Studies show that people only have seven seconds to make a first impression.
I think it takes maybe two seconds for a book to make a first impression. The first things a reader notices about a book are its cover and title. Those two pieces can hold a TON of information and function to draw readers.
That’s why titles have to be memorable!
For that reason, I chose Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Goodreads Summary: In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
I LOVED this book! I hope I get a chance to teach it in my classroom. It’s wonderfully written with a balance of humor and heart and honesty.
Some teachable topics for this book:
-Identity, especially for minorities
-Discrimination and prejudice
I think it also appeals to those reluctant readers because the novel is accessible and relatable. It brings home a serious, thought-provoking message without sounding preachy. There are also PICTURES! Like this one!
I hate the assumption that pictures in books are meant for children. There is an ever-growing audience for graphic novels that are renowned for their literary content. The pictures in this book add to the story and make it more diary-like.
Finally, this book with an amazing title has recently been banned in New York which, as many readers can attest, makes a book even more interesting!
It’s a mouthful, like, I even have trouble typing it, but the title grabbed my interest. I used to argue vehemently about how love at first sight was an urban myth. Love is more than just liking how someone looks or feeling a spark during eye contact (I have learned this the hard way before). My pragmatic and romantic sides are constantly battling each other, and this book is a good example of that.
Hadley is on a flight to London to be in her father’s wedding to her new British stepmother whom she’s never met. She misses her flight and has the usual unpleasant interactions with strangers in the airport when she meets Oliver, a boy her age that is willing to extend some much-needed kindness her way. Turns out, he’s sitting next to her on her new, rescheduled flight to London, and he’s a good-looking Brit (don’t you love when that happens?). He helps her with her claustrophobia during their flight, and they talk all night and have some adorable sexual tension laden moments. They are clearly on the track to some romance, only to be separated after they get off their flight thanks to stupid airport security.
Of course, as fate would have it, they happen to meet again.
This book was a fast, fun read that was just adorable. I kept reading it, thinking this would be the book that I would want to write if I wrote YA lit.
I’ve read some criticism online about the plot being unrealistic, but I think that’s the point. I mean, the title kind of pokes fun at the idea of love at first sight. People like myself enjoy these stories because they don’t happen so often. Sometimes you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy these types of stories.
This brings me back to the pragmatic vs. romantic argument.
My pragmatic side thinks it’s completely ridiculous for Oliver and Hadley to fall in love so quickly, especially in a sequence of happenstances. It tells me love is something that grows out of a long time of talking and getting to know each other, and, even after that, it’s rare for it to last. Long-term relationships are like business partnerships with a lot of negotiations.
But my romantic side says that love doesn’t follow any rules. There’s no mathematical formula for falling in love. Sometimes it’s fast. Sometimes it’s slow. Sometimes it grows out of a long relationship. Sometimes it happens in a second. Sure, it’s rare, but it’s not impossible. Pragmatism helps us survive, but love keeps us going because it gives us hope.
There are some interesting insights into how family dynamics work and how change can help and hurt that I enjoyed reading.
I liked Hadley, and I liked hearing her take on things. She’s funny and real, someone you’d be friends with. I love the banter she and Oliver share. It’s a pleasure to read.
This book is about hope and the happy moments in life that can sneak up on you. It’s not the most well-written book I’ve read, but there’s an undeniable sweetness in it. Read this book if you’re looking for a fun, simple read that will make you smile. I look forward to reading more from Smith.
My favorite thing: there are references to Charles Dicken’s Our Mutual Friend that are just great. Like this opening page!
One of the most buzzed about books in the past year! I was draw to this book for some shallow reasons: I love the name Eleanor; I loved the cover art; I love red hair; I thought it looked like a super cute love story. Though these were superficial attractions, the heart of the book drew me in.
I was going to summarize this one for myself, but the Goodreads blurb is PERFECTION.
A stunning debut young adult novel about cassettes, comic books, misfits, and the incredible experience of first love.
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.
What I liked:
I AM SO STUPIDLY IN LOVE with Rowell’s characters. I love how endearingly and realistically human they are. They have flaws. They’re stubborn. They make mistakes. But they’re funny, kind, brave, and loving.
