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.

Off The Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer Reviewed by Natalie Silva

Off The Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
Reviewed by Natalie Silva

You know, I know a lot of words. Potato. Thermos. Pencil. Communism. But I don’t think that I know the words to describe Off The Page a very refreshing and adorable romance that beautifully weaves together fairy tales and modern life. Where literally every fan girl and boys’ dream comes true because their most beloved fictional character is not fictional and madly in love with you! So this novel is something to be envied. With its layering like a tiered cake to create a tasty masterpiece featuring a prince, a princess, a bookworm, a video gamer and two best friends — who are all hilarious and are given a moment to shine as bright as a dog star.
Although I have not read the companion novel Between The Lines, I don’t think that it is entirely necessary. There isn’t a prologue or “what’s happened so far” page, but there is an exceptional amount of exposition that sets the stage of the current circumstances, but ultimately thrusts the reader into this world where books talk back and where wishes can come true. This novel is a very well done and very through with the world that entrances the reader in a way where no counterpart would be pivotal to fully experiencing this tale. But that’s not too say that I haven’t ordered a copy because I am quite interested in seeing the beginning of Oliver and Delilah’s relationship. Since if the beginning of their relationship is anything like where Off The Page picks off from Between The Lines surely will be full of impassioned speeches and Shakespearean quotations and let’s be real the most adorably cliched thing ever.
Now before I launch into the phenomenal characters and fantastic storytelling, let me first comment on the style of this novel -since it’s a bit different than most styles that have seen- There are three character perspectives given and one anonymous scribbler (I dare you to take a guess of who it is!) all which have their own font color that really helps one keep everything in line who is speaking. And let me just say that I was quite refreshing to not read black font, but to instead see green, blue, brown and teal. So to say the least I greatly appreciated that along with all the full color illustrations and little black and white chapter heading drawings would be an understatement. It was a very creative and pleasing idea. So, bravo there!
Alright, alright, on to the story as I said is as layered as a scrumptious tiered cake! Where upon reading the back of the book some potential readers, myself included, may think that this is an awesome concept, but may not be great in practice. Since the tale of star crossed lovers may only be about, well, star crossed lovers attempting to make their relationship perfect, but then there is so much more there than this. Yeah, there is a bit of jealousy and a dramatic flair, but Oliver is literally a prince from a children’s novel so you know that’s just his character, but then there are these other stories featuring lovers destined to be apart, the relationship between a mother and son and also some crazy adventures of people experiencing the three dimensional world. Now, something that I found to be quite provocative and appealing in this novel was considered to be “reality” and wasn’t discounted as a fantasy. Which made the characters and realm so much more realistic and gave it for depth (even if it was two dimensional!) since no character’s experiences or feeling were discounted because they were considered less real. There is actually a point in the story )no spoilers, I swear) where a character something along the lines that says “we all have authors.” And that string of words has really resonated with me since it is true that you and I have authors, people who have contributed to our stories, character development and provides a new take on fate where something’s cannot be controlled more because of your character/personality then because the world (or book) is against you. Off The Page actually poses the question if our lives’ are written for us and by whom? So that’s something for readers to keep in mind.
Ok, now on to the fun part; characters! As stated prior there are three perspectives taken on with this novel so let’s begin with the in chronological order! So Delilah’s up first and she is our bookish, quite, well organized and strong willed heroine who so enviable with how she  gets to date her favorite fictional character. Although she is so admirable with how well she prepared for Oliver when he transferred into the three dimensional world, she definitely made sure her Prince Charming wouldn’t stand out for his lack of twenty-first century technology and culture (but she couldn’t control that he would be popular because he was hot and charismatic). I admired Delilah’s optimism for when she needed to be an anchor of hope, but realistic at all other times. She is very mature and collected even for someone who is infatuated with Disney princesses and children’s fairy tales. And that mix of attributes stirred together created an astounding woman who thrusts herself wholeheartedly into whatever she is doing and is stubborn enough to never be told otherwise. Now for our Prince Charming Oliver the boy who has been sixteen his whole life, but recently has discovered the wonders of the world like rain, the SATs and drama club! He is charismatic and enthralling, but very naive about this new world which is a recipe for disaster, but for a reader can be quite entertaining. Oliver reminded me of how many simple everyday things like showers, Betty Crocker cake boxes and rain I take for granted (except for rain, I live in California and would also dance out in the street if the sky began crying again). Even for such an adorable character there were times when be blunders and caused some scenes that out Delilah under a lot of stress, but always remained the perfect and most endearing boyfriend ever! Also his observations of the three dimensional world were quite astounding and thoughtful, made me start thinking of things in new lights. Alrighty, now onto Edgar our awkward sci-fi video game addicted teenager who switches places with Oliver. He looks almost exactly like him although he is a lot less social and probably experiences the most change throughout the book. He craved adventure and didn’t really have any friends in the beginning, but by the end he has so many and he becomes a true and valiant hero. Edgar becomes such an amazing person who I cannot properly describe without spoiling this novel, but just watching him befriend the other characters and evolve into such a considerate and empathetic character is awe inspiring. Ok, there are many many more characters that I could fawn over, but won’t because this review would end up being one million pages long. So my few honorable mentions are; Jules, Seraphima, and Chris who were all very solid and fun characters who I wish that I got to know a bit better since they we all so cool. Seriously some of the most touching and hilarious moments surround these characters.
I guess this is the end of my review where I scraped the surface of this touching romance. It was fun and I congratulate you, Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer, for creating such a sweet story that took me on an amazing adventure, you both make quite the dynamic duo.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Reviewed by Natalie Silva

