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Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

in a sentence: Two men, one desperate journey.

The Steinbeck classic is by far one of the most utterly and realistically depressing novels ever. George and Lennie are living a less than desirable life as roving ranch hands in California during the Depression, and to make matters worse, Lennie is "simple minded". George and Lennie have been through many trials together, by force or by fate, and this novel takes us through their final trial together.

The tone of depression and fading hope is lightened by George and Lennie's friendship, but not to a sappy degree. I think young adult readers will find it refreshing that this tone is consistent throughout the novel, and the fellow ranch hand characters encountered are unique. No sugar coated beginning, middle, or conclusion to the novel - a realism that is appreciated by the young adult audience. I think where this novel fails to reach young adult readers will be with resonance and relevance. Sure there are morals to be learned, and it is an amazing story - "so what?" young adult readers might ask. I am not surprised this was a challenged title, because of the drab and bleak outlook with periods of violence and harsh language, but again this is the realism that young adults (especially teens) admire.

I rate "Of Mice and Men" a 4Q and 2P according to VOYA standards. While the conversation, tones, and overall writing is pretty good, I think it might be challenging to overcome as a young adult reader. The title, though well known, isn't the most popular with the teens - partly because it is a required reading with some schools which creates a stigma, and party because it just lacks the appeal for a general young adult audience.

Title: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Genre: Challenged Title, Classic

Review: True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

in a sentence or two: LaVaughn has wanted to go to college since 5th grade, and despite the odds of being in a crappy apartment building, part of a school where shootings aren't rare, losing her two best friends to Jesus, and to top it all off - boy drama, she fights for her hopes of college to happen.

LaVaughn is 15, and opens the self narrated novel by talking about the importance of why and how to avoid boys. Her options are less than desirable to her, and so she creates her own - basically playing it smart and focusing on her path to college. It's interesting that she strives for college both for her education and as her means of escape from the situation she lives in. Rightly so, the majority of her narration focuses on school, boys, and friends - the centripetal forces of any teenage girl's life...with a little mom tossed in for good measure. LaVaughn indulges the reader with her insights on her situations, and the way she expands on her thoughts draws the reader closer to her and makes it less of a narration and more of a journey.

The characters in LaVaughn's life are amazing and unique. However, they cleverly designed by the author so the reader may find themselves connecting them with people in our own life. While there is a twist with the love triangle that develops early and finishes late, I feel like the novel could be complete without it. This novel is really about LaVaughn and her life, which is so much more than boy drama (although that is never downplayed from her perspective). I love how the novel is written in verse, and highlights the inner ceiling-painting artist in LaVaughn. The creativity of the execution of the text and the mass amounts of authentic teenage feeling are perfect together. I (as the adult reader) never felt bad for LaVaughn, and I don't think I was meant to. The reader is invited in for this deceptively heavy journey, to feel as LaVaughn does and she (refreshingly) never feels sorry for herself.

With the authentic young adult voice and creative prose format, I give this book a 5Q and 4.5P according to VOYA standards.

Title: True Believer
Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff
Genre: Poetry/Verse Novel
Publisher: Simon Pulse
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Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

in a sentence: "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

The epic love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has been made into several movies, the latest of which stars some hip young hollywood actors and actresses. While this book is a classic, it's recent popularity as a movie has made it a popular young adult read as well. The writing is witty, clever, and the reader is taken along for the rollercoaster ride of Lizzie and Darcy's relationship from casual acquaintance to absolute infatuation. Lizzie struggles with 4 other sisters (yikes) an overbearing mother (yikes again) and a loving, but pretty complacent father. While she doesn't have a great interest in finding a husband, even if she wanted to devote herself to it completely she has to give attention to her perfect relationship with her older sister, and support her family during her younger sister's frivolous boy-crazy episodes. Lucky for her, Darcy is infatuated enough for the both of them - and she doesn't even know it. (insert dramatic romantic sigh here)

I loved this book - and I adore the movie. The story is so classic, so clean, refreshing, and timeless. The early 1800s setting of the novel creates a nostalgic and classic feel for all of the characters. I think young adults will appreciate the timeless "boy meets girl" story, and all the twists and turns along the way. The reader is privy to the obvious attraction between the two long before they are - which is quite exciting and keeps the reader's interest. Unfortunately, I feel that the writing is a bit difficult for some readers to absorb into. While there is a intriguing and enjoyable aspect to the 1800s style, it might be overwhelming and a turn off to young adult readers.

Using VOYA standards, I give this a 5Q (it is a Jane Austen novel after all) and a unfortunately low (but realistic) 2.5P.

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Romance, Lisa's Faves, Classic, Chick Lit
Publisher: Tribeca Books 
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Review: Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

in a sentence: Keir is a good guy...right?

