Speak

41WvR8-CBULThis year is starting with a big bang with and excellent five-star YA novel.  I finally chose one that is living up to my expectations and isn’t a long puffed up series.  The story is about Melinda Sordino.  She’s starting her first year of high school and no one is speaking to her, including her best friends.  An incident from summer has plunged her into silence and it seems she is doomed to speak no more.  Even though she is silent, she is screaming inside.  It’s just nobody hears her, not her parents or her friends.  Speak took me back to high school and made think of those days when you only seemed to befriend those that were just like oneself.  Clicks were the way students got from one year to another.  You had to fit in and fit in is what most students do or at least attempt to.  However, there are those who are total outcasts for one reason or another.  Melinda is not really an outcast.  She just feels like one and is perceived as one in her surroundings.  She feels as if she’s disappearing, crumbling like an abandoned home.

Speak takes us on Melinda’s journey to express her pain and not speaking is the way she survives, literally hanging off the edge of a cliff, and hoping to be caught by a suspended net below if she falls, which doesn’t seem to come.  In spite of her pain, she is very lucid about the people and the things happening around her.  Her descriptions are blunt but absolutely correct.  As a reader you’ll love her, want to protect her, and root for her right from the start to the end.

The writing in this novel is clever, witty, and cutting at times.  The sentence structure is short, direct, very humorous and sometimes makes you want to shed a tear.  The chapters are never longer than about 3 to 3,5 pages and the shortest ones are about half a page.  At no point will this book bore you.  Actually you could read it in one sitting because it’s not very long.

At the beginning of the book Laurie Halse Anderson writes a letter to her friends.  She says, “Speak is the book I wasn’t going to write.  Why would I want to revisit the agonies of adolescence?  Wasn’t that the point of surviving to adulthood—-so I could block out the traumas of being a teenager?…..So I tried.  I wrote the book.  I never thought anyone would publish it.  I never dreamed it would earn any awards.  I never imagined it would be taught in schools,…This has all been an unexpected, remarkable ride.” (Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak)  This is a really wonderful book and everybody should read it.  It will make you think.  It will make you see. It will make you cry, but most of all it will make you listen.

Laurie Halse Anderson is an American author known for writing about difficult topics like dysfunctional families, body image, rape, etc.  She tackles these topics originally and honestly.  She writes primarily for young adults and children.  Her first novel Speak was published in 1999 and led her to win the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults selection, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize,the Printz Honor Book Award, and a  National Book Award nomination among others.  Some of the other young adult novels she has written are Catalyst, Prom, Twisted and Chains.  Her first children’s novel, Ndito Runs, was published in 1996.  Turkey Pox, No Time for Mother’s Day, The Big Cheese of Third Street and many others have followed.  I’m definitely going to try to read some of her other YA novels because she really is a brilliant writer who knows how to capture the emotions of a situation.  Great read!!  Check out the video below where she reads a very moving poem related to this book.

Title: Speak

Published: 1999

Edition: Penguin Platinum (Beautiful edition with deckle edge paper!)

Pages:  198

My Rating: * * * * *

Favorite quote:  “Art without emotion is like chocolate cake without sugar.  It makes you gag.” (Speak, p. 122)

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27. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A wallflower is a shy, unpopular person who stands or sits apart from other people at a party.  Charlie is a wallflower.  He’s the most observant, sensitive, and highly intelligent character in this book.  He recounts all the trials and tribulations of family life and being an adolescent through letters which are written to Dear friend (that’s you).  The epistolary format of the book allows the reader to be privy to the most intricate feelings of Charlie and the people he’s the closest too.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower reads smoothly and quickly but the ambiance is melancholic and heavy at times to say the least.  It made me think about the unfavorable things about being an adolescent. You name it it’s all in this book – sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, death, literature…and much more.  It’s unbelievable what teenagers can get up to or is it?

I suggest reading this little, coming of age book before venturing out to see the film adaptation which will be out in September starring Logan Lorman and Emma Watson .  Apparently Stephen Chbosky is the screenwriter and director of the film so hopefully it will retain its emotional and sorrowful air.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower was first published in 1999 by MTV Books.  It became an immediate success among teenagers and sold 700,000 copies by 2007.  Unfortunately, it has been banned in several schools in the US because of the sexual content and drug use.  For that reason, I would suggest the appropriate reading age to be 16 and above, maybe 15 if they a very mature.  It was also listed as one of the ten most challenged books by the American Library Association (promotes libraries and library eduction internationally and is a non-profit organization) in 2006 and 2008.  I don’t think banning is the right way to go about books like this.  Kids will find it and read it.  These books are a great platform for forums, discussion, and debate in schools and at home.  Parents should read what their kids read and talk about these things openly, then there wouldn’t be any need to ban anything. I give this book 4 stars because it is well written and is very well constructed although it made me a little sad.  Now I’m starting to sound like Charlie with that last sentence.  Happy reading…

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1. Summer reading……

YA Literature – for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 and all those young at heart adults like me.

