The Serpent King, a review

serpent-king

September 14, 2016

He had me at teenagers and Bible Belt.

He sunk the hook with three individual characters, each with their alternating chapters that helped me get to know them. These three are unlikely friends in the unfriendly atmosphere of a small town high school, unlikely except for the fact that they are the outcasts.

Jeff Zentner’s debut young adult novel, The Serpent King, focuses on the senior year of Dill, a.k.a. Dillard Early, Jr, and his friends, Travis, a gentle soul, mostly content where he is, but who lives a great deal of his waking hours caught up in a fantasy book series, and Lydia, a fashion blogger with a quick wit, a smart mouth and a way out.

The undoing of any social standing Dill might have had began a few years earlier when his father, Dillard, Sr., a Pentecostal preacher with extreme practices, was sent to prison for other practices unbecoming a religious leader – or anyone. The sins of the father are projected onto Dill by many in the community, causing him despair on many levels, as he goes to school and works to help his mother deal with family debt. His only release is spending time with his close friends, particularly Lydia.

Lydia seems extremely out of place in this trifecta. She is exudes supreme confidence and intelligence. Because of her skill at putting together fashion ensembles from vintage pieces gathered from second-hand shops, as well as her personable writing, she has a successful blog with which she reaches hundreds of thousands of fans. Part of my mind questions how this could be, but the part of my mind that is enjoying the characters, shuts the other part down in a hurry so we can get on with the story. Suffice it to say that Lydia’s intact, normal family and its above average economic standing, paired with her successful blog and networking capabilities, mean that she is leaving for college soon – and not just a regional or state university. The girl has big, far-away plans and they are going to happen.

This makes Dill sad, thus, a few obstacles.

But Dill still has Travis, who has obstacles of his own, which we learn of through his own chapters. Dill and Lydia remain clueless about Travis’s issues for quite some time, because when Travis is with his friends, he’s happy. But Travis has dreams too. Who doesn’t?

Teen readers will connect with the characters and the plot on so many levels. There is something here for everyone: fantasy fiction, music, writing, religion, fashion, characters who feel real, situations all too familiar.

It’s like Zentner has been there.

… and now, back to our feature presentation …

September 14, 2016

This blog was created as an outlet for projects – mostly book reviews – created in a new class called Reading for Fun. I, as the teacher, posted a few reviews and invited students to write and share theirs for me to post. We did that. A little bit. Then we dropped off. Blame the busyness of the school year or the fact that most of the class were seniors severely afflicted with senioritis, but we dropped off.

Enter, a new school year. Notice a new principal. Note the lack of Reading for Fun. Well, I still read for fun, so, as often as I am able, I will post reviews. I hang out all day long with young adults, and it is fiction created for them that I find myself reading most of the time, so that is most of what you will find here. Visit again, and I’ll try not to drop off.

If anyone else is interested in sharing book reviews here, comment below, and we’ll make something happen.

“13”

Review by Brennan Standokes

13 by Howe

“13” captures the ecstasy and agony of becoming a teenager. Rather than being written by one author, it is written by a collection of authors for young adults, giving their personal account of their being a teenager.

James Howe, and the many other authors that gave their stories, show how being thirteen can be fun, and how it can also be horrible. Their stories show how a person changes when they become a teenager, and they start making steps to becoming an adult. Most of the stories are embarrassing, but what newly become teenager isn’t embarrassed by everything?

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone would like to laugh, or to thirteen year olds, to let them know that they aren’t the only ones who are suffering from being a teenager. If you are looking for a couple of goofy stories, and to compare your embarrassing teenage stories, then this book is perfect for you.

The Fault in our Stars

Another great book review by a great student reviewer.

acutetrainwreck

TheFaultInOurStarsThe Fault in our Stars, by John Green is the tale of a tragic love story between 17 year olds Hazel Grace and Augustus (Gus) Waters. Told by Hazel, the book starts with Hazel retelling her cancer-story for the umteenth time, going about her life. Medications, doctor visits, and the general depression that comes with being terminally ill. When she meets Augustus Waters in a cancer support group, it is love at first sight. Throughout the book, they fall deeper in love and learn how to cope with the enormous tragedy that is cancer.

So, I’m sure everyone has seen the movie, but for those who haven’t, I won’t spoil anything. Anyway, I absolutely loved the book. I loved the movie too, but I’m 99% positive the sole purpose of this book was to make every girl reading jealous she doesn’t have a charming Augustus Waters in her life…

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Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

Review by Brennan Standokes

Questions Christians Hope

The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask is not only good for people who are new to the Christian faith, but also to those who have questions regarding their faith. In the book, certain topics are brought up that asks questions that most Christians are scared of being asked. These topics include homosexuality, abortion, God’s existence, etc.

