Friday, August 30, 2013

Asylum



Asylum
Madeleine Roux
$17.99, Hardcover
HarperCollins, 2013
978-0062220967

Genre: Horror 

Age: 12+

Description: Sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford is super excited when he gets to spend five weeks of his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep course where he gets to immerse himself in his scholarly pursuits among other fellow nerds and not feel bad about it at all! When he arrives at the program he makes two new friends, Jordon, a math nerd, and Abby, an artist. He also meets Felix, his “odd” roommate. He also discovers that due to some renovations taking place in the normal dorm all the students have to board in Brookline—an old asylum that closed in 1972. Felix informs Dan that the old wing of the asylum is unlocked and he went looking around the old warden’s office and found some creepy photos. Dan convinces Abby and Jordon to go investigating with him. Soon creepy things are happening. Abby gets obsessed with a photo of a young girl, not more than ten years old, who has a lobotomy scar on her forehead; Jordon goes all A Beautiful Mind on them with notepads full of complex mathematical equations; and Dan starts receiving ominous notes. Soon an RA is murdered and another friend attached and poor Dan thinks it is the work of a serial killer who was a patient at Brookline who disappeared after it closed—a man who went by the name The Sculptor.

Opinion:  Unfortunately, this book seems to be getting a lot of negative reviews. I am rather mixed. It has been compared to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because of the incorporation of real asylum photos throughout the book. Here is where I differ with most of the negative reviews—I was super excited for Miss Peregrine’s but once I read it I was bored out of my mind and really didn’t think it was that great. With this book, while the writing may not be the next big thing, I found myself reading quickly and I was much more interested in the plot. Asylums are pretty creepy things, so I was interested in the photos. Some negative reviews commented on how the photos look doctored—if one reads the photo credits they will learn that most of the photos are original and the only doctoring of them is such minor things like putting a photo frame around a picture (because the photo in the story was hanging on a wall) and things like that. I found most of the images to reflect certain passages in the book; yes, there were some that kind of made no sense. I do agree with some reviewers—I really wish there were more photos included in the book. While some were creepy I would have liked to see even more. I like how the author was able to really incorporate some of the images, such as the name of the Warden (and readers see the faded office door and get to fill in the blanks of the warden’s last name before it is revealed). While the book’s pace moved quickly, there were some negatives. I was under the impression that this would be a standalone title and while it does end on an okay note there are a lot (and I mean a lot) of unanswered questions. For one, Dan is adopted and we never get to know what his connection was to the sadistic warden. Dan also supposedly was seeing a therapist because he was having blackouts and memory problems. This is alluded to in the book when he can’t really provide an alibi for himself when the RA is found murdered, but the reasons behind this are never explained. Jordan’s weird A Beautiful Mind moment is never given an explanation—for a few days he’s all crazy math dude and then the next he is back to normal. Abby also seems to have an unhealthy obsession with thinking the lobotomized girl is certainly her father’s sister who was committed to an insane hospital when she was young. The actual ending is also kind of confusing but maybe it’s just me. Without giving away too much, when Dan meets the person who has been killing/hurting people it really isn’t clear if everyone is just acting crazy because of the ominous nature of Brookline and its dark history or if the person is possessed by a ghost . . . it’s just kind of confusing. If one is just looking for a spooky story, I don’t think they will care all that much but if one is interested in the how and why of such things it might be a bit of a bug. Overall, it was a fast-paced, slightly creepy story that I don’t regret reading. If there is a sequel, I hope there are more photos and questions answered.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Confessions of a Hater



Confessions of a Hater
Caprice Crane
$17.95, Hardcover
Feiwel & Friends, 2013
978-1250008466

Genre: Realistic, Humor 

Age: 14+

Description: Sixteen-year-old Hailey Harper is stuck moving to Hollywood. While packing up all her stuff she discovers a box of stuff belonging to her older sister who is in college. Inside this box are a bunch of old clothes that would now fit Hailey (and we’re talking name brand, high fashion popular girl stuff) and a journal. Hailey, at first, can’t believe her sister would have a secret journal and she’s shocked to discover that it isn’t an ordinary journal. Called “Confessions of a Hater” it essentially is a bible her sister wrote on how to be cool and one of the popular girls. Hailey decides to use her sister’s journal and clothes to become popular herself at her new school. Lucky for her, she encounters the Queen Bee, Skylar, on the first day and because of some of the coolness tips she’s been following she is invited into the clique. Soon, she discovers that being one of those popular girls isn’t all it’s cracked up to be so she decides to throw it all away to hang out with some girls who call themselves the Invisibles. Can Hailey and her new friends use her sister’s journal to dethrone Skyer and her minions?

