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Teen SRC 2020- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Having read Genuine Fraud (also by E. Lockhart) I started We Were Liars happily expecting to have my socks knocked off. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Welcome to the Sinclair family. Tall, proud, and rich. Golden-haired, freckled, and most importantly: perfect. There are no Sinclair addicts, drop-outs, or failures. And every summer, the prestigious family meets on their very own island. But one summer, when the Liars (Cadence, her cousins, and a family friend named Gat) are fifteen, something goes horribly wrong. Cadence has an accident and now, at seventeen, she’s still suffering from constant migraines and selective amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing of what happened. But after having skipped summer sixteen to travel Europe with her dad, Cadence finally returns to Beechwood Island, desperate for answers.

We Were Liars was absolutely brilliant. The idea of a perfect and rich family with their own island is fascinating, and E. Lockhart pulled it off impeccably AND realistically. The flashbacks, Cadence’s pain written in fanciful poetry, and yes, even the romance, was enjoyable to read. It beautifully conveyed the reality that no family is perfect, and there is an overall message in the book about dealing with family problems, money, expectations, pain, loss, and guilt…

And then there’s the plot twist. OH BOY, what can I say about the plot twist? My heart skipped a beat and I had to read the page again and again when I got to it. And the best part: it was entirely believable. (I mean, it took some time but I eventually came to terms with it.) Seriously, the plot twist is amazing.

The book isn’t perfect. (Duh, nothing’s perfect. Not even the Sinclairs!) The switching timelines were confusing: I didn’t know half the time when Cadence was talking about summer fifteen or seventeen. It could have been improved with chapter headings or something like ‘before’ and ‘after’. Cadence is okay as a character– not enough personality in my opinion, and not very likable, either. There were also some overdone metaphors that cut the quality of the writing, and and abrupt ending that needed more and slower falling action.

But please, don’t let my harsh criticism put you off. (that’s just me being me, really.) We Were Liars gripped me from the start and I finished the book in hours. I sacrificed sleep for it, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s the best of the best of contemporary suspense novels and I can’t wait to read it again. 9.5/10.

Teen SRC 2020- Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Murder in Mesopotamia

With Agatha Christie, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. So I take the person least likely to have committed the murder and expect them to have done it. But there’s a lot of reverse psychology involved so what if the person that looks good for the crime… actually is the one who did it? Every, every, every single time, the Queen of Mystery makes a fool out of me, and it leaves me in complete and utter awe.

There are some good Agatha Christie books and some GREAT ones. Murder in Mesopotamia, for me, is amongst the GREAT. So without further ado:

Nurse Leatheran, a bright young woman, has been hired by archaelogist Dr. Leidner to look after his wife. Mrs. Leidner has been having ‘fancies.’ But the truth of it is, she’s downright terrified “I fear someone is going to kill me,” she confesses to the nurse (who is our narrator) later on. There have been threatening letters from her late husband, who might in fact not be so dead, strange faces in the window, and odd scratching at the walls. The Nurse dismisses these sightings as paranoia (the letters are written in her own hand!) but then Mrs. Leidner is murdered. Is her ex-husband alive and did he kill her, or is it someone closer, someone from her own household?

With the help of Nurse Leatheran, Hercule Poirot sets himself the task of unmasking the killer… before they strike again.

I give this book a 9/10. It was the most enjoyable read but there were a couple of lines here and there that irritated me. For example, general stereotypes about what women are like, and about what men want. Perhaps more specific to this book: the description of Arabs. All the so-called foreigners (why in the world they are called foreigners when the story is set in Iraq, I have no clue) are all background characters, and the cultural landscape is used only as a backdrop, with no real significance. The ending of the book does, however, patch up some prejudiced opinions of the narrator, and there is nothing in the book I found unforgivable.

Teen SRC 2020- Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay

Kiera Johnson leads a double life. Being one of the few Black girls at her school, she behaves the way she needs to: smart, helpful, and unproblematic. Even Kiera’s family and her boyfriend, Malcolm, expect her to act a certain way. The only time Kiera is truly herself is when she’s Emerald, the queen in a virtual reality game called Slay. Keira made Slay to celebrate Black excellence, and her multitude of players come from across the globe. Of course, no one in Kiera’s real life knows she made the game, or even that she plays it.

But when a Black boy is murdered for game money, for SLAY money, Kiera’s two very separate lives come crashing together. Kiera is filled with guilt for having created a game that took a boy’s life, but she doesn’t have time to grieve. Media outlets, and the internet has pounced on the game, on HER game, calling it racist and exclusionary. Everyone now has an opinion on SLAY, but Kiera doesn’t know what to do. Not saying anything, she might become complacent to the injustice, but speaking up could risk exposing her identity. Worst of all, Kiera now risks losing SLAY to Dred Scott, a racist troll. Emerald would fight for justice, Kiera knows. Emerald wouldn’t bow down to anyone. But will Kiera?

Slay is an absolute masterpiece. I have to admit to having an aversion to video-game related books, but Slay has dispelled that notion. The world-building in this book is amazing, the details exquisite, and I wished I could see a game like SLAY in real life. Kiera is a well-developed character, but some of the side characters are more likable, at least to me. We are also told how SLAY has impacted people’s lives by having a few chapters told in another perspective, a technique I will always love.

