Book Pages 10: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

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Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007. Print.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is the first book in Cassandra Clare’s internationally bestselling urban fantasy Mortal Instruments series. It follows teenager Clary Fray as she discovers the world of the Shadowhunters. She’s out at a club with Simon one night when she witnesses something horrible, but it seems that she’s the only one who’s able to see the perpetrators. She is suddenly sucked into the realm of the Shadowhunters – an ancient race of demon hunters. Clary may soon find out that she isn’t who she thought.

I first read City of Bones in 2012 or 2013 when this series was incredibly popular. I wasn’t really a fan. Nonetheless, I continued on with the series because I’m stubborn, and I disliked them even more as I went on. Then I heard that Clare’s prequel series, The Infernal Devices, was better. It wasn’t. For some reason, when I was in San Diego for Spring Break and I went to a really cool bookstore that used to be a movie theater, I decided to pick up Clare’s new book, Lady Midnight. Maybe I was in a good mood because I was on vacation, but I absolutely loved it. My love for that book made me want to reread City of Bones. This class finally gave me that opportunity.

I still don’t love the book. I may appreciate it a bit more because I know where everything is leading and it seems that Cassandra Clare has planned quite extensively. Or maybe she’s just good at improvising. This was originally the first book of a planned trilogy, but she later decided to expand into an eight book series. Even The Infernal Devices and Lady Midnight connect to The Mortal Instruments in quite a few ways.

Clary is probably the number one thing I don’t like about the book. She makes a lot of bad and irrational decisions throughout the series. I mean, all teenagers, and humans in general, make bad decisions from time to time, but seriously Clary? She also doesn’t react as a normal teenager would if they had been put into the same situation. She seems to be able to take in the situation very easily. Demons exist? Okay. Vampires? Sure, why not. She didn’t seem extremely phased.

A trope I have seen frequently in young adult books is the mean love interest. Jace Wayland falls into that category. I think there is a big difference between sarcastic humor and just being mean, and I believe Jace is far more mean than sarcastic. It bothers me that young girls are falling in love with this fictional character who doesn’t really treat women very well. I would hate for them to find themselves in a similar situation and think that it was okay or normal.

Aside from the unlikable characters, I found the pacing of the novel as a whole very slow. I spent a lot of time waiting for something to happen, and when something did happen, it wasn’t that interesting. I think there was a bit too much world building all at once, and it made the book move very slowly. Some of this information could have been explained at different points throughout to make it more even.

I don’t think this would be a great book to read in school, and not just because I’m not a big fan. I will be using City of Bones for my paper, which examines the stereotypical adolescent and how they are sometimes represented in literature. Teachers could use this book for that reason, but I think it would be a bit of a stretch, and there are much better books to use for that purpose.

Book Pages 9: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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Arnold, David. Mosquitoland. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.

After Mim Malone’s parents get divorced, she is dragged from her home in Ohio to Florida to live with her dad and new stepmom. She’s a dreamer and often impulsive, so when Mim hears that her mother is sick, she decides to run away from home back to Ohio via Greyhound. Along the way she encounters a strange and unique cast of characters – some nice and some not-so-nice – and she also encounters herself. It’s a journey to see her mother, but along the way she may just find herself instead.

Let me get this out of the way: I absolutely loved this book. I was captivated from the very first page and I had a hard time putting it down for even a minute.

Mim was such a wonderful, interesting, and fun character to follow. She’s independent, intelligent, quite funny, and crazy in the best way possible. At one point she decides that she will begin talking in a British accent to her fellow passengers on the bus just for the heck of it. But she’s also messed up. The divorce and the move and her mom getting sick have taken a toll on her, hence the tagline: “Mim Malone is not okay.” Sure, she makes some terrible decisions, but who hasn’t? The other characters were wonderful, too. She met some unique people during her journey, and I loved reading about each and every one of them.

The only real problem I has with it was that it is not realistic or even that believable. It’s a common cliché in young adult books for teenagers to go on these wonderful adventures, free of adults and other authoritative figures. I’m often drawn to books  of this type, but I’ve recently become more skeptical and a lot of the time I’m pulled out of the story because I’m thinking about how unrealistic it is. But it didn’t bother me very much in Mosquitoland. I realized part of the way through that it really isn’t about the journey, it’s about how Mim changes and grows as a person along the way.

