Bang

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I know is going to wreck me. Sometimes, all it takes is a look at the cover or a glance at the description to realize that I better get the Kleenex ready. That’s what happened with Bang by Barry Lyga.

When Sebastian Cody was four years old, he did the unthinkable. He shot and killed his baby sister. It was an accident, but that event changed everything. It broke up his family, and it made Sebastian into a pariah. Everyone knows him as the kid who shot his sister.

It’s now ten years later, and Sebastian has nearly reached his breaking point. He’s certain it’s almost time for him to end his pain. He can’t escape what he did to his sister, but he can escape this life. He’s almost ready. Almost.

When his best friend, Evan, goes away for the summer, Sebastian is sure that he won’t see his friend again. He’s going to end his life, and nothing is going to stop him. His plans begin to change, however, when he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is unlike anyone Sebastian has ever met. For one thing, she’s Muslim, which already makes her unique in his extremely white bread town. For another, she doesn’t know anything about Sebastian’s past. To her, he’s just Sebastian, awkwardly funny guy who charms her parents and makes delicious pizza.

Sebastian and Aneesa become fast friends–and partners in a pizza-making YouTube venture–and it’s almost enough to make Sebastian forget his plans. Could he possibly move past what happened to him all those years ago? Does he deserve friends and a future after what he did? He’s starting to think it’s possible.

But maybe all of the positive stuff in Sebastian’s life is too good to be true. After all, no one will ever let him forget his past. Even Aneesa’s friendship isn’t enough to blot out the pain. Can anything help him to move on, or is Sebastian fated to end his life the same way he ended his sister’s?


Like I said, this book wrecked me…so much so that I’m finding it difficult to write as much as I typically do. It is an outstanding piece of realistic fiction, and it’s sure to keep readers eager to turn the page. Yes, some of that enthusiasm could be morbid curiosity–will Sebastian end his life or not? But I’m hopeful that most people will want to keep reading to see if Sebastian finds his way through the darkness. Maybe they need to see him find a glimmer of hope so that they can seek their own measure of peace.

Aside from the deep stuff in Bang–and it does get pretty intense–I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it made me hungry. Not something you expected in a book like this one, right? Well, when you read about Sebastian’s epic pizza creations, you’ll probably feel the same way. After reading the descriptions of his pizzas, Papa John’s just won’t cut it anymore. I’m not inspired to make my own pizzas or anything–I hate to cook–but I may have to venture beyond the traditional after this book. When I wasn’t using tissues to dry my tears, I’m pretty sure I was using them to wipe away drool. (Can you tell I’m on a diet? Is it too obvious?)

I’m not sure if Bang is a good fit for a middle school audience, but I definitely recommend it to YA readers. It’s a powerful book, a quick read, and it makes readers think about differences, friendship, forgiveness, and redemption.

To learn more about Bang, visit author Barry Lyga’s website or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

The Opposite of Hallelujah

I picked up my latest read, The Opposite of Hallelujah, because it’s nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. (My book club chose to read these nominees for our April meeting.) Judging by the book jacket, I expected sort of a psychological thriller, kind of in the same vein as Dead to You by Lisa McMann. Older sister returns after eight years away, and little sister has trouble adjusting? Yeah, my mind immediately goes to “Are we sure that’s really her sister?” That notion was disabused fairly quickly, but I still enjoyed the book, and it was, at times, quite the emotional roller coaster.

For the past eight years, Caro Mitchell has, for all intents and purposes, been an only child. Her older sister, Hannah left home to become a nun when Caro was just eight years old, and Caro has barely seen her sister since. Things, however, are about to change. Hannah, now twenty-seven, is coming home.

Caro is not pleased with the abrupt change in her life, and, like a typical sixteen-year-old, she lets everyone know it. She doesn’t know how to handle having Hannah home, and she’s unsure what she should tell her friends about this sister she’s never mentioned before. So, she does what a lot of teenagers would do…she lies. Eventually, Caro’s lies do catch up with her, endangering her relationships with her boyfriend, her friends, her parents, and her sister…who is battling issues that Caro is growing desperate to understand.

