Rummanah Aasi
    I have always been fascinated with the history and culture of Iran. I've learned about the Islamic Revolution during my World Civilizations class and did a whole project on it. I absolutely loved the graphic novel series called Persepolis I and II by Marjane Satrapi, which explored the revolution through the author's experiences. So when I came across a memoir about Iran, I was very excited to read it. Not only did I get a bit more information about the tumultuous relationship between Iran and the U.S., but also a terrifying account of being in prison for a crime one has not committed. 

Description: My Prison, My Home is a memoir by Halah Isfandiyari, who is the founding director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Middle East Program. The author recounts her unnecessary imprisonment in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar,  was incarcerated in solitary confinement on bizarre, paranoid charges of aiding the American government in plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran. While visiting her mother in Tehran during the holidays, she was robbed in a taxi, then detained in her mother's home for months before being hauled off to prison. Initially, she thought it was a simple robbery, but then it became as if she was on a watch list of the fearsome Ministry of Intelligence, who grilled her about seemingly irrelevant information. The author recounts her trial and her release.

Review: I thought this memoir was interesting. It seems that many of the books that I've read about Iranian-Americans, the authors have immigrated from Iran and haven't gone back after the Islamic Revolution. I was curious as to how this author would describe her trip back home for a visit since she currently lives in the U.S. That being said, I was more interested and curious about the author's childhood and upbringing than her trial. Although her trial was scary to read, it did seem tedious and could have been trimmed down a bit more. The author was treated fairly well considering the infamous reputation of the Evin prison. I also thought the transition between the author's trial and the history of Iran's politics could have been a bit smoother. The history, goes into detail about from the 1960s to the Islamic Revolution, but skims over from the 1980s to the present. I would have liked it if the author spent more time talking about today's strained relationship between Iran and the U.S. since that is what her trial was all about. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. I do think this book is more geared towards adults than teens.

If you like this book, try: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Rummanah Aasi
   Teenagers have it rough. Stuck between not being a child and not having the full rights as an adult is not a fun place to be. You are constantly surrounded by expectations of how you should behave by everyone around you. We all have heard of stories about coming of age, but what does that exactly mean? Perhaps it means developing your own identity and dealing with power struggles with the adults around you. These themes are certainly the center of Laurie Halse Anderson's book entitled Twisted.

Description: Tyler Miller wanted to change his social status at his high school. He longer wanted to be the butt of jokes and the human target of the bullies at his school. He thought doing a prank would make him noticeable. Spray painting and defacing school property made him a legend and allowed him to gain the reputation of a criminal. When a high school party turns serious, Tyler is implicated in a drunken crime. Did he do it?

Review: I generally really like Anderson's novels about teens. She can accurately and efficiently portray the struggles of today's teens. In Twisted, her first male centered novel, she is able to show how much pressure Tyler receives from his verbally abusive father, his challenging classes at school, and the social pressures from his peers. Although the novel suffers from some stereotypical characters such as the 'hard' father who is absorbed into his work, the uncaring principal, and the popular kids who get away with pretty much anything, and the dialogue seems to come from a generic PG-13 teen movie,  Tyler's struggle to stand up for himself and to become his version of what a mean should be with or without the help of his father is real. There is a good balance of humor and seriousness. Not one of my favorite books by Anderson, but nonetheless an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Mild language. Scenes of underage drinking.

If you like this book, try: Ironman by Chris Crutcher
Rummanah Aasi
   I'm not a fan of today's slasher movies that are currently running in the theaters today. For me, horror is not seeing someone getting stabbed countless of times with a knife. What is truly terrifying, to me, is something that is psychological and can't be explained. I remember reading Poe's A Tell Tale Heart and I could almost feel a heart beating in the background as I read the short story. After being so absorbed in looking through the world through Louis' eyes and his transformation of a human to the undead in Interview with the Vampire, I couldn't go to sleep for two weeks. I was terrified that Lestat would "turn" me just because he was bored and to see what would happen, which now seems foolish only because I'd rather have a conversation with Lestat than be afraid of him but I think you get my point. It has been a long time that I've read an intelligent, thought provoking YA horror book.

Review:  If you could take the George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and put into a book, you would get Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I found the book to be very creepy. It is a perfect balance of horror without the gore with a bit of a romance story thrown in for good measure. I'm not a zombie girl, but I couldn't help liking this book. Although Mary's world is very bleak and often times chaotic, it is her hope and fortitude that allow her to keep going. What is frightening here is not really the Unconsecreated aka zombies, although there are numerous parts of the story where I had goosebumps while reading them, but the very idea of a life that is filled without choice or freedom is truly terrifying. Much of the story takes place in Mary's thoughts and at times can be a bit slow, but I found it hard to put down. Mary may be unlikeable to some people, but I liked how she never gave up her search and was very observant of others around her. I had many questions after finishing the book, especially as to how the Unconsecrated were created and why the villagers didn't know anything beyond their society. I was glad to know that there is a companion book called Dead Tossed Waves, which is now available.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of caution: There are graphic mutilations of the Unconsecrated aka zombies in the book, which gear more towards PG-13 than rated R. There is no sex or language.

