Review Crew - book reviews by teens, for teens

Book Cover
Zusak, Markus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is my favorite book of all time. The story follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger growing up in Nazi Germany. Her love of books progresses throughout the plot, and the cast of characters she meets along the way help make the story the loveable masterpiece I know it as (personally, my favorite characters include Max Vandenburg, Rudy Steiner, and Hans Hubermann). This book is historical fiction, but I recommend it for most (if not all) readers. I typically read fantasy books, but I adore The Book Thief. The plot isn’t fast paced like adventure stories, and the events are on the ordinary side, but in my opinion the author does a brilliant job with descriptions and human connections within the book. Another reason I love this book is the use of the narrator--the way colors are described and the story is told is unique and wonderful to read. It’s a story about WWII told in a different perspective than other books we typically read at school, such as Night by Elie Wiesel or The Diary of Anne Frank. Even if you don’t particularly like the historical fiction genre, I would recommend giving this book a try. I first read it in 6th grade, but it is definitely not a story for just children. It is good for any age, and common sense media rates it for kids 13+.

Reviewer's Name: Cora G.
Book Cover
Collins, Suzanne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you're like me, you've been looking forward to the new Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, since its announcement last year. After all the anxious waiting and counting down the days, I found that this new novel, focusing on future villain, Coriolanus Snow, is not as good as the original trilogy but still holds its own and has its place in Collins' universe of Panem.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a villain background story. The main character-- for I certainly would not call him a protagonist, even 65 years earlier-- is Coriolanus Snow, future tyrant president of Panem and one of the most despised villains in all of young adult dystopian literature. Here, Snow has an ego, he has big plans, dreams and ambitions for the future of his country. Coriolanus is an orphan after the war that spurred the Hunger Games. The Snow household is broken down and poor, and Coriolanus lives with his grandmother and fellow orphaned cousin, Tigris (yes, that very same Tigris from Mockingjay that Katniss and her squad hid with while in the Capitol. This connection is one of the most interesting in the book, because here, Tigris and Coriolanus are best friends as well as cousins, always looking out for one another and sharing a tight bond. The obvious deterioration of their relationship is never addressed in the book, and I desperately want to know what went sideways between them now.) Coriolanus is a student at the Academy, a high school, and is chosen as one of the 24 best and brightest Capitol students to mentor a tribute in the 10 Hunger Games.

One important thing to note and understand about this book is that the Hunger Games are very very different from where we join them 65 years later. The tributes are abused and starved. The arena is not high-tech or glamorous. The television viewership is low. Most people do not even watch the games at all. All of that changes after this book, I would presume.

Coriolanus, who is hated by the leader of the Academy, Dean Highbottom, is consequentially assigned to mentor District 12 female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. Lucy Gray is the true protagonist of this novel, and a strange one at that. She is part of a 'Covey', a traveling musical family who got stuck in District 12. She is strange to Coriolanus and the other Capitol children. She is musical, cunning, and not to be underestimated.

One of my wishes for this book is that there would be a romance between Lucy Gray and Coriolanus. There was, and unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations, which greatly added to my minor issues with this book. Collins greatly crafted a love triangle in the original Hunger Games trilogy, and I was so excited for more of that great romance that made you root for two people to end up together. The romance between Coriolanus and Lucy Gray seemed disjointed, rushed, and absurd. It almost seemed like Coriolanus was using Lucy Gray, which of course is false since he had nothing to gain from loving a poor girl from District 12.

Coriolanus prepares Lucy Gray for the arena while some Hunger Games traditions are introduced-- the betting, mutts and TV host and interviews are all started in this book. The Head Gamemaker at the time is Dr. Gaul, a psychotic and mutation-obsessed woman who takes interest in Coriolanus. Readers should expect to be creeped out and disturbed by Dr. Gaul throughout the novel.

Drama unfolds before the Games even begin, and there are many, many characters and side plots introduced and finished before the Hunger Games even begin. The actual part of the Hunger Games was my favorite part of the novel. Collins truly is a master of writing stories set in the arenas. I will not spoil who wins the 10th Hunger Games, but expect to be surprised by the turn of events right after the Games conclude.

My only other problem with this book is it actually felt like three books instead of one. Like the rest of the series, it is divided into three sections, and each felt like it's own standalone story. The third section Iread very fast. The first was very slow. And the middle was the best, with the arena and Hunger Games.

