Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Yang delivers another beautifully illustrated and entertaining novel in two parts, each addressing differing sides of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of the late 19th century. In Boxers, Little Bao leaves his small village to lead forces against the “foreign devils” – troops and missionaries from other countries sent to westernize China. During his quest, Little Bao and his followers learn to transform into gods during battle, and soon begin targeting not only the “foreign devils”, but the “secondary devils” as well – Chinese citizens who follow the Christian faith. In Saints, Yang tells the story of “Four-Girl”, one of the “secondary devils”, who believes God chose her to be a maiden warrior for Christ.

I really enjoyed Yang’s Printz winning American Born Chinese, so I was excited to get my hands on another of his works. The new book didn’t disappoint! As I was unfamiliar with the Boxer Rebellion, Yang’s novel was a good way for me to learn about that time in history. The plot is entertaining, the illustrations amazing as always, and I appreciated how Yang’s characters, though they lived over a century ago, still face modern problems. Little Bao struggles to find a place in his family, and then must battle his own beliefs to determine how far he will go with the rebellion. Four-Girl finds herself labeled as useless and is intent on proving herself in a man-centered world. You can easily compare these characters to your own life, which makes the novel easy to read — it doesn’t feel like a history book!
As good as the novel set is, I will say the Saints is definitely the weaker companion. I enjoyed it because it showed events from a different character’s point of view, but I don’t think I would have liked it on its own. So, if you find a copy of Saints without Boxers at your library, don’t read it first! It’s worth the wait.
Rating: 4/5
*National Book Award Finalist
This one has a book trailer! Click here to see it.
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.
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13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Before committing suicide, Hannah Baker recorded a series of tapes detailing the thirteen reasons for her death. Clay Jensen, one of the many recipients of Hannah’s tapes, must listen to her eerie monologue, learn his role in her death, and pass the tapes along to the next person. Hannah’s haunting words cause Clay to question everything he thought was true, eventually leading him to uncover ugly secretes, and learn the true meaning of consequences.

So, I know there was already a lot of buzz around this book awhile ago, and you may have already read it. If you haven’t yet, you definitely should. It’s certainly one of those books which have been “uber-popular”, and normally I’m under-impressed by said books, but this one lives up to the hype. I loved the unique (and very creepy) set up, with Hannah narrating tapes that tell her reasons for her death. I thought it especially powerful that Clay could easily just throw her tapes away, but, perhaps because Hannah is dead, he listens. That said, I didn’t like the implication that suicide could be used to prove a point. There’s no coming back from death, and the dying won’t solve your problems — it just creates a void where you used to be. I’m not sure that Asher’s book really gets that point across. It doesn’t have to, of course, but I didn’t like the nagging feeling I was left with that Hannah’s suicide was somehow painted as being a solution. It wasn’t.

Aside from my reservations, this is really a great book that makes a lot of important points. It’s not too preachy, and I found Hannah to be extremely relatable. 13 Reasons may not be the best book to pick up if you want a “warm fuzzy” novel, but it will definitely have you up late at night to finish it!

Also, if you’re interested, there is a 13 Reasons Why Project” that allows readers to submit stories about how this book affected them. You can find that page here. 13 Reasons will also be a movie! At some point. I’ll update details as they arrive. Read the book before they make the movie!

Rating: 4/5

*YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

 

In dystopian America, the population is divided into factions. At 16, teens must choose which faction they will spend the rest of their lives in. Beatrice, born a member of the selfless Abnegation faction, is faced with a difficult choice: she knows does not belong in Abnegation, but also can’t see herself anywhere else. What’s more, the test designed to help her choose proved inconclusive. Beatrice is what’s known as “divergent”, and must fight to keep her potentially deadly secret hidden.

I almost didn’t read this one. It was just SO popular and seemed so much like Hunger Games (and every other dystopian book coming out), that I kind of thought I’d pass. I wish I could tell you that I was so wrong and that this book was just awesome. I can’t. I really don’t see what all the hype is about. I’ll definitely give Veronica Roth credit for her creative “world” that she constructed in the novel. I can tell a lot of thought went into it. However, that’s the only real strong point of this book. The plot is exciting sometimes, but really drags in others. Some major plot points are dropped, picked up again, then dropped, which results in what are supposed to be mind-blowing plot twists becoming just “meh”. I don’t know. I was underwhelmed.

However, just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean you won’t. It seems at times that Roth is making a comment on how the Christian culture is treated by society in modern times — one clearly “Christian” faction is hated by a faction obsessed with knowledge. The comparison is certainly worth thinking about and/or talking about. Also, if you just LOVE dystopian fiction, pick this one up. It might be your new favorite series!

Rating: 2.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Set in the perhaps not-so-distant Gulf Coast future, Nailer’s job is to strip beached shipwrecks of copper wiring and other valuables. A hot, dirty, extremely difficult life, Nailer’s job is only safe as long as he is small enough to crawl through a ship’s ducts – after that, he’s left to starve. One day, after a “city-killer” storm ravages Nailer’s beach, he and fellow crew member, Pima, discover a rich girl clinging to life in a wrecked, expensive, clipper ship. Nailer is faced with a choice: save the girl, or scavenge her for a profit.

What I liked best about this book was that I could totally see it happening. With the way our environment continues to deteriorate, it made complete sense that the Gulf would turn into a wasteland where old wrecks are harvested for valuable metals. I also thought that the significant class division — Nailer’s extremely poor class and the “Swank” upperclass — was believable. Aside from social commentary, Ship Breaker brings the action. Nailer is nearly always faced with a life or death decision, and must frequently choose between doing what’s right and what will make money. While at times the plot was predictable, it was an exciting read with a very creative dystopian/sci-fi setting. It also won the Printz!

*Printz Award Winner

*National Book Award Finalist

Rating: 3.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here