Here are a few interesting YA books to check out this summer.  They have been talked about to death everywhere, except Living Violet.  It was a suggestion that I got from a literary blog called welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.fr   Living Violet got four and a quarter stars on Goodreads and the storyline seems appealing.  I’ll definitely be checking out Divergent, Insurgent and Beauty Queens.  Veronica Roth and Libba Bray are constantly mentioned as must read YA novelists.  The others I’ll try to get to them before the end of the year.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is coming out soon as a movie starring Emma Watson and Ezra Miller.  You know I won’t be watching it until I’ve read it.  Last but not least you probably should read The Fault in Our Stars by the quintessential John Green.  Apparently, he is YA literature.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading him yet…….

             

TBR: Check it out!

Philippa Gregory the queen of historical fiction has published her first YA novel called Changeling in the Order of Darkness series.  It takes place in 15th century Europe.  The main characters are Luca Vero and Isolde.  They are both seventeen and headed for a whirlwind adventure filled with mysterious strangers, witches, dark magic, werewolves, and much more….  Sounds extremely intricate and intriguing to me, even for those of you out there who don’t like reading YA. novels.  This could be the first one you read.  We will have to see if Gregory lives up to her reputation, while writing pure fiction for adolescents.  I’m pretty positive about it and will definitely try to check it out this summer.  So, what do you think?

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21. Anna and the French Kiss

I have just started to add reading YA novels to my repertoire because some of them are pretty interesting and secondly it enables me to suggest good books to the French kids I tutor in English.  I’m an English Foreign Language teacher in France and have come to the conclusion that students have difficulty writing  and reading in English.  I figured I’d try to find some books that would entice them into this difficult task of reading in English.  That’s when I fell upon and finally finished the famous Anna and the French Kiss which is being talked about everywhere.  I do feel I’m the last one to climb on this bandwagon, but frankly I’m glad I did.  It’s not yet here in France but I’ll give it another six months to a year to arrive.

It’s the story of Anna, who’s been taken to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, so that she can get “cultured”.  Anna is shy, anxious, and doesn’t speak a word of French because she’s been taking Spanish for the past three years at her high school in the States.  Never mind, she soon starts to make the difference between oui and si and adapting to her new school, new friends, and of course Paree Paris.  Amongst all the adaptation, there’s a cute TCK(third culture kid) guy called Etienne St. Clair (everybody calls him St. Clair)  who has not only grasped the attention of Anna but of every other girl in the school.  Etienne is a Franco-American raised in England, henceforth the charming English accent.  He’s the cute boy with the “beautiful” hair.  Like Anna says, “Every American girl is a sucker for a boy with an English accent.  The story is filled with lots of teenage angst, grief, love, and shenanigans.  Makes you want to be seventeen again.

Stephanie Perkins writes with amazing sensitivity.  The voice of Anna is refreshing, amusing, honest and realistic.  There are enough turns and twists to the story to keep you reading right through to the end.  You won’t have a chance to be bored.  It’s hard to put down and speaks to the bit of youth left in the hearts of adults.  I was skeptical when I saw the Eiffel Tower on the front cover and feared a sappy love story for teenagers but that wasn’t the case.  Perkins describes the Paris 5th arrondissement to perfection – independent cinemas, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, French bakeries, sugary voluptuous pastries, etc.  The food descriptions make your mouth water.  It’s all true.  The French love their food and they should because it’s exceptional.  So, Anna and the French Kiss is just under 400 pages but a must read for anyone that likes a good love story, with romantic Paris as the backdrop.

Stephanie Perkins writes on her website, “I write novels for teens (and for adults who aren’t afraid to admit that teen books are awesome).”  That’s Anna and the French Kiss in a nutshell!  Perkins released her second novel Lola and the Boy Next Door in September 2011 which is a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss.  It’s getting just as much attention too.  Perkins really knows how to maintain the magic in her stories, while totally avoiding cheesy and cliché concepts.  I give Anna and the French Kiss five stars.  It’ll make your day and that’s basically how long it will take you to read it.  Happy reading…..