I will remember Aaron, I will remember Aaron! Since I love him in a non-weird way. And it is impossible to not fall head over heels in love with this character in this neo-science fiction LGBTQ+ novel More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Which tells a very complicated and deep story of this teenager named Aaron who lives in the Bronx with his Mother and Brother who have all been greatly shaken from the recent suicide of Aaron’s father. Something that everyone is trying to cope with and they do it in different ways which creates an absolute masterpiece.
Now, More Happy Than Not is not a self proclaimed neo-sci fi novel, but I have labeled it as one. This is because of the presence of an amazing new technology in the form of the Leteo Institute which helps people forget things that will improve a person’s quality of life and this technology is available in the very near future/now. A trend which a lot of neo-sci fi films such as Her, Ex Machina and Interstellar have also followed. Creating a magnificent setting where everything is familiar and available to a reader except for the one major piece of technology like A.I. systems, warpspeed or in this case Leteo. Although the way that Leteo lurks mostly in the background until it finally takes center stage is very well paced and allows for the reader to become very acquainted with the technology as if it were a character itself.
Typing of characters, let’s talk about Aaron. What a character, he is so deep and so complicated and just masterfully brought to life. Watching Aaron cope with depression, have his first time, meet Thomas and sift through his emotions about his sort of best friend and overall situation. Its breath taking and earth shaking how powerful his character is, reading his narration is just astounding how mature and naive a teenager truly is, especially one who grew up in a rough neighborhood. Now, a quick shout out to Aaron’s Mother and his brother Eric for being present yet forgotten, but still around in the hardest of times, making them the unsung heros of every confused teenager. Alright, on to Genevieve who is simply a doll. The best girlfriend anyone could ever ask for an artist cursed to never finish a painting. Her relationship with Aaron is something so seldom found in youthful relationships, they are more than just lovers, but best friends who support and inspire each other. Genevieve stuck around through his hardest moments, knew absolutely everything about him and loved so unconditionally. Then there is Thomas who loves Aaron a bit differently, although is very accepting of him. Thomas is a pretty energetic and imaginative person destined for greatness in whatever he chooses to pursue, he is just so passionate, especially when he finally becomes a real friend of Aaron. A friendship that rapidly deepens and confuses both youths of their sexualality causing a disturbance in Aaron’s sort of best friend and friends who you can’t really hate, but can’t like either.
So many of life’s great questions are posed in this story that its difficult to consider them all. Although the ones that stuck out most to me were; What makes someone an adult? Are there signals that indicate if someone is gay or not? And if you could forget something, no matter how terrible, would you? Exploring these questions was amazing and made the journey of reading this book all the more rewarding. Watching everything so beautifully unfold and be sewn into a phenomenal piece of literature. Although my favorite moments tended to surround the awkward moments between friends that seem so stupid and childish, but are the most cherished memories, and that one part where Shakespeare is considered to be made up like Jesus and Santa Claus. Now, all I am left wondering if there is more to the name of Aaron’s imaginary child Faust then what is being let on… possibly having to do with a German legend?
Finally the ending is bittersweet and left open to interpretation making it all the more awe-inspiring. I wish that I could forget ever reading this novel so that I could read this again, just so I could relive reading it for the first time. This novel is so raw and authentic with the representation of LGBTQ+ violence, young love and depression that the reader is also experiencing everything to the point where even I traced my own wrist right to left and left to right. Bravo Adam Silvera, bravo!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

emberintheashes_jkt_5-1Teen Book Crew Review: An Ember in the Ashes
by Natalie Silva