I love that Eleanor is not a size negative three. I feel like I either read books about characters who are reed thin and tall and lanky, or they’re overweight and suffer because of it. Rowell makes it clear that Eleanor isn’t skinny without making the character’s identity revolve around her weight. THANK YOU! It is so refreshing! She’s not super beautiful or super hideous (in her mind). She’s just a girl, and her world doesn’t focus on her appearance, even when people make fun of her or call her “Big Red.” She wears what she wants and isn’t afraid to be who she is.
I love that Park is part Korean. Rowell manages to orchestrate a humorous and interesting family dynamic between Park and his family: his younger, more masculine brother, his white father, and his cosmetologist Korean mother. There are moments when the family is light and happy, but there are also moments that really touch on important issues like parents’ expectations of their children, being mixed race, and having family problems that are bigger than what to have for dinner.
Eleanor and Park don’t hit it off right away. They bond through reading comics on the bus.
The story manages to be sensual without being over the top. It’s extremely appropriate in the best way possible.
The plot is great and full of little twists and turns. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I went through my day, and I devoured the book because I needed to know how it ended.
It portrays people and circumstances in a real way. I don’t want to give anything away, but Rowell does a great job of giving each person layers and real emotions.
It portrays young love (or any love for that matter) as it is: beautiful but sometimes difficult and awkward with great moments mixed in.
There are righteous nerdy references.
It was written in third person which presented a unique narration and perspective on the characters that I enjoyed.
The ending is amazing. I like Rowell’s style. Many people have said that they’d like to see a sequel to this book, but I think there’s something to be said for a good, solid stand-alone book that doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up with a perfect little bow.
What I didn’t like:
If I had to pick something, I would have liked to have read more about Eleanor’s family situation.
A Love Letter to Rainbow Rowell:
Thank you for being you. Eleanor & Park was fantastic, but learning more about you has made it all the better. I love that you interact with your fans (including me!) on your personal Twitter. I love that you’re not afraid to be wacky and write about real things, but you also have a great romantic streak. Your cover art for your books is awesome, even if you had nothing to do with it, it still reflects well on you. Thank you for writing this article about Eleanor’s weight and why Park is Korean. Your website is super cool. I can’t wait to read your other books: Attachments, Fangirl, and Landline. Finally, your name is Rainbow, and that is pretty freaking awesome.
When Holly Kim, copyeditor for her high school newspaper, accidentally submits an article full of her honest opinions about her high school, she gets her own column instead of punishment. Holly rants and raves about what bothers her and tries to find balance between being known for speaking her mind, keeping her Korean family’s values, and trying to survive high school.
I had really high hopes for this book!
I thought the cover and title were cute. I loved the premise. Scholastic Inc. published it. It had all the great makings of a great read.
Yeah, not so much.
The characters were all, well, caricatures. They were all annoying and over the top. All of the dialogue felt forced or unnecessary. Holly Kim, the main character is barely likeable. The book reads like someone in middle school wrote it. I am honestly surprised it was published.
I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but it never did. I thought, when Holly got to write her own column, that I was in for some insightful or poignant observations about life in high school or being Korean-American. No. When she got a tip-off that the student government might be rigging the homecoming court election, I thought she would use journalism to expose her school’s underground politics. No. I thought there might be some swoon-worthy moments with her secret admirer. No. I thought that when Holly suffered through her Korean family’s unique Christmas traditions, she’d find value in family or her culture. No.
The plot lines are never developed.
Goo tries too hard to be funny and tongue-in-cheek. From this book, I seriously doubt her chops as a writer, especially one in the YA genre.
Overall, I found the book a huge disappointment and a real struggle to read.
*Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book
Love can be painful. It can make people do crazy things. It can be the root of all of humanity’s problems. Like a disease, once love gets in the system, it is nearly impossible to stop. To eradicate such problems, scientists have come up with a cure for love or deliria. In this dystopian world, the government requires all citizens to receive the cure upon turning 18. Lena Holoway has seen the horror the delirium can cause and is excited about receiving the cure so she can be free from the side effects of love. But days before she is about to be cured, Lena falls in love.