No one is quite sure why Hannah left the convent, why she refuses to eat, why she can’t sleep, or why she can’t seem to move on with her life, but Caro, after dealing with her own issues, wants to help her sister. She wants to find out why Hannah is so depressed and what can possibly be done to help her. In the process, Caro will come face-to-face with a long-buried secret, a secret that could explain so much about the sister that Caro barely knows.

As Caro learns more and more about her sister, she’s also forced to examine herself. She takes a long, hard look at her relationships with those closest to her, why she chose to lie about her sister, and, ultimately, her faith in God. Caro is forced to come to some unpleasant truths about herself, but those lessons may just bring her closer to everyone she loves…including Hannah.

_______________

I must say that I liked The Opposite of Hallelujah more than I thought I would. When I first started reading–and I figured out that it wasn’t the thriller I had hoped it would be–I was disappointed, and I did put the book down after reading about 100 pages. Yesterday, though, I picked the book up at about 10am, and I didn’t put it back down again until I was finished…350 pages later. I devoured it, and I think many other readers, particularly those who may struggle with their faith, will have a similar experience.

Although I did end up enjoying this book, I have to confess something. I didn’t like most of the characters. Caro was kind of a brat through most of the book, only redeeming herself near the very end. I thought her parents were too hard on her at times, and I wanted Hannah to just snap out of it. (I know this is a familiar sentiment expressed toward depressed people. I’ve heard it often enough myself.) And even though I know it’s fairly common with some teens, I was kind of disturbed by how often Caro snuck out of the house, went to parties, and got drunk with her friends. (I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was well out of high school, so this was kind of foreign to me. And yes, I was a goody-two-shoes. I make no apologies.) I did like Caro’s boyfriend, Pawel, but even he disappointed me on occasion.

There was one major thing I definitely liked about Caro. I respected how driven and intelligent Caro was, and I appreciated that she didn’t try to dumb herself down…especially around guys. She was a good student, she excelled in science and math, and she owned it. Good for her.

I’ve only read one other nominee for next year’s SCYABA, I Hunt Killers, so I can’t say yet how this one stacks up with the rest of the list. I will say, though, that The Opposite of Hallelujah is a great read that will resonate with many readers. Anyone who’s ever had problems with parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, religion, fitting in, or owning up to bad decisions will find something to relate to in this book. Read it!

 

The Fox Inheritance

Caution:  Read The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the first book in Mary E. Pearson’s Jenna Fox Chronicles, before proceeding.  Also, if you read the first book nearly three years ago (like me), you might want to skim through it before opening The Fox Inheritance.

I first read The Adoration of Jenna Fox way back in 2008. I was still a high school librarian, and I can remember giving dozens of booktalks on this book to my students. I loved the book, and I was intrigued by its core subject matter–the thought of where science and medicine could take society in the future. I think some of my students were as well. We talked about things like cloning, preserving human consciousness after bodies have worn out, and government control of science and medicine. In short, The Adoration of Jenna Fox generated some fairly intense discussions. The sequel, The Fox Inheritance, is sure to follow in those footsteps. You see, Jenna Fox was not the only person whose mind was “saved” and put into a new and improved body. It just took a little longer–about 260 years–for her friends, Locke and Kara, to “wake up.”

Locke has been in limbo for 260 years.  260 years of total darkess, with nothing but his thoughts.  Thoughts of the night he and his friends, Jenna and Kara, were in a horrible accident.  Thoughts of his past and how he would do things differently.  Thoughts of the world that has surely forgotten him and continued to go on.  Thoughts that seem to connect with Kara, his friend who is just as trapped as he is.  They have no bodies, and their minds are imprisoned in a small box…until they are finally released. 

After a dark, horrifying 260 years of nothingness, Locke and Kara now have new and improved bodies.  They can finally feel, taste, hear (something other than the noise of their own thoughts), communicate, and live their lives.  But what life do they really have?  They are seemingly stuck in an altogether different type of prison.  Dr. Gatsbro, the man who “saved” Locke and Kara, is using them to further his own agenda.  The entire world has changed in the 260 years they missed.  Everyone they knew is gone…except for Jenna Fox.