If you like this book, try: Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan or The Giver by Lois Lowry.
Rummanah Aasi
   To think and write an original story takes a lot of creativity, time, and patience. There is no harm in using other works of literature as an inspiration as long as you make it your own (i.e. give it your own spin). Shakepeare, for instance, is not known for the plot of his plays, but for his language and characters which were truly unique to him and what we remember to this day. I don't expect writers to become the next Shakespeare, but at the very least I do hope they write a good novel. Unfortunately, Jennifer Hubbard's The Secret Year does not even meet my lowest expectations.

Description: Colt Morrissey had a secret relationship with Julia Vernon for a year. They belong to the opposite sides of the economical track. When Julia dies in a car accident, she leaves behind a journal filled with letters to Colt. Colt reads the journal in hopes of coping with Julia's death, but how can he get over someone who was never really his to being with?

Review: I'm sure that after reading the above description, you probably picked out the two works that might have inspired the author: Shakepeare's Romeo and Juliet and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. To give you a more accurate of description of The Secret Year would be this: Take R&J and The Outsiders and put them in a blender. Stir well. Take the solution and strain all the aspects of both works that you appealed to you. What you have left is The Secret Year.
  Although the book is very short, 192 pgs to be exact, it was torture to read it. The plot was snooze worthy. The characters were as interesting as cardboard and the dialogue was monotonous. By the end, I didn't care about Julia. I wanted to yell at Colt for being an idiot in wasting a whole year for dating Julia, who is nothing but a spoiled rich girl who whines about her problems in life.
  You're probably wondering if I hated this book so much, why did I bother finishing it, right? Well, I guess I was trying to be optimistic about the book. I was waiting for one of the characters to come alive. I wanted Julia's letters to be meaningful without the endless "I want to be with you, but I can't" babble. I wanted more than what I was given. As a result, I skimmed large chunks of the narrative, read only the dialogue, and was left with bad book aftertaste. While I did not enjoy this book at all, some people might. 

Rating: 1 star

Words of caution: Strong language. Suggestions of sex throughout the book. Contains scenes of underage drinking.

If you like this book try: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Rummanah Aasi
    I’ve been a bit behind on reading the award winning books for children’s literature. When I found out that this year’s Newberry winning book, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, was inspired by one of my all time favorite books as kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engline, I knew I had to move this book up in my queue of ‘to be read books’.

Description: Miranda has an ordinary life that centers on family and school. When her mother is selected and starts to prepare to be a contestant on the game show, anonymous notes are sent to Miranda suggesting that something bad is going to happen to her friend. Who is sending these notes and which friend is going to be in trouble?

Review: I enjoyed reading this book, particularly the references to L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Like its inspiration, When you reach me is also a book about time travel and mystery. Though there are some direct connections to the book such as saving a person you love and time travel, the similarities stop there. While the notes kept my attention, I quickly figured out the mystery, but I’m still uncertain about its significance. Children who have not read A Wrinkle in Time will get lost in the story and miss these references. The chapters are short and I liked Miranda’s keen observations about people around her. Overall, I thought it was well written but I enjoyed last year’s Newberry winner, Neil Gaiman’s fantastic The Graveyard Book, much more.

Rating: 3 stars

If you like this book, try: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Rummanah Aasi
    There are so many books that focus on what is happening to the men during wars. Sure, I’ve read small paragraphs in my history textbooks that tell about how the women got into the workforce in order to help the soldiers and military overseas. Most of those careers that women held have been telephone operators and nurses, but I’ve never read a book that solely focused on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) until I found Sherri Smith’s original and inspiring book called Flygirl.

Description: Ida Mae dreams to become a pilot. Unfortunately, due to her race and gender, her dreams seems far out of reach. When her brother is enlisted to the army during World War II, Ida learns about Woman Airforce Service Pilots program wants to do is fly. Driven by her desire to fly and wanting to help her brother, Ida Mae decides to ‘pass’ as a white person so she can join the program. Despite the odds set against her, will Ida Mae fulfill her dreams?