Slay by Brittney Morris gets 9/10. The ending was a bit too unrealistic for my taste, and there were some unnecessary scenes. (and i’m sorry, but the cover!! A portrait cover, *sigh*, and far too much pink, which doesn’t match with the story’s vibe.)

Overall, Slay opens up many important discussions about safe spaces for minorities, identity, and what Black excellence looks like at an individual level. That might sound preachy or way too serious, but I promise you, it’s not. The story itself is captivating and there is a mystery aspect to it as well (yayyy!!). Coming from a minority background myself, Slay feels like a hug after a tiring day, a hug that says “I see you and I feel you.” 100% recommend, whoever you are and whatever you like reading.

Teen SRC 2020- The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Philippe, Ben

When I first started reading The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I didn’t expect much from it. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong. It’s an amazing book but before I start telling you exactly why, let me tell you what it’s about.

Norris Kaplan is a Black kid from Montreal and he is moving to Austin, Texas. Being an only child of divorced parents, living with his dad’s new family is not an option. And Judith (immigrant, professor, all-around cool mom), doesn’t have many options when it comes to a job. So Texas it is. Norris knows he will hate it. If you ignore the fact that it is TEXAS we’re talking about (and the tiny little detail of Norris’s skin colour), there’s the heat, the lack of hockey, and perhaps even more glaring than the Texas sun, his lack of friends.

Norris promises his mom that he will try. And trying means reigning in his sarcastic and often caustic tongue, limiting his thoughts to the pages of his counsellor-given notebook. Enter: Maddie, kind (?) cheerleader, Liam, budding hockey enthusiast (rich, too), Aarti, beautiful and witty photographer (Norris is in love). Even Patrick “Hairy Armpits”, school bully, is given a chance in Norris’s new Texan life.

But then things start to go awry (see: Norris’s inability to keep his mouth shut and general tendency to be a jerk) and soon he has as many enemies as friends. Seems like his sweat glands had the right idea… Texas isn’t the right place for him and might never be.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just another new-kid-finds-his-tribe type of book. And it is, (kind of), but not so cliched. (arrogant Black French Canadian protagonist might have given that away.) There are the usual party scenes, and quirky date scenes, of course, but there are also other more poignant plot lines. Norris’s relationship with his parents, for example, the complexity of which I loved. There’s also discussions about depression, racism, and what it means to be yourself. Best of all, there’s no preachiness in the book, or lines stolen from a therapy/parenting book. The characters feel real, and they act like real, flawed teenagers. The wittiness of the dialogue alone is a feat. Norris’s character development is WONDERFUL and gosh, this book really is a feel-good story that will break your heart and make it whole again.

Alas, I am but a judgemental critic and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager gets a mark shy of a 100: 9/10. Why? The chapter headings (you’ll have to read the book to understand) were off-putting and a hassle. There were also some stereotypes in the book I could have done without (see: Indian girl with strict parents, Black absentee dad) but the plot lines did okay with them in the end.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend to everyone, and if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve just found it. (P.S. Isn’t the cover just GORGEOUS?)

Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry

Living in a time where dystopian books are common and overdone (the more apocalyptic and doomsday-ish, the better) it’s truly rare to find a book that will leave you with chills running down your spine. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman does exactly that.

The idea behind this book is also unusual but not entirely unimaginable; what if the taps were to suddenly go dry? What if there was no more running water, and what if everyone around you suddenly became a thirsty water-zombie that would stop at nothing to get a few drops of the stuff? I know what you’re thinking. No running water, the end of the world, and ZOMBIES? Not another apocalypse book!

And while I don’t consider myself an expert on sci-fi or dystopian novels (not really my genre), I think this book did some things differently that changed it from an overused cliche doomsday book to something special.

First: This novel is narrated by a multiple person perspective. The first few characters stuck throughout the story, but others were just here to offer ‘snapshots’. I found it interesting because we didn’t just see what the Tap-Out meant for Alyssa, Kelton and their friends but for a whole host of different people. Living the apocalypse isn’t really fun when you don’t get the whole experience, am I right?

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Teen SRC 2020- The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert

Title details for The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert - Available

A murder mystery set in the late 1920s New Orleans with POC and LGBTQ representation. No, this is NOT. A. DRILL!!

It’s New Year’s Eve and Millie’s FINALLY been left in charge of her aunt’s speakeasy, the Cloak and Dagger for a night. She wants to show everyone she’s capable of managing things herself, but things go from bad to worse very quickly when a young rich girl is found dead, and her best friend Marion is the prime suspect. Millie knows that Marion couldn’t have killed the girl, even if she was waving around his picture before the show and asking too many questions. She also knows the police won’t hesitate to throw a boy like Marion behind bars, and that she needs to save him before they do.

The race to find the real killer and hide Marion from the police is Millie’s biggest priority but it gets complicated when Millie’s mom comes to live with her and her aunt again. Let’s just say they were never the best of pals, and being abandoned did nothing to improve Millie’s feelings. And that’s not to mention her love life. Who will win Millie’s heart: the witty and beautiful waitress Olive, or the charming, handsome bootlegger Bennie?