One of the things about this book that I enjoyed tremendously is that it does not paint Coriolanus as a hero, even back then. He is still cunning and a little evil, especially at the surprising ending. Coriolanus is never written as a good person. Instead, the good people around him are at his disposal.

Another thing to note is the literalness of the title. There are all three-ballads, songbirds, and snakes, in this novel. It is in no way symbolic or metaphorical. There is a lot of music, for Lucy Gray, and to add a lighter tone. I liked the inclusion of all the music, though it was a little strange to have so many songs included in full, with all their lyrics and everything. There are several songs from the original trilogy in this book, The Hanging Tree among them, and I enjoyed the inclusion of those.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes does not feel like a Hunger Games novel. It feels like a companion to Collins' original trilogy, but not directly connected to that world. That being said, it is a very compelling and originally imaginative story, that only suffered from a few disjointed elements. This prequel does not quite live up to the original beloved stories of The Hunger Games, but comes very close and presents a new take on Suzanne Collins' world of Panem.

Reviewer's Name: Allie S.
Book Cover
Collins, Suzanne
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is fantastic! The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes adds a whole new level of depth to the Hunger Games Series main antagonist, Coriolanus Snow, and to Suzanne Collins' dystopian world. This novel shows the journey of Coriolanus Snow from an eighteen year old boy trying to find his place in the world to the ruthless president in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I could not put this book down. It is the perfect addition to a fantastic series. I highly recommend this novel for any teenaged reader or fan of the Hunger Games Series.

Reviewer's Name: John B.
Book Cover
Emmich, Val
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is the book that inspired the musical Dear Evan Hansen. In the book there is a tragedy. It is written in two point of views. The situation benefits one person but not the other. There are many lies as well. The book ends in a happy sad state, but overall it is a good book.

Reviewer's Name: Jamie
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Collins, Suzanne
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the story of Coriolanus Snow and how he becomes who he is in the Hunger Games Trilogy. It is the tenth hunger games and Coriolanus has been given the job as mentoring the girl tribute from district 12. The other mentors are Coriolanus's classmates and they all have the chance to win a spot at the university, something that Snow has wanted for years. This book follows Coriolanus through the games and after where the reader gets to see why and how Coriolanus Snow becomes the president that we all love to hate. I thought this book was fantastic. Collins does a great job connecting this book to the trilogy, which is why I suggest rereading the other books before you start this one because there is little things that could go unnoticed if it has been awhile. It gave a new perspective on the games than the trilogy so it does not feel repetitive and like a rip off version of the first book. If you have read or are about to read the Hunger Games I definitely would give this a try as well.

Reviewer's Name: Emma
Genres:
The Book of Polly
Hepinstall, Kathy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Polly is a southern mother who doesn't put up with anybody. She is a confident individual who knows everything there is to know about gardening. The life she knew soon changed when her husband (Captain) dies, and she is left with an unexpected baby. Willow was born when Polly was in her late fifties, and death has always been a constant fear. Besides the fear of her mother's passing, there's only one other thing that pesters Willow.....secrets. Polly's past is a closed book, even a slight mention of the topic is forbidden. As the novel continues, Willow races against time to both save her mother and learn about the wounds from the past. The Book of Polly is filled with twists and turns, with times of tears and roars of laughter. Every page is filled with surprises. From aggravating neighbors to the love-hate relationship with squirrels, the book truly emphasizes the bond between mothers and daughters. I highly recommend this book! I have read it twice, and it truly is incredible.

Reviewer's Name: Isabella
Genres:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Doyle, Arthur Conan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson have captivated audiences for generations. This collection of twelve short stories is fantastic. From stolen jewels to mysterious circumstances and brilliant crimes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has it all. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is full of mesmerizing deductions and wonderful short adventures. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for every Sherlock Holmes fan and anyone searching for great mystery novels or short stories.

Reviewer's Name: John
Ayesha at Last
Jalaluddin, Uzma
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Definitely an amazing book. It puts such a difficult topic into beautiful words that pull at the strings of the readers heart. The way the main characters conflicting situation throughout the story unfolds is very surprising. The author places the reader in the main characters shoes and makes it feel as if it is the reader who is going through it. I wish there was a second book that really grasps the life after.
Reviewer Grade: 11th

Reviewer's Name: Anna
African American Firsts: Famous Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America
Potter, Joan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a reference book. In this book of American history you will learn a lot of history that you will not learn in primary, secondary school or even higher education unless you have some kind of major or minor in African American studies. This is a book about the first African American who has done a certain thing. Maybe the most notable is the first African American president is Barrack Obama. Or perhaps you didn’t know the first African American lawyer was Macon Bolling Allen. This book spans across a wide range of career fields and subjects. For Instance the first African American West Point grad was Henry Ossian Flipper. Or the first person to reach the north pole was a black man named Matthew Henson. This should be one of many required reference books.

