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Welcome to the book blog, featuring reviews for teens from InfoSoup librarians and users!

Reviews by : Waupaca Area Public Library

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Author: Peter Sís

This book is about a boy who grew up in communist Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. This boy loved to draw and drew whatever he wanted…that is, until he began school where communist indoctrination took place. He then drew what he was told to draw. Many major events took place in this boy’s life—Prague Spring, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Communism, etc.

The illustrations are crude, yet detailed and mostly black and white, with some red. The color red seems to symbolize Communism in this context—red flags, red hammer and sickles, red Russian tanks, etc… Whenever the author speaks of freedom, Western ideals, and the like, the illustrations are done in full color. It is a beautifully executed concept.

This book won the Robert E. Siebert Medal and was named a Caldecott Honor Book, among other awards and honors. The plot itself is quite simple, but the addition of captions to the illustrations adds a great deal of depth. Keeping the sentences short helps to add to the feeling of mounting fear of the government as the author experienced it.

Personal Reaction:

I loved this book because it covered a topic that is quite close to my heart. Sís helped to make this topic simple enough for children and teens to understand without bogging them down with the more depressing aspects of Communism, as it played out in Eastern Europe. The drawings were interesting, sometimes comical and I really enjoyed the way Sís used color. The red in his black and white panels was very striking.

Themes:  Communism, Authoritative government regimes, following directions (“compulsory”), dreams, rock ‘n roll, fear, individuality, social conditions

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Author: Steve Sheinkin

This is a true story from WWII that has been overlooked in textbooks and in the mainstream civil rights history.  Segregation in the military was common.  Port Chicago was a naval base in California where munitions ships were loaded by all black crews.  Following a huge explosion that killed hundreds of sailors, fifty black sailors refused to go back to loading bombs on ships.  They were tried and convicted of mutiny.  This is their story..... told by Steven Sheinkin in a manner that is easy to read and understand, yet complete with all the primary sources necessary to make this a history textbook in its own right.

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Title: Noggin
Author: John Corey Whaley

Sixteen-year old Travis Coates decided that he did not want to suffer through his losing battle with cancer. He, instead, accepts an offer to cryogenically freeze his head—the only part of him not riddled with cancer. When the time was right (you know how science can be) and a donor body had been found, Travis would be brought back. What Travis did not realize was that his time would come  to be brought back a mere five years later. After waking from his head transplant, Travis soon finds that life moved on without him; his parents got rid of all his stuff, his girlfriend is now engaged, and his best friend is in college…and living a lie. Travis must return to the school he left behind and relive his sixteenth year, only with a healthy body. He makes some new friends, rekindles his old friendships and tries to win back the affections of the love of his young life—all with a little comedic flare and a few touching moments.

My Reaction:

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I think the idea behind the plot is really unique—Hello!? Head transplant!—but, far-fetched. The characters were developed well and story as a whole had nice flow. It is told by Travis after he wakes and shifts between his recent experiences and memories of before the procedure. It think structuring the story this way helped to add some authenticity to such an “out-there-in-left-field” story. With that said, there were some inconsistencies that really made it difficult for me to love this book (which is rare, because I generally love just about everything I read, as you may have noted from my GoodReads ratings).

First, a number of characters make some mention of Travis’ time as a severed head, cryogenically frozen…and there are a number of times when he/someone mentions not having been dead during that time, or not having been ‘brought back from the dead’ because he wasn’t dead in the first place. WHAT!? If your head was severed…you were dead. Period. End of story.

Second, I get that Travis is sixteen—even after he was brought back—because he never lived through his sixteenth year and he was frozen at that age, but why was he sent back to high school?  That was really what his parents thought would be best for him? There wasn’t a GED program or online high school that he could have attended? His birthdate obviously proves—which he does use at one point to get into a karaoke bar—that he is technically (physically?) not sixteen, so strongly suspect that no school would accept him back at 21 years old.