Mystery and historical fiction are my two absolute favourite genres. Combining them while weaving diversity, romance, and a complicated mother-daughter relationship into the story is no easy feat but Kristin Lambert makes it look it is. Millie is a sarcastic, spunky, and rash main character and she propels the story forward while her family and friends yell warnings from behind. There’s never a dull moment, and hilarious scenes at every corner.

The Boy in The Red Dress gets a 9/10, because although it was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time, the mystery’s final result was a bit disappointing, and there was nothing deep about the novel that would have me thinking about it a long time after I’ve put it down. Strongly recommend if you enjoy the mystery and historical fiction genres!!

Teen SRC 2020- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Today I’ll be reviewing perhaps the most controversial book of our times… JUST kidding, I don’t know that it’s especially controversial, but I myself had trouble forming an opinion on it. I didn’t quite know what to think about it all, but there is one thing I can tell you: Any author that writes a main character that readers can hate without making them hate the book itself is a talented as heck. And of course, with the Hunger Games trilogy, we already knew that about Suzanne Collins.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows tyrannical dictator President Snow… as a teenager. Coriolanus is struggling to maintain appearances while living in abject poverty with his cousin Tigris and grandmother. As one of the highest-achieving students in his class, Coriolanus is chosen to serve as mentor for a Hunger Games tribute. Coriolanus knows that if he carries his tribute to victory, he will have a better chance at the University scholarship that could be his last chance at saving the family’s dire circumstances.

When the mentors are given their district assignations, Coriolanus is horrified to see that he has been assigned the girl tribute for District 12. The lowest of the low– how could the Snow name have been reduced to this? And to rub salt in the wound, Sejanus Plinth, a district-born boy coming from new money has been given a District 2 tribute! Then his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, gives a striking show at her reaping and Coriolanus thinks he may have a chance after all.

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Teen SRC 2020- Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

Dead Man's Folly

Am I reviewing another Agatha Christie book? Well, she is called the Queen of Mystery for a reason, so yes, yes I am. Dead Man’s Folly is a very aptly named mind game of a novel, and a book with an interesting premise.

Famous detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is given the job to arrange a Murder Hunt (because Treasure Hunts have become too common) for Sir George Stubbs’ fête (a sort of carnival). It’s an unusual ask but Mrs. Oliver is up for the task. It is, after all, what she does for a living. But something feels off, she tells famous detective Hercule Poirot on the phone. Mrs. Oliver feels like she’s being manipulated by an invisible hand, and a plot more sinister is at play.

The idea of a Murder Hunt gone wrong is incredibly brilliant. The little details were well-executed, and the solution satisfactory. I did, however, end up a little disappointed by the lack of action. Compared to The Hollow, or The Mystery of the Blue Train, the murder happens later on in this book. The build-up increases the suspense, but I found it to be a bit of an anti-climax. After the murder, it seems that Poirot talks to all of the suspects a bunch of times, Inspector Bland has tea with his constable, and voilà, Poirot has magically solved everything. As I said before, compared with his previous cases that I’ve read, there was barely any action, and I found that a bit boring.

All of that is not to say that the mystery was a good one. I managed to guess a few plot lines and the murderer, but all my theories as to why and how were wrong. After the reveal, it seems like the answer should have been more obvious. All in all, I’ve read better, but it wasn’t a bad book. 7/10, a comfort read that will leave you pleasantly surprised but not completely awe-struck.

Teen SRC 2020- Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence

The year is 1957, and Spain is under the iron-fist rule of General Francisco Franco. Daniel Matheson, a Texan teen, is visiting Spain with his family. With his passion for photography, he hopes to take the perfect picture for his portfolio, a picture that will also somehow convince his dad to let him pursue his dreams.

But Spain isn’t the perfect tropical paradise it seems for its American tourists and soon, Daniel finds himself falling– for his maid, Ana, and for the secrets some people would do anything to keep buried. Ana herself is enchanted by the American freedom promised by the hotel magazines. She dreams for a life for herself and her family away from Franco’s tyrannical rule.

Daniel and Ana are the main characters, but we are also given glimpses into other people’s lives. For example: Julia, who is Ana’s older sister, and a new mother, is drowning in secrets and fear. Her brother, Rafael, who works both at a slaughterhouse and a cemetery is fighting with the past and his memories. Fuga, Rafael’s friend wants to bullfight more than anything, and Daniel’s mother is struggling to find out where she belongs.

As any Ruta Sepetys book, Fountains of Silence is as rich in history as it is in humanity. This book brought to light an injustice often overlooked in history: Spanish babies were stolen from their families, proclaimed dead, but instead given to other families of a higher creed. I loved the historical accuracy of the book, but sometimes grew bored with the many first-hand documents.

A beautiful romance, a suspenseful historical fiction, and everything I search for in a novel. 9.5/10, only because I didn’t like the large skip in time (it throws me off) and some parts felt dragged on. Otherwise, STRONGLY RECOMMEND!!