Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behavior is a sweet coming of age story that comments on the topics of agoraphobia, anxiety disorders and stigma surrounding mental health. John Corey Whaley does so by blending humor with heart while being sure to write with a touch of empathy.

Solomon Reed is 16years old. He hasn’t left his house in three years, since a panic attack compelled him to sit in the fountain at his school until his parents came to take him home. He’s smart and funny, he loves movies and books and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the thought of leaving his house makes him hyperventilate to the point he cannot breathe. So while his parents worry about his future, for now they’re content to let him go to school online and spend his life inside his house, with only them and his spry, sassy grandmother for company.

Lisa Praytor is determined to escape her home town and make something of herself. She has her sights set on attending the second-best psychology program in the country, but there’s a catch: her essay must deal with her personal experience with mental illness. After a chance encounter with Sol’s mother, she finds a solution to that problem: she’s going to “fix” Solomon and get him to leave his home again. Lisa soon realizes that Solomon is more than his disease and the two form a strong friendship. Lisa soon introduces Solomon to her boyfriend Clark, with whom she is having slight relationship problems. As Sol shares his secrets and starts to think about life outside his house, Lisa starts questioning her relationship with Clark, and what Sol’s role might be in the problems they’re having.

Highly Illogical Behavior has well-developed, believable characters, however it’s portrayal of other aspects regarding mental health leaves something to be desired. Solomon is a very pleasant and realistic character. He is funny, very aware of his limitations, relatable, adorable, and intelligent. His character traits are not portrayed as less important than his agoraphobia, on the contrary his agoraphobia only serves to increase the depth of his character without taking away from his personality. However the main plot point of this novel: Lisa’s attempts to fix Solomon seem insensitive and degrading. The novel’s suggestion that people with mental illness are something to be “fixed” is crass and derogatory. Lisa felt manic and manipulative, her portrayal as an “anti-hero” was unsuccessful. The novel’s portrayal of Solomon’s mental illness felt simplistic. Solomon felt mostly comfortable inside, but he got spontaneous panic attacks and negative thoughts with no background or lead up. The end was rushed and didn’t end off with a clear resolution, or a clear message about anxiety. Overall, Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley is an acute, fluffy read that was slightly insensitive at times.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a riveting and heart breaking story of a girl who discovers brutal realities of racism and police violence. This incredible stand alone is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Hate U Give follows Starr, a girl torn between two realities: a poor black neighborhood where she lives and the posh prep school she attends. She is also torn between two identities: her polite prep school self and her slightly wild neighborhood self. When her friend, Khalil, is unjustly killed by a police officer, Starr’s world falls apart as she struggles to grapple with new realities and is torn apart by the many opinions regarding Khalil’s death. The Hate U Give is about how Starr deals with the aftermath of Khalil’s death. She’s afraid to speak out, yet angry that Khalil’s murderer could escape justice. Starr knows that her words will make a great impact, she is also aware of how they will endanger her life. Angie Thomas uses Starr’s experiences to portray the media’s prejudice against young black men: guilty until proven innocent.

The Hate U Give comments on racism, interracial dynamics and police brutality by capturing the perspective of a scared young girl. Starr is such a developed, multidimensional character. She’s clearly written with so much heart and honesty. Her inner conflicts are so believable. Every side character is treated with just as much respect and honesty as she is. The relationship dynamics that run alongside the fight for justice are no less compelling. Thomas deftly portrays complex, nuanced relationships between all the people in the book, considering the divides between Starr and her white classmates, but never allowing anyone to become cliché or one-dimensional. This novel is phenomenal, a timely must-read that educates on the hard ships of those silenced by society’s flawed regime.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor captures the reader’s attention with its vivid imagery and flowing prose. It the first novel in Laini Taylor’s new duology of the same name. Strange The Dreamer follows Lazlo Strange, an orphan librarian who was rescued by monks and dreams of a magical city.