Review: Flygirl is a rich, multilayered story about a less discussed piece of US military history during World War II. The book is simultaneously entertaining and informative. The main antagonist in the novel is not the foreign enemy, but the local enemy, i.e. prejudice- in terms of race and gender. Throughout her education in the WASP program, Ida Mae repeatedly asks herself whether or not she is telling a lie is not a black and white answer. She is, essentially, questioning how we identify ourselves. Are we not something deeper than the color of our skins or our sex?

Before this book, I knew nothing about navigating an airplane. I was excited to learn about flying and living vicariously through Ida Mae and her friends. I couldn’t help but cheer for them and I know that you will too after you read this book.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of caution: The ‘n’ word is used approximately 4 times in the novel.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Gender Studies

If you like this book, try: Yankee Doodle Girls by Amy Nathan or On Silver Wings by Marianne Verges
Rummanah Aasi
    I found Gipi’s graphic novel, Notes for a War Story, on several lists created by the American Library Association (ALA). When I found it on the shelf from my public library, I decided to check it out. Initially, I thought the graphic novel was just another story about war, but Notes of a War Story tackles the issues surrounding what happens to people on the outskirts of war, particularly young men.

Description: In an unidentified Balkan country, Giuliano, Christian, and Little Killer wander aimlessly and are steering clear of the militia and the shelling that a ubiquitous war has brought to their homeland. When they get into the good graces of Felix, a charming and dangerous thug, they become involved in his operations, where their friendship and loyalty are tested.

Review: I liked this graphic novel, but found it hard to read mainly because of the text box was so small and the frames of illustrations were squeezed tightly. The themes of isolation, loss of a family, and what it means to be a ‘man’ are universal and prevalent throughout this story. I had a hard time liking the characters though and felt that I had met them in several other books that I’ve read. They didn’t stand out to me and didn’t leave a lasting impression. I did like, however, the fact that the war wasn’t specifically defined. I had a sense that people that live on the fringes of society can and will identify with the character’s desire of working in crime operations, their struggle to survive, the longing of a caring family, and the constant clash of social classes.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the graphic novel. Since the story takes place during a war setting, violence does take place but mostly occur off stage. Recommended to mature high school students and adults.

If you like this book, try: Kampung Boy or Town Boy by Lat
Rummanah Aasi
     Summer is a time for relaxation, shedding your old skin, as well as discovering and embracing any changes that come your way. If a summer romance is also included, then that’s an additional bonus. I came across a very sweet, uncomplicated romance for YA readers called Sea Change by Aimee Friedman.

Description: Miranda leaves her native New York to join her mother on Selkie Island in Georgia, where they’ve inherited her grandmother’s summer home. Miranda is a science nerd and not your average girly girl. She feels insecure and uncomfortable around the fashionable, boy-crazy girls and handsome but shallow beaus among the prominent families that surround her on the island. During her solitary nightly beach walk, she meets beautiful, mysterious Leo, a local, and feels unaccountably drawn to him. Leo has a secret and so does Miranda’s family. Will Miranda uncover them even if it means she has to embrace the illogical?

Review: I enjoyed this book. I really liked Miranda and could connect to her plight. Readers are introduced to the folklore surrounding Selkie Island, which is what kept me reading. I wish that the author could have elaborated a bit more on the folklore. While the plot and Leo’s mysterious past are quite predictable, I did like the blending and equal balance of the supernatural, romance, and mystery genres. I would recommend this to girls who are looking for a quite clean YA romance book.

Rating: 3 stars

Word of caution: There is a hint of sex, but it’s very small that you could possibly read over it and not notice. There is some language and a few scenes of underage drinking. I would recommend it for 7th grade and up.

If you like this book, try: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Rummanah Aasi
   I had never heard of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series until I began my student teaching in an elementary school. Students clamored for this book every period. The library had a waiting list of at least 15 students per book. I even had to prevent numerous heated arguments from escalating and had to quickly use my reading advisory skills to provide readalikes. The series has taken the children’s literature by storm. There are currently five books in the series and a movie based on the first book. All throughout my student teaching, I kept asking myself: What is the Wimpy phenomenon? In order to search for the answer, I tried to check it out from the library, but I failed since it was constantly checked out. So when I saw it on sale at a used library book sale for $1, I decided to buy it and give it a shot.

 Description: Greg Heffley records his sixth grade experiences in a middle school and accompanies the entries by hand drawn illustrations. These experiences include performing in a school play, dealing with bullies, and getting in trouble at home.

Review: Let me preface this review by saying that I’m clearly not the targeted audience for this series. I do, however, see and understand its appeal to children. Greg’s episodic adventures are universally well known and humorous. The book is not written condescendingly by an adult for kids. The drawing and the written entries make the reading experience intimate and allow readers to read a book while ‘not reading’. The book’s purpose is to entertain a reader and nothing more. I believe it accomplishes that and even allows reluctant readers to become readers.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Word of caution: None. I’d recommend it to ages 8 to 12.