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12. Catching Fire

And the games continue….Suzanne Collins continues the saga of Katniss Everdeen and the districts of Panem in this very suspenseful second novel of the trilogy The Hunger Games called Catching Fire.  Ominously dark and mysterious, we see Katniss and Peeta living in the Victors Village along with Haymitch.  Three houses alone in a neighborhood.  Katniss lives with her mother and little sister Prim.  Haymitch and Peeta live alone.

Since Katniss and Peeta are the winners of the Games they must tour all the districts, which is like making them relive the Games all over again.  It forces them to remember each tribute and how they died.  Along the way there is an undercurrent of uprisings in district 11. I won’t write anymore because I’ll be forced to write spoilers.  Hope I haven’t told you too much already.

Anyway, get on it people and read it!  It’s very interesting and yes it’s YA  literature (Young Adult lit).  There are some good themes running through this trilogy such as government control, reality shows, psychology of survival, propaganda, etc. I’m sure it will be made into a movie next year, but I probably won’t go see it.  I was so thoroughly disappointed with The Hunger Games as a movie.  As of today, I’m on to the last novel Mockingjay. I fear for the characters and for the end….

As I was searching for interesting facts about Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games, I ran across articles and You Tube videos of a controversy over the movie.  Apparently there were Hunger Games fans that didn’t agree with the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue because she was black.  I just couldn’t believe this. Rue is described as having dark brown skin in the book, but besides that only a racist could say that they didn’t feel anything when she was killed because she was black.  Really? I couldn’t believe these so-called fans had the gall to write this nonsense on twitter.  Needless to say, a real fan called them out by copying off their tweets and putting them on display on Facebook.  Masses of people started bombarding their accounts and they had to become private or had to discontinue their accounts.  I happened upon this interesting interview of Amandla Stenberg, who is an intelligent, well-spoken fourteen year old and has almost grown up in commercials on American tv.  She really looks like what I had imagined Rue would look like, just adorable.  Check her out!  I’m sure we’ll be seeing her in more films.

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10. The Hunger Games

This trilogy has sat on my shelf for at least a year.  I’ve meant to get to it.  Really.  My oldest daughter grabbed it off the shelf during the winter break holidays and devoured the first two books in 6 days.  She usually doesn’t read big books in English.  She’s a manga fan, and she reads them in French.  She had to hold back not to talk about the details of these books because I didn’t want her to spoil it for me.  So, here I am finally getting down to it.  Frankly, it was worth it!  I  started the second part Catching Fire today….

The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen and she lives in the US in the future which has been turned into something other than what we know today.  People are maintained in districts, which they are not allowed to leave.  They are controlled by the Capitol.  In the Capitol, people are wealthy, eat well, and essentially live easy frivolous and much too comfortable lives.  Every year, twenty-four youths between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen to fight to death for the good of their district.  The good is food and other things that some districts are lacking, but most of all it’s to keep the districts from rebelling.  Katniss decides to take the place of her twelve-year-old sister who is unfortunately chosen the first year her name is put in.  Primrose is young, small, and is utterly ill-equipped to compete in such a competition.  Katniss and Prim come from District 12, where there are coal mines.  The majority of District 12 citizens are very poor and don’t have enough food to satisfy their hunger.

The Hunger Games is a very suspenseful well written story.  The anticipation of how the game will continue is more interesting than who wins in the end.  Katniss is a very likeable and clever character who is a gifted hunter with a bow and arrow.  She also knows how to gather herbs and set snares to catch rabbits.  The other contestants each have their strengths and weaknesses that bring lots of intrigue to the major events of the story and you just can’t stop reading until the end.  Trilogies sometimes tire me out but I’m looking forward to discovering the end of part two and to eventually finish part three.

Suzanne Collins has managed to construct a reality show with a twist.  It’s quite violent  but I guess it’s no worse than what adolescents watch on television and internet these days.  The movie opened in France last Wednesday and I was unsure about seeing it.  With all the complexities and things to explain, I really couldn’t see how they would do this movie correctly.  Needless to say, we decided to see it last Sunday afternoon.  We were only fifteen minutes into the movie and my daughter and I were already disappointed.  Even though, I tried to enjoy the escape of the movies, anyway.  One major default with this movie is that it’s mostly from the point of view of the Gamemakers where the book is from the contestants’ view.  I think that’s what keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next.

Collins has written on children’s television shows since 1991.  She’s also worked on the staff of several Nickelodeon shows.  She met writer, James Proimos while working on a children’s show called Generation O!.  He convinced her to begin writing books for children.  She first wrote a five-part series called The Underland Chronicles, a fantasy/war series.  From there she wrote The Hunger Games Trilogy, which was on the USA Today’s bestseller list for over 134 weeks.  The question is:  What will Suzanne Collins write next to top that?

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