The novel opens with Lazlo as a child, bemoaning the harsh order of the monastery in which he lives. The only joys in Lazlo’s life are stories told to him by a senile monk of a mystical exotic city full of knowledge and culture. As Lazlo grows older, his obsession with this city he calls Weep does not fade, yet he is constrained by the strict order of the monastery. He is sent by the monks to deliver a manuscript to the Great Library and does not return, becoming an apprentice. Lazlo begins to meticulously research the lost city through his resources at the library, compiling tomes of the research in his room. One day, Lazlo sees a caravan coming through the city and he is stunned at his realization that the travelers are from Weep. He finds out that they are coming in search of great minds to restore Weep to its former glory. Through his knowledge of Weep’s culture Lazlo convinces the caravan leader to let him join them, fulfilling his dream of seeing the lost city in person. In Weep, Lazlo is amazed at the diminished glory of the city he so vividly imagined. He is determined to restore it and fix the problem that has been hanging above the citizens’ heads (literally). The city of Weep had been taken over by gods who had tortured the citizens and stolen away children. The gods were killed, yet the shadow of their influence still hangs over the city. In his dreams, Lazlo meets a blue skinned girl named Sarai who by his knowledge should be dead because all gods were killed. At first Lazlo believes that she is a figment of his subconscious, but as they begin to have interactions inside his dreams he realizes that she is indeed real. They begin to form a romantic connection. Sarai becomes imperative in Lazlo’s quest to save the city of Weep.

Strange the Dreamer is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Laini Taylor’s writing is beautiful and the plot is captivating. The story is addicting and the end comes abruptly and unexpectedly, causing the reader to crave more. While the novel is set in a fantasy world, real-world themes such as discrimination, emotional and sexual abuse, rape and racism are developed throughout the story. Characters in Strange the Dreamer are all deep, complex and flawed, having both a good side and a bad side. They deal with the weight of their responsibilities and the repercussions of their actions. My only critique for this novel is the speed of Lazlo and Sarai’s romantic relationship. They seemed to form a romantic connection the second they laid eyes on each other, and this relationship intensified very quickly with seemingly no background or reason to. Their relationship seemed almost akin to “insta-love”, in which characters fall in love the second they see each other. Overall, Strange the Dreamer was an amazing book with a great plot and deep characters. I look forward to the next installment in the duology.

It Looks Like This

It Looks Like This is Rafi Mittlefehldt’s first novel, but you wouldn’t know it from the masterful prose.  Mittlefehldt chronicles a young queer boy Mike’s journey to maturity through the trials and tribulations of being “soft” in a very conservative family, being bullied at school, and the pain of first love.  When his father learns that Mike has been kissing a boy from school on the beach, his father gives Mike the choice of going to conversion therapy or remaining how he is. While on the surface this seems like an easy choice, Mike is crushed by the weight of his family’s shame and the torture of facing bullies every day at school, and he accepts his parents’ offer, sending him on a rocky journey to self-discovery and confidence filled with tragedy, realization, and hope.

Mittlefehldt constructs a distance between the reader and Mike through his short choppy sentences and matter-of-fact manner of storytelling, giving it the numb feeling of being in someone else’s dream. This distance makes the novel black-and-white with bright bursts of color as emotion and surety slip through Mike’s shielded state of existence.  Part of Mittlefehldt’s greatest success is in his ability to paint a sensory picture, describing everything from the rich colors of scenery to the smells and sounds, giving the reader enough to plant them firmly in space and time, but not so much as to lose the sense that there is something that is always just beyond reach. Mittlefehldt also weaves in many subtle metaphors so that he almost never has to explicitly tell the reader what characters are feeling and thinking. He does this with foreshadowing, often telling the reader exactly what’s going to happen, but it does not become clear that he has done so until everything comes together.

The plot is also magnificent. Mittlefehldt jumps around a bit, sometimes breaking up the story with little vignettes from Mike’s past, which help to shed light on why Mike behaves like he does and gives clues as to what might happen next. Even so, Mittlefehldt draws the reader in with Mike’s disjointed tale, creating the sinking feeling of climbing the biggest hill on a roller coaster and knowing that the fall is coming but being unable to do anything about it. The story is enrapturing in that way and its deep realizations stick long after the final page has been turned.


