All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Finch and Violet have a common goal when the meet on the edge of the bell tower at their school. Though everyone believes Violet saves Finch from a suicide attempt, she’s not so sure that’s the truth. At first an incongruous pair, the two are slung together for a class project in which they must explore their home state. During the course of their adventures, Violet and Finch draw closer together, but their relationship may not be enough to save them from the dark pull of tragedy.

A brilliant new addition to the realm of realistic fiction. Niven gives readers a little bit of romance, hilarious adventure antics and, of course, Kleenex-worthy sadness. This is also a poignant, unflinching look at mental illness in teens — a subject that is often danced carefully around. I think it’s important to read novels like this, where truths are discussed without shame. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but pick this one up if you’re looking for your next heavy read.

Rating: 4/5

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Conversion by Katherine Howe

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When a group of girls falls mysteriously ill at a private school, many believe some kind of poison or side effect is to blame. Colleen, however, doubts the opinions of the media. Guided by anonymous texts, Colleen is drawn to the history of her town, the town once-named Salem, Massachusetts, where nineteen women were hanged for witchcraft in 1692. Is the mystery illness a coincidence? Or is the bloody history of the town repeating itself in the afflicted girls? Told using flashbacks to the confessions of an afflicted girl in the 1700’s, Conversion is the story of paranoia, media frenzy, and a history of violence.

The Salem Witch Trials fascinate me, so I was looking forward to this book. It was extremely disappointing. Though I very much enjoyed the historical flashbacks, the modern part of the book was messy, unconnected, and difficult to read. The author has an interesting theory about what “ailed” the afflicted girls, but the execution of that theory was incredibly confused and lackluster.

Rating: 2.5/5

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

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

 

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The conclusion of the adventures of the peculiar children finds Miss Peregrine and the other ymbrynes held captive by Caul, Peregrine’s evil brother. The children discover that Caul is looking for a way to access the forgotten Library of Souls and make himself the most powerful peculiar in the history of Peculiardom. With help from unlikely sources, and adventures in unimaginable loops, Emma and Jacob must find a way to stop Caul before he succeeds in his mission. If they fail, it could mean the end of peculiars.

Though this wasn’t the best book I’ve read in a while, it is a solid end to a great series. I thought Jacob’s new power was a fantastic idea, and I loved seeing him gain control of it. I did think the book was a bit long  (we see the same kinds of conflict over and over), but my love for the characters made up for the parts that could be cut. I know this is supposed to be the last book, but I could totally see a spin-off series popping up — we’ll see! Also, don’t forget that the movie just came out!

Rating: 3.5/5

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

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

 

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Craig Gilner is determined to follow what he believes is the best path in life: get into the best high school in the city, go to a great college, get a good job, and make money. However, when getting into said high school involves a tremendous amount of pressure and stress, Craig has trouble dealing with the obstacles. Unable to cope with his life’s new course, Craig develops depression, coupled with suicidal thoughts. One night, after a planned suicide attempt, Craig checks himself into a mental ward. There, among adult patients fighting to regain their own mental strength, Craig must re-evaluate his priorities and find a reason to choose life.

If you couldn’t tell from the summary, this one is a HEAVY read. Craig’s battle with depression and suicide can be tough to read at times, so this book wouldn’t be a good pick if you’re looking for a light, fun read. There’s also not a ton of action in the piece. It’s about Craig finding himself and dealing with his problems, so there’s more talking than anything else. However, if you love to read stories of personal struggles, this one may be a great choice. I also appreciated how Craig’s problems started when he was very young. Many adults feel like teenagers don’t have “real” problems, but Craig shows what I think is a very realistic picture of what a teenager’s life might look like.

Rating: 3/5

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

Boys Don’t Knit (in public) by T.S. Easton

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After Ben Fletcher is caught attempting to steal alcohol for a party, he receives a probationary sentence in which he is required to take extra-curricular classes. Though he believes he is signing up for pottery with his beautiful teacher, Ms. Swallow, Ben finds himself stuck in a knitting class taught by the mother of his crush. At first, he hates the idea of knitting, but then realizes that the methodical movement helps him with his anxiety issues, and that he’s actually an excellent knitter. But some of Ben’s friends and family are not as accepting of the hobby ( they believe knitting is for girls), and Ben must find a way to hide his new passion, or else risk total humiliation.

I LOVED this book! I also love knitting, so I admit to being a bit biased. But, really, this book was hilarious, exciting, and a really fun read. It is a British book, so there is some British slang, but it’s not so much that it renders the book unreadable (which is kind of what happened with Trouble, another British novel). If you’re not a knitter, there may be some parts where you don’t understand the knitting references and become bored, but just skip over those parts. There’s plenty of action and hilarious misadventures to make up for the knitting jargon. I also really enjoyed how this book called into question the act of genderizing activities. Should it matter if something is considered a “girl” or “boy” activity? If you love it — go for it!

Rating: 4/5 

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

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Challenger Deep Full Analysis

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Caden has an average teenage life — parents, a sister, friends, sports, school. Though everything appears normal for Caden, behaviors usually dismissed as personality quirks begin to take over his life. He quits the track team to take secret walks for hours, can no longer focus on his daily activities, and is convinced that bad things are about to happen. In his mind, Caden is a crew member serving an unpredictable, vicious captain set to turn Caden into his slave. With each passing day, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, sending Caden further into his abyss of mental illness.

This book was just wow. I honestly don’t think I’ve read anything like it. Shusterman uses incredible style to illustrate Caden’s mental illness, including symbolism echoed in both Caden’s real life and in the world he believes is real. Though it can be tough to understand at times, this book talks about a very important issue that many would prefer is kept quiet. As Caden says in the book, “Dead kids are put on pedestals; mentally ill kids are swept under the rug”. It’s time to stop ignoring or shaming others because of circumstances beyond their control. The more we talk about this issue, the better it gets. I fully expect Shusterman to win all the awards for this!

Rating: 5/5 

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