If you like this book, try: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo, Bone by Jeff Smith, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Happyface by Stephen Emond,
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, Lily B. on the Brink of Cool by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel,
Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer Holm, Punished by David Lubar, Schooled by Gordon Korman, The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman, or The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Rummanah Aasi
  This following post is brought to you by my very good friend, Julie Morra. I had asked Julie to guest blog for me while I catch up on some of my reading and reviews. Thanks, Julie!

    The snow is gone, my allergies are ratcheting up with the pollen count, and my internal compass is telling me to start stocking up on titles to read over the summer. Summer reading falls into a few categories. First there are the school-assigned summer reads that usually come with essays to write and questions to answer. That process always seems to take away from the joy of recreational reading. I promise you my football scholarshipped son who really enjoys a good book would not have picked The Secret Life of Bees on his own and he did not enjoy it no matter how much Oprah extolled its virtues. I think book club reads too often fall into this assigned division. The second category of books, in my mind, are those completely consuming reads that block out real life until you finish. You are oblivious to the weather, the national news, and people who love you have to remind you to eat. The Twilight series comes quickly to mind when I think of this category. The final category of books are the light and fluffy fun reads that live in your pool bag or under the seat of your car. My mother would probably classify them as a step up from magazine reading. You put them down as easily as you pick them up, but you entirely enjoy the time you spend inside them. They are the books you read when you don’t want to think, but just want to feel good while lying in the sun or waiting in the car to pick up your little brother from Tae Kwando. Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman falls into this last category.

 Description: (From the front cover flap) Julie’s best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast. Julie never knows what obsession will catch Ashleigh’s fancy, but she does know she’s likely to be drawn into the madness. Ashleigh’s latest craze is Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice. But Ashleigh can’t just appreciate it as a great read; she insists on emulating the novel’s nineteenth-century heroines in speech, dress, and most important of all – their quest for True Love. So Julie finds herself with Ashley, dressed in vintage frocks, sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys prep school, where they discover some likely candidates. Maybe this obsession of Ashleigh’s isn’t so bad if it leads to love—but for whom?

Review: I initially picked up this book because Jane Austen was referenced in the cover flap. I carried it around the library because the main character and I shared a first name. I took it home because it was under 200 pages. I slathered myself up with sunscreen, parked myself in a deck chair, and turned to the first chapter. There is a glut of books out there that pay homage to Jane Austen. The field is vastly narrowed if you ask that the author produce a book which is a good book on its own merits. For its brief length, Enthusiasm holds its own. Anyone who's ever had a friend like Ashleigh will feel Julie's pain. Is friendship and loyalty worth the price of embarrassment? Ashleigh’s enthusiasm is infectious and some of us need a friend like Ashleigh to make our lives more exciting, despite the embarrassment. The characters prove themselves relatable. The action is fun and there is a poem near the end that actually gave me goosebumps. That's when the story, for me, went from three stars to four. There are numerous Jane Austen references, especially from Pride & Prejudice, but to me, the story itself felt a little more like Mansfield Park or Emma where everyone's attentions and intentions are all mixed up. A working knowledge of at least one of those books, even from *gasp* a movie version, will make the book a more enjoyable read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Enthusiasm does fall into the teen romance genre so I would recommend it for ages 13 and up.

If you liked this book, you might also try: Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley.
Rummanah Aasi
    I came across my next read while browsing the public library's YA stacks. I'm the type of person who chooses a book based on how catchy the title is instead of the covers. I guess I'm weird, but most of the time this is how I stumble upon a good book. There were two things that came to mind when my eye caught a book titled Debbie Harry Sings In French. My first thought was: Is it talking about Debbie Harry as in the lead singer of Blondie or a girl who happens to have the same name? After reading the flap, my second thought was: A teen who knows and even likes Blondie?! Really? I knew then and there that I had to check it out.
   My love of New Wave 80s music comes to no surprise for my close group of friends. They already know that approximately 90% of my music collection comes from that era. I'm told frequently that I was born in the wrong generation and I think they maybe right. Truth be told, I was surprised to find a current YA book where the main character knew and listened to same type of music that I did while in high school and continue to do so. Most of the teens that I know are not aware of New Wave 80s music. I remember that during an advisory class that I student taught, teens were talking about Flo Rida's first single "You Spin My Head Right Round". I had made an off comment that I liked the original song by Dead or Alive much better. I got stares from the teens and I could here the clock ticking. They had no clue and I had to educate them. How could I not? I didn't blame their music tastes, but the fact that they weren't born yet when the song was played.