It Looks Like This
manages to be strikingly beautiful, heart wrenching, and hopeful all at once. There is little―if anything―to complain about in Mittlefehldt’s debut novel and is certainly worth reading for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite fit in or who is simply looking for a gorgeous and breathtaking read.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

In a world with a solar system filled with planets, governed by a body known as the Assembly, there exists a planet with violence and a vicious ruler. In this galaxy, some are favored by fate and others are not. Some will discover their future, set in stone, at a young age. Everyone in this new world will develop a currentgift as they age, a unique ability for each person that is established to affect the future. As it is seen as a normal and blessed thing, most people benefit from their currentgifts. However, Akos and Cyra do not. On the same planet, Akos and Cyra live in opposing societies, countries that have been fighting for what seems like forever. Their specific gifts end up making them weak and exposed to those that wish to hurt them. Through a twist of fate, Akos and Cyra are pushed together in a situation that never seemed possible in this world. Akos, with a deep love for his family, hails from the peaceful nation of Thuvhe. Cyra, with a unsettling distaste for her living family, hails from the violent nation of Shotet. Akos’ currentgift keeps him safe, but all he’s ever thought about since he and his brother were captured by the Shotet’s is how he can escape safely without his brother getting injured.

Cyra’s currentgift brings her an insurmountable pain that her brother manipulates to his liking, but what he doesn’t know is she is smarter than he knows and she is done being his weapon. Will Akos and Cyra be able to work together to save their fates and establish peace on their planet? Or will they end up destroying one another?

Carve The Mark by Veronica Roth is a story in a new world that centers around two teenagers coming together against all odds to save their world. Veronica Roth pulls at many elements in Divergent and describes things that seem unimportant to the story, but help deepen the reader’s knowledge. By describing things like a broken chair in a corner to the smell of cooking herbs, Roth delves deeper into the story with the reader. This could have actually taken away from the story instead of adding to it, since it doesn’t directly affect the character’s and their future in the pages. However, by detailing the surroundings for the reader, the immense scope of the world the characters live in is unearthed and reader’s imagination are let free, to create vivid images of the world that they have just entered into.

Also as she did in Divergent, but more strongly, Roth allows the reader to slowly learn about this new world. A key thing in writing when creating a totally new environment is to inform the reader of details of the new world, so they can better immerse themselves and understand it. However, instead of just laying down the facts for the reader, Roth chooses to slowly tell them more and more details. It makes the reader feel immersed, as if they just walked in on the journey that is about to unfold in the coming pages. When authors choose to just simply write out the facts easily for the reader to understand, the reader feels more like an intrusion, more like the story is only happening for them, unnaturally. When Roth slides in information, about the new world, she is making sure the reader knows that with or without them, this epic adventure was going to happen no matter what. This helps the reader feel more involved in the story and allows them to consciously pick up on the simple sentences that describe how the government system works or how the current connects everything.

Carve The Mark is told from two point of views, Akos and Cyra, and through this artistic decision, Roth gives herself control over establishing the character for the reader. The reader is able to see how the character’s perceive the world and allows them to better judge the character from the inside, instead of just from the point of view of a main character. Roth often also has the two characters describe the same things. Allowing the reader to see how they differ in personality. For instance, by comparing how Akos describes the broken chair to how Cyra describes it, the reader can easily understand their personalities through their differences and their similarities. Interestingly, as the book unfolds and Akos’ and Cyra’s relationship strengthens, the reader can see their personalities slowly meld together. Going back to the chair example, Akos ends up describing it with elements that only Cyra would only notice. Cyra ends up describing the chair with elements and insights that only Akos would notice. By telling the story from two point of views, Roth allows the reader to take a stance on each character and by doing so the reader gains a little bit of the character in themselves.
Unlike the Divergent trilogy, specifically Allegiant, Roth takes a very important thing into account when writing from the two point of views. In Allegiant, Roth wrote from the point of views of the two main characters, Tris and Four. Each chapter from their separate perspectives was told in first person. In contrast, in Carve The Mark, Roth writes Cyra’s point of view chapters in first person and Akos’ in third person. This style change from Roth is a major one and gives off a different effect, although it was minimal. This change allowed the reader to know who the main characters were, as they were each significant enough to have a point of view, however it also established who the story is following.