Oh Skies, where do I begin? … First of all congratulations Sabaa Tahir on a splendid debut novel! Seriously, my mind is still thoroughly blown away by this book. An Ember In The Ashes is a what I consider to be a fantasy romance adventure novel that surrounds itself around a new graduate of Blackcliff training camp and a rebel slave girl who just so happened to become intertwined with each other either because of coincidence or fate. Everything that I love and find paramount in a story is present within An Ember In The Ashes there is action, drama, romance, suspense and a bit of a mystery to keep the reader guessing. Even though this novel surrounds the destiny and fate of two very well crafted and paralleled characters.
I wouldn’t consider it foreshadowing necessarily the way the future was incorporated into the present. It’s much more obvious and blatant like in The Book Thief where the narrator outright tells you the ending on page 100, but how and why the ending happens is surrounded in a nebulous of ambiguous immortal beings and characters so caught up in events that they can’t see what a less invested reader would. It is sort of like dramatic irony, but still with an element of mystery making this book extremely addictive. Seriously I set a new personal record for how quickly I read this book, which was three days. The concept and world were so well constructed and excellently illustrated that I could smell the rotting catacombs, hear the drums banging in the distance and even feel the hot knife against my own skin. It was refreshing to so thoroughly experience a novel and not just read it, especially when exploring this magical realm which was created, From the somber prison of Blackcliff to the sensual illumination of the moon festival down into the market which appropriately shifted depend on who is narrating.
Now, I typically do not prefer novels with dueling perspectives because one character is always better in the sense of screen time, distinctive style and construction, making one of the perspectives a secondary character instead of both sharing the role of protagonist. Except in this story where Elias and Laia are two very different characters that are both the center of their own story and also the overarching one. This worked so well especially with the preproposed question of “who was truly enslaved?” A question that I’m still trying to answer, personally I view Laia as free and Elias as the slave, but depending on what section is cited within the text the answer changes. There is no right or wrong answer, since it is a point left completely open to interpretation; what makes someone enslaved? Does enslavement only exist between people, or can it be a moral obligation or fate? Who knows, but that is something which really should be considered throughout the entire novel and applied to all characters.
Writing of characters, oh my skies I love them! To sum them all up as complex, intelligent and emotional beings wouldn’t be sufficient enough. Everyone was so invested in their own agenda that when they were the focus, they were the main character, even if their point of view wasn’t the narrator’s, that’s just how strong and present they all were. So let’s get down to them! Elias is a bastard who can kick butt and puts others before himself. He’s sort of like your best friend only very well armed and internally crushed, which sounds stereotypical and standard, but that’s the jist. Although that in no way does justice to his character, since Elias has a lot of respect and is very thoughtful of other people, everyone comes before him and he views all life as precious. Even a little Slave girl such as Laia who is battered, but still stands tall since she cannot be broken is valuable. Laia is debatably selfish with how she does put herself in front of others, making for a great juxtaposition as Elias and Laia develop. They share more similarities than differences, although the variations between them speak a lot about class, moral codes and motivations. Hint: Pay attention to how they influence each other, especially after Laia learns Elais’ true name and tribal name. (Personally I think she should have used his tribal name as opposed to his true name). Now there are at least three more characters I could talk about, but I will only mention Elias’ best friend Aquilla who is quite intentionally the opposite to Laia and in some cases is Elias’ double standard. With Aquilla’s fair skin and silver hair to Laia’s dark skin and dark hair also Aquilla’s fabled strength and Laia’s weakness when it’s typically the opposite. (Not exactly a spoiler, but sorry anyway) Which at first made my impressions of Aquilla to be rather negative and it wasn’t until I had the epiphany about how she and Laia are dramatic foils that also complement Elias’ internal struggle surrounding freedom. Overall, characters are paramount in a story and these characters reached the top of the mountain (even if one is scared of heights). They brought the story to life and I absolutely loved them all.
Now, for my final verdict, where I highly recommend this book for the amazing lore, corrupt totalitarian dictatorship, writing, characters and will be readily awaiting the sequel that is bound to come. Even though I am inherently angry because I know I will have to wait an extra-long time for it because technically the novel has yet to be released. But I will be patient!