She meets Alex, an Invalid (a person who is over 18 and has not been cured). He lives in the Wilds, the lands outside of the electric fenced cities with other uncured people who hope to usurp the government and make love legal again.
Check out this cool interactive book trailer from Oliver’s website!
What I liked:
This should be a What I LOVED section because I absolutely ADORE this book!!!!
If you’ve read other reviews of this book, you may already have gleaned that Lauren Oliver writes in the most beautiful prose. Her descriptions are so perfect. Her words manage to be gorgeous without going over the top.
Oliver writes with EXCELLENT pathos (emotional appeal). Her stories create this sweet ache in your heart that no other stories can. She draws you in, makes you hers, and keeps you for the entire story. There are too many memorable passages to quote but here’s an effort:
I love the concept. There are a lot of similar dystopian novels out there like Ally Condie’s Matched, but Delirium is my favorite by a mile. I just find the world Oliver created to be extremely fascinating. She even inserts little excerpts from the government’s Book of Shhh at the beginning of every chapter for an especially authentic feel. Apparently Oliver thought of the novel while watching a news story about a plague (love is considered plague-like in the novel) and that she’d read an article about how all books were either about love or death. Her first book was about death so she decided to make her second about love.
There was just enough adventure and adrenaline-inducing moments mixed with lovey-dovey moments to give good balance
What I didn’t like:
When I just read the first book, I was infuriated at the cliffhanger. After reading the other two books in the trilogy, I feel more satisfied, but how DARE Oliver play with my heart?! Maybe love really is a bad thing…
The beginning didn’t really grab me. I just kept chugging along because I’d heard such great things about the book. I have little patience for slow-starting books because I feel like since DAY ONE my teachers drilled into us that the beginning of anything should be an attention-grabber. YET so many of the books I read do not follow this guideline.
But back to the good stuff:
Reading Oliver’s words feels like falling in love. It holds a special place in my heart because of the emotional attachment I have to the profound words Oliver shares and the beautiful characters she creates. I can’t get enough of this book. I read it a while back and just now caught up on the last two books in the series. (And by caught up I mean I obsessively devoured them).
I usually become very cynical about authors writing trilogies. I feel like it’s a trend in YA.
I’m torn between yelling: Whatever happened to just writing one, solid, awesome book?! Just stop
And PLEASE GIVE ME MORE!
In Delirium’s case, I think Oliver had planned the series enough that it felt very necessary and natural. Like I said, Oliver is a master at pacing stories so I enjoyed the trilogy and the themes it introduced along the way.
I don’t know how academic this book is, but I would really like to have a classroom discussion about it. There are so many FANTASTIC ideas raised in the novels that would make for rich discussions or essays. Oliver has even provided a discussion guide for the first book on her website here:
If you’ve read the novel, please feel free to comment on your experience or share any discussion questions you think may be useful in a book club or classroom.
Finally, MOVIE/ TV Rumors:
According to the ever-reliable Internet, Fox had optioned a pilot for the trilogy, but it never got picked up. Rumors indicated that Emma Roberts (who I am not a fan of) had been cast as Lena and Daren Kagasoff from The Secret Life of the American Teenager (which I am also not a fan of) had been cast as Alex. Obviously, I am ecstatic that this TV show never came to fruition. I just think that so much of Delirium hinges on Oliver’s beautiful words that an adaptation in film could never do it justice.
Lauren Oliver has written other books for the Delirium trilogy about the secondary characters that are featured in the book. I haven’t read them yet because I can never decide if I want to read what could feel like Fan Fiction or just leave it to my imagination. Who am I kidding? I’m obsessed. I’ll read them.
Oliver has written many other books including her debut novel Before I Fall that is another savory piece of YA, like Delirium. It’s about a girl who relives the day she died every day for a week. Not my usual bag, but I loved it.
Find out more about other books Oliver has written here:
You can’t just read one John Green book. Well, at least I wouldn’t advise it. Read my other Green review(s) here.
First, I think it’s interesting that the cover art has changed SO many times for this book. I think it would be a great classroom discussion talking point. Which one best represents the book/ grabs the reader’s attention?