Cyra, the one with the painful gift, ends up pulling Akos into her world. She helps Akos learn more about himself and helps him with the one thing he desires most. Writing from both viewpoints gives each of the characters equal importance, but through a careful and slight artistic decision on Roth’s side, the reader is given a better understanding of who the story is truly about.
Carve The Mark is a creative storyline brought to life through Veronica Roth’s words. Because this is a new world, the reader needs to be introduced to the characters that will be important and establish the story. Roth introduced about six or seven characters in the first chapter which becomes slightly overwhelming for the reader. Being thrust into a new world is hard enough, but it also became even more difficult to keep all the characters in order. For instance, one might forget that Akos is the youngest son of the Kereseth family because we were introduced to all of the children almost immediately at the beginning of the chapter. Understandably, Roth wanted to introduce the characters quickly so that the reader could get a better understanding and a vaster knowledge of the story. However, by introducing so much so quickly, the reader becomes a little overwhelmed, having to look back to remember the characters. In addition, because this was a new and unknown world, the characters had unique names. This was helpful enough, allowing the reader to better remember their names because they were different than the common names in our world. However, it also made the reading process more complicated. It was just one more confusing thing to remember in a new world with new characters and now new names. Although the first chapter was a little confusing, that was one of the only faults that really stuck out in the entire book.
Carve The Mark is an adventurous tale of two teens whose whole world rests on their shoulders. Roth takes her defining style from Divergent like how she describes things, the concept of writing from two point of views, and how she slowly lets the reader sink into the world she has created, but adds some new artistic decisions that make the story feel fresh and never ending. Veronica Roth’s writing has no loopholes unless it was by her specific doing. Her story telling ability is incredible and her imagination is never ending and more vast than one could imagine.

That is her currentgift. Her writing will undoubtedly get better as she ages. One can only wait for the next amazing and immense world she will create!

If you enjoyed the following books I think you will also enjoy Carve The Mark:

  1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  2. Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
  3. The Divergent Trilogy

Buy a signed copy of Carve the Mark here and support your local bookstore.

Forbidden, Kimberly Griffiths Little

Forbidden, written by Kimberly Griffiths Little, is a young adult historical fiction novel that follows the 16-year-old Jayden, daughter of Pharez, as she challenges the cultural traditions and social levels in the barbarous Mesopotamian desert in search for her true love. It explores various themes such as courage, family, strength, loyalty, love, and what it means to decide your own fate.

This sweeping romance begins with Jayden’s betrothal dance, a ceremony to celebrate her entrance into womanhood. She is betrothed to the young tribal prince, Horeb, who has recently been put in line for the tribe’s leadership position after the sudden death of his brother. The pair have mixed feelings for each other; Horeb’s controlling and dominant manner make Jayden uncomfortable, yet she tries to be compatible with him. But everything changes when her mother and newborn baby sister die, leaving Jayden, her father, and her sister Leila, to fend for themselves. That is when the mysterious foreign prince Kadesh comes in, who seeks their family for help. Jayden immediately feels an attraction toward Kadesh, but she neglects it, for she knows she is already betrothed. However, as the family travels along, Jayden finds her feelings for Kadesh are mutual, and as the plot progresses, Horeb discovers their secret romance. Thus begins the both mental and physical journey of Jayden and Kadesh through Mesopotamia and their attempt to escape the growing power of Horeb and the tribe while struggling to be together and cherish a forbidden love.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and all its elements. The setting and cultural aspect of the novel was good in being historically accurate, and really gives the reader a view of the hard life of our ancestors without technology or the modern tools we have today. The author does an extremely good job in characterizing Horeb, Jayden, and Leila. Horeb, in particular, is a very interesting character and Little was very proficient in revealing the hidden potential and insecurities behind his actions. She also explores the theme of inner strength with Jayden and the concept of temptations with Leila. Alongside these splendid characters, there are countless scenes of action and fights that are visually appealing to the reader, and a very suspenseful plot – the story is immensely captivating and always leaves you on the edge of your seat, longing to find out what happens next – it was very hard to put down at times!