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy&OiverReview by Natalie Silva

Emmy & Oliver is something new, something fresh, something that really grabbed my interest on page one and maintained it until the final word. It still has a classic YA style romance that is adorable, awkward and something to root for, but branches out and explores a suburbia that has been devastated by the kidnapping of Oliver, leaving his friends, family and a whole neighborhood in panic mode for a decade. When he does finally return The town is supposed to be turned right-side up, but is actually turned upside down all over again, (but in a totally different direction), creating a massive ripple effect of how the presented characters combat and process finally getting what they have always dreamed of happening; seeing Oliver again. This causes strife, tears and a few start-overs filled with laughs and a few drunken slurs. With a cast of characters that are all just amazing and so relatable that a reader can get them confused with their actual friends.

There are about six central characters, but obviously Emmy & Oliver are the protagonists in this narrative. Emmy is a bouncy girl with a bit of a rebellious streak in her. Her big, sarcastic and compassionate personality is allowed to shine, which is pretty great. Her narration is spectacular making it easy to fall head over heels in love with her. Oliver is sort of a badass with a sarcastic drawl that perfectly complements Emmy’s tone. He is confused, frustrated, but honest and caring, making him one of the best love interests ever to be presented in YA novels! Oliver isn’t your stereotypical bad boy, he’s a nice boy. He isn’t active like Emmy, but he is still adventurous and really does love trying new things. Making his relationship with Emmy very balanced with enough similarities, but differences to keep it natural and realistic. Typing about realism, it takes Oliver time to open up and his pacing is very well thought out, he hesitates to open up and expose himself, which really keeps a reader guessing throughout the novel as we get to know him more and more. He was a victim and he needed time to process that and that made everything so much more human and organic -he wasn’t some cliche or a time bomb that goes off- he first needed time to process his own situation people sharing it and he did that. There was also mention of guidance counselors and therapists for Oliver, Emmy, Caro and Drew, which was a smart thing to add in. It was kept on the side lines, but mentioned more than once to be a helpful outlet for all of them, which was definitely a great thing to have in this type of narrative. Now, Caro and Drew also visited therapists/guidance counselors after Oliver’s disappearance, but they are so much more than that. Since Caro is basically the coolest chick ever written and I truly identified with her. While Drew is a bro, the dude who will always be there for his buddies no matter what and who just-so-happens to be gay as well. They were a dynamic duo who were central to the plot, but held their own separate sub plots that made them much more three dimensional and unique to the story. Their characters did not just exist for the plot, but were more than that, which was definitely appreciated. Plus Caro and Emmy made some pretty fantastic points about loving their bodies and knowing that they look great. Also, bonus points for repeatedly adding scenes that dealt with cat calling and sexual harassment, those girls dealt with those situations gracefully and did not hide their irritation to Drew or Oliver about the incidents. The other central characters are Emmy’s Mom and Dad who are overly protective to the point that it’s greatly effecting Emmy’s life. She can’t stay out past 9 o’clock, can’t surf and no boyfriends: freedoms that are typically exercised by seventeen-year-olds This has created an abyss between Emmy and her parents, making it very gripping to read and see how their relationship is affected and developed by Oliver’s return. The relationship exhibited between Emmy and her parents was very realistic and definitely show a typical parent-teenager relationship. (Slight spoiler alert) Especially with the scene between Emmy and Maureen when Emmy tells Maureen why she can say that she hates her parents. Overall, all the characters were pretty great and very relatable with personalities that popped right off the page.

Now, when I read I like to come up with a question or two to consider while reading. They are usually character oriented since a character can really make or break a story for me. So, when I read the description, the question: “Does time and space really change a person?” popped into my head. Which is definitely something worth considering since it does become an essential plot point. But there was another question that came after I read Chapter Seven -where Caro and Drew are discussing their forgiveness and unwavering hope in the other as friendship- which was: “What is friendship?” This question is continually answered throughout the novel with reasons being unwavering hope, loan out clothes, sharing food and always being truthful. Are any of these answers right? Are any of them wrong? It really depends on the context. So, that is something to consider and is excellently displayed by the author who sprinkles in the comments so naturally it’s as if it’s simply a recording of teenagers socializing.