Besides those few plot issues, I thought the story was fun, engaging, and I did enjoy reading it for the sake of staying current in my collection. Recommended for grades 9-12.

Themes: cancer, coming of age, contemporary, cryogenics, death, drama, fantasy, sci fi fiction, first love, friendship, grief, humor, Kansas City, leukemia, LGBTQ, mad scientist, male protagonist, organ transplants, relationships, science fiction, teen, YA, young adult

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Author: Candace Fleming

Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia, his family, their servants and their physician were imprisoned at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg (or, Yekaterinburg) during the upheaval of the Russian Revolution and brutally murdered in a cellar in the wee hours of the morning on July 17, 1918.

For three hundred years, the Romanov Dynasty reigned over Russia, yet Nicholas never wanted to be Tsar. He was shy and less commanding than his father, Alexander III. Because of his great love for Russia, he took his place as Tsar after his father’s death, with Alexandra at his side.

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Author: Aline Sax

This is a sobering story of WWII Warsaw. Misha’s family has been relocated to the ghetto where Jews die daily from starvation and disease. He goes to extreme lengths to help provide for his family, even resorting to crawling through the sewers to get to the outside world to retrieve food. Eventually, the ghetto is emptied out as many Jews are relocated to concentration camps. Fear and anger are prominent emotions for Misha—and despite struggling to survive--he takes a stand in the Warsaw Uprising. Told through text and blue-and-white illustrations, this hybrid novel is a gut-wrenching, poignant tale of survival amidst oppression.

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Author: Ester Earl

I wanted to read this book because I have a love for writing and saw that it was a book of stories and letters written by someone who shared that love for writing. The first thing I loved about this book was that it went ahead and answered all my questions from the start. It explained when Ester was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, how she was treated, and her whole story until the end. I found her letters funny, and felt she would have been a very great friend to have if she had lived longer. However, her diary entries quickly became dark, and she mentioned how she wished she didn't feel so dark and hateful, but it's just how she was feeling. After reading this book I looked back and noted all the things we had in common. She was a very relatable person that loved to have fun and wished no harm onto anyone. It was sad though, reading this and knowing the out come. Even after the inevitable was noted, there was more to tell. Somehow she lived on, even months after she had passed, and reminded her family of what she had been like before her sickness. One thing I loved about this book is the fact that is was completly true, and that she never let the cancer define her. It was just something she had, it wasn't her. I think it's a great inspirational work, and that anyone feeling down on themselves should read it to remind themselves that whatever they are going through, they can get through it.

Lies?!

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Title: Lies
Author: Michael Grant

Lies is the third instalment to Michael Grant's Gone series. I was happy to find that the Fayz was the same old same old, but that was untill I got a few chapters in. As it turned out, everything completly changed, even some of the character's personalities. I loved the explination that Michael Grant gave for their changing personalities and emotions and values, mostly because it made so much sence. Again this book was completly stuffed with twists and turns and a plot thick enough for a dictionary, but somehow it seemed slow. Even with all the twists (and well LIES) the book seemed to snail along. I found myself at the edge of my chair nearly every chapter, but the in between scenes were slow, to be blunt. I still found it an amazing read, and would recomend anyone who likes teen powers, mystery, and sifi to read this book series. I can't wait to read the next book in the Gone series, Plague.

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Author: Arikawa Hiro

My friend had been bothering me to read this manga for the longest time. I didn't really want to read it because the way she described it to me made it sound boreing, not my kind of book. But one day when I was board I grabbed it off the shelf and didn't put it down till I was finished. I sat in the library and read it right there, didn't even get to check it out. I continued on to read the second and third book in that sitting, but had to check out the rest for lack of time. Honestly one of my top five manga's I've read in my life! So much action, tons of laughs, and drama to tie it all together. The perfect amount of romance puts the bow on this manga series. I would recomend this to anyone and everyone, with a well thought out background and wonderful character development, there is a twist right around every turn. I am in love with this manga, cannot wait for the next chapter~!