Reviewer's Name: Rayn
Genres:
When We Were Lost
Wignall, Kevin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is about a field trip to Costa Rica by some students from the US. The plane crashes and all the adults and most of the students die. The group of students who survive, have to deal with some of the same high school issues, cliques, bullying, not fitting in, not being pretty enough, not being athletic enough and so on. In addition to having to deal with those seemingly important issues they now have to deal with the issue of survival. This is not Lord Of The Flies but it will remind you of that book.

Reviewer's Name: Rayn
12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today
Parks, Gregory and Hughey, Matthew
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is a sort of response to a screenplay written in 1954. The screenplay, 12 Angry Men, is about 12 jurors who have to decide the fate of a young man of color. If found guilty the boy would be sentenced to death. It becomes clear that the majority of the jurors are influenced more by their prejudices than the facts of the case. 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today is from the viewpoint of the defendant of color. However, these 12 black men have not been charged with any crime. Nevertheless they have been prejudged and not favorably in different situations. This is not a book of fiction. These are real men telling their stories.

Reviewer's Name: Rayn
Children of Blood and Bone
Adeyemi, Tomi
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Zelie lives in Orisha, a place where magic used to live in abundance, until one night the king kills all the magi (the people who can control the magic), except for the children magi who have never used magic before. Zelie now finds herself trying to help a rogue princess get away, but that quickly turns to bringing magic back. With the help of her brother, the princess, and many others, Zelie now has a chance to bring magic back. I thought that the plot was very interesting and suspenseful. I did feel as if there were places in the book that could have been left out or shortened because there is a lot of detail that can become confusing. The book is the first part in a series, and the author did leave the book on a sort of cliffhanger making me want to read more. Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Emma
Genres:
Things Fall Apart
Achebe, Chinua
2 stars = Meh
Review:

“Things Fall Apart” follows Okonkwo as he becomes a very successful man with many yams, several wives, and political power in Umuofia. The whole first part of the book focuses on his characterizing Okonkwo and showing what tribal culture was like. The author uses subtle references to Europeans to set up the main conflict of the book, European culture. Before the Europeans reach Umofia, Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansmen and is exiled. For the period of his exile, Okonkwo watches from the outside as his own village is changed radically by Christian missionaries.
Overall, I think this book is worth a read for the powerful theme, it wasn’t something I would want to read again because so much of the book was just about life in Umuofia, which was a bit mundane. Onkonkwo was also a pretty static character, there was no character development either. He just wanted to be the opposite of his father, was very strict, harsh, and closeminded. I did like the metaphors and proverbs in the book. I remember a metaphor that stood out in particular was, “Living Fire begets cold,
impotent ash.” I also enjoyed the later portion of the book where the Europeans missionaries arrive and the Onkonkwo provides a different perspective on the situation, and the theme is more clearly defined and developed.

Reviewer's Name: McKenzie
Juan Pablo and the Butterflies
Flowers, J.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The premise of “Juan Pablo and the Butterflies” is somewhat similar to “Bless me Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya. Both books focus on boys faced with the challenges of two different cultures and have the wisdom of a grandmother figure’s spiritism to guide them. I enjoyed this book better because while the theme of “Bless Me Ultima” holds true today this book is much more modern and relatable. Juan Pablo faces the modern issue of drug cartels in Mexico when a cartel takes over the small village he lives in. Those who can flee the village leave immediately but Juan Pablo remain with his grandmother and best friend, Rocio. As his grandmother is dying Juan poisons some of the cartel members with one his grandmother’s potions and attempts to flee to the United States with Rocio. I really enjoyed the perspective this book provided, I could understand how Mexico is developed in some aspects, like that Juan was smart from Khan Academy videos, but still has many challenges, such as drug cartels, and violence. The book helped remind me why people would want better and come to the U.S. The book was about resilience, the Sky people, and hope. When seemed like things couldn’t worse and did things got worse Juan Pablo kept going because he knew the Sky People, his ancestors, his grandmother spoke of would, guide him. I would recommend this book to anybody who has never read a book with magical realism, or to a person who enjoys magical realism because the magical realism in this book is a bit more modern than other literature. I would also recommend this book just to people who want a good book and a broader perspective, it is an amazing and relatively short read.