Kara and Locke soon escape the clutches of the nefarious Dr. Gatsbro, and venture out into a world that is totally unfamiliar.  The country they were born into has split in two, robots perform many tasks once reserved for humans, and no one can be trusted.  Gatsbro and his goons are hot on their trail, and Locke and Kara are forced to seek help from unexpected sources.  Dangers lurk around every corner, but the two escapees have just one goal–get to Jenna Fox. 

Their reasons for reaching Jenna, however, are very different.  Locke wants answers to questions and wishes to be reunited with an old (and I mean really old), dear friend.  Kara, though, seeks her own brand of justice.  Why was Jenna saved so soon and not them?  What was so special about Jenna that she got to experience life for the past 260 years while they were left forgotten on a shelf?  Why didn’t she come back for them?  Why did she let them suffer for so long?  Well, Kara is determined that Jenna will suffer just as much as she and Locke did.

As Locke and Kara travel across the country, they once again face the past that has always haunted them.  When they come face to face with Jenna, will they let the past destroy their present, or will they rush headlong into a future filled with possibilities?  Read The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson to find out!

I’ve glossed over a lot of details in this post.  I didn’t even begin to touch on the science and technology featured in The Fox Inheritance–and even The Adoration of Jenna Fox–or how those “advances” seem all too possible in our world.  I’m a little paranoid, so it’s very easy for me to imagine that someone somewhere is working on being able to transfer a mind into a computer and then back into a fabricated body.  (I thought about Robocop, Blade Runner, and movies like that when I was reading this book.)  It’s very disturbing to think about.  What are the implications here?  Can–or should–society or governments do anything to stop science and technology from going as far as they can?  What will the role of bioethics be in the future?  Think about it.  I know I will.

If you’d like more information about author Mary Pearson, the Jenna Fox Chronicles, and other books, please visit http://www.marypearson.com/index.html.  According to her blog, we can look forward to a third and final book in the Jenna Fox Chronicles.  There’s no word yet on what the title is or when the book will be released.

Chime

It’s rare that it takes me three weeks to finish a book.  Usually, it’s more like three days.  My latest read, however, almost completely stalled my reading progress, which is a shame because I was so excited about this book when I started it.  This book is Chime by Franny Billingsley.  (If you’ve been following the controversy surrounding this year’s National Book Award, this book might seem familiar to you.)  The cover is beautiful, nearly every review was positive, and the synopsis I read before diving into this book promised an interesting, engaging read.  Well, that might have been true for some readers, but this book just didn’t do it for me.

In Chime, we meet Briony Larkin.  Briony is not an average girl.  She spends her days taking care of her twin sister Rose, avoiding her father, and hating herself.  Why does she hate herself, you ask?  Well, Briony is a witch, and she can feel nothing but hatred for herself.  She cannot cry, she cannot love, and she cannot feel remorse.  She knows she’s a wicked girl, and only bad things will befall her and those around her.  After all, Briony’s jealousy injured Rose and killed their stepmother, right? 

When a young man, Eldric, arrives in the small village of Swampsea, Briony notices a change in herself.  She begins to feel more than just self-hatred.  She’s becoming adventurous, she’s laughing, and she’s having strong feelings for this boy-man.  She’s venturing into the swamp that she’s always been afraid of (and drawn to).  She’s longing to tell someone the truth about herself.  But what will Eldric do if he learns the truth about Briony?  Will he announce to the town that she’s a witch?  Will he watch Briony hang?  Will he keep her secret? 

Join Briony, Eldric, and a host of other colorful characters on a journey through the mysterious mires of Swampsea.  What will they discover?  What secrets will they unearth?  In the end, all truth will be revealed when you read Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Like I mentioned above, this book was not a favorite of mine.  The dialog was as hard to wade through as the swamp-filled setting.  On a more positive note, I thought the ending of the book was pretty good, and I like that this book serves as a stand-alone title (no trilogy in the works that I’m aware of).  If you decide to give Chime a try, let me know what you think of it.  Maybe I missed something that you didn’t.

If you’d like more information about Chime and author Franny Billingsley, visit http://www.frannybillingsley.com/.  I was just browsing this site, and I discovered that Ms. Billingsley wrote a favorite picture book, Big Bad Bunny.  Cool.