Book Pages 5: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

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Coyle, Katie. Vivian Apple at the End of the World. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print.

The evangelical Church of America prophesied the end of the world. Vivian didn’t believe them, but her parents and hundreds of thousands of other people did. One morning Vivian returns home from a “Rapture party” to find that her parents are nowhere to be found and there are two giant holes in their bedroom ceiling. It would seem that they had been raptured, along with the thousands of other believers, but Vivian still doesn’t believe it. She and her friends Harp and Peter take it upon themselves to travel across what’s left of America to find out what has really happened.

I’ll just say this right off the bat: I cannot see myself ever teaching this in school, or anyone else for that matter. I kind of hated this novel and the only reason I finished it is because it’s just over 250 pages long and I was able to read the whole thing in a day. I was hate reading by the end, kind of like the way I click on gossip articles about detestable celebrities I really don’t care about.

I am not easily offended by any means. I’m kind of known for not caring or judging others. However, Vivian Apple is the most close-minded, judgmental protagonists I have ever read about. She had absolutely no respect for people of other belief systems. The novel deals with religion quite a bit – that’s obvious from the description – but I wasn’t expecting such heavy-handed anti-religion…I can’t think of a better word than propaganda. I am all for people believing or not believing whatever they want to or don’t want to. I went over the edge during one scene in particular. Vivian spends the majority of the book idolizing this teacher she had in high school. She’s totally cool and open-minded, but then the unthinkable happens. This teacher is revealed to be Catholic. Vivian has just driven across the country to see this person who she has always loved, and suddenly such an insignificant revelation causes Vivian to storm out of her house and blame this teacher for the Crusades. What?? It was also obvious that the Church of America was a play on Christianity, which is fine, but it was so excessive that it was extremely frustrating. Can’t we all just believe what we want to believe and stop judging each other so much? Please?

Apart from the religion stuff, it wasn’t terrible. It was interesting to follow these characters across small-town America and read about all of the interesting people they met, although the overarching plot was a bit predictable at times.

I can’t see how this book would be beneficial for adolescents to read, and not because I didn’t agree with some of the author’s choices. I just don’t think it really has a message for its readers. There isn’t diversity of any kind, it isn’t a coming of age story, and the protagonists aren’t really relatable. This may be a book that would entertain a select group of individuals, but nothing more than that. I would not teach this in a school and I would not recommend that anyone else teach it.

Book Pages 4: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

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Ahdieh, Renée. The Wrath and the Dawn. New York: Penguin Random House, 2015. Print.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, wherein Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night, only to have her killed the next morning. Shahrzad’s friend was one of the Caliph’s most recent victims, so she volunteers to be his new wife in hopes of getting the opportunity to kill him. She tells the Caliph stories each night to keep herself alive and bide more time to carry out her plan. The longer she stays alive, the less convinced she is that the Caliph is truly a murderous madman.

Renée Ahdieh, an Asian-American woman (currently living in North Carolina, yay!), has quite a way with words. The writing was very quick to read, but also lyrical. Ahdieh’s writing style was really the main thing that stuck out to me and kept me hooked. In this type of book, you usually know what’s going to happen (SPOILER ALERT: they fall in love), so you need something else to draw you in. The characters were layered, interesting, and diverse. I do wish the Ahdieh had done a slightly better job of laying out the world. I mean, it is a fantasy, but we were stuck inside the Caliph’s palace for the majority of the novel, so I didn’t feel like I had a good idea of what their world was really like. The romance may have been a little much. I was kind of frustrated with Shahrzad for setting aside her quest for vengeance in order to pursue a relationship with Khalid. He had her best friend killed; why did she seem to forget about that so quickly?

I haven’t read One Thousand and One Nights, but we read a few passages and watched a movie adaptation in tenth grade. A book like this – a young adult retelling of a classic story – might have been a great supplementary book to that section of class. The romance may be a bit excessive (not inappropriate, there’s just a lot of it), but I think students would really enjoy it. The cast of characters is quite diverse, and I think modern retellings written for different age groups are great ways to introduce students to classic stories. They could then read the original book and compare the two. There are retellings and reworking of almost every classic book nowadays, some of which are really great, and I’m not sure why teachers don’t incorporate them into their curriculum.

I will likely continue with the series, but probably not for this book pages assignment. I have many more books on my list!