Opinion:  Confessions of a Hater is a long book. While the concept seems cool, it isn’t anything new to the genre. The highlight of the book was Hailey’s voice as a character. She is a nerdy girl with a mind for snappy and cynical jabs at life. Her snarky humor is what kept me reading. However, the book fails in the fact that it really is nothing more than Mean Girls in book form—and not as good. Hailey moves to a new town, she gets in with the popular crowd, realizes they are evil, makes friends with the nobodies, decides to enact revenge on the bitches that rule the school. The book itself is full of so many bad teen movie clich├ęs—the boy next door who is the perfect boyfriend, the Queen Bee and her minions, the smart student who is secretly on drugs to try and stay on top, the girl who is an outcast for getting pregnant, a cheating parent, etc. The other thing that I really didn’t like about this book is that Hailey hates the way that Skyler treats everyone and in the girls’ revenge plan they start a prank war that escalates to some huge stuff and Hailey and her friends come off looking just as bad as the other girls. The other annoying thing is that the book ends with a major act of vandalism (the act itself was very cool and would be epic if it really did happen in a school) but the fact of the matter is (and the reality of the situation) Hailey should have (in real life) been arrested for what she did and prosecuted and instead she basically gets a slap on the wrist. The other annoying thing was how the author “solved” the Hailey/Skyler feud—oh, guess who Hailey’s dad was having an affair with and who is going to be Hailey’s new stepsister? Yeah, it went there. While the book does end there does seem to be some wiggle room for a potential sequel. If you are a fan of Mean Girls or just plan like fluff books then this book is probably worth your time.

Thanks to the people at Feiwel & Friends for the ARC for the YALSA YA Galley Group!

So Much It Hurts



So Much It Hurts
Monique Polak
$12.95, Softcover
Orca, 2013
978-1459801363

Genre: Realistic, Romance 

Age: 14+

Description: Iris is an aspiring actress. When Mick, a well-known visiting Aussie director and friend of her drama teacher, takes an interest in her, she's super flattered. She also realizes, during his personal attention, that he is 14 years older than her but good looking, intelligent, and charming. He is definitely nothing like her hapless ex-boyfriend, Tommy. So it is no surprise to Iris when she and Mick start a secret relationship. However, she soon is on the receiving side of Mick's darker side, and it scares her. Soon she is the target of his anger and she makes excuses for him. Iris soon finds herself struggling at school where she is preparing for her role as Ophelia. When Mick finally asks for her to go to Australia with him, Iris needs to evaluate what really matters in her life.

Opinion: Overall this was an average book if you like the student/teacher affair plot lines. I don’t really have all that much to say about it. It didn’t really add anything new to the plate of these stories. However, I will make a note that I found it kind of odd that no one really even questioned the relationship when it was known. Her parents finally figured out that she wasn’t spending the night at her best friend’s house all the time (that she was, in effect, living with Mick) and she had contact with a previous girlfriend and Mick’s and even her drama teacher (who had also dated him) just gave her warnings to be careful. No one called the police or anything. I don’t care if she was 17 (I think)—he is still her teacher and, therefore, their relationship is inappropriate. 

Thanks to the people at Egmont for the ARC for the YALSA YA Galley Group!

A Really Awesome Mess



A Really Awesome Mess
Tish Cook and Bredan Halpin
$17.99, Hardcover
Egmont, 2013
978-1606843635

Genre: Realistic, Humor 

Age: 14+

Description: Justin and Emmy are meeting up at Heartland Academy. Neither one of them wants to be at Heartland Academy where they are “clients” or, as they’d prefer saying, “prisoners”. Heartland is reform school for teens. Just like most of the “clients” they both believe they have been put in Heartland for incorrect reasons. Emmy is in for doing some major Internet bullying. Unfortunately for her no one else seems to care that the other guy started it and was making her life a living hell every day at school. Justin hates visiting his dad who half the time forgets he is even there so after a failed “notice me” attempt with 17 Tylenol pills and his dad catches him on the receiving end of a blow job from a girl he just met at an amusement park, Justin winds up at Heartland for his “sexual” deviancy. Through some great supporting characters, Justin and Emmy get into trouble, bond, and make breakthroughs in their lives.

Opinion: This book is a pretty funny book. Each of the main characters is well developed and they grow throughout the process of the book. We discover that the initial reasons for why Justin and Emmy are sent to Heartland Academy do seem a little wrong (sex obsession and bullying) we discover, just like they do, once they are there that they each have more deep seated issues—Justin has been depressed ever since his parents got a divorce and Emmy is not only anorexic but also feels like her parents don’t really want her since she was adopted from China. As they are forced to attend anger management group therapy sessions, they befriend the other teens at the academy and manage to have some fun while they are “imprisoned”. The humor is helpful in deflecting a bit from the serious material that is often presented. For instance one of my favorite secondary characters is a girl who is a selective mute. When her reasons why it are explained it makes a whole lot of sense regarding her prior behavior. She is also involved in the dangerous scheme of everyone saving a piglet from the slaughter at a local fair and the craziness that ensues as they try to raise and keep a baby pig quiet in their dorms is followed by the big climax when Justin and Emmy attempt to get the pig to a local safe heaven. A great book for teens who like humorous stories and more realistic and gentle romances.

Thanks to the people at Egmont for the ARC for the YALSA YA Galley Group!