Book review: Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Bennet, Jenn. Alex, Approximately. Simon Pulse, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781481478779. 388 Pages. Ages 14+. P7Q6

After a traumatic home invasion, Bailey Rydell, a high school Junior, moves from her mother’s tumultuous house in DC to her dad’s on the California coast. The fictional town of Coronado Cove isn’t only a well-known surfing mecca; it also happens to be home to Bailey’s anonymous online classic film-buff crush. After her move, the story quickly dissolves into a romance novel for teenage readers. The quite involved online relationship that the two shared is revealed to be merely a MacGuffin; its existence drives her personal inspection as she half-heartedly searches for him until just about the last page despite unwittingly meeting him early on. The reader knows all along and must question the believability of the two characters not coming to the same conclusion much earlier in the story. The romantic aspect of the story is age appropriate, tasteful (if the reader can disregard the author’s unrestrained use of the word “sexy”), and subtly indicative that the sex these characters are having is most likely protected. In addition to tackling teenage affection, the novel briefly addresses some weightier topics like drug use, death, personal trauma, and climate change, of all things.

Verdict: This title isn’t strongly recommended. Perhaps the anonymity of the internet bestows a certain optional fluidity to our personalities—a useful (and increasingly necessary) bonus for today’s mercurial youth. The exhibition of this benefit makes Alex, Approximately relatable to high schoolers; although, it will be more popular among the younger grades.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

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Book review: The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet, by Natasha Farrant

Farrant, Natasha. The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2016. 318p. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-94031-3. Ages 13-16. P7Q8

farrant-lydia-bennetLovers of Pride and Prejudice may enjoy this version of Lydia Bennet, the youngest of five sisters and perhaps the move flawed. In her selfishness, she manages to finagle an invitation to the seashore at Brighton with an older sister’s friend, leaving the sister at home. Lydia is an excellent diarist, showing all her frustrations and development as she falls hopelessly in love with a man who needs money, not love.

Verdict: A bonus of the book is that Farrant doesn’t not attempt to use Jane Austen’s style, and the contemporary feel of a plot from a book published over two centuries old is delightful for those who are not enamored of Austen’s work. The protagonist comes across sympathetically, despite her peccadilloes, and her narration shows how different her life could have been if she were born in today’s world. This historical novel is a delight for those who enjoy period pieces.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Da Vinci’s Tiger, by Laura Malone Elliott

Elliott, Laura Malone. Da Vinci’s Tiger. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, 2015. $17.99. 9780060744243. Ages 14-16. P6Q7

Elliott Da Vincis TigerDuring the flourishing of Florence under the Medici family during the Italian Renaissance, beautiful, educated Ginevra de’ Benci cannot be a part of the artistic world because her class demands she agree to an arranged marriage. Before he arrives to take her away, however, she sits for Leonardo da Vinci’s first portrait after she becomes the Muse—a platonic lover—of a wealthy man. Carefully researched, the book provides great detail about the culture and political intrigue of 15th-century Italy—perhaps a bit too much for readers who are more interested in a plot-driven romance.

April 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Tangled Webs, by Lee Bross

Bross, Lee. Tangled Webs. Disney/Hyperion, 2015. $17.99. 304p. 9781423184232. Ages 14-16. P7Q7

Bross Tangled WebsTrained as the mysterious Lady A, orphaned Arista gathers secrets from wealthy Londoners at high-society parties so that her handler, Bones, can blackmail them. She makes him a fortune, but the imprisoned girl is trapped in this life until her protector, another orphan named Nic, gives her a chance to get away. She ends up with a wealthy middle-class family where she falls in love with the older son who offers her a chance to leave England on the high seas. Yet even her masquerade as a boy can’t keep her safe as Bones, thought to be dead in a fire, seeks her to retrieve the secrets that she stole. When excitement is high, the romance is a fun read.

April 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Silence, by Deborah Lytton

Lytton, Deborah. Silence. Shadow Mountain, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-60907-945-1. 320 pages. Grades 7-12. P8Q8

Lytton SilenceStella and Hayden, two high school teens sharing outcast qualities.  Stella is the new girl at school, beautiful, quiet, uninterested in popularity, and a gifted singer.  Hayden is a piano genius, handsome, but stutters every sentence, keeping him quiet.  The two are intensely drawn together after Hayden accompanies Stella’s solo as Maria in West Side Story. After a sudden accident, Stella’s musical career and hopes for someday Broadway are whisked away in an instant. She wakes up silent, unable to hear.  Hayden becomes her biggest inspiration and support as she recovers and learns to live life without sound. What a lovely story of young romance, survival, discovering oneself, acceptance, and finding the unexpected beauties in life. This is perfectly appropriate, appealing to young adults interested in romance novels.  The advanced reader’s edition is uncorrected and has some errors; once edited, the story will read smoothly.

December 2015 review by Andrea Kopshever.

Book review: Wonders of the Invisible World, by Christopher Barzak

Barzak, Christopher. Wonders of the Invisible World. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.  $17.99. ISBN:9780385392792.  338p. Gr. 9-12. P7 Q8

Barzak Wonders of the Invisible WorldExquisitely told through 17-yr-old Aidan’s narration, Wonders weaves a rich tapestry of psychic power, gay love, tragedy, and magic. When childhood friend Jarrod moves back to Aiden’s small farm community, Aiden is forced to reconcile his loss of memory and family connection. Aiden learns that his mother is a seer and gradually comes to grips with his own psychic abilities. Aiden and Jarrod make a pilgrimage to Lily Dale, NY, a famous psychic mecca, in order to understand what curse had befallen Aiden’s family. In the end, Aiden comes to grips with his psychic ability, sexual orientation and his past. Barzak does a great job of building suspense, but at times the story is too plodding and repetitious.

November 2015 review by L.F., NHS Staff.

Book review: Another Day, by David Levithan

Levithan, David. Another Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.  $17.99 ISBN:9780385756204.   327p. Gr. 9-12. P8 Q8

Levithan Another DayThis book is a sequel to Every Day, Levithan’s bestseller about traveling spirit “A”, who wakes up each day in the body of another human. While Every Day is written from A’s perspective, Another Day is told through A’s love, Rhiannon. Their paths cross when A inhabits Rhiannon’s loser boyfriend (Justin) for a day. This brief encounter with Rhiannon is enough to convince A he is deeply in love with her and the rest of the book is mostly falling in love, breakups, teen angst, and trying to resolve the problem of an ever-shifting body form. However predictable, the book has many poignant moments and revelations (“could you love me whatever form I take?”) that make it an enjoyable, engaging read. A positive character arc for Rhiannon predominates in Another Day; she escapes her domineering slacker boyfriend and discovers she is a strong woman who deserves true love. In the end, though, neither A nor Rhiannon get closure. It’s a sweet story, but no trilogy, please.

November 2015 review by L.F., NHS Staff