Description: When Johnny's father dies unexpectantly in a car accident, he is forced to grow up quickly. He takes control while his mother grieves for months. He turns to alcohol to deal with his own grief and to numb out. After a near death incident, Johnny is sent to a rehab program. His mother, now ready to face life once again, does not approve of his Goth fashion statement and sends him to live with his uncle in South Carolina. During his stay, he meets Maria, who seems to understand his fascination with the new wave band Blondie.

Review:  I finished this book in one setting and enjoyed it very much. Johnny is not your typical GLBTQ character. He knows that he is straight because he has a very big crush on Maria, but he can't help but yearn to be someone like Debbie Harry. To Johnny, Debbie is much more than a sexy singer. Debbie Harry symbolizes what Johnny wants: beauty and fierceness. Brother's debut novel tackles the gray shades of transvestism. Although he is constantly bullied and his sexuality is mistaken, Johnny is certain of himself. His problem is not finding out who he is, but rather in how to express himself, which is shown during a drag show contest at the climax of the novel.

   Although there are enough "issues" in the book such as the themes of neglect, isolation, and drugs that shape Johnny's and Maria's life that may distract reviewers, I was never bothered by it. The plot was well placed and I loved the characters. I was cheering Johnny and wanted him to express his inner Debbie Harry. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find my Blondie cd and play "Heart of Glass" as a salute to Johnny.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild language in the book. The teens in the book go to a gay bar. There is also reference to sex, but nothing explicit.

If you like this book, try:  Freak Show by James St. James, Beige by Cecil Castelucci, or Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger.  
Rummanah Aasi
   After reading two heavy books, I wanted something "light" to read. Naturally, I turned to high school drama. I heard about a lot of buzz surrounding Rosalind Wiseman's new book called Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials from the YALSA listserve.  Wiseman is mostly known for her nonfiction book, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World, which served the basis of the widely popular movie called Mean Girls that starred Lindsay Lohan (one of the very few movies where she didn't annoy the heck out of me). I remembered enjoying Mean Girls when it came out and had high expectations for Wiseman's latest book. Unfortunately, Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials wasn't as funny and smart as it could have been. 

Description: Charlie Healey is a freshman who enters prestigious Harmony Falls High School in the hopes of clean slate. Situations such as meeting her childhood friend, Will, once again and confronting a girl who she helped humilate won't allow Charlie to escape the traumas of middle school. Will she continue to run from it all or does she finally develop a backbone and stand up for herself?  

Review: There is nothing new about Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials. The characters are popular stereotypes that can be found in any book or movie about one's high school experience: Dumb jock? Check. Girls who think they are all that and a bag of chips? Check. Smart girls who hate being pushovers? Check. Teachers who want to be your friends instead of doing their job? Check. Parents who neglect to see their son's or daughter's bad behavior? Check. Hazing incident that is finally addressed? Check.

 The plot and the characters were very predictable. I could already tell who the good and bad guys were when the characters were first introduced. Charlie is a likeable character, but I couldn't take her seriously. I just wanted to shake her and say "Get over it! Grow a backbone for once!" That being said, nothing profound happens. There is not much character development in the book either. After a while, I felt like I was reading the same pages over and over again.  

So what did I like? There are only two good thing about this book. One is the accurate and no fuss dialogue. Wiseman is aware of how high schoolers talk. I hear the same things in the hallways of the high school that I currently work at.  The second thing that I liked is the scene where Charlie stands up for herself (it just took her over 100 pgs to do so).

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild language throughout the book, but nothing that would not be in a PG-13 movie. There is a scene of underage drinking at a party. Recommended for 8th graders and up.

If you like this book, try: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Rummanah Aasi
  Graphic novels usually get a bad reputation from the literary world. Some readers dismiss it as a book filled with "cartoons and superheroes". Some even go further and denounce the value of the form as being lesser than the novel. I would argue that graphic novels are actually harder to read than your regular book. A reader of graphic novels needs to not only read the written text, but also the illustrations, which is not so easy to do. The graphics are not simply 'there' just for the sake to make it look pretty, but they bring in another dimension of the character's personality along with symbolism, themes, and metaphors used throughout the graphic novel. A big misconception is that all graphic novels deal with superheroes or are fictitious. Though superheroes are a big cannon in the graphic novel industry, they are not everything. One example of a rich, multilayered, nonfiction graphic novel is Joe Kubert's Fax from Sarajevo.

Description: Fax from Sarajevo is based on the true story of survival of Kubert's Bosnian friend named Ervin Rustemagic. Ervin and his family are trapped in Sarajevo as the city underwent Serbian bombardment. He was only able to contact the outside world by fax. The graphic novel chronicles the hellish two years the family endured in Saravejo and how they escaped.  