If I were to critique one part of this book it would be the characterization of Kadesh, which I felt was very weak in my opinion. There was not much behind this character as far as any developed character background. Sure, he is a mysterious prince from a foreign land – but not much else. He is our typical “prince charming,” and not much more. However, this lack of characterization does leave an open end for the next novel in the trilogy so it may very well be covered in future books.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book! However, I highly suggest that the readers be young adults ages 13 and up, as there are numerous kissing scenes, sexual references/scenes, and attempted rape. Nevertheless, this novel is especially good for a female audience, as Jayden is a very strong female figure and a great role model for teens to encourage themselves to be proactive and do what is right regardless of what others say. Thank you Kimberly Griffiths Little for a thrilling novel! I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

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Bookshop Santa Cruz presents Veronica Roth Jan 23 2017

Get your tickets today for Roth’s one and only Northern California event! Monday, January 23rd

Reviewed by Sierra Belgard

In a world where the current is strong, everyone gets a gift. As to what that gift may be is a mystery. Although gifts are not rare, fates are. Many believe that it is only highborn families that receive these unique fates, but it is really the fates that make you highborn.
In the latest story by Veronica Roth, two teenagers whose families are enemies become unlikely friends. Akos is the son of the sitting oracle of Thuvhe and Cyra is the daughter of the Shotet leader. When the Shotet leader dies, his son (Cyra’s older brother) takes charge of the Shotet and kidnaps Akos and his brother. This sets a number of things in motion and creates the improbable friendship between Akos and Cyra. She relies on him for pain relief, he relies on her for security and safety from a brutal family. As the story progresses, their relationship strengthens and they become closer.
As the pages pull you in, your feelings for Roth’s characters twist and turn. Her character description is so vivid that they could be sitting right next to you. This book is a must read and will always have a spot on my bookshelf.

Front Lines by Michael Grant

front lines

It’s always challenging to find young adult books without your stereotypical story. Each time I think I have found something new, up pops that same High School drama. Because I am so familiar with these types of books, when I do find something new (or even slightly new) , I become completely engrossed within the pages. I found this book to be a little more original, and became excited reading it.

Michael Grant writes about an alternate history where women could enlist during World War II. I immediately found this intriguing. The narrator follows the stories of three young women, whom are still young and somewhat naive, through the war. Let’s start with Rio.

Rio is seventeen and tall for her age. She lives in a small town called Gedwell Falls. She has strong shoulders from being the daughter of a farmer. She’s one of those girls who gets good grades, is shy, and doesn’t talk back. Her sister was killed by the “Japs”, which causes Rio to enlist. She wants revenge. This is a bold move for her because of her shy, quiet demeanor. Next up is Frangie.

Frangie is a black girl who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma . She’s a small for her 17 years. Her father had an accident and is unable to work. She enlists to save her family from absolute poverty. When she enlists she plans to become a medic. Now for Rainy.

Rainy enlists because she wants to serve her country. She wants to prove herself. Her family is Jewish, and because of this, one can guess her feeling towards the Germans. She plans to work in army intelligence.

But their enlistment processes/reasons aren’t the whole story. This book deals with the horrors of war and hard-to-answer questions, like: What is it like to see your friend die in front of your very eyes? What is it like to deal with the harsh sexism and racism of the 1940s?

Over all, this book had an dynamic plot and was conceptually intriguing. I found it especially wonderful that even though Michael Grant is a man, he did a very good job portraying his female characters. This is a must read book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

-Sierra B

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The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes

fall of butterfliesIn her novel, The Fall of Butterflies, tells the story of Wilma, a young woman whose life hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been easy.  She’s never quite fit in, her mother has been absent, and her father struggles to support them.  To make matters worse, her mother has decided that to be a proper adult, she has to abandon her hometown of What Cheer, Iowa for a pretentious private school on the East Coast.  Consequently, Wilma plans to commit suicide once she arrives there.

That is, until she meets Remy.

Remy is an enigma.  She fascinates Wilma and breathes joy back into her life with her wit and friendship.  For a while, they simply enjoy each other’s company.  Remy sometimes disappears for days on end, but she also moves in with Wilma and pushes her to try new things and meet new people.  However, Wilma soon learns that Remy has some very serious problems and some very dark secrets.