With those questions in mind reading Emmy & Oliver was simply addictive. The story and writing were just riveting; there were times when it was physically hard to put the book down. This wasn’t anything generic that I have read one million times before, this novel offered me something new and it was wonderful. I was kept guessing and continually surprised by new developments and turns in the plot. Everything was woven beautifully together especially the intercalary chapters that typically I dread, but this time I actually liked them and sort of wished that there were more. They offered a lot of context and foreshadowing for the following chapter and they were just adorable little scenes of kids being kids, it was so cute!

Alright finally it is time to get to my gripe. There is only one and it’s pretty small. In chapter 2 it is stated that the day Oliver was found was a Thursday. So Emmy, Caro and Drew wait for his return at her house. Then in chapter 3 when the day has “dragged on” Drew calls home and tells his family that it’s a Friday. Now is he just lying or is there something else happening? Aside from that, everything else checks out, so congratulations on an astounding novel.



















OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn

OCD the Dude

By Tenaya DeWitt

The reader is introduced to Danielle, the heroine of our thrilling tale, as she types out her frustration in an effort to avoid an OCD induced panic attack. Her mother had completely disorganized her library, which she had spent all summer carefully arranging on the floor of her bedroom; how is she supposed to get to school on time now? Danielle likes to keep her life like she keeps her books, alphabetized, sorted and compartmentalized. And she is very good at keeping it neat. But things will get messy for Danielle, whether she’s prepared for it or not. As she starts her senior year at her alternative high school she carefully catalogues her descent into madness in a series of essays, “me-moirs”, and letters – all kept in a locked binder, wrapped in a pillowcase, under bed. Over the course of the year the reader will follow Danielle as she navigates everyday life in high school, comes to terms with tragic events of her past, and re-learns what it means to have a friend.
Brutally honest, raunchy and unapologetic, Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s debut novel will have you laughing hysterically one moment and sobbing the next. She writes with the honesty and unique voice of someone who knows what it means to abide. I would HIGHLY recommend this book, to readers of all ages, though it would be most appropriate for high schoolers. While there is a brief discussion of violence and drugs, it is done tactfully and I don’t think it should discourage anyone from reading this book.

OCD, The DUDE, and ME by Lauren Roedy Vaughn

Reviewed by Sage G.

There are books that creep slowly through the underbrush, limbs plastered to the ground like a sedentary giant, until crashing into you unexpectedly. Ocd, The Dude, and Me, by Lauren Roedy Vaughn is not one of those books. From the very start, when we first meet intrepid senior Danielle in the midst of a unusually usual breakdown, it is impossible to feel anything except the heat and anticipation radiating from this novel. From that point onward, the novel is a nonstop roller-coaster ride through Danielle’s life and issues. Issues which are abundant, as the reader finds out through shadowing Danielle on the class trip to London, Labowski fest, and finally graduation. It’s uncertain at first whether or not Danielle will be able to conquer her low self-esteem and mental issues, but the story manages to wrap together in a satisfying and fulfilling conclusion.

It’s unusual to find such realism in a novel about a neurotic teenage girl, and at first I had my doubts. However, things somehow manage to come together to make a thoroughly enjoyable read, filled with fleshed out and believable characters. The very emotional nature of this novel is at times a bit overbearing; however this is a welcome change to a trend towards sparse narratives that leave you feeling empty.  While a tad brash and eager to jump in head first, this novel manages to surpass its downfalls and rise above. The format (that of a girl writing to her diary), while not the most original idea, is done very well and thoroughly engaging. Ocd, The Dude, and Me handles its subject matter (mental illness, teen angst, and baggage from the past) very well. It never panders to the audience, while still giving off the feeling in its passages that it understands what it’s talking about.

This is a book for the lost and the lonely, for people who fluctuate in mood more than they’d care or be able to admit. It’s for anybody who’s ever felt a little bit silly, outcast, neurotic, or socially awkward. Most importantly, it’s worth reading for it’s genuine portrayal of teenage life, even if you’re no longer a teenager.