Review: The Rustemagic's family story is told in twelve gritty chapters. The family does whatever it can to just survive the shellings, bombings, and shootings that constantly surround them. While their hope quickly diminishes, they reach out to their friends via Ervin's faxes. The faxes are both a distraction of their current situation as well as a life line in hopes of leaving Saravejo. This graphic novel opened up my eyes to the horrors of what happened in Saravejo, which I don't remembered being discussed much in the news until the war crime trials of some of the Serbian government.

    The novel mainly illustrated and is interspersed with real life faxes that Ervin sends to his friends. Some may feel that the story is told in a graphic format takes a way from the story and lessens its impact. I, however, feel that the graphic format is very suitable and it serves as a homage to the main character, who is a comic book writer himself. The illustrations of the humans made everything seem more real to me. If it was written in text, I don't think it would have impacted me so much. Perhaps I am desensitized by these horrors from the newspapers and other sources. As a reader, I can tell that the author's main strength's is his drawings than writing the text due to some of the awkward dialogue. 

    History tends to repeat itself and you'd think that we, as being humans, would learn from our mistakes and stop them from reoccuring again. I wonder how humans came up with the idea of genocide and ethnic cleansing and when will it cease to exisit. Maybe we're not really that smarter than animals?  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: During this tumultuous and horrific time in Saravejo, lots of people were killed unnecessarily through bombs, shelling, and sniper shootings. People of all ages were under attack. In fact, 'bonuses' were given to snipers by killing children. Though the violence isn't as nearly graphic, it does prove a point and readers can infer or possibly imagine what really did happen. There is mild language and suggestions to rape. This graphic novel is suitable for mature high school students and adults.

If you like this book, try: Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
Rummanah Aasi
  I have read many books about the horrors of the Holocaust, but have read very few that particularly focuses on the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth were created I first heard of Helmuth Hubener's story in Susan Campbell Bartoletti's phenomenal nonfiction book called Hitler Youth. Helmuth was a 17 year old boy who tried to spread the truth about Nazi Germany by creating flyers. He was tried and convicted of treason by the Nazi Regime. Bartoletti's The Boy Who Dared is a historical ficition book that explores the heroic life of this teenager who wanted to do something right even if that meant breaking the law and losing his life.

Review: Helmuth's story is very powerful and inspiring. He wants to be patriotic and a man of honor. When Hitler rises in power he, like other Germans, can see why Hitler could be good for the country. Just like many others he gets sweeped up with the hysteria of a new hope for the broken down Germany. After watching his rights and fellow citizen's rights slowly disappear, he begans to question authority and realizes what the whole regime is really about.

  The book flips back and forth from the present to memories Helmuth has leading up to why he is in jail. The voice of the narrator is consistent and gives you a good insight of how Helmuth changes from a little boy who does what he is told to an independent young adult thinker. Although his character development is solid, I did find his disillusionment with the Nazi Regime happen too quickly. I would have also liked to have read what Helmuth's family thought about his actions and his fate.

   From this book, I learned that there was actually LDS chruch and members in Germany in the 1930s, which I wasn't aware of till now. His faith plays a big part in the story and ultimately will be seen as the major catalyst and reason as to why he wants to fight the injustice he sees.

I'm glad that the author stuck to her facts about Helmuth and did not add any unnecessary plot just for the sake of the story. Overall, a great compelling and uplifting read.

Rating: 4 stars

Curricular Connections: Social Studies

Words of caution: The horrors of the concentration camps and the war are discussed and may be too much for students under grades 7. For this reason alone, I would recommend this book for children in Grades 7 and up.

  • Discussion Guide and Lesson Plans from Scholastic.
  • Find out more information about Hilter Youth here.
If you like this book, try: Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, or Brothers in Valor by Michael Tunnel.
Rummanah Aasi
   This year the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) has created a new book list for students in grades 3 to 5 called the Bluestem Award. Students, teachers, and librarians select a list of books for the award. Students elect their favorite book in April with the help of their teachers and librarians. The book with the most votes will win the award. This is the first year of the Bluestem Award. One of this year's nominees is Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog.

Description: Pacy is told by her parents that the Year of the Dog is a year to find a new friend, "find yourself", and identify your own values. Of course, this is all easier said than done when Pacy starts her journey. Through various events in her life, Pacy discovers her talent and embraces her culture of being a Taiwanese-American. 

Review: I thought The Year of the Dog was a very charming, sweet, and remarkable book. Pacy's childhood adventures of finding new friends, celebrating cultural holidays, and participating in school events are universal. I really liked how Pacy tackles the idea of identity and of being in two cultures, which can be symbolized by the hypen in the two cultures. For me, Pacy's struggles in answering the question, "Who am I?" hits home for me and felt very real. Like her, I have also been the only Asian girl in my class.

