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.

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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 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 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.

Book Pages 1: 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis

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Flores-Galbis, Enrique. 90 Miles to Havana. New York: Holtzbrinck Publishing, 2010. Kindle Edition.

A boy named Julian has lived in Cuba with his parents and two brothers throughout his entire life. The political climate is deteriorating quickly due to the rise of Fidel Castro. In order to keep them safe, Julian’s parents send him and his two brothers to Miami, Florida via Operation Pedro Pan, where they will live in a refugee camp until their parents can also move to America. While they are living at the camp, the three face bullies, the dictator-like camp director, and the threat of being separated from each other.

90 Miles to Havana is based heavily upon author Enrique Flores-Galbis’ own escape from Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan, which I believe added an extra layer to the story. Knowing that many of these things probably happened made the book seem a lot more real. All I knew about Cuba was that we had some kind of embargo with them, so it was very interesting to learn about its history and that the rise of the Communist government affected so many people. In particular it made me think about how Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are loved by a lot of people today while we seem to have forgotten how many lives they ruined. Julian came from a middle-class family and they had to make many sacrifices. Of course, there is always another perspective, and like I said before, I know next to nothing about Cuban history.

Even though I enjoyed learning about Cuban history, the majority of the book itself was lacking. It was written for more of a middle grade audience, so the sentence structure was very simple and some of the problems were more juvenile, making it difficult for me to relate. I did feel for the characters and the situation that they were put in and I wanted everything to turn out okay, but I didn’t care about the overarching plot. In short, it was rather boring. The only thing that kept me going was the desire to see the family reunite. Nonetheless, I think a younger audience would enjoy it very much, and I think that they should read it. It would be a great book to teach in schools in order to give younger students a look at Cuban history and culture.

One of my goals for my book pages adventure was to read diversely, and this book definitely fits the bill. I don’t really see, hear, or read much about Cuba during any time period, so it was a very nice change of pace.