Accolades for this book:
2007 Michael L. Printz Honor book
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
One of the books of the year by Booklist, Horn Book, and Kirkus
Colin Singleton was a child genius. His entire life has been based around this fact. He studies more than anyone else because he craves knowledge and the assurance that he is the most intelligent person in any given room. He has to be the best. This goal is deterred by his anxiety of post-high school life and the fact that he’s been dumped 19 times, each by a girl named Katherine. To remedy this bump in the road, Colin and his friend take a trip to nowhere. Colin is desperate to make sense of his life with facts and figures and The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. However, unexpected variables like a new girl (not named Katherine) and an archduke in a weird small town are thrown into the equation, and Colin is forced to re-evaluate his theories.
What I liked:
I really enjoyed the entire premise of the novel. I think it’s very clever. It takes on the ideas of certainty and identity that are extremely relevant to young adults. I mean, I’m still trying to figure out who I am as opposed to who I used to be so I get it.
I think this book will appeal to readers/ students who are more left brained. As a right brainer myself, I prefer the abstract: colors, emotions, pictures, (and books). Colin is an absolute left brainer. He is all about language, logic, numbers, and the concrete. He often uses math to explain abstract concepts, which I found brilliant because I never considered that this was a way to better reach out to students that I may have. Not all of them will be language art fanatics like I am. I’ve always understood math when it’s applied in a more abstract way so why not turn it around?
Not to toot my own horn, but I was in Gifted and Talented classes in elementary school, where everyone treated us like geniuses. The book talks about how most gifted children grow up to be average adults, and this freaks Colin out because he wants to always be the smart one, and he’s desperate to leave his mark on the world. I’ve felt like this so often. I’ve worried that I haven’t lived up to my potential or have gotten less intelligent over the years or that I’ll never do something to change the world. The way Colin copes with this gave me great closure. I think Colin and I have resolved it in similar ways I think. I mean, who knows the real answer?
Male readers can identify with this story. I’m always trying to find YA Lit that I think can appeal to both genders, and I think this one would be a great pick.
Colin is obsessed with anagrams, rearranging letters in a phrase or word to make a different phrase or word. He does it as a hobby and a party trick. It just so perfectly captures who Colin is that its use is brilliant.
There are some awesome quote worthy passages that are just laced with John Green coolness.
What I didn’t like:
I didn’t identify with Colin just because we’re so different.
The story never really drew me in. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, as much as I appreciated it. I don’t see myself going back to read it.
I feel like parts of it are just too forced, like the hot new girl that lives in the middle of nowhere and the quirky best friend. Yes, they’re omnipresent in literature, but I felt like Green’s characters felt too one dimensional and stereotypical.
I felt like Colin was just a Mary Sue for John Green, although he insists the character is not based on him.
This is just a me thing, but when math was brought up in the book, my brain just went fuzzy. I mean, look at this equation!
I think it’s a good book, and I would suggest it for middle school readers, boys and girls alike. It’s smart and appealing. I’d be glad to see anyone reading it.
Remember the sweet fairy tales of Cinderella or the Disney movie with the catchy songs about true love? Marissa Meyer changes everything you thought you knew about the story and turns up the volume. Meyer trades Cinderella, damsel in distress, to Cinder, cyborg on a mission, frolicking animals for androids, and the glass slipper with a mechanical foot.
Set in the futuristic streets of New Beijing, the novel opens on Cinder, a renowned mechanic replacing her mechanical foot with a new, more proportional model when a disguised Prince Kai visits her booth and urges her to fix a very important android for him. Not moments after his departure, a sign of the plague that has been ravaging New Beijing makes an appearance, setting everything into motion. When the plague hits her family and she becomes involved in finding a cure as well as the handsome Prince Kai’s affairs and a potential war with the lunar people from the moon, Cinder begins to learn more about her mysterious past and how her existence may change everything for the world.
It’s no secret that Fairy Tale Revisited is extremely popular right now. For me, it started with Beastly by Alex Flynn, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was made into a movie a few years ago. There have been dozens of other contributions to this growing genre including TV shows like Ever After and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman. We don’t seem to grow out of our love for fairy tales.
Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. These stories have been around for centuries and come from all parts of the world, constantly changing form for their audience but never losing relevance. Could Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm have ever imagined a cyborg version of their Cinderella?
Probably not. Enter the genius of Marissa Meyer.
I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this book. The characters, even the background ones, are so great. Cinder is a more modern (obviously) and independent upgrade. She has no need for a fairy godmother, though she is stuck with an evil stepmother and sister. Cinder is an excellent role model because she is so hard working and brave without being inhuman. She has vulnerabilities and valid emotions. THIS is how you create a great young adult novel female protagonist.
She also represents minorities in that cyborgs in New Beijing are essentially second-class citizens. People treat her with disgust. I think this speaks to readers who find themselves in between identities like those of mixed race or even those with prosthetics. I think discussing these issues would be great in a classroom setting or a book group. Have we ever felt like we didn’t belong because of something that makes us different?
I also enjoyed that the story took place somewhere OTHER than Europe or North America. In fact, it is believed that the story of Cinderella originated in China during the 9th century. Today, China is a booming technology giant. They’re also known for their royal families. Obviously, Meyer knew what she was doing when she set this scene for her story. It is told that Cinder is from Europe (though her exact origin is unknown), but her prince charming, Prince Kai, is clearly Chinese. Interracial love! I don’t think we see enough of it in young adult literature. This could be another discussion point.
The story has a few flaws as far as practicality and continuity and exploring more of what the author sets up, but there are also three more books in the works after this one so maybe all is explained in the sequels.
As far as teaching the book, I can’t see myself using it in curriculum just because I don’t think the academic tone or writing is there. I also don’t know that this novel would interest young male readers. However, I think the whole cyborg and android thing might carry some weight when trying to appeal to the masculine reader.
I would definitely recommend this to others! I can see it being very popular with late middle school to early high school readers.
Movie rights HAVE been sold and the screenplay is finished. I can’t wait for it to premiere on the silver screen. Romance and robots can’t fail.
Pick this book up immediately. It’s a great and quick read full of futuristic mystery and just enough sweet romance to make your heart do little flips. To tell you how much I enjoyed reading it, I literally downloaded the sequel Scarlet an hour after I finished Cinder. The second book continues where the first left off, adding a Red Riding Hood character into the mix. The next two installments of the series are set to include Rapunzel and Snow White.
If you enjoy both of these books, Meyer has also come out with short stories, “Glitch” and “The Queen’s Army” as prequels to both of the books. You can read them both for free here:
If you’re not familiar with John Green, you have either never been to a book store/ library or you’re incredibly lame. I feel sorry for you if either case is true. John Green has become well known in pop culture as a result of his award-winning young adult novels as well as his YouTube contributions which include video conversations between himself and his brother, Hank Green, known as the Vlog Brothers as well as the channel Mental Floss where he uses his knowledge to enlighten the masses in a fun, pithy way.
In short, John Green is something of a phenomenon right now. And it all started with this book.
Just a few awards this book has won:
Winner, 2006 Michael L. Printz Award
Finalist, 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults
2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award 2006 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
A Booklist Editor’s Choice Pick Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
Borders Original Voices Selection
After begging his parents to let him go, Miles Halter leaves his Florida home to travel to Culver Creek Preparatory High School where he meets a cast of characters including his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi, the school bullies, the “Weekday Warriors,” and Alaska Young, the beautiful, bipolar enigma. The students manage to get into the controversial pastimes of young adulthood like smoking, drinking, and sex- and then Alaska’s death that leads the boys to uncover her life’s mysteries and the mysteries of life.
I read Looking for Alaska when I was in high school after reading a short story Green had written that I really enjoyed. However, I had no patience for the book. I think the writing is gorgeous. I just couldn’t stand the characters. They were too brooding and needlessly “complicated” to endure. I’m also not a huge fan of books set in prep academies. Maybe it’s because I can’t identify with the experience. Now that I’ve (in my opinion at least) matured a little, I have a new appreciation for the novel, but first, my annoyances with the book.