    The story is well constructed in 29 short chapters that introduces traditional customs (such as Hong Bao are special red envelopes with money in them, given as New Year's presents), culture and cuisine, and includes several relevant flashback anecdotes, mainly from Pacy's mother. The hand drawn illustrations and the feel of reading Pacy's journal felt intimate and warm. I would highly recommend this book for students who would like to know more about the Chinese New Year.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Art


If you like this book try: The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin or The Project Mulberry by Sue Park
Rummanah Aasi
  There is always a bittersweet feeling when you finish a series. Sometimes you love the characters and their world so much that it is hard to let go. There are also times when you wish some series would just finish because storylines and characters drag on and on. Thankfully, I felt the former when I finished Fire Study last night. I read the first half of the book in a couple of hours and tried to slow my pace but ultimately failed. This series is very hard to put down!

Description: In the first two books of the series, Yelena discovers her powers and past. She knows she is gifted (or cursed?) with a rare power that threatens herself and those around her. She now must try to hone done her skills, save her kingdom, and silence her critics who believe she can offer nothing but death and destruction. Will she succeed without drifting to the dark side?

Review: Snyder delivers another excellent adventure. I was never bored or felt that the book dragged. Although there is a bit too much going on with both international and local conflicts than the last two books, I was never lost. In fact, I had a lot more questions that I hoped were going to be answered when I finished the book. My questions were answered as I enjoyed the twists and turns of the last book. The author deftly balances the conflicts between Ixita and Sitia against Yelena's personal struggles.

   One of the many themes discussed in this series is the notion of power and the abuse of it. Is magic benefical? And if so, how much do you use and when should you use it? These are the questions that plague Yelena, especially when she is needed to help her kingdom and friends. While the first two books show Yelena the good, the bad, and the ugly side of magic, she must decide who she wants to be. Yelena has her own unique set of powers, but she is also very vulnerable to become addicted to it and use it for her own selfish purposes. Magician Roze Featherstone is a harbinger of what Yelena can become. Both share similar powers and personal traits. Even after the book ends, Yelena knows what could happen and must work harder to resist temptation. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibilites."

  The book ends with a possibility that there may be other storylines in the series. I do very much hope that there will be other books, but I'm very satisfied if there are none. I know that Yelena, Valek, and the others will have more adventures when I read the last page. I'll just miss them.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is more violence in this book than in the first two books in the series due to a war between two kingdoms. There is mild language and suggestions to sex.

If you like this book try: Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder and Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor
Rummanah Aasi
  I finished Magic Study, the second book in Study series at midnight. Though I'm a bit groggy today, it was well worth it. Magic Study is an excellent follow up to a solid first novel and steers clear from the notorious sophomore novel failure. I will try my best to write a spoiler free description and review. Here goes...

Description: You would think that after being tortured in prison, working and surviving your job as a food taster that Yelena's life would be easy. Oh no, not by far. Instead she travels to Sitia, where is she reunited by her lost family and learns about her growing powers. Sounds fun, right? Except Yelena's brother seems to want her dead, she has absolutely no recollection of her childhood whatsoever, and she is attending a magician school where hardly anyone likes her. There's also a tiny problem where a serial killer is on the loose.

Review: The second installment of the Study Series is just as action packed as the first book. Yelena travels to Sitia to reunite with her long lost family, people who are complete strangers to her. After two weeks, she is to go to the Keep, an institution that will teach her how to control her power. Unlike the first book where the reader is acquainted with activities in court, the second book concentrates on familial relationships, loyalties, and the the different cultures of the kingdom. For example, Ixia is a place where one's intellect and talent are highly valued. Sitia, however, one does not immediately go into action but rather spends time consulting and collaborating with others.
   When I read Poison Study, I was curious to learn about Yelena's childhood and her family. The reader as well Yelena get a chance to learn about her past and to fill that void. I enjoyed reading about her family and its various members, especially her brother Leif, who I was conflicted to like at first. My main pleasure of reading this book is seeing how Yelena's struggles between balancing the two different customs and forging her own identity. People expect her to be someone with great and potentially dangerous power, but she is not sure of herself. Yelena can be courageous and smart, but she is also very impulsive and at times insecure. She continuously doubts her abilities and whether or not she will be successful, which makes her an approachable and relate-able character. It was also fun to meet other favorite characters from Ixia again as well as meet new ones in Sitia, and vicariously learn how to ride a horse. An excellent book that balances action, romance, and fantasy. Looks like I'll be up all night tonight to read Fire Study, but I don't mind one bit. :)