Book Pages 3: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Rowell, Rainbow. Fangirl. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Print.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are about to start college, but Wren doesn’t want to share a room with Cath, meaning she will be left to her own devices to survive. The problem is that she’s a shy introvert who has a borderline unhealthy obsession with Simon Snow, a young adult fantasy book series. She lives and breathes Simon Snow. She has reread the book numerous times, peruses the fan forums at every opportunity, and writes her own incredibly popular fanfiction to post online. She knows Simon Snow better than anything. College will be different story. She’ll be on her own, forced to make her own friends and navigate her way through her freshman year.

Fangirl is one of the most relatable books I’ve ever read. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and this was magnified when I started college. On top of my loner tendencies, I am extremely shy and mildly socially anxious, which made it very difficult to do anything myself, even something as simple as ordering food. One running joke in the book is that Cath has no idea where the dining hall is and she’s too shy to ask anyone for directions, so she essentially lives off of granola bars for a few weeks until she makes a friend. I had a similar experience: my roommate was always busy with her other friends and I was way too shy to eat alone, so I ate ramen and mac and cheese in my room nearly every night for weeks until I found some friends of my own.

Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow was also quite relatable. I have been a Harry Potter fan since I read the first book in elementary school, and while my entire life doesn’t revolve around it, I consider it a pretty big part of identity.

In so many books with shy protagonists, he or she seems to immediately do a 180 in the middle of the book. Suddenly they’re sociable and friends with everyone, which is completely unrealistic. Cath’s journey was very slow. Honestly, she hadn’t changed all that much by the end. She was still shy, she still didn’t have many friends, she was still obsessed with Simon Snow, but she was finally able to find the dining hall on her own. That’s realistic. I’m still a loner, but I’m able to go and eat alone sometimes. I think most people wouldn’t think I’ve changed that much since freshman year, but I know I have. I believe Cath is the same way.

I’m not sure that this would be a great book for students to analyze and discuss in class (the characters aren’t diverse and it doesn’t have a deeper meaning), but I do think it could be comforting for seniors to read, especially those who are about to begin college. It’s a scary new experience, and I felt that Fangirl was very accurate.  On top of all of that, it teaches us to embrace our own unique characteristics, even if that means writing a lot of fanfiction.

Book Pages 2: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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Yoon, Nicola. Everything, Everything. New York: Penguin Random House, 2015. Print.

Seventeen year old Maddy has never been outside her house. She has been confined for her entire life due to an illness where she is essentially allergic to everything. The only people she talks to are her mother and her nurse, Carla. She would give nearly anything to be able to go outside and meet someone new. Then one day a new family moves in to the house next door, and Maddy becomes interested in Olly, the son. Maddy has never even spoken to a boy before, and her mother certainly won’t let her meet Olly. But as Maddy becomes more infatuated with him, she becomes more and more desperate to see what she’s missing outside.

First off, to stick with my diversity theme, Everything, Everything’s main character, Maddy, is African American. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with an African American main character. Many of the books I see with people of color usually have some sort of urban theme or they are depicted as troublemakers. Maddy was a completely normal teenager, or as normal as she could be while dealing with her illness. She was extremely intelligent and I believe she reacted realistically to whatever she was faced with.

Olly was a perfectly fine love interest. He wasn’t rude or snarky like so many other love interests in young adult books. He was a fully developed character, not two-dimensional, and I enjoyed reading about him. However, he had some issues with his home life, and I felt like that combined with Maddy’s illness was a bit much to cram into a 300 page book.

Something that made Everything, Everything even more interesting was the fact that it had some multimedia elements scattered throughout, such as graphs, handwritten journal entries, and drawings. Yoon’s writing style was beautiful, and these graphics added even more.

This would be a great book to teach in schools for many reasons. First, as I mentioned before, Maddy is African American. There is not nearly enough diversity in young adult literature, or literature in general. I can count on one hand the number of books I was required to read in school that featured a person of color as a protagonist. Yoon herself is from Jamaica. Diversity is important not only when thinking about protagonists, but authors, too.

I think students would really enjoy reading about Maddy’s life with a serious medical condition, albeit an uncommon one. There are also a few mentions of mental illness and whether someone’s actions are justified if the individual has some sort of a mental illness. I think these would be good discussion points, but for the sake of not spoiling the book, I won’t go into specifics. As far as age group, I think this would be best suited for juniors in high school. There aren’t many inappropriate aspects, but I think juniors and up would be able to have the most thoughtful discussions regarding some of the subject matter.

Overall, this is a very unique and interesting novel that teenagers would love.

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As a quick aside, a movie adaptation is currently in pre-production. It will star Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Maddy and Nick Robinson (Jurassic World, The Kings of Summer) as Olly.