I have a particular pet peeve for Alaska, the girl, because she feeds into the stereotype that I see in many male-written stories. She’s the all too mysterious, unattainable, troubled, and gorgeous girl that the male protagonist pines for. She’s not real. She’s one-dimensional and a flimsy portrayal of a female character. It’s the same thing Green does in many of his books. He creates his female characters to be ideas instead of real people. I think this is dangerous because I’m not sure young readers understand the concept of the unreliable narrator. Just because the narrator views a person in a certain way doesn’t mean that is how they truly are. Green touches on this, but I worry readers won’t consider it enough.
I DID like Miles’ fascination with biographies and famous people’s famous last words. I think it guides the book in a great artistic direction. I also think the story is a fantastic one for young adults. It’s not my favorite work by Green, but I think it’s worth a read for the narration’s pure gracefulness.
Essentially: I did not personally find Looking for Alaska to be my cup of tea, but I think other people should try it because we don’t all like the same flavors of tea. Some of us like coffee or soda or just water so… yeah…
To no one’s surprise, this book has been surrounded by controversy. To begin with, Green dared to write about anything other than teenagers behaving. The sexually explicit scenes have been called “pornographic” and “disgusting” by concerned parents when teachers in Buffalo, New York taught the book. Other parents have been angered over the smoking, drinking, and explicit language featured in the novel.
“Some people say, ‘You wrote a dirty, dirty book.’ But there are very old-fashioned values and even a lot of religion in it,” Green said. “There are some adults who think that the only kind of ethics that matter are sexual ethics. So they miss everything else that is going on in the book.” Green also said, “The book has never been marketed to 12-year-olds. Never. It is packaged like an adult book; it doesn’t even say it’s published by a kids’ book imprint on the cover, and it’s never shelved in the children’s section of bookstores.”
Controversy even surrounded the book’s cover art. Learn about it here:
To best sum it up, I hand the microphone to Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee who says in the publisher’s discussion guide:
“There is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) gratuitous in this book. Everything in it serves to define character, give style to voice, and develop theme.” This probably describes 95% of all books banned for similar reasons.
My opinion as a future teacher:
I HATE the entire (if sometimes necessary or required) practice of book permission slips. Why don’t I just send home a piece of paper that reads, “I’m going to teach a book that challenges ideas and conventions. Please sign below if you’re ok with your child reading a novel that will expand their horizons.” It’s like a red flag for Complainer Parents.
I think this would be a great novel to teach to upperclassmen in high school. I think there could be fun, rich book discussions and essay topics and writing prompts. The only issue would obviously be if there were any controversy coming from parents or my school that would prevent me from doing so.
It’s IMPORTANT to read books that are controversial/ have been banned. I mean, hello! If there’s something in a book people don’t want me to read, I WANT TO READ IT. The reason people have been oppressed since the beginning of time is lack of knowledge. The best way to keep control is to manipulate people’s minds and make them think like you do, which is exactly what book-banners want. I want my students to challenge everything they know because it may be the first or only chance they get.
If you’re interested in reading from the people who disagree with my stance on censorship:
Yet another book that had been sitting on my To Read shelf, Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had me at the cover. I’m a huge horror movie fan and lover of the Tim Burton aesthetic so I was all game for this book.
The debut novel by American author Ransom Riggs (which, can we just agree is an awesome name) follows Jacob, a young boy, on his quest to discover truth within his grandfather’s fantastical stories about peculiar children that live in an orphanage in Europe.
I had low expectations for this novel because I always look for spooky books and get disappointed. It takes true delicacy to craft a story with a mixture of suspense, magic, and heart, but Riggs has done it. I adore this novel. The story is incredible because of its details and wonder. It reminds me of a mixture of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (both of which I loved as a kid) and X-Men First Class.
Riggs is, by trade, a filmmaker, and his storytelling reflects that. Each description is done with such precision that it becomes a movie in your mind. The pacing in this novel is excellent. It was an easy read and a fast one because I could not wait to finish it and uncover the mystery along with the main character. Riggs also released a book about the methods and ideas of Sherlock Holmes, and I think some of that information has found a home in the pages of this novel because its mystery is so perfectly done.