The novel opens with the haunting first line "The way it looks is not the way it is" - whoa! Keir is a graduating high school senior with a best-friend/dad, and two sisters. He drinks way too much, is liked by everyone, and is a self proclaimed good guy. Between Keir narrating his final year of school and giving a brief bio on his life for our sake, he fills the reader in with his current situation - which is shady at best. Without revealing too much of the plot, he is alone, with the girl he loves, defending his good guy status. Again, WHOA!

This book is spooky, creepy, and intriguing all over the place. The best part about it is the reader hardly realizes how creepy and what a thriller the novel actually is until the ending. The author's choice of telling the story from Keir's first person perspective is amazing, and really shapes the book. All of the character development, insight, emotions, and appeal are completely based on the reader's interpretation of the events and the story. I wouldn't say it's a nail biter, it's much too subtle for that...but it is a page turner all the way.

According to the VOYA standards of review (Q=quality and P=popularity), I give this a Q=4.5 and a P=4.5 . I don't know if they do ".5" or not, but I do! There were some occasional lapses in the literary quality I felt like which were centered around dialogue, but very few. And while I feel this book can (and should) be read and enjoyed by all young adults, I am weary saying that any single book is appealing to every young adult reader...although in this instance I am very tempted.

Title: Inexcusable
Author: Chris Lynch
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Amazon | Goodreads

Review: Harley, Like A Person by Cat Bauer

in a sentence: 14 year old Harley Columba is your average well-liked, smart, and charismatic teen. Until she realizes she is probably adopted, starts drinking and doing drugs, and loses her best friend. Did I mention her home life sucks too?

Harley faces some real struggles in this novel. While some of them might not reach all teens (feeling adopted, physical abuse, etc.), I feel that the emotions and the way she deals with them are very true to the young adult experience. As the adult reader, I could sense things coming, that lying only makes things worse, and all of those words of wisdom that come from making the wrong choices like Harley. She uses art as her escape from the world, and so creates an incredibly healthy and beautiful outlet which sets a great example for young adults struggling with the difficult stuff in life. From the young adult perspective, Harley is someone we can identify with either though personal experience or through someone we know - and that really hits home with the reader.

While I liked the rawness of Harley and the writing, with her struggles, with having shreds of hope for her fall to the ground with yet ANOTHER bad choice. I got pretty bored during the middle of the novel from where she is sidetracked from her main goal from the beginning of finding her real father to where she gets on the bus to NY. Some of the middle of the novel served to show her downward spiral, her relationship with her mother, and the [seemingly pointless] relationship with Mrs. Tuttle, and to help the reader relate to Harley. However, I feel a vast majority of it was a waste of my time, and resulted in a rushed ending when she FINALLY finds her father in New York. The novel builds and builds to a rushed conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. The conclusion in itself was very realistic and in tune with the rest of the book, but ultimately disappointing from a literary standpoint.

Again - I feel that as far as characters to relate to and readability, the novel is great. She makes bad choices, some good ones, and then more bad ones to create an awful situation for herself that many of us have been in before. The reader hopes for Harley, and walks beside her though her personal struggle which is a microcosm overshadowed by the alcoholic step-dad and crabby mom reality. However, the novel really lacked the necessary literary quality for me because of the drawn out and somewhat plateaued middle of the book and the ending that just fell flat.

Author: Cat Bauer
Title: Harley, Like a Person
Genre: Coming of Age
Publisher: Winslow
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Review: Beware, Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer

in a sentence: Princess Elizabeth, the beautiful bastard child of Henry VIII, struggles through her sister Mary's persecution and her romantic trials through - and eventual abandonment - of marriage. All of this while she is waiting to become Queen of England.

The historical fiction novel is told from the point of view of Elizabeth herself, which creates a memoir sort of feel for the reader. Elizabeth faces some tough stuff, such as having to fake giving up her faith, watching her brother suffer and die on the throne, and then finally face a seemingly never ending persecution from her older sister (whom she already dislikes a great deal, and vice versa) through forcing marriage proposals and moving her around the countryside to live in dank and dungey castles. Not exactly a sisterly love to be desired.

The book is very readable, as if you are looking into her personal diary. She is presented in such a real (and young adult) way that it's almost impossible not to feel sorry for her and secretly hate Mary along with Elizabeth's burning passion. The writing quality is solid, and the characters are well developed and relatable. While history may seem boring to some (okay most) young adults, the author presents this in a way that makes it both interesting, informative, and enjoyable. While there were some parts of the novel that seemed redunant, like Elizabeth moving from place to place, Mary's several unsuccesful pregnancies, etc. - the diary-like flow kept you wanting more. That and Elizabeth's wit and insight as well make this novel one that is worth reading and recommending to adults and young adults alike.

Title: Beware, Princess Elizabeth
Author: Carolyn Meyer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Gulliver Books
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