Rating: 5 stars

Words of caution: There is a bit more violence in the second book, which takes place in the background. Rape and torture are also mentioned. There is also references and suggestions of sex, which is expected from the main lead pair, but nothing graphic. Highly recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book, try: Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder and Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder
Rummanah Aasi
   One of the many things that I love about my job as a librarian is discussing books with my students. After recommending Kristin Cashore's fabulous books (Graceling and Fire) to a student of mine, she came back and told me that I "have to read the Study series". Of course after more probing, I was told that if I wanted a "strong female heroine, with a great cast of characters, a wonderful story arc and world building in the realms of fantasy and romance" then this was the book for me. Ironically, that was how I pitched Cashore's novels. I guess teens do pay attention, huh? ;)

   While on Spring Break, I picked up Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, the first book in a trilogy. I was instantly swept away and could not believe I had not discovered this book or author before. So, thank you, Clarisse for your awesome suggestion!

Without further ado, here is the description of the first book: Yelena has been trialed and sentenced to death for killing a general's son. When it is time for her execution, she is given a choice: a quick death or become a food taster for the Commander of Ixia. Like any smart woman, she decides to become a food taster. The job isn't easy as Valek, the lead of the Commander's security, tests her every move. Will Yelena survive or will she die?

Review: I'm very tired of reading endless amount of books where the heroine isn't nothing but eye candy for the hero and she is ultimately dependent on a male to save herself. Yelena's story is a fresh breath of air. She is a fighter in every sense of the word. She is determined to stay alive regardless of what obstacles stand in her way. She initiates self defense lessons and investigates on the various poisons that could be used to kill the Commander. Though she can be stubborn, she does realize when she needs help and isn't afraid to ask for it. 
     Yelena has a dark past, which is shown through flashbacks and how she interacts with the minor characters. I found the country Ixia fascinating and would love to read more of its history. Besides Yelena, my other favorite character is Valek. Valek...*swoon*. He reminded me a lot of Mr. Darcy in Austen's most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, because of his cool, standoffish, arrogant, mysterious persona. He is a man that has many tricks up his sleeves and not one that you can completely figure out. It was a blast reading his and Yelena interactions and banter.
    Overall, I would highly recommend this series to anyone who may be a bit skeptical about fantasy and romance. While there are elements of both genres, none of them are too overwhelming to turn off the reader. I look forward to finishing this series. Actually, I'm already in the 5th chapter of Magic Study, which is book 2 in the series.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of caution: There is a scene of rape and flashbacks of torture. Nothing too graphic, but enough details to let the reader know what is taking place. Thus for this reason, I would recommend it to high school and up.

If you like this book, try: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Fire by Kristin Cashore, the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
Rummanah Aasi
With the recent news of natural disasters plaguing the world, this title was very chilling to read. Like its companion novel, Life as We Knew It, Pfeffer focuses on the same event: the moon being thrown out of orbit by an asteroid and the chain of related consequences. After describing what happened in a rural Pennsylvania town in the first book, she now turns her attention to New York City.

Description: After his parents have disappeared and his older brother, Carlos, in the Marines, 17 years old Alex Morales is forced to grow up and take care of his two younger sisters alone in the chaos of New York City.

 Review: Although this book is much bleaker than its companion novel, I liked this story a lot more. I liked the characters in this story because I could relate to them on a personal level and thought the plot was a bit more realistic. Perhaps I'm a bit bias, since I was raised in Chicago and could picture the setting a bit more clearly.  

It is refreshing to see a family of color (in this case a family from Puerto Rico), be the main cast of characters and not be type cast in participating in gangs, poverty, etc. as we tend to see on TV. Alex may seem too could to be true, but I applaud his strength and courage to help his sisters by whatever means necessary. The concept of family, faith, and hope are integral to the characters and the crux of the story. The Morales family is faced with struggle after struggle, everything ranging to the plausible deaths of their family members, making sacrifices, and the desperate attempt in seeking food and shelter. Alex and his sister's faith, morals, and hopes of surviving are continuing tested. The scenes where Alex goes to the Yankee Stadium and 'body shops' with his friend are chilling and refuses to leave my mind after I finished reading the book.  While I was reading the book, I kept asking myself what would I do in Alex's position. I would like to believe that I would be strong like him, but I'm not so sure.

I'm looking forward to reading the next book by the author called This world we live in, which will bring readers up to speed with what happened to Miranda and her family from the first book.

Words of Caution: There are many scenes of disaster and images of death that may be too much for elementary school readers. I would recommend this book to 7th graders and up, particularly to those who enjoyed Life as We Knew It.

Rating: 4.5 stars

If you like this book, try: The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Staci Llyod
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