Film rights were sold to 20th Century Fox, and Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, The Woman in Black) is set to adapt it to film, and Tim Burton is set to direct it. (How perfect are these choices?!) According to IMDB.com, the film is set to release in 2015.
It has an unexpected element in that the author includes pictures of the home and the people in it that are real photographs from private collections. Riggs has creatively incorporated them as photographic evidence that the children exist, tailoring his story to match the pictures. Apparently, he was only going to assemble a picture book before someone advised him to craft a story to match the photos. I wonder if the film will include these great pictures because they’re so memorable!
Here is a great little book trailer that perfectly captures the novel’s beginning.
As it is of the mystery genre, I don’t want to give away too much about the plot because half the fun of reading is discovering wonders along with Jacob as you move back and forth between time and reality.
Quirky, charming, eerie, and moving, this novel is a must-read for the young and old. Scholastic recommends it for grades 6-8 which I think is appropriate given the level of reading difficulty and the content which is just adult enough to interest young readers but not so adult that they are traumatized forever. I don’t know if I would teach this book in the classroom just because I’m not sure it’s as academic as it is entertaining, but I would be open to the possibility just because I think this is such an engaging book for middle school readers.
I’m ridiculously late to the game on this one. I’ve seen this book’s cover plastered everywhere for years and heard people (including my favorite English teachers) talk about it, but I never took the time to read it until it was required reading for my Young Adult Lit class.
The book has won the Printz award and has topped The New York Times best-seller list for seven years.
I finished it a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to put the experience into words. All I can say is that it has earned a permanent spot on My Favorite Books list. There aren’t even the right words, only feelings.
Let me first say that, in my years of schooling, I have read MANY books about the Holocaust. MANY. I understand why, and I find the subject fascinating, but, at the same time, it can get tiresome. When I heard this book was about Germany in WWII, I was ready to be bored. What more could be said about the subject? What could be different? I’ve never read a story from the German perspective on WWII, and it’s incredibly humanizing.
Liesel Meminger, the main character, is not Jewish. She is an orphan who has lost her mother and brother and is shipped off to live in a foster home. I feared the worst for Liesel, as many foster home stories become horrific, but her new family is anything but. She lives outside Munich at the beginning of Hitler’s reign. Her new home on Hummel Street (German for “heaven”) and everyone she knows is changed by the Nazi regime.
Liesel copes with growing up and everything changing through the power of words. She begins to take books when she can, clinging to them as they serve for milestones in her life. Her foster father teaches her to read, and she shares this gift with her community during bombing raids as well as a Jewish man her family hides in their basement.
There is so much to this story, but I don’t want to give everything away. Yes, it is unique in that it is told from the Germany perspective, but the most interesting aspect of the novel is that Death is the omniscient narrator. Yeah, the old grim reaper, though he claims he doesn’t carry a scythe or anything foolish like that. Death is intrigued by Liesel and follows her throughout her life as he carries out his duties.
The way Zusak crafts this story is so beautiful. There are so many phrases in the book that must be read and enjoyed over and over again like a savory food. His stylistic and artistic choices are so different from anything I’ve ever read. You know the ending from the very beginning, and the beginning is divided into several prologues that are unexpected in a young adult novel because of their sophistication.
This novel is a great example of how young adult literature is not only for young adults. The profoundness of the story is something all ages can appreciate. You’ll fall in love with each character. I especially loved Liesel who is an incredible character because of her innocence and her love for words. Obviously, as a fellow bookworm, I appreciate this. She is also, like me, extremely close to her father and credits him for teaching her important tools for life.
Ultimately, I walked away from the book with this deep love for the story Zusak crafted. As a reader, you’ll find a kindred spirit in Liesel. Furthermore, Zusak’s words will stir a familiarity within you that is rare in other stories. There will be images from the novel both beautiful and horrifying that will be burned into your mind.
Finally, I’m most excited about this book because I can’t wait to teach it in the classroom. I would love to discuss it with my students and study it academically because I believe it is a true piece of literature that will be relevant long after its popularity. I would love to have feedback if anyone has taught this novel in the classroom or had a book discussion.