Mark Mittelberg gives great detail and great examples when answering the questions he has. He uses biblical and scientific evidence to support his answers, and shows how the Bible specifically talks about each topic. The book has helped me tremendously, giving me insight and the way to confidently answer many questions I was having trouble asking myself. The book gives brief summaries after each chapter, so you can get the general assumption of the chapter if you didn’t get the jist. It also asks questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter for Bible study groups who may be reading the book together. It’s kind of lengthy, and gives you so much information that you would need to take notes over each chapter to fully retain all of it, but even considering this, the book is worth it.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in the world. I would especially recommend it to people who don’t have a good understanding of what being a Christian is, for people who have biased beliefs about what being a Christian means, and for Christians who are struggling with their beliefs. This book would also be good for study groups who are looking for a new book to go over and review. A youth group would especially benefit from this book, especially because of the topics that the book covers. If you are looking for answers to religious-based questions you have been asked or have wondered about yourself, then this book is the book for you.

Stayin’ Alive

MyHeartOtherBlackHoles

OK, so I wrote this over a week ago, and … life. Sorry for the delay in editing and posting.

In the last week, my life has revolved around two fictional compositions: Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and other Black Holes and the third season of Glee, courtesy of Netflix. As I stayed up late this evening, the last night of fall break, watching three Glee episodes in a row, the last one, Saturday Night Glee-ver connected to the book I’d finished earlier in the day.

In this episode, the Glee Club members performed songs from the movie and album, Saturday Night Fever. Mr. Shu mentions more than once that the main character, Tony, works in a paint shop, but has dreams and fights to make them come true. He’s trying to make a point with his students, especially those nearing the end of their senior year without particular plans: Finn, Mercedes and Santana. Their assignment was not only to choose and perform a song from the movie, but to make a post-high school plan. I heard Finn and Rachel mention it first: Rachel is moved by Finn’s faith in her abilities and expectations heading to New York. Finn, later, realizes that Mr. Shu and Rachel see his possibilities – possibilities that he had not seen until they made him look.

Early in the episode, Mercedes belts out a big number and we see Sam recording the performance with his cell phone. After her performance Mercedes tells the room that she knows what she wanted to be – a big recording star, a la, Whitney or Aretha – but she doesn’t know how to get there; she feels she’s good within her glee club, but probably not out in the world. Near the end of the show, Sam shows Mercedes the video he’d uploaded to YouTube and the hundreds of likes and comments it received. It was at that point she is able to see herself as he sees her.

I tell you about Glee to tell you about My Heart and Other Black Holes. Frankly, it took me a bit to get into it, to connect with the characters, but these characters were having a hard time connecting to their own world, which was the main problem, and I remained just curious enough to open the book up again each day.

We first meet Aysel working her after school job as a telemarketer. She doesn’t like her job, so she spends every few minutes between calls viewing what looks like a dating website, but it’s not. Smooth Passages is a website dedicated to suicide with a page for people who need a partner – yes, a partner for suicide. I didn’t know those existed. Soon, Aysel answers a message posted on the forum by username, Frozen Robot.

Well, of course, you’d need to meet anyone you plan to commit suicide with, make sure they are on the up and up. So they meet, it’s awkward. There are questions and a lack of answers and a few misunderstandings. There are reasons for them to meet again and again. Soon they are getting to know one another, and that complicates things.

I think it’s safe to say that most anyone contemplating suicide has a skewed view of things – they are not seeing the picture the way others see the picture. Roman only sees his guilt in an accident the year before. Aysel only sees herself as she thinks everyone else sees her, as the daughter of a man who has committed a horrible crime. As Aysel and Roman, a.k.a. Frozen Robot, become closer and close up the emotional distance required to easily complete such a task, each begins to help the other see themselves differently, like the kids in Glee did. I don’t want to spoil the book, but Warga writes Aysel as a pretty smart kid, and this pretty smart kid has a lightbulb moment connecting Einstein to John Milton and how point of view is everything. Just because it’s become clearer to her, however, doesn’t mean it’s become clear to Roman.

How you look at something can change everything, and isn’t it our duty to help each other see another point of view? Isn’t that why we are here for each other? And isn’t it particularly important if the only point of view someone can see paints such an negative and incomplete picture that they’d consider ending their own lives?

If I were doing the ratings thing – and I guess I am – I’d give My Heart and other Black Holes four and a half out of five stars for the very important message it delivers.

“The Lovely Bones” Review

acutetrainwreck

*Some spoiler alerts

Alice Sebold’s book, The Lovely Bones, is a chilling novel about a terrible tragedy told by a young girl named Susie. From the dead. Susie was murdered when she was 14 and she watches over her family from heaven, basically narrating their lives after her death. Over the course of many years, she tells about how her family copes with this most unfortunate event, what her life in heaven is like, and how she is learning to let go of Earth.

One thing I liked most about this book was the character development. Being able to see all of the characters years and years later, changing and growing up. For example, the book tells about her younger sister finding love, growing up, and getting married to her high school sweetheart. Another example, her childhood crush, Ray, goes off to college to become a doctor while her…

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