Portes tells Wilma’s story in a refreshingly frank tone by wasting no time beating around the bush and using very little figurative language.  This technique works well, and makes Wilma seem more genuine.  In addition to being painfully honest at times, The Fall of Butterflies is gripping to say the least, and Portes manages to make a story that addresses very real human concerns fun and light at times, while also solemn at others.  Portes also raises questions about social issues such as the wealth gap and subsequent prejudices as Wilma watches the lives of her wealthy friends through the eyes of a child whose father worked very hard just to keep them afloat.  The Fall of Butterflies also succeeds at character foils, both with Grease and Hamlet; although, it would have been better if Portes had not spent so much time explaining how the characters related and spent more time showing it.

This challenge is actually the key flaw in The Fall of Butterflies: Portes wastes too much time telling her reader when she should be showing them.  She does paint a very vivid picture, but she leaves very little to the imagination.  Most people are familiar enough with Hamlet to recognize that Remy shares many traits with Ophelia, and it would have been more elegant if she’d allowed the readers to make the connection for themselves.  This problem persists throughout the entire book and follows nearly every pop culture reference made, which makes it tedious to read at times.  Portes’s lack of a fourth wall also feels unnecessary and uncomfortable.  All of the points Wilma made by speaking directly to the reader could have been made more gracefully if Portes had shown them implicitly through Wilma’s thoughts or actions.  The final challenge The Fall of Butterflies faces is how to seem realistic.  It’s very difficult for adults to genuinely sound like teenagers in young adult fiction, and Portes never really manages to bring Wilma the authentistic voice of a high schooler.  She attempts to remedy this through use of pop culture references, such as “hashtags”,  and long tangents about unnecessary things, but they only feel out of place and often break the flow of the story, making them more annoying than relatable.  Even elements of the plot, such as Milo’s sudden interest in Wilma and the breakneck speed at which their relationship moves, are incredible.  Frankly, it would have been much more believable for Remy and Wilma to fall in love than for Wilma to fall hopelessly in love with Milo because she saw him across the way once.  Although the “love at first sight” trope has been successful in the past, many authors struggle to make it believable, and Portes never really achieves it.
In short, The Fall of Butterflies is witty and brutally honest, but was difficult to get through due to the aforementioned problems.  Regardless, it is an interesting read for people who would like to explore  themes such as acceptance of oneself and others, the class distinction and the issues that it causes, and what it means to live rather than to simply persist. – Paige P.

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The Girl in the Blue Coat reviewed by Bella Buchter

Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat

I don’t normally read historical fiction, so The Girl in the Blue Coat was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed how the author, Monica Hesse, weaved a story with so much mystery and detailed description. It really seemed like a very researched book.
The girl in the blue coat follows the quest of Hanneke, a young woman who lives during 1943, when the Germans invaded Amsterdam. In order to provide for her family, she deals in black market goods, secretly smuggling illegal things such as cigarettes and coffee to her customers. Her own life is risky, but this time is even more dangerous for her friends and neighbors who are jews, as they are forced to go into hiding in order not to be taken to transit camps. One day on a delivery, Hanneke is asked to find a missing jewish girl, who at any time could be captured by the Nazis. It is an almost impossible task, but Hanneke takes it on partly as a small rebellion against the Nazis. She feels that her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed at war with the Germans, would want her to try to save the girl. Throughout the book, she becomes overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for Bas, which encourages her to continue looking for the missing girl.
Hanneke is a very detail oriented, independant, do-what-you-have-to-to-survive type of person, and an expert at finding things such as all her black market goods. Hanneke’s determination and focused personality help her a lot a she reaches dead end after dead end and new mystery after new mystery while trying to locate Mirjam, the missing girl and as she gets deeper and deeper into her quest and things gradually get more dangerous.
Some parts of this book did get confusing, especially at the end, when Hanneke was trying to figure out what really happened to Mirjam, but besides that it seemed like a very realistic book and had a strong main character to admire. Any fans of historical fiction would enjoy this book, as well as any fans of mystery.