon upon arrival, though, she meets another mysterious figure, Morpheus, who seems to know her inside and out, but may have dark intentions. Still, she can’t help but find herself drawn to him, even though he may bring out a different, darker side in her.  But regardless of Alyssa’s feelings for him, he is essential to her if she wants to break her family’s curse forever.  He soon leads her on a course to fix the damage that Alice caused so many years ago.

This novel was a gripping, intriguing read that combined fantasy with action and romance. This novel does an excellent job of turning characters from the beloved tales into dark, disturbing creatures.  The constant number of twists in the plotline kept me on edge and made it impossible to put the book down. A.G. Howard, a new author, does an incredible job of establishing a fantasy world and keeping the reader hungry for more. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and hope that she will choose to write more books about her mysterious, brooding Wonderland.

Review by Danielle

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Return To Me

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Title: Return To Me

Author: Justina Chen

Release Date: Available

Rebecca (Reb) Muir has always had a close relationship with her father. He supported her dream of becoming an architect and helped her get accepted into Columbia’s prestigious architecture program. However, her parents announce shortly before she leaves for Columbia that they too are moving to New York, which comes as a huge shock.  As soon as they arrive, their dad announces the real reason behind the move. For years, he had been having an affair, and now he is leaving them for good.  She is full of confusing emotions that she must deal with along with comforting her mother and trying to bring what is left of her family back together. Meanwhile, her grief over her father causes her to be unsure of her own long distance relationship with her boyfriend Jackson.

The bigger question that Reb faces, however, is what to do with her future. The idea of Columbia becomes less and less appealing as she realizes that she was living her father’s dream, not hers. Her love of small, cozy spaces couldn’t contrast more with the stark, industrial buildings her dad had planned on her designing. And now, free of his influence, Reb must figure out where her own ideas will take her.

Once again, Justina Chen has written a beautiful, compelling novel.  Return to Me is full of deep, complicated emotions of betrayal, rage, and most importantly: forgiveness. Rather than dwelling on the anger, the book shows how a person can grow spiritually and learn to forgive others for even the most seemingly unforgivable sins. This book is an excellent read and I would argue is just as powerful and deep as North of Beautiful, which is her most well-known novel.  Once again, Justina Chen takes our breath away with her ability to capture these emotions and pour them out on a page, keeping the reader enticed and intrigued.

Review by Danielle

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