David Arnold has a wonderful writing style, and this was only his debut novel. I’m looking forward to reading his next book, Kids of Appetite, very soon.

When I think about if this is a classroom-worthy book, I’m conflicted. Yes, I loved it and there’s nothing inappropriate about it, but I’m not sure about an overarching theme. Perhaps something about grief in times of difficulty, whether that may be a family member getting sick, divorce, or moving away from the only home you’ve ever known.

Overall, a wonderful book, but maybe not the best thing to teach a high school class.

Book Pages 8: Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

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McMann, Lisa. Cryer’s Cross. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011. Print.

Kendall Fletcher lives in the small Montana town of Cryer’s Cross. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else and nothing bad ever happens, until the book starts, at least. A freshman at the local high school goes missing and the town is in shock. Then another kid goes missing and the townspeople realize there is something wrong. On top of that, two siblings move to town, and they seem awfully suspicious.

This book has been on my radar for quite a while. I recently saw it at my favorite used bookstore and I was in the mood for something a little creepy (it was around Halloween), so I finally decided to pick it up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the biggest fan. It wasn’t very creepy or scary, granted, it’s pretty difficult to scare me, but I did like the overall atmosphere.

The biggest problem I had with Cryer’s Cross was the narration. It is told from a third person present tense point of view, and I can’t remember reading anything else with that point of view. Or if I have, it was better executed. Here it felt very cold and detached, and not at all descriptive. It made it difficult for me to get into the story.

One interesting thing about this book was the fact that Kendall, the protagonist, has OCD. I do not have OCD or personally know anyone who does, so I can’t say if the portrayal was realistic or not, but it’s always nice to see those kinds of things being represented, especially in young adult books. I think mental illness is a subject that deserves to be written about more because many adolescents do struggle with things like that.

Apart from that one unique characteristic, I didn’t really like any of the characters. They just weren’t interesting. There was also a very unnecessary and unrealistic romance subplot thrown in, and it was almost insta-love. And above all of that, the big reveal at the end was unsatisfying. With that being said, I probably would have enjoyed it when I was in middle school or ninth grade. I read a lot of mildly creepy books back then.

I don’t think I’d ever teach this in school. I mean, there aren’t any real “teachable” aspects except Kendall’s OCD. I think students may enjoy reading it purely for entertainment, especially around October, but, unfortunately, I can’t see it leading to any valuable discussions.

Book Pages 7: The Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney

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Romney, J.P. The Monster on the Road is Me. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. Print.

Koda Okita is a high school student in Japan. He has narcolepsy and has to wear a huge helmet in case the falls asleep and hits his head, which does not help with his popularity issues. But student at the high school start to die under mysterious circumstances, including the girl Kida is in love with. He begins to believe that there is more to the deaths than the authorities believe, and it may include an ancient demon.

I had never heard of this book before I saw it while browsing through Barnes and Noble recently. Just another reason to love brick and mortar bookstores. Up to this point, I had only read one book set in Japan, another young adult book called Ink. I think both of these books did a very good job of describing Japanese culture in an interesting way without feeling like they are giving too much information at once.

In addition to the Japanese culture, I also enjoyed learning about Japanese folklore. Ancient Japanese myths played a very big part in the story, and I love when mythology of any sort is incorporated into books. The author, while American, taught in Japan for a while and it is obvious that he experienced the country firsthand and didn’t just do some research online. The fact that it was set in a small town in the country and not somewhere like Tokyo made it seem more authentic.

On top of all of this culture, Koda has narcolepsy, which is something I’ve never read about in a young adult book before, or any book, for that matter.  It didn’t play an enormous part in the story, but Romney made the depiction quite humorous. Koda himself had a very fun and sarcastic personality. The other characters were just as interesting as Koda, particularly Yori, who used to be a bus driver but is now an accountant who has a passion for cosplay.

I think there are elements that would definitely work well in schools. I can’t remember learning much about Asia in school, whether it was through literature or even history class. We learn so much about Europe and Africa; why don’t we learn more about Japan? They have a very rich history that students would find interesting. I think this book would do a good job of introducing them to modern-day Japanese culture and just a bit of history.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable and informative book, and I really hope it becomes more popular.

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!