Reviewer's Name: McKenzie
I'll Give You The Sun
Nelson, Jandy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When books have awards on the cover it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll enjoy the book because the reviewers/critics are often adults and have a different perspective on teen/YA books. However “I’ll give you the Sun” actually lives up to the awards and reviews. This book has a complex plotthat weaves between the perspectives of Noah and Jude. Noah and Jude are twins who were always inseparable until high school and their mother’s death. Noah’s portions of the story are from before their mother’s death at age 13 and Jude’s perspective is from 16. Between the three years they both change dramatically, and you can see why they changed, and how everything became different. I really liked the title of the book, it fits the story without giving away too much. The characters are amazing, they all have depth, complexity, and a unique background, which drives the plot. This also made it easy to relate to the characters because they felt very real and human. Noah has a very clear way of seeing the world through color, and art. Jude sees the world through a very physical sense. It is pretty easy to get into this book and I found it hard to put down. This book has a great message of love and its complexities as well.

Reviewer's Name: McKenzie
The Trial
Kafka, Franz
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Trial is a brilliant novel. Throughout the story the reader follows K., the protagonist, who tries to figure out what he was arrested and charged for. On his journey, K. meets several different types of people all which contribute to the book's questioning of bureaucracy and totalitarianism. Its finale left me a bewildered state, probing at the depths of existence and reality. Whether or not this feeling was a good one, I cannot tell, however Kafka's ability to use the mysteries of existentialism and expand upon them is truly amazing. I highly recommend this novel.

Reviewer's Name: Steven
Awards:
Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours
Butcher, Jim
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Peter Parker is all grown up and is now a teacher. But his Spidey senses go haywire when siblings of one of his most dangerous enemy's are in town seeking revenge. The are part of a powerful race known as the Ancients. Peter is warned of an ambush by none other than the cat burglar turned good, Felicia Hardy - aka Black Cat. These beings are so powerful that Dr. Strange refuses to help him. This is the traditional Spider Man tale. Only the trial and tribulations of being a high-schooler are replaced by the trials and tribulations of adulthood.

Reviewer's Name: Rayn
The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends
Crist, James
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This a a short book, but you get a whole package when buying it! I think this book was a bit young for me. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone ages 7-10. However, this book gave me a little reminder on the effects kindness has on others. This book gives many dialogue suggestions for on-the-spot situations. The author gives information about friendships that 100% of people with experience involving peers would agree with. This text gives tips on what friends really are, how to make friends, how to hold onto friends, how to avoid arguments, how to talk through arguments, and the most important of all, how to kindly and properly end a friendship. The author emphasized that everyone has the potential of being a good friend and I think that that is extremely important. This was a good refresher on important social skills.
Reviewer: Grade 8

Reviewer's Name: Samantha
I Am Number Four
Lore, Pittacus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is my current favorite book! John Smith isn't just an ordinary teen. He was born on the planet Lorien. He is one of nine children taken to Earth with superhuman powers, these powers are known as legacies. The first three have fallen, and John is next on the kill list. John's character is written so well, that you can easily understand his emotions and actions. John has a hard time with a foot in both worlds. He has to balance himself between being your average teen and being his superhuman self. Many people have split lives, bouncing from one personality to another. Sometimes it can feel like you can't always be your true self around everyone and John portrays this lifestyle perfectly. John was such a relatable character.
This book was predictable at times, but it did have some crazy plot twists. Most of this book included of the characters making plans and I would have liked to see the characters just play out the situations and not always have a step-by-step execution. I read the last hundred pages or so all at once! The climax was so thrilling and I couldn't put the book down! The ending was a bit abrupt, but I would still recommend this book to any fiction reader!

Reviewer's Name: Samantha
Awards:
The Giver
Lowry, Lois
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book is very interesting because of many things. There are very strict rules in the community. The changing of age ceremony is the best part. The main character gets a job nobody thought would happen. This changes his whole perspective of the community. In the end, it ends happily.

Reviewer's Name: Jaime

Pages